The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less by Barry Schwartz

This is a book about how more choices can make you unhappier with the choice you finally make, and how people are inherently bad at making decisions. It was very interesting and gave me some insight into my own thought processes and their emotional result. I was particularly struck by the discussion about careers; as a middle-class Westerner I can do pretty much anything I want to (provided I don't mind incurring a lot of debt) and that leaves me pretty much paralysed. What if I pick wrong? Aaah!

I would recommend this book to just about everyone, particularly people who feel depressed or dissatisfied with their life. Not only does it include a lot of information about how decision-making happens, and how it can screw you up, the best thing about the book is that the last chapter gives some concrete suggestions for how to deal with all the choices available to us.

(Oh, but it has one of the ugliest covers I've seen in a long time.)

The Art of Urban Cycling by Robert Hurst

This is a book about how to bike in the city. There are a couple of dogmatic schools of thought about how you're supposed to bike in the city (the Vehicular school and the Invisible school) and Hurst pretty much dismantles them both. He is very pragmatic, about where to bike, when to bike, how to stay safe, and how to relate to other vehicles. He has a very calm, accepting philosophy about how things are and argues that you are better off working within reality rather than spending a great deal of time being angry at it. In that sense this is an excellent guide to how to live, as well as how to bike.

He did piss me off at the end by dissing my bike (I will paraphrase because I don't have the book with me: "Comfort bikes seem to be designed for people who want to bike while maintaining as much of a feeling of sitting on the couch as possible.") Okay, that's kind of why I bought my bike, but it still smarts.

Having said that, though, later he talks about how your bike should fit, and says that your weight should be equally distributed on your hands, your feet and your butt, and it's when beginners don't realize that that they are uncomfortable and decide to stop biking. Well, duh, I bought my bike with the big seat so that I could sit all my weight on my butt, and lo and behold, it's never really comfortable.

So next time I go out I will try and balance my weight better (I think I will have to adjust a bunch of stuff, because right now the handlebars are pretty high and the seat is pretty low.) I think, though, that that means biking is a lot more work than I thought it was. On the other hand, that means that if I bike more it will make me much stronger and fitter than I thought it would.

Rats: Observations on the History & Habitat of the City's Most Unwanted Inhabitants by Robert Sullivan

Robert Sullivan thought it would be cool to spend a year or so hanging out in an alley watching some rats, and write a book about it and rats in general. It turned out to be a pretty good book, but with a lot of needless philosophising which didn't seem to result in any great conclusions, that I could tell. I would have been happy with just lots of facts and observations. (The book has them, just mixed in with the other stuff.)

Reading this book I realized that I am missing what seems to be a fundamental human trait -- I'm not afraid of rats. I suppose if you stuck me in a dark alley surrounded by lots of them, I might be, but when I imagine the scenario it doesn't faze me at all. We had rats as pets and I have a great deal of appreciation for them; they are intelligent and resourceful and generally very sensible animals. And unlike cats, they don't vomit.

Google Maps Pedometer!

I just heard of a new tool which lets you plot arbitrary points onto a Google Map. So I plotted my commute (both there, and back again). That's pretty much all I got, but it was so neat that I figured I should really share it. If any of you plot your routes, please leave me a link in the comments. (Uh, you can't actually link, so just leave the url.) I should probably also note that I don't actually drive all over the road, or though people's houses like it says I do. I just got tired of clicking every single change in direction, and so flattened out some curves.

Parental Observations.

On Sunday, Amy, Delphine, and I went to meet some friends from New York at the Distillery District. Sadly, we just missed the bus at King and Yonge which would have taken us there, which got me to thinking. Normally I'm an extremely punctual person. In fact, I usually show up five or ten minutes early to wherever it is I'm supposed to be, with the expectation that I'll have to entertain myself. Since my Clie is with me all the time, and I usually have two or three books on the go on it, I'm never worried about having something to do while I wait. (The one exception to this is hanging around Delphine's day care. I feel sort of like the strange man who's a little too interested in your children. Since I'll probably be picking up Del for the next few months so that Amy can work a few more hours, I should probably get over that, eh?) Anyways, when I'm travelling with Delphine, I'm much less likely to get somewhere early, because she's much harder to keep amused for five or ten minutes than I am, and so I cut my travelling time closer, and then sometimes miss connections.

