feature image Photo Credit: James McCullough

Writings

December 12, 2014

ProMixx Vortex Mixer


I recently saw a video on Beyond Nutrition’s Instagram account that made my eyes light up. It was of the ProMixx Vortex Mixer in action. Very quiet, a gentle swirl begins at the bottom and then spreads upwards creating a funnel to mix everything up inside. I decided I had to go get one.

It has turned into one of the best purchases of the year that I have made so far.

After my HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) workouts using kettle bells, I need to replenish my body and I generally don’t have time to prepare an actual meal. Protein shakes are the quickest and easiest thing for me to do. The problem is they can be a bit messy since they never mix up evenly for me. I thought about a blender, but that seemed a little expensive for what I needed.

The ProMixx offers a few things that I could never get in a blender:

  • it’s reasonably priced at under $30.00
  • the blade at the bottom is small and easy to clean around
  • the mixer is extremely portable, being the size of a 600mL bottle
  • the motor takes two AAA batteries and is incredibly quiet, meaning I can mix up the protein shakes at night without waking up my daughter

It works very well for me, and has been very easy to clean up. I can easily fit my hand in to wipe around the bottle. Here is a video of it in action.

ProMixx from James McCullough on Vimeo.

The protein powder going into it is Revolution Whey Gainer Punch. I have been using the usual vanilla or chocolate flavoured powders for years. My favourite (by far) has been MusclePharm Combat Powder - Cookies N Cream flavour. I switched to the punch partly for a change, partly for something lighter in taste that doesn’t taste horrible.

Whey Gainer Punch

It gives me a lot more calories than other protein drinks, which I need since I tend to under eat when stressed. High protein, low sugar, and it tastes delicious. Definitely worth tracking down if you want to switch things up. The only downside is it is only available from independent supplement stores, so take a look at their site to find it.

The ProMixx is more widely available, including Amazon. A great, reasonably priced Christmas present for your fitness enthusiast.

ProMixx Vortex Mixer Buy on Amazon

December 10, 2014

A Film About Coffee


A Film About Coffee

Because of the complexity of coffee and because of the way it drives us and makes us feel, I think it occupies a special place in our culture. Because it's always been like that, over centuries. That sort of connectivity, that exchange, is consistent.

— Peter Giuliano, Specialty Coffee Association of America

A Film About Coffee is a wonderful blend of stories from around the world sharing their experiences in what goes into a great cup of coffee. From the growers, to the people discovering the beans, to the roasters, and to the baristas, the film is a wealth of knowledge that will surely open a lot of people’s eyes. The world of coffee is a lot more complicated than I ever imagined.

I had a taste of the stories that would be shared through the little introduction cards I am receiving from Blue Bottle Coffee (and before them Tonx.) Their introduction cards or letters help explain the process of how they connected with the farmers and how they selected the beans to ultimately roast. That information was the tip of the iceberg, though.

This film really delves into the world of specialty coffee and connects you to the farmers in Rwanda and Honduras, showing you the process from planting, to picking, to washing and drying the beans. The work required to create a cup of coffee is astounding. One pound of coffee is produced from just one tree in a year, and all the beans are hand picked. After that, is a long process of washing the beans and drying them before preparing to send them to the roasters around the world.

The film then connects you with the people responsible for bringing these beans to us directly from the farmers themselves. People like Eileen Hassi Rinaldi (Ritual Coffee Roasters), Darrin Daniel (Stumptown Coffee), and James Freeman (Blue Bottle Coffee), to name a few of the people that talk in the film. Each of them bring different perspective to coffee which I find fascinating. So many ideas on what makes for a perfect cup of coffee and why people love it so much.

The one thing that links everyone in the film, apart from coffee, is their dedication to their craft. Everyone loves their job and loves learning more about coffee. This is very apparent when the film introduces us to two Japanese masters, Daibo and Katsuyuki Tanaka (known as Katsu, at Bear Pond Espresso). Both devote a great amount of energy in creating the perfect cup of coffee or espresso. Daibo is incredibly meticulous, down to choosing an individual cup for each person. Each cup poured by him is a work of theatre. Katsu pours himself 1/2 a pound of coffee each morning to test how his machines are functioning, and doesn’t open his store until he is satisfied with how they taste.

