Friday, December 04, 2015

Mindfulness Eating and Weight Management

[NEW: This blog post was updated on 20 January 2016. The new material is at the bottom of the post.] 

In May, 2011, I wrote a blog post about how I used calorie counting and vegetable to lose 50 pounds (

Since that time, my weight has gone up and down. I travel a lot for my work, mostly to Asia, and when I travel I cannot count calories. In addition, I want to eat the local foods when I am overseas, so I pay less attention to limiting my calories. I usually gain between 5 and 10 pounds when I go to Asia, and I usually lose it in a couple of weeks (sometimes more) after I get back to calorie counting when I get home.

For the past year, however, even my lowest weight has been somewhat higher than I would like it to be - in the range of 165-169. In part, this is because I have been traveling so much. But also because there were limits to how much I was willing to cut my calories ... until now.

More recently, I wrote about my three months in Taiwan and how I "discovered" Buddhism. After getting back to the US from my most recent overseas trip (two months in Japan), I decided to apply Buddhist mindfulness meditation practice to eating. I called in Mindfulness Eating. Soon after I started doing this, I learned that my daughter learned mindfulness eating in a mindfulness meditation class that she had taken a year or so ago. So I did not invent this, and an online search on "mindful eating" will bring forth a lot of articles and books on the topic.

Mindfulness, or mindful, eating with intention -- only doing one thing at a time -- only eating and not doing anything else. It is focusing on your food as you eat it, and not multitasking with other things (like reading a newspaper). It can help to turn off the TV and radio, and even to close your eyes if you are alone. It is preferable to not talk to other while you are chewing the food, though that can be hard, so I am careful not to go too far. Chewing is complete, as you savor and enjoy the changing taste and texture of the food as you consume it.

All I can say is that it works for me!  This past week, by using mindful eating, my daily calorie count has been under 1400 a day, and my weight has quickly plummeted to levels that I have not been at in about a year.  Today, I ate less than 1000 calories (including a granola bar), and I feel fine. It takes me a lot longer to eat my food than anyone else in my family, but I am eating only about half as much as most others. I am still counting calories, although I plan to stop doing that and just do the mindfulness eating once I reach my goal weight of 159 (very close to it now).

So, the lesson here is that Calorie Counting combined with Mindful Eating is an incredibly powerful way to lose weight. 

I have another trip in a month or so, and I will update this blog with a report on how it goes with mindfulness eating on the road....

[UPDATE: 20 January 2016]

It has been a month and a half since I wrote the post above. During that time I have made a couple of week-long out-of-state trips, which have challenged my mindfulness eating and weight management -- as I totally expected.  Here is what I have experienced...

I gained weight. No surprise. The reasons are also very well known to me, and include:

  • I was not counting calories (I never do when I travel)
  • My will power to resist new and interesting foods was quite weak (which also always happens when I travel)
  • I ate out a lot, which usually means foods that are tasty, but high in calories and salt

The one new thing was that I was trying to remember to eat mindfully. Again, my will power and memory to do that was not as steadfast as when I was at home. But at least I was doing it some of the time. I am now clearly the slowest eater in my family!

The result of mindfulness eating while traveling was that I did not gain as much weight as I might have if I were not being mindful. I can't say for sure, but I think that is true.

I have now been home for a couple of weeks from my last trip. When I first got home, I tried to see if I could lose weight using mindfulness eating alone. Well, mindfulness alone was not very successful for me. I managed to lose 1.5 pounds after a week being home, which could easily have been due to eating less salt.

I came the conclusion that mindfulness is able to keep me stable (not gaining weight), but it was not enough to get me to lose weight at the rate that I am used to after I get back from a weight-gaining trip.

So after more than a week of that, I decided to go back to the combination of calorie counting and mindfulness.  This accelerated my weight loss, as I expected, though I did get stuck at a plateau for 4 days -- those things happen.

I am now back to my goal weight, which for me means that I can stop counting calories and just rely on mindfulness eating to maintain that weight. Although I am just starting that, I feel confident that it will work -- until my next travel food adventure, at least!

Saturday, April 04, 2015

Budding Buddhist

[NEW: See my new blog, Budding Buddhist <>, where I am not posting my thoughts, impressions and understanding on Buddhism-related things.]

5 April 2015

Taiwan is my kind of place: exotically different and challenging, while still being relatively easy to comprehend. It is a place, for example, where I feel I can safely and comfortably drive a car, despite not being able to read many of the road signs.

I first visited Taiwan in July 1976, on summer holiday while an undergraduate exchange student studying Cantonese at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. I spent a week with another American student visiting Taipei, Taroko Gorge, and Penghu Island. My impression, as best I can recall, was that Taiwan was a beautiful island (scenic mountains and coastlines), but that the people were a bit strange, probably because at the time they were under martial law and tensions with mainland China were very high with the impending death of Mao Zedong in September 1976.

I did not return to Taiwan until November 2010, when someone I met at a conference in China invited me to give some lectures at his university, and then had me join an urban geography field trip with his students. This time, I not only found a beautiful island, but also a beautiful people. Taiwan is less crowded than Hong Kong, and much more relaxed and easy going than mainland China. I think the openness of Taiwan in terms of its democracy and freedom of speech (and internet access) has created a culture that is more courteous in public spaces, friendlier to strangers, and more respectful of individual diversity, in comparison to mainland China. It is also more traditional and mostly Taoist, although Buddhism is also everywhere. It sort of reminds of the culture I see in American Chinatowns, though at a country-wide scale.

I came here to do research and to write a couple of articles, while attached to National Dong Hwa University on the less populated and very scenic east coast of the island. That area also has frequent earthquakes, although I have not yet felt one because I was out of town when a 6.0 occurred recently! The research is going well, and I am finally getting over some serious writer’s block.

View from near my apartment on the National Dong Hwa University campus, Hualien, Taiwan

Something totally unplanned and unexpected, however, has come to consume a good part of my attention: Buddhism. While I have long appreciated Buddhist traditions, more so than any other religion that I have been familiar with, I never felt comfortable actually calling myself a Buddhist. After two months in Taiwan, I think now might consider myself a Buddhist – maybe.

My slide into Buddhism came through several stages. Over 41 years ago I learned Transcendental Meditation during my freshman year in college. I have practiced TM fairly consistently since then, though sometimes I only meditated once a week.  When I developed high blood pressure over a year ago, I decided to see if I could reduce it by more consistent meditation (which has not really worked, for me at least).  I even attended a weekend TM retreat Tucson last Fall 2014. And I also started attending yoga classes with my wife, who goes to them daily when we are home.

Also about a year ago or so, I stumbled on the Audio Dharma podcast by the Insight Meditation Center ( in northern California. I would often listen to these Buddhism talks (and occasionally other new age podcasts) late in the evening while working at home – after my tech and other news podcasts.

So then I came to Taiwan in January 2015 for a 3 month sabbatical research stay.

I got here a couple of weeks before Chinese New Year, which this year is the Year of the Goat – which is also my birth animal year. I thought that would be good, but I soon learned that it is actually very bad for me. I spent CNY with a friend’s family and he took me to a Kuan Yin (the Buddhist Bodhisattva of Compassion) temple so we could do the standard prayers to overcome all the bad things that were in store for me this year. While I had made incense offerings occasionally at other Chinese temples, this time I took it more seriously – not sure why, as I am not normally superstitious. Another friend arranged to have a small golden Buddha statue to be dedicated at her family’s temple in my name (and that of a couple of other Goats) to bring us good fortune for the year. Possibly because of these two event, I have come to take all such Chinese temple offerings more seriously than I had before – which is something new for me.

I should also note that being a Goat-year person, I am approaching my retirement decade, so that has also been on my mind during this sabbatical. When I arrived at National Dong Hwa University, I met someone I had known for several years, who is also looking at retirement and who said that he is becoming more interested in Buddhism than in his university career. It also turns out that my primary host here is a devoted student of Buddhist thought. So in addition to talking about research and teaching (‘talking shop’) we would also talk about Buddhism – what I was learning in my podcasts (which are based in the Theravada Vipasana tradition) and what she had learned in her more Mahayana Buddhism classes. I eventually taught her how to meditate (because it was not part of what she was learning) based on my knowledge of Vipasana mindfulness meditation and TM, and we talked a lot about the role of meditation in Buddhism practice.

Meanwhile, I had contacted the Taiwan TM Center to see if, by chance, they might be having a meditation retreat that I could attend. It turned out that they were having a retreat and it was schedule start on the day that one of my field work trips was going to end, and in a location very convenient to my research site. It could not have been a better coincidence. So I attend the 3-day TM weekend retreat. Over two weeks after that retreat, I still feel that it has been a life-changing experience.
TM is based on Hinduism, not Buddhism. However, Buddhism (in its different forms) emerged out of the Hindu tradition, so while different, there are many ideas that are similar. For me they all work together very well. Without going into too much detail, the TM retreat opened and resolved some deep stresses (‘attachments’ or ‘dukkha’ in Buddhism), much more so than my last retreat. Since that retreat all I want to listen to are my Audio Dharma podcasts. I am almost afraid to listen to my old tech and world news podcasts because I am not yet ready to end this retreat experience, and returning to them might be sign of that! I have also been preferring vegetarian foods over meat even more than I had before (though I do still eat meat).

So I have been learning a lot about Vipasana Buddhist practice, taking notes of the most interesting things, and have had many discussion on interesting Buddhism topics with my friend here as well as with my wife. My friend has also shared some of the key books (online English versions) that she has been studying from with the group she is part of. The main books are:

      The Noble Eightfold Path: The Way to the End of Suffering – by Bikkhu Bodhi (1999) -  -

-        The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment – by Tson-kha-pa (1402) – translated by The Lamrin Chenmo Translation Committee (2000) – in 3 volumes

The element of Buddhist thought that has influenced me the most is the Eightfold Path, which is the prescription that the Buddha gave to overcoming the suffering (disappointment) of life. The path consists of:
1. Right View, and 2. Right Intention (Wisdom; Prajna)
3. Right Speech, 4. Right Action, and 5. Right Livelihood (Ethical Conduct; Sila)
6. Right Effort, 7. Right Mindfulness, and 8. Right Concentration (Mental Discipline/Centered Mind/Meditation; Samadhi)

The more I came to better understand these eight principals of Buddhist practice, the more strongly I felt that these really are the best guide to leading a more satisfying and ethical life, and for creating a more caring world. (That perspective, by the way, largely encompasses the Right View and Right Intention parts of the Eightfold Path.) As I ponder decisions related to my career, I turn to Right Livelihood as my guiding principal. As I consider my relations with others, I want to be seen as someone who can be trusted with Right Speech and Right Action. And through my practice of meditation and yoga, and learning from Dharma talks and books, the paths of Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration help me to achieve more balance in my life (I hope).

This is what I have come to in the first two months of my sabbatical here in Taiwan (along with doing my research and writing). When I came to the east coast of Taiwan in 2012 to give a keynote speech at a tourism conference, I felt like this was a very special place, with its clean air, mild temperatures, towering green mountains, and dramatic ocean vistas. I told my host at NDHU that I wanted to return here for my next sabbatical, little realizing that it would be more than just a research sabbatical.

It currently feels like a milestone experience for me, laying a foundation for many years to come. As I have come to understand the deep, but very flexible and open, philosophy of Buddhism (which results in many different forms of practice for different types of people), I can now confidently say that I am comfortable with adopting Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path as the best guide for my life, and that yes, I am a Buddhist.

Taroko Gorge National Park, Hualien County, Taiwan

[NEW: See my new blog, Budding Buddhist <>, where I am not posting my thoughts, impressions and understanding on Buddhism-related things.]

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Oh Cambodia!

Oops - Wrong location - Sorry, my fault.

Please Click Here to go to my Oh Cambodia! blog post.

Alan A. Lew

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Reflections on a 10 Year Old Biographical Note

I noticed a missing image on my personal homepage at Northern Arizona University (  While fixing it, I decided to update the photo of myself at the bottom of that page, which was about 15 years old.  I also noticed a link to a "biographical note", which I remember being there, but which I had not touched in awhile -- in fact, I probably not in at least ten year.

Below is what that 10+ year old biographical note said, in bold, with a comments added by me today [in italics in brackets].


Alan A. Lew, Ph.D., AICP
Biographical Note - written to introduce me to students in the classes I teach at NAU [I used to link this to my class syllabi.  Maybe I need to check if that is still the case!]

I was born and raised in Sacramento, California to immigrant parents. My father was from China and my mother from Germany. They met in Canada after WWII and I was born a year later. I left Sacramento shortly after high school and a wasted year at Sac State. [Ouch, a "wasted year"? On reflection, I may have been on academic probation after my first semester, and while I was not really interested in school that first year, it was not really "wasted". I had a lot of growing up to do, which started at that time.]

I spent a summer hitch-hiking across the Pacific Northwest and Mountain West [People hitch-hiked a lot more in those days. I would not recommend it today, if only because it is so uncommon.], then 2.5 years in Hong Kong where I learned Cantonese [Actually, it was 2.25 years, and on 1.5 of those were spent learning Cantonese].

After about 7 years and 6 different schools (including the University of Hong Kong, San Francisco City College, and UC Berkeley-where I studied Mandarin) [Actually, it was 8 years and 7 schools. While that worked for me, I hope none of my own children follow in those footsteps due to the much higher cost of education today.], I finally finished my B.A. in geography at the University of Hawaii at Hilo (on the Big Island). It then took me only 5 years to complete two masters degress (one in geography and one in urban planning) and my Ph.D. in geography at the University of Oregon.

I came to NAU after completing my Ph.D. in 1986 [Over 25 years, as I write this in 2012. It sounds like a long time ago, though it feels like yesterday!].

I have since taught as a visiting professor at the University of Tubingen (in Germany) and at the National University of Singapore [I have now taught twice, now, in Singapore. And as I write this blog post, I am spending a semester on a Fulbright research grant in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia. In fact I have spent over 3 years of my life, so far, in Singapore and Malaysia, and about the same amount of time Hong Kong and neighboring Guangzhou, China].

In graduate school I came to focus my research on tourism, as subject which brought together my diverse interests in environmental perception, built environments, and travel. My interests have primarily been in Asia, especially Southeast Asia and China - both of which I have visited many times. [All of this is still true, and my interests continue to revolve around these topics.  Some things just do not change much.]

I am hoping to spend my sabbatical leave in Fall 2000 at a university in Hong Kong studying the tourism situation in China. [I ended up at the HK Polytechnic University looking at overseas Chinese travel to China and at international travel patterns of Hong Kong residents.]

I have also done a fair amount of work on tourism in small towns in the Western US, and after coming to Flagstaff, I have been doing work on tourism on American Indian researvations. [I do not focus on these areas any more, though I have had several graduate students who have done research on these topics.]

I have edited several books on tourism, including the first scholarly book to be published on tourism in China and the first one ever on tourism on Native American lands. [I have now also written a couple of books since I wrote this original bio note, and edited several others.]

I am also the editor-in-chief of a new international academic journal titled, Tourism Geographies. [My journal is doing really well these days. The publisher is happy, which keeps me happy. And I might add that I was made a Fellow of the International Academy for the Study of Tourism in 2011.]

Courses that I regularly teach at NAU include: [Most of these are now taught by adjunct instructors using my content.  I still monitor the classes and try to keep the content up to date.]

- GGR 346 - Geogaphy of the US [now GSP 220]
- GGR 576 - A graduate seminar in Tourism and Recreation Geography [this is no longer offered due to demands for me to teach other classes and NAU's requirement to drop classes with relatively low enrollments]
- PL 376 - Planning for Sustainable Tourism (web-based) [now GSP 276]
- PL 431 - Computer Mapping for Planning (an AutoCAD class) [this is no longer taught for a variety of reasons that are too long to get into here ....]
- PL 405 - Planning Studio (the capstone class for Public Planning majors) [other people now teach this, which has been relabeled as GSP 405]
- PL 406 - Planning Methods (spreadsheets and powerpoint presentations) [I now teach this as GSP 406, which coconvened with GSP 506 -- a graduate level class. The title is been tweaked as it now includes a social media element.]
- UC 101 - University Colloquium (topic: sustainable communities) [this class is not longer offered by NAU]
[In addition to the above, I now teach:
- GSP 421 / GPS 521 - Planning Law and Ethics, which I developed when we lost the lawyer who used to teach our planning law class following the 2008 economic crisis and subsequent university budget cuts.
- GSP 240 - World Geography - West, and GSP 241 (online) - World Geography - East (online). These are now taught by adjuncts using material that I developed.]

See my Homepage [] for more information on these classes and my current activities.

See my online Curriculum Vitae for even more details. [My CV is no longer online, as I had not updated since the late 1990s.  My CV these days is really long, 10 to 30 pages with very small font, depending on the version, and probably makes for some pretty dull reading.  My NAU homepage is the best summary of my CV.]


On reflection, I am still the very much the same person after surviving the first decade of the 2000s.  Maybe ten years is too short a time period to expect much change, especially at this stage of my life. (By comparison, my kids have changed a lot in the past ten years!)

In addition to the changes noted above, even though I am a little bit older, I am in better physical shape now than I was a decade ago, having lost weight and gotten my Black Belt in Taekwondo last year.  In fact, someone at a conference in China told me this past summer that I looked much younger than my online photo -- a photo that was taken 10 to 15 years ago.  I do not think that is true, but it was flattering. :-)

A decade ago I averaged about one international trip a year, whereas today I am making two to four international trips a year. Unfortunately, that is not a very environmentally sustainable lifestyle, but I do expect to slow down as I get a bit older. Most of those trips are paid by other people, but some are paid by me.  I also make more money now to help pay for those trips.

I  had a stint as Department Chair in the middle of this past decade, which was the most stressful 3.5 years of my life.  Opportunities to get away from Flagstaff help me to keep my work sanity, though I also think Flagstaff is the best place in the US for me to live.  And despite it stressful moments, I really love my job and do not intend to retire from the intellectual stimulation that it gives me for many years to come.

By the way, here is the photo that accompanied that 10+ year old biographical note:

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Dieting On the Road ... and in the Most Tempting Place in the World

A while back, I posted details on how I lost 50 pounds over about and 18 month period (see:  Here is an update on where I am with my weight management efforts ...

Local fruits for sale in Kundasang, a town on the middle slopes of Mount Kinabalu.
I am eating some, but should eat a lot more, of the local fruit here!
In my last blog on this (updated July 2011), I was trying to stabilize my weight in the upper 150s.  I did that very successfully using the technique that I described previously (weighing myself daily, counting calories closely at home, and exercising regularly).  In September I then tried to stabalize at 155, which worked, then at 154, which I did very successfully.

In fact, I felt that I could have gone even stabilized at a lower weight. (By stabalize, I mean I would range +1 or -1 pound around that goal weight on a daily basis.)  However, by the time I reached 154 (and occasionally below), I did not feel that I was very healthy.  I felt a bit "anorexic" -- that is, too thin for my bone structure.

So after a week or two at 154, I decided to increase my daily calorie goal in Fat Secret ( to bring my stabilized weight to 156. And that is where I had been from August through December 2011 -- and I felt great!

Now I am Kota Kinabala, Sabah, Malaysia (on the island of Borneo) as part of a 6 month Fulbright grant in Malaysia. I have a great weakness for Malaysian food, which is my favorite in the world with its mix of spicy cultural influences. (see  I also have a sweet tooth for ice cream (durian ice cream is really good) and ice deserts (ice kacang/ABC/halo halo/cendol).

Kota Kinabalu means "Kinabalu City" in Malay and is named for Mt. Kinabalu, one of the tallest mountains in Southeast Asia.  The fruit and rice photos were taken near the middle clouds in this photo.
I have no idea how much I weigh, but I do feel that I have gained weight, especially before we got our own apartment and were living in hotels.  My weight also feels like it goes up whenever I am on the road to other places, which is quite often.

Salt seems to be the biggest culprit (water retention), followed by refined flowers (white rice, noodles and baked goods) and sugar (calorie bombs).  Hotel breakfast buffets are a huge weakness, especially at the more expensive hotels, which I occasionally get to stay at.

At home, I eat brown, red and black rice, oatmeal and plain yogurt, unsweetened soy milk (when I can find it), a lot of vegetables (the diversity here is great!) and very little meat.  I have started to estimate my foods and enter them on Fat Secret's website.  We also have a weight room at our apartment complex to get some aerobic exercise at least a couple times a week.  All of this helps a lot, and I can feel the pounds slide off when I do this.

Black, red and brown rice, grown in the highlands around Mount Kinabalu.
These 1kg bags sell for 10 Malaysian Ringgit (about US$3.00) each.

