Archive for July, 2011


When I got an iPad, I was prepared for the number of fingerprint smudges on it.  They are annoying, but if you have a touchscreen for a keyboard you must be prepared to accept that sometimes (i.e., often) you will have a smudgy screen caused by the oil in your fingers.  The same is true of my Windows Phone.

However, one thing I can’t understand is why my laptop has so many smudges on it.  There’s no reason to touch the screen in my laptop.  I open it up but don’t need to put my fingers on it at all.  Yet whenever the screen goes black, I can see tons of smudges on it everywhere!  What the heck!  Even after I clean them off, they return.

The weird thing is that my laptop at work (my old laptop which is old and broken that I use rarely) has very few smudges on it.  The dual monitors that I rarely use have a few smudges on them, but far less than on my current laptop.  I seriously doubt that it’s me that is doing the smudging.

I should ask my beta wife if she has any idea how these fingerprint smudges keep appearing on my laptop screen.

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Today on Facebook, one of my friends (who I didn’t block during my self-imposed exile from politics) posted in his status that the best way to stimulate economic growth is to give money to the poor.  He then alleged that the Congressional Budget Office had numbers to back up that assertion.

As anyone reading this blogs knows, the United States economy is sluggish.  It has been this way since the recession started in December 2007.  It then went full blown recession in 2008 but since it emerged out of it in March 2009, the economy has grown but very slowly.  It’s anemic, even.

Why is this?  Why is economic growth so bad?  What do we have to do to kick start it?  I was going to reply to my friend’s post but I need more time to delve into it than what is available in a simple Facebook reply.

My friend’s response reflects a theory pushed forth by the economist John Maynard Keynes.  This is the dominant economic model today in all the world’s economies.  In an oversimplified nutshell, this view says that economic growth responds to aggregate demand.  All of us buy stuff.  When we want more stuff, the economy grows because people who sell it will make more.  We buy more, people make more, and in order to make more they will hire more people and give them jobs.  More jobs = more taxes to pay = more government income and less unemployment.  It’s pretty simple.  More buyers = better economy.  If people demand less stuff, people make fewer things and lay people off, leading to more unemployment.

My friend’s view that giving money to the poor stimulates growth fits into this.  Since the poor cannot afford to buy things, there is not enough total demand in the economy.  If the poor had more money, they would spend it.  Producers would see “Oh, there’s more demand for my stuff” and hire more people. 

Where would this money to give to the poor come from?  From the government.  Where would the government get this money?  From rich people.  Rich people do not spend all of their money, therefore, there is potential capital sitting on the sidelines.  If the government were to take their money (in the form of taxation) and give it to the poor, or we were to give it voluntarily, the poor would spend it whereas the rich just horde it.  Unused money sitting in a bank account is less efficient than poor people spending it and driving economic growth. 

In truth, my friend’s view is an extreme one; most Keynesians say that the government should tax the rich and spend it – the government does the hiring or gives it to private businesses to do the hiring (i.e., the government needs to build a dam therefore they hire an architectural firm to do it; this is what they mean by shovel-ready projects).  They don’t take from the rich and give directly to the poor, instead, they employ them in order to make them productive citizens.

To sum up, according to my friend, the more people who are buying stuff, the better the economy.  Giving money to poor people takes unused money and gives it to people who will buy stuff.

More in my next post.

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I saw an act on America’s Got Talent last night that seriously impressed me.  I said "Holy sh*t!"

Acts involving magic I kind of shrug at.  There are some other acts that are fun to watch and  handful of singers are good.  Some novelty acts are impressive.  Others do stunts that look like they involve danger but are really quite safe.

This act tonight had me going.

It was a performance where a guy jumped off a diving board three stories high (36 ft) into a pool of water.  Now, you’ll say "So what?"  Well, the pool of water was a kiddie pool and the water was only 12 inches deep.  Not 12 feet, twelve inches.  Measure that out with your hands.  Now imagine jumping from a height of 36 feet into it.

What this guy does is he jumps off and does a belly flop into it.  He climbed up to the top, they told everyone to be quiet and he jumped.  He then landed in the water belly flop style (or something).  He then got up and everyone cheered.

I was like "Holy sh*t!"  I have to admit that is impressive because my jaw dropped.  I wouldn’t even belly flop from two feet up, let alone into a pool of water only 12" deep.

