How do you quantify self-improvement?

Say you have some goals (or "resolutions", in the case of the new year)... How do you measure progress toward success? Goals are much easier to actually accomplish if you break it into steps. I haven't done the Googling, but I assume tapering with the help of patches or nicotine gum is a much more successful method of smoking cessation than cold turkey. Fitness improvements are almost by definition something to work toward one step at a time -- you can't just go from the couch to running a marathon, you need to run around the block first.

This all came about from me lying in bed thinking about some things I'd like to accomplish this year and trying to come up with ways to keep track of my paths toward them. A lot of this is based on my use of the Physics Diet web site for tracking my weight. Even when I'm not succeeding, I love having the data in front of me. I can forgive myself a big red spike if I then come back with some green afterward.

I want something like that for other goals, so I started bending my brain around it a little. Physics Diet depends on daily weight and body fat measurements, and each day your "goal" (in most cases, at least) is to weigh less than you did the day before. How do you break other types of goals into similarly measurable "micro-goals".

I think the main crux is how you formulate your goal.

Suppose I want to be able to run ten kilometers this year. The first step is to get out and run - period. That means running once in this next week is an improvement from the previous state of not running at all. Then if I get to the point where I am running consistently three days a week, I need to change my metric to something like distance covered or even time if my distance covered is the same as before. Obviously, this just got a lot more complex than a weight chart...

At least there are still obvious metrics, though - in the example above you have frequency, distance, and time. All of which you can easily measure and compare. You might even be able to make a pretty chart/graph to show progress/regression. Even without the chart I could track progress in each of the metrics and use that data to motivate myself toward my originally stated goal of running 10k within my time frame.

Here's another one: I want to learn to play my Fluke ukulele. How the heck do I "chunkify" something like that? Well, I could rephrase the goal to something more like "I want to practice the ukulele every day." That give me the frequency metric again. I could also perhaps measure a duration metric, too. Those will definitely be helpful to me at the start, but after a while two hours of plinking tunelessly will become a disappointment, and it's a big jump from counting how often I practice to counting something like songs I've learned to play....

Perhaps this illustrates a lack of knowledge -- I might not actually understand what it takes to reach my goal.

Maybe that's OK, though. Maybe tracking data on these small metrics is just a way to get me off the ground for some goals, while with others - like running or other fitness goals - it could be a long-lasting habit.

Besides, there are other things to track. Perhaps some goals are better broken into a sequential checklist of milestones -- when you can check something off, you have made progress. This sort of goal wouldn't really have backwards progress, I suppose, aside from stalling out on time.

What do you think? Is this likely to be a useful tack for achieving goals? Am I just using the idea of tracking data as a procrastination tool? (Thanks to my experience with Physics Diet, I'm quite certain this isn't the case. Tracking measurements takes very little effort and thinking out your goals is never a bad thing.)

Much Nothing About... Ado?

Took last week off to get a little break after our big launch at work. It turned into a fairly busy period in between all the loafing on the couch. Highlights:

  • Had a meeting with Ma and her giant dog rescue crew and got them introduced to my boss in case we can do some pro-bono work for them. We have a meeting scheduled for this Tuesday, so we'll see if anything comes of it.
  • Took Mingus in for shoulder x-rays to see if anything joint-related was making him gimpy. Turns out the joints look pretty darned good. Hooray no surgery for the dog.
  • I had a medical visit myself, but that warrants its own post... Coming soon... ;)
  • Painted the kitchen a pretty little shade of blue with the help of The Wife.
  • Spent the 4th at Brozo's, which is fast becoming tradition. Drank some beers, threw a couple bottle rockets, managed not to start any fires. Y'know, standard stuff.
  • The next day we made it out to see the Burlesque As It Was troupe put on a righteous USO-style show. That Charlie Champale is something else, I tell ya. The girls were pretty fun, too. We liked it so much, in fact, we're going to see them again on the 26th at the Bluebird theater in Denver.
  • Today's highlight was Rafa "Gun Show" Nadal finally finishing off Roger Federer in a marathon Wimbledon final. That and being able to buy a bunch of beer on a Sunday. Nice!

