Bob's Basement

Just a short, simple blog for Bob to share his thoughts.

Restoring an Old Friend Back to Life

My Love Affair with Explorer-style Guitars

Many years ago - more years than I will care to admit - I saw Cheap Trick in concert. (Okay, just to give you an idea of how long ago this was - Cheap Trick was touring to promote their Cheap Trick at Budokan album; you can do the math from there.) At this point in my life, I hadn't been playing the guitar for very long, and my main guitar at the time was a cheap 3/4-size nylon-string acoustic that my dad had bought for me from a store on a military base. Military bases aren't known for keeping great guitars in stock, so it needs little explanation that I was fascinated by any cool guitar that came along. This made seeing Cheap Trick even more entertaining, because their lead guitar player, Rick Nielson, used something like 1,000 different guitars throughout the show.

But one particular guitar caught my eye - an Explorer; something about it's futuristic shape seemed to me like the coolest guitar ever. Rick Nielson played an Explorer from Hamer Guitars, but I soon learned that Hamer's Explorer was a copy of the Gibson Explorer, and that became the 'Guitar to Have' for me.

Rick Nielson (left) playing a Hamer Explorer onstage with Cheap Trick.
(Note: This image is originally from Wikipedia.)

About this time I was in my first rock band with my good friend Gene Faith. Even though we both actually played the guitar, we liked to create fake instruments for ourselves - I made myself a fake guitar out of scrap wood that looked like an Explorer, even though it was hollow and had strings that were made out of rubber bands. But it was cool - there was no doubt in my mind about that. Once we had some 'instruments' at our disposal, we'd put on a record and pretend to actually play these fake instruments and jump around my dad's living room like we were rock stars. (Hey, don't laugh so hard - I was only 12 or 13 years old.)

My first electric guitar was a cheap copy of a Gibson SG that I purchased at Sears for somewhere around $100. (And believe me - I delivered a lot of newspapers to earn the $100 to buy that guitar.) It was okay as a starter guitar, but I soon found myself wanting a better axe. A year or so later I saved up more of the proceeds from my newspaper route and I bought an Explorer copy from an off-brand company named Seville - it was nowhere near as good as a Gibson, but it was the best that I could do on a paperboy's budget. It had a hideous tobacco sunburst paint job, so I removed the neck and hardware, sanded the body down to the bare wood, stained it with a dark wood color, and then I shellacked the body with a clear finish. When I reassembled the guitar, it looked pretty good. I played that Explorer for a few years, and I eventually sold it to my friend Gene.

That's me on the right
playing my Seville
Explorer back in 1981.
Gene posing with my
Seville Explorer.

Jumping ahead a few decades, another good friend, Harold Perry, was moving from Seattle to San Francisco, so he was parting with a bunch of musical gear. I'm always in the market for seasoned gear that needs a new home, so Harold and I were going through a bunch of his old items while I was deciding what I might want to buy. Harold had bought a 1980 Gibson Explorer II several years earlier as a 'project guitar' - it had been badly treated by a previous owner and needed a lot of repair work. Since Harold was moving, he didn't expect to have time to finish the guitar, and he wanted it to find a good home, so he sold it to me for a great price.

And so my adventure with guitar restoration began as a labor of love.

Restoring My Gibson Explorer II

When I took the guitar home, the first thing that I did was strip all of the remaining hardware off the guitar; thereby leaving nothing but the wood body. I then proceeded to polish every inch of the guitar for a few hours. Whoever had owned the guitar before Harold apparently had some hygiene issues and it seemed like he had never cleaned the guitar despite voluminous amounts of caked sweat that coated much of the surface. What's more, his sweat had corroded all of the stock hardware, so nearly all of the hardware would need to be replaced. With that in mind, I decided that this would be a long-term project and I would take my time with it.

The Explorer with all of
the hardware removed.
Grotesquely-corroded
original hardware.

The next thing that I needed to do was to polish the hardware that I intended to keep - which was just the brass nut and frets, all of which looked pretty hideous. I used Mr. Metal to polish the hardware, which seemed a strangely apropos title for a former heavy metal dude.

Badly-tarnished frets and nut. Dude - it's "Mr. Metal." :-O
The pile of used cotton patches
after I finished polishing.
Shiny frets and brass nut!

