Archives for the month of: July, 2011

It was the end of June, and I had just returned from vacation with the family. We’d gone to Hawaii, so I spent a lot of time with no shirt. I’ve always thought of myself as a very fit person. I have run regularly since I was 16, I work out, I have done P90X, I do yoga regularly. But in Hawaii I just felt . . . well, tubby. Looking at photos of me in those tight rashguard shirts you wear for surfing, I can see it was not an idle sentiment. When I returned home, I weighed myself: 198.2.

The number floored me. I am six feet tall. In college I thought of myself as 175 pounds. That has crept up over the years, and around 2000 it seemed to settle at 185. I was comfortable enough thinking of myself as 185 pounds. But the scale did not lie, over the past decade, my weight had crept up and I was now 200 pounds. No offense to anyone — but I do not see myself as a 200 pound man.

With my birthday coming up at the end of July, I set myself a goal. I would get back to 185 by my birthday, July 29.

I have never, ever watched what I eat. I have always relied on the idea that I have a high metabolism and lead an active lifestyle to keep me in shape. This worked when I was younger but now, in my mid-40’s, evidence suggests that it does not.

For my diet, I chose the “slow carb diet” found in Tim Ferris’ book The 4-Hour Body. (Affiliate link.)

I can’t say why this approach rather than another. I picked up Ferris’ book and was curious. It seemed very well-researched and no-nonsense. It did not lay a bunch of guilt on, and it has a number of chapters each designed to help you achieve a certain goal (fat loss, muscle gain, endurance, etc.). I think that I liked the book because in the back of my mind, I would like to get my weight down and then add muscle.

[UPDATE] One of the key concepts that the book drove home to me is the inability to use exercise to manage my weight. I had been fooling myself that it was possible to just “work off” excess calories all my life. But the vast imbalance between intake and what exercise really burns makes this a pipe dream. As one of my trainer friends puts it, “You can’t outrun a donut.” (Knowing this, I get angry when I think about today’s “anti-obesity” campaigns that make the claim that being more active can control weight. Being active is good, but it is not going to give us fewer overweight kids. Only nutrition will do that.)

The Slow Carb Diet

There are two core ideas in Ferris’ book. First, experiment and track results to see what works (he has done this religiously for many years). Second, the main diet that seems to work is what he calls the “Slow Carb Diet.”

The basic idea behind this is to eat protein, vegetables, and legumes (beans) in as high a quantity as you want . . . and nothing else. No grains, no rice, no dairy, no fruit. And, one day per week, all rules are gone and you can eat what you want.

I am not going to go into the science behind the diet, but rest assured it is researched and he makes a good case for it in the book.

For those who are familiar with it, this is very much like the Paleolithic diet, only you get legumes.

[UPDATE] A friend asked me what a typical breakfast is. I thought it would be good to recap my basic meals.

  • Breakfast: I actually have “two breakfasts.” My first is upon awakening, when I have a shake that I detail below. It is important to get at least 30 grams of protein within half an hour of waking up. This shake is about all I can handle at that hour. But I get hungry about 90 minutes to two hours later, so I go for “second breakfast.” That is egg whites (from a carton), spinach or broccoli (frozen, microwaved), and some black beans, all with a bunch of salsa.
  • Lunch: I am usually not hugely hungry at lunch, so I have something light. Usually I take a bunch of romaine lettuce leaves, and wrap deli meats like ham or roast beef inside. I give a quick swipe of mayonnaise on each. Oh, and some black beans.
  • Dinner: I usually focus on a big protein here, and then round out with steamed vegetables (from frozen) and black beans. I find two or three Bubba Burger patties are awesome. I will also grill a whole bunch of chicken breasts on Sunday and eat them at dinners throughout the week. I also will go to Chipotle, which is now my go-to fast food. You can eat this diet without ever going anywhere else. I get: Fajita bowl with no rice, with black beans, steak (sometimes double steak or mix with chicken), pico de gallo, medium salsa, guacamole, lettuce.

Not an amazingly varied diet, but it works.

Here is a list of OK and not-OK foods that may help.

My Results

After one month of eating this diet very strictly . . . I have never felt better physically. More energy, more vitality, general sense of well being. I used to get a lot of tension headaches. I have taken no pain relievers for the past 30 days. I also used to need a certain amount of caffeine to get going in the day. Ditto: I have had no coffee for the past 30 days.

