Discovering Your Six Pack and Losing 25 Pounds [Body]

Starting college, I was 140 pounds. However, after a couple years, I finally realized that eating a whole pizza and other things for dinner every day wasn’t quite in the recommended daily 2,000 calorie maximum for students when I noticed I had ballooned to 160 pounds. As a teenager, I used to eat super sized double quarter pounder meals at McDonald’s and think to myself, “that was a solid meal”. Not an insane meal, a solid one.

Knowing my friends, who were all pretty skinny at the time, this was what it was like to be American in the mid-1990’s.

A year ago, I was about 170 pounds. I am 5’6 (167 cm). I wore medium-sized shirts and size 33 pants.  I had given up on losing weight, I just wanted to be fit. I don’t think I was ever fat or obese – I just had a good body frame for holding (mostly down low) weight. Even when I was doing intense 2 hour basketball sessions in the Vietnamese heat multiple times per week, I never lost any weight.

After I read Timothy Ferriss’ Four Hour Body last year, I began to understand why. In general, Ferriss talks about how carbohydrates and not fat (from meat) are the key to storing fat in the body. Consuming no carbs meant your body could not store fat. Based on the advice in the book, I decided to change my diet to see what could happen. Essentially, it’s the load-up-on-meats-and-vegetables while avoiding-all-rice-and-bread diet, or the Atkins diet. I also avoid sauces and dressings whenever possible to avoid extra filler calories.

Today, one year later, I am 65kg (143 pounds). This is what I looked like a couple of years ago versus now:

I never thought I could have a 6 pack, but today’s it’s pretty much there. I’m no Ryan Reynolds, but I almost feel like we have a common bond (other than an initial love but now dislike for Scarlett Johansson). I am down to a size 30.5 waist, size small shirt, and a big need to make money to buy new clothes.

I highly suggest reading the Four Hour Body to learn more (or can just research online) – Ferriss does a good job of answering detailed questions and complaints that people may think of against doing this. As a side note, Ferris  also recommends loading up on green tea extract and a number of compounds that is now called the PAGG stack. While both may help in overall health, they are also fairly expensive. I don’t think they are necessary for the weight loss (I tried the PAGG stack for a couple of months and I don’t feel the results were different).

The major changes in my diet, massive reductions in the following:

  1. Drinks: no juices, no soda, nothing with sugar. The only things I drink normally are teas (preferably green tea), plain water, and vegetable juices (with no added sugar). I do have the occasional beer and wine should be ok. Beer is not that high in carbs (generally 12G per can) with 150 calories, especially compared to soda (35G carbs, 200 calories), but if you drink a lot of beer, it really adds up – each beer makes up roughly 8% of your daily caloric intake. I do not drink diet sodas either – this somewhat relates to consuming “real food”, discussed more below. Besides, there is research that suggests drinking diet sodas gives people the false security that they can eat more, so these people actually end up being worse off than drinking normal soda.
  2. Processed Grains: rice, bread, cookies, cake, etc. If I do eat these, I try to get wheat bread when possible. Bacon and eggs for breakfast, no cereals.
  3. Manufactured Foods: I avoid these almost completely, including frozen foods (even vegetables) and boxed foods. I am against these types of foods (though they are amazingly delicious) for long term health (I believe in eating real food over stored or processed food to avoid long term health issues).

Vegetables: I really like Spinach and Broccoli, as I find them easy to eat and they are highly nutritious. Eat a ton of these or whatever vegetables you can handle.

Meats: Load up! For overall health, eat organic when possible. In Vietnam, however, organic meats were not easy to come by.

Snacks / Junk Food / Fast Food can usually be grouped in one of the three things above. Nuts, while healthy for you, are incredibly energy and carb-dense. I avoid fruit as well, though I am not really sure fruit is a problem. Fruit contains high amounts of glucose (sugar), but when is the last time you saw someone become fat because they ate too much fruit? As I understand, fructose (almost always in manufactured foods) is the real issue in fat building (it’s also an issue in cholesterol, according to The Great Cholesterol Myth)

To make what might seem like big changes in your diet, I suggest take things slowly. First, don’t expect to lose a ton of weight quickly. Be patient, give it a few months. Don’t scale yourself constantly. I didn’t weigh myself for 8 months. As my friend Jimmy recommends, do look at yourself in the mirror – as you begin to lose weight, you will want that positive reinforcement of seeing your body shape change.

Start with just one of the diet changes and reduce. If you drink one soda per day for example, just drink one per week. The other times, drink water. If you eat two bowls of rice per day, begin to maximize yourself to one. If 3 beers a night, first reduce to 2 for one month, then reduce to one afterwards. You don’t need to take extreme measures – if you do something you cannot maintain or enjoy, you will only give up later. As you get used to scaling back, try to scale a little further. If you scaled back your beer consumption successfully for a month, now also eat less bread and rice, for example.

Log what you change in your diet and mark each time you do it. For example, if you only want to drink one soda per week, note each time you drink a soda. I made an Excel sheet with a cell for every day. In that day, I write everything I eat or drink. If I eat something bad, I highlight it. I update and review the list every day, so that if in a particular week I have been highlighting too many items, it helps reinforce that I cannot break my rules again.

This may seem silly, but it really does help – you will have that reminder in the back of your mind to lay off, especially as you see yourself change in the mirror.

In case you feel you will sacrificing (what, no ice cream cake!?) too much, Ferriss’ schedule does prescribe a cheat day, in which you can eat whatever you want all day one time a week. In general, however, I still eat rice and other things I love from time to time, I just cut back and keep track so that I don’t fall into bad habits.

If you find yourself getting hungry, you just need to eat more. More meat! Eat baby carrots in between meals!

In addition to diet changes, I still work out, and my suggestion is to pick something you can do at least 5 times per week. Even if it’s just walking the dog for 20 minutes, stick to what you know you can do rather than overpromising yourself. Anything beyond that is a bonus. For example, I hate lifting weights, so I don’t bother vowing to do it. I absolutely hate running. If you live in a city in which you walk a lot already, perhaps add seven minutes of circuit training five days per week.

My workout, each of these done 5 times per week:

  • 50 pushups (I cannot do these straight, I usually do 30-15-15 getting a few minutes rest between each set. It’s a bit lazy, I know)
  • 50 squats (done straight)
  • 1.2 KM Swimming (about .7 miles, I feel I swim at a fairly fast pace, but definitely not a sprinting pace. This is 30 laps in a standard 20 meter lap pool)
  • 8 Minute Abs (see YouTube for the video).

The swimming is done for overall fitness rather than weight loss. I have heard many people say that losing weight is all about diet, and it’s true. I have not been swimming much this year due to travel, and I am still able to retain my weight and body shape as long my diet stays intact. I don’t play basketball anymore, but would like to pick it up again later this spring.

Based on my experience, losing weight is not as much a sacrifice as people often imagine. You can do it too! Best of luck!

The Big Problems Facing Sportan, the Indiegogo Mobile App

I love the concept of Sportan, “A location-based pick-up sports app for the everyday athlete. Discover, join and play pick-up sports instantly with the power of your smartphone.” At first glance, this mobile app seems to be headed in the right direction by covering all of today’s hot buzzwords, solomo (social / local / mobile) + gamification, and taking advantage of something that naturally contains all of those aspects – offline sports.

Essentially the promise of the app is this:  find a pickup game near you, in any sport, anytime you want to play. Get rated when you play, see your ranking improve the more you play.

Almost sounds like a real-life role playing game, I’m a level 53 basketball player in Final Fantasy Real Life Streetball!

However, as good as this all sounds, I feel that Sportan is going to face significant issues.

Who’s Playing?

In launching any app, you need to determine if the app can provide value with a limited number of users. Instagram can, because at its minimum, it has great camera functionality. Thus, it is ok for an Instagram-like app to start slowly and gradually build momentum. For Sportan, however, this is not ok – without a large number of users at the start, it reduces the value for new users to come on, starting a negative growth spiral.

It’s a bit of a chicken or the egg problem. Why will people use the app if there is no one else using it? How can you get people to not just install the app but use it, when the benefits (rankings and new game opportunities) likely won’t come until many more people are on it as well? If I am using the app to join a pickup game I know about, but no one else there uses the app, how will I get ranked? The app needs to find a way to take advantage of the many pickup games already going on so that you can get benefits even if these are not the “new” games being created by Sportan users for Sportan users.

Otherwise, the likelihood of finding a new game from a Sportan user that is occurring when you want to play in an area near you will be very low. 

