Getting Personal

This morning I went to see the doctor, which — considering my advanced age — is never a bad idea. The long and short about it is that there are a few indications in a small batch of first tests that I might be suffering from a case of malfunctions of my originally issued genetic code sequences.

I’m not going to holler the C-word just yet given there’s still a battery of tests to be done, a number of things to be checked, and experts to be consulted, but I’ll be spending some quality time in sterile rooms … again. The good news is, it’s 2014 and everyone has a smart phone, so I won’t be bored.

I’ve stared down the Reaper before, I can’t fathom it’ll be any different this time. But in the meantime I think I’ll endeavor to have some fun with this. After all, googling for “Cancer Fun” doesn’t autocomplete. All you get is “fundraising,” which isn’t what I am concerned about in this, medically and socially advanced, country. Maybe food and wine pairings? Does a 2012 Domaine de Terrebrune and Poulet de Bresse go well with colon cancer? How does a William Larue Weller Bourbon (the 10yr) pair with testicular cancer? Something like that.

Standing Desk Part II: Return from the Outskirts

Not having a car is pretty much a non-issue in this town. Within the city limits I am doing public transit, throughout the rest of the country it’s trains and the odd cross-country bus ride. All in all this costs me a flat $6000/year, roughly 60% of the cost of a car, gas, insurance, parking, and vehicle fees and taxes would. If I need a car, there are six (yes, six) car share companies I have access to, one even included in my $6k with only gas and mileage coming extra.

This works for all places. Except, until recently, IKEA. Luckily there’s now a tram and bus connection so I could go and execute Step Two of the Standing Desk adventure.

You may remember this as the first standing desk prototype using Modernist Cuisine and boxes.

Since last we spoke, Version One bit the dust. Almost literally, in a cloud thereof, surrounded by pain and screams when the whole thing came crashing down onto my socked feet – ’twasn’t the genius contraption I’d hoped it to be.

Enter version two. V2.0 isn’t at all my doing. It’s one of those “genius hack” recommendations floating ’round the web using IKEA parts against their intended use – namely a wall mounted (book) shelf and a small table.

Only problem here is: those were last year’s US items. No such luck in Germany. A little tinkering later, however, I managed to assemble something that worked.
Continue reading “Standing Desk Part II: Return from the Outskirts” »

Samsung Gear Live Pedometer (and bonus: LG G3 Health App)

True, it’s not meant to be just a fitness band, but it contains a pedometer. So it gets tested. As an additional bonus I am also throwing in the LG G3’s “LG Health” app, just because. How I test is described on the Wiki.

Device Steps 1000 Steps 10k Running 10k
Control (mechanical) 1000 10000 10000
Gear Live 890 9228 9890
Gear Live (second) 910 8364 n/a
LG Health 997 9995 9946

20140709_093923Eventually, Google says, there will be a “fitness platform” for all those trackers and other data. Which explains why there’s very little of that available in the app itself right now, just the bare bones. No web interface, no way to control your steps (adjust them, etc.) and no export. With even “our data is not going anywhere and we are not interested in others’ data” blowhards like Basis joining this Fit effort, we’ll hopefully see a much, much, better management interface soon.

For the time being there’s “OK Google, show me my steps” on the Galaxy Gear Live. There’s a “history” card and the actual step card, step milestones (every 100, it seems) are also shown as a card on the watch face.

In my tests the watch performed in the lower middle of the pack, missing as much as 15% of all steps for walking, a little less for running. As I always say, undercounting is better than overcounting, but the watch seems to be set so insensitive to movements that while it never reported false positives while in the train, it also missed me walking fast with my hands in my pockets.

Since this functionality is more or less native I didn’t perform any battery life tests and just presumed it would be on for the day. In this case I was still able to use the watch all day, just as advertised, with around 35% of battery left on “new toy” days with lots of usage.

LG Health

To be honest, I didn’t expect much. The LG Health app is tied to the LG G3 phone’s native launcher and can only be opened using Activity hacks when a third party launcher is used. I am using Activity Launcher, a free app, to remedy that.

Screenshot_2014-07-09-09-38-35 Screenshot_2014-07-09-09-38-09Another moment of honesty: I had completely forgotten I had it. When I started it that evening it looked pretty accurate so I gave it a test the next day. And, as those idiotic SEO optimized click-bait headlines on Facebook always say: “What happened next will surprise you.”

The LG Health App is the second most accurate app I have tested.

It gets beat by Noom, which is a little closer, and does not stand up to Withings and the mechanical pedometer, but it’s pretty damn close and very usable.

Moreover, when enabled (it sucks more battery), LH Health can take a stab at guessing your activity (running, cycling, walking). It did so quite accurately, only misclassifying a short run down a hill as cycling once.

