Sunday, January 30, 2011

The 4-Hour Body and lifehacking

I've watched the 4-Hour Body phenomenon from afar, which is to say that I have no skin in the game -- Tim Ferriss isn't recommending any of my products, I don't make commission on sales of his books, and I've really got no upside in the success (or lack thereof) of his latest book.

When I read the 4-Hour Body (and, by the way, I haven't read all of it yet and am not sure that I ever will) it totally made sense to me: it's non-prescriptive on a lot of things.  If you've read it and don't believe me, please provide me with the precise directions, timing, and exact dosage schedule for CQ based on what you read in the book.

The reason that 4-Hour Body made total sense to me is that its really a documentary of Ferriss hacking his life and specifically hacking his body.  He tried a bunch of things, failed a bunch of times, documented the hell out of it, had some other people test some of the things he thought were duplicable, and distilled all of it into a book.  If you're looking for a book that has the magic bullet of weight loss, ask yourself why it's the same book that also gives you ideas in how to expand your lung capacity so that you can hold your breath longer underwater.  More to the point: if you're a woman, ask yourself why, after 4 weeks of the 4-Hour Body diet you're not getting the same results as guys that you know that are doing the same thing as you (if you ask Ferriss, he'll simply respond that for women and people over 40 it takes 4-6 weeks for the effects to happen ... because he's not a woman and he's not over 40 and can't experiment with that basis).

A lot of people out there are looking for the magic bullet and hoping for a diet book as prescriptive as Body for Life (hell, Body for Life even tells you what protein shake to use).  Outside of the fact that 4-Hour Body is not just a diet book, I did the Body for Life thing, didn't like it, and give it up, which was an experiment/lifehack that didn't work for me.  In fact, the thing that I hated the most about it was the fact that it was too prescriptive -- there was no real room whatsoever for experimentation.

For some reason folks think that 4-Hour Body is just a diet book and it's so much more than that.  What 4-Hour Body comes down to is Ferriss using his previous success with 4-Hour Workweek to really get the idea of hacking your own body into the mainstream.  Is this really all that new, though?  I don't think so.  The reality is that we hack out bodies all the time. 

Ever tried smoking?  How's that feel?  Still do it or did you quit? 

Ever drink coffee?  Still do that?  How many cups are you up to?  Do you tell people how many cups it takes you in a day?

Let me give you an example from me: 5-Hour Energy I think is a great way to get an energy boost, but it contains niacin, which causes a flush on the skin of your face.  Although over time the flush goes away, you can take an aspirin to mitigate the effect, so I used to tape aspirin to the tops of the bottles -- if you got a bottle from me, it had the aspirin taped to the top and you got a quick explanation from me why (kind of had to with an unidentified white pill taped with clear tape to the top of it).  Did this mean that taking an aspirin before a 5-Hour was the only way to drink it?  Nope.  Will 5-Hour Energy even work for you?  Maybe.  It worked for me and a lot of other folks that I convinced to try it and a bunch of those folks followed my aspirin advice and didn't have a negative reaction.  I know one person that gets sick to her stomach if she takes 5-Hour Energy, no matter what -- fine, don't drink it.

Let me ask you this (because you probably are still skeptical): do you hack anything else in the rest of your life?  I bet you do.  Easy examples are frequently found in how you manage your online presence.  In my case I manage all of my e-mail addresses (including those on other domains) via my Gmail account for which I've purchased additional GBs of storage.  Whether you know it or not, when you get an e-mail from me, it's come from a single inbox that I've hacked together to ensure that it always appears as though the emails are coming from the address to which you've sent them.  In addition some of you have my direct cell number and some of you have my Google Voice number -- there's really no difference to you (Google Voice does call forwarding, voice forwarding, and voicemail), but you may or may not be actually calling my cellphone directly.  Again, through a combination of Google Voice and PhoneTag, all of my voice messages come to my Gmail inbox and I process them from there.  You may not have something nearly as complicated, but perhaps you have 1 e-mail address you use to sign up for stuff and 1 that you actually use for your friends ... kind of the same idea and your online life is part of your overall life these days, so believe it or not, your engaging in lifehacking.

Touching back on the 4HB diet: I got a lot of comments on my original post of tips and tricks.  Why was that?  Because I was adding my own hacks to the fat burning hacks that Ferriss put forth in 4-Hour Body.  I believe that you can do equally well with the framework of the diet hacks he put together in both Indian restaurants and Mongolian BBQs.  Does that make my hacks better or worse?  Not at all.  My hacks are just an improvement that work for me and might just work for you -- as many famously say: your mileage may vary.

