Category Archives: decision

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Walking outside my comfort zone – bike? push/kick scooter?

This walking-around-a-strange-city has its pluses and minuses. Plus: I got to see Denver’s downtown pedestrian zones and how they’ve set up the 16th Street Mall with plenty of trees and benches. Minus: My phone was dead, so I didn’t have GPS, and I hadn’t fixed and brought my MintyBoost yet, and I didn’t have a physical map. I missed my stop on the way back and ended up walking an extra 4.5km. Easy enough to plan for next time. On my next trip, I’ll definitely bring a power supply!

While walking around, I thought about what would make exploration easier. GPS and offline maps are definitely big ones, which probably means just making sure that I can recharge my smartphone on the go.

The thing with walking is that if you make a mistake or you miss a stop, it takes a long time to get back on track. On a car, you can swing around quickly and be halfway across town in a few minutes. On a bicycle, you can still cover a lot of ground. Walking? Trudge trudge trudge trudge. In the dark, this can be a little scary.

Walking also means I can’t cover that much ground. I know I can take a taxi, but I find it hard to shake the idea that taxis are a luxury. ;) Public transit is good, but the schedules can be tricky. CoPilot Live for Android shows me where the nearest bus stop is. As long as I keep the last bus times in mind, I’m pretty okay with asking for directions and waiting a bit at stops.

Reasons why it might be worth hacking this:

It would be really awesome to reduce anxiety. I get fidgety if I’m walking by myself and there are few people around. Public transit schedules tend to have gaps, and sometimes it’s hard to find a place where I can get a cab. (Which of these roads will lead to a hotel? Hmm.) If I’m on a bike, I can cover more distances myself, with the trade-off that I’ll just be worried about accidents. (Bright lights, reflective tape, road caution, helmets?) Even a push scooter might get me quickly from a silent patch to someplace with more light and/or people.

It would be great to not take cabs to client sites. Yes, I know, it’s a business expense. But I still take public transit whenever possible, even if I don’t benefit from the savings. Part of it is being aware of the moral hazard of a company expense account (when you change your behaviour knowing someone else is footing the bill), and part of it is fighting the hedonic treadmill (when you get used to a level of consumption).

It would be great to see more of the places I stay at. Might as well, I’m there already. I’m an odd sort of traveller, though. I’m not driven to take my picture beside famous landmarks. I don’t collect knick-knacks. I occasionally meet up with people, but I’m also fine connecting virtually. I do like checking out thrift stores. I can’t stand paying retail, and browsing through people’s donations gives me a little idea of what people are like.

I’m probably looking at two or three solo trips over the next year and some light use back home. No big deal – the null option (listed below) might still be cheaper.

How can I cover more ground and reduce the cost of making mistakes?

What about renting bikes? Most cities have bike rentals. I’m not sure if I can generally take advantage of them – time, familiarity. Well, maybe a handlebar mount for my Android, and spare power in case I need to charge up? If the weather forecast didn’t call for thunderstorms this week, I might’ve borrowed a bike and used it to get around.

What about a folding bike? Two of my friends take folding bicycles with them on trips. That might work, too, because then I won’t have to think about rental hours or availability. I tend to pack light. My travel clothes fit in my carry-on, which means I can keep the suitcase for the bicycle. A bicycle would give me better range and might come in handy if I can’t hitch a ride with a coworker. Would a folding bicycle be worth the investment? It will primarily be useful for solo air travel, and I don’t plan to take more than two or three such trips over the next year. (Note: Watch out for airline fees!) It may also be useful for subway or bus-assisted trips – not the one to work, but maybe when visiting friends. If it’s light enough, I might also use it for short trips in spring and fall, when my town cruiser is hung on the bike rack.

How can I test this idea?

  • Bikeshare program: Cheapest, if available. Will need helmet and lock. May have a hard time adjusting bike height. Dependent on bike sharing locations – usually only downtown core.
  • Rentals: Inexpensive for trips shorter than 1 week. Dependent on bike availability, rental shop hours, and location.
  • Bringing bike over: $100+/trip + bike packing materials. May be difficult to get from the airport to the hotel with a bicycle and a suitcase. Larger van, more costly?
  • Shipping bike over: Some people ship their bikes by FedEx or UPS. This is a little scary, though, and requires that I find a mailing store for the way back.
  • Folding bike: $400-500, maybe more? Might be easier to lug, though. Airline bike fees might mean that renting would be cheaper. Plus side: it will be my height, and I don’t have to worry about different brake systems.
  • Taxi/bus: The null option is worth keeping in mind, given the few times I might want a bicycle. This is really about making sure I have emergency power for my phone, the phone number for local taxi companies, and enough cash in case they don’t take credit cards.

