Breakfast at Oliver’s


I appear to have eaten at Oliver’s Cafe about 90 times since March, 2012 (can’t account for a few cash transactions). I ran the Quicken report that told me that through a quick script to count how many of those visits were on a Sunday (“Dad and Ben breakfast day”): Harder to know that because the date of the transaction going through varies from the date the transaction happened, but it must be about 70.

Ben’s got a usual: 2 scrambled eggs, a sausage patty, a cinnamon roll and a cup of decaf. He settled on that after a streak where he was all about the bacon pancakes, which are incredible but also torpor inducing. Lately I’m all over the place. The coffee is a constant, but it’s hard to choose between all the scrambles and omelettes, plus the occasional bacon pancakes or plain old hotcakes.

When we first moved here, the space Oliver’s is in was occupied by Le Sorelle Café. You could get coffee and pastry and panini there. We’d stop in on Sundays after going to the farmers market. Le Sorelle didn’t last. Coffee in Lents, in general, does not last unless it’s being served out of an espresso hut. That’s a shame, because until the neighborhood is ultimately overrun by people like me, it’d be nice to have a slow but steady coffee place to go work at now and then. We had that in the form of Lents Commons, but it fell apart pretty quickly because it was never meant to be a coffee place: The owners wanted it to be a performance space.

Oliver’s has been at it for a couple of years now, and I hope they’ve cracked the code for remaining viable in Lents: They’re only open until 2 each day. They’re not even attempting dinner service.

Anyhow, this isn’t its Yelp page, where it is mostly appropriately revered by the neighborhood.

Ben and I have been walking down there most Sunday mornings for a while. It’s about 10 minutes from our house, so we’ll go all but the worst days, unless we’re feeling lazy and don’t want to get out of our pajamas.

Some days, we don’t say much. Other days, Ben wants to talk about World of Warcraft or something he saw on YouTube. This last Sunday, he was curious about elections and what it would be like if we had more than two major parties. “Winner takes all” was pretty easy to explain. Proportional representation was helped along by our recent Munchkin Cthulhu binge, because forming a coalition government in parliament is exactly like agreeing to gang up on a level 16 eldritch horror in exchange for a cut of the treasure.

When we get there, we’ve got a few preferred booths over on the east side of the restaurant, where it’s more isolated. Our waitress this past week is new — or new to Sundays — and she’s only seen us four or five times. She was visibly disoriented when we had to sit over on the west side in straight-backed chairs like a pair of chumps, though.

So, most of the wait-folks there know us pretty well by now. Ben still delivers his order each week like it’s going to be news to the waitresses. I’ve made more of an effort to mix it up ever since I caught a waitress starting to write my order down before I spoke it. The next week I deliberately broke my rut and there was an expression of polite surprise that I wasn’t having the omelette.

After I left the newspaper — my first job after college — I ended up in a burger joint for a while. On the days I had the lunch shift, there was a group of three mailmen who’d come in every day. They ordered the same thing every time, and one of them brought exact change every time. The first time I served him his burger I forgot to apply some discount the owner had made up for mailmen and there was a diplomatic incident. I never got the comfort of that routine because the three of them were pretty sour-faced guys. I just saw them sitting there eating their burgers in silence, maybe tipping a curt nod at the counter person on the way out, back to their routes.

I’ve certainly had routines since. Al & I were regulars at the Barracks Road Mister Donut in Charlottesville, VA on Sundays: chocolate angels to go with the Sunday Times for a long while. The fall and winter she was pregnant with Ben it was me going over to Jae’s Low Beer Price on Belmont for ice cream sandwiches, Diet 7-Up and the big box of Dots (which were fresh maybe one time out of ten, which always provoked pleased exclamations).

But I’ve got a weird thing about my routines being picked up on, too. It can feel strange and intimate, and I think about those mailmen and how little I knew about whatever they did besides eat burgers at the College Mall Road G.D. Ritzy’s in Bloomington, IN and (I hope) deliver mail, and how flattened out they seemed to me.

Sounds a little neurotic when I see it there in black and white, but there it is. Most major demons and powerful wizards are similarly particular about people knowing their true names, let alone their preferred breakfasts.

But with the exception of adjusting my ordering habits now and then to appropriately reset expectations with the wait staff at Oliver’s, I don’t mind being a regular there so much because the other half of things I think about in the process of regularing there is my childhood:

Several moves around town before I was five, a big move from Texas to Pennsylvania before kindergarten, cross-town moves and a few elementary schools, a move to Chicago, then back to Pennsylvania (way down the road from where we’d been before), then Indiana in the middle of eighth grade.

I recently did the math, and realized that this time in Oregon — since July 6, 2001 — is the longest I’ve lived in any state my entire life by a couple of years. We’ve been in this house just a few weeks over 5.5 years, and that’s the longest I’ve ever lived in a single house.

I’m not going to say moving around a lot was bad for me. I got a lot from it, especially because it was all so varied: suburban Chicago, dairy country in Pennsylvania, small-town Indiana, Texas, suburban Pittsburg. Lots of experiences — jumping up from dinner to help our host birth a calf out back in the barn! — and lots of people of all kinds.

