Harness The Power Of “MPT” To Boost Your Productivity

For most people, there is a magical time of day when, under the right circumstances, they just get stuff done. Some call it a state of flow when they get absorbed by a challenging task, achieve real focus, and things just “click”. Others call it being in the zone when they are able to do really deep work and knock out sticky and mentally taxing stuff.

I like to call this time MPT, your Most Productive Time. For me, this time is in the early morning, the quiet first hour after getting ready and before meetings start and messages begin pouring in. That’s when my brain is the freshest and able to focus. This is the time when I’m best able to do deep work such as writing, coding, or diving into data analysis. When I use this precious mental clarity, I can leverage it to boost my productivity and… continue reading

Body and Mind

I’ve been thinking about what I’m passionate about, what I excel at, and what I can do to help others.

It turns out it’s about creating good habits to keep body and mind healthy. In a way I’ve spent the last 20+ years figuring out things that work to stay healthy, be active and fit, fight off disease, and feel good. At the same time, I’ve put a lot of effort into finding good mental practices to keep my mind sharp and stay productive and balanced.

In order to share my knowledge, I’ve created a new platform called Body and Mind Over 40 – come check it out and come along for the ride!

A Different Perspective: Looking for Opportunities during the Coronavirus Madness

Let’s be honest: the situation with the coronavirus sucks. With working from home and kids’ schools closed, everyone is cooped up in the house and going out to pursue what used to be normal, day-to-day activities is not an option any more. Our previous, ordinary life is suddenly … gone.

Yes, this is frustrating, disconcerting, and confusing. Cabin fever is setting in and we all suddenly miss the smallest things we used to take for granted. Time to get depressed or angry, sit on the couch, and watch endless TV while snacking on whatever comfort foods we still have?

What if we looked at this admittedly unpleasant situation as an opportunity? What if we didn’t only cope and made due, but actually got something positive out of it? Here are some ideas for … continue reading

Backpacking to Kaluahaula Camp via Kauai’s Kukui Trail

A hike to the bottom of the Waimea Canyon, the Grand Canyon of the Pacific 

I’ve been to Kauai many times and have always wondered what backpacking there would be like. Ever since seeing an article in Backpacker Magazine about the Kukui trail to Lonomea Camp (issue Jan 2019, p. 24f, “Paradise Found”), I’ve had an overnight trek down to the floor of the Waimea Canyon on my bucket list. (One day, I’ll attempt the Kalalau trail, but I’m not quite there yet.)

Preparations and Planning

In early July of 2019, I finally had the chance to make this dream come true. I was hoping the time of year would not only give me longer days, but also reduce the chance of heavier rains. (On the flip side, the heat could obviously be a concern.) Since this was my first foray into the canyon and I initially planned on doing this hike solo, I selected Kaluahaula Camp as my destination. This would allow me to make it further in than Wiliwili Camp (the first camp at the bottom), avoid potential crowds, and be easier than going all the way to Lonomea Camp (by myself).  

I used this detailed post as inspiration and for planning purposes and will not repeat all its details here, but just add my own commentary. I got camp site permits for a Monday (eliminating weekend crowds) and made it to the island with all the requisite gear, so I wouldn’t have to purchase anything and waste time finding things on the island. With one exception: It is not allowed to bring fuel for a camping stove on a plane, so I had emailed a local outfitter ahead of time. However, just a few days before of my trip, they let me know it wasn’t worth their time to sell me just stove fuel (they usually make their money renting equipment), so they referred me to the ACE Hardware store in Lihue, which carried the fuel I needed. 

As the day for the hike approached, a hurricane was headed for the islands, but luckily it dissipated without ever reaching land, so the weather turned out warm and dry – as expected.

Heading Down

Fortunately, I was able to convince my hiking buddy to join me for my trip and hike and we started our decent down the Kukui trail via the Iliau Nature Loop around noon. The views of the Waimea Canyon were amazing and even though it was warm, the heat was not really a problem.

Continue reading “Backpacking to Kaluahaula Camp via Kauai’s Kukui Trail”

Life by Experiment

What to do when you just can’t figure out the big questions in your life

At some point in our lives, we all face important and daunting questions:

  • What career should I choose?
  • Should I change careers? I’m bored and I think I’d like field xyz….
  • Should I move to this exciting new city I’ve been dreaming about forever?
  • I have this great business idea. Should I go for it?
  • How can create passive income and not get stuck in the daily grind?
  • What am I going to do when I’m retired? I can’t sit around all day.
  • What is my greater purpose in life? 

… and so on. 

These are tough questions and many of us don’t have all the answers. A number of authors and “experts” have put forth a multitude of ways to “find your way and purpose”. After some brainstorming, mind maps, and soul searching, you’re supposed to head off to the newly found true north of your life. If you put all your efforts into it and put the right energy out into the universe, things will happen for you and you will – step by step – make it to your goal, … eventually. Happy ending – story closed.

