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Energy, Enthusiasm and Willpower

energy_enthusiasmwillpower

“Energy is a power which meets with an instant recognition by the mind. What the mind of the average healthy person cannot endure for long in monotony, or, worse still, absolute stagnation. The mind lives by action.” – p.1613, Volume III, Arthur Mee’s Children’s Encyclopedia

Yesterday I endured a day of nothingness. And I wasn’t alone in this. I spent much of the day in Second Life and whist I was there I chatted to some friends. It seemed they were either experiencing the same, or had done so the previous day. Sometimes it seems as if the whole planet is experiencing the same stupor.

Some of us repeatedly went afk for more coffee, I myself did this too, but I realised it wasn’t caffeine that was required but simple willpower. For me, one cup of coffee is enough for the day – I’m pretty sensitive to the stuff – so if one cup doesn’t perk me up then no amount of cups will help.

By the afternoon I still hadn’t got started on anything and I said to a couple of friends: “I’ve had my porridge, lunch, a cup of coffee, and two cups of tea and some biscuits… I think I’m about ready to start now being productive today!…” but it wasn’t to be. In fact I think the stimulant that is caffeine is probably counter-productive when we are lacking the willpower already – when telling myself “I’ll get a cup of coffee and then I’ll get started” vs. “I’ll do this task and then treat myself to a cup of coffee”, the latter is probably more beneficial – it not only omits the procrastination technique, but I think the caffeine assists in unsettling the mind: it will be more easily distracted if it is already behaving as such.

The weird thing was, that while I had been simply sat all day yesterday, pretty much doing nothing, my stomach still managed to growl at me at the usual time as if I had used up all the energy from the previous meal. A sure impossibility. The evidence again here, wasn’t a lack of fuel, but a lack of willpower.

Energy … is not enough. It must be directed to a purpose … What is needed, if energy is to achieve anything, is direction.

We cannot make energy. All we can do is to find it, release it, and direct it.

The athlete is what he is by the use of his energy.

Today has been a different ballgame. I’ve done some work, I’ve planed and hung a pair of closest doors (which I had never done before and first involved watching a couple of professionals show me how on Youtube), I’ve given myself a language lesson (again thanks to Youtube… or rather, danke), I’ve done some reading, and I’ve played piano.

Because I’m self employed and I don’t have a set schedule each day (clients phone me up and book me for times that suit them for example) I can go for a few days without any immediate work to be done – it takes some focus to prevent work from disrupting my whole day when I do have a lot scheduled, just as it is important to not let my non-work stuff get in the way of stuff that earns me a living.

Before I started working for myself over ten years ago I had some time out of work, and I remember fondly of how I kept myself busy and active – I drew up daily schedules and made sure I didn’t spend all of my time in front of the TV. I think I had the added advantage of not having internet access at home – I’m trying my best not to let that be an excuse these days (but it is tough). Now I work but I have no set schedule I can stick to, so it has at times felt like a juggle.

However, just recently I have created for myself a new technique, one that can work around any timetable:

I have some slips of paper and on each I write a task I want/need to spend time on, such as reading, writing, language learning, piano playing, DIY, non-paid work work, chores, etc. I have them in a pile on my desk and I work through each in turn, currently aiming to focus on that one task for an hour. Switching my mind off from other stuff (especially what’s going on online) is very important.

If I have a lot of work one day then I might only manage two or three tasks, but on a day with no work to interrupt me I could potentially get through the whole pile. Once the pile is complete I start again from the beginning.

When we fail to focus our attention on one specific task then a number of issues arise, not to mention things like making mistakes, but in particular with learning or improving a skill, when our attention is distracted or our mind flits from one thing to another, the cognitive processes don’t occur so deeply, kind of like slapping on a thin coat of paint I guess. Also, in the process of ‘multi-tasking’ (which some people like to think they are good at) this flitting between tasks also takes time, perhaps this seems to be only slight, but it adds up. For example, if you spend three hours a day talking to a friend online whilst reading a book and watching TV, honestly, how much of the book and TV programs do you think you’ll remember, and how much will your friend appreciate you for only giving them 1/3rd of your attention?! Or if the TV is not entertaining enough to warrant your full attention for an hour, why not cut it out all together? The concept of one half of your brain being aimed at one task while the other relaxes is a fallacy – to really participate in a task the whole brain needs to be available. Sure, one half of the brain may have regions best suited to creativity and the other to more rational stuff, but where true brain efficiency kicks in is with the neural pathways and links between the two halves, and all regions.

The only thing now is for me to incorporate some acceptable flexibility into my technique of maximising my tiem because some tasks are better suited to certain times, and some, like creative tasks can’t always be called upon at will (looking ahead to the next task can help in this regard, but not so much that it distracts the current task). For example, a task that involves mental learning, I believe, is best done before going to bed so that the mind can continue on that subject, but always studying the same thing before bed means other subjects don’t get the same beneficial access to the subconscious. Also, two such lessons should not be done in close succession – perhaps an hour of learning followed by some exercise is a good rule – that way your mind can mull over the lesson while the body is tended to. In thinking about this method of scheduling it makes me think back to my high school timetable and which lessons followed which, like French after Maths – perhaps not a good idea? And then straight home to do homework, before playing out, and then going to bed?

Why do I bother to try and focus my attention at all? Well, I do all this because I impress myself with how much I can get done when I put my mind to it, when I focus my attention on key things. It is amuses me somewhat that every day can’t be so productive and something within, something that controls my will, seems to dictate if I am to have a lazy day instead of a productive one. It is amusing but at the same time I do tend to beat myself up about this laziness and why it goes from one extreme to another. Or perhaps it is my willpower that waxes and wanes.

Further reading:

http://imagesinbloom.com/2015/02/09/were-you-born-that-way

http://www.theguardian.com/science/2015/jan/18/modern-world-bad-for-brain-daniel-j-levitin-organized-mind-information-overload

https://thevoyagerjourney.wordpress.com/2015/01/05/does-your-mind-control-you

https://dismantlingthemachine.wordpress.com/2015/01/15/28

 

 
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Posted by on 25 February, 2015 in Psychology

 

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Poem – a lesson in positive thinking

I stumbled across this poem by Mary Mapes Dodge in volume three of Arthur Mee’s Children’s Encyclopedia (p.1599), and being a fan of positive thinking I thought I would share it:

The Three Old Ladies

There was an old lady, all dressed in silk,
Who lived upon lemons and buttermilk;
And, thinking the would was a sour old place,
She carried its acid all over her face.

Another old lady, all dressed in patches,
Lived upon nothing but lucifer matches;
So the world it made her strangle and cough,
And sure as you rubbed her you set her off.

Another old lady, all sunny and neat,
Who lived upon sugar and everything sweet,
Exclaimed, when she heard of their troubles, “I never!
For the world is so nice I could live on for ever!”

Now, children, take your choice
Of the foods your heart shall eat;
There are sourish thoughts, and brimstone thoughts,
And thoughts all good and sweet.

And whatever the heart feeds on,
Dear children, trust me,
Is precisely what this queer old world
Will seem to you to be.

 
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Posted by on 21 February, 2015 in Psychology

 

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My attention deficit…

add

After I had written my post about my seeming inability to learn languages [link], WordPress kindly bombarded me with other blogs on similar topics. I say “bombarded” because ironically for this topic it is distracting, but it’s a welcome one I think because it allows me to develop a topic further, or have a spin-off, like these. One of these other blog posts [link] reminded me what it’s like to be in a classroom of young children and how when their imagination can become fired up they can become distracted, and a teacher then has to try and rein them back in to the main topic at hand. It’s quite funny, and great to have a wave of enthusiasm take over a whole class, but perhaps not always ideal when you’re trying to teach them key things.

I suddenly recalled the term Attention Deficit Disorder, or ADD, and thought how my attention is quite easily distracted by certain parts of a topic that intrigue me, and lead me off on a tangent and away from the main topic – this breaks one away from the single-mindedness that is perhaps the first key part to learning a particular subject or concept, as was pointed out to me on this blog [link]. My college friend and I used to greatly amuse ourselves by purposely doing this to the teacher/lecturer during lessons on I.T. – leading him off topic, it was quite hilarious but was probably detriment to my learning the subject sufficiently enough to pass the exams (while my friend faired better). Anyhow, I googled the term ADD and the first page I came to [link] spoke of how it does indeed affect adults. It cites the following “ADD in Adults” myths from the book Attention Deficit Disorder: The Unfocused Mind in Children and Adults by Dr. Thomas E. Brown [link] which I may well purchase or borrow (I have underlined the points I feel are most valid for this post):

attention_deficit_disorderMYTH: ADD/ADHD is just a lack of willpower. Persons with ADD/ADHD focus well on things that interest them; they could focus on any other tasks if they really wanted to.

FACT: ADD/ADHD looks very much like a willpower problem, but it isn’t. It’s essentially a chemical problem in the management systems of the brain.

MYTH: Everybody has the symptoms of ADD/ADHD, and anyone with adequate intelligence can overcome these difficulties.

FACT: ADD/ADHD affects persons of all levels of intelligence. And although everyone sometimes has symptoms of ADD/ADHD, only those with chronic impairments from these symptoms warrant an ADD/ADHD diagnosis.

MYTH: Someone can’t have ADD/ADHD and also have depression, anxiety, or other psychiatric problems.

FACT: A person with ADD/ADHD is six times more likely to have another psychiatric or learning disorder than most other people. ADD/ADHD usually overlaps with other disorders.

