New Year’s Fitness Resolutions

This is the time of year when everyone seems to fixate on one single New Year’s resolution. That is to get in shape and lose weight. For the next two months the gym parking lot will be packed full of people pursuing this goal. Unfortunately after February, the parking lot will go back to the usual 1/4 full. Now I think the beginning of a new year is as good a time as any to decide to make a change in your life. The problem is people’s enthusiasm begins to wane when they don’t see the results they are expecting. I am pretty convinced that this is mainly because of 1) them acting on bad information on how to achieve their goal and 2) unreasonable expectations.

First, I want to include a youtube video of John Stone and the transformation he made back in 2003 going from 215 lbs at 30% body fat to 160 lbs at 8% body fat in 5 months time. He took daily pictures during that time, and it is pretty incredible to watch (link for rss readers)

Now that you have watched that video and see what is possible, I want to repost this great information from Mark Young and his post How not to F up your weight loss resolution.

1) Be reasonable about what you can accomplish in 1 year’s time.

As long as you are getting closer to your goal, you are making progress, but 100 lbs in 1 month is not reasonable. 0.5-1 pound per week is much more reasonable and sustainable.

2) Don’t overestimate the power of exercise.

And this is the key to fitness goals that just doesn’t seem to make it onto the late night infomercials. Diet and nutrition is at least 90% of weight loss. In fact many studies have shown many people that start exercising end up eating more because they feel hungrier. While having more muscle and cardiovascular health is not a bad thing, unless you have a caloric deficit you will not lose weight. So don’t worry too much about the exercise aspect, just get your diet down for 6 months and see how things go.

To that end, I highly recommend reading the nutrition posts in this Beginner’s Sticky Post on John Stone’s forums.

Good luck reaching your goals. Make 2011 your year.

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Homemade Bagels

I am a huge fan of King Arthur Flour and their products and recipes. After looking through their recipes looking for some kind of bread to make that didn’t require many ingredients, I decided to attempt homemade bagels for the first time.

Their site had two simple bagel recipes, but one required an overnight starter (I’m not opposed to making a starter, but I wanted to be able to have them for breakfast the next morning). I decided on the simple recipe listed here: Simple Bagel Recipe

The recipe requires making a dough (I used my bread machine dough setting), resting the dough, shaping the bagels and boiling them, and then a final baking.

The full recipe and ingredients are on the KAF site, but a short version is listed here:


  • 1 tablespoon instant yeast
  • 4 cups (17 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached Bread Flour
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 tablespoon non-diastatic malt powder, brown sugar or barley malt syrup (I only had brown sugar, so that is what I added)
  • 1 1/2 cups (12 ounces) lukewarm water

Water Bath

  • 2 quarts (64 ounces) water
  • 2 tablespoons non-diastatic malt powder, brown sugar or barley malt syrup
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar

I added all of the ingredients to the bread machine and let it do its thing. I weighed the resulting dough and tried to split it into eight equal-weighted pieces (though I ended up with nine).

After letting the dough rest for 30 minutes, I poked holes in them and shaped them into the standard bagel shape and added them to the boiling water for 3 minutes (2 minutes on one side, 1 minute on the other).

After removing them from their refreshing, warm bath, I placed them on baking sheets in preparation for the oven.

They were baked in the oven at 425 degrees for 25 minutes flipping them once during the baking (the wet bagel dough from the bath makes the oven shoot out a nice bit of steam when you open the door, be careful when flipping them).

After removing the finished product and letting them cool, we finally got to taste them.

They tasted great and even received the Casey seal of approval so this recipe is a keeper. This recipe was incredibly easy to make so I highly recommend giving it a try even if your baking skills are somewhat limited. You will be very pleased with the results.

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Hearty Vegetable Soup

Being 95 degrees outside in Alabama, I was trying to think up something to cook for the wife. The heat must have gotten the better of me because I decided hot soup would be perfect. I went scouring the internet for recipes and finally came upon a recipe by the great Alton Brown on the Food Network site here. I whipped it up (making a few adjustments based on comments on the site), and I must say it turned out fantastic (be even better if the mercury was at least below 60 degrees Fahrenheit).

Below is the final recipe that I used. This was my first experience with leeks, and I was pleased to find the following short video on how to clean and prepare leeks for cooking.

  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cups chopped leeks, white part only (from approximately 4 medium leeks)
  • 2 cups carrots, peeled and chopped into rounds (approximately 4 medium)
  • 2 cups peeled and diced potatoes (approximately 2 potatoes)
  • 2 cups fresh snap beans (or green beans), broken or cut into 3/4-inch pieces
  • 2 cups yellow zucchini (2 medium zucchini)
  • 2 cans fire roasted diced tomatoes
  • 2 cans whole kernel corn, drained
  • 1 can northern beans (washed and drained)
  • 6 cups chicken broth (would have used 8 cups but ran out of space in my pot)
  • 2 tablespoons finely minced garlic
  • Kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup packed, chopped fresh parsley leaves
  • ~1 lemon of freshly squeezed lemon juice


  1. Heat the olive oil in large, heavy-bottomed stockpot over medium-low heat.
  2. Once hot, add the leeks, garlic, and a pinch of salt and sweat until they begin to soften, approximately 7 to 8 minutes.
  3. Add the carrots, potatoes, and snap beans and continue to cook for 4 to 5 more minutes, stirring occasionally.
  4. Add the chicken broth, increase the heat to high, and bring to a simmer.
  5. Once simmering, add the tomatoes, corn, zucchini, northern beans, and pepper.
  6. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook until the vegetables are fork tender, approximately 35 to 40 minutes (the snap beans took quite a while to soften up).
  7. Remove from heat and if desired to thicken the soup up, use a stick blender to puree a small portion of the soup
  8. Add the parsley and lemon juice and season to taste with kosher salt
  9. Serve immediately.

The simmering soup prior to being stick blended looked like this:

What a tasty soup recipe. WAF was high, so this soup will be added to my basket of recipes.

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Interesting Blogs I Follow

Wanted to highlight a couple of blogs that I follow and find interesting. They focus on pretty specific areas and may not be very useful to most.

In The Pipeline – Chemistry related: This blog written by Dr. Derek Lowe focuses on Chemistry (and more specifically biochemistry drug related) research. Being a former Chemistry major and eventual Chemistry minor, I find Dr. Lowe’s writing very entertaining. I first found his site when someone posted a link to his series of posts about Things I Won’t Work With which have some fantastic gems about some incredibly volatile compounds he refuses to work with.

I Will Teach You To Be Rich – Personal Finance: Ramit Sethi is a Stanford educated entrepreneur that writes some very useful pieces in the realm of finance.

Bruce Schneier – Computer Security: Bruce Schneier is the defacto guru in the computer security space. He writes some very poignant pieces on security in the computer world as well as how those same principles apply to the real world.

Tim Ferris – 4 hour workweek – Lifestyle Design: I was very skeptical of Tim’s book but it was an enjoyable read with some really good information. His blog is also very entertaining and worth following.

Hacking Netflix – Netflix Movies: An interesting blog that keeps up with what is going on with the company Netflix and the movie rental market.

Blackbag, Barry’s weblog – Lockpicking and security: A very eclectic site that I found via Bruce Schneier that talks about physical security measures and countermeasures.

The Tom Kyte Blog – Oracle database: Tom Kyte is a well known guru in the Oracle world. His site Ask Tom is the place to go when looking for answers dealing with Oracle. His books are also incredible.

Travelzoo Top 20 – Travel: This site compiles a list of weekly travel deals (vacation packages, cruises, flights, hotel deals, etc).

I’m always looking for other sites with interesting content, if you have some favorites, please post them in the comments.

Posted in Misc, Technology | Tagged | Leave a comment

2007 Toyota Camry In-Dash Navigation Unit Repair

Casey bought a 2007 Toyota Camry 3 years ago from the dealership. At the time she added the GPS navigation package which included an upgraded stereo, satellite radio, and GPS touchscreen navigation. This upgrade was not cheap by any means, adding $2,000 to the price of the vehicle. Now this unit made by Denso is very nice. The touchscreen works great and the built-in navigation is extremely convenient to always have in the car (versus putting up and taking down a hand-held GPS each time you get into the car).

Unfortunately a mere months after the 3 year warranty expired on the car, the touchscreen display went out. All the functionality appeared to work, but the display was so dim that you could only tell it was on by shining a flashlight at it. So to the dealer it went for a repair estimate. The Toyota dealer decided that it could not be repaired and should be replaced. Cost to replace a radio unit that cost $2,000 3 years ago…..$3,000 dollars. So apparently in 3 years, the price of this technology went up 50%. The dealer was supposed to charge labor for looking at it but the rep was so shocked himself by the price that he waived the fee. Pretty bad when their own service reps can’t believe the costs of their own parts.

As Philip Greenspun has lamented multiple times (here, here, and here), this is a good reason the car manufacturers deserve to go under: selling a $200 device for $2,0000, not to mention the outrageous cost of navigation updates (~$350). It was extremely depressing to hear that this was the recommended outcome from the dealership on a device they sell. I could not stomach this recommendation since it seemed that everything worked on the device except for the display. Pity to toss all those fancy electronics because of a failing LCD screen. After copious searching on the internet for others with similar problems and suggestions for repair, I came across a recommendation on a Toyota Tundra forum for a company out of California that repairs these units.

The company is Hi-Tech Electronic Services out of Van Nuys, CA. I contacted them via e-mail and described the problem. They said they could fix it and would give a free official estimate once they received the unit (though the gave me a rough estimate via e-mail). I found some instructions online about removing the radio (one of the easiest cars I’ve ever seen for removing a radio I must add), and $30 of UPS shipping later they had it at their shop.

They examined the unit, repaired the 3 parts that had gone bad, and shipped it back all within a week for $585 total including return shipping. So a new replacement unit is $3,000 from Toyota, repair of existing unit, $585. A much, much better deal. They only offer a 90 day warranty on their repairs, but I suppose that is to be expected with electronic repairs in general. Overall a wonderful experience. I reinstalled the unit into the car and it has been working great ever since.

I highly recommend checking this company out if you have any kind of in-dash navigation unit that needs repair. And when buying a new car, I highly recommend you do not purchase the in-dash navigation unit. It is convenient, but the cost is way too high considering the advances in technology and that the dealers do not stand behind their product enough to warrant that risk/reward.

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