Thursday, June 29, 2006

Weekend Plans

I'm taking tomorrow (Friday) off and, at the last minute, our boss decided to give us Monday in addition to Tuesday off, so I'm looking down the barrel of a 5-day weekend. (Is that the worst use of metaphor ever?)

Tonight, Mosch and I are going to pick up a certain child we know (whose mom is a bit concerned about freaks on the Internet, thus the caginess) and take her home with us. She'll spend the night and hang out with us all day tomorrow too - what fun! She's a very smart, talented, and game 10-year-old, and for some reason, she likes us too.

We don't have any big plans (at my insistence), but she's bringing a bathing suit and a tennis racket so presumably we might swim and/or play tennis. It's a safe bet we won't sit around discussing epistemology all day. ("What do you suppose we should do next?" "Well, I guess that depends on what you mean by 'suppose'...")

I don't have any other weekend plans, but oddly, one of the things I'm most looking forward to about having 5 days off is being able to come spend some time at work dealing with the dreadful things that keep accumulating on my desk. My whole office is like a ball pit full of vipers, waiting to strike at any moment. And for some reason, it's very hard for me to take care of certain kinds of things (organization; filing; my job) while other people are around. Part of it is psychological, but part of it is because some of the people I work with continually disrupt my concentration by talking to me about crap. (For instance, I can be in the middle of an intense, time-sensitive, intense-concentration-requiring project, and my boss will still come in and say things like, "You know...I've been week I might have you start working on..." Tell me about it next week!)

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Not Being Diabetic

I wish I thought like this all the time:


Wal-Mart Debate in Slate

Slate this week has an interesting "dialogue" (an exchange of published emails) between Barbara Ehrenreich (author of a few books including Bait and Switch: The (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream) and Jason Furman (an economist) debating the merits of Wal-Mart.

I already posted my views on this topic, and they haven't been changed by reading Ehrenreich's opposing view. I doubt most people who have thought seriously about this issue will find their minds changed by reading the debate (there are four entries so far, two by each writer, with probably more to come).

What is interesting about the debate is how much the two sides (at least as represented by these two) argue past each other. They are really not speaking from the same frame of reference. From my perspective, Ehrenreich is really missing the point and not understanding some basic economic realities. No doubt from her perspective, Furman is missing the point about what is important and what our priorities should be.

Mosch and I argued recently about whether people who support and oppose Wal-Mart do so out of fundamentally different understandings of economics (my position) or because, despite agreeing on the various factors involved, they come to different views on the overall valuation. (I trust Mosch will post a comment if he disagrees that we had a discussion like that, but that was my interpretation, anyway.)

In any case, if you have an opinion on Wal-Mart and really don't know how other people can hold a different one, this article might educate you (probably about how wrong-headed the other side is, that being the nature of opinions, but anyway...)

Monday, June 26, 2006


I've had a cell phone for a few years now, first with Sprint and lately with Cingular.

Some people use their cell phone for most or all of their calls. Some people need to have a cell phone to make and receive a bunch of business calls. Some people only want a cell phone to call 911. But I fall somewhere in the middle - I don't like to make "real" calls with my cell phone; I have home phone service; but I like for Mosch to be able to reach me all the time, and I like to be able to call and check in at various times to make plans, etc.

So, for $45/month, Cingular had me on a plan where I got, I think, a couple hundred daytime minutes, plus unlimited nights and weekends. Of those daytime minutes, I probably used less than 30 per month, and I almost never called on nights or weekends. I would joke ruefully that for only $45 per month, I had a device that would always tell me the time, and it fit right in my pocket! Whee.

I lost that phone last week, and decided to look into prepaid service. Tonight, I got my new TracFone in the mail, and it is set up and working. And it rocks!

For $20, I got a phone (a very basic Nokia phone that turns out to be pleasanter, to me, than my old phone) plus 80 minutes of service over four months. The way the minutes and time works is that you can buy more time and more units (minutes of talk time) and everything rolls over, but for instance, right now my phone has 80 units and will go until 10/24, so if I don't buy more minutes by 10/24, I'll lose my service. But if I buy another card by that time, the extra time and minutes will roll over. I think I can buy a year's worth of service, with as many minutes as I'd need in a year, for around $100, which I'll probably do in October.

Activating the phone took a few minutes, but it was pretty painless. I've heard that TracFone's customer service is terrible, but hopefully I won't need it. Since very few people ever even have my cell number, if the thing breaks in a year I can just buy a new one and start over, if I can't get good support. Big deal!

