New phone? Try my favourite Android apps…

Found a new Android smartphone under the tree this year? Why not try a few of my favourites…

I apologise: I don’t usually write stuff that’s so click-baity. However, I was struck by how useful one of my apps was yesterday, so I thought I’d recommend 6 of my faves for anyone unwrapping a new Android phone this year.

By the way, I don’t get any money for sharing this stuff, so you don’t need to worry about me being biased: I just love efficient things!

mightytextMightyText

Site: https://mightytext.net
Price: Free, premium options (which I don’t use)

Manage your texts from any browser on any computer.

This fantastic app is something I genuinely don’t understand how people cope without. So much easier than tapping out texts on a little touch screen, you can access all your text messages, respond to replies and generally manage that whole world of communication way more efficiently.

It even notifies you on your desktop PC when you get new texts. My phone spends all day in my coat pocket, whilst I’m in continuous contact on my computer throughout the work day.

smsbackupSMS Backup+

Site: SMS Backup + on Google Play
Price: Free, donate option for 93p, which you should do!

Keeps a permanent backup of call logs and texts in Gmail.

This bad boy has saved me hours of hunting down tit tats of information. Every single text I’ve recieved since 2013 is store in a folder in my gmail account, linked to the name of the Google contact in my address book.

You install it, you forget about it, and then when you are visiting that friend you saw two years ago and need his postcode again… you already have it! Well worth making a donation for.

4.-MyFitnessPal-Android-iOS-Windows-Phone-FreeMyFitnessPal

Site: MyFitnessPal.com
Price: Free.

The most efficient way to track calories and lose weight.

I suspect I would still be fat if MFP did not exist. As any of my blog readers will know, I’ve managed to get on top of health and fitness pretty heavily over the last year. A cornerstone of that has been the simple truth: you need to eat less calories than you use in order to lose weight.

Calorie tracking is a bit tedious, but MFP manages to minimise that. Using it, I estimate that I can keep track of 98% of my daily calorific intake with around 4 minutes work a day. This seems to have a reasonable benefit-to-effort ratio.

I recommend it purely because its got the largest database of any of the calorie tracker apps. The larger the database, the more likely you don’t have to try any work out calorific value from raw ingredients, which is possible but time costly.

Week 5 weight graphLibra

Site: Libra on Google Play
Price: Free, donate option for £2.50 which I recommend!

A nice graph with some simple stats for your daily weights

I weigh myself every day, and recommend it for my patients trying to lose weight. It keeps you motivated (and guilty), and gives you a more accurate picture of your weight over a week than a single measurement. If you’ve ever read The Hacker’s Diet, this app is for you…

Libra is dead easy to use, gives you nice graphs, with a great weighted average so you get a useful measure of your overall direction of travel. It also works about a few neat stats, such as estimated calorie deficit based on your weight loss: I’ve previously found this to exactly correlate with my diet and weights.

Google KeepGoogle Keep

Site: Keep.Google.com
Price: Free

Simple post-it note app with effortless sync to all your devices.

You know when you need to remember to buy milk? Or you have a list of dates someone told you to keep free? Or a not very important password that you occasionally need? Google Keep is there for that data.

Its instant to use, works great on Android and on the web, and gets the job done. Does it do everything you could ever possibly need? No. Does it do a reliable, well designed job for you with no questions asked? Yup.

Pocket Casts

pocketcastsSite: Shiftyjelly.com/pocketcasts
Price: £2.49

The best podcast app out there, makes listening and hunting for new ones a breeze.

My phone died the other day, so I picked up my wife’s phone, logged into Pocket Casts, and was listening at the point I’d been interupted about 3 minutes later. That alone explains how great this app is.

For discovering new podcasts, listening to old favourites, and for doing all the hard work for you, with automatic downloads, and auto-deletion, I’ve not tried anything else that comes close.

Try it out, and find those boring runs, drives and cycle rides way more interesting. Eventually realise you’ve listened to 30 hours of Dungeons and Dragons role play in the course of a month, and wonder if there’s something wrong with your life…

That’s all for now… Got any apps you’d recommend? I’m all ears… leave a comment below!

Six kilos in six weeks: The end

wpid-wp-1447062912089.jpgRead the first post in this series here – Six kilos in six weeks: finishing what I started.
Just a warning, I’m going to be talking about weight loss, dieting and body image. If you struggle with your relationship with food, or have any self image difficulties, you may find it hard to read.

And the grand result is…

endomondoI lost 4.1kg. I feel pretty good about myself. This whole series was never really about weight loss “numbers”; it was about getting healthier. My achievements include:

Isn’t the maths wrong?

Lots of people enjoy getting their knickers in a twist about calories. Google “calorie myth”, and find a million different websites arguing about the idea that calorie deficit is the most important part of weight loss.

Maintaining a decent calorie deficit led to a decent amount of weight loss.

Happily, we can test the theory:

weightloss week 6 highlightCalorie Deficit

During this challenge, based on my approximations, I’ve run up a calorie deficit of around 36,500 calories. That means, I’ve eaten around 36,500 kcal less of food than I’ve burnt by living, breathing and exercise.

Weight loss

According to my calculations, each 7,000 should equate to around a kilo of fat loss. That would mean I should have lost around 5.2kg. I’ve lost 4.1… is the maths wrong?

Where did that 1.1kg go? 

In the last 6 weeks, I’ve done just under 32 hours of exercise. I think its a fair assessment to say that I’ve probably put on at least 1.1kg of muscle.

Conclusion

I’m pretty confident in saying that maintaining a decent calorie deficit led to a decent amount of weight loss.

I could have eaten healthier foods, sure, but just sticking to a low calorie diet meant I ate way more green veg, because if you eat chocolate, you end up hungry. And the exact mix of foods you eat doesn’t have much impact on weight loss.

The diet also encouraged me to exercise. You go for a run, you get to eat more nice things. The evidence is pretty clear that physical exercise is really good for you. Its healthier to eat a bit of rubbish, and burn it off in exercise than to be slim, but unfit.

Macros!

The other side of the coin regarding calories is what they are made from. My key discovery over these 6 weeks: meeting macro targets and calorie targets at the same time is hard work, and likely not very helpful.

I have uniformly found that, for me, not bothering to keep track = weight gain.

Its hard enough work keeping track of all your calories, and comparing one option with another. When also trying to add in proteins, fats and carbs, it becomes much harder to have confidence about any single option:

For example, what’s better, an omelette, or two sausages? It can become a little paralysing having to always think “well, how much fat, and carbs, and protein, and calories do I have left today?”

Anything that makes keeping track of what you eat arduous increases the chance you won’t bother. I have uniformly found that, for me, not bothering to keep track = weight gain.

How to effectively manage my food intake to lose weight?

Therefore, my advice to fellow weight loss devotees? Keep track of calories.

If you are doing a fair amount of exercise, you may want to also try to hit a 0.8g of protein per kilogram of bodyweight target. Let the fats and carbs take care of themselves, allow your decision on eating something go like this:

  1. Do I have enough calories left for this today? !If not, you can’t have it!
  2. Will this fill me up? Then you realise the two sausages, mushrooms and huge pile of broccoli are probably a better option than the single cookie.
  3. Which has more protein? So you look at the lentil and tomato bake, and realise the chickpea omelette might be the more effective option. You soon also realise the protein heavier option will likely be more filling anyway, so you stop at point 2 before ever reaching this step.

Changes, changes, changes.

weight loss over 6 weeks

Above is the whole catalogue of weekly pictures. I’ve been aiming to maintain at around 67kg until after Christmas, at which point I’m going to hit myself with a range of new goals.

Shout out thanks to Jon Smith for nagging me, and texting me daily to tell me to “put down the butter dish and walk away”. Check out his ace 5K running app at RunwithKick.com

Results

These were all updated live from a central database, so feel free to check back daily for updates…

Six kilos in six weeks: the final push.

wpid-wp-1447062912089.jpgRead the first post in this series here – Six kilos in six weeks: finishing what I started.
Just a warning, I’m going to be talking about weight loss, dieting and body image. If you struggle with your relationship with food, or have any self image difficulties, you may find it hard to read.

How am I doing?

Not well. For some reason, emotionally, I just had a terrible weekend. I decided that a strict diet was not going to improve my mood, so I took off the brakes. I’d like to note that on both days I was still careful with my breakfast calories, avoiding having too big a meal at night, and generally still applied a modicum of self control.

Pizza featured slightly too heavily this week...
Pizza featured slightly too heavily this week…

I still, pretty impressively, managed miss my deficit target by 2540kcal in two days. In context? I was aiming to eat just 2400kcal, and I was 2540kcal over that target. More than doubling it. I’m really good at this eating thing, eh?

On the plus side…

  • I was under my calorie goal on two days this week…
  • …but on my worst day I was over by 1549kcal.

Overall, based on a basal metabolic requirement of 2400 kcal per day, I’ve averaged a daily deficit of 736kcal, leaving me just over 5000 kcal down for the week. Despite the weekend, its actually not my worst week – I did better than in week 2!

Getting sweaty

I suspect this is due to fitting in a lot of exercise: I smashed it this week. Cycling 26 miles to work one day helped, as did beating my personal 5km and 10km running times

  • Week 1: I burnt off 1157 kcal doing exercise
  • Week 2: 945 kcal.
  • Week 3: 2150 kcal.
  • Week 4: 2235 kcal.

This week? 3505 kcal burnt off! Press ups are getting easier, there’s a snap to my star jumps, and I’m easily breaching the 5 minute kilometre mark when I run.

WhaWeek 5 weight grapht is my weight?

I think we knew this was coming: I’m not going to lose 6 kilos in 6 weeks.

My weekend caused an uptick to the red average line that has likely scuppered any chances of a last minute come back. I start week 6 weighing in at 69.3kg, a devastating 3.4kg behind where I should be! I suspect there are a few reasons behind the slow loss – beyond my love of chocolate – but I’ll have a proper look at them next week.

I’m not demoralised – I’m approaching the fittest I’ve ever been, and I’m seeing a completely reasonable weekly 0.5kg drop in my red trend line. Losing fat is a long game, and it was always optimistic to aim for a solid thousand grams of it per week.

Macros!

Following my decision to try to improve my macros this week, you’ll be excited to hear that I performed… completely terribly! This week, I only ate 12% protein – every other week I managed more than 17%.

Challenged by some excellent advice from Andrew Lloyd, I’m rededicating myself to the challenge of hitting my protein targets; there’s no point in dieting and losing muscle mass instead of fat.

Changes, changes, changes.

Sorry – I promised Christmas socks this week, but could only find these with red bobbles on the toes…

 

weightlossweek5

This challenge has always been about getting healthier. I want to get my body fat percentage down to six pack territory, and I want to add some more weight. It’s going to take me longer than six weeks, but frankly, I couldn’t have done much better, not in a sustainable way.

  1. Stay at a 1200 kcal target. I completely failed at this last week, and it made me much more miserable: but there’s only one more week left and I want to win!!! When I continue the diet after these six weeks, I’ll be going back up to 1400: much more sustainable.
  2. Carry on the exercise. 2000 kcal of exercise is a nice amount for me. Going to carry on the same routine, but I think its unlikely I’ll manage the highs of last week.
  3. Try to eat 25% protein. It seems pretty likely that dipping much below 20% puts muscle wasting into the “a significant possibility” category.

Shout out thanks to Jon Smith for keeping me accountable, and texting me daily to tell me to “put down the butter dish and walk away”. Check out his ace 5K running app at RunwithKick.com

Results

These are all updated live from a central database, so feel free to check back daily for updates…

Board Gaming in November!

