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Let's say you have a goal in life, but you don't know what steps will be required to get there. The only step you are sure you can accomplish is the very first one. Maybe that first step involves quitting your job, or moving, or doing something else that is hard to reverse.

Do you take the first step and hope you can figure out the rest later? Or do you try to figure out all of the steps, at least in a general way, before you take the first step?

Every situation is different, so generalizing is risky. I'm a big proponent of keeping your day job while you try to get something else going on the side. But when the risk of taking the first step is relatively small, I say take it and then figure out how to do the next step later.

In my experience, you rarely see the second step clearly until you take the first. Taking the first step causes knowledge to come to you. For example, prior to launching Dilbert I didn't know how to be a professional cartoonist, but I did know how to submit my samples for syndication, having read a book that described that process. It was as simple as sending copies of my comics to a half-dozen addresses. Once United Media became interested in my work, they essentially taught me the rest of the steps required. The rest of my job I learned by trial and error and observation.

How about you? Do you take the first step if you don't know where the second will be?
 
I wonder if the words you use to speak about yourself actually cause you to become a different person. Research shows that the language you speak can change your abilities in some ways.

http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/boroditsky09/boroditsky09_index.html


This might be a partial explanation for why affirmations appear to work for some people. Perhaps using language to tell yourself that you are a different person (happier, more successful, etc.) causes you to become more like the words.

We know that the brain is bidirectional. If it's happy, it can make you smile. But if you force yourself to smile when you are not happy, it can make you happier.

http://web.psych.ualberta.ca/~varn/bc/Kleinke.htm

When I was in college, which was my first social experience outside the tiny town where I grew up, I noticed that a lot of people were asking me the same question: How are you? So I decided that my answer to that question, regardless of the truth, would be always be something along the lines of great, spectacular, excellent or sensational. It's the one situation in which there is no social penalty for saying out loud that you are incredible.

How are you?

I'm fantastic.

My reasoning was that over time I might program myself through repetition to become better than I was. I have no idea if it works, but I know I enjoy telling people I'm fabulous.

It would be easy to test this sort of thing. Just take a random group of kids and teach them to say good things to themselves, or even aloud, about their intelligence, on a regular basis. Then compare their test scores with a control group.


If this method improved test scores, do you think schools would be allowed to teach it? I'm guessing no, because it would seem like witchcraft to the fundamentalists.

 
Describe the idiot, excluding yourself, who is preventing you from accomplishing your biggest goal. Describe the goal in one sentence, but spend as much time as you like describing the idiot.
 
Themes
Jul 31, 2009 | General Nonsense | Permalink
As regular readers know, I believe that the most likely explanation for our existence is that we're holographic computer simulations created by humans who came before us. And we don't appear to be randomized. It seems as if there are clear themes to every life, as if we are programmed that way.

For example, one of my themes is that most of my technology is defective. Here's a sample just from today:


Fax machine receives but doesn't send

DVD drive on computer doesn't recognize discs

DVD player puts white spots on movies

DVR freezes and locks on every recording

Movie editing software I just purchased is too slow to use

Fedex website is unfathomable

TV has a bad color wheel

Postal meter needs a battery

Computer backup (new) slows my system to a crawl all day

Wireless router doesn't work

Computer keeps locking up

Can't get rid of an ad that keeps popping up on new laptop

Old laptop stopped working months ago

Blackberry won't sync with my Outlook address book

Car has a warning light on the dashboard that the dealer can't turn off
This blog software doesn't let me do numbered lists

It has always been this way for me. It's a theme. And speaking of themes, check out the Dilbert themes for igoogle

http://www.google.com/help/ig/comicsthemes/#dilbert


Look how I cleverly worked that in. Anyway, my point today is that you can often predict the future from themes. If you had done a poll two months ago and asked people to predict how Michael Jackson would die, I think many of you would have nailed it.

If a young Kennedy someday runs for president again, I think we all know how that will end too. The only mystery is whether it will happen by gunfire or in some sort of flying, floating, or roadway mishap. And I will go out on a limb and predict there would be rumors of infidelity.

Another theme is financial bubbles. While there are no obvious bubble candidates on the horizon, I predict there will be another one soon. That's simply a theme.

You can try this at home. Pick a theme and make a prediction of the future. I will add another prediction that some of you will complain about the crass commercialism in this post.

 
My previous post got one of the lowest rankings ever. It was a perfect storm of crappiness. Some people objected to the validity of the study I mentioned, others bristled at the suggestion of any kind of control on what they eat. Some folks pointed out that if vegans had demonstrably lower health risks, there would already be special low-cost insurance for that group.

This got me wondering if vegetarians actually have fewer chronic diseases. So I put the question to you. Do you personally know anyone who has been a vegetarian for over twenty years and then got diabetes or heart disease or cancer?

For this purpose I will lump vegetarians (who eat some dairy) with vegans who don't. And remember to include only people you know personally; no celebrities and friends of friends.

Let me acknowledge that this will prove nothing. Personally, I don't know any vegetarian who has ever died, but that probably doesn't prove they are immortal. I just wonder if you collectively know plenty of vegetarians who are dropping dead from diabetes, heart disease, or cancer. Obviously you know plenty of non-vegetarians with all of those problems.
 
I now present two pieces of information that are supported by the data, as far as I know. Provide a link if you know otherwise.

First, 80% of healthcare costs go toward chronic diseases such as diabetes, cancer, and heart disease.

Second, a huge study on diet and its correlation to disease, called The China Study, found that chronic diseases, particularly the ones I just mentioned, only get triggered if you eat a plant based diet, for the most part, regardless of your genetic propensity.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_China_Study

The author's thesis, backed by a mountain of data, is that the only safe level of animal based food is zero. No milk or cheese either. Moderation simply doesn't work when it comes to eating meat. That's the data talking, not me, according to this expert. I haven't seen any data that contradicts that notion. Provide a link if you have.

As a practical matter, it would be impossible to ban meat from the diets of average Americans. But when you are talking about insurance of any sort, whether it is health or auto or hurricane, we accept the principle that risk factors can be considered in pricing. So all we need to do is charge meat eaters four times as much as vegetarians for health insurance. Over time it will create more vegetarians, for economic reasons alone, and healthcare costs will plummet.

You might say it is unfair for the insurance company to charge a higher premium for earthquake insurance to people who actually live on a fault line. But I say that's just good business.

Insurance companies shouldn't charge more to people who have preexisting or genetic problems of course, as these are things which can't be controlled. But people can certainly control their diets if they want to save money. As it stands now, vegetarians are subsidizing your cheeseburgers by paying more for health insurance than they should. (Insert counterpoint involving the non-existence of free will here.)

I want to stress that I'm not the sort of vegetarian who cares if you live or die, so long as you're enjoying yourself along the way. You can eat rusty tin cans and medical needles for all I care, so long as I don't have to subsidize it.

 
Our laws recognize a number of legal ages for various activities. You need to be 16-years old to get a driver's license, 18-years old to enlist in the armed forces, and 21-years old to drink. One can argue that the various legal ages should be adjusted up or down, but everyone generally agrees that there needs to be minimum legal ages for some types of activities.

I think we need to extend that concept. Once you reach the age of 80, a new set of legal rights should kick in. Specifically, you should be able to imbibe any drug you want, and you should have the right to doctor-assisted euthanasia.

A typical 80-year old might need a little chemical boost to make life tolerable. There isn't much chance an 80-year old will join a street gang or shorten his lifespan by much. Perhaps the law could require a full-time nurse or family caretaker to be around if the oldster wants to drop acid. I could see some restrictions on the activity, but it seems cruel to force grandpa to have a crappy last few years when science provides options.

Likewise, euthanasia should be legal after the age of 80. The cost of keeping people alive in the last months of their lives is a huge part of overall healthcare costs, and a big deal to the economy. I say if you're 80-years old, and you want to spare yourself, and society, from a painful and expensive last act, that should be your legal right.
 

A Dilbert readers sends this story...

I work at a national chain bookstore and a customer wanted to return agift he got from a different bookstore that went out of business. Forget the fact it wasn't bought from us, or the fact the customer didn't have a receipt, and forget the added insult that the product was used(the pages were written on), but it was a 2006 wall calendar. When asked why he wanted to return a 3-year-old calendar, the customer stated he just got divorced and did not want anything his wife got him and he figured all bookstores were the same. We are thinking this is why she divorced him in the first place.
 
(See prior posts if you don't already know what Cheapatopia is.)

I learned a lot about green building practices recently because we're building our own home right now and trying to make it as energy efficient as possible. Here's the main thing I learned so far: There's no practical way to know if you are making the right decisions.

Every home is different. Every house has a different size, shape, orientation to the sun, shadiness, climate, mix of materials, and so on. Likewise, every family lives differently. So the right energy-saving solution for one lifestyle might be totally wrong for another.

On the surface, most of the energy saving ideas you will encounter seem like no-brainers. For example, radiant barriers in the roof are known to be hugely effective. But if you have radiant barriers, how much do you need to insulate your walls in your particular climate, with your particular sun exposure, considering all the other energy features in your home? It would take a team of engineers to figure that out.

And how about simple decisions such as tankless water heaters versus the newer continuous hot water systems that are remarkably efficient? Common wisdom says tankless is the way to go. But does your decision change if you have a larger house with lots of bathrooms? And has anyone factored in the maintenance cost and longevity of tankless systems? And how much hot water does my particular family use anyway? A consumer can't make educated choices about this sort of thing.

Our home will have a whole house fan. It's a great technology for climates where it is hot during the day and cool at night. Unlike an attic fan that moves hot air out of the attic, the whole house fan sucks air out of the main house and pushes it into the attic and out. But do I really need it, given all the thermal mass in my home, the shaded windows on the west side, the radiant barriers, the insulation, etc.? Beats me.

My point is that even professional housing developers have no idea which energy saving solutions should be designed into their homes. At what point do you reach diminishing returns? No one knows.

In Cheapatopia, all homes will be tested with computer models before they are built. The goal will be to make the homes so well designed that heating and cooling costs (the biggest drains on energy) are minimized. Obviously the location of Cheapatopia will drive the specific energy-saving choices. Even the orientation of residential streets in Cheapatopia will be designed with sun exposure in mind. And perhaps there will be lots of underground pipes for geothermal heating and cooling. That's as "ground up" as you can design a city.

I'll bet energy use per new home could be decreased by about 75% from the current average, using existing technology, if we simply engineered homes from the ground up to be as efficient as possible.

You might have seen press reports of so-called zero energy homes. They tend to be one-of-a-kind models that are meant to make a PR point for some large energy company or developer. The basic approach is to build a modest sized home, which is automatically energy efficient, give it some good insulation, and slap a big photovoltaic system on the roof, thus generating more energy than it uses. The rest of the things they do right, from the fluorescent bulbs to the Energy Star appliances get lost in the rounding.

In Cheapatopia, all homes will be zero energy, but they won't need such large photovoltaic systems because everything else will be done right.
 
If you read the article in Wired about my voice (see yesterday's post) you know I'm interested in helping other people who have spasmodic dysphonia get the same cure that I got. They just need to know that the fix exists, and of course their health insurance needs to pay for it. As demand for the operation increases, additional surgeons will presumably learn how to do the procedure.

All you need to do is vote up the Wired article on Reddit or Digg, thus making it more likely that anyone who has spasmodic dysphonia learns there is a solution. That's the first health problem you will fix today. But I have another health issue for you to fix this morning.

Several years ago I got adult asthma. Apparently a lot of adults are getting asthma lately, which is unusual. Experts don't know why adults are suddenly getting it in large numbers. Obviously it has something to do with lifestyle or environment. But what? That's what you're going to help me answer today, thus finding a solution to a second health condition in one morning.

For the past several years my asthma was nothing more than inconvenient, and I only needed prescription inhalers for a few weeks every years. It was no big deal. But about two months ago my asthma jumped into overdrive. Even the prescription inhalers couldn't keep up. I could barely walk up stairs. What changed?

Unfortunately there were too many variables. It didn't seem to depend on where I was, or whether the pets were around. It got worse at night, but that is typical of everyone's asthma.

Perhaps it was the weeds or trees or plants sprouting in the springtime, but could they be that much worse this year than last? Maybe, but that seemed unlikely. I wasn't having any allergy symptoms.

I fired up Google and started doing some research on what opens the bronchial airways. According to several sources online, i.e. strangers with no credibility, several common foods are excellent for relieving asthma symptoms. They included apples, pears, grapes, garlic, and onions. Antioxidants in general were reportedly good, but those particular foods were singled out.

So I started snarfing down lots of apples, pears, grapes, and garlic extract pills. Within 24 hours my asthma was reduced from about a 9 on a scale of 1-10 to maybe a 3, and it has stayed that way for a week. My prescription meds easily mop up the remaining problem, and I started my regular exercise regime again.

At about the beginning of my two months of asthma hell, I had consciously deleted citrus and spicy foods from my diet because I read that they excite the bladder and make you feel the need to pee more than you should. I'm all about efficiency, so I figured peeing less would be a good thing. And it worked, on that level. (Try drinking a glass of orange juice and see how long before your bladder starts yelling at you. I'll bet you never noticed it before.)

The downside is that those same foods are, as I now hypothesize, what protected me from the worst of the asthma symptoms. And this makes me wonder if the reason more adults are getting asthma these days is a change in what we eat. Are we getting fewer antioxidants than previous generations? Or are there more pollutants and irritants now, so we need more antioxidants than before?

If you have asthma, try apples, grapes, pears, and garlic for a week. Then tell me if you feel any different. Obviously the placebo effect can't be ruled out, but if it works for you too, researchers might want to take a closer look.
 
 
 
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