Review: The Unremarkable reMarkable

Man, I really really wanted to like the reMarkable.

The reMarkable, if you haven’t heard of it yet is a large format e-ink device the bills itself as a Paper replacement. It’s billed as a large touchscreen enabled Kindle with a fast refresh rate and a bundled non-battery-powered stylus that supposedly mimics the texture of paper.

And if the software running this thing was anywhere close to the level of polish in a Kindle or your typical smartphone device, then this thing would be pretty awesome.

But it’s not, so it’s pretty much not.

Unboxing

The packaging was slick and got my hopes up a lot.

 

Screen and Hardware

The screen is pretty nice. A big almost notebook size e-ink display, though without the backlight that folks may have gotten used to on recent Kindle generations. The 300 PPI of the high-end Kindles is substantially better than the 226 PPI of the ReMarkable, so it doesn’t even look as crisp as other modern e-readers. As a radiologist, I was hoping the device would be good for reading image-rich books and journal articles, but the images aren’t crisp enough and the contrast is washed out. The refresh rate when drawing is impressive but the delay when redrawing the screen to change pages in a book is sloooow.

The surrounding is less nice. The plastic frame does jive with the lightness of the device but it belies a build quality far below, say, an iPad or even a Kindle. The front buttons, in particular, are flimsy and loose without firmness or a satisfying click. The little-nubbed pen feels like a cheap but works exactly as billed. It has a satisfying paper scratchiness on the screen.

Software

The software is incredibly weak. The design is hobbled to function as a serviceable paper sketching/drawing app with a buggy, slow, underpowered e-reader bolted on than a real e-reading device. Page turns are slow. Documents are barely searchable. Annotations only sorta work. Unlike Kindle, you can’t, say, export your highlights—they’re basically saved an image overlay, so useless for most people’s purposes unless you are editing/marking up a PDF (as if it were actually on paper). They also have a tendency to shift on the page, making them nonsensical. Underlines should not be strikethroughs. Only non-DRM ebooks in epub or pdf formats work, and the reMarkable doesn’t yet support the new epub3 format. It also doesn’t parse epub files properly, mutilating the majority of the formatting. No links, no footnotes.

You can only sync ebooks via the app, and the app is buggy. I found I was routinely unable to add files to the reMarkable via the app normally, but that I was usually able to add via the iOS “open in reMarkable” extension (which means the files are compatible, just the platform sucks). The organization schema are just a few folders, and book covers aren’t even displayed (the last page visualized is), which makes seeing your collection at a glance a homogenous mess.

There is no in-book search. No parsing of the table of contents. No internal linking.

It shows PDFs like a stack of pictures, not complex files combining images and—of course—text.

Conclusion

Someone who wants to sketch digitally but wants a more paper-like feel than an iPad or a Wacom might enjoy this device.

Anyone hoping for large-format super Kindle is going to be extremely disappointed.

Review: WCI’s “Fire Your Financial Advisor” Online Course

I’ve been reading Jim Dahle’s White Coat Investor blog for years. And by “blog” I mean watching the WCI empire grow from blog to book to advertising magnate to website network to now e-course.

The newest WCI endeavor is a video course on the Teachable platform called “Fire Your Financial Advisor.” Because of the site you’re currently reading, I was invited to review the course a couple months back when it was first released. Which means I got it for free. In this case, it also means if you buy it for yourself after clicking that link that I also get a few bucks.

But lest that dissuade you: I don’t think this course is for everyone. Or even most people?

But before we get to the review, there’s a special deal in honor of Match Day:

Instead of the normal $499 for the course, now through Sunday, March 18 (at midnight), the course is $425 and you get a signed copy of The White Coat Investor book thrown in for free. There’s a no-questions-asked 7-day money-back guarantee, so there’s no risk (though no free book until then either). Just enroll here if you’re interested and enter coupon code MATCHDAY18 at checkout.

The Review

The WCI course is unsurprisingly like a more interactive and version of the WCI book and website with a lot of video (a good chunk of which is reading from a teleprompter with bluegradient background). Though scripted, the delivery is solid but not flawless. There’s also an audio bug (which they are in the process of fixing) that plays the mono audio as single channel stereo (i.e. it comes out of only one of two speakers). The default speed was a bit slow for me but easy to change, either for the whole course or on a per video basis (I’m always a 2x kind of guy).

The big plus side to this particular course, as opposed to most books and finance websites, is that the lessons include a game plan that once completed will result in a real on-paper financial plan for you and your family such as you would get from an actual financial advisor. Actual financial advisors also cost money, often a lot of money (either upfront or in fees), and thus the big-ticket price for admission here is far more reasonable in comparison. A course like this is an investment in yourself.

