March 6, 2017
Climate Change Reading
As part of consuming less news, I made it a goal to read more books. One of the first topics I tackled was climate change. Let’s take a pause here. Climate change is not an opinion or hoax, it is supported by science from every angle over a long period of time. Now that we have that out there, I’d like to recommend three of the books I read.
Big World, Small Planet by Johan Rockström discusses how in two generations, we’ve overwhelmed the earth and ”went from a small world on a big planet to a big world on a small planet”. There are planetary boundaries (greenhouse gases, ocean acidification, etc.) that we must stay within or we risk going to a point of no return. While we have an idea what will happen if we exceed the boundaries, we can be sure there will be some catastrophic surprises. The author goes on to discuss how we can still succeed economically and as a society while remaining within the boundaries. In order to do this, we need to change our mindset and spark innovations to solve the issues at hand. If you want to be informed about the science and be inspired by some great photography, I highly recommend this book.
Human Capability to Change
Earth in Human Hands by David Grinspoon is a much longer read. Being more of an academic book, it weighs in at over 500 pages with numerous footnotes and references. Regardless, I found it an intriguing read. The author is an astrobiologist and discusses how Earth’s climate got to where it is, as well as research on other planets’ climates. He discusses how we can learn from this research to help imagine what might happen to Earth if we don’t make changes. Overall, this book takes a much more optimistic tone (on a long term time scale) and is a proponent of engineering the planet to make sure we keep the climate under control.
The Madhouse Effect by Michael E. Mann is a quick, but excellent read. Combined with satirical cartoons, the author discusses climate denial and how we got into the current political mess surrounding climate change. The author is skeptical of geoengineering and doesn’t see how we feasibly could move to another planet in the next several generations. His solution is that we must work toward clean energy so we can keep fossil fuels in the ground.
December 31, 2016
Backing Away From the News
After getting pulled into the news during this year’s election cycle, I decided to take a step back and reevaluate my consumption. Reading Nicholas Bate’s “22 Reasons your 2017 is going to be Awesome”, number 4 stood out:
Every single problem commentators list for 2017 from Brexit to Trump to Asteroid Collision, you will ask: Can I fix this? If yes, do so. If no, execute your plan B. But stay resourceful, walk tall and love planet Earth
I’ve started posing this question to myself, and it has changed how I consume media. I no longer mindlessly save news stories to Instapaper to read or browse multiple papers. I am even thinking of cutting out the national evening news for some extra reading time.
What am I reading now?
For the past few weeks I’ve been relying on the NYTimes and The Economist Espresso apps. I also still subscribe to the Next Draft newsletter, which is where I find a lot of my long-form current event reading.
Reducing my consumption of the daily news cycle has freed me up to read more nonfiction books. While not as current as the news, you gain much more depth from reading a book. Some of my recent favorites include Elon Musk, How Music Got Free, Eating Animals, Eccentric Orbits, and 10% Happier.
Less stress, More knowledge
So far, I’ve been learning a lot and feeling less stress about the news (but not under informed). If you feel like you’ve been pulled into the news cycle, I suggest you give some thought to your consumption as well.
Update: Seth Godin wrote an excellent article about how we need to move our media consumption from “The candy diet” (or clickbait, bad TV shows, etc.) to thoughtful consumption. Just changing our consumption habits will force the media to make changes.
June 23, 2016
Osprey Farpoint 40
After drooling over Tom Bihn travel gear for far too long, I decided it was time to get real and find a one-bag system that would work for me and be within my budget. After much research, I decided to give the Osprey Farpoint 40 a try. With a retail price of $160, the Farpoint 40 costs less than half of the Tom Bihn setup I was considering.
How I travel
Most of my travel is for business trips between 2-4 nights. Some large items I usually have to pack include a 15″ Lenovo laptop (work issued) and a pair of sneakers (either for the gym, or an alternative to my steel toes). When traveling for pleasure, I can leave the laptop at home.
Previous to purchasing the Farpoint 40, I was using an eBags backpack that I got for less than $50 and my Timbuk 2 Alchemist Messenger. The biggest reason I was in the market for something new was the comfort and size of the eBags backpack. The straps were not comfortable when the pack was loaded and it wouldn’t fit under an airplane seat.
How I picked the Farpoint 40
I knew I wanted to stay with a backpack. After the freedom of not having a roller bag, you don’t want to go back. I also wanted something that would hold my laptop (so I could one-bag it) and that would fit under an airplane seat (including the smaller isle and window areas).
My research first (and most frequently) pointed me to the Tom Bihn and GORUCK. While these all would be excellent choices, I decided that the Tom Bihn travel bags weren’t designed to be a backpack first (and their backpacks not big enough) and that the GORUCK aesthetic didn’t work for me. When Ben Brooks suggested that I check out the Farpoint 40, I found many other recommendations for Osprey travel gear as well.
Osprey has been around since 1974 and has a lifetime warranty on all their products (like Tom Bihn & GORUCK). Since their main focus is backpacking, I knew their straps and support would be excellent. Knowing this, I was sold.
One important note to start, the Farpoint 40 comes in two sizes (S/M and M/L). The difference is mainly the positioning of suspension system to accommodate different torso lengths. As a big guy, I assumed I would be the larger size, but the fit guide put me in either (I ended up ordering the M/L).
Overall, the bag build is great. On the black pack I ordered, the inside lining is bright green, making it easy to see inside. The main compartment is a single large space with two compression straps. This makes it easy to pack in whatever method you prefer. The whole inside of the lid has a nice mesh zipper panel.
On the outside of the lid there are two compartments and two mesh pockets. The top pocket is great for your liquids bag if you are flying or anything else small that you might need quick access to. The large pocket has a padded laptop sleeve with a Velcro closure and a smaller padded zipper pocket (fits a Kindle or iPad). There is also plenty of room outside the tech pockets.
The front of the bag has two compression straps which help stabilize the bag, compress the front pocket, and keep the lid/pocket from opening too much. They also secure a flap of fabric around the zippers, making it harder for someone to gain access to your bag.
The most defining feature of the bag is the harness and hipbelt system. Everything is very well ventilated and padded and the addition of a sternum strap ties everything together. The LightWire frame (internal) helps distribute the weight to the hipbelt, which I found key to the comfort of the bag.
There is a stowaway backpanel to cover the harness system, which is great when you carry the bag horizontally (with the included shoulder strap) or need to slide it under an airplane seat.
The Farpoint 40 is my favorite travel bag to date. It is large enough to travel with one bag while still being comfortable to carry and small enough to fit under an airplane seat. For my 3 night business trip there was room to spare. As long as the front pocket isn’t packed too much (to make the bag round instead of square), I don’t see ever having issues fitting it under my seat.
The major complaint seen when researching this bag is the front laptop compartment (some feel that it unbalances the load). I did not find this to be an issue, and actually thought it made it easier to quickly remove and re-stow my laptop when going though airport security.
The only issue I had was using the bag as my day bag/briefcase while at a work conference. While it is doable, the bag does look quite unwieldy when it is not very full. I found using it in the shoulder bag configuration with the straps stowed to work the best. The outer compression straps do a decent job keeping the laptop from flopping around. This could be solved with a small, packable briefcase like the Tom Bihn Daylight Briefcase.
The Farpoint 40 exceeded all expectations and has become my bag for all my travels. The bag is comfortable, fits under an airplane seat, and is sturdy. I foresee possibly adding a packable briefcase, but I plan to continue using this bag to travel with just one bag. The freedom of never having checked luggage or a second bag to deal with is a great way to travel. For the price, I’m willing to say that the Farpoint 40 can’t be beat. While I haven’t tried any of the popular, more expensive options, I imagine that it would also fare well against them.
April 22, 2016
The Great Outdoors
As a kid, my summer vacation always included a two week camping trip. During my elementary school years, it was always with my grandparents who were lifetime campers (they’ve camped in every state but Hawaii). It was during these early years that I developed my connection with nature.
It’s hard to explain, but there is a sense of peace and wonder that can be felt from spending time with nature and away from everything else. John Muir said it best in his journal:
There is a love of wild nature in everybody an ancient mother-love ever showing itself whether recognized or no, and however covered by cares and duties.
After finding this connection, I always looked forward to spending time in nature. Our vacations took me many beautiful places, some of my favorites being Grand Teton, Glacier, and The Great Smokey Mountains National Parks.
Now that I am on my own, my wife and I make sure we do everything we can to protect our planet. We only have one, and need to make sure it survives. We make sure to get out and enjoy nature to nurture our connection and remind us what were protecting. Every outing still brings a sense of calm and inward reflection for me. Again, as explained by John Muir:
But in every walk with Nature one receives far more than he seeks.
On this Earth Day, take some time to think about how your life has been changed by nature. If you don’t feel that connection, do yourself a favor and spend some time building one this summer. We need to work together to take care of this spaceship we call Earth.
February 27, 2016
From Consumption to Education and Creation
I’ve been trying to consume less in order to learn and create more. I’ve made good progress shifting from consumption to education, and here’s how I’ve done it so far.
The first step I took was to prune back who I follow on Twitter. I was following way too many accounts to keep up with, some people I didn’t even remember why I was following them. I took the time to go through my whole list and unfollowed a large majority of accounts. To take it even further, as I noticed high volume accounts in my stream, I unfollowed them. If the tweets were something I might still be interested in, I added them to my lists.
Do away with guilt reading
I decided to get rid of Instapaper. I found myself saving countless articles that I then felt like I had to read. If something was really that important, wouldn’t I think to seek it out again when I had time? I ended up coming to a happy medium where I now save anything I might want to come back to on Pinboard. I made sure to not use any “read later” tags as well to avoid just moving my “guilt reading”. If what I’ve saved is actually important or useful, I will remember and come back to it.
