Tuesday, July 17, 2012

My and My Fitbit: Going Over to the Dark Side?

Well, clearly my previous post--a foray into politics, urban planning, history, architecture and public transit--went over like a lead balloon with you, my readers. I guess you're not used to hearing me wax poetic on the subway woes of Toronto! But never fear, this post will be more in keeping with your expectations, although I am not finished talking about Chicago and what a fabulous city it is (at least from this tourist's vantage point!).

So here we go:

This Friday, I hooked myself up to my new Fitbit and well, I'm hooked.

For those of you who don't know about the Fitbit, it's essentially a device that tracks various personal parameters: steps walked, calories burnt, staircases climbed, hours slept, how many times you woke up during the course of the night. It provides a breakdown of your activity levels so you know how much time you've spent being sedentary, lightly, fairly or very active during the day. You also have the option of tracking what you eat, how many calories you consumed and the nutritional breakdown of the food (protein, carbs, fats) as well as how much water you've drunk. Activity fiends can log in physical activities (like swimming or biking, for instance) with the duration, distance, start time etc. Both the food and the activity logs are optional. It's up to you to log in this information or not.

Oh, and how could I forget? You can also log in your weight and your weight loss goal (if you have one). It then asks you how slowly or quickly you want to lose that weight (1/2 pound a week, 1 pound, etc.) and then calculates the number of calories per day you can eat, adjusting constantly for activity engaged in and food eaten. When you first get up in the morning and haven't done anything, your calorie consumption is set at X. As the day goes by, and you rack up steps walked, distance swum, staircases climbed, etc., it ups the number of calories you can consume and still work towards your goal.

Sounds like a real nightmare on ELMM (eat less - move more) Street, right?

And all of this wonderful information can be shared with the whole world (or practically) via the magic of Facebook. Let me say this right now: I find the idea of sharing such information absolutely abhorent. You will never pry Fitbit information from me and if you know me on Facebook, you can be sure that I passed up on the option and you'll never be any the wiser about my Fitbit stats.

So, how am I using my Fitbit and what's my assessment?

First things first: it's cool and quite user friendly. Although not a Luddite, I am not incredibly adept with new software. I did use a few choice words as I got to know the device, but I didn't ask my resident software genius for help once (thank goodness--we always argue, when it comes to computers) and I'm already feeling very comfortable with it.

I'm also somewhat addicted. It's amazing seeing the updates on the computer screen. The device itself is very small, easy to wear, and unobtrusive, even at night. You can read the basic stats right from the Fitbit itself (steps, distance, calories burnt, staircases climbed). It syncs the information to your computer within 30 seconds of logging in and going to the dashboard. Refreshing the page will enable you to see how things are going at all times. In other words, you'll even know how many calories you've burnt sitting at your computer.

I've got a lot more to say about my little friend, including what I perceive as a serious "dark side", in particular for people who have an eating disorder or suffer from orthorexia (trying to eat "perfectly"), but right now, I feel that I have to tear myself away from Blogger and actually do some real work to make some real money in the real world.

There will be more...

Friday, July 13, 2012

My Summer Vacation, Part 1: A Tale of Two Cities

I don't like announcing when I'm going to be out of town if the whole family is going. To me, it seems like an invitation to nefarious people to hunt down my true identity and address and pay my home a "visit". Honestly, I don't know just how easy or difficult that is, but I feel better with my paranoia intact.

So, this being said, I was away on vacation with my family for about a week. Actually, the first day and a half I spent working at a conference but then the hubby and boys joined me and we had a fabulous time in...CHICAGO.

I've heard a lot of good things about Chicago. A close relative of mine has gone there several times over the past few years and has always raved about the city and various people I work with or just spend time with (like my Chinese acupuncturist) have told me what a great place it is. Originally, we'd planned to go back to New York, a city I adore, but the Chicago contract came up and it just made perfect sense to stay a few more days and enjoy the sights with my family.

Well, I am now adding Chicago to my list of wonderful places to visit in the U.S., proudly on par with New York City and Boston.

I'm definitely a big city kind of person. I love the excitement and variety that a big city has to offer. And Chicago has to offer all of this in spades.

