Why We Get Fat (Lecture Notes)

This post is a summary of Gary Taubes’s lecture, “Why We Get Fat”.

Observation

The common explanation to obesity epidemic is that these populations practice sedentary lifestyle and consume excessive calories. However, it does not explain obesity epidemic in certain populations. These populations work in intensive labour condition and are malnourished, yet some of them are still obese. The theory simply describes the process of calorie accumulation, but does not describe how and why it leads to obesity. 

Hypothesis

  • Obesity is a disorder of excess fat accumulation (not energy balance, not over-eating, not sedentary behaviour)
  • Overeating and inactivity are compensatory effects, they are not causes.
  • We don’t’ get fat because we overeat, we overeat because our fat tissues are accumulating excess fat. 

Further question – What regulates excess fat accumulation?

  • Insulin, insulin is the principal regulator of fat metabolism (Yalow and Berson, 1965).
  • Release of fatty acids from fat cells requires only the negative stimulus of insulin deficiency.
  • When insulin is secreted or chronically elevated, fat accumulates in the fat tissue.
  • When insulin level drop, fat escapes from the fat tissue and the fat depots shrink.
  • We secrete insulin primarily in response to the carbohydrates in our diet.

Carbohydrate is driving insulin is driving fat.

Cahill, 2005

Conclusion

1. Obesity is a disorder of fat accumulation, not energy balance.
2. Fat accumulation is regulated fundamentally by insulin and dietary carbohydrates.
3. The only non-pharmaceutical remedy is to restrict or remove the causative agent – the carbohydrates.

Rules for Aging: A Wry and Witty Guide to Life

Rule 1: It doesn’t matter
It doesn’t matter what you do, you will die anyway.

Rule 2: Nobody is thinking about you
People are thinking about themselves, just like you

Rule 3: Let bad enough alone
People belief that persistent clarification after one has  a social blunder will make everything all right. But sometimes, it is better to leave things alone.

Rule 4: Ignore your enemy or kill him
Pay no attention to your enemy, if you still want to, you may want to kill him.

Rule 5: Boo yourself of the stage
If you think your life is not up to your standard, lead the booing yourself

Rule 6: Yes you did
If you have the slightest question as to whether or not you are responsible for a wrongdoing, yes you did.

Rule 7: After the age of 30, it is unseemly to blame one’ s parents for one’s life

Rule 8: If something is boring you, it is probably you

Rule 9: Stay clear of anyone – other than clergyman – who refers to God more than once in an hour
People can misused God’s word for his own benefits

Rule 10: Swine rules
a. A swine is not a swan
A swine will never change, do not treat them kindly and expect them to change
b. A swine is known to be a swine
Everyone knows a swine is a swine
c. When a swine sucks up, he is still a swine.
A swine is a swine all the time.

Rule 11: Listen for the word great
When someone says “Great”, most likely they are not sincere.

Rule 12: Listen for the question, what are you talking about?
When someone asks you that, they know what you are talking about

Rule 13: Appearance is frequently reality

Rule 14: Be not witty; neither shalt thou be clever

Rule 15: Pursue virtue, but don’t sweat it
People will likely to betray, not out of malice, but because of self-preservation

Rule 16: Do not go to your left
Going to one’s left is a basketball term for strengthening one’s weakness. However, life is not like basketball. In life, if you attempt to compensate for a weakness, you will usually grow weaker or fail.

Rule 17: Everyone’s work is magnificent
Everyone wants to believe that their work is magnificent

Rule 18: Consult everyone on everything and don’t’ forget to send ingratiating notes
Most people except your friends and family don’t want you to succeed, but once you consult them for their advices, they will side with you. Later, send them thank you note.

Rule 19: Strife is better than loneliness

Rule 20: Loneliness is better than eggs Benedict
Some people think that hanging out with semi friends will make them feel less lonely

Rule 21: Male and female compatibility rules
a. She’s right
b. She’s really thinking about nothing. 

Rule 22: Run when you hear any of the following sentence
a. Unity and hormony
b. Love, unity and harmony
c. Humanity
d. The human spirit

Rule 23: Never miss an opportunity to do nothing

Rule 24: Do not go for Cyrano’s nose

Rule 25: That couldn’t be a book
From time to time people will respond to an idea and say, “That could be a book”. It couldn’t. Books are made out of big ideas, big themes, Unless your book has these, don’t bother writing one.

