Why I quit Vipassana

Vipassana is a meditation technique, for more information see this Wikipedia article

After the brutal 10 days that started my quest of Vipassana I felt happier, more energetic and most importantly at peace with myself and as a result with others. I was a strong advocate of the course, recommending it to friends and family. I would say the 10 day course worked. It was a success.
But one course, despite it totaling over 100 hours (4 days) of pure meditation will not get you to the ultimate goal, like anything you must continue the practice in a sufficient way to not only maintain its benefits but also increase them.
S.N. Goenka recommends at minimum, 2 hours every day: 1 hour in the morning and 1 hour at night. It sounds like a lot because it is a lot. 2 hours every day over 2 weeks totals more than a whole day (1 and 1/6th days). Over a year, that amounts to 2 whole weeks. And if you practice Vipassana for 2 hours every day over 50 years that equals to 2 years of your life. It’s crazy.
And, yes, the benefits of Vipassana are definitely non-trivial, but 2 hours every day isn’t trivial either. Even if you can find the time, I find it incredibly difficult to stay motivated to continue practice (often, after 15 minutes my mind convinces me to stop wasting time and start doing something productive).
Continuity of practice is the key, says Mr Goenka himself. So practicing occasionally may provide benefits sporadically, but so will exercising daily. To feel the true benefits of Vipassana you need to commit a lot of time and effort. This isn’t one of those: “in the 21st century people don’t have time too…” statements, this is a “unless you feel the benefits immediately, 2 hours a day is impossible”.
Maybe, I’m doing something wrong. Maybe, I’m playing ‘the sensation game’ (Mr Goenka says that many people who keep coming to courses and still feel little benefit are playing a game with their sensations instead of just observing them). I honestly don’t know. However, this technique is meant to be universal so there must be something I can do to keep it up.

2 hours a day = 1 and 1/6 days every 2 weeks
= 2 weeks a year
= 2 years over 50 years

The Best Keyboard in the World

Rarely is the statement “the best xxx in the world” used accurately and sincerely, but when it comes to the IBM Model M it is the only just way of describing it. The IBM Model M is to keyboards what Seinfeld is to sitcoms: the best one made and still the best one made (sorry to any Cheers, Friends or Frasier fans out there).

All this hyperbole I’m throwing around must now be explained. Instead of going over the history of the Model M and how it has reached its status to many as “the BEAST keyboard EVAR made” (translation: “best keyboard ever made”). I will give you 5 reasons one reason, the one true reason, why no Razer, Steelseries, WASD or DAS keyboard can beat IBM’s baby.


Look at any (non-membrane) keyboard nowadays and you will see plastic moulds called switches. You may even see different coloured ones or ones from different manufacturers. They all give a different feel. The most ubiquitous make of these switches is Cherry, who have more than 20 different types. Switches vary in stiffness and clickiness. The diagram below shows the mechanism of a Cherry MX Red switch.

Cherry MX Red Switch
Figure 1
If you want a good explanation of how these switches work click here. You will notice that these switches use springs. So, what is so special about the IBM Model M’s springs? They’re buckling springs. Which as the name suggest means that the spring doesn’t just compress, it bends. The diagram below illustrates how the Model M’s keys are actuated, whereas the diagram above of the Cherry MX Red switch shows a spring compresses uniformly. 

Figure 2
I honestly do not know how this makes such a difference, but the difference is so beautiful that I don’t even bother to ask why. Typing on a Model M is like typing on a typewriter, without all the nuisances. Like typing on a typewriter you will hear someone using this keyboard. It’s probably not suitable for shared offices or late-night writing, but otherwise the sound is part of the experience.

The IBM Model M will help you type faster. 

I believe this is not only because of the physical difference in the key design, but also in the experience of typing. The ping at the end of each keystroke is so satisfying that it motivates you to keep typing. I sometimes find myself typing things out twice instead of copying and pasting them because it’s such a pleasure to type on. Other keyboards (which I will admit I have not tried many) just don’t provide this. There’s also something charming about using a keyboard that was made in a time when most people had never heard the word “internet” and Apple was earning less than IBM (or most other companies for that fact). 

