Things that I’ve learned by attempting to disconnect from all media.

This past lent I decided to spend 40 days (and nights) disconnecting from all media (social and otherwise). I spent a good amount of time agonizing about avoiding my computer, the TV, my phone(s) and the other internet-connected-electronic devices. It was an exercise in willpower and watching myself constantly fail.

I understood that it was going to be a challenge when I made the public commitment. There were times during the media fast where backing out seemed simpler and easier. I didn’t, but (spoiler alert) I don’t feel I succeeded either.

The first few days were rough and resulted in continuous conversations that went like this:

Brain: So, no twitter eh?
Me: Yup.
Brain: 40 days?
Me: Yup!
Brain: Does HootSuite count as twitter?
Me: Yes.
Brain: What if you wrote an app that queries twitter?
Me: No! That’s cheating.
Brain: …

10 minutes later…

Brain: How about Instagram?
Me: Shit!

1. It’s really hard. Media is everywhere! I don’t logically care about the person who posts their awesome dinner at some fancy restaurant on Instagram. But in some ways, I do care. I also care about what drinks they’re drinking and their funny and witty hashtags. I also care that they are either doing yoga, or lifting weights at the gym or eating really decadent food. I don’t understand, when do these people work? And when do they eat McDonalds chicken nuggets like regular people?

2. You get a good understanding of how much you open your phone or browser to check Twitter / Facebook. Try this: Log out of all your social media sites on every single device. Now, get a Sharpie marker and draw a line on your arm every time you unconsciously open a social media site and presented with the login prompt. At the end of the day, my arm looked like one of those magic eye posters that cause seizures when you look at it with a strobe light.

3. You probably watch a lot of bad TV. Ok, look. My regular TV watching schedule is arguably not so bad. I like The Blacklist, Sleepy Hollow, Elementary and Suits. It’s that small amount of shows that you tend to catch from the corner of your eye when your wife is decompressing from a long day at work. It all adds up which brings me to my next point.

4. Your family probably watches a lot of bad TV. You can’t control what your family watches and you really shouldn’t attempt to. Just because you made the incredibly stupid decision to go on a media diet; doesn’t mean they need to be subjected it. But man, considering I’m not a regular of Grey’s Anatomy (where every season finale Shonda Rhimes kills everyone off), Vampire Diaries, or The Originals (spoiler alert: Vampire Diaries and The Originals are the same show); I’m pretty caught up.

5. Not all media is bad, but its hard to find the good ones. Trying to curate the media I consumed was very challenging and I spent a lot of time managing it: Trimming the Twitter list, the Facebook friends, uninstalling applications and the RSS reader feeds. I got it down to a manageable list, but keeping it lean and trimmed was a lot of work.

6. You’re going to fail. Disconnecting from (social) media is hard. It’s everywhere, companies know how to make it a part of your everyday conversation and hourly interactions. If I’m pissed at a product, my first instinct these days is not to address the issue 1 to 1 with a phone rep; it’s to publicly humiliate them on twitter (and hope to god that they acknowledge my tweet). It is just everywhere and your willpower can’t hold up to a 24/7 barrage of Pinterest pins, Twitter Retweets, Facebook rants and Youtuber jump cuts. But when you do fail, just pick yourself up, turn it off and try again.

How about you? Have you ever attempted a media disconnect? What was your inner-dialog?

Photo credit to Joe Shlabotnick.


No Media for Lent!

It’s been a while since I’ve actively participated in a Catholic Lenten observance. For those of you unfamiliar, it is when people commit to fasting or giving up certain types of luxuries as a form of penitence.

I’m not generally too religious but I thought that I’d try and remove some luxuries for the duration of Lent. It starts on March 5th and ends on April 17th.

So for Lent 2014, I decided to give up media.

Generally, I’m not a big media consumer but I do enjoy a few guilty pleasures like listening to CBC on my drive in to work, consuming my favourite RSS feeds, and flippin’ through Flipboard when I have nothing to do. I’m not a big consumer of TV but I love movies and music. These days though my biggest media vices are podcasts and audiobooks.

It’s hard to disconnect from all of it.

So why cut out this all this goodness? I think that I’m getting to the point that there is just too much and I can’t process all of it. I want to have more meaningful and worthy interactions with people and I think that the over consumption of information combined with the ease and accessibility of a smart phone is starting to impact my interactions with people.

I constantly choose to instant message or text first, and if they’re not available via IM then default to writing an email. Last Friday, I found myself delegating tasks and answering emails in my office for 2 hours straight. It was oddly comfortable.

People might start to think that I’m just an IM window or an email robot and replace me with a small python shell script.

So what is the protocol?

I’m limiting myself to the books that I’m reading for my BHAGs and / or 40 minutes of TV to unwind at the end of the day (that’s two 30-minute shows or one 1-hour show sans commercials). Movies will be limited to family time but will defer to the family’s choices.

Social media and Flipboard will be limited to a specific weekly timeframe of consumption and scheduling. Writing will still happen daily, but I’ll need to rely on some people to ensure that these updates / blog posts make it online.

Internet will be limited to the few required areas but batched and limited to very specific times of the day. This includes but not exclusive to: JIRA, RememberTheMilk, Basecamp, Asana, Git, Onenote, and Outlook.

That’s it. Wish me luck!


Weekend Getaway: Telus’ Science World

In 2014, one of my BHAG goals was to spend more time with the family over the weekends. To carve out a day here and there to do some activities for the kids. I’ve been experimenting with stuff that is both interesting for us (as the parents) and the kids.

We’ve gone to the mall and had lunch there. However, that seemed more like an outing for us parents rather than the kids. Mackenzee really enjoyed the Vancouver Aquarium. They have a jellyfish exhibit and she really can stare at those things forever. Chyler gets bored (as most 2 years can get) and starts to run a muck. Not good when you have sharks, stingrays, and jelly fish behind a glass wall and a 2 year old that has zero fear of running head first into the exhibit.

However what has really worked for us is Telus’ Science World. The kids love it!

There is a display in the first floor close to the entrance and it’s got a squid’s eye! Mackenzee loves it! She could stare at that (creepy looking) thing forever.

On the first floor there are puzzles everywhere. I spent a good chunk of time with Mackenzee just sitting down, explaining what to do and trying to figure things out together. It’s a good exercise in patience and problem solving.

On the second floor, things are a lot more interactivity for the kids. There is a space where they can learn to redirect the flow of water (and get wet). There are a few gravity based activities that involves watching a ball go down a series of bells and obstacles. One looks suspiciously like Plinko!

On both days, Chyler really enjoyed the interactive water exhibits. The water would start off and let gravity take it down. In the process, you can put down series of blocks which could redirect the water and make a faster current. Anytime a boy can play in the water and get himself wet is generally seen as a success.

There was a human body exhibit that would teach kids how long the intestine was (spoiler alert: really long). A place where they could put their hands on some sensors and a big drum would thump their heartbeats.

The small dinosaur exhibit was good enough because it had all of the dinosaurs regularly represented in Dinosaur Train PBS series. It was really hard to explain that they were looking at the insides of Buddy and Tiny and avoiding the fact that they were dead.

Here are some pictures! There isn’t a lot. Cheryl and I spent most of the day chasing after them running between the exhibits worried that they might some how destroy things rather than taking pictures.

Took the featured photo from this site because, it’s a cool picture.

BHAG Status Report 1

I’ve published my first (and really scary) status report to my accountability team. They are holding me accountable to my goals  in 2014.

If you’d like to join the team use the form below:

Hold me accountable to my goals!


My simple steps to the perfect restaurant steak

I’m giving up some sort of membership into the men’s club when I admit this: I suck at grilling and general BBQ’ing. It just isn’t going to happen. I remember when I was a kid, I used to attempt making hamburgers at home. They always came out dry and hockey puck-ish. Any other more complicated piece of meat would either turn undercooked (dangerous, especially if it’s chicken) or burnt (not very edible).

The issue with grilling is that each piece of meat is different and a person would need to instinctively know how long each piece needs to be grilled for. Instincts takes a lot of time to develop for me and I don’t BBQ or grill enough to develop them.

Fast forward many years later. I marry Cheryl who grills an excellent steak. Life is good, there is no need to learn. The BBQ is simply an outdoor equipment in the patio used by my dad, my father-in-law or Cheryl.

That said a good and perfect restaurant steak (without going to the Keg and spending $30 for 1 plate) was always a missing piece in my kitchen arsenal. That is until I found the sous vide.

A sous vide isn’t something that is too widely used / known by people outside of the restaurant industry. However, I think that it should be a staple in your kitchen along side that slow cooker, stove or oven. It’s a gadget that leaves a wide room for error and is relatively simple to use.

Here are the steps to cook any food in the sous vide:

  1. Fill Sous Vide with water, set temp and start.
  2. Season food.
  3. Vacuum pack food.
  4. Put vacuum packed food into sous vide
  5. Wait.
  6. If needed, sear food with a blow torch (or a really hot pan).

They’re very simple and sequential steps.

The unfortunate fact is that these sous vide machines are incredibly expensive (think $400 – $600) and they’re pretty limited in size which means that you can only cook a small amount of food at any given time. Enter the Anova Sous Vide. I bought one as a Christmas present to myself and it arrived a few weeks later.

I immediately tackled something really complicated: soft boiled eggs. First experiment didn’t really turn out too well. Upon cracking the eggs were under-cooked (thank god that I did it over the sink) but that was because I was too excited and didn’t leave enough time for the eggs to cook. So understanding that time was a critical factor, I set off to conquer steaks.

I bought a few cuts of my favourite beef cut: rib eye steak (go big or go home). I also prepped each steak with relatively simple set of ingredients: garlic cloves, butter, thyme, canola oil, salt and pepper.

So following the steps above, here is what I did:

  1. Set the sous vide to 54 degrees (that’s around 130 degrees F) to get a medium rare steak for the thickness of the cut.
  2. Season the steak with a salt and pepper, garlic cloves, butter and thyme.
  3. Vacuum seal the steak in a Food Saver bag. This was actually the more challenging part because I didn’t really know how to use the sealer. I ended up struggling with the sealer for a bit.
  4. Put vacuum sealed steaks into water.
  5. Wait… in this case, I waited 2.5 hours. Which was timed perfectly because Cheryl was working late and didn’t get home until that time.
  6. Sear! Get a pan really hot, put some oil (you’ll need high temp oil like canola), pull the steak out of the bag, pat dry with a paper towel and seer that sucker!
  7. Eat!

The steak turned out a perfect medium rare and evenly cooked throughout the cut (thin parts, thick parts were all medium rare). The only draw back is the time, but if you’re a planner like me then that is easy to get around.

Wait, you cooked a steak for 2.5 hours?

Yea, I know it’s a lot of time but hear me out. The food doesn’t get overcooked because the water bath’s temperature is very precisely and accurately maintained. [There are a lot of explanations around the net why this works.] In this case, the temperature never goes too far above 54 degrees C. So the steak does need some time to sit and allow the collagen to melt (this causes juicier steaks that fall apart nicely).

But for sous vide cooking, you really need to understand the minimum cooking time. This is where I screwed up with soft boiled eggs.

You’re pretty safe leaving it there for a long periods of time. You can even miss the minimum cooking time by a couple hours; but I suppose if you leave it in there for 24+ hours you’d have a problem (ie mushy steak, yuck).

Dude, sealing food in plastic bags? Aren’t you scared of getting cancer from BPA?

Yes, don’t use a ziplock (even though most people say they’re ok). Food savers bags are safe and you can apparently get them at Walmart. They’re like Starbucks these days, one in every street.

A Self-Experimentation Documentation and the Personal Blog of Ritchie Macapinlac