Notes from Rolf Potts’ “Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel”

I’m not inherently a person who likes to travel a lot, although I have been to a few places within the country in recent years because there were specific experiences I’ve never done before and wanted to try, like going on an airplane ride, visiting an interesting museum, or learning how to surf. I enjoyed those experiences, even though those were mostly brief getaways with friends. Rolf Potts, however, in his book titled “Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel“, wants us to consider travelling in the long-term rather than living for hurried weekend trips and why.

Some favorite lines from the book:

  • Travel isn’t just for changing what’s outside, it’s for reinventing what’s inside.
  • For some reason, we see long-term travel to faraway lands as a recurring dream or an exotic temptation, but not something that applies to the here and now. Instead – out of our insane duty to fear, fashion, and monthly payments on things we don’t really need – we quarantine our travels to short, frenzied bursts. In this way, as we throw our wealth at an abstract notion called lifestyle, travel becomes just another accessory – a smooth-edged, encapsulated experience that we purchase the same way we buy clothing and furniture.
  • The more we associate experience with cash value, the more we think that money is what we need to live. And the more we associate money with life, the more we convince ourselves that we’re too poor to buy our freedom.
  • No combination of one-week or ten-day vacations will truly take you away from the life you lead at home. Vagabonding involves taking an extended time-out from your normal life – six weeks, four months, two years – travel the world on your own terms.
  • Wanting to travel reflects a positive attitude. You want to see, to grow in experience, and presumably to become more whole as a human being. Vagabonding takes this a step further: it promotes the chances of sustaining and strengthening this positive attitude. As a vagabond, you begin to face your fears now and then instead of continuously sidestepping them in the name of convenience. You build an attitude that makes life more rewarding, which in turn makes it easier to keep doing it.
  • Vagabonding is not like bulk shopping: the value of your travels does not hinge on how many stamps you have in your passport when you get home – and the slow, nuanced  experience of a single country is always better than the hurried, superficial experience of forty countries.
  • If there’s one key concept to remember amid the excitement of your first days on the road, it’s this: slow down. You must keep in mind that the whole point of long-term travel is having the time to move deliberately through the world. Vagabonding is about not merely re-allotting a portion of your life for travel but rediscovering the entire concept of time. At home, you’re conditioned to get to the point and get things done, to favor goals and efficiency over moment-by-moment distinction. On the road, you learn to improvise your days, take a second look at everything you see, and not obsess over your schedule.
  • When you want to hurry something, that means you no longer care about it and want to get on to other things.
  • Shortly after arriving at your initial destination, find a beachhead (be it an actual beach, an urban travelers’ ghetto, or an out-of-the-way town) and spend a few days relaxing ad acclimating yourself. Don’t strike off to hit all the sights or actualize all your travel fantasies from the get-go. Stay organized and interested, but don’t keep a things to do list. Watch and listen to your environment. Take pleasure in small details and differences. Look more and analyze less; take things as they come. Practice your flexibility and patience – and don’t decide in advance how long you’ll stay in one place or another.
  • Don’t set limits on what you can or can’t do. Don’t set limits on what is or isn’t worthy of your time. Dare yourself to play games with your day: watch, wait, listen; allow things to happen. Wherever you are, be it the Vatican gift shop, a jungle village in Panama, or downtown Ouagadougou – keep aware of the tiniest tics and details that surround you. Anything that is remarked, even little flowers or leaves picked up off the ground and shown to a child, even a shoeshine or gravel pit, anything is potentially an attraction.
  • The greater value is not in what you’ve seen and checked off the list, but in what you’ve learned deeply, the hard way.
  • Once you have learned the basics, it becomes clear that having less work is easy. It’s filling the void with more life that is hard. Finding excitement, as it turns out, takes more thought than simple workaholism. But don’t fret. That’s where all the rewards are.
  • What I find is that you can do almost anything or go almost anywhere, if you’re not in a hurry.
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Choosing Variables

We consider a lot of things when we build and test software.

Who are our customers? On which browsers or platforms do we target to deploy our application? Does our software load fast enough for a considerable number of users? Are we vulnerable for SQL injection and cross-site scripts? What happens when two or more people use a specific feature at the same time? Is our API stable and structured well enough for its purpose? How easy is it to set up our apps from scratch? Do we handle rollbacks? What metrics should we monitor on production? Do we feel happy about our happy paths and other not-so-happy paths? What actual problem is our app trying to solve?

There’s a fair amount of room for making mistakes. Bugs can creep in where there are gaps. Some errors are likely to occur while we are building and testing stuff because there’s just so many variables involved.

That’s how things are. There’s not one but several moving parts. It’s up to us to decide whether to be overwhelmed at the complexity or decide to get better at finding out which things to look out for and learn those.

The same is true in building and testing the life we choose to live.

Lessons Learned from Scott Adams’ “How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big”

Last week I had a lovely time reading “How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big” by cartoonist Scott Adams. His views on success and happiness, and his formula for increasing the odds of success through failures are intriguing, based on his life experiences. He shares ideas about goals and systems, skills, happiness, priorities, and personal energy, which provides a guide for living well. Some of those ideas are ones I already exercise, while others have provided answers to goals that have failed me in the past as well as reasons to why I’ve acted a certain way before. It’s refreshing to learn something new about existing patterns of behavior.

Here are some favorite quotes from the book:

  • A goal is a specific objective that you either achieve or don’t sometime in the future. A system is something you do on a regular basis that increases your odds of happiness in the long run. If you do something every day, it’s a system. If you’re waiting to achieve it someday in the future, it’s a goal. Goal-oriented people exist in a state of continuous pre-success failure at best, and permanent failure at worst if things never work out. Systems people succeed every time they apply their systems, in the sense that they did what they intended to do. The goals people are fighting the feeling of discouragement at each turn. The systems people are feeling good every time they apply their system. That’s a big difference in terms of maintaining your personal energy. Goals only make sense if you also have a system that moves you in the right direction.
  • One of the most important tricks for maximizing your productivity involves matching your mental state to the task. For example, when I first wake up, my brain is relaxed and creative. The thought of writing a comic is fun, and it’s relatively easy because my brain is in exactly the right mode for that task. I know from experience that trying to be creative in the mid-afternoon is a waste of time. By 2:00 PM all I can do is regurgitate the ideas I’ve seen elsewhere. At 6:00 AM I’m a creator, and by 2:00 PM I’m a copier.
  • The way I approach the problem of multiple priorities is by focusing on just one main metric: my energy. I make choices that maximize my personal energy because that makes it easier to manage all of the other priorities. Maximizing my personal energy means eating right, exercising, avoiding unnecessary stress, getting enough sleep, and all of the obvious steps. But it also means having something in my life that makes me excited to wake up.
  • It’s useful to think of your priorities in terms of concentric circles, like an archery target. In the center is your highest priority: you. If you ruin yourself, you won’t be able to work on any other  priorities. So taking care of your own health is job one. The next ring – and your second-biggest priority is economics. That includes your job, your investments, and even your house. You might wince at the fact that I put economics ahead of your family, your friends, and the rest of the world, but there’s a reason. If you don’t get your personal financial engine working right, you place a burden on everyone from your family to the country. Once you are both healthy and financially sound, it’s time for the third ring: family, friends, and lovers. Good health and sufficient money are necessary for a base level of happiness, but you need to be right with your family, friends, and romantic partners to truly enjoy life.
  • There’s a formula for success. You can manipulate your odds of success by how you choose to fill out the variables in the formula. The formula, roughly speaking, is that every skill you acquire doubles your odds of success. Good + Good > Excellent. If you think extraordinary talent and a maniacal pursuit of excellence are necessary for success, I say that’s just one approach, and probably the hardest. When it comes to skills, quantity often beats quality.
  • I find it helpful to see the world as a slot machine that doesn’t ask you to put money in. All it asks is your time, focus, and energy to pull the handle over and over. A normal slot machine that requires money will bankrupt any player in the long run. But the machine that has rare yet certain payoffs, and asks for no money up front, is a guaranteed winner if you have what it takes yo keep yanking until you get lucky. In that environment, you can fail 99% of the time, while knowing success is guaranteed. All you need to do is stay in the game long enough.
  • The single biggest trick for manipulating your happiness chemistry is being able to do what you want, when you want. I’m contrasting that with the more common situation, in which you might be able to do all the things you want, but you can’t often do them when you want. The timing of things can be more important than the intrinsic value of the things. It’s hard to become rich enough to buy your own private island, but, relatively speaking, it’s easier to find a job with flexible hours. A person with a flexible schedule and average resources will be happier than a rich person who has everything except a flexible schedule. Step one in your search for happiness is to continually work toward having control of your schedule.
  • No one wants to believe that the formula for happiness is as simple as daydreaming, controlling your schedule, napping, eating right, and being active every day. You’d feel like an idiot for suffering so many unhappy days while not knowing the cure was so accessible.
  • The happiness formula:
    • Eat right
    • Exercise
    • Get enough sleep
    • Imagine an incredible future (even if you don’t believe it)
    • Work toward a flexible schedule
    • Do things you can steadily improve at
    • Help others (if you’ve already helped yourself)
    • Reduce daily decisions to routine
  • Always remember that failure is your friend. It is the raw material of success. Invite it in. Learn from it. And don’t let it leave until you pick its pocket.

The Harajuku Moment

On a chapter from Timothy Ferriss‘s book titled “The 4-Hour Body“, he talks about something significant called the Harajuku moment, described as:

.. an epiphany that turns a nice-to-have into a must-have.

The expression actually came from a realization Chad Fowler (programmer, writer, co-organizer of RubyConf and RailsConf) had in Harajuku with friends some time in the past, while window shopping and lamenting how unfashionable he was. He noticed the tone of helplessness in his own words as he talked about his obesity, and felt angry at himself for being an idiot who went with the flow, making excuses, for many years.

After that defining moment, he turned things around and lost nearly a 100 pounds.

Two years in a row of annual physical exams (2015-2016), I was told that I have hypertension. The previous years I also felt that I tire quickly, becoming more so as the days went by. I’m just over 30, skinny, and believed that I should still be in my prime but was not. I wondered why things turned out the way they did, and eventually recognized that existing habits did not help me become the healthy person I thought I was.

I’m now performing weight-lifts and body-weight exercises 4 times a week, and is in my best shape in the past 10 years or so. What’s interesting is that making the change was actually fun and somewhat easy, very unlike the grueling and exasperating experience I initially thought it would be. I plan to keep things up, gaining as much strength as I can and keeping body fat percentage minimal.

What the Harajuku moment tells us is that, often, on most days, we have insufficient reason to take action. We only have nice-to-haves. We tell ourselves it would be nice to get fit, go on a date with that someone we really like, have a well refactored code, travel internationally, or learn a new skill. But the nice-to-haves do not give us enough pain to move forward. That’s why we sometimes feel we’re stuck in a rut.

Our nice-to-haves must first turn to must-haves before we can take advice and act.

Five People and Their Thoughts (Part 6)

Some engaging articles I’d like to share today:

  • The Failures of ‘Intro to TDD’ (by Justin Searls, about classic test-driven development, code katas, what TDD’s primary benefit actually is, mocks, and discovery testing)
  • Branching is Easy. So? Git-flow Is Not Agile (by Camille Fournier, on Git, tooling, teams, developing software with agility, how easy it is to create feature branches with Git, and some reasons why you don’t need it)
  • What’s Wrong With Estimates? (by Yorgos Saslis, about estimates, why we are being asked to provide estimates, and the pitfalls of the ways we are using them)
  • A New Social Contract for Open Source (by Eran Hammer, on open-source, free code but paid time, sponsorship, making clear rules and specifying benefits, and sustainability)
  • Introducing Example Mapping (by Matt Wynne, about conversations to clarify and confirm acceptance criteria, feedback, colored index cards, and the benefits of writing examples when exploring a problem domain)

Favorite Talks from Agile Testing Days 2017

There are two things that’s wonderful from last year’s Agile Testing Days conference talks: content focusing on other valuable stuff for testers and teams (not automation), and having as many women speakers as there are men. I hope they continue on with that trend.

Here’s a list of my favourite talks from said conference (enjoy!):

  • How To Tell People They Failed and Make Them Feel Great (by Liz Keogh, about Cynefin, our innate dislike of uncertainty and love of making things predictable, putting safety nets and allowing for failure, learning reviews, letting people change themselves, building robust probes, and making it a habit to come from a place of care)
  • Pivotal Moments (by Janet Gregory, on living in a dairy farm, volunteering, traveling, toastmasters, Lisa Crispin, Mary Poppindieck and going on adventures, sharing failures and taking help, and reflecting on pivotal moments)
  • Owning Our Narrative (by Angie Jones, on the history of the music industry so far, the changes in environment, tools, and business models musicians have had to go through so survive, and embracing changes and finding ways to fulfil our roles as software testers)
  • Learning Through Osmosis (by Maaret Pyhäjärvi, on mob programming and osmosis,  creating safe spaces to facilitate learning, and the power of changing some of our beliefs and behaviour)
  • There and Back Again: A Hobbit’s/Developer’s/Tester’s Journey (by Pete Walen, on how software was built in the old days, how testing and programming broke up into silos, and a challenge for both parties to go back at excelling at each other’s skills and teaming up
  • 10 Behaviours of Effective Agile Teams (by Rob Lambert, about shipping software and customer service, becoming a more effective employee, behaviours, and communicating well)

Notes from Scott James’ “Bony to Brawny: No B.S. Techniques To Stack On Slabs Of Lean Muscle Mass And Get Strong As Hell Regardless Of How Skinny You Are”

I have always been a skinny dude. And I have always thought that I won’t change, that it’s just the way things are for me. But keeping the same diet and sedentary lifestyle for many years has taken its toll in recent years and, although I have not been sickly, my energy levels just did not feel the same as it has been when I was younger. I tire easily now than before, even when I don’t really go out much. Perhaps it’s just age doing its thing, like we are supposed to get tired faster as we get older. But it is a nagging feeling, it does not feel good at all, and is something that I decided I want to find a sustainable way of correcting this year if possible.

Reading Scott James’ ‘Bony to Brawny‘ book (and actually changing diet and exercise habits) is taking multiple steps forward towards that goal.

Some takeaways from the book:

  • The funny thing is I have literally never regretted a workout – it just doesn’t happen. The release of endorphins and the feeling of knowing you’re making progress towards your goals while improving your health, mobility, and well-being is intense.
  • If you’ve been skinny all your life, chances are you haven’t been eating much in terms of calories. When you’re entering a bulking phase, the amount of food may seem overwhelming. Focus on liquid nutrition. Consuming two shakes (depending on how many calories you incorporate) plus two solid meals will without a doubt place you in a the caloric range you need to be hitting to pack on some solid lean muscle mass.
  • There is no food out there that’ll make you gain muscle at a quicker rate than another food. The food itself won’t build muscle – the calories and macro-nutrients it contains will. Try fish, chicken breast, eggs, cottage cheese, almonds, brown rice, milk, and sweet potatoes.
  • Eating fat will not make you fat at all. Fat is essential for regulating hormones. Excess calories make you fat – not any particular macro-nutrient itself (protein, carbohydrates, or fat).
  • For optimal performance in sports and resistance training, as well keeping your appetite in check, consumer at least 30% of your daily calories from protein, with the remaining 70% coming from a breakdown of carbs and fats. If you neglect your protein intake you will not be able to be able to build and retain lean muscle; if all you’re eating is carbohydrates and fat, you’ll be packing on the pounds in the form of stored body fat.
  • In order to build that muscle mass and shred that fat, you need to create the demand for your body to do so. After ongoing demand, your body begins to adapt, and adaption is growth. This demand is solely created inside the gym – i.e. lifting heavy weights! An exercise regime based on compound movements will force your body to adapt – heavy squats, deadlifts, bench presses and overhead presses in the low rep range will create the demand far better than any isolation based workout regime based around light dumbbells or machines.
  • Without a caloric surplus, you won’t pack on any muscle mass. At the same time, if lifting is neglected and dieting is honed in on to the utmost detail, you’re still on the road to fat gain as your body is not being forced to adapt and grow (using this caloric surplus to repair your body and build muscle)
  • As a newcomer, you will find the demand is quite easy as your body has never experienced such stress before. However, as time goes on, you must apply progressive overload in order to keep the demand going. Increasing the weight you’re lifting, increasing the time your muscles are under tension, adding in a few additional reps – these techniques are designed to place an increased load on your muscles each and every workout. In essence, the demand must become greater and greater with each workout. When you’re demanding the same thing from your muscles week after week (same weight, same reps, same time under tension), the demand to go above and beyond has vanished, and so will your progression in terms of size and strength). The guys in the gym repping the same weight week in week out won’t get far. The guy adding that extra 2.5 lb plate to the barbell each workout will. It adds up over time.
  • In order to get big you need to focus your energy on your heavy compound movements. Don’t major in minors, aka: spending your time floating around from isolation exercise to isolation exercise. This is a sure-fire way for a skinny guy to see sub-par size gains. Movements or exercise that do not give the muscles the required resistance, but are the kind that involve a great number of repetitions, never break down any tissue to speak of. These movements involve a forcing process that cause the blood to swell up the muscle, and simply pump them up. The insane, full, pumped feeling you get in your arms and chest when training is merely the increased blood flow tot the particular muscle group being worked. The pump does not equate to muscle growth.
  • If you’re new to low rep training, it’s worth noting that you will not get the immense pumps you may be used to from performing high repetition training. As a general rule, most things that are satisfying in the short term aren’t beneficial at all in the long run.
  • Once you are comfortably hitting the top end of the rep range, I recommend increasing the weight. You should be able to perform a minimum of four reps with the new weight. If you’re unable to perform four reps with correct form and range of motion, the weight is too heavy. Add 5 lbs/10 lbs to each dumbbell/barbell exercise once you are comfortably hitting the upper range of the prescribed repetitions.
  • Each and every repetition should be controlled and timed. 2 seconds down – 1 second hold – 2 seconds up. If you’re performing your repetitions any faster than this, your muscles won’t be under tension for particularly long. To ensure you get the maximum bang for the buck in terms of size and strength, focus on the 2:1:2 tempo. Rest for 2-3 minutes between sets of heavy compound exercises. Rest for 1-2 minutes maximum between sets of isolation exercises.
  • We don’t build muscle in the gym by banging and clanging around with heavy weights. We’re actually destroying our muscle fibers – which is telling our bodies that our current physique is insufficient. Resting after a workout and the nutrition components of your bulking phase are where the growth comes from. Lifting four times per week with adequate sleep and recovery will net you far greater results than training six times per week with minimal sleep and no downtime.
  • Sleep plays a key role in the following bodily processes: regulation of glucose in the body, promoting good blood pressure, the perfect way to recover and repair damaged muscles, promoting hormonal functions and processes, promotion cognitive functions and processes. Your sleep should be within the 7-9 hour  bracket per night, keeping in mind this is high quality, uninterrupted sleep.
  • If you’re not making any size gains, this will be the result of one of two things:
    • You’re not lifting heavy enough. In order to grow, we need to provide ongoing progressive overload during our workouts. Ensure you’re working in the prescribed rep ranges for your heavy compound exercises and give it your all. If you’re calling it quits on your set when it starts to feel uncomfortable, you’re not going to get too far.
    • If you’re lifting regime is solid, then the issue is likely to be related to your diet, or most specifically the lack of calories you’re consuming. A failure to build muscle mass is most commonly due to an insufficient number of calories coming in. Re-calculate your total daily energy expenditure and apply a more aggressive caloric surplus if necessary.
  • Pick a workout routine, follow it, eat well, and get adequate rest. Follow this consistently for six months. During the course of this time, track your weight, your body fat, your arm size, your chest size, how you feel after each workout, and from there you can reassess and make the necessary changes.
  • When your progress slows down or completely stops, whether this be in strength gains, shedding that unwanted body fat or gaining muscle mass, it’s time to take a step back and look at what you’re actually doing. Doing the same thing over and over again while expecting a different outcome is the definition of insanity.
  • Progress is the ultimate motivator. It’s the positive feedback loop of putting in effort, seeing results and therefore continuing to grind away day after day because you know what you’re doing is making a difference.