Tales and thoughts from the founder of NormSoft (maker of Pocket Tunes), working and living in St. Croix, USVI

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Speaking their language

I got laughed at on my bike ride this morning by some people walking on the road.

I came around a corner on the North Shore Rd. I saw the couple taking a morning walk. I prepared to wave and say Good Morning, but I then noticed a dog wandering in the bush to my left. If you're a biker, you know that stray animals get all of your attention.

80% of the dogs I encounter will simply look up at you and then go back to sniffing their ass. But the other 20% will do something unexpected, so you have to keep an eye on them.

This dog looked at me quizzically and then opened his mouth, barking, and took off after me. Prepared, I do what I always do in this situation: I moved to the middle of the road away from him, looked straight in his eyes, and barked as loud as I could.

I can't claim to know what goes through the dog's mind when he sees a human dressed in ridiculously-colored spandex atop a funny-looking contraption made of metal, carbon fiber, and rubber. But I do know that when that human barks at said dog, it will typically stop dead in its tracks, probably confused to no end.

And that's what happened.

When I looked back up, I was just coming upon the couple walking, and they were looking at me laughing. I guess you don't see that everyday. I smiled back.

PS And if you're one of those who have been following my training, yes, I finally made it up The Beast without stopping today!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Enjoy your meal

Maybe it's me, but my microwave disturbs me.

We bought a new one around Christmas time last year. It's got all the regular bells and whistles. But the feature that I found most intriguing was this: after it finishes running, it scrolls across the screen: "ENJOY YOUR MEAL".

There's something about that message that makes me do a double-take. Why is this inanimate object suddenly taking an interest in my meal? Up until this point, it was all just numbers and beeps, a no nonsense machine, just the way I like it. But suddenly, now it sounds like it wants a pat on the back for a job well-done. "Good job microwave; I will think of your hard work and wattage output as I enjoy my meal."

There's something about this hunk of metal trying to impersonate a human that bothers me. For one thing, once you see it display this cheerful message, you realize it must be kind of depressed all the other times when it's simply saying "POWER LVL?" or "REHEAT?". The only time it appears to have a bit of joy in its life is when its timer hits 0:00.

And anyway, how does it know I'm preparing a meal rather than heating up some coffee or zapping a CD, for instance? I almost feel bad putting a snack item or beverage in the microwave now. I'm bound to confuse it. What if it thinks it's a meal and cooks it improperly? Or what if it finally realizes it's not cooking a meal and does something drastic? Like rotate the glass tray the wrong way. Or turn off the light so I can't see what's cooking.

Maybe I'll start opening the door at 0:01. If I'm lucky, I'll start to get a different message after a while. Maybe I'll even get to see it get angry.

But I don't think I could do that. It would be like stamping on a talking bee or uninstalling Microsoft Bob. And that would just be unforgivable.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Nature of Setting Goals

From my ruminations while bike riding this morning... What is and what isn’t a goal? And how do you best motivate yourself to accomplish a goal?

Maybe this is all too obvious, but I figured it was worth writing up anyway. Hope some of you get some benefit from it.

What I realized when thinking about this is that most people set the wrong kinds of goals for themselves. For instance, a very common goal is, “I want to lose 20 lbs.” or “I want to make $X.” or even, “I want to save $X for retirement.”

These are all terrible goals. While the results are worthy of accomplishing, the goals themselves are without substance. They don’t say what you really want to accomplish, and they focus on the aspects that are painful or unenjoyable: actually losing the 20 lbs or working hard to make the money.

Even if you do accomplish them, there is no incentive for you to maintain that goal. I think this is why so many people on diets gain their weight back. For instance, without a plan for what you will do when you lose the weight, you might as well just put it back on because it’s not giving you any benefit or pleasure. And once you make that $X, without a plan for what to do with it, you’ll probably just spend it on something frivolous.

Instead, consider why you want to accomplish this goal. What is it that you can’t accomplish right now that you want to be able to do? It must be something that is enjoyable to you in some way or gets you excited or makes you feel good to think about it.

Let me give an example. (I feel funny holding myself up as a shining example to make my point. In reality, it was a little less clear-cut, but in retrospect it all fits together pretty well. Perhaps you have better examples you can share by posting a comment.) When I was over 280 lbs, I started to feel left-out from all the physical activities my friends were doing: mountain biking, skiing, etc. Even just walking to the cafeteria, I couldn’t keep up with anyone. But one of the activities that really excited me was skydiving. I had always enjoyed roller coasters and other high-altitude activities (partly because I’m deathly afraid of heights), and skydiving seemed like the ultimate thrill. The problem: The maximum weight they allowed was 250 lbs for a tandem skydive.

I set out to lose the weight. The goal in my mind was not to lose 30 lbs; it was to get to a weight level where I could go skydiving and feel more comfortable doing physical activities with friends. The goal of going skydiving is really what motivated me, not the pseudo-goal of losing 30 lbs. Whenever I thought about going skydiving, I got excited, and it gave purpose to my diet changes; I was doing these not-so-enjoyable diet things for a reason that would ultimately let me do something that would make me happy. I wasn’t doing it just to see the numbers on a scale change.

Although this was a good start, it’s still not exactly the kind of goal I’m talking about. Let’s call the skydiving goal a “milestone goal.” Unless I were to take up skydiving regularly, this is probably something I’m only going to do once, maybe twice. It’s enjoyable and gives you something to focus on, but once you accomplish it, you end up spinning your wheels. You’ve accomplished your goal; now what?

In my case, I suffered from exactly this problem. My partner Gerald surprised me with a skydiving ticket that fall, just after I’d past 250 lbs. I enjoyed the skydive immensely. But now what? I had failed to set a goal past this point, and although I lost another 30 lbs, I plateaued at 220 lbs for about a year and even started gaining some weight back, without a clear goal ahead of me.

The key is to set many “milestone goals” and one or more “ongoing goal.”

After getting frustrated not being able to lose any more weight, I started to consider what I was really after. I remembered from my childhood how much I loved to ride my bike; it gives a tremendous feeling of freedom, and the high from the exercise was beyond comparison. Plus a good friend from high school had recently lost a huge amount of weight by cycling, and she looked great. So I decided that was what I was going to do, too.

I realized I needed an ongoing goal, so I set one. I vowed to start riding my bike to work 2-3 times per week. In addition, I set lots of milestone goals, of which I’ll describe a few. The first goal was to be able to keep up with my family on a bike ride trip to Block Island (a small island off the coast of Rhode Island) we had planned next month. The second was to work up to being able to ride my bike to work once on a weekend, after which I could start riding to work regularly. The last was to get fit enough that I could keep up with other cyclists on the road; then I would reward myself with a road bike, an expensive proposition I really couldn’t afford at the time.

This strategy works! (Do I sound like an infomercial yet?) It gives you something enjoyable to focus on other than the painful changes you have to make to achieve your goal. And, it gives you a reason to maintain your goal once you reach it.

I was able to accomplish my goals and as a consequence, went down to 155 lbs and maintained that weight for several years, while continuing to bike to work. Notice that I said the weight loss was a consequence of my goals; it wasn’t really my primary goal. However, now that I no longer have a job to commute to (I work at home for NormSoft), I’m struggling to find a new ongoing goal to keep me fit. Hence the ruminations on my ride this morning.

For a good book that will get you thinking more in this vein, I recommend “The 4-Hour Workweek” by Timothy Ferriss.

I’d love to hear from you about goals you’ve accomplished by thinking in this way. Feel free to add comments to this post.

Saturday, August 09, 2008


Did you know that the Virgin Islands (and St. Croix in particular) is THE place for up-and-coming Reggae?

I have met several people on the plane while returning to St. Croix who were on their way to our island to enjoy the world-class reggae musicians. While we were in Hawaii, several of the locals there were excited to hear we were from St. Croix because they enjoy so much of the reggae music that comes out of the Virgin Islands.

I don't know a lot about Reggae but I definitely enjoy it. Yesterday I visited our local music store, Riddims in Christiansted. I picked up two CDs: Mahogany Road by Abja and Back to Africa by Harry Mo. Both of them are quite good!

A lot of these artists are not available on Amazon MP3 or iTunes, but you can buy the CDs from http://www.viroots.com/. They also have a podcast there where you can listen to a selection of artists before deciding on a CD.

I hope you will browse the selection and enjoy some of our great local music!

Delta adding flights to St. Croix this winter

Just received this from the USVI Department of Tourism:

Service from Atlanta (Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport) will be offered four times per week, as of December 20.

Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Thursday service

Thursday, August 07, 2008

St. Croix Customs Officials Harassing Tourists

I am very upset about this. One of our guests from the mainland (a US citizen) visited us this week and just left on an American Eagle flight today.

When going through Customs to leave St. Croix, the customs officer told her that he could not admit her without a passport because he couldn't prove that she was a US Citizen.

The Virgin Islands Department of Tourism has been very clear about this, as has the US Federal Government. "U.S. Citizens traveling to and returning directly from a U.S. territory are not considered to have left the U.S. territory and do not need to present a passport." There are signs up all over the place that state you do not need a passport to travel to the US Virgin Islands, and I've heard and seen it advertised widely.

After some back and forth, they finally allowed her through.

This is the second guest of ours that this has happened to, so this is not a one-time occurrence. Why are these Customs officers making tourists to our islands uncomfortable by harassing them? This is just unbelievable.

Mobile Me

It's not just me. Even Steve Jobs doesn't think MobileMe was ready for prime time.