Category Archives: life

My rice cooker review (Zojirushi LAC05XT: 3 cup fuzzy logic)

Zojirushi LAC05XT

I recently picked up a Zojirushi LAC05XT rice cooker and love it! Here are the specs for this model (taken from the Zojirushi product page):

  • Micro computerized Fuzzy logic technology
  • 3 cup size ideal for singles and smaller families
  • Easy-to-clean clear coated stainless steel exterior
  • Automatic keep warm
  • Built-in retractable power cord
  • Menu settings include: white/mixed, sushi, porridge, brown and quick cooking
  • cETLus listed
  • Instruction manual in English, French, Traditional Chinese and Korean
Model No. NS-LAC05
Capacity* 3 cups / 0.54 liter
Dimensions (W x D x H) 9-1/8 x 11-7/8 x 7-1/2 inches
Electrical Rating 120 volts / 450 watts
Color Stainless Steel, Stainless Black

And my review… this 3-cup rice cooker isn’t the cheapest on the market but is a great value:

* It cooks rice, steel cut oats, and other whole grains flawlessly and then automatically reduces heat to keep warm for several hours
* You can select a menu setting and then press “Cook,” or use 1 of 2 preset timers to complete cooking by a specific time
* Spherical cooking pan is nonstick and fairly heavy (excellent quality)
* The inner lid not only comes out for cleaning, but the rubber seal is part of the detachable inner lid (making it easier to clean)
* The musical alert when done cooking is pleasant and loud enough so I can hear it from other rooms
* This is a small rice cooker, perfect for singles or a small family (and a small footprint which is great for small kitchens)
* The cord is retractable (again, handy for a smaller kitchen)
* It has an attractive aluminum and black plastic exterior that is easy to clean and contemporary-looking
* It has a handle so you can take it with you — handy for a potluck
* It uses “fuzzy logic” to automatically adjust cooking time

I’ve used this rice cooker to cook whole grains (brown rice, black rice, wild rice, quinoa, steel cut oats) as well as mixed dishes (i.e., rice-based one pot dinners). I’m not the most sophisticated cook but everything I’ve cooked in this Zojirushi has turned out great. I’m sure my friends are beginning to get bored hearing how much I love waking up to freshly cooked steel cut oats for breakfast. 😉

There are a few items folks may need to adjust to (not really “cons” just need to be aware of):
* Rice cooker cups are not the U.S. standard 8 ounce cup. I haven’t found this to be an issue, I just make sure I use the included cup. If I lose the cup, it’s easily replaceable via Zojirushi.com or Amazon.
* The clock/timer uses military time. Again, not a big deal… If you’re in the U.S., just add 12 hours onto the time you have in mind.
* It doesn’t include “high end” features like induction heating, umami setting, scorch setting, etc. For me, this isn’t an issue because the quality of this rice cooker is superb and does everything I need.
* The “feet” aren’t very grippy so I picked up some 1/2 inch rubbery sliders (also called “bumpers”) with adhesive on one side, and stuck them onto the 4 feet.

I’m very happy with the quality of this rice cooker and its output, and highly recommend it. This Zojirushi would make a great gift for family, friends, or yourself.

Note: I haven’t received any incentives from Zojirushi… just a happy customer

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Fun with biofeedback (EmWave2 review)

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I decided to pick up a biofeedback device to capture heart rate data during meditation in order to measure trends, and see how that data compares to other data already captured by my Fitbit One (which I use to capture exercise time/intensity, sleep time/effectiveness, etc.). After looking around a bit online, I decided to get an EmWave2. It’s small (about the size of an iPod) and portable, with fairly robust  desktop software to view detailed data and trends.

The EmWave2 seemed like an easy way to capture heart rate data and the desktop tool showing average heart rate, session time (length), coherence… wait, what? What’s coherence?

emwave2-data 

I confess, “coherence” feels like a cheesy, new age term to me. It really just means how well you match your breathing rhythm to that of the EmWave2 or desktop software, measured via pulse sensor. Here’s how it works in practice:

  1. You turn on the EmWave2 and either place your thumb on the device button or clip the pulse sensor to your earlobe. (I use the earlobe sensor since it’s less distracting.)
  2. Then, the EmWave2 displays a cascade of steadily rising and falling lights that you focus on – your goal is to match the rhythm of your breath to the light display.
  3. When your heart rate closely matches the light display rhythm, you’ll hear a soft tone (indicating you’re in the “blue zone”). When your breath optimally matches the light display, you’ll hear another, lower tone (indicating “green zone”). If there’s a significant disparity between your breathing pattern and the light sensor, you won’t hear any tones at all.
  4. Once your breathing pattern optimally matches the light display for several seconds, you’ll hear a series of gentle tones – similar to the “level up” sound during video games but less frenetic.
  5. I found that when I matched the “green zone” (optimal) level for an extended period of time, I experienced an intense relaxation response similar to meditation.

Using the EmWave2 is fun and based on my testing, an effective way to invoke relaxation. Having to concurrently watch the light pattern and monitor your breath doesn’t require effort, but rather a level of focus similar to meditation (notice a trend here? Smile ).

As you can see from the bar chart above, I tested different approaches for using the EmWave2: Playing the bundled desktop EmWave games, or just using the portable EmWave2 device by itself… watching  the lights and monitoring my breathing as outlined above.

I found that using the EmWave2 on its own was the easiest and most effective way to quickly enter a more emotionally relaxed state in just 5 minutes (although I prefer using it for 10 minutes or so, to extend the intense sense of relaxation). In the bar chart above, those bars with the largest green area were when I used the EmWave2 by itself (vs using with the desktop software).

One note: The EmWave desktop games have a dated feel. While the monitoring software works well, I felt the whole desktop software suite could use an update to provide a more up-to-date “look & feel,” navigation, etc. Nonetheless, the monitoring software does provide an effective way to view your session data (for an individual session, and via the bar chart, over time).

The EmWave2 isn’t necessarily cheap (currently about $170 on Amazon.com). However, for folks who want the benefits of meditation but find it challenging to “get in the zone,” the EmWave2 is an easy (and easy to learn) way to elicit the relaxation response.

Confessions of a newbie meditator

Metaphysics

Long ago, I read a book by Dr. Herbert Benson of Harvard named The Relaxation Response. It explained that individuals who meditated experienced a greater sense of relaxation and a variety of health benefits, including lower blood pressure, less insomnia, reduction in chronic pain (among others). To learn how to elicit the relaxation response, see Massachusetts General Hospital’s web page.

I’ve meditated off and on over the years, but never kept it up because I wasn’t sure I was doing it right. (Yes, I do realize that’s a silly reason!)

I recently ran across former monk Andy Puddicombe’s Headspace app when looking for relaxation apps to load onto my phone (note: it’s available for both iPhone and android). The app features a series of Puddicombe’s guided meditations that are brief, easy to follow and secular. I’d never heard of Puddicombe before but thought, hey, this sounds interesting and it’s only 10 minutes per day, so why not? I installed the app and so my renewed meditation practice began…

At first, I had trouble sitting still for 10 minutes. My mind would wander off over and over again — I’d think about a project at work or a chore I needed to do. Listening to Puddicombe’s guided meditations, I understood this was all normal — I didn’t worry about it and just continued to meditate for 10 minutes each day. I soon finished Take 10 and subsequent programs, and am now working my way through the Headspace “Discovery” series of guided meditations.

Note: The headspace programs beyond Take 10 aren’t free. I chose to purchase them because Puddicombe’s approach using a blend of insight and mindfulness meditation works so well for me. Certainly, there is an abundance of free guided meditation audio available on the web and videos on youtube.

Although I’ve only been meditating for about 7 weeks, I’ve found the benefits to be substantial and noticeable. I feel calmer and less anxious. I find that tension melts away quickly as I sit down to meditate. Throughout the day, I am more aware of when I start feeling tense, and understand how to use breathing and visualizations to feel calmer. When I’m confronted with a stressful situation, I’m better able to take a step back and not take it personally — I can let it go more quickly. I feel more patient and happier. Using my Fitbit One and web dashboard, I notice my sleep trends have improved: I sleep longer and awaken less frequently. I generally feel more refreshed when I get up in the morning.

Each time I sit to meditate (20 minutes in the morning and 20 minutes again the evening) it feels like an oasis of relaxation. It’s like taking a vacation without leaving home. I use the headspace program for one meditation daily, and then use an app called Insight Timer for a more free-form meditation later in the day. Note: Insight Timer has iOS and Android versions available.

I’ve only just restarted my meditation practice but find the benefits overwhelmingly positive and well worth the time. If you’re struggling with stress of some kind in your life (and hey, who’s not?), meditation is definitely worth trying.

Video

TED Talks – Andy Puddicombe: All it takes is 10 mindful minutes

I enjoyed this brief (10 minute) video about the benefits of meditation and mindfulness.

UPDATED! Fitness tech gadgets: My “road test” results

Up

I’ve updated this post based on my experience after it was published. See text in blue bold for updates.

With the holidays approaching, I’ve been seeking ways to reinforce my motivation to meet health goals. This time of year, it’s all too easy not to be active enough due to long hours at work and colder weather outside.

So, after hearing about friends’ experiences using fitness devices, I decided to try a few myself:

All three devices worked as advertised for me, although there are some caveats potential buyers should be aware of…

Jawbone UP (pictured above):

PROS –

  • Easy to wear “bracelet” design
  • Compact and unobtrusive
  • Push button to change modes is easy to use and works well
  • Tracks activity (tracks steps when not in “active” mode)
  • Tracks sleep in a fairly granular manner. Comfortable to wear while sleeping. (It’s helped me understand why I’m so tired during the day… I don’t sleep very soundly at night.)

CONS –

  • First generation product with (an apparently) high failure rate. (More on this below.)
  • Only syncs with iPhone app (no joy for folks with other smartphones or even laptop users)
  • Surprisingly, doesn’t sync via bluetooth: User must connect UP to iPhone via headphone jack
  • iPhone sync process can be fussy: I find it works best if I restart my iPhone, open UP app, insert UP into headset jack, turn up headset volume, then initiate sync right away within UP app. (It really shouldn’t require such a precise process!)
  • Progress and metrics can only be viewed on iPhone app (not able to view metric tracking/dashboard on web site)
  • Food tracking is limited
  • Doesn’t automatically sync activity metrics with my favorite fitness/food journal app, Lose It!
  • Due to bracelet design, your arms must be swinging during exercise to accurately register activity (not happy news for bikers!)

UP

Caveats:
The Jawbone UP’s early failure rate almost dissuaded me from purchasing this product. Even so, I bought at my Apple Store, taking care to keep the package and receipt *just in case*. And the failure rates are not just anonymous metrics — I know someone who is on his third Jawbone UP — the 1st two failed.

With so many reports of early hardware failure, I’m not sure I’d give it as a gift until Jawbone comes out with UP v.2

UPDATED: A big con arose for me… it completely stopped syncing. No matter what I did, it would not sync. I finally wound up returning it to Apple (where I bought it) as defective.

Fitbit

Fitbit Ultra:

 

PROS –

  • Syncs wirelessly (dock connected via USB to your laptop)
  • Comes with seemingly handy plastic clip to connect to your clothing. (More on this below.)
  • Tracks activity and sleep
  • Offers detailed online dashboard at fitbit.com
  • Offers an iPhone app, as well as a mobile web site for other smartphones

UPDATE: I decided to keep the Fitbit after the UP stopped syncing. Based on the variety of tracking devices available on the market, Fitbit is among the best. I wrapped the Fitbit “holster” in electrical tape to make it less slippery (less likely to slide off my belt), and added a layer of electrical tape inside the holster to add friction (make it less likely the device itself would slide out on its own).

CONS –

  • Sleep tracking requires inserting device into cloth wristband (I found this a little uncomfortable)
  • Sleep tracking is not as granular as Jawbone UP
  • Integrates with Lose It! mobile app but in a confusing way. (More on this below.)
  • SUPER easy to lose! It’s flown off my belt several times.
  • Fitbit iPhone app is okay but not as granular as I’d like

Caveats:
The plastic clip is slippery! It’s far too easy to lose the Fitbit Ultra (and at $99, you don’t want to risk losing it!). Integrates with Lose It! app but only populates Lose It’s exercise metrics if you burn a certain number of calories (hey, I want credit for all activity, as a motivator to be even more active!).

If you buy a Fitbit Ultra, be sure to find a way to affix it to your clothing so that it won’t fly off.

Withings

Withings Scale:

PROS –

  • Super easy to use… just weigh yourself and your weight is automatically synced to your my.withings.com dashboard
  • Easy to set up: Insert batteries, then connect scale to your computer via USB to complete set up (including enabling WIFI sync).
  • User can enable integration with Lose It! app and Fitbit dashboard.
  • Offers multiple mobile apps (WiScale app for iPhone and Withings app for Android).

CONS –

  • Expensive at $159 (see Amazon page for product details & reviews).

Caveats:
Aside from cost, no caveats I can think of. Does what it promises.

Loseit

Special mention: Lose It! fitness / food journal app

I first started using Lose It! a few years ago on my iPhone and missed it terribly when I moved to an android phone.

I love its robust food database and how easy it is to update and review my food and activity metrics.

However, since then, a Lose It! Android app has been released. Glad to see this great app available for more phones!

UPDATE to add another special mention: F.lux. It’s software for Windows, Mac, Linux, and jailbroken iOS devices. It automatically adjusts your screen brightness by time of day. If you use your computer before bedtime, it’s a must have… I installed it yesterday and noticed a big difference in how soundly I slept last night.

So what combination works best for me?

I’m still using the Jawbone UP and Withings scale with Lose It! iPhone app and web site dashboard:

  • I manually add activity tracked on the UP into Lose It!
  • Since I have Lose It! linked to my Withings scale, my weight is automatically posted to my LoseIt! account.
  • I monitor my sleep metrics via the UP iPhone app.

Both the UP bracelet and Withings scale have been a good fit for me, offering motivation while not requiring a lot of effort or workarounds.

  • I found the Fitbit Ultra works well but wasn’t practical for me because it kept coming off my belt — I decided it would be too easy to lose. (UPDATED: Fixed this with some electrical tape)
  • I recommend Jawbone UP with some reservation. It does what it does well, but seems prone to early hardware failure based on user reports. (UPDATED: And my UP failed as well. Great device, disappointing quality issues.)
  • I recommend Withings scale without reservation.
  • You can’t go wrong with the Lose It! app for iPhone and android!
  • UPDATED: F.lux is a must have, as well!

How I met my housemates (and how you can meet some, too!)

I live with three furry, affectionate little housemates: Nick, Lucy, and Hubert. All three were rescues: Two were adopted from a shelter, and one had been abandoned to spend the winter outside alone.

nick-small

I met Nick at a shelter in December 2000, a month after my beloved Siamese, Simone, was euthanized. Nick was a year old, energetic and very handsome. He has been living with me for 8 years and is a great “big brother” to our new kitty, Hubert, with whom he likes to romp & play.

lucy-small

I met Lucy in mid-September 2005, shortly after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans. Watching the horrific images of suffering on TV made me want to do something, anything, to make the world feel like a better, more positive place. So, I went to the Connecticut Humane Society. There were so many deserving pets, I wanted to take them all home! Lucy was a lovely but timid seven year old Maine Coon who clearly needed a quiet, loving home. She’s a sweetie and wants to give kisses to every human and feline she meets.

hubert-small

I met Hubert in late November 2008. I wasn’t planning to adopt another pet but he’d been abandoned and the weather was beginning to get cold (in fact, it snowed the next day). So this sweet, little cat joined our household. He is very mellow and loves to chase around the house with Nick.

What does this mean to you, dear reader? When I adopted these three, I gained more than sweet, wonderful housemates (although I gained that in spades)! I was honored to give three very deserving homeless pets a safe, warm, loving home. That small but very meaningful act has benefitted not only Nick, Lucy, and Hubert, but has also benefitted me by providing the gratification of knowing that I’ve made the world a better place for them.

If you are planning to get a dog or cat, please adopt from a shelter.

(This post was inspired by a Pet Connection article about Maddie’s Fund partnering with the Humane Society of the U.S. and the Ad Council to encourage Americans to adopt cats and dogs from shelters.)

January 20, 2009: An historic day

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