Resolutions – July Update

1. Reading

New Year’s Resolution complete – I have surpassed my goal of reading 30 books this year! In fact, with the completion of the Steve Jobs biography, I read 32 books in the first 7 months of this year. I’m going to extend my resolution and attempt to complete 50 books this year.

The five books I read this month were:

  • Hounded – The Iron Druid Chronicles (Kevin Hearne)
  • Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less ( GregMcKeown
  • Hexed – Book 2 in the Iron Druid Chronicles (Kevin Hearne)
  • Flow (Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi)
  • Steve Jobs (Walter Isaacson)

My favorite book this month was the Steve Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson. Although the book was published shortly after Jobs’ death, I held off on reading it simply because I had heard the stories about how cruel he could be. I didn’t want to waste days of my life reading about such a person. Well, a co-worker urged me to give the book a shot and I’m glad I did. Although the book details Jobs’ cruel and weird personality, I was impressed with his drive for making beautiful products and I found myself admiring his attention to detail and his perfectionism for Apple products. Although he was never charitable to the extent his rival Bill Gates has been, I did appreciate his modest and minimalist (relatively speaking) lifestyle. The takeaway for me is that Jobs had many awful attributes but there were other attributes that were admirable. I hope I can show the same devotion for the products I make in my current and future endeavors.

Flow was a close second.

Essentialism was my least favorite book. My critique is not specific to Essentialism but to perhaps the whole genre of business/ self help books. So many of these books have a very simple message that could be summarized in a few pages (like a magazine article) but the authors drag on for way too long.

2. 365 Opportunities

No progress on this resolution. I have been generating new ideas but haven’t really been keeping track of them. I’m going to make a specific goal for August – I want to add 15 ideas to my list.

3. Exercise More Consistently

I continued to improve my fitness in July. My progress is illustrated in the figure below. Blue represents days I ran, typically 5km. Light blue is a bicycling day. Red indicates days that a did some strength training. Dark blue are hiking days and light gray were rest days.

July Workout Progress

I improved my 5km running times. At the start of July, my fastest 5k time was 7:53 (average pace) and I struggled to run faster than 8 minute miles for most of the June runs. In late July, I ran a 7:30 (average pace) 5km and can pretty consistently run faster than 8 minute miles. I’m pretty happy with my progress and will try to improve my times in August.

Screen Shot 2014-07-31 at 8.02.08 PMUnfortunately, I have experienced some mild soreness in my left calf and knee in the past couple of runs so I am taking a few days off from running in the hope these pains will go away. In fact, I plan on doing more strength training and bicycling this month as I fear I may start having joint issues if I continue to run nearly every day. In July, I had six days of strength training. In August, I would like to increase the number of strength days from somewhere between 10 and 15 days. I even bought a dumbbell set and bench so I can do these exercises at home.

I need to find a way to motivate myself when it comes to strength training. I am proud when I complete a run. I feel nothing during or after strength training, only a deep chasm of emptiness. Ok, it’s not that bad but, unlike running, I don’t feel any sense of pride and I am not motivated by changes in appearance, which seems to be the most common reason people lift. Finding that motivation will be another goal for August.

4. Classes

No classes in July. Many of the online classes are timed with the college semesters so I am expecting that I will start taking more classes in September when colleges start their Fall semester.

5. Build Something

Absolutely nothing. I am a pitiful excuse for a human being.

Resolutions – June Update

1. Reading

I added four more books to my list in June. First up was Promise of Blood by Brian McClellan. I saw him in a Q&A session on youtube with Brian Sanderson and became interested in his books. Promise of Blood was really good – it started slow for me but picked up toward the end. In my many road trips to northern Virginia, I listed to A Storm of Swords (Game of Thrones) audio book. I read the book several years ago but it was still good listening the second time. I’m a big fan of Michael Sullivan’s Riyria series so when I learned he had a new book out (Hollow World) I jumped for it. The book was good but he set the bar so high with Riyria that I don’t know it is possible to surpass. Finally, I read Storm Front (Dresden Files) by Jim Butcher, who’s a really popular author. The story was entertaining and I’ll probably continue reading more books in his series.

Altogether, I have completed 27 books for the first half of the year. With a annual goal of 30, I owned this resolution.

  • Promise of Blood (Brian McClellan)
  • A Storm of Swords (Re-read) (George R. R. Martin)
  • Hollow World (Michael Sullivan)
  • Storm Front (Jim Butcher)

2. 365 Opportunities

I think I added a few ideas to the list (maybe 3) but still a very disappointing number.

