Disconnect to Reconnect: about Wifi’s fuzzy reminder

“We invest our time and energy into who and what we value.” Morning meditation and conversations at the Offline House can go real deep, real quick.

I’ve been happily resting and rejuvenating my body, soul and mind with surfing, nature, yoga and great books at a concept-Hostel in the south of Portugal called the Offline House. The concept is simple: we put our smartphones and computers away in lockers and lock them up. We then enjoy experiencing life without our gadgets. “Disconnect to Reconnect” becomes our daily mantra.

Turning off the Internet and data functions of my phone is not difficult for me. I happily put my iPhone in airplane mode during my work days and weekends too. Any time I want to have some time 100% for myself I do not hesitate to close off the Internet bridge connecting me to the outside world. I imagine a sentinel on that bridge blocking the way for those trying to get through. The various demands, shares, likes and questions sent via Whatsapp, iMessages, emails and social media quietly and peacefully line up and accumulate before the sentinel until it (I) decide that it is OK to let them through again – and there they flow, in an even tempo of beeps and vibrations – right to my phone when airplane mode is shut off again.

What I didn’t realize before and what has been a kind of revelation to me during my first week at the Offline House is the trade-off that I make every time that I look at and use my smartphone in my “regular” daily life. The trade-off is simple yet profound: I am trading the present moment for an interaction with my phone.

“Ah – gah – stop!” you may cry out. You will argue that you are not interacting with your phone, you may very well be interacting with another person, with a friend or a family member! Or you may be working on a new blog post! (haha, how ironic ;-). Well yes, but the medium of communication is still cold metal in a place where I have living, breathing human beings around me, not to mention beautiful nature, the breath in my lungs and my ever present heart beat. I’m choosing a device over living life…and that is totally OK…as long as I’m aware of what I’m doing.

It turns out there is nothing more valuable than the present moment. As someone who has spent plenty of time in my head musing and thinking about the past and wondering about the future I can assure you that I’ve tried to find peace and happiness in moments outside of right now. At best I have found neutrality. At worst I have found great confusion and many fears. The best feeling ever – the feeling of being fully alive – I have only ever found in the here and now.

I shan’t bore you with more Here and Now talk – this is a subject discussed and re-discussed and re-played many times these days. Simply, I wanted to share that I recently found this trade-off with the usage of my smartphone.

There are ofcourse many positive aspects of the Internet and of technology. When we are wise users of these tools I believe that we have the opportunity to become brighter, better communicating and wiser people. The problem is that this tech and Internet connectivity is all quite new for everyone, so that few of us actually know how to use these tools in a way that is good and healthy. Coupled with our minds’ tendencies for addiction and obsessiveness and tools like email and social media can quickly become a problem to manage, an annoying mosquito buzzing in our ears night and day never allowing us a moment’s peace.

I have a small hammer in my home in Dakar. I’m a pretty handy gal (or so I like to think) but I tried and tried and couldn’t hammer in a simple nail into the concrete wall of my living room. The carpenter happened to stop by and quickly picked up the hammer and put the nail in its place. It’s the same tool, but we obviously have very different capacities with it. What’s more, used wrong, a hammer could easily smash my finger and hurt me. A hammer is a tool, albeit a very simple one. The Smartphone is also a tool, albeit a highly complex one. Both have the capacity to serve us when used correctly or to hurt us when misused. It’s up to us to make the difference or to call on someone who does know how to use it right.

In my two weeks of Internet and smartphone-free days I’ve realized that I use notifications and notes way too much. It’s almost like I’ve distrusted my own capacity to remember basic things to the degree that I set up daily, weekly and monthly reminders for every little thing. It’s not a bad thing in and of itself, but in my opinion if this kind of behaviour comes from a belief that I’m not able to remember and manage my life and the direction I want it to take on my own then it’s potentially a problem.

In general:

If the Internet fulfills the same function for us as a bridge would for a city, our connection to the outside world, the question is what is the healthy relationship to have to this bridge? For starters, is the bridge an extension of the city? Can the city be defined on its own terms without the bridge? The paradox is that the city and the bridge co-exist and without each other have no real purpose. What’s the point of a bridge leading from somewhere to nowhere? What use (or joy) can we find for a city disconnected from the world? When I think of the smartphone and the Internet as the bridge I can see that all of us, at one point or another, have stopped on this bridge and have become so engrossed in the shiny lights and bright jewels encrusted into its fancy woodwork that we’ve forgotten about where we come from and where we are going. I’m all for pretty bridges, and God knows some of those beautiful pictures and engaging Apps are really fun, but once I nudge the imbalance and realize that I’m using the bridge with no real objective in mind…I take a step aside and re-evaluate. You can choose to hang out on a bridge with no real agenda if you want to, but I intend to keep using it for its primary purpose which is to get from one place to another. It’s in the real places where I find real people and real moments and real life which I want to engage in.

Call me old-school but I still feel that it’s rude to sit down for a face-to-face conversation with someone and check your phone and messages at the same time. Especially if you only have a short period of time to share with this person. It sends a clear message “I value more what other people, known or unknown to me, are communicating to me now than I value this one-one-one time with you”. Yes, I get it that we are busy and we have many priorities that we need to juggle at the same time. I also think that having so many people making demands on our time forces us (in a good way) to evaluate our priorities and stay very honest with what we do and do not value in our lives and what we allow and do not allow into our space. “I don’t have enough time” is a sad excuse, not a reality. We all have the same 24 hours and guided by what we prioritize in life we choose how to spend that time. The responsibility is ours. The capacity for misuse and wasted time is tremendous. The trade-off is extremely significant: an exchange of the present moment for an interaction with a device. By all means, let’s continue using (and learning how to properly use) these great tools. But for goodness sake let’s not just talk about how much is gained. Let’s not forget the real value of what we are giving up.

*Cover photo credit to Offline Portugal

I’m happy to share that although we enjoy Internet-free time at the Offline House we are also accompanied by the house dog named Wifi. It makes me smile every time to hear a guest ask “Where’s Wifi?” or to hear someone looking for and calling out for the pooch. If they ever get a speckled dog I’m keeping my fingers crossed he or she will be called Spotify ūüôā

My first book is published!! It’s here and it’s real!

My first ever book has been self-published in print and 10 copies are lying on the table in my living room.

(And it’s available on Amazon!)¬†

I paid the UPS guy 11 zlotes for the extra taxes. At 8:24 am today.

I am speechless.

What an incredible blessing. To be able to take a project, create it from nothing and then produce a pretty darn quality book from it nearly 2.5 years later! Deep down this is what the Ride to Read has really taught me. That an idea was born in my heart, while conversing with a healer and midwife in the Andes mountains of Peru, and that given this idea and fire I turned it into a fully fledged fundraiser and cycling project. And now it’s a book.

Maybe I’ll keep pulling on these threads and see what else might happen?

And my own words on this screen feel empty and silly. But they had to be written.

What an incredible journey. Simply incredible.

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Mastering the VC Game by Jeffrey Bussgang – something of a book review

Well here’s a new read to add to the chronicles‚Ķ all about venture capital, entrepreneurs, start-ups and the world-changing dance that evolves between them.

the huge multi-national Amazon was backed by one of the most famous American venture capitalists - John Doerr

the huge multi-national Amazon was backed by one of the most famous American venture capitalists – John Doerr

Really, I downloaded a few samples of books about Venture Capital (VC) to iBooks, read a few and then decided on the full version of this one. ¬†It’s written clearly, with every bit of the step explained, and by an author who has been both on the entrepreneur side of the fence as well as being part of a venture capitalist firm later on (he is general partner at Flybridge Capital Partners). ¬†All written from the American perspective, and rightfully so, but with a great chapter in the end and spotlights on a Chinese, Vietnamese and European VC each and a global vision for the future.

The book covers just about everything from how a VC firm works, how it thinks and makes money, how to prepare your pitch as an entrepreneur and how to read and understand the ‘term sheet’. ¬†The author continuously underlines¬†the most important aspects: trust, transparency and strong relationship building between VCs and entrepreneurs (and their management team).

Bussgang uses great analogies and metaphors such as his likening of the 3 archetype VC directors to the original judges on American Idol (Paula, Randy and Simon). ¬†He paints a clear picture and achieves what he set out to do “I wrote this book to demystify the VC world for entrepreneurs, having seen both sides over many years.” (from Amazon.com). ¬†He illustrates the typical phases of development that start-ups go through and the classic story lines that show up time and time again¬†in the dramatic, soap-opera realities of the venture capital financing world.

I especially enjoyed reading case studies featuring CEOs from companies I’m already familiar with: like Gail Goodman (of Constant Contact), Reid Hoffman of LinkedIn and Jack Dorsey from Twitter.

And as an educational exercise for myself I wrote down my notes from the reading in a 15 page PDF‚Ķ attached here if you’d like to have a peek. ¬†Great book and fascinating insight into the VC world in general – recommend !!

Book Review: “The Organic Farmer’s Business Handbook” by Richard Wiswall

Consider this book review the open-faced sandwich critique – I’m going to begin with my blunt and in-your-face opinion of the manual and leave you with the dry facts and contents within as an ending note. ¬†This is a good manual for anyone starting out in organic farming or an existing farmer noticing that there are efficiencies and processes lacking in her business season after season and looking to improve.

