Matt Marshall

3 Posts with Tag reflections (All tags)

16 Aug 2016, 20:39

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

04 Oct 2016, 21:46

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.

Motivation

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

05 Jan 2017, 10:24

Year in Strength 2016 - Reflections on Strength Training

Exactly one year on from my previous reflection, it's time to do it again. Once again, I'll be going through a reflection on each of the Big Six from Convict Conditioning (CC) owing to my training drawing heavy inspiration from the approach, my view on some of the decisions I've made, and finally a few higher level goals for me to shoot towards in 2017.

Let's go.

Push-Ups

Remember when I said 2015 was the year of the Push-Up? 2016 definitely ran with all of the improvements that I made to it and then some. As of writing, I've upped my Close/Diamond Push-Ups to 3x12 reps, which are all relatively smooth and pretty deep with decent form.

Where I feel that I fall down with Push-Ups at the moment, is actually in my warm-up sets of standard form ones. I feel that since I've neglected my torso this year (more on that later) then my hips begin to sag somewhat during these and I actually find them more difficult than my work sets.

All-in-all, although I've not yet begun approaching the 'Progression Standard' of reps for Close Push-Ups in CC which would take me towards the one-armed variants of the movement; I feel that the extra time has made my form and performance of these much better than they would have been otherwise and I'm so, so, pleased with these. Currently my favourite exercise.

Squats

If there was one word to describe my squatting in 2016 it would be stagnation. I've really let these go. Whilst my performance of Full Squats and Close Squats during my warm-up rounds have seen progress in form, my work sets of Box Pistols have seen a deterioration in form and no gain in reps. In short, I really need to get back onto the wagon of some heavy leg training in 2017.

I believe that a good approach will be to lock down cadence and form, and build up to a respectable 12 reps with the current height of Box Pistols, and then work from there. Lock that down, and worry about them later. This may sound like neglecting them further; but I'm working in achievable baby-steps so as not to discourage myself.

Pull-Ups

Pull-Ups have always been a rollercoaster for me, and I think that they always will be. 2016 saw me finish with negatives (and get rid of muh launching chair, RIP) and begin with... assistance bands! After I couldn't go from negatives to half movements, I finally admitted that I needed some help. The admission of requiring assistance didn't particularly hurt me, but the fact that I required equipment did.

This being said, my experience with the bands has been nothing except positive. I'm performing the full Pull-Up motion for a decent number of reps with the bands, and progressing nicely. I'm currently on my third band and on 3x9 reps out of a desired 3x12 (Pulls are heavy and hard and any more would really take effort I think). The brand of band I'm working with have a series of 6 bands total, so that fact I'm on band number 3 means I'm progressing nicely. The first band was way too much assistance and I blasted through it, and took that attitude to the second band. This was tougher but manageable, but I took just a little bit longer. The third band I've been deliberately taking my time with and I hovered at 3x8 reps for a while; getting the cadence right so I wasn't using momentum. They feel magical and much better.

A successful year on the Pulling front.

Leg Raises

Again, stagnation is how I would describe my progression in Leg Raises this year. I've been hovering at Hanging Straight Leg Raises for a while now, but my form and cadence has been shocking for the most part. There are snatches of glory, where I performed a set or two of really good, strong, movements in a few sessions across the year -- but for the most part I've fallen prey to the traps that Coach Wade warned about in CC1.

Still working at 3x10 reps, and there's an excuse for the poor cadence (will become clear in the Good Decisions section) -- but this is the main thing I hope to improve in 2017.

Bridges

Similar to Push-Ups, my Bridges in 2016 have benefited from a concentration on form. I think the arch of my Bridge could be improved somewhat, but in terms of the actual performance of the movement -- it's been great. My fear of them has declined loads, I've begun performing them outside instead of in the comfort of the main room, and the sessions where they're smoother have begun to become to norm rather than the 'good days'.

