Tuesday, December 27, 2011

What I've Been Listening to: December 2011

Bands:

1. Oasis
2. Blur
3. Rush
4. Portugal the Man
5. The Rolling Stones
6. The Beatles
7. Jimi Hendrix
8. The Who
9. The Bluetones
10. The Charlatans

Albums:

1. Oasis - "Be Here Now"
2. Blur - "Parklife"
3. The Who - "Quadrophenia" (remaster)
4. The Charlatans - "The Charlatans"
5. The Bluetones - "A Rough Outline"
6. Mansun - "Kleptomania"
7. The Beatles - "Magical Mystery Tour"
8. The Rolling Stones - "Hot Rocks"
9. Portugal the Man - "Waiter You Vulture!"
10. Jimi Hendrix - Complete Winterland concerts

Songs:

1. Noel Gallagher - "If I Had a Gun"
2. The Charlatans - "Patrol"
3. Primus - "Tommy the Cat"
4. Foster the People - "Helena Beat"
5. Blur - "All We Want"
6. Oasis - "Go Let it Out"
7. Gorillaz - "Stylo"
8. The Rolling Stones - "If You Can't Rock Me"
9. The Charlatans - "Jesus Hairdo"
10. Peter Frampton - "All I Want to Be (Is By Your Side)"



Thursday, December 8, 2011

I Hope Life's a Blur in 2012!



 As you know, I'm a *HUGE* Blur fan (actually, that's probably an understatement...I'm absolutely mad about them). After their reunion tour in 2009, there was a lot of speculation as to what the next step for them would be. But, apart from the excellent retrospective documentary film "No Distance Left to Run," (to which I contributed and got my name in the credits for!) and the one-off single "Fools Day" in 2010, there's been little news on that front.

But within the last few weeks, a flurry of interviews have pointed toward something big in 2012, including a potential tour of the USA (which would be GREAT! I only saw them once, in 2003, so I'd love to see them some more) as well as new music, To top it all off, they're getting a Lifetime Achievement award at next year's Brit Awards in London.  For all of this news and more, check out my Blur webpage, my Blur Facebook page, or my Blur Twitter page.

For multiple reasons, now including Blur, I'm really looking forward to 2012!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

A Novel Idea

I had started writing a novel in November 2010.  I based it on a bunch of ideas I'd had milling around in my head for the better part of the last decade.  Drawing on my love of horror and vampire books (and no, not Twilight...I read those books and enjoyed them, but I haven't seen the movies, and I don't consider those *real* vampire books), I'm hoping to write a story that involves the supernatural, as well as on more sci-fi and horror aspect, two other genres I also enjoy.

My major influences for the story include classic vampire novels like Dracula (my favorite novel of all time), Carmilla, Varney the Vampyre, the Vampyre: a Tale, as well as newer vampire books like Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles and Stephen King's Salem's Lot.  Speaking of King, his body of work overall, the blending of great stories with supernatural and horror and sci-fi, is something I'm trying to model my approach on.

Getting back to the actual writing of it, I began last year when I tried to participate in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), which occurs every November.  About 2/3 of the way through the month, I gave it up as I didn't have the time to write every night.  But new plot ideas and twists kept popping into my head over the following year. I kept notes (Evernote rules...look it up!) and sketched out an outline for the general story and characters.  It reached critical mass about 2 weeks ago when I went back and read what I'd written last year...

...and it was pretty good, if I do say so myself.

I've begun to pick it up again, writing whenever I have the chance, and have fleshed out the story a bit more in my notes.  Right now, my goal is to just write, write, write.  Get everything down onto the page (er, computer screen) and finish all of the first draft writing.  Then, I'll go through it with a fine-toothed comb and edit, revise, correct any inaccuracies/contradictions, and try to tighten up the story.

My eventual goal is to create a story that I'd like to read, and that I think others would like to read as well. Just like with my Blur book(s), it'll get published one way or another. It'd be great to get a real publishing deal, but if I need to self-publish again, I'd be more than happy to do it.

Writing a novel is something I've wanted to do for a LONG time, and I'm finally in the right mindset to get it done, no matter how many months/years it takes me!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Running Off of the Performance Plateau


Anyone who actually reads what I post on here will remember that I've been stuck on a weight-loss plateau for the past 2 months (and counting). After losing 104 lbs, the scale hasn't budged, although my clothes are still getting looser. I've also added weight lifting to my routine, and added muscle adds weight, so that's probably a factor as well.

However, as a runner, there's another type of plateau I've had experience with, and that's what I like to call the Performance Plateau. Basically, I've had a few cases during my months of running where my performance improves to a point and then it seems that, no matter how many additional times I run, it never changes.  Then, suddenly, I'll improve dramatically and begin another upward trajectory toward better running performance.

Case in point: around the end of June/early July, I was stuck running about 2.75 miles per run, and about an 11:30/mi pace. It seemed that no matter how many times I ran, and no matter how good I felt, I could never break through either of these barriers. This went on for weeks, and then ones day, I went for my usual run and noticed that everything seemed easier. I breezed through almost 3.50 miles that day at did it under 11 minutes/mile!  From that moment on, I had broken through that performance plateau and went on to continue to post gradual improvements in my distance and times. 

All of this brings me to my latest breakthrough, which really occurred last night. I had been stuck over the last several weeks running ~5.25 mi each run and at about a 9:20/mi pace (although I had broken 6 miles a couple of runs over the last week and a half).  Four days ago, I had a run where I was able to post a couple of miles during a run that were barely under 9:00/mi, which I was really excited about. I was knocking on the door...

But last night's run, I think, was me busting through the wall and embarking on another upward curve. I ran 5.85 miles last night, but more importantly, I posted an OVERALL PACE under 9:00/mi (8:53/mi to be exact), and apart from my last 2 miles (which were just barely over 9:00/mi), every mile was between 8:30 and 8:50/mile. I felt fantastic and definitely could've run another mile (or more) had it not been getting kind of late (and I hadn't even eaten dinner yet...it was 8:45pm by the time I finished the run!).  But what excited me even more than the way I felt and my performance was the fact that I know now that I'll continue to improve and continue on making myself a better runner.


The only person I'm competing with during any of my runs is myself, but every time out, I want to beat that guy so badly. It's what keeps me motivated and makes me want to keep going out to run (that, and the incredible way I feel, both physically and due to the great natural adrenaline high I get out of it).


As of last night's run, I'm at 314 total miles run since I started on May 28...my goal is to be over 1000 miles run by this time next year, and at an 8:00/mi clip.  But before that, I plan to finish off 2011 strong and get to 375 miles by the New Year, winter be damned!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

What I've Been Listening to: November 2011

Bands:

1. The Who
2. Blur
3. Noel Gallagher
4. R.E.M.
5. Dizzy Gillespie
6. Miles Davis
7. John Coltrane
8. Gov't Mule
9. Foster the People
10. Oasis

Albums:

1. Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds
2. The Who - Quadrophenia (new remaster!)
3. Oasis - Dig Out Your Soul
4. Blur - Parklife
5. The Beatles - Help!
6. Miles Davis - Kind of Blue
7. Dave Brubeck - Take Five
8. John Coltrane - Giant Steps
9. The Quintet - Live at Massey Hall
10. Foster the People - Torches

Songs:

1. Noel Gallagher - If I Had a Gun...
2. John Coltrane - My Favorite Things
3. Sonny Rollins - St. Thomas
4. Foster the People - Helena Beat
5. Blur - All We Want
6. The Beatles - Come Together
7. The Rolling Stones - Gimme Shelter
8. R.E.M. - Supernatural Superserious
9. The Who - Four Faces
10. The Who - Bargain

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

iPhone 4S!

After 2 years of having and thoroughly enjoying our iPhone 3GS's, I surprised my wife with an early Christmas present and upgraded our phones to the new iPhone 4S. Those aren't our actual phones pictured above, but I did get a black one and she got a white one.

We've been using them for a week so far and I have to say, as incredible as the 3GS was, and it was a GREAT phone, this new 4S is absolutely incredible.

I'll write a more in-depth review in the coming week or so, similar to my iPad 2 review, but if any of you readers have used one, or any iPhone, I'd love to hear if and why you like or dislike it.

In the meantime, stay tuned for my review!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Still Stuck on the Plateau...

While I'm still noticeably slimming down and getting more muscular from all of my running and lifting, the number on the scale remains stuck in the 256-260 range. I've read that plateaus can last as long as a year until your body finally gives in and starts to drop weight again I only want to lose another 25 lbs or so, and I love working out, so I'm going to concentrate more on my performance, how I feel, how my clothes fit, and how I look, and the numbers on the scale will take care of themselves in the end.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

A Month (So Far) With My iPad 2





(The picture above is a screenshot of my homescreen)

I had wanted an iPad 2 since it had been released for a variety of reasons. One was that I'm an Apple junkie and love all of their computers and devices because they look great, work great, and are easy and fun to use. My wife and I replaced our final PC with an iMac last year and have been nothing but happy with it. We've both had multiple iPods (2 for each of us...I broke my first one by drowning it, and she needed more storage space with her second one) and we both have iPhones (we had 3GS's for 2 years and just switched over to the new 4S...review to follow).  So I knew this was going to be a great device, especially having messed around with an original iPad in various stores over the last year.

