About · Posts · Categories · Projects · Mailing List

On the topic of life skills Michele Borba's book "UnSelfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World" is one of my favorites. It presents a case for why empathy is a critical skill and how it can be fostered in children.

Professionally as a Product Manager empathy is something I'm continually honing and practicing. My responsibility is to determine the stakeholder's (e.g. user's, team member's) need. Out of all the things we can build given a constrained set of time and resources, which ones will have the greatest value? I must put myself into the position of the stakeholder in order to understand their need. I must empathize.

Unknowing I began to foster my ability to empathize at a young age. One of my favorite games was setting up and acting out movie like scenes with my G. I. Joe action figures. I'd imagine elaborate worlds and scenes where my hero would fall under duress and battle his way through to redemption. I imagined what he was feeling, what his allies were feeling, what the villains were feeling. I'd act out the scenes, conversations, and of course the action. I'd stretch out the scenes imagining my hero experiencing a range of emotions. It was exciting to create these scenes in my mind. And as I let my imagination flow I was honing my ability to empathize.

Imagination is a pre-requisite for empathy. You cannot empathize with someone if you can't imagine what they feel or need. I believe if we want a child to develop empathy, we must encourage them to use their imagination. The how they do it is not important. It could be playing a video game where they have a connection to emotional state of the characters in the game. It could be watching a film, reading a book, or creating a fictitious world with G.I. Joes. Put them in a situation where the mind starts imagining and they'll begin to empathize with their environment.

In my 2016 post I set a few goals for 2017. Travel more (visited Sweden and Denmark). Launch a project (Bechant). Read (see below). Refine my diet (tried Keto, low-carb, learned a ton about nutrition) and exercise regiment (hello Kettle bells). And explore the great city of New York (done and done!).

Beyond the goals one experience stands out from 2017. The weekend long retreat I took in January with meditation teacher and author Tara Brach. I learned a lot about myself and met a lot of great people during the weekend. It coincided with the release of a new album by my all time favorite musician Mike Oldfield (first link in Albums section). Now every time I listen to the album the wave of emotions from the weekend envelop me. It was during this weekend that I wrote the post "A moment with my future self".

In the last quarter of 2017 I made a big change professionally by switching to part-time work. I spent my free hours diving deep into several industries (school nutrition, social emotional learning) seeking out potential entrepreneurial pursuits. Although I didn't find a concrete problem to solve, I learned a lot about the industries and also about my process for researching and refining a problem. My biggest takeaway? Remain disciplined. Make progress everyday. Read something, brainstorm, do something everyday. And eventually one idea can spark something bigger.

And so in 2018 my priority is discipline (borrowing from the first book in the Books list below). Setting up processes and habits I will follow everyday to make progress in relationships, music, career, personal projects, health and fitness. Did I mention music? I'm excited to say that I'm working on original music again! The last time I put out music was in 2012, so I'm already excited for what's to come in 2018.

And so here is to a disciplined 2018, here are some of my favorites from 2017...

 

 Books

Posts

Movies

Albums

NYC Places to eat/go

wait just start posts

In May 2000 Christina Sommers published a long-form piece on The Atlantic titled "The War Against Boys". Sommers argued that the "crisis" of schools and society favoring boys and harming (or holding back) girls was built on misleading and erroneous research. And that reality was the opposite was true, girls are thriving and boys are falling behind.

How did we reach the conclusion that American girls are in crisis? Sommers writes:

The answer has much to do with one of the American academy's most celebrated women—Carol Gilligan, Harvard University's first professor of gender studies.

In 1990 Gilligan announced that America's adolescent girls were in crisis.

Gilligan offered little in the way of conventional evidence to support this alarming finding. Indeed, it is hard to imagine what sort of empirical research could establish such a large claim. But she quickly attracted powerful allies.

Popular writers, electrified by Gilligan's discovery, began to see evidence of the crisis everywhere.

To support her point of research misrepresenting the "crisis", Sommer discusses several self-esteem studies commissioned by the American Association of University Women (AAUW).

In 1991 the association announced the disturbing results, in a report titled Shortchanging Girls, Shortchanging America: "Girls aged eight and nine are confident, assertive, and feel authoritative about themselves. Yet most emerge from adolescence with a poor self-image, constrained views of their future and their place in society, and much less confidence about themselves and their abilities."

