Archive for July, 2017

Mindfulness for anxiety course

Thursday, July 27th, 2017 | Health & Wellbeing

Mindfulness is a powerful tool for reducing anxiety and increasing our enjoyment of life. Practising it allows us to re-train our minds to focus on the present, rather than wandering off into worry-land.

Which is why during the 30-Day Challenge I ran in April, we did two mindfulness meditations.

They were really popular. So, I have expanded them out into a full course. It’s called 5-Day Mindfulness for Anxiety and provides you with an introduction to what mindfulness is and how it works, before giving you five guided meditations, one for each day.

Best of all, it’s free. It’s hosted by Udemy, and you can preview the course here.

It has already proved a hit with the Udemy community. Nearly 500 people have enrolled and it has an average star rating of 4.8/5.

That slightly beats out the 30-Day Challenge, also available on Udemy, which has an average rating of 4.6/5. Though the challenge has over 1,500 students enrolled.

They’re both awesome. Give them a go.

Making food prettier

Wednesday, July 26th, 2017 | Food

Since finally giving in and watching MasterChef, I’ve been busy trying to up my game. Poaching pears, for example. And trying to make everything I put on a plate look a little prettier.

Results have been mixed.

This is pigeon breast, served with a sweet potato mash, with croutons, milk gel and chanterelles served two ways: fried and powered. The same ones we picked up in mushroom town, for reference.

Here I have served duck with the skin cooked separately, on mash with an orange gel, fondant potatoes, cranberry foam and a dressing of parsley. There are definitely issues with this dish:

  • My fondant potatoes are rather jagged. Do people use a cookie cutter to get perfectly round potatoes?
  • The duck skin curled up while cooking. I scored it previous to this to try and prevent that, but without success.
  • The cranberry foam was still quite liquidy, which rolled around the plate.

Confit duck on a bed of apple purée served with Asian roast potatoes, coriander and chilli jam.

Lamb leg with parsley, fried potato slices and peas. I like this one because it is simple: plain ingredients, not overcrowded or covered in fancy nonsense, but it still tastes good.

There are some weird combinations going on here. It’s fish and chips, with an added scallop, and some strawberries mixed in with the parsley. I served the chips in a separate bowl to avoid having to cram everything on to the plate.

Conclusion

A lot of the stuff just needs practice: mastering the different techniques, for example, is something I need to work on. But the big takeaway for me is to put less stuff on the plate. It is impossible to be elegant when you are trying to ram too much food on there.

Molly Bakes Chocolate

Tuesday, July 25th, 2017 | Books

Chocolate by Molly Bakes is a cookbook for chocolatey things, surprisingly.

It starts with an introduction to the different kinds of cocoa beans there are, and some useful advice for working with chocolate. This is fine, but once you know the difference between Forastero, Criollo, and Trinitario, you want the more expensive ones.

The core content of the recipes is how to make hand-rolled truffles.

They’re very good. You make a ganache filling and a chocolate casing, and carefully assemble them in stages.

There are also recipes for a variety of other fun things. Chocolate bowls, for example:

And tray bakes, too.

If you like chocolate, this is an excellent book. It teaches you how to produce incredibly rich truffles and desserts, predominantly free from the distractions of other ingredients.

Finnish picnic 2017

Monday, July 24th, 2017 | Life

Summer means time for the Finns in Leeds to get together and enjoy the shade. We were lucky with the weather again this year, enjoying a sunny day throughout.

It was Venla’s first Finnish picnic. Though she is otherwise a bit of a veteran of them already.

This year’s event was a little sparsely attended. There were six of us in total. This had the advantage of massively improving my odds in the wife carrying competition, but, alas, Elina opted out.

Other results were mixed: I picked up gold in the welly throwing competition, but my mölkky performance was mediocre. I came last in the first game, before picking up a second place in the second game. Like last year, I was pipped by Martin.

Leeds 10k 2017

Sunday, July 23rd, 2017 | Sport

July means the Jane Tomlinson’s Run For All 10k in Leeds. It is usually boiling, making for difficult running conditions but is also a really fun event to be part of: you set off from the east side of town and loop all the way around before heading up Kirkstall Road.

Last year I set an awesome time: 59:59.

I wanted to beat the hour and did so: by one second!

Race Time
Abbey Dash 2016 56:45
Run For All 2016 59:59
Abbey Dash 2015 1:07:58
Abbey Dash 2014 1:07:36
Run For All 2014 1:06:14

This year was a mixed bag. I managed a time of 57:28. This is 43 seconds behind by Abbey Dash time, but 2:31 ahead of any time I have set in the heat.

Any hope of the run being good for me was quickly dashed. We went for brunch at Wetherspoon’s, followed by recovery ice cream at Baskin Robbins. That was Venla’s favourite part of the whole event.

The race was well organised. You get a colour coded number based on your expected finish time: blue (elite), red (not so elite), and green (everyone else). Previously, I have been held up by slower runners, so I put in a target time of 54 minutes.

This seems to have been the magic that moved me into the red zone. 55 minutes plus seems to have put you in the green zone. However, there were only two pens: all the blues and reds were in the same one. This meant that while I expected it to take 10-15 minutes to get to the start, I was actually through a couple of minutes after the gun.

Well done to everyone else who took part, what were your times?

Humanist Jubilee

Saturday, July 22nd, 2017 | Humanism

Last month, we celebrated 50 years of West Yorkshire Humanists.

Founded in 1967, the society has been through several different names and venues. We’re still going strong, as the local group for Leeds, Bradford and the surrounding area that is affiliated with the British Humanist Association and National Secular Society.

To celebrate in style, we booked our a carriage in Middleton Railway, the world’s oldest working railway, before finishing up with a banquet meal at Brasserie Blanc.

A total of 27 people joined us for the event, including one of the founding members of the group, Bob Tee. Bob served as treasurer of the group for 37 years, so I still have a long way to go to catch up to him!

I would like to say thank you to everyone who came along and made the day so special. See you in 2067 for the next Jubilee!

Deceptive smoked trout

Friday, July 21st, 2017 | Food

In 1715, RR. Spink & Sons was founded. They specialise in smoked salmon and trout. And, to their credit, their smoked trout is very good.

However, it is also a little misleading.

You will notice that their packaging has a window in it so that you can see the smoked salmon before you buy. Very nice it looks, too.

But you will also note that the trout has been carefully shaped to fill the window, while, in fact, about half the size of the packet contains no trout at all.

Of course, you can see the weight on the packet. So you are not being duped in that respect. But I was rather surprised when I pulled it out to find so little of the cardboard covered.

How TTP evolved their IT recruitment

Thursday, July 20th, 2017 | Life

Back in November last year, I noted that healthcare software provider Emis had started advertising at the train station. Right next door to where rival company TTP were advertising.

But Emis did a much better job of it. Their ad read:

I used to optimise gambling apps. Now I’m boosting survival odds.

Much better, in my opinion, than the patronising slogan of the TPP advert next to it:

Are you a little bit geeky?

Well, it turns out that TPP got the message (not from reading my blog, I’m sure). Because, as I walked through the train station a few weeks ago, they had replaced their long-running advert with a new one.

This one reads:

Write code. Solve problems. Save lives.

For me, this is a huge improvement over their previous ad. It doesn’t make it clear what they actually do, but it does appeal to people’s sense of wanting to do something meaningful with their lives.

Cranberry juice

Wednesday, July 19th, 2017 | Thoughts

I bought this at Tesco a few weeks ago. You will notice that it has the words “new recipe” on it. What exactly does this mean?

I mean, it’s cranberry juice. Surely it should be made of the juice from cranberries? Stating that your drink has a new recipe on the side, begs the question “what was in it before and what is in it now?”

How universities stack the value

Tuesday, July 18th, 2017 | Thoughts

I see a lot of online marketers saying “$20,000 for university is a total waste of money. You don’t learn anything. Buy my course for $2,000 instead.” Ignoring the obvious bias they have, it is worth considering why universities still manage to sell their courses and what we can learn from it.

University is a product

When it comes down to it, universities are selling a course. And they are expensive. £9,000 per year in the UK and way more in the US. But university admissions are not going down. Tuition fees are not putting people off. Nearly half of people in the UK will go to university.

On the flip side, you have something like Ramit Sethi’s Zero To Launch programme. It costs over $2,000. I am going to use ZTL as an example, as Sethi is a classic case of what I am talking about, but many other marketers are saying the same things: university is pointless, you need to go to the school of life / hard knocks / whatever.

A common tactic is to compare their info product against a university degree, claiming that their course is more relevant and far cheaper.

But universities stack the value

Where this falls down, though, is that universities are doing something that professional marketers do all of the time: stack the value. They punch so much value into a degree that you would have to be stupid not to buy it.

Universities essentially offer the best info product ever. Here is how. Again, I will compare it to Sethi’s course, but I am not trying to specifically pick on him, lots of marketers are doing the same thing.

The core offer

Your contact time at university depends on your course. Some have more, some have less. I had around 20 hours a week, but I know some history students had 10. Let’s average it out to 15. The academic year is quite short, so let’s say 30 weeks. That is 450 hours of contact time.

That is a lot. This is real in person lecturing and at a good university you are getting it from the leading researchers around the world.

When you do Zero To Launch you get pre-recorded content from Sethi. It’s not interactive and you cannot ask questions. And you do not get 450 hours of it.

But what, there’s more

You also get assigned a personal tutor and get to meet with them for an hour per week. That is 30 hours of consulting per year.

Mike Dillard brags about charging $2,500 per hour for consulting. I’m not sure how much Ramit Sethi charges for his time, but I imagine it’s a lot. In fact, this alone will probably cover the entire value of your tuition fees, even in the US.

Bonus 1: Facilities

You have signed up for an info product and they have made a custom user area to watch the videos in. Great.

My university had two 24-hour computer labs. And access to the White Rose supercomputer grid. And that was just for the computing students. We had labs, including an underground bombproof one for the chemists, lasers, psychology labs, a driving simulator, 3D printers, a selection of theatres for the drama students, etc, etc. Stuff you just cannot get access to elsewhere without a massive amount of money.

Bonus 2: Libraries

Your info product comes with downloadable PDF notes. Cool.

My university has seven libraries, not counting the departmental-run specialist libraries. They have over 2,000,000 items in their collections. And their computer systems get you unlimited free access to thousands of research journals that you would otherwise be paying $30 per article to access. Saving you thousands of pounds right there.

Bonus 3: Community

Your info product comes with a Facebook group. Genuinely useful.

But it doesn’t compare to being dropped into a group of 100-150 peers, all as passionate about the topic as you are. Just turning up to university gets you surrounded by clever people. There is a reason that Google, Facebook and Microsoft all came out of universities: clever people met there and founded companies together. It’s the perfect melting pot for mastermind groups.

Bonus 4: Support

In case you were not already convinced, universities also come with athletics facilities (free or subsidies), a student’s union (discount beer), physical and mental health services, careers advice, and many other student services.

What does it add up to?

Feature Value
450 hours of lectures, which is like attending a conference, which might provide 15 hours of talks for $2,000, but 30 times over. $60,000
30 hours of coaching at $2,000 per hour $60,000
Access to specialist labs and equipment $10,000
Access to academic libraries and journals $2,000
Mastermind group of peers $5,000
An endless array of pastoral support, benefits and other facilities $5,000
Total value $142,000

Conclusion

The reason that people buy online marketing programmes at $1,500 per time, rather than a $10 eBook, is because these courses stack so much value that they make it worth it.

The reason universities can and do charge ten times more than this is because they stack the value even more: to the point where it simply incomparible to anything else.