Over several months I slowly bought new hardware that I needed. I'll spare you most of the details, but suffice it to say that it took a long time for me to locate and purchase all of the right replacement parts that I wanted. I primarily bought the hardware from Stewart McDonald, Musician's Friend, and Guitar Center, and I had the guys at Parson's Guitars create a new truss rod cover to replace the original that had been lost before the guitar had found its way to me. In the end, I replaced the bridge, tailpiece, volume & tone potentiometers, tuning machines, strap locks, toggle switch, and speed knobs. (The folks at Parson's Guitars thought that replacing the stock Gibson parts was a sacrilege, even though I explained that keeping the stock parts left the guitar unplayable.)

All new hardware. New truss rod cover.

Before I started wiring the guitar, I lined the inside of the routing cavities with copper tape - this is supposed to reduce EMI on the guitar. I've never used it before, so it's something of an experiment. In any event - lining the routing took several hours to complete; time will tell if it was worth it.

Lining the interior routing cavities with copper tape.

The next part of the project was to install the new guitar tuning machines. Oddly enough, Gibson won't sell their inline-6 set of tuners for an Explorer to customers, so I had to buy tuning machines from another company. I eventually decided on tuning machines from Gotoh, which I was able to order through Stewart McDonald. The trouble is, once I mounted them on the headstock, I discovered that the screw holes for the tuning machines were off by a little over a millimeter. (If you look at the image, you can see that the screw holes are angled slightly downward on the right side of the machines, but they needed to be perpendicular to the machine shafts.)

Bad news - these tuning machines don't fit. :-(

After doing some additional research, I discovered that the only Gotoh tuning machines that Stewart McDonald sells are Gotoh's SG381 tuning machines, and I needed their SG360 tuning machines for my Explorer. After a quick call to Stewart McDonald, I verified that they cannot order Gotoh's SG360 tuning machines for me, so I searched the Internet until I found a distributer in Australia who could ship them to me. It took several weeks for the tuners to make the journey to the United States, but when they arrived they were a perfect fit.

Good news - these tuning machines fit. :-)

Once I had the right tuning machines installed, I started the long process of wiring and soldering the electronics.

Installing the pickups and
running the wires.
Soldering the pickup
selector switch.
Soldering a capacitor on
the tone potentiometer.
Installing the pickup selector
switch and running the wires.
Testing some of the
wiring before final soldering.
Soldering completed!

Once I completed the wiring, the last hurdles were to re-string the guitar, tune it up, adjust the string height and intonation, and test it out. (Which is the fun part.)

That about sums it up. The guitar looks great and plays great, although I might drop it by the folks at Parson's Guitars and have them them give it a quick tune-up for good measure.

Special thanks go to Harold for hooking me up with this guitar; and I also owe a big set of thanks to my wife, Kathleen, for humoring me while I took over one of the rooms in our house for the several weeks that I spent working on this project. ;-)

Posted: Nov 28 2012, 02:00 by Bob | Comments (0)
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It's Never Too Late to Go Back to School

After two long years of sacrificing my evenings and weekends in order to complete homework assignments, I just received the following in the mail:

This obviously signifies that I have finally earned my Bachelor's Degree. This is traditionally a four-year degree, but I managed to complete my degree in just over 28 years from when I first started college. (So anyone who is currently on a five-year plan for their four-year degree, take my word for it - you could do a lot worse.)

By way of explanation, I had never finished my Bachelor's Degree; I dropped out of college during my freshman year when I got married and we needed the money. Our idea at the time was that I would work full-time while my wife went to school full-time, then we would swap roles when she completed her nursing degree. Unfortunately, our lives didn't work out that way. Shortly after I dropped out of college I joined the US Army, and that put a temporary halt on both of our college aspirations as the military continuously transferred us from one location to another.

After five years in the Army, I was finally at a time and place in my life where I could go to college in the evenings and do my homework during the weekends. Because of this, I received my Associate's Degree around the time that I finished eight years in the military; this meant that I had earned my two-year degree almost 9 years after I first started college.

A few months after I received my Associate's Degree I left the Army, and my plan at the time was to go to school and finish my Bachelor's Degree. But once again, my plans didn't work out that way. Sometime during my first year back in school, Microsoft offered me a job, and that opportunity was simply too good to pass up. This was ultimately a great decision, but it meant that my college goals needed to be put on hold again.

