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Showing posts from 2014

Healthcare in the United States

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In the news: Another high profile case of a Canadian getting a huge bill in the States and not being covered.

They were on vacation and were caught off guard with a baby that came 9 weeks early.

They had proper travel insurance, but it Blue Cross, an American insurance company, decided that they're not covered due to preexisting conditions.

Unfortunately, this sort of thing happens all the time.

I had my own expensive lesson in 2001 when I moved down for a new job, and had a medical emergency in the short time gap before my employer health insurance took effect.

Citizens of (every country except the United States) may be shocked to realize that a huge number of Americans must pay for emergency care out of pocket, bankrupting about 2 million people per year.

Not realizing the scale of the costs involved, and thinking that my Canadian government coverage applied (it did, but only for a tiny fraction) I went to the hospital and was treated.

I received random bills for months afterwa…

Direct brain interface between humans

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Check out the following article:
UW study shows direct brain interface between humans

This is really cool stuff.

I first remember this technology concept from the original 1987 movie Robocop.

It's also been featured more recently in movies like Iron Man and Avatar.

I've always been interested in BCI (Brain–computer interface) advancement, and the last decade or so has seen some amazing progress.

Perhaps my prediction of BCI going mainstream by 2025 will come true after all...

Feature suggestion for Facebook

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A million dollars isn't cool, but do you know what would be cool? If you could target posts to your friends the same way you with Facebook ads.

When you "boost your post" from a Facebook Page, you can target your audience by Location, Age, Gender, and Interests.

The interface looks like this:

I think it would be really interesting if you do something similar when you created a personal post.

Why make a profit?

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Many have criticized Amazon.com for being unprofitable since inception.

If you ask me, they're just being ultra-efficient.

Take a look at this chart:

Amazon's revenue has grown exponentially, but they've always kept their net profit/loss pretty close to zero.

You see, the taxation system in most countries is actually a bit paradoxical.

The purpose of a corporation (as defined by law) is to generate a profit, but that is also what is taxed. So if you make a profit, you lose a good chunk of it to taxes.

On the other hand, if you re-invest those would-be-profits back into your business for growth, you get to keep it all.

Meanwhile, massively profitable companies like Apple and Google end up engaging in complicated IP licensing schemes in tax havens to lower their taxes.

Of course, a flat tax could put an end to some of these complex games...

Losing weight is hard: Part 2

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Here is the update to my post last month entitled "Losing weight is hard".

Through a program of restricted eating and intense exercise, I was able to lose most of my December "Christmas baking" weight:


I'm back down to around 160lbs and about 13.5% body fat.

Surprisingly, this is still on the high end of normal! Mid-range for my height should be about 155lbs and 12.5% body fat. That will be my goal after we return from the wedding.

Even 130lbs would still be in the "healthy" range. I can actually remember quite well when I was 130lbs. It would have been in high school, where admittedly, I was a bit of a beanpole :-)

Another interesting chart is my one-year plot (missing the period when the scale was being shipped):


When I look back and see how I was up over 170, that seems so high, but meanwhile it had become the "new normal."

It's important to keep things in perspective, and I've found that our Internet scale really helps with that.

A Formula for Success

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A formula for success and happiness, in both business and life:

Keep your own expectations tempered, but always try to exceed the expectations of others.

When will the next stock market crash happen?

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Stocks have been on a major upswing for the past five years, but haven't gained quite as much as the big 1990's bull market:

But the big question on investors' minds is: When will the next crash happen?

This article about bull markets shows us how the current market compares historically.

We're at about the median time length, and not quite the median gains.

So although it's quite possible stocks will keep increasing for another year or two, it's unlikely to go much further than that.

Another unique factor with this market is that it is being infused with money by something called "quantitative easing", a large financial experiment with unknown side effects.

Meanwhile, corporate profits are doing very well, but earnings ratios are starting to get high.

And interest rates continue to stay extremely low.

It will be interesting to see what direction the stock market takes in 2014/2015.

More reading:

How Does Our 5-Year-Old Bull Market Compare to the Great…

Losing weight is hard

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As part of my goal to be in the best shape of my life prior to our wedding, I've vowed to lose all my "Christmas baking" weight before we leave on April 10th.

Our Withings scale shows the damage and poor results so far:

I was very near my goal weight of 160 at the beginning of December, but a month of eating cookies and sweets pushed me to almost 170. This approached the outside limit of a "healthy" BMI.

So for the next 30 days, I'll be following a diet modeled on the Tim Ferriss 4-Hour Body diet (aka "Slow Carb"). It is similar to Atkins and South Beach and encourages high protein intake.

The diet focuses on elimination of sugars and simple carbs that metabolize quickly. I made a chart to post on our fridge to show what we can and cannot eat:

This is a tough diet to follow, but if you stick with it, you're pretty much guaranteed to lose weight, and more importantly, lose fat.

We're combining the diet with the Insanity video fitness progra…

Graphical vs. Text information

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Thought of the day: Graphical information takes much longer to produce than text, but is interpreted faster and more accurately.


