Monthly Archives: March 2016


I’ve been thinking about my values recently.

I followed an exercise from a course called “Live off your Passion”.   The exercise requires that you rank your values, by comparing each one pair-wise.  This is actually a pretty fascinating approach, because certain values that I thought were important to me lost every single match!

I came up with the following top 5 values:

  1. integrity
  2. growth/mastery
  3. passion
  4. tranquility
  5. respect

I don’t think this list would necessarily come as a surprise to people who know me, though some items on the list are certainly more obvious that others.

I want to talk a bit about growth/mastery, because I recently read Mindset by Carol Dweck.  Dweck is a professor of psychology at Stanford who studies how mental framing changes our experiences.  She talks about two different mindsets- the fixed mindset and the growth mindset.  The fixed mindset believes that our characteristics are immutable.  Fixed mindset people end up being extremely fragile, since validation (or invalidation) comes entirely from external sources.  Failing a test means you are stupid.  Getting dumped means you are unlovable.  Nothing can be done to change things, so why even try?  Growth mindset believes that people can grow and change.  Negative events aren’t a personal judgment, but rather an opportunity to learn how to improve and become better.  This makes growth mindset people extremely resilient.  Dweck points out that we can have both tendencies; we can believe in a fixed mindset in the intellectual realm but a growth mindset in the relationship realm.

I strongly identify with growth/mastery.  I did my values list before I read Dweck’s books, but more tellingly I’ve always acted on growth.  I’m constantly doing (excessive?) projects to improve or learn new things.  Some have stuck, some haven’t, but I’m always planning a new challenge.  If anything, I embrace growth to a point where it is exhausting.  It is difficult to constantly be striving to improve/learn/master.  Yet, I keep doing it.

But what boggled my mind upon reading Dweck’s book is that I have a fixed mindset pretty much across the board, despite by outward “growthy” behavior.  I found it fascinating to read her descriptions of the emotional turmoil that fixed mindset people have in various situations because it correctly described how I felt in various scenarios.  I’m not sure how I can reconcile my actions with my mindset, other than my firm (fixed) belief that I am a good planner, and anything can be accomplished by planning, carried me through.

I especially laugh at my bike repair efforts, since it perfectly illustrates this contradiction.  I am firmly of the belief that I’m not particularly mechanical, yet I’ve made numerous repairs on my bike.  My first flat tire lead to about six weeks of various issues (having to adjust the shifting, having to adjust the brakes, having to tighten and untighten the wheel, putting the tire on backwards (either no big deal or a huge deal depending on which internet guru you listen to), ruining a bike pump with “slime” from my new tube, having to learn how to remove and clean a valve (filled with slime) and various other assorted woes compounded by having 2 more flat tires in the same period) all of which I interpreted as proof of my lack of aptitude for mechanical things. This list seems funny to me now, and I wouldn’t have a problem dealing with any of the previously listed things.  (I’ve moved on to new frustrating challenges with my bike.)  But at the time, it was a horrible experience because I kept failing to fully repair my bike despite my best efforts.

So I’m trying to be better about reframing things as learning opportunities and experiencing the true growth mindset.  It does take some pressure off, because then when things don’t go to plan it is less anxiety provoking.


Why Blog?

I don’t have a strong vision for what the blog should be.  It is a playground for me, a place to try different styles, tone, themes, etc.  It is a place to be creative.  I imagine at some point everything will jell, and the themes will narrow, my style will coalesce, and the blog will be a more definable thing.

But for now, it is a random mass of thoughts and that’s okay.  It actually bothered me that I didn’t have a theme, and it stopped me from starting for a long time.  Then I finally started, and I thought it would be about writing and productivity.  But then, when I didn’t have anything to say on those topics I didn’t write at all.  When I restarted the blogging/writing habits, I gave myself permission to write about anything.  This is actually pretty scary, since I am revealing multiple facets of my life.  I very much compartmentalize various aspects/ realms of my life, so discussing all of them in a single place is somewhat stressful.

Not only is it scary, but it is a slog.  I don’t necessarily know what I should write about.  I’m not happy with my content or my production schedule.  Having a blog I’m proud of seems like something from the very distant future.  I keep telling myself that I need to keep posting, and I’ll get better, but this habit is running on will-power alone, which is not a good place to be.