This guy earned a kudos from me.

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As someone who has never played competitive sports or considered himself an athlete, I’ve been fortunate to avoid injuries to parts of my body from overuse (this is what frustrates me about my hips – the fact that I have never overused them but yet they have chronically deteriorated).  Certainly, I have played sports and suffered many injuries.  For example, in sponge hockey I once slid into the end boards foot first and hurt my ankle.  While playing football once I sprained my finger once and my wrist another time.  But those are acute injuries, they are not a natural part of the game but occur as an accident.

When I do get injured, I rest the sore body part and avoid exposing it to more danger (unlike my brother who doesn’t seem to learn from this sort of thing).  However, now that I have taken up hiking, acute injuries are the least of my concern.  Now I get injuries from overuse.

Runners often get shin splints.  Tennis players get problems in their elbows or shoulders.  I have two problems from prolonged hiking:

  1. I get a sore left foot.  It’s not the top or bottom of my foot but a tendon that runs alongside the navicular bone called the post tibial tendon.  The full name of the muscle is the tibialis posterior muscle.  This is right along the side of the foot and after I have gone hiking for a prolonged period of time, it hurts.  It feels like the side of my foot is rubbing up against my boot and it aches.  In order to heal it, I have to rest it.
  2. Of course, rather predictably, I get problems in my hips.  I’m not entirely sure but I think I have bursitis. This occurs when small sacs in your body filled with fluid become inflamed.  Normally the joints glide over them, but when they inflame they are painful.

    I feel hip pain in the outside of my hips.  This distinguishes it from my chronic pain in the inside of my joints (both hips).  Luckily, this current condition is treatable with rest, ice, compression (or stretching) and ibuprofen.  I guess after not using them for physically demanding activities in the past, they are protesting that they prefer inactivity to doing stuff.

Luckily, the joints I don’t have problems in are my knees or ankles (other than fatigue after a long day).  I don’t know how I managed to hit the jackpot on those joints seeing as how my genetics have disposed me to all sorts of lousy physical short coming (hay fever, poor vision, bad hips, etc). 

They say that exercise is good for you.  I agree; but I didn’t realize it was also hazardous to your health.

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Today is one of those days.

I have been holding onto shares in Netflix for 8 months or so.  This is a stock that goes up and pulls back, goes up and pulls back, etc.  It does this regularly on a predictable cycle.

I decided I was going to make some money on the downside.  Just when I thought Netflix couldn’t get any higher, I bought a put option.  This means that you make money when the stock goes down.

Well, it didn’t go down.  It kept going up. Eventually I rolled my eyes and took my loss.  The stock went down the next day.  Had I held, I would have recovered 2/3 of my losses on that one.

But that’s not why I hate trading.

Today, Netflix released its earnings after the day closed, and in after-hours trading it is down 28 points (about 10%).  I could have made a lot of money by buying a different put option and then waiting until tomorrow to sell.  But no, instead, I lose money waiting for it to go down – which it did but not in time – and then by holding it some more the stock gets slaughtered (in truth, they did that to themselves with their ridiculous increase in prices).

Some days, I hate the market so very much.

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Deal or no deal?

One of the things that my beta wife likes to do is go camping.  In fact, a lot of people I know like to do that, too.  As I have gotten older I no longer understand the appeal.

It used to be that once upon a time I liked doing it.  Now… not so much.  Here’s where I am coming from:

  • I don’t like dragging stuff around.  I like to travel but the part I don’t like is packing up all of my stuff and then unpacking it, and having to drag it around with me.  I find that a pain.  I get tired of it very quick when I go anywhere and try to either minimize the stops I make, the amount of stuff I unpack, or the amount of stuff I take along.  Camping forces me to take along a lot of stuff in order to be comfortable.

  • I hate being cold at night.  I come from a cold country where it is below freezing for six months of the year.  I like to be warm at night.  At camping, I have to be tucked into a sleeping bag with a hat on which makes my face cold yet my head hot.  The rest of my body… so-so.  Getting up at night to go to the bathroom is an annoyance… and cold.

