Category Archives: technology

I just want to…

Instagram announced new updates to their algorithm again. I have a couple of accounts on Instagram, so I suppose I have some skin in the game.

It’s just mostly I consume. I don’t use Instagram professionally; and I don’t want to. I use it to a) share some photos and art with my friends and b) see what they share with me.

This type of user doesn’t matter. I mean, what I would like is to see the accounts I follow in reverse chronological order. But Meta have not wanted to give me this for years. Lately they have been giving me insane quantities of sponsored posts both in Stories and in the main feed.

There was a time I loved the idea of recommender systems. The idea is that the recommend accounts, posts, whatever, that I would really be interested in. But this isn’t really happening. When every second sponsored post is from Temu….is this really that personalised? I don’t think so.

From what I can see, recommender systems have moved from being what is most interesting for me to what is most interesting to the social media provider, mostly Meta in this case.

I’d like to say that somewhere, the tech giants have lost their way; but I think they haven’t. I think that everything they do is specifically so they can fleece money out of somewhere, be it me or an advertiser. Just for a short while, their interests and mine as a media consumer aligned.

Now though, most of the time I spend scrolling Instagram is time spent frustrated. My main objective is to look at excellent photography and drawing/painting which I find interesting. I’ve a special interest in water colour and travel photography and these form the bulk of what I post myself. Some time ago, I wound up seeing more short videos rather than single shots. I’m really not interested in moving photographs – if I was, I’d go to actual travel documentaries on Youtube (which I do) – and what the artists did to deal with this was start making reels which are close ups of fineliners moving around a centimetre, dabs of paint so detailed I get a headache trying to process them visually. All of this sucks to high hell as a consumer; and I can’t imagine it suits the average illustrator either.

I understand the problem is that the likes of Meta can’t make a huge amount of money out of delivering what I want. I’m not someone they can get to pay them for business services. I’m not going to pay 35E a month for services getting my posts in front of more eyes. I’m not buying stuff from their advertisers. But their ability to offer their professional users access to attention depends on a critical mass of people like me.

I recognise companies need to make money to survive. But the social media companies do not have a guaranteed right to my attention and lately, Instagram are heavily wasting it. I feel sorry for those who use it as a business platform. I’m not interested in the latest lot of algorithmic changes because again, it focuses not on me deciding what accounts I want to see = it focuses on them deciding what accounts they will promote to my timeline. And if god forbid on mobile I want to switch to the accounts I follow, well then I still can’t set that as a default.

Messing with an interface


This taken from the Aiguille du Midi outside Chamonix. I have just learned an awful lot about WordPress and flickr from the mere hassle of trying to embed this picture.

Time was, you could go to flickr share, pick up some embed code and drop it into your editing window and everything just worked. THis was handy because you could decide which size image you wanted to put in the entry, for example.

It doesn’t work any more. It messes up your blocks and when you go and google “how do I get a flickr embed into WordPress” you get pointed at a block type which you cannot bloody customise. You give it the link to the picture and the software does everything else for you, including making design decisions.

This is beyond stupid. It is stupid in a way that I honestly wish to hell the people who did the user testing for Automattic would just resign en masse. When you change how the editor works significantly like that to the extent that I have to go and google how to find something, because “edit in html” doesn’t appear to work either, well that’s just horrible,

No doubt the team behind this have perfectly good engineering reasons but hell, this is the kind of thing that makes me look at the market again.

Please, for the love of all that is holy make it possible to drop embed script into a block and have it appear and work. Stop making me scroll through the block menu. Make the product better to use rather than worse to use.

I intend to write a travel piece. Now I am completely frustrated. That’s a great win. Not.

Updates to Flickr

Flickr announced some changes lately. I have been a Pro subscriber for years and I have more than 13000 photographs on Flickr. Most of them are kitesurfing photographs.

The subscription cost for Flickr is going up (looks like it is about doubling) but against that there are some interesting looking deals. I’m not totally sorry to see the changes to the free product – I didn’t agree with some of Yahoo’s product decisions. One of the biggest hassles that Yahoo forced on the flickr community was Yahoo login. I hated it. Flickr tell us that will go away early next year. If I had to pick any concern, it is that I worry that Flickr will not support the community of artists and urban sketchers that use flickr as a shop front.

For a good chunk of the last 10 years, I used until it effectively vanished, and then for the drawing stuff I tended to use Instagram mostly despite severe misgivings about the difference between their desktop product and their mobile product; issues around password retrieval and today, I couldn’t find embed code so I went to Flickr and uploaded the piece of artwork there [too].

One of the main reasons for this is Instagram’s algorithmic timeline and inline advertising. The downside of this is that I regularly miss posts by people I like and yet see the same ads multiple times. There are a bunch of artists I really like on Instagram but some of them are on behance and deviantart, and a good few are on flickr as well. I’m wondering how tied I am to the instagram community when there are communities which are more art and photography focused and less social network/data collection focused.

So as part of that, I’ve started the horrific job that is reorganising the flickr account – it is chaotic – and will start look at rebuilding my life on deviant and will see if I can get at my behance account. After that, I don’t know what will happen with instagram. I don’t know

I blame Google

I’ve found lately that social media – by which I mainly mean Twitter – has become unsufferable. The scale of insufferability has gone through the roof. In some respects, I blame Google. I particularly blame Google for the strength of Facebook and Twitter because Google did one thing which contributed more to centralising social media than anything else at all. They shut down Google Reader and…I’d argue they did some damage to the blog reading eco system. What was nice about the blog world was that it was basically decentralised. You didn’t have to be on Twitter. You didn’t have to be on Facebook. All you had to do was publish an RSS feed. I use Newsblur now but the whole blog world is also very different.

I edge towards switching Twitter out of my life. The apps are gone from both my mobile devices and access to twitter is purely via a webbrowser. Twitter keeps asking me if I want notifications. I don’t want notifications, no. I want the nice chatty atmosphere which allowed me to learn stuff quite quickly which Twitter used to be. Now, it’s just a place where people come to demand that I be outraged about stuff.

Be outraged about Trump. Be outraged about Clinton. Look I don’t even live in the US and I’m sick of finding out about which of their politicians is acting the maggot lately, for a given scale of maggot ranging from some mild corruption to dating 14 year olds. It is not that I don’t care, it’s just that in certain parts of my life, I don’t want to have to care. You don’t need to outrage me about rape culture. I know about it. Suicide rates, too, and homelessness. I have a neverending wall of despair coming at me from the newspapers and the radio. I’d like it if it wasn’t coming at me from twitter too. But it does because people retweet stuff and expect me to be outraged. I must be outraged all the time or I am not a worthy human being.

I mute. I block. I have muted people I considered friends because they were polluting their threads with stuff designed to make me feel angry, and annoyed, and outraged that I really couldn’t handle it. I like Pinterest and Instagram because they are not constantly haranguing me to be angry.

The reinforcement of Twitter and Facebook to some extent (I mute I block there too) has its roots in centralising social discourse on the internet on those sites and one of the things that drove that was Google shutting down Reader. You have a hugely decentralised social media ecosystem which was basically interoperable but which had one big reading central. In theory, I imagine they expected us to kind of get Google Plus to pick that up but they did it in the most stupid way possible. People now access blogs via assorted newsreaders, email newsletters and who knows what. Serendipity about finding out about blogs has died as well. And in the end, it’s not like Google Plus waltzed up and blew up the competition.

I’m torn with what to do about Twitter. I like the interesting stuff which crops up. Yesterday I read a fascinating piece which turned up on a Twitter link. These are the things Twitter is really good at (and blogs used to be too). I have friends that I interact with mainly through twitter. I’m filtering and muting to beat the band. But it’s getting close to a point where I’m starting to think…you know, what’s the point?

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. .

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 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 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

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. 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.

Bodycamming your way through lifelogging

First of all, Seamus has this here and that’s why I’m writing on my own site.

Back in the mists of time, ie, around 2014, I did a couple of university modules on adaptive personalisation and collective intelligence. This saw me playing with recommender systems and fighting with people about whether Duolingo was great or not. I continue to take the view that Duolingo is not great for all sorts of reasons including their own statistical summary of why it works (despite a near 90% drop out rate, yes, quite).

One of the things which came up in those modules – can’t remember which but it was the same lecturer – was some research some guy was doing, I think in DCU, about life logging and the fact that he had cameras going the whole time. I hated the idea. I was out of step with the lecturer concerned, who voiced wonder about how the guy’s girlfriend had turned up in his films a few weeks before he actually met her and hooked up with her.

I hated the idea. I hate the idea of CCTV anyway and already, I have severe issues with the fact that you can randomly turn up in a film which someone shot of where you were despite you not asking to be in their film. I hated the idea that just because some guy wanted to record his entire life, parts of my life got recorded as well. I did not then, and still don’t see the point. I’ve lifelogged for the past 25 years using that high tech system called “pen and paper”. From practice, I can tell you it’s faster to check something in pen and paper than searching through a youtube video for it.

In practical terms if you just want to remember stuff writing it down works. Sometimes words on a page evoke a feeling and a memory far better than a photograph ever does.

I still don’t understand why anyone would want to record everything if they haven’t worked out whether or not they would want to re-watch it. Recording stuff rather than writing it misses context – it misses the context of what’s in your mind, how you feel, how you think about something. Memories are a whole lot more contextual than the external film that plays. For thsoe who do want to do it though, they need to consider how that desire impinges on people who do not want to be recorded into their film, to have their moves recorded by a third party who may mean nothing to them.

If I’d met that guy who was lifelogging away 3-4 years ago, he and I would not have hooked up because I would have found it as creepy as hell.

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, you can automatically sync data from your Garmin Connect account to I have attempted to set it up and frankly, my faith is somewhat lessened when 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 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 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 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 manually if you want and to be fair to them, the display is fairly user friendly. 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 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.

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.

Pool review: Bonnevoie, Luxembourg

I’m currently without a real home pool at the moment which makes the building of a swimming habit somewhat difficult. My would be home, dCoque, which is Luxembourg’s National Sports Centre, is currently closed for renovations until 1 October which is a nice chunk of the year. I’ll be honest and say I have not really managed to get a swim habit. No swimming till October is  pushing it a bit though. The next replacement, which I haven’t managed to check out yet, Badanstalt, about a 10 minute walk from home, is also closed. The pool 5 minutes from home isn’t open to the public. And so on and so forth

Next on the list is Bonnevoie. Bonnevoie is not too far from the railway station in Luxembourg, and public transport wise it is served by buses 3/30. You need to get off at Leon XIII. It is open every day except Wednesdays, and weekdays, it tends to close at 20.30. On Sunday it is open from 8.00 to 12.00.

There are two pools in the swimming centre in Bonnevoie; what they call the large pool, and the small pool. The large pool is 25m long, and ranges in depth from 1.8m to 3.8m at the deep end. There is a shelf at around 1.5m around the edge under water. The steps are set into the pool wall. Temperature wise it is reasonable – it is cool enough to swim comfortably in, but not so cold that you fight against going into it. When I was there, 2 lanes were separated off for lane swimming. The rest of the pool was occupied by people swimming lengths anyway so basically the choice was yours.

The small pool is about 10 by 10 meters, and at its deepest is 1.25m. One side consists of steps rather than some ladders, and at one end, there is a barrier to hold onto when getting into the pool. There is a small slide as well. I understand the pool is also used for things like aquaerobics. Temperature wise it is around the same as the big pool.

Entry to the pool without discounts for an adult is currently 3.80E and the ticket is in the form of a chipped band which I wore on my wrist and which also serves as a key for the lockers. In my view, there are not a lot of dressing rooms, but they work okay. The lockers are tall and narrow, and while you did not have to fumble for a euro or a coin of some description to lock them. I did not like them. I struggled to get my clothes bag into them and eventually pulled stuff out. My personal preference would have been for wider but shorter lockers and they could have increased the number of lockers available had they done this.

From a layout point of view, the lockers are a distance from the showers which means that really, it’s wise to have a bag to carry towels and shampoo or whatever you want in the showers afterwards. I tend not to like this because it’s just another thing to remember. That being said, one item of design in Bonnevoie recognises the needs for that, and as a result, there are shelves poolside to store stuff, like small swimming bags with towels for example. I liked that touch because typically, in other places, to find somewhere to leave a bottle of water and flipflops or on other occasions, everything can be a hassle.

The other thing which the pool in Bonnevoie has which is not a common feature in pools in my experience is a fine big readable digital clock. This makes it handy to plan around bus services and dates and the like.

Given that currently, dCoque and Badanstalt are closed, it is likely that I will default to Bonnevoie as the alternatives are a) rarely open (Bel Air) or b) expensive (Les Thermes). I’d be happier if it were open for 30 minutes longer during the week and maybe a few hours more on Sunday but then the world does not revolve around me.

Bonnevoie Swimming pool
30 rue Sigismond

Bus 3/30, Place Leon XIII

Monday: 08.00-20.30
Tuesday: 06.45-20.30
Wednesday: CLOSED – although apparently open 8-17.30 while Badanstalt is closed until 1 September – I cannot check this myself.
Thursday: 06.45-20.30
Friday: 08.00-20.30
Saturday: 08.00-20.30
Sunday: 08.00-12.00

Cost of a swim: €3.40

Website: Ville de Luxembourg

Treasa’s Map of Pools