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Even You Can Cook This: Basil Spaghetti

So here’s the thing. My mother started teaching me how to cook when I was about ten years old. I could cook a roast chicken dinner from woah to go by the time I was about twelve or thirteen years old. I’m best at baking, but if you put a recipe in front of me I can make a pretty good go of it, all things considered.

Here’s the other thing. Cooking is a pain in the ass. I live in Australia, so in summer it is hot and the kitchen is the utter last place you feel like being. Even in winter….look, cooking is just a pain, alright? I have become the master of the salad wrap.

HOWEVER!

I also think that it is really important to be able to make a few more substantial meals, in minimal time, and preferably creating as few dishes as humanly possible while doing so. Nobody likes washing the dishes. Nobody. I don’t care what they say.

This series is to provide you with a few recipes that are easy to make, with few (and generally inexpensive) ingredients, using the smallest number of pots, pans and utensils possible. Because cooking is a pain, and nobody likes doing dishes. See above.

Basil spaghetti is one of my favourite “fast food” meals to make. It’s easy, it only takes a few minutes (as long as it takes to cook the pasta to your liking), and it tastes pretty bangin’, seriously. PLUS, it is really easy to jazz up, and I’ll let you know some options after the basic recipe, which is vegetarian as I don’t eat meat myself.

BASIL SGHETTI*

*I’ve called spaghetti “sghetti” since I was a kid. It’s been around for over twenty years, it’s not gonna go away now.

Essential Ingredients:
  • Thickened cream (I think they call it heavy cream in the States?)
  • Cheese, either grated or gratable. Parmesan would work well if you have it.
  • One jar of basil pesto, and for god’s sake make sure you get one without animal rennet! Check the label!
  • One packet fettuccine pasta (I prefer spinach fettuccine, but regular works just fine too
Optional ingredients:
  • Chicken bits, or bacon bits, whatever you prefer
  • Sliced and cooked carrots, for colour, flavour, and crunch if you like’em not-squishy like me

 

 

 

 

 

 

In order to create basil sghetti deliciousness, do the following:
  1.  Put a pot of water on to boil. Make sure there is at LEAST a full teaspoon of salt in that water; it’ll taste better and help the pasta not to stick together so much.
  2. Once the water is boiling, add your pasta. Not the whole bag unless you’re cooking for multiple people! Just enough for however many you’re cooking for.
  3. Stir the past every once in a while; the more often you do this, the less the pasta will stick, but don’t slave over it either.
  4. Once the pasta is done to your liking, drain most of the water, leaving about a tablespoon worth in the pot with the pasta; the pasta will taste better and the sauce will stick, and it won’t be bone-dry when you eat it.
  5. Add the basil pesto until your pasta has a reasonable covering. I prefer my basil sghetti hella strong, so I use about half the jar per time I cook this! To taste 🙂
  6. Add your thickened cream, maybe a half or two thirds of a cup, and stir until the sauce is creamy and a pale green colour.
  7. Whack it into a bowl, and stick some grated cheese or Parmesan on top.
  8. Enjoy, with gusto.
Optional extras
  1. With meat bits: Obviously, cook them. And in a separate pan! Once they’re done, whack’em in the sauce after the cream step.
  2. With carrots: Slice them thinly, cook’em in a pan with a tiny bit of either butter or olive oil until they’re to your liking. I usually only leave them in the pan for five minutes because I like mine crunchy. When they’re done, whack’em in just after them basil step. Cream is optional for the carrot version, because the pasta is really nice with just the basil pesto and carrots.

If you don’t like basil pesto, I’m pretty sure you could sub sundried tomato pesto here, but it may take some experimenting. I personally think tomatoes are the devil’s fruit, and are suitable for consumption only in tomato-based sauces in Italian cuisine. And even then, you need Parmesan for disguising their presence. BUT, I guess it could be done. If you had to.

RESULTS:

  1. Basil sghetti deliciousness, and if you make enough there’ll be leftovers for lunch or dinner tomorrow, too.
  2. At most (with optional extras), 3 pots and/or pans, eating utensils and plate, spatula (for stirring sauce), knife (carrots) and grater.
  3. The feeling of accomplishment at the realization that you have successfully feed yourself, and also you can pxt your mother to show her you’re not subsisting on 2-minute noodles. Anymore.

See? Even you can cook this!

