Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan is an entertaining mix of computer nerds, ancient rituals, cryptography, and a love of printed books 📚

I’m fortunate to have a nice bike storage room at my office. Something happened there today that prompted the facilities manager to send us the list of prohibitions, which included this miscellaneous grouping at the end 😀

List of seemingly unecessary prohibitions

New bike 🚴

I knew going in that a first triathlon requires a lot of planning and gear, especially when you don’t have any equipment.

Given that the cycling component is the longest distance, it is important to have a good bike. Once I knew my size, the next step was to actually choose a bike. And, oh my, are there decisions to make.

As with most things, budget sets a pretty useful constraint. Within that, there’s finding the sweet spot between spending enough to get something good that you won’t regret compromising on later and spending so much that you’ve exceeded your fitness level and can’t capitalize any speed gains from the purchase.

My bike sizing was based on a Trek Domane and I figured that was a good place to start. The next choice to make was between aluminum and carbon fibre. The obvious difference here is price. This Global Cycling Network video helped me understand that an aluminum frame is more than sufficient for me. Spending a few thousand extra dollars to gain a few minutes advantage in a “fun” race is a bad choice. Consistent training is going to provide a much better advantage than the choice of bike frame.

Having made it this far, I figured it was time to start looking around for options, only to find out that COVID had disrupted yet another supply chain. There are close to zero new or used bikes in the market. In fact, there was exactly one Trek Domane AL 4 in Toronto with the next nearest one 200 km west in London. The AL 4 seemed like the right balance of cost and performance for me. So, that’s now my bike!

After all that, I now have the fanciest bike (by far) that I’ve ever owned and it is -20ºC outside just after the biggest snow storm in decades. Rather than just stare forlornly at the bike for the next few months, my next purchase will be an indoor trainer, so that I can build up cycling fitness while winter carries on.

Salvation Lost by Peter F. Hamilton is fun. Part 2 of the Salvation trilogy and a great humans fighting back against powerful aliens story📚

There’s been some shovelling today ❄️

Lucy is enjoying all this new snow ❄️

The Alignment Problem by Brian Christian is a fascinating and very well written overview of the current state of AI research. I was particularly struck by how much of the challenge with safe AI is based on our poor understanding of our own intelligence 📚

Bike sizing 🚴‍♂️

I’ll be spending many hours and a reasonable amount of money on a bicycle over the next few months. To be efficient, comfortable, and injury free, I want the bike to fit me closely. So, I sought the advice of Scott, a professional bike fitter.

Scott has an interesting contraption that is the various parts of a bike, each adjustable, with which he can recreate any frame geometry. He started out with a Trek Domane as a reference point and had me ride it for a few minutes. Then with an assortment of rulers, protractors, and lasers, he measured me, moved parts, measured again, and optimized the fit. Once the fit was established, he generated a detailed report for me of all the various lengths and angles that I can use to confirm the size of any bike that I find.

I also learned that my tibias are longer than my femurs (not by much) which is not typical (most people have longer femurs). This ends up affecting my optimal bike geometry, since it affects the angle of my knee and hip when at the top of a pedal stroke.

Now that I know what size of bike to get, I’m on the search. The COVID-induced supply chain challenges are definitely affecting availability.

As a benchmark for upcoming training, my coach had me run a 5k time trial. This is also useful for determining my heart rate training zones. I started off too fast and paid for it near the end, but managed to hold a good pace from KMs 2 to 5 🏃‍♂️

Listening to Apple Music Activity Playlists for a week 🎶

As an experiment, I spent the past week listening only to the Activity Playlists in Apple Music. So, whatever I was doing, I picked the most closely related playlist.

Often these were straightforward. Cooking dinner with help from the kids: Cooking with Family; triaging the morning inbox of email: Checking Email; mind mapping a project: Brainstorming.

Other times it was more mood oriented. Reading by the fire when it is -20ºC: Winter; augmenting an early Wednesday morning coffee: Wake Me Up!.

Overall, the playlists are good.

The ones I listened to are meaningfully distinct from each other and the song choices do match the general mood of the activity. Just as one example, although their names are quite close, I did get different vibes from the Deep Focus, Peaceful Focus, and Creative Focus playlists.

In general the song choices are, not surprisingly, oriented towards the pop genres. That said, they aren’t just a collection of current hits. Playlists include some old gems and more obscure songs. Clearly, the songs were chosen with care and not strictly driven by machine learning algorithms.

One unanticipated side effect of this was that the rest of the family noted how much better the music was in the kitchen. No more of that “weird Dad music” 🙄. I take some consolation in the knowledge that in about ten years they’ll rediscover and appreciate these “classic songs” and finally realize that, in fact, I do have good musical tastes.

Although the music is generally good, discoverability is terrible. MacStories pointed this out and created a very helpful Shortcut for grouping and playing these playlists. Even when you select “See All” from the Just Ask Siri section, Apple Music shows some random selection of the playlists. I haven’t noticed any particular pattern of which ones are displayed and can’t understand why Apple is making it so difficult to browse them. Maybe they’re still experimenting?

I never did find reasons to listen to many of the playlists, like the whole series for Zodiac signs or the one for square dancing. This just shows the diversity of playlists available and, again, points out the problem with discoverability.

This was a successful experiment that forced me to actually experience the feature. That said, I wouldn’t want to continue relying on only these playlists. I’ll keep using them when I can’t be bothered to carefully choose an album or playlist and just want something appropriate to the mood or activity, which surely is the whole point of them anyway.

My first swimming workout 🏊‍♂️

I’ve been in a pool with my Apple Watch before, though only either to splash around with the kids or with a beer at an all-inclusive resort. Today was the first time I’ve used it for an actual swimming workout. It has also been a long time since my high school swimming days back in the early 90s. So, an important day!

My coach gave me a straightforward workout:

  • Warm up 2 x 50m and 4 x 25m
  • Main set 10 x 50m with 20s rest and 10 x 25m with 20s rest
  • 2 x 100m with 1 min rest

As expected, using the Apple Watch was simple. When you start up the workout, it asks for the length of the pool and then automatically figures out when you stop for a rest. This shows up in the “Auto Sets” in the screenshot below. Based on this, it looks like my rests were longer than planned, though I’m not entirely sure how precise these are and when it decides to start and stop. Something to keep an eye on next time.

Screenshots from the Apple Fitness app of a swimming workout

I enjoyed being in the pool again and my muscle memory seemed to return. Way back in high school, I specialized in the 1,500m and was very familiar with the seemingly endless flip turns of a pool swim. One thing I need to work on is breath control. I’ve gotten very used to just breathing whenever I want and had some trouble getting in three strokes before breathing near the end of the workout. No doubt this will improve with practice.

I also need to work on my wardrobe. I was the only one in the pool wearing board shorts and no swim cap 😀

Time to stop tracking my personal life ⏰

Through 2020, I built up an ornate system for tracking my time for both work and personal projects (like this one for reading). For most of 2021, I found this tracking really helpful.

I need to track my hours at work anyway, so using Timery and Shortcuts to automate much of this has been great. Having a strong sense of how long things take and ensuring good balance across projects are all benefits of time tracking.

For personal projects, though, I’ve been starting to feel a bit stressed by having a timer always running whenever I’m doing something, almost like I’m always in a race. At first, knowing how much time I was spending on particular things was great for my Year of the Tangible intention. This is well established now, and I haven’t been using the time reports for any personal projects. So, why am I creating anxiety for no benefit?

I’ve turned off all of my time tracking automations for personal projects. Despite some annoying bugs, ScreenTime is a good-enough replacement for keeping an eye on time spent on things like YouTube and social networking. A nice side benefit is that this also reduces the number of Shortcuts and other automation that I need to manage, allowing me to just enjoy my personal time.

Of course, I’ll keep tracking work projects, since the benefits far outweigh the costs there.

The Stranger in the Lifeboat by Mitch Albom is a compelling, brief story about faith and redemption 📚

This seems to be the consensus, so I won’t belabour the point: Four Thousand Weeks by Oliver Burkeman is a powerful book. If you feel overwhelmed by busyness or slightly adrift, it is well worth a read. There are some tough messages in it, though, that require contemplation 📚

Lucy has resolved that 2022 will be the year of more food

As an update to my earlier post about using MindNode for task management, I’ve refreshed my areas of focus and projects for work. I still find MindNode really helpful for this, especially for seeing the balance of projects across the areas of focus. In this case, I can see that I have many Process Improvement projects, which makes sense, given my company has a big push on Lean at the moment.

Screenshot of areas of focus and projects as a mindmap in MindNode

Now I can fill in next actions for each project and then sync with Reminders.

The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin is a really interesting story about two different worlds and a physicist that tries to bring them back together. As with most good science fiction, the story is about the people, rather than the science, but the sci-fi setting accentuates the morals of the story 📚

I sincerely hope this will not become a new Christmas tradition

A good time to reread the classic A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens 🎄

Finding a Triathlon coach 🏊‍♂️ 🚴‍♂️ 🏃‍♂️

When I ran a marathon several years ago, my training plan was just to go for countless long runs. Now that I’m older and wiser, I’m going to be more sophisticated in training for Tremblant and that means getting a good coach.

The first question any potential coach has asked is: what is my goal for the race? This is a helpful first sign, since their approach to my training really should be based on my goal. Plus, it has been a good motivator for me to actually share my goal out loud, which helps me think it through.

My goal is to simply finish, while enjoying the race. I’m not aiming for any podium. Although I know it will be tough — the challenge is part of the point, after all — I want to avoid crawling across the finish line, bruised and battered after a long grind. My broader purpose is to use the event as a good excuse to keep active and try out new things. I hope that I’ll be doing events like this for the next decade or so. If the training burns me out or causes injuries, in the pursuit of some unattainable ranking at the event, we’ve missed this purpose.

I’ve also been thinking through what I’m looking for in a coach. There are lots of potentially valid approaches to coaching. I need to find one that aligns with my needs and expectations. In general, there are three things, in order, that I’m looking for.

  1. Knowledge: There’s so much to learn! As I said at the beginning, there’s the training plan that mixes all three sports in the right amounts without causing injury. There’s also sorting out nutrition for the race to keep energy optimized. And gear (so much gear!) from bikes to wetsuits and apps to goggles. Without good advice, I could waste a lot of money on shiny, unnecessary gadgets. A seasoned coach can help with all of this.
  2. Community: I’m generally autonomous and would naturally orient towards doing much of my training solo. Despite this, I joined a running group about a month ago and have really enjoyed the camaraderie and support. So, I’ll be looking to a coach to help get me connected with the local community, especially for the cycling. Long-distance rides will be much better with other people.
  3. Accountability: I think I’m pretty goal oriented and persistent (some would say stubborn). I don’t yet know if this will persist over 6 months with significantly more training. Having a coach track my progress, adjusting where necessary, will help keep me honest and on target.

Hopefully, not too much to ask for!

Breaking in my new shoes with some hill sprints 🏃‍♂️

A Christmas classic

Although a time and concentration commitment, I enjoyed this 3Blue1Brown video. Showing how to approach a problem from a computational or generalizable direction is interesting and provides a good lesson on the importance of diverse approaches.