But it was also kind of lonely. The Pennsylvania farm kids hated the accent I picked up in Chicago. The small-town Indiana kids didn’t really care about hunting much, and my hunter’s ed certification badge wasn’t really a mark of achievement to them. The Chicago kids — I guess they all went on to become John Hughes characters, but I don’t know because I only knew them for this little slice of their grade school lives. I had friends but they didn’t last, and I didn’t ever learn to expect them to.

So when Ben was getting ready to start kindergarten, we decided to make up our minds about where we’d be living, and we picked our house partly because we could see the elementary school he’d be going to from the front porch. I was pretty set on the idea that we’d be looking from that porch to that school every morning until middle school. That on Ben’s first day at middle school, he’ll be in a new place with friends from that school. And that when he starts high school, there’ll be familiar faces in the halls that first day — faces he’s known for almost as long as he can usefully remember anything.

Ben went on this Lady Gaga kick a couple of years ago. He loved her makeup and costumes, and “Born This Way” just sort of resonated with him. He got marked as a weirdo for it, and there was some trouble at school briefly. A group of mean girls started a playground “Ben’s a fag” campaign and he got pushed around. We briefly freaked out — I took six months of that kind of abuse from a bunch of farm kids in Pennsylvania in eighth grade — just five or six punches on the arm or in the gut every morning before gym for six months straight — and it sucked. We’d managed to “win” the elementary school lottery, though, so we could have picked another school to transfer him to the next year. But the thing we learned from the teacher when we talked to her about it was that Ben’s friends had all stuck up for him, and even if there was some stuff going on from a few shitty little kids, after the first shoving incident his friends had all just surrounded him and kept him safe. I thought about it some and realized transferring him to another school would just mean starting over, and maybe not making those friends he’d need before a mean girl clique over there decided he was a weirdo, too.

All of which is to say, that’s part of what we bought — that sense that the best school is the one his friends are at. I have to randomize my breakfast orders to keep from — whatever would happen if I let myself be known that way — but Ben gets to walk into a place where sometimes we hear the waitress behind the counter say “the guys are here,” and he can have his usual.


Ripley and Newt

Sunday Cats

This has been a pretty nice Sunday. It’s rainy in a manner that is appropriate for the latter half of November in Portland, without the damp chill that will come in a few weeks. Ben and I did our usual Sunday breakfast at Oliver’s, then came home and secured Elsa in a bedroom so we could let Ripley and Newt — our two new kittens — out into the house to explore.

We adopted them yesterday from a local PetSmart-based outlet of Cat Adoption Team. We expected to go there and adopt just one, but the lady running the outlet said they were bonded siblings and the three of us ended up thinking we liked both of them pretty well. Based on how they’re behaving, I think that was a pretty good call.

The open question was how Elsa was going to deal with the situation, so we decided to go for a gradual introduction. We put all their stuff in my office, which doesn’t see much use anymore, and let them out to wander around while we sat on the floor. After an hour of that, we let Elsa in for a brief visit. She tried to get a little close and Ripley batted her on the nose, so we saw her out until everyone could settle down again.

We tried again a few hours later, and learned that Elsa would probably prefer not to be around them, but considers any of the three of us holding or petting one of them to be a signal that it’s okay — perhaps necessary — to come sniff. That provoked more hissing and batting from Ripley, and aggrieved whining from Elsa, who is plainly torn over how to receive them.

We kept them in Ben’s room overnight, and after breakfast this morning, we herded Elsa into the bedroom so they could have the run of the house. They weren’t super interested at first, but after I came downstairs for a while, Newt — who seems more adventurous — followed. Ripley preferred to hang out on the window sill behind Ben’s computer.

I’m glad we adopted them both. After Newt and I had been downstairs for 20 or 30 minutes, Ripley began to mew a lot from the top of the stairs. Newt ran up and they conferred about the matter, then she came running back down with Ripley in tow. They’ve been poking around down here since. Ripley is pretty skittish and runs upstairs without much provocation. Newt prefers to explore, and only mews when there’s a place high up that she can’t figure out how to get to. We’ll let Elsa out of containment some time later this afternoon, once they’ve had a chance to learn where the high ground is.


org mode for Managering

A few things I picked up about org mode this week, or figured out how to start using better, anyhow:

1:1 Agendas with MobileOrg

I thought I wasn’t a big fan of MobileOrg, but I’m less of a fan of having a laptop in my 1:1s. With OmniFocus, I solved that by using the mobile version and making sure that things I had to bring to a 1:1 were in the right context (e.g. “@bill”). Org mode doesn’t have contexts, but it does have tags, which look like this:


MobileOrg offers search by tag, so it’s easy enough to do a quick search on bill and get all the relevant entries. That’s better, in some ways, than contexts, because sometimes you need to talk to Bill about something that concerns him, but doesn’t belong to him.

Weekly Status

I was keeping my weekly status reports in a rolling Evernote note. Org mode is nice because it offers a way to provide some structure and automate small things (like cycling through the state of a given progress item).

Since org mode lets you use modelines to define how it behaves in a given buffer, I customized my file with this modeline:

#+TODO: [New] [Unchanged] [Update]  [Stuck]  | [Completed] [Dropped]

The “TODO” line sets the possible states of a project I’m reporting on. shift-left and shift-right cycle through the possible states of a todo, which I customized for progress reports from the default TODO and DONE states.

