August 20, 2012

Going to try something rare (for me): reading fiction...

Posted by Joe Litton

It's vacation time, so I shall try to allow myself to read a little fiction. Not a tech book / manual, not a periodical focused on current events or fitness, not the newspaper... fiction. I've done this a little bit from time to time, but usually only when on a plane. It's odd that I seem to only allow myself to do recreational reading when in the air traveling; I guess something inside of me feels that this is wasted time and can therefore be spent doing something that part of me views as frivolous.

But I'm not going to take too big of a risk and just grab some random novel. No, instead I've purchased the Kindle version of The Hobbit for US$7 (how can one go wrong for that price?). I read this in the early/mid 70's, and enjoyed it quite a bit. After 30+ years, I have most likely forgotten enough that this easy read will be mostly new and I have full confidence that it will be a most enjoyable read yet again :)

Posted by Joe Litton | August 20, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Summer 2012 fitness update...going well! ...

Posted by Joe Litton

Wow, haven't posted since MARCH!?! Well, I do post regularly on Facebook and at least weekly on Twitter. Anyway...

It's been over 3 years now since I switched to a vegan diet, and I now can't really imagine consuming meat and milk again. Exercise is a definite habit, and I regularly lift weights or do cardio, and hit these workouts hard. I've become hooked on workouts from BeachBody. I've done about 5 "rounds" of P90X (each round is 3 months), a round of P90X2, 2-3 rounds of Insanity (a 2-month program), a round or two of Asylum (one-month program), and I'm now on week 6 of the 3-month Body Beast program.

At my fattest, I weighed 172 pounds, which for my 5' 4" frame was too much. Shirley and I started WeightWatchers online (tracking "points" instead of counting calories), and along with some nutrition suggestions from the Beach Body programs, from The 4-Hour Body, and working out once or twice a day, I dumped the fat, got down to the 30-inch size waist pants that I was 30 years ago, saw better numbers at the annual physicals re heart stuff (lipid panel, heart rate, etc), and at my lightest was 130 pounds.

This morning I weighed 144 pounds. There's a little more fat on the midsection, but I'm not worried. I'm taking 5 grams of creatine morning and night, and that is known to cause a little water retention. But more importantly, our Omron electric bodyfat monitor shows me hanging in there around 13% fat, pants still fit just fine, and the tape measure shows that the biceps are about 3/4" bigger and the quads are an inch larger. I've definitely put on solid mass during the past month and a half of Body Beast. The final 4 weeks of the program is intended to get one a bit leaner. And I can always do a round of Insanity or Asylum if I want to hit the cardio hard.

It feels good to be lifting again!

Posted by Joe Litton | August 20, 2012 in Fitness, House | Permalink | Comments (1)

March 04, 2012

P90X2 phase 3: Whew! ...

Posted by Joe Litton

I started P90X2 on 10-Dec-2011. Yesterday I started the 3rd phase of the program. It's a 3 month program - approximately. Each phase can be 3-6 weeks, depending on how one feels. I think I did the first phase for 3 weeks, then we had a vacation out of town and I did other workouts (crazy insane hike, some Insanity workout stuff, etc). There was also a conference I was at for a week in January, so during that week I did 200 pushups a day and a whole bunch of walking between hotels going from session to session.

I spent 5 weeks on phase 2, in order to get up to what I wanted to see in terms of form and reps on some of the exercises, and then took a few days "off", just doing a treadmill 5k and some other stuff before starting up on the final phase 3.

So...Yesterday was day 1 of phase 3: "P.A.P Lower" was the workout (P.A.P., by the way, stands for Post Activation Potentiation). OMG, I'm sore today. I think the main contributor to the soreness was 4 sets of "Step Up Convict", which was holding a 12lb dumbbell in each hand, stepping up with one foot onto a 24" plyo box I'd made, raising the opposing knee as high as possible, then stepping down off the box and backward into a lunge. 8 reps each side. There were 7 other exercises, but that one nailed it! I'm feeling it today from the butt down through the calves :)

Today was "P.A.P. Upper". It was another great workout. One thing that does bug me is that BeachBody (the company that sells some great workout DVDs, including P90X, Insanity, Asylum - I've done all of those - along with others that I've not done and now P90X2) ...BeachBody provides workout sheets for most of the workouts. But not for the P.A.P. ones. That bothers me. Tony Horton (the guy on the videos) states at various times in these workouts to write down how many reps one does or what weight was used.

So I've done what I feel BeachBody should have done, and have made a workout sheet for P.A.P. Upper. I'll make one for P.A.P. Lower as well, but I have yardwork and studying to do, so that other worksheet will come later.

My unofficial worksheet: P90X2 X2_PAPUpper.pdf (353.6K)

Posted by Joe Litton | March 4, 2012 in Fitness | Permalink | Comments (0)

February 06, 2012

Farewell to a friend...

Posted by Joe Litton

A friend of mine passed away yesterday. I never told her thank you, but I know she can hear me now. Some of you are atheists and that's fine. I'm not. I believe that we continue to learn and grow with or without a physical body, but that's not the point...

Kristin and I met in high school and for a time we were a couple. Fortunately, we each found our true soulmates later :) ...Along the way, Kris got me to open up beyond the rather rigid boundaries / mores I'd wrapped around myself. Her family was (and is) wonderful, and I am thankful that we've not lost touch. Watching her folks interact showed me that marriage can actually work (I admired her dad, Jim, and was deeply saddened when he left this earth). One of her brothers taught me martial arts; another brother (since passed away) and I worked on the old (very old) VW bug that he'd bought from Kris ...I don't know that he realized what he was getting into :) ...Her sister is freakin' brilliant (I never told her that her scholastic prowess was rather intimidating ...but I guess I just did!)

The most important thing that came out of the relationship is something that I have rarely (if ever) mentioned to anyone but my wife. When I was going to The Evergreen State College and Kris was up visiting, we saw a poster about a Transcendental Meditation lecture. I thought the Hindu monk in the pic looked weird, but Kris wanted to check it out, and we went to the lecture. It was not her cup of tea, but that year I started meditating. Meditation quite literally changed my life, and in a very positive way. Who knows if I'd have started meditating if we'd not gone to the lecture that day? I know if it'd been solely up to me, we would not have gone.

Up at Evergreen College, Kris met her soulmate, Doug. Together they grew in their shared religious beliefs, and I am hopeful that their religious fellowship will provide Doug with a support network now, as I can't imagine the loss he must feel.

I met my own soulmate at a Spring Celebration gathering among a group of meditators at the home of my buddy Gene. OK, he went on a couple of dates with Shirley before I did, but I know that she could tell that not only was I short, but one day I'd be bald as well, so she had no choice but to follow her heart (eventually, at least), and we're now in our 32nd year of marriage.

Toss a stone in a pond, and watch as the ripples move outward and touch so many other ripples, or roots on the bank, or jostle a bug floating on the water. It's impossible to know all of the effects. And it's impossible to know all of the effects of our life's events and our actions and our words on the lives of others.

So Kris, I never told you, but thank you for helping me open up, thank you for getting me to that lecture that day, thank you for sharing your artistic talents with so many.


Posted by Joe Litton | February 6, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (3)

December 11, 2011

P90X2: Day 2: Plyocide

Posted by Joe Litton

"Plyocide" << :)

55 mins, 566 calories. Just as with the "X2 Core" day 1 workout, I can see where Insanity / Asylum graduates will recognize bits of some moves and will probably have a little easier time of it. The last 12 minutes of this workout is stretching with band (or towel), some yoga, etc (also in the warmup). I LIKE this inclusion of more/better stretching - partly because I probably wouldn't do it on my own! The stretching is something of which I'd never heard (but like quite a bit after this first try): Neuro-Integrated Stretching.

