My first Thanksgiving back on US soil in a couple of years was just what the doctor ordered! It began on Wednesday when Katie and I hopped in the car to begin the seven-hour drive to Hot Springs, Arkansas. Having watched the first six Harry Potter movies over the past several weeks, we listened to the audio book of the last in the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, on our way up. It was great driving weather and we found ourselves at my aunt's house in Hot Springs before we even realized it.
Truth be told, my aunt's house isn't actually in Hot Springs. Each year more and more of my relatives move further out to the peaceful countryside. The aunt with whom we stayed owns a house way out in the woods, far from the hustle and bustle of city life. When I was a child we used to come out there for bonfires and s'mores. Now the accommodations are much nicer but the stars are still bright and unobstructed by ambient light.
Even though I haven't seen my aunt and uncle for almost a year, we were welcomed with open arms as if we had just been there yesterday. We spent a relaxing night there then began Thanksgiving day with a run along dirt roads, passing by several neighboring farms. The weather was in the 30s and cold air and the smell of fires in fire places filled the nostrils as we ran. Harry Potter 7, clear starry skies, running in cold weather, the smell of fires . . . I could have been back in Lausanne!
Running was fun. Each residence along our road had one or more dogs who came out to see who the runners were and then followed us as we ran. I felt like the pied piper with dogs coming out of each farm to trot along beside us, nipping at our hands and heels.
And it's a good thing we got some exercise in because Thanksgiving Dinner (which begins at noon and lasts all afternoon) didn't help my fitness goals. Neither did sitting around watching football all afternoon! But it was great just to kick back, eat great food, and enjoy the benefits of being back so close to the family I love.
Dinner was at another aunt's house, also out in the country. She has a farm there with dogs, chickens, cattle, horses, and lots and lots of pasture land. Not everyone was able to make it but we were thankful for those who could. Plus it was fun playing around with my aunt's livestock.
On Friday Katie and I continued our Thanksgiving weekend movie tradition and saw The Fantastic Mr. Fox by Houston's own Wes Anderson. It was very enjoyable and, of course, featured a great soundtrack. We then spent the evening with my aunt on my mom's side going out to dinner at Brauhaus, a German restaurant downtown. I didn't expect to be dining on Bavarian cuisine so quickly after having left that part of the world--and I especially didn't expect to do it in Arkansas--but the schnitzel was very good! Here again, though, the primary benefit was spending time with family.
Saturday Katie and I made our way back, still listening to Harry Potter. It's a good thing we missed most of the day's schedule of college football, because most of the games I cared about were very forgettable. However, the Rice volleyball team has been dominating. After winning the Conference USA tournament, they beat #17 LSU in the first round of the NCAA tournament. I've spent almost as much time supporting Rice volleyball as I have football, so I'm thrilled for the Owls and hope they can keep it up.
Pics are in my facebook album.
Since my post a few weeks ago about the potential merger between Rice University and the Baylor College of Medicine, I have been made aware of many new sources of information. Many thanks to all contributed these, especially to Freddy Nguyen, Lovett '02. All active, engaged members of the Rice community should familiarize themselves with both sides of the debate:
The last two weeks have been very, very active and full of milestones. At enistic, we've secured our first investors, our first resellers/installers/distributors, and--perhaps most importantly--our first clients! We still have a way to go to raise the money we need really to get this venture off the ground but this early momentum is very, very encouraging! Moreover, most of these initial angel investors know me personally and/or professionally so I'm encouraged by the votes of confidence they are putting in my abilities.
Closing this round of funding really can't happen quickly enough. Sitting in an office alone working on powerpoints, spreadsheets, emails, and phone calls is not how I am most effective. Building a team and working together to accomplish major commercial and operational goals is where I add the most value. Until we get to that point I feel . . . underutilized. Perhaps it's weird to feel "underutilized" when you're the founder, but my point is that the sooner we get past this initial hurdle, the sooner our pace of real growth will accelerate. We are heading in that direction, but I've never been known for my patience!
