1 Year Personal Health Intervention Summary

For more general information, see also my previous overview post On Nutrition and Metabolism. This post drills into my personal n=1 experience this past year, covering the results, as well as a summary of the interventions, thought processes, and some of the research on what worked for me. This post will be a bit long…

After 15 years of slowly packing on pounds through stressful jobs, poor sleep, and eating too well (and also a few years after Metabolic Syndrome and NAFLD diagnoses but without any useful treatment, and more than a few failed “get healthy” attempts), I was feeling especially run down last year and decided that I really needed to take a hard look at this. I’d sort of run out of excuses and realized that I’d been putting off prioritizing my health for way too long, and that I really should at least try to figure it out.

After a couple weeks of research, it became pretty obvious that all the metabolic and nutritional knowledge I had ever been taught, told, or thought I knew (from the food pyramid on) was laughably wrong. My initial research convinced me to commit to giving a well-formulated ketogenic diet and time restricted eating/intermittent fasting a go for at least a month.

Ketogenic diets are a type of very-low carbohydrate diet that can be summarized as <20g of net carbohydrates (subtract fiber), or <50g of total carbs per day. While still somewhat contentious, recent research has shown this intervention to be extremely effective at rapidly improving almost all markers of cardio-metabolic health. Phinney and Volek, two early VLC researchers/clinical practitioners (and co-founders of Virta Health, a startup focused on T2D reversal via a continuous remote care model) have defined a Well Formulated Ketogenic Diet. Other sensible approaches include Eric Westman’s “No Sugar, No Starch” 4 pager, Diet Doctor’s Visual Guide, Ted Naiman’s Diet 2.0, or the Sapien Diet.

I focused on the highest quality, most nutrient dense, unprocessed whole foods that I could reasonably buy (although I’d guess you’d get 95% of the benefit as long as you just focused on the last part), and tracked my food consumption for the first few months with a food scale and either Cronometer (a not-great UI, but by far the best tool available for ballparking micronutrients) or Bitesnap, a tool with a much better UI that can be used as a food journal, with decent tracking capabilities. I don’t think this level of tracking is absolutely necessary for most people, but it was pretty useful for me. Starting out, it’s probably best to be relatively strict with carb consumption, but to eat ad libitum until you’ve started to fat adapt, and to pay attention to your body’s satiety signals, but it can also be useful to have something to aim for. Using a macro calculator with a reasonable deficit (15-20%) worked well for me. (There are some other interesting calculators that try to account for maximum fat oxidation rates under hypophagia and other factors.)

It’s worth noting that the biggest thing about trying out this way of eating is that you basically should be prepared on giving up most packaged and prepared foods until you figure things out, since sugar is basically in everything, and that keto-adaptation is a process that really takes a few weeks (or longer). I recommend making at least a 1-month commitment and carefully tracking results and how you feel to see if this is right for you if you’re trying it out. For me, making the decision to cut out sugar, carbs, and sweeteners completely was actually easier to stick to than previous half-measures since it was a lot simpler, and it also let my palette and habits reset as well (this is part of how mono-diets can work).

As you fat adapt, most people naturally get less hungry and eat less often, but I decided to go all in and kick start my keto eating simultaneously with a 16:8 time restricted feeding window (only eating 8 hours of the day and not the other 16). I used Zero to help track this, and it’s actually the most consistent tool I used throughout my year. I let my window length and times float quite a bit, although there’s research that’s suggestive that eating at regular times to help entrain your circadian rhythm is independently beneficial. While I can’t ever purposefully recall not eating for a day before, my first fast ended up being over 24 hours (the first couple days were miserable, and aided by copious drinking of hot green tea). Eventually, as I adapted, I aimed to work up to occasional (about once/quarter) longer fasts, as emerging evidence suggested copious long-term benefits of extended fasts (see: bestof).

Some Numbers

OK, on to some results. I’m a 5’6″ 38yo M and my max weight recorded was 210.2lb in Feb 2018 (I’ve been using a Withings scale on and off since 2012). I started keto/IF (after a week long low-carb paleo run-in with some delivered meals) at the end of last August weighing in at 200.1lb, and 1 year later, weighed in at 153.8lb. That’s -46.3lb (-23.1%) at the one year, -56.4lb (-26.8%) from my max weight:

1-year graph from Withings Scale and Happy Scale app

After a very steady drop of about 2lb/week, my weight “plateaued” a few months back just a couple pounds shy of my original (completely arbitrary) 150lb goal, but rather than forcing the last few pounds too much, I’ve been more focused on getting stronger and on body recomposition. For those frustrated about weight plateaus, I highly recommend taking regular body pics and taking tape measurements (my other measurements have continued to improve despite basically no movement in weight in the past few months).

The last time I was at this weight was probably around 2003, shortly after college and before I started simultaneously juggling work, multiple projects, and grad school.

Body Composition

I took 3 DXA scans (considered by most to be the “gold” standard for measuring body composition), one at 1mo, 6mo, and 1yr at a local Dexafit (I also measured my RMR twice via indirect calorimetry and showed a change in RQ towards fat adaptation (~0.85 at 6mo) and about the expected RMR both times (close to the Mifflin St Jeor formula). The non-DXA fat estimates are based on linear regression from the 1mo/6mo results and are included for ballpark reference.

