Using Jekyll

I'm infinitely curious, unfortunately, so over the years I've changed my blog from a simple HTML site to a more complex one powered by jquery, to a Wordpress site, to a Squarespace site, and now to this cute blog, powered by Jekyll. The best thing is that all I need for blogging now is a text editor and I have complete control.

Check out older versions of my site on The Way Back Machine.

Note: after at year and a half, I concluded that I hate Jekyll, and I'm back on Squarespace.

Follow your calling? Or follow your play?

I always figured that my true calling would find me. My Dad is a pastor, and he always talked about being "called" to the ministry. My Mom, similarly, talked about being "called" to motherhood. So in high school, my overachiever friends started to pick their majors and the best college that would help them down that path, but I waited. And when I got tired of waiting, I travelled. Halfway around the world, however, I still hadn't found my calling, and my calling hadn't found me.

Obviously, my calling had to be something that it's possible to be passionate about. Something like music, or art, or drama. Those are the callings that are portrayed as being higher, almost spiritual. You see it in the media. Paganini, who practiced violin 16 hours a day. Coltrane, who played jazz until his lips bled. Van Gogh, and the countless crazy artists who followed him, who stayed up day and night creating and ingested all sorts of substances and finally killed themselves as a final sacrifice to their art.

Growing up in 20th Century America, I was well-off enough not to be put to work in the coal mines (as my Grandpa's older brothers were). The mines might have solved my existential crisis about what to do. As it was, however, I knew from what everybody told me that what I did had to be enjoyable. Of course, my parents reminded me that everything takes hard work. Life can't always be fun. And they really wouldn't mind if I studied business. Or medicine.

So when I went to college, I chose to study film, with a minor in business just in case because my parents insisted. I dropped the business minor after my first economics class. I stuck with film however, since it was subjective and passionate and beautiful, and because I knew nothing about it. I enjoyed the constant challenge of it. I had to learn about f-stops and how to correctly wind lighting cables and how to calculate amps and volts so that I wouldn't set the living room on fire when I plugged in my 3-point lighting. I had to grow the balls to go knock on peoples doors and ask "could I use your garden for my film shoot?" Hardest of all, I had to collaborate with my classmates and choose teams of people who could actually get work done. And somehow, since I always seemed to end up in the director or producer role, I had to overcome my introversion and learn how to manage teams of people.

All through college, film kept scaring me, although I worked hard and got excellent grades. I was the first person to ever get into the major freshman year (accidentally - my advisor thought that I was a sophomore because of my AP credits, so he told me to submit a portfolio and I did). Senior year I got a grant from Gerry Abrams to produce my senior film. But unlike some of my classmates, I didn't work on film outside of class. I wasn't passionate about it like they were. It was just my education, and it was there to define me. "I am a film major," I could say at parties, and people would understand me and know exactly who I was. I could look up my course schedule online and know exactly what classes I had to take in order to graduate and become a film maker. Follow the coursework, and you'll end up with a job. That's what the teachers told us. Every now and then, an alumnus would come back from the real world to warn us that it didn't work like that.

Outside of class I actually had job. And I didn't realize it then, but this was a job that I loved. I had gotten it accidentally. My neighbor Daryl worked there, and in high school, when I had had my senior art show, he ended up buying one of my paintings and hiring me on as his helper. I was working on user experience research for government projects, which meant that I spent hours fooling around on a computer. It didn't feel like a job. I spent at least half of my time doing flash tutorials, making balls jump around the screen and rotate and change color. I even created my own paint program. I remember the thrill when I debugged it and it actually worked. "I am god," I thought to myself. My coworkers were amused, and they fed my interest by giving me books on user interaction and design patterns. I had no idea that you could go to school for this, or that I wanted to go to school for this. All I knew was that I loved it. I figured that if I kept working there, after I graduated maybe I could get a job there.

Unfortunately, I didn't keep my job there. Instead, I went to France for seven months (and accidentally ended up with a French Major and and International Studies Major), and when I got back they didn't need me anymore. So I went looking for another job and found a non-technical position at Penn State's computer help desk. I walked into the managers office, and asked about the position. "Non-technical position?" He asked. "We actually don't have any non-technical positions, only technical positions." I walked out. I was standing in the hallway when I heard him call to me, "Wait!"

I turned around. "Do you have any technical experience?"

"Er," I said, "I've done some flash programming."