Rule 26: Do not keep company with people who speak of careers
These people are not interesting, and have no interest in anything interesting

Rule 27: Just because the person who  you is an idiot, doesn’t make him wrong

Rule 28: Never go to a cocktail party , and in any case, do not stay more than 20 minutes

Rule 29: Envy no one – ever

Rule 30: Believe everyone – always
Believe everyone and you will think that life is well intended

Rule 31: Do not attempt to improve anyone, especially when you know it will help
Telling them of their faults won’t make them change

Rule 32: If they tell you it’s a long shot, it is

Rule 33: Never bring news of slander to a friend

Rule 34: t’s not about you

Rule 35: Never say any of the following
a. That’s the best thing you’ve ever done
b. How much is this boat?
c. My door is always open
d. You look lovely today
e. Why not
f. Do we really need a contract?

Rule 36: If you want to keep a man honest, never call him a liar

Rule 37: The waitress is not waiting for you

Rule 38: Push the wheel forward
Life is more fun when you play at full speed.

Rule 39: Dress for duress

Rule 40: A long and happy life lasts for 5 minutes
Don’t try to sacrifice what you have for a short moment of happiness, it is not worth it.

Rule 41: Never work for anyone more insecure than yourself

Rule 42: The unexamined life lasts longer

Rule 43: No, they don’t – and so what
No one owes you anything

Rule 44: Abjure fame but avoid obscurity

Rule 45: Fast and steady wins the race
Steady excellences, consistent work wins the race

Rule 46: To thine own self be true – unless you would like to be someone else
If you don’t like who you are, you may be right

Rule 47: Culture rules
a. See no movie that has been called exquisite
b. Read no novel that has been called brave
c. Attend no concert that has been called long
d. Attend no opera that begins with the word “Der”

Rule 48: if it’s just a teeny-weeny bit wrong – destroy it
If something is a little wrong, it is all wrong

Rule 49: Never think on vacation
Just don’t think. Keep the mind in its safe and stupid mode, the way you like it when on vacation

Rule 50: Change no more than one-eight of your life at a time
Most people tend to change everything in their lives, when they decided to change. This is unsustainable.

Rule 51: Do not expect gratitude from everybody for everything

Rule 52: Live in the past, but don’t remember too much

Rule 53: Never do it for money

Rule 54: remember the amana
Everyone one of life little mishaps can be kept in perspective if one focuses on one’s original goal

Rule 55: If you are strange enough, they will come

Rule 56: Never light the fire from the top
Never try to achieve things with haste, do not use shortcuts. Embrace the process.

Rule 57: The game is played away from the ball
The more interesting thing in the news (or anything in life) happens behind the scene. When someone achieves great success, that is only 1% of the whole journey, most of it is spent doing the hard work.

Rule 58: Apologise, reconcile and give help

Zen and Tennis

This article reviews The Inner Game of Tennis and outlines actionable insights from the book.

In The Inner Game of Tennis, Gallwey shows the methods to overcome self-doubt, nervousness and lapses of concentration that can keep a player from winning. These challenges are called the ‘inner game’. The inner game is the game that takes place in the mind of the player and is played against inner obstacles. In contrast, the outer game is played against an external opponent to overcome external obstacles to reach an external goal.

A player wins the inner game when he can cultivate a spontaneous performance. The player then performs with a true self-confidence – calm and not trying too hard. The player’s mind is one with the body and he can surpass his limits.

There are three steps to develop one’s inner game: (1) learning to let go of judgements, (2) learning to trust yourself and (3) learning to program yourself with images rather than instructing with words.

Let Go of Judgements

The first step is to let go of judgements. Judgement is the self-imposed sense of “goodness” or “badness” that the player ascribes to the events that happen. A judgemental person is one who assigns a negative or a positive value to an event. The person is saying that some events are good, and he likes them, or they are bad, and he hates them.

Self-judgements become self-fulfilling prophecies. When a person judges himself, his inner self will act accordingly. He will begin to live according to these expectations. These expectations will perpetuate in his life until his mind establish a self-identity according to these.

In tennis, self-judgements also lead to emotional reactions and physical tightness, trying too hard and self-condemnation.

A person overcomes his judgement by seeing, feeling and being aware of what is. In tennis, the player does not have to think where the ball is, he simply sees it. He feels where the ball is and is aware of its movement. The player acknowledges his strengths, weaknesses, efforts and accomplishments.

Trusting Yourself

The second step is trusting yourself. What does it mean to trust yourself? Trusting yourself is not positive-thinking or overconfidence, convincing yourself to hit an ace in every serve. In the inner game, trusting yourself means to let your body hits the ball. The keyword is ‘let’. The player trusts in the competence of his body and mind, allowing himself to swing the racket.

Similar to self-judgement, not trusting yourself causes both mental and physical interference. These interferences result in physical tightness, mental distraction and lack of concentration.