Max (Est) Start (Est) 1mo DXA 6mo DXA 1yr DXA 1yr Change
Weight 210.2lb 200.1lb 193.4lb 161.0lb 155.1lb -45.0lb
BMI 33.9 32.3 31.2 26.0 25.0
Total BF% 38.0% 35.7% 34.2% 26.8% 24.4% -11.3%
Visceral Fat 3.46lb 3.11lb 2.88lb 1.77lb 1.02lb -2.09lb

One interesting note from my last DXA is that -5.4lb of my -5.9lb change was fat mass, with almost no lean mass lost, which impressed the technician, and IMO reflects well on my recomp efforts.

Visceral fat, particularly ectopic fat is the most dangerous kind, and can affect those who don’t have high BMI (TOFI=Thin Outside, Fat Inside), or who have low personal subcutaneous adipose tissue (low personal fat thresholds). The best way to track this at home is probably by measuring waist circumference.

(Also worth mentioning, don’t trust any home scales measuring body fat % using bioimpedance analysis, they are uselessly inaccurate.)

Reversal of Metabolic Syndrome

While my A1c had mostly stayed pretty well controlled (although it has still inched down this past year), over the past 10 years or so I was steadily adding Metabolic Syndrome markers. I had a solid 3/5 (positive MetS diagnosis), but over the course of the year, have reversed that to 0/5 (also, I’m now within the 12.2% of American adults that are “metabolically optimal” according to this recent analysis of NHANES data), so I’m pretty happy about that. My usual fasting glucose tends to hang around 100 (I will probably try out a Dexcom CGM at some point to get a better idea of the variability), but with my A1c and TG in a good range I’m not too worried about it either way, just curious to see what foods my affect me in which way and what the general AUC looks like.

ATP III Before 1mo 4mo 9mo 1yr 1yr Change
HbA1C % 5.6 5.4 5.2 5.3 5.3 -0.3%
Waist Circumference >40″ 43.0 42.0 38.5 36.8 35.9 -7.1″
Fasting Glucose >100mg/dL 100 101 92 99 89 n/c
Triglycerides >150mg/dL 396 153 95 95 -301mg/dL
HDL <40mg/dL 35 34 59 52 +24mg/dL
Hypertension >130/>85mmHg 122/78 124/84 126/74 117/74 115/77 n/c

A few notes on measurement. Some doctors will tell you that fasted measurements are unnecessary, but they’re probably wrong. While non-fasted FBG/TG measures may be useful, fasted measures are better for standard risk assessment if you’re only getting tested once or twice a year (and you don’t want to just test what you recently ate) and you need to be fasted to get fasting glucose and insulin levels anyway. You should try to standardize your draw as much as possible – eg fasting time (at least 12h, probably not more than 16h as LDL goes up as you fast), wake time (more than a few hours after waking up to minimize dawn effect), and probably not the day after a heavy workout either (high intensity or long duration tends to increase LDL, resistance training may decrease LDL). It’s important to recognize that even with all of this that lipid and glucose measurements are highly mobile even within the course of a day. Also, while A1c is sometimes a more reliable marker than FBG (summary: it generally represents a 90 day average of BG), it’s dependent on RBC turnover and when there’s discordance, you may need to crosscheck with Fructosamine and other markers). One interesting anecdotal note is that in a recent podcast, Peter Attia noted that in 75% of cases, A1c was discordant with CGM average glucose numbers.

Blood pressure is another highly mobile marker (the best way to lower it seems to be to measure again), and I did buy a pretty sci-fi looking Omron Bluetooth BP cuff a few months ago to try to get more frequent measurements/better averages.

Reversal of NAFLD

In 2016 my GP at the time recommended I get a liver ultrasound (he had gotten a new cart in the office it seems like) which showed some fatty deposit buildup. What was especially interesting to me is that despite having elevated liver markers for years, those markers (AST, ALT) were largely normalized within the first month of changing my diet.

The gold standard for NAFLD diagnosis is MRI (this is not often done outside of lab studies), but it turns out there are actually many proxy formulas. The NAFLD-LFS (which can have 95% sensitivity!) requires just your standard markers and fasting insulin (a less good formula, FLI can be used if you have GGT), however I only have fasting insulin for my most recent labs (nothing from any of my physicals in the past 10 years – more on this later). Considering NAFLD is estimated to affect 80-100M people just in the US, that seems pretty insane, but then again, I’m not a medical professional.

Reference Before 1mo 4mo 9mo 1yr 1yr Change
ALP 20-140IU/L 46 43 41 n/c
AST 11-34IU/L 48 26 25 20 25 -47.9%
ALT 9-59U/L 113 49 29 28 22 -80.5%
NAFLD LFS <-1.413 @ 95%sen -2.03 -2.63 reversal

For those interested in reading more about NAFL (or any metabolic research), it’s important to keep in mind that there are some conflicting translational studies because mice have very different liver/intestinal signaling than humans (and their rat chow is basically casein, industrially-processed seed oils, and sugar), and that when there are robust human research or clinical outcomes, those should always be preferred. Also, that at the end of the day, there’s so much bio-individuality and so much that we don’t know, that ultimately, measuring your own markers and results should always be what takes precedence.