There are negatives. Unlike the watch, Noom, Basis, or FitBit, LG Health won’t likely become a part of Google Fit’s ecosystem, so this data lives in a vacuum right now. Caloric estimates are wildly exaggerated (you can see this above, 274 calories for a leisurely walk day is way too much), and there is no way to correct steps in case of miscounts.

It is, however, out of the box a rather accurate pedometer and one other apps will have to live up to.

Aim For Compersion

This was published on Medium in 2013 where it saw around 50 visits or so. I just re-read it and still think it’s a good piece that, curse of the disconnected poet, didn’t really see that much traffic. So I am republishing it, polished a little bit, for your (likely first) enjoyment.


Psychologists love prodding and probing the concept of happiness. We differentiate ourselves from our medical peers, the psychiatrists, by worrying much less about Dopamine, Endorphins, GABA, and neurotransmitters (though we do and acknowledge their role) and more about happiness as an outward factor, a means to create the same in others. Social psychologists (we come in two forms, the Sociology ones and the Psychology ones) go even further and ask about happiness epidemics, happiness cascades, external detriments and determinants, and — finally — how all this matters to the individual and her ability to feel simply overwhelmingly happy.

I never worked in my field of study. The day I graduated, quite literally, saw me back on the stove that night, much to the chagrin of my family who had hoped that “going to the restaurant” meant I’d buy dinner, not cook it.

Feet, feet, feet, feet, feet, feet, feet, how many different feet you meet? (Dr. Seuss who, himself, was very opposed to polyamory).
Feet, feet, feet, feet, feet, feet, feet, how many different feet you meet? (Dr. Seuss who, himself, was very opposed to polyamory).

That didn’t stop me, however, from spending much time contemplating the concept of happiness and how it translates into hospitality. After all, to quote Tony Bourdain, my job as a professional chef is to “make people happy and, ideally, get them laid.”

Truth be told, that very day, the day I graduated, I needed this. Not the happiness over my achievement and that shiny Ph.D. diploma on my wall, but to feel the happiness of others, to take it in, to see others being happy.

Speak to any decent cook or chef and one of the first mentions goes to happiness and how it, in turn, makes chefs happy to see diners enjoy themselves. This feeling, a feeling of happiness and joy over happiness and joy of others has a name, coined in the mid-80s by a polyamorous commune in San Francisco: Compersion.

Often associated with lovers feeling happiness over their lovers’ happiness with others, the same concept also applies to parents and their children and, yes, chefs and their diners. Like parents we merge pride in a job well done into the mix but, yet, there is something ethereal to just watch or know of someone else enjoying themselves very much. The San Franciscans, though often cited as the inventors of the word, weren’t the first either: Yiddish knows the concept of “Naches”, pleasure derived from one’s children and grandchildren being successful (“naches best translates as ‘descendants’”) and Buddhism refers to mudita, “peer joy” or “sympathetic happiness” in similar circumstances.

Albert Roux, one half of the Roux Brothers and one of the world’s greatest chefs, once told me that “bad chefs count the days they worked, decent chefs count the plates they sold, but great chefs count the smiles they put on faces.”

In my debates with other psychologists I often claim (to some resistance) that, as far as happiness measurements go, compersion is one of the greatest tools we have. Happiness is an inside source, a font, a well coming from within. No external source, from possessions to connections, can replicate this. A new phone, a new lover, or a new dish only go so far in creating an illusion of happiness. “If only I had…” start those demands for happiness that rarely, if ever, lead to it.

Truly loving folk know this: one can not sincerely love and respect a partner unless one surely loves and respects oneself. Polyamorous ones know that, in addition to the above, truly loving more than one person is impossible if the preceding conditions — self love and love for one partner — are not at hand. Compersion, the feeling of taking joy in the joy that others we love share among themselves, especially taking joy in the knowledge that our beloveds are expressing their love for one another, is as demanding on our ability to love ourselves as it is on our ability to love those who love.

A lack of compersion does not denote a lack of self- and second-party love. Its true existence, though, shows that those factors must be present — otherwise compersion simply can not work, can not feed off our inner well of happiness.

Early on in my career, I often wondered why so many cooks and chefs were, like me, polyamorous. Long work hours, a certain hedonism, and an immersion into a culture which values dedication more than possession might all be complicit in it, but more than anything else, I believe it to be compersion, the fact that we’re really happy only if you are happy.

Compersion is what makes us cook Michelin-starred meals, work long hours, weekends, holidays, birthdays, and come back every day for it. Compersion is what elevates, exacerbates, and potentiates our happiness — an invaluable tool available to anyone who is ready and willing to find happiness in themselves and strive for dedication, not possession. Try compersion, you might really, really like it.