The Agent on Fitbit (or How Wearable Technology Has Changed Me)

It’s amazing how I reflexively look for these things on people now.
Source: fitbit.com

So, I mentioned how I’ve been losing weight like crazy recently. In fact, I stepped on a scale for the first time in over a year to see that I’ve dropped nearly 30 pounds.

In light of this, my roommate was generous enough to grant me the gift of a new Fitbit. Honestly, with my love of transhumanist technology, you’d think I would have embraced wearable tech long ago.

My problem was that I wrote it off as a gimmick; no different than virtual reality headsets and 3D televisions. I thought it was just another useless toy to gather dust on my shelf… until I actually snapped it on.

It’s amazing just how much of myself has changed in just four days after starting to use what I initially thought of as nothing more than a glorified watch/step counter. More so than just my physical health, my Fitbit has contributed to my mental health as well by changing the way I view and do things every day. I exaggerate nothing when I say that, since getting my Fitbit…

I’m more proactive

A Fitbit is more than a step counter. Depending on the model you get, you’ll be getting a device that carefully tracks your specific actions (walking, moderate/strenuous activity, sleep habits, diet, etc.) and gives you set goals you work towards for each one.

I find that being given a solid data set to achieve gives me a more tangible finish line-like end goal to strive for. As such, it feels like I’m actually doing something as opposed to just running around like the proverbial headless chicken. And with an actual goal in sight, I’ll make any excuse to reach those goals.

“Oh, you’ve got coupons for Bed Bath & Beyond? Let’s go browsing so I can get some walking in!”

“You need help moving your furniture? That’s cool; I needed to get my active minutes in anyway!”

“Dinner at Applebee’s? Well, I have been PAINFULLY underbudget on my calorie intake the last few days. Why not?”

Yes, it’s not as altruistic as I’d like it to be, but at least I’m contributing.

Also, these activities often rope other people in on my fitness crusade. This means they get the benefit as well. Which brings me to the fact that…

I’m more competitive

One of the features of Fitbit is that it acts as a fitness-centric social media network. You can add all your friends with devices, compare progress with one another, and challenge others to outperform you.

Basically, Fitbit taps into my most primal instincts as a gamer.

But it’s not just about wanting to outperform others, I actually want to see them race ahead of me. Remember, these are my friends. I want to be the best I can be, But I also want to keep just far enough ahead of them to cheer them on and goad them into trying to overtake me.

Yup, I’m The Gingerbread Man of physical fitness; constantly keeping my sweet, tasty, sugar-frosted ass just far enough ahead to shout, “you’ll never catch me.”

I’m more confident

One of the problems I share with my father – one we were recently discussing, by coincidence – is how I feel terrible  if I take a day of rest because I don’t get anything done. The problem is that I actually DO get things done; I just don’t see them because I’m doing them for  people other then myself.

You know who does see it? My Fitbit.

I wear this thing 24/7 (with the exception of showers when I plug it in to recharge), including at my day job. And I will tell you now – I now know where all of the weight I lost is going.

My job can best be described, according to my Fitbit,  as roughly seven hours of light walking covering over a mile an hour only intermittently broken up by a collective 30 minutes to an hour and a half of heavy lifting (depending on how much the previous shift left for me to do) taken in 15 to 30-minute intervals. The end result of my evening’s work burns over 3,600 calories a day and I can typically only fit HALF that in my stomach before bedtime during the work week.

Oh, and I’m quick to remind you that, because New Hampshire labor laws are BULLS***, I don’t get scheduled breaks.

Once someone (or something, in this case) made me realize that, you’d better believe I feel indestructible.

Fitbit made me realize that I’m stronger – physically and mentally – than I ever gave myself credit for.

I understand my body better

Another cool feature of Fitbit is how it links to other Fitbit products. Namely, our apartment scale.

The scale not only measures and tracks your fluctuations in weight, but your body fat percentage as well. This gives some nice insight on how the body works.

For example, I’ve actually managed to put a few pounds back on in the last few days. HOWEVER, my body fat percentage has been steadily dropping. The reason for that is simple: muscle mass is four times denser than body fat. So a cubic inch of muscle is going to have more weight than a cubic inch of fat. I may not be losing weight, but I am trimming and shaping my body.

This in conjunction with the sleep tracker to identify what keeps me awake, the water tracker to remind me not to dehydrate myself, and more, the act of having such a thorough data set helps me to understand my body far better than if I was going alone.

Now would be the part where I’d write a witty send-off, but the roomie just challenged me to a daily jog-off and I have to make her earn it. Take care, Field Operatives!

