How To Easily Save 30,000 Lives Each Year

Google Lexus Driverless Car

I’ve been talking about self-driving cars for years, even posted about it on this site. I can’t wait for cars to drive themselves, for personal and selfish reasons, but there are several really good reasons for cars to drive themselves.

Eliminate 35,900 Deaths Annually

In 2009 according to the US Census 35,900+ individuals died in motor vehicle accidents.

1Check out Wikipedia for a record of deaths across many years and up to 2013.

Such deaths could almost be eliminated by using self-driving cars with their vastly superior capacity for safety over human driven cars.

Eliminate 10.8 Million Accidents Annually

In addition to all those who die are all those who are maimed in accidents and all those whose vehicles are damaged. According to the same US Census there were 10.8 million motor vehicle accidents in 2009.

Reduce Drunk Driving

There were 1.4 million DUI related arrests in 2010 according to the Department of Transportation.

How about bringing these numbers down? I mean way down.

Freeing Up Police, Fire, EMT

This not only reduces the deaths and injuries outlined above but also reduces the burden on our public safety officers (police, fire, emt) drastically freeing them up to focus on other areas of crime.

Reducing Government Expenditures

This would also reduce in a reduction in prison populations as DUI drivers would no longer be populating cells. The Legislative Analyst’s Office of California calculates the cost of incarcerating an individual for one year at $47,102 in 2008-2009. Or take the lower figure offered by the Federal Register of $26,163 in 2011.

Have More Time For Family, Community, Yourself!

How much time do you spend driving each day? How much time does that add up to each year? Lets go with a fairly conservative estimate of 1 hr. per day.2I’m linking to a page that suggests 101 minutes as an average driving time. This would equal 365 hrs. per year…that totals up to two weeks of our lives every year.

What would you have energy to do if you weren’t spending all that energy driving? What could you accomplish during your commute if you didn’t have to focus on driving?

Reduce Infrastructure Costs, Improve Roads

Want to see the roads better maintained? The driverless car could be the solution. We create roads to handle more than average traffic so that there won’t be as many traffic jams. Imagine if that four lane road could be two or three lanes instead. Driverless cars would allow this to occur as they would drastically reduce congestion and thus eliminate the need in many cases for expansion projects. This money could be redirected to existing infrastructure maintenance – eliminating those potholes and fixing those collapsing bridges.

Reduce Pollution by 90%

Okay, okay, so that is a bit of a stretch. There are articles talking about this 90% reduction, but the devil is in the details. Still, driverless cars could significantly reduce pollution by reducing stop-and-go traffic, reducing the number of vehicles utilized by a single family, and generally optimizing performance.

Increase Mobility for Elderly, Handicapped

When we held services after dark we lost a good portion of our church congregation. Why? Because many of our elderly couldn’t see well after dark and so would remain home.

How many elderly individuals are isolated due to an inability to drive? How many handicapped individuals are dependent on others for transportation? With driverless cars these individuals could be free to travel again!

And I Haven’t Even Mentioned…

And we’ve barely scratched the surface of the benefits of driverless cars. What about:

  • Reductions in insurance premiums.
  • Increased life of automotive parts due to gentler usage.
  • Decreased parking congestion due to fewer cars.
  • Decreased stress among humans due to driving.

Easily Save?

In my article title I claimed this was a way to easily save many lives…but is it really so easy? The answer is yes. There are already driverless cars out there, it is a matter of moving ahead in a more determined manner to get these vehicles into the hands of consumers and to revamp them into models that everyone can and wants to use.

Final Thoughts

I’m really excited about driverless cars and I hope you will be too. Yes, it is kind of scary to think about computers driving our cars – but, really, the computer will be much more capable than we are of maintaining awareness and responding quickly. Yes, there will be some bugs and bad things may happen – but my guess is that we’ll see at least a 90% decrease in accidents once driverless cars become the norm.

Image Credit: “Google’s Lexus RX 450h Self-Driving Car” by Driving_Google_Self-Driving_Car.jpg: Steve Jurvetson derivative work: Mariordo – This file was derived from  Driving Google Self-Driving Car.jpg: . Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Commons.

