Runblings – an audio narrative of a cross-country run

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Runblings, 19 May 2021 [MP3]
Amersham, UK | Moto G7 Power | 30 May 2020 | 18m08s

A few days ago I went for a run in Amersham, following the route of my old school sponsored walk. It was a step back in time for me, retracing a route I haven’t walked in full for probably twenty five years, and even more familiar bits of it I haven’t done for a decade or more.

What prompted me to run it was knowing that the distance was something like 9km – a distance I can comfortably run – and that I now have decent trail running shoes, which would suit the kind of terrain of the route (particularly after rain).

I had a go at recording myself narrating my own progress around the course, and I should say that this is heavily inspired by the lovely Radio 4 show Ramblings* with Clare Balding. Clare obviously walks with another person and it’s more of an interview, where my attempt is just me talking to myself. But perhaps it is of interest?

* hence the stupid name of this post

I recorded it using a budget Android handset, rather than my Tascam DR-05, which is a much higher quality device, records in stereo, and has a decent wind shield. So, the quality of the audio of the above is relatively poor – but I think it is listenable. And much like the old adage that ‘the best camera is the one you have with you at the time’, so it goes with audio devices too.

I’d like to do more of these sorts of things in future. Possibly not while running, but a nice narrated walk would be fun I think, with more focus on incorporating field recordings and general ambience. A kind of ‘experience this place with me’ sort of recording.

Weak notes for mid-May 2021

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Here are some weak notes, instead of weeknotes. Do you see? I’ll not bother to try and catch up on the weeks I’ve missed. They’ve been and gone. What’s been happening lately?

Photos!

I spent some of my enforced self-isolation editing some old photos from the past decade or so, partly to breathe new life into old photos that would otherwise languish on my hard drives, and partly to brush up on some Lightroom techniques I want to be more confident with. 

I have… enough photos now, that I can sort of pick a general assortment from my archive to just work on a particular selection based on a theme or mood, and that’s so cool. The process of finding those photos is actually a bit easier than I would have expected – I’m either searching chronologically for a particular event or trip, or I’m searching Google Photos for ‘fog’ or ‘orange’ or ‘guitarist’ or whatever. (I have basically my entire photo archive in Google Photos partly as a low-res backup, and partly to leverage the insanely good search algorithms.) These searches do mean I then need to identify an image’s filename or date, so that I can re-find it in Lightroom. But that’s not so difficult. It would be cool to squirt Google Photos’ metadata findings into the actual metadata or the master images themselves which Lightroom could then search. But still – this is a workable solution. 

I’ve not decided yet if this is to be a new, ongoing practice, or whether to call the current crop a set and move on. Certainly I am still taking new pictures and will continue trying to post those in the usual places. But the current set of re-edits is available here.

Robins!

Robin activities continue, and the DIY trailcam that monitors the bird feeder continues to work reliably, with the Moto G4 cameraphone at the heart of it continuing to give really surprisingly decent and detailed close-up photos. The birds’ activities have shifted in the last week or so. Last time I wrote, I think we had the three babies bossing their parents around, crying out to be fed, and then one or two of them feeding themselves but still squeaping for attention occasionally.

More recently, the activities have continued to change: the parents have not been seen for weeks now (almost), which is odd, but I think they are nesting and hatching a second brood somewhere. Hopefully we will see new babies in a month or so. And the babies are now very quiet and jumpy and stealthy. My trailcam catches one or possibly two of the three babies coming to the feeder regularly. Honestly, it could be all three – they’re surprisingly hard to tell apart even with their individual new growth of adult red breast feathers, which change almost daily.

And to bring you completely up to date, yesterday was the first morning I woke to find no notifications on my phone, meaning no sightings of any birds that morning. Normally there is a flurry of activity between sunrise and the time I wake up. This lack of activity was unprecedented and, naturally, a bit worrying. But a baby appeared mid-morning, showing its face a few more times in the day, but nowhere near as active as it had been. Meanwhile, M thinks she heard it singing once – a far cry (!) from the plaintive squeepings we are so used to hearing when they were dependant babies.

And then this morning, no sign of the baby on the early morning trailcam shots – but an adult! For the first time in weeks. And possibly a different adult than the last lot? Only one or two sightings today – and to confirm that it’s not a very advanced adolescent, I did see the baby separately at other times today – but again, far less than normal. So things are changing…

Websites!

I considered having another go at the latest Sunday Sites prompt, but once again bottled it.

The prompt was weather, and I had this neat idea of a screen resembling the inside wall of a room, in the centre of which would be a blind/curtains. When opened, the view out of the “window” would be either an image/video of real weather conditions, or animated ASCII art resembling some weather. (M also suggested using a source of public domain artworks that represent weather, which would be very smart; you could also grab such Creative Commons content from Flickr as well.) Closing and re-opening the curtains/blind would reveal a different weather pattern, refreshing the frame each time. 

This concept reminded me that when I occasionally sit down to think of standalone web projects, they are often skeuomorphic in attempting to resemble a real-world object – for example this project from 2010 I did for uni: an instruction manual for an SLR camera. For this reason – and my woefully lacking web design skills – these projects basically never escape the pages of my notebook. Thankfully, not everyone is as non-committal as me, and the examples of the sites that other Sunday Sites participants created from that prompt are, as ever, fun to look through.

Fortunately, one project which has – finally! – made it into the real world is the refreshed website for the Katherine Mansfield Society.

I’ve been looking after the web admin for the KMS for… god, a lot of years now. A decade or so? But when I initially took it over, my main role was to upload content to the existing CMS. This then evolved over time to me taking over the hosting of the website, and looking after the domain as well. When I took over the hosting, the previous webmaster kindly ported the Silverstripe-based CMS/database over to the new host (as they were removing themselves from involvement with the KMS website), leaving me in charge of the whole thing.

Ever since then, it has long been my intention to create a new WordPress-based website for the KMS, porting over some content, but keeping the new site lean and fresh. The old website was absolutely packed full of good content, but in quite unusual formats, structures and hierarchies. And the tricky part was that the Silverstripe install was getting more and more out of date as the years went on. I didn’t have the knowledge to keep Silverstripe up to date – I can just about do a WordPress site – and I was really concerned it would one day just break. It was a toss-up between me trying to update it or just leaving it as it was for as long as possible. Both routes would inevitably lead to the site breaking beyond repair one day. Fortunately, that never happened, and the CMS puttered on happily, if clunkily, well into 2021, albeit on a very old version of PHP. 

I have therefore done a full site-rip of the old site so it can continue to be hosted as a complete archive. It’s not the ideal solution, but there’s just too much good content that it would a) take forever to manually port it over to the new site, and b) be a terrible shame for it to just disappear overnight. There’s work to be done – a bunch of redirects to be set up – but I’m happy with this compromise. 

Meanwhile, the new site is fairly bare bones at the moment. I dragged my heals a bit on this project as it was all being done in my spare time, but we at least have all the sections we want it to initially have, and relevant content has been created or ported across. Next steps include adding more flesh to the bones, and then stepping back to refine the site’s design with fresh eyes with more content in place. The mobile-sized home page doesn’t look great, to my eyes, although I am perfectly happy with the responsive layout I’m using. And then there’s a bunch of back-end stuff to implement and tweak, and user accounts to be set up, so that KMS folks can edit pages easily.

So, it’s taken a while to get here: in some ways a number of years of good intentions, and in other ways about seven months of sporadic building and iterating. And – in the best way (e.g. from the perspective of the site’s users) – only about twenty minutes of downtime between the old site and the new, which is about as good as I could have hoped for. Onwards.

Radios!

More on this in future I’m sure, but I continue to tinker with radios of various flavours in my spare time. Whether it’s scanning the shortwave bands for weak signals, catching up with London pirate FM stations, finding decent ‘local’ stations to stream while playing American Truck Simulator, or hopping around a web-based SDR from another location, I’m often playing with radios, or learning about its history and development. 

Some recent prompts have led to me picking up a cheap Baofeng walkie-talkie style radio to see what it can do, and I’ve also taken the first steps towards studying for the Foundation amateur radio licence. In all honesty I don’t know how much I want to pursue being a ham, and I am currently apprehensive about ever actually transmitting via amateur radio. But at the same time, the medium interests me, and always has done, and it feels like there’s no great harm in studying for the licence, and then probably even taking the test to get a licence, as much for the education, and then seeing where it takes me.

I haven’t studied for a specific test in ages – most of my self-taught learning (e.g. web design, above) involves me trying to muddle out a problem, and spending far more time googling things than actually making much progress. This is a fine form of self-educating, but I do also miss studying a specific syllabus and taking a test at the end of it. So I figured studying for an amateur radio licence might be a fun activity and a way to test myself, both literally and figuratively.

OPML files of yesteryear (audio post)

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This is a bit of an experiment, so please bear with me – or, if it’s not your cup of tea please move right along.

Roy Tang recently wrote a couple of posts looking back at some of the blogs he used to follow a few years ago, to see which ones were still going and which had disappeared.

I found this really interesting, and it reminded me that something I had been meaning to do for a while was to load up an old .OPML* file and add it to a modern RSS feed reader and see what blogs I used to follow on a given date, compared with those I follow now.

* this is the format of file you get when you export an RSS feed reader’s list of blogs – it’s a nice transferable file which is pretty human readable, but it’s also easy to just take it from one feed reader to another. I was often in the habit of changing feed readers, so I also got into the habit of making periodic backups of these small files.

Roy presented his findings in a neat list of blogs and some narrative. Mine were a bit busier, and I honestly didn’t have the patience to type as much as I would’ve needed to. So I decided to just talk for half an hour instead.

Here’s me loading up an .OPML file from 2010, discussing the kinds of blogs I followed then, and what has happened to some of them:

 

Just a note

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The funny thing about establishing a routine – setting a precedent, if you will – is that it sets a bar and an expectation of oneself. And when the outcome of that routine is in the public domain – like a blog – people will (hopefully) get attuned to that routine or rhythm, and then (possibly) those same people will notice when the routine is interrupted or paused.

I remain in awe of the folks I follow who are so good at maintaining the routines they set for themselves.

Thank you to those of you who reached out to say hello, to check all was well, or to send a little update relating back to a previous discussion. I’m really grateful that a) I have friends who noticed I’d strayed from the blogging path, and b) who wouldn’t think twice about dropping me a line to check in on me.


I realise that I have a circle of pals who follow me on Twitter and – poor sods – get multiple-times-daily updates on my thoughts and movements, and that I have an overlapping but separate group of friends who follow me pretty much exclusively via my blog. Both forms are reflections of the same person, but have very different cadences (and probably voices).


With all that said, the past few weeks have been simultaneously busy (with Life Stuff), and glacially unproductive (with ten days’ mandatory self-isolation after an NHS covid app exposure alert). The former provides much to write about and no time to do so; the latter plenty of time to write, but little to say. That said, I did try to keep a roughly daily diary of my self-isolation, but that sort of life-writing falls more squarely into the private diary bracket than the public blog. Those lines blur quite often, however.


I thought recently, that if I were a) more technically minded and b) a psychopath, I would like to write a parsing tool which surfaces blog posts where I’ve written “…of which more in a later post” (or similar), or emails (etc.) where I’ve written “I’ll keep you posted!”. These could serve as writing prompts.

As with so many of these things, it’s not the prompts I’m lacking – it’s that magnets-attracting-or-repelling sensation I get, where sometimes an idea pops into my head and I simply must sit down and send an hour hammering out words, or sometimes I think “I should write about that*”, but never do.

* where “write about that” means as much “tell my friends” as it does “spend the time turning an experience or notion into words for the practice of doing so”.

Sometimes those magnets snap together – usually after a decent coffee – but sometimes they just grumpily shrug away from each other, an idea completely adrift from anything to show for it.


I have recently started a few embryonic blog posts on whatever device or writing material was nearest at the time the inspiration struck, but I often find it so difficult to develop those ideas if the inspiration flies away before the words finish coming. The perfect is the enemy of the good, as an ex-colleague* used to say so often – and he was right, of course, and far better for me to set something down than nothing at all.

* this ex-colleague also recently reached out to say hello as a result of reading this blog while laid up recovering from a medical procedure, which was a pleasant surprise! (The catch-up, not the medical procedure.)


Anyway, this is just a note, like those cute little note cards often say, to say hello and I am fine and normal service will (I regret to inform you) be restored shortly.

If you’re after something to read, my buddy Matthew’s weekly newsletter* always contains several articles I want to read, along with just-the-right-amount of commentary to sell to me why I should click through. Or, where the clickthru is inevitable, to reveal the depths of both mine and Matthew’s obsession with a niche subject, which is always fun.

* it can be a blog if you want it to. It has an index page, and I bet there’s an RSS feed in there somewhere.

On the telly we’ve been enjoying the Great Pottery Throwdown series past and recent – the emotional reactions of judge Keith are one of the loveliest things to witness. And we’ve been rinsing through Rose Matafeo’s Starstruck which I knew I’d enjoy, but it’s still a rather nice surprise.

And that New Yorker interview with Simpsons writer John Swartzwelder is as great as everyone says – although you probably need to already be a fan of his sense of humour to want to read this, one of the only interviews he’s ever given.

Cheerio, and thanks.

2021 week thirteen

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It would be week thirteen where I slip off the wagon.

More to come as I remember it.

  • NTS put out a call for longform field recordings for…. some sort of project. This encouraged me to make some new ones of very boring soundscapes around me, but it also encouraged me to upload a few older longform recordings to /audio which had thus far only gone onto Soundcloud or were languishing on my hard drive. 
  • went into the office for a bit – had some IT-related things to do, and sort of fell into the rhythm of being there all morning. Was fine, but is increasingly odd. The main thing is learning how much of our work can be done from anywhere. And that it’s going to take a long time to re-learn office-based routines.
  • attended(???) a Heritage Digital webinar on a variety of subjects. It was very well presented and programmed, and as is often the case with conferences and seminars, it left me scribbling down ideas and feeling like I’d either learned a lot, or it had inspired several chains of thought. Grateful for that mind-stir.
  • Here are some things I saw this week: