Things you should buy

Rob Wiblin wrote a list of things he recommends buying, taking after another list written by Sam Bowman. I found both lists useful and have bought items from both. I thought I’d write down a few things that I think are worth buying that people may not have heard of before.

Milk frother – £5

Rob suggested to get your coffee from McDonalds. I want to go one step further and say that some milk/almond milk heated up in the microwave (about 1:15 for a single cup) + instant coffee frothed with a milk frother is pretty close to the McCafe experience. The texture added by the frother makes a surprisingly large difference in how good the coffee tastes.

Mosquito bite zapper – £22

As someone who attracts mosquitos, this bite zapper removes the itch from bites very quickly. It applies a couple of seconds of intense, bordering on uncomfortable, heat to mosquito bites. I am not sure the mechanism through which it works (may even be placebo) but I swear by it.

Dark sky weather app – £3

Short term rain prediction is quite accurate these days in places with enough radar coverage. The Dark Sky app lets you see when it is going to start or stop raining in the next hour which can be very helpful, particularly if you you are cycling.

I set the alarm to warn me of impending rain and if I see rain coming I will often depart to my next destination quickly if it looks like I can beat the rain. E.g. if it’s 3pm and I get a notification it will be raining at 3.40pm I may leave work early and finish my work day from home.

Image result for dark sky weather app

Light alarm clock – £70-£140

This alarm clock gradually lights up the room over time before an audible alarm starts playing. I have the light set to gradually increase of 30 minutes and find that the light wakes me up about 20 minutes into the light phase. The experience of waking up is much less jarring than with a regular alarm. I  tracked the price on camelcamelcamel (an Amazon price tracking tool) and got it for about £80 when it’s usually £110. Right now (24 Dec 2019) it’s only £70.



Computer stand for improving posture – £50 (or less)

I used to hunch over a laptop a lot. Now I put my computer on a Roost Stand so the screen is at the right level. My posture has improved and I no longer get a sore upper back. The Roost Stand doesn’t seem to be on Amazon, and although there are plenty of cheaper alternatives on Amazon, friends who have bought the alternatives have always been a little jealous of the Roost. One advantage of the Roost is it seems a bit sturdier, slimmer and folds up a bit tighter which is good as I keep it in my backpack ready to use in a hotel lobby or cafe.

I have a macbook so I pair the Roost with an Apple keyboard and a XXXX mouse.

Height Adjustable

Bike with saddle/pannier bag + wet weather gear

Cycling isn’t for everyone, but cycling to work (and avoiding the London tube) was an important part of my London day to day.

An annoying thing about cycling is getting caught in the rain and then being wet and uncomfortable wherever you end up. To mitigate that I always carry wet weather gear and a change of clothes. I have a pannier rack on my bike, and a pannier bag with the following items packed at all times:

Image result for bike with pannier bag

Kindle + Audible paired with Whispersync

Very few of my friends seem to know about Amazon’s ‘Whispersync’ functionality which allows you to alternate between reading the same book on Kindle and listening to it on Audible. I will often listen to a book on Audible while commuting to work and read the book on kindle at night.

Unfortunately you can’t use your Audible membership to take advantage of this — you have to buy the Kindle version of the book on Amazon and buy the Audible accompaniment as an add-on at the same time. Sometimes the Audible accompaniment only costs a few pounds extra, and sometimes it is many multiples of the book.

OSMaps – Free trial or £25/year

OSMaps (aka Ordinance Survey Maps) is an amazing app/website that allows you to see walking paths through the English countryside. It contains paths that you will never find on Google Maps. I have planned a number of walks from train stations to pubs through the countryside. Here’s a one-way route I plotted between two train stations in the North of London

Taotronics earphones

My recent experience with Taotronics wireless earphones have been a little mixed, but I still consider them great value headphones for running and everyday life. They have good battery life, are relatively cheap and stay in my ears (unlike Apple headphones). I had a pair that lasted 3 years with heavy use, including going through the wash twice until I lost them. My only gripe about the new pair is that while my old pair seemed to turn off automatically if they didn’t receive any audio, the new pair stays on indefinitely which often leads to them going flat.

