Creativity

I just finished reading the free Read & Trust issue, where a bunch of writers wrote about creativity. It was, dare I say, inspiring!

The thing that jumped off the page at me was a quote from Ray Bradbury about risk that Shawn Blanc wrote:

“You’ve got to jump off cliffs all the time and build your wings on the way down.” – Ray Bradbury

This jumped out at me today because I’ve been teetering on the edge of a cliff for a while now, but this morning made a phone call that pushed me over the edge.

This topic of fear is something that Merlin has covered extensively in Back to Work, particularly in relation to changing jobs. It’s definitely worth subscribing to B2W if you’re at all interested in what I suppose is referred to as ‘life hacks’.

But back to the creativity thing. It’s interesting that I should mention podcasts, because that’s what this post is ultimately about.

Both Shawn and Brett talked about giving the brain time to process information so that ideas can form themselves. Brett even goes so far as to suggest sleeping! Well, I wasn’t giving myself much time at all for that processing to happen. The reason for that was podcasts. I started listening to Security Now! and TWiT when they started, and from there I have only ever added new shows, never removed. That is until recently. And if I ever did manage to get through my podcast queue, I’d be straight into my Audible queue.

I had a thought in the shower that I seem only ever to have ideas in the shower. (See what I did there?) And although the reason for this is patently obvious, it never really dawned on me until quite recently: It’s the one part of the day when I take off my headphones!

So, about a month ago I made a rule. It was a very hard rule for me to enforce, I suppose because of my OCD nature. Some of these shows I’ve never missed an episode! But I did it, and nothing bad happened. They didn’t eat me!

So, what was the rule? Simple. Any podcast that’s over two hours long gets deleted straight away. No questions asked. I’ve missed a bunch of Hypercriticals, MacBreak Weeklys and TWiTs since I made that decision, but I did start getting some time back. Probably the most painful one was The Talk Show with Marco. I’d probably have enjoyed that, although I suspect it was all about the iPhone 5 so chances are that I’ve heard or read their views anyway.

So, I’ve been spending the time I got back listening to music again, something I just never seemed to have time for anymore. And d’you know what? I’ve been experiencing fleeting feelings of fulfilment and joy whilst out with the dogs when listening to music. I’ve been processing thoughts and generally feeling a whole lot happier. Standing on the beach looking out over Holy Island and listening to alt-J gave me an incredible feeling of joy and gave me back some perspective on some of the difficulties that life is throwing at me right now. And I’m finally using those expensive Beats headphones that I bought myself for my 40th birthday last year!

So, although I do enjoy the podcasts, I’m considering cutting back ever further. I’m not quite sure how I’ll do that just yet. I’d considered listening only to shows with Merlin in them, since they actually help me on a, dare I say, spiritual level. Brett’s Systematic has also helped me on some shows.

I could change the habit as well, something like podcasts in the kitchen or when fixing computers and music when out with the dogs. It’s a work in progress…

In terms of news though, I don’t watch TV news at all, nor do I read newspapers on or offline. The only news I consume is tech news, either via podcast or Websites. So I guess there’s a lot of redundancy there anyway.

I’m going to buy a couple more issues of Read & Trust magazine, because I enjoyed very much the free issue.

And if there ever is an episode of Back to Work or Roderick on the Line that goes over the two–hour mark, I’m guessing that I’ll keep them.

Hey, they’re my rules!

Lynda.com

I’ve just got a subscription to Lynda.com for training videos and am having a ball!

I’m going through Chris Orwig’s Lightroom 4 Develop Module tutorial right now. I ‘found’ his tutorials on Lightroom back when I first started using the app when it came out and it was really that that got me into photography more than anything else. I loved the app so much after I’d learned how to use it from Chris’s tutorials. Since then, I’ve upgraded to every version, but never gone back to the tutorials until now with Lightroom 4.

And, while I’ve got the subscription, I’m going through GarageBand and Adobe Audition as well. It’s a shame that there isn’t anything for GarageBand on iOS, but I’m guessing that the skills will be transferable to a large extent. Now I’m just waiting on the arrival of MIDI cables so I can get the MIDI keyboard controller up and running and I’ll start creating songs with Hamish for Tech Tuesdays.

Google two-factor authentication →

For those of you following on the recent password security buzz that’s been going around for the past couple days, Matt Cutts has a good FAQ on using the Google two-factor authentication.

