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Lessons Learned Posts

Dingell’s Number

There is an interesting gun meme in the United States. I started noticing it a few years ago and now I see it everywhere. The meme has the following structure: “There are already over 20,000 gun laws in the United States. How will adding more laws help?” (Other common variants use 21,000, 22,000, 25,000, and 30,000.)

The large round number stood out to me. I wondered how anybody could have counted so many laws. That seems a task that would require a lot of labor, collecting laws from the cities, counties, and states and enumerating them.

It turns out that, as far as anybody can tell, this number was first stated by John Dingell, a representative of the Democratic party from the state of Michigan in testimony to the United States Congress in 1965. There is a description of his statement in “Evaluating Gun Policy: Effects on Crime and Violence”: “Consider the fact that we now have on the lawbooks of this Nation over 20,000 laws governing the sale, distribution, and use of firearms.” The study finds that “no additional references to the 20,000 figure appear in Dingell’s testimony, and no source for the estimate is given”. There is no reason to believe that he did not just make up this number. I am amazed that given Mr. Dingell’s long tenure in Congress, nobody ever managed to question him on this. Certainly, whatever interns or aides who worked on compiling such a number would have documented their work.

Ronald Reagan repeated it in 1981. Charlton Heston repeated it in 1999. This has given it a boost and now it is repeated quite often.

It is all over social media:

Of course, I am not the first person to notice that this number seems contrived. It has already been disputed in many places. Here are a few:

I have searched on social media for uses of this number (e.g., references to the specific and arbitrary 20,000 or 22,000 laws). I asked several of the people who use this number where they learned it, wondering if they read it in a book or just heard it on social media themselves. Many respondents report simply that they read it somewhere and that it makes sense because adding up all of the gun laws legislated by cities, counties, and states would be approximately that number. I find this interesting purely from a memetic point of view, demonstrating that people will rationalize their belief instead of evaluating it critically. Contrarily, the above mentioned study found that because “more than forty states preempt all or most local gun laws”, the number must be smaller. The study found that the number of statewide laws “may be as few as 300”.

53 years later people continue to repeat this number. The argument is completely valid without the fabricated number: “There are already many gun laws in the United States. How will adding more laws help?” But adding a number that sounds researched adds weight to the assertion. It's like a shibboleth for determining how likely someone is to assess a statement critically before repeating it. This number ripples across social media. The more it gets repeated the more likely it is to be repeated again without question. This is regrettable. We need more critical thinking on this topic and fewer memes blindly repeated.

Because Dingell’s number is believable (nobody on any side of an issue would argue that the United States has too few laws) and tied to a controversial issue, it is a perfect meme.

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Encouraging People To Vote

Poking around more with the Florida voter data, I found that of the over 13 million active registered voters in Florida, 2,254,591 of them have no history of ever having voted. 162,883 of those who have no history of ever having voted have recorded an email address when registering to vote. On Monday, November 5th, 2018, I sent them all an email asking them to vote the next day in the 2018 primary midterm elections if they had not already early voted or voted by absentee ballot.

Some lessons learned and responses I received:

