Hello, I’m Matt! If you want to learn about me in 10 seconds, read the now page. If you’d like to get in touch, you can see how in the contact page. The rest is all details. I removed my profile picture to make each page as lightweight as possible, so if you’d like to see my beardy-mug you can click here to see my profile picture.
Under capitalism we’re forced to sell our labour for money in order to buy basic necessities and recreational commodities. While a person should not be defined by their job(s); I am lucky in that a large part of my working life is aligned very directly to my values and what I want to contribute to the world. It goes without saying that although I do work which aligns with my values; the organisations that I’m affiliated with often do not directly share interests in these things except where it’s obvious or explicitly mentioned.
I have professional, personal, and political interests in: Anti-capitalism and Communism; Charities; Critical Pedagogy; Data Standards; Design and Design Methods; Digital Civics; Ethnography and Ethnomethodology; the Fediverse and the Indieweb; Human-Computer Interaction (HCI); Interaction Design; Open Data; Participatory Design; Transparency and Accountability; Working Class Culture and Movements; and Youth Work.
For the sake of the reader I’ve artificially grouped a few of these things into three sections below to delineate how I spend (sell?) my “work” time. But please bear in mind that these are all bound up together and there are a myriad of connections between these activities in my life.
My interest in Open Data ultimately began as an extension of my research interests in Accountability and Transparency through my PhD. Open Data is the method that the digitally-inclined cite as delivering Transparency and Accountability in the modern era. Publish the data, we cry, and watch as democracy reasserts itself over capital and corruption.
It may be obvious from my tone that I am sceptical of the “just publish the data” attitude. Thankfully, this seems to be shrinking to a minority attitude in the sector; Open Data needs people to interpret it and put it to use. This is often framed as a “use-case”, or “usability” concern which I am also hesitant about as I think it takes a simplistic view.
My initial research was concerned with producing a way to allow charities to represent their work and spending. This intersected with Open Data in that it became clear that producing a standardised and reusable way of charities collecting, curating, and disclosing information their activities and spending would allow the development of interfaces to interpret that data and make it clearer to their funders and communities. Producing Open Data to a standard meant that any technical artefacts produced for the research wouldn’t lock-in the data.
Following the end of my funded period I also secured full-time work within Open Data Services Co-operative where I spend time working on various projects. I mostly work with the Open Contracting Data Standard (OCDS) which puts me in direct contact with publishers and users of OCDS data, as well inputting to the ongoing design and future direction. I also work closely with the team at 360Giving, mostly supporting governance and standard design processes.
My work in Open Data intersects with a lot of my interests, but right now I am interested around how one designs Open Data standards with people in a democratic and participatory way. I am also formulating broader concerns and questions around the notion of “Participatory Open Data”; who designs it, who publishes it; and how can people participate in this process in an ongoing fashion, rather than Open Data be something done to them or for them as a simple transaction.
I began my research with an MRes in Digital Civics at Open Lab within Newcastle University in the UK. This continued into a PhD, with research concerns around designing technologies for Transparency and Accountability in, with, and for Charities. During my PhD I worked with The Patchwork Project where I used Participatory Design-inspired methods to co-design and deploy a prototype data standard for modelling charity work activity and spending, as well as some applications for producing, curating, and relating this data to others. I have made my PhD Thesis available online, if anyone is interested in reading it.
It’s trendy to use the word “intersection” when describing one’s research activity; because of the dominance of metaphysical and isolated “categories” of activity. I’m a dialectical thinker, so I’ll just say that my work touches upon doing HCI and Digital Civics research within charities and I’m concerned with how researchers go about this business. I am interested in Participatory Design methods done right (I don’t believe that Participation can be ‘configured’ without sacrificing the original PD ethos in some way), especially within charity settings. Transparency, Accountability, and Open Data are obviously concerns of mine: both broadly and especially within charities.
Research methods are also important to me. I took a Marxist-Leninist approach to my PhD work, and also utilised Ethnomethodology and agree with that way of interpreting settings. This has given me a broad interest in the performance of Ethnography, especially as it pertains to the design of interactive systems. I don’t believe I have something particularly profound to contribute to this area, but I may seek to publish something on using Marxism-Leninism and Ethnomethodology together at some point.
I now have my Doctorate and I’ve been out of the publication cycle for some time. In the future I plan to re-enter this using my experiences from the front-lines of Open Data in practice, but also hopefully begin to contribute back to the Digital Civics world as well. I will be seeking visiting researcher status at Open Lab in order to re-enter the publication cycle and hopefully tie together the threads of my work in Open Data and Interaction Design.
I didn’t publish loads during my PhD, but I did publish a bit. In the future I may publish some more work. Here’s a BibTeX file with all of my publications in, you can import it into your citation manager or use it directly with BibTeX.