A month or so ago, I finally got involved in something I’ve dreamt of for years: a local board gaming group! Introducing:

boardgamesgroupfacebookBoston Board Games group

Meeting on sporadic Monday nights, we get to try out various exciting new games. All games are fully explained by nerds experienced board gamers, and beginners are welcome.

Go on… join the group on Facebook!

In the last month we’ve played Lords of War, 6nimmt!, Vineta, 7 Wonders, Dead of Winter, Android: Netrunner, Between Two Cities, and Discworld: Ankh Morpork. In other words: no Monopoly, just fun new table based explosions of co-operation and competition.

Last night…

I enjoy waffling, so I may occasionally do little write ups. Last night, as I mentioned above, we played three games…

Android: Netrunner

androidnetrunnerAndroid: Netrunner is a collectible card game, with an assymetric design. Most games in the world are those that you play against people as equals: everyone has the same number of pieces, amount of starting money, etc.

In Netrunner that equality is gone: one of you plays as a massive corporation, the other as a hacker. As a result, the corp player has tons of resources and money, and is building an empire, whilst the hacker runs a much leaner setup, with just a few cards for his computer hardware and software.

The game revolves around “agenda” points. The corporation is trying to complete projects which score them, whilst the hacker is making runs against those servers to steal the agenda cards, and thus the points.

Most games in the world are those that you play against people as equals: in Netrunner, that equality is gone.

Its a game I bought a year ago, but struggled to find anyone to play it with. Reading the rules made it seem a little complex, but it actually fit together rather nicely. Two of us played, and the core challenge of being a hacker became clear pretty fast.

Jon bluffed me into a trap by installing a server, and putting some weak protection on it. I assumed it hid an agenda card, ran against the server, and accessed it… to discover he’d put a malicious program in there that trashed my best Icebreaker. Painful.

Despite the initial setback, I won the game, and I’m raring for more. May even enter one of the London day competitions for a laugh…

betweentwocitiesBetween Two Cities

Craig turned up halfway through the Netrunner game, and gleefully unveiled his shiny new kickstarter: Between Two Cities.

On the theme of balance as a mechanic, BTC manages to be unique by going in totally the opposite direction – everything you do is shared. You build a city with each of your neighbours, aiming to score the most points with them that you can. The catch? Your final score is defined by the points of your least good city.

BetweenTwoCitiesWinnerIts a confusing concept, best explained with a little diagram…

You want the two most valuable cities in the game next to you. And they should be as close to each other as possible in points. The bottom player has helped build an awesome 50 point city, but that doesn’t matter, because his other city isn’t good enough.

We played two games. It was ridiculously close each time, with the six cities all scoring between 50-55, but its worth noting that I won both games. Only by one point, but that’s a victory nonetheless.

I really enjoyed BTC: there’s something very satisfying about building a perfect little city, playingBTCoptimising for maximum points, but also keeping one eye cautiously out to try to make sure you aren’t helping to make one city too good at the expense of your other. The whole time you know everyone else is being just as co-operative, whilst also just being a tiny bit nasty at the back of their mind…

Discworld: Ankh Morpork

If you are reading this, you will have realised two things:

  • I’m writing on my personal, hand coded blog.
  • I’m nearly 30, yet talking about board games.

Obviously, I’m a terrific nerd, and as a result, a huge fan of Terry Pratchett books. As such, any game based on the world they’re set in is halfway to capturing my heart.

Discworld Ankh MorporkDiscworld: Ankh Morpork is an area control game where you all have hidden objectives. The hidden objectives mean that you don’t know if somebody needs to collect all the money to win, control a certain number of territories, have pieces in multiple territories, or simply wait out the end of the game to win.

We all persuaded ourselves that Craig was playing as Chrysoprase the troll, and thus needed loads of cash. He wasn’t.

This rolls out as a game where you are constantly on the lookout for anybody doing anything that might win. Appropriately, the role of Commander Vimes (head of the police in the Discworld books) is the one that wins if no body else manages to achieve their objective. It reminded me of monitoring field ownership in Carcassonne, coupled with the role uncertainty in Dead of Winter.

