Monday, November 30, 2015

CycloMonkey’s Maiden European Adventure

[Guest blogger: Steven McQuade]
I’ll be the first to admit that I was a bit skeptical when my good cycling buddy Todd brought CycloMonkey on one of our commutes into Santa Clara. However after a few rides and some good humored banter amongst the lads I decided to embrace our furry friend. After hearing of his adventures in southern California and Alaska I decided it was time for him to experience some European culture. The timing was right as it coincided very nicely with a business trip I had planned that encompassed Dublin, Ireland, Malaga, Spain, London, England and my home town of Hamilton, Scotland.
First stop on this mini tour for our long tailed friend was Dublin. Dublin is renowned for its Irish hospitality “the craic” especially at the Temple Bar and the Guinness Brewery however one thing that I wasn’t aware of until recently is that Dublin is actually twinned with our very own San Jose.

Unfortunately CycloMonkey and I never got the chance to experience the craic as we flew in for a 10 a.m. meeting then flew out to Malaga at 4 p.m.
Malaga seemed like a strange place to me to have a sales office as I was more aware of Malaga as a holiday resort for the Brits. I wasn’t complaining as CycloMonkey and I were looking forward to seeing the sun and the beach after being in a cold, wet Dublin.
At this point CycloMonkey was having withdrawal symptoms from the lack of cycling on this trip. As such I had to put him to bed for the night whilst I went for dinner on the rooftop of the AC Hotel Malaga Palacio – sorry no monkeys allowed.
The next day we had the flight to the UK, specifically London where I would have a couple of days to treat CycloMonkey to the pomp and ceremony of Great Britain, perhaps he may even get the chance to meet one of the royal family.
After the trek from London’s Stansted airport into central London I did take CycloMonkey to see the Queen at Buckingham Palace. I had called ahead to make an appointment with Her Majesty but unfortunately she was out the country on State business. Unfortunately, CycloMonkey had to make do with the outside of Buckingham Palace, as you can see he was overwhelmed by the experience.

Finally it was time to head home to Hamilton, Scotland. I was excited to show CycloMonkey some of my old stomping grounds and treat him to some home comforts such as Irn Bru (soda made from iron girders!).
Missing being on the bike myself, I decided it was time for us to hit the road. Five miles in to the ride and we hit Hamilton Mausoleum, the burial site of the Duke of Hamilton. The Mausoleum has one of the longest lasting echoes of any man-made structure in the world and is the largest private mausoleum in Britain. The chapel and crypt was built for the 10th Duke of Hamilton in the mid 19th century.
Leaving the Mausoleum we continue on into Strathclyde Park, a country park located in Lanarkshire, Scotland that covers some 4 km² and is centered on the artificial Strathclyde Loch. It forms what used to be known as the low parks of the now demolished Hamilton Palace and still includes buildings associated with the palace.

The remains of Bothwellhaugh Roman Fort and a Roman bath house can be seen in the park, where the South Calder Water flows into the loch. There is an arched Roman bridge across the South Calder nearby and the site of the Battle of Bothwell Bridge (1679) is to the north west of the park.
More recently Strathclyde Park hosted the triathlon and rowing events of the 2014 Commonwealth Games.
After circumnavigating the loch it was time to head back home for some Scottish breakfast fare to prepare for the flight back to The Bay where I would return CycloMonkey to Todd to allow him to prepare for his next adventure.

It was a pleasure travelling with my new found companion and I look forward to our next trip together.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Bullet Journal - 22 Days

I like collecting things and so it helps that I like organizing things.

Old fashioned methods of cataloging and archiving information seem to appeal to me. Card catalogs from the library, a postman’s box, collections of identical books all in a row, etc. – that sort of thing. Lab notebooks, with their green paper and engineering grid – that, too. The visual reminder of the size of the collection is important, too. It reaffirms the organization.
With all that, it’s no surprise that calendars, to-do lists and general note-taking are also important to me. And like most of my ilk, the quest for a better method has been lifelong. I have years’ worth of lab books. I have years’ worth of Day Timers with their carefully designed layout (I preferred 2-page-per-day). And yet, no binder, no checklist format, no color-keyed prioritizing method survived for very long before abandonment. None look good on a shelf either.
The longest run came with Palm Pilots and PDAs that used “Graffiti” and a stylist. My engineering education left me with a small caps handwriting style that suited graffiti perfectly. I’m not sure what’s wrong with the rest of the planet, but now we’ve evolved to use cell phones with microscopic “soft” keyboards. The to-do list and calendar apps on smartphones do a wonderful job and have many advantages. I continue to use the calendar in parallel with my journal. Pen and paper have the advantage of convenience and speed for a quick note or especially for a sketch. Some people have become proficient in thumb typing on their phones – not me. The other advantage of the apps is their persistence and flexibility in terms of presenting your notes. With a journal, you enter data chronologically and therefore it is displayed the same way. Turn the page and it effectively disappears. No persistence, no searching, no prioritizing or categorizing.

And yet for all its advantages, I’ve never been able to stay with an app. Somehow it feels rude to type something on my phone in front of someone, yet it doesn’t seem as bad to take a note on paper. That’s probably a generational thing.

The Bullet Journal Method

I use Evernote sporadically. A few weeks ago, the email push from Evernote shared a story on the Bullet Journal method and how it could be used effectively with Evernote. It appealed to me right away. Visit the site for a video, photo examples and a nice description of how to use the method. Here are my own notes (with modifications) on how to get started.
1. add a topic on top of the page (like today’s date)
2. number the page
3. a simple dot “•” open square for tasks
    a.       X = Task Complete
    b.      > → = Task Migrated (from center of box and completely outside of it so it’s easily visible)
    c.       < = Task Scheduled
4. an “O” bullet for events (feel free to write about it at length on the next available page)
5. a dash “–”represents notes: facts, ideas, thoughts, and observations (not immediately actionable)
6. Signifiers are symbols that give your Bullets additional context (to the left of the bullet)
    a.       “*” to give a Task priority
    b.      an exclamation point for inspiration
    c.      an eye use @ for further research, something to look up
7. first few pages are your Index; add the topics of your Collections and their page numbers
8. “Future Log” is a Collection for items to be scheduled months in advance… or that you’ll get around to someday
    a.       create a six-month calendar (so far, I don’t use this …perhaps a simple list of key events is enough)
9. “Monthly Log” is a calendar and a task list
    a.       (left page) Calendar Page: list all the dates of that month down the left margin, followed by the first letter of the corresponding day (I’ll skip the letter next month, but this is otherwise a list of key events this month)
    b.      (right page) Task Page: list what you want to tend to that month, and unfinished Tasks that have migrated from the previous month
10. “Daily Log”: At the top of the page, record the date. Throughout the day, simply Rapid Log your Tasks, Events, and Notes as they occur. Add the next date wherever you left off. Each morning, add yesterday’s tasks to the Monthly Log page.
11. Migrating:
    a.       at the end of the month each morning, review any unresolved Tasks, “X” out completed Tasks and assess remaining open Tasks are still relevant. If so, migrate it: turn the “•” into “>” run an arrow from the square, then add it to the Task Page of your new Monthly Log. (If irrelevant, strike out the whole line, including the task Bullet.)
    b.      Migrate any entries scheduled for that month from your Future Log into your new Monthly Log.

I carry the notebook on bike rides, so I suspect it will get wet. Therefore, I purchased a set of three “Expedition” edition notebooks from Field Notes – they are pocket-sized, waterproof and nearly indestructible! Others have done evaluations of different pens that work well on the synthetic paper, and so I bought a couple Uni-Ball Jetstream pens, 0.7mm. They work well.


I am 22 days into the Bullet Journal Era. Within days, I was much more focused on what I had to do. Writing it down added clarification and reinforced it so I was less likely to forget. It was oddly energizing. It also shortened the time before I would follow up with others on open items. It required some amount of force to make a habit of checking the Monthly Log each morning so that I knew what I had to do. If there wasn’t an open item from yesterday, then I wouldn’t need to go to that page to migrate it so I had to force the habit. This was key. Without this habit of checking the task list every single day, the effectiveness would have waned along with the satisfaction of seeing the boxes all checked off.
The difference, for me, compared to other methods is the index and the migration. Of course, the index makes it easy to find things. But it also gives you the freedom to make a Collection Page whenever the thought occurs. No worrying about whether or not there is room. No worrying about messing up that day’s journal entries; just turn to the next page and start writing. It’s very liberating. Then list it in the index. The migration of open tasks to the Monthly Log keeps things from getting lost. You make the note immediately on the Daily Log so it’s within the flow of your fast-paced, short text note taking – no flipping to some dedicated page or app on your phone. The next morning, you migrate it to the list and can add any details you may have neglected.

I use the Field Notes as my all-day, personal journal. I have a separate, full-sized engineering notebook at work. That one stays at work. If necessary, I’ll make work notes in the personal book or vice versa, and then migrate it over. I have forgotten to carry one or the other. When I forget both, any slip of paper will do.

I’ve done two other things based on comments from other bullet journalists. One is a “Waiting On” collection page for things I’ve requested of others that won’t necessarily be completed for a few days. That frees me from trying to remember. I put the date on that row and an open box. If I follow up, I make a note on that same line. When it’s done, I cross out the box. I use this at work. The other thing is a “Habit Tracker”. I use the Monthly Log page for this. Next to the date, I make vertical lines. At the top of each column I write some habit that I want to create (drink water, groom the cats) …things that I want to do every day. Then I cross the box each day that I do that particular habit. As you can see, there are some things that I haven’t done at all, yet. And several of them are really meant to be weekly things, or a couple times each month – so I’ll probably modify this method.
I have found that I have less free time at work. However, I don’t think it’s because I’m spending that lost free time by writing. The bullet concept, in contrast to writing full sentences, doesn’t take long at all. No, I think that I am more aware of what’s going on, of what’s necessary to do, and so I am giving myself more tasks to do. And that in turn requires that I gather more information. I’m more proactive. All of which means that I’m doing a better job of doing my job. The jury is still out as to whether I’m doing a better job of living my life outside of work.

Still Searching

As with any paper journal, it is static. Whatever order you write things down, it stays in that order. The index helps. But if you saw a stray dog and made a note of it. Then, weeks later, someone asked if you had seen a stray dog, how would you find the note and recall what day it was? Would you even try? Evernote suggests you take a photo of every page. They have optical character recognition (OCR) software that converts the handwriting in your photo to searchable text. I tried it. It works, but not 100%. And I think I have decent, small-caps-style handwriting thanks to a decade of engineering education. What if you had a decade of med school? (Doctors have terrible handwriting.) I don’t know yet, but the solution must involve a computer.

However, I don’t feel the need to search for a better method. Unlike pre-printed journals and certain religions, if you don’t think the prescribed dogma works for you then change it. Change all the rules. Steal from other methods. I already have. So has everyone who has posted on their blogs, as far as I know. So I’ve stopped searching for something that fits perfectly. Simply by proclaiming the freedom to change it, the bullet journal method works perfectly with my style of collecting and organizing my thoughts.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Coffeeneuring 2015 Wrap-Up

This is a post with the sole purpose of recycling and recounting. Shameless self-promotion. "Hey, read my blog posts again!"

Recylcing (links to original posts):

It's over.
Shop 1: Devout Coffee (previously visited ...recycled)
Shop 2: The Cool Bean Cafe
Shop 3: Panama Red
Shop 4: Sunol Railway Cafe
Shop 5: Sugarie Bake Shop (previously visited ...recycled)
Shop 6: Pacific Bay Coffee
Shop 7: The Bubble Tree Cafe
Control Card: Here


Except for the Cool Bean, all the coffee shops were relatively close to home.

My Top Three Overall (coffee and "the experience")

  1. Devout Coffee - cool place, cool people, good coffee, happy to talk about coffee, nice town
  2. Sugarie - cool people, good pastries, good coffee, close to home
  3. Cool Bean - cool place, good coffee, cool people, halo effect from Yosemite trip
Total mileage: 130 miles

And the answers to the questions you all want to ask:

What's with the duck?

Mendo, and the stunt-doubles
Well, really it's a failed attempt at doing something clever. I have a stuffed monkey that I take on cycling trips and have created a whole story around him. I cloned the Coffeeneuring interactive map and use it to track his travels. Next I plan to find his original owner and return the monkey along with this amazing story of where it's been. Cool, eh? Mendo the coffeeneuring rubber ducky was a spontaneous idea along the same lines. The monkey was scheduled to be elsewhere for much of the coffeeneuring challenge, so I couldn't use him. So the duck substituted for the monkey. 

Sorry you asked?

Why Coffeeneuring?

CycloMonkey loves coffee!
This is Mary's question to all of us. Two years ago, I was not a coffee drinker. But my cycling hobby had evolved to be my primary mode of transportation. So I was waking up at 5am for a two-hour commute a few times a week. That left me rather sleepy at work, so I started with a half-cup of coffee for the caffeine and grew from there. I figured if I was going to drink coffee, I'd rather drink good coffee and had better learn about it. That's one part of the answer: I wanted to learn more about coffee. A forced taste-testing event served that purpose.

A second part is that I'm a little nerdy (perhaps geeky) and have an abnormal affinity for checklists, accumulating logs of things, record-keeping, or most any form of organizing things. Much like my involvement in Randonneuring, I like to look at the list of things I've accomplished. So here was a chance to display my list to others who also might appreciate a list.

Part and parcel with my nerdiness is general introversion, introspection and creativity in need of an outlet. Facebook and blogging allow me to pretend to be extroverted at a nice, safe distance. So I suspected that I might get a captive audience in this Coffeeneuring group and I might get some pre-made topics on which to write. More practice at writing. More practice at cell-phone photography. And low and behold, I may have gained some friends ...well, acquaintances. Can I get a "like" or a "+1" for that?

Why Food Pairing?

Coffee, like wine or beer, can be very complex and varied. I've had good food with good coffee and the combination made both taste a little off. Look it up, it's a thing. I'm a believer. When is the cycling and donut challenge?

Was There a Theme Within a Theme?

Yes, did you miss it? Actually, I had hoped that one would evolve. So I sub-titled my rides with something and the name of the coffee shop. Nothing clever evolved. So no, there was ultimately no theme within a theme - except for the rubber ducky. If you can find some creative theme, leave a comment.

Thanks for indulging me.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Mendo's Coffeeneuring Challenge 2015 - Day 7

Four Barrel, Bubble Tree and Lucky Number 7

Take a chance on something new, sometimes it works out better than expected. I found the Bubble Tree Cafe on Yelp and looked them up. The mention of Four Barrel Coffee made me think this sleepy looking place might have some high octane punch. It did. But it also had the feeling of home - not the look, unless you happened to grow up in a strip mall but the welcoming and relaxing feeling of home. What a great way to finish the Coffeeneuring Challenge.

### Coffeeneuring Control Stop #7 ###

DATE: 11/1/15
DRINKS: Americano (roasted by Four Barrel Coffee)
MILEAGE: 9.3 miles
COFFEE SHOP: The Bubble Tree Cafe

BACKGROUND: There's not much online, but I talked with one of the owners. They've been open only a few months and intended to focus on Boba and Bubble Tea, and maybe smoothies - an Asian selection for most items. Fortunately for me, they also decided to offer coffee. After searching and asking around in the Mission district of San Francisco, they settled on Four Barrel Coffee. If you look at their website, you get a very edgy, hipster vibe which is in marked contrast to the sunny, suburban, Asian vibe of Bubble Tree. Allegedly, Four Barrel dictated their espresso machine - only the top of the line if you're selling our stuff. Make no mistake, they make an excellent cup of coffee here.

COFFEE REVIEW: I arrived at about 9:20am since the website said they opened at 9:00am, but no one was there. Patience. The sign on the window had the clock pointing to 9am, so I started posing my bike for a photo. Then the owner pulled up and asked if she could get something for me. Coffee? She unlocked, apologized about her big Halloween party last night making her late and offered me an Americano since they hadn't started the drip yet.

Four Barrel gets their espresso from El Salvado: pacas and bourbon, single origin. Their website describes the flavor as being akin to "...that sexy professional cellist who likes to get tipsy on hard apple cider, then wink those nutmeg and brown sugar eyes ...totally out of our league." Okay, I didn't quite get that image when I drank it. But it was one of the better Americanos I've ever had. It was complex and well balanced like a great cup of coffee, not bitter and rough like most espresso/Americano drinks. Two thumbs up, five out of five, whatever my rating system - it's tops.

FOOD PAIRING: I didn't partake of any food. Sorry.

BIKE AMBIANCE: Not their strong suit. Suburban-safe, but not much ambiance of any fashion. It actually seemed like the kitchenette at a Courtyard by Marriott or the corner of your typical Silicon Valley workplace (Google, Facebook etc, not being typical). But that made it all the more comfortable, somehow. In their defense, the building didn't offer much to work with.

DUCK'S VIEW: Mendo actually blended in quite well. It was bright and cheery and primary colored - not rustic or industrial like many artisan coffee shops. On a scale from a hunting lodge to your kids' bathroom, Mendo belongs in your kids' bathroom. If that helps. Again, if there were a little fountain, it would have been just ducky. (I've waited seven blog posts to use that one!)

THE BIKE: Soma, see Day 1 post.

THE RIDE: Santa Rita is a fairly busy, four-lane thoroughfare across Pleasanton. So I let Google recommend an alternate bike route. Therefore, I meandered through quiet, bucolic neighborhoods in what we affectionately refer to as "the bubble" - Pleasanton, because it's pleasantly isolated from the big, scary cities (San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose) as well as the hyper-growth of some of the suburbs (you know who you are). Since it was the morning after Halloween it was still rather comical. In general, it was a slow cruise. Easy. Happy.

LUCKY NUMBER SEVEN: I'll be honest, I've been enjoying this challenge and didn't want it to end. But it must, so I then wanted to finish with something fantastic. But life happens and I found myself not sure where to go. The Bubble Tree Cafe with its Four Barrel Coffee was a total gamble. Half the shops so far were fantastic, so the bar was pretty high. Some shops were let-downs. Why? Mostly because I didn't engage with the owner/barista/whoever - either because I tried and they didn't reciprocate, or because the atmosphere inhibited that sort of thing. If the Bubble Tree Cafe had been busy, I might not have taken the opportunity to talk with the owner - even though I'm sure she is generally quite open, so maybe it would have happened anyway. But I did and it paid off.

You make your own luck.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Mendo's Coffeeneuring Challenge 2015 - Day 6

Pacific  Bay Coffee for Professionals

Saturday, way too early, and it's dark and cold. My coffee destination is over 20 miles away. This is like my daily commute. My wife seems confused as I shuffle around in the dark, getting ready to go at a time when I normally drift back to sleep. It's one of my many gifts: I can always go back to sleep. Therefore, I'm the one who normally feeds the cats at a quarter to dark in the morning - as I did today. And again, I suspect, tomorrow since the cats have no concept of daylight savings time. Nonetheless, it's time to ride!

### Coffeeneuring Control Stop #6 ###

DATE: 10/31/15
DRINKS: Italian dark roast (drip) and Cappuccino
MILEAGE: 46.8 miles
COFFEE SHOP: Pacific Bay Coffee

BACKGROUND: As a "micro-roastery", I was intrigued. They were founded in 2004 and roast their beans on-site. Pastries are out-sourced, but that's fine.

COFFEE REVIEW: I went with the darkest roast in the pots, which was the Italian. It was good, a little strong but not bitter. Nothing particularly distinguishable but maybe that the point of a blend.
I hung around long enough to have seconds. This time I went with a cappuccino just to see the barista's pattern. It was pretty good, nice fine features.

FOOD PAIRING: Expecting a bold coffee, I went with the big oat bar which seemed like a bowl of granola with raisins, yum. It was a nice match for the dark roast, but also in "the blend" category. Fine, but not fabulous (but also not awful).

BIKE AMBIANCE: I came upon the cafe from the east, recognizing the sixties architecture of the strip mall. It was right across the intersection from the hospital, a fairly busy intersection but a few blocks from the busier pedestrian area. I set my bike next to the water bowl set out for dogs, in an area extending into the diagonal parking. It felt exposed but at least it was visible from the seating. So generally positive marks for bike friendliness.

DUCK'S VIEW: The shop wasn't too busy, so it was easy to find a table with a view of the bike but it also faced another couple sitting against the window. Nice enough people, but Mendo was a bit shy. Nonetheless, he posed for a few photos and blended well with the decor. There was an air of work among the customers, not quite the slumbering weekend morning. A doctor, some guy seriously studying his notes, no kids. Overall, the warmth wasn't there.

THE BIKE: Volagi, see Day 1 post.

THE RIDE: As mentioned up top, I got up and out under the cover of darkness. The stars and the planets were out and it was definitely cold. There were a few brave cyclists out, their LED headlights giving them away. I cruised through town, watching the farmers set up for the market. I spent as little time as possible on public roads, veering over to the iron horse trail for most of the ride.

The first ten miles or so were in the open, but the sun had not yet risen. About halfway, the sun was rising but the trees had crept in closer to the trail. That left me to watch the shadows drop slowly until finally the sun was upon me and I could warm up. The short stretches between road crossings meant that I never really got warmed up by cycling. But hey, it's a coffee run. Besides the coffee to warm me up, I knew that the temps going back would rise fairly quickly.

PROFESSIONALISM: Aside from the professionals who were customers, the friendliness of the staff fell on the professional side, too. I can't say anything bad about the guy at the cash register or the barista, they did everything I expected. But nothing that I didn't. Could have been at an office supply store (and I LOVE office supply stores, but the employees don't seem to share my feeling). I was actually surprised that the barista said "thanks" when I complimented his artwork.