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Archive for December, 2012

At the start of the year, I made a vow to increase my charitable giving from 2011.

How did I do?

I’m pleased to report that I exceeded by charitable giving in 2012 over 2011 by 20%.

How did the money get divided? I originally planned to spread amongst a health organization, an educational organization, one that protects the environment, and a local religious organization (church). I wanted to concentrate heavier amongst fewer recipients.

I achieved that as the bulk of my giving is amongst a few organizations, but I ended up with a long tail of one-off donations. Here’s how it looked in order of total money donated:

  1. Doctors Without Borders (Health)
  2. Charity Water (Health… and kind of environment)
  3. Khan Academy (Education)
  4. Local church (Hmm… hard to classify)
  5. Ayn Rand Foundation (don’t totally agree with them but it annoys the intolerant liberals) (Education)
  6. World Counsel (Health)
  7. March of Dimes (big mistake; they send me tons of spam and sold my address to other charities for marketing)
  8. Wikipedia (Education)
  9. National Geographic (Environment)

I’m not sure what my plan will be for 2013. Will I increase my charitable giving? Or keep it the same? At the very least, I will try to match it. Maybe I will try to surpass it.

We shall see.

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The two cat experiment is over.

Actually, it ended a week ago. Kitty lasted only 8 days.

What happened, you ask?

Well, ever since we got Kitty, we noticed that there were “accidents” around the floor. You know what I’m talking about. Little smidges here, smidges there, of “stuff” on the floor. We weren’t sure who was to blame. Was it Kitty having a difficult time adjusting to a new dwelling? Or was it Ruby having a difficult time adjusting to a new litterbox and new cat in the house?

Turns out it was Kitty.

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(That’s a picture of a Teddy bear in the distance, not a small one sitting on her head)

Proof of it came Wednesday evening when we noticed that the other bedroom was kind of smelly. Upon further inspection, we discovered that one of the cats had urinated on the bed. We instantly narrowed it down to Kitty because she would jump on there from time to time, whereas Ruby almost never would.

Well, that was the last straw for the wife. Earlier in the day she had to clean up a bunch of “pellets” just outside the litter box. And now the bed was stained and smelly.

Smelly!

The wife freaked out a little: this was too much cat “expulsions” to deal with outside a litter box, and she and had a bit of a meltdown:

She made plans to hand the cat off to the person who was going to take her the following Friday. The next day, Kitty was gone. The experiment was over.

The next day, things returned to normal. We got rid of the second litter box and the smell from it went away… mostly. It still lingers, which is annoying. All of the cat accidents on the floor vanished. Ruby didn’t miss her buddy at all, I’m not sure she even noticed.

So what’s the verdict on this experiment? It was a failure.

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Cat #2 warming up to me

In the amount of time in which we had two cats, Ruby and Kitty, Kitty has gotten used to me.

When we first got her, she hissed at everyone: me, the wife, and Ruby. Then just Ruby. Then the two of them started getting along. They wouldn’t really play together, though. Ruby was always worried that if she got to close to Kitty, Kitty would hiss. She was probably right.

However, Kitty was friendly with me and the wife (well, mostly just me). She would play with sticks, would Meow at night wondering where we were, and jump up on us while we were on the couch. The wife would kick her off because she was too heavy but I was okay with her.

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The cats would also sleep near each other, but never completely next to each other. They get along with humans but with each other, they were never too impressed.

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Towards the end, they finally would sleep by each other if we were around but they never did it by themselves. Ruby would sleep on her cat condo and Kitty would sleep on the couch or on the floor. But if either me or the wife, or both, were on the couch, they were fine with that.

 

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Hopefully this story will have a happy ending!

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It has been a year since I had my third surgery on my left hip to correct the chronic pain I have in the joint. How have things progressed since then?

It still hurts.

But!

But it doesn’t hurt as much as it did before. Here are five things that have helped:

  1. Self-Massage – I have been doing self massage for a long time to get rid of the painful muscles in my hips. I use tools to do this but I also use my fingers to dig deep. That has improved some of my mobility.

  2. Professional massage – I have my masseuse work specifically on my hip joint. There are times after I leave that it feels very good for about 30 – 60 minutes.

  3. Exercise – Exercise doesn’t do that much for me, but I still do it. Mostly hiking with the wife who drags me everywhere.

