Soylent Challenge – Day 2

Day 2 is closed and no cheating on other treats (Day 1 I finished off a small pack of licorice because I felt the need to chew on something). I occasionally see advertising that is pushing me to want specific foods, but I’m building up my willpower.

DAILY VARIABLES

Energy: I do feel a bit more energy, but it’s not a surge. Then again, caffeine doesn’t work on me like other people.

Cardio: 55 minutes of walking/jogging the dog + several hours of wallpaper removal, wall prep, sanding, and painting.

Water: 80oz (plus the water in the Soylent)

Approximate Soylent Usage: 4/5 (@1600 calories)

Weight: -2.5 pounds (-3.4 total – much of it no doubt due to shedding water weight)

Craving: Starting to subside – although I do crave spice, it’s not so specific

Soylent Challenge – Day 1

In February I joined the Kickstarter project for Soylent. The creators envisioned a food source that could replace traditional food – fast, cheap, and nutritionally balanced. Our traditional process requires time and energy to prepare and clean up after, which might be better spent in other pursuits.

About a week ago (so 7 months later than expected), the one week pack arrived on my doorstep, but given that I was going to be on the road for the following week, I decided to put it off until yesterday.

Each day’s supply makes up about 2000 calories of food, divided between the processed powder and the oil. You can either make a shake in a blender bottle, or pour the whole thing into a pitcher, add water, and shake for about 30 seconds. Clean up is simple – just rinse/wash the pitcher and any glasses you use.

If you factor in that each day’s meals come down to $9 for a complete, balanced nutritional experience with 1 pouch and a small oil bottle’s worth of waste, it does feel like a very green way to go (although just don’t put Soylent and green together in a sentence).

TASTE

Flavor: The shakes taste like the vanilla, peanut butter, oatmeal, and whey protein smoothies I used to make when I was trying to gain muscle.

Consistency: It’s smooth, but with a little bit of grit.

MY SOYLENT CHALLENGE

September was a horrid month for me as I had an upper respiratory infection for most of it so my workout time was limited and I added about 5 pounds from eating a lot of salty foods (soups, crackers, curry). I also wasn’t very zealous about my water consumption so I’m sure that played a factor into my weight gain. I’ve decided to see how well I can do while surviving on just Soylent and water (with occasional treats as positive reinforcements for achievements).

DAILY VARIABLES

Energy: I’ve not noticed a significant gain in energy other than the fact that it’s the weekend and I had some goals I wanted to achieve which increased my positive attitude on completion.

Cardio: 45 minutes of walking/jogging the dog + a couple hours of cleaning

Water: 64oz (plus the water in the Soylent)

Approximate Soylent Usage: 4/5 (@1600 calories)

Weight: -.9 pounds

Craving: Chipotle Barbacoa Burrito Bowl

Storytelling Made Simple

20140709_190258_957-EFFECTSLast year, Gary Vaynerchuk re-popularized the importance of storytelling in a social media-driven world. Lots of people scrambled to figure out how they could improve their storytelling skills, while Google went out and simplified the task.

This year has been my “No Staycation” year, and I’ve been incredibly lucky to get to travel for work to a number of locales. Everywhere I’ve gone I’ve brought along my Google Glass and shot photos and video with it. I was determined before I went that I would do some storytelling, but invariably I got home and those pictures sat in memory or in my auto-backup on Google+ waiting to be shared.

Now I’ve long said that Google Hangouts was the killer app for Google+ (and it’s been good to me – I’ve received 8500+ views on my Google Hangouts tutorial, which is woefully out of date). But right now I’m giving some serious love to its upstart cousin – Google Stories.

All those photos backed up from Glass or my Nexus 5 have started begging me to be heard. First I got an Auto-Awesome request to approve the movie on the right. Wow YES! No editing on my part, all I did was auto-backup my photos to Google+ (sharing set to private) and then change the privacy settings on this to take it live.

Then came full on Stories. The first one I published was Minnebar 2014 (a convention for developers, start ups, and tech enthusiasts). It was exciting and simple, so I also went through and published photos from a top agent networking event we had put on at Lambeau Field. All I had to do was add text and decide if Google was right about which images I should use (at least 80% accuracy – kudos to their deep learning system).

People asked me – could this be used by agents for listing presentations? My initial reply was hesitance given the timeliness that requires. When I went on a road trip through southern Minnesota and snapped pictures of the flooding, the story didn’t pop up until a week later.

Wednesday night I went out for a walk with my dog down by the Mississippi river. There are some really scenic views and the water is still up a little, so I brought along Glass and snapped some shots when Cerbie would remain still for a moment. The next morning I woke up and Google had compiled the story for me! I just added some captions and re-chose a couple of pictures, and voila. While not quite real time, this is becoming a very usable tool for purposes like listing presentations.