Sometime around my fifteen-year anniversary at Microsoft I decided that I was once again in a time and place in my life where I could go to college in the evenings and weekends, so I enrolled in an online program through Liberty University. (I chose this school because their online programs are very friendly to current and former members of the military.) My declared major was Multidisciplinary Studies, which is a fancy term for a program that allows you to split your major into two or three concentrated subject areas. (I chose Computer Science and Religion.)

Jumping ahead a couple of years, I found myself studying hard to complete all of my upper-division courses while putting three children through college, flying around the world to speak at various technical conferences, surviving the weddings for two of my children, and juggling a work schedule that typically comprised 50 to 60 hours a week.

In the end, I finished all of my courses at Liberty University in just over two years - and I managed to maintain a 4.0 GPA throughout my studies, thereby graduating Summa Cum Laude. (Which is probably Latin for "You really need to get a life.")

So if I do the math correctly, it took me 9 years to get my two-year degree, and it took me an additional 19 years to get my four-year degree. At this pace, I should have my Master's Degree 29 years from now.

;-]

Posted: Oct 30 2012, 18:37 by Bob | Comments (0)
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Bad Christians

I recently saw this video: http://youtu.be/vnJBW49afzg

Let's put this in perspective - a group of self-professed 'Christians' shows up uninvited to a Muslim Arab Festival, where they are confrontational to the Muslims and insulting to the police, and they are carrying signs with slogans like "Repent - your party will burn in the lake of fire (01:14)," "Islam is a religion of Blood & Murder! (03:26)," "Be not believers in drunkards, whoremongers, idolaters, sodomites, fornicators (04:30)," "I am truth and the life - all others are thieves are robbers (04:30)."

No - this was not an act of random violence by a group of Muslim extremists who were targeting an innocent group of Christians; this was a deliberately-staged set of contentious actions by some very unbalanced people who claim to be Christians in order to provoke the very attack that transpired. These otherwise peaceful Arab-Americans were enjoying a day of celebration of their faith and heritage, and these so-called Christians showed up and behaved in an extremely insulting manner, shouting insults with a megaphone and slandering the Muslim faith - these 'Christians' might just as well have been Nazis based on their behavior. The police were 100% correct is telling these fools that they were the cause of the trouble.

Let's reverse things for a moment - let's say that you were a Christian at a peaceful church gathering when a group of atheists showed up to protest by using a megaphone to hurl insults at your religion and they carried signs that proclaimed that Jesus was a drunkard & whoremonger who was the illegitimate son of unwed slut, you would be more than a little offended. You might not personally react with physical violence, but if you had a few thousand Christians in one place when a publicly-outspoken group of atheists or Buddhists or Hindus or Muslims showed up and behaved as provocatively as these 'Christians' did, I can 100% guarantee that someone would eventually lose their cool and start throwing things.

This video is a perfect example of how Christians should NOT behave, and they are certainly not following Christ's example. This is not a question of exercising freedom of speech or freedom of religion - this is a question of exercising good judgment and Christ's love; this group of 'Christians' exhibited neither.

Self-professed 'Christians' like those in this video should be ashamed of themselves.

Posted: Jun 27 2012, 10:07 by bob | Comments (0)
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Adventures with the Tooth Werewolf

My oldest daughter just reminded me of something that I hadn't considered in years: when my children were young, my wife and I raised our kids somewhat differently than other parents. If you know me personally, then you're well aware that I'm not revealing anything surprising by that admission.

But let me explain what I mean: every parent has to choose which traditions they want their children to experience, and which traditions they want to skip. For example, some parents let their children celebrate Christmas, while other parents might not let their kids participate in Halloween festivities. My wife and I decided that Christmas and Easter were great, albeit with no Santa Claus and no Easter Bunny.

Now I know what many parents are thinking, and you can put the phone down - my children are all grown and you can't call Child Protective Services just because my children didn't set cookies by the Christmas tree in hopes that St. Nick would drop by.

But we had one tradition that we didn't skip, we just changed it a little; instead of the Tooth Fairy, we had the Tooth Werewolf. That's right, instead of Tinkerbell, we had Timberwolf.

I don't know why I chose to raise my kids with the belief that a big, hairy wolf snuck into their room and absconded with their baby teeth, but what's even more surprising is that my wife let me do it.