But I am going to start "My Summer Vacation" with a little comparison of two cities: Chicago and Toronto.

Chicago actually has a lot in common with my home town, Toronto. Both are situated on a Great Lake (Michigan and Ontario) and both have a pretty vibrant downtown core. The two cities (metropolitan areas) have similar populations: According to City of Toronto information, we have a population of 2,615,060 (2011). Chicago's is 2,695,598 (2010) and apparently shrinking. Toronto's population is growing.

However, my visit to Chicago underscored an unfortunate fact about Toronto: it is a city without a vision. University Avenue in Toronto could have been just as impressive as Chicago's Michigan Avenue. Instead, although similar proportionally, it is lined with hospitals and insurance companies.

Let's compare this to Chicago:

Chicago's architecture is truly wondrous. Since the great fire in the late 1800s, Chicago welcomed in brilliant architects that transformed the downtown core. Much has been done to preserve, enhance and compliment Chicago's past and present architectural heritage. What does Toronto do? We let the developers call the shots, tearing down buildings that have true historical and architectural value in order to put up cheap, soulless blocks that start crumbling within a few years. Sometimes, unscrupulous companies let firebugs do the job...

Chicago has also done amazing things with its waterfront. There is even a municipal regulation obliging anyone building on the waterfront to include a pedestrian walkway, open to all. Toronto, on the other hand, has let developers runs amok, blocking the view of beautiful Lake Ontario. There are also a lot of former industrial sites that are now barren and ugly. Yes, we do have some nice areas like the neighbourhood known as "The Beach", but it's a relatively small area. Most of our waterfront is either hidden and unavailable to the public or just an eyesore.

Chicago also has an extremely well-developed subway system with so many different coloured lines that it boggles the mind. Toronto has been mired in municipal in-fighting for so long that most of us have given up on ever seeing a transportation system able to carry the millions of people who live and work in our city.

Here are a few transit plans that have gone nowhere in Toronto, due to a lack of leadership and vision, as well as a dysfunctional City Council structure:

This is what we have (I admit, a few stations in the upper right-hand section have been cut off), with a few paltry stations in the works, though they will not be opening for several years to come:

Oh, and here's Chicago's subway map:

And did I mention that you can take the subway to BOTH airports? Yes, for the huge sum of $2.25 you can get to O'Hare or Midway. From my house in Toronto, I can either take a cab, which costs me $52 (including tax and tip), or go all the way downtown (a $3 subway fare and about 40 minutes of my time) to get a shuttle bus from one of the hotels, which costs somewhere in the vicinity of $20 or more and takes another 40 minutes or so.

Of course, I saw Chicago through a tourist's eyes. Apparently, it has a very high murder rate: 423 in 2011, compared to Toronto's 45 during the same year. Yes, Toronto has had some scary events this year, including a shooting at the food court of our premier downtown shopping mall, the Eaton Centre, during which two people were shot to death and several innocent bystanders wounded (some seriously), but our violence pales in comparison to Chicago. Of course, this gives Toronto a huge quality-of-life advantage over Chicago.

To be continued...

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Why I Love Canada: Weight Debate Edition

Today is Canada Day. Yes, it's close to the 4th of July, but it's our birthday and it's today. So Happy Birthday to my wonderful homeland, Canada!

But what does loving Canada have to do with the "great weight debate"? I submit, for your viewing pleasure, the following youtube video. It's a debate between nutritionist/sociologist, Professor Jacqui Gingras (Ryerson University) and Dr. Arya Sharma, one of Canada's and the world's premier voices on bariatric issues (whether you love him, hate him, or you're somewhere in between...) on whether obesity is or is not a disease.

It's a long video--two hours, though you can skip the first twenty minutes or so of introductions and blah-blah to go right to the debate. Dr. Sharma can get a bit overly testy and Dr. Gingras can sometimes stray away from the actual questions, but what makes it such a great video is how Canadian it is: it's so civilized and polite and you get the impression that everyone there--debaters and audience alike--are looking for answers and not just to take the opposite side down.

So settle back, grab a cold glass of water because it's so darn hot out, make sure you're comfortably seated or on your elliptical trainer or whatever and enjoy this quintessentially Canadian discussion of a very hot-button issue.