What about push scooters? Other people swear by them, as they fold up smaller and are lighter than even the lightest folding bikes. A folded-up scooter is less bulky than a folded-up bicycle, and many models can be rolled along like strollers or shopping carts. Pushing myself might be interesting given the flat shoes I typically wear, though – I might change into a pair of sneakers. A push scooter would primarily be useful for getting around town on solo trips in conjuction with public transit. It might also be useful for going to the library or to the grocery store for quick trips, and for getting to the subway station when I’m not biking to work (when rain is expected, or if my bike’s still up on the rack). I walk to the supermarket or library about twice a week, but this is usually a social walk with W- and J- too.

How can I test this idea?

  • Check out the push scooters in Toronto. Check prices, feel, etc. Rainbow Songs (Roncesvalles) sells the Xootr Mg Push Scooter with fender/brake for $243.78. It’s ~$229 in the US, so it looks like getting it in Canada will be fine, although the US will have more choice. There’s also the Razor A5, which Toys R Us sells. Advantage of being short: I can raid the teens’ scooter lineup, although the perks of grown-up scooters look tempting.
  • Check scooter prices in the US. Plan to spend an extra day looking around, perhaps? Maybe I can visit friends and have stuff shipped.
  • Walking. The null alternative to a scooter would simply be more walking, maybe with extra power for my phone/GPS or a separate GPS unit with longer battery life. Extra power for phone seems like a better bet, so that I can call a cab if needed – and I’ve got the MintyBoost for that, I just need to fix the electrical short.

If the forecasted thunderstorm lightens up, I’m going to take the bus down into Boulder tonight to check out some of their thrift stores and to try the dining options along Pearl street. While there, I can think about which of the options would have given me the most benefit.

Hmm. Thoughts? Experiences? Advice?

2011-05-17 Tue 14:37

Decision review: calendars, development, standing desks, toe shoes, Kindle, bike, CSA, Autodesk Sketchbook, blogging

Calendar reminders on my Android: Working so far. I see the calendar reminders on my lock screen and on my home screen, so there are plenty of reminders. I’ve also started adding more events to my calendar, to increase the reward of checking it.

Test cases: Yes, for code’s sake, yes! I’m returning to a Drupal project after several months’ hiatus, and one of the first changes we’re making is extensive: changing a field to a taxonomy, changing lots of logic along the way, making sure all the forms work again… I am so glad I wrote a lot of tests covering the parts I wrote, and I only wish that I got all the other developers to do the same.

Laptop battery replacement: Replacing the battery on my tablet was a good idea. I’ve been getting tons of use out of it, particularly now that I’m back in development. Although W’s new tablet does look pretty tempting, I’m going to hold off buying new gadgets for a while.

Developer setup template: I added “Getting started notes” to our developer guide. Slowly getting there! And I’m glad to see that virtual-machine-based development is much easier now, too.

Standing desks: The kitchen counter is now my default standing desk. It’s well-lit, there are plenty of outlets near by, and I can easily refill my water glass or grab a snack.

Vibram toe shoes: Comfortable as anything, and then some. I prefer to wear these instead of my flats when I’m walking around the neighbourhood. W- still thinks they look funny, but that’s okay, he loves me anyway.

Kindle 3G: Awesome for looking up things on the go, and for occupying myself during subway rides. I’d still rather ride my bicycle than take the subway, but reading classic literature makes up for the fare and the missed opportunity for great exercise.

Folding bike/push scooter: Still haven’t taken the plunge. No local need to do so – I don’t mind saddling up my bike for short trips to the library or supermarket. No travel plans ahead, either.

Community-supported agriculture: We tried a bi-weekly spring share from Plan B Organic Farms, and that’s been working out well. I’ve been having salads I finished the last of the kale and the lettuce

Autodesk Sketchbook Pro: While using Autodesk Sketchbook Pro for presentations doesn’t give me the overview, the infinite canvas, or the clean lines of Inkscape, it’s a smoother workflow, and I rather like it. I’ve been sketching more, too. W- has just gotten his own tablet, and Autodesk Sketchbook Pro (trial version) was one of the first things he installed. I’m looking forward to practising drawing with him.

Writing more about life: I like it. I think of it as writing for my future self.

Blog limits: I sometimes schedule my posts, and I sometimes post more than once a day. Fine with you so far? If you find the e-mail frequency a bit too much, it might be a good idea to check out Google Reader or another feed reader. You can subscribe to my blog using that, too!

