Monday, April 29, 2019

My Weight & Health Management Systems

In March of 2018, I visited the doctor for my checkup.    Feeling fine, I expected things to go very well.    Instead, the conversation went like this.

"Dave, your glucose level is far higher than it should be.   You have two choices.  Choice one, you can lose 6 pounds in the next six weeks and begin bringing that number down further.  Choice two, I can declare you diabetic, because you are, and teach you to use insulin today.   You will be on insulin for the rest of your life."

I was 250 pounds (5'11" for reference), and didn't think I was "fat", but I didn't think I was diabetic.   Apparently, I was.  This wasn't as brutal as it might seem.  I like choices, and rather than dwell, I decided right then that choice one was the one I was going to do, and that I would start then.   I'd actually lost weight once before.   Before Sharon and I got married, I lost weight to slim down for wedding pictures, and I did it with Weight Watchers.  I was going to do it again.

As of writing this, April 2019, I've lost 54 pounds and been below 200 pounds for well over a month.  My checkup was solid, and I've never felt as good as I do now at age 43.

This blog chronicles how I did it, as some of this is hopefully useful to others.     I make no claims about being an expert and will note that my weight loss is doctor monitored.    Disclaimer, disclaimer, disclaimer.

Step One: WeightWatchers.

I use Weight Watchers every day to track my food.   I use just the app -- I don't do a thing with meetings.   They call the program digital.    I did just this from March until Sept 1st of 2018 (so the first six months).   This took me from 250 to 207.8.   Just that.   The program works.    I do the freestyle points option, which includes free food items that I can select.   You get a daily allocation of points to use, as well as a weekly allocation to use during the week.

However, I wanted to ensure I didn't rebel against the program.   I like beer.  I also like junk food. How do you ensure you can add items for indulgences, within the program context, but not feel you are always having to deny?

Two key support tools here.  If you're not familiar with "Dotti's Weight Loss Zone" and you're doing WW, you need to know about this throwback looking website.    The website does totally feel like 1998, but the restaurant information is awesome if it's not already in WW.

Second, Sharon highly recommends    We have a pretty good track record with their receipes, and they include the WW points.  

Several key basics I started with as I go into the next steps.   I already had an iPhone and an Apple Watch.   WW links to Apple Health, so I started there, and weight data came from a WiThings WiFi-enabled scale (which I upgrade later).    Basic tools getting started.

Step Two:   Excercise

80% of weight loss, I'm told, is food but the other 20% is exercise.  This is an area I knew nothing about.   I started super simple -- I went for a walk.   It started very simply, with a 30-minute walk every day.    This added a number of points per day -- essentially, one beer per walk.    Not bad.    This started the habit, and I started figuring out amounts too.   33 minutes versus 30, then 40 minutes, then 42 minutes.  I found 42 minutes was a good amount of time and points back.  All of this I log just using the Apple Watch Activities, so each workout is logged there, and this automatically syncs to WW.

Step Three:  FitPoints 2.0

Around November of 2018, WW made changes to their tracking program, which started measuring activities less on time and more on intensity.    FitPoints, which can be traded for food in the program, are a way to "earn" more.   This would become critical in ....

Step Four:  Gym

It got cold.   In late November, the morning walks were getting unpleasant as the weather had changed, and it was cold.    I knew I wouldn't be able to continue the routine I had when it was snowing or hovering around freezing.    We joined the gym.  During the sales process, we were offered a "free training" session, which turned out to be a few basic push-up like activities and a sales pitch for more training.  I learned two things.  First, I hate anything that I have to count reps for.  Second, lots of people were using the incline controls on treadmills to change the difficulty.

The gym was about one thing here -- a treadmill.  It was cold, I didn't want to walk in the cold.   Period.   I moved my workouts to the treadmill.    But for the first one, I upped the incline a little from zero.   This resulted in a much better point total from the WW app, and I wondered... how did this happen?

Step Five:  Heart Rate

With the knowledge that I could change the incline and get more results, I started playing with various inclines, noting that I could get better point numbers in FitPoints by increasing.   Googling for cardio options that focused on heart rate, I found Orange Theory, which had a lot of information about heart rates. Could I figure this out for my own use?

Yes, I could.