How Do Rankings Work?

Adult players do not get better as they age. I believe that adults are the target market here – Sportan is a smartphone app, and thus it’s more for people who have a relatively high amount of disposable income, people with jobs. Younger players (kids) have an easier time of finding games as they have more free time, but also already have a friend network from schools to play with on an everyday basis.

While I love the idea of being ranked as a player, I know that, at the age of 33, I am not going to become any better at basketball – I don’t have much time for practice, and I get slower every year. If these are true ratings, I would then see myself get worse numerically or stagnate over time. It’s one thing to know in my mind that I am not getting any better, but to see it on screen as a constant reminder is a different problem. It’s a negative incentive to stop using the app.

On the other hand, if rankings get better (like experience points in video games) the more you play, your rating might rise over time, but the actual value of that rating would be worthless. If ratings are dependent on other players, the question I brought up earlier comes to mind – what if you play games with players not using Sportan? Also, how many players need to rate you before the rating is an accurate portrayal of you? Will players actually know what to rate you? Can they be fair, without bias?

This is not so easy.

Sportan suggests that you can find the right pickup games by setting the rating scale of players that you would like to play with. That makes a lot of sense – it’s definitely more fun to play with others of the same skillset. If the rating system is faulty, how effective will this be? And again, if there are few people in your area using the app, how likely is it to not only find a game, but find a game with people who are accurately ranked and within your requirement?

These issues are all critical to the app’s growth cycle. If you use the app, you want to find a game (with enough players) near you quickly. If you do not have success your first few times using the app, the chance of a you uninstalling it or becoming inactive becomes very high and leaves the same issues for future users.

Improving the App

In a perfect world in which Sportan has a tremendous advertising budget to get people to know about and install the app, I am not sure that the issues above go away. Assuming people know about the app, what type of people are actually likely to use it? If you are in a large city, you may already know of some pickup games – are these people really in need of the app? Do they feel they need to find more pickup game opportunities on a regular basis? If not, perhaps the app becomes an afterthought for them. If you are in a smaller city or play a sport that is less popular (ex. volleyball), can you find enough people to join a game that you create, or will you feel like it’s not worth the effort or that it takes too long relative to other means (Facebook, Meetup.com)

I do not have ideas to solve all of these problems, but I would take steps to simplify the app and make it a lot easier to gain traction.

First, I would change the rankings system.

I believe that users should rank themselves based on age, times playing per week, and highest level of play reached (no organized, organized, high school, college, pro), and preferred style of play (for basketball, this could be half court, full court, or shoot-around). Thus for me, I would enter:

33 years old / 2 times per week / No Organized Basketball / Full Court

I believe that most people would be honest about level of play as you would quickly find yourself out of place and embarrassed if you vault too high.

Second, I would let people register games.

This is to have a listing of all the types of games that people know about, whether they actually attend those games or not. What I mean is that Sportan should store a listing of all pickup games that others have contributed, not just games that Sportan players are actively creating and asking others to confirm. This allows more content seeding to occur and allow Sportan to import information from other sources. Sportan users could verify or edit the information to make sure listings are up to date.

Sportan’s ultimate goal then would to become the ultimate pickup sports “inventory”, in which users could come and find the perfect game for them.

The pickup games could be one-off or recurring and have the following information listed:

Time and Date / Location / Recurrence / Level of Play / Type of Play / # of People

Players using the app could check-in to the game if they do go – Sportan would then use that information to share which players are most active in an area. For recurring games, you could see the list of Sportan players that have participated recently. If you see a pickup game that has been participated in by a Sportan player, I think this will make it easier for you to join as it has been verified by a fellow user and you can also check out the skill rating of that user. When you go to a game that has a Sportan user attending, you essentially have a friend there – it’s a lot more comfortable to get a discussion going. Recurring games could show the average ratings of the Sportan users that attend those game. If you are searching for a nearby game, Sportan would automatically find games that are within a certain area from you but also with players who are primarily in your age group and skill level. That way, the user would not have to do much thinking to find the perfect game.

Sportan could highlight users that check-in the most nearby, letting those players become sports leaders and experts of that area. Featuring users may create a positive loop in which users appreciate the recognition and do more to promote the app and add more game information, which benefits all users. In later app builds, perhaps users could commit to attend a game, but also mark other Sportan users as “favorites” so that when favorites commit to games nearby, the user will get a notification to consider if he should join as well (like Following on Twitter).

