Archive for July, 2016

Freakonomics Radio

Thursday, July 21st, 2016 | Reviews

freakonomics-radio

Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything is a brilliant book by Steven Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner. I won’t dwell too much on the book here, but following its success, Dubner began to produce a radio show called Freakonomics Radio that looked at the hidden side of other things.

I subscribed to the podcast using the Podcast feature of my iOS device. It’s the first time I have used it and so far it is okay. You just add the podcast and it queues up new episodes, and you can also go back through the archives and queue up old episodes. However, it does not seem to download the episodes, or has some performance issues. There is normally a few seconds delay between me clicking play and it starting.

Freakonomics Radio on the over hand, is very good.

The first episode I listened to was on “why are there so many mattress stores in America?”. Other episodes have taken on a diverse range of topics including science, food, self-improvement, economics (obviously) and interviews.

You can find the show at Freakonomics.com.

What makes good practice?

Wednesday, July 20th, 2016 | Success & Productivity

woman-playing-violin

Anders Ericsson is a Swedish psychologist who researches why super talented people are so good at what they do. His research has formed the basis of Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers and Geoff Colvin’s Talent is Overrated. Whether you buy into their interpretation or not, it is clear that practice, specifically deliberate practice as Ericsson defines it, is a cornerstone of learning skills.

But what makes good practice? In an interview with Stephen J. Dubner he laid out some important points.

You should be focused and self-examining

Practice cannot simply be sloppy. You need to focus on what you are doing. You need to consider what you are doing and how you could improve. You need to be self-critical. That feedback needs to come straight away so that you can learn from it.

Once you are doing something on autopilot, you are no longer improving, Take driving for example. Once you can drive, you don’t really think about it. So it doesn’t matter if you have been driving 30 years, that doesn’t make you a better driver than someone who has been driving one year (unless you have really been focusing on improving your driving).

Ericcson quotes one study that shows that GPs who have been practicing for long periods are not better (actually they were worse) at diagnosing chest conditions than new doctors were. This is because those thirty years do not necessarily represent deliberate practice, and because the feedback they get on the accuracy of their diagnoses is not immediate.

It should be outside your comfort zone

If practice is fun, you are probably not doing it to the full effect. It is easy to fall into this trap. I regularly play my guitar, but often I just plan the songs I already know. This is not improving my guitar skills because I am not pushing myself out of my comfort zone.

You should have a teacher

You can self-teach, as many great musicians have. However, if you want to learn and practice in the most efficient way possible, you need a teacher. Someone who can give you external feedback, someone who already knows the ropes and is familiar with the established best-practice way of teaching a skill.

You should break it down

Your practice should have very specific goals. For example, just “playing some guitar” is not real practice. I need to practice a specific skill: timing, a riff, a certain technique. I need to focus in one particular area and come up with exercises to improve that in isolation, then later practice putting it all together.

Cadbury and their nutritional information

Tuesday, July 19th, 2016 | Thoughts

wispa-bar

This is a Cadbury Wispa chocolate bar. I am annoyed by it. Here is why…

I buy chocolate bars in multipacks. It makes sense because it is cheaper than buying them individually and I have to go shopping less often. I have recently written about my diet, which involves tracking the amount of kcals I am eating.

They’re smaller

I took a look at how the multipacks were advertised on Sainsbury’s website. They’re not actually called “multipacks” but labelled “4×30.5g”. I suspect the reason behind this is because the term multipack could be seen as misleading: given you are not actually getting a multipack of normal Wispa bars. The ones you get in the multipack are smaller.

wispa-sizes

This is a side by side comparison of a regular bar and the one I got from my multipack.

They say multipack on

I have long found the habit of companies printing on things like “multipack bar – not for resale” annoying. The reason they do this is to try and stop stores from buying the multipacks, splitting them up and selling them on separately.

However, they can’t just ban it, because splitting a multipack and selling the individual items is perfectly legal. So they write these messages on instead.

In my opinion this is an unfair business practice. I often see multipack items for sale, but never in a big-business context. It is family-run corner shops, small sandwich merchants and refreshment stalls at community events. Such practices disproportionally affect small businesses.

No nutritional information

As if this tactic is not bad enough, Cadbury also remove all of the nutritional information and ingredients list from their multipack bars. You are legally required to list the ingredients on your products, and the food industry has agreed to provide nutritional information too, but Cadbury provide neither.

back-of-packs

The way Cadbury get round this is to insist that the ingredients and nutritional information is available on the outer wrapper of the multipack. However, this is completely at odds with the way most people use multipacks. When I buy one, I open the packet, tip the bars out into my bag of goodies, and throw the multipack wrapper away.

The alternative, is to keep a stash of multipack wrappers hanging around in case I want to check nutritional information. Perhaps you could argue that it is merely industry standard to do this and that everyone does it. But you would be wrong…

lilt-can

Here is a can of Lilt Zero, a product of The Coca-Cola Company. It is a multipack can as you can see from the back bar with white writing and the top. And yet somehow, Coke remembered to put all of their ingredients and nutritional information on the can.

