With diet and exercise, and a little help from my friends

I was sitting in my office, listening to Goodbye Yellow Brick Road on my turntable — I have it in mp3 format, but when you play vinyl, you play vinyl for a reason –, and planning to write a short post about how listening to that record is my earliest childhood memory. It came out one year after I was born, and my parents played it constantly in our tiny little house out in the San Fernando Valley, when it was still mostly farmland and wide, empty streets.

I remember sitting on the gold shag carpeting, leaning against our black and white checkered couch, listening to This Song Has No Title through giant headphones that probably weighed as much as I did, plugged into the stereo with a curly black cord that must have been fifteen feet long.

I was about to write about that, and explore some of the sense memories this particular album gives me, when Marlowe — who had been sleeping at my feet — jumped up, barked, and ran to the front door. Seamus and Riley followed, and I heard the familiar sound of the mail dropping into the mailbox. I got up from my desk and quieted them down, picked up the mail, and opened the front door to see if there was anything on the porch. I saw some junk mail and a medium-sized cardboard box, which I picked up and brought into the house.

I recycled the junk mail, and opened the box. Inside, underneath a bunch of padding, was the replacement FitBit clip I’d ordered last week, to replace the one that Marlowe thought would be really fun to take off my nightstand and run around with in the back yard.

I thought it was kind of funny that the packaging was so inefficient, and that the padding was proudly called EarthAware. I took a picture and put it on the tweetybox:


I know that there are economies of scale for companies like FitBit, so using one basic box to ship things probably makes sense for the company. It’s ultimately not the biggest deal in the world, but the ridiculousness of it tickled the part of my brain that appreciates that sort of thing.

A fair amount of people on Twitter wanted to know how I liked my FitBit, and if I thought it worked, so when I went back into my office, instead of writing about music, I decided to write about how I’ve lost almost 20 pounds since November.

In early November, one of my friends got married. His wedding was wonderful, and it ended up being a sort of reunion for a lot of us who used to write and perform together at ACME, a little over a decade ago. The wedding attire was “1950s Red Carpet”, so Anne got an amazing dress (I’m not exactly an impartial observer, here, but I think every dress she wears is amazing), and I went to rent a classic men’s tuxedo.

I gave my measurements to the lady at the shop(pe), and she got me some trousers and a jacket to try on. I took them to the fitting room, and … I did not fit into them. At all. Not even a little bit.

“I, um, think you need to measure me,” I said. I knew that I’d put on some weight over summer, but I didn’t know how much. I’m not a get-on-the-scale guy, and I’ve always felt like I’m in fairly good health.

I was about to find out how wrong I was.

She grabbed her measuring tape, and put it around my waist. “How bad is it, doc?” I semi-joked.

“It’s, um …” she tugged and looked and tugged again and looked again. “It’s … 40.”

“Forty? Like, ‘hey, let’s bust a 40′ forty?” I said.

“Yep.” She continued to measure around my arms and chest and neck.

“Your neck is sixteen and three quarters, and your chest is thirty-eight.”

“Wow. I’ve really let myself go,” I said. I thought for a second, and said, “So get me what will fit me, and I’m going to start looking after my weight today.”

Before she could leave, I added, “I don’t know why I needed to tell you that. Sorry.”

“It happens all the time,” she said, not unkindly.

She returned with a tux that looked like you could use it to cover a piano*, and it fit me comfortably. I filled out the paperwork, thanked her for her time, and drove home.

“Did you get the tux you wanted?” Anne asked me, when I came into our house.

“Well, I got a tux.” I told her about my new measurements, and then resolved to lose weight. “I knew I was a little tubby, but I didn’t realize that I was incorrectly using the term ‘little’. I need to do something about it.”

“Your stomach has been looking bigger to me,” she said, “and your face is a little heavy. And I don’t care about how you look, but I do care about how healthy you are, and if you’re carrying extra weight around, that’s going to be hard on your internal organs and the rest of your body.”

