I Won Blood Donation

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In 2010, I posted The Selfish Case For Donating Blood. In that post I mention the health benefits one gets from reducing the iron level in your blood. So beginning in December 2010 – a full year after returning from my trip to Cambodia – I began to donate blood regularly.

Every 8 weeks. Like clockwork.

Only during my 13 months in California was there any interruptions. And while I was there I donated double red blood cells twice. So for all practical purposes, for 6 years I was a regular donor. Each time purging my blood of iron.

During those years I read some great articles on the health benefits of reducing Iron levels by Anthony Colpo. I’d love to link to those articles now, but they are now only available for paid members. (Side note: I went to see how much a Membership would be and the sign up page is empty. His server is also not secure. Goodbye!) 

Last December I was ready to hit a milestone. I was one donation away from receiving my 4 Gallon Pin. But I was turned away, because my Iron levels were too low. That had never happened before. Not unhealthy low, but too low to donate. They assured me I was still in a healthy range. I was on the edge.

I returned a few days later to try again. I really wanted that pin. And although I bumped my Iron level up a little, I was still just outside the range. Turned away again.

For 2 weeks I ate sunflower seeds and lamb and beef. Then I returned and my Iron level was finally high enough to donate. I collected my 4 Gallon Pin and this time instead of scheduling an appointment for 8 weeks, I pushed it out to 11 weeks.

Today was my first donation since collecting my 4 Gallon Pin and guess what? My Iron levels are too low to donate. Still in a healthy range, but just a little too low for their needs.

Being turned away 3 out of the last 4 times was a bummer at first, but really it is a good thing. I did exactly what I intended. I purged my blood of the oxidative stress. My blood is baby fresh and clean. And if I did my research correctly, I extended my lifespan by a few years. Oh yeah and I probably helped a few people along the way.

I won. I won at blood donation. Now I will go into a maintenance donation schedule. Maybe twice a year.

If you are a non-vegan male, donating blood is a no-brainer way to improve your health and the health of whoever gets your blood.

Podcasts I Listen To (2017)

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Two people have asked me to update my podcast list. The last edition came out in 2014, so it is long overdue.

Before I get to the list, I want to share the best tip I ever received on podcasts: listen at double speed. Or near double speed. Many other people are doing this, so this tip isn’t unknown. The only thing I would add is to gradually increase the speed. For the first few weeks I listened at 1.2 to 1.4 speed, now I usually listen at 1.6 to 2.0 speed. I also enable an effect to shorten silence. So all those pauses in interviews are gone. I use version 2.5.7 of Overcast for iOS (no ads).

The benefit of listening faster is I can listen to more show. Before increasing the speed I was always falling behind and having to delete shows to free up space on my smartphone.

Business and Finance

EconTalk – Still probably my favorite. The recent show on heroin was excellent.

Masters In Business – Outstanding interviews with people mostly in finance. The interview with Brett Steenbarger is a great place to start. You don’t have to be a stock trader to enjoy this episode. Replace “trading” with whatever is important to you and you’ll get some sound wisdom.

Planet Money – Lessons in economics wrapped inside engaging story telling.

Health

For the most part I don’t listen to health or paleo podcasts. Most are fear mongering or hucksters. And the more honest ones are repeating the same old message over and over. Processed food bad, sleep good. I get it.

Generative Energy Podcast – This is the podcast by Danny Roddy that focuses a lot on metabolism. My favorite shows were the ones with Georgi. Start with #9: A Bioenergentic View of Weight Loss.

The Daily Lipid – This is by Chris Masterjohn, one of the few remaining people that I followed back in the day that I still respect. His shows are long and detailed. I don’t listen to them all. But I was able to fight off a cold instantly using the exact advice from Zinc Definitely Fights Colds, But You’re Probably Using the Wrong Kind.

Interviews

James Altucher Show – James gets great guests and is well prepared for interviews. He interrupts guests with great questions better than other podcast hosts. I’ve already plugged his Scott Adams interview on a previous post.

Tim Ferris Show – I listen to about half the shows. They tend to be long. His best show last year was probably with Kevin Kelly.

The Art of Charm – I’ve been listening to this show for only 6 months of so, but I like it so far. A good start would be 537: Sebastian Junger.

Spanish

I don’t use the double speed option for these podcasts. 🙂

Lightspeed Spanish – There are a few different podcasts under the Lightspeed name, each with 40 lessons. I’ve completed Absolute Beginners and will finish Early Intermediate next week. Then I’ll begin Advanced Intermediate. This is an amazing free resource.

News in Slow Spanish (Latino) – Each week I get a little bit better listening to these short newscasts.

Story Telling

The Way I Heard It with Mike Rowe – Educational and interesting stories that are usually only 5 minutes long.

Snap Judgment – Stories and beats. I slow down the podcast for this one.

RadioLab – Fascinating and engaging show. Always with new topics. I highly recommend the episode From Tree to Shining Tree. You’ll never look a forest the same way again.

 

Duolingo Fluency Estimates – My Data

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If you use Duolingo you will on occasion get a Fluency Estimate. I’ve talked with people and read forums online and there is a lot of mystery on how it is calculated. I know of people that got 50% or more fluency that were no where near that level. Conversely, I know people near fluent that had lower scores. I have no clue how it is calculated or if it is an accurate measure.

What I am providing in this post is my data for other Duolingo users to look at. Maybe it will help them make sense of their own progression.

I began Duolingo on May 5, 2015 and have been using it almost every day. On two days when I was driving all day, I used the streak freeze feature. In early December 2015, Duolingo robbed me of my streak. (Boring story that I won’t tell). Currently I am at a streak of 393 days. My level is 21 at 18,644 points.

My first fluency estimate came in at 6% on September 5, 2015, which was 143 days after starting. It may have been a new feature then, so I’m not sure if it really took me that many days to reach 6%.

Duolingo Fluency in Spanish (September 5, 2015 – December 23, 2016)

NOTE: Whenever I’ve earned a new milestone fluency level, Duolingo will immediately drop me back down 1-3%. Then I need to re-earn the levels again and ultimately reach a higher fluency score. I find this discouraging, but at least be aware they are doing this.

UPDATE April 12, 2017: Since I posted this my account has been capped between a range of 22-25% fluency, despite never missing a day and blasting through most lessons without missing a single question.

UPDATE April 19, 2017: What happened today? My fluency which was frozen in the 22-25% spiked to 36%! I saw another user on Instagram that jumped 12% today with the Swedish program.

Duolingo is a Great Tool to Start

Every morning I do my Memrise and Duolingo lessons. Today I discovered that Duolingo is now showing ads when you complete a lesson. The worst part about the display of the ad is they are playing the same sound I would hear whenever I achieved a new higher Fluency Level. They’ve hijacked my Pavlovian queue. Not cool.

UPDATE April 19, 2017: They removed the sound and replaced it with a pause that forces you to look at the ad. 

Today I decided to quit Duolingo when I hit my 400 day streak next week. I would have paid for an ad-free version, but now I’m just going to walk away. It was a great tool to get started, but Memrise is a far superior learning tool, especially at this stage. Duolingo is good for beginners, but the marginal benefits decrease over time.

If I ever decide to pick up a different language I’ll likely do a jump start of 200 days or so with Duolingo, but not as much as I did for Spanish. Until then, I’ll be over on Memrise. Follow me here if you join.

UPDATE: I’ve decided not to quit as the new chat bots are providing value.

Would I Still Buy a Chromebook?

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I promised I would do an update on my post from April 2014 titled I Love My Chromebook. At the time I said:

Penny for penny, the Acer Chromebook C720 is the BEST piece of technology I’ve ever owned.

I still agree with that statement, although the Kindle Fire is damn close. However, technology changes quickly, so although I would absolutely still buy a Chromebook, it isn’t perfect. Before I go into what I have found lacking, I want to cover how I was able to do things I didn’t think possible at first using a Chromebook.

My Chromebook now has some coffee stickers!

#1 Photo Editing

Pixlr Editor is a godsend. A browser based photo editing tool that is not only free, but doesn’t even require an account. Many of the images you see on this blog or INeedCoffee in the last two years were likely touched up there.

#2 Database Management

If you have web hosting, many providers offer phpMyAdmin, which is a poorly named tool that helps you manage MySQL. Why didn’t they name it phpMySQL? Anyway as good as it is, I absolutely love DbNinja. You place the code on a hidden folder on your website, connect databases and query away. All free and secure.

One weekend I tested about 5-7 database management tools, DbNinja even though it was browser based, beat every single one. No Windows or Mac needed.

#3 Coding

There are a few online coding IDE environments that are very impressive. I made some progress using Cloud 9 and CodeAnywhere, but not as much as I wanted. As great as they were, I found coding on my PC desktop using a local web server and Visual Studio Code to be easier for me.

Where the Chromebook Was Lacking

I got way more than $200 use out of my Chromebook and I continue to use it daily, but if you only can have one laptop, there are a few limitations I found.

#1 Get More Memory – 2 GB is Not Enough

In my original Chromebook post I was happy with the 2 GB of RAM. And it was fine for a long time, but the more I pushed my Chromebook, the more it started to hang and crash. It could be a sign my Chromebook is getting old or that websites that are now pushing more and more client side code onto browsers. Or both.

Anyway, absolutely get 4 GB or more RAM. The good news is you can now get much faster Chromebooks with 4 GB of RAM for the same price or less than what I got back in 2014.

#2 Skype – Not Even Web Skype

I understand that a Chromebook can not install any programs and that includes Skype. But Google blocks Chromebook users from accessing the browser based version of Skype. I know they want us to all use Google Hangouts, but this seems wrong. What if Microsoft blocked a Google product on Windows?

I use Google Hangouts every week, but because it isn’t perfect I need to have Skype on stand by, but because my Chromebook doesn’t support Skype, I need to have my Kindle Fire charged and ready to go just in case.

UPDATE: See Dan’s comment below for a better explanation on why Skype is not on Chromebook and how it may be coming as new Chromebooks begin to support Android apps.

#3 FTP

I’m frankly surprised that I haven’t been able to find a working intuitive secure FTP solution. There is an extension in the Chrome Web Store called sFTP that I couldn’t get to work. Considering the hundreds of low reviews it has received, I am not alone.

There are some web page solutions that look like they were coded in the late 1990s. None of the ones I found had an SSL certificate. They looked sketchy. I couldn’t trust them my server password.

If someone know a free solution like DbNinja, where I can install the program on my server and access it via a hidden link, please leave a comment.

Chromebooks Are Awesome

Most people I am guessing would be much better off with a Chromebook. Dollar for dollar they can’t be beat. A lot of software is browser based now. Recently I have been debating on getting a 2nd Chromebook or a Windows 10 laptop. I haven’t decided yet. There are some coding projects that would go much smoother on a Windows laptop, but they cost more.

I do like the Acer Chromebook 14. And HP makes a slick 11.6 inch Chromebook if you want something super portable.

Learn a Foreign Language SUPER FAST or Not

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I wanted to give an update on my progress learning Spanish followed by my thoughts on the advice being peddled in the blogosphere on language learning.

The last language update I found on this blog was on September 26, 2015. In the post King of the Road, I mentioned that my Duolingo streak was at 132 days and I was at 6% fluency. I had just finished Pimsleur Spanish 1 and was starting Pimsleur Spanish 2.

Today I have a Duolingo streak of 346 days and a fluency score of 24%. I should have a streak of 550 days, but that is a long boring story. Now I am half way though Pimsleur Spanish 4. I listen to educational podcasts in Spanish and spend 30-45 minutes a day on vocabulary app called Memrise. Two hours a week I have Skype lessons with a teacher in Venezuela. Yet I am not close to being fluent. And that is OK.

In August 2015, I posted:

I have no specific goal other than to keep improving. If one day I am fluent, great. If I can only read a newspaper, that is fine as well.

Well today I can read a good chunk of the news stories on BBC Mundo. Not quickly and I do need to lookup words, but I’ve made a lot of progress.

duolingo24

Now I want to share my thoughts on a lot of the language advice I see online.

#1 Every Tool Has Successes and Failures

There are many tools to learn a foreign language. Not every tool will work for every person. I think that people are too quick to state their way is right the way because it worked for them. But almost every tool works for at least some people or it wouldn’t be around anymore.

This summer I spent 8 weeks taking Accelerated Spanish 1 at a local Community College. It was mostly wasted money. I was already beyond the level of the class. Most of the students didn’t take it serious and stopped attending. Even though I got little value from the class, I knew at least two of the students benefited a lot. For me the apps and YouTube videos were better. They likely signed up for Accelerated Spanish 2, where as I hired a teacher via Skype for one-on-one instruction. The Community College is probably a better choice for them, whereas the Skype way is working better for me.

There is far too much debate on which language program is best. Pick something and get started. If you don’t like it, grab a different tool and proceed. And if someone leaves a comment on which tool is best in the comments, then I’ll know this blog post failed.

#2 Enough With the Polyglots

Maybe I’m alone here, but I don’t find it encouraging to get advice from someone that speaks multiple languages and can learn additional languages super fast. I find it discouraging. Because even though my goal is to just make progress every day it does get frustrating to see some 25 year old that likely grew up in a bilingual household tackling his 5th or 10th language.

I’m reminded of the old muscle magazine ads where some steroid monster is selling a program on how to get HUGE. I might get huge or I may discover that our monster had an advantage that I didn’t have.

#3 The Keys to Learning a Language SUPER FAST

I’ve seen the videos and read the books on rapid language learning. There seems to be two keys for rapid learning. Key 1 is it really helps if you’ve already learned at least one language in addition to your birth language. Tackling your 3rd or greater language is going to be much easier than tackling your 2nd.

The second key as far as I can tell is have no other interests. I’ve read Fluent in 3 Months. Total immersion is the message of this book. Great. I believe it. But, I have other interests and those interests are unrelated to language. And those interests take time. So indirectly a key to learning quicker is to lose interest in other things.

Yo soy la tortuga (I am the turtle)

When I approach fitness I often think of Survivorship Bias. Not what is the strategy that will get me the optimal results, but what is the strategy that has the highest success rate. They are two different things. The strategies peddled by the polygots will absolutely work for some, but most will fail for a variety of reasons. Frustration, time commitment, whatever. They will burn out and quit.

I’ve added over 30 Friends on the various language apps in the past 18 months. Of those only about 5 are consistently putting in the effort daily. Instead of being the hare, I decided to be the tortoise. I spend an average of 60-90 minutes a day on Spanish. When I started it was closer to 15 minutes.

Even though the polygots can achieve fluency in 90 days or less, I haven’t. But my confidence grows a little each month that I will someday. The most important thing is I am having fun. I am enjoying the journey. Had I tried to be the hare with a target of becoming fluent in a few months I would have absolutely quit a long time ago.

If you are learning a foreign language and looking for a Skype teacher, I use italki. Here is my referral link.  We both get 100 ITC (credits= $10 USD) if you join after you take your first lesson. I use PayPal as I’ve had issues with their credit card processing.