The “DRAWERS” line defines special folding text buckets that you can fold shut most of the time. I have a “PREVIOUS” drawer where I move timestamped entries from past reports, so they’re out of the way but available for references.

The “OPTIONS” line sets how org mode behaves when I export my progress buffer to an ASCII file. I don’t feel like scrubbing a progress report for public consumption, so we’ll just say something like this:

* [Update] [#B] Some project I'm working on
:ID:       F01E1131-EC1D-412F-90BB-460753F88F23

** Did some stuff
** Did some more stuff  
** Decided to do another thing

   :NOTE: <2014-11-13 Thu> Did something last week

comes out the other end of an export to ASCII as this, ready for pasting into an email:

[Update] Some project I'm working on
    * Did some stuff
    * Did some more stuff  
    * Decided to do another thing

   :NOTE: <2014-11-13 Thu> Did something last week

The [#B] is a priority tag, and the :PROPERTIES stanza is a drawer MobileOrg leaves behind to make sure it’s syncing the right things. You don’t ordinarily see that. In a normal entry it looks like this in the buffer:

Progress org


org-mode and iOS (again)

After Sunday’s jaunt into converting my Things todos into an org-mode file, I re-fixated on MobileOrg.

Here’s the thing about MobileOrg:

It thinks about your org-mode stuff pretty much the way Emacs does, which is to say that it’s pretty firmly rooted in the notion of plain text files. If you’re hoping you’ll just get a list of all your todos when you start it up, it’s going to disappoint.

Here’s another thing about MobileOrg:

It wants you to use either WebDAV or Dropbox to sync, but not in the way you might have naively thought, which would be “if I put my org mode files up on Dropbox, I’m golden.” Instead, it uses Dropbox or WebDAV to maintain a staging area that the iOS client and Emacs can push into and pull out of using sync functions on either client end. It’s a little cantankerous about this, and if you try to set things up without grokking the way it wants to work, you’ll have problems and there will be sadness.

So, I’ve got it working and I will use it as a way to consult the status of projects now and then when I’m not near my computer and I’ve remembered to push my desktop content into the Dropbox staging area. It’s not earth-shattering.

One sort of useful thing that I started playing around with, though, was an iOS app called Drafts. On its face, Drafts is a ridiculously simple text editor. When you start it up — which it does very quickly — it just sits there staring at you. You type stuff in it, maybe switch away from the app, and come back to see that your stuff has been archived and there’s another blank screen staring at you.

Drafts sort of isn’t really about plain text the way a notes app typically is. It’s actually about creating text-based workflows that shuttle your text off to other services for processing. It comes with a default set of actions that make its mission clear. Given a few lines of text in a Drafts buffer, you can:

  • Tweet it
  • Send it to Facebook
  • Add it to a journal note in Evernote
  • Send it as a text message
  • Save it as a file in Google Drive
  • Append it to a file in Dropbox
  • Turn it into an email message
  • Render it as Markdown into HTML then turn it into a rich text email message

Drafts is extensible, so that’s just what it does out of the box. There are hundreds of workflows for all sorts of things based around sending things to web services or processing them in-app via JavaScript, and you can write your own in-app. All your workflows sync via iCloud, and you can customize the action menus to suit what you need to do. Drafts also includes a basic templating system, so when you write actions, simple placeholders like [[date]] expand to the current date, [[clipboard]] expands to the current system clipboard, and [[date|%Y-%m-%d]] does what you’d expect if you know how strftime works.

If you have no patience for setting up MobileOrg, or don’t think you’d really want it, you can use Drafts to append stuff to your org files stored in Dropbox way more quickly than if you were to use the Dropbox app to navigate to them and edit them. I made an action that takes the text in a Drafts buffer and appends it to my file as a timestamped todo. Using the templating placeholders for lightweight guardrails makes it easier to not screw up org mode’s simple but special-character-laden syntax. Here’s the one I set up:

 * TODO: [[title]]  
 <[[date|%Y-%m-%d %a]]>

That will append a well-formed org-mode todo to the end of my file. The [[title]] placeholder uses the first line of the Drafts buffer. The [[body]] placeholder uses all the lines after the first. There are positional placeholders, too, e.g. [[line|n]] for the _n_th line of the buffer. So this:

Correct that bad link on the RBAC intro page
Make sure you check the other links, too


* TODO: Correct that bad link on the RBAC intro page
Make sure you check the other links, too
<2014-11-18 Tue>

… in my file, which gets org-mode’s syntax highlighting treatment in the Emacs buffer when I get to it there (along with all the handy text folding, archiving and agenda generation stuff):

Work org

That’s pretty simple, but it solves the thing that’s always vexed me about org-mode in the mobile world, which is how fiddly task capture can be. This reduces it to opening Drafts, typing a line or two of text, then tapping the Send to org-mode inbox action button. That’s as simple as OmniFocus or Things, and Drafts opens more quickly than either of those.


In Which I Write Some AppleScript to Save the Big Magical Gnu


People at the Friday all-hands made fun of Emacs. I briefly imagined a big, magical gnu sadly, slowly fading away because nobody believed in it anymore, and then I thought of all the ways I’ve failed to support that big, magical gnu. So in a fit of emacsimalism I wrote some AppleScript to convert all my Things projects to org-mode projects, and their tasks to org-mode todos.

