food and drink

Government Approved!

It’s official! I know because the government says so. I’m no longer overweight! Who knew that the government had official standards for “normal”, “overweight”, and “obese”? Before I started this process, I didn’t. I guess I should have assumed they paid someone to figure that out. While the numbers are somewhat arbitrary (is 154 “normal” and 155 “overweight” for me?), they are at least a good standard to work towards and now exceed, and all that with pretty much 2 months of straight travel and Thanksgiving thrown in for good measure.

While getting below this threshold was one of my goals, my actual goal is to get “solidly” below it, so that I don’t have to worry about those day-to-day spikes or bad weeks of no exercise and eating out. So, there’s still a few more pounds to go, but I’m almost there. I’m not sure exactly how many, but not to many more. This is my final weight-based goal. For those of you who may be wondering, I’m still running about two weeks ahead of schedule on the charts I created way back in mid-May. I’m also down to size 31 pants (from 36/37 at peak). It’s hard to believe that my 32’s are getting too big already. I haven’t been a 31 since college. I had forgotten how hard is to find 31’s. I think I’m going to have to lose enough weight to get down to a 30, just so I can find clothes! 😉

I’m now with a new trainer who is helping me switch from machines to free weights and has set new goals that switch from weight to body fat as the measure. In the end, that was my real goal anyway, but there was so much weight and it’s so much easier to measure that we went with that first. So, all new equipment in an almost new gym with a new trainer and new goals. Once everything settles in the next few weeks, I’ll do a new post with the new goals and maybe a new picture or two.

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So What’s the Next Goal?

Well, losing 25 pounds was never my ultimate goal. I actually still don’t know what final weight I’m shooting for because my real goal is how I look (partially related to waist size) and weight is just a proxy. However, I don’t remember how much I weighed at various waist sizes so, it’s somewhat a guess. I know I do want to get well-enough below the government’s overweight category (get out of the yellow and into the green) which for me is right about 154 pounds. So at my current 163, I’ve got about 9 pounds to loose. If I’m able to keep my current rate (which is questionable due to lots of travel and the possibility of plateauing) that could be in about 6-8 weeks. However, that just get’s me barely across the top end of the healthy range. So, I set the goal at 150 pounds which should be enough inside that range that daily fluctuations will keep me in the green. If I’m able to keep this pace, I should reach my next goal by the end of the year, if not a little sooner.

Beyond that I’m not sure yet. At my next goal, I’ll have to re-evaluate. If my waist to weight ratio continues, at 150 pounds I should be closing in on a 31″ waist which might be a good point, but it depends on how I look. That would be less than I ended undergrad with. According to the research a BMI of 22 is the healthiest to have…less cardiac, diabetic, and other weight related issues, but a 22 BMI equals about 136.5 pounds for me. That’s likely a 29″ waist which I haven’t had since high school. We’ll have to see. So, for now, the goal is to move solidly out of the overweight range. From there we’ll set a new goal.

Upcoming topics: How I’ve Done Is So Far, What About the Personal Trainer, Enjoying Food, and may others

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!

Owning Your Development Plan

It seems to me that we spend an inordinate amount of time on the administrative functions in our business such as registration, tracking, and grading. We go out and find big technical solutions to problems that actually have little, if any, impact on our actual goal…developing people (knowledge, skills, and capabilities). Sometimes, the simple is the better more elegant solution.

About 5 weeks ago, I interviewed, Maggie Bayless and Stas Kasmierski, the founders of ZingTrain, about their business as well as how their parent company, Zingermans, does training. In the first post, Fun as a Corporate Competency, I described how they strive to create work and learning environments that didn’t just incorporate fun things, but actually were fun at their core. Though it’s been a few weeks, this is my follow-up post I promised on their simple and elegant approach to employee development and tracking.

