Wisdom in A Beautiful Anarchy

Great advice and learning comes from many different sources

One of the components in my mission for this blog is to share things that I think are worthwhile, because I believe that “Sharing binds people together. One of the best gifts you can give someone is sharing something that you find valuable or interesting.”

With the above being said, consider the recommendation in this post a gift that’s both valuable and interesting. If you make some quiet time for yourself to listen to and consider the thoughts in the podcast below (which includes written transcripts), I can almost guarantee that you will:

  • View yourself and others differently
  • Challenge your beliefs and understanding about how you think
  • Learn how you can be more creative in every day life, and/or lead a more informed life in general
  • Understand the value of communicating, sharing, thinking, learning, adapting, and growing
  • Gain insight into why you are the way you are

For me, it started with the books…

The podcast I’m writing about is from a photographer named David duChemin. His photography books are how I became familiar with his work because I’ve purchased many of them over the years, but that’s only the tip of his iceberg. David’s career has spanned theology education, successful comedian, global humanitarian photographer, best-selling author, blogger, and podcaster.

David has a way of writing about photography that brings the artistic, human, creative, adventurous, and technical aspects of it together to capture your imagination and leave you hooked within his stories. Before you realize it, those stories are conveying gems of wisdom that not only apply to photography, but when you think about their essence, they apply to life itself as well.

The reason I purchased David’s books in the beginning was to learn and improve my photography, but I kept coming back to buy the next one when I realized how much more I get out of them than just photography insights. Through his stories about traveling, creating his images, connecting with people and places, and sharing all of these experiences with others, I have continually seen that much of what he writes about is the process of discovering the soul. Your soul. It transcends mere photography.

…and then came the podcast: A Beautiful Anarchy

Considering the high value I place on his books, I jumped right into David’s podcast called A Beautiful Anarchy when he started it. He describes the podcast as:

“A Beautiful Anarchy is a heart-felt kick-in-the-pants podcast for everyday creators and anyone who’s ever mud-wrestled with their muse. Hosted by photographer and author David duChemin, these 15-minute podcasts are an honest and sensitive exploration of the joys and struggles of the creative life.”

For sure, the foundational premise of the podcast is creativity and discovering how you can be your most creative at whatever it is that you do. How to open and awaken your mind, be more accepting of inspiration wherever it comes from, explore new paths, beat your creative obstacles, etc. Going further though, I found that after listening to his podcast that you can even remove the word “creative” from the phrase “creative life” in the description above, because to me it’s about more than creativity. Just like David’s books, this podcast is serendipitously about…life.

Even if you’re not a particularly creative person, give this podcast a try. Listen to the ideas and apply them to the everyday. Go down the path. You will not regret it, because after you digest a few episodes you’ll be tucking away many gold nugget thoughts in your head about how to be a better self and get the most out of whatever it is that you do in your life. I think you’ll agree that it’s worth the time spent listening. Enjoy!

PS – Save the podcast transcripts that David provides somewhere on your computer. Trust me, you’ll want to return to them in the future.

Nikon is offering free online photography classes during the holiday season

For those photography bugs out there who are always willing to learn something new and improve their skills, what could be better than free online courses? Probably not much!

To that end, for the second time this year Nikon is offering all of their Nikon School Online photography courses for free until December 31, 2020. The classes were last offered for free earlier this year when broad lockdowns began due to COVID, and Nikon offered the courses for free to give people something to do with all of their time.

The courses range in length from about 30 minutes up to 1 hour and cover a variety of general subject matter, so if you’ve got some house time planned during the last few weeks of December, give one of the courses a try to see if you like them. You have nothing to lose, and something to learn. Enjoy!

Review of the Citizen Promaster Blue Angels Skyhawk A-T watch (JY8078-52L)

A robust tool watch makes its way into my collection

When I created this site, I wrote on the About Me page that my hobbies include horology and watches, and those passions have grown significantly over the past few years. Everything about watches interests me, from their visual and technical design and internal engineering, to the many ingenious ways that watches have been used to represent different aspects of tracking time.

Some examples of unique and sophisticated mechanical watches include those that track the phases of the moon, the shifting ocean tides, the movement of the stars, and even something as esoteric as a watch made by Japanese craftsman Masahiro Kikuno that tells time using a temporal hour system that shifts with the changing of the Japanese seasons. If you’re intrigued by that, watch this excellent video that explains the temporal hour watch that Masahiro built. All of these things I’ve mentioned are done micro-mechanically! Incredible craftsmanship…

Like many watch enthusiasts, I have a list of types of watches I would like to add to my collection over time. I’m a pragmatic buyer, selecting watches for the specific purpose or interest they serve for me rather than just being a random pick from a brand or a fashion statement.

One type I’ve always wanted is a versatile “tool watch”. A well-built, robust, water-resistant utility watch that pays homage to some aspect of horological history in its design. These are the Swiss army knives of the watch world.

