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30 Days of Vapes and Hijinks

Yesterday marked 30 days since my last cigarette. And since then, I’ve gone through various stresses related to work and personal matters. And also managed to go on a couple of evenings in the pub. Yet, despite being in the company of various smokers, I haven’t been tempted…

I’m still noticing improvements to smell, taste, lung capacity and energy. I certainly seem to be able to exert myself more without being out of breath. And I’ve started feeling a strange urge to get more exercise. I’ve managed to avoid any worrying temptation to invest in lycra clothing, but I’m not sure how much longer I can hold out…

30 Days of Vapes and Hijinks

So as a smoking replacement/cessation method, vaping has been really working for me. And although it’s still not good for me, I’m happy with all the evidence of the risk reduced to around 90-95% of smoking. The more I think about what would happen if I had to stop vaping overnight, the more it seems likely I would just stop using anything than go back to smoking.

Which is why I’m looking forward to moving down nicotine strengths shortly. In the meantime, here are some quick scores:

  • Approximately 450 cigarettes not smoked.
  • Cost of 450 cigarettes roughly £210.
  • Cost of initial vaping kit, including back up tank: £92.
  • Cost of liquids and coils per month – approx £40.
  • Various estimates of the negative impact of cigarettes would say you lose between 5-14 minutes of life for each one you smoke. Obviously that’s an average based on typical lifespan etc, but taking it as 10 minutes, that’s 4,500 minutes, or 75 hours, per month. Or 37.5 days per year. By the time I’m around 60, that’s more than 2 years worth of potential extra days.
  • If I never stop vaping, and buy a new kit every year for the next 20 years, I’ll save:
    Cost of 20 years smoking: £50,400!
    Cost of 20 years vaping: £11,440.
    Saving: £38,960

Not rigorously scientific, but good encouragement to keep in mind. I’ve also decided that Peach flavour liquid works particularly well to compliment craft IPA, and without doing a side-by-side test, my one hangover appeared to be much less of a problem to deal with.

One other thing I’ve definitely benefitted from is using some of the money I’ve saved on relatively instant gratification (some much-needed new trainers and jeans). While it’s good to have a longterm goal for savings plans (which I also have), when you’re reinforcing a more positive habit, having some fairly quick rewards definitely makes a big difference.

For the record, I currently use:

  • An Aspire Zelos 50W kit with Nautilus 2 Tank.
  • Back-up Nautilus 2 Tank
  • Back-up Eleaf iStick 40W donated by a very nice friend.
  • 12mg eliquid (roughly 20-25ml per week)

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It’s Great When You Vape, Yeah

So I’ve just gone past 3 weeks since my last cigarette. And I’m still surprised at how easy it’s been. When I’m low on nicotine, my foolish brain still occasionally reverts to thinking about tobacco, but it’s only around half the time. And it goes as soon as I’ve spend a few moments vaping – which is slowly becoming what my lizard brain associates with my addiction.

The plan is to continue on 12mg vape liquid until I associate any cravings with vaping rather than smoking. At which point I’m going to switch down to 6mg during the day, which means I’ll start consuming less nicotine that I would have been smoking in the past.

And I’ve managed to cope with a couple of stressful events without going back to cigarettes. When I did have to go without vaping for a couple of hours due to user error (I thought the tank/coil was faulty as I hadn’t cleared out the excess liquid enough), I managed to get by with a couple of nicotine lozenges until I could go back to my local vape shop and get some more experienced assistance. As a result, I ended up buying a spare tank, so I’m now covered whatever happens – and having learned to mop up any excess liquid from inside the coil after every refill, I’ve had no problems since.

Quick Vaping Financial Summary:

  • 23 days of smoking would have cost me around £161.
  • 23 days of vaping has cost me £128.99. That’s £70 for the kit. £22.99 for the tank, and £36 for liquid. And I still have a few more days worth of liquid left.
  • Next month I won’t need a kit or tank. So the maximum expenditure will be around £36 for liquid and possibly £4 worth of coils. And that’s how much a month should cost me until such time as I need a new box or tank.
  • So that’s £120 saved per month in future.
  • And even in the first month, I’d have saved around £30+, if I hadn’t decided to treat myself to a new pair of trainers as a reward – to be fair, I’ve needed a pair for months…

 

Vaping and my Health?

