Thursday, November 19, 2015

The Ten Commandments of Losing Weight with FitBit

As of today, I am down 40 lbs. since May 1, 2015, the day I began seriously working on weight loss by leveraging the FitBit Flex that I received as a gift (and obvious nudge) from my wife. Turns out it has been one of the best gifts I have ever received.  I am not a natural fitness junkie, but I find that I thrive on instant gratification, feedback and encouragement, and FitBit delivers these in many, many ways.
Recently, a number of friends have asked about what I am doing exactly that is yielding the results I am getting, or for tips on how to work more steps into their day, so I have compiled the following list as a hopefully amusing way to share what has worked for me.  I am not a doctor or fitness advisor by any means, and I realize that different people will get different results even with the same approach, but I think unless you have a better plan, you might want to try this as a guideline for how to work with your FitBit, especially if your goal is to lose weight.

1. Thou shalt not take thy FitBit off. Ever.

You will miss out on credit for steps if you’re not wearing your FitBit, so there is no excuse for taking it off.  (Okay, maybe if you’re showering you should take it off, or you might need to take it off if you’re in the throes and want to avoid any hair entanglements – unless your partner is into that sort of thing.)  Think of it this way: If you're wearing underwear, you should be wearing your FitBit.  If you sleep naked, hey, good for you, but keep the FitBit on so you can track your sleep quality and duration.
2. Thou shalt not let thy FitBit go uncharged.

Nothing is more frustrating than having one of the best walks of your life and then discovering that your FitBit was just lying there dead on your wrist the whole time.  The best time to charge your FitBit is while you are forced to be sitting down -- but not when you are lying down or you will miss tracking your sleep quality.

Hint: You can plug the charger into the USB port on your phone’s car charger, and easily charge up while commuting or running out for an emergency supply of guacamole for your falafel chips.

Tip: This may go without saying, but you are going to be much more successful using your FitBit in conjunction with your iPhone or Android phone, as opposed to merely your tablet, Mac or PC.  Be sure to choose the "All-Day Sync" option in the settings, so you get constant feedback.

3. Thou shalt wear good, comfortable shoes.

Foot pain and blisters suck.  You’re going to be spending a lot of time on your feet, so make sure you have the right footwear.  If you must wear uncomfortable shoes, make sure you knock ‘em dead at whatever you're doing with the fancy footwear, and then switch back to something comfortable as soon as you can.  Walking around the house in socks or barefoot is great, too.
4. Thou shalt set challenging goals in the FitBit app.

Notice how most of your FitBit friends (You have connected with your friends on Facebook and your email contacts that are using FitBit haven't you?  If not, do that right now!) average about 8,000 to 12,000 steps per day?  That’s because the default step goal is 10,000 per day, and most people simply “anchor” to that 10,000 steps, hitting it some days and missing it on others.  If you’re consistently hitting your current step goal every day for two weeks in a row, which you should be when it is as low as 10,000 steps a day, increase your goal by another 1,000 steps.

I recommend setting a sleep goal of at least 7 hours.  And actually try to hit it.  According to my data and results, at night, it is better to go to bed rather than exercise late.  However, in the morning, it is better to get up and exercise than to get more sleep than needed to meet your daily sleep goal.

If your objective is weight loss, you want to choose a calorie deficit goal, meaning you will consume x number of calories less than the number of calories burned each day.  I personally do a 1,000 calorie deficit plan. As long as you track your calories in vs. out reasonably accurately and you come in under the target (it is hard to hit the calorie consumption target right on the nose -- green --, so coming in under -- yellow -- is the way to go), the pounds will slowly but surely melt away at a rate of about 1-2 lbs. every week.  Want to eat more?  Go for a walk, jog or run to burn more calories, which will free up more calories in your budget so you can have that snack.

Set a water consumption goal if you like, or don’t.  My data clearly reflects that drinking more or less water has little if any effect on my rate of weight loss, so I find this data interesting, but not critical.  That said, I do drink a lot more water on hot summer days or when I'm moving fast enough to break a sweat.
5.Thou shalt go for the green. Every day.

