The Chexican

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Fitness Tech Tools: The Essentials

Being a “pro-sumer” tech enthusiast, I’ve downloaded and experimented with more apps — in this case, fitness apps specifically — than I care to admit. Since they’ve managed to become important support tools in my weight loss journey, I feel they’re due their own entries. Though my primary goal with this is to log the progress I make, I do carry this secret hope that maybe all this writing may end up motivating others, and capturing how it is that I achieve my progress feels like it’d help in that regard.
In this initial leg of the journey, the personal profile hasn’t changed much: I started a sedentary male in his mid-late 20’s with a long standing smoking habit who resumed his regular running to lose weight and actually started to enjoy it. Without a gym membership at my disposal, my exercise options are fairly limited. At home, the only equipment I have is a swiss ball, a yoga strap, and a pair of 30lb dumbbells, leaving cardio and body weight exercises as my only other available choices. I only do light/moderate weight training, so as to avoid muscle soreness that can get in the way of my running. While there are plenty of services/apps I have bookmarked for advanced workout & weight training, right now my focus is tied primarily to the core tools that I use to quantify myself and my running.

Withings

Back when I was in the market for a bathroom scale, Withings had just released their WS–30 scale, a $99 entry in response to the market price for wifi connected scales pushing below the $100 price point. Being a “smart” device, the scale has a companion app for smartphone connectivity. For the first few months of ownership, the scale & app carried out their intended functions but left a lot to be desired in regard to utility and presentation, so much to the point that I briefly regretted not opting for the competition, Fitbit’s Aria scale. Though the reviews at the time rated them as mostly comparable, the Fitbit scale tended to win out due to it’s aesthetic and integration with their wearable devices. I opted for the Withings ecosystem because it had wider integration with other fitness services/webapps then.
Withings Dashboard Comparison
In the time since I first purchased the scale, my initial investment has more than paid off. Withings redesigned the web dashboard from a very minimal line-graph interface to its present HealthMate platform, optimizing readability of information at a glance and introducing gamification elements. A recent update to the iOS app brought pedometer functionality, which MyFitnessPal also put into their native smartphone app. The timing of this addition was very fortunate, since I recently uninstalled the popular Moves pedometer app after it got Facebook and immediately suffered a privacy policy fiasco. Thanks to the developed level of communication & interaction between the two services, step tracking can be designated to one app and logged metrics will be pushed to both. Step count presence on the webapp and smarthphone dashboards helps centralize the data, giving a more assistive and holistic tracking experience than Moves ever provided.

MyFitnessPal

Withings does a great job facilitating tracking overall progress, but doesn’t provide much by way of nutrition or activity logging (beyond step counting). However, thanks to the aforementioned integration with various third-party services, it’s easy and painless to extend the scale’s functionality. MyFitnessPal is arguably home the web’s most robust food database. In addition to logging food for calorie intake tracking, it also allows users to log exercise to keep a running estimate of calories burned. Since MyFitnessPal has it’s own set of API’s to plug into other services, a lot of the exercise logging ends up being automated — calories burned are calculated off the running step count (from either the Withings app or the MyFitnessPal app), as are activities logged in other support apps.
MyFitnessPal Dashboard
Admittedly, MyFitnessPal is a service that I’ve been underutilizing. The action of food logging and the inherent accountability mechanism makes is easier to resist cravings and stick to dietary guidelines, but the prospect of yet another thing to have to check in with my phone on has dissuaded my use. That, and the frustration in trying to log food that’s cooked at home or off a menu that doesn’t list nutritional data. Yet I realize that the MyFitnessPal service only really works if food intake is regularly logged, and that even rough approximations from similar entries in its database is better than nothing at all. On top of actively logging calories consumed/burned, I’d also like to start tapping into the community on the site. From what I read, it’s really worth checking out.

RunKeeper

MyFitnessPal’s activity tracking features are sufficient for calorie tracking purposes, but the data collected and presented on the user dashboard doesn’t do much in regard to deeper analysis and training. With my efforts being so strongly concentrated on cardiovascular activity via distance running, run tracking apps are a sub-category of fitness apps that I’ve done plenty of experimenting with. The two I’ve ended up liking the most are Strava and RunKeeper. Though I prefer Strava’s design and data presentation, RunKeeper is still attractive in its own right and has the popularity & wide third-party integration that influenced my wifi scale purchasing decision when I was weighing Withings against Fitbit back in 2012.
RunKeeper Dashboard
As with most technology, the service/platform has improved exponentially since I first signed up with it. Free accounts come with a pretty extensive feature set, though putting down the cash for their premium Elite account level opens up some useful extra options such as additional training plans and granular data analysis. As one of the first and leading run tracking apps, RunKeeper supports data capture using fitness sensor accessories, specifically the Wahoo heart rate monitor strap and stride sensor that I own. This assures me that I’m getting as accurate of an estimate as technology can allow at present, and have it automatically shared to my Withings and MyFitnessPal accounts.

Wrap Up

These three apps/services work very well together and cover the basic areas of body tracking: weight, food, and exercise.
With the slight exception of the Withings scale which requires the $99 purchase of the scale, these services can also be used for free. As such, they’re what I’d recommend to anyone trying to lose weight or improve their physical awareness and performance. Once my efforts start to move past running and into other forms of training that can make use of other apps and services, I’ll likely write about them in a similar fashion. To anyone simply looking for advice on how to get started, a wifi connected scale, MyFitnessPal, and RunKeeper are a winning combination.

MGTOW: Men Going Their Own Way

I was reading through the archive over at artofmanliness.com, and read about the MGTOW philosophy, which promotes the idea that “…because society no longer respects and honors masculinity, men should no longer strive to meet the traditional markers of manhood.” At first, I seemed like something I could get behind — the idea that standards of manliness could be reinterpreted for today’s modern world and place importance on the individual, prioritizing self-actualization and enjoyment of life above the expectation of building a career to provide for a family.
Yet, the more I looked into it, the more I found myself in disagreement with it. The message of self-sufficiency and independence is delivered through the derisive focus on on the difference between men and women and the promotion of generalizing stereotypes. It’s neo-misogyny under the guise of self-empowerment, dishonest and ungentlemanly in it’s nature. MGTOW is what happens when a philosophical men’s movement takes a wrong turn for the worst.

Impediments

This past Monday, I hit reset on the counter for the weight loss project. I took new starting measurements, and was pleasantly surprised at where I weighed in. When I go through prolonged stints without regular exercise, I feel like I gain more weight from what I eat than I actually do. I was expecting to have set myself back as high as 210 lbs, and was greeted by a pleasant 200.3 on my digital scale’s display. As I noted in my check-in post a couple days ago, I managed to knock almost 4 lbs in a 5-day period.
However, I’ve noticed that it seems that almost every time I mentally coach myself up to a point of complete dedication, a new obstacle immediately presents itself and sends me veering off course. Two weeks ago, the county caught fire and climate conditions made even trying to relax at home hard and uncomfortable. This past week, I decided to get a jump on the week by completing a run on Sunday night (05/18) . The following morning, I had a pains in my left leg that made even just walking a painful effort.

Muscle Soreness Map - May 19, 2014
The Latest Pain Points

In my right knee, I felt a strong dull pain along the outer edge of the joint, as if bruised after being accidentally slammed into a small table. On my foot, I was forced to acknowledge proof that my earlier claim of having grown impervious to blistering wasn’t entirely true — I’ve apparently just become more accustomed to them. When I examined the end of my big toe, I was reminded of the time I went running and formed a new blister under a pre-existing one.
Toe Blister & Shoe Wear
I think there may be a correlation here…

When I looked at my left shoe, I noticed that the biggest wear-point coincided with where my big toe lies in the toe box when I have the shoe on foot. I always assumed the worn patches were just wear-and-tear on the decorative mesh and a perceived outer-layer of the shoe upper. The fact that all of my running socks are black helped maintain that illusion. But when I put the shoe on my foot without any socks on, I was forced to deal with the truth of reality:
Holes in My Running Shoes
I’ve been running in ratty hole-riddled shoes for weeks now.

So, in the spirit of stoicism and turning the obstacle into opportunity, I went on a few runs this week turning a blind-eye to the fact that my only pair of running shoes are falling apart and overdue for replacement. Additionally, I’ve also been going on walks with a co-worker on my lunch break, which has added 1.5 miles at a brisk pace every workday. I started doing some internet research in hopes of finding a good deal on a pair of new shoes from major retailers (Amazon, SportChalet, REI), but then remembered a local running store that I’d mentally bookmarked awhile back. After tracking down their website, I decided I’d find the time soon to go in for the free gait analysis that they offer and to pick up a new pair of kicks while supporting a local business. I did some additional poking around and found their Meetup.com group, which apparently hosts a weekly Wednesday run get-together and offers a 15% off a pair of running shoes at the Milestone Running store; a promotional discount, and the opportunity to add a social aspect to my running efforts.
I’ll probably have to take the run-down shoes out on one last jaunt tomorrow, since I expect most places will be closed for memorial day. A new set of footwear is in my short-term future, as will hopefully be another 3 to 4 lbs lost be the end of next week.

Unafraid

I compare myself to where I was just a year ago, and even already that person I was then feels like an entire lifetime ago. Around this time last year, I was just starting a new temp job with at a corporate office site for Union Bank, finally having found a new primary source of income after a rough unplanned two-month period of unemployment. I’d been so confident in my skill set and prior professional accomplishments that I didn’t anticipate finding a new job would be so hard a challenge. It was an enthusiastic hubris that made me blind to the reality that there are people with degrees (in some cases, even more than one) that have been struggling with long-term unemployment. In the months that followed, I juggled the intitial steps in beginning to realize my idealized self and the perpetual financial hardships that came from backlogged bills and unending auto repairs.
Throughout that time, counterproductive to my personal development goals, I grew weak in a new capacity. I subscribed to the “thankful to have a job” mentality, but also to the “beggars can’t be choosers” frame of mind that accompanies scarcity. I worked so hard at abandoning old unhelpful perceptions and self-imposed limitations, and adopted an entirely new set without noticing.
Now, after so much time working on rebuilding and reprogramming my self-perception and world outlook, I have an immense appetite for action and change. That unwavering self-confidence that once had me working 16 hour work days to coordinate an international ticket sale for a Japanese event promotional campaign is back under my command. The worst thing that can happen in life is for it to come to its end, and it’s a fate that we all share. Since the greatest our greatest shared fear is our common inevitability, why be afraid of anything that lies in between then and the present?
I’ve pushed aside pursuit of my passions to accommodate necessary practicality in life, and in continuing to do so contradict the persona I aspire to lay claim to. I see myself as capable, intelligent, and involved, and unafraid, and I need my reality to reflect it accordingly. Effective change requires a solid plan:

  • Aggressively assault the personal writing and weight loss projects I’ve already got running on this site.
  • Engage in meaningful work: to stretch the old marketing muscles, I’ve recently started working on helping a close friend develop her brand/business plan for a catering business she’s aiming to establish.
  • Find a new day job. I appreciate that my current one allows me to pay the bills, but the work I do is routine, meaningless, and fails to utilize my true potential, all without the benefit of development opportunities in new areas or career advancement.

My Intro to Audiobooks: The Blood of Flowers

As I’ve been listening to podcasts to pass the time at the office, I keep hearing audiobooks recommended by the different tech podcasters that I’ve started listening to. Curious to learn more about them, I directed myself to Amazon’s Audible.com and signed up for a free trial. I was planning on using the free credit on a copy of Ryan Holiday’s The Obstacle is the Way. However, I figured that that would best be explored the first time in text, and I was in the mood for a good story to listen to. I browsed through Audible’s Essentials collection, and immediately settled on the #2 item on the list: The Blood of Flowers. I’ve been juggling around some ideas for this year’s NaNoWriMo, but haven’t had much luck with getting started with an actual draft. Since it’s been a good while since I’ve read a novel, trying out the audiobook experience with a work of fiction and taking a break from all the informational/instructional reading I normally consume was a two-fold benefit I couldn’t pass up. The premise of the book’s story seemed interesting enough, but it was the narration done by Shohreh Aghdashloo that sold me on it. I learned of her recently when she had a guest role on the TV show Bones, taken (like most others appear to be) by her elegant beauty and the hypnotic & pleasing raspiness to her voice.
I’m about 8 hours in, and it’s been turning out to be a great choice for a first audiobook. The only complaint I have is that, as a piece of historic fiction set in 17th-century Persia, there are sometimes where foreign words and names are used. Having only sounds to associate a subject to made learning all the characters a bit of a process. As a listener who doesn’t know any Persian, there are times when I’ve had to rewind the audio to get the necessary context to deduce whether a foreign word I’d heard was used for emphasis or an actual character or object. On the other hand, my utter lack of familiarity with Middle Eastern cultures hasn’t kept the ancient city of Isfahan from coming to life in my mind’s eye. Credit for that can be given to the few hours I clocked in exploring virtual 16th-century Constantinople in Assassin’s Creed: Revelations; using what I remember from that and a Google Image search for “Isfahan”, it’s really easy for me to step into the story-world of the book’s unnamed protagonist. It makes me wish I could step into some other universe where Middle East tensions don’t exist and I could explore Iran without having to be in a state of constant alarm and danger.
I can’t really weigh in too much on the overall story since I still haven’t finished it, but I will say that the setup in the prologue immediately seized my attention. The author, Anita Amirrezvani, has a respectable amount of talent as her craft. What I can confidently weigh in on is how enjoyable audiobooks can be (with the right voice casting, of course). With Audible being an Amazon service, the ability it has to sync positions across ebook and audiobook versions of titles has effectively pre-sold me on a Kindle Paperwhite and an ongoing Audible subscription. I held out over the many years on making digital book purchases to see how the iBooks/Nook/Kindle “war” would play out in regard to service/product development. Between Audible audiobooks, Whispersync (for Audible & Kindle), and Kindle Matchbook (heavily discounted/free ebook versions of paper books ordered from Amazon), I think I’ve finally determined who I’ll be giving my book money to.

Running

In my adult years, running has become a very integral part of my life. When I engage in conversation with others about my experience with the weight loss journey and the progress I’ve made since my teenage years, it feels as if people are disappointed to hear that the drastic changes I’ve made to my body over the years have been brought about by hours spent jogging the city streets and not the result of some magic pill. These conversations ultimately end with myself on the receiving recognition for what I’ve accomplished and praise for all the work I do presently. It’s then that I start feeling both amazed and amused with myself and my life at present — because I used to hate running.
I’ve been a stocky kid. I maxed out on the scale at the end of my time in high school. At the age of 17, I clocked in at almost 260 lbs in a 5’ 10″ average body frame; in other words, with an alarmingly high volume of body fat who somehow still managed to feel comfortable in his own body.

Me as I looked/weighed in 2006-2007
Me, as I looked as a teenager

As I started transitioning into my early adulthood years, I decided to start taking a stronger proactive stance on my health & appearance, and set out to “get in shape”. After sufficient progress, I got complacent at just above the 200lb mark. Over time, I eventually started putting the weight back on. In 2011, I started pushing myself to get onboard the fitness train and fully commit. My initial efforts weren’t so great:
Screen-Shot-2012-08-20-at-11.36.30-PM.png
Average pace of 15 minutes per mile. Rough.

And I paid for them in pain, on multiple levels:
blisters.JPG
EVERY run resulted in new blisters in new places.

 
These days, I’m able to do much better as a runner.
Running Log - Middle School Track
After hiking up and down Cowles Moutain, I decided to swing by the old middle school and run the old “one mile” track. I never finished a mile in under 13 minutes back then.

I have a 5.3 mile route that I run at least 3 times a week, and I’m working on putting together a data capture system so that I can start aggressively applying quantified-self principles and adopt a structured training plan with a system in place to track and measure progress. I’ve also started doing more weight/endurance training to encourage muscle growth, since straight cardio isn’t cutting it on it’s own anymore. In that respect, I’m dealing with basic weight lifting all of the annoyances of building up stamina and hardiness that I encountered when I started running. As soon as I break under 190, I’m going to start experimenting with High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) as well. I really want to be in prime condition to complete a 10K, at the very least. If I have my way, I’d be interested in testing my merit against the challenge of a half-marathon in the not so distant future.
That’s the story of how I went from being the 250lb teenager who couldn’t run more than 800 ft. without getting a gnarly side-stitch and could barely squeeze in a mile in under 15 minutes that HATED running to an adult in his late 20’s whom, despite having a long-sustained (and resented) smoking habit and still being of a heavier body weight, has developed a deep and real fondness for it. And if I could do it, it’d take a set of really special circumstances for anyone else to not be able to do the same.

Reorientation

In one of last month’s entries, I expressed a feeling of the burden of having to “clean up” after myself. Finding a starting point for that effort has been a troublesome process. In the time so far, I’ve used what little time I’ve been able to allot to my writings trying to think of what to write next to move the process along, each day passing filled with unsatisfactory ideas. Invariably, I lose patience, and shift my focus to jumping haplessly across all the various other things I’m currently working on. Of all my projects, the two that I feel carry the most importance are my weight-loss progress and the development of my writing abilities. Since they’ve become so deeply intertwined, a lack of progress with one can drastically affect the other.
As I’ve been mulling the problem over in my head, one detracting factor I identified for myself is my detachment from the larger narrative that I’m currently working with. There’s been so much that’s happened even the last year alone that I’ve forgotten a lot of what it was that I wrote. Over the past couple hours, I’ve spent my evening re-reading all of my previous entries, both published and privately archived, to fully reacquaint myself with the story of me that my younger past selves have established so far. They’ve proven to be a very helpful read. After spending so much time honing my skill at the art of detachment over the recent years, I’ve been living in a state of suppression wherein my past has been treated as a set of foreign memories that I have collected in my brain as opposed to my own actual life story. It’s been very helpful in affording me the distance & emotional divestment to process and resolve all of my past unresolved issues, but it’s also made it hard to lay claim to my “self” if my self perception is so myopically focused on the constant transitional nature of life.
Having all the outstanding matters I’ve written about in the recent past fresh in mind, it requires very little effort on my part to figure out my next steps. The more I lower my guard against myself and begin to embrace my past and my life as my own, the more I find myself reconnecting with that “flow” whose constant presence I’ve missed. Those times where I manage to find it via a “runner’s high” is probably a good reason why I’ve come to enjoy running so much. Similarly, I recently read about a study linking emotions to decision-making, and am open to the idea that all the effort I exerted in such strenuous emotional repression may have been a strong cause behind all of the analysis paralysis I’ve struggled with.
If I were faced with the dreaded “tell me about yourself” interview question just mere weeks ago, I would have been unable to provide a satisfactory response. I wouldn’t have known where to begin; for so long, my story has been focused on recovering from a mental-emotional crisis, trying to rediscover the better parts of myself while wrestling with a transient-near-nihilistic outlook on life. I became the weakness and lamentations so thoroughly that I forgot all about my past strengths and accomplishments. Now, I’d be able to effectively communicate my story, as it stands so far. It’s not yet reached the point where it gets really good yet, but I can at least now see myself moving steadily in the proper direction.

Stoicism: My Way

At my present day-job, the majority of my workday is spent performing mundane and routine office work, primarily shuffling papers and performing data entry. Since listening to music can only carry me through so many hours of the day, I was driven to find some other ways to preoccupy all of the mental energy that goes unused by my job duties. A few months back when I still had an Evernote Premium subscription, I was utilizing their text-to-speech engine in their browser extension to have my workstation read back articles from my RSS feed subscriptions. Even though I found another text-to-speech extension (which appears to be the platform that powers Evernote’s) that can be used for free, even the couple steps it takes to get a web page read back to me are too much of an inconvenience to do multiple times throughout the day for 2–7 minutes of audio content. Recently, I started thinking about how I could get around these annoyances. Then, I remembered about podcasts.
As I was keyboard-shortcutting my way through my Feedly feeds, a post from Art of Manliness stood out at me, since it included a SoundCloud player. I read the article body, an overview of their latest podcast episode and had my interest piqued. Lately, I’ve been passively working on collecting an idea bank to have at the ready for this year’s NaNoWriMo, and as a result, I’ve been reading articles and interviews with authors to get some motivational perspective. Being featured on Art of Manliness, the subject matter of book itself was also highly relevant to my interests, and hearing more about it felt like a good passive use of an hour of the work day.
That turned out to be an extremely good decision on my part. As I listened, I realized that stoic is something I’ve become not only in demeanor, but also philosophically. For the past few years, I’ve been deeply engaged in sorting out personal matters and reconnecting with my “true self”. Inspired by the Japanese literary legend of “Musashi”, I modeled my own personal journey after his own, removing myself from the world as much as possible and redefining my identity in near-complete solitude, uninfluenced by the external world. It’s a state I’d been very close with before in my life, a time I recall being very much in tune with myself and the world around me. As I did started doing some investigative reading on the subject, I saw many of the principles I’ve directed myself towards in a formal philosophical ideology. Needless to say, I’m very much interested in learning more about the real-world history of this school of thought. The book by Ryan Holiday discussed in the podcast has been added to my reading list, as has Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations.

Publish by DayOne

Publish by DayOne
I’m really intrigued by the idea, and think it’ll help with the overall structure/organization of my writings. I look forward to experiementing with it once the feature gets pushed to the Mac version of the app; having to take the extra step of unlocking an iOS device, opening the app, finding the entry, THEN doing the publishing is too cumbersome and time-wasting to do on a regular basis.

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