Fluidstance’s The Level: Crucial or Overrated?

A photo of someone's feet and lower legs standing on The Level.

Prelude

I believe it was August when Fluidstance first reached out to me about reviewing their product, The Level. Of course, I was amenable and eagerly awaited its arrival. It wasn’t until October that I realized the packaging containing The Level had been stolen off my front step before I ever saw it. I wrote a post about this theft and The Level generally and Fluidstance generously sent me another one!

I’ve been using it for the past few months few years. I didn’t want to write a review too quickly as products like this can be so bright and shiny and fascinating when they first come out but as time passes they fall into disuse – just another item to stuff in the closet/garage/ attic.

It Is All About Me

A photo of someone's feet and lower legs standing on The Level.
Fluidstance’s The Level (Natural Maple), available for $289.

Before I review The Level I need to give you a little bit of context about me. If you already know me, you can skip this section, if you don’t, I think a minute or two of your time will really inform your understanding of my review.

I have a number and diversity of ailments oftentimes not seen in someone twice my age. Most of them don’t connect with my review of The Level but a few do. Namely, I have chronic leg pain. These days it is usually low intensity though occasionally it will flare up with a vengeance. Combine this with some knee and lower back pain and I’m a bit of a disaster.

Why does this matter? Because my review comes from the place of someone with chronic health issues and will tend to be informed from that perspective. I hope it will be of use to everyone, but I think it will be especially useful to anyone suffering from chronic pain.

The Presentation

Fluidstance is an Apple-esque company. They don’t make a lot of products but what they do make is top notch in quality and you know this from the moment the box arrives at your door. It is a bit like unpacking an iPhone back in the day before everyone else caught on to how presentation could really affect consumer’s buying decisions.

Inside is a nice sack into which one can insert The Level (I suppose to keep it from getting scuffed, wet when raining, etc.). Then there is The Level itself. It is beautiful with a nicely finished bamboo top and a sturdy aluminum base (I know, sturdy is not the first word that comes to mind when someone mentions aluminum, but this is not your soda can’s aluminum!).

Fluidstance positions itself as an eco-friendly company, something which is especially popular these days, but they aren’t just saying a popular slogan to gain customers. Check their website and you’ll see that the use of bamboo for the wood was chosen because of it’s abundance and renewable nature. The base is recycled aluminum made in a solar-powered facility. Even the finish was chosen due to its low emissions.

I like the company culture this seems to express. Fluidstance’s serious commitment to the environment makes me feel that they are concerned about more than making money (not that there is anything wrong with making money, we all gotta eat, sleep, and play) and makes me optimistic that they will steward well in other areas – e.g., genuinely helpful customer support, pride in the quality of the product, and actually caring for their employees.

The Quality

The Level is a solid product. There is no planned obsolescence built in! Seriously, I believe this product will last years – assuming you don’t light it on fire, allow your dog to repeatedly chew on it, submit it to a world’s strongest man crushing objects competition, etc.

You’d think that a product like this, which has a decent amount of weight placed on it day in and day out and which has someone standing on and scuffing around it would begin to deteriorate. Other than a  few cosmetic scratches on the bottom of the aluminum base (which is wobbling around while you stand on it and which may have come via other means – e.g., me not being the best at occasionally moving through doorways or hallways without bumping into them) it looks as good as the day I received it (several years ago!).

Does It Work?

We know its beautiful and responsibly manufactured, but does it work? The short answer is yes, the longer answer is yes, and especially for me (and you?) with chronic pain.

I bought a sit/stand desk because in addition to being healthier than sitting and burning more calories I experience significant flare-ups in my chronic pain if I remain in any one position too long.1In the past the pain would get bad after as little as ten or fifteen minutes. Doing extended work while seated could be debilitating. Thankfully these days it isn’t nearly as severe. It worked, but not as well as I had hoped. I couldn’t stand for prolonged periods of time without the pain flaring, so I had to spend more time going back and forth between sitting and standing than I wanted to.

