1: the first one

She swore as she pressed the elevator button for the third time in a row. This late at night, her attention span was shorter than a goldfish’s memory. A glowing 11 appeared on the screen and she muttered it to herself while pacing in front of the elevator, restless to get home.

A ding announced the elevator’s arrival and she shuffled inside. The light reflecting off her laptop screen was replaced by the light of her cellphone as she rode down. Her finger hovered over the Uber app, hesitating. She usually called one for the ride home, but it was always such a hassle to find the right car at her busy intersection. She decided she would try out the taxis lined up in front of the building instead. Work was paying for it, after all.

She got out of the elevator and strode uncertainly towards the line of taxis. Some of them had drivers out front, smoking cigarettes, while others seemed to stand alone. Still others were clustered together in a jagged circle, talking. Her steps slowed down even further. Were these drivers waiting on other customers?

She was saved from making any next moves when one of the drivers standing in front of his car noticed her slow but persistent approach. “Do you need a taxi, miss?” She nodded gratefully and accepted the offered open door.

The taxi was not new like some of the Uber cars she was used to, but it was traditional looking, with the company policies on the back of one seat and the meter ticking at the front. It smelled of moth balls and pine resin. The driver asked where she was going and she inputted her address into her GPS (even taxi drivers were embracing technology, it seemed.)

She had never been one for conversation, but he seemed more than willing to carry it. He told her about his wife and two children, his recent hair transplant surgery, and how he was an Uber driver until he got into an accident his insurance wouldn’t pay for. When she asked how the taxi industry was treating him, he explained the story of how six of his coworkers had been laid off at the same time and decided to become taxi drivers together. They got a phone plan with unlimited minutes, and were always on the phone with each other, in order to better pass jobs – and the time.

At the end of the ride, she asked him for his name – Rafael. He gave her his number so that she could text him for a ride any time she needed one. He promised that if he couldn’t pick her up himself, he would get another one of his friends to taxi her. She paid the bill, got out of his car, and went straight to bed.

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september reads

Not a Fan: Becoming a Completely Committed Follower of Jesus, by Kyle Idleman

category: christian

This was a birthday present for me given by my discipleship group, and I took an embarrassingly long time to finish it. Now that I’m done reading it, I’ve filled the time I took to read this with actually reading my Bible cover to cover – wish me luck in finishing that book too!

As for the book itself, I appreciate the premise (that too many of us think of ourselves as being a Christian but do not stop to question the depth of our conviction), but I didn’t really connect with any of the examples Idleman put in his book. He has a lot of extreme examples (from prostitution to stand-up Christian, etc.), when I think a book with the message this one wanted to convey should have strived to be more relatable. Also, the book contained a little too much repetition for my liking.

If you’re interested, Not a Fan is also a DVD series:

Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison

category: classics

Scrolling through the Goodreads review section, I see a sea of five stars, so much so that it made me wonder at my own lack of enthusiasm for this book. Again, I loved the premise and intended message; a young black boy learning the harsh subtleties of how America treats African Americans. But the plot itself seemed to be MISSING. If I were to write a plot summary of this book, I’m almost sure that no one could understand it. I’d see this as a good book to study in English class, but one that is too dense to be a truly enjoyable read.

John Green has a Crash Course Literature episode on Invisible Man, and he summarizes the book at one point in the video, so feel free to make your own judgment:

july reads

Now that summer has finally started for me (yes I know it’s already the end of August) hopefully the next one of these monthly reading lists will be longer… but for now I only have two recommendations.

Stories of Your Life and Others, by Ted Chiang

category: science fiction

Ted-Chiang.jpg

This is a… novella? Short story? Quick read, but super good! I’ve discussed this book on episode 7 of our podcast (which you should totally subscribe to), and we pretty much gushed over how great it is. Ted Chiang’s not really a conventional fiction writer, since he has a CS major and still works full-time as a technical writer, but I think that lends itself to a unique writing style that’s very refreshing. The story is about a female linguist who is helping the government to communicate with aliens – their way of thinking ends up influencing her way of thinking – as well as influencing the way the story is structured. I can’t really explain much else without giving too much away, but if you have an hour or two free, I’d highly recommend reading this! (You definitely don’t have to be a science fiction fanatic to enjoy this – I rarely read sci-fi but still found this amazing.)