Originally intertwined with my PhD work; I am the trustee of a charity called The Patchwork Project, or simply ‘Patchwork’, which is a Youth Work charity based in Benwell in the West-End of Newcastle upon Tyne.
I first got involved with Patchwork through my PhD research around Transparency, Accountability, and Open-Data in charities. This research took a fieldwork oriented approach based on Ethnomethodology; which basically meant learning how to work there. During research I took part in volunteer activities being a part of the team delivering the 8-12 group in Patchwork’s play centre ‘Patchwork 2’, office activities planning events and contributing to the admin work, and also participating in staff training and culture. At Patchwork there is a strong sense of team and community culture; your life and paid work mixes in a very good way. I often found myself spending my Saturdays climbing mountains with the Patchwork crew.
I remain an active trustee of Patchwork and regularly attend committee meetings as well as continue to engage with these people as part of my extended family. While I can no longer be there every day, I contribute where I can to supporting the team with technical matters and volunteer where needed. I plan for Patchwork to be a large part of my life far into the future, and I am currently reflecting on ways where I can become more useful to them.
My philosophy and values
A person’s philosophy drives how they approach things and interact with others. As such you can sum up my philosophy as being heavily influenced by the following (listed alphabetically):
- Communism, especially Marxism-Leninism. Basically, I think the planet and human rights are pretty neat and that Communist-Utopia is possible through organisation and hard work
- Feminism, especially Marxist-Feminists such as Silvia Federici but although I have a Marxy critique of Identity Politics, I support some of the goals of Intersectionality and am staunchly Pro-Trans rights and support harm reduction for Sex Workers under capitalism by decriminalisation
- Minimalism, especially when presented as thinking about the most “simple” or “straightforward” way of accomplishing tasks and reducing clutter. The design of this site was influenced by my minimalist tendencies. I use it as a tool to evaluate how my own desires have been hijacked by consumer capitalism, and quieten my brain which can get distracted very easily
How I do my computing
Computers are both an interest of mine and part of the everyday equipment I use for my work and my hobbies/other interests. As a result, I use them a lot. I also have opinions about how I like to use them and I have deep beliefs about the role of computing in everyday life and how computers a politicised space; despite the fact they’re not often seen as such. This section provides a detailed overview of how I go about using computers and computing devices.
Priorities, goals, and values
I have the following goals, values, and priorities when using computers:
- I believe very strongly in Free Software (not just ‘open source’), and only use non-free software very begrudgingly when forced.
- I want to be able to do my work, or get information, as quickly as possible.
- I want to be able to configure things to work the way I want them.
- I want to minimise my reliance on an active internet connection, and do my work locally before uploading it elsewhere.
- I want to avoid applications that spy on me or otherwise do things with data, or my system, that I’ve not consented to.
- I’m conscious of the economic and ecological impacts of continuously purchasing new computers. I try to purchase only used hardware and devices and I try to make the most of my hardware and keep it running fast without needing to upgrade every few years. Computers should not be treated as disposable.
The result of these goals is that I tend to do my computing in a particular way. I like small, minimal, pieces of software that are very good at one thing. See the Unix Philosophy. I prioritise applications that are lightweight and don’t rely on many external libraries, or at least rely on standard libraries that I will most likely have installed. I like a separation between the ‘source’ of something and the end result and it’s even better if I can write something and then turn it into many different formats/things. This means that a lot of my workflow involves ‘compiling’ documents from sources formatted in Markdown or LaTeX.
I use the commandline a lot, as I’ve gotten more and more comfortable with it and it’s less distracting to me. I don’t think I’m cool for using the commandline, or that everyone else is a ‘noob’. Computers should help people do their work. When I get frustrated at other people’s systems and applications, it’s because the software is generally either: non-free software locking people into a particular workflow; ‘cloud’ applications that are running on a browser and making the entire machine chew up resources; or badly produced heavy, bloated, applications that run really slowly and make people think they need to buy a new machine. Or all of the above. I do not get frustrated at humans wanting to use their systems how they want.
In terms of hardware, I try my best to only purchase used machines/devices, I have no strict rules around how old the device is but “new-to-me” is more than good enough and I usually set a budget of ~£100 for smartphones/peripherals and ~£500 for desktops and laptops. As a rule of thumb, I’ve found this gets me hardware that’s around five years old and in good condition at any given time.
After purchasing them used, I try to use machines and devices myself without upgrading for as long as possible. In an ideal scenario I only replace a machine or device when it’s beyond my ability to repair, and ideally my machines and devices are with me for at least five years. I do deviate from this sometimes when a friend/loved one would benefit from one of my machines and I can use the opportunity to swap out for something else if I’ve had my eye on it for a while.
My Machines and Devices
- A tiny 1-litre desktop machine (Thinkstation P330 Tiny) with an i7 and 16GB memory
- A 13" laptop (Dell XPS 13) with an i5 and 8GB memory
- Both machines were purchased used on eBay and both systems run GNU/Linux (Devuan)
- An android smartphone running LineageOS with no Google apps or services
- An old Amazon Kindle from 2011 with wifi disabled
I regularly use two machines for my computing as well as some smaller devices for specific tasks. My main machine is a 1-litre tiny desktop workstation which suits my preferences of a small footprint, a fair CPU, and repairability. I use my laptop for doing work in comfy sofa-based settings and for travelling with. Both of these machines were purchased on eBay after their predecessors either broke or were passed on to a family member looking for a reliable machine.
Except for a laptop my partner must use for her job and is provided by her employer, all of the machines in our house run GNU/Linux. Similarly, all of the smartphone devices run Android. I don’t really take part in the tribalism surrounding distros but I like Debian-based distros due to a combination of cosy nostalgia, stability, Debian’s commitment to Free Software, and liking the software that’s in the repositories.
My partner’s personal laptop runs Linux Mint while my desktop and laptop each run Devuan. I migrated from Debian Stable to Devuan after I formed an opinion on systemd. My laptop has a fairly vanilla Devuan install with my configuration applied, whereas my desktop has a Devuan Minimal install which I’ve built up from as a base. My motivation for that was to understand more clearly what packages I needed and used, and to learn how to set up a minimal distro.
While I do use my desktop and laptop for both professional and personal projects, I use them differently and I generally don’t need to keep the two machines “in sync”. I treat my desktop as my main machine with the canonical versions of all my files and media, whereas I treat my laptop as my portable computer to use specifically while travelling or on the sofa.
My laptop therefore doesn’t generally contain many files and for the most part I “pre-load” it with files to take it travelling. There is an outdated copy of my music library on it which I update periodically, along with some specific documents for travelling such as PDF copies of tickets etc. When my partner and I want to cosy up with a movie or some bingeable TV shows, we copy the files across from a USB hard drive and then disconnect the drive.
For productive work on my laptop (professional or personal); I just clone the appropriate Git repo for the project. I also use Git to manage my dotfiles, which are shared across my desktop and laptop.
In terms of smartphones; I do carry one. I don’t do any serious computing on it and I try to treat the device like a tablet and store it in my bag or in a drawer rather than carry it around in my pocket but it is undeniably useful. I use it for the following things:
- exchanging calls and messages (including e-mail, occasionally)
- setting timers and stopwatches for exercising
- listening to music or podcasts while exercising or using public transport
- listening to audiobooks to help me sleep
- writing notes using a notes app
- managing money via my bank’s app
- setting alarms and reminders via the clock and calendar app
- generating GPX files of my runs and hikes
- navigating to destinations I’m unfamiliar with via a maps app
- consuming web content
- carrying/displaying electronic tickets for trains and planes
I run my smartphone using a build of LineageOS without any of the Google services on it. I get most of my apps from F-Droid, excepting for a few that are only available on the Play Store, which I access anonymously using a third-party app.
In the future, I hope that I will be able to move away from the Android ecosystem and use a device that’s closer in form factor and capabilities to a palmtop GNU/Linux computer, although I would settle for an easily repairable smartphone device. I may also consider decoupling the phone function into a ‘dumbphone’ and carry the smartphone as a small tablet or palmtop for the remaining functionality.
I use an e-reader for the majority of my books. I’m sad about the direction that e-readers seem to be going. I bought an Amazon Kindle in 2012, and it’s been my e-reader ever since. I am deathly afraid of it breaking, because all of the new e-readers seem to be packed full of anti-features that I don’t want such as advertising or displaying books that I don’t have or want. Ideally, I’d put some alternative firmware on my e-reader to liberate it; but I haven’t investigated how.
Device breakdown and history
This section contains a list of my computing machines and devices both current and historical. I’ve divided them into three categories:
- Current devices – these are machines and devices which I currently own and can expect to use on a regular or semi-regular basis. I’ve included back-up devices in this category because I maintain the software installs on these to ensure they’ll be useful if needed.
- Survivors – these are the machines and devices which I no longer own or can expect to use often but which I sold or gave to others and therefore did not throw them away or recycle them. Sadly, doesn’t guarantee that these devices are still functioning, only that they survived me and that the new owner intended to use them long-term.
- Graveyard – these are the machines and devices which I cannibalised, threw away, or recycled myself because I could not repair them and saw them (rightly or wrongly) as being at the end of their serviceable life.
My attitude to computing machines and devices has changed over the years, and now I value purchasing second-hand machines and trying to service/repair/use them for as long as possible before replacing them. This wasn’t always the case. I will occasionally ‘treat’ myself to an upgrade which I don’t technically need, but only if I can pass on the incumbent device onto someone who can legitimately benefit from it. These days, I ensure that even my upgrades are used machines unless there it’s impossible to find something appropriate in secondhand markets.
The following entries therefore contain a model’s release year where possible, as well as the year I purchased it, and where/how I purchased it. This will hopefully help me visualise, track, or confront cases where I’m deviating from my principles. They are ordered in ascending order of purchase date.
Current devices (including back-ups):
- Amazon Kindle 4 e-reader – Released in 2011, I purchased it in 2012 new from Amazon.
- Dell XPS 13 9360 laptop – Released in 2016, I purchased it in 2019 used from eBay. I have replaced the screws on the bottom plate.
- OnePlus 5T phone – Released in 2017, I purchased it in 2023 used from eBay.
- Lenovo ThinkStation P330 Tiny desktop – Released in 2018, I purchased it in 2023 used from eBay.
- Apple iBook G4 laptop – released in 2003, I purchased this third-hand from a friend in 2008 for £100 (who had in-turn gotten it from eBay). I upgraded the operating system to Mac OS X 10.6 “Leopard”, and then used this until late 2009. Eventually I sold it sometime during 2010 to a friend’s parent for a token sum. I’m not sure whether it’s still in use, but it managed to survive me.
- Samsung Galaxy Nexus phone – released in 2011, I purchased it second-hand off of eBay in 2013. I used this for around a year, and then sold it for a token amount to a friend in 2014. It’s very likely no longer in use.
- PC Specialist Enigma VIII laptop – this was a model of ultra-thin notebook released by PC SPECIALIST in 2018. I purchased it new from them in the summer of 2018 and used it for around a year until the keyboard became irreparably damaged in August 2019. I donated it, along with a new wireless keyboard/mouse set, to a member of the Goodspace co-working space. I have no reason to believe it’s not currently still in use.
- Lenovo ThinkPad S1 Yoga 12 laptop – Released in 2013, I/my company purchased it in 2019 used on eBay and used it through to 2023. I facilitated a minor keyboard repair during this time. I purchased it from my company in 2023 for my partner who wanted a laptop. It now survives in our home as my partner’s personal laptop, which she uses multiple times a week.
- OnePlus 5T phone – Released in 2017, I purchased it in 2022 used from eBay and had to facilitate a repair to the USB daughter board. This became my back-up phone for a while but my partner now uses this after her phone was drowned when hiking through torrential rain.
- Generic store-bought desktop – I’m genuinely unsure of the manufacturer of these. My parents bought me this machine new off-the-shelf from either Curry’s or PC World around 2006. I used it daily, and then often, until 2009. Eventually I dismantled it, and I sadly think it ended up as e-waste because I didn’t know to recycle it.
- Unknown Asus laptop – I bought this used from a friend in 2009, who had gotten it from his brother, who had bulk-bought some cheap ex-office/work laptops from his employer. I used it from 2009 until 2011 when it broke down completely, and I think I sadly consigned it to e-waste. The model number is unknown; but the closest I’ve got is that the Asus “F3 series” look remarkably similar, but mine didn’t contain a GPU.
- Custom Built ‘Big Bertha’ desktop – custom built by myself from new parts in 2011, this machine broke down later that same year for an unknown reason. I replaced the power supply and motherboard in 2012 before it broke down again soon afterwards. I dismantled this machine in 2012 and took the hard drives for myself and gave other components away to friends.
- Asus X53U laptop – released in 2011, I got this new in 2011 from Amazon. Again, I cannot be certain of the model but this is the closest match I can find. I used this until the power connector broke down in 2014. I sent it to my city’s recycling centre.
- Amazon Kindle 4 e-reader – released in 2011, I bought this new from a friend in very early 2012 when they had won it free. It died when some books fell on it and the screen broke. I replaced it with a device of the same model pretty much instantly. I’d like to think I sent this to the recycling centre, but it was actually probably one of the last few devices I just threw in the bin and therefore likely ended up as e-waste.
- Samsung Galaxy Ace 2 I8160 phone – released in 2012, I believe this is the smartphone I received new with my phone contract in summer 2012. I used it for around 9 months until I replaced it in 2013, although it remained in a drawer as a back-up phone for some time. I do not remember getting rid of it, but I believe I would have sent it to my local council’s recycling centre around 2018 when the Moto E took its place as a back-up.
