Saturday, May 27, 2017

The art of compromise: a bike-shopping story

As I mentioned in my post about switching from Greenie to Snowflake, when I was shopping for a bike, I wanted everything to be perfect. I had a long list of criteria to meet:

  • It had to have a step-through (women's) frame, since I do a lot of riding in skirts
  • It had to have fat, durable tires, since I'd seen other people's road bike tires go flat over practically nothing too many times
  • It needed to be able to accommodate my front basket, rear rack, and fenders
  • It could not be a "cruiser" —they are for people who want to ride slow, and I have places to go!
  • It had to be lightweight—my old bike is a monstrous clunker, and I've had enough of wrestling that around Metro to be ready for a change.
  • It must not have a front suspension, which just adds weight and yet another moving part to keep maintained.
The preceding criteria were basically must-haves. I would be very reluctant to compromise on any of them, but there were a few other things I wanted that were really just strong preferences.

  • I wanted lever shifters instead of twist shifters, because I'd used another bike once where I was constantly changing the gears by accident, just by leaning too hard on the handlebar.
  • I preferred V-brakes over disc brakes since I understand how to maintain them.
  • I wanted a fun color. Though I was willing to consider dark and boring colored bikes, I always felt reluctant to make a purchase, because they didn't spark joy!
  • I preferred fewer gears. My last bike had a lot of problems with shifting, and I basically only ever used 3 out of my 21 gears anyway, so anything more seemed like overkill.

Turns out, a lot of these criteria are mutually exclusive. Try finding a bike with fat tires but without a front suspension. They are few and far between. Try finding a speed-oriented bike that also carries less than 21 gears. I still haven't!

As I shopped (over a period of years), eventually, I had to give up on some of my less-important criteria to make room for the most important ones, which I distilled down to light, fast(ish), and durable enough for jumping curbs and surviving stretches of loose gravel in my commute.

I stopped worrying (as much) about getting fat tires and started looking at hybrids with "32c" tires, which are narrower than my old ones but not so crazy skinny that they'll go flat hitting a bump on the pavement (as happened to my ex-boyfriend once!). I considered frames with a horizontal top tube (and started brainstorming ways to still be able to ride in a skirt). I conceded that maybe a front basket wasn't the best method of transporting stuff, and started looking at bikes with less clearance between the handlebars and front tire. 

This was also when I added the price limit I mentioned in my last post: Although at first, I'd been mostly looking at fairly costly bikes from REI, this round of shopping, I decided that my new bike had to cost under 400 dollars. Those who know my shopping habits might be shocked that I'd even consider a bike in that price range when you can get a bike for less than 200. But those who haven't been shopping for bikes for the past few years might be excused for not knowing that every bike in the low price range gets terrible reviews. Apparently they go out of tune very rapidly (if they can ever be properly tuned in the first place), and after having spent the last 3 years on an out-of-tune bike, I wanted something that I could keep in good working order with minimal effort. It seems to be true that in the bike market, more expensive bikes have better components, meaning less finicky maintenance. The 430-500 dollar range seemed to be about the MSRP of a decent bike with some measure of reliability, and of course, after I started finding those models in end-of-season sales for 300-400, I decided that was the range for me. Not so cheap that it would fall apart right away, but not so expensive that I would regret it forever if I hated something about it.

And no matter what bike I picked, there was a good chance I would hate something about it. Since none of the bikes I found met all my criteria, I was considering the purchase to be essentially an experiment. I would find out what I liked about the new bike and what I didn't, and then after a suitable amount of time, if I didn't like everything, I would trade up to a more expensive (better made) bike that ticked exactly the right boxes.

So after years of deliberation, and several months of this-time-it's-for-real hardcore shopping, in the end, I decided on Snowflake.

Snowflake was a pretty good compromise at $295.74. Way cheaper than I ever expected, it also was better than a lot of the bikes I had considered in a number of ways. It did have the women's frame and it had some of the widest tires (at 36c) I've found, barring a mountain bike (and it turns out I rather like these tires. They have a bigger rolling diameter than my old tires, making it easier to move fast—one of the most important criteria in my daily commute).

True, I had to take the twist shifters (which I still dislike) and the white color (which is better than black or grey, but still less preferable than any other color I can think of), and the excessive number of gears (which have proven to be my least favorite thing about this bike—more on that later) but I feel like I spent a little money to learn a lot, while simultaneously getting a bike that's a solid improvement over the last one.

Committing to purchase something is one of the scariest things I ever have to do (just under making phone calls), so I'm relieved that this purchase went off without a hitch (that is, unless you count the failed purchase from Amazon). Now that it's over, I can focus on riding. Guess what I'll be blogging about next!

Thursday, May 18, 2017

If you were wondering about my hair...

Last month, I posted a gripping exploration on the topic of not washing one's hair. Following that post, I embarked on a month-long experiment in which I waited as long as possible between hair washes. The results were not too impressive (the most I ever managed was 5 days, and they were 5 very un-pretty days!), so I didn't have much to say about it when I was done. I had almost forgotten about my short-lived venture when I ran across a video which stated what I'd already observed: about half the sources on the internet tell you you should avoid washing your hair too much, and the other half tell you washing your hair is essential!

So while I'm thinking about it, let me quickly summarize my own conclusions.
  1. My hair gets grossly greasy approximately 28 hours after a wash, and no reduction in the amount I wash it seems to change that.
  2. I hate how my hair looks when it is greasy...
  3. But I love how obedient my hair is when it's greasy—I can brush it to the side and it stays there...I can brush it up into a pompadour and it stays there...I can wear a hat all day and not get hat hair, because I can just brush it back up into whatever shape I want!
  4. When I haven't washed my hair in about 3 days, it reaches this sweet spot where it can be manipulated into just the right shape, but still can look clean if I dump a whole ton of talcum powder into it.
  5. However, while talcum powder may make my hair look clean, it also makes it look parched, which isn't exactly pretty.
  6. Conversely, I love how shiny my hair looks right after a wash. I never thought I had very shiny hair, but after spending most of a month with dirty locks, I can really appreciate my moderate natural shine when I do actually allow it to shine.
  7. On the other hand, my hair gets annoyingly limp a few hours after my shower, which kind of dampens my joy at the shine.
After making all these observations, I finally came to a conclusion: there are good things and bad things about both washing it often and washing it sporadically, but washing it every 5 days actually took more effort than just doing it with every shower. That's because I'm bad at keeping to non-daily schedule. Daily washes are also easier to fit into my lifestyle, since my hair basically always looks the same. My 5-day wash cycle, by contrast, caused a lot of stress because my hair's appearance varied wildly from day 1 to day 5, meaning I always had to plan in advance if I wanted to look more presentable for an event or a meeting. Plus this persistent green color will never wash out if I only wash it every 5 days!

So I've decided to go back to my old ways and wash my hair every two days, supplementing with a powder if it gets too greasy!

I realized that my favorite thing about my hair when it's oily is the volume imparted by the combination of the shape-holding powers of the oil and the separating powers of the powder...and if all I really need is more volume, then I can have that without having to schedule my whole life around my hair-wash days!

So I invested 9 dollars in a (tiny) shaker bottle of Big Sexy Hair volumizing powder, and wow! It works! I mean, it doesn't turn my straight strands into the luscious bouncy mane of a superstar with a styling team, but it does endow my hair with instant lift when I need it, without having to wait until it has marinated in its own oils for 2 days.  Ta-da! Now I can wash my hair and style it too!
Freshly washed and volumized!
Ultimately, the lesson I've learned from this experiment is that you shouldn't trust anything you read on the internet.

Just kidding, everyone already knew that. But a better lesson is: when it comes to the best way to care for your own hair, you really just have to listen to your own hair. If you have coarse, dry hair and it's always looking dried crispy, then maybe you shouldn't wash it as much. If you have fine, straight hair that turns stringy at the mere mention of oil, then maybe you should wash it more!

I bet you didn't need a month and almost 2000 words to tell you that!

Monday, May 8, 2017

The Mouse Walrus

And now for something completely different.

Being a Very Forgetful Person, I have devised many methods over the years to remind myself of things. My To-Do lists in Evernote (which include the "Ongoing To Do List" for miscellaneous tasks, as well as at least three for specific projects such as fixing the house) are a good start, but sometimes I forget to look at Evernote!

When there is one small thing that I need to remember to do in a short time frame, I'll often just use an odd object, placed somewhere prominent, to catch my attention and jog my mind into thinking about whatever the thing is. A Forgetful Person could potentially have some problems remembering which task has been mentally assigned to the object, so it helps to use an object that is somehow related to that which needs to be done.

Consider my mouse at the office. A few years ago, I started using a wireless mouse. I resisted going from wired to wireless for a long time, because I have a strong aversion to relying on tools that rely on batteries, because batteries require so much maintenance! However, a change in the configuration of my desk rendered my mouse cord too short, so I reluctantly adopted the wireless mouse as my new pointing device. The problem with this wireless mouse is that it uses a rechargeable battery, and that battery dies after about a week and a half off the charger.

After a few annoying instances of having to stop everything and charge my mouse for an hour, I decided to put my mouse on the charger every Friday after work, so that I could return to the office on Monday with a refreshed battery waiting for me. Charging one's mouse every Friday sounds like a simple habit to get into, but Forgetful Personhood knows no bounds! Almost every single Friday, I was so eager to be going home for the weekend that stopping to drop my mouse on a charger just never happened.

And so, I resorted to my old trick of using a Reminder Object. On my desk, I keep an inbox tray. Since inbox trays are relics of a past era that I fortunately don't live in, I do not need to keep paper in my tray. Instead, I load it with an assortment of toys that I've accumulated over years of going to conferences and receiving goody bags. My inbox tray presently  looks something like this.

And what's that front and center in my inbox tray? Why, it's a walrus. In my search for an object to remind me to charge my mouse, the walrus stood out. A toy mouse would obviously have been better, but I figured a small rendition of any mammal was a pretty close second. So now whenever I think "Today is Friday! Oh, I need to charge the mouse!" (Or, more often, "Shoot! I forgot to charge the mouse on Friday! I must do it when I leave today!") I immediately pull the walrus out of the tray and stick it into the top of my backpack, so when I start packing up for my trip home, I'll see the walrus and remember to move the mouse.

It works, and I've been making good use of the Mouse Walrus for something like 2 and a half years now. And in those 2 and a half years, it never occurred to me to wonder a very important question: "Why does the walrus not have tusks?"

Until last Wednesday. As I was putting the walrus out for a mid-week reminder, I finally noticed the tusklessness that should have been obvious to me long ago. Was my Mouse Walrus actually not a walrus at all?

Frantic internet searches ensued. Yes, both male and female walruses definitively have tusks. No, seals all seem to have pointy noses, not the broad snout of my little toy. Was this one really a juvenile walrus? Although I never came up with a satisfactory answer, I ended up thinking about it all day long. 

On the plus side, this absolutely ensured that I also ended up thinking about my mouse for most of the day as well. My question still remains unanswered, but at least my mouse made it onto the charger!