Re-learning electronics – fun with ArduinoQ

10 Feb 2015

I’ve been playing with the Arduino a fair amount lately. The completed projects consisted of giving new life to (very old) devices – an antique radio, and antique mantle clock. I’m happy with the results, and have both at the operational level – but I think the best thing about the Arduino ecosystem is that I’ll probably never call them “done” – there will always be tweaks that can be made.

Along the way, though, I’ve re-learned a few things about electronics that I had managed to forget since taking electronics in high school with Mr (Ray!) Lundy. If you’re just getting into IoT (Internet of Things), this list may be useful to you!

In roughly chronological order:

  1. Invest in a minimum set of basic tools and equipment to remove the pain from your experimentation:
    1. Soldering iron. Not a soldering gun, even if you have one on hand. It doesn’t have to be hugely expensive, but you’ll never get the precision you need with the gun.
    2. An ohmmeter. Ensure you get one with a “Diode” setting (the symbol looks like this: -|<| –
    3. Mini needle-nose pliers. Good for getting in to tight places, but also to act as a heat sink when soldering, to prevent component damage
    4. mini diagonal cutters, to allow snipping off of the longer ends of wiring after soldering
    5. A “third hand” tool
    6. Some shrink tubing to cover connections in tight places. (If you get into it, consider buying a heat gun when on sale – you can often pick them up for < $10, and the result is prettier, faster, and easier than using a lighter)
    7. Some solid-core wire. A good source here, if you have connections, is the network cabling that is used in office buildings (the kind permanently installed, not the sort that connects your PC to the wall). It contains 4 pairs of colour coded individual wire. (Using coloured wire can save you tremendous amounts of time / effort as you are tracing circuits).
  2. Resistors lie! Don’t just believe the colour coding. A quick check with the ohmmeter prior to assembly can save a lot of circuit debugging effort later.
  3. eBay is your friend – but shop carefully
    • Do your research – sort by price (low to high), shipping included. Price varies widely
    • Don’t just go for cheapest price. Do your research. Ensure you can get the spec sheet for the compoenent. (knockoffs of arduinos can vary the chipsets in use – ensure you know what you’re getting)
    • Buy a spare or two. The first time you buy local to be able to finish a started project where you’ve killed a component, or it was faulty, you’ll pay for ALL the spares you ordered. Besides, having the components on hand is more likely to make you experiment “just because”.
  4. Get the circuit working on a breadboard before moving to prototype or final assembly (especially if doing dead bug assembly). Consider using a simulator first, if you’re new to the game.
  5. Get good at soldering (again?) before you start playing with the components. More specfically:
    1. Tin the components before you start to assemble them
    2. Keep the tip of your solder iron clean
    3. Don’t start soldering components circuit boards, transistors or IC’s until you can complete a solder connection in <1 second, with only the minimum amount of solder applied.
    4. Know when & how to use an alligator clip or the needle nose pliers as a heat sink when soldering
  6. Make it pretty. Just because you can – and it will reflect on you.
    1. Plan ahead – you can’t retrofit “pretty”
    2. Keep wires running between the same components similar lengths
    3. Tie wires together using small pieces of shrink wrap. Route them in ways that make sense.
    4. Invest in reasonable enclosures
  7. Document your project for when you come back to it. Ray Lundy used to suggest schematic & paper notes be put in the assembly. I now use cheap, old low-capacity SD cards which still allow me to save not only the most recent version of the code, but the whole history, and schematics, if applicable. For your schematics, the list of options is covered on the same simulator page noted above.

As a side note to all of the above, Ray Lundy had a unique approach to teaching electronics, whereby he taught us through the history of radio as we learned electronics. Soldering practice for its own sake, followed by building a crystal radio, upgrading it to be a single tube rabio, then multiple stages / tubes. We then transitioned the radio from tube to transistors, and on to IC’s – and then you got to work building the computers that were used in the schools computer labs.