- Asus Transformer Pad TF300T tablet – released in 2012, I purchased it new in 2012 from either Amazon or directly from Asus. I used/kept it until around 2017 whereupon I sent it to my city’s recycling centre.
- PC SPECIALIST UltraNote II laptop – released in (I think) 2013, I bought this new from PC SPECIALIST in early 2014 and I used it as my main home laptop until 2018. I sent it to my city’s recycling centre.
- Motorola Moto E phone – released in 2014, I purchased it new off of eBay in 2014. This was my daily driver until 2018 and then my back-up phone until it saw some brief use again later that same year. It went back to being a back-up device until 2021 when I noticed that it was no longer booting properly. I sent it to my local council’s recycling centre.
- Motorola Nexus 6 phone – released in 2014, I purchased it used from eBay in 2018. It died and bricked itself overnight in 2018. I sent it to my local council’s recycling centre.
- OnePlus 5 phone – Released in 2017, I purchased it in late 2018 used from eBay and it died in late 2022. I sent this to my local council’s recycling centre.
- Google Pixel C tablet – released in 2015, I purchased it used from eBay in 2019. It saw some use and would’ve been listed as a survivor if it hadn’t suddenly broke down entirely in 2023 due to a hardware error with the touchscreen. I sent this to my local council’s recycling centre.
- I write a lot, and work with data a lot.
- I try to do this mostly on my machines.
- I use terminal programs and a text editor to do this as quickly as possible.
- I write documents in Markdown where possible, and use Pandoc to transform it to other formats.
- Sometimes I’m forced to use crappy cloud applications in my professional life.
I try to do the majority of my work locally on my machine where possible. This is because I like to think that if I’m ever without a network connection then I won’t be too disrupted, and my machine will actually still be useful for what I want it to do.
Most of what I do on my machine falls into a few categories: manipulating text; reading text; working with data. For these tasks I use a simple text editor. I used to use Atom, but realised it was slow and built in Electron and used up way too many resources. After much hunting, I decided to learn Vim as it’s tiny and powerful. I’m still a beginner but I enjoy it a lot and can work quickly in it. I organise my life using a folder full of plain text and some scripts. This is synchronised using Git.
When I write I mostly try to write in Markdown format. This can then be pasted elsewhere on the web or otherwise converted into my desired format. I used to use LaTeX for most written documents, but migrated large projects such as my thesis to Markdown. I use Pandoc a lot to transform the Markdown into my desired format, or to convert other files to Markdown for integration into my workflow.
In my day-job I’m often required to use crappy non-free software, or bloated cloud applications to collaborate. I won’t name them here. I use these to do videoconferencing and shared documents with others. Where possible, I try to write the first versions of the documents myself in Markdown on my machine and upload these later. For data analysis, our collaborators use a non-free fork of Jupyter Notebooks. Luckily, we store the notebook files on Git as
.ipynb files so I’m trying to use these locally before uploading and sharing results.
I don’t do productive work on my phone, but I use a notes app occasionally to jot something down.
How I use the internet and the web
- I try to work by retrieving work to do locally, and upload it.
- I use links2 and Firefox to browse the web.
- I love RSS feeds.
- I use a local email client.
- I don’t use social media much.
- I try to use faster and more private front-ends for some sites.
- I also browse Gemini, and am interested in Gopherspace.
As noted in the previous section, I try to do work locally on my machines when I can. This generally manifests as retrieving versions of files from the internet, manipulating them, and then uploading them elsewhere. I’m not super strict with this; part of my job is to connect to databases elsewhere and work with data. But I try to use local clients.
--no-remote -p work-profile.
I actually prefer to read people’s contents using RSS feeds. I use newsboat to do this. I used to use my email client’s RSS reader, but it was way too heavy and I kept getting distracted by articles while reading email. I searched for a while for a decent RSS reader for GNU/Linux but none really met my requirements until I found newsboat. It’s truly a pleasure to use.
I use a local email client, currently Thunderbird. Although soon I want to migrate to NeoMutt. I have a few email accounts so keeping them in one place is good for me. I enforce plaintext emails on the clientside, both receiving and sending.
I don’t interact on social media much. I shut down my Facebook account some time ago, and made my Twitter account private. I also have a Mastodon account on Mastodon.social, but I don’t update it. I do have a Reddit account but no longer log in, and am using Reddit less and less for retrieving news. I have a Lemmy account on a Leftist instance, which I sometimes use to interact with. Otherwise I use regular forums. When I do use Reddit I browse using Teddit, to avoid their frankly hostile user interface. This works better in Lynx as well. Similarly, if I want to view a Twitter feed I use Nitter. Nitter also generates an RSS feed for the account, so I follow some of my friends' updates via this using newsboat. For YouTube, I try to find an Invidious instance which is relatively quick. Sometimes, I have to view via the native YouTube viewer. Although I have a Google account (to keep the email address in case an old site is still linked to it); I don’t log in. I ‘subscribe’ to YouTube channels using the hidden RSS feed and opening the specific video in newsboat. Sometimes, I watch videos via the video url and mpv but this often loads very slowly so is mostly useful for short videos.