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The Agent’s Thought Dump

I have too many thinks! Emergency trepanning, STAT!
Source: Know Your Meme

So, after last week’s barrage of righteous vitriol and the pain of the blooming trees surrounding my apartment assaulting my sinuses, I just need something simple and calm to work on in order to decompress as the seasonal allergies pass. As such, I’m going to take a page out of “MovieBob” Chipman’s playbook and do some spring cleaning with my idea files.

Like Bob, I often run into the problem of having tons of ideas and not being able to get them on digital paper. Sometimes they get lost in the shuffle of other more relevant/prominent thoughts. Sometimes I don’t feel I have enough info to work of off. And sometimes I just need a few days of mental prep before I can work up the nerve to tear something apart.

It’s like George Carlin once said, “I got a lot of good ideas. Trouble is, most of them suck.” So today, I’m going to share all of those sucky ideas with you in the hope that they may prove interesting and that some day they’ll be more organized and less sucky.

Let us waste no more time as we delve into the recesses of my mind and ponder the mysteries that only I care about like…

“Whitewashing” in films is becoming a problem again, isn’t it?

Between the upcoming Ghost in the Shell and Doctor Strange movies quickly approaching, there’s been a lot of complaints about Asian characters being portrayed by caucasian actresses.

The problem I’m having is that I’m seeing both sides of the issue and can’t make a definite stance either way. On one hand, as a stage performer myself, I know how much of a pain it can be to find the right person for the role and you have to make due with what you have (we never went as far as race swapping, but we did have to have performers cross-dress in order to fill roles).

On the other, there’s no denying that this is a missed opportunity for a few minority actors and actresses to break out and find an audience. And as someone who like to see fresh talent at work, that’s kind of sad.

Overall, at least for now until new information surfaces, I’m more forgiving towards Doctor Strange since their whitewashing is in service to removing the Asian mysticism stereotype and feels like it wasn’t intentionally racist. Ghost in the Shell; not so much. I love Scarlett Johansson, but she should have known better than agree to play a Japanese woman in a Japanese setting in a movie about Japan.

I’m losing weight… and I don’t know how to feel about it…

This one comes from the personal thoughts and quandaries file, but it’s one of those thoughts I feel needs to be broadcasted on the off chance that someone else feels the same and needs some comforting.

So, ever since I moved out roughly eight or nine months ago, I’ve been steadily dropping pounds like a clumsy British banker. I’ve lost at least six inches off my waist since this started.

And while I’ve been getting my fair share of compliments on the subject, I can’t help but be spooked by it. It’s happening very quickly, my clothes are hanging off of me, and – while I feel healthy – I think that I look drawn and exhausted. Add to that the fact I rarely get breaks on the job and am in constant motion (New Hampshire labor laws suck, remember?), and I worry that I’m headed for a bad time.

It may just be over-thinking on my part, but it is a concern and I hope that others in the same boat might be able to identify with the feeling.

Meghan Trainor betrayed me… AGAIN.

What is this, Meg – the third time you stabbed me in the back after I stood up for you?

Many of you may recall my regrets at calling Meghan Trainor a feminist icon in music while still defending her as an artist. Well, she went and diddled me again!

Between the successes of Dear Future Husband and NO, it’s pretty obvious that I was completely wrong about Trainor. She’s more than just not pro-woman; she’s anti-man.

I know that sounds like I’m being a Men’s Right Activist, but if you listen to her long enough (as the radio at work has forced me to do), you start to notice repeating themes of taunting and self-interest in her lyrics that are inimical to feminist theory and assert her false sense of authority over men and women alike; with men seeming to be her preferred target.

I’ll probably do a lyrical breakdown of NO at some point to prove my stance, but it’s like I said in the beginning. Last week just sucked all the joy from me and I don’t have the strength to deal with Meg’s B.S. at this point. Just know that her day of reckoning is coming.

What I Learned From Coming Out Of Isolation (or What To Expect As a Former Hikikomori)

The cloistered life is not for me.
Source: Arizona Capitol Times

Recently, as many of you are quite aware, I moved into a new apartment last week. I’ve made a new home with an old friend and things are going much better than planned.

In fact, making a home with people has made me realize what a toxic life I was living.

I’ve always said that I’m afraid of becoming isolated and withdrawing from humanity – becoming a Hikikomori to use modern parlance. But, in my efforts to focus on my own life so intensely so I can stabilize myself, I fell into that very trap I labored to avoid without even noticing.

I’ve gotten actual human interaction for the first time in what feels like years and I’m here to tell you how it feels.

The first thing I noticed was how strange and alien it felt being around people again. I was unsure of how to act or what to do around them. It lasted for only a short time, but thinking back on it reveals just how much of an other I felt like being around fellow humans.

The shock only increased when I realized that I had forgotten what it was like to share emotions with people. As I say, I was unsure of how to act around my friends at first. However, when I let go and allowed myself to be a part of the group again, I was overwhelmed. I started laughing with them and couldn’t stop. I almost wanted to cry because it felt like something was striping yards of chains off of me.

Like I said, I didn’t even notice that this was happening to me until I re-entered the social world. To me, that’s the scariest part. In a relatively short amount of time, I lost a major part of my personality that I’m only now starting to recover. Thank god that I have friends that were there to pull me out of that mire before it was too late. If you’re reading this, thank you.

Three Interesting American Statistics (That You Should Think About Before Saying Another Country Is Weird)

I have a deep fascination with other countries and the culture of their citizens. I often find that when I explore a persons culture deeper, I find new and interesting views and practices that I try to incorporate into my own life.

However, the problem with being a cultural hobbyist is that, when I share my discoveries with breathless enthusiasm to others, I will undoubtedly find that one person who responds with a shallow, “Man, those [insert nationality, culture, or creed here] are weird as hell.”

This is hair-pullingly frustrating to me since A) that’s a statement that smacks of insensitivity and general apathy for others in an increasingly globalized society and B) if they bothered to look outside of their own head space for a second and take an introspective look at ourselves, they’d realize that there’s a fair amount of evidence that maybe WE’RE the weird ones.

We do things so radically different from other counties that it’s kind of jarring to think how strange we look to them. For instance, did you know…

Americans Are REALLY Quick To Throw People In Jail

“What’s that; a litter bug walks free? Stone him!”
Source: economist.com

It’s a problem for everyone; eventually someone is going to think that they can do what ever they want, start doing things that hurt others, and some unfortunate judicial system is going to have the task of doling out the proper punishment. However, what’s considered right and wrong is dependent on how strict that country-in-question’s laws are.

Apparently, American laws are either shockingly strict or we have too many people that think that they’re above them. According to the International Centre for Prison Studies, there are 698 incarcerated Americans for every 100,000 American citizens. That gives us the world’s second largest prison population just behind The Seychelles in Africa and a population that’s more than twice the size of Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, and Switzerland combined.

Now, I’m not saying that we are a bunch of up-tight jerks in this country, but I am saying that we would probably do well to reassess our laws to make doubly sure there are no victimless crimes on the list.

Americans Spend A Lot of Money On Schools (Which Doesn’t Seem To Change Much)

My taxes are paying for this?
Source: Deesillustration.com

We seem to like to talk about how we need to improve our education system in this country. Unfortunately, it seems that the answer always boils down to, “Throw money at the problem until it goes away.” But it’s somewhat obvious that doing so isn’t fixing anything.

Currently, the U.S. is fifth in school spending with a price tag of $115,000 per student. This wouldn’t be a problem if not for the fact that A) we are admittedly mediocre in terms of education and B) the Slovak Republic, who scored similarly to us in 2012 assessments, spends only $53,000 per student.

The actual factor seems to be socio-economic class rather than school funding. So, maybe we should focus more on helping people to help themselves first before giving that fat sack o’ loot to the local campus.

The Fat, Lazy American Stereotype Is Only Half Right

Apparently, you do and you just didn’t realize you’re using it.
Source: fitoverfourty.wordpress.com

If there’s one universal image of America in the minds of other countries, it’s the image of a rotund slob sitting in his reclining chair with a big bowl of Macaroni and Cheese. But the truth about that stereotype is much stranger than even most of us may know.

Yes, it is true that, among 11 to 15 year old Americans, 30 percent of them are medically classified as overweight or obese; making us the leaders in the obesity epidemic. But the problem is not with our lack of activity. According to a study by the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development, 26.8 percent of those same 11 to 15 year olds perform moderate to vigorous exercise and physical activity daily. That makes us the third best among the other 33 OECD nations.

This leads me to two conclusions; that maybe there’s another reason why we’re all going the way of the Violet Beauregard and that maybe all the medical panic over this “obesity epidemic” is a load of crap and creampuffs.

Freedom to Death?: Outrage At a Potential Tobacco Ban and Political Indecision

Will the town of Westminster cut off it’s tobacco supply to the people?
Source: Fort Worth Weekly

As I did my usual check on happenings in the news, I found an article that fascinated me. The town of Westminster, Massachusetts has set to work in an attempt to ban the sale and purchase of any and all tobacco products.

