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Miscellaneous

Another challenge

This post is the second part to last week’s post, but you don’t have to have read that one first (or at all if you really don’t want to). It was just too long for one post.

But as a reminder from last week: “When lockdown came back in January, I started to think of ways that I could challenge myself and make things more interesting. I came across two physical challenges on the internet. I haven’t done either of them, but because this is the internet I’m still going to talk about them.”


What’s the challenge?

The challenge is the 4x4x48, or to run 4 miles, every 4 hours for 48 hours. Essentially it works out as 12 runs, covering a total of 48 miles over two days with very little sleep in between each. It seems to be popular with (some) ultra-marathon runners.

What did I do?

I’ve never run 48 miles before, in fact my longest run is about 14 miles. And I’ve never run overnight before either. My brother and I agreed to do a practice 24 hour session together (virtually). We debated how far we should run each time and eventually settled on a 3x4x24 (3 miles every 4 hours for 24 hours, for a total of 18 miles).

What did I learn?

The first thing I learnt was not to do this two days after having walked 25 miles. The first couple of runs were a bit sore but it got better after that – I’m not sure whether this was because I stretched more or because other factors outweighed it. Four hours felt like quite a long wait between runs when awake and waiting for the next run, but a very short length of time when trying to get some sleep. Finding the right time to eat was also a challenge – running on a full stomach isn’t great, but neither is being too hungry. I also got hungrier as the challenge went on, and I think I ended with one (smaller) meal between every run.

Starting in the evening was also the right choice, this meant that the overnight runs were done early and out of the way. It did however mean that I was already slightly tired at the start of the first run (as opposed to starting fresh first thing in the morning), but on balance that wasn’t a problem. Waking up at 2am to go for a run felt a bit novel, but the 6am run felt more like what I might have done anyway.

I chose to do a 1.5 mile loop, which meant running that loop twelve times throughout the whole challenge. It was quite interesting to see how the same stretch of road could vary between being completely dark and empty at 2am, sunny but quiet at 6am, and then getting busy at 10am and even busier at 2pm. The double lap was annoying though and I had to keep remembering whether I was on the first lap or the second which surprisingly gets quite hard to remember at 2am.

Could I do the full challenge?

I felt like I experienced some of the trials of the full challenge. The repetitiveness of having to keep going back out to run was hard and even though I only ran 3 miles instead of 4, I don’t think the extra mileage would have made much difference (not for each run, but it might do cumulatively).

I did experience some of the surrealism of running in the middle of the night and some of the tiredness, but I don’t feel like I felt the full sleep deprivation that I’ve read from other people’s experiences. I also think that 24 hours isn’t enough time to need to worry about a proper eating schedule, and the full 48 hours would definitely make it just that bit harder.

But I think the hardest struggle would be running the exact same route 12 times (or 24 times if done as double laps). Would a more varied route make it more interesting? Maybe something away from home? Be sure to come back in the future to find out how I’ve done.

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Miscellaneous

100 posts!

Welcome to my 100th blog post!

They’ve not always been the most interesting reads, but this is a quantity milestone, not a quality milestone (not sure how that one would be measured anyway).

Although since this blog has been going for almost 11 years, maybe it’s surprising I’ve not got to this point sooner. This blog started strongly in March 2010 before dying away and being restarted in July 2014 (I did originally archive off the old blog and start again from scratch, but early last year I brought them all back into one place). And then early on in lockdown last year I started blogging every week which leads us to where we are today (with almost half of my posts having been in the last year).

My stats only go back to 2014 and won’t include people who only access via RSS, but unsurprisingly visitors are mostly from the UK and the USA. But I’ve also had visitors (I know there’s VPNs and so on, but this is what the stats tracker says) from Brazil, Canada, Italy, China, Germany, France, Ireland, Spain, Mexico, Portugal, Russia, India, Australia, Argentina, Sweden, Ecuador, Greece, Netherlands, Colombia, Romania, Chile, Philippines, Peru, Switzerland, Israel, Poland, Norway, Malaysia, Nigeria, European Union, Thailand, Bermuda, Slovenia, Czech Republic, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Algeria, Indonesia, Venezuela, Dominican Republic, Belgium, Croatia, Serbia, Trinidad & Tobago, Austria, Hong Kong, South Africa, Taiwan, Uruguay, Denmark, Estonia, Honduras, Georgia, Costa Rica, Bolivia, Turkey, Kenya, El Salvador, Jamaica, Uganda, Ukraine, Angola, Cyprus, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Egypt, Japan, Hungary, Pakistan, Iceland, Bangladesh, New Caledonia, Cape Verde, Morocco, Guyana, Macedonia, Moldova, Cambodia, St. Vincent & Grenadines, Mauritius, Qatar, Albania, Iraq, Sri Lanka, Puerto Rico, Gibraltar, Jordan, Luxembourg, Panama, Guatemala, United Arab Emirates, and Vietnam.

Visits from the Top 15 countries (since 2014)

I don’t know anyone from most of those countries so have no idea whether it’s a reporting error or whether people have deliberately (or just accidently) come across my blog. But you’re all very welcome. Please do say hello if you are reading.

I can’t promise the next 100 posts will be interesting, but for the moment I will keep trying to think of something new to write each week. Here’s to 200 posts!

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Miscellaneous

Abandoned blog posts

I was struggling to come up with some new content so I decided to look back at blog posts I had previously started, but never finished. Most of these were started during my various blog hiatuses, but never got published for various reasons. Here’s a few of the more interesting ones. Maybe one day I’ll finish them.

Beards (Last modified: Unknown)

This post was a follow up to “Mebbies Aye, Mebbies Naw”. I was going to incorporate it into the Revisited post, but it didn’t make the final cut and so never got expanded beyond a series of bullet points. I could share the list here, but then I can’t post it in the future.

Personalities (Revisited) (Last modified: 4 July 2014)

Arguably this one shouldn’t appear here, because it did eventually get published, although 6 years later than originally planned. It may have been interesting to have another data point to compare against though.

Quants and Quals (Last modified: 4 July 2014)

This was a post that never got written beyond the title. I can’t even remember exactly what a “Quant” or a “Qual” is, but I think it was something to do with personality types who focus on either quantity or quality (but of what I can’t remember). And I can’t remember which I would have been…

Car Troubles, Part 4 (Last modified: 12 December 2014)

This post would have been a follow-up to Car Troubles, Part 1 and Part 2, and also a Part 3 which I also never posted (or actually even started). I appear to have written half of a post about the time that my car’s fuel gauge needle got stuck on full. I can’t remember this event at all so it’s interesting to read it back (or at least the first half of the story). This would have been a different car to parts 1 and 2, but I have no idea what event part 3 would have referred to. I’m sure I could add a couple more parts to a “Car Troubles” series if I wanted to now.

Hey, I hope you loved it! (Last modified: 9 January 2015)

In January 2015, I wrote a post about the things I had got up to over the previous Christmas. I ended with the phrase “the adventures continue elsewhere…”. Well, this post would have been where that happened. This post would have been about my trip to Philadelphia to visit my brother and his family. The title of this post comes from a Pentatonix music video and was a regular catchphrase used by my niblings during that week. This post never got past the title so I can’t remember what would have been included.

I like warm hugs (Last modified: 9 January 2015)

The second follow-up post about my trip to the USA. The title is obviously taken from Frozen (and was also a popular catchphrase at that time), but again, I didn’t get any further than a title.

Gonna Fly Now (Last modified: 15 February 2015)

Of the three posts about that trip, this got the furthest with a whole three and a bit paragraphs (although I did note that “This article was a lot longer, but I’ve cut it down a lot.”). This post was about the logistics of travelling to the USA but it never got finished, mainly because the other two parts would have been more interesting and they weren’t going anywhere. It probably didn’t help that I started with “I was almost not going to post this, but I decided I had to. Mainly just so that I could use the title. [Bonus points for the first person to figure it out].” The bonus points are still available…

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Miscellaneous

Bake Off

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I was taking this week as holiday. One of the suggestions of things to do was baking. I’ve previously made cupcakes and brownies, but I’ve never baked bread before, so it was something that I thought I’d try.

A friend recommended the Lékué Silicone Bread Maker which is a simple to use all-in-one bowl for hand-making bread. (This post isn’t sponsored, but Lakeland, if you want to get in touch…)

I gave it a go earlier this week. I was really expecting this to go one of two ways. Either:

  1. This is amazing, I never need to buy bread from a shop again, or
  2. This is terrible, I can’t believe I wasted all that money on ingredients.

I always thought that bread needed to be kneaded for hours [pun intended], however the recipe said to “knead until you obtain an homogenous, uniform and elastic dough”, which seemed to happen a lot sooner than I expected. It was very sticky though, and the internet suggested this was because I had added too much water but it should still be ok. I did decide to gave it a few more minutes of kneading just to be sure though.

Not looking great. After kneading/Before proving

But what I hadn’t realised was how long the dough needs to be left to prove before baking. In total, the recipe called for the dough to be left for about 3 hours to rise, which if I had planned better, I would have started earlier so that it was ready for lunch.

Looking slightly more like a loaf of bread. All proved and ready to go in the oven

Half an hour later, I took it out of the oven and was pleasantly surprised. It both looked and smelt like bread. It also tasted like bread, and whilst not mind-blowlingly tasty, it felt good to have made it myself.

First slice

My only comment was that it is a very flat loaf of bread. I don’t know if was the recipe that I was following, or if I had done something wrong (not kneading it enough?), or whether this is just a limitation of the bread maker. But it is very tasty when lightly toasted and served with some butter and my homemade spicy vegetable soup.

A successful homemade meal

Let me know any tips for making bread (or tips for improvement!), or suggestions for bread types you’d like to see me make!

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Miscellaneous

Kebabs, part 2

This evening I went to the other kebab shop near me, which has now reopened following its refurbishment. Sadly they wouldn’t sell me a kebab (probably because I went in two minutes before they closed), so I had the chicken burger instead. It looks like they do a proper “cheap kebab”, but I can’t confirm it at this time.

(Apologies for the short and boring post, but I couldn’t write it yesterday as my web host was down, and I’ve been at the pub this evening.)

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Miscellaneous

Kebabs

Sometimes I blog some top notch investigative work (if I do say so myself), sometimes I blog about kebabs.

There are two kebab shops near me. These are both the “cheap-take-away-type-of-kebab-with-piles-of-cheap-meat-stuffed-into-cheap-pitta-bread” types of kebab shop.

There’s also a Mediterranean restaurant near me, which features kebabs on its menu. I often forget it does takeaway as it’s more of a restaurant, but it does also do takeaway. Because it’s also a proper restaurant, it’s a much more upmarket place than the two other kebab shops. On a visit to this restaurant kebab shop last year, I was suprised that it served its takeaway kebabs deconstructed with the meat in one container, the salad in another and the bread as a separate roll. As I say I was suprised, but chalked this one up to it being a more upmarket restaurant kind of place.

Recently, one of the two kebab shops was closed for refurbishment for a really long time and it seemed like it would never reopen but it did. Last week I went for the first time since it reopened and it definitely looks better inside than it did. However, the kebab was now served deconstructed.

It now looks much more like the meal from the upmarket restaurant kebab place. The cheap pitta has been replaced with a chunk of bread, the meat is served in a separate tub and the price is probably higher (I can’t remember exactly what it was before). Either way, it’s no longer the same experience of having a kebab. I guess I’ll just have to go to the other kebab shop instead…

But no, that one is also now closed for refurbishment. What if that one decides to go ‘upmarket’? What if that one starts selling deconstructed kebabs? Where am I going to go for my cheap low quality kebabs?

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Miscellaneous

A History of Mobile Phones

Whilst I wait for my mobile phone to be repaired/replaced, I thought I’d look back in a retrospective of all my previous phones.

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Siemens A50

Siemens A50

I got my first mobile phone on my 15th birthday. Phones didn’t do much more than phone calls/texts in those days, but I do remember it didn’t have Snake which all my Nokia-owning friends were playing [according to wikipedia this phone had Stack Attack and Balloon Shooter]. As with all good phones of that time, it had removable covers meaning you could change the look of your phone depending on how you felt. Whatever happened to removal phone covers?

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Siemens CX65

Siemens CX65

I won my next phone in a competition on the Siemens website. It probably didn’t get many entrants as in a separate competition I also won the stuffed toy mascots, a dinosaur and a ragged girl doll (these went to a charity shop several years ago). This was my first foray into phones with an unusual input method (in this case a joystick).

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LG U400

LG U400

My next phone featured a “DJ wheel” as the input method and was also my first slider phone. I can’t remember much about it now other than that the DJ wheel was entirely unnecessary and rather gimmicky.

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BlackBerry Pearl 8120

BlackBerry Pearl 8120

I had been hearing about BlackBerry phones for a while, but had always considered them too business oriented. I then came across the Pearl 8120 with its unusual double letter keyboard and its input ball (a new feature for BlackBerrys). It took a while to get used to the keyboard, but once used to it, it was much faster than the old style conventional input. I liked this phone so much that I convinced several other friends to also get BlackBerrys (although not all stayed with BlackBerry as long as I did).

BlackBerry Bold 9700

BlackBerry Bold 9700

I then moved onto a full keyboard BlackBerry, the Bold 9700 which was the first BlackBerry to feature an optical touchpad. This was a solid phone and again, after a few days of using the full keyboard, it became instinct to use and far faster than any other input method.

BlackBerry Bold 9900

BlackBerry Bold 9900

This phone was probably the pinnacle of the non-smartphone BlackBerrys. It looked sleek, it ran fast and it had the right size keyboard for fast typing. It didn’t do anything the previous phones couldn’t, but it did it all better. Unfortunately for it (and BlackBerry) the age of the smartphone was rising.

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BlackBerry Z10

BlackBerry Z10

This was BlackBerry’s first attempt at a smartphone on their own BlackBerry 10 operating system. It also ran (some) Android apps, but this is probably one of my least favourite phones I’ve ever owned (the DJ wheel phone wins that one). This was the first phone I got in white. And probably the last.

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BlackBerry Priv

BlackBerry Priv

Following the events detailed last week, this is the phone I’m now back to (temporarily) using. It’s got a relatively large screen (for watching videos) and a slide out keyboard (for typing things). The best of both worlds surely? Not really, as I always forget about the slide out keyboard and typing on it never quite feels right. Practice might improve this, but the on-screen keyboard is far more accessible (but still far from perfect).

BlackBerry Key2

BlackBerry Key2

This is my favourite of the recent BlackBerrys (and in my top three phones of all time). This is also the second phone I’ve won in a competition. I was at the launch day party for this phone in London and my number got picked in the prize draw. This phone had the keyboard and it ran Android. The only downside was that having a physical keyboard meant a reduced screen size which isn’t ideal for watching videos. Oh, and it wasn’t waterproof.

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Samsung Galaxy S10 Lite

Samsung Galaxy S10 Lite

Given the lack of recent BlackBerry smartphones, and my urgent need for a new phone, I was forced to move away in to the world of the Samsung Galaxy series. Its large screen makes content viewing easy, but typing on a touchscreen has never been as fast as the heady days of typing on a BlackBerry Bold. And unfortunately, unlike the original Galaxy S10 this is based on, this phone isn’t waterproof either.

Next phone?

Who knows what’s next? I’m still hoping they’ll fix my current phone and return it to me. If I have to get a replacement again, I’ll probably get the same again or something similar. For now at least anyway. It looks like there could be a new BlackBerry on the way

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Miscellaneous

Broken

This has been a bad week for crockery in my house.

Last week, whilst doing the washing up I broke two side plates. I had balanced the plates on top of a pile of bowls. I knew it was unstable and it’s my own fault they slid off and smashed on to the floor. I’m now down to four plates which means more frequent washing up until I can get to Ikea to buy some replacements. It also means my cupboard is out of balance, with 6 large bowls, 6 small bowls, 6 large plates, but only 4 side plates.

If that wasn’t bad enough, at the start of this week, again whilst doing the washing up, I smashed a pint glass. It’s not possible to replace just the one as it’s from a multi-pack. Although fortunately it is from a multi-pack and not a special occasion one, for example for a beer festival. I still have eight other pint glasses so I’m not too worried about replacing it.

And that got me thinking about a few of the other things I’ve dropped in my lifetime. Here’s three of them:

University graduation mug

This one was a once-in-a-lifetime collectable that got broken. On graduation, the gift bag contained a number of things, including a mug with the year of graduation. I can’t remember what else was in the gift bag, but the mug was obviously the best item. Sadly it only lasted around a year and a half before it hit the kitchen floor.

Work mug

Another mug story. For ages I didn’t have a mug at work. I don’t normally drink hot drinks so it was fine. But then I had a spare mug, so I decided to use it at work for the rare occasion I wanted a hot drink, but also as pen storage at other times. One time I knocked it over (fortunately just holding pens) and it ended up with a huge chip out of the top and a crack down the whole length. I still use it for pen storage, but I don’t think it would be up to containing hot drinks anymore.

Hard drive

And a non-crockery story. In the early days of university, I bought a massive (well massive for 2006) 250GB external hard drive. Several months later I forgot it was still connected when I turned to move my laptop from my lap to the side. The hard drive got pulled off the shelf it was on and hit the floor. It never worked again. I took it to a repair man who actually didn’t charge me anything, but said it would be quite pricey to be fixed and may not be recoverable. I’ve kept the hard drive in the hopes that future technology developments make it super easy/cheap to repair, although that might be unlikely. I have no idea what’s on this drive, and I’m not sure which would be more disappointing: the disappointment of dropping it in the first place, or the disappointment of finding absolutely nothing interesting on it.

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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…

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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.