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Showing posts from 2010

How to combat the obesity epidemic

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From the December 2010 issue of Nutrition Action magazine:

"...if it's an epidemic, that means it's been triggered by the environment.

And what do you do if you have too much malaria? You drain the swamps.

What do you do if you have too many deaths on the highway? You impose seat belts.

These are public health measures.

What do you do when you have an epidemic of obesity?

We're going to have to impose taxes on soft drinks and subsidize healthier food.

And we need safe neighbourhoods where kids can play.

...

My grandmother knew that if you want to lose weight, you have to eat less and exercise more

We're still there, but the real trigger of the obesity epidemic is the environment

I couldn't agree more.

How long do you take to respond to emails?

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In Gmail, it's really easy to see how long it's been since you emailed someone, because it displays it right in the interface:


Lately I've noticed something very strange.

Most people seem to respond:
Within 24hrsExactly 3 days laterExactly 7 days laterOr neverHas anyone else noticed a similar pattern?
I wonder if it has anything to do with how people manage (or mis-manage) their Inbox.
How long do you usually take to respond to emails?

Panasonic warranty is useless

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Last January, I bought a Panasonic Lumix camera when living in New Zealand.

I was wary of buying something expensive overseas, but was assured that it came with a 1-year "worldwide" warranty.

When the camera went dead in Thailand, I phoned the Panasonic support numbers in New Zealand and Canada (which of course both routed to India).

They asked where I lived, and told me I should deliver it to a Panasonic authorized repair center in Canada.

Very inconvenient, but I that's what I did once I returned.

However, after I sent it to the repair center, Panasonic decided they wouldn't pay for anything unless I could send them a copy of the warranty card that came in the box.

So now I have to pay for the repair estimate (they determined it was unrepairable) and shipping both ways.

I have the original receipt, the manual, and all accessories. The warranty is still valid through next month. Why should a photocopied piece of paper make any difference?

Oh right! So they have an ex…

What's really in our food?

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Before flying an airplane, multiple checks are done to ensure the fuel is pure, is the correct type, and has no containments, like sediment or water.

How often do we check our own fuel?

Do those "multi-grain" muffins actually contain any significant amount of whole wheat or bran?

How much salt does that "low sodium" soup really have?

Remember: You are what you eat!

Read those labels, learn what they mean, and make your own good decisions about your personal fuel.

In the meantime, check out the Nutrition Action Healthletter for some great information to help you out.

More on this topic:
http://www.cspinet.org/http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00lrjk4http://www.tv3.co.nz/Shows/WhatsReallyInOur.aspx

First ZipCar Rental Review

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On Thursday, Mel and I took our first ZipCar for a spin.

For those of you who don't know, ZipCar is a company that rents cars by the hour or day, all inclusive of insurance and fuel.

The Good

- Cheap! Our 1.5hr trip to Ikea in a new Honda Civic cost a grand total of $18.23, including gas, insurance and all taxes.
- Easy! Reserve online, walk to the car, swipe your card, drive away.

The Not-So-Good

- The previous renter had left the has tank only 1/8th full -- contrary to ZipCar's policy of leaving it at least 1/4 full.
- The rear seat wasn't super-clean, and there was junk in the glove box.

Summary

Overall, it was a good experience and we'd certainly use ZipCar again for any short trip around town requiring a vehicle.

Are you actually hungry?

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You hear it all the time.

"I'm soooo hungry!"  "I'm starving!"

But stop and think for a moment. Are you truly and actually hungry?

Here's one way to tell:

Pick a food you really don't like, but something healthy. Like spinach. Or broccoli. Or turnips. It'll be different for everyone.

Now pretend that's the only food available.

Still want some?

If it sounds appetizing and you could see yourself eating it, you're probably hungry.

If not, you're not hungry. You're likely upset, bored, or otherwise distracted.

In this case, try getting up and doing some sort of physical exercise. You'll probably forget about food altogether and start doing something productive instead!

What does your email address say about you?

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It may sound strange, but whenever I receive a business lead from my website, one of the first "qualifiers" I look at is the email address.

