In Sputnik’s Orbit

A few thoughts to tide you over…


To The Dogs

I must confess, I never much cared for dogs until I had kids and my wife decided they should have one. I bought a Miniature Australian Shepherd because if I HAD to have a dog, I wanted an actual dog–not something distorted by selective breeding into an affront to the natural world. I exaggerate slightly. The truth is, we had kept a friend’s border collie once and I found her a noble beast, but about three sizes too large for my needs.

Aussies were next of kin to the collie and a miniature breed was available. Other than their size, they were recognizably working dogs, recognizably, in fact, not too distant cousins to the wolf. Breeders warned, however, that an alarming percentage of Aussies, when purchased as pets, end up being taken to the pound. They warned that these were intelligent, willful animals who could not simply be smacked with the odd roll of newsprint and given a bed in the corner. Perfect.

I studied the latest in dog training and psychology. Everything my mother had taught me was completely and utterly wrong, but I could so this. Our dog came from a north Texas equestrian breeder, delivered at great expense by climate-controlled air freight, and no surprise ever more delighted a pair of impressionable girls.

But she never belonged to the girls. I brought her home. I showed her to her food and water. Aussies are bred to have strong jaws. They control sheep by biting at the ankles. Puppies have razor sharp teeth, so I used dog psychology to stop her constant nipping and biting. When she started teething on a $2,000 cherry-wood table, I gave her a more acceptable piece of wood. She started to learn limits, not out of fear, but because I expected it.

She was a sweet little thing when we were home to play with her, but we could not be home all the time. She could escape from or destroy anything of plastic or wood, so expensive steel gates were needed to confine her until she was house-broken. She escaped by squeezing through. I modified. She escaped by leaping over. I adjusted. She borrowed into the wall, I glued up wallboard (I was planning to put wainscoting there anyway).

I taught her a trick, then another, then another. I alternated the toys left out during the day. I taught her to run with my Trike scooter in the fashion of a sled dog and to jog left or right or to check for a post on command. I learned to use hand signals in preference to spoken commands. She learned to find toys by name, to “go get,” to “bring,” to “give,” and to “release,” all as distinct commands. I learned to make her work a little every day, and to recognize pent up energy before it could burst.

Gradually, she slowed down—but not much. She learned how to live in an urban house, and I learned how to be an alpha dog. Often, I know, it frustrates her that I don’t know what any dog should. I took me to or three years to realize why she was so stubborn about eating—she will not eat until I do. I learn and she puts up with me. She lets me bath her and brush her teeth, though she thinks both utterly mad. She makes sure I know when a possum or a squirrel or a blood sucking vampire raccoon is in the yard, and she just knows that if I can just understand her request, I may yet rise up and stop a thunderstorm.

Every night, just like when she was a puppy, she climbs up into my bed and rolls over next to me, exposing her belly for a while, then pads back out to the living room. If she barks in the dead of night, I don’t yell or throw a slipper. I walk out to the living room and ask her what’s what. She runs to a window or door and harrumphs. I turn on the light and look. “Good girl!” I say, “You scarred them away.” I head back to bed and she climbs back up on her perch on the back of the couch. Her fuzzy ear flops and as she rests her lids, but she’s got her eye on things.

In Memorial

In honor of memorial day, I give you Quint’s speech from the movie Jaws, the speech that led indirectly, and decades after the fact, to the posthumous exoneration of Captain Charles McVay.