Commit to at least trying seriously to hit your goals each day, so your steps, miles, calories burned, and active minutes are all green (and again, I aim for yellow in the Calories In vs. Out category) before your head hits the pillow at night. And again, if you get all greens for two weeks running, bump up your goals a bit.  Trust me, it feels a lot better hitting your goal if your goal is a little tough to hit.  Also note that your calories burned will get lower as you lose weight if you keep putting forth the exact same effort, so bumping up goals will keep you burning enough calories to keep enjoying the food you want.  I am partial to barbecue personally, so I need to burn enough calories if I want to enjoy it.

Hint: Do the Workweek Hustle, Weekend Warrior and other challenges to get your friends to cheer you on as you work at this.  This encourages you to hit your daily step goal.  But don’t take winning first place in the challenge too seriously. Just have fun and encourage each other.  It really does help!  (I find that trash talking is only fun in this context if it is completely silly and not overly competitive.) Bonus: You will rack up "trophies" in the FitBit app to help you keep track of your progress in the challenges.  Even more gratification for your hard work.
6. Thou shalt not sit down. 

Okay, you have to sit down from time to time, but try not to if you don’t have to.  It’s not as hard as you might think to add more stepping just by avoiding the urge to take a seat.  On a conference call?  Take it from your mobile phone and walk around throughout the call.  If you are the presenter on a web conference, you can still do this as long as you stay close to your screen.  Bingewatching your favorite TV series, or spending time watching corporate training?  Do it from the treadmill with your tablet and a Bluetooth headset.  You would be surprised how many steps you can rack up while gardening and mowing your lawn with a push mower.  Even shopping adds steps.
7. Thou shalt not park close to the entrance.

If your goal is to get more steps, why would you take the very first empty spot from the door?  Park out a fair distance (you should still feel safe walking to and from your car of course).  Bonus: Usually, no one will be parked next to you so you may avoid some of those mysterious dings on your car doors.
8. Thou shalt walk in right angles.

The shortest distance between two points is a straight line.  So don’t go that way.  Maximize that step opportunity by taking the L-shaped way or taking the stairs instead of the elevator. 

Hint: Taking the stairs at a run burns more calories, but don’t be the jerk that runs up a flight of stairs while someone else is coming down them.
9. Thou shalt start the day with a brisk morning walk.

Wake up.  Log your sleep. Weigh yourself.  Go for a good, brisk (at least) 3-6 mile walk (or jog or run if you are so inclined) before breakfast.  Weigh yourself again, before you eat anything.  Notice how the number on the scale just dropped since before you walked?  Feels good, doesn’t it?  You just started the day with instant gratification.  Log that second weight figure into the FitBit app.  Do this every day.  Close monitoring of your activity and impact on weight will help you optimize what you are doing.

Hint: A 3 mile walk will take you about an hour.  To avoid boredom or the urge to stop early, get a Bluetooth headset, and get into something that really holds your interest.  If music really does that for you, great, but I find that audiobooks and podcasts help me pass the time much better while walking.  And, bonus: I also learn something interesting while I’m at it. 

Podcast recommendations: Office Hours with Daniel Pink, Freakonomics Radio, What’s the Point?, Stuff You Should Know, Planet Money, Hidden Brain, TED Radio Hour (I may do a separate blog post on favorite podcasts, and will link to it from here if so.)

Tip: If you walk around the same lake or at the same mall every day, be sure to smile and say “Good morning” as you pass other folks for the first time each day.  Soon, people will be saying it to you first.  It really helps make it feel more comfortable and welcoming. And that is part of what will keep you coming back.
10. Thou shalt not miss a step count badge by less than 1,000 steps.

You should of course hit your step goal for the day.  Beyond that, if you are already within 1,000 steps of that next step badge (step badges are awarded every single day for every 5,000 steps you take) then don’t let the day slip away without earning that next badge.  It does not take much time to rack up 1,000 steps when you need to.

