Category Archives: Personal

Take a Picture of What You Eat

I recently discovered Time Management Ninja, and love the tips on it. A post from last month was about how taking photos can improve productivity:

Photos capture information that you cannot get via written notes. Taking pictures of an object or a document can provide more insight that simple notes.

The important thing is the ease of capture. Taking a photo is so easy that you’ll actually do it.

I just started keeping a fairly detailed food journal on paper. I have tried to do this on phones before, but they are just way too slow — even though the apps have access to tons of nutritional data, I really didn’t care about that — I just want to know a few things, like what it was, how much I had, and basically how healthy was it. A picture pretty much gives me the first two instantly, then I want to just tap a rating.

And, it’s effective. In 4-Hour Body, Tim Ferriss [1] cites a study that looked at photo food diaries:

Dr. Lydia Zepeda and David Deal of the University of Wisconsin–Madison enlisted 43 subjects to photograph all of their meals or snacks prior to eating. Unlike food diaries, which require time-consuming entries often written long after eating, the photographs acted as an instantaneous intervention and forced people to consider their choices before the damage was done. In the words of one participant: “I was less likely to have a jumbo bag of M&Ms. It curbed my choices. It didn’t alter them completely, but who wants to take a photo of a jumbo bag of M&Ms?”

The researchers concluded that photographs are more effective than written food diaries. This is saying something, as prior studies had confirmed that subjects who use food diaries lose three times as much weight as those who don’t.

I’ve been working on a way to do this (mostly to scratch my own itch), and will have more to say on that soon.

[1] Ferriss, Timothy (2010-12-14). The 4-Hour Body (p. 60). Crown Archetype. Kindle Edition.

Systems not Tactics

Today I was reminded about why I find Ramit Sethi personally motivating:

What you are seeing here is the game being played around you. Clueless people look at random tactics. They jump on the fad diet, the shiny budgeting software, the fanciest productivity tool. Smart people see behind it and realize any individual tactic is just a random tactic — but the SYSTEM of testing different approaches is profoundly important.

A lot of what he writes about is not just learning some technique, but implementing an automated system that forces you to apply something positive (even if not ideal).

For example, the video in the post explains how having a personal trainer forced him to meet his fitness goals because the cost meant that he would never miss an appointment, and the trainer’s advice was clearly better than him winging it. In his financial advice book, I Will Teach You to be Rich, he showed how to use automated savings and investment tools to make sure you save. Automating will beat your best intentions every time.

This resonates with me because, as a programmer, automating is second nature, but coming up with ways to automate your life are hard. Some things that worked for me:

  • CrossFit — It’s cheaper than a personal trainer, but not cheap. The payment is automated, so it motivates me to go, and the results have been amazing. Like a personal trainer, the workout regimen is also automated — just show up and do what they tell you.
  • Food Journaling with consequences— At my CrossFit box, I joined a club where we have to food journal or get punished with hard exercises. We also agreed to eat well, but journaling is the part that makes me stick to it, because we have to show our journal at the meeting. Sometimes I just pre-write the whole day in the morning, and just follow it — then my eating is automated — I can’t snack, because I didn’t write it down. Also, the meeting is automated, and the members hold me to my commitments.
  • (total self promotion) My iPhone app, Habits –It helps me remember to do some simple things like call my mom more regularly. I also useTraxItAll to track progress towards my goals. Finally, automatically sends me an email each day to ask me what I got done — I now have a nice calendar where I can see each day’s accomplishments.
  • Putting planning activities on my calendar — I made it a 2012 goal to spend time on the last weekend of each month to plan out the next. I put these dates in my calendar as if they are meetings, so I don’t schedule anything else.

Unlike a computer, we aren’t forced to follow our programs, but figuring out ways to automatically generating feedback, reminders, and motivation will help you stick to your plan.

2011 Lessons Learned

While looking over my 2012 goals, I realized that I hadn’t really thought about 2011. This year I want to practice regular renewal and recommitment to my goals. In the past, I achieved my goals more or less, but that wasn’t through a practice of recommitment. It was a chaotic result of my other obsessive behaviors. I am working to make this a more repeatable process this year by constantly evaluating where I am.

To that end, this is what I learned in 2011.