If you don't like the fact that Ferriss recommend no fruit in his fat burning diet, then ignore him.  Try it for a few weeks without fruit, try it for a few weeks with fruit, measure, document, and see what works for you.  Don't like the fact that there are no grains in it?  Experiment with it, hack it, document it, and go with what works for you -- you've got to live with it.

You'll make mistakes -- Ferris did.  Don't believe me?  Read his post of corrections (hint: turns out that the whole PAGG stack thing isn't really supposed to include the green tea extract before bed -- think PAG before bed instead of PAGG.  Since I've been doing PAGG, when I cycle back on to the stack, I'm going to try PAG and see if there's actually a difference; otherwise I'll stick with PAGG because it hasn't been not working for me).

The real point here is that tinkering is ok.  We find it easier to conceive of tinkering with other things that seem easier to tinker with instead of our bodies.  For whatever reason we think that we should only allow those with exact prescriptions and rules and guidelines to provide input on how and what we should do to our bodies.  It's not really easier to sit around and wait 10 years for the FDA to approve something before we try it -- sure there can be downside effects, but the body is pretty good at repairing itself; frankly the body is better at repairing damage done to itself than many of the other things that we hack around with.

I encourage you to get the background on things before you try them, just as Ferriss did (note that he encourages you to skip the back-up and background and medicine and science in the book if it doesn't appeal to you) -- get as much information as you can before you decide.  Tony Robbins recommends: "If you want to master ANYTHING in your life, you just can't leave it to chance, you have to make it a study."  So if you want to hack something, make it a study -- it's never been easier.

Good luck.  Have fun.

Don't be scared to share.

Photo from manu contreras

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Make Gmail your only inbox by buying storage

80gb is only $20 a year and is shared between Gmail and your Picasa albums.

Worth thinking about -- check it out.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The only thing good to come out of Book of Eli

I had the unfortunate displeasure of watching Book of Eli a few weeks ago -- it was really bad, though I do have a new low standard to compare other movies against.

However, as bad as the movie was, the silver lining was a product placement of Tour in-ear Monster Beats by Dre headphones.  One of the most frustrating things that I've found with regular in-ear headphones, even nicer ones, is that the cords will inevitably tangle and fray by virtue of the typical cylindrical cable design.  The Tour headphones, on the other hand, use a flat cable that can't tangle by the nature of its shape and that at least appears to be less subject to fraying.
I've had a chance play around with the version of the headphones that includes the Talk Control functions (mic for handsfree calling, volume controls, answer/end call button, pause/play button) and have the following observations:
  • Flat cables are a smart innovation -- it's easy to wrap them around the phone and easy to put them in the carrying case.  Frankly, I worry less about putting these in a case due to the nature of the design.
  • Sound quality is very good -- it is at least equal to my Shure in-ears if not a little bit better.
  • I'm a bid fan of the foam and silicone blend tips -- you'll need to order the separate Monster tip kit to get the foam ones, but if you're looking for the best outside noise reduction and the best fit without having to use the over-ear hangers, the foam tips are probably the best option.
  • The tips that come on the heaphones probably won't fit your ears -- unlike Shure and some other manufacturers, you're likely going to have to change out the tips, but they do include a good assortment of silicone tips for sizing (presuming you don't order the extra tip kit).
  • You have to fully seat the jack in order for the Talk Control functions to work -- if it doesn't click in, you may still get music, but you won't be able to use any of the volume control or phone control functions.  Although I don't use one, I tried it with an iPhone 4 that had a bumper and you do not have to trim the bumper to get it to fit.
  • Although the manual says that the Talk Control is compatible with iPhone 3GS & 3G, all functions are working without problem on the iPhone 4.
  • The right angle on the jack connector is great and makes the headphones feel much more low profile; the phone also sits better in a pocket either upside down or to the side without a large jack sticking out of the top.
  • Warranty on these headphones is 3 years, which is better than most of the other manufacturers that usually offer a 1 year warranty.
  • The headphones offer a sealed channel with a screen as opposed to an open tube that needs to be cleaned out.  You wouldn't think this is a big deal, but I've had the open tube kind and it is not fun to try and clean them out when they get clogged.
  • The microphone is noise canceling on the Talk Control model and seems to work pretty well; not at the level of a Jawbone, but pretty good.
I'll see if they hold up in the long term, but am pretty happy with them now.