Good luck and be sure to "friend me" on the FitBit app!  Have any other tips to share?  Please add them to the comments.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Seeing ‘Avatar’ In 2-D Would Be Like Taking Your Mom to the Prom

I mean, sure, you were there for the Big Event, but you were certainly not getting the full experience.

Avatar, the latest movie (in fact, the first in 12 years?!) from James Cameron  , the Director of the movie that for, I suspect, only a short time longer, holds the world record for highest box office gross in its initial run, Titanic, as well as big money makers like Terminator 2 and Aliens, is a movie that you simply must see in a darkened theater, and, unless you lack two functioning eyes, in 3-D.

Granted, with stunning high definition screens in more and more homes all the time, it is sure to be a show-off-your-home-theater Blu-Ray disc later this year, too, but to miss this one in the theaters would be a real shame.

There are only a handful of movies that have come along throughout the 115 year history of motion pictures that you can point to and honestly say

“That movie broke new ground.” 

Much as I was skeptical from the initial previews, I have to happily admit, Cameron really pulled off something spectacular here.

I doubt Avatar will be widely praised for its writing or acting, but it succeeds on several levels that really do change the game going forward.

First, you have to think about the fact that the film (or perhaps “the digital file” is the more appropriate term, to paraphrase Robert Rodriguez) exists at all.  With a reported production budget of ~$230 million, it is one of a very small number of cinematic projects of that budget magnitude. 

Cameron, the reigning “King of the World” in terms of tremendous commercial clout at the box office, thanks most particularly to the $1.8 billion returned on the $200 million investment in Titanic, is perhaps the only director who could get this project green lighted with a budget that high. 

The only other films to come close to that price tag, Spiderman 3, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, maybe those last few Star Wars movies, were proven marketing vehicles that were virtually guaranteed to put up huge box office numbers, and therefore easily offset their own budget risk.  

Think about it:
Steven Spielberg? Without Indiana Jones or E.T. in the movie?
George Lucas?  Without Star Wars or Indiana Jones?
Peter Jackson?  Without any hobbits or King Kong?
Sam Raimi?  Without Spiderman?
Michael Bay?  Without Megan Fox, er, uh, Optimus Prime?
Gore Verbiniski?  Without Jack Sparrow?
Robert Zemeckis?  Without Marty McFly and Doc Brown or Forrest Gump?

I doubt that anyone else could have easily pulled together the kind of financing this thing took. 

And, consider, too, that the film required substantial investment and invention of new technology in order to be shot at all (or, perhaps “captured” is the more appropriate term).  Cameron has a long history of being on the cutting edge of filmmaking technology and special effects, and, like Lucas, Spielberg, Jackson and Zemeckis, has a knack for consistently making such massive undertakings broadly appealing and therefore remarkably profitable.

One thing worth noting is that even though there is no pre-existing literary, TV or film property that provides Avatar with a built-in audience, it is a genre picture.  This is significant, because when you look at the movies that have ushered in new eras of technical innovation and sophistication (think of the advent of Dolby Stereo and motion control photography with the first Star Wars movie, or bullet time and wire work in The Matrix, or the rapid, coarse cutting style of the Bourne movies), they are, invariably, genre pictures.  Science Fiction in particular boasts the highest number of innovative effects films, for obvious reasons, and that is certainly the genre that Avatar is most closely aligned with, although it clearly has elements of war movies, disaster flicks, fantasy and westerns woven through it as well.

So there is the question of what Avatar’s success means for the film industry.  In its second weekend, which is when most blockbusters begin their rapid decline in box office grosses, Avatar not only held on to #1 with a very modest decline in box office receipts, but did so even as the new Sherlock Holmes film had the biggest Christmas Day opening of any movie in history, and by a wide margin at that.  These are clear signs that Avatar has legs and that the word of mouth is excellent.  Clearly, it will be among the top grossing films of all time, and therefore, it will be hugely influential.

Here are some key industry outcomes that I can easily predict:

1) Arguably, the most significant impact Avatar will have on the industry at large is that it demonstrates that 3-D is no longer easy to classify as merely a gimmick or novelty, but that it can be effectively used to enhance the story and to actually help the audience suspend disbelief rather than being used to flaunt the movie’s unbelievability literally right in the audience’s face. 