  • I like to read at night.  I can give it up for one day or so but multiple days in a row, there is not enough light at night.  I can’t see anything and reading by candle light is hard on  my eyes (anyone’s eyes).  Why should doing something that is supposedly fun (camping) detract from doing something I like?

  • This one is the most important.  I could put up with all of the others but this is the one that tips it over: I hate sleeping on the hard ground. I’m quite bony without much padding – neither muscle nor fat. That means that when I sleep on the hard ground, I feel everything; in my arms, shoulders, back and hips. After not even two minutes on my side, I have to change positions.  The ground is hard and the next morning, because my bones have been on the ground all night without any padding, it hurts the next morning (it hurts at night, too).

    I know that camping is supposed to be “roughing it” but I lost any desire to “rough it” after spending a night on that that ledge in Fiji five years ago. You won’t hear me wake up the next morning saying “Gee, I really enjoyed being painfully uncomfortable all night long, I can’t wait to do it again.”

As I said, I have camped in the past.  I did it in New Zealand and Australia and have done even more trips when I was younger.  Now I am no longer such a big fan.  It really began when my hips started to go downhill.  I’m quite happy to do an 8-12 mile hike.  But that’s on the condition that I can recover at night.

My beta wife finds a thrill in camping that I fail to see.  It must be one of those magic eye things where you stare at a picture and something meaningful emerges. 

However, here’s where the fun begins.  We’re going to go to New Zealand this year and apparently it has a lot of camping (oh, hooray).  So, we started playing a game of bartering and negotiation.

I will go on these camping trips (read: tolerate them) if we make trades.  Can I get a Lexus in three years time?  How about a new Toyota?  What if we go here next year instead of that location?  What if you come to Dallas with me?  Can we move to Los Angeles?  What about northern California?  Southern?  Can I get 300 books about magic?  What about 200?  What about a trick that costs $100?  $200?  No?  How about $150?  And so forth.  My beta wife isn’t the only one that can ask for stuff.

And it turns out to be a fun game!  It’s awesome!  Making these sorts of trade offs makes turning something into that I don’t look forward to into an opportunity to trade off into something that I do! 

So if you ever see me driving a fancy, expensive car in the next few years, you’ll know what I agreed to in exchange.

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I was reading a couple of articles the other day.  They deal with the following question: Why do people believe certain things and refuse to change their mind even when they are clearly wrong?

The reason has to do with neuroscience.  The first part of the answer has to do with a condition called cognitive dissonance.  This is when we believe two contradictory things and in order to believe one of them, we invent or rationalize why it’s okay.  For example, smokers know that their habit is bad for them.  But they rationalize it and say “Oh, everyone dies sometime” or “I’m just not thinking about the future.”   This is in order to maintain the immediate payoff that smoking a cigarette gives them.  To minimize the health risks, they have to invent a reason to disbelieve its reality.

Another example are people who don’t drive with their seatbelts on.  There are countless studies that show that you are at a much greater risk of injury or death if you don’t wear your seatbelt.  But yet there are still many people (1/6 as of 2008) who don’t wear them.  Why not?  They tell themselves that the risk of wearing them is low or they are uncomfortable.  Another example is that they know a guy who died because he wore a seatbelt because of a freak accident.  None of these are good excuses but they people to rationalize their bad behavior or ideas.  These are two examples of cognitive dissonance.

I think that the prophet Isaiah had it exactly right – Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, "This is the way; walk in it." (Isaiah 30:21, NIV)

The second part of the answer to why people believe wrong things is because of confirmation bias.  This is where people accept the evidence that supports their beliefs and discounts the evidence that contradicts it.  This is very evident in politics.  People who are Republicans will hold up moral failings of the Democrats as evidence that they are an immoral party yet will come up with excuses about why their own politicians did such-and-such activity, and vice versa. 

Today as I write this, Republicans are digging in their heels at raising the debt ceiling because it would be irresponsible and only shows the Democrats spendthrift ways; but their own President did it during his Presidency.  Democrats claim that they must raise the debt ceiling but rationalize the fact that in 2006, Senator Obama voted against it, claiming it was irresponsible (it was irresponsible then but is necessary now – this is a very obvious demonstration of confirmation bias).

Even with my seatbelt example, people will cling to outliers (someone died because of a seatbelt) yet discount the safety record of seatbelts (I’m a safe driver and have never had a serious accidents).

Okay, so far we have seen two things about why people believe wrong things:

  • They will make stuff up in order to rationalize what they want to believe.
  • They will pick-and-choose what evidence they believe and ignore.

Why do people even cling to wrong beliefs to begin with?

It is because of self-actualization – the desire to feel good about ourselves.  When we cling to a strong belief, certain parts of our brains are firing.  These parts are not related to logic.  Various chemicals are released and we feel good about ourselves.  Look at our own life – when a $1000 question on Jeopardy! shows up on the TV screen and you know the answer before anyone else, how do you feel?  You feel great!  You were right!  That’s your brain’s reward system reinforcing itself.

We have a biological drive to need to feel right.  I won’t get into why, but it’s because we needed it in order to take chances to survive (I’m confident this crappy spear will kill that two-ton mammoth).

Knowing this, I can see why two of my favorite topics are fruitless for debate because logic doesn’t work.  Religion and politics reinforce a person’s self-image and therefore attacking that part of a person’s character, if they feel strongly about it, will not work.  Even if you use logic, it won’t work because:

  • People want to be right because their brains are wired that way.
  • To be right, they have to discount information that shows them wrong.
  • If they don’t have any information that can prove them right, the brain will make it up.

I have found that religion and politics get people fired up.  If you have a stake in the game, there’s no way you will let go and leave your position undefended.  It doesn’t matter if your position is illogical.

An example of this is many years ago I was debating some friends on an Internet discussion board.  The people I was talking to were very smart folks.  They knew their biblical passages inside and out. They could debate circles around most evangelical Christians I know.

But the problem, as I saw it, is that they clung to a belief in biblical inerrancy and tried to force some very unnatural interpretations into the text.  The one belief they have is regarding demons.  To evangelical Christians, demons are supernatural beings who may or may not have a body that “haunt” the earth and can even possess people, causing them to do many nasty things and behave in a manner that is outside of societal norms.

To my friends, there are no such thing as demons.  Instead, in the bible, all references to demons are really talking about people with mental illnesses.  Here is their rationale:

  • Demons don’t exist in many places in the Old Testament.  They only make their appearance later on.
  • Idols are false gods.  In the Old Testament, the word for false is not “a supernatural entity that is not the true God” but “non-existent”.  The Old Testament prophets claim that idols represent nothing (they have plenty of texts to demonstrate this, and a couple from the New Testament).

  • The term “satan” is not a personal being.  Instead, the term literally means “adversary” and could be used to refer to any number of things.  Sometimes, angels are referred to as “satan” or adversary.  For example, Jacob wrestled with an “adversary” even though it was an angel.  God himself has acted as an “adversary.”  Thus, the term “satan” is not a supernatural being but instead its meaning is derived from the context.  What kind of satan/adversary?  Human?  Angelic?

  • All of the people who are demon possessed in the bible show signs of mental illness.  How do we know that?  Because people today have the same symptoms but we say that they are mentally ill, not demon-possessed.  We treat them with medication and possibly changes in diet.  Nobody ever gets better by an exorcism.

    Oh, yes, I know someone reading this will say that your friend’s brother’s sister’s co-worker knew a pastor once that cured someone who was demon-possessed.  Uh huh.  It’s always “someone you know… distantly” who can do this.

Going through that above, their position is sound.  It almost sounds rational.  Except that it forces a very unnatural interpretation of a few texts in the New Testament.  One example is the story of Jesus healing a man with demons and the demons beg to be cast into some pigs.  Jesus grants their request and the pigs then run off a cliff (see Matthew 8). 

If this man was acting crazy because of demons, and Jesus really did cast them out, then the story (sort of) makes sense because the demons go and find a new home in the pigs.  Yet according to my anti-demon friends, Jesus was “acting in the local context” by not correcting his audiences’ misconceptions and gave the man’s mental illness to the pigs.  He only pretended to act like the mental illness was caused by demons but in reality did not really believe it.  I know, it doesn’t really make sense… and that’s the point.  All instances where Jesus casts out demons are Jesus “playing along” with the crowd and not correcting the crowd’s mistaken beliefs.

This is a very unnatural interpretation of the text.  It strains credibility.  Yet they defend it because:

  • The bible says that there is no such thing as demons.
  • The bible is inerrant.