Stay weird xxx

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It’s all about ME!

Speaking as a woman in her mid-twenties with a seemingly endless to-do list, all too often I forget to take care of myself. I’m not talking like forgetting to eat or shower or whatever; those functions are basically automatic, and happen when they should (at least twice every day, and one or twice a day depending on the summer temperature!). I’m talking about the little things. I’m talking about doing something for myself, that is just for me. Not to further progress in some arbitrary goal, or to tick something off a list that somebody else (like my thesis advisor) is going to see later, but just for me. For my sake. I’m talking about those things.

I decided, sometime in December when ruminating about what I wanted to achieve in 2018, that I was going to make 2018 all about me. And yes I am aware how selfish that sounds, and you know what? It is. It completely is, and you know what else? There is nothing wrong with that. There is absolutely nothing wrong with shifting yourself into the focus position of your own life. Because let’s get something straight here: nobody else is going to do this for you. They’ve all got their own problems. The best person to make sure you’re doing ok is you. And let me tell you something else: all those goals and ambitions you’re killing yourself to achieve won’t mean anything at all if, when you finally get over the finish line, you are too exhausted and broken to actually take advantage of your wins. Exhaustion is not fun. Burnout is not fun. Misery and fatigue and weight gain and stress and anxiety are not fun. And yet, these are among the consequences that so many people my age suffer just because we’re so convinced that we have to reach X goal first, in the fastest time, with the greatest result. And in some cases, to be fair, that is actually necessary. But millennials, those much-beleaguered souls, are acting that way about literally their entire lives, and of late I am no exception.

I have high expectations of myself, and I always have had. My mother taught me to have high expectations, because she knew that I could meet them. That instills both a confidence and a work ethic, but it can also instill anxiety and a constant sense of overhanging deadlines. What I never quite learned, until the last few months I think, is that I can have and meet those expectations and still actually live as a functioning human adult. And I can do this by making my life all about me.

I’m not saying to become the bitch-about-town. Nobody likes her. Don’t be that person. What I am saying is to make time, and make decisions, where you are the positive focus and where the consequences or results of those decisions either positively affects you, or at the very least do not negatively affect you. Neutral is sometimes the best result we can hope for. And those tiny day-to-day decisions, that time you take to yourself, that thirty minutes in the morning that you usually use to work unpaid overtime in the office that you decide to use for coffee and a book in the local cafe instead, those decisions and that time actually make it easier to then sit down at your desk and go to work.

It doesn’t always have to be specific actions, or deciding not to do something. Then again, it can be. For example: starting around 16, one of my favourite things to do was to learn, from various sources (shoutout to YouTube), how to apply my makeup properly. I wore makeup several days a week if not more, for years. I have a somewhat astounding makeup collection, for someone that doesn’t work in a remotely related industry. And I still love makeup! But in the year of 2017, the entire woebegone year, I can only recall actually putting a full face of makeup on perhaps three times, and the bare basics of eyeshadow, mascara, and lipstick a collective two or three weeks. Because I never had time. Because I was always tired. I was always working, always studying, always commuting, always writing, always travelling. Always always always. Something something something. And putting makeup on became a chore. It also kind of annoyed me, when I actually did manage to find the time to put makeup on, how many comments I would get to the tune of “Oh my god, you look so good with makeup on! I mean not that you’re not fine usually, but….” or “You know, you really suit ______ makeup. You really should make it an everyday thing” or “It’s incredible how different you look! Why don’t you wear makeup all the time?” Pretty much any woman in the workforce that has ever employed mascara will recognize these comments. And they’re not meant maliciously, but it really, really sucks to hear them. And then makeup really isn’t fun anymore. Plus, you gotta haul around a little bag of “basics” every day, and nobody has the time or the energy for that, especially as a grad student that also works. If you are and you do, holy shit and kudos to you. Please tell me your secrets.

So. This year. This year? All about me.

I want to start making it a habit to get out of bed at 5am. Not so I can get more work done, but so that I can make myself a proper coffee, and sit down at my kitchen table for breakfast. Not stumble out of the house 15 minutes after waking up and buy coffee and a blueberry muffin on the way to work.

I want to start putting a little makeup on every once in a while. Not a full face, and certainly not on hot days because I live in Oz and it will slide right off. Eyeshadow colours that I like, and lipstick shades that I prefer.

