A week in the life – 24/01/17

A week in the life

A series of blogs about what I get up to in my life over the course of a week, outside of my ‘9-5′ job. Over the course of time, these blog posts should paint a picture of what I do in my spare time, what my routine is like and enable you to see a bit more of my personal life. Here’s how the last week has panned out;

A week in the life

Timing

I’ve been putting off starting work on the BoarderX timing system for a while now. It was always going to be a tough job and I had tried and failed a few times before. If my current hardware was fit for purpose, I knew that once I had started I’d probably get well into it and easily sink at least a week’s worth of evenings into it without even realising (as I often do when I get my teeth into a mountainboard spreadsheet). It’s hard to restart something you’ve been failing with though.

My last attempted failed entirely when I found out that my experiment board could not constantly monitor the input pins and to query the board often enough to ensure catching a beam break crashed any program I used. The board simply couldn’t do what I needed it to do. Back to square one.

(For an explanation on why an accurate timing system is a necessity, read this previous blog post about timing at MWBC)

What’s different this time around?

This attempt would be fundamentally different from previous attempts – instead of creating something bespoke, I had a good long think about things that may use a similar timing system to us, in the hope I could find some homemade kit that I could replicate and tweak to our needs.

Ding – light bulb – eureka – O…M…G…- Pinewood Derby Cars! This home-build/project sport, popular in the USA, could hold the answer! Build Your Own is at the heart of this typically Scout group activity so there must be people out there who took it one step further and built their own timing kits.

I was correct. Upon searching, I found many examples, a few of which were open source/had details. The most consistent thing across the projects – run it on an Arduino board. I promptly purchased the board, but then sat on the project for a while.

On a whim, I decided to have another Google of Pinewood Derby timer systems this week. Then, there it was, a prime site with a plethora of information, schematics and code for a BYO PDC timing system. Jackpot.

Work I’ve done

That very night, I soldered together the wires that connect the laser gates to the Arduino and began testing. Immediately I could get the start gates to work and initiate the race timer. However, the finish line wasn’t working.

Soldering

I dived into the code and began to dissect and understand what was going on in the background. Before I knew it, a few hours had passed and it was time to go to yoga. Knowing how quickly the night would disappear if I worked on the program after yoga, I decided to save my work and shut down my PC and to come back to it the following evening. Getting up at 5.20am to go to work would punish me if I had a late night.

Returning from work the next day, and after going swimming, I sunk another evening into understanding the code and researching why certain parts were coded up as they were. I began making changes and tweaks in an attempt to get the finish line working and to generate a race time. Many changes and tweaks resulted in zero success. By then it was getting late again and I decided that I would take a more documented approach on the Friday afternoon/evening.

We have flexi-time at work which is awesome. At the moment I’m on a (self-inflicted) shift pattern that means by Friday, I have worked 2 hours more than I need to which means I can clock off early and start the weekend at 1pm. When 1pm struck I was in the car and heading home; an extra long afternoon/evening for working on the timing system ahead of me.

A quick start

Inspiration struck early on – the program was written for the Arduino Uno whereas I had the Arduino Mega. A scan of the code and I found an Uno-specific snippet. After tweaking for the Mega, and making the other programming change I was certain I had to make, the finish line worked.

I was finally able to get a time for one rider on track with an accuracy to 0.001s. This level of accuracy goes beyond my requirement, so I can be extremely confident providing times to 0.01s (which is what we currently use for Downhill times and what we’ll use for MWBC timing).

This was huge. The first hurdle had been jumped. I’m now further with a timing program than I’ve ever been. It’s now only a matter of time before I code up the functionality for four riders on track and make an accurate timing system for the World BoarderX Championships. I feel like it is a logic issue as opposed to a logic and hardware issue, and I’m really good with logic.

lasers

The breakthrough came before we were meant to meet with friends which was also great. It meant I wouldn’t be trying to make conversation throughout the evening while also contemplating how to proceed with the timing code – I could set it aside and be present in the moment.

Ahead of time

Completing the first step has taken a big weight off my shoulders and I’m incredibly pleased it’s come so far in advance of the competition. It’s definitely going to save a lot of stress in the build up to the event, I just need to capitalise on my current moment to keep pushing on and get it finished.

I often work on spreadsheets etc. right up the event which increases my stress levels and reduces the amount of sleep and riding I get. Getting everything done well ahead of time is one of my goals this year and it’s looking likely that I will achieve it. It’ll be great to be able to go riding on the weekends in the build up to the big events as opposed to being cooped up inside working on event ‘materials’.

Future work

Firstly, of course, I have to tweak it to be able to run for four riders on a track. Outside of that, I would like to code up my own program entirely to be loaded to the Arduino and create my own ‘app’ on the computer to control the program on the Arduino.

The reason this is future work and not something I’m striving towards at the moment is because I try to work to an MVP-iterative model. By that I mean create an MVP (minimum viable product), get it out there, get it tested, find it flaws, fix them, repeat. Working in this enables me to get something ready and working for an event and build on it each time it’s used. I find it the most efficient use of my time as I’m not building in functionality I think I might need, I only build what I do need.

Using this technique, the program and code may not be pretty, it may not be entirely mine, but it will work. All we need is something that works and gives accurate times to 0.01s and it will be a marked improvement.

I would also like to write a program for Downhill competitions – where you need to handle multiple starts and multiple finishes at a time. The current system used by the ATBA-UK is the yellow ‘brick’ that came with the laser gates. Volunteers are often daunted by it and it can be a little complicated to use, especially if riders overtake each other on track or do not complete a run.

I’d like to put something together with a usability focus and make it much easier for volunteers to run the Downhill competitions (with easy functionality for rider overtakes and DNFs) with minimal training. That’d be nice.

Back to exercise

The ankle is coming along. I was told that 4 weeks after getting the cast off I should be back to sporting like usual – running and jumping, playing badminton and squash again. With the four week date looming (26th Jan), this seemed like an ambitious estimate. I’m still a way from feeling confident to get back on a court or a board, but I decided to ramp up my exercising.

What I’ve been doing

Up until this week, I had been doing various things to help the ankle. I’ve been walking around more often than usual to increase the amount of regular use it gets. I’ve still got a slight limp (long after the estimated 10 days to regularity) but it certainly isn’t as bad as it was. Whenever I get a cup of tea at work, I also perform the exercises set by the hospital – working towards balancing on tip toes on my bad foot/ankle.

I’ve been using a resistance band for a couple of weeks now. I noticed that I would make some improvements over the weekend due to being on my feet more but I would stagnate and or go backwards in the week due to spending the majority of time in my office chair or car commuting. When I realised this, I set up a resistance band on my desk chair so that I can work my ankle throughout the day at work. This has had a huge benefit for me as I spend at least half of my work day with my ankle in the resistance band, whether I am doing pushes or holding the tension.

Upon arriving home after work, I’ve been strapping 2.kg ankle weights onto each ankle. This way I have extra mass my ankle needs to account for, helping to increase the speed at which I gain strength. I have these on for at least 3 hours a night, often 5.

Lastly, a frequent recovery method I am using is massage. I give my leg and ankle a good rub down most nights to try to work out some of the tension and scar tissue. I’m not sure if it works or if I’m doing it right but I definitely feel a little free-er, a bit looser the following day. MY calf muscle tends to get tight from the resistance band of the course of the day and my achilles tendon has been incredibly tight so some massage and stretching has been how I’ve tried to counteract these.

These are the main things I’ve been doing to improve strength since the cast came off. This week I upped the game.

Swimming

I’ve started swimming. I’ve never been a swimmer. I can swim, but not particularly well and it has always caused a chronic foot problem to flare up worse than any other sport. I don’t have a good relationship with swimming, but after multiple sources have said that swimming is one of the best rehab exercises for a broken ankle I couldn’t say no to trying.

First session, I thought I’d get away without goggles. Silly boy. My eyes were blurry for hours after the session so I made sure to purchase them before the next. Second session, eyes were better but I noticed how awful my breathing was and the amount of water going up my nose. I’ve since research swimming techniques ready for my third session.

Third session comes around, I focus a lot more on my breathing technique and experience a vast improvement. There is still a long way to go to develop a semi-decent technique (I need to start breathing on both sides for a start) but that gives me something to aim for. Unfortunately my ankle started playing up during this session so I ended it a little early, however I was feeling the burn in the legs so I wasn’t too disappointed. Upon waking up today I have more of a limp again due to the swimming session which is a shame – I’m glad I’ve got a check-up at the fracture clinic on Thursday!

Swimming is tough. I’m not lasting long but now that I’ve improved my breathing technique I can definitely swim farther. After only a few sessions I can feel the work my body is having to put in and I’m confident I’ll soon be seeing great benefits for my entire body, not just my ankle. My foot issue hasn’t been set off too much and I’m enjoying the challenge of swimming, so I think I’m going to stick it out even after the ankle returns to normal. On the ankle front, I’m not sure how much the swimming is helping, and I thought it definitely can’t be hurting until yesterdays session. The pain is a little worrying; I’ll find out if I should be worrying about it on Thursday at my last Fracture clinic appointment.

Cool Board

Having been aware of the Cool Board since winning one as an Overall UK Series prize in 2009, maybe 2010, maybe 11, I thought that it would be a good boarding rehabilitation device. ATB Shop is much closer than home and I’m fortunate that they loaned me their demo board.

I’ve had the board for a couple of weeks now. At first I was unable to use it as my ankle was too stiff and sore but after trying again at the start of this week, I felt ready to use it.

The 3D motion of the board makes it distinctly different from all other balance boards I’ve used. I’m using the board with the hard balls as well so it rolls around pretty fast and you have to make fairly quick corrections to stay up. Like an Indo board, the ball can roll right up to the edges making it pretty difficult to save if the ball reaches an extremity!
Due to the quick rolling and extremity finding nature of the ball, I’ve been using it next to the sofa. I started out struggling to get up and onto the ball so holding onto the back of the sofa enabled me to get going, and whenever I feel like I’m about to lose the ball and fall off I can grab the sofa and save myself from a fall. The first couple of sessions have been all about getting standing balance back, learning and building strength to be stable standing and rolling on the board.