It understands:

  • Tags, and converts them to org-mode-style, colon-delimited lists.
  • Due dates, and converts them to deadlines.
  • Status:
    • “open” converts to “TODO”
    • “completed” converts to “DONE”
    • “canceled” converts to “CANCELED,” which you’ll need to add to your org-mode configuration with something like this:
      (setq org-todo-keywords '((sequence "TODO" "|" "DONE" "CANCELED")))

I stopped short of:

  • Mapping “Areas” to something (like org-mode properties, I guess)
  • Mapping “Contacts” to something (I always use the “@name” convention to tag people)
  • Making it put its output somewhere. It just returns a big string you can copy out of Script Editor’s output field and paste into a text file.
  • Bothering with the idiocy needed to get AppleScript to pad any single-digit elements of a date with zeroes. I just hand off to a Ruby one-liner with do shell script.

Cheer up, magical gnu!


iOS 8 Share Sheets Make Everything Better (Bookmarks Edition)

My preferred “save it for later” reading service is Pocket, and my preferred bookmarking service is Pinboard. Getting stuff into either of them on iOS was always a little cumbersome or fraught. Each app I had for finding stuff to read later had its own ideas about which services to support and how to support them, and none of Apple’s native apps were about to acknowledge that you’d want to use anything other than Safari’s reading list (which is fine, but designed to treat deferred content like it’s ephemeral).

So you could set up bookmarklets or pick apps on the basis of how good they were about sharing stuff with other services. I loved Reeder, for instance, until Mr. Reader came along, because Mr. Reader completely embraces the idea that there are all sorts of ways you might want to remember something for later: Maybe it’s a long-term bookmark, maybe it’s a Pocket sort of “read it later” proposition, or maybe it’s a todo for an app like OmniFocus or Things.

With iOS 8’s new share sheets, it’s all better: The Pocket app now provides a share sheet that turns up in Safari, Reeder and Mr. Reader, so it’s just two taps to get something into Pocket.

Two Pinboard Clients

For Pinboard saves, you just need a Pinboard client. I’ve tried two, and have an opinion on which is better based on one tiny difference.

Pinner is the first of two clients. It’s $4.99 for a universal app. It provides a way to manage and read Pinboard bookmarks and has a reader view that works much the same as you’d expect from Pocket and Instapaper. It seems fast enough when syncing, and it offers a pair of share sheets. One of them just grabs the bookmark without any interaction required, the other lets you fill in a title, description and tags then mark it as read/unread, private/public.

Pushpin is the other. It’s $9.99 for a universal app. It looks and behaves a lot like Pinner: Manage bookmarks and tags, read bookmarks, reading view, etc. It also has two share sheets (one for making a regular bookmark, another for saving one as a “read later” item).

The difference between the two is that with Pinner’s in-app browser/reader, a long press on a link on a page you’re reading gives you the choice to copy the URL to the clipboard, or add the item to Safari’s reading list. With Pushpin, a long press on a link gives you the choice to copy the link or save it as a Pinboard bookmark.

That’s easily $5 worth of difference over a year of reading big, link-rich pages saved from Pinboard and saving some of those links for later.

But Why Not Just Use a Pinboard Client for All Your Read-It-Later Needs?

Because I’m not aware of a Pinboard client that caches article content. Consequently, Pocket — which downloads new content in the background and saves a local copy — is always ready for no-network or slow network situations. Why waste my phone’s battery running the personal hotspot just to read something on my iPad? Or sit through my phone trying to choke down an ad-laden page when I’m on a slow connection? Pocket makes sure it’s ready for me when I want to read it.

Weren’t You Into Instapaper for a While?

Yeah. I was. Marco was really cool to me years ago when I wrote him asking for an addition to the Instapaper API so I could save NetNewsWire articles to Instapaper. At some point, though, Pocket (which was probably Read It Later at the time) passed Instapaper up in the features race. I mean, they’re both pretty good.


A few more notes on bike commuting (& that inflatable spa)

I had to go to a customer site out by the airport today. I wasn’t sure what the bike storage situation would be there, so I took the Max and broke the 100 percent bike commute rate I’ve been maintaining since the last week of August. I’m going to compensate by jotting down a few things that have occurred to me since my last post.

On Rain Gear

@nathanrawlins quoted C. William Pollard to me once:

“Marketing battles are fought in the mind; […] a battleground just six inches wide.”

That is also the case with the battle against moisture.

My first crack at regular bike commuting two years ago went poorly once the weather turned, partially because I didn’t understand the battle I was fighting. I thought I was fighting a battle against ever being wet, and dressed accordingly. I got super sweaty in ways you don’t want to be sweaty, with the wrong kind of clothes: Base layer stuff that clumped and bunched on the inside, and an outer layer that kept the sweat completely trapped.

This year, I thought that through a little better and I invested in some proper biking rain gear: A helmet cover, a good jacket with pit zips and a back vent, convertible biking rain paints that let me unzip the lower leg and use them as knickers, and waterproof socks. It all goes over either a merino base layer for cold days or some light synthetics on warmer days. I’ve got some waterproof shoe covers, but I’m keeping them in reserve for when it’s just constant, steady rain.