I want to go for a short work in the evenings, after the full heat of the afternoon but before it gets dark. Maybe listen to an audiobook or something. A podcast. Nothing to do with work, or with study.

I want to have an actual day off every few weeks. From all work, including academic-related. Everything.

I want to start telling people “no” when they ask me to do things. I can barely handle my own task list most days, I’m not about to keep shouldering that of others as well.

I want to eat healthier, because a healthy body helps to create a healthier mind, and considering my levels of anxiety and stress in 2017 I need all the help with that I can get.

I want to phase single-use plastics completely out of my use, because singly-use plastics are shitty and awful and kill millions of marine animals every year and there is literally no reason for single-use plastics to exist. 2018 is the year of the reusable tote.

I want to finish the draft of my novel. It might be awful, it might never get published or even see the light of day, but I want to finish it because it’s mine. I want to take off to a cafe or a library or something every once in a while and just write. Not answer my phone, be unavailable.

Be unavailable.

I think that is the secret, these days, to any sort of improvement you can make to your mental health, to your personal existence. We are constantly, and consistently, available. Even when we shouldn’t be. For people that shouldn’t have a claim on our time. Even, sometimes, to people that should have a claim to whom we give too much. So I think that is the most selfish thing that I am going to try and instate next year, for my own peace of mind. Not all the time, obviously. But sometimes.

What are your thoughts? What are you going to make 2018 about?

2018 Resolutions

And so we have arrived, my lovelies, finally and thank god, at a new year. 2017 was…well, it was. I think that is the most that can be said for it, particularly among those who view with despair the current political state of the world. But lo! Here we have 365 new opportunities not to screw things up and make everything worse! So let us leave 2017 behind us, and list the resolutions for the coming years that many of us will conveniently forget or stop striving toward before the death of the second month of the year.

Lol. Kidding. Not about the fact that most New Year’s resolutions vaporize within two months, but the generally dire manner of writing in which I conveyed those sentiments is not my usual. In terms of my 2017 resolutions, I’m gonna call it 50-50. I’ve updated the status of those over on the 2017 Resolutions page, so if you want to see what they were and how I did, meander on over in that direction. Here, I have listed the goals that I would like to achieve in the year 2018. This time around, I have actually separated them (somewhat) into four general categories: health, finances, academic, personal. What do you think?

2018 Resolutions (likely ill-conceived and definitely optimistic)

Health

1. Lose five kilograms

2. Complete C25K programme

3. No white bread for a year

Finances

4. Pay at least $5000 off student loan

5. Accumulate $5000 in general savings

Academic

6. Finish 60,000 words of thesis

7. Submit an academic article to a journal

Personal

8. Read 75 books for the Goodreads Challenge

9. Finish the first draft of my novel

10. Complete a CodeAcademy programme

Let me know if any of your resolutions are similar to mine, or just generally if there are any particular goals that you’re going to work toward this year. Or are you more of a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants person? I used to be, but as I get older I find more comfort in goal-setting, as it gives me a concrete purpose and something to work towards!

 

Stay weird lovelies

xxx

2017 Resolutions

Resolutions. We make’em every year, and every year….well. The less said about that, the better!

Still, there are a few resolutions that I made for the year 2017 of the Common Era that I am bound and determined to keep. To keep me honest (and to remind me I made them!), I thought I would publish my 2017 resolutions here. I’ll keep track of how I go, and see where we end up on December 31st!

