David Turnbull http://davidturnbull.com A work-in-progress human being. Mon, 25 Dec 2017 01:36:22 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.1 Should You Pack a Sleeping Bag for the Camino de Santiago? http://davidturnbull.com/pack-sleeping-bag-camino-de-santiago/ Mon, 06 Nov 2017 23:09:26 +0000 http://davidturnbull.com/?p=1028 If you’re looking for the authentic pilgrim experience on the Camino, you’ll probably spend most of your nights in an albergue. But while there’s a lot to love about albergues, many of them don’t have heating and they can become cold during the night. Because of this, it’s common for pilgrims to pack a sleeping […]

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Albergue Bed

If you’re looking for the authentic pilgrim experience on the Camino, you’ll probably spend most of your nights in an albergue. But while there’s a lot to love about albergues, many of them don’t have heating and they can become cold during the night. Because of this, it’s common for pilgrims to pack a sleeping bag for the sake of consistently getting a good night’s sleep.

The problem with a sleeping bag though is they can be one of the heavier things in your pack, which might lead you to wonder:

Do you actually need a sleeping bag?

Or can you survive without one?

To Pack or Not To Pack?

In the days before I left Australia, while preparing to embark on my Camino, I went back and forth on whether or not I should pack a sleeping bag. I already owned a sleeping bag, and it wasn’t monstrously heavy, but:

  1. I wanted to pack as light as possible.
  2. The sleeping bag was the last item I could feel weighing down my pack.

I knew that some albergues provided blankets, and if I got cold, I figured I could either layer up my clothing or buy a sleeping bag liner while in Spain.

This, however, would have been a bad decision.

Here’s why:

Some albergues provide blankets, and some albergues are warm enough that you might not need further insulation, but there’s no way to predict this ahead of time. You can have a perfectly warm night, followed by a freezing one.

You can generally assume that the more expensive albergues will provide a more complete range of facilities, such as blankets and heating, but the more expensive albergues will also book out quickly, as they’ll have fewer beds to start with, and in many towns, all of the albergues will be relatively basic. You can plan ahead to guarantee a warm bed every night, but this can take some of the spontaneity out of the trip.

The benefit of a sleeping bag, then, is that it provides consistency. You know that, no matter what, you’ll be able to snuggle up in a warm cocoon at the end of a hard day’s walk. This means, for the cost of a slightly heavier backpack, you have both freedom and peace of mind.

The good news is, you don’t need a fancy sleeping bag, as you won’t be sleeping in sub-zero temperatures, so there are lightweight options that don’t cost (too) much.

After developing a nasty case of Achilles tendinitis, for instance, I needed to shed some weight from my pack, so I bought a 675g sleeping bag for €60. It’s only rated for 15°C, but that was enough to get a comfortable night’s sleep. (Naturally, I didn’t continue to carry my original sleeping bag. I mailed it ahead to Santiago, so I could pick it up when I finished walking.)

Note: If you’re an active hiker, think about buying a sleeping quilt, instead of a bag. They’re lighter, easier to pack, and very affordable relative to the warmth they provide.

How To Survive Without a Sleeping Bag

Let’s say you really don’t want to travel with a sleeping bag. Like, you’re an absolute stickler for ultra-light travel and you’re willing to forego some comfort if it means keeping your pack as light as possible.

If you’re driven by this sort of compulsion, which I can relate to, can you walk the Camino de Santiago without a sleeping bag?

I’d say, “Probably.”

Or at least, I’m fairly sure you won’t freeze to death, but there is a decent chance you’ll wake up in the middle of the night with the unquenchable desire for warmth.

To avoid the drawbacks of not taking a sleeping bag, try the following strategies:

  • Pack warm, insulating clothes. In general, this means wool clothing. These clothes will be lighter than a sleeping bag, keep you warm while sleeping, and serve more than a single purpose (unlike a sleeping bag, which is only good for sleeping in). Icebreaker makes great clothes for this purpose, but cheaper alternatives can be found on Amazon.
  • Only stay in albergues that offer blankets. Just make sure you start walking early in the day, so you’re not limited for choice when you’re ready to settle down for the evening. Alternatively, call ahead, ask if the albergue has blankets, and if they do, make a reservation. Personally though, I’d rather carry the sleeping bag for the sake of flexibility.
  • Walk the Camino in the summer. This is not the ideal season for walking the trail, since it becomes (very) hot during the day and there are long stretches without any shade, but the added heat at night will work out in your favour.

Even if you’re don’t pack a sleeping bag though, at least pack a sleeping bag liner. They’re cheap, light, and can take the edge off a particularly chilly night, so they make for a good insurance policy if the other strategies fail.

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Why You Should Spend a Night in Bayonne Before Starting Your Pilgrimage in St. Jean Pied-de-Port http://davidturnbull.com/spend-night-in-bayonne-france-before-st-jean-pied-de-port/ Mon, 06 Nov 2017 23:07:50 +0000 http://davidturnbull.com/?p=1013 One of the most common ways to reach St. Jean Pied-de-Port, the feudal-era town that doubles as the official starting point of the Camino Francés, is to catch a train from Paris to Bayonne and then a bus from Bayonne to St. Jean. Alternatively, you can fly into Biarritz, which is near Bayonne, but the […]

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Map of Bayonne, France

One of the most common ways to reach St. Jean Pied-de-Port, the feudal-era town that doubles as the official starting point of the Camino Francés, is to catch a train from Paris to Bayonne and then a bus from Bayonne to St. Jean. Alternatively, you can fly into Biarritz, which is near Bayonne, but the point is, you’ll almost certainly pass through Bayonne before beginning your pilgrimage (unless you’re planning on starting your journey further along the trail).

Now, you don’t have to spend time in Bayonne, as the trains and buses are scheduled to allow you to travel from Paris to St. Jean in a single day, but if you can spare the time (and the funds), I’d suggest that you spend a night there.

“Why?”

Aside from being yet another place to explore, spending a night in Bayonne makes the logistics of arriving in St. Jean a lot more straight-forward.

To understand what I mean, consider everything you have to do upon arriving in St. Jean.

You have to:

  1. Pick up a “Pilgrim Passport” from the Pilgrim Office.
  2. Find a bed in one of the albergues.
  3. Make any final preparations for your journey.

It’s not an exhaustive list, and any oversights in preparation can be corrected just a few days later in Pamplona, but if you arrive in St. Jean at the end of the day, it’s easy to feel like there’s a lot you need to cram into just a few hours.

In my case, for instance, the bus from Bayonne to St. Jean was delayed, so I didn’t arrive in St. Jean until 7pm. As a result, I had slim-pickings when it came to finding a bed — in fact, I got the last bed in the town’s largest albergue — and I didn’t have time to explore the local area.

If, on the other hand, you spend a night in Bayonne, you can catch an earlier bus to St. Jean, allowing you to arrive in the town around midday. This guarantees you a bed in just about any albergue, as bed are designated on a first-come, first-serve basis, and the albergues only accept pilgrims after 2pm. You’ll also have plenty of time to explore the local area, enjoy a couple of nice meals, and make any last-minute adjustments to your supplies. Oh, and there’s a decent you’ll get to know some of the other pilgrims you’ll be crossing paths with during your walk.

But if you don’t want to spend time in Bayonne for whatever reason — maybe you’re already on a tight schedule — then an alternative way to make your life easier upon arriving in St. Jean is to book a private albergue ahead of time. These albergues cost more, can book out weeks in advance, and you’re still not going to have a lot of time to explore if you’re arriving after 5pm, but it’s still a worthwhile enough way to make the arrival process that little bit easier.

Ultimately though, I think spending a night in Bayonne is the ideal option.

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How To Greet People on the Camino de Santiago: The Meaning of “Buen Camino” (and When To Use It) http://davidturnbull.com/buen-camino-meaning-camino-de-santiago/ Mon, 06 Nov 2017 23:07:24 +0000 http://davidturnbull.com/?p=1015 The two most common words you’ll hear on the Camino are “Buen Camino.” The phrase means “Good Way” — “Buen” meaning good and “Camino” meaning way — and it’s a simple, cross-cultural way to wish your fellow pilgrims well on their walk. Even if you don’t share the same language with another pilgrim, you can still give […]

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Walking the Camino de Santiago

The two most common words you’ll hear on the Camino are “Buen Camino.”

The phrase means “Good Way” — “Buen” meaning good and “Camino” meaning way — and it’s a simple, cross-cultural way to wish your fellow pilgrims well on their walk. Even if you don’t share the same language with another pilgrim, you can still give them a friendly, verbal fist-bump.