Equipment: Balance ball (already have). Substituted 8 & 12 lb dumbbell for some medicine ball stuff and used a towel for one of the exercises. Man, I *do* want to get a RumbleRoller /foam roller thing. For the jump box, I used one (shown in pic) that I built a while back (been trying to get to where I can do the Spartan 300 ...this is a 24" jump box and cost less than half to build (about $40 materials) vs buy.

  << Click to viewPlywoodJumpbox


My unofficial worksheet: P90X2 Plyocide.pdf (353.9K)

90X2 day 2: Plyocide << :)
55 mins, 566 calories. Just as with the X2 Core day 1 workout, I can see where Insanity / Asylum graduates will recognize bits of some moves and will probably have a little easier time of it. Stacey Fenkel mentioned importance of Yoga; the last 12 mins of this workout is stretching with band (or towel), some yoga, etc (also in the warmup). I LIKE this inclusion of more/better stretching - partly because I probably wouldn't do it on my own!

Equipment: Balance ball (already have). Substituted 8 & 12 lb dumbbell for some medicine ball stuff and used a towel for one of the exercises. Man, I *do* want to get a Rumble Roller /foam roller thing. For the jump box, I used one (shown in pic) that I built a while back (been trying to get to where I can do the Spartan 300 http:// ...this is a 24" jump box and cost less than half to build (about $40 materials) vs buy.

Posted by Joe Litton | December 11, 2011 in Fitness, P90X2 | Permalink | Comments (2)

December 10, 2011

P90X2: Day 1: X2 Core

Posted by Joe Litton

P90X2 was delivered to our house this week, and today I began the program. I'd already done a year of P90X, did the 60-day Insanity program, the 30-day Asylum program, and some hybrids (combos of the workouts)... plus treadmill and other fitness things. So I feel that I ought to be able to handle this.

Workout took 55 minutes and burned 430 calories. Insanity / Asylum definitely helped make some of the balance moves a little easier. At first I thought, "Geez, this is a pretty easy workout, I hope they're not all like this" ...WRONG! ...It gets going, and I WILL feel this at least in the abs tomorrow (or today :)

Since there are no workout sheets available on the TeamBeachbody site (at least not yet), and none were included with the P90X2 package, I plan to make a workout sheet each day as I do these and will post them. Please post comments or email me with  suggestions for improvements to the sheets if you are doing the workouts.

Equipment: We've had a balance ball for years, so no prob there. We don't have any medicine balls (two 12-pound balls would be ideal); for some exercises I substituted a 12lb dumbbell; I did clap/plyo pushups instead of medicine ball pushups. And I used a rolled up yoga mat in place of the foam roller for some stuff.

As recommended, I took measurements / pics, but haven't donea day 1 video yet ...will do later (days 1, 30, 60, 90). Don't ask me to post that stuff here, 'cause if I do, it won't be until the end of the program.

My unofficial worksheet: P90X2 X2_Core.pdf (350.7K)

Posted by Joe Litton | December 10, 2011 in Fitness, P90X2 | Permalink | Comments (0)

November 29, 2011

Kindle Fire: *whew* ...thought mine had died!

Posted by Joe Litton

I've been using my Kindle Fire. A LOT. I've been cancelling all hardcopy magazine subscriptions, since I'm extremely happy with reading magazines on the Kindle; whether it's via subscriptions through the Amazon Kindle store, or through the Zinio app (which I had to sideload), it's been great. Much to my surprise, I actually prefer the Mail client on the Fire to GMail (which I'd sideloaded and then later removed). Facebook, Twitter, book reading, web surfing's all been great.

Then a few minutes ago I reached for the Fire. I pressed the power button. I pressed it again. And again. I plugged in the charging cord but no light came on (the power button is also a light that indicates charging status). I tried different electrical outlets and a different charging cord. Nothing.

Much to my dismay, I then saw some posts on the Amazon forums about Kindles experiencing sudden death. Amazon's great on returns, and I did also buy an extended warranty from SquareTrade, but I really didn't want to have to go a whole day or two without my reading device!

But then - happily - as I was starting to fill out the online form to list my problem and start a chat with a support rep, I saw the below message...

Resetting your Kindle Fire can solve intermittent problems. To reset your device:

  1. Make sure your device is disconnected from any power source.
  2. Press in the power switch and hold it there for 20 seconds.
  3. The screen should turn off, once the screen is fully turned off press the power button in for 2 seconds and release. The device will turn back on and you will see the Kindle Fire loading screen.
This reset will not affect any books or content you have on the Kindle. If your Kindle does not restart or this problem happens again, you can reach us by phone directly by clicking the link below.

The simple procedure worked! Whew! My Fire started up and (as I'd remembered) was only down about 20% in the charge. Hopefully, this was a one-time issue!


Posted by Joe Litton | November 29, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)

November 22, 2011

Kindle Fire: "sideloading" Google apps

Posted by Joe Litton

In my previous post, I mentioned sideloading. In the case of the Kindle Fire, this means locating the .apk file for the app you want, putting that file on a PC, transferring to the Fire via USB cable, and then installing the file. Yup, it's a hassle, but for apps that are not available from the Amazon Appstore, this is the easiest way (of which I'm aware) to get the apps installed.

Get the install files: For the Google apps, the first thing you need to do is get the Android install files. Thankfully, these have been posted already. Download gapps.rar from ...You'll need WinZip (there's a free eval version) or a similar program to extract the .apk files (the Android app install files) from the .rar file. I suggest extracting the files to an easy-to-remember location. Maybe create a folder called "Google Android Apps" on your desktop.

FYI, here's the Google files that are included in that .rar:

  •    << That's the same as GoogleServicesFramework.apk
  • GoogleServicesFramework.apk    << That's the same as

Grab a couple of free utility apps for the Kindle: From your Kindle Fire, go to the Amazon Appstore and get the free ES File Explorer app and the free Easy Installer app and install them on the Fire.

CopyToKindleCopy the Google files to the Kindle Fire: Connect your Kindle Fire to your Windows PC with a USB cable. After a moment or two, you should see the Kindle appear as a drive available from File Manager. Select the Google files from your PC folder and drag/drop to copy them to the download folder on your Fire. Once the files are copied, you can disconnect the devices; press the Disconnect button on the Kindle and remove the USB cable.

Install the apps on the Fire: Remember the Easy Installer that you snagged from the Appstore and installed on the Kindle? Open that app. It will list the apps that are available in your downloads folder. IMPORTANT:  Before you install any other apps, first install the Google Services Framework. Locate that file in the listing showing in Easy Installer, press to place a green checkmark at the right of the filename, and then press the Install Selected Apps at the bottom of the screen. Once that install is done, you can go back and select any of the other apps you want to install, and click the Install button for those as well. If you've selected multiple apps, as each one finishes installing, click Done; if you click Open, you'll be popped into the just-loaded app and will have to go back to Easy Installer and again select /install the other desired apps.

What about other apps, like Listen? Just as with the Google apps that were included in the .rar file linked above, you need to have the .apk install file for your desired app. In my case, since I already had the Listen app on my Android phone (an HTC Incredible), I used the free ASTRO File Manager to backup the install file, and then sideloaded that file from the phone - to the PC - to the Fire, and then again used Easy Installer to install the app. To back up an app, open ASTRO and press Application Backup. Select the app(s) you wish to back up and press Backup. This places the appropriate .apk file(s) in the /mnt/sdcard/apps folder (on my phone, anyway), which appears simply as the apps folder when connected to the PC with a USB cable and browsing the files via Windows File Manager.

