Multipurpose Headband – Cool Tool

The Buff made headbands cool again. It is a closed loop of stretch-fabric that can be worn in many ways. After the success of the original Buff, many other companies made similar products to get in on some of the action.

Originally I got a real Buff for wearing under my bike helmet while cycling. It makes wearing a helmet a lot more comfortable. As the winter months approached last year, I got a generic multipurpose headbandM, because it was thicker and bigger.

I still prefer the Buff, as it is lighter and a lot more comfortable. However, when the temperatures outside are nearing 0 °C, that becomes a lot less important. At that point I just want to ward off the stinging cold.

There are some fancy scarves for cycling that cover your nose and mouth without causing your glasses to fog up. At least that’s what they claim to do. They don’t work.

You’re better off just using a buff. It’s more versatile and far less finicky. You can easily switch between it covering up to your nose or just to your chin. This means I cycle with two buffs in the winter, one to cover my head and ears and another to cover my nose, mouth, and neck.

Cycling is the main time I use the Buff or it’s equivalent. However, it’s also proven useful just taking on walks in case it gets windy. They’re small and won’t take much room but will still shield your neck and/or ears from the wind.

Where to buy:
You should be able to pick them up at a sports or outdoors store near you. It may just be easier on Amazon though. Be sure to check the sizes, as it’s not always clear which one is which (bought the wrong on first). My Buff is 25cm long and the other two headbands are twice that size.

Veritasium – YouTube Recommendation

The Veritasium YouTube channel by Derek Muller has more to offer than just a great name (element of truth – get it?). Derek actually studied how to be a better educator through social online video – and it shows. It’s not just the animations and editing, but also the way he guides you through the learning process that makes the difference.

He’s got a great way of incorporating other people’s misconceptions in teaching you something new. Usually I find myself agreeing with the misconceptions at first. This is a great way to learn because he’s not just feeding you the answer but actually making you think.

Recently he’s been traveling around the world and making great videos in interesting places. As with most channels, his production value has increased a lot over the years.

However, his most memorable video for me is one from 2012. It’s about how trees do the impossible to get water up their trunks. It’s well done and I actually learnt something, which isn’t always true for edutainment videos.

Enjoy the video:


Silicone Pastry Brush – Cool Tool

This is an interesting tool. It is a plastic silicone brush that can withstand temperatures of up to 260 C° (500°F)

I’m including it as a cool tool simply because it’s great at one thing: lining a frying pan with oil. There are lots of other uses I’m sure, but this is what puts it on my list.

Even then, I only ever use it for one thing: making pancakes. It makes a huge difference. You don’t want your pancakes to get all soggy with oil. So I use as little oil as possible and spread it around evenly using the brush.

This is a actually a tip I got from my sister, who’s great pancake receipt is the one I use.

Those who know me know I like my pancakes. This brush has a narrow use case for me but plays an important role in making one of my favorite breakfasts that bit better.

Where to buy
You can pick this up at most stores that sell any kitchen utensils. Or you can always just find it online. It’s also called a basting brush.

What is design? Affordances

In 1988 Don Norman wrote the book on design. The design book to rule all design books. It is humbly titled, The Design of Everyday Things.

In it he defined many aspects of user interface design we now think apparent. One of these aspects is the affordance.

An affordance is a relationship between the properties of an object and the capabilities of the agent that determine just how the object could possibly be used. A chair affords (“is for”) support and, therefore, affords sitting.

Or simply

Affordances define what actions are possible.

Don Norman in “The Design of Everyday Things”

These are crucial in design and doing affordances right is a sign of great design. This doesn’t have to be in the critics-are-raving-about-it way. It just makes something more usable and intuitive and that’s always better.

That’s rubbish

This is my kitchen trash can This is my kitchen trash can

If we play our observation game we see three parts.

There are three basic parts to the trash can: the pedal, the bin, and the lid. There are three basic parts to the trash can: the pedal, the bin, and the lid.

This is a common trash can design. Especially for the kitchen, where you often have smelly things to throw away.

