Archive for July, 2011

Review: Tesco Diets

Posted in Cooking, diets, exercise, Fitness, General, health, opinion, reviews on July 27, 2011 by Jim St Ruth

Continuing my quest to lose some body fat, two weeks ago I thought I would stump up the £28 for an eight week membership of Tesco Diets.

My aims were simple:

  • Track my calorie intake for eight weeks.
  • Lose body fat.
  • To cook some new recipes (given in the Tesco Diets diet plans).
  • Be more conscious about what I’m eating so that when I come off the diet plan I’ll be more aware of what combinations and quantities of foods constitute over eating/ consuming more calories than I burn.
  • Use the calorie tracking to spot areas of my diet where I can easily, and healthily, cut calories and support my fat loss.
  • To do this in as simple and as hassle free a way as I can – there’s no point in making this a chore.
  • To come up with/ use the meal plan to cook main evening meals that are healthy for me and my partner.

Those are pretty simple aims and when I joined Tesco Diets I was initially very impressed. They offer a wide variety of diet plans, from low GI to mediterranean and low-fat diets, even offering specialist diets for people with diabetes. My first issue came when I was looking through the sample meal plans – a breakfast loaded with fruit and other sugars on a low GI plan isn’t good, and certainly isn’t low GI.

When you sign up, you enter your sex, height, weight – all the obvious things that you’d expect for a dieting tool. Then you set your preferences for imperial or metric weights for you and meal ingredients and as well as being able to say whether you’re diabetic, wheat intolerant or vegetarian, you can also exclude some foods from the meal plans that you simply don’t like. For me, this was eggs, and I was really excited about a system that let me say that; I wouldn’t have to go through and remove scrambled eggs from the meals. The meal plans are created automatically, but you can change both the ingredients and the actual meals themselves. Tesco Diets provides a reasonably long list of meals, and you can search for ingredients to build your own recipes, save them as favourites and get easy access to them at any time – and all the while it tracks your total calorie intake, alongside carbs, proteins and fats. You can also change your diet at any time, and create new meal plans whenever you want.

In these respects, Tesco Diets is extremely interesting for anyone wanting to shed some pounds and, along with the ability to monitor your fruit and veg, calcium and water intake, the focus on eating healthily seems spot on. That you can set aside an alcohol allowance for the week makes it even better; you don’t have to go without the foods you like. Then, as well as a weekly weigh-in and feedback from a Tesco Diets Mentor once a week, there’s a user forum to ask questions and get support from people. If you have a family, or even if there’s just two of you to cook for, you can select to have easily scalable meals in your meal plan, plus budget meals for those of us who need to watch their pennies – like me.

Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? I certainly thought it did… However, beneath an exciting and motivating exterior there are a number of big problems with Tesco Diets that the team either doesn’t seem to want to address, don’t know what to do about, or simply just don’t understand.

Firstly, the meal plans regularly too me over the recommended calorie and fat intakes for a day, and brought me in under the recommended intake for protein. When I spoke to a mentor about this, I was told that things should even out over the course of the week, but I couldn’t help but feel that they should have put more attention into providing recipes and plans that made you follow your intake budgets.

Then, looking at the details of the meal plans, it became apparent that there was often a good 15 – 20 minutes of cooking and preparation for lunches. This is simply idiotic. few people, whether working, looking after the kids, or simply those lucky enough to have the freedom to do what they want, want to spend that amount of time cooking every day. The meals themselves have simple enough recipes to follow, but have items like and orange or an apple tacked on the end because the recipes themselves don’t provide you with your 5-a-day; so the nutritional aspects of the diets feel tacked on. The recipes themselves are a mixture of quite interesting to… to be honest, completely awful and it seems that the people writing the recipes have no idea how to cook.

One recipes for a stew-like meal required a tin of tomatoes to be simmered with herbs and onions for twenty minutes before doing anything with this sauce… why? No meat had been added, so why would you do something like that? Certainly the development of flavours wasn’t a consideration.

My next steps was to say, hands up and be honest, what am I really looking to use Tesco Diets for? I decided on forgetting about new recipe ideas and simply use the system to put in my own meals, track my calorie, protein and fat intake and look for areas where I lower the quantities of carbs and fat that I’m eating. I’m taking medication that has the side effect of weight gain but, although I’m active and healthy enough to have a steady weight, actually weight loss is pretty hard for me.