Astro_appBackup   Astro_Listen

After the files are all sideloaded and installed, I have a Kindle Fire with a sweet suite of apps :)


So why did I suggest that you load the ES File Explorer app on the Fire? Well, there's been a time or two when .apk files I've sideloaded do not show up in Easy Installer. No worries! You just open ES File Explorer, open the download folder, and tap the icon for the desired app to install it :)

Disclaimer: I had previously rooted my Fire whilst doing other things, and had installed most of these apps while it was rooted. To test things tonight, I uninstalled all of those apps, and with the Kindle Fire not rooted, I sideloaded and installed the apps and took the screenshots seen here. Please comment if you try these steps and they do not work for you.


Posted by Joe Litton | November 22, 2011 in Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (5)

November 20, 2011

Kindle Fire: Is this the droid you’ve been looking for?

Posted by Joe Litton

KindleAppsAs much as I hate ending a sentence with a preposition, I make an exception here, and offer my answer to the question: Yes for me; maybe for you.

My pre-ordered Kindle Fire arrived last week on Wednesday, 16 Nov. After sideloading several apps, doing a temporary root to load more apps, then unrooting the device once the desired app were running (video streaming does not work if the device is rooted) …I now have what I have looked for in a tablet. Total cost was $200 for the tablet, and about $10 for a couple needed apps (described below). Oh, and I'm using a cover that my son gave me.


Kindle Fire without modifications: The Fire is about the same size as the Kindle 3, and slightly heavier (I measured the difference at 4.4 ounces). As a short gent (5’4”) with small hands, I like that I can hold either device quite comfortably in one hand. The display on the Fire is brilliantly crisp and clear. But although I keep the brightness turned down to less than half when inside, even with the brightness cranked all the way up, the Kindle Fire is not as easy to read outside as the Kindle 2.

Kindle std outsideThis pic shows the 'regular' Kindle outside. Very easy to read!




Kindle Fire outsideHere's the Kindle Fire, brightness up all the way, reading the same book at the same outside location. As you can see, the screen is quite reflective. I can absolutely read this, but the standard Kindle is definitely easier to read outside.



The Fire includes a link to the Amazon Appstore. Here’s what’s disappointing:  the Android Market offers over 250,000 apps; the Amazon Appstore – if you access it from an Android phone or your PC – has 4,000 apps (maybe more, but significantly less vs the Android Market). From the Fire, the Amazon Appstore only makes some of those 4,000 apps available, and it seemed that several of the apps I wanted were not available. By the way, I was rather appalled to read multiple online articles and posts mentioning the "must have" apps for the Fire and offering reviews of the device …when it is now obvious to me that these authors did not have the actual device! The articles described apps that are not available for the Fire, and ignored some of what I consider to be very nice included apps. The authors had erroneously assumed that anything available from the Appstore from a phone or PC would be available from the Fire. Wrong!

I’ve tested reading books and magazines on the Fire and I like the experience. That is, for the content I could load. Books and magazines purchased from Amazon for my prior Kindles all downloaded fine and the experience is quite nice, especially for content that normally includes color photos or charts (which render in grayscale on the earlier Kindles). Gaining access to the digital versions of some other periodicals was more challenging and required sideloading the Zinio app.

Video streaming on the Fire via Amazon Prime is amazing. I’ve tested a few videos now (tried a couple of TV shows and a movie) and in all cases the video and sound played just as smoothly and clearly as if watching content via normal TV.

Apps included with the Fire allow you to access your email, read books / periodicals, listen to music, read/post to Facebook and Twitter and other sites, and browse the web.

I was not familiar with Pulse, and this has been a happy discovery among the pre-loaded apps on the Kindle Fire. I am slowly getting this content aggregator configured and tuned and find it more useful each day.

So why would I want to modify things?

Swype: I have a droid phone for work and a droid phone for personal use and I use Swype on both of those (allows me to very quickly drag my finger from letter to letter, ‘stringing’ words together. I refuse to be limited to pecking out text a character at a time. You can “sideload” Swype on the Fire, and it will happily install – but it is not available as a text input option, so you are still left with the sole input option of the Kindle Fire soft keyboard.

