Matthew Hutchinson

The New York City Marathon

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After months of on-off training and undisciplined gym attendance, I managed to finish the New York City Marathon, November 4th

Asics billboard at Times Square, NYC

Asics billboard at Times Square, NYC

It was an amazing experience, something I will never forget. The support from the crowds was unbelievable, especially in Brooklyn, which you’re in for almost half of the marathon. Rock and metal bands at every roadside garage, bag pipes from the local fire and police departments, a steel drum band outside a church, and a full orchestra playing Rocky tunes at central park! Without all that I don’t think I could have done it.

Running with two long-time friends from Belfast helped too. A lot of runner had their heads-down, ipods-in blocking out all the atmosphere of the crowds and city. Whereas we had brightly colored vests, with our names on them, and no ipods or baseball caps. Running to the sidewalks (of the extremely wide USA streets) meant everyone cheering you on, shouting your name and giving support. To the point that, when stopping to stretch or drink water, you felt like you were letting them all down.

The first 16 miles were fine, 16-20 was tougher but not painful, then from 20 to the finish (26.2) – it was just ALL pain, and almost ALL uphill. Here’s the route map and elevation guide. You can also see it all using Google Maps (with mile markers) at Walk Jog Run

During the journey I somehow managed to consume the following;

  • 3 bagels a coffee and water waiting to start from 6-10AM
  • 3 different ‘boiled sweet’ lollipops
  • Jelly babies from the crowd
  • Pretzels from the crowd
  • A Lucozade carb gel carried from the start
  • All the Gatorade I could stomach (once every mile)
  • A sachet of salt
  • Water

After that, I finished it in 5:09. Although we stopped for toilet queues for at least 15 minutes, so Im telling people I did it in under 5 :) I had hoped for under 4:15 but clearly didn’t put in enough training, and when that became obvious I was just hoping to finish in one piece. I’ve uploaded a few race photos to the flickr which are taken by photographers around the course (without you knowing) This is why you’ll find me walking in most of them.

The next day, I said thats it, never again – but looking back on it now (when my legs don’t seem to be detached from my body) i’m not going to rule it out completely. But if I was to do another marathon somewhere, it would take a lot to top New York.

With only a four day visit to the city, I didn’t really get as long as I would have liked to explore it. My first ever visit to New York was a very short trip too, about 7 years ago. I have to say that I really do like the place, I think it is one city that I does live up to it’s hype. Its on my long list of places to visit again and spend some real time in.

Things have been quiet here on the blog, I’ve been very busy as usual. But I should be back posting a bit more frequently from now on. And I even have a little re-design in the works. (Oh! and I bagged me an iPhone in New York, which works quite happily over here in sunny Ireland)

November 21, 2007 00:36 by

Ray LaMontagne

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Just back from an excellent gig in Dublin’s Olympia Theatre, mostly songs from his latest albums and a few I hadn’t heard before. Strangely some of the crowd seemed to give him hassle, over the volume and lack of chat. I’ve also never seen so many people get up and walk around in a seated venue, answering mobiles and generally disturbing the show for everyone else. The musicians life is a hard one.

39 Days to go

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NYC marathon coming up, and just a month to go … what was I thinking !

Handy Aliases

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Working on the rails day in and out now, I’ve found the following aliases to come in handy;

# General Commands
alias ls='ls -al'

# TextMate, mate all of current dir and crucial rails folders only
alias et='mate . &'
alias ett='mate app config lib db public test vendor/plugins &'

# RAILS,  (run these from your rails folder)

# rails scripts
alias ss='./script/server'
alias sc='./script/console'
alias sg='./script/generate'
alias sp='./script/plugin'
alias mr='mongrel_rails start'

# rails testing 
alias att='autotest'
alias tu='rake test:units'
alias tf='rake test:functionals'    

# tail logs
alias tl='tail -f ./log/development.log'
alias tt='tail -f ./log/test.log'      

# clean the logs
alias ctl='cp /dev/null ./log/test.log'
alias cdl='cp /dev/null ./log/development.log'

I should credit Peep Code for the idea. To use, (e.g. in OSX) place the above in a ~/.bash_aliases file and in ~/.bash_profile, load it in with this command;

if [ -f ~/.bash_aliases ]; then . ~/.bash_aliases ; fi

Also, (and before I forget it myself) – here’s a quick session cleaner command to put in your cron, (for day old, mysql session clearage action); rather than build a rake task, or extra controller to clean them out.