You would think that, given our modern attitudes towards smoking, people would be happy to see tobacco go the way of lawn darts; a terrible idea that does more harm than good. But you’d be surprised. A shocking number of people, many of them non-smokers, oppose the ban as they feel it’s an infringement on personal liberties.

This causes a rather uncomfortable situation. On one side of the issue, everyone agrees that smoking is a disgusting habit that harms your health irreversibly.

But on the other hand, you could make a legitimate argument that people have the right to put anything into bodies that they want – health risks be damned. If we set out to ban the every consumable product harmful to us, I’m sure many of the people reading this would rush out to defend their right to eat at Burger King whenever they choose.

On the OTHER other hand, there’s also plenty of evidence to say that a complete tobacco ban is exactly what we need. Studies show that cities and states that issue out smoking bans see large drops in tobacco related illnesses very quickly and the more comprehensive and all encompassing the law is, the larger that drop becomes.

This brings us to that “uncomfortable situation” that I mentioned earlier. This is a scenario where we need to make a serious choice; do we put health and the well-being of ourselves and our fellow humans first and protect them against their own will or should we put personal freedom ahead of logic and allow people to continue doing the things that harm them even when they themselves know it will harm them?

Really, all of this comes down to one saddening thought that boils in my mind; none of us really knows what we want. We want our governments to protect us from threats both internal and external, but not at the cost of personal freedoms and vice versa. This is why so many people were and still are upset about things like the nature of airport security and censorship.

If I had to choose (and I realize that this may sound cruel when I explain it), I’d say that I agree with the people opposing the ban despite being a non-smoker myself. I try to think of it in terms of natural selection; if a person was foolish enough to start a highly addictive and harmful habit given the wealth of knowledge to confirm the fact, they probably deserve what they get.

That said, the fact that I have to make that choice at all is painful. One side corals and controls human behavior while the other feels like sending people to their deaths. I both look forward to and dread the final decision that they make.

Three Scientific Breakthroughs That You Should Know About

WHAT HAS SCIENCE DONE?… Besides being awesome?
Source: RogueAttire’s Etsy page

I’m always eager to learn about the new ways science and technology are helping to make the quality of life better. Unfortunately, I find that most of these discoveries are easily lost in the shuffle of our hyperactive Information Age.

As such, here are three amazing bits of better living through science that deserve to be either looked into further or implemented immediately.

See-thru Metal

In the Star Trek universe, the viewports of federation ships are made from transparent aluminum; a material far superior to its predecessor – plexiglass.

Yeah, that stuff exists… right now.

Aluminum oxynitride or transparent alumina is a powerful, lightweight ceramic made from Nitrogen, Oxygen, and Aluminum that can survive temperatures of 1200°C (2190°F), resists corrosion, is three times harder than steel, and is nearly completely clear.

Currently, people are looking at the defensive applications of Transparent Alumina as a clear armor plating for military vehicles (admittedly, the idea of your enemy watching his bullets bounce off an invisible bubble while you point and laugh is kind of amusing), but there is much more that can be done.

Transparent alumina could be used to replace laminated safety glass and plexiglass in windshields in order to build safer cars and aircraft that can better handle bird strikes. What’s more, its applications as an insulator could make for more energy efficient windows in homes and buildings thus reducing heating costs.

Bees Can Kill HIV

For years as I was growing up, the big scare was AIDS and HIV; a disease that targets the immune system making a person more vulnerable to other deadly infections. It was to me and my generation what Polio was to previous generations and what Cancer is to this generation.

Finally, there may be hope.

Studies done at the Washington University School of Medicine at St. Louis have found that melittin, a potent toxin found in bee venom can absolutely destroy HIV without harming the person being treated.

Protecting the treated individual is a big deal since the hard part in fighting AIDS has been how to kill the virus without killing the surrounding human tissue.

By infusing nanoparticles smaller than HIV with melittin, the toxin infused particles bounced harmlessly off of normal human cells while fusing with and tearing holes in the viral protein envelope of the virus.

Research is currently being done to create a topical gel to prevent the spread of HIV and, of course, a treatment to be injected into those already infected.

Solar FREAKIN’ Roadways

You may have seen this story making its rounds on the net. I even made it a feature on my #GoodNewsFriday on Facebook and Twitter.