Summary

I will not claim to know the mind of Cadbury. However, if I was to guess at their thinking, I would say that in my opinion they choose not to include ingredients or nutritional information on their bars in an attempt to prevent local shops exercising their legal right to break multipack products, even though this means impacting the consumer and not providing the vital information that should be there.

I see no reason why this information cannot be included on each individual bar.

Nor do I believe that enough is done to make it clear to consumers that the bars they sell in the multipacks are noticeably smaller than the bars you would typically buy individually.

Low-quality scams

Monday, July 18th, 2016 | Thoughts

A few weeks ago, this advert popped up in an app I was using.

low-quality-scam

To me, this really shows a lack of effort it coming up with your scam. It doesn’t even make sense. The sub-heading claims the woman earns £72 per hour, which translates to the £109,844 per year. How can she be a millionaire if she earns just over £100k per year?

Apparently she works in her spare time. Yet earning £72 a year she would need to do full time hours to achieve this.

You could claim that she is already a millionaire. However, when you click through to the article it is made clear that this is clearly not the case. Just months ago she was struggling to pay the bills. Since she has started doing this, she is loaded.

As she has only been doing it a few months, that also rules out the idea that she is a millionaire from having done it for ten years (and somehow avoided all living costs, in London).

No thanks, I’m pregnant

Sunday, July 17th, 2016 | Science, Thoughts

no-thanks-im-pregnant

While in Mothercare a few weeks ago, I picked up a leaflet on alcohol. It has the Leeds City Council and NHS logo on the front and is entitled “No thanks, I’m pregnant”. The message is that the best amount of alcohol to drink while pregnant, is none.

The problem with this statement, is that it may not be true.

For years it has been widely believed that you should cut out alcohol while you are pregnant. All the pregnancy books I read recommended staying away from alcohol. Though they also said that if you had been drinking before you found out, it didn’t matter. How does that stack up? The answer is because there is a lack of evidence that alcohol is harmful after three months.

Do not mistake me: heavy drinking while pregnant is dangerous of the baby and could result in foetal alcohol syndrome. It is serious and if you drink heavily you will do serious damage to your baby. However the evidence for moderate alcohol consumption is less clear.

Advice published by The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists says…

Drinking small amounts of alcohol after three months of pregnancy (not more than one or two units, not more than once or twice a week) does not appear to be harmful.

Similarly, in 2010 University College London published research that concluded…

Light drinking during pregnancy does not harm a young child’s behavioural or intellectual development.

Alcohol is not beneficial to the foetus. However, small amounts are not harmful either. Given that it does provide health benefits to adults, it could be useful for the mother. In light of all of this, it may be time to re-think our public health advice on drinking while pregnant.

Pie pie

Saturday, July 16th, 2016 | Food

pie-pie

Paul Hollywood suggested shaping left-over pastry into a leaf and putting that on the top of the pie. My artwork is not fancy enough for that, so I spelt out the word pie in pastry.

Should we kill whales for food?

Friday, July 15th, 2016 | Thoughts

humpback-whale

Whaling, the practice of hunting and killing whales, is a controversial one. it is banned in many countries but others continue the practice. Notably Japan, Iceland and Norway. During my recent trip to Iceland I came face to face with the issue. Specifically, I want to look at the issue of hunting whales for food.

My initial reaction was to agree with the anti-whaling campaign. Whales are very cool. If you had asked me where they are on the endangered status, I would have probably said somewhere in the middle.

However, the more I thought about it, the more I wondered if the answer was obviously no. I am a pretty poor vegetarian, regularly eating meat. The animals I allow to be killed so that I can eat them include cows, pigs, sheep, chickens, ducks, fish, crabs, well, to be honest, the list just keeps going. Surely one should decide not to allow animals to be killed for food, or decide that it is okay? Why should whales receive special treatment?

Endangered status

One reason could be that we could seriously damage whale stocks. We do this with most fish already of course. However, since commercial whaling was banned in 1986, whale populations have been doing okay. The most common type of whale you find in Iceland, the minke whale, has never been considered endangered and continues to have a strong population.

Thanks to the low levels of hunting, it is now done at a very sustainable level. This would change if all countries started commercial whaling operations again, but for the moment there is no issue with the current level.

Hunting methods

It’s true that whale hunting has traditionally been unpleasant. They are harpooned. Japan now uses exploding harpoons that attempt to instantly kill the whale. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t.

However, there is also a flip side. All whales are wild, freely roaming the sea until they are hunted. This could be preferable to the way we often factory-farm cows and chickens, kept in pens and cages for the sole purpose of our slaughter?

Intelligence

Some species of whales are very intelligent. This is less true of some of the more actively hunted species. However, it is also worth us taking another look at our current dietary choices. If we are going to say no minke whale, we also need to say no pig, because they too are an intelligent group of mammals.

Other dangers

Hunting is not the only danger that whales face. In fact, other issues are putting them under more threat than hunting. These include:

  • Pollution. There is so much crap in the ocean that whales are eating debris, finding it indigestible, and starving to death with a full stomach. A number of dead whales in Germany were found to have their stomachs full of plastic.
  • Reduced habitat. Some whales can only live in cold water. As sea level temperatures rise, their habitat becomes smaller and smaller. Changes to the acid levels also have an effect.
  • Change in eco-system. The changes in temperature also affect other critical parts of the ecosystem. Food sources may adopt different migration patterns and other predators may encroach into the whales’ territory.
  • Over-fishing. Whales eat fish, so when we take all the fish out of the sea, there is nothing for them to eat.

Conclusion

Should we kill whales for food? Probably not. But then, we should not be killing any other animals for food either. If we are going to continue to do that, then there does not seem to be a good reason why whales should be granted a special exemption. Currently whaling levels are sustainable, which is far less true of much of the fishing industry.

We should protect whales. However, the real threats to them are pollution, climate change and over-fishing. These are the most pressing issues for us to tackle.

Slimming down

Thursday, July 14th, 2016 | Health & Wellbeing

Given my recent slip into bad BMI I’ve been working on losing some weight. So I have been playing around with some tools to help me.

Apple Health

Health is one of the apps that Apple forces on you. I had never actually used it. However, when I opened it, it turned out that it had spent the last year counting every step I make. That is both horribly invasive and rather interesting. I am averaging 7,500 steps per day.

You can record body metrics such as weight and then have them plotted on a graph. This makes sense. Why I would need to regularly record my height and plot that on a graph though is unclear. Perhaps it is aimed at children and the shrinking elderly?

apple-health

MyFitnessPal

I am using this to record my diet. Yep, I have become one of those calorie counting wankers. You put in your weight, target weight and target period to lose said weight, and it gives you the number of calories you need to restrict yourself to per day. This goes up and down as you exercise and eat, giving you a number of calories left for each day: I have 785 spare so far, which I could spend on two chocolate chip muffins…

myfitnesspal

I can also record exercise on it. This will be useful when I exercise without my phone, such as American football training. For running, I use the app below.

MapMyRun

I have used MapMyWalk for years but now I am upping the ante by using the run version. It is actually the exact same app. When you log a work out in one it immediately appears in the other. Also, once you have synced one with MyFitnessPal, they are all synced. They are all Under Armour apps, so you would expect them to work pretty well together and so far they do.

map-my-run

Results

After three months I had managed to drop 8kg. This was working off net 1500 kcals per day, which I hit almost every day. A few days I was a few hundred kcals over the limit, but on others I was up to 1,000 below the limit (due to large amounts of exercise) so I was definitely below the limit on average.

weight-graph

However, I then spent a week on my honeymoon and put 2kg back on.

Conclusion

I have a new found respect for anyone trying to lose weight. It is really difficult. At net 1500 kcals per day, which is the maximum my app allows, you can just about fit three meals in, but no snacks or beer in. After all of this, I was only losing 0.5kg per week. Then just a single week off ruined a month of work.

Of course, it could be that if you are significantly overweight it is easier to shift the first lot of kilos. However, it really is hard work and difficult to find the motivation when it piles back on so easily.

Leeds 10k 2016 photos

Wednesday, July 13th, 2016 | Photos

When you run a 10k, there are often people taking photos of you on the way round. I usually ignore them because I look awful in the photos, but the ones from this year’s Run For All Leeds 10k look better than normal.

The thumbnails are all square, and therefore chop my head off, but if you click them I do have a head somewhere.

20x30-LEEA4095 20x30-LEEE4006 20x30-LEEG2676 20x30-LEEK2613

Hell’s itch

Wednesday, July 13th, 2016 | Life

In my post about the weather I shared this photo of my sunburn:

sunburn

It looks worse in the photo than it actually was. It was noticeably red, but it wasn’t that burnt. It was a little sore but some after sun that we found at 1011 (an Icelandic supermarket chain) did the trick. You have to give the store credit: they really do have “everything you need and more…”.

This happened on Monday, and it started looking better the next day, and continued to improve the day after. By this point we’re on Wednesday and heading home. Then, on the Wednesday afternoon, it started itching.

Oh my did it itch!

It was horrendous. It wouldn’t stop. I couldn’t sleep because I was involuntarily twitching every twenty seconds. Every hour, on the hour I would go to bed and spend 15 minutes twitching, before getting up, watching some TV and repeating the cycle.

Somewhere between 3-4am I gave up on making it into work the next day and sent a message in to say I would not be in. At 6am I finally managed to drift off: only to be woken up by Elina’s alarm at 6:10am. I spent some more time trying to sleep, then set off for Boots to clean them out of itch cream.

creams

Nothing worked. I tried after sun, anti-itch cream, even antihistamines. But none of it provided relief.

Luckily, by this point it was starting to subside. The itching continued for several days, but it didn’t stop me going to work on Friday, nor sleeping on the Friday night.

When I looked it up on the internet (which was a mistake) they talked about “hell’s itch” or “hell itch”, with people telling stories about it causing sleep deprivation, depression and torture. I don’t think what I went though is was as bad as being tortured, but I can see why people would make big claims about it. It was not a pleasant experience.