In all actuality, my children knew that it was me - I made sure of that. But it was pretty amusing when they would tell their friends that the Tooth Werewolf was coming to take away their teeth.

By the way, after a few successful years of the Tooth Werewolf, I decided that he needed a friend, and I invented the Easter Vampire.

Years from now, someone might need therapy. Winking smile

Posted: Feb 09 2012, 15:46 by Bob | Comments (0)
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What I do not admire...

A friend of mine recently posted the following news link to Facebook:

Atheist teen forces school to remove prayer from wall after 49 years

He accompanied the link with a statement which stated that he admired the young girl for standing up for herself despite all of the misfortune that has come her way. While I strongly object to the hostility that has been directed at her, I do not admire this girl; not because I might disagree with her, but simply because this is yet another symbol of what is so often wrong with this country. While I strongly support standing up for what you believe in - or in this case what you don't believe in - do not mistake self-centered motives for moral courage.

At sixteen, you are convinced that the world revolves around you. (I have just raised three teenagers, so I am speaking with the voice of recent experience.) The question here is not whether the state is cramming religion down someone's throat - which it clearly is not - but whether an entire community should be inconvenienced for the self-interested attitudes of a single detractor. This solitary malcontent is asking for her community to discontinue a half-century of tradition, and she is demanding that thousands of previous students, parents, and faculty look the other way while she forces the world around her into a mold that is custom-fit for her and no one else; how immature.

There are so many things in contemporary society for which we are asked to look the other way if we have an objection; simply flipping through a magazine or turning on the television will provide ample material for one person or other to raise a protest. You might agree with their objections, or you might disagree, but we live in a free society where you do not have the right to never be offended. In our culture the generally-accepted answer is for the complainant to avoid what offends them; we do not require every publisher to pander to the wishes of every objector. If we managed to remove everything that offended any individual person then we would have nothing left to look at or listen to. (For example, I can't stand country music, but I don't sue Nashville in order to force them to stop cranking out album after album of music that makes me want to hurl.)

But that is not the case in this situation. What is taking place here is that a single student has raised an objection out of self-centered desire; perhaps it is a desire to get her way, perhaps it is a desire for attention, or perhaps she has ulterior ambitions in mind. In the end, it really doesn't matter. If you read the "prayer" in question, there is nothing in it that should be offensive to anyone; it is not forcing religion on anyone - it is simply a call to be a better person:

"Our Heavenly Father,

"Grant us each day the desire to do our best, to grow mentally and morally as well as physically, to be kind and helpful to our classmates and teachers, to be honest with ourselves as well as others. Help us to be good sports and smile when we lose as well as when we win. Teach us the value of true friendship. Help us always to conduct ourselves so as to bring credit to Cranston High School West.

"Amen."

Since when is being good offensive to anyone? Is it because she wants to violate the thoughts of goodwill that are expressed within those few words? Does she find it threatening that someone wishes for her to aspire to be better than she is? (Note: You may choose to believe in God, or you may not, that's your choice; but that's actually beside the point in this scenario.)

What is extremely revealing of her attitude is her cause for atheism; when she was ten years old, God didn't do what she wanted, so she decided that there is no God. It's an odd coincidence that the source of her disbelief was a similar situation to her current predicament; when the school voted to keep the prayer banner in question, she lost faith in them. If her parents had opposed her outspoken position, she would have undoubtedly lost faith in them. If the courts rule against her, then she will lose faith in government. This is a bad set of precedents that she is establishing; she wants the world to bow down to her demands, and if they don't comply, then she will simply complain to someone else until she gets her way. Ultimately, it's a bad signal to society when we do so.

This is where she is the most wrong; we live in a tolerant culture, and tolerance means accepting the fact that someone has a right to a conflicting opinion. This is true for religion, politics, sports, entertainment, etc. No one should be allowed to force everyone else to agree with them. So I reiterate my earlier statement: do not mistake self-centered motives for moral courage.

Posted: Jan 27 2012, 13:47 by Bob | Comments (0)
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The Wheels of Time Have Rolled Over Me

When we moved to the Seattle area, one of the selling points for our new home was the backyard. The backdoor of our house empties out onto two large, wooden decks which overlook a large greenbelt of towering evergreen and maple trees. When our son was younger, he and his friends would play paintball and other games in those woods for hours.