Then came The Level. I was worried at first it was just a placebo effect, but it has been lasting. I can stand for much more extended periods without causing significant flareups in my legs (primary pain point), knees (secondary), or lower back.2I generally don’t notice back pain, unless my leg and knee pain is really low. Its sort of that, “Your head hurts? Let me smash your foot with a hammer and your head will feel much better” gag.

These days I’m likely to do 2.5 to 3 hrs. standing before I need a break. Previously there were times where the pain began to flare almost instantaneously and it was certainly significant within 1.5 to 2 hrs. These days I might even go 4 or 6 hours standing at one time.3Sometimes this still occurs, but I find myself going through cyclical patterns where sometimes I can stand exclusively for multiple days and other times I just want to sit (not because of pain, more my legs feel tired.

The Level keeps my legs moving a little bit all the time and, if I begin to feel some tension (or for the fun of it), I can increase the amount of movement significantly, all while still working productively.

Found Out the Hard Way

When I first received The Level it didn’t move much and I was surprised. It isn’t meant to be an aerobic experience, but I did expect a bit more movement. Ends up this was entirely my fault. I had one of those rubber mats one stands on to relieve foot/leg/knee pressure incurred standing on a hard floor. I knew The Level wasn’t supposed to be used on smooth floors (too slippery) but I figured that a rubber mat would serve the same purpose on my hard floors as a throw rug/carpet4Is there a difference, I don’t feel like asking Master Google at the moment.. I was WRONG. Once I started using The Level on carpet I experienced a significant (though not unpleasant) increase in motion.5Besides the placebo effect, this was another reason I’ve taken a while to write this review. Once I realized I was sabotaging The Level I wanted to spend some time using it correctly before reviewing.

Unless you only want The Level to move only when you move (e.g. it will move when you shift body weight) and not a sort of constant, fluid motion  – use carpet!

Price

The Level isn’t an inexpensive product. The American-Made Level (Bamboo) I was sent retails for $389. Not the sort of money one drops without consideration (at least, not that I do). There are lower priced models available – The American Made Level (Maple with Walnut Finish) for $339 and the American-Made Level (Natural Maple) for $289, but these are still not your bargain-value prices. More recently they’ve released The Plane Cloud which comes at $189 but even this isn’t a spur of the moment purchase.

Is It Worth the Price?

As you consider whether this is something you should invest your money in, let me provide a few questions for consideration:

  1. Why would I buy this product? Is it because it is new and cool looking or because I’d actually use it?
  2. How much of my life is spent at a desk? Lifehacker once recommended spending your money where your time is spent – and I think this is spectacular advice. Most of us spend a lot of time at our desk most days!
  3. Could this help with any ongoing health issues I have?
  4. Would this help me significantly increase the amount of time I spend standing rather than sitting?

What About Inexpensive Competitor Products?

If you decide to buy something like The Level the next question is whether you should actually buy The Level or should go with a less-expensive competitor. A few questions for consideration on that front:

  1. What is the difference in price between The Level and the competitive product I’m looking at?
  2. What is the quality of the two products? Am I getting more product quality for the extra price of The Level?
  3. What is the reputation of the company? Do they care about their customers? Do they care about this product? Will they be around next year?

Use the Middle of the Road Approach

Personally, I’m a fan of the middle-of-the-road approach. I don’t need luxury, but I also know that buying cheap oftentimes means buying multiple over time. I’d rather spend a bit more upfront to get a quality product that is going to last than one that will soon need replacement or repairs.

For me, time is my most valuable asset, not money. If the competitive product will last five years but need to be repaired twice and this takes me 1 hour each time to call the manufacturer, secure an RMA, go to the post office, etc. – how much is that time worth? This is not necessarily what you are paid, but what you believe inherently is the value of your time. Is your time worth $10, $30, $50, $100, $250, an hour? Factor in the time you are likely to spend maintaining the lower quality product. Is the price once you include your time still lower for the competitive product? If not, you know what to do!