I picked this one over the other options because of affordances. It’s not that the other ones didn’t have the lid or pedal mechanism, they did. They just didn’t do as good a job at them.

Here’s why:

These areas are missing on most trash cans of the same basic design. The pedal is really small so the can can only be opened from one side and the lid is missing an affordance to open it with your hands.

Quite often in sitting in a chair and want to lean back to throw something away. Each time I’m glad to have the little ledge-handle on the lid.

The Anti-affordance

When designing something, it is as important to prevent misuse as it is to encourage the correct use. This is done with anti-affordances.

Is there a surface that people keep using as a storage space that really shouldn’t be used that way? Why not slant the surface?

We encounter anti-affordances every day. Often without noticing, because that’s the way it should be. The peripherals on our computers (mostly) don’t fit into each other’s sockets, because they’re not supposed to. Same with the micro SD and nano SIM cards.

The Camden Bench The Camden Bench

The ultimate object of anti affordances is the Camden Bench. So much so that it has been called the ultimate anti object.

It prevents:

  • skateboarding: segmented side edge
  • sleeping: slanted segmented seat
  • stealing: weight & no “handles”
  • vandalizing: a special coating
  • hiding drugs: featureless surface

You can read more about it here and listen to the great 99pi episode on it here.

Sleep Mask – Cool Tool

If you’ve ever been on a long distance flight you’ve probably been given a sleep mask by the airline.

This is all sleep masks ever were to me. A pathetic piece of fabric held in front of my eyes by some poor elastic straps. They don’t really keep out the light, feel weird on the face, and the straps cut into your ears.

Despite all this, I still kept a sleep mask I had from a flight and reused it many times. That is, until it broke.

At first I was bummed, thinking I had to wait for my next flight to pick one up again, before it dawned on me that I could just buy another one.

In looking for what to buy I realised I’d never really had a sleep mask in the first place. Believe me, getting a proper one was nothing short of revolutionary. Well, for that one use case. All because it was now comfortable and actually kept the light out.

A non-airline sleep mask A non-airline sleep mask

It also made me re-evaluate the value of airline lagniappes. But airlines making a profit of about 8$ a seat explains why they give you the sleep mask for 10 cent rather that 10$.

The sleep mask is also something I always have in my bag. It’s amazing for getting that nap in while travelling, especially when accompanied by some noise cancelling headphones.

I got it for long airplane flights, but have used it in everything from cars to buses to trains. If I packed late the night before and had to get up early, I’m glad to be able to get an hours nap in at any time of day.

A great use case I didn’t foresee, is wearing them for “everynight sleeping”. As in when I’m lying down and not sitting in some moving vehicle. I don’t do this regularly, but if I’m camping or staying at a friend’s place I’ll usually wear them.

In my experience, few people have dimming curtains or blinds in the living room. If you’re staying over and sleeping there, the mask can help you sleep in. There’s nothing worse than that tired twisting and turning in the morning as you are involuntarily awoken by sunlight.

Where to buy:
This is easiest to find on Amazon (here are mine – now sold out). I got ones with velcro and a single strap, so I don’t have to pull them over my head. Since they are always in my bag, I didn’t get the huge ones. Definitely go for the bowl design and foam-like material. The flat synthetic ones are useless. Besides that just do the usual: read some reviews and find the one that works for you.

Asking for feedback

Two weeks ago I challenged myself to write and post here every day for thirty days. Today is half-way day.

It’s not been easy, but I’ve kept it up so far and hope to make it through to the end.
I’ll share more details on my experience then.

Today I want to ask for feedback on MuffinWorks. Please let me know what you think on Twitter, by email, or simply by clicking on one of the buttons on the bottom of this page.

Introducing Feedback Buttons

I wanted to make giving feedback as easy as possible, so I’ve rigged the Squarespace form block to save your feedback in a Google spreadsheet with just one click.

This proved to be more difficult than anticipated and involved me writing my first lines of Java Script. Only one of many firsts this month.

