Monday, November 27, 2006

BigAssSuperstar: Un-Weighted: Week Ten

This week just whipped by. Two stops in the gym, if memory serves me right. Nothing spectacular to report here. Amanda cooked up good hearty healthy stuff all week long. The real story ....

Start weight: 220 pounds
Last week: 216
This week: 213
Change: -3
Total loss: 7 pounds

Okay, *that* makes no sense to me. I was figuring a one pound loss, maybe....mayyybe. And we ate like crap all weekend long -- pizza Friday night, Wendy's Saturday lunch, candy after the xmas tree lighting at City Hall, Swiss Chalet Saturday night ... I really don't feel I earned such a big loss, and I wouldn't be surprised if it's put back on by next week. But, we'll see!

Monday, November 20, 2006

BigAssSuperstar: Un-Weighted: Week Nine

Another decent week with a few trips to the gym. Cardio stuff. I've dropped down to my "skinny" pants. Not that skinny -- 38 instead of 40, but it's a change. My existing regime of pants are getting too saggy in the butt and loose around the waist.
I went to the doctor for some blood work. Just wanted to see where my cholesterol, blood sugar, vitamins, transmission fluid and antifreeze levels were at. Hopped on the scale and got official medical confirmation that I'm down several pounds from my last visit. And, I asked for a quick blood-pressure test. What a surprise!
Here's how my BP has scored at doctors visits in recent history:
  • June 2002: 140/90 (Stage 1 hypertension)
  • January 2003: 120/90 (Prehypertension)
  • May 2005: 130/90
  • June 2006: 120/90
  • Now: 110/70 (Normal!)
So, I guess eating well and exercising can have a pretty swift effect on blood pressure.
Thanks for all the feedback and encouragement, gang! Doing this in public has been part of the motivation for success. I must give some credit to Amanda, who's also been making weight-loss efforts, beginning around the time I decided to try out for X-Weighted Season 2. She led the way with the healthier eating. And it's working well for her so far -- she's lost an amazing 27 pounds to this point! She doesn't have a blog (yet) to showcase her efforts and get the same cheering section, so here's a big hip-hip-hurray for her!
Start weight: 220 pounds
Last week: 217
This week: 216
Change: -1
Total loss: 4 pounds

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Toys are fun, spam is not

I'm enjoying my new iPod. I ordered one of the new 2nd-generation iPod Nanos from Best Buy Canada. Green, 4GB. It arrived promptly in a little tiny box. I amalgamated my sprawling music library into something iTunes can manage by itself, sorted out most of the duplicates, and now I'm in the process of listening to it all and rating each song. I'm using a system I've seen outlined in various places -- one star for songs I don't really want to hear again, two stars for a song I can tolerate but would probably skip past, three stars for a song that's okay, four stars for a song I particularly like, and five stars for "this f'ing ROCKS".

I've thrown together a few "smart" playlists -- fifty Rush songs here, forty Ween songs there, a pile of short 90s tunes elsewhere, and so on. I tell the machine to serve me up a pile of songs that have no stars -- unrated. Then I rate 'em on the iPod, and when I plug the critter into Little Eddie Dingle, it syncs everything up with the master library, ratings and all.

A surprise for me has been how much I've enjoyed the Barenaked Ladies podcasts. They released a new album (or two) in September. While they were making it, they made podcasts. And they're fun. I've caught myself laughing out loud while listening. I'm gonna have to put the new BNL album(s) on the iPod for listening, since we have tickets for their Halifax show in January.

It's going to take a long, long, long time before everything's rated. It may never get completely finished, actually. But it's fun along the way.

Now, I'm a bit peeved at another of my toys: the Blackberry. I've gone for some years now with a Blackberry strapped to my hip, and not even a whisper of spam. But I got three or four spams on the weekend, and one at 4:43 this morning -- looks like some kind of pump 'n dump stock deal. I'm not even sure what I can do filter this crap out on my end.

