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Chris Harris's Blog

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Last update: September 2018

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My latest album "Fort" is available now at Bandcamp. Just click on the cover image to hear it, or buy seventeen tracks for just seven quid. It's a bargain!

Fort

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AND DREAM OF SHEEP

I continue to be fascinated by the results of the sleep tracker part of the Withings health app that I installed last week. It tells me that last night I enjoyed a session of deep, uninterrupted sleep from 4:24 am to 5:50 am. That's nearly an hour an a half of continuous deep sleep and although I have little data to back up the assertion, it feels like that was a significantly longer period of deep, restorative sleep than I'm used to. I hope it means that losing some weight (six pounds so far) is beginning to have some beneficial results. I'm reassured that I do appear to be getting more than four hours of deep sleep each night on a regular basis. It's a lot more than I thought I was getting.

I'm still figuring out how to use the Withings Pop effectively. The activity progress dial on the watch face wouldn't give an accurate reading until I'd completed my account details on the Withings website and set my step goal there. Until I did this, the watch was showing my daily progress incorrrectly and was out by what looked like factor of ten. The dial barely crawled off zero each day, even after several thousand steps. Silly old me had assumed that the fact that I'd set exactly the same step goal with the app I installed on my phone last week that talks to the tracker several times a day would have been enough to configure the watch correctly, but this is apparently not the case. It appears to be working correctly now.

NAILED IT

I cruised to an early finish at Fifty/Ninety on Sunday afternoon when I posted my fiftieth song on the website. That means that the treasured gold cup emoji has now appeared next to my username to indicate that I've "won" the challenge. This is the sixth year I've hit my target and I still get a big kick out of seeing that cup appear. This year I tried to push myself musically and I strayed into a number of different genres from pop and prog to funk, jazz, electronica and experimental. There are probably more specific titles for genres that my music belongs to, but if I'm honest about this I find the whole obsession with categorising music both limiting and grindingly tedious. I don't really care if what I'm listening to is known as darkwave, future bass, shoegaze, or one of the thousands of other genres that are talked about these days. It's a way of teaching kids to put things in boxes, rely on labels for things instead of appreciating the things themselves, and it discourages innovation or the crossing of boundaries in the creative act. That can't be a good thing.

I'm going to continue making music (whatever genre it may be) for the rest of the month. I'm enjoying myself far too much to stop and rest on my laurels. That productive patch I mentioned earlier on the blog is still going on and I like what I'm coming up with at the moment. Last year I created a total of 55 songs; my all-time record is 67. I'm not sure that I'll manage that this year, but with another two weekends remaining on the calendar between now and October 1st, I should be able to match last year's performance at least.

Once Fifty/Ninety has concluded I'll go back to some of the songs I've written and polish them up a bit in readiness for my annual Christmas CD. There are a few things I want to change now that I've got to know these songs a bit better (is it egotistical to enjoy listening to your own music?) and I want to smooth off some of the roughest edges.

For me, this is about as much fun as it's possible to have.

GAMIFIED

I've kicked my weight loss regime up a notch or two. The old bathroom scales (the ones that showed my weight as ten pounds lighter than it really was) have gone in the bin and I've replaced them with a set made by Nokia, of all people (or, more accurately, their French subsidiary company Withings). When I researched scales online, the Body always came top of the list for accuracy; what other criterion would you want to use for a set of scales? They are bluetooth-enabled so they can talk to my smartphone; I installed the associated app and immediately realised that it is just the sort of thing that will motivate me to lose weight, because I can track my weight from day to day and see graphs of my progress. More motivation is supplied by the scales themselves. When I weigh myself, they display an eight-day trend chart so I can see how I'm doing without needing to open the app on my phone. Turning weight loss into a sort of game appeals to me immensely - after all, I work for a company whose products rely heavily on gamification...

It should come as no surprise for you to learn that I have already created an Excel spreadsheet for all this data so I can make graphs of everything.

As I have a health-tracking app now, I thought to myself, maybe I should see what other things can talk to it? I discovered that I could get a Withings watch that acts as a basic fitness tracker for £35, so I have bought one. It counts the steps I take every day and there's a dial on the front which tells me what percentage of my daily step goal I have achieved. This is presently set at the default value of 10,000 and I am sorry to say I have yet to achieve anywhere near this, but the resulting guilt is encouraging me to walk about more.

Every time I sync to the app on my phone, the watch updates the time it shows from Internet time servers, so it also turns out to be an extremely accurate timepiece. Most importantly for me, it also analyses my sleep patterns. So far I've discovered that I get more periods of deep sleep than I thought I did (which is reassuring), but they are interspersed with frequent intervals of light sleep.

That's all very well, I can hear you say, but have you actually lost any weight so far?

That's the best part of all this: I am already back under sixteen stone. I've lost seven pounds. I've done this just by giving up biscuits and really focusing on portion control. I'm looking forwards to seeing how things continue next week.

NEARLY THERE

I'm going to try and hit my Fifty/Ninety target this weekend. So far this summer I've written 47 tracks, so I have three to go. On several weekends so far I've managed three in a day, so it shouldn't be that much of a challenge to hit the finish line by tomorrow evening. I have really enjoyed myself writing music this summer. I can really hear an improvement in what I've produced, even compared with a couple of years back. The software I'm using is partly responsible for this, of course - Izotope's mixing and mastering software has become an essential part of my workflow. And the fact that I have a much larger arsenal of musical instruments to choose from is a great source of inspiration. My collection now even includes a melodica, a more expensive version of a favourite toy from my childhood which was the first keyboard instrument I ever owned. It was, I think, made by Bontempi. I can still remember the taste and texture of its mouthpiece although it must be at least fifty years since I last played it. The new one has more keys, and the flexibile pipe that connects to the mouthpiece will, I hope, stop it filling up with spit as I play. That's not pleasant, believe me.