But the biggest thing for me was that I needed a mobile computer to replace my ancient and (now) useless Dell laptop from 2002. That laptop has basically been unusable for anything for years...it's super slow, the hard drive is tiny, the CD/DVD drive is broken, and there are various software issues. Thus, I've been limited for the better part of 5 years to working on my desktop either at home or at work (if one is provided).  So when I decided to get an iPad 2, I was looking at it not only as something fun to use, but something I could get a lot of good work done on.

However, I had some slight hesitations initially when I read some articles and forum posts stating that it was not a good laptop replacement. However, I still really wanted one, and the impetus came from my wife, who suggested that I should buy one to reward myself when I passed the 100 lbs lost mark. I passed that in September and, using money I've made (and continued to make!) selling loads of my old junk and memorabilia on eBay (and in the process, freeing up valuable garage and basement real estate) I purchased one at the beginning of October.

I bought a black 16 GB iPad 2 with Wifi and 3G capability, and AT&T compatible. And I have to say, I've been nothing less than thrilled by it.

I won't get too much into specs or specifics since I don't want to bore the less technically interested readers, but I will discuss how and why I feel the way I do. Right off the bat, however, I will mention that it ABSOLUTELY has replaced my laptop, and seamlessly at that.

First off, it's thin and lightweight, and fits in a case that is smaller than my wife's purse!

(My iPad case above)




The battery life is amazing...I rarely charge it daily, regardless of how heavy the usage is. Apple claims up to 11 hours of standby battery life on their website, and I believe them. Between me and my wife, sometimes the iPad gets used nearly all day and it's rarely under 50% battery. I had one meeting at work I used it for that lasted almost 9 hours and I had it on throughout, taking notes and looking up papers, and at the end of the day the battery was down to 57%. Incredible.


As you can imagine, too, it certainly is capable of doing laptop-like things such as surfing the internet, writing emails, looking at pictures, watching videos, etc. And it does these things extremely well. But it also does way more than that.


eBook reader:


Space is at a premium in our house, and my wife and I are voracious readers, so we have LOADS of books on our shelves, in boxes, etc. On the iPad, I can read tons of books (many, including the classics, for FREE) and most at discounted prices. You can find just about everything through iBooks, and if not there, you can read Amazon Kindle books on the iPad through the free Kindle app. You can add and remove books from your "bookshelf" in iBooks, but always have access to them...like everything else purchased/downloaded through iTunes, it's all accessible in the cloud. You can bookmark pages easily, highlight interesting passages,
write sticky-notes for particularly good sections and thoughts, and search these via a self-generating index.  And the dimness of the screen and text size can be customized, which is nice, especially for those nights I'm reading late at night in bed and don't want to wake my wife up!

Notebook and organizer:

One things I've been neurotic about for as long as I can remember is making lists of tasks to be done, appointments, etc. However, because my mind and body are always on the go at a million miles an hour, I always had trouble sticking with the routine when I tried using datebooks, and my desk is CONSTANTLY cluttered with Post-It notes, notepads, torn pieces of paper with scrawled reminders, etc. On the iPad, there are two apps that I've found indispensable for solving these issues. The first is called Penultimate, which is a notebook app that allows you to create and organize as many digital notebooks as possible. You can choose from different text colors, sizes, add photos, figures, cut and paste, etc, all with either you finger or a stylus. I bought a stylus and have been using this like crazy to take notes and organize the different projects I have going on in work and at home and it's been a Godsend. Even better, you can export sections or entire notebooks as PDFs, print them out, and back them up to your computer...the possibilities are endless.

(As an aside, as I mentioned above, I used Penultimate and my stylus at an all-day meeting I had and it was great...I took 50 pages of notes and during the meeting was able to pull up papers, references, chemical data, etc instantly on the iPad AS WE WERE DISCUSSING IT. Everyone there was very impressed and I ended up even giving a mini-tutorial over lunch on what it could do and which apps I had and how they worked). 

The other essential app I use is a personal planner and organizer called 2Do. I've tried several organizer apps and this is far and away the best, both from aesthetic and functionality standpoints. The layout is that of a real datebook, but you can add as many tabs as you want to organize tasks by type (ie. "home," "work," "important," etc) and color code them. Each task can range from a simple "to do" to a checklist to a detailed project plan. And you can set up alerts, reminders, embed links, phone numbers, maps, etc within each task and rank and prioritize them to stay on top of everything.  Even better, I have the app on my iPad and iPhone and they automatically sync so I'm always up to date no matter which device I'm using. Finally, I can sync everything with iCal on my iPhone, iPad, and iMac to bring in my appointments and meetings, thus fully organizing my life and keeping me on track.

I highly recommend both of these apps!

Productivity machine:

Finally, the question I'm sure (maybe) you're asking if you've read this far..."so, Drew, does it replace your laptop for actually getting WORK done?" And the answer is YES!

I have installed the Apple office suite iWork (Pages, Numbers, Keynote) on both the iPad and iMac. (You can also get Mac versions of Microsoft Windows for these if you so desire). Through iCloud, I can sync documents across devices (including iPhone) so that when I modify it on one device, I can sit down with another and pick right up from where I left off.  Pages and Numbers (Apple's versions of Microsoft Word and Excel, respectively) are great and easy to use on the iPad using the touchscreen keyboard. The big surprise, however, was Keynote (Apple's version of Powerpoint). It's all touch based...moving, rotating, resizing pictures/figures/text boxes, etc...and it's so easy to use. I've created/worked on several presentations for work using it on the iPad and it's been simple and they end up looking great.

There are also TONS of dedicated, high quality apps for whatever field of work you may be in. People are using iPads in hospitals, doctors offices, schools, universities, worksites, etc. I'm a chemist, and there are a lot of great chemistry apps I use to get more work done and access my data and information from anywhere.

My favorite chemistry apps:

Papers (for having my entire PDF library of journal articles anywhere I go)
ChemDoodle Mobile (companion to my ChemDoodle Mac drawing program...this is more for spectra and property data but still very cool and effective)
Sigma Aldrich catalog (just what it says...great to have on the go!)
Aldrich also has Molarity, Unit Conversion, and Lab Timer apps for iPhone and iPad...very handy!
EleMints...an interactive and information-packed periodic table app
ChirysDraw...a super powerful chem drawing app for iPad (I don't have this one yet but hope to get it soon)

I'm sure there are loads more but these are the ones I have (so far) and they've been a HUGE help in my mobile productivity.

I could go on and on...I also use the iPad for social and professional networking (Facebook and LinkedIn, respectively), running a home business (eBay and PayPal), reading (iBooks and Kindle), music listening (Spotify and LastFM), music creation (GarageBand, AniMoog, etc...that's a topic for a whole 'nother post), news, sports, and weather, and of course the occasional game (Angry Birds and Cut the Rope for the win!).

My two oldest daughters love using it, too...there are a TON of great educational games and apps they love to use...just last week my 6 yr old was watching videos about dolphins and engineering wheelchairs that quadriplegics can steer with their teeth/tongue, among others, and she was captivated. The girls also like doing math problems, and it helps my oldest with her vocabulary and my younger one with her reading.

All in all, I (and my entire family) have been VERY happy with the iPad 2 and all it can do in just the month-and-a-half I've had it. This isn't meant to sound like I'm shilling for Apple, because I'm not, but it's gone beyond my wildest expectations as a laptop replacement, helping and sometimes enhancing my productivity, offering mobile enjoyment for me, my wife, and our kids, and all being cheaper and smaller than a laptop.

I usually don't pay attention to advertising, but maybe Steve Jobs and Apple were on to something when they called it "magical" in all of those TV ads...

Monday, November 7, 2011

What I've Been Listening To: October 2011 into November 2011

I realized I neglected to do my usual monthly music listening post in October...it was a crazy month! So here it is, belatedly, into the first week of November:

Bands:

1. Blur
2. Oasis (yes, it's true...stay tuned for a future post on this)
3. Foster the People
4. Death Cab for Cutie
5. Pulp
6. Portugal the Man
7. Dream Theater
8. The Who
9. Rush
10. The Bluetones

Albums:

1. Blur - "Modern Life is Rubbish"1
2. Oasis - "Be Here Now"
3. Dream Theater - "A Dramatic Turn of Events"
4. Mansun - "Little Kix"
5. Death Cab for Cutie - various EPs
6. Portugal the Man - "The Satanic Satanist"
7. Talking Heads - "Remain in Light"
8. Blur - "The Great Escape"
9. Rush - "Signals"
10. My Morning Jacket - "Z"

Songs:

1. Oasis - "Go Let it Out"
2. Blur - "Morricone"
3. Blur - "All We Want"
4. Cage the Elephant - "Abderdeen"
5. Foster the People - "Helena Beat"
6. The Ting Tings - "That's Not My Name"
7. Talking Heads - "Crosseyed and Painless"
8. Morrissey - "Have-a-Go Merchant"
9. Mansun - "Goodbye"
10. Oasis - "The Masterplan"

Thursday, October 27, 2011

I Still Love You, iPod, but I've Met Someone, and Their Name is Spotify...


As I've written on here a few times, I was very resistant to jump with both feet into the digital music age.  I grew up collecting and listening to music on vinyl, cassettes, and CDs. When mp3s first became popular when I was in college in the mid-to-late 1990s, I was wary but eventually had some (not many, but some) saved on my computer. However, ask my wife or anyone who knew me in the 1990s and they'll confirm that I had upwards of 1200+ CDs stacked on shelves all over my dorm room and later, my wife's and my home.  To me (and to most people), that was the normal way of consuming, storing, and listening to music. I had a Discman (and before that, a Walkman), a 50-CD Changer component stereo system, and a CD-changer in my car.  However, as time went on and we began to have kids, and kids have their own stuff...well, CDs not only became inconvenient to store, but carting around dozens of discs every time I wanted to listen to something in my car became a real pain.