From the very first day, they put the employee’s development plan in the hands of the employee by giving them their “Training Passport”. Like it’s metaphorical parent, the passport is a historical snapshot of where each person has been, but unlike it’s parent it also serves as a sort of travel guide on the path for their position. Every position in the company has a Training Passport. Often positions have multiple levels of passports for employees new to the position and as they progress to higher positions or responsibilities. The passport (pictured below) contains:

  • The skill or objective to achieve
  • The methodology for gaining that skill (classroom, on the job, handouts, meetings, etc)
  • How the skill or objective will be measured (test, observation, manager signature, etc)
  • Date and manager’s signature confirming successful completion

Employees are self-motivated to complete their passports which represents the opportunity for benefits (for new employees), raises, and promotion opportunities. New employees have 60 days to complete their orientation passport which includes arranging each of the learning opportunities. If, for example, they are getting close to the end of their orientation and the cheese section of the deli hasn’t broken down a wheel of cheese recently (which is a hands on learning experience measured by observation for deli employees), it is their responsibility to work the manager to arrange the experience.

The expectations are clear, ordered, measurable, directly related to success in the job, and the employee and manager always knows how they are progressing. For more details and some employee quotes on the effectiveness of the project, check out this article from Gourmet Retailer Magazine.

Just think how much money Zingermans could have spent on implementing an LMS or LCMS, instead they found a simple, elegant solution that puts learning, motivation, and responsibility into the hands of the person it’s supposed to impact the most…the learner.

Next up (hopefully in less than 5 weeks this time)…who does all of this training?

Chocolate Tasting

Recently, I had the opportunity to go to a chocolate tasting at Zingermans. I’ve posted about them before and have a more detailed post on their approach to training in a couple days so I cover them more later. The chocolate of choice was from Scharffen Berger (SB), based in Berkley, California. They are one of only 12 chocolate makers in the U.S., which means (not so obviously it turns out) that they make their own chocolate. Most U.S. chocolate companies only re-melt and re-form existing chocolate. SB sources and roasts the cacao beans, and then makes the chocolate. Some of their bars are made from beans from only one farm and others are blends from 2 or 3 farms across Central and South America.

We were able to taste 8 different bars including their 41% milk, 62% semisweet, 70% bittersweet, 82% extra dark, 62% with mocha, 75% Cuyagua special series, 72% Las Islas special series, and 62% with nibs. Nibs are the raw chocolate straight from the seed. We crushed the seeds in our hand, removed the shell, and then we nibbled. (sorry). I think they might be an acquired taste on their own, but when blended with the 62% chocolate, it was a thousand times better than a Crunch bar. I have to say my favorites were the 41% milk and the 70% bittersweet. The milk chocolate was creamy and somehow had a solid taste of caramel though it was solid chocolate. The 70% bittersweet had nice, but not overpowering overtones of citrus. What’s interesting is that they only use 3 ingredients…cacao, cane sugar, and vanilla in all of their bars. Other manufacturers add milk powder, corn syrup, and other not-so-easy-to-spell ingredients to their chocolate. It’s amazing how much variation can be found in regions, climate, and growing techniques. Some had more earthy flavors, while others had slight overtones of berries.

The interesting part was how close this was to a wine tasting or a beer tasting. Most of the 18 or so people in attendance really took their chocolate seriously. The group ranged from a mom and her son, to a women’s night out, to a couple college guys who looked like they should have been at a keg party. With the help of the facilitator, we all were learning to think critically (not negatively, but critically) about chocolate…and, for me, all food in general. The first lesson was to use all five senses. How does it look? smell? sound (when broken)? taste? feel? Much like creative writing, what words could be used to describe each of those sensations?

All too often, with our food and our learning, we rush through it, gulp it down, and then wonder why we’re unsatisfied in just a few minutes. Learning about food, or any topic, takes time and uses all of the senses to begin the critical thinking necessary to retain the information. Good chocolate, like good learning has a lingering taste that can be enjoyed long after the last bite is gone.

The really good news? There are two more tastings in the next two weeks, each with different chocolate! Talk about a motivated learner. Mmmm…

Too odd not to be true

OK, so those of you that know me, know I love gadgets and technology toys, but sometimes designers go too far. I saw this post on one of the blogs I read (Creative Cow) and thought for sure that it was a hoax. One of George Foreman’s latest grills has an integrated MP3 connection with an amplifier and speakers. I verified the product on George’s site and the Salton store which, I think, actually makes the products as well as hosting the online store.

I’m all for product integration and ubiquitous computing where it makes sense, but do we really need a grill with an MP3 hookup? Doesn’t that defeat the “tailgate” part of tailgating?

Learning = Fun

I’m just getting settled back in from my trip to Boston last week for the e-Learning Guild Meeting. While I’ve been a member for 6 or 7 years, this is the first time I went to the annual conference. Conferences and conference sessions can often feel redundant for those who travel the conference circuit as a vendor, speaker, or attendee. At this conference, though, there were far fewer misses than there were hits like ProtonMedia’s solutions, some great thoughts on immersion, and the Guild’s new research tool. I’ll try to write about them over the coming days.

However, last year I began to understand that the conferences are not about the sessions at all. The real work and, yes, the real learning almost always happens outside the sessions…in the hall, eating lunch, over dinner, and most certainly solving the industry problems over a few drinks. I’m honored and humbled to be able to hang around the brightest and best in the industry. Many thanks to Tony, Tony, Judy, Mark, Brent, Lance, Jay, Gabe, Linda, Adam, Ron, and all the rest for challenging my thinking and providing new insights to our little corner of the world. I learned a lot and that certainly equated to a lot of fun. I can’t wait to do it again.

Special thanks goes out to ProtonMedia,, and an extra special thanks to NexLearn. Without them, the trip and all that went with it wouldn’t have been possible.

Fun as a Corporate Competency

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to sit down with Maggie Bayless and Stas Kasmierski, partners with the corporate training arm of Zingerman’s Deli in Ann Arbor, Michigan. For those who don’t know, Zingerman’s is a 25-year-old specialty foods retailer with both global reach and global recognition. Check out my recent post on their anniversary celebration for more details on the company itself. My next few posts will cover just some of ZingTrain’s unique approach.

When was the last time you thought learning was fun? When was the last time you thought work was actually fun? Rarely is the word fun used in conjunction with the words work or learning. In fact, if they are it’s often with the inclusion of (often unrelated) joke at the beginning of a lecture or a lame activity thrown in to break up the monotony. I’m not talking about inserted fun, but work and/or learning that are fun themselves. The act of working or the act of learning that itself is fun.

According to Maggie, Zingerman’s has made it a corporate goal to increase fun by 30% in the next several years. They’ve even made it part of their long term vision. Notice the number, 30%. That implies that fun is measurable. While the details are still being worked out, they are considering a variety of metrics such as self-reporting, 360’s, and customer feedback to help determine the impact of their efforts.

Many organizations work to make a fun environment including picnics, potlucks, and celebrations. Valassis, a former employer, would throw crazy parties for hitting particular stock price levels. Root Learning, another former employer has, among other regular events, the Rooties (employee-voted awards show which is often a cross between a comedy and talent show). Yet as they know, it’s not just about doing fun things, it’s about making work and learning themselves fun which is no small feat even for companies like Zingerman’s.

Really though, can work and learning actually be fun? In game-design-guru Raph Koster’s (blog, wikipedia) Theory of Fun he says:

Fun is all about our brains feeling good–the release of endorphins into our system…Science has shown that the pleasurable chills that we get down the spine after exceptionally powerful music or a really great book are caused by the sames sorts of chemicals we get when we have cocaine, an orgasm, or chocolate. Basically, our brains are on drugs pretty much all of the time. One of the subtlest releases of chemicals is at the moment of triumph when we learn something or master a task. This almost always causes us to break out into a smile. After all, it is important to the survival of the species that we learn–therefore our bodies reward us for it with moments of pleasure. There are many ways we find fun in games…but this is the most important. Fun from games arises out of mastery. It arises out of comprehension. It is the act of solving puzzles that makes games fun. In other words, with games, learning is the drug.

So, the question is not can learning be fun. In fact, by it’s nature, real learning is fun, despite the fact that many classrooms have done all they can to remove fun from learning. ZingTrain has not only resisted that trend, but tried to reverse it. Not only have they put the fun back into learning (both internally and externally), they’re goal is to make it even more fun.