In terms of fat loss, my progress was quite rapid at the start, but that rate was harder to maintain. I weighed myself every morning, wearing just shorts, before ingesting anything. It ended up to be about .75 pounds per day that I was able to lose. Yesterday was my birthday and my weigh-in was 185.8. Close, and my wife congratulated me, but no cigar. I was a bit disappointed.

But today, the day after my birthday, I hit 184.9. Success.

My plan is to taper the pace a bit moving forward, and hopefully lose another 5 pounds by the end of August.

You can see this all graphed out below. I created a spreadhseet where I track my daily weight. I also include my daily target weight, with a +/- of 2%. So long as I was in those lines, I was happy with my progress.

(Click to enlarge the graph.)

You can see a few gaps in my tracking. Those were times that I was traveling for business and could not weigh myself. It was initially a challenge to maintain the diet when traveling, and especially when eating “banquet” type meals in business settings. I take along a protein powder supplement to make sure I get enough protein in those cases. But it takes planning ahead.

Also, there are supplements that I take along with my meals that Ferris has used and recommends. I do not know if they are critical, but in case you want to duplicate my results you should know about them. Here is my supplement regimen:

  • On awakening: shake of Athletic Greens (green-sourced vitamin/probitoic compound) and Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard whey protein. Supplements: Alpha-Lipoic Acid; Green Tea Extract (decaffeinated); Garlic extract; Fish Oil capsule.
  • With lunch: Alpha-Lipoic Acid; Green Tea Extract (decaffeinated); Garlic extract; Fish Oil capsule.
  • With dinner: Alpha-Lipoic Acid; Green Tea Extract (decaffeinated); Garlic extract; Fish Oil capsule.
  • Before bed: Policosanol; Alpha-Lipoic Acid; Garlic extract; Fish Oil capsule.

Like I said, I do not know if these are critical, but that is what I do.

By the way, I totally swear by the Athletic Greens.

Moving Forward

So far, this seems to be working well and, like I said, I feel great. I plan to continue to use this eating plan moving forward, not just to attain a certain weight goal but as a way of life. The benefits, for me, are worth it. Sure, I miss pizza and cheeseburgers, but I get those on Cheat Day!

If you have questions, post them in the comments and I would be happy to answer them.

The other day my friend, Dennis Ellington, asked just out of curiosity how I string my guitar. It was hard to explain in writing, but when I was done he said my method is unusual. So I thought it would be easier to demonstrate on video:

Here is what I originally wrote:

If you are looking down at the head, I turn the tuning posts so the holes are all pointing up-and-down. I thread each string through the post, and give it a slight tug. Keeping tension on it, I wrap the string clockwise and down, and pass it under the string that is coming into the post. Again keeping tension, I then wrap the string up towards me and bend it over the string I just went under. So I have just gone 1/2 way around the post, and made a little hook around the string. I then tighten the strung using the tuner. The tension I was putting on the string by hand is negligible, so I usually turn the tuning post about 3/4 way around or a bit more. Then I cut off the end of the string.

I know that many say you need to wrap the string fully around the post multiple times, for a “better connection,” but I cannot see how this actually helps. It may even make the connection with headstock worse, as the wrapping multiple times can be uneven. My method the string is in direct contact with the post ONLY.

The partial wrap and hook around the string are enough to fully seat the string. No slippage. Stays in tune once strings are stretched through use. To see what this looks like (it is more complicated in writing than in reality), see 6:40 in the video.



This past week, I spent four days at the Kettering Foundation’s Deliberative Democracy Exchange. This is a series of workshops where a number of people working on democratic participation issues come together to share what they are learning and struggling with.

I participated as a member of one 2-day workshop where we discussed what kinds of things ought to go into how we think about training people to moderate or lead deliberative conversations, and what kinds of thinking ought to go into how and what we report about those same conversations.

I also served as a co-leader for another workshop where a number of libraries housing government papers are looking at ways to bring deliberative practices into their work.

One of the highlights of the conference was that my friend Craig Patterson asked me to cut a short video as a part of a series he was working on. He was asking a handful of participants to respond to the question: “How can we come together as a community to rebuild our community?”

Here is my brief response:

As you can see, my main answer is that the way we can come together as a community is to foster a habit of coming together. This takes people who have the habit of holding deliberative conversations. It is not rocket science, but it takes people who have a knack. This is not about there being one particular facilitator or organization who can convene, but of there being people all throughout the community who have experienced what it is like to be a part of a conversation where people respectfully weight the trade offs and drawbacks of differing ideas.

It is accessible to all, it only takes a handful of people to begin to spark it.

On June 28, 2011, Google pleased geeks worldwide by unveiling their third try at social networking: Google+, or G+. While the previous attempts met with at best only mild success (Orkut is popular in Brazil but few other places, and Google Buzz remains a sideline for most), G+ has seen quick adoption and quick praise from the technological elite.

In a Google earnings call yesterday, newly re-installed CEO Larry Page live-G+’ed his remarks, including the nice tidbit that in two weeks G+ has 10 million users, and 1 billion items are being shared per day. (The math here does not exactly hold up: That would mean the average user is sharing 100 times per day. That seems excessive even to me.)

Thanks to my friend Guy Gonzalez, I scored an invite to G+ and have been playing with it for a bit.

In major respects, the functionality of G+ is identical to Facebook, and its layout is identical too. (See the screenshots of my Facebook profile and my G+ profile below, enlarge by clicking.)

G+, click to enlarge

Facebook, click to enlarge

That said, there are some features of G+ that have people jumping up and down with delight. Some of those features are real differences, others are not. (For instance, G+ is much better looking — and cleaner-looking — than Facebook, but I am not sure that is a huge difference, as part of that is just a function of when the look was designed. Facebook could refresh its look and look better than G+.)

In this article I will focus in one one specific feature of G+: Friend Circles.

Circles Make You Feel Private

The most exciting feature of G+ for many people is the ability (the requirement) to put all friends into “Circles.” This encourages you to group your friends in some way that makes sense. The interface is a simple drag and drop to create the Circles.

The first time you share something, you are asked which circles you want to share it with (you can choose “public,” which shares with everyone). That way, the photo of you sporting your new tattoo won’t show up in your boss’s stream unless you want it to.

In subsequent shares, G+ remembers your last setting, but it is very easy to add and remove circles with a mouse click.

This has given G+ users an increased sense of privacy and for the people I have talked to, this has been a huge win for G+.

However, I don’t see this as a Facebook-killer of a feature.

In the first place, it’s easy to accidentally put someone in the wrong circle, or forget who is in the circle, or share with the wrong circle. The heightened sense of privacy may paradoxically encourage unsafe (or stupid) behavior. For instance, imagine if you had “colleagues” and  “collages”  circles. You might accidentally share the scrapbook you made of Justin Bieber photos (“collage”) with your boss (“colleague”). Just having circles does not exempt us from having to take care and exercise judgment.

Furthermore, the idea of segmented friends list is a feature that is already implemented quite robustly in Facebook. It is called “friend lists.” In fact, the feature is more powerful in Facebook becuase I can control my sharing all the way down to the specific individuals irrespective of the lists they may belong to. That means I can share an update with me “family” list but exclude my daughter — so I can plan a surprise birthday party for her.

The difference between G+ and Facebook when it comes to this “segmented sharing” is that in Facebook, the feature is buried in the background.

How To Create And Use Friend Lists In Facebook

In order to use this function, first you need to set up some friend lists. In Facebook, click on “friends” and then in the upper right click “edit friends.” In the friend list that appears, there is a button (again upper right) that says “create a list.” Click it and add the people you want to your new list. I adhere firmly to the policy that all friends must be in some list, even if it is my “npk” (not personally known) list. When I made this move I had about 700 friends and it took about 45 minutes to complete the operation. From that point on it was easy because I decide for all new friends what list they go in.

At a minimum, you may want to set up a “family” list or a “work” list so you can easily exclude these groups from sensitive materials.

Once you have lists set up, it is easy to control who sees what, it just takes a few clicks.

To set a default list that you share with: Go to Account (upper right) and Privacy Settings. Click Customize Settings. You are given a list of possible items to share. Click the grey box to the right of “Posts By Me.” In the drop down menu, choose “Customize,” and THEN in the new drop down menu, choose “Specific People.” Now just start typing the name of the list you want to default to.

To specify who gets to see a particular post: There is a little grey padlock image underneath the box you type your share text in. Click it. You get a drop down that has “customize” as the last option. Choose that. Then a window opens a drop down where you can choose “specific people,” and then type in the list you want to share with.

In the screen shot below, I am sharing something with my Family list, but excluding my daughter. (It is, after all, her birthday coming.)

(Click to enlarge)

The key differences between G+ and Facebook when it comes to friend segmenting are that 1) Facebook has the feature hidden; and 2) G+ requires you to use it.

These are both things that Facebook could change easily — and I expect them to do so.

In later articles, I will look at other aspects of Google+ as I experiment with them. Let me know what questions you have and I will try to answer them.