Robert over at Gridwriter has posted a link to how to set up two-factor authentication for Google services. This is in the wake of Mat Honan’s being hacked and losing a bunch of data. Despite the fact that the hacking was not caused by a lack of two-factor authentication on Mat’s part, the Internet has woken up and started battening down the hatches.

I’ve gone through the process myself and it’s painful enough for me to feel like I’m actually doing something! I had to reauthenticate gmail on my phone, iPad and in Mail.app.

I’m going to set this up for my good lady as well, and my kids. It’s time for the Internet to sit up and take notice that, although we know what we should be doing, we very often can’t be bothered.

Oh, and to quote Marco of Instapaper[^1]:

Backing up is easy and cheap. Do it. Right now.


[^1] we don’t say dot com

Shawn Blanc reviews Day One →

As a writer, I believe journaling on a regular basis is critical. It’s writing that will never be judged. It’s writing that doesn’t require an editor. It’s the only place where I am completely free to write for my truly ideal reader: a future me. I have my own inside jokes, my own running story arc, my own shorthand. I love the freedom to write whatever I want, however I want, with no need to make it tidy or clear or concise. And I have no doubt that it makes me a better professional writer.

I totally agree.

Shawn’s writing shows that it works; his work is short on typos, has no grammar mistakes and, most importantly, it has style and voice. So the writing practice for him is obviously working!

I’ve been using Day One for a while now, on and off, just on the Mac, not on iOS. I kept journals for years, writing long hand into a school exercise book or A4 refill pad. Some of my best moments are recorded in those pages, along with some of my worst.

As part of my Step 4(1) of the Alcoholics Anonymous 12-step programme, I read through my old journals and it was fascinating stuff. Particularly the entries I made whilst, shall we say, not entirely sober. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t all drunken ramblings; some of it was actually quite good. But the overall picture was enlightening to say the least.

And now, as part of my recovery, writing helps me a great deal. I even toyed with the idea of setting up an anonymous blog to write about my daily recovery or lack thereof. I may even still do that, so I’m keeping the URL just in case.

Writing helps me in so many ways, so when Andy Ihnatko recommended Day One on MacBreak Weekly, I bought it and gave it a whirl. All the things Shawn so eloquently describes in his review are why I carried on using it. It’s such a nice-looking app and it’s a joy to use.

I’m not sure that the new features will be of particular use to me. I think of my Tumblr / Google+ / Twitter as my public journal for photo-sharing and suchlike, but I suppose there could be room for photos in my journal. Certainly not weather reports though. I couldn’t(2) really care less about what the weather was when I wrote something.

(1)Make a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves
(2)US English variant: could care less (wink)

Creating Flow with OmniFocus

I’m about two-thirds of the way through Kourosh Dini’s book, Creating Flow with Omnifocus and am learning bucket-loads from it.

However, there are some things that I’m finding overwhelming.

This is partly to do with the fact that I’m trying to use the application in the real world at the same time as I’m learning to use it with fake projects. So, although I now have some knowledge about the app, I’m still feeling bewildered when I open it up. I know, I know, it’ll all come with experience, right? But for now, the perspectives in particular are baffling me. I’ve created a Start Date perspective, a Flagged, a Today and others and I don’t’ know which to use when I switch it on.

Once I’m done with the book, I may revisit D. Sparks’ excellent screencasts to compare.

[OmniFocus screencasts]

To that end, I reckon Kourosh’s book is more of a reference book than an end-to-end solution. Once I get to the end of it, I’ll remember the concepts that were mentioned and then be able to refer back to them. For example, I’ve forgotten already the keyboard shortcut to move the selected focus from the right-hand column to the main body window and that’s rather frustrating.

There are so many shortcut commands that it’s going to take a lot of use before they become ingrained. But one of the apps strengths is that it’s so wide open to be used in so many different ways. All KD’s book is giving me is instructions on how to mimic his use of it. Once I get that, I will be able to start moving things along.

500px vs Flickr

I just signed up for a 500px account and, after 10 minutes of browsing, I’m sold! The interface blows Flickr out the water. Even the official Lightroom plug-in is way better than the Flickr one.

Interestingly, a prominent tech blogger recently wrote about what a good idea it would be if Yahoo! were to buy 500px and make it the new Flickr.