Note that there is a version that does not include the Talk Control functions that is less expensive if you're just looking for good headphones.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

My thoughts on the Verizon iPhone 4

The Verizon network tends to be stronger in certain places -- if it works better where you spend most of your time on the phone, you should think about switching.

A few points to think about:
  • This is still a CDMA phone with no automagical chipset in it, meaning that you can't talk and do data activities at the same time.  That may change as LTE rolls out and a new version of the iPhone is released, but as it stands with the iPhone 4 on Verizon, that's just how it is.  If you're already a Verizon subscriber, you may already be used to this and it won't be a big deal to you, but if you're like me on AT&T with an iPhone 4, then consider this your fair warning.
  • The mobile hotspot option is really cool.  In general I've found that most of the places that I go, Verizon's 3G data network is faster and better than AT&T -- we use Mifi devices from Verizon for mobile data.  I'm guessing, however, based on my first bullet, that when you are using the iPhone as a hotspot, you can't also engage in voice activities; not having played with the device, I'm not sure if it prioritizes voice over data, but if it does imagine serving up data to a few devices with your iPhone, getting a phone call, and knocking all of those devices offline.
  • None of the specs for the Verizon version indicate SIM compatibility or a GSM radio, meaning that you won't be roaming on any overseas networks unless where you're traveling has a CDMA network.  Perhaps not a big deal to many people, but worth thinking about -- note that AT&T's GSM network is the standard for most of the rest of the world, so international roaming on AT&T is really easy.
  • Keep in mind what happened when all of those iPhone 3Gs rolled out on AT&T's data network.  Verizon says they've been ready to handle the data consumption increase since 2009, but only time will tell if that's actually true.  I hope it is for the sake of my Mifi.
  • Some pictures floating around out there make it look like the switches on the side of the Verizon version got moved slightly, but noticeably on the left side of the device.  If that is, in fact, the case, then you might actually need a different case than what fits the AT&T version -- worth thinking about if you've got some $$ invested in AT&T iPhone cases and are making the switch.
  • Outside of the personal hotspot function, the iPhone 4 on Verizon doesn't appear to do anything that the AT&T version doesn't do.  Most importantly, it runs the same iOS and functions from a software perspective in the same way, so if you don't like the iPhone experience on AT&T, you're not going to like it on Verizon either.
  • The past iPhone upgrade cycle has occurred in the June/July timeframe and no one besides some folks in Cupertino really know what might be coming this year.  It's impossible to look into the crystal ball and know if this year will bring a "S"-type upgrade that was done with the 3G, if we'll be looking at an iPhone 5, if any of the upgraded devices will be available on Verizon or AT&T or any other carriers, etc.  Is there a possibility that an iPhone 5 will be released in July and that it will be available on Verizon?  Sure, it's possible.
I've got sort of a love-hate relationship with AT&T and my iPhone 4, but I'm not necessarily at the point where I'm going to pay the ETF to make the switch.  For the most part it works how I expect it to, the data generally works (not always as fast as I want it to), and I drop just as many calls as my friends that have Verizon (although we do drop calls in different places).

If you are an AT&T iPhone 4 user and you did the upgrade last July, I do recommend that you do the research around what your early termination fee might be with AT&T and how best to settle out with them.  A quick Google search showed me that AT&T has little sympathy/mercy for those that switch to another network mid-contract and they apparently will forward outstanding amounts to collections without hesitation.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Thursday, January 06, 2011

4-Hour Body: some diet tips & tricks into week 2

I picked up a copy of 4-Hour Body by Tim Ferris as soon as it came out and have been on his recommended diet and exercise program for about 1.5 weeks.

One of the notable things about this book's diet is that it's not necessarily prescriptive in the diet, but more general.  For someone like me, I actually enjoy being able to figure it out with the 50,000-foot guidelines, but I've learned a lot of things in the past week-and-a-half that, at the behest of some folks that are also trying to do the diet, I'm going to share here.  Note that I don't pretend to be an authority on the diet from this book and I may, in fact, be suggesting things that are less potent, not exactly in line with the guidelines, etc. -- everything that I suggest, however, seems to be working for me.  And, as someone reminded me the other day with regard to the diet: "You have to be able to live with it."