At the time, the approach seemed dated (who needed to know how a tube radio worked, when there were almost no tube radios in use at that time?) However, I learned late in the process the real reasons for the approach: the Crystal radio  really just provided targeted soldering practice with hard to destroy components (too much heat can easily destroy electronic components. The tube radios taught us multi-stage electronics, but also taught us not to short out components. (The 350 volt power supplies for the tubes made for very dramatic sparks if you were careless).  Transistors taught us to be even more careful with soldering temperature, before we got to ICs, which were still fairly expensive.

Mr Lundy’s approach was actually largely cost driven, aimed at not letting stupidity or laziness burn through the departments budget. However, the approach he took (“history of radio”) was also equal justification, and a lot easier for the students to swallow.  I’ve been able to adopt a parallel approach in business a few times – and realized that I learned a lot more in Ray Lundy’s class than just electronics.

Advertisements

Issue with email – now addressed

19 Dec 2014

Hi,

apologies for the impersonal email, but this message is being sent to my entire address book.

I have just discovered that an issue with my hosting provider has caused me to lose approximately half the mail that was being directed to me for at least the last several months.

If you have contacted me recently with no reply, please accept my apologies, and please do reach out again.

Thank you.

Graham Brown (graham)

Understanding Commitments

04 Feb 2013

The concept of taking commitments seriously is a great way to accelerate the pace of business.  Planning and executing all aspects of our deliverables with detailed commitments focuses and reinforces our bias to action in decision making and achieves results.

At its heart, it is as simple as “Say what you’ll do, then do what you said you’ll do” – but there are a few rules we can add around this concept to make it much more usable in everyday situations.

Commitments are not meant to help us find a blame point – done right, they unite teams around common goals, and mutual support.

To help you to understand commitments at a deeper level, I’ve broken the concept up into five different elements, namely:

  1. Defining a commitment
  2. Your responsibilities if you request or accept a commitment
  3. Renegotiating a request
  4. Refusing a commitment
  5. Handling a broken commitment

1. Defining a commitment:

A commitment is not something to take lightly. It doesn’t map to “I’ll do my best”. It maps, rather, to “I will do this”. To ensure you can fulfill your commitment, though, there are some things to keep in mind.

  • Ensure the “Measures Of Success” are clear – Details, Date, & Quality
  • Details: Has the goal been clearly communicated to you?
    • Be explicit about what the deliverable is and how you will deliver on the commitment
    • Be explicit about the due date, down to the hour if necessary and appropriate (especially the difference between “end of day” and “end of normal work day”)
    • Work to avoid implicit commitments, make them explicitly specific and detailed instead
    • Date: Has a due date been set?
      • If the date was given:
        • Consider other commitments you have already made, and determine if you can meet the requested date and still meet the other commitments you have made
        • If you cannot meet both commitments, try to to re-negotiate the request being made of you
  • If a due date wasn’t specified, and you are receiving the request, suggest and commit to a date that you feel is reasonable for both parties
  • Quality:
    • Are you clear on the level of quality you need to deliver?
      • If data is being sought, is a WAG sufficient? Or auditable results? Or somewhere in between?
      • What is the presentation quality that is required? Bullet point notes, an Excel spreadsheet, Powerpoint slides, Powerpoint slides suitable for presenting to the Board of Directors?

2a. Your responsibilities if you request or accept a commitment:

  • Turn implied commitments into explicit ones (if no date is specified, set one; ask questions about the formatting of the output!)
  • Remember that a commitment cannot be forced, it has to be accepted.
  • An open discussion inclusive of non-work conflicts can / should be part of the negotiation process
    • However, to build a long-lasting relationship, neither work nor home can always “win”
    • Ensure both parties are aware of the impact of the request being accepted (“If I do <Item 2>  for you, I won’t be able to do <Item 1>  for <Person> as currently committed”).
    • Help keep awareness of a commitment alive (by asking / giving interim status reports, reminders, etc).
    • Completed requests deserve acknowledgement (“The report is available on the network, as requested”, or “Fred, thanks, I pulled down the report from the network. Thanks for making it happen!”)