3. Exercise More Consistently

I have continued my routine of exercising every morning at 6:30am. Most of the time I’m running on various routes around Williamsburg. I typically run 5km (3.1 miles) although I’ll occasionally through a 10km (6.2mi) run. The average pace for my runs in May and June have been added to my interactive running plot.

The combination of exercise and better diet have had a positive effect on my weight. From my high of 183 in May, I’ve dropped down to 168 at the end of June for a total of 15 lbs loss. Running is growing on me. I was and still continue to be miserable while running but I feel good and proud after completing a run each day.  I’ve uploaded a chart of my weight over the past two months in my weight plot.

A screenshot of my workout calendar is shown below. Blue areas are runs, red is bicycling, and gray are light days.

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4. Online Classes

No classes in the month of June.

5. Build Something

Ok, so I actually made some progress with this goal although it is nothing too exciting. Basically, I learned a lot about d3.js and javascript. D3 is a cool software library to make cool visualizations for websites. This is how I generated the plots of my weight and running progress (see Fitness menu above). This was a lot of fun and I’m still fiddling around with some other ideas.

Resolutions – May Update

1. Reading

In May, I completed four books including one textbook. The reading pace has slowed from earlier than this year. With work and fitness workouts demanding a lot of my time, the reading was the area that took a bit of a hit this month. Regardless, I’ve completed a total of 23 books so far this year. Only 7 more books to achieve my New Year’s resolution. Here’s the list of books I completed this month.

  • Rise of Empire (Michael Sullivan)
  • Heir of Novron (Michael Sullivan)
  • Doing Bayesian Data Analysis (John Kruschke)
  • The Low Carb Fraud (T. Colin Campbell)

2. 365 Opportunities

Again, absolutely no progress on this goal. Need to put more effort into this one in June.

3. Exercise More Consistently

Finally, I started to legitimately exercise in May. On May 10th, I decided to start running a 5k every morning. Rather than just exercising when I felt the urge, my strategy was to get in a routine. The plan was to wake up early and run every morning before work. Even on my rest days, I still had to get up at the same time and walk the dog. To achieve this goal, it also meant getting to bed early in the evenings.

Well, it worked… at least for the month of May. I ran approximately 57 miles and improved my times from 10:14 minutes per mile to 8:43 minutes per mile. A screenshot of my run calendar is shown below. Blue areas are runs, red is bicycling, and gray are walks (rest days). I did miss one day on the 15th for business travel.

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4. Online Classes

No classes in the month of May.

5. Build Something

Again, I didn’t make much progress with this resolution as well.

It seems that I can make good progress on one resolution but have difficulty working on all five simultaneously.

Resolutions – April (and early May) Update

1. Reading

The reading progress came to a stand still in April primarily because I chose to read through a text book on Bayesian data analysis. And when I say “read” I mean actually reading the book like a textbook, trying to figure out what each paragraph means, doing the exercises at the end of each chapter.

The good news is I have made excellent progress with the textbook. I am on Chapter 21 of 23 and have over 90 pages of handwritten notes. Bayesian data analysis is really neat and I’m getting a good understanding of Bayesian techniques although I feel like I will need to implement it in work for the concepts to really lock in.

Although this text book has consumed most of my free reading time, I did manage to finish two fantasy novels by Michael Sullivan in the past couple of weeks:

  • Rise of Empire (Michael J. Sullivan)
  • Heir of Novron (Michael J. Sullivan)

This puts the YTD total to 21 and I’ll probably be able to add the Bayesian statistics textbook to the list within the week. Considering the year is not even half-way over, I’m in excellent shape to reach my 30 book goal.

2. 365 Opportunities

I did very little on this front. I don’t really have an excuse.

3. Exercise More Consistently

I’ve recently been putting more effort into exercising, particularly on the weekends. This usually amounts to running 5km, road biking, or mountain biking. I think that summer is officially here I will be able to keep this resolution a little easier than earlier in the year.

The following chart should be motivation to get my butt moving in the upcoming months. Over the past 2 years, I’ve gained over 15 pounds. I hate aging!

Screen Shot 2014-05-11 at 7.36.29 PM4. Online Classes

I finished the Embedded Systems class! I learned a ton of what embedded engineers do and am capable of making basic embedded widgets. If anything, I think understanding the embedded world will be beneficial for communicating and working with embedded engineers in the future.

5. Build Something

No progress on this one either. So much time has been devoted to the statistics book and work that I feel like I don’t have much time to be building stuff, but hopefully that will change in the upcoming months.

