Categories
Miscellaneous

Running along

After thinking about it for a long time, last week I finally got round to replacing my old running shoes (I had been waiting for shops to reopen, but I went online in the end).

In the fifteen months I had these shoes I ran just under 1200km*. That’s way, way over the recommendation of replacing running shoes after 500-800km. My usage averages out to about 2.3km per day. Obviously I didn’t run every day – some days I ran more and some days I didn’t run at all.

*I’m not sure this is quite right as there’s some activities which I wouldn’t have used these shoes for but are recorded with them. Conversely, not all my runs get recorded so it may balance out. Anyway, it still shows I went way over the recommended usage limits.

Distance (in km) against time

There’s a few interesting trends to pick out from this data:

  1. It’s possible to see where I had big races in my schedule. I ran half marathons (21km) in March 2019 (the Big Half), September 2019 (the Great North Run) and early March 2020 (the Big Half again). These all show as an increase in training over the proceeding weeks (more distance covered), a small step increase for the race and then a reduced mileage afterwards.
  2. I also ran a half marathon in August 2019 (the Thames Meander Half Marathon) which again shows as a small step increase, but this was part of my training for the Great North Run so doesn’t have it’s own associated training increase/decrease either side.
  3. I appear to have taken a fairly long break from running in March-April 2019. This was partly from resting after the previous race, but also mainly because I was out of the country. I had taken an older pair of shoes to save on weight (not because my older shoes were lighter, but because I could use them for non-running purposes too – something I wouldn’t do in my almost new shoes).
  4. I also ran less in December 2019-early January 2020. I had a cold/illness at this point (even if my family didn’t believe me) and I didn’t feel like running for most of the Christmas period.
  5. Since the most recent race at the beginning of March, and during the lockdown, there’s been a steady stream of runs, some slightly longer ones but balanced out by some extra rest days. Without any races planned, I guess that’s what my regular running pattern looks like (i.e. when not training for a race and not resting after one).

Anyway, after almost 1200km and four half marathons, it was definitely time for them to be replaced. Time to see how their replacements hold up…

Categories
Miscellaneous

Working From Home vs. Working in the Office

I mentioned last week that I’m no longer working from home, but am now back in the office all the time. Today I’m going to do a comparison of the two.

Commuting

The most obvious difference about working from home is not having to commute to work. My total commute is just over an hour each way, so I should be gaining an extra two hours a day. It’s not quite that simple in practice, but for the moment, working from home is the winner here.

Winner: Working from home

Working hours

Not having to commute meant that I could start work earlier. But conversely I was also in no rush to get home at the end of the day. And having access to email at all times meant that I was never really far away from work (when in the office, I don’t do anything work related after leaving the building). But I did make up for this by having much longer breaks. For example, the flexibility of being at home meant that I could just pop to the supermarket when it was less busy during the middle of the day, rather than at the end of the working day on the way home from work.

Whilst working from home is much more flexible, I much prefer the structured working hours of being in the office.

Winner: Working in the office

Exercise

Whilst I’ve been working from home, I’ve been doing PE with Joe most mornings. This has primarily been due to the early lockdown rules around not leaving the house unless essential. Whilst an indoor workout session is fun and probably worthwhile every now and then, I much more prefer going outside for a run. If I’m up and outside for going to work, I’m much more likely to go for a run either before work, after work or during lunch time. If I’m at home I’m much more likely to spend my lunch break watching TV, whereas at work I often take the time to go for a run which is much better for clearing the head during the working day. And occasionally, in order to use public transport less, I’ve even run all the way home from work (although not recommended when it’s hot).

Winner: Working in the office

Money

My normal commute to work costs between £8 and £11 per day depending on how I get to work. That’s quite a significant saving each week and makes working from home the all out winner here.

I also normally buy lunch from the canteen at work which costs around £5 to £5.50 per day. Working from home means having to buy more meals in my weekly shop. Financially that’s probably cheaper than buying lunch each day, but the benefits of paying for lunch include not having to cook it myself and not having to do as much washing up, both of which make a considerable time saving so I consider it to be worth the extra cost. But the saving from not commuting is a much more considerable saving.