So, I stripped out all the meal plan suggestions and put in meals of my own; everything for a simple breakfast, salads for lunch and a healthy home cooked dinner, to more convenience foods and ‘throw in the over’ meals like fish fingers, chips and peas. You can easily search for ingredients to build up the components of your meals, but it soon became obvious that actually finding the products I eat wouldn’t be easy.

One of the appeals of Tesco Diets is that it includes both brand and non-brand foods. I don’t regularly shop at a big name supermarket (£1.20 for a whole cucumber, Sainsbury’s? Honestly?), but I do once a fortnight or so for food that I can’t easily get anywhere else without paying for a bus ride that would cancel out any savings I make by not simply dropping into Sainsbury’s. Tesco Diets lists generic brand, but also food from Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Aldi and M&S amongst others… however, the foods they list are very incomplete, and this is frustrating in the case of Tesco products because the Tesco grocery site holds all the nutritional information for their own products.

After spending a week and a half searching for rough calorie, fat and protein-alikes for food like petit pois, Tesco Salt and Vinegar Crisps, and other obvious  things, I left a message on the forum asking why Tesco Diets doesn’t simply have the data from the Tesco groceries website? The reply state d that if I wanted any specific item added then I should just email one of the nutritionists and ask for it to be added… which kind of defeats the point for me. It seems I can either track things roughly in real time if I go on a Big Supermarket website and search for an item, or I an wait up to twelve hours or them to add last night’s dinner to their database.

For £30 I don’t expect to have to do that. I expect it to already be there… especially since Tesco already have the information for their own products..

It was suggested that, because of my problems finding items and tracking them, that I could switch to the Totals diet, which was completely customisable… and then Ryvita Crackerbreads vanished from the database. The system is so buggy – and so slow – that it seems the content of the database changes according to what diet you’re on. When this is something as obviously diet-friendly as Ryvita, that’s a big problem.

Then came the issue of Preferences. I set measurements for my weight and body to imperial, but my measurements for food to metric. People tend to use one system or the other, and a lot of people (including me) find measurements in their unfavoured system baffling. For me, I weigh food in grams and kilograms and find ounces and pounds confusing, but I always weight myself in pounds or stone, and measure my waist in inches… a little strange, that combination, I admit, but Tesco Diets doesn’t care. It lets you chose whatever you want… except that it doesn’t work.

Some foods were given in grams, as I requested, but no matter what I did some were still given in ounces. I’ve got a set of electronic metric kitchen scales at home, so I have to work things out in my head. This isn’t a big problem, but why give you the chance to set a preference if it doesn’t make any difference. The response from the team basically restated the problem, without realising that it was a problem. That’s no good. Neither is giving food quantities occasionally in ‘portions’.

Tesco Diets still has much to offer the dieter and I’m happy that some people have had great success with the system, but I wanted something that was simple to use for my money and Tesco Diets is just too filled with niggles for me to use. I changed to the Totals diet plan and was presented with things in calories, grams of fat and protein, and a points system that looked superficially similar to Weight Watcher… but on changing to the Totals plan I wasn’t given easy access to information about what that points system meant, or even how many points I was allowed.

There are a number of other niggles to the system, but I’ve covered the main points that were a bother or an annoyance to me. There are many plus sides to the system too, but for me it hasn’t had enough time spent on developing it. I expect those things just to be done right for my cash and, although I’ve fed back my concerns to the Tesco Diets team, I’m not paying for them to have a think and make the changes; they should already me there after having the site set up for a reasonable amount of time.

I cancelled my account, knowing that they don’t give refunds.

I did get one very useful thing from it though: I don’t regularly consume more calories than I burn.

I’ll just forget the calorie counting, pick up the exercise some more, track what I’m eating this week and eat less of it next week. That seems to be the best way forward… it’s just a pity that it cost me £28 in having that concept confirmed.

Scout Ship: Pilot’s Head Test Render

Posted in 3D, Design, General, Maya, Photoshop, science fiction, scifi, zbrush on July 8, 2011 by Jim St Ruth

Here’s a test render of the scout ship pilot’s head.

This started out as Michael 1 from poser, taken into Zbrush for some extra sculpting and fine tuning; it’s not recognizably Machael 1, I don’t think, but I’m not quite skilled enough yet to have confidence about building a head from scratch… and I don’t have the time, either. From Zbrush, the figure was taken into Maya and I re-skinned/retopologised the whole head, giving me better edge flow, a lower poly count and some extra fine tuning. Then it was back into Zbrush to polish out some areas where the edges were bunched up.

