Friday, 20 January 2017

Producing more than I consume

We are a nation, a society,even, of consumers.  We buy stuff in the shops, we eat remarkable quantities of food and we consume huge amounts of online content.  Netflix, TV, YouTube, Facebook, online apps, games and so on, are all on-demand and all available 24/7/365, all encouraging (or enabling) us to sit back and consume as much of what we want whenever we want.

My fourth New Year's Resolution is to personally call my own halt to excessive consumption, with the challenge that I will produce more than I consume.  My main focus for consumption will be online media (Facebook, Twitter and YouTube) and for production - anything.  Anything creative, from this blog, to online video (if I ever produce any), or meaningful and relevant Facebook content, to pictures, music, writing, drawing and whatever creative outlet I feel like using.  I'd like to aim to produce and output more than I absorb.

And that's something else - I don't want to just 'absorb' - I want to be more selective in what I watch, read and listen to.  

I may not be able to produce more than I consume  (after all, I have two eyes, two ears and only one mouth), I shall be working to close the gap between the two.  If I monitor the quality of what I consume and deliberately work to produce meaningful and high-quality output (works; music; blog content; video or whatever) - then I will consider the resolution to have been a success. We shall see!  

Thursday, 19 January 2017

Repair not Replace

My third new year's resolution is to repair not replace, and to make the most of what I have instead of always looking for the next new big thing.  

I have a steady supply of superglue, a small vice; jeweller's screwdrivers and a "handy desk tool", for repairing minor damage to most plastic toys, along with a set of tools that will cover most domestic tasks. I'm getting quite good at repairing toys, so I'm learning some (useful) skills too - certainly more useful than just flashing the cash on replacement items. Repairing not replacing is not only cheaper - after all, superglue and sellotape are not that expensive - but it's also more environmentally friendly. The mix of materials in a typical household item (especially a toy) makes it unlikely to be recyclable. 

In our modern culture, things don't even need to be broken before we replace them.  Adverts frequently tell us that we need the new model, latest version or the updated device. However, I know that I don't need to replace my computer, the one I have can either be upgraded or left as it is. My digital piano (17 years old) works, is connected to my PC (itself now about six years old) and both are still adequate for my needs. So instead of following the norm of endlessly replacing and throwing away, I will continue to work towards getting the very best out of what I have - by doing unusual things such as reading instructions and reading books about music, photography and so on (borrowed from the library) to enable me to do those things better.  There are more important things in life than always having the newest stuff:

Then Jesus told them, "Be careful to guard yourselves against every kind of greed, because a person's life doesn't consist of the amount of possessions he has."  Luke 12:15, ISV

But godliness with contentment is great gain.  1 Timothy 6:6, NIV

Finally, buying more stuff is going to make it harder for me to have less stuff at the end of the year than at the start, which is one my aims for the year, in line with another of my resolutions - to give away more than I receive.  Next time - producing more than I consume.

Monday, 16 January 2017

Giving Away More Than I Receive

New Year's Resolution number two is to give away more than I receive, and it's as simple as it sounds. Also, I'm anticipating that it will be the easiest to achieve, but we'll see.

I have, over the years, accumulated a large amount of stuff, and I now have far more material possessions than I really need which take up more space than I can really manage. Stuff is becoming clutter and so I've decided enough is enough.

Do I really need two bikes? No. I may have ridden my old bike all round Cambridge when I was a student, but it's worn out and is well past repairing  (I replaced it 18 months ago *because* it was beyond repairing back then). So why have I still got it? Sentimental attachment. I'm not exactly a hoarder, but... :-) 

So, anything that I have but only have a sentimental attachment to: it's going. I'll be donating bags of usable stuff to charity shops, offering items on social media and forums and so on.  I already have plans to donate my old bike to a charity that specialises in restoring and repairing rusty bicycles.

Additionally, we have been given many, many things recently - and we're constantly being given or offered more things (baby clothes and toys are good examples).  In the same way, our children are growing through their clothes and it makes sense to pass them on too. I've said before that it feels like we just can't give things away fast enough.

More importantly:

"Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you."  Luke 6:38
"Freely you have received. Freely give." Matthew 10:8
“Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.” Luke 3:11
"[Remembering] the words the Lord Jesus himself said: 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.' " Acts 20:35

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Spending Less Time On Trivial Matters

My first New Year's Resolution is to spend less time on trivial matters. That's pretty broad, so let me expand on it.
Trivial matters are things that serve absolutely no practical purpose at all. There's no end product, no benefit and typically no real aim to them. They vary for each of us but Facebook, YouTube and other social media probably rank quite highly on the list - they certainly do for me. According to my Facebook year-in-review video, I clicked the Like button over 10,000 times - and I found that alarming.
So, this year, the first thing I've done is to delete the Facebook app from my phone. It's been a great change: I no longer get any notifications direct to my phone, so I am completely free from the cycle of post, get notification, post comment, read updates, get notifications, read comments, and so on. I do still read and update information on Facebook, but it's when I want to and not just because I received an update 30 seconds ago. I'm also busier living life without thinking I have to update social media with my latest thoughts just because I thought them.
The twitter app is next to go. I rarely tweet, but still suffer updates from the app.  Life is better and more productive without trivial interruptions.
And that's the point: to make the most of the day by not wasting it on procrastination or unproductive activities. 
There are other pastimes that can quickly become waste-times: for me, computer games and game apps are next. I've hardly had time to play any computer games since Lizzie was born, and certainly not since Ben was born - and that was five years ago. They are games, by definition they're trivial and unproductive - especially if they're just solo games when they're solo games - I'm not even socialising.
Having said that, playing with my children is not a trivial matter - spending time with them is vital, whether that's talking, playing or just spending time with them. That's what the trivial matters are being pushed aside for.
Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Colossians 4:5

Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Ephesians 5:15-16

Make the most of every opportunity. Spend less time on trivial matters.

Friday, 6 January 2017

Ten Things I Learned In Fantasy Football

This year, for the second year, I joined my workplace Fantasy NFL Football league, even though I'm nowhere near my 'workplace'.  I work from home in the UK, and most of my colleagues are based in Texas, so I don't get much chance to engage with them outside of a work environment - so I seized this opportunity.  Some of my colleagues asked me if I knew that this was American football (some of them with more sarcasm than others), but they were all very welcoming.  And I can assure you that I know enough about football (I'm going to call it football instead of American Football - it's just quicker to type) to understand the rules of the game, the aims of the game and the basic stats (yards, passes, interceptions and so on).  We use the Yahoo fantasy football scoring system (points per 100 yards, typically, with extra points for touchdowns) - which I soon got to grips with (and produced my own Excel spreadsheet to identify the good players, as you do).

Now, although I understand the rules, I had no idea about who the best players were, so I really did start from scratch - reviewing the previous year's data and rankings, understanding how Yahoo scores each player, and so on.  This means I had no preconceptions (also known as 'experience') about the best players or the most successful teams. They are all just names to me.  Le'Veon Bell's arrest for drugs; Cam Newton's Christian faith (and his fashion sense); Derek Carr's philanthropy... I wasn't aware of any of them.

However, here's what I learned:

1. Some Americans are extremely competitive. Not just the actual football teams and players, but my workmates - and some of them take this very, very seriously.  (I have the advantage of having nothing to lose - after all, is an Englishman supposed to know anything about the NFL?  Don't English men just drink tea and play cricket?).  I had heard about trash talk, but now I know what it means - and thankfully last season, most of it was directed between other players.  This season, there was almost none at all.  Perhaps my American colleagues just weren't trying hard enough?

From "If Brits Played American Football" YouTube video.

2.  As they say when advertising risky financial products, previous performance is not really an indicator of future performance.  It's okay to review a previous season, or even a previous game, but it's not going to give you all the answers.  It's good as an indication of a player's abilities and potential performance, but it's not comprehensive or totally reliable.  More detailed information about player form and fitness, and the strength of their opposition is also important. Fitness levels are important -more than just the "Questionable" that Yahoo listings provide:  wider reading is recommended. For example, Derek Carr (QB) scored 47 points one week... and just 7 the next.  I bet you didn't see that coming.

3.  Yahoo's own points projections are unreliable at best.  I suspect they're produced at the start of the season and not adapted or updated based on circumstances or form throughout the season, because there have been times when my players have massively outperformed them (Le'Veon Bell (RB) and Julio Jones (WR) are two examples) and yet they've not seen their projections change for the following week.

4. MVP (Most Valuable Player) can also stand for Most Variable Player.  I had Cam Newton (QB) on my team last year, and again this year.  I also drafted Derek Carr (QB), who has had a season of two halves.  There was even a week where I played Marcus Mariota (QB), (which worked out for me).

Overall, Derek Carr scored 328 points, 14% more than Cam Newton's 287.  However, Derek Carr was less consistent:  his maximum scores were 47 (week 8) and 31 (week 4), and his minimum scores were 7 (week 9) and 4 (week 14).  Yes, just 4 points.  His overall spread of results is 4 - 47, which is 43 points.  For Cam, the maximum scores are 40 and 26, the minimum scores are 12 and 13, and his spread is just 27 (compared to 43 for Derek).

