Thursday, August 28, 2014

Walking, aspirin, and vino for cardio health?

If your father had a heart attack before reaching retirement age, and suffered prolonged effects afterward, what would you do to better your chances of living to the current life expectancy? This is something that concerns me. My father is no longer with us. He left us before he could retire based on age.

Going over all kinds of information in medical journals and online resources dedicated to health, three things stand out as making some difference in helping one avoid a nasty turn in cardiovascular health. These relate to activity, taking aspirin every day, and drinking wine daily.

Walking and Activity

Apparently, living a sedentary life is bad for you. Most of what I've read says that you need at least 30 minutes of activity per day. There are also suggestions that 10K steps per day should be your goal. In case you are not sure which to do, or want to do both, it's much easier if you get a +Fitbit. This way you can track your progress wither way.

But, I've also read that High Intensity Interval Training is good for you in that it stimulates muscle growth and does things to keep you young. Think of it this way, like a kid, go out and play. Have moments of easy activity and spurts of ALL OUT effort like somebody is chasing  you in a game of tag. Apparently those moments of heart pounding activity stimulates things that are beneficial. There are also studies that say that too much of that just wears your body out. The intervals are the key, I take it.

I would say, try to do more than 30 minutes. Try a variety of activities. And try to increase flexibility. I throw that in because it's sad to see older people not be able to touch their toes or scratch their own back.

Daily Aspirin

Aspirin has long been known to help with reducing inflammation. It has also show to have benefits with respect to lowering your risk for heart disease and the type of stroke where you have blood vessel blockage. Recently, studies have shown that it also reduces some risks for cancer. However, the science is still kind of iffy. Researchers still don't know how much aspiring in what frequency is best.

Taking aspirin daily has some drawbacks. As I mentioned earlier, it helps with strokes where you have blockage in your blood vessels. This is because aspirin is a blood thinner. So, if you bust a blood vessel for your stroke, aspiring makes things worse. However, you could achieve the blood thinning via regular blood donations to your local blood bank without taking any aspirin.

I have not found any definite research that says that it's definitely the blood thinning that helps you avoid heart attacks. It may very well be aspirin's anti-inflammatory properties that do the trick. Sugars tend to irritate the blood vessels, which make them more susceptible to plaque attaching itself to them. Thus, reducing the inflammation reduces the plaque that chokes your arteries.

You see some corroboration to this theory with heart patients who have their teeth removed. The theory is that bad oral hygiene causes inflammation in the arteries, which leads to what we mentioned earlier. So, as a preventive measure, some patients have their teeth taken out.

Going back to the drawbacks, aspirin can also cause stomach bleeding when taken for prolonged periods. Thus, the recommendation is taking baby aspirin until the correct dosage is figured out by researchers. It's not that baby aspirin is THE recommended daily dose, it's just that they haven't figured out how far up they can push it for the benefits without killing you by bleeding you out.


Wine is supposed to be good for you too. Red wine is supposed to be good for you, more specifically. White wine won't cut it. This is where we know God is a man. Two glasses of red wine per day for men. Only ONE glass of red wine per day for women. Any more than that and you undo any benefit you derived.

Regarding undoing the benefit, being an alcoholic is definitely bad for you. Forget killing your liver, the process of killing your liver is where the action is. Before your liver takes a poop, it starts to build up fat bubbles from metabolizing the alcohol you drank. You end up with what his called, drumroll please, FATTY LIVER.

It turns out that sugar and carbohydrates in general, alcohol is a carbohydrate, are metabolized similarly by your liver. And all this may end up leading to higher cholesterol. There are arguments about all of this, so go do your own research. It couldn't hurt to limit your alcohol to 2 glasses of wine or less, and cutting way the hell back on carbs. It won't help you to be mindful of alcohol if you're going to blow it on other carbs.

I'm going to detour a little here. Carbs in general seem like a bad deal. Think of cattle. Cattle are fattened up with corn. When feed got really expensive, cattle were being fed old candy before being slaughtered. Why? To fatten them up. Corn, candy, flour, and other carbs like rice behave the same way in your body. They stimulate insulin production. The ONLY function insulin has in your body is to turn sugar in to fat. This is how alcohol becomes fat and you end up with an alcoholic's fatty liver. Speaking of fatty liver, how about veal and pate?

Regrouping here. I don't know for certain that the aforementioned amounts of alcohol are beneficial. I haven't run across any articles one way or the other that spell out the pathway in which alcohol is actually healthy. It may simply be that it could be a blood thinner of sorts. This is me speculating, by the way. Blood is an organic fluid, which requires an organic solvent. Or maybe not. I might be thinking of polar an non-polar solvents. Never mind. The point is, I have not found anything that explains to me how alcohol is actually good for you.