However, we love eating the local food, and do so whenever we are out for whatever reason.  We are trying to balance low calorie eating at home and more diverse Malaysian foods when we are out.  So far, my new clothes all still fit (mostly), so I think I am OK.

One of these days I will come across a scale and can see just how much weight I have gained as a result of all this.   I will post an update here when I find that scale!  :-)

Monday, September 12, 2011

What I have Learned from My Taekwondo Training

Throughout my middle school and high school years, I regularly participated on my school football teams and associated weight training classes.  After graduating from high school, my physical activity became only occasional for the next 35 years.  Skiing and scuba diving became my two main sports – neither of which offered a regular, year-round aerobic experience.  It seemed that every time I tried to start some exercise regime, even just walking, something would get in the way and throw me off track. Illnesses, business travel and changing seasons (mostly the onset of winter) were the most common barriers that I encountered.  Once off track, I would normally not get back on track again for a considerable time.

Since my wife got me started with Taekwondo training in 2007, I have had the structure that I needed to keep on track, no matter what barriers arose.  I have still encountered barriers -- that has not changed at all. But the structure was there to get me back on track as quickly as possible, my wife was there to support me along with her own desire to achieve her black belt, and I have a really good physical therapist who helps me get over my injuries (mostly from Taekwondo sparring) sooner than later.

This is one of the lessons that I have learned -- that it is important to have a solid and multifaceted support structure, along with clear goals, to be successful in undertaking a long-term and meaningful exercise regime.

When I first started Taekwondo, I saw it almost entirely as a form of aerobic exercise, which was the kind of exercise that I was most in need of for health reasons.  The idea or testing and advancing from one belt level to the next was not something that I had much interest in.  In part, this was because I travel a lot and I knew it would be a challenge for me to advance in belt levels on a regular basis.  So I did not push that aspect and did not make a lot of effort to make up classes when I had fallen behind.  With time, however, my interests in Taekwondo have changed. In addition to the aerobics, I was also enjoying learning the forms.  I think this is because it is a form of tacit learning (or “body knowledge”) that is so different from what my day job entails.  The forms have become my most favorite part of the class.  I enjoy sparring too, though I seem to get hurt more than I would like, which is a bit of a concern.

This is the second lesson that I have learned – that motivations change over time and in unanticipated ways, leading to new ways to appreciate the skills and knowledge learned in Taekwondo.

The biggest change that has occurred for me, I think, is the change in my health -- especially in my weight.  I have lost 50 pounds since my highest weight (in June 2009). Taekwondo has not been the sole reason for this, as I did not really start losing weight until about 9 or 10 months after I started Taewkondo.  Most of my weight loss has been due to diet changes.  Taekwondo has helped to burn calories, but more important, the physical and aerobic exercises in Taekwondo have been huge in making me healthier than ever.  I was, for example, taking medicine to control my cholesterol for quite a few years. As I lost weight and became more fit, my doctor allowed me to try and reduce, then successfully stop taking that medicine entirely.  I still have gout issues (which has been there since high school), but in every other way I am as healthy as possible, and Taekwondo has played a big part in that.

The is the third less that I have learned – that it is important to work on my health (and happiness) from a variety different perspectives, including regular aerobic exercises, mental challenges, and a balanced and reasonable diet.

In sum, I have learned a lot through my Taewkondo training, both in the training itself and, more 
importantly, how it related to my entire life beyond the training. 

[This essay was written as part of my Black Belt test.  I study Taekwondo at Maximum Martial Arts in Flagstaff, Arizona.]

Thursday, May 05, 2011

How I Lost 50 Pounds in 18 Months

And Am Keeping It Off by Eating My Vegetables and Counting Calories

Before (July 2009, China) and After (February 2011, Barbados)
(This version was updated on 16 June 2011; additional comments were added in June 2013)

This story starts in July 2009. At the start of that month, I weighed about 208 pounds, and at 5'8" I was into the "obese" BMI range. It was not the first time that I weighed that much, though I have usually been closer to the upper 190s and low 200s, right on the border between "overweight" and "obese".

I went to China in early July and traveled with a Chinese friend from Singapore who is fluent in Mandarin (my Mandarin is very basic). Because I was with him, we were able to join the cheaper domestic tour groups, which meant eating with them, family style, as well. Much to my surprise, when I returned from that trip, I had actually lost a couple of pounds, which was a shock because I usually gain a few pounds when traveling! 

So the first part of my weight loss journey was to replicate the way I was eating in China. This involved eating a lot of Chinese vegetables, with only small amounts of meat thrown in.  My rule was that I could eat as much as necessary until I was full, just so long as it was vegetables -- especially leafy green vegetables, though squash and eggplant were also acceptable.  Fortunately, my wife was fully able and interested in cooking Chinese food this way, though she also loves her steaks!  

I think this would have been a lot harder with just the vegetables available in our local supermarkets, because the range there is so limited.  Instead, we would go to Phoenix once or twice a month with a large ice chest to stock up on a variety of Asian vegetables and I would have totally vegetarian lunches and dinners a couple times a week.  

Chinese broccoli (gai lan) has long been my favorite Asian vegetable for its taste, texture and ability to make me feel full.  I found eggplant to be even more filling when stir fried with chili peppers like they do at one of the Chinese restaurants here in town.  Bok choi-like vegetable are good, but I need to eat a lot of them before I start feeling full.

I also weighed myself every day, using Wii Fit, and I took Taekwondo classes twice a week, though I had been doing that since before this all started. I continue to weigh myself every morning, though just on a regular scale, and I continue to attend Taekwondo today.

Following that diet I lost about 25 pounds, getting down to around 180 by the start of summer 2010. (I fluctuated from the upper 170s and lower 180s.) Quite a few people noticed the weight loss and complimented me on it, though I was still clearly in the BMI "overweight" range.

But then summer arrived and in summer 2010, I made three international trip (more than I usually do). By the time my last summer trip ended, in mid-August, my weight was over 185 pounds. I got back on my Asian vegetables diet, but it did not seem to have as much of an impact, though I admit that I was not eating as many purely vegetable meals as I had before.

Then, in mid-September, I got the idea to try a calorie counting app on my Motorola Droid phone. I tried a couple of them and settled on "Calorie Counter by". I found that I was able to enter my foods faster with this app than any of the others, even though some of the others have a fancier user interface.

The app also links with an account that I set up on the website. That web site shows my first weigh in as 185.5 pounds on September 19, 2010. Here is my weight chart as of April 7, 2011:

As you can see, the impact of the FatSecret Calorie Counter on me was dramatic from the very start, with a huge drop on the third day that I started using it. Over the first two months, or so, I lost an average of 1/2 pound (occasionally more) a day. Thanksgiving and trip to Taiwan in November resulted in a rise in my weight, but once I got back on the Calorie Counter, I continued to drop at about 1/2 pounds a day. The steep dip in December was the result of a bout with diarrhea.  Through most of December and January I was focusing on stabilizing my weight (by eating more calories) in the low 160s range.