This makes me really happy. My old cell service was costing me $540/year and I bet this new service will be under $150. I hated wasting money on something so dumb, and now I don't have to.

Saturday, June 24, 2006


Early this evening we had a terrific hailstorm. We have a skylight, so we got tons of crackly poundy sounds. Tigerlily fled and even our braver cat Sammy left the room once Mosch and I sprung up to check it out.

I tried to take pictures. Photographing hail is not easy because (a) the lighting is weird, (b) the hail itself blocks a lot of pictures of the rest of things, and (c) you don't really want to go out into a ton of heavy hail just to take pictures. Nevertheless, here are a few. I think they'll expand if you click on them.

This was my best picture of the actual hail, though you can't see much else. It actually wasn't dark outside either. I think the bright green speck is a leaf that was blowing by:

A bunch of hail accumulated on our balcony (and yes the thermometer is accurate):

And, as is often the case in Denver, we had a flash flood. These last couple pictures show the flooding and also the hail on the lawn:

The storm only lasted about 15 minutes, but it was pretty exciting while it did. A lot of ice was still on the lawn when I left a couple of hours later, though it was 60 degrees outside.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Early Morning Wake-Up

This morning I was woken at 5:30 by the sound of a car horn honking. It was kind of a small, tinny type of honking, so it might have been a small older car or a motor scooter or something.

5:30 is practically broad daylight around the summer solstice, and the birds were in full squawking mode, and we sleep with our windows open whenever possible (because it's nicer and because it saves money on AC), so once I woke up, it was tricky to fall asleep again, what with the bright light, the birds, and...oh yeah, the fact that the jerk kept honking (intermittently) for about 10 more minutes.

We like where we live now partly because it's quiet. Our last apartment, which was downtown, was not only on a busy street, but was peopled with college kids who got drunk at night and yelled up at their roommates from the parking lot and so on. Our current complex is so quiet that when we get home at 10:30 on a Friday night, we whisper until we get inside.

What is hard for me to understand is how a person can think it's OK to wake up a whole neighborhood of people - our street is chockablock with apartments, so it's even more dense than a typical street with houses - in order to get the attention of their carpool buddy, or whatever the honking was about. It's pretty obvious to me that you can't honk a horn for 10 minutes at 5:30 AM in a residential area.

Whatever. I did get to sleep again.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Epic Hike, Part 4

Please see Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

Do you want to know how tired I was when I got to the car at 7 PM? This is how tired (no, I didn't know my picture was being taken):

I was also filthy, largely because the sunscreen I wore made dirt stick to me all over, but partly from the gallons of Off Skintastic I'd sprayed all over. (Speaking of bugspray, I promised Mosch that I would point out that most of these photos came at the cost of his getting bitten by more mosquitoes. Oh, the sacrifices we make for art!) Mosch was supposed to drive us home, but I needed more of a break than riding in the car, so we stopped at a local Alco store and I washed up, and then we ate Mexican food at a restaurant in Winter Park and then we drove home.

I was sore and zombie-like all day Sunday, barely able to walk. I called in sick to work on Monday. Today is the first day I haven't had any effects from the hike.

The map says it was 8 miles, and you can see there was quite a bit of uphill and downhill in there. It took us over 5 hours, with only a few short breaks. If you'd asked me if I could walk 8 miles, I'd have said definitely not, but apparently I do have it in me. I figure if I did this every week, I'd either develop enough muscles not to be crippled by it, or else develop some kind of crippling long-term injury. But I don't think I'll find out.

Thanks for reading all of this, and I hope it was at least a little bit fun.

Epic Hike, Part 3

See Part 1 and Part 2.

I did not freak out at our position. I think I said something like, "Well, this will make an amusing story later," and, after a brief discussion of whether to go back to the Zoom Trail or continue down the Flume Trail, in which Mosch argued for continuing on because we had come quite a distance downhill (about 500' if you believe the map), we set off down the Flume Trail with a quickness.

We needed to walk 2.2 miles to the intersection with the Chainsaw Trail, and then somewhat uphill to the Zoom Trail, and then a bit downhill to the car.

Most of our path was through woods, with an occasional log to rest on:

And we crossed a big meadow:

And finally came to the one single bench we found along this whole trail, where I had a good rest for about 10 minutes while mosquitoes bit Mosch all over (I looked up at one point to see about 15 just on one of his legs). My feet were incredibly sore by this point, but the scene was idyllic. I'm only sad that the camera didn't capture the blue sky properly.