Don't take that to mean that being a drinkie isn't beneficial at all. Simply, I don't know HOW alcohol is good for you. Studies have shown that people who drink moderately live longer than people who abstain. They also live longer than people who drink too much; so don't get carried away. Again, I revert to God. He loves us and wants us to mellow out with a glass of wine every day. It's good enough for me.

Tying it all together

So, how do we tie this all together? For me, it takes the form of gulping down an aspirin in the morning. In the evening, I do my walking. If I'm stocked with a bottle of wine, I make it my reward for walking. If I don't have wine, I incorporate the walk to the store towards my 10K step goal, and drink some after.

I have figured out that a 750 mL bottle of wine is the equivalent of 4 glasses of wine. This means that one bottle should last two days. This keeps me walking to the store frequently. I'd go daily if my wife could drink red wine. Unfortunately for her, she gets migraines, which red wine seems to encourage. I try to drink daily if I can; but, some days I do not feel like imbibing. Other days, especially the weekends, I make up for that.

So, to recap, aspirin in the morning, evening walk (includes walking to buy wine), and a glass or two of wine after walking.

Will any of this help? Who knows? But, in the meantime, I'm pain free, get some exercise, and feel great in the evenings. This is a life worth living.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Summer Chalk Art

My two youngest played outside with colored chalk earlier in the Summer. They drew some figures. It seemed appropriate to save it in photos. 

They start school tomorrow, so I don't know if they will have any more sidewalk art this year.

Io's Flower




Sunday, August 10, 2014

Task Enumeration For Better Productivity

Writing down your tasks, projects, and goals into checklists, enumeration, is very important for helping you make the best of your time. If you have read David Allen's book, Getting Things Done, he states clearly that it is important to dump all of your pending tasks and other inputs into a trusted system, which you can later use to organize your productive time. There is more to writing down your tasks than he explains.

Allen states that the main reason for writing down everything is so that you can achieve a "mind like water". The explanation is thus:

In karate, there is an image that's used to define the position of perfect readiness: "mind like water." Imagine throwing a pebble into a still pond. How does the water respond? The answer is, totally appropriately to the force and mass of the input; then it returns to calm. It doesn't overreact or underreact.
When you write things down, according to Allen, it allows your mind to let go of all the mental tension required to keep track of all your ideas and tasks. Your mind can focus on doing one thing well, rather than be torn trying to keep track of everything that needs doing.

I am figuring out that writing down your tasks has another benefit that is making all the difference for me, which is to allow me to prioritize what I shall do.

Imagine a world in which you would visit a restaurant and order anything you want without a menu. It would be terribly inefficient because each restaurant is not prepared to make just any food. Restaurants typically focus on what is on the menu. This allows them to order the necessary food, use the correct equipment, and perfect a technique that will leave your food tasting delicious.

If the restaurant had to scramble to find ingredients, and the cook had to learn how to cook new dishes for every order, the result wold be lackluster. So, having a set list of items to order makes it easier for the restaurant to deliver consistent results, and makes the experience more pleasant for the guests.

Imagine, then that when you are sitting down on the weekend to plan your week. It is much easier to open up your menu of things to do, pick the best ones for the week, and then create the order for your work week.

Obviously, there will be more tasks than time to do them. This is fine. Presumably, you have selected the most urgent or necessary items for your calendar. Rather than forgetting or not having the time to do those leftover tasks, you have actively chosen to not do them yet. Having a comprehensive list of things to do is not about getting them all done; it is about giving you choices for which ones matter most at the present time. Choice is key.

What I am attempting to point out is that having a list of items to do, you are able to pick and choose what to do. It also helps you avoid putting less urgent items in your calendar that could have waited. Why would you do such a thing? Well, because when you sat down to plan, it simply popped into your head and seemed like it should be done. Whereas having a comprehensive list of those things that demand your attention allows you to weed out those things that can wait by allowing you to weigh them against the other choices.

How This Became Evident

Based on the David Allen quote, you might guess that I am a fan of his work, which is correct. I've used GTD with Moleskines and with Evernote. I've tried it with spreadsheets and other tools. Currently, I am using +Smartsheet, which I have used in the past. In this instance, I am using Smartsheet in earnest. I mean, I am REALLY dumping all my tasks on a sheet, something I did not do in previous instances.

One neat feature about Smartsheet is that I can connect it to my Google Calendar. So, those items that are due show up on my calendar. If I get the item done, I check it off as done. Otherwise, I can simply change the date for the next best time. I find this easier than managing tasks through the calendar.

There is also a task section for recurring tasks. Once I finish one of those, I change the date to the next instance. In this way, my calendar starts to fill itself out with tasks. I can look at what I already have schedules and am then able to select those things I think I can achieve in the gaps from among the list of tasks.

It is this available selection of tasks that made it evident for me that writing everything down makes it easier to keep myself productive. No need to mentally go through everything I could do. I can simply pick one of the many items already selected. There is always something to do, it is simply a matter of selecting an item.

