Yep, not a fan of iTunes at all.

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I’ve been a fan of Every Little Thing (ELT) since years ago, and started listening to them again over the past year.

There was one problem.

ELT doesn’t have their music on Google Play Music, which is where I have most of my music organised.

They do however, have a very extensive collection for sale on iTunes.

You can see where this is going.

“iTunes is a piece of s**t.”

That was my pet remark, back when I was setting up an iPhone 4 at work years ago. I disliked the thing with a passion, and felt that was the barrier to Apple products for me.

That was five years ago. I began my gradual shift to Apple over the past two years; starting with a Mac Mini, and moving on to an iPhone 5S, and then an iPad Air.

Despite my appreciation for OS X, iOS and various Apple products, my opinion on iTunes has not shifted. iTunes is more of a necessary evil than anything else, a bloated piece of antiquated software that stubbornly locks your phone down to a computer.

To be honest, the process of syncing an iPhone on multiple computers (without making the phone wipe itself) might be more trouble than it’s worth, and Apple likely prefers it that way.

Most of my important services are hosted on Google, and I maintain the same alignment even after shifting over to the iPhone. The platform neutrality of various Google services like Gmail, Calendar, and even Google Play Music has made the adjustment a great deal easier – I’m allowed to use the same cloud services, regardless of hardware and operating system.

How I worked around using iTunes on an iPhone

I really wanted to have my music on the phone though, and finally worked something out.

  1. I would purchase the music off iTunes
  2. Have it download on my Mac
  3. Upload the .m4a files onto Google Play Music. This works brilliantly, because the files are already tagged properly with the right ID3 metadata (album, singer, track etc), along with album art.
  4. Download the songs for offline listening onto my iPhone, via the Google Play Music app

Clunky, but works. Thanks, but no thanks, iTunes.

It might be inevitable, but I’m happy with the way things work now. The only Change I need right now, is this track from Every Little Thing.

From native to cloud: Life in the cloud age

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Back when I had my first computer, I used to spend a lot of time customising my desktop, to the exact way I liked it. After multiple rounds of OS reinstallation, I got tired of the routine, and eventually decided, that what I wanted was a consistent, replicable user experience.

Having experienced the early, clunkier days of the computer era, I’m really glad for the advances the internet age has presented. The sheer computing power of the internet and creative talents of so many enterprising individuals out there, has allowed me to gradually detach myself from the constraints of the computer, and rely on the browser instead.

This means a lot, because I’m able to do most of my daily work from most (if not all) computers, and not have to worry about having to reinstall the OS, and then fiddle around with a hundred different pieces of software on a new computer every single time it dies, just so I can get my work done. Move to a new computer, fire up the browser and life goes on.

For example:

  • Email: No need for Outlook/Thunderbird and the need to configure those damn email settings on a new computer all the time. Use Gmail for a consistent, device-independent interface that allows access to multiple mailboxes.
  • Image editing: Try PicMonkey (quick crop/caption/collage) or Pixlr, both are fantastic services. Pixlr is pure genius: it’s as as close as you can get to an online, free version of Photoshop.
  • Image compression: Web Resizer for easy resizing of JPEG files into web-friendly sizes.
  • Document view/edit: Google Drive is a handy replacement if you don’t have Microsoft Office ready.
  • Document storage: Dropbox, Box, Google Drive, the variety of cloud storage services out there are endless. Having a NAS in your local network is ideal (especially for large files), but offsite storage has its perks.
  • Audio editing: Online MP3 Cutter, as good as it gets.
  • Video editing: Haven’t bothered looking for an online alternative. Not sure if it’s a good idea to begin with, given the fact that videos are usually massive files.
  • Audio transcription: Transcribe is a very helpful tool. Upload the audio clip, and use the simple text interface to type. Handy audio controls, allow you to pause/rewind as needed.
  • Music: Have your music online, no need to store them locally and worry about losing it all. Sync music to your device as needed. Spotify, Google Play Music.

Obviously, two big caveats here.

  • You’re stuffed soon as the internet goes down. But hell, it beats losing all your crap the moment your computer dies.
  • Serious tasks that require heavy processing power or require large files, should still be done locally. This includes video editing, watching videos, programming.

Anchored to the desktop experience in a mobile age

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Is it weird that I still like using the desktop computer more than the phone?

Granted, I’m not a fan of sitting at my desk.

But smartphone apps just haven’t quite caught up to me yet. The screen size, the lack of a keyboard (lesser navigation controls) just make it less convenient, and take away from the user experience. It’s a handy substitute on the go, but that’s about all there is.

The tablet has been a middle ground, of sorts. I like my iPad Air for its comfortable screen size. It allows me to watch movies, TV series, anime, and even read manga away from my desk, giving me more of an untethered experience and freedom to laze wherever I prefer.

In saying that, when it comes to being productive, nothing beats having the feel of a keyboard at my fingertips. It would take so much more time to respond to an email (an antiquated communication channel), write a blog post, or edit an article on a mobile device.

Let’s not even start on advanced tasks like video editing, or doing stuff on social media. The controls afforded on the desktop browser, are just more extensive than the ones on a mobile app.

And there’s this annoying thing about Wi-Fi (dropouts, stability issues, channel congestion etc) that just bugs me. If I had a choice between an Ethernet connection and Wi-Fi, I would choose wired every single time. Call me old school, but the network engineer in me prefers stable connectivity every single time.

Things will likely change, and I might find myself completely removed from the desktop in years to come. It just isn’t quite there, right now.

Why cutting my own hair makes sense

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Haircuts are fun, but annoying.

Fun, because you get to create a different look for yourself every time.

Annoying, because it happens too bloody often. Assuming you’re not growing it out, maintenance usually happens at the 3-4 week mark.

It then comes down to making time out. The entire process is tedious at best.

  • Make an appointment with the stylist/barber (optional).
  • Travel. This means driving out.
  • Sit and wait for your turn.
  • Sit and wait to have your hair done, and make polite conversation.
  • Pay up.
  • Travel (again).

A mechanical, boring procedure. And hooray, you get to repeat the entire sequence again in about a month’s time! In a word, it’s inconvenient. I have to sacrifice weekend time to get this done, and it’s not something that can be ignored for long, before one starts looking unkempt.

My earlier years in Melbourne involved a steadfast willingness in ignoring the way I looked. I would wait five, even six weeks before I got a haircut each time, in a bid to put it off as long as possible.

When Simon suggested cutting my own hair last year, I was a little skeptical at the skill level involved. People actually make a living off this, could it be that easy? I might very well turn my own hair into a disaster zone, and end up shaving it all off.

I didn’t give up on the idea though. It got to the point where I told myself, fuck it. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. In the worst possible circumstance, I would waste a bit of money on the clipper purchase, and a month or so of injured pride.

Getting started

And so I got started on the project. I got myself a Wahl Colour Pro (easy starting point), and watched some YouTube videos to get the hang of things. I also recruited my brother to the cause, because I wasn’t ready to cut my own hair right away – it was more of trying the DIY approach.

Given how low my expectations were, I was really surprised that our first session turned out decently enough. Granted, we were really cautious about it, and went slow.

It got a little easier as we got more reps, and it really helped that we would pass on feedback immediately if we needed something fixed. Depending on your relationship with the barber, it’s something that might feel awkward. After all, the barber is a fellow who has a finite amount of time, and is likely keen to move on to his next customer.

My brother and I on the other hand, were happy to spend as much time as we needed to get things right.

While we started off together cutting our hair every month or so, I gradually shortened my cycle to three weeks. It was around that time, when I began experimenting with cutting my hair myself – watching even more YouTube videos helped. Turns out, it wasn’t as hard as I thought it’d be, so I continued doing it myself.

I then became the de facto barber in the house, and it stayed that way for a while, even when he moved out. He eventually got his own clippers earlier this year, for the same obvious reason: convenience.

Equipment

I got more equipment as we went along: some thinning scissors, a better pair of scissors (the one that came with the Colour Pro was rubbish), and a cape. Having a spray bottle also helps a lot.

Cleaning up is easy: just use the vacuum cleaner to suck it all up afterwards.

Approach

These days, I usually go with a high slope using number 3, then 2 on the sides and back. I also use a number 1 at the edges, and trim the top with either the straight shears or thinning shears, depending on how short/long or light/heavy I prefer it to be.

The hard part is getting to the back of the head without another mirror – I need to get that soonish, but it’s not a high priority item. My guesstimation is getting pretty good these days, so I usually finish 95% of the job and get V to look it over, then snip stray bits as needed.

Injuries

I’ve been relatively lucky on this front. I’ve been cutting my own hair for ten months now, and have only managed to snip myself twice – both times, when cutting someone else’s hair. Damn scissors are too sharp for their own good, but it’s all about being careful.

Benefits

Time

Instead of spending something like two hours outside, I take twenty minutes or so. At home.

Convenience

The process for getting a haircut used to go like this:

  • Random night: “Damn, I need a haircut.”
  • “Got to remember to drive out on Saturday or Sunday.”
  • Makes note on calendar.
  • Wait for appointed day to happen, drives out to the nearest barber.

These days, things are less complicated:

  • Random night: “Damn, I need a haircut.”
  • Walks into bathroom and starts haircut, finishes off with shower right after.

The same convenience applies to the kids as well. They obviously aren’t used to the thought of having someone unfamiliar handle a loud device that buzzes menacingly near their head, and being able to do it at home just makes things easier.

Can’t say I’m a world-class stylist, but no one’s pointing to their hair and laughing their heads off, so that’s a win in my books.

Cost saving

An average haircut used to cost anything from $16 to $20 for me. By cutting my own hair alone, I was saving that much every month. Add the fact that I was cutting my brother’s hair as well, and that effectively doubled the savings.

That’s not even counting the kids yet. The savings have already repaid the cost for my equipment.

Is DIY hair cutting for everyone?

Not necessarily.

If you:

  • like the experience of kicking back and letting someone else do it for you
  • are really particular about the way you want it to look
  • have someone who can do it your desired way consistently
  • do not mind the hassle of travel

Getting out to the barber/stylist is probably the way to go.

DIY hair cutting is a fun experiment, and in hindsight, a life skill. It doesn’t take much to pick the basics up, and is relatively low-risk. For me, it’s checked all the boxes, and made my life easier. #gamechanger

The road back to fitness

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I have to admit, health and fitness have largely taken a backseat in the past couple of years, and a large part of my excuse was that I didn’t have the time/energy/motivation.

This time round, I’m really determined to make it work. 2016 is the year I renew my focus on health and fitness, and I’m pleased to say that it’s been positive so far.

Disclaimer: what follows will be an extensive log of my gym routine. YMMV, what works for me doesn’t necessarily work for you. Feedback is welcome.

Eye on the prize

First off, I had to lock myself in on a goal, or rather two goals.

Primary goal: Gain mass. I had my eye on gaining weight, to something ranging from 72kg to 75kg. This is a projected gain from 9kg to 12kg.

Secondary goal: Strength gain. This was a rather vague goal at first, but it solidified later into this goal. Man, these exercises are crazy!

Basic decisions to get things started

Heaps of decisions made in making things work, which included:

Where: I decided on Zap Fitness. It was no-frills, but I didn’t need extra shit like a sauna or HIIT classes. It checked my boxes: it was affordable ($70 a month for 24/7 access), and convenient – walking distance from the workplace, and a quick drive from home.

How: I was looking everywhere for a routine to start off with, but ultimately went with StrongLifts 5×5, despite the fact that I’d never done compound exercises like squats/deadlifts/barbell rows before. The app seriously sold me, the UX is fantastic.

When: It was more than obvious that the logical gym window would be during the workday, three times a week. I locked it down as Mon/Wed/Fri (to conserve my weekends), and to start my routine before lunch hour.

It was more to make sure I grabbed one of the two available quarter racks for my workout, before anyone else did. Queuing for a rack, seriously sucks.

Also, the timings would not disrupt my nights and take time away from the family or from the website – ideal.

Home equipment: I got a foam roller, and also a weighing scale – both very important tools.

#feedthebeast, also known as food intake

This is obviously an area of emphasis. Fail to feed the body, and you fail to get results.

My strategy basically revolved around two things.

Getting enough calories

Part 1: Dextrose monohydrate

Sylvester was kind enough to point out the need for extra calories. I started off with mass gainers, but he had a better answer: dextrose monohydrate. It’s basically sugar, that gets easily broken down into calories. If you want to win the calories war, this is it.

And the best part is, mass gainers are basically a combination of whey protein and dextrose monohydrate anyway. It makes more sense for you to buy the two separately, and mix your own proportions to your own liking.

Obtaining the dextrose monohydrate cheaply, took a while. Simon pointed me towards a microbrewery in the area, and I lugged a 25kg sack home that same week, which I shared with the brother. Yep, you can tell I’m really determined to make it work.

Part 2: Eating enough

The second part of getting enough calories obviously, comes from the simple fact of eating your damn meals. I made adjustments along the way, and a typical day’s eating looks like this. Have to give a S/O to Sathish here for a conversation I had with him on his daily diet, it helped develop the blueprint here.

I have to put this out there though. My mentality on eating is what I call functional eating. I eat because it’s necessary, not because I think of every meal as a feast. Most of these meals are easy to make, relatively light on the tastebuds and take minimal time to consume. Yes, I’m lazy.

You can imagine this not working for folks who get easily bored and desire variety.

  1. Breakfast: two eggs (scrambled, sunny side, whatever) at minimum, sometimes three. If hungry, add bacon strips and/or bread with cottage cheese. Add a muesli bar on the drive into work.
  2. Mid-morning: banana, along with protein shake. One scoop of WPC on non-workout days, add creatine on workout days.
  3. Lunch: sandwich with cottage cheese, avocado spread and ham, with a protein shake on workout days. I usually eat out on rest days, and try to consume some sort of meat (beef, chicken) without restricting myself too much.
  4. Mid-afternoon: another sandwich (same as above). Add a banana or apple to chomp on, if still feeling hungry.
  5. Dinner: whatever the family’s having. It varies from pasta to rice, accompanied with stew or stir-fried vegetables, salmon, list goes on. Important for me to have plenty of meat.
  6. Pre-bedtime drink: protein shake. Two scoops of WPC, a scoop of dextrose monohydrate, and two tablespoons of Milo (just to make the taste better). Add milk, not water, and shake. Bottoms up!

I’m not exactly counting my macros. Bt judging from results, I’m covering my bases and gaining weight without looking like a slob so this works for me.

Sylvester has also suggested microwaved chicken breasts, but I’m holding that as a thought for now – it’s likely going to replace WPC if I wean myself off it.

Getting enough protein

Fail to supply enough protein, and your muscles fail to repair/grow. I opted for whey protein concentrate (WPC) over whey protein isolate (WPI) because it was cheaper.

I order my WPC from Venom Protein, because prices look good and delivery’s free.

Milk also comes into the equation here, but I seriously could not stomach the idea of doing GOMAD (Gallon Of Milk A Day) or LOMAD (Liter Of Milk A Day). Sorry guys, just can’t do it.

Exercise routine and progress notes

Tip: Get a foam roller

If you do not want to get DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) and stagger around like a SOB every post-workout day, get a foam roller and roll the hell out of your muscles. It really helps.

The routine

As mentioned earlier, I started with SL 5×5, and added assistance exercises: planks on one day, chinups on the other.

Planks = core training, love that stuff. I always start feeling like a spasming limp noodle at the 40 second mark, even after all this time.

Chinups on the other hand, kill me. I have never, ever completed 3 sets of 10 reps, and the record still stands.

Props to Alan Thrall for his excellent instructional YouTube videos, I’ve watched them countless times. Practiced my form at home, took videos of myself in the first two weeks of working out, and did as much as I could to make sure I wasn’t fucking my body up somehow.

January to March

It took a while to get my form functional (I won’t even call them right), but I got into the thick of things pretty quick without suffering pains. My workout weights were ramping up, everything was rolling along, I was gaining an average of 2kg every month.

And then the fun part came along.

I got hit by a flu bug in March that had me feverish and incapacitated for the better part of two weeks. Thanks kids, I really needed that.

March to present

I obviously lost my gains (both strength and weight) post-illness. What was interesting, was that I started getting ankle soreness when doing squats. It confused the hell out of me, and I was checking my form to see what I was doing differently. The answer? I couldn’t tell.

It got to the point where I felt I shouldn’t be doing squats, for the sake of my ankles. And to be honest, I wasn’t sure why I needed to squat. It was a great starting point, but I could gain weight without squatting.

So I left squats on the backburner, and dropped my deadlifts too. My grip just wasn’t strong enough to progress at the rate SL 5×5 recommended, so I stuck my guns to one set of 1×5 60kg, period.

At the same time, I tweaked the assistance exercises to compensate (sort of) for the lack of squats, and to increase my focus on bodyweight exercises (BWE).

  • Workout A, I added weighted pushups (3 x 10 with a 2.5kg plate). This later became dips, as I felt dips were more effective.
  • Workout B, I added barbell curls.

Stat check

It’s at the four month mark now, and:

  • I’m benching 50kg, with
  • an overhead shoulder press of 30kg.
  • My barbell row is 40kg.
  • I’m completing my first set of 10 chinups and failing reps on the other two.
  • I can do a first set of 10 dips, and wilt after.

More importantly? I’m at the tip of hitting 70kg, for the first time in my life. It’s rather exciting, to say the least. I started the year at 63kg, and have gained almost 7kg in muscle. I’m saying muscle because my abs have gained definition, which points to the body’s fat% dropping. My shoulders are broader (new clothes needed soon) but I’m happy with the results so far.

It’s a fun journey, and I’m looking forward to consistent improvement as the days go by.

Miscellaneous lifestyle tweaks

Vitamin supplements

Cod liver oil: I came across this while reading Tim Ferriss’ The Four Hour Body. The book’s got mixed reviews, ranging from positive ratings to flaming outrage at the opinions presented inside, but I found it a fascinating read. The obvious disclaimer here: read everything with a pinch of salt and take your own counsel, do your research etc.

Anyway. Fermented cod liver oil was suggested as a means of increasing testosterone, along with vitamin-rich butter fat. I opted to go with cod liver oil (not fermented), as a means of improving my vitamin A and D intake.

Ginkgo biloba: Improving overall blood circulation, memory. This interesting post on TRP that may, or may not have been a contributing factor in my decision-making process.

Cold showers

This was also suggested in The Four Hour body, more as a means of increasing lean muscle mass and increasing testosterone production. In my eyes: testosterone increase = growth hormone = muscle gain.

Quoted: “Take 5-10 minute cold showers before breakfast and/or before bed. Use hot water for 1-2 minutes over the entire body …  … Expect this to wake you up like a foghorn.”

I’m slowing working my way up to the 5-10 minute shower. It’s basically 2-3 minutes of hot water, and 3 minutes of ice cold water at this point. I can never get used to the initial thirty seconds of freezing shock. V thinks I’m mad for doing this before bedtime, but it’s exhilarating and energizing, to say the least.

And surprisingly, it doesn’t get in the way of me falling asleep. I guess that’s what parents are really good at.

Getting enough sleep

Pretty much a no-brainer. Run short on rest, and your body doesn’t get enough time to repair/grow. I do my best to get into bed by 11pm these days, and fall asleep before midnight.

A quest to keep the words alive.

The urge to write reared its head yesterday, and I was pretty surprised to realise that my blog had died a quiet death in the months of inactivity.

Observation #1: neither the front end, nor the backend were accessible. Shit.

Observation #2: FTP wasn’t working – for some reason, the connection was looping itself and refusing to list directory.

Observation #3: cPanel was up. In the worst case, I’d still be able to haul the data off.

And with that, it was time to figure out what the problem was. The excellent folks at Sucuri fixed #1 up overnight. My web host OTOH was largely apathetic, and not very helpful. Self-testing revealed my VPN as the cause of #2, so that was fixed quickly.

It’s a question that has merited debate, and I’ve thought about it last year. (And yes, why wasn’t this done last year? Indolence and pure stupidity, that’s why.)

Why am I maintaining a self-hosted blog that requires constant maintenance and updates on a paid Singapore-based shared host (paying in SGD is a constant PITA), with minimal content generation, at zero advertising revenue?

The obvious answer, was to move the blog to WordPress’ own infrastructure. Zero worries on backend, solid infrastructure, fuss-free maintenance.

And that was completed speedily this evening, along with a full download of all the sub-sites under the keinism.com domain. I have to map the domain name back to this site, but it’s an low-priority task at best, no pressure.

Most importantly? All of my thoughts and musings from 2003 – 2016, are intact. I’d be plenty annoyed at myself if everything was lost, and thankfully, all is well.

Onwards!

Is the Click and Collect e-commerce model broken in Australia?

The click and collect concept is a fairly simple one to grasp. Order something online, and collect it at the most convenient location.

Reality however, doesn’t work quite that way. Let us look at retailer X, which is a fairly established retail brand. I place an order on their website, and select the click and collect delivery method.

Expected outcome: I should be able to walk into my desired store, and pick my purchase up the same day.

Actual outcome: I have to wait 3 business days, before the pickup is available at my desired store.

It would have made more sense if I had just walked into the store, paid with my card and walked out without ever making an online transaction.

Why is click and collect not working?

It seems like inventory management is the key culprit. The online store’s inventory varies from the retail store’s inventory. Everyone can view stock in other stores, but each store has its own inventory.

You can imagine what happens, when an online transaction is made for click and collect.

The product has to be delivered from the online store’s warehouse to the desired pickup location. This shouldn’t be happening, but it is.

Ideally, the system should be capable of recording an online sale, and mark that sale against the actual store’s inventory  with barely a hiccup. (Assuming stock is available in store.)

When done correctly, the click and collect method offers a convenient way for the customer to pick their purchase up right away, without the delay/hassle of shipping.

It also ramps up foot traffic to the retail store, opening up the opportunity for increased sales.

The solution isn’t necessarily difficult. Retailers and customers alike have the same end goal: to make the process of buying something, easy.

If it isn’t broken, it doesn’t need fixing. Some might argue that the model serves a different purpose in the grand scheme of e-commerce, or even that it’s working beautifully in its intended role.

From my point of view, not being able to collect my purchase the day I buy it online, simply does not make sense – especially when it is available in the store. It’s just not good enough.