In 2003, I bought my first mp3 player, a 60 GB Creative Jukebox...the thing looks HUGE now, but at the time I marveled at how small it was and how it could hold so many songs.  Eventually, it began to crap out and I purchased my first iPod, an 80 GB model, in 2005. A color screen that displayed album artwork, a TON of songs, and it fit right into my pocket.  I still listened to CDs in the car, but the iPod was a lifesaver for taking tunes to work, out on runs, or on vacations.  In July 2009, I accidentally dropped the iPod in a glass of water and completely killed it (don't ask...it was a freak thing at 4am when I was getting ready for work one morning). Since I didn't have the $300 laying around to buy a new one immediately, I signed up for a free account on Last.FM (back when it was still free) and listened to all of my music online through it when I was on my computer. What I liked about it was how there was (nearly) all of the music I wanted right at my fingertips and I didn't have to store any of it.

At Christmas 2009, I got my current iPod (pictured above), a 160 GB model. I've got it loaded with EVERYTHING I own on CD (and a bunch I don't have on CD) and it's up to 110 GB right now. I love it and used to use it all the time. But then, I met Spotify...

For those not in the know, Spotify is a streaming music service that started in Europe back in 2008. Through my UK friends, I had heard its virtues constantly extolled, but I remained uninterested, especially since it wasn't available in the US. When it finally came to the USA in July 2011, a British friend of mine sent me an invite and I signed up for a free account. Apart from the incessant and annoying ads, I really loved it. It's a free program you can download on any computer, you can make as many playlists as you want, and it's got nearly everything you'd want. Apart from my bootlegs or rarities (which I wouldn't expect on there anyway), the only bands I need to listen to that aren't on there are The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, and Frank Zappa. The best thing about Spotify is that you can even listen to music you DON'T own on it. Through Spotify, I've rediscovered bands I used to love when I was younger (Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Stone Temple Pilots), explored bands I always meant to but didn't have the cash to (Talking Heads, Foo Fighters, Death Cab or Cutie, Pavement, Screaming Trees), and, in conjunction with Shazam, discovered new music by using Shazam to identify what I was hearing on the radio and then delving deeper on Spotify (Fitz & the Tantrums, Arctic Monkeys, Portugal the Man, The Kooks, Cage the Elephant, My Morning Jacket, to name but a few). 

Eventually I plumped for Spotify Premium ($9.99/month), which eliminates the ads, makes even MORE music available to you, and unleashes the iPhone app, where you can sync playlists and cache them to your phone so you can listen to them offline, not using any WiFi or 3G data. In essence, it's like having an iPod.

The consequence of all of this is I haven't used my iPod much since I've been on Spotify.  There are a few reasons for this. First, I *ALWAYS* have my iPhone on me...it lives in my pocket, whereas my iPod needs to be brought from place to place. I know it sounds silly, but sometimes I forget the iPod and after several days of not using it, you tend to forget all about it since you're still able to listen to most of your music with your phone. Second, since Spotify doesn't work through iTunes, it's much quicker and easier to make your playlists. Don't get me wrong, I love iTunes...for managing and controlling your devices, it's a great program. But clicking and dragging in Spotify is MUCH easier and quicker.  Third, Spotify has just about everything I have on my iPod besides bootlegs (apart from The Beatles, Zeppelin, and Zappa, as I mentioned) *PLUS* stuff I don't own but want to listen to. I also get to listen to those one-hit wonder songs I dig, the songs I like that I'm too embarrassed to admit to liking, and compilation-type stuff like the Motown tracks I like, 80s music, etc. 

Now I'm obviously not going to ditch my iPod. It's a great device and still works great. It's excellent for storing EVERYTHING I own, and portable to use on car rides, plane rides, etc. And of course there are no restrictions on what I can listen to on it other than what I have put on it and taken off of it.

It has also got me thinking, though, about how I've evolved in my consumption and habits in listening to and collecting music. Gone are the days where I just *HAVE* to make a trip to my local record store every month to browse and buy new (or used) discs. Don't get me wrong, I still love my local record store (Bull Moose Records in Portsmouth...www.bullmoose.com) but CDs take up so much space and need to be stored and with 4 kids in our house, space is at a premium!

So I've adopted the following routine now:

If it's a band that is one of my all-time favorite, absolute top-tier #1 bands (Blur, Beatles, Who, Dream Theater, Rush, etc..too many to mention) then I will definitely buy the physical CD release. These bands are ones I would need to take to a desert island, and they always have excellent album art and liner notes.

But, if it's a band that isn't in that category, then I'm not going to buy more CDs.

In fact, what I'm in the process of doing now is storing everything on my hard drive and selling off or trading in (for store credit and/or cash) the non-top-tier band CDs. It'll earn me some money, save mega space in my basement, and generally declutter my life. I'll still have that music on my hard drive and iPod, though.

As for new music, unless it's a top-tier band and I have to buy the CD, I'll either buy new releases on iTunes or stream them on Spotify.

And with iTunes Match being launched soon, it may get even cleaner and easier. This service will match whatever on your iTunes library (on your home computer) is available on the iTunes store and make it available in the cloud on all of your devices (iPod, iPad, iPhone, Mac, PC, etc) so you're entire library is just a click away in the iCloud. Amazing. Together with Spotify, that might seal the deal for me for good.

So yes, I've finally evolved from vinyl to cassette to CD to mp3 to iPod to streaming.

Who would've thought that even 5 years ago? I certainly wouldn't have!


The Dreaded Plateau!

I've hit it. After losing 102 lbs (so far), I've been stuck at 256 lbs for the last 2 1/2 weeks, fluctuating between 256 and 262. Yes, I've hit the dreaded and well-known weight-loss plateau.

The frustrating thing for me is that I haven't changed ANYTHING about what I'm doing, other than adding more mileage to my runs. I'm still eating what I want and tracking calories with Lose It...I'm under my daily calories every day. I drink lots of water and iced tea (and the occasional soda). I run every other day and have added some light weight-lifting on the in-between days. I know adding muscle mass can increase weight since muscle weighs more than fat, but the lifting I'm doing is light enough (more to strengthen and tone, not to bulk up) and I've only been doing it for the past 2 weeks. That seems, to me, awfully fast for it to already be causing an increase in muscle mass.

So what is it? Does anyone out there know? I'm going to continue doing what I'm doing because being in shape feels great and I enjoy doing it. But I'd really like to drop those last 20 lbs or so...

Any input from you readers is very welcome!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

iOS 5 Review

  
As promised, here's my review of Apple's iOS 5, released last Wednesday, October 12, for iPhone 3GS and 4, iPad and iPad 2, and iPod Touch (4th gen). With this release, Apple unified the iOS versions for all of their mobile devices (iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch) as well as cross-integrating it with OS X Lion on the iMac platform to create a truly universal and seamless transition from desktop to mobile. It really is incredible when you get to use it in person daily, but that's perhaps for another, longer, more rambling post somewhere down the road...

For ease of reference, I'll mention I currently have an iPhone and iPad and I run these off my iMac. I have an iPod classic (160 GB) that doesn't run iOS so the update won't apply to or discuss that device.

After plugging my devices into the iMac on Wednesday, iTunes detected that a software update was available and asked if I wanted to update. I said yes and away it went. The entire process took about 75 minutes or so from start to finish.  After it was done, I unplugged the phone/iPad (from now on, when I say phone, it pertains to both devices, but I don't want to keep typing it all!) and turned it on. I was greeted with a screen that walked me through setting up the new iCloud service and WiFi syncing as well as some other improvements, which I'll discuss below.

So, what's new in iOS 5 and what do I think of each thing? And bear in mind, I've read online that Apple says there are over 200 new things/improvements in iOS 5, and I certainly don't know of them all, so I'll only list what I know and leave it to you readers to fill in the blanks in the comment section below.

-Notification Center: A simple swipe down from the top of the screen opens up the Notification Center, which, by default, has the weather and stock tickers. But in addition, it has the revamped...

-Notifications: The new notifications system is a HUGE improvement over the old one. Whereas annoying windows would pop up in the middle of your screen in a rather clunky fashion, now you can configure each app to give you notifications or not, and pop up in either a window in your screen or a banner at the top. When a notification pops up, you can either tap it to open up the notification center and read it, or ignore it and the banner will go away (but the notification is still in the notification center). Additionally, and this is one of my favorite aspects, you can have the notifications pop up on the lock screen if your phone is in standby. You can read the beginning of the alert and then, via a simple swipe of the icon, it'll open up right to whichever app it corresponds to. It's VERY cool and very convenient.

-Mail: There are a host of changes in mail, but for me the only one I've used so far, which I really like, is the ability to hold and drag email addresses when composing messages. I've read of lots of other new features, but so far I haven't used them yet.

-Dictionary: This is a little one, but now when you highlight a word, instead of just copy, cut, paste, or replace options, there's also a dictionary, which is pretty cool.

-Text Shortcuts: You can configure custom shortcuts for common words you type in order to circumvent the built-in AutoCorrect for certain words that it may not recognize.

-Tones and vibrations: You can now FINALLY customize your text and alert tones, in addition to ringtones. Also, you can customize vibration patterns for each caller (if you want to) for when it's in silent mode.

