- Make a first ascent in the Greater Ranges. Same plan as last year: we've found some 4000m mountains in Kyrgyzstan with no recorded ascents, we've applied for financial assistance from the Mount Everest Foundation (who exist to fund this sort of thing), I've booked the time off, I'm learning Russian via a combination of night classes and Duolingo (befriend me here!), and I'm training in earnest. Speaking of which:
- Get my body mass below 70kg, from a starting point of 81.2kg on New Year's Day. I want to retain a few kilos of body fat, because food is heavy and burning fat on a route is way better than burning muscle, but every extra gram of body mass will have to be carried 2000m up a mountain, at altitude, as fast as possible. If you've never done hard physical work at altitude while overweight, let me share a secret with you: it is Not Fun. I'm tracking my weight using the Libra app for Android, which implements Hacker's Diet-style smoothing on your noisy daily weigh-in data; calorie intake via MyFitnessPal; and calorie expenditure via a FitBit exercise-tracking band, because MyFitnessPal's calorie-per-hour estimates for most forms of exercise are laughably high. FitBit can sync calories-burned to MFP, which I currently have set up; Libra doesn't sync to either of them, which is annoying, but I really want the trend rather than the raw weight data. FitBit also have a native food-tracking system, so I may ditch MFP at some point.
- Show up for work in a timely fashion. This is something I struggle with horribly at the moment. I almost always arrived in time for our morning standup meeting at my last job, but now I'm working remotely as part of a distributed team, and we don't have any equivalent for that. I've just signed up for Beeminder and created a "Do Less" goal with units of "minutes late to work", and a fairly generous weekly target; we'll see how that goes.
- Actually do some work while I'm there. Not sure how to make this SMART or how to achieve it. The Pomodoro technique is... moderately effective, if I actually start doing it (which is much easier if I show up not-too-late in the morning). RescueTime integrates with Beeminder, so I could set myself a goal for "spend more time looking at an IDE, terminal or job-related websites" (or one for "spend less time looking at blogs and social media"). By the way, a pet peeve: if you're reading about the Pomodoro Technique and thinking "sounds interesting, but 25 minutes isn't enough" then you are not the kind of person who needs it. 25 minutes is a major challenge for some of us.
- Read an average of one book a week. You can follow my progress on this one at Goodreads.
Last year I made three New Year's Resolutions:
- Get better at dealing with money.
- Run a marathon.
- Make a first ascent in the Greater Ranges.
Number 2 was an obvious success: I finished the Edinburgh Marathon in 4:24:04, and raised nearly £900 for the Against Malaria Foundation. I'd been hoping to get a slightly faster time than that, but I lost several weeks of training to a chest infection near to the end of my training programme, so in the end I was very happy to finish under 4:30. The actual running was... mostly Type II fun, but also much less miserable than many of my training runs, even at mile 21 when I realised that literally everything below my navel hurt. Huge thanks to everyone who sponsored me!
Number 3 was an equally obvious failure. My climbing partner and I picked out an unclimbed mountain in Kyrgyzstan and got a lot of the logistics sorted, but then he moved house and started a new job a month before we were due to get on a plane to Bishkek. With only a few weeks to go and no plane tickets or insurance bought yet (and them both being much more expensive than we'd expected - we'd checked prices months earlier, but forgot how steeply costs rise as time goes on), we regretfully pulled the plug. We're planning to try again in 2016 - let's hope all the good lines don't get nabbed by Johnny-come-lately Guardian readers.
Number 1 was a partial success. I tried a number of suggestions from friends who appear to have their financial shit more together than me (not hard), but couldn't get any of them to stick. I was diagnosed with ADHD at the end of 2014; I don't want to use that as an excuse, but it does mean that some things that come easily to most people are genuinely difficult for me - and financial mismanagement is apparently very common among people with ADHD. The flip-side, though, is that I have a license to do crazy or unusual things if they help me be effective, because I have an actual medical condition.
I've now set up the following system:
- my salary (minus taxes and pension contributions) is paid into Account 1;
- a couple of days later, most of it is transferred by standing order into Account 2;
- all bills are paid from Account 2 by direct debit, and Account 2 should maintain enough of a balance for them to always clear;
- money left in Account 1 is available for spending on day-to-day things;
- if I pay for something on a credit card, I pay it off from Account 1 (if small) or Account 2 (if big) as soon as possible;
- Account 2 pays interest up to a certain ceiling; above that I'm going to transfer money out into a tax-efficient Account 3, which pays less interest but which doesn't have a ceiling.