Winner: Working from home

IT

I can’t access the work network from home, which limits what I can do. But I do have a much more powerful computer for the things I can do at home. I’m calling this one a draw.

Winner: Draw

Environment

My living room is south facing and gets ridiculously warm when the sun is shining in. Conversely my office is designed to be a workplace so it has air-conditioning and is kept at a constant temperature all the time. My office also has proper desks and office chairs, whereas at home I just have a dining room table and chair. I know which one my back prefers.

One of the advantages of being at home is being able to able to have music playing in the background which just isn’t possible in an office environment. Mainly because there are other people there. People to talk to. Real people. (Sorry Alexa.)

Winner: Working in the office

Conclusion: Working from the office wins by 4 to 3. Not a huge victory as both have their advantages. Working from home has a lot more flexibility, but the office is just a better environment for actual working. I think working in the office the majority of time with the occasional day at home would make for the best compromise. We’ll have to see how things shift when the lockdown fully ends and the “new normal” begins.

Categories
Lessons from the lockdown

Lessons from the lockdown #4

The lockdown seems to be coming to an end (at least in England) and I’m now back at work full-time, but I still have a few more “Lessons from the lockdown” posts to post.

Today I’m looking at my utility (gas, electricity, water) usage and how it’s changed (or not) since the lockdown came in. I’ll stick the disclaimer up front: my meter readings are irregular and the data isn’t discrete enough to do a specific analysis by day/week, but it should show the general trends.

Gas

The most obvious thing in my gas usage over the last couple of years are the massive peaks over the winter period as I have a gas heating system. The lower usage last winter is either because I’ve had my flat much colder, or because the new double glazing actually does help to bring down heating costs.

The lockdown has coincided with a period of reasonably warm weather so I’ve had the heating turned off for a while. The only other use for gas is for cooking food on the hob. I have had to do more cooking whilst I’ve been at home, which may account for the slight recent rise and drop as I’ve gone back to work, but this is all within the realm of statistical anomalies. My current gas usage is almost at the lowest point it’s ever been (at this property anyway).

Electricity

My electricity usage on the other hand has never been higher. Electricity usage is fairly non-seasonal, despite the longer winter evenings needing more lighting.

Generally just being at home and running more electrical devices has probably caused this massive spike. The massive ramp up in electricity usage recently coincides with both buying a new computer and being at home more to use it. The good news is that it appears to be dropping which could be linked to being back in the office more often, but only time will tell.

Water

Water usage has fluctuated the most over the last couple of years. There is a definitive spike in usage during February/March this year, but then a massive drop before increasing again. It’s possible that some of these seemingly anomalous readings are caused by rounding errors when the meter is read. The actual usage is probably somewhere between the two peaks and the average trend is shown by the dotted line.

Either way there does seem to be an upward trend in water usage. With being at home more, there’s much more water being used than normal. From washing hands more often due to coronavirus, to the things I would normally do in the office (filling my water bottle, using the toilet etc), it’s not surprising that water use is higher than previously. Again, the good news is that the water usage seems to be on a downward trajectory too as I return to work.

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Discussion

It’s not right

I spent a long time thinking about today’s post and drafted quite a few versions, but I decided that the straight-forward option would be the best.

I’m a white male who has grown up in a predominately white community. I’ve had certain opportunities which have not been open to every person in our society. Living in multi-cultural London has made me much more aware of the differences and the struggles that others have faced that I’ve never had to.

Last night I was talking to some friends who were telling me their stories of the racism they’ve experienced. A guy the same age as me has been stopped by the police over 50 times, including five times in the same day, just because he’s black. I’ve never been stopped by the police once. Yes, he grew up on a South London housing estate, but we now live in the same area. He still gets stopped. I don’t. His wife said that she’s been stopped too, even when just going to the newsagents to buy a paper for her parents. Again, it’s just never happened to me. Another friend told a story of how some people followed his car and tried to attack him, again just because he’s black. My friends went on to explain that they have to work three times harder at everything, just to get to the same position as a white person. I’ve vaguely been aware of these sort of stories, but it was certainly an eye-opening conversation for me to hear it directly from people I know.

Talking about it is a good first start, but we all need to do much more. I know that I haven’t always been the best at recognising the unfair advantages I’ve had, and this blog post doesn’t go nearly far enough, but I intend to do my best to rectify it where I can.

#BlackLivesMatter

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Pondering

High Rise Living

Sorry, this is a quite a conceptual post this week. I’ll try to be more interesting next time.

I was lying in bed the other night and I realised that I lived in a block of flats. That’s not a new thing and something I was already aware of – I’ve lived in several flats since I moved to London. What I realised though was that the flat above me and the flat below me have the same room layout. And the ones the other side of them do too. That means that there’s several bedrooms directly above and below mine. If my neighbours have their beds in the same positions as me, there are several people all sleeping in a parallel orientation, separated only by a couple of metres and a solid concrete floor. In mathematical terms, we’re at the same x and y coordinates, but differing in the z-axis.

Additionally, I have neighbours on either side of me. And although one is two kitchens away, the nearest is only the other side of a concrete wall. Possibly even closer than the two metres recommended for social distancing.

But what’s happening in their parallel flats? Do they have the same internal room layouts? What decorations do they have? What do they get up to in their flats? What are their lives like?

I live in London so of course I don’t actually know any of my neighbours. I think the new couple downstairs have young children, possibly including a new baby. And the people upstairs may also have a young baby. But who knows? I’ve never met any of them other than in passing.

The other day I received this letter (and I’m assuming all my neighbours did too):

I don’t normally hear my neighbours, although I do often have music playing or the TV on. I’ve never noticed a noisy neighbour. Does that mean that I’m the problem? I feel like my volumes are kept at a “moderate level”, plus I’m normally in bed between 10pm and 7am. And is it saying that they’ve had *complaints* from a number of flats, or that they’ve had *noise disturbances* from a number of flats?

Either way, it has made me wonder what my neighbours can hear of me. I can sometimes hear their activities but can never make out anything distinctively. So can my neighbours hear me? Maybe sometimes, but probably nothing significant. But Alexa, she hears everything.

Categories
Miscellaneous

Under the keys

On Saturday I was cleaning my computer keyboard. Whilst doing so, I noticed there was a lot of fluff stuck underneath the keys. My engineering instinct kicked in and I immediately dismantled my entire keyboard to get to the parts underneath.

Once cleaned I then realised I hadn’t any idea which keys went where. There’s a few obvious ones, the F keys, QWERTY, the number pad. But then there’s a lot of random ones, mainly punctuation and features such as “sleep” and “wake up” which are fairly unique to my keyboard. And then there’s other keys such as the left ctrl key and the right ctrl key. Do they have a specific orientation? And what about the up/down and left/right arrow keys?

So I started off with doing all of the keys that were obvious or I could make a sensible guess at where they went and got surprisingly far:

Who really knows how the bottom row of letters goes? (I realised shortly after that the M key was in the wrong place)

But I actually know more keys than I thought I did. Not in my conscious mind, but in my subconscious and my finger muscle memory. When do I ever look at the keyboard when typing? All I had to do was pretend to type and see where my fingers were hitting and that’s where the keys had to be. And that’s how I got back up to a full complement of keys.

Note: There were initially a couple of minor mistakes. I had the [ ] and – = the wrong way round. And the ‘Scroll Lock’ / ‘Pause Break’ / ‘Print Screen SysRq’ keys in the wrong order (but who even uses those? – apart from when I accidently hit them because of the bad design of this keyboard). The * and / keys in the number pad were also the wrong way round but again they’re right in the periphery.

So that took up about an hour of my bank holiday and also gave me something to write about today. Want to challenge yourself to see if you know where all the keys on a keyboard are? All you need is a keyboard and a screwdriver.