There are only a small handful of shots that stand out as traditional “3-D shots” in terms of the “oooh aaah” factor, but the entire viewing experience is tremendously enhanced throughout because of the depth and richness to which the 3-D treats the viewer’s eye.  As the title of this post notes, seeing the film in 2-D would be the cinematic equivalent of taking your mom to the prom.  Sure, you could, but… Why would you want to? 

Just a few years after they were heralded as new heights of computer generated imagery, Star Wars Episodes I-III, The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and Jurassic Park will quickly begin to feel quaint and technically obsolete.

2) As Weta Digital spearheaded the special effects work on the production, following on their successes with the Lord of the Rings trilogy and King Kong among others, the “little” effects shop Peter Jackson founded to create shots for Heavenly Creatures back in 1993, has now firmly and undeniably  cemented their position as the primary competition to George Lucas’s Industrial Light and Magic, by creating a true masterpiece of special effects directed by a major filmmaker other than Jackson himself. 

ILM will almost certainly react by trying to best Avatar in their next major outing, and it is not hard to imagine George Lucas commissioning a further effects revamp of his core Star Wars films to adapt them to 3-D viewing in order to avoid them being too quickly made to look obsolete, the way older Sci-Fi movies do nowadays.

3) Lastly, as alluded to earlier in this post, with any luck the film industry will recognize that it is okay to be more daring with their investments.  For two decades now, a vastly disproportionate amount of investment has gone into making movies that were retellings of pre-existing works of art, either movies themselves, or books, comics, TV shows, and the sequels thereto.  Avatar’s box office success will hopefully remind the major studios that Hollywood can make a mint by making us crave something we have not seen before.

Don’t get me wrong.  I am not so simple-minded that I don’t see the influences that are sprinkled throughout Avatar.  In Hollywood-speak, you might call it “Dances With Wolves meets Disney’s Pocahontas, crossed with Star Wars: Episode II: Attack of the Clones, and it’s in 3-D!”  or any of a thousand other ridiculous shorthand summaries like that.  But, nevertheless, the Navi people, their language, the botanical life on the planet Pandora, all of these are examples of rich imagination and universe-creation that should inspire interesting work in the next several years from all levels of the entertainment industry.

To sum up: 

Go see it. 

In 3-D. 

Already saw it?  What did you think?

Monday, November 23, 2009

Don’t Let Yourself Be the Bug in Your Software

Have you ever heard the old joke about the guy who was such a bad dancer that they asked him to stop because he kept throwing off the music?  (If you know who told that joke originally, please let me know).

My wife had an interesting experience today in much the same vein.

Our children’s school system uses a web-based software system to schedule quarterly parent/teacher conferences.

For the elementary school, the scheduling is pretty straightforward, because you only have to schedule with one teacher.

For the middle school, however, it’s more complicated, because there are a half dozen or more teachers to potentially meet with for our one student. 

Because of this, conferences are limited to 10 minutes, per the rules indicated in the software system, and you can – in fact, you are encouraged to -- schedule back to back conference slots with different teachers, such that you can get through, say, six conferences in 60 minutes, in theory, with one scheduled right after another.  My wife scheduled her times a couple of weeks ago, and had no trouble with the software.

So far, so good.

Now, given that this is scheduling software, it only stands to reason that the offline elements of the scheduling process should be aligned with the software’s scheduling rules and vice-versa.  Unfortunately, this was apparently not the case.

My wife showed up 10 minutes early to her first scheduled conference.  She was told that she was 10 minutes (a whole session, mind you) early, and asked could she wait until the other parent(s) showed, or didn’t show, so everything could stay on track.  Smart thinking.  Despite my wife being early, the teacher recognized the potential downstream impact of breaking with the “business rules” so to speak, in this one case.

But, for some reason, certainly meaning no harm, the teacher said, just a moment or two later, that my wife might as well sit down and get started with the conference, so my wife obliged, even though only about half of the appointment timeslot remained. 

