Friday, December 30, 2011

Top 10 Favorite Posts

With the end of the year approaching, a reflective top 10 seems appropriate. I thought about doing the top 10 most visited posts, but that seemed boring. Instead, I present my top 10 favorite posts to write in chronological order. Begin!

  1. Jiu Jitsu Blue Belt Videos!: An awesome test after months of training. Jiu jitsu is still fun and going strong.
  2. Mustache March!: I'm already looking forward to next March.
  3. Corvallis 2011 Half-Marathon Infographic: The race was fun and putting together this infographic was a blast too.
  4. The Newest Furlo: Vinnie: The day our lives changed.
  5. The Secret To Reaching Zero Inbox Email: I like writing these long-form types of posts.
  6. Oh Vinnie... No More Eating Dead Rodents: This story by Jessi is just crazy. The reaction we got from it was hilarious too.
  7. A Super Halloween: I just love how awesome Vinnie looks with his super suit on.
  8. Flying In An Airplane: This was a very fun day, and a goal I reached.
  9. The Proper Use Of The Null Hypothesis When Discussing Transformers: I really enjoyed writing this. It talks about the fundamentals of statistics and implies the basics of how Apologetics works.
  10. Furlo Bros Podcast: A fun new project my brother and I are going on. We're still in the excited/optimistic stage which is always fun.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Too Big To Fail [Book Review]

I recently listened to the book Too Big To Fail by Andrew Ross Sorkin. The book was well written, but I wouldn't say it was enjoyable because of what it talked about. Let me explain.

The book is the inside story of how Wall Street and Washington fought to save the financial system. It's written as a narrative pulled together from tons of interviews and news reports. THAT is very well done and the story is interesting.

The part that I didn't like was the entire premise: Wall Street (with the help of Washington) got themselves into an unmanageable situation driven by greed and the bet that the housing market would NEVER go down. The whole book is about them trying to stop the economy from collapsing overnight due to a few, extremely highly connected, financial organizations failing.

The book even notes at the end that their actions may have prevented an immediate collapse, but they by no means "fixed" the economy and some of the systemic problems.

After I finished the book and told Jessi that this would make an awesome movie. It turns out that HBO agreed and made one. The film was extremely good and stayed as true to the book as possible. The only thing I didn't like was that it was hard to track all the different people. If I hadn't read the book, I would of really struggled to follow.

I also found this 20 minute video that explains what happened. I highly recommend the first 5 because it explains how we got into this situation.

Do you need to read the book? Not really, but I do recommend watching the above video and finding a copy of the HBO show somewhere. At the very least it's educational on what happened.


Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas! We hope the day is blessed and relaxing. We're lucky to be relaxing with family in California. We told our family we didn't want much this year: One of three things:
  1. Nothing, or just a card
  2. Something homemade (I do like cookies. Jessi likes pumpkin pie)
  3. A donation to a charity on our behalf
I got the idea from my new favorite blog Mr. Money Mustache, and it fits right in with our desire to own less things. Plus, we hoped it would help ease the pressure of shopping/spending for our family. The experience for us was fantastic and we plan to keep it going in the future years.

OK. I'm off to go relax more with family.

Friday, December 23, 2011

My System: 15 Minutes Work A Day For Health's Sake [Book Review]

I first saw the above video about JP Muller and was intrigued. I ended up buying the book, though later found a free PDF version... oh well... During our trip to LA I decided to read it. Being on 90 pages, I easily breezed through it.

It's really fascinating. It's written in 1904 and rails against the problem of obesity and a general lack of good health. His solution is to do 15 minutes worth of exercises each day to help promote good "core health" (abs/back, organs, skin). It's kind of crazy that we're still dealing with the same issues today.

So, Jessi and I have been doing the exercises this week. My core is definitely sore! We'd like to keep it going as long as possible... we'll see... We do skip the bath in the middle and just take a shower at the end. Since we're just starting it takes us around 25 minutes, but it will easily be shorter once we have all 18 exercises memorized.

Since the book is free, I recommend downloading and checking it out. It's only 15 minutes.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Laptops? We Don't Need No Stinking Laptops!

More thoughts about our LA trip...

We decided to not take any computers with us except for our iPhones. We were only there for a weekend and neither of us had any official work to do. It seemed like a safe option.

What an experience!

First, going through security is much easier when you don't need to open up your bag to take out a laptop.

Second, I don't think I would need a laptop if all I did was consumption and basic creation (i.e. didn't need to create professional work). For example: I was able to check/reply to emails, check/make Facebook/Twitter/Google+ updates, and read news. I was also able to do quick info look-ups (Just how much are Disney tickets? Can we get a discount?)

Third, I was still able to do all the things I normally do on my phone: listen to my audiobook, check in to places, make calls, send texts, play games, etc. We used our phones a bunch for directions - we literally did zero travel planning and relied 100% on our phones. We also listened to Muppet songs while driving around with the kids since none of the local stations really interested us.

Fourth, and a surprise, other people started relying on our phone. Here are 3 examples:
1) While at dinner one of the girls wanted to watch a show. Her dad said he didn't have his computer so she couldn't. I pulled out my phone, set Netflix to "kids/family" and let her choose one. She watched Toy Story 3 the rest of the time in the restaurant.
2) Before that, I bought a last minute plane ticket for another family member using Hipmunk. That was actually my first non-app purchase on a phone.
3) Jessi got a couple calls asking for directions since they were lost. She put them on speaker phone, pulled up directions (AT&T does have one perk over Verizon), and got them to their destination.

Fifth, I was impressed with the battery life. We brought one wall charger and one car charger. We charged one at night and the other while getting ready in the morning. Then we switched off charging whenever in the car. Only once did I get down to 15% at the end of the day.

Sixth, we also decided to not bring our Canon Rebel camera. Our iPhones worked really well! The iPhone's camera still struggles with quick movement and darkness (see the cropped top picture), but the pictures themselves are good. I also really like having all the location data embedded and everything instantly streamed to my computer when I get home. I'm still probably going to bring the Rebel on "big" trips, but I can definitely see a time when I won't need to.

I really didn't miss my computer at all. If I didn't need to do professional content creation while visiting my family next week, I wouldn't bring my laptop then either.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Magic Behind Disney's Magic

I am a major fan of Walt Disney and the company he created. He is an excellent example of the American Dream: he had a vision, and with the help of his brother, made his vision come to life in movies and theme parks. It's hard to calculate the impact Walt Disney had on the world, but it's huge. For example, I have a job because Walt Disney was the first major customer of Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard's oscilloscopes for the movie Fantasia.

OK. Why all the sudden gushing?

This weekend Jessi and I went to LA to watch her brother graduate from Biola University. The ceremony was fantastic! It was also great seeing all of Jessi's family again. On Saturday we all headed to the Magic Kingdom for a day of fun.

The rides are fun, but for me the real magic is watching how it all works. There is an unbelievable attention to detail within Disney that companies like Apple aspire towards. For example, while watching the Christmas Fantasy Parade, it suddenly dawned on me that there were no sounds of motors. The floats were clearly under their own power, but no noise.

Disney took the time to make all their floats electric powered. I can't even imagine the batteries in those things! The impact is profound: All you hear is the music and there are no exhaust fumes. I can't image it was cheap or easy to do that since all other parades chose standard gas engines to run their floats.

It also really struck me that the park is a human-centric endeavor. Sure, there are amazing engineering feats to make each ride work, but there are also a TON of people required to run the park. Each ride has a person standing at the start of the line and at least 2-3 people at the ride's beginning. It's A Small World even has a person at the end pushing some mysterious button while waving at us.

I think that's part of what makes the magic work. In some way, it's a fancy assembly line where every employee character has a small specialized role. They master that role, with a smile, and that's it. No job is terribly difficult, so Disney can screen solely on personality types. Plus, they make enough money that they can hire an abundance of people ensuring that more than enough people are watching each other in the park. It's incredible.

I wonder what system Disney uses to schedule everyone...

Thursday, December 15, 2011

iPhone Home Screen Set-Up

My Brother recently got a used iPhone and we talked a little bit about how the home screen pages are set up. I thought it would be fun and perhaps instructive to share my set-up. It's in a semi-constant state of flux, but this seems to be working pretty well for now.

The Dock
My most used apps: Phone, Messages, Mail and Calendar. There are probably 3 other apps I could easily switch out with Calendar (FeedlerRSS, RTM or Camera), but it's what I have now.

Page 1
Generally, all the apps I use a lot are one tap away. I then have 3 folders full of all the social media apps I can't live without. :) I also like having the Camera in the upper right corner - it just feels right.

I used to have other mini-clusters the Photos-Instagram-Camera (like Facebook-Twitter-FeedlerRSS), but that's recently been lost.

Page 2
The land of semi-wanted apps. I put everything else into a folder. I'm not sure what I'm going to do once one of these fills up. Break the folder into 2 groups? Not sure, but for now it's working nicely.

I actually use the Reminders app regularly, but it's all using Siri, so it can hide on the second page. I also use the Music app regularly, but a quick double tap of the Home button and left swipe reveals the app and it's controls - so it too can hide in the A / V (Audio / Video) folder.

I also like to put stand alone apps along the left-hand side. Before folders, each left hand column was important, but folders makes that less necessary. I still think it looks more esthetically pleasing.

Page 3
This is my games page, which is in need of at least another folder (Sports and... something...). The iPhone is a fantastic gaming device and the GameChannel app promotes a couple paid apps, for free, each the day.

I think I've totally re-arranged my games page 3 times since October, so this is definitely something I'm still figuring out.

I only show the weather widget. I don't show up-coming calendar events or new email (that's way too much info). I also turn off almost all badges, and all my alerts are banner.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Customer Satisfaction Guaranteed: 2 Case Studies

Unfortunately, it's rare to experience excellent customer service. Clearly its from a lack of training and the type of people attracted to that level of pay. However, I recently experienced two cases of excellent customer service and wanted to sing their praise.

DC Comics
I get the Superman comic, which is awesome. DC just re-started the series with "The New 52". Very exciting! However, last month I was surprised to find no comic and this month to get the next issue. Time to call customer service to see if I could get the missing issue. It went something like this:
  • James: "Hi, I never got #2 of the new 52 Superman comic"
  • Rep: "No problem, what's your name and zip code"
  • James:
  • Rep: "OK. It's processed and will arrive in 5-10 business day. Is there anything else I can help you with?"

BOOM. Done. That easy. I was on the line for less than 5 minutes. I was fully expecting to pay and had rummaged through our recycling to find my subscription number - neither of which were required. Here's what I liked about it:
  • I didn't go through 5+ menu options
  • I didn't need to verify myself over and over and over
  • He understood my issue and solved it super fast
Jessi and I are going on a trip soon. Due to changes, we now need a hotel room one night earlier. I get my confirmation number off along with their 1-800-number. Time to call customer service. It went something like this:
  • Prompt: "Please enter your confirmation number"
  • James:
  • Rep: "Hi Mr. Furlo, how can I help you?"
  • James: "I'd like to add one additional night to my hotel the night before my reservation"
  • Rep: "Got it, add a night before. Let me check availability. OK. Got it, and it's a couple dollars cheaper."
  • James: "Nice."
  • Rep: "If it's OK, we'll just charge the room using the same card."
  • James: "Perfect"
  • Rep: "OK. You should have an email confirming it within seconds."
  • I did. Forwarded it to TripIt and it updated everything perfectly.

WOW. Off the phone is less than 10 minutes. Here's what I loved about this:
  • PEEVE: Asking me to verbally repeat my number after I already punch it into the phone. It feels good when systems interconnect like theirs.
  • I didn't need to grab my card and repeat my number
  • I actually saved money instead of it costing more!
  • Again, she understood my request right away and solved it instantly

It seems there are a few really simple principles to great customer service:
  1. Be quick!
  2. Quickly identify the person calling and access their information (verifying is cool, asking me to repeat myself is not)
  3. Drop the complex menu system (I'll "press 1" once or twice, then it's "0", no matter what, to talk to a real human. If your phone service has a huge menu tree - put it all online and let me do it there.)
  4. Quickly identify the issue and possible solutions (The person should be trained enough to understand what's going on)
  5. Empower reps to solve problems beyond the most mundane requests (about half my calls I request to speak to their supervisor, who is magically able to resolve my issue quickly. This is wrong. Either properly train people and hire people you trust)

Both DC Comics and are excellent examples. Good job!

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Pandora Christmas Stations

While working I like to listen to Pandora. I love that I can put a couple stations together and just let it go - no thinking required other than "thumbs uping" the songs I like. If you haven't tired Pandora, I highly recommend it. To get you started, here are two Christmas stations I'm currently shuffling. Excellent for getting in to the Christmas spirit!

Disney (Holiday) Radio

Christmas Radio

[image source]

Monday, December 05, 2011

Furlo Bros Podcast

For the last several years my brother, Matthew, and I have been talking about technology and what we've coined, "The Corporate Opera".

Technology itself is awesome, and what makes it even more interesting is that it's an oligopoly market. A quick Wikipedia definition: An oligopoly market is one in which the market is dominated by a small number of companies. As a result, they are likely aware of each other's actions. Therefore, the actions of one company influences the actions of the other companies. As someone who studied marketing strategy, technology is an entertaining industry to watch. As someone who also watched many episodes of All My Children with my mom, it totally reminds me of a Soap Opera. Hence the Corporate Opera.

Anyways, for several years Matthew and I talked on the phone for hours about the happenings in the tech industry. We also tended to arrive to conclusions days before someone else would publish it on the web. That's probably because we're one of the rare examples of a marketer and engineer getting along. :)

For a long time we joked about starting up a podcast so we could get credit for saying it first. We also wanted to call it "Furlo Bros". Mostly because it sounds similar to those lovable plumber brothers. Plus, it was the name of our dad and uncle's construction company before we were born.

I honestly don't remember why we decided to officially start the podcast, but we did. 10 weeks ago we started recording our conversations, we set up our website at and Matthew created that awesome logo. It's so awesome I'm pretty sure the creators of those lovable plumbers are going to make us change it one day.

Being only 10 shows in we're still finding our niche and squashing technical bugs, but we're ready to start telling people about it too. We think you'll find it entertaining and informative. So check out our new site and, like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, +1 us on Google+, and subscribe to our weekly podcasts.

So what are my personal goals of Furlo Bros? (You knew I had these, right?)

  1. Use as an awesome excuse to call Matthew at least once a week
  2. Provide visions of future tech and insights/commentary before anyone else
  3. To put on a show each week to at least 1,000 listeners
  4. Gain a couple sponsors to pay for give-aways, review units, and hosting costs
  5. To one day be a guest on TWIT

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Cookie season!

I am in the Christmas mood and Christmas means cookies!

I cleaned the whole house yesterday and then pulled the Christmas
decorations out of the garage. We won't be at our house for Christmas this year so I was feeling kind of bummed about not getting a tree this year. Once I had everything cleaned I thought...I might as well keep sprucing up the place (to tree pun intended:). It is always fun to look at ornaments from the past years and dig out the garland, lights and stockings.

Speaking of stockings...we had an addition to the family this year so I
had to make another stocking for our pup! It turned out pretty good, if I do say so. I'm looking forward to the number of stockings growing in the future but for now our little family of two and a pup is great!

James set up the front room lights on a timer so I don't have to remember to turn them on. It was like magic when the sun was dimming and the
colorful lights glowed on! I am so lucky to have a beautiful home, a cute puppy and a man who loves me so much!

Now back to the cookies, where this whole post started! I signed up to make some cookies for a baby shower at school for two of our teachers. So, I decided to try out a new sugar cookie recipe since it was so close to Christmas. I've never really found a sugar cookie recipe that tastes good, is easy to work with both for drop cookies and roll out, and that doesn't completely melt when cooked. But, I think I may have found a winner! I tried it out before the shower ('cause you can't ever take a new recipe to a party without trying it!) and they turned out amazing! The dough doesn't need to be chilled, it can be rolled out or dropped on the pan, sugar coated or frosted! No wonder why it won the blue ribbon at the state fair! Here's the link if you'd like to try it out.

Here's to Christmas decorations, cookies, eggnog, but most of all here's to Jesus' birth.

Happy decorating!

Friday, December 02, 2011

DIY Loan Calculator

Ever wonder how lenders figure out how much you need to pay them each month to pay off your loan? Just how do they know the amount to put towards interest and principal? It's not as complicated as you'd think, plus with Excel there's a really easy way to figure out your payments.

Jessi and I use this all the time when looking at properties. We use many metrics to determine if we're interested in a property, and one really important one is cash flow (money earned from rent minus expenses). One large component of a property's cash flow is the mortgage payment. We use a simple spreadsheet which needs three pieces of information to determine the monthly payment:
  1. The loan amount (75%ish of the asking price). Also known as the starting Principal.
  2. The annual interest Rate (I do some general searches to get an idea of current rates)
  3. The term of the loan (I assume a 30 year fixed, or 360 Months)
The mathematical formula for determining your monthly payment is:

Payment = (Rate * Principal) / (1 - (1 + Rate)- Months)

Not too bad, right?

Excel makes it even easier with a built in function:

=PMT( Rate / 12 , Months , -Principal)

The principal needs to be negative because it's money you owe.

Once you know your payment, you can plug it into whatever you're using. We plug it into our cash flow spreadsheet. You can also use it to determine what your home or car payment would be.

The screen shot above shows the next steps:

  • You know your payment
  • Interest = (Rate / 12) * Previous Balance
  • Principal is simply what remains of your payment: Payment - Interest
  • Balance = Previous balance - Principal
The chart above shows what it looks like. At first the majority of your payment goes towards Interest, but over time it shifts to almost all Principal.

I uploaded a working example for both a home and car loan on Google Docs which you can download and play with. Just click the "Download Original" button at the top.

Pretty cool! There are a bunch of online tools for doing this, but it is nice to see it for yourself. Plus you can do so much more. What if at the end of each year you apply part of a bonus towards a payment? How much does that accelerate the loan? Once you understand how it works, you can do the opposite: What if you pay in $1,000 each year to a retirement account for 30 years with an annual return of 5%?

Thursday, December 01, 2011

How To Kill Dust Mites

While over at a friend's house Jessi and I learned about dust mites. Creepy little things really. From their experience (one of their kids had a terrible allergic reaction), we decided to act upon it, and now want to share what we learned.

What is a dust mite?
According to Wikipedia, it's a microscopic (0.4mm x 0.25mm) 8 legged creature that lives in your mattresses, carpets, furniture and pillows! Basically, anywhere fuzzy and warm. Yikes! They eat small particles of organic matter, like dead skin cells. Apparently having animals makes the issue worse. Then they poop it out, which contains a protein many people are allergic to. Common signs are the regular allergy symptoms: congestion, itching, etc. Shortly before we got Vinnie, Jessi started getting very itchy.

How common are they?
According to, a typical mattress can contain TENS OF THOUSANDS of dust mites. ~100,000 can live in one square yard of carpet! There's some debate on just how much their poop weighs (they poop ~20 times a day), so it could be negligible to 10% of the weight of the mattress/pillow/etc after 2 years. Lucky for us, Oregon is a major hot bed of dust mite activity (see what I did there? :-). Oregon is just the right climate to help them flourish. By the way, we've been living in our duplex for 2 years.

Is it a big problem?
The good news is that most people are like me: They think they're utterly disgusting, but are not actually harmful. Then there are some people like Jessi who has an "unexplained" allergic reaction. Unfortunately, they're so small you actually need a microscope to see them, so your first signs are the allergy symptoms.

What can you do about it?
Thankfully, there are quite a number of things you can do:
  1. Enclose the mattress with a plastic cover. We got ours at Target. It's a vinyl zipper mattress cover. The idea is that they can't borrow into your mattress and thrive.
  2. Clean regularly. Specifically, wash your sheets, pillows and blankets in hot water. We went through and re-washed everything.
  3. Use synthetic fabrics. We probably won't be switching up everything anytime soon, but this helps.
  4. Clean or replace AC and furnace air filters. If we had any, we would do this.

So, for the last few months Jessi has been dealing with itchy-ness. Nothing seemed to be helping. It wasn't bad, but annoying. ONE NIGHT after we bought the cover (and washed everything), the itching was gone. At least for now, the dust mite issue has been solved. Now if we could only solve the issue of my pillow case crunchy/zippy sounds due to the new vinyl cover...

[image from]