Some people who know me, know that I’m niggard. I mean really niggard. Though I sometimes enjoy spending money on something, I try to save as much of it as possible. It started some years ago, and ever since I have been questioning my spendings regularly. I question whether I have too much and I ask myself if I have enough.
I try to make “smart” expenditure choices. An expenditure is quite simply explained. In our modern culture, you have a problem, you go into a store, you buy something to solve that problem, you go home, and apply the thing you just bought, to solve the problem. It’s comfortable for most of us. There’s many many problems we have and that we like to get solved. That’s why there are so many startups and companies who like to solve these problems for us. They charge money for their solution. And that is the price we literally pay. We exchange money for comfort.
Some of the items we buy fall into the “needed for survival” category, like food. Some of the items are “luxury goods” like apps, music, and movies. I see lots of people who spend money on things needed for survival thoughtlessly. Survival items are not questioned. It’s a thought that not occurs to many. The thought that even if something is needed for survival, the thing a supermarkt offers may not be the best option to get.
Now “best” is controversial in and of itself. What you prefer to buy is influenced by various factors like quality, if it was made naturally, and sustainable, etc. Often an item that is of higher quality is also more expensive, though that is not always the case because what is also involved in determining the price of an item is how complicated it is to manufacture. Say you have the problem that you want something red to your pasta. Something to surround your pasta that is of fluid quality. Something that tastes like tomato and herbs. If you don’t know anything about the process of making tomato sauce and you have no tendency to get into learning it, and you also don’t have the time to make your own or learn cooking, then buying a pre-made tomato sauce is a plausible choice. But as many people who can cook will tell you, making tomato sauce is really not that difficult and you can save a ton of money.
So this is my theory. The more you know, the more you are able to dissect and question an existing product in terms of its quality. And the more you know, the easier it is for you to make your own products, therefore potentially saving money. (Or making a product that is more individually tailored to your personal needs.)
I did write about saving money in the past. That previous post was mainly addressing luxury goods. In this post I’d like to focus on consumable goods and mentioned “needed” items.
What it boils down to is mostly this: do it yourself, roll your own.
You don’t know how much stuff you can do by yourself. Easily within minutes. A couple of examples.
- You can double your shampoo with gelatine.1
- Prepare food at home. This way you get more healthier food, pay less, and you won’t have to be worried where to get food from because you have it with you already.
- Check your subscriptions and try to find cheaper alternatives.
- Your gym membership. How often do you go? For the amount of money you pay, is it necessary to pay that amount?
- Internet. Does it really need to be the fast connection?
- Phone. I switched to a new mobile provider recently and save about 60% compared to my old provider.
- Internet-based subscriptions: all those little $1/month subscriptions add up.
- I took Gabe’s idea and made a spreadsheet with my subscriptions. It may not make sense to you because you may be thinking “How many subscriptions do I really have? This is ridiculous! I don’t need this!” But just do it! You’ll be surprised how much stuff you pay for regularly.
Over the last years, according to numbers, I save about €200/month more now. That is quite a huge number, isn’t it? It didn’t come easily from one day to the next, it took effort. Interested to know what changed? Read on.
The main reason I write this article are my investigations in the realms of beauty products. Beauty products are not makeup or things “a man doesn’t need”. I am a man, mind you. But a man can still be a manly-man, clean, and save money. I’ve been “hacking” beauty products since the end of 2013. These are the results of my research and investigations. Though I acquired most of this research in 2014, the soap for showering example is from 2011-2013.
As I’ve written earlier, I’m questioning the obvious. The obvious is stuff we are told by the industry to use. Stuff like “here’s shampoo, it makes your hair good.” I haven’t found much information that said that shampoo is required for good hair. In fact when looking at the history of humanity, shampoo is an item that is actually not that old. It’s mainly soap. All those years before human didn’t need shampoo. Why now? What would happen if you exchange shampoo with a bar of soap? I can tell you what happens. Exactly nothing. Your hair is a little more squeaky after the shower, but otherwise I wasn’t able to observe any negatives, if you call squeakyness a downside that is. I switched back to shampoo 6 months or so ago, but quickly searched for articles on how to “stretch” the usage.
If you take anything from this article, then this: do a quick research to see if you find a recipe to “stretch” the usage of a product. In the case of shampoo, you can double the amount with something as simple as gelatine, without adding anything negative to the product and you can still use “shampoo” for showering, if the thought of not using shampoo for your hair scares you.
The same goes for other items as well. Cremes, for instance, can often be replaced with oils. If you have (really) sensitive skin, this is a secret tip: use natural oils for your skin. You’ll be surprised by the effects, and how happy your super-sensitive skin will be.
If you want to take it up a notch, you can roll your own products relatively easy. There are tons of recipes you can find online for everything. From "make your own soap" to "make your own lotion". I actually actually find making soap quite a nice experience. It takes about an hour to make, but afterwards you have soap for a year at least. And it makes a good present.
All these things don’t save you €30 here and €20 there. It’s all just €3 per month per item, but it adds up to €30 and more easily!
Try to buy cheaper alternatives for things like an Olloclip2, on a site like AliExpress or Amazon. You’ll be amazed by how much of the items you can purchase cheaper, that are exactly the same item as the more expensive version.
You can ask yourself if you really need the main brand name of a certain product, or if the cheaper alternative does the trick. I would recommend to set preferences and focus points. Personally I’m not hugely into photography, but I do like to take some artistic pictures occasionally. I’m fine with the ten-dollar-version of the Olloclip. The lens may not be as well thoughtout and manufactured as an Olloclip, but it does the job.
You may have different focus areas. Maybe eletronics are not as important to you as getting the brand name in the clothing area. That’s cool. Just (try to) make smart purchase decisions. That is all.
I thought I’d share one of my iOS photo workflows. It’s always in the flux; changes often, never stays quite the same. But there’s a general approach I take that makes sense. Most people don’t seem to know how to make good pictures, I thought I’d share some considerations when taking photos and how to make a good photo look great.
Taking a picture
Taking the picture is the process of getting what you want to capture from the real world into your device. Here are some general tips and things most people do wrong in the capturing moment.
- Make what you want to capture the center of the photo. Make it as big as possible. This means the space around what you want to capture is not as important as the thing you want to capture. It doesn’t make sense to have anything else on the picture, than the thing you want to capture. Except(!) when it makes sense to have more space left, or right, or above, or below artistically.
- While you are framing the picture, also make sure to make a straight picture. The object you want to take a picture of should align with the edges of your device. Some apps have a grid they can show.
- If your app can show a grid you can use it to make the center of your image slightly off-center. This generally creates a more interesting picture.
- Lighting is important. If the lighting is not optimal, that’s not a big drawback. Tap the object that you like to take a picture of on the screen. Your device will try to focus it. If the image gets too dark or too bright, try an object in the near vacinity. This will ensure the focus is still good on your main object, but the lightness will be adjusted to make the picture look better overall. If the lighting doesn’t seem to get better tap something else on the picture to make your device focus it. Take the picture when you feel happy with the lighting.
Takeaway: Take care of framing, leveling, and lighting your main object well.
After the picture has been taken, you can work on optimizing it. Generally most apps have decent tools for optimization adjustments, but it is recommendable to follow a certain pattern. I’m not religious to follow the same steps every time, it is better to take care of the same things every time. These are, again: framing, leveling, lighting.
At the moment I like SKRWT for the first round of optimization. The app has some really neat tools to focus on the main object. In my example you can see that I made slight adjustments to the rotation, but I also reduced the space on the edges to focus more on the main object — the logo of this company. Play with the app and you can get a feel of its power and usefulness.
After this first optimization step I like to focus on colors and brightness. At the moment Perfectly Clear does a good job here. The app has a sole focus on “fixing” levels, brightness, contrast, and several other things. Some rules of thumb:
- Some people think that boosting the brightness of a picture makes the picture brighter, and better. The entire picture does become brighter with a brightness adjustment, but it is the entire picture, not just problematic areas. If your app supports it, you can usually do a much better brightness job by adjusting high, mid, and dark levels instead.
- Contrast: also a misunderstanding is the concept of “contrast” in a picture. Adding too much contrast makes the picture look like a comic. It is normally better to play within the 10% range max, before going crazy with it. Try to get a feel for very small contrast changes and how they affect your picture, then you can use a contrast slider much more effectively to achieve a certain look.
- If your app has a histogram, you can narrow the “used” colors to only those colors that are actually in the picture. A histogram will usually have a space on its top or low bottom, or both, where the picture has no colors. You can normally pretty safely narrow the color range to only those colors in the histogram. It is generally better though, to leave a little room on the top and bottom edge, so the picture doesn’t become too bright or dark. In the correction step for brightness and contrast, the histogram should come first, but as mentioned, your app needs to have a histogram in the first place, which most apps don’t have.
In my example you can see that after the second correction the image is much clearer.
For corrections I use: SKRWT, Perfectly Clear, Camera+, ProCamera, Photoshop Express, and Photogene (has a histogram), and Facetune.
Now that you have optimized your image, and if you don’t want to share it with other Hipsters on Instagram, you are done. Just leave the picture as it is now, but if you want to get some likes, add filters.
In my example I went with a heavily blue-ish filter that adds a lot of noise to the picture. I have several filter apps, but some just stay on my iPhone as the go-to standards. Camera+, ProCamera, PicsPlay Pro, VSCOcam, Photoshop Express (really good!), Stackables, Picfx.
In case you like to apply some more, less common, filters to a picture. Try something like PowerUp or Decim8.
My main goal with this piece was to give you an idea what “taking a good picture” actually means. What things to look for, what things a lot of folks do wrong, and how you can improve your own workflow and eyes.
I just finished the book The Compleat Gentleman by Brad Miner. The Compleat Gentleman is a very good book on chivalry, the history of the gentleman, and manliness.
The book is not entirely made for “man” though. That is far from how I see it. This book perfectly explains the gentleman, and a woman can be a gentle-“man” too, because as Miner often repeats, the gentleman is: a warrior, a monk, and a lover. I can’t see any reason why a woman shouldn’t be able to acquire these traits. A term more familiar may be “noblewoman” or something along those lines.
The Compleat Gentleman was a read that closed one loop for me. The one that goes from far-east Buddhism and martial arts back to our western culture in terms of religion and fighting.
Our european culture doesn’t have monks that are nearly as cool as Buddhist monks. They don’t use weapons very artistically and living an abstinent life doesn’t sound very appealing. But sheer Son Goku-like powers, laser-sharp focus, and living a life of purpose sounds really cool.
While the eastern Buddhist sounds attractive, we, or rather I, often forget about the fact that our culture has monks too. They may not be using weaponry but they live a life of purpose, though their religion is different from Buddhism. Religions have a lot of common ground. Religions are about spirituality — your mind. Religion is about what we think. Controlling our thoughts.
We also control how we deal with certain situations with our head. If we get offended by a stranger at night, we can decide how we want to handle things. If you are aware of the situation, mindful, and present, you have the choice to not be offended, make a remark, or raise your fists. This differentiates the gentleman from other man. A gentleman is present in the moment. The buddhist monk and, for sake of easier argumentation, the western monk are really not that different.
Warriors are a thing we are much more common with. The military campaigns from medieval times. A time where warriors were needed to safe innocent civilians from hostile enemies.
Later when these rough times evolved into a time where the warrior didn’t solve so much purpose anymore, the western martial artist also had to evolve to survive. Knights fought against each other. They still served the civilians, though their focus was not entirely on fighting anymore. The knight was a more elaborate version of the coarse, rough, warrior.
Even further in the future, when monarchism was replaced by democracy, knights evolved into the gentleman. A man more noble than a civilian, but of lesser nobility than a monarch.
A gentleman was a man who thought about his steps. A man who didn’t just react. A man who practiced his skills for years and years, making him a monk in his field. The gentleman was, or is, a person who knows his stuff. The gentleman is a man who has acquired skills through learning and practicing over and over and over again. This is as true today, as it used to be.
The gentleman is a person, including women, who never stops to learn what is important. Today it is not so important anymore to be able to use sheer violence to get forward in life. Other skills are more useful:
- Problem solving
It becomes clear that the gentleman is not an old outdated version of the knight. It is the best version of the ninja our western culture has to offer. A gentleman is as knowledgable in spirituality, as he is in science.
This is probably going to be hardest to explain. A lover is not Mr. Multi-Macho. A lover is someone who loves. Love doesn’t begin, or stop, with the love to another human being. Love is for things too. We love the world around us. We love to be able to wake up every morning and breath. It is love when you hold on for a moment and admire the beautiful world around yourself. When you see the good in the world. But you also see the bad. You see the things that are not so nice, the things that are not so full of love and not in mutual agreement. It is the person who sees these things that also has the might to decide whether it is more appropriate to use the monk or the warrior skills.
A lover is a person who takes care, someone who doesn’t hurt or shame unnecessarily. We do not hurt, we agree to relationships, and we do not ignore decisions being made in that relationship. I am against saying that love only exists in a one-man-one-woman relationship. It doesn’t matter if you, or I, or any other person, decides to live in a multi-relationship or a same-sex-relationship as long as the relationship is based on respect, mutual agreement, and love.
The Warrior, the Monk, and the Lover
The gentleman is, in this sense, your own truest form. It will be your life goal to perfect your skills and learn new ones. Every day you will have to get out and fight for yourself and what is holy to you. Sometimes you will have to be aggressive, sometimes you will have to be tender. Don’t forget to connect with yourself to reach your life’s goal.
Voice Dream Reader - Is a Dream TTS (Text-to-Speech) App for iOS That Reads Instapaper, Pocket, and ePub
Voice Dream Reader - is a dream to read Instapaper, Pocket, and ePub on your iOS device
I saw Voice Dream Reader recommended when I was looking for TTS (text-to-speech) apps for iOS. My Instapaper queue kept getting longer and longer and I was just not able to read everything that I really wanted to read. I rarely listen to podcasts these days, and sometimes I just don’t want to listen to audiobooks on my commute. I figured iOS’ Speak Selection would be a good alternative, but it’s clunky and the voices don’t sound too good. It’s also not very comfortable to activate “speak selection” on a bike…
Voice Dream Reader is an ugly looking app that solves this problem greatly. It integrates with Pocket, Instapaper, Dropbox and some other services. It allows to download “read later” articles so they can be spoken in Voice Dream Reader. The integration could be better, I sent my suggestions already. For instance I personally prefer to delete read articles, rather than archiving them because in about 90% of the times it will never occur to me “oh, right, didn’t I have this fancy article about topic x?” Almost 100% of the times I will more likely be “let’s just type it into Google.” You get the point. I’d prefer to delete, or archive, but as the button falsely advertises, it doesn’t delete, it deletes from Voice Dream Reader, and archives on Instapaper.
Small problems like these aside. I really do like Voice Dream Reader. It can auto-advance (with an additional audible cue) to next articles, how many lines are visible, it even comes with OpenDyslexic. Best part are the purchaseable voices. There are voices from Ivona, Acapela and NeoSpeech plus the 36 free built-in iOS voices. Voice Dream Reader is comparatively expensive. The app is $10. Depending on the voice additional ones are $1.79, $2.49, or $4.991. I don’t like the ones for 2.49. The synthesis quality is really bad. I do like the 4.99 Ivona ones, though. Surprisingly the 1.79 voices come second in my preference. If you don’t purchase additional voices, don’t worry, the iOS built-in ones are not too bad!
I was hesitant to purchase this app because there are workarounds.
- I could generate MP3s and build a personal podcast out of my Instapaper cue on my Mac. This would have required additional work. I don’t like additional work.
- There’s a relatively new competitor on the iOS App Store that looks much much better than Voice Dream Reader, named NaturalReader. NaturalReader has a desktop background. They’ve got a free NaturalReader app to convert text to MP3 files. They sell a desktop version of NaturalReader in Personal, Professional, and Ultimate tiers. NaturalReader is free on iOS, which almost sold me on the product, but it doesn’t sync. To get books synced across devices, they sell NaturalReader Cloud. An inexpensive $100/year purchase. 100 bucks for a cloud? Don’t get me wrong, you get a ton of stuff with NaturalReader Cloud. Some of their non-free offline voices, OCR function… but 100 dollar is a hefty price point for “sync”. NaturalReader also doesn’t integrate with Instapaper or Pocket.
On the other end there’s Voice Dream Reader, made by an individual and independent developer. It may not be as shiny as NaturalReader, but the app is longer on the store, it has never even once been replaced by an entirely new app one have to purchase again, the developer is open for discussion, etc. That’s the kind of stuff that gets me sold on an app. Not a shiny interface (though that would be nice too).
I hope I got the price tiers right. ↩