Back to toys that work. I've been accomplishing a want-to-do that I've wanted to do for, like, five years or more. And that's transferring my old videotapes to digital. After failed experiments with USB digitizers and frustration with the ATI All-in-Wonder solution, I did some research and realized that the Hauppauge MPEG2 encoder cards in Little Eddie are the ideal solution for me. I run my old four-head Sharp VHS machine into a Datavideo TBC-1000 time base corrector to smooth out any timing errors and give fresh sync signals to the encoder card ... then run S-Video and stereo audio out, into the PVR-250. (The PVR-150, I've found, looks and sounds little crap in comparison.) The pack-in software, WinTV2000, is a little clunky but versatile, and lets me capture DVD-ready video to the hard drive. A quick trip across the BigAssSupernet to The Stallion (the more powerful PC in the house) makes it ready to edit, author and burn. So far, what I've been taping looks pretty good, and no dropped frames in any of the experimental burns I've seen. I'm learning a lot about digital video along the way. This weekend I began experimenting with an old video project from my university days, by splitting the audio from the video in an effort to remove some tape hiss and hum that's bothered me since the day the soundtrack was mixed in 1995.

The trick to getting all this done is finding the time to dump hours of VHS tape into the machine. Now that I'm going to the gym a lot, I can set the thing rolling, go get sweaty, and come back to find an hour or more of video encoded. Cool beans.

On a closing note ... best wishes to mom, who's going into hospital this week for an indefinite stay. The Bigass community (me, Amanda, and the few regular readers) are all thinking of you and wishing you comfort and good health. Love you! Love also to dad, who'll have his own challenges in an empty house! And continued good vibes go out to my sister, who's now about a month and a half away from birthing her first baby. Hell, good loving thoughts go out to everyone ... except those nasty spammers.

Follow-up (November 17): Looks like I'm not the only one to get a sudden burst of Blackberry spam. BBHub - The BlackBerry Weblog - wrote an article about the recent annoying emails, with several comments from users who've been getting them too.

Monday, November 13, 2006

BigAssSuperstar: Un-Weighted: Week Eight

After last week's surprise gain, I kicked off the week with a trip to the gym. I would've preferred sleeping, but I'm doing the "get off your ass already" thing and getting off my ass, already. I didn't make the full trip to Nubody's, instead opting for a sweaty cardio attempt at the apartment gym. Took on the treadmill and the elliptical machine. Even tried some jogging on the treadmill, getting good 'n soaked.

There's something about having worked out in the morning that makes me want to dress better during the day. I just feel more confident for some reason.

Did pretty much the same on Wednesday ... on Friday ... and even on Sunday. I haven't been to the gym this often in about eight years!

I'm feeling a difference, for sure. I've noticed muscle development in my shoulders and legs. Not hulking he-man stuff by any means -- just what I suppose ought to be normal muscle to help me get through day-to-day life.

My pants are looser, and my cheeks feel a little bit smaller. Not sure if it's enough to show up in pictures, but it's those small changes, bit by bit, that give me feedback enough to see that things are improving.
On the food front, I managed to resist cookies and treats for most of the week. Great improvement there. But man, I really wanted those cookies.

On to the scale...
Start weight: 220 pounds
Last week: 218
This week: 217
Change: -1
Total loss: 3 pounds


Alright, down just one pound. Perhaps next week I'll do a body-fat measure to see how all that's balancing out.
---

Friday, November 10, 2006

More Schmaps for yous


The folks at the Schmap! travel guide site have done it again! They've used four of my Flickr photos in their latest product. It's a guide to Banff, where Amanda and I enjoyed a lovely visit in the spring. They've again offered me the opportunity to offer you the opportunity to take the opportunity to download one of these beasties for free. As with the Halifax guide, I have no idea how much they're supposed to cost, but free's free.

US drug ads get real

Seth Stevenson of Slate Magazine looks at a new series of ads from the US Office of National Drug Control Policy that's quite a departure from the "drugs are evil", "drugs will ruin your brain", "drugs support the terrorists" campaigns of the past. He notes that the new TV spot titled "Pete's Couch" takes a patently realistic and utterly sensible approach at trying to steer kids away from weed. (The ads are available online, too.) (Google search turns up lots of references, including YouTube.) Seth writes...

This new spot, titled "Pete's Couch," doesn't offend me. It acknowledges that smoking weed on your buddy's sofa is the "safest thing in the world." (Which is true. I actually had a friend named Pete in high school, and we did get high on his couch. No turmoil ensued.) The ad's main contention is that it's important to get off that couch and out into the world, where you can do things like ice skate with other teens.

Interesting approach. Trying to scare kids with outlandish destructive side-effects hasn't worked. Perhaps telling them a workable truth -- that wasting your life doing nothing, as much fun as that may be at the time, is a silly thing to do -- is more respectful and honest, and could end up being believable and effective.


It kinda reminds me of how South Park treated the same issue.

Of course, we had Mr. Mackey lecturing the kids. "M'kay, kids, you shouldn't do drugs, m'kay, drugs are bad. You see, I was at the bottom of the barrel, I was a wreck. Why, I didn't even care about money. I was wasting my life... You boys need to listen up, m'kay, what I'm talking about might save your life some day... Drugs are bad. You shouldn't do drugs. If you do them, you're bad, because drugs are bad. It's a bad thing to do drugs, so don't be bad by doing drugs, m'kay, that'd be bad."

Or more directly, the sixth season episode "My Future Self n' Me". That one really struck me the first time I saw it. The boys' parents hire a company to serve up loser "future selves" to scare the children into staying away from drugs. The boys catch on, though, and are furious that they've been lied to. Here's how it ends...


RANDY
Oh... Well... Son, we've just been trying
to make sure you know how dangerous
drugs like pot are.

STAN
I've been told a lot of things about
pot, but I've come to find out a lot
of those things aren't true! So I don't
know what to believe!

RANDY
Well, Stan, the truth is marijuana probably
isn't gonna make you kill people, and
...it most likely isn't gonna fund terrorism,
but... Well son, pot makes you feel
fine with being bored and... It's when
you're bored that you should be learning
some new skill or discovering some new
science or... being creative. If you
smoke pot you may grow up to find out
that you aren't good at anything.

STAN
I really, really wish you just would
have told me that from the beginning.

SHARON
He's right. If we use lies and exaggerations
to keep kids off drugs, then they're
never gonna believe anything we tell
them
Hmm.. I wonder if the South Park thing influenced the development of the US Office of National Drug Control Policy thing.

Monday, November 6, 2006

It's snowing!

First flurries of the season.

They are here.

Light flurries, 3 degrees Celsius.

It is snowing.

The weatherman is calling for 2-5 centimetres today.

Last year, it snowed the first time when Amanda and I were out car-shopping. That was December 3.

The picture on the right is not mine. It is also not from today. It is not that snowy here. So far, it is actually a novelty to have snow in the air.

Special greetings to Sandra, who delights in the snow more than anyone I know!

BigAssSuperstar: Un-Weighted: Week Seven

Back in the saddle, and starting to regain the momentum snuffed out by the sniffles and a chest full of lung butter.

Signed up Monday at Nubody's gym for a year-long membership. I have regular morning commitments on Tuesday and Thursday mornings, so a Monday-Wednesday-Friday gym schedule looks appropriate. Kicked off the working out on Wednesday with a warmup, weights, cardio and stretching. To save the trouble of searching for the right machines at a stage where I'm still not sure where all the water fountains are, I took advantage of the circuit training setup. They have an array of weight machines set up in order to give a full body workout -- leg press, leg extension, leg curl, lat pulldown, shoulder press, chest press, tricep press, bicep curls, etc etc. -- then you go back to the first machine and do another set. Very handy. I'm sure that later on, I'll be moving to a more tailored/prescribed plan, once I know where stuff's at.

I wasn't sore on Thursday (aside from shoulder pain from a morning subluxation -- my left shoulder popped out of the joint briefly... loose ligaments and/or weak rotator cuff), so I upped the weight on the machines on my Friday visit in order to give my body a tougher time. It feels really good to be pushing some weight again. It's been too long.

Last week's post about my lunch drew some comments.

An anonymous poster wrote, "So you call this a lunch? Sounds more like a daily smorgasbord to me." Probably is -- a daily smorgasbord of fruit, fibre, non-fat yogurt and other decent stuff that takes me from "breakfast" right through to dinner. Certainly a huge leap forward from my Toronto daytime diet of cakey muffins, street sausages, jerk chicken take-out, Big Macs and frequent trips to the pop and candy machines or the dollar store.

Anonymous followed up, "Why don't you pick a more attainable goal, say 190, and once you reach it, maintain it for a period of time. Then if you are ready, go for a new goal. 160 is a rather drastic goal, don't you think."

jojo krako agreed, suggesting "make smaller (attainable) goals and reward yourself when you meet them. Also, some goals may be better (and in the long run more useful) than "I want to weigh X at time Y". For example, "I want to visit them gym 4 times this week, lift X amount of weights and increase my cardio workout from Y to Z minutes" The are concrete things that you can aim for. I started my "Un-Weight"ed experience a few years ago and found the weight goals very difficult. The reason is that, as Sandra said in an earlier post, muscle is more dense than fat and so if you really commit to gaining muscle mass (and if you are serious, you MUST do this), you may find it difficult to get to 160 - maybe you should try to aim for a BMI# or something, i dunno."

All good points, and appreciated. And valid points, of course! A BBC Health article echoes the same wisdom:


Successful slimmers tend to be patient about their progress and set small goals they can meet. If you never feel successful, it's easy to feel a failure, lose confidence in your ability to lose weight and give up.
It really helps to measure success in terms of the realistic amounts of weight you've lost and the benefits that brings, rather than constantly trying to hit your 'dream' weight. Research also suggests that, on average, most people find it hard to maintain a weight loss of more than ten per cent in the long term.


The article suggests a simple way to give goals a reality check is to see ensure they are SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-specific." For example, a SMART weight loss goal is to aim to lose 6lb (3kg) in two months, rather than 2st (13kg). To help achieve that, one SMART lifestyle goal could be to cut back from a daily chocolate bar to two to three smaller ones a week, rather than avoiding chocolate altogether."

I can agree that the smaller, say 10-pound increment (decrement?) goals are wise. Amanda's a fan of those, too. I think Dr. Phil endorses those types of goals. They can end up being useful along the way, especially in cases where people set themselves up for failure and collapse ... that whole "well, I couldn't do (x impossible task in impossible timeline), so there's no point trying" thing.

Having said that, I'm sticking by the 160 (170) pound goal as an overarching umbrella goal. Let me explain ...

This Un-Weighted project resulted from my tryouts for the Life Network television show X-Weighted Season 2. Participants start the six-month series by setting a weight loss goal. The program follows them as they struggle to lose weight, finding out what barriers stand in the way, and ultimately demonstrating that not only is there more to getting fit than reaching a number on a scale -- the number chosen is usually a lot further off in the distance than it initially appeared. This project was conceived to emulate the TV series. That's why I chose a far-away number at the beginning, rather than embarking on an open-ended, series-of-small-steps process with an indefinite conclusion.

160 pounds (or 170 in the case of this six-month project) could be seen as the "gimmick goal" -- the far-off target. But having the big target feels important so that I don't lose sight of what I'm actually trying to accomplish... and that's not just making some small changes, but some big changes. I'm not in this to get just "a little less fat". It's a big goal because I'm in need of a big change.

The 160-pound figure started as a guesstimate of where I'd like to end up, but I did some math to go with it, taking into account body fat and consulting various charts and blabla, to see if it's actually a real, sensible number. Yes, it looks like a drastic, ambitious, impossible number, but the data suggest it's actually at the high end of where I ought to be (in the eyes of science anyway). Yes, I will probably find it difficult to get to 160. It may not ever happen -- I may plateau at 175, and find that being a more muscle-y than I imagined but still a little pudgy 175 is about as far as I can go without my body giving me absolute hell in protest... and that'll have to do.

Having said all that, I concur with "anonymous", jojo, Sandra, Amanda, Dr. Phil, the BBC and anyone else who says small goals are valuable. After all this writing, I might work some of them into my plan. But I already realize there are many goals to be had.

The first chapters of Hot Point Fitness, a wonderful book suggested by jojo back when I was making earlier, less dramatic efforts to shapen up, has an inspiring segment about how getting fit is a series of thousands of goals, big and small. From the small goal of getting up at a reasonable hour and getting out your gym clothes ... to the tiny goal of doing a single repetition of an exercise smoothly and properly ... to the larger goals of finishing a full workout ... to the ultimate goal of what you want out of it at the end. The grand idea is to become addicted to the sense of accomplishment from completing thousands of tiny goals, and the big accomplishments that they accumulate.

Of course, the number on the scale isn't the ultimate determinant of my progress. Accomplishing the other small goals along the way is important -- getting to the workout .. doing the workout .. getting to various phases where I need to buy new clothes, and rewarding myself with new clothes .. increasing my intensity on the machines .. plus all those little qualitative rather than quantitative things I'd set out for in the beginning.

Thanks for helping me think, gang!

Now, to the scale ... not the ultimate determinant of my success and happiness, but a single useful tool for quantifying progress.

Start weight: 220 pounds
Last week: 215
This week: 218
Change: +3
Total loss: 2 pounds

Jeeeeezus. Same old speculation about muscle gain vs. fat loss, poop-retention (that's my theory), or excessive pizzafication. No excuses. Just time to continue hitting the gym and pushing forward.

---

Thursday, November 2, 2006

Halifax gets seriouser about graffiti

Regular readers and visitors to the BigAssSuperGallery have noticed my fascination and disgust with graffiti. It catches my eye wherever I go in this city. I've been especially bothered by a couple of taggers who've been prolific and destructive lately. Someone named "SAME" has been hitting homes and residences with huge spraypaint tags. And some artless twit going by the handle of "Jem" has been haphazardly spraying her tag through much of the north end -- and not even staying consistent with the stylization of her nom de crap. I keep seeing FYPT, ENDER and BOS tags all over the place, too.

Now, HRM (the Halifax Regional Municipality) has launched a web site to help residents realize the seriousness of the problem, and offer solutions. The city invites people to call 911 when spotting graffiti in progress. It stresses the three Rs -- record, report, and remove. That is, take a picture of it (done), tell the authorities, and clean up the mess so these miscreants can't get the satisfaction of having their colleagues spot their handiwork around the city.

The site also gives tips for the media, including:

  • Avoid showing graffiti as it only gives more fame to the person who did it. If graffiti must be shown, only use one small unrecognizable area, or ensure the background of graffiti be slightly out-of-focus to distort any tags. It can also be photographed at an angle that makes it illegible.
  • Please report not only on the problem, but the positive steps being taken.
  • Never mention vandals by their tag names in stories.
  • Never use negative phrases to describe graffiti writers. This will further alienate them from the community and entrench them deeper into the graffiti subculture.
  • Do not refer to the graffiti writer as an "artist".

Let's get this mess cleaned up and kept under control, if it can't be outright eliminated. If talentless hoodlums want to pretend they're famous and important by scribbling nonsense in a public space -- let them put down the markers and spraypaint, and start a blog.