2017 Resolutions (Both reasonable and ill-considered)

  1. No chocolate for an entire year. Oh god guys, this is rough, no lie. I actually started this one on January 4th, so this one will last until 03.01.18. And because I’m a dumbass, I went cold turkey; no chocolate, no chocolate-flavoured things, nothing with chocolate in or on it, nothing with cocoa powder, nothing with carob, not even WHITE CHOCOLATE, which let’s be honest isn’t really chocolate anyway. I’ve made it so far; not a single solitary particle of chocolate ANYTHING has passed these lips since 03.01.17 AND I REGRET EVERY DECISION THAT LEAD ME TO MAKE THIS RESOLUTION. But I’m too stubborn and proud to quit. Ugh.
  2. Phase meat out of diet: completed 23.07.17! Now this one I accomplished in baby steps, but I have already done it! I cut red meat out of my diet in November of 2016, and before anyone asks: it was an ethical thing for me. Loki knows I loved a bacon sarnie as much as the next Aussie. I’ll go over my reasons for transitioning into vegetarianism in another post, but suffice it to say I phased red meat out first, and then chicken and seafood seven or so months later in July 2017. Do I miss it? Yes. But I’m proud of my choice and proud of myself for finally managing it, and no, I will not be eating red meat again.
  3. Pay $5000 off student loan: completed 19.06.17! This should be self-explanatory. I was an idiot as an undergrad, and totally ignored the student debt piling up around my ears. I’d like to think I’ve grown up a little now, and I want those numbers AS LOW AS POSSIBLE before I graduate and that loan starts accumulating interest! I don’t need that negativity in my life, so I’m going to work as fast as possible to get rid of it!
  4. Publish an article in a reputable journal: publish or perish, so they say in academia. I have actually gotten a chapter published in a book this year, but I’m not going to count it: I specifically said an ARTICLE. So, I’m going to work on that this year. Fingers crossed!
  5. Improve time management: You can’t be as busy as I constantly seem to be without some form of time management, but I KNOW mine could be better. I am pretty much winging life right now, and I both need and want to get better at this adult thing. It needs some work.
  6. Complete 50,000 words of thesis: This is REALLY reaching, no lie. And it might be reaching a little too far, I’ll freely admit. However, you gotta have a goal and even if I don’t quite make it I’m damn sure going to try. This just gives me a target. And I only have 2.5 years to go before hand-in!
  7. Lose weight, get fitter: As ever, but not necessarily in that order. Giving up chocolate and phasing out meat has helped a bit, and so has (significantly) increasing my water intake. I’ve also got a FitBit that I use for a step counter and all that jazz, to remind me that life is not meant to be spent in front of a screen 100% of the time. I work as an accounts clerk, and I study, so sometimes I forget that there is a world outside either of my offices…. Working on it!

How about you? Did you make any resolutions this year, and have you kept to them if so? Let me know, and why/why not, I’d love to hear!

Stay weird xxx

Vegetarianism – The Transition

So, here we are. Writing a post I never thought I would write, and in your case, reading yet another post about some millennial hack who has gone vegetarian and is probably going to start bugging you about it soon, jesus h. christ can’t a person have a bacon sanga in peace…. Hah. If that is the case, off you trot. What are you even doing here? I decided to write this post to talk about why I decided to go vegetarian, and how I went about it, because let’s get one thing straight: I did not give up meat because I don’t like it, or because of some dietary requirement, or health reasons or whatever. I gave up eating meat strictly for ethical reasons, and there are some days (still) when I would absolutely consider killing (or at least maiming) someone for a proper burger. So why?

I first starting seriously considering vegetarianism about two years ago, when I was 23. Videos starting going around about the Yu Lin festival in China, and I have never been so close to passing out or throwing up or both just from watching a video on social media. That sort of cruelty is something that makes no sense to me at all, and is utterly and completely unnecessary. You don’t have to be cruel to a creature just because you plan on eating it; I would actually argue that you should be nicer because of the fact! I truly considered giving up meat then and there, but of course there was always a reason not to. Aforementioned bacon sangas, for one. And I really do like the taste of meat, I always have. My sister, on the other hand, has been a vegetarian since she was eleven years old. Her willpower is the stuff of legend in my family (and serious, serious envy). And since she clearly survived childhood and her teenage years ( a bit bedraggled, along with the rest of us!), then vegetarianism obviously won’t kill a person. And she didn’t seem like she missed it, so… I guessed it must have been alright, at least.

It’s like the Baader Menhoff phenomenon though, you know? See something once, and then all of a sudden you’re seeing it freaking everywhere? I feel like videos about animal cruelty, animal abuse, animal testing….it all ended up on my feed and it was horrific. And that’s not to mention the environmental effects of the huge herds of animals that are bred specifically for food. Google it, the statistics of wastage are atrocious. And there came a point when I realized I just couldn’t do it anymore. I just could not do it. At the same time, I seriously doubted my ability to go cold turkey (hah), so in November of 2016 I gave up red meat, but continued to eat chicken and fish.