Next up was my news/article sources. I tackled this by unsubscribing from newsletters, pruning my RSS feeds & podcasts, and removing most news apps from my phone. It’s amazing the echo chamber we tech nerds get stuck in, and it was actually refreshing to get away from some of that. After a while, I found myself unsubscribed from all email newsletters (except for one) and aggressively deleting podcasts/podcast episodes that were not interesting. I also trimmed my RSS feeds down to 28, many of them being low volume feeds.
More thoughtful consumption
Now that I’ve freed myself from feeling like I have to consume media, I can make thoughtful choices about what I read. I’ve been reading more books and spending more time developing skills.
I’ve also found it helpful setting myself certain times of day when I can look at certain things like Twitter, RSS, news, etc. If it’s not within one of those windows and I find myself going for my phone, I open up a book (or even a Wikipedia article) or do some writing.
Thoughtful consumption has been working well for me, and I hope to continue and make refinements along the way.
December 9, 2015
Doing More With the Same
Everyone’s heard the saying “do more with less”, but I’ve started to follow my own version, “do more with the same”. This stems from my previous thoughts on mindfulness and sales. Rather than purchasing something new to do something new, I always try to figure out if I can do it with what I already have.
Think about how many times you’ve upgraded just for the sake of upgrading? The latest Apple device is out? I’m an Apple fan and all my friends on Twitter are buying it, so I probably should too. This is the mindset I’m trying to move away from.
How I’m doing more with the same
I’ve been brewing beer for the past year and I still am using my starter 5 gallon kettle. I’ve been tempted many times to upgrade to one of the best kettles, but I’ve recently made myself stop and think. Most of the time, upgrades are put into my head by browsing beer forums and magazines. The logic goes like this — of course someone who makes amazing beer uses fancy equipment, so that means that’s just what I need to improve my beer. Right?
Of course that’s the wrong reasoning. The guy (or gal) who makes contest winning beer at home is not winning because of his equipment. He is winning because he has years of experience and puts a lot of time and effort into procuring the best (I will touch more on this later) ingredients and perfecting his recipes and brewing process. This gets him at least 90% of the way there. Equipment upgrades may get him the last 10%, but that only works if he already has the other 90% down.
Taking a step back to think, this logic makes complete sense. So now, rather than salivating over the shiny new kettle or latest brew gizmo, I’m working on better learning my current equipment and improving my technique. Even my “starter” epquipment allows me to do that.
I’ve also been tempted to upgrade my photography setup, but I’ve decided not to buy a new camera (a Fuji X100T, thanks Ben). This has allowed me to re-discover taking photos with my iPhone (it’s really true that you’ll take more photos if you always carry your camera). While there are some limitations, I’ve been happy with my setup. I always have my old DSLR to go back to if I want, so why upgrade if it still works? Again, it’s always an analysis of what capabilities am I truly missing out on by not upgrading.
Some other things I also recently decided not to upgrade include my boots (Why not wear out my current pair first?) and my work and travel bags (thanks again to Ben). By not upgrading my boots, I’ve learned the art of reviving and caring for leather. This will prepare me for buying something more high quality (the best) for my next pair. And in not buying bags, I’ve not created the hassle of selling/donating my old one (or more realistically, wasting space in my house).
Why are you depriving yourself?
I don’t feel that way at all. My wife and I want to spend more of our time (and money) on making memories rather than having things. For Christmas this year, we agreed to just get some small presents for each other and put the rest towards vacations for 2016. We plan to make a list of destinations soon so we can actually plan ahead and have something to look forward to.
Now every time I buy something instead of using what I have, I think of it in terms of how it affects my vacations. Want a new bag? That’s a lower quality hotel. Want to upgrade your camera? Now it’s only a long weekend instead of a weeks vacation.
How to choose what to buy
In some cases, the value of purchasing something new or upgrading makes sense in this new way of thinking. The next decision that comes is whether to buy the best or not. The way I look at it is to think about how I will use something and how long I will use it.
In the case of my beer brewing equipment, I chose to get a relatively inexpensive starter kit because I wanted to see how I would like the hobby. While I didn’t purchase the best, I did make a selection that wouldn’t need replacement if I got into the hobby. Of course, that brought the temptation later, but reframing my thinking helped me to see that isn’t yet necessary. This could also apply to something like a tool you need to fix something or any new hobby. A good chef could cook a great meal even with an average knife.
On the other end of the spectrum, sometimes it makes sense to buy the best. This benefits you twofold - you get something that will perform to the highest standards and you don’t have to waste your time thinking about purchasing the item again in the near future (or maybe at all). A good example of this would be my boots. While I’m currently wearing a relatively inexpensive pair, now that I know I wear them a lot, I plan to buy the best when I wear out my current pair. This is a commitment though. When you decide to invest in something in this category, you have to make sure you are committed to any maintenance required. If you don’t take care of what you have, even if it is the best, it won’t last.
Of course, buying only what will make a difference in your life, and buying the best when appropriate also creates less waste, but that’s another topic.
This change in how I think has been in development for a while now, but really started to kick in leading into the holiday season. My wife and I are feeling good about it, and it has actually helped me to make some good decisions. We will see how it works out through the holidays and next year. Hopefully I’ll have some great memories to talk about!