#!/bin/bash

cd /u/apps/matthewhutchinson.net/current
echo "<== CRON TASK ==> clear day old sessions data on matthewhutchinson.net"
ruby script/runner -e production "ActiveRecord::Base.connection.delete(\"DELETE FROM sessions WHERE updated_at < NOW() - INTERVAL 1 DAY\")"

Rails Royal Rumble

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  • #cabal
  • [12:37] @davidjrice: here, before you do that! Rails Rumble http://railsrumble.com/
  • [12:37] @davidjrice: we needs ta register today cause there have been 101 of 150 applications
  • [12:38] @matt: I have no time for the rumble, unless there is wrestling involved)
  • [12:38] @matt: like, a royal rumble
  • [12:38] @matt:* matt dons cape, mask and goes to summon his Eagle Powers – [link]

A Series of Unfortunate Events

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count-olaf.jpg So it was this last weekend past, that I had planned to relocate from London to Dublin. After searching around for a decent carrier to ship stuff for me (the cheapest (with insurance) being around 1000£ !) I found the best and safest option was to do it myself. The plan was carefully laid out like so;

  • Hire a medium sized van – pack my stuff in on Thursday night
  • Drive to Dublin (via Holyhead, Wales) on Friday, un-pack Friday night, and then,
  • on Saturday, drive back to London (via Holyhead, Wales),
  • with a final flight back over to Dublin on Sunday, ready to start work Monday morning

Here’s the original plan on Google Maps

Ambitious you might say? I though not, I had set plenty of extra time in the plan for making the journey, even with problems. Only doing one major thing each day. Or so I thought … what I’m about to tell you, you could not dream up. I am still recovering from tiredness even today… (warning, long story below)

Off to a bad start

It all started before I even got the Van. To be picked up at Sixt car rental in Vauxhall Station at 7 PM, Thursday night. On arrival 15 minutes early, I decided to grab a coffee and wait until 7 PM before going in to collect it. On doing so, I was told that I needed the paper-part of my driving license, because i’m from N. Ireland. Y’see if you’re anything other than DVLNI, there have a 24 hour hot-line that can be used to question the paper part, but for N. Ireland the phone line is always busy and goes to an answering machine after 3 PM. Of course this is mentioned nowhere.

Now, the van place shuts at 8pm, so I have exactly one hour to go back to my house, collect the paper part and get back before it closes. Given that it took me 45 mins to get there via walk/tube, this was going to be tight. I jumped in a cab, explained the situation and we tore around London. I arrived at my house at 7:30 PM, with exactly 30mins to get back. The knock on effect of not getting the van tonight would mean trying for a later boat tomorrow. Researching this in the cab, I found there were no other places available on any other boats at short notice. Stuck in unusually heavy traffic, my sister and her boyfriend (both also in the cab and helping me with the packing) decided to phone ahead to explain the Van was urgently needed for ‘a wedding’ the next day and could they stay open a ittle bit later. We were told, 8:05 PM.

LDV_SWB_Van.jpg

I sprinted in the door of the Van place at 8:05 PM exactly and got the Van, some late night packing and we were all set. Drama over, you’d think …

Engine-Off

Saturday morning then, getting up at 7 AM to pack more stuff and leave London at 8:30 AM. This would give me the recommended 5 hours travel time to Holyhead (Wales) plus an extra 2 hours on top; for breaks, petrol stops and any bad traffic. Plenty of time you’d think. My boat from Wales left at 3:30 PM, and I knew from yesterdays adventure, there were no other boats with space available for a van.

Getting out of London took half an hour more than expected, with rush hour traffic etc. But I still had 1 hr 30 mins overspill so I wasn’t worried. Until hitting the M1 north-bound. A combined roadworks section between two junctions and a large car pile up accident left me sitting in the van for almost two hours not moving. Engine-off. Watching time slip away, I realised that I now had to make up time to have a chance of catching the boat in Wales. Calculating that I needed to hit junction numbers x at a certain times on the M6, I was cutting it fine. Very fine.

The Decision

After some phoning I found that I could transfer onto a later Scottish boat from Stranraer to Belfast. But choosing this option I would need to make a decision at junction 20, going any further trying for Holyhead would mean I’d risk missing both boats altogether. I hit junction 20 at exactly 1:30 PM, the cut-off point for heading onto Wales (via A roads) and I decided to go for it. But 30 miles into the Welsh countryside, after stopping for petrol I looked at the stats, now 200 miles to cover in 2 hours on A roads. Meaning averaging 100mph for the journey. Rain and bad weather hit and traffic was down to 40mph.