Insulin Resistance

With my MetS and NAFLD, it was obvious I had some level of insulin resistance. As part of my baseline testing I wanted to get a fasting insulin with other blood work but my new doctor at the time balked and said the NMR would give me an IR score already and that I shouldn’t get my fasting insulin measured. I was just getting started with my research and I didn’t argue, but I regret that now, since without fasting insulin you can’t calculate the most well known/effective IR formulas (or as mentioned, your NAFLD LFS). Also, it turns out that a fasting insulin test is only a $30 test even if you have to pay out-of-pocket (LC004333). You could also get it as part of a bundle (LC100039) that is only $8 more than an A1c alone. This really pissed me off and I’ve since switched doctors to someone who’s significantly less clueless/much more interested in improving metabolic health. (I did write a “Doctor’s Note” to try to persuade my now ex-Dr that fasting insulin is maybe one of the most important markers to measure considering how much of a leading indicator it is, and how key it is in early diagnosis of conditions that are affecting almost all Americans, and how cheap it is, but it seems like it didn’t quite hit home. Still, maybe you or your GP will find it useful).

Reference Before 1mo 9mo 1yr
Fasting Glucose <100mg/dL 100 101 99 89
Fasting Insulin <8mcU/mL 4.9 2.2
METS-IR <51.13 60.21 51.79 35.20 35.21
TyG1 <8.82 9.89 8.95 8.46 8.35
TC/HDL <5.0 7.32 4.88 4.71
TG/HDL <2.8 11.31 4.50 1.61 1.83
LP-IR <=45 50 32
HOMA-IR* 0.5-1.4 1.10 0.48
HOMA2-IR* <1.18 0.66 <0.38
QUICKI* >0.339 0.37 0.44
McAuley Index* <5.3 2.17 2.71

* Requires Fasting Glucose and Fasting Insulin

One interesting note is that a fasting insulin of 2.9 mcU/mL is the minimum valid value for calculating HOMA2-IR. The general takeaway is that my insulin sensitivity is probably very good these days.

Also as a bit of an aside, my Vitamin D at my 6mo check (physical with the new doctor) was the highest (36ng/mL) it’s been over the past 10 years (as low as 11ng/mL and never higher than 30ng/mL even with a 50000IU prescription supplementation regimen), despite not getting much sun over the winter/spring. Vitamin D deficiency is associated with MetS among other bad things, so just thought I’d throw that in there.

CVD Risk

Cardiovascular disease risk is one of the most contentious points about about a ketogenic diet, which from my research, seems to be mostly due to decades (and layers) of misconceptions.

I’ll start with the easy part – on the health consequences of eating fat and saturated fat. Recent meta-analysis shows that saturated fat consumption is not associated with all-cause or CHD mortality. Here’s another meta-analysis showing no difference in risk with saturated fat consumption, and yet another meta-analysis showing no significant risk differences for just about any combination of fat consumption. The 2015 US dietary guidelines actually remove the fat % recommendations completely (which might give you an idea of how long this can take to fix once these become enshrined political positions, considering that the evidence simply wasn’t there to begin with when the guidelines were introduced in 1977 and 1983). These are all robust studies from disparate teams and a wide range of intellectual camps (you’ll have to take my word for it, once you read enough papers and watch enough talks you get to know most of the researchers and teams). While dietary fats still have a bad rap in public opinion, on a scientific basis, I believe the debate is pretty well settled.

The second part, on the risks high cholesterol, particularly LDL-C really requires its own very long deep dive, which I’m going to elide at the moment (I’ve written thousands of words on this topic as I’ve collected and sorted through research, but will save that for another time). For those simply concerned about what the research says about risk, simply know that Metabolic Syndrome (n=4483, HR 5.45, +445% risk CVD mortality) and the closely related Deadly Quartet (n=6428, HR 3.95, +295% risk ACM) far outweighs even the best-case high LDL risk I could find (n=36375, HR 1.5, +50% risk CVD mortality). IMO, there’s some crazy cognitive dissonance going on when the latest ESC Congress issues guidelines for ever-lower LDL levels, but also the blockbuster trial at the event (which had a 26% RR reduction of primary endpoints, 17% reduction in ACM – better than statins) is for a drug (SGLT2i) that actually increases LDL. Anyway, a much longer (and more nuanced) discussion for another time…

In any case, like for the Virta Health cohort, my LDL did jump up a bit this year (but only slightly). Also like the Virta results, the rest of my CVD markers improved, and also, using the ASCVD risk calculator (with some fudging since it doesn’t give an answer below 40yo) my risk has more than halved from 3.1% to 1.3%, even with the higher LDL numbers (your LDL doesn’t actually affect the risk algorithm results except at cut-off, which should also tell you something about how important LDL is as a risk factor).

Much more importantly than the LDL-C, my TG went from awful to very good (<100mg/dL), and my HDL also went from very bad to pretty good. My high remnants (which are much more dangerous as far as subfractions go) have also dropped down to optimal levels as well. TG:HDL-C ratio, another better risk marker, also dramatically improved.

