I took my daughter and two of her friends to a movie, and afterwards they wanted to eat. Wendy’s, they said. It was a restaurant they could afford. One of the girls had an iPhone and pulled out the Urbanspoon app. It, of course, directed us to a Wendy’s ten miles away. No no, Steak ‘n Shake is closer. So we’re driving to Steak ‘n Shake and then pass a Wendy’s. So into the Wendys’s we go.

I’m of the mistaken opinion that a combo at Wendy’s is just fries and a drink. So I pass on a combo and order a chicken sandwich, a side salad, and a bottle of water.

The clerk looks at me and says, “Sir, that’s a combo.” Oops. I now recall that, from commercials long ago, but I haven’t been in Wendy’s enough to get it. Wendy’s has a very flexible combo concept. Now I get it. Yes, the combos are nice and the choice is convenient.

It was in my undergrad days when I first encountered Wendy’s. They spoke about how the burgers were “juicy.” No, they’re not juicy, they’re greasy. Wendy’s has some of the worst burgers on the planet.  However, Wendy’s is neat and clean. They have decent chicken sandwiches, decent chicken fingers, good salads, and their flexible combos are nice when you’re trying to avoid fries.

Steak ‘n Shake is, for me, a late night eatery, the kind of place you go after being with “the guys” till 2 in the morning. You can get into one of these and have a nice burger, maybe a shake, maybe some chili. They have shoestring fries that are decent, largely, and the cheese fries can be a lot of fun. In Snellville, however, the Steak ‘n Shake tends to be a teen hangout. It gets very loud, almost unbearably loud when the crowd shows. Because of the noise, I can’t recommend that restaurant. I’ve had better luck with the Steak ‘n Shake in Duluth, near Gwinnett Place.

The day previous I took my family to Alon’s on Ashford Dunwoody. Though I had been there several times, they had never been. And Alon’s is major eye candy. We had sandwiches and my wife shopped for small breads. They had interesting chocolates, interesting cheeses, and I paid a lot more attention to their olive selection than I had previously.

Happiness can be a roast beef sandwich at Alon's.

I’ve been playing with Weight Tracker ODS. It’s a nice little spreadsheet derived from the Hacker’s Diet tools, and I intend to keep using it for a while. It smooths out changes in weight, and predicts the rate of your weight loss, calculates your BMI, and keeps a running total of how many calories you’ve saved. It’s in the smoothing algorithm that I have some nit picks.

It’s an exponential smoothing algorithm and the first thing that becomes obvious on reflection is that it’s very sensitive to the first weight you enter. It seems to assume the very first weight is a very accurate weight and that isn’t always so. The algorithm doesn’t handle missed data very well. If you decide to extrapolate back a month on 3-4 measurements for the month the algorithm doesn’t handle that situation very well. It can only change so much per measurement.

Because it can only change so much per measurement the Weight Tracker curve will tend to be a lagging indicator of your weight. Most of the weight measurements you give it will be below the extrapolated line, as you’re in a weight loss situation. There may be useful psychological reasons for using such an indicator, but I did a heap of curve fitting back in the day. I’m used to lines that straddle data points, that minimize the sum of squared residuals. The curves don’t straddle their data and that just seems a little odd to me.

Wendy’s
1918 Scenic Highway
Snellville, GA 30078
(770) 972-4060

Wendy's Old Fashioned Hamburgers on Urbanspoon

Steak ‘n Shake
1610 Scenic Highway
Snellville, GA 30078
(770) 978-8787

Steak 'n Shake on Urbanspoon

Steak ‘n Shake
2110 Pleasant Hill Road
Duluth, GA
(770) 623-8600

Steak 'n Shake on Urbanspoon

The Hacker’s Diet isn’t really a diet, but rather, it’s a set of tools to allow anyone to manage their diet. The core of it are a set of spreadsheet tools that calculate a weighted average of your weighings and then do trend analysis to figure out how much weight you’re actually losing. To simplify, your weight can fluctuate by as much as 6 pounds over a couple days, due to eating, taking in and losing water, etc. It’s hard to see any weight loss in all the fluctuations, especially if your weight loss goals are modest. The author, John Walker, founded Autodesk, and helped to write AutoCAD, the popular drafting software. The tools he’s presenting are the tools he used to lose weight himself.

As time has gone on he’s created a web based online suite of tools. These eliminate the spreadsheet and allow people to manage their weight using only a browser. I took one look at it and decided, no, too public. And I didn’t want to play with Excel or use a PDA to manage my weight. To note, a fellow named Jon Thysell has released a version of the Hacker’s Diet spreadsheet for the open source office suite OpenOffice.org. He calls it Weight Tracker ODS, and yes, I’ve downloaded this and will fill out the spreadsheet and will track weight loss over time.

For those with a bent to using WordPress, there is also a Hacker’s diet plugin for WordPress. This little tool was written by Keith Thornhill and is available here.  Another spreadsheet oriented weight loss tool is that of Jeremy Zawodny. Again, there is a spreadsheet to track weight loss but other tools to track input. And yet another hacker, Matt Griffith, developed a set of online tools after exposure to the Hacker’s Diet suite. He calls his online dieting tools physicsdiet.com.

Update: A Hacker’s Diet style application for the iPhone is the product True Weight, by the software house Made Up Software.

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