When we reached the Chainsaw Trail, I thought we were home free, but it turned out that most of the trail was a pretty extreme uphill chug (as you can see on the map) through picturesques woods that I was thoroughly tired of seeing.

Birds sang, squirrels rustled around us, the weather was gorgeous - a bit under 70 all day, sunny and with a cool breeze - but I was just dog tired. That last uphill bit really took the stuffing right out of me. I found myself not crying involuntarily, and not intentionally trying to cry, but involuntarily trying to make myself cry. (I couldn't even do that.) Mountain bikers would pass us, all fresh on their way uphill, and we would say hi, and, yes, great day to be out, and all that, but I really thought I might die.

So we got to the Zoom trail, and even that went on further than I'd expected, though it was at least downhill.

And eventually, the best moment thus far: we saw the car! Can you see it there between the trees? I was almost happy at this point.

Continue to Part 4...

Epic Hike, Part 2

Read Part 1 first.

Eventually, the trail we were on ran out, and we came to a sort of faint car track. We checked the GPS and our map, and it seemed to correspond to some dotted lines that would run up to the main road ("Aqueduct Road" on the map), so we took it. At this point, I also remembered that we had brought the camera specifically for blogging purposes, so here are me and Mosch on this car trail:

After a while, this path completely disappeared. Not only did it disappear, but it disappeared while we were scrambling up a very steep slope, moving a few big steps at a time, with much peril. (I'm probably exaggerating, but I am not great at slopes, and I was wearing tennis shoes, not hiking boots, which didn't help.) Mosch pushed on ahead of me and eventually found the road, which was a big relief.

Aqueduct Road is more or less paved, as you can see here. Reaching it was great because, in my experience, once you reach this road, it's a very quick jaunt home. We had the choice of going left (see the map), which would take us quickly home, or right, which would be a more interesting trip. Mosch urged the fateful rightward turn, so we did that.

I have to confess, I did not look at the map at this point (Mosch did), so in my mind, we only needed to follow this road and it would take us right to the car. In reality, we needed to turn right at the Zoom Trail intersection.

So we continued hiking for quite a while. I was thinking we should be nearly at the car. We had left the car at 1:50, and it was around 4:30, and I had a running bet with Mosch over whether we'd get back closer to 4:40 (my guess) or 5:00 (his guess).

And then the unthinkable happened. We reached the intersection with the Flume Trail. There was a marker for it. I was confused and I looked at the map. I said, "So how can we be here?"

I knew I was wrong, because I usually am when I think we're totally lost or that Mosch is totally wrong about the directions.

But I was not wrong. We had walked past the Zoom Trail by the entire distance to the car from where we should have turned, and our path home was going to be long, long, long.

This was kind of a crisis moment. I was done with walking. Remember I expected to see the car at any moment. (Look at the map to see how laughably wrong I was. We were at the intersection of Aqueduct Road and Flume Trail, which is the southwestern corner of our walk, or just about the furthest point from the car.) Would I freak out? Have a fit? Start crying? Fling myself on the ground and beg to be left for dead?

Tune in to Part 3 to find out...

Epic Hike, Part 1

Saturday, Mosch and I drove up to Fraser, about 70 miles away and on the other side of the continental divide, for an innocent hike - a ramble, really. We wanted to cover the same territory we had snowshoed several times this winter, and Mosch wanted to look for a grate he had lost. The plan was to eat some great New York pizza (at De Antonio's, the best I've ever had, and I don't think that's just the altitude talking) and hike for two or three hours.

I make maps for a living (when I'm not shuffling papers), and occasionally I get to use this power for my own purposes, so here is the map I made of my hike. This started with a scanned-in version of a very nice National Geographic topo/trail map we have of this area, which I tied to geographical coordinates, and to which I periodically add points from our GPS device. (The map will expand if you click on it.)

On this map, the red car symbol is for the parking lot, where we started. The red line is the path we took. The contour lines are 40' apart, and every point along the same contour line is at the same altitude. I posted a few altitude values at significant points.

Things started off pretty well. We left the parking area (proceeding southwest, or clockwise as you look at the map) and followed a trail that seemed pretty close to where our old snowshoe trail had been. (Needless to say, when you hike on top of 6' of snow, you can't see where the trails are, but we're somewhat familiar with these woods.) We had plenty of water and gear - my pack was 8 lbs, which is a fair weight for a day hike - but we didn't bring snacks since we had just eaten pizza.

More in Part 2...

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

My Net Worth

I was looking at the balance in my (meager) 401K today, and I decided to see if I could calculate my net worth. On the positive side went my two 401K accounts, my savings account, and the market value of my car (I used the middle value at On the negative side went my debt, including my car loan. I did not include the value of any of my ordinary possessions like electronics, clothing, etc., since I don't own anything particularly valuable.

To my surprise, my net worth is positive! I am proud to report that, as of this moment, I am worth about


Sunday, June 18, 2006

Friday Night's Adventure

I have to admit, after the adventure we had Saturday, Friday night's outing doesn't seem quite as awesome as it did at the time. Nevertheless, it was pretty cool.

We had planned a bike ride. There is a point we can drive to, a mile or two downhill from our apartment, that is right on a bike trail that goes west to Golden and east to the confluence in downtown Denver. It is the trail that Mosch takes every week when he rides to Golden and then up Lookout Mountain and back.

I wanted to try riding to Golden, but neither of us thought we would really make it. It's not a long ride - about 5.5 miles - but there are a couple of steep uphill parts between here and there. And I haven't ridden my bike in years, except once a couple of weeks ago. Nevertheless, we set out in that direction.

Early on, we ran into a young woman with a horse (we were in Prospect Park, where you can ride horses) who wanted someone to help her walk the horse home. She was horsesitting this horse and apparently it was skittish. I volunteered Mosch to walk her home and continued by myself.

When Mosch caught up to me, I was over halfway to Golden, and about halfway up the first of the steep hills. I'd never ridden on this trail before, of course, so I hadn't been at all sure what to expect. The steep hill was pretty crazy for me. I was in my lowest gear and moving so slowly that it took a lot of concentration not to veer off the path. My lungs were working at pretty much full capacity and my legs were hurting too. But I actually did make it to the top, at which point we took a break.

I didn't really want a break - I felt like going downhill would be a better rest - but the next steep hill was close by, so it was necessary. The next hill was equally steep, but not quite as long, and with some breaks, so I made it. After that, it was smooth downhill sailing into Golden, where we had a slice of New York pizza at Anthony's. Joy!

The ride back was physically easy - our car was about 500' downhill of downtown Golden, so most of the ride was very easy - but nevertheless perilous, for the simple reason that my bike currently lacks head- and taillights, and it was dark. Most of the time, I could see the path but not the details of the path, and I was just running along on faith, assuming there would be no rocks, bricks, pinecones, etc., to kill me.

Near the end, though, we went through some woods, and at times the path was made of black asphalt, and I was just watching Mosch's red flashing taillight about 50 feet ahead and following what I remembered of its path. (It was kind of like driving on the highway at night sometimes is, especially in a heavy rain.) If Mosch hadn't been there in front of me, I would have had to walk.

But we made it back without incident. I was incredibly high from the ride and excitement. I couldn't help remembering that when I first started biking in Denver, about 5 years and 60 pounds ago, we would ride 13 blocks, exactly 1 mile, to the park, and I would need two rest stops on the way (because the last 3 blocks were uphill, albeit so slightly that you wouldn't have noticed it if you were walking). Mosch would ride around the park while I rested, and then we would ride back.

So taking off and riding 11 miles round trip with a significant altitude change...that just rocks. (The whole trip, not counting the brief rest at the top of each hill, and of course not counting the time we spent at Anthony's, took an hour and 40 minutes.)

Friday, June 16, 2006

Weekend Plans

Tonight, Mosch and I are eating dinner at home (rare on a Friday night), and afterwards we plan to bicycle. It's been raining here today (relatively rare in Denver, and especially rare during the morning hours like today) and now it's clearing up, so it should be a nice cool evening for a ride. This will only be my second ride this season. I finally got my new padded bike shorts in the mail, so it shouldn't make me as sore as last time.

Tomorrow, we plan to drive to Fraser (pictured above), which is about 70 miles away in the mountains. We snowshoed there a bunch of times this winter, and Mosch lost a grate which he hopes to find (more for fun than because it's very important). The snowshoeing was steep, difficult, and perilous, and it will be fun to experience the same area in its summer aspect. We may have to actually stick to the trails, though - I'm not sure you can hike straight up through the trees the way you can snowshoe (or that it would be proper to do so).

