Matt Marshall

10 Posts with Tag diary (All tags)

Reflections on my Facebook use

It's long been a goal of mine to stop using Facebook for the majority of my social interaction on the web. The seminal blog post Get your loved ones off Facebook explains just some of the nefarious practices of the site, and since I've on a massive data ownership push lately I'm not overly comfortable with the notion of Facebook ad tracking (rant on ads coming soon). Do I also need to mention their dodgy newsfeed experiments?

Other than that, the centralising of the web into a commercial communications service frightens me to death; my socialist (cough communist cough) leanings already mean that the fact Facebook is a large corporation extracting profit from millions of workers who are essentially working for free (see Dmytri Kleiner) makes my skin crawl. On top of that, they're looking to launch their own web platform bundled into Messenger which will allow companies to use their services and develop apps/bots that interact with customers through Messenger. The principle is that if you're a start-up and can't really afford to invest in your own infrastructure, then you can use the service to reach your customer base digitally nontheless. I love the idea of commissioning platforms generally, but the corporate hegemonising of Messenger's app platform is sickening. A better approach to commissioning is (shameless plug for my lab) App Movement but I think even the centralised way that the platform operates doesn't make it a true grassroots approach.

Facebook recently also diversified its 'Like' function into 'Reactions', giving us a slightly less narrow range of ways to express our feelings at a post whilst still providing them with button clicks. This also provides them with an extra dimension of data to sell to advertisers, as people are now increasingly sharing links instead of status updates so the data they receive needs to be enrichened. In fact, the Belgian police force recently advised against using reactions for this reason.

I also feel that there is an obvious problem about a single large corporation owning what is arguably one of the most widely used communications platforms in the world :-/.

So this all adds up to me beginning to pull out of Facebook; or rather saying I will. No matter how much I complain and tell myself to just get out... I find myself browsing the site as consistently as ever. The next part of this post is largely a diary entry reflecting on my Facebook usage and trying to devise ways in which to get out.

What do I use Facebook for?

Upon reflection, I find that the main activity that I use Facebook for is actually semi-mindless browsing of news aggregate. This probably doesn't surprise most people, but it surprised me because I thought that I was a lot more involved than that. I'd say that the majority of my Facebook usage comes from mobile (browser, not app) whilst commuting, idling waiting for people to arrive etc. Of this, I'd say that most of my interactions with Facebook stories consist almost solely of either clicking to read, liking, or sharing. I'm not even sure why I like things tbh -- I don't look back on it. It's largely just a habit formed from liking friends' posts.

I do appreciate my friends' posts. Particularly a few closer friends who post interesting content, and share interesting articles I wouldn't normally read. I sometimes comment on statuses to show support or a more concrete form of appreciation than a Like. I also enjoy Facebook groups, the communities that arise from them, and actually I enjoy Page content quite a lot (again -- news for the most part).

I rarely post statuses. I'd argue that over the last year (and certainly over the last six months) the content I've submitted to Facebook has consisted by-and-large of sharing articles/news that makes me angry / happy / sad, and also posting images that form humble-brags of what I'm up to or have produced (like my sweet-ass Sushi plates) in attempt to validate my activities. I'm also tagged in quite a few photos from when I've visited others that I enjoy seeing

The messaging service is another one that I use a fair amount. There are those who I speak to largely through Messenger, and would miss out on conversations with them otherwise. They're relatively few and far between though, and the thing I'd miss out on is actually the group chats. I'd also probably miss out on random people contacting me, which is always fun.

So what do I do?

I think I can tackle the mindless browsing fairly simply. I've already begun the process of adding an RSS reader to my site, which will allow me to browse news aggregate here rather than visiting Facebook. I should actually start making a log of what I like to click on / find interesting in order to get a good map of what to start bringing in. Content discovery (ie new feeds / sources etc) might be tricky, since I won't be pulling in Facebook posts such as shares from friends. I might actually go back to using StumbleUpon, and then adding feeds as I discover them.

Friends' posts present a problem, although this forms a relatively small part of my Facebook interaction. I won't be pulling in Facebook content here, I'll need to keep up with them some other way (or sign into Facebook to see them specifically).

Posting statuses and sharing articles won't be a problem. Sometime in the future I might POSSE to Facebook (with an explicit request of course, unlike Twitter) when I want to share links to people. Posting photos also probably won't be an issue. It's on the books to integrate images and gallery functionality into Brimstone, and if I'm absolutely desperate for people to see my humble-brags then I can just POSSE a link to Facebook as a post. Tagging will just have to bugger off for now.

Messenger provides a trickier problem, as I do value the group chats and relatively random encounters a lot. Individuals that I'm serious about talking to, for the most part, are usually willing to contact me via Telegram. I might consider hooking up a notification over here to notify me of a message, or a new conversation but that is a lot of effort. For now I'd be satisfied just using and avoiding the main Facebook site.

If you've read this, thanks for reading to the end. As mentioned this was largely a diary entry for reflection on my use of Facebook and the cognitive dissonance that I experience when browsing it.

diary facebook privacy capitalism

Saving on Sushi

Ever since I discovered it, I've been an enormous fan of sushi. I'm not sure that it's anything specific that I love, as it's more that sushi seems to lay at the intersection of qualities that I like in food: East-Asian cuisine in general; finger food; rice-based; served chilled; usually associated with fish; rich with etiquette rules that I can learn and follow; and requires some investment of time to learn how to prepare.

The problem with my love of Sushi comes from the fact that I have quite a large appetite to begin with, and the finger-food nature of the dish means I could theoretically just sit and eat it for hours at a constant rate without stopping. As such, whenever I buy sushi (usually at work, for lunch) from the local sushi box I end up purchasing between £12 - £15 worth of it; which is much more expensive than I'm comfortable with. I usually write it off as a treat and aim to buy sushi no more than once a month, although sometimes I indulge on a weekly basis.

I've attempted to make sushi a few times in the past, with varying degrees of success, largely as a novelty for myself and my friends. However, as I grow increasingly concious of the amount of restaurant/takeaway food I buy at work; my love of cooking has combined with my love of sushi to prompt me to make the dish as a lunchbox to save £££. My sushi is far from perfect, but it's mine, and I've been using the Level Up Your Life hack to motivate my cooking of it, by rewarding myself with more sushi equipment every n times I make the dish instead of buying it. So far n has been arbitrary based on the next piece of equipment I want: 3x gets me a Nigiri press; 5 gets me boards to make into sushi plates; 10 gets me a Hangiri; 30 gets me a Narihira.

So far so good, right? Aye, but everything costs. Those who know me know that although I despise capitalism, and place far greater weight onto the value of the purchase rather than the financial expenditure (see also my PhD), I also only have so much income and would like to actually save some money by adding in my effort and love. Y'know; own the value of my labour.

The Maths

If I were to buy sushi at Nudo, I'd spend roughly £13. This is not a slight against Nudo, as their sushi is so good I can happily spend that amount. This would get me: a large box of 12 pcs; a long box of 7 pcs; and a short box of 4 pcs. That's £13 for a total of 23 mixed maki, uramaki, and nigiri. That's about 57p / pc.

On reflection, that's a really good deal, and the individual boxes are prices so that a normal person without my appetite would be getting a really inexpensive lunch. But I'm me. So let's make sushi.

As with everything cooking related; there's a bit of a startup cost. That diminishes as more dishes are made etc. I'm going to be working with rough numbers for now, and updating as I figure everything out.

  • Sushi rice 1kg = £2.60
  • Nori (seaweed) 10 sheets = £2.50
  • Rice vinegar 500ml = £4
  • Salt = N/A (Have it in the kitchen)
  • Sugar = N/A (Have it in the kitchen)

So far we're up to about £9, or maybe £10 if the rice vinegar is a bit more expensive. Unfortunately, due to silly Americanised recipes, I measure my rice by volume rather than by weight. I'll measure it when I get home, but for now I use about a third of a packet of rice per session which makes approximately 30 pcs of sushi depending on how I distribute the rice across different rolls. For that I use about 70ml of vinegar, and about 5 pcs of Nori. So per session I'm using about 86p of rice, 52p of vinegar, and £1.25 of Nori. Of course is is approximate.

That brings our current total of "Cost to feed Marshall lots of sushi once" to £2.62, but we've not factored in the fillings. Which is where is gets fiddly, as I'm not very efficient at using them yet.

I've still not clocked up that many hours making sushi, so I'm still quite tentative with what I use as a filling. I generally stick to crabsticks, cucumber, and salmon. Recently I've been going for prawn mayonaise as well -- but there's so little of it used when you're making three different fillings that I may as well not, and it adds to the waste of salmon as well. Maybe when I get better, or am making large batches for other people, I'll include them again.

  • Salmon fillet = £6
  • Crabsticks = £1
  • Cucumber = 50p

I've found that the portions in which all of these are all more than what I need to make the sushi pieces, but it's difficult to tell. I generally use enough of the salmon so that I'd probably only get another roll out of it (and no nigiri), and the crabsticks have plenty left over but they're snacked on rapidly so don't feed into any other meal. I'd say that with careful pre-portioning, I'd be able to split the salmon fillet prior to freezing so that I don't waste it, and I could actually probably use more rice to make more nigiri. The cucumber is the most wasted bit, with me using only a few strips of the half I usually portion off. Again, this works better when I'm making sushi for others, but if we're calculating cost for me I'd have to say I would use £4 of the salmon, and the cucumber can last a week in the fridge to be used for more sushi. To err on the side of caution, I shall say that whilst the food can (and should) be utilised elsewhere, it's still an investment per portion so I'll have to use all of it. That's £7.50 for fish and cucumber.

The current cost of "Feed Marshall lots of sushi" is at £10.12, giving me a saving of only £3 per meal. However, when you take into account the fact that I usually get between 30 and 35 pcs of sushi out of the rice and toppings, I calculate the conservative cost of 34p / pc. That's a saving of 23p / pc for every time, cumulative until the heat death of the universe.

