2019 Week 2: Habits and Goals

Short version: Building good habits makes good behaviours easier. Australians find their history confronting. Green Tea seems to be good for you. Birds have social media in Sydney.

Long version:

Habits, Mindfulness, and Technology.

At the start of 2018 I wrote “In short: learn,  improve my routine, write more.” I’ve noticed on returning to work this year that habits which felt like hard work at the start of last year are coming much more easily. Building a good routine gradually, consistently, and trying to avoid self-flagellation when I failed, has yeilded bigger benefits than I anticipated. This has been most easily observed around physical and mental health, where I’m getting up ealier, feeling more energetic through the day, and getting more exercise in.

On the other side is a reminder how powerful bad habits are. In a vlog this week John Green spoke about discovering just how often he types reddit into a browser when he quit social media. I think handling technology that is driven by so many smart people working to grab more of our attention to sell more advertising, is hard. One way I’m going to work to improve my relationship with tech this year is to make sure I have a purpose each time I interact with it. The aim is see it and use it as a tool, rather than be guided by it to burn time.

Australian History: “Slavery by Other Means”

My friend Seb wrote two articles on Pacific Islander Labour in 19th and early 20th Century Australia. My intial response to this brutal chapter of Austalian history was to attempt to trivialise it. Thoughts like “not as bad as other slavery”, “life was harsh for everyone back then”, and “life as a labourer wouldn’t have been that bad”. I would guess these are responses to shield myself from feeling, be it empathy or disgust or guilt or simply sadness. I’m not sure if an emotional engagement with history is preferable to a clinical intellectualism, but I do think the tendancy to avoid discomfort in historical interest is harmful. The extemes are feeling so strongly we are paralysed or act irresponsibly vs being callous to injustices, but the best place to sit between the extremes is not clear to me. I think both the article and the general principle are worth consideration.

Green Tea

It seems like drinking Green Tea is pretty good for you. I think all nutritional science suffers from difficulties collecting accurate data from inherently unreliable test subjects, but a quick search of google scholar seems to come up with a compelling set of results. I’m convinced enough to be swapping out some of my coffees for the world’s most popular brew.

Social Media for Birds (and Science)

Picture of the week is an Australian white ibis or Bin Chicken. Noticable is the yellow tag, which lets you know his name is Wazza. You can help him (and research) out by posting on social media for wing tagged birds.

Writing from home.


2019 Week 1: New Year

New Year’s Review and Resolutions:
2018 was a good year. Survived an intense year at ONI, ran a sub 90 half marathon, built good habits around personal reflection.
2019 I hope I’ll be better at keeping in touch with friends, prioritise tasks more effectively, and be more active in choosing what media to consume.

Blogging:
Last year I managed 11 posts out of 52 weeks for a 21% success rate. This year I hope to do a little better by being happier with shorter posts rather than posting nothing at all (e.g. this one).

Some Travel Photos:

2018 Week 27: Mileage and Musings

Fitness:
At the end of this September I plan on running the Blenheim and Oxford half marathons, ideally setting a personal best. Last year I ran the Blenheim Palace race in 1:47:13, and ambitiously I would like to do better than 1:30:00. I suspect this is too large an improvement to expect even with 3 months to train, but it provides a target to work towards an incentive to train harder.

Oxford has some beautiful places to run. Below are some pictures from routes around Christ Church Meadow, Port Meadow, and Oxford Parkway.

Small Holidays:
This weekend I visited Oxford’s Arboretum, and Blenheim Palace. It was lovely to enjoy the summer sunshine. With so much interesting content so easily accessible online and on paper, it can be difficult to prioritise taking time to just experience the outside world. Emotionally, it felt very valuable to be out somewhere a little different, to take a small holiday. Some photos from the weekend:

 

Car Ownership:
It has now been two out of a relatively few visits to the palace that have included a car show, and this time it was the Pre ’50 American Auto Club Rally of the Giants. It is remarkable the strength of the relationship people form with their cars, and this is particularly noticeable in the context of a community that defines themselves by the restoration and care of classic machines. The reasons that come to mind for this strength are: cars are one of the largest purchases commonly made, cars provide freedom (of movement) to a unique extent, and for many commuters cars are a often occupied second home. I enjoy the practicalities and aesthetics of cars (and motorcycles, and bicycles), but for something so common, the economics don’t seem to add up. Intuitively, for such an expensive piece of infrastructure, the majority of (privately owned) vehicles seem to spend a rather minimal amount of time being used. While I (like many) enjoy driving, it would seem the more hours I spend driving my car, the fewer hours I would have to focus on other tasks, and as such relocating or finding alternative transport (even if slower) would net gain me more hours of useful time. I suppose it would be interesting to quantify this from the perspective of homo economicus, but a quick search of the literature give me only “semi-structured interviews with 19 regular private car commuters” and “discrete choice models of the household’s decision to own zero, one, two or three or more vehicles“, i.e. interesting descriptions of individual and collective behaviour with regard to owing cars, but not a judgement on if it makes sense.Quotes

Some interesting comments include “Drivers frequently fail to appreciate the full costs of their travel and equate running costs with fuel costs only” and “Thus the autonomy and empowerment drivers feel can benefit health and wellbeing and access to a car is associated with superior physical health, less depression and lower mortality rates”.

I suppose, ultimately, it would require pricing relatively difficult concepts such as the flexibility of point to point transport to an individual, or the sense of safety it provides, or the value in transporting dependants.

Writing from the office.

2018 Week 7: Photography

Spring Festival/Chinese New Year
新年快乐! Friday was Chinese New Year, and in Chinese tradition I ate lots of food and called my mum.

Photography
This week’s theme is photos. Taking photos is fun, and more prevalent than ever. In 2003, selfie was name by Oxford Dictionaries as word of the year. In 2011 a monkey took a selfie and in 2017 he settled a lawsuit over its copyright. Along the way the annual global production of cameras exploded from 60 million units to over 1.5 billion, driven by the rapid adoption of smartphones.

Feelings
I have a mixed relationship with photography. On the one hand, I’ve cringed at concerts watching people stare at the performance through camcorder viewfinders, and now smartphone screens. I feel the experiential hoarding can obscure the experience itself, particularly when time is taken to get a technically impressive recording. On the other hand, I enjoy reliving memories through my photos, and a take pride in getting an image I like, such as the one of Sydney Harbour from the home page. The compromise I’ve reached is to allocate specific instances or events where I will attempt to take good photos, as primary to the experience, and otherwise leave the tripod at home and the smartphone in my pocket.

Equipment
I’ve been lucky to have had Canon loan me an 80D , which set the bar for photography tech very high. A DSLR gives plenty of options to tweak, along with clarity and resolution, but they are bulky and expensive. Currently the only dedicated camera I have is a Garmin VIRB X. Recently I’ve upgraded my phone from a Nexus 5 (2013) to a Pixel 2 (2017), and so far I’ve loved the photos it takes.

Canon80D taken with my main camera for many years, the Nexus 5 (2013)

Canon EOS 80D taken with my main camera for years, the Nexus 5 (2013)

Pixel 2 vs Sony RX100 Mk2
In 2013 MKBHD called the RX100 “The best pocket camera ever made“.  I’m lucky to have a friend here who has one. This weekend we walked around Port Meadow on a foggy morning. While the photos themselves weren’t particularly interesting, it was a great opportunity to see how much software processing on the Pixel 2 is able to overcome the hardware deficit vs. the RX100. The phone really falls down when it comes to zoom, and a fairer comparison for point and shoots might be to pair it up against the latest RX100 Mk V, but it is amazing what is possible with a lens not much larger than a shirt button.

Phone vs Point and Shoot comparison: Pixel 2 Photos on the left, RX100 Mk 2 on the right.

 

Tate Modern
Last weekend I visited the Tate Modern in London. Two sets of photographs really stood out. First, the recording of Marina Abramovic’s Rhythm 0, was a confronting combination of vulnerability, objectification, and voyeuristic grotesqueness. Second, Tehching Hsieh’s One Year Performance 1980-1981, as a sheer feat of dedication; in order to complete it Hsieh would have been able to sleep no more than an hour, and travel no further than half that, for the entire year. Also, somehow, in those near identical photographs, a quiet reminder that each of us has precious little time.

Ashmolean
This weekend I visited the Ashmolean in Oxford. In one of the top floor galleries, is High Street, Oxford (1810). While the painting is captivating; it is humbling to think that the street I walk nearly every day has been walked by so many before me, my thoughts drifted to its google maps street view partner. The idea that gradually the whole world is being preserved in the same detail as an acclaimed landscape is awesome (in the formal sense).

Botanical Gardens
Finally I want to share some photos of flowers. I visited the Oxford Botanic Gardens again, this time with a colleague who was also in need of some humidity. The bright colours and proximity to the subject really take advantage of what the Pixel 2 software can do. (The blue flowers link to a higher resolution version if you want to check out the detail and the red one to my Instagram).

Delays


This post comes a week late. Small technical issues (e.g. upload limits) and legal precautions (checking copyright on posting photos of artworks) make it easy to lose focus. I’ve been reminded that ultimately I write this blog for myself, so if the application of arbitrary pressure (being a week late) can force me to overcome these hurdles (at the cost of dropping some content I would have liked to include), it suggests my initial expectations are too high, or too inflexible, to be sustainable.

Writing from a bus.