Upped from 3x10 to 3x12. CC's Progression Standard for the movement is 2x15 which means I'm very close. I think I'll halt them there, though, instead of moving onto the next movement -- in order to lock down form and concentrate my recovery efforts on Pulls.

Handstand Push-Ups

Once more, I did not train HSPUs this year. Considering the progress my training has made in general, I'm perfectly ok with this. I'll reiterate what I said last year; that I remember reading/hearing that HSPUs and Pulls have a positive knock-on effect on each other, so I might begin training a few basic holds in the series to begin this but I'm not setting any hard goals in order not to discourage myself.

Good Decisions

There are two stand-out good decisions that I made this year -- condense ALL of my strength training into a single routine, performed in a circuit. It's a pretty intense hour, but it's allowed me to get some really good cardiovascular benefits. I began about February moving Leg Raises into Day 1's routine and began performing them in a circuit. Then I moved over Bridges in March. I remember this being particularly painful, and speaking with my then-colleague A about how drained I was afterwards and how out of breath. After two weeks and I adjusted and resumed my training as normal.

When I went to California I performed a lighter routine with Pulls as part of the circuit. When I came back, I kept it and integrated my Pulling work into the main circuit. This has been phenomenal. Again, it was a bit draining and I felt a bit "Wow" after the session, but over the summer this effect lessened somewhat and now I'm very much ok afterwards. To highlight how effective this approach has been I'll give you an anecdote:

My friend, D, began CC around the same time that I did in 2013. Whereas I dicked about with Powerlifting for a while - he committed himself straightaway to Calisthenics. D has what I would cheekily call an 'Elfin' body type. He has very low body fat, and a smaller frame. This meant that he did really well and powered through the movements -- surpassing me quickly on all but Squats. Mostly he rubbed it in with Pulls as I've always struggled with them (Orcs eh?). I didn't see him much at all this year and an opportunity came about in late December to spend the day together and we decided to do a spot of training. I said he could do what he wanted but that I was going to be circuit training. I pre-warned him not to be too harsh on me as I was deconditioned from a week in Madrid. He opted to join me in my circuit, but only managed my two warm-up rounds. It turns out that he's still training with the large 5 minute rests whereas I've cut rest times down to 2 minutes, as well as opting for the circuit approach.

It's often hard to step outside your own box. And, with apologies to D; it felt really good seeing evidence that my year's training had given me abilities and endurance beyond what I had expected or felt that I deserved. The circuit also has the additional benefit of condensing my weekly training into two sessions which are intense but have a lot of recovery time.

My other good decision was to opt for the assistance bands in Pull-Ups. I've seen a positive change in performance of the movement, self-esteem, and musculature. Not to mention knock-on improvements to other movements which I feel is in part due to my progress here.

Bad decisions

My bad decisions can be summed up by allowing Squats and Leg Raises to stagnate. I'm really disappointed in myself for these specific things -- but overall my experience of training in 2016 has been overwhelmingly positive (making this one of the few good things to have happened this year right?)

Battle Plan for 2017

I want to begin this section by saying this -- battle plans change. I've tried to work on making my training as flexibile as possible (I only need 2 days a week, I only need equipment for 1 exercise etc.) but when I'm disrupted I often can't progress the way I want and I often fall to a 'baseline' routine without the bells and whistled. My goals here are going to be a mix of specifics, and high-level aims, with the knowledge that they're going to change and evolve. Here we go:

  • Really go for it on Pull-Ups and Grip training. Progress at least 2 bands in Pulls, and try a full progression in Hangs
  • Spend some time fixing form on Box Pistols
  • As above, for Leg Raises
  • Do a static headstand now and then
  • Begin a short, daily, stretching routine to be performed in the evenings
  • Do some sprint work to further my cardio
  • Up reps on Close Push-Ups, and Bridges, to 3x15 without affecting form negatively
  • Maintain a positive attitude

Bring it on. It's gonna be a good year.

calisthenics strength reflections yearinstrength