Our game of DW:AM (terrible acronym, sorry) didn’t last very long. We all persuaded ourselves that Craig was playing as Chrysoprase the troll, and thus needed loads of cash. He wasn’t, and so we totally missed him controlling 5 territories for a whole turn and winning.

I’m definitely keen to play it again, although I’m not completely sure how much fun it would be. I worry that there would be a lot of intently watching people’s turns, whilst your own moments of action are not hugely interesting. That said, all the cards are dripping with theme, covered in official artwork, and crammed with Discworld trivia, so I’d be pretty happy anyway…

Six kilos in six weeks: 28 days down

wpid-wp-1447062912089.jpgRead the first post in this series here – Six kilos in six weeks: finishing what I started.
Just a warning, I’m going to be talking about weight loss, dieting and body image. If you struggle with your relationship with food, or have any self image difficulties, you may find it hard to read.

How am I doing?

We just spent a week at Center Parcs. Usually, a trip to CP involves us doing a shopping trip where doughnuts, cookies and chocolate feature pretty heavily. I was a bit concerned about this, but actually, the week proved pretty great.

Getting muddyWe ate tons of cabbage, broccoli and about a pint of coffee every day, but I managed to stay away from the biscuits.

  • I was under my calorie goal on three days this week…
  • …but on my worst day I was over by 775kcal.

Overall, based on a basal metabolic requirement of 2400 kcal per day, I’ve averaged a daily deficit of 865kcal, leaving me just over 6000 kcal down for the week.

Getting sweaty

My exercise has been going brilliantly. Center Parcs helped, with its rather inviting biking trails, and having free time in such a lush setting – you can see my mud splattered face on the right.

  • Week 1: I burnt off 1157 kcal doing exercise
  • Week 2: 945 kcal.
  • Week 3: 2150 kcal.

This week? 2235 kcal burnt off! I’m thoroughly enjoying being more active, feeling much healthier, and have even beaten my 10K time down to 55:20.

WhaLibra chart- 2015-10-26 12-00-00t is my weight?

Time to be frank: I’m a kilo and a half behind my goals at the moment.

My red average line continues to drop steadily, but I’ve left the blue goal line dropping away from me depressingly fast.

I suspect there are two reasons behind the slow loss:

  1. Based on my calorie deficit, I’m not quite hitting the goal of eating 7000 kcal less than I need each week. I’ve average 6,100 over the 4 weeks, which could account for at least half a kilo of weight.
  2. I’ve been doing steadily more strength exercises. Still only body weight work like press ups and sit ups, but my whole body feels firmer, especially my shoulder and arms, so its likely that at least another half kilo is muscle gain.

Macros!

Macros are more about how I feel than the effect they have on my weight.

After planning to look at this every week, today I finally had a look through my macros.

  • Protein aim: 40% – I’ve averaged 19%.
  • Carbs aim: 35% – I’ve averaged 50%.
  • Fat aim: 25% – I’ve averaged 30%.

I could get all excited trying to link high protein weeks with successful weight loss weeks: but ultimately, its impossible to separate this from the maths of calorie deficit. For me, especially whilst I’m not doing any significant weights or strength training, macros are more about how I feel than the effect they have on my weight.

I’m going to adjust my goals to those that more closely match the RDAs, and aim for Protein 25%, Carbs 50% and Fats 25%, and see how I see with that mix. I suspect I’ll struggle to keep protein that high, and may end up swapping out a bit for fats…

Changes, changes, changes.

weightlossweek4

I’m confident that if I carry on pushing, the weight will continue to fall off. Frankly, I trust the science more than I trust my scales. That said, metabolism, fat burning and calorie restriction are not exact sciences, so its worth slightly fiddling to see if there’s an improvement.