I also kept eating those Asian vegetables and going to Taekwondo. The Calorie Counter app allows you to enter how many calories you burn through the day in various activities, which I entered religiously for the period from September to January. (I stopped doing that in February.)  In addition, you can easily enter you foods and activities through their website, as well, instead of on your phone.  

I was very surprised at my ability to maintain my weight through the winter holidays, and I was happy to be in the low 160s. When I was steadily losing weight, my daily goal was about 1700 calories, though I would occasionally go over that.

You can see another overseas trip at the end of January that resulted in another bump up in weight. For both overseas trips I was not able to use the Calorie Counter app on my phone, though it may not have made a difference since I love eating local food wherever I go and am often too distracted to even write down what I am eating.  In addition, the gap in January came from my trying a different calorie counter app for awhile, which I did not care for because it was more limited in what it could do.

By the end of February I felt that I could easily drop to less than 160 pounds, which I did. I am now trying to stabilize my weight in the upper 150s, with my daily food goal set to 2000 calories. In fact, if I only eat 2000 calories, I will usually lose 1/2 pounds the next day. And on most days I eat between 2200 to 2500 calories. If I eat more than that, I will almost certainly see it the next day on the scale.  Overall, I have happily stayed in my new weight goal range.

I use a scale to weigh all my food in grams to enter in Calorie Counter. I bought a digital travel scale, but seldom use it. When I am not at home I just estimate the amount in cups, teaspoons and tablespoons, or in generic sizes (such as one small cookie or one medium orange).  I have heard that the most important thing is to write it down what you eat, whether or not you count calories using an app or website.

Interestingly, I find that at the end of each day, the amount of calories that I have consumed comes very close to the total number of grams that I have consumed. So I sometimes use that as a quick estimate of my calorie intake. If you eat a lot of high calorie foods (white flour and sugar), you will probably not get that same kind of result.

These days, when I look back at photos of myself from the past 25 years, I find it hard to believe that the person in those picture is actually me. I weigh less now than I did when I got married in 1987. I do not know for sure, but I think my weight has not been this low since I was a young exchange student in Hong Kong in the 1970s! (Again, that Chinese diet!)

One added benefit is that I convinced my doctor that because of my loss of weight and regular exercise I should be able to stop taking cholesterol medicine. My cholesterol had been under very good control for a long time with the medicine. So we gave it a try and so far, so good...

Finally, people often comment on my weight loss and ask me how I did it. In my November overseas trip, several students in Taiwan commented on how much thinner I was now compared to how I looked in some of the photos of me in my presentations to them.  And they wanted to know how I lost the weight -- which I told them, and which I am telling you here in more detail.

So now that I am an expert as losing and controlling my own weight, here are some tips for others who might be like the "before" me in the photo above ...

  1. Write it down. Write down everything you eat - do not skip anything. Just writing it down will slow your rate of consumption and you will eat less. But I think it has some other (magical and psychological) influences, as well. It simply forces you to pay attention to what you are eating.

    This is the minimum that you need to do.  It is easy to do and takes almost no time. If you really want to loose weight, just do this -- no excuses!  If you cannot simply write down everything that you eat, then give me a break -- you really do not want to loose weight!

    [UPDATE: June 2013 - I am not sure if I really believe this one. After a recent 3-week trip to Asia, I tried this -- writing things down but not recording them in  I found that my weight did not go down doing this.  It may depend on how  overweight one is, but for me, I need to see the calories building up to get myself to slow down on the food consumption.]

  2. Try to estimate the amount of each item that you eat. That will slow you down a little more. If you also weigh what you eat, for a more accurate calorie count, that will really slow you down a lot!

    This is the second step, which takes a little longer. The easiest is to estimate based on cups, teaspoons, tablespoons (1 tbs = 3 tsp), or even one hamburger patty, one medium apple, one small cookie, etc.  Again, it can be easy, though it is a step beyond just writing it down.  

    When you are at home, and you have more time and privacy, get a food scale and weight your foods. That will take more effort, but will probably give you better weight loss results.
  3. Add up your calories. You will need an app for that -- though you could do it on a website, as well.  Some scales come with this feature built in (you need to enter the food code on the scale).  As I said, the combination of the Calorie Counter on my smart phone, which syncs with the website works the best for me.

    This is the third step. You do not have to do this, and you will have results. But you will get the best results if you count up your calories a couple of times, or more, through the day. 
    You will almost certainly eat fewer snacks, for example, if you find that you are already at 1600 calories after lunch and before dinner.
  4. Weigh yourself daily, preferably in the morning before eating (when you are the lightest). Weighing yourself daily gives you the best feedback as to how well you are keeping on track. By doing 1, 2 and 3 above, you will actually become fairly good at predicting your daily weight based on your previous day's calorie intake. (Though see my Weight Anomalies comments below.)

    Doing the four tips above alone gives me a sense that I am in complete control over my weight. 

    The following tips will help you speed up your weight loss, but are less powerful agents of change without the tips above.
  5. Eat your vegetables. Try to eat more low calorie vegetables than meat and white flour products. Fruit is a good snack food, though still higher in calories than straight vegetables. 
  6. Eat eat candies, nuts and white flour products in moderation (smaller amounts or less frequency). You do not need to cut them out entirely, but be sure to write them down and count the calories -- you will be amazed at how high they can be.
  7. Eat at home as much as possible. Restaurant food, especially fast food, has a lot more calories than home cooked food. And a lot of those calories are "bad calories" (processed grains and sugars, and salt).  I believe that those bad calories have an impact on my overall health, if not necessarily on my weight gain or loss.
  8. Get some exercise. I know that I can always eat more on Taekwondo days. But even on other days, I know that if I go for a 20 to 40 minute walk, it will noticeably burn more calories than if I do not.

    [UPDATE: June 2013 - I am still convinced that exercise helps me to drop the pounds faster. However, nowadays most of my exercise is simply walking and tai chi -- I am not getting any aerobic exercises like I used to when I was doing taekwando. Calorie counting and eating right are, I find, far more important than exercise to lose weight.]
That's it. I would guess that this would not work for everyone, as not everyone would have the personality to closely monitor everything they eat.  But for those who can, and short of any other biological challenges, I am totally confident that this approach works.  

Good luck!  

[UPDATE June 2013: While I am sure that this approach will work for some people, I am also sure it will not work for everyone because of different body types, lifestyles and personalities. One friend who tried it insisted that he could not lose weight even when only taking in 1300 calories a day, which may be a body type issue.  Many people have no choice but to eat out all the time due to their work schedules, which make calorie counting very difficult.  And I am sure that there are a lot of people who would not be able to keep track of their calories as closely as I do, though I could not do it either without the support of all my gadgets!]