Other than that, I got to watch some Red Sox baseball, but really that hardly matters to me -- I don't really pay attention until September. ;)

So, the iPhone 3G comes out this Friday, eh? Hmmmmm...

Quick Hits

  • My Colorado Avalanche managed to make it through the first round of the NHL playoffs. Now they have the pleasure of playing the possibly unstoppable Detroit Red Wings in the second round. In truth the Wings have looked fairly human this season, especially in the playoffs. We shall see.
  • The Wife and I are suddenly both able to jog something like 2.5 miles continuously. This is a big jump from where we were. I definitely believe a course change is the prime contributor to the improvement.
  • Since September of 2007, I've manage to whittle myself from around 220lbs to 190-ish. I only have this to say: It's a lot of friggin' work.
  • I cannot tell you how excited I am about GTA IV. The multiplayer action looks like a flat out hoot. Email me if you want my Xbox Live gamer tag. ;)
  • Meanwhile, The Wife is all about the Karaoke Revolution on the 360. They've been all over adding downloadable songs to it. It's really pretty impressive so far. Not to mention tons of fun.
  • I'm really sick of the Democratic primary garbage. I'm still backing the liberal black man, though.
  • My Ma has a fancy new deck on her house. It's totally sweet.
  • I really need to sand & stain my deck this year (just like I have for the past couple years). Boo.
  • Went to a DeRailed (the Denver Rails user group) meeting last night. They covered interesting material, but I ended up leaving early anyway. It was definitely what you'd expect, demographically. ;)

New Shoes

Literally. The Wife and I went to an actual running store and bought actual running shoes yesterday, so that we might continue our attempts at jogging with perhaps a bit less agony. Given that I haven't called myself a "runner" since high school, and The Wife never has, we popped into our local Road Runner store to take full advantage of their know-how on the subject.

I had gone in with a strong recommendation from my mother, whose duck feet I was dubiously fortunate enough to inherit, so I told our friendly shoe salesman that I needed to try on a pair of Brooks Beasts and that my dear spouse might need a bit more help in finding the right gear since she's a former ballerina and nobody really understands what's going on with her feet.

So, he took her over to stand on a pressure pad and found out she's much more "normal" than any of us expected. She tried on three different pairs and settled on a pair of Nike Zoom Structures that felt "like little hugs for my feet!"

Meanwhile, I wasn't so sure about the Beasts. This is typical of me. I can never tell if a shoe feels right. Mostly they just never feel all that great to me, but in particular, I have had so many shoes seem fine in the store only to be totally wrong when I get them home. Luckily Road Runner offers a guarantee for just such issues.

Anyway, I was hemming and hawing a bit. I thought maybe I should stand on the pad or whatever, too, in case anything mysterious would be revealed. Once I stood up in my socks and showed our guy how my feet roll inward, though, he said there was no mystery about that at all. And so I tried on a couple other pairs from Asics and Saucony. I ended up on the treadmill which showed my left ankle trying its level best to buckle in a direction that just isn't normal ("We generally want to try to get that a bit straighter, but I think that's as good as you get..." said my new friend with a baffled shrug.), but also revealed that I straighten my stride out fairly well by the time I push off. Good for me. In fact, we were both happy that nobody looked at us and screamed "What in the world are you doing trying to run?!"

Long story longer: The Beast felt the best of the shoes I tried on, and with some adjustments of the lacing pattern I was mostly able to get it to feel alright in the areas that were questionable.

Now it's just a matter of getting out there more than once or twice a week... (At least the days are starting to get longer.)

Hit 'Em Again

Here's to having MLK Day off from work! Going for my walk/run today in 15 degree (F) temps wasn't nearly as bad as I was expecting. Until my calf started cramping. That had nothing to do with the cold, though. It was ready to go from the activity earlier in the weekend.