Saturday, August 02, 2014

Evernote: Improving the Efficiency of Notes

Evernote is by far one of the greatest tools available for personal information management. The strengths of Evernote can also result in some drawbacks when it comes to recalling information. There are some remedies that one must use to prevent information getting lost. It is once you get past a few thousand notes that it becomes evident that you need to refine your note taking and indexing.

Let us start off by defining note taking. In the context of Evernote, note taking refers to typing a note, taking a photograph, recording video, recording audio, uploading a file, or using the handwriting feature. Evernote's versatility in receiving notes is what makes the application such a great personal asset. However, there are some trouble spots that could arise in recalling notes if you do not invest time in organizing each note.

The result is that each search pulls up too many results, the wrong results, or none of the results you need. It is necessary to have ways to refine results before submitting your query.

The problems that present themselves in note taking are lack of context, lack of indexing, lack of transcription, and expiration. These can make it difficult to find information, or make information "lost" among the archives.


Lack of context can make notes difficult to interpret, and thus know if they have any relevance to anything. Besides what is written in a note, it is important to know other information about the note. Fortunately, Evernote adds some contexts such as time and date. These are automatically recorded with each note; however, these contexts can be trashed when you combine notes, which Evernote accomplishes by making a new note and deleting the originals. Thus, you could lose the original dates, which are useful when you need to search by time. Time context can be maintained by adding in your own time and date within your notes, especially when you are merging notes.

Another context that is useful is location. When enabled, Evernote will record the coordinates of your note using GPS. This information is especially useful when used in conjunction with other contexts, such as time. If you want notes from last year when you were in Chicago, it is a simple matter to search for notes that have Chicago coordinates and then cross reference by the dates in question.

The location context breaks down if you turn off the GPS feature on your mobile device or within Evernote. In addition, the desktop version of Evernote does not record location at all. Furthermore, the coordinates are occasionally way off from where you actually took a note. This can be remedied by manually adding or correcting location information in the notes. The mobile and desktop applications allow you to modify location information. This is especially useful if, for example, your note is written in one location but has relevance elsewhere.

For example, you could add the location of your favorite grocery store to your shopping list. Or, if you are taking notes for Mom, you would locate the notes at Mom's address. Travel notes would be ideally have the coordinates of the place you are visiting so that you can easily call them up while you are there.


Indexing your notes is very important. You can typically do this by using the Tag feature in Evernote. But, you can also help find things later on by adding keywords to the note. Using synonyms in your notes also helps when you are trying to find a note and can only remember the concept if not the exact words contained.

Indexing is more important when you are recording video and audio. Evernote does a great job of scanning photos and documents for words, and making them searchable. However, audio and video do not have any indexing. Therefore, if you want to find a voice note in the future, it is vital that you spend some time reviewing old audio and video notes so that you can tag the notes or add key word summaries in text.


Transcription is related to the previous item in that you want to turn rich media captures into plain text. However, in this case, I refer to transcription as taking your photo of notes and then typing them up word for word. This does help in indexing, of course; but, more importantly, it simplifies your content and reduces the size of your database.

Transcribing to reduce your Evernote database size is important to keep your application running quickly. While desktop computers are faster and have increasingly larger amounts of storage, mobile devices are not keeping pace. Evernote for mobile tries to compensate by not storing your entire database on your mobile device, making it necessary to use your data plan to pull up notes related to your searches. So, if your notes are full of 8 megapixel photos, it will slow down your access and eat up your data plan.

Transcription aims at keeping your Evernote database lean and fast by reducing your notes to plain text whenever possible.


Some information is useful for a limited time. Once you are past that time, it makes no sense to store the records. One example is contact information. I have found that contact information is of little use in Evernote. Contact information is much more useful in the context of an address book. However, you may not want to spend too much time writing down contact information when you first receive it. You can take a picture of the business card, transcribe it to your address book later, and then delete the note with the card photo from Evernote.

The same goes for other temporary information such as lottery ticket numbers, raffle tickets, invitations, or articles you wanted to read but not keep. It is a good practice to give a moment's thought to whether the note you just viewed still has any relevance for you.

There is also temporary information that you can leave for the Internet collective to store. Anything you can Google and find consistently can be safely deleted.

Last Thoughts

All of these considerations, context, indexing, transcription, and expiration are aimed at not allowing your Evernote database to grow to the point where it takes longer and longer to find information. If you are having to get very clever in your search queries to find the information you want, then you have lost efficiency. You want data that is readily found rather than lost in a format. You want to find data quickly and at the cost of few storage and bandwidth resources.

I had stopped using Evernote so much because my database had become cumbersome to use under the mantra "Remember Everything". I came to realize that not everything is worth remembering. Furthermore, there is information that is not forgotten because the world wide web remembers it. Evernote should not be my personal copy of Wikipedia. Rather, it should contain personal, unique, and actionable information.