The Age of Distraction or Why I Use Aeroplane Mode on Land

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We live in an always on and always available age where the expectation is that you can contact anyone at anytime. This is a positive thing but it has some negative effects.

One of the most significant negative effects I believe, is the disruption caused by notifications popping up on your phone. Lest I sound like a luddite, I’m completely pro-social media, but it has a time and a place.

One of the places where this is most disruptive is during the work day. I enjoy being productive and I am always on the lookout for new ways or tools I can utilise to get more stuff done. This also includes removing unnecessary distractions and disruptions. My rationale for using Aeroplane Mode “on land” is quite simple. I simply want to take ownership of my time. I don’t want my attention to be stolen by the latest message/notification I have got.

An intermediate step is turning off/muting all your notifications. However this requires effort and being selective. While one can argue that you can turn off annoying notifications (and I do), there are always some that you may want to leave on, however getting them at the time of someone else’s choosing can be very disruptive. Thus I use a blanket approach. I simply turn on Aeroplane Mode when I don’t want to be disrupted. It’s easy and convenient.

One of the cornerstones of any productive time management technique is identifying what’s important & urgent and then executing that task, then moving onto the next task and so forth. If you get notifications intermittently throughout the day then this gives multiple opportunities to be distracted.

You then need to exercise discipline to not react to each disruption. This requires effort. Effort that can be better utilised focusing on productive activity.

Concentration is a form of currency and you can increase/decrease it. Levels of concentration are being eroded by the “always-on” culture we live in and I believe it is necessary to adopt a deliberate approach to combat this. If you are not managing your concentration levels and removing opportunities for distraction, then when you do need all of your focus, you simply won’t have that much left to draw down.

If it’s easy for you to check your phone, you probably will. Checking your phone is a form of mental snacking where you are get a regular hit of dopamine from your newsfeed on Facebook, latest pics on Instagram, WhatsApps, Snaps etc. While you might see a Whatsapp from a friend that you might want to respond to straight away, you could easily end up “just checking something” and 20 mins later, you are wondering where the time went.

Various sources state that the time taken to refocus on a particular task is somewhere between 15-25 minutes. It varies for each person and there is no general rule to apply other then to state that it’s non-trivial.

While I am on the topic of distractions, two of my other pet peeves are:

  • The ubiquitious pop up notification of a new email in MS Outlook. Turn. It. Off. You are wasting your time. Email should not require an instantaneous response. If someone sends an email and expects a near instantaneous response, they are using the wrong channel. I’m aware of various workplaces where this is the norm so there may be no avoiding it, but I still stand by this as a general statement.
  • Positioning your phone directly beside your monitor/laptop. You might as well stick it in the middle of your screen. Why not put somewhere where it is not dominating your attention? This practice coupled with notifications on is a recipe for almost no productivity.

In closing, I will acknowledge that this approach is not always suitable and there could be time critical situations where it is not suitable or instances which might lead to you feeling like you are missing out. However in my experience, this has not been an issue.

Go on, give it a try. Throw on Aeroplane Mode and notice the difference.

How I Make Coffee

This post describes the steps I follow to make a filter coffee.

  1. Here’s what you need to get started:

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2. Steps

  • Measure out beans
    • About 12g of beans is optimal. But a little more or less won’t ruin the brew. Remember to tare off the weight of the grinder before putting in the beans

