Sunday, 25 January 2015

I appear to have made a lot of people angry this week.

It started when King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia died, and I hinted on Twitter to some of the abysmal human rights abuses that were happening under his power. 

Scroll down the page in that link to see the replies. Some are quite pitiful. They speak for themselves. Freedom of speech is something quite alien to the Saudi citizens, or the ones who responded to me, at least.

For examples of Saudi human rights violations, see this page on Human Rights Watch.  They include a ban on women driving, flogging bloggers who criticise the country and a death sentence for a Shia cleric on vague charges of “liberal writing.” Even the largely liberal broadsheet The Guardian had some stern words to say about the deceased king and his regime.

I have no problem saying I believe Saudi Arabia needs dragging kicking and screaming into the 21st century. How successful successor King Salman will be at this remains to be seen.

Friday, 23 January 2015

Reading and Planking

It's time for another zany marrying of literature and exercise! Woop woop!

This time, let's work on those abs. Planking became the new fitness craze in 2014 when numerous people uploaded pictures to Facebook of them resting on their toes and forearms, body straight, with the strapline “14 mins!!” and we took their word for it because a Facebook video would have been too dull.

Well, you're going to have to take my word for it that I'll be spending a long time in plank position over the next few weeks. I'll be attempting this whilst reading- from cover to cover- the shortest book in my to-read pile, Men's Sexual Health: Fitness for Satisfying Sex by Barry McCarthy and Michael E. Metz.

Don't ask.

So: planking. As Greatist explains, there are a few different methods of doing this. I'll be working on the forearm plank, the one in which I can hold a book in my hands. It might take a bit of adjustment, but it's possible. As long as it works the core muscles, this should improve my abs.

So how would I know if my abs are actually stronger?

I'll still be using the gym regularly, so I'll notice any extra fatigue. During weights sessions I do cable crunch, so it'll be interesting to see how planking affects me there. I'm hoping to perform more reps than ever. I should be more knowledgeable about, well, other things too...

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Walk It Out

West Side Walk It Out
South Side Walk It Out
East Side Walk It Out
North Side Walk It Out

-Walk it out, Unk

I did a little endurance project last night. I went to the gym with a fully charged phone and opened PC Radio, an app offering internet stations from around the globe straight onto your phone. I warmed up for ten minutes on the cross trainer listening to VIP Mix, worked stomach for five minutes, then jumped on the treadmill.

I put the speed to 7kph and walked for 15 minutes. By the end of this I was in agony. 7Kph was too fast for endurance work really. I worked stomach for another 5 mins to give my legs a rest, then came back to the treadmill. This time I set the pace at a steady 5kph. My battery on my Xperia was at 100% before I left the house, and the gym is only a 5 minute drive away. Yet during this and the workout so far described, I lost 23% of my battery. Most of this will be what the PC Radio app drank. I then continued the exercise with 93 mins of steady walking until my battery totally died. Using PC Radio and receiving continuous messages from numerous apps uses up the battery FAST, but I was tired enough by the time it was flat. I'm sat down typing this and I'm not looking forward to standing. I think my legs have seized up.

I might try the same again with running, and ignore any messages. I'll have to wait a few days though...

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Touchtyping for Speed

Whether you're doing a bicep curl in a chilly gym or talking to world leaders, there are no shortcuts- everything is reps, reps, reps.”
-Arnold Schwarzenegger, Total Recall.

Before Christmas, I started to learn the basics of touchtyping using a free package called Klavaro. After a month of learning the home keys, top and bottom rows, symbols, and then a mix of these in adaptability, I wrote up this post

I was on a roll, and there was little point stopping this early. After the 6th December I carried on hammering the package to see how I could improve. By the 12th I felt like I was going around in circles with adaptability, so I moved onto the speed section of the program.

The goal of 40 words per minute (wpm) was way above what I was attaining, and I was making many errors with keystrokes, so on the 14th I went back to adaptability. The problem with this section is there is no way of measuring any improvement- no way of attaining a personal best. This can only be achieved in the speed section. I went back to speed on the 21st.

To measure my improvement, I made a note of my wpm after the first exercise. It was depressingly far below the suggested target. I knew that the more time I spent practising, the faster I would get, so I gave myself a month from this point to get my speed up as high as I could. Here are my wpm records for the month:

22/12 31.8
22/12 32.8
23/12 33.3
23/12 33.6
24/12 34.0
26/12 35.6
27/12 36.5
31/12 37.9
1/1 38.7
12/1 39.0
12/1 39.1
13/1 40.2
16/1 40.9

As you can see, there were days when I was on a roll, and my speed was on the up. Then at other times I hit plateaus, and got stuck there for weeks. It started to get a little frustrating, putting in this much time and not seeing the gains. This was when I remembered Arnie's advice from the closing section of his book. It's all reps. All practice. It doesn't matter if you don't improve immediately: you will see the gains eventually if you keep practising. My speed hasn't improved in the last week, but the practice I've put in will be getting me closer to that. The reps- or the number of lessons, in this case- since I last beat a PB has helped me to memorise the keyboard a little better, and has reduced the amount of mistakes I make.

Klavaro uses words that are commonly found in the English language- conjunctions like “or” and “and”, but also more unusual words like “Braille” and “Orcs” appear with curious frequency. The programmers are obviously fans of disability awareness and JRR Tolkien.

Along the way I made a note of a few hints and tips I noticed.

  1. Don't listen to music while practising- especially not rap. Also turn the TV off totally; don't just turn the sound down. Remove the distractions.
  2. Minimise any other windows or files you might have open to allow you to focus.
  3. Don't get annoyed by mistakes. They are a part of learning. If you do, you end up making more. Relax.
  4. Keep your nails short.

For now, though, that's enough touchtyping lessons for me. I have other plans to develop different skills in the hope I might get an all-over higher level of writing ability. Time to rep out on other things...

Sunday, 18 January 2015

The first thing I ever had published...

...was this pair of wedding write-ups in the Oldham Evening Chronicle.

The first two weeks of 5th form were, for all pupils in my school, spent on a work experience placement. I made a point of making sure my placement was at the local newspaper, writing in during term time the year before. The placement was confirmed and I started to shadow people in the office. The first week I spent in design, the second week in journalism. It was with this team I was taught how to turn an information form into an article.

Newly-married couples wanting to appear in the paper would fill in a sheet featuring names of the bride, the groom and the church, the style of dress, the date of the wedding and other details. The editor would give me the sheets and an example of the wedding write-ups, and it was my job, at 15 years 1 month, to put the text into article form. These went out into the Oldham Evening Chronicle the same night. I managed to hang onto a few from 12th September 1997.

The #tbt hashtag on Facebook prompted me to put this up. Get involved with Throwback Thursday and see what old pictures you can find in your cupboards and drawers!

Sunday, 11 January 2015

2014 was my most successful blogging year.

Look at that. In the last quarter of the graph you can see a sudden surge in hits. That was the start of 2014. My stats have stayed at that unusually high level all year. I landed on a few decent bits of info that raked in hits this year, but mostly my most popular posts have been years old before they found their way into the top 10. Random. Here's to more of that!

Also: Fame at last.

Just kidding. Nothing to do with me.

Oh by the way, have you seen how popular this tweet was?!


Sunday, 4 January 2015

Outdoor New Year in Manchester

I saw in the new year in Manchester, watching the fireworks at the big wheel with a couple of friends. Blogger won't let me embed this video.

There was a slight delay due to a technical hitch involving a tram in the debris zone, meaning the display came in 4 minutes late, but the pyrotechnics were pretty good. The Manchester Evening News managed to get on stage with Cllr Pat Karney, who somewhat clumsily suggested there could be a number of sackings in the pipeline due to the delays, and that the public may have to push the tram out of the centre themselves.

It made a change from house parties and clubs. And it cost a hell of a lot less.

Did you see Esio Trot on New Year's Day? It was a BBC adaptation of Roald Dahl's story of aging bloke Mr Hoppy (Dustin Hoffman) who buys a tortoise to get in with his tortoise-loving, also-ageing female neighbour Mrs Silver (Dame Judi Dench) who he intermittently and clumsily chats up over her adjacent balcony. Well, the balcony used by Hoffman is actually my sister's husband's sister's balcony. Tenuous claim to fame, there. As for the drama, it looked well-made but it just wasn't my thing. I left my mum's after Hoppy shells out a six-figure sum after sponsoring Silver's dance-a-thon for a pound. A pound a minute. The Guardian liked it