Friday, December 25, 2015

Diets for health

Here are some diets I've been made aware of to help improve one's health.
  • Blood type diet: This is a diet based on blood type--O, A, B, AB--and is documented in the book Eat Right For Your Type.  This database provides details for each type of food on whether the food is beneficial/neutral/harmful for each of the blood types.  There is also a smartphone app to provide quick access to the information.
  • Low FODMAP diet: This diet is mostly targeted at addressing the symptoms of IBS.
As of now, I'm still mostly following an Ayurvedic diet, but it's interesting to see how these other diets compare.  There are indeed a number of similarities, but there are also differences.

Of course, there are tons of diets out there and one should use those that appeal to them.  Everyone's constitution is different so what works for me might not be right for everyone.  When I was younger I used to evangelize everything I thought was cool and that helped me, but I feel I don't know enough to provide such recommendations.  Instead, I just try and listen to my body, and encourage others to do the same.

Update 05/01/2017

At a recent event by Dr. Carly Polland (notes available for download), we went over the following diets and who they are for:
  • Mediterranean -- Good place to start to get away from processed food.
  • Anti-inflammatory -- Auto-immune, pain.
  • Low FODMAP -- SIBO (small intestine), IBS.
  • Specific carbohydrate -- Crohn's disease.
  • Gut and psychology syndrome (GAPS) -- Neurological disorders.
  • Gluten-free -- Celiac.
  • Nightshade-free -- Arthritis.
  • Anti-estrogenic -- Hormone imbalances.
  • Paleo -- High BP, high sugar, insulin resistance.
  • Vegan/Vegetarian -- Cardiovascular, diabetes, fibromyalgia.
  • Raw foods -- General health.
  • Pegan -- Cardiovascular, diabetes, weight.
  • Elimination -- Diagnostic. 
After we went over these, she stressed the need for personalized nutrition.
  • Assess digestive function.
  • Evaluate gut bacteria and rebalance if necessary (pre- and probiotics).
  • Evaluate immune function and balance.
  • Heal enterocytes (intestinal lining) if necessary.
  • Test genetics for ancestry and polymorphisms.
  • Evaluate nervous system, endocrine system, and oxidation.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Relationship school

Most of us learn about relationships by unconsciously observing the behavior of those around us at the time of growing up.  Usually, this is a passing down of the baton of karma from the prior generation.  Our interactions with our family of origin and caretakers largely defines how we think about and how we handle relationships.  By the time we are into adulthood, this becomes so ingrained in our persona that we often are not even capable of seeing destructive behaviors in ourselves and thus are incapable of changing it.  For example, if we witness a lot of abuse, either physical or emotional, we think that is it normal and we don't even recognize it as something that can be, or needs to be, addressed.   And we keep repeating those same patterns over and over again in our lives, attracting similar abuse.  Deep down, we know something is not right, but at a conscious level, there is no awareness of it.

If there were a relationship school, it would probably need to address the issue of emotional intelligence and would cover topics such as:
  • Identifying and processing emotions (which includes how to tune into, and listen to one's intuition).
  • Paying attention to non-verbal cues in communication such as tone of voice, facial and bodily expressions.
  • Building a healthy self-esteem, and maintaining healthy boundaries (which covers aspects of building relationships such as trust and intimacy, and also identifying manipulative behavior).
  • How to effectively deal with bullies.
  • Making eye contact and connecting with people at a soul and empathic level, not just merely exchanging words in a conversation.
  • Actually processing feelings in relaxed way when interacting with other people instead of freezing up and trying to play a role that one might be expected to play.
  • Learning the art of diplomacy which is communicating one's needs in an effective way looking for win-win situations.
  • Being aware of differences in the personalities and views of others and learning to work with them, and even appreciate them, rather than labeling them as good or bad.
  • Healthy ways to handle conflict.
Learning about emotional intelligence has been a long journey for me that begun around 12 years ago triggered by my failing physical health.  I mentioned a couple of books in this post that were my starting point.  Since then I have read numerous articles and blog posts on the 'net looking for information about the above topics.   I have learned a lot, but I still have much to learn.  Perhaps the biggest lesson of all for me has been that most aspects of relationships are not black-and-white but rather shades of gray.   Some of the things that I'm now aware of, that I previously wasn't are:
  • I became aware of the concept of narcissistic parenting, how it is passed on inter-generationally, the emotional damage to the children, and the near impossibility of resolving the situation in an amicable fashion.
  • I tend to place the feelings of others over my own.  This essentially leaves me trapped in guilt as I'm never sure if I was right standing up for myself (which something I rarely do to begin with).
  • There was tremendous abuse all through my childhood, both at home and in boarding school, both physical and verbal.  Because of the abuse at home, I thought the abuse in boarding school, though a notch higher, was normal.  As a result, I tend to live out of fear, and have continued to attract abusive situations even in adulthood.  It complicates decision making because instead of trying to decide what makes me happy, I'm focused on finding ways to look good in the eyes of other people.
  • I am unable to create and maintain healthy boundaries.  This leaves me very vulnerable to manipulation, and unable to create healthy relationships.
  • It is very hard to recognize and change these negative behaviors.  As I recognize and point them out, people that are used to manipulating me become increasingly violent.  This awareness results in a very disruptive change to most of ones defining relationships.
  • I tend to have a "victim" mentality.  This is because I find it hard to assert my power and prevent people from walking all over me.
  • I have a somewhat warped concept of what "love" is.  Because of the way things were with my family, I associate love with pain.  
  • I have a general lack of trust of people and I'm always trying to control my experience which comes from a place of fear.  I miss a number of opportunities as a result.
All of these findings are relatively new for me and addressing them is a work in progress.  Prior to that I felt sad all the time, but I couldn't point to the cause.  Now it's clear that a large contributor are my under-developed relationship skills and the consequent low emotional intelligence.

