My Family in Japan Saw Me on TV!

My wife is from Japan and in our five years of marriage, I’ve become very close with her family. But, given today’s restrictions, I can’t see them any time soon.

But they saw me! My wife’s mother and sister watch New Amsterdam, a hospital drama shot in New York City. I appeared in this episode as an EMT, my first time acting. I’m only a background actor (also known as an extra), but it was a very fun experience!

I really enjoyed seeing how a TV show is made from the inside. Also, perhaps due to its high ratings, New Amsterdam has incredible food. Sushi, filet of sole, unbelievable!

The second season of New Amsterdam is now available in Japan and recently, my sister-in-law texted me to let me know her and her mother saw me pushing a stretcher and immediately knew it was me! It makes me really happy to be able to share something fun I’m doing with them. It also makes me feel closer to them since at least they’re seeing me in some way.

My in-laws had actually seen me on TV before. In my first full day ever in Japan in 2014, I happened to be on the national news. I was walking here, and a news program was filming a feature on increasing tourism in Japan. I had no idea they were there but my head wound up prominently visible in the footage. My wife was miffed that despite a lifetime in Japan, she had never been on TV! Her modest stature excluded her even from this shot. She still awaits her chance at stardom.

Interesting little tidbit from that episode of New Amsterdam: the actor on the other end of that stretcher was pushing it very quickly and the stretcher was extremely heavy. We had maybe 2 inches of clearance behind one of the main characters, a very nice lady named Janet Montgomery.

I kept trying to slow the stretcher down before we take out this very small lady. In this episode, she’s pretending to walk with a cast, and we didn’t need her to wind up in a real one!

After this episode, I did another day on New Amsterdam, an episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, and an episode of Netflix’s The Politician. It’s an enjoyable hobby.

Shows are still filming in NYC but only very few, and the safety situation concerns me, so it’ll probably be months before I return. But I look forward to it!

My Camping Essentials: The Basics, The Wishlist, And The Things I Never Thought I’d Need But Can’t Live Without

Getting involved in camping since the spring has done a lot for me. I’ve developed new skills, found greater relaxation and mental clarity, and become closer with friends. But, to get those benefits, first I needed a tent!

There are certain pieces of equipment that are non-negotiable must haves for camping. Other things are nice to have, and some things you’d never even think of as camping equipment but are extremely useful in the woods.

The Basics:

  • You need a tent. Why? The tent traps your body heat and keeps you warm. It keeps insects and rain out. Just get one. Here’s the one I have, from Ozark Trails, the Wal-Mart house brand of camping equipment. I highly recommend this brand for the new camper who isn’t sure if they’ll go often…or ever again. The cost is rock bottom and the quality is surprisingly good, better than comparable products I’ve seen from Amazon. If you wind up going often, you’ll likely replace this stuff with higher-end equipment.
  • Sleeping pad. You have to have this because it insulates you from the cold ground and provides cushioning. You’ll freeze on the lumpy ground without it. Mine is similar to this (my model is no longer sold).
  • Sleeping bag. Without a sleeping bag, you risk hypothermia and death even in relatively mild weather. A friend of mine tried to go bagless once and woke up shivering uncontrollably in what was likely a full-blown case of hypothermia. We cuffed him, dragged him to Wal-Mart, and forced him to buy a sleeping bag for the 2nd night. I started out with an Ozark Trails 40F sleeping bag, similar to this. I’m keeping it for warmer weather trips. Note that because a bag is rated to 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees celsius) doesn’t mean you’ll be comfortable at 40. Overshoot some on the sleeping bag. You’ll be glad you did.
  • Safety whistle. It’s dirt cheap and you’ll need it to scare off bears, find others if you’re lost, etc. DO NOT blow it unless it’s an emergency, as it is very bad for the ears. I didn’t have this for my first few trips and I really wish I did. It would’ve given me peace of mind when a buck walked through our campsite at 4:00 am in the Catskills and I first thought it was a bear.

Recent Additions:

  • The beast of all sleeping bags: Coleman 0 degree mummy sleeping bag. Strongly recommended. Very comfortable, soft, high quality zipper. This is a mummy bag, unlike the conventional bag I linked above. The advantage is it heats up from your body heat dramatically faster. I’d recommend you just go with a bag like this from the outset if you’re going to be camping in the cold. A weak bag will make you a miserable person in the morning. This bag is heavy so it’s not good for backpacking.
  • YETI cooler. Not mine, not even my friends’, but their parents’ cooler. Shockingly expensive but incredibly effective. They kindly let us borrow it. Ice takes a long, long time to melt and you can eat tastier, fresher food on the campsite. There are certainly cheap coolers that can do a decent job.
  • Larger knife. This was an early Christmas gift from a friend and more advanced woodsman. Mine is not a Mora but it’s similar to this (I actually don’t know what brand mine is). It’s great for food prep or cutting sticks to make a firestick (used to start camp fires). Don’t walk around town with it unless your local laws allow.
  • Headlamp, much easier than a flashlight because it’s hands free. You can substitute a phone flashlight but I’d recommend this. It’s easier to use with a longer battery life. I have this one.
  • Inflatable pillow, huge help in getting a good night’s sleep at minimal cost, size, and weight. Mine is here.