Software bugs: Focus on what you can control

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Developing software is all about writing code and making changes.
Unfortunately, sometimes: 1) the changes affect/break other things in unforeseeable ways 2) the changes are misunderstood and implemented incorrectly 3) the programmer just plain makes a mistake
Nearly all software bugs are a result of one of these 3 causes.
Class 1) bugs are nearly unpreventable and are a function of the software's complexity. This increases with every new feature and custom branch.
Class 2) bugs are 100% preventable. I spend a lot of my time on both ends (clients and developers) trying to clarify and organize communication.
Class 3) bugs are sometimes preventable. This is where we do analysis and prevention, aiming not make the same (or similar) mistake twice.
I work on preventing Class 2) bugs by improving communication and tracking via PMRobot
When a Class 3) mistake is made, we analyze why and determine whether there is a cost effective way to prevent it from happening again.
When Class 1) b…

Installing programs on Linux vs. Windows

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Windows

1. Download sketchy .exe file from Internet.
2. Double click it.
3. Press [next] about 5 times.
4. Done!

Linux

1. Download sketchy .tgz or tar.gz file from Internet.
2. Google the right command line options to extract it.
3. Change to the new directory.
4. Look through all the files and try to guess which is the install script.
5. Run the install script.
6. When the script crashes, Google the library incompatibility errors.
7. Search for different versions of libraries and attempt to install them.
8. Break other stuff while attempting to install new libraries.
9. Bang head against desk.
10. Google more error messages.
11. Spend a few hours trying various suggestions from the Internet.
12. 50/50 chance of a) finding magical solution, or b) deciding it's not worth it and giving up.

Food consumption increases since 1970

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Interesting North American stats from the McGill online nutrition course I'm taking.

On average, compared to 1970, we eat 11% more food by weight: 18.2lbs up from 16.4lbs.

On top of that, our consumption of grains has increased 42% -- mostly wheat and corn flour.

Perhaps most disturbing is the 59% increase in fat consumption -- mostly cheap cooking oils like canola and soybean.

Could this possibly have something to do with the obesity epidemic? Seems more than likely.

Anti-procrastination

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Don't think: "I'll just do that tomorrow."

Think: "Wait a minute -- What if I can't do that tomorrow?"

This is one situation where having a slightly pessimistic view gives an advantage.

Laziness: The key to healthy eating

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If you want to eat healthy, you need to make your inherent laziness an advantage.

Today I was busy programming and started craving a sweet, sugary snack.

I mean really, really craving.

So much so that I decided to walk to the store and buy something.

Walking to the store is necessary since we have been good about not keeping any junk food in the house.

I started to get ready to go out, but caught myself asking, "Wait, do I actually need this? Is it really worth the effort?"

If there had been any type of sweet snacks in the cupboard or fridge, I would have wolfed them down long before any such consideration.

So instead, I went to the fridge and got a few grapes -- even though they're not really my favorite food.

That satisfied the craving and I was able to get back to work.

So if you want to eat healthy, it's simple:
Keep only healthy food in your houseUse your laziness to your advantage :-)

Email vs. Postal mail

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I think most people, do better when they open, look at, and deal with physical, postal mail rather than email.

For me it's the opposite.

After growing up with email and having it be a critical part of my life for so many years, I can read, process and respond to email wickedly fast.

I use a pre-screener that lets me quickly archive and mark spam, and I know the Gmail shortcut keys instinctively. Getting to Inbox Zero in the morning generally takes minutes.

On the flip side, if someone hands me a piece of postal mail or paper, I literally have no idea what to do with it.

Paper blows around in the wind if it's not weighted down. Paper is flammable. It gets lost in stacks or under things. There's no way to set a reminder about them (unless you go all out and use a physical "tickler file").

I use paper for grocery lists and sometimes jotting down quick notes that I'll transfer to digital later (although I'm using Google Keep more and more for that).

But if s…

Zinc: the only supplement that helps colds

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So it turns out my personal experience with zinc has some scientific backing now!

Several years ago I realized that I had a zinc deficiency -- a very common mineral deficiency these days due to our ever worsening diets.

In addition to eating foods high in zinc, like pumpkin seeds, legumes and meat, I also started taking supplements when I felt a cold coming on.

I personally found that if I took too much at once (15mg+), especially without food, I would get severe nausea for a few minutes.

Instead, I eat a few of the 5mg zinc lozenges, spaced throughout the day. They're chewable, taste good, and may actually help with absorption by spreading it out over time.

A recent study has shown that of all "common" supplements (vitamin C, echinacea, ginseng, etc.) only zinc had a substantial effect:
At least two trials indicated that children who took 10 or 15mg of zinc sulphate daily had lower rates of colds and fewer absences from school due to colds. Read more: Zinc not Vitamin C…

E-commerce 101: Allow your customers to pay you

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Here's a quick e-commerce lesson for you: Don't validate credit card transactions based on IP address location.

I left the internet fax provider I've had since 2003 because they wouldn't let me pay them.

I wasted an embarrassingly long time trying to find a cheap/free way mask my IP address. I eventually gave up trying to give them money.

I Googled, read a few quick reviews, and found a new, better provider in 5 minutes.

Lots of customers travel or live outside of their home country.

Don't make it difficult (or impossible) for them to pay you.

Evernote is not so great

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I've only tried Evernote a few times in passing, but it always came across as a bit of a bloated and unreliable POS.

Seems like perhaps I wasn't too far off... See: Evernote, the bug-ridden elephant

More discussion on Hacker News here. Most people seem to agree.

Sort of like some operating systems, they've been locked into a piece of software that keeps getting larger and less reliable over time.

If you're looking for an alternative, you may want to try Google Keep.