Silver Linings: Meditation and Your Brain

While randomly browsing across interesting courses on iTunes university, which I enjoy listening to while cooking or doing random housework, I discovered Stanford's 'How to Think Like a Psychologist".

The third lecture of this series is titled "Meditation, Anxiety and the Brain", by Dr. Phillipe Goldin who masterfully blends neuroscience, psychology and Eastern meditation practice.

Not only is it very interesting to see how meditation actually influences the patterns that can be seen in the brain, it also can work as a motivation for you to get started on meditation.

Consider meditation the necessary mental training your body needs, just like it needs exercise. I previously discussed how you can make it a habit, and a recommend all (PhD) students to use meditation to bring more clarity and focus to their minds.

Improve Your Public Speaking Skills

I'm not someone who naturally loves to go up on a stage and speak in public - and that's an understatement. One of my main challenges in 2012 was to deliver a talk for TEDx Delft Salon - and to my surprise, nobody ate me alive or ridiculed me.

When recently I came across Jenny Blake's brilliant article with 8 Ways to Practice and Improve your Public Speaking Skills, I found myself nodding along as I read.

In fact, I found so much value in Jenny's article that I revisited her list of 8 ways here, and gave them an academic twist. Here is my academic view on her list:

1. Download a free recording app on your phone. When you practice a presentation, record it. Not only will you get used to the cameras at conferences (sessions often are made available as a webinar or for members of the association that organized the conference). If you listen to your recording, pay special attention to your pauses. You need to understand that the pauses in your sentences give the listener the possibility to digest what he/she just heard.

2. Take three ujayii breaths before starting. Abdominal breathing for stress-reduction: we've discussed this topic previously, and this technique is my single most powerful too for centering before a stressful moment.

3. Make it a challenge for yourself to bring more awareness to your speech in every day interactions. Practice makes perfect - breathe from your abdomen, release the tension in your throat and practice continuously on speaking in a calm, composed way.

4. Give yourself a rating on scale of 1-5 after every class you teach (or training, or meeting you present at). Bonus: write a blog post or diary entry to reflect on how your (conference) presentation went. Also, if a recording is available, watch it in a non-judgmental way to see how you can improve.

5. Pretend you are speaking to a non-native English speaker or a five year old. The five year old might not apply to conferences, but keep in mind that you, and only you are the real expert in your field. Take enough time to introduce your topic, and avoid unnecessary jargon.

6. Channel/observe a speaker or teacher you really respect. At a conference, do not only pay attention to the contents of the speakers, but also to the way they have structured their presentation, how they talk and how they respond to questions.

7. Probably most important: ASK FOR FEEDBACK – often! If possible, have a trial run of a presentation with your supervisor, or for a small group of peer PhD students. They can help you improve before your real gig.

8. Clench and release a muscle several times before going up to speak. Jenny introduced this method to boost adrenaline and stop shaking. Along the same lines: practice powerposes!

How do you improve your public speaking skills? Share you experiences in the comments section!

Boyd at the Mid-South Eventing Association General Meeting

 Samantha Clark reported on the MSEDA General Meeting, where Boyd was the keynote speaker. Check out the following links for her interview, photos and video:

Trangia Triangle Burner Stand Review

I like gas stoves, but in the winter, the cold temperatures can be a problem. In the winter of 2011 I was discussing stoves with a backpacker I got talking to in the Dales. It was early October, the camping season was coming to an end, and the early mornings were cold. The gentleman I was talking to was having problems with his gas stove, it was very cold, so pressure in the gas canister was low. The flame on his stove just wasn't cutting it. He had to stuff the canister down inside his jacket to try and warm it up. There are alternative forms of gas, using an 85% Iso-butane/15% Propane mix, such as Snow Peak's GigaPower Fuel, but I find them harder to get hold of than the standard gas or alcohol.

When I'm out walking in the winter there are times when it's nice to take a stove and the means to make a drink or a meal to warm you up at some point along the walk. I've recently experienced cold gas cans and ice on my rucksack making a gas stove a struggle. On a friends recommendation I decided to buy a Trangia Stove and a Trangia Triangle stand.
The stand comes in at 115g, pretty light considering it will support quite a large heavy pot. Since the stand is quite wide it may be a little too big for some of the light pots available. The Alpkit MytiMug doesn't fit, it's too small and drops between the stand walls. To cure this I also purchased a Trangia Kettle, the small 0.6 litre version. The great thing is I can fit the Trangia stove, a fire-steel, some matches, and a cloth in the kettle. The Triangle then goes in a bag with the Kettle. When in use, this setup is very stable, a very small risk of the kettle falling off. Less risk than with a small gas stove.
Putting the stand together, once you've fathomed out which way to put the plates takes around a minute. Lighting the Trangia stove and waiting for it to prime varies. In normal temperatures, outside the winter cold, it can prime within a minute. In the zero degrees temperature I tested it in last weekend, it can take 2-3 minutes. A winter primer of some kind would go a long way to speed this up. Trangia make one, but any small primer flame under the stove will help. I've considered experimenting with a metal bottle top and some drops of alcohol to do this.
Once primed, the Trangia started to jet quite nicely, possibly aided by the airflow generated by the Trangia Triangle. It took 5-6 minutes to warm up half a litre of water, not in the realms of a Jetboil gas stove (to be tested soon), or my Coleman F1 Lite, but it was good considering the simplicity of the systems design.

The weight of components were:
The kettle weighs 140g
The Triangle weighs 115g
The burner, lid and simmer ring weigh 112g
The cloth depends on how big a cloth you want to carry, and a fire-steel can vary from the mini scout style to the large versions. Fuel to me seems to be the potentially heavy element in this setup. I've seen where a Jetboil used approximately 2g of gas to heat half a lighter of water. I would guess I used several times that amount in weight with the Trangia.
Compared to using a gas stove there is more time spent heating water for a meal or drink using a Trangia system. It's not particularly light when considering fuel, and it can be messy. But it is very reliable, it gets the job done, and it's more fun than a gas stove. So I don't consider it a replacement but an alternative. In extreme cold, it would be my go to stove system. Whether it stays that way, time will tell.