Not Dead Yet #4: thoughts on obesity, exercise and life and fixing your lifestyle

This is probably the final in the Not Dead Yet series. I’m happy to say I’m not dead yet, and still able to write these things, in and around work, which is really busy right now…

It’s now two months since the event as I’m writing this, and I’d meant to write this earlier, but as life is won’t to do, it got a bit complicated, so now I want to summarize what’s been happening.

The good news

  • I’m still here. The blog is pretty quiet, but that’s because other parts of life are really busy and not leaving a lot of time for writing it. I am trying to slowly shift that back now that some other things that have been sucking up my brain are dropping off the critical path of life.
  • I broke under 385 today for the first time, notable because, among other things, that breaks the 30 pound line from my high, ten pounds since my ER visit, and around 8 pounds for the month.
  • The exercise is slowly improving, but I’m starting to notice things are getting better. But it’s still, honestly, slow and sometimes frustrating.  haven’t, however, gotten hurt doing it yet, so that’s something.

The longer discussion

I’ve been trying to understand how I got here, make decisions on what changes I have to make, and start getting those changes started and building the new habits and momentum that will push those forward. Oh, and I took a week off from work to travel to Mono Lake, where I spent a week around 8000 feet walking around and taking photos, and that didn’t kill me, either. It did, however, give me some confidence that I can actually push the exercise harder, if the knees will allow. More on that in a sec.

The weight that’s come off in the last year (my all time high was November 2013) is about 12% of the goal — 415 to 180. A non-trivial amount, but a long way to go, too. I’m not reading too much into this large drop this month, either, since my body has this tendency to try to protect a set point weight for a while and then give up and dump a bunch of weight all at once. It’s not unusual for me to grind out one or two pounds over six weeks, then lose 8-10 pounds in ten days (and go to the bathroom a lot as the retained water weight gets recycled). Why? I don’t know, it’s not like I’m in charge. I just work here.


It does give me the ability to declare a seven bottle event — remember that a two liter bottle is about 4.4 pounds. 30 pounds means I’ve deleted seven of those puppies. Stop and think about stuffing seven of those into a backpack and strapping it on and carrying it all day. And sleeping in it. And…

Do you notice it? The change tends to be slow enough that it’s not always obvious, but one day you realize it’s easier to put on your shoes. Another day you walk out the door and your pants try to fall off and you have to tighten your belt.

Steps up and down are easier, because gravity wins, folks.

Eventually you realize things feel better and some things  are easier to accomplish.

But it’s also just a start. Long way to go, and it’s not something that happened overnight, and not something that’ll go away overnight. Still, progress.

The weight chart right describes the problem. One caveat is that the early data, from before about 2007, is spotty at best and is estimated based on a few key values I captured — like wrestling in the 145 class as a sophomore in high school (summary: I really sucked).

That weight loss around 2009 was the diabetes trying to kill me. Waking up one morning and realizing that the weight loss I was seeing had absolutely zero basis in fact was what finally sent me to the doctor for tests. I do wish in retrospect I’d been more active about keeping that weight off after diagnosis, but I can’t go back and slap myself (and I was busy trying to hold my part of Palm together…)

The long and winding road

In trying to understand why I gave up on my exercise program, I realized there was a specific event — in 2010, I was out birding at a local birding hotspot, and I tripped and fell. I ended up effectively spraining the left side of my body and I was lucky I didn’t dislocate a couple of fingers, but it was a rather unpleasant six weeks while my body put itself back together again.

That seems to have been the last straw. The reality is that the last four times I’ve tried to build up an exercise program, I’ve ended up injured. Twice minor things, once it was the knee injury that led to the diagnosis of all of the knee problems (and the cortisone shots, and the ice bags, and the eventual knee replacements), and then this one. When you weigh this month, it affects your balance and center of gravity — I’m not joking when I joke about being a klutz. Even being careful about it, I have to be careful whenever I get off of a paved path. Some times a hiking stick helps, but other times with the gear I carry it gets in the way and makes it worse. And in this case, I caught the edge of the trail and went down hard.