Over 7 years and hundreds of leads (most of them useless), I've discovered that an email address can say a lot about someone.

Even before reading the project description or budget, I look very carefully at the email address.  From there, my qualifying process is a bit like this:

1. Is it a company address or free email service?

If it is a company address, that's positive.  I use the domain name to go to their website and try to determine:
a) How long they've been in business
b) Their relative size
c) Any affiliations with larger companies/organizations

2. If it is a free email address, it is usually one of the following:

Great: Gmail: This is what most technical people use, and it is by far the best.
Ok: Yahoo Mail: This was a great service back in the 90s, but has since declined.  This might indicate the lead is "behind the…

Arrival in Koh Phangan, Thailand

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We've arrived on the small, tropical island of Koh Phangan, Thailand.

After a few days, my initial impression is very positive.

The Thai people are very polite and clean. Shoes need to be taken off before entering any building.

Prices are cheap, but not massively cheap. Our small furnished house, with air conditioning in the bedroom, a living room, a kitchen with gas range, and hot water shower, cost 15,000 baht (about $500) for a month, plus about another 3,000 baht ($100) for water, electricity, and ADSL internet that is probably better than an average Bell connection.

A load of laundry can be sent for washing, drying, and folding for 120 baht ($4). That's cheaper than when we did it ourselves at the hostel in Australia.

Western (imported) products cost nearly as much as back home. Food-wise, you can get cheaper stuff when it only has Thai writing -- if you can figure out what it is.

A 1.5L bottle of drinking water costs 15 baht ($0.50) in a grocery store.

One odd thing: Pe…

Perhaps online privacy is important after all

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I recently watched an enlightening documentary called "We Live In Public".

It made me completely rethinkmy previous notions about online privacy.

I'd like to believe that we can all be adults about things, and accept people's differences, but I could be wrong.

The 1999 "Quiet" experiment documented in this movie almost seems like a visionary warning to "future us", a decade later.

Although some may think that people can live together in truth and harmony, it didn't seem to work in this particular setting.

How does this relate to the online world? Well, for one, having your opinions and interests public certainly makes you think a bit more about what you post.

For example, I "like" the television show Weeds on my Facebook profile.  Does that mean I support the legalization of marijuana, or simply that I enjoy the show? (It's a hilarious dramedy, by they way -- highly recommended)

Different people could interpret it different ways,…

The difference between Urgent and Important

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These days, I'm seeing more and more people who have trouble differentiating between things that are urgent, versus things that are important.

I was reminded about this by a recent posting over at Business is Pleasure.

Software and devices generally have a "do not disturb" setting that silences them and sends calls to voicemail.
Use these features! If you're having lunch with someone and talking to them, don't try to answer emails and texts at the same bloody time!

Urgency does not necessarily imply importance! In fact, they can often be inversely correlated.

The most important things in your life often have little urgency attached to them, so it's up to you to keep track of them and make sure they don't get smothered and forgotten in the minutia of the day-to-day.

So every day, take some time to turn off your cellphone, shut down your email, stop tweeting and twittering, sit down, and do something that's actually important!


Original article: The urgent…

Mid-air plane collision in Feilding

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On Monday, July 26th there was a terrible tragedy.

Two small planes collided with each other in mid-air.

One of the planes landed safely, but the other crashed, killing two people.

This accident is very near and dear to me, as it happened at the flight school I've been training at the past 8 months.

In fact, Mel and I flew in TOD -- the plane that crashed -- just one day earlier.

It's difficult to fathom how this accident happened. It was a clear, mostly sunny day with not much wind. Excellent flying conditions.

The planes were all very well maintained, and the school has a superb safety culture. Students are well-trained.

The official accident investigation is underway, and will probably take 6-8 months to complete.

In the meantime, my heart goes out to the families involved, and all of the staff and students at the school.

Related Articles:
http://tvnz.co.nz/national-news/flight-school-closes-collision-probed-3675483
http://www.stuff.co.nz/manawatu-standard/news/3960507/Plane-c…

BuyMyStuff.com 1-year milestone and competition

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Lots of milestones lately. Almost missed this one!