2019 Update

I’m still using the Fluidstance most days, sometimes for the entire day, sometimes swapping back and forth between sitting and standing every few hours and I still love it. The only change I’d love to see at some point is an (optional) increased angle to require more effort balancing and increase movement overall. Using it for a few years I’ve mastered my balance at the current Level angle but would love to up the ante a bit to keep my body moving/working throughout the day.

Conclusion

I can’t speak for everyone, but for me, The Level is a worthwhile investment. Yes, it makes me cringe a bit to think of buying something so simple for so much6Okay, if you haven’t caught on to this yet, I grew up quite poor. but if I divide the cost by the number of days I’ll use it this year it becomes much more reasonable. How many days do we work in a year? Lets say 240. Now we are talking about paying $1.20 per working day for this convenience if we purchase the lower end Level. If we purchase the highest? $1.62/day. Pretty reasonable for a product that will probably last years.

The Level does what it promises – helps one maintain motion even while standing at a desk and thus relieving pressure on the body. For me, personally, I see reduced pain in my legs, knees, and back from using The Level.

What do you think? I’m eager to hear from everyone but would be especially interested to hear from anyone else who is using The Level and has chronic health issues and whether it helps with these. Am I unique in experiencing some relief?

Soylent: A Viable Meal Alternative?

The Journey to Soylent

On June 27th, 2013 I began anticipating Soylent, talking about Soylent, impatiently waiting for Soylent to become available. I signed up for a week’s supply of Soylent on June 10th and it arrived on July 22nd.

A picture of my box of soylent...and of course, my feet, b/c I'm talented with cameras like that.
A picture of my box of soylent…and of course, my feet, b/c I’m talented with cameras like that.

Inside was a long sheet with instructions…I’m not a fan of the big sheet…What am I supposed to do with this? Unless I hang it on my way there is no easy way to store it.

The awkwardly long Soylent instructions.
The awkwardly long Soylent instructions.

You can click on the above image to see how long the instructions really where, but it would have consumed too much space on the page for me to embed the image here.

Next we had the bags of Soylent and the bottles of oil. You can see a picture below.

What came in the first Soylent box I received - instructions, oils, and soylent.
What came in the first Soylent box I received – instructions, oils, and soylent.

Theoretically, I should have received a package before this one with my welcome pack – which was to include a stainless steel measuring cup and an airtight pitcher as pictured below:

Stainless steel measuring cup from Soylent.
Stainless steel measuring cup from Soylent.

 

The Soylent pitcher - yes, it is BPA free.
The Soylent pitcher – yes, it is BPA free. Ohh, and mine doesn’t look like this, the main body is clear, the handle and lid are green, and it is entirely unbranded by Soylent…I think there is a name of some other company on top…

But I hadn’t and I didn’t for quite some time. I attempted using some of my own implements to make Soylent but had mixed successes. If this was what Soylent tasted like, I wasn’t going to stick with it. After a few tries I decided I would just wait until my welcome package came.

Ohh, and yes, I sent an email reporting the missing welcome package on the 23rd and of course received the usual automated reply the same day. It would be August 9th before I would receive a reply from Soylent and then to be informed that “I have forwarded your concern to our shipping department…” Then silence. Finally, on August 18th I received an email informing me that my starter kit was on its way.

Okay, that is a pretty ridiculous wait…the organizational side of Soylent has been extremely underwhelming…I’m not sure all of what happened behind the scenes, but, honestly, I don’t care that much if Soylent is good and works and if they learn from their mistakes – which, it seems (I hope), they are doing.

On a side note, the disorganization worked out to my advantage as I received a second shipment of Soylent by accident and when I asked what I should do with it they told me to keep it. I was pretty happy about that (though I feel bad for folks who ordered far before me and way more and still have not received their Soylent).

But How About It, Is It Good?

Now that you have heard about the nightmare of procuring my Soylent, lets talk about Soylent itself. It is a very fine mix and comes in bags that each contain three meals. I found trying to make Soylent in smaller portions to be a hassle – not only because of measurements and so on but because the powder is so fine that it puffs up into the air and lands everywhere while scooping.1The reason I wanted to do smaller servings was b/c Soylent goes bad after it is made and I wasn’t sure I could consume an entire package of Soylent quickly enough.

In any case, I moved to making a whole packet at a time and it was so much easier. Okay, I know for those of you who cook, you are rolling your eyes – and yes, in the distant past I did sometimes cook – but the whole point of Soylent is to save time and improve nutrition.

Making Soylent was now simple – pour in the powder, add a bottle of oil, and then fill the rest of the pitcher with water. Screw on the air-tight cap2I discovered it isn’t really, really, really air-tight. I didn’t have room to put the pitcher standing up in my refrigerator (it is a mini) so I put it on its side – this worked a few times, but eventually it began to leak. and shake for around sixty seconds. Place in the refrigerator, remove when ready to consume, shake for five to ten seconds, then pour yourself a glass and enjoy.

Soylent tastes a bit like a milk shake. It has a pleasant flavor, though one I can’t place. Compared to any other powdered drink (Shakeology, RAW Meal), the “graininess” is almost non-existent.

It tastes good, the texture is good, and its easy to make – sweet! Another surprising and positive note is that it uses water not milk or a milk substitute and yet tastes better than Shakeology with (in my case) almond milk! Seriously, if you didn’t see the batch mixed, you’d swear it had to have a dairy base.

So, I like my Soylent and I intend on continuing to consume it. Right now I average two meals a day of Soylent and one meal elsewise. I allow myself to eat whatever I desire for that third meal – but my cravings for unhealthy foods seem to have lessened somewhat (not completely).

Should you get Soylent? Sure. Just be prepared to wait a bit. I think organizationally they are getting there, but with the delays initially as well as the huge demand, and then the ongoing demand for resupplies, it is going to be a while before Soylent is working smoothly.

A Few Importantish Notes

It Goes Bad

One of the great things about Soylent is that it lasts forever (hyperbole) in powder form. Something I didn’t realize until I received my Soylent is that once it has been mixed with water it needs to be consumed within two days. Apparently due to the nutrient richness of the drink, even while being refrigerated bacteria multiply quickly. I would like to know more about the health implications of this.

I oftentimes eat food far past its expiration date – especially dairy alternatives (almond milk, soy milk) and don’t have any problem…so I’d probably ignore this warning except after posting on the forums I learned that the bacteria make the taste go bad quickly – so its not just filled with bacteria, it tastes nasty too.

Still, I’ve been consuming Soylent over a two to may three day period and haven’t experienced issues thus far…and making it in this size batch saves me from measuring, etc.

Don’t Forget The Oils!

Each time you use a bag of Soylent you are supposed to add the oils as well – which provide some important aspects of Soylent’s nutrition. Being ADD, I have on occasion forgotten to put the bottles into the Soylent. This doesn’t bother me, but it is a dilemma – what am I supposed to do with these bottles of oil?

Flatulence

There was a lot of discussion of increased flatulence when using Soylent which, it is hypothesized, is caused by the bacteria in our stomachs not knowing how to handle nutritional food and the replacement of some of these bacteria with better bacteria that do consume this food.

I had no intention of mentioning flatulence, b/c I really don’t like talking about it. I was never a fart guy joker…but I must mention it, b/c it radically increases flatulence and it smells horrific.

This goes away after a few days – but my recommendation – start Soylent when you aren’t spending a lot of time with people…and please, give your spouse a break and sleep on the couch…or at least let them sleep on the couch.

What Now?

My plan at this juncture is to continue Soylent 2x daily long-term. We’ll see if I grow sick of the taste…which is very possible.

I haven’t noticed any huge changes in my health, but that may come with time. I also am hoping to get my blood drawn and analyzed every quarter by WellnessFX so I can monitor my health, especially vitamin levels, but that hasn’t happened yet.

Wrapping It Up

Soylent is great – I’m exceptionally pleased with the product itself. The company has some work to do – and seems to be doing it. I haven’t noticed any amazing positive health effects, but I’m hoping over time it works positively. I’ll provide future updates as I’ve been on it longer and can analyze how I respond to the taste with continued consumption and whether I see any health changes positive or negative.