“I hadn’t thought about that,” I said, and remembered an exhibit we went to at the museum years ago, that featured plastinated bodies. It was a fascinating experience, but something that stayed with me long after we left was a very obese body. This person’s internal organs were just crushed by fat deposits. I don’t recall the specifics, but it made an impression on me: if a person is carrying a lot of extra weight that you can see, they’re also putting a whole lot of stress and pressure on their heart, lungs, and other vital organs that you can’t see.

“So I need to think about how I got here, and how I’m going to get back to my fighting weight.”

“Do you know what you weigh now?”

I shook my head. “But I can find out.” I walked into my office, pulled a scale out of the closet, set it to zero, and stepped on it. The numbers spun around, shook a little bit, and settled down at about 182 pounds. I stepped carefully off the scale, like it would bite me or something if I moved too fast.

“I. Um. Wow.” I said. Last time I checked, I weighed 165.

“Okay,” I said with resolve. “I know what to do. It’s just math, right? Use more calories than I take in, eliminate junk food, and exercise every day. I can do this.”

I did an inventory of what I liked to eat and drink. I don’t drink sodas, I don’t like sweets, and I never have fast food. Those are the easiest things to cut out of a diet for a person who is looking to lose weight, and they were already out of mine.



But … boy do I like burritos, and boy do I like beer.

I did some math.

“I know how this happened, and I know how to undo it,” I said to Anne.

“Does it rhyme with burritos and beer?” She said.

“It does. And not just that, it’s also the midnight cheese.”

Aside: Midnight Cheese is a phrase Anne and I say to describe something that’s a very bad idea. For example, eating a lot of cheese at midnight may taste delicious, especially if you’ve had a few drinks and you’re staying up late to play tabletop games with your friends — just to cite a totally random example that I most certainly did not pluck from my personal experience** — but it’s not the best idea, ever.

“So I have to cut out the midnight cheese, literally and figuratively, and seriously cut back on burritos and beer. I also need to increase my exercise by, like, a million percent.”

Anne’s brother used this nifty little app on his smartphone that let him track how much he was eating, not just from a caloric perspective, but from a nutritional perspective, too. It let him input his meals and snacks, and also his exercise. It was free, so I downloaded it and installed it on my phone. (I’m not going to identify it, because I don’t want to sway people in one direction or another. Just know that there are a lot of them in the App and Play stores, and they’re incredibly helpful). I gave it some stats, like my age, sex, height and weight. I told it my target weight, and how aggressively I wanted to lose weight. It did some math, and gave me a simple plan.

So far, so simple, but this only works if I’m committed, and I think you have to do something for about a month for it to become an ingrained habit. I wasn’t sure that I could make it — one of the super awesome parts of depression is that it can suck all your motivation away from you — but I would just go one day at a time, one meal at a time, and see what happened.

I immediately cut down my beer consumption to one pint a day. I reduced #burritowatch to maybe once a week. I started to enter my meals into my app, and after a few days, I started to see that it really wasn’t that difficult to make healthy food choices, once I knew what was going into my body. Notably, there were things that I thought were okay, but turned out to have tons of sodium in them, or had way more calories than you’d expect. I started to walk every day. It was just a mile or so at first, and by the end of the first week, I was up to two miles a day. I started to notice that, if I wanted, I could do X amount of exercise, to earn Y amount of beer.

I was having a lot of fun, I was starting to feel pretty good, and — here’s the thing that blew me away — when I got back on the scale at the end of the first week, I’d lost almost 6 pounds. I’ve heard from lots of people that once you start watching what you eat and exercising, if you’re carrying weight that your body really doesn’t want, it tends to fall off pretty quickly, but I didn’t think that would really happen to me (Dear Penthouse …) but it totally did!

This gave me a huge motivational boost, and it carried me through to the end of the second week, which was good, because that’s when Thanksgiving happened. Boy, was it challenging to not go nuts at dinner, but when I started recording what I was eating, I felt pretty good about what I had eaten. And I also noticed another thing: I wasn’t overeating. By that, I mean that I wasn’t stuffing myself until I felt like I was going to drop into a food coma. I ate until I was full, but I ate slowly, and really savored my dinner.