Why is it that the subject of relationships was not taught in school?  To me, that is definitely more interesting than a lot of other subjects that I spent so much time learning but that are completely useless to me in my day-to-day living.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Healthcare in the USA

This is a collection of links around the 'net about problems with healthcare in the US.

The problems are best articulated by some of the posts by Karl Denninger.  He points out several examples where services in the US cost between 5 and 10 times what they cost in other developed countries.  Given that the patient typically has a copay for that amount, it means that if the services were being billed appropriately, one would not need insurance.  Sadly, this same model is being exported to all countries where healthcare is not socialized.

In addition to not knowing how much a service will cost, there are often billing errors resulting in overcharging due to mistakes by both providers and insurance companies.  This speaks to the complexities of the whole system.

Sadly, despite the costs, misdiagnosis and incorrect treatments are very common.  Here's what this article says:
A follow-up study published in 2013 argued that the IOM numbers were a vast underestimate, and that medical errors contribute to the deaths of between 210,000 and 440,000 patients. At the lower bound, that's the equivalent of nearly 10 jumbo jets crashing every week — or the entire population of Birmingham, Alabama dying every year.
An interesting documentary about healthcare is Sicko by Michael Moore.  Things have only gotten worse since this documentary from 2007.  In fact, medical bills are the biggest cause of bankruptcies in the US.   Health, literally, is wealth--it is one's biggest asset, and lack of it could potentially be one's biggest liability.

Increasingly, because of the complexity of dealing with insurance companies, primary care doctors are converting to concierge services where they charge an upfront fee for all services during the year and provide a higher and easier level of access to healthcare.

Personal anecdote about cost of services

This is an excerpt of a bill I received for recent blood tests.  The total charge by the company providing services is $983.78.  This is what someone without insurance would have paid.  With insurance, the negotiated rate is discounted by $892.00.  That is a 90% discount off the list price!  Why are medical providers allowed to gouge people without insurance?  This is pretty typical of almost all services I receive whether it is doctors office visits or surgery.  It pretty much means that these prices are never actually paid because those without insurance most likely will not be able to afford to pay for these services anyway.  These are oppressive business practices and I am surprised and disillusioned to see that they are allowed to affect something as necessary as healthcare services in a country as progressive as the USA.

This also points to the shape of things to come in developing countries as insurance companies take a stronger foothold.

Billing errors

Over the last few years, I have personally witnessed a significant increase in billing errors both by doctors offices and insurance companies.  First off, the bills are extremely cryptic and it takes tremendous effort and focus to cross check between the explanation of benefits, the bills from the service provider, and reimbursements from the flexible savings account.  I have spent hours on the phone sorting out billing issues.  This is like rubbing salt on a wound -- the services are already too expensive for what is received, the insurance deductibles and co-pays are way high, and to top it off we now have to deal with billing issues going back and forth between the insurance company and the provider and undoing incorrect, automatic reimbursements from the flexible savings account.

The phone systems are typically quite bad and disconnections are very common.  Each time you dial in, you have to go through the sequence of prompts and re-verify yourself with the agent (name, SSN, address, etc.) and re-explain the whole problem from the start.

If we make any mistakes (like forgetting to pay), these corporations will come after us by sending the payments to collection and creating all kinds of legal hassles for us.  But we must simply put up with their poor service because we only have a very limited choice of providers through our employer.

If you are not already sick, you will be sick by the time you're done dealing with this!

Over marketed

Another problem with healthcare in the US is that it is over marketed.  Everything from the quality of care to the outcomes of treatment are over-exaggerated by commercials.  Many doctors choose less treatment over more when it comes time to make a choice for their own treatment because they understand the nature of over marketing.

Cost of snake bite treatment

Here's a classic case.
When dad got the bill he almost needed to go to the hospital because it was over $1 million. The exact amount $1.188 Million Dollars! 
Additional reading