MYTH: Unless you have been diagnosed with ADD/ADHD as a child, you can’t have it as an adult.

FACT: Many adults struggle all their lives with unrecognized ADD/ADHD impairments. They haven’t received help because they assumed that their chronic difficulties, like depression or anxiety, were caused by other impairments that did not respond to usual treatment.

Perhaps (assuming we do all indeed having ADD to some degree or other) I was quietly suffering with the disorder in such a manner that just wasn’t recognised by anyone (or myself) and this meant that early on in my life I failed to develop a learning technique that worked for me (working around the ADD), and as I pointed out in my earlier post, I have often struggled to absorb some of the things I want with the same ease as other (perhaps less distracted) people seem to. Friends at high school and college who I sat beside (and I copied a lot off!) just seemed to grasp what it was we were being taught – I’m thinking of mathematics here as a key subject I struggled with, and I still feel the same struggle within my mind to today when I read books that use mathematical concepts, and because I now (still?) find it quite fascinating, it’s somewhat frustrating.

Key to learning, it seems, is the ability not to be distracted by other things, and as the website on the disorder points out, it’s a myth that it’s simply a lack of willpower, but that is definitely how it has felt to me – I feel like I have just been lazy (at least in my approach) when I have failed to absorb a topic or concept, or can’t recite it later – especially when it comes to comparing myself to others and seeing the ease with which they seem to handle a topic (such as when comparing test marks or exam grades, or even just hearing someone else talk or write about a topic, or speak in a foreign language). I hold great respect for people who can speak a foreign language or two.

A factor that is likely making ADD more of an issue in this day and age is the internet – we have developed a very distracting world. I have read about such things in books such as The Shallows by Nicholas Carr, about “how the internet is changing the way we think, read and remember [link]. Some people, such as Tracy King [link] who writes a monthly article for Custom PC magazine and whose objective view point I appreciate, may well point out the many benefits the internet and technology in general have as a counterargument to this viewpoint, and how the benefits must surely outweigh the distractedness. Of course I find the internet useful and to imagine life without it would be to forget all the things I’ve shared with the world and friends I’ve made around the globe, but it is distracting (more so to some than others) and has changed how we live our lives.

There are some people (perhaps a lucky few) that don’t find themselves distracted by the web (quite so much perhaps) and automatically become simply single-minded over a topic at hand. For the rest of us we have to grapple with a world of distractions and even the other things we enjoy in life can feel like a chore to begin when we are being distracted. To say that only a proportion of people have something like ADD seems wrong, to me it seems that those that are diagnosed with it are only the most obviously affected by distractions and perhaps obviously struggling while they are at school. As I mentioned in my previous post, I think that because I have always been well-spoken this masked my learning issues at school, and I didn’t recognise myself as having a problem (beyond perhaps “knowing” I was being lazy when it came to homework and answering “yes mum” to the question of “have you done your homework?” before running out of the door to go and build dens).

With school populations ever increasing and teachers having to teach to the masses, finding and implementing the teaching methods that are required for individual students will become an ever-increasing problem. Perhaps the number of children diagnosed with ADD are on the increase too, but this is beside the point if it’s something we all have to some degree – a solution can’t possibly be to separate those “with it” from those “without it”, because by doing so we only skim off the worst affected and then leave behind all of the others that would benefit from… what? Perhaps ‘Key Skill’ lessons in learning techniques would be a step in the right direction. As I recall it wasn’t until university that a teacher told us ways to learn, such as how to speed-read and pick out key words from a page of text (that requires focus and attention), but really these techniques as I recall were a list of what to to, what worked for the lecturer himself, and works for the masses, rather than a variety of techniques that we could pick and choose from to find what worked best for each of us, as individuals, individuals with differently-wired (or chemically-managed) brains.

acediaAs a final note, I was going to write more about other “disorders” I have stumbled across on my intellectually-stimulating travels around cyberspace that I have on occasion subscribed to myself in one form or another, but as you can see this post quickly filled up on the topic of ADD. I’m really not one for hearing about random disorders and claiming “I have that”, but I can sometimes recognise some traits in myself and perhaps empathise with those that [genuinely] suffer from them more severely. Another term, one that I heard about for the first time only recently, is Acedia:

Acedia (also accidie or accedie, from Latin acedĭa, and this from Greek ἀκηδία, “negligence”) describes a state of listlessness or torpor, of not caring or not being concerned with one’s position or condition in the world. It can lead to a state of being unable to perform one’s duties in life. Its spiritual overtones make it related to but arguably distinct from depression. Acedia was originally noted as a problem among monks and other ascetics who maintained a solitary life. [link]