ADDENDUMS - A few additional thoughts after I posted the blog above:

Low Calorie Foods: There are a lot of websites that list low calorie foods.  I printed a couple of them out and early on I spent some time using them as a guide on what to eat. Here is my list of the best things that I like to eat to feel satisfied with minimal calories:
  1. Celery with sour cream - Celery is very low in calories and of all the popular things you can put on its, sour cream is probably the lowest in calories.
  2. Zapple - This is zucchini squash made to taste like apple pie filling!  Find a zapple recipe online (most any recipe will do) and make it during zucchini season in the Fall. Cut the sugar recommended in the recipe in half (or less - that is where all the calories are in the filling.) The pie is really good, but the crust makes for high calories. Make a lot of the filling and freeze it for use later in the year. It goes good with plain yogurt or just by itself as a snack.  Depending on how much sugar you use, zapple is much lower in calories than real apples.
  3. Chicken broth - I am always amazed at how few calories there are in chicken broth.  You only need to add a few other things (a little meat, some vegetables) to make for a filling little soup with low calories.
  4. Congee - This is Chinese style rice porridge ("jook" in Cantonese).  You can find recipes online. Plain jook is just rice and water, which is filling, but not very tasty.  But you can also make it with chicken broth along with some pieces of fish or chicken or a few cocktail nuts, and spiced up with diced pickles (any kind), green onions, white pepper, and if you like a lot of salt, some soy sauce.
  5. Wasa Light Rye Crisp Bread - Three pieces are only 80 calories! Other styles of crisp bread are thicker and only have two pieces per serving.
  6. Fiber One Cereal - This is the king of cereals for low calorie eaters.  I usually have half a serving (15 g) with my nonfat plain yogurt and fruit in the morning.
  7. Eggplant - I find eggplant to be one of the most filling vegetable, at least the way my wife cooks it, while also be low in calories (though higher than green leafy vegetables).
  8. Asian Pears - These are a lot juicier and crunchier than other pears, and that may be why their calorie count is much lower per gram (42 calories per 100 grams). They are mostly found in Asian markets. The Japanese ones are expensive. The Chinese ones are called "Ya Lay" - or something like that - and are cheaper.
  9. Water - Craving at late night, or mid-afternoon, snack -- try a glass of water, instead.  Sometimes I find that is all that I need to get me through to the next meal, though at other times, I need more.
  10. Strawberries - Strawberries are even lower in calories than Asian pears (32 calories per 100 grams, or about 4 to 5 medium strawberries). Buy a bunch of them when they are season and use them to snack on.
Weight Anomalies
  • Two day momentum.  Sometimes I find that I either ate a lot or ate very little in one day, but I do not find a change in my weight the next day, as I would have expected. It seems like I sometimes experience a weight momentum, so a high (or low) calorie day is still having an impact on my weight two days later. So, while I mostly assume that my "calories in" and "calories out" work on a 24 hour basis, this is not always the case. However, this momentum effect never seems to last more than two days -- at least not for me.
  • Salt!  A sudden increase in salt will almost always increase my weight the next day. This happens when I eat out at restaurants, which use a LOT more salt than we ever use at home.  Restaurant food tastes good, but be prepared for the weight gain caused by extra water that your body takes on when you eat a lot of salt. For me, the salt impact takes two days to work its way through my system before I am back to normal.
  • Sleep. I do not quite understand this, but I have heard that the less sleep you get, the more you gain weight. I usually try to get a minimum of 7 hours of sleep a night. Sometimes I just have too much to do, and do I only get 6 hours. Occasionally, I can take it easy (like on the weekend) and get a fully 8 hours. I often find that I my weight is down more on the 8 hour nights than the 7 hour nights.  I do not know how this works.

Monday, April 04, 2011 - Shortcomings and Gift Voucher Usage Tips

I admit that nothing is free, but at least it should be as advertised correctly!

I recently purchased a Gift Voucher that was listed on and sold through The voucher touted all the great restaurants where the voucher could be used on the website. There was one, in particular, that I wanted to use it at, and many others that I would consider trying.

After purchasing the voucher, I found the following:

1. There are two (or more?) websites. One is very attractive and viewable to the general public. The other appears after you try to redeem a gift voucher. (Note that the gift voucher is used to purchase certificates for specific restaurants on the website.)

2. The public website lists a wide range of pricing options for each restaurants. The voucher site only lists one or two of the pricing options, and these are usually at the high end -- minimum purchase of $50 worth of food to redeem a $25 certificate. How does a couple spend $50 at a place where the meals top out at $8 ???

3. The voucher website does not list all of the restaurants on the public website. It appears that the voucher cannot be used to buy certificates for some of the most popular restaurants in a community.

After using my first voucher purchase, I also discovered that:

4. Restaurants can add additional requirements to the certificates that are not listed on the website or on the vouchers. In this particular instance, a Chinese restaurant would not allow the certificate to be used for any dish on their "Chinese menu" -- only dishes on the "Western menu" (i.e., cooked for a non-Chinese palate) were allowed.

Finally, this was not listed on the site, but buyers should be aware that:

5. The voucher buys a certificate that is only worth about 50% of the cost of the food. In addition, the 50% price saving is applied to the price of the food after an 18% tip is added. Personally, I do not find that to be a problem, but all of the vouchers also indicate on them "Please remember our staff" -- indicating to me that the automatic 18% gratuity charge may NOT be going to the staff. I cannot, however, confirm this either way -- but it is kind of strange...

SO - Is worth it. Yes, it can be worth it if you: 

(1) carefully read all the fine print -- but even then you will not know what it means until you actually try it the first time; 

(2) expect to be surprised by challenges in using the voucher/certificates that you did not anticipate -- even after you get to the restaurant;

(3) expect to not be able to get all of the deals that were implied when you made the purchase, especially those that looked very attractive;

(4) if you see a restaurant that you might want to try at a price that you like, grab it -- the certificates do not expire and the list of restaurants and offers change over time; and

(5) check back periodically for new restaurants and offers -- maybe that one restaurant that I really wanted to use my voucher for will someday appear on the voucher page!

Overall, this voucher reminds me a lot of the Timeshare vacation market: deceptively using people's desire to save a buck by selling an attractive product as cheap and easy, when it is in fact a challenge to use. Rebates, in general, can be like that, which is why many people never submit the rebates offered on the products they buy (I always do). And perhaps that is how makes its money -- though to me, that is very deceptive!

UPDATE April 7, 2011 - I got the following response from when I complained about not seeing restaurants on the gift voucher site that were on their main site:

"I apologize for any inconvenience. The restaurant has a pre-determined number of gift certificates we are allowed to sell, and that inventory is split between the site for redemption ( and the site that you can purchase certificates ( Unfortunately, popular restaurants may be out of stock within a couple of hours from the replenishment of gift certificates. When the restaurant is sold out on the redemption site the restaurant listing will not appear. Each restaurant has its own stipulations and agreements with All restaurants are replenished through an automated system and have gift certificates available at various times throughout the month. All gift certificates replenish on or about the first of each month."

There are at least two usage tips in this response:

1 - There are two different websites! I did encounter this, but was totally confused by it until this email cleared up the difference.

2 - The gift voucher site gets "replenished" on the first of the month.  So perhaps, in three weeks, the a couple of restaurants that appear on the certificate site will again appear on the gift voucher site where I can snap them up. It is on my calendar to check it out.

UPDATE May 2, 2011 - Two More Shortcomings....

