Creative Outlet – a blog full of stories and personal musings

24Jun/120

Drupal 7: Making an “advanced” event with Ubercart

I had a very specific site I had to built for a client, one that seems to never have been done before, what from me googling myself to death and asking on drupal.org.

Essentially, what they wanted was a system where members can buy a ticket + opt in or out of eating, getting t-shirts and what have you. You'd think this was fairly straightforward, but I found that it was, in the end, quite difficult. I'd tried several approaches and all of them just seemed to fall short.

What they wanted:

  • Ticket selling with extra products, such as eating, t-shirts (So must make use of attributes)
  • A way to pull out a "list" containing what everyone bought (This could not be done with Signup, as they wanted the possibility to come with several guests if they chose)
  • A way to gather additional information, such as what kind of accomendation people required (again, just attributes - webform would have been amazing at this point. I might try and do it again with webform to see if it is possible at all, but at the time I was doing this, the ubercart integration was very basic and not easy to use as a not so tech-savvy person)
  • Full calendar system (basic stuff)
  • blahblah

This is not meant as a huge tutorial, but rather just to write out how it can be done. If necessary, I could do a step by step tutorial.

What I did was to create a new content type as well as a new product type. I called these "Events" and "Event Products". I set up the event content type with the usual stuff, such as date, description and image. Event Products I just left alone as we didn't need anything except perhaps some attributes later on.

Using Views, I made a table consisting of the event product type with the possibility to add to cart. I then attached this to the content type through Viewfield, a module that let's you attach a specific view. As I wanted to make this site as easy as possible to use, I set it to give a default value. You can expand on this with taxonomy categories and contexual filter if necessary.

To pull out the list, I set up yet another table, using the "ordered products" field as well as grouping, so the entire order and orderer only shows up once.

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4Dec/101

Getting Better at PC First Person Shooters (FPS) Games

Introduction

"I've played games since I was a wee lad and have been playing FPS games in multiplayer since Doom 1. Since then, we've seen a natural evolution in FPS gaming, like, the now normal, mouse and keyboard controls, dedicated servers, matchmaking and more. Sadly, developers have had a tendency to take 3 steps forwards and 10 steps backward but that is another story. I've always felt I was decent at most of them, some times even downright good. I would never use the word great or awesome, because I am quite humble - but yes, I am relatively good at the games I really focused on. Personally, I've focused mostly on: Quake 1, Quake 2, The Specialists, Action Half-Life, Counter-Strike, Unreal Tournament 2004 including many mods, Day of Defeat, Natural Selection, Warsow, Call of Duty 4, Call of Duty 5, Modern Warfare 2 and now Call of Duty: Black Ops. I felt that all of those games contributed to my current "skill", for a lack of a better word. Most of the games rewarded different kind of gameplay, so it basically combined and sanded the corners of my abilities as such that I feel I can apply it to any game and come out quite successful with little adjustment. I've never attempted to go pro. I've had my fair taste of competitive gaming and it is just not my cup of tea. I prefer to have fun except maybe entering a tournament at a local LAN party."

Just being good at aiming, knowing the maps or knowing the best camping spots in the game does not make you a great player. It is a combination of things like:

  • Hardware and gaming peripherals
  • Aiming
  • Reflexes
  • Movement
  • Map knowledge
  • Using sound to your advantage
  • Using your team
  • Coping with losses and learning from them
  • Tweaking the games

That might seem like a lot to take care of, but before you know it, these things will come very natural to you.

Hardware and Gaming Peripherals

If you have ever cursed at any of your peripherals, then it is probably time to look into them. If you have performance issues, it is probably time to upgrade - especially if you want to get great at that specific game. It's as simple as that.

Personally, I make use of a Logitech MX518 mouse. I've simply found it to be the best gaming mouse out there, after having tried laser mice. I tried to go back to optic after a year using a G5 and the difference was just immense. It felt a lot smoother and I was more in control than ever before. I think I might have found why this is - I make use of a cloth mouse pad, which, according to Logitech, had some issues being "detected" by the laser optics. This has been fixed by new firmware.

The only issue I have is the wire, which can be relatively frustrating if it gets stuck somewhere. I just make a curl on it and put something in the middle of that curl, such as a lamp or something similar and heavy.

But spend time figuring out what mouse feels great for you. You might need a heavier, clunkier one like the Microsoft Intellimouse 3.0 or the smaller Logitech G9 - never go on compromise on your mouse as it is probably the most important tool in your FPS career. Most Logitech gaming mice (The G series) have a weight system, so if you find that your mouse is too light, make use of this system.

There is also the subject of DPI settings, i.e. how fast the mouse updates. Most gaming mice have several settings for this, but I make use of the lowest one. This might be because I am used to it, but I just don't find the more updates all that essential, despite what it in theory should do which is, that it should allow you to be more precise, but it often does the exact opposite for me - even when I have found a suitable sensitivity to use in higher DPIs. You be the judge of this.