The internet is more than the web (although I still love the web despite its direction), and I’ve recently discovered both the Gemini and Gopher protocols. I browse Gemini pretty regularly, either on my phone using an app or via a Gemini browser on the commandline. I don’t have the capacity at the moment to establish my own Gemini capsule, but a small fantasy of mine is having this blog available as a Gemlog. I am interested in Gopher, but have made no efforts to delve into Gopherspace.
Other Interests and Hobbies
I like to think of myself as a well-rounded human with other interests and hobbies beyond computing and my professional interests. This section provides some details of those.
- Exercising is a very big part of my life
- I began exercising in 2012, when I was 21, by weightlifting using the Starting Strength regime
- By 2015 I had moved to a pure calisthenics strength routine based on Convict Conditioning
- In 2019 I added distance running via the Couch to 5K programme, modified to fit around my strength routine
- I currently perform two strength workouts a week, and run a 5K and a 10K each week
- I also hike for fun, and cycle. If I do these things, I allow a break from my regular exercise routine to recover appropriately
My exercise regime
My training regime fits within a standard week. Out of the 7 days in the week, I currently exercise 4 of them. That gives me 3 recovery days total, which is a level I find very comfortable. The routine is shockingly simple: I perform a strength circuit on a strength day, and then run the following day. I then rest either one or two days.
- Monday: Rest
- Tuesday: Strength routine
- Wednesday: Longer run
- Thursday: Rest
- Friday: Rest
- Saturday: Strength routine
- Sunday: Shorter run
It’s very likely not optimised. You’ll hear a lot of people say that these sit in opposition to each other and in some ways this is true: you only have so many calories to use, time to recover, and time to train in a given week or day. I’m honestly fine with this. I’ve often ran with legs feeling very heavy after some squats. I made the decision to put strength first because it’s my priority, and I accept that I will lack the energy or motivation to drastically improve my running particularly quickly. I’m fine with this, and I believe that building the fatigue up across the weekend and early week means that my two-day rest on Thursday/Friday does me a lot of benefit.
I’m a big believer that when it comes to strength and conditioning regimes, one sees the best results over time. I’m not liable to drastically modify or change my routine based on arbitrary new information about how I’m exercising “wrong”; the best routine is one you enjoy and stick with. This said, the routine has evolved and continues to evolve over time based on various inputs e.g. how I’m feeling, what imbalances or weaknesses I perceive etc. This routine was arrived at by wanting to maintain a healthy body composition, grow stronger gradually over time, give myself plenty of recovery, and enjoy myself.
My strength routine is largely based on Convict Conditioning. Despite the macho language and possible gimmicky nature of the Convict part of the book; the exercises and advice in these is generally solid. Since getting into calisthenic strength training I’ve bumped up against some limits or incompatibilities when I run a “pure” Convict Conditioning system so I’ve tweaked it here and there to suit me. Here are the following modifications I’ve made:
- I train all the exercises in a single session, in a circuit fashion. This sacrifices some of the focused benefits of a split routine in favour of a compressed workout and cardio-vascular benefits from the circuit
- I struggled with Step 7 of the Squat progression, Uneven Squats so have tried a variety of different routes to the Pistol. I’m currently performing Half Shrimp Squats in lieu of Uneven Squats with a goal of getting back to Uneven Squats in time
- I do not have the correct pull-up bar setup for performing Jacknife Pulls, Step 3 of the Pull-up progressions. I instead use assistance bands. From 2018 to 2022, I was unable to perform pull-ups at all due to lack of a pull-up bar at home, so I’m playing catch-up now
The strength routine is as follows:
- I train outside in my local park, starting around 0615
- I perform 5 basic movements, from Convict Conditioning in a circuit: The Push-up, The Squat, The Bridge, The Leg Raise, and The Pull-up
- I perform two rounds of “warming up” by performing easy or simpler variations of each of these movements. These “easier” versions change based on my current “working level” of each movement. For example, I currently train Regular Push-ups for Push-ups, and Half-Shrimp Squats for Squats. My Round 1 warm-up for these is Kneeling Push-Ups and Regular Squats. My Round 2 warm-up for these is Half Push-ups and Close-Legged Squats
- There’s a 2 min break between the first and second round of warm-ups, followed by a 3 minute break before the first “work” round
- There is a 4 minute break between the first and second work rounds
- In my current situation, the park doesn’t have suitable bars for performing pull-ups, so I separate out this part of the routine and return home where I have a pull-up bar in the back yard
- I perform three rounds of Assistance-Band pull-ups, where I rest for 3 minutes between rounds. I don’t warm up much for these usually, as by now I’m pretty warm and loose from the main routine
- Once these are complete, I do some additional grip work in the form of bar hangs. I currently two sets of Uneven Hangs, with three minutes rest between sets
- I finish off with some twist holds to stretch and relax as well as help strengthen my stabiliser muscles
- I really like languages, although haven’t formally studied any beyond school
- I read, write, and speak Esperanto relatively fluently but my listening needs work
- I’m interested in continuing to learn languages until I die, with no aim other than to read/write and think in them
- I’m also curious about some historical languages which I likely won’t study seriously
I really love languages and linguistics, although I’ve never studied them in any formal capacity other than at school. I’d probably describe myself as an enthusiastic novice, especially on the linguistics front. The ways languages fit together, are related to each other, and have evolved fascinates me in ways that I ironically cannot express in words. I flit about and read various articles or watch some popular video producers on the history of particular languages, or grammar points without much intention of digging particularly deeply into any given topic. I like that, and it suits the hobbyist level of commitment I have to the topics in this domain.