2b. Your responsibilities if you accept a commitment

  • Do not accept a request until you have given it sufficient thought; consider all of your current commitments and discuss conflicting priorities with your manager as needed
  • If you cannot do that live, make a commitment about when you can accept or refuse the commitment; if possible, provide the reason why you need the time. (“I’ll get back to you before 5pm tomorrow as to whether or not we can meet your timelines; I don’t know the area, and I need to check with <Joe / Sue> to understand how it will impact other commitments we’ve already made”).

2c. If you request a commitment of someone else

  • Help other people help you! Put reminders and status checks in your own calendar to help make them successful (“Remind <Joe / Sue> that I need the reports in 2 days – ask them if they are still on track to deliver.”)
  • Provide details, date and quality requested

3. Renegotiating a request:

  • Reminder: It is far better for both parties to accept a re-negotiated request before it is past due than be surprised by a broken commitment
  • Renegotiation can happen at any time, usually as a result of new information becoming available (especially as a result of other requests coming in that were of a higher priority)
  • 4. Refusing to make a commitment:

    • Request for commitments can and should be refused, if they will not be able to be met!
    • The intent is that we do not let others down by setting expectations that will not be met
    • However, it is important to note that the right to not take a commitment is not a “Get out of Jail Free” card
      • it is a recognition that reality is a factor in some instances
      • If on the receiving end of a refused commitment, keep in mind that the person refusing the request is helping you by letting you know now that they can’t be successful; finding that out on the day the request was to be delivered is far worse! In specific situations, it is better to agree to disagree.

    5a. Your responsibilities if a commitment is broken – no matter your role!

    • Acknowledge the broken commitment as soon as you are aware
    • Negotiate a new commitment that accommodates “current reality”
    • Examine the situation to see what you could have done differently that would have helped to prevent the commitment from being broken
      • set a reminder for yourself / set a reminder for the other party
      • having been more aware of a changing situation

    5b. Your responsibilities if you break a commitment

    • Accept responsibility, and inform all those to whom the commitment was made; if possible, also inform others who may have dependencies on your commitment.
    • “Own” the broken commitment (do not try to justify it, or make excuses).

    5c. Your responsibilities if someone breaks a commitment to you

    • When acknowledging the broken commitment, stick to facts (what was promised by when);
    • Stick to statements that bring value to the acknowledgement process and will help leading to the renegotiation process. In those situations less said often means more focus on what matters.
    • Keeping the focus on achieving the vision, the renegotiation process coming next.
    • Avoid judgements of the other party’s ability or intent; judgements are seldom accurate, and usually more negative than reality.

    Closing Thoughts:

    The focus for the discussion above is around individual commitments – but the same concept applies for team-to-team commitments, and commitments from our department as a whole to the rest of the company!

    From time to time, your leaders at all levels will take commitments on behalf of the team, using the best information they can gather to make the decision to commit – then we may all be called upon to help meet those commitments, or suggest as early as possible that a renegotiation needs to occur.

    I believe commitments will help us balance “Bias to Action” with “Quality” (of decision), and help make it easier for us to deliver a World Class Customer Experience. Give it a try, and let me know what you think!

    Credit:

    The original basis for these thoughts was relayed to me at Corel by a group called “Legacy Transformational Consultants”, but discussed as “making requests” or “making promises” – but I have always felt the language they used stood in the way of adoption in general business situations.  However, credit goes to them or wherever they got their inspiration – I’ll take blame for anything that doesn’t work with this!

    Using “Golden Hour” in photography

    13 Jan 2013

    Of all my photos of Taiwan, this photo of Taipei 101 taken from my apartment there has generated the most questions on photography:

    1024-IMG_7047_6_8_Localtone

    For those that recognize it, this is obviously using HDR, but even the unbracketed version of this photo is pretty special, thanks to capturing it during Golden Hour.