Resolutions – March Update

1. Reading

Still making good progress on the reading resolution for 30 books. I finished some massive books this month : 1080 pages for Words of Radiance, 1007 for The Way of Kings, and 585 pages of Android Programming (where I actually programmed all the examples). The android programming book was really good although I don’t think I’ll use much of what I learned. I was originally thinking of making my own hiking/gps app since I’ve never really been happy with the ones I’ve used but my interest in doing that is waning. Anyway, that brings up the year-to-date total to 19 which puts me well ahead of where I need to be (7-8 books) to reach 30 by the end of the year.

  • The Way of Kings (Brandon Sanderson)
  • The Most Powerful Idea in the World: A Story of Steam, Industry, and Invention  (William Rosen)
  • Words of Radiance (Brandon Sanderson)
  • Android Programming: The Big Nerd Ranch Guide (Brian Hardy and Bill Phillips)

What’s next? Well I bought a textbook on Bayesian statistics today so that may be my next big project. We’ll see how the first chapters go – working through a statistics textbook for fun seems daunting for even me (who is really nerdy).

2. 365 Ideas or Opportunities

Good news on this resolution. I picked up the pace this month and added 23 more ideas in March. I now have 62 ideas. I’m still far from the 90 ideas I should be at but hopefully I can crawl my way back so that I will have 365 ideas at the end of the year.

3. Exercise More Consistently

I fell behind in this resolution. I hardly exercised at all in March. The cold and rainy weather is one possible excuse although in reality I am just lazy. Temperatures are rising and the weather is improving so I don’t have an excuse in April. I’ll start tomorrow (that’s what I said a month ago).

4. Online Classes

I am still progressing in my Embedded Systems class. I have complete all the labs and quizzes that have been posted and have a 100% so far. I have two more weeks to complete the class. Overall, I’m really happy with what I’m learning and the workload. It usually takes me 4-6 hours on Sunday to get through the lectures and finish the lab.

5. Build Something

I did build quite a few things but they were all related to either the class or the android book. For the class, I built a few things including:

  • UART communication
  • digital piano (system interrupts)
  • traffic light system (finite state machines)

For the android book, I built

  • Flickr photo application
  • Run Tracker
  • Office Crime  application

Resolutions – February Update

Here’s the February update on my 2014 resolutions:

1. Reading

Still making excellent progress on my goal of reading 30 books. In February, I completed 6 new books, which are listed below. More information is available in my book list. Of these 6 books, my favorite two were the Michael Sullivan books (Fantasy Fiction). So I’m already 50% of the way to my goal of 30 books this year… at least this resolution is going well.

  • The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking (Burkeman, Oliver)
  • The Forever War (Haldeman, Joe)
  • The Rose and the Thorn (Sullivan, Michael J.)
  • The Crown Tower (Sullivan, Michael J.)
  • Emperor of Thornes (Lawrence, Mark)
  • Embedded Linux Primer – A Practical Real-World Approach (Hallinan, Christopher)

2. 365 Opportunities

This is really tough. I currently have a list of 39 ideas / opportunities. In theory I should have a total of 59. No real amazing ideas although I am thinking I will start working on one of the ideas from February as I move into March. It has to deal with an Android app that I would like to use.

3. Exercise More Consistently

Well, I have mixed results for February. I did get out and start hiking a lot more. The hikes have kicked my butt so I’m hoping they are getting me in better shape. However, I did end up gaining 1.4 lbs over the month. I think exercising once a week and eating whatever I like isn’t working out in terms of weight loss. Hopefully, March will warm up a little so that I can get outside and do some running and bicycling.

4. Online Classes

Well, I dropped all but one class from January. It was taking up way too much time trying to do four classes. I think in the future I will plan to only take one class at a time.

  • UT.6.01x Embedded Systems – Shape the World (

5. Building Something

Absolutely nothing. As I mentioned earlier, I do have an idea for an Android app that I hope to work on in March.

Hardscrabble Knob

Today, Jade and I did a 7 mile hike called Hardscabble Knob. The hike started out quite steep. After awhile the trail was covered with 4-8 inches of snow. This made the trail really difficult to follow as there were no markings on the trees. Fortunately, the GPS track I downloaded prior to the hike helped me find my way to the summit. The snow was pretty rough on Jade’s paws too. She had a few scratches and was favoring one of her front paws toward the end of the hike. I bought her a 6″ ham sub to reward her for her efforts. She seemed appeased.

The next two photos were taken of Jade on our way up to the summit.