Hooper: You were on the Indianapolis?
Chief Brody: What happened?
Quint: Japanese submarine slammed two torpedoes into our side, Chief. We was comin’ back from the island of Tinian to Leyte – just delivered the bomb, the Hiroshima bomb.
Eleven hundred men went into the water. Vessel went down in 12 minutes. Didn’t see the first shark for about half an hour – a tiger – thirteen footer. You know how you know that when you’re in the water, Chief? You tell by lookin’ from the dorsal to the tail.
What we didn’t know was our bomb mission had been so secret, no distress signal had been sent. They didn’t even list us overdue for a week. Very first light, Chief, sharks come cruisin’. So we formed ourselves into tight groups. You know, it was kinda like old squares in the battle like that you see in the calendar named ‘The Battle of Waterloo.’ And the idea was, the shark comes to the nearest man and he starts poundin’ and hollerin’ and screamin’. Sometimes the shark go away. Sometimes he wouldn’t go away. Sometimes that shark, he looks right into ya, right into your eyes.
Y’know, the thing about a shark, he’s got lifeless eyes, black eyes, like a doll’s eyes. When he comes after ya, he doesn’t seem to be livin’ until he bites ya, and those black eyes roll over white, and then – aww, then you hear that terrible high-pitch screamin’, the ocean turns red, and in spite of all the poundin’ and the hollerin’, they all come in and rip ya to pieces.
You know, by the end of that first dawn, we lost a hundred men. I don’t know how many sharks, maybe a thousand. I don’t know how many men. They averaged six an hour. On Thursday morning, Chief, I bumped into a friend of mine, Herbie Robinson from Cleveland. Baseball player. Boatswain’s mate. I thought he was asleep. I reached over to wake him up. Bobbed up, down in the water just like a kinda top. Upended. Well, he’d been bitten in half below the waist.
Noon the fifth day, Mr. Hooper, a Lockheed Ventura saw us. He swung in low and he saw us. He was a young pilot, a lot younger than Mr. Hooper. Anyway, he saw us and he come in low and three hours later, a big fat PBY comes down and start to pick us up. You know, that was the time I was most frightened – waitin’ for my turn. I’ll never put on a life jacket again.
So, eleven hundred men went in the water, three hundred and sixteen men come out, and the sharks took the rest, June the 29th, 1945. Anyway, we delivered the bomb.

On Borrowed Time

On the prairie, there was no roadside assistance.

When I was little, my family hiked the wilds of South Dakota without a gun or a phone. The road signs claimed “Last Chance Gas – 100 Miles,” and they meant it. We crossed the Sioux reservation, explored an abandoned copper mine, and hunted fossils and fairburn agates in the badlands and rock flats. There were rattlers and wolves in the hills, and bears and cougars too, but you didn’t worry much about them. Once you understand an animal, you can generally stay out of its way.

Our first order of business was to find a stout stick with which to alert snakes to our movements. Then we kept our eyes open and let Daddy lead the way. He ever carried a weapon, but he always had a hatchet, a plastic bag, and a handful of fencing nails. When we encountered modern trash, we generally packed it home. When we found a loose strand of barbed wire, we secured it. When a fence was down, we stacked rocks or driftwood as best we could, to hold it till the rancher came along.

We didn’t do these things for Jesus, or because of federal law. We did it to be neighborly, to make sure our weekend adventures at least left the world no worse than we found it, to ensure that somewhere, some landowner we would never meet was treated the same way we would want to be treated.

When Iron-Eyes Cody stepped into our living rooms, dressed like Geronimo, to shed tears over highway litter, we stood easy by his side. We’d crossed paths last blazed by Custer’s infantry or the fleeing Lakota people. We’d found shells grown in an ancient sea as long before the dinosaurs time as that era was before ours. It is impossible to confront history on that scale and not be awed. One cannot camp beneath the infinite black of the prairie sky and send orange sparks sputtering up into the jeweled canopy of the Milky-way without feeling connected to the whole of creation, to those tiny bands who have trod here before, and to those whose wonder is yet unrealized.

We are visitors here, all of us. We are blessed with an uncommon gift, a mind that can literally move mountains and yet find beauty in the gentlest breeze. We would do well, all of us, to remember that our time is borrowed, individually and as a race, to care for our world even we are alone, to try always to lift one another up, to look on creation and say not “Thus, it is written,” but “Hey! Look at that!”


