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!

Mirror Mirror

I’m putting off reporting on the Easton Arts Trail (it went very well) or anything else I normally talk about again this week. Partly because of continued busy-ness, partly because the self-improvement-related rant below wanted out of my head first.

That Steve Jobs quote that everyone likes. Think about it for more than the kneejerk millisecond that it takes to click ‘like’ under a picture on Facebook.

‘[…] for the past 33 years I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself, “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I’m about to do today.”’

What do 99% of people* say when asked what they would want to do on the last day of their life? I’m thinking it’s along the lines of ‘Why, hang out with my family/friends/partner of course.’

So if you’re one of that 99% and you don’t happen to be on holiday when you carry out the mirror test, chances are you will fail it. Unless of course you and your loved ones are unemployed. In which case, well done, you’re apparently living the dream.

Think about why this is your last day too.

Is the world ending? Then chances are whatever you had planned for the day before you were informed of the impending apocalypse is now irrelevant anyway, even if you love your job/life. That patient you were going to save, that new smartphone app you’ve been working on, that research paper you’ve been writing, that dentist’s appointment, what’s the point now? Unless perhaps your research paper is about how to stop a meteor destroying the planet, or whatever is about to happen. Some selfless people might want to keep giving the needy the best final day they can have, but most of us would be doing our own thing. Or maybe, say, in Bristol UK, having a massive street party. With lots of bunting.

Is it your last day because you are terminally ill, and the doctors have given you no more than 24 hours to live? It’s unlikely you’ll have the energy to do much beyond trying to think of some appropriate last words.

Are you about to be executed? You can’t be having much choice how to spend your day, unless you’re in one of those super-plush prisons where the tabloids would have us believe inmates live a life of luxury. Actually, the traditional Dead Man Walking’s choice of indulgent food for their final meal is probably likely to feature on a lot of people’s final day list, which can be an ideal way to live your life on a day-to-day basis if you’re cool with all the ailments related to unhealthy/excessive eating, but that scarcely requires motivational gumf to help you along.

So, it seems living your life as if every day is your last day is only a good idea if you’re either a lettuce-loving workaholic or have extremely low expectations of yourself.

I recently watched a video shared by a friend that posits that a life where work is a necessary evil rather than a passion is ‘absurd’.  This may be the case (although you could just as easily argue that all life is absurd), but this kind of name-calling is plain rude, especially when very little by way of a viable alternative is proposed.

Now, there is much to be said for doing things you love, as the video advocates – however much of them you can fit in your day; if you end up making a living out of such things, great – however, that makes you Very Lucky. Not in an irrational, fatalistic sense of the word. In the sense that anyone who has the right combination of natural abilities, predilections, nurture and opportunities to achieve this kind of life should be grateful for that fact rather than look down on those who do not.

I would argue that eradicating the ‘absurdity’ of most people’s lives would require not only each and every person addressing whichever of the above factors are holding them back, which may or may not be possible for all, but also radical systemic changes (perhaps even a revolution, eh, Russell?). It requires a world where no mundane job needs to be done by a human, and no human needs to work, since not everyone’s passion is going to be something they can monetise.

Labelling ordinary people as losers who should really get off their worker-ant arses and do something wonderful is at best going to inspire a few to do great things and drive a few others to ruin. And/or get the video’s makers that super job in viral advertising they’d really like to spend their final days doing.

So I’m not going to just drop everything and go rock-climbing or swimming under waterfalls like the beautiful people in the video (which has a distinct airline commercial feel to it whenever it’s not clips from cult movies about sticking it to The Man).

I’m pretty sure some of the clips were from The Beach, which if I remember correctly did not end well. Also Fight Club? No day jobs were quit in the making of that story, in fact the main protagonist has several. The Matrix? A film about how humans are exploited by a powerful ruling class and how an intrepid band of rebels take up arms to bring the system down. Am I missing the point – do all these extracts just aim to encourage us to think outside the box? Or did the video’s makers seize upon the cathartic escapism of these movies at the expense of their deeper messages?

I know people who love their jobs but feel that, as a popular French comedian once put it, ‘De l’argent suffirait (money would do). There’s something to be said for working to live rather than living to work – not everyone is cut out for the latter and that’s OK.

Anyway. I’m off to make myself a lovely healthy dinner before doing a few other bits and bobs that would make absolutely no sense if this was my final day; because if I’m not dead tomorrow, I’ll be glad I did them.

 

*Source: The Top of my Head journal Issue 57.

Pyramid of needs

Screenshot of two maps showing two runs with different distances recorded for same run

WTH, Sports Tracker?

Exercise

On Friday I finally took a closer look at my Sports Tracker stats after one more session of clocking less kilometreage than I’d expect (almost half less than when I completed Couch to 5k). I was delighted to find that, although the app had not seemed to be suffering from my phone’s dodgy GPS, it probably had been, or was malfunctioning for some other reason, as it was somehow recording the whole time and itinerary but randomly moving the “official” Start point.

Having checked my usual route on Google Maps, I now know that on my shortest runs I still do 5.4k. So at worst I have not got any faster. On Sunday I tried the Speed podcast – I quite enjoyed the interval training, which made running a little less dull for me. I was taken by surprise by the shorter length of the session, only taking up the first half of my usual route, and elected to keep running back since I still felt up to it, didn’t fancy taking ages to get home and felt it would go towards making up for only running twice in the week. I’ve come a long way from doing as little running as possible.

Deezer has not really worked out – switched itself off after a few tracks on Friday, didn’t start at all on Sunday for the unassisted home stretch (this could have been to do with my web allowance status). I guess there’s nothing to it but to find more non-glitchy CDs with run-friendly tracks to rip (some of my old NIN CDs are so scratched they only produce some rather hideous “remixes” these days).

I have also had to face the fact that my oesophagitis, while not requiring medication most of the time, has been triggered by running even when I’ve been careful not to go out too soon after eating, which has made running more unpleasant than it needs to be. So I’ve made a note to have a preventative Omeprazole on running days for now, but as I’m always keen to avoid medication as much as possible, I will also try daily peppermint and see whether that can be enough.

And in biking news, my secondary lock got unusably stiff so I sprayed some GT 85 into it and now it’s working good again. A small thing, but it made me feel a sense of fluency to be able to easily diagnose the fault and fix it myself.

Education

My main educational event of the week was Prof. Tim Cole’s ‘Holocaust Tourism’ at the Watershed (part of the Past Matters Festival of History).

The talk appealed to me from a variety of angles – I am, in no particular order, a survivor’s granddaughter, a human rights fan, a photography and ethics enthusiast, and a friend of a repeat holocaust tourist’s with no interest in becoming one myself. In spite of not being the most ignorant person in these matters, I learned so much I scarcely know where to begin.

First of all, Prof. Cole made a connection between different types of Holocaust Tourism. The SS visiting ghettos at the time, looking for photo-ops that would bring propagandist caricatures to life, are uncomfortably placed in parallel with present-day visitors to Auschwitz queuing to snap their own stereotypical images. There are two iconic compositions ever recurring in visitors’ photo albums, which survivors overall do not see as representative of what arriving at or living in the camp was actually like.

The most common one is the view of the rail tracks running towards the camp, which has a fairly obvious subtext of “end of the line” etc., but also, Cole argues, represents the view of the Holocaust as a “crime of modernity”, the scale of it only possible thanks to technology, mechanical innovations, efficient infrastructure. We were informed that this is a fairly dated view from a historiographical point of view, as modern historians have been focussing on other aspects of the Shoah, such as neighbour-on-neighbour atrocities often driven by good old-fashioned greed and allowed by the less violent turning a blind eye.

Auschwitz now is all about absence – the emptiness of this once overcrowded place; the piles of material possession without their owners, arranged as exhibits to invite reflection on the staggering numbers of individuals tortured and killed there; the freedom to explore the entire space that prisoners were confined to a small area of. And as one survivor points out, the grass where once there was mud so treacherous that a recurring theme in survivors’ accounts is the constant struggle to avoid their clogs being sucked off their feet into it and lost. Well, not all about absence in that one of the many things the former inmates find disorienting when they return (often purely because their children have hounded them into it, according to Cole) is that there are Polish families living in some of the buildings, a result of the local housing crisis.

I loved the stories of the more purposeful survivor “tourists” – the ones that had a very specific symbolic gesture to make their visit a healing one. The guy who ordered a pizza from a nearby village to eat inside the camp. The one who just wanted to walk in, and then walk out.  The sisters who posed for a photo clutching the no-longer electrified wire fence. While briefly googling these stories up in case there were some links, I stumbled on this apparently polarizing video of a survivor dancing at various Holocaust sites. If I’ve ever so violently laughed and cried at the same time before, I don’t remember it. Polarizing schmolarizing.

But while survivors distilling profundity out of frivolity, celebrating the view from the top of Maslow’s pyramid where they were once buried below it foundations, delighted me, I did not love to learn that there is no code of conduct whatsoever for visitors to what is now the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, and one Watershed audience member reported witnessing a group of probable neo-nazis going around it menacingly, in black and jackboots, pointing and laughing. I had a chat with her after the talk, as I wanted to know how other visitors reacted to this, how one *could* react to this constructively. She said it did not seem possible to do or say anything as they were very big and imposing and possibly actively looking to provoke a reaction. But she recalled that one of them seemed moved by a photo of a child in the camp. Is this why there is no restrictions on such visitors? The hope that some will see the error of their ways? It is of course easy to forget not to dehumanise the dehumanisers. But I just hate to imagine the effect this would have on a survivor visiting the same day. I can’t even imagine how I would deal with it; I’m barely starting to come to terms with the comparatively trivial fact that you can’t  go to a concert these days without people disrespecting the music and its fans.

There’s also the question of guided tours being offered as part of stag do packages or imposed on busloads of boisterous schoolchildren. But who am I to speak of dubious juxtapositions, sandwiching this review between a my latest jogging and digital imaging travails, purely because this is the blog’s format?

Photography

There was quite a spooky moment for me while Prof. Cole was taking questions, standing in front of the screen where his presentation’s last image was still being projected. The photo’s reference numbers kept etching itself on Cole’s forehead as he moved back and forth, chillingly echoing the tatoos of concentration camp prisoners. And I was faced with the dilemma – would it be OK to take a photo of this? My current position is that if I’m having to ask the question, the answer is probably no. The McCullins of the world have a way to answer yes, but it requires a direct human engagement I’m at best not ready for.

Other than pondering the photographer’s gaze at the event above, I have been carrying on with my Easton Arts Trail preparations. I had a few days of deep grump after my first batch of canvasses and enlargements arrived. They are hugely disappointing. There is a lot wrong with them, some my fault, some not so much, most to do with the process, one to do with the photo itself; some that will hopefully not stop people liking them if they don’t know what they were meant to look like, some probably more fatal. It was always a risk using a cheap online service – when I had a large canvas done at Clifton Colour in December, what I got for the much higher price was a professional engaging with me and my photo to achieve the best possible result. With Photobox, there’s a lot of guesswork and hidden features. If you’re going to use them, ensure the following:

  • Check the default settings that live in your Account Preferences (rather than be visible at the time of designing the product). You may wish to switch the default from “crop” to “fit” and turn off the “enhancement” feature, which a customer service representative assures me is what caused the canvasses to look washed out. I shall report on whether or not turning it off has returned correct colours and what if anything else has been lost instead.
  • Be aware they use a 1.5% bleed around the image so if you are not wrapping it all around the canvas, allow for this, otherwise you may have some unwanted borders.
  • Take the time to look at their FAQs on how to get the best possible results.

A problem I have found was down to the original image was one of the main elements in the composition not being in focus. This was made obvious in the enlarged image in a way that it had not been on screen or in the smaller print, and is more than likely due to using a single focus point when shooting, as recommended in a free workshop I attended a while back. From now on I will try to remember that this setting is not in fact always best. I deliberately eschewed any photo ops last week because of needing to focus on the Arts Trail work and because I still haven’t got round to editing all of last month’s pictures or even some taken in April! Canvas and small prints of one of my photos (closeup of disused train element) Canvas and small prints of one of my photos (closeup of disused train element) Canvas and small prints of one of my photos (closeup of disused train element) Canvas and small prints of one of my photos (closeup of disused train element)

 

Music to my ears

Exercise

I didn’t get round to trying the Speed podcast last week after all. But I’m very pleased with myself for managing to get three runs in despite the week’s social busy-ness, several late nights and two and a half days of gorging on bad, bad (but so good) foods courtesy of VegFest. Actually, the gorging provided motivation (damage limitation). I did two more Stepping Stones runs and one to my own music. The latter was the fastest, in spite of a lot of faffing with my phone. This was due to a last minute decision to make it a Nine Inch Nails-themed event, in memory of the Cardiff gig on Wednesday, via a few songs ripped from old CDs and/or the Soundcloud app. Having now looked into this a bit more, it seems Deezer will be a better soluion.

Photo of D lock secured to pannier rack with bungee cord

Bun-Dee

Talking of apps, my counter one has stopped working, so I’m now relying on Sports Tracker’s voice feedback for my “You’re a third of/halfway/two-thirds of the way through” alerts. That, and using the same route most of the time.

Cycling-wise, I’ve been trialling a new D-lock carrying system, namely a bungee cord wrapped around my pannier rack, after seeing this on someone else’s bike at the Space for Cycling rally. It’s working a treat so far, though I did snap the lock onto my finger on Thursday and it’s still a little tender (hurt quite a bit at the time). Also slight complication to pannier(un)hooking, but the improvement to the (un)locking faff makes it worth it I think.

Education

Only one educational event this week: the Bristol Cable’s Journalism with Integrity workshop led by Mike Jempson, a long-time journalist and unionist who is also Director of MediaWise and a senior lecturer. A sobering look into moral and legal considerations of reporting.

Mike Jempson’s exhortations of transparency, objectivity and rigour were very appealing to this INTJ, yet a reminder that good journalism is hard work because it means that something that sound like a good story with no reliably-sourced facts to substantiate it requires either finding said facts and writing in a  way that is “relevant to your neighbours, not just your friends”, or a pass.

Or, I got to thinking, the right angle. I’ve been pondering what I could do for the Dignity March after they issued a call for bloggers, social networkers and photographers to help publicise their campaign. I think the lessons from John Henley’s talk are particularly important for such a story and in the current climate. His only answer to my question about how to make more people interested in an unpopular subject affecting a minority was to show the human, emotional side. And this, he had told us earlier, is best done via video, while data is more easily digestible as a graphic, and text is best used for discussion of ideas; and a mix of the three increases a digital visitor’s “dwell time”. So I have a method; but the clock is ticking if I am to employ it in any way useful to this cause. Day jobs have their drawbacks.

Going back to Sunday’s workshop, the most shocking thing for me was delving into defamation/libel/slander. It made me realise how suddenly my life could be turned upside down for blithely expressing an opinion or other statement that someone/an organisation could consider/claim to be a threat to their reputation. I don’t know how common it is for independent bloggers to be sued for such things but I will definitely bear the three essential criteria for defensible defamation in mind: truth (ie based on undeniable facts), honest opinion (one that any honest person might share), public interest.

This got me wondering how the hell critics and comedians do their jobs, as I made a mental note to delete a gratuitous line in my review of Wednesday night on another blog that was purely, as far as I can tell, a matter of taste. And how, if it was on a blog people read, I would have had to post an apology instead of deleting the dubious material.

Also, bloggers beware – if you pre-moderate comments (ie choose which you publish), you are liable for their content even if someone else wrote them.

There are some very complex considerations when covering court cases, some of which went hand in hand with special privileges card-carrying journalists have in relation to them, such as permission to tweet proceedings (which may be retweeted but not commented on).

Talking of Twitter and responsible journalism, here’s a great thread where Kerry McCarthy MP challenges a Bristol Post headline.

Finally, an interesting concept was briefly brought to our attention: the “right to be forgotten”.  Apparently the expectation is that after 9 months people forget the details of most news stories and most of the people in them, but the digital age has made this less linear if people’s past is only a google away.

Photography

Popped into the Greenbank to meet the member of its staff coordinating the exhibition and have a bit of a recce. This was really worth doing as I got to see that there are two different types of wall space available (all bricks, but with a choice of just red and a mix of red, yellow and brown). As most of my large pictures will have rusty hues on unframed canvas, I have requested one of the multi-coloured walls so they stand out more. I’m now wondering whether this was the right choice and may revisit it, especially since I’ve given up on artificially extending the photos to make them wrap (most will have black edges, one of them dark grey ones).

I have now ordered a first batch of these canvases, using photos that looked good in the test prints; fingers crossed they turn out all right too. I found that upon closer inspection, the test prints that were disappointing were different from the way the photos looked on any of my devices, not just my dodgy desktop PC’s monitors. When I pointed this out to Photobox, they promptly gave me credit to have them re-done. This is scary in terms of not knowing what to expect from the canvases, but good news in terms of using my existing computer equipment for photo editing. Certainly can’t fault Photobox for responsiveness. Almost everything I ordered yesterday has been despatched today; I expect the thicker canvases to be on their way tomorrow.

I took some photos of Boney M (who were great) on Friday night at VegFest, having scored a free ticket – quite a challenge what with dusk, dark skin tones, sparkly outfits and one silky white one, and the crowd. I haven’t quite reached the optimal levels of photographer rudeness needed to get to the best viewpoint if I’ve not camped there before anyone else has arrived, and I’m not sure I want to. But I got close enough that one of the superfans leaning against the fence took pity on me and let me have her place for a bit. None of the pictures were really good SOOC. I must practice more so I can take pictures in any condition that don’t need (much editing), not least because of lack of time.

Photo of three current members of Boney M on stage at Bristol VegFest

I also didn’t manage to get a good group shot with all of them in

Stepping stones

Exercise

I’ve run back to Laura. I went looking for information about how essential the 5-minute walking warmup is (no other running training I’ve come across uses it, it always seems to start with a (more or less) light jog). I have yet to find the answer to that (comments welcome), but did stumble upon some podcasts designed for Couch to 5k “graduates” looking to improve their speed. As I’ve at best not progressed in this respect, I figured I’d give them a go. I’ve done three runs with the Stepping Stone podcast so far – I’m still no faster and find it much more unpleasant than running with my own music, but it does contain some good tips such as checking your posture. My sins: tense upper limbs, slouching, looking down rather than ahead. Speed one next. I’ve also run back to Sports Tracker (and given up on the European Cycling Challenge) after finding Endomondo lacking after all. Turns out Sports Tracker does voice feedback too. At least Eastville Park is teeming with baby birds who make me smile as I go past – new ducklings, almost-adolescent-already goslings and now cygnets too!

Photography

As usual, I had all manners of ideas and ambitions for the monthly theme set by work’s photography staff club – “Time”, and didn’t achieve very much. My main attempt involved photos of the same flowers in my garden on consecutive days, with the intention to do “something” linking them in post-processing. The first one I picked, a red and yellow tulip, had lost all its petals by day three. As for my plan B, a bunch of dandelions at various stages of development, I found that my experimental system of markers and body positioning for preserving angle and composition had been severely flawed . One of these days I will have to get over my dislike of tripods.

Composite photo of tulip on three consecutive days

Badly merged photos of same tulip from same angle on three consecutive days.

My main photography mission right now is getting things ready for the Easton Arts Trail. This has so far involved me purchasing Photobox credit while they were having a 70% off sale, and now fiddling with my selected images to make them fit the canvas proportions – mostly adding bits to wrap round the sides. If there turns out to be an interest in my products, I may need to get into the habit of judging quickly if a photo would look good on canvas so I can take a wider angle shot. Then again, a visit to my dentist’s today included finding that people with white walls don’t mind photographic canvases with white edges.

The main area of improvement highlighted by this process has been, unsurprisingly, my monitors. They are cheap and nasty and I haven’t got my head round how to calibrate them or use colour profiles. As a result, there is a marked difference in the test prints I’ve had done of selected pictures depending on whether they were good SOOC (straight out of camera) or needed some adjustments. The latter don’t look right, because I essentially can’t see them or what I’m doing to them properly. I’ll need to look into investing in at least one better one (I work with two), and possibly some serious training. I know there’s a lot more I could do with Photoshop than my current self-taught dabblings.

Education

I coincidentally attended two talks by Guardian writers last week. The first, by Cambridge University economist Ha-Joon Chang, titled ‘The Role of Economics in Public Life, and the second, organised by the Bristol Cable, by journalist John Henley, titled ‘Using social media for citizen journalism’. There were some common themes between the two, the main one being that people formerly known as audiences should challenge those who have so far been considered the custodians of knowledge and information, be they experts or journalists. Henley pointed out that audiences have always known more than journalists and are now able to make this known; Chang, that economists have somehow convinced the public that their subject is far too complex for the common person to understand, when in reality it is no more so than, say, international relations, which people don’t seem to need a degree in to have an opinion on the Iraq war. Chang was a very engaging speaker with his heart in the right place (he opened his talk by deploring the current ambience of only valuing things that make money, reminding us that we “cannot live by bread alone“). I was particularly taken by his exhortations to challenge, listen and cross-pollinate, as I frequently despair of the opinionated’s tunnel vision and cherry-picking (whether we are on the same or opposed sides) and of how difficult it seems to be for most people to see beyond the status quo (re. the latter see also Ruth Levitas on utopia). There was much more, I took copious notes and this really would deserve a post of its own – for now I will just say that I’d certainly like to read his books if I can ever find the time.

As for Henley, he told us about how the internet has radically changed what it means to be a journalist and pushed back the limits previously imposed on the “audience”. He used as illustrations two impressive Guardian projects of his involving Twitter and other interactive online resources: Greece on the Breadline (which essentially involved him requesting stories of hardship and solidarity on Twitter and weaving a series of blog posts, videos, interactive maps etc from the responses) and Firestorm (a multi-media online presentation covering catastrophic fires in Australia last year from a variety of angles, from home footage by an affected family to explaining how global warming has caused these events to become uncontrollable). His advice to would be citizen journalists was to aim for the same higher ideals that a good old-fashioned journalist would, and if at all possible learn to code.

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.