-iMessage: This is really cool. Starting now, *ANY* device running on iOS 5 can send free iMessage texts/photos etc between themselves without using your texting plan from whichever carrier you're on. And it's all done from within the same native Messaging app from before. The difference is that iMessages are now blue and white, while regular texts are green and white. It also tells you in the typing area before you begin writing whether you're writing an iMessage or a text. Additionally, iPads can now text other iPads or iPhones on iOS 5, *and* iMac's on OS X Lion can now text with iPhones (but not iPads yet). However, it's rumored that very soon, iMessage will be added to iChat so that it can then also text with iPads.

-Find my iPhone: A built in GPS app that can locate all of the devices attached to your Apple ID. For us, this is our iMac, iPad, and each of our iPhones. It's already come in handy...we were in the mall and my wife couldn't remember if she left her phone in the car or at home. A quick look on my phone showed me it was in the car, so she went out and grabbed it. Very cool. It also has options to send a ring so you can try to hear it if it's lost at home so you can find it, as well as a remote wipe. That way, if it gets stolen, you can wipe the phone remotely so none of your personal info is stolen along with it.

-Newsstand: A new built in app...basically it's for magazine subscriptions what iBooks is for eBooks. They're paid subscriptions, so we don't have any yet, but plan on perhaps getting some soon. The ones we're interested in (mainly parenting and family magazine) are cheap and new issues are delivered automatically, but you can still access older ones.

-WiFi Syncing: Finally, you can sync your iPhone or iPad to iTunes on your computer without having to be plugged into it. Additionally, you can still use the device while you're syncing...something you could never do before!

-Accessing Camera from lock screen: This is another cool feature. I can't tell you how many times I whipped my phone out of my pocket to take a cool picture, only to completely miss the opportunity because by the time I unlocked the phone, opened the camera app, and got ready to shoot, the moment was gone. Now, a simple double-tap of the lock screen opens up not only the volume/music controls (as it always has) but a camera button. Tap it and POW, you're ready to shoot a picture.

-Editing/organizing photos in built in Camera app: Now, with iOS 5, you can also edit your pictures (albeit not with a huge amount of features) in the Camera app. More importantly and exciting, at least for me, you can create new albums right on your phone and organize your pictures into them.

-Siri: This is only on iPhone 4S, which I don't have yet...the wife and I will be getting our upgrade to these in December/January, but from what I've read it sounds amazing. However, having never used it myself, I can't comment on it, but it's there in iOS 5!

-Split/undocked keyboard: This is an iPad-only feature, but if you don't feel like typing with two hands in the traditional keyboard manner (which, sometimes, I don't. If I'm sitting up, typing on the iPad is not a problem. If I'm laying on the couch holding it on either side, it's not an option), you can undock the keyboard and move it wherever on the screen you want. And then, you can split it, so half of the keyboard is on either side of the screen. You can then text with your thumbs like you would on your phone. Great for those nights slouching on the couch with your iPad. Another minor addition, for both iPhone and iPad, is the option to swipe the keyboard off the screen if it's blocking content so you can see everything on the screen.

-New Multi-Touch Gestures: Again, iPad-only, but some nice ones now. In addition to the usual Apple touch gestures, like pinch-expand/shrink and double-tap zoom, four-finger swipes, for instance, switch between apps. Very handy when multitasking, which I do a lot.

Overall, some of the changes are minor and subtle, and some are major. All, however, are really helpful and intuitive in their own way. I will say, as a matter of personal opinion (but one that seems to be shared by a HUGE host of people, judging by reviews and comments all over the Internet and in personal conversations with my friends and wife) that iOS 5 is the best OS out there for mobile devices, hands down.

I also just recently updated the OS on our iMac to OS X Lion, and so far I'm really enjoying the improvements and enhancements, but that's a MUCH larger OS and one I'm ill-equipped to write about, at least for the near future.

I'm sure I've missed some features...if I have, please let me know below in the comments! Also, let me know what you think in general about iOS 5, I'd love to discuss it.






Monday, October 17, 2011

Miles and Miles and More Miles!

Last week I passed 200 miles run since I got back into running on Memorial Day weekend. After last night's run, I'm up to 220 miles right now...my goal is to hit 400 by New Years...we'll see if I can do it! I think I'll be able to...I'm averaging ~5 miles/run right now, so it should take me a shorter amount of time to hit the next 200 than the first 200 (since, when I began running, I was barely doing 1.50 miles/run and had to slowly build up).

The most important thing is I'm feeling GREAT physically when I run...the difference is so noticeable. Whereas I used to struggle and labor through the run, even as recently as July/August, the last couple of months I feel so good and confident in how my body, heart, and lungs feel that I can just focus on trying to run faster and longer instead of just finishing. I never thought I'd get back to this point again, but I did and it feels great. 

400 miles, here I come!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

iOS 5 Has Landed...

I'll write a more detailed review in the coming days, but Apple released iOS 5 today for iPhones and iPads and I have to say, it's pretty incredible. I downloaded it onto my iPhone and I've loved playing around with it and discovering all of the new features and the improvements.

A more detailed review will be forthcoming...

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Steve Jobs: 1955-2011



I'm not going to go into hero-worship mode here, because I don't like to deify other human beings, no matter how good they may be. We're all humans and we all have flaws, whether anyone knows about them or not...none of us are perfect. That being said, I was deeply saddened by the death of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs when I heard of it last night. Fittingly, I was looking at Twitter and Facebook on my iPhone when I saw the news.  The irony wasn't lost on me, especially as earlier in the day I spent time during my commute listening to music on my iPod, talking to my wife on my iPhone, and checking some stuff out at home on my iMac, including the stuff on eBay I'm selling so I can use the money to buy an iPad. But it goes beyond being a mere Apple fanboy...yes, I love their products. They're aesthetically pleasing and look great. They're very intuitive and simple to use but very powerful in what they can do. They're innovative and cutting edge but at the same time they don't waste effort reinventing the wheel. And, at their core, and the heart of Jobs' intent from the very first computer he and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak built in the 1970s, they improve our lives and make them easier in their own little ways.

I won't get into the details of Jobs' life or the history of Apple...that's all very well documented and available all over the internet and in various books. But, beyond the great products and innovations that Jobs and his team at Apple have brought to us over the years, probably the biggest reason I'm such a fan of the guy is that his story is a great American story.  In a nutshell, this is a guy who dropped out of college, but had an interest in computers. He got together with Wozniak and, in his parents' garage, began building, marketing, and selling computers. Eventually they were able to found Apple as a proper company and by the mid-1980s had unleashed the wildly successful Apple II and Macintosh home computers, as well as the icon-based GUI  (graphical user interface) that is ubiquitous today and which Microsoft copied for their own successful Windows OS.  Of course, there were also a few failed computers systems offered up during this time. After being forced out of Apple in 1985, Jobs founded a new company, NeXt Computers. While not as successful, the innovations in their technology were brought back to Apple when Jobs returned in 1996/97 (where, along the way, he also co-founded Pixar and released Toy Story...not bad work for his time in the tech "wilderness" in exile, huh?). Once back, he unleashed vision in full force and, along with all of his colleagues at Apple, launched mammoth innovations such as the stand-alone iMac, iTunes, the iPod, the iPhone, and the iPad. While doing so, he and Apple revolutionized how we purchase, listen to, and transport music, movies, TV, videos, pictures, etc and made these devices and the experiences with them fun and enjoyable. From personal experience, the iPod has changed my life since I bought my first one in 2006...I can carry around my entire (15,000+ songs) music collection in my pocket and listen to it anywhere. The iPhone has made it easier for me to stay connected and informed with my wife, family, friends, co-workers, and the world at large by being able to have a phone and computer in my pocket. The iPad replaces my laptop and allows me to use it for both personal and work purposes. And the iMac...after a lifetime of owning only Windows PCs (although I had used many Macs throughout the years), my wife and I got frustrated with our latest breaking-down PC and bought an iMac last year...I've been nothing but 100% pleased with it. It's so easy to use and I don't have to worry about crashes, software glitches, etc.  I turn it on and, just like all of my other Apple devices, IT JUST WORKS.

Looking at what I just wrote, this is perhaps Jobs' greatest triumph as the visionary and inventive mind (among MANY others throughout the year amongst his co-workers).  Apple has made products that have made life easier and more enjoyable, and in the true spirit of capitalist competition, they've responded to competition and simultaneously spurred it on amongst its competitors, so that, no matter whether you're a PC or Mac, an iPhone or Android, etc, we all win.

So, for me, while Apple and their products will leave a lasting legacy, I also admire the man who saw a problem, worked tirelessly and very hard for years from a young age (18!) and built the leading tech company in the world, not to mention, as of 2011, the most profitable company on the planet. And he did it from the ground up, literally out of his folks' garage, the old-fashioned American Way: through hard work, dedication, and perseverance. He wasn't afraid to fail or take risks, and he and Apple had many failures along the way (the Lisa, anyone? Apple III? Pippin? The Cube? The Motorola Rokr? I could go on and on...). But like in any endeavor, in order to be successful, you need to take risks, fail, and learn from them in order to eventually succeed. It's something I try to do every day of my life, and to me, that's the most inspirational thing about Jobs, his life, and his career.

