Swimming Pool Review: Badanstalt (Luxembourg)

One of the swimming pools filed under “closed” for quite a bit of the summer was the city centre Badanstalt. It re-opened on 1 August apparently and I dropped in to have a look today. It’s ten minutes from where I live and the paperwork says it’s 25 m but reviews suggest not great for swim training.

The Badanstalt is a beautiful classical building ended by a lovely windowed hemisphere. From the outside it is gorgeous. Inside is a pool which yes, is about 25m long. It has 2 whirlpools, a couple of bubble beds and some water jets. I don’t know exactly all the facilities it has because I did not really have time to test them all.

What I do know, however, is that the Badanstalt really isn’t a swimming pool you can do much swim training in. It just doesn’t have a clearly defined lap you can follow – I swam some lengths but I can’t really say for certain whether they were 20 or 25 metres and anyway, it seems to me there is some sort of a current in the pool. I could do the lengths in 36s on one direction (suggests 25m) and 23 s in the other decision (suggests about 20 m). As my personal best for 25m at the moment is a paltry 33s, I’m doubting that I could do it in 23 unless a) it isn’t 25m and b) there was some support in the water as it were.

So I’m not really going to review this as a swimming pool – but I will say this – it would be a great place to go after you’ve been training. The water is a degree or two warmer than Bonnevoie but cooler than the leisure pools in Syrdall. The jacuzzis are very comfortable, and I liked the bubble beds as well. There are vertical jets at one end of the pool which may be eternal swimming pools except I was too strong a swimmer for that to work for me.

It is in a beautiful building, with a high ceiling and room to sit around the edges.  It is the kind of place I would love to go on a Sunday evening for an hour or two before the week starts again. I used to do this in Dublin – go to the water relaxation centre in ALSAA for a while to cap off the weekend and it’s a nice idea. The main problem with doing it in the Badanstalt is that it closes at 12. And they throw you out of the pool at 11.30. So I think it might work as a post work relation place – the pool is usually open till about during the week except Monday’s when the place is closed.

I’d be happy enough to go there again but more in line with going there after I went running (or something) rather than to go swimming. Full marks for relaxation, less so for pounding out the lengths.

 

Cities for living

tl;dr: read this Intelligent urban transport systems

When I left Brussels for Dublin in 1999, I was operating under the assumption that Dublin was becoming a better place to live. The bus system was still catastrophic, but the Luas was under construction, and there was a buzz around the place which suggested there was a focus on how people could live more easily in a city which to be honest, had been a bit of a disaster when I was in college there in the early 1990s. People from Dublin do not tend to like hearing this but fine.

However, against that any time you as a returning emigrant highlighted things that could be done better (and were elsewhere), there was still a prevailing attitude of “Well here’s the Ryanair website, off you go if it is so much better in France”. Most people would take the view that health care in fact was better in France. In general.

I spent 17 or 18 years in Dublin before eventually escaping again. It took about 5 years of planning, battling, thinking about stuff and trying to catch opportunities before it all came together and I got out. The thought of growing old in Dublin depressed me and when I look at debates around certain aspects of living in Dublin still going on I reckon I would be old before Dublin reached a stage where in fact it was an attractive city to live in. Essentially, it can be very difficult to create a healthy life style in Dublin – I managed it for around 12 of the years I lived there and when it went bad, it went quite badly. In the end, I was losing 2-3 hours a day in commuting over a commuting distance of 7 km. It’s one thing to lose that sort of time if you’re travelling 60 km each way. It is ludicrous if the distance is 7km. I walked it one day. It was deeply unpleasant as well.

I’ve long been of the opinion that people in Dublin would be a lot healthier if the place had a coherent, dependable, integrated public transport system. It doesn’t. Not only that, it isn’t getting one any time soon. There is a current project in place which will displace 13 million bus journeys to facilitate something like 1 million bike journeys. There just isn’t an integrated consideration of the question “How do we make this place a good place to live”. Symptoms are attacked piecemeal, other problems are not addressed at all. All in all, if I had to pick one word to describe trying to navigate Dublin, the word Stress would line up.

I whinge at length about public transport in Dublin, but in particular I want to highlight a key problem in that particular city – I am not sure that it is unique to Dublin but my experience is that it is particularly bad in Dublin. It is a city and society in which the default is an unhealthy lifestyle rather than a healthy life style.

For more than 10 years, I worked somewhere that was a guaranteed 20 minutes from where I lived. Every single morning, that’s how long it took me to get there and that’s how long it took me to get home. This meant I had more time to do things like go swimming three times a week, cook in the evenings when I got home without being utterly exhausted, go climbing, do more needlework, go to more concerts. The logistic reality of my life was not all that stressful in the grand scheme of things. When I started working in the city centre I attempted to make public transport work for me because really, it’s more environmentally sound, and in theory it should be a bit cheaper. In reality, the transport times across two jobs in two different city centre locations were either completely unreliable, or consisted of a mode of which one was completely unreliable. I eventually went back driving because the journey times were generally more reliable, and came in at shorter than the public transport options. Again, that was for 7km, and one of them was sa point to point bus service.

People cannot live healthily like this. And yet in Dublin we just took it for granted? Appointment at 7pm? Travel wildly early because travelling on time didn’t guarantee you’d be on time. The amount of time wasted in inefficient travel in Dublin for me was just beyond calculable and it was utterly depressing.

Time wasted like this has all sorts of knock on effects. It puts stress on parents trying to collect kids from childcare, arriving home later from work cuts into time for doing stuff like oh preparing and cleaning up food, doing any sort of a hobby, getting exercise. I can clearly flash back to having spent a crazy amount of time figuring out how best to fit swimming into my schedule and still failing because an 8km journey could take up to 2 hours. Arriving home at 8pm with a need to be up at 6am has a fairly desperate impact on your ability to manage things like a regular healthy eating habit, a reliable sleeping patter and any sort of relaxation. We have increasing rates of burn out and our health indicators are pointing towards obesity and diabetes and other environmental issues in the area of air quality.

As a society we create an environment where the default option is to be unhealthy and to be in an unhealthy environment. It’s a macro level problem. And we expect people to fix it on a micro level. Individuals need to fight hard to sort out diets and eating habits, and getting enough exercise even as they still don’t have time for either and are trying to operate in a lifestyle which is designed to counteract every effort they make. It doesn’t have to be that way.

When you move outside the public transport side of things, there is also the general social issue of presenteeism. Where people work crazy hours and make a virtue of it. Despite the fact that it adds to their stress, adds to the amount of time they don’t spend recovering, doesn’t necessarily add value to their working day. And then they complain about people who they perceive to have easier lives and instead of working on the premise of improving life for all, they look to disimprove life for all

It’s corrosive and it is something we will have to address urgently particularly in the wider context of things like minimum basic income and especially automation of jobs and moves to replace workers with intelligent systems (for a given value of intelligent anyway).

It is clear that we need things to be sustainably financially for things to operate without causing war or catastrophe. But against that, we need to ensure that the benefit of things are shared relatively fairly. We don’t tend to have this debate either and ultimately, it is not going to be healthy to have an increasing number of people unable to find work while another sector overworks itself to an early grave.

I suppose, the point I’m making is we don’t ask whether the way our society operates is healthy and whether our objectives are sane and sensible in terms of enabling people to live healthy lives. I’m not sure how we start that conversation. But I do know that reliable transport would make people’s lives a lot better.

Let’s go exploring

About 4 years ago, I was prepping to leave a job which I had been doing for a  *long* time. It still represents well more than half of my working life.

Anyway, one of the last things that I did was write a note to my soon to be ex-colleagues thanking them for their friendship and cooperation over the course of the previous N years and I closed it off with a comment a long the lines of

In the meantime, I leave you with the words of the greatest philosopher, Calvin, of all time, on his final public appearance.

 “It’s a magical world, Hobbes ol’ buddy….Let’s go exploring”

 (citation: The Complete Calvin & Hobbes, Bill Watterson, the final Calvin and Hobbes comic strip, 31 December 1995)

The comic strip is all over the web.

Anyway, one of the things which stunned me at the time was it taught me that there were people who had never heard of Calvin and Hobbes. I could not believe this. I mean, it had already been a shock to realise there were people working in IT who had never heard of xkcd.com but Calvin and Hobbes? Are you kidding me?

I was reminded of this because a recently acquired skill which might have been kind of useful when I was at school and totally unpopular, and considered weird because I liked Jean-Michel Jarre whom no one had heard of (which means they didn’t pay attention in French class) has suddenly seen me drawing cartoon characters. I’ve done the Pink Panther, the Roadrunner, Yogi Bear. Every once in a while I pop up and have a go at another childhood memory – I suppose it is revealing that I have no interest whatsoever in trying to do any of the Frozen girls. Amongst the characters that I have done are both Calvin AND Hobbes. And people seem to want them.

I find myself exploring anyway, a place which was not on the schedule at all 4 years ago but you know it’s been fun. And I learned to draw along the way.

Random stuff I collect – Scissors

I bought another scissors today. I file scissors under the label of “useful tool” and “I need one for every project I have going”. By project, I mean needlework project. Tapestry, canvas, needlepoint. It gets called by different labels depending on your culture. Tapestry is what I grew up with. Needlepoint is what the internet gives me. Canvas apparently is the British term and it definitely is the French term.

Like pretty much any hobby it comes with gadgetry. The Americans are big into needleminders (check these things out on Etsy) which are basically pretty magnets to mind your needles. I either keep the needles in needle packages or stuck into the canvas and I’ve never felt my life would be changed by using a magnet while I was stitching.

Scissors on the other hand, they are important. I went through a period of never being able to find a scissors when I needed one and as a result of this, typically, any big tapestry project (anything bigger than 15cm x 15 cm counts as big) will get kitted out with a canvas project bag, the canvas, the threads, two needles and a scissors. I have acquired scissors over the years.

In general, my preferred scissors are Fiskars scissors. I own about six and I’ve give one to my sister. Apart from the fact that they are great, great cutting tools, they are the one company who puts effort into making pretty scissors. I am a sucker for pretty things. This is why I have a pink calculator, for example. Make something functional, and then make it beautiful. Fiskars are near trademarked with orange handles. Mostly if you find a Fiskars scissors it will be orange. But I was on holiday in Finland about 5 years ago and in the main department store in Helsinki, I happened across a scissors with Moomins on it. I gave that one to my sister after I found ones with white handles with mad dashes of colour. My bedroom scissors and my desk scissors are of this nature.

My stitch scissors were typically orange but recently, I ordered 3 nice coloured Fiskars from canevas.com which has to be the biggest needlework shop on the web, and I also acquired a bundle of Pryms. The Pryms have purple handles mostly so they look rather pretty as well as rather sharp and pointy. They are good on the sharp and pointy front so I’m happy enough to use them. I seem to have lost one small Fiskars much to my regret but as 90% of my possessions are in storage I live in hope that they will turn up.

The general view is that I am a hoarder. But I hoard very specific things. Scissors. Tapestry canvases. Crochet cotton. Scissors. Pens. Oh the pens that I have…But one thing they all have in common is that they are useful in some way.

There’s a lot to be said for that.

Pool Review: Syrdall Schwemm

One of the more useful things about swim.com when I signed up for it is that it highlighted all those places where people swam around me and one of the ones it highlighted was Syrdall Schwemm which did not look like it was all that far away. So I resolved to give it a go and that go was today. It is in Senningen, about 12km from Luxembourg Ville.

Syrdall is more a water complex than just a swimming pool. It has a 25m pool, a relaxation pool, a paddling pool and an outdoor pool. The outdoor and relaxation pools are heated to 32 degrees; the 25m sports pool I thought was heated to 28 degrees but it felt colder than that today.  In addition it has a landing pool for what looks like a decent enough slide. I didn’t test that.

By public transport, you can get to it using the 125, 128 and 140 buses. I think there are a couple more but those are by some distance and counting the most regular, the 125 in particular. I think it is outside the Luxembourg Ville area though, so this means that if you use a CityKaart bus ticket, you’re not covered for it (it is for occasions like this that I have an MKarte as well).

Entrance wise, it charges according to time. I paid for 4 hours access which was more than enough. This puts it into the zone of “pricier than usual”, on the other hand, up front, I’m going to say this is the nicest of the three pool complexes I have been in in Luxembourg and if getting home from it after about 7pm wasn’t such a hassle, I’d probably make the financial sacrifices to swim there more regularly.  Unfortunately there are practical reasons why this isn’t going to work for me at the moment.

The pool building is pretty much glass on 2 sides which makes it a very bright place during the day (I tend to like this which is why I didn’t really like the Ben Dunne pool in Santry and loved DCU pool). The sports pool was relatively quiet which made it a joy to swim in.

The 25m pool is 1.35-2m deep which makes it quite a lot shallower than the pool in Bonnevoie, but slightly deeper than the public 25m pool in dCoque. It is split in two sections, one of which I assume is for the strong swimmers, but to be fair, anyone in the other section was generally swimming lengths. It wasn’t busy either which made a nice change from Bonnevoie which occasionally feels like it needs traffic lights. For a lot of the time I was in it, I had it more or less to myself, with that beautiful feeling of seeing flat calm water before me, a joy to most swimmers.  I thoroughly enjoyed that swim and that on its own makes the pool a good one in my book.

It is possible that the sports pool is quiet purely because the other two pools exist; both warm, both with whirlpool beds. They are both relatively big as well  – not as big as the sports pool but big enough to be take all the people in them. The outdoor pool looks up on to a sweeping hill with a forest. Occasionally, planes taking off from Findel fly over or near by. It was sunny today when I checked it out. I found it idyllic. It also is not very heavily chlorinated for a warm warm pool.

In practical terms, the complex also has a sauna section – I haven’t tried this.

The dressing room are basically a corridor of changing cubicles. They are not divided by sex – the split happens for the shower and toilets. As seems to be common (so far) in Luxembourg pools the lockers are tall narrow boxes and they are unlocked and locked using the smart bracelet you get on entry which I think is fairly practical.

There are analogue clocks littered around the place so you generally know or can find out what time it is. There is also a poolside cafe which is a nice touch imo – not sure how often it is open but it was open today. Showers wise, there are only 8 showers in the womens section. There also is little to no drying off space in the showers area and the entry and exit can get a bit clogged particularly if small children are involved.

There is plenty of space to sit around the pool – quite a few loungers and some benches, both outdoors and indoors. There is a play area as well.

All in all, I liked this pool and my main regret is that it is hard to get home from in the evenings after around 7 – the bus frequency drops right off. Otherwise it would be my number 1 pool, at least while dCoque is closed.

website

Address: 3, Routscheed – L-6939 Niederanven

Data junkie: a new Garmin or swim shiny, part 2

There was this.

Yesterday I went to one of the adventure sports shops and bought a Garmin VivoActive HR mostly because in the price sector, it covered most of the swimming stuff and cost less than I plan to spend on a Rado. It is now affixed to my wrist and at some point this evening, I will take it for a “run” otherwise know as a “rulk” where I go out “running” but am so run unfit, I walk most of the run. This will be the way things are for a while.

I didn’t get much sleep on Friday night which, I think, is why I went and bought both a sports watch and a toaster. The Vivoactive is my second sports watch – there is a Vivosmart somewhere in storage which was used for step counting. I hated it because like a lot of sports watches it was dog ugly and in particular, it whinged at me if I didn’t move enough which was basically Monday to Friday. I spent a lot of time running up and down stairs in my then job once an hour so that I stopped feeling guilty about the vibration alerts. I don’t want to be wearing this all the time because it isn’t really about counting my steps – my phone does that anyway – but I need some serious help on the swim data front. Mostly I estimate how long I have been in a pool, and I count the lengths and hope I don’t lose count somewhere along the way. Mostly I do but the figures are “ball park” right, I have no idea exactly how long a length is taking me, and frankly, the measure that matters most to me – the one which has always mattered most to me –  how long I rest between lengths is never anything more than a vague feeling of progress.

I wanted certain functionality – namely blue tooth synching to my phone – and it would be nice if it handled running as well. You can spend hundreds on a watch to do this. You can also spend a lot less. But you get less for your money. I wanted – at least – a SWOLF measure so that I could at least chart changes in how the swimming was going and from what I remember, the cheapest you could do this was with a Garmin Swim which didn’t sync to a phone. So next step up. If I were wealthy, the one I wanted was a Polar V800 – the vivoactive came second to it on several occasions, and the times the Garmin 1, the Polar had not been included in the group test. Price wise, however, the Polar was way out of my league. You could not call me a serious sports person at all. I just don’t have the time.

If I am truly honest, looking around the pool this morning, I wondered if I wasn’t a bit pathetic as well. Historically I swam 1600m back stroke, it sounded good, and it took around an hour. But it failed to meet a bunch of random goals I had over years in terms of feeling safer in the water. The Irish life guards require candidates to be able to swim 400m front crawl in 8 minutes. I knew when I last had a go at that goal that I was nowhere near it. I looked at swim watches then too; ten years ago, but they were rather less able to do much other than act as a stop watch than today’s lot are. I’m going to be honest and say I think swim watches still have a way to go – I feel running and cycling are much better served by wearable tech. But we are where we are .

The watch

So, the watch has a rectangular face which is about 3cm by 2cm. This marks it out a bit from a lot of other sports watches which have relatively round faces. The one which I bought has a black strap although I think you can get a white strap as well.

In my opinion, the watch is ugly to look at. Sure, it’s sleek, and it has a nice reasonably sized touch screen. But I’m female and I wear a Tissot women’s watch every day. For looks, this, and to be fair, almost no sports watch, competes – the prettiest is probably the Withings or Nokia as they will soon been known. The Withings do cover swimming but do not pick up SWOLF iirc and the ones which were available here didn’t pop up on group tests either. In answer to the question “Would I wear this every day?”, it’s a straight no. The watch is big and clunky. I’m not the slightest of females by any manner or means but I don’t find it sleek, stylish or elegant.

By default out of the box it has a digital display and to be frank, its brightness level was sufficiently low to make it practically unreadable. You can change the watch display to analogue which I did (eventually) but that doesn’t really change my opinion of how it compares on looks to a normal analogue automatic watch which I wear every day.

There are two buttons on the watch under the watch face. One is basically a back button, and the other, amongst other things, accesses activities for you to start tracking. The screen is a touch screen and you can scroll down through it to see things like the weather today, the number of steps you’ve stepped, your last sports workout, a summary of your daily activity and your heartrate. The watch has a heartrate monitor installed which does not work when swimming.

In terms of charging, the watch comes with a charging band which you can plug into a USB port on your computer. Personal view on that is it compares badly to the one on the Vivosmart – I struggle to get the watch out of it every time I plug it in.

Storing the data

The watch syncs its data to a Garmin Connect account. I already had one of these from when I bought the Vivosmart.

It does not currently, as far as I know, talk to Google Fit (Android girl, sorry), and to get it to talk to Runkeeper, you need to route it via Tapiriiki, which seems to be one of the standards.

According to swim.com, you can automatically sync data from your Garmin Connect account to swim.com. I have attempted to set it up and frankly, my faith is somewhat lessened when swim.com tells you you need to install a plugin which neither Chrome nor Edge will install. Although apparently it should install in Internet Explorer, it doesn’t for me, not on Windows 10. Looking at a comment about compatibility on the Garmin page for the plugin, I guess it’s years old. I am hoping it is not still necessary.

There is a comment on the Reddit swim page that it can take a few days for the connect to work which it may or may not because I eventually attempted to connect it without the plug in at all. I will update accordingly. And I will annoy Reddit Swim with questions about how to make it work because swim.com support doesn’t look like they have much feedback on that front.

What does work, however, and it works very nicely in my view, is SportTracks.mobi. SportTracks is a €€ site but there is at least 45 day free trial and currently, the annual charge is $59. I’m not sure how I came across this one but unlike the others, it has an effective automatic sync.

At the pool

I’ve currently set up the watch to be worn on my left wrist – this will probably change if I start wearing it running – because I think that information is required for the heartrate monitor. Which doesn’t matter if you are swimming as it doesn’t work while swimming.

Couple of things to note – it will track walking if you pool walk for light resistance training. But for some reason, the screen responds to water running across it when walking so you often wind up on some random screen from the front lot of apps. More than once it whinged at me that it couldn’t control any music player because the mobile device it was paired with was nowhere to hand.

That’s because it was in the dressing room in a locker. I found that vaguely annoying; on the other hand it gave me credit for 800m of water walking which I find hard to believe but I’ll take. I don’t do it often enough.

Setting up a swim is easy enough: you press the right hand button and select “Pool Swim”. This locks the screen on the pool display which is handy.

This display includes time, interval distance, total time and total distance.

To start it, you press the right hand button again. After that, if you want to pause it, you press the left hand button. I do this between intervals and it works handy enough. This gives you time per interval and elapsed time on an ongoing basis which is handy if you are under time pressure in the pool and have an idea of what you are targeting.

To restart after a rest break between intervals, you press the left hand button again.

Getting the hang of the buttons is not that hard – although if you accidentally stop an interval with the right button instead of the left button, you might as well save the session and start the next one. It might cost you a length in terms of total distance covered (at least it did for me). Going back and saying “no I want to continue this session” does not seem to be an option – it was either save or discard. 100m being worth not losing, I saved and started a new.

Statistically, I do not know how accurate the Garmin is in general although it did credit me with 50m for one length and I am not entirely sure why. It was the only error in a 24 length total, however.

Unexpectedly though, it failed to identify intervals where I was backstroking rather than freestyling. This surprised me and may be a reflection my backstroke style. As a result, my jury is out on the stroke recognition side of things. It got freestyle right but frankly, it’d get that right in 75% of cases if it just assumed everyone was freestyling.

After the swim

The sync took a little longer after the swim than I expected but I think this may have been because internet connectivity in the pool building was negligible and the connection back to Garminconnect just wasn’t that fast.

You get a reasonable summary on your mobile device. I probably would order the data differently in the summary – the key items I’d like to see up top are Total time and Moving Time. You can customise a few things in the Garmin interface so at some point, I might be able to feed that through.

You can look at the swim interval by interval as well – and it is here that I noticed that one length had been measured as 50m for some reason. Which did a lot for my average and my SWOLF at that point in time.

Linking it with other applications

I’ve had a Runkeeper account for years but I can’t see an easy way to link the Garmin swim data to it other than using a third party service which I find annoying. In theory, it is possible to set up an import for a GPS map but this isn’t very much good for pool swimming. Additionally in theory it is possible to set it up via the Runkeeper mobile device but that’s not happening for me either yet, mainly because I had to change my password to enable it on my desktop and now my mobile won’t log in even with the new password. 

So I haven’t set that up. Discussions online suggest links into Google Fit are also a no-no. However, it does automatically sync with SportTracker and allegedly swim.com. I can’t comment on the latter as it isn’t working for me [yet]. However, the former works nicely both on desktop and on web and the key metrics are easier to read on SportTracker than on GarminConnect in my view.

However you can export a .fit file from Garmin Connect via your desktop to swim.com manually if you want and to be fair to them, the display is fairly user friendly. Swim.com is useful for other reasons beyond the swimming tracker so even if you couldn’t get the automatic sync working, it might be worth considering doing a manual data dump every once in a while.

Data can be dumped out to a CSV from GarminConnect as well

In general

The watch pretty much does what I need it to do at a reasonable price point (ca €200 in Europe). It isn’t particularly pretty and in my view, is probably designed for men by default. The jury is currently out on stroke recognition but data upload is okay; the Garmin Connect application contains the data for a quick consult and review. It certainly is a useful tool in terms of identifying data that I only managed to collect approximately in the past and it provides data that I really never managed to collect manually before. From that point of view, for someone like me, an occasional, unfit, and overweight swimmer with a few goals to be sorted out, it’s a decent enough piece of kit. Jury is currently out on the interconnectivity with 3rd party sites as well but at least one works properly, there is a useful fudge for a second and the third, well check back later on that.

From the point of view of adjusting goals, I can track the rest time (and specifically the reduction of same), and length time splits (want to shorten that). In terms of number of strokes per length. I’m not terribly upset about that.

Added after the fact

Swim.com synchronisation has started although the phone app is claiming there were issues with the data upload. Looks okay in the desktop web app so far.

Trail running shoes moan

When I started “running” for a given value of running earlier in the year, I had to go and buy trainers.

This was hard and I wanted two pairs: one to run in and one to mooch around in. I now don’t like the mooch pair and they were Nikes. I loved my trail running shoes. They are a gorgeous black and aquamarine. They are also no longer available. And ASICS have annoyed me by not having nice colours for the replacement range.

Am annoyed. Amazon has the older pair in every size except mine. Mutter, mutter. The search starts again.

On the techbro and Google

At some point when I was doing my Masters, someone leaned on me to apply for an internship with Google. Going to be honest and say I thought it was ambitious for some practical reasons – they were looking for people to work in SRE and I have zero interest in that any more, and I was interested in data analytics and machine learning. They interviewed me; it went badly, they said no. I wasn’t surprised because deep down I knew they weren’t offering internships in an area which interested me in the location they were interviewing for, and what they did want, I really wasn’t. I think I got leaned on to apply by the Googler who leaned on me because I was female. But I don’t know for sure and never well. Either way, we weren’t a fit at that point and the way my life has gone since, we probably continue to diverge in interest. I use some of their products and form part of their product and that’s about it.

They were in a no-win situation in the news lately though following a 10 page essay, piece, whatever you like to call it in which a person who will never need to benefit from it cribbed a bit about the Google diversity programmes and trainings. Specifically, he seemed to argue that there was somewhat of a biological reason for which women didn’t seem to make it in companies like Google. It got me thinking, not about the fact that Google didn’t want me, but what it was like to be in tech, listening to these arguments going on. Sure there is a chronic lack of women in tech compared to men, but against that, there seems to be – in the US in particular – a high quotient of assholes working there – in the technology sector, I mean. I am not targeting Google with that comment specifically. I’m not sure the two points are unrelated.

I started working in the IT sector when I was 27 years old. IT is not a vocation, you don’t have to be born to it, and you can learn it later in in life if you want to. But it is not a vocation. This piece seems to me to elude a lot of people talking about tech and in particular, it comes to the fore when people are talking about the pipeline.

You can learn to do pretty much any job in IT if you want.

IME you don’t even have to be a maths genius. I programmed in assembly language for over 10 years. I was sysprog for a mainframe. When I was 13 years old I learned Atari BASIC. I’ve taught myself Python to some extent and have coded in R, Java and I’ve done a year of SQL dev as well.

But despite the Atari BASIC at the age of 13, I wasn’t a tech nerd all the way through school. I could solve problems (I copped how to duplicate computer games on cassettes by realising a twin deck tape recorder could do it when every one around me was messing around with computer tape decks and trying to save stuff from RAM having swapped cassettes). Mostly as a teenager though, for me, the world was music. I played three musical instruments, I sang choir, and I did dancing lessons.

I did not hide in a room doing computery stuff. When I was 14, I decided I wanted to live in France and figured knowing French would be handy. From then on, my primary motivation was foreign languages. I did my first degree and first postgrad in languages. I’m a qualified translator interpreter.

In my view given a choice between learning to program and learning to speak a foreign language the amount of work in acquiring the foreign language far outstrips any effort involved in getting functional as a programmer. But for the most part, computer programming and related tasks pays more.

When I was doing my machine learning masters, I was sitting in class one day when a fourth year undergrad told me he wanted some advice. He was about 20 years younger than me and he was thinking of doing the same Masters as I was. There was a significant amount of overlap between the modules and I basically told him he’d be wasting his time but fine if that was what he wanted. The conversation moved to the fact that as far as he was concerned, women didn’t like working hard. Did I not notice how few girls were in the classes?

I’m female and I am 20 years older than this guy plus I’ve just told him I worked in system support as a programmer for more than 10 years. Sure there are few girls in the class, although being honest, it’s not as bad as I expected, half the classes were foreign intake – in my year, primarily China – and all told, I didn’t think he was in the place for generalisations.

“Girls” he told me, “did not like work. They really only came to university to find husbands, princesses all of them”.

There were, at the time, plenty of women in the science faculty, not just doing other bits of compsci, but doing assorted natural sciences stuff and biotechnology. TBH, I’ve never done a full engineering degree or done a chemistry degree, but what I do remember is that the people who did – many of which were female – worked harder than frankly, I’d seen any of the compsci students do. Including this guy, who was, after all, looking for a way to avoid getting into the work force by redoing quite  abit of his fourth year and then writing a dissertation to get a masters. I thought his attitude stank.

The biggest work soak of my Masters actually wasn’t a compsci module. I did two stats modules with the maths people – time series analysis and multivariate analysis. Those courses were harder work than anything else I did in UCD. Those classes were about 50:50 women/men. I don’t think it was the lack of interest in work which was the problem, somehow.

The thing is, I worked with a bunch of IT heads in a specialised business, and to be honest, for the most part, my experience is that the men I worked with then were not bastards. But quite a few of them were like me and did not come from a compsci background. I know at least one person had a history degree, one was a languages dude like me although with a different set of languages, and at least one had a background in psychology or sociology, One started off life as an electrician, and I know a couple who went in with school leaving certs as their qualification. Trained by various employers. There was a time you could do that.

When I was in school, we did not have a computer module – it was the mid 1980s when home computers were really only getting there. I had a maths teacher who…was interested in application of maths and a couple of times, he took us off syllabus and spent a week doing some basic macro economics, and he spent a week teaching us BASIC as well without the benefit of anything so much as to run code on. I tended to have a go off it when I could get my brother off the computer.

I went to an all girls school and by the time I got to the age of 16, a key objective of my maths teacher was to retain as many girls in the higher level maths class as he could. He argued massively with any girl who made known a wish to go back to what was called Pass Maths (the syllabus calls it Ordinary Level Maths) from his honours class because they felt they were not up to it. In his opinion, anyone who had made it through the higher level course at junior level was capable of the higher level course at senior level. It was very often a losing battle for him. When we eventually finished up, I think the class had 7 people in it. Out of a cohort of over 60. The school itself, while having some good maths teaching did not necessarily push young women in that direction – my class had a cohort of secretaries and legal secretaries and a few nurses. The higher level physics class was even smaller than the higher level maths class, although for some reason, the higher level chemistry class was bigger. It may have been considered useful for nursing, along with biology.

One thing the maths teacher discussed with us one day, probably after another one of us had stepped back into the ordinary level class. He told us that in general, the boys’ school had bigger higher level maths classes but even so, there were times when the girls – what few of them he got to teach – did better than the best of the boys.

This is probably linked to the benefit of an extremely low teacher pupil ratio, plus the fact that he scheduled extra classes for us every chance he got. On average, in Ireland at the moment, more boys than girls take higher level maths although to be honest, the difference isn’t massive – it is in or around the 10-15% fewer girls mark. This is seriously different to the split on higher level languages where girls far outstrip boys for most languages bar Irish and English. The statistics can be found here.

What does all this have to do with Google Boy and his essay about innate differences? Well women tend to do well in most STEM subjects even the ones who go into computer science, the few of them. So he can write all the essays he likes but..frankly, his points are probably only relevant at the extreme end of the spectrum of the need for brilliance – a location occupied by Grace Hopper and Margaret Hamilton amongst others. In the early days of computer science, most software was written by women because it was considered beneath the men who were involved in hardware engineering. The position of women in software engineering has changed over time which suggests it’s less the question of innate skill and more a cultural matter.

The other thing is this: the technology industry at the moment is not really in a great place. It has massive security problems, an issue which is going to get worse and worse as we bring more devices online via the internet of things (for example), and as cyberwarfare becomes more of a front than it already is. One of the things I despise more than anything in software engineering is the whole release early and often ethos. You don’t get away with this in certain areas and yet it probably has contributed to a significant amount of the risk run by individuals and companies with respect to their technology assets. The culture is also such that while there are a large number of systems around running old code, the simple fact is that technical debt is more of an issue for more recent systems than it is for the mainframe so called dinosaurs with inbuilt backwards compatibility and a rather different ethos about release early and often (are you stark raving made?).

There is a desperate lack of women in technology. I wonder really how much of it is being culturally driven in a different direction and how much of it is realising that you’d have to work with a bunch of guys like the guys in Uber as a useful example. There are a lot of very bright women around the place. The technology industry is probably missing out. Instead of trying to make excuses for why it is missing out, and in addition to its diversity programmes and efforts to advertise itself to women, I think a period of self reflection in terms of the kind of organisation that seems to float to high profileness in the tech sector might be in order. If one thing is obvious from this debacle, it is that at no point do any of those busily suggesting that it’s alright that there aren’t that many women, or minorities in general in their sector consider that maybe their behaviour contributes to it.