A player who already knows how to swing the racket should trust his body to do it. A player who does not, should learn it. As he practices, his mind stores, refines and extends this movement in his memory. The mind remembers every action and the results of every action. The player should allow the natural learning process to take place and forget about the stroke-by-stroke instruction, similar to a baby learning how to walk.

Using Imagery

The last step is to program your mind using imagery, rather than words. Imagery is the mind’s native language. Using sensory images, you can hold the desired outcome that you want to achieve and let your body does the work.

To use the imagery technique, hold your desired results or form in your mind and allow the body to do what is necessary. The player must trust his body, refraining from giving itself instruction and from exerting controlled effort. The author stresses that it is important not to make any conscious effort when performing the action.

The Inner Game of Tennis demonstrates than winning in sports and life have both inner and outer game aspects. Overcoming the inner obstacles will allow a player to improve his skills continuously. However, this does not mean that the player should not practice his outer game. The book also dedicates a section to practice and perfect a player’s tennis technique.

Nonetheless, knowing these techniques is only the first step in winning any game. Only constant practise and hard work will help us to overcome any obstacle that life throws at us.

Click here to visit the Amazon book page (affiliate link), where it is available in multiple formats.

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How to Grow Your Startup with Data (Lean Analytics Book Review)

In the book Lean Startup, Eric Ries advocates entrepreneurs to build products that people love. However, entrepreneurs often find it difficult to know what people want. Most people do not know what they want, and entrepreneurs waste a lot of resources building something that no one buys. Fortunately, Lean Analytics illuminates ways to solve these problems.

In , Lean Analytics, the author attempts to guide readers to instil analytics mindset in their business, from validating products to preparing for acquisition. The book is massive, consisting of 30 chapters and over 400 pages. These pages originate from interviews involving over a hundred founders, investors and entrepreneurs.

The book is divided into four parts. Part 1 covers the fundamental analytics in business while Part 2 shows the applications of analytics. Part 3 discusses the baseline for business analytics. Finally, part 4 guides the readers to apply Lean Analytics to their organisations. This article reviews the book and provides a key summary of each chapter. The article also applies the insights to this blog’s growth. Finally, I will discuss the problems with the book.

Summary

Chapter 1 introduces readers to the Lean Analytics mindset. The core idea of Lean Analytics is knowing the kind of business you are, and the stage you’re at, you can track and optimize the One Metrics That Matters to your startup right now. 

A business is like a scientific experiment, where entrepreneurs have to test their hypothesis.The business survives if its hypothesis is correct, or it fails otherwise. And to test a hypothesis, the business will have to collect data. This continuous process of asking hypotheses and collecting data transform how entrepreneurs run their businesses. Lean Analytics help entrepreneurs to conduct these two processes effectively.

Chapter 2 discusses the aspects of a good metric such as being comparative and understandable. A good metric also needs to change the way you behave. Sometimes, businesses track their metrics not to test a hypothesis, but to make them feel good. If the businesses measure a metric that does not relate to their goals or affect their behaviour, they are only lying to themselves and wasting their time.

The authors also warn against tracking vanity metrics. A vanity metric is a piece of data that does not inform, guide or improve your business model. An example of a vanity metric is the number of signups, which tells nothing about the users and what they do. Alternatively, the authors advocate business to track actionable metrics.

Applying this insight to the blog, I can choose to track the number of visitors per day. However, this metric does not tell anything about what the visitors do or the types of posts that visitors read. As an alternative, I can track the number of visitors for each article and what types of posts do visitors like, comment and share. These metrics are more insightful because it guides me in my next decision.

As of now, the most popular most in the blog is “How to Write Well: 4 Steps to Improve Your Writing”. It received 7100 visitors on the day it was published. The post also has the most comments, likes and shares. My hypothesis is that visitors like an engaging, well-researched and well-written how-to guide. Hence, I could use this information to decide the posts that I will write in the future. If my hypothesis is correct, this blog will have a significant growth.

Next, chapter 3 discusses the questions that founders need to ask before starting a company. The authors recommend using the Lean Canvas framework to answer these questions. Chapter 4 brings the readers back to the importance of combining analytics with human introspection.

Chapter 5 reviews several analytics frameworks such as the Pirate Metrics, Engines of Growth, Lean Canvas and Startup Growth Pyramid. The authors propose a new model called Lean Analytics Stages, which combines the best of these frameworks.

Chapter 6 presents us with the concept, One Metrics That Matters (OMTM). OMTM is the metric that a startup needs to focus on above everything else at a particular stage. Although tracking metrics is good, startups can lose focus and track excessive metrics. Unfocused startups are less likely to succeed because they will waste resources while wandering aimlessly.

