Various Contrivances

One of the highlights from last night’s Stout Beer Festival: Beeramisu Imperial Stout from the Third Moon and Bellwoods breweries

A photo of a can of beer and full mug

Although I was disappointed to miss out on attending Micro Camp March 2022, I’ve enjoyed catching up on the videos. A nice diversity of topics, each very well presented

I think I liked season 1 of Raised by Wolves? A curious mix of sci-fi, fantasy, and horror that overall was more about mood than plot. I’m not sure what to make of the ending yet.

Integrating MindNode, Reminders, and Mail 🗺 ✅ 📧

I’m still using MindNode for task management. Seeing all of my tasks, projects, and areas of focus on one mind map has been really helpful, especially since it is integrated with Reminders.

One challenge has been integration with Mail, given the majority of my tasks arrive via email. Despite Apple’s seemingly inexplicable decision to isolate Mail from the usual sharing actions found in other apps, they at least allow drag and drop from Mail into Reminders, which adds a link to the original email message. This works with MindNode too. If you drag an email onto a node, it will add a link there. The issue is that when you synchronize MindNode with Reminders, the links to emails from MindNode no longer work when shown in Reminders.

After tinkering around for a bit, there’s a relatively easy fix. When you drag a mail message to a node in MindNode, it adds a url that looks something like:


Editing the link to add // after message:makes the link work in Reminders, while also continuing to work in MindNode.

I’m not sure why MindNode creates a url that isn’t accessible from other apps (perhaps a security feature?). At least this fix, though a bit annoying, allows for a more seamless integration between Mail, MindNode, and Reminders.

As a follow up to my post about swimming with an Apple Watch, I’ll note that the watch only records activity when your arm is moving. So, things like kicking drills aren’t recorded. Not a serious issue for me, though this can make stats inaccurate.

Despite this, I still appreciate the simplicity of using the Apple Watch to train for triathlons.

Pancakes for dinner

Indoor cycling 🚴‍♂️

The last piece of my training setup was an indoor bike trainer. Canadian winters aren’t great for outdoor cycling (-20ºC with a blizzard just a few days ago, for example). So, I picked up an Elite Suito-t which is well reviewed and on sale at my local bike shop. This is a direct transmission model with built in power and cadence sensors.

I don’t have enough space in my house for a spot fully dedicated to cycling. So, I’ve got the bike a trainer tucked in a corner of the basement and then I slide our basement couch out of the way and move the bike in front of the TV when I’m riding. The compact size of the Suito definitely helps here.

Indoor bike trainer setup

The Suito came with a free month of Zwift that I’ve really been enjoying. Zwift has lots of group rides and workouts that are fun (though hard work!). Because the Suito is a smart trainer, it automatically adjusts resistance to mimic hills, as well as hit specific targets during structured workouts. Riding with a hundred or so people from around the world is inspiring and motivating.

Although I’m really looking forward to proper outdoor rides in the spring, this indoor setup has been great.

A fun one

A good one on a cold night

As with the first two books in the trilogy, The Saints of Salvation by Peter F. Hamilton is a fun sci-fi story about humans fighting back against powerful aliens. Definitely an easy read, though with some pretty imaginative twists and ideas about the future 📚

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 📚