I think it was around this time that I asked some of my friends about FitBit, and if it worked as well as people said it did. Every single one of them said that it did, and one of my friends told me that their digital scale was super helpful and effective. It also integrated with the smartphone app I was using, so I didn’t need to manually enter my walks. I ordered one, set it up with my goals the same way I configured the other app, and added my friends to my dashboard.

And this is where it became a game for me, and this is how and why I’ve been able to lose almost 20 pounds just by being smart about what I eat, and getting exercise every day.

I’d see that one of my friends had walked 8000 steps, and I was at 7200 steps, so I’d go for a walk and try to pass him. I’d see that one of my friends was catching up to me, so I’d make sure I parked as far away from the entrance to wherever I was going, so she couldn’t catch me. After a week of this,I saw that I’d walked close to 50 miles in seven days! One day, I was doing lots of stuff around the house and yard, and didn’t even realize that I’d walked close to two miles without ever leaving my property. Little things started to add up, and I started to look at every time I went somewhere as an opportunity to get steps.

And the badges! Oh, the badges. I got a badge for hitting 10,000 steps in a day, then 15,000, then 20,000. I got a badge for losing my first 10 pounds, and I got one for climbing the equivalent of 50 stories of stairs. I know they don’t really mean anything, but it’s fun to get achievements for things like that, and it’s incredibly motivating for me.

But I have to tell you what the best thing was. The best thing, ever, was getting a T-shirt out of my drawer that I loved but could never fit into because it was a skinny medium, and realizing that I could put it on without any difficulty. It was just amazing when I put on a belt, and instead of using the notch I’d been using, went all the way past it to the narrowest notch on it. A lot of my T-shirts and dress shirts are just too big, now, and boy does that feel awesome.

A few days ago, I went to get some measurements taken, because I’m having something special made to wear on the JoCo Cruise. I was pretty excited to find out what my waist was, and I may have let out a little yelp of excitement when I found it it was down to 35 inches, just about 85 days after I’d committed to slimming down a bit.

I don’t know if this will work for everyone. I don’t have emotional or biological issues related to my weight. I have a lot of freedom in my schedule to walk pretty much whenever I want to. I live in a place where the weather is usually pretty great, and I’m lucky enough to combine all of those things into something that works for me. I also have a fantastic certified personal trainer, who happens to be my son, who comes to my house three days a week to train me.

But, mostly, I have motivation, commitment,  and a way to gamify fitness that works for me. This morning, I weighed in at 163.2 pounds, down from just over 180 three months ago. (And I can’t believe it’s been three months, because I really do just take it one day at a time.)

Anyway, since a lot of people asked, there’s my story. And because it’ll probably be a FAQ: I’m not going to add people I don’t know to my friends list, because that’ll be weird for me.

In the time it’s taken me to write this, I’ve listened to all four sides of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, and I’m feeling a bit nostalgic. Maybe I will write that story about being a little kid experiencing music for the first time after all.

But now I have to go get steps, because I checked my dashboard and Eric just passed me.


*this may be a slight exaggeration

**this may not be entirely true

Today, we fight back against mass surveillance

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
- First Amendment, U.S. Constitution
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
- Fourth Amendment, U.S. Constitution

But whatever our differences may have been in the past, we strongly agree that the dragnet collection of millions of Americans’ phone records every day — whether they have any connection at all to terrorism — goes far beyond what Congress envisioned or intended to authorize. 
More important, we agree it must stop.
 - Sen. Patrick Leahy (Vt.)  & Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (Wis.), Co-sponsors of the USA FREEDOM Act (H.R.3361, S. 1599),  The Case for NSA Reform

If I did the code right, you should be seeing a big old banner at the bottom of this page, encouraging you to contact your representatives in government and demand an end to the NSA’s unconstitutional mass surveillance.

