Hiking the Skyline Trail at Mount Rainier National Park

Hiking the Skyline Trail at Mount Rainier National Park

Quarantining and recent advisory against traveling long distances has given Vlad and I a newfound appreciation for hiking over the last few months. We still have plenty of trails in Washington state to check off our now-growing bucket list, but I wanted to share Mount Rainier’s Skyline Trail with those of you who haven’t been.

We did this hike before the recent wildfires along the West Coast, including the one over Labor Day weekend last month that destroyed 80% of Malden, a town in east WA. The fires this year have been devastating and serves as a reminder that we must never take nature, fresh air, wildlife, and an intact home for granted. As I’m writing this, the August Complex fire in California has just become a “gigafire”, burning more than 1 million acres. Put simply, climate change is real. This may be a wake-up call for many of us to reduce our carbon footprint and push for stronger environmental protection. I’m really hoping that whatever learnings, actions and mindsets that we adopt during this time will be enduring – and that we won’t need another disaster to remind us of our responsibility to care for our Earth! Hopefully the pictures and my recounting of our hike below will inspire all of us!

Skyline Trail

The Skyline Trail is a moderate-to-hard, 5.6 mile loop that starts at Paradise, Mount Rainier’s south hub. It has excellent views of Mount Rainier, the Nisqually Glacier, and if you go during the summer months, the meadows are beautiful with subalpine wildflowers. Mid-July to mid-October – when enough snow has cleared off the path –  are the recommended months to go.

Getting There

From Seattle, we drove about 3 hours down the I-5S and WA-7S to Mount Rainier National Park. It should only take 2 hours, but we didn’t leave Seattle until 9:30am on a Saturday and winded up hitting traffic past the town of Ashford. This was largely due to a line of cars (and motorcycles) being backed up all the way from the park entrance. We didn’t have an America the Beautiful pass at the time, so we paid the entrance fee ($30) for our vehicle. And from there, off we went!

Along The Trail

The trailhead starts right by the Jackson Center in Paradise, not too far from the parking lot. We did the loop clockwise and while the initial ascent was pretty steep, Mount Rainier was in our view the whole time – serving as extra motivation for us! Along the way, chipmunks would approach and then scurry away. About a little over 1 mile in, we were rewarded with views of the Nisqually Glacier and to the back of us, mountain ranges that extended beyond the horizon. We decided to stop here for some peanut butter sandwiches and fruit that Vlad packed for us; it was already 1:30pm around this time and we hadn’t had lunch yet!

As we continued on, we took a bit of a detour to Glacier Vista, where we saw Nisqually Glacier up close. The path here was covered in snow and while a couple of hikers had poles, we were mostly fine with our hiking boots. It was here, we saw an icefall and 2 mountain goats from afar. I wish I were able to capture them on our cameras but with quite some distance between us and their coats camouflaged with the snow, you could hardly tell they were there.

Moving on, we made our way southeast to Panoramic Point, about 7000 ft above ocean level, where we caught views of Mt. St Helens, Mt. Adams, and Mt. Hood. This is typically the point where folks either continue on the Skyline Trail or make their way back. From here, we hiked up to the High Skyline Trail (the Lower Skyline was closed due to snow and ice). Here, the terrain turned into rocky rubble mixed with snow. By the time we began descending there were patches of meadows, interspersed with melting snow and streams. We spotted at least 7 Hoary Marmots around this area!

The Paradise valley, evergreens, and backdrop of mountain ranges appeared before us as we rounded out the second half of the loop. Mount Rainier was in our view again. Here, we saw Myrtle Falls and passed by this iconic scenic bridge spanning Edith Creek. We didn’t know at the time, but apparently there’s a path with a unique viewpoint of the waterfall underneath this bridge. Oh well, we’ll have to capture this the next time we come!

Towards the Finish Line and Back

By the time we finished the trail and got to our car, it was already 5:30pm. Vlad and I were both physically drained and could not wait to get back home! But as luck would have it, we encountered this deer passing through. The whole setting was very serene, almost as if she (or he) were bidding us a safe journey back.

FYI – we were famished as well and in need of more water. We made a quick pit stop at Copper Creek Inn on the way back. This gem of a place is not too far away from the park entrance. We were tempted by the salmon with blackberry vinaigrette on their menu, but decided it was probably best to get home earlier. We did get their homemade blackberry pie with vanilla ice cream to go and boy, am I glad we did. Hands down, the best pie I’ve had so far!

Bridging Cultural Gaps: Expanding Veganism into New Markets

Last year, I traveled to Seattle a lot for work and couldn’t help but notice all of the “clean eating” and vegan options in this city. When you arrive at SeaTac airport, there’s a restaurant called Floret that makes a delicious vegan coconut cake and Vitamin C kombucha. And in Capitol Hill and Ballard, Frankie & Jo’s serves some of the best ice cream I’ve had and it’s all plant-based. Who would’ve thought? Full disclosure though, I am not vegan by any means, but am fascinated by how accessible and creative vegan meals have become.

Even in countries like China, veganism has been on the rise. According to Euromonitor, China was projected to be the fastest-growing market for vegan products between 2015 and 2020, with a growth rate of 17.2%1. This statistic is surprising because having grown up with home-cooked Chinese food, I’m accustomed to seeing meat on the dinner table. Even if a dish (like this popular eggplant dish) is primarily veggies, it’s often accompanied with minced meat.

