Tag Archives: data

My Weirdly High Bad Cholesterol and Why I’m Not Concerned

High Cholesterol

This past week I ran a few blood tests to follow up on the high cholesterol reading my physician identified during a routine annual checkup. This obviously was initially concerning and would have an impact on my diet and health. I wanted to quickly recount my conclusions on this finding based on subsequent personal blood testing.

To clarify, I have high “total cholesterol” (LDL+HDL) and high LDL.

Let me begin by saying I am not a doctor, I’m not even a health expert. Heck, I’m not really even a health blogger. The discussion here is purely speculative in nature. 

My Cholesterol Problem

I have a high total cholesterol count, 204. I have a high LDL (bad) cholesterol count, 136.

The way I understand it, cholesterol is a substance that moves between the liver and the rest of the body. It becomes the biggest issue when it starts building up as hard plaque in the arteries of the heart.

Traditional medical practices had established a standard that total cholesterol and total LDL numbers were the highest indications of cardiac “events” (think heart attacks/angina/acute coronary syndrome.)

High Cholesterol is not dangerous by itself

The goal for a healthy heart is to reduce the amount of plaque being deposited on the arterial walls of the heart. It turns out that a classic cholesterol “count” is not the best way to determine your risk for cardiac events.

Fortunately , there are more detailed and illuminating tests for cholesterol than the simple lipid profile generally ordered as an initial test by physicians (It makes sense the simpler one was initially used for me, especially on a young and relatively healthy 29 year old like myself.)

I ordered this additional test, through directlabs.com, called the “CardioIQ Advanced Lipid Profile”. That gave me something that looked like this:

 

Yes, it did confirm I do have high cholesterol. However, this test showed a deeper, more promising story.

The test counts the number of the actual LDL particles. The number of particles turns out to be a much better indicator of heart risk than the LDL-count (traditional test.)

When a person, like me, has a “discordance” (different healthy/unhealthy clinical result) in their LDL-Total Count (the kind that I have a problem with) and LDL-Particle number (the kind I’m testing on my own here) it has been found that the particle number is far more indicative of a problem. Thus, LDL-P is a better number to focus on (Otvos et. al.)

This test ran me $109 (it’s on sale this month, no I don’t make any money from this reference.) As with all my self-registered tests, I order them from Direct Labs, go into a Quest Diagnostics lab (the exact same lab I use for my physician) and get a blood draw. Less than a week later I got the results online at the Direct Labs website.

There’s no reason your physician can’t run a test like this for you. It’s not pseudoscience or anything like that. The primary study cited above by Dr. Otvos is widely accepted in the medical community. I just choose to do some of this blood testing on my own because I don’t want to pressure my physician into ordering tests that may not be traditionally insurance agency friendly.

Rioting after the Eagles’ Victory last weekend

My doctor is actually very supportive of this testing and we’ve had chats about it. She loves that I’m taking my preventative health seriously and seeking to understand my body in ways she obviously doesn’t have the time to focus on with hundreds of patients. I want to maintain a friendly relationship as I know ordering the copious tests I want to run on a healthy individual like me is a good way to get flagged by the insurance industry.

If you do have a history of cardiac disease or high cholesterol, I suggest you somehow get this test done. Look specifically at your LDL-particle count. This is the strongest indicator of heart disease prevention. I won’t go into the details of the mechanisms because I am a complete amateur on this topic.

Fortunately, I’ve found here that I don’t have much cause for concern. My LDL-Particle number is healthy and I’ve seen multiple places online that the healthy particle number is associated with a significantly lower risk of heart disease.

Piano we recently had to give away on Craigslist

For a clarification of the concept I recommend this post by Dr. Peter Attia. Dr. Attia was a leading cancer research at Johns Hopkins and now focuses on quality of life extension.  Much of what I said here is articulated by him on that series he wrote.

Also, eating cholesterol doesn’t affect your actual blood levels. Just had to get that out there. (Source)

 

2017, A Totally Awesome Personal Annual Review

Reflection on the past is extremely important to the determination of goals for the future. That’s why I want to take a look at my 2017.