Reference Before 1mo 9mo 1yr 1yr Change
Total Cholesterol <200mg/dL 264 249 288 245 -7.2%
HDL-C >40mg/dL 35 34 59 52 +48.6%
LDL-C (calc) <130mg/dL 150 184 210 174 +16.0%
Remnant <20mg/dL 79 31 19 19 -74.7%
Triglyceride <150mg/dL 396 153 95 95 -76.0%
TG:HDL-C <2 11.3 4.5 1.61 1.83 -83.8%

Note: I did get an NMR (advanced lipid panel) at 1mo and 9mo, and furthermore, I got a second NMR and Spectracell LPP+ 2 weeks later (due to a blood draw faffle – I really wanted to match results from the same draw as advanced lipid panel results differ greatly) which I paid out of pocket for just to get some more insights into particle sizes, counts, etc (my particle counts are high but notably I shifted from an unhealthy Pattern/Type B to a healthy Type A on the NMR, and the LPP+ shows very low sdLDL-IV) but my main conclusion is that even beyond the meager hazard ratios, lipid testing is only vaguely useful in a ballpark sort of way because serum lipids are so mobile – in the two week between draws with no major lifestyle changes, controlling for fasting/draw times, there was a 14% TC difference, a 25% HDL-C difference, a 26% TG difference (causing a 41% TG:HDL-C ratio change), and a 20% LDL-C difference. Even from the same draw, the NMR and LPP+ had a 15% difference in LDL-C results (it’s also unclear whether these are direct, Friedwald, or modified-Friedwald numbers).

If you are going for advanced lipid testing, IMO the Spectracell LPP+, while expensive ($190 was the cheapest I could find online) and a PITA to order (you’ll also want a phlebotomist familiar with Spectracell procedures or they will mess up), is the superior test. It includes insulin, homocysteine, hsCRP, apoB, apoA1, Lp(a), and is more granular with LDL and HDL sizes, and is the only US clinical test I could find that gives you a lipid graph so you can look at the actual particle distribution (sample report). That being said, I think unless you’re going to do regular followups with it, or know exactly what/why you are looking for, it’s probably not worth it. In fact, for the same ballpark cost ($100-150 out of pocket), I’d recommend a low-dose or ultra-low-dose coronary artery calcium scan if you’re tracking cardiovascular health. You should ideally be getting a score of 0 (and if you are, just get one every 5 years – your 10-year CVD risk will be <1% irrespective of your lipid markers).

Oh also, I am APOE2/3, but have the PPARγ polymorphism that suggests I might want to have more MUFAs, but in terms of general cardiometabolic health (I don’t have good RHR numbers since I switched devices last year), I think this before and after comparison probably says more than the lipid panels do:

Fasting Stats

As mentioned, I started with an unintentional 24h fast, but basically aimed for a 16:8 (although often went 18-20 or longer simply due to not being that hungry), with an occasional longer fast about once a quarter (first a 2 day, then 3, with an almost 4 day being my longest). Here’s my Zero stats:

As an aside, while I made a lot of dietary changes this past year, I’d say that fasting was the one that really changed my relationship and perspective on food the most. Knowing you can decide when to eat (or not), and having a much better understanding your hunger and satiety signals is really like a superpower and an amazing tool to have in the “metabolic toolbox.” I’d highly recommend everyone to at least eventually give it a try. Before doing my research last year I had dismissed it as a dumb techbro trend, or simply not for me (since it just seemed impossible), but it’s not such a hard or crazy thing once you start (the first couple days really did suck if you don’t ease into it or fat adapt first).

Ketone Testing

For non-therapeutic purposes, I don’t believe that ketone testing is necessary (or even all that interesting) unless you’re set on eating a lot of weird food products or trying to do some troubleshooting (even then I think just glucose testing or a CGM or even elimination might be easier/better). Also, the measurements often don’t tell you quite what you might think it does or that what you really want (as ketone utilization and fat oxidization rates will change differentially and for different reasons). I did however try out many of the acetone and BHB testers when I attended Low Carb Denver 2019 (loads of interesting talks).

I wasn’t eating quite my regular routine while traveling, but after morning sessions at the end of a regular (16h) fast, I was at about 1.2mmol BHB and pushing out lots of acetone breath apparently. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯


I started my first couple months without doing much physical activity (hard to do when you’re feeling like crap, which seems to be another one of the “move more eat less” mantra’s failings), but about a couple months in, after I started feeling better, I did decide I should work on some fitness goals, with the aim of building some functional strength.

The main thing I picked was to get back to doing pull ups. When I started, I was able to do 0 pull ups (YouTube revealed a series of progressions, starting with body-weight rows I could do), and I’m up to about 7 now on a good day. I also went from 8 pushups max to 30, and I’ve started trying out diamond, pike, and other more challenging pushup variations now. YouTube started recommending (it looks like you like pulling yourself so you might like) some climbing videos a while back, and after watching those for a while I ended up joining a bouldering gym now as well.

I’m pretty averse to cardio training, but it turns out when you’re carrying fifty less pounds, walking, hiking, and biking all becomes much easier, so I’ve noticed huge improvements in my excursions despite the lack of any cardio-focused workouts.


