Category Archives: Free Time

Konked out

An Amazon review of Konk, a double album by The Kooks:

They shouldn’t have made the 2-disc edition. You don’t have to release every sh*t you ever recorded.

Sounds familiar? Less is more. Quality over quantity. Etc. 

But it’s more complex than that. Sometimes quantity is better. The Mail Online has >100 journalists pumping out celebrity gossip stories, because those drive the pageviews which in turn bring the ad revenue. For the Mail, maybe adding quantity is smarter than adding quality. 

I’m very interested in these grey areas. Blanket statements hide the nuances.

I just finished a book called Turn The Ship Around!. A US Navy commander writes about introducing a ‘leader-leader’ model (instead of the traditional ‘leader-follower’ model) on his submarine. It’s a good book, all very empowering and life-affirming – but there is not a lot of grey.

When should you hold back from empowering staff?

How do you manage accountability when responsibility is so thoroughly delegated?

In what circumstances are the staff, not the system, seen to be the problem?

We rate pretty highly in leader-leader coverage in the teams I have worked in. But I find it very hard to believe that I have all the solutions already latent inside of me, or that if something goes wrong, all that’s needed is a little more empowerment. It sounds like the supposed disaster emerging at Zappos under holacracy. And very little consideration of these grey areas appears in the book. 

Next time you hear one of these truisms – less is more, quality over quantity – just stop for a minute. Is it really true?

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10 Surprising Discoveries During My First Marathon

I finished the Manchester Marathon in 3 hours 38 mins. That’s how I felt at the end.

If you are bloody-minded enough to do the same, there’s masses of advice on the internet already. So instead of repeating or summarising all the usual stuff, here’s a list of things that surprised me.

Surprise #1: Starting fast worked well

The night before the race I made a last-minute change of plan. I decided to start fast. That was the opposite of what everyone told me to do: you’re supposed to start slow, then speed up towards the end if you can manage it. Pah! I knew I’d be knackered at the end and wouldn’t want to speed up even if I could. I’m 100% certain that I got a better time as a result.

Surprise #2: Gel packs to the max

I showed up with two energy gel packs, but the experienced-looking runners had bandoliers full of them. I had brought too few. By the end I was dependent on well-wishers’ jelly babies – goddamn it I loved those little guys. A shot of sugar straight to the bloodstream. Would’ve liquified and injected them if I could.

Surprise #3: Pain, pain, go away

I was fine for the first 5 miles, then my right leg started to stiffen up. Not good, that was way too soon. I decided to push on at the same pace and hope it went away. It did – but then my left ankle started to hurt. That stopped about the same time as my arms started aching (arms, wtf?). And so on and so on. Different bits hurt at different times, you’ve just got to roll with it. Had a couple of painkillers in my pocket, and finally gave in and took one at about 15 miles. It made no noticeable difference to my body, but having painkillers with me helped psychologically.

Surprise #4: It’s a race against the course and the clock, not against the other runners

Aka *EVERYONE IS PASSING ME*

The consequence of starting fast is that you will inevitably slow down as the race progresses. Even those going at a steady pace – never mind the freaks who are speeding up – will begin to overtake you. This is not a good thing psychologically. I felt like I was going backwards from about 9 miles in. Runners streamed past me, like I was like driving at 40mph in the middle of the motorway. It took me a mile or so to reset: I’m running my own race, for my own time; I don’t need to beat all these people.

Surprise #5: Obsession with my split time

My gradual slow-down was measured in precise detail by my Nike+ app. Every kilometre a robotic American lady told me how long I had been running, how much distance I had covered, and what my average time per kilometre was. Time per kilometre was my main guide. I knew that an average of 4:59/km = 3 hrs 30 mins, that 5:19 = 3 hrs 45 mins, and 5:39 = 4 hrs 00 mins. I started out around 4:51 per km, but I knew I couldn’t maintain that pace. The average km time kept creeping up. As I passed the halfway mark, I worked out that I’d need to stay under 5:13 to finish in under 3 hrs 40 mins. As the average time per km crept up, I got more and more nervous – 5m05s, 5m06s, 5m07s… every time a the American lady started on a new kilometre announcement I whispered a silent prayer that the average pace would not have increased. The battle lines were drawn: I had to slow down my slow-down.

Here’s my pace chart, showing speed per km. Thankfully I managed to stay just ahead of the 3 hrs 40 mins pace. I averaged 5:12/km for the marathon as a whole.

I didn’t feel like I hit the famous ‘Wall’ at any specific point – but looking at this chart, I guess it was at around 16 miles, when I started to shift down before stabilising at a lower pace. Coincidentally, it was at around that point that I decided I would never run a marathon again.

Surprise #6: Terry Prachett, runner’s friend

I spent ages beforehand crafting a lengthy, pumped-up playlist for the race, and deliberately avoided the songs on it so that they would sound fresh on the day. But by the time I reached halfway through the race, I was bored. Even I can only listen to so much Britpop. So I switched to an audio book, and found salvation. I can recommend Terry Prachett’s The Night Watch as a pleasant distraction to all future marathon runners – though I have had to re-listen to the chapters that played during the last few miles, as somehow I don’t seem to have followed that part of the story.

Surprise #7: Random supporters are there for you

Thousands of people lined the route and cheered the runners on. That really helped, much more so than I expected. I managed a weak thumbs up to most of those who shouted for me personally. Pro tip: write your name on your top in big letters – it will substantially increase your share of random personalised encouragement.

Surprise #8: Runners’ cameraderie

Another nice surprise. It’s daunting to see paramedics treating stricken runners, and it’s nerve-wracking to see ambulances racing past you to some unknown pain point – what lurks just a few miles ahead? But those who were still standing would actively encourage fellow runners who were in trouble. Many people began to walk near the end, but they got regular pats on the back and kind words in the ear from those passing them – come on mate, nearly there now!

Surprise #9: Time and space warp towards the end

The last 10km seemed like entire marathons that had been surreptitiously added on to the main event, and the same for the last 3km. I literally could not imagine how I was going to run that far. It boggled my mind, the sheer thought was exhausting. (This is rather ridiculous in hindsight, because by the time you’ve only got 3km to go you have already run 39km!). So I tried to trick myself. The last 15km became three sets of 5km, a distance which I know I can do ok. But when the first kilometre of the first set of 5km took what seemed like half an hour, I realised that my targets had to get shorter. By the time I got into the final kilometre, I was running two traffic cones at a time – just get to that one… now just get to that one… And then for the final 500m, all I could aim for was to get from one group of people to the next – just get to the girl in the pink coat… now just get to the guy in the glasses… come on, nearly there…

Surprise #10: What’s next?

You can’t train for a marathon just by running a bit further each time. I ran 220 miles over 6 months in training – but I also had to cross-train (interval training, hill running), do weights in the gym for the first time ever (intimidating!), eat more healthily, drink less beer, etc. Without a specific goal in mind, I’m rather lacking in direction sportwise – I need a new (and preferably less gruelling) challenge!

Here’s my training plan for the final three months.

For now, I’m happy to fill the time with writing :)

So thanks for reading!

~ Todd

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Us and the Universe

We are the universe experiencing itself

–Carl Sagan

So, what did you do this weekend?

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Image from Nick Sagan’s blog. Happy All Hallow’s Eve!

Did you make anything today?

Isaac Asimov wrote and edited over 500 books, plus 90,000 letters and postcards.

Did you make anything today?

MarioKart Trance

I was in a show starring an Arnold Schwarzenegger stick-puppet, and I wasn’t sleeping enough.

We would wrap at midnight, so I would get home around 1am but I couldn’t sleep straight away because I was too wired.

So instead when I got home I would play MarioKart on the Wii. It was pretty fun and helped me unwind. I’d forget everything else and then after half an hour (= eight races) I’d go to bed.

In MarioKart Wii there’s a track called Coconut Mall, in which you can see clothing adverts starring your Miis (Miis are little avatars of you and your friends).

I was playing Coconut Mall one night and just above the bit where you jump over the fountain there was an advert with my Mii wearing a grey hoodie. I thought “Hey, that looks good on me! I should wear that more often!” and jumped over the fountain but then I did a double-take: WTF?! I never owned a grey hoodie.

The problem was that I wasn’t just working on show nights: there were only three of us in the team, so with all the prep and the business bits it added up to 80+ hours a week. On top of that I was doing a PhD application and writing terrible poetry and learning Mandarin and organising volunteer work on HMS Belfast and running a crappy website and still seeing friends even though I was little more than a shell at some points. It was a bit nuts and I was a bit nuts too.

I don’t want that to happen again, so I’m cutting back on a couple of things now.

All this to make room for the many other things going on at the moment. Finding a new job at the end of last year and now settling into the new one. Rewriting an academic essay that I’m going to present at a conference. Moving out of the old house and into a new one. And there’s a woman in the new house who keeps reminding me that I’m getting married this summer. Only doing four things at once – job, article, house, wedding – should make it easy, right?

I don’t want another MarioKart Trance, so one of the things I’m cutting back on is blog posts. This is my first post in almost a month and there are going to be fewer than usual between now and when I’m back from honeymoon in July (sorry, I’m a heart-breaker).

But oddly enough, since I stopped writing so regularly I’ve had a tonne of new ideas for posts, for this website, and for my Facebook and Twitter pages. So I’m planning a revamp for the second half of the year and I’ll have loads of new stuff for you to read too.

Sometimes you need a break. And break time can be the most productive time of all.

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21st-century job hunting

On Thursday I started a new job at King.com (woohoo!). I spent the last few weeks of last year looking for work and I want to share 5 things I found out about modern-day job hunting.

Maybe everything below only applies to finding mid-level media jobs in London, or is specific to me in some way, but I don’t think so.

1) It’s a job, not a career

You’re not looking for something to do for 50 years. So don’t worry about finding it. It’s like dating. Don’t worry about whether you’re going to marry the girl when you’re on your first date. Just find someone interesting for the time being and see what happens.

2) Crossing borders

I’ve moved out of TV and into games. I also spoke to companies in tech and in music. No-one ever asked why my TV experience would be useful. This was a surprise to me – but it was just assumed that transferring skills to a new industry won’t be a problem. So I don’t think there’s a need to fret about staying the same exact industry. Don’t restrict yourself to changing lanes if you want to crash through the central reservation (NB this analogy cannot be safely applied to driving).

3) Metcalfe’s Law

‘Networking’ is a horrible word and some people who are good at it actually suck at being people. But if you think about it as building a network, instead of spinelessly fawning over the most powerful person in the room, it’s much easier to digest.

A couple of days ago I read about Metcalfe’s Law: the basic idea is that the value of a telecommunications network is proportional to the square of the number of connected users in the system. If you have two telephones, there’s one connection. But five telephones make 10 connections. And 12 telephones can make 66 connections.

So the value of the network increases as the number of people in it goes up. The same could be said of email or Facebook. And it could also be said of your personal network, because each person you know and trust has another set of people that they know and trust. I don’t have a huge network. But 80% of the jobs I considered came to me through it.

4) DIY track record

The most interesting projects / skills / experiences are the ones you developed in your own time. With free tools and free publishing you can build a DIY track record (see Start a project now – here are 5 tips). Back in the old days this would have been hard; now it’s easy. Most people don’t do this, but luckily I’ve done a few spare-time projects over the past few years so even though most of them were dumb, I think I got some marks for persistence.

5) One Direction

Last year when I was looking for a new job I went around asking for advice. That worked ok but it didn’t produce a lot of job opportunities. This year it’s been different – at the outset I chose a small number of directions to explore. That made my discussions 10x more productive, because I was asking about specifics rather than general stuff. And that makes it much easier for people to help you out.

I hope this post helps you out. Good luck!

 

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Your New Year’s resolutions won’t work, so try this instead!

Your New Year’s resolutions won’t work, so don’t stress about keeping them!

Instead follow James Altucher and decide on a theme – something to tend towards, instead of an absolute promise that you’re unlikely to keep and will feel bad when you break.

So I have no resolutions at all for this year. Only one theme.

I’m sticking to one but there are lots to choose from. It could mean less email or less TV or less booze. Not ‘no email’ or ‘no TV’ or ‘no booze’ – those are specific resolutions and they’re almost impossible to keep. A theme like ‘less email’ is much more manageable: it would encourage me not to check my email so often when I get up or last thing at night, not to be reading emails on the journey to or from work, not to be tapping away on my phone when I’m on the loo (I know you do that too).

But for me in 2013 ‘do less’ that means less projects. Less new ones. Less old ones. Less continuing with projects I’ve lost interest in. Less less less.

So today I’m killing off two projects.

1. toddmgreen time machine

This is a collection of things I find interesting, beautiful, or inspiring. The aim is to record specific things I think are cool, along with the date when I discovered them – like a time machine for interests. A new post has appeared every Tuesday at 10pm UK time since September 2011 – 79 in all. I posted today’s just now though and it’s the last post.

2. Advice for Media Students

This is a project I made for the undergraduate class I was teaching. I figured it would be easier to teach the students how to make a web project if I did one too. So I made a site (18 posts in all) offering practical advice on how to get a media job. I’m done with teaching for now, so although I think there’s a gap here for something like AFMS, I’m done with this project too.

Two dead projects. Less less less.

So why do less?

To make room for more.

More time for getting good at my new job.

More time to help plan mine and Emma’s wedding.

More time to write!

Themes not resolutions. Less is more. Happy new year.

 

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So I applied to be an astronaut

My life’s ambition is to go into space, so a few years ago I applied to be an astronaut.

At the time anyone could apply to ESA (the European Space Agency), so I went to the doc and to the hospital, had a bunch of tests done, filled out the application form and sent it off.

There was little chance I would succeed. But it made perfect logical sense to try.

There are two ways of getting into space: (1) become a billionaire, or (2) get hired as a professional astronaut. Maybe one day I’ll be a billionaire but I don’t want to count on it. So I just applied.

Actually, all my best decisions are made when I ignore the chances of failure and just do it.

  • Want to learn how to code? Ok, build a website.
  • Want to try building a business? Ok, start one now.
  • Want to find out if teaching would be a good career move? Ok, do it part-time and see whether it’s fun.
  • Like that girl a lot? Ok, ask her out.

These simple decisions are the best.

A) You can’t regret them

If it doesn’t work out, no big deal. You did the logical thing and tried. Your mind is at rest. Ssshh now little brain.

B) You know exactly why you made them

It’s a simple formula. You won’t get confused about your motives. Want something? Ok, have a go.

C) You always gain something unexpected

Building a website taught me how the internet works. Starting a business taught me a million things that I put into a recent post (How I lost £1,500 when I was 23). Teaching part-time right now is making me 10x better at explaining stuff and speaking in public. And the last girl I asked out is going to become my wife next summer, so that one worked out pretty well too.

Worrying about failure kills good decisions. Whenever I worry I lose the magic power to make simple logical decisions and I waste my life fretting. I’m glad that didn’t happen with applying to be an astronaut.

The physical tests and most of the application form were ok, though I couldn’t really disguise my lack of a PhD in astrophysics or biology. The weakest bit though was when I had to describe my experience in radio communications:

I did hospital radio for two years when I was at school. I was a presenter and had my own weekly show.

But since I haven’t actually heard back from ESA, I assume they’ve got me on the reserve list.

Hopefully someone will drop out soon.

 

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Fear and death

On Robben Island, the prisoners had a contraband copy of Shakespeare’s Collected Works. Nelson Mandela marked this as his favourite passage:

Cowards die many times before their deaths:

The valiant never taste of death but once.

Of all the wonders that I have yet heard,

It seems to me most strange that men should fear,

Seeing that death, a necessary end,

Will come when it will come.

 

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The hard yards

The hard yards are actually the easiest to cover.

But in order to cover them, you have to stay put.

You do the hard yards by sticking at it, by staying focused – when you want to get up from the desk, open Facebook or Twitter or email, put the TV on, do the washing up – anything to avoid what you know you should be doing.

Those are the hard yards.

Few people can stare down the hard yards. Often I can’t.

But I’m pretty sure they’re the ones that make a difference.

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