The Shoulder Rule

I’ve never heard a good name for this rule, so I call it “The Shoulder Rule”. You’ve likely experienced it. Simply, The Shoulder Rule states that you are likely to solve a problem on your computer that has been bugging you for a while as soon as you impose upon someone else to look over your shoulder. Inevitably, this generates mixed feelings: yes, the problem is now solved, but you’ve totally interrupted someone, wasted their time, and made them get up and walk, only to make use of exactly zero of their qualifications or expertise. Does anyone know this by a different name?

I never get mad when I am the one imposed upon by The Shoulder Rule. I don’t know what lies behind it, but I’ve seen it work well too many times.

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Life Report Card

I haven’t been using a point system for the last several weeks, and I’ve still mostly gone down on the scale. Certain patterns are now ingrained. Others I have bucked and ignored. So for now, I’m just going to focus my point system on things I want to work at improving, not at things I already do.

Also, I’m introducing subjects, like on a report card, and using GPA for grading. I’ll post my BF% and GPA every Monday.

Each subject is independent of each other and represents an area I want to improve, so the points in one subject do not transfer to others:

Sleep (35 points total)

  • Get to bed by the time my phone tells me to (every day, 2pts)
  • Get up, brush teeth by 6a (every day, 3pts)

Fitness (34 points total)

  • Planks before leaving for the gym in the morning (every day, 2pts)
  • Planks after workout (M, W, F, 2 pts)
  • Planks before bed (every day, 2pts)

Education (70 points total)

  • 30 min of audio book queue (every day, 1pt)
  • 30 min of actual book queue (every day, 3pts)
  • 30 min of video queue (every day, 2pts)
  • 30 min of language lesson (every day, 4pts)

Chores (28 points total)

  • Clean room before going to bed (every day, 2pts)
  • Check Trello before lunch (every day, 1pt)
  • Check Trello before dinner (every day, 1pt)
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Accent Reduction Software

My friend Steve and I were talking today about accent reduction software. Now, when you Google for that, you see a bunch of boxed products, like that only run on Windows. What Steve and I mean when we talk about it is more of an open library of software, on which enterprising people can build for their own uses.

As we settled on a general idea, he asked “Who’s doing this?” I thought of Google, who is clearly doing some good work right now with both speech synthesis and speech recognition for their Google Now service, but as far as I can tell there is no Google Accent Reduction. Same with Apple: can you tell Siri to point out when you say things with a Chinese accent?

What Google does have, I’m sure, is a huge sample of voices saying the same words in different contexts. If they wanted, they could be the authority on how to pronounce any word in any city, according to how the average resident of that city pronounces it. (I expect that feeds into their speech synthesis algorithms too.) For whatever reason, though, it doesn’t seem that they want me to have this data.

Steve wondered out loud, “Who could I get to start this…?” It hit me almost immediately: “Randall Munroe! The guy who does xkcd!”

Randall had already done this for his colors project, which is really similar from the perspective of data gathering, except that now he could also combine his other pet project, Basic English. Imagine the data he could gather if he asked all his readers to pronounce a selection of the “ten hundred” most commonly used English words!

He has the reader base, the technical acumen, the experience, and the drive to do something like this, and he would open the data as a SQLite zip file or whatever at the end of it all. Okay, maybe he’d have to brush up on his HTML 5 audio capture skills, but doesn’t he do this kind of on-the-fly learning anyway whenever he wants to do something especially interactive on an xkcd strip?

Steve’s final comment was to the effect of “Whoever [solves the problem of helping billions of people to speak more effectively to other people throughout the world] should win a Nobel Prize.” Hell, I think Randall should win something for that colors thing, but yeah, this might benefit more people.

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Final Stretch

I have 3.4% body fat to go before hitting my goal of 15%. I’ve already lost 5.5% or so. Given that it gets harder the lower I go, I suppose I’m about halfway there. I hit a four-week plateau at 18.9%, which totally obliterated my hope of reaching 15% by Daylight Savings Time, which is this weekend. I blame Soylent and too much exercise. Maybe when I reach my goal I will experiment with different DIY versions of Soylent, but for now I’m buying groceries (*sigh*).

I talked to my chiropractor (not all chiropractors are created equal, but Dr. B is amazing), and he helped me figure out a more moderate exercise routine. He emphasized that gains come from rest, not exercise itself. I’m not changing my weights workout, but I’m cutting way back on cardio: sprints only three times a week and elliptical only twice. Sprints will be five, 15-second sprints, with one-minute walks in between, possibly with some variation. Elliptical will be 15-20 minutes (down from 35) at 138-148 bpm (down from 145-155).

I haven’t been counting points for about two weeks, and the first thing I lost was my sleep schedule. Apparently, I really need a system to enforce my sleep schedule. What I didn’t lose was my dietary laws. Apparently, I am awesome at saying no to certain foods, even if I’m just cognitively motivated. My gym attendance suffered a little, but not badly. I still lost fat. I mostly became undisciplined with time and much less productive. In short, I think I have internalized my fat-loss goals but not my productivity goals. My new system will be skewed towards productivity.

As with my previous system, I will post my score, my letter grade, and my body fat to Facebook and on stickies each Monday, but this time the score is out of 100. I’ll be starting for real this Monday, and my new target date is Monday April 27th, which gives me seven weeks to make as much progress as I can. I think I’d at least like to see 16.5% by then, and 15% would be the most awesome thing. I’ll allow myself two corrections to this plan in that time.

Sleep (40/100)

  • Getting to bed means lights out, in bed, no need to get up or turn lights on (but meditation for 5-20 minutes is cool), followed by at least 3 hours of sleep, but probably more like 6 or 7. I earn 2 points every day (14 total) for getting to bed by midnight.
  • Getting up means out of bed, toothbrush in hand, and not getting back in bed for several hours. I earn 3 points every day (21 total) for getting up by 7:30a.
  • Getting a great sleep means going to bed early, getting more than 7 hours of sleep, and getting up by 7:15a. I earn 1 point for per day I do this, but I only count two per week (2 total).
  • Meditating well means at least 10 minutes of focused, positive thought that leaves me feeling content about the present and ambitious for the future. I earn 1 point per day I do this, but I only count three per week (3 total).

Exercise (40/100)

  • Doing weights means going to the gym and doing at least five different sets of a certain muscle group (chest/tri, shoulders/trap, back/bi, legs). I earn 3 points each day I do weights before dinner*, but I only count four per week, and only once per muscle group (12 total).
  • Doing planks means holding the plank position for at least a minute. I earn 1 point every day I do this twice, once before lunch* and once after dinner*, approximated on fasting days, and I earn 1 point per day, up to three days a week I do this a third time, between lunch* and dinner* (10 total).
  • Doing sprints means doing five, 15-second sprints (or something similar but harder) with about 1 minute of walking in between. I earn 3 points each day I do sprints before eating anything, up to three days (9 total).
  • Doing elliptical means a 2-minute warm-up, followed by at least 16 minutes averaging 143 bpm, with less than 1 minute spent outside the 138-148 bpm range. I allow myself one break in order to tend to tight muscles, but then it’s 20 minutes instead of 16. I earn 3 points each day I do elliptical before dinner*, up to two days (6 total).
  • Planning the gym week means doing weights for all four muscle groups and doing all sprints and elliptical exercises in a staggered order: S, E, S, E, S. I earn 3 points if I plan the gym week perfectly (3 total).

Fasting (10/100)

  • Fasting for the day means, for at least 24 hours after dinner* on a Friday or a Saturday, not eating or drinking anything with significant caloric value (black coffee is fine) and not doing weights or elliptical (planks and sprints are fine). I earn 9 points if I do this once a week (9 total).
  • Weighing in means using my bathroom scale to measure body fat. I earn 1 point if I weigh in within the last two hours of a day-fast (1 total).

Organization (10/100)

  • Getting out the door means being in my car, ready to go somewhere (typically work) to do something that takes at least an hour, and not going back in the house until I have done that thing. I earn 1 point each day I get out the door after before 9:00a, up to five days (5 total).
  • Finishing a card means completing a personal task that I had written in a card on Trello. I earn 1 point for each card I finish that legitimately takes at least 15 minutes, up to five (5 total).

Penalties

  • I incur a late to bed penalty of 1 point per hour past midnight I have not gone to bed.
  • I incur a late to rise penalty of 1 point per half-hour past 7:30a I have not gotten up.
  • I incur a late to eat penalty of 1 point per hour past 9:00p I keep eating.
  • I incur a late to meet penalty of 4 points if I inconvenience anyone by showing up late to a meeting, appointment, or commitment.
  • I incur a forgotten pill penalty of 1 point every time I forget to take some predetermined supplement.
  • I incur a forgotten reminder penalty of 1 point every time I forget to check my reminders at some predetermined time of day.
  • I incur a steps penalty of 1 point every non-fasting day I don’t see at least 3 solid lights on my FitBit.
  • I incur a dirty room penalty of 2 points every day I go to bed with a pile of things out of their place in my room.
  • I incur a wasted day penalty of 5 points every time I spend more than 3 hours out of any 8 hours playing video games or watching TV, movies, videos, etc., except for a movie that is more than 3 hours long.
  • I incur an alcohol purchase penalty of 20 points if I buy alcohol for anyone to drink.
  • I incur an alcohol day penalty of 10 points if I drink on a day that violates the 2-2-2 rule**.
  • I incur an alcohol excess penalty of 10 points per drink beyond two in a day, as per the 2-2-2 rule**.

Extra Credit

  • I earn a progress bonus of 1 point per 0.1% body fat lost from last week (difference of weekly minima), up to 10 points.
  • I earn an education credit of 1 point for every day that I complete a half-hour language-learning module, as long as I also did so the previous day, up to 7 points.
  • I earn a steps credit of 1 point every day my FitBit goes off because I took over 9000 steps.
  • I earn a maintenance credit of 3 points for giving myself a haircut, doing a load of laundry, and watering the plants.
  • I earn a sales bonus of 6 points if I sell something I had bought over a week prior.

* Meals only count if they contain at least 20g of protein and have nearly perfect ingredients.
** The 2-2-2 rule is no more than two drinks a day, no more than two days in any seven, and on no two consecutive days, where a normal or small beer, a quarter of a normal bottle of wine, or a normal shot of liquor is one drink, and a large beer is two drinks.

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Posted in Personal Development

Regulated Day

Eight weeks ago, I posted my Fat Loss Game. It was a smashing success! I turned my limbic system against itself so that every time it tried to get me to do something that was counterproductive to fat loss, the fear of losing “points” would kick in and save me. The result is that I lost about 5% body fat, from about 24% to about 19%. I had to buy new jeans! So awesome!

The goal is still 15%, however. I want to see some abs in the mirror! Right now I can see the outline, so I’m getting close. I’m going to shoot for hitting 15% in seven weeks, when Daylight Savings Time starts.

In order to get there, I’m updating my system to account for how I’ve adapted and what I’ve learned about myself. First off, complexity is good for me, because it holds my attention. Eating well is easy; getting to the gym is hard. If my sleep schedule gets out of whack, I kind of stop caring and just lose points. The 2-2-2 rule for alcohol is amazing, and I need to keep it going.

One thing I’m going to do is change from stars to a letter grade. I got straight A’s in high school, except for one B, and I know how that B feels, even to this day. I’m going to make this just like a normal class: 90% and up is an A. (No plus or minus.)

Given the huge overlap between fat-loss and life-regulation, I’m calling the new system “Regulated Day”, and here’s how it will work:

  1. There will be 250 points available to earn in the week, for living regulated days
  2. There will be penalties that can detract from that total, like by breaking the 2-2-2 rule
  3. There will be a little bit of extra credit, so I can weasel my way back up to an A if I really try

Here’s the breakdown of the 250 points available to earn:

  • regulated morning is one in which I am getting up around 7:00, I have my teeth brushed by 7:30 (good habit, and a sure sign that I am “up”), I’ve done some quick cardio (three sprints if physically capable, 100 jumping jacks otherwise) by 8:00 [added 2/1], and I’ve eaten a 200 calorie breakfast (if not fasting) by 8:30 [modified 2/1]; if I have work, I’m out the door by 9:00. If I do all of these things correctly, I get 10 points. If I do all but one of these things correctly, I get 5 points. There are seven mornings in a week, so 70 points possible.
  • regulated afternoon is one in which I plan my eating so that I’m neither hungry or full before going to the gym, and I have to be through the gym doors by 7:00. (The “gym” is just wherever I do full cardio that day.) If I do this correctly, I get 5 points. Since this makes no sense on fasting days, only the six non-fasting afternoons will count, so 30 points possible.
  • regulated evening is one in which I do full cardio (HR above 145 bpm for at least 35 minutes in a 40 minute period), eat a 400-800 calorie dinner, eat nothing after 9:00, be in bed with lights out (not needing to get up for anything) by midnight, and actually get more than four hours of sleep. After fasting, neither cardio nor dinner is necessary. Lights out allows for meditation. Same scoring as mornings, so 70 points possible.
  • day-long fast is a 24-hour period eating no food, starting either on a Friday or Saturday evening around 8:00 and lasting at least 24 hours, during which it is fine to drink water and some very-low calorie drinks like black coffee. This is worth 20 points.
  • sober day is one in which I drink no alcohol (with the slight exception that I can taste someone else’s drink if it’s new). I only care to count five of them a week. Each is worth 8 points, so 40 possible.
  • An errand is some non-weekly task, planned at least two days in advance, that requires at least 20 minutes of time and contributes to the general order of my life. I care to count two as required and one as extra credit. Each is worth 5 points, so 10 possible (+5 extra credit).
  • milestone is a significant amount of progress made on an ongoing project that requires at least an hour. I care to count one as required, and it’s worth 10 points.

