Category Archives: Ramblings

When is an achievement not an achievement

Recently I’ve found myself wondering if some of the work I do is really worth it. And I’m not talking about civilization level cancer research type is it worth it, but is it worth it just on my level, for me.

Sure we have to do those small annoying menial tasks both in our jobs, or even at home. I know I know, you really really enjoy hanging up the washing or cleaning the toilet, but for the rest of us, it isn’t something we can’t sleep the night before in anticipation of doing. It just isn’t.

Completing a large work goal, yes it helps them the company, and you might feel great about it. Will you be remembered for it? Will you yourself even remember it in a few weeks? What about a few months? Ten years time? Or will it help you get to where you are going? Do you even know where you are going? More importantly, do you know where you want to be going?

Lots has been said on the fact that you should design your own career or someone else will, and I think that equally applies to life. Life is more than your job, or at least it should be. Work to live, don’t live to work as they say.

Find some balance, unless it is your baby

And yes I truly believe that. If your work is your own, your own company, your own creation, your own goals, then yes, go all in. If it means the world to you then give it the world. It’d be almost irresponsible not to. That isn’t to say you should over commit or forget about the rest of your life. After a long day (or week) of work, being able to switch off for a while isn’t cheating. It isn’t ignoring your goals. It isn’t you being lazy.

Many highly successful people carve out time blocks, sometimes as frequent as each day, and during this time, nothing work related exists. Come hell or high water, they are taking this time as their own and everything else can wait. For anyone working in computing, you probably already know of the benefit of downing tools and walking away when faced with a problem. Your mind can solve it even when you aren’t thinking about it. Over thinking is real!

The flipside

In Your Money or Your Life, the authors talk, quite literally, about how life is money and the true cost of working. Best way to explain it is what it costs for you to work, everything from the time travelling to and from work, to your lunches, to your work clothes. It all adds up and is rarely taken into account.

Perhaps you are building your own company and it has goals you believe it, or perhaps you think you do love your job, maybe you even do, but when its all gone, and inevitability it will be someday, will you look back and think, yeh, I did good, or will it fade away into the blur?

Now don’t get me wrong, working towards goals is good. I’d recommend settings lots and lots of goals to help you on the path, it is how I operate. Big goals are difficult to achieve, but break them down to small steps and each one is easy to do. Lots of these goals won’t match up when viewed from the proverbial deathbed either, that’s ok. A building is built brick by brick, and few bricks are as memorable as the end piece, but forgot that first brick and it could all fall down.

Is there a point to any of this?

I guess my overall point is that taking time out to create the map, even if it means you miss your achievement or goal, isn’t really time wasted. 10 Miles in the wrong direction is still 10 Miles in the wrong direction.Getting started is important, but so is knowing where you are going. Knowing where you want to end up lets you know if this really is something you should be doing, or just noise along the way.

I can’t do that…yet

He who thinks he can, and he who thinks he can’t, are both usually right.

Most people laugh at that quote, but honestly, it is in my mind a lot. Whether it is a new problem or task that has come up, or talking to someone who is stuck at an impasse, it describes things beautifully. The mindset really does impact the outcome.

I know with any technology problems (outside of electronics, that stuff is my kryptonite!) it is simply a question of how long, not if. Yes there are problems which aren’t technically solvable, YET, but we can build the best solution now and be ready when things catch up. And this equally applies to thing that I don’t know how to do, YET.

That is one thing Google is great for. Your problem is unique. One of a kind. A perfect little snow flake. But then Google let’s you find the others who have been there, done that, and provided the steps to build upon.

If you think you can move mountains, if you really really believe, then you aren’t crazy, others just don’t see that the mountain isn’t going to move…

I know, I know. Someone who thinks they can will a mountain to move probably is crazy, but the mountain is a metaphor. The thing to realise is you rarely have to move the mountain. There is always is another way. Some may be longer, more painful, or downright scary, but they are options. If you think you can’t, or think it’s too difficult, then you will never see these.

The mind is amazing, and I really know relatively little about it. But I know for fact that given the right motivation, your mind can make you do almost super human feats. We’ve all heard the story of the mother who lifts the car to save her baby, so imagine channelling just 1% of that each and every day, into the same task. Things don’t seem so impossible any more do they?

Remember then, anything is possible, its just a case of do you want it. I can’t do that can easily turn into, I can’t do that, YET…

Just think of the possibilities.

Why do we code

Last night while the night went on and I worked away optimising some code on a website I got to thinking about why we do it? Why do we code, and by code I’d guess you could apply this to anyone in the opensource community too. Its all lots of effort for no measurable payoff. Or is there?

The project I’ve been working on will never make me money. It’ll probably never be in a portfolio. My name isn’t visible on the site and nothing is credited back to me. And yet I’ve spent at least a few hundred hours on it at this stage with many more to come.

For as long as I’ve coded, I’ve also been doing non-paid coding. Hell its pretty much how we learn most languages unless we are lucky enough to have an understanding work place. But no, this project is written in PHP, a language I’ve 10+ years experience in.

So why do we do it?

The three reasons I have are pretty simple, although explaining them to non-coders never works. If you code, you’ll just nod along, but if you aren’t, well the usual response is just but why?

  1. Its fun. (a.k.a the what the hell are you smoking reason)
    No really, most coders I know actually enjoy it. Its quite satisfying to look at a problem, then solve it. Or to be creating something, even if that something takes days of work and ends up as just a small dot on screen.
    In short, the best coders like their work.
  2. I get some use out of it. (a.k.a. the selfish reason)
    In this case it started as some fun, a challenge even. Then it turned into some useful things that I like to see on a regular basis. It just so happens that others also like to see the same stuff so why not share the love?
  3. Experience. (a.k.a. the job reason)
    Some things in computers you can’t do without real world, high traffic. Yes you can simulate things, but it is never the same as that crazy user who does that thing you never thought possible. And when you get a few hundred of those, well that is when things get interesting. Sure you can say you built a site that does a, b, c, but it is much more impressive to have that site handle X number of users.

Overall I guess the whole thing loop around on itself a lot. It starts because it’s something you need or want, but that gives you some enjoyment so you keep at it, and then it grows only to become something that gives a bit of experience while building something else that you’ll get some use out of. And that gives you some enjoyment so you…

The road to recovery is marked by two scars

Back at the beginning of March I had an arthroscopy done on my knee in the Sport Surgery Clinic. This was to address all the knee problems I’ve had and have referenced previously. In short, it worked.

Step back a little

After the marathon, I waited a while before heading back to see the consultant. After a little back and forth we agreed on get an injection into my knee to try sort the muscles. He wasn’t sure if this would really help things, something that was going to become a common theme. A few weeks later when I was in to get the injection, that consultant didn’t want to give me the injection as he thought he saw a bone spur that may be causing the problem but needed to confer with the original consultant. Roll on another two weeks and they wanted to see the surgeon. After two years of back and forth of working leg, non working leg, I wasn’t one to argue.

The consultant ran through the MRI and ruled out the bone spur. The original meniscus tear was likely the cause and resulting in the other related issues, however I didn’t have the other symptoms that would fit with these things. In medical speak, my condition was A-Typical. However the surgeon did feel that cleaning up the tear was the best option. It could fix things, but he was honest and said that it wasn’t certain and I may be back in the office in a few months still with the same problem. Main thing, it was unlikely to make it worse, so surgery it was.

The big day

I had never experienced a full general anaesthetic before, but it was just like the sedative they give in other procedures. A nice easy sleep with groggy times afterwards. Only difference this time is my head really remaining groggy for the rest of the day. Its funny, you say things, then shortly after realise that it wasn’t right. Definitely strange.

Anyway I was out from one I entered the pre-op room outside of the OR. I remember getting first the injection and my heart fluttering, then returning to normal. Talked to the anaesthesiologist for a bit and was watching the clock. Next thing I remember, I was out in the bed in the waiting room again. A few hours later I had seen the physio and surgeon and was on my way home again with a stop at the pharmacy to collect the prescription. Really no major fuss.

Pain, what pain?

Before the op the most pain I had really experienced in my need was a very occasional dull pain, but mostly it was like hitting the funny bone. They warned that the op could cause stiffness, swelling and lots of pain. The prescription included 100 pain killers and they said don’t be skimping in the first few days if you need them, and call back if it gets too much.

