Thursday, 27 September 2012

100 push ups

At my peak I was able to do forty push ups. That was twenty years ago and although I can produce twenty now with no training, any more is a struggle.

Colleague at work just told me he regularly does 100, sometimes 300 push ups.

After I picked my jaw off the floor I asked his secret. Turns out he cheats... Not really, but I used to think if you stop and rest that its cheating.

In reality it's just a different technique.

Sets of ten or twenty with a short break in between. The break gives your muscles a chance to recover but not too long to allow you to get pumped.

I haven't tried this yet but am going to give it a shot. It should work equally well with pull ups and sit ups.

Managed a 7K run this morning. Time was slow but felt good to complete it.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Jesus Christ!

I've found the events of the last few weeks troubling. Muslims around the world killing and burning and threatening in alleged anger at an insult to their prophet.

I freely admit I just don't get it. I watched some of the 'offending' video and while I agree it seems designed to offend Muslims with frequent references to alleged origins of their prophet, in the first few minutes I was shocked to see a portrayal of Muslims killing someone because they are a Christian. Then a church is set on fire.

I realise that the numbers of people involved in attacks and riots have been relatively small. Some of the attacks may simply be using the video as an excuse to attack America and 'The West'. Yet there are countless documented occasions prior to this video being released where Christians and people of other Faiths have been attacked by Muslims in Islamic dominated countries.

My perspective on this is that some Muslims seem to think they are a persecuted minority in the world yet these same Muslims have no qualms about persecuting the minorities living in their countries.

This offends me.

I live with people insulting Jesus Christ on a daily basis. I believe Jesus was not just a prophet but was and is the son of God and equal with God. Yet at work I hear my colleagues use his name as an expletive every single day.

I have never heard anyone in any country use the name of any other deity or prophet in the same way that the name of Jesus Christ is used.

This was forcibly brought home to me again last week when I saw Total Recall. It wasn't the first time I've seen it. I took my son last month. But I was still shocked by the ending when for no good reason, the hero swears using Jesus name as he views the devastation around him.

Jesus Christ!

I don't want to attack the American embassy. I don't want to set fire to a cinema. I don't want to beat up my friends and family and colleagues and people I hear on the street who misuse the name of my God. But I want to ask why?

Why, if you use Jesus name as I've described, do you do this? Why do you hate the name of Jesus so much? What has Jesus or anyone who follows him done to you?

Why don't you misuse the name of other Deity's or religious figures?

I have a strong faith in Jesus. I believe he lives and will return and will judge every man, woman and child for our deeds. I have no need to attack anyone for insulting the name of my God since I believe that if he feels it is necessary to hold anyone accountable, he will do it himself.

I also believe he has no desire to punish but wants everyone to listen to him, read about him in the Bible and choose to follow him. If you have never read the Bible I encourage you to read the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke or John. Read the words of Jesus. See how he acted. How he cared about the weak and the poor. See how he raged against the rich and the hypocritical. See how he healed the crippled, how he willing chose to receive punishment and death so you and I would not have to.

Jesus Christ. A name so powerful that even those who hate him cannot stop saying it. He cannot be forgotten and will return.

This is my bicentennial post. I'm past the half way mark in my 100 day challenge. Today I achieved my first 5,000 word milestone editing my novel.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

A load of Trollope

I've been talking to colleagues about my novel and today one asked if I knew anything about Anthony Trollope.
   
I didn't but he's become very intriguing. Apparently he used to get up early each morning and write for a couple of hours before leaving for work.
   
I did this last November during NaNoWriMo and found it a good way to write. Not one I've been able to sustain though. I was exhausted when November ended.
   