I'll have to fine-tune the amount left in Account 1 with practice, but this system should ensure that bills get paid, I can easily see how much money I have left to spend for the month, and very little further thought or effort on my part is required.
While I was in there, I took the opportunity to set up a recurring donation to the Against Malaria Foundation for a few percent of my net salary - less than the 10% required to call yourself an Official Good Person by the Effective Altruism movement, but I figure I can work up to it.
It's too early to say whether the system will work out, but setting it up has already been a beneficial exercise - before, I had seven accounts with five different providers, most of them expired and paying almost zero interest (in one file, I found seven years' worth of letters saying "Your investment has expired and is now paying 0.1% gross interest, please let us know what you want us to do with it.") I now have only the three accounts described above, from two different providers, so it should be much easier to keep track of my overall financial position. Interest rates currently suck in general, but Accounts 2 and 3 at least pay a bit.
I've also started a new job that pays more, and wormwood_pearl's writing is starting to bring in some money. We're trying not to go mad and spend our newfound money several times over, but we're looking to start replacing some broken kit over the next few months rather than endlessly patching things up.
What else has happened to us?
I had a very unsuccessful winter climbing season last year; I was ill a lot from the stress of marathon training, and when I wasn't ill the weather was terrible. I had a couple of good sessions at the Glasgow ice-climbing wall, but only managed one actual route. Fortunately, it was the classic Taxus on Beinn an Dothaidh, which I'd been wanting to tick for a while. I also passed the half-way mark on the Munros on a beautiful crisp winter day in Glencoe.
One by one, my former research group's PhD students finished, passed their vivas, submitted their corrections, and went off, hopefully, to glittering academic careers or untold riches in Silicon Valley. Good luck to them all.
In June, I did the training for a Mountain Leadership award, the UK's introductory qualification for leading groups into the hills. Most of the others on the course were much fitter than me and more competent navigators, but the instructor said I did OK. To complete the award, I'll need to log some more Quality Mountain Days and do a week-long assessment.
In July, we went to Mat Brown's wedding in Norfolk, and caught up with some friends we hadn't seen IRL for far too long. Unlike last year, when it felt like we were going to a wedding almost every weekend, we only went to one wedding this year; I'm glad it was such a good one. Also, it was in a field with camping available, which really helped to keep our costs down.
In July, I started a strength-training cycle. I've spent years thinking that my physical peak was during my teens, when I was rowing competitively (albeit badly) and training 15-20 hours a week, so I was surprised to learn that I was able to lift much more now than I could then - 120kg squats versus around 90kg (not counting the 20kg of body weight I've gained since then). Over the next few weeks, I was able to gain a bit more strength, and by the end I could squat 130kg. I also remembered how much I enjoy weight training - so much less miserable than cardio.
In August, we played host to a few friends for the Edinburgh Fringe, and saw some great shows, of which my favourite was probably Jurassic Park.
In September, we went to Amsterdam with friends for a long weekend, saw priceless art and took a canal tour; then I got back, turned around within a day and went north for a long-awaited hiking trip to Knoydart with my grad-school room-mate. There are two ways to get to Knoydart: either you can take the West Highland Line right to the end at Mallaig, then take the ferry, or you can get off at Glenfinnan (best known for the viaduct used in the Harry Potter films) and walk North for three days, sleeping in unheated huts known as bothies. We did the latter, only it took us six days because we bagged all the Munros en route. I'm very glad we did so. The weather was cold but otherwise kind to us, the insects were evil biting horrors from Hell, and the starfields were amazing. It wasn't Kyrgyzstan, but it was the best fallback Europe had to offer.
In October, I started a new job at Red Hat, working on the OpenStack project, which is an open-source datacenter management system. It's a huge, intimidating codebase, and I'm taking longer than I'd like to find my feet, but I like my team and I'm slowly starting to get my head around it.
That's about it, and it's five minutes to the bells - Happy New Year, and all the best for 2016!
2. Start making (and testing!) regular backups of my data. I'm now backing up my tweets with TweetBackup.com, but other than that I've made no progress on this front. Possibly my real failure was in not making all my NYRs SMART, so they'd all be pass/fail; as it is, I'm going to declare this one not yet successful.
3. Get my Gmail account down to Inbox Zero and keep it there. This one's a resounding success. Took me about a month and a half, IIRC. Next up: Browser Tab Zero.
4. Do some more Stanford online courses. There was a long period at the beginning of the year where they weren't running and we wondered if the Stanford administrators had stepped in and quietly deep-sixed the project, but then they suddenly started up again in March or so. Since then I've done Design and Analysis of Algorithms, which was brilliant; Software Engineering for Software as a Service, which I dropped out of 2/3 of the way through but somehow had amassed enough points to pass anyway; and I'm currently doing Compilers (hard but brilliant) and Human-Computer Interaction, which is way outside my comfort zone and on which I'm struggling. Fundamentals of Pharmacology starts up in a couple of weeks, and Cryptography starts sooner than that, but I don't think I'll be able to do Cryptography before Compilers finishes. Maybe next time they offer it. Anyway, I think this counts as a success.
5. Enter and complete the Meadows Half-Marathon. This was a definite success: I completed the 19.7km course in 1 hour and 37 minutes, and raised over £500 for the Against Malaria Foundation.
6. Enter (and, ideally, complete...) the Lowe Alpine Mountain Marathon. This was last weekend; my partner and I entered the C category. Our course covered 41km, gained 2650m of height, and mostly consisted of bog, large tufts of grass, steep traverses, or all three at once; we completed it in 12 hours and 33 minutes over two days and came 34th out of a hundred or so competitors. I was hoping for a faster time, but I think that's not too bad for a first attempt. Being rained on for the last two hours was no fun at all, but the worst bit was definitely the goddamn midges, which were worse than either of us had ever seen before. The itching's now just about subsided, and we're thinking of entering another one at a less midgey time of year: possibly the Original Mountain Marathon in October or the Highlander Mountain Marathon next April. Apparently the latter has a ceilidh at the mid-camp, presumably in case anyone's feeling too energetic. Anyway, this one's a success.
5/6 - I'm quite pleased with that. And I'm going to add another one (a mid-year resolution, if you will): I notice that my Munro-count currently stands at 136/284 (thanks to an excellent training weekend hiking and rock climbing on Beinn a' Bhuird); I hereby vow to have climbed half the Munros in Scotland by the end of the year. Six more to go; should be doable.
In keeping with the spirit of the event, I'm trying to raise money for the Against Malaria Foundation, who are one of GiveWell.org's two top-rated charities in terms of misery alleviated per dollar donated. It is, in other words, a very good cause. Please sponsor me!.
Edit: I completed the race in 1 hour and 37 minutes, despite being hailed on for the last 1.5 laps. Better than that, though, was my friends' generosity: together, they donated over £400 to the Against Malaria Foundation.
1. Start tracking my weight and calorie intake again, and get my weight back down to a level where I'm comfortable. This morning it was 12st 1.9 - not terribly high in the scheme of things, but it's almost as high as it was when I first started dieting (though I think a bit more of it may be muscle now) and it's definitely high enough to negatively impact my sense of well-being.
What went wrong? Well, I'm gonna quote from Hyperbole and a Half: "trying to use willpower to overcome the apathetic sort of sadness that accompanies depression is like a person with no arms trying to punch themselves until their hands grow back. A fundamental component of the plan is missing and it isn't going to work." A scheme for weight loss that depends on willpower is similarly doomed if you're too depressed to stick to it. So this time I'm going to try to make changes to my eating habits that require less willpower. Any suggestions would be most welcome.
2. Start making (and testing!) regular backups of my data. I lost several years of mountain photographs last year when the external hard drive I was keeping them on died: I don't want that to happen again.
3. Get my Gmail account down to Inbox Zero and keep it there. It's currently at Inbox 1713, most of which is junk, but it's just *easier* to deal with an empty inbox, and not have to re-scan the same old things to look for the interesting new stuff.
I have a few more Ambitious Plans, but they don't really count as resolutions:
1. Do some more Stanford online courses. I'm currently signed up to Human-Computer Interaction, Design and Analysis of Algorithms, Software Engineering for Software as a Service, and Information Theory. Fortunately they don't all run concurrently!
[BTW, they're not all computing courses: wormwood_pearl is signed up to Designing Green Buildings, for instance.]
2. Enter (and complete!) the Meadows Half-Marathon in March. I started training for this back in December, but then I got ill and Christmas happened, so today was my first run for a while and it wasn't much fun. Never mind; I've got time to get back on course.
3. If that goes well, enter (and, ideally, complete...) the Lowe Alpine Mountain Marathon. As I understand things, it's basically two 20km-ish fell runs back-to-back, with a night camping in between. Oh, and you have to carry all your camping kit with you. In the high classes people do the whole thing at a run, but in the lower classes (which I'd be entering) there's apparently a bit more run/walk/run going on. Philipp and I did nearly 40km in one day on the South Glen Shiel ridge in November, and then went for another hike the next day, so I should be able to at least cover the distance. Providing I don't get too badly lost, of course :-)
The only way to progress in anything. The trick, of course, is not biting off enough to cause you damage.