So far I’ve been breathing a lot more easily, and feeling more energised during and after exercise. And sleeping better – I don’t seem to be suffering from sleep apnea any more. Or getting as many cases of cramp. Which should mean that my circulation has improved a fair amount – it’s hard to tell given the hot weather, but my fingers and toes certainly feel warmer…

I do get a bit of a tickly cough if I overdo a vaping session – but it’s gone pretty much straight afterwards. And I’d had a throaty cough before switching – along with a chesty cough due to all the crud in my lungs. So that’s much improved, although I may have to experiment with different liquids and settings in the future to see if I can find the perfect settings for me.

The best bit so far has actually been the health of others. I always tried to be a considerate smoker, going outside and standing away from family and friends. And I take a similar approach to vaping. But in the past, smoking definitely irritate my family – and one of my parents would constantly be coughing due to an existing lung condition. Since vaping, my parents no longer rush to close any windows to the garden, and my son has told me ‘your breath smells nice’ for the first time since he was born almost a decade ago.

It's Great When You Vape, Yeah

I never looked cool when I smoked. And I don’t look cool vaping. But I have managed to avoid sinking into the world of sub-ohm DTL DIY mod boxes and other complications. I’m sticking with convenience. Plug in the box once every 1.5 days or so to charge it. Fill it up roughly once a day. And each time, make sure I’m sticking some kitchen roll into the coil and mouthpiece to mop up any excess. I should really wipe everything down each refill, but at the moment about 1 out of every 3 refills works fine for vaping without any excess gurgling/spitting issues.

So basically my entire technical support and maintence kit is a roll of cheap kitchen tissue.

What else?

I’m finding the flavours I like (Currently Peach, Strawberry with Lime and Blueberry from the Ultimate Version 2 range). And the ones I don’t enjoy as much (Thought I’d like Rhubarb and Custard much more than I did). And by switching between them, it stops me potentially getting bored of one. But I’ll have to see what else is around sometime soon for a bit of a change.

 

The Vaping/Smoking Paradox:

There is one weird thing about vaping. For some reason, it seems to make smokers go a little defensive. I used to have the same response, dismissing it as for lightweight artisan bearded hipsters. And now just wish I’d switched years ago.

Personally, I don’t actively enjoy the smell of cigarettes anymore, but I have no problem with people smoking next to me. It’d be a bit hypocritical. Plus it’s a handy test whether I’m tempted at all (And so far, I’m not). If people want to keep smoking, then they can go right ahead…

But I have noticed smokers seem keen to pick holes in vaping. Normally saying how they can’t be bothered with all the ‘paraphenalia’ (which seems odd when I can clearly remember last minute trips in the middle of the night to the petrol station for cigarettes, or desperately searching for an old box of matches when all my lighters had run out). Or my personal favourite, which is pointing out that there isn’t any longterm data on the relative health effects of vaping.

So we know that vaping definitely is less healthy than doing nothing at all. Nicotine by itself is relatively harmless in small doses and toxic in large ones. And the other vaping ingredients (propylene glycol/vegetable glycol/glycerol) are combined with flavourings – the glycol element can cause a bit of potential throat irritation, and the flavourings are the relatively unknown quantity in how they interact with the glycol when heated).

But we also know that smoking is definitely and  100% guaranteed to raise your chances of health problems long term. And a lot of that comes from the act of combusting tobacco, and the other additives in cigarettes to make them burn nicely, etc. It’s possible to smoke for years and still be healthy, but we also know it has an effect on those around you via passive smoking, and also means everything smells of stale baccy.

So it does seem remarkably weird when people say they won’t switch from smoking because there’s a potentially small chance of a longterm effect of vaping being discovered. As opposed to sticking with the one which is proven to be potentially deadly in the short, medium and longterm.

Still, at least now I can chuckle about it without coughing up a lung…

 

 

Incidentally, if you’re wondering about the strange title…

 

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The Great eVape – One Week On

Despite the fact I’ll soon run out of terrible puns, I figured it might be worth a quick update on my vaping exploits after the first week. Since sharing on social media that I’d swapped from cigarettes, an ever-increasing number of friends have revealed they’ve been vaping for a while. And the advice and encouragement doesn’t hurt when it comes to switching from tobacco, and then reducing the nicotine levels.