Like many sports/action-oriented people, I currently have an inexpensive Casio G-Shock that’s still functioning perfectly and looks like new despite the beating it’s taken during sports, family adventures, and regular backyard activities. Mine is at least ten years old, and you cannot kill those things. It’s definitely a tool watch, but I was looking to upgrade from its capabilities and design into a nicer overall package with stainless steel case, as well as adding in the historic nod mentioned above.

When looking to purchase a watch of this type, Citizen is a natural choice to consider. Their Promaster lineup is full of activity/sports oriented watches grouped under the themes of Air, Land, and Sea.

Some of my priorities for this watch were that it include world time capability with dual time zone display, alarm, chronograph, countdown timer, day/date perpetual calendar, clear legibility of the time (considering the expected complexity of the dial), a standard lug width to make band purchasing and swaps easy, a large dial presence, and some aspect of horological history mixed in.

After considering those priorities, I chose the Citizen Promaster Blue Angels Skyhawk A-T (Model #JY8078-52L) with stainless steel bracelet. This article outlines the reasons why I chose it and will give you some things to consider as you shop for a watch of this type.

NOTE: There is a sister version of this watch with Reference #JY8078-01L that comes with a blue/yellow leather strap instead of a steel bracelet, and a white chapter ring (instead of blue) as part of the integrated slide rule bezel. Aside from those two things, the watches are technically identical.

First impressions and vital stats

The Skyhawk is a pleasing eyeful to look at. I was immediately grabbed by the deep blue color of the dial and bezel, with the contrasting white hands and dial markings. A yellow seconds hand and yellow bezel highlights add an additional pop of color. The complexity of the dial is great to look at.

When I opened the box and picked up the watch for the first time, I noticed that it’s…big. It’s not one that will covertly slide under long sleeves, and you’re quite aware that it’s on your wrist due to the size and weight. Despite that, or maybe because of that, it “feels good”. If you’re a watch person, you know what I mean by that. The weight of the watch, the balance as it sits on your wrist, the density of the stainless steel case…just feel good for some reason that you can’t quite articulate. John Mayer referred to exactly this feeling in an interview he did with the New York Times about one of the first larger and heavier watches that he purchased when he said:

“You take it home and you study and you wear it, and the first thing you notice is, ‘Whoa, this thing is heavy.’ You’ve never felt weight shift like that on your wrist. It’s heavy in weight, but it’s also heavy in the sense that all these pieces are working together. It’s what I call the ‘density of design.’ ”

John Mayer in New York Times interview

For reference purposes, I’m 6’3″ tall, weigh 195 pounds, and have 7 1/4 inch wrists. This Skyhawk is just within what I would consider an acceptable size on my wrist without that awkward “too big” look that sometimes accompanies large watches. The wearability is helped by the steeply angled lugs that keep the band drop-angle close to the case on my particular wrist.

A tip: If you have doubts about whether or not this watch will fit you, take a quick trip to one of the department stores or jewelers that stock it and try it on first. I was able to sample a different Skyhawk, but it had the same case size as the one reviewed here, so I knew what I was getting before I purchased.

The vital stats of this watch (including the Citizen feature diagram below) are as follows:

  • Reference #: JY8078-52L
  • Caliber: U680
  • Release date: 6/7/2018
  • Case width (without crown): 46mm
  • Case width (with crown): 49mm
  • Case depth: 15mm
  • Lug-to-lug width: 22mm
  • Lug-to-lug length: 49mm
  • Crystal: Saphire, anti-reflective
  • Bracelet: Stainless steel
  • MSRP price: $695 USD
  • What I paid: $414 USD

I’m not a fan of metal bracelets, so I took it off the watch when I received it and replaced it with one of my other 22mm bands. I purchased the bracelet version of the watch because it had the specific dial design that I wanted. This is not a criticism of the Citizen bracelet, I just find bracelets generally uncomfortable and I never get quite the right fit when using them. If a particular bracelet can’t be micro-adjusted to a precise fit then you end up with it being too tight or loose, which can be quite annoying. Additionally, it’s a minor point, but watch bracelets can easily scratch many of the things that they come into contact with throughout the day, and I’m not keen on that. So far I’ve tried the Skyhawk with brown stitched leather, black silicone, black leather, and its own stainless steel and they all look great.

The watch arrives in a mini carrying case, almost like the school lunch box that you had as a kid. Unlock the latch and open the lid, and inside is the Skyhawk (you can see mine with it’s brown leather band on in this photo).

With those first thoughts out of the way, let’s get into the heart of this review with the things that I like and don’t like about the Skyhawk.

The likes

There’s a lot to like about this watch, so stay with me on this. I’ll summarize it in a way that people can use to determine if the Skyhawk might also be for them. I’m not going to explain how to use every feature because the detailed instruction manual covers all of that well enough.

My favorite points include:

Overall appearance: The Skyhawk, particularly this Blue Angels version, is sharp looking. The stainless steel case and deep blue dial matched with contrasting white and yellow markings make for a handsome watch. I sometimes find myself staring at it to admire the design and dial complexity. It makes you think.

The mix of the analog sub-dials and dual digital displays works as well as can be expected in a hybrid-dial watch (meaning that you either like that style, or you don’t). The thin rotating slide rule bezel allows the dial to be prominent and large, which I prefer because I don’t like thick bezels that rob valuable space from the face area of the watch.