My son is currently in college, so he's moved on from such 'juvenile' pursuits as paintball; now a fresh crop of kids has taken over the timberland. This new batch of boys has replaced the paintball pistols of yesteryear with airsoft artillery; in the summer season, we hear them waging war till all hours. This has never bothered me at all - it's simply part of the experience of living near a cool stretch of forest.

But recently, a few of the boys were skirmishing through the thickets, and one of them was crouching low to avoid being seen by his pursuers as he took a running shortcut across my backyard. I happened to look out the window as this unfortunate event unfolded, and we had just laid fresh layer of bark throughout the yard. With this in mind, and before I had a chance to consider the consequences, I had opened the window and yelled, "Hey! Don't run through my backyard!"

And then it hit me - I had officially become Old Man McMurray; the antiquated ancient who lives on the hill and yells, "Hey, you youngsters get out of my yard!"

[Deep Sigh.] Sad smile

Is it time to buy a new guitar yet?

Posted: Jan 09 2012, 18:28 by Bob | Comments (2)
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Weight Loss Recap for 2011 – and Why I Won’t Write a Book

One of my favorite comic strips is Pearls Before Swine, and the comic from September 30th, 2011, sums up why I would never be able to write a book about weight loss:

2011-09-30

If you had read my blog post entitled The Geek's Guide to Weight Loss, you would have noticed that all I did to lose 50 pounds in six months was to eat less calories each day than my body uses on a daily basis. In the following six months, I’ve kept off the weight by making sure that I eat only as many calories as my body actually needs.

As a year-end recap, here’s my average weight month-by-month for 2011:

Month Average
January 203
February 190
March 178
April 171
May 166
June 164
July 160
August 160
September 159
October 159
November 160
December 161

My day-to-day chart for the entire year looks like the following:

Weight Tracking

I had a spike of a pound or two at Christmas – nobody’s perfect. Winking smile

Posted: Dec 31 2011, 13:23 by Bob | Comments (4)
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A Few Thoughts on my 27th Anniversary

When I was a child, there was an excitement that preceded Christmas as it approached each year. I am sure that most everyone knows what I mean by that statement; whether you are longing for Christmas, Hanukah, Ramadan, Kwanzaa, or even if you are an atheist that participates in some form of secularized holiday celebration. There is a sense of childhood excitement that surrounds the season; it could be the gifts, the decorations, the music, or a host of other contributing factors.

In a small way, I experience something like that feeling each week of the year; every Wednesday night for the past decade or so, my wife and I have had "Date Night." I do my best to never schedule anything that conflicts with this tradition; and as each Wednesday comes around, I look forward to going out to dinner or a movie with my wife in something of that same good-natured attitude of child-like expectation that I used to have at Christmas.

Date Night is a recent endeavor for us; which is unfortunate, but somewhat unavoidable. Both Kathleen and I went directly from living at home to being young, married, and poor; and soon after that we became parents. We were great friends in High School and our first year of college, but we jumped forward several years almost overnight; and as a result, we went from being children to being parents with barely a chance to discover who the other person really was.

Please don't misunderstand me - parenthood was a mixed blessing of training and teething, schooldays and sporting events, chaos and concerts, happiness and heartaches; and I would not trade a moment of my joys or sorrows as a parent. (Well, maybe I could do without the memories from one of my daughter's first boyfriends - and he knows who he is. Angry smile ) But that being said, Kathleen and I missed out on the opportunity to explore who we were as a couple all those years ago; which is why I enjoy each week's rediscovery that long before I loved my wife, I actually liked my wife.

There is a wonderful scene in the musical Fiddler on the Roof where the main character, Tevye, asks Golde, his wife of twenty-five years, "Do you love me?" I didn't fully understand this scene when I was younger; I simply thought that it was amusing.

<br /><a href="http://www.youtube.com/v/h_y9F5St4j0">Fiddler on the Roof - Do you love me?</a>

But in recent years, Golde's responses to Tevye's simple questions have impacted me differently.

"For 25 years I've washed your clothes,
Cooked your meals, cleaned your house,
Given you children, milked your cow.
After 25 years, why talk about love right now?

"For 25 years I've lived with him,
Fought him, starved with him.
25 years my bed is his;
If that's not love, what is?
"

I truly loved my wife on the day that we exchanged rings and we both said "I do" before our friends and family. The reasons why I loved my wife on that day are still there: she has an odd sense of humor, we complement each other well, and she is my best friend. But the trials and tribulations that we have endured together over the past twenty-seven years have changed the dynamics of that relationship.