Cool Board

As I gained confidence and my stable time increased, I started adding slow squats in increase the difficulty as well as holding mid-squat positions. As I was feeling more confident and my ankle is feeling good I upped the ante again and began using the ankle weights and 4kg kettlebells in each hand. Adding the weights has definitely increased the difficulty, making me feel less stable, and that’s great – my ankle and leg is working harder to stabilise me and is getting used to more mountainboard-like movements and forces.

The Cool Board has been excellent and I’m feeling really confident to try getting back on a board soon. Of course, I will start slowly on my mountainboard, but the Cool Board has been giving confidence that my ankle to can handle basic mountainboarding. Getting on my board can’t come soon enough, I’m really starting to itch.

Yoga

Before the injury, Lei and I had started regularly attending a yoga class. We are notoriously inflexible (Lei having compressed her L1 and me with a chronic sprain and repetitive strain on the joint between my pelvis and spine) and spend most of our days driving and sitting at desks. The fitness yoga session at the gym was an ideal class to try to increase flexibility and counteract all the sitting down. We got quite into it but then I broke my ankle and, of course, I could no longer attend.

This week was my first session back – the balancing and stretching seems to me an ideal exercise class to improve my ankle in all aspects. It was nice to get back into the group session and I was much better than I had expected – I hadn’t lost much flexibility and my ankle was as weak as I thought.

Of course, I had a few wobbly moments but I was able to complete every exercise except for sitting cross legged at the end (my ankle isn’t rotating well enough to cross that leg under my other leg at the moment). As well as the strengthening and flexibility benefits for my ankle (and body in general), the relaxation session in the last 5-10 minutes of the class really resonates with me – I really feel myself melting into the floor and finding some inner peace.

Fitness yoga is firmly back on my weekly schedule.

Pilates

Back in the Summer, I took part in a few pilates classes. When the classes schedule at the gym changed, unfortunately the class no longer fitted with my routine/schedule so I stopped attending. The classes have had another shuffle now and I’m glad I’ll be able to attend again.

Pilates should have some great benefits for me – I’ve been told I have a weak ass (literally how the physio put it (they did work on Nitro Circus Live)) which is the root of my knee problems, and pilates targets the core and glutes. On top of benefits for my knees, the stronger core will help with my riding and improve my back.

It was great to get back into the session and I wasn’t aching as much the following day as I had back in the Summer – it was quite a back and leg-centric session which highlighted the strength difference between my left and right legs (my right leg being the only one used for 5 weeks while I was hopping around in a cast), however my legs are pretty strong as it is so fortunately it was an easy welcome back; we’ll see how it goes this week.

I’m definitely looking forward to having pilates and yoga on my class line-up each week, and I can’t tell you how eager I am to get back to badminton on a Tuesday lunchtime and squash on a Thursday evening. Hopefully only a couple more weeks to wait.

Check-up

When my cast off came off, I was given an open appointment to return to the Fracture Clinic if my recovery wasn’t proceeding as expected. The time frame for me to make an appointment was coming to a close so I decided to book an appointment – my ankle isn’t where I was told it would be by now and I’ve been having some sharp pain in my foot and on the inside of my ankle, away from the sprained ligaments. Add to that that my ankle is still swelling and is a different colour and size to my other foot and I feel I have the grounds to get it checked out.

I’m sure it’s all part of the healing process, with ankles known for taking a long time to get back to normal, however I think it’d be silly not to go and get it checked out. I’m off snowboarding at the start of March and I really want to start mountainboarding again so getting a check-up makes lots of sense. I’m booked in for Thursday morning so fingers crossed the consultant will be pleased with the progress and give me some encouraging news.

Worst case scenario, it’s better to find out if something is going wrong now and take corrective actions than to put it off and find out further down the line. All signs lead to getting it checked so I’ll hopefully find out what’s going on Thursday morning.

6 year anniversary

Sunday was Lei and I’s 6 year anniversary and, in keeping with our relationship, we had a pretty low-key, chilled out day. It was really nice – we haven’t been able to spend much time together in the last couple of weeks due to Lei working late shifts and overtime at work, often getting home 30 minutes (tops) before I go to bed.

Having the weekend together with no plans gave us some very welcome time to relax together and enjoy each other’s presence. We got some lunch at Prezzo’s as a bit of a treat and spent the majority of the day talking and snuggling under a duvet/blanket on the sofa watching The Flash.

A weekend very well spent.

A week in the life

There we are, the first in a series of ‘A week in the life’! I hope you’ve enjoyed getting a glimpse into what I do outside of work and some insight into some of my current activities. As we get into Spring and Summer there will be more boarding and spreadsheet shenanigans to talk about so make sure to check back again soon for a new addition in the coming weeks.

Head back to the blog or the Matt Brind homepage.

About the author: Matt Brind

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