And that was that. I basically stopped walking and stopped trying, because why bother? Every time I tried, I ended up under an ice bag or in front of an X-ray machine. Somewhere in the back of my head my body just wrote it off, without me really realizing it. I’d still tell myself I needed to, but always found some excuse to put it off. (I did the same to that birding location; despite being one of the best in the county, I’ve visited it maybe three times in the four years since, without even realizing I was shying away from it until recently. Guess what one of my winter projects is?)

It’s not even something I was consciously aware of. I’d decide to go out for a walk and visit the place (Shoreline Lake in Mountain View) and somewhere along the way, I’d decide to shift over to another place like Palo Alto Badlands, a lot more amenable to car birding. I was effectively editing my own decisions without really noticing.

So now I’m working to break those habits and get myself out on the trails and away from the car more. Not always easy with the knees, but the knees will benefit from more work and less weight, too. In the long run.

A side note to that — when I did the Fall Foliage workshop with Michael Frye, one of the things I did was successfully trip and launch myself head first into a creosote bush in the south tufa area during a pre-dawn hike, because I’m a klutz. And so there I am lying in a bush on the side of the trail taking inventory (“does the finger move? does it hurt? no? good. does the wrist move? does it hurt? No? good….”) and I could hear the discussion going on in the back of my head — klutz… loser… just give up… go back to the car… and then I realized I was getting pissed  about this instead, and it turned into a very determined Fuck this, let’s go take pictures…

And I did. And so if the 2010 fall and injury was the inflection point that pushed me into full couch potato mode, it was that workshop and that visit into the bowels of the creosote bush that was the point where it changed back and I started pushing my way back to activity.

Next steps

This is just a beginning. Part of a long process. The next step?

More steps. My overall activity is up about 10% from before the event. A good start, but just a start. One aspect of now working mostly at home is there’s a tendency to get up, sit at the desk, and not leave the room most of the day. That’s a tendency I need to fight by making time to get outside, or get on the exercise bike.

The list of next steps is a long one, and rather boring — thousands and thousands of them, in fact.

But in cases like this, there are no magic cookies, not short cuts, no secret hacks.

Just next steps…



Posted in About Chuq

Thinking your way through upgrading your camera gear

We’ve seen a lot of new gear aimed at those of us who love the high magnification and large telephoto lens side of photography — critter and bird photographers especially. this has had me mulling over how to update my recommendations on what gear to consider and what to avoid.

Also, given my go-to birding body, a Canon 7D, is aging and it’s replacement in the Canon product line is now available, I’ve also been thinking through whether to start planning upgrading my gear and if so, how?

I plan on upgrading my gear guide soon, but here are some working notes for those of you trying to understand what makes sense for those of us who spend our free time shooting pictures of very small, far away things that run or fly away if you try to get too close….

New Lenses:

Canon has (finally) released the new 100-400 lens, replacing the stalwart (but aging) older design. the previous 100-400 was the primary lens many of us used for Bird Photography on the Canon platform. The new 100-400 is about $500 more but seems well worth it. At the time I write this, it’s not shipping, but my strong recommendation is that anyone considering buying a 100-400 wait for the new version to ship and pay the extra money for it. It should be more than work it. I plan on doing some testing and will update this recommendation once I do.

Tamron announced it’s 150-600 lens about a year ago and got critter photographers drooling. Then Tamron evidently had serious manufacturing problems and it was at least six months after the promised release date before units started hitting the market. The results have frankly been mixed; I’ve seen many reports complaining about slow autofocus, especially in poorer light. I’ve heard too many stories of people with problems with the lenses requiring warranty repair, sometimes repeated trips. Overall, this lens seems to be a disappointment, so I can’t recommend it, which is too bad. I was hoping it would live up to potential, but it clearly hasn’t.

Sigma responded with its own 150-600, which is almost double the price of the Tamron. it’s also not shipping yet, but it’s one I plan on testing when I can get my hands on, but at it’s price ($2000) it’s not a cheap option but might be a cheaper option than buying a Canon 500mm or 600mm lens if it lives up to its potential. Right now, it’s too early to tell, and it’s definitely not a lens beginners should be considering at that price.

