Why I hate Strava (and why I need Strava)

It’s been nagging me for a while, this one. This is about sport , technology, monitoring and stats. It runs to the very core of me in a number of ways.

I’ve been using fairly detailed recording of my cycling and running for over five years now, since I first got a Garmin Forerunner GPS watch. It suited me. I do a lot of training on my own – probably much more than the average cyclist or runner, so the ‘virtual’ training partner’ it gave me helped. I’ve rarely been out running or cycling in the last few years without thinking about what the average speed, heart rate, calories burnt… or any one particular element of the ride (heck – even total mileage, sometimes… heaven forbid). When Strava was introduced to me by Alan about a year or so ago, I thought it was perfect. For those of you who don’t know it, Strava basically allows you to ‘compare’ yourself – your ride or run – to anyone else who has done the same bit as you. These segments are “public”, so you get to see the ‘results’ for a particular segment (the leader is ‘King of the Mountains – or KoM / QoM for females – for the climb or descent [sic]). It’s a very simple motivation – in the middle of an otherwise routine ride – to push yourself.

Simplicity Works

The purity of that is lovely. ‘Competing’ against ‘real’ rides done by other people – sometimes famous athletes, even… you can soon see how the motivational factor is a great pick-me-up or boost when you’re doing that annoying short climb after the lights and your mind might drift from the training you’re supposed to be engaged with. It’s satisfying too, to visit somewhere you’ve never been (such as my trips to Sardinia or Arran last year) and find out what other people you’ve never met and will never meet have managed on a particular climb or descent. Even better, you can look at some great stats in the middle of races, such as the various obvious ‘segments’ of the 3 Peaks Cyclocross – seeing where you performed well or badly compared to fellow competitors.

Every Silver Lining Has a Cloud

The press is rife with stories about segments that ought not be. There are countless ones I know of where the segment may include lights in the middle of them, some on footpaths where, even being generous, we’re borderline meant to be riding – let alone racing (albeit virtually). There’s even one on a canal towpath I’ve heard of. You can picture the flailing bodies of pedestrians thrown into the water as cyclists on tri-bars belt past them. It’s just not really right.

Despite it being a good idea to ride hard when training, giving people free reign over where they race and don’t race is always going to lead to a few problems with the more competitive-minded ones of us out there. It’s hard to ignore the opportunity of a bagging a good KoM when you’re feeling good, and once you get into racing mode, you start to take a few risks – unnecessary risks, in this case, of course, because you’re not actually racing.

It’s not racing.

A bit like time-trialling, a mildly impure form of racing because it relies on varying conditions, yet everyone sets off at different times, Strava suffers from extreme variations in conditions. Severe (even storm-force) tailwinds can skew (daftly) the speed on some sections of road. So can the heat, traffic, time of day, even who you’re riding with… are they even out there motor pacing? Who knows? It’s just a GPS record. They could be (and often have proven to have been) driving in the bloody car. They could be out in a chain-gang.. through and off – you’re never competing on a like-for-like basis.

That’s why I love road racing, Cyclocross, and Mountain Bike racing. The gun goes, and there you are – amongst them. The whippet climbers, the daft ones who sit on the front and then shout at you for not coming through, the ones who show little stress then suddenly blow up, the skilled ones, the powerful ones… despite all of the mirrored shades, you get to look at them in the eye. You’re racing them.

I’ll stay on Strava though. I (like everyone else on there) have enough positive motivation from it and (think that) I can resist the temptation to go for any daft KoM segments whilst trying my best to keep good speeds up where I can and where it’s appropriate to my training. I’m not dwelling on there, though. Forgive me for not paging through who’s ahead of me or behind me on certain segments. I didn’t have the legs / tailwind / motor assistance that particular day.

Truly unforgivable

But perhaps what annoys me most of all, is that people can ‘name’ their own segment, can’t use normal sentence case, or spell ‘descent’, so my achievements are forever described by some Klutz’s bad grammar. That one kills me every time.

Hit the North 3: It’s not about the bike(s). A science experiment.

So… my grand idea for Hit the North this year was to lay to rest any speculation that it’s faster on a ‘cross bike or mountain bike. In a two hour race, I would race half on one and half on the other.

After a second place in 2011 at this tough-but-cuddly suburban event inside of the M62 circle, I felt in a good position to prove in incredibly unscientific fashion whether the bike you’re riding is key on a course like that… Continue reading “Hit the North 3: It’s not about the bike(s). A science experiment.”

Recruitment SEO

… a brief success story and a self-fulfilling prophecy.

A few weeks ago my colleague Dave and I launched a new blog – Recruitment SEO – all about what we have learned, and continue to learn and discover about optimising recruitment websites for search engines (our core business these days seems to be recruitment website design). I just saw today that – almost inadvertantly, it’s become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

(SEO= Search Engine Optimisation). We never intended that website itself to do well in the search engines, it was more an opportunity for our clients and friends to follow our opinions and tips. As it happens, through naturally good optimisation, I seem to have got the site onto the first and second pages of Google results.

Remember, remember – the 5th of November

Something about the rather significant things going on on the other side of the big pond that makes me feel like we’ve reached a pretty momentous turning point in world history. Much in the same way that in 1997 I felt a massive relief when Labour ended a very long Tory rule in the UK, the democratic win in the US is more than a democratic win or a fantastic historical moment when a black person enters the White House; it’s the end of Bush. Hoo – bloody – ray.