Using Heart Graph, I was able to start charting the heart rate zones described in the article above using my Apple Watch and the incline graphs, I was able to start finding patterns that created the bursts of high heart rate in zone 4 (with some in 5).    Any workout in Apple Activites show up in the app, and thus I can analyze the rates.    Ultimately, it's about making the workout vary to make your heart rate go up, and giving yourself a rest period between.

Step Six:  Better Data.  

I'd always used a WiFi-enabled scale, which pushed data into Apple Health.   I upgraded that to the Body+ from WiThings because this gave me body composition.  The doctor had been doing much more comprehensive analysis, and I wanted data that was closer to this.   As my weight was close to the goal -- we had set 193 -- I wanted to find out if that was actually the right number, as body fat percentage tells me a whole lot more.  This gets that kind of data.

Step Seven:  Getting varied.

I was on a business trip in March and hit the gym.   There was a Peloton bike in the gym, and since it was set up so anyone could try, I went for it -- I'd seen the ads and was curious.    It was pretty fun -- varied music, something different, and a great workout.   I don't want a piece of equipment in the house... but they have an answer for that.    Peloton Digital.

I joined, and now generally use it twice a week in the gym.    Sometimes a power walk, sometimes a bike, but the idea being that I can vary up what I'm doing.  With the weather getting nice, I'm able to go for a bike, a walk, to the gym, etc.  I need to keep things different, so here we are.  I use the app generally on my iPhone, and they recently added the ability to pre-download workouts.

Step Eight:  Intermittent Fasting.

Also in this timeframe, the doctor (who focused on obesity and diet), suggested I look at intermittent fasting.    There's a lot of science here, but the idea is to help your body burn fat better, and to do so, you get your body into a fat burning mode.     He recommended I go three times a week on a fast.

To manage this, I use an app called Zero.   Zero lets you track fasts, get reminders on fasts, and the like.   My fasts will go from generally 8pm until 1pm or so, going for the 16-hour block.   You can have water during the fast, but it's actually easier than you might think.

This is my plan.

So far, so good.   I mentioned my April 2019 checkup -- I'm below 25% body fat, approaching my goal, and all signs look good.    This is my system -- again, offered that the systems or apps may be of help.

Note that everything was done one step at a time.   The core for me is step one, but everything else builds on that.   Your system shud be yours, and it will only work if you like it.  I offer mine as components so you can pick what you want to leverage.  Hope it helps!

I'll update this as I change things.

Friday, April 5, 2019

Retro and Modern Gaming Setup

[Revised April 5, 2019 for new systems]

I've been working on my gaming setup for a while, and finally have it at a place I'm really pleased with things.   I thought I would take a bit of time to document it for those who may want to try their own hand at this.

My basic premise was to try and get the best signal I could out of the systems, and have things set to just work when turned on.   Originally I thought I would do everything on the one main TV in the bar, but I was inspired by the guys at My Life in Gaming that I didn't need everything on one system, particularly because I couldn't come up with a physical layout to fit everything.   With that idea, I decided to break it into two parts, with the older retro systems in my office.

Additionally, I decided to focus on two standards for the video signals to try and make things easier.  For modern systems, the familiar HDMI cable would do.   For retro systems, I would focus on RGB, which is supported by many, but not all, of the older systems.  For those that didn't support it, I would  get the systems modified to support it.

With that, I couldn't decide about doing a CRT or HD, and so decided to do both.  My idea there is that the CRT is the "original" image, the way the system was designed. That's a full RGB video signal, but thus also standard def.   Next to it is the HD TV, showing the upscaled image -- converting the SD signal into a HD one. The SD signal is the way the consoles were designed, so if you are a purist that's the signal of choice, as well as being a reference for the HD one next to it when I compare. The SD signal has "scan lines", which are an SD artifact. The HD signal does not.

The CRT is a Sony PVM-20M2U.  It has RGB inputs.  I've connected that to a par of gscartsw_lite, units, each daisy chained in via a SCART to RGB cable.   (Running off that is the audio signal which goes to the speakers).   Each console in the rack is hooked up to that switcher.

For the HD signal, the primary gscartsw uses one of it's two outputs, to send a signal via SCART cable to the Open Source Scan Converter.  The OSSC does the work of taking that RGB signal and making a nice HD signal out of it.  The secondary gscartsw runs to the first.

