Back to Meal Tracking Apps

A couple of weeks ago, I did a comparison of MyFitnessPal and LoseIt!.  I was on the fence on which meal tracking app was best for me – I liked some of the features of LoseIt!, but I liked others of MFP.

I will be honest – I had to give up on LoseIt.  There were just a few little issues that led me to continue using MyFitnessPal.  The “biggest” of these little issues is that I have so much history built up in MFP.

History

Weight numbers, meals, recipes – there are just so many entries here that the app / website just means that my overall experience is tailored to my personal preferences and tastes just right.  You could argue that you can build that same history eventually with another app, but it’s one of those intangibles that is a barrier to entry for some other apps.

It’s the same reason a lot of other people I talked to on Reddit don’t switch to MFP – they’ve built up their own personal history with apps like LoseIt! and FatSecret.

App Connectivity 

This was another little factor.  While LoseIt! synced with my FitBit, MFP offers so many more connectivity options.  For a brief period I was without a FitBit, so I was able to sync with Samsung Health (which in itself is a great app).  I think MyFitnessPal is always going to win out over the other apps for connectivity, because it’s a much bigger app than the others and more services work with it.

User Interface

It’s funny – some people consider MFP to be ugly.  I think just the opposite – it’s sleek and well-rendered.  LoseIt! just doesn’t have the same kind of polish to it.  This is definitely the smallest of the little differences, because otherwise the apps function almost identically.

Recommendation

Like I said – my personal choice is MyFitnessPal.  If you need to decide which app you want to use – just choose one and go with it.  Don’t do what I did and use two apps side-by-side…it gets tedious, and that reduces the likelihood you’ll keep using the app of choice.

If you find that your app of choice isn’t working for you, switch.  If it’s working for you, don’t get tempted to choose another one just because someone else likes it better 🙂

May Podcast Update

Another month, another update!  As always, you can download my list of subscriptions by clicking on http://www.noformatblog.ca/podcasts_opml.xml.

Dropped Podcasts

Just one show, and I hate to do it this time because it’s not because of quality.  It’s quite simply because of quantity.  I had to drop Steele Wars because there were just too many episodes over an hour in length, all at 1+ hours (I think the most recent one was 118 minutes).  It’s too much podcast for me; but if you like Australian comedians and Star Wars, you should stick with it.

Podcast Suggestions

These aren’t new subscriptions for me, but rather some specific highlights of my listening in the last month.

S Town Companion – Alec Baldwin’s fantastic interview podcast, Here’s The Thing, recently had Brian Reed (writer of S Town) on the show to talk about his experience putting the story together.  Worth a listen if you enjoyed S Town.  Spoiler alert – do NOT listen to this until you’ve had a chance to listen to S Town.  The first part of the podcast is OK to listen to, but there’s a brief pause to let you catch up before they talk freely about it.

Anthology – Host Matt Hurt is back covering season 2 of The Twilight Zone.  Every other episode is a bonus episode where he reviews Dimension 404 – a show I’m interested in hearing about but probably won’t watch (too much TV available!).  One episode I enjoyed in particular was his panel about hosting a solo podcast; not directly related to his source material, but was interesting to hear his perspective on podcasting.  You can find that episode here: https://anthologypod.com/2017/04/20/specialep1/

Unplayed Suggestions

This is a weird category, but this is my so-called “to do” list for podcast listening.  I listen to a lot of podcasts so I just haven’t gotten around to it, but this suggestion came from my brother on Twitter.

WTF with Marc Maron Episode 768 – Billy West I’m a big Futurama fan, and Billy West is a huge part of that show.  He also has his hand in almost every possible voice over venture in existence.  I will get to it eventually!

Got any suggestions of your own?  Let me know!

 

Meal Tracking App Showdown: MyFitnessPal vs Lose It!

Meal Tracking App Showdown: MyFitness Pal vs Lose It!

I’m almost certain I’ve written about these two apps before, but almost doesn’t equal 100%.  Plus, I’ve only just recently started comparing the two apps again, based on a post on /r/loseit over on Reddit.  I’m pretty sure that the app and the subreddit are entirely unrelated.  I’m going to try to keep this somewhat brief, and do a back-and-forth comparison of what each app offers.

Note that I’m focusing on the apps – and not the website versions.