"Flash programming? That's technical. You should apply!"

"Oh, ok." I said. So I applied to the technical position.

I was so nervous my first day of work that I was probably shaking. It didn't help that the girl I was shadowing accidentally deleted all of her client's email when trying to switch him from POP to IMAP. The client actually hung up the phone and came to the Help Desk in person to give her and my manager an earful as I cowered behind them.

After the first day, I found that I enjoyed the work. I was surprised to find that I was able to keep up with the other employees, most of whom were computer science majors or IST majors.

In October, my manager asked me to create a website for the help desk. "Could you have something by Monday?" He asked on a Friday. "Sure," I said. I'd never made a website in my life. I put my homework on hold and stayed up two nights working on the site.  I  sliced up a psd file and figured out how to make a working navigation and an RSS feed in HTML and CSS. It wasn't anywhere near standards compliant, and it probably would have validated as "crap" on the WC3's validation tool. I thought it was incredible. I showed it to my manager, who nodded and listed some changes that he wanted. "Could you actually make a Drupal site?" He asked. "I want to make something that I'll be able to update easily." I had no idea what Drupal was, but again I nodded.

And that's how I found my play. For me, it's that godlike feeling after you create a website, or a paint program in flash, or you figure out how to do a cool trick in bash. People always say that they're "not doing what they went to school for" as if it were a bad thing. I think that for me, it's a good thing. School was work, so I thought, as I had been taught by the adults around me, that if I was having fun I was doing it wrong. School taught me to turn fun things, like watching movies, into boring, pretentious things, like critiquing film.

Meanwhile, outside of school I learned to dance with my "work." I edited photos for fun in France. I started building websites as a hobby. I experimented with writing for student papers. I picked up InDesign. 

Nothing is work, but thinking makes it so. 

To Flip Flop or not? A UX question

This week I'm cat-sitting for friends who are in Hawaii. The first night I got to the house, I couldn't figure out how to turn the lights on in the kitchen. Each light switch had a rectangular panel that was either glowing or off. I figured that the glowing switches corresponded to the lights that were currently on, and the not glowing switches corresponded to the lights that were currently off.


Of course I was wrong, and ended up turning all of the lights up and standing in the dark. Standing there in the dar, the design finally made sense to me - of course the lights that are turned off have glowing switches - that's so that you can find the switch in the dark! The switches indicate what you want the light to do (turn on), not what it is currently doing. I ran into a similar problem two months ago while doing UX for a Windows Phone 8 App. It was a GPX tracker and it had 4 buttons in the Application Bar: a , a navigation button, a stats button, play/pause/stop recording button, and a settings button. The play/pause/stop recording button turned out to be the one that caused the problems.

After looking at other apps with "play/pause" buttons I realized that in every single one, when you are "playing" the play button is a pause button, and when you are paused, the button turns into the play button. In User Interaction speak, these are called "flip/flop buttons." This brings up an interesting question: should the label on the button define the action you want to perform pushing it or the state that that button represents?

Besides play/pause buttons, I can only think of a few other flip/flop buttons that I regularly encounter. One would be the TweetDeck "follow" vs "unfollow" button (the button on the normal Twitter interface when you are following someone reads "following" and only says "unfollow" if you hover over it.) In fact, an extremely commonly used binary setting,

ok, it's in French but you know what it means...

ok, it's in French but you know what it means...


In the UI for "GPX Viewer" I decided to go the route of consistency. Because the play/pause buttons had to show the action you wanted to perform when pushing it, all of the other buttons in the AppBar would have to follow the same rule to avoid confusion. I still felt somewhat uncomfortable with this solution.

In About Face 2.0, Cooper and Reimann (2003, pp. 341-2), arguably the experts on Interaction Design, say

"Flip-flop button controls are very efficient. They save space by controlling two mutually exclusive options with a single control. The problem with flip-flop controls is that they fail to fulfill the second duty of every control - to inform the user of their current state. If the button says ON when the state is off, it is unclear what the setting is. If it is OFF when the state is off, however, where is the ON button? Don't use them. Not on buttons and no on menus!"

So was I wrong to use flip/flop buttons in the AppBar? The exception, as stated by Cooper and Reimann on page 445, is when the current state is obvious. For instance, if you have one minimize/mazimize button on your browser window, when the current state is maximize the button should read "minimize" because it's clear that the browser is already maximized. 