Early on in the walk, countless pilgrims will use these words to greet you, and the appropriate response is to simply say them in return. Of course, you don’t have to wait for other pilgrims to initiate the greeting. It’s wonderfully fun to offer an enthusiastic “Buen Camino” in a stranger’s direction, as it’s like being part of an exclusive club, so don’t be afraid to enjoy yourself.

Something that’s not expected is to say “Buen Camino” whenever you’re passing by a pilgrim that you’ve already greeted, as you’ll likely be overtaking and be overtaken by the same pilgrims on a regular basis, and no one wants to end up in an endless loop of greetings. I did, however, find myself reusing the phrase as a farewell after chatting with a pilgrim that I’d already greeted.

It’s also worth noting that, along the trail, some locals might share a friendly “Buen Camino” in your direction. If you recognise them as locals — the lack of backpack and possibility of them walking in the opposite direction is usually a giveaway — then it doesn’t make sense to repeat the greeting back to them, as they aren’t walking the Camino. Instead, a friendly “Gracias” is the more appropriate response.

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Arriving in St. Jean Pied-de-Port: What To Do Before Your First Day on the Camino de Santiago http://davidturnbull.com/arriving-st-jean-pied-de-port-what-to-do-before-first-day-camino-de-santiago/ Mon, 06 Nov 2017 23:06:41 +0000 http://davidturnbull.com/?p=1007 For the most part, walking the Camino de Santiago is a straight-forward affair. Every morning, you wake up, walk, eat, and then find a bed for the night. That’s the pilgrim experience in a nutshell. But before arriving in St. Jean Pied-de-Port to start my pilgrimage, I had a number of questions about my first […]

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Leaving St. Jean Pied-de-Port

For the most part, walking the Camino de Santiago is a straight-forward affair. Every morning, you wake up, walk, eat, and then find a bed for the night.

That’s the pilgrim experience in a nutshell.

But before arriving in St. Jean Pied-de-Port to start my pilgrimage, I had a number of questions about my first night on the trail, such as:

  • When I arrive in St. Jean, what do I do first?
  • How do I get this “pilgrim passport” thing I’d heard about?
  • If I arrive later in the day, will I be able to find a bed?

The answers to these questions, unfortunately, were scattered around the Internet, and they weren’t entirely accurate, so now that I’ve been to St. Jean myself and completed my pilgrimage, I thought I’d fill in the blanks for any budding pilgrims you might have the same questions.

1. Find the Pilgrim Office

St. Jean is a small town, but it can be confusing to navigate. There’s a lot of narrow, twisting streets, and unlike other towns you’ll find along the Camino, you probably won’t be able to guess your way to your destination. The good news is, as you disembark from your train or bus, there will almost certainly be a group of pilgrims disembarking at the same time. If you follow these pilgrims, you’ll soon arrive at your first destination: the Pilgrim Office.

It’s at the Pilgrim Office that you can pickup a pilgrim passport, which is something we’ll talk more about in a moment. This passport is required to stay in any of the albergues along the Camino, including the privately owned ones, so don’t try to be clever by first heading to an albergue and attempting to secure a bed. You’ll be turned away until you have a passport.

The Pilgrim Office in St. Jean Pied-de-Port.
The Pilgrim Office in St. Jean Pied-de-Port.

If there isn’t a group of pilgrims to treat like a human compass — or if you don’t trust crowd-sourced navigation — then make your way to this address:

39 Rue de la Citadelle, 64220
Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, France

This is the address of the Pilgrim Office, pictured above . The office itself is on the left side of the street, through a pair of big, wooden doors.

To help with navigation, plan ahead and download an offline copy of the map for St. Jean via Google Maps (while connected to Wi-Fi, ideally). It’s important to note that you do not need mobile phone reception or mobile phone data to use your phone’s GPS feature. The GPS chip operates separately from your mobile phone plan and is free to use as long as you have an offline copy of the map already downloaded. (If you don’t have an offline copy of the map, accessing the map will require both reception and data, which will cost money.)

2. Get a Pilgrim Passport

A pilgrim passport, officially known as a Credencial del Peregrino (or just Crendencial for short) is an essential item for every pilgrim on the Camino de Santiago. The passport itself is a small booklet that has two primary uses: to verify that you’re a genuine pilgrim (and therefore able to use the network of albergues along the trail) and to confirm that you’ve walked at least 100km of the trail after you’ve arrived in Santiago de Compostela.

Every time you check into an albergue, you’ll be asked to hand over your pilgrim passport (and your actual passport, too). The pilgrim passport will be stamped and these stamps are the proof that you need to receive your certificate of completion in Santiago. Without the stamps, the Pilgrim Office in Santiago won’t be able to verify that you’ve actually walked your stated distance.

You can pick up (or replace) a passport at a number of locations along the trail, and in St. Jean Pied-de-Port, that location happens to be the Pilgrim Office.

The office itself is run by volunteers, and there’ll likely be a line when you arrive, but at least in my experience, the process was perfectly efficient.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Wait in line. The office isn’t huge, so don’t be surprised if the line stretches into the street.
  2. When it’s your turn, approach the available volunteer. Many of them are multi-lingual, so all of the common languages will be catered for.
  3. Explain that you’d like a passport for the Camino de Santiago. This is what most other people — if not everyone — will be there for.
  4. Answer some questions about yourself, such as where you’re from and your intended mode of transport. In this case, your “transport” will be walking. (Other options include cycling and horseback.)
  5. Pay for your passport. It should cost around €3. Just in case the price is raised in the future though, take a €5 note with you. They do have change.

The volunteer will stamp the passport, verifying its authenticity, and just like that, you’ll have become a real-life pilgrim on the Camino de Santiago.

Next, the volunteer might ask if you have a bed for the night. If you don’t, let them know. They’ll show you a map of nearby albergues and provide suggestions about which may or may not be full. They’ll also give you some helpful details about the first day of walking, along with a complete list of albergues on the trail.

If you have any lingering questions, now is the time to ask them. The volunteers are full of the latest, most current details, so it’s worth picking their brain.

3. Take a Scallop Shell

The scallop shell is the official symbol of the Camino de Santiago:

The scallop shell symbol, commonly seen on trail markings.
The scallop shell symbol, commonly seen on trail markings.

You’ll see this symbol everywhere along the trail, mostly as a means of navigating.

What’s neat is that the Pilgrim Office has a tray of scallop shells. You’re allowed to take one of these shells and then attach it your backpack (they come with a small loop of string). This makes it trivial to recognise other pilgrims as you’re walking.

The scallop shell I attached to my backpack for the duration of the Camino de Santiago.
The scallop shell I attached to my backpack for the duration of the Camino de Santiago.

Technically, the scallops are free, but a donation is expected, so have an extra €2-3 at the ready for this purpose.

4. Find a Bed for the Night

St. Jean has a number of places to spend your first night on the Camino, including a mix of municipal and private albergues, many of which are located on the same street as the Pilgrim Office. (If you take a left turn out of the office, you’ll find the municipal albergue. If you take a right turn, you’ll find just about every other albergue.) There’s even a camping ground available, in case you have a tent, but it’s not significantly cheaper than any of the albergues.

If you arrive in St. Jean in the early afternoon (between 1-2pm), having maybe spent a night in Bayonne, finding a bed should be easy enough without planning ahead. The beds in a municipal albergue can’t be booked in advance, so if you’re there early, you’ll benefit from the “first come, first serve” policy.

If you arrive at St. Jean at the end of the day, however, having maybe taken the train down from Paris that morning (which is what I did), you may have a little more trouble finding a bed. Even though I moved quick after arriving in St. Jean, the first two albergues I visited were full, and in the third albergue I visited, I only just managed to snag the last bed.

Note: It’s also important to consider delays. I should have arrived in St. Jean an hour earlier, for instance, but my bus was way behind schedule. Take the possibility of delays into account during the planning process.

Ultimately, I don’t think I was at risk of not getting a bed — there were other albergues I hadn’t checked and, if I was truly desperate, I’m sure one of the albergues would have let me sleep on the floor — but if I were to walk the Camino again, I would do one of the following:

  1. Spend a night in Bayonne before arriving in St. Jean. That way, I can arrive in St. Jean early in the day and a grab a bed in the municipal albergue.
  2. Reserve a bed at one of the private albergues.

In general, I enjoyed not always knowing where I would spend each night, but either of these options would have made the arrival process flow that little bit smoother, giving me one less thing to think about before starting the walk.

(If you do get stuck without a bed in St. Jean, return to the Pilgrim Office and speak with the volunteers. I’m sure they’d be happy to offer assistance.)

5. Prepare for Your Pilgrimage

When you wake up for your first day of walking along the Camino, the last thing you’ll want to do is fiddle around with your gear, have a shower, or double-check if you’ve forgotten anything. That’s why it’s best to get all of this maintenance out of the way in St. Jean, the night before you start walking. That way, as soon as you wake up, you’ll be ready to get up and go without delay.

Here’s some tips and tricks to keep in mind:

  • As soon as you’re checked into an albergue, start charging your phone (and anything else with a battery). There’s never enough space for everyone to plug in their electronics, so you might like to travel with an external battery pack.
  • Have a shower in the evening, not the morning. This is the standard on the Camino, as showering in the morning will slow down your departure, and if your feet are even remotely wet while walking, you’ll get blisters.
  • Pack your backpack before going to bed. If you don’t want to sleep in your walking clothes, at least place them on top of your backpack, so you don’t have to dig around for them.
  • If the albergue has blankets, don’t use your sleeping bag. They’re a pain in the butt to pack away when you’ve just woken up.

But none of these tricks are exclusive to the first night. I used them throughout my walk to make waking up early bearable. It is, however, extra sweet to wake up on that first day with nothing to think about aside from putting one foot in front of the other.

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How To Walk 900km with Achilles Tendinitis: 9 Tips & Tricks for Achilles Tendon Pain Relief http://davidturnbull.com/achilles-tendon-pain-relief/ http://davidturnbull.com/achilles-tendon-pain-relief/#comments Mon, 02 Oct 2017 07:42:10 +0000 http://davidturnbull.com/?p=283 Last year, I walked 900km (560 miles) across Spain on a trail known as the Camino de Santiago. It’s a challenging enough adventure as it is, but what made things all the more difficult is that, three days into the walk, I felt an uncomfortable pinch in the back of my left heel. At first, […]

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Achilles Tendon Pain on the Camino de Santiago
Walking the Camino de Santiago with achilles tendon pain

Last year, I walked 900km (560 miles) across Spain on a trail known as the Camino de Santiago. It’s a challenging enough adventure as it is, but what made things all the more difficult is that, three days into the walk, I felt an uncomfortable pinch in the back of my left heel.

At first, the pain wasn’t severe. It was just irritating — as if someone was lightly pinching the skin whenever I took a forward step — and I was mostly concerned about whether or not the pain would get worse.

Then it got worse.

Within a couple of days, I had in a full-on limp and was struggling to stumble along the trail at even a relaxed walking pace.

I turned to my friend Dr. Google and learned that I probably had achilles tendinitis, which is characterised by the following symptoms:

  • pain in the back of the heel
  • difficulty walking – sometimes the pain makes walking impossible
  • swelling, tenderness, and warmth of the Achilles tendon

At this point, the sensible thing would have been to rest, recover, and re-attempt the walk at some point in the future. It’s not like I could walk over 800km with a condition that specifically affects walking.

Except that’s exactly what I did.

It’s not the most intelligent thing I’ve ever done, but it did give me insight into what treatments for achilles tendinitis actually make a difference, so if you’re struggling with some achilles tendon pain, I’d like to think that I can be of service.

Here’s what you should do:

1. Visit a physical therapist

It’s not difficult to self-diagnose achilles tendinitis, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to do so. Before you descend too far down this rabbit hole, “positive” that your achilles tendon is having a bad day (or week or month), visit a professional and hear what they have to say. You might learn that you have an entirely different problem, or at least why you have tendinitis, which is important to know if you’re hoping to avoid further suffering in the future.

In my case, for instance, I visited a physical therapist in Burgos, Spain, and learned that my left ankle rolls inward, which the therapist suggested could contribute to tendinitis as the tendons were being placed under additional stress with each step that I took. He also gave me an ankle and calf massage, which helped relieve some of the short-term pain. Perhaps the biggest benefit though was psychological. Just having a professional confirm my diagnosis seemed to make some of the pain disappear.

2. Rest

If doing something causes pain, the best course of action is to stop doing that thing — or at least, do less of that thing.

This certainly applies to achilles tendinitis.

By abusing the tendons with whatever activity caused the pain in the first place, the pain will get worse and the healing process will take longer. Rest is the way to relieve the pain and prevent it from getting worse.

But of course, this is easier said than done. People have lives, after all, and life doesn’t come to a standstill just because your tendons are sore.

With this in mind, do the best you can do by taking frequent breaks. The more you rest, the faster the tendon will recover, but even just taking it easy after work will make a big difference over the course of a few weeks.

3. Wear heel lifts

If you want relief from achilles tendinitis right now, buy some heel lifts.

Heel lifts are rubber wedges that are inserted into a shoe for the sake of raising the heel, and although I was skeptical of their usefulness at first, they proved to be the most effective and most immediate treatment for my pain.

“How do they work?”

By raising your heel, heel lifts reduce the amount of work your tendon has to do whenever you take a step, thereby reducing the pain you feel.

It’s a simple mechanic that’s wonderfully effective.

There are, however, a few things to keep in mind:

  1. If you stop wearing the heel lifts, the pain will come back. Heel lifts provide immediate relief, but they don’t cure the underlying problem. You still need rest.
  2. Heel lifts are ideal for short-term use. If you wear them for months on end, your tendons can start to shorten, which increases the likelihood of tendinitis when you’re not wearing the lifts.
  3. You need to wear heel lifts in both shoes. This is to avoid developing an unnatural gait, which would cause further pain down the line.

It’s also important to get heel lifts that are relatively firm — if they’re too squishy, they won’t keep the heel raised — and of an appropriate height. The exact firmness and height will depend on the person, so if you can afford it, purchase and test a few different options.

Even with these considerations though, don’t underestimate the power of heel lifts. Without them, I doubt I would have been able to continue my walk across Spain. They’re not perfect but they make a big difference.

4. Massage your calf with a lacrosse ball

If you have achilles tendinitis, you probably have tight calf muscles. One way to release this tightness is to get a massage, but since that’s not practical for most people, try giving yourself a massage with a lacrosse ball.

For the uninitiated, lacrosse balls are small, hard balls that can press deep into a muscle and release some of the tension contained within.

Here, for instance, is one way to massage your calf with a lacrosse ball:

If you’ve never done this before, it might look a silly, but it does provide a significant amount of (temporary) relief. Just don’t apply too much pressure at first, as lacrosse balls can be surprisingly painful against a tight muscle.

5. Stretch

Using a lacrosse ball is a great way to temporarily loosen the muscle, but to ensure that your calf muscles remain loose, you need to stretch.

There are two stretches that will provide the most relief:

The first stretch involves pressing against a wall in a lunge stance, with your forward leg bent and your other leg straight.

Achilles Tendon Stretch
You should feel the stretch in the calf of the straight leg.

The second stretch involves hanging your heels off a step (or any kind of platform) and then raising your heels until you’re standing on your toes.

Achilles Tendon Stretch

It’s important to note that stretches are not strength exercises. You don’t need to strain your way through them. You should feel a light tension in your calf muscles, but it’s more important that you repeat these stretches on a regular basis (multiple times a day) rather than aiming for sheer intensity.

If neither of these stretches provide relief, ask your physical therapist for alternative options or to check that you’re doing the stretches correctly.

You might also like to try any of the following options:

Achilles Tendon Exercises

Everyone is different, so a big part of finding relief is working to discover what works for you.

6. Avoid walking on flat, hard surfaces

The problem with flat, hard surfaces is that they continually apply stress to your muscles and tendons in the exact same way. This, I found, worsened my pain as my tendon remained under constant pressure for hours a time.

What seemed to help though is walking on uneven surfaces, such as dirt and rocks and grass. My theory is that, because the ground is even, the stress to the muscles and the tendon is distributed, reducing the risk that any part of your lower-leg becomes overworked, as it might on a flatter, harder surface.

This, admittedly, is purely anecdotal, but with hundreds of kilometres of anecdote to back me up, it was enough to influence my own recovery.

7. Wrap your ankle in a compression bandage

Before I discovered the joy and wonder of heel lifts, I wore a compression bandage around my foot and ankle, which basically immobilises that entire area, and as a result, provides some relief.

You can see this bandage in this photo, around my left foot and ankle:

Compression Bandage

The side-effect of this sort of bandage is that it prevents you from walking with a natural gait, meaning it’s best not to use it over the long-term. If your tendon is really sore though, to the point that heel lifts don’t do anything for you, the bandage might be the sort of aggressive relief that you need.

8. Walk backwards down hills

Walking down a hill with achilles tendinitis sucks. This is because the angle slope applies additional pressure to the tendon. In contrast, walking up a hill should actually provide some relief from the tendon pain.

The obvious solution to this problem is to avoid walking down hills, but if that’s not possible — if you must walk down a particular hill, and the thought of it makes you cry in anticipation of the pain — then try walking backwards. You have to be careful not to stumble, of course, but by walking backwards down a hill you avoid applying the same pressure to the tendon.

This seems like a silly tip, and it won’t be relevant for a lot of people, but that one time it is relevant, it’s going to make a big difference.

9. Take Ibuprofen

The previously mentioned treatments should allow you to survive tendinitis without taking painkillers, but if you need to take painkillers, take ibuprofen.

“Why ibuprofen and not paracetamol?”

Because ibuprofen reduces inflammation, which is the mechanism that should provide you with relief from your tendinitis. Paracetamol won’t give you the relief that you’re looking for.

If you can though, try abstaining from painkillers. This isn’t because the painkillers are directly doing you any damage, but because if you mask the pain, you might continue to cause damage to the tendon without realising it. Going without painkillers might hurt more, but I found it useful to remain aware of what triggered the pain. That way, I could avoid those activities and prevent the tendinitis from getting worse from my lack of awareness.

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Hiking the Great Ocean Walk: How To Walk 100km from Apollo Bay to the Twelve Apostles http://davidturnbull.com/great-ocean-walk-hiking-trail-guide-notes/ http://davidturnbull.com/great-ocean-walk-hiking-trail-guide-notes/#comments Sat, 30 Sep 2017 22:31:25 +0000 http://davidturnbull.com/?p=315 At the end of 2015, I attempted by first long-distance, solo hike, walking 100km (62 miles) from Apollo Bay, Victoria to the Twelve Apostles, one of Australia’s most famous natural landmarks. The walk, known as the Great Ocean Walk, proved to be one of the more enjoyable experiences of my life, featuring a range of […]

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Great Ocean Walk

At the end of 2015, I attempted by first long-distance, solo hike, walking 100km (62 miles) from Apollo Bay, Victoria to the Twelve Apostles, one of Australia’s most famous natural landmarks.

The walk, known as the Great Ocean Walk, proved to be one of the more enjoyable experiences of my life, featuring a range of different environments — cliff tops, beaches, eucalyptus forests, etc — and absolutely gorgeous (and well-maintained) campsites.

Plus, the walk itself is not even that difficult. I’d never walked this sort of distance before in a single stretch (my previous record was about 60km over the course of 3 days), and certainly not by myself. But because of the way the trail is designed, and because there’s plenty of places to refill your water (and even a couple of places to resupply your food), it’s an excellent adventure for anyone looking for a relaxing wander through the wilderness.

But even though the walk is fairly straight-forward, a little planning can go a long way, so I’m going to share everything you should know about the walk, along with my thoughts on each of the available campsites.

What You Need To Know

For the latest details about the Great Ocean Walk, you should visit the official website, but based on my experience, these were the most important details:

1. The hike begins in Apollo Bay

To get here, catch a train from Southern Cross Railway Station to Geelong, then a bus from Geelong to Apollo Bay’s Information Centre. You can book this journey as one trip using V/Line, Victoria’s regional transport service.

If you catch the earliest train and bus, you can start the Great Ocean Walk on the same day that you arrive in Apollo Bay, but it’s easier to spend the day in Apollo Bay and a night at the YHA hostel, and start walking the next morning.

2. There are seven (official) campsites

I spent a night at all of them, but as I’ll explain later in this article, this isn’t necessarily the best approach. All of the campsites are nice, but there are some that you might like to skip.

3. You need to book the campsites in advance

All of the campsites along the trail need to be booked for approximately $27 AUD per night. In exchange for the price though, you get one of Australia’s most beautiful hikes.

For the entire time I was on the trail, no one actually checked my bookings, but there is limited space at the campsites and they can fill up, so if you don’t have a booking, you might be without a place to pitch your tent.

Visit the Parks Victoria website to make your bookings.

4. Every campsite has a rainwater tank

There’s no guarantee that there’ll be water in these tanks, but I never had any trouble with filling up my bottles. The water itself was clear, and one of the hikers I met was comfortable with drinking the water straight from the tap, but I still preferred to filter the water.

Before leaving camp each morning, drink as much water as you can, then fill up you water so you’re carrying at least 2 litres. You can easily drink that amount between campsites.

Hiking the Great Ocean Walk

5. Every campsite also has a toilet, a shelter (for sitting, not sleeping), and a map

The toilets were stocked with toilet paper, but it’s always useful to have some of your own, just in case they’re running low. I also found it comforting to carry a own copy of the map, which I ordered from Walk 91. (Alternatively, you should be able to buy a map from the Apollo Bay Information Centre, where the bus from Geelong drops you off.)

6. The ideal timeframe for the hike is six days

I did the hike over the course of eight days, which is the officially recommended timeframe, but this is unnecessarily long. On every day except for the last, I arrived at my destination before midday, and I’m not a fast hiker. I appreciated the slower pace at the end of the hike, since the walking becomes more difficult and the views are gorgeous, but if I were to do it again, I would skip the Elliot Ridge and Cape Otway campsites.

With a six-day schedule, my itinerary would look like this:

  • Day 1: Apollo Bay to Blanket Bay (22km)
  • Day 2: Blanket Bay to Aire River (20.5km)
  • Day 3: Aire River to Johanna Beach (14km)
  • Day 4: Johanna Beach to Ryan’s Den (14km)
  • Day 5: Ryan’s Den to Devils Kitchen (16km)
  • Day 6: Devils Kitchen to Twelve Apostles (16km)

By walking for six days instead of eight, you’ll be able to carry less food, minimise the risk of walking in bad weather, and get a couple of long, relatively easy days out of the way before starting on the tougher, shorter sections. Elliot Ridge and Cape Otway are also the least interesting campsites, so you’re not missing out on much by skipping them.

Hiking the Great Ocean Walk

7. You can buy food at two places along the hike

The first place is at the Cape Otway Lighthouse, right before the Cape Otway campsite. There’s a cafe onsite, but this requires that you pay $20 to pass through a reception area. If you don’t want to pay the entry fee, the reception area itself has simple snacks and drinks available.

The second place is Princetown, a town that’s half-way between the Devils Kitchen campsite and the Twelve Apostles, and impossible to miss as you walk along the trail (although the town isn’t directly on the trail itself).

If you’re hiking for six days, eating at these places means you carry less food for the second and sixth day.

8. There is (some) phone reception

I left my phone turned off for most of the hike, so I’m not sure how widespread the reception is, but I did have full bars at the Ryan’s Den campsite. Even so, I’d suggest not relying on phone reception for keeping in touch with friends and family. Personal Locator Beacons are the ideal alternative.

9. You’ll be walking near cliff edges

The track is wide enough that you don’t need to be worried about tumbling over the edge, but a storm passed over while I was at the Aire River campsite, and that did make me worry about getting blown off a cliff edge during the next leg of the hike. Fortunately, the weather passed, but it’s useful to have a backup plan if the weather does turn. If the weather had remained bad, I would have stayed at Aire River for another day. This would have stretched my food supplies a little thin, but if you hike for six days instead of eight, it’s easy to carry some extra supplies with you.

10. Parts of the trail are impassable at high tide (or after heavy rain)

There’s only a handful of these sections though, all of which are marked on the maps and none of which gave me any trouble. Just remain aware of the weather and the tide times to avoid getting caught off-guard.

11. To get back to Apollo Bay, catch a shuttle from the Twelve Apostles

I booked a shuttle with Walk 91 for $50. They picked me up from the Information Centre at the Twelve Apostles and about ninety minutes later I was dropped off at the YHA. Their service was great, and as far as I’m aware, it’s the cheapest option.

12. To get back to Melbourne, book your tickets at the Apollo Bay Information Centre

Or book your tickets online, once again from the V/Line website, and pick up your tickets at the Information Centre. The bus stop is right outside the door.

Campsites

There are no bad campsites on the Great Ocean Walk. Some can be skipped for the sake of shortening the trip though, while some should definitely not be skipped, so here’s my brief review of the places where you might choose to pitch (or not pitch) your tent:

Elliot Ridge

Set amongst towering eucalyptus trees, this campsite has a lovely tranquility, but since you’ll probably arrive here early in the day, that tranquility can overstay its welcome and turn into boredom. I enjoyed my time here, but I would have preferred to skip this campsite and continue ahead.

Elliot Ridge
Taking a break before setting up my tent at Elliot Ridge campsite

Blanket Bay

Positioned right next to a beach, this is one of the best campsites on the trail. As is the case for most of the campsites, it’s broken into two areas: an area for individuals and an area for groups. The individual area is further away from the water, so if no one seems to be camping in the group area, that is the better spot to pitch a tent. There is no bad place to camp at this site though.

Blanket Bay
My campsite at Blanket Bay

Cape Otway

If you plan to spend the night here, pay for entry to the Cape Otway lighthouse and hang around there for the afternoon, since the campsite itself is quite dull. It has a “I’m camping in the desert” kind of vibe, which is neat, but it’s worth skipping if you’re able to.

Cape Otway
A cosy nook at Cape Otway campsite

Aire River

The campsite itself isn’t remarkable, but immediately before the campsite you pass through a field where people gather for picnics, and there’s a river where might like to cool off with a pleasant swim, so the overall package is pleasant.

Johanna Beach

This is the campsite with the best views. You can setup a tent right beside the cliff and wake up to a view of the beach and cliff edges you hiked the previous day. Unfortunately, it was windy on the day I was here, so I had to camp further back, among the trees. Either way though, it’s a great spot.

Johanna Beach
The incredible view from the Johanna Beach campsite

Ryan’s Den

The phone reception here was so great that I was able to download a podcast, which is exactly what I needed after what proved to be the most difficult section of the trail. Some of the places to pitch your tent aren’t that great, but there’s also a few gems. If you walk past the shelter and take an immediate right, that’s where I camped and it’s a nice spot. It seemed like the spots furthest from the entrance to the campsite had the best views, but a group of hikers arrived before I could setup my tent, so they had the best pick of the bunch.

Devil’s Kitchen

Overall, the campsite is unremarkable. There is, however, one place to pitch your tent that leads to a lookout spot with a wooden bench and an amazing view. It’s hard to describe exactly where this spot is, but here’s my attempt:

  1. Walk into the campsite.
  2. Take an immediate left.
  3. Walk as far as you can in that direction.
  4. Walk up a (very) short slope.

When you find the wooden bench, you’ll have found the absolute best place to pitch your tent.

It’s worth nothing that, if you take one of the optional detours on this day of hiking and walk along the beach, you’ll enter this campsite from the opposite side, so you’ll have to take an immediate right instead of a left to find the wooden bench.

Twelve Apostles

This isn’t a campsite, but it is the end of the walk. Reaching the end feels great, but stumbling into a mob of selfie-taking tourists is a brutish reintroduction to civilisation. Even so, buy yourself a Coca Cola at the Information Centre, find yourself software to sit within sight of the large rocks jutting out of the ocean, and rest your feet. You’ve earned it.

Twelve Apostles
The end of the Great Ocean Walk

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Driving Anxiety Tips: How To Overcome Your Fear of Driving http://davidturnbull.com/driving-anxiety-tips/ Fri, 29 Sep 2017 23:31:58 +0000 http://davidturnbull.com/?p=287 I didn’t learn how to drive a car until the age of twenty-five. A few years ago, if you’d asked me why I hadn’t learned, I would have given you an excuse. “I just don’t need to drive anywhere,” I might have said. Or, “I just haven’t gotten around to it yet.” In reality though, […]

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I didn’t learn how to drive a car until the age of twenty-five. A few years ago, if you’d asked me why I hadn’t learned, I would have given you an excuse. “I just don’t need to drive anywhere,” I might have said. Or, “I just haven’t gotten around to it yet.”

In reality though, I was afraid. The idea of being in control of a large hunk of high-powered metal made me anxious, so I didn’t pursue it.

Why bother putting myself in a situation that made me so wildly uncomfortable?

I work from home, so I didn’t need to drive for the sake of a commute, and there’s enough public transportation that I could survive without learning to drive, but still, it felt like I wasn’t driving for the wrong reasons. There were times where I did like the idea of driving and the fact that I couldn’t drive felt like a rite of passage that I’d skipped over out of weakness, rather than for the merely practical reasons.

Soon after my twenty-fifth birthday though, I reached my breaking point. I was going to learn to drive, no matter how difficult it seemed. And amazingly enough, I succeeded. In just two months, after years of being too hesitant to even attempt driving, I was legally allowed to drive a car by myself.

Here’s how I did it:

1. Start with the (absolute) basics

Driving is not a singular skill, and if you try to approach it as if it’s just one gigantic thing that you have to learn all at once, it’s only going to be more difficult for you to grasp.

In reality, driving is a series of interconnected skills that fall into three categories:

  1. Technical skills, which are the fundamental skills of interacting with a motor vehicle, such as turning the car on, using the various handles and switches, and adjusting the mirrors into their ideal positions.
  2. Tactile skills, which relate to the movement of the vehicle, such as steering with proper technique, making appropriately wide (or narrow) turns, and managing your speed.
  3. Perceptive skills, which are the skills that help you make decisions on the road, such as being aware of your surroundings, timing your entrance into a roundabout, and calculating when enough there’s space to change lanes.

When learning to drive, these skills need to be learned in this order. There will be some overlap — technical skills will develop alongside your tactile skills and perceptive skills are constantly developing whenever you’re driving — but you need a handle on the technical skills before progress can be made with the tactile skills, and perceptive skills can’t be mastered until the technical and the tactile skills feel effortless.

With this in mind, I’d suggest learning the technical skills without actually driving. Simply sit in the driver’s seat of car and become comfortable with the various switches, pedals, buttons, and handles without accelerating.

At a minimum, learn how to:

  • Turn the car on and off
  • Accelerate and brake with the foot pedals
  • Enable and disable the left and right blinkers
  • Switch between Park, Reverse, Neutral, and Drive
  • Read and understand the speedometer
  • Identify if any of the warning lights are enabled
  • Adjust the seat for maximum comfort
  • Adjust the side and rear-view mirrors

By learning these skills without acceleration, you can develop the technical skills of driving without any of the associated risk or anxiety. This, I find, is a far more effective way of learning these skills, rather than trying to get the hang of everything at once.

Tactile and perceptive skills are more difficult to learn independently of the other skills, but the remaining advice in this article should at least simplify the process.

2. Watch other people drive

You’ve probably seen other people drive before, but have you ever paid close attention to how they drive?

Ask someone to take you for a drive around some quiet streets and watch their hands and feet. You’ll see that, while there’s a lot of knobs and buttons in a car, the driver only uses a few of them over and over again. Also pay attention to their eyes and see how they repeat the same motions over and over again. They look forward, to their sides, in their mirrors, and occasionally to their blind spots. The “knowing where to look” part of driving is more difficult than knowing how to move your hands and feet, but it’s still heavily based in repetition.

What this exercise should reveal to you is that, although driving can appear to be a complicated mishmash of actions and thoughts, it’s actually just a handful of simple tasks done frequently. You will need time to develop the skills of these tasks, but by focusing on the repetitive aspects, you’ll see that the bulk of learning to drive is not as overwhelming as you first thought.

3. Get a great first impression

Your first time behind the wheel is incredibly important as it can greatly affect the future anxiety you feel while driving, either for better or for worse.

To ensure that your first experience lessens your anxiety, plan out an extremely unambitious practice session. In my case, for instance, I drove around a small and empty parking lot, which allowed me to get a feel for the car without stirring too many butterflies in my stomach. After I’d done a couple of loops and parked a couple of times, I called it a day, ensuring that I finished the session on a high note.

This “stopping on a high note” tactic is similar to a tactic that Ernest Hemingway used to write his books:

The best way is always to stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next. If you do that every day … you will never be stuck … That way your subconscious will work on it all the time. But if you think about it consciously or worry about it you will kill it and your brain will be tired before you start.

If you’ve already attempted to drive and it didn’t go according to plan though, fear not. Take some time away from driving and treat your second attempt like your first attempt by practicing in a different location (and if, possible, with a different car with a different person). By switching things up, you can trick your subconscious into believing that the first attempt didn’t really “count”.

If you still have your doubts that the practice session will be a success though, simply aim lower. Even if your goal is to just turn the car on and drive in a straight line, that is perfectly fine. It doesn’t really matter how you succeed. It only matters that you do succeed. That success will then feed into your continued progress.

4. Invent your own practice routes

I live near a small national park that has a quiet, looping road with a low speed limit and only two lanes. This, I decided, would be my training ground as a new driver.

My sister would drive me to a car park near the middle of the loop, and this is where I’d take over and (very slowly) drive around the loop myself. There were a couple of car parks I could practice turning into, speed bumps I could practice decelerating over, and a roundabout I could practice entering and exiting, but it was mostly just a matter of staying within my lane.

Over the course of 3-4 weeks, I drove this loop dozens of times, and with each loop, I became that little bit more confident in my ability to handle the vehicle. Then, when I ventured outside of the national park, I created similar routes for myself, closer to time. I’d pick a handful of streets to drive around and focus entirely on mastering those streets until I had the confidence to go further afield.

There’s a few benefits to this approach:

  1. You don’t have to do anything that you’re not somewhat comfortable with.
  2. You can develop your comfort level slowly, with minimal risk.
  3. Your progress becomes easier to gauge, as you can measure it against the previous times you’ve driven the same route.

It’s worth noting that, during this time, I was mostly interested in the technical and the tactile skills of driving, rather than learning how to make complicated decisions on the road. That’s why I followed simple routes that allowed me to focus on accelerating, decelerating, steering, using my blinkers, and fundamental tasks. It’s only after I developed these skills to a competent degree that I felt confident enough to approach more advanced driving situations.

5. Practice in small chunks

If you have a choice between practicing once a week for two hours or four times a week for twenty minutes, choose the latter option. It’s less practice time overall, but it’s important to consider the issue of diminishing returns. If you’re a beginning driver, two hours of driving is going to be exhausting and you’re going to start making mistakes, which will only fuel the anxiety you feel.

Personally, I found that twenty minutes of practice per session worked best. Within that timeframe, I was able to drive around a practice route a few times, solidifying some skills I’d already learned, while also developing the foundations of a new skill I was trying to develop. This was all without tiring myself out, losing focus, or putting myself at risk of mistakes.

When approach these sessions, it’s also important to realise that the goal isn’t to make some big, gratuitous attempt at progress every time you sit behind the wheel of a car. Instead, you want to do what you can do today and then try to do a little more tomorrow. Instead of worrying about “breaking through your comfort zone”, think about nudging against its edges.

6. Drive a smaller, less powerful car

You might not have a choice in the matter, but if you do, it’s important to consider that the car you learn in can make a big difference in how easy it is to learn to drive.

My dad’s car, for instance, steers like a brick, so it always felt like I was fighting against the car instead of driving it; my mother’s car is a Mazda 3 Sport, which accelerates too quickly, with the teeniest amount of pressure applied to the pedals; and my sister’s car at the time was a Volkswagen Beetle, which was so incredibly slow and easy to control that it almost felt impossible to get into an accident, even if I’d wanted to.

As you can probably guess, I spent most of my time learning in my sister’s car, and I’m not sure I could have learned to drive without it. In fact, if I knew then what I know now, I might have even bought a smaller, less powerful car so I had something comfortable to learn in. Specifically, the Hyundai Getz seems like my ideal car, as it’s small, affordable, and gets decent reviews in the context of city and suburban driving.

7. Give yourself a tight deadline

I went from never driving before — and being terrified by the thought of driving — to passing my practical driving test in less than two months. I didn’t need to get my license that fast, and I don’t think I’m a particularly quick learner, but by giving myself a tight deadline, learning to drive felt like less of a burden. I was no longer looking ahead to a year or more of feeling uncomfortable and anxious. All I had to do was commit to a couple of months of regular, focused practice. This ensured that, every time I went for a drive, my skills hadn’t become rusty, which meant I didn’t have to waste time regaining skills that I’d lost. I was able to maintain my forward momentum throughout the entire process (with only a couple of hiccups along the way).

8. Expect things to go wrong

It’s important to accept ahead of time, before embarking on this journey, that your progress won’t be linear. As long as you don’t try anything too ambitious, you won’t make any serious mistakes, but you will still have practice sessions where driving doesn’t feel as natural as it does at other times. Maybe you drive into a curb, or someone honks their horn at you, or you cause an awkward situation at a roundabout. The point is, you will make mistakes and not everything will go according to plan.

But here’s the good news: by accepting that, yes, mistakes are inevitable, it’s easier to accept them as an integral part of the learning process. Learning what not to do is a fairly important part of learning what to do, after all. If you try to ignore the potential for mistakes though, they’re going to feel like a much bigger deal when they are when they do eventually happen, and that shock is going to shake your confidence.

9. Focus on the process, day by day

Anxiety arises when someone spends too much time getting caught in their thoughts and obsessing about the future or the past. When I thought about learning to drive, for instance, I often found that what kept me from driving was the thought of complex driving manoeuvres, like changing lanes and parallel parking. There are many simpler aspects of driving that you learn before tackling either of these things, and yet it was the thought of “one day I’ll have to do them” that kept from attempting to drive at all.

To solve this problem, I had to push thoughts of the future out of my head and focus on the immediate skills that I needed to develop — steering, turning the car, dealing with roundabouts. Only then could I start to make progress.

Focusing on the current task at hand without thinking about the future doesn’t come intuitively to most people, but if you just approach your goals inch-by-inch, you’ll find that your anxieties won’t have as much room to breathe.

10. Get professional driving lessons

From my perspective, working with a professional driving instructor was about as scary as driving itself. I’d heard horror stories about instructors yelling at their students or not explaining things properly, and I didn’t want any part of that. And yet, I also knew that I needed professional instruction. It was the only way I could safely experience more advanced driving situations and also spend more time behind the wheel of a car without roping in family members to help me.

In the end, there were two things that helped me overcome my anxiety of signing up for lessons:

  1. I spent a month practicing in my sister’s car, simply getting a feel for controlling the car, so I at least wouldn’t crash the instructor’s car within minutes of the first lesson.
  2. I only signed up for a single, one-hour driving lesson, which meant I only had to survive for sixty minutes if the instructor turned out to be a jerk.

Fortunately though, the instructor was incredible. He offered practical advice when I made mistakes, had more confidence in me than I had in myself, and knew how far to push my abilities without setting me up for failure.

By the time I passed my practical driving test, I’d had fifteen professional lessons, and while they weren’t cheap (around $70 per lesson) they were instrumental to the progress that I’d made. You can learn to drive with fewer lessons, but budgeting enough money for at least 4-5 lessons over the course of a month would be ideal. If you can’t afford those lessons, I’d argue you can’t afford to drive.

11. Watch videos by The Learner Driver Centre

The Learner Drive Centre is a UK driving school that has published a ton of incredible videos on their YouTube channel about learning to drive. Depending on your location, there might be some nuances that you have to account for (like driving on the opposite side of the road), but most of the advice is applicable to everyone.

As a starting point, watch the “Getting Moving” video, which explores the fundamental details (the “technical” skills) of operating a vehicle:

You might also like to watch the “Claire’s Driving Lessons” series, which follows a learner driver’s journey from having never driven before to getting her license:

They’re not exactly thrilling entertainment, but they are the most comprehensive driving instruction that I’ve found online, and by seeing what professional lessons were like, I felt less anxious about getting lessons myself.

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How To Be Skeptical, Not Cynical: The Art of Debunking Misinformation Without Becoming Emotionally Drained http://davidturnbull.com/skeptical-not-cynical-debunking-misinformation/ http://davidturnbull.com/skeptical-not-cynical-debunking-misinformation/#comments Thu, 28 Sep 2017 23:31:05 +0000 http://davidturnbull.com/?p=313 One of the most difficult aspects of being a skeptic is resisting the cynicism that can feel inevitable under the weight of nonsense that manages to remain accepted in the public conscious. Whether it’s conspiracies about vaccines causing autism, climate change being fake, or Hillary Clinton being an all-powerful she-devil who still managed to lose […]

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Skeptic vs. Cynic
Source: thisisindexed.com

One of the most difficult aspects of being a skeptic is resisting the cynicism that can feel inevitable under the weight of nonsense that manages to remain accepted in the public conscious. Whether it’s conspiracies about vaccines causing autism, climate change being fake, or Hillary Clinton being an all-powerful she-devil who still managed to lose a perfectly winnable election, I think any skeptic can be excused from just wanting to scream and shout and demand that the universe does a do-over.

And yet, we must resist the urge to be cynics.

“Why?”

Because it’s easy.

Anyone can be a cynic. You just have to not care. You also don’t have to actually do anything, which is a good way to protect yourself from expending energy, but not a good way to help create the world you want to live in.

But how do you maintain your skeptical streak without falling into cynicism?

Here’s some strategies that I’ve found useful:

1. Remember that nonsense isn’t new

There has always been conspiratorial and magical thinking. People protested the small pox vaccine, burned “witches” at the stake, believed demons were controlling their lives, and entertained every possible explanation for every possible event.

And yet the world moves forward.

We’ve got a robot on Mars, cures to terrible diseases, and the collective knowledge of the human race conveniently located in our mobile phones.

There’s no guarantee that what’s happened before will happen again, but find solace in the fact that anyone who has stood in the path of science hasn’t remained standing for long. Almost inevitably, it seems, the truth wins.

This isn’t an excuse to feel content with the world as it is, but it is a reminder that, no matter how slowly the world changes, it’s still changing, and usually for the better.

2. Don’t worry about the true believers

If someone believes they were abducted by aliens, or are being followed by secret government agents, or that reptilian overlords rule the world, there’s very little that can be said to change their minds. If you try, they’ll dig their heels in deeper.

Your attention is better spent on fence-sitters: people who haven’t made up their minds and could still sway in either direction. These are not the sort of people who read skeptic blogs though, so the challenge is figuring out how to reach them.

3. Accept irrationality

When you encounter something blatantly illogical or hypocritical, the incredulity you feel can be one of the most infuriating things in the world.

“How can someone believe these two contradictory things at once?!”

But the mistake on your part is assuming that there’s some logic embedded within every belief, and if you just ponder their belief deeply enough you’ll discover that, in some way, it kind of makes sense. That’s simply not the case though.

People are irrational, hypocritical, and contradictory, and most of the time they simply won’t care because they’re not interested in talking. They just want to shut down the conversation. If they’re people on the Internet, there’s also a decent chance they’re just trying to rile you up, which makes questioning their irrationality all the more fruitless.

4. Consider your attention

In a world where Donald Trump is the President of the United States, it’s easy to confuse “being a skeptic” with “being addicted to drama”.

If you find yourself endlessly engaged in the latest, breaking scandal though, consider where your attention lies and why your attention is moving in that direction.

Are you making a carefully considered choice to pay attention to the drama?

Or is it just a distraction?

I often find that, the more I have something important (yet difficult) to focus on, the more my brain seeks the instant gratification of a charlatan getting debunked. I get to feel the warm glow of justice without having to do anything myself. My version of skepticism becomes nothing more than indignant procrastination, which only succeeds in training my brain to further crave the resulting hits of dopamine.

5. Accept when it’s not your battle to fight

When I first read about bloggers like Food Babe who bank on the pseudoscientific fears of their readers, I wanted to do something about it. I wanted to write blog posts, create videos, and ultimately inform people about the truth: that vaccines are not dangerous, that genetic engineering doesn’t change the nutritional value of food, and that just because a chemical sounds scary doesn’t mean it’s toxic.

But the problem with people like Food Babe is that they’re non-experts trying to talk about complex topics, so if I were to throw myself into the fray, I’d be doing exactly the same thing I was criticising. My intentions were good, but I’m no scientist, and to speak on scientific matters would only result in me regurgitating what I’d heard.

In the end, I simply accepted that my energy was better spent elsewhere, leaving the reigns in the hands of far more qualified individuals.

6. Make the most of your strengths

You don’t have to debunk nonsense to be a skeptic. I’m hopeless at arguing, for instance, and if I attempted such things, that would actually be a disservice to the cause.

Instead, figure out how you can harness your abilities to contribute to the skeptic’s cause. If you rock at making signs, for instance, attend some protests, or if you’re earning big bucks at work, put aside some extra funds for causes you believe in.

If you consider what you’re great at, you’ll likely realise there’s a way you can harness that skill to make a difference in a less direct — but no less important — manner.

7. Understand the nature (and power) of belief

Skeptics like to believe that they’re rational beings and that non-skeptics aren’t trying hard enough. But such thinking is arrogant and wrong. Belief is more natural to us than skepticism, and it’s been that way since the beginning of our species. Reading books like The Belief Instinct and Why People Believe Weird Things were eye-opening in this regard, making me aware of my own fallibility and leaving me less flustered at the irrationality that I see in others.

8. Learn to debunk properly

If you’re planning on debunking nonsense, make sure you’re doing it properly by reading The Debunking Handbook. The book is a fantastic (and completely free) resource that clearly explains how to correct misinformation without invoking “the backfire effect”, which is where attempting to debunk something causes someone to believe the misinformation even more strongly. As you’ll see, most arguments against misinformation are fundamentally flawed in their design.

9. Don’t fool yourself

An unfortunate spiral that skeptics can find themselves in starts with the belief that, just because they consider themselves a skeptic, they surely can’t be fooled by misinformation. They gain confidence from being rational in one area of their life and assume that rationality will automatically carryover between all areas of their life. Being a skeptic becomes such a core part of their identity that they see themselves as a rational person and, therefore, anything they believe must also be rational. It’s the same circular logic that gets people wrapped up in any sort of nonsense.

To avoid this fate, remain skeptical of yourself.

Take note of when you’ve been wrong about something and don’t brush it off as “just a mistake”. It’s easy to assume our successes are completely our own while our failures are anomalies, which causes us to undervalue the times we’ve been blind to reality. Avoid this trap or you’ll find yourself in a dangerous (and unhappy) place of confident ignorance, which is precisely what skeptics set out to avoid.

10. Develop your emotional intelligence

This is definitely one of those “do as I say, not as I do” sort of points, as I am one of the least emotionally intelligent people on the planet. Human interaction is always awkward to me and I’d have a much easier time talking to people if they were part-computer. But humans are emotional beings and, no matter how rational we consider ourselves to be, facts don’t change our minds as much as they should, so if you develop a fiery arsenal of cutting-edge facts that you plan to weaponise as a means of ridding the world of nonsense, you’re going to have a bad time.

Facts do matter, but they need to be packaged in a way that is sensitive to people’s sensitivities, so if that’s something you struggle to achieve, it’s a worthy pursuit. (I’m guilty of trying to brute-force facts into people’s heads and I have plenty of anecdotal evidence that it doesn’t work.)

11. Take breaks

In a world where every device is connected to the Internet, it’s possible to fill yourself with an endless stream of outrage at people who both willingly and unwillingly spread nonsense. This, as you can probably imagine, isn’t healthy. There is value in encountering nonsensical beliefs — one of those beliefs might not be as nonsensical as you first think, after all — but don’t let yourself be consumed by the rage.

Give yourself the weekends away from the computer, stop hate-following people on Twitter, and spend more time on /r/wholesomememes.

You don’t get any brownie points for being the most agitated skeptic in the world, so the moment you’re drained by the endless sea of gibberish that floods the world, step away from it. It’s not like it won’t still be there when you’re ready to come back.

The post How To Be Skeptical, Not Cynical: The Art of Debunking Misinformation Without Becoming Emotionally Drained appeared first on David Turnbull.

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What It’s Like To Get Deviated Septum Surgery: Diagnosis, Recovery, and Results http://davidturnbull.com/deviated-septum-surgery/ http://davidturnbull.com/deviated-septum-surgery/#comments Thu, 28 Sep 2017 03:25:09 +0000 http://192.241.233.73/?p=11 Three years ago, I noticed that I couldn’t breathe out of my left nostril. This feels like the sort of thing I should have noticed right away, and yet it’s a detail that had somehow alluded me for years. How do I know the issue hadn’t recently developed? Because, after realising the issue, I visited an […]

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Deviated Septum vs. Normal Septum

Three years ago, I noticed that I couldn’t breathe out of my left nostril.

This feels like the sort of thing I should have noticed right away, and yet it’s a detail that had somehow alluded me for years.

How do I know the issue hadn’t recently developed?

Because, after realising the issue, I visited an Ear, Nose, and Throat (ENT) specialist, and within moments of walking into his office, he asked me, “So, when did you break your nose?”

I answered, “I didn’t.”

Then he nodded. “You did,” he said, taking a closer look at my nose. “It’s crooked. A nose isn’t supposed to look like that.”

But I couldn’t have broken my nose recently, as nothing had hit me in the face that recently. I could, however, recall multiple times of getting hit in the face as a teenager while playing soccer, rugby, and baseball.

Upon further inspection, I was diagnosed with a deviated septum. This is where the bone between your nostrils deviates from its natural position, restricting airflow in one (or both) of your nostrils. Plenty of people have a deviated septum (it can be genetic) and aren’t noticeably affected by them, but the doctor was quick to label my case as “severe.”

The good news is, fixing a deviated septum isn’t complicated. It’s a very low risk endeavour. The bad news is, it does require surgery. There is no other way to return your airways to their maximum capacity.

Feeling compelled to nip this issue in the bud, I elected to have this surgery in April of 2014, and I’m happy to report that I lived to tell the tale. Prior to the surgery though, I’d been curious about other people’s experiences. What was the surgery like? Was it difficult to recover? I found some blog posts and YouTube videos that discussed the process, but nothing comprehensive. That’s why I’m writing this article: to help people with a deviated septum get an idea of what to expect from the process.

Symptoms

Breathing is an important part of existing, so having restricted airflow through your nostrils can be problematic.

Most notably, a deviated septum can cause:

  • Poor sleep
  • A reduced sense of taste and smell
  • Mouth breathing

The mouth breathing in particular is a nasty side-effect, as it can cause a variety of dental problems and physically alter the structure of your face. (This could explain why I have a receding chin.)

Not Mouth Breathing vs. Mouth Breathing
These girls are twins. The one on the right is a mouth-breather.

Since all of these symptoms can stem from other sources though, the best way to self-diagnose is to block each nostril, one at a time, and breathe slowly. Do you notice that one nostril is much more difficult to breathe out of? If so, you probably have a deviated septum. In my case, I couldn’t breathe in or out of my left nostril at all. Yours might not be as severe though.

Diagnosis

Although a deviated septum can be easy to self-diagnose, it’s always worthwhile to get a professional opinion. (You’ll have to get one anyway before opting for surgery.)

Fortunately, the diagnostic process is straight-forward enough.

I saw two specialists about the issue — the second one, Dr. Jason Roth — is the one who eventually performed the surgery, and they both identified the problem in the same way:

  1. Directed me to 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 and had a look around.

It was a mildly uncomfortable process, but nothing too miserable. It was about as annoying as a dental check-up, but it was over in a matter of seconds. My eyes watered a little, and the taste of the anaesthetic hung around for a while, but there was no outright pain.

Septoplasty vs. Rhinoplasty

There are two common surgeries for the nose: the septoplasty and the rhinoplasty. To fix a deviated septum, the septoplasty is the surgery that will be of interest to you, as it’s the surgery that is conducted to straighten the nasal septum. A rhinoplasty, in contrast, is colloquially known as a “nose job,” and it’s a purely cosmetic surgery for redesigning the look of your nose.

If your deviated septum is severe, it can cause your nose to look crooked, which is why some people elect to get both surgeries at once. This does cost more overall, but costs less than getting both surgeries separately and means you only have to deal with a single recovery process. I decided not to get a rhinoplasty though, as I wasn’t too concerned about the look of my nose. I just wanted to breathe properly. Even so, it’s always worth knowing about the options that are available to you.

Preparing for Surgery

Compared to most surgeries, a septoplasty is fairly unremarkable. It’s low-risk, only lasts a couple of hours, and the recovery process isn’t particularly long or hard (in most cases).

Your surgeon will inform you of everything you need to know to prepare for your surgery, but in my experience, these were the most important points:

  1. For two weeks prior to your surgery, 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 items after the surgery.)
  2. Recovery will take 1-3 weeks. If you’re employed, try to get as much time off as possible. There is, however, a decent chance that you’ll feel recovered enough to work after the first week.
  3. Buy a Neti Pot. These are a gross but excellent way to clean out mucus and dried blood from your nostrils, which will be necessary after your surgery. You’ll be using it a lot.
  4. Stock up on soft foods. Eating can be difficult after surgery, and you don’t want to arrive home from the hospital without anything suitable in the fridge, so it’s worth stocking up beforehand. Softer foods like yoghurt are ideal.
  5. Buy sore throat lozenges. You’ll probably do a lot of mouth breathing for the first few days after surgery, resulting in a dry, sore throat. Having some lozenges on hand should help reduce the discomfort.
  6. Prepare for boredom. You can’t do much during the recovery process, so downloading books, movies, and podcasts ahead of time will allow you to quickly pass the time once you’re home. It might also be a good time to binge-watch some Netflix series.

Recovering From Surgery

There’s not much to say about the surgery itself. I went to the hospital, put on a gown, lay in a bed, got wheeled into a surgery room, and fell asleep shortly after the anaesthetist asked me to count to ten. Two hours later, I woke up shivering and groggy, but after the nurses dumped some blankets on me, I soon came back to my senses and the recovery process had begun.

It’s impossible to predict how any individual person will recover ahead of time, as it depends on a variety of factors, such as severity of your septum deviation, the skill of your surgery, your age, and your pain tolerance. Overall though, I found the experience to be manageable. It wasn’t comfortable, for reasons I’ll explain a moment, but it didn’t feel worse than a standard flu.

These are my observations of what you can expect after the septoplasty:

  1. Your throat will be sore. This is because of the anaesthetic, but you’re allowed to take enough pain killers to reduce your suffering.
  2. You can stay overnight at the hospital. A lot of the time, you don’t have to do this, and one disadvantage is that it will cost more, but I found it comforting to have nurses nearby, just in case I started bleeding more than I should have. In the end though, I never needed the nurse’s assistance. I returned home the following day without incident.
  3. Your nose will bleed. Don’t be alarmed. This is normal. Have an ice pack handy and place it below your nose to stop the bleeding. If the bleeding continues for minutes at a time, call your doctor.
  4. Some blood will slide down your throat. This is gross but inevitable. Your best bet is to just swallow it. Considering how swollen and sore your face will be, trying to spit out the blood will likely hurt too much.
  5. You’ll have foam packing in your nostrils. These will help absorb some of the blood immediately after the surgery and will usually be removed 12-48 hours after the surgery. You’ll find it a little easier to breathe once the packing is removed.
  6. You might have plastic splints in your nostrils. These ensure that your septum heals properly, but they do make it difficult to breathe for as long they’re in. Once they’re removed though, which should happen roughly a week after the surgery, there’ll be nothing left to obstruct your airways and you’ll be able to feel the full effect of the surgery.
  7. Your sleep will suck. Elevating your head with a couple of pillows will help, but in my case, the best solution was just to stay up late, exhaust myself, and fall to sleep only when I couldn’t stand to keep my eyelids open any longer.
  8. Showering is tricky. This is because you’re not supposed to get warm water on your head, as that’ll stimulate more blood flow, which is something you want to avoid. As such, you’ll have to have cold showers, avoid getting your head wet, or not shower at all.
  9. Nasal sprays can provide mild relief. Chances are, your doctor will provide you with one of these. It never seemed to make that big of a difference though.
  10. Neti Pots provide the most relief. Hopefully you picked up one of these before surgery, as they do provide significant relief once the splints have been taken out. Don’t use them too early though, as they require you to pour warm water into your nostrils, which could stimulate blood flow early in the recovery process.
  11. Headaches are inevitable. These were almost the worst part of the recovery process (aside from trying to sleep) and there’s not much you can do to avoid the pain entirely. Whenever I got one, I just made sure to look into the future and realise that, in the grand scheme of things, the recovery process isn’t that long.

Tracking Your Sleep

Something you might want to do before getting surgery is track your current sleeping habits with a device like the Fitbit Flex 2. Alternatively, download an app like Sleep Cycle, which won’t provide data that’s as accurate, but can be useful in determining relative improvements in your sleep. This isn’t strictly necessary, but I think it’s interesting to see if, mathematically, the surgery has improved at least one aspect of your life.

In my case, for instance, my sleep quality varied between 50-78% in the days before surgery. After I recovered from surgery though, the average jumped to around 90%.

SleepCycle - Before & After Surgery

Practically, this meant I was:

  • Falling asleep quicker.
  • Waking up less frequently.
  • Moving less in my sleep.
  • Sleeping for longer.

It’s hard to quantify the exact impact that improved sleep provides, but no one would contest the point that improved sleep is always a good thing. It’s how we recover, reset, and heal, and the fact that I’ve seen a numerical boost in my ability to get some quality shut-eye has only left me more grateful that I was able to discover that I had a problem and then get it fixed.

Was It Worth It?

The short answer is, “Yes.”

After the surgeon remove the plastic splints from my nostrils, roughly a week after the surgery, I took in a big, deep breath, and felt a surprising amount of air travelling into my nose. I hadn’t breathed so clearly in as long as I could remember. Both of my nostrils were now pulling their weight.

My sleep improved, smells were more intense, and overall, I was satisfied with what the cost, time, and energy of the surgery and recovery process had gotten me.

Three years on though, there is a caveat:

I am no longer breathing as clearly through my left nostril as I was the moment the splints were taken out. I can’t pinpoint when it happened, but my left nostril has partially closed up again. This, I knew, was a possibility. I believe it has something to do with how the inside of the nostril heals, and I’m not sure it’s something that can be avoided. For some people, the benefit of the surgery will decrease over time.

However, that’s not to say the benefit will disappear.

I can still breathe through my left nostril, which is not something I could do at all before the surgery, so there was an improvement. My right nostril is doing most of the work though, so the benefit is no longer as pronounced.

In the end, I’m still glad I got the surgery. It was reasonably priced, straight-forward, and fairly easy to recover from. I’m not lusting over more surgeries, but I certainly don’t regret the time and money I’ve spent on this one.

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How To Create Perfect Video Tutorials: 17 Tips for Professional Screencasting http://davidturnbull.com/screencasting-tutorial/ Tue, 12 Jul 2016 04:06:29 +0000 http://192.241.233.73/?p=247 Last year, I spent two months recreating Your First Meteor Application, a video training series about building web applications with JavaScript. 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 […]

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

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, including some hard-earned but highly actionable tricks.

1. 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.

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. 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.

5. 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.

6. 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.

7. 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.)

8. 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:

Scaling down to 1280 x 720
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:

1280 x 720 resolution without scaling
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.)

9. 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.)

10. Don’t sync your cursor 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:

Final Cut Pro X timeline of an average screencast
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.

11. 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:

12. 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.)

13. 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.

14. 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.

Highlighting content in a screencast

15. 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.

16. 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.

17. 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.

Compressing videos with Handbrake
Compressing videos with Handbrake

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