But if you’re like me, this may not work for you. There are too many options, too many unknowns to even pick your destination. If you’ve never been there, never lived through what you’re hoping to experience, how do you even know it’s right for you? How do I know if I’ll like sailing around the world in a yacht visiting tropical locations with money to spend if I currently barely have enough in the bank to spend a long weekend at the local beach? Should I just have faith and hope that – with the right amount of effort, focus, and tenacity – things will fall into place and the universe will help get me there?

At one point I was told I had “too many irons” in the fire and that I should rather focus on “the one thing”. That advice rubbed me the wrong way, but I couldn’t put my finger on it at the time. I think I know why now….

Continue reading “Life by Experiment”

Growing Roots in Kauai

Life is full of adventures and my most recent adventure was selling a local rental property and – via a 1031 exchange – purchasing an investment property/vacation rental in Kauai. This was quite an undertaking and I’ve learned a lot about buying investment properties from afar, the local real estate market in Kauai, how to evaluate properties and how to set up and run a vacation rental. I’m now happy to own a piece of paradise in Kauai and grow roots there. Sooner or later I’m looking forward to spending more time or even retiring on the island.

The process of buying such a property far from where I live has been somewhat nerve-wrecking. I am now offering others who want to own a piece of paradise in Kauai to help them with their own adventure and put my learnings to use by making it easy for them. Interested? Check out Kauai Property Finders!

The Cloverfield Paradox & LOST

As a big JJ Abrams fan, I couldn’t help but watch “The Cloverfield Paradox” on Netflix right after it came out. Despite some not-so-great reviews, I thoroughly enjoyed the movie. Readers of this blog may also know that I’m an even bigger LOST fan and I couldn’t help but notice several similarities or even Easter eggs that may link the Cloverfield Paradox and LOST:

There is a scene in which a character is trapped in compartment on the space station that quickly fills with water. Before her miserable end, she appears – now fully submerged – at the hatch and puts her hand on the window in a gesture to say good bye to her friends, which is exactly what Charlie did (with “Not Penny’s boat” written on his palm) before he drowned.

One the alarm sounds in the space station seemed to be the same as one in the LOST hatch.

During an anomaly that occurred in the space station, one wall became highly magnetized and metal objects started flying there, getting “stuck” on the wall while putting a character at risk. LOST fans know that the same happened in the Swan station during “system failure”.

Talking of which, on the space station two keys have to be used to activate the Shephard (in LOST, Jack’s last name which is alluding to his role among the survivors), which appears somewhat similar to the failsafe key used by Desmond during system failure.

I might need to watch the movie again to see other similarities, but these are the main ones for now.

By the way, due to LOST, I became a huge fan of Michael Giacchino’s music as well. I was surprised that he was not involved in this movie’s soundtrack, but the music is nonetheless worthy of listening to on its own.

Travel Tips for Road Warriors – Part 2

(This is the continuation of Travel Tips – Part 1)

Rental Cars/Ground Transportation

  • I don’t rent any more unless I take my family to Hawaii for a leisure trip. Use Uber (or Lyft). You won’t waste time picking up and dropping off the car, finding a gas station close to the airport, and you won’t have to navigate in areas you’re not familiar with.
  • I use taxies only when waiting for an Uber takes too long, e.g. when arriving at my destination and the wait time exceeds 10 mins.
  • If you do use a cab, insist on paying with a credit card. Buckle up, cabs and cab drivers are scary!
  • If you absolutely need a rental car, sign up for their frequency program as well. I found that Hertz Gold was useful because it allows you to pick your car up more quickly and skip the counter.
  • Instead of points for the rental car program, you might want to choose the option to get airline miles instead. They’re more useful.
  • If you need to drive yourself, think about bringing a good, old-fashioned Garmin GPS since it allows you to be independent of your phone battery and data coverage and you can also navigate and talk at the same time.
  • Especially on early rides to the airport, look at Uber as soon as you get up to make sure you know what the wait times are and keep an eye on those while you get ready.
  • If you have trouble with your Uber, e.g. the car is in poor condition, tell Uber and rate the driver accordingly. Their customer support is very helpful, fast and you’re doing other riders a favor.

Hotels

  • Less important than with airlines, but if you have specific chains you frequent more than others, joining the frequent guest program makes sense.
  • When booking, be sure to use corporate or AAA rates.
  • If you need flexibility and may have to cancel or modify your reservation, book direct vs. through 3rd parties like Expedia or even PriceLine. Don’t prepay in those cases.
  • Get a room further from the elevator.
  • Some hotel chains, e.g. Hilton, now allow you to pick an actual room when “checking in”. Hilton also started offering electronic room keys via one’s smart phone.
  • Pack shirts and pants that don’t wrinkle.
  • If you do have to use the hotel iron, test it first on a towel to make sure it’s not going to wreak havoc on your clothes.
  • Get a paper copy of your final invoice. Somehow emailed invoices from hotels come in late or not at all for some reason.