 

A Tale for the Time Being, by Ruth Ozeki

category: magical realism

book trailer:

Quick and dirty summary: a Japanese schoolgirl writes in her diary about wanting to commit suicide. Years later, an American-Canadian writer suffering from writer’s block finds her diary and tries to help her – through time?

If I’m honest, I almost put this book down halfway through because the pace was a bit slow for me. But the second half of the book definitely picks up and totally won me over!

Also, I didn’t realize this until I finished the book, but the author definitely put her own life experience in here. The writer character’s name is Ruth and her husband’s name if Oliver, and they both live in Vancouver and New York, which is the same as what the author does in real life! I guess this little tidbit doesn’t actually matter in the context of the story, but it does add a bit of magical pixie dust to this quasi-historical story!

what is Buzzfeed’s most effective workout/diet plan?

Three things you should know about me:

  1. I’m an avid Buzzfeed Video consumer.
  2. I love experimenting with the latest trends on myself (see past posts on sleep cycles, minimalism, and virtual assistants among others)
  3. I’m an accounting student and number crunching is sort of my life.

Buzzfeed has been posting a lot of workout and weight-loss videos recently, and they always provide the participant’s body stats before and after the video. Usually, the participants will have lost weight and fat, but I always thought that idea was kind of a cop-out because if you take a sedentary person and put them on any sort of diet or exercise plan you’ll see results. Instead, I thought it’d be cool to compare some of the diet/workout plans from the different videos and see which one was the most effective.

The Workouts and Diets

We Lost 22% of Body Fast in 6 Weeks: personal training (each person has a personalized training and diet program). They’ll eat supplements and melatonin. Diet low in carbs.

90 Days of Working Out With P90X – LIFE/CHANGE: This one was simple – they jut followed P90X (didn’t follow the meal plan)

We Dieted Like Chris Pratt for 30 Days: Trainer used each man’s weight, body type, blood type, lipid profiling, stress level, and body fat to determine individualized plans for the guys. They ate the same thing every day for three weeks ( the fourth week was different – they got to have steak!), and they also did a regular workout routine (not really mentioned in the video).

Women Diet Like Kardashians for 30 Days: While each woman’s diet was highly individualized, the basis was: no gluten, no dairy, low carbs, lots of vegetables, and high protein. They also reduced caffeine, sugar, dairy, and alcohol intake.

The Numbers

Here’s my spreadsheet for reference:

spreadsheet-p1spreadsheet-p2

The winners (bolded in the spreadsheet) are:

  • Male weight loss: We Lost 22% of Body Fat in 6 Weeks
  • Female weight loss: Women Diet Like Kardashians for 30 Days
  • Male and female body fat: We Lost 22% of Body Fat in 6 Weeks

Pretty sad that P90X didn’t make it into the top list at all. I guess there are two lessons here:

  1. Diet plans are way more effective than workout plans
  2. Individualized plans are the most effective.

Honourable mentions

These weren’t included because only one person did the plan and I thought that wasn’t enough data points, but they’re still interesting!

I Lost 40 lbs By Drinking Breakfast – Kane

Kane drank Soylent, ate fewer calories, then started working out.

I Tried a Diet And Fitness Plan Based On My DNA – Daysha

Daysha sent a sample of her DNA to a lab and got someone from FitnessGenes to explain the results to her (what types of foods to avoid, what time in the day to work out to see results). They then worked out together for 30 days.

june reads

Full disclosure: none of these books were actually read in June, but just between the time I last wrote a book review post and now.

How to Win Friends and Influence People, by Dale Carnegie

category: self-help

This has been on my list of books to read for a while, just because I’ve heard so many references to it. Since I’ve been super into the self-help mumbo jumbo lately, I completely ate it up. I love that Carnegie inserts both historical stories and stories from his students into the book – it definitely helps in applying concepts to a real-life setting.

Friends-Influence-People

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania, by Erik Larson

category: historical non-fiction

Eh… this book was OK. There are some truly beautiful descriptions in it, but I’m of the opinion that it follows too many different characters around and has a sense of lack of cohesiveness. For example, even though they all do come together in the shipwreck, most of the characters never even see each other. Since this was the case, I would much rather have read a collection of independent stories that were bound together rather than jumping from person to person.

Interview with Erik Larson (he does a really great job of selling this book):

favourite podcasts

I started listening to podcasts when traveling to and from work last term, and I’ve found them to be a great way to relax even when I’m on the go. Google Play Music can automatically download the latest three episodes of the podcasts you’ve subscribed to when you’re connected to the internet so that that you can listen to them offline later. Below are the ones I’ve set to be automatically downloaded to my phone:

Bad With Money With Gaby Dunn

bad-with-money-with-gaby-dunn

I’ve been a fan of JBU for a minute, and you already know I’m all about self-improvement, so when I heard that Gaby (“America’s deadbeat sweetheart”) was starting her own podcast about managing money I knew I had to listen. The episodes come out weekly, and the podcast is already on their second season. Even though I’m in a business program, I’ve realized I know amazingly little about personal finance. So even though I’m not exactly Gaby’s “target audience” (broke L.A. actors), I still find the episodes both hilarious and educational.

Dear Hank and John

dear-hank-john

If you don’t know who Hank and John Green are… do you even Internet. (TLDR: They’re brothers that run a ton of channels on Youtube relating to education like CrashCourse and SciShow. John Green is an author who wrote books like The Fault in Our Stars and Looking for Alaska, while Hank Green is a business owner who runs a lot of conferences like Vidcon, Nerdcon, and most recently Podcon). In this podcast, they answer the Nation’s (their fans’) questions, talk about their lives, and give their weekly updates on Mars (Hank’s passion) and AFC Wimbledon (John’s passion…?) This is probably one of the least informative podcasts I listen to but one of my favourites anyway.

Call Your Girlfriend

call-your-girlfriend

I stumbled upon this podcast completely on accident. It’s two long-distance friends who do a podcast every week. They mostly talk about the news but give their own liberal takes on it. Sometimes they talk celebrity gossip, but lately, there’s been a lot of Trump-bashing.

Snap Judgment

snap-judgment

Oh, My God, This Is My Favourite Podcast Of All Time. It’s a lot more heavily produced than the other ones because it’s a storytelling podcast, but that’s what makes it so good. Every episode has a new theme and includes a series of stories from different people. These stories are usually crazy; and with Snap’s sound effects and editing, it really does transport you to a different place. The goal of this podcast is to break down cultural, political, and religious barriers by telling everyone’s stories, and it really does such a good job of fulfilling this goal.

Family Ghosts

family-ghosts

I don’t have too much to say about this podcast since I recently subscribed to it and they only have one episode out so far, but I’m expecting good things. It’s another storytelling podcast, but tells stories about – you guessed it – family ghosts. Check out the pilot if you’re interested!

march reads

Eligible, by Curtis Sittenfeld

This is a modern retelling of Jane Austen’s famous Pride and Prejudice. Curtis Sittenfeld (who is a woman by the way!) was actually approached to write this as part of the Austen Project, where a group of writers take on the task of doing a modern retelling of each of Jane Austen’s books. In this world, Jane is a yoga instructor, Elizabeth (Liz) is a magazine writer, and Darcy and Chip are neurosurgeons. I absolutely adored this book, but a friend didn’t quite like it so much – I think it mostly depends on your own perception of how the P&P characters would have behaved in the real world.

Interview with Curtis Sittenfeld:

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, by Marie Kondo

There has been so much hype around this book that I just had to give it a try. I definitely found following her advice step by step to be really helpful in decluttering my things!

The-Life-Changing-Magic-of-Tidying-Up-Marie-Kondo1.jpg

update on virtual assistants: AskSunday vs Upwork

You may remember I made a post on virtual assistants some time ago. I ended that post unsure of whether the AskSunday service would actually better my life. Now, three months later, I’m back to announce the results.

ask-sunday-77900690

I mentioned in the last blog post that I had sent AskSunday my first request: to research volunteer opportunities relating to women I could take part in.

They responded with the necessary information within the timeline I gave them (48 hrs). The data collected was OK overall. The one thing that freaked me out a little was that they told me they needed more time to call the centres to find more information! (I had only given them 1 hour on the task). I felt like the volunteer centres wouldn’t take too kindly to my assistant calling to ask for volunteer details – it kind of defeated the purpose of the whole “give your time to the community” thing.

I gave them some more small tasks to do after that, but I couldn’t give them anything big because I would be paying $15/hr after the first three hours… ouch. Overall, I wasn’t too impressed with the quality of the products they returned either, although this could be a result of my instructions not being specific enough. Most importantly, even after I instructed them not to call after that first almost-fiasco, they continued to try to contact the leads they got from their research! At one point, they attempted to contact a potential employer; I freaked out.

Another thing that really bothered me was the fact that you don’t get a dedicated VA in the true sense of the word. You are assigned a contact in the company you can email and relay all your instructions to, but they don’t necessarily do the work themselves. They will have an entire team behind them, so your task will most likely be outsourced to someone else on the team. This means that a lot of information could be lost in the communication chain, and also that your VA never truly learns about your needs.

Even though I was slowly getting turned off from AskSunday, I still loved the idea of a virtual assistant. Upon some more research, I decided to quit AskSunday and try Upwork.

upwork-logo

Upwork is a website that matches freelancers with freelance jobs. Said freelancers are from all around the world; there are North American ones as well as Middle East ones. Some freelancers work for around minimum wage, but there are lots that are willing to work for as little as $1/hour!

I’ve since quit AskSunday and started using Upwork. I find that I get way better results for what I’m looking for, which is mostly web research and data compilation.

From my experience, here are how the two services compare:

AskSunday Upwork
Pros:

·        You don’t have to bother finding a new VA every time you need a task done as you just message your VA over Skype (or whatever other method of communication you’ve deemed best)

·        More secure

·        Good for small daily/weekly tasks

Con: This actually is pretty expensive ($15/hr)

Pros:

·        No minimum hours per week – when you need someone, you can hire them!

·        The freelancers I’ve worked with tend to ask more questions which leads to results that are better suited to what I was looking for

·        Can hire specifically for the skills you need (e.g. I usually specify high proficiency in Excel)

·        Less expensive – up to $1/hr!

·        Especially good for projects because you can pay them a fixed price for the entire project rather than going hourly

Con: This is considered less secure because you are hiring a stranger and have no vetting process but your own. I would not trust anyone on Upwork with my personal information.

 

Now that this experiment has officially concluded, I think I have added a very important tool to my arsenal. I would definitely recommend Upwork for tasks that are time-consuming, mindless, and can be easily outsourced. Maybe AskSunday would work better for someone in a higher income bracket.

niko

This post was originally going to be about January’s reads, but because of the insane hours of the audit busy season, I’ve only managed to finish one book…

Dmitri Nasrallah is an author from Montreal Quebec, Canada. I met him at, of all things, an academic event. I was taking a Legal Studies elective at university which was cross-listed with an English course, and my professor ran a reading series, where the school brought in established authors to talk about their books and give writing advice to students. We got extra credit in her course for attending the events, so you can bet that I was at every single one of them.

I can’t remember if I’ve ever mentioned it on this blog now, but growing up I had always dreamed about becoming a professional writer. As I grew up though, I left that dream by the wayside in favour of less creative subjects (ahem accounting). That’s why it was so interesting to hear Nasrallah’s story. He wrote his first short story when he was 20 while taking a creative writing class. The creative writing class was his elective while he pursued a business degree. The similarity between his past and my present intrigued me, so much so that at the end of his reading I bought a copy of the only one of his books that was still in stock –

Niko, by Dmitri Nasrallah

Here’s a book trailer in French (the book has been published in both English and French):

Nasrallah signed the book for me, and with his blessing I started Niko’s journey.

dmitri-sig

Niko is a young boy who, with his father, leaves war-torn Lebanon in search for a brighter future. Niko has not yet started school at the beginning of the book, and by the end he is an adult. The story of immigration resonated with me and because I moved to Canada around the same time he did and was the same age as what he ended off at when I finished the book, I kept drawing parallels between my life and his. On the other hand, Niko’s history was a lot more coloured with violence and hardship than my own, so it was a little shocking to read about a man getting decapitated in Lebanon, then flip the page and be at a grocery store in Canada.

Favourite quote (this contains minor spoilers so you may want to stop here):

“They say you live in Canada. Tell me, how is your life now?”

“To be honest, it’s not so good.”

“You know,” Baba says, “when I sent you there, I thought you’d forget all about me and become a doctor. I thought you’d have everything waiting for you there, opportunities at your feet. You were supposed to go on and do great things.”

“Life is different there,” Niko shrugs. “There are too many rules, and no one is happy, but we all have a lot of money to live well and we all complain. I don’t know how to explain it, but even though there was no danger to our lives, we still found ways to make mistakes.”

“I’m disappointed to hear that.”