Before The Gates

An agent I follow tweeted something today that caught my attention. “Gatekeepers don’t keep people out, they guide people inside.” This is in reference to the common tirade that literary slush readers often see from aspiring writers who feel they are being somehow unfairly excluded from the great global party of literary fame and fortune. Well, in all due respect to all three groups, no. Gatekeepers keep people out, first and foremost, and for good reason.

To explain why this is a good thing, consider my good friend Bob (whose name is not Bob) who I used to work with at GravyPants Inc. (where we made nothing in any way associated with gravy and only tangentially associated with pants).

Bob had him a music studio. The Yamaha DX-7 had brought FM synthesis to the nation in the ’80s, and now cheap computers and midi-editing software put studio-quality composition, editing, and mastering in the capable hands of any upstart gravy makers with a few gees and a few hours and a tolerant spouse.

Bob had him a music studio. Bob had him an orchestra, if he needed it, and a multi-track editor that would have made Walter Carlos weep back in the days before he became Wendy. Bob spent untold hours in his studio, then brought shiny new hi-fi chromium tapes in and handed them around the GravyPants office. They were technically excellent. The synthesized sounds were synthesized perfection. The recording quality was as good as, if not superior, to anything available on a commercial tape. Bob was a really nice guy. We liked him a whole lot, and he was set with everything he needed to be the next Aaron Copeland.

Except talent.

So we listened to his space music rambling futzing around until he walked down the hall and then counted ourselves lucky to have a brand new blank, ready for the next mix.

Bob had a big heart, and Bob had a music studio, but what Bob really needed was a gatekeeper, someone who knew at least enough about music to tell him he didn’t know enough about music to inflict his on an undefended world.

Gatekeepers are never perfect (they let Yanni in the door, after all) and it ‘s certainly a good thing that talented artists have ways around the gate. But without a filter, we consumers are left hopelessly mired in slush while artists with talent are left to starve.

Artists suffer another way too. If my friend Bob thought he was going to make it big in music (and many like him do) he had a far longer road ahead than he realized. Artistic success requires talent, skill, luck, and promotion. The last three, at least, can be purchased, but the investment in time, energy, and dollars can be large. The investment makes little sense without some hope of eventually reaching an appreciative audience, and the gauntlet of the gatekeepers (teachers and critique partners included, but particularly literary professionals) can be key to assessing artistic readiness and talent.

Another friend of mine owned a real-world, brick-and-mortar music studio. He had no particular talent either, but he made a good living teaching at the college and recording albums for church groups and artists hoping to make it big. It was a good, stable business, but it made him a little queasy. “Half of these groups,” he said, “I have to talk out of ordering hundreds of copies they won’t be able to give away.” In seventeen years, he reckoned, he’d only recorded one demo for an artist with a realistic shot at a career—much less fame and fortune.

The Internet is terrific. Self-publishing is a great advance. But for most artists, professional gatekeepers offer one thing that no technology can, a reality check.

Weightloss Ain’t Rocket Science

Losing weight isn’t complicated. Gurus and manufacturers are happy to make it seem that way so they can sell what they sell. The fact is, though, if you burn more calories than you consume, you cannot fail to lose weight. Okay, it’s more complicated than that—but not much.

We humans are the survivors of countless privations. We are the ones whose ancestors survived all the famine, pestilence, wars, volcanoes, ice ages and so on, for several million years. They didn’t do it by looking good in Speedos. They did it the same way grizzlies survive hibernation: by having ample stores of blubber to carry them through the lean times. We, with our grande mocha lattes with creme, our super-big gulps, and our deep-fat-fryers, are the “beneficiaries” of these successful genes. We crave what will fatten us up because our genes are programed to store energy when it’s available. They don’t know that in this time and place, calories are not a scarce resource but a toxic embarrassment of riches.

Nor do we want to modify those genes, because sooner or later, somehow or other, lean times will almost certainly return to all of us. “Fixing” our genes to help us fit into our scivies now will certainly condemn our descents at some time in the future. So what do we do?

We do what we human always do, we use our formidable brains to adapt. In this case, we set a budget of calories, and we learn to live within it. Simple.

Simple doesn’t mean easy, though. Hunger is right up at the top of our hierarchy of needs (we’ll even choose it over sex). Saying “no” to such a primal craving is HARD. This is where technology comes in. Unlike our ancestors, we know how much energy is in our food and our labors, and with tools like the smartphone app “MyFitnessPal” keeping track of both is fairly simple. We can learn to live withing a budget, but first we need a plan.

  • First, you need to estimate the number of calories you burn just being you. To save you some trouble, MyFitnessPal will estimate this based on your age, height, gender, and lifestyle.

  • Second, you need a target weight. My Fitness Pal will help with this too, but in general, you need short-term achievable goals. Longer range is up to you [(though a healthy weight based on BMI is certainly wise) but it might seem dawning until you have started down the road.

  • Third, you need to decide how fast you want to lose weight. Two to three pounds per week is generally considered the largest safely sustainable rate, but you certainly want to lose fast enough to see and feel the results or you will give up. That’s how humans are.

  • Now it’s fairly simple to estimate the net energy intake that will get you to your goal. Again, apps like MyFitnessPal will calculate this for you. They will also calculate the minimum number of calories needed to keep your body from thinking it’s starving. That’s important, because if your body thinks it’s starving, your metabolism changes to run much more efficiently and your cravings go into overdrive.

  • Now you have a net calorie budget. Done. Well, done getting started.

Notice I said “net”. It doesn’t matter in the slightest how much you eat. What matters is, how much more do you eat than you burn? Olympic athletes eat up to 8,000 calories a day, but they burn that much or more. The trouble is, if you can make it through a whole cheesecake, you can easily top that 8,000 calories in one sitting, but odds are burning that many in a day would kill you.

So, this is where the choices start. After accounting for my base metabolism (what I burn just being alive) MyFitnessPal tells me I need to net no more than 1,400 calories each day in order to make my goals. But hold on. I also need to eat at least 1,200 calories per day. That’s not much wiggle room, and I know from experience that exercise makes me hungrier, which is why I normally stop exercising just as I start seeing results. Too little reward, too slowly.

This is where a tool like MyFitnessPal is a life saver. Once I started tracking calories in and calories out, I started assigning weights to things. I love cake, but I’d rather eat a whole spicy chicken and rice dinner and feel sated until bedtime than a slice of cake that will be digested by the next commercial break. I don’t like exercising, but I also don’t like being hungry at bedtime, and an hour on the treadmill “buys” a serving of cereal and milk. But wait, ¾ cups is not a realistic serving size, but if I switch to the 80 calorie Fibre-One cereal, I can eat three servings for 240 calories.

See how it works? It’s all about trade offs. You can NOT succeed by starving yourself your body will not permit it. This isn’t a “glandular problem”, it’s survival instinct. You can, however, get used to skim milk instead of whole, wraps instead of buns, turkey instead of pork (or fruit instead of sausage). Then you find that the more you get used to lighter fair, the less you crave traditional American junk. Tabouli, Fatoush and Jeruselem salads, steak tips and broccoli, Teriaki Salmon—these are all favorite foods that I would not have touched twenty years ago. I don’t eat them because I’m on a diet. They are just what I eat, and at the moment, I am adjusting my weight downward.

I also bought a treadmill. I’m pretty dexterous, so it took about three days to get used to typing while walking at 2.2 miles per hour and a slight incline that increases the workload to approximate “real world” walking. I’m a writer and a computer analyst, so I can pretty much spend as much time walking as my feet can take. I shoot for two hours a day. I don’t always make it. On weekends or telecommute days, I may do five or more hours. It took a while to work up to that and I had to buy special anti-static shoes for use in cold, dry weather.

Results may vary. I do what works for me, and I’m sorry to say it took me twenty years to find it. You have to find what works for you. You have to find it, because diets just don’t work. What you have to do is stop being the person who got you here, and start being “You 2.0”. You don’t have to eat the comfort foods your grandmother ate during the depression. You don’t need to new year’s dinner your great grand parents ate to assure themselves they had survived the potato famine. You kids are not going to have a better standard of living if you teach them to eat the fried catfish and ice cream you had at family reunions. You are free to make your own choices, and pass down your own traditions. Pick healthy.

It’s all a balancing act. I want to write anyway, so it “costs” very little to walk, and it doesn’t take much to tip the scale. Sometimes, I still snack too much, but I record it honestly. Sometimes, I have to get up before I brush my teeth and have one more cup of yogurt to stay within my budget. I record everything, and I will do so till the day I die. I don’t see that as a punishment or a sentence. It’s a rational reaction to living in a body ill suited to a changed environment. It’s what I should have been doing all along, and it’s a damn-sight better than starvation.

This is neither a fad nor a diet. This is a lifestyle that works and that I can sustain indefinably. In a little less than three months, I’ve lost thirty pounds. At this rate, I’ll be gone in a year and a half. It’s been nice knowing you all.

Open Source Living

The other day, I was reading a security analysis about the impact of viruses in the Linux world. Viruses are not quite unknown in Linux, but they are so rare that most end-users don’t bother to install any virus scanning at all. How can that be?

It’s probably a combination of factors–market share and architecture among them–but the prevailing wisdom is that it’s mostly open source that protects Linux. So many eyes look at the code so often, there is nowhere for agents of propagation to hide.

I submit, however, that there may be something more basic at work here. Linux, in all it’s flavors, exists to get stuff done. Microsoft products exist to drive sales. Microsoft needs to pack it’s SKUs with feature lists. Linux products live or die by end-user reviews. What doesn’t work is soon reworked or soon swept away.

I recently discovered that OpenOffice/LibreOffice has a “Compare Document” feature. It works exactly as you would expect. You load one document, then click “Edit- Compare Document” and select a second. Changes between the two documents then appear through the standard track changes feature. It could not be any simpler, and it’s hard to imagine how it could be improved in any substantive way.

Unless you work in Redmond.

Before tweeting about this feature, I thought I should google MS Word. Surely, it has this feature too and I just never knew it. Indeed, it does, and it’s a doozy. Why, it has a side-by-side feature and legal line-through and all sorts of other bells and whistles that I can’t be bothered to read about, much less remember to use.

The blogosphere tells us the OpenOffice feature just works, and gives endless lecture on where to go looking for the Microsoft. Feature set vs quality.

Did I ever mention how many times Word corrupted by first two novel manuscripts before I abandoned it three years ago?


A Simple, Effective Treadmill Desk

My Simple, Effective Treadmill Desk

Someone asked for details about my treadmill desk, so here they are:

I use an unmodified Horizon T101, purchased from Academy Sports for about $600. It had good reviews and a folding treadmill base–a requirement since I installed it in our game room, where the Xbox Kinnect lives. It also has simple, horizonal handrails, also a requirement for my purposes.

The idea behind a treadmill desk is to WALK while you work (you can’t very well do any work while jogging!), so much of the length of the handrails and deck are unneeded. I simply laid my “desk” across them.

I bought a 4′ length of standard 16″ wire shelving ($9, from the closet renovation section of the local hardware superstore), cut it down to an inch wider than the hand rails, and capped the cut ends with caps sold with the shelf (I used a bolt cutter, but the store has a shelf cutting machine). I laid this across the hand rails (upside down, with the stiffening rib toward me to provide support should I lean on it or trip).

I’m tall, so I topped this with an 18.5″ x 8″ stackable shelf (with folding legs). These legs are meant to clip into the wire shelf and bind a little against the stiffening rib, but with a little wiggling, it went together and hasn’t budged. I still found this a tad low, so I put a handy box on top of this for my netbook (shown).

Not only is this a cheap solution, it’s flexible. I can set the box and the netbook aside when I’m using my gigantic work laptop. To use the Xbox Kinnect, I simply set the whole desk to one side and fold up the treadmill.

If you want more of a proper desk surface, you could add a plastic surface. You could also replace the shelf altogether with one of the a pre-finished pine table tops  sold at the hardware store (they come in square sizes and might have to be cut along one edge, but the store will make a cut for you and you can buy a pack of sandpaper).

Now, any treadmill desk requires some consumer diligence. If you try to drink coffee without stepping off the treadmill first, you are not going to have a nice morning. If you don’t manage your cords sensibly, you could get into all manner of trouble. If you work in a cold-dry room, you can generate enough static electricity to damage electronics (I plug in a spare USB cable and tuck it under my shirt. Grounding wristbands are available online and can be grounded to metal on the treadmill). And then again, once you get used to your desk, you’ll step onto it while it isn’t running and lurch forward–expecting it to move. But with common sense and care, it works extremely well and is a damnsight cheaper than a custom made treadmill desk.

Good luck, and remember to keep the manual and tools that come with your treadmill handy. I use mine so much, I had walked a hundred miles in less than a month and had to tighten and lubricate the belt (easy).

A Better Grindstone

I recently blogged about getting a treadmill desk. Eleven weeks in, I’ve now lost twenty pounds, and I’m starting to think that those who view desk jobs as a modern scourge may be on to something.

For me, neither weight nor health have ever been a major problem. Growing up, I was what one might charitably call “gangly”. I was always athletic, but at nearly 6’2”, my weight didn’t catch up with my growth until I started swimming in college. As soon as I went on salary, though, I started gaining weight. Over the years, I’ve gradually improved my diet and periodically improved by exercise regime, and I’ve managed to keep my weight and health in check—just.

But when I read about treadmill desks, the logic was immediately appealing. In recent years, I’ve gotten serious about my writing, and writing takes a LOT of time. Why spend that time in a chair after sitting all day at work? So I bought a good, middle-of-the-road treadmill and I made a little desk out of wire closet shelving. It’s good enough to support my netbook or even my work laptop at a brisk walking pace. After a few days of acclimation, it worked, and I didn’t kill myself or my budget.

But that wasn’t the only surprise. I’m more productive on the treadmill. I don’t fall asleep when wading through xslt transformations for work. I don’t take breaks from writing to go walk down the block and work out a plot twist. The words come more freely—just as they always did in school when I used to go for hikes with a notepad in my pocket.

And loosing weight is all but unavoidable. I try to walk at least two hours a day. On telecommute days, I might walk as many as seven (or fourteen miles), but my average is more like three. That isn’t a huge amount of exercise, but it’s consistent, and I track my caloric intake with a Droid App called MyFitnessPal. The app sets a calory target based on your age, weight, and target weight. Then it calculates a running balance as you eat and exercise during the day.

Yesterday (a telecommute day during which I slacked off shamefully), I went to bed with a surplus of almost a thousand calories. That is, I could have eaten three slices of “meat lover’s” pizza before hitting the calorie target the app has set for me—itself hundreds of calories short of the level at which weight gain would begin. With these tools (the treadmill desk and MyFitnessPal) loosing weight is simple. Just watch out for pasta and bread and look for high-payoff foods.

And here’s another surprise: I’m eating good. I’ve switched to a very good FiberOne cereal with 80 calories per serving (280 calories for a real serving with milk). I’ve discovered Lean Cuisine frozen dinners with 150 and 180 calories per serving (not a whole meal for me, but excellent). I can eat absolutely anything–ice-cream, birthday cake, hummus and pita bread–as long as I record them honestly. Usually, they aren’t worth it, but when I do indulge—I really enjoy it.

The result leads to the final surprise. As a byproduct of loosing weight and eating healthier food overall, my blood pressure and cholesterol are both down markedly since November.

It may seem odd to many, but if you can fit a treadmill desk into your life, do it. There is no downside to living better.