The Home Screen

LoseIt!: As soon as you launch the app, you’re taken directly to your food diary page.  All of the meals are visible, and when you start a new day you can see a breakdown of how many calories the app suggests you eat per meal.

At the bottom there are tabs pointing to “My Day”, “Log” (the selected tab), “Social”, “Goals”, and “Me”.  There are options at the top to “Go Premium” and a breakdown of your calorie budget, calories consumed so far (“Food”), exercise calories, net calories, and how much you’re over/under.

There’s also a blue “+” button that lets you add food, exercise, or a weight update.

MyFitnessPal: The MFP app launches to your “Feed”, which starts with a summary of your calories remaining – Your goal – food +/- exercise = remaining calories.  This is followed immediately by an option to add a status update, and then either an ad or an MFP article.  On my feed today, I had an article, an ad, and another article before one of my status updates from yesterday.

There are no tabs immediately visible, but there’s a standard Android “Hamburger menu” with options to all of the app sections, and a similar “+” button to add a status, water, food, exercise, or weight update.

Winner: LoseIt! has a much better interface on startup.  It takes me directly to the information I want – the food diary – and gives easily visible options for navigating the app.  However that isn’t to say that MFP is ugly or unusable.  The difference between the two is basically a 4/5 for LoseIt and a 3.5/5 for MFP.

Food Diary

LoseIt!: The main focus of the app, the Food Diary as mentioned gives you a breakdown of your daily goal and how many calories you have left at the top.  Further down, each meal is broken down to Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, Snacks, and exercise.

There’s a calorie budget for each meal – for example, I have 649 calories available for lunch, 973 for dinner, etc.  I believe that the app has a formula to give different a percentage of your daily goal to each meal, giving more weight to larger meals such as lunch and dinner.  I’m not 100% sure how it works but it adjusts your meal budgets as you enter foods in other categories.

There are “+” buttons beside each meal to allow you to quickly add a food to the desired category.

MyFitnessPal: The layout for MFP is very similar to LoseIt!.  MFP does not show a calorie budget per meal, but has quick options to add food next to each category.  There’s a “three dot” menu that lets you “Quick Add”, letting you add an entry strictly for calories (and more, if you subscribe to premium MFP).  There are buttons at the bottom to add notes, and also to a Nutrition pie chart which shows you how your calories are divided between meals.

Winner: It’s a tie.  The difference between the two apps is negligible and pretty much comes down to aesthetics.  MFP might barely get the edge because you can customize your meals in the diary settings (I have a “Drinks” category in addition to the usual categories), but LoseIt! gains an edge for the suggested calories per meal being visible.

Food Database

Spoiler: it’s a tie!  Let me explain.

Both apps seem to have comparable databases – so far, I haven’t come across a food item that’s been in one database and not the other.  This was my previous knock against LoseIt! – it didn’t have the same database as MFP.  This doesn’t seem to be the case here.  There have been a few occasions where I couldn’t find a specific food item, but it’s been missing in both databases.

MFP gets the edge for customization.  I’ve noticed that it’s a lot easier to add food by specific weight (I use a food scale, so this is important).  Most entries for MFP have an entry for “1 gram” or “1 mL” or something similar where I can enter 125 or something when I eat less (or more) than the suggested serving size.

On the other hand, LoseIt! has these options for some entries but not all.  Most of the time your best bet is to play around with the measurements to get as close as you can.  However, LoseIt! seems to have a better database for generic food items.  Sometimes you don’t have a barcode to scan – it’s helpful to have a generic item to get a rough estimate.

At the end of the day, the true test is whether or not I’m tracking accurately.  Here’s a breakdown of my entries from Monday through Wednesday.

 

Day MFP Calories LoseIt! Calories Difference
Monday 2174 2276 102
Tuesday 1263 1916 653
Wednesday 2968 2633 335

You can see that LoseIt! tends to be higher (in Tuesday’s case, a LOT), but from what I’ve noticed, the difference between each individual entry is not significant.  If I were forced to pick between the two databases, I’d probably go with LoseIt! – simply because it’s better to overestimate calories than to underestimate.

Connected Apps

Another tie.  Both apps have a pretty good array of apps that can connect and interact with each service.  Most importantly, both apps support FitBit.  The only difference is that MFP can write data to FitBit, but LoseIt! cannot.  This is not a big deal.

