Birthday Love

Yesterday I got a year older.

Actually, Benji asked me a real poser about that: “How do you get older?” I said, “One day at a time.” While I thought that was a pretty good answer, Benji didn’t really buy it. After that I ran out of answers, since “It just happens over time” also didn’t satisfy.

I had a nice birthday. Benji had the idea of making vanilla cupcakes with chocolate frosting and strawberries on top for me; he also wanted to go to the toy store and help Ian pick out a present for me. They did both those things, which was very sweet. The present was, perhaps not surprisingly, a 3-in-1 Lego vehicle set — the exact thing Benji would want! But in fact it does give me a wonderful present: peace and quiet while Benji “helps” build the set.

One of my coworkers made sweet biscuits and brought them in with strawberries and whipped cream to make strawberry shortcake for my birthday, which was also very kind and thoughtful. In the afternoon, I got to ride home with a biking buddy who works in Fremont, which was especially nice because we had a vigorous headwind.

And I got to have a nice hour-long chat with Colleen, who also sent me an adorable picture of Lumpy the Dragon for my birthday:

All in all, a nice quiet birthday. We’ll get together with my parents over the weekend and use the excuse of my recent birthday to eat tasty treats. I’m also using the excuse of my birthday to take Friday off and have a 4-day weekend. The weather has (mostly) turned nice, and things are looking summery, which bodes well for the 7 Hills of Kirkland ride we plan to do on Memorial Day.

Looking Summery

We made a water slide in our back yard over the weekend.

Summer Fun 1

Summer Fun 2

Summer Fun 3

Summer Fun 4

Summer Fun 5

It’s been about 9 or 10 months since we were able to play in water without getting hypothermia.

And, our lupines are doing fabulously — including a couple of genetic oddities.

It feels so bizarre to have bare legs and arms out in the outside (or at all, for that matter) — and, naturally, I got my first sunburn on Saturday because I forgot about the existence of sunscreen. I remember now.

“This Will Blow Your Mind Off”

Thus quoth Benji as he explained the theory of why astronomers think there’s another planet out way past Pluto. Here’s what transpired.

I sat down to write a new daily board, which says the date and Benji’s agenda for the day. Before I started, Benji said, “Wait! I want to sure you something.”

A little background. Benji really wants to be an astronomer when he grows up, and whether he does or not, it’s a fun hobby for a kid with lots of interesting exercises and experiments. There are also tons of videos on space stuff, naturally. Benji’s especially interested in the hypothetical Planet 9, which is somewhere way out in the Kuiper Belt, or maybe father. Who knows.

A few days ago, Ian and Benji watched some videos explaining some concepts about Planet 9, why astronomers think it’s out there, what they hypothesize about its physical properties, etc. I got a little summary of the videos then, and figured that was the end of it.

I was so wrong.

This morning, Professor Benji took up the chalk to draw a diagram that explains why the orbits of trans-Neptunian objects like Pluto, Eris, Makemake, and Haumea strongly suggest the presence of another, more massive object that we haven’t yet found.

He then went on to speculate about the material composition of the planet;

Elucidate on its mass relative to other Solar System objects (Earth and Neptune);

And theorize about the existence of many other such objects yet to be discovered. 

Granted, much of this latter material contained elements of speculation, but it was speculation informed by 2.5 years of education about planets and their properties.

At Work

I haven’t mentioned my job recently, and that’s partly because it’s been going pretty swimmingly. I like my team, I like my boss, and I really like my actual duties. It’s as close to the perfect job as I could imagine.

The last couple weeks, we had something happen that, at first, shook my trust in the company. I was afraid that it would turn out that my company was less scrupulous than I thought. But, just as I was feeling really disappointed, my boss showed some real integrity and completely redeemed the situation (from my perspective). I was deeply impressed at the way my boss ultimately handled the whole situation.

I mention this because it made an impression on me. I talked with my boss about my concerns, and he listened and took action. This may be the first time I have ever had that happen at a job. Having my voice listened to and respected made a huge impact.

So, it remains true: I feel like I have landed at my perfect job. I’m thankful every day to have the opportunity to do it. Most of all,  I’m deeply grateful that we went out on a limb and decided for me to apply when I saw the job opening last fall. 

Now, if only I could get a desk away from where everyone who walks by can see my screens…

Why I Shop at My Local Bike Shop

I needed new tires for my commuter bike. After five months of commuting through downtown Seattle, my old tires had in a glass and debris collection displayed in a rubber matrix. Now, I’ve really liked my old tires:

  • They were 32s, wider and comfier and better at handling the extra weight of commuting than 25s or 23s.
  • They had reflective sidewalls, which I liked for winter riding.
  • They resisted punctures magnificently, including one time I ran over a huge chunk of glass, saw it sticking out of my tire, stopped and pulled it out, and kept riding–and never got a flat.