I'm actually pretty sure I've calculated this wrong, tbh. I'm sure it's lower. Whenever I've made sushi using 500ml of rice, I've generally made enough for myself and a friend to have at least 20 pcs each; or enough so that I can take a portion to work the next day. And when a friend is buying in, I charge for half the ingredients. I think I'm saving more than i give myself credit for.

Expect calculations soon.

diary food sushi money

Feature Creep, and Doing.

I have always had a problem with the dreaded Feature Creep. Not only with software development, but in life generally. I take a lot of pleasure in the doing of something, and when I stumble across something that I feel I may enjoy doing I get incredibly excited at the prospect of its doing. If that made sense :-/

I experienced this quite early on in my strength training journey -- attempting to integrate a full Calisthenics system with a Power Lifting one. When I finally dropped my Power Lifts to focus on Calisthenics, instead of relishing the extra time and simplicity I instantly started trying to do various different forms of calisthenics training (my foundation was always Convict Conditioning, but I was attempting to Grease the Groove on quite a lot of things too, and was rushing the addition of extra exercise progressions).

I've most recently experienced this with Brimstone, my little indie blog project. I've only recently gotten around to actually fixing the main feed, and integrating everything together. Mainly, features creep in and keep me awake via RSS feeds (it's getting shinier back here, btw). The same can be said with my PhD. People keep trying to introduce 'features', or aspects of the research. For the most part I welcome it, and their interest in it is exciting (if pressuring). But there's only so much I can do.

The most dangerous feature creep I've experienced is that which I indicated right at the start of this post. The doing features of my life. I take a real, carnal, pleasure in doing things, taking things in, and being part of things. Throughout high school and 6th Form (college) I was involved in a local theatre group. When I got a job making pizzas, I found it difficult to manage acting alongside 6th Form, the job, and a new girlfriend (oh myyy). So acting was dropped. I managed to get by in 6th Form without too much feature creep. My Open-Sourceness became more pronounced, so I suppose that was one thing I was doing, but otherwise I was pretty simple. I watched a lot of TV shows.

When I came to Uni, the acting came back in and I am ashamed to say that I let some good friends (and splendid talent) down by dropping out in the most heinous way possibe: ceasing to show up. I was busy being a Computer Science student, an active Satanist, a fledgling executive member of Rocksoc, and I had a new girlfriend (this one was a model! ohhh errr). I also still had my job slinging pizzas (in a different shop), and my social life was abuzz with clubbing and friends. Also now I had to cook for myself!

Years later, things are looking tamer; but I worry about feature creep still. The things I like to do keep growing. Every time I enjoy cooking something, especially if it takes effort, I long for a ritual of doing it daily or weekly. My Strength Training is so ingrained in me now that I can't help but do it -- but it remains something that I do so it affects my day significantly. I enjoy doing maintenance on clothes and boots. I enjoy doing reading, and writing. I enjoy doing development, especially adding new features to software. I've recently took up a light practice of making, which is absolutely rife with doing things -- lots of things! Also carving, if there ever was something that was doing; carving is it. Since developing an interest in Politcal Economy, and being awakened as a Feminist (or ally) I've being doing those things. Oh, and after a nice long spell of being out of the habit of doing being a Satanist; I'm being enticed back in by a new and sexy UK community.

I don't know what to make of all this. Juxtaposing the desire to experience rich variety against the desire to not feel bad for not doing something is becoming tougher every day. Is it wrong to love drowning in it?

calisthenics diary development reflections brimstone life

The Great Reclaim: Where I am with social media

A little while ago I reflected on my Facebook use, discussing what I used it for and how I felt about it. It's been about four months since then, so I thought I'd see where I was with that.

Since writing about my concerns over my Facebook use I've went through several bouts of limiting my activity on the site, to varying degrees of success. In June I took a two-pronged approach. The first was deliberate and conscious Facebook "fasts" on alternating days. This dealt with distractions at work. I'm used to fasting, so this was a pretty simple concept to wrap my head around. I'd do a quick Facebook check early evening, and not check it again until the same time on the following day. The second prong was to log out of Facebook on my phone's browser, and to clear my browsing history so I couldn't just click a thumbnail on 'most visited'. This worked for a long time, up until I was experiencing a week with an above average amount of waiting around outside, checking my phone. Signing back in on my phone lead to me getting hooked on the notifications again, and the advent of CHI-writing time at work meant I was looking for distractions. I got off the wagon.

In July, however, I managed to solve the majority of my mindless browsing by giving myself my RSS feed in Brimstone. Both the investment in the development process and the result, as well as a conscious ritual rule of "Always check the site before checking others" meant that a lot of my 'getting updates' has shifted over here. The effect of this was lessened somewhat when I joined a few groups and all of the notifications and News Feed posts that includes became a factor.

Finally, early this month (Oct '16), after months of guiltily removing Facebook pages from my phone's "most visited" browser page; I declared that I am to instigate my tactical withdrawal from the site and to maintain a skeleton profile there. All I did for four months was share news articles anyway.


I think it's important to make explicit my motivations for the move. So that I can be honest with myself, and others.

