30 day challenge: learn 30 new words

For the record, here’s the words I ended up learning this month:

ana: the collection of memorable sayings, writings, or other information of an interesting person.
brumous: misty, foggy
capax: legally competent
daggle: to soil by dragging in the mud
deosculate: to kiss affectionately
dorty: bad-tempered
ensky: to make immortal
eoan: related to the dawn or the east
foss: ditch or canal; an artificial stream
gurry: diarrhea
hwyl: an emotional outburst of eloquence (Welsh)
incondite: crude, unfinished
jehu: someone who loves to drive. a fast driver
kalon: the kind of beauty that is more than skin deep
leal: faithful, loyal, true. Correct, accurate, real. Legal, lawful, just.
lusk: a lazy person
milpita: a little cornfield
nixie: a letter so badly addressed it can’t be delivered
ort: a leftover tidbit
pukka: real, authentic. Superior.
queme: pleasant, agreeable, suitable
rudas: an ugly foul-mouthed old hag
sipid: tasty, flavorful
tiffin: a snack or light lunch
udometer: a rain gauge
vega: a fertile meadow
verbophobia: fear and dislike of words
wanion: a plague. A vengeance
xenium: a present given to a guest
yex: hiccup, cough
zimme: a gem

Also: Happy New Year, everyone!

Start the year off right: empty your email and take some time off from Twitter/Facebook

Want to get a fresh start on the new year? Here’s a few quick tips:

– Start the year off with an empty inbox in Gmail. It’s pretty simple to do: you assign a label for everything in your inbox right now, then archive everything so your inbox is empty. You can still dig into that label if you want to work down your email backlog, but it feels great to start the new year fresh. Follow the steps to declare a lightweight email bankruptcy, with the chance of still responding to those emails down the road.

– Do a one week (or one month!) digital cleanse by staying off Twitter and Facebook. I think I’ve said before that if you want to fill five minutes, Twitter is a great way to fill 35 minutes. Sometimes I end up spending more time on Twitter than I mean to, so last year I took a week off from Twitter, which turned into a month off. It’s easier than you might think–why not try a digital cleanse yourself? I’m going to do this digital cleanse for at least a while.

Also think about what you want from this year. Resolutions work for some people and not for others. But if you come up with even a single area you’d like to explore more, it helps you to recognize those opportunities throughout the year.

In 2009 for example, I went on 10-11 trips. When I looked back, I realized that they’d all been inside the United States. So one of my goals for 2010 was to get out to other countries more. I ended up visiting Asia with my wife, taking a work-related trip to Europe, visiting Mexico with my wife, and climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro in Africa with friends. I wouldn’t have done so many of those trips if I hadn’t set a goal in the back of my mind.

So think about your goals for the new year. Lots of people want to get their finances in better shape or have goals about losing weight/getting fit. Speaking as someone who has lost 35-40 pounds in the last few years and kept it off for ~3 years, my main recommendation is to look for small changes that you think you can sustain for the rest of your life.

But you could also ponder all sorts of directions you’d like to explore. Maybe you’d like to work on being happier this year. Maybe you’d like to improve your skills. If you’re a left-brained person, maybe you could get in touch with your creative side by learning to draw, sing, dance, play guitar, etc. Maybe you want to practice being thankful, or widen your circle of friends. Or spend more time with family. You could even break your goals down into 30 day challenges.

But I think the main thing is to do some thinking about where you’d like to go this year. It can really pay off. What sorts of goals do you have for the new year?

My predictions for 2009

Everybody is throwing out predictions for 2011, so I thought I’d do something different. Here are some of my predictions for 2009.

Wha wha wha?? That’s right: 2009. As 2008 drew to a close, I jotted down some predictions, but I never hit the “publish” button. Some of them weren’t fully-formed (or even complete sentences!), so I won’t print all of them. But some are interesting. Here are a few:

– “Market share for IE falls below 50% in some countries in Europe.” TRUE according to StatCounter. Here’s a graph:

IE Market share in Europe

– “Cuil will be acquired by Baidu.” Definitely a MISS. This was an educated guess on my part. I didn’t think Cuil would do well, and someone named Greg Penner was on the board of Cuil and also a board member of Baidu.

– “More people will realize the inevitable truth that Bill Gates saw years ago and that Apple has chased since the introduction of the ROKR: of all the devices in your pocket, the only one you’re not willing to give up is your phone. Therefore, all personal gadgets will eventually be subsumed by your phone. Camera? Already part of your phone. Pen and notebook? Quite close. Video camera? Almost there, give it a couple more years. Car keys, wallet? It will come. In five years, your phone will have fingerprint authentication and be able to start your car or pay for groceries with contactless/RFID chips. It’s all coming. In 10 years you’ll use your phone to authenticate yourself at the doctor, authenticate prescriptions, and store your personal health history, not to mention all your desktop preferences, bookmarks, browser add-ons, and keys to which music you have permission to stream or download from the cloud.” I call this TRUE. Most people now agree that your phone is a personal computer in your pocket. Back in 2008, not everyone realized this.

– “By the way, if anyone figures out how to lick the problem of satisfactory output/input, e.g. heads-up displays or retinal lasers and a virtual keyboard or something with as high a bandwidth as normal typing (and they will), your computer will migrate into your phone. Solving the input/output problem is one of the most important problems for the next decade. Witness the efforts that companies have put into pen-based computing and voice recognition, for example. Re-examine the success of some major products in the new light of better input/output mechanisms:
– Google Maps: direct manipulation
– iPhone: touch and multitouch
– Wii: accelerometer and optical sensors
Smart computer scientists and engineers should be paying as much attention to sonar, inertial, and optical sensing technology as they do to the change from hard-drive platters to solid-state storage.” Um. This one was more of a rant then a prediction.

– Here’s what I wrote back in 2008: “Canny self-promoters plus a few genuine believers will jump on the Facebook backlash early, either for privacy/personal information or for keeping Facebook’s data to itself. But unless the site makes a Beacon-level mistake, Facebook will experience massive growth in 2009, and the Facebook backlash won’t begin in earnest until 2010 or 2011.” Right now it feels true. Maybe we’ll check back after 2011 to see whether that’s accurate.

– “Semantic web technology won’t take off, at least not in the generally-accepted ways.” I’m going to call that TRUE. Remember how Web 3.0 was going to be the semantic web? You don’t hear that meme as much anymore.

– “The most interesting “savviness” test for me will be which of Yahoo, Facebook, or Microsoft let you freely retrieve your email with them into Gmail. Odds are that none will allow it, but if I had to pick one, it would be Yahoo.” A double MISS, because Hotmail did allow POP3 access in 2009. Meanwhile, I believe Yahoo still wants $20/year for POP access. I don’t think you can fetch Facebook mail using POP or IMAP.

– “Vanity iPhone apps.” This was a prediction that individuals would commission their own personal iPhone apps that collected their blog posts, tweets, photos, etc. The other part of the idea was that conferences would commission conference-specific apps. While a few savvy conferences have done this, I wouldn’t call either trend widespread. So it’s a MISS.

– “In the same way that millions of people dropped their land-line for a cell phone connection, thousands of people will attempt to go digital by scanning their photos, ripping their CDS, digitizing their old VHS tapes, and scanning their papers.” MISS, I did a lot of those things in 2009, but average people didn’t. The brunt of the analog to digital migration will happen as data is “born digital” from the beginning. Millions of people will have physical photos stuck in boxes that they don’t look at much, plus digital photos on Facebook, Flickr, or Picasa.

– “Google Chrome becomes one of Google’s most successful products.” I think this is TRUE. (Remember, this prediction was less than four months after Chrome was introduced in September, 2008. Back then I was going out more on a limb.)

– “Breakthroughs in green technology push renewable energy closer to the mainstream, but not into the mainstream. As many people focus their attention in this area, unexpected surprises abound, such as the do-it-yourself solar roof installation or practical solar shingles. Expect to see more green technology scams as well though.” Meh. MISS.

– “Apple will weather the 2009 recession much better than most people expect as people continue to buy with their heart, not always with their head. More people will realize that ‘Once you go Mac, you never go back.’ ” I’m calling it TRUE. Apple radically outperformed the Dow in 2009. Apple has done very well competing against MSFT in operating systems.

– “Obama’s administration mandates that all federal buildings much use Compact Fluorescent Lightbulb (CFL) technology before his presidential term ends.” I’ve still got at least two more years on this prediction. If the mandate is for LED lightbulbs, I’m still counting it.

– I thought some public officials would start lifestreaming as the ultimate endorsement of transparency. That’s a MISS. Chalk it up to believing that politics would be different after the 2008 election. Oh well.

– “Microsoft will demo a snazzy new phone operating system, but it won’t get much traction, either because a) it’s not as snazzy as the iPhone or b) people don’t trust it to be as open as other mobile operating systems.” Given that this was a prediction for 2009, I’ll call it TRUE. Microsoft didn’t get a lot of phone traction in 2009.

– “Someone not officially associated with Android will work on an “iPhone skin” for Android to make Android look like an iPhone.” TRUE. Looks like that did happen in 2009.

– “Twitter’s 2009 business model consists of premium features that either individuals can pay for (at a nominal rate such as $1/month or $10/year) or that businesses can set up for self-contained twittering. The premium features include richer API access as well as some new features, such as the ability to save tweets to be posted in the future or periodically.” That, my friends, is a MISS. Although Twitter is now charging for richer access to Twitter data, so maybe not a horrible miss.

– “Hacking of PC clients will decrease, but hackers will shift their sites to web server software. Massive databases of cross-site scripting attacks will be traded in the underground. Script kiddies will launch dictionary attacks. Anyone that writes their own web server software will probably be at a high risk of being hacked.” Overall I’m going to call this TRUE. As individual PCs become more secure, there’s a multi-year trend toward hacking webservers instead. I fear we’re just at the beginning of this.

– “When Android opens premium apps, one of the big controversies will be developers who take great premium-app ideas for the iPhone and rewrite the ideas behind the app for Android, but without the permission of the iPhone developer. Expect flashlights, lighters, beer, farting applications, goldfish, etc.” I’m not sure if this is TRUE or a MISS. I haven’t read a lot of complaints from iPhone app developers about Android app developers stealing their idea and writing their own apps.

– “Multiple people write a bit of JavaScript that site owners can add to their page to guilt IE6 users to upgrade to a new browser. Any browser, just something that was released after 2001 (IE6 was released in 2001?!?). The JavaScript code becomes a viral sensation and sweeps across the net. Whoever authors or hosts this JavaScript gains status around the web. Through the collective work of a bunch of savvy webmasters, SEOs, and site owners, IE6′s market share drops to 5% in some markets by the end of the year.” IE6 is slowly riding into the sunset, but call it a MISS. A few businesses will probably be running IE6 a decade from now for their internal apps.

– “eBay introduces spell correction for search queries which delivers a small boost for their profits.” I’m going to call this TRUE because the search [ipod touc] returns “Did you mean: ipod touch?” at the top of the eBay’s results now.

Okay, it’s your turn. Which of your predictions for 2009 or 2010 were spot on or off-base?

Are vaccines safe?

A lot of parents hear different things about the MMR vaccine (that’s measles, mumps, and rubella) or the flu or chicken pox or pertussis vaccine and wonder “How safe are vaccines?” It’s not a stupid question, given the conflicting information you might hear from different sources.

I’ve been doing research about vaccines and vaccine safety because I recently caught a mild case of pertussis (whooping cough). I also researched vaccines last year as part of my preparation for a trip to Africa. The research that I’ve done leads me to believe that your child is much better off getting vaccinated than not getting a vaccine.

Here’s some data points to help you make up your mind. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has a good overview of relevant medical studies (PDF link), including studies of autism and vaccinations:

The concerns regarding vaccine safety have received a great deal of attention by parents, doctors, vaccine manufacturers and the media. Dozens of studies have been performed in the United States and elsewhere. The purpose of this document is to list those studies and provide links to the publications to allow parents and all those who administer or recommend vaccines to read the evidence for themselves. The studies provided have been published in peer-reviewed medical journals. These studies do not show any link between MMR vaccine, thimerosal and autism.

A lot of people worry that children might get too many vaccinations. The AAP talks about that as well:

One study published in 2010 was conducted in response to concerns about the total number of vaccines children receive. In this study (the last one listed in this document), researchers found infants who followed the recommended vaccine schedule performed better on 42 different neuropsychological outcomes years later than children who delayed or skipped vaccinations. This should reassure parents that vaccinating their children on schedule is safe and is the best way to protect them from disease.

That’s what the current research says. A lot of people have read about Dr. Andrew Wakefield, who was an author of a controversial paper in 1998 about the MMR vaccine and autism. I suggest you read this story on CNN about recent news concerning Dr. Andrew Wakefield.

The summary is that the Lancet, the original British journal that published the study, retracted the study’s claims in February 2010. Britain stripped Wakefield of his medical license in May 2010. The recent news is that the British medical journal BMJ concluded that the now-retracted study was a fraud. The article about vaccination and autism continues:

Wakefield has been unable to reproduce his results in the face of criticism, and other researchers have been unable to match them.

Most of his co-authors withdrew their names from the study in 2004 after learning he [Wakefield] had had been paid by a law firm that intended to sue vaccine manufacturers — a serious conflict of interest he failed to disclose. ….

According to BMJ, Wakefield received more than 435,000 pounds ($674,000) from the lawyers.

Godlee, the journal’s editor-in-chief, said the study shows that of the 12 cases Wakefield examined in his paper, five showed developmental problems before receiving the MMR vaccine and three never had autism.

I understand that parents want to do the right thing for their child. My research on this issue leads me to believe that parents should make sure their children get vaccinations.