December 18, 2010


59 seconds cover 325x450Got a minute? Perfect. You'll have a second left.

Here's a gift idea for you last minute shoppers. It's Richard Wiseman's book 59 Seconds: Think a Little, Change a Lot (Amazon unaffiliate link).

Richard describes effective tips you can apply in less than a minute. This isn't a shallow "1,001 Ways To ..." book with gobs of filler and flaky ideas. In 59 Seconds, you get quality and quantity. The content is consistent with research I've seen elsewhere.

In the sphere of psychology and human behaviour, findings are never 100% conclusive but there are enough points to make you popular at parties.


59 Seconds doesn't focus on shattering urban myths, but dispatches several. Popularity isn't proof.

For instance, the self-help industry routinely quotes a 1950s study conducted by a prestigious university (usually Harvard or Yale). The 3% of graduates with written goals soon become more successful than the other 97%. I agree with setting goals but the study never took place.


You'll get tips on
  • why positive thinking fails
  • how to negotiate better (a pet frog helps)
  • the right way to praise children
You may have come across some of the techniques in other books. Here you'll get a concise synopsis. The results are combined with other research too.

The result? An original book that educates and entertains. That's not all. You get actions you can implement in seconds. That fits today's lifestyle. You might even find tips to help with your New Year's resolutions.

Listen Or Read?

I listened to the audiobook. The narrator (Jonathan Cowley) has a pleasant British accent. Listening is fine except you'll have trouble doing the quizzes — especially when driving.

You'll get more benefit from the written book, which is easy for reference.

Bonus: 20 Quirky Science-based Party Tricks

Do you want to add zing to your next party? Here are 20 ideas. They're from Richard but not from 59 Seconds.

10 Experiments

The Lighter Side of Richard Wiseman–Part 1

10 More

The Lighter Side of Richard Wiseman–Part 1

This is the final post of 2010. This time last year, we were in India.

The best to you and yours during the holidays.
May your 2011 be as nice as heaven!


Podcast 97 (3:27)

direct link | Internet Archive page

PS If you're looking for other gift ideas, how about the gift of networking or simply give your greatest gift? I hope you won't spend Christmas in the emergency ward as we did in 2008.

December 12, 2010


The Dementia Epidemic (The Actuary magazine, Dec 2010)
[Selected by Rob Carrick for his Personal Finance Reader in The Globe and Mail]

The Actuary magazine (yes there is one and it's pretty good) has a scary article about the dementia epidemic (PDF) by Karen Henderson of the Long Term Care Planning Network.

The most common form of dementia is Alzheimer’s Disease. It's tough enough to say ("Alltimers" or "ol' timers") and spell. Symptoms of this fatal brain disease affect include loss of memory, delusions, paranoia and aggressiveness. Patients may need help with everyday activities like bathing, eating, dressing and toileting.

Imagine the toll on families and caregivers.

I have no personal experience but know several people whose parents are affected. There's a Hollywood interpretation in The Notebook (IMDB link).

The Disease

Dementia affects all ages and cultures. Alzheimer's Disease primarily affects women and the incidence rates double every five years after age 65. However, you can get it if you're younger or a male. The disease is progressive and fatal. There is currently no cure.

The Prevalence

In Canada, 0.5 million have dementia. What about the US? The usual rule of thumb — Canada x 10 — projects 5 million. The latest estimate is 5.3 million. That's enough to fill cities. Worldwide, 35.6 million are afflicted. That's enough to fill countries.

The Cost

The cost of dementia is estimated at $604 billion ($US) — 1.3% of North America's GDP or about 1.5 times Wal-Mart's annual revenue. Big, big, big numbers. As an economy, dementia ranks as the world’s 18th largest. That’s about the size of Turkey and larger than the economies of Belgium and Sweden. In North America, we have the world’s highest costs at $48.6K per patient per year ($8.4K for medical care, $22.2K for nonmedical care and $18.0K for informal unpaid care). Here 71% of caregivers are females and 52% are spouses. In the urban US, 70-79% of patients live at home.

Even if the figures are overstated, dementia is a big problem and big business.

Giving Care

If you're caring for a family member (especially your spouse), can you concentrate at work? Can you even work? Do you neglect other family members? Tough questions.