In our marriage vows Kathleen and I promised to love each other for richer or poorer, for better or worse, and in sickness or in health; and we have endured each of those seasons in due course over our many years of marriage. It is precisely that collection of experiences that has bonded us together in ways for which a night out every week could never substitute; in much the same way that veterans of a war are bonded together in a way that supersedes the love between the closest of siblings.

Two years ago, on our twenty-fifth anniversary, I gave Kathleen a framed portrait that contains our wedding photos and the following quote from Mark Twain:

"Love seems the swiftest, but it is the slowest of all growths. No man or woman really knows what perfect love is until they have been married a quarter of a century."

In many ways that sums up my feelings: I loved my wife when I was nineteen for as much as I understood that concept at the time; but now that I am somewhat older, and perhaps somewhat wiser, I love my wife in ways that I couldn't possibly have understood back then. I tell Kathleen every day that she is my favorite person; and because of that, every week may not be Christmas, but just the same - I look forward to spending each week with her all the more.

Posted: Dec 29 2011, 06:23 by Bob | Comments (2)
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The Geek's Guide to Weight Loss

I've had a lot of questions from a lot of people over the past few months about my extreme weight loss this year, so I thought that I'd post a few words to explain how I accomplished that. To put things in perspective, between the start of January, 2011, and the end of June, 2011, I lost 50 pounds (22.7kg). What's more, I've kept the weight off for an additional five months.

Here's the story behind all of that.

Falling Apart (or Bursting at the Seams)

First of all, I knew that I was really overweight.

In December of 2010 my weight reached 210 pounds. As I had watched my weight grow over the years, I had a series of "superhero" names that I called myself:

  • First I was "Porky Boy."
  • Next, I was "Fat Man."
  • Later, I was "The Obese Avenger."
  • I was rapidly growing into "The Morbid Marauder."

I made all the usual comments at my own expense:

  • "I'm in shape - round is a shape."
  • "I have six pack abs - I'm just keeping my six pack insulated."
  • "I'm watching my weight. It keeps going up, but I'm watching it go up."

I went into something of a denial phase - I started buying my pants from one particular store, because their brand of jeans were actually larger than their advertised size. So I felt better about the fact that I was wearing jeans that were advertised as size 36, when I was really wearing size 38 or larger. Even then I had a serious "muffin top" that would hang over the top of my jeans. I never tucked in my shirt in order to help disguise my condition.

I knew things were bad when a cab driver in Iquitos, Peru, charged an extra fare for my wife and me because he said that we were too fat. (Actually, he didn't say it, he pointed at me and gestured like I was a balloon inflating.)

But all joking aside, I knew that I was in trouble because my blood pressure had elevated to 170/120, which is dangerously high. (120/80 is normal.) I decided to start exercising, and in early January, 2011, I had barely made it 15 minutes into a workout before I thought that I was going to have a stroke. That's when I realized that I needed a doctor to help me get started.

With this in mind, I took a week off for vacation, and I spent most of that week visiting doctors. I saw a general practitioner who put me on medicine to control my blood pressure. I also saw a neurologist because of my frequent headaches, which were actually chronic migraines. (Undoubtedly due to the blood pressure.) I saw a bunch of other doctors for a variety of additional medical symptoms that I was experiencing, but for the sake of expediency I'll spare you the details.

To make a long story short, it seemed like I was falling apart.

Exercising and Counting Calories

Within a few days, the blood pressure medicine did the trick; I could keep my blood pressure low and complete a workout. For exercise, I bought a treadmill from NordicTrack that connected to www.ifit.com, which allowed me to track the distances that I walked each day. (Hey - if you're a geek, it shows up everywhere.) I bought several series of documentaries on DVD from the History Channel and the Discovery Channel, and I would watch those documentaries while I walked for an hour or so.

I also created a measured walking path through buildings 16, 17, and 18 on Microsoft's main campus; these buildings are connected by glass-covered walkways, so I could still walk when the weather was nasty outside. My walking trail was around three-quarters of a mile long, and it took me about 15 minutes to walk it. It's interesting, because I had never noticed before how many people put out cookies and candies in the hallways. I could ignore all of it - but it's kind of funny that I hadn't paid much attention before.