I also kept a list of various “non-scale victories” so I don’t forget just how drastically my life has changed from a year ago:

  • I’ve had acne and breakouts since I was a teenager that just never went away but my skin immediately improved when I started keto/IF. I’m sure all the excess carbage was driving lots of inflammation. I still get the occasional pimple, but it’s nowhere near as bad as it was. It also seems to reliably return when I go off-plan, so it seems to work as a good early reminder that what you eat matters to your health.
  • A few weeks after starting I decided to take a hike up a nearby mountain (just a few thousand feet of elevation) and realized I didn’t have my inhaler with me, but that my lifelong exercise-induced asthma (independent of weight) just didn’t seem to be a problem anymore. (Some recent research possibly explaining why). This was a wholly unexpected bonus.
  • Also few months in, I realized that my sleep apnea was basically going away, and a few months later (using the SnoreLab app), I discovered that my snoring had pretty much gone away as well. This is probably primarily from weight loss, although lowered inflammation probably plays a role as well.
  • Obviously sugar rots your teeth, but one surprising (well, maybe not in retrospect) thing I noticed is that my teeth also gets noticeably less plaquey without carbs.
  • Not being hungry and being able to pick and choose what and when I want to eat is really liberating. While I’ve never really had much in terms of food compulsions or emotional eating, I do have a much better understanding, sensitivity, and control now than I did before. Most of it is was gained through the experience of fasting, but also having a much better intellectual understanding of my metabolism as well.
  • Oh, and while I still have my off days, in terms of what kicked off this past year for me: having more energy and less fatigue? Well, I’m happy to report that subjectively, I feel loads better than when I started.

In terms of some additional practical advice, setting and tracking goals, NSVs, and picking surrogate and subjective markers that I could track were really helpful, as was the approach of thinking about each intervention (lifestyle change) as an experiment and finding out what worked and was sustainable for me, and what wasn’t.

While I’m much healthier than I have been in the past 15 years or so, there’s still a lot I know that I can improve on (particularly with sleep hygiene and circadian health), and I do have some goals of continuing to optimize my body composition this coming year (getting to <0.5 waist circumference:height ratio, and maybe 15% body fat as a stretch), and this writeup serves as a bit of a marker of what I’ve learned this past year, but also I hope that it’s actually useful as a way to begin to share some of those learnings in an accessible way.

(Again, since my research is ongoing, I’d like to try to get this out into a less “fixed” way, but since there’s so much I’ve gathered, I may just start posting some shorter bits, like nutrition facts or something. Nutrition Fact: most nutrition facts are wrong!)

2017 Year In Review

I originally had somewhat more ambitious plans for my 2017 wrap up, but well, the end of the year is just about here so instead I’ll just type for a couple hours, hit publish, and call it a day.

Part of the motivation is that it’s felt like a good time again to write up some of what I’ve been thinking about in technology trends. In 2006, while I was hip-deep in Web 2.0 work (and my blog output had already fallen into the abyss where it remains today) and I wrote up a 5 year tech projection. I ended up revisiting it 5 years later and you know what, didn’t too badly. What’s interesting reviewing it now is the a few of the things that I had missed were actually on the cusp then and happened shortly after. I didn’t do a direct followup, but did do a 2013 Review in Tech writeup – the most interesting things that happened that year weren’t in consumer/SV tech scene (which was deep in their Uber for X/app obsession at the time).

In 2014 I started collecting some Emerging Tech notes that I never published. That might be worth checking out (there are some late 2017 notes as well) – these seemed to have caught the tech zeitgeist a couple years in advance but it’s a bit fuzzy on how these will play out. This year, I also started collected some notes on a future-trend focused Tumblr (it’s not private per-se, just not very publicized/widely read, although the same can be said for this blog at this point – just pissing into the wind). For 2018, I’m hoping to both publish more and to better rationalize where/how I’m publishing what I’m tracking.

In many ways 2017 was a trash fire, so before I dig into it, I did want to start off Charlie Stross Reasons to Be Cheerful style. In just about every measure of human development and global, now is the best time to be alive. For those that are interested in visualizations, the World Bank’s 2017 Atlas of Sustainable Development Goals is simply fantastic (Hans Rosling style, RIP) and again, shows the marked improvements we’ve made. If you’re into listicles, this recent article 99 Reasons 2017 Was A Great Year highlights some nice things. I started a Twitter list today that I hope to add to dedicated to accounts focused on sharing useful metrics/trends on the state of the world.

Now enough of that, and into the weeds. Per usual, I spent a lot of time reading things this year (example) – too much on Twitter and Reddit, but on the whole, more worthwhile things than not – I spent a fair amount of time digging through writings of the socio-techno-political variety, lots on crypto-economics and other financial topics, and rounded off by the usual geek topics. Also, a lot more YouTube than usual. This marked year 4 of semi-nomadicism although I may spend some more time settled to try to get through a backlog of housekeeping. Being out and about in different parts of the world helps give some perspective (places visited for the first time included Colombia, Cuba, Iceland, Greece, Kazakhstan, and Brazil).

