vizthink

Before & “After”

OK, I’m not done losing weight yet, but I could resist posting this pic. The pic on the left is of me January 27, 2008. The pic on the right is me this past Sunday, October 12, 2008. The composition of the two images was nearly identical so it made comparison a lot easier than other photos.

Hopefully, I can get one more on February 22 for a final comparison. (In case you’re wondering about the dates, these are all from the opening receptions for our larger events. Pictures from the January event were what put me over the edge on losing weight. I wanted to look and feel better for the next 2 events).


Visualization Important to Weight Loss

How the Visual Developed

When I decided to really loose weight and exercise, I decided that I also needed to document it, mostly because I knew I would forget and having a record would help me see how I was doing. So, after my first time with my trainer, I sat down with my exercise plan and my goals, and put it into Excel. My first iteration was pretty simple. I knew I wanted to lose 25 pounds by the upcoming VizThink conference in Berlin. That worked out to 1.2 pounds per week. I charted that as my goal (the red line on the graph below). Then every time I do strength training (usually 2-3x per week) and some times I do cardio training (the other 2-3x per week) I weigh myself and record the actual values (which became the green line on the graph below).

What I quickly found is that I wanted to know more and more information, so the chart began to grow and adapt. First, I wanted to know when I was going to no longer be considered obese, by the government standards. So, I divided the graph into a red section (for obese) and yellow section (for overweight). While that wasn’t a major goal, the graph made it very easy to see when I passed it and it certainly was something to celebrate.

Originally, the graph ended at October 14th. So my first goal, was at the right side of the graph. Once I saw that I was making progress towards my goal and was actually sticking with the exercise and food plan (a topic for another post), I knew I needed to set the next goal. It was a hard choice, but I finally landed on a weight comfortable inside the “normal weight” category. So, a new section (shown as green on the graph) was added to show where “normal weight” began which for me is 154.5 pounds.

I still didn’t expand the time range on the graph at that time. I wanted to make sure I stayed focused on the first goal before looking beyond. I still hadn’t decided (and really still haven’t) if my second goal of being comfortably inside the “normal weight” category is really my final goal or if I needed a third goal. So I began some research into the “ideal” weight. It turns out there’s quite a few research studies that say people are the healthiest at a Body Mass Index of 22. That translates to a pretty low weight for me about 137.5 pounds. That would put me at the weight I was when I entered my undergraduate program. It’s now represented by the dark green line on the graph. I still haven’t decided on what to do next, but at least I can see my progress towards it.

Once I got close to the first goal, I decided to go ahead and extend the graph out through the end of the year. However, that removed my artificial representation of the right side of the graph as my goal. So, triangles were added to the timeline to represent the goals. The 2 red triangles show the first two goals and when I want to achieve them. The (currently one) green triangle makes it easier to read when I reached my first goal (a little less than three weeks ahead of goal).

The Importance of the Visual

I love numbers and have lots of spreadsheets that almost always include lots of charts. This one though became of special importance. I have become nearly obsessed with it. It’s actually fun to see the progress in the chart. Sure, I can see the numbers get lower in the tables and I consciously know the amount of weight I’ve lost, but to see it change (almost) interactively is huge motivation especially as the lines inch ever closer to the major sections and the goals. It becomes a handy tool to forecast actual vs. plan. Adding a quick trend line makes it even easier to see.

I also want to point out that the graph also shows that it hasn’t always been a straight shot. I’ve lost both a little and a lot of ground many times. The back stepping was often due to scheduling conflict where I wasn’t able to stay on my workout or eating plan due to schedule conflicts with work, family, and friends. In fact, it usually turns out that the days I can’t work out area also almost always tied to days with opportunities for over eating. Not the best combination of situations. Weight swings of 1/2 pound to a couple pounds naturally led to moments of questioning. Have I reached my limit? Am I hitting a plateau? Can I really keep this up? As time progressed though, the visual became proof of the possibilities. I had lost some ground before and been able to recover. This time would likely be the same. It became a source of comfort, in a way.

One More Important Visual

One more visual has kept me motivated. While I did decide to lose weight as a New Year’s resolution, it wasn’t really until after the VizThink event in San Francisco this past January, that I really got my motivation. Our conference photographer, Andrew Campbell, captured quite a few photos of me on stage and throughout the conference. The one of the top below was particularly unflattering (not due to his work) showing me flowing over my 36″ khakis. His photo helped push me over the edge to finally get going for real. This past week my friend and colleague, Christine Martell, took the picture of me (shown on the bottom) doing my all day workshop for the Brandon-Hall conference in my new 32″ khakis.

While I’m not where I want to be yet, the visuals tell the story better than all the words on this page. Progress is happening, and the visual is helping me get there a little each week.


What I’ve Been Doing While I Haven’t Been Blogging

OK, so it’s not really true. I have been blogging, just over on my work blog. It’s hard to find time to do 2 blogs, but that’s not really what’s kept me away. For the last 4 months, I’ve been spending what free time I have in the gym. I can hear you now…”really? Tom going to the gym.” I know. Strange, but true. It actually started back in January. I made up my mind, and yes it was a New Year’s resolution, that I just had to lose weight. I was starting not to fit into my 36″ pants, and I had enough. What really put me over the edge was the pictures of me on stage at our big event in San Francisco. Photos don’t lie.

Supposedly a new local gym was supposed to be opening. So I had waited & waited for them to open. Finally I went to our local recreation center and just signed up there, but it wasn’t really working, probably because I didn’t know what I was doing and didn’t have a teacher.

Finally, in late April the new Powerhouse Gym opened up. So, when I returned from Berlin, I signed up. This time though, I got a personal trainer. What a difference that made, having someone teach me the basics and then introducing new exercises as I am ready. When I started on May 12th, I topped the scales at 188.4 which lead to a BMI of 30.4 which is solidly in the obese category. So, I set my goals. I really didn’t know how much weight I wanted to lose, but I knew I wanted to lose it and keep it off. Everything I read said 1-2 pounds per week was the rate at which the loss could be sustained. So, I set my first goal to lose somewhere in that range by October 12 which is our next big event in Berlin. At 1.2 pounds per week, I would have lost 25 pounds. I really didn’t even know if it were possible or if I could do it. I told myself when I lost 25 pounds, I would blog about it.

Well, today, about 3 weeks ahead of schedule, I reached my first goal of losing 25 pounds! That’s just shy of a healthy 1.4 pounds per week. This graph shows it wasn’t all that easy. There were definitely set backs.

The red line shows my first goal of 1.2 pounds per week. The bouncy green line below it is the not-quite daily tracking of my weight. Notice that I left the obese red section and have been working my way through the yellow overweight section. My weight today is 163.2 which is a much healthier BMI of 26.3 and my all-too-new 33″ jeans are starting to get too big (though the 32’s are still not quite right. I’ve been trying to figure out when I last weighed only 163 pounds and I think it’s been at least 8 years and probably more like 10. I’m not done yet. For tomorrow’s post…setting new goals!


Safe Simulations?

For years, I’ve been talking about one of the major benefits of simulations: a safe environment. Flying planes, firefighting, police work, and surgery are dangerous jobs with many dangerous tasks. One of the often stated benefits of a simulation is that they allow practice in a safe environment. If the learner makes a mistake, people (airplane passengers, victims, and patients) don’t die. However, it seems we (and especially I) may have been wrong.

In a conversation today with Eric Kramer from Trimm, a Netherlands-based simulation company, he made a statement that threw that concept out the window. In a conversation on the levels of realism necessary in simulations, he said “If it’s safe, it’s not real.” For me, it was like being hit over the head with a new revelation. Of course we don’t want simulations that are so real that people die, that defeats the point of a simulation. However, it’s important that the learner feel that the patient could die, that the plane could crash, or that people could die in the fire. The appropriate (a very important word) level of realism needs to include the environment, visualizations, decisions, responses, and results/impacts in order to create the impression of danger. If it feels safe, it won’t have the same learning impact.

All too often in learning (whether classroom or online), designers work to take out the risk. Here are just a few of examples:

  • Writing multiple choice questions with an obvious correct answer (lest anyone get a less than perfect score)
  • Not letting a learner finish a course unless they meet a minimum score (everybody must pass after all)
  • Letting people move forward/graduate/get certified regardless of whether they’ve demonstrated mastery in the material
  • Make sure everybody feels comfortable and happy (lest they give the instructor a low rating)
  • Designing learning modules for the lowest common denominator
  • Designing easy simulations, games and activities that don’t challenge the learner

Let’s put the realism (and the danger) back into the learning modules and simulations that we create.

For more on Eric’s work on simulations with their local police department, be sure to check out the upcoming Visualization in Learning report being published by VizThink in about a week. In addition, Eric will be facilitating a session on realism in simulations at our next big event which is being held in Berlin, October 12-14, 2008.


One Year Anniversary

Can you believe that VizThink has been going for a year? Today is it, which also means today is my one-year anniversary with the company. We’re somewhat linked that way. It’s been a crazy, exciting year. We did two posts today one celebrating and one telling our story. Be sure to check them out and join in the celebration.


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