The hair is a sphere that’s been sculpted into shape with the Clay Brush, and subdivided a few times. I used the Clay Brush on each subdivision level to add form and detail to the hair. This will be retopologised to remove the unwanted parts of the hair, then I’ll re-project the detail onto the new hair mesh.

Scout Ship Update

Posted in 3D, Design, General, Maya, Photoshop, Pictures, science fiction, scifi, Uncategorized, zbrush on July 6, 2011 by Jim St Ruth

A busy and productive day, today. I’ve been going through the first two-thirds of my treatment for my next book, got stuck in the rain while I was out for a bike ride (and completely drenched, he-he), I’ve been up to my elbows in fish poo while cleaning out my fish tank (and the two angel fish that the guy at the aquarium promised me wouldn’t grow bigger than an inch and a half are absolutely enormous), and I’ve even had my mud coated bike in the bath for a scrub down (so that’s what it looks like!).

I’ve also had chance to set some test renders of my scout ship running. The exterior is mostly textured and almost finished, bar some flaps and the texture for the exterior air lock hatch. The interior of the main deck is now almost completely modelled, with just the control panels, displays and lighting to be modelled – which will be quite a lot of work, and great fun.

I spent a lot of time over the weekend looking for free UV mapping software, but to no avail. I even tried to download Blender to help me UV map the outer body of the ship, but I just don’t have the time to learn Blender at the moment. Then it came to me in a flash! … and yes, the moment was pretty dramatic for me. I carved the pieces up into UV islands in Maya and then used GoZ to import the model into Zbrush. Zbrush’s UV Master only allows you to ‘suggest’ where the borders of your UV will go, but thankfully you can set it to respect any UV islands that are already in place.

I unwrapped the pieces in Zbrush, then took the model back into Maya for some fine tuning… and discovered that I suddenly understood how to unwrap things in Maya. No time lost, but perhaps taking the model into Zbrush was unnecessary; I’ll have to see how I got with the interior UV mapping to say whether I’ll need Zbrush for the job in future.

The exterior was textured mostly in Photoshop, with some dirt and scratches textured in Zbrush – Zbrush’s Lightbox makes it so easy to import textures and photographs and paint them directly onto the model; most importantly, you can paint without having to worry about how texture-strokes match up across UV islands.

Here, then, are the latest test renders.

WIP: Scout Ship

Posted in 3D, Design, General, Maya, Photoshop, Pictures, science fiction, scifi, zbrush on July 2, 2011 by Jim St Ruth

It’s been a busy and enjoyable week.

I’ve sent of my first novel to a prospective agent and I’ve been steaming ahead with my treatment for my second book; both very enjoyable and exciting activities. My new weights workout is going well too; I bought Beginning Bodybuilding from Amazon and I’ve worked through five workouts so far. It’s an excellent book from what I can make out, and it should certainly help me to progress beyond what limited weights I’ve done in the past. I’ve already lost some girth, so that’s great… and when my replacement phone arrives I should be back to going running as well.

In between all this activity, I’ve been working on a new 3D project: to model a scout ship inside and out, with landing gear, food machine and everything else that I can think of. It started out as a rough 3D sketch in Zbrush, using Zspheres as a base on which to build a low poly model in Maya. This didn’t turn out quite how I was hoping, and it needed more work. So, back to Zbrush it went and, after some additional sculpting, I brought it back into Maya. For those of you that are interested, I made the sculpt ‘live’ and rebuilt a low poly model on top of it; Zbrush is great, but I find it difficult to get the exact shapes that I need. It’s easy to lay out new geometry on top of a sculpt in Zbrush, but hard to get cylindrical body parts regular enough that I can then optimise; I want something that’s looks as though it’s compose of 4 million polygons, but don’t want the mesh to be anywhere near that dense.

The resulting rebuild in Maya, after smoothing and removing excess edges (to reduce the overall poly count) was around 70,000 polygons. I’ve also started to build the interior, and have the main deck, the airlock drop-tube and engineering deck roughed out. Here are the test renders from tonight, but note that neither of the interior decks have ceilings at the moment, and there is much more detail to be added before I start to texture the model.

You can click each of the images to open them in a new window or tab.

Front View:

Rear View:

Interior View, looking towards the cockpit:

Looking inside, through the cockpit towards the living quarters:

The engineering deck, with hatch to main deck: