Friday, September 30, 2011

Adventures in LASIK - The Day After, Part 1

It's been about 20 hours since the treatment. The sun should be up soon.  Vision still clear but cloudy, but it seems comparable to when I wore glasses.  It looks I will be able to drive myself to my follow-up.  Cool.

I don't want to spend too much time staring at a screen, since that is bad, so that'll do for now.

Time for breakfast, a quick follow-up exam, and then back to work!

The exam went well.  The flaps look great and I am seeing 20/20.  I should have asked them to test me for 20/15, but it's been less than 24 hours since the surgery, so I will take 20/20 for now. :-)

They tell me that the blood shot eyes are related more to the suction that is applied to keep my eye in place.  My left eye was under suction at least twice as much and at least three times as long as my right, so the apparent savage beating my poor bloodshot left eye took is understandable.  I am told it will take 2-3 weeks to resolve completely.  Meanwhile, my right eye looks almost as if nothing happens.  My left eye is no doubt seething with envy, but it's hard to tell, since my eyes are naturally green.

My vision is not flawless, but I am told that my eyes still have not completely recovered.  There will be some swelling and until it completely resolves, some intermittent changes in vision might occur.

Right now, I see almost perfectly clearly, but sometimes there is a faint, sporadic blur in parts of my visual field, akin to how it is right after I put in some drops, but much less so.  That said, for the most part, it's perfectly clear.  It's like I am wearing my glasses...but I'm not.

It's nice to have good vision everywhere too.  No tilting my head up or down to bring my glasses to bear on an object.  And it's nice to have clearer peripheral vision.

There is a faint sense of eye strain, as if I have been up all night staring at the computer screen.

All in all, better than I would have hoped less than 24 hours after having my eyes pushed, prodded, suctioned, and blasted with lasers.

So, for the next couple of weeks a progressively diminishing regimen of drops.

I am cleared for aerobic and light weight lifting today.  Light weight lifting?  Seems like an oxymoron at best and a waste of time at worst.  But hey, elliptical here I come (well, after work, that is).

As for real weightlifting, the heavy variety, they say I can start tomorrow, but I set up my schedule so my next resistance routine is Monday, just to be safe.

I'll go back in two weeks for another (presumably final) check up.

It's surreal how easy this has all been.  Sure, the me from yesterday evening, when the scratchyburniness was at it's peak, would probably slap the me that just said that, but overall? Wow it's been easy and much less painful and complicated than I expected.  I wish I had looked into this five years ago.

Adventures in LASIK - The Big Day

00:00 dropped off
00:05 read and signed some consents
00:13 paid (credit card; hooray for points!)

I am living the high tech life right now.  I am sitting in a doctor's office, waiting to have my eyes operated on by a pair of state-of-the-art computer-controlled lasers.  While I am waiting, I am working on my Dell laptop via WiFi to collaborate with two colleagues scattered across the USA, to help a third colleague in Brazil.  And occasionally taking notes on my blog via Blogger's iPhone app.  Pretty damn cool.  All I need now is a robot butler serving me some brightly colored drink...

00:23 I watch a  three to four minute video, along with a couple of other patients, discussing what will happen.  There were no guns, sex, nor engaging characters.  Two thumbs down.

00:45 They are taking my phone. Noooo!  And they give me a valium...

1:00? They take me to a room where I lean back in a recliner and put on a hair cover and booties.  Super sexy.

1:30? I am taken in, laid down, and covered with a blanket.  Good thing, because it is seriously chilly in there, even for me (me likey cold).

1:45? Lots of drops of various kinds, repeated explanations about the process.

2:15? Walked over to another bed, situated between the two lasers.

Right eye positioned under the first laser.  Eyelid retractor placed on my eye, a la Clockwork Orange, and a suction thingie lowered onto it.  These are good things, as they keep your eye still for the Lasers!

Things go dim (as they told me they would) and I see some cool specular patterns.  I focus every fiber of my being on not moving my eye in any way.

6 seconds...done.

They tell me I did well, but I am not sure it's sincere, since there was not cookie or lollipop reward...

On to the left eye.  Things do not go swimmingly.  Something about positioning problems.

They decide to finish up the right eye and let me rest.

The bed swivels under a different laser.  I stare at a green beam amidst an array of lights that is reminiscent of the end scenes of Close Encounters of the Third Kind.  Things get blurry and dim (as they told me they would) and I hear a bit of a squeaky sound...and I briefly smell burning, which make sense, since that is what is supposed to happen, but it is a bit disconcerting, nonetheless.

12 seconds...done.

I did well again.  I start to wonder if I should pursue Olympic competition in laying very still while lasers shine in my eye, but I am not sure I want to bother seeking sponsors.