An equally important attraction in Fraser is De Antonio's pizza, a real New York pizza place run by a real New Yorker. He's rude and everything! Hours of snowshoeing or hiking mean permission to eat a few slices and have a real Coke.

Panera Bread

Panera Bread is a chain restaurant. I've never actually been there, but we've had their food brought in for work lunches before, as we are again today. They basically make these sandwiches that are kind of compact and oily and delicious. I always thought they must be on the unhealthy side for sandwiches, but I used to enjoy them a lot.

Fortunately, they have nutrition info on their website (see link above), so you can find out just how unhealthy they are. And the information is scary!

For instance, their Sierra Turkey sandwich has 950 calories, with 14 grams of saturated fat (that is 74% of my daily allowance for saturated fat), and 2390 mg of sodium (more than my day's allowance of salt).

The Tuscan Chicken sandwich is a bit better at 720 calories, 7 grams of saturated fat, and 1530 mg of sodium.

You vegetarians can have a Portobello & Mozzarella Panini for 750 calories, 14 grams of saturated fat (37 grams of total fat), and 1200 mg of sodium.

Now from that, you are probably picturing big honking sandwiches that any sensible person would only eat half of, but no, that's the charming part. The sandwiches are actually very compact (as in the picture above, from their website). When you get the stuff brought in for lunch, they come wrapped as half sandwiches, but nobody would call the half sandwich a meal by itself. If I could eat only half of the sandwich, it would be a reasonable number of calories, but still unhealthy.

Knowing what I do about their nutrition, I'd certainly never go to their restaurant on purpose. I guess if oily sandwiches were my favorite food ever, it would be OK as an indulgence, like eating at Chuy's, but I'm not that fond of sandwiches, and calories are too precious to waste on mindless eating of things that are way more calorically dense than they seem. (Even at McDonald's, you can get healthier food than this.)

Oh, and for people who are concerned about additives and the natural-ness of food, this ingredient list does not inspire confidence (this is for the mushroom/mozzarella sandwich):

Rosemary onion focaccia [Unbleached flour (wheat flour, malted barley flour), water, potato pieces (potatoes, mono & diglycerides, sodium acid pyrophosphate, citric acid), asiago cheese (pasteurized milk, cheese cultures, salt, enzymes), olive oil, onions, salt, yeast, rosemary], portabella mushrooms (marinated with water, balsamic vinegar, soybean oil, dehydrated garlic, salt, sugar, spices, dextrin, garlic extract, corn oil, red chili pepper, chipotle pepper, natural flavors, natural smoke, xanthan gum and propylene glycol alginate for thickness, potassium sorbate-to protect flavor), carmelized onions (onions, soybean oil, balsamic vinegar, distilled vinegar, water, salt, dehydrated garlic, natural & aritficial flavor, potassium sorbate, caramel color, propylene glycol alginate, spices, xanthan gum, sucralose, calcium disodium EDTA), fresh mozzarella cheese (pasteurized cultured milk, enzymes, salt), basil, salt & pepper.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Week 6 Update

This is Week 6 of my 15-Week Plan. (I am starting to think my readers will probably be relieved to stop hearing about this in 9 weeks. Tough!) I didn't post an update last week, which would usually be a bad sign, but I think was just being lazy.

I actually had a pretty excellent week last week. I stayed in budget, ate a fairly healthy diet (with, as we've seen, a large number of vegetables and a few fruits included), and lost a few pounds. As of the beginning of this week, I'm 6.2 pounds below where I started, which puts me on track to complete my 15-pound goal.

I've still been doing strength training three times a week very consistently. Lifting the weights and doing the ab work is challenging, but I'm usually moderately happy on my way to the rec center, and I try not to think about the specifics until I'm in the thick of things. I leave exhausted, but find that when I go to bed on those nights, I have a feeling of tremendous well-being. I haven't noticed that I'm stronger in any non-gym context, but then again, my life doesn't really require any heavy lifting or I'd already be stronger anyway, right?

This week is going OK so far. I made an interesting vegetable side this weekend for my afternoon snack, but found that, after eating one portion on Sunday and one on Monday afternoon, I just couldn't eat it anymore. (I included sweet potatoes, which are almost the only vegetable I don't like, and I think that's what's putting me off it.) So yesterday I had Doritos for my snack instead. And then I decided to totally blow my diet and eat like a crazy person last night.