I still sweat, but I’m able to regulate my temperature better, and the wicking base layer means I don’t feel like I’m squishing down the trail by mile six. I also don’t try to have perfect coverage. There’ve been a lot of gently rainy days recently, and I generally use my pants in their knicker form unless the rain is a legit downpour. It’s way more comfortable that way.

I also finished up my bike rain outfitting by putting low-hanging flaps on the backs of my front and rear fenders. The front ones keep road gunk off my legs, the rear ones are because someone passed me and cut back in front of me going through a puddle, giving me a face full of education on why rear flaps are polite.

Anyhow, the trick is not minding that you’re wet. You just have to be wet on your terms.

The Light Question

I was sort of conflicted about how to ride with lights on the Springwater at night because people would sometimes yell at me about them. I’ve just opted for using the lowest possible setting (which is still bright enough) and angling them down so I can see the path quite well maybe 12′ in front of me. People can yell. The Springwater is a wonderful thing to have, but it is legitimately dangerous after dark if you can’t see well: Way too many people with no reflective gear walking toward the middle of the path, pushing along shopping carts or whatever, combined with a breed of sociopath bicyclist who will run flat out with no lights on an unlit trail.

Since my headlight is USB-chargeable, and because I don’t always remember to charge it, and because there are people in the world who just go around stripping bikes of accessories if you forget to take them off, I bought a set of cheap Bell LED lights that use button batteries and deliver 50 or 60 hours when blinking. I put them in a small hard case and keep them in the bottom of my pannier in case I run out of juice or someone takes a light I forgot to secure.

The Springwater vs. Through Town

Google Maps and colleagues suggested several routes through the southeast to get me to the new office. I tried a pair over the course of two mornings and learned a few things:

First, what the Springwater adds in commute distance (a bit under two miles, or 10 minutes at my average speed), it gives back in being able to just go and only stop a few times. Going through the southeast neighborhoods adds a lot of lights and a lot of stopping for construction vehicles or delivery trucks parked in the bike lane. I didn’t save much time in the end.

Second, the Springwater confers a pretty marvelous gift in the form of a relaxed ride. You have to be alert for people and other bicyclists, but it’s a route of long, straight stretches where it’s hard to miss other people coming up from a good distance away. Going through town involves the constant threat of being doored, backed into, or just getting hit by a car misjudging your speed and trying to peel out into an intersection. Other bicyclists with better adapted in-city reflexes and better tolerance for close shaves add to the occasional sense of chaos as they squeeze in between you and cars, or pass on the right.

There’s a part of me that wants to “do it right” and try to build up those reflexes and tolerances, but after a few days of trying, it isn’t nearly as persuasive as the part of me that prizes those long, quiet, slow rides back and forth to work. Am I smiling at you when you thought I’d be walking into that meeting loaded for bear? It’s because I took an hour and spun up five or six virtual instances of you between home and office, and figured some things out. Several of those instances have made excellent points I would not have considered had I been dodging a UPS driver.

So, extra 10 minutes and all, it’s the Springwater for me. I will carve out the occasional exception to meet colleagues down at the Division Street Pine State Biscuit.

The Hawthorne Bridge Is a Marketing Triumph

The Hawthorne Bridge is sold as emblematic of Portland’s laid-back bicycling culture. It’s the worst part of my ride, every single day.

I didn’t get why until I rode through town and came down onto the bridge from the east instead of pedaling up onto it from the esplanade: The people who just ride down onto it are flying off a downhill slope. The people coming up onto it are cranking up a steep ramp. Two completely different states of being are meeting on that bridge.

So there’s lots of close passing and impatient weaving in and out of pedestrians and bikes. People tell me they’ve seen bicyclists shove each other, and I was grazed once by someone who wouldn’t give me the time to get back in front of a pedestrian I’d passed. As it’s marked, I don’t think you’re even supposed to get in front of pedestrians: They’re supposed to have their own lane. You could try shouting that at the spandex rage monkeys trying to run you down, but they’re too busy winning a race against their inner demons.

The Tillikum Crossing can’t open soon enough.

My Inflatable Spa

And that brings us to the odd thing out in this survey, which is my recently purchased inflatable spa (way cheaper on sale a number of places).

People give me a look when I mention it because it sort of sounds like a heated kiddie pool.

So, it’s a spa.

You blow it up with a motorized pump, and it’s rigid enough that you can sit on the edge and it won’t flex. It comes with a pump/heater assembly, a control unit, and an inflatable cover that can be buckled down and locked when it’s not in use.

It holds 200 gallons and it can seat two adults and a 10-year-old on the bottom, which is super cushiony and comfortable, even on our concrete patio.

It can heat the water to a maximum of 104 degrees, which feels pretty good (though I could go for 106 or so, I think, no matter what the government safety people think my chances of stroke might increase to). It also has a massaging bubble action setting that creates a sense of firm (but by no means Jacuzzi-like) massage. The tradeoff with the bubbles is that the pump is just forcing the outside air through a chamber, which means the water will drop about a degree every 10 minutes or so.

I bought it after we spent a weekend at Kahneeta, where there was a spa that looked out over the mountains and I realized that I have a definite gift for lolling around in hot water. I mean, I can completely crush lolling around in hot water.

I’ve guess I’ve always known that about myself. At least, I’ve known it since eighth grade, when I took a copy of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy into the bathroom with me and didn’t come out for two hours, just giggling and occasionally managing the delicate operation of draining off the cool water and adding the hot water with just my pruned toes.

It takes a little maintenance in the form of alkaline/ph balance and chlorine management, but it’s completely worth it. I’m in it most nights, a bit before Ben’s bedtime so we can hang out and talk about whatever’s on his mind before I tuck him in. Yes, several virtual instances of you have probably been in there with me, arguing about something, but in quiet and relaxed voices.

I don’t know if I’d go so far as to call it life-changing, but it’s been a definite life improvement. I mean, I really, really like lolling around in a tub full of steaming hot water. Getting to go out and do that under the stars on my own back patio is pretty great. I think I might need to start saving for a permanently installed one, because I’ll have to pack this one up once it starts getting consistently under 40 at night.


Some Notes on Bike Commuting

Last year I sat out the bike commute challenge at work. I was feeling resistant to bike commuting because I’d given it a try in late fall/early winter and had a really hard time of it. This year, I thought about it ahead of time and decided to set a goal of biking to work every day in September.

I started out July with a three-day-a-week goal and it was pretty easy to get up to five days a week within a month or so. The last Friday of August, I went on a 51-mile ride around east Portland (warning, PDF) as a sort of “if I can do this in a morning, I can surely do 24 miles a day” validation run.

Here are a few observations:

Handlebars matter

My last bike was a hybrid with mountain bike bars. It was very hard to ride for more than five or six miles without feeling some discomfort. There just aren’t many ways you can vary your grip, which makes it pretty fatiguing over time. My new bike has drop bars and “chicken levers” in addition to the normal brake levers. There are plenty of ways to shift around on the bars now, which helps beyond just resting wrists, hands and shoulders: It’s much easier to shift weight around in general.

A good bike fit matters

Puppet Labs paid for most of a bike fitting during the bike commute challenge, so I was able to have a specialist set me up and coach me on posture and positioning. My seat was riding a little high, and my posture wasn’t great. 30 minutes later, everything was adjusted correctly and I had learned how to position my feet on the pedals and hold my back. My ride has been more comfortable since.

Cleats are nice, but they take work

After a lot of back and forth, I bought clipless pedals. I had toe clips on my last bike, and they were fine but a little bit of a pain now and then. For September, I just used the pedals that came with my bike. They were fine except on wet days: I’d hit a few hills where I didn’t downshift enough and my feet would slip off.

I celebrated my 100 percent commute rate for September by buying clipless pedals and shoes. I was initially going to go with the standard Shimano SPD setup and possibly dual-use pedals (cleat hardware on one side, standard cage on the other), but noticed Shimano’s selling a line of clipless pedals and shoes branded as “Click’R.” They’re supposed to be easier to get in and out of, which was a concern for me because everybody said “if you go clipless, you’ll fall over some time in your first week.” So rather than going with the half-measure, I just bought Click’R stuff.

The Click’R line involves a slightly different pedal construction and standard SPD cleats, along with shoes that I think are a little more built for street wear. The pedals are also multi-use, so it’s possible to use them for short rides without cleats. The guy at Bike Gallery installed the pedals for me and set the tension very low. I went out in the side parking lot and practiced clicking in and out 20 or 30 times, then took off for work.

I haven’t fallen over yet, but clipless pedals weren’t completely trouble free to begin with. You have to set up your cleats with a little care to make sure the pedal is properly aligned with your foot. I set mine up kind-of-sort-of correctly and began to notice two things: My left foot was turned in a little (bad alignment of the cleat along the length of my foot), which caused me a little knee discomfort; and both feet were sore from my toes trying to grip something when I pedaled.

I paid very close attention to this video on proper cleat setup, made a few adjustments, and I’ve had a week of much smoother riding. No more inward turn, the knee pain is gone, and it’s easier to adopt the sort of shuffling pedaling motion you’re supposed to have when you’re clipped in. I don’t think about my feet, either. I just click in and start going and there’s no more foot stress.

The big difference I’ve noticed in my rides has come from better pedaling technique: When I’m doing it right, I’m exerting less force in a way that used to cause my upper body to move more when I pedaled. Now, with that shuffling stroke, my upper body has an easier time staying still and that makes for a ride that feels smoother and more anchored.

Lower gears are better

When I first got my new bike, I was pretty excited about how fast I could go on it. I lived up on the third ring and sort of mashed along at high speed. After a few weeks, I read that the middle cog is traditionally the cruising cog, so I dropped down to that, but still stayed up on the high gears. In the past few weeks, I’ve been experimenting with lower and lower gears, and I’ve found that spinning along around the middle of the middle cog is just about right for me. I’m moving about as fast as I was when I was mashing in the upper gears, but it feels better (and it contributes to the smoother ride I’ve been getting by improving my pedaling technique). It also makes hills less traumatic: one long pull on the STI shifters gets me down to a climbing gear, and three clicks at the top gets me back to a cruising gear that doesn’t take a ton of effort to get moving with again. There are a few hills I don’t even think about anymore because there’s less wandering around the gears.