 

Vaping Week One:

The first result has been financial. My starter including liquids cost me £70 (you can get a cheaper deal online, but I wanted to ask questions etc in person). At 15 cigarettes per day on average, and a packet of 20 costing £10.00, the vaping kit will have paid for itself in 9.3 days.

Since then I’ve bought some more liquid flavours, at with 3 bottles of 10ml liquid costing £12. So far, a bottle is lasting me approximately 4 days or so. So that’s 12 more days of vaping for the same cost as under 2 days of smoking. I haven’t needed to replace a coil yet, but estimates are roughly 1 every two weeks, and there’s a spare in the starter kit. So by the time I need more, at around £2 each, I’ll have saved way more than the cost of getting started, and might even invest in a spare tank to be able to swap flavours around more regularly.

The reason for that is that I’m finding various flavours I enjoy, but after 2-3 days of the same flavour, I start craving a change.

Aspire Zelos 50W Starter Kit with Nautilus 2 Tank

The Aspire Zelos start kit I’m using

Second up is my cigarette addiction. Having smoked my last ‘analogue’ cigarette last Saturday, I can honestly say I haven’t been tempted. Even when a co-worker was stood next to me puffing away. When I crave nicotine, my mind does immediately think of cigarettes – but as soon as I grab my vape, that’s replaced by the idea of vaping instead. And slowly the lack of nicotine triggers a desire to vape rather than smoke. That’s definitely a good thing, as despite various debates around the exact health benefit, vaping is certainly better than smoking. And the plan is that once I’ve been using the same liquid for a while, I’ll start reducing the nicotine content.

At the moment, I’m on a 12mg concentation per 10ml of liquid. The plan is to reduce to 6mg or even 3mg at some point.

And in terms of health? It’s still early days, but I’m certainly starting to breath a little better and more clearly. Obviously there’s 20 years of cigarettes to clear over time, but it feels a little easier than when I’ve previously quit using patches or lozenges (once successfully for a long time, and a couple of attempts lasting days). Compared to patches, I’m not missing the psychological benefits of going outside and breathing deeply. And lozenges did tend to have a negative effect on my gums (not too surprising).

I already feel like I’m starting to sleep more effectively, which was one of the main problems I had due to smoking. Aside from coughing, I’d wake up randomly during the night, which I think was probably sleep apnea. That seems to have almost stopped already, along with any smoke-related snoring.

Downsides? I had a slight cough and sore throat before switching, which hasn’t gone yet. So if it’s still a problem in  few days, it might be time for a trip to the doctor to get it checked… And that’s it.

But that’s it. So far, so good. And in addition to better finances and better health, my family and friends have noticed the difference (no passive smoking, no smell of smoke). And I spend slightly less time on a vape break than a smoking break, so I’m even getting some of my day back!

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The Vape of Good Hope…

It’s official. After mocking the artisanal hipsters imitating a smoke machine in an eighties soft rock video, I’ve finally joined them. As of today, I am now a vaper.

When it comes to my bad habits, smoking cigarettes led the way by miles. While I might procrastinate, or get caught up in videogames more than I like, my work doesn’t allow for this to get out of hand. And my family also limit my ability to timewaste in a variety of ways.

Left to my own devices, I could eat more healthily. And I could certainly get more exercise. But I do eat a reasonably balanced diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables, and also try to get out for a walk fairly regularly.

And in the positives, I rarely drink to excess any more. Work, fatherhood, and my inability to handle hangovers as I’ve got older have all meant I prioritise quality over quantity. And even then, I probably manage less than a couple of pints a week on average.

But despite occasionally quitting for short periods in the past, I’ve maintained a smoking habit for about two decades now. And the only change in that time was swapping from my original Marlboro Reds to Marlboro Golds/Lights, which is hardly a healthy choice.

And it’s not just me that’s affected. Obviously the dangers of passive smoking are well known. So despite only smoking outside, it’s something which risks the health of family, friends, and anyone else around. Plus there’s the fact that my life is being conducted in an aroma of stale smoke, and I’ve become increasingly sepia-tinted.

