How to make an awesome Spaghetti Pomodoro

Whilst in Italy, I loved trying their pasta.  My personal favourite has always been Pasta Al Pomodoro.

Here, you can find a video on how to make it like they do in Italy.  I tried making this and it was delicious.


What dishes from other countries have you tried cooking?

A great documentary series on Rome

I'm currently working through Mary Beard's book, 'SPQR - A history of Ancient Rome'.  It' a good book and worth reading if you are interested in Roman history like I am.

In the last day or so, I stumbled upon a documentary series developed by Mary on Rome. I'm currently two episodes in, and have already learned so many fascinating things I didn't know previously.

There are four episodes in the series.  They can be found here, but you may be able to find them on youtube.

What documentaries have you watched lately?

What I learned drinking coffee

Until recently, I'd never really been a coffee drinker.

The first time I remember having it, I had just quit smoking.  We were at a building site and my colleague came back and told me he had asked the lady if she could make us both a cup of coffee.

I'm not sure in hindsight if it was coffee in general or just that the cup was a poorly made coffee, but I do recall having a cigarette again in order to make it through the cup.  It wasn't my finest moment.

The next time I had a coffee was when I was working as a consultant.  It was my first day working with a new Italian client.  He insisted on making me a short black.  I surprisingly liked it!  That was the first coffee I had that I actually enjoyed.

I have since tried lattes and cappuccinos.  Each time I try a new style of coffee my coffee-drinking experience improves and I move into a slightly bigger view of the world.  Each time I try something new, I expand my reality.

What new things have you tried that increased your perspective of the world, or of a part of it?

Why time is your most important asset

Because it is not renewable.

Time is the only thing we have a limited amount of.  Sure, we might have limited money, but if we have time and health, we can earn more of it.

Health is the second most important asset.  If you are out of time, you have no health.  But you can be unhealthy and have time.  Ideally we would like to have both health and time.

How do you use your time?

Success is built daily, not in a day

How often have you heard the term 'overnight success'?

Rarely is someone an overnight success. A lot of work goes on behind the scenes for years before people gain enough traction to make it big. Many obstacles have to be overcome, discipline needs to be implemented, habits need to be formed and skills need to be mastered.

Essentially this means that what you do today will have an impact on who you will be in five years time.

Some things that you can begin to do daily that can make a difference towards your success are:
  • Praying one Our Father in the morning
  • Doing one pushup a day
  • Having 30 grams of protein within 30 minutes of waking
  • Consistently waking up early
  • Going the extra mile in your work
  • Writing a daily blog post or journal
  • Calling one friend each day.
What can you do today to further your journey toward success?

Some advice from a mate's dad

I'll always remember the advice given to me by a friend's dad:

  1. If you don't have a few dollars for your friends, don't bother having any (friends that is).
  2. If you have already made plans with someone, honour that commitment first. Even if means you miss out on a better offer. Otherwise, you are showing the person you have made plans with that they are second preference.
How could you benefit from implementing these two suggestions in your life today?

Promotion, simplified

Rinse and repeat.

These famous words are on the bottles of most shampoo and conditioner brands.  It's a very simple statement.  And yet, whilst not all of us follow this instruction, it is a formula that has helped to sell many bottles of shampoo and conditioner over the years.

What sort of simple instructions could you use to promote further sale of your / your employer's product or service?

Mind vs matter

Seth Godin has written a post today arguing that software matters more than hardware.

Seth is in no sense denying that hardware is necessary to run software.  Instead, he is making the case that whilst hardware is attractive, it's the software the creates more opportunities and is where our focus should be.

Could it be that our mind, knowledge, values, ethics, etc. (our software) is a better investment option than our matter, physical bodies, houses, etc. (our hardware)?

What you should invest in

Following on from my post about why buying a house is a sucker's game, some of you may be wondering, 'What should I invest in?'

Whilst I'm not a financial adviser, my personal view is one of two things:

  • Yourself, and
  • Businesses.
Within both of these options, there is a range of subsets. From writing, to formal courses, to mentoring, to becoming co-owners or supporters of businesses charging the way on different causes, the world is still your oyster.  Deciding not to buy a house means you have merely limited your options to end up with a better quality of life.