  4. Stretching – I have been skeptical about stretching because it wasn’t doing anything for me for the longest time. But I’ve tried targeting specific muscles and it has helped. I can rotate my leg with much less pain; alternatively, my tolerance for the pain might just have increased. That’s also possible.

I can now sit cross-legged easily and I can move my leg a lot better. I don’t have the flexibility to do crazy sport activities, but so long as I can play racquet sports, I think I’ll be satisfied.

My right hip has been giving me trouble for the past month and a half or so. It hurts on the outside of the hip and massage has not fixed it, and I can’t stretch it because it hurts too much. I know that I have similar problems in it as my left hip because I had an MRI done on it a year and a half ago, and it was confirmed. I’ll almost definitely have to get something done if I don’t want it to degrade further.

But in the meantime, my left hip feels much better. Hopefully it will continue to improve.

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If you clicked that link, you’ve been tricked by me spoofing Microsoft.com. Evil Terry has struck!

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I just got a new Microsoft Surface from work and I am using it to type this blog post.

My first impression of the Surface RT – pretty cool. I like it. The keyboard makes it way easier to type stuff like this without typos. Maybe one day I’ll figure out how to include images.

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One of the places on my list to visit is the coldest, driest, most desolate place on earth.

No, not Winnipeg.

Antarctica!

It’s that place at the bottom of the world that looks like a sting ray:

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Why would I want to go to Antarctica? There’s nothing there except snow and ice! If I wanted that, I could just go to… Winnipeg.

Well, there’s a couple of reasons:

  1. I want to hit up all the continents – I want to visit every continent in the world. So far, I’ve only hit five. If I want to do them all, I have to hit up the most remote one.

  2. It’s very remote – It’s a badge of honor visit there because nobody does it. Getting there is tough but to say you’ve done it, it’s impressive. People go on Mediterranean cruises all the time. How many do Antarctic cruises?

  3. It is pristine – It’s one of those places that is mostly untouched by humans. You can learn a lot about the health of the planet by going there.

  4. There’s stuff to see – If you want to see the biggest penguins in the world, you need to go to Antarctica. It’s a very scientific journey.

Those are the reasons why. It’s hard to verbalize, but my plan is to go there in January or February 2017 which is the only time of the year that is suitable for regular people to visit. No way I’m going there in the winter when it’s –50 degrees. At least in summer we have a chance of getting above freezing.

What am I going to do when I’m down there? I have no idea. But I’m sure it’ll be an experience of a lifetime. If you wish, you’re welcome to come along. Bet start saving up now, I estimate that it’ll cost about $10,000 US.

It’ll be fun!

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As I wrote about previously, we now have two cats – Ruby (our orange cat) and Kitty (our temporary cat).

When we first got Kitty, she hissed a lot and hid in the second bedroom. Then she started to get used to the wife and me. Then she signed a non-aggression treaty with Ruby where she recognized Ruby’s right to exist. Now they seem to get along.

The two cats don’t play with each other very much. Ruby seems to know that Kitty tolerates her, but doesn’t like it when she gets chased. Sometimes they chase each other, although it’s always Kitty getting chased by Ruby. However, this morning, Ruby was lying on her back and Kitty tackled her and the duo wrestled for about 3 seconds.

Kitty is also starting to act like a real cat. She climbed into my lap a couple of times and lay down for a nap. I haven’t gotten them both doing that side-by-side, but maybe it’ll happen one day.

It’s hard to tell from the below picture, but Kitty outweighs Ruby by nearly 2-to-1. She could easily take her in a fight.

Unless Ruby fought dirty, which she most likely would.

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Fanboy-ism.

You all reading this know what I mean – it’s when people have such a devotion to a certain product that they will defend, to the death, their preferred device or product and attack, to the death, their non-preferred anti-product. Mac vs. PC. iOS vs. Android. PS3 vs XBox. Just go to any article about any device on the Internet and you will see lots of comments that reflect this phenomenon.

Why does it exist?

I recently purchased the book You Are Not So Smart by David McRaney. In the book, he looks at all of the various behavioral biases that we humans have. As it turns out, we all have tons of them. The fact that we can get anything done is a miracle. We all like to think that we are logical, rational actors most of the time and act irrationally only occasionally. It’s actually the other way around.

The reason why fanboys exist with such blind devotion is because of something called Choice Supportive Bias. This occurs when we make a decision to invest a significant amount of time, energy, money or a combination thereof into a product. In order to justify to ourselves that such a purchase was worth it, we make up reasons why it was a good idea.