Trips

Travel is an important part of what I’m starting to call my “tertiary” (third-level) education. I travel to…

  •  Develop resilience to change.
  • Be able to connect with people from various cultural background through sharing a knowledge of their homeland.
  • Expose and develop palates for new foods and flavors.
  • Have conversations with fellow travelers  TOTALLY outside my mindframe to get a “headcheck” on my ideas, thought processes, passions, etc. (This is WAY underrated.)
  • Remove myself from my daily routine in order to gain perspective.
  • Enjoy a less rigid schedule. (I enjoy my daily schedule, but taking a break/changing it up is important to growth and appreciation.)
  • Consume podcasts/books at my own pace throughout the day.
Ecuador
I don’t look happy there. But I was (I promise.) I’d later this year get a tour of Copenhagen from the girl to my right. She’s now a good friend.

The year started with an incredible eye-opening journey to South America with my friend Matt. Just being able to feel the warmth of the tropical sun in February was amazing.

Getting to see how they live in Ecuador was really cool. It wasn’t a glamorous trip with fine dining adventures, but it was amazing. We dug our feet into the Pacific sand, climbed hills in the low jungle, and developed friendships along the way.

Read more about that trip here.

NYC

On the domestic side, we got together several old friends for a culinary tour of New York. This was an important trip for me. It allowed my old and new friends (MD and PA) to meet and get to know each other. That was a great joy for me.

It didn’t hurt that we ate at Le Bernardin, which has become likely my favorite restaurant in the world.

We stayed in a small apartment in Chinatown for $30each/night. It was special to get together with all these guys at once. It’s a rarity now that many of us are spread out and some have children.

L to R: My roommate Matt, my childhood friend Andrew, his brother and my roommate Gregory, my roommate John, my coworker Matt, and my childhood friend Nate.
Texas

My brother Chris really wanted to go to Texas, so I obliged (It was awesome.)

We visited with his college friend Greg. The trip was a time well spent with my brother and two of our good friends, Nate (see image above) and Greg.

We went cliff jumping in a big lake. We ate obscene amounts of BBQ. And we drove around central TX in the heat cracking jokes and drinking beers. This was another joyful trip.

Me and my brother Chris
Vegas

Vegas was an interesting trip. I went with four guys I don’t know that well, but had met their group through mutual friends. They are all deep thinkers and take personal growth very seriously, which is why I wanted to spend time with them.

While Vegas itself was a bit of a depressing place wrought with prostitution, licentiousness, and just overall garish anti-intellectual “new money” Dionysian complacency, I found the trip to be a nice time to be able to have some good conversations with new people.

It didn’t hurt that Vegas has some very well-executed food (albeit very pricey.)

Read more about my thoughts on Vegas here.

Hanging out with Matt, Vinny, Kyle, and Joe in the Cosmo hotel .
Cincinnati

After having met Andrew through I mutual friend I decided to come out and see how he lives in Cincy.

Andrew was an incredibly gracious host. We explored the town he live in. We played soccer with his work crew (great guys, hope to hang out with them in the near future.) We discussed travel hacking and Euro soccer. We went to the best apartment complex impromptu pool party I’ve ever attended.

Cincy Skyline on a perfect day.
Brooklyn

My roommate Matt and I did a quick weekend NYC trip to tour some food joints with my friend Kana (we met through Yelp and our mutual obsession for good food.) Kana is always fun. She has such an intense love for the NY food scene, which I really appreciate. She may be one of three people on this planet to love talking about food more than me.

Wildwood/Cape May

My roommate John had a place in Wildwood, NJ for the week so we decided to go down with my other roommates for a quick beach trip. The Wildwood boardwalk and beachfront  itself is an utterly debase place (dirty, loud, and crowded.) However, nearby Cape May is pretty and has a lovely quiet beachfront.

Copenhagen/London/Ibiza/Barça

I covered this solo trip in depth here.

Solo travel is really fun if you’re the type of person who enjoys novelty and excitement (with the tradeoff of some uncertainty.)

I met a lot of really cool people on this trip around the continent. I was quite satisfied spending two weeks just walking around european cities in the summer listening to my favorite podcasts and walking long distances to find the restaurants I had mapped out.

Just spending time by the hostel bars in Copenhagen, London, Barcelona and Ibiza chatting with fellow travelers was a gold mine of fun. Meeting new people of all ages who are in a place where they are open-minded and conversational is hugely rewarding for me.

These cities were all unique in geography and culture. It was really cool to see these places I’d alone ever heard about before from friends, textbooks, and news articles.

