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Monthly THINKERING: Getting Healthy-errr April 1, 2010

Posted by huymix in Food, Monthly Thinkerings.
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Let’s get physical, physical, I wanna get physical… Aside from my secret love of Olivia Newton John’s classic, I did want to talk about getting healthy. One of the classic problems in North America is this idea of massive obesity and how it’s an epidemic yet there is also an obsession (that you don’t find as much of in the rest of the world, certainly not in Asia) with diet and exercise.

This is not really going to be a review but a set of thoughts around the topic of getting healthy.

Health and Weight

One of the main issues I have with the way health is addressed in North America (I’ll just start saying Canada but I do mean North America) is the equivalence of personal health and weight. First of all, a person is healthy along a spectrum of health, it is not binary. Also, a person’s weight is healthy across a spectrum as well. Neither is binary and where someone exists in the spectrum of either health or weight does not necessarily equate to their position on the other. One area of confusion is the fact that there is a concession on a large scale (nationally or provincially) to use the BMI indicator which does equate health and weight. While it is understandable at a national level that a more practical (even if much more rough and less accurate) measure such as BMI would be acceptable, it’s use has lent credibility to the notion that it will work for an individual person. If you really want to get healthy, stop thinking about the weight it’s not the same thing.

More than some motivation is required

A major hole in any program, be it Atkins, Zone or P90X, is the issue of motivation. To go from a sedentary life to one that is much more active (and would probably need to change food attitudes) requires major motivation. The motivation does not actually have to last long, you need motivation to change attitudes towards food and activity which requires a higher intensity of motivation. This is often the hardest part to get over. The idea that you have to change what you define as normal in both food and activity. Once a new “normal” is set, you can cruise, it’s getting to that new “normal” that is the big problem.

Structure

Alright, so by now you might be guessing that I do not advocate any special diet or exercise plan. In fact, I hardly want to say go exercise. What I do advocate is stepping back and looking at the way your life is structured and figuring out how you can turn things you know are good for you (and maybe feel guilty about not doing) into regular parts of your life.

An example

Let’s use myself as an example, I am a big guy (about 90 kilos or 200 lbs and 5’10”) and would be classified as overweight by BMI standards. I don’t care because I am pretty healthy despite what BMI says.  I used to weigh in at 230 lbs back in first year university so things were worse. By no means did I ever consider myself crazy obese or anything (and I don’t really care about that label anyhow) but I wasn’t the fittest fiddle either because I knew I lived a very sedentary life. What happened to change all of that? A few things changed, #1 I got back to Judo. Now I posted about Judo before but I have a childhood link to judo and a club that is great. I never view judo as a means for exercise, and I go very regularly. #2 I decided that vegetables and fruits would become the dominant food group in my regular life. This was much harder than just going to judo as I do love meat but I eat as close to my 8-10 servings of fruit and vegetables a day. I had to convince myself that this is the normal food that I will eat and after a while it became normal and expected.

Final Thinkering

In order for you or someone you know get healthy in a significant way, they have to be fully convinced that the new healthier way is the new normal way. Otherwise, they will just slip back into the old sedentary way. Address the mind first and the body will follow.

Note: I actually try to meet the food pyramid (it’s tough but it’s a good guide).

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MARCH THINKERING: Video Game Reviews March 1, 2010

Posted by huymix in Monthly Thinkerings, Videogames.
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To be honest, one of the reasons I decided to even start the Snuh Zone was my dissatisfaction with videogame reviews. I always found that they were lacking (in general) from a few key areas that can be ironed out. The overarching problem that fuels my thoughts on videogame reviews is a lack of perspective. While most are well-written (certainly better than my writing) the perspective problem undermines videogame reviews.

Unclear/Not Cohesive

To start off, many videogame reviews you might read do not describe a strong opinion one way or another. One of the many ways to detect that ambiguity is the classic “it’s good but….” or “that’s bad but….”. As a reader I just want to know whether or not I should play/buy the game and why. I think the way some reviews go is by starting at a 10 (or the equivalent) and writing down as they are playing various points of deductions or praise. While I have no problem with referencing specific points, that approach is also confusing. Here’s a prime example from Gamepro on Darksiders, “I liked Darksiders enough that I’m going to recommend that gamers try to look past the shameless cribbing of ideas and discover the relatively worthwhile action experience hidden underneath.” From that quote I guess you should pick it up but who really knows.

