How to buy a Camping Tent

My friends and acquaintances all know I’m a camping guy – the guy to ask if you’ve got a camping question. The number one query I get is “What kind of tent should I buy?” This question generally comes from dads and moms who haven’t done a lot of camping but now their kids are in scouts and they have to figure out something because the outing is in two weeks.

I always tell them I have a ton of tents and they can borrow one of mine. But it’s nice to have your own tent, and honestly they’re pretty cheap. One of my favorite tents is a $25 one-man backpacking tent I got on the clearance rack at Academy. It packs down to nothing and has so far proven to be indestructible.

How many people are going camping?
This is the first question. Is your spouse going? How many kids do you have (and how old are they)? In other words, how many bodies will be sleeping in this thing and how big are those bodies? As a general rule you want to take the number of people, add one and that’s the size tent you need. So, for 3 people get a 4-man tent. You can cheat a little with small kids. For example, if it’s just you and two kids under 8, you can get by with a 3-man tent.

What features should I look for?
Your tent needs a bottom, first of all. That may seem obvious but I’ve been asked. The best tents have a thick, tarp-like bottom that extends up several inches. This is to keep water out. I’ve also been asked if you should set-up a tarp underneath your tent. I say no, especially if you already have a tent as I’ve described. Get a dome tent. They’ll have open netting at the top which is nice for warmer weather and a rain fly – basically a rain cover you attach in case of bad weather. These rain flies may not look like much but the good ones work well. May I present to you, my tent, the Coleman Sundome 4-man tent:

The Coleman SunDome: A good, basic 4-man tent for $80.

I Don’t Know How to Set a Tent Up
I get this a lot. “Can you show me how to set it up?” Nowadays, setting these things up is super-easy. For my Coleman, you lay it out and put stakes in the four corners, then you put together two tent poles and push them through loops in the top to make an X. Lastly, you push the tent poles up to make the two support archs you see in the pic, clicking the ends of the poles into little doodads in the corners. That’s it. I do suggest you set it up once at home. That way, when you set it up in the woods, in the dark, you’ll have already done it once.

What Not to Do
Don’t buy one of those quick “pop-up” tents unless it’s for just you. They’re small, usually only big enough for one medium-sized person. If you do get one, try it out before you get into the woods. Don’t overpay for a tent. I know it’s tempting to get a $400 North Face 4-season tent, but unless you’re camping every weekend in Alaska it’s probably overkill. Finally, don’t get too big of a tent. I see this a lot. It’s you and one kid in a 6-man mess tent. Who doesn’t love more space? The problem is that the tent will be harder to set-up and tear down, and take up more room at the campsite and in your car when packed up.

Final Words
When you go camping, you need to be able to get a decent night’s sleep. In addition to your brand-new tent, you’ll also want a blow-up mattress, either with a battery or foot pump, and ample pillows and blankets (or sleeping-bags). If it’s your first time, or your kids’ first time, set the tent up in your yard and let them play in it for few days. You can even do a test night sleeping in the tent in the yard, where you can bail out and get back in your bed if needed. All these things will increase your chance for everyone to get a good night’s sleep that first time in the woods.

Work Schedules & Biorythms – Update

It’s been over 18 months since I posted about a new work schedule and as I check in, I can say that it’s mostly worked! I still get going around 8:30am. One difference is I basically work straight until the lunch hour, taking a break mid-morning to get away from my computer, walk outside for a minute, or stretch. In that break, I may grab breakfast, or do one or two little things like the dishes, but then I GET BACK TO WORK. Finishing a cup of coffee makes a nice, natural break point.

If I have errands or things to do outside the house, I’ll safe that for after lunch. One difference is I’ve rented an office nearby that I can bike to. It’s in the downtown area, so if I meet someone for lunch e’ll meet downtown, then I end up at my office. I’ve found myself to be much more productive at my office in the afternoons. The change of scenery does me well.

If there are things around the house to do, I generally save those until “after work” which is around 4:30pm. My wife or I will try to have dinner ready by 6pm. One thing we’re working on is having dinner as a family more, or at least my wife and I eating together around the same time as my daughter. I recently read that talking as a family at dinnertime is more important than what you talk about.

I used to “take off” Monday mornings and Fridays for personal projects and me-time. Because of a particular project, I’ve had to work first-thing on Mondays, but as that project has wrapped up I’d like to get back to that idea of easing into the week. As for Fridays, I’ve been working a lot of them, but I’ve also been allowing myself to “take-off” random days in the middle of the week for personal things so it’s balanced out.

Every person is different and every family is different, but for 18 months now, this schedule is working for me.