The cognitive dissonance and confirmation bias is at work.  It doesn’t make sense but people still believe it.  These were very smart people defending things that made no sense.  It didn’t matter how unlikely it was, what mattered was a consistent set of beliefs – the two points above.  It was these discussions that made me wonder if these guys who I thought were very smart could be wrong more often than I thought.

I don’t get involved in debates involving religion anymore (or rather, I try not to).  I won’t change anyone’s mind.  But more than that, it doesn’t matter to me if people agree with me or not.  People can believe what they want to believe and as long as they are not causing harm to others or even themselves, it’s not that big a deal.

But another reason why I don’t get into these types of debates is because I’m as biased as anyone.  Totally biased!  I have my own political beliefs (I lean right wing for economics but social issues I ping-pong back and forth) and I pick and choose what I accept and what I don’t.  Other writers will say that such-and-such are wrong and I’m like “Yeah, whatever, what about this and this?”  I have my own need to be right and it feels good to be right.

I am aware of these biases but I am also aware that the more I step into the debate, the more I dig in my heels.  Staying out of the discussion avoids putting me into the position that I have to hold my position at all costs live some sort of military battle.  I know that makes it worse because I have experienced it… and regretted it years later when I realized I was wrong.

Maybe one day I’ll get back into it.  Who knows, my views can change again and I’ll be able to separate myself from my beliefs.

Or maybe one day the whole world will realize that I’m right.

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It’s been a month since the rental cat was foreclosed on.  I miss that cat.

One reason is that without him around, I can’t do the “ooga boogah” dance.  What’s the “ooga boogah” dance?  That’s where he sits by his food dish and munches on his food.  I start running from down the hallway and slide in front of him on the smooth floor.  I then start flailing my arms in the air and hop back and forth on my legs saying “Ooga boogah boogah boogah boogah!” (My brother would know what I am talking about). This is an attempt to somewhat scare the cat as well as get him to look at me like I am the weirdest thing he has ever seen.

Well, since the cat is gone, there’s nobody around to do this dance in front of.  So, I have to improvise:

  • When my beta wife is at the kitchen table doing something (reading, eating, etc) I do the same thing.  I slide up to her, sometimes in front and sometimes behind, and do the ooga-boogah dance by her.  She just looks up, shakes her head, rolls her eyes and goes back to doing what she was doing.
  • Other times, I pretend that the cat is still there, eating his food.  Once again, I glide around the corner, look down to where he would be, and commence performance of said dance.  But after I am done, there is a lot less satisfaction since there is no one around to witness the dance.

Sigh.  Too bad the cat is gone.  It’s just not the same without him.

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Running Numbers

People sometimes ask me what we’re going to do with my beta wife’s condo once we get married.  I reply that we are going to rent it out and pay off the mortgage.  It’ll cost money now but in the long run, once we pay it off in ~6-7 years, it’ll be worth it.  We’ll have a consistent stream of income (somebody renting it out) without having to do anything (property manager handles that).  It’s a nice little bit of cash each year.

Or is it?

I ran the numbers and as it turns out, it doesn’t make sense.  Why would I say that?

Well, let’s assume that the stock market’s historical rate of return is 9.9% (a fact I proved three months ago).  The cost of owning a condo are as follows:

  • Mortgage payment
  • Real estate taxes
  • Homeowner dues

Add all of those up together and it costs $15,000 per year to own a condo.  If we were to sell the place immediately, take all of that money and invest half of it in the stock market at an average rate of return of 9.9%, I can project out into the future how much money we could have in the happy path.

If we pay it off in 6-7 years, we will take similarly invest half of that $15,000 per year plus the following:

  • Rental income (conservative at $800 per month)
  • Subtract property manager fees (estimate at 10%)

I am going to exclude miscellaneous repairs on the condo.  This is realistic because while I am excluding those, I am ignoring tax deductions (~$1200 refund in taxes each year).  I am going to assume a rental increase of 2% each year which is realistic given the credit bubble we went through.

As an aside, people frequently tell me that the real estate market will come back.  Will it?  We went through a credit bubble that drove real estate markets higher and then they corrected.  It doesn’t mean it will come back, it means that they will return back to average.  Japan experienced a credit bubble during the 1970’s and 1980’s and their economy crashed in the 1990’s.  They still have not recovered.  There is a shortage of land in Japan but real estate prices are still stagnant.

