Monday, April 30, 2012

Website update

Mid-size website update tonight. As always, check it out at

What's new:
  • Updated ILM page with Avengers credit
  • Updated Resume
  • New image rotations on main page, added new Ferry Building image
  • Modified Photo page (more of that later)
  • Updated Where I've Been Map
  • Couple other smaller updates
Later, I think I am going to maybe update the photo gallery a little more and split the photos into galleries by photo type (Nature, People, Architecture), something like that. I will also probably pair down the "best photos" a little more and choose a smaller amount. I'm also planning to start spending more time on post-processing in the future so I may re-release some of the existing images after some post-processing work later in the year. Plus, of course, a selection of the best photos from South America!!

Good times,
Mike :)

Weight loss re-done with locally-weighted polynomial regression

My buddy and epic Math fiend Chris Twigg saw the previous crappy Linear Regression graph and suggested a fancier method of using R to do a locally-weighted polynomial regression instead for a better fit line. Anyhow, in a sign that I overwhelmingly need a stronger social life on a Sunday night, I just spent a bit of time refreshing myself on how to use R and drawing a plot using this cool method. Fancy!

Here are the results:
For the Math nerds in the crowd (I know there are a lot of you), here's my weight-vs-dates scatterplot redone in the statistical program "R", using locally-weighted polynomial regression

The green line is a smoothness of 0.2, the red line is a smoothness of the default which is 2/3.

If for some reason you desperately want to see a nicer regression line for your own epic weight loss, here's the code for it. Have fun :) And don't forget to put your own embarrassingly (though, previously) high weights and dates into it instead of using mine. :)
#R program for weight loss vs. date plot using locally-weighted polynomial regression

dts <- c("2011-09-11", "2011-09-17", "2011-09-18", "2011-09-24", "2011-09-25", "2011-09-29", "2011-10-02", "2011-10-08", "2011-10-09", "2011-10-15", "2011-10-17", "2011-10-22", "2011-10-30", "2011-11-06", "2011-11-07", "2011-11-16", "2012-01-02", "2012-01-21", "2012-01-29", "2012-02-02", "2012-02-04", "2012-02-11", "2012-02-20", "2012-02-25", "2012-02-29", "2012-03-03", "2012-03-07", "2012-03-14", "2012-03-17", "2012-03-24", "2012-03-31", "2012-04-01", "2012-04-08", "2012-04-12", "2012-04-14", "2012-04-21", "2012-04-22", "2012-04-25", "2012-04-29")
weight <- c(210.2, 206.8, 206.8, 205.6, 205.6, 204.4, 204.4, 202.6, 202.6, 202.6, 201, 201, 199.6, 199.6, 198.4, 198.2, 200.6, 200.8, 199.2, 199.2, 198.2, 196.4, 195.2, 194.4, 193.2, 191.6, 191.6, 191.6, 189.8, 188.4, 186.4, 186.4, 186.4, 185, 185, 185, 185, 183.8, 182.8)
xyplot(weight~as.Date(dts), main = "Weight vs Dates")
lines(lowess(weight), col=2)
lines(lowess(weight, f=.2), col=3)

I guess I should probably go watch sports now or something.

Mike :)

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Graphing my weight loss

This is pretty cool, I was just fiddling with Google's new Fusion Tables and made this useful plot of my weight loss over time from when I started tracking it on MyFitnessPal (Oct 2011) to now (May 2012). Very awesome to see the details in this time format. You can see the (small) plateaus and how actually they have been very short, usually on the order of a couple of 1-2 weeks long. Surprising.

Also interesting to see is this Christmas vacation, where I stopped recording on MyFitnessPal for about 3 weeks. Here you can see the only time in the graph where my weight loss was not decreasing week-by-week, in fact it did jump up about 3 lbs. But it's good to see that's the only place where I backtracked, and otherwise it's been full sail ahead since Oct 2011. Pretty motivating to see all my work lined up like this.

Weight loss by date (Oct 2011 - May 2012)

Maybe it's just the Math degree talking, but this data is pretty hot. You can't argue with the obvious negative slope here. But to see it better we gotta kick it up a notch, I didn't see Google's new code have fancy stuff like a least-squares/linear regression so let's copy it over to Excel and plot a Linear Regression line to get a more "summarized" view of what the data looks like...