So, without further ado, here are some things that I've learned (in no particular order) with regard to the diet portion:
  • Odorless garlic caplets are about 95% odorless, which means that you get a lovely taste of garlic every time you pop one in your mouth.  I recommend odorless garlic gelcaps -- they don't have any dust or taste at all, and I assume they are just as effective.
  • The Athletic Greens product does allow you to stop taking multi-vitamins, but they don't have any Omega-3, so you'll want to take a fish oil supplement -- I recommend the Norwegian Gold as you only need to take one and I've never had a burping/taste problem with it.  If you can get past the texture of it, Athletic Greens really isn't that bad and you'll be taking enough pills as it is if you follow the AGG/PAGG stack, so it's kind of nice to replace multivitamins with the drink.  Note that Athletic Greens is a powder that you mix into water, so you want to use as little water as possible to make it go down more quickly and a taller, skinnier glass makes it easier to mix without clumps.
  • All of the AGG/PAGG components are available at GNC, but I had better luck finding them more consistently at VitaminWorld -- not sure if this is just an immediate effect from the book coming out or if GNC in Denver just doesn't keep high stock in some of the items.  Also, GNC does not have the odorless garlic liqui-caps.
  • I wasn't able to find the exact probiotic pills that are listed in the book anywhere but the website in the book, but VitaminWorld and Amazon do have several probiotic supplement options, including at least 1 product that combines probiotics and prebiotics in the same pill.  If you elect to take Athletic Greens, you are getting prebiotics and probiotics, but I'm also putting a probiotic pill on top of that and counting the Athletic Greens only for its prebiotic as suggested in the book.  The point here is that if the Athletic Greens don't appeal to you, there are pill supplements out there that will provide both prebiotic and probiotics at once.
  • I like the bright color of the GNC brand Alpha Lipoic as it differentiates it from the garlic softgels that I'm using, which are exactly the same size.
  • Get a pill organizer for all your pills to help keep you straight -- I've got the cheap $0.99 one that they sell at the register at GNC or VitaminWorld that has 5 compartments: 3 compartments with AGG,  1 with PAGG, and 1 with a probiotic and Omega-3 pill.
  • You're not going to eat enough.  I wasn't really a breakfast eater, so my first breakfast of 5 eggs, 1/2 can of beans and salsa felt like an extraordinary amount of food, but I choked it down.  Essentially you know you're eating enough if you're full and don't get really hungry in between meals (assuming that your doing a typical 3-meal diet).
  • Chipotle is your friend.  It's easy and quick and generally tasty.  I do the steak fajita bowl with no rice, extra black beans, pico, green salsa, guac, and lettuce; if I'm really hungry, I do extra steak.  Use the various flavors of Tobasco they have to change the flavors if you eat it a lot.
  • Guacamole is heard to remember to get enough of -- if you have it on your burrito bowl at lunch, you've only gotten 1/2 of what you should consume in a day.  The stuff you can buy at Costco is sealed fresh without preservatives and freezes -- you can get it from frozen to edible in about 5 minutes using the defrost setting on a microwave.
  • Costco has a lot of fresh salsa and pico de gallo choices, but only a few are sugar- and preservative-free -- make sure you read the labels before you buy a bucket of salsa from Costco.
  • Canned organic beans at Sunflower Market are the same price as the non-organic ones at regular stores.  Example: Sunflower Brand black, organic, refried can of beans = same price as a can of Rosarita refried beans at Safeway.
  • Low carb isn't as hard as you think at restaurants, but it is hard to find legumes.  Examples: Brewery Bar III offers their fajitas with lettuce cups instead of tortillas, Taste of Philly Cheesesteaks will do any of their sandwiches on romaine instead of bread.
  • Sushi is expensive when you're not getting rolls -- this to me is more of a cheat day thing where I'd go and gooblesashimi works very well for the diet.
  • Get creative with food places.  Examples: Yuan Place Mongolian BBQ where you can fill up your own bowls for them to cook means that you can just fill it with protein and vegetables (go at night when it's all you can eat) and at cajun places ask for the red beans and rice without the rice.
  • Most nice steak places can easily do steaks with sides of broccoli and cauliflower and may even have some appetizers that feature guacamole, but I've yet to find one that actually has any sort of legume as a side.
  • Lentils (known as "dal" or "daal") are a staple of Indian food and can generally be found as an inexpensive side dish to put along some tandoor-prepared proteins -- India's Castle is always my go-to place.
  • Sugar-free Jello, as Ferris points out, can be helpful for cravings, but that stuff is almost sickly sweet.  If you don't want to keep it around in a big bowl in the fridge, you can buy the individual cups of it at the grocery store.
  • Cook lentils at home and they'll last you for about a week if you use a whole bag.  Organic green lentils taste better and get softer than what you might pull off the shelf at Safeway.  Prep is simple: put some butter in a pan, saute some garlic in it, pour in a box of beef broth (don't use the low sodium), pour in some Italian seasoning, let it boil to combine flavors, turn it down to medium and boil the lentils.  In CO it seems like you need to boil the lentils for over a hour and you'll likely need to add some additional water throughout the cooking process.  Once they cool, put them in a sealable container. in the fridge and heat them up as you need them in the microwave.
  • Go buy some disposable tupperware/gladware -- good for leftovers, bringing portions with you, etc. and you won't care if you lose it.
  • Hardboil some eggs.  Lots of diets recommend this and there's a reason: it's easy, portable protein.  Do it.  Take 16 organic eggs, cover them in a pot with cold water, turn the heat on high, and time 10 minutes from when the water starts to boil.  After 10 minutes, remove from the water and cool.  Take the time when you're cooking them to remove the shells so that when you grab them from the fridge, they are ready to eat.
  • If you're cooking eggs: use eggwhites with your regular eggs.  For example, I might fry 3 organic eggs, but I'll pour in 1/4 cup of egg whites -- it tastes better (and apparently doesn't smell as bad in the house).
  • Costco sells 85/15 organic, grass-fed beef in 3lb packs -- get a pack, make 6 8oz burgers and leave them in the fridge.  You'll eat them in a week.
  • Costco sells bison in 2 1lb packages -- get some, it's good.
  • Some places sell ground lamb meat -- different tasting burgers, good to mix with beef, or try this: saute some onions and garlic in some butter and brown the lamb meat in it, add in cooked lentils at the end just to bring them to temperature, and serve over steamed or baked cauliflower.
  • Lentils produce less gassy effects than beans.  That's just how it works.  I don't know why, but I eat more lentils when I can.
  • On your cheat days, you're not wasting calories, you're wasting fullness.  In other words, if you would be happier having 2 Big Macs and fries for lunch as opposed to some custom sandwich that costs a lot more, may not be as satisfying, and reminds you a lot of what you're already eating on the diet, then have the Big Macs.
  • Watch out for hidden sugars in sauces.  This is especially true in Chinese restaurants where healthy-seeming things are not really diet friendly.  Hints: black-bean sauce does not mean legumes and beef with broccoli generally has a ton of sugar in it.
  • Truvia isn't very prevalent yet -- if you need to add sweetener to things, get a box of it at Costco and carry the packets with you.
  • Mexican food stores and carnecerias are generally the best places to find the cheapest avocados; if you're not comfortable with that, buy the big bag of them at Costco and let them ripen in your house.
  • Take advantage of the fact that you can have a glass or 2 of red wine.  Try out Chilean and Argentinean red wines -- generally there are some pretty good offerings at lower prices.
  • Eat out at places where it's not obvious that you're on a diet.  Case-in-point: went to a place where I thought I had slyly ordered a burger without a bun and a side of refried beans and when the plate came, let's just say that there was a lot of white space on it, which made the person sitting with me uncomfortable/embarrassed by what he had ordered because it looked so massive in comparison (note that if I go to that place again, I'll be ordering the double burger without the bun to (1) fill up the plate, and (2) get enough protein).
  • Don't weight yourself.  Your weight bounces around all over the place, especially after cheat days.  Take pictures, use measurements, whatever, but don't count on the scale to give you the true story.  The most telling thing for me is how loose my pants are getting at the waist.
  • Use something to keep track of what your eating and stacking.  I never used to do this, but I'm using PBworks to do this and it's shared with my wife, so she can update her participation as well.  You don't have to be all high-tech, but writing it down makes a difference and creates accountability.
  • If you're going to drink the yerba mate tea, I recommend the chai spice flavor.
  • If you think Starbucks coffee tastes burned (like I do), then get an Americano (that's what the barista told me) -- as long as you don't dump sugar and cream and stuff into it, the Americano works the same way as coffee.  Apparently an Americano is a shot of espresso with water added to it, so the upside is that you can add to the caffeine by adding extra shots, which you can't do with the standard brew.
  • Drink lots of water -- I like using 1 liter bottles of SmartWater as my bottled water, and it has potassium in it, which you may find yourself deficient of on this diet, so it's not a bad source for a little extra and Costco frequently has the cases on sale.  If you add lemon to you water it makes you pee a lot more and both this book and others that I have read suggest adding some citrus, especially on your cheat day. 
There are some pretty lively discussions about different 4-Hour Body diet points over on the official website about the book and I encourage you to visit it to get more information, ask questions, etc.  I also recommend checking out for some interesting information about Athletic Greens and general health.