(1) I have used two coupons, so far.  In both instances, I thought I was going to have a lot of leftovers, because I would need to buy more food that I normally do to meet the minimum purchase requirement to use the coupon.  (For example, at one you needed to buy $20 of food to use a $10 discount coupon.)
In both place, we at all of the food, easily.  In both places, when the food was served we thought that the quantity on the plates was on the small side.  These were a Chinese restaurant and a Thai restaurant.  

Maybe that is the normal size of the dishes that we ordered.   If so, I think both places were overpriced -- at least on some of the dishes.  Or maybe Asians are cheap (I am Asian, myself) and they are just trying to save money by making dishes for coupon users smaller --  and maybe other restaurants do not do this. 

 I do not know, but so far, I have not been impressed with what I have gotten when I used the coupon. This seems to be another shortcoming of the discount program.
(2) It is the start of the month, so I checked to see if the list of restaurants available for the discounts had changed, as told me, and which I posted indicated in my update, above.  Nope -- no changes -- at least not hear in Flagstaff.  This is a Big Bummer!

Based on what I have been experiencing so far, it seems to me that the are deceptive, and *may* result in me spending more on restaurants that I normally would.


Sunday, November 01, 2009

My Love-Hate Relationship with Macs and PCs

This is an update of previous blogs about my working with both a Mac and a PC. Previous posts were on July 26, 2009, June 3, 2009, and April 25, 2008.

This past summer, my son decided to wipe his laptop and put Windows 7 RC on it.  Seeing that his experience went well, I decided to try Win 7 RC on my 15” MacBook Pro. At the time, my main computer was my Vista quad core desktop, which ran great and did not need to be changed to 7, and I had XP running in a virtual window on my Mac (using VMWare Fusion), and it was definitely my second computer. I had heard that running Windows in Boot Camp worked better than running it virtually, so I decided to install Win 7 RC in Boot Camp – and WOW!, I loved it so much it quickly became my main computer. 

The primary advantage over my desktop of running Win 7 RC in Boot Camp was that I had more screen real estate – both the MBPro screen and my 22” wide screen monitor.  Whereas, the desktop only gave my the 22” monitor.  The MBPro might have been a tiny bit faster, as well.  I only went over to the Mac-side of the MBPro when I needed to use iTunes for something.

When the final release of Windows 7 went on sale for $50 a piece, I ordered five copies (I actually still need two more).  My son installed it on his desktop without any problem, and I installed it (32bit version) on an old HP laptop, also with no problem. So I then installed the 64bit version on my desktop doing an in-place upgrade of the Vista 64bit system – which went off without a glitch. I also got the Snow Leopard family pack, and upgraded a Mac Mini, a MacBook, and finally, my precious MacBook Pro. All of which went well.

SO – Now to getting Windows 7 (final version) on my MacBookPro.  Three days later and I am still struggling with the decisions I made in getting this to work.

Initially I wanted Win 7 64bit so it would make use of the 4GB Ram that I have on the MBPro.  The problem is that the Win 7 64bit cd-rom is not installable on the MBPro.  Looking online, I found that my version of the MBPro (purchased in Dec 2007) has a very old cd drive firmware that Apple never bothered to update, even though they easily could have.  There are work-arounds for Win 7 RC that are available online, but none that I could find for the final version of Win 7.  I did not know this until after I had wiped the old Boot Camp.

So, I could have installed Win 7 32bit, but I really wanted 64bit! I then read that the new VMWare Fusion 3 could install Win 7 64bit in a virtual machine in Snow Leopard.  So I paid $20 to upgrade to Fusion 3. I then deleted the Boot Camp partition and installed Win 7 64bit as a virtual computer in VMWare.

One problem I had was that the Win 7 upgrade disks look for an existing copy of Windows on the computer as a way of confirming that this is an upgrade installation.  Well, Boot Camp wipes the old Windows drive partition before allowing you to install a new one, and VMWare Fusion starts a new virtual computer, again leaving no earlier version of Windows to be seen. The way I got around this in VMWare Fusion was to first install Win 7 RC 64bit (beta version), which does not have this limitation. Then I upgraded that version using the Win 7 64bit final version cd. That worked – and I was happy!

One really nice feature of this setup is that I can keep all my document files on the Mac-side of the computer, and access them as if they were on the Windows virtual machine.  So I setup my Dropbox account (click here to learn more about Dropbox) to share files between my desktop and the Mac-side of my MBPro (previously, it was going to the Win-side).

When this is all working, it can work really well.  However, sometimes it does not work well.  The Mac-side usually works fine, though it does slow down occastionally. The Windows 7 virtual computer is much less stable. It has been hanging – badly at times – and I have had to reboot it several time in the last couple of days. 

I wonder if this is because of the significant amount of file transfer activity that has been taking place, mostly in the background. I am hoping that this issue will resolve itself once Dropbox is done synchronizing files between my computers!  For now, though, my desktop computer is once again my main workhorse. And I am still wondering if there is a way to get Windows 7 64bit in Boot Camp on my “ancient” 1.5 year old Mac …

(BTW – I really like Windows 7 much more than Snow Leopard, in part because I have some important software in Windows format only, but also because I find it much more colorful and fun to use. Snow Leopard may be more stable, but I personally find it “boring”.)

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Fear and Loathing of Health Care and More on the Far Right

The US health care system largely awards the haves and ignores the have-nots. Having health care tied to employment puts each of us one paycheck away from a health care disaster. It has also made the cost of running a business higher in the US than it needs to be, and has given us the lowest health care standards in the world among developed countries. There is clearly a need for change. The behavior of protestors at recent town hall meetings over the health care issue may be a realization among the haves that the time may be coming when have-nots (including the recently unemployed) are going to be provided for.

However, the fear that they are showing is, I think, more than just that. The fear is coming from the far right's being out of power and politically impotent (at least for the moment), which they then blame on every possible conspiracy theory that comes their way. And of course the far right commentators are having a field day fueling this vulnerability with unbelievable lies and outrageous rumors.

I think I can understand this -- to a degree. In fact, if Mr. Obama were a Republican with Bush-Cheney political policies, I too would be grasping for any possible conspiracy that might, in some remote way, reduce his power and remove him from office. That is what I am really hearing from the screaming opponents to health care. They are like a trapped animal striking out where they can -- and health care reform just happened to be what they hit.


Update 12Aug09: Related AP News Story on the Rise of Right Wing Militia Groups in the US - driven by a whole slew of conspiracy theories.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

20 Months on a Mac and Not Drinking the Cool-aid

Someone posted a request on an email list for comments on his thinking about moving from a PC to a Mac. He only wanted replies from people who have switched from a PC to a Mac in the last couple of years. Here is what I emailed to him, expanded and updated for this blog post

Just a quick note on my experience … I purchased a MacBook Pro in Dec 2007 as my first personal Mac (though I have had others in my house). I used it as my only computer (though with XP running in VMWare Fusion) while I was away on sabbatical in Spring 2008 and in general I found it adequate and continued using it as my main computer when I returned home in the Summer.