Work Schedules & Biorythms

I’m self-employed. Like most self-employed people, motivating myself to actually work is a challenge. Balancing life with work is a challenge and so is being efficient. I’ve always felt that efficiency is one of the keys to a successful business. The key to making this thing work is to get maximum bang for your buck.

There are times of the day when I naturally feel like working, like in the morning before the phone starts ringing and other things begin to compete for my attention. There are times when I struggle to maintain focus, like right after lunch. These windows have moved around over the years, especially when I became a parent. I heard myself complaining to others that my mornings were consumed with getting our daughter ready for daycare which didn’t begun until 9am meaning my day started at 9:30, in the middle of my natural productivity window. By then there were usually several fires to put out and I felt pressed for time before we had to pick her up again, or I needed to go to a meeting or transition to another work location or project.

I’m trying something new in 2021. My daughter has started pre-K which means our mornings are shorter and I can get started as early as 8:30. Great, but more importantly, I’ve designated 8:30-10:30 as a time to get as much work done as possible. A morning sprint. I check my e-mails quickly, and create a prioritized To Do list for the morning. I push off e-mails that need long replies or research. I’ll allow myself to check the news for 5-10 minutes but no more and then I GET TO WORK. And because I know this is a sprint to 10:30, I know that I can get back to those e-mails or news stories then, when my morning sprint is over.

So far it’s working. When you work at home, all the little things you need to do around the house can distract you as well, especially when you’re thinking “I should do these now while the kids aren’t here to slow me down.” I’ve given myself permission to do some of those things from 10:30-12:30, which is also a time to make lunch and exercise. By giving myself time to do household chores, I can stay on top of them, meaning some days there aren’t many to do, giving me another slot of time for work or projects. If I need to leave the house to run errands, I group those tasks together with another list and do them after lunch, ideally at the “end” of my work day right before my daughter gets home.

7:00 – 8:30 Morning routine, get daughter to school
8:30 – 10:30 Morning Sprint
10:30 – 12:30 Chores, Lunch, Exercise
12:30 – 1:30 Project
1:30 – 3:00 Errands or Afternoon Sprint
3:00 – 4:30 Pick up daughter, playtime, chores.
4:30 – 6:00 Family Time, cook.
6:00 – 8:30 Dinner, Bedtime routine, clean-up
8:30 – 10:30 Couple time, relax

This is just a framework, but I’m oddly excited by the new schedule, I think because it’s working. By focusing on my naturally productive times and giving myself permission to not work when I don’t feel like it, I’m getting more done and feeling better about it too.

The Secret Life of Passwords

This incredible piece from the New York Times made the rounds this week. Ian Urbina dives deep into one of the most private, yet telling details of modern life: our passwords. In our attempt to make an increasing tangle of passwords memorable to us and only us, we construct them full of meaning.

These special passwords are a bit like origami: small and often impromptu acts of creativity, sometimes found in the most banal of places.
Keepsake passwords ritualize a daily encounter with personal memories that often have no place else to be recalled. We engage with them more frequently and more actively than we do, say, with the framed photo on our desk.

I thought about what my own passwords say about me. Some are jokes based on the very first password I was assigned by a Sysadmin back in college. That original password was itself a subtle joke. Another password, created with a fellow employee, commemorated the date a dispised boss of ours was fired. I also thought of what my passwords don’t say. Mine never contain truly personal information, like the names of loved ones. And most telling, my passwords are always pragmatic in structure. I never settle on a password without making sure it can be quickly typed, that it has a nice mixture of characters and symbols for the left and right-hand fingers. It must have a nice rhythm on the keyboard. I’ll be typing this password many times a day, the thinking goes. I can’t risk my fingers getting tied in a knot.

How do CEOs function on 4-5 hours of sleep?

This question on Quora elicited an enormous amount of feedback. Can a person function normally on 4-5 hours of sleep per night, and should they? Many contended that being able to sleep 4 hours per night is a genetic gift (hypo-sleepers) that can be aided by various techniques, such as finding the right time of the night to sleep, avoiding boring meetings and TV, or short-changing your carb load. Others argued that those that think they can function on little sleep are fooling themselves and jeopardizing long term health.

Some may think they’re special, and are performing optimally on a 4h sleep schedule. No, they’re not. You may think you are, and even feel good for “hacking” your body and extending the day by 15%. But the problem is: it’ll cost you a price, as it has been proven again and again… Like someone who’s had two drinks, and still thinks [they are] perfectly capable of driving.

