A Movement of Inconvenience

•March 30, 2013 • Leave a Comment

Convenience is slowly destroying us. The favorite sales pitch is that the product will save us time, money, and effort. Often a convenience is a simple added feature that makes life a little easier. But in the end is easier really better? It seems to be harming our health both physically and mentally. It takes less effort to do minor tasks and less thinking for standard exercises like remembering somebody’s phone number.

It used to be that everything was done manually. Yes, there were mechanical devices and animals that provided the force for heavy labor, but we still did manual work and moved around on our own power. Advances were made to limit injury due to either back breaking work, repetitive movements, or difficult manual labor. But once many of those were problems are solved, the move toward increased convenience continues. On the mobility front, it is less and less necessary to climb stairs or to even push open doors. People don’t walk to the store, they drive there finding the closest spot to the door so they don’t have to walk as much. Some people (who annoy the heck out of me) drop off their passenger at the door then wait there for many minutes with their motor running for their passenger to return. The end result of all this is that both our calorie expenditure and our muscular strength are diminishing. Neither is necessarily bad, but considering that our calorie intake is the same or more, our obesity rates increase. We need to get back to walking to places and doing the little things like opening cans with a manual can opener.

It also seems that technology may be diminishing our brain power. It used to be that we had to memorize phone numbers and birthdays. But now once you enter a phone number into your phone you never need to remember it. Sadly, after a year, I still do not have my work cell phone number memorized. It’s embarrassing, but then in that time I have only had to pass along the number a half dozen times since it is already in my email signature. Nowadays, you don’t have to know how to get anywhere by car since a GPS could give you step by step directions. I’ve used it on long trips and it’s great since it gets you there at the earliest possible time, but unless I’m paying close attention, I really don’t know the route I’ve taken or why it took me on that route. For the long trips, that might not matter since I may never pass that way again, but for those who use it on a daily basis, they could get lost in their own city. It begs the question of whether our mental powers might be diminishing in the same way that physical convenience is diminishing our strength.

I was glad after thinking the above thoughts to come across an article that similarly talks about how inactivity is hurting us and even moderate levels of everyday activity benefits us. I know it may mean a bit of returning to the past, but maybe it is more about holding onto to activities that benefit us as opposed to using modern conveniences as a matter of course. Since I first starting thinking about this a while back, I have been actively considering what daily activities necessitate the technological advance currently available and what can be done ‘by hand’ or ‘by foot’ with just a bit more time and effort. Hopefully it is something we can all consider to reverse the atrophy that our society is undergoing.



•January 12, 2013 • Leave a Comment


Metro Station Place-Saint-Henri in Montreal

(Yes, I realize the irony of posting an Instagram photo immediately after a post stating that I was leaving Instagram.)

Goodbye, Instagram

•December 18, 2012 • 2 Comments

As likely all my readers have heard, Instagram has changed (well actually will be changing on January 16th) their terms of service. They say that they have “the perpetual right to sell users’ photographs without payment or notification”. Those of us who have interest in photography and have been around social networks for a while have seen this before. The owners of Facebook who happen to be the new owners of Instagram created the same policy a few years back. There was public outcry by fellow photographers and a few abandoned the site for a while, but that died down. Many came back in part because for good or bad it is THE social network.

But this is different. You can merrily bounce around Facebook without posting photos or at least not posting photos that you would like to keep control of. Instagram is almost only about photos. There is a social element (which I never felt was a strong as Flickr once was), but like Flickr, if you take away the photos, there is nothing left since the photos are reason for the social interaction.

Can Instagram turn this around? Yes, they have time over the next month to reverse their decision. Facebook has done it before even though they did not do that regarding photos. But the problem is that the damage is already done and trust has been broken. People can, will, and have gone elsewhere. There are a plethora of sites and apps that have been trying to mimic Instagram and any one of them could replace them. The trick is that for any one place to work, it needs to gain a strong enough following that EVERYONE goes there much like everyone eventually went to Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, and Instagram. Whether Instagram can weather this is yet to be seen. As I said many of my photography friends have abandoned it, but if friends and family don’t follow, many may return for the social aspect (assuming they reverse their decision).