So I’ve gone back and added the feedback buttons to every blog post I’ve done so far. If you want to be super awesome, you can go back through and let me know which posts you loved most – and which you couldn’t care less for. I’ll use this to prioritise the type of work I do in the future.

This whole thing is still kind of an experiment. It’s the early days of MuffinWorks and as far as possible I’d love to make informed decisions moving forward.

Thanks for reading.

Please give me your feedback on this post. Only one click required.

On what I learnt wearing a 16,000€ jacket

On my recent trip to Paris I went to the Avenue Montaigne to visit the designer brand stores there. I din’t really think much about it beforehand, but figured I could learn something.

I got there just as the stores were opening and quickly realized that this would be more awkward than anticipated. I had no business here – literally.

Designer luxury brands like Dolce & Gabanna, Prada, and Chanel have a very different approach to retail than consumer brands. For the numbers to work, they sell low volume of goods at high margins. To bolster the perceived value of what they sell they invest in the buying experience and brand marketing.

Coming from the Champs-Élysées, I walked passed the first couple stores. They were just opening the doors. A man pointed to his watch and said, “five more minutes”.

I walked on.

I hadn’t mustered the courage to actually go in yet.

From looking in, I could already tell the stores were far less dense than what I was used to. It’s not about quantity here, but quality. One store only showcased four handbags in the entire shop window, each on its own shelf with it’s own spotlight.

Then came Loewe. I’d heard the name somewhere, but didn’t really know anything in particular. It was a smaller store. I walked in.

I was in the store a good 15 minutes before touching anything. I didn’t dare at first.

It proved invaluable being upfront about my reason for being there. I was interested in their design and would soon be studying design myself. It also didn’t hurt to drop some educated compliments on the design details of their products.

The young lady who assisted me was kind and explained the design and material choices that were made. She spoke highly of a blue leather jacket.

I asked if I could try it on. Then realised how odd that question must be and how it betrays my still feeling out of place.

“Of course,” was the reply.

I tried it on. It was a size too small but still very comfortable. It cost 3,200 €.

As time passed I got more comfortable and confident in the luxury environment. The next store I went to, and would stay in for over an hour, was Loro Piana.

Again, I was greeted kindly and assisted very well. At first I felt bad accepting the complimentary water I was offered, but realised it’d worse refusing it. And besides, who am I kidding, they knew I wasn’t buying a thing long before they offered me water.

Side note: the interior design and layout of Loro Piana was so spectacular I was walking around visibly stunned. I’ve seldom had such an involuntary response and felt a little overwhelmed. It was like falling into another world. I learnt later that the store had been completely redone and only reopened a week prior.

This time I wasn’t so slow to start touching things. The feel of the cashmeres and other wools was amazing. Before long I was trying jackets and posing in front of the mirror. Not all that different from a normal shopping trip.

Except the location. And quality. And price.

Yup. One of the jackets I tried was really 16,000€.

Now if you google Loro Piana you’ll find things that cost much more than that, but still. It was a lot of money to be carrying on my shoulders.

Before I left they showed me an assortment of their textiles and some of their own publications. They also made me aware of their many videos online. If you’re are interested in this kind of stuff, especially the manufacturing, be sure to check them out, they’re well done.

So what did I learn

First off, I very much felt the other-worldness of it all. It was different, but not in an uncomfortable kind of way. The people were kind and the things proved very interesting.

It also gave me a chance to see a shopping trip from a different perspective. The people who buy a 10,000€ jacket were I buy a 100€ jacket also have several more zeros in the bank.

Like Morgane Sézalory, the creator of France’s first online fashion brand says:

We never explain the price – the consumer doesn’t think about the price, it’s about desire

What may seems crazy to us is completely normal to other people. They go through life without giving price tags a second thought.

Not being so price constrained in production costs, like 99% of the industry (or all industries for that matter), also frees these luxury brands to make some amazing stuff. Don’t get me wrong, they still do aggressive pricing throughout the supply chain and make sure to hit their margins. However, they budget entirely differently for research and development. Their raw materials alone can cost 10x the finished product you’d get at an H&M.