  1. The data from the state is a mess. There are lots of typos in the email addresses. Some of the bad email addresses look like they might be a result of OCR failures. If I do something with voter email addresses again, I should run it through some simple transformations (e.g., “person@gmail.cim” should be “person@gmail.com”).
  2. A few people responded that they had moved out of Florida.
  3. Many people have responded positively. The few who have responded negatively to me via email have troubles with spelling, grammar, understanding how public records work, and the limitations of the CAN-SPAM Act. The positive encouraging responses far outnumbered the angry negative responses.
  4. Two people told me that I had changed their minds and convinced them to vote when they had already decided not to participate.
  5. Several people responded that they have voted in several Florida elections. I see none of those votes in the history. I am wondering if the history data is incomplete. I am going to have to investigate this further.
  6. A disturbingly large number of respondents do not understand how voting works.
    • Some were out of the country and asking if they could vote by email or absentee ballot the day before the election.
    • One person asked if it was necessary to have an ID card.
    • One person said that he would be dropping off his mail-in ballot. (I don’t think it works that way. [Update: I was corrected on this. You can drop off a ballot. I had assumed one had to go through the regular process if the ballot had not been received via USPS.])
    • Some people asked if they could just show up and vote. I responded with an enthusiastic yes and pointed out that they must already by registered as I have their data.
  7. Two people asked how to donate to my campaign. I am still trying to wrap my head around this. I do not know if I did not make it clear enough in my message that I am not running for office or if they thought I should run for office.
  8. A depressing number of respondents affirmed that not only had they already voted, they had voted entirely for a single party without apparent evaluation of the merits of the candidates.
  9. My mail server infrastructure did fine sending such a big burst. It did however consume lots of CPU while performing spam filtering analysis of incoming bounces for hours afterward. This delayed incoming email.
  10. I expected that I might end up on spam blocklists. In general, this did not happen. What did happen is that it appears that Gmail flagged my domain for sending to lots of invalid addresses and that gave my domain a bad reputation, preventing me from emailing Gmail afterward. I suspect a lot of potential Gmail recipients never got the letter. I had to fix my domain with Gmail. If I do something like this again, I will use proper mailing list infrastructure. This was really just an impulse decision for me, so I did not have any infrastructure in place.

I have summarized the responses I received with a graph:

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2018 Florida Midterm Voter Statistics

I have been tinkering around with ways of exploring voter data. I thought I would share some of what I find interesting in the context of the 2018 Florida midterms.

One thing I am curious about is whether or not the results of the previous election will encourage more people to vote.

Florida Voter Registrations By Party Affiliation
Party Since November 8, 2016 All
Voters Average Age Voters Average Age
No Party Affiliation 420,447 39.9 3,522,264 46.8
Florida Democratic Party 317,916 41.7 4,917,570 52.1
Republican Party of Florida 300,227 47.3 4,660,504 55.8
Independent Party of Florida 24,943 44.5 55,515 46.3
Libertarian Party of Florida 3,799 35.3 32,494 41.0
Green Party of Florida 716 33.6 6,840 40.6
Constitution Party of Florida 243 38.1 1,698 45.7
Party for Socialism and Liberation – Florida 153 29.2 563 31.9
Ecology Party of Florida 129 32.9 590 39.5
Reform Party of Florida 84 40.3 1,382 52.3
All 1,068,657 42.6 13,199,420 51.9

The average age of new voters is younger than the overall voting base. It seems to me that could mean more young people are coming of age to vote and registering faster than retirees are moving to Florida.

Personally, I am pleased to see an increase in No Party Affiliation. I think the two dominant parties have too much power.

Florida Voter Registrations By Race
Race Since November 8, 2016 All
Voters Percentage Voters Percentage
White, Not Hispanic 620,212 58.0% 8,353,606 63.3%
Hispanic 212,972 19.9% 2,176,889 16.5%
Black, Not Hispanic 114,544 10.7% 1,755,296 13.3%
Unknown 58,017 5.4% 317,507 2.4%
Asian Or Pacific Islander 26,952 2.5% 254,413 1.9%
Other 25,248 2.4% 215,719 1.6%
Multi-racial 7,581 0.7% 84,626 0.6%
American Indian or Alaskan Native 3,131 0.3% 41,364 0.3%

Hispanics are a bigger percentage of new voters. There has been some hypothesizing that we are getting more Hispanics from Puerto Rico as a result of Hurricane Maria. This made me wonder how the new Hispanics will vote compared to the Hispanics who were registered previously.

Hispanic Florida Voter Registrations By Party Affiliation
Race Since November 8, 2016 All
Voters Percentage Voters Percentage
No Party Affiliation 104,321 49.0% 782,703 36.0%
Florida Democratic Party 73,698 34.6% 850,135 39.1%
Republican Party of Florida 31,405 14.7% 532,550 24.5%
Independent Party of Florida 2,955 1.4% 7,238 3.3%
Libertarian Party of Florida 371 0.2% 2810 0.1%
Green Party of Florida 116 0.1% 847 0.0%
Ecology Party of Florida 36 0.0% 141 0.0%
Party for Socialism and Liberation – Florida 26 0.0% 188 0.0%
Constitution Party of Florida 23 0.0% 83 0.0%
Reform Party of Florida 21 0.0% 194 0.0%

The new Hispanic voters lean more towards the Democrats and no party affiliation than the already registered Hispanics.