    Not really an hour, but often thought of that way, Golden Hour is the time after sunrise or before sunset when the sun is less than 10° above the horizon. For mid-latitudes, this often maps to an hour. Ottawa in winter has a 90 minute golden hour, but in the Philippines, golden hour lasts only about 45 minutes. (in Achorage, Alaska in January, golden hour can last all day!)

    If you are trying to plan your shooting to take advantage of golden hour, particularly when travelling, a great resource is http://www.golden-hour.com/. It will do its best to determine your location based upon your IP address, but you can also just center the map on your location by selecting the last entry (Map Centre) in the Location drop-down list.

    The other key element is weather – who wants to get up for sunrise and find that you’re looking at a wall of gray clouds that gives only minimal flat light.  The best resource is to use is something called a Terminal Area Forecast. There is a Canadian version of the same page offered by NavCanada, but the US version covers both Canada and the US, and is a little easier to read.

    Using this site is probably a post in itself, but here are a few hints if you consider yourself  tech savvy:

    • To use it, you will need to know the airport code for the nearest city with a weather office, use http://www.world-airport-codes.com if you don’t know your local code (Ottawa is YOW)
    • On the Terminal Area Forecast page, you need to enter that code in the box at the top right of the page in the “Area Forecast Product” section, but there is a twist. You need to add a “C” in front for Canadian sites, or a “K” for US sites.  (so you would use CYOW for Ottawa, KSFO for San Francisco)
    • Select the “Translated” radio button, then click “Get TAFs”

    Here are the sample results for Ottawa, and for San Francisco for tomorrow morning. As you can see, Ottawa will be covered in fog, so there is no value in getting up. However, San Francisco is forecast for a remarkably clear day – but likely no clouds for interest in the sky. Possibly an ideal day for shooting, but not if you want to catch the Golden Gate bridge shrouded in fog.

    Have fun!

    San Francisco (KSFO) Sample Terminal Area Forecast

    13 Jan 2013

    Sunrise in San Francisco tomorrow is at 7:25, which is 15:25 UTC, so the relevant section is this one:

    Text: FM130500 03003KT P6SM SKC
    Forecast period: 0500 to 2200 UTC 13 January 2013
    Forecast type: FROM: standard forecast or significant change
    Winds: from the NNE (30 degrees) at 3 MPH (3 knots; 1.6 m/s)
    Visibility: 6 or more miles (10+ km)
    Clouds: clear skies
    Weather: no significant weather forecast for this period

     

    Here’s the full report:

    Aviation Digital Data Service (ADDS)

    Output produced by TAFs form (2010 UTC 12 January 2013)
    found at http://aviationweather.gov/adds/tafs/

    Forecast for: KSFO (SAN FRANCISCO , CA, US)
    Text: KSFO 121734Z 1218/1324 12004KT P6SM FEW025
    Forecast period: 1800 to 2000 UTC 12 January 2013
    Forecast type: FROM: standard forecast or significant change
    Winds: from the ESE (120 degrees) at 5 MPH (4 knots; 2.1 m/s)
    Visibility: 6 or more miles (10+ km)
    Clouds: few clouds at 2500 feet AGL
    Weather: no significant weather forecast for this period
    Text: FM122000 32008KT P6SM FEW025
    Forecast period: 2000 UTC 12 January 2013 to 0500 UTC 13 January 2013
    Forecast type: FROM: standard forecast or significant change
    Winds: from the NW (320 degrees) at 9 MPH (8 knots; 4.2 m/s)
    Visibility: 6 or more miles (10+ km)
    Clouds: few clouds at 2500 feet AGL
    Weather: no significant weather forecast for this period
    Text: FM130500 03003KT P6SM SKC
    Forecast period: 0500 to 2200 UTC 13 January 2013
    Forecast type: FROM: standard forecast or significant change
    Winds: from the NNE (30 degrees) at 3 MPH (3 knots; 1.6 m/s)
    Visibility: 6 or more miles (10+ km)
    Clouds: clear skies
    Weather: no significant weather forecast for this period
    Text: FM132200 32005KT P6SM FEW025
    Forecast period: 2200 UTC 13 January 2013 to 0000 UTC 14 January 2013
    Forecast type: FROM: standard forecast or significant change
    Winds: from the NW (320 degrees) at 6 MPH (5 knots; 2.6 m/s)
    Visibility: 6 or more miles (10+ km)
    Clouds: few clouds at 2500 feet AGL
    Weather: no significant weather forecast for this period

