New year more blog

Yikes! Where did January go? Just one day left to meet my new target of at least one post a month this year.

Obvious January entry: self-improvement round-up of the silent last 6 months. The main items were various job applications and interviews over the summer, followed by starting a new job in September. The bad news: no running since July, after I lost my momentum, no pun intended, due to a few weeks’ unwellness. But still cycling, even all through this month in spite of fearing a repeat of last January’s tumbles.

July: ‘Character Strengths’ workshop by Lightbox – the Happiness Project. Extremely valuable. My main character strengths are (in that order):

  1. Judgment, critical thinking, and open-mindedness
  2. Appreciation of beauty and excellence
  3. Fairness, equity, and justice
  4. Honesty, authenticity, and genuineness
  5. Humour and playfulness

Take the test

August: Made a few extra pennies proofreading and teaching people to use WordPress.  Took a maths test at my local college to determine where I should start in order to become a well-oiled statistics-churning machine. I had decided this would be a good idea thanks to the character strengths reflection, my previous MBTI dabblings and the fact I enjoy working with data at work but feel stunted by my limited mathematical skills/knowledge.

September: Attended a work conference in Cork and took a few nice photos there. Started my new job – another part-time one on top of my existing one, bringing me back up to 33.5 hours. Exhibited as part of the St Werburghs Arts Trail. Started a maths course at my local college. Wrote an article for a local magazine.

October: Watched some wonderful Photoshop webinars, which were free at the time of broadcast from the US East coast, meaning 5pm to midnight my time. They not only taught me tons of things about Photoshop but also opened my eyes to the value of learning and using keyboard shortcuts beyond Ctrl+a/x/c/p and customised tool layouts in whatever application I use. Also worked out, thanks to my challenging new job, how crucial it is to me to feel competent and useful.

November: Kept giving my all to the new job’s raised-game requirements, including super-strict lifestyle discipline to keep my energy levels and alertness up – no gluten, no potatoes, no refined sugar, plenty of sleep etc. Fixed a puncture all by myself for the first time.

December: ‘Goals’ workshop by Lightbox – the Happiness Project. More reinforcement than new material, but did re-focus my mind on the importance of having goals in the first place, separating them out from aimless daydreams, breaking things down into smaller achievable components, and committing, even through something as simple as putting goals in writing. Started using Habits RPG as a result of this, tidying up bookmarks and recalling the success of a similar approach to dieting. Took test to get into fast-track maths GCSE class starting in January; only one in my class to pass. Became an official Twitterer as part of paid work for the first time. Finally got round to reading my book on speed-reading and Cordelia Fine’s ‘Delusions of Gender‘.

So that was the second half of 2014 – pretty busy. 2015 is starting out no different, not least as there are now not one but two evening  maths class a week, art group meetings once a fortnight and various new items on Habits RPG to keep up with!

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End of Mondo

I take it all back – Endomondo recorded precisely 0 km of my run today even though both it and I were running the whole time. Not impressed.

Back in the saddle

It’s been nice to take a break from the daily accountability of 30 Days of Biking, but, not unpredictably, the removal of this straightforward, externally imposed structure also left a vacuum I now need to fill with my own routine (until the next 30-day challenge anyway).

It’s not as if the last ten days have been devoid of self-improvement.

photo of pannier next to tools

Poorly pannier awaiting stitching expert next to electrician/carpenter tools

If it’s broke…

On 3 May there was the Bristol Repairs Cafe, where I watched Hilary stitch my poorly pannier back to some semblance of togetherness. As she didn’t have strong thread to hand I may have to have a go myself in the near future, but at least now I know it can be done. I’m aiming to make a habit out of attending these monthly as I have a large box full of things that need mending at home and never the confidence or motivation to do anything with them on my own.

Three free workshops

  1. Local food – Pollyanna or Panacea?“, an event organised by the University of Bristol as part of the Food Connections Festival. I’m not entirely sure whether I learned anything there other than the phrase “you can’t cross an abyss in two steps” (from one of my fellow participants), an interesting image though as with all metaphors, its application to other situations is debatable.
  2. Appreciation of Beauty” run by Light Box – the Happiness Project“). I’m pretty good at finding beauty around me already, as I think my obsession with taking close-up photos of rust demonstrate. Mostly I had been intrigued by the prospect of “making camera lenses from vibrant acetate” (by which they of course meant filters; mine unfortunately fell apart in my bag before I got round to taking a photo through it). We were told that beauty has measurable physical benefits (patients heal faster when they have a room with a view – I’m sorry, I don’t have a link to the peer-reviewed medical research this no doubt comes from).
  3. Smartphone journalism“, run by the Bristol Cable. This, unlike what I had vaguely expected (opportunistic use of phone camera for snap-and-tell), turned out to be a largely technical course on recording video interviews and vox pops. Out of my comfort zone in a number of ways, even though I had done similar things in a work context, but was not un-fun and I’ve been idly thinking about some real-life applications (watch this space). Even though the first thing we were told was that we’d have to invest in some kit because camera shake and bad inbuilt microphones.
photo of sign outside St Philip's recycling centre prohibiting walking in

Mixed messages? Be green, recycle – but always do it in a car. Mind you, says nothing about cycling in.

Feel the FOMO and don’t do it anyway.

The main area of self-improvement of this period, however, has been in all the things I have NOT partaken in – Bristol is teeming with free activities of all kinds this time of year, and will be so for months, to the point where I was getting a bit stressed from all the rushing around and also not getting anything done, be it writing, photo-editing, job-hunting or even just loading the dishwasher. So I’ve had to develop a similar attitude to these things as my budgetary “if it’s not essential, don’t spend money on it“. This means I have yet to attend anything to do with the Bristol Festival of Photography, but I did among other things

  • pull out the Virginia creeper from my back wall before it was all leafy again (not only was I told it was bad for the house, but last summer it attracted so many wasps I thought there was a nest in it), and took the cuts to the tip on the same day (knowing from past experience that disposing of garden waste becomes even more of a chore once it’s been rained on).
  • register to vote – cut it a bit fine and had to hand-deliver my form on the day of the deadline. I learned that the reason I found no letter boxes on City Hall to drop it into over the week-end was that they had all been removed in the 80s after poll tax protesters got into the habit of slipping excrement through them.
  • got the ball rolling for my Easton Arts Trail stall and inventoried my photo archive, making sure everything exists in at least two functioning and ordered locations. The next step will be to make sure all the ones that are important to me are in at least one cloud location, which can hopefully be both a backup and an online portfolio. Much as I dislike Flickr for various reasons, it’s probably the pragmatic choice.

Biking/running

  • Took squeaky bike to Women’s Night, it was quickly diagnosed as needing a good oiling in the chain. One more basic bike thing under my belt.
  • Got round to downloading Endomondo last week. It does the job. Signing up/signing in seemed slightly more complicated than with the other apps, but once past that hurdle, I found the app easy to use and reliable. I’m not sure about the voice that says “Go” once you press play. On the plus side, she sounds vaguely like Helena Bonham Carter telling Ed Norton to slide in one of my (many) favourite Fight Club scenes.  But it’s also annoying, as pressing play is not necessarily the last thing I do before actually starting. It would probably go away if I turned the Audio Coach setting off, but I quite like the little updates every ten minutes when I’m running, telling me how far I’ve gone and what speed I’m clocking – a definite bonus compared to Sports Tracker. Even though I’ve also been using ‘Round and Workout Timer‘ to tell me whenever I’ve done five minutes. With the latter, by the way, I really didn’t like the built-in sound, so used the facility to record my own; I found I had to shout at a high pitch for the sample to be heard over the music that keeps me going, so it’s a pretty silly sample, but I still like hearing it, telling me I’m that much closer to the end.
Animated gif of Marla Singer in Fight Club saying "Slide"

Yes, I am fully aware of the irony of quoting Fight club in relation to self-improvement.

30 Days of Biking #27

Really didn’t feel like cycling yesterday. The rain, a few days’ worth of vague sore throat, a week’s manic flurry of activity and stiff long-underused muscles from Friday night’s kickboxing class all conspired to make this a perfect day for groggy wounds-licking reclusiveness in the warm and dry. But a pledge is a pledge, so I grumpily interrupted my “convalescence” to take a short trip to the Better Food Company for some treats (to add insult to injury, the item I really wanted was out of stock). In spite of the weather, almost all of the Sheffield hoops outside the shop were in full use. Go hardcore Bristolian cycling hippies.

Not that the day was entirely without self-improvement – I used my urge for stillness to read, sort and tidy away the ridiculous amount of Chrome tabs that open on my laptop every time I start the browser and had been slowing my digital life considerably.