Descending Beinn Alligin, Torridon, 2013

Try not to be amazed, confused and maybe a bit tearful, when you read my plans for 2014

My first plan for 2014 is not to use upworthy-style headlines to drive people to my blog again, but since you’re here, why not take a glance?

Over the past few years, I’ve tried to make plans for the upcoming year.

Read over some of my plans for the coming year from 2013201220102009 – all guaranteed to make me cringe, and you giggle.

For 2014, there are various things I’d like to do: (in no order)

  • Pass my driving test and take lots of post-test tuition.

    • I don’t need or want a car in central Manchester, but I would like to be able to drive/hire cars for long trips.
    • I’ve taken about 30 hours of tuition in central Manchester in 2013, but haven’t sat my practical test yet.
    • I’m not really interested in it for the ‘reduced’ insurance premiums, and I think I’ll find motorways relatively similar to motorway-style dual carriageways.
    • My aims are to:
      • be a safe driver by having experience evaluating the complex and worst case road scenarios and thinking through the best course of action.
      • be able to park and manoeuvre with impressive precision.
      • get experience driving different vehicles (small vans, automatics, non-power steering, 4×4, trailers etc.)
      • get experience with less-than-optimal road conditions (snow, single-track, rain, night, steep hills etc)
    • I’ve booked my practical test in early February, so I’ll prepare for that, and we’ll take it from there.
  • Learn a new sport (or several)

    • This year I’ve learnt to climb. I wouldn’t say I’m very good, but I know enough basics to pass them on to other people.
    • Often people pose the question, “what would you do if money was no object?”. Well, I’d learn a new, exciting adventure sport (or maybe several). So that’s what I’m going to try and do.
    • I’m quite interested (at some point) in learning to:
      • snowboard
      • hangglide/paraglide
      • pilot/glide
      • jetski (without being a dick)
      • windsurf
      • surf
      • kayak (whitewater and/or sea)
      • ski (cross country and/or downhill)
    • Other stuff that is on the list but isn’t really as appealing:
      • skydiving
      • caving
      • horse-riding
    • For the moment, I’m learning to snowboarding at chillfactore in Manchester, and we’ll take it from there.
  • There are several skills I’d like to develop:

    Climbing indoors in Manchester
    Climbing indoors in Manchester
    • Photography:

      • I’m really pleased with what I’ve done in 2013, it’s been a big step up from 2012
      • I’ve started combining it with climbing, and I want to do more climbing/mountaineering photography
      • I’m hoping this year that perhaps I can take more landscape/action sports photos with people in shot.
      • I want to be better at framing and composition – specifically I want to break ‘the rules’ more – things like:
        • overexposing the sky on purpose
        • chopping off the top of peoples heads (just on photographs though!)
        • shooting greyscale
    • Climbing:

      • I’m really pleased how can far I’ve come since I started in March:
        • Indoors: I’ve led some 5+’s. I can currently top-rope some 6a’s.
        • Outdoors, I’ve done various little bits, but most significantly I’ve seconded a trad HS route.
      • This year, I’d like to:
        • Develop my stamina on overhangs (which are often within reach in terms of difficulty, but are too tiring).
        • Do more outside:
          • second more easy trad routes.
          • setting up some top ropes on easy climbs/grade 2/3 scrambles, to make fun scrambles better protected.
        • Improve my knowledge of different roping techniques, such as:
          • what to do if you drop your belay device
          • how to get down from high places
          • how to place simple gear on easy trad routes
          • how to setup a belay
          • do more multi-pitch trad routes
          • gain knowledge in snow related ropework and belays
    • Descending Beinn Alligin, Torridon, 2013
      Descending Beinn Alligin, Torridon, 2013
    • Mountaineering/Hiking/Walking

      • I’ve done a lot in 2013:
        • Snow camping on Pennines, camping to Langdale, winter mountaineering in Torridon, backpacking in the Mammores, exploration/backpacking in Kyrgyzstan
        • Assorted day hikes
      • Whilst I’ve done some impressive things in 2013, I feel I got out less frequently in 2013 than I did in 2012. I’d like to spend more days on the mountains in 2014
      • I’d like to improve my micro-navigation skills.
      • I’d like to do more things in snow.
        • In Jan/Feb/March, I’m planning to do several days winter backpacking fun, possibly in Scotland.
      • I’m going back to Skye around Easter and am on standby to decamp into a tent in the Peak District at the first sign of a snowy weekend.
    • Public speaking

      Speaking at FLOSSK13 in Pristina, Kosovo
      Speaking at FLOSSK13 in Pristina, Kosovo
      • I’ve done various bits of public speaking in the past, this year I even ‘keynoted’ at the FLOSSK13 conference in Pristina,
      • I think I have what it takes to be quite good at public speaking – confidence, interesting anecdotes, and the patience to try and breakdown high level concepts into things other people can understand, all wrapped up in a compelling narrative.
      • I’d like to do more public speaking events, of all sizes, and I need to establish a way of doing that, and find a style and set of topics I’m comfortable with. I’m considering joining Toastmasters.
    • Systems Engineering

      • I quite enjoy making systems do things. In the past when I’ve been on holiday, after several days I’ve found myself designing scalable live video streaming platforms in my head.
      • In the past I’ve blogged about systems a bit, but I’d like to investigate and play with more tools and test them different situations.
      • In particularly, I’d like to become more familiar with Varnish-ESI, which is currently powering this blogs Recently Added Articles box (though not in a very effective way) and discover and play with more server tools like that, which can do exciting things.
      • I’d like to play with Varnish-ESI, Icinga,
    • Personalised mug at Barcamp Blackpool 2013
      Personalised mug at Barcamp Blackpool 2013

      Marketing

        • In 2013, I’ve spent a good deal of my time thinking about marketing, promotional and communication questions – from reading a book on crisis PR and blogging about epic customer service, to visiting 20+ conferences for work and getting personalised mugs into the hands of thousands of people.
      • In 2014, I’d like to:
        • improve my analytical skills in rapidly prototyping and iterating campaigns and pulling conclusions from from them.
        • find better ways to understand of the potential customers, so as to tailor things to them as best possible.
        • improve at identifying areas where the users see the most pain. and then optimising those processes to reduce wasted unnecessary steps (essentially applying the Toyota Way to web-service end users).
        • understanding and using ‘clever’ and perhaps underused strategies to create self-amplifying campaigns.
        • improve my understanding or how good and bad PR works, in industries I’m unfamiliar with.
    • Programming

      I'd like to learn to understand programming better
      I’d like to learn to understand programming better
      • I can write basic bash scripts, and in the past I’ve written trivial programs in PHP, C++ & Javascript.
      • For a long time, I’ve largely been only able to read/hack around with high level programming environments. Obviously this has lots of benefits and can get you a long way, but even a small, self-written bit of code added to an existing codebase which does something I need, would be a massive step forward.
      • My ambition here isn’t really to become a good programmer, but simply be more literate, and able to use tools better to get things done.
      • I’d like to
        • Meticulously go back through a basics book for a common programming language to make sure I understand the concepts that frequently occur correctly.
        • Make sure I under some basics in procedural programming.
        • Learn to use these limited skills to manipulate a library/existing codebase that does stuff I want.
        • Have a look round and see where I want to get to next.
  • Lose weight

    • At the start of January 2013, I weighed 11 & 1/2 stone. I currently weigh 13 & 1/2 stone.
    • Losing weight makes Mountaineering easier (less weight on knees), it makes climbing easier (less weight on arms) and whilst it doesn’t make photography easier, it would leave more room for weighty camera gear!
    • I have enacted low carb diet, round two.
    • In 2014, I’d like to reach and maintain 11 stone, and then develop a sustainable lifestyle around that weight band.
  • Blog More

    • It’s super embarrassing that there are 3 months in this year where I didn’t publish a single blog post.
    • I don’t expect anyone reading to find it embarrassing, but I do – I enjoying writing blog posts. It’s challenging, and often very fulfilling to get my thoughts into a coherent shape..
    • I’d like to do a month of blogging again, but I don’t feel that frenetic “months of blogging”, with large gaps in between them, is the way it has to be.
  • Read more.

    • I grew up without a TV and when I was a child, before I had a computer, I ingested most knowledge through books. Then dialup came along, and suddenly, everything was a short-form article or video consumed  through a screen of distractions.
    • I am resistant to DRM-encumbered ebook platforms, but I enjoy dead-tree-style reading materials and have a great deal of books I’d like to read.
    • In 2014, I’d be very happy if I got through 24 decent length books from my “unread” shelf. I think its ambitious, but not unrealistic.

      Smoke and Lasers!
      Smoke and Lasers!
  • Socialise more.

    • Over the past year, I’d say I’ve done quite well at channeling and training introverted & extroverted sides for different tasks. I love my solitude, but I also enjoy catching up with friends.
    • Last autumn/winter, I held two ‘epic parties’, that were great, but on reflection aren’t going to be repeated. (Too large, too inpersonal, too disparate).
    • This year, I think I’ll try and arrange several gatherings, that are smaller in size, but more focused and perhaps easier to enjoy.
    • I’d like to try to perhaps aim to spend at least one day a week socialising with people who I don’t see every week – which is a great excuse to make contact with old friends.
  • Travel as much as is appropriate

    • I don’t have any particularly noteworthy travel plans, nor do I have particularly strong urges to go anywhere right now.
    • Most plans, I have tend to be semi-spontaneous, or preplanned and then rapidly executed when the occasion arrives.
    • On balance, I probably prefer solo-travel due to reduced communication requirements, and not feeling responsible for others’ welfare.

      Me and my fixer Jules in Kyrgyzstan
      Me and my fixer Jules in Kyrgyzstan
    • My current travel interests
      • Currently I’m interested in (historically) Russian/Soviet influenced areas (particularly Baltic states, Eastern areas of Europe and Central Asia), the Middle East and Northern Africa.
      • I have a personal preference to climates that don’t stray far outside ~-10C -> ~25C whilst I’m there.
      • I’m not a fan of painful insects (mosquitoes, midges, etc), parasites, viruses or large omnivorous animals (bears).
      • I prefer countryside to cities, cold to heat, cheap to expensive, obscure to well-touristed, quiet to busy, self-planned to chaparoned.
      • Selfishly, I prefer countries where a significant proportion of the population’s first or second language is English, Russian, French or Swedish.
    • I’d like to do more travel on a bike in 2014. I don’t really have an ideal bike for this, not that it’s stopped me before.
    • The chances are 2014 offers a few scenic tours of the UK, perhaps with one trip somewhere cool abroad, but if the opportunity presents itself, you’ll just see a blur as I grab my stuff and go!

And that’s it! I think that’s all my current plans and aspirations for 2014. What do you think?

Do you think I should be focusing on something I’m not?

Explain in the comments! :)

A Blog Post A Day: Looking Back

31 days ago, I set out to write a blog post for every day in November.

The low points:

  • Posting various relatively poorly formatted, rushed or somewhat rambling posts that are probably below par.
  • Rushing to midnight deadlines
  • Desparately trying to push posts online at 11:50pm via GSM on a train!

The high points:

  • Completing various blog posts I’ve wanted to write for a long time. In particularly, I’m pleased to have posted:
  1. War. Peace. Who remembers them?
  2. How I sneaked into the tech industry without a degree and got my first job.
  3. Death: a free trial, but no one cancels.
  4. Why am I vegetarian? A two decade retrospective.

It’s interesting to note that mostly, those are quite personal articles – perhaps I’ve just not had the nerve to post them previously?

  • It was fun

It was actually a lot more fun than I feared it might be. Compared to February where I largely tried to post things, not necessarily write things, I feel that even the blog post with the least amount of writing is worthy. I was very tempted to do some posts with just photos, but I never could justify it given my stack of half-finished posts.

I actually surprised myself with how much fun I was having – I found it a lot more rewarding than I’d expected!

Moving on: November in Soho
Moving on: November in Soho

One of original missions was to reduce the number of part written blog posts in my drafts box. I binned a number, I completed a number, and as I wrote, I came up with more ideas, though I currently have a relatively modest 44 draft articles still to be completed and posted!

I’m hoping that I’ll continue to blog my way through much of December (as long as I have stuff I want to write!), but now my primary focus will be on another challenging project:

Can I make a short video clip every week for a month?

Oh no-NanoWriMo

According to Wikipedia:
NaNoWriMo is an annual internet-based creative writing project which challenges participants to write 50,000 words of a new novel between November 1 and 30.

A number of people I know have done this in previous years my friend Dan Lynch even wrote a song about it:

(I may have once mercilessly reworded/hacked about this song to reference a different “nano”!)

I considered doing it this year – it’d be an interesting challenge and I’ve had a few bursts of enthusiasm about writing a book in the past, that have quickly gone elsewhere when I looked at what was involved.

The fictional styles I like – Cory Doctrow’s Little Brother voice – hyper realistic dystopian sci-fi, I don’t really feel I need or want to try to copy, and the Gerald Durrell My Family And Other Animals-style autobiography of gentle humorous anecdotes, also doesn’t really need a poor imitation.

Many many part-finished draft posts (with working titles)
Many many part-finished draft posts (with working titles)

I don’t “live” fictional worlds inside my head or imagine stories, and so I’ve no real desire or motivation to write anything fictional, and there are very few non-fictional things that I feel deserve 50,000 words of attention.

Right now, there’s no subject I wish to consider writing about in that detail, so this time, I’m going to let everyone else steam on with their novels, whilst I do something else. I think NanoWriMo is probably most helpful to people who are intimidated by the idea, or have a book almost ready to go, or think about things they’d like to write about in depth all the time, but never seem to sit down and get on with it.

Now there are things that I do always seem to have in my head, but never sit down and write, but they’re not novels, they’re blog posts. I currently have over 60 part-finished blog posts, ranging from just a working title with a link to an article I want to write about, to completely written posts that are waiting on another post (providing context) to be finished before they can be published.

Back in February, I challenged myself to write a blog post a day for the whole of February. The result wasn’t flawless, but largely successful.

With 60 unfinished blog posts in varying stages of completion, it should not be difficult, I’m going to attempt to clear the number of half written posts by at least half over the next 30 days.

The posts that linger in my drafts are generally the ones requiring the most thought, the most reflection, the most sanity checking – if I get 30 posts out during November, I’ll be really pleased.

Let’s see how it goes! :)

397 A4 pages later…

So after telling myself I wouldn’t even bother looking at Ms Rowling’s latest novel, I completed it this afternoon, less than 18 hours after I acquired it, though prior to that I had read the first chapter, before coming to the conclusion that I might as well read the rest of the damn book, though I might as well wait until it was in a more readable form.

It is a compelling story, 16 hours and 397 A4 pages later, my head is still spinning. No not from the story – I have read similar amounts in similar time spans before, but this time it seems to have got to me more than usual.

As for the story – I suggest you read it yourself and find out what it is like… Or if you intent on finding out what happens go and read up on someone else’s site. My only piece of advice to anybody considering reading it is that it would help immensely to have a rough idea of what is going on in the previous two books. Read a plot summary of them if you can’t be bothered re-reading them.

The only last thing I have to say is that when they make the film of it, I hope they do the book justice and at least leave it all in and give it a 15 age certificate. If they do not let it get scary enough to be at least a 15 then they are not staying true to the authors words.

——-

I never said his name once and yet still, you know who!