Other milestones have also been reached in my "extended" life. Last week was Rice's Homecoming. In addition to a fantastic weekend full of lectures, alumni group meetups, and reconnecting with friends, the mighty Rice Owls football team won its first game of the season! They followed that up this weekend with another win, and today the Rice volleyball team won the Conference USA tournament to boot. Go Owls!
Last week my mother opened a new exhibit, Moving Beyond Earth, at the National Air & Space Museum. It is an immersive, interactive gallery about the history and future of human spaceflight. Katie and I can't wait to see it when we're in DC for the holidays. Mom continues to amaze me with her exhibits, books, papers, conference publications, awards, and myriad other accomplishments--all while managing to be a great mother. Canonically one thinks of a doting mother proud of her children, but in our case the pride goes very much in the opposite direction!
The weather in Houston has actually been relatively cool recently. Katie and I have been taking advantage of the opportunity to sip on hot chocolate in the evenings and remember life in Switzerland. If the weather stays cool, perhaps we'll throw a little fondue party! In the meantime, big eating is ahead as we prepare for Thanksgiving. We can't wait to see the family in Hot Springs and enjoy my first Turkey Day back in the States!
Having completed one week with the GoWear fit on my arm nearly 24 hours/day, I now have enough data to begin drawing conclusions about its usefulness. I'll break down my review into nutrition, exercise energy expenditure, non-exercise energy expenditure, and sleep.
GoWear Fit's nutrition functionality is hardly unique. It provides a web-based mechanism for tracking your daily nutritional intake, just like myriad other products and sites. Its UI is probably in the 70th percentile for online food logs, which makes it a mediocre food log but a great addition to a comprehensive calorie management system.
In 2005 I logged every single food/drink item that entered my body into a spreadsheet for the entire year. It was quite a chore, but the take-aways were invaluable. It was readily apparent from the data that the #1 contributing factor to my inability to reduce body fat was consumption of empty calories from alcohol. More specifically, the few evenings of heavy binge drinking (wine dinners a the Petroleum Club or late nights clubbing/bar hopping) would create massive calorie surplusses (2,000+) that would wipe out weeks of modest calorie deficits. I modified my behavior to drink more in moderation and the following year shed 10 pounds of body fat with no other modifications to my fitness or diet plans.
Online tools make the food logging process much easier than entering everything manually into a spreadsheet so I was eager to give this one a whirl. Although I constantly had to battle error messages telling me that I had been logged off, I was ultimately able to enter each food item I consumed each day, drawing from a large database of pre-existing entries, and get a great breakdown of caloric and nutritional content. The task of food logging itself is quite onerous so I will now use averages from the last week to estimate future intake. Here are a few take-aways from my end-of-week analysis:
1. Food logging is absolutely invaluable and should be done, if not constantly, regularly. It's amazing to see what we put into our bodies and how it differs from what we think we're putting into our bodies. Furthermore, the simple act of measuring caloric intake induces behavioral change, causing food loggers to forego that late night snack because they know they'll have to log it.
2. This actually has an unintended negative side effect: I found myself going back to the same foods over and over again to avoid having to enter new custom foods into the food log. This results in lower dietary variety and I'm a big believer in the positive nutritional benefits of dietary variety. Still, I believe the net effects of food logging are quite positive.
3. I consume ~120 calories per day more than I estimate in my spreadsheet.
4. I consume ~1/2 the Recommended Daily Intake of cholesterol for my 3500 calorie/day diet--that's more or less a good thing!
5. However, I also consume ~2x my RDI of sodium and only ~2/3 my RDI of potassium and calcium. Clearly there is room for improvement here. The vast majority of that sodium is coming from dining out so I need to have heightened awareness when making my choices at restaurants.
6. I consume ~10% protein, ~50% carbs, and ~40% fat. Much of the fat and the sodium come from my cheese addiction (Allez Suisse!), so I need to reign that in a bit. My target will be 15% protein, 60% carbs (good, whole ones of course), and 25% fat.
My nutrition clearly needs some work so I'll do another food log soon to show improvements.
I remove the GoWear fit for swimming (It isn't water proof.) and beach volleyball (I doubt it's sand proof, given how insidious sand from the courts tends to be!) but I leave it on for strength training, running, cardio machines, etc.
For activities such as running and walking, the GoWear fit estimates caloric expenditure that is pretty close to the estimates provided by my Garmin Forerunner 305 GPS/heartrate monitor. That is encouraging for accuracy (of both devices) but by itself it doesn't add much usefulness for the GoWear fit.
The real advantage comes when engaging in activities for which I don't use the GPS/heartate monitor, such as playing Wii or ping pong. For these types of activities I've traditionally gone to my favorite online calorie calculator and estimated my expenditure based on my weight and the nearest activity I can find. I strongly prefer the GoWear fit for this type of measurement, though, as it measures your actual exertion, which may vary a great deal during any such activity. I'll still have to use calculated estimates for swimming and beach volleyball, but I now have much greater confidence in my data for all other activities.
Although the GoWear fit and my spreadsheet of estimates largely agreed on my caloric expenditure during intense exercise, they disagreed vehemently on my total burn each day. On average the GoWear fit estimated that I burned ~550 fewer calories than I had estimated. That's a big difference! Over a week, that amounts to a full pound of body fat of difference!
So which is right? I'm inclined to believe the GoWear fit because it calculates net expenditure at a much finer granularity. It knows, for example, whether or not I've slept less and, hence, burned more calories than a day during which I've slept more (all other things being equal). It knows whether or not I've gotten up only five times from my desk all day and, hence, burned fewer calories than I would have if I'd been up 20 times. It knows if I've been on my feet all evening at an event and, hence, burned more calories than I would have if I'd been sitting on my couch watching Harry Potter movies.
However, the data is kind of damning. According to GoWear fit, I finished the week with a surplus of ~1900 calories, which would account for the addition of ~1/2 pound of fat. According to my spreadsheet of estimates, I finished the week with a deficit of ~3000 calories, or almost one pound of fat lost. Using a three-day moving average of my body fat (as tested on my Tanita scale/body composition monitor and adjusted based on periodic measurements with a Bod Pod), I indeed lost about a pound of fat during the week.
A week is a pretty small sample set for something like body composition, which can vary wildly with, among other things, hydration. Accordingly I'll keep these two systems running in parallel for the rest of the year to see how it plays out. Either way, I'd rather have a calorie tracking system that underestimates my expenditure rather than overestimating it.
An awesome feature for the GoWear fit would be a system that adapts its estimates of your expenditure based on your actual body fat changes over time. That's what I've done with my spreadsheet and, as shown here, it's pretty accurate.
Also a serious shortcoming in the GoWear fit is the fact that it really just tracks weight which, as we all know, is a poor metric of fitness. BMI isn't really any better. I know most people don't have body composition scales at home but it would be great if GoWear fit let those of us who do enter those figures in addition to weight. Until then I will always have to maintain a separate spreadsheet.
I am pleasantly surprised with the GoWear fit's sleep tracking function. I tend to hydrate a lot at night (maybe because of all that sodium I'm taking in during the day!) so sometimes I'll wake up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom. This week I noted the times that this happened and compared them with the data from the GoWear fit. Sure enough, it recognized easily that I was not sleeping during those times and counted it against my sleep efficiency measurement.
I'm not sure how useful this feature is per se but I think it's cool and I think it's accurate. I'm getting a little over 6 hours of sleep each night with a 91% sleep efficiency. Not bad, I think that's enough--but I could always use more!
This was a busy, but exciting week at Enistic Inc! We secured our first client--an office building owner here in Houston--and now we're ready to raise some money to get started. This will be my first time leading a capital raise as my previous companies were either bootstrapped or had other officers in charge of investment. Houston has a robust community of angel investors in front of whom we will pitch in January. However, if we can raise some quick cash ($90k) from FFF, it will help us expedite American electrical certification and rollout with our first clients. Therefore I'll be in fundraising mode for the immediate future--look out!
We know we're onto something here and this was validated by a recent conversation I had with my contacts at Google. We're talking with them about being the first business solution that uses Google PowerMeter and they confirmed that, even in their own offices, myriad high-power monitors are left on all the time with useless screen savers. This is Google, arguably one of the most forward thinking (regarding IT power consumption) companies in the world and even they would benefit tremendously from our product. We've got to succeed with this company--it would be irresponsible not to!
I've also been asked to speak at the American Astronautical Society's imagine 09 conference this December. Many of the other speakers are quite high profile so I consider it a real honor to be included among them. As many of you will know, I have grown up in the shadow of the space industry and I have always been extremely compelled by it. For a long time, in fact, I planned to pursue a career in astrophysics before I fell in love with computer science in high school. So this presentation is of special significance to me: an opportunity to share something about which I am very passionate (inducing human behavioral change by supplying well timed information) with a community I love. There isn't much time to put together the presentation, but I'm sure hard work will produce something good.
As always I believe strongly in a balanced lifestyle. Hard work must be balanced out by adequate rest and physical activity to produce optimal performance. As many of you know, I'm a very, very data-driven manager and I manage my own life the same way. This includes measuring my body composition every morning and calculating my daily energy intake and expenditure every evening. As a result I have a massive spreadsheet of every day's net weight gain/loss for the last 8 years.
One problem, though, is that most of these calculations are based on estimates: calorie intake based on historical averages +/- any special daily consideration, estimated resting calorie expenditure based on body composition and activity level, estimated exercise calorie expenditure based on GPS/heart rate monitor, etc. This motivated me to try out a relatively new tool for calorie tracking: the GoWear Fit. You wear it on your arm all day and, based on the movement it detects and your skin temperature, it calculates an [allegedly] much more accurate estimate of your caloric expenditure each day.
I've only been using it for a week but so far I like it. There is definitely a marked difference between the days that I spend in front of a computer and those during which I am active with meetings. This helps me know when to take my evening cardio up a notch to compensate for a sedentary workday. One side benefit too is that it calculates how well you've slept if you wear it at night.
My strength training tools have also been upgraded. I used to print out my workout before I headed to the gym, write down my actual accomplishments as they occurred, and then enter them on my spreadsheet once I returned home. Now I have uploaded my spreadsheet to Google Docs so I can access it from anywhere over the Web. This gives me the ability to enter workout data directly into my phone while I'm at the gym, saving paper and time.
More than just measuring my fitness, though, I actually have to eat right and exercise to change those measurements in a positive direction. As part of my move back, I have added some new areas to my exercise regime. One is the Nintendo Wii. The Wii's sports and fitness programs get me moving around a lot in a fun way that motivates me to keep going. So far I've been doing Wii Fit. We also have Wii Fitness Coach, which I'll start on once Fit becomes tired. Wii Sports can also induce a sweat, as can DDR.
Katie and I have also been swimming Saturday mornings before our weekly trips to the farmer's market. I like swimming because it is low-impact, uses muscles that I didn't even know I had, and is a great cardio workout. However, swimming doesn't like me! I still sink like a rock and it's not uncommon for me to take at least one big gulp of pool water each day! Oh well, no pain no gain!
And speaking of pain, both Rice and the Redskins came back from their bye weeks with losses. Sigh.
What a glorious weekend for football! Not only did the Texans win, but Rice alum James Casey had some great plays! Also Peyton Manning and Brett Favre won. More than that, though, NEITHER Rice NOR the Redskins lost this weekend!!! OK, so that is because they both had bye weeks, but I'm happy anyway. :-)
And speaking of Rice, a subject of hot interest for the last year has been the potential merger between Rice University and the Baylor College of Medicine. While I am excited about the prospect of Rice gaining a top-tier medical school, I also recognize that such a transaction would need to be considered very, very carefully. Even if it makes sense on paper (and it isn't yet clear that it does), IMD taught me that the devil is in the details of execution and certainly neither organization has an existing competence in conducting such a major change.
I believe that good things come of public awareness and open debate so following are several resources for interested parties that provide information and editorial argument for/against the merger:
If anyone else knows of good resources for information about this topic, please post them!