The main reason I have enjoyed myself so much this year is that I can hear an improvement in my general proficiency as a player and as a composer/songwriter. The fact that I've written nearly 540 pieces of music in the last ten years has a lot to do with this. I don't cringe when I play back my songs any more and that is a source of deep and profound satisfaction. I'm doing things this year that would never have occurred to me to attempt before.

And if I do reach the magical fifty songs this weekend, I won't stop writing. There's still half of September left!

WHERE WAS I?

It's been a while since I wrote anything on the blog. Time flows by at what seems to be an ever increasing rate. It's dark outside when the alarm clock goes off in the mornings, and in ten days' time the hours of daylight will be shorter than those of darkness once more. Friends are already reporting seeing Christmas displays in the shops, although I have yet to see one. Come to think of it, I haven't even seen a hallowe'en display anywhere yet. I'm sure that will change before very long...

APNEA UPDATE

I've made a little progress on the sleep front, although it feels a bit like "two steps forward, one step back" this week. According to my old bathroom scales I've already lost a few pounds after stopping buying processed foods and ready meals. I've got back into the habit of preparing and cooking food again, and the freezer is gradually filling up with portions of stews and curries. I've been enjoying eating them, too; ready meals just can't provide the intensely satisfying experience that you get when you eat a meal that you put together yourself rather than taking it out of the fridge and putting it in the microwave for five minutes. The extra time spent preparing everything is time well spent, although cooking has eaten away at what little free time I seem to have left these days.

Some dietary changes have been harder to bear; totally giving up eating biscuits has been brutal, but I've managed to stay away from the cookie jar at work for over a week, now. But those bathroom scales have betrayed me. When I got weighed during my visit to the doctor's, I discovered to my dismay that my scales (which, it has to be said, are more than thirty years old and have never been recalibrated) were out by something on the order of ten pounds, and unfortunately not in the good way. At sixteen-and-a-half stone I am considerably heavier than I thought I was. In fact, I'm back to the weight that I was when I returned from Vancouver back in 2012 and well into the "at risk" category for sleep apnea. My collar size is over 17 inches, which is another contributing factor. Looking on the bright side, though, finding out all this has renewed my resolve to do something about it.

And I do feel slightly better. I feel less woozy and last night I slept through to about four in the morning, which I haven't done for about a month. When I got up today I felt less exhausted than I normally do.

The doctor has referred me to the local sleep clinic, but warned me that it could take six month's to see anyone there. I couldn't resist saying this: I won't hold my breath, then...

WAKE UP CALL

I woke up at about three in the morning on Wednesday, worried that I was forgetting to do something, and sure that it was something important. Still woozy from sleep, it took me a moment to realise exactly what it was.

Then it hit me.

I wasn't breathing.

After a few seconds I remembered what to do and made a very unflattering "Huuuuurk" sound as I sucked in the biggest lungful of air that I could manage. I completely freaked out - I got no further sleep that night, as my body was flooded with adrenaline.

So, I have sleep apnea. I've suspected that I might be suffering from it for a while, and it would certainly explain why I wake up every morning feeling absolutely exhausted. I'll be off to the doctor's next week to get properly checked out.

It's been, quite literally, a wake-up call. Being overweight is the principal cause of sleep apnea and for the past couple of years I've been eating very little other than processed foods and supermarket ready meals. The free cookie jar in the office hasn't helped matters either and I'd put on most of the weight that I'd lost back when I was on the 5:2 diet. As of today, I weigh 215 pounds, or just under sixteen stone. I have a thirty-eight inch waist. I need to lose weight, and to do that I need to start eating healthily again. So I'll be cooking my own meals this weekend rather than microwaving something in a plastic tray. I've got fresh vegetables and meat to cook with, rather than anything with extra salt and other preservatives pumped into it. I'm going to start drinking my tea without sugar (I rarely put sugar in coffee these days, so clearly I can manage my favourite beverages in unsweetened form if I put my mind to it). And my alcohol consumption, which is already down to a single bottle of wine a week, is going to be cut still further. No more biscuits. No more crisps. No more chocolate. (I'm sitting here sobbing quietly to myself.)

I have a goal, too: I want to get down to a 34 inch waist, which I had twenty years ago.

WHOA

As I reported here last month, my Twitter stats went crazy in August. My final tally for the month?

281,000 tweet impressions.

The last time I broke 100K was a couple of years ago and while I haven't chacked all the way through my previous analytics, I suspect that last month's figure is more than double my previous best. I'm still not sure why I've suddenly got traction like this, but I seem to have found a community of Twitter users who like what I'm doing. Given the random nature of many of my tweets, this is a surprise.

STILL WRITING

I'm still writing songs for the Fifty/Ninety challenge, and after taking a four-day weekend last week, I'm several songs ahead of my target with 36 tracks written. Today I'll be back at it, provided that my studio PC plays nicely. As I mentioned last month, it's been randomly shutting down on me. I changed the power options from "maximise performance" back to "standard" in case it was stressing the system, and I took the whole thing to bits a couple of days ago to see if there was anything obviously amiss, but I couldn't see anything. I replaced the CMOS battery on the motherboard while the lid was off (it still had the original battery fitted) but it still locked up on me yesterday evening. At least this is an improvement on its earlier behaviour - it didn't shut down completely...

Back in February last year, I replaced the power supply and wiring harness on the system, so I'd be surprised if the power supply is the cause of things this time around. Running DISM and SFC hasn't brought any OS errors to light; maybe it's just that Windows 10 is an atrocious operating system. I hope it starts behaving soon, because I'm using it a lot at the moment.