But I was able to un-decide it later, which is rare, so instead I had a low-calorie frozen dinner before going the rec center. After the weights, I still hadn't eaten nearly enough for the day, and I knew I needed some vegetables, but I couldn't really think straight (too hungry and tired), so I ate a can of corn. That was perfectly healthy and will help me satisfy my requirement for "starchy vegetables", which are the only category I ate none of last week. (I got in my dark greens, oranges, beans and peas, and "others", but I don't eat much potatoes or corn while dieting.) Before bed, Mosch cut up some cantaloupe for me (thanks, Mosch!) and I ate that too.

Getting Rich Slowly

If I am slowly getting rich, it must be at a geologic pace. But this blog, Get Rich Slowly, has been a consistent daily read for me for a couple of months now. The guy who writes the blog is not an expert, but does seem to have a knack for collecting and publishing diverse information about finance and thrift. Check it out.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Tennis Lessons

Tonight is the third of six group tennis lessons I'm signed up for. They happen on Mondays and Wednesdays for three weeks. The group has about 7 people in it, and we have one teacher. It was $30.

Unfortunately, even though I specifically didn't sign up for beginner lessons (the description says you should be at level 2 - 3.5 on this scale), it turned out that most people who signed up are beginners, so it's being taught as a beginners class.

What sucks is that I'm still only in the middle of the class, skill-wise. We learn shots that I can already make 9 times out of 10 and yet, when we line up and hit balls, I make them more like 2 out of 10 times. It's so unfair. I've realized that I really am never going to be good enough at tennis that I want to get worse in order to get better.

But I'm sticking with the class because, starting this Wednesday, we are supposedly going to get to play doubles. Also, I've learned something I never knew about hitting backhands (that you should rotate your grip) and it seems to have helped my backhands. I can't hit them in the class, but I was really good on Friday night when Mosch and I played for 2 hours.

Right now the class is not even exercise - just standing around hitting balls doesn't get my heart going. So I'm not counting it for the purpose of how many minutes of exercise I get each week, but I am counting it as meeting the requirement of daily exercise, because standing out in the hot sun for an hour is about all I can take.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Fruits & Veggies

One of my goals for this 15 weeks is to eat a lot of fruits and vegetables. I typically eat a lot of vegetables but no fruit whatsoever. I like fruit, but don't find it easy to fit into my diet since I don't tend to snack and you can't just mix it into a pasta sauce or something.

I went through my food journal for this week to see what I ate.

Overall, I had an average of 1.3 servings of fruit per day, and nearly 6 servings of vegetables. That's pretty excellent. (A serving of fruit is about 1 cup, or a normal sized piece of fruit. A serving of vegetables is 1 cup of leafy ones, or 1/2 cup of cooked or chopped up ones.)

This is what I had, specifically:

11 servings of beans
7 servings of broccoli
2 servings of onions
2 servings of tomatoes
6 servings of spinach
2 servings of mushrooms
3 servings of mixed greens, or salad, etc.
3 servings of cauliflower
4 servings of carrots
1 serving of sweet potatoes

2 servings of banana
4 servings of cantaloupe
1/4 serving of strawberries
2 servings of watermelon

Pretty cool!

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Incredible Nutrition Website

"Incredible nutrition website" may sounds contradictory (at least if you're not obsessed with the properties of foods), but this one is truly amazing: It's got a great database with all basic foods included (probably based on the USDA data) and a lot of other fast foods and whatnot included also. There's cool graphical analysis of the properties of various foods (for instance, how good they are for weight loss or gain, how nutritious they are, how complete are their proteins, what their ratios of fat/carbs/proteins are, and how they satisfy all of your vitamin and mineral needs).

It's all free. It seems to be supported by advertising. And you can add it to your Google toolbar, if you use that, or connect it to your search dropdown in Firefox.

But, seriously, stop reading all my blather and go there right now: Even if you don't need or want any of this information, it's just fun to play with. Seriously. I could do it all day.

Friday, June 09, 2006

High Deductible Health Plans

A long time ago, Debbie wrote about Health Savings Accounts. Many are familiar with the type of thing she wrote about - an account into which you can voluntarily put some of your paycheck, to be used for anticipated medical expenses. You lose the money at the end of the year if you don't use it.

