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]

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

What, I'm not still 25?

It didn't really hit me until I was filling out a survey the other day and clicked the 20-25 year-old age group and then realized that I was over 25. I wasn't just over 25 I was three years older than 25! I am closer to 30 than 20 and I suddenly felt older. Not old, necesarrily, but older.

27 was one of the best years of my life. I think it had a lot to do with it being my golden year (27 on the 27th of November). It started out celebrating Thanksgiving with my bother and sister, getting our first christmas tree, and having our first Christmas at our house. There were a lot of other firsts this year too, my first stay at a B & B, my first professional massage, watching my first official dog show, and running our first half marathon together.

I got to spend time with some wonderful friends, David and Kellie Parry (yurtin' for certain!), Mary-Frances Kenney (talking and crocheting late into the night), Denise Costello (running, walking, getting encouraged), Rod and Jessani Miner (having deep conversations late at night and eating lots of great food!), Brian and Kristi Towne (wedding!) and so many more that I am blessed to have!

I got my dream car and my amazingly cute puppy, Vinnie, and I realized just how lucky I am to have an amazing husband who takes care of me and gives me everything I need and want!

27 was awesome. So, although 28 is one more year closer to 30 I don't feel old, or sad...I feel so excited and thankful that God is giving my one more year to experience life! The ups and downs and everything in between. He is in control of it all and He has blessed me with more than I could ever want. 28, yeah, it's going to be good.

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Warm Machine

Thanksgiving was awesome. We stayed at a friend's house and even spent the night. Vinnie did OK. The problem is that he's kind of a terrorist to other animals. He just wants to play, but most animals are not ready for his intense nose poke.

In an attempt to subdue him, Jessi and I brought our little space heater with us. At home, Vinnie completely melts in front of it as the picture above shows. Unfortunately, it didn't work that well on Vinnie because there were too many other distractions. However, it did work for some of the other little ones running around. My favorite part is that she called it a "Warm Machine". I agree.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving! 5 Things I'm Thankful For

  1. I'm thankful for Jessi, who is willing to help out with projects like a Septic Tank.
  2. I'm thankful for being able to practice jiu jitsu to stay healthy with my friend, David.
  3. I'm thankful for my job. HP is an awesome company to work for. Fun projects, smart people, and flexible work environment & hours. That's tough to beat.
  4. I'm thankful for Vinnie. Pretty darn cute.
  5. I'm thankful for our church. It's an awesome family that consistently challenges Jessi and I to grow in our faith.

Now quit reading blogs and go hang out with your family. :)

[image from]

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Storage Wars: Part 2

As you'll recall, I've been going to storage auctions with a friend. I haven't bought anything yet, but today was the closest. Mostly because Jessi came with me since she has Thanksgiving week off. We drove up to a Public Storage facility in South Salem... and it was poring rain! About 30 other people braved the weather too.

I gave Jessi a budget if she found something she liked. One of the things that is surprisingly difficult to do is estimate how much everything is worth in a very short amount of time. We found one that didn't have much stuff, but there were some electronic gadgets, like an Xbox 360. The bids ultimately went higher than we wanted to pay, but it was fun watching the action.

While leaving, Jessi told me she had a lot of fun. It was about what she expected, though with many more people. She did however say, "Auctions are cool, but owning the storage facility would be even better." Great. I envisioned spending a couple hundred dollars and Jessi starts talking about spending a million dollars plus to buy the whole thing.

I personally think the real money is in buying a plot of land and constructing a storage facility. Of course, I would need to get over the fact that I would implicitly be encouraging people to store items instead of simplifying their lives and spending on experiences instead.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Septic Tank Sand Party

As you might recall, Jessi and I recently discovered a septic tank not properly abandoned in our backyard. After much effort, Jessi and I successfully filled in the hole and reseeded (the original point of this whole endeavor. I thought I'd share some of the stats we kept track of.

1 Hole

2 Piles
1 sand
1 dirt

14 Yards
10 sand
4 dirt

144 Wheel Barrow Trips
96 sand
48 dirt
96 by James
48 by Jessi (every 3rd trip)
~1/10th of a yard on average

2 Spills
1 by James
1 by Jessi
They both happened in a row, we decided to take a brake...

2,688 Shovel Scoops
20 scoops for a James trip
16 scoops for a Jessi trip
Jessi used a round-point shovel, James used a flat-point shovel. We split scoops.