I don’t have any great ideas on how to make it easier, other than to keep writing, and hope that things change…


Fixing my bike (revenge of the Mongoose)

The Mongoose Spire goes thunk, thunk, thunk

So today I made my 80th attempt to fix my bike.  I’m not a super mechanical person, but I am extremely stubborn, so…

Anyway, my bike made a thunk, thunk, thunk noise when I rode.  It seemed to get worse when I went faster.  I wiggled various bits on my bike and the only part that felt sketchy was the kickstand.  So I tightened it down so hard it will probably never be removed.  Still, then thunk-thunk continued, but with an escalating symptom of randomly switching gears.  Especially fun when transiting an intersection where your bike lane has disappeared and you have a procession of annoyed cars behind you.

So, with this new symptom, the internet suggested that my problem was a loose cassette.  Upon testing this, the cassette could clearly be moved with much more play than the internet deemed advisable.

Bike repair requires so many tools…

Annoyingly, cassette repair requires specialized tools-  the kinkily named chain whip and the blandly named cassette removal tool.

The thing you have to understand about my bike is that it is a $120 POS bike likely made by child labor in China.  No one repairs a Mongoose Spire- you either buy or steal a new bike.  You especially don’t buy specialty tools to repair it, since they end up being such a large fraction of the cost of the bike.  As a consequence, the internet has no information on how to repair this bike.  I purchased a general bike repair book, which is usually provides enough information that I can fill in the blanks.  Additionally, it is impossible to find specifications on this bike other than it has wheels and is gray.  I’m not kidding.   This lack of specs is significant for two reasons, both of which enter our tale.

Firstly, there are several different types of cassette removal tools (and chain whips) so you need to know the brands of the components in order to buy the correct one.  I attempted to duck around this by attempting to remove the cassette without tools, following some extremely sketchy videos I found on the internet.  This lead to a greasy and frustrated me.   I made two major attempts to fix without tools before admitting defeat.  I then ordered a chain whip, and what I thought was the likeliest cassette removal tool.

My chainwhip, which is a handle with pieces of bike chain attached.
My new (useless) chain whip.

Bike repair is hard…

Upon arrival of the tool, I spent something like 3 hours attempting to use the tool.  The thing about the videos and illustrations online is that they rarely showed the cassette on the wheel.  If they did show it on a wheel, it was a fancy quick disconnect type that bore no resemblance to what I had in front of me.  So, I then determined that I had to remove the axle to get the tool in the proper place.  This didn’t go well either, and I discovered, that despite my repair book’s assertion that only “older bikes” had freewheels and all new bikes had cassettes, my Mongoose did, in fact, have a freewheel.  There is also no information in my book about how to repair a freewheel, and the half page section on freewheels ends with the suggestions that you should probably upgrade to a cassette system.

Pissed off, and unwilling to admit defeat, I then set about to learn how to remove a freewheel.  Unsurprisingly, removal of a freewheel requires a specialized tool called a freewheel removal tool, of which there are many incompatible types.  The local bike shop didn’t have what I thought was the correct one, so of course I had to order it online.

Cassette Removal Tool
This is the cassette removal tool I bought. It does not go in, even with the use of a hammer.

Today was the first day I felt mentally strong enough for round 4 against the Mongoose.  The tool seemed to go on okayish.  It had little groovy bits that aligned properly with the matching part on the freewheel.  It had a hole in it that the axle went through.  But every time I tried to turn it to unscrew the freewheel the tool fell out.  This problem was easily fixed with a hammer, so now I have a freewheel removal tool embedded in my freewheel.  (It is important to note that use of a hammer is not actual a recommended repair procedure.)

Rear wheel of mongoose spire, showing the tool I hammered in place.
Mongoose Spire’s rear with with added hammered in-place freewheel removal tool.

Despite this, I still can’t get the freewheel loose because I am a puny weakling.  Apparently,  freewheels get increasingly tight as you ride them, so you-tube is full of videos of dudes adapting their crescent wrenches (which you grip the freewheel remover tool with) with 4 feet of pipe so that they have enough leverage to loosen the freewheel.

So, to recap- I’ve purchased a chain whip, a cassette remover, a free wheel remover (probably of the wrong type given the hammer action) and probably spent about 10 hours on this.  I now need to source 4 feet of pipe that will fit over the handle of my crescent wrench.  Oh, I should note that I also don’t have a crescent wrench so I need to buy that also.   I was using the less optimal vise grip, but I don’t think that was the problem. Stealing a new bike is looking increasingly viable.

The battle to repair the Mongoose Spire- to be continued…

Updated (January 2017).  The Mongoose still lies in pieces.  When I invite people to my house for dinner I trick them into trying to undo the freewheel.  All have failed.  It is becoming a King Arthur/ Sword in the Stone type deal.  I even thought maybe I was wrong and that I did have a cassette.  When I started researching the topic again, I found this blog post was one of the top search results for “Does the Mongoose Spire have a cassette?”  So yeah, no one repairs the bike.

