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! :)

Diet: what I ate

I’ve never particuarly given a lot of thought to food. To me at least, food is fuel for doing cool stuff, that happens, sometimes, to be quite enjoyable.

I can understand that this may be somewhat at odds with approaches to food as a creative outlet – I can sympathise with this – occasionally I can find cooking quite a relaxing distraction, but traditionally, for me, it’s been something that got in the way of eating something and doing fun stuff. As a result of this approach, I’ve often been quite happy eating relatively few times a day, and frequently repeating the same meals.

A few months ago, I made a significant effort to lose weight. The first few weeks were painful and frustrating to adapt to, but I made an effort to disrupt my existing lifestyle as little as possible so I wouldn’t be tempted to give it up.

Specifically:

  • I know I like eating infrequently – usually 2 times a day
  • I know I like eating a lot of something
  • I don’t generally eat/drink sweet things, this was to continue
I figured, when I started my diet, that I’d eat the same number of times – changing those routines would be tricky, and I’d try and work out ways to make myself be able to eat a lot, without it having a significant effect on me putting on weight.

It’s interesting to note that whilst I do do a fair bit of hiking, I did lots of hiking before I chose to lose weight, and I’ve not done more or less, since I started dieting – it’s much easier to eat something other than that plate of pasta than to run the miles to work it off.

Essentially, I was on a low-carb diet, similar to the Tim Ferris/4 hour body style-diet’s, with a rest day, that I put on Friday. What this meant was that Sat-Thurs I tried to avoid eating carbohydrates, and on Friday, I was free to eat whatever I wanted (PASTA! PIZZA! CURRY!).

When I thought it through, the meals I’ve eaten for the last few months haven’t varied a great deal:

Large salad:

  • 1 or 2 avocados.
  • 1/3 to a whole, packet of 200/250g “Greek style salad cheese” aka cheap and cheerful Feta Cheese.
  • 2 – 3 medium sized tomatoes
  • 1/3 of a cucumber
  • 1/3 of a iceberg lettuce
  • 1/2 to a whole, small onion.
  • 1/3 of a bottle of Newmans Italian Dressing

Notes: any 2 ingredients can be left out, except the dressing.

This is a lot of salad, but is relatively carb-free. If one wanted to economise on carbs further, you’d avoid or cut down the tomatos/onion. The amount of lettuce meant that I’d have eaten a lot of food, which had almost no carbs, or indeed any significant nutritional value.

Halloumi fun:

  • 200-300g packet of Halloumi – Mediterranean style grilling cheese
  • 1 medium sized tomatoes

Notes: I’ve been trying to avoid this excessively as I’ve been trying to reduce total cheese consumption, but it’s quite quick and simple.

Peanut butter (quick snack/quick meal):

  • 1/6th of a 1kg tub of meridian crunchy, no sugar (with added salt) peanut butter, without anything else, with a spoon straight from the tub.

Notes: weird as this is, this is really quick simple and easy.

Vegetable soups:

Mandatory ingredients:

  • onions
  • celery
  • tinned tomatos

Optional:

  • courgettes
  • leeks
  • peppers

Notes:

  • I can make relatively passable (if bland by some’s standards) “soups”, probably best left for me to eat. I usually add some grated feta (perhaps 1/3-1/2 a pack) to the top of mine.
  • I have a strong preference away from soups with potato or breadcrumbs in them

(Occasionally) Omelettes

  • 2-3 eggs
  • some cheddar + a tomato

Notes: I haven’t actually eaten omelettes reguarly for quite a while, but I’ll happily eat them and other egg-focused things.

 

#ChallengeTim | Status Update

So on May the 30th, after some deliberations, I challenged myself some things before the end of August. Today is the 19th, let’s see what’s done, and what’s still to do.

  • Drop 1 stone in weight and keep below that weight for at least a month. If I slip above it, the month restarts.

Status: Ongoing, but very much on track.

I’ve been largely doing what I said I’d do, and have adopted a 4 hour body style low carb diet. I’m vegetarian, so that was mildly interesting, but it turns out that avocados, feta, halloumi, omelettes, olives, lettuce, salad dressing are even more awesome than previously imagined and I’ve made progress I’m very happy with.

I did learn that it’s important to take differences in physical activity into your diet. As I largely do limited exercise, my diet works quite well but when suddenly doing serious hiking, I’ve learnt that I need to take that into account and adapt it so that I have sufficient energy to bounce up up and down the hill.

I think I’ll make it to my target weight by the end of August, and I don’t think holding it for 30 days will be that difficult, but we’ll see!

  • Climb something high.

Status: Complete.

Read about Mount Toubkal.

  • Run 70km over 7 consecutive days.

Status: Incomplete, but to be attempted soon. Hopefully. Hmmm. Lack of serious commitment to training may prove and issue.

  • Swim over 100m across open, cold water without assistance

Status: Incomplete and unlikely to be attempted until September or October, until other swimming challenge is complete, or at least attempted. I don’t actually think it will be difficult, once I’m confident with the distance… Hopefully before November! ;)

  • Swim 30 consecutive lengths in a 50 metre pool

Status: Incomplete, and it doesn’t look like I’ll manage this before the end of August.

I’m hopeful that once I start seriously training though, it should be a piece of cake, but currently 30x50m or 1500m, in one go, is out of my reach (I can probably manage about 100m before my arms get tired). It’s simply about practice, with probably a few bits of technique tuning. :)

  • Do a 30 mile hill walk (try and include a good amount of up an down too)

Status: Incomplete.

It sucks a bit because I’ve been wanting to do the Yorkshire Three Peaks (with a ~4-7 mile extension), but lacked the opportunity to do it. I’ve also considered, several times, epic routes through the Lake District, but come to the conclusion that going for distance, in the Lake District, is a poor use of ones time there.

I suspect I’ll attempt Yorkshire Three Peaks in September, on a weekday, when everyone else is off the hills again and I can just focus on doing it.

  • Get driving lessons and pass my driving theory test.

Status: er fail. Despite getting so close, I still am faffing round getting my provisional licence sorted. :(


So yes, some really great stuff, but also some stuff still to do! Let’s do this! :D

Skim that stone | #ChallengeTim

Right, so now we’ve established I need to lose a stone and hold it for 30 days, we have to work out how to do it.

Important things

Well the first important thing is to be actually able to measure my weight! I don’t actually own any any bathroom scales so some of Ebay’s cheapest scales are on the way.

Now a slight problem is that I find the whole losing weight culture thing very annoying and self facing. It’s almost like it’s parodying itself. Joining the weight-losing establishment I will not be.

Diet:

I’m quite lucky that my general eating habits are quite sparse – usually just lunch and tea. I plan to keep this. Keeping habits I’ve honed over the years will mean I’m happier. Happiness and willpower are very important.

As a result of this, somehow my stomach isn’t as sensitive to hunger as other people. I’m sure this is partly due to my body always having enough stored up energy to power a small car, but not having to fight off raging hunger 3+ times a day must be somewhat of a blessing…

I’ve never really got into a snacking culture, so not eating that Mars Bar? I didn’t have it in the first place… Fizzy drinks? I drink a fair amount of Diet Coke which one can criticise for a wide variety of reasons, but calories is not one.

I need to watch out on Alcohol related calories, but I’m hardly a heavy drinker, so this is probably just a matter of being aware of it.

Basically I’ve put on weight through massive portions of lots of carbohydrates and relatively sporadic exercise. So to beat it, I’m planning to reverse this. Don’t eat loads of carbohydrates and do lots of exercise. We’ll see.

Some of the things that make me sad is that I’m going to have to scale back my tomato consumption. :( Tomatos are, in my opinion, one of the best additions to any dish, ever. This isn’t going to go away, I’ll just need to be more creative and eat much smaller amounts of tomato awesomeness.

Exercise

I have lots of running and swimming and walking lined up.

Any suggestions on how to make this process as not-annoying-as-possible would be welcomed… and I mean annoying for other people, I’m fairly resigned to it really.

#ChallengeTim

A few weeks ago, I asked for help working out some challenging things to do over the summer.

Approaching the summit of Cairn Gorm in Winter, Cairngorms, Scotland
Do something challenging!

Here are the 7 things I’m going to do by the end of August:

  • Drop 1 stone in weight and keep below that weight for at least a month. If I slip above it, the month restarts..
  • Climb something high.
  • Run 70km over 7 consecutive days.
  • Swim over 100m across open, cold water without assistance
  • Swim 30 consecutive lengths in a 50 metre pool
  • Do a 30 mile hill walk (try and include a good amount of up an down too)
  • Get driving lessons and pass my driving theory test.

Are you thinking what I’m thinking? That 7 things is rather unambitious for 90 days?

We’ll see how it goes, amendments may be made, suggestions are still very much welcome! ;)