I never met the guy, but I will miss him. America, and the world, need more people like him, a throwback to earlier days and visionaries like Edison, Ford, Gates, etc. I'm always trying to think of ways I could start a business or a product...I have lots of ideas (just ask my wife, I'm always bouncing them off of her!)...Steve will continue to be one of my idols in this regard.

I'm just glad he's at peace now and can rest easy with the legacy he's left, both physically in his company and products, and inspirationally in his story.


Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Losing and Gaining


 As you know if you've read this blog for a while, I've been in the process since May 2011 of losing weight I should have gotten rid of years ago by running, lifting, and eating healthier (read all about it HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE). Well, with the loss of nearly 100 lbs (so far) and a smaller, fitter body has come the need for an entirely new wardrobe. That being said, I have been in the process of donating my old, "fat" clothes, and selling my really nice, too-big-for-me-now dress/work clothes. So far, I've made a fair amount of money on eBay doing so, and am in the process of liquidating the rest. I plan to reward myself (thanks to my wife who came up with the idea) with an iPad 2 using the money. So far, so good...so as I've lost weight, I've gained cash!

Also, it's been a great excuse for me to clean out the closets and garage and sell off other stuff that's just sitting around and taking up space. The money made off of that stuff will go right into the bank account...again, losing clutter, gaining savings. You can't beat that!

So far, I've found a pair of sneakers potentially worth $300 (see HERE), and plan on selling off some collectible baseball cards I have, my old PlayStation 2 console and games, and other odds and ends that are wasting valuable space in our house.

First, I cleaned up my body and my habits, now I'm cleaning out my closet and our clutter, and at the end of it all, I hope to clean up (in the financial sense).

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Shoe Thing: Anyone Know Anything About These?

I bought these Converse All-Star Team Legends shoes in 1998, brand new at Red's Shoe Barn in Dover. They're Larry Bird signature versions, which, from what I've found online, are very rare as they were the final pair of shoes he endorsed and were only for sale in New England. I bought them brand new upon release in 1998 and in a size 13, even though my feet are size 15, because Bird was my favorite player growing up and I had to have them, plus they look wicked cool.

These were the only pair Red's had, if I remember correctly, and they were on display so when I bought them, there was no box. I never wore these...they were on a shelf in my room for a year and then sat in a box in my closet, and later my garage, until last month.

Does anyone know how many of these are around and what the value is? I'm thinking of selling...I'm still a diehard Celtics and Bird fan but these aren't doing me any good sitting in a closet and I could put the money towards something more practical (*cough* iPad 2, *cough*).

Any info would be much appreciated!


UPDATE: I just found out from a fellow who is an expert on such things over at www.celtkicks.com that they're worth $200-300!! How cool is that?

Today's the day!

Today, Apple is going to announce the new iPhone, which many people are hoping will be a radically redesigned iPhone 5 but the rumors are pointing that it's more likely to be the iPhone 4S, which will be a really nicely souped up 4 with better display, processing speed, camera, and the crown jewel, the new version of iOS, iOS 5.  Apple is also releasing iOS 5 today for iPhone 4 and 3GS, so I'm really excited for that. My wife and I have 3GS's that are still going strong and are great phones, so I'll be able to use iOS 5 until we're eligible for an upgrade to the new iPhones in March.  It should work perfectly, since by March the hype will have subsided a bit so we should have no problem with stores being out of stock.

Obviously, if you're not an Apple fan geek like me, this post won't interest you in the least!

In any event, we'll know all of the details for sure by this afternoon...stay tuned!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

It's a Digital World, Baby


 I never thought I'd feel this way, but I think I'm at the point where, unless it's a band that I'm a hardcore fan of and I just *need* to have the physical CD with the artwork/booklet, I'm going to be sticking mainly to digital copies of my music. It's so much easier not to have to store boxes of CDs and to just keep my music on my iPod, computer, and Spotify.  Buying CDs just doesn't excite me as much as it used to, which is something I never would have thought I'd have said even a few years ago!

I do plan on purchasing the new Dream Theater album on CD, for example...they're one of my all-time favorite bands and they always have excellent album art. But other than the bands that I'm bonkers about, for me it's not worth the price and hassle of storing the discs when I can download them cheaper and they take up no space in my house.

I should add that this in no means is meant to imply that I dislike record stores or want them to go out of business. I still *LOVE* going to my local indie record store and spending a lot of time browsing and buying stuff. I guess what I'm trying to say is I'm going to be much more selective about it from now on. Unless it's an "essential" band to me, digital is just fine. (cue my fellow audiophiles saying "but mp3s sound so shit compared to what comes out of your sound system at home!" I agree, but for a lot of stuff, it's not that much of a difference to me anymore to warrant the outlay of cash and storage space in my basement!)

I'm wondering if anyone else my age (30s) is beginning to feel this way or already does?

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A Lighthearted List of Signs That I May Be Getting Old...

...(from an admittedly young 31 yr old)

-With R.E.M. retiring last week and The Bluetones playing their final farewell shows this month before hanging it up, two of my favorite bands from the 1980s and 90s that I grew up listening to are finished. In fact, other than a handful of bands that have debuted over the last few years, everything I listen to is a band that's been around since I was younger that still happen to be active...

-In that vein, bands I liked as a teenager that broke up have reunited (Pixies, Soundgarden), while nostalgia has gripped two iconic bands that debuted when I was a teenager (Pearl Jam and Nirvana, both hitting 20 year anniversaries this year). And we used to make fun of the Stones being around for so long! (and I'm a Stones fan myself)

-I was reading a chapter-book with my soon-to-be 7 year old daughter that had one of the characters downloading songs from the internet and calling her dad on her cell phone when she needed to be picked up from a friend's house. And to my kids, this seems completely normal since they don't know anything different. When I mentioned buying records/tapes/CDs and using pay phones, they had no idea what I was talking about...

-The athletes on my favorite pro teams are either the same age as me (and getting ready to retire within the next few years) or are young enough that I was in junior high when they were born...

-My two oldest daughters are always asking me what it was like in the "old days...you know, the 80s and 90s!"

-I'm certainly no prude...I can be vulgar and laugh at disgusting humor with the best of them. But I haven't found a single "comedy" movie funny that's come out over the last 10 years or so, with rare exceptions (Anchorman, for example, is one such movie that WAS a riot)

-I can remember when the movies that are being remade now were new in the theatres in their original versions (Total Recall, for example). My kids and cousins have never heard of most of these...

I'm sure I'll come up with more of these as time goes on...this is certainly the first in a series of such humorous (I hope!) posts.


Thursday, September 22, 2011

What I'm Listening to: September 2011

(In no particular order...)


Bands:

1. Blur (of course)
2. Nirvana
3. Dream Theater
4. Rush
5. Death Cab for Cutie
6. The Charlatans
7. R.E.M.
8.Credence Clearwater Revival
9. Weezer
10. Pulp

Albums:

1. Pulp - This is Hardcore
2. Dream Theater - A Dramatic Turn of Events
3. Rush - Permanent Waves
4. The Charlatans - Up to Our Hips
5. Blur - Modern Life is Rubbish
6. Genesis - Selling England by the Pound
7. Death Cab for Cutie - Narrow Stairs
8. The Who - Tommy
9. Cream - Wheels of Fire
10. Husker Du - Candy Apple Grey

Songs:

1. Fitz and the Tantrums - "Don't Gotta Work it Out"
2. The Charlatans - "Come in Number 21"
3. Portugal the Man - "People Say"
4. Keane - "Clear Skies"
5. Neal Morse - "Seeds of Gold"
6. Cream - "White Room"
7. Led Zeppelin - "Nobody's Fault But Mine"
8. Beck - "End of the Day"
9. R.E.M. - "Harborcoat"
10. Morrissey - "Girl Least Likely To"

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

It Was 9 Years Ago Today...

Today's me and my wife's wedding anniversary. We've been together 12 years and married 9 years today. I won't to into detail other than to say that marrying her was the best decision I ever made. She's helped me grow and mature so much (and I needed it!), supported me through everything, put up with me, and has been an amazing wife and mother to our 4 kids.

I love you, K!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Secret is That There *Is* No Secret



I apologize in advance for another fitness/weight loss post in advance if they're are annoying you in any way...

Also, I'm going to do my best to not be preachy or condescending, and if anything comes across that way, I apologize in advance. I'm no expert or inspiration by ANY stretch. I'm just a 31 yr old guy with a family and a job who got tired of being fat and finally did something about it after many aborted attempts in the past...

In case you're new to reading this blog or don't know me well in person, I'm a big guy. I'm 6'5" tall and up until my birthday this past February, I was very heavy, too. I had been active and involved in sports from the age of 5 but as soon as I started graduate school at 21, got married, had 4 kids with my wife, got my PhD, did a postdoc, and a full-time job/career, I let myself go and topped out at 359 lbs. I made the decision (spurred on with help and support from my wife and oldest daughter) to get in shape this past spring. I decided to take up running again as it's something I really enjoyed as a teenager and it's something I can do cheaply (all you need are sneakers) and anytime I want, indoors or out (although I should add I've always *HATED* running on treadmills!). Since I made a concerted effort to run regularly (3-4 times a week) in May 2011, as of today I've lost 93 lbs, 5 inches off my waist, and gone from an XXXL tall in my shirts to an XL tall. I feel fantastic...no more daily knee pain, no more lower back pain, I sleep fantastically now, and I think I look pretty good.