I find this all unfortunate because Instagram reinvigorated my interest in photography for a second time. The first time was with Flickr, but due to some changes they had made, many of my friends slowly disappeared from the site. (You may start to think that my friends are fickle, but they have valid reasons for their actions.) Anyhow, when I got an iPhone just over a year ago, I found myself with a decent portable camera and a method to process and share photos instantly. I’ve loved that aspect of Instagram. Plus it’s on a minimalist user-friendly website. It kept getting better since I was able easily share my images with the greater audience of Facebook and many of my non-photographer friends and family started joining. It became more social and finally replaced Flickr.

But this policy has me not only thinking about my photos on Instagram, but also my photos on Facebook. After a while, I became lax about my boycott of placing photos on FB. And Facebook has a horrible user-interface for their photo management such as the inability to move photos from set to set or share them between sets like you can on Flickr. So I’m seriously considering removing all my non-essential images from Facebook and reverting back to Flickr which still has the protections I want. As everyone has been noting, Flickr was rather timely in revamping their app since the previous version had a horrible user interface and it was one of the knocks against staying with them.

So I will be sad to stop using Instagram since it was a perfect way to share photos while out and about. I will continue to share photos with friends and family on Facebook, but it will require more work on my part and will result in fewer posts of pictures. Currently the only way I’ve found to ‘share’ photos without posting them to Facebook is by cutting and pasting the link into a status. Something that I haven’t found an easy way to do with my iPhone yet. So it will require that I do it from a sit-down computer, not a smartphone.

On the flipside, I will be happy if everyone goes back to using Flickr. It had it’s faults, but I still feel it is the best photo-sharing social network around. It’ll be fun if we can get the band back together. Are you in?

UPDATE: Here is another viewpoint of the new terms of service that states it’s not as bad as everyone is thinking. And here is the response from Instagram. Thank you, Martine, for the links.


•December 3, 2012 • Leave a Comment


A stair at the Art Institute of Chicago

To Young Parents

•November 28, 2012 • 3 Comments

As our older child surpassed a decade of existence and my sister recently began her adventure as a parent, I thought it might be good to impart some of the knowledge I’ve gained over the past 10 years. Namely two areas that most parenting advice sources don’t talk about. Yourself and your partner.

From what I’ve seen of different fellow parents over the years, there are two extremes. One extreme are the parents whose sole reason for being is the child or children. The other extreme are parents who may be in denial and hope to live their life like nothing has changed or to prove to others that their life won’t change. As with everything, most parents fall somewhere in between, but many gravitate toward one or the other. For the first extreme, I would just suggest to keep other interests or activities in your life outside of your kid(s). Trust me that it will keep you sane after that new baby smell wears off. Your life will change dramatically, but it doesn’t have to be completely. But of course there is the other extreme where people go about globetrotting like they just have another member of their travel group or continue to go out clubbing every weekend. It is almost as if they are in denial that they are a parent. My advice to that type of parent is that the more intense part of being a parent doesn’t last as long as you will see later on. Before you know it, they will spend more time playing with friends until they don’t want to be seen with you in public. Spend time with your kids while you can. It’s all about balance.

One surprising observation that I’ve seen over the past 10 years is how many of parents of my child’s friends are divorced. One even divorced before the kids first birthday. It surprises me, but at the same time does not surprise me, that it happens when the kids are so young. Having young kids can be incredibly stressful. If a relationship is not very solid or is not well suited for adversity, they will likely have difficulty and may even break-up during those early years. In relation to the paragraph above, I’ve seen couples where one parent completely embraces parenthood, while the other feels life should not change whatsoever. Obviously this creates extreme friction. But even if both parents embrace parenthood, since we all have different backgrounds and likely different views on raising children, these differing views can cause friction. Communication is the key to pretty much everything in society and of course it is essential for an intimate relationship. Although emotions and stress run high, an effort needs to be made to communicate about what kind of parents you will be and how you tackle different problems. But in order to keep the relationship healthy, you need both time together away from the kid(s) and time alone. You must work in a way to achieve those on a regular basis. It is not easy unless you have a reliable babysitter.

Early parenthood is difficult, but you should come out of it a better person and better couple. As for myself and my wife we had some pretty difficult and dark times. But it forced me out of my comfort zone and I’ve become a better father and a better person because of it. I suppose it depends on what you view as easy, but I’ve found that parenthood has gotten easier as the kids have gotten older.