Vape Smoke

Meanwhile one friend who previously smoked has completed multiple marathons since switching to vaping. Another has lost weight and toned up since switching and making the gym his new addiction. And various other people have repeatedly pointed out the cost savings and potential health benefits.

Vaping is still relatively new. So there aren’t a lot of long term studies on the health implications. And the tobacco industry isn’t noted for being an impartial, benevolent source of information on health risks. But on balance, the risks of vaping in the short term appear to be significantly less than those of continuing to smoke.

There is loads of information that I would urge people to take a look at before starting vaping. But although it still means a dependence on nicotine, and there are still some health risks, the current estimates that it’s somewhere around 5% as harmful as smoking.

(Wikipedia has a decent summary, as you’d expect.)

So less harmful. And less stinky – as of today, the aroma around me is mainly strawberries and lime. Plus, it’s also a lot cheaper. With a packet of 20 cigarettes costing around £10, even one of the higher end vaping systems will have paid itself back in 1-2 weeks.

I was actually kindly donated one kit by a friend after posting some vaping questions on Facebook. But decided to invest in a backup thanks to some persuasive sales techniques when I visited one of the many local vaping stores… I’m not regretting it though, as a spare will undoubtedly come in handy at some point.

Incidentally, the vaping set-up I’ve ended up with, replacing 10-15 cigarettes per day, is the Aspire Zelos. So far it’s been easy to use, worked well, and is small and light enough to carry around.

Hopefully I’ll be updating in the future as I lower the nicotine dosage with an eye on giving up inhaling any nicotine. But I’m happy to have made a start – and I’ll be even happier as my lung capacity returns and my bank balance improves…

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An Unexpected Gift…

Just a quick post to say a public thank you to Tia at WhoAteMyCrayons. Not just for an unexpected present that arrived in the post yesterday, but also for being an awesome designer who I’m pleased to be able to work with on occasional projects and wholeheartedly recommend for others.

And also for her amazing efforts with Digital People in Peterborough.

But anyway, ignoring my terrible photography, here’s what I received…

WhoAteMyCrayonsWallplanner

Anything that helps me plan more effectively and become more organised is always appreciated. Especially when it’s personalised, as an extra incentive to use it.

Considering the common ‘January Blues’, and the fact that I’ve returned to work after Christmas both fired up to make lots of progress, and battling a cold, and it’s a very welcome boost to remind me to keep moving forwards. And to finally find a nice office space to be able to put it up in (and take better pictures…)

It’s lovely quality, looks great and makes me smile when I’m trying to sort my life out. And it turns out you can buy your own with free personalisation), from Tia’s store for just £12.95.

 

Giving More Thanks in 2017:

One thing I definitely plan to do in 2017 is give more thanks to the many, many people who have had an impact on my life and work. It’s something that’s easy to let slip, but it’s definitely going to be a big part of changing my habits in 2017. And I’m reminded that although a quick email or instant message is nice, doing something which involves a little more effort is even better.

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What Do We Want From Newspapers and Journalists?

There’s an interesting interview at the New York Times between Public Editor Liz Spayd and Executive Editor Dean Baquet.

Most of it is pretty tame and logical, but a couple of answers stood out. For example, when questions about new changes coming to the NYT, Baquet said:

Trying to edit The Times the way we edited it in a purely print era is unreasonable. The layers of editing, the number of people who touch a story. The fact is that we now write so much more. Right now, as we talk, there’s a hearing on Russian hacking. I’ve been in meetings all day, but we’ve probably written 10 posts. All of those posts, and the large print stories done at the end of the day, cannot be edited in the same way. The challenge is how to still be fast and give people a story in a form that is accurate.

But do we want and need 10 posts on the Russian hacking hearing? Is that why people visit a newspaper, or would they actually be better served by longer, more thorough articles which go through an editing process closer to print?

In an era when anyone can be tweeting fiction and presenting it as news within seconds, or live streaming on Facebook, how often do we have time to visit a newspaper website and actually ingest all the coverage of a particular event if it’s spread across so many places?

New York Times Building by Torrenegra on Flickr

It’s a paradox which every publication struggles with. And that challenge comes up just a few questions later, when asked about a way in which The New York Times has failed its readers, and Baquet picks out the use of social media.