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The following photo was near the “hardscrabble” part of Hardscrabble Knob. Jade was whining when this photo was taken because she could not follow me on these boulders. She actually did really good. I think as she has gotten older she has become much smarter where she would have darted along as a pup. Can’t fault her for being smart.


The obligatory picture of a sign along the hike. Oooh… exciting.

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The following photo is from the summit.

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Roaring Run

Took Jade on a 11 mile hike called Roaring Run. The creeks were definitely full from the recent snow melt. The hike even had a little history on it – an old furnace from the Civil War (see the historical marker below). This was a great hike. I think it would be even more scenic once spring arrives.

JadeCreek JadeTrail


Fortune’s Cove Hike

Fortune’s Cove is a Nature Conservancy Preserve located near Lovingston, VA. I spent approximately 2.5 hours this morning hiking in the preserve. Here’s a GPS track of the hike.

The hike starts at 840ft but you quickly ascend to a maximum elevation of nearly 2300 feet for approximately 1500ft of total elevation gain. Today was a cold day for a hike with temperatures below freezing (maybe 30F). There were even some flurries on the way up. The following photo was taken on the way up to the hike’s apex. 20140208_120905_HDR copyThe following photo was taken near the top of the hike. There were a lot of areas with this rhododendron, which might look really awesome when they are blooming in the spring. All these photos are taken with my cell phone as I didn’t want to lug around the behemoth Nikon D600 for this hike.

20140208_125547_HDR copyAbout 30 minutes before completing the hike, the sun finally came out. Here’s a picture of one of the mountain streams adjacent to the trail.

20140208_133526_HDR copyOverall, I thought Fortune’s Cove was a very nice hike. It may be interesting to try this again in the spring when the rhododendron blooms are out. Although there were a few overlooks on this hike, I think many would be obscured during the summer with all the tree cover.

Resolutions – January Update

Here’s my monthly update on my 2014 resolutions. I’m hoping that by periodically “checking in” I can keep myself accountable and continue pushing myself to achieve my resolutions. Here we go:

1. Reading

I’m well on my way to achieving my goal of 30 books. In January, I completed 9 books. The January books are shown below. More information is available in my book list. Of these 9 books, my favorite was Destiny of the Republic about the assassination of President Garfield.

  • The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies (Brynjolfsson, Erik)
  • The King of Thorns (Lawrence, Mark)
  • Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President (Millard, Candice)
  • The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses (Ries, Eric)
  • Naked Statistics: Stripping the Dread from the Data (Wheelan, Charles)
  • The Prince of Thorns (Lawrence, Mark)
  • Just Start: Take Action, Embrace Uncertainty, Create the Future (Schlesinger, Leonard A.)
  • The Fountainhead (Rand, Ayn)
  • Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking (Cain, Susan)

2. 365 Opportunities

Falling behind a little on this goal. I have come up with 27 opportunities. To meet my goal, I should have 31 opportunities. Most of the ideas are pretty bogus although there have been a couple that have some potential. Ironically, the two ideas I like are optical based technologies (my specialty) but, as usual, they cost so much to develop and/or manufacture. For example, one idea would require me to plop down $5k. The initial investment to feasibility index is way too high for this idea.

3. Exercise More Consistently

Doh! I started off the year well doing a combination of running, long dog walks, and FitStar workouts. FitStar is a pretty cool app where the program adjusts to match your fitness progression. Unfortunately, about a week ago I got a cold that took me out of commission until a day or so ago. After getting the viral nastiness out of the way, I re-started the workouts. I’m definitely eager for warm weather to return so I can take my exercise outdoors.

I’m did lose about 2 pounds in January by some miracle. For February, I need to come up with a metric or two to help better track this exercise goal. I’m thinking weight change, total calories burned, % of days with a workout, etc.

4. Online Classes

Off to a good start with the online courses. The whole MOOC (massive open online course) movement is awesome, particularly for broadening your horizons in fields outside your specialty. For example, there are no classes that I can take to build on my optical background. However, there are plenty of opportunities to learn more in areas such as programming, finance, electrical engineering, nutrition, astronomy, etc. I’ve actually started four courses although I may have to drop one or two depending on how how much time I need to commit.

  • Learn C the Hard Way (lcthw)
  • UT.6.01x Embedded Systems – Shape the World (
  • Algorithms Part I (
  • Nutrition, Health, and Lifestyle: Issues and Insights (

5. Building Something

Doh. I have done absolutely nothing on this front. I have a few ideas but haven’t acted on anything yet. I hope to have a more productive update by the end of February.