And, my dudes, it sucked. It sucked hard. I missed bacon. I missed burgers. I missed stroganoff. Lasagna. Spaghetti and meatballs. Bolognese. All foods that I loved that were beyond my reach. And, no lie, even nearly a year later I still crave meat every once in a while. I do. No point in hiding it, it’s the truth. I never eat any though, because my desire to eat meat in no way on this earth is greater than my desire not to be part of a system that perpetrates cruelty and abuse upon species’ that literally cannot defend themselves against us. And then, once it sucked slightly less, I gave up chicken and fish as well. June of 2017 was when I became a proper vegetarian, and again, it sucked hard. I hadn’t realized how much I had increased my intake of chicken in particular, until I cut if from my diet. No more chicken pesto toasties, no more chicken nachos, no more chicken and mushroom fettuccine. But I did it, and it sucks a little bit less all the time. And, even better, I feel pretty damn good about it. I now have to take a fistful of vitamins every day (no joke, three different ones every morning) to prevent vitamin and mineral deficiencies common in people with vegetarian diets, but that’s ok. Because I no longer eat anything that was born to a mother, was capable of feeling pain (and other sentiments, I’m sure) and may otherwise have lived a full life. Even fish have families. And I know, I know that one person (i.e., me) not eating meat is unlikely to make a blind bit of difference to the global overproduction of food (including meat and meat by-products), but it might. And it makes a difference to me, you know?

Now, beyond the obvious, there are other things that I don’t (can’t) eat due to my vegetarianism. Like literally anything with gelatin in it, because gelatin is made out of rendered pork skin oh my god. I truly to god nearly threw up when I first found that out, and it is so upsetting because gummy bears were life. Also, certain types of sauces like pesto; my (former) favourite brand had animal rennet it in! Just…no, you know? People don’t buy basil pesto thinking it has meat in it. They buy it because they think it’s got basil in it. They put it on their sandwiches with aioli because the combination is delicious, and probably feed it to their vegetarian friends thinking they’re doing the right thing and being supportive but they’ve been completely duped because the god damn pesto has animal bits in it!

Read the ingredients, my dudes. Read the ingredients.

Also, I’ve learned to compensate for the lack of meat in my various different recipes. Nachos ar eamazing with chickpeas and lentils instead of meat. Put lentils and red or blackbeans in your bolognese sauce instead of mince. Chickpeas, lentils, kidney beans and red beans work fantastically in lasagna. And, most importantly, I did end up finding a damn good basil pesto that did NOT contain animal rennet. For the win! And when I really just want something to chew on that is not a freaking lentil or chickpea, there’s Quorn, so I can have not-schnitzel and not-nuggets and not-burgers and they honestly taste pretty good.

Maybe think about reducing your intake of meat to two or three days a week, and see how you go. Look for some vegetarian recipes (they’re a lot more abundant than they used to be!); if you’re really keen, check out the Revive series of vegetarian recipe books, because the food in those is bomb.

If you have any questions that I haven’t answered here, or just want to chat about vegetarianism or ethics or whatever, leave a comment below or send me a message via the Contact Me page, I’d love to hear from you!

 

Featured image credit: Google and then this place

Learn the Thing – Introduction to Coding

Hi nerds!

Welcome to the first installment of Learn The Thing, a series that I hope will convince you that it is never too late, too early, too difficult, too time-consuming, or too tiring to learn something new.

Now, obviously when choosing to learn a new skill, the hope is that you’re learning something you already have an interest in, or are at least curious about. I will be the first to put my hand up and say that is is nigh on impossible to concentrate on something that you find unutterably boring. Obviously, we can’t always avoid such situations (compulsory philosophy papers, anyone?) but you aren’t here about that. You’re hear to see what I have to say about Learning The Thing.

So! The first thing that I decided to dedicate an installment of this series to is introductory coding. Completing an intro coding course is actually on my Impossible List, so this is a double whammy for me. I get to cross something off the List (eventually!), and I will also hopefully have an easier time understanding some of the more technical articles and papers that I come across in my pursuit of “academic expertise” in the area of cyber counterintelligence. Because, seriously? Some of that crap might as well be in Mandarin Chinese for all the sense it makes to me! European languages major here, and it shows.

However, the way I see it, I’m pretty alright at languages, and coding is just a series of languages with very specific use, meaning, and application. The rules for coding seem to be a lot stricter than the rules for languages, so at the very least I’m hoping I won’t need to become familiar with code slang. I’ve been meaning to do something about my total lack of understanding in this area for quite some time (hence, Impossible List item) and just never got around to it. Which, honestly, seems to be a pretty popular excuse for when we know we need to do something but don’t actually feel like taking the time out of our extraordinarily busy days to actually do it. And I’m not being ironic or sarcastic there, we are way too busy these days (I know I am) and there seems to be no end or rest in sight for most of us. I personally am still hoping to win the Lotto.