From EFF:

Since June, ongoing revelations about the NSA’s activities have shown us the expanding scope of government surveillance. Today is the day people around the world are demanding an end to mass spying.

A broad coalition of organizations, companies, and individuals are loudly voicing their stance against unwarranted mass spying—over 6,000 websites have joined together today to demand reform. EFF stands by millions of users—represented by groups like Demand Progress, ACLU, PEN, and Access as well as companies like Google, Twitter, Mozilla, and reddit—to reform governmental collection of innocent users’ information.

Over the past few years, we’ve seen the Internet as a political force make waves in Washington. From our defeat of the Internet censorship bill SOPA to our battles over CISPA, TPP, and patent reform, history has shown that we can activate our networks to beat back legislation that threatens our ability to connect, as well as champion bills that will further our rights online.

We can win this. We can stop mass spying. With public opinion polls on our side, unprecedented pressure from presidential panels and oversight boards, and millions of people speaking out around the world, we’ve got a chance now to change surveillance policy for good.

Last year, we were presented with a new opportunity—an opportunity in the form of leaks that showed us the truth about deeply invasive surveillance programs around the world. This is the year we make good on that opportunity. Let’s ensure that sacrifices made by whistleblowers and risks taken by brave journalists were not done in vain.

Join us in fighting back. We’ve laid out below how you can speak out against mass spying.

Calling Congress takes just five minutes and is the most effective action you can take right now to let your elected officials know that mass surveillance must end.

Here’s what you should say:

I’d like Senator/Representative __ to support and co-sponsor H.R. 3361/S. 1599, the USA Freedom Act. I would also like you to oppose S. 1631, the so-called FISA Improvements Act. Moreover, I’d like you to work to prevent the NSA from undermining encryption standards and to protect the privacy rights of non-Americans.

Outside the US? Take action now.

Mass spying affects all of us worldwide. Demand an end to mass surveillance by signing the 13 Principles petition.

Please, take a few minutes and make a phone call. I’m sure that you, like me, feel cynical and disempowered (especially here in California, where our completely corrupt and useless senator Dianne Feinstein has become one of the NSA’s most vocal and ardent defenders, even though she’s supposed to be providing “oversight” in the senate), but this is not a fight that we’re going to win by sitting down and shutting up. Quoting EFF again: “We can win this. We can stop mass spying. With public opinion polls on our side, unprecedented pressure from presidential panels and oversight boards, and millions of people speaking out around the world, we’ve got a chance now to change surveillance policy for good.”

I encourage you to read more at the Reddit blog, where they’ve put together a comprehensive and easy to understand rundown of what’s at stake, and what we know about NSA spying. Talk to your friends and your family, and let’s do whatever we can to restore our fundamental rights to privacy.


on the continuing benefit of being easily amused

I got a MakerBot Digitizer, so I can do even more really cool stuff using my MakerBot Replicator. I set it up this afternoon, and here’s my first scan, which I immediately printed:

3D Printed Fake Dog Poop

Anne and I do this stupid thing where we hide that fake dog poop around the house for each other to find. So when I had to decide what my first scanned object would be, it was easy: I made her a little sparkly blue dog poop.

Because of course I did.

I uploaded it to Thingiverse, but I’m not currently able to find it there. If someone does find it, let me know and I’ll update this post.

Update: thanks to Bob G, who found the thing.


i forget the secret knock

I’m pretty busy with a few projects that I can’t talk about, including two Really Awesome Things that I’m dying to announce.

My little pocket notebook is filling up with words that I hope will get assembled into something here when I slow down a little bit, so I’m still writing every day, just not in public.

And now I want to share something really neat, before I get back to work:

Stand by Me 1986 ( FILMING LOCATION ) from Herve Attia on Vimeo.

This was shared with me by a reader, who notes that this guy makes lots of videos showing the current state of classic film locations. I doubt you’ll have the same emotional reaction to it that I did, but still think you’ll dig it.

