Oldskooler Ramblings

the unlikely child born of the home computer wars

Archive for the ‘Lifehacks’ Category

How to reasonably archive color magazines to PDF

Posted by Trixter on July 14, 2020

During a conversation with one of my archival collectives, the topic of archiving color magazines came up. Our goal was to distribute scans of the material as PDF, primarily because of its ubiquity of viewing software, but also because OCR’d text could follow the images, making the magazine searchable without requiring the user to perform OCR. However, most of us haven’t started archiving our magazines, because it’s an extremely daunting task. Color magazines are notoriously annoying and difficult to scan to digital form because:

  • Most were printed using screened printing, whose tiny high-contrast dots hurt compression ratios, and produce moiré patterns when scanning at, or resizing to, lower resolutions
  • The high number of pages in color magazines (300, 400, or even 500 pages per publication) makes using a flatbed scanner a tedious process, as well as resulting in a very large set of data per magazine (if preserving quality is a concern)
  • Some magazines print almost all the way into the binding, leaving only a few millimeters of margin at the gutter, which prevents traditional book scanners, both flatbed and camera-based, from capturing the inner 1 CM of printed material

However, we’re in possession of several magazines that the original publisher hasn’t archived and aren’t available in the wild, so we decided to experiment with various scanners, software, and methods to see what was possible, while staying within the limits of what is practical.

While everyone has their own views on what’s important (size vs. quality, speed vs. accuracy, effort vs. volume, etc.), I came up with a set of rules and processes for myself that I’ll be following, and would like to share them. I held myself to the following goals:

  • PDF file sizes should not exceed 1MB per page on average. In 2020, and for the next 5 years at current broadband capacities and growth, a file size of 500MB for giant magazines, or 100MB for modest ones, is appropriate. This isn’t because of total size — storage is cheap — but rather because of transfer rates. I could easily scan a 500-page magazine to 30 GB of TIFF files (which I’ve done many times), but it’s not practical to share 30GB per magazine with online repositories. And besides, I’m not made of money, and some online repos may balk at an attempted upload of 7 TB (approx. 20 years of a large magazine’s print run).
  • Pages should be scanned at 600 DPI. This preserves the screening which can be dealt with later if necessary. It also ensures that very fine print will not only be legible, but able to be OCR’d. (Even if 300 DPI material is eventually needed for extremely large publications to stay under 1GB, the 300 DPI material can be obtained by resizing the 600 DPI material, instead of re-scanning the entire document.)
  • No matter the amount of processing, text should never dip below 600 DPI. This is less of a preference and more of a way to ensure that very fine print, such as a magazine’s masthead/impressum, is legible.
  • All screened material should be de-screened. If the scanning system has a proper de-screening option (a real one that asks for the LPI of the source material, not just a dumb blur filter), it will be turned on during scanning (and the results checked afterwards). If no such option exists, all 600 DPI (and better) scans will be run through a proper de-screening process. I have had excellent results with the Sattva Descreen plugin and endorse it for this. Descreening screened material not only improves the quality of screened images by removing the screening pattern, but results in smaller files (no matter the compression method) due to what is effectively noise reduction.
  • Mild degradation of images is appropriate as long as the text legibility itself is preserved. (Acrobat and DjVu can both do this, although some repositories aren’t accepting DjVu any more.)

To achieve these goals at the highest legibility but the smallest file size, I follow these practices:

  • Destroy the magazines. If you cut the binding off, you have flat sheets that you can run through an ADF or sheet-fed scanner. You can cut very close to the binder glue, giving the inner printing a change to be scanned. It’s a sacrifice, but I feel preserving information printed on paper is more important than preserving the paper. I bought a guillotine paper cutter for $120 specifically for this purpose.
  • Use a high-quality sheet-fed duplex scanner with a configurable TWAIN driver. Usually people think of the Fujitsu ScanSnap series for this, and that was what I first purchased, but the ScanSnap series’ software is not configurable, and it’s only 9 inches wide which prevents scanning some material. I was lucky enough to acquire a Fujitsu fi-series scanner second-hand. This line of professional office scanners have an extremely configurable TWAIN driver that allows groups of settings to be saved into profiles appropriate for various kinds of material. And while it’s not a photo scanner, it does a more than acceptable job of scanning color magazines (better than the ScanSnap, which always has washed-out colors). Would I use it for scanning photos or artwork? No, but it’s my first choice for scanning entire books or magazines. This can be a case of spending some real money, but you do get what you pay for.
  • Pay for Acrobat. Real, commercial Acrobat supports JPEG2000 compression, which outperforms JPEG in both size and quality. But more importantly, it has a feature that can drastically reduce large PDFs called Adaptive Compression. It works by separating text and line drawings on a page into their own monochrome layer that is compressed losslessly. Then, the image that remains after the text has been lifted is downsampled and recompressed. This results in much smaller files without compromising the legibility of text and the sharpness of line drawings. (This feature may have been inspired by DjVu, whose early claim to fame was doing exactly this.) Finally, commercial Acrobat can perform OCR without requiring additional software.

With those rules and methods set, I performed many tests with a lot of material, and came up with a set of best practices that met my criteria. I compiled those practices into a handy flowchart:

I’ve continued to put this flowchart into practice with a lot of material, including mixed-content manuals (color, grayscale, and B&W material in the same manual), 500-page color screened magazines, 8.5×11″ photocopied material, dot-matrix printouts, and printed books. In all cases, I follow the flowchart until the size is reasonable for the material, and I’ve never been disappointed or felt like I was giving up too much quality for the file size. (What is “reasonable” is different for everyone according to personal preference, goals, and motivation, so it’s up to you to determine what that size eventually is.)

I hope that this information will help you finally tackle your own stacks of magazines that, like me, have been leering at you ominously for years from the various corners of your abode.

Posted in Lifehacks, Technology | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »

Experiment results and changing tactics

Posted by Trixter on October 31, 2019

At the beginning of October, I pledged that I would do two simple things to see if I could improve my physical and mental state: Get enough sleep, and get a small amount of exercise every morning. I chose several physical, mental, and emotional aspects of myself to record during the month to see if they improved with regular sleep and exercise:

  • Foot pain
  • Back pain
  • Fatigue
  • Depression
  • Procrastination
  • Bad food decisions
  • Anxiety level
  • Anger/irritation

Twice a day, I’d make a note of how these felt on a scale from 1 to 10. Since they are all normalized to the same scale (representing “bad” things) lower was better. The goal was to see downward trends in the data throughout the month.

While I gained some insight about my behavior and motivation, the experiment broke down: I was only able to get decent sleep about 38% of the month (up from 25%, but far short of the intended 100%), and I did not exercise at all because I couldn’t consistently get up in the morning to exercise while still getting to work on time. Despite this, some of the results were interesting enough to examine, so I’ll present the data here.

Physical

My left foot suffers from a longitudinal tear due to having flat feet, and needs surgery. Walking is painful, and sometimes my right foot gets tired because it is working harder than the other foot during my stride. I know that my left foot won’t get better on its own, but I was hoping more sleep might alleviate the discomfort a little. Did that improve?

I was not expecting that to improve, but I guess “more sleep = more time to heal” is glaringly obvious in hindsight :-)

I’ve been worried about my core, as I’ve had lower back pain for seemingly no reason ever since I turned 40 (a multitude of humanity cries out “Join the club!”). I have also had upper back pain (neck, shoulders, limited mobility) on and off for the last five years. Did those improve?

Same obvious results: If you get more sleep, your body has more time to heal. A tiny downward trend, but I’ll take it.

Getting more sleep should have helped my feeling of tiredness or general fatigue. Did it?

Anything under the midline is good, but I neither like nor can explain the upward trend.

Mental

I go through cycles of depression that, regardless of the trigger, I’m pretty sure are chemical: They usually last a few days, and then I’m fine again for 6-8 weeks. Did slightly more sleep help with that?

The takeaway here is not the flat trendline, but that my daily feeling of depression was all over the place. Some days I’m really depressed; some days I’m not. Maybe I don’t have a 6-8 week cycle like I thought I did. Maybe these numbers are linked to my levels of procrastination. More study needed.