Of course, my stuff is mostly Google Glass, so if you want a real sense of what Google Stories can do, check out: French Polynesia from High Above {WARNING: there are sharks and crazy Red Bull Junkies}

Ecoboost Challenge Accepted!

HyperMile Challenge CarsFriday I saw something awesome in my social media stream. A friend from my TechKaraoke Minneapolis crowd had been invited to a closed track driving experience (the Ford Ecoboost Challenge) and wanted to know if I wanted to tag along. It had been a long week, starting at 7am on Sunday and featuring treks to Wisconsin Dells, New Prague, and Marshall, so I was completely in the mood for some recreational driving. My boss approved my long lunch and I was off.

“So you’re with The Media?”

I affirmed with a bit of a twinge in my gut. I find it interesting that blogging, tweeting, and keeping in touch with my nearly 1k Facebook buddies gets me the same credentials as when I worked at The Reporter (yes, I tried to be mild-mannered while I was there, but that’s quite difficult for me). As someone who aspired to be a member of the fourth estate, I am very aware of the distinction in journalistic standards between the two media, but I accept that I get more feedback from readers now than I ever did reviewing movies or throwing hardballs at administration VPs. Nevertheless, I instructed my gut to settle down – I wanted to drive and they were the ones setting the standard which I fit into.

After a light repast, they got us right behind the wheeel. First up was the Hypermile Challenge. We got to choose between two hybrids and as the C-Max came in a hatchback, I took that one out. We toured the track at up to 25 miles per hour and then checked our overall miles per gallon for that lap. Then we were coached through the second lap where we saw our MPG vastly improve (I got mine up to 70 MPG for the course – a far cry from the 280 I saw when I got in). The C-Max was comfortable and by no means as acceleration-averse as the Ford Tempo (“Adagio”) I drove briefly in my 20s. The last time I bought a car, I wasn’t seeing this level of attention to experience in the domestic offerings, so I was excited to see that I might not be importing my next car.

The next challenge was a comparison between Ford vehicles and their top competitors in the sedan, SUV, and truck categories. I’m not really a sedan guy, but I preferred the Ford interior and handling to the Toyota. Then I rode around in the light SUVs with my friend Jen Jamar. This gave me an opportunity to experience the cars from another vantage point, test out the stereos’ Bluetooth connectivity, and rickroll her.

ST Performance AcademyThis just left the one I had been waiting for – ST Performance Academy. We received a 10 minute instruction on what we were going to do and how they would kick us out if we knocked over 3 or more cones, then they unleashed us on the vehicles. I haven’t driven a stick since my Geo Metro was the victim of a 4 am drunken hit and run, so I was a bit hesitant about my clutching abilities. They made this easy by making the track turn-intensive so you never had to shift out of 2nd. The time to beat was 29.5 seconds by the instructor, so on the first time through I posted a 48.5. The second time through I juiced it a lot more and I’m pretty sure that I got around a 38 or 39, but unfortunately as I had not pre-registered I was one of a number of mislabeled people. As I pulled in, I forgot about the clutch a half-second too late and it killed/lurched right in front of everyone else. Classy!

I helped convince Jen to get behind the wheel (she had been my passenger through my two laps), partially so I could get out on the track again. She had gone about 5 more years of not driving a stick and was a bit anxious, but we got through the first lap and she found her confidence, putting up a 39.6 in the process, so she may have beaten me.

Unfortunately, they only gave you the one go so I had to head back to the office, being very mindful not to treat 169 like my own time track.

What Are Your All Time Top 5 Movies?

Top 5 LabelWhat are your all-time top 5 movies? I’m not talking about the ones that took your breath away or opened your mind to a new idea, were the best crafted, or that you mention at parties when you want to seem erudite. I’m talking about the movies that speak to you or remind you of who you want to be, which you drag out of their cases once or more a year to reassure or inspire you.

To put this another way – what films are your emotional tuning forks? I grew up with musical parents and a grandfather with perfect pitch so I often process ambiguity through that filter. For me, there are certain songs that resonate perfectly during certain moods and help me find a calmer center like a singer listening to a pitch pipe or tuning fork to prepare for a song. Example: At those time in my life when I’ve felt sorrow, I have turned to U2’s “With or Without You” as there’s a howl at about the three minute mark that resonates perfectly with that emotion in me, pulling me out of my sense of solitude and connecting me to the human experience like an invisible tether. So when people perform that song poorly at karaoke, failing to properly build to that release, I get infuriated.

I’m starting my list at number 2 as I watched it this evening. I’ll also probably throw in a top 5 honorable mentions for those films I love but just didn’t make the cut.

This Memorial Day I had planned a trip back to my home town to visit my grandparents’ graves, tour Niagara Cave where I once worked as a guide, and take some pictures of the tree farm I own with my brothers. As the weather called for rain and I didn’t want to get my camera wet, I put it off and took a different walk down memory lane.

Clearing out one’s storage area can be unsettling to the psyche. Sure, purging zip drives, land line phones, and 3.5” disks from my collection of stuff was liberating, but then there were the letters from women over the years, pictures of me from when I was a total dork, and other heretofore forgotten relics of the past succeeded in fragmenting my previously optimized cerebral hard drive. Yeah, we’re going to mash-up music and tech for today’s analogies/metaphors.

#2 - High FidelityAfter three full garbage bags and a box of archaic electronics, I had all the mental fragmentation I could take. That’s when I reached for #2 – High Fidelity. John Cusack is the actor who brought to live the archetypal cinematic heroes of my 20s. This one was a departure from those characters – a morally flawed anti-hero, and yet he made the character relatable and I could see pieces of my own persona in there.

I was living in Mankato when the movie came out in spring of 2000, transitioning from sales/account management for web sites to lead designer as the firm was shifting from an ISP to a web design/development company. I spent many of my evenings at bars playing pool and darts or watching my former co-worker’s band, The Delaineys (now defunct), whose CD I got to be in the liner notes for (since I co-designed their CD liner).

The day High Fidelity opened, it wasn’t in Mankato so I had gotten in and out of work early and had driven all the way up to Lakeville to watch it. The next day I went to Barnes and Noble and bought the book and consumed it in between Everquest sessions and Jaycee road runs. I went on to read most of Hornby’s other works [checked and I’ve evidently missed his 2009 release of Juliet, Naked].

So why is it in my Top 5 and how did it get to number 2? For one it helps me delve into my inner cad, considering where he’s seeping out unintentionally besides the highway. It also helps me to frame the mental chaos through an examination the relationships that got me from point A to point B and why that means I’m dwelling on concept C. Beyond that, it’s partially about redemption and the opportunity to overcome your own stupidity and shortsightedness.

Like all of the other Top 5, every viewing is different – the bright tints and hues of the present mix in with the sepia tones of the past. For example, after chatting online for a couple months with a director, finally meeting her in person and failing to create a connection, the portion at the end with the writer and the juxtaposition between the roles of creators vs. critics had significance as we had discussed my transition from actor to reporter/critic in college and how it’s usually a line you can’t uncross. But I want to uncross it – I miss community theater and I need to find an outlet for that. I also paused at the part where he talks about his believe that what you like is more important than what you are like and how I’ve judged people that way.

There were some other epiphanies, but I need to process them which usually involves unburdening my mind and collaboratively re-examining them to get a fuller understanding, usually over food or alcohol with someone I can trust.

Book Review: Six Pixels of Separation

Six Pixels of SeparationPrelude

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the public library system and the rest of the taxpayers out there who make it a reality. Some of you may not find that line item in your taxes especially worthwhile, but I come from a family that are strong believers in the library system (my mother used to serve on the local board). Even when I was too old for the standard summer book program, Mom would rope me in as entertainment – my best friend and I would perform a magic act for the little kids. (Yes, I’ve been a geek pretty much since birth.) If you haven’t been there recently, I’d encourage you to take advantage of the opportunity your tax dollars afford you.

Review

A couple weeks back I stopped in and picked up three audio-books. The first one I listened to extensively on the car ride on the way up to and back from Duluth/Superior. Six Pixels of Separation is the novelization (and 7 disc audio-book) of a set of blog entries written by Mitch Joel of Twist Image. It’s 2 years old, so relatively ancient in the social media sphere (he references MySpace as an important resource), but the information was very useful and fleshed out for me the aspects of social media that I hadn’t delved into deeply. I would definitely recommend it to people who are interested in social media – I think it will be worth your time even if some of the information is a bit dated.

One of the concepts he talks extensively about is how one person or one group that come up with a great idea can spark a change – make it viral. We see that today with the Occupy Wall Street coverage. But just a few years ago, there was a man in a shopping mall in Sydney, Australia who sparked a similar movement along a different vein. The video has over 70 million hits, but until I listened to SPoS, I was completely unaware of it.

You can change the world – find your great idea.