    Ottawa (CYOW) Sample Terminal Area Forecast

    13 Jan 2013

    Sunrise in Ottawa tomorrow is at 7:40, or 12:40 UTC, so the relevant section is this one:

    Text: FM131200 09003KT 1/8SM -DZ FG VV001
    Forecast period: 1200 to 1500 UTC 13 January 2013
    Forecast type: FROM: standard forecast or significant change
    Winds: from the E (90 degrees) at 3 MPH (3 knots; 1.6 m/s)
    Visibility: 0.13 miles (0.21 km)
    Ceiling: indefinite ceiling with vertical visibility of 100 feet AGL
    Clouds: obscured sky
    Weather: -DZ FG (light drizzle, fog)

    Here’s the full Terminal Area Forecast:

    Aviation Digital Data Service (ADDS)

    Output produced by TAFs form (2024 UTC 12 January 2013)
    found at http://aviationweather.gov/adds/tafs/

    Forecast for: CYOW (OTTAWA INTL , ON, CA)
    Text: TAF CYOW 121738Z 1218/1318 19005KT P6SM OVC030
    Forecast period: 1800 to 1900 UTC 12 January 2013
    Forecast type: FROM: standard forecast or significant change
    Winds: from the S (190 degrees) at 6 MPH (5 knots; 2.6 m/s)
    Visibility: 6 or more miles (10+ km)
    Ceiling: 3000 feet AGL
    Clouds: overcast cloud deck at 3000 feet AGL
    Weather: no significant weather forecast for this period
    Text: TEMPO 1218/1219 6SM BR OVC015
    Forecast period: 1800 to 1900 UTC 12 January 2013
    Forecast type: TEMPORARY: The following changes expected for less than half the time period
    Visibility: 6 miles (10 km)
    Ceiling: 1500 feet AGL
    Clouds: overcast cloud deck at 1500 feet AGL
    Weather: BR (mist)
    Text: FM121900 19010KT P6SM BKN030
    Forecast period: 1900 UTC 12 January 2013 to 0500 UTC 13 January 2013
    Forecast type: FROM: standard forecast or significant change
    Winds: from the S (190 degrees) at 12 MPH (10 knots; 5.2 m/s)
    Visibility: 6 or more miles (10+ km)
    Ceiling: 3000 feet AGL
    Clouds: broken clouds at 3000 feet AGL
    Weather: no significant weather forecast for this period
    Text: TEMPO 1219/1305 OVC020
    Forecast period: 1900 UTC 12 January 2013 to 0500 UTC 13 January 2013
    Forecast type: TEMPORARY: The following changes expected for less than half the time period
    Ceiling: 2000 feet AGL
    Clouds: overcast cloud deck at 2000 feet AGL
    Weather: no significant weather forecast for this period
    Text: FM130500 19007KT 6SM BR SCT004 OVC010
    Forecast period: 0500 to 1100 UTC 13 January 2013
    Forecast type: FROM: standard forecast or significant change
    Winds: from the S (190 degrees) at 8 MPH (7 knots; 3.6 m/s)
    Visibility: 6 miles (10 km)
    Ceiling: 1000 feet AGL
    Clouds: scattered clouds at 400 feet AGL
    overcast cloud deck at 1000 feet AGL
    Weather: BR (mist)
    Text: FM131100 VRB03KT 1SM -RA BR OVC004
    Forecast period: 1100 to 1200 UTC 13 January 2013
    Forecast type: FROM: standard forecast or significant change
    Winds: variable direction winds at 3 MPH (3 knots; 1.6 m/s)
    Visibility: 1.00 miles (1.61 km)
    Ceiling: 400 feet AGL
    Clouds: overcast cloud deck at 400 feet AGL
    Weather: -RA BR (light rain, mist)
    Text: FM131200 09003KT 1/8SM -DZ FG VV001
    Forecast period: 1200 to 1500 UTC 13 January 2013
    Forecast type: FROM: standard forecast or significant change
    Winds: from the E (90 degrees) at 3 MPH (3 knots; 1.6 m/s)
    Visibility: 0.13 miles (0.21 km)
    Ceiling: indefinite ceiling with vertical visibility of 100 feet AGL
    Clouds: obscured sky
    Weather: -DZ FG (light drizzle, fog)
    Text: FM131500 12008KT WS015/17035KT 1SM -RA BR BKN004 BKN150
    Forecast period: 1500 to 1800 UTC 13 January 2013
    Forecast type: FROM: standard forecast or significant change
    Winds: from the ESE (120 degrees) at 9 MPH (8 knots; 4.2 m/s)
    Visibility: 1.00 miles (1.61 km)
    Ceiling: 400 feet AGL
    Clouds: broken clouds at 400 feet AGL
    broken clouds at 15000 feet AGL
    Wind shear: at 1500 feet ( 457 m) AGL, from the S (170 degrees) at 40 MPH (35 knots; 18.2 m/s)
    Weather: -RA BR (light rain, mist)
    Text: PROB30 1315/1318 1/2SM FG VV002 RMK NXT FCST BY 122100Z
    Forecast period: 1500 to 1800 UTC 13 January 2013
    Forecast type: PROBABLE: 30 percent likelihood of the following during this time
    Visibility: 0.50 miles (0.80 km)
    Ceiling: indefinite ceiling with vertical visibility of 200 feet AGL
    Clouds: obscured sky
    Weather: FG (fog)

