Holy shitballs

Back in college, my favorite undergraduate class of my major was Limnology, or the study of lakes and rivers. I loved it so much that I went to grad school and eventually helped teach it as a TA while doing soil and water chemistry of a lake ecosystem.

In the world of limnology, there are three big lakes everyone talks about. It shouldn’t be a surprise that certain lakes always get talked about in a study of the subject since I suspect every English major has to know Chaucer, Math majors gotta know Erdös, and Physicists hear about Newton, Feynman, and Hawking all the time.

So among the limnologists I rolled with, the big three were Lake Tahoe in California (a good demonstration of a glacial lake), Lake Baikal in Siberia (deepest, largest lake by volume on earth), and Crater Lake in Oregon (perfect demonstration of a volcanic lake). I’d grown up in California so I’d been to Tahoe many times, I’d seen/read tons about Baikal but never thought I’d see it in person (though I know someone who has), but I’d always wanted to see Crater Lake in Oregon.

I’ve lived in Oregon for over six years now and I’ve gradually started exploring quite a bit of it, going up and down the entire coast, all over the northwest side, some of the central area around Bend, and much of the far eastern and northern segments, but until today, I’ve never actually gotten to see Crater Lake.

We drove up and stayed the night before about 7 miles outside of Crater Lake in the quaintest little motorlodge straight out of the 1950s. We awoke this morning and headed up, still not knowing exactly which peaks that surrounded the lower valleys contained America’s deepest lake. After a half hour of driving, parking, and walking, I finally crested a path to take in this view and the first thought that came to my mind was this:

“Holy shitballs.”

The morning light was great, the surface was still and there were great reflections and the deep blue water was a deep blue unlike anything I’d seen before. I was in awe. I still am. Sometimes nature is so incredible you left with nothing to say but “Holy shitballs”.

I get by with a little help from 94552 friends

MetaFilter is ten years old today. It feels both like a long time and it went by in a flash, if that's possible. I guess it's safe to say the first five years were an atrocious slog in terms of my life/work balance and how much energy and free time I put into it, while the last five years have gone quickly as I've gotten to work on it full time and have several people helping out.

I remember Chuck Olsen interviewing me for Blogumentary (it's not in the final cut of the movie). It was spring of 2003 and I'm at the lowest of low when we discuss MetaFilter. The site is sucking the life out of me as I'm trying to juggle running MetaFilter on my own along with a full time day job, a marriage, the expense of living in the Bay Area while at the same time trying to save up for a move to Oregon and a house. My world was crumbling as I was doing a mediocre job at everything while still devoting hours everyday trying to keep things civil at MetaFilter. I talked to a couple people that had had some internet success, asking them what they'd do if they were in my shoes, but I didn't get any good answers. Thankfully, I just kept my head down and slogged through a bad year.

Late that year I set up Ask MetaFilter after repeated requests for a Q&A forum. Early on I could tell it was special and could lead to something great. Normally online communities sort of start out, get good, then slide downward into oblivion. Ask MetaFilter renewed my faith in the community I helped build and I felt like it reset whatever downward slide had taken place in the previous year or so.

Today, the site is bustling, doing an insane amount of traffic (mostly due to Ask MeFi). Four other people work on the site along with me. The front page of MetaFilter continues to be a wonderful mish-mash of interesting things on the web and Ask MetaFilter astounds me everyday with the great questions and answers about stuff I've often wondered about. My life is richer for having built it and having ran it and (especially) having read it for all these years.

I noticed a lot of people on twitter are thanking me personally, but I'd rather thank the people that got MetaFilter to where it is today. Every one of the thousands of account holders have contributed things both big and small to the site and its culture and without them the site simply wouldn't exist so I'd like to thank anyone that has ever joined the site, posted a comment, posted a question, attended a meetup, or even simply read the site as an outsider.

The site could not continue without the incredible staff working behind the scenes. Jessamyn became the first employee on the site when I noticed she was doing a better job of explaining the site than I was. I'm thankful for her balanced moderation that helped mold all the sites into wonderful places to hang out. I couldn't keep up with both the endless parade of new feature requests as well as the constant site maintenance and thankfully I soon got a ton of help from Paul. His work is amazing but even more so when you consider the site spits out roughly 18 million pages to 9 million people a month using ColdFusion and just three servers (one web server, one database server, and one just for images and other static files). Paul has re-engineered the entire codebase to the point where I can barely understand what makes some features on the site actually function. Josh became the third employee when he, like Jessamyn, was doing a better job than me explaining things on the site but he was also doing it faster than I ever could. Josh also alleviates the monster workload Jessamyn and I were working under trying to moderate a hundred new threads and a few thousand comments that were added daily. Eventually we realized since we're all in the USA, the time we sleep became a problem and thankfully vacapinta stepped in from Europe to save our butts many, many times at 3am our time.

Many others have helped along the way. My first real web job at UCLA was cool enough that the director let us run hobby sites on our own hardware under our desks. When I left to join Pyra, Ev and Meg let me run the server under my desk there as well. When I left in 2001, Jason Levine stepped in and graciously shared his personal home bandwidth and closet space to house the server at not just one but two apartments on the east coast.

Over the years I've met thousands of MetaFilter members at organized MeFi meetups, at technical conferences, and sometimes just walking down the street. Often I was surprised by this and given my introverted personality, I usually never know what to say to members I meet randomly, but I do want to say from the bottom of my heart I thank you for helping make the site more amazing every day.

This weekend we're celebrating the site's 10th anniversary at one of almost seventy places on Earth's seven continents. There will be thousands of people celebrating and I hope anyone that has ever been a part of the site can join in.

The games people play…

My daughter invented a hide-and-seek game today, using her toys in her dollhouse. I would leave her room, she'd hide a small playmobil kid in a large dollhouse, then I'd go back in and try and find it, and vice versa. Fun for hours.

She was actually quite good at the game, since she didn't have typical knowledge about social or psychological limits I would follow (she was happily hiding a toy child in an oven, in a refrigerator, etc).

Odd Technology

I discovered a new first world problem. I called a friend's mobile phone while he was at home and we were discussing things for ten minutes or so. Then his spouse arrived home from a trip to the store and parked the car inside their garage. My call ended suddenly and I was a bit confused.

Later, I found out that as the car entered the garage, my friend's mobile automatically connected to it via his stored Bluetooth profile. His spouse was suddenly hearing my half of the conversation on the car's stereo speakers. She panicked, and hit the call end button on the steering wheel.

It felt like one of the weirdest edge case technology problems possible.

Weight loss tips for geeks

I'm halfway through a big bet and I just weighed in at a tad over 210 pounds this morning, right on schedule for winning my bet. Getting down to 220lbs from 230 at the start of the year was easy, but the rest of the pounds were much harder. I'm now on a pretty good weight loss streak of a couple pounds per week with no end in sight. Different things work for different people but I thought I'd share what worked for me in the hopes that maybe one or more of these tips will help your own weight loss as well.

Read the Hackers Diet

A good starting point is reading the bible for geek weight loss: The Hacker's Diet. It's a simple free book you can get a copy of online and read on almost any device. It's pretty basic stuff, talking about how food equals calories equals pounds and how to count and curb calories while exercising to further your calorie deficit. The book does a great job of laying out a simple engineering approach that doesn't concern itself with what foods you eat or how you prepare them or even what exercise you choose to do, it's all just simple math on how to make small changes to lose a pound or two a week to meet your goal and maintain your ideal weight. The only downside to the book is that it was written a long time ago and you should ignore all the mentions of spreadsheets and the screenshots of early Excel running in Windows 3.1 because thankfully there are iPhone apps and online apps that can keep track of your data much easier.

Weigh yourself every day, use a moving average to analyze it

I've heard many times in many places that you shouldn't live and die simply by the scale and that you should instead plot your daily weight on an average curve that smoothes out the daily fluctuations in weight. I never had the patience to do this until recently but now that I have I fully understand the benefits.

It's also important to limit your variables by taking your weight at around the same time every day, with the same scale, under similar conditions. I do this every morning right after I get up. I usually pee, get undressed completely, and take my weight. I've been doing this for almost a year and I used to get depressed easily if I happened to shoot up a few 10ths of a pound one day. It wasn't until I switched to a moving average that I started to see the light. It takes a couple weeks to get enough data points but trust me that it is worth it.

There are many explanations of why one would use a moving average, but I'll just say that it covers your weight trends and lessens the daily fluctuations. This means if you drop 0.1 pounds every day for a week then one morning you weigh in at one full pound heavier than the previous day, your entire week wasn't shot that morning because you'd still be trending downwards. If you stick to your plans you'll often see weight continue to go down even with the occasional hiccup.

After trying out several online tools and apps, I like physicsdiet.com the best. It gives a nice history graph and you can use the basic green-means-good, pink-means-bad to continue exercising and watching what you eat. Sometimes it can be frustrating if you suddenly lose a few pounds and your moving average still reads a pound or two higher than what the scale says, but having a slow moving average has done wonders for my happiness each day. An average weight loss trend removes a lot of the emotion from daily weigh-ins, in a good way.

Practice mindful eating

When I first started trying to lose weight I hit a plateau early on. I was doing more exercise but I wasn't losing any weight for months on end and it wasn't until I realized that I was eating larger meals to counteract the exercise that I solved the plateau problem.

Being mindful of your eating for me means a few things. First, I try to have small dinners, early in the evening. Secondly, at every meal and especially dinner I stop every few minutes while eating and take a quick assessment of how full I am feeling. In the past, I've pretty much just shoveled food into my mouth until a plate was cleared, but now I frequently have small light dinners with 14 hours or so before breakfast the next day, which really helps lower my daily calorie intake. Another quick tip came from somewhere deep in Ask MetaFilter: if you're presented with some large meal, rich food, or incredible looking dessert, ask yourself if you'll remember it two weeks from now. If the answer is yes, by all means go ahead and eat it and enjoy it and think back on how wonderful it was weeks from now. If the answer is no, put the fork down and go do something else.

Pick an exercise that doesn't feel like work

I know a lot of friends that have done the Body for Life thing have told me to not just try a diet and not just try a workout, but change your schedule permanently so you can do healthy things forever and it's true. My big win on losing weight was increasing my exercise but doing so with an activity I love to do (cycling). So it wasn't a chore to increase my weekly miles on a bike, it was a chance to spend more time doing something I loved. Even if you hate gyms, hate working out, hate running, hate cycling, and hate jumping rope, you have to find something physical you love to do in order to make it work. Once you find that exercise embrace it and use enthusiasm to help burn some extra calories.

Overall I'm really happy with my 20lbs lost since early this year and I'm looking forward to losing another 15lbs more before I try to stabilize my weight below 200lbs. A lot of it comes down to self-control — there are so many opportunities every day to gorge yourself on free office bagels, high calorie coffee drinks, and rich desserts that it's often hard to say no, but with good feedback and some clear goals it makes it much easier to say no.