So turning back out of Wales and heading north, I was facing another 4 hours of driving, a boat to Belfast and 2 hours more driving down to Dublin. Which is what I did. I made the 7 PM boat in Scotland with half an hour to spare, and eventually arrived in Dublin at midnight. After an 8:30 AM start and 621 miles later (!)

The T-Junction

At this point on Friday night arriving late into Dublin, I had to unpack, three flights of stairs and some heavy lifting got most of the stuff out. I had to unpack then, since I had a 10:30 AM boat to catch back the next day.

Getting up at 6am with around 4 hours sleep, I unpacked the rest of the stuff on Saturday morning and left with plenty of time to catch the boat. Following sign posts for the docks around Dublin was easy and I could almost see the sea, when I came across a T-junction, left or right and neither showing a sign for the boat. A little stressing and some ‘direction asking’ and I was back on track, making the boat with time to spare and finally thinking I could chill out bit.

Now all I had to do, was drive the van back to London today, return it to Sixt tomorrow (Sunday), and fly back on a mid afternoon flight. Simple, easy, no problem … you’d think …

The Tour de’ Crap

Making good time down the M6/M40 route I arrived into west London at 7:30 PM. With no deadlines to meet tonight, all I had to do was park the van up at my brother’s flat (south, east London) and get some rest. Which would have been super easy if it hadn’t of been for the Tour de France. Why this event is in London, I don’t know. Possibly just to screw with me.

So this amazing sporting event had closed every single bridge over the Thames river, yip, all of them. Traffic in north London was insane. I have never seen anything like it. Crawling for hours in one direction to find it blocked and then crawling back in another. I was watching the temp gauage of the van go up and up. Seeing many other drivers braking down, I opted to turn the engine off at every chance. It soon became clear, I wasn’t getting out of this anytime soon. On my third circle around Piccadilly circus, I decided to go way, way east and then south. Hoping to avoid any more closures.

By the time I had done this, it was 11:30 AM and the bridges were finally opening. Crossing Tower Bridge, I arrived at my brother’s flat at midnight. Exhausted.

Early Start

Arriving in the flat that night, some googling told us that the Tour de France spectacle, would be south of the river tomorrow, actually cutting right through where I was now parked, starting at 6 AM. A number of crossing points would be open for traffic to pass through in half hour periods and for me, that meant leaving the house at 6:30 AM.

Fueled with some take-out food I was tempted to head out again that night, parking the van somewhere over the crossing point. Instead I opted for some sleep and 6am start the next day.

Nail in the coffin

Getting up on Sunday was tough, but I dragged myself out, hitting the road at 6:30 AM and getting over the crossing point. Yay! etc. But Sixt car rental doesn’t open till 10am on a Sunday. Sitting in a parked van for 3 hours drifting in and out of consciousness, I realised I was becoming strangely attached to the van.

Anyway, ignoring that and getting a Starbucks breakfast, I left it back at 10:00 AM exactly. I was ready to go when Sixt said something was wrong with my booking/return. .. After waiting an hour in Sixt’s car rental offices for a manager to sort out their own booking problem, I finally left the place.

Adopting new approaches to travel

With a good 4 hours to spare before my final flight back, I thought i’d take it easy, leave my luggage in at Paddington Station and wander around Bond Street. But after all that had happened I realised I did not want to take any more risks. Anything and everything could go wrong and probably would; left luggage screwing up, tube delays, heathrow express problems. So I opted to head out to Heathrow straight away, giving me 3 hours semi-conscious time in the terminal before my flight.

Here’s a Google Map of the Journey It appears I have chalked up 999 miles in two days with 8 hours rough sleep. I’ll put it all down as experience and character building.

such unpleasantries as a giant pincher machine, a bad casserole, a man with a cloud of smoke where his head should be, a hypnotist, a terrible accident resulting in injury, and coupons.Lemony Snicket

@media2007 round-up

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I’m a bit late to the party with this round-up, since @media ended last Friday. But I have excuses you see ..

In short I have to say I enjoyed @media 2006 more. This year seemed (to me) to be much more designer focused with fewer technical topics. It was an excellent event, well executed with some great speakers – but with the huge amount of sketching going on, I found myself surrounded by those who ‘push the crayons’ – so to speak.

Leaning for power cords

Leaning for power cords

On leaving I had the feeling that I had heard most of it before, yes, possibly at last years event. I also preferred last year’s venue, the grand scale of the Business Design Centre in Islington gave the impression that there were fewer attendees. Although I’m sure if you counted up, you’d find more people here this year. The absence of wi-fi seemed to be another common complaint.