  • Tent footprint. Just bought this for my most recent trip, which was last weekend. It’s a plastic painter’s drop cloth. It stops moisture from coming up out of the ground into your tent. I also found it kept me dramatically warmer despite being a mere 2 mm thick and costing almost nothing. Definitely recommended, especially if there’s rain forecasted during your trip. Here’s how to use that plastic sheet to make the tent footprint. It sounds complicated but is actually quite easy.
  • Uniqlo down jacket, a wonderful gift from my mother in law that seals in your heat like nothing else.

Things I Never Thought I’d Need But Can’t Live Without:

  • Necessaire eucalyptus body wash. Kindly provided by my wife. I wouldn’t have known about it otherwise. If this is a little too pricey, anything with essential oils like eucalpytus or tea tree oil should do nicely. There are many cheaper options but this stuff is divine, assuming you have showers at your campsite.
  • Electrolyte packets. I experienced dehydration and electrolyte depletion on a recent trip, which was a difficult experience. I strongly recommend having some kind of electrolyte supplementation on hand, just in case. Pedialyte might be an even better choice.
  • Weekender bag, another lovely gift from the missus. The rectangular shape makes it easier to find things in the weekender than in a backpack, and the extra pockets are handy. My electrolyte packets go in the tiny one.

Wishlist:

  • Warbonnet hammock. Expensive but awesome and the one exception to the “you need a tent” rule. Should last many years. The experienced camper I mentioned above has it and swears by it. This is made in America by a small company and the quality is very high.

What items do you guys love for camping? What questions do you have about camping gear or camping in general? Let me know in the comments!

Is China Using Its COVID Vaccines to Control Other Countries?

I just read a disturbing report from The Economic Times (essentially the Wall Street Journal of India). It says that China has offered its COVID vaccines to countries in Southeast Asia, but only if they support China in the WHO. There is a similar report from Nikkei Asia (basically the WSJ of Japan). Some Southeast Asian countries are buying vaccines from AstraZeneca and Pfizer instead.

With COVID deaths worldwide exceeding 10,000 per day, I find any attempt to play politics with these vaccines despicable. Anecdotally, I see increasing anger toward the Chinese government (which we must be careful to distinguish from the Chinese people). I recently happened upon a large vehicle protest by Falun Gong against the Chinese government at a rest stop in northern New Jersey.

What do you guys think of this information? Please leave a comment and let me know. I’m curious to hear others’ opinions.

How Camping Is Improving My Life

In April 2020, I did something I never thought I’d do: leave my warm, comfortable apartment and sleep in a bag in the woods.

When I found out friends of mine were organizing a camping trip, my brain immediately started manufacturing excuses why I couldn’t go: too cold, the gear’s too expensive, etc. But with lockdowns removing most of the things I normally did, it occurred to me it might be time to try something new.

So I bought the essential camping equipment and we rode up to the Catskill Mountains, which I see have 255 Google Reviews with a 4.5 star average. (Who reviews a mountain range like it’s a 7-11?) I expected the trip to be something I’d simply endure. Instead, I took to the woods almost right away.

Since then, we’ve gone six more times plus numerous day hikes, and I’ve become a Junior Woodsman. I almost had an attack the first time I had to put up my tent, and a kind friend wound up basically doing the entire thing for me. But I learned, bit by bit. Last Friday, when we went here (highly recommended although closing for the season tomorrow) I had my tent up in about 5 minutes.

What do I get from being in the woods? The removal of the typical stimuli lets my brain work better. I see things more clearly and come to certain realizations. For example, this weekend, it became clearer to me that the next step for my investment business in 2021 may be to rebalance from stocks into more commercial real estate, given the relative valuations of the two asset classes.

Being with friends all day, every day, solving problems and undergoing challenges together is very different from just hanging out for a few hours on the weekend. You get closer as a group and come to know each other better. Some times, you barely need to speak anymore, because you know you’re already understood.

Your existence in the woods is very simple. You need water, a fire, some food, a basic shelter and your friends. And not much else. That time can inform the rest of your life once you’re back home.

With many campgrounds closing for the season, we will likely be transitioning to more day hikes and trying to find some cabins for rent from time to time. However we do it, more time in nature is bound to be a positive for us.

Give it a try!

How I Learned to Cook

For 11 years through college and most of my 20’s, I cooked little more than toast. Every meal I ate, I ate at the cafeteria and later, once I had a real job, an actual restaurant.

I had many a scrumptious dinner, but I also had an anemic bank account and expanding belly. I realized something had to change.

How do you learn something with zero background? Find the best teacher you can and do exactly what they say. My first was Budget Bytes, an excellent blog that posts simple recipes with very detailed instructions. Every step comes with a photo. If mine looked like hers, it gave me confidence.

Try her Split Pea, Bacon and Potato soup. I fed some to a friend recently and she couldn’t stop raving about it!

Eventually, I was ready for a bigger challenge. Around that time, I discovered Joshua Weissman, whose creative and technically sound recipes inspired me to make things like sourdough bread that I never thought I could do.

His latest video on breakfast burritos just made me glad I wasn’t fasting that day!

The startup costs in cooking for myself were substantial (pots and pans, spices, etc). At first I didn’t think I was saving a dime. But over time, my food spending plummeted.

There was another side effect I never expected. As soon as I quit eating out daily, I immediately lost 30 pounds with no effort at all.

You can make more money, but you can’t easily make more health. I hope these links will help you guys eat well, be healthy, save money, and have fun!

We’ve Had a Vaccine Since January 2020

I just found out that we’ve had a COVID vaccine since January 13, 2020, a mere two days after a brave Chinese scientist published the virus’ genetic sequence. In this superb article, David Wallace-Wells details how Moderna created its vaccine, which has proven highly effective in trials, in a single weekend.

What if we had made that vaccine available to anyone who wanted it, albeit with a major safety warning, in January? Tens, maybe even hundreds of thousands of lives might have been saved. We might also have been able to collect more safety data sooner, from those very volunteers.

In an insightful post, economist John Cochrane proposes such a system that would track those volunteers and thereby collect great safety data (see part 2 of his post). This could be done alongside the traditional clinical trials the FDA mandates, rather than in place of them.

Such a system would provide greater freedom, more data, and a chance to save lives. With thousands dying in the US alone per day, what are we waiting for?

The Only Health Podcast That Makes Me Laugh Too

Lee Syatt may not be famous (yet), but he’s a hilarious comedian. Unfortunately, he’s also well over 300 pounds at 5’4″. Lately, I’ve been enjoying his new podcast What Was I Thinking?, where he is detailing his efforts to get in shape.

I find myself laughing hysterically walking down the street as people distance themselves from me for reasons far beyond COVID. If you’d like to do the same, check out his podcast and also his new Patreon, where Lee works with his brother (who happens to be a noted personal trainer) to get healthy.

As someone who once had many of the same problems as Lee, I wish I’d have had this show when I was losing weight!

Why We Need an NBA Bubble for Nursing Homes

Earlier this year, my Great Aunt Paula died at 97. She was the last of a generation of old-time Italians in our family that lived on one street in Bridgeport, CT for decades. As the years went by, she developed health problems and had to live in a nursing home elsewhere in the state.

Nursing homes have been tinderboxes for COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic. Like thousands of other nursing home residents in Connecticut alone, Aunt Paula died of COVID.

Nursing homes have many very high risk people living in close quarters. 72% of COVID deaths in Connecticut so far have occurred in nursing homes and assisted living facilities. Nationally, the percentage of deaths that have occurred in nursing homes is a still-staggering 38%. Testing in Connecticut, among other states, has been woefully inadequate, with facilities allowed to cease testing if they’ve had no cases in 2 weeks. This is absurd given that the group is not sealed and the virus can be brought in from outside at any time.

But nursing homes could be much better protected if they adopted the practices of a group of very low risk people who also live in close quarters: NBA players.

With the right funding, nursing home workers (and potentially their families as well) could go into a bubble where they only interact with each other and the elderly residents they care for. This may require additional pay, but in a sector where employees tend to be paid poorly and mistreated, any additional pay is likely to be a powerful incentive.

Bubbles have already been created at some innovative and well-run facilities like Shady Oaks Assisted Living in Bristol, CT (explored in detail in this superb article). Shady Oaks escaped with no COVID fatalities. Owner Tyson Belanger, whose leadership throughout has been superlative, estimates that reproducing the system statewide would cost less than $10,000,000 per week. In the context of a multi-trillion dollar federal budget, this is a rounding error.

I only wish my great aunt had lived at Shady Oaks.

Why I Am Confident the FDA Will Make the Right Decision on COVID Vaccines

Despite the speed at which COVID vaccines were developed, I am confident the FDA will only approve a safe and effective vaccine. In this interview with the eminent Dr. Eric Topol, FDA Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn explains that the decision will be made by career scientists at the FDA. It will not be made by politicians or political appointees, including Hahn himself.

Hahn and Topol note that these clinical trials are among the largest ever conducted. Any employee can raise concerns re. efficacy and safety.

And frankly, if a doctor with Topol’s track record is confident in the FDA’s decision making, that gives me enormous confidence as well.

AstraZeneca’s COVID Vaccine is Either 62% or 90% Effective. Which Is It?

AstraZeneca has produced confusing results for its COVID vaccine. The trial had two groups with two very different results. The first group got two full doses. In that group, the vaccine was 62% effective. The second group got a half dose and then a full dose, which proved 90% effective.

The first half of this excellent podcast by STAT News explains the situation in detail. The difference in effectiveness may be due to the smaller size of the second group. It could also be due to the lower average age in that group. A third possibility is that since the first dose was smaller, it may have been easier for the body to express the spike protein needed to prevent COVID.

The different dosing in the second group was due to a manufacturing error, which makes me question exactly how careful AstraZeneca is being. However, even a 62% percent effective vaccine has very real value at a time when daily COVID deaths worldwide are often exceeding 10,000.