I think sometimes reporters and editors go over the line. Or are a little ham-handed in their language in a way they wouldn’t be in the pages of The Times. And I think people think that’s easy to police. It’s not. I want people to interact with readers. I want reporters and editors interacting with the wider world. But I think we sometimes cross the line, and we need to figure out a way to not do that.

It’s almost as if the goal will be to have news coverage which is incredibly fast, efficient and streamlines editing and fact checking as much as possible. But the fastest, most efficient ways for staff to communicate needs to be edited and fact checked to prevent them from doing something wrong.

I’d propose a simpler solution.

Use social media and let staff get everything out as quickly as possible (within legal and grammatical rules, certainly), and use the website as the publication of record when I want 1 or 2 articles that give me a complete, thorough, and accurate report of what has happened in the world.

I’m not going to visit the NYT website 10 times in a day. But when I visit it once or twice (often as a result of seeing something recommended on social media), I want it to be worth the effort.

 

Image by Torrenegra on Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

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The Joy of Exploding Kittens

The chance to praise an enjoyable family card game also gives me an excuse to test the Medium and Amazon Associates plugins I’ve just set up. And what could be a better test than the joy of Exploding Kittens?

For those of you not familiar with famed  web comic The Oatmeal, and creator Matthew Inman, I should probably explain what I’m talking about before you suspect me of animal cruelty. As my son did when I first queued to buy the game at Christmas.

I should point out that after a substantial pre-teen level sulk, he not only enjoyed playing the game but proclaimed it one of the best ever.

Exploding Kittens

As you can tell, Exploding Kittens is a card game for people into kittens, explosions and a certain sense of humour. In that they possess one, in my personal opinion.

I’d say it took a little longer than two minutes to learn how to play. Mainly because I was the only one of three generations in my family to actually read the instructions and attempt to understand them. But no matter how much older relatives try to ignore the actual rules, preferring whatever they’ve made up in their head, you’ll have it pretty much nailed by the time you’ve played a game.

Like all the best games, Exploding Kittens is simple. You have a hand of cards. You play whatever cards you want. And then you take a card at the end of your turn, which may result in an exploding kitten taking you out of the game.

There’s also the chance to irritate other players by using cards to stop them doing what they intend, or by simply using the game to target them again and again.

Obviously I enjoyed both the irritation and being able to constantly target my father in every game we played.

The joy of Exploding Kittens was that it was incredibly simple to get started, the humour worked across a 60-year age gap, and it proved that children will enjoy ‘traditional’ entertainment as much as ‘digital’ fun as long as it’s good.

Compared the price, complexity and frustration of Star Wars Risk, which we also tried playing,  I don’t think I’m overselling it as a joy to play.

Before you rush to buy a copy, I should make clear there’s a child-friendly standard version, and an adult sweary NSFW version, so make sure you get the right one. There’s also an expansion pack out now (Imploding Kittens), which I’m eager to try as it includes a wearable ‘cone of shame’ which is part of the game.

If all goes to plan, there should be a handy Amazon link below for the standard version.

It’s an affiliate link, which means you don’t pay more, but I potentially earn a small commission if you buy something. Which I can then put towards buying the expansion pack.

And it also means that the official Amazon Associates WordPress plugin is working properly, which is good news as it makes linking and managing that content much easier. I definitely recommend it so far, alongside Skimlinks.

It’ll also be interesting to see whether it works when the post is auto-cross posted to Medium.

Here goes, and let’s hope no kittens explode in the process…

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Support the Campaign to Repeal Section 40

How do you feel about having your world shaped entirely by the wealthy in a fake news, post truth world? Because Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act makes that very possible – even beyond what we’ve seen in 2016.

Put simply, any small newspaper or multi-author website/blog can write something true, and prove it in court, but in the process be completely bankrupted by having to pay the costs run up by the person who has sued them.

That also includes campaigning groups.

So basically, it won’t matter if you know about wrongdoing or corruption by any wealthy individual. It won’t matter whether or not you have proof which can be shown in court that what you know is true.

All that will matter is that the majority of people and organisations won’t ever be able to publish it without going bankrupt in the process.

 

You can support the campaign to Repeal The Gagging Clause by signing the Open Rights Group petition. There’s also probably never been a better or more important time to support somethine like ORG by joining or donating.

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Changing My Habits and Finding Which Methods Worked

Looking for a list of quick and simple ways to adopt good habits in life which is guaranteed to work?

Sorry, me too.

But there are some methods for improving your habits and lifestyle which have been well researched. For instance, the famous Marshmallow test which is one example of how being able to delay gratification for a bigger reward tends to pay off.

Or how about tackling the biggest, hardest tasks at the start of the day, when you’ve got the biggest reserves of willpower. And doing what you can to avoid using your brain power on things which don’t matter? Examples include wearing similar outfits everyday to avoid expending though on choosing an outfit (e.g. Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Barack Obama etc).

I’ve certainly found some success in adopting a simple rule for cutting down on junk food and snacks. I don’t buy them.

If it’s in the house, then it takes conscious effort to not eat it when I’m tempted. If it involves a trip to the shop, then the times I either allow myself to inhale a tub of Ben and Jerrys in one sitting, or I’m tired and fed up enough to drive to a KFC are a lot less often. And it also means that for most things, I can force myself to walk to the shop and at least get some exercise on the way.

But I wanted to introduce some more good habits, and had the opportunity to test three methods to see which were personally more effective. Obviously your results may differ depending on your personality, lifestyle and experiences.

 

Changing My Habits: Willpower Alone:

When I was younger, I’d read books voraciously. It’s a good habit I inherited from my parents and my maternal grandmother, and led to my love of language, writing, and career.

But it’s slipped a lot over the years. Spending all day reading on a variety of screens for work and pleasure, and having limited spare time would mean I’d find it hard to be enthusiastic about opening a printed book at the end of the day.

I don’t agree that the internet and social media have destroyed the ability to concentrate. I’m as likely to be distracted from work by a good 60 minute video or a lengthy article as a short one. But the odds are that it’s followed by sharing the article and jumping right back into another work task. Not taking any time to digest what I’ve watched or ridden.

So I wanted to reintroduce nightly reading, ordered some books, and tried to introduce 30 minutes or more of time spent enjoying the printed word.

Play Money by Julian Dibbell

So I recently ordered a few books from Amazon that I’d always meant to read. The advantage of older books is that most are pretty cheap now. I also rediscovered my copy of Cryptonomicon, and a cheap copy of The Dogs of Riga in a charity shop.

Results?
Mixed, to be honest. I’ve finished 2 of the books from the unread pile in around a month. And restarted Cryptonomicon this week.

But I haven’t seen any noticeable improvement in my ability to concentrate or my sleeping habits. Partly because my commitment has been patchy at best. Some nights I’m skipping reading because I finish work late, or I have other things to do. And when I do read, I occasionally get engrossed and go way over time, which then means I’m tired the next day.

But overall, I’m reasonably happy with progress. I’ve got almost 50% through my target list in a month, and I’m becoming more committed as time goes by. Plus I might not necessarily be able to concentrate harder (difficult to prove without testing), but I do feel like I’m starting to come up with more ideas and links between topics than I have for a while.

The caveat is that I’m someone who has always loved reading, so it’s not necessarily going to be as successful with something tougher. I think my willpower only attempts would struggle a lot more with cutting down on caffeine, or grouting the tiles in the bathroom. As the next example proves…

So I’d give this a 5 or 6 out of 10.

 

Changing My Habits: Public Validation:

I rarely join in viral Facebook memes. But when #22pushups was going around earlier this year and someone nominated me, I decided to give it a go. Partly because raising awareness of the struggles people face with PTSD and mental illness was a good cause. And also to see what happened when I not only made a public pledge to exercise every day, but had to also video myself and share it.

22PushupsFacebookGrab

The video element was a big part. It’s too easy to fake data logging or a few photos. And it also meant I had to involve a 3rd party cameraman most of the time. And my son provided a particularly enthusiastic bit of encouragement, as well as turning every video into some kind of dating advert.

Results?

Well, I’m still single.

The actual challenge went well. I think I missed  1 or 2 days, which I made up for straight away the next day. And even kept the run going when I was traveling for work conferences. Including when slightly hung over the next day.