NYC Friend Trip

We went back to NYC with a smaller group of childhood friends. We had a whole two-bedroom apartment to ourselves. We ate our way around the city. It was fantastic.

Pittsburgh

I ended up in Pittsburgh this past Thanksgiving weekend for a surprisingly fun non-“baby shower” baby celebration party.  It was good to connect with a few friends and send them off into this new chapter in their lives. This whole “getting married and having kids” thing is starting to become very popular amongst my friends :).

Major moves and focii

Minimalism

I have implemented and stuck to a much simpler approach to my living space. This has been a joyful simplification as now the stuff I have is all owned very intentionally.

Reading

I had a solid year in reading. Books that stick out are. I could probably benefit from doing a bit more fiction.

  • Guns, Germs, and Steel
  • Tidying up 
  • The Little Book that still beats the market
  • Obesity Code
  • The Boron Letters
  • Early Retirement Extreme
  • The Six Pillars of Self Esteem
  • Don’t Shoot the Dog
  • Million Dollar Consulting
Social Gatherings

We hosted 6 dinner parties for friends. We hosted another 6 bigger parties at the house, most of which were very well attended and raving successes. I’d like to continue to provide a space for my friends (and new friends) to gather and meet in a comfortable and fun setting.

Faces

I started the year a bit pudgier than I’d prefer. I think I took a healthy and sustainable journey in 2017 towards being healthier. Here is an album of pictures taken about monthly through the year. I don’t see much change really (which is good.)

Best Purchases

2017

This was an excellent year. I’m exceedingly grateful for the wonderful people that made this an joyful and rewarding year.

 

The bitter pain of surveying your friends for feedback.

This past month I decided to ask my friends to fill out a survey giving me feedback. I wrote up a 5-question survey (using SurveyMonkey) and asked around on Facebook, text, and email for responses. I got 19 replies.

The first 3 questions asked about interestings things my friends had done for 2017. I received some great suggestions about movies, book, and restaurants that I will definitely be checking out in 2018. Almost none of the responses were the same.

The next two questions got into the heart of the matter: What have I been doing well, and where can I improve? I am confident that everyone took this to be anonymous because the answers were very forthright.

In terms of my areas of weakness, there were some clear patterns.

  1. Lack of patience with others and with situations.
  2. Lack of empathy towards the opinions and needs of others.

Growth opportunities

At first I took these results very harshly. People think I’m too self-oriented and oblivious to their needs. I had so many frustrated thoughts about how I only use the harsh language I do because…

  1. I expect the same or more from myself.
  2. I only want everyone to get better along with me. And complacency and feelings shouldn’t get in the way of that.

However, I hope I realize now that I don’t want my friends to view me as a ruthless critic. It’s not worth the optimization if you hurt people along the way (even if it is with good intention).

My mind is geared to correct, improve, and suppress emotional reaction in order to optimize my life. It is really hard for me to empathize with others, especially when they seemingly (to me) show no concern for my well-being or the well-being of whatever worldly endeavor on which we happen to be sharing a journey.

Can a person be both ruthlessly effective AND empathetic? I don’t know. It’s been shown that 20% of CEO’s are clinically diagnosable psychopaths and probably many more are almost there.

Now, I’m not a psychopath (or a CEO) but I understand the underlying psychic dilemma here: Empathy slows progress.

What I need to assess is: How much progress am I willing to give up for the sake of deeper levels of friendship connection? That’s a really tough question. Obviously, I’m already doing it somewhat. I don’t lash out at every opportunity. But, I clearly have an issue with slowing down and hearing others’ thoughts, feelings, and concerns. I know this is important, and I know, in some cases, it can lead to greater progress (though many times it does not.)

This is a topic I will be thinking about a lot in 2018, as I already had been less formally in 2017.

It’s important to add that not everyone felt this way. In fact, this was a minority of people. But, if 5/19 comments mention this, there is a pattern that needs to be addressed.

The positives

In terms of strengths, there were some clear patterns. My friends (and some acquaintances/fellow travelers/etc.) felt that I (am)…

  1. Friendly and take an effort to bring people together.
  2. Oriented towards progress and making things better.
  3. Takes initiative to make things happen.

To a lesser extent: Open to suggestions and sincere.