A quick look at my eyes by Dr. Tylock to confirm the flaps look good.  They do.

Drops in my eyes (I think maybe steroids for anti-inflammatory, not sure).

Back in the hall for "20 minutes".

Brought back in for pretty much the same routine, except they use a different laser for the flap cutting.  It takes about three times as long, around 20 seconds, but it goes very smoothly.  Then I hang out for a minute, then on to the IntraLASIK.  Smooth again.  Looks good.

More drops.  Out onto the recliner to sit for 25 minutes, while they call my ride.  I keep my eyes closed as much as possible.

I am handed a tote bag carrying my laptop, etc.  Ironically, I had made fun of these very tote bags when I first visited for my exam for seeming to be a goofy way to advertise LASIK.

4:50 Back home. My vision already noticeably in spite of the tears. It's like a confused weatherman's prediction - clear but cloudy.

Sleeping pill taken. Ate a little bit of a salad (and some mac and cheese; lasers in my eyes warrants comfort food) so that hunger does not wake me up.  Off to bed.

5:40 Eyes still stinging pretty badly.  Having them closed seems to really magnify it.  I know they are most though.  Any time I open them, a river of tears flows from the corners of my eyes.  Well, they gave me a second sleeping pill just for such an occasion, but when they did, they said "if you haven't gotten to sleep in 45 minutes take the second one" as opposed to "if you feel the urge to remove your eyes, take the second one."

So, I call the nurse to be safe, explain what's happen, she confirms everything sounds normal and to take the pill.  Eventually sleep finally takes over.

Some weird dreams/thoughts...mostly just odd.  Not sharing them here.  You'll have to live in suspense.

13:05 Wow, that feels a lot better.  They said I could get up and watch TV for a bit then go back to bed, but the also said sleeping was back to bed I go and eventually fall back to sleep.  But first, some pictures!


That is my right eye.  Basically, it just looks red, like I have not slept enough, or been hanging around a Phish concert.

Brace yourself for the left eye.

This was expected.  This was the one that required the older laser for the flap creation.  Note: the damage is from capillaries rupturing due to the suction that is placed on the eye during the process and looks worse than it is; this eye was put under suction multiple times and the older laser takes about three times as long to make the flap, so this eye was under suction for a considerable amount of time.

Back to bed...

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Adventures in LASIK - The Day Before

That is a crappy picture of my left eye, but it will do.  Tomorrow, my eyes get zapped.

I have done just about all of the pre-op stuff.  I have put in steroid* and antibiotic eye drops four times today...spacing the drops out so they don't wash one another out and diminish the therapeutic effect.

* - Hopefully that doesn't mean my eyes will have tiny testicles now.

I read ahead to the post-op stuff, which motivated me to pick up some some Refreshe artificial tears.  I am going to need to put them in every 30 minutes tomorrow and Friday, when I am awake.  I went all out and got the individually bottled doses because, hey, I am not going to cheap out on my eyes.

I have my ride all lined up.  You need a ride back since your eyes have been zapped and you are probably groggy from a sedative.  Oh, and that whole keeping your eyes closed as much as possible for 4 hours afterwards thing (to facilitate healing); that probably does not go well with driving.

I was a good boy and did my Friday weight-lifting this evening since I am not supposed to lift weights for at least one day after the procedure.

There is still some residual anxiety about the procedure, but it's minimal.  I am very much of the school that worrying is not a good thing, either accept the situation or do something.  And since the only thing I can really do is follow my patient instructions, show up, lay still, and then follow more instructions; that is what I will do.  Anxiety will not focus the laser beam and god forbid that I am anxious and pass that along to them.  I need them frosty and cool as they fry my cornea.

Now for the final prep for tonight - soaking, scrubbing, and cleaning my eyelids and eyelashes.  I hope they turn out real purty.

Adventures in LASIK - The Preliminary Evaluation

OK, fired up for the potential of the new, bladefree and seemingly super safe LASIK technology, last week I went to the nearby Tylock LASIK, in Irving Texas.

Why Tylock?

Excellent question.  There are some serious marketing dollars being tossed around in this area and it is hard to wade through the interwebs to an island of clarity.
  • Of the big local names, they had the best Angie's List ratings and reports by far.
  • Their staff was flawlessly responsive and gave great customer service
  • By contrast, another big name place took a week just to return my call
  • It didn't mean a lot to me, but it didn't hurt that they were the official provider for three local professional sports teams (Stars, Rangers, Mavericks)
  • Tylock's credentials, record, and experience
  • The nifty state of the art technology they use (granted, the other big name places were probably similar)
Yay!  A Schedule for People With Jobs

Right off the bat, I was quite happy that they had later times so I could go in after work.  Very nice.