A Film About Coffee is a wonderful, short film full of people and stories that give you a better appreciation about where your coffee comes from. It is available for rent for under $5.00. I went ahead and purchased the film for under $12.00, using the promo code RITUAL, courtesy of Ritual Coffee Roasters.

Be sure to watch this little gem and support your independent coffee roasters that practice direct trade with coffee growers around the world.

A Film About Coffee from Avocados and Coconuts on Vimeo.

Other Links

If you wish to explore the film and the people involved more, check out these links:

Life Is Bear Pond Espresso from Jake Davis on Vimeo.

November 24, 2014

12 Paleo Books For Sale


Buck Books - Paleo

Buck Books has a great promotion happening for Tuesday, November 25th: 12 paleo books for under $3.00. It is only for the Kindle versions of the books, but still a great opportunity to fill up your Kindle or iPad with some informative and healthy books.

Also be sure to sign up for Buck Books newsletter to keep up to date with all their great specials through the year.

Paleo Books on Sale:

These are available for $1.99:

These are $2.99:

Buck Books - Paleo Special

November 13, 2014

Virunga The Documentary


The oil issue might destroy everything. If we fail, we’ll not only lose Virunga, but also the other parks in Congo. All the other parks are going to sink. Everyone will say, ‘You’re not allowing us to exploit the oil or ore in this park but you did so in Virunga.’

If we fail here, the whole conservation sector in Congo is going to fall. It would be a disaster.

— Prince Emmanuel de Merode, Director of the Virunga National Park

Virunga

I woke up last week to an email from Netflix announcing a new original film that they had funded and watched it over the weekend. The description sucked me in right away:

In the forested depths of eastern Congo lies Virunga National Park, one of the most bio-diverse places in the world and home to the last of the mountain gorillas. Here, an embattled team of park rangers that includes an ex-child soldier and a Belgian prince, risk their lives to protect this UNESCO World Heritage Site from armed rebels, poachers, and even corporations trying to wrest control of Congo's rich natural resources.

This region has always been of interest to me since the genocide in Rwanda in 1994, and watching Gorillas in the Mist. More recently, it has been the work of The War Nerd at the now defunct NSFW Corp, and Pando. He is one of the best writers I have encountered who tackles a lot of the major struggles around the world. His article, Congo: A Tutsi Empire, Interrupted Once Again By Do-Gooders, really had me interested in the area again. His focus is on the Tutsi-led militia, M23, which was trying to control the eastern edge of Congo, close to their homeland in Rwanda.

(Quick reminder: the Tutsi were the people who were the victims of genocide in Rwanda - 800,000 dead within four months - before taking the country back over.)

Virunga is a national park in eastern Congo that borders Rwanda (to the south) and Uganda (to the east.) It is a huge park; roughly the size of Banff National Park in the Canadian Rockies. Virunga is full of the African wildlife you would expect to see, but more known for being one of the last refuges of mountain gorillas in the wild. Around 800 mountain gorillas exist in the wild today, spread across the hillsides of three dormant volcanoes in Virunga, and neighbouring parks in Rwanda and Uganda. Virunga is home to the Senkwekwe Centre for orphaned mountain gorillas, which is part of the focus of Virunga.

The other element in play is SOCO International, an oil and gas exploration and production company based in London, UK. They have been eager to get into the Virunga National Park to start exploring the region for potential mineral deposits, as other areas of the Congo are rich in the rare minerals used in modern electronic equipment. Their methods of getting control over the region are rather illegal and immoral, if we are to believe the documentary filmmakers.