So, who do you pick?  There's considerable variation in both players:  Derek scored 328, Cam scored 287, but if I'd picked the better player each week (retrospectively), their combined score is 418.  This game is not just about drafting good players, it's also about playing the best one on a week-by-week basis.

How are you supposed to forecast the performances in weeks 8 (47 points) and 9 (7 points)?

5.  I have to pick my draft selections in advance, as I'm six hours ahead of my Texan friends and the draft session is too late in the day.  This is not a significant disadvantage (nor am I complaining), but it does mean I have to choose my list all at once, without knowing which of my first picks I drafted successfully.  It's a lot like running an A/B test (and I have treated the whole Fantasy Football thing like a series of A/B tests) - you have to set up your recipe before you start running the test!

I should probably confess that in my first year, I didn't realise in NFL that you can change/transfer your players each week (it's not like soccer, where there are specific transfer windows) and hence I drafted two kickers - a lead kicker and a substitute.  I didn't make that mistake this year.

Yahoo gets all sassy with my team selections in my first season
6.  It's okay to make transfers to change your team - like I said, this is really just iterative testing with more noise than usual.  It's frowned upon (halfway through the first season, I received the "Most OCD Manager" for the most roster changes), but not against the rules.

Partway through this season, I picked up Jay Ajayi (RB) and Marcus Mariota (QB).  Marcus is the new quarterback for Tennessee - this was his second season - but a few weeks into this season, I noticed his performance based on, and drafted him and played him once.  Similarly, Jay Ajayi has really developed this season, and very quickly became my second running back - my first running back slot was taken since I discovered Le'Veon Bell last season ;-)

7.  It's okay to use the wisdom of the crowd.  There are sites which compile player rankings from multiple sites and will enable you to compare one player against another, week by week (taking into account effects like injuries, opposition, and so on).  This is extremely useful if you have two players in mind - either both players in your squad, or one that you own and one that you're considering picking up as a free agent.  My personal favourite is  These compile the rankings from sites like Yahoo, but also take into account expert rankings which are updated and reviewed every week (unlike Yahoo, as I mentioned in paragraph 3).

8.  Le'Veon Bell (RB) is an extremely good player.  He was suspended for the first four weeks of the season (as I discovered after drafting him) but has still been one of the highest scoring running backs this year.  In week 15, he achieved 55 fantasy points, which was just over a third of my team's total for the week, and possibly the best for a RB in the whole season.
9.  Bye weeks: after a few introductory weeks, each team has a week off during the season, so you'll need strength and depth to carry your team when your best player(s) are not playing.  And it helps if you can stagger your team's bye weeks, so that you don't have a large number of players out in the same week - as I discovered last year, and then remembered too late this year.  This year, I didn't pay enough attention, and had a week where two or three of my best players were all out at the same time.  A note that bye weeks are not the same as in the English Premier League, where an International weekend means that nobody plays.

10.  It's not great when you have players in your fantasy team who are playing directly against each other in a given week.  Are both players going to have good weeks, if only one of them can score points when they have possession?  This is also important when you pick your defence - it's really not a good idea to have your quarterback play against your defence - only one of them can do really well.  And if you're spelling defence with a 'c', and stressing the second syllable instead of the first, 

11.  Yes, I'm having 11 lessons, because the article title is as accurate as a Yahoo player projection.  Lesson number 11 is that if you win, you become the 'commissioner' for the next year.  From what I can tell, this is a thankless task, where you set up all the parameters for the season (the points awarded for yards, touchdowns, field goals and so on) and how many teams make it into the playoffs.  Do it well, and nobody notices.  Do it badly (or less well), and everybody complains, especially at the end of the season when everybody claims they've won; that they scored the most points; conceded the fewest; made the most player transfers (I thought this was a bad thing, but apparently not); and won in the playoffs (which everybody, for some strange reason) was entered into.  Our commissioner this year did a great job.  That's all I'm going to say :-)
My results?  I achieved 6-7-0 for this season, making the play-offs by coming third in our league of eight, and then coming third in the play-offs  My aim was to be not-last in our league, and I exceeded my own expectations.  I even made some of my colleagues nervous by winning my first two games, and climbing towards the top spot.  My weekly points average was 128.62, with a high of 192 in week 10 (Le'Veon Bell 33, Stefon Diggs 31, Cam Newton 26, Julio Jones 25) and a dreadful low of 66 in Week 3 (Willie Snead 0, Julio Jones 2).

Next season: I'll read in advance of the start of the season to identify any suspensions or injuries, then review the best players from this year. My spreadsheet is ready!