Google apps: Gmail is my personal mail provider, and I am quite accustomed to running the Gmail app on my phones; Gmail is not among the available apps from the appstore on the Fire. I also use Google Maps and Google+. I have no idea why Amazon and Google aren’t playing nice here. Android comes from Google, and the Fire runs a modified version of Android.

A better web browser: The Fire comes with a browser, but I don’t care for it. This definitely comes down to personal preference, but now that I’ve modified the Fire and am running the Dolphin Mini browser, I like the web experience much more.

I would not want the Kindle Fire if I were not willing to do some tweaking. And I am willing to do some tweaking (my personal phone is rooted; heck the night I brought my brand new car home a few years ago, I tore off the front bumper assembly and other parts to do various upgrades). This is much easier than tearing into a car!

Here’s the approximate process I followed (I researched and experimented a bit, so this is not necessarily the exact and complete description of my fumbling)...Post a comment or email me if more details are needed.

  1. Grabbed my HTC Incredible (my personal Android phone), and used Astro File Manager to backup some apps (the associated .apk files were stored in the Apps folder on my phone's SD card). Among the apps I grabbed were Zinio reader, FiOS Remote (let's me manage my Verizon FiOS DVR), Swype, ...basically anything I had on the phone that I might want on the Fire.
  2. Using the phone, bought SQLite Editor ($2.99 and only needed if you want Swype) and Root Explorer (File Manager) ($3.99 and worth every penny). Backed these apps up using Astro File Manager once the apps were installed on the phone.
  3. Connected the phone to my PC via USB cable (most of my machines are linux, but I have one desktop with a Windows partition), and copied those saved .apk files to a folder on the PC.
  4. From Amazon Appstore, installed Easy Installer on the Fire
  5. Followed the instructions in these articles to root the Kindle, sideload the desired apps (including various Google apps and the Android Market):
    1. Root the Kindle
    2. Getting the Android Market (and other apps) working on the Fire
    3. Getting Swype to work
    4. MarketOpener app ...This simply puts an icon among the apps on your Fire - to let you easily get to the Android Market once you have the Market loaded.
    5. UN-root the Kindle Fire (instructions are in the "Root the Kindle" article linked above). This step is required in order to allow content to stream from Amazon.

Rooting requires that you have the Android developer kit loaded (instructions are in those linked articles) and that requires a Windows machine with Java. All the instructions are in the articles, and if you don't have Java yet, the Android dev kit installer will detect that and help you.

Do read all of the text of all of those posts / articles before you start messing with your Kindle. Bear in mind that you do risk bricking your device, so care is needed. BUT, if you prepare carefully, and give yourself the time to enjoy the process, you can - as I have - end up with a wonderful tablet and reading device for only $200!

I am happy.

Posted by Joe Litton | November 20, 2011 in Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (4)

October 01, 2011

Asylum done, 1st eye surgery done, new low weight...

Posted by Joe Litton

Finished the 30-day Asylum workout routine on Monday 26Sep. On Tuesday 27Sep had surgery on the lower eyelids to correct "ectropion" ...basically, they were sagging, exposing too much of the cornea. The bugger is that I'm not allowed to workout - at ALL - for 10 days. So I've been watching the WeightWatcher points, and staying a few below the daily allotment most days, given the lack of activity.

This morning was weekly weigh-in day for me, and I've hit a new low of 132.4. This is a bit of a milestone for me, since I'd been holding at a very steady 163 for much of our time in Florida. My high weight was 172, so I'm down about 40 pounds from that, down 30 from the 'steady' weight I'd held most of the past 7 years, and down 20 since we started WeightWatchers Online in late May.

My guess is about 5 pounds of fat to go. Next weekend when I can workout again, I'll start 10 days of an Asylum / P90X hybrid workout. And then it will be time for the 2nd eye surgery, to fix the heavily drooping upper eyelids and restore peripheral vision to what it should be. After another 10 day period of no working out, I'll be ready to dive back in and get back into a regular routine!

And with coffee is ready :)

Posted by Joe Litton | October 1, 2011 in Fitness | Permalink | Comments (0)