Friday, October 18, 2013

Review: Wheat Belly

My doctor actually recommended Wheat Belly, or I wouldn't have picked it up. Cure Your Child With Food, for instance, already mentions that gluten, the protein in wheat, is the source of many digestion problems. That book reported loads of success curing kids by eliminating wheat and anything white from their diets.

The Wheat Belly proceeds to blame almost all modern ills on wheat and wheat products. As in Cure Your Child With Food, he claims that wheat has been so genetically engineered or otherwise manipulated that the nutrition in it is not something that your body can absorb or deal with, leading to a bunch of diseases ranging from diabetes to acne (!!) to early balding in men. The book is replete with anecdotes from his practice where the patient is miraculously cured after eliminating wheat from his or her diet.

Unfortunately, things are not that simple. You see, Doctor Davis doesn't just recommend getting rid of wheat. He recommends eliminating all forms of whole grain and potatoes as well as the sugary fruits. Adopt his program wholesale and what do you get? The Atkins diet. If wheat was the all encompassing evil he claims it to be, then there shouldn't be any need to eliminate all the other foods, so this prescription basically undermines the entire first 2/3rds of the book!

Now, it could very well be that gluten sensitivity (not necessarily celiac disease) is far more prevalent than you might think, and that many people with irritable bowel syndrome could benefit by eliminating wheat. But if you're looking for proof that wheat is the culprit, then this book definitely does not provide it. That said, he does reference lots of interesting data, including Denise Minger's excellent debunking of the China Study. There's a lot of interesting information, though again, since he undermined himself in the last 2 chapters of the book I'm not sure how much I'd be willing to believe anything he says.

Not recommended.

Review: Pyle Waterproof MP3 Player with embedded headphones

I've been forced to swim a lot recently, and have come to the conclusion that lap swimming is the most boring sport in the universe. There's nothing to see, the scenery doesn't change, and you can't even hold a conversation while swimming like you can while you're cycling, running, or doing almost any land sport. I can't imagine doing it for any length of time long term.

After a while, I decided that it would be a good idea to find someway of listening to something while I'm doing my boring laps. If you're an iSheep, then the natural thing would be to pick up the Underwater iPod. These are basically iPod shuffles have been rebuilt with a waterproof resin internally and a waterproof coating externally, and then you can fit a pair of waterproof headphones to them, attach the whole shebang to your googles, and now you have an iPod that can play music underwater.

But I'm not an Apple fan, and $150 for a 2GB iPod shuffle is incredibly offensive to my senses. So I went looking and came up with the Pyle Waterproof MP3 player. At $40, it's more expensive than some other products, but it also had far better Amazon reviews. At 4GB of storage, it's got twice the storage of the Apple equivalents at one third the price, something very familiar to anyone who's familiar with how tech pricing works.

My first couple of swims were disappointing. The sound was muddy and unclear, and the headphone kept coming off. But I finally figured it out: the headphones come with 3 sets of ear pieces for underwater use, and what you need to do is to use the biggest ear piece that will fit in your ear canal. Once I got the right set (which surprisingly was the largest set), the sound was clear and lovely, and the ear pieces don't try to come off your ear. Now, if you do a particularly violent motion or if you knock your headphones with your strokes you still might get some leakage, but by and large the whole thing works and seriously, once I stop needing to nurse my back along I'm not going to swim more than a couple of times a week anyway.

In any case, my swims have gotten a lot less boring, and more than once I've found myself swimming an extra couple of laps to finish the song I've been listening to, so it's definitely changed lap swimming from "boring" to bearable. Recommended.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Review: The Story of The Human Body

The Story Of The Human Body is written by evolutionary biologist and Harvard Professor Daniel Lieberman. It's not just a boring history of how your various body parts evolved, but it's also an exploration about how mismatch diseases come about: diseases caused by the mismatch between your relatively old genes and the relatively unusual state of civilization today.

Midway through the book (page 173), there's a list of mismatch diseases that hold a few surprises even for me. For instance, apnea, ADHD, OCD, and chronic constipation are all considered to be mismatch diseases. I'm very familiar with Apnea, and I was surprised to find it on this list. The explanation is surprising: if you grew up on relatively soft processed or cooked food, you didn't have to chew very much or very hard, so your jaw ends up being a bit too small, which is one of the conditions that causes apnea. Lieberman suggests allowing kids to chew gum a lot as a way to help correct this deficiency, and I wonder if Singapore's ban on chewing gum could contribute to a rise in the number of children who end up with sleep apnea in the future as a result.

Which brings me to another interesting point about this book. Because mismatch diseases have long lead times and are caused by conditions in which the child grows up in, but the disease itself doesn't show up until in late adulthood, this book also doubles as a parenting manual of things that you as a parent should do, but might not have realized are important. For instance, he suggests letting kids run around in bare feet as much as possible to prevent future incidences of flat feet. This goes against the norms of civilized society, and parents should take note. Other little tit-bits from this book:

  • Growing up in a hot environment will cause your child to develop more sweat glands. This may or may not be a good thing, depending on your point of view.
  • Baby fat is not necessarily benign: even if the kid grows out of it, being fat at a young age causes your body to have more visceral fat cells, which can lead to being more easily fat as an adult.
  • Myopia could be caused by spending too much time indoors, and insufficient variety of visual stimuli. Having a wide variety of visual stimulus is important for normal vision.
  • If your kids get antibiotics, it might be necessary to follow up with a dose of probiotics to help the stomach flora return to normal.
If you don't have kids, there are lots of other fascinating topics that are relevant to you:

  • Sitting is very bad for you.
  • Human beings are basically the fattest primates around, but there are good reasons why.
  • Why do men get prostate cancer?
  • Why do you tend to get back pain as you age?
These questions all have lots of fun answers in Lieberman's book, plus a huge dose of evolutionary history which explains why if agriculture was such a hard life compared to being a hunter-gatherer, humans adopted it anyway.