That said, I have taken this interest further in a few cases by attempting to learn several languages. For the most part, what I’m interested in is being able to think in a slightly different way and consume literature and produce creative writing in new ways. Even consuming English literature in a foreign language is fascinating, and being able to — theoretically at least — express myself or produce prose and poetry in more than one language has always been a goal of mine.
I’ve made several attempts at language learning in various contexts and with different goals. Some have been more successful than others with one being so successful to the point where I’m fairly happy to describe myself as bilingual. My first attempts at language learning were at school where we had mandatory French lessons from Year 5 to Year 9, and then also had mandatory Spanish lessons in Year 9. When I came to pick my path for GCSEs at the end of Year 9, my school presented them in a sort of table with columns. Whatever you chose in column “B” became your “specialism”, meaning you had more of your timetable dedicated to it. I chose “Double Language” which meant this time was split equally between French and Spanish. I much preferred the sounds, feel, and grammar of Spanish but I scored a solid B in both of these.
I can barely speak a word of either language now, which is likely a product of how the British school system teaches these languages as much as it is a product of my lack of interest later on. Whenever I dipped into Spanish at later dates, however, I always felt that I picked it back up fairly well until I lost it again due to not studying it with any degree of seriousness. I’ve never attempted French again and doubt I ever will. I have nothing against the language, it’s just that I’m not particularly interested in it.
After mandatory school and during my A-levels (2008 – 2011) I got slightly obsessed with Scandinavia and Scandinavian history, in particular that of Iceland. So I started trying to learn Icelandic. There were very scant resources online and I never really studied it with any degree of seriousness, but managed to memorise a plethora of phrases and begun to learn some grammar. We never studied cases in French and Spanish, so the case system was very complex and the grammar ended up being what put me off as being too much work. I abandoned my efforts when I moved to university in 2011.
After I learned of Duolingo in 2014, I picked up Spanish again for a bit and had a daily habit for a while but it petered out. This repeated a few times, and then I had a phase of learning Norwegian Bokmål in 2017 for about a month. Spanish again in 2018 for a few months, and then it petered out again.
In the November of 2020 I was reading some books by Becky Chambers, and one of them (I think it was “Record of a Spaceborn Few”) discussed the in-universe trend of the youth in the human colony ships dropping their native “Engsk” for the adopted, shared, lingua franca of the Federation. This reminded me of Esperanto and I fell down a rabbit hole on Wikipedia. As noted before, my goals with any language are ostensibly to read literature and write prose – and Esperanto was apparently designed to be very quick, easy, and fun to learn as well as laying the groundwork for learning subsequent languages. So I could learn to produce simple text from some basic grammar and vocab in a manner of hours as opposed to much longer. The final selling point was that Esperanto speakers had developed their own culture including their own Esperanto literature. I became hooked.
Since then I have read, written, or otherwise engaged with Esperanto on a daily basis. Some of this was just via Duolingo, but I soon moved to include other tutorials around grammar, trying to absorb as much as possible. I wrote short stories or scenes for novels I’d always wanted to write in Esperanto on my phone. I wasn’t able to read as fast as I’d like in the early days, but I had sudden leaps of cognition which helped. I went from struggling to read a blog post to being able to blaze through it a month later. The same with writing and grammar.
