Sunday, October 23, 2016


I have a lovely purple bicycle, that I really like. Now that it is spring, I have cleaned it up, and lubed the chain, and taken it to and from work again. But it's lonely to bike on your own.

Melbourne has a bike share program. There are lots of stations around the city where Melbourne city bikes can be found. You pay by the day or week or year, and take a bike for a half hour at a time, from one of many conveniently located stations. There is a station just up the street from us. I convinced Jonathan to try it. We'd take it just a block away to Albert Park, and ride once around the lake. It would be lovely.

Jonathan was happy to try, except he reminded me he hadn't actually ridden a bike for three years.

"Oh, you can't forget how to ride a bike," I said.

The cost for any number of 30 minute trips over whole day is only $3. That's cheap! But if we keep the bike out for more than a half hour, we pay more per half hour. First we pay only an additional $2. Still cheap! Then $7. Then $10 per additional half hour. So getting not so cheap. But we were only going once around the lake just a block over. Surely it would take no more than one half hour. Maybe an hour, tops.

So I brought my bike, and paid for one for him. My bike is slick and light and purple. His rental bike was thick and heavy and Heavy. It had a basket and heavy mud guards and a generator attached to the back wheel so that it would turn on blinking red lights in the back as he pedaled. And kind of heavy.

Jonathan got on, and fell over.

We adjusted the seat.

He got on again, and fell over again.

"How do you get this bike to go forward?" he asked.

"Push really really hard initially, so it has momentum," I said. And he did, and the bike wobbled back and forth across the wide sidewalk, and he stayed up.

"Ok, ready to go!" said Jonathan.

"Um, maybe we should walk it across the road to the park," I suggested.

Once in the park, we easily found our way onto the track around the lake. But the track went on the wrong side of the yacht club, so we followed the sidewalk the other way. And then that narrowed, and then completely disappeared.

"Now where?"

After going in a couple of circles, we found our way back.

The half hour was coming to a close rapidly. I told Jonathan to keep his eye out for the other bike share station that was supposed to be on the west side of the lake. But we couldn't find it.

Finally, off in the distance, near a different building, we spotted the station. By the time we reached it, we would be over the 30 minute mark anyway.

"Should we just go around the lake instead?" I asked.

"Sure," said Jonathan.

So we did.

The lake was lovely. The sun was shining. There were lots of black swans, raising their baby swanlings.

A billion people were out walking on the path, and Jonathan wobbled his way back and forth between them on his heavy bike, all the way to the tip of the lake.

"There should be another bike share station here somewhere," I said. "Do you see it?"

But we didn't see it. And we didn't feel like looking. So we just continued on.

Riding back on the other side, the way we had come, we realized that the wind was actually blowing pretty hard.

"Can we take a break?" Jonathan asked. "My legs are really tired."

I looked nervously at my watch. Another 30 minutes were almost over. Oh well. We'll pay the extra $7. "Ok."

Then we biked another 10 minutes into the wind.

"Can we take a break again?" asked Jonathan. "This path is really bumpy."

"Ok," I said, looking at my watch.

Ten more minutes. 

"Can we just walk home from here?" Jonathan asked. "It's too windy."

I looked at my watch again.

"Um. How about you wait with my bike at the next park bench, and I'll return the bike-share bike?"

That suggestion was happily agreed to. So off I went on the bike-share bike.

And fell over.

I adjusted the seat, and pushed off again.

And fell over.

The third time, I pushed that heavy thing really really hard. And I was off! Wobbling back and forth over the path.

I pushed hard -- Hard! Back around the corner, back across the road, back to the original bike share station. With 10 minutes to spare. I pushed it into a slot.

And nothing.

Ten minutes later, I figured out how to actually return the bike (push Hard!). And then ran, back across the road, around the corner, to try to find my poor abandoned child with my beautiful purple bike.

Fifteen minutes later I found him, pushing the bike along the side of the lake, looking out at a family of black swans.

"Wow family outings are so fun," I said, taking the purple bike so that I could wheel it all the way home next to Jonathan. "We should do this again sometime."

Sunday, October 16, 2016

10,000 steps

I signed up for a challenge at work. All I had to do was coerce four friends into forming a team. We all got free pedometers. For several months, we record how many steps we take each day, in an effort to make us all healthy and presumably better workers for a long, long time. I just wanted the pedometer! Most of my friends agreed to sign right up. One of our team members was initially skeptical, because she did a lot of biking. But when I pointed out that the website lets you convert biking kilometers into steps, she somewhat reluctantly agreed.

So I have been walking 10,000 steps -ish every day for over a month.

My normal walk to and from work gives me 8000 steps without any extra effort. It's those last 2000 steps that are problematic. And weekends.

Last weekend, we were having some weather. Gale-force winds and occasional hail.

"Tim, I don't have 10,000 steps yet. Do you want to walk to the Botanic gardens with me? It will be nice to see it in the spring."

"Uh, ok I guess."

Jonathan wouldn't come. We left him cozily parked on the couch as we headed out into the wind.

Around us, we spotted downed tree limbs. The wind whipped dust into our eyes and blew us backward. But we pushed on, until we reached the very gates of the Botanic gardens.

They were closed due to inclement weather.

"What do you think, should we walk 5km around the tan track instead?"


"I said, should we walk the tan?"


"WALK the TAN???"


Only the tan track, which runs around the Botanic gardens, is an unsealed track, meaning there was a lot of dirt and rocks flying around in the wind.





So we ducked our heads and walked back down the hill, the wind blowing us backward only part of the way, and made it home, where Jonathan looked up from the cozy couch and rolled his eyes.

Later that night:

"Tim, I don't have 10,000 steps yet. Do you want to go for another walk?"

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Psychology: sticking with the group

I watched some fascinating short clips at the Exploratorium recently on psychology, particularly on sticking with a group and following a leader.

Humans have evolved to conform to a group. Conformity is a stronger instinct than self-preservation.

In one study, a person was shown to a room, given instructions to stay there until called, and then left alone. A few minutes later, a fire alarm went off. When the person was alone, they quickly left the building. That was the control study. Every single person left the burning room.

In the group-conformity study, the person was left in a room with a group of others, and told to stay there until called. The fire alarm went off. The others were all actors. They all stayed in their seats and acted unperturbed. The study person looked up, looked around, realized that no one else was leaving, and so also acted like nothing was happening. They stayed in the room.

The investigators added to this experiment. Surely if there was smoke and actual fire the person would leave? They rigged the room so smoke was coming from the corner. The fire alarm went off. The actors pretended to be unperturbed. What about the person in the study? Did they leave? Now that the building was obviously on fire? Nope.

Only one person in the experiment reacted differently. "Is that smoke?" he said. "Shouldn't we leave?" The other group members responded, "We were told to stay here until called." And they didn't move. The person in the study went to the door, as if to leave, but when no one else moved, he sat back down for ten more minutes. Ten minutes! Long enough that he would have been dead from smoke inhalation had it been a real fire.

It is so difficult psychologically to leave a group that you will die before leaving, before not conforming.

This experiment, this short film, is all I can think of as I watch the US elections and the republican party burn up, consumed with hatred, racism, sexism and a candidate ready to burn it all down.

I respect the most the handful of people who refused from the beginning to endorse such a candidate. I respect still those who are able to stand up and leave the burning room.

But wow.




I think it's time for me to leave, guys.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

A jet lagged post

The first day back from an international flight, you sleep pretty well, but you wake up with a headache around the backs of your ears that feels like you stayed up far too late, then slept too late into the morning.

The second day back you fall asleep just fine, but you wake up early early in the morning. If you're lucky, you can tell yourself to go back to sleep and you'll be ok.

The third day back is a repeat of the second.

And then by the fourth you are supposed to be totally recovered, but around 8:00 at night you suddenly feel totally worn out and exhausted and for a little while, you don't understand why. And then you remember that you are suffering from jet lag, and it can take up to two or three weeks to be back to normal.

It's a useful excuse, the jet lag, for those signs of early onset Alzheimer's disease.

This time around I couldn't remember the movies I watched on the plane.

But the vacation was lovely. You, my devoted follower, have already seen many photos. Now I shall print some text that goes along with the photos.

Day one: We flew to Sydney in the morning. Our flight from Sydney left at 1:00pm on Saturday, and arrived in San Francisco at 9:30 am on the same day. Not only did we get 3.5 hours extra on the ground on Saturday, but also those 14 hours in the sky didn't even count! That's why I can't remember the movies I watched. And then we met up with some friends of Tim's in Millbrae, and walked around a little, and went to bed early.

Day two: Did anyone guess it from the jellyfish pictures? Monterey Bay Aquarium. My favorite aquarium in the entire world. We took Jonathan there when he was 18 months old, and he loved it. But that was the last time we went. This time around, we all still loved it. Me, Jonathan, Tim, and the octopus.

After the aquarium, we spent some time wandering Cannery Row, and then wading on a beach in Monterey. There were little red crab-things in tide pools that the seagulls loved. Yummy.

Day 3: Classic San Francisco. We rode a cable car. In all the years Tim and I lived near San Francisco, we never rode a cable car. Neither of us. Because you have to wait in line for about an hour just to get on. Why would you do that when you have places to go? We decided we didn't have places to go, except the cable car, and we waited the hour. Here's Tim on the cable car.

Honestly it wasn't that exciting. Now that I've done it, I can say that I've done it and I don't have to do it again.

We took the bus from the end of the line to the Golden Gate Bridge. Surely you guessed that photo. It was the most beautiful, clear, warm day out on the bridge that I have ever seen. We walked halfway across. Jonathan didn't like that. I must say, with the traffic whizzing by on one side, it wasn't really a peaceful experience. But the photos came out lovely.

From the bridge, we caught a bus to Golden Gate Park. There are lots of things to do in Golden Gate Park: museums, Japanese tea garden, botanical garden. We took a bus to the far western side, though. And looked at the windmill.
Then we spent what was left of the evening on Ocean Beach, playing in the sand and eating at a restaurant overlooking the ocean. The restaurant would have been more awesome if we'd been having San Francisco weather. Because the day was so unusually hot, the restaurant was baking in the sun. No air conditioning. Why? It is San Francisco. Most of the year I'm sure the view is just fog. Jonathan loved his berry lemonade. Worth the walk and the heat and the beach, all for that drink.

Day 4: We had tentatively planned on Muir Woods, but after reading about all the tour buses heading there over the Golden Gate Bridge, and the lack of parking, we decided to plan an alternative redwoods adventure. We went to Big Bason Redwoods state park, south of the city in the hills. We very much enjoyed our alternative redwoods experience. We captured some key images: the boys with the slice of tree:
And shots of the large trees:
We went on a couple of nice walks through the forest, finished up at the gift shop, and started driving home. Road construction blocked the fastest way home. Looking at the map, I suggested we drive through Santa Cruz and up the Pacific Highway to Half Moon Bay.

Sunset at Half Moon Bay:

Day 5: More San Francisco. In the morning, we had tickets to see Alcatraz. We were up early so we could stand in line.
Jonathan really liked Alcatraz. He liked all the stories on the audio tour. Most of all he liked the rules for the inmates. He purchased a copy of the Rules and Regulations for inmates at Alcatraz, and read it carefully during the rest of the trip.

They had just opened part of the island to visitors after shutting it off for bird nesting season. It kind of stank, like lots and lots of bird doo doo. But again the pictures were lovely.
Our Alcatraz visit was finished by 2pm. After some debate, we decided to head to the Exploratorium, which has moved since the last time I was in San Francisco, and now was only a short walk from Alcatraz.

The Exploratorium is a giant interactive science museum. We all loved it. There were so many things to explore, and not so many people on a Wednesday afternoon. Here is Jonathan drawing with spinning sand.
I found the psychology exhibits the most fascinating this time around, especially experiments on group and leader dynamics, and how easy it is to get people to do really stupid things if you pretend you have a little authority, or you put them in a group doing likewise. I've been thinking about that exhibit a lot lately. Maybe I'll write another post on psychology sometime soon. In any case, we were there until they threw us out at closing time. And then we walked up the steep hills of San Francisco to meet friends for dinner.
It is a pretty city. If steep.

Day 6: Silicon valley, and travel. We only had a morning, so we opted to see the Computer History Museum, which none of us had seen before. The museum was ok, but the curators need to work on their storytelling. Rather than just show a bunch of stuff, with prettily printed words, they need to organize the stuff and the words to give things a little more context. What *is* this stuff? Why was it invented at that time in that place? Pieces of the story were there, but it was pretty disjointed. For example, the opening to one exhibit said that people needed to be able to give computers better instructions. Ok, sure. Then the first thing you saw in the exhibit were building plans for something whose name is an unexplained acronym, with no explanation of how the building fits into the history or why. Or whether it has anything to do with giving computers instructions. I found it annoying. Plus, by looking at what hardware was included and what wasn't, you could get a feel for which companies donated the most money to the museum. (I was looking for my grandpa's ancient Apple II, and they didn't show it except in a stuff-pile at the very end.)

But we did get to see a Google self-driving car. It was just parked, not driving.

Day 7: Oregon! I have a friend from grad school who is now a professor in Eugene, Oregon. The green photo is a picture of the campus at the University of Oregon.

I gave a talk and had a nice visit. Meanwhile, Tim and Jonathan went to the Raptor Center in Eugene and saw some big birds.

In the afternoon, we drove south to visit family: Emily, Mark, and Jonathan's cousins.

Day 8: Portland. Tim and Mark drove to Corvallis to a football game. Emily and I and the kids drove to Portland. That fountain is in Portland!
While cousins were at a kids' show (Jonathan wasn't that interested), Jonathan and I hit the most important sights of Portland: The famous Voodoo Donut shop.
The donuts were cheap. We didn't need more than one each, but after waiting in line so long, I decided to get two each! No, we couldn't eat them.
Portland water front.

And then the drive back.

Day 9: Crater Lake! Some of you must have recognized Crater Lake. It is an American icon.

And to get there, we did the all-American thing: we drove!
What cute driving companions we had! All three became Junior Rangers before the day was over.

Day 10: More travel. I took a walk in the morning in lovely Roseburg.
From there, we drove 1.5 hours to the airport, then waited 1.5 hours for our flight. Then flew 1.5 hours to San Jose. Then took the train 1.5 hours to San Francisco. Then Tim and Jonathan peeled off to the San Francisco airport, for a three hour wait, and then a flight back to Sydney, arriving two days later.

As for me, I continued on in the BART, under the bay, to end up in lovely Berkeley. I stuck a conference on the other end of it.

This picture is from Day 11: You can see all the way across the bay to the Golden Gate Bridge from the top of the Berkeley hills.
Unless the fog comes in. Same view, day 12:
Unless it really comes in. Same view, day 13:
And then days 15, 16, and 17 were travel days for me. And now I am home. Which brings us all the way back to the beginning -- the jet lag.

This post is long enough. I'm going to bed.