Because I wanted my tires on Sunday, to ride on Monday, I went to my local bike shop, where I know all the guys well already. They were moderately busy, but made time to slap some new tires on my bike.

At first I said I wanted the same tires I already had, for the reasons previously mentioned. We chatted a bit more, and I mentioned my desire to lighten my commuter bike up a bit (without compromising its inherent commuter-y-ness). When I mentioned this, they said, “Are you sure you want the same old tires? We have these other tires you should consider.” They suggested a 32 tire that had a Kevlar bead rather than a steel one, and thinner sidewalls, which make the tires lighter. I decided, what the heck, why not try the new ones? As long as I don’t get more flats, it won’t hurt.

Then, as the put the tires on, I received a veritable dissertation-level discussion of the various factors to consider in tire selection. The factors, apparently, include (but are not limited to):

  • Bead material – Kevlar (lighter, used in high-end tires for bikes wanting to go faster) vs steel (heavier, commonly used on more everyday tires)
  • Sidewall thickness – Thinner (faster but potentially more flats) vs thicker (slower but fewer flats)
  • Width – Thinner vs thicker (there is a huge discussion going on in cycling circles, where in recent history skinny tires have ruled, but wider tires are gaining traction [so to speak–har, har, har])
  • Tire pressure – Very high (common among high-end road bikes; makes sidewalls stiffer which results in faster rolling, but a bumpier ride) vs slightly lower (too low = pinch flats; but with the “right” tire [ie, the ones they were selling me, naturally!], lower pressure plus softer sidewalls can result in an equally fast but much more comfortable ride)

Now, I’m no hipster on a singlespeed, even though I did have a road bike with disc brakes before they were cool. I’m no randonneur in love with my steel bike that includes bespoke metal fenders, integrated dynamo-driven lights, and front and rear rack for full touring or 500-km self-supported rides (on which I would use handmade in the USA panniers, of course).

I love my super-cool bike tech, including the di2 electronic shifting components I bought off a friend for my fast bike. I like carbon fiber and the lightest weight.

But I also like data, and there’s some evidence that slightly fatter tires with lower pressure can, in fact, be both more comfortable and at least equally as fast as skinny, high-pressure tires. Now, the caveat from my bike shop guys was that, for my fast road bike, I’d do well to stay with the 23s or 25s I’m already running; it’s really in the wider tires that changes have occurred lately.

I’m commuting on these new miracle tires starting on Monday; we will see if I notice the difference.

You Gotta Grow Up Some Time

And, in a way, this weekend I feel like I passed a milestone in adulthood: I mowed the grass.

Okay, don’t get me wrong. One of my chores as a high-schooler was mowing our yard, and I did it most weekends. But I used a mower where I was the engine, the kind of mower where it’s just wheels and a blade, and you know not to put anything in the blades because they will chop whatever it is to bits. The thing about this type of mower is that if you let the grass get really long, you end up doing a ton of work pushing it through that tall, thick growth. So you’re pretty motivated to keep it under control.

I understood that mower and felt comfortable (albeit exhausted and sweaty) with how it works.

When we bought this house, we had that same kind of mower. But Ian was the guy responsible for mowing, and he didn’t like this push mower. It’s too much work, we had too much grass, and too much time elapsed between mowings so every time was a nightmare.

Long story short, we purchased a mower with an engine. It’s electric, and plugs in, so we got around the whole gasoline engine issue. And it doesn’t drive itself; you still have to provide all the pushing. But the blades are powered, which makes a big difference for the amount of work. With this purchase, Ian took on the basic mowing responsibilities.

I was happy with this, because lawn mowers with engines always made me nervous. Not only are they loud and stinky (although with ours the only stink comes from the person doing the mowing–ha!), but something about the powered blades made me very uneasy. So I let Ian do it, and we were good.

But with my taking on this new job, our days–especially weekends–have filled up, leaving not much time for incidentals like the yard. With the 45″ of rain we’ve gotten so far, plus the occasional burst of sunshine, our grass has grown like gangbusters. It really needed mowing, but Ian’s schedule was full up.

So, today, I ventured into adult-land and used a lawn mower with a motor. Dum da dum!!

My First Lawn Mowing!

It was basically like vacuuming, only nicer weather and heavier machine. I guess this means I don’t have any excuse for not mowing again in the future, because I felt like it turned out decently well.