Because this data is from the latest extract, which is dated October 15, 2018 and only includes registrations up through September 30, 2018, it does not match the bookclosing reports. This data is slightly off from the numbers reported as of September 30, 2018.

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Things I Learned in Elementary School

I attended a private Seventh-day Adventist Elementary School for 3rd-6th grade (1980-1984). I learned many things there. This is an incomplete list:

  • Attending church on Sunday instead of Saturday, the true and proper Sabbath, is akin to deliberately celebrating someone’s birthday on the wrong day. Those who do so will likely not go to Heaven.
  • The Bible, specifically the King James Bible translated to English, is the literal truth. Where books written before and after contradict this book, they are wrong.
  • The Earth was literally created in six days, approximately 6,000 years ago. Those who insist on this nonsense about dinosaurs being hundreds of millions of years older than humans and the Earth being billions of years old are disregarding the Bible and will likely not go to Heaven. Fossils are a test of faith. If dinosaurs did exist, they were contemporaneous with humans.
    • Accordingly, there was no such thing as a caveman. The first humans were Adam and Eve, and they looked and acted like us.
    • Evolution is an incorrect model for understanding the origin of species. Every plant, animal, and human was created as they exist today. By God. On days three, five, and six.
  • Before the Fall of Man and banishment from the Garden of Eden:
    • It did not rain. Plants were hydrated by dew forming on them in the morning.
    • The temperature was perfect. Adam and Eve did not need clothes. All environmental discomfort is the result of Man’s sin.
    • No animals were eaten for food as the trees of the Garden provided manna. The practice of eating flesh of animals was a result of Man’s sins.
  • God gave Man dominion over the Earth. It is designed by God to sustain humanity. It is not possible to irreparably damage the Earth in such a way as to make it uninhabitable. (This was explained to me in the context of nuclear war. Because humans cannot possibly harm the Earth and Judgment Day will come soon, it is not necessary to consider the risk of nuclear war destroying all of humanity.) Similarly, overfishing, overhunting, overfarming are impossible concepts only seriously considered by the unfaithful.
  • Eating pork and shellfish is a sin. God is watching over lunch hour.
  • Wearing jewelry or makeup or clothing which shows too much skin are sins. (This was much more relevant to my female classmates. I don’t think I ever even combed my hair during elementary school.)
  • There was a Flood. God drowned every human and animal on Earth except for Noah, a few other humans, and the animals on the Ark. All contemporary humans and animals are descended from those few humans and animals.
  • The Barry Manilow song “I Write The Songs”¬†was the result of possession by an evil spirit. I can’t remember if he was possessed by Satan or a lesser devil. We listened to a tape recording about this multiple times.
  • Consumption of caffeine and meat are not sins, but they are bad for you.
  • Jesus Christ will return to the Earth “soon” (all speculated dates are now in our past). This will be the End of the World and a bad day. Get your soul in order before then.
  • There is no afterlife before Judgment Day. Souls of dead humans are in some kind of suspended sleep-like state until then. The soul cannot be separated from the body. Ghosts and other spirits do not exist. Fiction about such or belief in such is sinful.
  • The story of the Tower of Babel as told in Genesis is literally true. The origin of the multitude of natural human languages is not due to separate cultural evolution. There are multiple languages because humans dared to attempt to build a tower that would reach Heaven and God did not approve.
  • The story of the Binding of Isaac is literally true. Killing your son because God told you to is virtuous behavior.
  • At the End of the World, all dead humans will be resurrected in intact corporeal form. Then all humans who have ever lived will be judged. My curiosity as to how this would work for those cremated or otherwise dismembered was left unsatisfied.

