Archive for the 'lifehacks' Category

Friday, December 23rd, 2016

Two free courses that improved my life

Check out this post at its new home on Writing Through The Fog.

Wednesday, September 28th, 2016

Quantified bronchitis

Lots of people are using Fitbit to get into better shape. But I haven’t heard of anyone using trackers to better measure what happens when you get sick.

As it turns out, I’ve had a nasty case of bronchitis over the last week. This is the sickest I’ve been in a while, and I find it fascinating to look at the data. I hope folks from Fitbit corporate, and other interested individuals will be able to make use of the data.

First off, here’s what shortness of breath and fever do to you: they raise your heart rate.


My normal resting heart rate is in the low 60s. But as you can see here, it hardly dropped below 90, even while I was asleep. Fitbit considers a rate of 89 or above to be the “fat burn” zone, and I had an incredible 20 hours less two minutes in that zone. Interestingly, Fitbit considered my resting heart rate to be only 76 bpm. I think it uses some kind of rolling average over many days.


Here’s what the resting heart rate looked like:


And here’s the overall time in various zones.



The highest spike is the day we were just talking about. But days leading up to that had significantly raised heart rate too. After that, it dropped off fast, but the scale can be deceptive. That data point 3rd from the end is still more than four hours in the “fat burn” zone, which is a lot for lying in bed.

Next up, step counts:


I muddled through Wednesday not feeling well, but activity crashed the way you’d expect, spending entire days in bed.

Lastly calories:


The leftmost column is the Wednesday I muddled through, with a burn of 3004 calories, which is pretty typical. But the next day, despite my step count dropping by 90%, Fitbit recorded a burn of almost 3,500 calories. True, this was with 14-and-a-half hours in the “fat burn” zone, but I don’t think it could make that much of a difference. This has to be a bug. Someone, my set of physiological conditions triggered some defect in the algorithms that made it badly overestimate my burn.

[From what research I could find, running a fever of 102 indeed increases your basal metabolic rate. But not that much. It probably less-than-compensates for the decreased physical activity while sick.]

Friday, the day I had 20 hours in the “fat burn” zone, I recorded a more realistic 2438 calorie burn.

What do you think? If you have fitness tracker data from when you’re sick, I’d love to see it.

Thanks, -m

Saturday, May 2nd, 2015

Before your standup, sit down

I’m running a Scrum project, and doing things a little differently than the classic method. I’ve done this at two different companies now, and it seems to work out well.

Before a traditional standup meeting with The Three Questions, I schedule 15 minutes of intentional downtime. Since this happens at the start of the day, it’s a chance to quietly plan out your day, and start on a thoughtful note.

I’ve often found myself “preparing” for a standup meeting by quickly scribbling down what I’ve done on a sticky note, so that when called upon, I can know what to say without having to think too hard. So why not formalize this? Work life is hectic enough. A few minutes of quiet reflection can make a big difference. Knowing what you need to work on is the first step to avoiding thrashing. Since we use a software tool to track sprint work, capturing the day’s list in this app is a fine thing to do during this time.

One caution: it’s easy for this to slip into extra-minutes-for-commute time, or just a regular standup meeting that starts 15 minutes later. To get the benefit, the team needs to be present (but not necessarily in the meeting room).

Has anyone else tried something like this? -m

Thursday, February 5th, 2015

DIY fizzy yerba mate drink

Filed under need-to-try this: A homebrew version of a popular hacker drink called Club Mate.

I already have a carbonator cap and CO2 setup, as part of my beer brewing hardware.

One variation I would experiment with is cutting down on the sugar. Even though Club Mate isn’t very sweet, it still has a fair amount of sugar in it. Stevia could be a good alternative. -m

Tuesday, February 18th, 2014


I can’t blog about secret projects I’m working on, so how about something completely different?

I’ve improved my fitness level substantially over the last five years. (On index cards, I have my daily weight and body fat percentage, according to the bathroom scale, back to November 2009). Here’s some things I’ve learned:

  • Moving counts. A lot. The difference between being completely sedentary and moving a bit (easy walks, standing desk, etc.) is the biggest leap. Everything after that is incremental.
  • Spending $99 in a Fitbit is the best health investment I’ve made, dollar-for-dollar, ever.
  • Expensive shoes don’t help much. My current main shoes were $40 online, and they’re just as good, if not better, than the $120 shoes from Roadrunner.
  • Pilates looks easy if you’ve never tried it.
  • Once you reach a certain level, you will plateau there unless you challenge yourself further.
  • Strength training is helpful for just about everything, even improving your running times.
  • Foam rollers are super useful for managing sore muscles and tendons. Highly-recommended.
  • Boosting your VO2Max is painful–interval training is the gasping-for-air kind of torture many people think of when they hear the word ‘exercise’–but it’s also important if you want to improve your run times.
  • But you shouldn’t try to improve your run times or anything else unless you have specific bigger-picture goals in mind.
  • Seriously–sitting is terrible for you. Get a standing desk.

Invest in yourself. -m

Thursday, September 29th, 2011

facebook Challenge results

Andromeda took the facebook Challenge, and found 52 separate requests in 24 hours that would have gone to the facebook mothership. Watch her blog for more updates. How about you?

If you look through these logs, pay particular attention to the referer field. This tells you on which site you were browsing when the data set out on its voyage toward facebook.

Monday, May 30th, 2011

Good to Great

One book that Ken Bado, the MarkLogic President and CEO, likes to talk about is Good to Great, (subtitled why some companies make the leap… and others don’t), a result of many man-years of meticulous research.

There’s plenty to think about in this book. It talks about the qualities of a “level 5” executive: the best have a paradoxical mixture of personal humility and iron will. It talks about getting the right people on the bus, and only then deciding where the bus is going. It talks about a culture where brutal facts surfacing is the normal and expected behavior, resulting in a culture of both discipline and faith in the future. Perhaps the key point of the book is the venn diagram that depicts “great” companies as focusing on the intersection of passion, what they can be the best at in the world, and what drives their economic engine.

The structure of the book is based on 11 key companies that passed several rigorous metrics, including an at-least-15-year period of good financial performance, followed by a turning point and an at-least-15-year period of greatness, that is, returns well above the general and industry markets. (Perhaps unfairly, companies that were in the ‘great’ bucket continuously, with no periods of merely ‘good’ performance, were excluded).

Two of the companies in the list: Fannie Mae and Wells Fargo, raised the eyebrows of this fresh reader. Both of them have been prominently in the headlines in the last few years, and not in a good way. In particular the depictions of Wells Fargo struggling with deregulation in the 80s seem galling to read with the hindsight of going through the Great Recession. Circuit City, another of the good-to-great companies, declared bankruptcy in 2009. The book itself cautions about tough times at Gillette and Nucor in the Epilogue section.

I bring this out not to be negative, but to emphasize that this is a soft discipline, not science. If there are companies that have consistently beat the market from the 80s until today with no serious hiccups, that would be truly remarkable. But there’s lots of hidden variables, the system is chaotic, and mere financial numbers are too shallow a measure by which to measure greatness. A company that can truly follow these principles will almost certainly do better than one that doesn’t. Just look at Yahoo for a negative example.

In particular, I’m thinking the three circles are a good way to approach life, though I sincerely hope an individual’s third circle isn’t about optimizing finances. What can you be the best in the world at, have pasion for, and drive your personal satisfaction engine? Maybe that would be a good area to focus your limited resources on. -m

Thursday, November 6th, 2008

Geek Thoughts: “I screwed up”

A special comment. My most vivid memory of my late Grandpa.

Even after retiring, Grandpa needed to do small jobs around town to make ends meet. One was cleaning a small sporting goods store. Once, with all the excitement of visiting family from out of town (that would be us), he forgot to clean one night. The next day, the shopkeeper was understandably irate, and waited around to speak face-to-face. “I screwed up,” Grandpa simply said. A short exchange followed, with typical Midwestern bluntness and politeness, the resolution being that it would never happen again. The shop got exceptionally well cleaned that day. Crisis averted.

That’s been a powerful lesson for me. When you screw something up, admit it, fix it the best you can, and move on.


P.S. No, I haven’t done any major screw-ups lately, at least any that I know about. I was reminded of this by a much-publicized interview on Letterman.