So all of this leads me to the crux of this post. Whether people are seeing me for the first time in a while or regularly, when they notice my weight loss and how fast it's come off (and I will admit, losing 93 lbs in 5 months *is* pretty quick, and something I never thought I could do), the inevitable question always comes up:

"What's your secret?"

I'm here to tell you my secret, to reveal the hidden mystery about weight-loss that has been kept from humanity for decades:

There is *no* secret.

Yes, that's right. There is no secret. Nothing. Nada. Zip. Zilch. A big ol' goose egg. And so on.

A lot of people don't believe me. Hell, even my own doctor at one point asked me how I did it, and asked if I'd had gastric bypass, lap band surgery (neither of which I would have even been a candidate for with my frame size...359 was MUCH too heavy, but I have a broad frame so it's not like I was morbidly obese or even close to it). Some people have asked about diet pills, supplements, etc.

Nope. None of those. How have I done it?

The old fashioned way. Good ol' DIET AND EXERCISE.

Yes, you read that right. I've done it *ALL* with watching my diet and exercising on a regular basis.

DIET: I'm 100% Greek-American. Both sides of my family came to America from Greece about 100 years ago or so. I'm third generation, and it's no secret Greeks love to cook and love to eat, so I grew up eating lots of yummy homemade Greek food from my two Yiayia's kitchens. Most Greek food is pretty healthy, but I developed bad eating habits along the way. Now, when you're a growing teenage boy and constantly on the move with sports practices, playing pickup basketball or football with your buddies, and generally running around doing stuff all of the time (not to mention having a fast metabolism) it can keep you in check. But once I hit my early 20s and the exercising slowed down and then stopped (mainly due to having NO TIME to sleep, let alone be active, when my PhD studies got really crazy busy) then it caught up to me. So how did I break 30 years of bad habits so easily?  I started tracking my calories.  People have mentioned keeping a food journal for years, and I'd tried it and it worked, but I never stuck with it.  The reason I finally did this time and it worked is because they now have websites and accompanying smartphone apps that do the same thing.  I'm a huge tech geek and Apple fanboy in particular. There are numerous websites and iPhone apps (and these sites usually have Droid and Blackberry apps, too, if you don't have an iPhone) that do this very thing. I tried a few of them, including MyFitnessPal and Free Calorie Counter, but the one I liked the most and have stuck with and will continue to stick with is called Lose It. It's a free website (www.loseit.com) and they have apps, too. You set your height, weight, age, and gender and it calculates your daily calorie budget. The goal is to not go over it each day. Also, as you exercise, you input your activity, which "wins" you calories back in your budget. I like Lose It for a variety of reasons. To me, it has the most visually pleasing aesthetic and layout. It's very easy and user friendly to navigate. There are some fascinating charts and graphs it constantly updates for you so you can track your progress, performance, and behavior. And this might sound lame, but there are little extra things that are great motivators, such as winning badges for certain achievements relating to weight loss and exercise, as well as posting (optionally) your activities to Facebook and Twitter. That's a great motivator...obviously you don't want to embarrass yourself in front of all of your friends and family (albeit online)!

Besides all of that, probably the biggest reasons I've stuck with it so long and will continue to is that it gives me a nice visual list and number to look at. I've got a touch of OCD (heavier on the O=obsessive part) and have always functioned best when I write out lists of tasks to do at school/work. Seeing things crossed off is a huge motivator to get things done. Likewise with Lose It and similar apps, seeing the actual numbers is a great way for me to stay on target.

More importantly, it's about changing bad habits. For instance, I used to drink a fair amount of soda. Now, I just stick to water and unsweetened iced tea, two things I always drank a lot of...now I just drink more of 'em. Both are low in calories (water = 0 and iced tea with a lemon wedge in it = ~5-10 calories for a HUGE glass of it). I still drink soda, but instead of having the equivalent of 3-7 cans/week, I'll maybe have the equivalent of 0-2 cans/week. People are shocked to hear this but I eat WHATEVER I WANT! Yes, I still eat even ice cream and french fries and pizza, etc The difference is now, since I track calories, I just don't eat as much of it.Whereas I used to eat 3-4 slices of pizza in a sitting, now I'll have 1 or 2. Instead of having a huge bowl of ice cream after dinner, I'll have a scoop or two as long as I have enough calories left in my budget for the day.  I never feel hungry or deprived, and it's helped me make better decisions about what to eat, when to eat it, and how much.  "Should I have a slice of cake now before dinner, or hold off and have a bit extra spaghetti and meatballs at dinner? I'll have this extra helping of lasagna now and run an extra mile tonight to work it off." And so on.  Little changes = HUGE results.

EXERCISE: Yeah, it's not too exciting, but you gotta exercise as well. Not only does it help with weight loss, but it's just good for you anyway, not that I'm telling you anything new! Now, for me, running has been a godsend...as well as being great exercise, for me it's great mental therapy, a fantastic way to de-stress and get some energy and anxiety/aggression out after long days at work. I've logged 170 miles (and counting) since the beginning of June and am now consistently running 4-5 miles each run at a 9:45/mile clip (when I started, I was barely running 1.75 miles in 30 minutes)! It's been great for me to notice the improvement in my performance as the weeks go on, and to notice how great I feel after long runs now, as opposed to feeling like death warmed over in the earlier weeks.  I also do stairclimbs in my house on non-running days, as well as sit-ups and push-ups. Eventually I'd like to get back into weight lifting, which is something I used to really like as a teenager.

Now, obviously, not everyone likes to run or wants to run or *CAN* run, for whatever reason. The important thing is just to do SOMETHING and do it consistently. Not only is it good for you physically and mentally (the adrenaline highs during long runs are AMAZING, for instance!) but it improves other aspects, too. You'll sleep better, feel better, have lower blood pressure and blood sugar, not get sick as much, etc. For me, it's helped with chronic knee and back pain which was brought on by being overweight (both are pretty much gone now) as well as eliminating my constant headaches and migraines (which I suspect were due to high blood pressure). And for me, exercise is almost an addiction now. On the days when I can't work up a sweat for whatever reason, I'm almost grumpy or cranky (ask my incredibly patient and long-suffering wife!) and cannot WAIT for the next time I can run or do something active.

You just need to get out there and DO IT. Even something simple like taking a walk, a little swim in the pool, riding your bike, etc is doing something active. It's always hard to do it the first time, but I've found the hardest time is doing it the SECOND time when you're sore and tired and still not into it. You have to force yourself to do it, initially, even when you don't want to. Eventually it becomes a habit, and then something you'll (hopefully) look forward to.

BE PATIENT AND STICK WITH IT: This is very important. In the past, if I wasn't seeing results in the mirror after a few weeks, I gave it up. You'll have results even if you don't see anything at first. Just stick with it and eventually you'll see results, which will make you want to keep at it. I wasn't seeing results the first month or so, but the numbers on the scale went down little by little and I kept at it. Eventually I noticed my pants were too loose, my shirts too big, my belly was smaller, my face thinner, etc. Once you get there, then it's pretty easy to keep at it.

THE FINAL WORD: In my opinion, fitness and diet fads are stupid and probably >99% of the time either fail or are so bad for your health that they do more damage than good. Anything promising "fast and easy" results are a sham, whether it's a special new piece of equipment, a diet that screws up the balance in your diet, pills, hormones, therapies, surgeries, etc. Just in my own life, I know MANY people that lost a bunch of weight via fad diets, surgery, pills, hormones, etc and then, as soon as they were "done" and stopped, gained it all back, and in many cases, added ADDITIONAL weight. Think about it:

1) WHAT in life can ever be meaningfully accomplished easier and faster in life than doing it the tried and true way via hard work and dedication? Whether it's in school, work, a relationship, a task, fitness, sports, music, art, writing, etc, the person who works hard and is dedicated to what they do will almost ALWAYS come out on top and be better at it than someone who looks for the easy way out. Obviously there are exceptions, i.e. people born with incredible God-given talent/looks/ability/etc but those people are just that, the rare EXCEPTIONS!

2) If you don't change the underlying habit, you're not addressing the problem. As a ridiculous but, I think, effective example, let's say you have a habit of constantly banging your head very hard against a brick wall day in and day out. It's giving you headaches and causing brain damage. So you decide to buy a football helmet and wear it when you keep on banging your head against said brick wall. Sure, the pain and the damage you're causing may lessen, but have you changed the actual habit and STOPPED hitting your head? It's easier to go buy a helmet than to stop whacking your cranium, but in the end are you really any better off? I know this is a completely ludicrous example, but the point is, if you don't take some personal ownership and modify your habits, you've really done nothing to address the problem. This goes hand in hand with the fad diets, surgeries, treatments, etc. The reason all of these people regain the weight is because they slide back into their old bad habits!  The problem was not addressed, just the effects of the symptom, so to speak.

IN CONCLUSION: Again, I'm totally NOT trying to be preachy or pretend like I know it all...I don't, and I know I don't! As I said at the beginning, I'm just a dude who got tired of being fat and finally did something about it. I'm only writing this to offer my personal insights and opinions based on my experiences (since this is *my* blog after all!), and to share it with anyone reading it to show you that you *CAN* do it and you *CAN* succeed if you just roll your sleeves up and put your head down and DO IT!

