Two of the tagline words for this blog are ‘passion’ and ‘explore’. I’m passionate and focused about the things I choose to learn about and engage with, and I love to explore and see new things. The two words synchronize perfectly with every one of my hobbies.
The article describes a carefully planned expedition ice skating journey that Luc and Greg Mills took in the Arctic Circle. They traveled over lakes and the sea, in daylight and darkness, between the Alaskan towns of Selawik and Kotzebuehas. It’s filled with many great photos and a 6-minute video that shows the expedition and conditions that Luc writes about, so it’s definitely worth watching to give visual life to his writing.
I came across Luc’s article in a roundabout way. I was reading about how to use the excellent Gaia GPS hiking app on my iPhone and the Gaia website had a summary article about Luc’s expedition that further linked out to his own Alaskan adventure blog. (Those are the types of paths I sometimes go down on the internet when I’m interested in a topic…)
Adventures like the one Luc describes require careful planning, preparation, and skill in order to avoid disaster. The way he used the Gaia GPS app and satellite imagery to plot the course for the adventure so they would only travel over smooth ice for better skating was a stroke of genius. Everything else needed to be be plotted carefully too, not just the route. They needed to know where they would sleep, what time to get there, how to skate safely in the dark, how to stay warm in brutal conditions, etc. So many critical details. And speaking of which…ice skating in the dark in the Arctic Circle at night with nobody else around?! Yikes! The thought of that kind of freaks me out…
Never lose your sense of adventure
Luc’s article perfectly describes a robust sense of adventure! It’s important to keep that as you get older because it leads to a healthier and happier life. It keeps you curious and on your toes. Your sense of adventure can include physical or mental activities (or both), it really doesn’t matter. The key is to keep your eyes open to explore and learn.
When I was a kid my adventures were pint-sized, but nevertheless…they were mine. I could let my mind run away for hours to fill an entire afternoon with a high seas pirate adventure in my own back yard using a huge box from the new refrigerator my parents just bought as my “ship”. I have so many vivid memories of activities just like that when I was little. As an adult my adventures are a little more elaborate (and sometimes expensive!), but one thing still remains the same…they’re mine. You always carry your adventures with you.
I’m glad that I never lost that sense of fun and adventure as I got older, and I hope some aspect of it has rubbed off on my kids as well so that they’ll reach out to discover their own adventures during their lives. These days though I limit my adventures to Earth-bound activities because my aerial activities many years ago of skydiving and hang-gliding did not end well (the former was a minor crash, the latter was a more significant total wipeout). I’m perfectly happy to keep my feet mostly on the ground now, although I’ll write a separate photo essay here soon about our repelling adventure in Moab, UT in 2016 when we were most definitely NOT on the ground.
Enjoy Luc’s icy exploration story, and let it awaken your sense of adventure to plan and try a new idea, even if it’s a calmer activity around your own home area. Just go out and let your mind run away with something new for a while…
Back in 2012, I was going through a tough time at work. We all occasionally have those difficult times and they tend to come in waves, and wow…this was quite a wave! Horrendous workload, mounting deadlines, ongoing layoffs, and some difficult people combined to make it a rough environment to deal with.
I tend to be a “heads down” type of person when things gets tough. I dig in and push hard to get through whatever’s happening, and I aim for the light at the end of the tunnel. Unfortunately, the work circumstances above typically lead to long hours, less time with family, poor sleep, a lot of stress, and no time for anything but….work.
Looking back at that time it’s clear that I was physically exhausted, but there was also something else happening emotionally that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. I didn’t realize what was bothering me until I emerged from the fog many months later in 2013. The answer was that I was spending all of my available time on work and I completely paused my hobbies, learning, and creative activities. Since I’m an active, creative, continual learner, this was really hurting me and I didn’t realize how much at the time.
During your life, you’re fortunate if you experience a few truly meaningful moments of epiphany. Many people don’t. I’m referring to those moments of sudden insight that stop you in your tracks, reset you, and alter you as a person to point you in a new direction that truly affects your life. The situation above was an epiphany for me.
On the day in 2013 when I realized what I had slowly given up throughout the previous year, I made a promise to myself to:
Never lose sight of “me” again
Never stop learning
Related to #2, I believe that when you lose your curiosity about the world and your drive for continual learning that a piece of you “dies”. Part of what makes us grow as people is constant learning, experiencing new things, seeing new horizons, and meeting our goals. I learned through my experience that this is an essential part of who I am, so I can’t lose sight of that again.
Fast forward over the years since then and I’ve kept my promise to myself. I’ve happily explored the paths that my curiosity and learning have taken me down by seeing new places, doing many new things, and acquiring new knowledge and skills along the way. I’ve learned from many different sources and people over the years, and I’ve shared the best of those with others around me so they could benefit as well.
The short story above about the importance of continuous learning brings me to the subject of this article, which is MasterClass.
What is MasterClass?
MasterClass.com is a premium learning platform with an impressive list of instructors who you’re sure to recognize. Luminaries include Ron Howard, Wolfgang Puck, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Martin Scorsese, Annie Leibovitz, Judy Blume, Natalie Portman, Carlos Santana, Malcolm Gladwell, James Patterson, Steph Curry and many more. These people are true masters in their field.
From the accomplished names above and many others listed on the MasterClass website, it’s easy to conclude that the subject matter is quite varied, and this is one of the main things that immediately attracted me to MasterClass. The current list of learning categories includes the following (with multiple master instructors in each category):
Film & TV
Music & Entertainment
Business, Politics & Society
Sports & Games
Design, Photography, & Fashion
Science & Technology
The content on MasterClass is exclusive to their platform. You won’t find it on other learning websites, YouTube, in books, etc.
I’ve found the classes to be fun, engaging, insightful, and valuable. That’s exactly what a learning platform should be! It should excite and engage you in the learning process so that you’re left wanting more.
As of February 2020 when I wrote this, the cost of one course on MasterClass is typically $90, and I was originally planning to sign up for just the one course I was interested in. You can make a case that the $90 cost is worth it because of the high quality, but there’s a better offer that I opted for instead. For $180, you get full access to all of the classes for one full year. Looking through their catalog and instructor list, I saw many classes that I would take if I had access to them, so I opted for the one year all-access subscription instead.
Once you join a single class or an annual subscription, you can watch the class videos on your laptop through the MasterClass website, and there are also apps for iOS, Android, and streaming TV boxes (e.g., Apple TV) if you want to watch on a large screen TV.
Many of the classes have what I’ll call “light” assignments at the end of some of the lessons. These exercises are meant to reinforce the main points of the lesson and in some cases also practice what you’ve learned. You can choose to do the assignments or not, but I found them valuable so I completed them. Some classes, like Malcolm Gladwell’s, have a more sophisticated “end project” in addition to the assignments for each lesson.
You can join MasterClass, start a course, and progress through lessons any time and at your own pace. There are no set start and stop dates.
Finally, one other thing worth mentioning is that MasterClass Gift Cards are available for your favorite learner on your shopping list. The gift of learning is a great gift indeed!
Why pay for this content?
I’ve been focusing on my writing more seriously in recent years, and one of the first classes I started was Malcolm Gladwell’s “Teaching Writing”. I mentioned this to one of my friends and he asked “Why would you pay for that? There are so many online learning platforms and university writing classes available that you can use for free.”
That’s true, and in fact I’ve tried some of them. As you might expect, I found that the quality and consistency is hit or miss. Some have been quite good, but others consisted of poor content, poor instructors, or were recorded with shaky video and terrible audio that made them unwatchable.
So why pay?
My answer is that MasterClass has a different and specific draw than other classes on the internet produced by people who I don’t know. The draw is that MasterClass courses are taught by well known masters in their field whose work I’ve read, listened to, seen in movies, etc. I have a direct connection to what they’ve done because I enjoy and respect their work. If you’re a long time fan of one of the instructors then you’ve likely read or seen many of their works in the past, which means your connection to them could span a significant period of time in your life.
The point is that there’s great value in a strong connection between instructor and student that achieves the core purpose of any learning platform, which is to engage you. In the particular case of MasterClass, you know the work of these instructors, you like it, and you’re drawn to what they do and how they do it. Those facts can engage you more deeply in their courses and therefore you’ll hopefully get more value out of them. That engagement, and the quality of the instructors and content, are the core value proposition for the cost of MasterClass.
Just to be clear, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with taking classes and learning from people who you don’t know. We all do it every day. I just wanted to mention that that’s not the premise of MasterClass.
One final thought on this before moving on. There’s also great value in learning from people who have “been there” because they carry with them a lifetime of experience and insight that beginner instructors simply don’t have. The MasterClass instructors deliver their content with carefully crafted structure, and their statements carry impact. They know the message they want to deliver, and it comes across clearly and concisely. For example, I can’t tell you the number of times I pressed ‘pause’ during Malcolm Gladwell’s videos so that I could write down a valuable “gold nugget” thought that I knew I would want to refer to in the future. This is not just glossy content with a price slapped on it because of a famous name. It’s truly insightful.
What do you get for the price?
Regardless of whether you spend $90 per course or $180 for the all-access pass for one year, the quality of the material is the same. You can read about the details and sample some of the content for yourself on the Masterclass website, so here I’ll summarize just the highlights from my perspective:
The classes are taught by masters in their field.
The production of the class videos is excellent with high quality audio and video.
Consistently high quality of content. The learning material does not disappoint.
The classes are well structured, and each typically contains about 20 lessons that average about 10 minutes in length per lesson (with some being as long as 20 minutes). This structure makes the content easily digestible, especially if you’re on the go and you only have limited amounts of time to watch lessons here and there.
There are downloadable PDF files available for most of the classes with relevant details for each lesson in that class. What’s in these PDF’s is unique to each class, so there’s no single format or content structure. Often they’ll link out to further materials available on the internet from the instructor (e.g., Malcolm Gladwell linked out to several of his long-form articles written for New Yorker magazine to support the points in certain lessons).
You can participate in community discussion boards on the MasterClass website where attendees discuss the class, the assignments, and start new discussion threads of their own.
There’s an extensive list of supplemental articles related to the courses written by the MasterClass editorial board. This is an extra bonus to membership beyond the classes themselves and there’s so much great reading to discover there…
Mobile apps are available for all platforms.
The bottom line
In summary, MasterClass is great concept with luminary instructors providing high quality content in a strong, consistent, easy to use learning platform available on all types of devices. For those interested in the subject matter available, it’s a treasure trove of insight into the minds and work of these masters in their field.
I can comfortably recommend MasterClass to those thinking about trying it. The main tip that I would offer to you is to thoroughly review their course catalog before you sign up to determine if you might be interested in taking more than one class. If you’re interested in more than one, then most certainly the $180 all-access pass for one year is worth it for you. Enjoy your learning experience, and have fun with it!
Contrary to some of my long-form posts that you’ll find here on ‘Slant on Life’, this is a short one.
Many of us reach for coffee every day, often more than one time. We do it out of sleepy necessity, wanting something warm to drink, as the common denominator of a relaxing conversation, or just because we…love the taste!
For people who drink coffee because they love the taste and want to learn more about that (and how coffee goes from bean to cup), this post is for you!
Tip from me: Know your labels to get the taste you want. In the photo above of a bag in our house, the label tells you all you need to know. If possible, buy a handheld coffee grinder and grind your own whole beans each morning for freshness. From the label take note of the roast (light/medium/dark), whether or not it’s a blend, the type of bean, where it was grown, and the expiration date. The videos below discuss all of those factors.
And speaking of caffeine…Are you curious about why it perks you up and seemingly gives you long lasting energy? Check out this short video from NBC New’s “Better” series that clearly explains how caffeine affects your brain and body. It’s interesting to know the specifics of it. If you want to reset yourself back to normal, maybe consider giving decaf coffee a try instead. My wife and I both switched to decaf recently after many years of drinking caffeinated, and after giving our bodies and minds a few days to adjust and reset, we don’t miss it at all.
You bet ya! The corporate world has moved to subscription pricing models for many products and services these days in order to provide people with convenience and options, and also provide the companies selling them with ongoing dependable revenue streams that are often far more profitable than a one time sale to a consumer. If everything else has gone down the subscription path, why not coffee as well? Check out this nice write-up from CNN about several coffee subscriptions to give you a taste of what’s out there.
And now, to the videos about taste and bean-to-cup
This first video called “Everything you’ve ever wanted to know about coffee” shows the many different factors that influence the taste of coffee. Flavor is affected by where beans are grown, what altitude they’re grown at, how long they’re roasted, and of course how the coffee is brewed. Learn it all from Chandler Graf in his TED Talk filmed at Beltway Coffee in Abilene, Texas.
This next video linked here called “How the world came to run on coffee” discusses the coffee industry from end-to-end to get from bean to cup, and explores how coffee has become a central part of many societies around the world (the excellent companion article is here). As the video mentions, it’s a business worth hundreds of billions of dollars that supports the livelihood of over 120 million workers worldwide. It’s no wonder that “in just a few centuries, the world has developed a two-billion-cups-a-day habit”.
Sit back and enjoy the articles and videos linked above, with a cup of coffee…of course!