This year brought big changes in my professional life. Atalasoft was acquired, changing my job somewhat (more focused on product development, but with a more aggressive roadmap and bigger team). Having this focus has helped make sure we deliver our roadmap. Additionally, it has let me direct all of my energy at product management, which brought me to consuming the works of Horace DediuClay Christensen, and exposed me to the “Jobs to be done” framework, which has had a profound impact on my thinking. While trying to find out more, I met Bob Moesta, who generously spent an hour teaching me more details of the framework with plans to talk more about it.

Lesson #1: Focus allows you to make outsized gains in the area you focus on.

This year, I have found a purpose that has helped me improve my networking. Drawing from Seven Habits, I have long thought that the best “uses” of a network was to help people find each other for their mutual benefit, but I haven’t been good at thinking of ways to do that proactively.

Through my work with the local Regional Employment Board, my exposure to so many job seekers and employers, and my belief that high unemployment is the most important problem to help solve, I have set the broad goal of trying to make connections that result in hiring by myself and others. Additionally, I have blogged some practical tips about job seeking for programmers, and I tweet every good local tech job I see.

Lesson #2: A goal centered around a purpose is easier to achieve

My biggest goal of 2011 was to “get in better shape”, which I defined as having a BMI and health measurements (blood pressure, cholesterol, etc.) within normal ranges. I started the year trying out 4-Hour Body and trying to get back into running, but when that didn’t work, I finally joined Pioneer Valley CrossFit in June. In December, I got serious about eating better and adopted a paleo diet. I started 2011 at 180 pounds and ended at 153, with 80% of the loss after June. More than that — I am more fit than I have ever been in my life.

Lesson #3: Be willing to change tactics quickly if they aren’t working.

This year I hope that I apply these more consciously. What did you learn in 2011 that will make 2012 even better?

2012 Personal Goals

I was inspired by Heidi Grant Halvorson in the Harvard Business Review blog today to work on my 2012 goals:

Get specific. When you set yourself a goal, try to be as specific as possible. “Lose 5 pounds” is a better goal than “lose some weight,” because it gives you a clear idea of what success looks like. Knowing exactly what you want to achieve keeps you motivated until you get there. Also, think about the specific actions that need to be taken to reach your goal. Just promising you’ll “eat less” or “sleep more” is too vague — be clear and precise. “I’ll be in bed by 10pm on weeknights” leaves no room for doubt about what you need to do, and whether or not you’ve actually done it.

This is similar to the SMART philosophy of goal making (good goals are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely), which I try to follow.

Another influence on goal setting for me is Covey’s Seven Habits. The last one, Sharpen the Saw, suggests we work to increase our Mental, Physical, Emotional/Social, and Spiritual/Renewal capacity.

To that end, I developed these personal goals for 2012:


  • Publish 75 blog posts
  • Work 3 hours per week on personal coding projects
  • Publish 3 apps

Physical: work out 5 days/week, and

  • Be able to do 10 dead hang pull-ups
  • Be able to do 10 ring dips
  • Be able to bench press 155 pounds
  • Rx 30 workouts at CrossFit
  • Eat paleo food on 275 days


  • Do 100 hours of community service
  • Eat meals with 25 different groups of people


  • On last weekend of each month, spend at least two hours alone somewhere outside and unpopulated. Look over goals and plan the next month.

Gift a story for Christmas

I have a friend that is very hard to shop for. One day, for his birthday, I tried to make a list of everything he likes. After an hour, I had this:

He likes to tell stories

He’s one of the more prolific and interesting story tellers I know. So, from then on, it was a lot easier to think of ideas — I just tried to find a way for us to spend a few hours doing something weird. Fencing lesson, new restaurant (with food he hasn’t tried), kayak to an eagle’s nest — every one of these things has made it into his story repertoire (enhanced for the listener’s pleasure, of course).

Probably, there’s a story-teller in your life to help with a new experience. Really, though, couldn’t we all use that?

Planning out a Blog

As I mentioned last week, I am participating in National Personal Project Month (NaPerProMo) along with Plan B Nation and others.

My plan is to write every day, but publish on a once or twice a week schedule. This will help me build up a backlog of posts, so I have something to post even if I don’t have time to write. I also post about once per week on my work blog at Atalasoft, and I’ll probably use those posts as jumping off points.

To help me get started, I spent the last two weeks planning out what I want this blog to be about. In the past, I have had a hard time coming up with anything to write about. I had focused on programming (specifically iPhone programming), but I do most of my writing about that in StackOverflow answers, and my posts were just elaborations on common questions.