 *********************************************************************************

For the last 15 years or so, I failed miserably at staying in shape (and later on, getting back INTO shape) and finally, at 31, I'm successful at it. Some of it has to due with simply being older and wiser and having a better perspective on life and myself. A huge part of it is having a wife and 4 kids who I love more than anything in the world and wanting to set a good example for them and be around for many, many years to see their kids and, God willing, their grandchildren! And a humongous part is being so sick of how I felt and looked and finally grabbing the bull by the horns and taking complete control of my behavior and harnessing my manic energy toward this goal. I tell people all the time that it's been easy, and I'm telling them the truth. It's been easy because all I had to do was change my behavior and put in some work. To me, that's much, much easier than paying lots of money and spending lots of time on all of these ridiculous machines and accessories and pills and pre-made meals and supplements and depriving yourself of certain foods or walking around in a starvation-induced zombie-like state on a crazy diet. I get to eat what I want, control how much of it I eat, and go work up a sweat for 30-60 minutes every day.  It doesn't get much easier than that, in my view!

That's probably the take-home message here, since, as I've learned as I've gotten older, those are real habits that will help you in ALL areas of life.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

All About Chemistry

(^^^That's my workspace in the lab that I work in^^^ I always have SEVERAL things going on at once...multitasking is an essential skill to have as an organic chemist!).


"Why did you choose to be a chemist?" is something people ask me all of the time. I know I touched briefly on the subject in terms of chemistry as a career path in an earlier post HERE. However, since I get asked this ALL the time when people ask me what I do for a living, I thought I'd write a post about it... Basically, anytime I meet someone new and they ask what I do and I tell them I'm an organic chemist, I get one of two general reactions: 1) "Wow, good for you, you must be smart, I did horribly in that class," or 2) "Ugh, I *HATED* chemistry in school" as they make a disgusted face. Most people do think it's interesting when I explain in layman's terms what I work on, although they all invariably say "it sounds like you're speaking a different language!" (which I totally understand). So I figured I'd write here about what I do, how I got here, and why I chose the path I did. Yep, it's another self-indulgent post, but as I've said before, it's my blog, so it's my right :-)

When I was finishing high school, I wasn't quite sure what I wanted to study in college. I was pretty adamant I wanted to go to medical school after college, inspired by my father, who is a doctor. I used to go to work with him during my school vacations or on weekends and watch him work and learn about what he was doing. I knew I wanted to do something in the sciences, as I'd always been a science buff growing up and loved learning about the world around us, how things work, and why they worked. That being said, I had *NO* idea what I wanted to study when I went to U. of New Hampshire orientation in June 1997. My parents dropped me off at the area for undeclared major students and said they'd be back later in the afternoon to pick me up. So there I was, sitting amongst a bunch of fellow incoming freshman who looked like they were more interested in putting off the real world for 4 more years on Mommy and Daddy's dime than actually getting an education as the person from the university advising center went around the room asking each of us what we thought we'd probably want to major in. When it came to me, on the spur of the moment I blurted out "I actually know my major, I don't know why I'm here!" When she asked me what I was going to major in, I said "chemistry." They sent me on my way to the registrar's office to change my paperwork to chemistry and then told me I could make the rest of the orientation for incoming chemistry majors after lunch. I went ahead with the rest of the day and when my parents picked me up and asked me what, if anything, I decided to major in, I told them it was chemistry. They were surprised to say the least, but pleased as well.

The little bit of backstory here is that my dad had gone to UNH for college in the early 1970s and got his degree in chemistry. He'd go visit the department every once and a while when I was growing up and I tagged along a few times, so I was somewhat familiar with the building, his old professors, and the science itself. I hadn't particularly liked chemistry in high school, but I put that down 100% to having lousy teachers who were as ineffective teaching the information as they were generating excitement among the students. Anyway, I picked chemistry and began classes that fall. I hit a few speed bumps along the way that first year and wasn't sure I really wanted to continue with it, but once I took organic chemistry as a sophomore, I was *HOOKED* on it. Part of the reason was that I had a phenomenal professor who ended up being my BS and PhD advisor (and I will add here that EVERYprof at UNH was top-notch as a teacher...I mean that, I can't think of a lousy one at all). The other part that got to me was the science itself. I'd always loved building and tinkering with things as a kid...models, electronics, my chemistry set (yes, I had one), so to learn that I could do this with MOLECULES was just incredible to me. I really hit my stride that year and ended up beginning to do lab research in said professor's laboratory starting that summer and for the next 2 years, culminating with my BS thesis. I found that I absolutely loved being in the lab, learning and using different techniques to do directed research (as opposed to the more rudimentary lab courses we were required to take alongside our classes). Not only was I learning new stuff from my advisor and his graduate students, I was learning how to use instrumentation and interpret the data, how to give presentations at group meetings, and how to think scientifically to approach issues along the synthetic way. I even published 2 papers as an undergrad and presented my research at conferences! As a bonus, I was so far beyond what we were learning in the lab courses that those became that much easier for me.  

(One interjection here...something I have heard ad nauseum over the last 15 years is how chemistry, and organic in particular, is "all about memorization"...no, it's not. It's about learning basic concepts and yes, memorizing many general things, and then applying those lines of thinking to new problems to build off of them. Once I made this connection in my own mind after my freshman year, I had a major breakthrough. It was the proverbial lightbulb going off or the tumblers in a lock all falling into place at once).

My senior year, in 2000-01, presented me with a tough decision...what to do after I graduated? I had always assumed med school, but I was loving chemistry so much that I was considering going for a PhD in organic chemistry. I decided to go with what my heart was telling me and go for the PhD. Not only did I learn that chemistry grad schools waive tuition and pay you a stipend (as opposed to paying ~$40,000+/yr for med school and being in debt until you're 50, not to mention 3-15 years of training AFTER school before finally practicing on your own) so that I'd come out of school with no debt, but I'd seen the kind of life and stress my dad had (and still has) as a doctor...crazy hours, stress, etc. While I respect him to this day for doing what he does at such a high level of quality and helping to save people's lives for going on 30 years now, I wasn't sure I wanted to do that. Plus I was newly engaged to my wife and we were getting married the following year, so I had to think about what kind of life we'd have as newlyweds over the next few years when I was in school, no matter which path I took.

I decided to go to grad school and worked toward my PhD with my same advisor. Again, I hit a few bumps here and there but ended up finishing my PhD and secured a postdoctoral fellowship with a world renowned professor at Clemson University. Not only did I learn even more in terms of technique, instrumentation, and approaches to thinking about chemistry in my 2 years there, I was promoted a couple of months into my fellowship to a research faculty position and given the responsibility of running the day-to-day operations of the group for my advisor as he had a very prestigious and important high-profile position with a government agency concurrently with his position at the university. In addition to my research, which I loved, it gave me experience as a manager, mentor, and valuable experience writing journal publications, funding proposals, keeping budgets, and dealing with other issues I would never have been exposed to as a "regular" postdoc. I was also a co-author on over a dozen high quality journal publications, writing many of them myself and editing, formatting, and contributing something to all of them. It was a priceless experience that I count myself blessed to have gotten to this day. And the best part of grad school and postdoc, besides growing as a scientist and getting my degrees, is that I have made great friends with my advisors and keep in touch with them to this day.

After Clemson, I got a job at my current company, where I've been for 3 years now, working on a few different projects..my major project that I've been working on for over a year (and counting) is going really well and is absolutely fascinating, not only because of the chemistry I'm doing, but because of what I'm learning about the engineering and physics components from our collaborators, who are experts in those areas. I also was given some managerial duties after my first year, which have been challenging but interesting so far. And maybe that's been the best thing about this whole journey...being able to constantly learn something new every day, either in chemistry or a field that's related. I know I'll be able to continue this learning for the rest of my career (and beyond), and along the way I've made an amazing number of great friends and contacts, both personal and professional.

Is chemistry hard? Absolutely. Is organic chemistry dangerous? Yes, but as long as you work safely and carefully, it's (relatively) safe. Do I have some aptitude for it that may have helped me out? Definitely. Is it for everyone? No way. But it's definitely been the right choice of study and career for me and I look forward to many more years of learning and doing.

So maybe next time someone asks me what I do and I tell them, they'll mention how interesting it sounds instead of how much they hate it or how badly they did in the class in school. Hey, I can dream, right?

Thursday, September 1, 2011

TV of the future

Kristie and I are seriously considering cancelling our Comcast cable subscription (which is a rip-off, especially considering we watch a total of *maybe* 20 channels out of the 800 we're forced to pay for) and instead subscribing to Hulu and Netflix ($9.99/month EACH) and saving >$100.00 a month. We'll just stream it to our TV via our Wii and WiFi network. Our one concern, however, is not being able to watch our sports teams (the Red Sox, Patriots, Celtics, Bruins). Does anyone out there know if you can watch sports on, say, Hulu? And if not, is there a service or site that streams games, even for a small fee? Feel free to comment and let me know!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Brace Yourself!














ABOVE: Me in August 2011...if you'd seen my smile before, this is a HUGE difference! Sorry for the weird smile, I went as wide as possible so you could see better.


In case you didn't know, I have braces on my teeth...it's a long story...and since so many people ask me about them when they first notice them on my teeth when I talk, I figured I'd lay it all out here and share it with everyone in one place.