12,960 Steps
80 round-trip steps from James per load
110 round trip steps from Jessi per load
Plus steps while shoveling, walking around, cleaning, etc

0" of Rain
God blessed us

1 Day
Started at 7:30am
Stopped at 5pm

7 hours
~ 1/2 an hour per Yard
We also raked leafs and trimmed bushes while waiting for the second load of dirt to arrive

0 Remaining Holes

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Proper Use of the Null Hypothesis When Discussing Transformers

Setting: James and Jessi are getting ready for work in the morning. Vinnie is sleeping in front of a space heater, being cute.

James: "No sacrifice, no victory! I live by the Witwicky motto!"

Jessi: "What?! Why would you base your decisions on Transformers?"

James: "Seriously? They are robots that are alive. AND they can transform. Why wouldn't I base all my decisions around them?"

Jessi: "Umm... Transformers are not real."

James: "Whoa. You cannot make such an outlandish definitive statement. All you can say is, 'There is not enough evidence to confidently claim Transformers are real'. Thus leaving the possibility open that they DO exist."

Jessi: "Sure. Whatever. There is not enough evidence to confidently claim Transformers are real. I'm leaving for work now."

James 1.

Jessi 0.


What just happened there? Statistics 101. That's what.

The subtly of the debate is around statistical hypothesis testing.

We start with what Jessi foolishly thinks to be true: "Transformers are not real".

We then need to create the null hypothesis, which is the status quo, what Jessi assumes to be true unless we find evidence to suggest otherwise: "Transformers are not real".

If there is sufficient evidence suggesting otherwise, we reject the null hypothesis and accept the alternative hypothesis, which is the opposite: "Transformers are real".

The next step is to gather evidence to reject the null hypothesis.

Generally, the reason why the goal is to reject the null hypothesis is because normally things are being measured, like the weight of sand bags. The chances of finding every single bag to weigh exactly 50 pounds are so small you'll never be able to fully accept it. However, by looking to reject (sand bags are different than 50 pounds), all you need to do is show that there's a substantial difference in weight from 50 pounds ("substantial" being pre-defined by your tolerance for error). In all honesty, most groups doing these types of tests don't actually try to formally reject, they'll just say "sand bags are 50 pounds +/- 1 pound". As long as their sand bags fall within that range, life is good. They're inherently setting up the null hypothesis, just not technically saying it.

Anyways, the whole point of giving the rejection background is to say that typically the null hypothesis is testing something with a large enough accessible population to actually generate a sample and measure some aspect of it (there are lots of bags of sand, and we can measure their weight). The Transformer case is special because, as far as I know, there are not a lot of them around that are accessible, and we're not measuring some aspect on them, but actually counting them. The null hypothesis was not originally intended for this type of question, but it still gets applied regularly (i.e. "Does God exist?") and does kind of work - especially when harassing your wife.

OK here's what we have:

Null hypothesis: "Transformers are not real" (again, assumed as true by Jessi unless proven otherwise)
Alternative hypothesis: "Transformers are real" (must be true if null is rejected)

The next step, would be to set out and try to gather evidence to reject the null hypothesis. Now, we could go into a long winded and mind-blowing discussion on experimental design, but I'll spare you. For now, let's just look at what the two outcomes could be:

Reject the null hypothesis: You, via an elegantly designed experiment that was expertly conducted to minimize error, gather enough evidence to show a substantial difference from the null hypothesis (i.e. I saw a Transformer... on TV!). Therefore, I can confidently reject the null hypothesis and declare the alternative hypothesis, "Transformers are real."

Accept the null hypothesis: You cannot gather enough evidence to show a substantial difference (I know, sounds weird, but remember the original intent of hypothesis testing). Unfortunately for Jessi, the conclusion cannot be as strong as a rejection, "There is not enough evidence to confidently say Transformers are real." There still exists the possibility that a Transformer does exist.

You see, statistics can be a wonderful thing. You can make a claim. Then create a null hypothesis for that claim. You can then gather evidence to see if you can reject the null hypothesis. Now you can see why you want to reject the null hypothesis: you can make much stronger statements. That is why I can confidently claim that Transformers exist, and Jessi can only tentatively say they do not.

For you Atheists out there, I fully acknowledge that I did not provide any evidence either way for this particular debate. I simply walked through the process and reason why Jessi needed to choose her words wisely. There is still the burden of proof, but clearly any rationale person can't flat out deny the existence of Transformers.