Bright Lights

Ah, my old nemesis, really bright lights shining in my eyes.  They had a number of devices there to do all sorts of measurements on my eyes.  It was all pretty tolerable and quick.  Then it was on to a regular old eye exam.

Which is Clearer, A or B?

Nothing new in the eye exam.  It went quickly and smoothly.  All signs pointed to me being a great candidate for LASIK.  So I took the option they earlier provided to move right into the detailed exam.

Big Pupils, Small Mouth*

* - a joke for any fellow anime fans.

This is where it got uncomfortable for me, but probably funny for the casual observer.  They put drops in my eyes to dilate them and waited 15 minutes.  Then the kind, young attractive lady doctor from before revealed that she was actually trained in "enhanced interrogation".  Oh my freaking god, THE LIGHT!  I hate the whole light in the eyeball thing as it is, but she was going to town.

Now, the good news is that she was being thorough and I like being able to see well, so that is a good thing.  The bad news is OMG THE LIGHT!

It must have been a sight to behold, me struggling to keep my eyes open while tears streamed down my cheeks (it's what eyes do in the presence of THE LIGHT!).

OK, I jest.  All in all, it wasn't that bad.  Definitely a bit of discomfort, but not fantastically more than I experience in every routine eye exam when they break out THE LIGHT!

I stepped outside, waited for maybe ten minutes, and then a gentleman chatted about the pre-op, peri-op, and post-op activities.  Oh, and price.  LASIK still ain't cheap.  Armed with prescriptions, instructions, and the nifty little disposable shades they gave me...I drove off into the night.

My appointment would be eight days hence...

Adventures in LASIK- Investigating the State of the Art

Over the last seven months or so, I have been rediscovering the healthy fit person that I had slowly buried under fat and apathy over the past decade or so.  In the course of that, I have been increasingly more active, exercising regularly and vigorously.  It's made my glasses more of a nuisance than they used to be.  In general, it raised my awareness of the nuisance of wearing glasses to a critical level.  Suddenly, they were just a huge PitA.

Part of the problem is that I simply don't like blurry vision.  So, even though I *could* go without glasses in some cases, I just don't like it.  I end up squinting at things because I crave clarity.

And don't say "contacts FTW!" because it just does not work for me.  I tried...oh my did I try.  It turns out I am sort of freakshow mutant that hates to have things stuck to his eyeballs.

And as I mulled this over I stumbled on an old healthcare spending account.  I inquired and found out 1) Chase was bleeding my account with admin fees that were higher than the interest in earned and 2) I could spend the money on any healthcare expense, including LASIK!

Hello, serendipity.

So, after over a decade of not even thinking about LASIK...I decided to look into it again and see what was what.  Here is what I learned from reading and talking to an experience LASIK technician.
Caveat: I can't guarantee it's all true, as the amount of noise on the internet on this topic is pretty damn intense.

Note: Dr. Tylock is the guy that I was considering at the time (and SPOILER ALERT! who ultimately did perform my IntraLASIK surgery.)

Better Than A Sharp Scalpel In The Eye

LASIK can be done without blades!  This was huge.  I simply cannot stand the idea of someone taking a knife to my eye.  Sure, if there is a brain eating alien burrowing through my eye into my head, slice away, but the whole "achoo! AHHHH MY EYE!" factor is too much for me to tolerate a blade on my eyeball.  Yes, I now know that this has been true for like nine years.  /shrug

Do No Harm...To My Vision

"No case of loss of vision with blade free has been reported to the FDA since 2002, when blade free started.  Dr. Tylock has never had loss of vision with either technology."

Good news - loss of vision includes vision less than your corrected vision.  So, if you were correctable to 20/20 with your glasses or contacts, then loss of vision would be anything worse.

Bad news - it is possible that there were cases of loss of vision that were not reported to the FDA, given human nature and the power of money.

Good news for me - My doctor seems to be kicking LASIK ass.


The laser Tylock currently uses an Alcon Allegretto Eye-Q).  Rather than put you to sleep with details.  The short story is it's as fast as they come, uses less energy, and has a small spot size.  So, less burning tissue (which equals less irritation and quicker healing), more precision, and less impact if your eye moves during the treatment (it pulses 400 times per second and tracks your eye at the same rate).

Halos and Star Bursts 

There should be zero chance that I will have long-term issues with halo or star burst effects.  While having halos and star bursts might sound cool, it is not.  It means you see anomalies.  This is becoming a thing of the past.  Originally folks used broad beam lasers.  The laser would expand out and the correction was correlated to the beam of the laser.  If your pupil was beyond a certain size, you would get halos and star bursts; it was quite often (~70%). Laser technology changed and it went down to 15-20% incidence.  Then they came out with the "Gaussian beam" (GB) which eliminated the problem, but also has FDA approval for them to state that it may actually improve your night vision.