Junk I've run across:

The Weekly-ish Update

Random tidbits once again:

  • I'm really pleased with the results of my latest slate tile project. Now I'm itching to switch into woodworking mode. I'm super excited about the new episodes of the New Yankee Workshop: Norm is building kitchen cabinets. I plan to eventually build cabinets for the mudroom and perhaps the garage (as practice for the potential "big job" of the actual kitchen). I think I'll go ahead and buy the DVDs.
  • I'm gradually building up my home entertainment system to match the new TV. I've gotten a fancy HDMI-switching receiver and a fairly cool iPod dock thingy. Next on my list is a TiVo HD. Then some surround speakers of some sort (I'm still living in stereo, folks...). And then maybe an Xbox 360, finally. (Still holding out for GTA4 on that one.)
  • On the fitness front, my weight dipped below 200 pounds for the first time in a while yesterday. It's back above today, but we'll assume that's temporary. I'm going to join a climbing gym soon, I think. A great new motivator I have is the Garmin Forerunner 205 I got for Xmas. It's not as sexy as the new 405 everyone is drooling over, but it's pretty darned cool. Of course, now I'm obsessed with tracking the slightest walk / jog / jaunt to the mail box. When The Wife teased me about it I quipped, "Are you kidding? I'm gonna track my trips to the bathroom from now on!"
  • Lots of interesting gossip about former coworkers and new coworkers. That's about all I'll say about that, I suppose.
  • I'm still an Obama cheerleader, though I don't generally like to air my politics on this site. I like the look of things right now.
  • Trent Reznor isn't exactly excited by the results of the Niggy Tardust experiment.
  • TV sucks almighty ass right now. I know there's a writer's strike going, but why aren't networks taking better advantage by replaying some of the good stuff we might have missed previously? Example: AMC's Mad Men? (Ooh! There's an encore starting Jan 21. Nice.) At least I always have books to read.

So yeah... What's new with you?

You want I should freeze or get down on the ground?

For the record, my legs have chosen the first option, though the second could be imminent the way things are going. (Also for the record, there's no point to this post. I'm just whining about how hard it is to get in shape after letting myself become a fat bastard. Feel free to ignore or tease as you see fit.) You see, some stupid section of my stupid brain decided my walks weren't good enough and that I should try to jog for as much of it as I can. At this point, I'm walking/jogging a loop that is just under 3 miles and all of my jogged chunks add up to a mile or so. I do this on the weekends only, because the days are so short now that it's pitch dark by the time I get home, and my little loop lives in unlit open space with coyotes and junk running around in it.

You'd think a solid week would give the legs enough time to recover, eh? Not so much. The outsides of my thighs have been cumulatively seizing up, and I've come to the point where I feel like I'm floating a millimeter from full-bore debilitating cramping. I'm not sore, really... I just have this muscle on each leg that in near permaflex and it's throwing me off a bit.

I'm trying to figure out what to do. Last night I dowsed myself with Tiger Balm, but that has no long term effect. I suppose I should chow on some bananas. Maybe take some magnesium & vitamin E.

It's really no big deal, but it is keeping me from improving when I do go for my walk/jog, because my legs have next to nothing to give when I get out there.


Stuff and Junk

Firstly, it's worth noting that The Mother-in-Law has a new dog. Molly is a blue heeler mix of some sort. She's really sweet, though a bit crazy and fairly untrained. We're hopeful, though, since Australian Cattle Dogs are in the top ten for dog breed intelligence. ;) Next on the docket are the mighty Rockies. Now, I'm not a baseball fan. I root for the Red Sox on principal alone. But c'mon! Who doesn't love a "hometown underdog does good" story? Best of all, I know one Phillies fan who is an extremely sore loser. This could be fun.

In general, Autumn is upon us. The transition seasons always get me fired up in one way or another.

The Wife and I are taking a lot of long walks with Mingus to try to shed some pounds and keep the dog happy.

I've barely been on the Bonneville this year, but it's OK. My favorite riding time is now, so hopefully I'll get in the saddle at least a few times. I wish I was like these guys.

I'm itching to start a home project or a woodworking project (or both) soon. Updates when I do.

Climbing Pics

Rocky Mtn Wife I've been scanning and posting a few rock climbing pictures from my days in Massachusetts (and a few from here in Colorado). There are some great shots of me and my friends from those days (most notably Miracle Ed and Hanh). Makes me wistful.

And a bit depressed... As Ed put it to me "You should get skinny again. You were pretty."

As of right now, the notions of getting skinny and getting back into climbing are almost a chicken and egg proposition... Nothing to it but to do it, right?

(Did I mention rock climbing is how I seduced my wife? It's somewhat true.)

The Two Year Kettlebell Cycle

Actually, it was more like two and a half years ago that I first noticed kettlebells, thanks to (the now humbled and retired) Kostya Tszyu. Since then, I've actually seen kettlebells on TV a few times. One show was totally unrelated to fitness (it was probably a home renovation show or something), but the featured "real person" was a kettlebell trainer, and they showed him doing his thing.

Now BuzzFeed says it's the latest craze. (They do have some good, recent links, it should be noted.)

Go figure. ;)

Climbing Plastic Rocks

(See what I did there? Double meaning. I'm clever!) After at least 7 years of not climbing anything harder than a ladder, I went to the Boulder Rock Club last night with Peter, my former co-worker and now neighbor, and his fiance Ann. I wasn't as bad as it could have been, but it was certainly mildly depressing motivational.

The first hit to my ego was just digging up my old gear and trying on my old harness. I got excited when I realized it was a size large, but then I realized that's "large for climber types" and not "large for fat American types". And so I had to wander over to the world-famous Neptune Mountaineering shop and (*sigh*) get myself an extra-large climbing harness.

At the gym, I climbed a few "ladders" (nothing past vertical, thanks) in the 5.7 and 5.8 range, and it was plenty tough for me. I'm only mildly sore today, but I was embarrassingly exhausted after my four climbs. My one attempt at playing in a bouldering cave convinced me that being overweight and understrong are a bad mix. Hauling my 200+ pounds around by my now-sissified fingertips just wasn't going to happen. Meanwhile, Ann, who is a tiny pixie of a person, was flinging herself up 5.9s and a 5.10 or two. Why do I always choose to climb with these annoying Asians? ;) (That's an inside joke, y'all.)

It was cool though. I suppose I'll try to keep going (I bought a new harness, after all.), and hopefully this will add an extra kick to me current "get the hell back in shape" regime.


Just some randomness:

  • Man, it seems like Google has de-listed the BlahStuff (or at least ranked me down a ton). My traffic has dropped by more than half starting last Wednesday. If any of y'all that get regular Google hits felt like mentioning BS in a fresh post in the hopes to re-upping my Google-juice, I'd appreciate it.
  • Hey, look! It's Mars!
  • Monkey pictures are fun.
  • Started working on a new double desk set-up for our office on Saturday. Got some nice 3/4" maple veneer plywood and glued some half-inch MDF on the bottom to strengthen it up a bit. Got to use my flush-cutting router bit for the first time, but then it got all cold and snowy. Gonna treat the edges with some strips of this cool laminated oak I have, so it should give a cool effect. Photos when there's something to see.
  • My tattoo has a few spots that will require touch-up. I wonder if it's just me, in general, or the forearm location, specifically, or a combo that cause me such problems in healing my tattoos.
  • Saw Murderball on A&E. Good stuff (except for all the Dog the Bounty Hunter commercials). Zupan's the man.
  • The BU Terriers swept UMass and will meet UNH in the Hockey East semifinals.
  • My friends at the Exchange Tavern managed to shoehorn a dart board into their fine establishment. I'm excited. Now if only they'd update their web site.
  • What with Miracle Ed's visit and the fresh tattoos, we've been out of the hot box for over a month now. Time to get back on the horse real soon. Luckily I haven't slipped much (yet).
  • The biggest crawdaddy you'll ever see (thanks Brandon).

Hothouse Tomatoes

(Pronounce that like you're from the Bronx or something: tuh-MAY-duhs) Just a quick shout out to Kevin, Chief Body Bender at the old hotbox, who mentioned after class tonight that he had stopped by the blog. He seemed to think we had set our expectations a bit low previously -- Personally, I think I was just setting myself up for success. ;)

So, how am I doing? Well, I've got good, questionable, and amusing data points for you:

  • Good: My flexibility has improved markedly.
  • Questionable: My back still feels a bit shredded. I've come to realize that up until now, I never bent my back in the "back-bend" direction. Perhaps when I was climbing, but not to the extremes I try in yoga. I think I may have done too much too soon, and have slowed my roll a bit in that respect.
  • Amusing: You might recall how I raved like little woman about my glowing post-yoga complexion... Well, a part of that is a bright, shining - nigh unto strobing - red nose. Like a not-so-wee cherry tomato. It's hilarious (to me).

Tonight it was extra fun: It's 6 degrees outside so when we left, great plumes of steam rose from our bodies [insert profound steaming body simile or metaphor here]. I love that.

Jake Sutton: MIA

So, yeah... I'm still here. Here's a little catch-up:

  • My efforts at work on the superultramegaubercrazy-high priority project have come to a rather frustrating result so far thanks to interoperability problems between ColdFusion 5 and Oracle9. Every time we hit the Oracle9 database it causes the memory usage of the ColdFusion server to climb, with that memory never being released. This eventually causes the connection to the database to die with an S1001 Memory Allocation Error, which requires a ColdFusion restart to fix the problem (until the memory allocation builds back up again). Super-fucking-duper.
  • The Big Blue Couches rock. While we are trying to keep the pets off them, it's obviously futile. At least the puddles of Mingus hair come off the ultra-luscious blue microsuede without a problem. I'm just extra-pleased with the fact taht I can lie completely prostrate on the big sofa without touching either arm.
  • The Wife and I have been to the hotbox yoga a total of three times so far. I am enjoying it quite a bit, though I think I may have overstretched my back the last time out. We hope to squeeze a couple more classes into our two week trial period.
  • My motorcycle wrenching buddy Erik and his wife are inches away from having their baby boy. Very exciting times for them!
  • I'll be brining the second turkey of the month for Thanksgiving festivities starting tonight. If you haven't brined a turkey or at least eaten the product of said process, I can't even express how much you need to try it.
  • I'm almost done with the Tales of the Otori trilogy. I highly recommend all three books.
  • Now let's turn the lens outward a bit:

And thus concludes today's category smorgasbord.

Life in the Hotbox

Today, the Wife and I went to our new local Bikram Yoga joint for a little sweat lodge calisthenics. Hezzy had done this sort of thing sometime last year and she really liked it and got really good results from it. Given that, we were excited to have a school right around the block from us. All I can say is: HOLY CRAP is it hot in there! It being my first time, I did a lot of sitting or just standing there instead of trying to stand on one foot with my other foot tucked up my arse. H tells me it took her a few classes before she could get through the whole thing, and one of the other guys in the class congratulated me for staying in the room for the whole class, so I guess I did alright.

Unexpected benefit to sweating five pounds of water onto a beach towel: My skin is unbelievably soft and smooth. (Yes, I'm a girl. Thanks.) My fingers were actually pruned up by the time we finished the standing exercises.

The latest fitness trend to sweep the nation

One very odd word: Kettlebells

The kettlebell is a cast iron weight, which resembles a basketball with a handle. An ancient Russian exercise device, the kettlebell has long been a favorite in that country for those seeking a special edge in strength and endurance.

Leave it to the Russians... And I don't know if it's really sweeping the nation, but there have been fluff pieces in the news about them that seem to claim as much.

Strange thing is, it kind of sounds appealing to me. If they weren't so pricey I might get a starter kit.

Of course, the fact that one of my favorite boxers, Kostya Tszyu, trains with them is probably influencing my judgement. I'm such a fanboy sometimes.