Toward the end of summer, however, the hard drive died on my Mac and I had to send it in for replacement, which took a little over a week. During that time, I started using my desktop Vista PC again, instead of the MacBook Pro, as my main computer. When my Mac came back, I had to reinstall everything from scratch, and I found that I really did not want to use the Mac as my main computer again, due to a number of limitations, which I list below.

By early Spring 2009 (possibly earlier) my Mac started slowing down considerably and programs started hanging ("beach ball of death") more and more. This was especially true when I opened more than just a couple of programs. In addition, MS Word started crashing whenever I opened more than one document, and VMWare fusion (running XP) became incredibly slow. I was ready to chuck the computer!

Finally in late Spring 2009, I decided to wipe my Mac's hard drive and reinstall the operating system. At the same time, I decided to install Windows 7 under Bootcamp on my Mac, and gave it most of the hard drive.

I have been using this configuration (Windows 7 and Leopard on two partitions with Bootcamp) for the past couple of months and basically felt that there was not a lot of difference between the two operating systems in terms of most of what I do. If I opened in Leopard, I generally stayed there for most of the day; if I opened in Windows 7, I generally stayed there for the rest of the day. There was one program on the Mac side that I did not have an alternative to on the Windows side, and there were a few on the Win side with no equivalents on the Mac side – so that kind of determined which OS I would open at startup.

Now, however, I found a replacement for that one program on the Mac side and I almost always open in Windows 7. Although I think they are fairly comparable, I think Windows 7 is visually more attractive and has better functionality (especially out of the box without having to buy additional utilities).

Currently, my fastest and most stable computer, is my relatively inexpensive Gateway AMD quad-core Vista desktop. I have had it longer than I have had my MacBookPro and I have never had any significant problems with system slowdowns or programs crashing. It still runs almost like new! (The fan comes on more now than when it was new, but other than that, I love it – and Vista runs great!) And I install a lot of trial software and run many programs simultaneously. In fact, I kind of wish I could get rid of this 15" MacBook Pro and get a smaller Vista laptop instead (which I would upgrade to Windows 7, of course), because I find that my Mac is just too big to easily travel with.

In general, my complaints about the Mac are:

  1. Almost nothing is free and some common file management capabilities on the PC are non-existent on the Mac. Freeware programs that I run on the PC need to be purchased for the Mac. I needed to purchase programs to add functions that are built-in to the PC to the Mac. I purchased Default Folder X (so I can do simple things in the open file dialogue box, like rename a file) and Pathfinder (which replaces the Finder application - Mac's version of Windows Explorer). Most of my early frustrations with the Mac were solved when a friend recommended these two programs to me.
  2. The Mac intentionally tries to be un-Windows. There are a lot of functions that are done in totally opposite ways from Windows just so they can claim to be different, and without concerns for user functionality -- in my opinion. For example, whereas in Windows you can resize a window from any corner or side, the Mac will only let you resize from the lower right corner. Also, in Windows, the menus are part of the widow and move with the window. On the Mac, menus are fixed at the top of the screen. These two less-than-user-friendly design options continue to drive me crazy.
  3. My Mac will overheats, especially in the summer, giving me the "Black Screen of Death". I think this is why my hard drive died, as I said above.
  4. My Mac proved to be just as susceptible to the system aging and slow down as it a PC – possibly more so in my recent experience. It also has its bugs. For example, I cannot access to the Ethernet at my workplace using my Mac – and the head of our IT support (a Mac guy) could not resolve my problem. Despite what Apple fan boys claim, I do not think it is superior or more stable to a comparable Windows Vista computer.

So anyway, that is my personal experience. I have not drunk the Mac cool-aid and may be selling my MB Pro on eBay this coming year – though so far Windows 7 is mostly running great on my Mac, so maybe I will keep it...


Sunday, January 25, 2009

Freetalk and ioGear: A Tale of Two Wireless Bluetooth Stereo Headsets

So I wanted to get a wireless headset for Christmas (for my wife to give as a gift, but of course, I need to identify which one I want.) I wanted them for listening to podcasts, and anything else that was playing on my computer (usually not music, though I did want stereo). I spent quite a lot of time looking online for something with a good review and a good price. Living in a relative backwater location, I could not really check out my option in a store, so I searched online.

I was quite frustrated in that I could not really tell, from the websites I had found, how these worked. Vague websites drive me crazy. I finally settled on the Freetalk Talk 5191 (below), which I ordered through for $63, including shipping. The reviews sounded good and I liked the style better than the more expensive Sennheisers. Unfortunately, I could not tell from the Amazon website that these were USB headphones, which is obvious from the photo below which I captured from

I have had USB headsets in the past and I did not like them because there were not very dependable. Sometimes they would be plugged in and would not work. Sometimes I would unplug them but the audio would not transfer to the computer's speakers. So I was bummed that I got something that was not going to work was well as I would prefer.

Then, still before Christmas, I came across the ioGear Wireless Bluetooth Stereo Headset Kit (GBMHKIT) on the website of $50 (free shipping; photo below). From the photo I could see that this would easily plug into the earphone jack on both my computer and my mp3 player (I have a Cowon D2). This was exactly what I wanted, and was even cheaper than the Freetalk headset. So I ordered this one to, and kept both unopened until Christmas -- when I was going to make my final decision, and return one or the other -- at least that was the plan.

As you might have guessed, I ended up keeping both headsets because they are so different from one another. For example, both come with chargers for both the base and headset, though the iOGear charger plugs into a wall and is completely removed from both the base and headset in order to use them. On the other hand, the Freetalk headset charges through the USB port, to which the base station is always attached, and the headset can be used while charging or not. Nicely, you can add or remove the headset charger cable, which comes out of the base station, without any impact on the audio.

When the Freetalk is a working it is on and paired. Although there is a pairing button and an on/off button, I almost never touch these. I still have the issue of switching from speakers to headphones on the fly while audio is playing. I generally have to close whatever is playing then start it again after plugging of unplugging the USB. But at least it does work when I do that. The headphones are a bit tight, but are otherwise ver comfortable and microphone, which cannot be removed, works well with Skype.

The ioGear heast has a removable mic and are lighter and more comfortably looser. Because they feel different, I will sometimes switch between the two when one starts to feel uncomfortable. The ioGear sound quality is not quite as good as the Freetalk headset, which I tend to use more. The ioGear is less convenient in that I need to turn on and pair the base station and headset each time I use them; but they are certainly more convenient in instantly plugging into and out of my computer, and transferring the audio from and to my speakers, and they work with my mp3 player (and would be great for a TV, too, if I ever watched one).

The Freetalk definitely sounds better (richer sounds) and holds up over distance more than does the less expensive ioGear (which is better for talk than music). I can cover most of my house without a degredation or loss of sound from the Freetlak. I cannot go very far at all with the ioGear before it breaks up and then disappears, though I can carry my mp3 player attached to the ioGear base with me which is convenient. The ioGear has a real problem with walls - the more you have the less likely the signal will pass through them. A simple house layout would probably be the best.

SO - I kept them both and am actually very happy that I did.