  • Control over identity. I'm pretty open with my thoughts and feelings online. Actually, the majority of my online identity is centred around what is fundamentally mundane activity. I must be so boring to those who end up following me. That being said, I want a large degree of control over that content. Facebook exposes me to the machinations of the platform. They take some half-baked measures to placate the privacy conscious, but I've liked and said some pretty stupid things in the past that I want to be able to remove with a large degree of ease. I also get to control how it is displayed, collated, stored, and fed.

  • Ownership of content. The main reason tbh. All for-profit social media platforms derive their commercial value (regardless of revenue stream) due to the content produced by their users. These can be posts/articles, likes, media content, etc. How this content is processed to produce value is of a different matter. Most often they're used to either provide a profile for targeted ads (through likes etc), or a draw for those ad services to find a home (content). The thing that remains, however, is that the value is derived not from the platform itself but from its use. More explicitly, the content and labour of those using it. Facebook's share prices go up, but its users don't get a share. I admittedly maintain a Twitter presence mediated through this site, and even though Twitter gets versions of my posts they always have a citation -- and I always own a copy.

  • Reclamation of Time. I spend a lot of time checking Facebook. I won't pretend to know exactly how, but I think it's obvious that the News Feed and notifications systems are designed to keep me checking in and posting content (Time Hop anyone?). It's quite frankly embarrassing how instinctual it is to open up a new tab and type fa + enter and spend the next 15 minutes like a zombie. Obviously I know that the social interactions make Facebook use more than just slaves. We're connecting with people. Their whole spiel is, for the most part, true. It's my relationship with it that's unhealthy, and unhealthy relationships need adjusting.

Current Status

The first thing I did when I declared my tactical withdrawal was to download all my Facebook data, mainly for the photos, and then promptly remove what I could from the site. Up there now is only my current profile picture, banner, and a few shared albums I can't touch. I have this data to do stuff with later. This act was, for the most part, related to investment. If I don't need to sign in to get to my photo history, that's less motivation to do so. I removed all of my old profile guff too such as quotes, affiliations, gender identity. Everything I could.

I did encounter a problem when trying to remove old posts and content. Using the timeline review bollocks I can go back and see old activity and undo it, but there's no tool to do it en masse. I tried a few greasemonkey scripts to no avail. Will try again soon.

Next was to prevent my inclination to post new content. I set my post status to "only me" in case I got weak. Presumably this applies to shared posts as well. Boom. No more bothering people with glorious Communist propaganda.

My inclination to check the site was dealt with through sheer determination. I spent an entire half hour unfollowing everything that entered my News Feed and refreshing the page to start again. Friends, pages, groups. Nothing was safe. Eventually Facebook told me that they couldn't show me anything and that I should add some friends to see some content. I did, for the most part, preserve my connection to friends, pages, and groups by remaining friends and a member, or liking it. They're still there (largely for messenger purposes). This means that if I ever decide to go back on Facebook, I need to consciously choose what I follow and then seek it out like a surgeon. Next time I sign into Facebook, I hope that there's a tumbleweed there for me.

I need to keep Messenger. Too many people use it and it's socially irresponsible of me to try and force people into using alternative services just to talk to me. I've made my peace with that. Currently I'm signed into Messenger at home, but not at work. I check it in the morning, evening, and before bed. So far it's been relatively quiet and uneventful.

I've not checked the site for about a week now I think. I have a lot more time on my hands. I do more at work, and at home I'm more motivated to spend my time productively on the things that matter to me.

The Plan

I forgot to remove people's ability to tag me in things, and post content on my wall. I'm waiting until the end of the month to sign into the site and deal with that stuff, alongside any other issues I perceive of during that time period. If I sign back in now I might get tempted back. I need to break it as a habit first and foremost; so a good month off will be good.

diary facebook reflections socialmedia

Thinking about 'Stuff'

I've been thinking about stuff and my relationship with it. It mostly kicked off when I read Rhiaro's post about nomadism, but if I reflect a bit then I think it's been brewing for a while.

Unlike Rhiaro, I am not a nomad. I like visiting new places, and I love the romanticised concept of 'travelling' but there's always been a financial and a class barrier to me engaging on that type of physical journey (for the most part). She would disagree, but I tend to think that overly-romanticised travel is pretty classist. My experiences have always, therefore, lent themselves to building up a 'home base'. A sanctuary (sounds pretentious but emotionally I think that's probably most accurate) into which I can retreat during anabolic periods of my life.

This obviously lends itself to having more stuff. I moved to my flat Sep 2011 and brought with me three books, a new desk lamp, my clothes (which all fit into a single chest of drawers), my desktop computer, my laptop, a desk and chair. A year later, my desktop was deceased and I had a new laptop. I also brought in my bookcase with all its books. As my experiences grew I needed to acquire more and more things to deal with them; formal date? New shirt (cheap). Winter? Coat. The room in my flat certainly isn't the smallest room I've ever had but it's gotten to feel a bit more cramped as time has progressed.