Decision review: Kitchen counter computing (ad hoc standing desk)

imageI switched to using the kitchen counter as my standing desk last month, and it’s working really well. I like working in the kitchen: natural light, plenty of water and healthy snacks, and the occasional cat-cuddling break. The kitchen counter is just the right height for typing. I don’t have an eye-level monitor, but if I keep good posture and take frequent breaks (to cuddle cats, for example), my neck doesn’t hurt.

Standing up also keeps me from the bad habit of crossing my legs at the knees. I fidget more, too – do more stretches, take care of more little chores around the kitchen while thinking about code. Good for circulation.

Not a bad experiment. I think I’ll keep on going.

Now if only we had counters at the right height in the office. There’s a bar-height counter, but it’s a little too high for me to comfortably type on. Maybe two recycling bins upended on a desk…

Personal projects

I rein in work to about 40-44 hours a week so that it doesn’t run away with me. This gives me some time during evenings and weekends to work on personal projects. It’s a good idea to have clear personal projects in mind so that I don’t end up wasting the time mindlessly.

“Do you want to spend your time productively or unproductively?” I asked J-.

“That’s a leading question,” W- said.

“No, I’m serious about it. Unproductive time is good too, as long as you choose it consciously,” I said.

For example, I spend some time here and there playing LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean. I don’t do it just because I can’t think of anything else to do or I don’t feel like doing anything else. I play because I’m curious about how the game designers have constructed puzzles and all those little secrets that dot the LEGO world. That’s definitely not a project, though.

What are the things I’m working on? Spelling them out will make it easier to pick a task that moves me towards them when I find myself with blocks of time.

Latin: W- and I are slowly working our way through Albert Harkness’ “An Easy Method for Beginners in Latin.” We’re on lesson twenty-ish now. Most people are working off the scanned book in Google’s digitized collection, but because the scans are images instead of text, the file is a little slow and unwieldy. I bought the first edition (it’s now the oldest book I have) and we’re working on digitizing it properly, re-typing it in with all the finicky accents and footnotes. We’re less than a fifth of the way through the book, so there’s plenty of work to do on this front. Goal: Digitize the whole book and answer all the questions.

Gardening: I want to get better at planning and growing the fruits and vegetables we like. That means getting more practice at starting seeds and helping them thrive. Gardening is relaxing, too. Goal: Grow, harvest, and measure the yield this year.

Cooking: Our frozen meals get us through most of the week, but I also cook new things based on what we need to finish in the fridge. For example, today I’d like to do something with the asparagus stock so that it doesn’t go to waste. I’m also picking up the community-supported agriculture box today, so that will give me a new set of challenges. This helps me develop the eminently useful skill of preparing healthy meals. Goal: Experiment with and collect summer recipes, then put together other seasonal notes.

Writing: I enjoy writing. I like reading my archive and remembering the steps. I like practising writing every day as a way to share what I’m learning, and it’s a good way to keep learning about content and style. Goal: Review, rewrite, and compile into an e-book.

Drawing: I’d like to get even better at drawing. It’s fun, and I’m learning how to communicate through it. I want to feel more comfortable using colours and drawing shapes. It’s all about practice. Goal: Draw a graphical review each week for a month.

Photography: It’s good, and we’ve got all this equipment already, so I might as well. ;) Besides, I enjoy taking pictures of the garden. Goal: Post at least one photo a week for a month.

What are you working on?

2011-06-16 Thu 08:25

Mindful spending, experiments, and living in line with your values

A friend was thinking about splurging on an event that included an 8-course dinner for $95. He wrote, “I’d like to go, but that’s more than I’ve ever paid for a single meal. Thoughts?” He said that he had justified past splurges by telling himself, “Well, I’ve spent money on more frivolous things before.” He didn’t need to see me give him The Look to know that this was not the best way to go forward. I gave him plenty of advice, and here are additional reflections.

I think about spending carefully. If I can spend on the right things, minimize spending on the wrong things, and learn as much as I can from getting it right or wrong, I’ll enjoy better quality of life than I would otherwise. 