Like many others, I spent much of the end of last year and the beginning of this year reading and thinking about the state (and fate) of liberal democracy in the modern world. I collected some of that into a doc Sensemaking in the Age of Social Media. While most of the participants haven’t realized it yet (or are disingenously denying it), we are now living in the age of weaponized information – memetic warfare. This is as cyberpunk and dystopian as it sounds, and it’s worth giving a shout out to sci-fi authors. The easiest way to understand where we are is to re-read Gibson, Sterling, Stephenson, Egan, Stross, Doctorow et al with the lens of what we are experiencing. It’s also worth thinking about how unprepared humans and human societies currently are against the future-shock mechanization of the modern infosphere (hyper-personalization and filter bubbles, bot/troll manipulation and other social signal hacks, infoglut and overload, clickbait and yes, fake news). These are second order effects that web pioneers and SV techies were unprepared for and misincentivized to address (who knew that driving engagement for advertising revenue would bring down free society, wah wah). This of course made it’s way into the news zeitgeist this year (that the modern media landscape is a key part of this dysfunction is an irony that is sadly lost to most, I believe). A smattering of headlines: Former Facebook executive: social media is ripping society apart, Facebook must wake up to its disastrous potential – it has the power to subvert American democracy, What Facebook Did to American Democracy, Facebook Wins, Democracy Loses, Can democracy survive Facebook? – now this is all a bit unfair to Facebook, after all Twitter is perhaps even more of a trash fire (and @realDonaldTrump will probably start WW3 on it next year). Anyway, before I go full rant – there aren’t easy answers, but it’s clear that we must fix this. These are design failures – some driven purposefully by misaligned economic incentives and externalized risk, and some by the short-sightedness and failings of designers, engineers, and product managers. IMO, if we can not fix this, humanity will probably not survive.

Over the course of the year I tried to crystallize a line of thought – that there were no problems humanity faced that could not be solved, if we could solve the problem of how to cooperate in rational self interest. Not such a deep insight, and not pithy enough yet (still a work in progress, obviously) but good enough as a direction to point one’s mental energy and efforts towards. (For those in doubt, and as a benchmark for this, nominal global GDP is about 80T USD – look at any looming existential crisis that we face and ask how much actual effort/cost it would take to address, mitigate, or fix.)

Also tying into perhaps the next topic, on cryptocurrencies. Or perhaps, more accurately a discussion on distributed trust network, or resilient distributed consensus in the presence of byzantine adversaries, or about censorship-resistant transactions, or incentivization structures for said networks.

Yes, we are currently in a bit of a mania phase of a bubble at the moment. One that hasn’t, but will inevitably pop (although I wouldn’t pack it in until the institutional money gets a dip – this might not even be the big bubble yet in the same way that 2014 wasn’t). At the end of it though we’ll be where we were at the end of the Internet bubble – with a whole bunch of new toys to play with that with the power to reshape society. Hopefully, having gone through it once already, we can try again a bit wiser.

A few interesting recent reads that might spark some ideas:

The Blockchain Economy: A beginner’s guide to institutional cryptoeconomics

The great ICO freeze is beginning. What does it mean for crypto in 2018?

Co-evolving the Phase Shift to Crypto Capitalism by Founding The Ethereum Commons Co-op

OK, this is getting long, and there are so many other things I want to cover.

I’m a big fan of Ramez Naam’s talks and projection on energy production costs and trends. Here’s a recent one from October:

I’ve previously linked to a fascinating writeup on AlphaZero and DeepMind. Here’s a Year in Review of AI and Deep Learning in 2017.

I’ve been thinking a fair bit about the “4chan problem” – there’s the whole Gamergate to literal nazis thing, but just repeated over, and over, the emergence (and maybe this is the actual new part, the ability to cause damage) of a generation of sociopathic man-children. The Mirai botnet came out of some socially maladjusted Minecrafters (a fascinating read; followup, background, interesting related color on how fucked IoT security is) and say, the recent swatting incident (follow @briankrebs for fascinating infosec/cybercrime insights, @radleybalko for reporting on police brutality, militarization, and how messed up criminal justice and civil liberties are in the US).

OK, well, enough of that. Perhaps a bit less on the tech insights than a more planned essay would have been. My resolution for the coming year will be to figure out a better way of collecting and publishing my research on an ongoing basis. Maybe not quite gwern style but I think that a lot of what I come across and read about might be useful to others, and the act of publishing would probably encourage better organization/clear thinking. Another resolution: trying to waste less time on the Internet.

Busy Bee

One of the things that never fails to surprise me is the sheer amount of amazing/interesting stuff that pops up every day. Over the past few months, I’ve quietly been trying to capture a few of the highlights and have been planning on figuring out a better system, here for example is a more complete list of stuff just from the past day or two of my reading. Most of this I have just sent to Pocket or my ever growing Watch List (there simply aren’t enough hours in the day):

It’s worth noting that this is a sampling from about one day’s worth of bookmarks one three aggregators (Twitter, Hacker News, and Reddit) that I only check a few times over the course of the day (this was on a travel day no less). Also that simply going back and gathering and sifting all these out took about an hour this morning.

Putting a little bit of thought on how to better manage all this.

Year End Donations

This year, I’m donating to more causes than usual. Just sharing this in case anyone is looking to do the same.

Happy Birthday To Me (What’s Shaking Leonard?)