That's some sexy linear regression, huh

I dunno about you, but it looks like whatever I am doing to lose weight (explained in detail here) is mathematically sound ;) This graph here is a bit easier to see cause we're removing those outliers (like the Christmas Break over-eating) and focusing more on the actual trend line itself. Which is clearly going downwards, and at a nice sustainable pace too. Math!

What are the takeaways here? Well I'm definitely sure that the weight loss is going well, though that was obvious before. I think the general thing I get from these graphs, especially the linear regression, is that a few little ups and downs are not really a big deal, the main thing to focus on is the solid, consistent work, and that I can very safely say that I am doing an awesome job. The trend line is good, but I want to continue it further until more things come in line (like body fat percentage, etc). Overall though, this is awesome to see, and really motivating. Woo!

Friday, April 27, 2012


Holy sweet damn, my favorite bass player in the world (from DMB ahhh!) just followed me on Twitter?!!?!!???! This is absurd!!!!!!!! Excuse me while I go exclaim my happiness from a mountain top...

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Sunday, April 22, 2012

Body Fat Percentage test #1

The community on MyFitnessPal suggests roughly ignoring the BMI value for testing body fat/weight loss goals and focusing instead on Body Fat Percentage tests.

Apparently it takes a while and can be a bit expensive to get this done professionally, but you can do a simple tape measure version at home using different formulas. This was pretty easy, and the app "Fat2Fit" is pretty straightforward.

I got some interesting (and varying) results from the 3 different formulas:
"Original" Formula: 23.8%
Military Formula: 22.4%
Covert Bailey Formula: 17.5%.

This puts "lean muscle weight" at like 140-150lbs, and that's how it calculates fat on top on your lean weight. Interesting. These values are quite varying unfortunately, and since the healthy range ends at 19%, it's unclear whether I am in the healthy range yet or not. If you take an average of all the values, it's 21.2%, which is getting close.

So this data is a bit unclear but the one thing here is obvious, getting to my original goal weight of 180 lbs (very close now) is not good enough, as I suspected. My new goal to hit 170 next is a great call, and I may even push to 165 after that, though I bet that is gonna be TOUGH. Anyway, good to get a rough idea. Mostly this is just to plant a marker so I can re-test using all of these formulas again monthly and track my results more closely.

CNN: Why losing email is like a snow day

Great opinion piece about communication now and then, and how losing Gmail service for an hour last week has both pros and cons for our over-connected lives. Great piece.

"Whenever there is an unexpected silence -- cell service goes dead or e-mail freezes up -- we get a chance to reflect on how much we rely on technology. A digital break can at times feel like a treat, Bob Greene says."

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Fat former self sez (photo #3)

The epic fitness goal continues!

I'm so psyched to announce that I'm now past 185 lbs, with a total loss of 25 lbs so far. Fitness, healthy eating and weight loss is my big goal for 2012 and it's going really well so far. It's actually been surprisingly straightforward after making some serious and well-thought-out changes to diet and exercise. (See this old blog post for details). In honour of this progress, here's the next installment of my self-imposed internet meme "Fat Former Self".

Now, why the hell would I intentionally post horrible photos of me at an earlier weight? Well... lots of reasons. It's fun to share a sort of ridiculous before/after style photo with friends, but more importantly, this is my way of increasing social pressure on myself to make sure I maintain this weight loss. By tracking down horrid photos of me as "Fat Former Self" (and also, referring to my old pics as that), I'm celebrating how much happier I am with my weight loss/fitness progress so far. Each photo reminds me further why I'm so glad I've made these healthy changes, and how I never want to drop the ball in the future and end up re-gaining this weight.

Good luck to all of you also working hard to lose weight and get healthy - it's tough, but it's SO worth it. Keep working hard. MyFitnessPal is an awesome website/iPhone app, and I've found it incredibly helpful to keep my head in the game, and really learn about calories, it's been very surprising and enlightening.

Night Photography: Success!!

My buddy Justin and I headed out to Treasure Island tonight, the island smack-dab in the middle of the San Francisco Bay between Emeryville/Oakland and San Francisco. I brought my new ball-head tripod and had some pretty solid success with it tonight!