I have to stress that I did not do a lot of exercise to lose the weight - I mainly started counting the calories for everything that I ate, and I tracked those calories diligently. (I'll explain more about that later.)

My general method of calorie counting was to calculate my Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR), then I would subtract 1,000 calories from that. Whatever was left was the calorie count that I was allowed to eat for the rest of the day.

Here's what that looks like:

Sex
Age (in years)
Weight (in pounds)
Height (in inches)
Activity Level

There are lots of websites that will help you find the calories for meals, although I liked http://www.livestrong.com/myplate/ the best. I also created a OneNote file that I could read on my SkyDrive and through the Office application on Windows Phone 7 where I listed the calories for the foods that I eat the most; this made it easier to keep track.

It got to the point where I would say to myself, "I really want to eat those M&M's, but I'll have to work out later to burn off those calories." I also learned to browse to a restaurant's website before going out to dinner and picking my meal by calculating the calories ahead of time. In order to help cut down on craving, I stocked my desk with a bunch of 90-calorie snack bars. Those or a bowl of oatmeal became my daily breakfast, and in between my reduced-size meals I would have a snack bar.

I should stress that I did not give up the foods that I like - it may be healthier to do so, but I don't think that's sustainable for some people. (That includes me.) I would still have pizza, or a Qdoba burrito, or a burger from Five Guys; but I would simply have less of everything. If I had a burger somewhere, I'd skip the fries. I'd only have a couple slices of pizza, instead of eating the whole pizza. Keeping the weight off is about sustainability - and eating food that I like in moderation works for me.

I should also point out that at no time was I actually hungry during my weight loss period; that's where the snack bars paid off. Instead of being famished when lunch or dinner rolled around, I could get by with a simple meal of 300 or 400 calories and be satisfied with that.

As long as I stuck faithfully to counting my caloric intake on a daily basis, my weight and the inches around my waistline started to recede.

Losing Weight (while Undoing Years of Abuse)

After five weeks my weight had dropped 20 pounds; my pants were fitting a lot looser, and a few people started to take notice. This was fuel for my self-motivation; the fact that someone could actually see that I was losing weight was great, and it made everything worth the effort. Of course, I still weighed 190 pounds, which was 25 pounds overweight, so any elation was short-lived.

As an added bonus, my weight had dropped so much that I no longer needed the medicine to control my blood pressure. In fact, the medicine was making my blood pressure way too low. One day I finished a workout and I felt a little light-headed. So I took my blood pressure, and I discovered that it was 80/60, which is low enough to pass out. (I stopped taking the blood pressure medicine immediately.)

After losing 30 pounds it was kind of cool - I could tell by looking in a mirror that my face was thinner, and more people started mentioning that it looked like I had lost some weight. But I was still faced with the knowledge that even though I had lost 30 pounds - which was significant for only two months' worth of effort - I still weighed 180 pounds, which put me 15 pounds into the "Overweight" weight range.

When I had lost 45 pounds in May, 2011, I hit my initial weight loss goal. This put my Body Mass Index (BMI) at 25, which was the high end of the "normal" range. To celebrate, I took a break from actively losing weight for a couple weeks, and I went into maintenance mode. So for the next month I continued to count my calories, and I simply kept my weight at 165 pounds.

During my brief respite from active weight loss, I had a follow-up appointment with the same doctor with whom I had met in January. He was shocked when he saw me, and he asked me what had happened. I replied that I didn't want high blood pressure, sleep apnea, and heartburn for the rest of my life. More than that, I didn't want to have to worry about a stroke or heart disease. The doctor gave me a clean bill of health, and a couple of weeks later I started losing weight again.

By the end of June or the beginning of July, I had hit my ultimate weight loss goal of losing 50 pounds, and I've kept it off since then. My waistline went down several sizes, so I have had to change my daily wardrobe through several successively-smaller sets of jeans, which was a great feeling.

Here's what my weight loss chart looks like for the year of 2011 (so far):

 

The After Effects

First and foremost - I feel great. I have no more migraines, I sleep better, my heartburn is gone, my blood pressure is back to normal, and I have lots more energy.

I'm also in much better shape. In fact, my wife and I walked the Leavenworth Half-Marathon in October, 2011; and here is a photo of the two of us crossing the finish line:

I thought that it might be good to show a set of "before and after" photographs, just so you can see the difference that 50 pounds can make:

December, 2009 July, 2011

(My thanks to Rebecca Calvo for the photos!)

How Anyone Can Lose Weight

A while ago I posted some weight loss information to Facebook in order to answer a few people's questions about my experiences; since I keep my list of friends on Facebook pretty small, I thought that I'd share some of that information here. But I also wanted to make it a little more up-to-date with some additional information.

My secret to weight loss? Microsoft Excel.

Well, it's a little more than that - but it's mostly just counting my calories and making sure that I eat 1,000 calories less per day than my Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR), for which I use Mufflin equation:

  • For Men: (10 x w) + (6.25 x h) - (5 x a) + 5
  • For Women: (10 x w) + (6.25 x h) - (5 x a) - 161

Where:

  • w = weight in kg
  • h = height in cm
  • a = age

I converted this equation into the following complex Excel formula:

=((10*(B2/2.2))+(6.25*(B3*2.54))-(5*B4)+IF(B1="Male",5,-161))*IF(B5="Extremely Active",1.9,IF(B5="Very Active",1.725,IF(B5="Moderately Active",1.55,IF(B5="Lightly Active",1.375,1.2))))

Where:

  • B1 = Male or Female
  • B2 = Weight (in pounds)
  • B3 = Height (in inches)
  • B4 = Age (in years)
  • B5 = Activity Level (Sedentary, Lightly Active, Moderately Active, Very Active, Extremely Active)

To make things easier, I created the following spreadsheet to help me track my calories:

Geeky Bob's Weight Tracking Spreadsheet

If you want to use it, here's how it works - there are two worksheets in the spreadsheet:

  • On the Settings worksheet, you enter your weight, height, age, activity level, and the number of pounds that you want to lose in a week. You should only shoot for a maximum of two pounds a week; anything more is really unsafe, and your body will respond by slowing down your metabolism to conserve resources.
  • On the Tracking worksheet, you enter the date and your weight, and the spreadsheet uses this information and the information from the Settings worksheet to calculate your Body Mass Index (BMI) which should be below 25, and your Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR) which is the number of calories that your body burns just to keep you alive.

The remaining columns in the spreadsheet will tell you the number of calories that you can eat based on your weight loss goal. As you enter the number of calories that you have eaten (by using a formula like "=100+200+300") the spreadsheet will let you know how many calories that you have remaining for the day. As long as you keep your remaining calories above zero, you should be losing weight.

So there you have it: Microsoft Excel is the Geek's Guide to Weight Loss.

;-]

Posted: Nov 08 2011, 18:44 by Bob | Comments (0)
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Proud Microsoft Dad Moments

This past August my middlest daughter married her fiancé in a small ceremony that was as unique as the two of them. That being said, one moment of entertainment occurred during the service when my daughter recited her self-composed vows by reading them from her Windows Phone.

As a Microsoft Dad, this was too amusing to keep to myself, so I forwarded a photo to some of the folks in the Windows Phone division, and the story was picked up by the Windows Blog team, which published my daughter's description of the event as "First Person: With this phone, I thee wed"

"The wedding was in a little white chapel, up against a mountain, near the ocean. We wanted a simple, elegant wedding that represented us. We went through all the different weddings we'd seen - do we want to mix the sand? light a unity candle? - but we decided that wasn't really us. So we cut out all the things that weren't really us, and wrote our own vows.

"My phone is the thing I always have on me, so when I needed to write my vows I used Office on my phone. Whenever I thought of something I wanted to add, I could just jot it down. When it came to the day of, I thought maybe I should write it on a piece of paper. Then the minister said, 'Why not just read it off your phone?'

"My husband didn't know I was going to read off my phone. He said his vows off paper, and when it was my turn I looked at the pastor and she pulled out my phone and handed it to me. Everyone laughed - it made it a little more lighthearted, so we weren't bawling.

"My husband laughed, because I'm on my phone all the time, and he's on his. So I'm sure he wished he had thought of it. Now the vows are saved on my phone, and every time I want to go back and read them, I can. Meanwhile, his piece of paper is floating around somewhere - I don't even know where it is."

(photo: ©Rebecca Calvo Photography)

Posted: Sep 23 2011, 20:56 by Bob | Comments (0)
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