The raw materials they use are incredible. The leathers and wools are nothing but the best of the best and carefully processed with special care each step of the way. One cashmere jacket I wore only weighed 300 grams. Not feeling it felt amazing.

In summary, it was a good worth while experience. I can recommend the stores, but would not suggest going in just for fun. Be honestly interested, even if you’re not going to buy anything. It’ll make it easier for everyone and only seams fair.

Zipper Storage Bags – Cool Tool

Commonly known as Ziploc bags, the plastic zipper storage bags are incredibly useful for storing things, especially while travelling.

They come in different sizes, but I’ve only ever really needed the standard 1 liter size. Their main selling point is how they can be easily sealed and reopened using the zipper-like slider at the top. They do a great job of keeping thing inside, but are not perfectly waterproof.

I always have some airplane permitted toiletries (100 ml or less) and an extra toothbrush in one of these bags ready for any trip. This makes packing that one step easier. I don’t even take a separate toiletries bag anymore since I need to show them at airport security anyway.

Besides that, the bags have proven especially useful for hiking and camping. I always take a couple extra and seldom come home not having made use of them.

If there’s a danger of anything leaking, it’s always a good idea to put it into a zipper bag.

Here our zipper bag saved my backpack from a jam explosion while traveling in New Zealand. Here our zipper bag saved my backpack from a jam explosion while traveling in New Zealand.

They’re not just great for liquids though, also sandwiches and cookies are better kept in them. The bag catches the cookie crumbs and doesn’t take as much room as a Tupperware box would for sandwiches, especially once you’ve eaten the content.

But there’s not really a limit to what you can put in them. The zipper bags can also help organise your smaller items. This is especially useful if your suitcase or backpack doesn’t have great compartments. I regularly put charger cables and SD cards in them. If there are cards or cash in my wallet I don’t need, I will also put them in a zipper bag first before putting them into my main travelling bag.

Where to buy:
You can get zipper storage bags at most local grocery stores. Here in Germany some discount stores won’t have them, but most others do.

On Discipline Equals Freedom

Picture this: Large. Prominent. Inescapable. A billboard. On it three words:

Discipline equals Freedom.

This is Jocko‘s billboard. These are the words he chose to broadcast when asked by Tim Ferris what he’d put on a billboard anywhere. (The episode of the Tim Ferris show is worth a listen).

I found this statement intriguing.

How can discipline give me freedom? Doesn’t discipline limit my freedom?

I instinctively agreed, but couldn’t make sense of why?

How does disciple equal freedom? What’s the mechanics of the process?

What follows is my take on how. In aswering this question I turn to three books I read recently, which all touch on the topic and helped me answer the question for myself.

First some background

Jocko is a retired US Navy SEAL commander who now offers leadership solutions through practical training with his company Echelon Front. Him and his cofounder Leif, who is also a retired Navy SEAL and was in Jocko’s unit in Iraq, wrote a book on leadership called “Extreme Ownership – How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win.”

In the book they share valuable aspects of leadership and explain them using both stories from their deployment in Iraq and experiences with the companies they consult. My five main takes from the book were on the importance of:

  • being quick to obey and slow to complain
  • taking full responsibility for everything you do and for those in your command
  • communicating clearly up and down the chain of command
  • discipline in both the mundane and complex
  • integrity and humility in leadership

These things matter because there are lives at stake. There’s no half-assing as a Navy SEAL. Nonchalance will get you killed.

However, the discipline they practiced was not only to keep them safe. It gave them a greater freedom. Jocko writes:

Discipline — strict order, regimen, and control — might appear to be the opposite of total freedom — the power to act, speak, or think without any restrictions. But, in fact, discipline is the pathway to freedom.”

Discipline in groups

Ok. So we’ve got a military background and now a corporate environment. Could this mean that discipline equals freedom only in cooperative endeavors?

No. It’s just that discipline is a requirement for these groups to funciton at all. Requiring the discipline still doesn’t explain why it makes the unit or department more free.