I’m yet to formally test myself in Esperanto. The EAB offer some tests which I may take at some point to evaluate where I’m at. Glancing at CEFR, I can say that my writing and reading are a B2 or low C1 whereas my speaking needs work and my listening really needs improving. I haven’t put a lot of effort into speaking, and even less into listening. I can talk to myself or my cat fairly fluently, and can definitely summon the language to express myself verbally without much delay but when listening I need to slow some videos down or watch with subtitles and I struggle with Esperanto podcasts. I’ve read several novels in Esperanto without needing a dictionary and regularly consume online written content. I write my diary in the language daily and I have an Esperanto pen pal, with whom I will hopefully be able to practice speaking and listening soon too. I also continue to write fiction in Esperanto and hope only to speed up with consuming Esperanto novels alongside English ones
All in all, I’m fairly happy to call myself bilingual with English and Esperanto at least as far as reading and writing go. I could very likely be understood by another Esperantist but they’d probably need to speak a little slower than normal for me to process the language properly.
In the future I want language learning to be a consistent part of my life, regardless of the rate or formality of it. Learning Esperanto has, typically, made me much more confident and I can almost feel new pathways in my brain. I’m never going to abandon Esperanto and want to weave it even more tightly into my daily life, however I want to continue to seek new ways of expressing myself, new ways of seeing the world and new ways of reading through languages. Especially reading. I also have a fantasy of writing an Esperanto language learning book for Esperantists looking to pick up a third language through Esperanto. It would likely be useless for anyone except me, but could help me reinforce Esperanto while learning another language.
I likely won’t commit to learning another language for a while, especially while my listening in Esperanto needs such explicit work. However these are the languages I’d like to develop at least a measure of reading/writing proficiency in before I die:
- Norwegian Bokmål
- Spanish (Latin American or European, I don’t mind)
These languages appeal to me in and of themselves, but with the exception of Norwegian they’re also the lingua franca of their own spheres of influence. I think English’s dominance will begin to fade in the next twenty years, possibly displaced by Mandarin, so I’m looking forward to some potential practical benefits as well. Of course, there are Esperanto speakers across the globe and I’ve chatted online with people from Latin America and China in Esperanto without either party knowing the other’s native tongue – but I sadly don’t think “La fina venko” is approaching any time soon.
In terms of priority or preference, I am feeling most strongly about Norwegian at the time of writing as a potential L3 to study in depth. This is because it’s listed as being relatively straightforward for a native English speaker to learn, the literature is cool, and I feel that as a North Germanic language the language is somehow a cousin with my own, but that’s just sentiment. I also am given to understand that each language one learns makes the language learning process simpler and easier for the next language. With Norwegian’s supposed approachability for English speakers, this makes it a good L3 for me to approach in order to “rev up” before tackling something else. It represents a natural language with more complex grammar than Esperanto, but one which shares some vocabulary roots with English and Esperanto. I know it will take longer for me to learn to the same level I am at with Esperanto, but I am comfortable with this as long as I continue to be able see progress. I don’t expect to begin thinking seriously about Norwegian until late 2023 at the earliest. It’s likely that it will be even later as I am no rush while other things in my life continue to happen. I have not begun to think about an L4 as I get myself too excited and fantastical and don’t actually start doing anything. I like the journey so try to focus on this step and the next.
Other than the languages listed above I am also interested in some historical languages. I call these my “curiosity languages”, as I love to learn odd words or grammar points from them but I likely won’t seriously study these unless I’m granted a lot of free time relative to my income.
- Anglo Saxon or “Old English”, especially the Northumbrian Dialect but I like it all
- Old Norse, specifically Old West Norse or whatever you call the dialect(s) that the Eddas and Sagas were written in
There’s not much to say about these. Out of each of them, Anglo Saxon and Latin appeal the most to me but I seem to read the most about Old Norse. This is likely due to Jackson Crawford being so wonderful.
I try to maintain a simple and sustainable diet. Although I’m sometimes a bit naughty. Broadly, I would describe myself as practicing pescetarian diet as I don’t eat meat. This is for ethical/sustainability reasons, as well as for bodily health. I’ve also been diagnosed with Coeliac Disease, meaning I react pretty nastily to things containing gluten. I therefore don’t feature bread prominently and since gluten-free bread products are super expensive I tend to just eat more vegetables. My main sources of carbohydrates are rice and starchy vegetables. I’m still naughty and have bread occasionally but I treat it the same way one might treat drinking alcohol or smoking. I usually budget for having one planned and one unplanned gluten intake per week.
My favourite foods shift around a bit but at the moment I look forward to eating:
- Spicy Noodle Soup
- Salad with spinach, fish, tomatoes, and beetroot
- Sushi with salmon and tuna
- Chickpea curry
- Anything pickled or with beetroot in it
- Pizza. I sometimes am good and make gluten-free pizza dough. Most of the time I’m not