Music for Concentration

From writing code to drafting documentation—a lot of my work requires long periods of focus which need to be maintained to be effective. On the average workday you will usually find me at my desk wearing concentration enhancing™ headphones and listening to whatever I’m currently inspired by. Here are a few albums and artists I commonly listen during the work day. Most of this list is instrumental and it is not sorted by preference:

Don’t Sit, Don’t Stand: Keep Moving While at Work

I have been thinking a lot more about ergonomics recently after having two weeks out of the office and returning to work. A few days after being back at the desk during my work day, I noticed some discomfort building up in my lower back and legs. I suspect it was probably there before my extended time away from the desk and I’m just noticing it more now after the break. Because of this I have been doing some research into better workspace ergonomics. I will probably write more in the future about this but for now here is an interesting excerpt from an article published by Cornell University:

[…] then every 20 minutes stand for 8 minutes AND MOVE for 2 minutes. The absolute time isn’t critical but about every 20-30 minutes take a posture break and stand and move for a couple of minutes.  Simply standing is insufficient. Movement is important to get blood circulation through the muscles. And movement is FREE! Research shows that you don’t need to do vigorous exercise (e.g. jumping jacks) to get the benefits, just walking around is sufficient. So build in a pattern of creating greater movement variety in the workplace (e.g. walk to a printer, water fountain, stand for a meeting, take the stairs, walk around the floor, park a bit further away from the building each day).

Sitting and Standing at Work, Cornell University Ergonomics Web

Better Screen Time Habits: A Week Later

It has been just over a week since I put screen time constraints in place on my iPhone. I am happy with the outcome of this change thus far. According to the statistics iOS generates, my screen time usage is down to an average of 56 minutes per day—a 55% decrease from the week before. Overall I am pleased with the numbers.

The muscle memory from more frequent use is still present. It will be interesting to see how long that takes to pass.

screenshot as of Friday this week

John Mark McMillan is Giving Away his New Album “Peopled With Dreams”

John Mark McMillan, one of my favorite artists of our time, is giving away his new album through Monday. Get the digital download of Peopled With Dreams here. You can get it for free or “name your price” through February, 17th.

For anyone out there that enjoys a more analog music experience the vinyl version is on pre-sale as well.

John Mark summarizes the album with the following:

My hot-mess-of-an-existential-pop-record and 8th studio album is out! It’s a journey back into faith. A collection of songs about joy, gratitude, and God in an attempt to honestly consider our place among the cosmos.

@johnmarkmc, Twitter

My Favorite Coffee in North Carolina

I don’t plan on making this a NC travel blog, but I thought another post about the region would be fun.

Whether you’re a NC local or just passing through if you want good coffee this state has some great spots. Here’s a few roasters and coffee shop’s I really enjoy.

Shop’s

Not Just Coffee, Charlotte
This local company has become what I consider a staple in the Charlotte area for specialty coffee. They have several locations around Charlotte that make at an easy stop if your in the area, including locations along Charlotte’s Blue Line Light Rail.

High Five Coffee, Asheville
With several locations in the Asheville area this is always a spot I hit when I’m in the area. I’ve never had an espresso from here I was disappointed in—enough said.

Undercurrent Coffee, Charlotte
Undercurrent is a little newer to the scene then the other shops listed here, but you wouldn’t know when you check this spot out. Great layout of a shop with quality coffee. This is also the first shop I’ve had Onyx coffee from.

Roaster’s

Black and White Coffee Roasters
This roaster produces some of the most surprising coffee I’ve had in years. From classic specialty coffee tastes you would come to expect, to blends that have peach jam and red sagria in the tasting notes, they are sure to have something unique to suit your tastes. B&W also has several shop locations in the Raleigh, NC area.

Counter Culture Coffee
Though CC has become almost a household name in specialty coffee world their HQ is based locally in Durham, NC. Counter Culture is probably one of the roaster’s heaviest in rotation for me over the last few years. My personal go to from them is Hologram.

Dynamite Roasting
Honestly, I was a little late to the game for Dynamite Roasting. This roaster is based out of Black Mountain, NC (East of Asheville) and I had heard about them a number of times, but never actually tried their coffee. I’ve become a huge fan. I don’t go for seasonal blends often but their Fall blend is something I try and get every year. Dynamite Roasting also has a shop located alongside their roasting operation.

Screen Time for Young Children Negatively Impacts Development

Continuing in on the topic of screen time from yesterday:

After the recent arrival of our youngest child I’ve been thinking a lot about screen time for children. When it should be introduced? How should that be done? I’ve pondered what my wife and I have done up to this point. At this time none of our children get any screen time. To be clear: that means no TV, no tablets, or time on my wife or I’s phone’s. I understand that we are outliers in this decision and not everyone has a lifestyle structured the way we do. Furthermore, this was a decision we made before our kids were born. So there was never a time of “withdrawal” from screens that we had to work through with our kids. Our goal is not to keep this structure forever. That isn’t necessary, nor is it a reasonable expectation, but it is how we’ve chosen to arrange our family life for this season.

I have always felt this decision was good, but that doesn’t mean it was required. It has been a few years since I’ve done any research into this so I decided to do a little bit of digging. There are certainly lots of differing opinions on when screens should be introduced and how much time is OK for kids. The AAP even has their own list of recommendations. I am by no means hard line about this subject, but there is a recent (to me) study which raises alarms.

From Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center recent study:

Higher ScreenQ scores were significantly associated with lower expressive language, the ability to rapidly name objects (processing speed) and emergent literacy skills.

Higher ScreenQ scores were associated with lower brain white matter integrity, which affects organization and myelination — the process of forming a myelin sheath around a nerve to allow nerve impulses to move more quickly — in tracts involving language executive function and other literacy skills.

The part I find most concerning is “associated with lower brain white matter.” In cruder terms—causes damage to development of the brain. I by no means consider this study conclusive and it also doesn’t gather any evidence on the long term effects of this development like this. Meaning, is the development of these Children just deferred or is it permanent damage?

Time will tell the long term results of a generation of Children raised by screens. Until we know what those biological effects, I’m going to err on the side of caution.

Building Better Screen Time Habits

I have become unsatisfied with my current screen time usage, mostly as it relates to my iPhone. I work on a computer all day. That time in front of a screen isn’t going anywhere. But I have noticed I’ve fallen into some habits which are un-productive and I’m reaching for my phone all too often outside work hours.

To help break these habits I’ve turned to the built in Screen Time monitoring tools that ship with iOS. The two features of this I am leaning on most are App Limits (to set time limits for apps), and Downtime (white-listing only certain apps for a given time period of each day.) I currently have downtime set from 5 PM to 9 PM each day. This is so I can break the habit of whipping my phone out while I am with my family after work hours. Depending on how this goes I will consider expanding this time window to a larger period. Here are the only apps I have set to be always allowed even during Downtime. It is worth noting I do not keep work related communication on my mobile devices outside of when I’m traveling for business. That is reflected in the list here.

apps I allow in “downtime” hours

These settings on iOS are not hard rules if you are the admin for a given device, which means you can work around them fairly easily if you want/need to. But I hope the prompts it puts in place will nag me enough to help kick the muscle memory which has built up.

Five of My Favorite Places to Visit in North Carolina

I’m a North Carolina boy, born and raised. This is still one of my favorite regions even after traveling all over the United States and also getting to spend time in Europe.

This is home.

Here is a short list of a few places I think are worth visiting. Not listed in order of significance.

Franklin

Dry Falls, located on Hwy 64 just outside of Franklin

Nestled in the South Western corner of the state sits Franklin. While many who seek a getaway in the Mountains of NC travel to places like Boone or Asheville, Franklin offers a much slower pace vibe. When you visit Franklin be sure to take a day to tour many of the waterfalls along Highway 64.

Ocean Isle

Ocean Isle at Sunset

To me Ocean Isle is the quintessential Carolina coastal town. Offers all that you would expect: houses that run the range of age and prestige, a few hotels and condo buildings, a corner ice cream shop and of course-—mini golf. Its pace is a bit more low key than many of its counter parts in the state. But don’t worry, you have all the tourist traps and bright lights you could ask for just an hour south in Myrtle Beach, SC if you want it.

Crowders Mountain

Just West of Charlotte this is one of the prettiest views this far East in North Carolina. This state park offers several great hiking trails of different lengths and intensities. If it is your first time there I recommend taking the Backside Trail. Though it is a strenuous hike for this part of the foothills, it is less than a mile in length. The last portion of the trail ends in a staircase of 336 steps that lead up to the beautiful mountain top view.

Morrow Mountain State Park

Lake Tillary

Sitting on my favorite stretch of the Yadkin River basin, Lake Tillary, this state park offers just about all you could ask for in a North Carolina destination. Whether you are after skiing/fishing/kayaking on the lake, trails for both hiking and horseback, or beautiful scenery—Morrow Mountain certainly has something to offer. My favorite hike at this location is the Rocks Trail.

Outer Banks

Avon, NC on OBX

OBX offers one of the most unique shoreline landscapes on the East Coast. Whether you are strolling the large sand dunes of Kitty Hawk where the first flight of man took place, or a getaway a little more off the path on Cape Hatterus, the Outer Banks offers some of the most memorable experiences a coastline can offer. For the outdoor enthusiast it has some of great fishing and the best waves in North Carolina.


I am happy to call North Carolina home.

Music I’m Currently Enjoying

Here are some albums I’m enjoying in the rotation right now.

  • Sight by The Eagle and the Child
    • West coast rock with heart felt lyrics and possibly the best hat tip I’ve ever seen in a band name.
  • Chrysaline by Josh Garrels
    • This album expands on much of Josh’s early folk and acoustic sounds in a whole new way while yet not abandoning those foundations. All while still featuring him as one of the most set apart song writers of our time.
  • All of A Sudden I Miss Everyone by Explosions in the Sky
    • If you look up this definition of post-rock music in the dictionary this album should not be far from it. A classic for the genre.
  • From My Window to Yours, Pt. 1 by Andrew Blooms
    • I am new to Andrew Blooms as an artist and I really like his work thus far. His music doesn’t shy away from complex melodies and instrumentation yet still maintains an air of… simplicity.
  • Tranquil by Behind Clouds
    • The Highest-of-Fi “Lo-fi Hip-hop” money can buy.

I do mean albums regarding the above as I don’t listen to singles or “internet radio” much. If you’re looking for top 40 hits, you’re probably in the wrong place.

Small Ways I Strive for Privacy Online

Rows of security cameras on a wall

Over the years of working professionally in the tech industry I’ve developed a little bit of caution in how I handle my information online. This is by no means a way to stay anonymous in my online activities but it does help me maintain some control of how my data is used. Consider me an amateur tinfoil hat wearer. The list here is not exhaustive, just a few things I’ve personally settled on:

  • Wire for chat communication
    • Great alternative to non-encrypted text services (e.g Facebook Messenger, Social DM’s, and SMS). It isn’t a perfect app—but it is adequate.
  • Private Internet Access as my VPN service of choice
    • I use this 100% of the time when I work outside my home office (coffee shops, co-working spaces, airports, etc.)
  • Startpage as my default search engine
    • From the research I’ve done it offers the best “sell” of any of the privacy focused search engines.
  • I disable location services for almost all apps on my iPhone
    • The big exceptions here are navigation apps.
  • Host my own personal email
    • I don’t use end-to-end encryption on my email, but at least all my personal emails aren’t getting parsed to selectively deliver ads.

I have considered going further down the privacy rabbit hole before. Even contemplated getting rid of my smart phone altogether. But at this time the cost of convenience is too high for me.