Virunga the film is incredible, both in terms of how they layout the background of the Congo and how complicated it is, and telling the story of the main characters of the area: the director for Virunga National Park, a ranger of the Park, a gorilla carekeeper, and Mélanie Gouby, a journalist who has been working in the region for several years. Each of them have fascinating stories to share that keeps you locked into the film. As the tension increased between the Park rangers, M23, and SOCO, my heart beat faster and I couldn’t look away.

It is an incredibly moving film, and highly recommended. The scenery is breathtaking, the story better than any scripted movie put out this year. Have some Kleenex nearby as it will definitely trigger some emotions within you by the end.


More information:

November 11, 2014

35 A Reflection


I — I hardly know, sir, just at present — at least I know who I WAS when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.

Alice, Through the Looking Glass

35 Years.

This past year, like Alice, I woke up feeling like I knew who I was, but by the time I went to bed, I was someone different. I found myself reflecting a lot with every spare moment. While I watched Kylie playing, the conversations I had with people, or the breathless moments I had at the end of a gruelling hike. Each moment had me thinking more on who I was, where I was going, and what I was doing.

I discovered that you never see yourself for who you are until you view yourself in a way you don't fully control. When looking in a bathroom mirror: you know when the light is on, when you turn your head to see yourself, how your body is aligned. The truth comes out when you catch yourself in a reflection that you weren't prepared for: looking into a still pond or catching yourself in a shiny surface, for example. For me, it was also the comments from the people I have been around and reading my past work.

Seeing yourself in a new and different way opens your eyes to how true or false the image you have created in your mind actually is.

When I was writing A New Dawn and migrating the site over to GitHub Pages, I read a lot of my older work. Picking out pieces to repair so it would be readable on this site was difficult, both in the work involved, and in having to read over all those old words. Inspiring, painful, interesting, a complete mix of emotions while reading thousands of words written over the past four plus years.

It was hard to read over some of those words and be mesmorized with how far I have come over the years. It is both a wonderful thing to be able to read exactly how I was feeling during those stressful and painful times, but also the absolute worst to have to endure those memories all over again.

An example from Weathering the Storm:

Every time I sat down to write about what is happening with me, I kept thinking about how no one is writing about their problems. If I wrote about my personal life here, would it scare people off, or would it be welcomed? What happens when my friends on Facebook read it? Will they be upset that they discover something through a blog instead of in a personal message (or somewhat personal status message)?

The conclusion I came to was the same one my girl friend came to regards to me: fuck it.

I read that whole post again tonight and felt like giving Old Me a big hug. Just awful to think about how I endured that time of my life.

On the flip side, it amuses me that the philosophy that I wanted to live by, saying fuck it, is the same approach I was taking last year, over two years after I wrote the previous post. Saying Fuck It came up again and again, and I even recommended the book by the same name, fuck it.

That approach carried over to this past year, but I also came across another book that has helped me immensely, The Obstacle is the Way.

Where the head goes, the body follows. Perception precedes action. Right action follows the right perspective.

Some things need to be let go; others need to be tackled head on.

Health and fitness were the two areas that I renewed my efforts to push even harder than I was. I never felt that bad about where I was health-wise. I tried to be active, not eat a lot of junk on a daily basis, and was mostly aware of recipes or trends. That all crumbled apart after meeting different people this year and hearing their comments about how I looked.

Previous years, I would have said, “Fuck it,” and kept going as I always have. This time was different. A clearer mind helped push me to double down in my efforts and clean up my health even further than it was before.

I went back to tracking my hikes with RunKeeper. You can see my results by visiting my RunKeeper Profile. I have been using the kettle-bells much more regularly and pushing myself to endure a 40 minute workout no matter how hard I am sweating. And, finally, I have been doing a lot better with my diet lately. The juice challenge has been going well for me, currently on Day 7 of having a freshly made juice daily. I have also been having a meatless day a few times a week now, and may push it to mainly vegetarian in the coming months. No promises, though.

Ryan Holiday was right when he said, “Right action follows the right perspective.” It has taken me far too long to realize what the right perspectives are with my life to help me take the right action. As I continue to reflect on myself daily, it has helped me with the raising of my daughter. I understand my strengths, where I need to improve, and can pass those lessons down to my daughter more easily.

Every now and then, I see or hear her do something that makes me realize that my efforts are rubbing off on her. When she asks to walk back from school with me, make a fresh juice of her choosing, or genuinely interested in learning more French words, I can see clearly how the efforts of me and her mother are having a positive effect on her.

A tiny reflection of all the positive changes we have been making which keeps inspiring us both to always be improving. Onto another year of growth and discovery.


If you wish to do something to support me as a writer and wish me a happy birthday, here are a few things you can do:

  1. Read my review of Blue Bottle Coffee and discover some of the best coffee on the planet.
  2. Order the Aeropress, my favourite way to brew coffee: Canada and USA
  3. Order my favourite book of the year, The Obstacle is the Way
  4. Or make a Donation

November 05, 2014

Juice Challenge


Permanent results only come from permanent changes in diet and lifestyle.

— Joe Cross

Juicer

A friend suggested I check-out a site about a juice challenge, and that led me down a white rabbit hole. I explored his site, discovered he had a documentary, watched it, and decided to make a big change in my life.

The documentary was Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead. Joe Cross is an Australian fighting an autoimmune disease that had transformed from a fit and active young man to a very sluggish, overweight, and very sick one. He decides to trek across America exploring how people eat and take on a juice fast: 60 days of nothing but juices squeezed from fresh fruit and vegetables.

I watched with interest as he gave out the usual factoids about how poor the common man’s diet really is in America:

  • 61% of the American diet today comes from processed foods (predominantly oils, sugar & flour).
  • 70% of the diseases that affect us now are caused by our life choices: how we exercise, if we smoke and what we eat.
  • Total cost of a heart attack: $56,424 USD. Total cost of juicing for 1 month: $420.

Those items are important. What stood out for me was watching him lose the weight on screen and seeing how re-energized he was in the face. The real kicker that made me want to do something similar is when he started working with another man who had a similar condition to his. Joe Cross started off around 300 pounds, this other man was nearly 400. Week by week, the pounds melted off the other man’s body from drinking juice and being more active. By the end of his sixty days, he was running and had lost a tremendous amount of weight.

The documentary ended. I sat on my couch for a few minutes, shared the film with other friends, and then immediately started to research how much a juicer was going to cost me, plus seek out some recipes.

Juicers can range in price from $50 to $400, depending on the brand. Joe Cross recommended a Breville juicer, which have a variety of styles and price points. I decided to go with one I found locally, a Jack Lalanne Power Juicer. It was around $100, had decent reviews on Amazon, and was cheaper than the Breville option of similar size and power.

Tuesday night was my first night attempting a juice and it turned out to be a great success. I’m following the Juice Recipes 30 Day Challenge partly because it’s designed for beginners, but it also includes a handy shopping list for each week. No need to add up how many apples I require, Juice Recipes consolidates them into one 5 pound bag, for example.

Needless to say, the juice tasted great, cleanup was not too difficult, and I easily made another Wednesday morning. I am excited to see where this takes me and wonder if I could pull off an all juice fast for 7-10 days to flush out my system. For now, it is only one heavy juice a day and will see how I feel after 30 days. By heavy juice, I mean a juice that is rather condensed. Last night’s juice was: three apples, three large carrots, and four stalks of celery. This morning’s juice was five apples, two oranges, and two stalks of celery.

If you are at all interested, I highly suggest checking out the movie. You can find it on Netflix, Amazon, iTunes and so forth. The trailer is below.

Time to start juicing!

November 01, 2014

Run The Jewels


Throw your hands in the air

And wave ‘em like you just don't care

Keep ‘em there

Run the jewels, run the jewels, run the jewels.

LL Cool J, Cheesy Rat Blues

Rap is one of the few music genres that I don’t really care for.

When I heard that a group called Run The Jewels had released a new album that was available for free, and that people were raving about it, I had to check out just to hear for myself whether it was that good or not.