Here are the penalties:

  • bedtime penalty is 4 points per hour after midnight, starting at 1:00, not having gone to bed.
  • drink penalty is 20 points per drink after the second drink in a day. One normal-sized bottle of any beer is one drink, but a large (20+ oz) beer on tap is two drinks. One normal-sized shot of liquor is one drink. A quarter of a normal-sized bottle of wine is one drink.
  • drink purchase penalty is 60 points if I buy any alcohol (besides in medical products), even if I don’t consume it. [Added on 2/1, based on several-month-old hard rule]
  • drinking day penalty is 25 points for having a non-sober day either the day after another non-sober day or the day after any six-day period with two or more non-sober days (this is the rest of the 2-2-2 rule, spelled out).
  • food penalty is 12 points (6 if accidental) for every helping of food (a meal or even just a handful of snackage) that falls short of the complex JERF purity laws in my head.
  • late penalty is 9 points for showing up late to any meeting or appointment.
  • supplements penalty is 5 points every day that I fail to take any supplements I determined to take daily at the beginning of the week [added 2/1]
  • wasted day penalty is 15 points for spending any three hours of any five hour period either playing a video game or watching Hulu/Netflix/TV/movies, with an exception for movies that are actually longer than three hours.

Here is the extra credit:

  • clean room credit is 7 points for having a completely navigable room for at least three out of seven days, and vacuuming it once.
  • An education credit is 1 point for every day (or 2 if consecutive) I complete a half-hour language-learning module.
  • maintenance credit is 4 points for giving myself a haircut, doing a load of laundry, and watering the plants.
  • progress credit is 3 points for every 0.1% body fat lost in the week. In the end, it’s about results, not rules.
  • sick credit is up to 20 points, available only when too sick to work out, that would otherwise be deducted from two regulated afternoons and two regulated evenings by not going to the gym and not doing cardio, respectively.
  • A steps credit is 2 points every day the FitBit goes off because I took over 9000 steps.
  • third errand credit is 5 points for doing another errand after the required two.
  • weights credit is 12 points for completing the weekly set of four weight-training workouts and feeling good about them.

So that’s it. I’m only going to allow myself two updates to the point values over the next seven weeks [one used on 2/1]. As before, I will post my score and letter grade to Facebook and on my work monitor every Monday morning.

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Posted in Personal Development

Fat Loss Game

I did it. I fashioned a system that allows me to put the power of my limbic system to use, instead of fighting against it, to get down to 15% body fat. I know how susceptible I am to the power of video games, so now I have pitted the emotions associated with eating something tasty not against the scrawny opponent of reason on evidence about future gains, but against the even more powerful emotions associated with getting three stars on a level of Angry Birds. I’ve been at it for a week, kind of messing with the design as I go, and I do believe it is working.

I have a body fat scale, and for the last month or so I’ve been floating around 23-24%, which means I have a visible gut, but I can suck it in and look how I want to in a mirror with a shirt on. I’m not satisfied with that, and I am entirely closed to anyone who would want to convince me that I should “love myself the way I am” or whatever, so here’s what I’m doing to get down to 15%:

First off, I have committed firmly not to buy any alcohol until I reach that 15% mark, as measured by my scale. This is a loophole-ridden rule, as I already have quite the stash of wine, scotch, and liquor at home, and people have no problem buying me drinks because I am fun to be around. Still, it sets the tone of this whole endeavor.

Second, there are two things I would like to do on a weekly basis:

  1. Fast for one day a week – so not eat anything starting at 9pm on Saturday (could be shifted to Friday if necessary) and ending at 9pm on the next day, so typically a Sunday fast. Water is fine, and I think some black coffee is fine.
  2. Drink alcohol according to the 2-2-2 rule – that is no more than two drinks a day, no more than two days in any given seven-day period, and on no two consecutive days.

So I made these constitute two of five “stars” I can earn in a week.

Third, the other three stars come from earning “points” from daily activity. I can earn ten points a day for a total of seventy in the week, and thus I earn a star for getting more than zero points, another star for more than forty points, and a final star for earning more than X points, where X starts at fifty and moves with the average of the previous three weeks*, so as to make it harder on myself if I’m doing well and easier if I’m not.

