six months with an activity tracker

A photo posted by Diana (@himmelskratzer) on

I started using the Polar Loop in February and upgraded to the M400 in March, so it’s almost half a year with a little dictator on my wrist. Coincidentally, six months is also usually the time most people stop wearing a tracker (1) – because they don’t feel they’re getting fitter, aren’t loosing weight or simply don’t like a bulky, ugly thing attached to their wrist. Truth is, yes – the M400 is bulky and not pretty at all. But it’s also very robust and has so far survived all our adventures together. I can even shower with it, which is nice. Most importantly though, it motivates me to get off my ass and move. I especially like the function that it beeps when I sit for an hour. Of course I can’t always get up and walk around – it would be rather weird to do that in a meeting – but I do it whenever it’s possible during the day, no matter how much sidekick giggles.

Things I like of the M400:

  • I can use it as a watch, meaning there’s a reason to actually have it on my wrist all the time. Yes, I’m a watch person. Too much hassle to pull out the iPhone every time.
  • It has GPS! I can use it for bike riding and it “knows” that I’m moving, and not sitting around.
  • Programmable workouts, stop watch, timer, alarm…
  • It’s not just an activity tracker, but designed for people who train, especially runners. I can pair it with a HF sensor and track the activity way more accurately.
  • The battery lasts a week, even with daily GPS usage.

Things that I don’t like so much (that actually goes for all the motion sensor based trackers):

  • It only works for a certain kind of workouts or movements, mostly cardio based ones. Strength training or even something like cycling, goes undetected, unless I’ll “cheat” with using the GPS and/or the HF sensor.
  • As they measure everything, even a rather passive activity like cooking can fill up the bar, simply because my hands move a lot.
  • I have no idea what the sleep tracking is supposed to tell me – are 80% restful sleep good or bad?

I don’t want to say the data is totally unreliable, and I’m aware that it’s the bigger picture that counts, not the individual day. I also never just felt obligated to fill up the 10.000 steps – the M400 doesn’t base it’s calculation of your daily goal solely on this anyway. It measures the intensity too, so I can reach my goal faster if I do something like running, leading to lesser steps needed. (2)

I use the M400 to monitor my success, to nudge me when I’m slacking, but it’s not the thing that tells me what to do. It’s not even setting the goal, it’s just making sure that I reach my personal goals. Although I can’t deny that it’s unbelievably rewarding to hear the little fanfare when I reach the daily goal it has set for me.

Right now I have my aptly named “Bootcamp” workout that consists of:

– 10 minutes of hula hooping/dancing/ goofing off to get warm
– 20 – 40 min of body weight exercises like push-ups, sit-ups, crunches, etc… depending on how many repetitions I want to do. I always aim for 50, but considering the push-ups, I’m nowhere near that goal.
– doing weights
– 15 min of stretching/yoga

This is almost an hour, and I don’t do it every day. I try to make time to do it two to three times a week. I also go for walks and take the bike to work.

All of this makes a difference. Back in February I was feeling like close to death after 15 min of body weight exercises, I had zero muscle definition and the three flights of stairs up to the office left me wheezing. When I got off my bike in March, I more than once saw stars after bending over to lock it, my thighs feeling like tree logs more than once. Now I have baby abs, toned arms and stairs are having a hard time getting me out of breath. The bike ride is easy-peasy. I feel better overall. I enjoy having that hour of sweating, huffing and hurting for myself in a very visceral way. My bouncy brain doesn’t have time to stray because it needs to focus on us not tipping over, so it’s really just me and my body achieving things and concentrating on moving. This is the most motivating thing actually. Not the growing muscles, not the improved stamina, but the fact that I get to spend time in myself, with nothing distracting me from being in me. Yeah, I know, it sounds very much like the yoga gods got me, but that’s what gets me down on my mat every week. That and the shower afterwards.

