It was my birthday on Saturday and in true geek style I decided the perfect way to spend my day would be to pay a visit to Bletchley Park.
This blog post was intended to be all about my visit but unfortunately I heard some bad news this morning so that’s on hold.
Tony Sale passed away on 30th August 2011 at 80 years of age.
He was the responsible for the rebuild of Colossus, the first modern computer and if it had not been for his efforts details of Colossus would have been long forgotten as it disappeared after the second world war. The rebuild project was a huge accomplishment and is even more impressive when you consider how little documentation was left behind. He was also a major driving force behind the work in getting Bletchley Park to where it is today and held roles such as Secretary of the Bletchley Park Trust and Museums Director.
I was fortunate enough to meet Tony on my first visit to Bletchley Park and he was a perfect gentlemen and happy to spend time chatting about Colossus and Bletchley Park.
Tony had his own website www.codesandciphers.org.uk which is a mine of information about everything Tony was involved in and it’s worth taking the time to have a look as it covers a variety of topics including details of how Colossus was used to break the Lorenz cipher, the Colossus rebuild and videos of some the talks Tony gave at the National Museum of Computing.
Details of Tony’s life are well documented elsewhere on the Internet so I’ll just finish by saying
Thank you Tony.
Every visit I make to Bletchley Park is better than the last and I’m grateful of the contribution you’ve made to the history of computing in this country.
Last time I talked about my recovery from my knee surgery I mentioned I thought I’d gained about a stone in weight.
Losing weight is never something I’ve really had to worry about before. Despite having a predominantly desk based job for most of my working life my weight has always stayed pretty constant.
Growing up I’d always figured I was one of those lucky ones that could eat whatever they wanted without fear of gaining a pound or two. Turns out this was very naive of me. It’s mostly down to exercise.
In basic terms we all pretty much know if we consume more calories than the body needs it will store the excess as fat.
It’s no secret I love to play football and up until my mid-twenties this was two or three times a week as a minimum. As I’ve gotten older there have been various factors that have reduced the amount of times I play in any given week (children, work, etc) and over the years my weight had gone up some but nothing to worry about. Once that stopped altogether because of my injury the pounds have piled on at a faster rate. Turns out all that football was what kept my weight in check!
So in preparation for the new football season and the on-going recovery of my knee I’ve been running and cycling to get my fitness levels ready for pre-season. Pre-season training is hard enough at the best of times so I wanted to give myself a head start!
I hadn’t given any thought to losing the weight I’d gained. My initial expectations were that all the extra exercise I’d be doing would take care of it by the time the season started. However, after a conversion with some friends on Twitter I was inspired to put a little more thought into it.
Considering the stereotype of people who work in IT (see the image above!) it’s amazing how much technology can help with fitness and weight loss so I thought I’d list some of things I’ve been using.
Myfitnesspal is where I started. There are lots of similar websites but this is the one I was pointed at and it works just fine for me. The idea is simple. Enter your height, weight, age and a goal (i.e lose one pound a week) and the website gives you a calorie goal for the day. You then track all the food you eat and the exercise you do. This is basically calorie counting. If you stay under your calorie goal you’ll lose weight! Adding some exercise will give you some more calories to work with. I actually added an extra mile to a run as in the mood for pizza!
The site has a massive database of food which in my experience matches up with the nutritional information you get on most food packaging. The site is of a Facebook style in that you have a profile and you can update your status with thoughts that other friends can comment on. Activity on the site also updates your status and friends can offer words of encouragement.
This has been really great for motivation as it helps to keep you from feeling isolated. There is a very strong community around the site and there are various forums where people can ask for advice or share success stories.
Finally there are also mobile phone apps to help with tracking food and exercise. This particular site has support for Windows Phone which has been great for me!
Running and Cycling Routes
I love this site as it’s so simple. It’s a Google Maps mashup that allows you to plot running and cycling routes. Once you create a route it creates a unique URL so you can refer back to it as needed.
Again there are lots of other websites that do similar things. Some of them come with companion apps that use the GPS in your phone to track the distance you cover and how quickly you complete the route as well as sharing with friends. Runkeeper is an example and I’ll be taking a look at that more closely as I’ve recently purchased a sports armband for my phone. If you have an iPhone/iPod and are willing to invest some money the Nike+ system is very slick.
That said gmap was the first mapping tool I found and it’s really simple and quick to use hence why I’m mentioning it here.
Heart Rate monitor.