You won’t please everybody

A short list of things I have gotten yelled at for on the Springwater:

  • Using my bell to warn people I’m coming up on them (“Whatever!”)
  • Not using my bell to warn people I’m coming up on them
  • Saying “on your left” before passing (“GOOD FOR YOU!”)
  • Not saying “on your left” before passing (that guy chased me for a block, yelling at me that he was going to kick my ass) (we were on opposite sides of the widest part of the trail with nobody else around)
  • Blinking lights (“disco, motherfucker!”)
  • Steady lights (“FUCK YOUR LIGHTS!”)
  • Yielding the right of way to a driver who had the right of way
  • Failing to cross against a signal

I had one close shave with someone who just turned across a bike crossing without looking, and I had one close shave from someone who yielded the right of way at an intersection, then rescinded the offer as I passed in front of them. I think someone thought the whole “lunge at the bicyclist with your car” thing was a playful joke I might enjoy. Good one!

But, you know, over 800 or so miles that averages out to someone being unhappy with me about once every 80 miles. I’ve since settled into just using my bell (people who are walking or riding along and talking or listening to music don’t hear spoken warnings without me shouting, which just makes them angry) and I’m firmly in the “your attempt at rules-of-the-road-negating ‘courtesy’ will get someone killed, so I’m not budging until your arm falls off from gesticulating at me” camp.

Lights are a conundrum. Too bright or angled too high, and they’re obnoxious. Angled too low and they make the Springwater at night a pretty iffy proposition, considering how many people there are on foot wearing nothing reflective, or salmoning up the trail with no lights. My takeaway so far: I’ve adapted to bright lights on other bikes by looking down at the side of the path until they’re past, and I just keep my light at the lowest of the three brightness settings.

What I got over three months

So, from a dead stop of having not ridden to work in 18 months in July, to biking into work every day in September (and so far in October, with the exception of a single work-from-home day), this is what I got:

I was pretty saddle sore the first week or two, even at three days a week. My back wasn’t always happy, and my shoulders were sore, even though my new bike let me shift around a lot more than my old one. After a month, I wasn’t thinking about saddle soreness at all. I even did a 10-mile ride from a coworker’s house in my jeans without getting too sore. By mid-September, I wasn’t thinking about my shoulders or arms at all.

My overall sense of wind has been steadily improving. Now that I’m spinning more than I’m mashing, I’ve been experiencing a much more profound sense of stillness on my rides. That extends from the steady motion of my body to the ease of my breathing. Clipped in, properly seated, and resting on the brake hoods, I feel anchored and connected to my bike.

There’s been some work stress, but that hour on the bike at night gives me a ton of space to process it and come through the door in a better place for my family. The hour on the bike going in gives me valuable time to think about what’s coming for the day and gear up for it.

Without paying much attention to my diet — meaning I just sort of went with it when all that increased activity meant I wanted to eat like a horse, and I haven’t been denying myself much since my appetite settled down — I’m also down a bit over 17 pounds.

I guess the big downside is that winter is coming and I don’t think there’s any alternative but to keep the routine I’ve established. It’s been too good for me to stop, even if it means I’m going to be getting wet a lot.


I bought my team copies of @shanley Kane’s book. I think you should buy it for yours.

The first piece of Shanley Kane’s writing I ever read was her essay, “The Marketing Chick.” I was a marketing dude at the time, and it turned my head around. Up to reading that essay, I was feeling pretty sorry for myself: People in the tech industry consistently make sport of their colleagues in the marketing department, and it’s gross.

Because I’d started out at the company as a tech writer, and because I had a background as a practitioner with expertise in the sorts of technologies we support, I got a little bit of a break elsewhere in the office. The jokes about being “on the dark side” were delivered with a little more of a smile. I was supposed to read the ribbing about “bad life choices” as gentle, I think. When things weren’t going well on the team, I had an easy time finding sympathetic ears because it’s marketing, and there’s only so much you can do with those people. And because it’s like Shanley wrote:

Ironically, but not surprisingly, men who do these jobs are almost never denigrated and insulted the way women who do these jobs are. In fact, most high-level marketing positions in tech are still occupied by white men. Funny how that works.

She’s right. The worst thing I could ever be called was “a marketing dude.” Never one of “those bitches in marketing.”

So reading Shanley helped me start thinking about how much privilege I was enjoying, regardless of how put upon I felt. It helped me understand what it meant when a female coworker confided to me that some of the women on the team hated to disagree with me, because they felt like they were at an automatic disadvantage dealing with a male who was “more technical.”

When I got a laudatory evaluation that mentioned the ways I’d “bridged the divide” between marketing and other teams in the company, Shanley’s writing helped me understand the ways in which a thing I thought was a virtuous outcome — I like being the guy who can walk into a room and help people make sense of each other, and it seems like a valuable gift to have — was perhaps the product of a bad gender dynamic.

Ultimately, I didn’t last on that marketing team. I went back over to technical writing — and a management role — and lots of people heartily welcomed me back. It was hard to be all “oh, thank god!” about it, because people always seem ready to believe the worst about marketing. If you believe in social justice, and once you see that gender dynamic exposed the way Shanley does in her essay, being welcomed back to “where you belong” feels slightly poisoned.