In fact, you may still decide to invest in property, by investing in businesses associated with construction / investment in real estate on the stock market.  So your options have reduced, but not as much as you might initially think

What do you believe is the best investment option for you?

Why buying a house is a sucker's game

I've said it before, buying a house for financial reasons is a sucker's game.

Most of you think I'm crazy.  I don't care.  The financial evidence does not stack up at all in favour of buying a house.  Sure, you can buy a house, but it is not a home.  A house becomes a home not due to the financials or ownership piece, but due to emotional decisions associated with the purchase.

But don't take it from me, listen to the experts:

Try to read all of the above without a bias.  Then ask yourself, 'Do I desire to purchase / Did I purchase a house for financial or emotional reasons?'

On being biased

When someone has an opinion that is different to ours, the natural inclination is to assume that there is something wrong with their view. We believe our opinion is the right one, and we look for all the arguments to support our position and refute theirs.

This however is not a truly unbiased assessment. A truly unbiased view must listen to the arguments on both sides before making a decision.

A number of non-fiction books are written this way. The author starts with a preconceived opinion on something and will have a cognitive bias toward finding information to support their view. Sometimes they will include counter arguments, but these are often with the follow up of refuting them with a predetermined refutation. In other words, they don't truly assess the evidence in an unbiased manner before reaching a conclusion.

Have you truly ever remained unbiased when assessing an argument?

When your routine is interrupted

If you are working on developing a routine, it is likely to be interrupted by circumstance from time to time.

When this happens, what do you do to get it back on track?

How to brew the perfect green tea

I've historically hated coffee (although that is changing).  Instead, I've usually opted for tea, and green tea more specifically.  But I never really knew how to make a good cup of tea until a few years ago.

I still remember the day I walked into a particular tea store for the first time.  Looking around, all the strange scents and aromas bought a pleasant and warm feel to the place, even though it made me feel like a hipster.  Speaking of hipsters, the sales guy was definitely one, with well-oiled beard that had been groomed to provide a casual-edgy sort of look.  He was talking to customers and drinking from a pint-sized tea cup.

"Can I help you?" he asked.

"Yes.  I like drinking tea but know nothing much else about it.  Can you help me?"

"Sure bro", he replied, "Let's begin at the beginning."

He proceeded to teach me that:

  • Ice tea is a completely different product to hot tea.
  • Black tea is best steeped at 90 degrees celsius.
  • Green tea is best steeped at 70-80 degrees celsius.
  • Green tea steeped at a temperature higher than this will burn the tea leaves, resulting in a bitter taste.
  • That the easiest way to get a nice cup of tea without buying the whole tea pot set is to buy an infuser and tea leaves for use with a cup.
"In order to get the temperature right, the easiest way is to boil water in a kettle and to fill your cup with 20-30% cold water before adding the boiling water and the infuser carrying the tea leaves.  Then let it steep for about a minute.  If you want to reduce the caffeine, you can throw out the first steep and repeat the process."


And that is how I have made my tea ever since.

How do you make your favourite cup of tea?

Why More is Less

Do you often find that the more options you have, the less satisfied you are when you finally make a decision?

As a former consultant I spent a lot of my time as an analyst. Analysts can be at risk of suffering suffering from 'analysis paralysis', the idea that you spend so much time studying the data and related options you become paralysed in making a decision.

This applies equally to many things in our lives everday:
  • What type of toothpaste should I use?
  • Which book should I buy next?
  • What exercises will help me achieve my goals?
  • Should I rent or buy?
  • Who should I spend my time with?
  • What car should I purchase?
  • Etc.
Our options are near-limitless, which has it's advantages.  The downside is that these extra options often result in less decisions.

What we often need to do is make effective decisions that allow us to move forward rather than being paralysed in one place.  In working my way through The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz, one particular thought struck me as particularly valuable; rather than striving for 'best' we should be content with 'good enough'.  

For example: Is this car good enough to get me from A to B safely, even if it's not the best car on the market?  By asking if something is good enough for our purposes, we start to limit our options and make actionable decisions.