Aggressive lyrics. Arrogant. Obscenities galore. Cockiest artists I have ever heard.

But I liked the music.

Personally, I think rap music has to be born of rebellion. It has to, because no one ever gave shit to rap music. Rap music deserves truth and it deserves spontaneity. For rap music to continue to live, it needs a burst of rebellion and that can come in many, many different forms. It depends on what's going on around you. There's no right or wrong way to do that.

— EL-P, Doubling Down with Run The Jewels | The Interview

The duo, EL-P and Killer Mike, came together a year ago to create Run The Jewels to critical success and have released a new album, the simply named Run the Jewels 2.

Listening to it the first time through, I wasn’t entirely sure what to think. The music is unlike anything I regularly listen to. If it had popped up on Spotify, my first reaction would have been to hit the Skip button. The violent language strikes you quick and hard, the beats underneath capture your body, and suddenly you are trapped. Your mind wants to refuse the music, but your body allows you to enjoy it.

Hypnotic. When you reach the third track, Blockbuster Night Part 1, you are done. Run With Jewels has you ensnared into their music and you will find yourself listening to this album more than once.

This Run The Jewels is, murder, mayhem, melodic music

Psychotics use it then lose it, junkies simply abuse it

That's word to Phillip Seymour Hoffman, I'm pushin coffin

I probably smell like a pound when they put me in a coffin

The gates of hell are pugnaciously pacing waitin'

I give a fuck if I'm late, tell Satan be patient

But I ain't here for durations, I'm just taking vacations

And tell 'em fuck 'em, I never loved 'em and salutations

Listening to the lyrics on the album, you can see the influences coming from everywhere. References to other rappers, lyrical references to lines from classic hip hop songs, cultural references from actors to old school WWF, and life in New York City, where Run The Jewels are from. The rebellious language that EL-P aims for is spread throughout, attacking other rappers for the lack of musical value they provide or provoking other African-Americans to finally rise up to the police.

Their music is definitely not for everyone. If you despise rap music, you will not enjoy this. But if you approach it with an open mind and enjoy taking apart the lyrics to understand what is happening, you likely will appreciate it, if not enjoy it.

Best of all, Run The Jewels has released the album for free on their site. Download, listen and allow yourselves to be swallowed up by the lyrical power of Run The Jewels.

October 30, 2014

Tim Cook Is Gay


When I arrive in my office each morning, I’m greeted by framed photos of Dr. King and Robert F. Kennedy. I don’t pretend that writing this puts me in their league. All it does is allow me to look at those pictures and know that I’m doing my part, however small, to help others. We pave the sunlit path toward justice together, brick by brick. This is my brick.

Tim Cook

Tim Cook announced that he was gay today in Business Week. He laid a pretty large brick paving the way for others as the CEO of one of the largest companies in the world today.

Everytime a step forward like this happens, whether it is a celebrity coming out or marriage equality spreading through the world, I can’t help but think back to junior high when a teenaged boy was brutally attacked for being gay in my hometown, or to a few girls I knew who were outcast from social groups for being bisexual or lesbian in high school. The world has definitely come a long way since those events happened over 15 years ago.

When I entered University, gay culture was still tucked away and not truly out there. There were LGTB organizations and a newspaper (if I remember correctly), but I don’t recall seeing a lot of same-gender couples holding hands in the hallways and such. The one exception was in the Theatre Department that I essentially lived in for six years. That mini-world allowed an openess I have never encountered again. Sexuality was present and accepted in every form.

I am happy that the walls of hate are coming down swiftly when it comes to sexuality. There is still a ways to go, however. By the time my daughter reaches University, I can only hope that the world is far more accepting of different genders and sexuality than it is today.

We can only get there by building upon the bricks laid before us.

October 29, 2014

Chris Hadfield


Egypt and Jerusalem

It occurred to me last year, ‘What is going to become of that treasure trove of self-awareness?’ It would be a waste if nobody ever saw it. So I went through all 45,000 and chose a few thousand. But I can’t publish a book with 3,000 photos, so I took this this as my precept: ‘If somebody who wanted to buy this book were at the window next to me, what would I show them if we were floating around the world once?'

Chris Hadfield

Chris Hadfield is the Canadian astronaut who took the world by storm last year. He went viral on social media with his pictures, experiments, and his cover of David Bowie’s ‘Space Oddity,’ becoming the world’s most famous astronaut. He is now taking that fame to share his experiences with everyone for a good cause.

You Are Here: Around the World in 82 Minutes is a book of 192 full colour photographs taken from the International Space Station last year. Every continent is covered, except Anarctica, and includes captions explaining what we are seeing.

The caption for the photo above of Egypt and Jerusalem is:

All we know of our civilisation and history, everything from the Sphinx to what’s going on right now in Gaza, that’s all right there in one glance out of the window, brought to life by the lights of dusk. A fascinating part of the world to look at.

Here can read more about the project and see more pictures at Quartz or you can buy the book on Amazon. All proceeds are to go to the Red Cross.

October 22, 2014

Inbox For Gmail


Google released a new app called Inbox today, but only with a limited number of users. It was designed by the creator of Sparrow (iOS app and Mac app), which was purchased by Google. Those apps still remain, not being updated, however. The Mac app is still quite useful.

Inbox is joining a long list of email clients for the phone, the most well known being Dispatch and Mailbox. Inbox is more like Mailbox, but more tightly integrated with Google mail. Dispatch is a power-users dream with full support for snippets and IMAP.

When I first read the introductory post about Inbox, several users were giving away invites. Acting quickly, I managed to snag one. I have spent the afternoon looking around, exploring how it would fit into my mobile life. Lately, I have been using Apple’s Mail app more than anything else, mainly because it works with Yosemite’s Handoff (abiliity to pick up a draft email that I have been working on my phone with and vice versa.) It’s a very cool feature, and works well, but Mail is not a great app for using Gmail.

Inbox doesn’t support IMAP or the aliases you can setup in Gmail to send from different accounts. That will be a limiting factor in how useful this app is for people, but there are some other great features which will be helpful.

Bundles

Bundles are groups of messages that are related to eachother. The default bundles are Travel, Purchases, Social, etc. The nice thing is you can create bundles out of your labels, or create bundles on the fly using the various rules (from, subject line contains, etc.) It will be a nice way to keep organized without being overwhelmed with messages.

When you tap on a Bundle, it opens up a new window, allowing you to focus on only those messages. Just like in the standard mailbox, you have the option to snooze messages, say you’re done with them, and so forth. A great way to stay focused on certain messages.

Search

Search has always been Google’s strong point, and it is no different in Inbox. The search bar allows for all the filters you can use in Gmail (i.e. from:, in:, date:). I tested it out on messages from a few years ago, and it brought up the results almost instantly. This is a feature I know I will take advantage of, because search with the iOS Mail app can be rather tedious.

Reminders

Reminders are built into Inbox, similar to iOS's native Reminders app. You can choose a specific time, or location (saved or do a quick search), or you can be more general about it (7pm, tomorrow, next week or some day.) You can set these reminders with mail messages, too. They call it the snooze function.

Two main differences:

  1. It resides in the Inbox app
  2. Predictive type

The first one could be a big deal for people. No more switching apps to create a reminder to do a task. The Plus button to create a new email or reminder is always at the bottom of the app when viewing a list of messages. When viewing a message, you have to make that jump out but it's very fast.

The predictive type is quite helpful. As soon as you start typing, it brings up suggestions of tasks to do. If you start typing in “Call,” it brings up your most frequent contacts. A little time saver for us all.

Final Thoughts

Google Inbox looks like a powerful and useful app that I am looking forward to using on a regular basis. I have already put it into my main dock on my phone to take advantage of its feature set. I will be curious to see if I end up taking advantage of Reminders within Inbox more than I do the native Reminders app.

To learn more and to sign up, check out Inbox.


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