Roundup: Gene Therapy, Radical Decluttering, and the Calories In/Calories Out Debate

‘Weekly’ Media Roundup (Sep 9th – Sep 25th)

Well, that ‘week’ got away from me. I’ve been busy decluttering, but I have consumed lots of great information. I especially like some of the nutrition podcasts I list below.






  • dev-human – Things I was unprepared for as a lead developer
    • Interesting list of things to expect when (if) you get promoted into management
  • Matthias Felleisen – Growing a Programmer
    • Traditional university curriculums focus on teaching languages and algorithms and data structures, with little emphasis on how to design and maintain large programs. Let’s flip that script.
  • Jeff Knupp – How ‘DevOps’ is Killing the Developer
    • Stop trying to make software developers into general purpose tech workers. This might work for startups, but developers like to, you know, develop.
  • Sam Altman – Stupid Apps and Changing the World
    • Sometimes world changing apps look like toys at first. Keep on doing what you think is important.

Personal Improvement






  • Healthy Food House – They Said That Drinking Lemon Water In The Morning Is Good For You. Here Is What They Didn’t Tell You
    • TL;DR: Start drinking a glass of lemon water every morning
  • Danny Lennon – Is Your Low-Carb, My Low-Carb?
    • No one seems to agree on what low carb actually means. What should it mean?
  • Dr. Jason Fung – Why Can’t I Lose Weight?
    • This is one article from an extremely informative series on fasting. According to Dr. Fung, fasting (in any of several forms – Leangains, Eat Stop Eat, two weeks, etc) is important if you have built up insulin resistance over time, and can help your body reset itself and drop excess fat. Read this again!
  • Flowing Data – Years You Have Left to Live, Probably
    • Over 95% chance that I’ll live another 20 years? Sweet. Of course, this is totally wrong if you believe in the Singularity.

Decluttering: The Easy Stuff

I’ve been hard at work on my decluttering project.

First, I took everything off the shelves and arranged them in rough piles by category:


I tackled the easy things first.

I’m keeping my yearbooks. I have a few maps that I regularly use for backpacking. I have a SCUBA certification reference book. These things are keepers.

I also had a large pile of old exercise magazines, manuals from my Toastmasters days, and assorted old clippings. These went straight to the recycling bin.

Slightly tougher to part with were the 12 (!!) pads of paper that I’ve accumulated, plus the pack of printer paper (for which I have no printer). I have a hard time parting with these, because they are ‘useful’ – but I remembered the 20/20/20 rule. I kept a pad of paper (since I do use one), but the partially used and ragged ones went in the garbage. I brought the newer pads and paper to work, where hopefully they’ll get used.

Next came the books. There are several kinds of books I own:

  • Books I’ve started but haven’t finished. Unless I felt a strong desire to finish the book (i.e. I just haven’t yet), it went into my Goodwill box.
  • Books I haven’t opened yet. For the most part, I accepted that I probably won’t ever read them, and put them in the Goodwill box. These are the hardest, because they represent money I’ve spent. But I realize I’ve already spent that money, and even if I need to replace one, it will be a small expense compared to the mental burden of keeping them around.
  • Computer books. Programming languages, best practices, interview strategies, etc. I got rid of most of these: if I need to learn C++, there are great resources online. I kept the C Programming Language for now (in my outbox) – it’s a classic, and I’d like to read it again soon. Some of these I brought to work, others I gave to Goodwill.
  • Instructional books. Some of these are easy: the harmonica music books I haven’t touched in 15 years. Some of these are difficult to decide about, like the drawing books I worked part of the way through a few years ago. These will go in the outbox for now. Some of these I’m dreading a little bit: the giant stacks of guitar and trumpet books that stand unused, but not unwanted. I’ll have to make some tough choices very soon.
  • Sentimental books. The Bible ended up in my Goodwill box. I’m an athiest now, but I have a strong connection to Christianity in my past. Books by my favorite authors, like Kurt Vonnegut, Bill Bryson, and Ray Kurzweil I decided to get rid of. Books are no longer things that I keep just for the sake of it.

I totaled the amount I spent (roughly) on these books, largely unread and unused. Often I got these books from used bookstores or as gifts, but this seems roughly correct. It’s also ridiculous, an embarrassing waste of money over the years. Total cover price of the books I’ve donated or given away: $1100.

One final point about all of these things: for the most part (aside from a small pile of books in my outbox, to decide about later), I dealt with donating and recycling and gifting these things immediately. I don’t want them in my house! I’ve made the mistake of putting these things in a corner before – this is a way to delay making the tough decision to part with them! I’ve already got a small pile of things to decide fates of – I’ll get rid of the ones I’ve already decided about immediately!

Over the next few days, I’ll be making tackling some more difficult piles: stacks of music, binders of CDs, souveniers and knickknacks, signed or more valuable books, and binders of personal documents. Wish me luck.

Decluttering: Making a Plan

I’ve been stuck for years trying to get rid of stuff. It’s time to observe The. Most. Important. Thing. So I’ve made a plan, and started to Take Action.

First, I consulted an expert. A friend of mine is into lifestyle design and minimalism, and I asked her to tour my apartment and help me figure out what to do with my clutter.

(She lives in an apartment the size of a prison cell. I think she knows what she’s doing.)

The first lessons she imparted:

The 20/20/20 Rule:

For things you’re struggling to get rid of: if something can be replaced for $20, or in less than 20 minutes, or by traveling less than 20 miles, get rid of it.

The Minimalists call this the 20/20 rule for Just In Case items: “Anything we get rid of that we truly need, we can replace for less than $20 in less than 20 minutes from our current location.” It’s slightly different, but the point is the same: don’t hold onto things “Just In Case.”

The Value Rule:

An item is more valuable if you can give it away to someone who will find it useful, than if you hold on to it, even if there’s some tenuous sentimental value to you.

(She didn’t give me a name for this one. Maybe one already exists?)

You can see how this might apply to your stuff. Got an old table you can’t get rid of because it’s been in the family? Maybe it’s more useful to someone who needs a table, than as clutter to you. A book that’s been sitting unread on your bookshelf? A more expensive tool you’ve been hanging onto ‘just in case?’ It’s easier said than done, but look at your valuables through a different lens.

After I gave my friend and consultant a tour, I made a plan.

My objective: reduce the objects in my bookshelf by 90%.
My reason: the bookshelf is a source of stress and anxiety, representing a big pile of things to get done, and I should start there
My deadline: October 11th, 2015 (4 weeks)
My reward: the new iPhone (I’ve been waiting to get one anyway… I’ll put it off until I’ve achieved my objective)

I started tonight. Here’s a photo of my bookcase before:


Here’s my strategy:

  • remove everything from my bookshelf
  • separate the items into different categories
    • partially read books, unread books, knick-knacks, maps, music books, cds, personal documents & photos, magazines
  • Decide which items I would definitely like to keep
  • Decide which items I can part with immediately
  • Use an “Outbox” to help me sift through items I can’t decide about
  • Get outside help for perspective and for accountability!

I’m ready to get started. Let’s go!

Roundup: Giant Viruses, Pooping in Public, and the Real Reason We Get Fat?

‘Weekly’ Media Roundup (Aug 30 – Sep 8th)

Speaking of consistency, here’s the latest roundup, in which we learn about topics from viruses to low carb diets and taking a cash payout when you’re pretty sure you’re dying.



  • RadioLab – Elements
    • Go on a sonic tour of physics – from lithium to carbon-14 to cosmic rays and dark matter and
  • This American Life – Petty Tyrant
    • The amazing story of one small time crooked union boss and his swath of destruction
  • This American Life – Lower 9 + 10
    • How’s life in the Lower 9th Ward 10 years after Katrina?


Personal Improvement


  • Question of the Day – Ten-Minute Advice
    • My new favorite podcast with James Altucher and Steven Dubner, with a very simple premise: ask each other an everyday question, like “What’s something you can teach me in 10 minutes that will change my life?”


  • James Clear – Getting to Simple
    • To find out the essentials, you must master the fundamentals, often through hard work and trial and error
  • Structured Procrastination – Do Less, Deceive Yourself, And Succeed Long-Term
    • Use your tendency to procrastinate for good – by doing other lower priority tasks rather than sitting on the couch
  • The Wall Street Journal – To Stop Procrastinating, Start by Understanding the Emotions Involved
    • If you’re a chronic procrastinator, start by examining the emotions – anxiety, etc – that come up with you’re faced with a big task
  • Jeff Ammons – Hacking the Flow State
    • Flow can be necessary to accomplishment and job satisfaction. How do you get those necessary ingredients, clear goals, clear and immediate feedback, good balance between one’s perceived skills and those perceived as necessary for the task, and uninterrupted concentration time?



  • Gary Taubes – Why We Get Fat
    • In an easy to read way, Taubes lays out how people can be fat and malnourished at the same time (here’s a spoiler: processed carbs), and shares an Atkins-like plan for tipping the scales back towards even. (I’ve decided to try this one as an experiment.)


  • The New York Times – Gary Taubes: Diet Advice That Ignores Hunger
    • “Calories in/calories out” has a major problem: restricting calories in is unsustainable, and weight inevitably bounces back once calories are returned to normalcy.



  • Freakonomics – Are You Read for a Glorious Sunset?
    • Serious question: why don’t insurance companies offer a generous payout instead of a long, drawn out stay in the hospital for terminal patients?

The Other Most Important Thing

As I’ve written about before, taking action is The. Most. Important. Thing.

But there’s another thing that’s also important: Consistency.

Over my life, I’ve wondered why certain things are so hard for me… losing weight, getting in shape for a sport, learning an instrument, finding a job.

The answer comes down to my consistency putting in the reps.

When I am losing weight, I am eating well every single day. When I’m plateauing, I am making cheat days a habit.

When I am getting in better shape, I am exercising 3, 4, 5 days a week consistently, whether or not I ‘feel’ like it. When I’m skipping days, the weights and miles don’t go up.

When I’m learning an instrument, those tricky passages start to seem a lot easier when I’m putting in the time every afternoon. When I’m prioritizing other things, the easy parts get harder.

It’s hard to look at success and not see a pattern of consistency.

Bobby Fischer, according to internet rumor (if you have a reference, please share) was obsessed with chess, and read every book about it.

The Beatles played 262 shows at one club in Liverpool over 2 1/2 years (IMDB).

Michael Phelps went 5 years without missing a workout, 365 days a year (Parenting).

What can you do?

Tell your spouse you love them every day. Show up to work early every day. Schedule your workouts on your calendar. Meditate first thing in the morning, not just when you feel like you need it.

Take action, and do it consistently.

Roundup: Surviving on Mars

Weekly Media Roundup (August 16th – 29th)

Roundup! What roundup? I’ve been on vacation in Hawaii and Vietnam. I have consumed nearly zero self-improvement material while I’ve been gone; instead, I read a few sci-fi books.

A couple of them aren’t worth mentioning, but, since you asked, I really enjoyed this one:

Andy Weir – The Martian

I thoroughly enjoyed the scientific rigor of the book – at times it seemed more like a physics textbook than a work of fiction. There were a few areas that were a little played up to make the story work, and the hero’s continued ability to overcome all obstacles exceeds even good luck, but it was highly engaging and engrossing. Recommended.

Roundup: Finding Your Love Language, Research into Ketogenic Diets, and Becoming an Excellent Manager

Weekly Media Roundup (August 1st – August 15th)

My apologies; this is the second Roundup in a row that I’ve been late with. I’m about to leave the country, so I’m expecting the next one will be late. I stumbled on an exceptionally quality batch of shows and books since last time – enjoy!



  • Gary D Chapman – The Four Love Languages
    • This book should be required reading for everyone. If you haven’t read it, get it now. Learning which of the four ‘buttons’ other people respond to is invaluable, not just in love, but in work and family and friends. Teaser: the four are physical touch, words of affirmation, presence, and acts of service, and everyone has one they naturally resonate with. Buy it now.





  • TED Radio Hour – Fighting Cancer
    • Fascinating talk on detecting cancers using microRNA and new open-source drugs that could speed up the pace of research.
  • 99% Invisible – From the Sea, Freedom
    • What makes a legal state? You’d be surprised who has tried.

Personal Improvement