Anyhow, I have included in my projections roughly what I was including the past three years of owning my own.  I then take half the money that we would pay on the mortgage ($15k per year) and add it to the net income we receive from a rental property ($3500 per year) and invest that in the market at the average rate of return of 9.9%.

The result?

Investing more money later, even 50% more per year, never catches up to starting earlier.  The only way it makes sense is if we pay it off in 3 years or less.  In that case, it finally becomes worthwhile after 15 years (it takes that long to make up the difference).

Oh sure, we could invest the tax refund but we won’t.  We’ll spend it.  We could assume a higher rental increase, but that’s not assured given my luck.

The bottom line is that the conservative scenario is that it makes more sense to sell the place and invest half the difference.

Thank goodness I know how to use Excel to tell me this.

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Drivers in Seattle

Seattle is a weird city.

The drivers here range from good to bad.  Unlike Winnipeg, they will let you in on the freeway if you try to change lanes.  But also unlike Winnipeg, they aren’t very attentive when it comes to red lights and lanes.

Last week, coming back from hiking and just randomly driving around, I encountered a few driving incidents:

  1. The first was I was stopped at a red light behind a driver.  The arrow turned green to do a right turn, but the driver didn’t move.  He just sat there.  Going no where.


    As it turns out, he was in the wrong lane.  He wanted to go straight but the right lane only turned right.  I guess the earlier sign that said “Right lane turn right only” and the big arrow on the street that said “Right turn only” wasn’t obvious enough for him.

    He sat and waited until all of the other cars went, at which point he switched lanes and went straight.

    I thinking “Dude, that’s not what you do.  If you make a mistake, don’t hold up traffic correcting it.  Continue on the line of traffic, make a U-turn and come back.  Don’t make everyone else pay for your mistake.

    Is that so hard?

  2. The next story is me driving down a street, going through a green light.  There was a car at the red light who wanted to turn right but before I got there decided to start his turn a little earlier.


    I swerved a bit wondering what in the world he was doing!  I was coming down the street and he was clearly in a hurry to get somewhere, but obviously misjudged the fact that I would hit him if he continued on his trajectory.

    That was a close call.

These types of stories are not that unusual around here.  For some reason, people like to go 10 mph below the speed limit on the highway.  I find that unacceptable because the highways are built for high-speed traffic.  If you want to go slow, take surface streets.  Otherwise, if your car is fine, drive highway speed at the speed limit.

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I’ve been going to see the doctor again about my hip and what they can do for me.  The technology has improved since 2008 and now they can do a complete 360 view of the inside of my hip which they couldn’t do before.  This means that they can take a look at the inside of the bone/joint which is where the source of the pain resides.

It turns out that I am currently suffering from a tight IT band.  That’s a tendon that starts on the side of the hip and runs down your leg and connects just below the knee.  Since a lot of muscles go into the hip, all sorts of badness can happen there.  Luckily I don’t have any pain in my knees, just in my hips.  I have found that stretching really helps the tightness there.

I did finally get one piece of good news, though.  The surgeon who I am going to go with will be covered with my insurance provider starting August 1!  When he told me that, I thrust up my arms and shouted “Woohoo!”  I still might have to pay a little bit but I was very happy about that.  It means that I may still have to pay something but it won’t be nearly as much as before ($1000 vs $4000 or more).  That’s a relief.

There is still a bit more bone that he can take off in my hip which hopefully is the source of my discomfort.  If even that doesn’t work, then I think I’m done.  I’ll just live with the pain.

Next up after that: my right hip?

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Over the past month or so, I have been doing a lot of reading on the science of weight loss and weight control.  I have concluded that exercise is a waste of time.

Just kidding.  Sort of.

I don’t have a weight problem but for the past year I have been perplexed at why I have put on 10 lbs (and subsequently stabilized).  I have been exercising more in the past year than at any point in my life (to my knowledge) yet still, the mystery 10 lbs is still there.  Maybe I am just getting older.

But back to my statement that exercise is a waste of time.  I use that in order to draw your attention but it is not accurate.  However, when it comes to weight loss, the benefits of exercise are overstated.  Exercising alone will not make you thin.