Next up, their approach to objectives and competencies…

Eliminating the Microwave

I remember when my dad brought our first microwave home…a Kenmore or an Amana, best I recall. With the required stand (because it wouldn’t fit on the counter), it was only slightly smaller than the actual oven. (The picture is not ours, but I think it’s the right model with the analog nobs and timer). In the beginning, we cooked everything in it. Quickly, we learned that it wasn’t quite right for meat, yet we still used it for potatoes and other things. Even though they came out chewy instead of fluffy, the time savings, we felt, justified the reduction in quality.

When I started cooking for myself, I figured out that the loss of quality for baked potatoes wasn’t worth the time savings. If I was in a hurry, I wouldn’t have the potato or I choose one of a multitude of faster cooking methods like boiling, mashing, broiling, or braising. Over time, I’ve stopped putting more and more things in the microwave. Finally, this morning, which is ironically close to the 40th anniversary of the first consumer microwave from Amana, I’ve decided to eliminate the (much smaller) microwave from my kitchen. I’ll melt the chocolate in a double boiler, and go back to a tea kettle for hot tea or cereal. The few other things can also be done in more traditional ways. Sure, it will be a bit slower, but the quality, flavor, and texture go up dramatically.

As I was thinking about it, it paralleled a lot of what is going on in the learning space. We’ve found lots of “microwaves” for learning. Real learning, deep learning, takes time and experience. The process can’t be circumvented. Think about games…good games…good learning games. For cooking, Emeril calls it a “food of love thing”. Maybe we need the same things in our processes by allowing the time for development of quality simulations rather than the quicker-but-less-effective-barely-interactive e-Learning that are all too often created. Simulations take time to use as well. Watch the kids. Learning in games doesn’t happen instantly. It takes hours and hours of progressive failures and successes to create real competence, but when it happens the learning is deep, satisfying, and, dare I say it, even fun.

I, for one, am going to take the time to cook just a little more slowly, and savor the results a little bit more.

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Think Global, Act Local…

…one of my big philosophies actually, and while normally applied to charities and other non-profits, it certainly applies to food as well. There is nothing better than eating food that was taken from the farm that day. Certainly, it’s hard to get some foods fresh in some regions, but when I certainly take advantage of it whenever I can. Thankfully, in recent years the growth of farm markets and local specialty food shops has helped supply us with tons of great, fresh options.

One of those for me is Zingerman’s Deli. Wednesday is their 25th anniversary. For those who don’t know, Zingerman’s is one of the top rated delis and mail order specialty food stores in the world. Through reports from organizations such as Fast Company, NPR’s Splendid Table, and an awesome article in Inc Magazine, they’ve become famous for high quality food and over the top customer service. They’ve even started to take their philosophies out to other businesses through ZingTrain, one of their communities of businesses.

They kicked off the celebration yesterday with a party for all of their customers by bringing in their top suppliers who were serving tons of free samples. Hundreds and hundreds of people wound their way through dozens of tables each featuring a new delight for tasting. Probably my favorites were the Flavor 70 real Cocoa Nibs from Sweet Riot and the most amazing bacon I’ve ever had in Niman Ranch’s Applewood Smoked Bacon. I could actually taste the layers of amazing flavor. I wish I could eat it every day, but alas it is still bacon.

Even though there were probably too many people for the space and waits (especially for the awesome sandwiches) could be as long as 35 minutes, the attitudes of both the customers and the employees were great. The picture to the right is a very typical lunch time scene, but the picture above may provide a better feel for the space.

I’m a huge proponent of practice as the only means for learning and this occasion was a great example. What better way to learn about cheddar cheese than to try 5 different variations from Grafton Cheese in Vermont, or the 4 goat cheeses made fresh at Zingerman’s. Most of the cow milk comes from Calder, a great local organic dairy. Compare, contrast, experience, and understand…I learn more at those events then I ever could out of a book. The best part is that I can revisit the learning anytime I want by tasting more of the great products.

In a few weeks, I’m going to do an in depth report on Zingerman’s approach to training with Maggie Bayless and Stas Kazmierski, founders and partners in ZingTrain. In the mean time, try some fresh food and support your local restaurants, food suppliers, and businesses.

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