I’m typing this on my flight from PDX-LAX today, although who knows when this will go up online and when you’ll read this. Time waits for no man and all that.

I am, however, writing this on my 36th birthday. I’m not big on birthdays – I never grew up with big birthday parties, so unlike some people, I never had too many rituals or expectations to be disabused of. On an intellectual level, I also have a bit of an objection to the arbitrary demarcation of an extra year being added to what is ultimately, just another day and so my emotional ambivalence probably also reflects some of that. (or vice versa?)

Still, significant dates do have subjective value, and at the end of the day, that may be the ultimate rubric, not to get too existential about it. Of course, the mechanistic and objective processes of reality transpire no matter how you feel about it… Well, I’m going to stop with the metaphysical caveats just so I don’t spend the rest of this post rat-holing into matters perhaps best discussed in either full earnestness or inebriance.

I’ve never been much on public journaling (or journaling in general). Despite a (self-perceived, at least) predeliction for deep inner-dialogue, it’s not something I tend to present or share, but I’m in a bit of a contemplative mood, as perhaps some others are, after this (possibly? probably?) last XOXO Festival, so I’ll indulge myself a bit today.

For those of you that are unfamiliar with XOXO, Casey Newtown wrote a fantastic summary on the Verge, Matt Haughey also wrote a bit about it, or for a more involved, thematic take, Frank Chimiero wrote a piece, The Inferno of Independence, after 2013’s XOXO (that Andy requested he present as the possibly-last-ever XOXO talk). You can also view the Netflix Original (based on the true story) movie of the Festival. Here’s the trailer:

Like Matt, I’ve been to every XOXO. I’ve been pals (that may be a bit inadequate of a descriptor) w/ Andy for a really long time, so I also get a bit of inside baseball sprinkled in with my experience, but looking back, it’s been pretty amazing and inspiring seeing XOXO grow and evolve over the years. While there are many things that XOXO is about and that XOXO did, for me, the most magical accomplishment, the thing that seems to be quite rare, was creating an environment that unabashedly encouraged (practically reveled in) vulnerability, empathy, and embracing the feels, or feelings as we called it back in the 20th century.

There’s a lot of joy, from the warm nostalgia of catching up with old friends, or the excitement of sharing and discovering awesome new projects and people, but also the sharing of the financial, emotional and psychological distress (not to mention downright toxicity on the Internet) that seems to come with being indie and creating things these days. There’s the awkwardness and discomfort of trying to find something to say to people whose work you admire (or whatever that feeling is when you decide simply not to instead), and the occasional emotional and intellectual exercises in empathy and sensitivity as you try to navigate the sometimes fuzzy, arbitrary, contradictory, or just plain hypocritical edge-cases of applied intersectionalism. It’s messy and challenging, and there’s a reason that “processing” seems to be a term that’s thrown around a lot post-XOXO. And of course, why people love it so much.

In any case, it’s been a great excuse to spend a week in Portland the past few years, and early September often seems like the perfect time of year there. The first year, XOXO literally overlapped with my birthday, and I guess since then, I’d come to treat it as a bit of a birthday gift to myself. So thanks, XOXO, and PLUR.

I should mention, by way of context, for those that are for some reason reading this and who don’t know me (hi internet), that I’ve been wandering around (vagabond, nomadic) coming on three years now. I (very) intermittently keep a travel blog here for those interested. My current plan is to take a short breather to try to clear out some of my 2m x 3m storage unit, and to build/buy a kick-ass drone (Karma? Mavic? oether?) before I continue on.

This is getting quite long, but as this is sort of a State of the Leonard type post, I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk a bit about what I’m up to.

Lensley turns… 8 this year (I think?) and soldiers on (or abides, whevs). I don’t think it’s much of a surprise to say that it’s consumed less of my time and energy these past couple of years.

Back in 2006 I wrote some 5 year tech predictions that weren’t too bad. I didn’t repeat it in 2011, but I did quietly start making some notes on things that were catching my eye in 2014. Some of my recent posts reflects some of those interests. I’m in the process of creating a new umbrella for some of these interests, so expect to see more about this over the coming months.

This is getting quite long (and finishing this up, quite late), so I’ll continue with things that I’m digging (and things that terrify me) in another post.

Some Cognitive Biases

Saw a fantastic quote tweeted the other day, an excerpt from a book entitled Political Animals: How Our Stone-Age Brain Gets in the Way of Smart Politics. While the book has mixed reviews, the biases are worth taking a gander at…

Here are some of the most common cognitive biases identified by social scientists.

Availability Bias
Perseverence Bias
Source Confusion
Projection Bias
Self-Serving Bias
Superiority Bias
Planning Fallacy
Optimism Bias

Do any of them privilege the truth? The answer is no. Not one. They privilege survival.