My point is that, although I totally love the idea of minimalism and I extoll any philosophy which encourages us to stop buying stuff we don't need or truly want; stuff like challenging yourself to own less than 100 things is going to lend itself to spending more in-the-moment as you prepare for less eventualities. Unless your minimalism is incredibly functional, it's a middle-class minimalism for those who can afford in very literal terms to be flexible with their situation. Maybe I'm just misunderstanding minimalism, but it seems to me that if plan a day out and don't bring a pack with a water bottle and some food then you're saying you can afford to spend that in-the-moment without much thought to your financial situation. Maybe it's not a lot of money for you to drop £10 on lunch that day, but that £10 for some people could be put to better use. I am definitely guilty of this.

Aside from deriding the middle-class form of minimalism, I do appreciate the aesthetic of less clutter. I do, however, have to juxtapose this for my love of personal effects and boxes of ephemera both aesthetically and emotionally. I love when you walk into someone's house and they have stuff that they've clearly had and cared for; for years! I love that just by being owned by a person, a mass-produced item can take on a personality and characteristics from its mundane place in the lives of people. People have experiences and histories, which can usually be captured by the items they associate with them. Treasure chests of memories are a trope for a reason.

On that note, my colleague and comrade @tripsandflips and I had a discussion about this the other day and she made an interesting point which got me thinking about that. Books aren't books if they're not being read. The more I think about it, the more I agree with this sentiment. As much as I love stuff's history, I think I have trouble letting go. Some of the books on my bookshelf haven't been touched in years. Some of them are very special to me, but as I think about them I begin to realise that it's the story that they contain that is special. I might release them from their shelfy prison to let them be books again. I've come up with a solution to help them on their journey as well -- instead of using the first page to claim ownershop of a book ie "This book belongs to XYZ", I'm going to try and start off logging the tome's personal history. I'll write "This book has been enjoyed by Matt Marshall" and encourage others to leave their mark. I think that'll be a good practice to try and start.

My final point of tension is that I've begun my journey into crafting and trying to produce things for myself an others. This in itself lends to having multiple tools and stores of materials around. I used to get around my desire to craft by telling myself "Programming is your craft. Go build cool digital stuff!". I can no longer do that, though. I need to smell the beard oil and feel the bone dust caught in my pores.

I'm not sure where this ramble through my thoughts on stuff has lead. If I was truly honest with myself, I'd say it's probably a precursor to my taking a census of everything I own that isn't stored food. So... expect lists I suppose?

diary stuff reflection minimalism classism

Year In Strength 2015 – Reflections on Training

Another year of strength training is under my belt, and since it's in every strength enthusiast's best interests to look back and reflect on their training every so often I thought I'd take this opportunity to do so. I'll be reflecting on my progress on each of the Big Six from Convict Conditioning, as well as reviewing a few of the decisions I made this year.


2015 was definitely the year of the push-up for me. I've always struggled with upper-body pushing, and although this year was no different – I feel my approach has come along leaps and bounds.

When starting calisthenics, I was desperate to master the push-up and raced my way through the first four stages towards Full Push-Ups, and this showed in my form. During the summer of 2014 I made a start on Close (Diamond) Push-Ups, and was shocked at how difficult they were. Yes, I fell straight into the trap Coach Wade has spent the better part of his career warning me against. For the latter half of 2014, I performed sloppy Close Push-Ups for sets up to 15 reps, and wondering why I couldn't get past that point.

I resolved to change this in 2015, and since then I've been working on form. I would start at 3x5 reps, then move slowly up one rep per set per session until I hit 3x10. I would then realise that there was something else wrong with my form, and I would resolve to fix that and begin again. This recently culminated around August/September for me, when I admitted to myself something I'd been avoiding saying out loud – “I'm not going deep enough”. One of the benefits of Close Push-Ups is that you can tell if the depth of your movement is appropriate because your chest should touch your hands. Mine wasn't. I spent the last quarter of 2015 concentrating on depth, and squeezing my glutes, and it paid off immensely in terms of both strength and musculature by the time I reached the 3x10 again.


My old friends. In short, I feel I neglected Squats as a whole this year. Late 2014 and early 2015 saw me performing Balance Assisted Pistols outside using a lamp-post and a towel. After hitting 3x15 per leg (and staying there a while) I felt that I was pulling down with the towel too much, and swapped them out for Box Pistols. I made it up to a good 3x10, but moved down to 3x5 to work on form, and never really bothered to move it back up. I think my form's deteriorated a bit too – I bounce a lot I think, and my negative is a bit fast and uncontrolled.

Overall, I think Squats have went backwards; they've certainly not progressed particularly.


My eternal foe. I still haven't progressed to the point of Full Pull-Ups, but I've accepted that as 100kg+ (Orc body-type) I'm going to find most pulling motions difficult. That said, I again think that my approach to Pulls has been a lot better, and that I'm a lot stronger for it.

I've been focusing on negatives a lot this year, since my set-up doesn't allow for very smooth jacknife pulls. I reduced the work sets to 3 to match my other movements, and began performing negative Chin-ups up until 3x15 reps. This took a while (and I destroyed a few launching platforms), but It was definitely worth it. After this I swapped grips and started performing Negative Pull-Ups in full, which is where I am now. I think I'm afraid of success here, since I don't quite know what I'll do after Negatives – every time I approach 3x10 and there's a blip (e.g. I miss a session due to a conference etc) I don't jump back in at the 3x10 but reduce back to 3x5. This obviously has benefits for form, but I think my justification is wrong.

