Progress Soup 2016.07.23

On July 4, I wrote about how I reached a longstanding goal of 200lbs (down from 315). At the time I didn’t realize it, but I had unwittingly reached another huge fitness milestone on the same day, the highest VO2Max category for my age group, according to the software I use to track such things.

VO2Max 1

On July 4 I hit 56ml/kg/min, which according the the following chart, is high for my age. VO2Max 2

The bad news is that since getting proficient and diligent with checking this metric regularly, I learned that I peaked at 62 in June. I also had my highest ever FTP in June, but I lost overall fitness from then to now.

Currently I’m reworking my whole training program. I weaning off guided programs like TrainerRoad – still the best thing for structured training short of a personal coach. I made another lap through Training and Racing with a Power Meter (Allen and Coggan) and Today I’m starting another lap of Cyclist’s Training Bible (Friel).

My biggest development on the training front is that I’m now coaching two people – my wife and a friend. Teaching seems to be one of the best ways to focus my own learning efforts.


Where I Landed on Buddhist Bike Ownership

The friend I’m coaching said he did a lot of searching/reading on bike locking methods and he is convinced that my method is unique. I’m sure somebody somewhere has thought of this exact method, but just didn’t document it online. Here’s what I came up with.

First, here are the items I use:

Here’s what it looks like locked up at my favorite coffee bar in Raytown, MO.

Bike lock 1.jpg

Here’s the procedure:

  • lean bike against immovable object
  • put left crank facing up, parallel to seat tube
  • use Bordo lock bike frame and front wheel to object, leave key in Bordo
  • unclip all the unclippable stuff (bottles, lights, pump, bag, etc), piling stuff into jersey pockets and helmet
  • stretch coiled cable to run through rear wheel, Garmin Vector pedal, and…
  • unlock Bordo momentarily to hook end loop around lock
  • relock Bordo, put key in pocket, leave bike on street, knowing I did every reasonable thing I could

Here’s what the coily cable looks like when it’s coiled on the bike.

Bike lock 1B

It just hangs there with no ties or anything required. The reason it lives on the saddle rail is so that the saddle is secured when I lock up the bike. Anything that anyone wants off my bike they can get easily enough, but they are going to have to use tools.

I graduated to this cheap, 8mm, off-brand cable from a stronger-seeming Kryptonite brand specifically because it coils like this. Also it is easier to fit through things because it is smaller diameter and more pliable. It just works all-around better, and I felt like securing the Kryptonite in place kinda put me over the edge of feeling like locking up was a process. Now locking up is fluid, fast, easy – I do it on autopilot.

Subsequently the Kryptonite cable got handed down to a vintage bike and I figured out a much better way to secure it than using the stock velcro strap.

Bike lock 2

It’s just a musician’s Velcro brand cable tie. That solution is acceptable for that bike, with its cheap, Chinese knockoff saddle, springy frame, and general vibey-ness.

The Method of My Locking Method

My friend told me that every online, instructive article on bike security just repeats the same methods over and over, and that made me kinda sad. I thought I would share how I came up with my method, because I feel like anyone could come up with a unique combination of locking devices and a personalized method that best suits any individual lifestyle.

  1. Research the main lock. My criteria were security, portability and adaptability to real-world objects outside clubs where I play music, plus a million other points of interest in Kansas City. For security I did some internet research and I was most influenced by this site, which gave me the idea to look for a Sold Secure Gold rating. For portability and adaptability, I ruled out u-locks off the bat and used that as a constraint.
  2. Decide which parts of the bike to lock and how to accomplish that with the fewest parts and fewest steps per iteration. For this I used a tailor’s tape measure – the kind you use to measure your waist – and a calipers. I decided I wanted to lock my saddle, both wheels, and power meter. From there I measured how much lock cable I would need if locked the bike through the frame and rear wheel, trying different things. Eventually I tried locking the frame and front wheel and I came up with more options for a usable double-loop cable. I landed on 8mm after measuring a Specialized Romin saddle (now on my wife’s section of our tandem), which couldn’t accommodate the thick Kryptonite cable.

That’s it. I feel like anyone thinking clearly about what they want to do regarding bike security would come up with an equally utile, easy, minimal system.

I’ve run myself out of time to write again. Here is some filler.

Current Photos










Independence Day

I achieved my original fitness goal – weight loss to 200lbs (91kg) – on July 4, 2016 – Independence Day.

There were fireworks all day. After dark, combustible celebration lit the sky. It was the most raucous public carnival in recent memory. I let myself imagine that everyone in the city was happy for me.

I went to the 50% off holiday sale at one of my favorite thrift stores and bought most of what I needed to finish a minimal, modular, new wardrobe. I spent $28 on IDK how many pants, shirts, jackets, and shorts.

You would have to know me – which really is my fault, because if I were faithful with this blog and you read it, you would know me already – but over the last 17 years shopping is about the least likely activity you’d catch me in. Before this day I would buy 5-10 identical outfits – all black – and wear them every day, year round, until they wore out. The last set I bought in 2008, and I chose it specifically for durability. Also I’m famously cheap – I would buy a restocked, marked down toothbrush if such a thing were available.

The Fourth of July was a memorable milestone kind of day. It feels as if I threw a switch from anxious, depressed fatso to fit, smart-dressed, high-functioning person in a single moment. In reality it was just one of those times when I suddenly realized how far I’ve come in a little over a year.


It was two days before that milestone that I heard the episode of the This American Life podcast titled (I think) Tell Me I’m Fat. It grabbed my attention in a way that this podcast almost never does – as often as not it’s pleasant background chatter or lazy entertainment for me and my wife. In this episode, though, I heard people who seemed to come from a starting point similar to my own – being immensely fat, upset about everything that attends obesity, and at a loss for what to do about it.

Following are some quotes that really grabbed me.

“The way that we are taught to think about fatness is that fat is not a permanent state – you’re just a thin person who’s failing consistently for your whole life… I don’t know why I live in this imaginary future where I someday will be thin.”

“At some point I was just like, you know, it’s fairly likely that I’m going to be fat forever, so why am I putting off figuring out how to live with that? Rather than spending all my time counting almonds, why not try to figure out how to be happy now?”

“No further manpower needed on the shame front.”

[following a stat declaring a large percentage of USA is obese] “There must be some other way to think about this.”

“You know what’s shameful – a complete lack of empathy.”

“Why should I have to swallow that kind of treatment at my job?” (Fat shaming from boss)

“…come out as fat”

“When you come out as gay, most people accept it because they know you can’t do anything about that, that’s who you are are, you can’t change it… but coming out as fat, doctors and your family, and kinda the entire culture is organized to point out how wrong-headed you are. When you’re over a certain size, it’s been explained to me by a few people now, complete strangers walk up to you in the street and tell you to lose weight, they shoot you dirty looks when they see ice cream in your shopping cart. They talk down to you about nutrition and calories, as if pretty much every fat person has not been around the block 500 times on that one already. That’s why deciding to stay fat – and be okay with it – is at a peculiar frontier right now, where things are shifting and people do not agree about what’s acceptable to say and think.”

“The problem with ‘overweight’ is that it implies there is a correct weight for people.”

I Am Totally Onboard for this Coping Solution – At Least I Totally Validate the Impulse

Later, for the thorough/dour among us, I’ll list a few of my very many reservations regarding TAL in general and this episode in general. This American Life is the maximum depth into middle-class pop culture that my atmospheric diving suit can handle. For now I just want to say that I 100% identify with these people featured in this episode. The posture they propose constitutes a novel, clever solution to the same problem I had.

At present I’m not even considered overweight for a middle-aged American. My body fat percentage is somewhere south of 15% now – haven’t checked in a while. I started out at 315 pounds. Somewhere during that time I latched onto the following idea.

Fitness exists only relative to lifestyle, and correct nutrition is dictated by the immediate demands of that lifestyle.


The Definition of Fitness

Dammit here’s another tangent already: when I say fitness my mind is leaning strongly toward all the stuff that makes a bicycle go fast: power, weight, speed, skill… That’s what’s most relevant to my lifestyle, because I ride a bicycle as my primary means of transportation and also just for fun. When people engage me on the subject of fitness they use words that seem to be barely-protruding icebergs of insanity, but I don’t have the acuity with pop culture to see down under the water. This includes the word fitness. I’m guessing the word fitness is so diluted/dissipated because of commerce. It’s that American habit of turning literally every last possible thing into a Wild-West, senseless, crass industry.

Lately I seem to have the exact same conversation with lots of people. I will run into someone I haven’t seen a year or so. I’m a musician so I think this is maybe more common for me than for people in other vocations. This person I haven’t seen in a while will be amazed at how different I look, and the question is almost always the same, verbatim: “How did you do it?” – and I think the unstated assumption is that I was sitting at home one day, eating potato chips, and then I suddenly decided to “get in shape.” The Rocky theme started playing, I threw down my chips and ran from my front door, past a shipyard where an old-timey sailing ship was docked, and up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art – i.e. I just pulled myself up by changing a few habits and digging deep into willpower. Lately in these conversations I’ve been trying to keep it to “I’ve been riding a bicycle everywhere I go,” but that doesn’t seem to satisfy anyone. I used to try to compress my whole story into a single paragraph but that was even more unsatisfactory for everyone. I’m starting to think that maybe people want to hear the brand name of a program that they can buy, add to their existing lifestyle, and GET RIPPED!!! DOCTORS HATE HIM!!! SECRET SUPERFOOD GIVES MEN 6-PACK ABS!!! The next thing that usually happens is that people want to tell me about all kinds of cockamamie, crackpot cleanses, “exercise” programs, and crash diets that they have tried – or, much much worse, because then you are duty-bound to be optimistic and encouraging: the diets they are currently on. I think what’s happening here is that I fail to follow the conventional success story, so the interviewer fills the void with all the trendy programs stored in recent memory. Anyway, there is a dazzlingly immense, insane, inexplicable (to someone withdrawn from pop culture), turbid conflation of notions around the idea of fitness.

I did a Google search to see what the internet says about fitness and I kinda recognize the craziness as a whole – machines and weights in gyms, expensive specialty clothes unwarranted for their intended activity, celebrity interviews, magazines, the idea of “exercise” which AFAIK is just make-work that elevates the heart-rate or creates resistance training for nothing in particular, trending foods – lots of emphasis on what absolutely everyone should be eating, irrespective of how they intend to use those nutrients?!?! The timbre of the din is familiar, but I’m not familiar with any one particular lunatic howl. I’ve never actually waded into the conceptual cesspool to examine the individual turds. What’s another metaphor… sometimes there’s sometimes a buggy, how many drivers…

Using the usual tools available to a 2016 American, it’s hard to find any sane information or instruction that might lead to a meaningful, positive, transformative change in lifestyle. If I go to WebMD, America’s trusted source of information on which mega-corporations want to advertise on WebMD, one of the top results of a search for fitness is a drug called Fitness Formula, which seems from the description to be a multivitamin – I’m guessing it’s many times overpriced compared with standards like Centrum.

What if I reach out to Google – you know, as a friend, just this one time. If I type I don’t want to be fat anymore,  here is the top hit, which seems not too informative, until you scroll through pages of horrible cash-grab gambits and and sea of forum conversations full of unrealistic-or-otherwise-bad advice and “sorry, it’s really hard.”

I need to be more direct with Google – tell Google what I want. How do I get fit? Top hit is not as bad as before – I can sense the openness of the hypothetical fitness-seeker in the first illustration. Yet this page is merely a page of generalities that would be true of any lifestyle attending better health – it gives no actual specific instructions regarding how to build any particular lifestyle. I.e. it will directly lead to exactly zero people worldwide getting fit.

Most of the hits for this search start with the unstated assumption that getting fit involves going to a gym and doing workouts – on top of the shitty lifestyle I already have. Just bolt this thing or that thing onto the way of living that is currently killing me, and I’m golden. I will say that there is a possible benefit for young men searching this way: they will have to break for 15 minutes of good cardio for every page in order to masturbate, because in these search results there is no escaping pervy pictures of hot, gorgeous, female models – hair and makeup done – in nudity-style “workout” clothes.

Here’s our friend WebMD again. Again, it’s the assumption that I’m bolting on a gym-type routine to my lethally unhealthy/dangerous lifestyle, only AT HOME WITHOUT A GYM! (Only it’s all the same kind of stuff you would do at the gym). This is the kind of out-of-the-box iconoclasm the big-money advertisers are lining up to endorse.

This isn’t working. Google, I’m going to lay all my cards on the table and just type I’m worried that my weight is a health risk and my doctor won’t help me. Did I ever mention that I desperately implored my doctor to tell me what was wrong with me when I felt like my heartbeat was strange and I thought I needed to get in shape? He sent me to a cardiologist and gave me a pamphlet (which I can’t find now – wish I could, I’m sure it’s rich with comedy). I do remember the stress test at the cardiologist’s – and I remember having to goad the cardiologist into telling me to lose weight – no ideas on how I might do that. Anyway, so now I’m asking you, Google, to help me.

Well, it doesn’t solve any of my problems, but I feel more American being told that I am a victim of patient profiling. As a middle-aged, white male it is sometimes hard to get in on the victim-identity game, so thanks for that. Next hit tells me the big secret: burn more calories than you take in. Oh shit – now I remember the cardiologist telling me this exact thing – that’s where I first heard the aphorism about losing 1 pound of fat by burning 3500 calories. Still, no ideas how to make that an integral part of my life.

Okay, everything I can find in mainstream media or from health care professionals is operating on the same, faulty, unstated assumption. All experts – and loud, visible sources – are basically asking people to keep living a shitty, unhealthy, dangerous lifestyle. In an average case it is 99% probable that the individual seeking help is already overworked compared to mid-20th-century standards. That person is instructed to bolt onto the existing, untenable lifestyle the following items.

  • • gym
    • ⁃ buy a gym membership
    • ⁃ drive to that gym 3-6x weekly
    • ⁃ spend 3-12 hours per week in that gym…
    • ⁃ …doing repetitive tasks that are almost perfectly meaningless and impossibly boring – that prepare the person for zero real-world activities – e.g. bench press prepares you only to do more reps of bench press next time you go to the gym
    • ⁃ …in an ugly, fluorescent-lit environment
    • ⁃ …against the increasing volume of the misgivings in the back of the head asserting that this doesn’t lead to anything, doesn’t constitute a legitimate way to live, etc
  • • food
    • ⁃ first, become a competent dietician yourself – the type who could be protecting us from harm in the first place
    • ⁃ become a competent chef
    • ⁃ search like Indiana Jones for safe, healthy ingredients appropriate to immediate needs
    • ⁃ spend lots of extra money on non-subsidized, non-harmful foods
    • ⁃ transport your own food everywhere you go, like astronauts on a mission to the International Space Station, because trying to find normal, human-suitable nutrition in suburban USA – A.K.A. the whole goddammned thing if you round off the the nearest % by area – is like trying to find good food in the vacuum of space
  • • recovery
    • ⁃ plenty of time to sleep – every night
    • ⁃ more on nights after you go hard
    • ⁃ leisure to sleep until you are recovered
    • ⁃ leisure in general – anxiety crashes every onboard system from the brain to the toenails
    • ⁃ mental tranquility to sleep undisturbed
    • ⁃ better have your food game on lock so your digestion doesn’t wake you up
    • ⁃ fuck it – this is impossible – i have to work two jobs to pay for medical bills, this is never going to happen, i welcome premature death. U.S.A.! U.S.A.!

This is the point in this hero’s journey when I become privy to an ancient bit of information, which, if obtained, will aid successful navigation of my trials in the special world. I know that Google is going to tell me everything I want to know through the prism of contemporary, mainstream culture, but there is a secret way in which Google is connected to lost, mythical, long-ago world of Civilization Before It Lost Its Goddamned Mind. It makes this connection in the forbidden, shadowy realm of The Dictionary.

Okay this is more helpful. I typed into Google define fitness and it gave me “the quality of being suitable to fulfill a particular role or task.” Very simple – great!

For me, riding a bicycle is as central to my lifestyle as driving a car is for most others. It’s no exaggeration to say that for me, fitness is bicycle fitness: Joe Friel’s pyramid of force, speed skill, and endurance; or on a physiological level, greatly increased vascularity, very high heart stroke volume, lower blood pressure, increased muscle sensitivity to insulin, very low body fat percentage, high VO2Max, and a bunch of other things I don’t know about because I’m not a doctor… In short, fitness for me consists of things that make me move efficiently on my bicycle.

My moment-by-moment nutritional needs are dictated by my activities in the immediate future, as well as activities receding into the recent past. For example, on days in which I log a lot of road miles, I need thousands of calories more in nutrients, and a higher proportion of those will be carbs. I literally use a power meter to gauge how many calories I spend on my bicycle – in particular zones, which suggest different proportions of fat/glycogen fueling. I use MyFitnessPal to track nutrient balance and volume (calories). There are correct and incorrect choices. Some choices are healthy foods but are incorrect for my needs at the moment. E.g. everyone loves broccoli, but if I’m in a severe deficit of protein, broccoli is every bit as wrong as chocolate cheesecake in that moment. There are choices that make my macro-nutrient pie graph look balanced, but they are just shitty food – e.g. anything with refined sugar.

Fitness exists only relative to lifestyle, and nutrition is dictated by the immediate demands of that lifestyle. My lifestyle is centered on riding a bicycle the way most people’s lives are defined by cars. Correct nutrition for me is dictated by planning to ride somewhere in the near future, a deficit from a recent ride, bike trainer workouts that help me ride more efficiently, and recovery, which is the flip-side of workouts.


The American Lifestyle

Axioms of fitness and nutrition hold true for any lifestyle and activity, including the contemporary automobile-based model. Being monstrously unhealthy actually does constitute fitness for the American lifestyle. It doesn’t take a lot of aerobic capacity or strength or dexterity or flexibility to walk to a car or obtain manufactured food at the grocery store or receive the sugar-fat-salt treats that excrete from drive-thru windows. Living and eating this way also has the distinct advantage of hastening you toward an early reprieve from the American lifestyle while still skirting the culpability of willful self-harm – you are simply doing what is expected within the American, car-based lifestyle.

Nobody is doing a single damned thing to protect us from harmful food and lifestyle. We are all swimming in a toxic pool of bad food, bad transportation, bad urban design, bad information, bad culture. Finding alternatives is difficult and lonely.


This is where I converge with my fellow fatties that I just heard on This American Life. If you are obese because you drive a car everywhere and do no physical work and eat the abominable mainstream food available in USA, you are effectively not at fault – you are doing every last thing that is expected. More than that, it’s unreasonable to ask every individual to pull himself up above the surface and swim against the riptide – on his own, unprotected from maliciously harmful information, food, transportation choices, wealth distribution… Being obese-to-the-point-of-inviting-disease is picture-perfect fitness for the American lifestyle. It is right. Obesity fits Americans like a lycra skinsuit fits Fabian Cancellara. If I accept that it is possible for a normal, average person in the USA to build a fulfilling life from readily available components, I must accept that radical obesity is a legitimate state of fitness for that life.

When I first heard the Tell Me I’m Fat episode, I was really hung up on Ira Glass’ summary of the scenario: “…[complete strangers] talk down to you about nutrition and calories, as if pretty much every fat person has not been around the block 500 times on that one already.”

My knee-jerk reaction was, yeah, but obviously they didn’t master nutrition and calories. But what have I learned from searching for information? What did I learn from my own experience as a 315lbs hand-wringer, worrying that my life was slipping away? The problem isn’t mastery of a proven system, the problem is that the system doesn’t work. Bolting on extra shit to a toxic lifestyle still gives you a toxic lifestyle.

These women on This American Life had the lucidity – and nerve – to say no, goddammit, I’m the one who’s doing it right, I’m the one who’s doing the full lifestyle as prescribed! If there really is such a thing as discriminatory, ill-treatment of fat people, (I’m struggling to recall anything from decades at 315lbs, and I suspect people are feeling the pressure from insane pop culture, to which I am oblivious), then I applaud anyone who gives a big FUCK YOU to that oppressing majority. IMHO, these women correctly identified a huge, important error in the culture and are taking steps to correct it.

Obviously, I don’t like their solution as much as my own, but I have vastly more respect for the fat-identity thinkers than I do for people who go to the gym and buy fitness magazines and eat the latest trendy food and engage in all that insanity. At least the fat-identity people are observing well and thinking clearly.

I think the faulty, unstated assumption that leads the fat-identity people into error is the idea that the contemporary, mainstream culture in the USA in any way constitutes an organic reality. That’s a subject for another blog post.

JCPenny “Here I Am”

In the same day, I listened to the Tell Me I’m Fat episode of This American Life, had a text conversation about the episode that was solicited by a friend who also listens to the podcast – and then the next thing I saw on my phone screen was the following advertisement on YouTube. I guess this must be the tail end of the trend and I’m just now hearing about it – or do big corporations simply appropriate and monetize things faster nowadays?

This ad has got to be one of the best things we could put in a time capsule for future civilizations. Here are my favorite quotes.

“We’re countering a lifetime of learned hatred.”

“You can’t love your body for what you hope it turns into without actively loving it for what it is today.”

“The only person who should be defining me is me.”

“My size isn’t an indicator of my worth.”

Another Option

  • • get as far away from car-centric lifestyle as possible
    • use any kind of human-powered locomotion: walk, bike, row, whatever
  • • detox from mainstream culture
    • stop looking at video screens, including this blog
    • seriously – stop. i promise you won’t miss many substantial, edifying things
    • reject legitimacy of centrally manufactured culture – e.g. the entertainment industry, which includes news, has no right to set the public agenda of issues
    • drop out of anything that both relies on a video screen and includes in its name or description:
      • social
      • sharing
      • community
      • connect
  • • DIY urban design ad-hoc, piecemeal
    • bridge all necessary and favorite amenities by covering the distance between them under human power. i did this by increasing my bicycle fitness to the point at which i can easily cycle to anywhere in the metro, day after day.
  • • think less, do more
  • ⁃ eat what you’re hungry for
  • ⁃ as much as you’re hungry for (no more – this works out to the bicycle mantra of eat/drink little and often)


People do all this stuff, en masse, in different parts of the world. Part of that stems from the fact that most cities elsewhere predate the automobile scourge, but it’s still possible to do it here. The week I spent in Portland, OR last year opened my eyes to this concept: effectively shrinking my local geography of my reality by increasing the range of my cycling. The first day I stayed close to the city center, where urban design was already corrected and scaled down for human use – and I still saw people using bikes to get around even easier. But as I ventured further out I gathered that a few people actually commuted on bicycles – like from the icky suburbs. It would be hard now to write a coherent, comprehensive account of everything that went on in my mind that one week in Portland – I definitely felt the switch definitively snap to ON and I turned resolutely away from my previous lifestyle that week.

Actually that sounds like a fun, worthwhile project – writing up that experience – basically how I became Aluminum Bird. Two things just came to mind that seem like big milestones of that hero’s journey. One, I was in Portland, coming back from the suburbs and a I felt like I was waaay out of orbit – out where there are golf courses and Wal-Marts. Dude on a groovy vintage road bike, wearing a skateboard helmet, pulled up by me at a light and I asked him the big, burning question on my mind (my phone’s GPS had chosen the week I needed it most to stop working): is this the road that ends up at the Hawthorne Bridge? He took the time to explain to me more than I really needed to know just to get back to the familiar stuff west of the river, and I sensed that he was in a hurry, on his way to something and helping me was holding him back – I think he was just going to hang with me and ride me right into downtown – he might have thought of what he was doing as a rescue mission. I told him thanks for the help, you don’t have to wait for me, I got it. He said cool, good luck, etc.. and took off like a rocket. I had already been riding for a few months, dropped lots of weight, thought I was doing pretty well, so to see someone commuting at what seemed to me like Grand Tour sprint speed was literally impressive. Later in the day I saw him at the food truck pod on SW10th but couldn’t get his attention. I wanted to pay for his lunch – a token of gratitude – but I was held up because my burrito was going to be ready any second.

Here’s the other story from that saga that just came to mind. I came home from Portland with no more elaborate cycling/lifestyle plan than to keep up the routine I had started in Portland, which was simply to ride to a new coffee bar first thing every morning. In my week staying in the Pearl district,  this amounted to coasting a distance of a half block up to half a mile and wallowing in world-class culinary wonder. I got up to 5 miles mid-week to really cover lots of coffee bars, 3 a day most of the week.

In Kansas City, it’s not so simple or rewarding. I was just a few days into my nascent lifestyle and feeling discouraged. I was with my wife at a place I was saving as a treat – a good prospect to be on the same level as Portland coffee bars. I was sitting there, looking around at their not-quite-beautiful everything – thinking about the pleasure you experience even in simple, provincial places that seems to result from intolerance of ugliness. I was beginning to feel like I was drowning in ugliness.

This place where I was sitting – drinking a mediocre, $5-plus-tip pourover – was bumming me out. Some doubts were starting to creep to the fore of my mind – enough to take shape and see their outlines in words. Maybe this coffee-rides thing isn’t such a hot idea. Maybe the distances here are too much and the rewards are too little… Just as this sour note started to ring and reverberate internally, the theme song from Portlandia – Feel It All Around, with vocals and all, came on the second-rate cafe’s sound system. Here are the lyrics, which until that momentI didn’t know went with the lovely music (I’d only heard the instrumental on the TV show).

You feel it all around yourself
You know it's yours and no one else
You feel the thought of learning again
It's all around
You're tired of all the things you did
You'll work it out

Holy shit.

Still gives me goosebumps thinking about it. Anyway, I snapped hard in that moment. I went ahead and built a whole new, radically different lifestyle and got fit and worked it out.

It was a few days later that I found Oddly Correct, which leaves absolutely nothing to be desired – compared with any coffee bar anywhere. (I never looked at their  website until just now to get the link – that’s the only promotional pic I’ve ever seen that actually looks like the actual coffee bar).


The USPS carrier in my neighborhood has been probably the single most encouraging person in my journey toward bicycle fitness and general health. I had no inkling at the time, but I think he probably recognized even before I did what I was doing and what I was headed for. Early on he told me about vising some place he visited in England (London? can’t remember now) where people used bicycles for transportation – to a degree and prevalence that was shocking to him at the time. He told me that they use bicycles like cars, and the people all look so fit and healthy.

People make lifestyles that work. Sometimes all the pieces are right there, and sometimes the pieces are spread way the fuck out over an 8k-square-mile metropolis. I figured out how to do it with a bicycle – I’m sure there are other ways, too.



See Ya Round

Talking to interesting fellow at coffee station ant QuickTrip (forgot to roast, their Guatemalan is actually potable)

he said goodbye, which struck me as queer, to which I replied, “Okay, see ya.” – which seemed even stranger still

actually, in any normal human settlement, I would see this guy – just around. what’s bizarre is living in a single village that literally covers 8,000 square miles


The Corrections

i’ve come unstuck in time this morning, reading The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen – the Midwestern family setting, all the unspeakable mood and atmosphere of my own horrific childhood, – but especially when i read in passing the phrase “Spider parts”, which i had previously, spontaneously, independently through of and cherished enough to include in a list i called Identifiers – a repository of unassigned titles that i found slick, funny, witter, or whatever – just generally worth sharing – and there in this most brilliant novel was this identical, improbable phrase

OMFG – within 90 minutes of finishing The Corrections my dad called me – possibly on mom’s behalf – to guilt me into visiting. said he’s send me a check for $2k because they sent my brother a similar amount for some bullshit. sounds fishy but i’m going to deposit the check, anyway. and go visit (sigh)…


A Post with a Real Accomplishment

This post is meant to keep me in the habit of posting something every week. There – I can relax now with a sense of accomplishment.

Let’s see, what’s on my desk right now… Okay here’s a typical music production for me: I started with a little 8-bar loop in Logic for the purpose of reamping a signal that I could use to sculpt a synth patch. This is basically the guitar version of the feature on old keyboards where the synth would loop a short piece of music to let you demo or edit patches without needing a hand on the keyboard. It’s a mundane chore that’s harder to handle on a guitar because everyone plays and touches the guitar very differently, so you have to cobble your own system. Generally my little loops are unremarkable but sometimes if I’m in the zone – or just bored or resistant to the next thing I should be working on – I’ll just get interested in the loop and add a few embellishments to it. You only need 3 eight-bar loops to make a song, so you can crank out a nice, simple little tune in no time if you’re in the flow.

What else. I’m still trying to get my GTD productivity management system off the ground. I have made a symbolic start on my sort, but that’s about as far as I’ve come. So all my good notes from real-life anecdotes are at the bottom of a monstrous pile that may literally take weeks more to sort. Here’s the only one I have, on a page that’s too bare to rip it out of my 3×5 spiral bound notebook I carry in a Rite-in-the-Rain holder.

Monday night at a gig I witnessed a middle-aged Yoga master from St. Thomas, Virgin Islands inform a young man that not only should he have offered to light her cigarette, but this was a problem with the world in general – that young men everywhere should light cigarettes for women, unbidden.  What a strange confluence of anti-yoga penchant – AFAIK. You have the idea of an imaginary world that should be a certain way, the invalidation of a person actively engaged in helping, the expectation that strangers will jump to care for your needs without having to say what they are, the generally dour attitude – and that’s all before you get to smoking. And not even anything I’d consider worth smoking – just a gas station, name brand, foul-smelling cigarette.

I had two takeaways from this. One was that I guess, yes, yoga does really exist in some forms completely apart from any religious or even spiritual activity. I have been vaguely interested in yoga for years, but I was always a little spooked by knowing that it’s a very deep practice and that the flexibility stuff that interests me is only a small part of it. The other was a reinforcement of my crackpot, unfounded, armchair, cockamamie hypothesis that many people  become interested in therapeutic practices first to sooth their own suffering – that and as an easy job – the yoga master was there to aggressively promote her yoga business on the mic.

My cycling training is unambiguously back on track. I restarted my build phase and I can finally feel the workouts getting more manageable under my legs with my new, higher FTP. I think I may have under-assessed a little. After a bunch of updates from Garmin I lost proof that I had scored a 50 on the Edge’s built-in VO2Max estimator. I finally hit 50 again yesterday after a workout that was hard but not oh-my-god-make-it-stop hard.

I’m in the middle of converting both of my old, steel clunkers to brifters. One is pretty much done except for installing the cranks I bought for it. The other one has the same Micro-Shift 2×7 shifters (very nice BTW) coming from China, but it’s going to be a while. I keep thinking about trying a DIY version of Retroshift/Gevenalle style shifters – like I don’t have enough to do with all my spare time. I consider my 100x-too-deep involvement with music technology a cautionary example of purpose-derailment/mission drift, and hacking my own bicycle components seems like a clear example of heading down that dark path within my nascent cycling habit.

Okay speaking of gear and training, this might be interesting, at least to myself in the future if I ever reread these. I have fully let go of one of my clunkers, as described in a previous post. The other I think I would let go gracefully if forced, and I simply haven’t done the work to shake away my former attachment to ownership. My contemporary bike it trickier, which is ironic because  it’s the most easily fungible of any of them – I could have a pretty much identical one in an hour if I needed to. I finally decided that it would be hard to let go of this bike to theft or loss because of all the extra gear on it – the Garmin stuff. Right now I’m thinking that maybe if I had it to to over again, I’d do something different. Here’s what I came up with.

I think that for a cyclist who isn’t racing, a really good training setup can be very simple, inexpensive, and just as effective as the expensive stuff. Here’s what I would buy if I were starting today.

  • Kurt Kinetic Road Machine (everything cheaper is junk, but everything more expensive is superfluous – AFAIK it’s really the only worthwhile trainer. I think CycleOps makes a similar one, too – it has fluid in the name).
  • Digital Stuff
    • laptop/desktop computer
    • ant+ usb stick
    • sensors
      • speed
      • HRM
      • cadence
    • Training Software, either:
      • Trainer Road (subscription), or
      • Golden Cheetah Software (free and open source)
  • Books
  • Bike
    • one used contemporary bike on Craigslist under $1k
      • just whatever seems fun/nice
      • but not flashy enough to draw pro thieves
      • if it is flashy, deliberately fuck it up enough to deter theft – maybe just sand off the paint, since AFAIK carbon and aluminum don’t really need it, anyway?
    • pedals
    • saddle (ISM Adamo has overtaken SMP as my favorite – expensive but fungible)
  • Other
    • lights
    • helmet
    • clothes
    • road kit
    • accessories
      • water bottles

…etc you get the idea. My main point is that I really don’t need two clunkers, the Garmin gear, a power meter, etc. The main part of cycling for me is just a single bike I enjoy riding without attachment, plus minimal stuff to facilitate that. The main part of structured training is the indoor trainer with a power meter. However, a portable power meter isn’t needed, and nowadays a virtual power meter (speed sensor + software) is plenty good enough for training.

If I were starting today I’d start smaller and simpler. And I would do what I’m already doing, moving forward: as a condition/checklist before I buy anything, I really search my feelings about attachment to the prospective purchase. If I think I would be sore about losing it the day after I bought it, I don’t buy it.

I wish someone made a power meter that came off the bike as easily as the Garmin quarter-turn stuff. That way I could use a nice meter on a cheap bike and never worry about loss.

That’s about it for this week. I have some fun entries for Googly Ears but I’ve used up the time I had to write them up. Same thing with the next step for my whole skill-acquisition project, the whole reason for the blog…. Oh, well, at least I’m not attached to arbitrary deadlines. Here are some recent photos:





Googly Ears

Here are some unproductive questions.

  • • WTF is the deal with sports? I enjoyed playing sports when I was a kid, but I grew out of it. A televised sports event on its own terms is just about the dullest spectacle I can imagine, and I can not picture a literate, adult human paying money to file into a stadium to watch professional athletes play a game. I needn’t tax my creative powers, though, because I can see it happening – tens of thousands swarming into the complex off I70, all finding their way to assigned seats for which they paid money. What accounts for this – mental deficiency, bad DNA, or what?
  • • How is it that people are allowed to use cell phones in this museum?! Is nothing sanctified anymore?!
  • • Why are people still building sheetrock manors on cul-de-sacs and driving SUVs?! The Geography of Nowhere came out in the early 1990’s. Jimmy Carter told us decades earlier that car culture had no future. And I’d bet some smart people had prescient criticisms as soon as private motor vehicles and suburbs started to proliferate. Is the whole developed world the new Easter Island?!


Here are some better questions.

  • • What are some good books that tell the story of how USA became a concrete desert/ Lawnmower gulag/Living ghost town/Malaise farm? Where is my copy of The Geography of Nowhere? Would I enjoy another lap through Bill Bryson’s I’m a Stranger Here, Myself? What are some other worthwhile reads in that vein? If I want to do something about the problems I see with urban design, what would be a realistic goal? What’s a plausible next step?
  • • How do other people now experience formerly special places? What places are now considered special? What displaced formality? What do I personally want to do about formality and sanctuary?
  • • What’s with all this interest in the parade celebrating the Royals’ World Series victory? A half-million people?! Have I ever even seen a picture of a half million people assembled – how many people are in those images of political rallies from the early twentieth century? What must that be like? What’s it all about? Where is my camera? Is my bicycle ready to ride?

The second set is even more fun to imagine considering. It’s more productive to think this way. It minimizes undue suffering. It’s better.

I have a lot more practice with the first set. And there is some fun to be had in incredulity, outrage – being a malcontent. I like to flatter myself that after a lifetime of institutions failing me – family, school, university, church, psychology – that I’ve developed a special acuity for lunacy in the world around me. But really I’m just wallowing in the bitter pleasure of complaining.


I’m in the process of graduating to the better way of thinking – that’s an important part of my quest. So I want to carefully rationalize how I’m going to continue with the new hobby I’m about to introduce.

First of all, testing the veracity of an assertion is one way of trying to experience the world as it really is. Certainly that harmonizes with dharma, third wave psychology, and just generally being nice? Also it’s fun to poke a pop culture trend with a stick.

It’s good to have hobbies? Journalism?

Enough of the intro to the intro! Let’s impetuously stride right into the intro.

In the last five years has seen an acceleration in the movement to popularize the idea of superhuman artificial intelligence as a realistic future. I’m most familiar with this trend as observed in movies. Kubrick’s 2001 came out a little before I was born,  Star Wars a little after. The Terminator (1984) was the first time at the cineplex I remember seeing the proposition of a frightening singularity, but I don’t remember hearing that word until the current decade. Actually I remember War Games (1982) being scary, but that memory is too deep in childhood to recall with much clarity. Since then there have been plenty of movies positing a plausible near-future populated by digital quasi-people, but within the last decade, people started talking about this kind of sci-fi scenario as if it were an imminent reality. By people I mean normal, non-crazy, employed, bathed-and-clothed people you meet every day – people who subscribe to Netflix but not a newspaper or highbrow magazine. Somehow this idea moved beyond being a pet theory of kooks sheltered in dusty chambers of the academy, and now I hear about it everywhere.

My first whiff of such nonsense followed the release of the Kubrick [/Spielberg] movie A.I. Such impressive artistic achievements act with such force that I end up considering their ideas almost against my will, and the whole experience really carries me away. If someone told me as I exited the theater that superhuman robots like David were just over the horizon, it would have seemed at least fun to think about, if not important. However, by the time we got to Transcendence in 2014 things were getting pretty silly. Thirteen years had passed, and now it’s unclear to me whether people even still think of this stuff as science fiction.

To movies add the expanding-faster-than-the-universe body of PR media overselling the current capabilities of A.I., featuring dancing robots and memory-game-winning* software, so that by this time the average person is convinced that ape-like A.I. is on the horizon, or maybe that it already exists. In the insane world posited by pop culture, Deep Blue really did beat Kasparov, Watson demonstrated superior intellect by winning on Jeopardy, and Japanese robots are ready to autonomously move among us – albeit in that uncanny manner that a very drunk person trying to do a familiar-but-now-impossible task, e.g. walking, urinating, and more drinking.

Oh, yeah – there was a Will Smith, action hero version of I, Robot LMAO! I don’t remember a thing about the trailer and I never saw it, but I assume it’s a… it’s a… I assume it aimed for a broad appeal.

According to this article on a web site that says in its banner “PUBLISHED BY SINGULARITY UNIVERSITY” there were no less than four simultaneously produced documentaries that were released in 2009. I hadn’t heard of Transcendent Man. It looks like a fascinating subject, but lately it has become hard to get a read on whether a doc is competently made – never mind good.

Here’s a chronology of random pop culture stuff I remember regarding AI and Singularity. A couple things jump out at me looking at this. One, I had almost no contact with pop culture in the 1990’s. And two, none of these things strike me as a herald of any real-world AI that transcends the execution of simple instructions.

  • 2001 – 1968
  • Star Wars – 1977
  • Alien – 1979
  • Blade Runner – 1982
  • War Games – 1983
  • Terminator – 1984 (btw how did that robot acquire a crazy Bavarian accent?)
  • Idea attributed to John von Neumann (??? mid-20th century)
  • Robots “replace” many workers in manufacturing (throughout 1980’s)
  • Deep Blue (chess) – 1997
  • The Matrix – 1999
  • A.I. (Kubrick/Spielberg) – 2001
  • Roomba (vacuum cleaner) – 2002
  • Watson (Jeopardy) – 2011
  • Motion-capture virtual skeleton tracking – heard of it in the late 1990’s, started using it myself in 2015 for bike fit:
  • a million other tiny things that used to be  done by people with cruder instruments…
  • oh yeah I forgot – I built my own AI! It’s an Arduino-based guitar pickup winder – basically a DIY, home-use manufacturing robot. There’s an early prototype of it in this  vid:

The day I lost my grip on patient enjoyment of the world around me was when I bought a premium-priced ticket to a Thursday showing of… dammit I can’t even remember the name of it. It’s the Asimov-cribbed movie with the actor who played Llewyn Davis – he doesn’t even play the hero in this movie – and the movie is about a Turing Test. That movie made Fight Club look like A Clockwork Orange.

Let’s just say that I’m pathologically cheap and not probe too deep into why. I hunt for deals like a junkie looks for a fix. I pay cash for the cheapest used car that is a good prospect for longevity and efficiency. My current car has gashes and dents and rust spots – I bought it like that – and I spend what it takes to properly maintain it because it’s cheaper that way in the long run. I’ve spent hundreds of times more on old jazz records in thrift stores than I have on music downloads. To me thrift is a virtue like honesty or compassion. Most advanced-level cheapskates wear the same Seiko watch until they are buried in it. I have a Pulsar – Seiko’s budget brand – that I kept running for decades, having it repaired and serviced, replacing it only at the advent of really useful smart watches. I got my Garmin Forerunner for a little more than half the normal street price on the day it was released. I’m the kind of cheap for which the phrase was coined, “He’s so tight, when he smiles his asshole puckers.”

So for me to pay extra to see this movie… dammit I might as well look up the title… oh right Ex Machina haha! For me to pay extra to see this thing a day early my expectations were in the clouds. Can’t remember why – I think it was rated very high on Rotten Tomatoes (BTW there’s another thing in popular culture that has come loose from the foundation, the idea that criticism means complaining, without any special skills or credentials) – I definitely know that Inside Llewyn Davis was the first time I remember seeing that actor – Oscar Isaac – and I suppose my unreasoned, below-the-surface idea was that he would only be in such movies from now on: life-altering masterworks that opened my eyes to new worlds, set my mind on fire, and made me want to live better. I suppose I would have been disappointed with almost anything, but this movie was a bonafide turd. I suppose that’s the origin story for this fun-spoiling villain: I spent a few extra dollars to see an unusually overrated movie.

EDIT: okay watching the trailer now, I remember that people dropped the name Kubrick in describing Ex Machina. This is that thing I now recognize as The New Anti-Literacy, or maybe The Ascent of the Lexicon of Centrally Manufactured Images, or possibly Western Canon Potted Meat Substitute – it’s that thing where everyone from screenwriter to audience/critics is intimately familiar with the style and nominal subject of pop culture works, but nobody seems familiar with any of the subjects or sources the original authors/artists were dealing with. So e.g. 2001 is no longer a meditation on the macro journey of homo sapiens but a kitschy old horror flick about a murderous computer. In Present Shock Douglas Rushkoff describes a phenomenon he calls narrative collapse – a positive face on the loss of traditional story structure that he posits as simply a new way of understanding the world. Where I see this even more starkly than fictional movies and literature is in the genre of documentary film – the new generation of doc makers seems to have no idea at all how they might organize material – apart from chronological order of events – and almost every doc becomes its own making-of feature. It’s such a stunning thing to consider – it can’t be right – but it really seems that everything transmitted and stored from the time of Homer to the present was simply abandoned in a single generation.

After Ex Machina – or more to the point, after I lost a few dollars betting on a disappointing movie – I hardened my heart to the singularity craze. And of course when you decide that something is obnoxious that’s all you’re going to hear.

At some point I watched Her – again based on some critic-aggregator score – without even knowing the premise. That movie belongs in a different list from the others mentioned. IDK – it comes from a different place. I feel like this story could have been transcribed from a real, bittersweet love story and maybe the choice to make the romance character AI was a poetic flourish to make the viewer understand? Her really is a nice addition to the list, though, because it throws all the others into stark contrast by coming from a normal, human worldview.

Here’s what hung me up on all the singularity talk – I mean the talk about human-like AI as a viable prospect for the near future: it’s profoundly unrealistic. As much as the internet is a haven for wacky crackpot theories and private label religions, it doesn’t take much searching and reading to realize that there is no imminent development that will move this kind of AI anywhere close to reality.

Current AI is so obviously inept at the most basic learning, yet people seem absolutely, unquestioningly convinced by the sci-fi hokum pumped through the infotainment machine. People talk about the singularity in recent years the way people talked about imminent moon colonies in the 1970’s.

For a good year or so, I really got sick of hearing about AI, the singularity, or really anything new that computers might ever do other than novel, awful, money-making tasks. The friction caused by the cognitive dissonance was raising a blister on my brain: everyone says computers are on the verge of becoming intelligent, yet contemporary computers – and any computer that is very near to coming into being – can literally do nothing but boolean operations – yes or no, on or off, black or white, this or that. Judging from facial expressions I see at the Kansas City Zoo, you can teach ennui to a gorilla, but you can’t get even the expected results from simple operations on “smart” phones and cameras.

When futurist-big-idea figures such as Google’s Ray Kurzweil heralds the imminent singularity – the rapidly nearing horizon beyond which humans will be superseded by the technology they create – I felt the need to call to mind a reassuring example of the current reality of AI.

I think I really started to chafe from the cognitive friction when there was an unusually high density of movies dealing with AI and singularity and tangential subjects. I think that if this rash of movies broke out now, I’d recognize that, yeah, okay, this is kinda fun to think about as a sci-fi scenario, but at the time I was still thinking about error instead of dialectic. I was thinking who is right, not who is interesting.

The interesting reality is that people believe in The Singularity with religious fervor. That is real and it is happening now – no need to consider a near future.

Now I’ve come around to enjoying the science fiction of the Singularity. AFAIK it hasn’t yet turned into a literal religion and hurt a bunch of people. In the transition to enjoyment I rationalized a way to reduce the cognitive dissonance between the apparently widely-held belief that The Singularity is near and the fact that it isn’t.

When I used to to get perturbed over AI lunacy, I realized that there’s an easy question for the mind yearning for some empirical reality: how smart is the smart phone? Is there any endeavor for developing AI that has been given deeper pockets than the development of  new phone hardware and software? What is the combined gross annual income of Apple, Samsung, Google, Sony, Motorola, Nokia, HTC, Microsoft, LG, and Huawei? And as a litmus to determine where is AI at this actual moment in time, how effective has all this expenditure and effort been in producing human-like intelligence?

Google Voice Search combines Google’s search AI with speech recognition to provide an experience that should be as organic as poring over old Christmas photos with Grandma while enjoying homemade cookies and hot cocoa. Let’s use this blog post category – Googly Ears – of which this post is the first installment, to document conversations I have with this awe-inspiring, sentient superhuman.

I’ve seen lots of screen grabs of “funny” conversations with Siri, but I’ve always thought these were spoiled by Apple engineers/programmers being in on the joke. Siri is so steeped in the Family Guy sensibility… the conversations themselves are like pictures of funny things people wrote, as opposed to a funny picture. An actual funny picture is a cat captured at the exact moment he looks most like a world-worn sea captain, while a picture of something funny is merely a fast method of transcribing the joke.

As an end user, I can only guess at how Google Voice Search interprets what I’m saying. It doesn’t seem to glean any useful hints from experience, simple sentence structure, context, or obvious inferences that any juvenile from the Hominidae family could make from the voluminous personal data that Google has invasively harvested from my internet and phone activity.

I’ve been noticing the following phenomenon for years, but only recently did I start noting the examples. Google voice recognition is supposed to use the latest “deep learning” AI. So it’s bound to just get better and better over time.

It should tell you something that this masterpiece of intelligence can’t figure out from the context of the query being repeated that maybe it should try a different answer. Repeat it a third time and Google still doesn’t get the hint. Google AI remembers what kind of guitar strings I was really into six years ago – “WOULDN’T YOU LIKE TO BUY MORE OF THEEEEESE?!?!?” But apparently it can’t figure out that I’m asking it the same thing over and over because the answer to which it clings is wrong. At some point I gave up repetition, finally learning that GVS can’t learn – and thereby demonstrating the superiority of us humans for the moment. Every little thing I can do to aver the imminent Singularity is a maginal victory.

wrench > ranch

I really love this one. Wrench > Ranch is the transposition that inspired me to start recording these instances. To me this one misinterpretation is plenty enough to justify the dour worldview I’m struggling to let go. I should probably abandon this project and think about other things.


What does it mean that Google will not accept the possibility that I might say wrenchit MUST BE ‘RANCH’. It doesn’t matter the context – “I am getting to be a halfway decent bike Ranch” – or the pronunciation. It doesn’t matter how many times I correct GVS. I guess this superhuman intelligence suffers from severe autism, because it doesn’t pick up on the repetition of the same question five times in a row as a cue that maybe it should try a different answer.

Here’s what I imagine the transposition indicates. I don’t fix things; I buy things and then discard them. More plausible than the prospect of me talking about wrenches is the probability that I eat a lot of ranch dressing. Ranch dressing – it’s as fatty as French and Italian sauces, but without the pleasant taste or texture. It is wholly disgusting. I’m guessing it was invented by the same people who came up with Cheez Whiz, Steak-Ums, and such. Hot Pockets. Oreos. Peanut butter and jelly in a single jar. Microwave version of anything. Ranch is to sauces what hyper-over-produced pop is to music – calling it a synthetic substitute might be a little over-generous and misleading.

Having said that, here is my loving tribute to a hyper-over-produced pop song. I really do love this song – I have lots of fond memories playing this song in clubs. My arrangement uses all pretend-we’re-robots music tech: vocoder, talk box, synths, auto-tune.

Okay, I went ahead and Googled the history of Hidden Valley Ranch. Ranch dressing was brought to its current form by the Clorox corp. LMAO! – this is the company that enables people to fill their homes with toxic gasses by combining bleach with disregard for clear instructions – conspicuous, urgent warnings – printed right on the goddamn jug.

When I think of Ranch dressing, I remember lots of occasions on which I observed fat people talking about competitive sports and television, shuffling through a queue to self-serve food, placing dainty portions of carrots and broccoli next to great heaps of beef and pork and bland melted cheese, saying, “I SHOULD HAVE SOMETHING HEALTHY, TOO HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!” – and then they would extinguish the vegetables’ flavor under a blanket of Ranch dressing.

I’ve lost 100 pounds riding a bicycle. I used to be hugely fat. When I was the fattest, most disgusting fatass imaginable I wouldn’t touch ranch dressing. I would eat an entire pizza myself, but I’d have gone hungry before I ate anything with ranch dressing on it. Ranch is a revolting horror – a culinary abomination. It’s the #1 salad dressing in the  United States.


After the synthetic food-type product, the next possibility offered by GVS is a sitcom starring Ashton Kutcher. I guess it makes sense to go from simulacrum of food to simulacrum of a farm that produces food. IDK how far you have to dig to find a sane connection with the literal denotation of ranch. Which was not the word I intended.

Maybe I should trade all my beloved bicycle tools for more cross-compatible socket wrenches. Since [I think?] summer of 2014 Google seems to have no trouble recognizing the word ratchet.

I started paying attention to Google Voice Search as a salve for the cognitive dissonance that came from giving too much credence to a pop culture fad. Ironically, on top of psychological soothing and the entertainment that comes with watching a robot struggle, GVS has started giving me insights into the minds of its information-loaders – the real brains behind the operation. I suppose it could be that this mind is specific to the ickiest upper class of San Francisco, but I like to think it’s a reflection of wider pop culture. So the insanity I now enjoy observing might be organic after all.

Aluminum Bird Blog Retrospective: Four Posts In

It’s springtime in Kansas City. Thursday night I was out with friends and I realized that I didn’t have anything ready to publish on the blog. Thinking of a solution, I realized that I really haven’t shared much from actual day-to-day life, which AFAIK is the raison d’etre for blogging in 2016.

So, partly to conform to style but also just to fart out something to publish, here’s what’s going on in my life. I imagine this will be relevant to the theme of the blog – searching for a training program for consciousness skills – because that’s what I spend most of my time thinking about and doing.

Here is what spring looks like outside the window where I write. Yes, this is space filler. Actually, I handn’t thought about it, but since photography is a big part of my life – and it does intertwine with the subjects of mindfulness and skill acquisition and training – it might not be a bad idea to include current photographs here.

Aluminum Bird Blog Retrospective: Four Posts In

I found this outline in my folder Blog Posts and was surprised by how distant in the past it seemed. This was from the end of February, when the world was still cold and gray, and I hadn’t yet really developed much momentum with my current course of reading.

This post as I found it was in the form of outline/reminders. I fleshed it out with actual prose just now.

2016.02.28 The Cumulative Effect of a Severe Anxiety Relapse

After being on a pretty even keel for many months – several seasons – I recently slipped into the kind of vortex of suffering I used to experience before I had any training or reading in cognitive skills. I was surprised and disappointed to find myself caught in the riptide again after staying clear of this depth of trouble for so long.


I had a gig that would have been unpleasant under any circumstances, but I turned an unpleasant job into a supernova of self-punishment. In a nutshell:

  • For my taste horn players generally fill way too much space. I think this is because most people don’t really think like an arranger, listening to the overall ensemble and trying to reconcile the cohesive whole to the individual voice. With horn players, I think the problem might stem from the fact the other musicians fill much more space in a standard arrangement – even background singers have more up-time. The more the repertoire represents times newer than the early 1970’s, the less there is for a horn to do in a sensible, cover-band-type arrangement. So what ends up happening is horn players will just double the “cool” lines in every song, throwing the orchestration out of balance and ruining the color; they will jump on every backfill, every solo, every turn at instrumental melody – stepping on anyone else without listening; they jump into any break. When any horn player is on a gig other than jazz standards, generally you are going to hear way too much horn; and the further you get from the top of the heap, the worse it gets – which makes sense – better musicians have better sensibilities.
  • On this gig there were two horn players. One was a middle-aged tenor player I’d never played with or heard of, though he seemed to know a lot of standard repertoire, which suggests that he’s pretty far from the top. Taken in isolation his playing was competent enough, but he stepped on everyone on every song. From his general demeanor away from music and from his perfect obliviousness onstage, I gathered that he must have Asperger’s or something similar – he just does not register standard cues. I had seen and talked with him close to a dozen times between rehearsal and gigs, and he thought my name was Chris, so there’s something awry behind the eyes. The other horn player was a friend of the bandleader – the nicest guy in the world – but he literally can’t play changes.
  • At the first set break I walked across the street to the Blue Room, where I thought I’d have a beer, listen to Bobby Watson’s band, and empty my mind, after which I would decide whether to stay or simply pack up my things and go home without finishing the gig. I’m looking to gigs as pure therapy, so if it’s not working it makes perfect sense for me to simply leave, but AFAIK nobody I work with shares this hierarchy of priorities – and even if they did, my well being would be at odds with theirs. Taking care of myself at all costs doesn’t work so well for everyone involved. I’ve walked off gigs before but it’s always pretty awkward. This particular gig was with a singer who was trying to get back into performing after a long time away from professional music – and that continues to weigh heavily on me. I think about my own situation – trying to get back into life in general after decades away – and how I appreciate every little bit of help I get. Anyway, I stayed for the whole gig. I really just accepted my obligation more than I decided that staying was best for me.
  • I really just spiraled, worse and worse throughout the whole gig. Relying on gigs for therapy is so delicate and difficult. I can really only play with certain musicians – people like the character Michael from Victor Wooten’s The Music Lesson – or it all falls apart. The bad experience – the gig I’m currently relating – is like a monestary in which monks are in hour 5 of deep meditation, and then into the room bursts a loud, dangerous lunatic with a big case of fireworks and knives, doing everything possible to draw attention and provoke reaction. Well, one thing is different from that metaphor – good monks can retain their focus in the face of intense, loud ugliness and still see the beauty. I’m not there yet. Strangely – I guess I would like to understand this and acquire the skill – some of the best, most “spiritual”… or maybe it’s better to say mystical? – some of the best musicians I know who are tuned into that special musician frequency – they seem to be able to ignore the part of an ensemble that detracts from the whole, where I only seem to be able to take in the whole with all its parts.
  • I finished the gig and quit the band the next week – weeks in advance of their next gig. I was still holding onto hope that I would so radically change my mindset that I might be fully repaired/restored/enlightened by the next gig, but I woke up from a tortured, unproductive sleep knowing that I had to get far, far away from that band. For the moment, anyway, I still need to withdraw and just take care of myself.
  • I continued to recursively increase my suffering with a number of feedback-loop thoughts, including the idea that I should by now have progressed beyond this low level of cognitive skill.

Rhubarb on 95th

That gig was on a Saturday. On Tuesday I set in motion a chain of events that very well could have led to a long prison sentence for manslaughter. Either that or getting gunned down in my lycra in the middle of the street.

A man bike-buzzed me in his car and I instantly went into mortal-combat mode. I caught him at the light and said, “You passed way too close to me.” Only I didn’t say it, I barked it. He said what you’d expect, among other things “Why don’t you get off the road!”

A lot of people don’t know that bicycles have the same use of roads as other vehicles and are actually forbidden from riding on sidewalks. I’ve had calmer talks with such people in the past and ascertained from direct interview that they – those I asked, anyway – act they way they do because they believe that they are entitled to the road and I am not.

Anyway, this piece-of-shit redneck and the holy, blameless I are yelling at each other like a couple of dumb apes and he decides enough is enough and he starts to get out of his car. He stood all the way up, at which point he was still a good half a foot shorter than I would have been without a bike helmet. He seemed to think better of it, said in a much softer tone, “Well…” and ducked right back into his car.

Dumb apes are actually peaceful most of the time. I don’t flatter them by comparing myself.

BTW I’m 6’4″ and kind of chunky, inelegant farmer stock type build. In my mind I am the least threatening person – I have no skill in fighting and carry no weapons – but I think simply being tall has probably saved me from trouble throughout my life. I’m convinced that’s what happened in this case.

In the mindset I had fallen into, if he had started swinging on me I very well could have killed him. Or he could have been standing up to shoot me. Or who knows – nothing good comes to mind as a plausible outcome. That’s the closest I’ve come to fisticuffs since middle school, which was so long ago that at the time it was called junior high. This is not how I want to live.

Ironically, I was on my way to see the latest Coen Brothers movie, Hail, Caesar! – a high-minded, sensitive, humanistic, religious, beautiful work of art. I went to this movie twice this week, partly because their movies are in the theater for such a short time – this one I didn’t really even satisfactorily decode before it ended – but probably mostly because I knew that in order to get myself centered in a better mindset I needed something external, weighty, other-worldly, substantial.

BTW I just this morning noticed an advertisement on for what seems to be all the Coen Brothers movies to date. I clicked on The Hudsucker Proxy and it is FREE on Amazon Prime. WOW – Fast and Furious movies have the built-in deterrent of costing money but the Coens’ works are free. There is some beautiful order to the universe – sometimes you do eat the bear!

Sick for the First Time Since I Started Cycling

As I continued my descent into the kind of extreme, chronic anxiety and depression I haven’t experienced in about a year, I got my first really severe cold/flu in about as much time. No big surprise there. Since I started raising my fitness through cycling training, I usually can’t rely on the typical symptoms to know that I have a virus – I simply feel a drain on cycling performance. A typical scenario would be: my wife has the bug that’s going around, so do half my friends and musicians I work with, and it turns out that I got the infection, too, but I don’t notice until I get on the bike and my power has dropped – I feel slow and there’s no snap in my legs. I don’t know but I assume this is standard for people raising their fitness to extremes with endurance activities like cycling.

This time I was floored for most of a week – literally in bed for a couple of days and then I started to very slowly creep back toward zero.

I do know that in all the cycling training books I’ve perused, from Eric Heiden to Joe Friel, the experts all list psychological stress as a severe fitness inhibitor. I know that after this whole week of snowballing suffering – all of which started in my own poorly trained head – I had a very hard time completing my TrainerRoad workouts for a very long time.

After All That I’m on a Very Slow Climb to Recovery

…to where I was in December. FUUUUCK!!!!

I’m 44 Years old, and this is where most of my life has gone. I have a few dim, hazy memories of happy times from when I was 3 years old, plus some good times since I started to come through the clouds in the past year, but all the rest of those long decades I spent most of my time and energy on anxiety and depression. In a very real sense my life’s work has been nothing more than meaningless, unproductive suffering.

Back to the Present: Milestones for April 2016

That’s enough flashback for this week – yikes! I’ve since made it back to my new baseline (DBT concept of default mode or equilibrium mood), which itself continues to rise. Lacking any known metric for baseline, all I can say is that it boosts my optimism greatly to just be reading a lot and trying, and optimism is a great short-term boost for getting big projects off the ground. Here are some hard metrics from the discipline I love, the methods and metrics of which I hope to transcribe to a better-codified mental skill set.

I’ve raised my VO2Max to 50. IDK where I started – I had already lost lots of weight and built a ton of aerobic fitness by the time I got a full complement of Garmin gear, at which point I was only up to 38 haha! So from the point at which I had already greatly raised my fitness, I’ve increased my VO2Max by about a third. Not bad, if I do say so myself.

I just did the TrainerRoad 8-minute FTP test and scored 360W. The good  news is  that this is my highest so far. The bad news is that this is only 2 watts higher than my test in December – I basically crashed my fitness hard in with that anxiety episode and took all this time to work back to where I was in December. My plan now is to restart the TrainerRoad General Build program.

Last week I hit 215lbs – down 100lbs from where I started. Nowadays weight loss has such a strange cloud of bad ideas around it I don’t know what people hear when I say I lost 100 pounds. I will try to convey what it means to me.

I’m remembering trying to climb hills when I first started cycling about a year ago. There’s a hill I call The Hill at Fish Corner – IDK what is the exact grade, but for reference, now I can easily climb it on my contemporary bike, without using my lowest gear, seated, without going anaerobic (under threshold in cycling terms).

I remember about this time last year – it was the first time I dared to cycle to actual destinations from home. Previously I would either just stay in the neighborhood or use a bike rack on my car. I was scared and physically inept to start commuting on a bicycle, but I had just started therapy at the Lilac Center on Quality Hill, and I was in a mindset to try anything and shoot for impossible-seeming goals.

At first I would ride my bike downtown and then take the bus home – no way was I going to make a big, bad, 15-mile trip TWICE in a day haha! Oh yeah and I would eat a giant, disgusting Subway sandwich at the bus stop on my way home – man, I’ve come a long way. I would love to see stats from those rides, but this was a few generations of equipment before I got all the Garmin stuff. I will say that these early rides were long enough and varied enough that I started to get some awareness of pedaling technique, pacing, and bike position – even on that old clunker.

The particular time I’m recalling I took the bus downtown, went to group, and rode home. I was doing great. So far. At this point I still had very high body weight and low power, plus very low aerobic capacity – I was just generally green as a rider. I was still months away from starting any kind of structured training. Plus that bike was a real trash heap with a low gear of probably something like 40-28 – it was a 1970’s “ten speed”.

I remember stopping at Fish Corner and pscyhing myself up for the climb. My intent was to simply will myself up the hill. I was so ignorant and optimistic at that point – strange to think this was just one year ago – I really believed that I could get up that hill simply with the force of something like Jedi Mind Powers haha!

I remember starting off too hard, realizing my mistake, and trying to pace myself. I don’t think I even started in the lowest gear. I remember fighting the burn, tasting ammonia, and still I kept going. I remember being afraid that if something obstructed my breathing for even a moment I might be in serious trouble. Finally I started to shut down involuntarily and I used my last bit of energy to dismount and stay upright, bracing myself on the bike. I could not have been more than 500 meters from the base of the hill!

Since then I almost always stop at Fish Corner and enjoy the tranquility of the place. Maybe I should try to put my finger on its special essence and write about it sometime – I just looked through my Flickr account and I couldn’t find a picture of the place?! For a while I didn’t remember how I got started with this tradition, but the first time I noticed that I made it up the hill without even breathing hard, I remembered the incident I just related, and I now figure that this place just puts me in the mood for focused mindfulness. The hill is still a special place for me, and for some reason – especially strange considering that I use this hill as a kind of metric of how far I’ve come – I never push myself up this hill, I always just go slow and easy. Maybe because at that point I’m close to home and I’m already looking forward to relaxing? Or maybe just because I can make it easy for myself, and that’s a pleasant accomplishment.

Anyway, when I think about what 100 pounds of weight loss means to me, I think of hill climbing in general, and especially climbing The Hill at Fish Corner. A year ago simply climbing it at any physical cost was literally impossible, and now I only notice the effort because of its historical significance. I’m still overweight, but now I can pace myself through any terrain at a respectable speed without wearing out.

My most significant recent milestone – the one I really want to talk about- is achieving mindfulness in a formerly difficult context. This is one of those events that’s very hard to relate, but it was so shockingly poignant and apt – it’s the kind of thing I’ve heard people recall as God talking directly to them through signs. This happened right after I took this picture.

Coming down College east of State Line, somebody bike-buzzed me – conspicuously, with two wide-open lanes of space they could have used – the message kind of bike-buzzing. If you recall from earlier in this blog post, I had a spot of trouble living with this circumstance not too long ago.

Since then I’ve done a lot of reading, thinking, and work toward building better cogntivie fitness – plus I’ve thought a lot about this specific type of incident, i.e. what do I want to think and feel when I get bike-buzzed (I’m talking about a barnstorming, hyper-aggressive driver, not putting whiskey in my water bottles). This time I was not merely prepared but ready.

I mindfully observed it happening, observed and labeled my flash of white-hot anger, and then calmly looked around to see what else was going on in my world. I literally turned my head left and right, and when I turned right I saw something like what this image represents.


There were two geese flying through a hail of the most delicate white dogwood blossoms. It really felt like a literal glimpse into the hidden world for which I’m groping to find the mouth of the entry path.


Here starts the list of status updates letting you, gentle reader, know what I’m up to regarding the whole Aluminum Bird project – i.e. why is there zero directly relevant content on this damned blog?!

I sank a lot of time this week into getting up and running (again – sigh)… with Getting Things Done, a kind of Zen-y project management approach. I think of it as mindfulness applied to productivity/time management.

I built an extension for my desk, went through the original David Allen book (again – sigh)… and did my collection. That’s as far as I’ve gotten.

The main reason I need this is not so much for pure productivity but for direction. When I’ve used GTD successfully in the past (and each time let it fall out of use – sigh)… it always becomes immediately clear when I’ve gotten off track – and it’s always easy to get  back on by looking at my projects list and next actions.

Lately I have the sense that I’m at least in danger of getting off track. I want to get the different levels of planning perspective that GTD facilitates, plus I want to better prioritize all the inquiries/tangents I’m pursuing.


I’ve been reading Joseph Campbell all week, including Myths to Live By, which I don’t remember ever hearing about before. It’s a real treasure IMHO – makes me wish I could somehow travel through time to attend the lectures on which the book is based.

Presently I’m interested in a couple aspects of myth. One is the way that myth gives a kind of roadmap for a person to graduate into the fullness of humanity in the context of his social environment. That isn’t the worst mission statement for what I’m trying to do – PLUS if I had to sum up what went wrong in my life historically, I could say that I failed to live the myth of my culture. Mythology could be very practical for me.

Forgive me if I recap every single week what I’m trying to do with this blog – I’m still struggling to clarify it for myself.

I should mention that my goal for cognitive fitness is to not simply be well, as “mental health” professionals frame the pursuit. I may well pull north of that point on the chart very soon. I’m shooting for an analog of the fitness I’m achieving on my bicycle, thanks to an expertly structured, practically delivered training plan. With the bicycle, I started out a year ago quite possibly at death’s door – I had gone to a cardiologist for odd symptoms and was unable to complete the stress test they give to elderly people – and today, still very far from any of my goals, I might very well be the fittest person I know by some metric – I probably pump more blood in a single stroke than anybody I know – my resting heart rate right now is 47BPM.

That’s what I’m shooting for with cognitive skill – ever more gains that probably never stop coming if I’m doing it right – on the big plateau at the very top the gains probably just get smaller and harder-won, plus the context changes with age.



In general, I want to acquire the full skill set available to a human for managing and directing the experience of being in this world, first to escape my own suffering, but also for whatever such skill has to offer. My plan to do this is to 1) discover the learning sequence for this set of skills, and 2) transcribe lessons learned from disciplines I’ve mastered plus things like training, practicing, and learning in general, tracking personal metrics, and that kind of fitness-nerd stuff.

Current among those pursuits is trying to make sense of my story of how I became a professional musician. I’m trying to fit my story into a tidy, hero’s journey type framework. I’m presently unskilled at any kind of storytelling and I don’t really know the ropes of mythology beyond what I remember from our unit on Greek mythology in 8th grade English, so I’m studying that.


Finished Buddhism and Modern Psychology

I finished my first little foray into Buddhism, not counting Alan Watts’ Still the Mind audiobook, which I use to fall asleep (I’m sure Watts’ voice is just the honest product of his environment, but he sure sounds a lot like he hangs out with Maude Lebowski). My recently-concluded foray was the lovely little Coursera MOOC called Buddhism and Modern Psychology, taught by Robert Wright. While this gave no direct skills or even much direction of where to look for further instruction, I just feel that this was the perfect introduction for me. It was a fun, fascinating course and I feel like I have a really good framework for understanding about Buddhism. I would recommend this course for absolutely anyone, even just for kicks/entertainment. In a nutshell, I’d say the gist of the course is as follows: Does naturalistic/therapeutic Buddhism jibe with what we know about the human mind from evolutionary psychology? I won’t spoil the ending – take the class! If you need further enticement here are some teasers:

  • funny dog videos
  • a cast of characters to rival the kookiest Coen Brothers movie – no shit!
  • a very level-headed survey of what Buddhism is and can do

Overall Status

Overall I’m trying to locate enough relevant resources and connect them in dialog. I have an amorphous idea that once I establish a switchboard for subjects and skills I will be able to build the training program that will be as straightforward and productive as what I do on my bicycle.

Crime and Prosthesis


“If you meet the Buddha riding your stolen bicycle on the road, kill him.” – Vipassana Sage Benhodi Jabituya

I keep noticing meaningful harmonies between cycling training – building the fitness I want – and trying to discover a program for building the mind I want. Since getting back into cycling I’ve struggled with the idea of the inevitability of bike theft. It informs every buying decision, down to the frame pump: which bike is this going on, do I want to bother to unclip it from the bike every time I stop for a coffee, and how sore would I be if I lost it? Before each ride I sometimes spend a minute deciding which bicycle to take, considering where I might stop and whether I might have to lock up the bike out of my sight. I my mind to be quieter than all that.

I’ve been thinking about bike theft for a few weeks as I try to reduce and stabilize the number of bicycles I own. So far so good – Saturday I got rid of two bikes I didn’t really like, and for less than the price of decent pair of bib shorts I got a road bike that is a no-resale-value clunker in the eyes of the world, but a fun ride to me – this bike would have been an exciting bike for me in high school. Also this week I started a clumsy foray into other subjects in search of a proper learning sequence for the cognitive skillset I want to acquire, which should eventually alleviate the frustrations associated with bike theft.

I really want to own and ride only one bike – my nice, contemporary road bike that has expensive electronic accessories. I want to ride it freely wherever the flow of my day takes me. Sometimes it’s easy to stop when and where the mood strikes, as in the case of the following image, taken at a quasi-old-fashioned Sonic drive-in. I can just lean the bicycle on the bench where I’m sitting. Most cafes are nearly as easy, allowing me to lock up my bike where it stays in my field of view the whole time.


But too often it’s hard or complicated to enjoy the freedom I want when flying through the city just above the pavement. When I was a kid, my bicycle gave me unqualified freedom in the universe that was my 1-mile-square hometown, population 900. When freely floating through this snow globe village my mind was so untroubled that I would forget where I left my bike. One adventure with friends led to another and another, and at the end of the day – or the start of the next – I would retrace my steps until I found my bike, lying or leaning right where I left it, untouched.

I would like to recall the peace of mind afforded by a naive childhood in that controlled, closed environment. The goal is to transfer that mindset to the wide, wild world I now traverse on my hard-to-let-go bicycle. I’ve got a start on some thoughts, and my recent plunge into new areas of reading has given me at least a boost in enthusiasm. BTW I fully assume that I will look back at this blog post with amusement and embarrassment, as with the earnest diary of a first-semester philosophy student or a the journal of a tenth-grader who just discovered Emily Dickinson.

Frustration 1: Unfairness

Untrained Reaction

Consarnnit I worked hard to earn the money to buy this bicycle (waves at the space the bicycle no longer inhabits) – and it’s rightfully mine. That no-good, lowdown so-and-so has no right to take it. I’m getting it back right now. I believe this is all happening in the present, despite the painfully obvious fact that what-is-no-longer-my bike rolled out of here in the recent-yet-hopelessly-unreachable past.

Judging from YouTube, I’m not alone when I frustrate myself with thoughts about how evil is the Bike Theft Boogeyman.  I almost hate to link to any of the videos you find searching for “bike thief” or “bike theft” because there is so much ugly ape-brain encapsulated in video.

It is maddening to think that the person who just stole my bike shouldn’t have. I keep my shit together and don’t hurt anybody (excluding friends and family and people I encounter in everyday life), so why won’t that irredeemable bike thief just act right?!

Better Approach

There’s no use ranting about how the world should be. Would poverty and violence end tomorrow if I only argued against? I can’t wish away war and hunger – I might as well rail against the setting of the sun every day. Until Jehovah restores the earth as in Revelation 21 – or natural selection develops a next-generation ape who isn’t such a colossal asshole – all people will continue to be simultaneously exalted as the pinnacle of nature and degraded by doing things that harm other people. Theft has a secure future, and probably nobody is completely out its reach. The most realistic view is that theft may very well find me, and then find me again. Also it helps to remember that the bike thief breathes the same air that I breathe – he is victim of evil the world, too.

A quote from Joseph Campell’s Myths to Live By:

“…the knowledge of the highest divine symbol of the wonder and mystery of life is in the recognition of the monstrous nature of life and its glory in that character: the realization that this is just how it is and that it cannot and will not be changed. Those who think — and their name is legion — that they know how the universe could have been better than it is, how it would have been had they created it, without pain, without sorrow, without time, without life, are unfit for illumination. Or those who think — as do many — “Let me first correct society, then get around to myself” are barred from even the outer gate of the mansion of God’s peace. All societies are evil, sorrowful, inequitable; and so they will always be. So if you really want to help this world, what you will have to teach is how to live in it. And that no one can do who has not himself learned how to live in it in the joyful sorrow and sorrowful joy of the knowledge of life as it is.”

Then there’s injustice. If the tide of wrongdoing was sufficiently under control that we could punish every wrongdoing, couldn’t it be prevented in the first place? I try to recover my property and sometimes I can’t. I try for justice and sometimes there is none. I can’t interact with the thief that will not be apprehended. Assuming the bike can’t be recovered by sleuthing or whatever, injustice is simply calamity number two to befall me today – probably takes less psychic/emotional energy to just count it as 1b and move on.

The most relevant subject is I and the most relevant verb is lost. A moment ago I lost my bicycle and now – walking to the bus stop with a lovely deli sandwich, I am letting go.

Frustration 2: Insult to Injury, Invalidated Experience/Blame the Victim

Untrained Reaction

I’ve lost a few bikes. My first experience was both my first taste of the cruelty of the world outside my tiny, insular home town waaaay out in the corn fields of Iowa – and also my first taste of that hall-of-fame, most-egregious category of invalidation, blame-the-victim.

When a bike is grafted onto a human with 2 hi-tech clips made of futuristic materials – plus a finely machined interface, the human becomes the most efficient land animal on earth in terms of locomotion. The nervous system adapts and the kinesthetic sense expands to encompass the prosthesis – roadies talk about the road feel of good tires. I lose the sensation of riding on a machine and cycling becomes something more like flying close to the ground. A bicycle is a prosthesis. it’s not like a prosthesis or evocative of – it is an artificial supplement to a human body.

Therefore bike theft is a crime against a person, yet it is treated as petty theft, or more accurately in most places, not considered. The reality is closer to having my bionic arm ripped off my living stump, but people I will meet in the wake of my loss will treat it like something closer to losing a pair of shoes.

D.A.’s practically never prosecute bike thieves. Thieves operate almost absolutely free of risk – at least risk of official sanction. Bike theft has effectively no legal consequences – literally codified acceptance. In effect a bike thief is practically entitled to take your bicycle and I’m given almost no recourse , recompense, or sympathy.

Even well-meaning friends will ask what the bike cost, probably searching for something to help relate the experience. Everyone knows what it’s like to feel the sting of losing money.

Suppose I was walking and someone snatched my prosthetic leg, running away down the sidewalk that I could no longer travel effectively. Here are some things that people would probably not say to me:
– How much did your leg cost?
– Too bad the police won’t even show up to take a report. It’s not like it was a [more important] car.
– What do you expect, wearing shorts like that?
– Why do you walk, anyway? You should drive a car.
– Now you have an excuse to buy that really fancy leg with the new servos!
– It’s a good thing USA is so good at urban design – everything you need is within hopping-on-one-leg distance!

What you’re left with is literally maddening invalidation. It seems to me that people are probably willing to listen but unable to understand. Without understanding there can be no empathy, and without empathy, no validation.

I suppose for other people this isn’t as hard to stomach, but an invalidating environment was the defining characteristic of a childhood I’m just now overcoming. Getting it from friends and family really sucks – just like it does when they utterly fail to understand – and by extension fail to validate – the extreme difficulties that come with mood disorders. Why don’t you just pull yourself together is to anxiety and depression what It’s just a bicycle is to bike theft.

Better Approach:

I could let go of my insistence on validation. I know what happened to me. I’ve got a much clearer view of reality than I did a year ago, with no signs of plateauing yet. The closer I come to my goal of seeing things around me as they really are, the more I will likely be out of step with the popular interpretation – might as well get used to it now.

I can look for validation where I’m more likely to find it: a bike shop, a cycling group on Facebook. I could stop a random stranger on a road bike and get more sympathy/empathy than I could from my closest friends and family.

I can actually do some things to effect tiny changes in the root causes of bike theft and the invalidation that comes with it. As I think about the problem, one thing jumps out as a glaring flaw in the foundation: money as a criterion of valuation is overemphasized to an insane degree. This is a prime cause of cognitive dissonance in the case of bike theft.

It’s damn near impossible to meaningfully spend more than $7k on a bicycle for most people – that’s for a big-name carbon fiber bike with Dura-Ace Di2 drivetrain – and I’m not sure that for most people Dura-Ace is a meaningful upgrade over the much-cheaper, top-of-the-normal-line Ultegra. Team Sky won the 2015 Tour De France riding the Pinarello Dogma F8, a $6k frameset that could hold maybe $6k worth of very exotic parts. Tour winner Chris Froome could have put a small sack of diamonds in his jersey pocket to add to the total cost, but once he hit the base of Col du Tourmalet, he would need to toss those rocks in the ditch to shed weight – or at least hand them back into the team car. So arguably the most exalted race bike in the world costs about the same as the shittiest, least desirable, ultra-low-budget cars you can order at your local Chevy and Kia dealers. A sensible bike for a normal person will probably cost much less than the clothing and gear worn by the police officer who literally doesn’t have time to respond to a bike theft incident. A bicycle is considered unworthy of protection because it doesn’t cost much money. That’s insane.

I could take some of the energy I would normally spend making myself upset and instead actively work on improving the status of better criteria. I could live by a different system of valuation in rebellion against received wisdom (check). I could start studying other rebellious systems and embark on a quest to rebuild my mind (check). I could write a blog sharing what I learn as I go, hoping that others will benefit from my experience and multiply the benefit with their own (check). I can think about what really is valuable and wait for that to bubble up in other areas of my life that might radiate out to the people I contact (thinking and waiting)…

I could do all this or I could stand on the sidewalk, holding my severed bike lock, ranting about how some nameless, faceless boogeyman has wronged me and now the police are neglecting their charge to protect and serve and the whole world is going to hell in a handbasket and it’s only gotten worse since the rise in government of that political party that is identical in almost every important way to the party I heartily endorse… I’m using up a lot of energy as I rant, waving my arms, contorting my face, clenching fists or maybe wringing hands. I’m about 20 minutes away from being too exhausted to ride my bike, even if, as I propose, it were miraculously returned to me on a gilded cloud.

Frustration 3: Senselessness/Meaninglessness

Untrained Reaction

That bicycle was so dear to me, but to the thief it’s just another easy $50. There is a much nicer bike right across the street – why didn’t the thief take that one? I actually do help people who are down on their luck – this guy could have just asked me for help. I didn’t want Santana Abraxis, I didn’t listen to Santana Abraxis – I haven’t done anything!

Better Approach:

Assuming the bike can’t be recovered by sleuthing or whatever, does it matter why at this point? I can run the scenario through my DBT mindfulness skills, as follows:
– Observe and Describe: though the bike is gone, the rest of the world still meets my senses. I can still smell and taste the wonderful coffee I just finished. I see my now-broken lock on the ground where the bike used to be.
– Participate: I call the police. If I think it’s worth my time I could look around myself. And the rest of my day is still happening. I can look at my GDT (time management system) @Downtown tag and see what else I can do to be productive while I wait for the next 28X to home.
– Effectively: The police have a description of the bike. If they find it they have my number. What’s next on my agenda today and how do I want to get there? I will put “replace bike” in GDT, which will help me to put it out of mind for the moment and deal with it when it makes sense to deal with it.
– Non-Judgmentally: hmmm… pretty hard not to be irritated. I guess the thing here is to regard this incident as something that just inevitably happened as a logical outcome based on how the world is. The person I imagine gleefully riding my bike down main street is not so much an active agent acting autonomously – he’s more like a single manifestation of a global, ancient tradition. I have been visited by theft in general – does it matter who did the stealing when I have no chance of recovering my bike or getting justice?
– One-Mindfully: well, there’s no need to focus on the absent bike at this point. I guess I just pick up whatever’s next on my agenda and go at that with full attention.

I have a new resource on the idea of meaning, a book called Life Purpose Boot Camp. This has introduced me to meaning as a psychological output, the idea being that I can choose activities and whole endeavors based on my values – things that are most likely to yield the feeling of meaningfulness. This is a new and helpful distinction for me, as I think I tend to want to parse too much of of messy, real life and figure out what does it all mean?!

In Larry Gopnick’s universe, the answer actually is in the most ridiculous parable of the whole epic: The Goy’s Teeth. “The teeth? We don’t know. Sign from Hashem? Don’t know. Helping others. Couldn’t hurt… What would happen – not much, he went back to work… he returned to life. These questions th-th-th-th-th-that are bothering you, Larry, maybe there’s like a tootheache: you feel them for a while and then they go away… Sure, we all want an answer but Hashem doesn’t owe us the answer.” I don’t know how many times I watched that movie and missed the point because the whole scene is so outlandish and hilarious – I still lose my mind laughing every time at the machine-gun stutter.

Then there’s the book of Job. (Dammit I’m trying to remember that Hail, Caesar! quote – Eddie Mannix’ response to the Eastern Orthodox patriarch who objects, “Perhaps you are forgetting its original telling in the Holy Bible.” – that would have been a good quote here… I’ll come back later and put it in when the DVD comes out). One of the telling details of this book is that Job doesn’t know what happened in Satan’s audience with God, and more to the point, as God reminds Job from the whirlwind, Job as a human can’t know the bigger design of things – it’s simply out of reach.

Please, accept mystery.

From what little I understand of Buddhism – about an hour and a half into my first clumsy foray – it’s much easier for the Buddhist to digest the why. I think it’s something to the effect of the following: duhkha is the result of my clinging to things that can’t last? If I had any command of Buddhist skills, I think a bike theft would come as absolutely no surprise and raise no troubling questions?

Frustration 4: Hard to Replace

Untrained Reaction

I’m not going to steal a bike to replace a stolen one, so that leaves buying a new one. I’m middle aged with a modestly responsible, secure family budget and retirement plan, so the money itself is not as difficult as the other aspects of replacing a stolen bike. Still, I really hate the idea of spending all that money all over again. It’s very tempting to think that it’s for nothing, since I already paid once for the same bike I’m buying again.

There’s also the time that goes into finding all the little extra parts that don’t really come with a road bike: saddle, pedals, tires, cages, bottles, emergency kit. All those things cost money, too.

For most people who ride a contemporary road bike, the bike fit is probably the worst thing to have to replace. You can either take your Retül printout and do your best with a tape measure to recreate the fit at home, or you can shell out the $300 to go get your new bike fit. It’s the kind of expense most people rationalize with the idea that “I only have to do it once and then I’m set for life.”

Better Approach: ready myself for replacement then let go of attachment

Fungibility lubes the Letting-Go Mechanism. The LGM still has to be designed and operated efficiently, but ease of replacement makes the LGM run smoother and faster. Ironically, the best and most up-to-date bikes are the most fungible. I ride a Trek road bike with H2 geometry, which is a kind of ideal convergence of ubiquity and fungibility. I can buy any 60cm Trek H2 (a broad spectrum of bikes) off the floor at any of a half dozen local Trek dealers – any model from I-don’t-know-how-many years – and set it up to feel the same as the bike I have now. Also with Trek you get top notch engineering and manufacturing about as cheap as it can be had. AND it’s a relatively unsexy brand to most roadies so it’s just that much less appealing to bike thieves.

There’s a lot more I do toward the goal of fungibility. I’ll get into that below.

What Can Be Done

Here are some ideas on what I can do steady myself against the scary prospect of bike theft.

Get My Cognitive Game on Point Before I Really Need It

For me at this point, there isn’t much that’s intrinsically difficult about replacing a bike. It’s riding the wave of that experience that will require the level of skill to which I aspire. Here are main areas of skills, ordered from those I’ve mastered in some part, all the way to the unknown.
1. DBT
2. ACT
3. Buddhism
4. ???

Bike Fit & Wrenching in General

I had never heard of professional bike fitting when I was young. When I got back into cycling last year, I thought it sounded like a good idea, but then I learned what it cost – Ha! I wrote it off as another gimmick to chisel money out of silly suburbanites.

Then my podiatrist told me I needed to go get a professional bike fit and go see a PT before I could get my orthotics. I complied and got a bike fit at the Trek Store in Shawnee.

I was amazed – astounded – by how much better the bike felt, and I had spent some time watching YouTube videos and setting up my bike to the best of my ability at the time. Between the positive change and the neat-o technology the bike fitter used, I got sufficiently interested to learn mocap dynamic bike fitting for myself.

I made my own motion capture markers with simple LED’s and I use Kinovea with a couple of cheap webcams for the tracking. The other tools for the job are all stock or easily-hacked everyday items: a 2-dimensional laser level, tape measures, rulers, digital spirit level, my regular bike mechanic toolbox… It seems easy now but I had to read a literal stack of books to get there.

At this point I can probably get more similarity between any two bikes – new or vintage – than most people get from two identical bikes set up by the average, overworked bike shop wrench. I have all measurements in a Google spreadsheet and a Google Drive folder with the mocap showing my form and dynamic measurements overlaid on the video.

Over the year I’ve been riding, I’ve steadily built up a standard consort of tools and a modest repertoire of basic bike mechanic skills. I can true a wheel to my own satisfaction but I haven’t built a wheel from scratch. I have all the tools for repairing and maintaining cranks, chainrings, and bottom brackets, but I don’t have the expensive tools to thread a BB shell or ream a seat tube.

The effect of all this DIY is that it is much easier for me to start over with another bike than it would be for most people. Also I can make do with a much more low end bike than most roadies, simply because almost nobody else is going to apply a $300 bike fit to a $75 Craigslist clunker. Every bike fit I receive from this point on is free.

Alternatives that Make It Easier to Let Go:

I started riding a year ago on a truly awful bike: a Japanese 1970’s Puch with stem shifters, 27“ wheels, dropout derailleur hangar… I bought it at the swap meet on a whim, watched the movie Breaking Away, and got hooked on riding. By May I bought my ”good bike” and by the day after I bought it was worried about losing it. I wanted to ride to the downtown library and I realized that locking it up on the sidewalk was as good as putting it in the Free Stuff section of Craigslist.

Bikes: No Attachment, Some Attachment, Way Too Much Attachment

My contemporary Trek is pretty much the second cheapest fast road bike you can get with top-tier engineering and manufacturing. They used cheaper materials where they can (e.g. carbon fiber fork but aluminum frame) and where money can’t be saved, they basically punt to the consumer – e.g. the stock brake pads and tires were meant to be replaced before your first ride, like pedals and saddle. I.e. it’s a really nice road bike that I could replace, customize, and fit in an afternoon without crashing the ol’ Family Budget. If it got stolen with the power meter installed, I might not replace that part. Still, I feel this is a “nice” bike – “expensive” considering that it cost a lot more than I ever paid for a bike in high school, even though I had what would have been comparable Trek and Specialized bikes back then. I would like to shake my attachment but still retain my anti-theft precautions.

Shortly after I got that bike I found a late–80’s/ early 90’s Trek on Craigslist for $90. I went and bought it from the little old lady who only drove it to church. It was a tall man, but the rest is about right – the bike was as new. He even said he spent $30 having it serviced before he listed it on Craigslist! Probably had the original lube before that.

So at that point my attachment and theft problems were solved. I could lock up the old, cheap bike outside and save my “good” bike for when I could keep it in sight.

Then I learned about bike fit and had the misfortune to get a bunch of high end parts really cheap from one guy on Craigslist. Suddenly my beater bike was pretty nice. It was still quantifiably slower than the “good” bike, but I really got attached to it and started to worry about losing it. That’s when I realized I had gone out of control. I started thinking about things I’m trying to put to rest in this post.

Finally I got a real clunker – an early 90’s Giant that was rusted, gummed up, had frozen spoke nipples and everything – a restoration project. I just now got the cable kit, which is the last of the actual mechanical work the bike needs. Having not even ridden it yet, I’m hoping to form literally no attachment to it – that’s my goal, anyway.


The saddle I prefer is by a good margin the most expensive one I know. Of course it is – it goes on a road bike. I take some comfort knowing that SMP’s are very popular with lots of bike fit professionals all over the world. For me it’s not an performance issue as much as a necessity for comfort – other saddles for me are comfy on the road or on the trainer – but not both.

On my recent acquisition – the clunker – I put a $24 Chinese SMP knockoff, to which I have no attachment. I also have a real SMP-brand import model that cost about $75 and I’m a little more attached to that one, even though it’s not good for long rides on country roads (too much padding). Then I have a legit Italian SMP to which I’m more attached even thought it cost less used on eBay than the import cost new (lower cost but higher value since it’s obviously a gorgeous piece of craftsmanship). Then I have a new, Italian SMP that I handled like an egg when I first got it (sigh)…

So at the moment it seems to help to spend less money on a saddle, but it helps even more for me to think of it as lower quality. Ultimately I would like to let go of attachment to ownership, the shiny-new quality, or anything else.

I think the idea that resists coming to the surface of my mind is something like the following. I just don’t want the next bike thief who victimizes me to get any of the good stuff. I have a nice Specialized Romin saddle – basically the American SMP – that I wouldn’t put on my “good” bike because I can’t comfortable on the trainer with it. But there’s no reason I couldn’t put that on my new clunker instead of the unnecessary $24 Chinese SMP knockoff – the Romin is as comfy as a recliner on the road. I think I don’t like the idea because my tendency to cling to possession of an item is worse if I think of the item as nice or fancy or expensive.

I bought a set of 175mm Ultegra cranks for my latest clunker so that I can transcribe my exact fit from my other bikes, but I think I’m going to wait to put them on until I can honestly say I’ve stopped clinging to them. Also it might be a smart anti-theft move if this is to be my leave-it-on-the-street bike.


My “grocery store bike” is a 90’s Hard Rock set up like a hybrid. It has a cheaper frame pump than the other bikes, which all have Lezyne.


There is a kind of hierarchy of prudence to keeping a bike relatively safe. This is my ordered list:
1. keep it in reach, e.g. take it inside
2. keep it in sight
3. keep it within the sight of many people, the busier-bodier the better
4. lock it up
5. use a better lock


Sure – if it makes sense. Nothing is more dispassionate and easy to accept than the cold, abstract logic of a financial decision tree. I could do the numbers both ways and pick the better number. It’s hardly worthy of human time/attention. I think if for some reason I crossed the $5k mark with a bike I’d think about it.

Just letting go in general

Imagine I attain enlightenment. I will let go of my bicycle the moment it leaves my field of vision. I will lock it up, sure, but if I return and it’s not there, the enlightened me wouldn’t even break stride or take one second to grouse about it.

Survived a senseless, brutal attack? Whew – glad that’s over, and what a beautiful moon tonight. Butthole cancer? It happens. Stolen bike? Expected. I’ll call the cops, if only as a formality, on my way to the nearest bike shop.

DIY Alternative to Tapiriik on Mac Desktop

I don’t think I’ve yet shared my idea of a Mood Garmin – my fantasy that I will discover or cobble together some kind of device or technique to track real-time performance of consciousness skills the same way that my Garmin Edge bike computer tracks all kinds of metrics as I train and ride on my bicycle. I’m hoping that tracking and correlating different metrics will help as much with consciousness skills as it does with cycling.

It’s hardly even an original idea; the DBT diary card uses a really primitive form of the idea. However, the feedback loop is really slow and it is really geared toward self-reporting at the end of a day.

I want some way to automatically – or nearly so – collect data that is exhaustive, detailed, and useful for training. I want a fast feedback loop like I have with cycling. I want to make dramatic, night-and-day  improvements the way I have on my bicycle. I want a Mood Garmin. That dream is still far off.

This post is about my literal Garmin and the flow of data between the real world – my body metrics, the strain of the churning pedals and wheels on the bike, the landscape around me… – and my chosen training software, Golden Cheetah. Originally I used a service called Tapiriik to grab Garmin FIT files from the Garmin Connect website and copy them to my Dropbox. In the middle of winter this service stopped working and the developer didn’t answer my inquiries, so I rolled my own solution. Here is what I did on a Mac to get my FIT files from my Garmin Edge to my Dropbox. This might be useful to someone else – plus I’m hoping that thinking out loud about my Mood Garmin idea will help me shake loose an idea that gets me unstuck on that front.

First I installed Do Something When, (DSW) which is analogous to Windows’ auto run or auto play feature. It shows up in System Preferences.

Screen Shot 2016-03-16 at 8.34.41 PM

I also installed rSync (a long time ago, for something else – I don’t remember how/where I got rSync, but I’m pretty sure it doesn’t come installed on OS X).

Next I created an Automator application that simply copies the files from my Edge (plugged into the Mac via USB). In this illos there are two lines because I also have a watch that functions as a simpler bike computer on my vintage bikes, which don’t have power meters.

Screen Shot 2016-03-16 at 8.35.45 PM.png

Finally I created a new Rule in DSW. Now every time I attach either the Edge or Forerunner to the computer to via their respective USB cables, the Automator app called Copy_Garmin runs rSync and my FIT files are copied to my Dropbox folder called Activities.

Screen Shot 2016-03-17 at 12.14.30 PM

At this point I could go full-auto and have Golden Cheetah automatically import the FIT files, but I like to make a ritual of looking at my fitness and trends at least a couple times per week and there are things I need to manually add, anyway – e.g. my weight and the hrTSS of the rides on the vintage bikes that lack power meters.

This system has been working perfectly for me and didn’t take much time to set up. I hope this will help someone else in a similar situation looking for ideas. Sorry – I don’t know enough about development or computers in general to help anyone troubleshoot a similar setup on other machines; I tried this based on my tenuous grasp of OS X concepts and it worked perfectly on my first try.