I came up with this plan:

  1. Pick five categories that I can write about.
  2. Brainstorm 10-20 topics in each category. If I can’t think of that many, throw out or alter the category.
  3. For categories that don’t pan out, try to find a spin on the topics I generated for it, so that they fit in one of the better categories.
  4. Pick a week’s worth of topics and put them in a queue.
  5. Each day write the next one, and put another in the bottom of the queue.

The topics that I ended up with are:

  • Software Business: This is obvious, since this is what I spend the bulk of every day thinking about
  • Programming: I have been programming for a long time, I have some personal projects that I want to open-source, and it also naturally fits into what I know and think about. I intend to get away from the more technical posts that I typically write, and focus on high-level ideas and follow my projects’ progress.
  • Programmer’s Job Market: Ever since I became a member of my local Regional Employment Board, I’ve been thinking more about the labor market and how it’s changing for programmers.
  • Reviews (books, apps, etc): I read a lot about marketing, business, and other non-fiction topics. I don’t read nearly enough for book reviews to be a category, so I expanded it to apps and other things that I use.
  • Riffs: Tweets, Hacker News, other blogs, my own past blogs — these are all fertile ground for topic ideas. It gives me an opportunity to link to others, and make this blog part of a larger conversation.

Some categories didn’t work out. For example, I am a CrossFitter, and recently joined my gym’s Paleo club. I feel like I have interesting things to say about that, but they are neither my expertise, nor are they similar to other topics I will blog about. I will still be able to fit it in somewhat, because one of my programming projects is related to this.

I recently switched over to Trello for managing personal information, here’s what my plan looks like in it:

The first column is the queue of upcoming posts, and the next five are the five categories I identified with a list of topics. I color-coded each category, so that the queue would show that I was mixing between the categories. The final column is a list of finished posts.

I am obscuring the topics because I don’t want to commit to these just yet, and since I generated more than 50 ideas, I know that some of them will never be done. I saved a full snapshot to possibly discuss later.

I also decided to turn on comments as an experiment. I’ve been using Disqus elsewhere on this site, and the latest RapidWeaver supports it for blogs, so I turned it on for now.

December is Plan B Nation NaPerProMo

A few years ago, to get myself ready for Rich Hickey’s Northampton Clojure talk, I decided to do an intense 20 Days of Clojure series, where I learned one new thing and blogged about it each day in March 2008, leading up to the talk. It was a great experience and probably the most popular content on my site.

Today, Amy Gutman, on her new Plan B Nation blog, is suggesting working every day in December on moving a personal project forward, or NaPerProMo (National Personal Project Month — a take on National Novel Writing Month).

I’m in.

My personal project will be to write 31 entries in this blog, although, like Amy, I will probably only publish a couple per week and save up the others.

In a comment on her blog, I offered participants a free copy of Habits, my iPhone app for forming habits, to all participants (until I run out of promo codes). If you want a copy, make some kind of public commitment to NaPerProMo (tweet, blog, comment on Amy’s site), and then let me know about it by using my contact page.


InnovateHolyoke is the online hub for information about the High Performance Computing Center that is set to open up in Holyoke in 2011.

The GHPCC planned for Holyoke will not only provide an invaluable increase in the computing capacity that would bring all these benefits to the partnering institutions. It would also serve as a showcase of green energy use and green facilities design, be scalable to meet the needs of additional partners and computational demands, and serve as a catalyst for economic, educational, and workforce development in Holyoke and the region.MIT had developed plans in 2007 to locate a high performance computing center in Holyoke due to the region’s quality access to the internet, affordable land, and availability of low-cost and renewable energy. The impact of the global economic recession led MIT to suspend their plans and subsequently reach out to leaders at the University of Massachusetts to jointly address capacity needs for high performance computing.

This is an important development for the region and will help to establish a technology hub in Western MA. I have been appointed to the education/training subcommittee as a member of the Regional Employment Board and will hopefully have more to share as we start the work of the committee.


A couple of friends and members of the Western MA Developers Group have started a PodCast called FounderCast that’s worth a listen if you are interested in software entrepreneurship.

The format is a roundtable of technology three company founders (@dougmartin@cemerick, and @paulhake). In the first three episodes they have discussed the tools they use (development and sales), how they got their first customer, customer service and other topics. The pilot is unedited and rough, so don’t judge it on that one — by the third episode it got significantly better. You can also follow @foundercast on twitter.