Hopefully you also see why it's critically important to set up your null hypothesis correctly. Could you imaging doing it the other way? I would never be able to make a strong statement, and Jessi would never be able to fully check every corner of the Universe, thus never allowing her to make a strong statement either. Meaningless really.

[Image from - also makes for an epic desktop wallpaper]

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Jury Duty Update

Well... there really isn't one. I was supposed to go on Wednesday, but apparently Albany is fantastic at resolving conflicts before they go to court. I guess I should be happy for myself and the other affected parties. But still, I can't help being bummed.

Given the structure of our society, conflicts often get resolved in a court room. Actually, I just finished a real estate class which spent a great deal of time talking about the role the courts play in property management conflicts - and it's a lot! So, given our society and that Jessi & I are investing/managing real estate, eventually I'll get the opportunity to learn more than I probably want to know.

Until then, I'll just need to use my hours of experience watching Law & Order as a proxy.

[image from]

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Case of the Hidden Septic Tank

So, one enterprising morning I toiled away in the backyard rototilling a section of grass which died over the summer. We purchased a "manual" rototiller for our garden (aka small spaces), and this space looked about 6'x13'. While toiling away, I heard a strange knocking sound... Strange indeed. Throwing caution into the wind, I grabbed my shovel to find whatever treasures lie beneath.

Eventually, I uncovered a 6'x13' concrete slab. With more poking, I chipped a small hole... A hole big enough to reveal a cavern below going down about 6', and mostly full of water. Cool! A hidden in-door swimming pool... Or maybe a dungeon for my next D&D adventure... Or, an old septic tank not properly abandoned... After a few phone calls to the city and a visit by some who actually knows what they're looking at, it turned out to be a old septic tank.

Great. Now what?

The proper protocol for abandoning a septic tanks involves a few steps.
  1. Pump out the raw sewage. Thankfully already done, the only water in the tank came from rain.
  2. Poke a couple holes in the bottom of the tank to let future rain water seep into the ground.
  3. Collapse the lid into the tank. See the video below for the fun.
  4. Fill the tank in. Oregon requires either sand or pea gravel... at $29 yard.
  5. Add new top soil and re-seed.

We're on step 4. I put an ad on Craigslist hoping someone bought too much of either sand or pea gravel. So, next weekend Jessi and I get to move about 14 yards of soil. According to WeatherSpark there should only be off and on rain. The good news? We get to buy a new toys: a wheelbarrow and flat point shovel.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Avatar: The Last Airbender, The Best Cartoon Series Ever

I don't watch a lot of TV. Actually, the only "TV" I watch is on Hulu and Netflix. On any given week, I watch at most 5-10 hours TV/movies. Not much by normal standards. So, you need to trust me when I say I've found something worth your time. Furthermore, this series is only 3 seasons long, and each episode is only half an hour - not too much of a time hog. Ready for it?

Avatar: The Last Airbender animated series. NOT the movie, which I hear is horrible, but somehow something I should still watch.

It is hard to express how fantastic this cartoon is. I laughed. I cried (yep). I cheered. I gleefully clicked next episode after episode to find out what happens next. There's comedy, action, suspense, romance, tension between good vs. evil, and well crafted character development.

Please excuse my gushing.

It has a heavy Asian/Anime influence, but is still very much an American cartoon. The world is comprised of four nations: Water, Earth, Air, and Fire. Each nation has people capable of bending those elements. As the intro states: the four nations used to live in harmony. Then the the Fire nation attacked. Only the avatar, master of all four elements, could stop him, but when the world needed, he vanished. A hundred years later, a brother and sister discover the new avatar - and airbender named Aang. His airbending skills are great, but he has a lot to learn before he can save anyone from the fire nation. This series tells their story.

If you have Netflix, watching this is a must. You can also get it on Amazon for a very reasonable price. Trust me, you'll love it too.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

The One Minutes Sales Person [Book Review]

The One Minutes Sales Person by Spencer Johnson and Larry Wilson is a quick listen - the entire thing is about an hour. It starts off with a worn out sales person looking for advice to do better at sales. The man then talks to various people and learns some fundamental principles to being a successful sales person.

Each principle he learns can be done in just a minute (or so). That minutes sets up the rest of the sales process to be more effective.

As someone looking to improve my sales skills, this was a welcome book. I like getting solid principles I can internalize, which then shapes my behavior later.

A few highlights:

  1. Stay on purpose: Take one minute to remember why you're selling. The reason should go beyond "to make money", it should be a deeper purpose. This is the cornerstone principle of the entire book.
  2. Genuinely care about the other person: Take one minute to put yourself in their shoes, their situation. This will help you connect and, hopefully, not push them to do something they wouldn't want to do.
  3. People hate to be sold, but they love to buy: Therefore your job is to help people discover if they need or want the product/service you're providing. Furthermore, draw out their needs with questions instead of just telling them.
  4. Use the word "Person" instead of "Prospect": This will help you remember that this is a real person on the other side. A person with feelings, with needs, with a heart. Take a minute to remember who you're dealing with - it's not just "a numbers game", it's "connecting with people".

Notice a theme? The reason I like this book is because it's about genuinely connecting with people with a purpose. It gives principles on how to be a better person, not how to trick people into buying.

It's a quick read at a reasonable price. I recommend reading it.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Jury Duty

On Wednesday I get to enjoy participating in our glorious legal system with jury duty. I'm actually pretty excited about it. For various reasons, I've managed to avoid getting called in the past, like going to school out of state and then once getting called a week after I moved out of the county.

The only other time I've been in a court room was when dealing with some tenants we inherited. I was excited to see and learn a lot, but we ended up going first in the morning. I was in the court room a whole 10 minutes and didn't see anything. Good for our business, kind of a let down for me. Hopefully this time I'll get to see and learn a little more.

If anything exciting happens I'll make sure to share it.

[Image from]

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Movie Previews With Netflix

I've been thinking about Netflix a bit lately. Most of it around how such a great company can make such bad decisions. Truly remarkable. However, today I had a different thought.

One of the things I love about going to the theater is seeing all the new movie previews. I can't imagine I'm alone on this one. It's exciting to see what's up and coming. Assuming I'm not the only one who likes movie previews...

What if Netflix also showed movie previews? Like in the theater, on their streaming service. I know what you're thinking, this is nothing but the start of commercials. Well... maybe... but I think if Netflix is smart about it, people would love it.

Here's what I think Netflix should do to make it a success:

  1. Limit themselves to only trailers like a theater. It could be for TV shows too, but the key is for trailers/previews only.
  2. Only show one trailer before each movie - let's not get crazy here.
  3. Use their magic-movie-matching algorithm to only show trailers I'd really be interested in.
  4. Related, if a person only matches on a couple trailers, don't repeat it over and over and over again.  Hulu does this and it's annoying. Just go straight to the movie.
  5. Let me skip the preview just like on a DVD. It's OK.
  6. Netflix could also use this system for content discovery. There's got to be thousands of old trailers for old movies. Include these trailers for movies currently streaming, again, that I might be interested it based on your magic-movie-matching algorithm (and let me add it to the queue instantly with a single click).
  7. Obviously, charge production studios to advertise their movies on Netflix. If done reasonably, Netflix could easily pick up a few extra million dollars - to put towards getting better content.
I honestly think people would enjoy seeing the trailers, again, in reasonable doses. I would! Of course, I think Netflix should offer trailers on-demand because sometimes their movie descriptions aren't the best...

What's really cool about movie previews is that it's another way for Netflix to generate revenue without charging customers, while still entertaining them and adding better content over time.

I'm sure the engineering hurdles are massive to create a system like this, but I really think this could be huge for Netflix. Just imagine sitting down to watch a movie and first getting to experience something as glorious as the Avengers trailer.

Monday, October 31, 2011

A Super Halloween

Yup. We are those people. But you gotta admit he's super cute.

Oh yeah, it gets worse. We matched him.

Well, I went the subtle route.

At the church during the high school maze event.

You'd think this is a super stylized photo. Nope. The front camera on the iPhone isn't that great.

And, beyond cute. Personally, I'm super impressed with Vinnie's patience with us.

How I Would Teach A Class

Happy Halloween! Here's a non-Halloween topic for today.

I have a secret dream of one day teaching a class. If I had a choice it would either be marketing, strategy or math focused. Maybe "Quantitative Strategic Marketing" - I don't know what that is, but I want to take that class! Maybe it's a practical strategic marketing class that involves some sort of data synthesis?... Anyways, that's not my point in this post.

If I were to teach this fantastic class, how would I structure it?

First, I would host my class on a blog.

Second, I would record my lectures ahead of time and post in an archive for consuming any time. Then, at the appropriate time I'd set up a blog post embedding it. It would probably be video because that's cool. For homework, the students would watch the lectures. There might also be some reading as well.

Then, they would be able to comment on the post. The comments could be asking a question, which could then get voted up (or down) Digg style. Students, and I, would be able to reply back and start a discussion. Hopefully, the "good" questions float to the top. Making it real time would be awesome.

Third, meetings in the classroom would be a time to answer any remaining questions and then work on homework assignments. If it's a math class - work on math problems. Students would be able to help each other and I would roam around to help as needed. Talking and using the white board would be highly encouraged.

Fourth, depending on how long the class time is, I'd love to provides some snacks, drinks and music so it feels more like a gathering than an official lecture session.

Fifth, in following years, I'll be able to reuse/improve the lecture series - freeing me up to focus on other tasks for the class. I would also be able to point to previous discussions as well so new classes can build upon it. As Bill Gates recently said, it's kind ridiculous that we're not already recording every single lecture. Storage is very cheap, and the content is very valuable.

In a lot of ways it's the Khan Academy structure: lecture at home, homework in class. It also takes advantage of current social networks to better enable conversations outside the classroom. If I had to do some sort of in-class lecture, I would want to use something like Google Moderator to allow students to ask/answer/vote on questions. Maybe a chatroom/Facebook group would be enough...

Wouldn't it be amazing to have a class you never had to show up to? You could do everything on your own, at your own pace. Plus, the t would be there to help along the way if you needed it. What's also really cool about this vision is that it's completely possible given today's technology.

Actually... now that I think about it... there's nothing stopping me today from doing my own mini-lecture series and posting it (except time...). Let's see, I could give resume advice... explain marketing concepts... share personal finance thoughts. Ha ha. I guess I already do all of this, just in the written form... Still, it would be fun to have an actual class full of eager learners.

Anyways, that's my vision for a classroom. I think it would help students learn and free up teacher's time in the long run. It's a class I would love to teach someday.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Networking Events: Love 'em or Hate 'em, Here's How To Make It Worthwhile
I just finished an email exchange talking about networking and I thought this would be a good companion piece to my thoughts on finding a job. Here's the advice I gave when networking.

First, read the book The Fine Art of Small Talk. It's a quick read and inside is a list of Do's and Don'ts. I wrote down the list and have a printed sheet in my car. Each time I arrive at a networking event, I review the sheet and think of topics. My full review is here.

For me, it becomes a game: Using my learned small talk skills I try to figure out ways to help people. Sometimes it's information, sometimes it's a connection. Besides being fun, it's feels great to help people. What's also happening is I'm becoming valuable to them and they will want to connect with me. It really is all about yo mindset and using some simple learned communication skills.

When you meet someone who you like and/or you think you can help, follow up with them. Do it that evening - don't wait. In the follow-up make sure to at least include 3 things:

  1. Thank them for the conversation about __________________ (you might need to take notes during the event so you can remind them what you talked about - they won't remember. I write on the card they hand me).
  2. Invite them to connect again, either over the phone or in person, for a specific purpose (probably related to what you talked about).
  3. Add your picture at the bottom of the message (just to doubly make sure they remember who you are).

Again, implied in those 3 points is that while networking, seek ways to help others. Also, since this requires you to have a real conversation and real follow-up, don't go over board. I'm usually only capable of really connecting with 3-5 people at a networking event. I do usually walk away with 20+ cards, but only a handful are actually meaningful to me.

I suppose you could send everyone you meet a LinkedIn invitation reminding them of where you met. That way you at least keep that "connection". But, I don't know... I've never done that before... but I tend to be more selective about who I connect with (not sure if that's good or bad). Plus, you creep dangerously close to being "that person" at the networking event.

Again, it's not about the quantity, but about the quality. If you genuinely help a few people, word will get around to many people that you're a person worth connecting with.

Two other books I read which helped me are Never Eat Alone (my review) and Endless Referrals.

Monday, October 24, 2011

iPhone 4S Review
When I first announced my intent to buy an iPhone 4S, some friends asked for a review. After a week of playing with it, here it is.

Historically Speaking...
As a reminder, my previous phone was the iPhone 3G, NOT the 3GS, 3G. In terms of smart phone lifespans, mine was a dinosaur. I actually stopped downloading apps because the new ones were too advanced, would completely grind my phone to a halt, and could only be fixed by doing a restart - a process that took 10 minutes to complete. So, I was ready for the upgrade.

