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Friday
Nov232012

A pause

In posting, clearly! I got another sinus infection this week. First for a couple of months though, and I've been happily running and riding a lot until this week. Even now, the infection stayed put in my sinuses, and I don't have a cough or streaming nose (although interestingly I was still left totally unable to concentrate - apparently that isn't mucus-related!). 

But actually, I meant in the buying of stuff. Earlier I was noodling around on Twitter (as I do far too frequently), when Adam Greenfield made one of his infrequent entrances and we had the following discussion: 

His challenge was to make 2013 a "buy nothing" year. My reaction (other than a bit of quibbling as I thought this through) was "no way I could do that". Since that's the kind of reasoning that got me into running marathons, this was never going to end well

So, next year, I'm going to try and buy as little as I can. Naturally, there will be exceptions. I've had a preliminary stab, and here's the list I'm going to start with:

  1. Food and drink. This includes random coffees, snacks, meals out etc. 
  2. Tickets for things. Gigs, visits, etc. This isn't about staying in and saving all my cash for a year.
  3. Work stuff. Mostly, I anticipate this is going to be posters and the like.
  4. Replacement stuff, when things break/wear out. For example, my running shoes are going to hit 500 miles sometime around the middle of next year I reckon. They may be fine, they may need replacing.
  5. Presents for other people. Come on, I can't not buy presents. Although I am trying to find non-physical ways to do this. No point just generating clutter for other people!
  6. Stuff to finish projects (zips, thread, buttons etc.) Note that this does not include stuff to start new projects. Time to use up the stash. I have more than enough wool for a year of knitting and sewing (although I may cheat and buy myself one projects' worth before January). 
  7. Kindle fun reading - but only once I've read the unread books that are around. I know there's a few. Actually, at the moment I'm rereading a Kindle book because I couldn't decide which sample I wanted (and Robert Penn is right - it is all about the bike).

This ties in really nicely with my decluttering kick at the moment. I waste so much time looking at stuff I could buy, and hopefully that will cut that out too. Really, I have more than all the stuff I need (I think I have 30 short-sleeved t-shirts for goodness sake! I could wear one a day for a month, and that's not even starting to look at the long sleeved, the running tops, the vests...). I also think I have built in quite a lot of leeway in my rules, so I hope I don't just "justify" my purchases. 

It's going to be a challenge, but I think it's one worth trying. January, bring it on!

 

Wednesday
Oct172012

Let battle commence

I think I fooled a few people with the title of my last post. I'm sorry to everyone who clicked on it assuming I would actually be talking about boots! 

I said at the end of that post that I'd be trying to keep up the cycling and running as long as I don't get too many colds. Now, whilst I know that a good chunk of cold-getting is down to luck and who I bump into at the wrong time, I still believe there are things I can do to make myself stronger and cope better with them. I try different things most years, if I'm honest. Last year I was going with pro-biotics, multi-vitamins, echinacea, and occasionally andrographis. I can't say it was entirely successful, what with getting the worst chest infection I've ever had. 

So this year, I'm modifying my approach. I've done some more reading around (not talking peer-reviewed journals, maybe next year), and this year I will be taking vitamin c and zinc tablets (vitamin c is apparently useless for a cold, but zinc is shown to have some affect at reducing the number of colds and the duration of the colds apparently).

I'm also attempting to keep the snot/phlegm/gunk moving at all times, to attempt to avoid any bacterial buildup. For that I've started using nasel irrigation (or a neti pot). I'm surprised by how much clearer my nose feels and it doesn't hurt at all, but it is a little gross. The charmingly-named Booger Doctor has a whole series of success stories with sinusitis and nasel irrigation, and he recommends adding honey as a natural antibiotic. Again, sounds revolting, but actually feels ok. There has been a bit of a scare after a couple of people in Louisiana and one in Pakistan died after using a neti pot, but the suggestion seems to be to use boiled water. I figure it's relatively risk free, doesn't cost a lot, and worth a go. 

The exercise itself is part of the plan actually. Again, it's mostly hearsay, but people say that if you get to quite high level of exercise (like around 10 hours per week) you don't seem to get as sick. Since that tallies with some of my personal goals, I figure it's worth a shot (but I'd be doing it anyway, this is just extra motivation). 

The last thing I'm trying is probably the most weird. Again, it's an effort to get rid of the bacteria before they get dug in. It's called "oil pulling" - basically you spend 10 minutes swishing a tablespoon of sunflower oil around your mouth. Apparently that traps the bacteria, and then you spit it (and them) out. Again, sounds implausible, but some studies have shown a reduction in Streptococcus Mutens (??) and it doesn't cost a lot or take much effort, so I'm giving it a go. 

All of this is also being done along side taking my normal asthma medication. I've also decided to stick with the pro-biotic - my stomach seems to be upset by colds (and very upset by anti-biotics), and honestly the pro-biotic does seem to help. I don't really care if it's a placebo effect or not if I feel better and don't throw up, so I'm going with it. I have read a study that did show some kind of positive effect, which some people have discredited because it was paid for by Yakult.

I've already had my first 2-week cold of the season, which is what kicked me into reading more about it. I know I'll still get colds, but maybe, just maybe, they won't be quite as bad. We'll see. Oh, and when I get one? I'll still be taking the decongestants. 

Sunday
Oct142012

Winter boots

I know it's not strictly speaking Winter yet, but it's the time of year I start to prepare for the weather ahead. The wind picks up down here on the coast (well, 2 miles back up a hill), which makes the route I'm using for work rather unpleasant. It's a pretty typical road, single carriageway, no pavement or shoulder, not really space for a bike, 60mph speed limit, pretty constant traffic. Not the kind of conditions that work really well with a gusty, 20mph side wind, for example. 

There is a byway that runs along side the road, on the high side. It's a bit rough and ready, a long way from the droveways I used to use, and actually much less defined than the South Downs Way. I think the top half at least is new. This means it's not an easy route to follow, and the rain we've had this summer means that it's muddy as anything too. All of which means that if I want to use it, my bike needs some Winter boots. 

Winter boots

Fortunately, Clara (yes, my bike is called Clara - it's a Surly Long Haul Trucker, which in my head gets mixed up with Long Distance Clara from Pigeon Street in my youth) is built to take big fat tyres. So I've been attempting the off road route this week. I'm struggling a little with skidding - not something I'm particularly used to on-road - and my upper body is getting a good workout. In fact, it's about the only thing that makes me say I'm happier going uphill. Still, it's good practice, and being further from the traffic is definitely a good thing. 

I'm really hoping to keep cycling and running as much as possible over the next few months. I think I can ride Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and get the bus in and run Tuesday and Thursday evenings. Then with parkrun on Saturdays (either running it or running home after it) I get 3 runs in as well. Should keep the fitness levels up pretty high without taking huge chunks of time I hope. It will be interesting to see what going off-road in the dark is like - it could well be that I end up using the 10 mile route home as my 'easy' route rather than the 3.5 mile off-road route. 

And of course, all that is assuming I don't get too many colds. Fingers crossed. 

Thursday
Oct112012

Habit-forming

I can't remember if I mentioned it, but over the last year I've been doing quite a lot of reading on positive psychology and happiness. This is not because I'm unhappy. In fact, kind of the opposite. Life's really rather good right now, so I've been reading up more as an effort to appreciate that, and to try to be a calmer, happier person.

Hm. Sounds a bit serious when I put it like that. Anyway.

One of the things that kept coming up was how mess can make you unhappy by leaving you feeling out of control. But there was also a good point about sorting out all the mess being too large and difficult a project that somehow never got started. Quite a few of the books and blogs I've read talk about starting really small, like keeping a patch of desk tidy. 

Then somehow I started hitting blogs on minimalism. There's something appealing about keeping life simple, and certainly we could do with less stuff, but the full minimalist thing doesn't really appeal to me. However, there seems to be quite a lot that crosses over from the positive psychology stuff to the proponents of minimalism, one of which was habits and how tiny actions can build up into large changes. 

So, recognising that actually yes, things like the state of the kitchen and having my clothes everywhere were bugging me, and worse than that meant I was abdicating a lot of my responsibility for cooking, tidying etc to Clarkie was a first step. Especially because Clarkie's had a lot on her plate recently, so I really wanted to keep things simple and stress-free at home. Since then I've been trying to build up a small set of habits to stop my clothes piling up in the bedroom, or the kitchen getting to the stage where I'm overwhelmed by it and don't want to go in. 

(That makes it sound like the kitchen was really scummy. It was never all that bad, just things like the dishwasher needing stacking, hob needing a wipe etc. I have a low tolerance for kitchen stuff I think. The clothes piles were enormous though!)

So how's it going? Well, I think. Clarkie is a little confused by my sudden shift to tidying as I go, but I don't think she minds too much. The kitchen is mostly tidy, and the piles of clothes are... Well... Let's say much reduced. Last night I was so tired that I didn't do the post-dinner tidy-up I've been doing, but because it was just one meal it was simple enough to catch up this morning (although I have decided that a kitchen worktop that doesn't show the dirt is a really bad idea). I'm not sure they are proper habits yet - I think it would be extremely easy to slip back to doing nothing - but it's a start. We've even done a little decluttering, although at one point I had to say stop on that. I'm still finding some tasks a little overwhelming, so it's probably better to do little and often rather than risking me going all sulky-teenager on it.  

There are still plenty of things I'm not doing, and none of what I am doing seems to be taking up significant amounts of time. In fact, it's almost freeing up time, because I'm not spending ages doing the long, boring remedial tasks we used to have to do on occasion. Baby steps seem to be the way forwards!

Tuesday
Oct092012

Reading later - solved!

My latest system of getting things read is working quite well. I now catch up on twitter in the morning, sending any interesting-looking articles to instapaper. Equally though, any long blog posts in my RSS feed also get sent to instapaper. There are two reasons for that: 

  1. I find reading long posts needs a different mindset somehow to catching up on my RSS feeds.
  2. I often read them in stages, not all at once. I prefer only my unopened blog posts to show in my RSS feed, so this 'loses' these long posts after the first time I open them.

Instapaper allows me to keep track of the long posts, and it also lets me keep my place in the article when I have to put it down. Perfect!

One of the blogs I follow but used to end up not reading as much as I'd like is City of Sound. Long blog posts with really interesting critiques of either a specific location, or descriptions of their design process, or events, are their stock-in-trade, and before I used to have to wait until I had a sufficient space to read and digest. Mostly that meant they hung around unread until I felt guilty and would mark them as read just to clear them. Now I can send them to Instapaper, and I'm actually getting them read. 

The most recent one they posted was a really interesting report on their visit to Aalto University's Nanotalo ( a lab specialising in nano technology). The problems of a lab having all this fabulous stuff asking a designer "What do you need?", while the designer's still digesting "What can you do?" really resonated with me. I think there is quite a disconnect between a lot of the research being done in universities and the professions that would use that knowledge. I'm not sure (for example) how the HCI research done in labs filters through to HCI professionals, who are busy doing their own kind of on-the-ground research. Or (closer to my heart) if I discover that it is possible to alter the strength of the teams in a game by tweaking the rules, how will game designers hear about that to use it? It's a knotty sort of problem.

In some ways, the two worlds of practitioner and researcher seem so far apart. They have different conferences, different languages, different needs. They attract quite different people. Yet somehow we really need to bridge this gap.

Something else occurred to me at the end of that article too. He was talking about being able to just email blueprints of objects and have them created at source from locally-grown repurposed cellulose (from trees), talking about the change in infrastructure, the reduction in shipping etc, focussing on reduced energy and other good things. My thought was what about all the people who are employed to do that? What happens to them? Where are the new jobs for them going to come from? That is a problem that also needs to be solved for this to work (jumping through the scientific problems that are I suspect somehow more likely to be solved first).

This sort of thing is why I was trying to fix my reading issues. I like having these kind of things cross my attention, because even though at first the topic seems so far from my interests it sparks new thoughts. Definitely worth the effort of sorting out my tools!