  1. Drop back to a 1200 kcal target. I think I can manage this, and I’m intrigued to see if its all I need to hit my targets.
  2. Carry on the exercise. 2000 kcal of exercise is a nice amount for me. Going to carry on the same routine as last week, with 2 circuit training days, 2 running days and 2 cycling days.
  3. Try to hit new macro targets. I’m keen to see if this has an impact on my percieved energy levels, or other pseudo-scientific effects…

Shout out thanks to Jon Smith for keeping me accountable, and texting me daily to tell me to “put down the butter dish and walk away”. Check out his ace 5K running app at RunwithKick.com

Results

These are all updated live from a central database, so feel free to check back daily for updates…

Six kilos in six weeks: halfway through

horizontal-162952_1280Read the first post in this series here – Six kilos in six weeks: finishing what I started.
Just a warning, I’m going to be talking about weight loss, dieting and body image. If you struggle with your relationship with food, or have any self image difficulties, you may find it hard to read.

How am I doing?

I stuck to my guns better than last week:

  • I was under my calorie goal on two days…
  • …on my worst day I was only over by 400kcal.

Overall, based on a basal metabolic requirement of 2400 kcal per day, I’ve averaged a daily deficit of 922kcal, leaving me just below 6500 kcal down for the week.

WhaLibra chart- 2015-10-19 12-00-00t is my weight?

Err… Somehow, I seem to have lost no weight at all since last week. Weighing in at 69kg was somewhat depressing this Monday morning.

That said, the red average line has still dropped by half a kilo in the last week, and I suspect my weights will catch up through the week, although it does look like I’m a little behind…

A changeable week.

Routine is the dieter’s friend. For me, I get up, weigh myself, have a negligible calorie coffee, go to work, eat around 700 calories through my work day, do some exercise at lunch, then go home, do a little more exercise, and eat about 700 calories in the evening.

Without routine? Life seems to be suddenly filled with opportunities to eat, and a high availability of difficult to assess foods. How many calories are actually in a Saag Paneer with half a Peshwari Naan. A Salad Kebab? Even just a latte from a random coffee shop?

In dieting, as in so many areas of life,
knowledge is power.

This week I visited my grandma in Birmingham. I massively upped my exercise, and did my best to keep track on calories pretty severely. But the simple failure to remember my weighing scales meant I already felt uncomfortably cut adrift.

So far, I’ve not found this moderately intense diet particularly difficult. Weight loss is pretty simple really: mostly, you need to eat less. Having a nice graph of weights, whilst tracking my daily input and outputs gives me a real sense of control. That’s why not having my scales robbed me from feeling capable and confident; in dieting, as in so many areas of life, knowledge is power.

Getting sweaty

What went better? Exercise went better:

  • Week 1: I burnt off 1157 kcal doing exercise
  • Week 2: I managed 945kcal of exercise.

This week? 2150 kcal burnt off. More than the previous two weeks combined. This may have contributed to the difficulty losing weight, in two ways:

  1. Firstly, there is a risk of overestimating exercise calories burn, which would mean my net deficit wouldn’t be high enough.
  2. Secondly, I may have built up my muscles a bit, which would disguise fat loss.

Changes, changes, changes.

weightlossweek3

I’m confident that if I carry on pushing, the weight will continue to fall off, despite the results this week. This week I’m going to:

  1. Stick with a 1400 kcal target. I doubt I will see significant progress with any more, and I’d be miserable with any less!
  2. Aim to stabilise my exercise. 2000 kcal of exercise in a week is a sustainable amount for me – translated to about 5 hours. Aiming to fit in the following workouts:
    – 2x a NYT workout twice a week
    – 2x cycling day
    – 2x running day (working on bleep test)
  3. Keep an eye on macros. *Still* haven’t thought about macros much. May look at this this week, or just review it at the end.

Shout out thanks to Jon Smith for keeping me accountable, and texting me daily to tell me to “put down the butter dish and walk away”. Check out his ace 5K running app at RunwithKick.com

Results

These are all updated live from a central database, so feel free to check back daily for updates…