This does have the disadvantages of old technology being well, old. There are two things you will miss most from the Model M. Because Windows didn’t have a start menu when this keyboard was first made, there isn’t a Windows key present which is annoying for us power users. Though newer Unicomp models (which are mentioned below) do feature one, I would still recommend the original IBM/Lexmark made ones with some keyboard remapping, for example to remap Caps-Lock to the Windows key. USB, like the start menu is younger than the Model M so connectivity is provided by PS/2. This means that laptops will require an adapter (make sure it’s labelled ‘active’). Though PS-2 does provide a few benefits like not using up a USB port if your computer has a PS/2 port and there are technical advantages of PS/2 which this article highlights.

So where can I buy one? No, this blog post was not sponsored (I mean I did complain about the lack of a Windows key)

Finding a Model M can prove tricky. If you can find a source then you will not regret the time you invested in acquiring one. I will say however that despite my love for this keyboard, it isn’t worth £400 so don’t just buy the first one you see listed. I managed to get mine from Bluegoose systems, after a friendly email exchange, for £80 which includes postage. If you’re looking for more sources try some listed on this forum post. If you’re in the US or Canada, finding a source is considerably easier and if you want a brand new one you could always choose Unicomp who produce still Model Ms. However, they are not the same as the original Model Ms produced by IBM and Lexmark. If you’re elsewhere on the globe, I’m afraid I don’t have any links, but tying searching for “IBM Model M sources [your country]”. 


Figure 1: Animated Cherry MX images from Lethal Squirrel on Geekhack.org

Figure 2: By Shaddim – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=30568410

Apple’s naming convention still doesn’t make sense

At Apple’s annual developer conference, WWDC, Apple retired a name they’ve been using for 15 years. Unlike OS 9s funeral, OS Xs wasn’t so dramatic and for good reason: it’s not a big change. OS X is now becoming macOS to fit more in line with iOS, watchOS and tvOS. The problem is, it still doesn’t make sense.

That looks wrong:


That’s better:


Ooh, so pretty and streamlined. Until you look closer.

  • iOS 10
  • macOS Sierra
  • watchOS 3
  • tvOS

That doesn’t look right either. It’s a confusing mess, iOS and watchOS are arithmetically assigned, whereas macOS has a semi-random name. It’s really not a big deal, but I will say this: I can’t imagine Steve Jobs allowing this.

The Apple GTD System

The two most important things about your system are that you trust it and enjoy using it.

I’ve been using the getting things done methodology for over half a year, and since then I have used Evernote almost exclusively as my system. Evernote is a great application for implementing GTD. You can apply contexts using tags, and create your different lists using notebooks. What’s more there are levels to these, you can create nested tags and notebook stacks. Evernote is also a multiplatform beast, featuring web clipping and the best way of saving emails I’ve seen. But with all of these features comes weight. Even when first using Evernote it feels big: like an unexplored wilderness. Thankfully, it didn’t take me too long to acclimatise (mostly thanks to www.thesecretweapon.org).

However, Evernote felt larger than necessary especially on my phone and iPad. I would often find myself only using my system at my own computer, because the mobile interface just couldn’t display all the complexities. So I lost trust in my system and almost avoided using it. I realised it was time to change. A key point David Allen makes about GTD is that it’s not about the app. There is no GTD approved app, because the app isn’t really what’s important. It’s about making a system you feel comfortable with. That could be physical even. The point is, it needs to work.

I tried many apps briefly:

  • Remember The Milk – Weird interface and the logo kind of freaked me out
  • OneNote – just as powerful as Evernote with almost all of the same problems
  • Todoist – the app places too much emphasis on urgency and the free version is too limited
  • Google Keep – No way of storing notes in different bins
  • Simplenote – a bit too simple

Eventually I looked at my iPad’s home screen and saw Reminders: an app I had never opened on my previous iPad (which I had for 3 years). I then thought, perhaps this could work. So I typed in ‘GTD Reminders’ into Google and bang a concise, but plentiful article from you guessed it: Lifehacker.

The transition took some time, about an hour to transfer it all out of Evernote. But reminders could not take on all of Evernote’s workload, for Evernote was storing detailed notes, receipts, manuals etc. So what I had to do was split it up which perhaps counterintuitively has made my GTD far more enjoyable to use. The diagram below shows what I transferred and to where.

Diagram 1That may not mean much to you. Quite frankly, I struggle to work it out. But all you need to know from that ‘diagram’ is that I split up all those bins and contexts on the left that were all in Evernote into three apps: Notes, Reminders and Google Drive*. Google Drive also stores my general reference and project materials.