The genesis of this experiment was myself getting alarmed at my anxiety levels, and frustrated with myself on how I am procrastinating more and getting things done less. These two factors combine into a perfect storm of compelling me to eat bad food to feel better. They’re all linked, so let’s see how all three did:

It’s possible anxiety got worse because I could see, day by day, that I wasn’t getting enough sleep. Because anxiety got worse, eating bad food stayed constant. Procrastination decreased slightly, which is what I was hoping for, although I wish it were a more significant change than what was observed.

Not listed on the chart: Continuous bad food decisions resulted in gaining 4.7 pounds this past month. Yikes.

As I get older, my mental state has shifted from more logical to more emotional. I’ve talked about this before, and gotten some good advice along the way (from “embrace it!” to “here’s how you can slow this down”). While some people like this natural transition that happens to most men as they age, I do not want. Besides, the last thing my family needs is a more emotional me. So, did slightly more sleep help with fleeting anger and irritation?

This is a very welcome outcome. :-) I guess it’s also obvious in hindsight, that more sleep reduces irritability, but it’s still nice to see.

Self-evaluation, and one more round

Despite mostly failing to improve myself during this experiment, I made some correlations that weren’t obvious to me going in (or, maybe I didn’t want to admit them until I saw hard data).

My self-evaluation: I suffer from anxiety. When it flares up, it manifests as mild OCD or unproductive behaviors, such as not being able to start (or finish) projects due to fear of… something, I don’t know, but it leads to procrastination. Instead of working on a project (which would be a good outlet for nervous energy), I end up wasting time in an effort to squash the anxiety. At night, I stay up late in a frantic cycle of trying to find something (computer games, youtube videos, movies) that will either calm me down or make me so tired that my mind finally shuts up and my body gives out — but this always leads to not getting enough sleep… which then leads to a higher anxiety level the next day… which perpetuates the cycle. And since I don’t have decent coping mechanisms for anxiety, I also make bad food decisions during the daytime (fast food, sweets, etc.) to try to reduce my anxiety level.

I probably need therapy or treatment for anxiety. Before going down that path, I want to exhaust my options for coping with it some other way. I’m not against drugs or therapy — several close friends and family have had great success with both — but I want to tell myself that I gave the problem a thorough, logical, scientific examination before I go that route.

So what will I change in November? I’ll go after the exercise I attempted in October. My excuses for not exercising in October were not entirely rational:

  • There’s no benefit to exercise unless it’s in the morning, to raise your overall metabolic rate
  • If I exercise too late at night, I won’t be able to sleep
  • Getting more sleep in the morning is more important than exercise

…etc. I’m going to throw these excuses out the window and commit to doing 20 minutes of moderate-to-intense cardio every single day, regardless of what time it is, even if it’s right before bedtime (that’s neither desirable nor optimal, but it has to get done). Ideally, the earlier the better, but if it has to be at 7pm when I get home from work, so be it.

I’ll check back at the end of November with a new set of data.

Posted in Lifehacks | 2 Comments »

What does normal living feel like?

Posted by Trixter on September 30, 2019

Technology has human physical cost. The year I started using computers daily may have been the most formative year of my life, but it also started a lifetime of bad habits. For decades, I haven’t slept more than 5 hours a night except maybe on weekends. I’ve spent those same decades sitting in a chair instead of moving around in the real world. Both of my feet hurt, and not from the same cause. My upper back has pain that doesn’t match my lower back pain. I am deficient in vitamin D. I process information more slowly than I used to. I no longer feel like the smartest kid in the room.

October is my month to unplug from everything and perform personal experiments on myself. Last year, it was watching one horror movie a day and commenting on it. In 2012, it was completely disconnecting from the internet. This year, it will be attempting to live life like a normal human being is probably supposed to:

  • Get 8 hours of sleep every night
  • Exercise (cardio) every morning

That’s it. No other changes, nothing crazy or extreme; just live life like human biology meant for me to live. Burgers and pizza are still on the table.