That gives me side-by-side SD and HD signals, both for playing and for reference.  Here you can see the signal from SD2SNES coming from the SNES displayed in real time on both.    I split the HD signal, and run a cable through the wall to the main system, going into input two on the back of the TV.  Thus, a simple input change in the main bar lets me get that full signal, and I can play what's coming from the HD upscaled signal on the 55" panel.  As I have wireless controllers too for a lot of systems, retro gaming can be done on most of the TVs.

In the retro section, I have a RGB modded NES,  a stock SNES (as it supports RGB), a RGB modded Nintendo 64, a Nintendo Wii (connected to the gscartsw via a GARO component to SCART converter), and a PS2.  Below that is an original Xbox (again, supports RGB) and a Sega Genesis (RGB!), a RGB modded Atari 2600, a RGB modded Intellivision, a RGB modded Colecovision, and a TurboGraphix-16 with TurboBooster to get RGB.    All run to a gscartsw_lite.

Moving from my office to the bar, there is the second setup.   This focuses on the HD systems.

The TV is a 4K LG, which has four inputs.  The first is for the TiVo, and the second is the OSSC line from the office for doing the big screen version.   There is a 4K HDMI switch which handles the Xbox One X, the PS4 Pro, the 4K Apple TV, and the Nintendo Switch, so the modern systems are on one switch.  The final HDMI input is connected to a DVDO Duo, which handles the switching of HD systems.   Connected are an Xbox 360, the original PS3 (which handles PS2 and PS1 backwards compatibility), and a HDMI modded Nintendo 64.

Also connected are a Retron5 (doing HD for NES, SNES, Genesis, Mega Drive, Famicom, Super Famicom, Gameboy, Gameboy Color, GameBoy Advance), and a RetroPi.   Finally, going into the analog port and upscaled is a Nintendo GameCube.  

Back in my office, I have a shelf dedicated to the portable systems.

That's a Sega Nomad, Atari Lynx, Nintendo DS, Game Boy Advance (with the upgraded display), a PSP, a GameBoy Color, a modded GameBoy Color with frontlit screen, a stock original GameBoy and a original Game Boy (also with upgraded display).

Just below that and to the left, I have the NES/SNES collection of games.

The bookshelf in my office continues the SNES games, N64 games, Genesis games, Sega CD games, Super Famicom Games, PSP games, and original XBox games.  It also holds the Game Boy, Game Boy Color, Game Boy Advance, Nintendo DS, and 3DS games.  For good measure, there's a Vectrex in there too.

There's a shelf in the bar that handles the Xbox 360, Xbox One, PS1, PS2, PS3, PS4, GameCube, Wii and Wii U games.  Everything has a case.  The NES, SNES, N64 and Genesis games all are in Universal Game Cases, and I replaced the CD cases for the PS1 with DVD style cases.  Covers come from The Cover Project, and the UPS store has been nice enough to print everything.

I've gotten wireless controllers for the NES and SNES which also have charging stations.    The Atari, Genesis, N64, and original Xbox controllers are in bins below all the retro systems.    The PS2 controllers are wireless now as well.  In the main room are stations for Apple TV, XB360, Wii, Wii U, XB1, PS3 and PS4 controllers all under the MAME cabinet, which Sharon has very deftly hidden.

Essentially, everything is ready to turn on and play.    A labor of love to get everything working and setup.   I have most of the "core" games for systems, and own SD card carts for everything that makes one, so you can load ROMs if needed.    I own most of the games from my childhood, and am working on completing collections of "every" Castlevania, Star Wars, and Star Trek game, and am missing just a handful of Street Fighter games.    (For those interested, my game list is here, although that's only the physical games.   Everything for Switch I've bought as digital download, and have a number now for XB360, XB1, PS3 and PS4 that are digital downloads too)

The point is to play the games, of course.   We've been hosting "retro gaming days" periodically, and have the systems on and fired up for play.   Let me know if you want to try something out -- or I'm missing a game you want to play.

New Retro & Modern Gaming Setup

I redesigned my office, and it deserved a new post to discuss the layout and the setup. The old design  worked great, but didn't look ...