You may think I am joking or exaggerating about some of these. I am not. The teachers who told us these things were serious. Many of these things were frequently repeated. I was very skeptical of these claims and grew up to be an atheist, but I often wonder how much of an influence those teachers had on my classmates and what they believe. I wonder how teachers around the world are shaping young minds today.

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Funding Public Education in Florida

This was the final week of the annual school supply drive, Tools 4 Seminole Schools, in which my Rotary club participates. Being involved in the effort gave me another opportunity to think about how public school funding works in Florida. As I understand it, Florida funds public schools through a mix of money allocated by the state, the counties, the state lottery, various non-profits, and federal programs. Despite all of these sources, public education in Florida is underfunded.

I have no idea how public education works in other states and countries. I would imagine the situation is mostly better as Florida ranks 29th in the nation on education quality. For school financing in particular, Florida ranks 45th. The United States as a whole ranks 25th in education.

The region holding the drive in which I was involved is Seminole County. Seminole County has a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, The Foundation for Seminole County Public Schools, whose purpose is to raise and distribute funds and in-kind donations for Seminole County Public Schools. My understanding is that most counties in Florida have a similar non-profit foundation whose purpose is to attempt to make up what is not covered by state and county taxes.

It is this foundation which organizes the annual school supply drive. The drive is ostensibly for underprivileged students, but according to the foundation, over 54% or 35,000 students in Seminole County are in the free and reduced meals program and cannot afford school supplies. This is far from a small minority. This is a serious problem. The foundation runs a physical store stocked with school supplies. Teachers can then drive to this store and “shop” for free supplies for the students and classrooms. Teachers often spend their own money to supply their classrooms and students.

Neighboring Orange County has a similar foundation and physical store. This is apparently a common approach to work around the failures in public school funding.

It is completely ridiculous and unconscionable that we have teachers play quartermaster for supplies. If these supplies are needed, they should be in the budget and that budget should be paid for with taxes. To ask teachers to work on their own time is unreasonable. If they are doing it on some non-classroom paid time, that time could be better spent teaching students. The terrible performance of the United States education system relative to other developed countries and the failure of the electorate to sufficiently fund public education are probably correlated.

This is a huge waste of labor on the part of teachers, the staff of the foundation, and all of the people raising money. We should just raise property and/or sales taxes enough to properly fund the school system. Every child attending a public school should not have to worry about school supplies, nor should their teachers.

The foundation and others like it should not exist. The existence of the foundation highlights a failure in our system. Just to be clear, I am not criticizing the people who work at the foundation and similar organizations. These people are doing a great job to make up for a failure in governance. I am told by local educators that they are struggling to pay for construction, salaries, insurance, technology, and vocational and academic programs.

I am 46 years old. I was born in Florida and have lived here my entire life. In public school career, many classes were held in temporary buildings because the schools were not big enough to accommodate the number of students. It is still true that many students attend classes in temporary buildings. Florida has been growing rapidly for my entire life and I have not seen a local government properly plan for that growth.

Now we have a state lottery system, in a state where gambling is illegal without special permits. The lottery is a terrible idea. The majority of lottery revenue comes from people who can ill-afford to be spending it and probably could have used some better teaching on statistics. Worse, now that the lottery is firmly entrenched, there is less motivation for local governments to fix school funding more appropriately. What was intended to supplement funding from taxes has now supplanted it.

Asking voters to approve increases in taxes is always difficult. Florida has a tougher problem than most states though. We have a very large retiree population that migrated here in part due to our low taxes. These voters have no incentive to approve higher taxes for roads and schools. They have no children in local schools and they do not need to commute to work. They outnumber those who have to raise a family here.

I have lately been, half-jokingly, making a modest proposal to various legislators and those running for office: That we do not automatically allow those immigrating to Florida to vote; that the franchise should be afforded to only those who have skin in the game. If one has children here, works here, or owns a business here, one would get a vote. I usually receive horrified responses to this about it being unconstitutional. Fine, let’s amend the constitution.

Of course, I am not serious about actually doing this. US history has proven that the electorate cannot be trusted with gatekeeping who is allowed to vote. What I do want is for people to think about how we manage public funding in a system where people can take advantage of living in an area without contributing to the infrastructure and maintenance. If we cannot stop retirees from moving here and voting down any improvements, then let’s have a moratorium on building permits. There is no good reason why we should not have schools being built and funded at the same speed as housing.

There is a lot of anxiety right now about the huge changes happening to our economy as robots and software eliminate jobs at an increasing rate. Communities and countries that prioritize equality of opportunity will invest in education. They will invest in the necessary infrastructure of the information economy or be overtaken by those that do. The best thing we can do for young people is to ensure that they have excellent education. We are failing at that. This is unacceptable for a country that consider itself to be rich.

Throwing more money at any problem is not necessarily the answer. According to the PISA results I mention above, the top nations in the world for education are all socialist or command economies with lower GDP. Our GDP and cost of goods in services in dollar terms is higher; our education spending should reflect that. It is not a matter of total dollars, it is percentages and priorities. Our culture does not value public education.

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Printing as PDF to the Mac clipboard

If you use macOS, I have a little script that you might find useful. I use this at least a couple times every workday.

The Mac has great PDF workflow functionality. I will often be editing a document and want to send it out via email (or chat) to others who just need to review it and not edit it. I have no idea if they have the application I am using, so I want it to send it in PDF format so that they can reliably open it. What I usually want to do is to “print” the document as a PDF and then attach that to the email. I used to do this a lot and would then have to clean up and delete the PDF files as I did not need them. Not to mention, there were lots of intermediate clicks and mouse movements to save and then open the intermediate file. What I really wanted to do was to print as PDF directly to the clipboard. Then I just paste into the email or other destination application. That saves a few steps and clicks and mouse movements.

I wasn’t sure how to do this, so I asked on Stack Overflow and received a very useful answer. I put together a script based on that answer and have been using it for over seven years.

I have put the source code up on GitHub. Feel free to make any improvements and send me a pull request.

You can download an easy to install version.

To make this even better, I have added a keyboard shortcut bound to ⌘-P to execute this script. So printing the current document to the clipboard takes nothing more than pressing ⌘-P twice. Then I can Alt-Tab over to the destination application and press ⌘-V, no mouse movement or clicking needed. To do this, go to System Preferences→Keyboard→App Shortcuts, and add a shortcut with the exact name “Print as PDF to clipboard”.

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Jerks versus Morons

Today I encountered a clerk becoming annoyed with the behavior of a customer. I shared with him a technique that I have long been using in similar situations. It helps me maintain a pleasant attitude. When someone does something inconsiderate and annoying (e.g., as often happens when driving), it is easy to assume that the offender is intentionally being a jerk. Consider instead the possibility that this person is a moron. Once you make this mental leap, you can imagine lots of ways in which everyday activities must be difficult and challenging for this moron.

Think about his confusion as he notices other drivers successfully employ turn signals. He probably has no idea of the purpose of many of the various levers and buttons in his car. That likely causes him ongoing anxiety. It must be rough to be him.

Maybe he does not know that his mobile phone can be used in any configuration other than as a speakerphone. Imagine what other frustrations he must have with technology and the modern world.

You can’t really be mad at a moron, just sympathetic. Instead of giving in to anger, smile and speak more slowly, as you would to anybody with a cognitive disability. Be kind to morons.

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CO2 Monitoring

A few weeks ago I ran across a post by someone who claimed that he had improved his productivity by installing a CO2 monitor in his office and opening the window when the reading went over 1000 ppm. There are measured decreases in cognitive function at 1000 ppm and lower. This made me curious, so I bought a CO2 monitor for my home office. The monitor clearly shows higher readings when the doors have been closed for a while. I have had the alarm sound at 1000 ppm when exercising in the same room with it.

Now when I see the reading go above 600, I open a door for a bit. It makes a noticeable difference on the monitor very quickly. I don’t know if it is making me any more productive, but I at least have not felt unusually tired since starting this protocol. It could be entirely psychosomatic, but I will take every benefit I can get while trying to do difficult work.

This has been making me wonder how poorly office spaces and schools are designed for cognitive work. We are at a point in history where we have very well sealed environments with people in them trying to do more cognitive work than ever before. This trend will only continue. Every space housing people should be monitoring CO2 (and probably other attributes, like VOCs) and fixing things where the numbers are too high.

Apparently the UK regulates CO2 in schools. I am not aware of any such regulation in the United States. Here in Florida, primary school students are lucky to be in a permanent building, so I do not expect that any exceptional investment is being made in ventilation.

Yesterday I carried my CO2 monitor around to various meetings in different places (much to the amusement of those with whom I was meeting). Every place I checked was at least 200 ppm higher than outside. In one office, two guys are working in a room that read over 1,500 ppm. I wonder if they would be more productive with proper ventilation.

I wonder how cheaply such monitors can be made. Could they be made small enough to fit in a smartwatch?

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Publishing My Genome

I did something which may seem a little crazy right now, but I think a lot more people will be doing it in the future: I published my genome on the web. More correctly, I published the ~1,000,000 SNPs identifiable by 23andMe's v3 array.

There are some folks who have also done this before me in a similar way: Orta Therox, Luis Gustavo, Alexander Kukushkin, Manu Sporny. (See Manu Sporny’s blog post for some good insight. I probably got the idea from him. I have been meaning to do this for a while and I must have read his blog post about it a few years ago).

I am a relatively early adopter of 23andMe, getting my genome first sequenced on April 30, 2013. This was before the FDA stopped 23andMe from publishing their health reports. I was intrigued by the possibility of learning about well known markers for problems such as Alzheimer's and Crohn's Disease. While the FDA was preventing 23andMe from selling health risk reports to new customers, I was grandfathered in for a while and could get to the health reports while new customers could only get some data on genetic traits and ancestry. The health reports are back now after years of collaboration with the FDA, but it is not clear to me how they differ from what was available before.

When I first used 23andMe, some people I talked to about it were horrified at the thought of exposing so much data to a private company. They imagine scenarios such as insurance carriers denying coverage based on a known risk. While I think such concerns are valid, I think the benefits outweigh the risks.

23andMe provides a feature for exporting the raw data of a sequenced genome. One can then use this in tools such as Promethease, osgen, and SNPedia.

Devices for genome sequencing are plummeting in cost. You leave copies of your genome everywhere you go in the form of skin cells, hair cells, and saliva. It does not matter how you feel about the privacy of your genetic data, it will all be visible to anybody who wants it soon enough.

Anybody developing or testing software can use my genome and that of others who have published theirs. I am hoping that more people will do the same and accelerate progress in open source genetic science.

One can buy a commercially available device right now, plug it into the USB port of a personal computer, and start sequencing genes at home. We are close to a crazy future where people can sequence a genome (theirs or that of someone else) at home, with inexpensive equipment. How will that affect places where there are legal restrictions on paternity tests, such as France and Germany? DNA testing is being used to ascertain the provenance of sushi and the pedigree of dogs. What happens when phones can easily run apps that talk to sequencing devices?

How soon before dating involves having software review a potential partner's genome, both for long term health issues and desirability of offspring? One could even take the published (or otherwise documented) genomes of two people and figure out what their children might look like using software specifically designed for this purpose. Charles Sibbald published some proof of concept code of how such software would work.

Will census takers at some point start collecting genetic samples? Will employers require them? Will governments prevent such collection by regulation? Will people be discriminated against or harassed based on their genome? Maybe we will see companies pop up that collect genetic samples, deanonymize them, and sell them to others, like we see for ad networks and license plates.

This could be a terrible idea and maybe I will regret publishing my genome, maybe because somebody figures out a way to target me directly with a personalized disease (a great talk on this was brought to my attention), maybe because I will suddenly lose my health insurance. I don't think such scenarios are likely. If I live through such a lesson, I will write about it.

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Quitting Caffeine

As I write this, I have been off of caffeine for two years. I had my last caffeinated beverage on August 13, 2015. Here are my experiences with quitting caffeine and what I’ve learned:

Why?