Why haven’t I done these two basic things thus far? Why is it difficult? Maybe it’s the low-level anxiety that makes me fear going to sleep. (90% of my dreams are nightmares, which doesn’t help.) Maybe it’s FOMO. Maybe it’s because I don’t drink alcohol or do drugs, and so computer time is my vice. I don’t know, and I’m not ready for therapy.

Will I feel better? Will I have less pain? Will I think more clearly? Will my outlook on life change? Will I be more productive? Will I have more energy? Will I lose weight? I’ll be recording and charting my physical and mental status every day, and will share the results with you at the end of October.

Posted in Lifehacks | 7 Comments »

End Of Line

Posted by Trixter on December 30, 2018

I’m leaving myself behind.

Wow, that sounds really melodramatic, doesn’t it? I have started this post multiple times, and each time, it sounds like some hammy grand exit, like I’m taking all of my toys and going home. That’s not my intention, but in today’s social media landscape, there isn’t a way to word something like this without it sounding sensational. I’m just trying to leave a signpost to my friends so that they don’t wonder what happened to me.

Let’s try the direct approach:

  • I am exiting my long-standing hobby circles: The demoscene; personal computing history; software preservation and archival; vintage gaming history; others.
  • I will neither monitor, nor participate on, social media or online forums.
  • I am completely changing my physical lifestyle: Diet, sleep, and exercise.

Why? While the timing makes this seem like a New Year’s resolution, that’s just a coincidence; the reason is because I need to make improvements to my mental health, which suffered trauma some years ago and never quite recovered. It surfaces whenever various triggers present themselves, but unfortunately for me, there are triggers for this kind of trauma everywhere I currently haunt online. So that ends.

(I explained this in great detail in my previous post, which you may notice is hidden behind a password. Just before I posted it, I got excellent advice from close friends that made me see how posting it in its current form could make things worse, but could also go off like a claymore and unduly hurt someone else, so I walled it. I’m leaving it up as something I can refer to in case I need a therapeutic reminder. If you are a close friend whom I’ve known for over a decade, email me for the password.)

While leaving my previous interests is necessary for mental improvement, it is also required for physical improvement: The time I would normally spend on hobbies will instead be spent learning how to take care of myself, preparing my own food, and getting enough sleep.

The physical aspect of this change intrigues me: I will be trading a youthful appearance for health. Since 2000, I’ve steadily gained about 5 pounds every year to the point where I’m 90 pounds overweight, but that’s had the effect of pushing out the skin on my face to fill out whatever wrinkles would be there. I don’t spend a lot of time in the sun, I have all my hair, and my hair isn’t gray — all of these factors combine into making me look younger than I am. A few times a year, I get mistaken for someone in their mid-30s when in fact I am nearly 50. Losing weight will thin my hair, and also allow my wrinkles to show. I will finally look my age.

Literally and figuratively, I will become a different person.

So what happens after that? I’m not sure, but I’m hoping it’s a return to what got me here in the first place. I built Mobygames because of my love for computer gaming history and etymology, which ironically led to a drastic reduction in playing actual games. I participated in vintage computing forums, programming, and archival to help others with the hobby, which again led to a drastic decline in my own activity in that area. I wasn’t careful what I wished for, and got it. Maybe I’ll return to those and find my passion again. Maybe I’ll do something else. I’ve always wanted to make personal computer history videos. I’ve always wanted to program a game for vintage computers. I have some ideas I’ve always wanted to turn into science fiction short stories. I really miss willing things into existence.

But for now, this is it. I’m no longer going to seek validation through projects or interaction. I’m not going to follow your achievements or hear your opinions — nothing personal. I hope you understand. This is now a one-way street, and we’re at different intersections.

Can I be contacted? Yes, via email. I’ll always respond to email, although it might take a few days. I’m also not skipping out on any works-in-progress: If you and I are in the middle of something, I’ll complete that thing. Email me if you’re concerned.

If I manage to accomplish something I’m proud of that I feel benefits anyone, I might pop in for a second to announce it via the usual haunts. Until such time… take care.


PS: For those of you secretly wishing I was a drama queen and hoping that this post was going to be overly melodramatic, I’ll leave you with a personal soundtrack. Listen to it when you think of who I was.

Posted in Lifehacks | 4 Comments »

The End of a Perfect Day

Posted by Trixter on May 11, 2017

I remember a time when I was productive in my home life and my hobbies, both of which brought me great joy and validation.  What’s changed since then?  What’s happened to my output and my mental state?  Two things: Social media distraction and impostor syndrome.

Dealing with social media distraction has many gradients of severity and treatment, but being a member of Generation X gives me an advantage: Because I didn’t grow up with social media, it is easier for me to quit it cold turkey.  I’m going to gain back the time I waste on social media by cutting it out completely for several months, if not an entire year.  I might pop on once on a while to announce something, but it won’t be a daily check-up.  Back-of-the-napkin calculations suggest I will gain back at least 120 hours (that’s 5 days!) of free time per year giving up twitter and facebook alone.

Impostor Syndrome is possible to overcome if you can accept that you have provided real value at one or more points in your life.  If you accept that, there are various methods that can help.  I’ve adopted some, and they are indeed helping, such as keeping a file of nice things people have said about you, finding one person to confide in about feeling like a fraud, and — cliched as it is — “fake it ’til you make it”.  (If it’s good enough for Henry Rollins, it’s good enough to give it a shot.)

I want to get back to a time when I wasn’t worried about what people thought of me.  I want to feel like one of the smartest kids in the room again.  I want to will new things into existence because I feel they should exist and can help or entertain people.  Most importantly, I want to work on myself so that I am available for my family, and be mentally sound enough to not lose sight of how important that is.

To accomplish all this, I’ve removed all social media apps from my phone.  I’m also clearing out both of my email accounts, and being realistic about what I can and cannot accomplish for people.  (If I’ve volunteered to do something for you, I promise you’ll hear from me, but you might not like the answer.)  I might still be active on a forum or two, but with much less frequency.  If you need to contact me this year, please email me instead of trying to reach out to me over social media.

Self-improvement is a journey that requires a realistic world view and making some hard choices.  With sincere apologies to Johnny Marr and the late Kirsty MacColl:

No it’s not a pretty world out there
With people dying of their own despair
But in a written testimonial you’d say
You never really knew them anyway
I’ll never satisfy you
I’ll never even try to
I really couldn’t tell
It just depends what you remember
At the end of a perfect day

Posted in Lifehacks, Uncategorized | Tagged: | 2 Comments »

Leaving the main grid for a while

Posted by Trixter on July 31, 2016

This is my 32nd year online.  I used CompuServe and DDials in 1984, sent and received email on BBSes for the next 8 years, and switched to an internet-connected unix shell account in 1992.  I’ve seen the birth of the web, the rise and fall of Usenet, the widespread adoption of online commerce, and the rise of social media.

I’m overwhelmed.  Global communication has been one of the most transformative technologies ever created, giving voices to those who have none, and bringing people together.  It has also become the new Eternal September.  When everyone has a voice, the end result is cacophony.  Social injustice, political blathering, personal melodrama — I’ve had enough.  I can’t selectively filter any more.  I can’t “just ignore” what’s in my feeds because 90% of it just makes me feel bad about the world, myself, or both.  (Even from well-intentioned people who are just trying to post good news about their family or achievements; it’s not their fault, but their good news reminds me of what I haven’t accomplished.)

In an act of self-preservation, I’m going off the grid for a while.  My online communication will be limited to email for the forseeable future.  I’m uninstalling facebook, twitter, youtube, instant messaging, and newsfeeds from my phone, and likely won’t reinstall them before the end of the year.  Some of my most proudest accomplishments were achieved before all of this noise existed; I’m hoping reducing the noise will increase the signal.

If you need to reach me, contact me.  Email, phone, or texting is all fine.  (I also highly encourage you to come see me in person at this year’s Vintage Computer Festival Midwest, September 9-11th.)  Just don’t expect me to be scanning the entire world listening for your voice; it’s a drop in the ocean, and I’m drowning.

 

 

Posted in Lifehacks | 3 Comments »

Best In Class

Posted by Trixter on January 4, 2015

Sanity wrote something in their Arte end-scroller that always stuck with me:  If you can’t do it better, why do it?

