Headed to St. Louis

Tonight after Jacob’s football game Julie, Jacob, and I will dash off to the airport to catch a red-eye to St. Louis. We are visiting our alma mater, Washington University in St Louis, as a first visit for Jacob who has the school on his short list of want-to-attend schools. Some cool points about this visit:

  • Jacob will get to participate in an athletics recruiting presentation, attend the home football game vs College of Wooster, and meet some members of the football team. Jacob is interested in playing football at the Division III level.
  • Julie and I get a full day on Sunday to show Jacob around campus and the city of St. Louis. We still aren’t sure what we’ll do but I’m sure a stop at Ted Drewes is in our future.
  • Julie and I will ditch Jacob on Saturday night to see Matthew Sweet’s 20th anniversary Girlfriend tour at Blueberry Hill. We first saw Matthew Sweet together in Cincinnati 1993.
  • Jacob will start the day on Monday with a visit to my old AFROTC Detachment. Interestingly, the detachment commander there is someone I was in AFROTC with during my stay at Washington U.
  • The rest of Monday will involve campus tours and sitting in on a computer science class. We return late Monday night.

Needless to say Julie and I are at least as excited as Jacob.

Review: Wits and Wagers Family

I’ve been a big fan of Wits & Wagers since it was first released back in 2005. I even participated in a Wits & Wagers game show back in 2006. North Star Games positioned this game from the start as the trivia game for people who don’t know stuff (“Not a trivia buff? It doesn’t matter!”) and it mostly held true to that claim. Each question has an answer that is a positive number. Players secretly guess what the numerical answer is, then everyone reveals and the answers are arranged lowest to highest. Each player then wagers on what they think is the right answer, with a very cool twist: the further an answer is away from the median, the higher the payoff if you guess correctly. Example: “How many feet are in a furlong?” Guesses might be 200, 500, and 1000. The answer of 500 would only pay 1:1, but the other two might pay off 2:1.

While I loved this betting mechanism it lead to confusion for many players and created some bad end-of-game “I’ll just bet it all” brokenness that led to anti-climatic endings. I concluded that the game was more of an enjoyable activity than a real game because of this.

North Star Games recently sent me a review copy of their newer Wits and Wagers Family version which shipped in 2010. There’s good and bad inside the box but mostly good.

What I like:

  • They fixed the game mechanics and took away the betting odds element. Instead, each player has a large meeple and a small meeple to bet with and players score points by having the right answer and placing the right bets. The game is a race to 15 points.
  • The price point is very attractive — you can probably find a copy for around $15 online.
  • Even though the game only supports up to 5 players, this is one of those party games that works very well as a team game. Just find some multiple that works for your group (8 people? 4 teams of 2! 9 people? 3 teams of 3!). The group version may even be more fun than solo as you kibitz about what the correct answer might be.

What I don’t like:

  • I think the questions are inferior (too family-ish?) compared to the original version. Not a problem for me as I just mixed in my questions from the original into the new box. You can also buy more questions in the Expansion Pack, which I haven’t tried.

Conclusion: This is a party game staple in my house and is highly recommended. Great for gamers and non-gamers alike.

I remember Steve Jobs

Apple logo

I can’t fully explain the impact Steve Jobs had on my life, but I can at least share a chronology of memories directly linked to his creations.

I remember first learning that my friend Mike was getting an Apple II computer when we were in the 6th or 7th grade and being extremely jealous. I made it clear to him that he’d need someone who knew how to program in BASIC to help him operate it (that being me of course). I remember scrambling to learn BASIC so I could prove my worth.

I remember spending late nights at Mike’s house playing Wizardry and Olympic Decathlon, then staying up even later after Mike went to sleep learning how to “enter the monitor” with Call -151 and start programming 6502 assembler language.

I remember encountering my first Macintosh as a sophomore in high school in 1984 and using it alongside a PDP-11. It was clear that the world was changing.

I remember programming my own version of Tetris on a Mac during my sophomore year in college using 68000 assembly language. I remember using a Mac IIcx to produce many term papers during my senior year in college. I remember designing a medical imaging system as a senior project based on the NeXT computing platform.

I left the Mac world for at least 15 years, but I remember coming back in a flurry in 2007 with a MacBook Pro, an iPhone, and an iMac. Since then the Apple virus has consumed our household and we are better off for it. Steve Jobs — you will be dearly missed.

Major weight loss operations have ended

I suspect we all have wake up triggers for health and wellness — events or thresholds that inspire action and maybe behavior change. I had one after the July 4 weekend this year when I stepped on the scale and crossed the 190 lb threshold. I’m about 6’1″ so that’s not a terribly bad weight, but not where I want to be and not the sort of trend I’m comfortable with.

At the same time I was doing research on Quantified Self as well as social and online coaching and support networks. I enrolled in RunKeeper Elite and joined their “run for weight loss” coaching program. Calling it a coaching program is an exaggeration as it is nothing more than a running plan with some light social interaction with other participants through the RunKeeper site. Still, this was an aggressive program for me and I stuck to it religiously for 2 months, ramping to over 15 miles of running a week with a mix of longer distances and interval training. Signing up for a paid program like this seemed to provide motivation (guilt?) to stick with the plan.

I knew from past experience that exercise alone wouldn’t address the weight loss. Diet change and calorie reduction would be required. To track this I installed the Lose It! iPhone app which provides two key features: an easy to use calorie counter and a personalized daily calorie intake forecast based on your individual characteristics and weight loss goals. My plan: lose 20 lbs by the end of September.

My final automation step was to purchase a Withings WiFi Body Scale. This scale connects to our WiFi network and automatically uploads weight and body fat measurements. It also does a decent job of distinguishing different members of the family. Matthew and I weigh about the same right now (and have a similar body fat % – the scale sends an electrical charge to measure this) and when I weigh in it has me confirm who I am after the measurement by leaning left or right.

Julie was a great partner in supporting my diet changes and I was very diligent throughout the two months in sticking to my plan. One great component of the RunKeeper / LoseIt automation is the ability to enter calories burned from running into LoseIt – it was like getting a surprise bonus check allowing me to eat something sweet or more likely have an extra beer or old fashioned. My net daily intake was about 1,700 calories.

Side note — I also hooked up my RunKeeper feed into Earndit which awards me points and gift cards based on my activity. I’ve managed to get some great casual pants from Bonobos and a fine custom tailored shirt from Blank Label through this program. Highly recommended.

In early September I revised my goal a bit: to get the moving average weight in Withings to 172 lbs or lower. After achieving that I will move to a maintenance mode where I keep my moving average below 175 lbs. I’m happy to report that as of October 1 I’ve achieved the goal. Here is my raw data showing running mileage per week and weight trends:

Weight Loss Trend

One thing about Lose It! and calorie counting: 3-4 weeks into the process I stopped tracking because I intuitively new what I needed to do. I’m going to restart using the tool now that I’m going into maintenance mode to make sure my habits are sustainable. My daily calorie budget is now 2,506.

I believe without a doubt that had I just accelerated my running I wouldn’t have seen the weight loss – the dietary change was critical. Not surprisingly, the weight loss has contributed to improved running quality and pace. I’m routinely running at a sub 9 minute pace while training, and Julie and I ran an 8:35 pace in a (mostly downhill) 10k two weeks ago. Earlier this year it was a challenge for me to run a sub 10 minute pace.