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  • Grind Beans
    • Remember to set up your grinder at an appropriate level. You’re not looking for an ultra fine espresso grind but something a bit coarser, about 8/9 clicks is what I would generally use. More detail at this link: Hario Grind Settings. It should only take a few minutes to grind this amount of beans, if it’s taking ages you’ll know your grind is too fine.
  • Boil Water
    • I generally boil a regular kettle of water (see below for some further discussion on this) and then let it cool to 82 deg. Celsius approx.
    • While the water is cooling, take the lid of the AeroPress
      and attach a filter. Give it a quick rinse with cold water.IMG_20150727_200017
  • Make the Brew
    • With the AeroPress sitting on the Weighing Scales, pour in 100g approx of the 82 deg. Celsius water.IMG_20150727_200927
    • Then pour in the ground beans then give a quick stir with a teaspoon.IMG_20150727_200851
    • Then pour in another 100g approx of the 82 deg. Celsius water. Give another quick stir. There should be a nice crema appearing at this stage.
    • Put the lid with the rinsed filter on and then twist to tighten. Push the top down to remove any air gap between the top of the brew and the top of the AeroPress.
    • Give your cup a rinse of hot water before filtering in coffee to remove any residues or dust.
    • Turn the AeroPress upside down and sit it on the cupIMG_20150727_201021
    • Gently press the top down. You should be be pressing for approx 15 – 20 seconds. Don’t press it all the way through, stopping before you hear the air wheeze.
    • Sit back, relax and enjoy your very own filter coffee.IMG_20150727_201158

3. Other Considerations

  • Grinding: Most coffee retailers offer to grind their coffee for you. This is convenient if you don’t have a grinder but note that the ground coffee won’t keep for as long as unground beans.
  • Water: I haven’t gone into any specifics about water here as I have generally used unfiltered tap water, which I acknowledge is sacrilege to many AeroPressenthusiasts who insist that bottled water must be used. It’s something which I intend to experiment with
  • This method makes about half a regular cup. Depending on your preference, you can easily top it up with some water to make it more Americano-esque.

4. Resources

There are many ways to use the AeroPress and the above is what I have used many times and have always got a good result. However, don’t assume that it’s perfect! A quick google will find websites, podcasts, videos aplenty if you want to delve deeper.

The method I have outlined here is based on what Tim Ferriss described in the The 4 Hour Chef and also in the below video.

Hopefully the above is useful, send me your thoughts and feedback on Twitter @eoindelahunty

Podcasting & Advertising

I caught the podcast bug when I heard about Serial. Initially I listened out of curiosity, very quickly I progressed to full on addiction! Thankfully in some ways I only “got involved” after all the episodes had been released so I could progress through each episode at my own rapid pace. This post however is not a thesis on the story of Adnan Syed, Hae Min Lee and of course the excellent narrator Sarah Koenig.

This post is about the podcasting phenomenon, how it is developing focusing particularly on the use of advertising. It appears that This American Life is the cradle from which the future of podcasting is emerging. This American Life is popular podcast on WBEZ, a Chicago public radio station. Both the aforementioned Sarah Koenig and the founder behind Gimlet Media Alex Blumberg were colleagues at “This American Life”.

Gimlet Media, founded by Alex Blumberg, have released two shows so far “Start Up” and “Reply All”. I’m nearly finished listening to the first show “Start Up”  which prompted me to write this post. My best summary of what “Start Up” is about is to say that it’s a podcast about a startup company which wants to make podcasts.
The fascinating thing about “Start Up” is that it is part behind-the-scenes documentary, part how-to-start-a-business manual, part drama and is based on real events. The story starts with Alex having a rough idea of what he wants his new company to do and progresses through various events and challenges he must deal with, including formation of his company, change in lifestyle, raising of venture capital, hiring of people, launching new material and growing the business.
Obviously, one of the key aspects of any business is to develop a sustainable revenue model. In Start Up’s case, they have two advertising spots in each half hour episode. The refreshing thing about the type of advertising used is that it almost seems like it’s part of the story, this is generally referred to as “native advertising”. Native advertising is where an ad doesn’t sound like an ad and sounds like a continuation of the episode instead of a break in flow. In each episode, Alex interviews the founder or director of marketing of the advertiser in question and asks them to explain an aspect of their product or service. The content in each ad is engaging, original and certainly maintains one’s attention much more than the standard radio/TV ad which is much less personable and seems more like someone shouting in your face. Hearing the ad in the narrator’s voice increases the trust and likelihood is that the listener will automatically have a much higher opinion of the advertiser than would otherwise be the case. The rationale being that you are more likely to listen to a recommendation from a friend rather than the ubiquitous banner ad.
The other positive thing is that Start Up is careful to inform listeners when they are moving to advertising mode from narration mode. Even when they make a mess of their advertising strategy, they are quick to own up and no attempt is made to sweep it under the carpet (See Episode 9).
Obviously different types of podcast will need different types of advertising and I’m not sure if native advertising would work as well in Serial. In their podcast, they decided to do a quick call out at the start and end of each episode. Their subject was however less suited to the use of native advertising but what Serial did well was to use their audience to self finance through the use of crowdfunding, so much so, that they raised enough to have a second season.
In many ways, the key message for any would podcast creators, as paraphrased in “The Social Network” is:
“Make it cool before you try to monetize it”.
I hope to write further posts on the podcasting phenomenon in the coming weeks and months. I also have included some links below to the podcasts I mention:
Serial:
Start Up:
Reply All:
Native Advertising:

A Weekend in Lisbon

If I am to describe Lisbon in one word, it would be “antiquated”. Although that usually has negative connotations I mean it in more an affectionate manner.

Nothing really looks new or clean and if it did, it would probably be out of place.  There is a discernible sense of faded grandeur about the place. Many buildings looked in need of a lick of paint and a clean up.

That is not to say I wouldn’t recommend it though. Some of my personal highlights:

Lisbon is renowned for its old trams. They are  small and quaint and it feels like you are in a moving museum however they are used by locals and  tourists alike to navigate the undulating landscape. Tram 28 is one of the best known. I took it from near the castle up to its terminus near the Jardim da Estrela. Its a great way to see the city and certainly a novelty.

There are a number of viewing points throughout the city but the view from Castelo de Sao Jorge is probably the best.

Looking back across the city from Castelo de Sao Jorge:

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The view from the Hotel Chiado terrace as the sun sets on Castelo de Sao Jorge:

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Just outside Lisbon, the Belem Tower can be easily reached by bus:

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The Padrão dos Descobrimentos is also close by:

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 A little further out, Cascais is situated about 40 km to north west of Lisbon. There is a frequent train service linking it to Lisbon. The one way fare is the princely sum of €2.15. A nice way to spend an afternoon is to walk along the promenade from Cascais back to Estoril. Its a nice stretch along the seafront. You can then get the train back to Lisbon from Estoril.
The bay in Cascais:
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The Estoril coastline:

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Another town within easy reach of Lisbon is Sintra. I didn’t visit it on this trip but it’s supposed to be  particularly beautiful.

Bairra Alto is the hub of the nightlife where you can find all the main bars and restaurants. It only livens up around 11 where the narrow streets become crowded and there is a good buzz with everyone standing outside drinking and chatting.

Grapes and Bites is both a hostel and the restaurant located in Bairra Alto. They have an excellent selection of local wines and ports. They also have live music most nights. Mostly covers on acoustic guitar but the evening I visited was particularly good. Everything from Layla to Californication with an original twist!

 A few other things:

A little off putting is the sheer volume of guys trying to sell drugs. “Psssh hash, cocaine, marijuana” is a consistent refrain. They obviously think that every guy in his mid twenties is mad to buy drugs! Despite this, there was no sense of unease  or danger around.

In general, I was not blown away by the standard of the food. There were plenty of nice places but nothing which I would be rushing back for. That said nothing is particularly expensive either.

I was taken aback by the amount of Germans I encountered. Over the few days I was there, it was very noticeable the amount of German accents I heard in a number of the different sites. Interesting!

The weather was very pleasant. Most of the time it was cloudy but no proper rain and nice spells of sunshine.  Considering it was mid October, it was great to be able to wear shorts and t-shirts throughout. Even at night it was not particularly cold.

Lisbon is a hilly cobblestoned city. Bring a comfortable pair of walking shoes.

There is an excellent public transport system. A 24 hour ticket for the bus/tram/metro costs €6. This is very good when compared to most cities. Alternatively you can pay a once off fare of 50 cent for a reusable card where each (metro not sure about bus/tram) trip will cost €1.40.

The airport is also just over a half an hour from the city centre on the metro which is particularly convenient.

5 Things to do for Free in Berlin

Some minimal cost may be involved but nearly free doesn’t have the same ring to it.

1. Do a Walking Tour

There are a number of free walking tours available. Most visit in the main sites and take about 3 hours. It is generally practice to offer the tour guide a tip based on how much you have enjoyed the tour. I would generally give €5-€10. The good thing about these tours is that you will be brought to the main sights which you’ll probably want to see anyway and you might learn something along the way.
2. Visit the East Side Gallery

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Apart from the part of the Berlin Wall adjacent to the Topography of Terror is located, this is probably the best remaining example of the wall. There are murals with various  themes along both sides. It also isn’t a crazy busy place and there’s a nice little park along by the river. The area of Friedrichshain a short walk away contains many nice bars and cafes and is worth a look around.
3. Visit the Holocaust Memorial & Topography of Terrors

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These two are certainly not the most uplifting attractions to visit but are excellent in their own way.
Firstly, the memorial to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust is certainly appropriate and profound in a number of ways. The way it looks like a graveyard, the distorted effect of walking through it as well as the individual but orderly fashion in which each stone is placed. There is also a museum underground where you can learn more about the various Concentration Camps and the way Nazis systematically murdered so many people.
Secondly, the Topography of Terror details  the rise of the SS and the way that they operated their campaign of oppression and control whilst occupying countries during the war as well their role in the Holocaust. What most fascinated me was the details of how prominent Nazis fared once the war had ended and how some were allowed to lead relative normal lives without repercussions.
Most people feel a bit shit after visiting one or both of these places but we must never forget!
4. Drink in Public
Ok so you will actually have to buy a beer somewhere first, but it can be quite refreshing to stroll around and see Berlin with camera in one hand and bottle in the other. This option works well with 1. & 2. but don’t even think about doing it with 3.
5. Visit the Reichstag

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Although the politically correct name is the Bundestag. All the locals refer to it as the Bundestag. This is the big building near the Brandenburg Gate where the German Parliament sits. Entry is free although it is advisable that you book ahead of time on their website www.bundestag.de

The Barn

It can often be difficult to get really great coffee, particularly in a city which you are less than familiar with, not even mentioning the merciless bombardment by Starbucks this and Costa that.  Thankfully, Berlin has an abundance of people who value quality coffee and plenty of coffee connoisseurs to meet that demand.

Situated a little bit away from the main thoroughfares on Auguststrasse, The Barn is a compact little coffee shop whose owners offer an authentic “third-wave” experience. I went there mainly because it was close to where I was staying. But as soon as I got arrived, it was clear that these guys meant business. When you see the freshly roasted coffee on the shelves, it’s always a good sign.

They also have a second location which is used primarily  as their roastery and they host events there also. There was a talk by James Hoffmann of Squaremile Coffee Roasters on the same day. Unfortunately I didn’t make it but it clearly shows the approach of  “The Barn” to their craft.

As far the coffee itself, it was fantastic. From the first sip, there was smoothness and delicate flavours coming through.  A good flat white is hard to beat and this was up there.  Particularly when you get the aftertaste and caffeine buzz later.

Although not spacious inside, sitting outside it was the kind of place where you could go in for a quick espresso and spend the day there reading or watching the world go by.

 

Burgermeister

Situated in a disused Kreuzberg public toilet, Burgermeister certainly captures the quirkiness and vibe that defines Berlin. We arrived on a Tuesday evening and already there was a queue of about 15/20 people waiting to order.

As my friend waited in line, not being one to enjoy a queue, I hopped into the nearest bar, picking up a couple of takeaway (€2) pints. Drinking in public seems like such a novelty to someone who normally resides in Dublin.

Once we got in sight of the menu, I did a double take when I saw the prices. All (or nearly all) burgers were under €5, with sides available for just over €2.

I went for the Hausmeister and my friend had the Meisterburger along with two sides of chilli chips. Each burger was generous in size and cooked to perfection with enough juiciness present.  The buns were also just on the fluffy side which shows the attention the guys at Burgermeister put into each meal. The chips were unexceptional but certainly didn’t take from the enjoyment of the burger.

This place already has an excellent reputation,  and when I mentioned it to few locals, they recommended it whilst quickly insisting not to tell anyone. Go there!