Case: The stainless steel case has a nice variety of angles and surfaces. Citizen chose to mix the finishing between brushed and polished surfaces to add diversity to the appearance. This approach catches the light differently based on how the watch is angled and gives it more visual appeal than just a singularly polished or brushed case.

When you turn the watch over, the press-on case back has all of the information about the watch etched into its edges and there’s a Blue Angels logo in the center. Not sure what the logo is made of…maybe acrylic? Note the warning message on the case back about not opening it. You would be wise to adhere to that, because this watch is rated at 200m depth for water resistance and they achieved that with only a press-on case back. That implies that it must be a real bear to get that case back off and then back on again without damaging the watch or seal. It’s not something that you want to mess with, and there’s nothing user-serviceable inside anyway. The 200m water rating is nice…no worries about getting it wet during swimming or water sports.

The granular-surfaced crown looks good and matches the top and bottom pushers, so the styling is unified. The grained surface makes the crown easy to grab when you pull it out.

Looking at the case from the side, the blue bezel nicely breaks up the profile between stainless steel and deep blue, and it looks great. The design is topped off by the Citizen logo imprinted on the crown.

Dial: I really like the stepped-down and sunken design of the dial. You start up at the top with the rotating bezel and visually step down through the two chapter rings of the slide rule before you get to the main time-keeping surface. The power-reserve indicator, UTC, and 24-hour sub-dials are also slightly sunken to give more depth, and then finally the two digital displays are sunken further.

The depth is nice to look at, and it gives you the feeling that you’re looking into the watch instead of just looking at it. Slightly raised/applied hour markers complete the look.

All of this is covered and protected by a flat anti-reflective sapphire crystal which should prove to be highly scratch resistant. Nice touch!

Legibility of the time: The main purpose of a watch is showing the time, and this Skyhawk scores fine there. Watches with complex dials can often make it difficult to see the hands and tell the time easily (especially in the dark). Citizen nicely handled that here with white hands and markings against the dark blue dial, which makes glancing at the time easy.

Lume: Tying into the point above, the luminescence of the hands and hour markings is good, and the lume is blue in tint when it’s visible in the dark so it fits the Blue Angels theme. I tested it by holding it close to a standard 60-watt light bulb for one minute at 11:30 pm and it was still quite visible/usable at 6:00 am the following morning. If you sleep with your watch on, just hold the dial under bright light for about a minute before bed and you’re good to go.

Eco-Drive: The Skyhawk uses Citizen’s Eco-Drive solar charging system. You never need to change the battery or wind the watch. Great!

Atomic timekeeping technology: Using internal radio reception, the watch automatically synchronizes on a daily basis to the nearest atomic clock signal and adjusts the watch automatically to keep perfect time. The signals travel over long distances and are broadcast from centers in the US, China, Europe and Japan. For example, the signal coming from Fort Collins, Colorado in the U.S. reaches my home in New York which is 1,800 miles away.

World Time function with switchable dual displays: You’ll have no problem tracking the time zones as you go through your travels. Your home city is displayed in the left digital display and the analog hands of the watch tell the time in that location. You can display the time of one of 43 other cities in their respective time zones in the right digital display. When traveling to an alternate location, these displays can be quickly switched just by pulling out the crown and simultaneously pressing both side buttons. Easy and useful!

Power-reserve indicator: For a solar powered rechargeable watch, it’s handy to have a power reserve meter included on the dial without having to press buttons to find out the charge level.

No cutoffs: A pet peeve of mine is when dial designers cut off numbers and markings to fit in the sub-dials and other features on the watch face. I don’t want to see half of a number in order to squeeze in a dial feature, it’s just not my thing. Citizen did well here by filling the dial with the desired details without cutting anything off.

22mm lug: The 22mm lug-to-lug width makes it easy to shop for replacement watch bands, as that’s a common size.

The nod to history that I like about the Skyhawk is the aviation aspect of it. I’m a big aviation buff, and I’ve learned a lot about the watches that pilots used to wear to aid them if the navigation instruments in their plane ever failed or they wanted to double check some aspect of their flight using a slide rule. Looking at the Skyhawk dial and seeing aviation design references, I’m reminded of flight and my hobby, and that’s enjoyable to me.

With that said, the Skyhawk includes several aviation-oriented features such as:

1) The slide rule bezel that’s derived directly from the E6B flight computer, which pilots today are still required to learn. Will I ever use the slide rule? Probably not. Will I learn how to use it? Yes, because I’m interested in understanding how to perform calculations with it just for the sake of learning.

2) The UTC time sub-dial indicates Coordinated Universal Time, which is the common time standard in aviation. This ensures that all pilots, regardless of where they are located, are using the same 24-hour clock. This avoids confusion when flying between time zones.

3) World Time function, which is frequently used in travel. It’s particularly useful for me because when I’m going through extended periods of time working with my colleagues in different time zones on tasks with deadlines, it’s convenient to know what time it is in their area so we can keep things on track during each of our respective business days. When I travel, I use it to easily know what time it is at home.