Yesterday I bought serious workout clothes. Now I know why fitness models all have artificially enhanced breasts, because those sports bras are nothing but flattening devices. o___O Now I have shiny new clothes made from high tech fibres that whisk away sweat and dry fast and I even managed to find some in not eye-searing colours. And they are sooo cooomfy, I could live in them all day. ^___^

A photo posted by Diana (@himmelskratzer) on

Overall I can say that getting such a tracker worked for me, but only because the one I use is not a one trick pony. I think I can safely say that the Loop with its limited functions wouldn’t have kept me at trying to lead a more active life. The M400 still works as a sports watch should I ever decide to stop trying to reach my daily activity goal, so it’s still useful besides that.

(1) I did some research about how useful the trackers actually are. This article sums up their limitations quite nicely, so I won’t go into them with much detail.

(2) Fun fact: When I use the HF sensor on my bike rides to work, I’ve reached around 80% of that daily goal solely through getting to and back from work at the end of the day. I can easily fill up the missing 20% with cooking, cleaning and going for a short walk. If I just use the GPS on my bike rides, the activity tracker hovers around 50 – 60% at the end of the day, requiring a lot more effort to fill it up.

writing happy couples

Writing Nate and Adelie in sappy moments is one of my favourite things. I sometimes do it just for fun, because it is so therapeutic. Yesterday I learned that one of my all-time real-life OTPs (1), and the first couple who sort of hired me as a wedding photographer, has split. I’m still in shock. Of course, you can never know what’s going on in a relationship when you’re not part of it, but I’d never ever suspected them to break up. So I needed to write lots of happy Nate and Adelie moments today, and luckily I was at a point in Beginnings that actually justified exactly this. Like Nate coming home after a long and shitty shift as a bartender…

Adelie was still awake, sitting at her desk and studying.
“Hey handsome, how’re you doing?” She pushed the chair away from the desk and it swivelled around so that she faced him. The sight of her in a loose tank top and a pair of shorts instantly soothed his bruised soul. She got up and took his head into her hands, studying his face. “You had a hard night.”
“Hey. You have no idea.”
“My poor baby.”
He dropped his bag to the floor and put his hands on her hips to pull her closer. Hers slid up into his hair and she kissed him. Suddenly he was glad that she’d insisted on him coming over. Her pliable body in his arms, her warm welcome – the day would end on a happy note. He nuzzled her neck, and his stubble tickled her. She drew back, giggling.
“Ugh… Eau de Hamburger is not my favourite.”
“I warned you.”
She pushed him towards the bathroom. “Go, take a shower. You’ll feel and smell better afterwards.”

I also found another very happy couple on DeviantArt last week, Blaire and Prosper, and I’m so glad I’m not the only one who comes up with couples who are not all drama and no substance. It’s not like being together isn’t a challenge, and relationships themselves provide enough ammunition for the most stupid fights (2), so I don’t think I need any external source of conflict. Shortly after the moment above Nate and Adelie will learn exactly that – that relationships are a lot of work, that you have to make compromises and that you need to accept your partners quirks, ticks and habits. The chapter has the working title “shit hits the fan” for a reason.

(1) OTP = One True Pairing, aka the pairing you ship the most. If you’ve no idea what shipping is… go find a dictionary.
(2) I’m guilty of nearly flipping tables because of so substantial things like correct recycling… ahem.

i’ve turned internet shy

I used to be a lot more outgoing on this magical glittery rainbow named the Internet. Emphasis on used to. And it makes me sad, because I think one of the greatest possibilities of this thing that connects us globally, across all borders, across all cultures is that you can peek into other people’s lives. Lives you would never have a chance to have access to otherwise – because of distance, because of language barriers, because of cultural reasons. (1) One reason I’ve become sort of an “online reclusive” is certainly the fact that I started to work. For whatever reason I’m more comfortable sharing my personal life with complete strangers half across the globe than with people I see every day. I don’t even know why. Am I afraid they might find me weird? We’re not in America where a picture of you with an alcoholic beverage can get you fired, and there are no compromising pictures of me anyway. Or are there? Posting a picture of my bare midriff on Instagram recently felt decidedly daring. But FFS, I worked hard for these abs. The other reason I’ve become reluctant to share myself are the concerted efforts of data collection by Google, Facebook and yes, my beloved Apple too. I guess Amazon knows me best. And even though all of these things they know about me may be innocent things – under certain circumstances those facts could cause me to become suspicious. Not the greatest feeling.

Other, minor things that might have contributed to my reluctance:

  • the pressure of posting only perfect things,
  • the seemingly perfect lives of others,
  • trolls, misogynists and other a-holes (2),
  • the feeling that I’m talking to a black hole anyway

I don’t like this. I don’t like that I basically censor myself, when I feel it important to speak up, make a point and turn the world into a happier, brighter place. I used to enjoy to invite people into my life, into my virtual living room, and I’m going to do this again. It’s time to come back out of my shell. It feels like I’m attempting to do a bungee jump, but here is my Twitter, my Instagram, my Tumblr, here is my insane kaleidoscope of interests bundled up into neat Pinterest boards, and my slightly dormant Flickr photo stream. If you’re there too, feel free to say hello. Please say hello – let’s have a virtual cup of tea and chat.

*fluffs up the pillows and dusts shelves*

(1) I think that is why politicians are so afraid of the Internet – because once you’ve seen that we’re all humans, with the same challenges and problems, it becomes increasingly hard to see others as enemies. Unless, of course, you’re a stupid troll and the whole world is your enemy.
(2) Not that this blog with its readership of 4 is in any danger of attracting any trolls though.

writer’s little helpers

Writing is a tedious thing. Not only have you come up with adequate words to describe vivid pictures in your mind, no – after that, you’ll have to go over these words countless times to make them better. As a non-native speaker, I have my own special set of pitfalls to deal with on top of that. Instead of torturing my beloved alpha reader with weird grammar and sentences that don’t make sense, I recently employed the help of Grammarly, an online grammar checker. To my surprise, my grammar isn’t half as bad as I thought it would be, besides missing commas. Good grammar is one thing, but there’s a whole set of other issues a writer has to deal with:

  • Clichés
  • Repetition of words and phrases
  • Too. Many. Adverbs.
  • Too much flourish
  • Passive instead of active voice
  • Pacing issues
  • Unvaried sentence length and structure

And that is something hard to catch when you edit your own writing – unless you’re willing to put it into a drawer and not look at it for a year, to read it again with fresh eyes. If you have money to spare, you hire a professional copy editor to hunt down this stuff for you. I decided to let a robot (1) do this menial task for now, and save the truck of money for other writing related things.

Screen Shot 2015-06-18 at 13.32.40

Of course, there are issues. Surprisingly though, I don’t use the word “could” as much as I thought I do. My hunch that I’m very much overusing “felt” was correct – ouch. I’m going to have a ton of fun come July, that’s for sure. And even if it hurts a bit to see what stupid rookie mistakes I sometimes make, in the end I’ll be a better writer. Nothing will be gained from pretending to be a special flawless snowflake.

(1) That magical creature listens to the name AutoCrit.

sprint to the finish line


So – after some thinking and some mid-project clean up (1) this is where I stand: Three chapters away from finishing! As you can see, I aim for around 3000 to 4000 words per chapter, which means I’m in the 10.000 words ballpark until I’m done. I know, this sounds like a huge number, but it really isn’t. I know what has to happen in those three chapters that are currently red. I just have to write it down. (2)

I still have a hard time concentrating on finishing though. The muse is coming up with ideas for the next book, and I have to constantly remind her, that we already have a plot for this one. Then I don’t know how to proceed after I’m done with writing, editing, proof-reading, etc. I always said the short stories are going to be free, but this isn’t a short story any more, this is a novella. Meaning, I could put a price tag on it and sell it. And this scares me to death, because there’s so much additional stuff to figure out to do this. (3) This overwhelms me to no end, and I seriously consider foregoing a little bit of pocket money because I don’t want to deal with all of this. *hides in her blanket fort* And if I actually publish it for reals, with a price tag and an ISBN and all the bells and whistles, then I’m a published author and… *breathes into a paper bag* You see, it’s difficult right now.

I better get back to write these three chapters, then I’m putting the whole thing into a drawer for a week or two, then edits with a fresh eye, and then I’ll see what I’m going to do.