I'll post more photos later, but just spent a bit of time post-processing my favourite one, so just this one for now. I'll post more later when I get time to post-process.

San Francisco Ferry Building, from Treasure Island
Canon Rebel T1i // ISO 100 // 250mm // f/20 // 15 sec. Postprocess in Lightroom 4.
Learned a few significant things tonight, and made some good progress after our last nighttime photo shoot on Twin Peaks:
  • You actually (surprisingly) don't want to use a low (wide) aperture for nighttime shots of scenery like this. I had brought my 50mm f/1.8 lens and figured that would be useful, but I didn't even take it out.
  • Small aperture is your friend here, as those cool star patterns only show up past f/15 or so.
  • Holy crap shooting in RAW is a good idea. I shot in RAW+Jpg, and realized only afterwards that my favourite shot (this one) was shot with White Balance of Daylight. This caused a very yellowish/orange glow of the lights which was... ok... but in comparison with the final image I am incredibly pleased I was able to change the colour temperature AFTER taking the photo. The comparison is shocking (see comparison image below)
  • Hat, gloves and windbreaker are a good call for nighttime photography!
  • Post-process is actually much more awesome than I thought. In my photo class we were taught to try to get everything right in-camera, even cropping if possible. So I try to do as much at shooting time as I can. But stuff like incorrect white balance or noise or wanting stronger shadows is too hard or impossible to get right at shooting time. I am VERY happy with the results you can get in Lightroom, and this post-process on the image above only took about 20 or 30 min. Not bad.
  • Oh yeah, and Lightroom is awesome. It's slow on my Windows machine, not sure why. These RAW files are like 15 megs each, but still. I might try it on my Mac and see if it's faster there before I commit to buying it on one platform or the other.
And now for the before and after, check this out... crazy. When I took this photo I loooved it and figured it was gonna be the best one of the night. It still was the best of the lot when I got home, but once I started fiddling with it in Lightroom the power and potential of post-processing became pretty obvious.

 Not a bad photo, in fact I still really like it. But man look at those oranges, the red/orange colour bleed on the buildings, not that great.
And side-by-side in Lightroom 4:

Really happy with the more natural lighting look in the post-processed image, and the sharpness brought on by the improved contrast.

Those streaky lines by the way were caused by a tourist cruise boat driving by while I was taking the photo. The framing of the cruise boat lights on the San Francisco sign is a complete accident, and I love how that kind of accident works out sometimes :)

Monday, April 09, 2012


Back in '09 when I went to Japan I was really surprised at the kind of green tea they gave us at the sushi place I went to - it was powdered and you just added hot water to it and stirred. I was so surprised and it tasted great, a little bitter (or "bittersweet") with what people usually call "vegetal sweetness". Haha that word is weird. It is a bit grassy-tasting but has this interesting sweetness to it. Pretty damn awesome. I think it's often used for Green Tea Ice Cream.

I haven't had it in ages and just noticed on Steepster that there is a fancy matcha from a company called PureMatcha that looks pretty tasty. Reviews were great and it looks pretty fun. There is a cool preparation method too, you can get this crazy bamboo whisk and that's the usual method for stirring it. When you stir it in such a way, it often foams up. I guess they must use a lower grade version of this for stuff like Green Tea Frappucinos at Starbucks. Anyhow, this looks pretty good and I think I'm gonna try it at some point. Maybe I should start with a cheaper one first from Japantown, but I'd love to get the tea preparation equipment too.

Maaan this bamboo whisk looks so friggin' badass!!!! Yes. "I want to go to there."

Tea it upppp

Electric DeLorean

Um... SOLD!!!!!!!! Hoverboards are next :)

I love the plates. "Gas? Where we're going, we won't need gas!

Isotope Wines

Check out my buddy Justin Rose's new wine company! He's the "chief wine nerd" and founder/winemaker of Sonoma Valley's Isotope Wines. Pinot Noir and Chardonnay both now on sale on his site here:

Both wines are badass. Just got some of the Chard last week... looking forward to cracking it open after Passover :)

Use coupon code CARBON12 for a savings of 8.33% on a case of 12.

Saturday, April 07, 2012

Quoted in EaterSF Article!

haha, this is awesome. EaterSF just quoted me in their article about Wise Sons Deli in The Mission, this is hilarious.

About the Pastrami:
Blogger Mike Jutan writes, “the pastrami really holds up and the portion is more reasonable/less over-the-top than the usual Katz or Carnegie ‘whole-cow’ style.”

About the Pickles:
Blogger Mike Jutan asks and answers: “so... how are the pickles? The answer: garlicy enough to kill 1,000 vampires and crunchy like the wolf.” 

Haha, "Blogger Mike Jutan" :) I really love that Deli and this EaterSF article is some great further promo for them. The demand there is justifiably very high... Go Wise Sons! I'll have to go there again soon (well, not during Passover) :)

Thanks to Aliza for the heads up about the article!

Friday, April 06, 2012

1000 Awesome Things: Canada :)

JUST mentioned Neil Pasricha in the last post and noticed he's just posted #10 in his "1000 Awesome Things" countdown. And it's about... the land true north strong and free... Oh Canada :) How I love you, you epic land of awesome.

Check it out, this totally rocks.

Positive Psychology on TED

Been really interested in the field of Positive Psychology lately. The "father" of positive psychology, Dr. Martin Seligman, describes it as an alternative to tradition psychology, which historically focused on fixing mental illness. In contrast, Positive Psychology aims to study what makes people happy, what attitudes/skills/environments are conducive to happy and productive work, and so on. This is truly fascinating, and it feels to immediately applicable to my life.

Just watched a couple of interesting TED talks from two of the big-dawgs in the movement, Martin Seligman and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. As usual I'm up watching and reading too late again, it's 2:30 and it might be an "early" night compared to the usual this week. Oy. :) Anyway I could discuss a bunch of thoughts right now but maybe I'll leave it for another time, or after I've read some more. Dr. Seligman has a couple of books, my Dad is currently reading his new one "Flourish" and recommends it, so I'll plan to check that out when I have the time. In any case, this is incredibly fascinating stuff.

I really wish I had taken Psychology classes while at University, too bad it was such a busy life in the Computer Science faculty! That's ok though, it seems with amazing things like TED, iTunesU, Khan Academy etc, the intellectually curious have a mountain of amazing and worthwhile lecture material available online - and mostly free too. Totally amazing!

If you want the quick play-by-play, Wikipedia has quite a nice long article about it here. I found myself waiting at the Doctor's office for a good hour and a half earlier this week, and spent the whole time reading this Wikipedia page in detail, it's pretty awesome.

The thing I think I really like about this is how immediately applicable it is. The famed "Happiness" class at Harvard that is based on some of this research is making waves and it's clear why it's so successful: everyone wants to learn how to maximize it in their own lives! Me too. I'm gonna check out those books and post some more thoughtful articles in the future about it. But for now, some great TEDs that I've watched recently on this and similar topics. Shane Achor's TED is fantastic and he's a a great, energetic speaker too. And of course, I gotta re-post epic fellow Torontonian Neil Pasricha's talk on "The 3 A's of Awesome". I love that guy's books, and he is so cool and soooo Canadian. What a champ!

Martin Seligman: Why is psychology good?

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi: Creativity, fulfillment and flow

Shawn Achor: The happy secret to better work

TEDxToronto - Neil Pasricha "The 3 A's of Awesome"

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

One Laptop Per Child

Wow, how freakin' AWESOME is this???

After my previous post about Abel, I had to read more. That cute Peruvian kid called his one-laptop-per-child laptop "his friend" because he can open it up when he is home alone and he can play, and when he doesn't want to play he can write stories or draw instead. Oh. MAN.

So I had to learn more about this organization. It's called One Laptop Per Child ( and is founded by the founders of the MIT Media Lab. Epic. You know, I think I heard a bit about this a while back but hadn't really heard many details since then. After seeing the laptop in the movie Life in a Day, I wanted to see their progress and it's really impressive.

I wanted to know more about their organization and it looks like the laptops they supply to 3rd-world countries are Linux-based, running a custom OS that they develop called "Sugar". It looks like all the software developed on this system is done in Python (ie., awesome).