Reading that at the time and seeing the picture, I felt some connections with it. I go through these little lows, which is I am sure quite normal, but for some it is a blatant case of “depression” (which like ADD is perhaps something we all “suffer from” to differing degrees (and I fear medication is thrown at the worse affected rather than developing techniques, mental or practical, that could benefit us all). I live a life that can have quiet days with no urgent work, and I live a life with a degree of solitude which I very much life (especially since I moved house last year and now live on my own) and more so if I should choose not to log into the virtual world that is Second Life. I know that if I don’t get out of the house for a day or two and ride my bicycle, or make myself go for a jog, I become very much the person in that picture (just not with my eyes closed!) – I sit and clickety-click at my mouse and fiddle around with paperwork and their digital counterparts, but I achieve nothing of significance. A cloud of “can’t be botheredness” envelops me and I slouch in my chair. I can still connect mentally with the things I like doing or want to achieve or complete in life, but the will to get me started with the day can be lacking.

Such a positive not to end on, I know, but the point I have brought up a couple of times is how it’s important for use to find the techniques and methods that work for us. Perhaps these things affect us all to one degree or another, and if that’s the case then a blanket approach for the most severely affected is not helpful across the board. Techniques to recognise and combat these things (and others or at best appreciate that everyone experiences them to some degree) at an early stage of life, and on an individual basis, would surely benefit us all.

 
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Posted by on 12 February, 2015 in Blogging, Books, Computers, Internet, Psychology, Second_Life, Technology

 

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Languages and me

languages

It wasn’t until I was 11 or 12 (I’m now in my 30s) that I began to learn a second language at school, French. Shortly after it became a standard part of the curriculum for those at a younger age, so I had just missed out. I’m sure it’s true that it’s better to start younger.

Anyway, I struggled with learning French. I learned some basics but I couldn’t really string a basic sentence together. We visited France on a school trip – it was fun, but that was nothing to do with it being France. I remember that my teacher tried to persuade me to go into a shop and buy something by speaking French, but I didn’t have a clue where to begin, so I didn’t.

Then at high school with a few different teachers over the course of the four years I still struggled. You’d think that having spent a year or more with a different teacher I would have found one that was right for me, but even though I can recall a couple of different approaches (there was one that refused to speak any English in the lessons, and others with more friendly and casual approaches, but I don’t think it made any difference). I think part of it was that I was lazy, which wasn’t recognised by anyone because I was well-spoken (in English) and came across as bright. When it came to the GCSEs (the final exams at the end of the four years) I barely scraped through with a grade – I’d put in some extra hours with lunchtime classes as well. Another thing that didn’t help was that the final year’s classes deteriorated with classes being disrupted by students, and while I wasn’t ‘one of those’ I probably didn’t knuckle-down and get on with my work.

My time at high school was to see the last of my language lessons for a while. Then some years later I moved to Wales where the English are faced with names of places that seem to lack vowels and contain too many L’s and Ds, but for all intents and purposes, you can live quite happily hear with only speaking English – it just feels a little ignorant to do that. For this reason, I suppose, I actually voluntarily borrowed some books from the library to teach myself some of the basics of the Welsh language, at least so I could read place names, but then a few years later I was invited to some free Welsh classes. The first year was pretty good – I pretty much kept up with the others, but when the second year began I seemed to hit a wall. In my head I just seemed to be stuck going over what I had picked up in the first year, and none of the new stuff would go in or mix with it, that and, admittedly, I became lazy again – I stopped keeping up with the homework and then after the second year I admitted defeat and stopped going.

I say I became lazy but I think the problem is that I have never found the learning method that works for me – I’ve seen this with other subjects I’ve tried to learn, like where I’ve had to learn a list of terms; they just don’t go in, they seem detached from the real world somehow, and because I can’t will them to stay in my head, I feel lazy. At school everyone is generally taught the same way – teachers will teach how they’re used to teaching and how works best for them, and how they themselves were taught, and because they have to teach to a mass of students I can appreciate that they have a declining interest in (or a lack of time to) looking for new/different approaches that might be what very a small number of students need (find the best approach for the majority of the students and you’ll meet your targets). Or perhaps, as I think may have been the case with me, the teachers just didn’t notice that a particular student like me was really struggling – I never felt like I was struggling to the point where I could recognise my own difficulties and ask for the help – I don’t think I ever voluntarily put my hand up to ask a question or to say I was stuck – I probably (or at least in hind sight) just felt like I was a little lazy and I was finding more interesting things to do than my homework, I’m also a shy creature when it comes to standing up in front of a group of people.

non-local_universeMaybe I’m just not smart enough – I do only have an average IQ, even if people think I’m smart(er). I’m currently reading The Non-Local Universe by Robert Nadeau and Menas Kafatos (about “the new physics and matters of the mind”). On page 128 about language it says the following:

Research in neuroscience has shown that language processing is a staggeringly complex phenomenon that places incredible demands on memory and learning. Language functions extend, for example, into all major lobes of the neocortex: Auditory input is associated with the temporal area; tactile input is associated with the parietal area; and attention, working memory, and planning are associated with the frontal cortex of the left or dominant hemisphere…[link]

I guess my brain just didn’t get wired early on in the way necessary for the general methods for learning stuff. Perhaps it’s something to do with the link between attention and working memory – I’m sure if I concentrate on things in a certain way then they get absorbed into working memory and then find their way in to the long-term memory. But alas, it’s a case of knowing that ‘certain way’ and automatically approaching the things I want to learn like that.