But, about 6 or 7 minutes into the other parents’  appointment time, the other parents actually did arrive, and the teacher then told my wife that she would have to abruptly end the conference that had only just begun, because she had to keep things on track schedule wise. 

In effect, she, again, meaning no harm, gave the other parents my wife’s slot and shortened the previous slot that my wife had “taken” at the teacher’s own request.  As a result, my wife got only about 2-3 minutes for that first conference, and didn’t have an opportunity to ask questions or discuss.  This is what is referred to as an  unsatisfied customer.

According to my wife, bells were not used to mark the hard cutoff for the 10 minute cycles, so she simply went on to the next room on her schedule, only to find that the teacher in that session was backed up, running about a session behind schedule.

This issue cascaded through several other conference timeslots, and apparently, occurred for others in parallel, until at one point my wife happened to be passing a school administrator in the hall, who was earnestly trying to keep things flowing properly.

The administrator, certainly meaning no harm, asked if my wife was having challenges with the schedule due to the fact that all of the teachers were running behind by 1 or 2 appointment slots by now.  My wife indicated that yes, the schedule was now off track, and the administrator, trying to help of course, said she would call the last teacher on my wife’s schedule and tell her that my wife would be on her way, but that her schedule was thrown off by earlier delays.

It is not clear whether the administrator actually reached the teacher to relay that message, but when my wife showed up, 15 minutes after the originally scheduled time, due only to the delays elsewhere, the teacher seemed completely irritated by the delay, and made it clear that she held my wife responsible for it.  The ensuing conversation was equally frosty.

My wife, to reiterate, was at the school early for her first appointment of the day, and simply tried to go from conference to conference per the schedule she had established with the website software a few weeks earlier.

So, considering my wife’s case alone, the software worked perfectly, but one appointment got cut short and thereby rendered essentially meaningless, all others got delayed, and the final one included some insulting attitude for good measure.

Now, I’m sure, at no point in this process did anyone think they were causing any harm.  And yet, major breakdowns occurred.

You can’t blame the software.  It did what it is meant to do.

You can’t blame the people for being ill-intentioned.  No one meant to cause any trouble.  Okay, maybe a few people could have been more pleasant, and/or followed through better.  But that’s just humans for you.

Regardless, there was definitely a process breakdown.

Looking at it after the fact there were a few key breakdown points that were noteworthy:

1) In my wife’s case, to stick with the process as well as possible, the first teacher should have either

a) not seen my wife until her scheduled appointment time, so she could politely let the late-arriving parents know that that time was booked, thereby hopefully keeping the subsequent appointments on track

b) seen my wife, and when the other parents did arrive, flip-flopped their appointment time with my wife’s so both got their full time and the teacher’s attention

or maybe even c) simply rescheduled the other parents’ appointment for later on in the day, for example

2) The administrator, rather than trying to call individual teachers and put out mini-fires, should have addressed the root problem – in my opinion, without the use of the school’s bell system to clearly indicate that appointment times had ended, parents and teachers apparently went over their allotted time in many, many cases, which had a cascading effect on delays.

3) The final teacher, when told by my wife that her delayed arrival to that last conference was the result of the aforementioned breakdowns, should have been more understanding, but that is really a matter of opinion, frankly.  You can’t count on people to be nice or understanding, I’m afraid.

The reality is, if parents and teachers had been more successfully influenced to stick to their appointment times, aligning the real-world process more closely with the software, then, the delays might not have occurred, and thus, the last teacher, despite her attitude, would have had little to complain about with respect to my wife’s arrival time at her conference.  And, the user, my wife, would have had a much more pleasant experience, and she’d be singing the praises of the school’s efficient method of handling conferences.

The moral of the story?  Don’t invest in software to simplify a relatively complex process, only to then be the bug in your own software by neglecting the real-world aspects of the process the software is supposed to help you streamline! 

Oh, and whatever you do, don’t piss off the end user.  Especially when she’s my wife.

This post originally appeared at

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