Sunday, July 5, 2015

What I learned appliance shopping - Washers & Dryers

Washers

There are basically 3 types of washers.
  • Top loader: These are traditional washers with an agitator.  These are slowly being phased out in favor of high efficiency models.  They tend to use more water and they are harsh on clothes; e.g. you won't find one of these with a gentle "hand wash" setting.  (Edit: This is not true per one of the commenters below.)  On the flip side, these tend to be workhorses and some brands like SpeedQueen are known to last very long.  These usually range about 3-4 cu ft in size.
  • High efficiency top loader: These ones usually don't have an agitator.  They typically have a load sensor to determine the amount of water to be used.  The drum bobs up and down and this is how it tends to wash.  Because there's very limited movement and no agitator, many users report that they do not clean as well as traditional top loaders.  They are also very susceptible to loads making the drum go unbalanced.  When unbalanced it gets noisy.  Some machines try to "auto balance" the load which involves adding water and trying to move things around.  In this case, part of the efficiency is given up as more water is utilized in trying to rebalance, sometimes without success and requiring manual intervention.  These can go as high as 5+ cu ft in size, but users report it's hard to balance the load when the machine is filled and so it can't really be filled to capacity.
  • Front loaders:  As the name suggests, these washers have the opening on the front.  Once closed, the unit is sealed shut.  One typically cannot add clothes mid cycle.  They offer the best cleaning performance as the drum rotates using gravity to move clothes around.  While it is possible to get an unbalanced drum with this, they are relatively rare compared to HE top loaders.  Many of these come with a gentle "hand wash" setting.  The main downside with front loaders is that water can become trapped in the seals and can eventually cause mold.  Suggestions to prevent mold include leaving the door open after a wash so that it has time to dry out and using a cleaning cycle with bleach.  Additionally, some newer machines have a drum that is tilted forward (and thus water is less susceptible to stagnating) and some have a fan to blow air to speed the drying process.  Still, despite all of this some users report problems with mold.  (Mold is never an issue with top loaders.)  Additionally, since the opening for loading the machine is in the front, these machines are amenable to stacking.  Even when not stacked, their tops can be used as counter space.  These can range in size from compact (~ 2 cu ft) to full sized 5+ cu ft.  The general rule with front loaders is that you can load them up as much as possible as long as one is able to shut the door.
One of the key specifications to look for is size of the drum.  I have seen sizes from < 2 cu ft to > 5 cu ft for most home machines.  Even for size, there are 2 ratings -- there's the IEC rating and the DoE rating.  The DoE rating is typically smaller and corresponds to the actual usable size.

Sizing works different for top load machines vs front load machines.  Front load machines typically hold more laundry than a top load machine of the same size.  For example, on a recent visit to a laundromat, I found that while the top load machines were rated for a single load, their smallest front load machine was rated at 3 loads.

Sometimes washers are rated in lb.  For example, a 20 lb washer is capable of holding a load equivalent to that of two standard top loading machines with an agitator.  The 2.83 cu ft (DoE) Asko washer is advertised as handling up to 24 lb, while the smaller 2.12 cu ft (DoE) Asko washer is advertised as handling up to 18 lb.

The size of the drum does not tell the entire story.  Depending on how the machine is designed, it may or may not perform well when heavily loaded.

Features to look for when buying a washer:
  • The size of the drum.
  • The location of door hinge and if it's reversible.
  • Water and energy consumption.
  • Internal water heater.
    • When equipped with an internal water heater, washing machines can wash with significantly higher temperatures than what is possible from the home's heater, which is usually set to a lower temperature to reduce the risk of scalding.
  • Wash programs and especially programs such as hand wash.
  • Warranty.
  • For front loaders, the design of the door seal and whether it is prone to mold.
  • Whether the washer can be interrupted to add clothes after a cycle has been started.
  • Material used for construction of the drums (inner and outer) and the guides/impeller in the drum.
  • Delayed start.
    • Useful when you want a program to start running just before you get home.
  • How the unit is powered.
    • 110v, 240v, must plug into matching dryer, etc.
Dryers

Dryers are a lot simpler than washers.  There are 3 basic types of dryers.
  • Vented dryer: This is the most common type and is what one would expect to find in the average US home.  As the name suggests, the dryer has to be hooked up to a vent.  Hot air is sent to the vent.
  • Condensation dryer: These units are made specifically for homes and apartments that do not have a vent.  With machines of this type, hot air is released into the room after the moisture has been removed from it.  Condensation dryers typically take a lot longer to dry the clothes, and some folks find the release of hot air into the room annoying.
  • Heat pump dryer: This is the latest technology for condensation dryers.  With dryers of this type, instead of the hot air being released into the room, the hot air recirculated back helping lower the energy consumption.
Many dryers offer the option of running on gas or electricity.  The ones that run on gas typically cost about $100 more.  But because they run on gas, and gas is typically cheaper, they can help lower the utility bills.  However, some utility companies have cheaper electricity and some homes are equipped with solar panels, so the economics starts to dull.

Perhaps the most interesting feature in a dryer is a moisture sensor.  This allows the dryer to sense the remaining moisture in the clothes and either extend or shorten the drying time.  Without a sensor, one would have to manually check if the clothes are dry, or risk "cooking" the clothes.

The matching dryer for any given washer is typically a little larger because dried clothes take up more space than wet ones.

