First review of 2014 goals

The first three months of 2014 are over (how time flies!) so now is a good time to see how I am progressing with the goals that I set for the year.

Walk at least 70,000 steps every week

Thanks to the power of  my Fitbit One and the wonderful weekly summary statistics they send me, I know that sadly I have only been able to achieve this once in the middle of March with a weekly total of 84,628 steps. On all the other weeks I totalled roughly 50-60k so I’m not too far away from my goal. Boo to me, but it’s not the end of the world. I just need to work a little harder to get to where I want. The point is not to tick the box to say I have done it, but to be constantly working towards something. Part of that is the slight change in my activities. I now make sure that I take a half an hour walk every lunchtime during the week (in addition to the less regular evening gym sessions). I also walk an hour each morning on the weekend. Making these part of my routine has been very helpful. As an aside, these walks are the source of most of my instagram pictures. Also, some numbers because I like them:

  • Total steps in 3 months: 619,954 (~56k/week).
  • Total miles walked: 265.04 (~24/week).

Also, badges earned:

Daily steps taken.

5000 daily steps badge10000 daily steps badge15000 daily steps badge

Lifetime distance walked.

50 miles lifetime badge250 miles lifetime badge

Lose some weight

This one has been slowly ticking away too and I’ve been able to see the objective changes thanks to my Fitbit Aria wireless scales. It’s been very slow going because I haven’t done a huge amount in terms of changing my diet. I think what I eat is mostly fine; my problem is portion control! Anyway, I got a badge for losing 3kg which was nice. I hope to continue the (slow) downward trend over the rest of the year.

Donate to a different charity every month

I already have monthly donations set up to a few places (such as Wikipedia) and so I wanted this to be a number of one-off payments to a wide variety of charities. I wasn’t sure what should be on my list and so posed the following question to some friends and colleagues:

“If you found £20 on the floor and decided to give it away to a charity, which would you give it to?”

This gave me a good list of worthwhile charities, some that hadn’t even occurred to me. It also gave me an interesting insight into what some of them found valuable, which was a bonus! So far this year I have donated money to the following three charities:

My list so far isn’t long enough to last the entire year, so am happy to take on more suggestions.

Blog at least once a month

Technically I have done this, but March had one entry right at the start and that was it – a bit rubbish. The purpose behind this was to encourage me to blog more. I have things that I want to write about, but I just procrastinate too much. It’s going in the right direction at least.

Meet some new people

As I mentioned at the time, this one is the hardest to measure. I still thing this but I have been making some progress. I have joined the Twickenham meetup group and been to a couple of meetups. I have also joined been to some other events specifically related to meeting new people. I have an awful time talking to new people. I get extremely nervous about first contact, even though I am mostly fine once I get started. I have also joined a group for shy people as a way to combat this and that has been interesting. Lastly, I have been continuing to go to the PABC as I have done for more than two years but the difference now is that I am making a conscious effort to deliberately talk to new members, even though I have the aforementioned difficulties with talking to new people.

Summary

All in all, I think I am doing quite well with the things I have chosen, and I have plans on how to progress them. Hooray! Let’s see how things look in another three months.

After the flood

Last month I posted about the flooding around Egham. The rains have eased off since then and the waters have receded so here are some updated pictures from last week.

Goodbye railing, goodbye crossing, goodbye road markings.

Before: No road visible at all.

After: The road is visible again.

After: The road is visible again.

A better look out at the green.

A better look out at the green.

And now looking in the other direction towards the Runnymede Hotel.

Outside the Runnymede-on-Thames hotel. I think this is meant to be a car park, but I'm not quite sure.

Before: Water everywhere.

After: The greenery is back. I was mistaken when I thought this was a car park.

After: The greenery is back. I was mistaken when I thought this was a car park.

Hopefully that’s it for the flooding “fun” for this year.

 

 

Hair

Those who have seen me in the last two years will know that I have been growing my hair. This was partially on a whim and wanting a change, but also one of the many things that I did as a reaction to what happened to my sister in 2011.

Those of you who have seen me recently will also know that my hair is now beyond shoulder length, straggly at the ends and on some days make me look and feel like a crazy person. I didn’t do anything to it beyond letting it grow naturally and getting it trimmed a couple of times early on. The fact that it was now becoming unmanageable and making me look like the aforementioned crazy person at times, I was becoming a little tired of it. I was also a little tired of being both subtly and unsubtly pressured by some people to get it cut, so I was very close to getting it all cut off and going back to my original extremely short, extremely easy haircut. But then I had a cunning plan …

One of things I started last year was to deliberately try out new things and experiences after realising I had effectively been coasting for the last few years. So how does this fit in to the whole hair thing? Well I’ve never been one to care much about what I look like. The only thing I aim for is to not look shit. Anything beyond that I’m not particularly interested in. This means that whenever I have got my hair cut it’s always been at a barber and I got in and out as quickly as I could. It was about function and practicality rather than aesthetics. So I thought to myself, why don’t I try getting my hair cut in a salon once to see what that’s like?

My two options were therefore:

  • Go to a salon and try something new.
  • Cut it all off and capitulate to those who have been pressuring me.

New experience trumped giving in to others’ irrational desires, so my decision was made. I also had the safety net that if it all went horribly wrong I could still shave it all off.

I made an appointment at Toni & Guy which was near my flat and battled my way through flood-induced traffic to get there on time after work and I must say it was a great decision. I enjoyed the experience immensely. I was initially nervous about it in my usual anxiety about being in new places and I was amused and pleasantly surprised to see that the only two other clients there were men! I had no need to be nervous though. I sat in a massage chair while I had my hair washed with wonderful smelling stuff. Then I had my hair cut and blow dried and straightened and then had more nice smelling stuff put in. What was extra nice was that the woman explained every step that she took and asked for my input at all the relevant moments. And the result? My hair looked fucking amazing. Fucking. Amazing.

I was utterly surprised by how good it looked. This was a complete revelation to me. For someone who doesn’t give a shit about appearance, I was shocked by how positive it made me feel. It was so soft and shiny and straight. I couldn’t stop touching it or looking at it in the mirror and giggling like a crazy person, even hours later. It seems so dumb to be affected by something so trivial as hair, but there I was. I suspect the main reason to be that I don’t consider myself to be attractive and this gave me glimpse into the fact that a part of me has the potential to be. Who knew such a thing could happen.

So now I’ve reached the decision that I won’t be chopping it all off and in fact will start taking care of it in the hopes of maintaining the awesomeness. This will also be a new experience, so it’s a double win.

Here endeth one chapter of my hair. Let’s see what happens next …

Flooding

Those in the UK will no doubt be aware that we are currently in the middle of flooding across large parts of the country. I work in Egham in Surrey which is experiencing some of that flooding and has been mentioned in the news.

Stepping back through the mists of time a bit (ie. to January), I had heard of the water that had accumulated in the normally green area between the A30 (Egham Bypass) and the A308 (Windsor Road) (I think it’s called Runnymede Meadows). I had also glimpsed it while driving past. I went down that way in my lunch break (about a 15 minute walk) and took some pictures. I also took this video from the public footpath that cross the area:

The water rose some more and the A308 was actually closed because of the flooding. That lasted a few days and then the water started receding and I thought that it was over. Little did I know that in the last week it would be coming back with a vengeance. The flooding in the area is getting increasingly worse, including groundwater coming up in various places. That path I was standing on it that video is now about waist deep under water. It’s got so bad that the Egham is now one more of the places in the country that the national press has descended on (Channel 4 news were live there on Friday 14th February). The army is also assisting with some things.

Our office is at the very edge of the flood warning zone. I’m pretty sure that things would have to get really really bad for flood water to reach us, but at the start of the week we started flood defense measures such as moving the core servers out of the server room on the ground floor and moved them upstairs. Most of the week has been spent by some of us on and off watching twitter to see the flood water encroaching ever closer. We have also been on a wander around the area to look at the various flooded parts as what Rich amusingly called “flood tourists”. This will sound harsh to those affected by the flood water, but I have been fascinated by the situation.

Anyway, enough about that for now. Here are some of the pictures and videos I took and also some of the things I tweeted. The first batch is from last month before the flooding got insane.

Before the road was flooded, but there was still some flood water. I used that building to gauge how much the flood water rose.

Before the road was flooded, but there was still some flood water. I used that building to gauge how much the flood water rose.

Looking across the expanse of water. At the water's height (so far) the railing in the foreground was under water.

Looking across the expanse of water. At the water’s height (so far) the railing in the foreground was under water.

A building near the Runnymede roundabout that has had its car park flooded for weeks now. Luckily the office is not occupied at the moment.

A building near the Runnymede roundabout that has had its car park flooded for weeks now. Luckily the office is not occupied at the moment.

The first time the road was flooded. Note that the railing and the crossing are still visible, as well as the road markings.

The first time the road was flooded. Note that the railing and the crossing are still visible, as well as the road markings.

The rest are from this month, so far.

Goodbye railing, goodbye crossing, goodbye road markings.

Goodbye railing, goodbye crossing, goodbye road markings.

Another angle.

Another angle.

Outside the Runnymede-on-Thames hotel. I think this is meant to be a car park, but I'm not quite sure.

Outside the Runnymede-on-Thames hotel. I think this is meant to be a car park, but I’m not quite sure.

Here’s hoping things don’t get much worse.

100 posts!

One of the last posts I made (probably one of the old migrated posts) earned me the 100 post badge on WordPress. Yay!

It’s utterly arbitrary, but it’s nice to see a nice round number. Also, who doesn’t love gamification.

Given that the earliest post I have here is from 2003, 100 posts over ~11 years does not seem that impressive. But the reality is that the vast bulk of those were written in the 2003-2005 period when apparently I was extremely prolific. I blame the lack of employment! Things took a complete nosedive once I started working. Now that I am (in theory) getting back into this blogging lark, hopefully I’ll be able to strike a balance.

This is really a non-content post. It’s only here because it has been mentally blocking the other things I have queued up in my head to write about. My obsessive nature meant I couldn’t write any of those until I got this one out of the way. So that’s that done then. Here’s to the next 100!

Goals for 2014

Happy New Year! Welcome 2014!

Given that we are at the start of a brand new year, it therefore means it is time once again to set goals for the coming year. Note that I said “goals” and not “resolutions”. I have never set myself new year’s resolutions and I never would because it’s a cliche that people make them and then break them within the first few days of the year. I’ve never seen the point in that. It’s just kidding yourself. Instead, what I did for the first time in 2012 was to set myself some goals that were attainable and measurable. The point here is to be able to pick something that I have the possibility of actually achieving. Anything that wasn’t would have just been eventually dropped. They also had to be measurable in some way to know how well I was doing. I reviewed them every quarter to make sure I was on track because that’s the kind of person I am.

Previous goals

This was a new endeavour for me and I decided to try setting work goals as well as personal, to see how things went. Here’s what I initially set for my personal goals:

  • Buy a house for me, mum and Yusuf to live in.
  • Learn at least one new programming language.
  • Read at least one technical book per quarter.

Due to various circumstances, that first item morphed into two items:

  • Buy a house to rent out.
  • Move out into my own flat.

As you can see, they are all things that I could measure the progress of, continuously work towards, and know whether or not I had achieved them.

All in all these were quite successful (although technically the house and flat stuff didn’t complete until the start of 2013, but I’m counting them). The work goals were equally successful (making sure n technical talks happened, setting up a code review system, etc).

So that was 2012. What about 2013? Well that was an utter fail in this regard. I had some vague ideas about what my goals might be but I never actually sat down and made then concrete and then suddenly half the year had gone and I came to the realisation that it just wasn’t going to happen. I know that you should be able to set yourself goals at any point, but we humans do like our arbitrary calendar milestones.

I  enjoyed having the goals in 2012. It really helped focus me and my efforts through the year and avoid the coasting I had done for the previous years. I really felt the lack of them in 2013 so I didn’t want to do that again and so for the last few weeks I have been thinking about what my 2014 goals would be. And without further ado …

Future goals

Here are my personal goals for 2014. A number of them are concrete forms of the vague goals I had in 2013 but the rest are new. They are numbered for easy reference and are not an ordering.

  1. Walk at least 70,000 steps every week.
  2. Lose some weight!
  3. Donate to a different charity every month.
  4. Blog at least once a month.
  5. Meet some new people.

#1 will be measurable thanks to my FitBit One which I bought two weeks ago (and intend to blog about at some point).

#2 is of course a complete cliche that almost everyone has as part of their post-christmas gorge. The difference here is I don’t do Christmas and therefore don’t have that gorge to try and balance out and also that I have a specific amount in mind that I will aim for. I already go to the gym on a semi-regular basis and this in conjunction with the FitBit One (and maybe the FitBit Aria that I might get) will help keep me on the right path.

#4 is just an effort to get me to write down some of my thoughts. I’ve found the older blog posts that I mentioned in my “First Post!” a really invaluable insight into what I was doing and thinking ten years ago. I have numerous half-written blog posts on various subjects that I have not completed because of procrastination. I’m hoping that giving myself a schedule will make me a little more productive in this area. Actually, with this post I will have achieved my “at least once” for January so I am already winning. Hooray!

#5 is the one that is the least applicable to what I said about being measurable and achievable. How on earth do I measure it? I am chronically shy, so how on earth do I even do it? No idea, but that’s the challenge I have set myself.

One thing about that list that worries me a little is whether or not I have too many things. I will be setting myself some work goals as well, so there is the danger that I will be spreading my time too thinly. We’ll just have to see.

Honourable mention

One last item I thought I should mention that doesn’t warrant an annual goal, but is still something that needs doing: finish migrating my old blog posts! In the aforementioned “First Post” which was written in May 2013, I said that I had started migrating them but lazy git that I am, I still haven’t finished migrating them. I’ll finish it. Honest!

Home made pizza

This year I have become increasingly interested in cooking and cooking shows (eg. The Great British Bake Off, The Hairy Bikers Best of British, etc). I thought it might be interesting to document some of the things that I attempt to make. I’ve got pictures of Lemon Drizzle Cake and Flapjacks, but first off … Pizza!

So I made some pizza for the first time ever the other day. This was also my first time making any bread from scratch, so twice the novelty. The recipe I used was from Beginners Get … Sorted by the guys over at Sorted Food. The basic steps are:

  1. Mix some yeast with warm water and sugar for 10 minutes.
  2. Add to some flour and olive oil.
  3. Mix and knead.
  4. Prove for an hour.
  5. Fry some onions and garlic and then add chopped tomatoes and herbs. Simmer for half an hour to reduce.
  6. Add dough portion to a baking tray and bake for 5 minutes.
  7. Add tomato base and toppings and bake again for another 15 minutes.

Not overly complex but more time consuming than I was expecting. I blame part of that on doing it for the first time. No doubt I will get better at multi-tasking next time.

Anyway, on with the pictures!

Yeast, sugar and warm water.

Yeast, sugar and warm water.

The dough after kneading, ready to be proved.

The dough after kneading, ready to be proved.

I’m no stranger to kneading but that’s been with rice flour which has a distinctly different feel to it. It’s not stretchy like this was. Even though I knew from the theory and the TV shows that it would be stretchy, I was still surprised by the texture. I covered this up with some clingfilm and put it away in a warm place to prove for an hour. Technically, I should have put it in another clean bowl, but … I don’t have another bowl!

Pizza toppings, sliced and waiting.

Pizza toppings, sliced and waiting.

After sorting out the sauce (no picture, but it’s basically chopped tomatoes so no big loss) I sliced up some mushrooms and peppers. I wasn’t sure what was the right quantity, hence laying it out on the baking tray I intended to use, to gauge the right amount. Although not in this picture, I also added some anchovies, because why not.

The pizza dough after an hour of proving.

The pizza dough after an hour of proving.

Once again, even though I knew the dough would double in size, it was still a nice surprise to see it actually happen! I grabbed a portion and laid it out on an oiled baking tray (stretchy!) and baked that for five minutes. No picture of that, but it was interesting to see how quickly it firmed up.

The fully assembled pizza, ready to go into the oven.

The fully assembled pizza, ready to go into the oven.

So after the initial bake I laid on the sauce and the toppings. You can spot one of the shiny anchovies in the top right. It was already looking yummy at the stage.

The finished pizza, straight out of the oven.

The finished pizza, straight out of the oven.

And here it is, out of the oven. The cheese is a little unevenly distributed, but it looked fine.

The end product. A slice of pizza and some baby gem lettuce.

The end product. A slice of pizza and some baby gem lettuce.

And finally after all that time I got to finally eat it! And it was very very nice. This pizza only took part of the dough so I used the remainder to make two more bases and they are now in the freezer, ready for another day.

Things to try next time

  • Use a different cheese. I used grated cheddar, but something like the more traditional mozzarella or maybe some crumbled blue cheese might be interesting.
  • Different toppings, obviously! Not sure what, though.
  • A second kneading after the proving. This recipe didn’t ask me to, but I have seen others that say I should. Will be interesting to see what effect that has on the dough.
  • Make up a large batch of the tomato base and freeze it. Fresh is no doubt nicer, but using pre-prepared will definitely be faster.
  • Add some rocket at the end to make it look a bit more fancy.