About 40% of family caregivers show signs of depression, rage and trouble coping. The patient may no longer be able to live at home as the condition deteriorates or exceeds the abilities of the caregivers.

What you can do? You can hope for the best but prepare for the worst.


Critical illness insurance may provide coverage for Alzheimer’s and other dreadful diseases. Some designs return your premiums if you don't make a claim. Your car insurance and home insurance don't. Yet critical illness insurance remains unsuccessful.

Long Term Care insurance makes payments when activities of daily living can no longer be performed.
Before you buy, consider the three keys to getting your claim paid. Plans differ. You don't want to delude yourself into thinking you’re better protected than you are. If your advisor only sells products from one company, be especially cautious. If you already have coverage, how good is it compared with the latest plans? Is the amount of coverage  still adequate? It's a good idea to get a review to make sure you're properly protected.

As with other forms of life and health insurance, the longer you wait
Dementia is hardly the only disease that can knock us down. At least there are ways to offset the financial costs.


Podcast Episode 96 (5:28)

direct download | Internet Archive page

PS The post is meant to inform, not alarm.

December 5, 2010


Do you look like this when asked to speak in public?
Albert Einstein said that communication puts your education at your disposal. If you can't express yourself, what use is your knowledge? Communication skills are essential for confidence and leadership.

If you're terrified to speak in front of a group, join Toastmasters. The End ... or rather, The Beginning. 

If you think you're already good, join to get better and help others.

About Toastmasters

Toastmasters is an international nonprofit organization that started in 1924 to help people speak better. You're not alone. There are 260,000+ members in 12,500+ clubs around the world. If you live in a city, you'll probably find several meetings nearby.

Famous Toastmasters include Tim Allen, Debbie Fields, Napoleon Hill, Leonard Nimoy and the terrified Squawkfox.  After 10 speeches, you'll become a Competent Communicator.
I’ve never met anyone who didn’t think Toastmasters was super valuable to their career. — Harvey Mackay
Here's the big surprise: as a guest, you attend free as long as you like. You can participate in portions of the meeting but are not forced. You're invited to join but not cajoled.

Why Me?

Since speaking skills are essential for success, I took an evening course at Humber College in 1994 after completing my actuarial exams. Within months, I addressed an audience of several hundred … and survived. I've since spoken coast-to-coast and internationally. I mainly deliver prepared presentations accompanied by PowerPoint. There's room to improve. For instance, I'm reluctant to ask questions when in the audience.

In October, my friend Flavian DeLima suggested Toastmasters to hone my skills. I knew of the organization but had never attended a meeting. Since there was no downside, I decided to explore.

The Right Location

Since each club has a different feeling, you'll probably want to try several before deciding.  I started with the most convenient location and time: Goodyear Toastmasters  on Thursdays at 6:45 PM. (The website looks dated but don't judge a volunteer-run club by its homepage.)

I instantly felt at home. That's not because this was the Halloween meeting and members wore costumes. I loved the warm, friendly atmosphere.  Members were diverse and their skills varied. I didn't bother checking out other clubs.

Three Big Advantages

While each club differs, you'll find the following elements in common
  1. nonjudgmental: you're welcome regardless of your level of skills and you aren't compared with others
  2. no pressure: you're not forced to speak until you're ready. Sometimes guests remain silent or speakers back out.
  3. many opportunities: members have roles which change each week. They range from running the meeting to sharing trivia to timing speakers to counting fillers like "um", "ah" and "er"
Besides communicating better, you also build leadership skills. What you get out depends on what you put in.

The Silly Part

There's a weekly Table Topic. You talk for 60 seconds about a randomly selected topic (e.g., "What mystery do you most want to solve and why?"). If that's not enough, everyone is required to use a specified word or phrase (e.g., "Thriller Night", an homage to Michael Jackson's Thriller). I thought this was silly. In real life, when do you talk off-the-cuff about something you know nothing about with no time to prepare? Unless you're a politician or celebrity.

I now see the value. Speaking coherently without preparation sharpens your skills. The Table Topic gives you practice.

There's no harm in trying Toastmasters.


Podcast Episode 95 (5:02)

direct download | Internet Archive page

PS If you're in Etobicoke, feel free to visit Goodyear Toastmasters.