It’s a good and thorough readScreen Shot 2013-05-29 at 12.29., but I also believe that it is lacking in several points:

Critique:

1. What about the Internet? 

In his thorough review of everything business related, Wiswall presents us with an organic farming manual that reads like it’s from the mid 90s although it was obviously published in 2009. ¬†What’s the deal? ¬†I read of cheques and balancing cheque books and am puzzled why PayPal or eTransfers are never mentioned. ¬†What about marketing via Facebook and Twitter and the quality of a farm’s website? ¬†What of online forms and computer admin work? ¬†The dawn of the Internet is not just for the suit-wearing tech-savvy types – it’s for farmers too!

2. What if you’re growing more than just¬†veggies?

Of course, if the author chose to give an overview of every type of farming operation and the different combinations between protein, grain, dairy, vegetable and fruit farming – the manual in question would be bigger than the Bible. ¬†Nevertheless, a chapter outlining the potential advantages (and pitfalls) of running a diversified farm would be greatly appreciated, and since the book is focused on business I’d consider biodiversity as sound money-making advice. ¬†Out in the prairies, just as in Vermont (location of the author’s farm), the winters are¬†long and rough and complementing a farmer’s crop revenue with pastured pork, cattle or some raw-milk sales on the side (for your adventurous types ūüėČ can be a great way to see the year through. ¬†In business as in farming it’s never wise to put “all of your eggs in one basket” – so where’s the chapter on farm and revenue diversification?

3. At what point does meticulous business practice take the fun (and community) out of farming?

Counting every single man-hour, task, crop, distance, grain and second spent in the fields is undoubtedly a great business practice – guaranteeing robotic efficiency in all of your accounting and financial conclusions – but how realistic is it really? ¬†Wiswall provides meticulously researched excel spreadsheets in which you, the farmer, and your employees, can plug in every second of work and effort expended on your farm and thus know your exact per-acre revenue for every crop. Sounds like a dream come true! But is it really? So much organization goes into planning for, seeding, weeding, harvesting and selling your crops in every season that farmers acquire a natural savvy and intuition into what plants need and when. ¬†I agree that it’s important to recognize that per-acre kale is more profitable than broccoli (primarily because you kale gives multiple harvests per plant) – but I have yet to meet a farmer who would want to calculate the exact time, labour, material and overhead cost that goes into the production of every single crop on their farm. ¬†And to bash CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) for potentially taking too much harvest for too little money? ¬†CSAs have their drawbacks, but giving back to your community is not one of them. ¬†Let’s focus on the global efficiencies of farming, diversify our income and mitigate risk – but let’s keep the fun, and the community involved!

The Unbiased Book Description

A comprehensive and well written manual, Wiswall shows that he understands first-hand the joys and motivations of starting and operating an organic farm Рas well as the challenges of making a good living from one.  Recognizing that many farmers avoid the business end of their enterprises, Wiswall focuses on the numbers, organisation and methods applicable to operating a successful farm.  This book includes:

  • detailed procedures to making crop production more efficient
  • guides on managing staff, farm operations and office systems
  • advice on what to do with your profits: from business spending to investing and even planning for retirement

About the Author

Richard Wiswall has been farming in East Montpelier, Vermont (USA) since 1981.  His organic farm, Cate Farm, has been a decades-long learning tool in his work on farm profitability and appropriate business tools.  Wiswall consults with other farmers, writes and is a frequent speaker on organic-farm business issues.  Main website: http://www.catefarm.com

About the Book

Chapters include:

1. True Sustainability

  • the mile-high fence
  • solar dollars
  • paradigms
  • goal setting
  • quality of life

2. Farm for Profit, Not Production

  • profit = income – expenses
  • planning for profit
  • summing it up

3. Discovering Profit Centers

  • tracking income
  • tracking expenses
  • the indispensable crop journal
  • creating a simple crop budget
  • index of profitability

4. Profit time: Crop Enterprise Budgets

  • Assumptions
  • Conclusion

5. Marketing Strategies

  • the marketing circle
  • rejection 101
  • a word on pricing
  • Brand ID
  • Act professional
  • CSA potholes

6. Effective Management

  • the clean desk
  • the master list
  • time quadrant
  • old decision, new decision
  • employee management

7. Office Paper Flows and Leaky Finances

  • purchases
  • designate a mother checkbook
  • setting up expense categories
  • summary of purchases and bill paying
  • computer-generated checks
  • reconciling checkbooks with the bank statement
  • sales: money coming into the farm
  • potential financial leaks
  • the end: annual cleaning and storing of papers

8. How to Retire on your farm: retirement 101 and business spending tactics

  • retirement 101
  • saving
  • investing
  • an investment primer
  • business spending tactics and taxes
  • tying it all together

9. Production Efficiencies

  • standardize and raise your beds
  • making beds
  • kill your rototiller
  • weed control with tractor
  • cultivation
  • seeding
  • transplanting
  • deer fencing
  • harvesting
  • greenhouse efficiencies

10. Write your own business plan

  • the skeleton
  • some details
  • financial statements
  • write the summary

11. Planning for the inevitable: the ultimate conclusion

  • a parting thought

Appendix: Vegetable Farm Crop Enterprise Budgets

Workbook Index

  • worksheet 1: Labor, delivery, farmer’s market, and overhead costs
  • worksheet 2: greenhouse flat costs
  • worksheet 3: greenhouse costs: bedding plants and in-ground tomatoes
  • worksheet 4: tractor, implement and irrigation costs
  • crop enterprise budgets

The Manual begins with…

…a useful goal-setting exercise and a discussion on the different “types” of dollars (solar, mineral and paper), a useful mental primer to the business chapters that follow. ¬†Beginning with the very logical albeit frequently overlooked concept of farming for profit, not for production, the author points out that farmers often handle large sums of money but have little to no idea of where it goes or where their profit, if there is one at the end of the year, really comes from. ¬†Even then, an annual income is an average of all farming business activities and doesn’t accurately reflect which activities are generating more, or less, income. ¬†He then breaks items down into simplified marketing, production plan charts and seeding calendar to illustrate how farmers can map out their activities to reach their desired profits.

Check it out on Amazon and share your feedback!

Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farms – an overview

Compiled from my notes from attending the “You Can Farm” workshop; Internet research and videos – I’d like to make this overview of Polyface Farms readily available to anyone interested in:

  • alternative farming business models
  • making more money from sustainable farming
  • the Salatin success story and the foundations upon which Polyface Farms has been built

Enjoy!

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6 tricks to living abroad and meeting new people

Funny story: I moved to Barcelona this past August. In the first weekend after moving into my new place I was checking out the city, going to language exchanges, Pilates classes and creativity workshops. One evening, I was chatting to my roommate about all of these activities. I also asked the name of one of the main streets close to our place. Cris, my roommate, told me it was called la Via Laietana and then frowned, obviously confused. I laughed and said, unashamed, “it’s impossible to know it all after only being here 3 days!” Her mouth literally fell open… I had only been in Barcelona for half a week… but how could I already have met so many people and done so many things?!

You see, after several years of rooting and uprooting myself between various spots in Europe, Canada and South America, I’ve learned how-to-meet people tricks that are second-nature to me now, but which aren’t obvious to everyone.

I was happy to share these tricks with Cris back in August and am inspired to do so again with you today.

Continue reading

5 Life lessons I’ve learned as a bicycle traveller

This is the 3rd article from 3-part series written for Bicycle Touring Pro

Find out just how philosophical bicycle travel can be – and the 5 life lessons I took away from my recent trip across Europe. Full article

a sneak-peek: “Travel will always be about the journey within ‚Äď as we pass through different cultures, countries and cities we are the moving wheel, the places we visit the axle. Change is consistent, and all we know for sure is that a new town will always come after this one.

Isn‚Äôt it curious that every cyclist, and I mean every single bicycle traveler that I have met thus far, has either consciously or without realizing it followed a singular rule when on the road…”

The trail of Genghis Khan – a 3 year journey on horseback across Eurasia

Just finished watching Australian production “The Trail of Genghis Khan” (all 6 parts are on YouTube); partaking in some of Tim Cope’s spectacular journey on horseback across Eurasia fills me with a deep longing to get back on the road myself – the nomad within me is awakening from restless slumber!

This is an incredible documentary film especially considering that the majority of the footage was filmed and shot when Tim was alone with his animals, 2 then 3 horses and his dog Tigan.¬† One can only begin to imagine the amount of work and patience that went into the repeated self-filming: setting up tripods, timers and cameras to catch action footage of his trip.¬† The narration, observations in regards to sedentary and nomadic peoples and Tim’s emotional honesty are very real and raw, much like the journey itself.

Highly recommend ! … and to get you started, here is Part 1:

Cycling Safety and First Aid in 1887 – a must read!

Avoiding an accident!Just came across this brilliantly helarious article, from Breton Bikes – a bike tour company operating tours in Brittany, France. They, in turn, have found this pearl in the Badminton Library.

An excerpt:

“Down hill on a bicycle the safest position is without doubt that in which the legs are placed on the handle-bar, as not only will a sharp application of the brake bring the rider over the front wheel and on to his feet, a somewhat jerky method of dismounting, but singularly serviceable in cases of emergency ; but in cases of a bad fall the rider gets at once clear of his machine, and all practical cyclists know that the most painful injuries are caused by the handle-bars striking the front of the legs, so that, provided the rider has full confidence in his break, the legs-over-handles position is the safest.”

Click here to read more!

Bicycle Touring Pro – check out: “Ride to Read – cycling tales from Europe”

Part of the three-part series of articles I’m writing about the Ride to Read written for Bicycle Touring Pro.

full article here

a snippet:

“There is so much to grasp in a new place: a few phrases in the local language, where and what time you can get food, how to find lodging and a viable Internet connection‚Ķ just to name a few. I planned my trip in such a way that I would move from the more familiar to the less familiar, from countries which I know well and can communicate…”

Bicycle Touring Pro – check out “Ride to Read – the realities of a cycling fundraiser”

Here, an article I recently wrote for Bicycle Touring Pro about the fundraising aspect of the Ride to Read project, cycling solo across Europe and raising funds for World Literacy Canada.

full article here.

a snippet:

“I was swamped with work and kept wishing that I could split myself into three to get it all done! With my departure date looming, I did what I knew I had to ‚Äď I placed an ad, a request for a Virtual Assistant (VA) ‚Äď on the popular Elance website. One week and several interviews later…”

Yemen, the Lakota and urban gardening – this week’s favourite Ted talks

Watching Ted talks is turning into a mild obsession as I find myself googling “Ted talk” with any third word that comes to mind, like “science”, “gardening” or “war”.¬† The more creative I think I’m getting the more fascinating presentations I find.¬† Try the Ted talk formula with “architecture”, “crochet” and “Pine ridge reserve” and you’ll see what I mean!
Here, my most recent finds (although the videos themselves are not necessarily new news), the presentations and people with whom I feel I share something real – if not our specific field of study, then definitely our passion for positive change.

1. Inspirational Nadia Al-Sakkaf started Yemen’s first free English-language newspaper, the Yemen Times – her vision of peace, equality and hope is extraordinary

2. Aaron Huey is a photographer on a mission – that of documenting the reality of the Lakota people on Pine Ridge Reservation and of returning the Black Hills to their rightful owner.

Anyone who has lived, lives or thinks of living anywhere in the Americas need first understand what has become of the indigenous peoples from whom white man took the land.

3. Our urban future

Are cities unsustainable parasites with no hope of redemption? With Earth’s population heading to urbanize the planet even more, Alex Steffen puts a more positive spin on the kind of “green” we can hope to find in cities.

 

Documentary film – the youth in Bosnia-Hercegovina

“20 ans apr√®s le d√©but de la guerre,

les jeunes bosniens tentent de s’approprier

l’identit√© d’un pays

n√© en m√™me temps qu’eux

la Bosnie-Herc√©govine”

documentary film / webdocumentary

languages: Bosnian; French; some English

link:http://www.courrierinternational.com/webdoc/une-jeunesse-bosnienne

Barbara Sher’s “Refuse to choose”, perspective altering book

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Are you fascinated by Spanish guitar, Chinese cooking, running a successful language school and sailing to India all at the same time? Or maybe what makes your heart smile are rare bird species, photography, medieval poetry and chimney cleaning?

In my case, I find myself simultaneously wanting to study linguistics, start a rooftop greenhouse business, write a novel, sail around the world, learn horse-back riding and perfect my guitar skills…

!

Whatever our varied interests may be, the sharp intelect and love of learning attitude of “scanners” (term coined by author) doesn’t let us focus on just one thing or choose that one career to stick with “forever”! Scanners nead variety, stimulation, constant challenges and excitement.

Trouble is, scanners often times find themselves hitting their heads on walls in an effort to figure it all out. How do you choose amidst so many options, opportunities and talents? How do you stand strong against a society that constantly wants to turn us into specialists and experts in only one field?

That’s exactly what I’ve been wondering, and Barabara Sher’s book is, slowly but surely, unraveling the mystery of how to live a fulfilled life when you’re in love with everything and incapable of choosing… Turns out in fact that you don’t have to choose at all!

I’ll continue reading, and give you a full review soon!

“Lost songs of Anatolia” a Turkish musical-documentary

a beautifully made Turkish documentary film, tracking and finding local musicians and singers throughout the various and very diverse regions of Turkey.
Highly recommend! a great insight into this country!