Chinese Eggplants with Minced Pork by Elaine from the China Sichuan Food blog

A lot of this has to do with the culture of meat in China. Until the late 1980s, the government tackled food shortages by issuing rations and meat was a rare luxury. Now, with China being a global economic power, meat has become a sign of prosperity. The average Chinese consumer’s access to meat has improved significantly, resulting in China now representing ~28% of the world’s meat consumption2.

So yes, I’m curious about whether the vegan movement has truly taken hold in China. If so, how? And how can entrepreneurs who are passionate about plant-based foods capitalize on this?


Only ~4% of the Chinese population (50 million people) are vegetarian, but the average Chinese consumer is becoming more health-conscious and receptive to plant-based diets3. This, along with concerns for the environment and animal welfare (primarily spurred by younger generations), have led to a greater momentum for China’s vegan movement.

  • A 2018 survey by the New Zealand Institute of Plant and Food Research indicated that 38% of respondents in China’s Tier 1 cities said they’d switch to meat substitutes that are “low in fat”, “additive-free”, and “high in protein”4
  • In addition, the main reasons for reducing meat consumption were perceived health benefits (64%) and managing personal weight (57%)3
  • 73% have also indicated they’d pay extra for food that is deemed healthier5


Restaurant owners are also adjusting menus to reflect the meat-free trend. Happy Cow (an online service that lists sources of vegan, vegetarian and healthy food) shows 1,328 restaurants in China that are either completely vegan, completely vegetarian, or serve vegan/vegetarian options. While most of these are in the more populated Tier 1 cities, such as Shanghai (126) and Beijing (99), a handful of other cities (Guangzhou, Shenzhen, and Hangzhou) are catching up on the trend. The food served at these restaurants suit the Western palette, but the combination of flavors are still local and authentic – scallion pancakes, tofu-based soups, bokchoy and bean curd-based dumplings, mushroom wontons, vegetarian hotpot with greens and mock meat, and dishes made with pumpkin, eggplant, green beans? Yum!


Messaging and the food itself, especially what’s in it and how you tailor it to meet “local” expectations, matters!

  • Acknowledge regional differences. Consumers in Tier 1 cities have not only higher disposable income, but they’re also quick to adopt healthy lifestyles and foreign brands. That being said, Tier 2 cities, such as Hangzhou (home to Alibaba) and Tianjin (major port city not too far from Beijing), are not as saturated and could also be good places for your next vegan venture.
  • Use e-commerce platforms and partnerships to generate brand awareness. Chinese consumers are avid users of social media platforms (i.e., WeChat, Weibo and QQ) and engaging with them on these channels can boost your brand.
  • Consider partnerships with established chains to solidify your footprint. As a first step, Beyond Meat struck a partnership with Starbucks, which has more than 4,300 stores across China6.
  • Adapt and localize your menu. Catering to customers in new markets is important and there are ways to do it while staying true to your values and branding. For instance, instead of burgers, Zhenmeat (a plant-based meat startup based in Beijing) makes local dishes, such as dumplings, meatball, and crayfish7,8. They also understand that many Chinese consumers prefer to eat meat off the bone and have even started using 3-D printers that create protein alternatives containing bones and other structural elements9. Now that’s taking cultural understanding to another level!

Sources: [1] Daxue Consulting, [2] World Economic Forum, [3] China Briefing, [4] Plant and Food, [5] China Briefing, [6] CNet, [7] East West Bank, [8] CNBC, [9] New York Times

Navigating the Coronavirus Era

Navigating the Coronavirus Era

I’ll have to be honest. When I first heard about the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak in Wuhan in January, I didn’t think it would escalate and result in countries around the world scrambling for a way to mitigate the spread. Being “far away” from the epicenter made me feel disconnected and a part of me felt hopeful that COVID-19 could be contained before getting out of hand. After all, we’ve made it through SARS back in 2003 and MERS in 2012, both of which had higher fatality rates. But things are different from back then. We’re dealing with a different virus and in this day and age, “far away” isn’t really far away. As much as we benefit from globalization, we’re also feeling its full effect through COVID-19’s rapid spread, the deep interdependence between major economies, and how vulnerable we all are to unexpected shocks.

Right now, what we’re living through feels like something out of a movie, but at least we are all in it together.

Across the country, major cities including San Francisco, New York City and Seattle have issued stay-at-home orders to “flatten the curve” and slow the spread of the virus. Schools and all non-essential businesses have been asked to close. Major events, such as SXSW, have been cancelled, and almost everyone I know is working from home.

San Francisco, where I currently live, was the first to order a shelter-in-place almost 2 weeks ago. What this means is I’m barred from gathering outside, but I can leave the house for “essential activities”, such as grocery shopping and going to the doctor. Most restaurants in my neighborhood have closed their doors, but a few have kept their delivery and takeout services up and running. People can also walk and exercise outside in public spaces, as long as they stay 6 feet away from others.

These measures are imperative for the health and safety of our nation, although devastating for our economy. This week’s uptick after the signing of a historic $2T stimulus package does not make up for the fact that the stock market has wiped out nearly 3 years of gains. Small businesses, the airline and hospitality industries are all suffering major losses and that extends downstream to the now 3 million+ workers whose jobs have been cut. My roommate, a marketing manager at a local restaurant chain, recently received an email regarding employment termination if the doors do not reopen by April 7th.

So yes, COVID-19 is very real and it can get personal. Even if it hasn’t turned your world upside down just yet, it is leaving people without an income and ability to provide for themselves and their families.

So please, let’s all do our part by following the social distancing guidelines, staying at home, and limiting the time outside to truly essential activities. With COVID-19’s incubation being anywhere from 2 to 14 days, we can be asymptomatic for a while and spread the virus to others without knowing. This community spread is what puts our healthcare system at risk. There are simply not enough beds, ICUs, ventilators for everyone and having to choose between which sick patient should receive care, is the last thing we want to do.

For those in the less-vulnerable category who underestimate the virus and call it “just another flu” (yes, I’m looking at you springbreakers), now’s the time to get serious. Staying at home is a small sacrifice compared to what our seniors and elderly have gone through (e.g., serving our country during World War II) or what our medical workers are doing each day to save lives. I know we’re all coping and adjusting to life under quarantine, but.. hey, we’re all in this together!

How are all of you doing during this time?

I’ll be checking in every now and then to post updates from SF, but until then, please stay safe and healthy!

Happy New Year from Romania!

Happy New Year from Romania!

It has been a while since I last posted, but one of my resolutions for the upcoming year is to write more. So hopefully I’ll keep these going more frequently! I’m excited to say that I’m currently writing from Bucharest, Romania and have been spending the past week with Vlad (my boyfriend) in his home country. I’ve still got a lot to learn about Romania’s culture and history, but will share my journey along the way here.

December 21, 2019 marked the 30th anniversary of the Romanian Revolution.

On my first day in Bucharest, Vlad brought me to Revolution Square. It was here where Romania’s Communist Era ended and where Nicolae Ceausescu, leader of the Romanian Communist Party and President/Head of State (1967-1989) lost control. At the time, there was a lot of suffering across the country. Food shortages, reduced heating, and hospitals that did not have medicine – all of which were a result of Ceausescu’s obsession with paying off the national debt. Debt that funded Ceausescu’s over-the-top industrial and infrastructure projects, including the “House of the People” (more on that in the photos below).

When Ceausescu’s government attempted to evict a popular ethnic Hungarian priest in Timisoara for criticizing the regime, protests began in this city and inspired similar demonstrations across the country. On December 21, 1989, Ceausescu was giving a speech at Revolution Square and violence broke out. Ceausescu and his wife escaped by helicopter but were executed days afterwards (on Christmas Day) when the military turned on them and convicted them of capital crimes.

From top to bottom: Revolution Square, where violence broke out during Ceausescu’s speech on December 21, 1989 and the Parliament Building (“House of the People”), which is a grandiose building (fit for a megalomaniac with over 1000 rooms and 4 million sq ft) that would house Ceausescu’s governing bodies. It was inspired by his trip to North Korea and its construction required a lot of sacrifices from the country. About 80% of the historic center was destroyed to make room, food was rationed to pay for the building and the Romanian people worked 24/7 on this.
Flags during the revolution had the Communist coat of arms cut out.

Old Town is where the nightlife happens but the buildings are not very earthquake-resistant!

Here I am on Lipscani (one of the main streets in Old Town) with lots of bars and restaurants.

Old Town is where you’ll find not only great restaurants and bars, but lively parties that go from midnight til about 4am. However, I’ve been advised by multiple people now to limit time spent inside these buildings because many of them are seismic risk Category 1. This means they are at serious risk of collapsing (should there be an earthquake).

Just for some context, Old Town is full of early 20th century buildings and unfortunately, little has been done to protect Bucharest’s heritage architecture. The city has a total of 349 Class 1 buildings and they are marked with a red dot. In the past, City Hall has been slow with consolidation and repairs. Between 2002 to 2015, the city managed to consolidate only 18 high risk buildings; the question of whether financing will be made from the public budget or through public-private partnerships and the fact that all owners have to approve consolidation to secure repair loans are only a few of the hurdles along the way.

However, things are looking bright. Laws have been passed, such as one that forbids shops, restaurants and other commercial spaces in high seismic risk buildings. And City Hall has made plans to consolidate 200 buildings by end of 2020, including providing resources and housing to residents that are displaced in the process.

From top left to right: C.E.C Bank headquarters (landmark building symbolizing Romania’s modernization; it was built in 1900 under King Carol I’s reign), Stavropoleos Monastery (one of the oldest and most beautiful Eastern Orthodox churches in Bucharest) and Carturesti Carusel (a modern bookshop with cafe located in a restored 19th century building).

TRADITIONAL Romanian food has A LOT of cheese and meat.

Prior to this trip, I’ve had Romanian food once at a restaurant in Seattle and have experienced other Eastern European food on trips I’ve taken (goulash and trdelnik in Prague and pierogis in Warsaw), but nothing could prepare me for the amount of cheese and meat I would eat! I will write a separate post on Romanian food, but have highlighted a few via photos below. These are just a preview until later!

Food as Medicine?

Food as Medicine?

I have family members with very different opinions on nutrition. Some of them have incorporated superfoods, such as kale and acai, into their diet and follow a strict regimen. And there are others who refuse to “follow a diet” because: (1) it requires them to give up some of their favorite foods and (2) they don’t always believe in the outcome. As such, I believe it’s important to take a data-driven approach towards healthy eating. People should not only know why certain foods are good for them, but this information should also be customized and actionable, based on each person’s microbiome, health and preferred eating habits. Hopefully, by providing a solution that is backed by science and tracks progress among users, people will come to embrace this idea of food as medicine.

The Problem & Market Opportunity:

About half of the U.S. adult population —117 million people—have chronic health conditions, such as diabetes, autoimmune disorders and various types of heart diseases 1. According to the Archives of Internal Medicine, 40-80% of these conditions can be traced back to our microbiome and are preventable by maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle 2­. Microbiomes are a “community of bacteria” that live inside our bodies and are unique to each individual. They’re heavily shaped by the foods we eat and play an important role in keeping us healthy by absorbing nutrients, regulating our immune system and maintaining stable hormone levels. As such, we want a diverse gut flora and in the event that we lack certain microbes, we want personalized diets that give us a balanced composition. Unfortunately, many of us are not equipped with the knowledge of what our body needs and even when we do, we have trouble maintaining that sustenance for the following reasons:

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The Little Big Idea:

Yes, the meal subscription market is extremely saturated. But the problem outlined above is the reason why I believe there’s room for one more meal service that curates recipes based on people’s biomarkers, food preferences and health goals. By understanding each individual’s metabolism, genetics and even how one responds to carbs and protein, meal services like Habit are taking a science-based approach to optimizing nutrition 3, 4. However, a common criticism of these services (and food subscriptions in general) are their lack of flexibility. Imagine telling your family that you would’ve loved to join for Thai food, but instead, have to eat a pre-cooked meal from your fridge. As such, the ideal meal subscription – if it doesn’t become a logistical nightmare first – makes it easy for users to eat healthy regardless of setting. It does this by giving users the choice of: a) making meals thru personalized recipes, b) heating up pre-cooked meals and/or c) receiving menu recommendations at local restaurants.

How Does It Work:

  1. Users fill out their profile and receive a genetic testing kit with instructions for collecting biological samples (e.g. saliva and stool).
  2. Samples are sent back to a lab and tested for genetic variants and biomarkers.
  3. The composition and diversity of users’ gut microbiomes are profiled and an algorithm will predict what foods are good for each user.
  4. Users receive a personalized report with tailored recommendations (e.g. ideal meals for breakfast, lunch, dinner) and information on how their bodies respond to food.
  5. Users mark off their calendars to customize their weekly mix of meal options (e.g. at-home cooking, ready-to-eat meal kits and/or restaurant items).
  6. Users receive ongoing tips and track progress through recommended metrics.

Are there similar ideas out there for you to check out?

  • DayTwo provides personalized dietary plans that allows you “to live healthier and maintain normal blood sugar levels”.
  • Vitagene provides tailored diet, exercises and supplements based on your genetic testing results

As always, I’d love to hear what my readers think! Do any of you currently use tools/services to help you eat healthy? If so, what do you like or dislike about them?

Sources: 1 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (2015-2020), 2 Fight Chronic Disease, 3 Habit (How It Works), 4 Habit (Our Science)

The World Cup and its Impact on Host Countries

The World Cup and its Impact on Host Countries

In the run-up to each World Cup, countries seeking to host the tournament often talk about benefits to be gained. For instance, Russia claimed that this year’s World Cup will boost its economy by up to $31B over the 10-year period between 2013 and 2023 1. After all, how else do host countries – Qatar (2022) and Canada-U.S.-Mexico (2026) included – justify spending billions of dollars on infrastructure and new stadiums? Since these investments are government-financed (and coming out of taxpayers’ pockets), one theory is that it’s a politically-charged, self-promotion tactic, designed to boost national pride and rally the people in support of an event that puts the spotlight on the country 2, 4. While analyses done on previous host countries are not exact and vary based on each country’s economic state, maturity level (i.e. developed versus emerging markets) and cultural attitude toward soccer, they generally show that there’s limited direct financial gain from hosting the World Cup. However, there are other intangible sources of positive impact, such as improved wellbeing of its citizens due to better infrastructure and international perception of the host country. As such, let’s take a step back and provide a more comprehensive, impact assessment of the World Cup using the framework below:

  1. Direct Profitability (from / during the World Cup)
  • Increase in Tourism Revenue (e.g. Hotels, Attractions, Restaurants, Nightlife, etc.)
  • Increase in Expenses (e.g. stadiums, public transportation, security)

FIFA emerges as the real winner through revenues generated from broadcast rights, sponsorships and ticket sales ($4.8B in 2014 and an expected $6B in 2018) 3. On the other hand, host countries rely on increased employment and consumer spending (during the construction phase) and increased tourism (during the event) – both of which are hard to measure due to opportunity costs and crowding out effects 2.

As an example, Brazil and Russia spent $15B and $11.8B, respectively, on projects for the tournament and in doing so, created hundreds of thousands of jobs 3, 4. However, these jobs are mostly “temporary”, with many of the stadiums left unused after the event. Furthermore, it’s difficult to assess whether that money would be better spent elsewhere 2. After all, funneling public funds towards the World Cup means reducing other public services, such as training and educational programs, which may have contributed more to the country’s GDP 5, 7.

With respect to tourism, the 2014 World Cup in Brazil provided $13.2B in revenues from soccer fans who travelled to the country specifically for the event 6. However, this barely covers the costs that went into preparing for the tournament. Furthermore, it “crowds out” regular visitors who have no interest in the sport and thus, may choose not to come during that time 2, 7. As such, how much “additional” tourism dollars does the tournament really bring?

  1. Long-Term Economic Impact (after the World Cup)
  • International Perception of the host country
  • Business Alliances (potentially attract investments from foreign companies)
  • Employment

Hosting the World Cup, allows emerging countries to showcase their greatness and demonstrate that they deserve a seat at the “superpowers” table 8, 12. In addition to political benefits, there’s the anticipation of investments from business leaders 13. Research from UC-Berkeley shows that countries hosting the Olympics experience an increase in trade, which in turn translates into increased employment 10. Nevertheless, the same study also shows similar increases for countries who’ve made losing bids, which calls into question whether the outcome was ever a result of hosting the event or if simply entering the bid (and therefore signaling one’s capacity to host) is enough 10.

  1. Other
  • Overall wellbeing of its citizens due to better infrastructure and improved employment
  • Feel-good effect

Beyond stadiums, host countries also invest in public infrastructure (i.e. roads and transportation systems) that benefit citizens and lead to productivity in the long-run 9. Unfortunately, this is often overshadowed by pictures of abandoned stadiums built without a sustainable purpose in mind. Which brings up that opportunity cost question again: could the spending have yielded better results elsewhere?

Perhaps one of the most underestimated impacts of the World Cup is its feel-good effect on residents 2, 11. The host population often feel an immense sense of unity and national pride due to the prestige associated with hosting such a large, global event 8. This results in increased topics of conversation during the tournament, as well as improved wellbeing, as stories of triumph can inspire more kids to partake in the sport 5, 11.

Needless to say, there are many quantitative and qualitative factors that go into assessing the impact of the World Cup on host countries. While statistics suggest that there’s hardly any immediate economic gain from the tournament, there may be benefits that are either realized after a longer time period or are intangible. After all, for some countries, the “prestige” that comes with hosting the World Cup is priceless. In these situations, a positive perception of the country, along with improved diplomatic relations and national pride, justifies the net loss 8. One area worth exploring further is, based on the framework above, how and why do certain types of host countries benefit more than others? For instance, developed countries like the U.S. (1994) and Germany (2006), have fared better, because with good infrastructure systems and some stadiums already in place, their spending was less than those of others 5, 10. As such, it’d be interesting to find other patterns and factors that impact the success of a host country. Perhaps doing that will help countries make more informed decisions around whether or not they should host.


1 http://www.espn.com/soccer/fifa-world-cup/story/3471440/russia-predicts-world-cup-will-have-%2431-billion-economic-impact

2 http://pitjournal.unc.edu/article/assessing-long-term-economic-impacts-world-cup-mega-sport-event

3 https://www.cnbc.com/2018/06/14/the-business-of-the-world-cup–who-makes-money-and-how-much.html

4 http://www.businessinsider.com/fifa-brazil-world-cup-revenue-2015-3

5 https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2018/06/world-cup-football-smart-investment-russia-host/

6 https://theurbantwist.com/2017/10/18/brazil-world-cup-affect-brazilian-economy/

7 https://psmag.com/economics/is-there-any-real-economic-benefit-to-hosting-a-world-cup

8 http://etd.cput.ac.za/bitstream/handle/20.500.11838/1628/208127992_visser_sd_mtech_sport_bus_2015.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y

9 https://scholarworks.wmich.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=&httpsredir=1&article=3609&context=honors_theses

10 https://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/10/magazine/does-hosting-the-olympics-actually-pay-off.html

11 https://www.researchgate.net/publication/46526400_Economic_Impacts_of_the_FIFA_Soccer_World_Cups_in_France_1998_Germany_2006_and_Outlook_for_South_Africa_2010

12 https://www.spectator.co.uk/2018/01/for-putin-the-world-cup-is-not-about-football-but-global-respect/

13 https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2017/06/what-the-gold-rush-in-chinese-football-teaches-us-about-globalization/

How AI can help you get into the best shape of your life!

How AI can help you get into the best shape of your life!

I have less than a month before my trips to London, Hawaii and China! With that in mind, I’ve been searching for the right diet and workout plan. I don’t have a personal trainer, but thought I couldn’t go wrong with the 2-pound rule from this LiveStrong article. To lose 2 pounds a week, I would cut out 1000 calories per day 1. Assuming I stick to a 1200-calorie diet (which has been a challenge because I LOVE FOOD) and normally burn 2000 calories per day without doing much, all I’d need to do is burn an additional 200 calories each day through exercise. Seems simple enough, but it’s been 2 weeks of on-and-off barre, yoga, spinning and 30-min treadmill sessions. And I still weigh the same! Of course, body weight is just one measure and doesn’t account for progress in the form of reduction in body-fat percentage and overall fitness level. However, what I’ve noticed is, I’ve had to take a couple of breaks. I didn’t work out much before this summer and experienced a lot of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). The group classes I took had good instruction and helped me stay motivated, but they were not tailored for someone who needs to step it up gradually. I know I’m not alone in my desire for individualized workout plans. Research shows that depending on one’s fitness level, body composition and medical restraints, there are specific routines that would be more effective in reaching his or her goals. Nevertheless, the cost of a personal trainer is still very high. Hence, that’s why an AI-driven solution that provides customized workout plans is useful for anyone interested in becoming fit.