I am happy and proud that my friends see me as a man who takes initiative, adventures, plans, and brings people together in a friendly, fun, and sincere way. The positives did seem to significantly outweigh the negatives in the survey.  My problem is in shared decision-making, not spending time with others in fun/social settings.

Was it worthwhile?

I’m glad I did this survey. While it is harsh to hear criticism, it’s really the only way to improve. I hope to focus in 2018 on ways to develop empathy and patience without sacrificing any commitment to personal growth.

At the same time, I will think about ways to amplify my strengths of focusing on improvement and being a social connector.

This is definitely a dangerous exercise that isn’t for everyone. It was very tough to hear critiques that I couldn’t rebut. However, it was invaluable to get this feedback from people I trust and whose opinions I value.

 

 

The 60 Best Restaurants in West Chester 2017

The following  West Chester area restaurants meet my  statistical threshold for being worth a visit within a 25 minute drive of the borough. They are grouped by category, then sorted by popularity.  Living in West Chester, I’ve been to many of them and can vouch for the list. Where available, I have included links to my reviews. I’ve placed a star next to places I think are worth a special look based on personal experience.

Italian

Greyhound Cafe- Malvern
Montesano Brothers- Chester Springs
Il Granaio*– Glen Mills
Carlino’s Specialty Foods*– West Chester
Portabello’s Restaurant- Kennett Square
Antica Italian Restaurant & BYOB– Chadd’s Ford
Pomodoro Pizza & Italian Restaurant-Downingtown
Toninos Pizza & Pasta- Malvern

Mexican

Taco Maya– Exton
El Limón- Malvern
La Peña Mexicana- Kennett Square
El Tio Mexican Restaurant- Berwyn
Los Sabores De Mexico- West Chester
Real Mexican Kitchen- Glen Mills
El Limón- West Chester

Japanese

Asuka– West Chester
Tsunami– West Chester
Murasaki- Chester Springs
Okinii Modern Japanese– Downingtown
Bon Bon Sushi*– West Chester
Rai Rai Ramen & Hawaiian BBQ– West Chester
The legendary Bonzilla Burrito at Bon Bon Sushi in West Chester

American

Amani’s BYOB- Downingtown
Talula’s Table- Kennett Square
Bonu Cafe Express- Exton
Spence on High Street– West Chester
39 West American Bistro– West Chester

Breakfast

Roots Cafe*– West Chester
Market Street Grill*– West Chester
Three Crazy Ladies- Malvern
Julie Anne’s Place- Malvern
The Black Cat Cafe- Devon
Cafe Americana- Kennett Square

Mediterranean

Byrsa Bistro- Glen Mills
Cedars Cafe- Frazer
Fattoush- Malvern
Zoes Kitchen – Glen Mills
Kaboburritos- Kennett Square
La Madera Bistro-Kennett Square

Pizza

Ravanesi Pizzeria Napoletana- Concordville
Venice Pizza & Pasta- Malvern
Anthony’s Cucina Fresca- Downingtown
MOD Pizza- Glen Mills
Giorgio’s Pizza & Subs- Exton
Gyro from Opa! Opa! West Chester Pa

Other

La Baguette Magique– West Chester
Bakeries
Yori’s Church Street Bakery- West Chester
Bakeries
Big Bad Wolf Barbeque BBQ- Aston
Barbeque
Malvern Buttery- Malvern
Cafes
Pour Richard’s Coffee Co- Devon
Cafes
Cajun Kate’s*– Boothwyn
Cajun/Creole
Da Shin Bistro- Media
Chinese
Lemon Tree Asian Restaurant– Chester Springs
Chinese
Philter- Kennett Square
Coffee & Tea
Purebread Deli- Glen Mills
Delis
Opa! Opa!*– West Chester
Greek
Mi Pais– Malvern
Hispanic
Manam Indian Cuisine- Malvern
Indian
Delco’s Original Steaks & Hoagies- Chadd’s Ford
Sandwiches
Raw Can Roll Cafe- Wayne
Vegan

 

The Best Restaurant Rating Site: Yelp vs. Google vs. Facebook

Rating the Rater

This past week I wrote my 500th Yelp review. With little fanfare, in my own bizarre celebration, I decided to model a predictive algorithm for my rating of any given restaurant based on existing online reviews. For example, I would want to be able to say that my Yelp rating will be the general Yelp rating*.9+.1*the general Google rating. I had been planning this for a while because I choose a lot of restaurants for myself and others. Even a slight improvement in my picking would mean a couple more enjoyable restaurant experiences per month. The time seemed right with my personal rating dataset at 500. This algorithm I describe is, albeit simple, tailored to my tastes and ratings history. It will not necessarily match your tastes. My goal was to see how Yelp, Google, and Facebook did at recommending me restaurants. I learned a few things about online ratings. I will change how I approach the way I choose restaurants.