Movie Reviews – Take Me Home Tonight, Your Highness, I am Number 4, and Hall Pass

Saturday I hung out with my friend Bashar in lieu of getting some actual work done around the house. We talked about going to see a movie but I really wasn’t too keen on any of the ones that were out so I picked up Red Box. The following reviews comprise the entire Saturday afternoon viewing marathon, interrupted only by a post-curry nap midway through the second feature.

NOTE: I try to avoid spoilers, so no synopses. I do draw parallels to other movies/shows so you can determine whether it’s a theme you are interested in.

Take Me Home TonightTake Me Home Tonight
This one was the overall favorite of the marathon. It’s a romantic comedy starring Topher Grace set in the mid to late 80s. He’s a mathematical savant who doesn’t have a clue what he wants to do with his life other than to woo the girl of his dreams, so he’s working at Suncoast. The plot was to some degree predictable, a fusion of Say Anything and Can’t Hardly Wait, but the twists were enjoyable and I found myself laughing out loud on a number of occasions. On top of all that, I was happy to see that Topher actually co-wrote the story so it’s good to see that he’s developing himself beyond acting.

Your HighnessYour Highness
Ok, I’ll admit, this one I had “high” hopes for. I enjoy my comedies and I dig the fantasy genre, but the real draws were: Natalie Portman and Zooey Deschanel. I was significantly let down, hence the nap in the middle. The problem for me was the rest of the casting. They pinned the success on the ability of Danny McBride to maintain your attention, but he’s no Seth Rogen or Jack Black, either of whom would have had the charisma to make this movie work. While I’ve got a lot of respect for James Franco, I don’t feel that he was a good fit – they should have gone with a no-name and spent the extra money on Seth or Jack.

I am Number FourI Am Number Four
This one was a nice break from comedies and a foray into the sci-fi and supehero genres, basically a modernization of The Powers of Matthew Star. I enjoyed the special effects and the story. The only real problem I had with it was the attempt to build it into a franchise by not tying up all of the loose ends. The attempts to play up dark comedic elements of the antagonists some times fell flat.

Hall PassHall Pass
This one was enjoyable as well. It took it a little while to get going and it was no Wedding Crashers, but it delivered on some laughs. Owen Wilson is definitely starting to show his age – he didn’t look like he would have gone to school with Jenna Fischer as per the plot so there was a bit of a disconnect for me, but off the top of my head I don’t know who you would re-cast into that role with the ability to carry the movie in the way he did.

Review: Tomcat in Love

[NOTE: This was originally written in June, but not edited until now.]

Tomcat in LoveWith the Anthony Weiner coverage as of late, I felt this gnawing desire to re-visit my favorite Tim O’Brien novel, Tomcat in Love. Tim ranks with John Irving and Neil Gaiman (he is seated in the late Douglas Adams’ former spot) in my top 5 favorite contemporary writers. Numbers 4 and 5 tend to be more fluid with Malcolm Gladwell, Nick Hornby, Tom Stoppard, and Isabel Allende jostling for position.

Elevator Pitch:
Professor Henry Higgins as played by Bill Clinton stars in a fusion of High Fidelity and Of Human Bondage.

Review:
Tomcat in Love follows the complex life and psychology of Thomas Chippering, Professor of Linguistics and incorrigible flirt. At the heart of this character is the duality of wanting to be in love with one woman and wanting women everywhere to want him. While most men can empathize, the measures that he takes are questioned by the women who truly love him.

As with most O’Brien novels, you can expect certain themes in this one like personal transformation as a result of Vietnam. He also explores the sacred nature of love, perhaps an allusion to the Sufi concept of earthly love as a parallel to comprehend the divine. With each novel he tends to seize on something beyond these and explore that thoroughly – for example, with In the Lake of the Woods he focused on ties between stage magic and politics. With this one he dove into linguistics, a real treat for me.

I thoroughly enjoyed how he focused on words as holding individualized semantics based on the person similar to a picture, song, or a scent forever being tied to a piece of history for people. For example, to Thomas the word “turtle” would be forever colored as a broken promise. I was also attracted to the theme of an intellectual rationalist exploring the visceral nature of his passion and its ability to create utter chaos in his world.

If you can’t get into a book of this length, check out The Things They Carried – a collection of stories O’Brien penned with the Vietnam War as a common theme. It’s more digestible in a single sitting and a good introduction to his writing style.

Caveats:
There are adult themes at play so this is not something I would recommend for children. It’s also narrated by a protagonist who tends to speak at a level commensurate with Frasier and Niles Crane:

“Much as I adore a good shower, I have never comprehended the point of sharing lavation fluids. Where is the romance in imitating goldfish? …My cozy bachelor world, I realized, had swiftly come undone.”