The coolest thing is you can propose a project and donate your time to DEVELOP AN APP for these systems?!?!!!!!!!!!!!!!! That is really freakin' awesome, and such an interesting way to make a difference. I reaaaaaaaaaaally like this idea.

For any CS friends who are interested, check out their information and their "Contributors Program" here. This is some really fascinating stuff, and what an awesome way to make a huge impact on the world with your software development skills. I friggin' love this.

My favourite clip from Life in a Day

Not sure why I hadn't posted this until now, this is my favourite clip from Life in a Day.

This sweet kid from Peru is so hardworking and appreciative of his life despite what looks like pretty heavy poverty. The coolest part is at the end of the video when he brings out his laptop, part of the One Laptop Per Child program and says he loves Wikipedia because it's like "a big library"?!?!?!!!!!!!!!!!!! Oh man I was so blown away by this clip. I have to learn more about this organization, this really is so awesome.

Abel's story

Abel and a Professor from Lima at the Sundance Film Festival where the film was released

Monday, April 02, 2012

Full-frame vs. Cropped DSLR Camera debate

The Canon 5D3 is out and is EPIC, but also $3500 and super far out of my price range. But, with the release of the 5D3, the 5D2 - still a truly amazing machine after 4-ish years on the market - is dropping like a brick in the price department.

Been doing some research to see if it actually makes sense for me to upgrade to a full-frame at some point. Given the dropping price of the 5D2 (going for ~$1600 on Craigslist or Ebay) it seems a good thing to think about.

I found articles on both sides of the issue. This one: argues against full-frame, discussing the issues of vignetting on the frame edges and that the quality of the lens declines as you get closer to the edges. A cropped sensor does not use the edges of the frame, and so you don't have those issues.

This article from Ken Rockwell takes the completely opposite stance, voting strongly for the quality of Full-Frame and suggesting much greater clarity/sharpness, colour differentiation, and low noise giving you the ability to get more out of a given ISO setting.

Finally, this article is less biased one way or another and seems to just encourage you to pick a camera based on how you plan to use it. It suggests a cropped sensor if you take a lot of wildlife photos or sports, since the cropped sensor in effect gives you a free multiplier on your zoom lenses. It suggests a full-frame if you take a lot of photos of architecture or landscapes and might benefit more from more use on the wider-angle spectrum.

Given a quick peruse of my favourite photos of the last few years ( my broad style of photos seems to cover roughly: architecture, people, portraits, nature, landcapes. These mostly fall in the wide-angle camp and there are some close-ups, but they are all shot at pretty close range and not zoomed-in from afar (the effect that you would get from a cropped sensor).

So that seems somewhat conclusive. I'd be interested to make sure I don't end up with the vignetting issues that the first guy talks about, and perhaps that means dropping some further bills on a 28-105 f/4 lens which is certainly gonna increase the "upgrade cost". So it's a tough call, but I've been a big fan of the 5D2 for a long time and I'd be interested to trade-up from my T1i if the time was right.

I think the best advice comes from Ken Rockwell (and, my buddy Schmuel Zimmer): the camera (and even the lens) isn't gonna be what makes you good, and isn't gonna be what makes you a better photographer. Only practice will do that. Joel suggested upgrading "only if I think it's gonna make me go out and shoot more" - that's a great suggestion. I don't know if that's definitely the case or not, likely not. But, on the other hand, I'm starting to plan for more photo hikes with my buddy Justin and reading more about night photography, and just bought a pretty cool ball-head swivel tripod. So it does seem like I'm enjoying this more and more as time goes on. A photo class might be a good idea, and I also want to spend a solid amount of time learning better post-processing skills in Lightroom. Just downloaded the trial of Lightroom 4 and it's pretty awesome - seems like a reduced-scale Photoshop with only some key things you really need, and without the mountain of things to learn. Pretty nice. After Peru and Argentina I think I am gonna spend a good amount of time post-processing the best images of that trip, and also going back to some old photos and pimpin' them out a bit. I'll then re-post those to my website, and perhaps split up the photo section into different categories - trimming the images down further and focusing even further on quality over quantity.

Interesting article on Blogging vs Social Media

Interesting article from Calgary. Go Bloggers!

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