It’s a lot more manageable. I’ve even modified a few things, like finally realising the need for a @read/review context and Reminders (as the name suggests) can remind you with an alert to do a task, for example I’m reading Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People at the moment, so I have it set to remind me to read it every other day.

I must admit, there are a few things I miss about Evernote. For instance, before I would clip email receipts straight into the Receipts notebook. Now I have to save the emails as PDFs and if there are multiple emails for a receipt I then have to merge them. But this has the upside of ensuring that all reference materials are stored in the same place as opposed to some on Google Drive and some in Evernote. Reminders also lacks tags. Tags allow for a task to under multiple categories e.g. @Home, Now, Project A. My workaround for this is to use the Notes feature in Reminders which is slightly more tedious as I have to enter it each time (it’s not automatically saved like a tag is), but it makes the system cleaner and less complex.


All in all, I’m relieved. This slight, but considerable modification to my system has already motivated me to stay focused and get things done. I can see it working for the considerable future.

I will keep you guys updated on any changes and if you have any questions about my implementation or what GTD is please feel free to contact me here.

*I know this is called the Apple GTD system, but Google Drive is essentially the same as iCloud Drive, and plus Google Drive works on all Apple devices.

The Height of Computers

Artificial intelligence (AI) is the future and we have to accept it. But it will also be the demise of mankind. Thankfully, for most of us we’ll be dead before we get to see the demise of our species. But still, don’t be too sad.

I have been convinced by the likes of Stephen Hawking that AI is dangerous. It will evolve at a rate we cannot even imagine. Eventually, it will replace us, like how the Neanderthals were defeated by the homo sapiens. The better, smarter and more cunning species won. It doesn’t sound like a very positive look at the future. And I will agree, it’s upsetting to think that mankind’s greatest achievement will lead it to its ultimate fate. At the same time, AI is the next biological-digital evolution. It sounds unprecedented, but it is not too unlike the story of how the Neanderthals were entirely replaced by homo sapiens.

From all this, I have come to the conclusion that we just have to accept it. I even aim to work in some part of the AI industry that will lead to our downfall. I do not subscribe to the belief of fate or nature being controlled by some sort of external being, but I do believe that nature has a way of self-improvement. It will let the better side win and in this case it will be AI. How they will win is anyone’s guess. I’ve even got a few guesses of my own:

  • AI outright captures us and destroys us, similar to what the Cylons attempt in Battlestar Galactica
  • A combination of climate change and AI: we cannot live in the extreme conditions on Earth, but AI can

That second possibility also acts as another reason for why we need to accept that AI will replace us. If we do not develop AI, climate change or an unforeseen event will destroy us. We should at least go out in style, not in pity and desperation. AI could be our redemption for treating our planet so poorly.

You may now feel a bit heroic. Let’s make a plan. We can produce AI, redeem ourselves, but still live on, right? We could cheat. If we all moved to space, before the AI were smart enough to realise, perhaps we could escape. Live our lives completely separately from AI. It would be like time travel, going to a snapshot in time before AI.

The problem with this plan is that you could then not answer the question: ‘Why did you make AI?’ For this plan to succeed we would need to have it all sorted out before the AI were even useful tools which would then mean that we created the AI for no reason. We created them, then left because we knew they would kill us, but they didn’t even help us. It would be a complete waste of time. So, in reality what would happen is AI would start doing dodgy things like in the movie I, Robot by which time it would be too late to jump off into space. By the time we were ready to do so, guess what, they’d be smart enough to figure out and put a stop to it.

To leave you on a slightly more uplifting but still bleak look of the future, perhaps now (the next few decades) will be the height of computers. Computers before they do everything for us and turn us into trivial beings. Cherish this moment in time because it may be our best.

I’m sorry Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that. (2001: A Space Odyssey) The ‘flawless’ HAL-9000 betrays its masters.


Bridge Of Spies Shows That Spielberg Still Has it

We all know what a good director Spielberg is. I’m not going to repeat the fanboying, but I will tell you about how Spielberg’s latest film is a sign of more good to come.

Steven Spielberg has given us some of the best action films of cinema: Indiana Jones, Jurassic Park and Jaws. But also the most emotional films of cinema: Schindler’s List and War Horse. His range is almost unrivalled.

But, he’s not perfect. He’s the same guy that gave us The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and War of The World’s.

This means that when he comes out with a new film, you know it should be good, but there is a possibility of disappointment. In fact, the more good films Spielberg makes the harder it becomes for him because people expect better and better.

I can say that Bridge of Spies is in my top 5 most loved Spielberg movies. Okay, so I haven’t watched all of his films (don’t worry, I plan to) but I’ve seen some of his agreed upon best. I was expecting to enjoy the film. The trailer had the qualities of a really good Spielberg film: originality, moral questioning and happiness but with sincerity. After I watched it though, I only really thought one thing: I wanna watch it again.

That is very rare for me. I love a lot of films, but for me to feel that. I don’t think I’ve felt like that before, usually I just want to go the toilet. Something about Bridge of Spies makes it so enjoyable. It can be funny, especially Mark Rylance’s performance, and it can be tense. But it is always enjoyable. I was continuously engaged because despite knowing absolutely nothing about the true story behind this film I felt like I understood what was going on and who to root for, but I still wasn’t quite sure how it would all end.

Tom Hanks also plays a pivotal part in this movie’s success. He plays what seems like a Tom Hanks kind of character: a charismatic, straight-talking family man, but he isn’t a hero straight from the cookie cutter. He’s not an anti-hero, but you get a feeling that he’s not in the popular opinion. One of the greatest scenes of the movie is on the New York Subway which highlights that really well.

It’s directed really well. And I don’t say that because it says ‘Directed by Steven Spielberg’, I say that because it is. The camera doesn’t feel like it’s playing tricks either. Because this isn’t an action film, I don’t feel like something’s just hidden out of shot for a scare. The camera shows all and what I see is good.

The soundtrack isn’t John Williams. Literally, it’s not (don’t worry though he’ll be back for next year’s The BFG). Instead we get Thomas Newman who in his own right is one of the greatest film score composers. The same guy that scored American Beauty, Finding Nemo and Shawshank Redemption. I knew it was Newman before I saw the credits because it had that Newman feel, motif, whatever the musical term is. Now, unlike Seinfeld I really like Newman (Thomas Newman), and whilst it’s not going to get an award for best soundtrack, the score really drives the thriller aspect of the film through. It also gives it that grand war feel. Prime example here.

All in all, Bridge of Spies is a 5 star movie in all regards. If I had to find one fault it would be the somewhat unclear and boring scenes showing the American prisoner’s experience. They just didn’t keep up with the nature of the other scenes.

Please Bear with McCreary

Bear is a really cool name, but also the name of a really cool guy. If you have watched Battlestar Galactica (2004-09), Black Sails, Outlanders or Agents of SHIELD you’ve had the pleasure of hearing some of this guys work. I might get all fanboy crazy over here, but McCreary is on John Williams’ level in my eyes.

I was first introduced to McCreary’s musical talent and creativity in good old Galactica. I will save my love for Battlestar Galactica (BSG) for another blog post, don’t worry.

At first, I wasn’t really captivated by the score and when I happened to be watching a YouTube video of some of the soundtrack (as you do) I saw comments like: “this is the best soundtrack for any TV show EVAR” and “the soundtrack alone makes this show worth watching”. My younger, more ignorant self didn’t get it. Why did they think it was so good?

I started to appreciate the music more and more, along with the show. But one episode stood out. The episode is definitely one of my favourites and the music played a major part. Resurrection Ship was brilliant – probably, the highlight of season 2 for me. Its major plot point and climax featured such a gripping and tense track called Prelude to War. The combination of fantastic story/character development and musical development combined, created one of the most powerful plot points in all of television. I promised I wouldn’t make this all about BSG so I’ll get back to the music.

Even as the show saw its decline in its final season, McCreary carried on strong with him covering All Along the Watchtower by Jimmi Hendrix. Granted, the original is better, but I think he covered it perfectly for the theme and essence of the show at that moment.

Where things get interesting is in Black Sails, however. I found Black Sails through the composer. This must be rare. Who watches a TV show because of the composer? I doubt many can claim that. I actually enjoyed Black Sails, although I get bored really easily so stopped watching it after a few episodes. BUT, my favourite part of the show, and I say this not to say that the show is boring or rubbish, is the theme. Boy, is it (any good superlative here). Just have a listen.

Thanks Bear McCreary for your musical ability. You know how to make a man cry, and please do carry on.