Features I Love

Faster: Remember, I'm biased coming from the 3G. Still, this phone is fast. I tap, it opens. No thinking. No waiting. I love it.

Camera: FANTASTIC. I can now take a picture, use it as a wallpaper on my desktop, and it doesn't look pixelated. AWESOME. I also like the camera button also acts on the volume up button... wait... reverse that. It doesn't replace my Canon SLR yet, but I won't be bringing it along anymore for "regular" trips. This phone is all I need.

Game Apps: Again, 3G user here. I started playing Infinity Blade because a friend bought it for me. After playing for 15 minutes I easily came to the conclusion that Nintendo's DS is in trouble. The graphics are AMAZING, the gameplay actually complex, and all at a reasonable price. I love Nintendo and my original Gameboy, but I will never buy a DS.

WiFi Sync: I used to regularly sync my 3G. It helped that I worked from home, so it wasn't too inconvenient, but it was an effort to remember. Now, I get this kick out of plugging in my phone and watching the little rotating arrows indicating that my phone is syncing. More importantly, Jessi NEVER sync'd her phone. Now her's syncs every night too. This is good, very good.

Siri: Ah yes, the sassy assistant. Here's what I've determined. Siri is genuinely useful while driving. I'm sure the other drivers appreciate it too. Speaking text messages is easier than typing, though not always faster. However, I don't like that I'm not allowed to take a break when speaking to Siri because she/it (?) thinks I'm done and starts processing what I said, but I'll eventually adjust. I also think it was absolutely BRILLIANT to make Siri sassy and include pop-culture references. That sass is EXACTLY what will keep people talking about and that sharing of Siri's sass is going to sell MILLIONS of phones. See my previous post if you don't believe me.

Good Features, but not life-changing

Notifications: I tend to turn off notifications on my phone so they were never really a problem for me. I realize I'm in the minority on this one, but I really don't need to know about every new email, every single football game score, when games release new features, or when someone leaves me a comment on Facebook. Furthermore, and this actually bugs me, just because I clear a notification in my Notification Center, it doesn't necessarily mean that the little badge disappears (thankfully it does work the other way... most of the time).

Twitter Integration: This isn't life changing since I've been tweeting from my phone for a while. But here's what happened: I used to tweet using SMS, and I would add Facebook and Google+. Over the last week, I didn't use the SMS option once. Instead I used some version of the built in function (like tweeting right from a photo). Here's the kicker: after I tweeted, I did NOT go back and do the same for Facebook or Google+. It was just too much effort. We'll see if that changes over time, but in the short-term it's a HUGE win for Twitter.

iMessage: Since I have unlimited texting, I never really saw a difference. However, the ability to see if the message was read is a nice addition. I also noticed that messages tend to send MUCH faster. I'm not sure why, but I like it.

iCloud: I managed my email, calendar, and contacts via Google. All my docs with Dropbox. Todo list with Remember The Milk. So the only things iCloud is in charge of is Bookmarks, Photos and backups. I'm sure if it managed all the other things it would be fantastic, but for now it's nice to not need to think about syncing those.

Features I'm finally happy to have (aka New To Me, Old To iOS)
Since I only had the 3G I was elated to get a few "old" features:
  • Multitasking
  • The Retina Display: Sometimes I just sit and stare at the screen in disbelief
  • FaceTime: already used it a bunch of times this week, much better than my computer
  • GameCenter
  • A real video camera: which is awesome
  • Did I mention a speed boost already?
  • A front facing camera: I'll admit that I used it once as a mirror (I'm so vain!)

Honorable Mention
  • Reading List: Think of it as a temporary bookmark. I've used it and the device syncing is nice.
  • Custom vibrations: More fun than actually useful. What I really want to know is how to turn off vibrations for text messages.

New Phone, Old AT&T
The one and only downside to my phone is the carrier. Despite Apply playing up some new antenna sorcery, I still drop calls. I dropped 2 this week while in work meetings. I don't get it. Sometimes I'll go weeks without an issue, sometimes I'll drop 5 calls in a single day. The only difference is that with my old phone it would start to go fuzzy and break up before dropping - usually giving me time to warn the other person and call back. On the iPhone 4S call quality is excellent right up to the drop. So... that's better, right?