These walking paths exist mostly due to the UK’s ‘right to roam‘ which grants access to the public to footpaths through otherwise private land if the public has been consistently using the path over time.

Muscle Rolling stick

This ‘muscle roller stick‘ is a great self-massage tool

Blender + protein powder

The most valuable change to my daily routine in 2019 is making the same smoothie for breakfast every weekday. I blend a frozen banana, frozen berries, protein powder, spinach, milk (cow, soy or almond) and water with a stick mixer. It’s healthy, tasty and very quick to make.

I chop up a week’s worth of bananas and put them into a single ziplock bag in the freezer. I use chocolate protein powder from bulkpowders.co.uk who perpetually have a sale on (don’t accept anything less than 20% off).

Before I started this routine, I often skipped breakfast or had a less healthy breakfast. Now I never skip breakfast and drink less coffee.

Islington council transport strategy

Here are a few quick thoughts I had about Islington Council’s transport strategy.

The tone of Islington Council’s Transport Strategy is the right one. It puts walking and cycling (and similar activities) at the forefront of their goals. There are some concrete actions, but not many given the time frame.  

Islington

A few key facts that are important to know:

  • In 2016, 30% of households in Islington owned a car, well down from 40% in 2011. This low rate of ownership is driven by good access to public transport, but also by the fact that Islington ranks very poorly on a number of welfare indicators and a large number of people can’t afford a car (35% of children under the age of 16 live in poverty which is the third highest nationally. 36% of Islington’s population aged over 60 are living in income-deprived households).
  • Almost all of the traffic deaths in the borough are pedestrians, cyclists and scooters/motorcyclists.

Empower locals, and allow them to ‘show, not tell’

The reality is that Islington doesn’t have much budget for a lot of transport improvements. If every change requires external research or extensive public consultation it is going to be hard to justify doing much. Small things that bring joy to locals won’t ever be done. Time and time again we see that, initially, people are against changes that will take away road capacity for cars. But after the change has been implemented people love the changes, because it improves their lives and their community in ways that are hard to describe. The lesson is that, where possible, you have to implement ideas for low-cost on a trial basis.

As an example of ‘show, not tell’ is in Times Square, NYC. It to be dominated by cars until a transport official went out with traffic cones, lawn chairs and created temporary oasis for pedestrians. “Instead of waiting through years of planning studies and computer models to get something done, we’ve done it with paint and temporary materials. And the proof is in the real world performance of the street.”

Image result for times square before and after

But the changes don’t have to be so large. Check out some of the examples in this report by 880 cities.

Dockless transport

The council has worked with dockless bike share companies and it appears that the rollout of the electric bikes in the borough has been much more successful than the non-electric bikes (probably due to the fact that electric bikes have to be frequently removed for charging so fewer bikes are left to languish in bad locations). Given the success so far, electric bikes should continue to be promoted and the council should:

  • Promote the benefits of dockless bike share to surrounding councils (including Hackney and London city). Right now Islington residents cannot start a journey in Islington and finish their trip in adjacent boroughs.. 
  • Work with providers to promote responsible parking (particularly so as not to impede visually impaired, wheelchair bound, or pram-pushing residents). This can be done by asking companies to specify preferred parking spots for dockless transport + by the council identifying and sharing such locations in an easy, scalable manner for private providers to communicate with their customers.
  • Lobby for the introduction of dockless electric scooters. Currently these scooters are illegal to ride in the UK but they are a space efficient, cheaper, and often preferred alternative to electric bikes.

The strategy around cycle hire contains a few points which require clarification. The points are:

  • “Establish cycle hubs at estates to provide free-to-hire cycle facilities” – What would this look like?
  • “Work with private cycle hire providers and/or the Mayor of London to establish an electric cycle hire system in Islington, to help make cycling accessible to a wider audience.” — If this suggests that local government or TfL should build their own bike scheme I daresay this will be a mistake if the intention is to try and replicate the current privately provided products. I know that in March 2019 DfT announced the launch of a £700,000 pilot to give 11 hotspots in cities, rural and tourist areas the opportunity to trial electric cycle sharing schemes. Has the council learned lessons from this pilot?

Car Parking

The council has an aim to reduce the number of parking permits. There aren’t very clear targets around the aim. The council should also have an aim to reduce the number of on-street parking spaces. They should set explicit targets around these goals.

Right now the council subsidises parking to a great degree.  A parking ticket will cost a car owner about £150 per year https://www.islington.gov.uk/parking/parking-permits/parking-permit-costs-table

The land a parking space occupies is very valuable. If that area was incorporated into an apartment, rent would be more than £1500/year. Car users do pay other on-road costs to government, but in general if we want effective use of land we shouldn’t subsidise parking to such an extent. Islington Council should raise the price of non-concessionary parking permits.

As a resident of Highbury Stadium Square (HSS), I can say that more than 50% of the car parks are unused at any given point in time. One approach to reduce on road parking might be to propose opening up some car parking spaces in private developments with under-utilised car spaces for non-resident usage. Right now, according to HSS policy it “it is a breach of planning and the lease to let a space to any one who does not live in Highbury Stadium”. Changing this wouldn’t require any council effort other than convincing HSS management of the idea. If it is commercially viable it could be a win-win-win as owners of the car parks would get increased revenue, car owners get guaranteed parking, and locals could get reduced demand for on-street parking. Private providers could be appointed by developments to manage the identification/verification of non-resident parkers.

There is no mention of RingGo parking in the document. Right now this private provider has a monopoly on issuing parking tickets. It would be good to understand how RingGo fits into the council’s strategy. The long-term aim should be for multiple providers to compete for the right to provide parking. This may involve Islington Council being the owner of the booking data that they make accessible to booking apps (similar to how travel agents + online websites can book flights for an airline). 

Safer and healthy streets

The strategy aims to make streets more appealing by making them safer + more aesthetically appealing.

School Streets seems to be a good policy but is rolling out slowly. What would it take for it to be sped up? How could we make some of the part-time closures become full-time closures, or at least altering the traffic flow to be one way?

We have a lot of under utilised schoolyards in the borough that should be made available to residents on weekends and after school finishes until dusk, just as New York has done.

Example from 880cities.org

One of the council’s aims is to “Ensure that streets are great places to walk, rest and play by providing seating, greenery, public art and events”.  We need to have a permissive way to allow artists to contribute to our streets. A good example is from the city of St Paul in Minnesota, USA. They printed short, resident-submitted poems into the concrete and got great feedback from their residents. The council could pre-approve some locations for temporary installations and these could be handed over to a local university or community group to install works that fit within a basic set of guidelines. 

Car club parking

The council talks about car clubs in a positive light which is good. It’s worth distinguishing between cars that are used solely for car club use vs. cars that are privately owned but can be rented to locals (let’s call it full car clubs vs. partial car clubs).

Typically, renting ‘partial car club’ vehicles is slightly cheaper than renting a ‘solely car club’ vehicle. Islington council could perhaps do more to encourage use of partial club car types of vehicles. Some ideas that would have low-cost implementation and running costs might be: 

  • If a vehicle has been rented out certain number of times in a year (e.g. 10 times) then the car owner can apply a free parking permit. This would take liaising with car club companies to verify this information but free parking permits might entice people to list their car.
  • Residents that are currently ineligible to get on-street parking permits due to council policy around new development requirements are precluded from renting their car out on car clubs as their private carparks can’t be accessed by non-residents of the development. Councils should figure out a way for these residents to be able to participate in car club schemes, perhaps by giving them access to on-street parking.
  • Council can advertise the policies above, or just the existence of the different car clubs in relevant communication with residents

The policies above should translate to a much higher supply of car club cars, making it more appealing for people to rent one.

Minimising on-street delivery time

It is great to see a novel approach to minimising lorry usage being trialled by promoting a hub-and-spoke warehouse facility that is stocked en masse, but with the last-mile delivery done by cargo bike. Islington council should promote the results of this trial open and transparently even if it is a failure, to help other councils learn from the work they are doing. 

Setting expectations in your side project through a simple ‘reverse vesting’ contract

*This is definitely not financial advice. For all I know it could be the completely wrong way to do things*

I’m working on a side project with a friend (with the company formed in the UK). There is a small, but possible chance that it could become a full-time job for one of us, or both of us at some stage. As all projects involving money should, we have tried to set expectations about what could happen in a range of situations. We have set expectations on what each of us will contribute at this initial stage and what that will be worth in terms of equity.