Just something to keep in mind if you're ever meeting me somewhere.

What I Did On My Summer Vacation.

Friday was a day off for us Canadians, and because I like the idea of a four-day-weekend, I decided to take Monday off as well. The only down side to not working is that I don't get to ride on my daily 20 kilometer commute. So today, inspired by an article in the Sunday Globe and Mail about the Donut Ride (a 120 km ride around Toronto which happens every Saturday and Sunday), I went on a ride for the sheer joy of it while Delphine and Amy took their nap. It's fairly rare that I go for a ride just to go for a ride, since usually I'm either commuting or riding somewhere to pick something up, even if it's just over to Bayview for gelato. Having a toddler doesn't lead to a lot of free time, and while she's okay for shorter rides, the one time we took her on a long ride, she got a little antsy. (Okay, so she was crying for the last twenty minutes, but we were on the middle of the Don Trail, and it doesn't exit until Lakeshore.)

Since I've never been on a long ride, I was wondering how far I could go, and how long I could maintain a speed. My route was quite simple, through the cemetary to Bayview, then North until I was done. All in all, I think I did fairly well for my first ride, although I certainly made some newbie mistakes. The most obvious mistake was going too fast at the start of the ride. Going down the hills, I would shift into the highest gear, and then forget to down-shift when I started going up the next hill. Between that and the excessive heat (the humidex was around 35, I believe)I was completely beat after 20 minutes. (On the upside, my average speed for those 20 minutes was over 27 km/h.) So, after pulling over onto the sidewalk (and getting a strange look from a lady out watering her lawn), and taking a water break, I felt a lot better, and continued North. I was hoping to ride for one and a half to two hours, but just before the 30 minute mark, I found myself at Finch and Bayview, and so I thought I would I cut over to Yonge, and head home, for a total time of a little under one hour. (57 minutes, 40 seconds.)

So, some more stats. My average speed (25.7 km/h) was quite a bit faster than normal. (I usually average around 22-24.) My fastest speed (51.2 km/h) wasn't faster than normal, so I guess I was keeping speed for longer than normal, which isn't surprising, since I didn't have to stop for more than three or four lights on the whole ride up to Finch. Finally, my current odometer reading is 1808.2 km, which is below the 1820 it would have been had I commuted on Friday and Monday, but is still fairly impressive for someone who doesn't really think of themselves as a cyclist.

Finally, in a desparate bid to get the three of you who read this weblog to comment, I have a question. I'm thinking of getting a cyclocross bike for commuting in the fairly distant future. From all I've read, the Surly Cross Check sounds like a frame I'ld enjoy, but they don't have dealers (any bike store can order in as many as they want, so the stores are stuck with unsold merchandise), so I don't know where I'ld go if I wanted to test-ride one. Can any of you suggest a store which might carry the Cross Check (or any other cyclocross bikes that you like) for test rides? (The nice lady at The Urbane Cyclist suggested their in-house Urbanite brand, which looked fairly similar, but which I've heard absolutely nothing about.

Two Books

Efficient Society: Why Canada Is as Close to Utopia as It Gets by Joseph Heath. This is an interesting book about the benefits of efficiency as a social value, and how Canada is so great. I especially like that last part -- who doesn't like to be patted on the back? -- but I also found the book to be an interesting economic and philosophical primer.

A Place Of Hiding by Elizabeth George. This is a good, fairly standard mystery, but it seemed to go on forever. Towards the end I was just reading it to find out what happened. It didn't help that the protagonist is an emotional, slightly idiotic woman. She is contrasted with her analytical husband, and I suppose you are supposed to relate to the woman, but I really didn't.

Lots of Books

I have read a few books since I last posted here. I didn't post for ages because for ages I didn't read anything; when Delphine naps, I nap too, because I'm pregnant and if I don't nap in the afternoon I hit a brick wall at 4:30 and fall asleep over Delphine's supper. So in the last couple of months I've clawed myself through two, maybe three books.

Then I threw my back out and got to lie around for two days, and I think I have pretty much made up any book deficit I might have had.

So here's what I've read. I read a collection of long short stories, or short novels, or whatever, edited by Robert Silverberg. Legends, I think. I'm not sure which one. They were pretty good, I guess, but they didn't make me any smarter or more interesting.

Don't Make Me Stop This Car! Adventures in Fatherhood by Al Roker, which is totally a parenting journal/blog, printed out and bound. Cute.

Language Visible: Unravelling the Mystery of the Alphabet from A to Z by David Sacks, which goes through the history and cultural baggage (for want of a better word) of the letters of the alphabet, one by one. Mostly interesting, although a little repetitious. Almost all the letters took the same journey from Egypt to our alphabet; is it really necessary to describe that journey anew for each letter? Also I found the historical sidebars pretty boring, but fortunately the sidebar format made them easy to skip.

McSweeney's Enchanted Chamber of Astonishing Stories, edited by Michael Chabon. Good stories, although I always feel like short stories are trying too hard. Like any collection of short stories, this would have been better enjoyed in small sips rather than gulped down all at once, but I never manage to do that. Besides, I have to take it back to the library.

Beach Girls, by Luanne Rice. Fluff, but good fluff. Also a story about mothers and daughters, which is always guaranteed to get me all verklempt.

I think there might have been a couple more, but I don't remember what they are.

Bad back! Bad!

I am scraping the bottom of the barrel for clothes that fit these days. Theoretically I should have scads of stuff, because I am still smaller in the waist ("waist") than I was at the end of the last pregnancy, and I had plenty of clothing then. I think the fatal flaw in that theory is that the last pregnancy was in winter, so I have lots of jeans. It went up to 30 today -- I ain't wearing jeans.

I'm down to a couple of skirts and a couple of dresses, which aren't much use for going to the park with Delphine or sitting on the floor playing with Lego. So I made plans, last Thursday, for Morgan to babysit Delphine for a couple of hours in the morning while I went to Old Navy or some other appallingly cheap place and got a couple of pairs of appallingly cheap maternity shorts or capris or something.

Instead of doing that, though, I slipped a disk. It was really quite well planned. Morgan works at a the same Health Clinic as my chiropractor, and I already had her lined up to babysit. She lives right by me so she and Erik were able to come over to my place to help me get myself and Delphine downtown to the clinic.

But it was bad, it was so bad. I have never hurt my back this bad before; I actually cried. Usually I am stoic, but there was yelping and crying this time. The chiro said it was the worst she had seen in fifteen years -- she could hardly touch me. And it was really stupid and entirely my fault; my back has been so good lately that I haven't been doing any of the stretching and strengthening exercises I am supposed to do, and I injured myself by half-bending over with Delphine in my arms, which is perhaps number one on the long list of things I am not supposed to do (I have slipped this same disk before).

So all my chiro was able to do for me on Thursday was send me home with some exercises to encourage the disk back into place, and strict instructions to lie down all day and ice my back. I had to call Blake to come home with me and look after Delphine while I just lay around (which he did without a murmur because he is a good man -- plus he likes to hang out with Delphine).

Friday Delphine had daycare; I woke up feeling better, well enough to shuffle across the street with Blake to drop her off, and then it was back to bed. I was way better by my next chiro appointment that afternoon -- the doctor was astounded at how much better I was. She gave me some more treatment (mostly she doesn't do chiro on me, she does soft-tissue therapy called Active Release Techniques which is pretty phenomenal, although I am a little scared to do any research on it in case it's actually just quackery. But it's patented!) and sent me home with instructions to keep doing what I was doing.

Anyway, it's now Monday, and I am almost all better. I think that's pretty amazing, going from totally crippled to almost healed in five days. If my rapid healing were an Academy Award, I would thank Blake and Morgan and Erik for dropping everything to help me get better, and I would thank myself for being smart and asking for help instead of trying to be heroic.

It's only today that I've been able to pick up and hold Delphine. Four days without being able to cuddle her was hard, and sad. It wasn't just the not cuddling, but knowing I couldn't pick her up if she hurt herself, or run to her if she was in danger left me feeling like half a mother. I don't know how parents with chronic pain or disability do it. I feel like my own physical ability is intrinsic to my ability to be a good parent, and I didn't realize I felt that way until my physical ability was compromised.

Anyway, between the pain of my bad back and not being able to have contact with Delphine the way I'm used to, and not being able to keep up with housework, and this weird altercation I had with a guy in the lobby of my building this morning, and some other health problems I will not burden you with the details of, I am floating in this weird miasma of not-right-ness. I expect that now that I am mostly better, after a couple of days of normality (or what passes for it in this time of interminable and tedious flux) I will feel okay again.

It's Been A While.

And what an interesting time it's been, too. I'm not entirely sure why I haven't posted anything here, other than I've been busy at work, and kind of worn out when I get home. Well, I'm still busy at work, but it's early in the day, and I wanted to post a small update before I started doing my actual job.

First off, I should mention that I got into an accident with a car. I'm okay, the person in the car is okay, but my mirror left a huge scratch down the side of her vehicle. I'm not sure whether she sideswiped me, or I sideswiped her, (my mirror knocked her passenger side mirror flat, which sort of indicates that I was in front of her, but I was passing another cyclist, so I was probably further out in the lane than I would normally have been,) but either way, it's a sucky situation. Supposedly her insurance company would be contacting my insurance company, but since I don't own a car, I don't have an insurance company, so in theory they'll be contacting me directly. But they haven't yet, and I'm not exactly holding my breath waiting by the phone.

In happier news, it's Bike Week in Toronto this week. Uh, these next couple of weeks? I guess it's pretty excellent that there's too much stuff to fit into a single week, but I sort of wish that there was more day-to-day stuff happening throughout the rest of the year. Things like having bike lanes not be less than the minimum width, or giving tickets to people parked in the bike lane. Still, I've been taking advantage of many of the activites recently, including the "6th Anniversary Doors Open Toronto Weekend", the "16th Annual Group Commute & Free Pancake Breakfast" on Monday (Although I didn't get a pancake because the line was way too long. Oh, but I did get the free t-shirt.), the "Coffee and Bagels at Curbside Cycle" on Tuesday, the "Grassroots' Breakfast and Two-Minute Tune-up" (I didn't get the tune-up, because there didn't seem to be anyone else getting one, and I didn't want to ask. I'm curiously shy sometimes.) on Wednesday, and the "Biking Breakfast" on Thursday. I also got a shiny new helmet (pictured to the right) on Tuesday, both because my previous one was five years old (Supposedly the foam breaks down after five years or so, and they become less useful.), and because Bikes on Wheels was having a Bike Week special where if you gave them your old helmet, you would get 20% off of a new one. There are a couple of differences between it and the helmet I used to wear. Most noticeably (to me) is the lack of a brim/visor. This means that the sun is much more in my eyes than it was with the old helmet, and forces me to wear sunglasses while riding, which leads to the second big difference. With the new helmet and my shades on, I look far more like a motorcycle cop from the '70s than I ever have before. I'm not sure if it's crossing a line for me, or if I can still go with it, but it's certainly pushing my look in a direction I never intended it to go. Fortunately, Amy has promised to stop me if I ever try to buy a banana-bike, or bell bottoms.

I guess that's it. I thought I had more to say, but I can't quite remember what it was, and it's almost 11:00, so I should really be heading off.