It's been about a year since I unveiled my georeferenced online classified site, BuyMyStuff.com.

It's funny. The first thing people always say to me when I explain the site is, "Looks nice, but doesn't Craigslist already own that space?"

Despite what some may think, I did perform a bit of research on my competition prior to launch -- although not a whole lot :)

What I found was actually quite interesting. Although Craigslist dominates online classifieds in the United States, a site called Kijiji has most of the Canadian market.

Since then, I've learned that the international classifieds site market is extremely fragmented. It's difficult to get exact numbers, but using Google and Compete, you can get a rough idea of market leaders.

For example, here's the top classifieds sites in Australia: http://siteanalytics.compete.com/tradingpost.com.au+gumtree.com.au+ozfreeonline.com/

After looking at several ma…

Learning to fly an airplane

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First flight:
November 5, 2009

Obtained PPL:
July 10, 2010

Total Duration:
8 months

Flying hours:
70.7 total

Learning to fly. What an amazing adventure.

I have to admit, I originally thought it would just be a fun little hobby, but rest assured, it takes a good bit of time, money, and determination.

My initial estimate was to complete my training in 5 months, finishing in March. This was extended due to two major holidays and a nasty flu bug near the end.

A very important consideration in flying is the concept of "currency" or "recency". In fact, for your flying license to be valid, you must have flown a certain number of hours within a certain amount of time. This varies from country to country.

It's amazing how quickly you can forget things. Even taking a week off from flying can set you back a lesson or two.

If you want to learn to fly in the least amount of time possible, it's important that you don't have large breaks between your lessons. I have three su…

Syllogistic Software 7-year anniversary

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It seems like only yesterday that I quit my job in Atlanta, Georgia and moved back to Canada to start my custom software development company, Syllogistic Software Inc.

As it turns out, that was actually about seven years ago!

In 2008, at the 5-year mark, I did some research about how long typical startups last.  I found the following heavily referenced article, claiming 55%, 60%, and 63% failure/closure rates in years 5, 6 and 7, respectively.

These numbers aren't exact, but give a pretty good idea of how long typical businesses last.  Running your own business is not easy.  It requires good planning, great execution, awesome support from your friends and family, and just a little bit of luck.

I was fortunate to have all of the above, but that still doesn't mean that it was smooth sailing the whole way.  There were lots of bumps, and a few times I was ready to toss in the towel and close up shop.

I've put together a brief timeline of some of the major points in Syllogisti…

Most Popular Web Languages for 2010

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Back in 2007, I wrote about the most popular web languages and frameworks.

It seemed about time to do a quick update.

Here are the current standings in my super non-scientific Google popularity contest:

PHP: 7.5 billion results (154% increase)
ASP.NET: 158 million results (84% increase)
Ruby: 81.6 million results (19% decrease)
Python: 47.6 million results (not measured last time)

As for frameworks:

Symfony: 12.9 million results (180% increase)
CakePHP: 8.8 million results (83% increase)
Ruby on Rails: 7.8 million results (44% increase)

I'd like to add a few more numbers, however. The trend is moving towards browser-based programming using Javascript, so have a look at these interesting searches:

Javascript: 561 million results
YUI: 18.4 million results
jQuery: 16.8 million results HTML5: 9.1 million results
So based on these numbers, one might conclude: PHP and ASP.NET are going strongRuby may have lost its luster, and Python is still a bit obscureClient-side (browser-based/AJAX) scripting is…

Privacy law protects the guilty and penalizes the innocent

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Update: 2010-06-29 - Record arrived by mail. Was apparently processed 2010-06-18, eight days after I was advised to send (and sent) a second application. So it "only" took them about 70 days, but weren't even able to track whether or not they had received it during the process. Thanks very much for everyone who offered help and support. Remember, this is still a big problem for many Canadians seeking employment and immigration abroad. The CFSS still really needs a major overhaul.

I am a Canadian training for a Private Pilot's License (PPL) in New Zealand.

A few months ago, my flight instructor recommended I start getting my final paperwork ready.  He mentioned it can often take up to 30 days to obtain this from foreign governments.

I obtained my driving record in both countries via the Internet, and my New Zealand criminal record "all clear" report via postal mail, all within the first 3 weeks.

Up until December 2009, you could obtain your own Canadian crim…

Ideas have no value. Implementation does.

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There's a very common misconception that great ideas have great value.

This simply isn't true.

An idea with no action or implementation is worth exactly zero dollars and zero cents.

I have ideas all the time. Most are complete crap. Some are decent. But none of them have any value at all until I actually do something about them.

Some will argue, "but if I have a great idea and patent it, I can sell that patent to a big company for millions!"  That's fine. Patents have value. The ideas behind them are still worthless on their own.

Derek Sivers explained this quite nicely back in 2005:
It’s so funny when I hear people being so protective of ideas. (People who want me to sign an NDA to tell me the simplest idea.)To me, ideas are worth nothing unless executed. They are just a multiplier. Execution is worth millions.
An idea is certainly a prerequisite for a valuable endeavor, but until you add the action and implementation, it's all just hot air.

So don't be so

Copying is NOT Theft!

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I was a bit annoyed today reading through a few of the comments on this article in the Globe and Mail today.

Every time there is a debate about copyright law, there are always a slew of comments like the following:
"I walk into HMV and try and pocket a CD, DVD or game chances are I will be arrested and charged. Tell me how is it any different than doing the EXACT same thing while sitting at home in front of my computer." Ok. I'm going to tell you exactly how it is different.

This is such a moronic argument, and it's just not amusing anymore, because people are starting to believe it.

So here it is quite simply.

If you steal something, in the physical world, the original owner suffers a true and physical loss.  They no longer have the thing you took.

On the other hand, if you make a copy of something, in the digital world, nothing is lost.  In fact, there has been a net gain! In the digital world, you can literally create something of value (content) from nothing (rand…

Religion is here to stay

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I wrote most of this a few months ago, but a recent watching of the movie Agora prompted me to edit and post it.

Consider this quotation, attributed to Seneca, a Roman senator who was born around the year 4 B.C.:
"Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful."There is a tendency to believe that religious extremism is a recent phenomenon, but if you look carefully, it seems to date back to the beginnings of civilization itself.

The first ancient tribes had their gods and superstitious beliefs.  I'm willing to bet you didn't get very far in native tribal society if you started expressing doubts about the Great Wolf Spirit.

It must have been around that time when rulers realized the power of controlling one's beliefs from a young age.

If you can convince an entire population that their fate is controlled by some deity in the sky, you can get away with horrid behaviour and not worry about them turning on you.

Once…

Mobile Phone Watch Review: Final

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Back last September, I reviewed my then-recent mobile phone watch purchase.

All in all, it has done me fairly well.  For this review, I'll do a simple pros and cons list, followed by an overall recommendation.

Pros
It's on your wrist, so it's pretty difficult to forget to take it with you.It's quad band, so you can use it anywhere in the world.It has a camera and plays audio and video.It's a great conversation piece. Everybody calls you "James Bond" when you're wearing it :)But it's all not puppies and rainbows.  There are some serious problems.
Cons The user interface sucks.  A lot.  The software is just plain awful and it's difficult to use.The Bluetooth functionality is buggy as hell.The build quality sucks.  A lot.  (see next few points)The stylus fell off within the first few weeks.The latch for the USB port broke after a few months.The band broke today.  This subsequently broke the casing and now it just says "Please insert SIM card&quo…

Spring Cleaning and Garage Sales -- Online

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Ahh, the fresh smell of spring.  Time to get rid of the old and bring in the new.

Inevitably when you start spring cleaning, you end up with a bunch of things you've acquired over the years that you don't really need anymore.

When I found myself with a large number of things to sell last year, I did my best advertising everything on Kijiji. I sold most things in the end, but it was a real pain updating and managing the individual ads, marking things off after they were sold.

It was also a bit annoying that the site was plastered in multiple flashing banner ads and sponsored links trickily designed to look like regular listings.

So I did what any self-respecting computer geek would do, and built my own solution to the problem -- BuyMyStuff.com.

To be clear, it is not the best place to sell a car.  It is also not the place to look for a home or apartment.  Don't go there expecting to find personal ads or job listings, either.

It is not at all like your typical free online cl…

Why I don't return your cold calls

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I return most business phone calls (and all personal ones).  However -- There is a type of messages that I don't reply to anymore.  It goes something like this:
"Hi, this is John Doe from Acme Corp. I've tried calling you several times but was unable to reach you. Could you please give me a call at 123-4567 x890.  That's John Doe at 1 2 3 - 4 5 6 7  x 8 9 0 . Look forward to speaking with you then.  Thanks!" This seems to be a standard template for a sales "cold call."  It's made to sound like it might be a potential client or other important call, but over the years, I've learned that most worthwhile messages include the reason for the call.

When I return messages like the above, it is always some random provider trying to sell me something.

What I don't understand is why they don't mention the product or service they're trying to sell in the message.

Do they think they're being sneaky?  Do they think they're going to sell mor…

Why is income tax so damn complicated?

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I don't understand why the income tax system (in Canada and the US) has to be so bloody complicated.

Why can't they just tax gross income -- both on individuals and corporations?

Instead there are 30,000 rules about what you can deduct when and how.

Even the best accountants don't understand all the intricacies.

It takes complicated computer software to actually track and optimize your refund.

Why are there even refunds in the first place?  Why not just deduct the right amount of tax upfront?

Here's the solution: Eliminate deductions and adjust the marginal rates to compensate.

It would all be so simple then!

So much wasted time and effort.  Argh!  Why, why, why?...

Decision: Car or Education?

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In 2005, I had a big decision to make.

I had saved up a decent amount of money with my consulting business, and my current car was just about out of warranty.

So should I spend my savings on a new BMW, or going back to school?

Now, in theory, the "smart" choice was obvious.

Pros for Car: Fun! Flashy!
Cons for Car: Expensive. High depreciation.

Pros for Education: Knowledge = Power!
Cons for Education: Hard work.

So I went ahead and took a year off doing a full-time MBA program at Wilfrid Laurier.

It's nearly five years later.  Did I make the right decision?

From a financial standpoint, it's not entirely clear.  Let's say, to make it simple, my savings were $100.

Ignoring inflation, the car would have been worth about $40 today, whereas the education money is completely gone = $0.

Also, had I bought the car, I would have earned my regular income that year (let's say $100 again) instead of the reduced amount while taking full-time school (let's say $20).

So for …

The LADGAS problem (motivation in management)

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I think one of the the biggest challenges with management (and perhaps life in general) is dealing with people who happen to be feeling lazy, and just don't give a sh!t at the moment.

This seems to be particularly difficult with "boring" jobs, like call centers, retail, etc.

How many times have you called up a company to get some information, do some calculations, fix an error on your phone bill -- but they just aren't into it?

Perhaps they haven't had their coffee yet, or stayed out too late the night before.  Who knows.

Whatever the cause, you can tell they really and truly don't care one bit about what you need them to do.

When it comes down to it, motivation might be the most important aspect of management.

You could have the best processes in the world, but if people have no incentive to follow them, they won't.

So what's your advice?  How do you manage people who are feeling Lazy And Don't Give A Sh!t?

Google Buzz Privacy blah blah blah

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2010-08-08 Update:Perhaps online privacy is important after all?

The recentGoogle Buzzfallout has me confused.

Why does everyone get so bent out of shape about public privacy?

Don't get me wrong -- I'm a big advocate of personal privacy.  People should be able to do whatever they want in their homes, behind closed doors without being harassed -- as long as it's legal, of course :)

Your online activities, however, are by default not really that private.  Maybe people just don't understand this.

Even if you're using a brower's "privacy mode", anonymous proxies, etc., you're still leaving a digital trail behind you.

Clearly things like credit card numbers, social security numbers, health information, etc. need to be protected, and that's what strong encryption and privacy laws are for.

