Slowing down, Volume 2: Walking.

In 2014 my wife and I walked over 600 miles over one of the northern routes of the Camino de’ Santiago in northern Spain. Aside from being a life changing couple of months, I also came away with a walking a practice that I’ve stuck to ever since.

Of all the things you can pick up in a lifetime, you’d be hard pressed to find a better way of slowing down than walking from point A to point B. It requires planning. It requires patience from yourself as well as anyone else you are trying to incorporate into your life.

And yet, for me anyways, it’s become a form of meditation that I’ve yet to duplicate whilst doing anything else. The zen-like stillness I achieve while walking places has been life-changing. I am happier for it. I am more centered in my work and in my play. I am moving my body. I am inhabiting the planet in a kinder way. I am out in my community, amongst my neighbors. I am outside, the open sky above me.

Yes, you have to plan when you will be places and augment your day’s schedule accordingly. Yes, this is all in addition (or in supplement) to what you are were attempting to accomplish before.

But… having done it regularly for 3 years now – averaging 5 to 10 miles a day – I wouldn’t change this practice for the world.

About the only bad thing I can think of is the amount of sneakers I’ve been going through (if you know of a good sneaker recycling option, leave it in the comments below). Everything else has been utter improvement.

Why am I writing this series?

Oddly Relaxing Videos…

Hey y’all. Every once and a while I just need to zone out and watch something innocuous that isn’t over stimulating or representative of my country’s current political environment (yep, I’m American).

Over the last year I’ve stumbled upon two YouTube channels that really help me wind down whilst teaching me new concepts or illuminating ideas that I’d always wondered about. On both channels there is typically no narrator. Just someone putting forth a visual objective and then proceeding to show you how they achieve it. In many ways it reminds me of those old cooking shows from the 70’s and 80’s.

Anyways, I thought I’d share them with you in the event you ever need a similar escape.

The first one is a channel called “Hand Tool Rescue” and it’s just a guy restoring old tools that he’s either found or have been sent to him. There’s all kinds of interesting stuff that he takes apart piece by piece, cleans/repairs, and then puts back together, restoring each tool to its’ former operational glory! I just love this!

Here’s the link: https://www.youtube.com/user/erzzi6

The second is a channel called “Primitive Technology” and it features another guy who finds a space on his land where he proceeds to build primitive structures and tools from objects found around him. So if the idea of watching someone walk into a heavily wooded area with no tools at all, eventually build the tools that allow him clear a space to build a structure to protect him from the elements, is interesting to you – this comes highly recommended.

Here’s the link: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCAL3JXZSzSm8AlZyD3nQdBA

I find both of these channels immensely interesting and often mesmerizing. Hopefully you will too! If you have similar recommendations feel free to put them in the comments below!

Slowing down, Volume 1: Morning Coffee

I’ve been a coffee drinker from my late teens to 7AM this morning. I used to drink pots and pots of coffee in a work day, but in recent years I have whittled that down to one cup, maybe two, a day.

Even though I’ve cut back, I enjoy this ritual immensely. It’s a little bit of carved out time to ease into my day that is purely intentional. It also is something that improves my daily trajectory right from the start, allowing me to form my schedule or to simply reflect on goals set far down the road.

About a year and a half ago I started looking at ways to slow down the process of making my morning cup of joe. After a little trial an error I think I’ve got it on lock down.

The old way:

For years, I used to scoop beans into a electric burr grinder, grind said beans, scoop grounds into a coffee maker, pour water in, hit “start”, drink.

Total time (max): 5 – 7 minutes give or take.

The new way:

These days I’ve slowed down making coffee by ditching the electric grinder for a hand grinder, pouring the water and the grounds into a Bialetti three cup (basically a shot) Moka Pot and putting the pot on the stove, before sitting back to wait for that warm deliciousness.

Total Time: between 10 and 15 minutes.

The slow improvement:

Obviously the biggest time gain in this new process is in the grinding of the coffee beans. Hand grinding is slow and methodical. Even if you crank on the grinder as fast as you can, you’ll never achieve the efficiency of an electric grinder that can crank through 10 times the amount in a fraction of the time. What you do gain however is just that: time. Hand grinders also give you superior control over the size of the grind – allowing you to make it more course or fine – so that you can tweak to taste.

The Mokapot (an oldschool Italian coffee maker) adds additional boil time to the mix, but it also adds a far superior tasting cup of coffee (very rich, very strong, almost espresso-like).

In the end, I went from a process that I could sleepwalk through to one more tactile, that required actual thought and attention. Without a doubt I am better for it. My day gets started before my coffee, not after. Sure it takes twice the time, but I come away from my morning cup happier and more satisfied. It’s helped me bring my A-game earlier to my work and my play.

This is certainly not a process for everyone (I’m the only coffee drinker in my house). But it is definitely a slow down that improved my life more the efficiency that came before it.

My gear (if you’re interested):

Bialetti Moka Express 3 Cup Espresso Maker – https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0000AN3QI/

Manual Coffee Grinder with Ceramic Burr by Cozyna – https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00U7WRUNQ/

Why am I writing this series?

Influential Videos: Volume 1

Hey everyone! Happy Thursday!

As I mentioned somewhat recently, I’ve been angling to make this space a wee bit more diverse topic-wise: creating a more complete reflection of myself and my interests. This post is a quick, bit-sized step towards that goal. It’s not tech-related. So if you are here for that, feel free to move on. No hard feelings.

Every once and a while during my internet travels, I come across a video that takes a simple everyday action, and presents it in such a way that it permanently changes the way I do the same action moving forward. It’s kind of amazing when that happens, and it always makes me smile when to receive those literal “life-changing” moments.

Here are two such examples. One for the apple eaters out there, and one for anyone who uses paper towels:

And…

Just like that! After decades of doing the opposite, I consume apples and paper towels far more efficiently!

Do you have any videos you’ve come across that changed the way you’ve always done things? Leave some examples in the comments below! I’d love to see them!

Taking My Business on the Camino (Part Three – How it all turned out)

In part one of this series I wrote about the impetus of this journey, the hardware I was going to use, and how I planned to accomplish keeping my freelance web development business up and running while walking everyday – you can read that here.

In part two I wrote about the software I chose on my iPad and how I planned to use these tools to keep my productivity and communications at a level my clients expect (and deserve) – read about that here.

In this post, I simply want to tell you how it all worked out! I have returned from my trip hiking on the Camino de Santiago! Over 600 miles on foot, 7 weeks away, unforgettable.

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Hardware:

The hardware I chose worked flawlessly. The iPad Air 2, paired with my QODE™ Ultimate Pro Keyboard Case for iPad Air 2, was perfect for everything that was sent my way to handle. It spent a lot of time in my pack, folded shut, patiently waiting for my clients’ needs. Light, compact, with a rugged build quality, it more than held up to my pack being slung around and dropped at the end of each day. Not having to worry about it was priceless.

When I did fire up my iPad Air 2 to get real work done for my business, the keyboard connected automatically every time without an issue. Other pluses included the backlit keys which became a god send when proper lighting wasn’t available, or I was bone tired and didn’t want to squint at the keys to see what I was mistyping. On top of all of this, the battery life of the keyboard was incredible! I never had to recharge the keyboard during the entirety of my time away. Ever. Seriously.

The iPad Air 2 performed admirably as well! With iOS 9 (of which 9.1 dropped while I was there), I was able to complete everything I was asked to do with efficiency and with iOS9’s new multi-tasking abilities, was able to get other tasks done in tandem. Yes, I had to recharge several times, but all in all I was super impressed by how capable this tablet computer is. No lag, no latency, it was the ultimate in ultra light computing.

I am definitely hooked on this being a more than viable alternative to my laptop when I leave on trips. It still can’t do everything, but knowing this setup accomplished 100% of what I needed, will always be compelling.

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Software:

The software I chose worked equally as well! Testing my set up the month before leaving proved to be quite fruitful because when I hit snags (more on that in a bit), I was so familiar with the workflows I created that I was able to work around the limitations I encountered.

It also helped immensely that my clients sent what I considered to be “light” tasks for me to fulfill. Email correspondence, content updates, small media edits (pictures mostly), invoicing, document edits, PDF edit and conversions – all relatively easy to achieve and deliver on. I did have a few server template changes, but those were easy to edit (in Coda for iOS) and were on a site that was still in development.

Luckily, I never encountered a task that I had to launch Screens to access my laptop back home for. But I did launch it once because, honestly, it’s kinda cool to be able to do that on the other side of the Atlantic.

All told, I stuck to the plan that I had originally for the tools I gathered beforehand and it all paid off. Ironically, the one thing that I didn’t have a chance to test was the one thing that I had the most trouble with. Which brings me to…

The one thing I didn’t anticipate:

The one thing I had no chance of testing before I left was connectivity. Everything I had read researching the Camino said that there was “wifi everywhere, don’t worry” and it’s true. There is wifi everywhere. But what they don’t tell you is that, 9 times out of 10, that available wifi is always saturated to the point of either booting you off, or being so slow that it is basically unusable.

No matter though, I got an international SIM card right? I’ll just use my phone as a hotspot and knock these things out! Wrong. The international carrier I went with, Vodafone, didn’t allow me to tether my phone to my iPad. Yes, it was WAY cheaper than an international package from my US carrier, but it ended up being a bit of a set back for me because, while I did in fact have a connection (and often a good one), it could only be used on my phone. Even so, it was doable to accomplish objectives on my iPhone 6 when I didn’t have a viable wifi connection for my iPad. It was just slower going and, obviously, cramped because of the screen size.

There were a few spots in northern Spain that didn’t even have cell service, but it was always an understandable situation as we were truly out in the middle of nowhere. Hotspot mess aside, I’d totally recommend Vodafone, their coverage was great and the connection speeds were always better than I had expected. I got the SIM card from a brick and mortar in Pamplona without issue using the tiny bit of Spanish I knew. One thing though, if you go this route, write down the SIM unlock code. Every time my phone had to be rebooted, it relocked the SIM.

Conclusion:

If I had to do it all over again, I wouldn’t have changed much at all. Honestly, the setup I had was the perfect blend of hardware and software, working with nary a hiccup. I never was concerned about how I would accomplish any of the requests that came in – big or small. The iPad or iOS was never a limitation for me and there wasn’t a single thing I couldn’t accomplish with the tools I had gathered and tested ahead of time.

I would’ve made sure that the SIM card I used could have supported hotspot connectivity but, honestly, on this trip with the language barrier (clearly not their fault) I don’t know how I could’ve gotten past that hurdle. Plus, I am not even sure any international carriers would’ve even allowed that with a monthly SIM that you could “top up”. I could always just buy another iPad with cellular connectivity, but that seems ridiculous (yet always tempting). Regardless, it’s definitely something I will look into/research for the next time.

So that’s how I used an iPad/iPhone and a Bluetooth keyboard to keep my business up and running effectively for 7 weeks while walking across northern Spain! Would I recommend it to anyone else? Sure! It truly wasn’t that much of an inconvenience and in many ways it was actually much easier.

With the advent of the iPad Pro launching, you can easily find many professionals questioning the need for a laptop now when they travel. I no longer think that the limitation is the hardware. It’s been that way since the iPad Air 2. The new iPads are just that blazingly fast! Any bottleneck or limitation you’d find (if you even find one, I couldn’t), would be in iOS itself. There are just some things that OS X can do more efficiently (or at all) that iOS can’t accomplish natively. Again, that wasn’t the case for me, but it may be for you.

As a freelance web developer with paying clients, I obviously found this setup to be a more than capable replacement for my 13 inch MacBook Pro while traveling. Depending on what you do for a living, your mileage will vary. I definitely recommend giving it a shot though. For the portability of the hardware and the singular focus of the software alone, it’s worth your time I think. You may be surprised at just how much you can get done.

Me? With out a doubt, I am a convert. Throw me in that bucket of paid working professionals who do real work on an iPad.