[Brooks Review]

The suckiness of Flickr has put me off socialising online with the local camera club I’m in. Good software and sites draw me into the hobby. For me, the tech comes first, at least in photography anyway.

But, I have a Flickr Pro account and some real actual friends on there, so switching to a new service seems a bit silly. It’s all about the interface for me though. I mean nobody reads this blog and I have friends who follow my Facebook. But I don’t use Facebook much, partly because the interface is kind of crappy and I’d rather host my own content.

Hmmm.

My 500px page

Creative Breathing Space

John Cleese and OmniFocus

I just watched a 10-minute video of John Cleese talking about creativity. Here’s a link:

[John Cleese WCF]

I got the link from Kourosh Dini’s book, Creating Flow with OmniFocus, in which he referred to JC’s concept of a tortoise mind and an oasis. In other words, one needs to clear from one’s mind the clutter in order that the tortoise mind of creativity thinks it’s safe to come out.

This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot recently, not in terms of creativity but in terms of spirituality. I think the two mean the same thing really—the mind can be creative when it’s cleared of clutter in the same way that one can feel a connection to the universe.

This came about in reference to OmniFocus because that particular app is designed to be a repository of clutter from one’s mind, freeing it up to do some actual work or find peace.

My Clutter

In the digital age there is so much information that it’s easy to become overwhelmed. If I’m not listening to a podcast or an audiobook when I’m doing a mundane chore or walking the dogs, I feel like I’m wasting time. If I don’t get to read my RSS feeds during lunch, I’ve wasted more time.

I like to read novels and non-fiction. I have tutorials to go through on Lightroom, Photoshop and Pixelmator. I have albums to catch up on. I have so many guitar books it’s ridiculous, not to mention the practice for forthcoming gigs.

I’ve got work six days a week. I’ve got to walk the dogs before work and prepare dinner at night for the family. I’ve got church on Sundays. I’ve got to clean at work.

I’ve got the entire Twilight Zone to watch, as well as Six Feet Under.

And then there’s family. How much time do I spend with the kids? Well, almost none, because if I do that I’m going to fall behind in all the other stuff.

Does this sound familiar?

Podcasts

My weekly podcast list is at 32. That means that if I’ve not go headphones on at every conceivable moment, I’m going to fall behind, and that’s before I even consider my Audible queue. The one-in, one-out policy clearly has not worked, because I seem unable to unsubscribe but continually subscribe to new ones. Something’s got to give. All it takes is one weekend away from my routine and the queue starts to build up and up and up.

So, this afternoon I took Poppy out for a walk to the shops without my headphones and I felt my mind beginning to breathe. This must be why I always have ideas in the shower—I’ve got no device in there! And to think I was putting it in terms of: ‘how can I capture ideas in the shower?’ Hah!

This must also be partly why I feel good after an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting or church, where I feel my mind beginning to wander.

I guess that the mind does its processing when I’m asleep. It puts me in mind of an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation [Night Terrors], where the crew are prevented from dreaming and begin to go insane. In other words, the mind is doing its information processing in dreams. But dreams are fleeting. I need some space to let my mind breathe when I’m awake. Mindfulness and meditation would be ways to get there.

I often feel incredibly overwhelmed, like I have no time for anything, let alone an AA meeting, but that’s usually when I get the most out of going to the meeting.

Will I give up the podcasts though? It has become a habit over the years and it’ll be a hard habit to break.

Tumblr or Google+?

I can’t decide between Tumblr and Google+ for sharing stuff. I’m keeping this blog for longer-form posts that are somewhat more thoughtful than ‘this video rocks’. I’m also tied into Flickr a bit as well, even though it’s kind of rubbish now. Maybe G+ would be better for sharing photos because of the granularity of circles. That’s really rather powerful.

The Opening Ceremony

I’ve never watched an Olympic opening ceremony before. Nor have I ever watched any of the Olympic sports. I’ve always been as anti-sports as one can be. This time, it’s different.

Family

I’m now a father of two. I began thinking about this year’s Olympics when my 7-year-old daughter came home all excited because she’d been learning about it in school. So I bought her a London 1948 T-shirt from Next and she wore it proudly. She would come home from school full of Olympic facts. In fact, last night she asked me if I had a favourite swimmer! In short, she now knows far more than I do about the Olympics, although to be fair, that wouldn’t be hard! Her favourite swimmer by the way is Rebecca Adlington.