Likewise, it should be illegal for unauthorized snooping -- key loggers, spyware, etc. are like phone wiretaps and should be treated similarly.

But I don't thin…

Technology for Relationships

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Has technology improved your relationship?

Some people think that technology has hindered personal relationships, but I'd argue that its helped in some cases.

My girlfriend and I use technology constantly to help us stay connected.

In the spirit of Valentine's Day, I've put together a few examples that might be of use to other couples.

1. Google Calendar

One of the great things about Google Calendar is that it lets you combine several different calendars into one handy view.

Along with our own personal calendars, which we can make visible to each other, we have a shared calendar that we can both add to and edit.

Have you ever been asked, "So are you ready for that dinner we have in half an hour?"  And have you ever responded, "Dinner? What dinner? You never told me about any dinner!"

We've all been in this situation.  With a shared calendar, moments like this are a thing of the past.

2. Google Docs

This is basically like having an online, sharable ve…

Is Science the same as Religion?

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People often argue that science is actually a religion in itself, so it's no better or worse than other religions.

Thing is, there's a crucial difference between the two.

In mathematical terms, science is all about variables, whereas religion is all constants.

Religion says, "We believe X is true, and we only acknowledge supporting evidence. Any evidence showing X to be false is wrong."

Science, on the other hand, says, "Evidence to date suggests that X is true. However, if new data shows us that X is actually false, we will update our theories accordingly."

This cartoon I found sums it up pretty well:



Scientists (good ones anyways) are willing to rewrite their textbooks in light of new data.

On the other hand, I don't think a church would ever issue a statement saying, "New evidence suggests that the world was actually created in 5 days, as opposed to 7. We will be releasing an updated edition of the Bible with the appropriate corrections."

Does Climate Change really matter?

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Climate Change is big news. It's a dividing issue. Us versus Them.

Depending on who you believe, it's either a) the most catastrophic event of our time, or... b) completely made up.

So -- Is it real? Probably. The underlying principles are well understood.

When will it happen? It's likely to have already been happening since we started burning large amounts of fossil fuels. Recent studies indicate that the measurable climate effects could be delayed 30+ years, so we might only be seeing the effects of carbon emissions from the 70s and 80s.

That's right, all the emissions from those 1980s big V8 cars haven't even registered yet, never mind the more recent SUVs.

What will future effects be? Hard to say. Warmer average temperatures. More storms. "Freak" weather. Rising sea levels, no doubt.

Will there be a "tipping point" where the changes start spiraling out of control and threaten human survival? Maybe. But we don't know enough to say t…

Recipe: Random Ratatouille

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Here's a super-quick, super-simple meal idea: Random Ratatouille


Ingredients:
Hard vegetable ideas:OnionGarlicCarrotParsnipPotatoSoft vegetable ideas:EggplantZucchiniTomatoOil (Canola works nice)Spices (Infinite combinations)Instructions:
Cut up your hard vegetables and put them into a deep dish baking pan.Add half your oil and spicesBake for 30 minutes at 350F (180C)Cut up soft vegetables, mix them in, and add a bit more oil and spicesBake for another hour or so at 350F, stirring occasionallyThat's it! Stores and freezes nicely. Make up a big batch and you have easy lunches ready-made.

And don't limit yourself to the vegetables on this list. There are infinite combinations, and lots of recipes out there if you run out of creativity.

It's you. Seriously.

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Feel like nothing is going right for you lately?

Let me assure you:
God is not punishing you for missing church last week.
Allah is not angry about you sneaking that cookie during fasting time.
Zeus is not being vengeful since you missed your last goat sacrifice.
The stars are not mis-aligned. It's not a big conspiracy. There is no "secret."

It's you. Seriously.

Don't get me wrong: There are unexpected situations (good and bad) that come up periodically.

It's a little something called life.

But in the end, you are the one in control of your destiny. No matter what comes your way, you always have options.

Don't sit there hoping, wishing, or praying.  Don't "try" to do something.  Do it!

Want a better life?

Make better choices and take action!

It's really as simple as that.