Losing Weight with Fitbit & HealthVault

In early March, I visited the doctor after days of headaches. While nothing was found, he was unhappy with my blood pressure and weight. Should nothing change soon, blood pressure medication would be in my future.

This is how I discovered that my weighing scale was broken and I was 13kg heavier than I had previously believed. It was time to purchase a replacement scale and some kind of exercise tracking device.

So after several days of comparing fitness monitoring products from companies like Garmin, Jawbone, & Withings, I settled on a Fitbit Flex wristband & Fitbit Aria wifi-aware weighing scales which were both compatible with my Microsoft ecosystem (Lumia phone & Surface) and my wife’s iOS equivalents. If one has a modern smartphone with MobileTrack compatibility (such as the Lumia 640 or iPhone 5S) then the Fitbit software does not require a Fitbit device. However, the metrics are better when combined with one.

Losing weight is simple logic – eat less & exercise more. The Fitbit Flex automatically tracks my walking, hiking, or running exercise (& climbing in other models if, unlike me, you live or work in multi-storey buildings or in the mountains). On the other side of the equation, it also provides the facility to log your food intake. Finally, the Aria automatically updates my weight & body fat each time I step on it (and it does recognise different family members).

The Fitbit app allows you to set a goal & select how aggressively you wish to pursue it,  providing four plans  with their daily calorie impact – Easy – 250 , Medium – 500 , Hard – 750 , or Harder – 1,000. You can also create a custom setting. In my case, my doctor’s goal was to lose 18kg in just under 3 months & I needed to pursue the Hardest plan to meet this.

Over the last couple of months, my regime has settled toward eating 2,000 calories and burning 3,500 each day. The burn is achieved by walking more than 11km daily through a combination of 3km walks and Fitbit recommended hourly “250 step” breaks from desk-work. This gave me a 1,500 calorie deficit and an average 0.2kg daily weight loss. And it still allowed me to sneak some chocolate into the program. I learned that doing nothing, I consumed 1.5 calories per minute but walking increased this to 10 calories or more per minute.

So how did it work out over the last 4 months? I have dropped 22.4kg (49 lbs or 3.5 stone) so far. Blood pressure is down from 140/100 to a more reasonable 119/85 yesterday — dropping from regular Stage 1 Hypertension to alternating Normal & High-Normal.

As one gets lighter, it does get harder; all the quick wins come early. I lost 4kg (9lbs) in the first week alone but I was unable to lose 4kg in the 4th month. As one loses weight, one burns less calories just being alive.  In the beginning, I would walk around 8km (5 miles) per day but now I need to walk at least 11km to achieve the same burn rate. This takes 2 hours per day so I may have to switch to more intense activities such as running, cycling, or a return to Aikido to burn more calories in less time. Alternatively, I can simply choose to eat less.

I do feel fitter and my pace is much faster; before, my wife had to slow down on hill climbs to let me catch up whereas now she has to concentrate on keeping up. Father’s day was spent replacing 42″ (107cm) jeans with 38″ (96.5cm) and many belts have been retired. The headaches are gone.

My dog needed and benefited from this regime too; she lost 2kg in the same period despite having the appetite of a small horse. Be warned, the dog slows you down. We learned to retrace a route as she was less distracted on the second lap.

Fitbit does not track Blood Pressure but the Fitbit app does interact with many third party products. I used Microsoft HealthVault for tracking medication and other measurements such as Blood Pressure. Fitbit can be configured to push activity, diet, and weight measurements across to HealthVault.

Finally, I am no cook and diet does play an important role and I definitely benefited from marriage to an expert diet chef who found subtle ways of replacing many foods with more healthy equivalents. Some important changes for me were no added sugar or salt, more fruit, & much more fibre. But, sometimes, the most important decision of the day was choosing to spend the last 70 calories on a Whiskey shot or a digestive biscuit!

So this next section is the view from the the perspective of Alison, my personal Diet Chef ….