We figured out what we thought the long-term split of equity between us should be (i.e. X% for one, 100-X% for the other). And then we wanted to have the amount of final equity vesting in the project to be dependent on time with the project so if one person decided to throw in the towel then they were rewarded proportionate to their time investment.

An ideal mechanism would be to have our shares vesting over time, but we found out quickly that was prohibitive administratively (we reminded ourselves our job is to build a product customers love, not give ourselves shares in the most optimal way)

So we issued shares in amounts that we thought reasonable for the long run, and we wrote an incredibly short contract:

“If either party stops working on <Company Name> before 1 January 2022, the company will be entitled to purchase a certain number of shares from that party for $0.01. The percentage of shares to be returned is defined as the number of days between 1 January 2022 and the cessation date, divided by 1095.”

We could have also tried to incorporate this intent as part of our Articles of Association but that would have meant we couldn’t use the default Articles and that would have required a fair bit of extra work.

We have no idea if this will hold up, or if we’ve done the best thing possible.

Please leave a comment if you have any better advice!

Parkland walk – the best run from Highbury

Running in London is often characterised by running on pavement and road crossings. The 2.75km stretch of Parkland Walk between Finsbury Park is a refuge from all of that. It is easily my favourite run from my home in N5, Islington.

Here are some photos I took from my run on 15 Sep at 8am in the morning which was a particularly sunny day by London standards.

The path follows a former rail trail an is maintained by the friends of the parkland walk. Check out their history page to learn about the history of the rail track (including the fact that it nearly became a tube line!) and for the nature and conservation work they are up to, including the wildlife trail open to the public on weekends.

Given how good of a walk it is, it can get pretty crowded on the weekends and dogs off the leash and prams make it necessary to do a bit of dodging in the narrower parts if you are running past 10am. (N.B. this is particularly true in winter when the path can get quite muddy, especially at the start and end of the tracks where it’s narrower). If you run early cross paths with a number of runners and a few walkers and cyclists (I passed about 20 in my 5.5km out and back) but you’ll spend more time without anyone in sight than with.

I enter from the Finsbury Park end of the track, running over a wide set of tracks that form one of the main entry points for regional trains into London Kings Cross.

As you turn right onto the path there is a large building close to the path. I always assumed it was some type of utility building but it turns out it’s an Artist’s Co-op which has occasional open days.


The run is varied, with a lot of remnants of the train track, graffiti and flora.

This adventure playground and the associated building is owned by an employee-owned organisation that provides free adventure playground play for local kids. There was also a small half-pipe for skateboarding next to the path near here here but it got removed recently.

If you run all the way to the end and up a short steep hill, onto the street and turn right you’ll be right at Highgate Station. You can continue to the rest of the Parkland Walk but I usually turn around here as an 8km run is plenty long enough.

It’s a very popular run, as can be seen on Strava heatmaps. If you want to continue running the most popular options at the north are around the perimeter of Highgate Wood, then across to Alexandra Palace, or if you want to run some bigger kms you could run west over to Hampsted Heath. If you want to run further at the southern end of the track, Finsbury Park laps, or heading over to Clissold Park are good options.

RStudio shortcuts (Windows) – for cleaner and faster coding

RStudio has a number of keyboard shortcuts that make for cleaner and faster coding. I put all the Windows shortcuts that I use onto a single page so that I can pin them next to my computer.

RStudio shortcuts

(PDF)

You can also access the list of shortcuts with Shift + Alt + K so the sheet may be redundant to many. However, I found that having a physical copy next to my computer helped a lot while I was still learning the shortcuts.

Some favourites of mine are:

Using code sections/chunks – Use Ctrl+Shift+R to insert a code section and a popup box will appear for you to name that section. Ctrl+Alt+T runs the current code section. When you are done working on a code section you can ‘fold’ it up to improve the readability of your file (Alt+L is fold current code section, Alt+O is fold all sections).

Re-running code quickly – Ctrl + Shift + P will execute the same region of code that was just previously run with the changes made since then.

Deleting/moving stuff faster – Ctrl+D deletes an entire line. Ctrl + backspace deletes the current word as in most word processing software. Alt + up/down moves code up and down lines in the console while Shift+Alt+up/down copies lines up/down.

Switch between plots – To toggle between plots use Ctrl+Shift+PgUp/PgDn (It’s a lot faster than using the arrows above the plots!)

3 Peaks 2014 – as told by charts

(To see the charts clearly, please click to expand)

3 Peaks 2014 was held over the weekend, in much more pleasant weather than last year’s scorching heat.

Here are some charts that show a bit about this year’s ride, and also how it compared to last year’s.

This year’s 235km ride attracted 1922 entrants, up from 1543 last year. This chart shows that, despite the larger field this year, there were a lot fewer DNFs in 2014. The weather no doubt played a role in this. A total of 1639 people finished.

finishers1
In percentage terms you can see that the completion rate was about 10% higher this year.
finishers2
Broken down by gender you can see that women who entered had a slightly higher completion rate than men. Men were more likely to DNS and women were more likely to DNF.
finishers3

On to finishing times: Here’s a chart showing finish times by 30 minute intervals. Six absolute weapons managed to crack the 8 hour mark and 75 cracked the 9 hour mark.

times1

And the accompanying density plot”
times2

Times by Gender (stacked histogram) – You can see here that a lot more men participated than women.

times3

times4

The (ecdf) chart below shows the cumulative distribution of times by gender.

times5

And on to the coveted average speed section. A total of four people broke the holy grail of 30km/h (including stops!). I was lucky enough to suck one of these gents’ wheels in the Sydney Rapha Gentlemen’s Race last year – I cannot imagine how painful attempting that would have been on Sunday.

times5

The ride results contain data on how long it took to do the three monster climbs. I subtracted the time spent climbing the three major climbs from the total time and called this the time ‘descending’ (optimistic, I know). While there is a positive relationship between time spent climbing and ‘descending’, the dispersion of the points shows the enormous amount of variation.

prop1

If you divide the time spent climbing by the time ‘descending’ you can see this variation just presented in a different way.

prop21

The following charts investigates how a rider’s time up Tawonga Gap relates to their overall performance. Nobody who took more than 30 minutes to get up Tawonga Gap broke 9 hours and nobody who took more than 35 minutes broke 10 hours. Events like this are all about finding the right bunch to be a part of, so you have to make sure you don’t miss the bus on the first climb.

predict1

predict2

If we focus on just the fastest people up Tawonga Gap (those who do it sub 28 mins) you can see that the top finishers at the end of the day weren’t the fastest up TG. They all rode together while a few others went up the road (and potentially blew up). EDIT: Andy’s comment tells us nobody went up the road from the front bunch on TG so the  few posting faster times must have been slower on the Falls descent and were trying to catch the lead group or they started in a later wave.

predict31

Now, let’s have a look how people who participated last year and came back to face the challenge again this year.

The following two charts show how last year’s performance is related to this year’s. The first chart shows proportional ranking and the second shows a rider’s placing (there were a lot more entrants this year, so a given place is better (proportionally) in 2014).

dual1

Three Peaks 2014

This chart compares performance up Tawonga Gap in 2013 vs 2014. On average people improved over the year but the effect size is small.

dual3

70 people who did not finish in 2013 came back to tackle the event again in 2014. 9 of these 70 didn’t show up on Sunday but the good news story is that 52 of the 70 finished. The chart below groups people into their race  ‘status’ (finished, DNF, DNS) from last year to see what happened to them this year. Those that finished last year were very likely to finish again this year. Those that DNS-ed last year were more likely to DNS in 2014.

dual4

Three peaks is a massive event, drawing people from all over Australia.

The following chart shows which state participants come from. Being held where it is, the biggest representation obviously comes from Victorians but A LOT of people come from NSW for this event, most from Sydney as we’ll see in a second. I know that 20+ come down from my old club  alone.

travel1

Using suburb names I could determine how far people travelled (as the crow flies) to get to 3 peaks. In short, people travelled a long way to put themselves through hell. The four distinct lumps in the following density plots show people travelling from Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and WA respectively.

travel1