Autism and Vaccines? Try French Fries

In the last decades, the anti-vaccination crowd has, in some parts of the country, succeeded in driving up rates of whooping cough, rubella, and other potentially fatal diseases after universal vaccination had all but wiped them out. Their arguments first gained traction after a single study claimed to show a link between vaccination and autism. This study was soon exposed as a hoax perpetrated under contract to a company hoping to sell its own vaccines, but the crazy horse was out of the barn. A long list of rationalizations have since been added to the anti-vaccination docket, most dreamed up by hucksters hoping to sell books to the desperate. All are false, and most are covered here:

Ultimately, though, the anti-vaccination movement is primarily driven by parents of autistic children who feel understandably frustrated and powerless, and who are easy prey for their own little branch of the pseudo-science industry. These folks want to have a definite cause that they can point to. They don’t understand the science, but they can easily understand the coincidence that autism has been on the up tick over the last forty years that vaccination rates have also been increasing. When two things change at the same time, the one must cause the other, right?


Previous studies have uncovered genetic factors that appear to explain 15% of autism cases, and exhaustively refuted any link to vaccination. Now, the largest autism study ever done has pointed the causal blame directly at something else that has been growing for the last forty years—fast food consumption. Autism, it turns out, is strongly linked to folic acid deficiency before and during pregancy. This is hardly surprising. We have known for a couple of decades that folate deficiency can cause spina-bifida and increase the risk for a host of neurological developmental disorders.

More work will have to be done, but unlike the vaccination link, which was never more than grasping at straws, this link makes clear cultural and biological sense. Previous studies have found that the reason American blacks became less healthy even as their incomes rose is that they started eating more steak and potatoes and less beans and other vegetables. In my lifetime, eating out has—for millions—gradually gone from an occasional luxury to a daily routine. Pizza and coke have gone from party foods to lunch and dinner on a regular basis.

The study appears in the current issue of JAMA. I have only read summaries, so I cannot attest to the validity of the experimental method. The findings, though, are sensible and compelling. They found, for example, that nutritional improvement during pregnancy made little difference, while serum levels of folic acid at the time of conception accounted for a 40% swing in incidence. This is to be expected if autism results from subtle, but early, developmental problems.

So, for those who have autistic children, relax. You didn’t know. This isn’t your fault and is only part of the story. But for the love of reason, go out and get your child vaccinated before she catches something you actually could have prevented—or before you contribute to a resurgence in polio, and threaten all those around you.

And for everyone else, stop making dietary decisions based on what is easiest for an unsupervised staff of teenagers to prepare. Eat a real, human diet rich in all kinds of vegetables and light on meat, pasta, bread, and processed baked goods of all kinds. The life you save me be your own.

Get it off. Keep it off.

In the eight weeks I’ve had my treadmill desk, I’ve lost 15 pounds, taking me through the range I’ve varied over for the last twenty years, and back (almost) to what I weighed on my wedding night. The first week was only a few miles at low speed, and I lost two weeks to illness and projects around the house. Plus, I didn’t start tracking calories until later, maybe the last five weeks, so that’s, let’s say, three pounds a week.

The thing is, it’s been easy, because I’m walking while I’m working (on my telecommute day) or working on my writing, things I want to or have to do anyway. With the extra calories burned, I sacrifice very little in the way of food. I do keep track and meet targets and have very little room for pasta or bread. When I have dessert, it’s usually only a bite or two, and I count it as honestly as I can. Occasionally, I have room to spurge on a nice high-calorie snack like ice cream or chips and salsa–if I’ve walked enough that day.

This puts me in the enviable position of being able to say with great confidence that by my birthday, I will be down to what I weighed in college–to what I should weigh. Don’t worry, I’m not going for the full “knees and elbows” effect.

Once I reach my target weight, I’ll be able to scale back, which is a bit of a problem because I think better and am more productive when I’m walking. I guess I’ll just have to start eating Italian.

If I can do it, anyone can. It only takes finding what works for you. For me, it’s a droid app called MyFitnessPal and a $400 treadmill.

Oh, and eating actual food.


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