So, in my capacity as the official internet authority on the Mongoose Spire,  the manual does confirm it is a freewheel.  The manual further advises that the mere mortal should not attempt this repair.  “Such action is beyond the scope of this manual and you should consult a specialist”.

I’m only happy when it rains…

Or so the song goes.  Most people aren’t happy when it rains though.  It makes life harder.  Commuting is more difficult and potentially more dangerous.  (And I commute by bike, so multiply the difficulty and danger by 100x.)  Getting wet in work clothes is yucky, probably no matter what your job (unless your job involved getting wet), because you know you cannot change to dry clothes until the end of the day when you get home.  If you have a professional job, your shoes are unlikely to handle puddles well.  On the weekend, it spoils whatever fun you had planned.

But as a kid, rain was fun.  It rarely stopped any of our outside play.  We didn’t mind getting soaking wet or muddy, and maybe we even especially liked it.  At various times in my childhood, my brother and I built shelters/hideaways/forts.  Rainy days were awesome because we could “hardness test” our construction.  One of our more complicated efforts was in the woods near our house- a buffer between the highway and our community.  We built our shelter into the hill.  The roof was made of branches, stolen industrial strength garbage bags, and leaves.  Our goal was that our hideout should be completely camouflaged so we used lots of leaves on the roof.   We had no idea what we were doing, but I seem to recall doing “water-proofing” with stolen bacon grease.   I don’t know why we weren’t eaten by rabid raccoon or rats drawn to the yummy bacon smell, but somehow we never saw large vermin.  (There were bugs of course, and probably small snakes, but that was the default for the woods- I don’t remember anything specific infesting our fort.)   Since the shelter/fort/whatever was dug in to the hill, dampness came up from the ground as well, and we had few technical skills to deal with that.  Maybe we sat on garbage bags?  Needless to say, our shelter was not the driest place during storms.  Yet we loved it, and were super-impressed with our construction skills.  We spent many rainy days in our pit of mud with raindrops filtering through the leaves of our roof to drip on us.  And we were happy.

It is now pouring rain.  I’m sitting on my balcony and watching the rain pour.  I’m assessing the odds that I will get scolded by the condo association if I go out and play in the rain and come back in the building muddy and wet.  I’m thinking about what my neighbors would say if we met in the elevator, and I was soaking wet and had no rain gear.  As a woman, I’m wondering what type of reaction I’ll get when my entire outfit it soaking wet and plastered to my body.  I’m thinking about what I could wear that wouldn’t be indecent soaked.  I’m watching the lightening and wondering about the dangers.

I’m wondering, even if I ignore all this, would it even still be fun?


TGIF, but what do I do tomorrow?

I still haven’t quite gotten back to a normal schedule post- “spring-forward”.  While the extra light at night is nice, especially since my work officially ends at 6:00 pm and people frequently work late, my body and brain haven’t gotten in sync with things yet.  I’ve been sleeping until the last possible minute in the morning, and unable to get to sleep at night.  I’ve been eating meals at all sorts of strange hours due to some weird scheduling at work; I’m sure this isn’t helping things any.

As I’ve mentioned previously, I prefer routines and habits over willpower.  This week has been all will-power, and not very successful either.  It has lead to increased frustration with my fellow man as well.  Not a good state to be in.

The weekend lies ahead.  I used to have a routine around weekend, but that was centered around my life with my (now ex-) partner.  I’ve never really figured out how to rebuild a weekend routine, and have found myself frittering away my time.  I thought I would go bike riding this weekend.  But now the weather is saying rain, and the trail where the nice riding is is far away.  I could see myself spending the day getting there, riding, picnicing, journaling in the sun.  I can’t see myself spending the time to get out there to eat lunch huddled in a shelter and racing from shelter to shelter ahead of storms.

So I’m left with no solid plans for the weekend, which probably means two days of impatiently waiting for the dishwasher or washing machine or dryer to end so I can start the next load.

You are inside a f***ing cloud!!!

Today has been generally shitty.  I think my colleague’s processing of yesterday’s weird call was lot worse than mine, so lots of “Every decision you’ve ever made is wrong.”

That said, today’s post title isn’t metaphorical, but literal.  Right now, my part of the city is inside a cloud.  A stratus cloud to be exact.  [and yes, looking for a silver lining as we speak.]

I’m sitting on my balcony, which sadly isn’t within the cloud, and hearing my neighbor babbling on the phone about how her plans changed because “it is so foggy”.  It took all my restraint not to shout out the title of my post, followed by a brief lecture on the difference between low-lying stratus and fog.