There really aren't any golden rules to keyboards. I really like the "laptop" keys instead of the big, normal ones so I go for a Logitech UltraX Flat which is very cheap and easily replaceable. I've gone through a lot of these keyboards, so I feel that it is safer to go cheap than expensive. Some like the added displays offered by the Logitech G15 and G17, but I find it completely unnecessary and doesn't really give you an edge against others.

If you are really into getting better, get a great headset - preferably one that simulates 5.1 so you can be able to hear the direction of where the sound comes from. I use Logitech G35, which have great sound capabilities but is a bit pricy. Any gaming headset from companies such as Logitech, SteelSeries and Creative have my heartiest recommendations.

Now, sit comfortably. Do not feel like you are strained anywhere on your body as you play. If you feel strained, rethink your sitting position, the position of your mouse, keyboard, desktop height, chair height and screen. Sit up straight and do not slump down. Slumping down is like a relaxed state and your movements and how you do in the game is affected as such. If you can't get comfortable, no matter what, look up ergonomic tips on the internet and redo your desktop.

Aiming

Arguably one of the most important aspects of most FPS games, aiming is easy to learn, yet hard to master. However, just being able to hold your crosshair over someone doesn't mean you have already succeeded. There is also a bit of a reflex to it, but we'll cover that later on.

Let's start with the basics. You aim by using your mouse. Go into your favourite game and aim around. The aiming movement needs to be smooth and at same speed. If the aiming feels weird, sluggish or accelerated somehow, go into your control panel on Windows and click "Mouse". If you can't find it, click the "View by" and press "Small icons". Under pointer options, untick "Enhance pointer precision". I also recommend setting the sensitivity here to the middle setting. Most games make use of DirectInput, which directly makes use of this sensitivity.

This feature is also known as mouse acceleration and is incredibly hard to play with, as the aiming becomes uncontrollable and unpredictable. Most, if not all, serious gamers will have this disabled. Some games might make use of their own mouse acceleration or have issues with newer operating systems, such as older Half-Life mods. To fix those, I suggest you use Google.

Now you should have most external influences out of the way, so you can finally get down to business. If you have played games for awhile, you might know of a sensitivity that you feel comfortable with or maybe you make use of the default one, set by the game. What we are going to do, is fine tuning this setting so you can both aim comfortably and with ease, but also be able to trace a moving target.

For this, there are several methods. I am going to show you the one I used and can swear by. I've made a simple clip to demonstrate. Don't do this on a live server, I just needed to make use of the inbuilt Black Ops theatre mode.

This is not very well made, because I just wanted to show off the method. What you have to do, is find an edge of a building or something similar and keep moving back and forth while keeping your aim exactly on the edge at varying speed. I made use of Black Ops due to the easiness of getting a video out of it, but it is really better to make use of a faster moving game, such as Quake Live or Enemy Territory. While moving back and forth, you might notice that your aim isn't dead on at all times or sometimes falls behind or ahead. This is a sign that your current sensitivity isn't right for you. Pull down the console (usually found on the tilde (~) button, depending on keyboard layout - it's the button next to the number "1") and type in "sensitivity". There you will see the current value. Mine is currently at 2.3, which is one I've made use of since Day of Defeat and Enemy Territory, where I tried this technique. Odds are, that yours is something less specific, such as 5 or 3. If you felt your aim was too fast, decrease the sensitivity - like 2.9 or 4.9. If it was too slow, increase. Do this until you have found a sensitivity that stays right on the edge, no matter how much you move about. Remember, if you are stuck between two sensitivity values, such as 2.4 and 2.5, you can use two decimals, like 2.45. The wonders of this sensitivity value, is that it should work in most games. Only games I've found where this sensitivity value does not work, are the Unreal Engine games.

You should now have a sensitivity that allows you to stay on target, but where exactly should you aim on the enemy? After hitboxes (a model is usually made up of several invisible hitboxes, defining several areas of the body) have become more defined, it is harder to go for the headshot, unlike in older games where this was the norm and the head hitbox was bigger . If you try it now in newer games, you'd find yourself become infuriated and with a lot of deaths due to hits not getting registered, passing around the neck or something else. I've gotten the habit of just aiming straight ahead, which makes me shoot into the chest/stomach - which often gives me the kill. If you play a game with a recoil of some sort, stray shots to the chest will most likely go towards the head, making this the best place to aim in such games.

Reflexes

Reflexes and visual perception are many things but essentially comes down to one thing: Hand-eye coordination. The time it takes for you to spot an enemy and shoot is directly related to hand-eye coordination. It is something everyone have, but the speed can be increased with practice - thankfully, you can practice this both on the computer and in real life. Someone with great hand-eye coordination will shoot that camper before he even gets to move, get the first shot in on a sniper, dodge grenades and rockets and a lot more. It is the edge that will make sure you survive and win every encounter. If you don't believe me, go check out various videos on youtube from twitch shooters, such as Quake 3, Quake Live, Warsow and more. You will stand at awe at some people's reflexes and hand-eye coordination.