This was my hobby philosophy for over two decades.  It’s the philosophy that created all of the demoscene productions that I am known for, such as 8088 Domination; I’ve placed 3rd or higher in every competition I’ve entered.  It was what fueled my involvement in the Abandonware concept, which would likely have died on the vine without the search engine I created for the original Abandonware Ring (this was in the days before Google and RSS existed; without a search facility, it was cumbersome to find games).  It was what prompted me to design and implement MobyGames with my friend Brian Hirt (several years before wikipedia existed).  It created the MindCandy series of DVDs and Blu-rays.  I am proud of all these accomplishments.

This was my hobby philosophy.

I’m stepping down from always trying to be the best at what I do.  The primary reason is to preserve my sanity, as I am haunted by mistakes I’ve made.  At least one night a week, I lay awake unable to stop thinking about them.  Plus, it contributes to an unhealthy obsession (which also keeps me awake) over trying to be the very best I can be in my various hobby pursuits.  I can’t keep assigning self-worth to project success.  It both paralyzes me and tears me apart.

There was a time when I thought I needed my hobbies to deal with life and stay sane.  Today, I’m finally realizing that all of the successful accomplishments in my life were achieved when I was simply relaxing and having fun.  So that’s what I’m going to do — have some fun and work on what I want to work on, rather than try to win competitions and impress people in my various circles.  If I get another minute of fame along the way, then that’s a nice bonus, but it’s not the goal.

So what’s next?  What is “fun”?

  • More blog posts.  I enjoy writing, even if nobody enjoys reading what I write :-)  Maybe someday my kids will find this blog and get a better sense of what their father was like.
  • S00p3r sekr3t demo project.  See you at Revision!  Hint: It’s not a solo production.  Hint #2: I am the worst coder in the group — that scares me tremendously, and it should scare you too.
  • S00p3r sekr3t vintage gaming project.  Think big!
  • Personal Computer Sound Museum.  This has been in the works for ten years.  Unless there are complications, this will be implemented in Drupal 8 because I need a functional taxonomy framework and Drupal seems to be the only CMS that has one.  So, when Drupal 8 is out of beta, I’ll start tinkering.
  • A vintage computing audio podcast, time permitting.

Most importantly, I hope to make my family and friends laugh this year.

Posted in Lifehacks | 9 Comments »

Journey’s End

Posted by Trixter on April 21, 2013

I was part of the first wave of people tackling the gigantic task of preserving personal computing gaming history in the early 1990s.  (I suppose pirating software in the 1980s counts too, but scanning materials and interviewing people began, for me, in the 1990s.)  Without connecting to others or knowing what was out there, I started to hoard software and hardware where financially possible and appropriate.  I collected software I considered hidden gems, that should be given their due in some public forum before being forgotten.  I grabbed many Tandy 1000s and other early PCs to ensure various works could be run and studied.  I was an original member of the abandonware movement.  I wrote articles on how to get old software running on modern machines, and contributed to software that did the same.  I co-founded the world’s largest gaming database so that information about these works could be consumed and researched by millions.

I did this all before Y2K.  When you’re the only guy shouting in a crowd, you tend to look the lunatic, and that’s pretty much how most of my friends and family saw me.

Look around the preservation landscape today and much of what I was working towards for years has come to pass.  There are many vintage hardware and software museums, both physical and virtual, including some dedicated to gaming.  There are some wonderful emulators that get closer and closer to the real thing each year.  There are even some curated collections online.  (There are many more curated collections offline, orders of magnitude larger than what is online, but in a decade or so I believe these will move online as well.)  Most importantly, there are established communities that support these efforts.  All in all, I’m pretty happy with how things have turned out.

Looking around all of my possessions inside my home, I see the fallout of what I was trying to accomplish many years ago.  I see no less than five PCjrs, three identical Tandy 1000s, three identical IBM PC 5150s, and multiples of Macs, Apples, C64s, and Amigas.  I see crates and bookshelves and closets filled with hardware and software.  I see clutter where there should be a nice desk for displaying a computer in a respectful way, or an easy chair for reading or watching TV.  It’s too much.  It’s time to let most of it go, and focus like a laser on the things that are the most important.  I will be disseminating most of my collection, both software and hardware, in the following year.

What I will continue to do, however, is archive and preserve software, as there is still a ton of IBM PC software from the 1980s that has not yet been released into the wild.  I am also committed to creating the “sound card museum” project I keep threatening to do.  To those ends, I will retain a few systems that will allow me to achieve both of those goals.

So, I’ll still keep buying and collecting vintage software — the difference is, I won’t retain the software after preserving it.  Consider me a vintage personal computing clearing house.

Posted in Family, Gaming, Home Ownership, Lifehacks, MobyGames, Software Piracy, Vintage Computing | Tagged: , , | 11 Comments »

Internet Detox Addendum

Posted by Trixter on November 3, 2012

While on my internet sabbatical, I watched most of the new season of The Outer Limits and was pleased to discover an episode that illustrated one of the concerns that led to my sabbatical in the first place.  Titled Stream of Consciousness, it explores some possible downsides of being able to access all information all the time.  It’s a little lightweight; no issues are ever explored in great depth.  But I still recommend giving it a view.

Posted in Lifehacks | Leave a Comment »

November Lifehacking: The Walking Dad

Posted by Trixter on November 1, 2012

November’s lifehacking experiment is inspired by three things:

  1. I gained weight during last month’s experiment.
  2. I am winded going up stairs.
  3. My kids have never known me without a roll of fat around my neck.

I am 41 years old, 6’2″, and weight 247 pounds. That’s at least 45 pounds too much, and about 65 pounds away from looking normal. I have tried very many things, but lost the willpower to follow through with all of them: A gym membership, home calisthenics (even computer-aided), and the Couch-to-5K program. All have failed, save for a wonderful 3-month period in 2004 where I successfully trained for the Run Hit Wonder and got a front-row position at the following Devo concert.

As I discovered last month just how much anxiety I keep at bay, I was reminded of The Walking Man. Walking Man is a former neighbor of ours who used to go for several walks a day. He was a retired nuclear physicist  and had the unofficial reputation of being quite brilliant. Once or twice a day, you could look outside and see him either coming or going. However, as the years went by, I started seeing him in more places around town: The park at the end of the subdivision; the Trader Joes 10 blocks away; the bike trail near the river. It wasn’t until I saw him walking downtown, several miles away, that I realized what he was doing: He wasn’t taking several walks per day, but rather taking one massive walk that lasted hours per day. Downtown is 5 miles away, so he walked a minimum of three hours every day. Not surprisingly, he was a little on the thin side.

I hold no illusion that I am like a brilliant nuclear physicist, but I can identify with him on some level. Some neighbors told me his walking was a way for him to think and sort out whatever was going on in his life; the physical fitness was just a side benefit. I am inspired, and am going to emulate The Walking Man so that I can kill two birds with one stone (anxiety and exercise). However, to make it as easy as possible to perform, I will be doing it indoors on a level treadmill. The treadmill is in front of the television, so I will have some entertainment while I walk. Finally, I’ll be walking in whatever clothes I am currently wearing. All of the previous excuses with other methods — driving to gym, changing into special clothes, dealing with the elements — are gone. I really have no other excuses!

So what’s the plan?

  • On day 1, perform my treadmill’s fitness test with the aid of a heart monitor. Record result.
  • Walk 5K (3.1 miles) every single day for 30 days. Initial walking speed will be 3.1 miles per hour, but after the first week I will increase the speed slightly to match the duration of the TV series I plan to watch while walking. Apply “body glide” strategically to prevent chafing and welts.
  • Weight and percentage body fat will be recorded every single morning before my first meal.
  • On day 30, perform fitness test again and compare result with day 1.

What do I hope will happen?

  • More effective sleep
  • Less anxious
  • Higher performance at my day job
  • Weight loss
  • Better mood/less depression

This is a lot less pressure than Couch-to-5k and I can’t honestly see any downsides (except possibly blisters).  I start tomorrow morning with the fitness test.

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