Inconcise

There’s a reason people tend to just go to the score of a game and that Metacritic is so widely-used. A lot of the writing just drones on and on. 1up.com does an alright job of being relatively concise but even then they do not always cut to the chase. There’s the argument that the review ought to support the score and thus you need a lot of space. The problem is the writing is abstract and it is tough to maintain any level of interest. Giantbomb.com “quick looks” have become popular because people would rather see the game itself and not have to read someone’s attempt to translate game mechanics.

Small Scope Audience

Even within the gamer-collective, videogame reviews tend to write towards an audience that is the hardest of the hardcore. While they definitely have the hardcore gamer as part of their audience, that group of people is still relatively small. To most people all the 133t-speak and other references to other games is almost written off as an insider-language. If all I play is my DS, how does describing Dante’s Inferno as God of War help me understand the value of the game. Or saying, “Wii Play is not a game” while there are plenty of people who think of Wii Play as a game equally and enjoy the heck out of cow racing. If you think Wii Play is not a game than you have got your blinders on too tight.

Impersonal Perspective

Roger Ebert is a divisive critic and there are many who have an opinion as to whether or not they agree with his perspective. Oftentimes, the review is representative of the site/magazine and not really of the person. This dehumanization of the review comes across as false as when Stephen Colbert says “I don’t see race, people tell me I’m white and I choose to believe them”. Everyone knows that any review is a personal view and to not bring up the reviewer more prominently only fuels more “Your site is BIASED!!!111!!”. While many would believe Ebert is biased, it’s trivial to really point that out.

Singular-element focus

Controls-art-music-story-multiplayer. Check, check, check and check. That’s the way a lot of reviews are structured. IGN is notorious for having a ridiculously prescribed structure to reviews. I will often call out an element of a review as well but only when I feel like it is of any interest to me.  Leave that stuff for the academic discussion the masses do not care.

How does all of the above tie-in with the lack of perspective I noted at the beginning? I believe that the reasons behind each of those problems stems from the fact that the decisions to write reviews in that way is not driven by what the reader cares about. If reviews were written with the reader as the primary consideration, you would definitely see much better reviews.

MONTHLY THINKERINGS: Business Valuations and Stock Prices February 1, 2010

Posted by huymix in Business, Monthly Thinkerings.
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I can’t say I’m a rich guy or anything. Truthfully, I just live paycheque-to-paycheque. However, there are problems with stock prices and business valuation that is messed up.

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Before I go on, I’ll break this up into 2 parts: Business Valuations; and Stock Prices.

Business Valuations

A general principle of business valuation is that the value of a business is the discounted future cash flows of a company. So, if you estimate that the company is going to get say $1 M for 10 years you can put a price on that to someone who wants to receive $1 M for 10 years. Instead of getting $10 M over 10 years, maybe you get $6 M today instead. We see these types of discounting particularly in lotteries where they present the option of taking the full $ value or the “lump sum”. Lump sum is the same, more easy to understand, term for the $ 6 M in my example.This is in a very general sense the way businesses are valued.

What is wrong with the above scenario? In a perfect world, nothing, in the real world:

  1. Estimate Certainty. Future cash flows are guesses at best. If we could somehow guarantee $1 M per year that’s a whole different story. A business’ ability to get that cash is based on their ability to draw enough customers and to be profitable. Even companies with smart manager’s, a good product, and a strong customer base cannot guarantee their future cash flows because the world acts in unpredictable ways.
  2. Length of Estimates. A lot of the time, the value is discounted for extremely long times or even infinite (if you’re using a multiplier than that is across infinite). So not only does a business valuation rest on guesses, it’s relying on guessing into the far future. These cash flows have a built in assumption of predictability. If you asked AOL in 1995 how their cash flows would look in 2010, and compared them to actual, I’m sure you would be surprised at how differently the world and the business environment changes.
  3. Actual Cash Flow. There is the problem that the idea that a company is generating a lot of cash and that money should eventually flow to the owner in the form of dividends is not generally in line with the cash that will be paid to the owner. Microsoft is the classic example of a company that has more cash on hand than it knows what to do with, yet they have traditionally paid no dividends. That might have changed in the last few years since I don’t follow them as much anymore. The cash they generated is the basis for a lot of valuation as opposed to the cash you would actually get in your pocket.

Unfortunately, when you see something like: “Most Valuable Companies You Don’t Own” type of articles out there, they will have the above problems and they won’t bother to really tell you about them. In a perfect world, the stock price would take the above business valuation and translate that to Stock Prices.

Stock Prices

Stock prices should in theory be some sort of consensus on a business’ valuation. I think the price is more like a compromised average it has very little to do with the actual value of a business for the following reasons:

  • Dumb people with lots of money. The stock price is swayed by number of shares purchased at a certain price. That makes some sense if you’re dealing with buyers that have any sense. Unfortunately, the price a person is willing to pay for a share is not necessarily well founded, researched, or even thought through. The assumption is that only smart, rational people are buying, but we all know that’s not the truth.
  • Over/Under Reaction to News. One of the benefits of a public stock exchange and stock prices is that it is supposed to reflect the immediate changes in value from news. The problem is, when news hits, there is often a major gap in the supply of information. A topical example is Applet’s latest Tablet device. This thing could be the next iPod/iPhone or it could turn into another dud. The point is, people are trying to price the news without any real good information.

Stock prices include all of the problems of a Business Valuation with the added volatility of dumb people getting to vote with their money and reacting to news without good information. While I don’t know how to really address these problems, the only thing I could say to you is if you’re choosing to enter the stock market or buy into a company keep the above in mind and tread lightly.

JAN 2010 THINKERING: Top 10 Lists January 1, 2010

Posted by huymix in Monthly Thinkerings.
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The end of one year and the beginning of a new year always brings about “Top whatever Lists of the Year”. This year is particularly bad because a lot of people are saying the best of the decade. There is a pretty nerdy argument saying the decade does not end until the end of 2010 but that is really semantics.

These lists come in all sorts of flavours and for all sorts of things. I don’t need to run down the types of lists you can come across since chances are you have run into your fair share of them (it would also be an impossible task for me to completely categorize all the lists). Also, while I refer to Top 10 lists, this post is meant to cover Top 10 lists and their equivalents which includes lists of higher or lower numbers.

While I would like to say that I hate Top 10 lists (or there bigger or smaller equivalents) I am often curious as to the results of a Top 10 list. However, I feel it’s a bit of a cheap trick for media outlets to use a Top 10 list to draw an audience. The Top 10 list is a trick like how the evening news runs commercials that just say “How everyday household product X may  be LETHAL!!”. Top 10 lists are not quite that transparent of a trick but they are pretty darn close.

Anyways, there are some good reasons to avoid the temptation of checking out Top 10 lists (spoiler, my reasons are below).

Separated by arbitrary/irrelevant reasons

Top 10 lists are often separated annually. However, for most people annual categorization is meaningless. Exceptions are for things that occur on an annual basis (i.e. Christmas) and thus would be more useful. An example of a useful annual Top 10 would be say Christmas albums. If you’re interested in the best Christmas albums, a list like that would probably be pretty useful. For most other subjects, an annual basis is irrelevant to the consumer.

Take movies as an example of a possible Top 10 list. If it were a particularly bad year for movie quality and the bottom 5 were only a bit better than mediocre should the public just watch those movies? Probably not, because the consumer is not confined to movie releases in the year. Who cares if an awesome movie was released this year or last year or 40 years ago? A good movie is a good movie. I just had my first viewing of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and despite its age (over 40 years old) its still awesome.

No added information

These lists do not help inform a decision as to whether to do something or not. Granted some Top 10 lists are not meant to aid consumers (an example being AdWeeks Top Commercials of the decade) but enough of them are for products/services that are aimed at consumers.

If someone told you they did something because it made #1 on some Top 10 list, you would probably raise your eyebrows at them. That’s because we know that the ranking has no real information and that in order for a consumer to be motivated to act we need some good reasons (good reasons often do not coincide with the most rational reasons).

Fuels squabbling

If you have ever been in a situation where you’re in the middle of 2 people who argue you know its a situation that is often awkward, boring and drawn out. Top 10 lists only add fuel to squabbling, in both real life and in our fake Internet lives. Very seldomly do you see civil discourse and that is a good enough reasons to avoid Top 10 lists.

Final Thinkerings

It’s in our nature to want to organize and make sense of our world. So when someone steps out there and offers an organized look at something we are not steeped in (say albums released in the year) its easy to go for it. Like I said, I am drawn to these lists just like anyone else but you have to remember that sometimes “The Top 10” is the sort of cheap trick that should not be rewarded.