I have a Health Savings Account, but thanks to some newer laws, it is much nicer. It goes along with the high-deductible health insurance that I have through work. If your work does not offer health benefits, though, you can still buy a high-deductible health plan with an HSA for yourself.
My health insurance has a deductible of $1250 per year, so every month, $104 is withheld from my paycheck (pre-tax) and put into the HSA account. I can use the HSA funds to pay the deductible when I get medical services or prescriptions, but I can also use it for any other medical expenses (including something like LASIK eye correction surgery, or a weight loss program), even if they are not covered by insurance.

The money in the account doesn't go away at the end of the year; it stays there and as long as I have a high deductible health plan, I can use it as described above. At retirement age, it acts like a 401K and I can use it for anything I want.

Meanwhile, the insurance still serves a purpose. It is a PPO (preferred provider thingy), so when I go to the doctor, her bill for (for instance) $150 goes to the insurance company, they correct it to $80 because that's what she has to agree to in order to be in their network, and then the $80 bill comes to me to pay from the HSA.

Once I meet the deductible, any further expenses are covered by the insurance.

Since my insurance is provided by my employer, I don't know what it actually costs - they pay the whole thing, and all I pay is the money that goes into my own account.

Although this is more complicated than regular insurance, I like it a lot. I like seeing the money pile up in the account. I think spending your own money encourages you not to be wasteful. This is a nice new legal option for individuals who have to buy their own coverage as well. (I had a high-deductible plan years ago and it was pretty cheap - something like $500 for the entire year. Obviously it's more difficult for older people and those with pre-existing conditions to get covered at a reasonable price.)

Thursday, June 08, 2006

I'm Back

Blogger has been down for a day or so - perhaps intermittently, but every time I've tried it, in any case. Hence the no posting. I did write one post, which I'll put up tomorrow from work.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

The Year in Weight Loss

As many if not all of you know, I've lost about 55 pounds over the past few years. I started off quite fat, so I'm still fat now, but I have a lot more energy and am a lot more athletic than I was at my previous high. So that's good.

But last year, 2005, was pretty bad. I started out by losing weight for a while, so that I was about 12 pounds lighter than I am now, but then I gained over 20 pounds. Eating lunch out almost every single day (Mexican food, no less) with a coworker didn't help, but in general I just couldn't string together even two weeks in a row of good diet behavior.

This year, I joined Weight Watchers with the coworker I was lunching with, partly because WW was what I had threatened myself with if I ever couldn't succeed on my own (now I don't know what to threaten myself with!) and partly because, by enlisting the aid of the coworker, I could resist going out to eat unhealthy lunches and stuff.

We started this on 1/10, and as of today's meeting, I've lost 9 pounds. (2.8 of those have happened since the start of the 15-week plan.) Losing 9 pounds in 5 months is not exactly the kind of result that anyone who goes on a diet is hoping for (no matter how many lies they tell, as I always do, about being happy with a slow and steady rate), and it's been 5 months of ups and downs, little losses and little gains, and it's been hard to see the pattern through the chaos.

But 9 pounds in 5 months is an average of 0.06 pounds per day, which corresponds to a calorie deficit of about 214 per day. That's not an insignificant calorie deficit, and it would mean losing 22 pounds this year if I kept up the rate. I don't know if that will happen or not, the 22 pounds, but if I look back next January and see 20 pounds or more lost in 2006, I'll be extremely pleased.

Monday, June 05, 2006

My Job

Some of you may wonder what I do all day. Well, when I'm very lucky, I get to do this:

Acreage Map

This is a map of some acreage recently acquired by my company. (I've removed the labels that would identify where the acreage is - the grid shown is the standard township/section grid used for land survey in most of the United States.) I worked on this for about 4 hours on Saturday, and all day today so far, and I'm about 40% done with this phase of the project.

What makes it take time is that many of the descriptions use metes and bounds - that is, detailed descriptions of the distances and angles that describe the tracts. You can tell these tracts because they are the squiggly and irregular ones.

Here is an example from one of the leases I mapped today, chosen because it's one of the shortest:

That part of the SW/4SE/4 being described as beginning as the SE corner of said subdivision and run North 3.30 chains; thence North 75 deg. West 7.00 chains to a stone; thence South 16 deg. West 5.50 chains to a stone on the South boundary line of said subdivision and thence East 8.00 chains, more or less, to the point of beginning, containing 3.40 acres, more or less.

See! I have a fun job!

Sunday, June 04, 2006


This morning, after I made my grocery list for the week, I decided to go to Wal-Mart instead of King Soopers (the Kroger-owned grocery store next door) since I needed some underwear too.

Groceries at the Wal-Mart Supercenter (about 2 miles away) are much cheaper than at King Soopers, but the selection is somewhat different. It may be that the selection is of equivalent quality, but I don't shop there as often, so I don't know how to fully exploit it. They don't have items as consistently as at KS, and of course, the place is a madhouse.

But I did well today. In fact, so many things were significantly cheaper than at KS that I ended up stocking up and thus spending more than I had intended. Because I am always thinking about you guys, I lined everything up when I got home and took a picture (which will expand if you click on it):

All of this together, plus a package of gum that went straight into my backpack, was $43.48, which is pretty cheap for Colorado. The organic beans at Wal-Mart are particularly cheap at 88c/can, hence my willingness to buy them.

A lot of people hate Wal-Mart, for both rational and aesthetic reasons. I think the aesthetic reasons mostly come down to a kind of classism - Wal-Mart is filled with poor people with all their kids, and they don't have cute upscale stuff like Target does.

As for the rational arguments against Wal-Mart (for instance that they kill local businesses, underpay and don't provide enough benefits for their workers, and so on), I think Wal-Mart does more good than harm. If people were so fond of local businesses that they were willing to pay a premium to shop at them, they would - and in many cases, of course, they do. And for every person who works at Wal-Mart for "substandard" wages (i.e., the best wages that person was able to obtain, but not as much money as would be ideal), there are 50 or 200 or 1000 people who are able to live better lives because of the money they can save by shopping there.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Week 4 Update

This is Week 4 of my 15-Week Plan.

I'm still on target with exercise. Other than Mondays (my planned day off), I haven't missed a day yet. I've been doing strength training three times a week, and something aerobic the other times. This week, Mosch and I went on a bike ride.

I have not actually ridden my bike in a few years. I injured my neck a few years ago and couldn't do it for a year or so, and after that, I just didn't start again. But we had a wonderful ride down a nearby trail along a stream for 35 minutes. Delightful!

Tomorrow (Saturday), I meet with my personal trainer again. And on Monday, I start tennis lessons! I signed up for two sessions of lessons, each lasting three weeks and meeting twice per week. It was $30 per session, which is pretty reasonable ($5 per actual lesson). They are group lessons, of course. I had group lessons last year (or was it the year before? is that possible?) and really enjoyed them. At any rate, it's guaranteed exercise.

On the eating front, things have not been as smooth. I flipped out slightly last weekend and overate, putting me at something like 1100 calories over budget for the whole week. (I estimate that my current calorie budget creates a deficit of about 300 calories under maintenance per day, so I still should have come out under maintenance.) This week has been fine except that on Monday, at J's house, I snacked on chips all day and then had a large, delicious dinner of things cooked on the grill. Since then, I've been staying even or making it up, but I'm still about 800 calories over budget for the week, and I doubt I'll make up very many over the weekend.

It's hard to stay focused on eating well when I always want to eat more and differently. But life is good.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Small Template Changes

I made a couple of small changes to the template for this blog. (That's the code that determines how the blog is displayed. I didn't write the code myself, but I have experimentally tweaked it.) Let me know if this causes any problems to your viewing, like things running off the screen or crazy fonts or anything.

Red Beans & Rice

This week's lunches are red beans & rice. I made eight small (400-calorie) servings of this over the weekend for less than $4.

I've known how to cook red beans & rice since I was a kid. It's pretty easy, especially if you don't try to get all fancy with it. Ingredients (this time): one bag of dried kidney beans, 1 lb. turkey smoked sausage, two small onions, garlic, olive oil, and spices.

After soaking the beans using the "quick soak" method described on the bag, I put them in a pot with the two onions (chopped up), about 4 tsp of minced garlic (from the jar in the fridge), 2 T olive oil, and seasonings including cayenne pepper, parsley, and basically anything that smelled like it should go in there. I covered all of this with water and let it simmer for a couple of hours. (It takes longer here because of the altitude.)

When the beans were about done, I sliced up the sausage and added that. I also took out a bowl of the beans and mashed them up with a potato masher and added them back - this is how you make red beans & rice instead of bean soup. While all of this continued to simmer, I cooked one cup of brown rice in two cups of water. Then I mixed everything together.

As I said earlier: 8 delicious meals, less than $4 expenditure. In New Orleans, this was traditionally cooked on Monday (washing day, so you wanted something easy to make) using the bone from Sunday's ham (in lieu of sausage).

Happy Birthday, Mom!

Today is my mom's birthday. Happy birthday, mom!