I will show no such restraint for my imaginary readers and my loyal cohort of casino spammers…

Fog forms from the ground up.  It is extremely low level (like person level) and also has the cool characteristic of collecting in hollows and low spots.  Stratus is an actual cloud, which for some reason, has decided to visit us.  It is higher than fog and the area closest to the ground is clear.  It looks especially awesome when it covers the top (but not the bottom) of a building.  Part of the stratus may be low enough to feel at person height (cool/ droplets of moisture), but the visibility isn’t usually obscured at person height locally.  The decrease in visibility is only obvious when looking towards the horizon or at a tall building.  And honestly, it looks more like you are heading in to rain than fog.  The moisture also feels more like a drizzle than the softness of fog.

Satellites cannot tell the difference between fog and low status, so a lot of websites treat them as a single category.  But to the cloud lover (or the fog lover) they are clearly distinct, and each worthy of celebration.


Do you understand what just happened?

So I had a weird incident at work.  Luckily, I had a witness to the oddness.  We were on a conference call with another company, in the middle of answering a question that they had asked, and we were hung up on.  By both other people, located in completely different offices.  It was baffling.  Neither one of us on our side had any idea what happened.  It wasn’t heated, no one said anything rude or profane, we were just answering a mundane question about how our technology could be used.   They just blurted out ‘bye’ and hung up.  My colleague asked me, “Do you understand what just happened?”

I’ve had calls wrap up quickly before as the meeting approached the end time.  I’ve had calls end early because there was no mutual interest, but usually at that point there are excessive pleasantries to end a call scheduled for an hour seven minutes in.  This was neither of those cases.  It was just weird.

I guess I am grateful that it was so bizarre that even my colleague noticed.  If it had been a more polished exit, I might be spending the evening wondering what I did wrong, or how to hone my pitch to close the next call.  If the call had gone pseudo-normally, I’d be worried about how to persuade them to partner with us.  I’d be turning over the conversation for clues and planning our next move.  Instead, I can completely let it go.

I don’t know if there is a lesson here.    Should I strive to treat all calls in a more detached way?  Should I leave work at work?  Should I randomly hang up during boring conference calls?

Starting again…

So, I haven’t been writing or blogging at all for the past, what, month?  6 weeks?  Something embarrassingly long.   So, I thought I would restart this habit, and do a public postmortem of why it failed the first time around.

I had two separate, but related habits for this year- the first was to blog 3x per week, and the other was to write 30 minutes each day for myself (not work related).  I’m going to talk about the writing one today and the blogging one later in the week.

Writing 30 minutes every day

Initially, I thought the writing would mostly be blog related, but I expected that eventually there would be space to work on a book or some sort of writing that would become a second source of income.  I also wanted to create more this year, and I thought that writing would be a natural and easy way for me to express myself.  So this tied in to two bigger picture goals (second source of income and creating) that I set for myself.

So why did setting this habit fail?  There are two things I identified.

  1.  No solid home on my calendar.  I didn’t like writing in the evening, because I was tired after work and it felt more like a chore that had to be accomplished before I could do something fun (like surf the internet).  I moved it on my calendar to the morning before work, but I never actually managed to write in the morning.  I mostly overslept and had no time to sit down and write.  Then I didn’t do it at night because I already over-scheduled myself there as well.  🙂
  2. Weak sense of reward or accomplishment.  I had a few different things in place to provide a reward.  I’m unusually motivated by checking things off a list or getting a sticker or whatever other trick you would use to motivate a 5-year old.  So, I set it up as a recurring task on my on-line habit tracker (I’m using Habitica currently) and I wrote it on my planner as an entire block of time that could be colored in when completed (yeah, weird, but this is almost as motivating as a sticker to me).  Apparently neither of these are sufficiently motivating given the magnitude of the task.  I also thought that starting a blog would serve as accountability.  However, the only people who read my blog are spammers and that is (unsurprisingly) fairly demotivating.

So, I am approaching this in two ways since there are two problems.  First, massive bribery.  I like pen and paper and ink, but I realized that my rate of purchasing these items vastly outstripped the rate I used said items.  So I’m on a temporary ban until I use up some supplies.  If I successfully write for 7 days in a row, then I get to buy some fountain pen inks for myself.  I already loaded my online shopping cart  with an excessive amount of ink- all I have to do is write everyday for a week and many bottles of ink will come my way.  (The bargain is actually that I need to check off all items on Habitica daily to earn the ink, but in practice, most days the only unchecked task is writing/blogging.  I don’t want another habit to slip as I ramp this up.)  The second approach is to put writing back on my calendar in the evening.  While there were a lot of reasons to put it in the morning, it didn’t actually ever happen.  So, hopefully back to evening will work.