The problem, or annoying thing, is that some subjects I actually find fascinating now, subjects that I had little interest in learning for myself while I was at school, while they were being thrust upon me, but now I have stumbled upon them in later life and I have gained a genuine interest in them, but it’s like my brain just isn’t wired right for them. And that feels like a real shame.

Because I hang out in the virtual world that is Second Life I have friends from different parts of the world, and I often try to get Google Translate to put a sentence together for me (I love responding to strangers in their native language – it feels only polite to do so). There are a few basic things I have managed to remember and recognise, like ‘privet’ in Russian (and however it looks in their alphabet), and gute Morgen/Nacht, bitte in German, and I like that I know these things, and my friends and I find it amusing for me to try, but it’s pretty pathetic and at the rate I take these things in and actually remember them I’ll never be able to hold a conversation.

Aside from those languages I find mathematics fascinating too, and quantum physics (I read books on the subject but really absorb very little – it mostly goes way over my head). I wonder if perhaps the technique I would need to address any one of these things, foreign languages, mathematics, particle physics, would aid me in all of them – it’s the approach I need. Thankfully there are some things I can grasp and learn, sometimes without seeming to try, some things naturally have a different approach, and some things I have “taught myself”, somehow, sometimes myself and others are a little impressed by this, by what I have “just picked up” – such as “fixing computers” – I mean, I know useless things like what ASCII stands for, and the difference between RJ11, RJ12 and RJ45 connectors, and what battery you need if your computer stops remembering the date and time – I didn’t sit down and “study” these things (ok I did study IT, and that’s where I met with ASCII, but technically I failed at the course), these things just went in and stayed in, which is handy because it means I have a job!

Just recently I started playing piano again and I loved how it felt in my head to go from not having a clue with a piece of music; my fingers not knowing where to go at all; my brain telling me when it didn’t want to try any more because it was stuck on a particular part and so I would take a brake and come back and just play it; or I would go to bed and dream about playing the tune (obviously using the time that I was sleeping to good effect); sticking at a piece for a few hours and having time just pass by and the learning not feeling in the least like a chore; and in the end being able to play a piece… and then looking back and remembering the whole journey and struggle my brain had been on. It was quite beautiful. It was thrilling to witness my brain and subconscious in action in this way.

Why can’t everything I ever consider learning be like this? Perhaps I need to somehow convert the approach I try (and fails) to an approach that has worked with the things I am good at – but for some reason they don’t seem compatible, or I can’t see how that will work; like putting a square peg in a round hole – how could I possibly learn a language the same way I have somehow learned how to assemble a computer? I don’t even know how I learned it to be honest, to the many of us that know, it’s often straightforward, but to those that don’t have a clue, it’s like black magic, I suppose! Could I maybe repeat and remember some useful sentences in a foreign language with the same ease I can sometimes listen to a tune and then play it out on the keyboard or guitar?

It’s almost like there is a deep part of me that doesn’t agree with the part that says “I want to learn this” and instead it says “no you don’t” and throws all the stuff I’m trying to absorb back out. This blogger [link] made the point of “…when the problems become real, and need to be solved, everything seams to magically click.” and I agree because as soon as we think: “what’s the point?” our mind is (or at least mine seem to be) surely answering with “there is no point” and ceases to absorb what we are trying to learn. Some students seem to have it easier and the process of learning seems to be reason enough.

I’m pretty content with accepting this state too – it’s an easy option I know, to give up. I have developed the mindset that, perhaps my brain will be better wired to suit these things (I think I want to learn) in my next life! It gets me off the hook in this life so I don’t keep beating myself up about being lazy-minded.

After writing all of the above I discovered this blog post [link] and four key/important/essential points to learning:

  1. Become single-minded about the subject.
  2. Take notes as you read (mind-maps).
  3. Explain the concepts to anyone that cares to listen.
  4. Start to implement what you’ve learnt.

I can see now that I don’t always utilise all four of these points, but with learning a piece of music I become single-minded. Whether it be a piece of music or a book I’m reading I often take notes and research further when I get stuck or find a particular concept intriguing (although this can be distracting and break one from the single-mindedness). When I read or hear about topics I find interesting I like to blog about them, and sometimes I find like-minded people in the real world to discuss them with, which covers point 3. Points 3 and 4 are quite naturally implemented when learning a piece of music because the act of learning involves actually playing, albeit slowly at first and section by section, but you hear what you are doing, you are already implementing, even if it’s only yourself that you’re performing to, and then finally, perhaps the final rendition can be recorded and shared, even online through services like Youtube. I can see that if I want to learn a language then I need to become single-minded about it and actively incorporate steps 3 and 4.

 
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Posted by on 12 February, 2015 in Computers, Internet, Music, Science, Second_Life

 

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Cycle Lanes

I can only assume that a woman was shouting at me to “use the cycle lane”, while I was cycling along a road today. Either that or it was just the radio (with the window down in February?); the only word I actually heard was “cycle”. If she was shouting at me then it was only because she was a few cars behind a lorry that decided to wait for gap in the oncoming traffic before passing me (see point 8 below). I’ve be meaning to write about cycle lanes for a while, and now seems to be a good-a-time-as-any.

With regards to today’s case (I’ll continue to assume there was a case), the two and a half mile stretch of road between Holyhead and Valley that I was cycling along does indeed have a cycle lane beside it, but I think I have only used the cycle lane once.

cycle_route_valley_holyhead

Here are some reasons:

  1. Coming from Valley proper, a cyclist would have to cross the road to join the cycle path.
  2. At which point one should join the cycle path here is not clear.
  3. The cycle path is shared with pedestrians/dog walkers.
  4. If one is familiar with the route they could join the cycle path as early as possible, but as per point 2. I’m not sure what is “as early as possible” – it could be while the road is still a 30mph speed, but one risks blatantly cycling on a pavement (which is generally a no-no in my books), therefore, to be certain one is joining an actual cycle path, joining it would be where the road’s speed limit increases to 60mph.
  5. When using the cycle path one has to contend with a number of adjoining roads that have to be slowed down for – there are also undulations at these points, and bollards too.
  6. Most of the places I go to in Holyhead would involve me re-crossing the road at the other end in order to join it.
  7. It’s not compulsory for me to use the cycle lane/cyclists aren’t banned from using the road.
  8. The road is actually pretty wide and for much of the stretch there is room for cars to pass a cyclist even when there is oncoming traffic – they only need to “scrub the white lines” – in fact this is probably the widest stretch of road for my whole journey.

A reason for using the cycle path might be because the speed limit for much of the road is 60mph, with HGVs, however, I’m not simply going from Valley to Holyhead – I have already at this point already travelled a number of miles with such traffic travelling at such speeds.

Number 3, sharing a path with pedestrians/dog walkers, is my main reason for avoiding shared paths in general. Unless the cycle path will lead me more directly to my destination and/or make me feel safer then I much prefer cycling on a road, especially since in the rural areas where I ride cars rarely hold me up. If I share a path with pedestrians then I have to slow down for them, consider trying to let them know I’m coming (there is more judgement and care involved with dogs) – I have a bell but if people don’t think “bike” and they’re away in their thoughts, or with a hood up and/or earphones in, they won’t hear it. I do realise that I’m probably choosing to hold up a few motorists for a few moments rather than be held up myself by pedestrians, but most of us prefer to keep going with fewer stop-starts.

Point 2 is an issue I see quite often with cycle paths: it’s not always clear where they begin and end and which part of the path each party should use. Indeed signage and path/road marking are not widely understood – I have to confess that it was only today that I realised the two different signs I see actually mean different things (I’m not the only one not to realise this because I often see pedestrians walking in what I now know to be the cycle-only section – another reason for me to avoid the shared cycle paths):

cycle_signswww.drivingtesttips.biz/cycle-lane-road-signs.html

I will add that I am a considerate cyclist/road user, and I am generally quite happy with whoever and whatever I have to share my journey space with – if a motorist acts like a fool then that is one motorist acting like a fool. I think my traffic-awareness has kept me out of harm’s way with regards to motorists – I look ahead and second-guess what people are going to do behind a lot of the time, but I have had a pedestrian step out in front of me (they decided to cross the road in front of me without looking) and we both took a bashing, so this has made me extra cautious around pedestrians.

I consider some implementations of cycle paths to be over-engineered and a waste of public money. While the stretch between Holyhead and Valley is a ‘simple path’, it took some weeks to implement, with the typical diggers and tarmac being used, and likely a long period of planning before that. Perhaps if attitudes on the roads could be improved across the board then perhaps the roads would become safer as a result, and these excesses avoided – cycling is supposed to be a greener mode of transport after all.

A final note…

A month-or-so ago I came up behind another cyclist. He was wearing a shirt that had illustrations on the back depicting the space a motorist should give to a cyclist when passing. That distance was 1.5m. I pondered that distance as I remained behind the guy for a while “that’s 5 feet” I calculated. I looked at the length of my arm, considering that length when stretched out to my side – a couple of feet I guess. But like the distance motorists are expected to give to a vehicle in front, that is dependent on speed, and to me, arm’s length is probably an average acceptable passing distance; I think we’re lucky if we get more than that. On slow narrow stretches I’ve had wing-mirrors close to my shoulder for sure (but thankfully never touching), on faster wider stretches I think it’s okay for the motorist to straddle the white lines – some go as far as giving you a whole lane, which actually feels excessive to me. It can be pretty windy here on Anglesey at times, so in rougher weather extra space should be given to the battling cyclist. Anyway, as I pondered all of this behind the guy, some cars were passing us and I was getting a rare glimpse at just how close cars were to us: because they would first past me, and then pass him (it’s difficult to judge the distance beside you when your looking ahead). For some of the cars this guy actually objected to the distance these motorists were giving him; he would wave his arm (and I think say things out loud). I could see the problem; the guy was actively looking for motorists to get within his 1.5m boundary, and then criticise them for doing so; he was expecting it.

thinking_clearlyThere is a case in the book The Art of Thinking Clearly by Rolf Dobelli, explaining a mental bias for which I can’t recall the actual term for, but the case is this:

A guy is sitting at a table in a bar, drinking his pint, whatever, then someone walks in, and because the door-closer-thingy is broken the door doesn’t close properly and a cold draft blows in around his legs so he gets up and closes the door. This keeps happening, time and time again someone will walk in and not close the door properly and he gets up and closes it. He gets more and more frustrated by this until finally he snaps: another person walks in and he has a go at them about not closing the door properly. Now if we consider this carefully we will see that that individual was not responsible for all of the other people coming in and leaving the door open, yet they got the full force of the man’s annoyance.

I think road users can be like this. In fact, in the case of the guy in the bar, he cold have chosen a different course of action as Dobelli points out, such as notifying the bar keeper about the faulty door and moving to another table, or drinking elsewhere. As road users we often have choices too, such as how we choose to travel (if a car driver was on a bike instead then perhaps they wouldn’t get held up by a bike, for example), when we travel, where we travel, and also how we choose to react and respond to other road users.

No wait, a final-final note (I promise):

Why, on Google Maps, does one have to click the three dots […] to reveal the route options for cyclists and aircraft… when those two icons would fit without minimal extra clutter?! It’s like having folders with only two files in, why bother?!

cycling_google_maps

 
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Posted by on 10 February, 2015 in Cycling

 

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SETI@home Milestones

As you may well know, or you will if you click here [link], I have been a SETI@home participant for over 15 years.

In the early years of the project that searches for E.T.s there were many many participants, and my efforts were low. I think I remember being around 200th in the UK, but I stuck around, and when I finally got full-time internet at home and few more computers, my persistence paid off. And now, just this month, I climbed to 6th in the UK, and my total credit passed the 100,000,000 mark.

seti_6th

seti_100k_graph

I’m pretty chuffed.

However, with my RAC (current average) hovering around the same position, I’m getting itchy fingers – it has been over two years since I bought a new graphics card (the main component in each of my computers that does the number crunching for the project). But do I perhaps replace a couple of my dated Nvidia 460s, or remain settled with my current effort, or perhaps even dial back my efforts now that I have passed this point? After all, even if I make improvements, my next step up the ladder will not take place for a while.

seti_2015upgrade

 
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Posted by on 9 February, 2015 in Computers, SETI@home

 

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Plastic

I really despise the stuff.

But it’s so hard to avoid.

I always thought plastic was made from oil (which is icky stuff in itself) but apparently that’s not the case – most it seems is made from LPG and natural gas.[1] This makes plastic seem less unfriendly, but I think that’s probably a deception. I watched a video a good few years ago about the damage we’re doing to our planet, and one aspect of that video was how plastic is everywhere besides being in usable products and packaging, but how, because of the way it doesn’t degrade like other material (it simply gets broken down into smaller parts), it’s remains (which is partly why plastic is so widely used). A demonstration in that video was to take a sample of regular sea water from out in the ocean, put it under the microscope, and show those plastic particles floating around. So it’s everywhere, fish absorb it, and we consume it. However, it’s probably worse – it doesn’t just pass through our bodies (or the bodies of fish and animals), it effects our bodies on a molecular level and the fear is that these effects will cause DNA mutations over the course of generations – so by polluting our planet with these plastic molecules we’re effecting how we (and all other life on this planet) evolve. When painted like this, plastic seems like a subtle form of asbestos, yet potentially worse in the long-term.

If this were a topic about aircraft’s contrails I might take this opportunity to mention ‘conspiracy theorists’ and how some believe the whole issue is planned to manipulate us in some way. Perhaps that is the case with plastic (too). Whether such effects are intentional on a hidden level, or simply a case that the big manufacturers keep pumping out plastic, whilst turning a blind (but all-knowing) eye to what they’re doing, simply to meet demand, the end result is still the same.

But what can we do on an individual level? We might not all have a blind eye, and we may be knowing, but we still can’t avoid plastic. I feel reasonably conscious of how much plastic is around me and what I buy that is wrapped in the stuff, but avoiding it completely, like not drinking coffee or alcohol, not smoking, not watching TV or logging onto the internet, not putting sugar in my cup of tea, or not driving a car, either already are, or they seem doable with a little will power.

Where I live in the UK we have what I consider to be a pretty good recycling scheme where a lot of the regularly disposed of items are collected once a week or fortnight, items such as paper, card, glass bottles and tin cans. They’ll also collect plastic milk cartons, but that’s it as far as plastic is concerned – the rest ‘has to be’ disposed of with the regular waste. We also have small bins for food waste and a wheely-bin for garden waste.

When I moved into my own place last year I immediately got to grips with the recycling system for myself and I recycled everything I could – I had always been a ‘recycler’ when I lived with my parents, but because I was now fully responsible for everything I threw away I became very aware of what I was discarding, and I saw just how much stuff couldn’t go in the recycling boxes – masses of plastic.

I started setting the plastic aside rather then putting it in the general waste bin, and I started to see how much of the stuff I would accumulate over the course of a week. I set it aside because I was conscious of the fact that stuff thrown into the general waste bin (as we were expected to throw our plastic) would just end up in landfill, and because plastic (as mentioned) doesn’t biodegrade, it seemed illogical to send it that way.

As a further option, we have a recycling centre we can take rubbish too – it’s nicely laid out with different zones for different waste. Plastic isn’t just plastic though – it’s graded based on the various compositions, because similar to how oil and water separate, the different types of plastic will fail to bond too. Each item should have a little symbol on (a RIC code – Resin Identification Code) to show which type, like the different coloured glass bottles, but sadly not so obvious – not all black plastic trays for example are of the same type. This is where our system seems to fall down.

plastics

However, as I further learned whilst creating this post, these plastic codes are probably becoming obsolete due to automatic sorting techniques that can identify the different resins.

Before recycling, most plastics are sorted according to their resin type. In the past, plastic reclaimers used the resin identification code (RIC), a method of categorization of polymer types, which was developed by the Society of the Plastics Industry in 1988. Polyethylene terephthalate, commonly referred to as PET, for instance, has a resin code of 1. Most plastic reclaimers do not rely on the RIC now; they use automatic sort systems to identify the resin, such as near infrared (NIR) technology. Some plastic products are also separated by color before they are recycled. The plastic recyclables are then shredded. These shredded fragments then undergo processes to eliminate impurities like paper labels. This material is melted and often extruded into the form of pellets which are then used to manufacture other products.[2]

Ideally I think we could reduce the number of types of plastic we use on a daily bases – the supermarkets and the companies that package their food need to agree on a type, instead of one using one type, and another using another, yet for the same purpose. For example, the bags of porridge I buy are in a carrier-bag-type of plastic (and can be recycled with plastic bags), whereas the pasta is bagged in a ‘film’-type plastic that is labelled as being “not currently recycled”. It’s also a concern when bulk-buys are bundled together in extra plastic wrap, or the better deal is to buy two smaller bottles of shampoo rather than one larger one.

We should consider each little plastic pot, tub, bottle and bag of something we buy. Maybe buy larger stuff and decant it into a reusable and conveniently-sized container when required. I can see that we have a perception of freshness when our food is individually packaged for each sitting, like yoghurt and drinks, but such a sterile environment does not make for a healthy immune system, and when you take into account the environmental costs (which will hit us greater when the balance tips) due to the materials and energy used (and pollution caused) to manufacture such packaging and recycling it, it’s simply not a healthy way to do things.

Then the concern with disposable food packaging, and any other regularly disposed of item, is that, even if it can be recycled, there is an energy cost to incur, just as there is an energy cost in ‘tackling global warming’ – it takes energy to recycle materials (in addition to the inconvenience for each person in having to throw each item in a separate bin), and sometimes, if not most often, you end up with a lower grade material, due to the impurities at least. Perhaps this means in some cases it ends up costing more to use recycled material instead of fresh new stuff, for which you have a better idea of what you’re dealing with.

Anyway, for the time being I have written to my local council for further information about our system, and I will continue to be conscious of what I’m buying and what and how I’m throwing away.

[1] http://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.cfm?id=34&t=6

[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plastic_recycling

Further reading:

http://www.ewp.rpi.edu/hartford/~ernesto/S2014/SHWPCE/Papers/SW-Preprocessing-Separation-Recycling/Morris1996-Recycling-vs-Incineration-Energy.pdf

 
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Posted by on 7 February, 2015 in News, Politics, Science

 

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