Charles Harries

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March 2022

March was a difficult month, and I'm glad to put it behind me.

March was interminable. After the trips Sam & I made to the Lakes & Wales (not to mention Canada), our bank account was hurting a little bit; combine that with the EcOnOmIc DoWnTuRn and rising energy prices over the course of the past month and we weren't in much of a position to have any fun at all.

Late in the month, though, the weather started to turn around and we had a couple of fine days with the windows open and the sunlight streaming in, warming everything up. In that sense, we ended the month on a good note—on the right foot for the start of April and the first solid month of spring in what feels like three or four years.

Outdoors

Kicked off the month with a bang by doing the Yorkshire Three Peaks with Training Club in Newcastle, raising money for Andy's Man Club, which supports men's mental health in the North East. It was a tough walk—miserable, even, if you'd've asked me coming down the side of Ingleborough—but I loved every minute of it.

Yours truly at Ribblehead Viaduct on the Yorkshire Three Peaks trail
Yours truly at Ribblehead Viaduct on the Yorkshire Three Peaks trail

Afterwards, however, I think I needed a bit of a break from walking—so I didn't do any other walking outdoors for the rest of the month. I think that the lack of outdoors activity probably contributed a bit to my general mood—when I don't get out enough, I get complacent and lazy and my spirit gets all mushy. So right at the end of the month I hauled myself out to Hartlepool on a Saturday morning for a Parkrun; my time wasn't great but the weather was beautiful—and for once, windless!

Downtime

Spent altogether too much time on YouTube & Twitter in March. Made little headway through Bleeding Edge, though I continued to love every page on the few occasions I picked it up. Didn't post much on the Stream, either. I sat around most evenings with a general malaise & a weird sense of exhaustion that I just couldn't shake, and come 8pm I'd start digging through YouTube for the most esoteric, mindnumbing stuff I could: Age of Empires II online matches, Gran Turismo 7 reviews, Apple product hands-ons. Spent a lot of time on Fallout: New Vegas as well at one point; something like a 7-hour session finally rattled me sufficiently that I haven't gone back to it in a couple of weeks.

Near the end of the month I started experimenting with trying to stop myself from getting into these patterns on Twitter and YouTube using my phone's built-in screen time limits, to varying success. Last time I tried this, I wound up just conditioning myself to hit the Ignore button. I got so good that I could do it with my eyes closed.

This time round, it depends on how upbeat I'm feeling. I'll either accept the limit and proceed to some other productive activity (like writing this post!), or click the 'Remind me in 15 minutes' button every 15 minutes until I'm so exhausted I can no longer stay awake. I figure that it's working at least half of the time, though, so I've left it on for the moment.

Another little experiment that I've started is doing 30 minutes of house chores after work every day. Maybe not super-compelling blogging material here, but in the interest of not spending two or three hours every weekend passing the vacuum and doing laundry, I've amortised that cost over the week instead. Timeboxing chores to 30 minutes helps mentally as well: I know that I don't have to do everything on my list. Just enough to fill the 30 minutes—and then stop. I'm rewarding myself with a lil dram of whisky afterwards as well, a sort of 10-minute chore cooldown. Game-ifying stuff I don't like doing sounds dangerously like a Life Hack, of which I am notoriously suspect, but it seems to be working out so I'm trying not to overthink it.

I also installed a couple of new ceiling lamps around the house, learning about electricity & not getting zapped.
I also installed a couple of new ceiling lamps around the house, learning about electricity & not getting zapped.

Side projects

I checked out CityStrides after Tom MacWright mentioned it in a tweet and discovered that I have covered a lot less ground in most cities than I thought I had. The purpose of the app is to import your data from Strava or Garmin or wherever and let you track what percentage of all streets in any given city that you have run down; I think that for all but the most fervent city-explorers, that percentage is going to be pretty small. (Cities, it turns out, have a lot of streets. Go figure.)

Pretty pitiable percentages on CityStrides
Pretty pitiable percentages on CityStrides

Anyway, one of the most compelling views of your data on CityStrides is a world map that shows all of your running, walking, and hiking activities plotted out on a world map. I don't think that Strava or Garmin offer this functionality (for free, at least), and it was heartening to see e.g. how much of the North of England I've traipsed through—especially the big loop of the Yorkshire Three Peaks and the horseshoe of the Cleveland Way in the North York Moors. Returning to my many escapades in Hokkaido, however, yielded more disappointing results: since CityStrides only imports running and hiking activities, my long-distance bike trips in Hokkaido didn't make it.

"But wait," I thought, my fingers tingling over the keyboard and a notion brewing in my brain, "I'm a web developer—I can make this exact same thing on my own."

So I did. I've called it Where You've Been, because I'm not very good at coming up with names for things, and it's a map of the world that shows you where you've been.

Where You've Been, centred on North East England—not bad!
Where You've Been, centred on North East England—not bad!

The application connects to your Strava account using oAuth, then downloads all of your activities to your browser (so I, the application developer, never have access to your activities), and displays them on a big global map. It's got a dark mode and light mode. It shows your total kilometers travelled, which isn't worth a lot but I think is a fun metric. If most of your activity is centred around a small area, it's got a heatmap so that you can see your most travelled routes. I'm going to add the ability to filter by activity type at some point in the future. Maybe some other features depending on what I want to know about my activities. For the moment it only pulls data from Strava.

I've made the source code available on GitHub here, in case you just want to run it locally with your own API tokens or something. If you're a bit of a nerd, it uses localforage to save your activities to IndexedDB so that we're not hitting Strava's API too hard. I only get so many requests per hour.

It's made me realise that Strava's API provides enough control for users to surface enough of their own data that they could effectively circumvent Strava's paid tier. Want an activity calendar? Trends? Long-term analytics? If you're a competent enough data scientist (which I, categorically, am not), your data is just keystrokes away.

I'm hoping that April's going to be a bit kinder to me than March was; the weather is starting to turn around and I've been feeling suspiciously upbeat for the past week or so. I'll keep you posted.

Monthnotes