New Bodies:

Canon has released the 7D Mark II, the follow on to the 7D, which was a very good, prosumer-quality APS sensor camera. It had many features you’d require from a pro-quality body in a more affordable APS format. We could have the fun (not really) argument about APC vs. full frame, but what really mattered about the 7D was that it was an affordable body that turned out really good images at an affordable price.

The 7DmII has been trashed by some, especially the pixel peepers. the DXOmark review was brutal. On the other hand, the in-field reviews and the images I’ve seen have been pretty good. My belief is that the pixel-peepers are trashing it because the 7DmII is an evolutionary upgrade and not a revolutionary one. I think if you look at the 7DmII for what it is, as opposed to what your fantasy wish-list wanted it to be, it’s a pretty good camera and 7D users who want to upgrade or anyone who uses Canon gear who feels they need a more capable body can move to the 7DmII and will be really happy with it. That said, I haven’t tested it yet myself, but I’m looking forward to it.

Before you pull the trigger on a 7DmII, though, I think Canon users should look long and hard at the Canon 70D and perhaps rent one for a test drive before making a decision. It’s a good body with good capabilities, and it’s a lot less money and I believe most critter and bird photographers would rarely hit a situation where the 70D wouldn’t do the job for them — the one exception is how badly your field work could use the truly impressive weathersealing of the 7DmII.

If I were going to buy a replacement body for the 7D today, I’d have a hard time justifying the extra cost of the 7DmII, as much as I like the body. I’d buy the 70D, and I’d recommend it to most of you as well.

What I’m planning to do

What are my plans? For the time being, nothing. I love my current lens setup and the 7D is doing yeoman work and I don’t think I’m going to have an overriding need to upgrade it over the next year, barring theft or some catastrophic failure. It all works really well.

I’m also waiting to see how life over in the Fuji mirrorless universe matures. Fuji has announced a super telephoto for 2015 and the rumor is that it’s a 150-400 (and the Fuji has a 1.5x magnification factor, similar to a Canon APS sensor @ 1.6x). A 400mm lens with a 1.5x factor gives you the 35mm equivalent of 600mm, which would make it a perfect bird/critter lens, if it works well and the Fuji bodies can handle the field aspects of dealing with shooting these things. My feeling is that the XT-1 isn’t quite up to the task, but Dan Bailey has gotten really nice results with Fuji in his adventure photography work. The mirrors bodies are getting close to being able to handle anything we throw at them, and having already shifted my wide angle work to Fuji, I’d love to shift it all, if only to save weight and my back.

So my plan is to wait for the release of that Fuji lens, and see if fuji updates the XT-1. I think a Fuji body with similar capabilities to the 70D and a lens that rolls out to 600mm would be an incredibly nice combination, so I don’t want to invest further in Canon gear until I have the ability to evaluate whether I’m ready to make the jump to 100% Fuji gear. that will happen — sometime — in 2015.

But if I were going to upgrade the Canon gear, the only upgrade I’d consider would be upgrading the 7D to the 70D. If someone were to offer me a really nice discount on a 7DmII, I wouldn’t turn it down, though, but I just don’t think most non-working-pro photographers NEED a 7DmII when the 70D covers what we need so well.

Someone out there want to convince me the difference between a 70D and a 7DmII is worth the extra money?

Posted in Photography

Three Dot Lounge for November 16, 2014

Three dot lounge is a mostly-weekly collection of things that deserve more than a retweet. Stay tuned for fascinating opinions and pithy commentary. Also keep an eye on my Twitter feed for more interesting stuff.

Probe finds San Francisco Zoo gorilla pen unsafe

Probe finds San Francisco Zoo gorilla pen unsafe

Laurie and I were donors of fairly large donations to the SF Zoo for a number of years. We finally moved our donation money elsewhere for a a number of reasons, some of which included it being far enough away that we simply didn’t get up there very often, and when we went to member functions like night tours, they were so crowded they weren’t worth it.

But the big reason we pulled our funding was how poorly the facility was handling the upkeep and upgrading of its facilities (to be fair, at that time, the zoo was under the control of the City, which did an incredibly bad job of funding and a worse job of allowing the zoo to work around the city’s poor funding — since resolved by spinning the zoo out of City control). The zoo seemed to always have great plans to upgrade the facilities and poor ability to actually implement them.

The San Francisco Zoo is infamous for the Siberian Tiger escape that killed one person, but there have been cases of handlers injured during feeding, and now this tragic death of a gorilla.

Baby Lowland Gorilla

This was shot at that facility on my last trip in 2010. There’s a common theme among all three of the problems I mention: the two Tiger attacks both happened in WPA-era facilities that were planned for upgrades but never were; the Gorilla facility was built around 1980 and is 30 years old; the cause of death of the baby gorilla seems to be a combination of some operator inattention and a door without basic safety equipment (no beam alarm like every garage on every house has had for 25 years) and poorly designed and operating door mechanics.

I felt the facility the gorillas live in looked shabby on my last visit; state of the art clearly has moved on and the Zoo hasn’t updated the facility to match that. This lack of investment in facilities now has led to the death of their gorilla.

And unfortunately, given the people who have led the zoo over the years and the board that backs them, none of this surprises me. Which explains why they don’t get any of our money any more, and why my last visit there was four years ago…

this is an incredibly sad event, should have been 100% preventable, but wasn’t, and that just reinforces my belief that this zoo needs a complete reinvention starting with their executive and leadership teams. I don’t blame the handlers and the people on the ground, it’s not their fault the facilities at this zoo are so far behind state of the art.


Posted in Three Dot Lounge

Sandhill Cranes in Flight, Merced NWR

So hey, until I have time to actually get my Photo of the Day series going properly again, here’s one from my visit to Merced NWR to whet your appetite. Mostly unprocessed but worth a look…

Sandhill Cranes in Flight
Posted in Photo of the Day

Still here, life intervenes

More apologies for the radio silence, life continues to intervene. I had to head down to SoCal to visit mom and deal with some things for her, which, having finally gotten on top of everything at work, put me back a few days which I’ve been pushing to catch back up on. We’re still going crazy trying to get Cisco Live Milan ready (hint; you’re going to want to be there) as well.

I’m spending some time this weekend trying to push some of the writing forward; I literally have about eight pieces half written, and sooner or later they’ll actually show up here. There have been a lot of changes in the camera landscape (ba-dump) as well that will impact bird photographers, and so I need to update my recommendation pages for that (quick notes: Really like the new Canon 100-400; I keep hearing of problems with the Tamron 150-600 — when it works, it seems to be a nice lens if slow AF, but I’m hearing way too many reports of problems with it requiring repairs, so it’s not on my recommended list; and finally, the new Canon 7D Mark II looks to be a nice follow on to the 7D — it’s getting criticism in some corners, but that seems mostly because it’s an evolutionary upgrade, not a revolutionary one. More on all this ‘soon’).

I haven’t had a chance to write the final update in the “not dead yet” sequence. It’s next. But the quick note is that (a) still not dead yet, (b) putting together an exercise program is hard, and (c) the latest number is 386, which is the lowest I’ve weighed since 2007 and is putting me close to what I weighed when I left Apple, which is a symbolic landmark in my life I now call “when I decided I had to get my life together again”.

On the trip to SoCal, I made a quick stop at Merced NWR, and on the way home overnighted in Morro Bay where I spent some time trying to see the Bald Eagle that’s decided to hang out around Sweet Springs Nature Preserve (heard, not seen, and then the fog kicked in hard and killed my photography for the trip). Haven’t had a chance to touch any of the images, but the monitor calibration software I use just had it’s Yosemite-capable release and so I’m now calibrated again and it’s time to dig in and start processing all of my backlog. Except, of course, now I also have to calibrate the printer and papers, and….

It’s always something…

Posted in About Chuq, Birdwatching, Photography