Lieberman ties off the book with a bunch of policy suggestions as to how to prevent many of the mismatch diseases he describes. I have a very pessimistic outlook on those suggestions, as the long feedback cycle (40 years or so before diabetes begins to show up) ensures that much like global climate change, there's no real incentive for government to do anything about it.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and found it incredibly informative. It's very likely to be the best book I've read all year. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Review: Skating to where the puck was

Skating to Where the Puck Was is part of William Bernstein's series called "Investing for Adults". I did not consider the previous book I read in the series, Deep Risk, to be worth the trouble, but I have a different opinion of this book.

Bernstein points out that in many cases, by the time an asset class is widely accessible to the masses for investing, it has lost most of the attractive properties it used to have, therefore rendering the asset class much less interesting. The first example he uses is from David Swensen's Pioneering Portfolio Management: the Yale Model, with its reliance of alternative assets, including hedge funds and other such, returned outsized success until it became widely known and copies, at which point it stopped yielding those outsized returns.

Similarly, he points out that recently, an individual investor could make outsized gains in the housing market by buying up houses and renting them for profit, but doing so would have required that you make a full time job (or serious side job) out of it, not by merely investing in an REIT. Similarly, the Japanese stock market returned incredibly high yields when John Templeton bought into it very early. So early, in fact, that when he first bought shares in the market, they could not even be taken out of the country! By the time generalized Japanese stock funds became available, the return on those funds going forward was dismal. The result, Bernstein says, is that:
if your portfolio looks like the Yale Endowment's, then you're likely to find yourself chairless when the music stops. Diversifying is easy; doing so early is difficult.
The solution? Boring old asset allocation and staying in the market for the long haul. There a really is no Santa Claus, and no tooth fairy, unless you're the next John Templeton and have the courage to get in ahead of the crowd. (And even then, there's no guarantee that you're not the next Bill Miller instead)

The book repeats stuff you probably already know as an investing adult, but the stories inside are worth a quick read and the book is cheap. Recommended.

Friday, October 04, 2013

Review: 3M Command Strips

I never really was into hanging photos or artwork on the walls, even photos I took myself. It wasn't until recently that I figured out what. It turns out that nailing holes in the wall is a somewhat permanent act, and I didn't like the irrevocability of putting a photo up.

One of the helpful folks at Orchard Supply inadvertently pointed that out to me when I asked about buying hanging fixtures. Thinking that I rented an apartment, he told me about 3M Command Strips, which are essentially matching sets of Velcro backed by sticky tape. The clever thing about the Command Strips is that there's a tab on the back of the sticky tape which stretches the glue in the sticky tape so that the entire strip comes cleanly off the wall when done.

A few things are necessary to get these to work right. First, you should use them only as recommended for their weight ratings. Secondly, you need the surfaces to be clean. Lastly, you actually have to follow the directions. We've hung a mirror and 2 pictures with these trips, and I'm very happy with them. I haven't actually tested the removal, but judging from the Amazon reviews, that's not actually a problem.


Thursday, October 03, 2013

Review: Cure Your Child With Food

Cure Your Child With Food is a book about nutrition and the impact nutrition has on children's health and growth. It's an interesting book in that it's organized with each chapter meant to be read independently, which leads to a lot of repetition.

For instance, my impression of the first half of the book is that she's a one-trick pony. She seemed to have only two solutions for the patients who come to her: get rid of the diary in the diet, and ditch the gluten. Get rid of the American "white diet". That's it.

The second half of the book, however, does demonstrate that she doesn't just prescribe one thing for all patients. For instance, one patient came to her with sleep problems and an otherwise healthy diet. Getting her onto 0.5mg of melatonin supplement an hour before bedtime meant she could sleep through the night. She explains why melatonin is a good solution and why it is not addictive. Another patient came to her from a vegetarian background with muscular development issues. Adding choline and fish oil to his diet resolved his issues. She does caution that sometime fish oil by itself isn't enough and that other forms of intervention are required. She diagnosed one case of a patient ingesting pesticide from fruit.

She presents interesting theories about why there's been a recent rise in gluten sensitivity (not the same as celiac disease): the amount of gluten in wheat that has been harvested has gone up, due to "improved breeding" and other interventions. She also explains why she recommends fish oil supplements over just adding more fish to the diet: the risk of mercury poisoning.

While the book is wordy and repetitive, I found it useful in thinking about children's nutrition. For instance, once you take your kid off infant formula, you should think about where his Omega-3 is going to come from. In our case, it was more palliative than anything else, but it's not quite a "one trick pony" book that the first half of the book presents itself to be. Recommended.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Advanced Reader Copies of my next book now available

It's called How to Interview A Financial Advisor. It's a short book, about 50 pages, and the first round of beta only has 20 copies available. Since it's currently in beta, it doesn't have a cover yet (I'm waiting for the cover to come in), and the PDF copy doesn't have an index. If you make comments about the book that lead to changes in the book, you'll get to be on the acknowledgements page.

The book is priced low $4.95, and I'm still trying to decide on the final pricing. As a perk, beta customers will also get cheap access to the printed copy when it is finally available.