Next, chapter 7 discusses business models and how to come up with one, depending on your startups. The next chapters (8-13) examine six types of startups and their business models. These are e-commerce, Software as A Service (SaaS), mobile app, media site, user-generated content and two-sided marketplaces. Each chapter examines the important metrics, problems and challenges for the respective startups. After that, chapter 14 to 20 discusses each stage of the Lean Analytics Stages framework. These stages are empathy, stickiness, virality, revenue and scale.

Chapter 21 establishes the baseline for the metrics that startups track. For example, a 5% growth rate is a good baseline for a startup. The time period for this growth depends on which stage your startup is at. The chapter also outlines other key baselines for metrics such as pricing metrics, cost of customer acquisition, site engagement and web performance.

Similar to chapters 8 to 13, chapter 22 to 27 examine the metrics for the six types of startups. Part 3 ends with a review of these concepts and strategies when startups do not have a clear baseline. Chapter 29 outlines the advantages of having enterprise customers and important metrics. The final chapter recommends readers ways they can apply Lean Analytics concept in their organisation.

Although this book covers a lot of topics, it fails to dive deeper into the specifics. In fact, some chapters contain information that tends to be shallow and generic. For example, in chapter 11, the authors discuss the business model of a media site. I expected the chapter to include evidence of how media businesses achieve growth with certain strategies. Similarly, the book covers the key metrics for media site in chapter 25. These metrics are click-through rates, sessions-to-click ratio, referrers, engaged time and sharing. The chapter only briefly reviews each metric. A more detailed guide on how startups can adapt using these metrics would have been useful. These issues notwithstanding, this book is a comprehensive guide for anyone who wants to incorporate analytics mindset in his life.

Conclusion

Overall, the authors deliver the main objective of the book, which is to guide readers to instil analytics in their business, from validating products to preparing for acquisition. Additionally, the authors have provided readers with a specific framework to track these metrics, depending on which stages of business they are at. To conclude, I recommend this book to anyone who wants to use analytics to grow their business effectively. The book is massive and if your business is already growing fast, you will not have the time to read this cover-to-cover. Nonetheless, it is worth reading if you want to apply analytics in a systematic way.

Click here to get the book on Amazon.

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How to Write Well: 4 Steps to Improve Your Writing

“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” – Ernest Hemingway

Introduction 

Looking back, I always struggled with writing. I felt pain every time I try to fill a blank page. I could bear the pain of writing in high school, but I almost gave up in university. I could read many books and understand the lectures, but give me a writing task? My mind went blank as if I never understood any of the concepts. Maybe I do not understand what I learned and the struggle to write is a symptom. Or it could be that I have been reading bad writings in university, which affects my thought process. Or maybe some concepts are complex, and I struggle to communicate them. Nonetheless, writing is my major weakness.

I tried to search for help with my writing. Reading books on writing did nothing. Most books tend to give generic advice such as “Don’t use passive voice” or “Be clear”. These are bad advices, similar to how “just be yourself” is the worst dating advice. Everyone knows you should do it, but no one tells you why it works.

How do I isolate the mechanics of writing and focus on each component one by one, thereby improving my writing? After further research, I have explored the potential answers to these questions. This article will outline the aspects of good writing namely clarity, cohesiveness, emphasis and conciseness.

Table of Contents
1. Good writing is clear
2. Good writing is cohesive
3. Good writing has emphasis
4. Good writing is concise

Good writing is clear

Clear prose is one that a reader can understand. But it is not enough merely to be understandable. A statement can be easily understood yet tells nothing interesting to the reader. That is a common flaw in clickbait journalism like BuzzFeed. Readers can understand it, yet it does not captivate anyone. So, what makes prose clear and good? Clear prose is good when it tells a story. A story has two components – characters and actions. The characters are the subjects of the sentences that name the cast of the characters. Meanwhile, the actions are the verbs that go with these subjects.

Every prose can be simplified using these two principles. When your prose seems too complex, locate the cast of characters and their actions. Remove the unnecessary information and focus on these two components. Once you have clear subjects and their action, add more information if needed.

A prose may also be difficult to read when it has unnecessary nominalisations. Nominalisation is the process of making a noun from a verb or an adjective. Since nominalisation is a noun, it does not carry the same weight to the prose like an action word. Prose that contains a subject and a nominalisation lacks the element of a good story. Consider the following examples:

1. Our lack of knowledge about local conditions precluded determination of committee action effectiveness in fund allocation to those areas in greatest need of assistance.

