David Turnbull http://davidturnbull.com A work-in-progress human being. Thu, 15 Jun 2017 07:19:24 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8 How To Create Perfect Video Tutorials: A Professional’s Guide to Screencasting http://davidturnbull.com/create-video-tutorials/ http://davidturnbull.com/create-video-tutorials/#comments Tue, 12 Jul 2016 08:30:26 +0000 http://davidturnbull.com/?p=3122 Last year, I spent two months recreating Your First Meteor Application, a video training series about building web applications with the Meteor JavaScript framework. This involved: Figuring what worked (and what didn’t) about the original version. Completely reworking every second of content from the ground-up. Repeatedly scrapping my progress and starting over. Because while it doesn’t […]

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Last year, I spent two months recreating Your First Meteor Application, a video training series about building web applications with the Meteor JavaScript framework.

This involved:

  • Figuring what worked (and what didn’t) about the original version.
  • Completely reworking every second of content from the ground-up.
  • Repeatedly scrapping my progress and starting over.

Because while it doesn’t take much to sit down with a microphone and create a video tutorial, it’s a whole other ball-game to create hours worth of content that is easily understood, looks great, sounds professional, and leaves viewers satisfied that they’ve handed over their money.

With this in mind, I thought I’d share everything that I’ve learned along the way. There’s always more to learn, of course, but I certainly feel like I have some tricks up my sleeve.

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Write a script. Some people can manage off-the-cuff recordings in a conversational style, but most people can’t. More often than not, “conversational” becomes “poorly explained,” with lots of “ums” and “uhs” and other cruft. (Case in point: Udemy.) If using a script makes your videos sound robotic, that’s a problem with the script — not a problem with the process of scripting. Rewrite the script and read it aloud during the editing phase. If it sounds awkward, it’s probably too formal. “Dumb it down” to a more conversational tone. As an example, click here to read some of my video’s scripts.

Be less ambitious. When a video tutorial tries to do too much in a short period of time, it becomes muddled and bloated and difficult to watch. To avoid this, write scripts that won’t result in more than 5-10 minutes worth of video, and remember that no single video has to explain everything there is to know about a topic. Leave out details that aren’t strictly necessary and move any “nice to know” details elsewhere. About 99% of problems with video tutorials can be solved by doing away with the unimportant.

Record video and audio separately. The most efficient way to record a video tutorial is to record the audio and the video at the same time, but since this approach requires you to multi-task, it doesn’t produce highly polished material. Recording the audio and video separately, on the other hand, drastically raises the quality ceiling. This process will require that you synchronise and the video and audio during the editing phase (more on this in a moment), but this effort will pay dividends in the final product.

Hire a voice artist. Most people, myself included, are horrendous at speaking into a microphone. It’s far more of a skill than they realise. People try to fill this gap by spending hundreds of dollars on the fanciest of gear, but this won’t obscure your lack of microphone technique and post-processing skills — it will only make the defects all the more obvious. By hiring a voice artist, I ended up with better audio and less work, and it cost me less than $300 for a two-hour recording. Having spent a week recording (and re-recording) the same script with lousy results, the time savings alone were worth it.

When hiring a voice artist:

  1. Request a sample of them reading a portion of your script.
  2. Don’t assume anything. Be explicit about what you need.

You can click here to read the notes I sent to my voice over artist. He had a few additional questions, and once those were answered, he finished the project without a hitch.

If you can’t hire a voice artist, learn proper speaking technique. Stick with a lower-end microphone, like the Blue Yeti, and spend the rest of your money on vocal coaching. You almost certainly need it. It’s also worth reading Win the Crowd, which contains useful warm-up tips, and watching the “Voiceover Recording and Editing” course from Mac Pro Video to learn the technical aspects of audio recording. All of this takes a lot of effort, but even if you have a great script and carefully recorded videos, it’s all meaningless without good audio, so any effort toward better audio is worth the energy.

Before recording your screen, get rid of the clutter. This means closing unnecessary applications, disabling notifications, and removing whatever other details will distract from the content (and also make you look like an amateur). To achieve this, create a separate user account on your computer that is only used for recording screencasts. If you’re really fastidious, you may even want to use an application like Bartender to hide icons from the menu bar. Such attention to detail might seem overboard, but it results in a lovely layer of polish. I also like hiding the icons on the desktop, and this can be achieved on Mac OS X by opening Terminal and running the following command:

defaults write com.apple.finder CreateDesktop false; killall Finder

You’ll still be able to place files in the “Desktop” folder. Those files just won’t be visible from the Desktop itself.

Record the entire screen. Some people create screencasts by selecting a fragment of their screen and only recording whatever is within that fragment. The assumption, I suppose, is that this adds focus to the recording. Don’t do this. Instead, record the entire screen so viewers can see everything your cursor is doing. This context is far more important than any “focus” gained by recording a fragment. (If you’re that desperate for focus, you’re probably trying to do too much in a single screencast.)

Lower your display’s resolution to 1280 x 720. This is the ideal resolution for viewing most screencasts, and by lowering the resolution of your display to this resolution before recording, you won’t have to resize the recording in the editing process.

To see what difference this makes, click the following thumbnail to see a screenshot that I captured at my computer’s default resolution and scaled down to 1280 x 720:

screencast-scaled
Scaling down to 1280 x 720.

Then click the following thumbnail to see a screenshot that I captured after lowering my resolution to 1280 x 720, which meant there was no scaling:

screencast-not-scaled
The 1280 x 720 resolution without scaling.

The second example is significantly more readable and crisp, and this effect is only amplified when a video (and not a static image) is viewed.

(If you’re recording a screencast for an application with a lot of interface elements, like After Effects, the 1280 x 720 resolution might be too cramped. In those cases, use the 1920 x 1080 resolution. For the most part though, the lower resolution is all you’ll need, and the final result will look great on the widest range of devices — desktop, mobile, etc.)

Record with Quicktime. You don’t need a fancy application to record your screen. Quicktime works fine. It takes just a couple of clicks to start recording the entire screen and a MOV file is spit back to you when you’re done. Plenty of people use software like Camtasia or Screenflow for recording and editing screencasts, but I prefer the “agnostic” approach, where you’re not tied to any particular software. This gives you more control over the look and feel of the final product. (It’s also free.)

While recording, don’t sync your cursor movements to the audio. Instead, leave a little breathing room between every cursor movement, button click, and keyboard tap. Then it’s just a matter of following a handful of rules for editing:

  1. When the video moves too quickly, create freeze frames that halt the action and allow the audio track to catch up.
  2. When the video moves too slowly, increase the speed of the relevant section using your editing software’s “retiming” features.

Here’s what this looks like in the context of a Final Cut project:

video-tutorial-final-cut
The Final Cut Pro X timeline of an average screencast.

I haven’t touched the audio track, as that was edited by the voice over artist. The video track in the middle is the recording of the screen, and the first clip in that track is a freeze frame, since the first part of the video is introducing the subject of the video, so there’s nothing to show the viewer. The video track at the top is a series of slides from Keynote (more on this in a moment) that adds visual interest to the video during this explanation.

Don’t move too much. A video with minimal movement is boring to watch, but a video where too much is happening is painful to watch. Before recording footage, consider how you can avoid switching between windows, clicking between tabs, and opening new files. For example, when I’m showing people how to write code, I’ll open multiple files in a split-view window. This means all of the code can be seen at once, and since I don’t have to switch between tabs, it’s easier for the viewer to follow along.

You can see an example of this here:

Edit with Final Cut (or Premiere). It doesn’t precisely matter what editing software you use, but choosing a professional option like Final Cut or Premiere means that any editing skills you develop can be used for other projects. You’ll also find yourself working much more productively once you get a hang of the keyboard shortcuts and pro-oriented features. If you’re just putting together a single video series, this path might be overkill, but if you’re planning on making video tutorials on a regular basis, taking a few days to learn the fundamentals of professional editing will reward you with significant efficiency down the line. (To learn video editing, check out the courses from Lynda.com.)

Avoid sudden cuts. One of the worst video series I ever watched involved an instructor who recorded the audio and video at the same time, with everything done off-the-cuff. A few people can make this style work, but this guy was clearly making a ton of mistakes and trying to soften those mistakes with editing. He did a terrible job of this though, because every few seconds his cursor would jump across the screen, and windows would move or change size, and the audio was patched together weirdly. If you’ve ever watched a hyperactive YouTube video with absurd levels of “jump-cutting,” it was like that, but in screencast form. I couldn’t help but resent the instructor. He was making videos in a way that was convenient for him, rather than in a way that was ideal for the viewer. With the planning we’ve discussed, this haphazard production can be avoided. You must, however, respect the viewer’s attention, and that does require some effort.

Create subtle highlights. I’m not a fan of callouts. If you’re layering a video with annotations, arrows, circles, and other graphics, it’s probably because you’ve got a weak script or you haven’t figured out the best way to demonstrate what you’re trying to teach. That said, sometimes it is necessary to call attention to a specific part of the screen, and when that’s the case, I find the most elegant approach is to use a subtle highlighting effect that softly darkens everything in the video except for what you want the viewer to focus on. This is far less jarring than, say, having a giant red arrow pop into view. How you create this effect will depend on your editing software, but here’s one way of doing it in Final Cut.

Subtle Highlight Effect
An example of highlighting content in a screencast.

Create slides in Keynote. It’s fine to have pauses in “the action” of a video tutorial, but some form of visual interest is always nice. If you’re explaining something important that can’t be shown directly in the video, for instance, include a slide with bullet-points that underscores whatever you’re explaining to the viewer. Keynote works well for this because you can easily add animations to the slides and then export the slides as a Quicktime movie. While exporting, you can even choose to automatically time the animations — for instance, you can make it so there’s a two second pause between every animation — which then creates “breathing room” for easier editing.

As an example, here’s a video made almost entirely in Keynote:

The only part of this video wasn’t created in Keynote was the synchronisation of the audio with the video. That part is still most easily handled in Final Cut.

Add graphics to slides. You don’t need fancy looking slides. If you want to use white backgrounds, black text, and fonts from the Helvetica family, that’s fine. But if you want to spruce up your tutorials with some colour, start by looking at the “Textures” section of Creative Market. Here, you can buy (very cheap) graphics for whatever project you’re working on, and the textures work well as backgrounds for slides. There’s also icons, photos, fonts, and other resources that you can drop into Keynote. This is great if you have decent design taste but lack the technical skills to make use of that taste.

Compress the final videos. Video tutorials don’t need to be watched in their original form. You can compress them significantly before they show signs of degradation, and as a result, users can download them faster. To achieve this, use Handbrake. It’s available on all major operating systems, and it’s free. When using Handbrake, I set the “Average Bitrate” setting to “1000” and select the “2-pass encoding” option. This results in tiny files without a meaningful drop in quality.

Handbrake
Compressing videos with Handbrake.

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Review: Kindle Voyage (2014) http://davidturnbull.com/kindle-voyage-review-2014/ http://davidturnbull.com/kindle-voyage-review-2014/#comments Tue, 05 Apr 2016 03:19:00 +0000 http://davidturnbull.com/?p=3092 Note: The day I finished writing this review, Jeff Bezos announced a new, high-end Kindle, so it’s probably a good idea to wait for further details before buying any of the Kindles — if only to pick-up a second-hand Voyage for a better price. Years ago, I preordered the Amazon Kindle 2. I’d never used […]

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Note: The day I finished writing this review, Jeff Bezos announced a new, high-end Kindle, so it’s probably a good idea to wait for further details before buying any of the Kindles — if only to pick-up a second-hand Voyage for a better price.

Kindle Voyage Review (2014)

Years ago, I preordered the Amazon Kindle 2. I’d never used an eReader before but I was spending hundreds of dollars a month on physical books and was eager to slash that cost as much as possible by going digital. I handed over my money and hoped for the best.

This was one of the better decisions I’ve made in my life.

Right away, the Kindle 2 became my favourite gadget. Books were now affordable, they didn’t need to be shipped from the United States to Australia, and the reading experience felt wonderfully refined. I was in heaven.

Since then, new Kindles have been released, but until earlier this year, I didn’t buy any of them. I tried one of the earlier updates, but the lack of physical keyboard, lousy buttons, and otherwise cheap feeling kept me wary of upgrading unless I had to. Even as well-reviewed updates were released, like the Paperwhite, I stuck with my Kindle 2, content with my “if it ain’t broke” mentality.

Then it broke.

After seven years of faithful service, the Kindle 2 started bugging out. Sometimes books wouldn’t open, forcing me to restart the device, delete the book, and then re-download it. In other cases, my highlights were disappearing without syncing to the web, which meant I could no longer trust the linchpin of my research.

The time had come for an upgrade.

Paperwhite vs. Voyage

At this point, there’s three types of Kindles to choose between:

With a lower-resolution display and no option for 3G connectivity, the standard Kindle wasn’t going to make the cut. I read enough to justify the ultimate in reading luxury, and I used the 3G connectivity on my Kindle 2 enough times to know I’d miss it if it wasn’t there (especially during long layovers in airports).

This meant the choice was between the Paperwhite and the Voyage, and in terms of features, the Voyage only has a slight edge:

  • A sensor that adjusts the brightness of the display, meaning you (theoretically) never have to manually manage the display’s brightness when you’re reading in different lighting conditions.
  • “PagePress”, a feature that uses haptic feedback (vibrations) to simulate the feel of clicking buttons when navigating between pages.

The Voyage is also lighter, and apparently the glass is less reflective than the glass of the Paperwhite, but still, there’s no particularly killer feature that makes the Voyage a must buy — especially since it costs $80 more, which is enough to buy a good amount of Kindle books (or a few months of Kindle Unlimited).

Nevertheless, I found a Voyage on eBay that included the “Without Special Offers” option and 3G connectivity for just $165 USD, so I couldn’t resist buying the highest-end eReader on the market — especially since I’ll probably use it for years to come.

Once again, this was a pretty good decision.

First Impressions

It’s been a long time since I setup the Kindle 2, so I can’t compare the Voyage setup process to anything, but I can say it was a breeze. It’s just a matter of connecting to a Wi-Fi network (or using the 3G connection if you paid for that option), logging into Amazon, and confirming the registration of the device.

Navigating the device is mostly handled through the touchscreen’s display, which has been a staple of the Kindle for a while now, but was a big departure from the Kindle 2’s entirely physical approach to navigation, which combined buttons, a joystick, and a physical keyboard. I worried about the lack of buttons for navigating between pages, but the touchscreen has been satisfying. I do make the occasional mistake — tapping the screen by accident or tapping while intending a swipe — but the device is quick, so it only takes a second to reverse the mistake.

What had me a little worried is that, after the setup process, I was presented with a “Home” screen that displayed three of the books in my library, a list of my Amazon Wish Lists, and some content recommendations. Some people might find this view useful, but all I wanted to see the books in my library, like I did on my Kindle 2.

Kindle Voyage Home View

By default, I’d have to click on the “My Library” like to get a similar view, and while that’s just one tap away, that’s a lot of taps over a lifetime.

Fortunately, this can be changed:

  1. Click the “Settings” icon in the navigation bar.
  2. Select the “All Settings” option.
  3. Navigate to the “Device Options” section.
  4. Navigate to the “Personalise Your Kindle” section.
  5. Click on “Advanced Options”.
  6. Disable the “Home Screen View” option.

But the books will be displayed in a grid, which means only six books will appear on the screen at a time, and you’ll have to identify the books by their covers, rather than their title (and covers aren’t always designed with a prominent title). To change this, tap the “All Items” dropdown and choose the “List View” option. As a result, clicking the “Home” icon will display a written list of the books in your library.

Kindle Voyage List View

This, I find, is much more user-friendly than the default option. (I also like having the “Downloaded” option selected so I’m only shown books that have been downloaded to my device, rather than everything I’ve bought, but that’s a personal preference.)

Something that can’t be changed, unfortunately, is the ineffective use of space in listing the books. On the Voyage, each list item contains three lines of information: the book’s title, the author, and the percentage of how much of the book you’ve read. This means that, despite the Voyage having a high-resolution display — meaning, it can display more information on the screen — it can only lists eight books per page, compared to the Kindle 2’s limit of ten books per page.

This is a relatively small nit-pick, but I mention it because:

  1. The change doesn’t seem to have been made for any meaningful reason. I’d have thought that listing more books per page would be more useful than showing the percentage of how much you’ve read of each book.
  2. All of my gripes about the Voyage are small. The device doesn’t make any huge mistakes. There’s just of a lot of tiny tweaks that could be made.

The good news is, navigating the Voyage in general is great. The screen refreshes fast and the search functionality is slick, so if your library grows particularly large, it won’t be a laborious effort to track down whatever book you’re looking to read.

Reading Books

In terms of reading experience, the Kindle has had it nailed for a while. I was always satisfied with my Kindle 2, but the new Kindles check all the right boxes:

  • Extremely crisp text that’s readable at tiny sizes.
  • A default font (Bookerly) that’s pleasant on the eyes.
  • Backlit displays (with adjustable brightness).

What’s also nice is that, while reading a book, there’s no bar at the top of the screen, as was the case with earlier Kindles, and you can turn off the “Reading Progress” indicator at the bottom of the screen. As a result, the Kindle feels “invisible,” with nothing on the display except for the text of whatever you’re reading.

Kindle Voyage Reading

To navigate between pages on a Voyage, there are two main options:

The default option is PagePress, a pair of touch-sensitive strips that appear on either side of the Voyage’s display. When touched, these strips respond with a subtle vibration, known as haptic feedback, that is meant to simulate the sensation of clicking a physical button. But as someone who’s been spoiled by the actual buttons on the Kindle 2, this feature doesn’t feel that good. Even after setting the vibration to the maximum level, it remained weak and unsatisfying, and if you were thinking of buying the Voyage for this specific feature, I’d suggest trying it out first.

The alternative option is to tap the display itself, which is the standard way to turn pages on all of the modern Kindles. As long as you tap within certain “zones” on the display, the Kindle will know whether you’re trying to flip to the next page or the previous one. It doesn’t respond with any kind of vibration, but I prefer this over PagePress.

Another addition to the Voyage is a sensor that detects the lighting conditions of whatever room you’re in and automatically adjusts the brightness of the display based on those conditions. You can still manually adjust the brightness, but fortunately, the automatic adjustment works well. It’s not a must-have feature if you’re on a budget, but I expect to increasingly appreciate the convenience over the coming years.

Battery life is an important part of the reading experience, but it’s hard to offer any estimates as they’ll depend on your reading habits. When using the Kindle 2, I got 2 days of battery life without wireless enabled (and without a backlight). With the Voyage, I get 3-4 days with the backlight on and Wi-Fi enabled. This is a big improvement and I have no complaints. (It’s also worth noting that, since my Voyage was second-hand, the battery is probably no longer at peak capacity.)

Highlighting Books

Being able to highlight text on the Kindle 2 is central to how I research, write, and otherwise work, so I was curious how the Voyage would match up.

On the Kindle 2, highlighting text was achieved by moving and clicking a joystick. This process was slow — particularly if you tried highlighting text in the middle of the page — but it was always precise. On the Voyage, highlighting is achieved by pressing your finger on the display and dragging. This is fast, but less precise. After highlighting text, you’re provided with a couple of “handles” that can be dragged to modify the highlight, in case you’ve made a mistake, but I find it easier to tap out of the highlight and try again from scratch. The handles are difficult to grab and, generally, not worth the effort.

To highlight across multiple pages, a reader can drag their finger to the bottom-right corner of the screen. The next page will load and, without lifting your finger from the display, you can finish the highlight. What’s neat is the Kindle will try to guess what exactly you’re trying to highlight on the next page, either by assuming you just want to finish highlighting the most recent sentence, or the rest of the paragraph. It doesn’t always guess correctly, but when it does, it’s just a matter of lifting your finger from the display to complete the highlight. No further precision required.

Whether or not the touchscreen system is better than the joystick, it’s hard to say. I think they’re both imperfect options that are implemented well enough to get the job done, but I’d love to see a Kindle touchscreen with the precision of an iPad.

What’s unfortunate is that the interface for viewing highlights on the Voyage is terrible compared to viewing highlights on the Kindle 2. In fact, it’s easily the worst thing about upgrading from the older device. When viewing highlights on the Kindle 2, for instance, four highlights are shown at a time and you can “flip” through them with the “Next Page” and “Prev Page” buttons.

Kindle 2 "Notes"

On the Voyage, four highlights are also shown, but the interface is significantly more cramped, and instead of flipping through pages of highlights, you must scroll through them by swiping your finger across the display. This is less intuitive than tapping your finger on the screen to navigate between separate pages of highlights.

Kindle Voyage Notes

I don’t understand this change at all. You could drop the previous interface into the Voyage and it would be significant improvement over the current state. Readers do still have access to the “Your Highlights” interface on the web, but that interface is terrible in its own right, and I still can’t fathom how anyone at Amazon thought this change to highlights was an improvement. It’s not a deal-breaker, but it does spoil the joy of flipping through a book’s highlights while kicking back on the couch.

Conclusion

Even if my Kindle 2 hadn’t carked it, I’d have been very glad if a Voyage had fallen into my lap. It’s a brilliant eReader that has already motivated to read even more than I already did. At the same time, it’s this brilliance that makes the flaws so frustrating. So much of the Kindle experience is perfectly crafted after years of tweaking, but in a handful of cases the experience has become worse, and with Amazon’s domination of the eReader market, I’m worried their innovations might slow.

As for whether the Voyage is worth the extra cost over the Paperwhite, I think it’s just a matter of how much you read. If you read every day and can afford the Voyage, buy it. If not, the Paperwhite seems like a perfectly fine substitute.

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Review: 30 Day Paleo Transformation by Robb Wolf http://davidturnbull.com/30-day-paleo-transformation-review/ http://davidturnbull.com/30-day-paleo-transformation-review/#comments Wed, 21 May 2014 00:30:39 +0000 http://davidturnbull.com/?p=1990 I’ve been on the Paleo bandwagon for a while. From a health perspective, I think it’s the best way to eat. Ethically, I’m torn, but I’ve tried the vegetarian thing for a few months and felt terrible. I could try again and do it better but, based on my understanding, humans are meant to eat […]

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I’ve been on the Paleo bandwagon for a while. From a health perspective, I think it’s the best way to eat. Ethically, I’m torn, but I’ve tried the vegetarian thing for a few months and felt terrible. I could try again and do it better but, based on my understanding, humans are meant to eat meat.

[Edit: I’ve since abandoned the Paleo bandwagon for various reasons, although my diet still consists of mostly meat and vegetables.)

The problem is, I’ve never stuck with Paleo for months on end and my meals have never been balanced. I usually fall into eating a narrow subset of meat and vegetables and, while that’s healthier than grains and sugar, I could do more.

To help with this, I bought Robb Wolf’s 30 Day Paleo Transformation. I’m a fan of Wolf’s The Paleo Solution and was excited to put his knowledge into practice.

Unfortunately though, the book wasn’t very good.

An Honest Review

I had big plans for my transformation. I was going to empty out the pantry, get my family eating Paleo, and even record daily videos on YouTube to share the process with the world. I was already sold on the diet. I just needed an action plan and I thought this would be it.

But that’s not the case. This isn’t the action plan I needed. There are alright parts about the book but it’s mostly:

  • Over-hyped.
  • Thin on content.
  • Unrealistic.

…and better sources of information can easily be found on the Internet. (I’ll be sharing links to some of that information in this review.)

Part 1: Real Food & Real Life

The book opens with an overview of Paleo, covering topics like:

  • What a day’s worth of meals might look like.
  • The importance of sleep (and it’s correlation to stress).
  • A quicker primer on what to expect from exercise.

There’s not a lot of detail but, since the book isn’t meant to be an overview of Paleo, the introduction didn’t affect my opinion of it.

The Primal BlueprintPart 2: Nutrition

In this section, Wolf talks about what to eat, what to avoid, and tips on how to shop. The tips are useful for beginners but they’re nothing new and don’t justify the cost of the book. It’d be a better use of your time to read:

For a free (and concise) introduction to Paleo, read The Beginner’s Guide to the Paleo Diet by Steve Kamb of Nerd Fitness.

There’s also plenty of resources on how to manage the Paleo diet on a budget.

Part 3: Exercise

When getting started with something like Paleo, I think one of the biggest mistakes is trying to change food and exercise habits at the same time. It’s often too much of a change and people are more likely to fall off the bandwagon. Can I fault Wolf for talking about exercise in this book? No. But I will say that:

  • The section is very short at just 2 pages long.
  • The training program doesn’t seem interesting.
  • There are much better resources available.

For cardio, read The Definitive Guide to Walking by Mark Sisson. Then for strength training, which is more what I care about, I can recommend:

I’d still say it’s best to focus on diet for at least the first month though — maybe even longer. You don’t have to rush everything.

Your First 30 Days

This is the part of the book I was excited for. It’s where Wolf breaks down what to eat with a month-long meal plan. I don’t love food and was therefore keen to be told, “Just throw these ingredients together and shove ‘em in your mouth…”

Before we enter into the verbal beat-down though, I will say that Wolf’s “Food Matrix” idea is brilliant. Basically, to keep Paleo interesting and simple, you can make meals by combining these ingredients:

Robb Wolf Food Matrix

But while the Food Matrix is featured in the book, everything you need to know about it is available online for free.

As for the official meal plan, let’s break this down…

First, we have the recipes. There’s four per day (breakfast, lunch, dinner, and a snack), all of which are detailed in an included PDF. But there’s a problem:

These recipes are not unique or tailored for the book. They’ve simply been “curated” from well-known Paleo blogs.

The recipes are used with permission and their inclusion doesn’t invalidate their value but I paid for the book with the expectation that Wolf had taken the time to plan a month’s worth of meals that were balanced to improve my health and well-being. That’s not what this is.

Maybe I’m wrong but it feels like Wolf had an assistant throw together a list of recipes and slap a price tag on it. I’d love to believe the recipes were chosen for precise reasons but I doubt it. Rather than buying the book:

  • Search for popular Paleo recipes on Google and make your own plan.
  • Generate a plan with the EatThisMuch.com tool (there’s a setting for Paleo).
  • Check out the /r/primalmealplan section on Reddit for inspiration.

You can also go straight to the source and read the blogs that have their recipes included in this meal plan:

  • PALEOdISH
  • Everyday Paleo
  • Food Lovers’ Primal Palate
  • Jen’s Gone Paleo
  • The Lazy Caveman
  • Sleep. Love. Eat.
  • Paleo Girls
  • Nom Nom Paleo
  • My Aim Is True
  • Balanced Bites

Next, we have a shopping list for each day of the meal plan that exemplifies the two main criticisms of Paleo:

  1. It’s expensive.
  2. It’s time-consuming.

Just the first day of shopping was going to cost me over $50. Some items like coconut oil won’t need to be bought again during the month but the list remains a harsh foe to a tight wallet.

Paleo Shopping List
This isn’t the cheapest store in Australia but this is also only about half the ingredients.

I asked Wolf about this on Twitter and, to his credit, he responded, linking me to this blog post where he argues against claims that Paleo is expensive.

But while the post includes useful tactics, they wouldn’t be needed if the meal plan was made with actual care. By default though, it expects too much and the reader is forced to do work they shouldn’t have to do.

Consider this note that appears right before the meal plan:

Serving sizes on these recipes will vary. If the recipe serves 4 and you only need one serving, just do a little math. Divide all the ingredients by four, and make a note on the shopping list.

This alone isn’t a deal breaker but it’s another flaw of lazily compiling other people’s recipes. Again, the reader must do work they shouldn’t have to do. Didn’t I buy the book so I didn’t have to think about this sort of stuff?

Time-wise, I can’t be sure of how manageable the plan is because the cost was too restrictive to even get started. However:

  • There’s a lot of ingredients to work with.
  • I couldn’t find all the ingredients at one store.
  • Ordering online wasn’t possible.

So it appears time would be a notable casualty long before you step into a kitchen, and this is coming from someone who has a lot of free time. I can’t imagine what someone would do if they had an actual job or a family.

Conclusion

Part of me wonders if I’m whining. Maybe I’m the problem. But when I think about it for longer, it seems so easy to make a better shopping list:

  • Have fewer ingredients, with options for people who want to go the extra mile. The plan would default to simplicity though.
  • Sacrifice variety for practicality. This plan is only for getting into Paleo, after all. It should be approachable instead of intricate.
  • Assume a serving size of one for all recipes. It’s easier to multiply consistent quantities than to divide varied amounts.
  • Be displayed in a way that accounts for the fact that you might only shop once or twice a week. Don’t make anyone think.

These are not difficult things to do. They just require a little more time and effort than what’s on display in this book and that’s so very frustrating. Wolf has the know-how to make a fantastic meal plan. He just didn’t.

9 Ways To Make Paleo Realistic

I haven’t cracked the Paleo nut as of yet. It is simply more expensive and more time-consuming than other ways of eating. The long-term benefits do account for that to a degree but long-term benefits mean nothing if you can’t reach them through short-term efforts. To combat this, I have a few ideas:

  1. Plan ahead with Robb Wolf’s Food Matrix. Simplify it further so you’re not overwhelmed with choice but the matrix idea is handy.
  2. Slow cook 1-2 meals per day. This is one of the easiest ways to prepare meals that you actually want to eat. I’d suggest using this slow cooker.
  3. Order food online. Even if it costs a little more, the amount of time (and petrol) saved easily makes it a worthwhile investment.
  4. Learn about food theory. Books like The Science of Good Cooking will help with making better meals using just a few ingredients.
  5. Have a real plan. At the start of each week, write a list of every meal you plan to eat during the week. Keep the meals simple and attractive.
  6. Prepare food in bulk. You could, for instance, hard boil a bunch of eggs so they’re available as snacks during the day. Batch your tasks.
  7. Drink smoothies and shakes. These allow you to pack a lot of nutrition into something that’s easy to both prepare and consume.
  8. Think about snacks. The easiest time to fall off the bandwagon is between big meals. Always have something Paleo-friendly to nibble on.
  9. Do the best you can. You don’t need organic, grass-fed beef, or even a crazy amount of variety. Being imperfect is better than nothing.

In the coming weeks, I hope to put these into action and start seeing some real results. I’ll make sure to share any progress on this blog.

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Online Video for the Camera Shy: How To Be Confident in Front of the Camera http://davidturnbull.com/online-video-camera-shy/ http://davidturnbull.com/online-video-camera-shy/#comments Wed, 14 May 2014 13:00:20 +0000 http://davidturnbull.com/?p=1556 When I started making videos on YouTube, I was terrified. What if one of my friends finds my channel? What if I make a fool of myself? What if a random stranger on the Internet doesn’t like me? I’d been “the quiet kid” growing up, so even the idea of making videos was a step […]

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When I started making videos on YouTube, I was terrified. What if one of my friends finds my channel? What if I make a fool of myself? What if a random stranger on the Internet doesn’t like me? I’d been “the quiet kid” growing up, so even the idea of making videos was a step out of my comfort zone.

I had to do it though. I’d been blogging for a few years but was feeling stuck. I needed something new in my life. This quote from Thomas Jefferson that pushed me over the edge:

If you want something you have never had, you must be willing to do something you have never done.

But an inspiring quote couldn’t fix the fundamental problem of being absolutely horrible in front of the camera. That takes a bit more work.

My First Video

Just so we’re on the same page about what it means to be “horrible” in front of the camera, here’s the first video I posted to my YouTube channel:

If that guy can make drastic improvements — here’s a more recent video — and build a channel to 33,000,000+ views, there is clearly a lot of opportunity out there. It’d take skill to be worse than I was.

Instead of dwelling on my terribleness for too long though, let’s talk about how you can make faster progress in front of the camera than I did.

Step 1. Find Your Inspirations

Becoming better on camera is, in many ways, similar to becoming a better writer. Just as a writer must read a lot of books to improve their way with words, a video maker must watch a lot of videos to improve their presence in front of the camera. By doing so:

  1. You’re exposed to different styles of making videos.
  2. You learn what “good camera presence” means to you.
  3. You absorb the habits of the people you watch.

It’s not good enough to find an influence though, and the point isn’t to find channels that talk about whatever you want to talk about. You should watch widely for the sake of your own enjoyment since something can be learned from everyone.

If you’re not watching online videos on a regular basis, get to it. Subscribe to some YouTube channels and start watching them daily. Let other Creators be the standard you hold yourself to.

Step 2. Plan Ahead

To this day, I still come across stumbling blocks when recording videos. I’ll be trying to say something but keep failing to say it. Then I’ll realise that I don’t actually have a clear idea of what I’m trying to say. I have a vague thought but no capacity to explain it.

It sound silly but, if you’re struggling to be confident on camera, you might not be sure about what you hope to achieve on camera.

To solve this problem:

  • Stick with what you know. You don’t have to be a know-it-all. Talk about the topics that you understand deeply.
  • Write down the main 2-3 points you want to cover. You can follow tangents if you like but be aware of the stuff that really matters.
  • Keep the video as focused as possible. The more you try to cover, the more difficult (and overwhelming) it’s going to become.

You could also try writing a script, which some people prefer, but I tried that for a few months and found it difficult to deliver the lines. These days, I prefer working with an outline.

Step 3. Prepare Your Voice

The biggest killer of camera confidence is making mistakes, but most mistakes are related to voice — mumbling, stuttering, etc — and completely avoidable.

From here on out, warm-up your voice before every recording. It won’t just make you sound better. It’ll make it easier to say what you’re trying to say. It might even feel like your thoughts have been warmed-up.

Steve Cohen’s Win the Crowd has the best section on vocal warm-ups that I’ve read and these are some of the ones I personally use:

  • Attempting tongue twisters. An actor friend of mine frequently uses, “Red leather, yellow leather.” Just pick your favourite.
  • Humming a familiar tune with mouth opened and mouth closed. Try it with any children’s song or maybe the Star Wars theme.
  • Speaking (or singing) in a string of silly voices. Deep voices, high voices, cartoony voices. Stretch your vocal range.

Also remember to drink water. A lot of water. But not just moments before recording the video. Get into the habit of having a large bottle of water on your desk and drink from it regularly. This is what Cohen says about water:

Pure water hydrates every cell in your body and helps make your skin radiate a healthy glow. More important, water relaxes your throat, making your voice more resonant. The moist environments eliminates any resistance that is presented by a dry throat and enables you to produce a richer, more pleasant-sounding tone. On top of that, it’ll feel good. You’ll feel the resonation and reverberation of vocal tones more distinctly in your chest and nasal area. This helps you produce a better-quality sound.

None of these solutions are difficult or time-consuming but their simplicity doesn’t discount the fact that they’re incredibly effective.

Step 4. Stand Up

If someone asked me, “What’s the biggest change I can make to my camera presence in the next three seconds?” I’d say, “Get off your butt.”

Because as someone who recorded hundreds of videos from a seated position, I noticed a dramatic improvement in how I felt in front of the camera (and how I came across) once I started standing up.

There’s three problems with sitting:

  • Your posture becomes constricted and submissive.
  • Your breathing isn’t as deep as it could possibly be.
  • You’re left with a lowered range of motion.

All of this contributes to a sense of feeling weak and low in confidence. (It’s also bad for your health but that’s not as relevant.)

Compare this to when you’re standing up:

  • Your posture is open and powerful.
  • You can take in big, deep breaths.
  • You can move freely within your space.

If you make your videos while sitting down, burn your chair, extend the height of your tripod, and make a video on your feet. Sometimes laziness gets the better of me and I’ll sit down but my videos are better when I’m standing.

Step 5. Practice

Although genetic differences play a role in our abilities, I’m a firm believer in what Daniel Coyle argues within the pages of The Talent Code:

There is, biologically speaking, no substitute for attentive repetition. Nothing you can do — talking, thinking, reading, imagining – is more effective in building skill than executing the action…

So while the tactics I’m sharing are useful, they’re a lot less useful if you’re not actively making videos and practicing in front of the camera as much as humanely possible. That old adage holds true: “Practice makes perfect.”

But as Coyle explains in The Little Book of Talent, his other book about building skills, talent is only built at the edge of your current abilities:

Ask yourself: If you tried your absolute hardest, what could you almost do? Mark the boundary of your current ability, and aim a little beyond it.

This point slightly beyond your current ability is “the sweet spot” and it’s where you want to be the vast majority of the time — in a place where you can struggle without struggling so much that it zaps your motivation.

It’s a hard balance to find though, so you might want to:

  1. Setup a new channel on YouTube.
  2. Record videos from a smartphone or web cam.
  3. Publish a short recording every single day.

This allows you to create videos in a casual setting with little preparation and endless flexibility of what you can talk about. The end goal is to get yourself in front of a lens as much as possible with as little resistance as possible. If you’re able to form that habit, it’s a matter of time before your fears begin to fade.

Step 6. Think Bigger

When I first started making videos, I searched Google for phrases like: “how to become better in front of the camera”, but I was thinking too precisely. I should have been searching for public speaking advice because that’s what video blogging is – it’s public speaking with a delay.

This might sound unfortunate since public speaking is terrifying, but it’s great news because it’s not hard to learn about speaking in front of an audience. There’s a ton of resources at your fingertips:

And I hope you can see what we’ve done here: we’ve taken the concept of video blogging and “zoomed out” to see that its foundations lie in public speaking. You can approach every aspect of online video in the same way:

  • Don’t learn “how to make good YouTube videos,” but instead learn about dramatic and documentary film-making.
  • Don’t learn “how to market YouTube videos,” but instead learn about marketing and promotion in the broader sense.
  • Don’t learn “how to make better looking videos,” but instead learn about photographic concepts like the Rule of Thirds.

There are new things to learn but it’s tempting to jump to the new stuff without focusing on the basics. Resist that urge. Start with the fundamentals.

Step 7. Close the Gap

At the moment, there’s a gap between what you want to achieve and what you’re able to achieve. This is experienced by everyone who does creative work and it’s something Ira Glass talks about in the video embedded below.

The advice is targeted at writers but anyone can learn something from it:

Here’s the transcript:

Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you.

A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work.

Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.

Conclusion

For the most part, I’m a writer — not a video blogger. But video has been a big part of my life over the past few years and it’s satisfying to see the progress I’ve made in front of the camera.

If you’re curious about video, get started as soon possible. You don’t have to commit to anything. Just test the waters and see where it takes you.

Making that first, terrible video has been one of the better decisions I’ve made in my life and the same may hold true for you.

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Deviated Septum Surgery: Diagnosis, Surgery, Recovery, and FAQ http://davidturnbull.com/deviated-septum/ http://davidturnbull.com/deviated-septum/#comments Thu, 01 May 2014 21:30:11 +0000 http://davidturnbull.com/?p=96 At the end of February, I noticed I couldn’t breathe properly through my left nostril. I went to an Ear, Nose, and Throat specialist and learned that, growing up, I’d broken my nose, resulting in a deviated septum. This is when the bone between your nostrils becomes crooked, restricting airflow. Many people have deviated septums […]

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At the end of February, I noticed I couldn’t breathe properly through my left nostril. I went to an Ear, Nose, and Throat specialist and learned that, growing up, I’d broken my nose, resulting in a deviated septum. This is when the bone between your nostrils becomes crooked, restricting airflow. Many people have deviated septums but aren’t noticeably affected by them. I was one of the exceptions, with two doctors referring to the damage as severe.

To fix a deviated septum, surgery is required. I had this surgery in early April and, prior to that, had been searching for people’s experiences to get an idea of what to expect. I found some blog posts and YouTube videos, but nothing comprehensive, and that’s why I’m writing this post — to help people with deviated septums get an idea of what to expect from the process.

The post itself should answer most people’s questions but, if you have anything to ask, feel free to leave comments below.




Symptoms

There’s a lot of problems that can come from having a deviated septum but these are the most notable ones:

  • You become tired easily. It’s a source of that constant, sluggish feeling, and it’s especially noticeable when you’re doing anything physical. (My deviated septum now explains why I could sprint quickly but could never even begin to run a long distance.)
  • Your sense of taste and smell are diminished. I haven’t noticed big improvements in taste but smells are more intense than they’ve ever been. This is great for smelling the salty air by the beach. It’s not quite as great when a garbage truck drives by.
  • Your sleep suffers a lot. Without proper airflow, you’ll snore and suffer from sleep apnea, and you’ll wake up feeling groggy all of the time. You spend one third of your life sleeping and, if you don’t wake up refreshed, it’s going to wear you down.

(I’d argue that sleep is only one step down from water in things we need to survive so, if you’re sleeping poorly, that alone is worth the time and effort required of the surgery.)

The blocked nose that results from a deviated septum can also cause mouth breathing, which in itself comes with a range of nasty symptoms, from gingivitis to physically changing the shape of your face, as shown here:

Mouth Breathing Side Effects
These girls are twins. The right is a mouth breather.

Diagnosis

Like I said before, deviated septums are common. Half-decent specialists will find them completely unremarkable and easy to diagnose. I saw two specialists and they both identified the problem in the same way:

  1. Seated me in a reclining chair.
  2. Sprayed a local anaesthetic into my nostrils. It ran down the back of my throat and tasted terrible.
  3. Shoved a camera into my nostrils to take a look around.

It’s a mildly uncomfortable process but nothing to be hesitant about. My eyes watered a little and the taste of the spray hung around for a while but there was no outright pain.

5 Things To Know About Pre-Surgery

Compared to most surgeries, there shouldn’t be much stress involved in this one. My friends and family were more worried than I was. There are a few things to keep in mind before heading into surgery though (most of which will be repeated by your doctor anyway):

  1. For two weeks prior, avoid anything that can thin the blood. This includes a range of medication, some non-prescription pain-killers, and garlic. (You’ll also have to avoid these things after surgery.)
  2. You’ll need to take 1–3 weeks off work to recover. You’ll probably feel fine after one week but, if you’re employed, try to get as much time off as possible. The extra rest will help.
  3. Buy a Neti Pot. These are useful for anyone’s health but you’ll be needing it to clear out mucus and dried blood from your nose. They’re gross to use but wondefully satisfying.
  4. Stock up your fridge with stuff to eat. I found softer foods like yoghurt easier to handle. Moving my mouth too much hurt my nose so solid foods were more difficult to manage.
  5. Prepare for boredom. You can’t do a whole lot after surgery so podcasts, movies, and any other passive entertainment will make the time pass a little faster.

Your nose will also feel extremely blocked for the first week after surgery, resulting in some hardcore mouth breathing while you sleep. This will cause a painful sore throat, so any sore throat remedies will be a worthwhile addition to your arsenal. Personally, I’ve found Olive Leaf Oral Spray to be very effective.

10 Things To Know About Post-Surgery

There’s not much to say about the surgery itself. I went to the hospital, put on a gown, lay in a bed, was wheeled into the surgery room, and the anaesthetist put me to sleep in a second. I woke up cold and with foggy thoughts but the nurses put extra blankets on me and I soon came back to my senses.

The interesting thing happen once the surgery’s over, so keep in mind that:

  1. Your throat will be sore. Immediately after the surgery, this is because of the anaesthetic. You will, however, be allowed to take mild pain killers.
  2. You can stay overnight at the hospital. This costs more but I found it comforting to know that nurses were nearby. I didn’t need any of their help in the end though.
  3. Your nose will bleed. Don’t be alarmed. It’s normal. Have an ice pack handy and place it below your nose to stop the blood from flowing. If it keeps bleeding for minutes at a time, call your doctor.
  4. You’ll have foam packing in your nostrils. This will help absorb some blood immediately after the surgery and is usually removed within 12–48 hours. You’ll feel some relief once the packing is out.
  5. You might have plastic splints in your nostrils. These help the septum heal properly. If present, they’ll be removed after one week and, once they’re removed, your breathing will feel incredible straight away.
  6. Your sleep will suck. To solve this, I forced myself to remain awake for as long as possible so I was simply exhausted when it came time to sleep. Keep your head elevated with a couple of pillows while sleeping.
  7. Showering is tricky. You shouldn’t get warm water on your head since that’ll stimulate blood flow (and we don’t want more blood out of our nose). Either have cold showers or just wash your body.
  8. Nasal sprays will provide mild relief. The doctor may provide one of these. It’s not much but a saline, non-medicated spray can make breathing a little easier during the first week.
  9. Neti Pots will provide the most relief. I didn’t feel comfortable using one for the first week but, once my splints were out, using the Neti Pot cleared out a ton of gunk and never fails to improve my breathing.
  10. Headaches are inevitable. I had a few myself and they were terrible. I wish I had comforting words to offer but, for as long as I felt the pain, all I did was fantasise about being fully recovered.
  11. Painkillers are your friend. I was taking the maximum dosage allowed — eight per day — and, while they didn’t clear up all of the pain, they helped keep me sane. Just don’t take ones that thin the blood.

But if all of this sounds scary, fear not. Everyone recovers differently and, based on what I’ve read, plenty of people have had easier recoveries than I did. And, either way, the struggles were well worth it.

Tracking My Sleep Quality with SleepCycle

In the weeks leading up to surgery, I downloaded SleepCycle on my iPhone to track the quality of my sleep. After a week’s worth of tracking, my sleep quality bounced between 50–70% on average (with a peak of just under 80%). Is this data incredibly accurate? I’m not sure but it doesn’t matter because I wasn’t worried about absolute data. I only cared about whether or not the numbers were higher after the surgery.

Here’s the chart for the days I tracked:

SleepCycle Results

So you can see there was a big difference after surgery (and specifically, after getting the splints out). I went from not scoring above 80% to scoring 90% on my first night of post-surgery tracking, then 94% the night after. This meant:

  • I was falling to sleep quicker.
  • I was waking up less frequently.
  • I slept for longer overall.

Also, for the first time in my life, I was able to sleep on my back in perfect comfort. Previously, I could only sleep in very precise positions. I didn’t even “get” how people slept in other ways. (Now I just need to do some research in what’s actually the best way to sleep.)

Conclusion

It’s been a month since surgery and, although it can take months to feel the full effects, I feel capable of answering the most important question:

“Was the surgery worth it?”

And my answer is simply, “Yes.” Absolutely, positively, yes. It’s one of the best decisions I’ve made in recent memory and, if your breathing is affected by a deviated septum, I can easily recommend the surgery.

The first week of recovery had a few low-points but, since then, I’m breathing better, sleeping better, and smelling better, and the differences are dramatic. This wasn’t an incremental improvement. This was a big change in a short period of time that will surely have long-lasting effects. I have no regrets.




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Gym Fear: How To Not Be Afraid of the Gym http://davidturnbull.com/gym-fear/ http://davidturnbull.com/gym-fear/#comments Tue, 22 Apr 2014 23:00:04 +0000 http://davidturnbull.com/?p=104 For the longest of times, I was scared of going to the gym. I know that sounds silly to some but, having grown up as a scrawny computer geek, walking into a building full of athletic gods wasn’t my idea of a good time. But for about as long, I wanted to lift weights. I […]

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For the longest of times, I was scared of going to the gym. I know that sounds silly to some but, having grown up as a scrawny computer geek, walking into a building full of athletic gods wasn’t my idea of a good time.

But for about as long, I wanted to lift weights. I didn’t want to remain a scrawny computer geek. I wanted to squat and bench and deadlift, and I had all the motivation in the world, but I didn’t have the mindset. Whenever I thought of going to the gym, I couldn’t help but assume:

  • I wouldn’t fit in.
  • I’d hurt myself.
  • I’d embarrass myself.

And basically, the gym wasn’t for me because I wasn’t “the sort of person” to train at the gym. I’d put myself in a box and I wouldn’t let myself out. If all of this sounds familiar though, fear not: I’ve found the solutions.

Solution #1: Consider Your Motivations

Ask yourself, “Why do I want to go to the gym?” Because not all motivations are created equal. Here, for instance, are some weak motivations:

  • An authority figure told me to.
  • Someone doesn’t like the way I look.
  • It’s the popular thing to do.

These things do motivate some people but, if you’re scared of the gym, they’re shallow reasonings that are too focused on what other people expect from you rather than what you expect from you.

In contrast, strong motivations come from within. You’re motivated to do something when there’s a compelling reason for doing it, such as:

  • I want to lift weights so I can excel at a certain sport.
  • I want to run on treadmills so I can eventually climb a mountain.
  • I want to take a yoga class to calm my mind and ease my anxiety.

You’ll also notice that these motivations are very specific. They’re not merely personal — they’re precise. You have a clear understanding of what will happen if you get yourself into a gym. There’s nothing iffy about what you want.

But to be clear, I don’t believe the right motivation is the answer to all of life’s problems. I knew why I wanted to go to the gym long before I had the courage to do so. The right motivations simply act as a good foundation. They keep you focused and let you rationalise the moments where it all seems too hard.

After a little introspection, one of three things will happen:

  • You’ll be assured of your strong motivations.
  • You’ll be compelled to fix your weak motivations.
  • You won’t be compelled to fix your weak motivations.

And while that last point sounds like a failure, it might be a sign that you shouldn’t train at the gym. Maybe you should just fix your diet and walk a lot, or maybe bodyweight exercise is a better fit. You should have a plan in place to stay healthy but the gym is only one method, and while it’s nice to conquer your fears, it’s only worth the effort if it leads you where you want to go. So being conscious of motivation doesn’t just help numb your fears. It makes you conscious of whether a fear matters to begin with.

Solution #2: Kill Ambiguity

This might be hard to swallow but you’re not actually afraid of the gym. What you’re actually afraid of is the ambiguity of the gym. You’re afraid of:

  • Not knowing what you’re doing.
  • Navigating an unfamiliar environment.
  • Having people look down at you.

But while these fears are real and need to be dealt with, they’re much easier to deal with compared to a vague fear of the gym itself. In fact, it only takes one word to describe what you need to do at this point: study. Because ambiguity’s great weakness is information.

Your mission from here on out, then, is to know as much about the gym as possible before you arrive. You should, for instance, know:

  • What you plan to do at the gym.
  • How you plan to train at the gym.
  • The best times to visit the gym.

And, really, any other information that might possibly give you an edge before you step through those front doors for the first time.

Here’s a few tips to get started:

  1. Read Strong Lifts and Starting Strength. Both provide a very clear understanding of how to lift weights and how to stay safe in the gym.
  2. Hang out in communities like /r/fitness. This is a great place to ask questions and to get a feel for gym culture.
  3. Follow pages like Awkward Gym Moments and Gym Memes on Facebook. You’ll learn what mistakes you need to avoid.

You want to immerse yourself in gym culture and understand how to use the equipment you want to use, the details of gym etiquette, and why you should never curl in the squat rack. Make it familiar before you arrive.

Also, before you head to the gym for the first time, send the gym a few emails. Ask about the quietest hours for the gym and the hidden fees during sign-up. Don’t aggravate the staff with questions Google can answer, but do use everything at your disposal to understand what you’re getting yourself into.

An awareness of your fears might not be enough to conquer them but it’s a better starting point than remaining in the dark.

Solution #3: Think Smaller

Motivational gurus encourage us to think bigger. They say ambition is our friend and, if we shoot for the moon, even if we miss, we might land amongst the stars. But while it’s a nice thought, it doesn’t apply to everything.

Ambition is good when it aligns with something you’re eager to do. In those cases, it can give you energy and lasting motivation. If you’re afraid of the gym though, you’re probably not eager to go to the gym, so being more ambitious is only going to increase how much fear you feel. It’s not the right method.

Instead, think small. Your “ambition” should be step inside the gym, train in a very small way, and leave. And that’s it.

This accomplishes three things:

  1. Your goal becomes approachable.
  2. You have a chance to experience gym culture.
  3. A lot of ambiguity evaporates into thin air.

Early on, the opposite approach would psyche me out. I’d be thinking about doing three sets of squats, three sets of the bench press, and the deadlift, and it was all too much. I was exhausted simply thinking about what I wanted to do.

Then I thought smaller and decided that, for my first time in the gym, I’d do a set of squats without any weight on the bar. This was the process:

  1. Walk into the gym.
  2. Pay for my session.
  3. Find the squat rack.
  4. Put the barbell on my back.
  5. Do a set of five reps.
  6. Give myself a mental thumbs-up.
  7. Leave.

And, if I managed that, I’d consider myself a success.

I still walked into the gym with butterflies in my stomach but I knew that the feeling wouldn’t be around for long. I’ll only be here for a couple of minutes, I thought to myself, and my fears started to fade.

Eventually, training at the gym should last more than a couple of minutes, but for now, the focus should be getting you into the gym as frequently as possible with the least amount of resistance possible. Become familiar with the gym by making it easy to become familiar, then work your way from there.

Solution #4: Act Confident

I don’t believe it’s as easy to act confident as some people suggest but I do believe it can help in tandem with the other strategies I’ve shared.

To act confident, consider what happens when we’re not confident:

  • We breathe faster.
  • We think faster — too fast.
  • We slouch.

There’s other ways we respond — and everyone is different, of course – but if we can combat these responses, we’re putting ourselves on the right track.

Breathing

To breathe confidently is to breathe slowly and through our nose. In the morning, before you visit the gym, sit quietly for a few minutes and take long, deep breaths. You can consider this meditation but there’s no need to give it a label. You’re simply giving your brain the oxygen it needs.

At the gym itself, take the time to breathe after every set of exercise. I close my eyes during this time but you can do whatever you want. You don’t need to breathe for long. Just making a conscious effort to slow your breath is enough.

Thinking

Our thoughts are perhaps the biggest problem since most of our fear stems from losing control of our mind. To deal with this:

  1. Have a precise plan. If you walk into the gym knowing exactly what you plan to do, your mind at least has a focal point to work with.
  2. Listen to music. I prefer something heavy like The White Stripes or Cage the Elephant. Whatever can block out the world around you will work fine.
  3. Do something easy. You don’t have to start off doing some complicated exercise. Just do something you know you can do.

Confidence comes from experience and the easiest way to gain experience is, again, to get yourself into the gym as frequently as possible with the least amount of resistance possible.

(We’re going to keep coming back to that same point.)

Slouching

We usually think of bad posture as coming from a lack of confidence but it also works in reverse: bad posture can cause a lack of confidence. This is something Amy Cuddy talked about in her now-famous TED talk.

With this in mind, practice “power poses” before you head to the gym:

Amy Cuddy Power Poses

You might feel silly but you can do these within the privacy of your own home and, at the very least, maybe they’ll remind you to push your shoulders back as they start to droop (which is something I definitely need to work on).

Acting confident doesn’t have to involve weird psychological tricks. Treat is as a matter of physiology and you can gain a lot of ground very quickly.

Solution #5: Lose Control

I’m a control freak. I love to be the one in charge and making decisions. But not everyone likes control. A lot of people find it adds another layer of stress to their life. If that’s the case for you, control might be the source of your gym fears. And I can see why that might be the case. When you’re in control:

  • You’re wholly responsible for your mistakes.
  • You’re not being guided by someone with more experience.
  • It’s all too easy to stand out for the wrong reasons.

But, luckily, there’s a simple solution to this: seek to be controlled. You don’t have to be the one making all the decisions and, by relinquishing control, you can make your life a lot easier. Here’s how:

Train with a Friend

You might not have a friend who trains at the gym exactly how you want to train, but maybe you know someone who simply has a gym membership and doesn’t have your fears? Ask to workout with them. They might even have a guest pass to share with you if they have a membership.

Even if they’re a cardio freak and you want to lift weights, that’s fine. Run on a treadmill for an hour. The point, as always, is to get yourself into the gym. Don’t worry about executing on your long-term plans straight away.

Hire a Personal Trainer

Personal trainers are expensive and it’s hard to know for sure whether or not they know what they’re talking about, but:

  • They probably won’t get you hurt.
  • A couple of sessions will be all it takes to get used to the gym.
  • They’ll take the reigns from the get-go.

You won’t really have to do any thinking for yourself, which is perfect in this case. It’s an hour of the highly useful monkey see, monkey do.

Join a Group Class

This is my favourite option. Sign up for a low-stress group class like yoga, hide in the back, and follow along with what the teacher is doing. This involves:

  • Minimal thinking.
  • People at your ability level.
  • A gentler push against the edges of your comfort zone.

And something like yoga is actually useful. It’s a skill worth learning and experiencing outside of your quest to conquer gym fear.

Ultimately, the goal with these methods is to remove conscious thought from the process. You want to become robot-like, almost, so you’re getting exposure in the gym without an overwhelming amount of anxiety.

You do eventually have to take control – the gym should be a proactive environment – but there’s no rule that says you have to start that way.

Solution #6: Expect Setbacks

The only thing worse than something going wrong is something going wrong and catching you off-guard. The surprise makes it so much more painful.

With this in mind, expect things to go wrong and expect things to go wrong in a precise way. Define the worst-case scenario and ask yourself: “What’s the worst that could happen?”

This isn’t meant to be reverse psychology though. I’m not trying to trick you into realising that there’s nothing bad that can happen at the gym. That would be a lie. Bad and uncomfortable things can happen at the gym. The point is to be aware of these things so they can be dealt with (and prepared for).

Get out a pen and paper and write down your scariest, gym-based nightmares. Do you make a fool of yourself? Does a cliché gym douchebag say mean things to you? Do you hurt yourself? Write it all down.

When these fears are sitting right in front of you, two things happen:

  1. The most extreme ones start appearing at least a little silly.
  2. The less extreme ones become more real but easier to deal with.

If, for instance, you make a fool of yourself in front of other people, leave the gym. Or move to a different section. You’ll feel awkward for a moment but it’s not hard to plan an escape route.

If a cliché gym douchebag says mean things to you, report them to the gym. You can do it anonymously via email if you want. They won’t be around much longer after that. Gyms have a hard enough time making themselves appear friendly.

And if you’re worried about hurting yourself, spend more time studying how to train before stepping into a gym. So many injuries come from simple ignorance rather that the method of training actually being dangerous.

The last thing I want is to make the gym seem like some friction-free zone. But I do believe most friction can be avoided, and that starts by being conscious of it.

Solution #7: Be Persistent

Persistence, I feel, is the great equaliser. You can make mistakes, have fears, and repeatedly expect to fail, but if you keep work toward a precise goal that doesn’t require external validation, it’s a matter of time before you reach it. I know it sounds trite but the only true failure is to stop trying.

On the practical side of things, persistence must be aligned with priority. You need to make “overcome fear of the gym” one of the most important things in your life. This means you should always be:

  1. Learning more about the gym.
  2. Taking small steps toward the gym.
  3. Reminding yourself of your core purpose.

From there, a little inspiration can’t hurt. I’m not fond of cutesy phrasings but some quotes instil a fire in your belly, like this one from Winston Churchill:

Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never—in nothing, great or small, large or petty—never give in, except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.

For more of this, On the Shortness of Life never fails to kick me in the butt and keep me on track, as does the wondrous tome that is Meditations.

Conclusion

Throughout this post, I’ve thrown a lot of words and ideas at you and, at this point, you might be unsure of where you should go from here. Let’s focus on the key points:

  1. Consider why you want to go to the gym in the first place.
  2. Don’t let anything about the gym remain unclear to you.
  3. Set a small goal to get yourself in the gym as a starting point.
  4. Make the most of physiological tricks to boost your confidence.
  5. Let someone take charge so you’re not overwhelmed with responsibility.
  6. Expect things to go wrong, allowing yourself to prepare for them.
  7. Don’t give in at any point. Grit your teeth and just keep going.

A blog post alone can’t conquer your fears but the strategies are sound. They worked for me and I’m sure they can work for you. Also feel free to ask questions in the comments and I’ll be glad to answer them.

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Video Game Blogging: What I’ve Learned from 27,214 Daily Readers http://davidturnbull.com/video-game-writing/ http://davidturnbull.com/video-game-writing/#comments Sun, 23 Mar 2014 22:00:17 +0000 http://davidturnbull.com/?p=106 For the last four years, I’ve run the most popular blog about the Nintendo 3DS. The blog is past its prime — half-abandoning it for nine months while backpacking around the world isn’t a great marketing strategy — but it’s how I’ve made a living since the age of 20. If you want the vanity metrics, here’s […]

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For the last four years, I’ve run the most popular blog about the Nintendo 3DS. The blog is past its prime — half-abandoning it for nine months while backpacking around the world isn’t a great marketing strategy — but it’s how I’ve made a living since the age of 20.

If you want the vanity metrics, here’s a few of them:

  • At its peak, the site averaged 27,214 visits per day.
  • For a long time, the blog was ranked #3 in Google for “nintendo 3ds”.
  • The associated YouTube channel has 31,323,239 views.

There’s other metrics I could share but that’s not the point of the post. We’re here to wonder, how can you make a living by writing about video games?

Because while I’ve had a lovely time over the last few years, I’ll eventually move on and I figured it’d be useful to share some things I’ve learned along the way. I have no need to hold back so this is pretty much everything I know.

The peak of the blog's popularity.
The peak of the blog’s popularity.

1. Prepare to work.

A lot of people who say they want to write about video games for a living just want a professional excuse to play video games. But it’s not that simple.

If you write about video games for a living, you will spend more time writing than playing games. You do have a better excuse to play them during work hours, but don’t get into this industry if that’s all you can grasp of it. Reality won’t be so kind.

There’s also a difference between having a passion for writing and video games, and having a passion for writing about video games. You can easily like the former without liking the latter. (It’s the same way that plenty of people like travel and like writing but can’t handle the work of travel writing.)

Get into this business with a practical amount of pessimism. Expect it to be imperfect, as is the case with any job, and you’ll be be satisfied. Expect it to be your grand calling in life and you might find yourself struggling.

Action items:

  1. Ask yourself, “Do I love to write?” It’s a tough gig and takes more effort than stringing sentences together. You need grit.
  2. Write every day. If you can’t manage this without getting paid, you can’t manage it while getting paid. This guy wrote a novel on on the subway, on his way to work, with a phone, so there’s no excuses.
  3. Consider alternatives. Maybe there’s an job out there that pays well enough and gives you more time to play video games when you’re not working? If that sounds attractive, chase that dream. (Read: Lifestyle Design.)

2. Forget about the gatekeepers.

Writing about video games is a competitive field and if you try to snag a job at IGN or GameSpot, it’s going to be tough. Simply being a great writer is often not enough, and as much as possible, it’s best to avoid relying on people in positions of power — the gatekeepers — to make decisions that fall in our favour. That leaves too much up to chance and I don’t want the course of my life altered by someone saying, “No.”

Getting a job at a company will be less stressful than working for yourself but, early on, it’s not a good idea sit around and hope for this to happen. Instead:

  • Actively publish writing as soon as possible.
  • Treat your writing like an actual, every day job.
  • Build up all the real-world experience you can.

You can turn this into self-employment if you like or use the results as your portfolio for employment. I just think starting independently allows you to transition into either in the long run, so that’s what we’ll be talking about here.

Action items:

  1. Start a blog. It’s fine to use WordPress.com at first. Just start as soon as possible. You can switch to your own web hosting later on if you want.
  2. If someone says, “No,” find an alternative. There’s never one way to approach a situation. You can always take another route to cut ahead of the line. Don’t waste time by waiting.
  3. Think of yourself as an artist. You’re a creative person who has a long battle ahead of them. To survive the coming months, read books like The War of Art.

3. Learn to (actually) write.

In general, video game writing sucks isn’t very good. I like what Polygon‘s doing but most of what shows up on blogs is a combination of:

  • Press releases that have been slightly rewritten.
  • Click-bait that creates news out of thin air.
  • Something obvious that is made to sound interesting.

This happens because the industry runs on revenue from page-views which means publishing frequently is always more profitable than publishing well. It’s the same problem as the 24-hour news cycle on television. The moment you write and revise with actual consideration, you fall behind. I don’t have a solution to this since my blog and I epitomise the problem but, still, study writing outside of the video game world. If you emulate what you see on blogs, everything you write will be terrible.

Here’s a few rules worth remembering:

  1. Good writing is free of clutter.
  2. Short words are better than long ones.
  3. Clarity is more important than being clever.
  4. Delete 10-20% of the words from your drafts.
  5. Daily practice solves most writing problems.

But these rules aren’t the answer to all of your writing woes. You need to learn from actual sources of authority: On Writing Well is a must-read, The Elements of Style should sit on your desk at all times, and Bird by Bird will keep you sane.

And while video game writing is junk, maybe that’s an opportunity? Maybe someone with the right “voice” will sweep in and snag a big audience with their masterful reporting? Because I don’t think careful, revised writing is a bottomless pit of doom. It’s just floundering until someone figures out how to make it profitable.

Action items:

  1. Write at the same time every day. It doesn’t matter when you write. Just work hard to be consistent.
  2. Read your writing aloud. It’s when you speak what’s on the page in front of you that your mistakes become a lot clearer.
  3. Check out The Talent Code and The Little Book of Talent. Both are packed with insights into how skills develop with practice.

4. Pick a niche.

Most people assume it’s better to write about video games in general since you’re able to reach a larger pool of people. In reality though, it’s better to write for a smaller audience — a niche – since there’s much less competition.

This is why I mostly talk about the 3DS (and sometimes, the Wii U). But the reason I focus on the 3DS is because I knew it’d be easier to focus on one system and transform myself into the resource for it. As a result, I don’t have to “sell” my blog to potential readers and I don’t have to convince them to come back. The benefit of my blog is obvious: there is no a better source for 3DS news.

Other advantages of writing within a niche include:

  • It’s easier to gain a strong understanding of a small topic.
  • There’s less competition (and less risk of future competition).
  • Many people will consider you an authority by default.

But writing a niche doesn’t have to relate to topic — 3DS, Vita, PS4, etc. Your niche can be the form of writing you focus on. Maybe you only want to write reviews or previews or event coverage. Be creative.

(If you don’t want to write within a niche, that’s also fine. But just don’t feel obligated to target a bigger audience to build an audience for yourself. It’s always easier to become the bigger fish in a smaller pond.)

Action items:

  1. Brainstorm niche ideas. Scribble a mind map on a piece of paper and consider every precise topic you might want to focus on with your writing.
  2. Test the waters. Spend a few days writing within each niche, just in text files on your computer. See which niche feels the most natural.
  3. Start very small. You can expand later if you want. It’s better to start as precise as possible though. It’s harder to go the other way.

5. Target yourself.

When I started the blog, I didn’t consider what people wanted to read. That’s no different from guessing. Instead, I asked myself:

  • What do I want to read?
  • What do I want to work on?

Because while market research has its place, we live in a big world and our personal tastes are often shared by large amounts of people, so appealing to yourself can be the most effective way to appeal to others. When I thought about the blog I wanted to read, for instance, this is what mattered:

  • It has to be fast. I don’t want to be behind on the news.
  • The articles don’t need to be long. I just want the details.
  • Corporations are boring. I prefer blogs from real people.
  • I’m enjoy reading, but a podcast or videos would be nice.
  • I want the author to be as enthused about the 3DS as I am.

Nothing in this list is out of the ordinary, but it was motivating to build something so closely tied to my own preferences. I wasn’t labouring away to satisfy other people. I was happily working on something I wanted to exist.

There’s other advantages to working like this though:

  1. You’re able to do the best work you can possibly do.
  2. People sense that you’re enjoying yourself (and they like that).
  3. You attract like-minded people who are fun to spend time with.
  4. It’s easier to remain persistent during the more difficult times.
  5. You intuitively know how to appeal to your audience.

You can’t be completely self-indulgent — your writing still must serve the reader in some capacity — but considering your own tastes is the best place to begin.

Action items:

  1. Look at your Internet history. What are your browsing habits? These are usually a great suggestion of your tastes.
  2. Question convention. Just because other writers and blogs do something doesn’t mean it needs to be done. Don’t feel obligated to take any approach.
  3. Adapt your tastes along the way. You can always change how you work later on. You might lose some readers but never let yourself feel trapped.

6. Find your edge.

No one stands out by blending in, and yet a lot of people are scared to be different. This will short-cut your chance of success.

Ask yourself, “What can I offer people that other people can’t?” Then write down every possible advantage you might have over someone else who wants to write about video games:

  • Are you a computer wizard?
  • Do you have money to invest?
  • Have you been writing for a long while?
  • Do you have lots of free time?
  • Maybe you have connections in the industry?

My edge was speed. When I started the blog, even if I didn’t write about a story first, I’d write about it quickly enough that I may as well have been first. The difference was minuscule. Other people tried to compete but no one sustained the pace for as long as I did. (But speed is not a great edge. It’s like competing on price in the retail world — a race to the bottom. If I were to start over, I’d find an edge that’s more enjoyable for the long-haul.)

Action items:

  1. Read Strengths Finder 2.0. It’ll give you a sense of your personal strengths and the information is surprisingly detailed. I still refer to my results regularly.
  2. Ask people. We tend to look at ourselves critically while our friends and family often have a better understanding of our capabilities. Question them and listen to what they say.
  3. Consider the “cost” of your edge. Most upsides have downsides, so consider what the downsides are and figure out how to mitigate them in advance.

7. Don’t hide.

I’ve seen bloggers try to appear more “legitimate” by branding themselves as a larger entity than they really are. They’re ashamed to be “just” a single person with a passion for writing about video games.

This probably stems from what we’re taught in school: never use the word “I” in an essay, never give an opinion, and detach yourself from your creation. But while this makes sense in some contexts, it makes no sense if you want to brand yourself as a writer.

Being a real person with real opinions is a surefire way to attract real readers rather than having people pass by to check out your writing before fluttering off somewhere else.

To be a real person:

  • Write in first person. Stand behind your opinions.
  • Attach your name to everything (even if it’s just your first name).
  • Make it easy to get in touch. You’re not a celebrity.
  • Share yourself outside of writing — Twitter, Facebook, etc.
  • Appeal to yourself. Work in a way that makes your smile.

There’s a lot of words that marketers use to describe this approach to business and media — authenticity, transparency, personal branding — but don’t over-think it. Just don’t try to hide yourself. You can, of course, have whatever level of privacy you feel comfortable with, but don’t put up barriers just because you feel like you’re “supposed” to put them there.

People won’t look down at you if they learn that you’re a nerdy guy in your parent’s basement who loves to play and talk about video games. If anything, they’ll probably feel a stronger connection.

Action items:

  1. Sign up for major social networks. This means Facebook, Google+, and Twitter. There’s no need to be on the obscure ones.
  2. Use tools to manage your online persona. I’m fond of Buffer but there’s a lot of tools that make it easier to handle the workload.
  3. Draw the line. What don’t you want to share with the world? Clarify it to yourself. I, for instance, leave my family out of my online world.

8. Connect with people.

Connecting with other bloggers is the fastest way to be noticed. It comes back to that cliché: “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.”

I’m an introvert though and never felt comfortable making a big effort to “network” with people. It never felt natural so my approach has been a lot more casual. I’ve always just found people I wanted to connect with and:

  1. Sent them news tips via email.
  2. Responded to their questions on Twitter.
  3. Left comments on their blogs.

I never wanted to say, “Hey, check this out…” I only made myself known to other bloggers and let my writing do most of the work. Once they were aware of it, they started linking to me, we’d chat over Twitter, and a connection was formed.

Ultimately, it comes down to offering something rather than asking for something. Because I’m turned off when someone contacts me and says, “Please promote this thing I made.” But I’ll pay close attention if you’re able to introduce yourself by saying, “Here’s this thing that you’ll find interesting or useful…” This is all classic sales technique: make the person care about you before you try to sell them on anything.

(And of course, treat human beings like human beings. Don’t use them as stepping stones.)

Action items:

  1. Write a list of people you want to know. And don’t just pick the popular people. Many of the most interesting folks aren’t the ones with legions of adoring fans.
  2. Follow these people on Twitter, read their blogs, etc. Look for opportunities to help them. Answer their questions, offer advice if they ask for it, and be a friend before they know who you are.
  3. Take your time. You don’t get to know people by forcing it to happen. As long as you’re putting out good stuff and these people know you exist, you’re going in the right direction.

9. Be first.

When the 3DS was announced, I saw the news story on Engadget in the morning and launched the first blog about the device by midday. This might seem like a small detail, but I’ve always found that being first is one of the biggest advantages available:

  • Readers are willing to give you a shot since there’s no alternatives.
  • Google will consider you an authority by default and rank you well.
  • You’ll have more time to build momentum over competitors.

There’s even a law within The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing that states, “It’s better to be first than it is to be better.”

The most effective time to be first is the start of a gaming generation. It’s the people who started blogs about the Xbox One and PS4 as soon as they were announced that have since reached a critical mass of readership. There’s other chances to be first though. You can:

  • Be the first to break any sort of news story.
  • Be the first to start a blog about an anticipated game.
  • Be the first to offer an interesting opinion on a topic.

Even if you’re not monitoring the blogosphere at every second of the day, be ready to jump at the first sign of something new. This doesn’t always work — I also started a blog about the OUYA – but it doesn’t cost much money to start something, and when it pays off, it pays off big.

Action items:

  1. Read sites like Hacker News and Tech Crunch. These will have you covered for the most interesting opportunities. Reddit is also useful.
  2. Figure out a game plan. What will you do if an interesting opportunity comes along? Imagine it happens and prepare for that moment. (I was always at the ready to register domain names, start a blog, etc.)
  3. Get started now. Being first is an advantage but it’s not a prerequisite. Your best bet remains to start as soon as possible and develop your skills, even if you’re not first.

10. Rank well in Google.

Google remains one of the best sources of traffic and therefore one of the best sources of readership — if you know how to improve your ranking. You’re probably wanting to become more of a writer than a marketer though so, don’t worry, we’re going to keep this simple.

The technical term for improving your search rankings is search engine optimisation (or “SEO” for short) and, since the folks at Buffer have already written The Complete Beginner’s Guide to SEO, I’m not going to regurgitate every point they covered. I just want to focus on three things:

First, I don’t take SEO as seriously as other people. It’s a big, profitable industry, but my approach is to:

  1. Get the basics right.
  2. Nudge my rankings in the right direction.
  3. Not worry about it too much after that.

I don’t want such details to distract me from making stuff.

Second, WordPress has a free plugin that’ll cover a lot of groundwork for you, but if you want to take a step further, read this guide to WordPress SEO.

Third, you need links from other sites pointing toward your blog. Google treats links as “votes” that you’re content is worth finding, and they’re critical if you hope to be found. Following the other points in this article will result in natural links, but to give yourself a nudge, write for other sites in exchange for a link  to your blog. This is known as guest blogging and there are lots of resources to get you started:

Given enough time, a snowball effect will build and you won’t have to fight as hard for links.

11. Cover events.

There’s a lot of events within the video game industry: E3, GamesCom, Nintendo Direct, press conferences from other major companies, the release of anticipated games.

Anyone who writes about video games will prepare for these events but most people don’t prepare enough and, as such, they miss out on huge opportunities to reach a lot of people. Because while I’ve promoted my blog in many ways, most of the visitors arrived because of how I prepared for various events:

  • Months before E3, I create a separate page for the event. This allows me to rank well in Google for relevant phrases and my “E3 2010” page resulted in the first time my site reached more than 1500 people in one day. In 2011, that number jumped significantly and the strategy continues to work.
  • There was two months notice for a press event where Nintendo would announce the release date for the 3DS. I created a mini-site for the event, did some basic SEO work, and within seconds of that event starting, my server crashed from too much traffic.
  • When Nintendo hosted Nintendo World 2011 — the first event where the public could play the 3DS — I created another mini-site which attracted thousands of people because I live blogged the event from the show floor and published videos every evening when I returned to the hotel.

I did all of these things within the first 9 months of the blog existing, and there’s been many more events since then, and the strategy continues to work because:

  • There’s a huge influx of people searching for content.
  • Most writers don’t accommodate for these people in a big way.
  • If you prepare, you can outrank bigger sites in search engines.

What I’ve shared is only the tip of the iceberg though. For a more in-depth look at this process, read: How a 3 Month Old Website Received 958,373 Visits from Google. (And, seriously, do not underestimate the power of events. If anything this is the secret to the blog’s success.)

Action items:

  1. Write down the major events coming in the next year. General ones like Valentine’s Day and Christmas are fine but it helps to be specific. Know what’s on the horizon.
  2. Look at last year’s coverage. What popular content came out of previous events? You don’t have to shoot in the dark. See what’s worked and model your content off of it.
  3. Start preparing now. If an event is months or even years away, that’s great. Get to work. As long as you have patience, you’ll be rewarded. Don’t let your future self look back with regret.

12. Find a better way to make money.

The bane of video game journalism is advertising. Even if you’re working for a company, your salary is derived from many eyeballs are accosted by ads. This causes a few problems:

  1. Writers are encouraged to publish click-bait that misleads readers or causes mock outrage.
  2. Websites are designed to increase page views rather than improve the user experience.
  3. The entire industry becomes a race to the bottom since everyone’s aiming for the same metric.

Since I’m a part of the problem, I don’t have a direct solution. I haven’t been able to fix my blog, let alone the industry. I will, however, say that:

  • Patreon is an interesting platform that allows consumers to regularly donate to their favourite creators.
  • The folks at NF magazine have been successfully using to Kickstarter to fund their publication.
  • Daring Fireball is my favourite model of tech journalism and there’s room for a video game equivalent.

Basically, page-view journalism is a downward spiral that’s difficult to escape. The amount of money that a page view is worth continues to fall so the attempts to grab attention by any means necessary become more ludicrous and, as a result, the amount of money that a page view is worth continues to fall. It’s a silly game but, at the moment, that’s how it’s played.

Action items:

  1. Read Trust Me, I’m Lying. This book from Ryan Holiday provides an in-depth explanation of page-view journalism and may give you ideas on how to avoid it.
  2. Waste less money. The less you’re at risk of falling into debt, the less chance you have of doing anything you’ll regret. Consider how to reduce expenses before adding income.
  3. Believe there’s a solution. I know this sounds cheesy but the moment it starts to feel hopeless — as I’ve felt before — is the same moment you enter the downward spiral.

13. Don’t die wondering.

Earlier, I mentioned that I went to Japan to pick up the 3DS on the day it came out. I had been wanting to travel for a while and the 3DS stuff was more an excuse to leave in the country but I still considered it an investment and was lucky enough that the investment paid off (the trip paid for itself).

Before leaving Australia though, I was terrified. I was putting years of my savings into this trip and, while I’d reached a decent amount of people with the blog, I wasn’t earning more than $10 per day, so it was a big move.

But, of course, I did go to Japan, and it was mostly because of something my dad told me. “David,” he said, “you don’t want to die wondering.” And that thought, subconsciously at least, has always pushed me to do the things I’ve done — the thought that, one of these days, time will run out. I won’t exist forever so, when I come to a crossroads between doing something and not doing something, the former is almost always the better bet.

A similar thought is posed by Tim Ferriss in The 4-Hour Workweek — one of the most influential books in my life. Within its pages, Ferriss says to approach every big decision — or every decision that feels big — with two questions:

  • On a scale of 1-10, what’s the worst that can happen?
  • On a scale of 1-10, what’s the best that can happen?

So whether you’re hesitating about publishing your writing online, ambivalent about what it’ll take to make a name for yourself, or scared to take an important leap of faith, ask yourself these questions. Usually, the answer’s going to come back as, “Yes, you should absolutely do that thing you want to do.” Then it’s just a matter of actually doing the work (and that’s where the real fun begins).

Conclusion

The last thing I want is for anyone to thing what I’ve written here is the final word on becoming a video gamer writer. This is just my experience and my observations. I do feel like I’ve covered the big points though and that’s usually the best place to start. Beyond that, read books, learn from people you want to be like, and test assumptions with your own experience. There’s no set way of making it. You ultimately have to find what works for you.

Also know that, if I were to start over, I’d do a lot of things differently. I wouldn’t start a blog that trapped me in a 24-hour news cycle. I’d find a way where I could actually spend time writing rather than rushing around to gather the latest news. I’d try harder to survive without ads and push for an amazing user experience over everything else.

But for those things to work, it would have to be a complete overhaul rather than a gradual shift, and I’m not sure I’m ready for such a reinvention.

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If you have any questions, leave them in the comments below. I’ll continue to check back and answer as many as possible.

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Digital Nomad Packing List: How To Travel the World with (Very) Few Things http://davidturnbull.com/packing-list-2013/ http://davidturnbull.com/packing-list-2013/#comments Wed, 19 Mar 2014 22:00:42 +0000 http://davidturnbull.com/?p=244 Long before I started traveling, I loved to: Read about the stuff that people travelled with. Consider how I’d fit my entire life into a backpack. Learn about the gadgets I’d use along the way. I’ve since travelled a decent amount and my love of packing lists holds strong and it’s because of this love […]

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Long before I started traveling, I loved to:

  • Read about the stuff that people travelled with.
  • Consider how I’d fit my entire life into a backpack.
  • Learn about the gadgets I’d use along the way.

I’ve since travelled a decent amount and my love of packing lists holds strong and it’s because of this love that I’d like to answer a question no one is asking: what do I take with me when I travel? The list, as you’ll see, is quite short.

My Packing List

I should note that I didn’t leave Australia with all of this stuff. I picked some of it up along the way. The list adapts to which country I visit first.

Backpack: Deuter Futura 28L

Deuter Futura 28

I spent an ungodly amount of time picking the right backpack. A year before I went anywhere, I started looking at my options and eventually came across the Deuter Futura 28L (mostly because of what Tynan has written about it).

This backpack has accompanied on me all of my travels in all sorts of environments — rural Tanzania, snow-drenched Kanazawa, etc — and I imagine it’ll stick with me for a while longer.

Here’s why it’s so wonderful:

  • It’s universally accepted as carry-on while not being so small that everything has to be crammed inside of it.
  • Despite putting it through hell, the backpack barely has a scratch of damage. I won’t need to replace it anytime soon.
  • The frame is light, comfortable, and designed to keep the whole thing slightly off my back, preventing sweat.

There’s also a rain cover that pulls out from the bottom and, while I usually forget that it’s there, it saved me on a rainy evening in Osaka.

So while it took ages to decide whether or not I should buy the backpack, I know now that it was the perfect choice. I have no desire to use anything else and it’s the easiest item to recommend on my list.

Computer: Macbook Air 11.6″

Macbook Air

Before I turned sixteen, I hated Apple. Then I wanted to mess with the Apple-only software, bought a Macbook Pro, and have become one of the fanboys I once had so much disdain for. I’ve since bought an 11.6″ Macbook Air and it’s pretty good:

  • The solid-state drive keeps the computer fast.
  • Although I can feel the weight in the backpack, it is light.
  • Battery life (especially in later models) is getting better.

If you’re not loyal to any particular operating system though, there are non-Apple laptops that are lighter and faster and have better battery life. Maybe I’ll make the switch back to Windows, or maybe I’ll even switch to Linux, but I haven’t been able to sever myself from Mac OS X as of yet.

Phone: iPhone 5 (16GB)

iPhone 5

I was the last of my friends to get a phone and they still complain that I’m hard to reach because I leave it in Airplane Mode most of the time. But I do need a phone when I travel and chose the iPhone 5 because:

  • It has the best interface for texting.
  • The camera’s good (and I don’t travel with a camera).
  • Google Maps has saved me a couple of times.

Ideally though, a company would release a phone with a simple interface, these features, and nothing else. I don’t care for the apps and it’s annoying to get stuck on a plan I hardly use.

Apple makes good products, and I do think the iPhone is the best in its class, but it’s way more than what I need.

eReader: Amazon Kindle

Kindle 2nd Generation

I preordered a Kindle the day I was able to — the first generation didn’t ship internationally — and there is nothing else I own that I love as much. I expected to remain loyal to dead-tree books but there’s just too many advantages of Kindle books:

  • They’re cheaper.
  • They’re more pleasant to read.
  • They’re immediately accessible.

And of course, they’re a lot easier to travel with compared to lugging around a stack of physical books.

I don’t read a lot when I’m traveling but the Kindle is the perfect remedy to a rainy day or a long layover at an airport. I’ll never go anywhere without it.

Microphone: Samson GoMic

Samson GoMic

Since I work when traveling, and since some of my work involves making videos, it helps to bring a microphone with me. There’s a lot of options these days but I’ve had the GoMic for seven years and, at just $40 on Amazon, it’s:

  • Held up remarkably well.
  • Capable of capturing great audio.
  • Very small and easy to pack.

Maybe it’s not the absolute pinnacle of tech anymore but I have no desire to replace it. You can see what it’s capable of in this video that I filmed in Portland, Oregon. (Be warned: I look like a drug addict.)

Soap: Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap

Dr Bronner

This is one of those products I saw on just about every packing list because it’s considered such a versatile soap, making it perfect for travellers. You can use it to wash your hair, clothes, or body, and it last for ages so you’ll surely get your money’s worth.

I used the Tea Tree Oil version since I bought it after getting a cold and needed something to help clear the airways.

T-Shirt: Tech T Lite Short Sleeve

Icebreaker T-Shirt

Icebreaker makes clothes with Merino wool, a material that:

  • Keeps you warm in cool weather.
  • Remains breathable in warm weather.
  • Wicks sweat from your body.
  • Dries quickly.
  • Resists odour.

There are synthetic alternatives that do a fine job for less money but this shirt accompanied my dad to South America, tagged along for my travels since then, and while it was eventually laid to rest in a Parisian bin after developing one too many holes, it lived an honourable life up until that point.

Eventually, I plan for the majority (if not all) of my wardrobe to be from the Icebreaker brand. For the moment though, that remains a luxury I can’t afford (and one that feels a little too self-indulgent).

Underwear: ExOfficio Give-N-Go Brief

ExOfficio Underwear

ExOfficio make amazing travel clothes and their underwear is easily worth the expense. They’re comfortable, don’t absorb odour, clean easily, and my only regret is that I travelled with just one pair. (I did have other underwear but only generic brands.)

One of these days, I’ll own three pairs and wear them exclusively throughout the year.

Pants: ExOfficio Men’s Nio Amphi

ExOfficio Pants

Years ago, ExOfficio sent me these pants so I could review them on an old blog of mine and I reviewed them well because they’re great for what they are:

  • Extremely light.
  • Easy to pack.
  • Quick drying.

They’re a great fit for hot climates and they served me well in Tanzania. But I didn’t wear them at all on my recent trip. When it got hot, I wore board shots, and when I arrived in Portland and needed warmer gear, I wore jeans.

In the end, I gave the pants to a friend and he made much better use of them, so they are a good product. I just don’t need them.

Socks: Horizon Merino Hiker Socks

Horizon Merino Hiker Socks

My parents bought me these right before I left the country for the first time and they’ve held up since then. But if I were to buy a new pair, I’d probably go with the Icebreaker brand just because I think it’s one of the more reliable brands of the market.

(If I’m starting to sound like an Icebreaker fanboy, then you’d have a completely accurate perception of me.)

Shoes: Vivo Barefoot Aqua

Vivobarefoot Aqua

A few years ago, I stopped wearing shoes. They’re bad for feet and posture, I learned. But I grew up beside the beach and know the area well so it wasn’t hard to walk barefoot safely. I just couldn’t hope for the same to be true when I left the country.

Many barefoot enthusiasts wear the Vibram Five Fingers shoes but I went with the more traditional looking Vivo Barefoot shoes from Terra Planna and they’ve been amazing:

  • They don’t restrict the foot so you’re able to have the benefits of walking barefoot without the drawbacks.
  • They held up very well over the course of years — surviving snow, desert, multi-day hikes, etc.
  • The styles make them appropriate for just about any situation you can imagine.

And they were my only pair of shoes for this whole time so they took a massive beating across my travels. They did develop a hole in the right sole after an aggressive game of tag with a friend’s daughters in Paris but I went out of my way to buy the same pair and have been equally satisfied with the quality and the comfort.

(They don’t actually make the “Aqua” model of shoe anymore but there’s plenty of options available. If you want the same shoe I bought, some stores should still have stock.)

And everything else…

I don’t want to write paragraphs about mundane items like cables and chargers, so here’s the remainder of my travel gear:

  • Travel adapters for different regions.
  • Macbook Air charger.
  • Kindle charger.
  • iPhone charging cable.
  • Four digit combination lock I never use.
  • Wallet full of foreign currencies.
  • A4 notebook for scribbling down thoughts.
  • Pen that came from somewhere. Maybe Phuket.
  • Scarf that was given to me in Portland.
  • Jeans from Old Navy that started falling apart real quickly.
  • Jacket from Old Navy that’s held up better than the jeans.
  • A long-sleeved, polyester t-shirt for colder weather.
  • Board shorts that my sister says are ugly.
  • Electric toothbrush I’ve had for years.
  • Toothbrush charger that falls over a lot.
  • Nail clippers I bought in Thailand.
  • A set of $10 headphones for listening to music.

What I Didn’t Take With Me

In some regards, my list appears anaemic. I didn’t travel with some items that some people (and especially digital nomads) consider essential. Let’s run through what’s apparently missing and I’ll explain why I didn’t pack it.

Dedicated Camera

Olmypus E-PL5

I took a Canon 60D with me for my first time overseas and came back with some amazing photos but, in general, I find that having a camera encourages me to take more photos than I really need and becomes more of a distraction than anything.

If I were to buy a dedicated camera, I’d buy an Olympus E-PL5 to save on space and weight over the DSLR but, for now, I don’t need more than the iPhone.

External Hard Drive

Dropbox

I work exclusively on computers so it’d make sense to have an external hard-drive for back-up purposes. This is just one of those things I don’t want to lug around though, so I don’t. I make sure all my important files are in Dropbox and that’s worked well so far.

I’ve also recently setup Arq with Amazon Glacier and combining them with Dropbox seems like a potent combination.

Travel Towel

Travel Towel

Years ago, I bought a travel towel. I thought it’d come in handy. Then I never used it. I tested it once at home, was kind of let down, travelled with it anyway, and at some point I lost it. The end.

I had one of these towels, and they are well-reviewed, but I’ve never been far from a regular towel and they’re much more comfortable.

Travel towels only seem necessary if you precisely know for sure that you need them. Otherwise, they’re probably overkill.

My Wishlist

I’m not clamouring for anything new on my packing list but a few extra things would probably come in handy.

Ear Plugs

Ear Plugs

For whatever reason, I still don’t own ear plugs. They cost basically nothing and supposedly make it much easier to fall asleep on planes and in dorm rooms. I’ve just never made the effort to buy them.

These appear to be decent but every brand seems to have some drawbacks. I’ll probably forget to buy them before I leave the country again anyway though.

↳ Related: How To Choose the Best Seat on Any Plane

Sleep Mask

Sleep Mask

I always fly with budget airlines and they never give me free sleep masks so I still don’t own one of these. One would have come in handy on a recent 10-hour flight though when the lady next to me left her television turned on the entire time, even when she was sleeping. (I almost reached out to turn it off but then she woke up and continued watching it.)

This one is expensive but seems interesting.

Universal Travel Adapter

Adapter

I’ve never needed a converter when travelling. Most electronics can handle different voltages. But you do need an adapter if you want to use any outlets when you’re on the go and, at the moment, I use an adapter I bought on eBay, along with one I bought at the airport last year. It’s not the best setup and I should buy a adapter that’s usable everywhere but, you know, laziness.

This is something I’ll remedy for the next trip and, from a tiny bit of research, this adapter looks good.

Conclusion

Despite my fascination with stuff though, if there’s one thing I’ve learned about travel it’s that worrying about what you have when you leave the country is a waste of time. Most “must-have” travel gear isn’t necessary and I’ve travelled just fine with gear that’s usually vilified by backpackers — anything made with cotton, denim, etc.

So while it’s fun to see what other people have in their backpack, don’t let it be a limitation. You don’t need Icebreaker shirts or the fanciest of travel adapters to have a good trip.

The latest in travel gadgetry can make like a little easier on the road but that’s all it ever is — a convenience.

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If you’re interested in reading more about packing light, check out:

And if you have a packing list of your own, feel free to share it in the comments below. (You’re allowed to share links to a blog post, too.)

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How To Become 20% Stronger in 7 Days: A Beginner’s Guide to Creatine http://davidturnbull.com/creatine-monohydrate/ http://davidturnbull.com/creatine-monohydrate/#comments Wed, 12 Mar 2014 22:00:01 +0000 http://davidturnbull.com/?p=336 I’ve never been a fan of supplements. I take Vitamin D and Fish Oil because they’re the most common deficiencies but I rarely feel different after taking multi-vitamins or those herbal medicines with funny names. (But maybe the difference isn’t meant to be overtly felt? Maybe the magic is more subtle?) Last year though, after […]

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I’ve never been a fan of supplements. I take Vitamin D and Fish Oil because they’re the most common deficiencies but I rarely feel different after taking multi-vitamins or those herbal medicines with funny names. (But maybe the difference isn’t meant to be overtly felt? Maybe the magic is more subtle?)

Last year though, after hitting an abrupt wall with my training at the gym, I started to experiment with creatine — a supplement I’d heard a lot about but one that also attracts a lot of critics:

  • “It doesn’t work!”
  • “It’s bad for the kidneys!”
  • “Isn’t creatine a steroid?”

But less than a week into taking the supplement, I could only wonder: why isn’t everyone taking this stuff? Because it wasn’t like most supplements. I could actually feel the difference and it was big.

(And don’t worry, I’ll address the critics soon enough).

What is Creatine?

Creatine is produced within the body and found in food products like meat, eggs, and fish. When consumed in larger quantities though, incredible things happen:

  • You become stronger.
  • You build muscle faster.
  • Your aerobic ability improves.

It’s the first point that’s the most obvious while the other ones are seen to a lesser degree, but the first point is a big one. Take the supplement every day for 1-2 weeks and it’s like flicking a switch or discovering you have superpowers. You become stronger without any extra work.

One study in particular showed that creatine was:

…able to increase a 12% improvement in strength to 20% and able to increase a 12% increase in power to 26% following a training regiment using creatine monohydrate.

You do have to keep taking the supplement to continually feel its effect — it takes the 1-2 weeks just to kick-in — but it’s cheaper than many other supplements. You can get my favourite creatine powder for $15 on Amazon and that’ll last about three months at the normal dose of 5g per day (which is roughly one rounded teaspoon).

Creatine Examine

My Experience

The week before taking creatine, I squatted 85kg for three sets of five reps. I had to fight for each rep and my form wasn’t great. The week after taking creatine, I squatted 90kg for three sets of five reps and the reps were easier than what I’d been lifting with the 85kg — I struggled less and my form was a lot better. The reps weren’t easy but I felt close to lifting even more weight during my next session.

There’s a few important things to note about this progress:

After lifting for a few months, adding 5kg to your squat over the course of a week is not a normal thing to do. Especially when you’re a lightweight like me — I weighed just 69kg at the time.  Usually, your progress will dramatically slow after the first 2-3 months.

I’d only been taking creatine for a week. And maybe my body was quick to absorb it but I imagine I would have made further progress had I continued taking it. (I’ll explain in a moment why I stopped taking creatine until recently.)

I didn’t change anything about my diet or training. There wasn’t an X-factor that I’ve failed to mention. The creatine is the only addition to my regime and, as far as I can tell, it’s the only reason my strength jumped so significantly in a matter of days.

But I did exaggerate in the headline when I said no one’s taking creatine since, in reality, it’s:

  • Very popular among athletes.
  • One of the most studied supplements on the planet.

I’m just surprised we don’t see it recommended for “regular” people when it provides such dramatic results without any effort. Isn’t that the dream? To make progress without doing anything?

You might be thinking that there has to be some grand side-effects though if it’s otherwise so wonderful. But, well, not really.

Risks & Side-Effects

Let’s get a few things out of the way:

  • Creatine is not a steroid.
  • Creatine does not damage the kidneys.
  • Creatine has no significant side-effects.

And that’s not a liberal use of the word significant. These are the potential side-effects of creatine:

  • Dehydration, but you simply need to drink more water. You don’t even need to drink a lot more water. Just a bit extra.
  • Cramps, which stems from the dehydration, so water or a sports drink with lots of electrolytes will take care of this.
  • Weight gain, but this is water weight gain. You’re not getting fat. If you ever stop taking creatine, the weight will go away.
  • Diarrhoea, but I’ve never had a problem and it seems to be tied with dosage. Stick with the 5g dose and you should be fine.

There will, of course, be more studies done in the future so there’s still more to learn about the supplement, but all it takes is a perusal of the examine.com page to see a lot of comforting evidence.

How To Not Use Creatine

Despite everything I’ve said though, my first experience with creatine ended badly. It was, however, my own fault.

Like I said before, I hit an abrupt wall with my training at the end of last year. I’d been hoping to squat 100kg before January but 85kg seemed like my limit. I just couldn’t lift anymore and, with every workout, I felt increasingly tired — yawning during workouts, etc.

At this point, as I teetered on the verge of overtraining, I should have:

But I did none of these things. I had less than two months to add 15kg to my squat and I was impatient.

My solution was to take creatine. I used it as a quick-fix to push myself when my body was crying aloud to rest and recover. I was overtraining but continued to ignore how I felt.

For the briefest of moments, the plan worked and my squat went up. I was making progress again. But the day after I managed the glory of my 90kg squat, I lay down for an afternoon nap and, when I woke, I felt horrible — headache, fatigue, and the first signs of a cold. Then, for the rest of the week:

  • I remained confined to bed.
  • The cold developed.
  • I threw up a few times.

It was a strange sickness since it seemed to change from day to day but, in either case, my body was telling me to take a break.

Forever stubborn though, I returned to the gym and tried to lift weights (this time without the creatine since I wanted to believe it was the culprit, rather than my inability to take a break). I dropped down to lifting just 60kg but even that was too much. I felt groggy during workouts and never walked out of the building with the rush of endorphins that had made me addicted to lifting in the first place. After two weeks of this, I had to accept that I couldn’t keep going. I took three weeks off.

All of this happened four months ago and, while I returned to the gym again for a brief stint after New Year’s, I wasn’t ready for the return and have decided that I won’t start lifting again until the end of April — once I’ve recovered from deviated septum surgery.

I am taking creatine again though (in tandem with the bodyweight training I’m doing through Gymnastic Bodies). I’ll just make sure to use it properly this time around — as an enhancement, not a cure.

Extra Bits

If you’re willing to at least test creatine for a few weeks to see what it can do, here’s a few things to keep in mind:

You only want creatine monohydrate. There are other forms of creatine but these cost more without having an observed benefit. Don’t believe any marketing hype that says otherwise.

Stick with creatine power or capsules. There is a liquid variant but it’s ineffective. Most people will prefer powder since individual capsules contain very low doses (so you need a lot of them).

You don’t need to “load” creatine. This speeds up absorption but the impact isn’t always noticeable and you’ll burn through the creatine faster than needed. I prefer sticking with a consistent, 5g dose.

You don’t need to “cycle” creatine. You don’t need to take a break from it. This just stems from when people thought creatine had side-effects. You can take it regularly without a problem.

Not everyone will feel the benefits. I’m not sure why this happens but a minority people just don’t gain anything from creatine. Try it anyway though. Most people will at least feel some effect.

Conclusion

You won’t hear me talk a lot about supplements because it can be such an iffy industry with a lot of crap peddled by sociopaths. This feels like one of the exceptions though. Creatine is:

  • Safe.
  • Studied.
  • Effective.

And if you try it yourself, you’ll feel the effects within a week or two, or you won’t. There’s no need to buy a 12-month supply and beat a dead horse into submission. Give it a go and see what happens.

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Feel free to ask any questions and I’ll do what I can to answer them.

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International Flights: How To Choose the Best Seat on Any Plane http://davidturnbull.com/best-seat-plane/ http://davidturnbull.com/best-seat-plane/#comments Wed, 26 Feb 2014 22:00:00 +0000 http://davidturnbull.com/?p=10 Whether or not I enjoy a flight mostly depends on where I sit and, since I’m mostly flying to and from Australia, the wrong seat can be the catalyst for eight or more hours of hell. To deal with this, I’ve developed a system for choosing my seat on any plane that pretty much guarantees a […]

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Whether or not I enjoy a flight mostly depends on where I sit and, since I’m mostly flying to and from Australia, the wrong seat can be the catalyst for eight or more hours of hell. To deal with this, I’ve developed a system for choosing my seat on any plane that pretty much guarantees a half-decent flight.

Be warned though: I’m neurotic and, when I say, “I’ve developed a system,” that isn’t meant to be taken lightly.

Step 1. Find Your Plane on SeatGuru.com

The first step is basic reconnaissance via SeatGuru.com. The site provides an overview of different plane layouts and a run-down of seats you want to avoid.

In particular, watch out for seats that:

  • Have less leg room.
  • Are slightly narrower.
  • Can’t recline.

These are seats you can easily cross off your list and are precisely the reason you should choose your seats with every booking.

Avoid the yellow seats.
Avoid the yellow seats.

Step 2. Match Your Criteria

The precise seat you want will depend on personal preferences but after far too much consideration, these are my preferences:

Isle Seats

If I can snag a seat in the isle, which isn’t too difficult, my flight is more than likely going to be alright. I prefer them to window seats because:

  • You can get up at any moment to stretch your legs or use the bathroom. No need to make anyone else stand up.
  • When no one’s walking in the isle, you can extend your leg for extra relief. (Just don’t fall asleep like that.)
  • You’re served food seconds before the people beside you. This is barely a benefit but I wanted a third item in this list.

If I can’t snag an isle seat, a window seat will do. As long as I avoid the middle seat. That is just too tragic of a fate.

Left Side of the Plane

When stretching a leg into the isle, it makes more sense to stretch your dominant leg since this is the leg that’ll feel the most pain and, therefore, the most relief.

To do this, sit opposite to your dominant side. If your right side is dominant (like mine), sit on the left side of the plane. If your left side is dominant, sit on the right side.

This is the most neurotic decision I make but it’s not a taxing choice and flights are more comfortable because of it.

Near the Bathroom

People complain about the smell of the bathroom but I have a deviated septum at the moment, so maybe that’s why it’s never bothered me. My eventual surgery could “fix” that problem though.

In either case, I prefer a seat near the bathroom because I won’t have to stand in line. I can wait for a lull in bathroom usage and go about my business without delay. (This would have been useful during the times when I’ve ended up in a line and then been told to sit down by flight attendants once some turbulence arrives.)

Over the Wing

This results in a smoother ride since the middle of the plane “is nearest to the plane’s centres of lift and gravity.”

I won’t sacrifice an isle seat to sit in the middle since the difference in smoothness isn’t huge but, if it’s a choice I can take, I may as well take it. I’m completely in favour of less-turbulent turbulence.

When I can’t choose the middle, I prefer the front over the back so I’ll be served food as soon as possible.

Behind an Emergency Row

I usually end up near the emergency exit row anyway since they’re near the bathroom, but I specifically try to book a seat right behind the exit row because, if they end up being available, it’s possible to steal one of them after take-off and give yourself a free upgrade.

Flight attendants might not like you doing this because they can sell the upgrades to people during the flight but not everyone will care. I haven’t managed it myself, but I’m confident I will one of these days.

With Two Free Seats Next To Me

I’ll occassionally sacrifice some criteria — bathroom proximity, etc – if there’s two free seats next to me at the time of booking.

Seats being available at the time of booking is not surprising since many people don’t choose their seats but , about ten percent of the time, I’ve ended up with two seats next to me during the flight itself.

This mostly happens when:

  • You book late (this can cost more, so be careful).
  • The departure time is inconvenient.
  • You’re booking an unpopular route.

These aren’t common scenarios but paying attention to potentially free seats has allowed me to sleep through international flights. I’ll eat, sleep, then wake up in my destination, and I’m not sure there’s another joy that could possibly be so grand.

But I did enjoy this window seat.
But I did enjoy this window seat.

Step 3. Get Upgraded

Unless you’re dropping fat stacks on fancy airlines, you’re probably never going to have an objectively comfortable seat on a plane in economy class. The best you can really hope for is a seat that’s comfortable for a plane.

Free upgrades are a thing though. Last year, Korean Airlines put me in business class on a 10-hour flight between Bangkok and Seoul despite having never flown with them before. It was late at night but I didn’t sleep a wink on that flight. It was too glorious.

Unfortunately, as David Rowell of The Travel Insider explains, this isn’t as common as it used to be:

…it is harder to get undeserved upgrades these days. The procedure for getting upgrades that one is entitled to has become almost 100 percent automatic and hands-off, and with all flights being full in both cabins, there isn’t much ‘wiggle room’ for people to exploit.

So it’s sort of impossible to ever expect an upgrade unless you’re a loyal member of an airline’s frequent flier program, and that tends to end up not being a cost effective way to pay for air travel. But, again, we can stack the odds in our favour without much effort:

  1. Book tickets separately. It’s harder for an airline to upgrade two people. If you leave your travel buddy behind in economy though, they may hate you.
  2. Check-in early. This is probably why Korean Airlines upgraded me. They needed to better distribute weight in the plane and I got priority just by being there.
  3. Ask. Because of airline policies, this won’t work too much, but asking is better than not asking. (I’ll assume that being attractive helps with this part.)
  4. Volunteer to give up your seat on an oversold flight. You might have to wait for a later flight but I’d say it’s a worthy sacrifice. (If you want to know if a flight is oversold, ask at check-in.)
  5. Dress well. This counts me out since I always look like a grimy backpacker but, if you dress well, airlines will assume you’re a better fit for first-class culture.

Or, if you’re interested in messing with airline miles and cleverly acquired upgrades, then check out Chris Guillebeau’s beginner’s guide to travel hacking. Most of it only applies to folks in the USA though, so I can’t talk about it from experience.

Sitting in business class.
Sitting in business class.

Conclusion

I know I’ve probably over-thought this process but the only bad flight I can recall from recent memory was when I wasn’t able to choose my seat. Otherwise, I’ve had a pretty good run.

The post International Flights: How To Choose the Best Seat on Any Plane appeared first on David Turnbull.

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