May 15, 2021No Comments

Keeping yourself out of a rut

If you always feel amazing, all day every day then there is nothing for you here. For everyone else – if you’re anything like me then you have good and bad days, and sometimes good and bad weeks. In my case these things come around in cycles. By ‘bad days’ I’m talking about what is probably a form of mild depression – that thing that nobody wants to talk about but nearly everyone gets. I’m pretty sure in my case it’s nothing serious because it never lasts that long, and it's probably pretty normal but it is very disruptive.

To be clear: If you do have persistent and / or debilitating depression then I’m absolutely not an expert and you should seek professional medical help. I know nothing much about it and would hate for you to think I’m trivialising a serious illness.

No, I’m just talking about getting stuck in a rut. For me being stuck in a rut presents itself in some of the following ways:

  • Habitually staying up too late then sleeping badly (intermittent insomnia), and for only around 5 hours.
  • Drinking alcohol during the week and at home. Not too heavily, in my case, but maybe two beers or half a bottle of wine in an evening. I feel like I want it to de-stress after a hard day. It’s way over the recommended limit if it becomes a regular habit.
  • Gulping down two large coffees in the morning and sometimes going for a third.
  • Bad diet, snacking during the day on whatever is in the house. Oh look there's some Häagen-Dazs in the freezer, that will go nicely with my 11am coffee (whaaat?)
  • Inability to focus during the working day.
  • Needing to nap sometimes more than once a day during the day.
  • Feeling stressed about how much work I have to do but being seemingly paralysed and unable to start it until it’s almost too late, at which point I will then work several very long days (12+ hours, often working till 11pm) to get it finished by the deadline.
  • Lack of interest in the things I really want to do (e.g. making music) when I do have some time off. And feeling stressed that I’m not doing it.
  • Stopping all exercise, feeling like I don't have the time or energy to do it, and the feeling that with each passing day on which I don’t do it, it becomes an increasingly distant and daunting mountain to climb.

I am having none of these problems at the moment but I was a bit like that back in early March. And looking back over the past few years I’ve dropped in and out of good habits every two months or so. Keeping up with running (which I am into) sometimes feels like trying to keep a ball rolling uphill. As soon as you lose momentum you can fall a long way back down.

Being overly ambitious

I’m sure we’re all familiar with that “Right, this is it. Today is the day.” epiphany moment where one day you wake up full of determination to sort your life out. Maybe you go and buy a yoga mat and new clothes to work out in, or a new bike, or join a gym. Famously (in normal years) gyms are busiest in January after the excesses of the Christmas break.

For me running kick-starts some sort of chain reaction that leads to most of the above bad habits becoming dialled down or even stopped completely. So in February one determined morning I decided to start doing a daily run.

The problem with this approach – I have come to realise – is that these sorts of optimistic plans are generally made when you are fired up and feeling positive and determined. But you cannot count on waking up with that same drive day, so it is almost bound to fail.

I managed to run for nine consecutive days before some small thing conspired to get in the way on day 10 and I didn't make it out. I don’t even remember what it was, maybe I just felt too weak to put on my running gear and get out the door. Or the weather was terrible. Or childcare commitments made it impractical on that particular day. So I missed a day but that broke the cycle and I stopped. And felt bad about it. I had failed.

I was very busy in March and quite stressed out by work and it quickly started to feel like I just didn’t have time to get back to running. I would tell myself that I would get back to it ‘once I had this big chunk of work out of the way’. But then it got to a week, then two weeks, and then pretty much the end of the month. And with each additional day that went by the very thought of going running became a more distant abstract idea. I put weight on. And the pressure to get back to doing it mounted the longer that I didn’t do it, which in turn made it become this Really Important Thing that I should be doing but wasn't doing – and so my not doing it became something else to feel stressed about.

That big glass of red wine with dinner dissolved that stress away, and I found myself back in the bullet list territory.

Balls.

But now I believe I have found a hack that works. It was inspired by the running / cycling app Strava. They have various challenges that you can sign up to for free. At the end of March The 1% Better Challenge appeared. The basic idea is to do at least 15 minutes of some form of exercise every day. Strava is primarily for runners and cyclists but you can track any sort of activity on there, sync it after the event from another app or just record it manually.

The kicker for me was that 15 minutes is just 1% of a day. To claim I couldn't spare just 1% of the day to move around a bit would have been nonsense. Even when I’m “too busy”, after my morning alarm goes off at 7am I will sometimes lie in bed for 30 minutes scrolling through social media (which, yes, is a bad habit).

I started on 27 March recording Daily Something 1

Trying to commit to a daily run was biting off more than I could chew. But now, worst case scenario, I can just log a walk into town and back, which at least keeps the streak going. If it feels too much to do something intense there is always a fallback option that’s easy. I do some home HIIT workouts, we have a rowing machine and I do yoga some days. In April I only ran about twice a week, but on the other days I did something at home or at least went out for a walk. So far in May I am running more like three times a week. I’ve started to get more visible muscle definition, I'm sleeping better and drinking a lot less, and am able to focus all day at work.

For me, making sure I religiously do one thing a day ensures that it never becomes a mental mountain to climb. The longer I leave something the more my brain builds it up into that Big Important Thing. And the more important it is the less I feel ready to start it for fear of not being ready.

Do what works for you but if you’re struggling to keep the momentum going I can highly recommend lowering the bar and just taking a short walk every day if that's all you feel up to. And importantly: Track it or log it in whatever way works for you and keep that unbroken record going. By doing this I have found that when I do feel strong I can then easily notch it up and do a decent run or bike ride without it feeling like a big deal, or like I ever stopped. Today was Day 50 and to mark the milestone this morning I ran my first ever half marathon. Tomorrow I absolutely plan on doing 20 minutes or so of something very easy.

Photo: Nintendo Ring Fit Adventure is great for home workouts

September 6, 2020No Comments

Money money money…

(Root of all evil?*)

At the end of 2019 I had one of those overdue paperwork sort outs, and had a bit of a scare. After years of burying my head in the sand I realised I didn’t have a long term plan. I have a stakeholder pension that I’d not been paying into for years and, due to us paying for recent home improvements, didn’t really have anything left in the way of savings, other than the value of our house itself.

It’s probably a familiar situation to a lot of people around about my age. I decided it was time to sort it out.

So I made some changes (and spreadsheets of course) and I’ve started paying into the pension again but really that is not going to cut it based on current projections.

Options for what to do with any money you want to save have become pretty limited – as you will know savings accounts basically give you zero interest, cash ISAs are not much better, and pensions – well they are better than nothing but even they are not without risk.

Around about the same time someone introduced me to the app Freetrade and I tentatively dipped my toe into the world of investing.

My dad was always very good at this sort of thing but somehow investing was never something I engaged with in my younger years. I suppose it never seemed interesting to me, and I didn’t then see it as a necessity. My uncle Jon is a stockbroker and in the 1990s I was bought some shares in (early UK ISP) Freeserve. I then proceeded to pay no attention to it for years while the value climbed meteorically and then crashed again. So I missed out on making any return on that. Stupid.

Based on conversations I have had online it seems there are now millions of people like me realising midway through their lives that their only option for having any kind of retirement plan for later life is to start actively investing. And this coincides with the rise of commission-free trading platforms. It’s all become a lot more accessible to the everyday person. Or retail investors as we are known.

I’m also acutely aware that there are a lot of financial institutions licking their lips at the prospect of making money out of us.

Apps and platforms

Freetrade is great and I would recommend it to anyone who wants to try out investing for the first time. It is a nicely designed app that’s simple to get your head around.

I have more recently moved everything over to Trading212 (yes that is my referral link). Trading212 is more advanced than Freetrade, with features such as limit orders. In addition it has a sophisticated web interface, as well as a mobile app, whereas Freetrade is currently mobile only. The header image is from Trading212.

On both platforms buying and selling is free in the sense that they don’t charge a fee, and this is attractive especially if you only want to test the water with a small amount of money – but be aware of the hidden costs of ‘free’. There’s a good article here on Forbes about that.

Both platforms offer a stocks and shares ISA (basically a separate portfolio within an ISA, subject to ISA annual limits, and where the gains are not taxed).

Trading212 also has a CFD service but I would not recommend going anywhere near that unless you really know what you are doing (high risk!) Both platforms give you access to more than just the London Stock Exchange, buying Nasdaq stocks is just as easy.

I have not tried any others but there several out there. The big one in the US is Robinhood.

Learnings so far

The upshot is that I actually now find it all pretty engaging, and so far we’ve made a very respectable return in just a few months (partially withdrawn and partially still in stocks and ETFs). I’m not going to quote figures but let’s just say it’s much more than any savings account would ever give you – but I’ve also invested a lot of time in educating myself so that has to be taken into account.

It requires you to keep an eye on things, but it’s possible to set alerts and also automate actions when things go outside of certain bounds (not without its pitfalls but has its uses).

I have dabbled a teeny bit in short selling and it was hair raising, and I took a small profit (luck!) but I’m not ready for all of that. And I’ve not touched Crypto or Forex yet. Not sure if I will. Maybe, I don’t really know anything about it at the moment.

There’s a wealth of info on YouTube (and lots of bullshit too) and I’ve read a couple of Kindle books. I’ve learned the difference between day trading, swing trading and investing. I’m very much in the latter camp but dabble a bit with swing trading too. Day Trading is not something I am interested in right now, as really it has to be learned and treated as a full time job. However it is useful to understand the technicals that those traders use.

At this point if you are still reading you may be either rolling your eyes and thinking “Finally caught up have you Ade? I’ve been doing this for 15 years”, or possibly “Oh no he’s become one of THOSE people.” – Well, yes, and sorry but I don’t want to be skint.

Alt account

To keep things separate I have a new Google account and Twitter profile that I use when I’m doing or researching stock market stuff. It’s probably not interesting to most of my friends and followers, and it's nice to shut it off when I’m done.

In my alt accounts I am bombarded with ads for dubious sounding get rich quick schemes, trading courses and for various platforms and services. It’s like another world.

Unsurprisingly it’s a world full of chancers. Day traders post impressive winning trades they have made. Apparently some go long and short the same instrument in two separate accounts and then post the winning trade in a bid to convince you to sign up to their whatever. I have read this is a very old trick. There’s an inherent bias because people don’t tend to want to share their massive losses.

On Twitter in my alt-persona there's an effervescent mixture of Californian or Scandinavian liberal Tesla Fanboi types, and ragingly right wing / pro-Trump / pro Wall Street types. It’s all quite an eye-opener especially coming from my usual tech / science / liberal arts bubble.

Right now there’s a lot of shouting about how “the Marxists” are going to wreck everything if Biden gets in, mixed in with anti-mask conspiracy theory crap (generally the same people). What I hadn’t realised though is how many young people were Trumpists, I’d always caricatured them as somewhat redneck types but, no, there’s a big contingent of market-savvy wealthy influencers who I guess don’t like tax and regulations (i.e. right-wing, stating the obvious). But yeah, I would now not be surprised if he gets a second term.

I would say it’s healthy that I’m exposed to these people outside of my normal bubble. But I still think they’re wrong. You can run a society that is pro-business AND regulates appropriately, cares for the misfortunate, invests in public services and so on. But apparently everyone is either extreme left or extreme right these days. I think they’re both deluded.

But I digress...

In summary

I have no real point as usual, other than satisfying my desire to share rambling thoughts on whatever is occupying my brain. I hope someone finds it useful.

I am obliged to state that none of the above is financial advice. Do your own research.

But if you are interested then it’s quite easy to get started and genuinely I have found it to be an intellectually engaging pursuit, and one that could (should?) reap benefits in the long term.

I am quite technically minded and usually I can reduce complex problems to fundamentals and eventually solve them. But this is a bit like the ultimate problem because it’s chaotic and human-driven (although increasingly AI-driven too). That makes it an interesting puzzle. But equally you could say it’s just a form of gambling, which is at least partially true.


(*Massive Attack – Five Man Army)

May 16, 2020No Comments

In wildness

Some musings I had while out for a run the other day.

There’s not a huge amount to say about running other than that I have ‘discovered’ it over the last two years it’s a now thing that I seem to be partially dependent on. When I fall out of the routine, say due to illness or tiredness from going out too late, everything seems to begin slowly unravelling. There are obviously many worse things to be hooked on so I’m not that worried about it but still it is an addiction of sorts.

Running is also the only time I really get to myself where I’m not busy, mentally speaking, with something. It is good thinking time, although this can unfortunately lead to blog posts.

...

Some time around 2005 I was traveling by plane on my own. I was reading Richard Dawkins’ 1986 book The Blind Watchmaker. I studied A-level biology so know a bit about the mechanics of genetics (dominant and recessive alleles, experiments with fruit flies and so on) but had never really thought about it deeply or philosophically. And the book does go quite deep.

I came to a particularly astonishing passage in the book describing and explaining how all life is really connected. And it is connected in the scientific sense, not just as some vague hippie sentiment. I had a moment of sudden insight (exactly what the author intended to convey), framing all life on Earth as genetically related, interconnected, and symbiotic. Seeing life forms as essentially different configurations of vehicle for the replication of DNA. And while each species is opinionated about how best to go about the mission, all of us have (in a reduced and ultimate way) exactly the same mysterious end goal of keeping life going.

Naturally Dawkins put it much better than me, and I don’t have the book to hand, but I do remember that when the concept sank in the hairs on my arms and the back of my neck stood on end, and I lowered the book to my lap, stared out the window at the Earth from above for a moment and mouthed the words ‘fucking hell’.

One of those moments, anyway.

...

So a few days ago I was out running. I nearly always take my Bluetooth headphones and distract myself from the exertion of it all with an audiobook or podcast but on this occasion I’d been having problems with the Audible app and it was stuck in some kind of loop syncing to my watch. This was holding me up so I decided to leave the headphones at home and go ‘unplugged’. It was early. I took a route further out of town than usual, one I’d only cycled or driven before.

The weird atmosphere of the COVID lockdown has been commented on at length, but that morning the whole area felt particularly deserted. As I ran the weather started to turn. The wind picked up and whirled around so I was being rained on from all sides. It was the sort of weather that, had I just been walking, would have been miserable but I don’t mind the rain when I’m running because I get hot and so it’s refreshing (within reason).

There is not really a point or conclusion to this post, nor do I wish to imply pretentiously that I had any particularly special or unique revelation. It’s just... because I had so much time to think after the moment had passed, as I ran home, I resolved to write it down if only because it was interesting to me at the time and I want to remember it. A personal experience.

I had not passed a single person for at least half an hour. I was completely drenched but warm and in that running zone where you start to feel like a well oiled machine that could keep on going forever.

Everything seemed wilder and more overgrown than usual, brambles snaking aggressively out of hedgerows. Of course this could have just been down to the changing season and the amount of both sun and rain there had been recently but my imagination was wandering.

There was this sense of the very beginnings of nature reclaiming the land, which of course it always is until we cut it back. The trees seemed huge and impressive, twigs swishing noisily through the air as the branches swayed around. The birds were singing loudly in the canopy overhead. The wind seemed to get stronger, whipping the trees more violently, and due to the air swirling in different directions there was, I thought, a slight doppler effect applied to the birdsong which mixed in with the rain gave it a dreamlike sense.

And all of this brought me back to that moment on the plane in that way that you sometimes remember a feeling.

Yes it does sound a bit pretentious but, hell, whatever. Nature is pretty amazing.

I suppose the lesson is that I should leave my headphones at home more often, and also maybe that the most obvious outdoor weather: a nice sunny day, is not necessarily the most interesting.

January 31, 2020No Comments

DJ mix of my tracks

I have just recorded this DJ mix, with a selection of firstperson tracks from 2017-2018. Putting it all together feels like a good way of closing this chapter. I am pretty proud of a handful of these tracks for personal reasons. YMMV of course. Learned lots and now it’s time to do something a bit different... and perhaps more considered.

People in the US might not be able to play it on Mixcloud owing to the fact they have to process a waiver form saying that I produced all of the tracks in the mix. So just under the Mixcloud embed please find a direct link to the MP3 file.

Selected Firstperson Tracks 2017-2019

Selected Tracks 2017-2019.mp3 (direct link)

February 19, 2018No Comments

Mid-late 90s techno records for sale

I may come to regret this, say, if an electromagnetic pulse from space wipes out all of humankind's digital storage. But I'm selling most of my vinyl records.

You can find them for sale here on Discogs.

February 14, 2018No Comments

Firstperson playlist on Spotify

For anyone with:

  1. A Spotify account
  2. 1.5 hours to kill
  3. No other music to listen to...

...well you're in luck because here's a playlist of all my Firstperson stuff on Spotify:

Follow firstperson on Spotify:



January 12, 2018No Comments

Nested Worlds EP available to pre-order

My EP 'Nested Worlds' on Anode Records is now available to pre-order from the following outlets. It will be released on 26 January.

Listen to previews here on SoundCloud:

December 12, 2017No Comments

new music – hardware series

I have finally completed my series of ten tracks. They are all intentionally club-style techno tracks made in a retro 90s-inspired style, using a collection of hardware (i.e. not on the computer) to see what I could do and what I could learn from the process.

Four of them have been selected to be released by Anode Records (see here and here) based in St. Louis, Missouri which is a great honour. The four track EP will come out some time in the new year.

I'm now working on a set of more refined ambient and / or dubby re-works of these tracks - reprocessing and reusing some of the recorded elements. I expect to get some of those completed in the next two months, studio time allowing. Studio time is quite sporadic due to this being my spare-time hobby, and having a lot of work on at the moment and of course a family who presumably want to see me from time to time 🙂

You can find more of my music on Bandcamp or SoundCloud.

 

October 29, 2017No Comments

New track – L6 (loops series)

Grabbed some time over the half term holiday to work on some new music. Here is a deep / dub-style techno track:

soundcloud.com/firstperson/loops-l6

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