The ten daily things I chose are the following, many of which (2-6) I get for free on the day that I fast:

  1. Get up by 7:30a – because a consistent sleep schedule is important for health stuff.
  2. Don’t cave to taste for lunch – meaning, don’t choose something tasty over something healthy on the menu, or don’t get something extra like fries just because they taste good.
  3. JERF for lunch – where JERF stands for “just eat real food”. This is an advanced version of #2, so I get more points for doing really well, but if I miss a little thing, I can still get a point.
  4. JERF for all snacks at work – because there are chocolate-covered almonds in the break room that want to destroy me. I still haven’t figured out how to make this point work on weekends, but I am okay with a little subjectivity here.
  5. Go to the gym (if not fasting) – and at least change into gym clothes. I don’t actually have to do anything at the gym in order to get this point, because getting there is the bulk of the battle.
  6. Do cardio (if not fasting) – defined as 30 contiguous minutes of my heart rate being approximately 150 BPM, typically about 35 minutes on an elliptical machine.
  7. JERF for dinner – not quite as big a deal as lunch, because I typically don’t eat dinner in a social context
  8. Take supplements correctly all day – including at least vitamin D and omega 3, with other supplements depending on what workout I’m doing
  9. Drink zero alcohol all day – the daily reminder that makes the 2-2-2 rule feasible
  10. Start med-bed by midnight – where “med-bed” is meditating for somewhere between 5-20 minutes (mostly positive self-talk and goal visualization) before going to sleep.

The end result is that if I need to break a rule, or if I happen to mess something up, it’s generally fine, because there is no difference between getting 70 points and getting 60 points (assuming X is below 60). I just can’t keep messing up and expect the same reward.

To top it off, every Monday I will post a link to this post, along with my stars, my points, the value of X, and my standardized body fat measurement from the previous week, to Facebook. I will also write it on a sticky note and put it on my monitor for my coworkers to see. I will pretend that they will deride me for missing stars, even though they probably won’t, but my limbic system doesn’t know that. As you read this, you are contributing to my success, so thank you.

My goal is to get a six-week five-star streak, preferably through the holiday season, and I will be very interested to see how much fat I lose if I achieve that goal.

* The precise algorithm for X, depending on P, the set of up to three of the scores of most recent weeks in which I earned more than 40 points, is: floor((50 + sum(p in P)) / (1 + #P)))

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Posted in Personal Development

Theocracy

Why is ISIS (or whatever they want to be called this week) bad?

  • Is it because they are Muslim? I don’t even know what “Muslim” means clearly enough to answer that, but I’m going to go with “no” and suggest than anyone who thinks so is probably a bigot, or maybe they just haven’t thought it through.
  • Is it because they kill people, specifically in horrific ways? Arguably, yes, but they’re doing what they believe to be right, right? So who are we to judge other cultures?
  • Is it because they promote theocracy? Yes! Theocracy is the problem’s proper name. It’s also in ISIS’s name: “Islamic State” fits the form, “<description of theistic principle> State”.

Apostasy, blasphemy, and satanism are all legal in the United States; the First Amendment lets us leave religions, speak ill of them, and join up with new stupid ones to our hearts’ content, and this is great! Anyone who disagrees is probably a theocrat, and is inherently at war with me (although I hope it stays a war of ideas). I only “respect” the values of theocrats the way I “respect” a formidable enemy; I will not speak well of them, however. Theocracy is terrible and should be eradicated like any other threat to civilization.

There used to be a lot of theocracy that called itself “Christian”. Now there isn’t. There are still a lot of people that call themselves “Christian”, but it’s one of the most vague words I know, so I’m just going to celebrate the decline in theocracy and not really care what people do when they pray to Jesus.

The problem for Muslims is that we still have a lot of theocracy that calls itself “Islamic”. ISIS is the latest pain point. They’re the kind of vermin who think apostasy, blasphemy, and satanism should be illegal and are willing to kill people for those beliefs. They’re full-blown theocrats, and I hate them for it. This has little or nothing to do with whether someone self-identifies as “Muslim”. The prior probability of being a theocrat is higher if someone self-identifies as “Muslim” rather than “atheist”, but that’s all I can say, and it’s not much. As long as you think that apostasy, blasphemy, and satanism should be legal, then we’re pretty much on the same side here, regardless of what “Muslim” means to you or your family.

I also balk at the term “Jewish State”, but from what I can tell, people who live in Israel have religious freedom, so I’m going to assume this means “Jewish” in the ethnic sense. Whatever, same deal: Jewish theocrats are bad, Jewish non-theocrats are good. Simple.

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Posted in Government