Solar Roadways are a way to produce highly effective and easy to maintain solar panels without having to clear large expanses of land to generate energy. The interlocking hex plates are covered in tempered glass rated for the abuse they would take on the road (or maybe they could use that transparent alumina up there *nudge nudge*) and LED lights to create the necessary road markings that would be highly visible in both day and night.

Not only is it estimated that replacing all of America’s major roads with Solar Roadways could produce three times more energy than what we currently use, but the plates can be easily replaced if damaged, the programmable LEDs can be changed to adapt to – for example – the needs of a parking lot as people enter and leave, pressure switches in the plates can provide drivers with warnings of obstructions in the road, and the extra energy can be used to power heating elements that keep roads from icing over in the winter.

The creators of Solar Roadways are currently pushing an Indiegogo campaign to fund further research and development. So the next step would be to help them make their dreams happen.

Breaking Your Beautiful Body: Diets and Supplements That Do More Harm Than Good

Source: The Eye of Abyss (http://beachhutting.wordpress.com/)

If I can open a beer bottle on your rib cage, YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG.
Source: The Eye of Abyss (http://beachhutting.wordpress.com/)

One of the many admirable people I follow on the Internet had her Twitter account hacked recently – on her birthday no less. And to what ends you may ask? Nothing more than to flog their bogus weight loss crap by PMing all of her followers.

This got me to considering how far we go to obtain that “perfect body” or become the “model of health” without thinking about the inherent dangers on the path. So let’s take a look at some of the finest in modern day Snake Oil.

The “Cabbage Soup” Diet

According to its supporters, The Cabbage Soup Diet is a seven-day dietary plan that claims that you will lose 10 pound by it’s end provided you stay on its feeding schedule with as many snacks of cabbage soup as you want. And while cabbage is certainly preferable to a bag of chips, there is a reason why we eat a wide variety of foods and not just bland cabbage broth.

The weight loss you’ll see is from water, not fat. This means that the weight will be back as soon as you go off the diet. Also, the lack of nutritional value in cabbage, which is low in protein and high in salt, can rob you of healthy fatty acids (yes, there are healthy fats) and complex carbohydrates leading to fatigue, urinary problems, light-headedness, and uncontrollable gas (ever hear of “Cabbage Farts?”).

The Low Carb/“Atkins” Diet

Most people know about how stupid this diet is by now, but that hasn’t stopped some people from attempting this overly-complex starvation process on themselves.

As mentioned above Carbohydrates are essential. They are the primary fuel source for the body. Without them, the body starts to consume your muscle mass – not your body fat – for energy which can further hinder your fat burning ability. Add to that the fact that low carb “meal replacements” often contain unhealthy additives and that these diets usually result in an increased risk for digestive and cardiovascular disorders resulting from low fiber intake and it’s a wonder anyone still swears by these monstrosities.

Appetite Suppressants

Here’s the great whopping hot mess that got this little conversion we’re having now started in the first place. The theory is that, “I must be fat because I eat to much. Lets trick my body into thinking it’s full.”

Most suppressants are chemically similar to most amphetamine drugs and carry the same dangers; nervousness, heart palpitations, high blood pressure and more. Plus, as I’m sure those who can follow a logical progression have already learned, not eating when you need to means you’re STARVING. And that means you suffer all the ill effects of that without knowing that all you need to stop the pain is a burger.

Diet Soda

Oh, wow! A delicious and sweet-tasting soft drink with no calories? That sounds great!… Or it would be if you weren’t lying to my face.

The fact is that the artificial sweeteners used in diet sodas, namely aspartame and saccharin, actually INCREASE weight gain rather than halt it. It seams that nature and physiology have trained us to expect a lot of nutrition to accompany sweet-tasting food. However, since diet soda has no caloric value, our bodies instinctively start on a feeding frenzy to compensate for the confusion and get something worthwhile in our stomachs. Also, there’s reason to believe that aspartame is a known carcinogen just in case you needed another reason to avoid it.

The Final Point

Most of the commercial success of these fad diets and supplements comes from marketers and corporations feeding off of the most basic primal emotion of its consumer base: fear. We’re all afraid that if we don’t match some physical ideal, we will somehow become worthless to society.

What this fails to consider is that a) the physical ideal is a function of biology and environment rather than fashion, b) which fashions are physically appealing is a function of individual personality and psychology rather than group focus meetings, and c) even when the body is spent, the mind can still be useful and desirable.

Sooner or later, everyone will learn as I had to that the body can and will lose its luster over time and only personality and intellect will remain behind. However, they must be cultivated, trained, and routinely maintained. Stay healthy in body, but don’t do so at the expense of mind and soul. Also, make sure you’re actually being healthy.