Both apps treat the FitBit data a bit differently.  By default, LoseIt! will not add calories burned by FitBit until you get to a certain threshold.  It figures out how many calories you should be burning to exist, and then only starts adding exercise calories once you’re burning more than its formula determines.

MyFitnessPal does the same thing, but a bit differently.  First, you need to enable negative calorie adjustments on the website.  Otherwise, it will add ALL calories burned by FitBit, but this is inaccurate since it’s counting calories you burn by existing (BMR).  MFP’s function is basically the same as LoseIt!, but depending on your overall activity, it either adds or subtracts exercise calories from your daily budget.  So if you move less during the day, it will add calories; if you move more, it subtracts.  You want to be on the subtraction side of things.

MFP gets a slight edge for having so many MORE services that connect to it, including Samsung Health.  I don’t think that LoseIt! can connect to this service yet.  But MFP also has a suite of UnderArmour apps because MFP is owned by UnderArmour.  Still, not enough to give it a win.

Overall Winner

I really hate to do this, but I’m going to have to cal a tie.  I’ve only been using both together for 4 days now, and I haven’t been able to choose a clear winner.  If I were told I had to uninstall one app and fire it into the sun, I would probably drop LoseIt!  But that’s because I have a longer history with MFP.

But it’s not that easy either, because LoseIt! has less intrusive ads.  This makes a difference from time to time, because lately MFP has been serving some inappropriate ads (some high-calorie Starbucks drinks appear in some people’s feeds).

If I were to recommend an app for someone just starting out, I think I would have to say LoseIt!  I think that in the long run, the folks at LoseIt! have more vested interest in weight loss and providing useful information without hiding features in a premium version.

In the end, if you were thinking of changing apps – I say go with what works for you.  I’m still giving both apps a good trial period before I finally decide, but I will definitely be thinking about my app showdown today before I do.

Examining My Issue with Sports Narratives

One of my biggest pet peeves when consuming sports (watching/reading/listening) is the tendency to insert seemingly meaningless statistics to create some sort of narrative.

The Record Narrative

The most annoying offender of the sports narrative for me is The Record.  You know what I mean – “This team is 2 and 25 when playing on a Wednesday night in a non-leap year.”  I exaggerate, but I feel it’s necessary to establish that these are the kind of records that annoy me.

I find it particularly meaningless to learn that my favourite sports team has a losing record in a particular building.  When announcers pull up these statistics, they are pulling statistics for the team ALL-TIME.   Since the players on any given team tend to fluctuate a lot year-to-year, knowing the all-time organization record makes no difference.

A record I just heard today (I’m typing this a week early) on the Senators pre-game show was that all-time, no Senators team has won a playoff series after losing 2 games in a row in the series.  Remember this statistic – they are 0-15.  It’ll be relevant later.  But this is the kind of statistic I find irrelevant; the 2017 Senators team – other than a few key players – have virtually nothing connecting them to those past playoff teams.  So why bother bringing it up?

Individual Performance – Hockey vs Baseball

One area I will be OK with lifetime statistics is baseball.  Specifically, individual records from players.  In baseball, it is actually statistically relevant that a specific player has success (or lack thereof) in a stadium.  This is because baseball stadiums tend to have individual characteristics of their own that can influence game outcomes (if you don’t believe me, I’d start with looking up home run totals in American League East ballparks compared to the rest of the league).

But this comes up from time to time in hockey.  Statistically I feel like it’s not relevant.  A goalie’s life-time record in a particular arena doesn’t seem like it matters.  Hockey arenas, while different in terms of their outside looks and seating layout, all have the same dimensions on the ice.  Unlike in baseball, where outfield fences and field configurations are different from park to park.

You could argue that sometimes the building environment (i.e. the fans) have influence on a player’s mental composure, but I don’t think that effect is as big as people make it out to be.

The Counter-Argument

Remember that 0-15 record I mentioned earlier?  Along with that statistic, I heard a good counter-argument for providing this kind of information.  The radio host mentioned that he mentions these things for context.  The argument is that if the team were to lose 2 in a row, and still win the series, then it becomes a significant milestone in the organization’s history.