The Skyhawk has all the key features I mentioned above that I was seeking in a watch of this type. If you’re curious, you can read more detail about them in the product description link or the full instruction manual.

The dislikes

All is not perfect in watch-land, my friends. While there’s a lot to like about the Blue Angels Skyhawk, as with any watch there are also a few minor things that could have been better or different, including:

Color: The blue color is great looking but considerably darker than I expected from viewing the product photos. You can tell the dial is blue, especially if you’re wearing the watch with a black band for some contrast, but I would have liked a slightly lighter blue that’s truer to the “Blue Angels blue”.

24-hour sub-dial: It’s tiny, not numbered, and is basically useless for anything other than an AM/PM indicator. Perhaps Citizen could have put something else more useful and readable in that space.

LED light: The LED light for viewing the LCD displays is not bright enough. You can read the displays with it, but it would have been nice to have that a bit brighter. Better still, it would have been additionally effective to add a second light that worked along with the LCD display lights, and Citizen could have placed it in a notch in an empty area of one of the inner bezels of the slide rule to disguise it. Casio does a good job of that in many of their G-Shock watches, and that approach cleverly disguises the LED and lights up the dial of the watch so you can easily read the hands in the dark. Finally, the orange color of the LED is not preferable. Make it a white light, and call it a day.

Sounds: Timer and alarm sounds are short and not very loud. This is typical of all electro-mechanical watches of this type with these functions, so it’s not a knock on Citizen. Just keep in mind that if you set a timer or alarm and you’re doing anything noisy like driving, listening to music, or you’re in a loud location like a restaurant, etc, then it’s very likely you will not hear it when it goes off (which of course defeats the purpose of using these features in the first place).

The above is in contrast to using these features on a smartwatch or phone, where when the time is up they will happily vibrate and squawk at you for hours until you respond to shut them off, ensuring you don’t miss whatever you set them for. So just use timers and alarms on this watch with those cautions in mind…

Low light legibility: The combination of dark blue background and tiny print makes most aspects of the watch hard to read in low light except for telling the time. This is a problem with crowded dials, tiny print, and low light in general so it’s certainly not just the Skyhawk, but the dark color exacerbates this.

Crown usage: Having to pull out the crown for all common functions is not optimal, because doing that with the watch on your wrist can damage the crown stem if you accidentally put too much up or down pressure on it while pulling it out.

Citizen could have added pushers to the left side of the watch and moved that functionality there instead to address this, but my guess is that they were technically unable to do that because that’s where the atomic time radio reception antenna is located inside of the watch case.

To avoid damaging the crown stem and enable me to pull the crown straight out with no pressure on it, I put the tip of my middle finger of my right hand under the lower pusher while the watch is on my wrist to lift up the case just a bit. With the watch slightly lifted, I can then more easily pull the crown straight out with my thumb and pointer finger and not put any pressure on the stem.

The emotions and thoughts we attach to watches

Moving into the intangible section of this review, and with watches in general, I want to touch on the emotion and thought that we attach to the watches we buy. In fact, we attach emotion to many things we buy such as cars, a favorite jacket, a special piece of jewelry, etc. These objects, and the thoughts around them, make us “feel good”.

Everyone buys watches for a reason whether it’s a specific function, because we like the design, as a gift for someone, or even because we’re an aficionado of the brand. Whatever that reason is, those thoughts and emotions get attached to the watch permanently. For example, I will never forget tearing open a gift from my parents of my first little mechanical watch when I was seven years old. I loved that watch back then, and I still have it to this day for that sentimental reason. It was my first watch.

In the case of my Skyhawk, I bought it for functional reasons, but also because I like the design and its nod to aviation history. Perhaps it sounds silly, but when I look at this watch and I see the UTC sub-dial, slide rule, and the dual time zones, it subconsciously reminds me of travel, airplanes, and the great experiences those things bring me…and that makes me feel good. It reminds me that there’s a bigger world out there. Those certainly aren’t intentional thoughts every time I look at the watch, they just occur in the background of my brain from the subtle visual cues of the watch’s design. That’s the power of how design can impact people, and it’s a great thing when it’s done right.

In conclusion…

I like the Promaster Blue Angels Skyhawk A-T a lot. Great watch! It checks off all the points that I desired in a tool watch with only a few minor negatives to consider, and to be fair some of them are just the nature of complex watch dials in general.

If you’re considering this watch, be aware of its large size and heft. If that’s not your thing then this watch is not for you. If you like that style and can wear the case size without it looking too big, then it’s a hit!

The Promaster Blue Angels Skyhawk is a great combination of utility, appearance, durability, and price. It will get heavy use in my collection, and the positive impression that it makes would lean me toward buying another of the Promaster line in the future. Nice job, Citizen!

Reference links:

Below are some relevant links for the Citizen Promaster Blue Angels Skyhawk A-T (JY8078-52L):

Wait, it’s autumn already!

In the confusing and exhausting daze that has been 2020, time has warped. Days turn to weeks seemingly without division, weeks to months before realizing what month it even is, and the seasons have flowed together in a strangely seamless way.

Autumn is probably my favorite season and I look forward to it every year. The air gets colder and the days get shorter, as the angle of the sunlight lowers and lengthens. Beautiful colors slowly sweep across the treetops. Things seem to get more peaceful as people get ready for winter, and I reset myself every year at this same time as I notice these things happening. I typically find myself reading or sitting to listen to music more often, relaxing with a glass of wine and a fire in the fireplace, and other activities that start to slow things down for a chance to reflect. Maybe that’s why autumn is my favorite season…it slowly sweeps in and creates the perfect atmosphere to think and reflect on a personal level. It creates a sense of inner peace that comes easily to me at this time of year.

From a hike at the top of Hunter Mountain, looking east toward Tannersville, NY USA

This year however, autumn snuck up on me. I’ve been getting chores completed that I need to finish before it gets cold, but I was never really thinking “autumn” while doing them. Then last week, the time warp that I mentioned above ended for me. We were driving up to visit my son at college and I looked out the window while driving past a cliff on the side of the highway. Draping over the side of this perfectly vertical cliff and running forty feet down its face to the ground were different varieties of vines, each one a different color. There were reds, oranges, yellows, greens, browns, and blends of colors of all different intensities. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. It was at that moment that I said to myself “Wait, it’s autumn already!”

The rest of the ride was completely different after that. I noticed that the leaves on many different types of trees are changing fast here in southern New York, and many are even dropping already from the windy days we’ve had recently. My favorite season is upon me, and I plan to enjoy the rest of it.

Backyard leaves, little scenes like this are everywhere now

Things are different this year though. Many autumn traditions that we like to do to get outdoors and enjoy the autumn splendor have been canceled. No Oktoberfests, no craft shows, no music festivals. Fortunately, at least the mountains themselves are still open so we can take some hikes, get some fresh air, and enjoy the slow slide into the colder months. We’ll try to do that in the coming few weeks before we wake up and suddenly find snow on the ground!

Local wetland grasses

The pandemic has changed all of us and the way we look at certain things. One way it has changed me is how I think about and use my time. I’m more selective about the things I spend time on, and I’m thinking and reflecting more. I’ve also found that the current situation has re-awakened some of the interests that I’ve always enjoyed, but sometimes don’t have much spare time for. I have that time now and for the foreseeable future, and I will pursue them again. Things like sitting down in a quiet room to read a book or listening to a favorite jazz album start to finish, uninterrupted by anything. Even something as simple as sitting outside on our patio, watching the leaves fall and listening to the wind blow through the trees.

We have time for these things now. Use it to find yourself again.

709 pages, and next on my reading list 🙂

Enjoy going down a rabbit hole

When someone goes “down the rabbit hole,” it means there’s a certain topic, activity, or thing that intrigues them. Consequently, they want to explore this topic, activity, or thing further so they can learn more about it.


Follow the path and jump in

When’s the last time that you learned something just to learn it, choosing to do so because the subject intrigued you or simply sounded like fun? Or how about a time when you were so engrossed by a new topic that it stopped you from falling asleep because you were interested to learn just one more thing that night?

These situations are constant occurrences for me, and they satisfy me every time they pop up. By carving out the time to allow them to happen and by generally being curious about new things, I’ve stumbled onto one of the key things in life that makes me tick: the process of learning and exploring.

I’m a continual learner and my mind doesn’t rest much, except maybe when I’m engaged in an outdoor activity like hiking or cycling and there’s nothing else to compete for my interest in that moment. Because of my active mind, I spend a lot of my time doing new things that often turn into hobbies. The majority of them come from going down a rabbit hole on a particular topic to discover what’s there and then branching off in all directions to learn about the things that are connected to it. I’m constantly having “I never knew that!” moments of discovery, and that’s what’s energizing about the process.

What do a watch and an airplane have in common?

Let’s go down a rabbit hole together, shall we? It will give you a great idea of what I’m referring to above…

The IWC Pilot’s Chronograph Spitfire watch shown here is one of my favorite watches. Some day maybe I’ll own one, but right now life has many other much higher priorities (like paying college bills for two kids!). So for now I’ll admire it from afar, because it’s much too rich for my blood.

IWC Pilot Chronograph Spitfire
Photo by IWC

A few years ago, I stumbled deeply into the hobby of mechanical watches and horology. I’ve always liked unique and purposeful watches, but it was only within the last few years that I started spending large amounts of time learning about their history, how they work, different types of design, and the genius that goes into creating the complications of a mechanical watch. Complications are the features on a watch face (other than telling the time) often in the form of sub-dials such as displaying the day/date, the phase of the moon, chronograph timer functionality, etc. The micro-mechanical complexity of some of the complications I’ve learned about is fascinating, and some of the most complicated watches can have over 1,000 parts inside. If you want to be amazed (trust me!) by one great example of a super-complicated watch, check out the Vacheron Constantin Les Cabinotiers Celestia Astronomical Grand Complication 3600. You’ll be amazed that all of its features are done mechanically.

When I picked up this hobby, it dawned on me that I’ve always been interested in watches, going all the way back to when I was a little kid. I received my first mechanical watch from my parents for my First Communion celebration, and I remember winding it up before bed that night and just listening to it tick until I fell asleep. I wondered what was happening inside of the case to make it work, and after taking up this hobby, now I know! Although the watch band is long gone, I still have the watch body and it still works.

Watches are the perfect combination and intersection of art, function, design, and ingenuity. Since I like those four things, that’s the reason why I like to learn about the models that I’m interested in and how they work. So much so that when I bought a Seiko mechanical watch two years ago that was running about 20 seconds fast per day, I learned how to open it, I used an iOS app and a microphone to measure the rate at which it was ticking, and then I adjusted it to run slower. A watch has a micro-mechanical “heart beat”, and it can be measured and regulated to correct timing errors. It’s basically the same principle as a human getting a pacemaker to help their heart beat correctly. After several days of fiddling with the Seiko watch, I was able to adjust it to be just a few seconds away from perfect per day, which is pretty darn good for an inexpensive mechanical watch. So that story shows how deep I went down the rabbit hole of watchmaking and mechanics to understand it and be able to act on it. I went up, down, left, and right with the topic and enjoyed every minute of it. Great hobby!

Returning to the Spitfire watch, I liked it and decided to read about how IWC designed and built it. Then I peeked my head into another rabbit hole by wondering “Why, specifically, did they choose to focus on this plane?” The watch is named after the plane and there’s an etching of it on the case back. I knew IWC had a long heritage of making pilot’s watches since the 1930’s, but why pay homage to this specific plane? And then I completely fell into the hole…

IWC Pilot’s Chronograph Spitfire case back
Photo by IWC

I began researching the Spitfire and discovered its significance as a game changing single-seat British fighter plane developed in the 1930’s that saw extensive use in World War II and beyond. It first became prominent for the key role it played in the Battle of Britain from July to October 1940, where the advancing German military was turned back from invading Britain after advancing across Europe in all directions. The Royal Air Force’s Spitfire and Hawker Hurricane planes ensured British success, but it was the Spitfire that captured the imagination of its pilots and the public and became a symbol to the world of resistance, freedom, and engineering superiority. It’s reputation and history as an iconic warplane that turned back the encroaching German military were proudly sealed.

But knowing the above wasn’t enough for me. I was intrigued, and began searching for some type of documentary about the Spitfire. Lo and behold, I quickly found one on Netflix called “Spitfire – The Plane That Saved the World” and immediately watched it. It’s a great profile about the plane, those who flew it, why it’s so special, and the place it earned in history. Great story!

With that history in place, the reason IWC created their Spitfire line of watches was clear. They did it to pay homage to the iconic plane in the spirit of IWC’s legacy with aviation and pilot’s watches (and let’s be honest, it’s also a great marketing framework for them). So after all that, I had my answer to the question “Why did IWC choose the Spitfire?”

The commitment of IWC to the Spitfire is significant, so much so that they sponsored a fascinating and unique flight expedition to take a beautifully restored version of the plane called the “Silver Spitfire” on a first of its type around the world flight. The entire expedition is documented on IWC’s website here and also here, as well as a dedicated website to the months-long expedition. It was interesting to see how hard the Silver Spitfire team and IWC worked to keep the memory of the Spitfire and what it means alive.

Was I done? Not yet, there was one more step! The hole went deeper because having seen the Spitfire Netflix documentary and learning about the IWC flight expedition, I then became curious to learn more about the aspects of World War II that I was not entirely familiar with. I sucked my wife into it too, and now we’re watching “World War II in Colour” on Netflix to fill in our knowledge gaps about that pivotal time in world history. Then…I’ll be done! 🙂

Find a hole of your own

All of the above resulted from a watch and some curiosity, and it’s a perfect example of what I mean by enjoying a rabbit hole. I was intrigued and totally enjoyed the learning experience at each turn that it took, and I now have a lot of new knowledge that will lead me to other things (which always makes me a richer person). There was also the bonus of answering my original question about the Spitfire watch as well!

For me, the fun of these deep dives is the discovery process itself. What will I find? What will I learn? What will it lead to? Are there new hobbies there that interest me? It’s intriguing to see how many things are interconnected and how they branch out in so many ways.

Life is hard and we all need a break from time to time. Try going down a rabbit hole for yourself just for the pure enjoyment of the process. Start by picking a subject that you’re interested in but haven’t had the time to explore yet, and start digging around on it. Use the internet, go to the library, read magazines, or use whatever method of research you prefer. To better focus on and enjoy the process, maybe try it when nobody else is home to minimize distractions, or use a rainy day when you have nothing else pressing to do. Let the process carry you, enjoy the paths and sidetracks that you diverge onto.

I would bet that after you try this a few times, you’ll see that it’s not necessarily the destination, it’s the journey. Enjoy the ride!

Wear a face mask correctly for the most benefit

Wearing masks wrong puts you and others at greater risk

Correct positioning of a face mask.
Image from the Centers for Disease Control

I haven’t written a lot about COVID-19, and I don’t really plan to. I’m trying to remain positive and move forward throughout the crisis, so the articles I’m drafting to post here are about other things that are uplifting to me. But I’ll make a short exception here.

We’re five months into COVID-19 at this point, and I still see people wearing face masks incorrectly every day in the media. I figure now is as good a time as any to write a quick post about it.

If even one person reads this post and realizes that they’re wearing their mask incorrectly or they learn the importance of masks from the linked BBC article below, then it has done its job.

Ironically, the people who are wearing masks wrong are actually trying to do some good. They put the mask on in the first place, right? Unfortunately because the masks sometimes don’t come with instructions (or the person made their own mask), maybe they just don’t have the fit concept quite right.

For details on how and why everyone wearing masks helps the overall COVID-19 situation, check out this thorough BBC article.

I read the NY Times often and generally find it to be a good source of content except for the occasional errant fact here and there, which most media sources have these days. Today they published an article that’s an example of something that should have been caught and corrected before publishing. The article was about the good work a delivery person is doing in their community, but every picture of the worker in the article showed her using a face mask that’s only covering her mouth and chin. Her nose is uncovered.

While I most certainly commend the worker in the article for what she’s doing and also for making the effort to wear a mask (both of which are good things!), the Times should not have used photos showing incorrect usage of protective equipment. The article will be seen by many people who might now erroneously conclude this is an acceptable way to wear a mask. I saw similar photos in articles from two other reputable sources this weekend as well.

What simple steps could have been used to correct this situation?

  • Companies large and small should issue employee communications about how to wear masks correctly.
  • The photographer who took the pictures should have helped the woman and informed her that she was wearing the mask incorrectly. She then could have put it on properly before the photos were taken.
  • Media editors should prevent photos showing improper use of protective equipment from being used in their stories.

Working together we can help correct misinformation that circulates about personal safety during COVID-19. Everyone has to do their part to help the bigger picture, so I’ll do my small part here.

Proper fit

To see how to wear a mask correctly, refer to the CDC image above and check out the photos below showing the right and wrong ways.

You should adjust the fit of your mask so that it completely covers your nose, mouth, and chin area. Anything else is wrong and therefore less effective.

CORRECT fit with nose, mouth, and chin area covered.
Incorrect fit, the nose is uncovered.
Incorrect fit, the chin area is uncovered.
Incorrect fit, and if you can’t see why then just don’t go outside. 🙂

Sum it up

Obviously the last photo above is just a bit of comic relief to an otherwise serious topic. Proper fit of your mask will help you and everyone around you stay a degree safer in these difficult times, and we should take whatever edge we can get. In many countries where masks are typically worn during illness, these practices are already part of their cultural and societal norms so they’re well aware of how to wear them properly. However, for those people less familiar with masks because this is new to them, hopefully this refresher helps.

Be safe everyone!

The benefits that mindful listening bring to you

It’s a gift to you and the one talking; mindful listening is so fundamentally different from how we usually converse that we can feel it in our bodies as much as in our heads. 

Laurie J. Cameron

Mindful listening requires us to give up preconceived ideas, judgments, and desires in order to allow space to hear what is being said. True listening requires a deep respect and a genuine curiosity about situations as well as a willingness just to be there and share stories. Listening opens the space, it allows us to hear what needs to be done in that moment.

Mirabai Bush

True story

I bumped into a colleague in the hallway at work who was seeking me out to ask a question. We greeted each other and he asked his question, and then I began to answer him. Remember…he sought me out as a trusted source of information, so this was supposedly an important discussion for him.

Shortly after I began to answer, he took his cell phone out of his pocket and started reading and then typing something on the phone. I looked at him in shock (and maybe disappointment too?), but dismissed it thinking he’d quickly return to paying attention. Wrong. He continued to type and read on the phone.

In disbelief at this waste of my time, I stopped speaking and just looked at him. It took at least five long seconds of awkward silence for him to finally look up and say “It’s OK. I’m listening. You can keep talking.”

I responded with mildly shrouded sarcasm “No, it’s fine. I’ll wait until you’re done.”

Realizing the error of his ways, he sheepishly tucked the phone back in his pocket and proceeded to listen attentively to the rest of the answer to his question.

Has anything like that ever happened to you? Or, has a conversation that you’ve had ended with less than optimal results? I would bet the answer is yes, and if so then read on to learn how you can contribute to improving your conversations through mindful listening and at the same time help to steer them to successful outcomes.

Art and desire

Listening is part art and part desire.

It’s an art because mindful listening requires a thoughtful combination of skill, timing, and restraint so as not to derail the true messages that are being communicated. It involves reading body language and recognizing things like the nuances of facial expressions or a pause in speaking. It’s about keeping an open mind to what’s being said and responding accordingly to it in the moment. From a visual perspective, if you could see a conversation with mindful listening in the air, then I would liken it to a series of colored lines between the people speaking that all weave together into a pleasing and intricate pattern. It’s a good feeling to walk away from a conversation like that.

Mindful listening also involves desire because in order for a conversation to be successful, you have to care about what you’re saying and you need the desire to listen and understand what the other person is expressing. If you don’t care and you have no desire to listen, then the conversation is pointless and it will fail.

There are piles of books and training courses available about effective mindful listening, but honestly all you really need to easily get started is this short article “How To Give Your Full Attention” by Laurie J. Cameron over at Mindful.org. For additional easy tips on trying this, you can also check out this short article by Elaine Smookler.

Laurie speaks about some core skills and cues needed for successful listening, and I agree with her that these things are sorely lacking in many conversations that occur each day. Many people simply don’t or can’t focus enough to listen to a basic conversation in order to make it productive and successful for everyone involved.

Three key points

Three things that I would like to briefly emphasize about listening include:

1. Be honest about your skills and behavior: Some people think they’re good listeners, but they’re simply not. When trying to understand why your conversations are not going as well as expected, be honest with yourself to understand what you might be doing that hobbles them. Listen to the feedback that people give you during or after a conversation. Learn from your experiences and be honest with yourself so you can improve.

2. Pay attention to body language. I can’t stress this enough…Look at the person you’re speaking with, acknowledge what they’re saying, be present in the moment, put your phone away, be silent when they’re speaking, and don’t interrupt. Body language and overall conduct is absolutely critical to mindful listening.

3. Keep an open mind. A large percentage of the time, people go into conversations with a desired outcome in mind, and that’s understandable. That’s how we move our topics, work, and activities forward. However, it’s important to understand that taking that stance typically predetermines a lot of how the conversation will flow, and often that predisposition is not a good thing because you’re not really going to listen to the other person if you’ve already decided how the conversation will proceed. Instead of predisposition, it’s necessary to achieve balance between keeping an open mind and being flexible while still achieving purpose.

Sum it up

The benefits of mindful listening can’t be overstated. For both your personal and professional lives, this form of listening creates better communication, empathy, trust, respect, and strong bonds between people. Many aspects of society today are sorely lacking these things, so we should all do our part to improve our corner of the world through mindful listening.

I agree with Laurie that mindful listening can initially be challenging because it takes effort and it’s not the norm we’re used to. However with a little practice, the labor of doing it will soon bear fruit for you. A successful conversation is certainly better than a frustrating and pointless one, so give it a try the next time you’re speaking with someone. Truly…listen. See if you notice the great improvement that mindful listening can bring to your every day interactions at both work and home. And also see if you think the quote below is true…

The very first time you give your attention to someone, I bet you’ll notice instant softening, openness, and connection.

Elaine Smookler

The heaven that is ad-free websites

Install AdBlock Plus (free!) to rid your webpages of annoying ads and speed up your browsing

Over the past few years, internet ads have slowly crept their way from existing as minor annoyances to being a regular pain in the ass. What started as relatively unobtrusive banners at the tops and bottom of pages and blocks in the margins have evolved to become scrolling, blinking, text-blocking, distracting, sometimes hard-to-close monsters. I hate them.

This morning I boiled over on the topic. I was trying to do some quick research on something that I needed to fix, and every website I went to was inundated with ads. I had to spend several seconds figuring out how to close several of them because they hid the ‘x’ in a hard to see part of the ad. Enough!

This post is not an exhaustive list of ad blockers that are available these days. Quite frankly, this is a straight forward topic and I don’t feel the need to write a long post about it. If you want longer details, check out this article from the folks over at Tom’s Guide about many of the options available.

For me, it’s simple. Go with one of the best solutions that’s been around for a long time, is reputable, and is endorsed by major publications and review websites. Don’t even spend time thinking about it. That solution is AdBlock Plus from eye/o GmbH.

You can download the needed browser extension directly from the AdBlock website, or Mac users can install it from the Mac App Store. There are versions available for Windows and mobile devices as well. Make sure you turn off the option in the software for ‘Allow Acceptable Ads’ in order to get a total ad-free experience. If a website that you use forces you to allow it to serve ads, then you can click one button to turn off AdBlock Plus for those websites and the software will remember that setting for the future. For example, two websites that I use (NBCNews.com and CNBC.com) require ad blockers to be disabled for their sites.

Try it, it’s free. You have nothing to lose, and you have your internet-using sanity to win back. The lightweight app installs in just a few clicks, and as soon as you load some of your previously ad-bloated websites you’ll be pleased with the results. Enjoy a saner internet!

Arctic Circle Skate with Luc Mehl

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.

This post is about an article that caught my attention called “Arctic Circle Skate” located at this link and it definitely falls into the category of ‘explore’. It’s written by a guy named Luc Mehl and his blog is called ‘Things to Luc At’ https://thingstolucat.com.

An icy tale

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…

Review: MasterClass, and its unique draw that no other learning platform offers

Don’t let a piece of you die

Here’s a short story…

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:

  1. Never lose sight of “me” again
  2. 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
  • Culinary Arts
  • Writing
  • Business, Politics & Society
  • Sports & Games
  • Design, Photography, & Fashion
  • Science & Technology
  • Lifestyle

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!