The thing about financial literacy is that anyone, and especially a high-income professional, should be literate enough to understand and evaluate the work of their financial advisor. It’s the people that blindly trust their advisors and don’t know what they’re paying for that get fleeced. I don’t care if he’s an old buddy from your fraternity days or your best friend’s neighbor’s cousin. So even if you never plan to spend $499 (or even $425) on a course, you should learn enough to know what’s happening in your financial life even if you ultimately decide to outsource it.

So, the theoretical niche for this product or people who want to become financially savvy and are willing to spend a good chunk of change to guilt themselves into becoming so but thus far have not had the motivation required to read very much on the subject. Sound like you? Read on!

Breakdown

Section 1 is the introduction. Section 2 is mostly background and discussion of how financial advisors get paid. Section 3 is about insurance. Section 4 is about housing. All of these are well covered in the White Coat Investor book.

Section 5 is about my favorite topic, student loans, and is substantially enlarged and updated relative to the old book. Since this is my area of greatest focus, I noticed a few minor factual mistakes: one toss away error is that medical residency does not qualify for the graduate fellowship program deferment. It’s really just forbearance as an option for residents who can’t make payments. It’s also not possible to start making PSLF payments during the last few months in school as he mentions (must be working full time, cannot consolidate in-school status loans). The simplified advice to switch from REPAYE to PAYE when you become an attending is often true but not necessarily great blanket advice, as it depends entirely on if your attending income will break you past the 10% payment cap. Plenty of folks in academics will never experience this problem. And switching from REPAYE to PAYE doesn’t require the same decreased vs. full standard payment as switching from IBR does.

Dahle offers a solid overview of the basics, enough to figure out what your options are, but not necessarily always enough to really evaluate those options. He does cover PSLF well. When it comes to student loans, there are a lot of details. Some may say a whole book’s worth. While the course absolutely gets the big picture right, the bottom line is that the student loan component here probably isn’t worth the price of admission.

Section 6 is “living like a resident” and basic personal finance. Important stuff.

The remainder of the course (Sections 7-12) is really where the class differs from most books and gets you to the point where you should feel comfortable handling your own finances. That’s because Dahle walks you through how to set your goals, make your budget, and even use Excel to crunch your own numbers (which he makes much less intimidating than it sounds). He goes over asset allocation and estate planning. All of this is part of writing your detailed financial plan, which he also walks you through as you go. As in, he helps you do the things your financial planner would sit down with you to do for a lot of money.

Bottom Line

This information is not supersecret copyrightable stuff. No one has a monopoly on it, and you can find it in many places in print and online, including on Dr. Dahle’s site and in his book. This course is selling convenience, and most of all, accountability. If you spend $400-$500 on an online course, I imagine you will take it seriously. And that shouldn’t be discounted out of hand. Guilt and shame can be powerful motivators.

That accountability doesn’t come cheap, however, and the kind of person ready to plunk down several hundred dollars for an online video course may also be motivated enough to read some books and fish around online. Of course, with the 7-day guarantee, the unscrupulous learner could take the whole course and then ask for a refund.

Price aside, there’s no denying that the course is well-made and convenient. If you want a doctor-to-doctor one-stop-shop to hold your hand as you go through finally understanding personal finance, then this is it.

While you could go through the videos in few hours, it will take several more to really do the class assignments.

And, if you do, it would be money well spent.

Brevity: A Flash Fiction Handbook

I finally had a chance to sit down and enjoy Brevity: A Flashfiction Handbook by David Galef.

This was particularly fun because:

I’ve published six stories by Mr. Galef in Nanoism, my unusual journal that exclusively features Twitter fiction, the longest running of its kind. Keeping it in the family, I’ve actually published even more (10!) by his son, Daniel Galef.

Nanoism is featured in the chapter discussing microfiction. Galef defines nanofiction in the book basically exactly as I did when I started publishing in 2009: Twitter fiction, stories of 140 characters or less (i.e. teeny teeny teeny tiny stories). As the book includes examples of flash fiction’s many forms and styles, two pieces from Nanoism’s library of almost 800 stories also made it into the book (on page 123).

Aspiring writers of very short stories would do well to check out Brevity in addition to The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction which came out back in 2009. Good stuff.

Book Review: The Hidden Curriculum & The Doctor’s Basic Business Handbook

David Kashmer’s The Hidden Curriculum: What They Don’t Teach You At Medical School

is up next on the Kindle Unlimited tour of physician books. I really feel like the title should read “in Medical School.”

Kashmer’s hardest sells in the book are on how valuable he thinks his MBA training was and how great locum tenens positions can be for a young physician’s lifestyle (he owns a locums placement company). It starts with the usual “I’ve made a lot of mistakes doing all the amazing things I’ve done” humblebrag and follows it up with a ton of common sense. I do applaud him for the copy editing and book styling, definitely a notch above the usual.