Best of luck.

Built Environment

•November 8, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Built Environment

The Pritzker Pavilion by Frank Gehry in Millennium Park Chicago

Losing It!

•October 22, 2012 • 3 Comments

If you’ve been following my blog for a while you know about some of my experiences with diets. I’ve tried a variety of them and over the years some of the principles have stuck. “Avoid sugar and refined flour” and “Try to get enough sleep” have been two that I’ve found to be the most important. Of course trying to get in exercise is also part of it.

Well last year (2011), I lost something like 10 lbs, but managed to put the weight back on by the spring. After I changed jobs, I decided to enjoy my time in Old Montreal and explore all the new places to eat. In March our office encouraged participation in the 5/30 challenge. The challenge was to eat 5 servings of fruit or vegetable per day along with 30 minutes of exercise. Since I usually prepared the school lunches for the kids with fruits and vegetables, I prepared some more to include with my lunch. Then I set out to go for 30 minute (or more) walks either in the morning, during lunch, or after work.

I also remembered that my friend tornwordo had posted about an iPhone app called Lose It! I had never been big on calorie counting because it was so difficult to keep looking up things and then keep track, usually writing it down in a notebook. But the app proved to be incredibly easy. Their database of foods is quite extensive and there are only a few times you need to get creative. Once you find the food, you add the quantity and it subtracts it from your daily allowance. The daily allowance is automatically calculated for you using your weight and the rate of weight loss (or gain) you’d like to achieve. It also gives you credit for exercise.

This app has really taught me a lot about food, exercise, and eating habits. I’ve found that I am usually satiated after consuming around 600 calories per meal. If my calorie intake stays around that level, I don’t have major hunger pangs and I’m less likely to binge. You also learn to budget how much you eat at different points in the day and you prepare for how much you plan to eat in the evening or as a snack. I have learned much about calories per quantity of different foods. For instance the following quantities equal about 100 calories: 2 tablespoons of sugar, 1 tablespoon of oil (mayo), 2 tablespoons salad dressing, 1/4 cup of shredded cheese, 1/2 cup of yogurt, 1 1/4 cup of blueberries, 1 banana, 2 cups of broccoli, 13 cups of salad (no dressing), 1 1/2 slices of bread, 7 oz of juice, 4 oz of wine, 1 1/2 oz of vodka, 8 oz of beer, 1 1/4 oz of beef, 3 oz smoked salmon, and 3 oz of chicken. You quickly see that you can eat tons of fruits and vegetables with few calories, while beef, wine, and all types of oil will hurt your calorie count pretty quickly. It gives a great sense of what to avoid and what to choose. Though unfortunately ordering a Caesar salad at a restaurant is usually swimming in dressing.

Regarding exercise, higher intensity activities like running burn more calories quicker, but it is interesting to see how much you walk in a day. I started using a pedometer and found that I usually walk about two miles just between commuting and normal walking around at work. It becomes quite a motivator to exercise if your reward is enough for a scotch and a piece of chocolate (assuming you’re staying under your calorie allowance).

Using this system and continuing the principles of the 5/30 challenge, I lost almost 25 lbs between March 1st and mid-July. But then I went on vacation and went off the diet. I binged and didn’t exercise as much as I had planned, so I ended up gaining back 8 lbs. My end goal is still to lose a total of 45 lbs and get down to 180 lbs for my 5′-10″ frame. I’d even go lighter, but we will see how I feel and how I look at 180 lbs. Originally the goal was to lose all 45 lbs by Christmas, but for now I’m working on losing 13 lbs by then to get to 195 lbs.

Along the way, I signed up for an obstacle course race (that I’ll talk more about at a later date) as a goal from my exercise training. While training for that, I worked on my upper body strength through chin-ups for climbing ropes and push-ups for crawling along the ground. Now that the race is over, I’ve decided that I would continue that and set the goal of being able to complete 10 chin-ups and 50 push-ups by Christmas. I’m up to 3 and 40 respectively. I should be able to complete the push-ups, but we’ll have to see about the chin-ups. The later will be easier if the pounds come off.