I thought I would make a special effort to watch the opening ceremony with the kids. We got into the living room bang on 9 with the dishes washed, kids showered and a cup of coffee for me.

Emotions

I found myself getting emotional right from the very start, and that surprised me. The whole idea of the Olympics, that unifying global experience, suddenly became clear to me. And I’d never felt that before. Music and technology can make me feel that way, but sports never have.

The spectacle was quintessentially British, peppered with history, music and humour. Mr Bean’s appearance was pure genius, bringing to mind Comic Relief. The choice of British TV shows and music to feature was very well made. Sure, some of the music wasn’t to my particular tastes, but it spread a thin layer over all the genres, decades and age-groups without any lumpy bits. And I suppose that playing the Pistols’ Pretty Vacant rather than God Save the Queen was the right choice to make!

Freya (now 8) was mesmerised by the whole thing, and even Hamish (6) was reasonably interested, although he did get bored eventually. Freya stayed up until the Cs in the athletes’ parade and went to bed around Croatia.

But she was straight back into it this morning when she got up and was desperately searching for the Mr Bean bit when I left for work. And that shows just how right that decision was. They could have have chosen to feature any of the great British comedies: Black Adder, Fawlty Towers and Monty Python to name but a few. But the choice of Mr Bean tickles the kids. Even Hamish was laughing away at that. And the international appeal of Mr Bean goes far and beyond that of any other British comedy character. I remember hearing my landlady in Odessa, Ukraine chuckling away at Mr Bean when I spent my gap year there.

JK Rowling

And how about that children’s literature sequence! Absolutely brilliant! Although, as Freya pointed out, wouldn’t Dr Who have been a better choice than Mary Poppins to save the day? I agreed. Imagine the sound of the TARDIS echoing around the stadium. Now THAT would have been something!

Having JK Rowling reading was another well-made choice. She is responsible for getting so many people—yes, people, not just kids—interested in reading books.

Twitter

It took me a long time to get the power of Twitter, but if I hadn’t grokked it before, I certainly did last night. Following the stream of Tweets made the whole thing feel more global. I follow a lot of tech nerds in the USA and when they came on-stream it was a lot of fun. And whereas I’m usually following some Apple event or other US-centric thing, it was nice to be following a UK-based event.

Haters

I was surprised on Twitter to see so many haters. I suppose experience should tell me that the Internet is full of haters—just take a look at YouTube comments to see that in full force—but to see it when I’m in such an emotionally good place, well, it just surprised me, that’s all.

Unity

So now I get the Olympics. It brings together the world in a way that predates technology. Differences are put aside as the world’s athletes come together to compete in a global event. And the Internet is just the icing on the cake, bringing us all together for a shared experience.

The whole event made me feel proud to be British! And to spend the ceremony cuddled up on the sofa with Freya, and mum and Hamish on the other sofa made this a moment that I shall never forget.

I Made my Ideal Weight!

I started learning about and following the paleo diet back in March of this year. At that time I was around 82kg. Today I weighed in at under 72kg 🙂

How it Was

In July of 2010 I was diagnosed with type-2 diabetes, which, now that I know what I know, isn’t really surprising. I was put on metformin to manage my glucose. Not long after that I was put on statins and ACE inhibitors for cholesterol and blood-pressure respectively. I was 40.

Not long after that, I was put on anti-depressants and was seeing the community psychiatric nurse for depression and anxiety.

I would get home from a long, tiring day of sitting on my arse all day at work and fall asleep. I could hardly stay up past 9 o’clock because I was so tired.

One day at work, I was feeling extremely low around closing time, so what did I do? I headed to the pick ‘n’ mix sweets in my shop and ate more than my fill. Yep, not clever. But, according to the HbA1C long-term blood-sugar tests I was getting, everything was all right, and that was with me NOT following the recommended eating pattern for diabetics, not even a little bit.

The following day I was sick and couldn’t come in to work. I don’t know if this was just a sick bug, or whether it had anything to do with pigging out on sweets. Either way, I took it as a wake-up call and decided to do something about it.

Podcasts

I listen to a lot of tech-related podcasts, including a bunch on the 5by5.tv network. I’d heard this term ‘paleo’ bandied about a lot by 5by5 founder Dan Benjamin and knew that it had something to do with low carbs and no gluten. Dan would say that if you were going to do just one thing, cut out the gluten. So, when I decided that I wanted to change, I had an idea of where to start.

I got Robb Wolf’s book, The Paleo Solution and read my way through that whilst changing my diet. Some of the science was baffling, not because it was turgid and dense — on the contrary, the book is very well written and easy to follow — but because I don’t have the kind of brain that retains science very well. .

Not long after that, Steve Gibson released a two-part series on low carbs [Steve’s Low Carb Page] and set out the health benefits that he was experiencing.

So who says podcasts aren’t useful?! These may just have given me another 10 years!

Gadgets

I got myself a Fitbit Wireless Ultra and decided that I would at least start walking more. So I set my iPhone alarm to play my favourite radio station at 6:15 and I would start walking the dogs. I signed up for a premium account at Fitbit so I could monitor my blood-sugars closely.

I also got a Withings Blood Pressure cuff for my iPhone and finally a set of Aria scales. I could now monitor blood pressure, glucose and weight all within my Fitbit premium account.

The Plan

Meds

I stopped taking all my meds. Yes, all of them. Friends were telling me I was crazy. ‘You can’t do that’. Well, apparently I could. I wasn’t quite that crazy though. I did go and see my GP to get medical advice. It didn’t go down too well at first, but I explained that my sugars were within safe limits and that I was monitoring it extremely closely. So we agreed that I would go back on the ACE inhibitors because my BP was still on the high side, but that I would stay off the metformin and statins. However I welched on the agreement and didn’t go back on the ACE inhibitors either. Naughty, naughty!

Diet

I changed my diet overnight. It’s still in a state of flux as I learn more and discover the effects of different foods. The foundation of the diet is that I don’t touch grains. I toyed with dairy because I love cheese and it makes salads so much more interesting, but Robb Wolf recommends no dairy and so does Geoff Bond in Deadly Harvest (which I’m about half-way through) so I’ve got some consensus that says ‘no dairy’. All righty then. I’ll cut out the cheese. I take my coffee black anyway.

Exercise

As soon as I stopped eating grains, literally within a couple of days, the tiredness went. And with that lifted the depression. It was that immediate benefit that gave me the determination to consider this as a lifestyle change, not a diet. I was able to get up in the morning and walk the dogs. I signed up for RunKeeper and started monitoring my walks, because I’m a nerd and I stats help to keep me motivated.

Results

Well, as you’ll see from the title of this post, I hit my weight-loss target this morning. I’m down 10kg from when I started and am now within my ideal weight and BMI brackets for the first time in 20 years.

I don’t wake up with indigestion through the night any more. In fact, I no longer have to keep antacids on my nightstand. Before the change I was waking up every night and having to sit on the edge of the bed until the antacids did their thing.

The lethargy seems to have gone for good. Don’t get me wrong, I still get tired if I don’t get enough sleep, but it’s not the same sort of unmotivated lethargy that I used to feel.

I’m playing guitar again! I had pretty much stopped completely, which, as anyone who knows me will attest, is a sign that something ain’t right!

I’m back to caring about productivity again. Hence this post! That productivity and motivation is changing my life in so many ways, from cooking the family dinner at night to learning OmniFocus.

I’m able to stay up later at nights and spend time with my wife. After about two years, we’re finally on the final season of The West Wing!

I saw the GP about a month ago to get the results of my first HbA1C test since coming off the meds and going paleo. The GP was very happy with the results and said that I may just have given myself a multiyear respite from going back on the meds. Now that’s what I call a result!

Moving forward

Robb Wolf talks about the importance of sleep. So does Geoff Bond. So we’ve ordered some blackout curtains for the bedroom. I try to get to bed at 10 when I can.

I’m sure that my diet will continue to evolve as I learn more from books and from experience. For instance, I considered cutting out bacon, which I have with eggs for breakfast, but I went back onto it this week as I just can’t seem to enjoy fish for breakfast and omelettes would take too long.

Exercise? Well, I could always do more. I suppose that’s the case for a lot of people. This is one area that I really could improve on. And now that my podcast queue is reaching the realms of impossibility, I could do with more listening time. And how else would I ever get through Dance with Dragons?