Birthday

This week, I’m celebrating my birthday. It’s not a particular milestone this year so nothing particular planned in terms of celebrations, aside from some time with friends and a nice dinner with my significant other. In recent years, my birthday hasn’t been that important of an event for me: could be that my introvert self doesn’t like being the centre of attention, or how the date lines up with a busy time of year for me, work-wise (thank you, March 31st fiscal year ends and associated deadlines). That being said, I do enjoy hearing from friends and family when the date rolls around, even if it’s just a quick “Happy Birthday” Facebook post.

Which leads me to my intention for this next spin around the sun – to keep in touch more often with the far-flung network of individuals whom I’m grateful to call my friends. The last couple of years saw a number of changes and challenges in my life, and one regret I hold from that time is that I over-indulged my introvert inclinations and withdrew when I should have been reaching out more. This intention is not a 180 that will lead to me becoming a complete social butterfly, but more consciously reaching out (and responding) when there’s the opportunity, even if it’s just an evening text to say “Hey, how goes?”.

Now, I’m not regularly on Facebook and I don’t see that changing, so expect most of those connections to come through more individual or small-group messaging1. I am open to old-fashion letter writing as well (though I’ll have to get some practice in first to make them at least somewhat legible) and real-time chats are always great, be they in-person or online. Regardless of which way we converse, I hope to connect soon!

  1. The messaging apps I have set up on my phone include Messages (SMS/iMessage), Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Slack, Discord. Oh, and email if you want to count that. I am willing to consider additional platforms, but at some point it gets a little silly.

Intentions

I’ve never been big on setting resolutions or goals for myself at New Year’s. All respect to those who do (and more to those who stick to them!), but for me it seems like the worst time of year to try committing to sweeping changes, between the post-holiday letdown and the energy-sapping short days and cold weather for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere. It’s not a context that sets one up for success, unless your resolution is to conserve your energy by napping more.

That being said, one annual practice I will sometimes dip my toe into is thinking about a word for the year. Some of the specific practices I’ve followed for identifying a word comes from Abbey of the Arts, a “virtual monastery” that focuses on Celtic Christian spiritual approaches, but you don’t need to view it through this lens to gain the benefits. Reflecting on the year that has passed and being open to thoughts for the year to come can yield “something to nourish me, challenge me, a word I can wrestle with and grow into. The [chosen word] has the potential to transform…”.

This year, the word I chose (or the word that found me, depending on how you look at it) is intention. I interpret this word in two ways: first, to spend some dedicated time identifying my intentions and directions for the months and years to come, and second, to be intentional about how I work and spend my time1. As a concrete example of the difference between the two, I may decided that writing on this blog is an intention I hold for this year, and to succeed in doing so, I choose to be intentional in holding time to write every week.

Digital Declutter

One intention I started a few days ago is a digital declutter. More than a simple “detox” or vacation from social media, the idea is to hit reset on all of those digital things – apps, platforms, games, and so on – that may feel useful or even essential in our day to day lives but really don’t enrich our lives. By cutting out optional tech for 30 days, we can better realize what we’re using in service of our personal values and goals as opposed to relying on to stave off boredom or engaging in simply out of habit. As a result, it’s less about taking a break and more about getting the necessary perspective on the role that tech plays in our lives – and more importantly, what we want it to be.

The digital declutter follows a pretty straightforward method, which is described by Cal Newport in his book Digital Minimalism and nicely summarized on Shawn Blanc’s Focus Course website (props to the latter for introducing me to the idea!). Choose a thirty-day period to take a break from optional technologies, fill that time intentionally with meaningful activities, and at the end, gradually re-introduce those technologies that fit our values and goals and are effective tools for the job. For those things deemed optional, we can either implement a blanket ban (e.g. No Facebook) or put into place specific conditions and processes for using that tool (e.g. log in to Facebook only to RSVP to an invited event when there’s no other way to contact the host, and in that instance access the event page through direct link and sign out immediately afterwards). Tools that are essential to well-being, including work and family life, are allowed, but we’re encouraged give some critical thought there too: texting with a close friend may be important if they’re going through a crisis, but sharing random memes may be less so.

In starting the declutter for myself, I have definitely identified some time sinks that are getting the boot for the next few weeks and perhaps beyond. While I’m not a prolific social media user (outside of professional conferences), I have in recent months started following a bunch of aviation-focused Twitter accounts: while interesting, they definitely count as optional. Tech-related websites and RSS feeds fall in that category too, as do any form of streaming media2. Finally, my beloved (and ever-expanding) list of podcasts is getting a break. My list of how to reallocate this time include reading, writing (including on this blog!), photography, longer walk with the dog (especially now that we’re getting out of the -30s and -40s in Saskatoon), and cleaning up some clutter, both in terms of physical disorder and a bunch of items in my personal and professional life that have languished on “put-off” lists for too long.

Next Steps

I’ll report back at least once on this experience, but even after only a few days I have noticed a difference in how I act. Instead of reaching for the phone when I have a few minutes of waiting or with “nothing to do”, I go for a book instead, or just look out the window for a few minutes, or take care of something that’s been on my mind (like writing this post!). I’m on the road right now so it will be interesting to see how things pan out when I go back home and fall into old habits, but my hope is to use the next few days to be intentional (see, there’s that word again!) in how I spend my time to avoid temptation.

If this whole idea intrigues you, why not try it yourself? Pick up Cal Newport’s book or just take a quick read through Shawn Blanc’s summary. Drop me a line if you do and need the moral support – just don’t contact me through a social media platform, at least for the next few weeks!


  1. A third interpretation came from my partner, who thought I was saying “in tension” when I told her my word – not my intention, but perhaps that homonym will make an appearance sometime in 2020?
  2. I am giving myself the leeway on the last one – I’m allowed to watch something with others as part of a social activity.

Queen of the Skies

Today, February 9, 2019, marks the 50th anniversary of the first flight of the Boeing 747. There are plenty of stories out there covering the historic angle, including a nice summary for non-avgeeks at CNET, Aviation Week Network’s visual chronology, Flightradar24’s look at how the 747 is used today (and has a neat map showing all 747’s being currently tracked by that site), and of course a slew of material from Boeing itself. While distinguishing itself early on by its size – it was the first widebody (twin-aisle) plane and the first commercial jet with more than one passenger deck – and distinctive “hump”, the 747’s longevity through the decades is what stands out for me today, having survived through major changes and advancements in technology: pretty impressive for a plane that was originally planned for relegation to hauling freight as supersonic flight became commonplace (spoiler: it didn’t).

Although the jumbo jet is no longer being flown by North American passenger carriers – Air Canada retired the type in 2004, and United and Delta both said goodbye to theirs at the end of 2017 – the 747 still can be seen regularly at major hubs courtesy of European and Asian carriers. My most recent flight on “the queen of the skies” was a 2016 trip to Germany on Lufthansa, and I will admit that I pushed to fly with that airline over Air Canada in part because the transatlantic hop from Toronto would be on the 747. For most people flying, they probably don’t notice anything special about this plane compared to any other widebody (unless of course they’re on the upper deck, something on my bucket list still!), but for whatever reason, there’s a personal appeal for me there.

Below are a selection of photos that I’ve captured over the years of the 747. Most were taken at Frankfurt Airport, including from a 2008 tour of the tarmac that my wife and I took while we had time to kill there (I think we were the youngest people on the tour without being accompanied by children!). A few shots come from the 2016 trip and contrast the queen (favourable, in my opinion) against the Airbus A380, the European full double-deck response to the jumbo. The last photo is a KLM bird at Toronto, an airline that often flies the 747 to YYZ along side Lufthansa and British Airways.

Remembering Your First (Mac)

A recent video by Stephen Hackett at 512 Pixels provided me with a nice trip down memory lane:

The 12” PowerBook was both my first laptop and first Mac, and “much beloved” is certainly an apt description from my viewpoint. I bought it from a friend in university in the early 2000’s, when the iPod was just starting to gain in popularity and Macs were still a rarity on campuses. The aluminium case and glowing Apple icon definitely stood out in comparison to the uniformity of black Windows laptops, and let’s not even talk about the software – Windows XP was the latest and greatest on that side back then, but I knew people who were still having to put up with Windows ME (ouch). It was a reliable machine through classes and frantic late-night paper-writing sessions at the library, and a regular companion on trips back home during break.

I’m sure that if I had one in front of me today, it would seem big and clunky (especially compared to the iPad that I’m writing this post on!) and I realize that the soft glow of memory has likely obscured annoyances that I would have had at the time. That being said, it was my introduction to a portable computing device that provided almost all of the benefits of a desktop machine while not being too onerous to haul around (at least by the standards of a university student used to carrying textbooks). It may appear unwieldy compared to the ultrabooks, tablets, and smartphones that we have today, but the lineage from there to here is pretty clear in my mind, especially since I haven’t been without a portable Mac of some kind since then.

Saskatoon with a Twist of Rime(frost)

Ok, the post title is a horrible pun, but hopefully the photos will mitigate that pain. A few weeks ago, we had some unusual weather in the form of persistent fog and cloud which led to the formation of rime frost or ice. Although it can look similar to the more commonly spotted hoarfrost, our generally-dry winters makes it a rare sight in these parts.

Winds and clear skies have conspired in the past week to take away this little early winter gift, so I’m glad to have taken the photowalk when I did!