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St Nicolas is coming.

I arrived in Luxembourg at the start of December and got side tracked by the Christmas markets. This means I missed the Christmas section in Auchan where I do about half my grocery shopping. Also I was living in Bonnevoie at the time and did all my shopping in the Cactus over there. No recollection at all of whether they had much chocolate at all but then I was dealing with sleepless nights caused by endless drum and base from one of my then housemates.

As Halloween is gone, the supermarkets have decided The Time Has Come. I walked into Chocolate Wonderland today.

I have never seen ANYthing like it. I didn’t know Lindt had so many product lines. I cannot tell you how many different brands of marron glacées are to be acquired. There are selection boxes the like of which would put our paltry options to shame.

The only thing they really didn’t have was a tin of Roses.

Swedish Death Cleaning

I recently started cleaning out my twitter feed which means roughly that the signal to noise ratio has improved a little and the amount of Trump and Brexit has fallen somewhat. This makes me happier, and more likely to wash the ware

This also means that sometimes I see stuff that I might not have seen in the array of automated messages about weather, tides, news and you name it. Today, it was a reference to Swedish Death Cleaning. Initially I wondered was this anything like a Swedish equivalent of Rammstein getting involved in hoovering but apparently not. Per google, Swedish death cleaning is when you start clearing out your belongings before you die so your relatives don’t have to do it. It seems morbid. One of the very few people I know who live in Sweden says it does not exist.

I think myself there’s a PhD to be written about the need for native English speakers around the world to sign up for mystical foreign things like tidying (Kondo, Japan) and, well I still haven’t worked out where to put hygge (Denmark).

I sometimes wonder how much of it is linked to people not being very happy and also, wonder how happy applying the techniques described in these things will make people.

Whether it’s displacement, in other words.

I’m going to be honest and say I tend to need order in my life but I’ve suspect that comes less from reading Kondo (because I haven’t) and more from having spent nearly 15 years as a developer and still working in IT. It causes you to start thinking about things in discrete units which can be controlled.

I’ve spent a lot of time looking at organisational videos, blogs and stuff over the last 3-4 years and I’ve concluded that the only motivation for that is that I didn’t feel in control of much but at least I could control that. (I thought).

I’m not sure looking at my life through the focus of considering what’ll be left for people to look for when I’m dead is all that healthy in that context. My focus lately has been on structuring a life that I enjoy rather than being regimentedly organised about everything and anything.

Addicted to a feeling

I’m attempting (with some difficulty it must be admitted) to get addicted to a couple of feelings. Just two. They are

  1. the feeling of relief that comes with having a tidy kitchen before you go to bed; and
  2. the feeling of sanctimoniousness that comes with going swimming.

My kitchen has been in chaos for two days. It’s quite impressive because I don’t have much in my kitchen at the moment. Well over 90% of what I own by way of household kitcheny goodness is in storage in Ireland and that was about 50% of what was left after I went donating and recycling before leaving Dublin. But I’ve had broken nights so things…accumulated.

It’s all tidy now and I feel FANTASTIC. If I could bottle that feeling – but you know, I could get it every night if I only ensured that every night, instead of 5 out of 7 or 2 out of 7 on a really bad week, the ware was washed and the kitchen was basically ready for use the next morning.

It’s the same with the swimming. Mostly I attempt to have a swimming bag ready to go so I can decide to go at the drop of a hat. Currently that’s not the case here because after the last swim, which was basically fantastic, I discovered that the goggles were no longer keeping out water (bad goggles – they haven’t been used so often), and I need to replace a noseclip from the kitbag too.

I don’t want to wax on about how great swimming makes me feel because actually, I am swapping up to a 50m pool at the moment so there are moments of abject failure, and near drowning, usually around 45 minutes in, but in general, I feel better for having gone swimming than for not having gone swimming. There is no point in trying to bottle that feeling either; I can get it simply by going swimming.

So I’m trying to train my brain into getting addicted to those feelings so that I automatically clear the kitchen at some point before I go to bed, and that I have literally no way of talking my way out of picking up the kitbag and leaving the house. It is still better than most things that people get addicted to all the same.

 

Sundays at the pool

This is about the best motivational poster I know. There’s a variant for running as well. 

It stands out quite a bit to me as there are any number of other motivational posters which operate on the basis of making you feel bad about how poorly you’re doing. I think that misses the point in a lot of ways.

I had a truly terrible swim yesterday. Mostly it’s because I learned the hard way that sometimes, at 10.30 on a Sunday morning the swimming pool is a bit packed. Both pools were packed, both the 25 and 50m pools. There were people messing around in the diving pool as well.

Mostly young boys it has to be said. It leaves me conflicted. As a general principle, I think it’s important that children and their parents spend quality time together doing stuff, like swimming (for example). But I spent most of the last 10 years of my life in Ireland as a member of private gyms which had as a plus point pools which were generally usable – very few children  and generally not so busy that they could not be used.

I sort of envied the kids playing on the diving boards. As part of my project to reduce the number of things I regret not trying, I signed up for springboard diving lessons in the National Aquatic Centre in Dublin. They didn’t go well for me.

But as far as actual swimming is concerned, I got very little other than regular collisions because other people just don’t seem to care if they swim into other people, don’t care if they block lane ends, don’t care in general. I think in total I managed to swim around 150m. This is basically pathetic.

But at least I went; it’d be worse if I didn’t.

Yesterday once more

Yesterday, I wanted to flit through my instagram feed. It’s a frustrating exercise at the best of times as Instagram is an algorithmic feed. What this means is somewhere in Instagram land is code that attempts to identify what is most relevant/interesting/important to you. In my case, it is an abject failure.

I’d be fine with this if Instagram allowed me to say “show me my feed in a chronologically descending order – most recent first”. But it doesn’t.

There are multiple downsides for me. The platform is increasingly unusable. Yesterday it decided the most important posts for me to see were posts that were 14 days old. Instagram is a social media feed. 14 days is ancient history. All due respect but there is no way in hell that this is even remotely relevant/interesting/important to me now. It is old news. I don’t read 14 day old newspapers. Why Instagram thinks that 14 day old social media posts might be most important to me is beyond me. Their algorithm does not work.

What is particularly frustrating is that every single evening before I go to bed, I take a look through instagram. And there are a subset of accounts which I want to see every single night. I search for them every night even though they are accounts which I follow. Instagram does not care. They can cheerfully show me ads for the same professional accounts every day – I’m sick of seeing ads for the Economist across both Facebook and Instagram for example – but they cannot show me the accounts I follow in the order that I want to see them. I cannot be allowed to see these things in order of time.

I can get around some of this where someone automatically posts their instagram feed to a twitter account and that can be followed via my newsreader. But.

On a wider scale, I’m increasingly re-appraising how I use these tools. I started cleaning out my twitter account of accounts that no longer interested me recently, and I’ve also started using the mute word facility. Aside from the whole time sink thing, one of the things that struck me was the low level menu of frustration, anger, annoyance and feeling disheartened that seemed to be constantly following me around.

Over the past few days, via the vagaries of my twitter feed, and Twitter’s tendency to think I need to know who liked what, I have see the same New York Times article posted to my timeline a thousand times. Twitter is able to know what I’ve seen and who has seen what. It counts these things and uses them as metrics. So it should be able to see that I’ve seen a particular link many, many times. For things like telling me people liked a certain link, I don’t need to keep seeing this. It’s not that it isn’t relevant to me; it is that it isn’t constantly relevant to me.

And yet, not only that, Twitter feeds and refeeds me tweets and links I’ve seen many times for long periods. It’s like I said above. I don’t read 14 day old newspapers and so I don’t need Breaking News retweeted to me 5 days later. Breaking news tweets desperate need to expire and Twitter needs to stop nagging me about things

While we’re at it, they read the links to post to me – they have to be able to display them – but my experience is that if those links include words from your mutelist, they still get posted to you. They could fix that too.

Things I didn’t need: algorithmic feeds telling me what other people liked. Things I did need: news items expiring as they cease to be fresh and a comprehensive ability to block content that they are ramming down my throat so much that the platform is getting unusable that includes links.

In truth, I have to re-evaluate what I use these sites for. I could probably live without Instagram and switch back to Flickr for example. I’ve historically found twitter a den of information. It’s just lately, it’s been a den of frustration and a tool which other people can use to manipulate my emotions.

Much of what I blocked this weekend wasn’t information. It related to things people wanted me to feel outraged about. You can argue that this is delusional, but I’d like to get from Twitter the things I got originally. Tools for stuff that interest me. A large amount of my twitter feed used to be basically photography and digital art. I’m interested in machine learning. Much of that feed is tainted, sadly by American politics. I don’t get much news. I get some news stories, massively amplified. Harvey Weinstein and Tom Humphries wrecked my twitter feed for so long that I eventually muted as much as I could about them. But I still get served up links (which I have often already seen a dozen times because twitter isn’t much of a curator). It’s not that I want to hide in some fluffy bubble with a fluffy toy. It’s that being outraged All The Time is exhausting. It assumes there is nothing going on in the real world that causes me concern.

I’m not asking twitter to be therapy. I’m asking for it to feed a certain need which is information about things that interest me, chat with people who are my friends, and the ability to tune out things that are designed to make me emotionally exhausted. I read newspapers. It’s amazing. A newspaper doesn’t flick back to page 4 every few minutes to force you to read the same story over and over and over again with a view to making you angry, upset and unhappy.

Remember, Facebook actually experimented with making its users more and less negative.

So I tune out. I’m the product. Shortly, if Twitter and instagram continue to mess their products around, they won’t have any customers. .

Coat Sunday

Today is Mantelsondag. This is a local thing which never came up in any of the cross cultural workshops I did either in Dublin or London when I was studying translation and interpreting. I suppose I can understand London – they sort of expected you to have the language side of things sorted by the time you got to them.

Anyway, Mantelsondag which I may have spelt wrong is Luxembourgish for Coat Sunday and it is the Sunday on which, traditionally, the locals have bought their winter coats. Quite a few of the shops in the main shopping areas were open as a a result.

I suppose the closest that we have, or had, in Ireland is the 8th of December the day traditionally on which all the people from the country came to the nearest city to do a bit of Christmas related shopping. That often involved Christmas finery. It’s not quite the same thing but it’s a tradition which is broadly dying because to be fair the shops are open most Sundays in Ireland except on St Patrick’s Day and Christmas Day if they fall on Sundays. And New Year’s Day is problematic as well but I’d like to hope you’ve sorted a winter coat by then.

Swimming Data Overwhelming Options

I’ve found the collection of precise data about my swimming habit has been helpful for at least keeping me reassured that despite the fact that I am way short of my main goals, I am making progress. As such, if other people were wondering whether it was worth their while even though they can barely swim a length, and sure it’s a bit of overkill, isn’t it, I’d say, if you have the money and a smartphone and a computer, get it.

The problem is around what to do with the data in terms of analysing it. There are no perfect solutions.

Currently, my swim watch populates 4 data outfits. Obviously it feeds Garmin because it’s  a Garmin watch. I also send the data to Swim.com which tells me how I rate compared to other swimmers in my pool (this is great when I am swimming in Syrdall because I’m top of all the rankings but have no competition at all. Even in dCoque, for distance I rate 10th out of 11 swimmers although the top 6 I will not catch unless someone stops them swimming), to Sporttracker.mobi which for various reasons I slightly prefer and as of this week, and therefore missing two months of data, Speedo’s brand new tracking site at on.speedo.com

As a special aside, I also log how I feel about the swims in a notebook because I feel better writing it than typing it. But that does very little number crunching.

For the number crunching software it is hard to say what’s best. Swim.com has some really nice features, and it taps into the population of swimming pools which is handy because it also means that you can find swimming pools in strange places. However, the guidance in terms of setting up the data transfer at the outset wasn’t clear and in the end, I have no idea how it comes to be working because I didn’t do anything the site told me to do.

Speedo has some really nice features – its goal setting feature is user friendly compared to the Garmin one, for example, which focuses on challenges involving other people. And Speedo has monthly challenges. It also has a paid option which allows you to feed into coaching. On the other hand, you’d need to be sure you wanted all that stuff, plus, the site advertises Speedo gear that might support your training – you may or may not find that good.

Desktop wise, I tend to favour Sporttracks although I haven’t nailed down how to get goals into that system, it tends to be a bit better for adding notes to workouts and certain information is easier to find in the summaries than it is on the Garmin site.

Mobile access wise, I’ve not found Speedo to be great in how it displays my data – my rest periods confuse it and to be honest, Garmin is probably the best for that. What’s a little bit frustrating I guess, is that in real terms, I’d like to be admining just one of these accounts – this is what it boils down to at the end of the day. I’d prefer to be swimming than operating 4 separate accounts which all basically describe the swimming. But because none of them cover all bases, it’s not really easy to decide which of them to let drop at this point. I will be revisiting this later, I think.

Swimming Pool Review: dCoque, Luxembourg

I expect this to be the last pool review for a while as I won’t be swimming pool hopping so much until next summer again I guess.

dCoque is basically the home of Luxembourg’s national sports and entertainments centre and it has a swimming complex. It also has a climbing wall but I haven’t been there yet as all my time is Swimming. All the Time, All the Swimming.

It was closed for most of the summer, and while I was there back in February once before I had managed to structure my life in such a way as I could fit in the two hours you need for a reasonable swimming trip, I hadn’t built a habit and when I started swimming more seriously in the summer, I’d pretty much forgotten the details of the pool. So I decided to wait for it to reopen before writing it up.

If you look at the swimming pool reviews on Swimmer’s Guide, you’ll find a lot of positive things said about dCoque. I tend to concur. The complex has a bunch of pools to which the public has access to three, namely the paddling pool for kids, a shallow 25m pool and a 50 pool. There is also a separate diving pool but I do not know how much access is granted to the diving section. When I was there on Wednesday or Thursday this week it was being used for scuba training and it has several diving platforms as well. I’ve done the diving board  thing twice, and gotten profoundly sick both times so regretfully I’ve given up on ever being the type of person who can dive from a 10 metre platform and land successfully and gracefully in the water.

Swimming wise, I believe there are two training pools, a 50m and a 25m which are used for clubs and classes. I have not seen them Outside those, there is an arena 50m pool which is 2.2m deep and a learning pool which scales from 0.6m to 1.35m. I swam in both of them.

People have told me they find the pools in dCoque cold. I don’t quite get this as for me,they are not the coldest pools I have swum in in Luxembourg – I really think that’s Bonnevoie – but unlike Les Thermes, the temperature is comfortable enough to swim in. During the week, evidence suggests the pools can be busy.

Of the two of them, I swam most in the 25m pool because that’s the length I’m kind of used to at this point. It’s a stainless steel pool – I didn’t remember this from the last time I was there, and the main disadvantage is the 60cm depth at one end as my freestyle stroke has enough of a sweep for me to hit the floor if I’m not paying attention. I wasn’t alone swimming lengths in that pool which on one front is gratifying; on the other hand, plans I had around my own training ideas for the next three months are being reframed in terms of “get used to the 50m pool”. Despite being busy, the 50m really is a very easy pool to swim in for the short space of time I was in it. It’s a novelty to be in a pool that has a standard depth start to finish.

Unlike the 25m pool it’s a tiled pool which for some reason I tend to prefer. The fact that it is a wide pool helps in spreading the crowd of swimmers around – I’ve found 25m pools can look crowded a lot more quickly than the 50m pool does and that beyond there being more than double the number of swimmers in a 50m pool. Does not make sense to me mathematically but finding gaps to swim through was far easier.

Anyway.

Facilities wise, the dressing rooms are fine; there are plenty of showers. The lockers lock with your card or bracelet and unlike most of the other pools I’ve been to in Luxembourg, they tend to be short and comparatively wide rather than tall and narrow.

You can swim until 9.30 most days and it is open 7 days a week unlike most of the other pools in the area. It opens at 8am 4 mornings a week and I think, at around 9 on weekend mornings.

Transport wise, it has a car park but it is also served by a bunch of buses, definitely 1, 16 and from town by a few of the RGTR buses as well. 8 goes nearby as well.

Saturday mornings

I like those Saturday mornings where I wake early, and get up * reasonably * early and have a chance to ease into the day. I like doing it during the week as well but for some reason that’s not happening much lately.

Facebook has been begging me to install their mobile app on my phone for ages but I’m just not interested. I took twitter off my iPad and I’m getting close to pulling it off my phone although if I do that at least on the phone it will stay logged in on a browser. I get a lot of my news and quite a few interesting bits and pieces through Twitter – far more than I ever did through Facebook. But it is too easy to get hooked into reloading twitter all the time and that distracts me from being distracted by my own thoughts. Saturday morning’s get me back there sometimes.

I never feel all that great if I stay i bed late on a Saturday morning. Mostly I like to be up before 8 if possible, well before 9 at best. After that things start feeling not great. I feel behind, unrelaxed. Online social media often contributes to my still being in bed at 10am on a Saturday morning and it frustrates me.

I sometimes wonder how much of this is evidence that in fact, and in agreement with all appearances and a selection of calendars, I am getting old. Not so much the getting up early – because I mostly did that anyway – but the feeling that social media is not bringing so much to my life any more.

Saturday mornings bring the opportunity to relax a little, think about where I am in the world and what I want to do. They are always much better if I am not also trying to frantically catch up with things. There is pleasure – surprisingly enough – to be got from the sound of getting the washing machine done on time and listening to it going through its cycle early on a Saturday morning. It gives me a feeling of control. And relaxation because at least I don’t have to scrub the clothes thanks to technology.

I wonder sometimes – coloured a lot by what I read on line – how much time we devote to not being stressed, not being under pressure. Even our hobbies can add pressure by adding a time dimension to them – three of my local swimming pools close at 12 on a Sunday which puts you on a bit of a time table. The please on Saturday mornings for me is not being on that much of a timetable. Not needing to rush out the door.

I like Saturday mornings. Above and Beyond in the background. A leisurely breakfast and the knowledge that no bus I get on today will be the same as a sardine can fitted with a sauna.