Counting steps to the metro


Walking to work

For better or for worse, I usually ask myself two questions, every day, What can I quantify? How can I learn from it? There are small things, like quantifying how many minutes or steps to the metro, or how many times Ed Sheeran says “hmm-umm”, in the Bloodstream song, and then bigger things, like how many events I have per day, and how that day went.

It takes about 10 min for me to walk to the metro, about 862 steps. I’ve measured that a few times, and the main thing I’ve learned is that it’s a precious few minutes, it can help set the tone of the day and can be used to listen to music, or listen to an audio book or podcast. Ten minutes, a relaxed ten minutes, usually by myself, repeated daily, and by the end of the week sums up to 100 minutes, or a couple of chapters of an audio book. That’s also led me to find more and better ways to read. After seeing a post this New Year’s on Reddit, by Quincy Larson, (, I started to quantify, more in earnest, how many books I read. I know I read for work, but mostly research papers, and reports. But how many books? So I quantified all books read in 2014 and came up with about 20 (some only parts). I really thought I read more! Interestingly, most of what I would consider learning and “mental progress” was associated with books, not papers. So, this year I decided a reasonable goal would be to read 4 per month, totaling 48 per year. All this started with counting steps to the metro.

I usually read, underline and summarize (take that Lem!). With audiobooks its harder to underline, so I just note down things in my notebook. This year so far I’ve read 15 books, of those 9 were audiobooks. Given, some books are not that great on audio, it can’t be too complex. For example, I bought The Successful Virtual Classroom on audible, and it was basically terrible, not the greatest book and worse on audio, but Amanda Palmer reading her own book, the Art of Asking, was quite an experience.

Counting Ed Sheeran moans in the song Bloodstream is a bit ridiculous (for the curious, the answer is exactly 10 choruses of three moans), and I guess I’ve learned little from that. After listening to the song it sticks in your head though, for many hours, to the point that I’m singing it to my 5 month old son. This kind of music analysis is fun however, and is tied with my need for music. I find that if I don’t listen to some music every day, I’ve missed out on something. It could be new or old. Its also led me to consider what music I like and why. In fact, last year I did a small exercise of personal music history analysis, and looked back at the top 40 hits in the 80s, when I was “coming of age”. If I analyze the hits from 1980-1985 (many lists out there, but for example,, the most important year for me is definitely 1984. It’s incredible, I go to 1982, 83, fine, I know a few songs, but 1984 is like, I can sing along to the first 40, I’ve danced to them, bought almost all those albums, made mix tapes with them. Songs from 1985 seem corny and passé. So sorry folks, in many ways, I can quantify my musical taste to being 14 years old in 1984, and idolizing Prince, among others, and now having to stop on the sidewalk and sing if I hear “Caribbean Queen” by Billy Ocean, it’s an uncontrollable reflex.

So I usually listen to audiobooks on the way to work, or whenever I can’t read a book, since I’m walking or cleaning dishes (I’ve tried reading while walking, and seen many other people try it, not pretty). But some days I just need the music, preferably new. For the past 6 months I’ve been downloading the top 40 every Monday morning (since I’m here in Europe, I go for the top UK hits of the week), and it’s fairly uncanny how my favorites end up sounding a lot like 1984, at least it seems that way to me. I wonder if everyone else is stuck with the musical tastes they had when they were 14.



  1. Very interesting about the music taste that has become caught in time. I wonder how many of our preferences reflect a point in time, and then define the life that we lead? I think I will have a look to see where in my history my music tastes appear to be stuck! 🙂


    • Yes, you could try a game. Say starting when you were 12, go through the top 40 lists for each year and see how many you can hum to, all the way down the list. When you know more than 20 or 30, that maybe the year…. I’m now reading the book No-logo (Naomi Klein), and it touches on what you say, how our current choices are affected by the past, in this case past advertising. Scary but at the same time interesting to think about.


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