During the following two weeks I took the anti inflammatory meds, but no pain killers. In fact bar sleeping, my knee was in less pain than before. Sleep just required a pillow between my knees as contact was sore. Walking up and down stairs also had its moments. The worst day was after returning to work. While at home I could stop every hour and do the stretching and other exercises, but in work it wasn’t suitable. That evening was the first time I experienced proper pain, struggling to move my leg properly for a while. Lesson learnt.

Where we are now

Primarily for me, I’ve been able to cycle again. It isn’t perfect, and the rides aren’t even pain free, but I can go out and don’t experience sudden loss of power. I do need to be extremely careful turning as that has caused pain quite a few times, but otherwise it is getting back on track.

Unfortunately my powertap on my training bike is broken so I can only compare times. The dates are nearly a year off and do show things where fairly far off. My weight was within 3lbs of the same period too, so it really was about power and cardio.

27/03/2012    10:53:00
30/03/2013    16:05:00

Over the weeks I did manage to get down to 12:56:00, but that is still nearly 20% off in basic maths, and as any cyclist will tell you, speed vs power is far from linear, so it is most likely more.

Am I happy with the results?

Hell yes. While things are still way off my pre-injury times, I was lighter and had a much better cardio base then. For the first time in the last two years I do actually see myself being able to start training again. Yes I do have pain in the knee, but its consistent and I can ignore it. It is getting less with the exercises from the physio visits, and hopefully will go away completely in time.

Maybe before the year it out we’ll even have a race report or two.

Version 0 – a tale small goals

Version 0 is a concept you are probably already familiar with, but by a different name. For me it is about getting a task or project broken down to the smallest possible building block, and laying the foundation from where to proceed.

In software that can mean something as simple and saving the file and having it print hello.

Or in finance it could be a simply as putting 1cent towards a savings goal.

Small wins which help you accomplish big goals.

Mark Twain put it best

The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is
breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then 
starting on the first one.

Thus making the secret to finishing anything is just simply starting it. Break it down to your version 0 and just start. You can build from there and sort the direction as you go. It is much easier to change direction and go where you want, than it is to start after having done nothing for so long.

Inertia is a killer. The slower you go, the more stuck you  become, until eventually you have forgotten what it feels like to move. Or even how to move, thinking that doing nothing is actually progress.


I first began to truly understood the principle a while back. It happened after completing the work needed to upgrade the Billing System for a company I work for. The first attempt at doing it was nothing short of a complete failure. While I had set down all the goals and mapped out everything correctly, it never got to the point where it could be called working. Each attempt progressed but either I lost interest, or was pulled away onto something more important. And without a working version, no one else could pick up in the middle. Further more, given there was no base working system, every subsequent attempt at completing it was like starting from scratch and trying to finish something you couldn’t test. Guessing if each change wasn’t breaking things that didn’t work.

On the attempt that finally worked I decided that I’d sit down, then spend whatever time was needed but wouldn’t stop until it worked in some fashion. Given this constraint I started to break it down to smaller and smaller parts getting to the point of realising that the core feature is the nightly script. It reads from the database, does the calculations, then writes stuff back. Everything else is either triggered from this, or a view into the database. So I could simply ignore all of that initially.

Next was to break down the nightly script. I set out a goal of getting it to ready from the database, look for one single specific product type, check if it was due to renew, and if it was, mark it and insert a row to an invoice table.

And it worked.

An hour or two later and Version 0 was complete. It could run and handle this single case. The database tables were all there and ready to go. From there each additional feature, like making it understand all the products, or giving users a way to see their invoices from the table, could all be handled individually, as separate building blocks, all on top of Version 0.

In Sport

The exact sample process applies when training for events like The Dublin Marathon which I completed recently. You start off running a few km, then each week building on that and watch the distances get longer and longer, closer and closer to the final goal. At the start, the end goal might look daunting and impossible, so you start on this small piece that you know you can do. Then it is easy to do this next part, then this other part, and it just snowballs from there.

It is always just about starting and getting to that first measurable point. Once you see progress, no matter how small, it is easier to try for the next part. And each time it gets easier and easier.

How to apply it?

  1. Take your task and break it down to its simplest form.
  2. Break this down further so it can be measured after a few hours effort.
  3. Now try to break it down further.
  4. Start on the quickest part.
  5. Record it somewhere, be that an initial commit, a record in your training log, an entry to your accounts programme, a post-it note on the fridge.
  6. Pick the next part and repeat.


Homemade Floating Drum Riser

A few weeks back I went an bought a drum kit. I live in an apartment so it had to be an electronic drum kit for noise reason, but what I didn’t know at the time was just how loud it’d actually be. There is tapping on the pads, but mainly its the base drum pedal and it’s pad that seem to create the noise. Or at least noise for the apartment below.

Roll on for the home made drum riser.

The Concept

I had read about others with electronic kits building risers, such as this one, which gave me the idea to search out a rubber mat and something to raise it up off the floor with. The closest thing I could find was a large rubber gym mat, approx 2cm thick, but it looked like it would do the job. I could figure the other parts out as we went.

The Journey

Somethings seem simple on paper but turn out to be much more difficult in practice. This was one of those occasions. The task was simply to drive down into Wicklow, buy a large rubber mat, then get it home. Abbeylawn was the company selling the rubber gym mats also sold rubber cow mats which seemed to offer more give and hopefully more sound proofing. Things started to go a wrong once I picked the initial mat after the helpful attendant showed me through the different mats. Turned out they were down to two of that mat, and one was damaged leaving only the display one.

To put this into perspective, the company is pretty much based on a sort of farm yard. As such things were a bit wet and mucky. At the time I just thought that its a rubber mat, it’ll wash off, not thinking about just about everything else. But into the car it went and onward home.

Once home the next problem popped up. These mats weight 20kg, and while that may not seem much on paper, it is a whole other story with a 3m wide rubber mat that you can only grip with your fingers. Worse was that it didn’t roll up fully and with the muck and water, it made a bit of a mess getting it up the stairs. It then took a whole four days to properly dry off on both sides due to the honeycomb bottom.

But still, I had my mat.

How to float the boat

One of the last steps was just how to raise everything up off the floor. My biggest concern was actually that the whole thing was highest restricted due to its location right beside my wardrobes. Queue looking at types of rugs, carpets, carpet mats, rubber stoppers, foam…

Eventually it hit me. Ice cube trays! Ikea sells some rubber ones, and cheap enough that it would be worth a try. The end result of 5 trays cut apart and tacked on is a follows.

Yes one fell off :(

How it all feels

The end result is a raised platform for the drum which bounces slightly when playing. Feels a little odd but I’m sure I’ll get used to it pretty quickly. Does it stop the noise to below? Well that I don’t know yet. Since the kick isn’t touching the ground any more, the only noise that should be left is the noise around the room itself, so hopefully it does.

An ikea kids mat for grip

Go big or stay at home

A fitting title for a fitting event, but not with the outcome you’d expect from some of my previous exploits. This time, I really am staying at home.

Well sort of anyway.

Rewind a little

2010 with the marmotte, hitting my weight goal, winning my first race, well it was a year to remember. In no small part, my performance was helped by the National Champion himself, Ryan Sherlock, and for that I’m grateful. Who knew were it would all end up.

Shortly after writing the year review, I developed some knee pain. At the time we put it down to the hard year. I had lost over 20kg by this point as well as having trained (hard) through the previous winter including some pretty insane mornings on 3 Rock in dense fog and ice. So after the month break it was left for another week or two to try get back into it. A physio trip helped things and it looked like that was it until the first week of training again and bam! Gone again.

That marked the end of the real training as I really couldn’t muster anything consistent. Trips to the physio helped and I would get a week or two without issue before it’d start going down hill again, but each time I’d never be back to the level of consistency I had before.

2011 Race Season

With the knee problem sort of bouncing around, the year started uneventful to say the least. Ok my first race was plagued by two punctures meaning I only got 7km or so, but otherwise the races I did do had me placing 7th or 8th, always just behind where I knew I could be. I did place 3rd in the Swords GP but that was about it. I’d missed quite a few races from waking up on the morning with a sore or weak knee too, and even more training than I could count.

An answer to the question you don’t want to ask

Eventually enough was enough, I’d done a few physio sessions, rested for longer periods, even done directed knee strengthening exercises without improvement. It was time for an MRI. I didn’t bother to self diagnose as I’d gotten it so well with my previous consultant visit on an unrelated matter.

Long story short, a visit to the sports clinic and a referral for the MRI revealed the issue. Micro tears in the meniscus above my patella. In short, I’d damaged the connectors of the muscles into my knee. But here was the real kicker. It wasn’t enough to warrant an operation, and I’d need to stay away from pain shots or I’d risk damaging enough to warrant an operation. Worse still, I was advised to go back training but strict instructions to watch the intensity level and pain. Pushing too hard would cause pain and possibly rip more. But if I do it right, it’ll heal by itself and come back to the normal level.

What it all means

In short, my training sucks. It is really difficult to get anything consistent out. Planning in advance doesn’t happen as I’m forever worried about damaging my knee further. I bounce between being perfectly fine somedays – to having pain while cycling which disappears when off the bike, to days like today where I’ve pain while not moving but none on the bike.

Admittedly this is a post I’ve written in many forms over the last year but never published. Probably because things change so quickly. I regularly switch between the days of great training and days were sitting around is a sore knee, and others when the knee is sore but I feel great after training. Really, a total mind jerk.

I’m still cycling, just not as much, often, or anywhere close to as hard as before. In reality, no racing up hills and no interval training, especially no interval training on hills. Normal people may think something like this is a god send however I strangely enjoy interval training on hills. Yes it is a painful, but the measured goals seem to work.

A day of new goals – aka What next

One thing I had been instructed to do was cross train and get my other muscles to build up. Strange as it may seem, this has meant running to improve a knee injury. Well it was that or swimming and I’d get a bit too wet while swimming.

With previous small steps in goals, I’ve signed up to the Dublin Marathon Series including the full Dublin Marathon. All after completing only a short 5 mile christmas run and some short training runs otherwise. Ok so that is a bit of an understatement, but then not really. It does mean upping the distance considerably but even starting a marathon training plan too.

Will I get back cycling? Yes hopefully. I do really intend that the increased endurance will help building on the longer cycles and I’ve a few 100km+ rides without knee pain completed as well. Time will tell.

The Comfort Zone

Sometimes you read some that moves you. It hits you and you realise something you always knew.

Reading a blog post from Seth Godin gave me just one of those moments. His post, the worst moments are your best opportunity just clicked.

The Comfort Zone

Lately I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about my comfort zone. Be that in how I work, how I train, or even how I relax. What has been occurring to me is that the scared feeling of leaving my confort zone is normal. Being worried about doing something because you aren’t sure of the outcome, everyone gets it.

But at the same time, why do we always aim to push beyond that zone, if even just small steps?

A Realisation

While Seths blog does focus on marketing, life involves marketing in more areas than I originally let myself believe. On a day to day basis you have to market yourself. And while I’ve never really cared what others thought, even to my own detriment, I’ve always tried to go beyond what I knew I could do.

You are presumed to be showing us your real self when you are on a deadline,
have a headache,  haven't had a good night's sleep, are irritable, have the
opportunity to extract  revenge, are losing a competition or are truly

Last year I completed La Marmotte, one of the hardest single day amateur cycling events there is. It was made worse by the heat, 40C at the bottom Alp d’Huez. But I achieved it, and achieved more than I had thought possible. I did what I had joked about wanted to do – A Gold Time. And don’t get me wrong, I had dreamed it, but I really didn’t think it was possible. Even on the training trips before hand, it looked like I wouldn’t make it.

A Single Minded Purpose

While I look back on that and worry that I’m not doing enough this year (which I’m not), I no longer feel all that bad. My priorities have changed is all. Last year I went with a single minded purpose for that event. Everything else came second to it, almost 😉 This year I’ve readjusted my priorities to tick off some longer standing goals, little big ones. For anything is possible if you set your mind to it and want it badly enough.

To View Oneself

Back to Seths post, it hit home that (for me) it is most important how you see yourself, and just like others, you will see through the lies and excuses. Honest actions win out. Leave your comfort zone and you no longer have time to keep up appearances, the real you will show through.

Hopefully you like what you see.

A year in review – The benefits of a golden goal [2010]

Sitting here, listening to Auto Rock by Mogwai, a tune iconised by Top Gear, I begin thinking back to a year, 7000km of cycling with my Cervelo S2. And what a year it has been. What started as a “how hard could it be” moment, went on to become one of the most rewarding things to do – La Marmotte.

But with passing 7000km on Sunday gone, and winter really being here now, it’ll very soon be time to hang up the good bike and switch back to the winter trainer, full mud guards an all. The big thing now, is to set some goals. Some real goals, with feeling. Last year La Marmotte proved to be the defining goal, one that got me out of bed at 5am in the dead of winter, battling the ice and snow and pitch black to do hill repeats – and then enjoying it too. I calculated that I made more than a 30% increase in performance on 3Rock (the hill we do hill repeats on) between signing up for the Marmotte, and the week before the event.

In no small part, I owe much of the improvement to my trainer, Ryan Sherlock. He also became Irish National Hill Climb Champion recently which allows me to say I get trained by the National Champion. Nice. To top it off, he also won the MTB Champs letting him retain his national champion title there too. Word has it he is the first man to hold national titles in both road and off road in the same year in Ireland. Talk about getting trained by the best!

But in reflecting on the year, I’ve seen that it wasn’t just one thing that made it such a good year. Lots of little things fell into place. My Cervelo S2 really helped. It was a reward for hitting a weight goal of 85kg although I did go slightly over board when buying it. It is a such a different machine compared to my Giant. Stiffer, more responsive, and even more comfortable which might seem strange since it is a full on race bike with aero wheels, while the Giant is a commuter with 25mm tyres and a more relaxed position.

Having the Marmotte as a goal was another big thing. Needing something to get out of bed on those mornings, well when you have no goal, there is nothing to get out bed for. Even with the Marmotte I took some days I probably shouldn’t have. Or maybe less cake and I wouldn’t have worried about those 4 seconds. Not having a firm goal now does show although this last week I’ve covered over 400km as my stomach is back so the motivation is just to cycle as much as I can while I can.

A training partner also makes a world of a difference. My friend Peter was also training for the Marmotte and was out for the hill repeats on those Tuesday mornings. Even coming along on the long weekend rides – well at least one a week, I was doing a fair bit of training. It does help with those dull gray days when you struggle to get out to know that someone else is doing the same. That someone else is equally as dumb motivated.

Starting from a high weight (I was 229 lbs / 28.8% body fat back in Dec 08) played a part too strange as it might seem. Loosing weight makes you faster on the hills. Plain and simple. But when you are training for a ever so slightly hilly event, well hill climbing times are what is about. And since I was dropping weight, I was getting faster on the hills. Psychologically it helped. You see the times dropping and that object of just finishing gets closer and closer, and then soon becomes a maybe I can do better. Maybe, just maybe.

Body fat Graph over the period

Without any one of these, the house of cards may have fallen down. I don’t really know. I wouldn’t be where I am today cycling wise, I know that much. Every bit of success has an element of luck, but every bit of luck also has a bit of blood, sweat and tears, and that is the part you rarely see.

From the falls on the ice, to somehow not falling while navigating a hill in total blackness and only using the difference in colour of grass and tarmac, to crossing a line thinking I’d missed a goal by 4 seconds, to winning my first race. For all the mechanical issues, the punctures, the crashes. Each added its own small part. Each one made the year a year to remember. and the end of a customer

Long time users of Komplett already know that they switched warehouses and had a few account problems during the switchover. The whole thing seemed a little rushed from the experience on the website, but then management could easily have been pushing them. Things such as not being able to open multiple tabs by control clicking was when I first started getting worried.

Don’t get me wrong now, I wouldn’t be a massive Komplett purchaser, at least not on a person level. We did put a little bit of the company purchases through from time to time although it was about to expand out. However when I could no longer login in to the site and read about missing orders, I decided to pass on placing the order at the time, go somewhere else and then return when all the problems were fixed.

Today is the day when all that changed. The following email arrived in this morning marking the end to my use of Komplett.

So what now? Komplett have always been a consistent company and decent to deal with. Well basically any company incapable of transferring account or even telling customers openly about the issues isn’t a company I want to deal with. (I had to google it to find out what was going on – to komplett, a graphic at the top of the homepage isn’t enough, especially a graphic that isn’t the default graphic, correct place is a link on the login page)

In the end it has worked out better for me. We ended up with a large account with one of the supplier that the likes of Komplett use. Basically we are ending up saving another 2-5% of komplett prices, and we get things quite a bit faster, generally next day delivery.