How I Lost Thirty Pounds

After 15-20 years of trying to exercise my way to weight loss; I discovered that, for me, that’s not a viable path.

After a few false starts, I have found that the boring basics work.

  • Weigh yourself everyday at the same time.
  • Track every meal on a calorie counter
  • Keep total calories low – for me it’s a very low 1200-1500 kCal/day. YMMV
  • Mostly give up empty calories like alcohol, ice cream, sweet treats
  • Keep on exercising every day

That’s what is working for me – I haven’t really changed a lot what I eat except for smaller portion sizes (generally about 50% of what I though was right) and eliminating the various needless snacks.

It sucks, but this is my life now and for once it’s actually working

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Thanks to the guy who yelled at me and Roxy on the beach.

(You were wrong, by the way, dogs are allowed on the beach after hours)

It’s now three days later and I still think about how I could have responded better or not at all. A piece of friendly advice – if you find the need to yell at strangers and enforce your view of how other people should behave, you’re probably going to have a hard time.

Who are you? What makes you think you have the right to impose your will on other people using a public beach paid for by donations from the people of the Borough after the 1938 hurricane?

I’m sure you forgot about yelling at other people from the safety of the water – where, ironically, you were also breaking the posted beach rules by swimming outside the area demarcated by the breakwaters – right after it happened. I’m sure it’s a regular occurrence for you: shouting at your spouse, your children, employees, service people. Demanding they do things your way.

OK. I’m finished. Be gone with you. You have no place in my thoughts

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It seems like modern (western?) society is at some kind of inflection point.

The worldwide pandemic which has hit the UK and US particularly hard has had a massive knock-on effect to economies around the world. Here in the US we also have a huge grassroots movement started in response to police brutality and quickly expanding to address all aspects of racism and inequality.

In the UK, there’s the ongoing Brexit debacle and the real possibility that Scotland and Northern Ireland will not be part of the UK in the next few years.

Many other countries are also having their own political, economic, and ethical crises as well – so it feels like we are living through an important part of history.

It’s easy to think that this may be the end of “normal operations” and that’s a scary thought – so I’m choosing to believe that this is a time for optimism and that the systemic change that results from this reset will be positive. What I’m hoping will happen is that we, as advanced industrial societies, take the chance to move the economy to a more sustainable one. Whether this is the “green new deal” or something else I don’t know. But we need to get away from resource extraction, eternal growth mindset, and an unsustainable climate impact. That’s a big change in itself.

But there are social and societal things that need to change – the US, UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand need to address their colonial past and ongoing social and ethnic inequalities (I’m sure other countries have work to do as well, but I can only speak for the countries I’ve lived in) – younger generations seem keen to do this while the powers-that-be rests this (as they always do). The healthcare debacle in the US needs to change and people getting $1,000,000 USD bills for COVID-19 treatment (as has happened already) may be the straw that breaks that particular camel’s back. Again, younger folks who tend to have more international exposure see and hear that other countries don’t have the challenges that the US does and seem keen to change this. Cries of “socialism” and “communism” no longer seem to hold weight.

I’m actually keen to see how the next 20 years works out – a move to solar and other renewable energy sources, more equitable societies, better work/life balance, finally addressing legacies of colonialism and racism, and other change is long overdue.

Or the existing power structure could stay in place, carry on down the same destructive path and nothing will change until the next global crisis (seems like they are every 8-10 years).

I prefer to hope for positive change and better futures.

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Zipcar fail

I’ve been a user / member of zipcar for 5 or more years.  I don’t think I’m a heavy user by their standards, but I probably rent from them 1-2 times a month and there were periods when I was renting weekly.  Overall I was pretty happy with the service, but I have noticed more and more issues recently.

And then I got into an accident, and it all truly went to shit.

So, the minor issues were:

  • Cancelling every time I wanted to rent a “nice” car – it happened four times, so now I just don’t bother.
  • The fact that cars, and particularly vans, are beat to shit, covered in damage, so it takes 10-15 minutes to photograph all of it and email it to them.  Or you take the chance of not reporting it and getting hit for the damage.
  • The last car that I rented that had a keyless fob.  I returned it after the rental and then got frantic calls and emails the next day saying I had taken the keys. No, there never were any keys to start with – you push the start button on the dash.

But the accident took the bacon.  It was my fault, I tagged a parked car with the rear bumper of the truck as I pulled into a space.  I could very easily have driven off (in fact the car behind me told me to do that), but I was raised properly and was a Boy Scout so I left a note on the car, called the cops, and called zipcar.

That’s when things went bad – the paperwork in the vehicle was not (according to the NYPD) proof of insurance and I got a ticket.  So I call and email zipcar to get that proof of insurance. And call and email. And call and email.  I think on the fifth or sixth attempt, and many days of trying (with never a single email response or call back) I was able to get a person who could email me the correct paperwork that should have been in the vehicle.

But now the cops at the precinct say it’s too late to cancel the  ticket and NY state DMV wants more information and I have a frikkin’ court date.  So I call and email. Call and email. Call and email. Call and email and I get nowhere, so I finally get on the train and physically go to the zipcar office on Broadway in NYC – where the receptionist gives me major attitude and tells me they don’t deal with accidents.  After politely explaining the situation she finally deigns to get me somebody and I then wait for 40 minutes while they try and get me the info.  In the end Nik Hajdari comes over, tells me he’s a manager, and that if I email him he will help.

Note – in the mean time the actual professionals at the insurance management company have fixed my neighbor’s car and closed that issue.  That took a week or two, this insurance issue is four months and counting.

So I email Nik – and true to form get no response in a week.  Email him again and he replies to me instead of forwarding the email to the internal person who may be able to help.  So I respond to him again telling him he replied to the wrong person.

Final straw: today I get an email telling me that “we cannot continue to offer you membership and your Zipcar account has been closed. Please understand that, while we are unable to reverse the decision to close your account, we are happy to answer any questions you may have regarding our decision.”  Except that’s not true, because the number they tell me to call is the claims management company who tell me the claim was paid three months ago and they have no responsibility for membership decisions.  And when I call zipcar member “services” all they can do is read me the text of the email.  He did suggest that I might want to go in person to the Boston head office to talk to somebody – that seems reasonable.  Everyone (except the receptionist) is pleasant and polite, they just have zero ability to solve problems or answer questions.

Anyway, we are moving soon and I’ll buy a car so this is far from the end of the world.  I’m still going to harangue them to take responsibility for the insurance ticket, but now it’s going to be even more fun as it will show I’m not a member.  I imagine part of the reason for closing my account is because I’m flagged as somebody who calls and emails a lot – which is ironic as it’s all been over one issue and it’s entirely down to their failure to have proof of insurance in their vehicle (side note – this is all complicated by the fact that many, if not most, of their vehicles are registered and insured out of state, presumably to avoid taxes and costs in New York state).

I was going to cancel my membership in July, so this decision just accelerates that, and in truth I might have used them once or twice in the interim – so the inconvenience is minor.  But there’s a lesson to be learned from the complete failure in customer service and paperwork management for everyone.  Chalk up another casualty of the “sharing economy” – which means the user takes all the risk and customer service is non-existent while the investors get staggeringly rich.

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Evolution of New York City, in context

I was listening to an “In Our Time” (my new favorite podcast) episode on the history of the city and was struck by the discussion on the impact of development on pre-existing cities.  Most of the discussion was on European cities although lip service was paid to other historical cities and current emerging ones.

(As an aside I was curious about the omission of Tenochtitlan from the discussion or acknowledgement of Pueblo and Chaco culture early cities in the Pre-Columbian US.)

Something that really resonated with me was the changes that occurred in London and Paris with the introduction of the railway in the 1830s.  As is always the case the land grabs and development impacted poor people the most (and was repeated by Robert Moses and others in NY in the next century).  The difference between Paris and London is that rich people in Paris wanted to stay in the centre, while rich people in London wanted to be further out (although that definition of “further out” is now still Central London).

So in that regard, New York is more like Paris than London – with the poor people who work for those rich people forced to travel further and further from where they can afford to live.  As somebody who is being actively priced out of Manhattan despite a decent professional income I wonder about the long term effects of this.  I don’t think anyone will want to visit the New York City of the future if its just a Dubai-like glitzy shopping mall and tax haven.  And the areas of London that contain the temporary residences of the same international criminals and financiers (or maybe that’s superfluous) who are now hiding their money in NY real estate are realizing that these people don’t pay taxes and that empty neighbourhoods patrolled by private security are not exactly healthy and conducive to further investment.

Related: there’s a story in today’s Guardian about how predatory (real) estate agent Foxton’s in the UK has driven up prices so high in areas of London that its own employees can’t afford to live there any more.  Such irony.

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Pixies at the Beacon – first in a series

It’s turning into the summer of live music for Kim and me – starting with the Pixies at the Beacon last week.IMG_1348I love the Beacon Theatre as a venue – I’ve seen Van there twice and saw Eddie Vedder there some years ago (before it was renovated, I think).  I know I’ve seen some other bands there, too, but blanking on them at the moment.

So the Pixies were good – although I don’t think I have ever seen a band play as many songs in their set (possible exception, Dr. Feelgood in 1979 or 1980).  I’ve certainly never seen a band live that had as little interaction with the audience – and that includes such well-known curmudgeons as Van Morrison, Bauhaus, and Bob Dylan.  When Black Francis makes Van M and Bob D seem chatty and friendly it says a lot about him!


Coming up, I’m seeing Van again at the tennis center in Queens in a couple of weeks.  We are seeing Morrisey and Blondie at MSG at the end of the month and the Foo Fighters at Citi Field in July.

And, despite TicketMaster’s best efforts to fuck me over, I was able to get tickets for Of Monsters and Men (also at the Beacon) in September. The thieving bastards at T-M manage to add $14 of bogus charges to *each* $45 ticket price while also keeping 80% of the seats for scalpers and friends.


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The wretched state of “healthcare” in the US, part 279

I have high blood pressure – well under control – but whenever I have to deal with the various health insurance layers of obfuscation I’m sure it spikes to dangerous levels.

The latest is whether or not when BlueCross BlueShield says “paying in full for annual physicals” it actually means paying in full for annual physicals.  Spoiler: it does not.

It covers a small portion of it – but not the blood tests (necessary for that physical), the ECG or the leads for it, or many other tests.  As far as I can tell what they do pay for is the doctor to loo at you from across the rom and say “you look fine” or, more likely, “you need to lose weight”.

This echoes my experience last year when “paying in full for a colonoscopy” actually meant paying for part of it and not covering any of the anesthetist’s charges ($1200) because I am supposed to know all the steps and staff involved in a procedure and then call my health insurance to ask whether each one is covered or not.

Dental insurance is just as bad – I search for a new dentist on their site, call the closest person and am told they do not participate in the plan – the plan that lists them first in a search for affiliated providers.  In fairness, that search also shows my former dentist as being located at an office he left over 5 years ago.  I’m also told its unlikely they will cover a procedure unless I can give them the exact code and name of what the oral surgeon is planning on doing.  Again, I am supposed to become an expert in dental surgery to ask the questions to determine whether or not the company that I pay for insurance coverage will consider paying for what I pay them to cover.

Of course if I moved back to the UK, I’m informed that finding dentists who accept NHS patients is essentially impossible.

Maybe my inability to open my jaw wide enough to eat anything larger than porridge or soup will address the overweightness and I’ll kill two birds with one stone. And on the plus side I’ve passed a pleasant morning looking at examples of non-functional web sites, waiting on hold to talk to people who ask me to repeat the same information I just entered on the phone, and greatly expanded my knowledge on the vagaries of billing codes and medical & dental procedures.

Fuck this shit.

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Fitbit Charge HR

I finally broke down and got the Fitbit Charge HR last week (AT&T had a 15% off sale) and so far I am liking it.  The trouble with the market being saturated with wearables right now is that there is way too much choice and people like me just hang back to see what survives.


I did think about going for the GPS / HR watch – something like the Garmin or the Suunto and even got to the point of putting the Suunto into my basket on before I decided that $400 was a big step to take.  I also wanted to get away from the chest strap HR monitor – even though it is supposed to be more accurate, it doesn’t work at all for me on the bike, no matter how I adjust the strap.

So far I like the long battery life, the subtle pressure to add a few more steps a day to get to the 10,000 goal, the HR tracking, and the sleep monitoring.

I don’t like the web reports and the fact that they want to take even more money from you to get better reporting, the fact that it isn’t waterproof, and the lack of integration with apple health.

At a little over $100 on sale I think it’s a good start, and now I will know in 6 months or so whether its worth spending more money to get something with more features.

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New pics on my photo blog

Go check them out


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Goals for this year

1. Improve my Spanish (reading and speaking)

2. Sell my apartment and buy a new one

3. Travel somewhere new

4. Become a (slightly) better skier and surfer

5. Be happy and healthy

6. Pay off all debt apart from mortgage.

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Books read

I had meant to keep track of all the books I read last year somewhere.  Since I have got better at maintaining my blog pages in the past few months I added a page here to update and track them.

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Update and clarification on Windows Phone

The last post on my and my mother’s frustration with her new Windows Mobile phone generated the most feedback of any blog post I have ever posted here.  Most of the feedback was well intentioned (I approved every comment that wasn’t obviously spam, including some that were very rude) and I appreciate everyone taking the time to read this and respond.

In terms of clarification – I focused on Windows Mobile as the source of her frustration, since she got a Lumia phone, but I am 90% sure that we would have had the same issues with Android or iOS.  The only exception being that it would have been easier for me to guide her through iOS as that’s the platform I know best. Despite what some people thought, I am not an iOS fanboi, or an Android shill, nor am I paid to beat up on WinMo. Personally I use iOS because I also use OSX and its easiest for me to use the same platform across the board (not as easy as promised or it should be, but that’s another post).  I think the only thing that is different and more challenging for her with WinMo is the tile concept – where simpler icons might have been less confusing.  On the other hand, perhaps different sized tiles correctly configured would have been best.

As far as an update – my Mum returned her Lumia and got the the Doro 612

DORO-612_BLACK_1As far as I can tell, it’s a 6 or more year old commodity feature phone  but its screen is easier to read than the antique monochrome Nokia she had before.  Personally, I think Doro are coining money by selling obsolete phones at a premium, but one thing they do well is cater to their demographic.  My Mum was very happy that the phone came with a printed instruction book which she read cover to cover and filed for future reference.  Its not what I would have chosen of her, but Christmas is about giving people what they want, not proving a point.  At least texting and calling will be easier for her on this and she can access her emails as she always has, through the library.

Lesson learned.

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Windows phone – a disastrous christmas present

My 75 year old mother needed a new cell phone – she travels quite a lot within the UK and lives alone and it was time.  She’s been using an ancient Nokia for years – it’s at least ten years old at this point and doesn’t keep a charge and is getting harder and harder to use.  So when she brought up the idea I was happy to help her – although at a distance.  She had seen an ad for the Doro phone – which is aimed at old people.


The trouble is that it seemed astonishingly expensive for what it is and for what she needs – it lists at £230 ($350) for what appears to be a 2-3 year old android phone with a simplified UI.  If you purchase it with a monthly plan, it’s still really pricy since my mum uses about £10 of call and SMS credit a YEAR, and the cheapest plans were more than that per month with a 2 year commitment.  Even if she were to use 3G or 4G data for checking road conditions and her single email account, I imagine she’d struggle to use £15-20 a year.

So, thinking that we could configure any smartphone to more or less work like this, I decided on my disastrous plan B.  I decided to recruit my 14 year old niece who lives near my Mum to help her learn how to use a smart phone and set it up simply in the first place. I sent my sister to carphone warehouse with a budget of £50 to get a PAYG phone.  My recommendations were the following:


HUAWEI-ASCEND-Y330_PURPLE_1Huawei Ascend Y330


NOKIA-LUMIA-530_GREEN_1Nokia Lumia 530


The first three are android, the last is Windows phone.  My sister chose the last because my nieces have an earlier version of the same phone, so in theory can help her out.

I say in theory, because in practice it turned out to be a complete disaster – after fielding multiple phone calls with tears and stress and upset, I told her too return the smartphone for whatever candy bar feature phone she wants and use the difference for a nice bottle or wine or two.

Why was this process so traumatic?

  • My mum, although intelligent and educated and comfortable using word on a laptop and webmail in a browser (on a public library computer) could not grasp the graphical paradigm of windows tiles.  She wants, expects, and needs hard keys for on/off, home, etc.  Even after reading the limited instructions and getting advice from my sister and two nieces, she just could not grasp the tile and sliding concepts.  The harder she tried the more confused she became, the more frustrated she was, and ultimately rejected the whole thing.
  • Touch screens require fine motor control. This may be adjustable in the windows UI, but she struggled with touching accurately and quickly enough (but not too long).  She did not seem to have the same issue with an iPad – but even that UI was confusing and strange to her.  She likes hierarchical menus and the graphical stuff is way too busy and odd.  If you look at the image of the Nokia above – the ONLY tile she wants or needs is the phone.  The rest is distracting garbage to her.  My niece couldn’t conceive that she wouldn’t want Facebook and twitter on the home screen, because those are like oxygen to her.  To my mum, they are nothing of interest.
  • My mother’s eyesight is good, but the icons and colour palettes were strange and confusing to her.  She still is annoyed that a magnifying glass “means” search. To her it means “zoom in” or “make larger”.  I suspect you may be able to customize icons and colour palettes, but that would require a lot more time and effort on my part – for a phone that gets used for 10-15 minutes a month.
  • Many people of her generation (especially in the UK) have  great fear of breaking or damaging a compeer by “doing the wrong thing”. I’m not sure if this is due to scare stories in the news or just received wisdom, but I have seen this a lot. Devices don’t come with manuals any more – you are just expected to click around and work it out.  But if you think that there’s a “wrong” thing you can do that will destroy the item, you will never explore and discover.  At the other extreme is the young kid who will click on everything and work it out for themselves in minutes – with no fear (or concerns) at all.

The whole experience has been trying and frustrating for all involved and I’m disappointed we couldn’t find a phone that worked for my Mum – maybe we can try Android or iOS, but I suspect many of the same issues would arise no matter what the platform.  It has really made me rethink UI development from the perspective of the older, unsure user.  It also made me realize that the simplicity that Doro have engineered into their UI is worthwhile (still overpriced, though, IMHO).


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The sad, confused state of healthcare in the USA 2014

I’m not going to get into the whole messed-up big picture of all that is wrong in the current state of healthcare – just give a micro example of the dysfunction that is endemic.

I live in New York, and I work for a company based in Minnesota.  We (between us) pay for a high-deductible Blue Cross / Blue Shield plan.  This causes issues every time I use the insurance because the doctors submit the bills to Empire BCBS (NY) even though my card clearly says I have coverage with BCBS of MN.  (Exactly the same thing happens with my dental insurance too).

I need to get a CAT scan, and because I’ll be paying the negotiated cost myself as I haven’t hit my deductible for the year ($3200) I would like to have some idea how much that will be.  So I call BCBS and talk to a very nice lady in Minnesota.  She guides me to a place on the website that should do exactly this (give an estimate of cost).  But first I have to put in what kind of plan I have.  Apparently I have an “Aware” plan – which is great to know since it is not shown on my card, the webpage, or anywhere else on the paperwork I have (probably buried in the hundreds of pages of stuff they sent me).  I put in my zip code and nothing comes back.  The nice lady explains that this is because I live out of state and the tool is only designed to work within MN (despite the fact it accepted the NY zip code).

Here’s where it gets laughable.  She explains that she can’t tell me what is covered or what it will cost because they don’t have the info. I respond saying they must have the info because they pay the claims.  That’s a different department she responds.  She realizes this is a crazy situation but BCBS haven’t given her the tools to do anything about this.  I explain I just want a ballpark figure – is it $300 or is it $2000?  The last time I had CAT scan was 20 years ago and it cost over $10,000 – but that was then.  She would really like to hep but she can’t.

Just for the hell of it I type in my old MN zip code and I get costs varying from $350 to $1400 depending on which facility I use.  I can use that thousand dollar differential much better than some random health facility so I would still like to get to the bottom of this – as much for the principal at this point.

So I call BCBS of NY (Empire BCBS).  It’s a little difficult to find a phone number because the web site just says call the number on your card.  When I find a number and call it’s also hard to get through the menu without an account number but I keep selecting random things and pressing zero to get a person.  The person who answers is also nice (kudos to BCBS nationwide for that) but she can’t help me either.  Can she give me a range of what they reimburse? No.  Again she is hamstrung by procedure, but she suggests I call the facility.

I call the facility and speak to the billing department and the lady there is even more helpful.  She understands the confusion and is not at all surprised by the lack of communication between the various BCBS entities.  What she can tell me, though, is the actual amount that they bill to BCBS ($1090, for the record) so I know that the actual amount I will pay will be lower than that. I’ll update this when I find out what the actual cost to me is.

I’m not at all surprised by the confusion and lack of communication between different insurance entities – and imagine the wasted cost of all these useless middlemen!  I am very surprised that a CAT scan in Chelsea, NYC is a fraction of the cost of the same procedure in Minnesota (depending on facility).

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I had breakfast this morning with an old college friend.  He was in town to run the NY marathon for charity and I reached out to him on twitter and made the time to catch up.  He was my best friend at University, but after I came to study in North America we lost touch and I literally had not spoken to him in over 25 years.

It was a great breakfast and a chance to catch up and reconnect.  I met his wife of 25 years for the first time, heard all about their kids, and his career and life over the intervening time.  It was great fun, and I wonder why we lost touch, because we have so much in common.  What it made me realize is that a large part of this commitment to healthy life I am undertaking is the mental health aspect and maintaining and fulfilling friendships for the sake of sanity, stress relief, and enjoyment.

There are many studies that show the health benefits of good friends.  If you make those friends the kind of people who run marathons for charity, or who will go skiing or surfing with you, then that’s even better.

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How much is one United MileagePlus mile worth?

I’m winding down my status on any of the airlines because I get pretty much the same benefits on United having their credit card as I do having silver status and its nice to not have to travel as much.

But I still have close to 100,000 miles banked and I do collect the miles and use them wisely.  As part of that equation I thought I would try and work out what each UA frequent flyer mile is worth to me.  That way, if I see a car rental for $200 with 1500 miles and another for $175 I can work out whether it’s worth paying the extra for the points.

A starting point is the (apparently quite high) cost of purchasing miles for United – 1000 miles costs $37.62 which works out to 3.76 cents a mile – plus a bunch of extra fees.  That’s only practical when you are few miles short of an award.  Using my United credit card for work expenses has zero marginal cost as long as I don’t carry a balance.  But if I pay interest that “freebie” starts to become very expensive.

If I look at it from the other direction, I mostly use miles to travel to Europe.  When I travelled a lot I used miles for business class because that’s where you get the best value per mile, but let’s assume I’m taking economy / saver tickets because that’s what I do when I can.  A trip to the UK using miles is currently 60,000 miles RT for a flight that averages $1000-1200 which gives a redemption value of ~1.6 to 2 cents per mile.  You get better value in Business because it “costs” 115,000 miles RT but would cost $5,500-8,000; yielding a redemption value of almost 7 cents per mile.

Using these metrics I came to the conclusion that one United Mileage Plus mile is worth somewhere between 2 and 4 cents to me when I’m earning.  Meaning that I can pay a $20-40 premium to earn 1000 miles and feel OK with that.  Of course, my preference is always going to be to earn as many miles as I can without paying anything extra.

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100 Healthy Days – day 43

So I haven’t really been reporting and I have fallen off the wagon a little bit over the last couple of weeks – and then regained focus this week. I do feel like I’ve been paying more attention both to diet and exercise in the previous month compared to the rest of the year. I had not been sleeping well with the change in seasons last week, but getting back to the gym has taken care of that mostly.  We still alternate between cold and damp days and overly warm for the time of year and that’s never a good thing.

I did plan a trip to Newfoundland over Thanksgiving – a boost for my mental health – and I am very much looking to getting out in the wilds, even if it is cold and wet.

Low carb vegetarianism continues to elude me mostly, although I have cut the vestiges of pure fructose in the form of cranberry juice ice pops I used to eat most nights.  I also dropped Tim Ferriss’s metabolic supplement suggestions since I had seen absolutely zero impact in 6 months and I don’t need to waste the money.  I may well do the same with the flax seed oil when it runs out.

No easy answers at all – I’m doing 90% right, but obviously something is fucked up in my metabolism because it can’t be normal for a 230 pound physically active male to consume 1500 calories a day and not see any weight loss. Oh well, I should be happy I’m healthy and active and stronger than the vast majority of my peers

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Dishonesty in business – a crisis of late capitalism?

After my latest experience of being lied to and misled by a business (Chase credit cards this time) I reflected on the peculiar pathology that seems to be all around us.  A certain subset of businesses (usually the larger ones, but not always) have chosen not to compete for customers and revenue through developing better products and service, but instead have made the choice to grow revenue through deception and cheating.

Everyone reading this will be able to think of numerous recent examples – the landlord who dishonestly kept the security deposit, the cable or phone company who “mistakenly” charged you extra for months (it’s funny how these “mistakes are *never* in the consumers’ favor), the car or software salesperson who lied about what their product could do or disparaged the competition unfairly, the bank that chose to extract the payments before applying the deposits and then charged you multiple times, etc. etc.

I’m an honest and straightforward person. Although (because?) I have no religion, I have a very strong sense of morality and ethics and thus it’s hard for me to get into the mindset of the liars and cheats around us.  But time goes on and you become cynical and jaded – this offer is too good to be true, those claims can’t be valid – and generally you are right.

The ubiquity of this dishonesty in business suggests it’s a deliberate policy.  Lack of enforcement in most societies has educated white-collar criminals that their risk is low compared to regular criminals on whom far more resources are focused. I would consider the upper and middle management at Bank of America, Comcast, or Hertz to be as much white-collar criminals (although to a lesser extent) as the crooks who fixed the LIBOR rate or bankrupted Lehman.

It’s also odd, because in some aspects society is in a golden age of discovery and business growth.  Etsy and Kickstarter facilitate small craft and product development businesses; Tesla has successfully started the electric car revolution; Apple, Google, Microsoft, Blackberry, Citrix, and Cisco (and many others) have successfully unchained many workers from the cubicle and daily commute; Amazon and AliBaba allow people to live outside big cities and still have access to an enormous array of goods and supplies; ZipCar allows people to live in big cities and not own a car that sits unused most of the time; etc.

At the other extreme, the legacy businesses – banks, airlines, cable companies, property management companies, car companies (for example) – have by and large chosen not to innovate or create and instead to gouge their customers to improve their bottom lines.  Maybe in this current business climate there’s no viable way to keep United afloat other than fucking over their frequent and infrequent travelers through endless fees, charges, and erosion of service and benefits? Maybe the whole banking system operates on such small margins that BoA (and all of the rest) have to charge 12-23% interest on credit cards, while paying 0.03% on savings? Perhaps the only way GM and Ford dealers can compete with Tesla is by preventing Tesla from selling cars in that state?

I wish I knew what to do about this.  It’s just depressing, really, and I call it a crisis of capitalism because this certainly doesn’t feel like the operation of a rational market.  I don’t think it’s THE crisis of capitalism, and I suspect that as more and more people recognize what’s going on they will pressure their elected politicians to do something and eventually there may be a little more semblance of oversight and enforcement.  Of course that is tougher to do when politicians in the US and UK are primarily funded by the beneficiaries of this broken system – but I don’t think I can give up on both democracy and capitalism in the same week.

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Low carb vegetarian?

On the trip I was reading about a competitive swimmer in his forties who was eating right and training 4+ hours a day and still gaining weight.  I’m not training that hard, but I’ve been eating <1500 cals a day for over a year and working out 30-90 minutes 6 days a week and I haven’t lost an ounce.  Clearly my metabolism is not working like most people’s (can I be the only person who trained for and ran the NYC marathon and actually gained weight in the process?)

Going to experiment with low carb vegetarian to see if that can make a difference.

It’s definitely going to be a challenge since I can only eat so many eggs and haven’t bought milk or butter in years.  It looks like eggs, tempeh, tofu, and beans are going to be in my future A LOT

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100 Healthy Days – day 21

Back at home after a trip to Maine.  Too much beer drunk and less than optimal diet, but good for the soul and mental health, and that’s an important trade-off.  Lots of walking this weekend – 7+ miles in the the city yesterday and probably close to that on Saturday.

According to RunKeeper, I hit my 50km walking challenge in less than three weeks – and that doesn’t include cycling or elliptical in the gym.

Carrying on.

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