It isn’t being brought up to be statistically relevant – the host acknowledges that a previous team record where very few – if any – players were actually present for the established record.

I only partially buy into this argument.  What is the importance of this context?  Is it to temper expectations from fans listening to sports radio?  Is it really important to say that it’s a big deal that this team is defying past history?  I’m not sure.  But I can appreciate acknowledging that a current team is doing something that previous iterations were unable to do before.

The Utterly Pointless Narratives

Overall, I could probably get behind all of the above.  But one thing is for sure – I have no time for the time-filling statistics like the exaggeration I mentioned to start the article.  Thankfully, most of the good commentators I pay attention to don’t either (albeit in an ironic and non-serious context it’s perfectly acceptable).

What are your biggest pet peeves when it comes to sports commentating?

Short Story: The Wrist Watch

The Wrist Watch - Short Story by Stephen Gower
The Wrist Watch – Short Story by Stephen Gower

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned that I had a short story I wanted to share with you, and that it needed some work.  Well, I decided to abandon that story (for now; it needs a lot more work and I didn’t leave myself enough time).  However, I did find a mostly complete version of another story that I can totally share.

It’s not 100% finished; I made a few tweaks but there’s a major change that should happen with this story that would completely change it (for the better, I hope).

I can’t remember where the original idea came from, but I think it started life as a novel.  I have a memory of writing this for one of the National Novel Writing Months (NaNoWriMo) a few years back.  I think rather than keeping it a stretched out mess, I turned it into a more manageable short story.

The result is The Wrist Watch.  I’ve got it available in DRM-free ePub format that you can download directly.  There’s no way this is good enough to be sold!  But if you decide that you really, really want to contribute some funds, contact me privately and I’ll send you a donation link.  But trust me you don’t need to.

Without further rambling, enjoy The Wrist Watch (ePub)!

No post today…

In case you were sitting on the edge of your seat waiting for something from me, it’s not happening. Got too busy this week. But if you want some fresh content check out my podcast at www.alternativeairwaves.com!

Ottawa Senators vs Sports Media

The Ottawa Senators are up 2-0 in their round 2 playoff series vs the New York Rangers; but when it comes to sports media in Canada at least, it feels to some fans like they’re in a hole 0-3.

For the Senators, it’s always been an uphill battle for respect in the league.  They’re roughly in the middle of two franchises with huge fan bases – the Montreal Canadiens and the Toronto Maple Leafs.  Naturally, this tends to create media bias toward these two clubs, simply because creating content geared toward them will bring more eyes to the major networks.

I think what’s happening is a little bit of bias on the part of Senators fans.  I think a lot of what the mainstream media is saying about the team is largely objective.  There was a piece on TSN with a headline relating to something about “cause for concern” after game 2 – and I think it’s justified!  Game 2 was a mess for both teams, and there will be adjustments.

The real problem, I think, is on Twitter.  I hear about some of these “battles” after the fact, because I tend not to follow a lot of hockey reporters.  But there are a select few reporters who claim to be neutral but carefully choose their words in order to incite angry reactions from Senators fans – and laughter from non-fans.

It’s these irresponsible tweets that have most Senators fans up in arms.  I don’t blame them either, but the best way to deal with them is to just ignore them and not give them anything to deal with.  They want you to be angry at them and read their pieces and generate ad revenue.  They know what they’re doing.

Bottom line for Sens fans – the most important thing for the team is that they win.  Who cares what outside voices say about the team?  Does it matter if the team is respected by people who don’t follow the team?  I don’t think it does.  What matters to me is the team’s performance.

Story Update

I don’t have a big post for you today, but instead a story update.  In one of my recent goal update posts I mentioned that I wanted to get back to writing some more fiction.  I had the idea that I was going to share an original piece with you today, but due to time constraints that’s just not happening.

My thought process shifted to posting an older story, from one of my Google Drive folders.  I have a few sitting in there, but to my dismay – they’re not really ready.  There was one story in particular I was thinking about sharing, but when I opened it, I realized that I left it unfinished.  There are some comments on it that I got from a writing group but I never went back to it.

I’m going to update the story in the next few weeks, and create a cover art for it and release it as an eBook.  Actually, as I typed this I also found what looks like a pretty complete draft of another short story.  I’ll have to read it over but I think I’m going to give that one the same treatment.