To launch the app, I would focus on a private beta within a small geographical area.

For example, I might start at a university, as a lot of students will have smartphones, play sports on-campus, and be focused within one small area. If you can get this audience to use the app on a daily basis to manage their sports schedule, growth can naturally occur as they play games off-campus over time and have the opportunity to share the app with new players and include new game listings. If Sportan can prove this usage occurs, they will then have a basis for launching it in other markets and also creating revenue opportunities for the long term.

Otherwise, I think it is too risky to just launch Sportan nationally, and hope that traction builds quickly enough that most people have positive first experiences with it.

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Those are some of my early thoughts on Sportan, if you have any comments, please write them below! Best of luck to Sportan, of course – to learn more about it, check out https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/sportan-pick-up-sports-made-easy/x/41732.

A Look at the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 in 2014 [Review]

A few months ago, I got a great present from Midland – a Galaxy Tab 2 10.1” Wifi (Wireless, no cellular 3G) tablet. Even though Midland himself said it was a bit slow, I wanted to check it out anyway as I’ve never owned a true tablet. After installing CyanogenMod to make the tablet run as fast as possible, here are my impressions as well as some app recommendations.

Web Browsing: this is the worst aspect of using the device. I use Firefox, which is well regarded on Google Play, and also what I use on my laptop. Whether you are browsing multiple tabs or just a single one, loading web pages feels much slower than on the same connection with a PC. Firefox tends to forget which websites I’ve opened and sometimes will erase my session completely even when I have not closed the browser, leading to much frustration. In general, while a normal user who tends to open 1 page at a time and read casually will not have a problem with the Tablet, it’s an inadequate experience for me.

I use Firefox along with the AdBlock and LastPass extensions. I suggest paying for the LastPass Premium service so you can access its mobile app – LastPass lets you save your passwords in the cloud and can help you manage your passwords across desktop / laptop PC’s, mobile phones, and tablets. Because of this, I only remember critical passwords from a few sites, otherwise letting LastPass store the rest and making it convenient for me to login to websites wherever I am. AdBlock removes ads from websites. Although I do like ads from time to time, since the Note is so slow at web browsing, every little bit of speed helps.

Apps: If your favorite sites and services have good Android apps, this will take away much of the pain from the spotty web browsing experience. Using Facebook, Twitter, etc., works great on the large 10” screen. The app experience is not necessarily incredibly fast, but I have never felt it to be slow, at least not in comparison to the web experience. As I have been traveling a lot recently, TripAdvisor is a prime example of a website that is terrible to use on the tablet but is quite good on the app side. However, instead of having one general TripAdvisor app that you can use for any location, TripAdvisor only has apps for specific cities. This is great if you are going to a city (Frankfurt, Bangkok, etc.) that does have a specialized app for it, but obviously terrible if it does not (Saigon).

For news, I use Feedly. It does not match the PC version because I cannot enable the Android app to mark an article as “read” if I swipe past the headline. Thus, if I go into Feedly every couple of hours, I will continue to revisit articles that I did not want to read. This has really discouraged me from using the app.

Typing is not a great experience because of the screen dimensions, regardless if you use an alternative keyboard (the tablet can lag at times when using Swiftkey, making me slow down and create more mistakes) or the standard one. This tablet won’t be a go-to device if you are hoping to write long WordPress blogs on it.

Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 10.1Comic Books: I always imagined that this would be the main reason for owning a tablet, at least for me, and I’ve been proved right. My reading of digital comics has really been extensive this year- likely more in the last 3 months than in any 1 year period for the last 10 years. ComicRack makes reading comics anywhere anytime super convenient just as the Amazon Kindle made reading books did.

Media Player: (Movies, Music, Photos) I’m a bit disappointed you cannot use Amazon Prime streaming on non-Kindle Android devices. Otherwise, YouTube has an excellent Android app. I use MX Player to load movies from memory cards. Smugmug has a great app which will download your photo library to your Android device automatically, making it easy to see or search your photos wherever you go, regardless of your data connection. When I am back in the US, I may try some music radio apps like Spotify or Pandora. For now, all I have loaded is Hype Machine, which I have used on the PC, but not yet tried on the tablet.

Books: I think the Amazon Kindle app is solid on the Android. I still prefer reading on a Kindle device as it’s easier to switch pages and read with one hand, but if you only have this tablet, you will enjoy reading on it as well. Adobe Reader is a surprisingly solid app for reading PDF’s.

Games: I haven’t tried much in games. From what I’ve seen of Ha playing, world favorite Candy Crush works great on it. In general, I don’t like playing games on a touch screen or mobile device.

As for the physical device, it feels pretty standard. The resolution is relatively low for today’s devices, but this doesn’t bother me much. All the buttons work fine, and the tablet is not too heavy. I added another 32GB SDHC card to supplement the internal 16GB and a Tech Armor screen protector which makes fingerprints less obvious but also dulls the screen slightly. A complaint I have is regarding the unit’s battery charging. I am not sure how to charge the tablet via USB (meaning I cannot plug it into my computer to charge it), and even when I charge it via a power outlet, it just takes too long – I think it would take at least 5 hours to charge the tablet, which is essentially an overnight charge. iPhones and my laptop (Lenovo x230) get charging done, it feels, within 2-3 hours.

The Tablet 2 is nearly two years old today, and since then Samsung has issued some amazing new replacements, at least in terms of their hardware specifications. If you are able to get a Tablet 2 in good condition for around $100, I definitely recommend one, particularly if you do not need it much for online web browsing.

Trips on the Autobahn and First Impressions of Germany (Frankfurt, Muhlhausen)

I was in Germany for 6 days visiting my wife’s relatives and this has been my first trip to Europe. First stop: Frankfurt, Germany’s financial hub, and then Muhlhausen, a small town of 30,000 in the German countryside (it is literally in the woods near castles). Some early thoughts of my experience:

1) You can get a Porsche taxi. The one below was parked, oddly, at an elementary school.

2) Mettbrötchen / Mett is really damn good – it’s raw ground pork on bread, for breakfast.

3) People park their cars ON the curb. This concept will be super familiar with Vietnamese but unheard of for Americans. As a plus, this does free up space on the road, but reduces sidewalk space.

4) The vast majority of the cars being driven are from German carmakers – BMW, Mercedes Benz, Volkswagen, Audi. Must be 90%, and a count watching cars showed 24 consecutive German cars passing me by. Smart (that’s a car company) cars are super small 2 person vehicles that are allowed to park perpendicular to parking spaces.

5) Frankfurt is a good looking city. It’s got the old-European town feel like (as seen on TV!). Perhaps that’s boring to Europeans though. it’s also consistently clean, at least in the areas that I walked around (financial district, area around the Mein river). Muhlhausen, however, is a real old European town. From the places and homes I visited, Germany in general is really clean.

(Frankfurt and the Mein River)

(Downtown Frankfurt)

(Dom Römer Area)

(Muhlhausen City Center)

(Muhlhausen City Center)

6) Some roads are somehow one-lane two way roads. In case there is oncoming traffic, you either have to back up or with some roads, there is a place you stop on the right hand side so the other car can pass by.

7) While the Autobahn was not the super racetrack freeway I envisioned (in my dreams), Germany still seems like a great place to drive. The Autobahn feels like Highway 5 in California. Perhaps it’s just been too long since I drove a car consistently, but I feel like Germans drive fast.

8) I thought that all 1st world Europeans were fluent in English. This is not so true, at least for spoken English, though Germans do study English in school.

9) Germans neighbors commonly greet each other (“Allo!” for “Hello”, “Cheers” for “Goodbye”) in the mornings – I do not feel like this happens in the US, and it certainly doesn’t happen in Vietnam.

10) Chipotle exists here. As does Footlocker and Gamestop. (I hung around a Frankfurt mall) Starbucks exist but nowhere with the density you will see in the US, or even Tokyo.

For more of my photos from Germany, see:

http://ispithotfire.smugmug.com/2014/Frankfurt/

http://ispithotfire.smugmug.com/2014/Muhlhausen-Germany

The Wedding Invite

Huy and Ha Wedding

This was for our (me and Ha) wedding reception a couple of days ago. As it was booked on very short notice (several weeks), we were unable to invite friends from outside Vietnam, or even all of our friends in Vietnam, but it was still a good time.