At Tylock LASIK, with the GB, they don't see complaints about this unless a patient does "monovision"**.  There may be some initial halo effects with any patient, but long-term only someone with monovision should be at risk for this problem.  However, someone with pupils larger than 9 mm (mine are ~6 mm) will still probably have issues, but such folks usually have it with glasses and contacts.

** - only totally correcting one eye; this essentially leaves one eye uncorrected for nearsightedness to offset presbyopia.

"Enhancement" is the New "Correction"

In a feat of marketing goofiness, when you need a second treatment because the first one did not quite get you to your best vision, they call it "an enhancement" as opposed to, say, a word that would be more appropriate, like "correction". :-P

Now, let me say for the record, I could care less if I need an enhancement.  What I want is that when the official post-operative period ends 12 months after my procedure, my eyes are all squared away.  This a process with real live people and a whole bunch of moving parts.  They have worked wonders to lock it all down, but as long as a conscious human patient has to cooperate, there will always be a random factor.  So I can accept that enhancements may be necessary, even if I object to the term used.

The technician reports that about ~3% of Tylocks patients experience over or under correction, requiring a subsequent enhancement.  For my mild correction, there should be ~1% or less chance.  Since 2006, he has not seen anyone need a second enhancement/correction (i.e., a third treatment).


I only have a moderate amount astigmatism, but I wanted to be thorough.

How much astigmatism can they correct? Normally, can correct a maximum of 6 diopters of Astigmatism, but a physician can override the machine and attempt to correct more if the patient is appropriate (based on their overall eye condition, correction).

My Eyes

My case: My pupils are well within the design limits.  My correction is "mild".  My cornea is adequately thick.  I am a good candidate.

Caveat: I don't wear contacts, but those that do will need to coordinate their schedule a bit for LASIK.  It's good to stop wearing them for a period before your exam and the treatment.  Call your provider for details.

Other Resources

FDA page on LASIK

I think this is the FDA page for their laser...

The wikipedia page is surprisingly informative too.

My Conclusion

The technology has come far enough for me to give it a try.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Exercise Machines & The Vision Fitness X6200 HRT Elliptical

[The following information is recreated and updated from a web page I created by back in December, 2003, cataloging my thoughts and adventures when I decided to buy an exercise machine while attending graduate school at Rice University, Houston, TX.  I am posting it here because I have killed off the web page and this one page generated a lot of traffic and e-mail, so I figure it must be useful.  Enjoy!]

After reading up on the dizzying array of products available for home use, I thought it would be helpful to share my insights, what I learned, and the final decision.

Do You Have the Space?
Exercise machines fit nicely in gigantic fitness showrooms, but they may not seem so compact when you start wrestling them into your home fitness room, garage, etc.  Figure out where you want to put the machine and measure out how big of a footprint you can accommodate. Make note of it and keep that information handy as you shop.

Many machines are designed around providing a small footprint.  There are models that fold in some way or another to decrease the footprint when not in use; others are simply designed so as to use less space. This limits the available models and can also fundamentally change the exercise, e.g. some elliptical trainers placed the flywheel between the pedals to cut down on foot print, but this forced a wider stance, which may or may not be a concern for you.

What Kind of Machine Do You Want?
There are a few common choices:
  • Climber/stairs - pumping legs up and down
  • Cross-country skier - pumping legs back and forth on a fixed track, pumping arms back and forth
  • Elliptical - all of them involve pumping your legs up and down as well as back and forth along an elliptical path; the better ones include pumping arms back and forth in concert with your legs
  • Rowing machine - pushing your torso/abdomen back and forth with your legs, pulling with arms/back
  • Treadmill - walking and/or running on a moving belt
I ruled out climbers/stairs because of the lack of upper body workout. I ruled out the skier because ellipticals provided a better workout with more comfort. I ruled out the treadmill because of the substandard lower body workout, compared to ellipticals, and the lack of a real upper body workout.

I wanted to get both an elliptical trainer and a rowing machine, because the combination would compliment each other well, but I did not have the money nor space for both. Ultimately, I settled on the elliptical because it gives the most complete workout and biggest bang for the buck/footprint.

So, the rest of this page concerns elliptical trainers exclusively. If you are interested in other options, I recommend getting an online subscription to They usually give a good background on every category of product they investigate. It's a great resource with a searchable archive of every test they have performed. A great tool for empowering the consumer.

Elliptical Trainers - Commercial or Home Models?
With treadmills, there are lots of decent home models. However, it appears that when it comes to elliptical trainers, you really want to get a commercial or near-commercial model. Even the best pick of Consumer Reports' review of Elliptical Home Models was lackluster at best:

Reebok Elliptical Crosstrainer 6808. Very good; the best pick here.
Pedals hold foot securely. Easy to mount/dismount. But resistance not indexed for easy setting. No heart-rate monitor. Monitor framework sways and creaks during exercise. Vigorous movement of arms can make machine twist and jam momentarily. Monitor needs batteries. Fixed incline. 90-day warranty.
[CR March 2002]
Not exactly a ringing endorsement, huh? Also, they were generally not very enthusiastic about home models of elliptical trainers.
Unfortunately, the concept has worked best in health-club models, which are bigger, smoother, more solid, and far more expensive than home-use machines. We tested early home ellipticals in 1998 and 1999, and they were a sorry lot. One of the seven broke before our tests were done; three had durability problems. Home machines still don't match health-club models, but at least the four machines we tested this time, costing between $500 and $1,000, emerged from the equivalent of a year's use with only one or two minor glitches.
They also proved quite capable of providing a good workout to someone who's already moderately fit. However, beginning exercisers may have to pedal slowly to avoid overexertion. And very fit users may find even the maximum resistance on some machines too easy to provide an aerobic benefit. [CR March 2002]
Ie wanted to try out the machines first, of course. Actually, it's recommended that you throw on workout clothes and try the machines for 10-20 minutes before buying one, just to be sure that it works for you. I stopped by a few local merchants.

First, I hit a general superstore, Academy Sports & Outdoors. There was nothing there worth considering; the motions of the machines there were uncomfortable and the quality of construction did not fill me with confidence.

I stopped by Sears, where they sold Proform and Nordic Track. Every model I tried was poorly assembled, e.g., arms falling off, frame bolts less than finger tight, etc. So, I had little good data to go on. However, the Nordic Track treadmills that I did try functioned poorly, which spoke ill of their durability and/or assembly quality of the store.

At Oshman's I tried a Proform 800 ($499; Icon Fitness) and Reebok 525 ($799; Reebok). Both saved space by placing the fly wheel in between the pedals, something that appears common among space saving ellipticals that do not fold. The gap between my feet was about 7.5" to 8". The Proform had a Reflex Step™ Technology, which I found to be unpleasant; it caused an undesirable bounce in the motion. The Reebok was OK, but still felt a little rickety. I was not a big fan of the wider stance.

Time to step up a little in price. Winston Fitness, Fitness Unlimited, and Busy Body; all owned by the same company. I tried out various models, but because of my desire to have a small footprint, a few obvious choices emerged
All of them were "on sale" (read: marked up prices that they reduce to make you feel good).
  • $1999 (Octane 35)
  • $2299 (Octane 35e)
  • $1799 (X6200HRT)
  • $1299 (X6100)
  • $799 (X6000)
I ruled out the Vision Fitness X6600HRT because it did not fold and it was quite expensive; it is targeted for the commercial market.
I went to Hest Fitness, which said they had three brands, and they did; they had exactly three machines, all of a different brand (sheesh) - Nautilus, Schwinn, and Vision Fitness 6600 (their top of the line commercial model). None of the models folded, nor did they have small footprints, although the Schwinn did have a good feel for its price ($1399). They had the stereotypical "let me talk to the manager" reply when asked for a quote and did not offer any reduction in price, so I will probably not be going back there.

Finally, I decided to try the Vision Fitness models. Unfortunately, the manager of the store we had visited had sold the floor model of the X6200HRT, which was one of my favorite contenders. So I headed out to the location on FM 1960. I tried the various models out:
  • X6000 - The cheapest by far; decided against it because of the lack of programs, the cable system (in lieu of a motor) for tension control, slightly less smooth motion due to fewer magnets.
  • X6100 - This system was a marked improvement over the X6000, possessing the full complement of magnets and motorized tension adjustment.
  • X6200HRT - This system had the features of the X6100 plus the heart rate monitoring, which I came to really like. It also was the lowest price model that featured the "variable durometer footpads" (read: squishy in some spots for more comfort). This was also the step at which visual program monitoring was part of the console display, allowing you to see where you were in the workout and what was coming up. Finally, there was even a limited commercial warranty, which meant I was covered, and then some.
  • X6600HRT - This is the full blown commercial system and it just seemed unnecessary to spend so much money on it; also, it did not fold, which was a big hit against it.
So, there you have it. I bought the Vision Fitness X6200HRT. It was listed as $1,899 on the web site, but there was a "sale" in the store for $200 off, bringing it down to the low (?) price of $1,699. No, it's not cheap, but it will sit in view of the entertainment center and right now it will mean the difference between exercising and not. So I consider it an investment in my health. They also threw in the exercise floor mat that goes under it, at no extra charge. Note: I simply asked if there was a sale price, so if you are a hard-core haggler, maybe you can do even better.

Note: if you are *really* concerned about cost, call the warehouse where the machines are delivered. When I picked up my machine, I discovered that the warehouse in Houston ("Fitness Unlimited Warehouse", 10516 Old Katy Rd, Suite J, 832.358.1702) had a used/"scratch & dent" area with a horde of good exercise equipment at reduced prices. Live and learn...

Factors to Consider When Shopping for Elliptical Trainers
  • Will it kill you? Seriously, if you are very unfit, an elliptical trainer can be too much; at the very least, this could make it a very expensive paperweight; at the worst, you keel over dead. I saw someone get on the machine I bought, set it to the lowest intensity, and stop after 6 minutes from exhaustion (but he was really out of shape).  Consult your doctor and try it out first.
  • Weight - Does your machine actually have you enter your weight so it can provide the proper resistance?  The machine I bought does, and I consider it a requirement now.
  • Stride - Some machines provide a short stride length, which can impact the effectiveness of the exercise and possibly cause discomfort. Again, be sure you try before you buy.
  • Lean - Some machines force you to lean forward slightly; make sure it's not too much for you. Try before you buy.
  • Noise - Simply put, is it too noisy for where you plan to put it and how you plan to use it, e.g. while watching TV. Some stores have lots of background noise that may make it hard to tell; feel free to ask them to turn down a nearby TV or radio so you can better assess this.
  • Motion - Try the machine out for at least ten minutes in workout clothes to make sure you like the motion; the longer you try it out, the better.
  • Heart rate monitoring - Some machines have a wireless strap on HR monitor, some have a grip/pad that you have to grab/touch, some have no HR monitoring. HR monitoring is a personal choice; one possible feature is if there is a program that adjusts resistance to maintain a target HR. Buy the one that has what you want and make sure it works as advertised; try before you buy.
  • Incline - Do you want one? Most ellipticals are fixed incline; since an elliptical can vary resistance, this is a feature more common/important for treadmills.
  • Warranty - There will be separate warranty lifetimes for Frame, Motor/Parts, and Labor. Know what they are.
  • Return policy - Be aware of this; how long do you have to try it out and return it with a full refund? What delivery/pickup charge, if any, would there be if you returned it?
  • Delivery/assembly charge - If you are not taking it home and/or assembling it, you will be paying someone else to do this. If you are going to have to move your home, you might want to assemble it yourself so that you know how to take it apart.
  • Console - does it have the programs you want? Does it provide the feedback you want? Again, try before you buy.
  • Can it handle your body weight? I am not being facetious. The machine we bought is only rated up to 300 lbs. If you weigh less than 300 lbs. you are probably fine, but if you weigh near that or more, you should double check.
Things to Know When Assembling an X6200 HRT
I chose to pick it up and assemble it myself. The main reason was that I knew I would move at least two more times in the next few years, so I had to know what, if anything, could come apart, and I needed to know the guts of the machine to maintain it properly. It did not hurt that I was saving the $89 delivery and assembly fee (remember, I was in grad school).

To be honest, it's pretty straightforward. The bags of parts were color-coded for the various assembly steps.  It would have been silly for me to pay someone to put this together.
  • Spare parts? There will be a bag full of small screws and two long black plastic guards that are not detailed in the parts manifest. These are the childproof guards that are to protect against little fingers and toes getting caught under the rear roller wheels. Note: if you put these on, you cannot fold the machine (so, I didn't).
  • Grease - it's a mechanical device, the grease is a good thing. There will be at least one part with a thick grease on it, do not wipe it off. There may be other spots that look greasy. Resist the urge to clean the machine until you are done assembling it. Once it's all put together, you are more than welcome to clean the exposed areas with vigor. By then, the important spots that need grease should be safely covered/concealed.
  • In step one, when it tells you to "slide" the axle through...yeah right. Slide is not the word. Friction will shut you down pretty quickly. I called the store manager and he confirmed that it's nigh impossible and that he used a tiny amount of lubricant to complete the step when he made the floor models. I used a tiny amount of glycerol/glycerine (water soluble and relatively harmless), just enough to get the bar through, then I cleaned off what remained.
  • In step four (?), when you are assembling the console/mast, you need to pass wires through the mass. There is a round metal cuff attached to the wires. You are supposed to use the long twist tie in the mast to pull it through. Tie the twist tie to the cuff, and pull the wires up through the mast. Simple enough, but in my case, the frame of the mast was too tight of a fit. I used a long flathead screwdriver to tap the cuff through the tight spot, being very careful not to hit the wires. Then I was able to pull it through normally the rest of the way.
September, 2011, 7.5 Years Later
It's still working perfectly. It has been moved at least four times since the review, two of those moves were across the USA. It has seen long periods in which it was not used, but it has also seen some very heavy use.  It has held up well. I have made heavy use of the folding ability of the machine and it has worked great.  As for disassembly, it was never necessary, I just folded it up, worked it onto a furniture dolly, then strapped it down in the moving truck, as is.  That worked well, even with a couple of moves across the country (Texas to Ohio, and back).