Ten great Tabletop games you can use to introduce your friends to gaming

Via Reddit, I saw this fantastic list at Board Game Geek, detailing the top 100 “gateway” games, which is how we describe a game you use as an infection vector for tabletop gaming.

Here’s the top ten, as voted on by Board Game Geek members:

1 Ticket to Ride/TTR Europe
2 Carcassonne (all)
3 King of Tokyo
4 Dixit
5 For Sale
6 Diamant/Incan Gold
7 Can’t Stop
8 Pandemic
9 Love Letter
10 Settlers of Catan

As I’ve written before, different games work for different people, and someone who loves Ticket To Ride may not like King of Tokyo at all, so ask your non-gamer or tabletop-curious friends questions, and choose their gateway game carefully. All of these games have a high ratio of luck to strategy, which makes it a lot of fun for experienced and new players alike to play together.

And, as luck would have it, a lot of these games have been played on Tabletop, so you can get an assist from Your Old Pal Wil Wheaton when you introduce one of them to a new gamer. Just use the links above.

Have fun, and PLAY MORE GAMES!

Now I have something where I didn’t have something before.

My friend Cory Doctorow says that he can write simply by sitting down and opening up a vein. It doesn’t matter where he is, or what’s going on around him. When it’s time to write, it’s just his brain and the place he puts the words.

I admire that, and wish I could do it, but it’s just not possible for me. I need to be in a calm and quiet place, both emotionally and physically, and depending on what stage of a project I’m in (rough draft, last mile, rewriting, outlining), I may need other existential things, particular bits of music, types of coffee or tea, things like that.

I guess it’s different for every writer, but I have these — you know, I sat here for almost a full minute typing and deleting the word “silly”, before deciding that it isn’t silly at all — rituals that let me open the creative vein that Cory can tear open at will.

The important thing, I guess, is that the words get written and the story gets told, and what the specific the steps are from idea to publishing don’t really matter, at long as you take them.

Today, I had the barest hint of an idea, and I wanted to know what it would turn into, if I worked on it. Imagine seeing something far away, though clouds and haze. It could be a mountain, it could be a thunderhead, it could be a tumor pressing against your optic nerve. The thing is, you don’t know what it is until you get close enough to see it clearly. You have to take the steps.

So I put on my running shoes, and I went out for a jog, letting my mind wander around, until that hint of an idea began to coalesce into something more tangible. After about forty minutes, I had enough to write down some broad strokes, knowing that once I started writing the actual thing, I’ll know how to fill in the gaps that were left today.

I took literal steps to get my brain going, and to start the process of turning a few scattered “what if…” ideas into something that may turn into an actual story. I don’t know what will come of it, and I don’t know when it will be finished, but I took the steps, and now I have something where I didn’t have something before.

everyone needs more marlowe wheaton

"...but I was playing with the toys."

“…but but but I was playing with the toys.”

Seamus is really patient with Marlowe, but she’s 19 months and he’s 5 years-old, so for the last few days, she’s been pushing him, and testing her position in the pack.

Today, he finally decided that he’d had enough, and in addition to holding her down and reminding her that when he doesn’t want to play, it means he does not want to play, he took her toys away from her and made her wait about an hour before he let her take one of them back.

I let him correct her, because that’s really important for her socialization, and it’s really important to maintain pack status… but I did have to take this picture of her looking at me like it was the most unfair thing in the world that he took her toys away.

Dark Days, Bright Days

Guest blogger, Will Hindmarch, is a writer and designer in Chicago. You might know his work from the book design for Memories of the Future, Volume 1 or from RPGs like Always/Never/Now.

There I was, alone outside an unfamiliar hotel-room door, with nowhere to hide. It was too late to flee. I had already knocked.

My newest tabletop RPG design was in my bag, ready to make a first impression. I felt like I had worms in my guts.  I thought I could feel my brain’s insidious chemicals  diluting the meds I take to keep my head above the waves. I took a breath, let it out.

Settle down, you idiot, I thought to myself. Just don’t be a dick.

Someone worked the latch on the door. It swung open.

“Hey, how are you?” Wil Wheaton asked, doorknob in hand. “Come on in.”

I went inside.  But I’d already made my first mistake. It went into my mood like a drop of dye clouding into clear water.

Did you catch it?

Continue reading

This is a story about dogs being cute. It does not involve them shitting.

There’s a small, yappy dog in our neighborhood. It has terrible owners who leave it outside all the time, and whenever it’s outside, it barks nonstop. I feel bad for the dog, because it’s clearly lonely and stressed, and I really dislike the owners for not being more responsible with their pet.

For the longest time, when that little dog would get going, our dogs would run into the backyard and start barking with it. This created a delightful feedback loop that was actually the opposite of delightful.

I’ve used positive reinforcement to train all of our dogs, so to stop them from this behavior, I started saying to them, “Hey! What do we do when that dog barks?” and giving them treats when they were quiet. After a few weeks of this, when that dog barks, they just go straight to the place in the kitchen where we keep the treats, sit, and wait for us to reward them. It’s been really awesome, and just saying “What do we do?” calms them down whenever they get worked up at anything outside, from people walking dogs to helicopters flying overhead, to the mailman delivering our tacos.

Seamus is a really smart dog, and he picks up on things really fast. Riley isn’t nearly as smart, and Marlowe is probably going to end up being as smart as Seamus, just as soon as she learns a little more self-control and better manners (she’s only 18 months, but she’s right on pace, as far as we’re concerned.) Seamus has figured out that he can bark once at absolutely nothing, then calm himself down, and go wait for treats. The other dogs usually run into the kitchen and join him.  I don’t mind him thinking that he’s tricking us, because it just further reinforces the behavior we want, anyway.

So a couple of nights ago, Marlowe was next to Seamus, chewing on an antler* in the living room, and Seamus wanted it. He’s above her in pack status, so he could probably just take it, but he’s not like that with her. I watched him look at her, look at me in the kitchen, then look back at her. He barked once, and stood up. Marlowe jumped up, dropped the antler, and raced into the kitchen to the place where the treats are. Seamus calmly laid down, picked up the antler, and began to chew.

“Dude, that was amazing,” I said to him. I gave Marlowe a consolation treat, as he closed his eyes and chewed, contentedly.

*This is the best thing ever, for aggressive chewers. They are humanely gathered from places where they’ve already fallen off the deer or elk or whatever, washed and sterilized, and cut into varying lengths. It’s natural, doesn’t run the risks associated with bits of plastic or rawhide, and a large one lasts for about six months with Seamus and Marlowe, who are incredibly aggressive chewers.

This is all about dogs taking shits. If that sort of thing grosses you out, don’t read it.

This is all about dogs taking shits. If that sort of thing grosses you out, don’t read it.

I walked out into the backyard, and got the dog-shit-picker-upper-thing out of the place where it lives. I carried it to the lawn, and began using it for its prescribed purpose.

After a couple of scoops, Marlowe joined me on the lawn. “You guys sure do poop a lot,” I said. She looked at me with sweet eyes and a pibble smile.

I continued to pick up their dirty, sinful business, and Riley arrived. She surveyed the situation, and decided to take a huge shit in the middle of the yard. “Thanks for not waiting until I put this away, Piles,” I said.

I turned my back to her and worked my way toward the back of the lawn. The sun was warm on my back, a very light breeze rustling the leaves on the camphor trees.

I turned around just in time to see Marlowe eating Riley’s poop.

“Goddammit, Marlowe! Stop eating shit!” I said.

She took a few steps away from me, looking guiltily back over her shoulder. “That is so gross, dude. Don’t do that!”

She looked at me, hunched her back, and pooped. I’m pretty sure she was thinking, “I’m sorry. Here, let me put it back.”



50,000 Monkeys at 50,000 Typewriters Can't Be Wrong