Almost always, when discussing being caffeine-free, people ask me why. I had a couple of primary reasons. First, I had been consuming caffeine in steadily rising quantities ever since I was a child, starting with Coca-Cola. As an adult, I had settled into drinking coffee in the morning and tea in the afternoon. This adds up to well over 35 years of regular caffeine consumption, resulting in dependence. I was annoyed that I required a large mug of coffee over 20-30 minutes every morning to become sufficiently alert to be useful. Second, I have tinnitus. I hear a constant ringing which impairs my hearing and interferes in daily life. I had read that some people experience an improvement in tinnitus symptoms when discontinuing caffeine. For these reasons I decided to quit caffeine and see how it went.

I wrote above that I haven’t had a caffeinated beverage in two years. That is not quite true. I cheated on the day after Thanksgiving, 2015. It had become an annual ritual for me to enjoy a breakfast of coffee and pecan pie the day after Thanksgiving. That day I had a half cup of coffee with my pecan pie. I’ve since no longer felt the need to have that cup. I still enjoy the smell of coffee and I sometimes get small amounts of caffeine as it is naturally found in chocolate, which I occasionally enjoy.

Dependent on Caffeine?

A reader of this post pointed out that not all people are affected by caffeine the same way. I have had my genome sampled by 23andMe. I have the genes on markers rs4410790 and rs2470893 that indicate a typical reaction to caffeine.

As is well documented, regular use of caffeine by those affected causes dependence. The body learns to tolerate caffeine, which blocks receptors of dopamine and norepinephrine. The body generates more of these stimulant chemicals in order to compensate. One needs to gradually and continually increase the amount of caffeine consumed in order to experience the stimulant effect. If you are not generally affected by caffeine, you are atypical and wouldn’t have this problem.

Process

Quitting caffeine was relatively easy. I had already been in the habit of drinking a workout supplement every morning (Cellucor C4) in addition to coffee. The workout supplement powder had caffeine in it, so I cut out all other sources of caffeine (coffee and tea). I bought a set of measuring spoons that went down to 1/64 of a teaspoon and gradually titrated my caffeine intake, decreasing it a tiny amount every day for approximately one month. I never suffered a headache or other problem during this period. When I was down to just a little bit of caffeine every day and it was the start of a three day weekend where not much would be expected of me by the world, I quit entirely.

I now use a workout supplement without caffeine. There are very few of these, I’ve found. Pretty much every supplement that gives you some kind of bump has caffeine in it. I have found that my energy level is improved by ensuring that I consume lots of electrolytes.

Benefits

I have found there are many benefits to having quit caffeine.

  • Energy level: I find my energy level to be constant from the moment I wake up until very late in the day, near the time I usually go to bed. When regularly using caffeine, I found that my energy level would sag through the day and I would use coffee or tea to compensate.
  • Sleep quality: I find that I fall asleep at night very easily, mostly sleep soundly all night, and awaken refreshed and ready to go with almost the exact same amount of sleep every night (currently ~7.5 hours) and rarely need an alarm clock. When regularly using caffeine, I found that I would sometimes still be wired when trying to fall asleep and it took me a while to become fully awake. I now find that my sleep is only disturbed by having a dessert with sugar or chocolate too close to bedtime.
  • Mood: My mood is very even throughout the day. I no longer experience the occasional grumpiness I felt when undercaffeinated.
  • Morning routine: I enjoy no longer needing a long morning routine to get my head together. I feel alert enough to be useful right when I wake up. I also enjoy being able to brush my teeth immediately upon waking knowing that I won’t need to brush them again after having a cup of coffee. Also, and this may be too much information, coffee has a laxative effect for some people, including me, and I appreciate not having to keep that in mind when planning my morning.
  • Exercise: I used to go through a whole routine of getting caffeinated and fed before doing my daily run or workout. I felt I couldn’t exert myself completely without caffeine. Now I’ve run many 5k races first thing in the morning fasted and without caffeine and know that waiting for my coffee to kick in was just a rationalization and a weakness.

A caveat to all of these points: I also now consume very little sugar, carbohydrates, and alcohol and I meditate regularly. I attribute some of my improvements in mood, energy level, and sleep quality to these other changes and it would be impossible to disentangle the causes and effects.

