A thought on pseudoscience…

Cds 2016 04 16 22 49 31Would you use a soap containing drain cleaner as a key ingredient?

If you won’t, then you probably won’t use any soap. One of the best drain cleaners is sodium hydroxide. The reason it is so good at cleaning drains is that it dissolves fat. But what happens when the fat dissolves? It turns into soap!

Sodium hydroxide (also known as lye), is traditionally made by boiling wood ash with water, the resulting compound was added to animal fat to make soap (any fat will work – olive oil, coconut oil etc).

The point is not to tell you how to make soap, but rather to take a critical look at ingredients before you discount them as scary because you don’t understand what the ingredients are.

BTW the photo is of some some that I made using orange essential oil, a dash of orange colouring, coconut oil and…sodium hydroxide

Lessons from David Grier

David footer

A few days ago, I listened to David Grier giving a speech. David does crazy runs that make my marathons look like a walk around the block. He ran across the entire Great Wall of China (4200km), across Cuba (1800km), and a bunch of other crazy runs.

He is one of the authors of the Real Meal Revolution!

He is a wonderful man with some great advise. Here are some lessons that I learned from him:

  • You need the self-belief to dig deep
  • No man achieves anything on his own
  • I’m the one that has to change
  • The sun will set in the evening, and rise the next morning, regardless of what you do
  • Its usually not the big things that get you down – it’s an accumulation of little things
  • Nearly everything is not impossible…if you want it enough dig deep enough
  • It’s when you say that you can’t that you can
  • You learn the most when you are struggling
  • Have honesty and appreciation, understanding and acceptance
  • Nobody is going to run your life for you
  • If you can find reason for why you are suffering, you are no longer suffering
  • Where do you fit into your dream?
  • Nobody will effect change for you
  • We need to be the change we want to see
  • We cannot change on our own
  • The ability to change on the way is key to finish a journey.

And finally for race fuel, he recommended Cabanossi sausages from Pick n Pay,, and squashed pork belly (put the fat runoff in a ziplock to suck on, and slice the port to eat)!

Hope that helps – it certainly gives me some perspective!

(photo from David’s website)

Day One review

Dayone2 logo

If you use a Mac and keep any sort of journal this is an app to look at. If you are a Windows user this is one more reason to make the switch.

I have been a user of Day One version 1 for several months, and it is an excellent tool for journaling. They pay attention to detail in both the design and the features. It has a clean and beautiful interface, and it’s super-easy to use. The MAC and IOS apps play nicely together, and sync is easy to setup and just works!

Day One recently released a new version with the somewhat confusing name of Day One 2.0. I have been using this version for about 2 weeks now. Here’s my review.

What’s new?Screen Shot 2016-04-15 at 11.51.19 AM

There are two big new features:

  • Firstly support for multiple journals. This is perfect for me because I can now store my personal and work entries in the same place, but in separate journals.
  • Secondly, in the previous version you could only have a single photo per entry. Now you can have multiple photos. At first I wasn’t really interest in this feature, but I find that I am using it more and more – especially for documenting my travels.

Should you upgrade?

Well that depends on your needs? To upgrade both the Mac and IOS versions will set you back $49.98 (at the moment you can grab the Mac app for $29.99 and the IOS app for $4.99). If you do a lot of journaling, want multiple photos per entry and support for multiple journals then yes it is an excellent application and worth the price.

But if you are happy with a single journal, then aside from a mildly slicker interface you are not going to gain too much additional value.

Of course if you are not yet a user and are looking for a journaling app, this is one to check out.

Wishlist

While the app is great, there are a few things that I think would make it amazing:

  • Basic customisation of the styling in the posts using my choice of fonts and colours
  • Ability to export entries for a date range, and for the PDF export to show the images full-width, and to be able to select the fonts and colours
  • Applescript support would be amazing

But it’s a great app. It is easy to use, and makes keeping an electronic journal really easy.

You can find out more and get App Store links from their website.

Disclaimer: I was given a complimentary review copy from Day One

Why Toastmasters

Cds 2009 08 15 17 48 13 Canon Canon EOS DIGITAL REBEL XT

I was asked to write a short piece as to why I have been a member of Toastmasters for over 15 years. I have shared it below.

My intention when I joined Toastmasters was to be a member for a few months – just long enough to improve my business speaking skills. More than 15 years later I am still a member, and I am asked why? Here is the answer. Toastmasters has not just improved my business speaking skills, it has played a major role in my career, from being more confident at work to being called upon to deliver presentations to fellow staff members, customers and suppliers.

I regularly chair meetings and design sessions, helping teams develop software applications for some of the largest companies in South Africa.

Without the communication and leadership skills I have developed from Toastmasters I would not be in same position as I am.

I have met some amazing people and make some great friends, not just at home in Cape Town, but quite literally all over the world. I have Toastmasters friends in every continent that I can call and say hi to.

It truly is an organization where leaders are made, and more importantly where friendships are made.

Pic: Congratulating the 2009 World Champ of Public Speaking, Mark Hunter at the Toastmasters International Convention

Free resources from Udemy

The folk at Udemy have put together good collection of youtube videos focusing on public speaking. The videos are short, and give good examples and advice on become a better speaker.

Udemy also has a several online public speaking courses for sale. But like many learning sites you may have to look around to find the one that best suits you (hint: click on the courses and check out the table of contents).

They gave me a enrollment of one of the courses, and I got video, downloadable PDF supplementary material and external links.

Personally I think that nothing can compare to getting up and giving a speech in a safe environment (such as at a Toastmasters meeting), but if you are looking for some fast-track information or want to supplement your training,  there is some good stuff to be found.

On a side note I have used Udemy for technical training as well, and they have lots of very good courses on a variety of topics. They are worth checking out.

On goal setting and running

Gun Run 2014Here is a thought about running and goal setting. It is very seldom that I don’t have a big race coming up in the future, hence a lot of my runs are training runs for that race.

There are broadly two ways in which I often run: either just going out and enjoying the run, or by watching my watch all the time – checking my pace, heart rate etc.

But while I am almost always working towards a goal, I still want to enjoy the experience of the actual run, and to just be in the running moment. And I often find that when I am not really focusing on pace, heart rate etc and just enjoying the run (this happens mostly when I am having a slow cool-down run) I get a personal best (PB) on a segment of a route.

This week when I was running back home from St James I got a PB on the St James – Muizenberg segment, but it was meant to be a chilled and slow run after a hard race on Saturday. I have run that segment (quite literally) hundreds of times, but the time when I was just being present and not worrying about pace or goals is when I ran fastest. And at the time I genuinely thought that I was running slowly.

On Wednesday I went for an evening run up the mountain. But it was extremely hot (over 30 deg C). The uphill run was tough. I was sweating, out of breath and taking strain up the steep sections. But I was not particularly concerned because I knew the heat would play a big role in my performance. But when I analysed my data afterwards I realised that I had missed a PB on the green-belt climb by 2 seconds. Now 2 seconds is easy to catch up. In the hottest weather I have ever done that route, when I was not expecting to have a particularly good run, and I was not paying much attention I almost had my best time ever!

This happens a lot on races when I don’t have a particular target time in mind and I just go to see how the run goes. I have got a few PB’s from there. In particular the Gun Run 21k (1h53) and Hohenort 15km (1h17) come to mind.

What is the lesson here? I think that if you purely focus on your goals, and you only work towards achieving them you won’t enjoy the journey, and it may even slow you down. If you train, work hard and most importantly enjoy the experience you don’t need to worry about the goals; they will just happen.

Book review: The Healthy Programmer

The Healthy ProgrammerThis book is a practical guide for computer programmers (or any office worker) who want to get more fit and healthy. While the book is clearly geared towards computer programmers, it would only take a minor adjustment to call it something like “The Healthy Office Worker”. While the book uses the Agile programing methodology as a framework, (sprints, retrospectives, unit testing etc), the contents are relevant to anybody spending most of their work days sitting at a computer.

The book goes into a lot of detail, and is full of references, real life stories about programmers that have become more healthy, and practical goals and actions. While it is easy to read, it is detailed and comprehensive, covering topics such as workspace setup, diet, back and wrist pain, exercise and headaches.

The danger is that with so much detail and 19 practical goals, you may be a little overwhelmed. Having said that they are excellent goals and I think you should pick the ones that will work for you and not strive for all 19. One thing that did annoy me is the rather old fashioned notion of counting calories/reducing calories to lose weight. I personally believe that provided you eat the right calories you can eat as much you like and forget about the quantity of calories (basically high fat low carb). This approach has personally worked for me.

The book comes with a free iPhone app (I did not check it out but it is rated 4+), as well as a discussion forum on which the author comments.

Is it worth reading ?- yes most definitely (even if you are not a programer).
Is it going to improve your health and fitness? Well that is up to you.

You can buy the book here, the ebook is $24.

Disclaimer: I was given a free review copy, and I run 20km+ races on a regular basis.

Free PowerPoint templates

Here is a pretty cool website that I have been looking at: Slide Hunter, an online collection of free PowerPoint templates. There are almost 400 templates for download (and they are all free). Everything is indexed and categorised, and it’s easy to find the right slide for your presentation.

Here are two examples:

six-thinking-hats-powerpoint-template

6 Hats

free-brain-powerpoint-template-smart-background

Brain

The ones that I have looked at seem pretty good, and when you edit them all the graphics are seperate items, so you can easily move things around, change colours, customize fonts etc. Note that while you don’t have to register (it is optional and free), if you have not registered he askes you to post a tweet or Facebook update to download the templates.

If you really like the templates you can purchase and download the business pack, which is just over 100 slides, specifically focusing on business diagrams. This pack costs $49, but if you use this code 25PERCENT, you get a (suprisingly) 25% discount.

business pack

Some of the slides in the business pack.

Anyway it is worth checking out, there are some pretty cool slides there.

ps: I will given a free copy of the business pack for this review.

Presenter View; a quick tip

Here is a quick tip to make your PowerPoint presentations a little more effective. If you setup Presenter View, you can see a great summary of your presentation on your laptop screen, and show the regular presentation on the projector screen.

So when I give a presentation, I see something like this.

Presenter View

You can see which slide you are on, speaker notes, slide number, the next slide, timing etc.

Anyway, it is very simply to setup, just goto the slideshow menu and activate Presenter View. Note that it will only be available when you have an external monitor connected.

Presenter View

Shopping with Cybercellar; a lesson in customer service

First of all full disclosure; Cybercellar gave me a R100 discount voucher to try out their website with the aim of writing a blog post about it “if you feel that we are worth mentioning, we believe we are!, it will be appreciated.” Well they gave me R100 to spend on wine; of course I am going to use it!

And I am going to mention my experience because in some ways it was amazing, and in some ways about the worst I have ever experienced. But whatever happened, there are lessons here.

The story in brief.

The downhill experience…

  • I ordered 6 bottles of wine on the evening of 9 April, and according to the website I would get next day delivery.
  • On the late afternoon of the 10th, I received an email that the order had been shipped and I was given the tracking number.
  • Nothing arrived on the 10th or the 11th.
  • On the 12th I got a call from the courier saying that they were running late and would deliver to my home in the evening (a Friday).
  • Later that day I got another call from the courier saying they would not make Friday, but would deliver by 10am on Saturday (by which time I thought “yeah right”).
  • And of course nothing arrived on Saturday.

Rescuing a bad situation…

  • On Saturday afternoon I sent a complaint email to Cybercellar, expecting a response on Monday.
  • That afternoon the CEO (Johann) called me and offered to personally deliver my order on Sunday (they are in Paarl – 76km away to my house)
  • On Sunday morning Johann arrived with my 6 bottles of wine, and a bottle of Springfield Sav Blanc (yummy), and told me that when the courier eventually delivered my actual order it was mine to keep as well.

In summary the courier messed up my delivery (it eventually arrived on Monday – almost a week late), and Cybercellar gave me 7 bottles of wine as an apology personally delivered by the CEO on a Sunday.

And finally the lessons.

  • As Johann and I agreed it was the courier that messed up (and not Cyberceller themselves), but we also agreed that as a customer it was not my problem who messed up. He took ownership and fixed the problem.
  • You can turn a customer around by turning a negative experience into a positive one.
  • Sh*t happens, but it is what you do about it that makes a difference. Service excellence is shown at its best when things go wrong.

Will I purchase from them again? Yes; not because of the order experience, but because of the amazing way they fixed the problem.

Finally, their website is great, they have a massive selection of wine, and you get R50 off your first order.