I think we need our sleep. It’s admirable to think we can function normally on little rest. I experimented with this myself in my twenties until a much older friend advised that one of the things he’d learned in his long life was to get plenty of sleep, ideally 8 hours. He found that he was a better version of himself: less irritable, more careful and considerate, and capable of deeper thought. I took his advice and immediately found his findings to hold true with my own life. Since then, even in stressful times with busy schedules, I’ve given myself permission to get a full night’s sleep.


I love lists. I love making them and reading them.

Lists help me get organized and stay on task. I always have a To Do list on my desk. I’ll write a list of everything I need to work on, sometimes in categories, like “Urgent,” “Not-Urgent,” and “Personal.” I’ve made so many lists, I’ve developed shorthand for these categories: TTD (Things to Do), BB (Back-burners), and XXX (for Personal). I’ll usually put the day of the week at the top, especially if I am making a list for the next day, which I will often do as my last task of the day. When I look at my TTD lists, I’ll sometimes put roman numerals in front of different items to prioritize them: I, II, III, IV, etc. I cross things off when they are completely done, or put a check next to the item when I am done for now (maybe the ball is in the client’s court for a while). I don’t cross these tasks out, of course, because they’re not completed, just on pause.

When I make my list for the next day, I of course start off with the tasks I did not accomplish today. Because I am adding tasks all day long, this is usually enough, but I will try to think if there is anything else to add, usually to the BB list. I’ve found that I can sometimes get back-burner task fatigue where the same item is on this list for too long and will start to stress me out, so I will cull through the BB list and eliminate tasks that no longer seem important or realistic. But then where do THEY go? I played around with a DBB list (Deep back-burners) but that list REALLY stressed me out. By the way, this “stress” is from my overwhelming desire to get these things done, cross them off, and go on to the next thing. This desire is helpful for work, but can be problematic when the task is “relax more.”

I typically use a notepad of some kind — over the years I’ve used spiral notebooks, yellow legal pads, or just scratch pads — and I keep the older lists for reference. Think of it as a back-up. Creating and using these lists is so easy and helpful, it amazes me that so few people do this. I respect that everyone has their own system and some people are very good at keeping a TTD list in their heads, but I so often see people who bounce from task to task with poor priorities or routinely forget to do things and I wonder why they don’t just write things down. Why not make a list?

Another thing I make lists for is to organize my thoughts. In recent years, I’ve started mind-mapping, which is ultimately just a collection of lists. I take a page of paper, write a few central ideas in the center and four corners, then write ancilary ideas around the main themes. This helps me organize ideas with multiple parts or to see the relationships between them. But I’ll also make simple lists for fun, like my favorite movies, or iPad apps I want to try. For note syncing, I use Simplenote which syncs to a Mac app called Notational Velocity. It’s not perfect but it’s in the two places I need it the most, my iPhone and computer, and it works better than other solutions I’ve tried. I recently cleaned out my notes and found a few of these lists:

Ridiculous Fishing
Grand Theft Auto: Vice City
Modern Combat 3
World of Goo
Walking Dead: The Game
Tiny Tower
Superbrothers: Sword & Sorcery
Infinity Blade II

Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey
Public Enemy: Side Black, Side Silver
Top Gun Soundtrack
Weird Al Yankovic
Madonna: True Blue, Like a Virgin
Rolling Stones
Howard Jones: Human’s Lib
Ray Stevens
Cruisin’ Classics
Fine Young Cannibals
David Bowie: Tonight
Miami Vice Soundtrack
Sting: Dream of the Blue Turtles
Best of Cinderella
Eric Clapton: Tears in Heaven
Empire Strikes Back Soundtrack
Yello: Oh Yeah!

1. The Big Burn by Timothy Egan (Non-fiction, Teddy Roosevelt, History)
2. How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer
3. The Contortionist’s Handbook: A Novel by Craig Clevenger
4. The Simpsons: An Uncensored, Unauthorized History by John Ortved
5. Dark Summit: The True Story of Everest’s Most Controversial Season by Nick Heil
6. Googled: The End of the World as We Know It by Ken Auletta
7. Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain, One-Straw Revolution by Fukuoka, Oishinbo by Kariya (manga)
8. Shop class as Soul work: Anatomy of the working class
9. Badass by Ben Thompson
10. Babel 17 by Samuel Delany

FAVORITE BOOKS in my Library:
1. Confessions of an Economic Hit-man by John Perkins – (Non-fiction, Politics)
2. The Mysteries of Pittsburg by Michael Chabon (Also: Wonder Boys) – (Fiction)
3. Freakanomics by Steven Levitt- (Non-fiction, Economics)
4. Blood & Thunder, the Story of Kit Carson & the West by Hampton Sides- (Non-fiction, History)
5. Catch 22 by Joseph Heller – (Classic Fiction, WWII)
6. Nova by Samuel Delaney – (Fiction, Sci-fi)
7. Into the Wild (Also: Under the Banner of Heaven) by John Krakaur- (Non-fiction, Journalism)
8. Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegutt – (Classic Fiction)
9. Catcher and the Rye by J. D. Salinger – (Classic Fiction)
10. Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins – (Fiction)
11. The Book of Guys by Garrison Keillor – (Fiction)
12. In Search of Captain Zero by A.C. Weisbecker (Also: Cosmic Banditos) – (Fiction)

Beets, Broccoli, Cabbage, Carrots, Cauliflower
Celery, Chinese Cabbage, Collards, Endive
Kale, Kohlrabi, Lettuce, Mustard
Onions (green and bunching types)
Peas, English
Potatoes, Radish, Turnips

tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants, melons
beans (bush, pole, snap), summer squash, beets, carrots, and chard
basil oregano, thyme and sage

FLOWERS: sunflowers, cosmos, zinnias

Solar charger for iPhone:
Lightweight backpack list:
Another link:
CLOTHING: Trail runners, shirt, short, underwear, socks, extra top layer, hat/visor, sunglasses, rain gear. Extra: underwear, shit, socks X2.
SHELTER: Tarp w rope/stakes, ground cloth, sleeping bag, neo-air matress, netting, dry bag.
COOKING: Spork, lighter X2, stove & fuel, cook set, water bottle & purification tablets. Aluminum foil, ziplocks.
TOILET: Toothbrush, soap, chapstick, etc. First aid kit, wet ones, cloth.
EXTRA: Knife, headlamp & batteries, whistle, compass, cord 45′, solor charger, moleskin & pencil, iPhone & charger.

MOVIES TO SEE (From IMdb Top 250):
(* denotes Oscar win)

Infernal Affairs
Roman Holiday
Diving Bell & the Butterfly
The Wild Bunch
Stalag 17
V for Vendetta
On the Waterfront*
Down Fall
Cool Hand Luke
8 1/2
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolfe
Paths of Glory
The Hustler
All About Eve*
A Separation
A Few Dollars More
The Deer Hunter**

Best Pictures:
Driving Mrs. Daisy
Out of Africa**
Terms of Endearment***
Chariots of Fire
Midnight Cowboy
From Here to Eternity

Best Director:

Best Actor:
Life is Beautiful
Reversal of Fortunes
My Left Foot
Kiss of Spiderwoman
On Golden Pond*
Coming Home*
Tender Mercies
Goodbye Girl
Henry & Tonto
Save the Tiger

Best Actress:
Iron Lady
The Reader
La Volce a Rose
The Hours
Boys Don’t Cry
Blue Sky
The Piano
Howard’s End
The Accused
Children of a Lesser God
The Trip to Bountiful
Places in the Heart
Sophie’s Choice
Norma Rae
Alice Doesn’t Live Here
A Touch of Class
Women in Love

NOTES: As of 8/11/12
I have seen 170 of IMdbs Top 250.
47 of Top 50
85 of Top 10
32 of last 42 Best Pictures (7 missing from 1978-1985)

Sleep Cycle

To use Sleep Cycle, you place an iPhone on your mattress while you sleep. This $0.99 app is able to monitor your body movements with the iPhone’s built-in accelerometer, thereby tracking your sleep cycles. It charts how much deep sleep you are receiving, when you are going in and out of R.E.M. sleep, and a true average of the sleep you’re achieving. By monitoring your cycle, this clever app can attempt to wake you up at your most natural wake state within 30 minutes of your alarm time.

When I first heard of Sleep Cycle, I got excited and immediately downloaded it before realizing that the app probably wouldn’t work in the bed I share with my wife. Wouldn’t it pick up her movements, rendering all collected data unusable? The app sat on my iPhone, never used, until I finally decided to try it this week. Sleep Cycle calibrates itself the first two nights, adjusting for the variables in your bed, mattress, and pillow. So far the results are good. After placing the iPhone on my side of the bed, the app seems to accurately track my specific cycles. If you have a king-sized bed or a tempurpedic mattress, Sleep Cycle’s results should be nearly perfect. Worried about overnight cellphone signals close to your head? Simply put your iPhone in airplane mode. Sleep Cycle’s biggest inconvenience is that because the app runs all night, you’ll have to plug your iPhone into the wall. If you can convince your wife to put up with a power cord coming out of your pillow, you can start enjoying a good night’s sleep.