It was so tough, that I didn’t write any resolutions or plans, because I couldn’t divert any outward energy to them, and didn’t feel I was able to write candidly without self-censoring. So I wrote no plans.
This year I’m going to try to be more transparent – my current aims for this year are something like:
Find someone who’ll love and support me, and let me love and support them.
So we can explore our journeys together.
Ingest as much information and knowledge about relationships in whatever forms I can: books, talks, audiobooks etc.
So I understand more, and at least know where to look if I need to quickly develop skills I don’t have, which help me be a better partner.
Improve and polish the van to make it more desirable to live in
So that it’s more polished, more comfortable and could grace the pages of insufferable lifestyle magazines.
Get fitter by doing more hiking & climbing
So I feel physically & technically fit enough to consider more outdoor challenges.
Travel, explore and see the country (and others).
To see the world from different perspectives
So I can play around with building ideas that might make other people happy
Figure everything else out.
So there are answers to the unanswered questions in my life.
This is a snapshot (accurate only on the day it was posted) of constantly evolving plans. If I decide that one of those isn’t so important, it may be removed, changed etc – and that’s ok.
So here’s one last thought, if you’re able to help me take any small footsteps towards getting closer to any of those goals: recommending, suggesting, encouraging, supporting etc. then you’ll be helping me with exactly what I want to be – and I’ll be incredibly grateful.
If that’s anything I can do to support you then I’d love to know, to see what I can do – I appreciate you taking the time to read this.
I should be more serious: But this is a fun one to talk about. This is basically about hacking, scrimping, making ends meet – lots of doing.
A few years ago, I used to use a Nokia 3310. Almost indestructible, but yet I managed to destruct one and crack the screen. I had another broken 3310 that wouldn’t turn on – though the screen looked alright. I set about to see if I could replace the broken screen. Unfortunately, Nokia 3310’s use torx screws, and I only had philips and flat head screwdrivers. So, using a trick learned from my dad, I sawed a groove into the top of each screw with a hacksaw – and simply them used the flathead screwdriver to unscrew them.
From that point on, it’s a trivial task of swapping the internal circuit boards around, and doing the screws back up. I got pretty good at repairing them in the end. I can’t remember exactly when I finally retired them, but I was still seen with a Nokia 3310 in 2010.
Finding a way through things, is just what I do. I mean, it doesn’t really occur to me that I’ve some cupboards build with scrap wood from an old bed, or that I turned the rubbish filled cellar of the house I live in, into a home office by salvaging a table, dropping several extension cords down, and setting up clip spot lamps. It’s just standard problem solving.
I guess one thing that I’m aware is less normal is a piece of functional interior design. The cellar leads down a number of uneven steps, and the bannister was long gone. Replacing the bannister looked like a real faff, so instead, I got two big loops, and screwed them securely at the top and bottom of the stairs, and hung a thick, knotted rope between them – so that people walking down the stairs can steady themselves with a hand on an overhead rope.
When it comes to tech, the easiest way you can do more with less is just to use slightly older hardware and open source. I’m pretty good at that. Apparently the company laptop I’m writing this blog post on was made in 2011 – but I don’t care – to me it is pretty fantastic and does all I want from a laptop. It runs Debian with awesomewm, and the concept of buying software I can’t just install with a sudo apt-get install is foreign to me. I self-host a lot of things (like this blog!), but there are also services I pay to have managed for me. There’s a pragmatic line to tread.
I guess some people might arguing that getting a job without a degree is doing more with less. I think I dispute that – the degree was never the requirement – just the maturity, knowledge of area, and attitude.
One of the pragmatic lines I tread relates to travel. I cycle round Manchester most of the time, but occasionally I take a taxi or a train. I still find that to cheaper (and more comfortable) than owning and insuring a car.
In business, being able to hack the way around problems is great trait. Especially if the problem is “limited funds”. We might be talking something as simple as sleeping on a friends floor whilst you go to a conference, or just watching lots of conference talks on youtube rather than paying for a conference ticket. It might be about working from your bedroom, sharing office space, skimping on furniture, reading second hand books. There’s an almost endless stream of options.
I like doing more with less. It often can be a fun challenge – though it’s often wise to take a pragmatic view – weigh up a range of options and take the option that’s best for you. Doing more with less doesn’t always mean spending the smallest amount of money.
I live in the centre of Manchester. I work in the centre of Manchester. I have a bike. I don’t have a family. I like trains.
So mostly, I cycle everywhere. When I want to travel further afield, I cycle to the train station, and get on a train. Sometimes that train even takes me to the airport.
But I would like to be able to drive and take myself places that are inconvenient to get to by public transport, and are so unappealing I’ve yet to convince a friend with a car that they’d like to go there.
When travelling through Manchester, bikes are a relatively fast mode of transport (it’s all about average speed, not top speed), and bikes can often easily take the most direct routes (eg through the city centre, rather than by ring road).
Of course, you can own a car for long trips, and use a bike for everyday commuting, but it’s not that simple. Once you own a car, you have a sunk cost that you’re looking to recoup as much value from as possible. Only a certain amount of the maintenance and fuel costs scale with milage, the initial cost, insurance and tax, are all largely fixed – so from the moment you buy it you’re incentivised to use it as much as possible.
Regardless of ecological arguments, owning a car may not be the most economic approach if you only need one occasionally – hiring cars is convenient, it incentivises non-use (you’re billed by the day/hour), and you have the flexibility to use more convenient forms of transport where you see fit (eg take the train, fly, commandeer a pony – whatever is best).
That is what I’m learning to drive for; so I can hire cars, and take myself to see the wide and wonderful world.
The thing about having a car, is that if you drive yourself places, you’re unable to drink if you’re driving yourself home, yet it feels wrong to pay someone to drive you there and back when your car is sitting in your drive.
Fortunately, knowing how much I’m saving by not having a car in central Manchester, and I can make pragmatic decisions about liberal use of taxis when it suits me. Last year, I got to know the cheap and cheerful taxi dispatchers so well, the average call length ordering a taxi to my address was 10 seconds (yes – average – there were some below 8 seconds!); they even knew me well enough to send me a Christmas card!
Some years ago, I remember a taxi journey where I was blown away by the driver’s customer service. I mean properly astounded – the driver took time to learn my name, made an effort to use my name, came across super professional, but also friendly and super accommodating – it really was the best taxi ride I’ve ever had..
So I heard that Uber was coming to town, I was eager to try it.
What is Uber? Uber is a taxi service, where everything is done through technology, with an emphasis on customer service.
So you order the taxi via a web-page or mobile app and tell it exactly where to go on a map, you’re given a live view of the route the taxi is taking to find you, and an estimate of how long it will be, and then when you arrive, you don’t touch cash – your credit card that they already have on file is billed, and you’re free to go. No cash, no tips, no drama.
The thing that re-enforces the good customer service to the drivers is quite clever. When you finish a journey, you’re asked to rate the driver out of 5 stars. If a driver can’t maintain an average rating of a certain amount, they’re thrown off Uber, boom. Not a nice driver? You won’t get nice customers.
Clearly, this means that drivers are incentivised to be super awesome, and provide kickass customers service, and it also means Uber will always have really good drivers.
Add this all with the fact that you get pretty emailed receipts, and Uber exists in of cities round the world, it makes a pretty compelling deal.
If you do fancy trying Uber, try enter the code ManchesterLaunch and see if they’re still in the Beta phase.
(As I’ve blogged about before, engaging creatively cyclists would be a clever way for a taxi firm to grow, could Uber be able to do that in Manchester?)
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
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.
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.
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,
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
There are unclimbed peaks in the area which I plan to scout/photograph. In addition, the scenery is reputedly comparable to Yosemite but in my 300 page guidebook of Kyrgzystan (2011), Batken province was given just 3 pages, and the Karavshin/Ak-Suu area was mentioned in passing in just one paragraph.
The area is traveled but certainly not well traveled. Seems like enough reasons to me!
What are you aims?
Meet and understand the landscape and people of the Karavshin & Jiptik valleys.
Where will you be staying?
I will probably mostly be camping, though I may do a few homestays in yurts.
Is it easy to get there?
No, it’s a bit of a ballache. Kyrgystan is 90% mountainous, but also, due to the Soviet Union days of Stalin, there are lots of enclaves and exclaves of various different countries in the area… and the main roads go through them. This means that to drive from Osh to Batken, I have to drive round Sohk, and Uzbek enclave (as I don’t have a transit visa), and the avoid the Uzbek border. When I leave Batken for Karavashin, I have to avoid or otherwise pass through the Tajik enclave of Vorukh…. and to go to the Karavashin area, I need a permit allowing me near the border, as it is close to the border with Tajikistan.
And that’s just the access issues.
Actually finding out everything above was also pretty challenging (and perhaps not accurate!). I don’t expect execution to be as simplistic as I explained.
I’m using a local travel company – Karavshin Travel – in Batken to help with a few things, but I’ve no idea how it will play out.
It wouldn’t be adventure travel, if I knew all the variables.
Kyrgyzstan doesn’t speak English, even as a second language, how will you communicate?
The locals may speak Kyrgz, or they may speak Tajik, Uzbek or other central Asian languages.
Kyrgyzstan’s second official language is Russian, a foreign language I scored an A in, many years ago, at GCSE. I don’t speak Russian very well anymore, but I can read/spell out Cyrillic and, with the help of a phrasebook, I expect to be able to make myself understood.
Are you taking a satellite phone?
No. If you want to catchup, drop me message and suggest sometime when we can chat when I’m home!? Catchups are good.
What happens in event of an emergency?
In the event I require assistance, my SPOT satellite device will alert 10 friends/family who will probably then contact my travel company in Batken. They will look at the information available to them and make decisions on that.
Are you scared?
No. What is there to be scared of?
If you buy a car, but are too scared of scratching it to take it out of the garage, then there’s no point having such a nice car.
If you have a nice camera but are so scared of losing it that you refuse to take it to places where you’d want nice photos, then there’s no point having such a nice camera.
If you have a nice life, but you’re so scared of taking calculated risks that you don’t get to have fun, then frankly, what’s the point?
I see the world, not as a world of dangers, but as a world of opportunities.
I’ve written about this in more detail in two blog posts:
If I didn’t feel it was necessary, I wouldn’t be taking it. We may have to agree that we have different definitions of “necessary”.
What money are you taking?
Kyrgyzstan uses the “som”, which isn’t a very strong currency. I’m taking US dollars and some euros I have left over and am going to change them on arrival.
This doesn’t seem very organised, how long have you been planning this?
About 9-10 days from concept to takeoff.
Basically, I had been mis-counting my holidays, and so when I noticed the end of my holiday year approaching, I did a check, and rather than finding I owed holiday, I found I was owed about 2 weeks of holiday…
At that point, began the rush to find a way to make use of my time. After much thought, this was what I decided on.
This sounds very stressful. Wouldn’t you prefer to sit on a beach somewhere and have a casual beer?
I think by “stressful” you mean “exciting”. Having said that, I love beer and beach holidays as much as anyone else, they’re rarely “exciting” though.
Aren’t you vegetarian? Won’t that be tricky in Kyrgyzstan?
Well, for me, it’s a lot less tricky, as I’ve 22 years experience at it, but it’s true to point out that most Kyrgz recipes start with “first you kill your sheep”.
Being sufficiently polite and respectful is far more a concern for me than starvation – bread is an important part of Kyrgz culture and I’m certain I’ll find something to eat.
Whilst I’m in the mountains, I anticipate eating expedition food which I spared no expense in buying from a British supermarket. Food is a strangely polarising subject, and I anticipate no end of criticism for my choice to carry food from the UK.
How long will it take you to get your photos online afterwards?
I anticipate taking 2000-5000 photos, perhaps 2-6 hours video footage. I’d anticipate that only about 5% of that will be of interest to most people. Separating that 5% is time consuming and somewhat draining – 6 hours work in several stages. I’ll get it done, but it’ll take time and energy, both of which I won’t have. Expect a multiweek lag.
Who’s paying for your trip?
I’m entirely self-funded.
Are you receiving support from anyone?
My employer, Bytemark Hosting – has allowed me to hook my emergency SPOT alerts into the 24 hour s alerting framework, Mauve, that we use for monitoring servers 24/7.
When an alert is raised via this system, the oncall engineer is alerted and/or woken up, and goes and deals with the problem.
I’m very confident in my colleagues, and so, by hooking my call for help into Bytemark systems, my colleagues can help alert my ground-team straight away, so help can be sent straight away.
I’m very grateful for Bytemark’s support on this front – not every organisation would be comfortable with such a thing – so I really appreciate working with people who are happy to watch my back.
My awesome girlfriend Clara for happily letting me go off and do my own crazy things, and then happily suggesting we go camping in March in the UK. <!–more pukeworthy comments–>
John Proctor for suggestions and moral support and for his part in the Muzkol 2013 expedition with Jonathan Davey, which partly served as encouragement and inspiration. John’s other climbing buddy, Ed Lemon, also deserves a pint for map assistance.
Anita Wilczynska, my former trekking buddy from Morocco, for moral support & encouragement – it’s appreciated!
My sister & her partner for being part of our safety web – thanks!
My colleagues at work, and the building security guard for putting up with most of Amazon, being delivered to our office, for the past 2 weeks.
“Manchester! Which do you prefer: Morrisey’s solo stuff or The Smiths!?”
The thing is, I’m not really a football fan. It’s just not my thing. I don’t really care about it, and even national competitions which we do well in get a good deal of disinterest. That’s not to say I’ve not been to Matches – I’ve even blogged about football games – but I just don’t really care.
What’s more, I’d struggle to name 5 members of the current United and City squads combined.
The difficult thing, is knowing how to react when I’m asked about football whilst travelling – obviously The Premier League is, to some degree, also a tourist export, just like the Royal Family is a tourist attraction amongst other things. Generally, I’m straight up and honest if we can communicate fluently, or will arbitrarily choose a side to support for that day otherwise, and smile and nod.
It does feel strange however that the first thing that people mention, whenever I mention where I’m from, is a sport that I am clueless about and very ambivalent of.
Frequently, people avoid travelling away from tourist focused locations because they’re worried about whether they will be understood, I’d suggest that means they miss out of the best part of the experience.
The stories of trying to communicate (and hopefully succeeding) might be some of the best parts of your adventure.
Here’s my story:
Kosovo has a very divided population. Due to Stuff and Wars and Sad Things, there are people that speak Albanian and people that speak Serbian. They probably understand and speak the other language as well, but for political reasons they do not, and will not understand.
Anyway, 90% is Albanian speaking so I took an Albanian phrasebook and went travelling to a remote southern village (Brod), high in the mountains!
After walking round the village several times, sticking out like a sore sore thumb, I walk into one of the cafés and attempted an Albanian “Meridita” (“hello/good afternoon!”).
Instantly “nie Albanish. Serbish.” was growled back.
“Shit.” I thought.
“Well, no point using the phrasebook”.
I then tried English. No one spoke English. I tried French. No one spoke French. I tried the bits of Swedish know, unsurprisingly, no Swedish. I tried bits of Russian, and hum, had a lukewarm response – Serbian and Russian are somewhat mutually intelligible and share vocabulary.
Then the guy behind the counter whipped out his laptop, plugged it into this crumbling wall socket and connected to google translate.. and via google translate, we communicated, I explained where I was from, and I was able to organise somewhere to sleep that night, and a guide to take me walking the next day!
I had a great time, and that experience of walking into that café will stay with me for a long time!
I’ve just been to northern sweden backpacking, and as part of my kit, I took 9 batteries for my Canon DSLR.
That might sound excessive, though considering I was going for 12 days, my camera was the only source of “entertainment” I was taking, and I was planning on shooting lots of video – not just photos, I felt that it was probably a fair estimate – 75% of a battery per day.
The thing is, carrying batteries is the least sustainable solution to powering electronics in areas where an electricity grid doesn’t exist.
I’d have dearly loved a viable option of recharging these batteries – they’re all rechargeable batteries after all – but the options seem fleeting, and a bit rubbish.
There’s a stove with USB that can be considered, until you realise the weight involved and that you have to use wood as power.
There are other heat based options – things that you put in a pan of boiling water until , but they’re a bit rubbish too.
When I went to Morocco – I saw people using solar chargers, which is all very well until you see all the marketing aim towards “providing that bit of charge needed to make an emergency call”. If you have a low usage application – such as a Mobile phone on standby or for emergencies, and you have a sunny environment, then you can have quite a sustainable setup – there are mobile phones that have incredibly long battery lives – so if that’s your sole power requirements, then it could be a light, cheap and sustainable solution. It is, however, a completely rubbish option if you have requirements for power above “very light” – in most environments, even very sunny ones, it won’t recharge a fully discharged smartphone battery in one day, and don’t even think about using it for other things.
I have a Proporta external battery for my mobile phone, but even that can only manage to recharge my phone twice, and was considerably more expensive (and heavy/awkward) than simply buying two spare smartphone batteries.
I think the fact of the matter is that power generation is difficult in terms of energy, and difficult in terms of presenting the power to ones peripheral devices – on this basis – as much as I wish it wasn’t the case, I can see carrying spare batteries to be weight and cost effective for a good time to come.
I recently got back from an epic backpacking adventure in Northern Sweden. It was essentially 12 days of walking through the Swedish mountains, in the Arctic Circle, on my own. Every day (ish) I made a video blog, and whilst I’ve not finished (not started actually!) processing the mass of photos and video I took, I’ve finally got this sorted and uploaded.
Update 1 – Day 1 – From Nissunjåkka campsite near Abisko
Update 2 – Day 2 – From wild camping just outside Abisko National park, ~2km from Abiskojaurestugorna
Update 3 – Day 3 – From wild camping 10km between Abiskojaurestugorna and Unnas Allakastugorna
Update 4 – Day 4 – From the woodshed – Unnas Allakastugorna
Update 5 – Day 5 – From the hut – Allejaurestugorna
Update 6 – Day 6 – From the hut – Tjäktja Stugorn
Update 7 – Day 7/8 – From the mountain and Nallostugan
Update 8 – Day 8/9 – From wild camping at top end of Vistas Vagge and Radugastugan Shelter
Update 9 – Day 9 – From outside the huts at Abiskojaure Stugan
Update 10 – Day 10/11 – From Nissunjåkka campsite near Abisko/Abisko
So despite many exciting stories, I’ve returned from Northern Sweden, better than ever.
Over the time I was there, I managed to amass about 80GB of photos (JPG not RAW) and video – that’s roughly equivalent to 57,000 floppy disks or 117 CDs. As my current storage capabilities at home need a bit of a refresh, there may be a slight delay whilst I process things, breath, and start to write things up.