Features to look for when buying a dryer:
  • Size of the drum.
  • Whether it has a moisture sensor.
  • The type of dryer.
  • How the dryer is powered -- gas or electric, if electric whether it is 110v or 240v.
Brands

As with refrigerators, there are the usual brands.  Most of the European brands only make compacts.
  • Asko: A Swedish brand now owned by a Slovene company called Gorenje and manufactured in Slovenia.  A cool innovation with their washers is they have figured how to build a front loader with no rubber seal in the door opening (instead there is just a small rubber seal on the door itself), making it less susceptible mold.  These are less pricey than the Miele, but more expensive than the other brands.
  • Blomberg: A German brand that is owned by Arcelik, a Turkish company, and the units are now manufactured in Turkey.  Also only make compacts.  Their prices are much lower than Miele and even Asko.
  • Bosch: A German brand, but they only make compacts.
  • Electrolux.
  • GE.
  • LG.
  • Miele: A German brand, and they only make compacts.  You buy these from a dealer, but they are delivered and installed by Miele.  The build quality is great, but they are expensive (about twice the price for half the washer).  This was Steve Jobs' preferred brand for a washer (see the discussion at the very bottom of the page).  Most people that have these like them, but at 2 cu ft, they fall in the compact category.
  • Samsung.
  • SpeedQueen: These are made in US, and seem to have good reliability based on reviews.
  • Whirlpool family: These include Whirlpool, Amana, Maytag.  These are "assembled" in the US, meaning that final assembly is done in the US, but many parts are imported.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Self help courses

In addition to things like meditation and life coaches (there seem to be an enormous number of these nowadays), I have come across several organizations that claim to be able to help one get over all sorts of problems in their life and lead more fulfilling lives.  I haven't tried any of them yet, but I'll use this post to list some of them and discuss my opinion on them.

I have only tried meditation and after a little over a decade of regular practice, I still struggle with the same issues that brought me to it--anxiety attacks and various, most likely stress-related, health issues.  Has it helped at all?  At the time I started, I was quite hopeless.  It gave me a lot of hope for a while, but the last few years have been particularly challenging and have made me question its efficacy.  I also know a number of meditators who face similar challenges and who give up meditating altogether.  But given that I was in that situation even before I started meditating, I know for sure that meditation by itself hasn't caused it or made it worse.

Back to the topic of this post, here's the list of several courses I have become aware of over the years.  My main concern with these, based on limited research on the 'net and from talking to a few folks that have participated in them, is that they tend to be cultish and often involve a lot of money and/or ongoing commitment to the program.  For these reasons, I have chosen not to participate in them.
Then there's also techniques such as the Law of Attraction popularized by the book and movie The Secret, and Abraham Hicks, and also teachers like Teal Swan.  A lot of information about these is available for free.

Decoding the VIN of a BMW

The BMW VIN Decoder page provides the list of features and options for a BMW car given its VIN.  It also provides details like the colors, where it was built, and the production date.  It goes all the way back to 1928 and includes BMW cars, BMW motorcyles, Mini, and Rolls Royce.

The Wikipedia article on VIN has information for how to quickly decode the VIN for any car, but does not provide anywhere near the detailed information that the VIN decoder above provides.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

What I learned while appliance shopping -- Refrigerators

I recently had to go shopping for a refrigerator and have learned quite a lot over the last couple of weeks.  I thought I'd put some of these learnings in a post.  In general I was disappointed with what I found because most fridges are loaded with features that I will never use but have questionable durability.  About 5 years seems to be the average life nowadays before one is faced with a cost-prohibitive repair.

Style
  • Free standing or built in:  The average house can only accommodate a free standing unit.  Most of the premium brands (e.g. Miele, Sub Zero) only offer built-in units.
  • Door style: Can be 2 door top freezer (the old style), 2 door bottom freezer, side-by-side (fridge on one side, freezer on the other), french door with one or more freezer drawers, and 4-door french door (both fridge and freezer have french doors).
  • Finish: Can be white, black, stainless, or other color.  Some of them offer finger-print resistant finishes.  Only high end refrigerators have the sides finished in stainless steel.  Most run-of-the-mill fridges have plastic sides even though the front may be stainless steel.  High end refrigerator will often offer the option of wood paneling on the doors.
  • Depth: Can be counter depth or standard.  Counter depth models won't jut out but are pricier even though they are smaller.  Go figure.
Features
  • Air filter: Keeps the air fresh getting rid of any odors (including that of the plastic that the fridge is made of).  No need for baking soda or "airing out" the fridge.
  • Water filter: Needed especially with those that are equipped with a water dispenser, however some models use a water filter when creating ice.
  • Lighting: Most used energy efficient LED lighting.  Lighting may or may not be offered in the freezer.
  • Easy open handles on freezer drawers: Like the name suggests, these make it easier to open the freezer drawer.  I have only seen these on Samsung and LG units.
  • Automatic pulling out of top freezer drawer: This partially pulls out the second-to-bottom freezer tray.
  • Folding shelves: This allows the creation of space to store tall objects.
Quality of construction
  • Hinges: Really only different on very high-end built-ins.
  • Drawer operation: Smoothness of opening and closing drawers.
  • Bins: Quality of the plastic used for the bins
  • Shelves: Glass or plastic and ease of adjusting.
  • Odor: The odor of the plastics used in the interior.
  • Noise: The ambient noise of the unit.
Reliability
  • Consumer Reports magazine.
  • JD Power & Associates.
  • User reviews on the manufacturer website and/or dealer sites.
Brands

Most of the mainstream stores sell several brands.  Most of the brands are made by a small handful of manufacturers.  Think of the cereal box model--there is an illusion of many choices, in reality there are only a few.