There is no easy way to improve your coordination other than a lot of training. Personally, I've combined small reflex/twitch games as well as a lot of practice to improve my reflexes. I've been looking high and low for a decent flash game, but have been unable to find one and, apparently, there aren't that many new games that offer the proper stimulation. I used Quadnet, which is a relatively old game but is super intense and addictive as hell. Having to both move and shoot in several directions at the same time, while the environment "changes" is just mind boggling at first but once you grasp it, you will keep on improving. There are other games, such as Beat Hazard and BIT.TRIP, that offers reflex based gameplay. While the latter is predictable, just like Guitar Hero, the first one isn't. Another one is Rhythm Zone, which is like Guitar Hero, but makes use of your own tracks. I swear by the first one, though - since it makes use of both your hands, which makes it is harder to get right and the outcome is greater and better. Do not give up but keep on going.

If you want to improve your reflexes outside of the computer, there are several games you can do solo. Toss a  ball on a wall and catch it on the rebound, challenge yourself and throw it at weird angles or clap a few times before catching it again. Another one is to toss it up and catch again. You can also do this idly with a water bottle - something I have done a lot. You can also get involved with sports. Play ping pong, tennis, badminton, football, the works! Just like computer games, these really help out your reflexes, the more you practice. Plus, it never hurts with a bit of exercise and being social.

Movement

I've watched a lot of people play FPS games. What amazes me the most is that there are so many people who thinks that forward, backwards, crouch and jump are the only keys in the game. Needless to say, these guys usually die a lot. If they meet someone and all they do is walk forward while holding down fire, they just make themselves an easy kill. He won't have to trace you across his screen, he just has to keep the crosshair on you and shoot. Enter: Importance of movement.

Always be moving. When you constantly move, you make yourself a harder target. Strafe left, then a bit more left, then right, then left all while shooting. Maybe jump a little bit. Crouch. Not only will you test his aiming capabilities, you will also have the upper hand if he is standing still. Remember to make use of natural cover in the maps to show as little of yourself when possible. Even snipers should be moving. One trick is to make use of the move, stop, pop. If you are moving in a direction and suddenly stopping, your enemy will be caught off guard. If you are playing a game with one shot, one kill weapons, he'll be dead. This is a great trick from Day of Defeat, but mainly because the stop would completely remove any movement recoil. By stopping, I mean pushing the key in the other direction, which makes you stop right on the spot instead of sliding to a standstill.

Trick your enemy. Be as unpredictable as possible. Be on top of him. Sprint in for a melee kill if  he is caught off-guard. Make use of the maps in ways you don't see anyone else do. Flank your enemies' position. There is a lot more to tricking with sounds, grenades, map design and layouts and more - but that is more game specific than I wish to be in this guide.

Adapt and learn. There is a lot more to movement, but, again, it is very dependant on what game you play. If you know you made a mistake, make sure you don't do it again. Watch replays of yourself playing and see what you can improve. Most games is made out of many specific situations, if you find yourself in one, remember what worked or didn't work last time.

Use your enemies strength to your advantage. If your opponent is fast, await him. If he is slow, hunt him down. Fast players aren't great on range, nor great against people with a better situational awareness. If he is slow and checks every corner, be fast and take him down from behind. If they are just that good, then do the same as them but be unpredictable. Again, study your faults and mistakes to see how you can counter them.

Map Knowledge

This is really something that comes with playing the game enough, but there are still some things to notice. Every map ever created have camping spots. Learn them, check them, avoid them. If you want to camp, be "tactical" or whatever you call it, consider hiding in places where no one does. On the occasion, you can even hide in plain sight.

As your knowledge of the maps grow, you'll also figure out where the choke points are. Avoid these as best as possible or cover them. In some games, you can shoot through various surfaces. Learn where and make use of it. Some games have means of showing if you hit someone, so you'll know if you hit through a wall. This is also a great way to counter campers - i.e. by shooting at the place they'd usually sit, through a wall. It's an ammo intensive thing, but can be extremely useful since they'll never see it coming. Plus, it feels amazing getting kills through walls.

Using Sounds

Situational awareness is more than just visual perception. The use of sound have become a huge factor in competitive play. Footsteps, gunfire, jump sounds, pain noises, item pick up sounds, environment effects and more can tell you where exactly an enemy is, especially if you have the necessary hardware and peripherals to make use of directional sounds. A huge amount of time and money in game development, now a days, is  spent on sound systems and sound effects, so make use of it! If you can hear an enemy on the other side of the wall, it's best to just wait for him and be as quiet as possible. If you can hear him about to throw a grenade towards where you are, run for it. If you can hear him reload, go and get him. There are so many situations that can be won, just by using sounds.