The only thing about using a tracking website such as myfitnesspal is that it can only guess at how many calories you burn during a particular exercise. Everyone is different and perform certain exercises at different intensities so any figures you use are only a best guess. You can get around this by using a heart rate monitor. I managed to get a cheap chest strap and watch in a sale in a local sports shop. I’m still getting to grips with it but the two work in tandem and give you various stats such as your average/max heart rate and calories expended. As you’d expect there is a very wide range of these!
There lots of apps that will work with your smartphone to help with exercise and weight loss. Other than myfitnesspal and runkeeper I’m not using any at the moment but I wanted to mention and give an example of how your phone can help exercise.
One thing that people always worry about when starting to exercise is actually starting! If you want to start running but haven’t done any for years the thought of trying to run even a small distance is very daunting.
There are tons of apps for just about every platform around for the “couch to five k” concept. The idea here is that you follow a set program where you start at short distances and gradually build up to five kilometres. The apps help as they will tell you when to run, jog or walk via voice prompts or making your phone vibrate.
While I didn’t use an app I followed my own informal method and I built up from running one mile to three miles and I recently completed a five mile route and I can certainly see how having a virtual jogging mate can help!
Ok this is a little broad but like most geeks I want to know as much as possible about something I’m interested in and the Internet provides a vast amount of resources on exercise and nutrition. I’ve learnt more about BRM, BMI, VO2MAX and the like than I really need to know! You can find fitness pharmacy-no-rx.net programs, workout videos and as much detail about how the human body works than you can handle!
The only downside is sometimes there is too much information and there is so much conflicting information about what does and doesn’t work it can be difficult trying to figure out what you should believe.
There are lots of gadgets and tools available to help get fit or lose weight. You can even buy a set of scales that automatically tracks your weight via wi-fi! I can report using the things I’ve mentioned above has worked for me and other than the heart rate monitor, which is a luxury – I would have been fine without it, the whole thing has cost me nothing.
MyFitnessPal reports that I’ve been using the site for 70 days and in that time I’ve lost 16 pounds. That’s also taking into account a two week break I had for a holiday where I put some of that back on I’m so pretty pleased with it.
So what did I actually do?
Diet – I didn’t make any drastic changes in terms of what I eat but did change the amount. It was only though tracking the calories that I realised how much I eat and how certain foods can have an effect. At the moment breakfast from a well known fast food chain is pretty much half of my calorie goal for the day!
Exercise – I started off with a bit of cycling to get me back into the exercise habit but since then my exercise has pretty much consisted of running.
I run pretty much every day where possible as I can do a couple of miles in 12-15 minutes. This means it’s easy to fit it in before or after work. On days where I’ve got a little more time I’ll stretch it out to three miles (and more recently I’ve completed that five mile run which I’ll start to throw into the mix)
Motivation – Unfortunately all this talk of technology can’t escape the fact you have to actually execute this yourself. This isn’t easy and no-one else can do it for you but the things I’ve mentioned are really good support tools to keep you on track.
I’ll be honest and say I still hate running. This obviously becomes much easier if you enjoy the exercise you’re doing and lots of people do get the “fitness bug” once they start to see results. Luckily I do get this with football. I love doing that so coming back from training or a game totally shattered is fine – I just can’t do that every day!
I’ve only touched on some of the things that are available if you’re serious about changing your body. Do you have any tips or tools you’ve used yourself? Comment welcome below
Just a quick one I wanted to share.
I frequently moan on my blog (and in person if we’re being honest!) about how Deaf accessibility, especially when it comes to technology isn’t something that’s taken into account often enough so it’s nice to be able to praise someone when they do get it right.
Andrews and Arnold are a UK based ISP whose name regularly comes up in newsgroups and at user group meetings.
I was checking out their website today when I saw this.
That’s something I don’t see very often. A specific note for deaf customers with details on how they can get in touch with the organisation in a variety of ways (even via IRC and usenet!)
I’m sure you’ll agree this is a good thing but what I really like about this is that it wasn’t tucked away on some obscure corner of their site.
It’s on the front page of their site
The contacts page also has email addresses, SMS numbers, and links to their twitter account.
I’m not an Andrews and Arnold customer so can’t comment on the quality of their broadband or their customer service but it’s great to see some extra effort being made.
The simple act of contacting a company is major headache in our household. Many companies, especially large ones won’t correspond via email and SMS is just not an option for them which means if Mrs P has a query about something (let’s say her mobile phone bill) how do we do this?
It usually involves me calling them which isn’t easy as we’re both at work during the day and then we have a song and dance with customer services because I’m not the account holder. Sometimes they’ll speak to me and I have to relay info to Bryony and sometimes they flat out refuse. This means the whole thing becomes long winded and far more stressful than it needs to be.
And this is just the short version of how it usually works!
So well done Andrews and Arnold – I hope more companies follow your lead.