And I could feel the difference from barely managing 22 pushups, to being able to do more than double that. At the local park, I even started doing chin ups on the play equipment for probably the first time in my life. For fun.

But…

I thought 22 days would be long enough to establish a good habit I could build on. But since the impetus to video my exercise ended and I don’t have family and friends prompting me, it pretty much went out the window. It’s too easy to blame work, or having other things to do.

The simple fact is that I wasn’t motivated enough to keep going without some kind of external impetus, and I reverted to being lazy.

So the end result is probably a 2/10 if I’m honest.

(But I do have a plan to counter this, as I’m registering a private Instagram account to start posting daily live videos of my fitness efforts. It’s private because I’m not intending to be a fitness guru, and my only having friends and family watch, I should be comfortable enough to look like an idiot on a regular basis without too much shame).

 

Changing My Habits: App Notifications:

The last habit I wanted to introduce was learning a language. Having some history of Alzheimer’s in my family and also seeing various research on the benefits of foreign languages, I had a quick look around for quick, free apps to try out.

Having downloaded Duolingo, I had to pick a language. Rather than refreshing my schoolboy French or German, I went with Swedish. Seeing as I spent 13 years in a relationship with a Swede, it seemed silly that I’d picked up random phrases and words over the years but never buckled down and acquired enough Svenska to have a proper conversation.

Duolingo Mobile App Swedish Screen

Jag måste lära mer svenska, I thought. So the mobile app takes you through some word matching with images and translations. You also have to transcribe audio clips or translate them yourself, or use a drag-and-drop approach with a selection of words.

There’s a desktop version as well, but the advantage of the mobile app is that my phone is always on and with me. So I can’t escape by powering down my laptop before I remember my daily lesson.

And I also get an email and notification reminder as a preset time. I’d originally set it for the end of the day, but now having it mid-evening so I still have some motivation reserves left.

Best of all, hitting my standard level target takes 5-10 minutes. So it’s something I can do quickly and easily without fearing a massive commitment.

Results?

I’ve missed a couple of days, but made it up in the next 24 hours. The rest of the time I’ve managed daily progress for about a month.

It’s a fairly low commitment, so I haven’t exactly mastered Swedish yet. But I’ve accumulated more than 220 words, passed the first checkpoint, and gone back and kept up my previous lesson strength (Each lesson prompts you with a reminder after a set amount of time to go back and refresh your weakest words/phrases).

But I’m definitely picking up and remembering more words and phrases (I still get Hon and Han confused occasionally), and I’ll be interested the next time I watch a subtitled Swedish film or crime drama to see whether it’s helped.

So I think the combo of easy use and notifications (plus a very tiny amount of gamification with scores etc), has definitely proved successful. So I’ll give it an 8/10 so far.

Changing Habits: My Conclusion:

So if you’re a person with strong willpower or have enough motivation, it’s easy to change a habit. Just do it.

In the case of reading, I do log my progress on Goodreads, but it involves an effort to visit the site etc, so I don’t really count it as motivation at the moment.

When it comes to public validation, it definitely works. Until you stop sharing.

The problem is that some of my friends were certainly uninterested in seeing me do pushups. But I think a private distribution list may work OK – will see how it goes.

And something which includes a bit of gamification with regular prompts and notifications definitely works for me.

Exercise takes more physical effort than the other two habits, but I tend to be mentally tired rather than physically due to my work and lifestyle. And having an encouraging/nagging email and prompt has stopped me skipping days I might have dodged.

The next step will be finding if there’s a solution for reading and fitness which will combine the things which worked best so far, and then seeing what else I can…

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Have Read, Am Reading, Will Read

I’ve been working on making some changes and either introducing, or re-introducing some more positive habits into my life. And one of the main things I wanted to make time for is reading printed books.

There were two main reasons for this. One was to spend at least some time between waking and sleeping when I’m not reading from a screen to give my eyes a rest and to get into a better routine to promote a good night of sleep.

The other was to see if my attention span has suffered from the constant distractions of social media, notifications, and emails. There’s still plenty of debate over the potential benefits and harm of task switching (as opposed to pretending you can actually multi-task). And it’s never something I really experience when actively writing and creating something – only when passively consuming entertainment of some description

Plus I miss my childhood, spent devouring books for at least an hour every day…

So I bought some books. One I’ve already finished, one I’ve just started, and one is awaiting me impatiently… And the benefit of having been slack in my reading habits for a while is that many of the things I want to read are relatively cheap right now.

Jon Pierson: Spike, Mike, Slackers & Dykes: Guided Tour Through A Decade of American Independent Cinema

Spike, Mike Slackers and Dykes by Jon Pierson

Written in 1997, I can remember it being recommended by Clerks director Kevin Smith a long time ago. And it was one of those things I never seemed to get around to reading – until now.

And it was alright. The author, Jon Pierson, was responsible for investing in, and making deals for, indie films including Spike Lee’s first film, She’s Gotta Have It, the aforementioned Clerks by Kevin Smith, documentary The Thin Blue Line, and Richard Linklater’s Slackers among others. So a pretty good list of influential films from that period.

As a result, the book covers elements of film making, film distribution and dealing with studios, but not really in much depth. In fact, what was most interesting when reading it now is wondering whether there’s still a need for that type of role and how making films has changed. This was an era when extremely low budget meant $7,000 (El Mariachi) or $27,000 (Clerks) on 16mm film. Not an iPhone.

It was also an era before internet distribution – no Youtube or Vimeo. No Amazon or Netflix streaming. And none of the smaller online indie film sites like Indieflix.com, for example. And the book was published two years before the internet sensation of the Blair Witch Project…

Having said all that, it’s still a very interesting book. If you’ve got an outsider’s interest in film, then you’ll pick up some inspiration, and it’s a great example of someone risking their money and livelihood on things that they like and consider worth championing. Which doesn’t always pay off, but still resulted in a pretty incredible batting average. So if you’re interested, the wonderful vagaries of Amazon’s pricing algorithm mean you can get a secondhand copy anywhere from 1p to £23.47 depending on which apparently identical listing you click on.

 

Julian Dibbell: Play Money

Play Money by Julian Dibbell

I’m doing better with Play Money. It’s taken me less than a decade to finally get a copy of a book I’ve meant to read since I first heard about it. When it was written, the world of MMO gaming was relatively new and unknown. So the idea of a journalist taking a year out of work to try and earn a living purely within an online game seemed fairly odd to a lot of people. For me, it just seemed a fascinating glimpse into what might happen in the future..

And given the rise of MMOs and eSports, I’d like to tell my former self not to listen to the naysayers and invest more time and effort into the ideas he had back then…. darn it…

Anyway, it’s been interesting so far. I’m pretty early in, but it’s fascinating firstly to be transports back to the era of Ultima Online. For context, World of Warcraft was new and still growing in 2006. Second Life had appeared in 2003. And I was still in my twenties…

So while it’s not exactly a handbook for how to make a living from gaming in the modern age, it’s been an interesting look back so far. And it’ll be fun to see how many characters from the book are still active in gaming in some way…

Interestingly, author Julian Dibbell has recently switched from 20 years of writing about tech to becoming a tech attorney. Anyway, so far so good. and there are some shiny paperback copies of Play Money on Amazon, although the hardcover copy I chose appears to have vanished…

 

Mark Earls: Herd

Herd by Mark Earls

I’ve been waiting to dive into Herd to make sure I’m back to maximum focus. Mainly because I could have sworn I’d not only read it close to the original release, but also owned a copy.

Either it was a very rare time I lent a book to someone (I can only remember lending out a handful of books in my life, and the loss of the 2 I remember loaning out in the last 15 years still pains me), or I’d read some much insight from Mr Earls via articles, blogs, and Twitter etc that my memory started playing tricks on me.

But it seemed like a very pertinent time to re-read a book whose subtitle is ‘How to change mass behaviour by harnessing our true nature’, and it’ll be interesting to pick out which bits are relevant with the recent examples of Trump, Brexit and other mass behaviours…

I was also given a copy of Five on Brexit Island by some relatives recently. And looking at my profile on Goodreads, it appears than what I thought was a break of a few weeks after starting Cryptonomicon has turned into several months. In my defence, I did get distracted by motoring through the fantastic Ecko trilogy by Danie Ware, which I recommend to anyone who enjoys sci-fi, fantasy, and a healthy dose of vernacular English cursing.