Motivation with Style

Last month, I wrote a post about my weight loss attempts and initial successes. One of the key points I talked about was motivation: losing weight is all well and good, but it’s nice to have something concrete to work toward and show off. Personally, I wanted to improve my wardrobe, so I found my motivation in clothing. To make things even more interesting, I decided to try a couple of new online options that attempt to shake up how men approach style and shopping for clothes.

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Pictures in the Sky

There are three main highways that run through Austin. There’s I-35, the largest highway in the area, running the entire length from San Antonio, through Austin, all the way up to Dallas. There’s Route 1 — also known as MoPac because it runs alongside the Missouri-Pacific railway line — which provides access to most of Austin. Finally, there is 183, a smaller road that primarily serves areas in North Austin. It also continues on down south to the airport, but it becomes less of a highway at that point.

My commute to work involves 183, and there are a few billboards dotted along its length. One that popped up recently was quite simple: the word “healthcare” in all caps and a colorful font. A week later, it changed. The billboard looked like it was split into two, breaking the word down the middle. And then finally, another week later, the billboard returned to its normal rectangular shape with a band-aid down the middle. The word “healthcare” had been replaced with the word “humancare”, and a local hospital’s logo was in the bottom right. At last, the mysterious series of ads made sense.

It’s not really the message that grabbed my attention though. Rather, it was the billboard itself that brought back memories of my childhood.

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Slim-Fast was Destroying My Health (and Other Lessons Learned from My Own Weight Loss Challenge)

It’s very easy to become complacent, to deceive yourself into thinking that you’re doing everything correctly, when in reality you’re not.

For me, this reality hit home after a blood test. Borderline high cholesterol, triglycerides and glucose. But why? I knew I was overweight at 200 pounds, but I had been trying to improve my diet: oatmeal for breakfast, a Slim-Fast shake for lunch, a snack in the afternoon, and then a normal dinner. But obviously something was wrong if I wasn’t losing weight, and my blood test had room for improvement.

So I did what I always do: I researched, analyzed, and researched some more. What was I doing wrong? What did I need to do to improve? And, most importantly, what could I do that was sustainable, so I didn’t end up back at square one in a year?

I can’t claim that I’m doing everything perfectly, but I’ve lost almost 20 pounds, and my weight is much more stable now — so I must be doing something right. This is what I’ve learned.

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Buying a Vote

This past Wednesday, @FlatFootFox and I went to see Alton Brown at one of his Edible Inevitable shows, and I can say without a doubt that it was amazing. It was like a real-time mash up of Good Eats, Iron Chef: America and just a dash of Cutthroat Kitchen attitude. There was science, music and food all wrapped up in an experience that I won’t soon forget. I’m hoping that in the next few days I can write up a more detailed blog post about the whole show.

But there was one small piece that I didn’t completely agree with.

Mr. Brown was running through a list of things that he was “pretty sure” he knew about food. One of those items essentially boiled down to “vote on food policy with your money”. There are a lot of options at the supermarket, each with varying degrees of controversy behind them — organics, GMOs, buying local, etc.

The government, he declared, is the wrong method for figuring out the policy surrounding these issues. And to a degree, I would agree with that. No one would argue that the government is a model for efficiency. Nor would anyone argue that the government generates concise, straightforward rules. In fact, as someone who struggled through the process of becoming an American citizen, I can speak to the convoluted process that had been put into place — a process that was frequently a black box, with no real indication of how far along I was in the process or when the next steps would occur.

As an alternative, Mr. Brown suggested voting with your money. For one supermarket trip, watch as your groceries cross over the scanner, counting out your cash for each item. Pretend that each dollar is a vote. Because companies listen to money, and decisions will be made on these hot-button food policies based on how well they do in the consumer market.

Again, it was an argument that I don’t completely disagree with. But there are two issues with this line of thinking that are difficult to ignore:

1. Everyone is guaranteed a vote, but no one is guaranteed a dollar. The promise of democratic government is that it gives us all a voice. Even if we have nothing else, we can help build our society in positive ways. Of course, we can’t ignore the fact that we live in a capitalist economy, and money does have a certain amount of influence. The things that we buy support the companies and services behind them. Unfortunately for a lot of these food policies, though, they aren’t cheap. Organic, hormone-free, local foods are often significantly more expensive than conventional food of the same type. If you’re already limited in resources, paying extra to support better quality food just isn’t an option.

2. It’s difficult to vote when you don’t know how your vote is being cast. It’s easy to say “if you don’t want GMOs in your food, then don’t buy food with GMOs”, but it’s difficult to actually do that if you don’t know what food has GMO ingredients. Attempts to try and get labeling in place have been an uphill battle. So even if you have the means to support certain foods, it may still be difficult or impossible to actually find the products you want to support.

I’m not saying that government regulation is the complete answer. In fact, government regulation is partly to blame for the overabundance of corn syrup and highly processed food that litter supermarket shelves these days. But left to their own devices, companies are going to gravitate toward cheap solutions in order to maximize profits — solutions that may not have their customers’ best interests at heart.

If the government was able to level the playing field — allow more Americans to buy the food they actually want rather than make do with subsidized, highly-processed garbage — then that might be the best compromise. But I don’t see a way for pure consumer spending — or pure government oversight — to successfully bring better food to everyone.

Trowl 0.8, Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love API 1.1

Overdone jokes aside, I realized that I use Trowl too much, and I invested too much time in the app, to just toss it aside when Twitter decided to finally turn off version 1 of its API. That said, it’s not a trivial process.