     

    Great Article, courtesy of TechCrunch!

    02 Dec 2012

    Not sure what your experience is, but I have frequently found that the “out of context” articles on blogs and websites are often the ones that make the most impact on me. I suspect it is because they were meaningful enough for the authors that they were willing to step outside their normal areas in order to forward on information that really spoke to them.

    I read TechCrunch to keep up to date with technology, but today they had a great article on leadership that I’ll probably refer others to once a week for the next year!

    Here it is, let me know if you get the same value out of it that I got…

    http://techcrunch.com/2012/12/01/the-path-to-a-culture-of-success-is-paved-with-authentic-leadership/

    Klout & Narcissus…

    12 Jun 2012
    A friend recently signed up for Klout, and when he did so, I tagged him as an “Influencer” on the iPhone, and on Design, and I let him know I’d done so.
    It prompted this reply from him: “Thanks Graham!  Yeah, I registered, but haven’t really played with it much.  Is it worth investigating?”
    My view in a nutshell is “Yes, but for the right reasons” – here’s the reply I sent him:
    ———————————————————
    Yes, definitely – but not for the sake of being registered on the site.
    There are reports of some corp comm / social media job hires requiring a certain Klout score – and some circles are starting to look at Klout score as a gauge of “relevance”.
    Think of Klout as SEO for “individual branding”.  They view your importance based on how much your tweets / FB posts drive action.  You can drive your “Klout” up by a significant amount by posting “Tell me your funniest joke – I’m in a challenge with a friend”. However, the result is a bit like “gaming” Google SEO  – your ranking improves, but you aren’t necessarily any more popular.
    On Google, this can have a positive real-world impact – on Klout, it doesn’t, unless you are jockeying for a social media job!
    If you are trying to attract legit followers, it is probably a good tool to capture “what type of blog / FB / twitter action drove response”, and use it to tailor future content – but I wouldn’t recommend trying to drive the score for its own sake.  Doing that is likely to end up with you suffering the same fate Narcissus suffered…spending too much time looking in a mirror, admiring your own greatness!
    If you get too caught up in trying to drive the score, remember that Klout is one of the few venues in the world that considers Justin Bieber (who owns the benchmark Klout Score of a perfect 100) exponentially more powerful than the Prez of the U.S.A. (Klout Score 94).
    ———————————————————
    My view on Klout is like my view on life in general – do the right things, for the right reasons, and the rewards will follow. Life, and Klout score, eventually catch up with reality!