The AAUW quickly commissioned a second study, How Schools Shortchange Girls.This one, conducted by the Wellesley College Center for Research on Women and released in 1992, focused on the alleged effects of sexism on girls' school performance

The studies received national coverage:

With great fanfare How Schools Shortchange Girls was released to the remarkably uncritical media. A 1992 article for The New York Times by Susan Chira was typical of coverage throughout the country. The headline read "Bias Against Girls is Found Rife in Schools, With Lasting Damage." The piece was later reproduced by the AAUW and sent out as part of a fundraising package. Chira had not interviewed a single critic of the study.

Sommers connected with Susan Chira and asked her why alternative opinions were not sought:

She explained that she (Chira) had been traveling when the AAUW study came out, and was on a short deadline. Yes, perhaps she had relied too much on the AAUW's report. She had tried to reach Diane Ravitch, who had then been the former U.S. assistant secretary of education and was a known critic of women's-advocacy findings, but without success.

Six years later the Times ran another piece on the study:

Six years after the release of How Schools Shortchange Girls, The New York Times ran a story that raised questions about its validity. This time the reporter, Tamar Lewin, did reach Diane Ravitch, who told her, "That [1992] AAUW report was just completely wrong. What was so bizarre is that it came out right at the time that girls had just overtaken boys in almost every area. It might have been the right story twenty years earlier, but coming out when it did, it was like calling a wedding a funeral.... There were all these special programs put in place for girls, and no one paid any attention to boys."

But it was too late, the misleading crisis had become mainstream and drove policy decisions:

Categorizing girls as an "under-served population" on a par with other discriminated-against minorities, Congress passed the Gender Equity in Education Act in 1994. Millions of dollars in grants were awarded to study the plight of girls and to learn how to counter bias against them.


This chain of events is one example of the danger of unquestioningly accepting headlines and studies. Particularly when it comes to sensitive issues such as gender disparities. We should strive to question the studies, question who benefits, validate the journalist did their research prior to accepting the conclusions as irrevocably true.

Yet isn't that the fundamental responsibility of the media? To share facts, to pull in alternative perspectives, to present an unbiased and comprehensive story? Citizens can't be expected to fact check every published news article. Who has time for that?

And yet reality is journalists are people. People on deadline, people with ulterior motives. People who don't hear back from potential sources. Based on the news outlets we choose to read, we trust the judgment of the journalist and editor. We trust that they are presenting the story in the best (unbiased) way they can knowing what they know. But that trust should come with some skepticism.

The media's primary job is summed up succinctly in one sentence by political commentator Ben Shapiro:

The job of the media is to defend the public from untruth.

Unless you have complete trust in your media sources, continue to question. Dig deeper. There can be much more to the story than the headline's conclusions.

Introduction

The Ketogenic diet is rapidly ascending into the mainstream. Check out this Google Trends chart for the search term "Ketogenic diet":

KetoDiet-GoogleTrends

The diet is essentially a low carb, high fat diet. The Atkins Diet is a kind of Ketogenic diet.

It's revered by those that have adopted it and the various health benefits are profound. They include: weight loss, lack of hunger, clearer thinking (no more "brain fog"), lower blood pressure, improved skin appearance and increased energy. People that go Keto continue to tout how good they feel because of the diet.

Yet transitioning to Keto from a traditional US diet can be challenging. No carbs?! What the heck do I eat? And with the increasing number of online resources and meal plans it can be overwhelming to get started.

My goal with this post is to not convince you to adopt the diet. Instead I aim to introduce you to the Ketogenic diet and document how I followed it for two weeks. I'll share links to resources and products that helped me. This will give you a starting point for "going Keto".

If you have any questions send me a note: andrei@forwardshapes.com

TL;DR / Bullets

  1. If you have a pre-existing kidney or heart condition, avoid this diet.
  2. The Ketogenic diet macronutrients breakdown is: 70-75% Fat, 20-25% Protein, 5-10% Carbs.
  3. Restrict your daily Net Carb intake to 25-40 grams.
  4. Ketosis happens by restricting Carbs. Not by eating Fat.
  5. Your choices of Fats matter. Think more avocados, less ice cream.
  6. Here is everything I ate for 2 weeks.
  7. My goal during the diet was to either maintain or gain a little bit of weight.
  8. Weigh and record everything you eat. Purchase a food scale and maintain a diet journal in a tool like MyFitnessPal.
  9. Get your Electrolytes! Maintain your levels of Magnesium, Sodium, and Potassium.
  10. I'm not endorsing the products linked in this post, they are just the ones I used. The Amazon product links are affiliate links.

Warning

If you have a pre-existing kidney or heart condition, this diet is not recommended.

Please review the "Who Should Not Follow A Ketogenic Diet" document from Ketogenic-Diet-Resource.com.

If in doubt, check with your physician.

Keto 101

The Ketogenic diet is a low carb, high fat diet.

If followed correctly your body will enter a state of Ketosis. A metabolic state where your body switches from using carbohydrates to fats as your primary energy source. Fats are converted into Ketones which are metabolized by your cells for energy.

In order to enter Ketosis, you'll need to restrict Carbs to about 20-50 grams per day. The exact number varies by individual so it will require some experimentation. Remember, Ketosis happens by restricting Carbs, not by eating Fat.

During my two week period I was in the range of 25-40 grams of Net Carbs.

Here is the daily nutrient caloric breakdown of the Ketogenic diet:

  1. 70-75% calories from Fat
  2. 20-25% calories from Protein
  3. 5-10% calories from Carbohydrates*

*Count Net Carbs (Carbs - Fiber = Net Carbs). For example if you ate an Avocado that is 12g Carbs and 10g Fiber, Net Carbs equals 2g.

What I Ate For Two Weeks

Disclaimer: I'm a skinny and active 30 year old male living in New York City (I walk a lot). My goal was to either maintain or gain weight while on the diet. Thus my Protein intake was a bit higher than the norm. Use my meals as a starting point and adjust to your needs.

Andrei's Two Week Ketogenic Diet Meals Google Sheet

The above sheet contains a detailed Breakfast/Lunch/Dinner/Snacks/Supplements breakdown of everything I ate for two weeks.

Below is a randomly selected day in a simplified breakdown:

September 13, 2017:

  • Total Calories = 2,833
  • Fat = 212g (69%)
  • Protein = 173g (25%)
  • NET Carbs = 32g (5%)*

*If the macro percentages seem off, read this.

Breakfast (Calories: 1,308)

Fat: 110g /// Protein: 48g /// Net Carbs: 8g

  1. Salad
    1. Spinach (1 cup)
    2. Power Greens Mix (Kale, Chard, Spinach) (1 cup)
    3. Pasture Raised Organic Eggs, soft boiled (3)
    4. Liverwurst (118 grams)
    5. Avocado (1 medium)
    6. Himalayan Salt (1/4 teaspoon)
    7. Cold Pressed Virgin Coconut Oil (1 tablespoon)
  2. Bulletproof Coffee
    1. Black Coffee (2 cups)
    2. Kerrygold Unsalted Grass-Fed Butter (1 tablespoon)
    3. Bulletproof Brain Octane Oil (2 tablespoons)

Lunch (Calories: 1,057)

Fat: 73g /// Protein: 76g /// Net Carbs: 14g

  1. Salad
    1. Power Greens Mix (Kale, Chard, Spinach) (2 cups)
    2. Liverwurst (88 grams)
    3. Trader Joe's Canned Wild Caught Sockeye Salmon (1 can)
    4. Kerrygold Aged Cheddar
    5. Cauliflower (53 grams)
    6. Cucumber (34 grams)
    7. Tomato (55 grams)
    8. Avocado (1 medium)
    9. Gold's Horseradish (2 teaspoons)
    10. Olive Oil (1 tablespoon)
    11. Himalayan Salt (1/4 teaspoon)

Dinner (Calories: 288)

Fat: 17g /// Protein: 33g /// Net Carbs: 6g

  1. Meal
    1. Chicken Thighs (149 grams)
    2. Steamed Broccoli (134 grams)
    3. Pure Indian Foods Grass-Fed Ghee (14 grams)

Snacks (Calories: 180)

Fat: 12g /// Protein: 16g /// Net Carbs: 4g

  1. Green Tea (2 cups)
  2. Rooibos Tea (2 cups)
  3. Pure Indian Foods Grass-Fed Ghee (14 grams)
  4. Good Karma Flax Milk Unsweetened with Protein (2 cups)

Electrolyte Supplements

  1. Potassium (1 teaspoon)
  2. Himalayan Salt (1/2 teaspoon)
  3. Magnesium (300 mg)

Keto Flu & Electrolytes

The Keto Flu is a thing and you may experience some side effects from going low carb.

The side effects and their duration will depend on your unique situation (past diet, current diet, body composition, etc.). For example if you go from eating 300g to 30g of Carbs a day, you will shock your body.

The good news is our bodies are incredibly resilient and eventually adapt to the new energy source. But it will take time and some fortitude.

The side effects I experienced were light-headedness and leg cramps. The cramps came at night or early in the morning. I would also get fatigued while climbing stairs after coming home from work. My problem was I wasn't getting enough Sodium. After increasing my Sodium intake I started to feel better and the cramps went away.

In order to mitigate the Keto Flu side effects, you must maintain your Electrolyte levels.

This means everyday you'll need:

Every morning I made a cocktail with warm water, Sodium, Potassium, and Apple Cider Vinegar. I drank that with Magnesium pills. Reference my meals spreadsheet for portion sizes.

Products

Here are various random products I used that helped me adhere to the diet. I don't endorse these, but I was happy with all of them. The Amazon product links are affiliate links.

Tools

  • MyFitnessPal App: This app made it really easy to track everything I was eating. It's not necessary, but it makes things so much easier. To track Macros you'll need to upgrade to the Premium version ($9.99/month)
  • Food scale: A must have in order to weigh out your portions

Food

Resources

Websites

Podcast Episodes

  • The Tim Ferriss Show
    • Episode #117: Dom D’Agostino on Fasting, Ketosis, and the End of Cancer
    • Episode #172: Dom D’Agostino — The Power of the Ketogenic Diet
    • Episode #188: Dom D’Agostino on Disease Prevention, Cancer, and Living Longer
  • The Joe Rogan Podcast
  • FoundMyFitness Podcast by Rhonda Patrick
    • March 23, 2016: Dominic D'Agostino, Ph.D. on Modified Atkins Diet, Ketosis, Supplemental Ketones and More

Books/Documents

People to follow on Twitter

Isaac Asimov's "I, Robot" is a collection of short stories about robots whose existence is governed by the Three Laws of Robotics:

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws

Asimov first introduced the three laws in his 1942 short story "Runaround" (story #2 in "I, Robot").

With artificial intelligence (AI) becoming prevalent in mainstream society, I've found Asimov's laws to be quite pertinent. In particular around the fears and doomsday scenarios emanating from AI. The fear is that humans will give birth to a new species that through recursive self-improvement will grow beyond our control as it becomes far more intelligent than we imagine.

Tim Urban, in his two part AI series gives an example of AI reaching a level of intelligence that is equivalent to the gap between a human and an ant:

A machine on the second-to-highest step on that staircase would be to us as we are to ants—it could try for years to teach us the simplest inkling of what it knows and the endeavor would be hopeless.

Imagine trying to explain your name to an ant. Or to an organism that has no concept of language or words. An organism so primitive compared to humans that we feel virtually no remorse when squishing one. Now imagine AI communicating with us in a form we have no concept of. What happens if it perceives us in the same way that we perceive ants?

Elon Musk is a proponent for developing AI in a responsible and safe way. He encapsulates his fear in a possible outcome from tasking AI with getting rid of spam email:

(The AI) concludes that the best way to get rid of spam is to get rid of humans.

To combat an AI overlord Musk co-founded OpenAI, a non-profit research company whose mission is to:

Discover and enact the path to safe artificial general intelligence.

So are Asimov's three laws science fiction? Or is humanity on a trajectory to a society where some iteration of these three laws exist? Will OpenAI produce some equivalent of the three laws? Who will be responsible for implementing and regulating them? How will we ensure that every AI that is created abides by them? The established laws will be meaningless if one country abides by them but another does not.

In Asimov's last story of "I, Robot", "The Evitable Conflict" robot psychologist Susan Calvin and World Co-ordinator (leader) Stephen Byerley share a discussion on the purpose of machines (AI) and the anti-machine movement.

"But you are telling me, Susan, that the ‘Society for Humanity’ is right; and that Mankind has lost its own say in its future."

"It never had any, really. It was always at the mercy of economic and sociological forces it did not understand—at the whims of climate, and the fortunes of war. Now the Machines understand them; and no one can stop them, since the Machines will deal with them as they are dealing with the Society,—having, as they do, the greatest of weapons at their disposal, the absolute control of our economy."

"How horrible!"

“Perhaps how wonderful! Think, that for all time, all conflicts are finally evitable. Only the Machines, from now on, are inevitable!”

In this discussion the "Society for Humanity" (anti-machine movement) believes that machines are controlling the future of humanity. Yet Susan Calvin states that humanity was never in control. Prior to machines we were controlled by economic and sociological forces we didn't understand. This resulted in wars, economic depressions. But machines learned and understood these forces at a level humanity did not. The machines now controlled these forces. And because of the three laws, they controlled them in such a way where the outcomes would result in no harm to humans.

So it appears that Asimov provided us with a warning: regulate the machines before they regulate us.