But it can also be used to trick your opponent. If you know there is someone close by, you can shoot once, reload, change to another weapon and back to cancel out the reload. They'll think you are easy prey, while you are more ready than ever. There are many such situations, but once again, they are very game dependant.

There are also sounds that can work to your disadvantage, but are relatively automatic. In games with battlechatter, such as Bad Company 2, you'd automatically yell out such things as "friend down", "enemy spotted" and more, which the enemy can hear. This is usually something I use to my advantage, as I flank. If I kill someone and hear another enemy commenting on it automatically, I know there are more nearby. It is an incredibly impressive effect, but can get really frustrating if you are on the receiving end of it.

Be aware of the noise you make yourself. Some games do not let yourself know if you've said something automatically, such as "reloading" - but know that you do. Sometimes very loudly, too. Be aware of your footsteps and either crouch or walk if you want to make a surprise attack. Don't randomly shoot, because you'll give your position away. Don't overdo it by going all assassin and only shoot if you hear an enemy shooting, but just be careful. If you want to be sneaky, then makes as little noise as possible. If you want to be up front, then you don't need to think so much about it.

Remember, many people won't overthink situations, so it is easy to lay traps. Play smart and get awarded.

Using your Team

There are many many ways to use your team, both selfishly and selflessly. First and foremost, help out as best as you can. Be the team instead of just running in and dying. No one learns or wins by doing that.

Having said that, there are many ways to "abuse" your team. Pretty sure there is an enemy in a house/room/building? Wait for a team mate to run in and check the death messages. He might have killed the attacker, he might have died. Either way, you know something new and can use that to your advantage. Also, make notes on where people die and to who. Within a minute, from looking at the death messages, you'd know who to look out for, who is probably camping (by getting multiple kills at a choke point or something else). Some games even show you where they died, so you can pinpoint the location of enemies. If you know the map well, you might even know where they are sitting, thus making them easy kill for you.

Staying together with your team is also a great way to "confuse" the enemy. You give them several targets to shoot at, which gives you a bigger chance to not be targeted first. If all goes well, you might even kill them -- without any casualties on your side. Your team is also part of choke points, of which you can flank or get behind, taking out the enemy with ease.

Coping with Losses and Learning from Them

As I've stated several times through this guide, it is important to learn from your faults and errors. You can make use of replays or killcams to see your mistakes or if you are anything like me, you'd know what you did wrong a few seconds after you've done it. There is no point getting angry at other players, when you know the fault is your own - so lose with dignity instead of getting angry and using verbal threats. Understand what you did wrong and avoid doing it next time. If you start getting angry, blaming the game, blaming the team or anything else, look to yourself and take a few minutes to realize what you did wrong. If you know you didn't do anything wrong, you are some kind of God and should be praised as such. I honestly doubt that there is anyone out there who plays perfectly all the time, any time. There is always room for improvement.

Learn to challenge yourself. If you can get a lot of kills with a certain weapon or by playing a certain way, try something different. A little story of mine: In Day of Defeat, the M1 Garand is one of the best weapons if you learn to counter it's huge recoil. I set down to learn this weapon but found myself with a horribly negative score. After a few months, I finally had the weapon grasped , understood how the recoil works and learnt how to counter it with ease. As the time progressed, I could see my kill-death ratio increasing, until it reached such a height that I felt I couldn't improve any more.

Don't be a hypocrite. Don't call someone a camper, if you camp. Don't EVER call anyone a cheater unless you are 100% sure. I mean, absolutely positive. A few lucky wallshots or headshots is not enough to call anyone a cheater. Instead, understand what happened and avoid it happening again. If your concentration is shut, your patience gone and your anger rising, quit the damn game for now. If you can't, at least unbind the talk buttons and learn some restraints. You won't learn anything if you are a sore loser.

If you are really interested in trying every aspect of getting better, look at competitive game highlights or tournaments. Look at their movements, what they do, how they navigate the maps and learn from it. If you've tried everything you can but still don't feel like you are improving, ask a better player to spectate you and listen to his advice. I know several competitive gaming sites have a kind of "tutor" program, where professionals take time to teach people on how to get better.

Other than that, keeps practising. Keep. On. Going. Take a loss with uplifted spirit about the concept of getting better.

Tweaking your Games

Newer games tend to have a lot of beautiful eye candy and all the whistles blowing but what does that matter, if you can't even keep a steady frames per second rate. Depending on the game, I tend to put most things on low and then gradually up a few settings that will give me an edge, such as shadows or special effects.

There is a lot of controversy and discussion surrounding on what is an acceptable amount of frames per second. Personally, I prefer something around 100. In Black Ops I've set the maximum frames to render to 125. This is something from Quake 3 and is more out of habit, than anything. And yes, you can see the difference from 30 frames per second to 60, to 100.