My Hypotheses

  1. Yelp’s predictive power could be improved by consulting Google and Facebook.
  2. Very popular places would be worse because they were “touristy” or too crowded.

Gathering the Data

I sent my Yelp profile through Upwork.com to a virtual assistant for gathering the necessary data. He gathered Yelp, Google, and Facebook ratings for each of the 500 restaurants I visited over the past 3 years. It took him two weeks’ by calendar (not nearly 80 hours) to get this data into a spreadsheet. With the spreadsheet, I was able to begin analyzing my ratings and their comparison to the general web consensi on Yelp, Google and Facebook.

Analyzing the Data

My median rating on Yelp is a 4.  The median general rating for those restaurants is a 4.25 on Yelp, 4.5 on Google, and 4.7 on Facebook. These site’s rate restaurants progressively higher. Practically this means, on average,  a 4.7 on Facebook is a 4.25 on Yelp and a 4.5 on Google. I rate restaurants more harshly than any of the sites analyzed.

Takeaway: Be less impressed with high scores on Facebook than on Google. Be even more with high scores on Yelp.

Developing a Prediction Model

I first analyzed this dataset myself with a free Mac data analysis program called Gertl as well as the Solver add-in on Excel.  This allowed me to see how strongly correlated my scores were to the general Yelp, Google, and Facebook scores. The strongest correlators with my restaurant ratings were Yelp rating (r=.9) and Facebook rating (r=.8). This means that 89% of changes in my rating can be explained by the general Yelp rating and 64% can be explained by the Facebook rating.

Preliminary Takeaways: Yelp is the best predictor of my restaurant ratings. It alone is better than any combined Yelp/Facebook/Google aggregate rating. Facebook is the second best predictor. Google was not statistically reliable. 

Improving the Model

I looked for a more technically skilled assistant to help me build a predictive model beyond these insights. I found a Ph.d in Financial Modeling from France to help me out. Because he asked too much money for the assignment, I told him I didn’t want the contract. In response, he solved the problem for me FOR FREE. He ran several regression models and found a simple solution. His model was slightly better than mine [mine was to use a simple linearly adjusted Yelp rating(yelpscore*8.899=myyelpprediction)]. He found the best predictor of my restaurant rating was to use Excel’s “trunc” function on the general Yelp rating. “Truncate” removes the decimal from a number (4.5 becomes 4, 3.5 becomes 3). With his model, 86% of the predictions fall within 1 of my actual rating (and it gets it right 36%). That is 9% closer than using the actual Yelp rating (which only gets it EXACTLY right 15% of the time) and 6% closer than just guessing a 4 (which gets it EXACTLY right 34% of the time).

Takeaway: The Truncated Yelp score is the best predictor of my actual Yelp restaurant rating. 

How to Pick Restaurants?

I haven’t learning a ton from this exercise. The models I found only marginally improve the predictive power of Yelp’s provided ratings. I suspect all the variations in my analysis are significantly better than randomly eating at a restaurant, except maybe Google.

  1. Yelp is much better than any other site at predicting how much I’ll enjoy a restaurant. The truncated Yelp score is particularly powerful. (Hypothesis 1 above disproven)
  2. The number of reviews a place has on any platform (except when less than the Yelp reviews are <25, when Facebook is a better predictor, probably because Facebook has a larger sample size) is irrelevant to my rating. I had thought that super popular or unknown places were best avoided, but this turned out statistically false. (Hypothesis 2 above disproven)
  3. Facebook and Google both give restaurants a higher average score than Yelp (this is partially due to their extra degree of freedom.) This should be taken into account when viewing those sites.
  4. Google ratings were not statistically significant enough to have any correlation to my ratings. I will not use Google for restaurants in the future.