Technical Details

If you’re interested, Trowl was originally built on requesting XML responses from Twitter. This was primarily because, at the time, .NET was best suited for parsing XML documents more than anything else. With the switch to API 1.1, Twitter completely dropped the ability to request XML responses, in favor of JSON. Luckily, .NET has become more fluent with JSON recently – but it still meant going back through all my calls to Twitter and replacing the XML-based response/parse logic with JSON-based response/parse logic.

The Status of 0.8

Okay, so, I’m making this version 0.8 because I’m essentially changing the entire foundation that Trowl is based on. There aren’t any new features here, but it’s a big enough infrastructure change that I felt justified in bumping up the version to 0.8.

I’ve converted almost everything over to API 1.1 except the following:

  • Controlling Trowl through DMs (which I don’t think anyone uses anyway)
  • Spam reporting
  • Additional caching in light of API 1.1’s stricter rate limiting

Everything else should work, but I’m releasing a development version first so people can try it out and let me know what bugs they find.

Trowl 0.8 Download

UPDATE 6/17/2013+ Another quick update that fixes some issues with retrieving friends (darn those stricter rate limits!). Authorizing a new account should be fixed now too.

UPDATE 6/17/2013 All functions should be switched over to API 1.1 now, but please send me any bugs or issues you find. Thanks!

Thank you for sticking by Trowl during the API shutdown!

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The Next Generation

With Microsoft unveiling the Xbox One yesterday, the next generation of game consoles has officially arrived. Now that we have entries on both sides, I thought I’d give some first impressions.

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Get a Job!

It took me about three or four years to get the job I’m in now. Part of that was during the recession, which forced me to sit back and wait for the market to improve. But even then, I kept browsing job listings to see what opportunities were available.

It’s not fun. I don’t think I’ve met anyone who thinks it is. Now, don’t get me wrong: sometimes a job posting will come along that gets you excited. It’s exactly what you’re looking for! It sounds like a unique opportunity! Or the company is solving a fun, interesting problem! But then reality sets in. How do you apply? How do you get noticed? You look at your dry resume and generic cover letter and, for a moment, you wish that you could pick up the phone and talk directly to the recruiter. Instead of getting lost in a pile of paper (virtual or otherwise), you yearn to speak to an actual human about why the job makes you excited.

When I decided to truly get serious about my job hunt, I knew I needed a different strategy. So I did some research. Ultimately, the answer I found was something I should have known all along.

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Six Months in Austin

Arrive in any large airport in the United States, and you’ll immediately be greeted by all the stereotypical tourism clichés that the surrounding area has to offer. Baltimore? Have some crab cakes. Boston? Lobster and Sam Adams. Dallas? Barbecue.

Land in Austin’s airport and you’re greeted with music and pleas to “keep Austin weird”. But what does that mean exactly? I’ve always heard that Austin was unique to Texas; a haven for food, music and technology. But finding the truth in that was proving to be elusive.

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Microsoft Surface

I just watched Microsoft’s first commercial for their Surface tablet. It sucks. I get it: you’re so very proud of that “perfect click” sound you engineered – but that’s not what you center a commercial around.

This is the Microsoft Surface commercial that I would make.

Opening shot shows an iPad on its home screen. “This is an iPad,” starts the voiceover. “All your apps are laid out, ready to launch.” The camera zooms in on one of the icons, “You tap here to see your appointments for today.” Switch to another icon. “Tap here to get updates from your friends.” Switch to another icon. “And you can tap here to see the weather – because it’s not actually 73 degrees and sunny.”

Camera switches to another tablet. This time it’s Surface. “This is the new Microsoft Surface,” says the voiceover. “All your apps are laid out, ready to launch.” The camera zooms in, showing all the information right on screen that would have required tapping and hunting on the iPad.

“But you don’t need to. Looks like I’ll need an umbrella for the football game today.”

End.

Sure, Apple’s new iPod commercial is just as useless as the Surface commercial. But they can get away with that because everyone knows how an iPod works. The Surface is still an unknown to most people. I hope Microsoft gets more serious about their marketing as time goes on.

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Trowl 0.7.3 (Tweet Marker Support)

I’m making a development version of 0.7.3 available for anyone who would like to help me test it before it’s released to everyone. This version has better stream error recovery handling, and makes a couple of other minor under-the-hood changes. The most noticeable change, though, is Tweet Marker support.

What is Tweet Marker?
For those who aren’t yet familiar with the service, Tweet Marker syncs your Twitter timeline across applications by recording the last tweet you read. Applications that support Tweet Marker can quickly jump straight to the spot in your timeline where you left off.

How does that work for Trowl?
Since Trowl doesn’t show you a traditional Twitter timeline (at the moment…), it uses this information a little differently.

Saving your last read tweet: in Trowl, a tweet is considered “read” when its notification is dismissed. Every 15 seconds, it will send the tweet that was last dismissed to Tweet Marker.

Retrieving your last read tweet: every 5 minutes, Trowl will pull the latest Tweet Marker from the server. It can’t remove any tweet notifications already on screen, but it won’t send new notifications for tweets you’ve already seen. Instead, it will pick up with the first new tweet. Depending on your settings, this will also happen when you uncheck the Silence option.

How do you enable Tweet Marker?
Tweet Marker has been added as one of the “missed tweets” options:

Tweet Marker

This option covers both tweets and mentions.

I’ve also updated Metro Display slightly. In addition to the coalescing support that I added a little while back, I also changed it so that the Twitter timestamp dynamically updates – this should have been added a long time ago, so I apologize for the wait. I also fixed a nasty memory leak bug.

You can try both of the new toys here:

Trowl 0.7.3 Development
Metro Display 1.5 Development

Please send any bug reports my way – you can comment here, send me a tweet, or post to the Google Group. Have fun. :)

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