The only maintenance I have done is spray some silicon lubricant on the tracks/wheels once to resolve some squeaking. I should probably do that again soon. I would estimate that with regular use you might need to spray more often, say every 6-12 months, but that is pure speculation.

If I had it all over to do again, I would probably have bought this machine.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Knowing What You Eat

There I was, searching for nutritional data on the internet, something I have done increasingly more often.  The usual cycle involved something like this:
  1. Google it
  2. Click on a few sites that sound legitimate
  3. Become dissatisfied with the results due to conflicting or inadequate data
  4. Pick the least worst result or go crawl through a government database
Today, I was looking up something pretty commonplace and simple.  I wanted to figure out the complete nutrition in a Rotisserie chicken.  I have found myself eating a lot of this stuff recently and I figured, what the heck, I might as well know what is in there.

The usual approach produced the usual results, but I found some slight disagreements in the data.

The Gold Standard for Food Data - The USDA

I am not a professional nutritionist, just someone concerned about their health with and willful enough to smash about the internet looking for what I want to know.  And in my wanderings, the most detailed and coherent data comes from the USDA.

As far as I can tell, the USDA is generally *the* reference for food data.  They have incredibly detailed information on foods, tabulating about 50 different quantities in the *abbreviated* database.  There are many options for accessing this data.  Unfortunately, although the current data was last update in 2010, the access methods appear to have all been created back in 1998-2000 (I guess we should thank the Clinton Administration for it).

The page of interest is in the Nutrients section of their site, under Products & Services.  If these links go bad due to a website revision, searching for "usda nutrient products services" should get you close to where you want to be.

On the Products & Services page, if you click on "USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference" you will pull up the page with the nifty stuff I mentioned.  Then you have lots of cool options:
Note: Only the "abbreviated" database can be acquired in Excel format at the moment, but it's probably more than enough data for your needs.  It's what I used.

As of the writing of this post, the current database is SR-23, updated in 2010.

Not All Sources Are Created Equal

When we care about an answer, we usually have the presence of mind to ask from where it came.  Well, that impulse should be even stronger for a site you might treat as a reference unto itself, like a nutritional database.

The nutritional database site,, queries the USDA database.  As of the writing of this post, it is using a slightly out of data USDA database, SR-21, which was updated in 2008.  Should you care?  Well, the same USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference page includes links to zip files of the yearly updates, which include PDF documents detailing the changes.  Some key changes from SR-21 to SR-23:
  • A few hundred new foods
  • Some new listings for beef to reflect additional cuts and grades
  • Scores of foods have benefited from additional analysis
  • Chicken breast data was updated based on a more detailed study (how timely!) has some other nice features for visualization and presentation of the data, like their caloric ration pyramid, nutrient balance plot, protein quality plot, etc.

If you think corporations are your best source for nutritional data on their foods, then I have good news for you. includes corporate information sources.  I am skeptical of the veracity of such data, since they have a clear conflict of interest, but that's me.

I personally favor the most current data with the least likelihood of conflict of interest, so I like the USDA database.  In a pinch, I would fall back on's site.

I have not found a smartphone application that I really like, but I admit that I have not looked very hard.

Putting the Data to Use

Well, if you really want to get the most out of it, I recommend picking up a food scale so you can actually measure what you eat.  Estimating the amounts can be tricky and even if you are comfortable with it, seeing how much food correlates to a given mass will make your estimates that much more accurate.

I swung by Bed, Bath, & Beyond, and picked up the Oxo Good Grips Food Scale with Pull-Out Display.  I chose it for the following feature combination:
  • 11-lb capacity: many only hold 5 lbs and I can easily see exceeding that, especially when you consider that includes the bowl, pan, etc.
  • Pull-out display: at first glance I thought it was goofy, but I quickly realized that even a standard dinner plate would make it difficult to read the display
  • Easy to clean: the buttons are sealed with a seamless cover, so a swipe of the sponge should take care of cleaning (and it does)
  • Removal stainless steel platform for ease of cleaning
  • Ability to display metric values
Sure, it's $50, but how many times do you plan to buy a kitchen scale and is it worth saving $20-30 over that time to get a crappy one?

As for using the data, that's really a personal choice.  As I said, I like the USDA with as a fallback.  Whether you open up a spreadsheet, scribble notes on scrap paper, or just track your daily totals on a dry erase board on your refrigerator, that is up to what works for you.

Closing Thought

Armed with portion size and nutrient data, you can make good, evidence-based decisions about what you eat and insure that you get what your body needs.

I wish you the best in reaching your fitness goals.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Memes Gone Wild - Caramelldansen and the Old Spice Guy

Earlier this year, I attended my first and only anime convention when I went to A-Kon.  It was fun, but I still want to see other cons.  Don't worry A-Kon, we'll always have Dallas.

While looking around for (more) local stuff, I stumbled upon the site for, a local anime convention here in Dallas that will be happening this Labor Day weekend, i.e., tomorrow through Monday.  They actually have a "clubhouse" in the adjacent city/town of Richardson, TX, where they host various activities throughout the year in addition to this gigantic annual convention. I perused the various pages as I contemplated if I wanted to check it out.

One of the more memorable and picture-intensive aspects of the con was the "cosplay" (costume play), where folks dressed up as various characters from anime, fantasy, sci-fi, or internet memes.  Something that seemed to happen a lot at A-Kon, including during their cosplay competition, was folks would break into a...bunny dance.  I thought little of it and thought it was some anime "in joke" that was from some recent anime with which I was not familiar, which includes a lot of the anime in the last 5 years (my most recent anime interest is Samurai Champloo).

Fast forward back to today.

So, there I was, wandering through the animefest site.  I came across their rules for cosplay and one of the rules sort of jumped out as me (well, it was bold faced) as being peculiar.  It noted that there would be a limit to "caramelldansen" skits/performances at their big Cosplay event.*

* - This was from the 2010 Animefest rules.

And that is how I discovered what apparently became an official meme in 2008. Well, that is according to and I certainly can't argue with such an auspicious organization.  Check out their page on the meme here.

Is it a meme?  Well, I can vouch for the anime convention phenomenon that knowyourmeme cites.  I saw it many times at A-kon.  That song starts to play and people are making rabbit ears and bobbing up and down so rapidly and in such unison that it could easily seed a conspiracy theory about government mind control satellites...controlled by the Swedish make you dance like a bunny to an accelerated Swedish pop song.  Devious.

Which leads into a strange occurrence over on Attack of the Show's website for their "memefight", which just wrapped up.  The winner was the Old Spice Guy series of commercials.  Many commenters lamented this turn of events and I think I can see why, and more so, I get an intuitive feel that it's a bit off.

Note: I am gathering it won from the comments...for some reason the site does not seem to actually indicate a winner and I don't recall the announcement of a winner during the August 29th Attack of the Show...

I say that because, traditionally, a meme is an idea that starts in obscurity and reaches great attention due to the thought, you know, the meme.  So, it does seem a bit contrary to declare a clever, professional marketing campaign that launched during one of the most watched television shows in the world (the Superbowl) by a large corporation a meme.

I mean, take caramelldansen.  It was just another Swedish pop song.  Then some DJ decided to speed it up.  Then some other folks decided that, wow, that would be a great song for a bunny-like dance.  A strange, off-kilter idea that took off from some really random firings of neurons from multiple citizens of the internet.  And yet, I knew about the Old Spice Guy, but I did not know about caramelldansen until today.

Ultimately, memes have no provenance.  If the idea resonates with you and you feel compelled to share it with others, it's a meme.  It may not be a hardworking, self-made meme from the mean streets of Memetown, USA, but it is still a meme.  Sure, it's less impressive than an idea that truly has to survive the Darwinian moshpit that is the internet and rise to the top like a cerebral Thunderdome.

However, the meme born with a silver spoon in its mouth or the result selective breeding is no less powerful.

That said, I think Demotivational Posters, the competitor against Old Spice Guy in the final match, was a much better meme.  They have been such a wonderful uninspiring non-influence on my life.

Which leads me to wonder if a meme that is pretty much an ad campaign for a major company can fairly compete, because you have to wonder what corporate resources were brought to bear to essentially squeeze out some very effective marketing by winning the memefight.

My closing thoughts are these:
  • Accelerated Swedish pop songs can be a potent mind control device
  • A good marketing campaign can certainly produce a meme
  • When a major company has great free marketing to gain from skewing a contest...don't be surprised if said contest is skewed or people complain about the result.
And one last thought too big for a bullet point: It's just a contest on a show; memes will not be beheaded based on the results, so take the results with a grain of salt (have a margarita with those grains if you like) and move on to the next entertaining offering from Attack of the Show, because that's why they are there and that's what they do.