So, that was the first thing from her I ever read, and it changed the way I saw the world and thought about my work. As much as there were times in that marketing pod where I felt as profoundly alienated as I’ve felt anywhere, I was given a way to understand how much privilege I had.

I’ve read more of her stuff since. She has some wonderful insights into the responsibilities of management, how microaggression works and looks, how to identify the smells in your team communication, and more, including the wonderful “Values Towards Ethical and Radical Management.” In the best of all possible worlds, she wouldn’t be considered a radical at all. In fact, there are substantial parts of that essay that wouldn’t be out of place in an Army leadership course. The fact that she sometimes is considered a radical, that she’d feel the need to label those ideas radical, just underscores how badly twisted our collective work culture has become.

So, I love Shanley’s writing. It’s direct, it resonates, and it should be all anyone needs to read to start asking the right questions. That’s why I gave myself her book. The reason I’m giving it to my team is perhaps more because of Shanley herself.

People have written about Shanley’s writing on Twitter as if they’re writing about a separate person. She’s relentless in the promotion of her ideals in the face of constant demands to just shut up and sit back down, and she isn’t at all cool about it. She reminds me constantly — sometimes painfully — that it’s not enough to read a few essays, sit back and ruminate for a bit. She demands allies actually act like allies, and that’s hard.

I’ve had to make a few difficult decisions over the past year. The combination of her lucid writing and relentless advocacy have helped me make the right decisions when I’ve gotten it right, and helped strengthen my resolve to do better when I’ve gotten it wrong. No, I don’t know her. She doesn’t know me. She certainly doesn’t write for me, but she’s one of those people with which I feel engaged, and who has a voice to which I feel answerable.

That engagement, for me, takes the form of constant reminders of the privilege I’ve enjoyed all my life. I’ve been profoundly privileged to be places where I could come across the ideas I have, and to know people who have been willing to deal with my myopic good intentions and misguided attempts at just behavior — people who have been so patient with me. I’ve caught break after break, and I’ve had the nerve to sit around feeling sorry for myself in the midst of a career I’ll never be positive I deserved; having walked away from ridiculous choices and one really solid attempt at just giving up.

And the thread throughout all that was privilege I didn’t even know I had. Did someone roll over me in a meeting, or treat me poorly, or do something I didn’t like? I’ve never had a doubt that the door of whatever authority figure was around was open to me. That even if it turned out I was wrong, at the very least I’d be soothed and reassured. Privilege is a place of “honest mistakes” and your good intentions mattering, and people affirming your essential reasonableness even when you’re mostly pissed off that you didn’t get your way. You get lots of do-overs. When you fuck up, people not only forgive you but they think up excuses on your behalf and then provide them to you. If you’re like me, you can even make it all the way to 44 before you have to apply for a job where you don’t have some kind of in — went to college with your new boss, had your name passed along by a friend, and on and on.

Consequently, privilege is a place of profound delusion, where you make excuses for other peoples’ suffering — when you’re even aware of it — and sometimes have the unmitigated gall to scold others for their “lack of civility” or “tone” because they happen to be mad as hell over things you wouldn’t stand happening to you, and that you’d be able to correct with a quiet word in the ear of the right person. Given all that, privilege cannot help but be morally distorting.

So I’m buying Shanley’s book for my team because in our relationship I enjoy more privilege than them, and I want them to have something more tangible than promises that “my door is always open,” or that “I’ll work very hard to be fair.” I want us all to have a shared toolkit so we can build the team we all deserve, and so there’s a shared sense of the standard to which I’ll hold myself accountable — to which they can hold me accountable — if I let them down. From her essay “Values Towards Ethical and Radical Management:”

“Manager” is not an honorific, it is my job description.

My first and only priority is to make my team successful.

The honesty, safety, productivity and dignity of my team is more important than my personal comfort.

It should be common sense, but it doesn’t seem to actually be common sense, and I want it to be.

Here’s where you can buy your own copy.


You Just Go Out the Door

I’m on the “guesser” side of the cultural divide, I hate saying “no,” and it’s really hard for me to give people difficult feedback. I think most people who know me know all that.

Here’s something I remind myself of when I’m gifted with an opportunity to see that I’m heading for that territory:

I spent two years on jump status at Ft. Bragg. I wasn’t a super active jumper. I did the ones they told me to do to stay on active jump status and I went to a few weekend “fun jumps” early on. It got harder and harder to jump the closer I got to getting out; maybe because the stories of people being crippled or killed on a jump stack up the longer you’re listening for them, maybe because thinking about going home meant I also had to think about my future a little more. Either way, whatever for, it started getting scary.

So, there was this one sergeant — one of the jump masters — who didn’t think much of me. He’d let me know about it every once in a while. One afternoon he decided to make a thing about jumping:

“You’re such a fucking pussy. I saw you on that last jump, all tight-faced and afraid. Didn’t want to jump, did you?”

“No, sergeant.”

He laughed and hooted. “Called it! Called it! He even admits it. Fuckin’ scared.”

“But I jumped, sergeant. I’m scared every time, but I always jump.”

“Yeah. I guess you do.”

© Michael Hall, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States license.