A place that you shouldn't go on compromise with, is the sound. As stated previously, it is such an important factor in most games and removing that edge is just pointless.

Certain games have the ability to change the field of view (FOV), which basically means you won't get tunnel vision and have a wider (funnily enough) field of view.  Annoyingly enough, console FPS games tend to try to squeeze in the lowest FOV as possible and give us zero option to change it. It is playable, though, but it takes some getting used to. If you don't know what I mean, imagine wearing a pair of swimming goggles constantly. I'd recommend going for anything above 90, depending on how the game calculates the FOV values. Bad Company 2 have a different way of doing it, while Quake Live, amongst others, use degrees (I believe). Anything above 130 is too much.

If you tend to use anything than the default controls, try to map most essential things to the keys close to your moving ones. You should never have to move your hand in order to throw a grenade or change weapon, since it'll leave you exposed.

Make use of the highest resolution possible for your monitor. It basically means you can see a lot more and don't have to go "pixel hunting" in order to shoot anything move in the other end of the map. If you can't run the game properly, even with everything on low, then upgrade your computer. It can't really get any cheaper now a days.

Conclusion

Training, practice, loses, practice, train and train even more. This isn't a super guide on how to get better straight away. Or maybe it is and you just needed to be told how to set your sensitivity up properly, how to counter campers or how to make use of sound. Who knows. Just have patience as you get better and better. Eventually, you'll get there, if willing.

Do feel free to ask me any questions you have, my opinion on something or just praise or mock me. I am open to everything.

Filed under: Gaming, Tips 1 Comment
4Jun/100

Weight Loss – Starting to Exercise and Eating Right

DISCLAIMER: I AM NOWHERE NEAR A PROFESSIONAL. THIS IS ALL THINGS THAT WORKED OUT FOR ME BUT THAT MIGHT NOT MEAN THAT IT WILL WORK FOR YOU. I HAVE RESEARCHED THIS EXTENSIVELY BUT THAT DOES NOT MEAN IT IS 100% CORRECT. THESE ARE MY OBSERVATIONS.

Introduction
I am a chubby guy but have been out of shape, chubbier - even borderline obese. I made the realization that I do not want that to be me. I had low self-esteem, short of breath after a couple of flights of stairs and I needed something to do with all of the downtime I have due to no job or any relationship.

First, while still in a relationship, we tried to just go all out eating healthy. It made me lose around 5 kg over 7-10 weeks but due to the split, it didn't settle and salad isn't all that interesting to eat, no matter how delicious my ex made it (and she is a master in the kitchen). But I changed some things on the side, which is still going and which is contributing to a lot of my weight loss. And it really isn't as hard as people think.

The Theory Behind Weight Loss
You probably know about calories. You probably also know that a normal person should aim at eating around 2000-2500 calories a day. Why is this, you might ask. Well, it is for your body to function. It needs something to burn in order to transform that into energy - roughly speaking.

Now, depending on the type of work you do, you might need to exercise on the side in order to gain a balance and burn more calories than you eat, thus reducing your weight. The general rule is that if you wish to lose weight, you will have to eat for 500 calories less or exercise enough to have burnt 500 calories. This is per day. It takes about 3500 burnt calories to lose around 500 grams worth of weight.

Depending on your weight, that would take around 1 hour with the following activities:

Rowing (vigorous effort): 502
Running (8.4 km/h): 531
Ice skating (14.5 km/h): 531 Kickboxing: 590
Rock climbing (ascending): 649
Cross-country skiing (vigorous effort): 531
Swimming laps freestyle (vigorous effort): 590
Bicycling (20-25 km/h) (vigorous effort): 590
Walking up stairs: 472
Running up stairs: 885

Changing What You Eat
Changing what you eat actually isn't as hard as you might think - that is, if you do it in small steps. I used to drink A LOT of soda, eat a lot of potato chips and wouldn't shy away from calling for junk food every now and then. Now, I rarely drink soda (if I do, it's the light versions), rarely eat potato chips (mostly at parties and social events) and junk food is only if I am in town and unable to find better sources of food. If you had asked me to quit soda a year ago, I would have said it was impossible. I drank so much sugar that, if my blood sugar was too low, would send me into a shaking sugar shock. I no longer get this - but just imagine if I had continued down that road. What I am trying to say is that anything is possible, as long as you believe in yourself (not to be taken literal, a lot of things can certainly be accomplished from it, though).

What I would recommend you to start out with, is to record everything you eat and drink, every day for a week. Be honest as the only one you will be cheating is yourself. Now, take a look at this list and, if you were like me, you'd probably be a bit shocked at just how much junk you eat. Things with empty calories, as people love to call them, that really doesn't do much other than make your weight increase and satisfy the hunger for a little bit.

BUT, that is not what we are going to look at, at first. Look where you can make some tiny changes, i.e: If you drink a lot of soda - change to a light version. Sure, it will taste less sugary and have a different flavor, but it truly grows on you. Now, I think that the regular Coca Cola is way too sweet. Eventually you should go all the way down to only drinking water, essentially removing an entire category of calorie in-take.

A huge motivational factor in this is that you will not lose the food you eat entirely, as there is a reason you enjoy eating them. You will just step up to a healthier product - one that will make you feel better eating it. So in short, replace unhealthy food with a healthier one.

Do this with just about every item on your list. Really put yourself into it and don't settle for the thought that you cannot live without that snack - because you can.

Now, as I said before, we have to do this in small steps. If you have a lot of unhealthy things on your list, then don't go and buy the light/improved version of all of them right away. Start out small - like with the soda first. Then after you feel good about doing that, continue. Replace more and more and eventually you might find that you don't actually need some of those things on your list anymore.

While replacing food items, try and size down your portions and/or only take one portion.. The fact is that if you eat fast, you will pretty much overeat because the food doesn't have time to expand in your stomach, which means you will still feel hungry even after having eaten a good portion. Try, if it is possible, to eat a portion and then wait 20-30 minutes, then if you are still hungry, eat another. Odds are you will not feel hungry afterwards and you have just saved your body from having to burn a lot of extra calories.

Exercising
If you are really serious about losing weight, like me, you probably also want to try exercising. Eating right is part of a good weight loss, but exercise completes the circle and - if you can keep going - you will see your weight go down quickly, especially in the start.

PLEASE, before you do anything, go to a doctor and have a health check. Tell him what you are planning to do and he will tell you what to be on the look out for. If you have a tendency to get inflamed joints and it's also in your knees and feet, then running is probably not the first thing you should do. If you have flat feet, you might need to obtain special insoles etc.

First and foremost, figure out what kind of exercise you like to do. Competitive sports? Join a sports club. Biking? Get out on the road. Find something you find enjoyment in doing but if there really isn't any and you just feel that every exercise you do makes you weep for the couch, I will say one thing: Hang in there. Like with anything, the better you get at it, the more enjoyment you will get out of it. Like me, I hated running but started anyway. Now I know I can run a decent amount before feeling short of breath and I can keep pushing myself and still be at awe at the results I keep pulling in. If you still feel that you just can't exercise, then go to the gym. If the motivation is lacking then keep reading. I will explain a few things in another topic that might get you out there.

For outside sports: Now that you have decided on an exercise you want to do, jump on it and just get out there. As with everything, do it, at first, in moderation. Small steps, remember? Do not push yourself all too much at first. Just enjoy what you are doing. Take breaks, enjoy the weather, take a scenic route - it's your time. Do this for a week.

After you have done that, you will probably feel that exercising is a bit easier than it was at first. Now you can start pushing yourself.  Start out with 5 minutes of relaxing speed, for warm-up. Afterwards, try to push yourself. Get a sweat working and then keep going until you just can't anymore, then at a relaxing speed again. Rinse and repeat. Try to make yourself do 30 minutes to an hour every weekday. Set your mind up to it, maybe fine-tune your route and take time and then try to beat your time. If you can't do 5 times a week, then at least try 3.  Just. Keep. Pushing. Yourself. Remember to do some light stretching afterwards.

Gym: The gym is a wonderful place. They have several cardio machines, so you can differ in your workouts. Like with outside sports, just try to familiarize yourself with the machines for the first week. Figure out what you enjoy doing for longer and shorter times, figure out what effort level you should put the machines at and what program you think would be just for you. After that week, start out with 15 minutes worth of warm-up. I would recommend the stationary bike. After that, go to another machine and truly push yourself for 15 minutes. Then to another and another 15 minutes etc. Try to do this 3-5 days a week. Remember to do some light stretching afterwards.

After having done this for a few weeks, you will start to know how your body works - what gives you a sweat and what doesn't. Try to make a plan in your head in what you want to do every day. Every exercise, except the work out, should make you sweat and if it doesn't, it means you need to push yourself even more.

If you feel faint or in any kind of pain, stop what you are doing and, if necessary, consult your doctor. Aching, however, normally happens when muscles get used and develop but if it aches for too long, go to your doctor.

I would elaborate more on this, but it really depends on the person on what they'd do.

Keeping Motivated

How to keep motivated is really up to every person, but I will tell you what worked with me.

  • A crush - as sad as it sounds, I eventually kept going because of a girl.
  • The boost in self-confidence is absolutely intoxicating. It's amazing. It can keep you going.
  • Having to go to the gym. This means that it isn't that easy to just get home again and will make you keep going.
  • Audio books and music. Music is a huge motivational factor during the exercise. Time just goes faster. I have recently put audio books on my mp3 player as well, so I can get a few chapters down at each workout. In theory, you could put on a learning audio book and getting taught while getting fit.
  • Use your friends. Ask your friends if they want to start going or go with them, if they already are. They can be the difference from having a break and actually going that day.
  • Eventually you will be in such great shape that you will do it for the sheer enjoyment.

Gear and Gadgets

Clothing: This really depends on where you work out. If it's outside, get some appropriate clothing so you don't get cold. If inside, just get some decent shorts and make use of some old t-shirts. If you are of the female gender, go get a very supportive sports bra - especially if you run.

Shoes: Get. Some. Running. Shoes. I cannot really express just how important running shoes are, even if you don't plan on running. The suspension in these shoes are good against your joints and it is just a world of difference once you have tried it. I bought running shoes, mainly because of my flatfeet but I will never ever buy normal shoes again. Shoes are pretty much the one place where you shouldn't feel bad about spending a lot of money. I personally lean towards Nike running shoes, but I am sure that is just a subjective preference.

Mp3 Players: This one is a bit controversial. Some people think that Mp3 players = iPods but I would urge everyone to think of what exactly they want out of their music apparatus. I knew what I wanted and I will absolutely recommend it: An inexpensive light Mp3 player with a display and a clip. It cost me $47. Enter: SanDisk Sansa Clip+ 2GB version. Amazing value for the money, especially because it takes MicroSD - which means I can just put in my 32GB card. I will never run out of space on this wonder machine.

Headphones: Normal headphones usually fall out of my ears as soon as I start jogging, so I quickly realized that I need some special ones. I have had the look out on several ones, but finally fell in love with and bought the Sennheiser PMX 80 Sport II. Unlike the OMX 80, this one is connected in the neck, which I find is the best, simply due to the fact that there is only one wire. It's cheap, as well, and the sound is amazing. This means that you will only have one wire.

Pulse watches: I use a heart rate monitor as a core part in my cardio training, simply because I go for a specific heart rate, where I know I will be burning a lot of calories. Since all of the cardio equipment at my gym can pretty much handle every heart rate monitor there is on the market (at least, if it's using radio frequencies), I just use a cheap one. I never use the watch anymore.

Android Application CardioTrainer: If you are as lucky as having an Android phone, you should definitely get CardioTrainer, which is free from the Market. It can be best described as a virtual training partner. It tracks your outdoor activities through GPS but is also able to count your steps. After the training, you can see your route through Google Maps, see your calorie burn, average speed, distance etc. etc. It really have to be experienced because it is tough to explain.

Conclusion
As it started, everything is possible if you believe in yourself. You will see some pretty hefty results at first, but that is just because your body is burning a lot more since it isn't used to that kind of exercise. Don't give up when your weight loss slows down, but keep going. This just means you are getting into shape and you can stand more punishment. Up your exercises, make sure your heart rate is still getting up there and that you are sweating. Also, do not weight yourself more than once a week because your weight will go up and down throughout it.

Remember, exercising become a lot more fun when you get into shape.

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11Feb/108

My 7 Tips to Life

It is really easy to tell others how to live their lives, so that is what I am going to do. These are essential guidelines that have helped me throughout my life and hopefully will make you feel better and more accomplished about yourself and your life.

ONE

Develop your own identity. There is nothing more uninteresting than talking to a person, who is an exact replica of the current fashion going around. You will seem shallow and just plain out boring. Believe it or not, but it is really easy to develop your own identity. Just be yourself and do what YOU feel is comfortable. Do not  say or do anything you do not wish to. Wear clothes you want to wear and not what everyone else want you to. Eventually, you will become a more rounded person, with personality! If you are still at a loss how to do this, then I will suggest a few things:

  • Listen to some different kind of music, than you normally would. Believe it or not, but a lot of people take music for granted and just listen to what is on the radio and what is cool and hip. Music is very important, mainly because it can shape you as a person but also because it can really get to you, both emotionally but also as a motivational factor. I write while listening to music, I enjoy listening to. Words just come easier that way. Change the channel from MTV to another music channel that specializes in alternative music, maybe check out all the free internet radios online or go to a concert with an unknown band down at the local bar or cafe, ask a close friend to a music talk. You might be surprised, just how much music suddenly means to you and how much it changed your view on life. Music is truly a lifestyle.
  • Go down to the local library. Yes, they do exist. Go to the craft/hobby section and just scan it through. Anything you find interesting, you pick up and read a bit in it. If it sounds absolutely fantastic, then lend it or read it while at the library. Start doing these hobbies, which will occupy both your time and your mind, plus it makes you more confident in yourself and your skills.
  • The most important bit is very simple, but very hard to follow: Be yourself. I know I described it earlier, but it is really the most important bit about finding yourself. If you truly need more clarification than that, I will give a few examples. The group of friends you usually hang around with wants to go to McDonalds to eat. You tell them, that you rather feel like having sandwiches at Subway or maybe want to be more classy and go to a café. Congratulations, you just uttered your opinion and you became just a bit closer to being a more refined person. Amazing. Never be afraid of saying YOUR opinion. You will feel a lot more comfortable saying that, than having to constantly think about what THEY want to hear you say.

TWO

Do not overuse heavy words like "love". Love is a big word that, for a lot of people, causes a huge emotional reaction. It is also a word that has caused a lot of conflicts, ended friendships, relationships and a lot of misunderstanding. Why? Because it is often used in a wrong context or understood in a completely different way. Not many people understand what exactly it implies, means or the word's intention in the current situation, too. Let's whip out good old Wikipedia to explain the sentimentals of it:

Love is any of a number of emotions related to a sense of strong affection and attachment.

My personal opinion is that, you should never really use "love" to or for a person until you are absolutely positive that you have such an emotional attachment and feeling towards them. It is perfectly fine to say you love a certain kind of food, item or other things, however. A lot of other words are also implied in this.

THREE

Keep a box for your memories. I do not mean literally, just the objects that give you memories, good or bad. Nothing is so bad that it is not good for something. Believe it or not, but your memories will often shape who you are, so you should truly embrace them instead of trying to forget or ignore them. Putting them in a box means that you have moved past it and can now continue on with your life. As an example, my box contains cards from my ex-girlfriend as well as some items from my father, who has passed away. There is no point letting such objects and items get to you in your normal day.

FOUR

Take chances. There is nothing worse than looking back at "what could have been", if you had just taken that chance or done something differently. This advice is also an extension of the first one, as you should always do something you want to do, not what others wants to. Obviously, taking a chance can have a risk or consequences but, personally, I believe it is better to have taken a chance, as it gives you a sort of a feeling of accomplishment. Beware, certain chances should not be taken - so it is up to your own judgement. Quotes are always amazing:

"Of all the people I have ever known, those who have pursued their dreams and failed have lived a much more fulfilling life than those who have put their dreams on a shelf for fear of failure."

FIVE

Tell people what you feel, before it's too late. I do not mean to be a mood killer, but there is nothing worse than having a lot on your chest you want to tell someone, and suddenly he/she is gone. Maybe passed away, moved away or generally just disappeared out of your life. You will suddenly sit there with a lot of unsaid things, that might have patched up a strained relationship, created another type of friendship/relationship or set them in their rightful place. If you are not comfortable doing this in person, then write it to them. Maybe your feelings are also easier to write down on paper.

SIX

Exercise. No matter how stupid it sounds, you will always feel better after having exercised. It's about chemicals your brain releases, so you cannot really supplement it. The most important thing is to find a motivation for you to exercise or maybe just find something, you enjoy doing. Motivational factors are many and they are sometimes hard to come by, but they are often what will keep you going, when the couch looks sexier than the bike or the running shoes. Motivation can be that maybe you just want to look more fit, maybe you want to impress someone, challenge yourself, be healthy or other things. To find the sport is as easy as looking at yourself. If you are really competitive person, join up for some team-based game where you play in a league. Hate teams? Go to table tennis, tennis, badminton among other things. Like being by yourself? Grab a MP3 player and just run/bike out into the nature. Like structured exercise? Join the local fitness center and make yourself a program. You do not need to have a goal for exercising, as it - in itself - gives you an amazing feeling - but some people will feel an ever greater accomplishment. Set a goal if you need to, but just enjoy the journey there, else you will not feel like continuing.

SEVEN

Keep a tidy life. A lot of frustration and concentration issues can often be traced back to how you live. Look around you at your home/room/desk. Is there trash, unsorted papers? Does it look unorganized and is it just killing you? Would you feel comfortable letting a close friend in, while it looked like this? It does not take a long time to clean up and make a place look great, plus it takes minimal effort to keep everything clean, as long as you take your time with things and not just throw them away from you at the closest, most convenient place. When everything is sorted, you will feel great and have room, both in your thoughts, but also in your home. Then you can start sorting out everything. Make use of post-its, to-do lists and calendars in order to organize yourself further. Believe me, when you have done this, you can start thinking about what really matters. Remember to do, what you write down on your to-do list. Reduce distractions, especially if you plan on being productive and creative. I know it is great to have something "going" in the background while you do your work, homework or other important things, but it is a huge distraction, if there is a visual aspect to it - so turn off that TV, among other things. Put on some music, preferably something you want to listen to (So turn off the radio) and just let it flow. If you are one to get sucked into the lyrics, then go for something instrumental instead. With all of this, you will find that your thoughts flow a lot better.

I have more I want to write, but it will just be an endless list. Take it, for what it is. Hopefully it will make you think a bit and maybe help you out, in your life.

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