Here are the various manufacturers, the brands they make, and my thoughts on them as I shopped for a french door with single drawer bottom freezer.
  • Whirlpool.
    • Makes Amana, Whirlpool, Maytag, KitchenAid, Kenmore, Bosch.
    • Overall decent quality.  Assembled in America.  This means final assembly was done in the US using imported parts.  
    • The quality is good but most models lack an air filter.
  • Electrolux.
    • Makes Electrolux, Frigidaire.
    • A European brand that makes most of its units in Mexico.  
    • Makes some of the best looking fridges.
    • Lots of options with air and water filters.
    • The quality of the interior was lacking--cheap plastic and the drawer mechanisms.
    • For some reason, most sales folks tried to steer me away from this brand.  It also seemed to have higher than average negative reviews.
    • Luxury end is Electrolux Icon.
  • LG.
    • Makes LG, Kenmore Elite.
    • The units are made in either Korea or China.
    • Overall a great product, but very limited options with an air filter.
  • Samsung.
    • The units are mostly made in Korea.
    • Similar to LG in terms of quality and features, but I felt the LG was slightly better designed.
  • GE.
    • Recently acquired by Haier.
    • Felt like quality inside and out, but could not find a model that had an air filter.
    • Luxury end is GE Monogram.
At the high end, there are brands like Miele (German), Liebherr (German), Sub-Zero (US), Thermador (German), Viking (US).  I didn't spend much time researching these because they were not suitable for installation in my house.

Getting questions answered

Misinformation abounds with most floor sales folks.  They either don't have the information or haven't bothered to look it up, but emphatically provide their best guess.  For models they do not have on the floor, you typically get incorrect answers for country of manufacture and various other features.  Sometimes the information can be gleaned from the manufacturer website.  But if not, it's unlikely that contacting the manufacturer will yield anything useful.  Emails to their customer service often go unanswered.  Calls to them usually receive a response of the type "the only information we have is what is on our website" or "please contact an authorized sales center for that information."  And authorized sales center doesn't have that information.  So trying to get information can be an exercise in frustration.  The best way I found of getting accurate information is through discussions in various online forums.

This, by the way, is not something limited to refrigerators.  The same is true of most appliances and even other products.  Why is this so?  My conjecture is that the people fielding these questions have no interest in the product.  They are in jobs that are likely short term roles and they are trained to look up whatever information may already be on the company website and no more.  Unfortunately many of the company websites have flaws--links to download documents are stale, information about authorized sellers is outdated, etc.

This is perhaps the most frustrating part of appliance purchases.

Monday, June 8, 2015

How I ended up being an engineer

Every now and then, as I go through my mid life crises (getting older and taking stock of what my life has been about), I wonder how I ended up an engineer.

As a kid, I never thought of being an engineer.  Originally, I wished to be pilot.  I'm not sure what inspired me to want that.  But I developed myopia early in life and was told that becoming a pilot would not be possible as one needed perfect vision.  After that, I never really thought of what I wanted to be.  Since my father was a businessman, that's what I thought I end up as.

At school, I was a fairly average student during my early years.  Something changed when I was in the 7th grade and I started doing well.  This continued as I started doing even better in the 8th grade and continued to maintain that.  After the 10th grade in India, we usually have to choose between science, commerce, and arts.  I had always thought I'd take commerce, but because I did well at school, and because most smart kids took science, I decided to take science.  I reasoned that I could always fall back to commerce or arts, but going in the other direction (from commerce to science) was darn near impossible.

In high school (11th grade in India) I didn't particularly care for biology because of the way the teachers taught it (felt kind of disorganized and dry).  Fortunately, an option showed up to drop biology and German (the latter being another subject that I didn't particularly enjoy at that time) and instead opt for electronics.  That option was quite a relief.  I continued to do quite well through high school.  After high school, the best options (i.e. the ones that the smartest students pick) are either medicine or engineering.  Since I dropped biology, medicine was not an option and so I "chose" engineering.  Among the engineering specialities, the students at the top usually opted for electronics, followed by the various other disciplines, with civil engineering at the bottom.  Since I did well enough, I was able to opt for any branch, but "chose" electronics.

In college, I didn't really enjoy electronics but I was able to do reasonably well anyway.  As we got to the 3rd and 4th year, more and more subjects around digital systems started appearing and I had a natural interest in those.  I found them very easy to absorb and internalize compared to earlier subject matter that I tended to just ingest and memorize.

I really enjoyed my first job as a programmer and then subsequently applied to graduate school to focus on computer engineering.

In graduate school, I once again had to focus on basic electronics to get through the qualifying exam.  But once that was done, I was able to spend all my time studying and researching computer engineering subjects.  What I didn't like about graduate school was the pressure and uncertainty around research and getting the research published.

Since graduating I have worked in the field of computer networking.  I sometimes wonder if I picked the right career.  How might my life be different if I had picked a different path in high school, something like economics or business?  I guess these are the questions that come up during a mid life crisis.  Yet pondering such questions is a waste of time, because I am where I am.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Post purchase surveys are badly flawed

Every time one buys something expensive like a car or a house, one is usually told by the salesperson that they will be receiving a post purchase survey and that anything below the perfect score is a failure for them.  They usually convey this thought at the very end of the transaction and tell you "do let us know if there is anything I can do for you."  This after treating you with distrust and playing with your mind all through the process.  And this is the same no matter where you go...it's just an ugly part of the sales cycle for big ticket items.  They play with your feelings of guilt -- "I'm just the little guy, please don't do anything to hurt my job" -- yet at the same time, all through the process, the only feeling that I get is that they are out to get your money.  They are full of distrust and fear that the deal will fall through.  Once it is done, other than the courtesy call which is again something that is asked about on the survey, you will never hear from the salesperson.

Basically, you have a robot salesperson that tries to do everything they can to make sure the survey questions are all covered without actually caring about the buyer.  In other words, they will say all the right things to make you feel they care about you, but they really don't.  All they care about it making the transaction go through successfully.  The flip side is that customers often have to create dramatic lies in order to back out of a deal (health crisis, moving job, etc.).

Now giving a perfect score on the survey for what was clearly service that could be improved on would be lie (at least for me).  So there are two options--don't respond to the survey at all, or fill out the survey in a genuine fashion and risk seeing an unhappy salesperson should you ever run into them again.  I'm not sure which option is better.

The whole experience is reminiscent of growing up in a dysfunctional family, where you're told about how everyone loves you, but you feel none of it, rather feeling oppression and abuse, because the actions don't match the words.

There was a time when sales people stayed at a job a long enough time and creating trusted, working relationships mattered.  Those days are gone.  The credit score determines whether or not one can be trusted for a loan.  Other than that, it's pretty much pleasantries and bonds (sign copious amounts of paper work to keep you from backing out of the deal).

There was a time in my life when I cared more about other people's feelings than I did about my own.   At such times, I would have filled out such a survey offering a perfect score to the salesperson.  But I'm slowly changing that and realizing that I too am a person and that I too deserve to be treated right.  And that it's important to point out any shortcomings or they will never be addressed.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Panchakarma with Dr. Sunil Joshi

This post details my experience with panchakarma under the supervision of Dr. Sunil Joshi assisted by his staff at his clinic in Albuquerque, New Mexico from April 18-25, 2015.  Panchakarma can be though of as cleansing/purifying of the body and mind according using methods detailed in Ayurveda.

Booking

Normally, they won't let someone sign up panchakarma unless Dr. Joshi has had some success treating them with herbs and lifestyle.  The lifestyle part (see the bottom of this post for details) is particularly hard to follow because it involves a very restricted diet (almost no processed foods), specific meal times, daily oil self-massages, taking herbs, and breathing and physical exercises.  I had been consulting him for the last 9 months and had made 3 visits to Albuquerque just for consulting him.  I had already seen some minor improvements to my health over that time through just taking herbs and managing my lifestyle, although the improvements have been far from anything significant.  I had followed the prescribed protocol perhaps 50-60%.  

There were 6 or 7 others signed up during the same week as me.  Many of the people I have met at the clinic during my earlier consultations and during the panchakarma have been seeing Dr. Joshi for years (even 10+ years).  Folks had come for treatment not just from all parts of the US, but also from overseas.

Consultations and monitoring

One of the best things about all of the consultations at this clinic is that they involve no forms other than a consent form.  Dr. Joshi assesses out what is happening with the patient's body and mind by reading the pulse and performing a physical examination, and confirms his findings with the patient.

Before treatments are prescribed the he performs a thorough initial consultation in which he checks the pulse and does a physical examination.  Additionally, he performs the oil or herbal bastis daily on all patients, and also monitors the progress based on a brief daily report written by the patient before treatment each day.

Treatments

Treatments varied by day and by person.  The goal of the treatments is to loosen the toxins and eliminate them via peeing, pooping, and sweating.  The treatments last about 1.5 to 2 hours.

In my case, the following were the treatments for each day.
  • Day 1 -- Initial consultation, abhyanga, hand-steam, nasya, steam box, shirodhara, oil basti. 
  • Day 2 -- Abhyanga, hand-steam, nasya, pinda svedh, neck and lower back basti, shirodhara, herbal basti, left knee lepa. 
  • Day 3 -- Abhyanga, hand-steam, nasya, heart basti, shirodhara, herbal basti. 
  • Day 4 -- Abhyanga, hand-steam, nasya, pinda svedh, shirodhara, herbal basti. 
  • Day 5 -- Abhyanga, hand-steam, nasya, neck and lower back basti, herbal basti. 
  • Day 6 -- Abhyanga, hand-steam, nasya, pinda svedh, heart basti, shirodhara, oil basti. 
  • Day 7 -- Virechana (purgation) consultation, pizichil, nasya, steam box, shirodhara.  Virechana is performed during the night of Day 7 by taking some herbs.
  • Day 8 -- Exit consultation, rest.
Abhyanga - Full body oil massage by 2 practitioners.
Hand-steam - Steam applied to the body using an insulated hose attached to the top of a pressure cooker.
Heart basti - A trough made over the heart area with dough and herbal oil is poured in it.
Herbal basti - Enema done with herbal tea.
Lepa - An herbal paste is applied and the body part is bandaged up for a few hours. 
Lower-back basti - A trough made over the lower-back area with dough and herbal oil is poured in it.
Nasya - Face massage and herbal drops put in the nose.
Neck basti - A trough made over the neck area with dough and herbal oil is poured in it.
Oil basti - Enema done with herbal oil.
Pinda svedh - Warm milk massages over the body with a ball made out of a cheese cloth filled with cooked rice and herbs.
Pizichil - Oil massage with a cheese cloth filled with cooked rice and herbs.
Shirodhara - A steady stream of oil is dripped on the center of the forehead just above the eyes.
Steam box - Sit in a steam box with herbal steam for 3-5 minutes.
Virechana - Purgation to cleanse the small intestine.

During the initial consult, we are given herbs and medicated ghee.  The medicated ghee needs to be taken each morning and evening in increasing doses over the days.  The purpose of the ghee is to prepare for virechana.

Meals

For breakfast, only fruit is recommended.  Lunch and dinner were provided and typically consisted of rice, split yellow mung daal (sometimes cooked as a soup separately with or without spinach, and sometimes included in the rice), and a couple of vegetables from the following -- carrots, zucchini, yellow squash, red/orange/yellow bell pepper, broccoli, garnet yams, cabbage.  On Day 7, to prepare for virechana the dinner was potatoes and red bell peppers (with rice and daal).  On the night of Day 7, special herbs are given to induce virechana.  On Day 8, both meals were provided -- meal #1 was rice porridge and meal #2 was rice with some herbs.  The food on Day 8 is supposed to calm the system after virechana.

Accommodation

They do not provide accommodation so patients have to stay at a nearby hotel.  There are a couple of reasonable options within a 5 min walk from the office/treatment center.

Summary

The benefits of the treatment are harder to see immediately but I was assured that I had responded well to the treatment and that it would show its effects over the next few months.  I guess I'll just have to wait and see.

Diet & lifestyle recommendations
Update 11/26/15

I saw a reasonable improvement in my health and so I attended another session from 11/19 - 11/26.  The treatments were similar to the first session as was the food.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

The mystery of life

I'm often preoccupied with thoughts around the question "what is the meaning of life?"  When I pay close attention to most people, I find they are all unhappy about one thing or another, but just keep flowing with life doing what "normal" people do -- go to work, have one or more hobbies, take vacations, have families, etc.  But in the end, everyone grows old, gets sick, and dies.   And along the way it's a constant struggle to keep one's vocation, relationships, and health working.  It appears we are doomed from the day we are born.  What could the purpose of such a game be?  Who would design such a game?

There is no diet, no spiritual practice, no religion, no vocation that will free one of the curse of sickness, aging, and eventually death.  No matter what one achieves in life, it will all be left behind.

Religions have their own way of addressing this depending on whether or not they subscribe to the belief of reincarnation.  If the path preached by a religion were indeed that good, then walking it, even for a short while, would yield very tangible results.  Yet, when we look at the followers of any path, we find many that are deeply unhappy despite following that path for years or even decades.  Recently, I have even started to question the veracity of the ancient texts because one never knows if they were edited through the years.  Transmission of these texts through the generations seems much like the game of Chinese Whispers.

Even if we just accept the reality of old age and death, what about destiny?  Is everything predestined or do we have free will?  If there is such a thing as destiny, I have not encountered someone that could predict outcomes with much accuracy.  If there is such a thing as free will, why is it that mythology has many examples of destiny that could not be overridden by free will?  And why is it that we cannot create the life we desire?

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Living with less than normal health

I have battled health issues since around 2002.  I wasn't particularly healthy as a child either but I learned to just ignore my body and keep going.  Around 2002, I started having anxiety attacks and low energy levels that started to impact the way I lived my life.  In other words, it was no longer possible for me to ignore my body.  Since then in addition to anxiety attacks and issues with low energy I have experienced bouts of mental fogginess; aches and pains in joints, bones and muscles, some of them debilitating; disturbed sleep; rashes on the legs and the stomach; issues with digestion; intermittent low-grade fevers probably due to inflammation in the body; cramping in the hands and feet; and cataract.  I can't figure out what the cause of the bad health is.  My guess is it's partly genetic, partly due to a poor diet because of a lack of cooking skills and ignorance about the ill effects of processed food, and partly due to stress.  The stress is likely the result of an abusive childhood because of which I did not learn how to create healthy boundaries for myself, while at the same time carrying the burden of playing my part in keeping the family "looking good."

The biggest down side of health issues is lower energy.  Once that happens, the length of the day compresses.  I find that I am able to accomplish 50% of what a "normal" person might be able to, maybe even less.  As a result, the entire life is organized around completing tasks for the career and activities to maintain health.  Days of extreme low energy are often accompanied by escapist activities.

The hardest part about living a life of low energy is explaining what that is like to friends and family.  Most simply do not get it.  They think you are hiding something from them.  After all, since they are able to live a full and productive life, you must doing something with all your time.  Sadly, it is not possible to communicate this with words.  The only way for someone to know what it's like to live with bad health day-in and day-out is to actually have bad health.  This is not something one would wish for someone else, let alone friends and family.

Then there's unsolicited advice from friends and family.  Everyone suddenly becomes an expert on your conditions and has a need to offer suggestions from holistic and energetic remedies to allopathic medication to the latest fad diet.  Some will suggest the health issues are psychosomatic and will recommend things like meditation or a spiritual practice or other "life improvement" courses such as Scientology, Landmark Forum, The Mankind Project, or Huffman Process.  It's interesting how many such life improvement courses are out there, not to mention the burgeoning professions of life coach and health coach.  The advice from such well-meaning folk is not all bad, just that as you try each of one of these and realize that none of them have the magical effect of addressing one's health issues, the disappointment and a sense of despair begin to set in and make one wary of people suggesting any solution.

