A long running project

Today marks reaching a major milestone of a personal project I ran for the last 850 days.

Back then my body weight was 116 kg (potentially even higher but I didn’t dare to step on a scale for a couple of years). I was feeling quite okay and I had no health issues. Nevertheless I was pretty concious that we had high blood pressure as a family burden and that being overweighted and not have much exercise might not be that healthy in the long run.

In addition to health, I more and more recalled the times when I was able to ride a bike for a couple of hours and even go up some mountains. I was missing this more and more, just sitting in the office or on the couch at home (okay, I am exaggerating a bit).

Knowing that it is very essential to formulate targets in order to archive them, I set up a “project”.

My target was to loose 40kg of weight (that sounded very ambitious back then). In addition to the target, I defined two rules (for myself):

  1. Loose weight slowly, about 1.5 to 2 kilos per month
  2. Do not do any tricks, meaning that I was planning to change only things that I was willing to change permanently

With these two rules and some tricks I learnt in my project management career, I actually managed to archive that. As of this morning, my body weight is 76 kg resulting in a BMI of about 22.

What did I do?

Okay, so what did I actually do to loose weight, particularly given my rule 2? Well firstly my believe was that it is not possible to loose weight without doing exercise.  Secondly I analysed my nutrition behaviour.

In regards to exercise I came back to one of my old hobbies, cycling. As my wife started running a couple of years back I considered this as well but found that it might not be good to run with over 100 kg. Walking I personally considered as too boring.

I started doing 20 minute sessions on a stationary bike, extending this to up to one hour as of today. At some point I bought a home trainer for my race cycle I had still around. I used the time also to listen to music and podcasts.

About a year ago (weighted 95 kg then), I started running (primarily to spend more time with my wife). I really enjoy doing both cycling and running, even though I had some drawbacks with my calves while running (and might not be able to run a marathon according the docs).

As of today I spend about 5-6 hours a week doing exercise.

Regarding nutrition I actually did not change that much. I eat more conscious that I did in the past. I do not eat as much in some areas (e.g. not a whole bar of chocolate but just 2 or 3 pieces). I continued to eat what I like (even fast food) but eat slightly less. And I mean slightly, as I do not believe in diets and do think that it exposes you to the yo-yo effect. It also helped that my wife – being a professional nutrition consultant – started to cook healthier and more valuable food that is even more tasty in most cases.

What are the lessons learnt?

Looking back, the program went pretty smooth, I more or less lost the weight linearly over the course of more than two years, averaging at 1.5 kg per month.

So I assume that my original ideas and strategies have not been that wrong.

Of course doing all this exercise costs quite some time and I needed to reorganise a couple of things. It also means that I have less time for other stuff that I had before I started. On the other hand I really enjoy cycling and running today. I do regret a bit that I have less time for e.g. photography.

All in all I would say that the quality of life has improved quite a bit since then.

What’s next?

So, having accomplished this milestone for now, what next?

Well, I have recently finished my first run (the JP Morgan Corporate Challenge) and plan do some more. I also have bought both a new mountain bike as well as a new racing bike this spring.

I need to think about a bit more specific goals a bit more (e.g. I want to become faster in both running and cycling, a short triathlon perhaps), but that will be another story.

Well, that is my story for now. If you have questions, please do not hesitate to contact me or leave a comment.

New Photoblog

Update: Selfhosted yet again: photomichel.net.

I am happy to announce my new photoblog over at wordpress.com. I started it for two reasons: 1. to play a bit with a new theme called Monotone, which automatically determines the background for images on the site shows one post at a time (like a real photoblog should do). 2. because I had a couple of shots that I wanted to show to a couple of friends on the net.

Have fun with it or just ignore…

Working for a brand new company

Today is my first day working for a new company. Well, actually it is not just a new company for me, it is a new company: Thomson Reuters.

As you might have read in the last couple of month, Reuters has been aquired by Thomson. Today now is what we’ve been calling “day one” internally. The merger is now effective. Let’s see what comes up in today’s celebrations.

Interesting and challenging times..

APress Deal of the day

I recently stumbled upon a nice deal on the APress website. They offer a different title as electronic book for $ 10 each day (called ebook deal of the day).

After a couple of days I started to be annoyed by looking on the website every day and wondered how I can make sure that I do not miss something interesting.

I went on and wrote a little ruby script with the cool hpricot library by why the lucky stiff. It runs as a cron job every day and sends an email with the title and description.

In case you are interested, here it is (just edit the smtp_server, sender and receiver variables):

#!/usr/bin/env ruby

require 'rubygems'
require 'hpricot'
require 'open-uri'
require 'net/smtp'

smtp_server = 'your_mail_server'
sender = "your@email_address.here"
receiver = ['receiver1@test.xx', 'receiver2@test.xx']

doc = Hpricot(open("http://www.apress.com/info/dailydeal"))

description = doc.search("//div[@class='bookdetails']")

title = description.search("a").first.inner_html

msg = "Subject: [APress Deal of the Day] #{title}\n\nDeal of the day at APress: #{title}\n\n"

(description/"p").each do |p|
        msg = msg + p.inner_html.gsub(/<\/?[^>]*>/, "") + "\n\n"

msg = msg + (description/"div[@class='footer']").inner_html + "\n\n"

msg = msg + "Order at http://www.apress.com/info/dailydeal\n"

Net::SMTP.start(smtp_server) do |smtp|
        smtp.send_message(msg, sender, receiver)

Banks in crisis ask for public help

Disclaimer: This will be my first politically biased post, but here I can not stay silent in this case.

In a recent edition of Financial Times Deutschland I read an article reporting that Josef Ackermann CEO of Deutsch Bank calls for public help to support banks that had been hit by the Subprime crisis.

I do understand that he talks about stability of the economy and jobs in the end of the day, however this is the guy that always argued that in banking and business is to much intervention by administrations.� Further he is one of the guys – amongst most of his colleagues for sure – filled his (private) pockets doing risky business and asking the public to stay out of his way.

Now, loosing the money (due to risky business) the public should pay the bill? Will these guys get a bonus for collecting public money to fill there companies losses after all? Unbelievable thinking if you ask me. I find this a rather cynical move – even if he tried to correct his statements later

Remark: Links (Articles) are in German (my apologies), however you should be able to find similar discusses in basically every business press these days.

Management Wisdom

The recent issue (2.08) of the German magazine “Business Technology” has an interview with management consulting luminary Reinhard K. Sprenger (quite famous for his book “Mythos Motivation”).

I am not sure if I buy all his theories about management mentioned in the interview (though it would be interesting to see some evidence for them, I should look in his books for this I guess), however a couple of his statements actually made me think and quite intuitively they make sense (again, some evidence would be good to support this).

Teamwork and cooperation need a problem

The first refreshing thing I read was that he actually said problem instead of challenge. The point here is that teamwork and cooperation these days is often pushed per se without having a common problem to work on. This often fails when there is no clearly defined problem to work on or to state it otherwise a common goal to work towards.

So as a prerequisite to initiate teamwork we would need a common understanding of the problem as well as the goal for the combined effort. This should be explicitly defined by and for all participants or (to stress another buzzword) stakeholders.

In addition to that I see the need to clearly understanding the interests of all people involved. I see it actually quite often that objectives (including and in particular those that are bound to a bonus or commission (say money)) are quite contradictory to effective teamwork. Many times these drivers (or agendas) needs to be adjusted by management to facilitate (or enable) team work.

Decisions are only interesting if the situation is undecidable

Decisions are only needed if there is a situation at hand where there is no obvious answer – meaning there are as many good reasons to turn left as there are good reasons to turn right (otherwise if there would be a bias for either one, no decision would be needed).

This actually happens quite often and managers need to decide based on improper or insufficient information.

Sprenger says that a good manager should feel at home within this situation and should be able to come to a good decision due to his ability of creating a good contextual model to support the decision – particularly without all the details. Sprenger says that ability stems from a good (humanistic) education – I often call it “common sense” (“gesunder Menschenverstand” in German).

I – by the way – think that this ability does not only make a good manager but also a good employee, a good consultant etc.

Risk averseness kills innovation

If an organisation gets risk averse, if nobody is willing (or able) to make mistakes and take risks, innovation is dead. And so in creativity and speed. If people just start to do something if they are 100% sure they will not make a mistake, barely anybody is moving at all or just doing the true and tried standard work.

It is up to the management to create an infrastructure and environment were mistakes and failures are accepted (as long as we learn from them).

Good Risk and Bad Risk

Bruce Tate writes about this in his book “From Java to Ruby“. But what does this mean?

If you are running projects or are managing a team/company (for that matter), you have been told to manage risk(s). Chances are good that you also have been told that risks should be avoided or at least mitigated. Therefore risks are bad, aren’t they?

Well, there is an economic saying: “stagnation mean regression”. This means you need to progress and you need to do new things to do so.  So you go for chances. This in turn implies that you take some risks in order to gain (economic advantage). In general you take the more risk(s) the higher your gain may be (unless you run into a rare lucky case).

So taking risk(s) is good and important after all?

It sure is. However you need to know what you do, you should take those risks intentionally (instead of accidentally).

That is what risk management is all about.