When I was thinking back earlier to the great feeling in 97 that took me over (as it turned out, for good reason), today’s feeling of “I was there when…” makes me feel more slightly pensive. History, whatever happens henceforth, has been made. I really should buy a newspaper and keep it carefully in the attic, like I did do for the millennium (you’ve no idea how hard that word is to type for me), but these days it seems more apporpriate to mark history by showing what’s going on in my online world.

The Guardian online daily emails have been a part of my online world for about four years, I think, but what I hope will happen is that the attached screen grab will show history in so much more ways that are not interesting now. I hope that in future years, we’ll love to look at the number of spam messages i had in my spam box, how my gmail offered me only 7.2 mb of space, and other thiongs we accept today and will be a quirky oddment in the future.

Just the same as if I bought a newspaper today on the occasion of Obama’s historic victory, the really interesting things would turn out to be the adverts on the side of the real news items on the paper.

5th November 2008

Photo moblogging at last

I’ve finally got round to getting to post photos directly to my Flickr account from my mobile in one very easy click. There’s something of a compromise here though. Shiny, feature-packed and lovely though my Nokia E71 may be, its piccies are clearly those of a phone, not a camera. It’s still worth it though. I love the feeling of live reportage when I can post on the spot, even though the subject matter to date has been mainly family snaps.

On The Nikon D200

Phil's GibsonStaying at Phil’s house for a few days over the weekend gave me an opportunity to play with his ‘work’ camera’, the Nikon D200. It was a stunning experience. The inordinately heavy body gave the camera an unrivalled steadiness, meaning that short at low shutter speeds were more likely to come out without camera-wobble. The Tamron lens was reliable and very happy with fast autofocus, even when firing off repeated shots.

Here are a few of my favourite shots from the camera over the weekend.

Other-worldly music animation

Quite the most delightful bit of animation that I think I’ve seen since Pixar’s ‘Robots’ – this appeals to me on so many levels; the epitome of how alive sequenced, electronic music can be if you just use your imagination. Wonderful… ten out of ten.

Camera Quest: The Best of Both Worlds

After plenty of umming and loads of ahh-ing, I finally found the ideal all-round compromise camera… I think.

I was constrained by budget (aren’t we all?) and wanted

  • point and shoot (it’s not for me… that’s for a close female relative)
  • under £100
  • 5x Optical (or more) and a trusted lens
  • a decent CCD

Plus… on my ‘really would love’ list was

  • full manual Aperture control
  • Aperture priority control, and Shuuter Speed priority control (I was brought up on a Pentax ME super and will always be a user at heart).

MoiI started out looking at loads of things and almost fell into the trap of getting allured by brand, or by unbelievable price reductions, but in the end I stayed my course and ordered a Kodak C875. It arrived today and seems an absolute joy to use. I never thought I’d have ended up with a Kodak… I must say, but looking at the features and the way it performs on first exploration, I think we’re going to get on really well.

Plus, equally importantly, a certain un-named associate of mine might just enjoy its point and shoot simplicity. I said ‘might’.

Rubik’s robot

I remember being chuffed to bits when I solved the Rubik’s cube (with help from lots of friends and their varying techniques). It was the nearest thing to being a geek in my day without sitting at a BBC ‘Micro’ [sic] computer and spending all day getting it to print swear words.

Boy, would I have loved one of these.

Modern Telephony

Which phone to use?Those blogs where people rant about things getting on their nerves get on my nerves… so I won’t put any unnecessary interpretation on this photo. Suffice to say that I glanced down at my desk a few minutes ago aghast at what phoning people has become…

Mind blown by GPS data

A few weeks ago, I bought a Garmin Forerunner 201, on a whim, from my friend Matthew. When I bought it, it was very much an experiment to see whether I’d get on with it and get enough out of it.

It comes with some fairly dreadful software that gives you some very basic visual data about your runs / walks / cycles, and the software itself was one of the main reasons I started to think it was not something I’d keep in my possession in the longer term.

However… after quite a bit of ferreting around, I’ve now found the ‘Holy Grail’ – just what I was after. I’ve found a way to export the data from the Garmin LogBook software, then convert this into Google Earth path files (that you can view and save in Google Earth). All this is done through the GPS Visualiser website (BIG credit to them – THANKS!!).

wasdale_weekend.jpgHere’s the type of data I’m talking about… (click on the image on the left). Walking mountain titans of the first weekend in March will probably want to download the walks so they can open and ingest them in Google Earth.
Saturday’s Walk
Sunday’s Walk

Instructions and links for how to do this below. Continue reading “Mind blown by GPS data”

Vignette: a mini photoshop tutorial

Manchester MuseumI’ve seen quite a few photos on Flickr lately that took my fancy for one reason or another, and one of the things that crops up from time to time is the Vignette that comes with some photos. It reminds me of older times and when I used to do a bit in the dark rooms (of Blackburn College, Sheffield Hallam University and the Brewery Arts Centre in Kendal). It’s something that can make a bland low-light photo into something with more focal punch, but without the cheesiness of soft focus.

I should point out that it works effectively on landscape shots too, but you could go overkill, and it tends to have happened (with older cameras and darkrooms) naturally in lower light conditions. Whaddya reckon? (Here’s a link to the Photoshop tutorial I used – it’s very straightforward, but the ‘feather’ setting it refers to will need to be increased for higher resolution original photos)