The best thing?  We actually have less buyer's remorse the less options we consider.  So often it makes better sense to stick with the option we have already made rather than continuing to explore the alternatives.

If you would like to explore this concept further, I would recommend:
How could you benefit from deciding on an option that is 'good enough'?

Appreciating the little things

We often forget to appreciate the little things that happen on a daily basis:

  • Reading that chapter of a novel
  • Persisting with a new habit
  • The caring words of a colleague
  • Touching base with a family member.
The list could go on.  Our appreciation of these little things compounds over time.  If we neglect to appreciate them today, we're doing ourselves a disservice for tomorrow.

What little things do you have an appreciation for today? 

How you can keep a journal with ease

I've commenced my latest experiment - journalling.  I had heard about the five-minute journal ad nauseam, so I thought I would give it a try.  You can buy a physical version, but I'm using with the iPhone version, which is a third of the price.  

There are lots of reasons to keep a journal, but the main ones for me personally are:
  • To keep track of what I do each day
  • To try and develop a more positive attitude (I tend to be skeptical / cynical by default).
This app contains a few simple concepts, such as gratitude training and positive psychology questions to help people achieve a happier outlook with just a few minutes each day.

They also include quotes.  Today's quote is from James Barrie, "Life is a long lesson in humility."

What sort of a journal (if any) do you maintain on a daily basis?

How to remember which bread plate is yours

Have you ever been to a restaurant where you have a drink and a bread plate on each side of you, but you aren't sure which ones are yours?

Trouble be gone!  You can struggle no more by learning this little formula.

When you sit down at the table, make both of your hands into an 'Okay' symbol, but keep your fingers together, like this:

(Image source: http://accidentalepicurean.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/12/Hands012.jpg)

Your left hand should look like a 'b' and your right hand should look like a 'd'.  Your bread plate (b) will be on your left and your your drink (d) will be on your right.

I mentioned this once to someone who used to manage wait staff.  They said they wish they had known it, as it would have saved them so much time trying to explain to people how to set things up correctly.

Do you use any techniques such as this to help you remember things?  If so, have you considered sharing them with your friends or colleagues to help make their lives a little bit easier?

Employees vs Employers

The debate on whether it is better to be an employee or an employer often reminds me of a thought from Seneca.

Seneca believed the ideal position is not to be a slave or to have slaves, but rather to be both free from slavery and from needing slaves.

The current Pope is a good example of this.  He cooks his own meals.  He doesn't want to be waited on.  He acknowledges we are an inter-dependent culture but is happy to maintain his independence in some areas.  I respect that.

Another example was my old building teacher, Steve Moxham.  Steve used to run a construction company with nine employees.  He did the math and realised he could make the same amount of profit with just him and one extra person.  

So Steve went down to the job site that day and found 8 of his 9 staff slacking off.  He proceeded to sack them and went back to working with the one staff member that was diligent when everyone else wasn't.  Steve was the type of guy that would agree with Seneca's thoughts.

It doesn't matter so much where you are today.  What matters is where you are heading.

Are you aspiring to be an employee, employer, self-employed or other?

If It's a Maybe, It's a No

If you’re unsure on whether you want to do or commit to something, use this saying.
If you’re not saying ‘yes to something’, but are thinking, ‘maybe’, it’s a no.

Take this example.  Recently I was asked if I wanted to go to the movies to see a film I was not interested in watching.  It was not a ‘yes’, but for social reasons it was a ‘maybe’.

Historically I would say no in this situation, but recently I’ve found myself diverting back to saying ‘maybe’.  Usually when I say no I tend to be straight to the point, which can sometimes be considered offensive.  That’s never the intention, but it’s because I often fail to deliver the message as gracefully as I probably should.

If you find yourself in a similar situation, where you’re thinking ‘maybe’ about something, say no.  Unless it is a definite yes, it is far better to keep that time available for another opportunity that may very well be a definite yes.

Here’s a sample script for how to do this politely:

“Thanks for the offer, but unfortunately I won’t be able to make it this time.  That being said, could you please let me know about the next time?”

Are there things in your life that you are currently saying ‘maybe’ to when really you should be saying ‘no’?

This millionaire read 220+ books so you don't have to

Derek Sivers is a man known for founding CDbaby.com, an online music store that he later sold for $22 million.

He now spends his time working on a range of different projects.  One of those is taking notes from the many books he reads and sharing them online for free.  

To date, Derek has provided notes from more than 220 books. He also provides both a paragraph reviewing each book and rates it on a scale of 1 to 10.  I personally find myself using this resource as a way to review books before buying them, or to read the highlights without spending the money in the first place.

You can find Derek's book notes here.  If you see a book you are interested in, click on the title to see the notes he jotted down from the contents of that particular book.

Do you take notes when reading books and if so, do you share those notes with others?




Humility

Years ago I remember talking with an acquaintance at high school (later a work colleague) about humility.  He told me the following quote (hard to find a genuine attribution, as cslewis.org believes it is not from him):

"Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it's thinking of yourself less."

Since then, I have often tried to apply this to my life. I'm sure I've failed a lot, but to me this is a good definition of humility.

How do you define humility?

Consumers vs Producers

Consumer: A person or thing uses something (often goods or services).

Producer: a person or thing (country, company, etc.) that makes, grows or supplies something (again, often goods or services).

All of us to some degree are both a consumer and a producer.  We consume food, water, media, information, goods or services.  Likewise, we are employed to produce things, whether that be results, food, information, construction of physical objects, etc.

In light of this, we have various options re: our production and consumption:
  • Our Production = Consumption
  • Our Production > Consumption
  • Our Production < Consumption
  • We can reduce our production / consumption / both
  • We can increase our production / consumption / both.
What can you do in your life to produce more value for those around you; your friends, family, acquaintances, colleagues, society, country, the world?  Is there anywhere in your life that you can reduce your consumption?

One of my favourite podcasts

I have been a fan of Tim Ferriss for a long time.  His book, The 4-Hour Workweek, is still one of the first business books I turn to when considering various aspects of improving effectiveness in a business.

Love him or hate him, his podcast is most definitely worth subscribing to.  It won podcast of the year in 2015, has had more than 80 million downloads, and has seen him interview a number of people, including, but not limited to:

  • Arnold Schwarzenegger
  • Tony Robbins
  • Sam Harris
  • Jamie Foxx
  • Josh Waitzkin
  • Seth Godin
  • Edward Norton
  • Derek Sivers
  • Alain de Botton.
I have often found myself driving to or from work listening to one of these podcasts.  Interspersed between the hours of interviews, Tim often revisits one of his more popular blog posts or a letter from the Stoic philosopher Seneca, all of which makes this an interesting business and philosophical podcast.

Two interesting takeaways:
  1. Most people have a routine for building success in a particular area
  2. 80%+ of the successful people interviewed have a meditation practice, or something similar (such as listening to the same song over and over again whilst running).
Do you listen to any podcasts?  If so, which is your favourite and why?

Why you should visit a second-hand bookshop

Following on from my book recommendation yesterday, I thought I should also mention why you should visit second-hand bookshops.

Second-hand bookshops are a great place to pick up a bargain.  They often have books that can be acquired near new for pennies on the dollar.  They also have a lot of books that are out of print or no longer in print.

I have a number of antique stores near my residence.  Between these and some other second hand bookshops I have picked up:

  • A number of old Bible editions no longer in print
  • Spanish and Latin textbooks
  • Biographies on the lives of people of interest to me
  • Books written by leaders in recent history no longer available in general bookstores
  • Books that I know friends would appreciate as birthday gifts
  • Some of my favourite books in older translations than those available to purchase brand new today.
When was the last time you visited a second-hand bookshop?  Do you ever check out the book section when visiting an antique store?

A Book I Recommend Reading

When I was in Italy earlier this year, I went on a night tour of the colosseum, courtesy of a gift from my sister.  This night tour allows you to do things not available to the general public, namely going onto the restored floor of the colosseum and visiting the holding bays underground.  It was an exceptional experience, and one that I would recommend to anyone planning to travel to Rome.

The tour itself did not start at the Colosseum.  It commenced at the Vittorio Emanuele II Monument.  From there, we walked up the steps of Capitoline Hill and then via some sights of the Roman Forum.

Whist at Capitoline Hill, we visited the replica statue of the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius.  For those of you who aren't aware, Marcus Aurelius was the old emperor shown at the beginning of the movie gladiator.

Whilst he was the Roman Emperor, Marcus Aurelius was also a stoic philosopher.  Today, he is one of three of the major stoics whose works remain; the other two are Seneca and Epictetus.  Marcus' book, 'Meditations' is an excellent read.

I read the Meditations at university in my spare time and was very impressed by it.  It helped me through some very tough points of life back in 2009.

Our tour guide recommended reading it to everyone on the tour.  I have started reading it again, and it is a book I would recommend to you.  It is a very simple entry point for reading philosophy, and despite being nearly 2,000 years old is still very practical today.

There are a few translations of Marcus' work; I've seen about four and own two.  Marketing genius Ryan Holiday prefers the Hays' translation, but I personally prefer the Penguin edition.  I don't think you would go wrong with either, but the Hays' translation would appear to be a more modern English style when compared to the Penguin edition.

You can buy the Penguin edition of the book here and the Hays' edition here.  I make no commission from these links, and the shipping via book depository is free.

Have you read any ancient philosophy?  If so, which books would you recommend?

Hello, my 16 subscribers, who are you?

It’s humbling to have small beginnings.

Weightlifters begin lifting light weights.  Someone building a pushup routine starts with one pushup a day.  Those trying to build a blog gain one follower at a time.

A small number of followers for a blog might appear embarrassing.  Some might think that 16 is a small number and laugh.  But as long as your ego can take it, there are advantages to starting with humble beginnings.

Jesus started with 12 disciples.  He was able to build personal relationships with them, give them personalised support and comfort, speak to them on a first-name basis and give them nicknames, support them on their journey and keep them accountable.

The impact of that personal touch obviously resulted in greatness.  One only needs to look at the size of Christian communities globally and the influence they have had on cultures over the centuries to provide it.  And all of that from a small number of 12.

Since I know most of you personally, and since I have a blog, I have a way to ask questions directly to you.  If you have a minute, email me or send me a text message.  Here's what I want to know:
  1. On a scale of 1-10 (where 10 is most likely), how likely is it that you would recommend this blog to a friend or colleague?
  2. How did you hear about it?
  3. What led you to become a subscriber, versus just reading an article and leaving like everybody else? (or, if you're not a subscriber, what would it take to convince you?)
  4. What do you hope to see here in the future?
Thanks, you loyal few.  I am grateful for your time and feedback.

Free online courses

FutureLearn is a website that provides free online courses.

Many of these courses (perhaps all) can lead toward an accredited course if you pay for that option.  Otherwise, if you don't want the formal qualification you can sit the courses for free!

I first heard about this site through a colleague at work.  They suggested a particular course from Monash University on there about managing stress to all the staff in our office.  Whilst I didn't take that particular course, I did look into the Spanish course and another on writing fiction.

What things would you like to learn about?  Are you able to use FutureLearn or some other form of online course to dip your toes in the water?

On questioning assumptions

If you're like me, chances are you have your fair share of underlying assumptions, many of which you are not consciously aware.

Very often, the thing that causes us to make the most progress (and conversely, that can cause us the most challenges), is uprooting our own assumptions.

It can benefit us to at times be ruthless in assessing our own preconceived notions and ideas.  To do this we can ask ourselves or those who agree with us questions such as:
  • What do you mean when you say, 'x'?
  • How can we know 'y' for certain?
  • What if I'm / you're / we're wrong?
  • What's the worst that could happen?
  • Why should I trust you / this belief?
  • How do you know you're right?
  • What evidence do we have for this position?
Sometimes we will get answers to these questions, other times we need to maintain the humility to say that we don't know.

Whilst questioning is important, we shouldn't become so caught up in obtaining the answers that they hinder our decision making.  This could lead to regret as much as not making a decision until we have 100% of the answers.

Do you assess your own assumptions?  If so, what questions do you ask in the process of assessing them?

A quote I reflect upon often

"Better a little caution than a great regret." George S. Clason, the Richest Man in Babylon

This is true. But if one takes a lot of caution, it would appear that caution itself in the end could result in a great regret.  This could be due to a range of options:
  • Delayed action, 
  • Decision fatigue resulting in a poor decision,
  • Decision regret post decision-making (due to the additional time spent investigating alternatives), 
  • Missing an opportunity entirely, or
  • Something else.
But which is the better default position; is better to have a little or a lot of caution?  Or does this depend on the topic at hand?  Which leads to a lesser regret?

How much caution do you take in difference aspects of your life?

Why I've stopped using a second monitor

There are lots of claiming the benefits of multi-screen usage for productivity.  I used to be one of them.

However in the last few weeks I have been experimenting with going back to a single monitor.  Some of the benefits that have resulted since making the switch include:

  • My email inbox remains at or close to zero most of the week
  • I've become more focused on the particular task at hand
  • I feel more relaxed
  • I feel I am getting more done
  • I'm not constantly being distracted by email or something else popping up on a second screen (note: I also have new email notifications turned off and have my outlook setup to open directly to my calendar).
As a result of the improved focus and output, it is unlikely that I will return to the two-screen setup again in the future.  I feel the results of single monitor usage far outweigh some of the smaller sacrifices that are considered the benefits of a two-screen setup.

Do you use one screen at work or two?  Have you trialled the alternative?  What changes did you observe when using each option?

How we can learn from Pope Francis

"I'll just go with the guys on the bus." Pope Francis

Rarely does it occur that a man promoted to a high position of leadership remains humble and expresses his love for helping the poor and marginalised within their community.  Pope Francis is one such man.

The Catholic Church, with circa 1.3 Billion adherents (and arguably having some level of influence over another circa 700 million non-Catholic Christians), is one of the largest and most influential organisations in the world, if not the largest.  The Papacy therefore is a position that has major influence; one that is constantly being monitored by the press for media stories available for publication, both positive and negative.

And yet, whilst not changing the fundamentals of the Catholic faith (a thing, which Catholics believe can't be done, due to the infallibility and thus irrevocability of decisions made previously by the Papacy), Pope Francis has made both a number of practical changes and breaks with traditions that have crept into the Catholic Church over time.

These changes appear to be, rather than an attempt to change the fundamentals of the Catholic Faith, an attempt to bring the Church back to them.  Here are some - but not all - of the examples that the Pope has done to change things during his time as Pope:
  • He was the first Pope to take the name of Francis of Assisi, thus creating better relationships between the Jesuits (his order) and the Franciscan order.
  • He was the first Pope to not take the name of a predecessor (or a combination of predecessors names) in hundreds of years.
  • He has stopped wearing the Papal vestments, such as the red garments and shoes, and wears a silver rather than gold (such as his crucifix, ring, etc.).
  • He took a ride home on the bus after being appointed the new pope rather than taking the Pope-mobile.
  • He increased the Church's accountability for the sex-abuse crisis.
  • He is furthering work on inter-faith dialogue.
  • He included women in the feet-washing traditions of the Church that take place during Easter.
  • He allowed priests to forgive women of the sin of abortion, as opposed to them having to be absolved by a Bishop.
  • He eliminated the bonuses paid for the appointment of a new Pope, and sacked a bishop for spending circa $42.5m on his new residency.
  • He sold the Pope-mobile and bought a second-hand, cheaper car.
  • He has emphasised the dangers of climate change.
  • He's working on eliminating financial corruption within the Vatican bank.
  • He revised the marriage annulment process.
  • He (allegedly) dresses as a regular priest to go and feed the poor and provide alms to those in need.
  • He has refused to live in the Papal apartment, and is having it turned into a museum to ensure it is not used as a Papal apartment by his successors.
  • He has encouraged parishes to take in migrants.
  • He has encouraged catholics not to be judgmental of homosexuals, but rather to love them.
Change takes time.  Nevertheless, Pope Francis is being innovative in areas where he can be to ensure that change commences during his Papacy.

It appears that his hope is that these changes will continue post him leaving his position, which will occur either via death or resignation.  It's fair to say that in our own individual lives, we could all take a leaf out of the book of Pope Francis' examples.

In what ways could you mimic some of the examples of Pope Francis to reassert love and humility in your life?