Drawbacks

  • I can no longer compensate for a lack of sleep with caffeine. This has made me much more mindful about getting to bed on time so that I’m not suffering from a lack of sleep the next day. I’ve never been able to nap, so I haven’t been able to compensate with naps. I can now compensate a bit with sugar. I find a little bit of sugar now has a much bigger effect on my perceived energy level. It is hard to tell though how much of this is from having no caffeine and how much is from having very little sugar regularly.
  • There are many social situations in which it is unusual to be drinking only water. I am accustomed to this now, but it was awkward at first.
  • There have been many demanding days in the last couple of years where I felt that if I would just give in and allow myself a cup of coffee, I would get more done. I think overall that this is a false economy though because my energy level would be lower again if I resumed the caffeine intake.

Tinnitus

Unfortunately, I experienced no improvement to my tinnitus. I still hear a constant ringing. Sometimes it is louder than others. I expect this to gradually worsen as I get older. That said, I still enjoy the other benefits of being caffeine free enough that I don’t regret quitting.

Decaf?

Occasionally I’m asked if I would like to try decaf instead. I’ve decided to avoid decaffeinated coffee and tea. At first, I avoided decaffeinated coffee because I had read that the decaffeination process involved possibly harmful chemical solvents. I’ve since heard and read that there are decaffeination processes that are not worrisome. Nevertheless, I’m going to stay away. Now that I no longer feel the need for caffeine, the slight enjoyment I get from the flavor doesn’t match the annoyance of staining my teeth and wondering if the beverage had been decaffeinated using water or dichloromethane or chloroform.

Alternative Morning Drink/Supplement

[I added this section after a reader asked what I’m using as a workout supplement that doesn’t have caffeine. At the time I wrote this post, this is what I was taking. I have since discontinued all supplementation except for L-carnitine, electrolytes, and occasional ketones.]

I currently drink a morning cocktail of ketones (1 scoop), L-carnitine (1 tablespoon), BCAAs (1 scoop), and electrolytes (1 tablet). It gives me energy without making me jittery. I find it hard to get the BCAAs without artificial sweeteners on local shelves, so I recommend ordering those. The only component of that cocktail that has calories is the ketones, at 48 calories per scoop. I don’t think the ketones are necessary, but it helps me with running while fasted. I find the electrolytes to be the most important component. I recover after my daily run much faster with them. Unlike with caffeine, I feel I can skip this at any time without ill effect.

I mostly have only one meal a day, dinner, and this carries me through the day as I practice intermittent fasting. While I do not recommend this for everybody, it works great for me.

Ongoing

I intend to stay off of caffeine for the rest of my life. It is too easy to settle into having it regularly and get back on the treadmill of requiring steadily more caffeine every day to maintain the same amount of alertness and productivity. I can easily imagine situations in which I might take some caffeine or other stimulant if I need to stay awake a long time. If I do end up doing so, I will discontinue as quickly as possible to avoid becoming dependent again.

If you have trouble with energy level, mood, or sleep quality, I highly recommend that you at least try quitting caffeine if you’ve been using it for a long time. If you have children, I recommend that you discourage them from getting started on it at all. There may be health benefits to having caffeine, but I’m not convinced they have been reported by anybody not trying to sell you some.

If you want to quit, you might try using a caffeinated workout powder like I did. It makes it a lot easier to tightly regulate and gradually reduce your intake, avoiding withdrawal symptoms. Different kinds of coffee have wildly different amounts of caffeine, so it is hard to regulate using coffee. One reader shared that he used migraine medicine containing small amounts of caffeine to wean himself off.

Having been immersed in daily caffeine consumption for most of my life and now out of it entirely for two years, I’m a bit bemused by noticing how much of the economy is centered around it. I see people enjoying a cup of coffee and that is great, but I also see people being annoyed with each other at the drive through at Starbucks to get their morning fix and I’m not convinced that is a good tradeoff.

If you are interested in more discussion of this topic, there are some good comments about this post at Hacker News and Reddit.

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