So Niall loves food period. He is a wonderful husband for a chef to have. He doesn’t mind if he gets beans on toast or I’m trying out some weird recipes with loads of herbs and spices and he never complains that I don’t like peppers and things he loves.

Niall had a mission. I don’t believe in ‘low fat’ this and am really anti sugar free artificial sweeteners. I believe in real food. The kind that grows and isn’t artificially created. It does not have to be organic it’s great but not necessary, and it can be frozen and it can be fast. Life is fast paced and usually food has to be too. In short what I did was use lean meats, lots of veg in the forms of veg with dinner and soups and in salads. White bread was not totally excluded but more often replaced with whole meal Irish soda bread. Breakfast was muesli or other wholegrain cereal and Niall ate a lot of fruits. Orange juice was often squeezed fresh at home.

Herbs are the most underrated things to liven up boring foods- fresh herbs that is. Processed foods went out the window. There simply were no pizza nights. We discovered the if we broke out and went for a mixed grill of sausages and rashers, we paid for it – we had to walk off calories for days, they just seem to stick around unwanted. Fish is fantastic – it is really low in calories but expensive to buy. Eating out usually had consequences because you can’t control what goes into your food quite as well as making it yourself.

No one ever went hungry. No one felt they were denied anything, but by knowing how many calories you had eaten and how many you had burned during the day you could decide what and how much extra you could have and knowing the data helped control if you would have a glass of wine or some ice cream or both.

Note 1kg = 2.2 lbs , 1st = 14 lbs , 10km = 6.25 miles
1 lb = 3500 calories , 1 kg = 7716 calories
Phones with MobileTrack compatibility – https://www.fitbit.com/eu/devices

Experiences with Microsoft Surface Pro 4

A few months back, GSM Connections had incredible offers on the Surface Pro 4 (& still do – the m3 @ €799 & i5 @ €899) with a black or blue Type keyboard included free – https://www.gsmconnection.eu/collections/smart-phones/products/microsoft-surface-pro-4-128gb-intel-core-i5 . I was looking for offers on this latest Surface Pro model for both my eldest son and myself.

The first difficulty was choosing between the fan-less m3 and the more powerful i5. Eventually, both of us chose the m3 over the i5 to have something more like an iPad rather than a PC. Both of us have other workhorse machines for heavy-duty work and we wanted something could be taken everywhere and use anytime.

However, there were a number of important lessons along the way.


Before doing anything else, CHANGE THE DATE to today.

The Surface is almost useless until you do this. Microsoft has released lots of important patches for the Surface but Windows Update does not work while the date is set to the default. It manifested itself in many ways – the normal welcome setup process did not work & I was unable to download my Microsoft profile.

The date issue was not obvious, so I did jump through many hoops. One of the laptops appeared dead for hours on end and I thought that I would have to return it but a forced reboot and that date change and all was well.

More help can be found here

Battery Life

Battery life was found to be lower on the m3 compared to the other models. This was surprising on the “mobility” chipset. The consensus appeared to be that the SkyLake chipset has settings for low power and for overdrive but some internal logic caused the Surface to use overdrive too often reducing battery life too frequently.

There were some articles around this here that I found incredibly useful and help counter the problem

For a finish, it is great to have a laptop that still has an hour left when the battery life dips below 10%


With the keyboard attached, closing the keyboard over the screen can be configured to sleep, hibernate, or shutdown. However, with sleep or hibernate, sometimes, nothing happens when you “open” the keyboard. If it happens, try the following in order until it works.

  • just close and open again – a few times if necessary; this is the most likely solution.
  • press the power button
  • hold the power button for 20-30 seconds
  • hold the power and volume-up button for 20-30 seconds

Bluetooth & WiFi

WiFi performance is far, far better when the Bluetooth is disabled. However, the very cool Surface pen uses Bluetooth so it is a trade-off. Disable Bluetooth if you need to do some serious downloading.

The Surface Pen

… is totally awesome. My son was studying old mathematics exam papers in PDF format. Double-clicking the top of the pen would copy the PDF into OneNote where you could annotate the document, scribbling on equations and graphs.

Handwriting recognition is very nice and, sometimes, I would use the pen over the keyboard because writing just feels so right! The auto-correct works beautifully but words that are run together in web links like “TheJournal” or “NewYorkTimes” are difficult to write correctly; the software does not appear to recognise or allow missing spaces.


The face/eye recognition has improved a lot over the past few months. For a while, I had to remove my glasses to be recognised which was inconvenient since I am almost blind without them. In enhanced security, it does check that I am not 2D, requesting me to shake my head slowly.

The power brick connection is much easier to use than the original Surface. The brick also comes with a USB port for charging another device. It does get very hot and the cable from wall-plug to brick is very short which is impractical for the dog living behind my sofa.

The new type keyboard is an improvement over previous models and is easy to use. It feels far more rigid than earlier versions while still remaining light.

The multi-position kick stand is far better than older versions that had only 1 or 2 positions. I was surprised how easy it was to use both the surface comfortably on my lap while typing on the keyboard.


Overall, I really do enjoy using the Surface and have stopped “borrowing” my better half’s iPad for quick surfing. My son uses his Surface for everything except serious gaming and brings it everywhere.

It would have been nice to have Office included. It was included in some previous iterations and the Surface is not cheap.

But I have no regrets on this purchase.

CHKDSK cancels on virtual Windows 7 startup

It has been a while since I blogged last but I came across this issue today and decide to write about it. I wanted to install two instances of SQL Server to to test different mirroring and log shipping scenarios but my disk was too small.

So, I needed to resize the Windows 7 virtual client on a Linux desktop. However, the resize was failing due to inconsistencies on the Windows virtual drive. To resolve this & correct the errors, I had to run CHKDSK /F.

CHKDSK /F will only run during the Windows start up process. But almost immediately, each & every time, the CHKDSK process would get cancelled.

I did find a hotfix for this known issue on the Microsoft support pages at – https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/kb/975778

However, the patch stopped with the message – “The update is not applicable to your computer.”

Further bingle searches with “linux” &  are “virtual” added as search terms produced a second article that was more specific to my issue – http://mikebeach.org/2011/09/25/windows-chkdsk-at-boot-cancelled-by-phantom-keypress/

Basically linux is sending a keystroke to windows that interrupts the CHKDSK process.

Run CHKNTFS /t:0 before running the CHKDSK /F. This disables the option to interrupt the CHKDSK before it starts. You can always reset it afterwards.

All is good in my virtual windows world now!

Moving to WordPress

Today, I moved my blog from Blogger to WordPress. I have nothing against Blogger and http://nflanagan.blogspot.com has served me well over the years. It is just that I rarely use Google for much else and I wanted to integrate and control my online presence more easily.

Security – Scam Anti-Virus Phone Calls

Last week, my wife received a call, purportedly from Microsoft, warning her that a problem was detected with our computer and that the caller would assist her in solving them. She quickly became suspicious and refused to listen to the advice but told the caller to ring back later that evening when I return home. She informed me of the strange call immediately. Of course, there was no follow up call.

With a little research, it did not take long to find that this is one of the latest methods of separating the naïve from their money. The typical caller persuades the recipient to access a particular webpage that then allows the caller to access the computer and proceed to “fix” it. Once this is complete, the victim is then charged a fee for the service.

The idea of a complete stranger getting unfettered access to one’s computer and then proceeding to ask for credit card details should send alarms bells blaring loudly for anyone.

The Guardian has a good article about it at http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/jul/18/phone-scam-india-call-centres

Subsequently, I discovered that my father had also received a similar call in the previous week. Fortunately, he decided not to play this game either.

I must have them well trained! I wish all my extended family were so paranoid.

Irish Windows Vista Launch with Neil Armstrong

Today, I attended the Windows Vista launch (plus Office 2007 & Exchange 2007) at Croke Park. I felt like an uber geek – at 40, visiting Croke Park for the first time, for a software launch – never having been to a match or a concert there. Oh well!

The launch was impressive. We will all get complimentary copies of Windows Vista & Office 2007. I had already received SQL Server 2005 & Visual Studio 2005 in November, 2005 at their launch. Well worth the day off work!

The highlight was Neil Armstrong and he was impressive. He humbled us with his knowledge of Irish explorers & scientists throughout the ages and the impact of their work on his own achievements & well-being in space. He weaved a message on the need to take the next step & persevere in your goals. One can evaluate the risks, & offset them as best as possible, but one must be prepared to take that step into the unknown. Success cannot be achieved without determination.

It is hard to believe that this man walked on the moon a month before my third birthday. I was assured by my parents that I saw him on the day but I sure cannot remember it now!

His talk was inspirational and helped me get into the mindset in advance of an interview for a competitive promotion. He well deserved the standing ovation. Thank you, Neil.

Missing window when using multiple monitors

I use a laptop with a second LCD screen. By default, Windows assumes that these are side by side. However, my LCD screen sits above the laptop screen in the office.

On other occassions, I use a projector which I logically position to the left or right of the laptop screen depending on the real layout of the room.

Sometimes an Application can become lost in Windows XP. While the laptop is in dual screen usage, an application is placed on the second screen. Later, when using a single screen (or after moving the logical screen locations around), the application window remains at the original second screen location.

The solution is to move the application back to the visible screen. This is a bug in some but not all applications.

To fix:

1) Press ALT + TAB to select the invisible application
2) Press ALT + Space to select the application’s menu
3) Press M to select the Move menu item
4) Move the mouse & the application immediately snaps to the location of the mouse pointer on the screen.

For other solutions, see http://bensqanda.blogspot.com/2005/10/lost-window.html

Fujitsu-Siemens Amilo L7310GW

Ali, my wife, picked up an Amilo L7310GW laptop computer (from www.fujitsu-siemens.com) for me today at the local supermarket. The Irish supermarkets are all trying to sell computers recently.

I was becoming tired of hiding in the ‘office’ (4th bedroom) with the desktop and not having the mobility despite having configured the whole house with a wireless network – including 2 original xboxs and a 360)

Imagine my frustration when I found the laptop could do everything except talk to the wireless network. It just refused to see anything. It got worse when I went surfing the web and discovered others with a similar problem.

Even some review sites downgraded their scores because of difficulty in getting the wifi to work. One even suggested ignoring the internal wifi, and buying a separate pcmcia card instead.

And then I came across a forum where one person noticed that the wireless network activated if he sent his laptop into hibernation and then woke it again.

Another site mentioned a hot key that enabled and disabled the wifi connectivity on a different model of Amilo.

And then I saw the light! The fn + F1 combination enabled and disabled the wifi. A simple 2 button key press and my network popped up. So easy … when one knows how.

Fujitsu-Siemens need to improve the documentation on this – including on their website. Soem of the most popular documentation on the site was on configuring the wifi but none of it clearly showed this on/off status for the wireless internals.

So after several hours of messing about, and worrying about returning the laptop, I can relax again and start to transfer my documents across to my new found mobility.

Problems with SQL Server 2005 on Windows Vista Beta 2

I received the following question from a member of the SQL Server Ireland User Group (http://sql.mtug.ie) :
Has anybody tried this? I run a dev machine that was XP SP2 with SQL 2005 installed on it. When I upgraded to Vista (Probably should have done a clean install but you would think upgrade would be sorted) SQL 2k5 stopped working. Supposedly installing SP1 for SQL 2k5 will fix the issue but when I try to install the SP1 it cannot continue as it cannot authenicate with SQL…

I had hope that someone might have been able to give him some more positive news but the short answers appears to be NO!

SQL Server 2005 should be upgraded to Service Pack 1 BEFORE upgrading your machine to Windows Vista.

For more on the story see – http://www.crn.com/showArticle.jhtml?articleID=192201373

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