Author Archives: Alex

About Alex

Chief happy hunter, maker of mischief and general nice guy.

Why I still love the Apple Watch


Okay, there’s no killer use case for the Apple Watch. I’ve looked. It’s not like the iPhone or the iPad. But I think that our reaction to it is a bit overly cynical.

If you show an Apple Watch to someone who used to watch Dick Tracy as a kid, they feel like they’re living the future described when they were a kid.

I was lucky enough to win an Apple Watch from the amazing folks at Kanetix, so I had the chance to get really personal with one.

It doesn’t change my world, but it is convenient.

I’ve gone purely cellular long ago. No land line for me. In the average condo or house, I can leave my phone plugged in and take calls on my phone.

In addition, I’m REALLY pleased with the one-touch response to texts. That has made the people in my life very happy with me, as I’m able to respond much more quickly when I get sent a question. The system that supplies you with potential responses is quite intelligent, and it has only failed to provide me with reasonable answers when the text asked a complex, multi-part question. I think that complex texts will always require a manual response.

Throw in the extra features the watch offers (health monitoring, remote control of the phone, and the possibility of Apple Pay) and it really does seem like a tempting proposition.

I agree with the haters, it won’t be changing anyone’s life, but as a first generation tool, it still does positively impact my average day. Communication is easier and more efficient. Is that worth the price? Well it was worth every penny I paid (Thanks Kanetix *grin*), but I do think it can offer value to some people.

I like what I have, and I look forward to future versions!

Making the most of your time

I tend to disappear off the world a lot.

I’ve taken a bit of a semi-holiday from social media lately. I haven’t taken a full holiday from it, but it’s been a pleasant break.

The summer weather has been nice so far. Last year, I honestly had 2 memorable days in the summer in Toronto. Only 2. The rest of the summer is a blur.

This summer (so far) I’ve made a concerted effort to get out more. Walk more. Take in the city, breath the air, and also chill out at home and play with my cat.

I could do more, I could do less, but I feel like I’m living in the moment, and that’s a really nice feeling.

I hope the summer has been just as kind to you. If not, remember that there’s a month left. You have time and the summer isn’t over. Don’t lament what is gone, enjoy what is yet to come.

Next week I’m hoping to kayak again for the first time in a year. There’s still that nagging feeling of terror (I’m slightly negatively buoyant), but that just makes the experience more memorable.

Cheers to adventure.

The elephant in the room – job hunting


Well, it’s been a while. A long while. But oh what fantastic adventures I have been on.

Why did I disappear? Well, I hit the realization that my job had become the biggest source of my unhappiness in the short term.

I didn’t hate my job, but I had stopped growing there, and that was holding me back. Any experiments I ran were just me distracting myself from the elephant in the room – the place that I spent 8 hours per day had stopped being a place I was excited about.

I decided that I needed to find my next challenge. Staying at a job that wasn’t challenging me wasn’t a good long-term strategy, so I devoted my time and energy to making a change.

Finding the right job wasn’t quick. I took the time to make sure I was making the right decision. I didn’t want to jump to just any job, I wanted to find something that challenged me and had potential for growth. I always try to trade up as part of a job change, I want to continue my career trajectory moving in an upward direction.

I started by making a list of what I liked about my job. Then I made a list of what I didn’t like. This helped me establish must have items and nice-to-have items. Then I started hunting.

It took a while, but now I’m someplace new. About a month in, and I’m pretty pleased. We’ll see where this goes.

Clutter and Redefining Yourself

Picture by Unnar Ýmir Björnsson - flickr Creative Commons

Picture by Unnar Ýmir Björnsson – flickr Creative Commons

I’ve been cleaning out old boxes that I’ve stored at my parent’s house recently. Thankfully, it’s not as bad as the picture above, but I’m still a bit surprised at how much stuff I still had over there. It’s truly amazing what I’ve been finding. The old mementos I’m turning up aren’t the most interesting discovery though – the most interesting thing is how good I’m feeling about getting rid of most of them.

In a weird way, the fact that I can part with a lot of largely meaningless things from my past is serving to reinforce who I’ve become today. I didn’t anticipate this, but it’s a nice little mental reward.

Not that all items from your past are bad, but all of them aren’t necessary. I have a host of trophies and medals from playing sports as a child. However, I’ve forgotten most of the seasons I played. The tournaments are almost all hazy memories of my past. However, a single trophy still stands out, because it’s the tournament in which I scored the winning goal in the final moments. It was a storybook win. I still have all of those trophies though, when only a single one has any meaning to me. It’s a but odd, but now I’m looking forward to getting rid of them all.

As I’ve mentioned in my previous experiments about busting clutter, getting rid of things you don’t need can become a bit of an addictive trend. Once you get started, it’s incredibly satisfying to see things you don’t need leaving the house. The free space left can be amazingly energizing.

My work clearing clutter over the weekend got me thinking though: could it be that clutter is an anchor to your past that keeps you from growing into the future?

Perhaps it’s a bit more profound than recycling old magazines, tourism brochures and letters might merit, but it’s an interesting thought.

Building my Portfolio

The Benefits of Journal Writing

I recently got called on the fact that I don’t have an online portfolio. It was a gentle slap upside the head, but a necessary one for me.

I know where my articles are posted online and I can supply links upon request. To be honest though, I’ve always been a bit shy about self-promotion.

I never really clued in though, that an online portfolio does the self-promotion work for me when I’m not there to talk. Lesson learned, I’m starting to put together a portfolio of my scattered writing across the web and I think it does a good job of representing me!

Do you have a place to showcase your work?

Admitting you’re Wrong

Image by Milestoned via Flickr Creative Commons

Image by Milestoned via Flickr Creative Commons

I think it was a byproduct of the long winter, but until quite recently I’ve been in what I call “survival mode”. Head down, soldiering on, not looking much further than the next few steps.

It’s not a bad thing, but it happens. Sometimes it’s necessary. Spring has come though, and I’m starting to perk up again.

I’ve also realized that I’ve been living the last month or under an assumption that I’ve now realized is incorrect. I don’t like being wrong, but in my life I’ve seen people who would rather die than admit they’re wrong. That kind of ego gets them in trouble again and again.

The picture at the top of this is titled “Lizards: They just don’t give a fuck”. I need to turn my ego into a lizard.

After all, I’d rather be the person still standing than the person who always has to win. Sometimes I need to get slapped upside the head with a bit of humble to remember that though.

Working with a Stand Up Desk

I, like far too many people in this world, sit too much.

Lately, the media has been saying things like “sitting is the new smoking” (yes, people actually did say this, check here). The list of negative health impacts that result from sitting too often is a long one, and you can find it elsewhere, so I won’t get into it too much. However, I do need to ask, if sitting is the new smoking, what does that make naps?

I’m not one to jump onto health fads. It seems they change on a regular basis. However, I will admit that the negative impacts of inactivity are obvious. When you combine this with the fact that my back gets sore and I get headaches occasionally from slouching over a computer, my answer was clear.

I needed to see what this stand up desk stuff was all about. This is how my experiment with a standing desk begins.

I can’t say that the list of great men who use standing desks is a long one, but it certainly includes some notable names – do the names Hemingway, Dickens, and Kierkegaard ring any bells?

I still sit at work – large scale furniture redesign isn’t something I want to explore in the office right now. However, I had a reasonable goal: I wanted to start standing while I used the computer at home. I hoped that this would help me be more productive and feel better. In addition, there is a minor increase in calorie burn when standing versus sitting. This means I would be burning slightly more calories while still living my life in virtually the same way – I like the sounds of this!

This seemed reasonable, but where to start? I didn’t want to go out and buy a desk immediately as I didn’t know if I would like it. Also, I wasn’t sure it would fit in my decor.

So, I needed to find some combination of things that would work as a makeshift substitute for a standing desk, while still letting me maintain the arrangement of the house I had grown to like. Here is what I came up with:

My makeshift standing desk

It’s not that pretty to look at, but in combination, the TV table and the coffee table put my laptop at the perfect height for standing use.

So far, I’ve been playing around with the standing desks for about a week. I find that I do move about a lot more than I would while sitting. My back gets less sore and I’m also more productive. I think that I can classify this as a win so far, but this little experiment is definitely not over. If the benefits continue like this though, I’ll definitely be exploring a more permanent desk!

Eating Healthy – Garlic Lemon Chicken Fajitas

As part of eating healthier, I need to regularly remind myself that there is a value to making a healthy choice.

This is why I like chicken. Tonight I made some garlic lemon chicken fajitas for dinner with my wife.

Garlic Lime Chicken Fajitas

  • Take 750g of boneless skinless chicken breasts sliced into strips and put it into a frying pan
  • Add 3 tablespoons of lemon juice
  • Add 1 tablespoon of orange juice
  • Add 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • Add 1/2 tablespoon of garlic powder (or more if you’re like me)
  • Add just a pinch of salt and pepper for flavour
  • Add in sliced peppers and onions to taste
  • Cook for approximately 10 minutes (may differ depending on oven)

It’s a healthy meal, and one that tastes delicious. Now, how do I persuade myself to eat healthy meals like this instead of unhealthy snacks?

My new strategy is comparison. In this photo, both the chocolate serving and the fajita have approximately identical calories. I can add some peppers and lettuce on top of the fajita to top it off (I left them off so you could see the crazy amount of chicken that I can have).

Which fills you up more?

What do you think will fill me up more – 7 squares of chocolate or a fajita with 2 ounces of chicken in a fajita wrap topped with spinach, sauce and peppers? Let’s be honest, if I open the chocolate bar, I’ll finish it at some point. If not tonight, then tomorrow. Skipping the chocolate and going for the healthy food is a big win on so many levels.

A belated goals list for 2014

I normally don’t set aside a list of goals for the year. In the past, I’ve had mixed results, but I admit I was inspired by Casey Palmer and his ambitious list work at the end of 2013. So, in the spirit of accountability and keeping an open mind, here are some of the goals I want to accomplish in 2014 (in no particular order).

  1. Redesign this website: I’ve slacked on this design, but I recently got kicked up in Google Pagerank (as little as that means now), so I think I should give this site – and myself – the attention we both deserve
  2. Two events per month: I tried doing one event per month in 2013 and I was quite successful. I met lots of new people, learned quite a few things, and generally had a good time. In 2014, I’d like to move that up to 2 events per month on average. There are some amazing things to do in Toronto, why not take part? This week, I’m planning on going to a learning event at the Mars Discovery District.
  3. Finally get comfortable with resumes: I think everyone gets a bit intimidated by resumes. I don’t ever think I’ll love them, but I want to get to the point where I’m good at them even if I don’t love them. Practice and research is the only cure for this.
  4. Finish 3 Coursera courses: There are some amazing course offerings out there. I’ve started lots of them, but only completed one. I want to change that ratio around. I think continuing education is an important part of professional growth. Coursera offers courses for free, why should I waste that incredible opportunity?
  5. Google Certifications: I flirted with this last year but I never did it. I work in marketing and content writing – Google Adwords and Google Analytics are tools I access daily. Learning more, and being certified in them, is a definite benefit to my career. I need to nerd harder this year!
  6. That exercise thing: Let’s be honest, I’ve been sucking at it. I don’t know how to make this a goal. It needs to be a system. Right now I need to find a way to work regular exercise into my life on a daily basis. Daily. No exceptions.
  7. Diet: I have a sweet tooth and I indulge it far too frequently. I work in an area with unhealthy food options, and I tend to reach for them if I’m hungry. I need to plan my meals better and bring healthier snacks. I can’t continue to indulge myself at this level without it impacting my weight and health.
  8. Sleep: I’ve been taking my sleep and substituting it with caffeine. I don’t sleep a healthy amount each night on a regular basis. This impacts every aspect of my life. I need to target a regular 7-7.5 hours of sleep a night.
  9. Weight: I’m not happy with how my body moves, and the weight is the biggest manifestation of that. I believe that if I get the exercise, diet, and health goals in place, the weight one will follow. I suspect I need to drop 20lbs to be back to a range where my body is comfortable.
  10. Standing desk: I sit a lot. A LOT. I sit on the bus to work. I sit at work. I sit on the bus home from work. Then I come home and sit as I write at home. Wow. I feel my body prematurely aging just as I type that. I need to play around with work spaces that keep me standing. That might not be a realistic option in an office environment at work, but at home, it’s become a must.
  11. Declutter: We live in a townhouse right now. We want a condo with a better location. If we were to find the perfect condo today, we wouldn’t be able to move because we have too much stuff! I need to cut the clutter and focus on important things
  12. Freelancing: I did okay with this in 2013. It was a lot of fun actually. I need to keep doing this and balance it with the rest of life. No burnout.
  13. The next book: I finished a book. It was rattling around in my head for years, and I wrote it. It sucks. I accept that. I didn’t even submit it to an editor. I do have 2-3 other ideas in my head though. I want to get cracking and make the second book so much better than the first book. I don’t care if I don’t submit it to anyone, I just want to write for myself.
  14. Run: I don’t like running. I really don’t. That started as an adult. But I know a lot of adults who have fallen in love with it. I feel like I should give running one last fair chance. I’ll try a couch-to-5k program in the spring and see if I can make it work
  15. Make social activities more about play and exercise, less about food: As we grow older, getting together over dinner seems to happen far more than hiking, ice skating, or anything else. It’s time I flip this around a bit.

Wow, writing a list is harder than I’d thought. I don’t know how Casey manages a 100 item list. That must take a lot of thought to put together.

So, long rambling cut short, I want to be healthier, get out even more, learn more, face some of my fears, and feel better about myself. I think that this puts me about on par with every other member of the human race. I’m interested to see that amongst my list are the seeds of some systems, so that my goals won’t be one-shot things. They can become habits that change a lifetime.

What brings you Joy?


What brings you joy?

It’s a simple question I’ve been asking myself lately, as I’ve been replanning and restrategizing about a lot of my life.

However, just because a question is simple, doesn’t mean it’s easy. Let me explain.

Caffeine brings my joy – or so I think. However, when I dig down below the surface, I find that it’s not so simple. Yes, sipping caffeine when I’m tired is a wonderful sensation. The feeling of life flowing back into a tiring body. It’s remarkable how good it feels. Caffeine is the gasoline of much of the world’s day-to-day life, and I use it as rocket fuel for my creativity in writing.

However, the sensation caffeine brings to me is only brought because I’m frequently tired.

This is where the questions start to come up. I’m frequently tired because I don’t sleep well (or enough). I don’t sleep well (or enough) because I don’t spend my time doing the things that will help me sleep better and I don’t manage my time well.

What does this mean? It means that rather than bringing me joy, caffeine (in its many forms) simply helps prevent me from feeling the consequences of my own actions. Even worse, I can’t honestly say that staying up late gives me much joy either. On occasion, I stay up late to watch a movie, finish a great book, or to spend time with friends and loved ones. However, far too often I stay up late because I waste time after returning home, and then have to stay up late to catch up with what needs to be done. It turns out, I’m not pursuing joy, but rather avoiding the pain and consequences of my action.

Enough of my failings with sleep and time management though, back to joy.

If caffeine doesn’t bring me joy, and staying up late doesn’t bring me joy, then what does?

This has led to some serious thinking on my part. Here’s a partial list (in no particular order):

  • Reading a good book
  • Actual conversations with people about world issues
  • Playing fetch with my cat (yes, my cat will play fetch, and it still amuses me)
  • Helping people
  • Spending time with my wife
  • Adventures (of various sorts)
  • Feeling pleasure in the simple movement of my body (this has been more challenging lately unfortunately)
  • Feeling healthy in general
  • The occasional good movie
  • Learning new things
  • Chasing the feeling of amazement

This is far from a complete list, but when I compare this to a list showing how I spend my time in an average day, I find that the two lists don’t match nearly as well as I might like.

I have a feeling that I’ve only just begun the deep thoughts associated with this task, but this is definitely time well invested.

If you were to complete a task like this, how well do you think your two lists would match up?