Testing…testing…

A recent discussion about two year olds yielded two divergent views – the “terrible twos” and the “terrific twos”. What’s up?

The age of two is all about exploration. The world is new, everything is worthy of exploration, and the ability to communicate one’s experience is limited. How that appears to an adult is at least as much about the adult as it is about the child.

Someone I am close to is employed as a tester. It is their job to find failure in a system. They try all the stuff the developer didn’t try (but the consumer might) to find the failure points in the product. Developers generally don’t like testers. The tester’s job is to say “This doesn’t work. Go back and fix it.” Developers says “that’s not what you’re (the user) supposed to do”, or “it wasn’t designed for that.” Testers are not very popular since their job is to make your work fail until it doesn’t (and in the software world, the person who writes the program is paid twice what the person testing it is paid). James Bach, a software testing consultant, compares testing to childhood between the 20th and 24th minutes in this talk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c5821YeWico. (It’s more than an hour and a half, and I’ll admit I haven’t watched it all yet.)

The job of a tester is a lot like the job of a two year old. At two, we don’t have access to a lot of data. We toss something into the toilet, flush, and see what happens. Do we know that the same thing happens every time? No. Do we know that the same thing happens with different objects? No. We test. We explore. (If you don’t want your child to toss things in the toilet, get a toilet lid lock.) As a parent, we have a few jobs. The first is to keep our child safe, so we don’t allow opportunities for testing of things that are inherently dangerous. We know the potential outcome of sticking a fork into an electrical socket, so it is our job to limit those opportunities. Our next job is to help our child learn about the world. For that job, it is important for them to have ways to explore their environment. We need to get into the two year old mind and remember (or imagine, or experience) a time when everything is new. We might notice there is a large area between inherently dangerous and totally safe. So our job is to facilitate exploration while mitigating risk.

The “terrible twos” result when we are unable to get into the two year old mindset and when we take everything personally – “my child is just doing that to annoy me”, “why can’t s/he learn? ” – or when the child can’t express their frustration or lack of understanding in words that we can understand.

The “terrific twos” result when we are able to see the world through two year old eyes, when we are able to tap into a sense of wonder, when we are able to facilitate and join in that exploration, when we encourage our children to express themselves. (And it helps when that child is verbally precocious.)

It helps to be open and not make assumptions. When I was learning another language, my ability to understand what others were saying exceeded my ability to express myself. I heard their words, translated them in my head into English, and then had my reactions to what was said. To respond, I had to translate those reactions into the second language and speak them. That process is too slow for normal conversation, especially in a group. The result could be that someone assumes: 1) I have no clue what is going on, as I’m not speaking; 2) I understand everything because I am attending and sometimes nodding; 3) I am stuck up or stupid because I am not joining the conversation. It was only when I learned to think in another language that my expression began to align with my experience. That is when I began to speak a second language – when I could get what was inside to the outside in a way that was comprehensible to others. Might that be like the experience of the two year old?

When I work with patients with altered consciousness (in a state we usually call “unconscious”), I talk to them. Years ago I worked daily with a patient who was intubated, sedated, and chemically paralyzed for many days. One day I came to work and they were awake and alert, though not yet able to speak. As I talked, I asked, “have you ever seen me before?” The answer was a head shake. When I asked, “have you heard my voice?”, the answer was a nod. When I asked, “do you know who I am?”, the answer was an enthusiastic nod. This “unconscious” person had been attending to my voice for days.

So it may be with two year olds (and younger). Clearly they attend to our voices. How much meaning do they derive from that? Unless they can speak, we don’t know. Many parents are now teaching young children to sign before they have the oral motor skills to speak, so they can make their needs known. Usually they focus on basic needs like eating. Communicating emotional needs is often beyond the skill level of the parent who does not know ASL or another sophisticated sign language.

But what can we do? We can foster the language development of our children from a very young age by speaking and reading to them. We can use actual language and not just baby talk. We can honor their attempts to communicate by whatever means are at their disposal. We can be open to the possibility that they can understand us before we have strong evidence that they do, while at the same time not hold them to our belief that they know exactly what we mean and are being willfully defiant. In short, we can model for them the communication skills that we want them to develop.

Christmas Trees

Every year I go cut a Christmas tree. Since they are grown on a tree farm, they are a crop, albeit one with a longer growing period than your average vegetable. Last year, pickings were slim. This year, I read that they were slimmer yet. One article said it was due to reduced planting during the 2007-2009 recession.

At any rate, I decided to go earlier than usual this year. It was a steady 32 degrees (0 degrees C) with freezing rain. Freezing rain is when the precipitation comes down as rain and freezes on contact, as opposed to sleet which comes down in a frozen state. We had sleet in the morning and postponed our trip until it was supposed to be over. Instead of ending, it changed to freezing rain.

The trees in this place are tagged when ready for harvest. All of the tagged trees were small. All of the good-looking trees were untagged and many were fenced off. Next year looks like it will be great. In a nod to the aluminum trees of my youth (which my family eschewed), my favorite was this beautiful copper-colored tree. Alas, it was not tagged for harvest.

Some might call this tree “dead”, instead of “beautiful”.

The freezing rain made for some interesting phenomena.

Needles coated in ice

Riding

Time on the bike this week has been limited to commuting. The winter bike had (again) a sticky brake piston. It took some work to free it up, but now the rear brake no longer drags. Riding is enough exercise without adding artificial resistance (like on an exercise bike). I rode it on the snowy day, but otherwise the good weather bike is still getting the miles. The winter bike got its annual Thanksgiving check up and, in a few weeks, will get its annual change to studded tires.

Since I haven’t mentioned them in a while, the Bruce Gordon is a light touring bike with half-step plus granny gearing (3×6), Shimano Deore XT, with cantilever brakes and Bruce Gordon racks. I have been riding it for 31 years. It has gotten a new headset, bottom bracket, and wheels (rebuilt with the original hubs) over the years (and the usual chains, brake pads, and cables). [Bruce Gordon was a custom frame builder in Petaluma, California who died in 2019. After a degree from the Art Institute of Chicago, he went on to study frame building with Albert Eisentraut before starting out on his own. He brought an artist’s creativity to an engineer’s field. If you ride a 29er or a gravel bike, you have him to thank for shaking up the industry; though he is not responsible for the proliferation of micro-markets – his Rock ‘n’ Road (the bike that came after mine) was meant to be ridden in all conditions.]

The Spot Brand has a 3-speed internally-geared Sram hub, Gates Carbon belt drive, Avid hydraulic disc brakes. I have had it for less than 6 years. It has needed only the usual brake pads (more often than on rim brakes), cable (shifter only, since there are no brake cables), and drive belts (less often than chains).

Tomorrow the Spot comes back out. Today I went to Costco and, as I pulled in, saw someone’s package fly across the parking lot. On the way out I saw someone’s giant TV blow over. The temperature and wind speed met at 25 (degrees Fahrenheit and mph… -4 C and 40 km/h). Gusts were 40 mph (65 km/h) . It was hard to keep the car on the road going home. I’m glad the bike was at home. By morning the forecast is for 5 degrees (-15 C). The wax-based chain lube on the BG doesn’t work very well at that temperature. Winter may have arrived.

Buying Guide

Another bike blog I read frequently recommends products. Am I remiss in failing to do so, or am I countering consumerism by not encouraging you to buy more?

I kept my first new bike for 17 years – until it was stolen. When I went to replace it, I test rode more than 30 bikes before I said “Aha! This is my bike!” I am not necessarily recommending that.

If you are thinking about buying a bike, ask yourself: 1) what do I need? 2) what do I want? 3) what can I afford? Then think about how long you will own this bike and adjust #3 as needed. During that shopping spree 30+years ago, I started with a budget of $1000. Then I rode the bike that made me say “Aha!”. I realized that my previous bike lasted 17 years and I saw no reason to keep this one for any less time. Amortized over 20 years, $1000 is not much (even 30 years ago). The bike was on sale. It cost $1800, discounted for being old stock – it didn’t have the latest technology (Hyperglide) and it had passé technology (Biopace). For $30 I swapped out the chainrings for round ones. 30 years later I’m still riding it. (While shopping, I also rode a $4000 bike. It did not make me say “Aha!” Money is not everything.)

I read in the bike press that the number of bikes to own is “N+1” (one more than you already own). I don’t know any real people who actually think that way. That saying is a way to justify selling you things you don’t need and maybe don’t even really want. I think the correct number is “just enough”. That number could be 1; it could be more. I have a bike that I wouldn’t ride in snow, sand, and salt. That kind of riding required another bike. Could I get by with just the bike that I do ride in snow, sand, and salt? Not to ride across the country. So the answer for me is >1.

Okay, so you’re ready to buy something. Next advice – do your research, shop carefully, then go with your gut. Bike and equipment (especially clothing) choices are pretty personal. What’s right for me may not be what’s right for you. If you have a local bike shop, patronize them. (I don’t mean be patronizing – that’s the next sentence.) If you find a shop that is rude or discounts you (because you’re old, because you’re a woman, because you don’t know their lingo) find another shop. Go to a bike shop, not to WalMart. Do you know what you’re doing, and what you want, or do you need someone else’s expertise? How badly (or how soon) do you need something? Can you get it on sale? You can buy online, but don’t try stuff out at the local shop and then buy it online because it’s a few dollars cheaper. That’s rude.

Back to that personal example. When I bought the bike mentioned above, I had test-ridden a used bike from the same builder. It was beautiful (but also not available). His frame painter had a style he called “superfade”. It was not your average fade from one color to another. He started with a base color (We’ll say purple, as that’s what I saw and fell in love with. He starts at the back of the bike and paints a little over 20% of it purple. (These numbers are based on my recollection of a conversation with him 30 years ago. They may not be accurate, and he may have retired.) Then he mixes it with silver – 75% purple/25% silver. He overlaps the first coat and goes just past 40% of the frame. Now he mixes 50/50 and overlaps again, going just past 60% of the frameset. 25/75 takes him just past 80%. Pure silver (overlapping with the last coat) goes on the final 20% (mostly the fork at this point). Looking at the bike, you’re not sure what color it is. From one angle it’s silver. From another angle, it’s purple. As the light hits it differently, the metallic sheen of the silver is more or less prevalent in the mixed areas.

That was the most beautiful bike I’d ever seen. But the bike on sale at the local shop was red (and I’d been riding a red bike for the past 17 years). It made me say, “This is my bike” when I rode it. I wanted that superfade paint, but did I need it? I saved a lot of money and bought the red one. Truth be told, rather than pay full price for the bike and the cost of a custom paint job, I bought a second bike. Now I had a bike to go fast and have fun, and another bike to carry loads and ride to work.

This was to be part 1 of 2. I wrote a second post, very specific about specific products, but WordPress froze while “autosaving”. The only way to get out of that was to leave the page, so I was faced with the internet version of “my dog ate my homework”. The last recoverable version was only the intro. I decided that was god’s way of saying you don’t need to hear that part. WYSIWYG.

What’s wrong with this bike?

Image from Competitivecyclist.com

How about this one? Maybe a closeup will help.

Image from Competitivecyclist.com

If you said “nothing”, you’re right. There is nothing wrong with these bikes…as long as you have about $6000 to spend.

On our FAQ page, we asked and answered the question “Is it cheating to ride an e-bike?” The world of e-bikes is changing. Some are 75 pound behemoths that drive themselves – until the battery dies. The two pictured above weigh around 26 pounds – about the same as my Bruce Gordon touring bike. Even when the battery dies, pedaling these bikes is no big deal. Where is the motor? you ask. Nearly invisible, in the rear hub, I answer. A close look between the cogset and the brake rotor and you might see the hub diameter looks a bit large – sort of like the 3 speed hub on my Spot Brand bike – but small enough to be virtually invisible.

the Bruce Gordon

E-bikes are now a lot like other bikes – available as commuters, cruisers, mountain, gravel, and road bikes. They can be pedal-assist, or can have a throttle like a motorcycle. Top speed is governed in multiple classes – you get to pick. With the motor not assisting, you can go as fast as you want (or can). Possibly the ultimate niche for them is the cargo bike. I was going to include some images, but there are too many variants – just search the term.

Would I ride an e-bike? No. It might be like a jet ski or a snowmobile or crack cocaine. Once you try it, you don’t want to give it up. Or so I’ve heard; never having tried any of them. Though the e-bike doesn’t have the societal costs of the others. A half-fast friend recently went bike shopping. His partner wanted an e-bike and bought one. He tried one and almost did it – but the Colnago won out and he couldn’t afford both. (But, as you see below, it was a false dichotomy – don’t tell him.)

This might qualify as bike porn – pictures of $5000+ bikes that most readers can’t afford and maybe have no business riding even if they can. We’ve all seen the stereotypical e-bike. Today, we just wanted to say the market has expanded. There are lots of choices. Just get out and ride; or do whatever it is that you love and will get you off the couch. (And no, I don’t have links for you to click to buy these and get me a commission. If you want to buy a bike, you’re on your own.)

As we said in the FAQ – if e-bikes get people riding who wouldn’t otherwise, we’re all for them. If they’ll get you out more, more power to you. If it’s just another expensive toy, don’t you have enough already?

Shorts!

Today was the first day warm enough to ride in shorts. Wednesday was the first Wednesday Night Bike ride of the season. In 26 miles I saw 12 other riders – 6 going the other way on the road I was on (scattered over the 26 miles) and 6 seen in the distance on other roads. Social distancing seemed to work here. There were those who chastised the organization for not canceling its rides. Being a rather anarchic organization, they decided to trust us to do what is right. I think we did pretty well.

On Thursday I rode with two friends. They made me ride behind them, 10 feet downwind at all times. Since I work in a hospital and they are sheltering in place, they figured they had a better chance of catching it from me than vice-versa. A reasonable thought, even if I wear a mask and face shield at work, wear scrubs that get carried home in a sealed bag and washed separately from all other clothes, and wipe down door handles, Purell dispensers, the time clock, keyboards, refrigerator and microwave doors, stair railings, flush levers on toilets…several times per day at work. A housekeeper told me we ran out of the Purell that comes in bags to go into wall dispensers. The homemade stuff from the hospital pharmacy is too thin to go in there. I suggested we thicken it with cornstarch. He was amused but didn’t think it would work. I suggested a wine reduction sauce. He didn’t think that would work, either. The trouble with alcohol without aloe or other moisturizers is that it dries your skin, leading to cracking and openings for icky stuff (that’s the broad scientific term for bacteria, viruses, molds, and fungi) to enter the body; in other words, an opportunity to make things worse instead of better.

I spent the afternoon in a recorded webinar about therapy with COVID-19 patients. It helped to convince me not to volunteer, being a frail old man with asthma and therefore susceptible to unfavorable outcomes like death. A major focus was on seeing the non-COVID patients more often than we usually would, to help them recover faster and discharge home instead of to a rehab center where they are once again at risk. Each morning I pass through a gantlet of nursing staff to show my ID and assure them that I have been self-monitoring and I have no new symptoms.

This will be my first 100+ mile week since before surgery. The coots and loons are in town, a brief stopover on their semi-annual commute. I saw an egret today. The robins and redwing blackbirds are back in large numbers. I saw 11 hammocks hanging over the lawns behind the Lakeshore Dorms this afternoon – I thought the dorms were closed and the students all gone – but this must be where they are housing the students who have nowhere else to go.

Bike by Bill Davidson, photo and 30 years of miles by Half-fast Cycling Club

In honor of my bikes turning 30 this year, I’ve been riding the old and trusty steel steeds and the carbon fiber bike has remained hanging in the basement. The Bruce Gordon is seeing heavy commuting duty and a couple of rides in the countryside. The Davidson came off the trainer and has accompanied me for the past two days and 60 or so miles.