To which you say “Well, no kidding.  You can’t just eat donuts and beer and expect to lose weight even if you are a marathon runner!”  This reflects a model of calories in/calories out – if you eat a lot of calories, you can maintain your weight by burning them off.  Since donuts and pizza contain lots of calories, you would be unlikely to burn them all off.

When it comes to weight gain it isn’t quite that simple.  Your body breaks down food and uses it as energy, but when it comes to certain types of food – carbohydrates in particular – it breaks it down to sugar components quickly.  When your body sees all this sugar in your blood, the pancreas releases insulin which tells your tissue to store all of the fuel as fat.  Thus, 200 calories of steak vs 200 calories of donuts are not equal.  Your body will efficiently process the protein and fat in the steak and use it as energy over a longer period of time, but it will store the donut as fat because of all the sugar in it.

Calories in/calories out is deficient even by observing it in real life.  Women have a higher body fat % than men do, but they eat fewer calories.  Instead, the hormones in men and women’s bodies are different which tells the tissues in our bodies to process food differently.

Exercise is good for you.  There are tons of benefits to doing it like breaking cycles of lethargy, making you happier, preventing injuries, strengthening muscles… well, you can name as many as I can.  However, for losing weight its benefits are overstated.  By exercising, we become hungrier and therefore anything we burned off we make up for by eating.  We also think to ourselves “Well, I just ran 5 miles so I can have a pizza, beer and donuts.”  It’s not true because our body will see all those refined carbohydrates and store them as fat, and then we will feel hungry later after the blood sugar rush wears off.

Exercise doesn’t even convert that much fat into muscle.  It does, but the amount of work you have to do to lose weight is too difficult for most of us to maintain for long periods of time.  Who has time to chop wood for an hour every day?  Elite athletes maybe, but not ham-and-eggers like you and me.

So how do you control weight?

It’s by the foods you eat, mostly.  Cut out the carbohydrates and it becomes easy.  Sugary drinks like Coke, Pepsi and fruit juices (yes, any fruit juice) are metabolized and absorbed by the body very quickly.  White bread is bad for you, as are potatoes (I keep getting contradictory information about pasta). 

On the flip side, nuts are good for you.  So are regular meats including animal fats (I’m not kidding).  Vegetables are fine, and so is yogurt (without all of the excess sugar in it).

You can see here that diet is the most important thing when it comes to regulating your weight.  Yes, exercise is very important for your overall health, but weight control it plays a lesser role.

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A few months ago, I wrote about how I received an offer from American Express that if I subscribed to two magazines, I would get a voucher for a plane ticket anywhere in the continental United States.  Suspicious, but intrigued, I signed up for it.  Lure me with plane tickets and my greed takes over.

I kind of suspected that this offer was too good to be true, and of course it was.  The lame “offer” they sent me did have a plane ticket to anywhere in the US, but it was buy-one-get-one-free.  Sounds good, right? 

It does except that all of the airfares are about double what you would normally pay for a flight.  If a hamburger normally costs $5, and you get an offer for a two-for-one but have to pay $10 for that one, then that’s not a free burger, it’s a dishonest marketing scam.  I shook my head at being hoodwinked but I wasn’t really all that surprised (in fact, it’s worse than I described because there’s still fees and taxes on top of the fare).  There is no free lunch.

But here’s the thing, the condition of me getting this travel voucher was that I had to subscribe to two magazines – Food and Wine magazine and Travel Resorts magazine (or something like that, I can’t remember the title but it’s to do with travel).  As it turns out, I like reading the travel magazine.  Quite a bit as a matter of fact.  So, while I had to pay something like $20 for this crappy travel voucher, the $20 for the magazine that I get once per month is worth it.  When I get the newest issue the next month, I’m like “Oh, what’s on the cover?  I can’t wait to read it!”

Travel is my Achilles heel (my girlfriend’s as well).  I never would have subscribed to this magazine otherwise, but now that I was tricked into it I don’t regret spending the $20 on it (there are plenty of other ways I have wasted $20 in the past six months).  So, money well spent even though it was incidental.

You won this round, American Express… but don’t get used to it.  Your travel offer still sucks more than the Vancouver Canucks in the final five games of the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals.

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