Basically, it’s that discipline grows trust. Any group of people working together have to be able to trust each other. At least on a basic competency level, if not on a personal level. Being able to trust that decisions are binding and delegated work is done, gives each person the freedom to focus and do their best work.

The alternative is anything but freedom. There must be an enforcing body with total control and oversight that is micromanaging every move. This is oppressive to everyone doing the work and binds the “leaders” to their policing role – preventing them from doing far more valuable tasks.

Discipline in Space

Let’s go to space.

The most disciplined field I know besides the military is space exploration. This only became clear to me after reading Chris Hadfield’sAn Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth.” It’s the best book I read last year.

In it he describes an astronaut as:

someone who’s able to make good decisions quickly, with incomplete information, when the consequences really matter.

Not so different to a soldiers job, is it?

Hadfield was the first Canadian astronaut in space and practiced impressive discipline all his life to get there. He is incredibly competent in many fields, yet writes in a very relatable and refreshing style.

The most valuable take from the book was how his ambition and discipline as an astronaut translated into and proved valuable in everyday life. And the most valuable aspect of that take was his maintaining a discipline of contentment.

In an astronaut’s career there are many things outside your control and you are never promised the success of actually going to space. All you can do is prepare. It is easy to get fixated on what you want and bitter when life doesn’t hand it to you. This is where a little bit of discipline can go a long way.

Alright. This isn’t freedom strictly speaking, but maybe we’ve got the wrong idea of freedom.

Freedom in “Skull-Sized Kingdoms”

Our own present culture has harnessed […] forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom all to be lords of our tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the center of all creation.

This kind of freedom has much to recommend it.

But of course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talked about in the great outside world of winning and achieving and displaying.

The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day.

-David Foster Wallace, “This is Water” (emphasis mine)

This is an excerpt form what has been called the best commencement speech of all time.

There are different kind’s of freedom. I think that is what Jocko is trying to say with his poster and Hadfield in his book. Discipline leads to the precious and fulfilling freedom – not the empty one descibed in the first half of this quote.

As much as we talk about freedom being a universal good and great aspiration, it can go in both ways. The lonely and self-centred freedom of entitlement and disregard can only be countered by practicing kindness, humility, and gratitude.

Freedom is a resource. We all have it[1]. The freedom to speak, and move, and purchase what we want. However, these freedoms are worthless unless made us of.

Like a gift certificate or 100$ bill – it remains useless until used. We all have freedom, but don’t all make good use of it.

Discipline is the tool with which we harvest the freedom given to us.

We all have 24 hours in a day. Useless unless used. With discipline we can get up early and make the most of them.

Same goes for most things in life. Being disciplined let’s us make the most of what we do have and be content not having what we can’t.

That’s my take on how discipline equals freedom.
Would love to hear yours. Let me know on Twitter.

[1]: When I say we here, I imply most of the western world. Sadly, not everyone has this basic freedom. All the more important is the question then, what we do with the freedom we have.

Oil Pourer – Cool Tool

If you do any cooking at all and don’t have one of these, you need to get one.

This is a simple and very cheap solution to a frustrating and messy problem in the kitchen: pouring oil.

I still remember the feeling all too well of reaching for the greasy plastic bottle every time I needed some oil. It would never stay just in the bottle and collect on the lid and sides. As the bottle got emptier it became more and more slippery.

Then… I upgraded to a glass bottle. This helped a lot on the slippery side, but not so much on the greasy side – especially when it came to the lid.

Then… I discovered these oil pourers. They replace the lid and let you pour oil with greater control and without the mess. A little top on the spout just lifts up when you pour and then closes again. The small tube reaching into the bottle limits the airflow back into it, slowing the pouring speed.

I’ve had some for a year now and I cannot recommend them more highly. Just one of those things that solves a common problem so well. I actually have designated glass bottles with pourers for two different oils and a vinegar now.

Note: you will need to have a glass bottle for them to work properly.

Where to buy:
I’m sure you’ll be able to find them at a local store, perhaps even a larger grocery store. You can always order them online from Amazon (DE, UK, US), or your preferred online retailer.