Categories
Miscellaneous

Missed the boat

This week I’ve been back in the office.

On Monday morning I went to get the train to work. I missed the train by seconds. Whilst I waited for the next one, I thought about the sequence of events leading up to that moment and all the ways that I could have caught the train if only I had…

  1. Left the house earlier – This is the most obvious answer but without hindsight it’s hard to know the effect that later actions had. It normally takes 10-12 minutes to walk to the station (depending on traffic). I normally give myself 12-15 mins just in case. On Monday I was getting close to my cut-off point and still wasn’t quite ready to leave. I could have rushed and probably made it, but the trains are every 15 minutes, so I thought I’d relax at home for a bit longer and then get the next one. I actually left the house with 16 minutes to get to the station, because on the way I wanted to…
  2. Buy bananas – I mentioned the other week that I normally have a banana every day. I last went shopping on Friday morning and deliberately chose not to buy bananas because I knew they wouldn’t last until the end of this week when I next went shopping. I planned to buy bananas from the stall outside the station, but when I walked past M&S Food and saw there were no queues I decided to go there (this was actually a wise choice as the fruit stall only had green bananas). Whilst I was there, I remembered that I also needed to…
  3. Buy shower gel – I ran out of shower gel a couple of days prior (don’t worry, I always have hotel toiletries for such emergency situations). I was planning to head to Sainsbury’s specifically for shower gel after work, but since I was in a supermarket already, why shouldn’t I just buy it here? Time was tight I thought, but I should be ok as long as I find what I want quickly. But I don’t shop much at M&S Food so it took me slightly longer than anticipated to find what I needed. Not to worry, there was no queue for the…
  4. Automated checkout – I scanned the shower gel, tick. I selected ‘loose item’ and then ‘banana#, only for the machine to tell me “invalid item”. The assistant then pointed me to a separate scales where I had to weigh the bananas and print out a barcode for scanning. I then chose to pay, but the “invalid item” message popped up again, which the assistant then had to come back across to clear. That done, I still had about two minutes to get to the station, I just needed to…
  5. Cross the road – There are two main road junctions I need to cross between my house and the station. They both have pedestrian sequences but they both really depend on the amount of traffic and turning up at the right point of the sequence. The first one was no problem on Monday given the reduced traffic and a bus that was conveniently waiting to turn the corner. The second junction was busier and I arrived halfway through one sequence of cars before the next car sequence and then the pedestrians. I could have made a dash for it, but road safety is important. Also, I could see that the train hadn’t arrived yet which meant I still had time to walk across and…
  6. Touch in – I currently use contactless to pay for my journeys (I used to use oyster but that’s a topic for a future blog). Specifically I’ve been using Android Pay on my phone. I could hear the train coming in at this point, but the station entrance is towards the rear of the train and it would take time for the train to actually arrive at the platform. I hit my phone against the oyster pad and the contactless symbol showed up on my phone, but the oyster pad came up with an error message (I think it was error 67 “contactless payment not approved” but I didn’t really have to time to study it). I knew Android Pay worked because I had used it moments ago to pay for my bananas. I moved to the next oyster pad but the same error. The train had stopped by this point so I pulled out my wallet and tapped my actual contactless card. Success. Now all I had to do was…
  7. Board the train – About 2.7 million people use my local station every year. Normally this means trains are quite busy with people getting on and off every time and so the trains normally stop for a good while. Not at the moment. With fewer people travelling to work it doesn’t take as long for the few people to board or alight. On a normal day, people would still be waiting to get on the train when I arrived onto the platform. On Monday, the train doors closed seconds before I could get to the train.
Categories
Lessons from the lockdown Technology

Lessons from the lockdown #3

For a long time I’d been thinking of getting a new computer. My 6-year old laptop is still pretty powerful and does everything I need it to (I massively overspec’d it when I bought it), but it is laptop and the case is starting to fall apart. Regular readers may remember that it previously had an issue where the battery died and needed replacing. Three years on, and the replacement battery is also no longer able to hold a charge and requires permanently being attached to the wall. However, until my laptop died outright I was unwilling to replace it.

Over the last couple of years, I’ve kept and updated a list of components I would buy if I was to build my own computer. By late 2019, I had decided that late April/early May 2020 would be when I put my plan into action.

And then the lockdowns started to come in. With the factories in Asia shut down, the internet was predicting that computer parts would drop in availability and increase in price over the next few months. This would be exactly when I was planning to buy my new computer. So, in mid-March, I decided to accelerate my purchasing plans and spent a couple of days finding the cheapest places to buy each of the components I wanted.

A week or so later (and several trips to various parcel depots around London), and I had a new computer built and working:

Since the initial build I’ve also added the additional RGB fan at the back and the two vertical RGB strips (mainly to look better). The light strips could be a bit tidier, but that would involve a lot more effort. The only other planned change I would like to do is to move the graphics card to a vertical orientation, but the parts I want to do that aren’t available at the moment.

Speaking of availability, remember how I mentioned that it was thought that availability would go down and prices would go up as the lockdown went on? Well, I’ve kept track of the prices since then (whilst hoping to avoid buyer’s remorse). Here’s my findings normalised to 100% at the price I paid:

(Note: It’s not entirely scientific, because this is just the prices for each item at the retailer I bought each item from. When doing my initial price checking, I compared all 9 items across about 20 retailers, but I wasn’t going to do that each time. I also only recorded the prices every week or two so it may miss some fluctuations. It’s also not possible to compare with prices before I started recording – prices may already have been trending upwards, or I may have just bought when everything was on sale.)

It may not be entirely clear from that graph, but here’s the key points:

  1. The total price (highlighted in yellow) has gradually increased over the last two months
  2. The second SSD (yes, I have two), the power supply and the memory all went out of stock about two weeks ago. It would be possible to use different components with similar specifications, but then it wouldn’t be the computer I’ve built
  3. The motherboard and graphics card both dropped in price the week after I bought them. However, everything else went up the week after I bought them, and the overall cost would still have been more expensive
  4. Apart from a couple of items, costs have generally stabilised over the last couple of weeks and may even be starting to drop back down again. This is possibly due to increased availability again, or it could just be retailers trying to clear stocks in anticipation of the next generation of components. I may keep recording prices over the next couple of months for comparison

So did I buy at the right time? From the (incomplete) data I have, yes.

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Out and about

Adrian’s week off at home

So only two weeks in to blogging again, and I’ve already missed my self-imposed target to post something every Wednesday evening. My not-very-good excuse is that I was on holiday last week. I’ve posted before about some of my activities that I’ve got to around London whilst on holiday. So what did I do this time with my week’s holiday during the lockdown?

The first thing to say is that I definitely chose the week with the worst weather. The week before was warm and sunny and this week has been fairly settled. Last week however was the heaviest rain in a long while. So between the rain and the lockdown, the options for things to do was quite limited.

I did recently find that there are a number of “heritage trails” in my local area. This seemed like a good time to walk some of them. Here’s some of the things I found out:

  1. The definition of “heritage” and “trail” are variable – Some of them only pointed out key landmarks or things of particular interest, whilst others went out of their way to show every possible item. The longest trail was about 7km and included a 1.5km detour to show off a street which had three blue plaques (and I only even recognised one of the names). The shortest trail was only 800m long and went along one side of a high street and back down the other.
  2. The lockdown may not be the best time to do these walks – Some of the walks had a lot of information to read. It’s quite hard to stop in the pavements without blocking them and that’s no good for social distancing. It’s also quite hard to imagine an area as “vibrant” when you’re the only person around and everywhere is shuttered up.
  3. The marks of the past are everywhere – There’s a footpath which follows the boundary of a field (which for a built-up area behind a main shopping street is quite surprising). Elsewhere there’s a car park behind a local church that used to be built up housing but was destroyed during WW2 bombing. And half of that church is made of newer brick, which I had vaguely noticed but never really thought about. Everything has a story.
  4. You have to look up – Every high street looks fairly similar with its rows of shops with the same signs and facades. However, if you look at the first floor and above they all have very different buildings behind them which often have their own architectural flair and histories. Again, everything has a story.

So was it worth it? Probably yes, because I did learn some useful local knowledge whilst getting some exercise and seeing areas that I wouldn’t normally go to. Would I do these walks again? Probably not.

Categories
Lessons from the lockdown

Lessons from the lockdown #2

Several years ago, I started doing something called “Takeaway Thursday”. It’s a simple enough premise – get a different takeaway meal every Thursday evening from the local area. Several years and several houses (and one lockdown) later, I decided I should reinstate this tradition in order to bring some regularity to my week (and so that I didn’t have to cook).

While I intended to write about my Takeaway Thursday experience from last week (which I may or may not use in next week’s post), I started to make a list of all the places within a 10 minute walk which do food (either restaurant or takeaway):

Have I ever been there?Restaurant status?Takeaway/Delivery status?
The Chinese (the only Chinese now since the other one closed)YesClosed
The dodgy Indian (it’s got new management now so it may have improved)Yes (but not since the new management)Closed
The classic Indian (it doesn’t look like it’s been refurbished since the 90s)YesClosedYes
The posh Indian (used to be across the road but is now where the posh Chinese was)YesClosedYes
The expensive fish and chip shopYesClosed
The fish and chip shop restaurantYesClosedYes
The station kebab shopYesYes
The normal kebab shop (only reopened recently after it’s recent four month refurbishment – I was starting to worry, even though their poster clearly said “we will be back, do not worry, we will feed you”)Yes (but not since it was refurbished)Yes
The fried chicken takeawayYesYes
The Mediterranean restaurant (I always forget this has always done takeaway)YesClosedYes
The Thai restaurantNoClosedYes
The noodle barNoClosedYes
The Indian at the other end of the high streetNoClosedNo (I think it was doing before though)
The restaurant around the corner that possibly specialises in burgers NoClosedYes
The steak restaurantNoClosedYes
The Italian place on the hillNoClosedNot yet, but starting at the weekend
The pizza place up the hillNoClosedYes
The other Italian place on the hillYesClosedNo
The Italian chain restaurantYesClosedNo
The Italian chain restaurantYesClosedNo
The Italian chain restaurantNoClosedNo
The spicy chicken restaurantYesClosedNo
The large pub on the cornerYesClosedNo
The old heritage pubYesClosedNo
The cheap chain pubYesClosedNo
The Mediterranean restaurant that also likes to think it’s a bar/night clubYesClosedNo
The hipster place on the corner YesClosedNo
The Spanish tapas place (I thought it was more of a cafe, but it is open until late evening)NoClosedNo
The place up the steps that used to be a police stationNoClosedNo
The Italian chain restaurant round the cornerNoClosedNo
The restaurant that I can’t remember next to the Italian chain restaurant round the cornerNoClosedNo
The place that used to be the French restaurantNoClosedNo
The American dinerNoClosedNo
The chain bar that does for 2-for-1 cocktails at all timesNoClosedNo
The Irish pub opposite the stationNoClosedNo
The other Irish pub opposite the stationNoClosedNo
The burger place upstairs from the night clubNoClosedNo
The seafood place on the wrong side of the tracksNoClosedPossibly
The dessert placeNoClosedYes
The dessert place across the road from the dessert placeNoClosedYes

I’ve almost certainly missed somewhere off the list, and I’ve not included any cafes that might still do takeaway during the day. I’ve also not included the three pubs that I’ve never been to, but also don’t do food.

So what did I learn from this:

  1. There’s a lot of places to get food from within a very short distance from my house.
  2. There’s a lot more places that are still doing takeaway/delivery than I expected.
  3. I’ve got plenty of new places to try out during the lockdown.
  4. I’ve got plenty of new places to go to when things are open again.