Eventually, that excuse gets old. And if you sit down and think about it, you do have time in your day. When you get home and spend an hour on YouTube watching makeup tutorials (ahem) and movie trailers (I can’t wait to see Thor: Ragnarok), or when you sit on the couch and watch three episodes on Netflix (Stranger Things ftw!), or the “power nap” that lasts from three to five pm, you do have time in your day. You’re gonna have to suck it up and sacrifice some of that nothingness in order to learn whatever skill it is that has been on your mind for a while.

Step 1: Research.

Do your research. Can what you want to learn be learned through online classes or resources? Or do you need to go to actual, physical classes? Is there some sort of community group near you that offers lessons in the skill you want to learn? Can it be learned from a book? Does the local library have an resources that you could use? Because I wanted to learn coding, I assumed that there would be multiple sources online to learn from and I was right; there are actually too many. Eventually, based on my own research, I narrowed it down to Khan Academy; Coursera; Skillshare; and Treehouse. Do you have any friends that could teach you, or at least point you in the direction of somebody that can? You might be surprised at just how extensive your communication networks can reach, if you only pull on a couple of strings and and ask a couple of people a couple of questions. When I decided to finally pull my head out of my ass and start learning to code, I posted one message on Facebook and sent one text message. I received no less than six responses, and several recommendations. One recommendation in particular was backed up by four separate parties who, as far as I know, did not know they were doing so. Thus I had my preferred educational source, and it wasn’t one I had found on my own: Code Academy.

Step 2: Sign up to the damn classes.

You know what you need to do to get started. Now, put your head down, dig in your heels and just get started. For me, that next step was to go to the Code Academy website and sign up. Not only is this website free to use (there is a paid premium version, but so far the intro classes are legit and thorough), but people I trust recommended this site to me, as mentioned above. I trust my friends and their contacts, so Code Academy it was. Having signed in, there was actually nothing else to worry about. The page honest to Loki said something along the lines of “we recommend you start with this course” and there was only one option on the page. Awesome. That’s the one I started with. They know better than I.

Step 3: Decide the frequency of your study sessions.

Don’t bail on this. While the hardest thing to do is actually begin, the next most difficult step is actually committing to a timetable or a time frame, depending on the structure of your course or the skill set you want to pick up. I personally try to do at least five minutes of coding study per day. It doesn’t seem like much (it isn’t), and it may not seem worth it but it is. Don’t try and rush through your lessons and get through the material as fast as you can. That way leads to madness and not really being able to do anything once you’ve “finished”. The course I started with is “Learn HTML and CSS” which I’m sure seems very basic to you computer nerds out there, but I legitimately did not even know what those acronyms stood for when I started. My first day was spent learning what the hell HTML and CSS even were, and then what they were used for. HyperText Markup Language and Cascading Style Sheets, in case you were wondering. Go team!

Step 4: Keep to your damn schedule.

Don’t be a dick. Future you won’t appreciate it. You want to learn this skill, or you wouldn’t have gotten this far. You’ve already signed up, and committed to learning. So learn. You don’t have to do five minutes a day. You could do twenty minutes three days a week or an hour on Thursday evenings. That’s up to you, but keep to the damn schedule you’ve set yourself. I added coding to my Habitica task list, to remind me that I need to do it but also because there’s this psychological imperative whereby I don’t want my little avatar dude to suffer for my poor decisions, so I have to do coding or I’m causing him to suffer and that’s not cool. In addition, eventually this addition to your schedule will become a habit, so integrated into your routine that you don’t need to actively force yourself to do something. This makes you resent the learning process a little less, and also eases the path to mastery a little by not making you regret your life decisions. Nobody regrets brushing their teeth (I truly hope), it’s just a fact of life. You do it (at least) twice a day because that’s just how we roll.

So there we are, my first post on how to Learn The Thing.

As of Monday, 2th August 2017 I have completed 21% of the Code Academy course on intro HTML and CSS. Am I going to become a developer? Unlikely. I’m not doing this for a career change, although as it turns out many people do, and more power to them! I mainly want to be able to understand my own area of research from a different perspective, and maybe even work out how to translate computer geek to standard, something which has thus far eluded me and resulted in a lot of blank stares. One can only hope.

Is there anything you particularly want to learn, but have put off for far too long? Anything you have just started learning, or resources you think are really worthwhile for the learner to have in their arsenal? Leave a comment below, or send me a message through the Contact Me page!

Stay weird xxx

KIT System 1 – Notes on Readings

Hi nerds!

The first installment of Keep It Together is dedicated to taking notes on readings, whether that be books, chapters, papers, articles, whatever.

One of the most important parts of developing good systems and habits as a student is understanding precisely what it is that you are reading, and developing a good note-taking system is, I think, a crucial part of that. The most crucial part is of course the reading, which I have a separate KIT for.

Now, I’m not going to sit here and harp on about my excellent note-taking skills. Learning is a process of constant evolution, and my note-taking style has changed a multitude of times over the years that I have been a tertiary student. However, in the last few years there are some base rules that I have developed in my own note-taking. These have lasted longer than previous methods I have used, and as they continue to make sense to me I shall continue to use them. This is important; do NOT use a system, any system, that you struggle to understand or remember. That way leads to frustration and madness, and usually to really crappy notes. Wasted time all around, not to mention the inevitable headache and whining about spending all that time and learning precisely zip.

So.

Tip the first: pick a system that works for you, that you can remember, that is easy for you to use and understand.

Tip the second: stick to that system. I speak from experience when I say that there is nothing worse, when prepping for an exam, than flipping through notes that start out formatted and written one way and then just gradually devolve into bullet points that don’t make sense even to the person that wrote them. You know that feeling, that you’ll know what you were talking about when you read it again later? That voice in your head that says “I don’t need to write anything else here. I’ve done the reading, I will know what that refers to, so it is a waste of time to write anything else here.” That voice is a damn liar. You absolutely will not remember what that three-word bullet point means six weeks after writing it, three hours before your exam. Stick to your system: you settled on it because it has value, so don’t get lazy about being serious at school.

Tip the third: flag the important bits with a post-it as read, and take your notes after you finish the reading. For me at least, I gain a better understanding of the material if I read all the way through first, and then go back to the important bits. That way, I can mull over the concepts I flagged as important on the first go round, thereby increasing my information uptake and understanding. Then you take the notes, in your own words as much as possible. I do insert word-for-word sections in my notes if I think something is particularly important and I cannot personally think of a better way to articulate a point, but try not to overdo it. The act of thinking about what you are taking notes on helps to cement that knowledge into your brain.

Tip the fourth: pick a colour system. Yes, I highlight my own notes. It has actually become invaluable to me as a PhD student when I am looking for something specific in the notes I have taken. There is nothing quite so infuriating as being absolutely, positively CERTAIN you wrote down that thing about that other thing and then being completely incapable of locating it in your notes. If you have a working colour-code, this task becomes so. Much. Easier.

As you can see in the gallery above, there are four colours that form my primary code: pink, orange, blue and green. Each of these colours performs a different function, and indicate to me their content.

Pink indicates (for the most part!) a new section or, as in the example notes above, a new chapter. This lets me know that my notes are about to shift focus to a new topic. Sounds stupid, but this sort of indicator is actually really useful and a lot of the time it is overlooked.

Orange indicates an incident, operation, or event that I think is of interest. As a cyber scholar, there are a LOT of incidents, operations and events that are of (academic) interest. This just allows me to skim through my notes for particular cases, and then I can read the notes surrounding them.

Blue indicates important concepts and terms. Again, because I am a cyber scholar there is a lot to learn, and very often I come across terms or concepts which are new to me. Blue highlights let me know that these are concepts that are important to understand.

Green indicates actors or parties that are active in cyberspace, or potentially have an interest or stake in an incident, operation or event. This familiarizes me with the names of individuals, groups, agencies and militaries that are or have been active in cyberspace. Knowing these names can help you make connections you may not otherwise have seen as you move through the body of literature for your topic.

Other colours like yellow or purple are used here and there, but not in a systemic fashion; sometimes, just to emphasize something that doesn’t really fall into one of my system categories, which I think is still worth highlighting.

Tip the fifth: Save your work. I know these are only notes, but for the love of little green apples save them somewhere. I personally use Evernote and Evernote Scannable; I scan my notes once finished and save them to a notebook in Evernote. The photos above are just photos taken with my phone, and if you don’t want to use a scanner app go right ahead and just take pictures and email them to yourself or whatever. The point is, just friggin save your notes. Imagine what an absolute waste of time this would all have been if they get lost, stolen, or destroyed. Then where will you be when exam prep rolls around?! That’s right, you’ll be just fine because you did as I said and you saved your notes somewhere.

As an academic and a long-time student, I know this all sends like a hell of a lot of work, especially when you sit down and think about actually doing this for each and every assigned or important reading that you do. HOWEVER: it is going to be useful to you, and not just to exam prep. More and more often recently, I find myself turning to notes that I have taken over the past couple of years because they all of a sudden are pertinent to a new paper I am writing, or a proposal I am polishing, or better: I suddenly realize that a book or article I have notes on is actually the perfect reference for such-and-such section of my thesis. Huzzah! In addition, you may find that as you take these notes and break down the meaning the authors are trying to communicate, you will actually start percolating article ideas of your own. Understanding someone else’s work can lead you to further, publishable work of your own. That, my friends, makes all the effort of note-taking valuable far beyond exam preparation.

And as a bonus? You know stuff. Sort of the whole point of why you’re a student, isn’t it? To know stuff? All of this, all of the reading and the note-taking and the classes and the learning and the knowing stuff contributes to a foundation of knowledge that will eventually earn you the title of “expert in your field” that we Ph.D. candidates value so highly.

I hope this KIT system has helped you, or at least entertained you for the ten or so minutes this post took to read. If you do use this system or something like it, let me know in the comments or by sending me a message through the Contact Me page; I would love to hear from you!

Stay weird xxx

Baby Steps To Planet Saving, Step 1: The Charcoal Toothbrush

Hi nerds!

Excuse the frankly terrible photo quality; iPhone 5s….ahem. Maybe the lens was dusty as well. Maybe.

In this the first edition of Baby Steps To Planet Saving, I would like to introduce you to The Charcoal Toothbrush. The Charcoal Toothbrush is an awesome Australian company and product (peak efficiency at naming things) that is designed to reduce a little of the plastic with which we are polluting our beautiful oceans.

I first found this company through Taryn Smith’s Instagram account; she also runs the website A Bird With Beliefs, which is also definitely worth a look. Taryn had put up a post about this toothbrush she had bought, and what caught my eye was that fact that the toothbrush was almost completely biodegradable. That is to say, once its shelf life had expired (three months of use, if you didn’t know, which is the same as normal plastic toothbrushes) you could snap off the brush head for and whip it into the recycle bin, and the rest of it you could shove in the garden. To biodegrade. Within approximately six months. So, instead of buying four toothbrushes a year which are inevitable thrown away and usually end up in the ocean killing what wildlife we don’t actively and directly kill ourselves, you could buy a toothbrush that is biodegradable and recyclable. Because most plastics will last for ever and ever and ever and ever amen and a lot of them, despite those handy recycle bins we all have at home, can’t actually BE recycled. Hence the landfills. And the oceans. And other bodies of water which inevitably have human trash thrown in at some point.

Except these toothbrushes won’t. Because they’re made mostly of bamboo which will biodegrade, and the bristles are made of activated charcoal-infused nylon which is recyclable.

And before the inevitable questions, no, using bamboo to manufacture toothbrushes will not starve the pandas, because pandas do not eat the type of bamboo these brushes are made from; Charcoal Toothbrush foresaw that lance and put together a brush FAQ.

Another really awesome thing about Charcoal Toothbrush is that instead of purchasing one or a certain number of toothbrushes (which is possible, of course), you can purchase a year’s subscription, and they’ll automatically send you a new toothbrush every three months. This is pretty brilliant, because you don’t have to worry about replacing your toothbrush with the hygienic regularity you SHOULD, and because you pay for the subscription up front you don’t have to pay for toothbrushes again for a year. You’re helping beat back the environmental devastation we as a species are wreaking upon the planet (still the only one we have), and every charcoal toothbrush purchased helps another marine animal to live.

Baby steps to planet saving. We can’t do it all at once, but as they say in one of my favourite movies of all time: one raindrop raises the sea.

Step 1: The Charcoal Toothbrush.

Stay weird xxx

 

Banner image credit: The Charcoal Toothbrush