Some quick Googling turned up the following quotes:
   
"No author has been more methodical. He worked out schemes, set himself time-schedules, and rigidly adhered to them."

http://www.victorianweb.org/authors/trollope/bio.html

[From British Authors of the Nineteenth Century, pp. 629-31]

Also:
   
"Though Trollope had decided to become a novelist, he had accomplished very little writing during his first three years in Ireland. At the time of his marriage, he had only written the first of three volumes of his first novel, The Macdermots of Ballycloran. Within a year of his marriage, he finished that work.

Trollope began writing on the numerous long train trips around Ireland he had to take to carry out his postal duties. Setting very firm goals about how much he would write each day, he eventually became one of the most prolific writers of all time."
   
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anthony_Trollope
   
I'm extremely conscious that days are passing by and I've not started editing my novel. Yet here I am on the train writing for my blog. I need to be clearer about my priorities for the rest of these 100 days.
   
I think I need to limit my blog posts to brief summaries of progress editing the novel. It may be boring but I'd rather end the 100 days having completed fifty hours of editing than having fifty blog posts to my name.
   
If I find I've time to post more I will otherwise feel free to ask me why I'm not editing!
   
I need a good dose of Trollope!

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Without a goal motivation suffers

I could have gotten out of bed this morning but I didn't. Hogged the warmth as long as I could. After Sunday's race I'm not sure when to start training again.
I've been thinking this week about why this year I've been able to run a 10K. It's not that I haven't trained before. I've been fitter than I am now. Had better stamina. Yet I'd never run more than 5K.

Admittedly, I'd never set myself a clear target before, or given myself an unchangeable deadline.

Is that really all it takes to motivate me?

I've tried giving myself deadlines before but never actually entered myself in a competition. Competitions never interested me before but I'm starting to think they may become a useful tool in my motivation toolbox.

I don't need to run another 10K, or set a tougher target like a half marathon but if signing up for either of these motivates me to keep getting out of bed and getting the exercise I need then I'm all in.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Chunking and Linking

Some friends shared a memory trick with me recently.

Apparently our brains cope best with remembering five to seven chunks of data at a time. Try to remember more than that and we are likely to forget it all.

But, if we break down - or Chunk - large amounts of data into chunks, with each chunk containing up to five or six separate bits of data, suddenly we can remember far more.

The initial example they gave was telephone numbers. Ever tried committing an eleven digit number to memory? A nightmare! But break it down into five digit area code and then six digit house number (or even better - two times three separate chunks) and suddenly it becomes a lot easier.

They then showed how by combining Chunking with Linking - we can phenomonally improve our memory. The example given was to break down or Chunk a large number of items to remember and then within each chunk to create a story or link between the items. I've just started a new job and need to recall people's names. For example: Tom sits next to Sarah with the big hair who has a crush on Gary who fell over a chair dropping coffee on Janice who set off the fire alarm... Would it work? Better if the story is grounded in reality maybe...

I'm still not sure about Linking - but it will be worth practicing. Anything which can improve our memories and ability to recall information when needed increases our effectiveness.

I've often struggled to commit programming languages to memory. Key words sink in through repetition of use but useful but rarely used commands are harder to recall. I can see how using chunking could help by grouping a set of commands but how to link them in a way that can be recalled? Something to work on as I build up my Java and Android knowledge.

My memory IS getting better! Yours can too!

Monday, 10 September 2012

Unsung web heroes

After a few years working with different systems I'm back working with Microsoft Access.

It is still the same fun playground I remember [note to self: you get paid for this remember!]... I mean, the same highly productive toolkit.

While I remember a lot (my memory is getting better;) a few years on and some of the detail is hazy. So what does an IT professional do when he or she can't remember how to code a widget? We fire up Google trusting that some generous person has solved and published the solution. Ninety percent of the time they have.

It is astounding how many people have taken the time to document and record ways to do or fix or resolve so many of the problems we face.

Many will never get any thanks or recognition. I know that I'm often like a day trader on speed when I need to find a bit of code to solve a problem, checking multiple forums and blogs looking for the answer. Soon as I've found it I move on to the next problem never stopping to thank the person who bothered to post that nugget of gold.

www.access-programmers.co.uk is one website where I've occasionally slowed down enough to say thanks. I've posted in several forums over the years and I'm conscious that ecquitute demands acknowledging those who take time to help. But even then I can't honestly say I've always done so.

It must take a lot of patience and commitment to keep responding to newbie requests: the sort of requests that make anyone with experience despair.

Why didn't they search the forum? Don't they realise we've answered similar questions dozens of times already?

Last week this headline caught my eye:  Bob Larson 30,000 Posts. I've been helped by Bob Larson directly several times and indirectly dozens of times as I've found his helpful answers and solutions to questions. Thirty thousand is a phenomenal number of posts!

I did a quick back of a spreadsheet calculation. Assuming a conservative 15 minutes to read and respond that is a full ten months of helping the world with their Microsoft Access problems without eating, sleeping or even breathing! Of course, Bob may have only taken a few minutes over each post but still, over fifteen years of posting 30,000 is still amazing.

To Bob and thousands of other unsung heros who frequently and generously give up their time to help others... Thank You!

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Goal 35: To run in and finish a 10 Kilometre race

I'm finding it hard to believe that I ran 10 Kilometres this morning. I'm sore and tired but that could easily be too much DIY the day before and interrupted sleep.

I think the memories are real, not just some futuristic memory implant. I have a few photos and an official record of my time...

My race number was 124 and you can view my result in the Cumbernauld 10K online.

I ran the race in 51.04 minutes - my new Personal Best! [My wife has just pointed out my chip time is faster: 50:43 - woohoo!] 242nd out of 600!

For the first time in weeks, Endomondo tracked my progress pretty well. I started Endomondo well before the start so I could tuck the phone back in my backpack and plug in my ear-phones. Then got confused towards the end when I seemed to be in line to reach 10K in sixty minutes... I was delighted to see the clock at the finish line read under 52 minutes.


Never having run or supported someone on one of these races I was astonished to see how many people were taking part.

The first Kilometre was slow as we tried to avoid bumping into each other and until we spread out. My training routes have taken me up some steeper hills from 2-3K so I found it a bit easier with a flatter route. The slopes still seemed steep though!

I tried to just keep a steady pace and although it was a struggle, I mostly managed to achieve that.

By 6K I was wondering why I wanted to do this. I'd stopped listening to my playlist and was almost on autopilot, paying more attention to the runners who kept passing me.

The Kilometre markers were really helpful, as were the volunteers who directed us and kept an eye out for anyone struggling. One lady at 7K shouted, just another ten minutes, no problem... Yeah, right. Maybe in a years time when I'm used to this!

The last 2K took us round Broadwood Loch. The path a lot rougher than the road had been. I took a bottle of water but only managed a mouthful and gave up. I haven't been drinking while on my training runs and haven't developed the knack.

The last Kilometre seemed to be a lot longer than any other. Sure they misjudged the distance. I wanted to speed up, wanted to sprint across the finish line, but could only manage to just keep on keeping on.

Great feeling seeing all the people lining the road and clapping and cheering us on. I might never be a first place athlete but I could get used to being one of the competitors.

I saw my wife and kids - it has been great to have their support - and then shuffled off to collect my t-shirt and medal. My first medal, ever. Hopefully not the last!

I wanted to develop a habit of exercising and think I may have motivated myself to keep going.


Thursday, 6 September 2012

Novel questions

While writing the first draft of my novel I found I had a fair few questions. The NaNoWriMo way was to ignore research and plough on ahead. I made stuff up or guessed and got the draft finished. It worked well.

But, many of those questions still need answering and I've been putting off dealing with it.

Rereading the novel has helped as I've been able to make a note of all the questions. This evening I finished grouping them to make it easier to research. I really only want to visit the police once to see if they can help with my enquiries...

I'm pretty guarded about telling people too much about the novel until I'm ready to publish it. Even asking questions seems like it might give too much away at times but I've been wondering whether it might be fun to post some of the questions up on this blog.

Reality is I'm not sure where to start looking for answers.

I use online forums a lot for work. Esoteric SQL or VBA questions can often be answered with a quick Google troll. If I can't find the answer in previous posts I have posted my own question. The really weird thing is, after posting a question, I often find or figure out the answer myself.

There seems to be something about sharing a problem that makes it easier to resolve even without getting any help.

So, I'm going to post my questions here.

Any advice, answers, pointers etc. will be greatfully received!

I'm fully expecting that whatever mystical force operates to connect my problems to solutions will begin to kick into effect once the post is live. I'll update you with the answers as I find/receive them.

Election/Scottish Parliament
  • How do people register to go on ballot paper? How much does it cost?
  • Can one person go on more than one ballot?
  • What would then happen if that person was elected in more than one area?
  • How does proportional representation work in Scotland?
  • What would or could happen if a substantial majority won the vote but lost the seats?
  • What is legal process if election result is challenged?
  • How long would it take to set up the court case to challenge result?
  • What would happen if an MSP refused to swear in? Could their seat be put up for a revote?
  • What do MSPs have to swear or vow?
  • How long is it from election to swearing in?
  • Does Scottish Parliament have a speaker of the house? Who is in charge of procedure?
Scottish Courts
  • What is the procedure in Scottish courts?
  • Who speaks and when?
  • Is the court appointed by the Queen? If not then by who?
  • Who appoints the judges/sheriffs in Scotland?
  • Do they have to swear an oath or take a vow and if so what is it?
  • What authority does a judge/sheriff have?
  • How would a judge respond at being threatened?
Police
  • Who do Scottish police officers swear their oath to?
  • What rank would desk officer be in village station?
Living on the land
  • How much land is needed to subsist? To prosper? How much would this vary across Scotland?
  • What was minimum ration during world war II?
  • What food stuffs could be grown in a Scottish garden/croft to sustain a family?
Farmers
  • What EU subsidies are available?
  • How many farmers in Scotland? How many registered farmers in Scotland?
  • How big are their farms?
  • How much/Average acreage owned?
  • Most owned acerage?
  • How many with less than one hundred acres?
Unemployment/Benefits
  • How many are currently unemployed in Scotland ?
  • How much does it cost to fund unemployed?
  • How much does it cost to fund benefits?

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Cold

I thought I'd beaten the mild cold I had last week but it's back, like Arnie on steroids.

Maybe pushing myself to do another 9K run on Saturday was a mistake. I'd hoped to do one or two easier runs this week but it ain't gonna happen now.

Just need to get more sleep, keep taking the paracetemol and hope I'm better before Sunday's race.

I managed over 9K in under 58 minutes on Saturday. Not sure if I'll be able to run the full 10K in under an hour but that is my aim, though I will be very happy with anything up to 65 minutes.

If you have any suggestions on how to beat the common cold...

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

A novel plan

A few weeks ago, hung-over following a 50th birthday party and a leaving do for a former colleague, I wasn't able to sleep.

I don't recommend drinking as a source of inspiration but after staring at the ceiling for several hours my brain must finally have had enough and forced itself to clunk away.

Instead of counting sheep I began calculating days. Specifically, days required to rewrite my novel.

I won't take you through the tortuous process of calculation but I ended up with the following plan:
  • In five months of four weeks - total of twenty weeks...
  • I can rewrite/edit/write minimum of 5,000 words each week.
  • Working Monday through Saturday – I expect I will only be able to spend an hour every other day
  • I will be able to complete a redraft of my novel (and maybe even expand it from its current 50,000 words)
  • My goal is to complete the second draft of my novel before February 2013.
I've been quietly re-reading my novel over the last couple of weeks and working on the plot from the main character perspectives. I'm conscious I will not have a lot of time to both edit and blog - indeed, this post is taking me away from time I could spend editing! So, I'm going to put the novel first, blog second and aim to update the blog at the end of each day rather than the beginning as I've been doing the last month.

I've had similar plans over the years which have not ended well. It will be interesting to see whether the focus of 100 days and 100 goals combined with regular exercise will prove to help.

Saturday, 1 September 2012

The Doctor Who agenda

Doctor Who - possibly some of the best television ever.

The wide arcing storylines of the modern series have been awesome in their conception and vision.

The companions to the Doctor have been inspired:
Rose Tyler - The darkness is coming... Bad Wolf incarnate!
Martha Jones - a doctor sent to heal the Doctor... Turns warrior
Donna Noble - humble secretary... her mind sacrificed
Amelia Pond and Rory and of course Melody Pond - Wow!

However, over the last few seasons I've become ambivalent about Doctor Who. It used to be the best thing on T.V. but the writers have an agenda, or several, and I've found it detracting from the story. 

Dr Matt Ashton dismisses allegations of any subversive agenda in his first paragraphs of his comment yesterday and to an extent he is correct. Doctor Who is a masterpiece of contradiction. The Doctor lies yet values honesty, is anti-authority and yet sets himself up as the ultimate authority, is anti-fundamentalism and yet is as rabid a fundamentalist as any you are likely to meet.

The Doctor murders, tortures, commits genocide and yet is still seen as good wholesome family viewing...

In a universe where there is no higher being setting a moral standard - who has the right to decide what is right and wrong? The Doctor freely admits in several episodes that he hasn't the faintest idea what he is doing; that he is only out for an adventure, a good time. Is this the moral compass we want deciding the fate of entire species?

The Doctor: a genocidal murderer (I've lost count of the species he has wiped out of existence - though they often refuse to stay dead...)
The Doctor: a megalomaniac (Calling himself the Lord of Time)
The Doctor: a puppet (The Doctor's Wife is really calling the shots!)

The Doctor is quite willing to take his revenge, often does not know when to stop. The real heroes of the show are often the companions - ordinary Jane Does who provide a moral compass the Doctor seems to lack.

Yet the cosmic joker is able to recognise his own failings, to even repent, to turn back from the evil he set his hearts on and choose a better path. In seeing this drama play out, episode after episode, the Doctor shows himself to be just like... you and me. In the end, essentially human. Fallen. Base. Yet with the possibility of so much more.

It is these contradictions and more that give me reason to keep watching. One of the main reasons I still get a kick out of the story lines. The Doctor gets it wrong so, so many times. Messes up on a universal scale and yet in this shows himself to be oh so human. He might have two hearts beating inside that lanky chest (Matt Smith incarnation) but that only means he is twice as emotional, twice as frail, twice as vulnerable, twice as desperate for other human contact.

Dr Matt Ashton dismisses as nonsense allegations of Doctor Who inducing terror in children or having aggressive gay or political agendas.

Doctor Who terrified me as a child! I hid behind the sofa but still saw enough to give me nightmares. I still wonder if Doctor Who: Planet of the Spiders was partially responsible for my childhood arachnophobia...

The script writers/producers clearly have agendas, if one is willing to keep an open mind. They are often subtle though sometimes not so as in the case of the "Thin Fat Gay Married Anglican Marines."

The really disappointing aspect around this is simply the lack of imagination.Any real fan of Science Fiction - well, anyone who bothers to think will realise that in a universe populated by infinite alien species, sex is likely to become a whole lot more complicated than simply straight or gay.

Doctor Who has improved vastly as a series from the shows I watched in the Seventies and Eighties. Episodes like Blink still captivate me. Awesomely constructed and delivered story! But occasionally it still dons rubber suits.

I'll be watching tonight, with my kids. Aware that every writer has an agenda that may not agree with my own but also aware that neither I nor my kids have to be influenced if we choose to think about what we are watching.