From the You Are Not So Smart blog post: Fanboyism and Brand Loyalty:

… if the product is unnecessary, like an iPad, there is a great chance the customer will become a fanboy because they had to choose to spend a big chunk of money on it. It’s the choosing one thing over another which leads to narratives about why you did it.

If you have to rationalize why you bought a luxury item, you will probably find ways to see how it fits in with your self-image.

Apple advertising, for instance, doesn’t mention how good their computers are. Instead, they give you examples of the sort of people who purchase those computers. The idea is to encourage you to say, “Yeah, I’m not some stuffy, conservative nerd. I have taste and talent and took art classes in college.”

Are Apple computers better than Microsoft-based computers? Is one better than the other when looked at empirically, based on data and analysis and testing and objective comparisons?

It doesn’t matter.

Those considerations come after a person has begun to see themselves as the sort of person who would own one. If you see yourself as the kind of person who owns Apple computers, or who drives hybrids, or who smokes Camels, you’ve been branded.

Once a person is branded, they will defend their brand by finding flaws in the alternative choice and pointing out benefits in their own.

This type of irrational behavior doesn’t occur when you have to buy something where it doesn’t matter where you get it. Nobody cares where they buy their brand of gasoline – Shell, Exxon or 76. Nobody cares where they get their box of Kleenex. You don’t care that much which super market you go to.

I think this explains why people throw so much hate at Microsoft but not at Apple or Google. For years, Microsoft’s OS was the only game in town and you had to buy it. It was a successful model for the company but  you didn’t develop any sort of brand loyalty.

By contrast, devices that are optional like phones or tablets do develop loyalty because of Choice Supportive Bias. This is when you look at all the various options and finally settle on one. After you decide, you look back and rationalize your actions by believing the TV you bought was the best one. If it didn’t matter which TV you could have bought, it wouldn’t matter. But personal devices do because you have options.

As the blog post puts it:

To combat post-decisional dissonance, the feeling you have committed to one option when the other option may have been better, you make yourself feel justified in what you selected to lower the anxiety brought on by questioning yourself.

All of this forms a giant neurological cluster of associations, emotions, details of self-image and biases around the things you own. This is why all over the Internet there are people in word fights over video games and sports teams, cell phones and TV shows.

Many people in my generation grew up with only Microsoft OS’es to choose from and didn’t develop the loyalty. But the people coming up after me who are younger and have many options – Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple, and Microsoft – won’t have those same sorts of biases. Microsoft will be another option and if they have to sink a lot of money into it, they’ll develop blind for their devices. But if only one product or company from that list were dominant, it wouldn’t develop brand loyalty either.

So all you lovers-and-haters out there:

  1. Our decisions about why we like the things we do are irrational.
  2. Why do we defend these things so fervently? Unless you own shares in the company you love so dearly, your loyalty increases their bottom line, not yours.

After I read this book, I realized “Man, maybe I shouldn’t care so much about the things I like, and shouldn’t pay much attention to the things others like, either.”

Because we are not so smart.

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For the next two weeks, the wife and I are helping out one of her co-workers as he travels overseas. We are babysitting his 10-year old cat, Kitty.

Kitty is fat cat. She doesn’t do much all day and is on a restricted diet. It’s hoped that our own cat, Ruby, will exercise her (with all of her hyperness and wanting to play with a new cat).

I thought that having two cats would be fun! Turns out, in our condo it isn’t as much fun as I thought it would be.

When the wife’s co-worker brought over his cat, he also brought over her litter box. Ruby’s litter box is enclosed and uses blue crystal litter. It is expensive, but it dehydrates the cat’s waste so even if they join the air force (and launch a few bombs), the cat litter absorbs it very quickly.

Fresh Step Crystals Cat Litter, 8-Pound Bag

The problem we now have is that Kitty uses clumping cat litter. “No problem,” we said, “we’ll just put it in the closet.”

But it turned into a problem because instead of using her own litter box, Ruby uses Kitty’s litter box. And traditional clumping cat litter does not do a good job at absorbing the smell. Even though we have an air freshener by it, and put deodorizer in the litter, and have an air filter nearby, when you walk out of the bedroom you can still smell it. That smell is the reason I did not get a cat for five years. We basically have two cats using a litter box that doesn’t absorb the smell very well, and zero cats using a litter box that does.

It’s like buying expensive jewelry and never wearing it.

These cats better straighten up and fly right.

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