All-in-all it was definitely worth going to. I only took a couple of photos (many more on flickr) and notes during the whole event (rumple.. crumple..) To sum up a few of the talks;

Beyond Ajax by Jesse James Garrett – After explaining a bit about some of the interesting work going on at Adaptive Path, Jesse talked about the ‘elements’ of user experience, mentioning MeasureMap as an example for gathering site data and VisualVocab as a useful tool.

Designing from the Outside In by Tim O’Reilly – A great talk on focusing on the outer layers first, and working in through UI → Logic → Data. A few good examples included the iPod vs. Earlier Rio MP3 Players, Google Calendar. He also pointed to Flickr’s User Experience Strategy. Experience is the product or real source of value for users.

Diabolical Design by Jason Santa Maria – I considered this the best talk of the event. I do not consider myself a designer by any means, but I am very keen to see the mindset and processes they go through. Design is intent, pointing to some favourite sites, AIGA, Ellis Lab, AFilm, Good Magazine. Gave great examples of colour choice. Repeated the fundamentals, left to right, top to bottom, big to small. Spiralling out from a focal point and attention to layout. For approaches to layout and colour design, work with grids and breaking them up in different ways, and grey box approach (more than just a wire frame). To feel out relationship of type with the chosen grid.

Interface Design Juggling by Dan Cederholm – A solid talk on re-use in the design process, using a fictional example site ToupeePal.com to show off techniques. Some good sites mentioned: Web Typography.net, TanyaMerone.com and Delta Tango Bravo (favicon collection)

“When Web Accessibility is *not your problem":http://joeclark.org/appearances/atmedia2007/ by Joe Clark* – A bit of a controversial talk from Joe, with, ‘font-size is not your problem – it’s the browsers’, ‘html is inadequate for all possibilites’ etc. He also mentioned he was ‘retiring’ from web accessibility. This talk got a fair bit of stick from some attendees in the Advancing Web Accessibility
talk the following day.

Technorati should point you to more complete summaries of the event, and full pod-casts will be available soon. I should also mention that Jon Hicks presentation on How to be a creative sponge and High-Noon Shoot-Out: Design vs. Implementation by Drew McLellan and Simon Collison were very entertaining.

Some recommended reading suggested; Elements of Typographical Style and Thinking with Type

Don't Stop Believing

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Don’t Stop Believing by Petra Haden heard on project.ioni.st, nice tribute – but this doesn’t beat the Journey (and Peter Griffen doesn’t come close either)

Mephisto filter:mp3

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On my to-do list for some time was implemting Jeroen Wijering’s mp3 player (flash) in this blog as a mephisto filter.

Somewhere between the sessions of @media yesterday, I found the time to code it in (grab it , there are some steps to follow at the top of this file). It has sensible defaults, and configuration attributes.

You can also place alternate content inside the filter tag (e.g. a direct link to the mp3).

While the code degrades well with flash/javascript off in the browser, some work needs done on what shows up in feedreaders. The filter could be amended for RSS feeds and simply show a link to the mp3 file(s) being played. If anyone finds this filter useful, let me know.

Where am I now ?

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Where indeed ? Well literally, right now I’m between Friday sessions at @media 2007. But due to these events bigger things are going on. Basically my time at the BBC has come to an end, and in the spirit of ‘onwards and upwards’ I am off to live and work in Dublin, Ireland.

In a few weeks I’ll be working with Rails and the very excellent team at Exoftware, trying to find somewhere to live in Dublin and doing the whole re-location dance again.

Working at the BBC has been an invaluable experience. I joined last January starting as a Technical Project Manager. I have had a huge insight into the workings of a very (very) large institution; the ups, downs; ins, outs; twirling and spinning. Working with great UK agencies on million-pound, multi-lingual projects was challenging as my first job in a technical management position; but I couldn’t have wished for a better place than the BBC to ‘cut-my-teeth’.

Hat’s must be tipped to my immediate team of fellow TPM’s all of them excellent managers with their own areas of expertise. Without a doubt the best team of people I have ever had the privilege to work with so far.

Going back to a developer position is something I am very keen on. Working as a TPM did offer a few opportunities to delve into code, but I found myself enjoying more of the freelance work I continued to pursue through Hiddenloop. Building things end-to-end on mostly green-field projects.

So very busy now, for the next few months at least, light posting ahead – next 30 miles.

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