I haven’t decided whether I should try to put them up for $1 on Amazon or something; or if I’d be better off just throwing them online in a pay-what-you-want format.  Either way I will make the stories available to readers of the blog in some form.

And so that I make sure the work gets done, I’m giving myself a deadline: Tuesday May 9th.  If you don’t see something from me by that date, yell at me!  I’m on Twitter at @stephen_g.

Web Comics Recommendations

Note: This is a re-post from my old blog, written back in December 2016.  I’m a bit busy this week but didn’t want to miss my schedule!  Hope you enjoy this post.

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The Strange Tales of Oscar Zahn
The Strange Tales of Oscar Zahn

I am by no means a comic aficionado; I leave that stuff up to people like Patrick & Dad.  However, I do enjoy comics, every now and then.  I’m not sure yet whether I prefer the physical article or reading on a tablet – more and more lately, tablet is becoming much friendlier – but I’ve always liked web comics, for sure.  I’ve gotten out of reading them lately, which is unfortunate.

Anyway, a few months back I asked the aforementioned Patrick for some free comic recommendations and he turned me onto City of Walls, available via LINE Webtoon.  In addition to CoW, I’ve found a few other gems hidden in the app.  I find that the “popular” and “featured” comics on Webtoon generally do not have me in their target audience, so I’ve had to do some digging.

Here are my recommendations from LINE Webtoon, in no particular order:

City of Walls – 3.5/5

I struggle with rating this one.  On the one hand, I really appreciate the art and level of detail; on the other, the writing leave me a little wanting.  Sometimes it’s got bad pacing…other times it seems just right.  I like the overall story though.  I don’t want to give away too much about it, so I’ll just say that the protagonists are kids in a fictional Asian city.  The world building is just great as well.

Zen Pencils – 4/5

Zen pencils is illustrated by Gavin Aung Than.  This is a series of stand-alone comics that are based on / inspired by actual quotes from real-life people.  Most of hte quotes seem to be about being creative or being true to yourself.  I do sometimes find it off-putting that lot of the advice about dropping everything and doing what you love doesn’t present a realistic sense of balance…


The Strange Tales of Oscar Zahn – 3.5/5

Author/Illustrator: Tri Vuong (works out of the RAID studio in Toronto).  This one has gorgeous artwork.  The story is only okay – I like bits and pieces of it, but I mainly stick with it for the beautiful art.  The current story – “The Last Soldier of Somme” – is set in WWI and seems to be going somewhere, but pacing can make it hard to follow.  Vuong is admittedly new to writing so I’m willing to cut some slack.  Either way – the character design for Oscar Zahn is fantastic.  It looks like Vuong has had this idea floating in his head for a while now.

There are more, but I feel like I need to get caught up with reading some of them before I can properly recommend them.  Until then – enjoy those three!

April Podcast Update

Another month, another podcast update and updated OPML file for you: download it at http://www.noformatblog.ca/podcasts_opml.xml.

New Subscriptions

S-Town Podcast
S-Town Podcast

S-Town.  I’m pretty sure most people into podcasts are already aware of S-Town, but if you’re not I definitely recommend it.  I don’t want to give away any details, because I feel like it needs to unfold sequentially for you to get the full effect.  What I can say about it is that it plays out like a long-form article from a magazine.  Almost like someone took a written 7-part article series and recorded an audio version of it.

I don’t know that I would listen to a series like this all of the time.  I don’t mind that the shows I listen to aren’t really serialized, and are easy to digest.  I feel like that’s one of the more appealing aspects of podcasts.  However, once every now and then a series like this could stick on my radar.

I hope to read a lot more follow-up pieces on what kind of effect S-Town has on the podcasting community.  I hope that we don’t see too many “copycats” – but I am very interested in seeing what Serial and This American Life do next based on this show.

Tea & Jeopardy.  This was a recommendation in one of the Writing Excuses podcasts.  The short description: it’s basically an author interview podcast, but occasionally the host and guest encounter “perils” that they need to overcome.  It sounded like something I might like, but it’s not entirely up my alley.  Giving it another shot when a new episode comes out.

Dropped Subscriptions

None!  I don’t believe I actually dropped any podcast subscriptions this month.  Pretty solid month of listening!