Here’s the rundown:

  • Availability Bias – overweighting importance based on memorable/dramatic/easily recalled occurrences
  • Perseverence Bias – a type of confirmation bias continuing to believe things that have been proven wrong
  • Source Confusion – misattribution of a source of a memory
  • Projection Bias – projecting your own motivations (priority, attitude, belief) on other actors (including your future self!)
  • Self-Serving Bias – the tendency to see oneself in a favorable light. “It is the belief that individuals tend to ascribe success to their own abilities and efforts, but ascribe failure to external factors”
  • Superiority Bias – the “above average effect” – overrating positives, underrating negatives
  • Planning Fallacy – programmers are probably intimately familiar with; a type of optimism bias where task difficulty/length is underestimated
  • Optimism Bias – believing that you’re less at risk of something bad happening than others

A better book on this stuff might be Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow. Kahneman is a psychologist that won the Nobel Prize Winner in Economics and collaborated for over a decade with Tversky to do seminal research on cognitive biases.

Hello Blog

Somehow, we’re just about to head into the third month of 2016. Tomorrow (and I didn’t even realize this until I looked at my archives) will clock in the 16th anniversary of my blog at this domain (it actually started a few months earlier as a “class” blog while I was playing around with Blogger and followed from various personal webpage journaling/.plan file updates from a few years even before then).

OK, besides too many parenthetical digressions, what does it mean? Well, for one thing, it’s that I haven’t been updating this much lately. The numbers don’t lie there:

Where does my online posting time go these days?

  • When I things I want to share, it probably goes on Twitter, or occassionally on Facebook (mostly, my FB feed is just auto-posted tweets, though). FB comments can sometimes get involved.
  • I’m in *way* too many Slacks groups.
  • Mostly because of /r/oculus, I’m on reddit more than I really should be.
  • I post on a few other forums, on Hacker News most, commonly
  • I’ve been keeping a public Hackpad (along with several thousand private notes in Evernote, and an increasing number of Dropbox Paper notes)

While I gave Medium a tire-kick a while back, I decided that it wasn’t really my thing. The text-box wasn’t the problem with my lack of long-form writing, rather, it just hasn’t been a super high priority among the other things I’ve been doing.

That being said, I have some plans to change that a bit this year. The first step was this new coat of paint, which honestly, didn’t take quite as long as I had feared. I’d like to pull in my tweets into my blog as well, but some preliminary research shows that that’s a project in itself, especially if you’d like to rehydrate/render tweets properly. So that’s a P2.

I have a couple bigger pieces I’m working on, which should also summarize some of what I’ve been up to lately, but for now, here’s a little interview that Kit recently posted.

Not Enough Hours In The Day

If you have some spare time and looking for some fun/geeky, but not too intense reading:

Well, that’s more than enough for now. Time’s a wasting.

2015, The Year of Linux on My Laptop

I’ve written a bit about this before[1], so I won’t rehash too much, but reading Andre’s piece on how his new Chromebook Pixel has replaced his Macbook Pro, made me a bit nostalgic and wanting to write some of my own thoughts about switching off of the Mac this year.

Like Andre, this a somewhat notable event for me. I’ve always used a mix of Macs and PCs growing up, but throughout most of the 90s, I built my own PCs for personal use (running DOS/Windows, and then poking around w/ Slackware releases pretty early on). In college, I spent more of my time on Sun workstations, and ended up managing a Mac computer lab (with some NT and SGI workstations in the back), which simultaneously generated a still-to-this-day disdain for the piece-of-crap System 9, but also a growing excitement for OS X. In 2001, I installed OS X 10.0 on a brand new G3 Snow iBook – it was almost unusably slow, but I didn’t look back, and while I continued to maintain a healthy menagerie of gaming PCs and Linux boxen, OS X was my daily driver, and just about every year I’d upgrade to the latest PowerBook, MacBook Pro, and finally, for the past few years, the 11″ MBAs. It was a bit of a sad and slow realization over the past few years that each version of OS X was getting worse for me than the last, and also, that the MBA wasn’t cutting it either, especially as I started traveling full time again. I waited for the 12″ MacBook to see if it were any better, but in the end, that was the final confirmation that Apple was no longer designing laptops for me.

I’d previous tested out a bunch of Chromebooks (including traveling with one on a month-long trip in China), but even with a Crouton setup, it just never worked for me. On the X side, I’d also tried just about every single tiling manager out there (Awesome was probably the best, QTile I had a soft spot for as a Python geek), but they never clicked. This time around, I’ve been using Openbox, and it’s been great – does everything I want, gets out of the way, and its behavior is completely customizable. I spent a month or so yak-shaving (fixing about one thing a day), and in the end, I have a setup that is bespoke in a way that feels fitting considering how much time I spend on my computers.  It’s not perfect – I had to write my own site-specific browser library (works but still needs some polishing), and my 1Password situation is passable, but honestly a huge pain. Also, I’m booting into Windows a lot more than I’d like – a pure necessity to run Adobe Creative Cloud, Unity3D, and the rest of my VR development, although I will admit that Windows 10 is… not that bad.


Since no laptops are powerful enough to currently drive PC VR experiences, I also started carrying around a very powerful PC in a Pelican case with me (my VR bucket). Since I can also use this for my photo editing, that changes the calculus a bit for my portable computing needs. I will probably end up with something a bit slimmer/lighter than my X250 next. Since I also carry a separate mechanical keyboard, this may even end up being a 2-in-1 or tablet. As long is it runs Linux well and has 8h+ battery life, I’ll be alright I think.

We’ll see what 2016 brings, but it’s a bit sad that for me, it probably won’t ever be a Mac again.

[1] For all the details: