Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Consistent Breakfast

Before preparation

Breakfast - Good For You and A Chance To Be Consistent

They say, breakfast is the most important meal of the day. I know I perform a lot better at work, and can maintain focus until lunch much easier if I've eaten breakfast. Many people skip breakfast because they enjoy sleep. While none of us usually have that much free time first thing in the morning, breakfast is the easiest meal to be consistent at. Assuming you're not a road warrior, when eating breakfast:

1. You are always at home for breakfast, not at restaurants, not in an office, or outside, or in a plant, or on the road, etc.
2. You always have the same amount of time from when you get up, to breakfast
3. (Assuming you slept ok) Your energy level is consistent, and groggy but not exhausted
4. You have access to whatever items you've prepared on a previous day or the night before
5. Your breakfast rarely gets cancelled or affected due to family commitments, or having to work late

Lunch, at least for me, is difficult. I'm often at restaurants with clients, or eating at inconsistent times. Dinner can also be a challenge, because it is at inconsistent times. If I'm working late, and get home at 7pm then it's easy to fall prey to convenience food.

Breakfast, out of all meals offers the best chance to consistently eat health food, simply because it offers the best opportunity to be consistent. Having fruits and veggies in your consistent breakfast, lets you make a dent in your fruit and vegetable needs first thing in the day, regardless of how the rest of your day unfolds.

Analogy #2 - Paying Yourself First

One of my favourite concepts from personal finance, is the idea of paying yourself first. The idea is, you immediately move some of your pay into savings as soon as you are paid. This is setup automatically, so you only see the money leftover after savings, and can only spend that much.

Breakfast allows you to pay yourself first with fruits and healthy food. By consistently eating healthy in the morning, you're crowding out room for unhealthy food later in the day.

Analogy #3 - Lessons From Science - Simplify The Number of Variables

If you were doing a scientific experiment to measure how well you felt, and what your weight gain was, wouldn't you want to reduce the number of variables in equation? Wouldn't it be the easiest if you ate exactly the same thing everyday, and then you could monitor your performance? If you were gaining weight, or not feeling as energetic then it's clear you need to make some minor adjustments.

Since breakfast can be so consistent, you can design a healthy breakfast and then eat exactly the same thing everyday. Based on how hungry you get before lunch, you can then make minor modifications to your baseline breakfast.

My Baseline Breakfast

I have been successfully doing this for several months now, having first established a baseline and then making small modifications to my breakfast.

Breakfast Cereal was replaced with Rogers Steel Cut Porridge Oats. I'll make a batch of 1.5 cups (uncoocked) at a time and keep it in the refridgerator. It yields about 5 servings and when reheated in the morning and mixed with raspberries, plain oatmeal is good.

1% Yogurt has been replaced by 1% plain yogurt. While initially you may find it very bitter tasting, it does grow on you, and when mixed with blueberries is quite good. Adding almonds, walnuts and magic Omega 3 shelled flax gives it a nice crunch.

A hardboiled egg, adds protein, with no additional morning time other than peeling the shell off the egg. It's also tasty and makes a difference to keeping hunger at bay.

Banana's are just great.

I am still searching for vegetables that take limited prep time in the morning, can be eaten fairly quickly, and taste decent. Please fire away with any suggestions. Aside from putting things in an omelette, which is too time intensive in the morning, I don't know of any great way to eat veggies in the morning.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Save time, check traffic - Part 1

Google Maps Traffic - Green means good

Sometimes, we know there are software tools on the Internet but for we don't use them, or don't consistently use them

It's the end of the day, you were ready to leave work 10 minutes ago, and can't wait to get in the car and head home. If you're an office worker, with an Internet connection on a desktop computer, why not spend a few minutes to check on the computer before getting in your car?

I haven't been doing this, but have pledged to start after narrowly avoiding a 30 minute backup when a co-worker got on the highway slightly before me and called me (with a handsfree device of course) so I wouldn't get stuck as well.

In this Part 1 of this article, I list two options for those who aren't super computer savvy. In part 2 of this, I'll describe how to use Google Maps, and Excel to create a customized graphical display (dashboard) that shows the status of various routes you might take.

Option 1 - Google Maps Your Regular Route

Many of you likely use google maps when looking for directions. From a smartphone or computer you can search for directions, turn on traffic and save the whole search as a bookmark by clicking the "Link" button to generate a link that will regenerate your search.

#1 - Shows how to turn on traffic
#2 - Shows how to open the window where #3 shows you the link for your search
#4 - Shows the route, and time in current traffic (as well as alternate routes, and their traffic times)

If google is nice enough to show you alternate routes, then this solution works quite well. All you need to do is go to one webpage, and you can quickly see the current traffic times across the various routes.

Option 2 - Bookmark Multiple Custom Routes

If google isn't nice enough to suggest the alternates that you normally take, then you can click and drag somewhere along the route to add a waypoint, which then forces Google Maps to take the path you want. After it has your route, save that individual search link in your bookmarks. When you're ready to go home, click through your 2-4 different bookmarks and check the current traffic time on each route.

#5 - Shows the waypoint, which forced Google Maps to take an alternate highway.
#6 - Shows the "Short Url" checkbox. This shortens the link you have to bookmark down to something manageable.

Give it a try!

It's very quick to check things on a desktop computer, and if you've got one handy, why not check the traffic quickly before leaving? If your route shows it's going to take longer than expected, you can drag waypoints around the map to look for alternates.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Summer Spoilage Solved! - Passive Climate Controlled Transport

Climate Controlled Transportation

Food is Wasted

There are no shortage of articles about food waste. A New York Times article has a lot of articles and studies:

A study in Tompkins County, N.Y., showed that 40 percent of food waste occurred in the home. Another study, by the Cornell University Food and Brand Lab, found that 93 percent of respondents acknowledged buying foods they never used.

A 1980 study in the UK titled Household food wastage in Britain, by R.W. Wenlock et al. (full article here) states (P.54):
Since prewar studies (Cathcart & Murray, 1939) showed that I-3% of food was wasted in the home in Britain, there has been little work on this aspect of food loss. Some household studies were attempted in the United States (Adelson et al. 1961 ; Adelson et al. 1963) which indicated that between 7 and 10% of domestic food (in energy terms) was thrown away, given to pets, or otherwise used for non-food purposes. Fats and oils accounted for between 70 and 80 % of this loss.

Wenlock et al. in their study noted a seasonal variance in food waste
When assessed against the expected usage of food in the home, wastage accounted on average for 6.5 % of the energy intake in summer and 5.4 % in winter

On a side note, you can tell the paper was written in 1980 because of the language (bold added) (P. 54):
It was also noted that studies of this kind are very difficult because the intensive questioning which is necessary and the period of time involved result in poor co-operation by the housewives. Another, non- reactive, approach was therefore tried in Tucson, Arizona, where the waste food in garbage cans was studied (Harrison et al. 1975). This showed that on average approximately 10% by weight of the food which entered the home (estimated from discarded food wrappers) was wasted.
A newer study titled "Food waste within food supply chains: quantiifcation and potential for change to 2050" by Parfitt et al. has more recent information, and shows much higher numbers in more recent times (perhaps because of more fresh fruits and vegetables being purchased rather than canned or preserved foods?).
Jones et al. (T. Jones, A. Bockhorst, B. McKee & A. Ndiaye 2003, unpublished data) estimated that American households discarded 211 kg of food waste per year, not including food to drain, into home composting or feed to pets. The amount of food loss at the household level was estimated to be 14 per cent (T. Jones, A. Bockhorst, B. McKee & A. Ndiaye 2003, unpublished data), costing a family of four at least $589.76 annually (Jones 2004).
If you want to look at pictures of food wasted, or post some of your own! Check this blog out.

Sometimes it gets hot in a car, hot enough to bake cookies!

You park your car in front of the grocery store, the heat slowly builds in it. After you come out, you put your fresh groceries, including dairy, into a scorching hot car. Does this seem like a best practice?

Recently a Toronto police officer successfully baked cookies in a parked car. While you may think it's only a short trip from the store to home, is it 10 minutes? Is it 20 minutes if some of the lights are busy or you're stuck in traffic? Would you ever take your groceries out of the fridge and sit them on the counter that long? If not, would you put them in the oven that long? Isn't that what basically happens when you put them into a hot trunk?

Reduce seasonal food spoilage - try a passive climate control food transport system

Food spoilage and waste occur for a multitude of non-optimal reasons, but by using a cooler, preferably with an icepack or two in it, you can gain some time for nominal trouble. Bringing a cooler will also save you any store bag charges, and you may find packing your groceries into a rigid container much easier than bagging. I bring mine directly into the store, and load it at the checkout.

A cooler also gives you more flexibility. What if there's a better store further away from your home? What if you want to pickup groceries near your workplace, or somewhere convenient midway through your 45 minute commute home? If this opens up more convenient shopping options, maybe you can shop more frequently, for smaller quantities and have even less waste!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Paper, is it worth another look? - In the kitchen

On the left, paper, hard at work
Earlier last summer some friends and I, all in our early 30’s, went to an amusement park. We bought tickets in advance, and out of six of us, only I had a printer to print the tickets. Informally polling others, it’s not uncommon in this smartphone world.

OK, obviously no one has a printer, it’s old technology what’s the big deal?

Paper it turns out, is pretty awesome. A monochrome home laser printer is now $60, and the cheapest Costco recycled paper is $50 for 2500 sheets. I've had great success with a Samsung ML-2510, which is comparable to the new Samsung Monochrome Laser Printer (ML-2165).

Let's compare paper with an iPad or tablet.

Paper can be thrown out if dirty, a tablet can be, but you'd rather not do that.
Paper can be put directly on the work surface, a tablet needs a fancy stand to hold it upright.
Paper can be moved around with dirty hands, a tablet, not so much.
Paper can be written on, with dirty hands, then the underlying document edited later, annotating a recipe on a tablet with tomato sauce on your hands is not recommended.

And of course, paper is drop proof.

The clear winner in the kitchen, paper.

So what's optimal?

Optimal solution, buy a modest home printer, the cheapest paper you can find, and don't be afraid to get messy in the kitchen

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Phony Real Estate Bidding Wars - Change the Game

I recently read Fight Back: 81 Ways to Help You Save Money and Protect Yourself from Corporate Trickery by Ellen Roseman, a Toronto Star Personal Finance columnist. The title is a little inflammatory, but the book has quite a few good sections on dealing with banks, telecom companies and car dealers. Chapter 71 has a nightmare story of someone who leased a Mini Cooper, returned it and received a $3,725 bill for excessive "wear and tear charges" on a now 3 year old car only "worth around $18,000".

The section I found most interesting, relates to phony real estate bidding wars. Sadly, in the overheated Toronto real estate market, phony bids do appear to exist, and the head of the Toronto Real Estate Board has come out against them. The book cites one outrageous example, (which was also written about in The Toronto Star) where a buyer bid $90,000 over the asking price with no other bidders.

This is truly outrageous, but how do you protect yourself from this?

Mark Weisleder, who wrote the chapter on avoiding this problem, lists a bidding war clause that can protect you from this.
This offer is being submitted on the basis that it is part of multiple offers. If the seller receives no other offer by 10:00 p.m., the seller will notify the buyer's agent and the buyer will have one hour to revise or revoke their offer. If the seller accepts the buyer's offer, the seller will provide the name, address and phone number of the agent and brokerage company that submitted the competing offer.
This simple clause, let's you change the nature of the game, eliminate loses from a one-man bidding war, and reduce one source of stress when buying a home.

Mr. Weisleder's advice is:
Use a bidding war clause if you suspect that the seller really does not have another offer.
By using this clause, you have assurance that if your offer is accepted, the seller will have to prove that he indeed did have at least one

Why not always do this?

I'd love to hear from laywers / agents in the real estate industry, but why shouldn't this clause always be used? How are you to really know whether there are other real offers or not? If you always apply this clause, then the game is changed and you can never be tricked into a phony bidding war.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Cleaning house and making money

Would a business keep assets that are no longer of any use? Assets that are of value to someone, are taking up space, and are losing value while you don't use them. Would you keep these things?
Obviously not, so why are you doing this in your personal life?

Recently the wife and I discovered kijiji, something similar to online classified Craigslist. We've both been pleasantly surprised by the success we've had.

Ok, so I want to do this, but isn't it a lot of work?

The short answer is no. With about 10 mouse clicks and uploading a few pictures of the item you can have an ad.

I only give out my email on the ad not my phone number. This gives me complete control over communications and prevents me from being bothered at work or when I don't want to be.

The beauty of online classifieds is almost always it's the buyer who is responsible to pick up the item. This means the amount of travel time required for you to sell the item can be as low as zero if you have the buyer come to your home or a few minutes if you meet near your home at a mall, bank or coffee shop.

If the buyer comes to your house, and doesn't show up as scheduled then you're not out any time. In my experience most buyers are very polite and considerate of your time, but some are not, so be prepared for a few no shows. In one instance, a buyer was late and apologetically insisted on overpaying me by $10!

But no one will buy my stuff, it's not worth anything

You would definitely be surprised what sells quickly and for how much. I personally have sold the following, with time on the market and price indicated:

My highschool graphing calculator (10+ years old) for $50, sold in 2 days.

Broken, non functioning, iPod nano for $5, sold in 5 days.

Cowboy boots (yes, there were plans for a cowboy life, it never worked out) for $60 in 22 days. Bear in mind, these boots were sold in Toronto, not somewhere known for being a cowboy boot city.

Cowboy hat, for an undisclosed amount.

An old, unused cell phone with slide out keyboard for $10 in 78 days.

And finally a tea set my parents had for $25 in 141 days.

There is a booming market for things you might think of value and otherwise. Even if something is broken, ie. an Xbox, there are still people who may buy it or pieces of it (I sold an Xbox power supply for $10 in 12 days).

Isn't there a risk I'll get robbed? Or my neighbors will complain about people coming and going to the house?

Safety concerns are something to take seriously. There are many websites that list best practices on this. Whether you are comfortable selling or not is a personal choice.

Optimal Solution to Eliminating Clutter, Making Money and Saving Time

The optimal answer to safety, saving your own time and making a success of this, is if you live in an apartment or condominium with cameras and a security guard. Having the buyer come in front of your building means zero travel time, and zero risk of wasted time if there's a no show. The anonymity of an apartment building and the implied security of meeting in a lobby or common area, while under video surveillance, in front of a security guard, is hard to beat.

Alternatively, meeting at a nearby plaza / coffee shop works as well, just make sure you bring a book in case the buyer is late.

If you don't live in a multi-family dwelling, think about the advantages of selling your stuff.
If you do live in an apartment or condo building, why aren't you taking advantage of this?

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Be Like Gmail - Search Don't Sort... Your Cutlery Vol 1

Search, don't sort!

GMail relies on searching, more than sorting, why not do that to everything?

Google Mail (Gmail) is built around searching. While this seems simple, it was a major paradigm shift from the extreme amount of sorting one did prior to the highspeed, searchable email we take for granted. Now, because search technology is so good, there’s no point spending your valuable time sorting anything. When you do need to find 10 out of your last 1000 emails, it takes far less time to search for those 10 rather than have spent time sorting all 1000.

So, why is your cutlery drawer such a mess?

The lesson learned from Google is, sometimes the time taken to sort is a waste since it doesn’t appreciably decrease the time to find what you’re looking for from an unsorted collection. Applying this to a cutlery drawer is a real world example, is it really any faster to pick out a fork or knife from a sorted drawer rather than an unsorted drawer? How fast is it to dump the removable cutlery rack from the dishwasher directly into the drawer, versus individually removing and sorting each item? I submit, dumping the dishwasher cutlery tray directly into the drawer is faster and there is no extra time lost looking for a fork versus a knife in the unsorted collection/pile you see in the photo.

Are you actually doing this?

I’ll keep you posted on how well this goes over in my house and if I can persuade my wife to search, not sort. Stay tuned.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Wine - Why are you using thousand year old packaging technology?

If I gave you two options for buying something, which would you pick:

Option1 - Glass packaging:
1. Heavy glass package which is energy intensive to ship
2. Each package is has 6.25 servings
3. Once opened, the material will expire within 2-3 days, regardless of how much or how little was used
4. Bottle shaped packages that don't stack efficiently and leave holes
5. Breakable

Option2 - Plastic bladder in a cardboard box
1. Once opened, container is good for 6 weeks of shelf life
2. Lighter packaging
3. Stacks more efficiently
4. No risk of injury from broken glass
5. Container is larger with about 83 servings per container 
6. Sometimes there is a volume price discount

Katherine Thompson of Virginia Tech Food Science makes glass the clear winner for wine that needs to age since:

 "Glass bottles protect the quality of the wine by reducing oxygen permutation through the container.  While other containers might be more economical and lighter in weight, they do not preserve the quality of wine like glass bottles."

But really, are you keeping your wine for aging? Or are you just falling for marketers tricks?

"In the past decade, wine bottles have been gradually gaining weight because people typically associate heavier glass bottles with higher quality. The total weight gain for a glass wine bottle is about a pound."

While I like wine in a box, Ms. Thompson's report makes Tetra Pak seems to be a clear winner:

Tetra Pak containers primarily use packaging materials made from paper and weigh about 40g compared to glass bottles that weigh anywhere from 500g – 750g. The use of Tetra Pak containers, rather than glass bottles, results in the use of 92% less packaging material than glass bottles, 54% less energy over the life cycle of the container, 80% fewer greenhouse gases, 60% less solid waste volume, and 40-50% fewer trucks to deliver the same quantity of wine packaged in Tetra Pak containers than in traditional glass bottles (2008d; 2008c)

And it gets even better:

Unlike glass bottles which are difficult to stack, Tetra Pak claims containers can be easily stacked during transport and storage (2005). Tetra Pak designed the Tetra Prisma container for the wine company French Rabbit. The Tetra Prisma was designed so that air could be squeezed out of the container after someone finished pouring a glass of wine. The French Rabbit’s website claims that this type of design allows for an air tight seal preserving the wine longer than a traditional glass bottle (2006).

In a 2011 paper by R. Ghidossi et al. in the Journal Food Control (23 (2012) 302-311) compared PET (plastic) bottles of single and multi-layer, glass, and Bag in Box. It found that "Taken as a whole, these analyses tend to prove that white wine is largely influenced by the packaging used. The differences were detectable at 6 months". However, some much better news on the red wine front:

"No differences were noted at 6, 12 and 18 months of conservation. No groups could be created by the panel of tasters. Else if O2 content increases quickly in the Bag in Box configuration, it doesn't impact on the sensorial analysis. We therefore consider that, for red wine, no significant differences could be determined and that conservation of red wine was efficient for a period of 18 months for all the packaging configurations studied." (Bold added)

So if you're not storing wine for a long period, and if it's not white, why not look to modern packaging rather than just using the same packaging from Roman times and before.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Do you wash your hands at restaurants? - Public Transit Faecal Fiasco!!!

Simple, but effective
The world, is unfortunately a filthy place. We all know you're supposed to wash your hands before and after the washroom, but we also know not everyone is doing this. You might think this is germaphobe crazy talk, but a 2009 study published by Judah and colleagues (Dirty hands: bacteria of faecal origin on commuters' hands. Epidemiology and Infection, 2010;138(3):409-14) finds that out of 404 samples taken from commuters in various parts of the UK, 111 (or 27.5%) had faecal bacteria present. The authors theorize these results are indicative of poor handwashing practices, "specifically a failure to wash hands after contact with faecal material.". Even those of us who do wash our hands are not safe since:

"... these bacteria may have been picked up by touching a surface which someone with poor post-defecation hygiene had previously touched. This contamination can then spread via surfaces through successive individuals."

With the ultimate end result:

"...pathogens present in excreta are likely to spread between individuals via this route of transmission."

Garthright et al. in Public Health Reports estimate 99 million acute cases of intestinal disease each year in the US, half of which involved a full day of restricted activity (Estimates of incidence and costs of intestinal infectious diseases in the United States. Public Health Repors, 1988; 103(2): 107-115).

No one wants to lose a half a day to intestinal illness. Spending a day home sick costs you a day's pay or a day of vacation - that's a real cost.

So, we agree the world is filthy, and you don't want to be sick; but none of this applies to you because you wash your hands, right?

How many times do you go to a restaurant, and not wash your hands before eating?

Most of the time, don't you get your food from the counter and immediately after sit down and eat it? If you eat immediately coming in and ordering, how can you wash your hands?

If you're eating at a sit down restaurant, don't you sit, order, and eat, all without getting up? If you don't get up, how can you wash your hands?

It's awkward, but definitely worth taking that extra step to wash your hands and help reduce your odds of illness and lost productivity.