    Interesting article on how differences in our native language can affect how we think and process information

    19 Feb 2012

    An interesting read on how language shapes the way we think but it also contains some tips for thinking about how we best communicate with people whose native tongue is not English.

    http://edge.org/3rd_culture/boroditsky09/boroditsky09_index.html

    Thank You DailyBurn!

    18 Nov 2011

    The only way to put it was that I was getting fat. I hit a personal “high water mark” of 228 lbs (104 Kg) in the spring of 2010, but it was only a few pounds over the weight I’d been for the last several years, so it wasn’t too concerning – until I saw this photo:

    CabinFest Weekend - aka "Fat Graham"

    Ouch! I wasn’t Shrek, but I certainly didn’t match my self-image of being athletic either

    I was sold – I needed to drop some weight.

    With a little more focus on exercise, and a lowered caloric intake level, I dropped about 15 pounds (7 Kg) by August 2010 – which was when I blew out my lower back. (For those unfortunate to have learned the disk numbering system due to issue they have suffered themsleves, my back injury was a massive herniation of the L4-L5 disk, pressing on the sciatic nerve of my left leg).

    The bad news was that the injury left me incapable of sitting for more than 30 seconds without suffering extreme pain down my left leg. The good news was that I now had lots of motivation to try to drop some serious weight fast, on the slim hope that lowering my weight would provide some relief.

    Cut to December 2010 and I was down to about 185 pounds (84Kg), and had a microdiscectomy which addressed the back and leg pain, but left me with ongoing motivation to keep myself in decent shape. Give me 10 or 20 pain-free years, and I may even consider the four months where I couldn’t sit down as a good investment!

    If you’red interested in losing weight to either help ease the pain caused by extra weight, or just want to look and feel better, there were a few keys to my weight loss that I think are pretty generally useful, and repeatable.  At  a high level, they’re the usual trite advice – eat less, watch what you eat, and exercise more. However, as with all big process changes, the devil is in the details!

    Here are the details of the approach I used to cut down my weight:

    ACTION: Count Calories For 2 or 3 weeks and become fully aware of every calorie you are putting in your body.  This is actually pretty easy if you have a smart phone or iPod, or easy & frequent access to the web. Tools such as Daily Burn (or as an iPod / iPad / iPhone app) make this easy. Knowing how many calories are in your favourite foods is likely to change your relationship to them forever!

    ACTION: Adjust Your Eating Habits Use the information you learned from your calorie counting to establish yourself at a caloric intake level that will allow you to drop 1%-1.5% of your body mass each week. For me, this meant losing 2-3 lbs (1-1.5Kg) per week by setting a caloric intake level of about 1800-2000 calories per day.

    ACTION: Set Target Weights Set short-term weight target goals, celebrate achieveing them, and set a new target weight.

    ACTION: Actively track Your Weight Track your weight on a daily basis. Seeing the line slope down and to the right over time really helped to motivate me to keep up my efforts, especially on those weeks where the curve flattened out, or moved in the wrong direction. Looking back I could see all the places those reversals had taken place, but the long-term trend was still “down to the right”. DailyBurn helped me here too.

    ACTION: Exercise Exercise religously – in whatever form you wish. When my back was hosed, walking was about all I could do pain-free – so I walked. It’s easier to “force fit” the time to exercise when you are in pain – I have now learned I need to “force fit” the time to exercise into my schedule on a regular basis even when I’m feeling fit and healthy. “Calorie Burn” charts  and apps are helpful here as a motiviational force.

    ACTION: Invest In Your Wardrobe Clean out your closet of the clothes that are (newly) too big on a regular basis. It feels wasteful to be donating clothes to charity that were only purchased 2 months previously, but wearing clothes that are new, and that fit properly, is a lot more motivational than wearing clothes that look like crap and that you can grown back into!

    Here are a few more details on the first few actions:

    COUNT CALORIES The goal here is not to track every calorie you consume for the rest of your life -but without tracking all calories, you won’t become aware where your nutrition “blind spots” are.

    • I found out that I actually had some major gaps in my understanding of how calories entered my body. I’d already cut out most soda, candy, chips, etc – and thought I was pretty calorie aware – but the gaps were still huge.
    • My own knowledge gaps were
      • how many calories I was absorbing from bread (bagels in particular)
      • how much hard work could be un-done in just one “spoil myself” evening
      • how little it cost in calories to add veggies to my meal, and how much more i enjoyed my meals
      • the degree to which portion size, rather than type of food , was driving up my calorie consumption
    • To burn a pound of fat, you need to consume 3500 calories less than your body needs
      • If you need 2400 calories per day, you can lose a pound in a month by eating only 12 calories less per day!
      • to lose 3 pounds in a week, though, you will need to create a “caloric deficit” of about 10,000 calories. (A caloric deficit just means the combined effect of eating less than required to maintain your current weight, and exercising to burn extra calories)
    • Always remember that your body is a machine that always tries to adjust to its environment in order to protect itself.
      • As an example, the top layers of your skin tan to absorb sunlight to decrease damage to underlying skin.
      • In the same way, if you starve your body, you are telling it that food is scarce – and your metabolism will lower to try to minimize the weight loss “damage”. This will have a twofold impact of making it harder to lose weight, and your lower energy level will quite possibly leave you feeling depressed
    • Instead, remember that not that long ago, our ancestors were cavemen!
      • If you can’t find food (i.e. you are starving), your metabolism will lower over time
      • If food is plentiful, your body doesn’t need to hoard fat, and will allow it to be shed
      • If you need to run to catch your food (exercise!), you are telling your body fat is an impediment to your success, as it is slowing your down
      • Mixing a healthy amount of protein (meat) into your diet also tells your caveman body that food is readily available. (Don’t over do it, though – Atkins-style diets stress your internal organs, and can create a deficit of essential vitamins and amino acids – something he learned when he was cramping continuously after shifting to a low-carb diet).

    ADJUST YOUR EATING HABITS:

    Based on a USDA web site, I need about 2400 calories a day (based on being Male, 48 years old, 5’10”). In order to drive a more rapid change in my weight, I dropped my intake to 1800-2000 calories per day.

    After several weeks of counting every calorie, I had a pretty good idea of how much I could eat each day. However, an equally important learning was that I needed to make modifications to the way I did my meal planning & preparation. For me, this meant:

    • Eating one sandwich, loaded with more meat and veggies, instead of two skimpy sandwiches
    • Bringing down my portion size (or percentage of plate eaten when eating out) was going to be key to my long-term success
    • I also learned that “spoiling myself” by going over my daily calorie count was OK, and necessary every now and then – but that I shouldn’t forget that the calories consumed those days / evenings are not free either!

    SET TARGET WEIGHTS If you set out to lose 40 pounds, you are likely to run out of motivation before you achieve your goal.

    Set out to lose 15 or 20 pounds instead, and you get a psychological boost when you achieve your goal. The side benefit of this is you also get a chance to reset your expectations about how long it may take to lose that weight – the first pounds are far easier to lose than the last pounds, so carrying the same expectation through a bigger weight range will likely leave you feeling you will never reach your goal – and will encourage you to give up.

    Some final thoughts if you are embarking on a weight-loss journey

    • There are lots of other tools out there that will track calorie consumption and your weight. Daily Burn worked for me, and a friend / former colleague, Thomas Watts (His story was featured on the Daily Burn website.
    • Alternatives to DailyBurn can be found on moreofit.com, or by searching the health and fitness section on the iTunes App Store
    • Feel free to get in touch with me if you want more details.
    • Good Luck!