***WARNING: LONG POST AHEAD!***

My whole life I've always had healthy and straight(ish) teeth, and when I first told people I was getting braces last year, they didn't understand why. When I was 14 or so, my dentist told my mother after a cleaning that I might want to see an orthodontist, but she ignored his recommendation, and I didn't think anything of it. Over the years, however, I gradually had more issues. I clenched my teeth at night, which led eventually, in my early 20s, to requiring that I wear a nightguard when I slept. My teeth constantly ached and I started to get some hairline cracks in a few molars. I thought this was simply a result of my clenching at night. However, when I was 29, my dentist told me after a cleaning that I should go see an orthodontist since he'd noticed a worsening of my open bite over the 7 years I'd been seeing him. Now, I had no idea what an open bite was, but when he described it to me, I realized I'd had it my whole life and just didn't know any different. Basically, when I would close my jaw and bite down, my front teeth did not touch...there was open space until you got to my pre-molars. He referred me to an orthodontist for a consult...

My orthodontist examined me and took molds and X-rays of my teeth and jaw, studied them, and told me I'd need braces *and* upper jaw surgery! My issues were: the open bite, edge-to-edge biting, a crossbite, and a palate that was too narrow. A normal palate is wider than the lower jaw so that when you bite down, the outer edges of the top teeth slightly overlap the bottom teeth. Mine were the opposite. Also, because of my misaligned bite, only one tooth on *each* side of my jaw actually touched when I bit down. That meant that every time I bit into something (or clenched my teeth at night), four teeth TOTAL bore all of the pressure of my bite, and in case you didn't know, the human jaw can exert a LOT of pressure when biting down. This was a major cause of my headaches, sore teeth, and cracking teeth.

So, as a 30 year old man, I got full braces put on in April 2010, as well as a palate expander. After some wrangling with my insurance company to cover the insurance (they initially declined the claim from the oral surgeon's office, even though it stated ON THEIR OWN WEBSITE that this procedure was covered, and when it was resubmitted, they accepted without issue. This whole process delayed my surgery from May 2010 until September 2010. And a lot of Americans think we need *MORE* government regulations/oversight on the insurance industry? But that's a topic for another post...).

I had my surgery in September 2010, and let me tell you it was PAINFUL. Well, waking up afterwards and the first week at home were. I had what was called a Lefort 1 Palate-Ostomy (or something like that). Basically, the surgeon sliced through my palate across my gum line (above my teeth) from one side to the other (and through my sinuses), bent it down, and sliced my palate in half (think of a straight line starting at my front teeth and going back toward my throat). He then stitched it all closed where my gums meet my upper lip inside my mouth, so that I would have no scar on the roof of my mouth. He gave my expander the first few cranks and, as per my orthodontist, I needed to turn the expander 3 times a day for 2 weeks. When I woke up, my face was incredibly puffy, swollen, and tender. My nose was 100% clogged with dried blood from cutting through the sinuses (which is completely normal for this type of procedure), and I had a large gap between my front teeth! This last thing was weird for me, since I'd always had nice, tight teeth. My instructions were to go home, sleep, eat only liquid/soft foods for the first 2 weeks, and turn the expander 3 times a day. The surgeon saw me 3 days post-op for a follow-up and said everything looked great and I was recovering very quickly...he was pleased.

I do have to say the recovery, after the first 3-4 days, was actually not bad. I was back at work 6 days after the surgery...face was still swollen and tender but otherwise I was fine. I wouldn't have been at all as successful if it weren't for my amazing wife Kristie, who stayed with me at the hospital, fed me ice cream and crushed popsicles with a spoon in the hospital after I woke up, waited on me hand and foot the first few days, and still managed to take care of our 3 kids, including dropping off and picking up the two oldest at school every day, toting around our toddler son, *AND* she was pregnant with our daughter! I can never thank her enough!!

After expanding for two weeks, I had a HUGE gap between my front teeth, and the width of my palate was so noticeable and different. Kristie mentioned it made my face and smile look different, and she was right...I think it's so much better now! The orthodontist at this point wired the expander shut and told me to come back in 6 weeks after the palate now had a chance to heal and fuse itself back to my skull. Since then, I go see him every 3-6 weeks for adjustments...the expander remained in place until April 2011 (in order to hold the shape of my palate constant), but let me tell you, when it was removed, it was an amazing feeling...that thing was a pain to clean, although by that point I was so used to it that my speaking was normal (when I first got it, it made me sound like I had a speech impediment).

Over the last 9 months, my orthodontic treatment has included twisting my teeth, wire ties, alignment, and powerchains. The gaps in my upper teeth are almost closed...I go back in two weeks for another powerchain, and hopefully it'll take 1 or 2 more to pull the teeth completely together. After that, we'll get down to "fine-tuning" orthodontics...straightening out all of the teeth, lining them up, and fixing my crossbite. The amazing thing is now my bite is correct, my palate is wider than my lower jaw, all of my teeth touch when I bite down, and I have no more open bite! I can touch my front teeth together for the first time in my life, which is a really weird feeling that I'm getting used to, but it looks great, and when I smile I flash a lot more teeth than I used to, which makes me feel more confident. I always used to hate my smile since you only could ever see a small amount of my top teeth when I did. Now, it looks normal and my wife always tells me how much nicer it looks (she always liked it before but I agree with her, it's better now!).

While my teeth can range from being sore to *REALLY REALLY* sore after each adjustment (anywhere from a few days to a couple of weeks, where I only eat soup and soft foods until the soreness goes away), I'll take that any day over the post-op pain! I'm estimated to have braces for another 12-18 months at this point...obviously that could change, but I know it'll all be worth it in the end!

One huge thing I was worried about when I first got braces was how self-conscious I'd be. Everyone expects kids and teenagers to have braces, but I was a 30 year old professional who was going to have a full on "metal mouth" and felt a bit nervous about that. However, everyone has been really cool about it all. Most people mention that they notice them and ask questions...I don't mind answering people's curiosity about my braces at all. Additionally, since I got my braces, I've noticed a LOT of adults with braces, whether I'm out at a store, restaurant, etc. I'm not sure if more adults have them than before or if I just notice them more, but it definitely lets me know I'm not as "rare" as I thought to have them!

Plus, my daughters think they're cool and want to get them when they're older (if they only knew...) and I let them pick the color of my elastics every time I get an adjustment...my only rule is no pink or purple!

THE WORST PART OF HAVING BRACES? Cleaning them! When I started out, it took me a good 20 minutes...now that I'm used to it, I can clean and brush in about 5-7 minutes. I clean after every meal, and my routine is: first, I clean between every bracket with a proximal brush, then I floss with threader floss between each bracket, and then I brush, being careful to get on the underside of each bracket to make sure I get everything. It's a bit of a hassle but every cleaning I've had since getting braces, my dentist has told me I'm one of the few people whose teeth are just as clean with braces as without, so clearly it's worth it!

I'm sorry if this post is too long or boring...maybe it's a bit self-indulgent but I wanted to share this, especially since so many people have asked me about the whole process/experience over the last year and a half. I'm always happy to answer any questions so have at it!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Wedding Band Update

I remembered that I mentioned I was having issues with my wedding band falling off since I've lost a bunch of weight. I went to the jewelry store on Wednesday (Jewelry Creations in Dover, the best place!) and first they measured my finger. I've gone from a size 16 (the size of my wedding band and finger from when we got married in 2002) to a size 12.5! Since I'm not quite at my goal, they were nice enough to fit a ring guard on it. In fact, they did one better...they sold me a ring guard for $20 (including the installation) and, noticing it was kind of small and flimsy (compared to the size of my ring and finger), they put on a heavier duty, more expensive one, and didn't charge me extra! They even buffed and polished my ring...it hasn't looked this good since our wedding day! (It's a platinum band and platinum loses it shine *VERY* quickly just by getting scuffed). I was very pleased and now I can at least be confident the ring isn't going to slip off every time I move my hand!

Below are the before and after pictures:


BEFORE (look at all that space!)



AFTER



What I've Been Listening to Lately...

In addition to my massive iPod and CD music library, over the past month or so I've been using Spotify and have discovered or re-discovered loads of great music. So I'll try to periodically make a top 10 list of bands/albums/songs that I'm currently digging. And FYI, these lists are in no particular order. So, for August 2011:

Bands:

1. Fitz and the Tantrums
2. ...And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead
3. Rory Gallagher
4. Mansun
5. David Bowie
6. Cage the Elephant
7. Death Cab for Cutie
8. Viva Brother
9. Nirvana
10. Talking Heads

(honorable mention: Blur, of course!)

Albums:

1. Fitz and the Tantrums: "Pickin' Up the Pieces"
2. ...And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead: "Tao of the Dead"
3. Death Cab for Cutie: "Narrow Stairs"
4. Death Cab for Cutie: "Codes and Keys"
5. Nirvana: "Unplugged"
6. The Rolling Stones: "Let it Bleed"
7. Peter Frampton: "Frampton Comes Alive"
8. Blur: "Modern Life is Rubbish"
9. Toadies: "Rubberneck"
10. The Smashing Pumpkins: "Siamese Dream"

(honorable mention: Viva Brother: "Famous First Words")

Songs:

1. Cage the Elephant: "In One Ear"
2. Foster the People: "Pumped Up Kicks"
3. Death Cab for Cutie: "Cath..."
4. Toadies: "Possum Kingdom"
5. My Morning Jacket: "Holdin' On to Black Metal"
6. Viva Brother: "Darling Buds of May"
7. The White Stripes: "Icky Thump"
8. Beck: "Girl"
9. Faces: "Stay With Me"
10. Fitz and the Tantrums: "Moneygrabber"

(honorable mention: Neal Morse: "Seeds of Gold")

So that's that for August...I'll try to do another one in September. How about you? Any song/band/album(s) that have you've really enjoyed the last month or so?