2. Because we know nothing about the local conditions, we could not determine how effectively the committee had allocated funds to areas that need the most assistance.

Readers will find (2) clearer than (1). Not only (2) relies on fewer nominalisations than (1), it also uses more verbs that express actions. (2) also tells the readers a story. There are clear subjects (we, committee) and the actions know, determine and allocate. This creates a clear story in (2) and makes it more interesting than (1). 

Good writing is cohesive

Cohesive prose means that the separate sentences that form the prose flow into a single, unified whole. Williams and Colomb (1990) illustrate the principle of cohesion:

“Put at the beginning of a sentence those ideas that you have already mentioned, referred to, or implied, or concepts that you can reasonably assume your reader is already familiar with, and will readily recognize.”

The principle suggests that we focus on one concept at a time. Prose that does this will have a consistent topic string, which will make it feels more focused and cohesive. Prose that breaks this rule, such as an arduously long sentence usually does not focus on one topic. Hence, the reader will struggle to assemble these concepts into a cohesive discourse. Consider the following examples:

1. The hotel is famous. It is one of the most well-known hotels in the country. The latest international dancing competition was held at the hotel. The hotel spent a lot of money to advertise the event. Because the hotel wanted to gain an international reputation. But not many people attended the event.

2. The hotel, which is one of the most well-known hotels in this region, wanted to promote its image around the world by hosting the latest international dancing competition. Although the event was widely advertised, not many people participated in the competition.

The first paragraph has inconsistent topic strings, such as hotel, international dancing competition and people. These topics strings are not introduced properly, hence, it feels disjointed. Furthermore, the characters do not have any actions attached to it, making the paragraph lacks a story. The lack of story and the inconsistent topic strings make the paragraph confusing. 

Compare this to the second paragraph, where it has only two topic strings, hotel and event. The character, hotel has an action wanted. The combination of a character and an action creates a story in the sentence. In addition, the second sentence starts by repeating the event, which the writer has mentioned in the first sentence. Therefore, the second paragraph has a story and consistent topic strings. As a result, the paragraph feels more cohesive.

Good writing has emphasis

Prose has a good emphasis when it ends itself well. To emphasise, Williams and Colomb (1990) suggest readers to:

“Put at the end of your sentence the newest, the most surprising, the most significant information: information that you want to stress – perhaps the information that you will expand on in your next sentence.”

Most writers struggle to write well when the subjects use technical terms. Technical terms are confusing when they are not introduced properly. This technique is helpful when communicating complex information that requires technical terms. When you introduce complex information, design the sentence that it appears in, so that you can locate that term at the end.

Why does this work? When you end a sentence with a good emphasis, the readers know what to expect in the sentence. A sentence that does not end with an emphasis, will feel monotonous. Also, putting the emphasis at the end has more impact on the reader’s feeling. Consider the following examples:

1. My friend John commented, “The movie Captain America was thrilling”.
2. “The movie Captain America was thrilling”, my friend John commented.

In the first sentence, the word “thrilling” is the emphasis, which is a strong endorsement for the film. In the second example, the sentence ends with the word “commented”, which does not carry any impact. Meanwhile, the word “thrilling” is buried in the middle of the sentence. This diminishes its impact to the readers. 

Good writing is concise

Prose is concise when it gives a lot of information clearly and in the fewest words. Williams and Colomb (1990) outline two principles to be concise:

a. Compress what you mean into the fewest words
b. Don’t state what your reader can easily refer

Principle (a) means writers should remove any redundancy or unnecessary wordiness in the prose. Principle (b) means that we remove attribution that does not add anything to the prose. One way that a writer can violate these two principles is by using an attribution. An attribution tells the reader the source of ideas or facts. When the attribution does not add anything to the point, it should be removed. Consider the following examples:

      “Regular patterns of drought and precipitation have been found to coincide with cycles of sunspot activity” 

which can be simplified to:

      “Regular patterns of drought and precipitation coincide with cycles of sunspot activity”

Not only the phrase “have been found” adds nothing to the prose, it also does not state the subject. Removing the phrase will make the prose above more concise.

Conclusion

To conclude, I have identified the aspects of good writing, which are clarity, cohesiveness, emphasis and conciseness. Any writer who aspires to improve their crafts should practice these aspects. Nonetheless, these are not the panacea for all your struggles with writing. There are many other aspects of good writing. And only with continuous practice and the iterative process of writing will help you to improve this craft. 

Books and resources on writing well

  1. Style: Toward Clarity and Grace
  2. The Craft of Writing Effectively (YouTube)
  3. Ohio State University: The Function and Value of Academic Writing

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