Finally there's health practitioners.  It is very hard to find honest practitioners that actually care about the health of the patient.  Most are in it for a quick buck.

Holistic and naturopathic doctors often try to get you sign up for a payment plan so you see them regularly.  Because these work slowly, it can be months before one knows whether or not a particular treatment is working.  And then you move on to the next one.  Every one of them will paint a picture of hope, yet, in the US, the first thing that they will make you sign is a waiver.  Many of them require you to fill out pages and pages describing your health history.  Those forms get old, real quick.  Unless you are lucky to find someone genuine, you eventually start to see it a scam.  In my experience, the best practitioners are seldom the most expensive.  In fact the opposite is true--the more expensive the practitioner, the less likely their treatment will be effective.  Many will provide a regimen that is nearly impossible to follow while living a "normal" life.

Allopathic doctors typically perform a series of superficial tests.  If the results of those tests are normal, the first thing that they like to recommend is some kind of anti-anxiety or anti-depressant medication.  They would rather do this than prescribe additional tests to try and see what is really wrong.  If you pay extra for a concierge doctor, they are not usually as bound by insurance, so they may be willing to prescribe more tests.  Coming up with a diagnosis here often involves a process of elimination through a battery of tests prescribed by numerous specialists.  And yet the best that one can hope for is something that will require heavy medication with side effects and that result in a complete loss of one's quality of life.  In the USA, the health care industry is an absolute mess, but I will write more about that in a different post.

I have been using Ayurveda for a few years now.  There has been some improvement of the symptoms but it is a very difficult path to follow because it requires diet and lifestyle changes, and yet I still experience significant ups and downs in health.  The only hope is that it will at least maintain the health where it is at now without destroying something else in the body which allopathic medicine tends to do.  I have also dabbled with homeopathic remedies, acupuncture, acupressure, and getting various therapeutic massages such as lymphatic drainage.  All of them have been helpful, but none to the point where I feel they have help me overcome my health issues.

Ultimately, it is important to remember that no one lives forever, no matter what one may do.  Poor health is one of those obstacles that the universe has sent my way and I must muddle my way through life the best I can knowing that one day I too shall pass.

Update 04/01/2017

Came across an interesting article about why we could subconsciously choosing bad health.  A number of conditions are true for my life.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

The father karma

(This is just a one sided story.  I'm sure there's the father's version, and then there's the version that corresponds to what is actually going on which neither of us can see clearly because we color them with our own stories.)

I have a particularly difficult father who ruled the family with fear brought about from the abuse resulting from his bouts of uncontrolled anger.  He used money as way to control and oppress people. Of course, he probably grew up in a difficult family situation (my grandparents), and their parents (great grandparents) in turn were probably a mess.  How far up the chain does this go?  And how does one free one's self from such a bondage?  I have not yet found the answer but hope to find it some day.

The most difficult energy that I have to overcome is that of being able to communicate.  He completely lacks empathy and needs to hear words, usually extracted harshly, to understand what is going on and usually responds with criticism or meaningless advice.

My biggest issue is with his sense of logic.  He has two sets of rules -- one that apply to him and another that apply to the rest of the world (which includes me).  That he has harsh rules that apply to the rest of the world explains why he is extremely lonely and has no one call on him, except those that do so out of obligation or co-dependence.

The logic operates as follows:
  • If he makes a mistake (or even a huge blunder), then it was something that was pre-destined or karmic.
  • If he does something right, then it's because he took the right decision.
  • If anyone else makes a mistake (even a minor one) or behaves in way that does not fit his idea of what they should be doing, they must be subject to criticism.
  • If anyone else gets something right, it was pre-destined or karmic and they deserve no credit for it.
Using the above logic, it becomes impossible to have a conversation about anything meaningful.  Discussions with him are usually on the lines of me receiving a spiritual discourse of his interpretation of the scriptures, the weather, the economy, the political situation, etc.   Sadly, none of these are meaningful to me especially since they will usually be accompanied by some critical judgement.

That said, his psyche was probably built to help him survive whatever it is that life threw at him.  But does that mean I must suffer due to that? Given that I cannot change any of those events, how can change myself to be more accepting and forgiving without at the same time feeling hurt, oppressed and trampled upon, and suppressing my own feelings of injustice which in turn lead to stress-related health issues?  That, in summary, is my life's challenge.  

The closest I can think of as a solution is to rise above myself and see this as a situation involving two people that needs to be resolved in a fashion that is beneficial to both.  Does such a solution exist?

It has been my experience that the father karma extends to several relationships especially how we perceive those in authority.  Difficult father karma tends to manifest itself in relationships with teachers, bosses, and others that we think of as having control over us.  It has been the single defining challenge of my life.

Eric Klein has an interesting cartoon depiction of the father karma.

This is a good article about how to heal from a toxic parent.

Friday, February 6, 2015

What do I use my iPhone for?

Aside from being an extension to my computer for things like email and web browsing, my iPhone has essentially replaced the function of all of the following devices
  • Watch
  • Calendar
  • Music player (for the car)
  • GPS/maps
  • Compass
  • Alarm clock
  • Scanner
  • Flashlight
  • Timer (for cooking, meditation, catnaps)
  • Camera (I no longer own a regular camera)
  • Calculator (although I prefer bc when I'm at a regular machine)