Overall, I'm deeming my Pull-Up progression in 2015 to be moderately successful.

Leg Raises

I've been consistently strong in Leg Raises, and I've progressed at approximately a linear rate since beginning them. Early 2015 saw me progress to the final stages of the Leg Raise – the Hanging Leg Raise.

This has been a mixed bag for me, as noted I powered through the initial stages generally and managed to hit the final stage. I have noticed, however, that my form is not strictly perfect. I've had a few problems here and there with cadence, and with a slight bend in my legs – likely due to tight hamstring muscles. My thick abdomen is testament to my overall progress though, very pleased.

Again, deeming 2015's Leg Raises to be a moderate success.


I've always enjoyed Bridges. My rate of progression with these has always been moderate, and relatively steady. In 2015 I tackled the Head Bridge and the Half Bridge, progressing finally to the full Bridge sometime in June or July.

I feel that my progress with the Bridge has been very good overall, I feel quite strong in the movement, although I do think there's a little room for improvement in terms of depth and cadence (especially on the negative). Very pleased.

Handstand Push-Ups

I did not train any vertical pressing movements such as the HSPU this year. I felt my efforts were better concentrated on the Close Push-Up and the Bridge. This is something I regret only slightly, as I wonder what my strength would have been if I had trained them.

I remember reading that Pull-Ups and HSPUs each have a positive knock-on effect with regards to the other. This makes sense as a lot of the upper shoulder muscles are involved. Once my initial plan of attack is complete during 2016, I resolve to begin training the HSPU series.

Good Decisions

I believe I made three very good decisions this year regarding strength: first, I gradually lowered rest between sets to 2 minutes, and changed my workout structure to a circuit or superset structure; I also began resting more often, training only 4 days a week with weekends and Wednesdays off; I began eating a lot more, including switching from vegetable oil to olive oil.

The combined effect of more intense, shorter workouts and more recovery days have had a very profound effect on my training. I'm no longer shattered when I drop into the first set of Push-Ups, I sleep better overall, and I've been able to push past a few plateaus. The eating has been a mixed bag: more calories and in particular more meats, veg and potatoes have allowed me to recover well and gain a lot of strength (and size); but with my increased appetite I've also fell prey to eating a shittonne more chocolate than I used to. It's not all bad, but something I've noticed that I could have avoided.

Bad Decisions

In terms of training, I think the worst decision I made this year was letting myself become afraid of performing certain exercises. I noticed it particularly with Bridges (since they're difficult), but it's been creeping in with Pulls too. I'll get ready to perform a set, and then hesitate and put it off for about 20 seconds. I know people sometime psych themselves up, but the fear of failure really got to me sometimes. I used to get the same when I performed Barbell Squats back in my Dark Ages of fitness.

I also let what training means to me become a bit perverted. This might warrant its own post, but it revolves around personal flexibility and resilience. I became so focused on my training routine and hitting strength goals, I forgot part of why I train in the first place – and that is for personal, rather than purely muscular, strength. If I got sent to a conference, or attended an event, I would get very anxious about missing training. I would also become downright pissy. That's not what training should be doing to me. It's not strong, and it's certainly not healthy.

I think I've managed to brush past these mostly in the last few days. I just took a 2.5 week break over the Winter's start and New Year, and as of writing just completed my first split routine back. I didn't particularly hesitate due to fear of failure (slightly present, but not a lot) and I didn't lose much in performance. I was conservative with my output (6-8 reps instead of 10) but overall I was as strong as I was before my break. I think that unless I'm in the middle of a big push for a benchmark I can relax a little bit and start to enjoy training, and the strength it gives me, even more in 2016.

training calisthenics strength review diary bigsix convictconditioning

Jar of Broken Dreams

I wrote this a little while back in 2013, when I desperately wanted to eat some peanut butter out of the jar but there was none in the house. I posted my lament on social media and claimed that tragic poems had been written about less. Someone challenged me to write this, and about an hour later this poem was written.

This was dedicated to an old friend, Amy Henwood (and to all of those without peanut butter tonight)

My cupboard stands now filled to brim,
yet I care not for what lies within.
Not jams or curds or the sweetest tea,
can ever aspire to satisfy me.
Pasta, rice - I have them in spades,
yet only memories of the scent of thee pervades
my cupboard, now a barren womb in which an empty jar
entombs my long lost love; mere dregs of spoils.
And now my blood begins to boil.

I remember days long past,
when they made jars that were built to last.
I’d spread you, love you, nibble and bite.
as you filled my days with light.
In morning or eve or as dusk fell,
you’d always have me under spell
of desire to reach to take you down and allow me to once more
drown in tears of joy at your sweet embrace.
Now bitter anguish streaks my face.

Rest now my prince, my fire and muse,
one who I never thought to lose.
I’ll move on but there’ll never be another -
you’ll always be my peanut butter.

diary badpoetry peanutbutter nostalgia

I'm going to run to Mordor

For a while now I've thought about my overall fitness goals, as opposed to just my strength goals. I've been strength training since Oct 2012, which is a little over three years and I've never particularly done cardio. I'd heard cardio interferes with strength gains, and I've been deathly afraid of that. The truth is, however, that my training is beginning to plateau and I still haven't conquered the Pull-up, which requires a good weight-bodyfat ratio. I'm also a bit sensitive about what I perceive as a bit of a gut developing, since my large waist protrudes a tad when I sit. I also get out of breath way easier than I did when I began training, probably due to the extra mass I'm shifting around.

tl;dr I need to up my game on the fitness front.

I've set a goal that by the Equinox this year (March 20) I will have shifted all of my strength-based calisthenics training to a single circuit, instead of a two-day split. If I leave some of the CC2 bolt-ons like my grip training to the second day (giving me more time overall to deal with it), it also frees up the majority of that time for a bit of cardio. I hate running, but it's a handy skill to have down and I've attempted it in the past too. This time I plan to nail it, by having a good goal but taking it relatively easy. I'm going to run to Mordor.

I got the idea from Nerd Fitness, where they calculate the distance from the Shire to Mordor in miles (eurgh) and advise making it a goal for walking. I'll be running it in stints in the morning obviously, but I think it's kinda cute and motivating as hell.

The Plan

The distance between Hobbiton in the Shire and Mt. Doom in Mordor is 1779 miles according to Nerd Fitness. They're US so they obviously use a filthy imperial measurement, let's update that:

1779 miles is 2863.023 km

Ouch. Sounds like a lot more, but a nice standard metric instead of imperial bollocks :-P (Sorry US-friends!). Problem is, that that .023 km on the end bothers me. For the purposes of goals and nerdy role-playing I'm also saying that once I'm in Mt. Doom I'll need to do my business and get a safe distance away. So I've rounded up to 2865 km. Goal set, awesome.

Now the attack plan. Aside from grip training, I'll have a whole training session of up to 1hr total in order to run a distance. I'm a creature of habit, so having a standard distance to run laps of will help a lot. I've not got access to a track immediately (plus they get muddy), but my street is set up with roads and back alleys that can be used as a loop. Cracking. This also feeds into my role-playing as some sort of urban ranger type, nice. I did some measuring on Google Maps, and one loop of the "track" is measured as 646 m. To be on the safe side, let's round that down to 640 m per lap. Attack plan set, let's calculate.

  • (2864*1000) / 640 = 4476.5625 laps *

Ouch. That's gonna take some doing. I've mentioned before that I don't like those decimal points hanging on. Let's round up.

  • (4477640) / 1000 = 2865.28 km

So, by rounding up I'll have run a total of just over my set amount. I doubt there's a way I can ever ensure both figures don't have hanging decimals so I'll leave it there lest I go insane.

So, that's how I'm going to get to Mordor. To keep me motivated on the way I'm going to code a bit onto the site in order to log progress, and keep a few extra milestones along the way -- stuff like distance from Newcastle to various landmarks etc. All I need now is some decent running shoes!

training diary goals

Please use PDF

I'm currently marking undergraduate Lit Reviews, and everytime I open up J. Bloggs' folder to see their work and see a gorram .docx file I actually want to cry. Word files are terrible generally, but I should also not be expected to fire up an entire office suite just to view a document. If I ever end up in charge of setting undergraduate coursework I'm making it a rule that every document should be submitted as .pdf where appropriate. Here's why.

(Nb: After this point I'll start referrring to file formats without the . and the italics since I'm writing in markdown and really can't be bothered to keep it up until I write a proper editor)

A .pdf file represents a finished product

A pdf file represents a finished document that you're willing to show the world. The whole point of a pdf is to "present documents in a manner independent of application software, hardware, and Operating Systems" (Adobe). It contains all of the information needed to display the document correctly -- typefaces/fonts, layout, sizes etc. Screensize not withstanding, I see a pdf the same on my machine as you do on yours. It even compresses it; I once had a 50MB OpenDocument file crunch down to barely an mb when exporting as pdf.

If you send in a docx file (or even odt or tex), that sends a particular message to me. That message roughly translates as "You aren't meant to see this yet". Those files are software-specific files for document creation and represent the toolkit you're using. If you were doing graphic design for someone, and handed in the work you would export it into a format that you knew they could see such as a png or svg. Obviously graphic design is a bad example, since you often send in source files as part of the hand-in, so that the client can mess up your work later on (or their team can tweak it for printing etc.). More accurately, if you were painting somebody a picture you wouldn't hand them a palette of wet paint. So don't hand in docx, tex, or odt files.

.pdf is an open standard

I could rant on about how awesome open standards are, but there are many who've done so already (and more eloquently then me) such as these guys. Adobe used to control pdf but they made it an ISO standard in 2008. There's still problems, obviously -- but being an open standard is the first step towards solving them for everyone.

It gives you the freedom to choose your toolkit

This one is probably the most important one for me as a technologist generally, but also having been through undergrad programmes (and currently doing postgrad stuff). I came to Uni as a fully-fledged Linux snob and couldn't use MS Word if I tried. I'd just completed an A-level in Double ICT which involved a lot of document creation, so I knew first-hand how terrible doc and docx files were to use in other office suites. Opening a document in LibreOffice that was created in MS Word is one of the most painful experiences a F/LOSS user can ever go through due to formatting errors (although I'd argue that's docx's fault rather than Word or Writer, but that's another blog post).

If you're working collaboratively on a document, you should have a discussion about tools used for document creation. This is important inside and outside of academia (I had an experience recently with LaTeX-Word conversion on a paper). If you're working on your own, however, producing a pdf as a final product means that you can choose whatever system you want to produce it in and nobody else is affected. I began producing all my reports in LaTeX a little while ago, but I can also jump back to a word processor whenever I want without much change in output at the other end. I can even use PHP to turn a web page into an A4 pdf report if I so choose and achieve the same results.


Whatever your opinions are on the pdf standard, simply having a standard that represents a finished product is a good thing. You should be handing that in whether it's a CV/resumé, a short-form report, or a thesis. How you produce it therefore becomes a relatively minor issue, and should be invisible on the other end. Pdf is how we should achieve this short-term, and then we can begin fixing that standard once we have that mindset.

diary rant marking academia, phd

The End of the Tunnel (is in sight)

I've been strength training since October 2012 with Starting Strength and the Power Lifts. I started training bodyweight / calisthenics early 2013 as a supplementary system, and ditched the Powerlifting for Calisthenics full-time in October 2013. That leaves me with two solid years of bodyweight strength under my belt, plus about a half year. It might be a surprise for some, then, to learn that I still suck at Pull-ups.

I'm a heavy guy atm, weighing in at approx 106Kg. I've definitely been lighter; when I first started training the gym scales clocked me in at 79kg. Whilst I doubt the accuracy of those scales, I think the mass gain is approximately right if you count the fact I've probably added a percent or two of body fat alongside any muscle mass. This isn't exactly optimal for bodyweight pulling work such as Pull-ups, but I'm feeling stronger and in better shape than I did when I was powerlifting at all.

Coach Wade of Convict Conditioning said that Pull-Ups are the great equaliser; it's pure relative strength. I think that's definitely true. I've struggled with them for years. I spent an entire year on his gorram Horizontal Pulls, and remember the joy that I felt graduating to Jacknifes. I struggled to perform them at the gym, and my pull bar here at home isn't quite set up right for them (too close to the wall) so when I quit the gym to focus on training here at home, I needed to find a way to train Pulls. It was about this time I started swapping exercises out for Start Bodyweight and reading up on Al Kavadlo's approaches.

During 2014 I tried my best to train Pulls. "This year" I told myself. I started doing Negatives, then Half Pulls. I remember trying to Grease the Groove, I remember trying the Armstrong program over the Easter break. I remember having a session where I felt I could finally do Pull-Ups, then the next session feeling that they'd escaped me once again. I realised that I wasn't getting the full range of motion, and became disheartened again.

Late 2014, when I started my MRes, and into 2015 I admitted to myself that I wasn't performing full Pull-Ups, but needed to train them somehow. I moved to Negative Chins, and when I managed to get good at those, Negative Pulls proper. I think I graduated to Negative Pulls sometime in March 2015. Since then, I've consistently worked my way up to 3x10 reps, then missed a session and instead of picking back up where I left off -- moving to 3x5 again. I know why; fear of failure. I fear that I've been performing my Negatives wrong this whole time, and graduating will only make it true. This, of course, should all be part and parcel of one's journey of self-construction through training.

Now, in April of 2016 I see the end of the tunnel for the first time.

My approach to exercise has always been one of a brutish minimalism; coming from a background of Convict Conditioning, Naked Warrior, and the Kavadlo Bros how could it not be? I want the most effective exercises to train my entire body. These also happen to be exercises that I love, but that's a bonus really. Coach Wade promised this with the Big Six and the Convict Conditioning System. No equipment other than a bar, and optionally a towel. I throw in an old chair to perform negatives off of as well (such a hedonist). That mentality shows whenever I dismiss the need for fancy toys and tools for training -- even my training gear consists of a cotton tee, hoodie, and sweat pants in alternating shades of white, black and grey. Oh and some cheapass sandshoes that I get for £7 and replace once a year in September.

Recently growing tired with my lack of overall progress on the Pulling front, I was prompted by a fellow practitioner to invest in one of those elastic assistance bands. That way I could focus on form under a full ROM and gradually move through different band sizes until I was pulling myself up like normal people. I ordered the biggest one that evening, and I've had my first session with it this morning.

Fuck me. It's definitely given me a confidence boost. I actually think that it's giving me a bit much assistance, since it's the top-tier band and I cranked out 3x5 without much bother. There are parts of me that are sorer than they're used to though, so that's a good thing; and I'm definitely going to need to double-check my form at some point. What's important for me currently though, is that it's given me hope that I've started on a relatively clear path on the road to mastering the Pull-Up. I can see the path is a bit rocky, but there's light at the end of the tunnel and I can see where I might slip up instead of just running in place.

This is going to be a good year.

training calisthenics strength diary pullups