Packing

  • Don’t wait till last minute with packing.
  • Stay organized (see my app Travel PackList) and account not only for things you need to pack, but also things you need to “do” before you leave such as notifying your bank and credit card companies if you travel internationally or turning off your water to avoid your housing from getting flooded if a waterline leaks.
  • Pack extra clothes in case your get stuck and need to extend your trip or you spill coffee on yourself.
  • Get decent luggage, but don’t overspend. Practical beats overly fancy or fashionably. These things will get dinged up.
  • Mark your suitcases and roll-aboards. I once barely caught a guy who was about to walk away with my luggage because his looked identical.
  • Don’t forget a jacket and/or umbrella.
  • Pack work-out clothes.
  • Bring a stuff sack for used and dirty clothes, so you won’t have to mix them with the clean stuff in your suitcase.
  • If you have liquids like mouth wash etc., wrap the bottles in a Zip-Lock bag, in case they spill.
  • Pack shoes in plastic or draw-string bags.
  • If you want to sleep on the plane, bring a neck pillow. Memory foam pillows are nice, but they are bulky to store, so I prefer inflatable ones.
  • Bring a light jacket or hoodie in your carry-on luggage in case it gets chilly.

Miscellaneous

  • Get the Mobile Pass app for international travel, which makes entering the country easier and faster.
  • Only drive in foreign countries if you’re pretty comfortable doing it.
  • Avoid getting behind the wheel of a car after an overnight flight especially if you’re not familiar with the area or even the country.
  • Get the TripIt app to keep all your trip info organized and handy. Consider TripIt Pro. The Seat Tracker and other features could be helpful, but note that Seat Tracker doesn’t always work reliably.
  • If something really goes sideways, complaining through the company’s web site is a good start, but also don’t forget about social media channels e.g. Twitter. Companies are motivated to respond quickly to public complaints to maintain a good image.
  • Register with travel.state.gov when you go abroad, just in case. Hold your mail when you’re gone.
  • If you’re gone a lot, a remote-enabled door bell like Ring can come in handy. I also like Canary for monitoring the house when I’m gone (it sends notifications when activity is detected).
  • Invest in a good pair of noise reduction headsets if you tend to take long flights (I use Bose Quiet Comfort). They’re not cheap but make all the difference. I also like Apple’s EarPods for when I’m in the airport.
  • I like to dress in layers and tend to wear moisture wicking clothes that are light and don’t wrinkle since I’m more likely to get hot than cold. With layers you can add or shed to be comfortable. Those clothes often also use materials that prevent odors, which is helpful on long trips.
  • TripAdvisor and Yelp! are your friends when trying to find restaurants etc. Pay it back and post reviews yourself.

I hope you picked up a few things that will make your next trip easier! Do you have any travel advice to share? Please post a comment.

Travel Tips for Road Warriors – Part 1

As a frequent traveler, who travels mostly for work at least once or twice a month, I have over time assembled quite a list of little tricks and “best practices” to make life on the road easier and more bearable. Hopefully you’ll find some of these useful for your own travels:

Air Travel

  • Whatever airline you fly, either join their frequent flyer program or use one of your existing memberships (most airlines have several partner airlines). Miles can only help and rumor has it that people who are members of a frequent flyer program are less likely to get “bumped”.
  • Try to stick to one (or two) airlines and their partners, so you don’t spread your miles around too much. (If your miles are in a lot of different programs, check out points.com).
  • Keep an eye on expiring miles. If you approach expiration, use “dine for miles” or magazine subscriptions in exchange for miles to generate activity on your account to keep it active.
  • Whatever your primary airline is, seriously consider getting their rewards credit card. Usually signing up is rewarded by a healthy chunk of extra miles, early boarding privileges, free checked luggage, etc.
  • Once you’ve reached a higher level/status in your main frequent flyer program, take a look at the platinum level of whatever their program’s credit card is. That way you may get free companion tickets, (discounted) lounge access and qualifying miles which will make it easier to maintain your status.
  • That said, lounges sound exciting, but unless you have very long layovers, they’re often not practical because you won’t have time to use them in between flights. If you travel internationally a lot, they are more useful. LoungeBuddy is a useful app if you frequently use lounges.
  • Even if you reach higher status levels, don’t bet on getting upgraded. I found that despite high status I often ended up being #16 of 35 people fighting for 2 empty business class seats.
  • Nonetheless, check in as early as you can, in most cases 24 hrs before departure.
  • Always board early if you can, especially if you bring a roll-aboard. A higher level of status and/or the airline’s rewards credit card will help get priority boarding.
  • Install the airline’s iOS or Android mobile app. Easy online check in, notifications, gate info, and electronic boarding passes make life quite a bit easier.
  • Avoid connections. If you can’t help it, avoid connections with less than an hour in between. Any slight delay would leave you having to rebook because you’ll likely miss your next flight. Avoid itineraries with multiple connections. Try to stick to a single airline and its partners (each way), so you are less likely to miss connections or have to change terminals for connecting flights.
  • If you have connecting flight, get a seat in the first third of the aircraft to save time getting off the plane and to your next gate. Some apps even include airport maps or walking directions. Know your next gate and where you arrive before you step off the plane.
  • The later in the day your flight, the higher the chance it will be delayed.
  • Know when your departure airport will be busy (e.g. 6-8 AM in most cases) and plan extra time for security. I always try to be at least 1:15 hrs early for my flight (for domestic flights).
  • Sign up for TSA Pre – it’s worth it! Global Entry is a good idea of you fly a lot internationally. CLEAR is a nice idea, but a lot of airports don’t support it yet and if you have TSA Pre or Global Entry, it doesn’t save much time.
  • Go for aisle seats – the ability to get up and stretch or use the bathroom without asking your neighbor to get up is worth it. If you can’t get an aisle seat, go for middle. I found that while windows are nice, asking two people to get up when I needed to use the bathroom was not fun. More often than not, there’s not that much to see anyway.
  • Reserve seats as soon as you buy your ticket. Watch out for seats with limited recline. Check out the app SeatGuru.
  • If you get stranded or otherwise impacted by a significant delay, start with your airline’s mobile app to rebook yourself, which works surprisingly well and doesn’t require being on hold with the airline. If that doesn’t work, call the the airline immediately. It’s fine to let them know that you are significantly inconvenienced by the delay (e.g. missed meetings etc.). They may at least offer you extra miles, upgrades or a travel voucher. If they don’t offer, ask. The higher your status, the better they’ll treat you and you may have priority waitlist status etc.
  • Register your phone numbers with the airline’s frequent flyer program. When you have to call them, they may match your phone number with you automatically which expedites the process. If you have higher status, you will have special numbers to call with shorter wait times.
  • Get a nice backpack (not too large). Being able to carry things on your back may not always look fashionable, but it’s much easier, you’ll have both hands free and if needed, it’s possible to sprint through the terminal to catch your next flight. Some backpacks look sleek without outer pockets, but I’d argue they’re not very practical if you just want to reach in and find a charging cable. Outer pockets with separate zippers help.
  • Always pack your phone’s charging cable and charger in your carry-on luggage. I’d also recommend having a charged battery pack ready at all times. Don’t rely on chargers in the plane. Plus you’ll be able to charge your phone in your backpack while walking off the plane and through the airport if needed.

I hope you enjoyed this information. Check out Part 2 for rental cars/ground transportation, hotels and more!

MacOS App Store – Submit / Review / Reject / Repeat?

Let me start with: I like Apple, the company and its products. As a developer, I like the MacOS App Store and I appreciate Apple reviewing apps to ensure high quality as well as security. Hence I’m cool with app sandboxing even though that makes developing utilities pretty challenging. I get all that. But my experience with the reviewers has been “varied” – to say the least. One particulay case makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up:

app store screenshot with crazy faceIn 2014, I created a utility app that required a certain level of file access. I went through several rounds of submit / reject / re-submit / re-reject / etc. At one point, I actually got a phone call from a friendly Apple App Store reviewer. He wasn’t allowed to provide me with a solution, but he did strongly “hint” at what I was to do to make it through the review process. I did exactly that – and got rejected again. So I gave up.

Just now, 1.5 years later, I said “what the hell” and rewrote the very same app in Swift – just for fun – simplifying some of the functionality while adding a simple Downloads folder entitlement. And I got rejected again with somewhat cryptic (and to some extent nonsensical) comments, which reminded me of my first experience. When I replied and asked for clarification, they responsponded and suggested I approach it just like I had done in my first rejected Objective C version. Fine, so I basically implemented the exact functionalty of the old version, almost line by line. The resulting app did everything exactly like the old app, same logic, same flow, same UI, same approach to sandboxing. I re-submitted – and it got approved!!!

What am I supposed to make of that?! I know the Apple reviewers are human and make mistakes or at least have different views. Either way, it’s pretty ironic that the very same app that was repeatedly rejected now got approved. Are the guidelines that much open to interpretation?! Again, I’m all good with Apple reviewing submitted apps and everyting, but please don’t make it SO hard, Apple! Don’t make your developers waste so much of their lives trying to make it through the review process…!