(1) I wonder if I’ll ever learn to not edit halfway through… it always means I’m writing backwards aka deleting words instead of writing any new ones.
(2) This is obviously very different from having to write 10.000 words and you’ve no idea what’s going to happen.
(3) Namely german book pricing regulations and, should I actually sell anything – how does this work with taxes then? Am I sending it off to a professional editor? What price do I need to set to make revenue? How many copies do I need to sell to break even with the costs? Just e-books or using a POD service too? Aaaaaah.

cover reveal and a time line

Despite the fact that I design stuff on a daily basis (and get so much praise for it that sometimes leaves me uncomfortable), I have the hardest time to come up with designs for my own things. There have been moments when I nearly asked my designer friends to take over. I know what I want, but it takes a hell of a long time to actually look like it. And lots of research. I wanted something minimalistic (1), vaguely retro (2) and it should work without any photographs. I think I finally managed to put all of this into one cover:

beginnings cover

You might’ve noticed that it says “Book One” there – as it is growing into a full book, I think it deserves its rightful place where it belongs in the series: At the beginning. 😛 Speaking of growing into a full book – I decided to keep writing through all of June, edit and proofread in July and publish early in August. For once I’m wise and don’t put down any dates, as I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I know me…

Well, I guess I better use my remaining vacation time to give the short stories matching covers now too, the Prologue is way overdue for a relaunch anyway.

(1) Mostly because opulence is a lot harder to pull off well.
(2) The whole thing is set in some sort of alternate 1950s after all… although I still struggle to make this visible, as books are not, uhm, movies.

writing and… painful decisions

“Beginnings” is teaching me a lot of things that will have an effect on the Apples. Namely that writing in the correct order of things works better for the first draft than haphazardly jumping around in the time line. I also learned a thing or two about pacing. After three days (1) of vacation, the muse suggested thinking about the Apples and their bloated plot. This morning, while the glorious Sunday quiet was still around (2) I took pen and paper and roughly plotted the whole Book One as if I hadn’t already written 53.638 words for it. After two months of not looking at it, I had enough emotional distance to realise that I need to start afresh. And write it in one sitting (3) without changing the course, goddammit.

When I look back to what my original idea was and what the book is now, there’s barely a resemblance anymore. But writing and re-writing and adding pieces here and there lead to a massive ball of tangled yarn, and sometimes you need to take the scissors to it to salvage it. Which doesn’t mean I’ve written those 53.638 words for naught. Written words are always there for a reason, always have a purpose. Even if this purpose is just to teach me how I should not write. Even if they’re just end up to be a slightly overly detailed outline. Even if I just needed to write them to learn what’s important for the story and what isn’t. (4)

I’m not going to lie – it hurts. This feels like carving into your heart with a very sharp knife. There are scenes in there I spent a lot of time with, that are near and dear to my heart, and nobody’s going to read them. Oh well, they always say the first book is only written for the desk drawer. Onwards and upwards and I’m sure my muse will come up with cuter, funnier, sexier scenes for the new rendition. After all, I’m a better writer now than when I started.

The good news? The current plot estimates around 50.000 words – I can write it in three months, if I can keep up the rhythm I established while writing “Beginnings”. This means you still get to read it this year!!!

“Beginnings” is shaping up quite nicely by the way, currently sitting at 25.034 words. To my great surprise, it is not just a fluffy cloud of cute encounters between Nate and Adelie (5), and even though there’s not much of a plot there are some interesting threads I might explore further, once I’m done with the first draft. First draft first, then revising. *mantra* “Beginnings” is not going to suffer from the same fate as the Apples, oh no.

(1) This seems to be the magic number…
(2) Even the neighbourhood’s posse of kids is still asleep at 7:30 on a Sunday morning, ha!
(3) Meaning from start to finish.
(4) 8000 words of bedroom sport aren’t. No matter how much fun they were to write.
(5) Which was the original purpose, after all.

the venues of meadow junction – the marmoset

It just came to me that Meadow Junction has a pretty interesting offering on restaurants, diners and nightclubs for such a small town attached to an airbase. My next thought was: How would their logos look like? And why don’t you design them for reals? Sometimes I listen to my stupid ideas…

Screen Shot 2015-06-01 at 21.36.39

Because my brain is stuck in a dark, swingy night club at the moment, I did the logo of The Marmoset first. The monkey looks like a disgruntled Yoda, but oh well… for a quick scribble, this is okay.

the state of things

Despite my best intentions, “Beginnings” is turning into a book. The stories are much more connected than I had planned, there’s suddenly a handful of side-characters and sub-plots, and all of this leads to much more words. Even after cleaning up some discarded stories, I’m still knocking heavily at the 20.000 words door. Novella territory. And I’m not even sure if this enough… “New Cat in Town” could very well hit 4000 or more, “Sick Adelie” could get 3000 words strong, the “Simulator” isn’t even started yet… I hope this rollercoaster stops before I’m at 50.000 words. 😉

The usual sneak peek to keep you all excited, in all its unedited glory – a snippet of “Drunken Nights of Debauchery”:

“I guess that’s it. Thank you for everything. Your care, your shower, the breakfast…” Again his expression was shadowed with mortification. He stood in front of her, pushing his hands into his pockets and stared at her with burning blue eyes.
“Do you feel better?” Her voice was brittle.
“Yes, thanks to your pan wielding prowess, I do.” He took a step closer, and cleared his throat. “It might be a step too far, but… I like spending time with you. I’d like to spend more time with you, in a less accidental fashion.”
Adelie fought hard and managed to suppress a smile, instead she crossed her arms in front of her chest and raised a questioning eyebrow. “Are you trying to ask for my number?”
Relief softened his anxious features. “Uh, I guess?” He rubbed his neck, flashing her an impish smile. “If I had it, I wouldn’t need to do something stupid in order for you to save me.”

a week of 100%


This week was an exercise in discipline. I not only wanted to make my daily word count of (measly) 180 words, but also reach the 100% on my activity tracker every day. As you can see, I made it. The words were fairly easy and done first thing in the morning, but the activity was a different kind of beast. On some days pushing the bar to 100% meant that I had to put on a silly song and goof off for 2 minutes until the satisfying beep came. Thursday, which was a public holiday, was especially difficult, because I didn’t have my daily bike rides to bring the thing to 60% as a starting point.

I’m not going to lie – there were moments when I was close to giving up, because I was tired, it was getting late, I wanted to keep writing… Excuses, excuses. Half an hour of additional exercise isn’t that much and most days it was enough to reach my goal. I don’t think I repeat this project with a week full of bus rides though, that would be a lot harder to accomplish. It was a necessary endeavour to put me back on my daily training band wagon, from which I had fallen off during April and the Meeting of Doom preparations. I’ll try to stick to the half an hour of exercise every day, but I might allow myself some leeway… four days of 100% would still be okay, I think.

The most rewarding thing by the way, is the shower after the workout. Second most rewarding thing: Feeling your body change and not being totally out of breath after four flights of stairs anymore (1). Third most rewarding thing: Seeing muscles (2)! ^___^

Here’s another sneak peek of ‘Beginnings’ – I’m not sure Nate knows what he’s doing…

He rubbed his neck, his glorious blue eyes sparkling with mischief. “I’m not made from sugar. I assume you have a license for those eyes of yours?”
License? She blinked at him, and he grinned. Standing up and putting the books away, he explained: “They’re dangerous weapons. I nearly got hurt, you know?”
“Do you need a band aid?” She raised him a defiant eyebrow, and he stepped towards her, close enough for her to smell his aftershave. It was a warm, subtle scent. His voice was a low rumble, his eyes intense. Talk about having a license, Mister.
“A bag of ice might be more helpful to ease the burn.”
She tilted her head, crossing her arms in front of her chest. “Are you sure you can risk going to Todd’s with me? I can’t vouch for your male pride surviving this without more burns…”
He chuckled. “I’m willing to take a gamble, Baroness. It’s nothing compared to what you risked jumping in front of that stupid truck.”
Jumping in front of the speeding truck to push him out of harm’s way had been no conscious decision, she had acted purely on instinct. The same instinct told her now to be careful – he displayed all the traits of a confident man knowing how to charm a woman. Traits that brought up painful memories.
“What’s wrong?” His voice plucked her out of her thoughts.
“Uh, nothing.” She pushed the pain and the memories away. They belonged to another time, another planet.

(1) Which totally was the case back in February. >___<
(2) Also: Feeling them. *ouch*