One of the techniques I use is something I picked up from Your Money or Your Life (Dominguez and Robin, 1999) – there’s an excellent blog post series on The Simple Dollar for people who want to catch up. I calculate the discretionary value of my time and use that to see if things are worth the time it takes to earn the money for them. One way to do this is by taking your income, subtracting taxes, fixed expenses, and work-related expenses, and dividing it by the number of hours you spend working or preparing to work. I like an even stricter measure. I look at the discretionary part of my bi-weekly savings allocations – that’s after taxes, savings, retirement, and other categories. I divide that by 14 days, so that I can easily get an idea of how much of a typical week, month, or year I might be committing to a purchase. This is actually a small number, because I take so much off the top for savings – less than a dollar per hour, which is why I calculate by day instead. ;) Then I can easily get a sense of how large a part of my year something will take up, and whether I think it will be worth it.

I often write down the options I’m considering and the costs, benefits, and consequences of each. For example, when I was thinking about replacing my laptop battery, I listed the options and estimated the value differences of each. I sometimes do this even for small decisions because I learn so much about my preferences and values along the way. I consider intangibles, too, and I use this technique for non-financial decisions as well. Sometimes I’m looking for a clear winner, and sometimes I’m interested in just writing my thoughts down and seeing what I’m leaning towards.

I also review my decisions to see how things turned out and if I need to tweak things further in the future. For example: clothes from Value Village, yes; compost accelerator, no; watching movie in a theatre by myself, maybe (better if I get together with friends). If something turns out to be really worth it (or really not worth it), then I learn a lot. This also helps me avoid analysis paralysis, because even if I’m not certain about a decision, I’m sure I’ll learn something from it. In fact, the more uncertain I am, the more I’ll learn – a tip I picked up from How to Measure Anything (Hubbard, 2007), which defined a measurement as whatever reduces uncertainty. Your Money or Your Life also encourages people to review their monthly budget and expenses to see which categories they want to increase or decrease depending on what contributes to their life. The practice of reviewing decisions is key to making better ones.

I sometimes nudge myself towards action using the First Circus principle, a family favourite. Not only does this tend to lead to interesting experiences, but this also takes advantage of some psychological biases. We’re more likely to regret things we didn’t do more than ones we did, and we’re also more likely to notice the presence of something (in this case, joy or disappointment) than to figure out the subtler effects of deciding not to do something.

Those are decision-making tactics. Strategy, on the other hand, involves getting a better idea of what I value, enjoy, want to become, want to support, and so on. That’s a great learning adventure, too. The more I learn about what I want in life, the easier it becomes to say no to the things I don’t want and to focus on the things that matter to me (and to the people who matter to me).

It’s all about getting better at making decisions – with money, with work, with love, with life, with everything. You’ll make tons of decisions over time, so developing your decision-making skills pays off tremendously. Money is a good way to practise: a finite resource (particularly if you think of it in terms of time) that you can choose to spend in line with your values.

How do you make spending decisions?

Decision: Piano lessons?

My last piano lesson is on Thursday, so I’m thinking about whether or not to sign up for more lessons, take lessons elsewhere, or do something else.

Benefits from the past three lessons:

  • Motivated to practise daily because of accountability and because I was paying for lessons
  • Picked up new exercises (two-octave scales, triads)
  • Paid more attention to dynamics, timing, and staccato
  • Got through pieces at a faster rate than I might have on my own
  • Worked on to playing staccato with one hand and legato with the other – shifted to listening to the music and imagining what I want it to be
  • Dealt with some more nervousness

Costs:

  • CAD 20-25 per 30-minute lesson
  • Time for actual session (30 minutes + 20 minutes of walking total)
  • Practice time (30-60 minutes each day, or 3-6 hours)

Considerations:

  • I’m only interested in playing casually, so I don’t mind not doing dynamics or a lot of other things. I just want enough music to relax my brain and nudge my imagination.
  • I might focus on learning chords and favourite songs instead. The things I’ve been learning in class didn’t really get me closer to playing Still Alive, but I can learn that by patience and careful practice.
  • I’m actually not that keen on my goal to finish all the exercises in this piano book. It would probably feel good, but I don’t mind putting this on hold and focusing on other interests such as writing and drawing

Options:

A. Finish this set of lessons, then switch to learning on my own. I can find Youtube videos of the pieces in my piano book, which will help me with timing. I may also try different pieces. I might continue my experiment with regular practice times and see how far that gets me.

B. Give the lessons another month. Possibly talk to the teacher to see if I can refocus the lesson on the parts that motivate me more.

C. Shop around – try different teachers. Can do this, but I’m less inclined to do so.

D. Dial down piano and dial up a different interest. Writing. Drawing. Latin. Volunteering. There’s a lot I can do with time and a little money set aside for learning.

I’m leaning towards D with a touch of A, maybe practising every other day and working on other interests the rest of the time. Blogging it here to remember my reasons for decisions. =)

2011-08-09 Tue 20:25