He also really promotes a company called Provider Lifestyle Experts, a service which helps with dealing with credentialing paperwork for $600/month. Yikes! Only in my wildest dreams could I one day make enough money to think spending over $7000 annually for some light paperwork help was a good use of cash.

There are some generally useful things about contract negotiation, but I think these are better and more succinctly covered by the second book in this review. The practical advice on how to deal with the vagaries of clinical practice sort of sound like marathon advice: At first you’ll be nervous. At some point, you’ll get tired. You may even want to quit. If you trip and fall, well that will probably hurt. How much is hard to say. Is that helpful? Not really. It’s obvious. It’s generally pleasant non-advice. Be nice, work hard, don’t do shady things, and if your job really is a terrible fit, get the hell out of dodge.

Overall: Skip unless it’s free and have 1-2 hours to burn and you got terrible clinical evaluations in medical school and residency (i.e. have no common sense).

Brandon Bushnell’s A Doctor’s Basic Business Handbook: Things I Wish I Had Known When I Got Started

is overall stronger, in that out of the 1 hour it takes to read it, 10-15 minutes are pretty interesting. The book is apparently an extended version of a talk he gave to some orthopedics colleagues.

Chapter 1 is “Ten Points You Need to Know About Contracts.” This is interesting and well written. It’s basically an excellent blog post.

Chapter 2 is an almost joke personal finance chapter: don’t act rich, and get a financial planner (ugh).

This is followed by short chapters covering industry and hospital relationships, basics of coding/billing, marketing. All of this is fine and good basics.

Overall: Good if you know nothing, particularly the first chapter. Worth it on Kindle Unlimited/free. Otherwise pass.

Book Review: Medical School 2.0

Despite the rave reviews from family, friends, and readers on Amazon, I thought David Larson’s Medical School 2.0: An Unconventional Guide to Learn Faster, Ace the USMLE, and Get into Your Top Choice Residency overall falls prey to the common trap of the self-help genre: overpromise and underdeliver.

It’s unapologetically the approach to medical school as if written by Tim Ferriss (of the 4-hour workweek fame), which is fine I suppose, but therefore it harkens from the same spiritual family of life hackers that purport to teach you how to make six figures while banging the best looking people in every city as you travel the world with two pairs of pants and some merino wool socks in a small Tom Bihn backpack. Even though the content is usually fine, all the hypersales (you too can be like me!) sort of makes your eyeballs feel cheap.

On the whole, the book is clearly self-published. First 13% is all introductory fluff. Larson repeatedly and irritatingly uses ALL CAPS to signify emphasis. There are a lot of grammatical, typographic, and miscellaneous errors (e.g. using “deep-seeded” instead of “deep-seated,” using “I.E.” when he meant “E.G.,” “your” vs. “you’re” etc). But most of all, it just needs an editor. It’s too long and fluffy. It suffers the typical self help book trap of giving you a few pages of information with 10 times more verbiage to attempt to convince you of how great the plan is and how it will benefit you.

Much of the self-help/life-hacking genre is a silly follow the leader game, whereby an individual makes money by trying to sell their success methods to other people (a fraction of which then try to do the same). The real problem is that while success may be sexy, achieving it almost never is. Anyone who purports to tell you the secrets to achieving your dreams is mostly selling snake oil (or a Kindle book). The good thing is that many of these books, this particular book included, actually have reasonable advice buried beneath the hype. It’s not earth shattering, but it is solid. The bottom line is something I used to tell my students all the time: You can’t learn everything. No matter what, you will have to pick and choose what to learn, and it might as will be the stuff that matters. Limit your resources. Don’t let your overachieving peers drag you down. If it’s not high yield for step one and you don’t otherwise know that it’s going to be on your unit exams, then you probably don’t need to know it. How Larson thinks you should study finally makes an appearance at the 48% mark (hint: it’s flashcards and spaced repetition, such as many students do using Anki).

So, other than the “how to study,”  the book includes exactly 0% of the other parts of medical school: any real specifics about study resources, what to do with the summer after first year, anything specific to the boards, anything about clerkships, anything about applying for residency, etc etc. This is just about how to study, which means in many ways it’s not really about medical school at all. If you want to know about medical school itself, you’ll have to look elsewhere.

There’s also a bunch nutritional pseudoscience and wellness stuff, which is +/-. Maybe I’m too cynical.

If you need someone to help you orient your mindset as you begin medical school, then this book will do the trick. The study methods are fine. Although, while the “typical” med student Larson refers to does exist (the “gunner”), it’s a bit of a straw man to compare his method against. Most people I knew in med school where nothing like what he describes.

All that griping aside, I do think Larson genuinely thinks medical students are making themselves miserable and is trying to offer his perspective of a reasonable approach to prevent throwing four years of your life away, and for that I do applaud him. The mindset aspect of the book may very well be the most helpful thing about it.

Overall: If you want an in-depth discussion of how to stay sane making flashcards, go for it.