The Little Big Idea:

Smart Scale and integrated web/mobile application that: (a) tracks users’ progress against their health and fitness goals and (b) leverages their workout history and research from physiotherapists and sports scientists to curate exercise routines that are personalized and highly effective. It does this through an algorithm that predicts, day by day, the type, intensity and duration of physical activity that would help users reach their desired outcome. These predictions will be based on both users’ live performance metrics (e.g. weekly BMI & weight loss, gains in flexibility, muscular endurance, etc.) and insights generated from crowdsourced data collected through the app. Essentially, the more people who train with the app, the more it actively learns from users’ experience, what works and what doesn’t. The application should do the following:

  • Perform an initial physical assessment on users and recommending a starting point. New users are asked to fill out a questionnaire about their medical history, diet, hobbies, barriers to exercise and goals 2. In addition, a series of tests that measure endurance, strength, flexibility and speed will be conducted to assess the user’s fitness level 4. So, whether you’re ready to do squats with 125 pounds or something more low-impact, like a 20-min elliptical interval workout, the app will figure it out!
  • Provide workout videos that you can try out either at home or at the gym. This will be dependent upon your preferences and information from the initial assessment.
  • Introduce additional variety and challenge to help users reinforce strengths, work on deficiencies and avoid injury 3.
  • Adjust workouts to take into account schedule changes as you go along.
  • Correct a user’s positioning. For staple workout exercises, such as squats and planks, the app will provide live feedback to ensure that your form is correct. Through the camera, it compares where your joints, arms and legs are, along with the angles they create, to the “perfect” form 5.

Are there similar ideas out there for you to check out?

  • Freeletics is a fitness app that assigns a personal training plan to each user. It recently integrated AI into its Bodyweight Coach feature, which now provides interval workouts that tackle specific areas of the body more effectively 6, 7, 8.
  • Sworkit guides its users of all levels – from beginner to advanced – through video workouts that can be done at home in as little as 5-15 minutes. The user can customize these workouts to focus on specific areas of the body, workout type, difficulty, etc. In addition, a real, personal trainer is also available to answer questions and help you choose the right workout 9.
  • Perfect Squat Challenge (by Kaia Health) uses AI-powered motion tracking and correction technology to help users perfect their squat. It does this by gauging the relative positions of limbs and joints and the angles between them, comparing them with what physiotherapists would describe as the “ideal” squat. While the technology is very impressive, the app is limited to squats, but has the potential to help users attune to more exercises 10.

So what do you guys think? Any recommendations and suggestions for a workout plan are also welcome!


1 https://www.livestrong.com/article/266078-how-many-calories-do-i-need-to-lose-2-pounds-per-week/

2 https://www.livestrong.com/article/338717-fitness-assessment-for-personal-training-services/

3 https://www.wholelifechallenge.com/how-to-design-your-own-workout-program-a-guide-for-beginners/

4 https://www.sportsscience.co/sport/top-11-fitness-metrics-gauge-your-fitness-level/

5 https://appdevelopermagazine.com/ai-powered-fitness-app-helps-users-perfect-their-squats/

6 https://www.insidehook.com/nation/freeletics-ai-workout-app

7 https://www.healthista.com/fitness-app-powered-ai-gives-workout-programme/

8 https://www.freeletics.com/en/press/wp-content/uploads/sites/24/2015/02/Press-Release_Bodyweight-Update.pdf

9 https://sworkit.com/pricing

10 https://www.engadget.com/2018/06/27/the-perfect-squat-app-ai-trainer/

Wine or wine not? Knowing how restaurants price their wine may impact your decision.

Wine or wine not? Knowing how restaurants price their wine may impact your decision.

I love wine, but I’m no sommelier. When a friend and I ordered a bottle of prosecco at a “happy hour” rate of $30 (normally $40), I thought we were getting pretty good value. It didn’t occur to me until I took a sip and thought, “well, this doesn’t taste very good”, that perhaps we were better off ordering cocktails by the glass for $8-12 instead. A quick search of the prosecco brand, Primaterra, on the Internet showed me that the entire bottle retailed for $10. Given that the wholesale price is even lower, that’s more than a 200% markup! I was shocked and ever since, I’ve wondered how do restaurants price their wines? And does it make sense to order wine at restaurants? If so, when?

According to an article by Gretchen Roberts, “The Lowdown on Restaurant Markups” from the Wine Enthusiast, “industry-wide markups average two and a half to three times wholesale cost” 1. While the article is a little dated (2010), it’s similar/consistent with a more recent article from Crain’s in 2015, which reports markups of up to 300% per glass (4 times the wholesale price) 2. Why is this the case? Here’s how restaurants would justify their pricing strategies:

  • Value-add to the drinking experience. Restaurants spend time selecting wines that pair well with menu items and can provide that knowledge when you ask for recommendations 3.
  • It’s market-driven. People who order wine often feel strongly about it and if they’re willing to pay the premium, why not?
  • Taxes. Each state collects excise taxes on wine that is consumed, varying by alcohol content and ranging from $0.20 (California & Texas) to $2.50 (Alaska) per gallon 4, 5.
  • Costs. The need to cover stemware, wages, rent, inventory, may warrant restaurants to charge a markup on wine 6. One-off restaurants (unlike chain restaurants) do not benefit from volume discounts and therefore, may need to mark up wine prices more to cover costs. And it just so happens that wine is one of those few menu items for which there is a market even if you charge a premium.

That being said, I’m not convinced by the reasons above because there’s no indication that restaurants will be worse off by reducing prices and in doing so, make up for the difference by encouraging more people to consume wine.

So should you order wine or not? It depends. Most restaurants are not BYOB (bring your own beverage), so if it’s a romantic dinner or if you’re catching up with friends after a long day at work, it might make sense to pay a premium for wine to savor the moment. If you do decide to wine (and dine), here are some quick guidelines for you:

  • Markups are higher on the cheapest wines than on the more expensive ones, so you’ll get more bang for your buck by ordering a few levels above 1, 4.
  • Don’t order wine by the glass, especially if you have enough people to share a bottle 7.
  • It’s OK to try lesser-known brands. Restaurants are more likely to place a full markup on popular brands they know they’ll sell 1, 4. According to Juliet Chung from the WSJ, “wines from regions like Argentina and Spain are likely to be marked up less than ones from Napa or Bordeaux” 7.
  • Use an app like CellarTracker, to help you find good-value wines.
  • If you’re in New York, I’ve compiled a short list of wine markups for restaurants and wine bars that were voted to be the best in 2018 by The Infatuation and Eater NY. I was initially trying to gain insights on whether restaurants and wine bars price their wines very differently, but it seems like the markups are all over the place! These numbers are markups on average retail prices I found on sites like Wine-Searcher and Vivino for wine of the same type/vintage and from the same winery. I only took a sample of each restaurant’s wine list, so that’s where the accuracy may be off. Overall, it looks like the markups at wine bars and high-end restaurants, such as Momofuku and Balthazar, are lower than the rest, but their price points are also higher ($36-$100+). Whereas places like “Her Name is Han” had a really high 290% markup on their wines, but they were priced all at $37/bottle and retailed for only $5-14.
Name Neighborhood Type Yelp Rating Average Markup Over Retail
Vanguard Wine Bar* Upper West Side Wine Bar 4 125%
Momofuku Ssam Bar East Village Restaurant, American (New) 4 144%
Jadis Lower East Side Wine Bar 4 145%
Amelie Greenwich Village Wine Bar & Restaurant, French/Belgian 4.5 153%
Terroir Tribeca Tribeca Wine Bar 4 163%
Balthazar SoHo Restaurant, French 4 164%
Le Cou Cou SoHo Restaurant, French 4 205%
Gottino Enoteca Salumeria West Village Wine Bar, Italian 4 214%
Aldea Flatiron Restaurant, Portuguese 4 251%
Her Name Is Han Midtown East Restaurant, Korean 4 290%
Victor’s Café* Midtown West Restaurant, Cuban 4 341%

* For restaurants/wine bars that only offered pricing by the glass, I made the assumption that had they offered bottle pricing, it would be 3.7 times the amount charged by glass.

Lastly, don’t forget that “price” is only one factor to consider in your selection of wine! I’m always drinking $10 wines from Trader Joe’s, many of which I’d prefer over the really expensive ones anyway. So don’t forget to keep that in mind too!


1 https://www.winemag.com/2010/05/07/the-lowdown-on-restaurant-markups/

2 http://www.chicagobusiness.com/article/20150319/BLOGS09/150319719/why-your-glass-of-wine-costs-so-much-or-does-it

3 http://www.newsweek.com/2014/07/11/why-wine-can-cost-four-times-much-restaurants-257169.html

4 https://www.reluctantgourmet.com/restaurant-w-wine-markups/

5 https://www.statista.com/statistics/324624/us-wine-excise-tax-rates-by-state/

6 http://www.businessinsider.com/how-wine-markups-work-2017-3

7 https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB121875695594642607

Where does all the money go? How Blockchain can help the Non-Profit Sector become more transparent.


Donations are like a black hole. On several occasions, nonprofits have reached out to me for donations without telling me how much of my money goes towards projects they’re “supporting” as opposed to management salary, fundraising and other overhead expenses. Because few non-profits provide this information, choosing worthy causes becomes a challenge. As an example, Kids Wish Network, a charity that grants wishes to children who are battling life-threatening illnesses, raised $18.6M in 2012 and spent only $240K (a little over 1%) granting wishes 1. Kids Wish Network still exists today and is among the 50 worst charities in the U.S. that devote less than 4% of donations to their causes 1. Restoring donor trust and ensuring that donation dollars are being put to their best use, is an important matter. And that’s where blockchain technology comes in. By only processing donations to charities that meet specific criteria and tracking how donations are spent, blockchain can enhance accountability and governance within the philanthropy sector.

Key Industry Highlights:

  • In 2017, $390 billion was donated to >1M nonprofits in the U.S 2.
  • The average program efficiency ratio (% of donations that go directly to the charitable purpose) in 2017 was 87% 3. According to charity watchdogs, such as Wise Giving Alliance, no financially-responsible charity should have a ratio lower than 65% 3.
  • A poll conducted by the Chronicle of Philanthropy in 2015 indicated that 1/3 of Americans believe that charities spend funds irresponsibly. And “35 percent said they had little or no confidence in charities” 4.

A Little Big Idea:

All incoming and outgoing cash flows in nonprofits should be in the form of a traceable, digital currency (i.e. Bitcoin or another cryptocurrency) recorded on the blockchain through a platform that does the following:

  • Provide an audit trail of how donations at both the individual and aggregate level are spent. By having a nonprofit’s donors, recipients, employees and vendors/partners interact on either a public or semi-private blockchain, there will be an immutable record of how donations funnel down to the end recipient. Each time a cryptocurrency donation gets converted into a local currency (i.e. when a nonprofit converts 40% of its Bitcoin donations to USD in order to cover payroll and buy necessary supplies for its projects), that information is recorded by the platform. Subsequently, the nonprofit can also upload receipts and evidence to confirm their spending.
  • Track donations against milestones and provide notifications to donors on progress. (i.e. Kerry’s donation of $10K led to the completion of a new well in Kenya!)
  • Leverage smart contracts that can facilitate goal-based funding. Given an objective function, Kerry can set up donations that satisfy how it is she wants her money to be spent. For instance, she can customize her recurring, yearly donations such that they don’t go through unless the nonprofit maintains a program efficiency ratio of at least 80%. In addition, a subsequent donation will not be made until her previous donation resulted in a known outcome.

BlockChain for Philanthropy

Who does this benefit?

  • Increased transparency
  • Ability to know how their donations are being used
  • Increase in donor trust can lead to increased giving
  • Reduce costs; eliminates transfer fees by processing transactions to happen without an intermediary (i.e. bank or central authority)
  • Mitigate financial risks, such as corruption and fraud committed by partners 5. When nonprofits collaborate with other organizations to obtain materials and services that are necessary for the completion of a project, setting up payments that will only be processed once contractual work is finished reduces the possibility of fraud.
  • Enhances coordination between different charities, allowing funds to be transferred automatically once they complete the part of the project they’re responsible for.

Are there similar ideas out there? 

There have been many recent developments that leverage blockchain for philanthropy 6:

Crypto Fundraising –

  • BitHope is a crowdfunding platforms (think Kickstarter) that allows people to make Bitcoin donations to charities of their choice 7.

Crypto Tracking –

  • GiveTrackAlice and AidCoin all offer platforms that can track donations through their life cycles, from donor to donee. However, they’re still in early stages and while GiveTrack was founded by a 501c3 nonprofit called Bitgive, it is unclear how much Alice and AidCoin – which seem to operate on a for-profit model – will charge as commission. Ideally, the platform should be run as a non-profit and only collect a % enough to sustain and improve itself. GiveTrack, currently in beta version, collects donations in the form of Bitcoin and tracks how they’re spent by maintaining a record of transactions in which the Bitcoin either exchanges hands or is converted into local currency 8. Alice and AidCoin are both powered by the Ethereum blockchain 9, but AidCoin uses its own cryptocurrency to track the flow of donations 10,11, which gives rise to exchange risks and uncertainties around its value.

Challenges / Risks:

Realistically, it would take years before all nonprofits – let alone, a single non-profit – has all of their cash flows recorded on the blockchain. For this to happen, there needs to be widespread adoption of blockchain by all counterparties that a nonprofit engages with. Right now, less than 8% of Americans own cryptocurrencies 12 because a) they’re not easy for the average consumer to use (you can’t buy items at the store with Bitcoin yet), b) their value is unpredictable and c) the process of buying cryptocurrencies isn’t very straightforward 13. Nevertheless, people’s mentality towards cryptocurrencies may be different when it’s purchased for philanthropy and for the purpose of introducing traceability and trust (rather than for speculative and investment reasons). Furthermore, any concerns that donors have on how a drop in Bitcoin value has on non-profits’ ability to deliver impact, opens the door for more creative solutions, such as hedge products.


1 https://www.cnn.com/2013/06/13/us/worst-charities/index.html

2 https://www.forbes.com/top-charities/#205ffb6276ab

3 https://www.forbes.com/sites/williampbarrett/2017/12/13/analyzing-a-charity-before-giving/

4 https://www.philanthropy.com/article/1-in-3-Americans-Lacks-Faith/233613

5 https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbestechcouncil/2018/04/25/blockchain-is-reestablishing-trust-in-nonprofits/#57f25c577916

6 https://cointelegraph.com/news/how-cryptocurrency-and-blockchain-are-changing-philanthropy-expert-take

7 https://bithope.org/what-is-bithope

8 https://www.givetrack.org/docs/faq/basics


10 https://www.aidcoin.co/assets/documents/whitepaper.pdf?v=3.18.4

11 https://medium.com/aidcoin/aidcoin-bringing-blockchain-technology-to-the-charity-sector-e7ce77380d83

12 https://www.cnbc.com/2018/03/16/why-just-8-percent-of-americans-are-invested-in-cryptocurrencies-.html

13 https://www.finder.com/why-people-arent-buying-cryptocurrency