After user testing for 3 years (the app is in the Windows Phone app store), I've received nothing but positive feedback. I take this to mean that I made the correct choice. 


My Favorite Data Viz Links

Note: I wrote this over two years and never published it. I have dozens of draft posts like this just gathering dust because of my crippling perfectionism and self-doubt. I'm going through and posting the ones that are still relevant. Hopefully the links still work. 

I'm a huge data visualization nerd and I've been compiling a list of my favorite data viz sites in a google doc for several years now. Thought I'd share it with the world:

Infographics: (Dutch) (Dutch)


Diagrams and Maps: - science “maps” - statistics


Critiques: - bad maps

Various Data Visualization: - analytics + infographics





The Best of The Listserve's Productivity Advice

On May 1st I was given the opportunity to write about myself to 25,000 people on The Listserve.  I chose to write about my struggle finishing things, and the responses have been amazing. Here are some of the best.

From a guy in NYC:

You have a very defeatist and victim mindset...Listen on Audible to autobiographies from people like Arnold Schwartzennegar, Ted Turner, and T. Boone Pickens for inspiration.

-Oh wait. I said I was going to include the best advice. How did this nugget get in the mix? 

Simple, Beautiful Advice:

- Do fewer things simultaneously. Simply. Just pick one project you love and focus on that every day, if only for a few minutes. Keep a journal/notes on ideas you're "rejecting" - because you're not rejecting them, you're just not doing them right now.

- Stop looking at how much others are doing (which probably isn't accurate anyway) and just focus on yourself, being the smallest bit better every day. Might be that you worked a bit longer, or that you didn't have to struggle as much with something or whatever. Celebrate that.

- Not to get too crunchy on you, but there's a quote I ran across from the bhagavad gita that I really love to turn over in my mind. It's basically "You're not entitled to the fruits of your labor, you're only entitled to the labor itself."  Not sure why that resonates so much with me, but it reminds me to concentrate on what I'm doing that day rather than what I think the outcome could or should be.

I'll also recommend reading the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius (but you have to get the Gregory Hays translation). There's a lot of timeless wisdom in there, and the Hays translation is very modern. 

"Tax" Time-wasting activities:

Write down precisely when you start and when you finish distractions.

Before going to Facebook, before checking emails, or before attempting any activities that does not further the project, write down the current time in a (physical) notebook first. Go through with the distraction. And upon finishing the distraction, write the current time down.

Finishing things is a muscle that needs to be exercised.

I think you may have nailed an interesting point without realizing it: you finished this email. That's a thing. That counts. An email to 25,000 people no less! But an email is small -- maybe build on that? Pick small things that you feel confident that you can finish. A wise fellow once told me that finishing things is, in itself, a skill, so consider finishing lots of small things in order to build that muscle so it take on bigger, more ambitious projects.

From a fellow distracted person:

I downloaded some software called self-control when I was writing my dissertation. It doesn't let you away with the incognito mode trick! Maybe it will help.

Maybe you're getting bored because you already understand the problem.

I have also started lot of projects because they give me the chance to learn or figure out something new, and as soon as I think I understand the problem and know what the solution is, it is not that interesting to implement the solution and finish the project (although no project is ever finished, there is always more or better you can do with it, right?).

Listening Recommendations:

Brian Tracy - miracle of self discipline ( - crappy quality but couldn’t find better one) 

David Allen - getting things done -

Back to Work - (Listen from Episode 1, and give it an episode or two)

Overtired - (Awesome, jump in wherever)

Systematic - 

Reading Recommendations:

Read Wait But Why's Post about why procrastinators procrastinate.

Part 2 -

Part 3 -



I recommend 'Understanding Human Design'

If you are into the new age at all check it out. It is a synthesis of a few different things; astrology, Chakra systems, and the I Ching.


Be not deterred by the relatively cheesy title:

"Refuse to Choose: A Revolutionary Program for Doing Everything That You Love"

It re-framed for me my tendency to put a project aside after the first flush was gone.

Read it.

- I had three other recommendations for this book. It's definitely on my list now.

Advice for the unproductive programmer:

- Pick a project. Any project. Work on it until it's finished, no exceptions. Turn off Netflix, turn on your productivity apps. Finish the project, no matter how minor it is, or how little you care to actually finish it. The sense of accomplishment you get from finishing a single project can drive you to complete a handful of others. "Opportunities multiply as they are seized"...

- If you have people you spend time with, it can be extremely detrimental to your projects if they are interrupting your coding flow with normal human things. One of the best ways I have been able to help my friends and family understand what we do is to explain to them how much programming is like dreaming. There's a rather famous essay out there called "Don't wake the programmer", and it will help the people around you to minimize disturbing your flow.

- Speaking of flow, Facebook and the like is my greatest enemy when it comes to flow. It's just muscle memory to alt-tab and F5 Facebook every couple of minutes. This effectively nullifies any flow, or progress towards flow. Still to this day I have to actively work to build up to flow. Headphones are your best bet wherever you code, since there are ways around the productivity-killers (as you mention).

- Every programmer is always fighting yak shaving. Even the most productive programmers spend hours reading the install instructions of some library and fighting their OS and tools. I frequently had anxiety brought on by yak shaving. I always thought to myself how awful it is that other programmers are just banging out code and here I am totally blowing an afternoon on tooling. But the anxiety went away and my life got better when I finally talked to enough of our peers and understood that every one of us shaves yaks for more time than we code.

Shock Yourself.

I was just reading about this productivity tool that electrically shocks you before I got your listserve. A bit more medieval but I wonder how effective it'd be:

Documentation is Key.

It’s a good habit to document ideas, actions and results since it does give a sense of achievement in the long run. It also provides a larger picture a year down the line. Its annoying cause I always thought I could do without spending time on such documentation but that strategy is clearly failing. So for now, I try my best to write it down so that I can at least revisit and complete it when I am lacking ideas.

Find your productive time of day and break that time into manageable chunks.

For me, finding the time of day that I actually find myself productive (regardless of when I want to be) has been helpful. For some reason when I get up early and there's no prepping for something (i.e. showering for work, eating breakfast, etc.), I get stuff done. It's the preparing process that I take my time with and enjoy so much (I will spend a whole Saturday cleaning my apartment) that it ends up taking over the task I'm prepping for. A 4:30 wake-up kills this. I am too early to be hungry, I don't need coffee, it's still dark in my apartment and most importantly it's quiet. Somehow the internet isn't calling to me just yet.

I also limit myself to little ten minute stretches of time where I'll get things done. 10 minutes to pick up my living room, 10 minutes to do dishes, that sort of thing. I find that it's just enough time to get something done and just little enough time that I don't mentally allow myself to get distracted.

I read somewhere that the average person greatly overestimates how much they can get done in a day, but grossly underestimates how much they can get done in a year. I take great solace and comfort in that thought. But then the years pass.

We're very hard on ourselves. But it's hard not to be when we know that we're filled with so much potential. All of us are. But some of us know it more than others. And that in itself can be maddening.

I recently finished my doctorate thesis and it took me longer than others on my course. I finally got it done in the end, but it nearly killed my spirit. I wouldn't have finished it only for the fact that doing it allows me to practice as a clinical psychologist, something that I do enjoy. But I'm not sure I would do it again if I could go back and choose.

So if you feel pressured to finish a project you started, also remember that you don't have to, your happiness and health is more important!

Be Methodical.

Do a 1-pager every morning with an actual pen and paper, first thing, before you even open your computer. Write down:

The top 3-5 things you want done today

Then, within those things, each task that needs to be done in order to finish that thing.

Then, you write a list of people that you might be waiting on in order to complete a task

Then a list of people you need to contact to complete a task.

Final step: go into your calendar and input every single task that you're going to do based on that list.

Notice you only go into your email to either search for an email you were waiting for, or write one. There is no "checking email" slot that goes on for hours.


  1. 7:30-7:35 email Steve re: UI bugs
  2. 7:35-7:40 email Karen re: legal question
  3. 7:40-8:40 draft copy for homepage
  4. 8:40-8:45 break

Etc with reminders at the time and 1 minute before.

For some reason, just having even the simplest of tasks in there with reminders, means you see it flash up and you just DO it. There is no decision to be made of "shall I send that email or write that copy or read that article?"

It's already decided and so you expend zero mental energy and willpower choosing between what to do next.

Trauma and Adrenaline are ADHD Killers.

So I guess my advice would be to take at least a few months and go somewhere actually terrible things are happening in the world, and experience the struggle to improve some of the most basic things in life for people who don't have everything like we do in America. Longer would probably be better, but I know most people aren't willing to sign on for 4 years like I was (3.5 years ago, now. As someone leaving the military, i can't recommend it as an option for this sort of personal journey. Most members of the military that i know don't treat it this way- it's just a job.).

It's definitely not the sort of ADD or ADHD hack you read about on lifehacker. But it's certainly done wonders for me. I'm sure there are other ways to address the problem, but it is a fact that historically there are few cultures which have exhibited anything resembling what we call attention deficit disorders, and they are characterized by a constant detachment from the sorts of traumatic experiences that are very stressful, but perhaps necessary for balanced attention.

Don't Work.
"Work is the source of nearly all the misery in the world...."

Focus on Friendship, Not Productivity

After almost ten years working for nonprofits I can tell you that work, regardless of how many you help, will never be as important as the ones you love. It's also true you should work at your friendships. And no, networking event participation does not count.

Friendship is more than bringing a case of beer to the barbecue or standing as a Godparent and failing miserably to even attempt to fill the role. It's being present and contributing to your peoples lives. It's not just making them laugh but also making sure they know you will be there to make them smile when they're too weak to laugh. It's holding their hand through the divorce and helping them get back into the dating pool when they're ready.

If people only wanna hang but completely disappear when sh*t hits the fan and you consider them a friend. You are selling yourself short. Lower the emotional investment you are making into that person and fill that space doing something for a friend that showed up for you.

Some people are meant to be associates and that's fine too. Invite them to the parties and barbecues and have drinks with them on their birthday and have great evening dinners together. But stop expecting more from people than they are willing to give. It's such a waste of time. And for the people who show up, do something BIG. They have earned it after all.

Since I've been out of the country for the past few years I have plans to execute my own personal friend appreciation week this Summer where I will dedicate myself to my friends for a full week, helping them out, sharing my big projects with them and overall showing that now that i'm back in town physically that I am back all those other ways friends are too. The vulnerability makes me anxious, but, hey, that's what drives me.

Thought from and old person

maybe you could just get comfortable with being an "idea person" ?- we need as many of those in the world, as the people that take them forward - productivity is way over-rated - especially when most worthwhile endings in life are really about the journey

Productivity is a Trap - My TheListserve Email

On June 1st, I got an email telling me that I'd won the listserve. This is what I wrote. In a future blog posts, I hope to share some of the great advice and comments I received.

I wake up at 7am because I’m so excited about working on the app that I had started writing the night before and I want to get a few hours of work in before my "real" work. I click the pomodoro timer in the upper left hand corner of Google Chrome to start the 25 minute count down. While it’s running, the pomodoro app blocks gmail, facebook and youtube. Ingenious, right? I love productivity apps.

In fact, I love productivity tricks so much that my friends ask me for productivity advice.


There’s a new productivity app that uses binaural beats that I signed up for...what was it called? I don’t remember, so I open my email. The timer is running so I can’t open gmail because it's blocked. No worries - I simply switch to incognito window in chrome and open gmail there. I search for the activation notice in my email. Ah, it was called Focus@will.

I open it up and try to start the music. It doesn’t work. I try different browsers and different buttons for about ten minutes before filing a support ticket.


Now that I’m not being blocked by my pomodoro extension, I decide to check facebook. Staring me in the face is an opinion piece on the New York Times about why women wear heals. Ok, I’ll take that bait. I read it. Then I see a link to another article in Fashion and Style that sounds interesting, so I start reading without finishing the first article.

The timer rings, reminding me of why I’m working already at 7:30am. I just wasted an entire pomodoro doing things besides writing that app. Facepalm.


I have trouble finishing things.

Two years ago, I made a list of my unfinished projects. I hoped that seeing what I hadn’t finished would give me the kick in the pants that I needed to be more productive. The final list had over 100 projects on it. Rather than help me, reviewing this list discouraged me.

Why did I start projects at all if I wasn’t going to finish them? Why wake up early, miss out on sleep, give up relationships, and then fail to finish?


I feel like I’ve been stuck in an uncreative slump ever since. I don’t want to start something that I won’t finish, so I don’t start it at all. This has been good for my relationships, and maybe even my job, but I feel like part of me is missing. As I keep rejecting the ideas as they pop into my head, they stop coming.

The funny thing is that reading over the list of unfinished projects, I did eventually finish most of them. It just took me longer than it might have taken someone else. I finished the relevant parts of the Design Patterns book. I learned to play poker. I went through all of Lady Ada's tutorials.  


It’s not that I don’t finish things, it’s that I finish them on my own timeline. I know that if I start washing the dishes this morning, I’ll finish them by tomorrow night (which is frustrating for my boyfriend). I wish that I wasn’t like this. I wish that I had better self-control and finished projects in four hours instead of four months. But according to modern science, ADHD cannot be cured. So for now, I’ll keep using my productivity apps to help me. Also, I’ll start lots of things and eventually I’ll finish them.


See, I finished this email :)


Why Not to Buy a Delorean - A Conversation with my DeLorean Owning Friend


January 30, 2pm:

Monica Simone Houston: Guess What! Hackster just bought a DeLorean!

DeLorean Friend: What kind of DeLorean?

Monica Simone Houston:(I didn't know there were different kinds of Deloreans, so I quickly look this up) 1981 DMC 12

DeLorean Friend: A real one?

Monica Simone Houston: Yup. We’re going to drive it across the country to do hackathons!

DeLorean Friend: Cool. I hope it runs well.


February 12, 12pm:

Monica Simone Houston: Sooo... Where is the fuel cap on a Delorean? Please answer quickly. I am stuck at the gas station.

DeLorean Friend: well. mine has a little flap on the trunk lid(in front of the car) on the driver's side, but later on they removed that flap so you have to open the trunk to get to it now. There are a few maintenance items you will might need to get done. You should read this book.

Monica Simone Houston: Uh... Reversing is also problematic...I was told to lift stick and pull back...But it's not working.

DeLorean Friend: I think I can help with that. I had to take mine apart for repairs and I made a video of the mechanism. It would help if you knew how it worked inside. I'll find the youtube video I pulled up to go in reverse one day and the shifter lever just broke off and I had to replace it with a part from a Lotus.

Monica Simone Houston: Which direction do I pull back? I'm in a bit of a tight spot right now

DeLorean Friend: Watch the video. I put it into reverse at about 0:45 in the video.

I also had problems getting into 2nd gear with mine and I had to have the linkage bushings all replaced and have everything re-adjusted by Toby at DMC Northwest. I think it was about $500 for the parts and labor. The parts are like $5. The labor is the expensive part. Those are NOT easy to get to. You pretty much HAVE to use a lift to get to them.

DeLorean Friend: Does that video help?

Monica Simone Houston: Thank you!!!

Monica Simone Houston: Ok, so I have to open the trunk to get to the fuel - is there a lever inside somewhere?

DeLorean Friend: it's near the floor on the driver's side

oh.. and there is no power steering on these cars, so it's hard to get the wheel turned when you aren't moving very fast. I find that it helps to make sure your tires are properly inflated. The PSI values are printed on the inside of the glove box lid. Did you find the trunk release?

Monica Simone Houston: It's broken.

DeLorean Friend: oh no! ok.. try pulling up on the trunk... while you pull the release. The hinge is on the front of the car, it opens near the windshield so you should be able to pull on both at the same time.

Monica Simone Houston: Worked!

DeLorean Friend: Sweet! It's a two person operation to get my engine cover open. Same problem. I keep a piece of wire in the car that I tie to the engine cover so I can pull up on it while I pull the release.

This is what the fuel cap on the DeLorean looks like...

This is what the fuel cap on the DeLorean looks like...

Monica Simone Houston: Is the middle one fuel? It's very weird.

DeLorean Friend: Yeah. One of the other ones is for brake fluid I think. Did your gas cap have a lock on it? Probably not since you have to open your trunk to get to yours. I replaced my locking cap with a regular one.

Monica Simone Houston: So you think the middle one in the picture is the one? I’m holding people up at the gas station here.


February 12, 2pm (a few frustrating hours later):

Monica Simone Houston: So, first day driving the car didn't last long...engine is having trouble and I would guess it is a fuel problem. I got it up to 60mph but it started 'bumping' and then despite giving it more gas, the RPMs started to decrease. May have to hit up DMC Northwest today...

DeLorean Friend: Uh oh. Turn off your AC. Could be straining the motor

Monica Simone Houston: I didn't think it was on but I'll check.

DeLorean Friend: Just turn the knob to off. How does the voltage gauge look? Should be about 13v when it's running.

Monica Simone Houston: voltage gauge looks good.

DeLorean Friend: Temp?

Monica Simone Houston: temp is fine also. So is oil. *(I later learned that neither of these gauges was working)

DeLorean Friend: Ok. Keep and eye on the temp gauge unless you know that all of the hoses have been replaced and your fan relays have been replaced.

Get a bottle of chevron techron from the parts store and dump it in your gas. Get the 12oz bottle. Fuel injectors could be dirty. That stuff will help clean them out.

Monica Simone Houston: thanks! I'll let you know how that works.

DeLorean Friend: If you have a multimeter you could make sure you have the correct voltage to the coil. could also be a clogged fuel filter.


February 12, 4pm (even more frustrating hours later):

DeLorean Friend: Did your car make it?

Monica Simone Houston: No, it's still stuck at a gas station near Lynwood I added the techron but since it was a full tank of gas I don't think it did anything. I let it run for a while anyway just for good measure and tried to drive it around the block, but ended up needing to push it back to a parking spot.

DeLorean Friend: Oh no. so the engine keeps dying?

Monica Simone Houston: Yeah it sounds like either fuel or air.

DeLorean Friend: Check the coil voltage. Someone on the forums said their car started loosing power and then wouldn't stay running after they started it and it was because of the coil.

Monica Simone Houston: Mmm interesting. Will do.

DeLorean Friend: Oh..and I just emailed you PDFs of the wiring diagrams for the car.

Got our sponsors' logos on the DeLorean!

Got our sponsors' logos on the DeLorean!

February 17, 4pm:

DeLorean Friend: Did your DeLorean make it to DMC NW safely?

Monica Simone Houston: yup it's having the fuel system fixed

DeLorean Friend: What was broken?

Monica Simone Houston: fuel pressures were off because gas tank had leaks

DeLorean Friend: Oh no!

Monica Simone Houston: fuel filter was also plugged up

DeLorean Friend: So I guessed right on the fuel filter

Monica Simone Houston: and pump wasn't working well, which is what I could hear when I ran the car


February 21, 4pm (The weekend of our first hackathon):

Monica Simone Houston: Hey, does your delorean come with a spare tire?

DeLorean Friend: Yes. I think it's in the trunk under the mat

Monica Simone Houston: Ours didn't come with one apparently. We're going to need a new wheel and tire. Any chance we could borrow your spare just to get it to the building. It's in my garage 10 blocks from the hackathon.

Monica Simone Houston: Any idea if a normal spare world fit on a Delorean? Can't reach Toby at DMC Northwest.

DeLorean Friend: I have no idea. Check the dmctalk message board. Maybe someone nearby has a wheel they can loan you.



March 3, 4pm:

Monica Simone Houston. More car trouble. I broke down on the way to Portland. The car is leaking gasoline.

DeLorean Friend: Where did you break down? Where is the gas leaking from?

Monica Simone Houston: I'm in Factoria. The gas is leaking from both the engine and the gas tank.

DeLorean Friend: both? That's weird. must be high pressure or something Get it over to Toby at least you aren't far away

Monica Simone Houston: Yeah tow truck should be here in 5

DeLorean Friend: ask him to check out everything let him know you plan to take it on long road trips. ask him about the tires and the hoses. and the trailing arm bolts (the original parts were made of inferior materials) They attach the rear wheels to the frame of the car.

Monica Simone Houston: I will ask all of that. Thank you! I really hope this works, but I think we will now have to tow the car between cities.

DeLorean Friend: I would suggest towing it anyways.



Toby’s amazing mechanics at DMC Northwest fixed the car. We ended up arranging towing for the rest of the trip, and driving in a mini van ourselves.

Stay tuned...the journey isn't over yet.


Special hanks to Jason Garland, for his infinite patience.



The Seattle Half Marathon

I hadn't run a half marathon distance since my unfortunate half marathons in May, so I had no idea how fast I could run one. I extrapolated, based on recent runs, what I could expect my time to be. Anything under 1:35 and I could be happy, I decided. The girl last year had won in 1:24. I thought that might be my stretch goal.  

I was surprisingly nervous the day before the race. In July, I had a pair of New Balance running shoes that I loved, but which had unfortunately not lasted very long, partially because I wore them once while climbing sharp, barnacle covered rocks by the sea.  They were super minimalist - more like socks with a bit of tread on the bottom than shoes really. You could literally roll them up and put them in your purse. They also glowed in the dark.

I searched for them in two different stores before learning that they had been discontinued. Thankfully, I found a fairly similar pair at NikeTown and bought those.


I had to pick up my race packet from the Westin that evening, and I wandered around taking freebies. Then I went home and ate some Indian food, drank a couple of screw drivers, worked for a bit, listened to some hypnosis for athletic performance, and went to bed around 11pm (I'm mostly writing this for my benefit so that next race I have I can look back and imitate this. Especially the screw driver drinking part). I had set my alarm for 6:45, but then I realized that if I woke up and discovered that my bike was stolen I would have to take the bus, so instead I set my alarm for 6:30.

I'm glad I set my alarm for 6:30, because I had forgotten that I'd left my bike at WeWork the Monday before Thanksgiving, and never picked it up.  My Uber app wasn't working (and I don't know if I want to support Uber anymore anyway) so I had to take Tony's bike. There was no time to adjust the seat so it was way to big for me. I also didn't figure out how the gears worked for a while, so I was stuck in the lowest gear. It's only a 10 minute ride to Seattle Center, where the race was starting, from the condo, but when I got there I only had 15 minutes until the race start at 7:30. I couldn't figure out how to get into the corral with the racers. When I finally did, they were counting down four minutes to go. I rudely shoved my way through the crowd. With one minute to go, I caught sight of the 1:30 pacers at the front of the pack. I was going to follow them no matter what. And we were off.

The first half felt almost easy. I was running with my head up and my legs were loping along under me. It was fun to run on the closed down highway and through the tunnels. On the other side of the tunnel, Lake Washington was absolutely beautiful, sparkling a cold blue. I had been thinking the night before about what it means to run 'for yourself' and this was it. There aren't a lot of things I do just for myself. Writing is one of them. Sailing is another. Tinkering with arduino is another. Running is another.

Around mile 7, the course got hilly again. I'm not great at hills. Another girl caught up to me. A girl from the front of the race fell back. There were now three girls running around the 1:30 pace group, and we were oddly all wearing teal jackets. I mentioned it, laughing, and the pacer asked, "Did you all call each other this morning to coordinate your outfits?"

Around mile nine we all started to spread out. I fell back from the pacers. One of the girls stayed with them, and one stayed just ahead of me. My legs were starting to feel tired. I was glad about this, and also surprised. In the past when I've run, my lungs have always tired before my legs. Making your legs stronger is easy. Lungs are harder to exercise.

I kept reminding myself to smile. Smiling when running is an amazingly effective performance enhancing drug. It should probably be made illegal.

I kept considering taking my jacket off and running in a sports bra, but given the 30 degree weather, it never seemed like a good idea. Finally, I saw the sign for mile 12. Whenever I'm running and it gets tough, I tell myself 'Just one more mile. You can do anything for a mile." Also it was a downhill mile. I caught up to one of the teal jacket girls and passed her.

When racing, I have a bizarre downhill form that is probably extremely damaging to my body, but extremely effective. It's how I originally hurt my IT band. This race, my IT band was fine, but my right calf started to cramp up. Only half a mile to go! Even if my calf cramped up now, I could still run to the finish so I didn't care.

Only a quarter mile. You can do anything for a quarter mile. Only 0.2 miles. At 0.1 miles, I broke into a sprint to the finish. I crossed in 1:32:20.

Screen Shot 2014-12-01 at 2.24.29 PM
Screen Shot 2014-12-01 at 2.24.29 PM

Someone put a medal around my neck. I was handed a space blanket and a protein bar. I looked at the protein bar blankly. The last thing on my mind was eating food.

There was a sunny spot on the bleachers in the recovery area. A guy in an orange shirt was sitting there wearing a space blanket. I recognized him. We had run together the whole way, and he had finished a couple seconds ahead of me. We chatted for a bit. We had both been shooting for sub 1:30 times but hadn't quite made it. It wasn't a PR for him. It was for me. It was a 10 minute PR in fact. He encouraged me to find a coach. "At 26 you're just getting started with distance running. In a couple of years you'll reach your peak. I'll look for your name in future races." He also told me to check to see if I'd won anything, since he'd only seen a couple of girls in front of us.

I hadn't won anything - just 5th place in my age group which means that my name shows up on the "Leaders" page of the Seattle Marathon Results, so I'm pretty content. Maybe next time if I start practicing I can win. Speaking of winners, Iliana of the Least Slow Group took fifth overall in the marathon, which is seriously awesome. I hope to grow up to be as fast as her.

Running Update

I haven't written about running in a while.  

That's because I haven't run a race in a while.

The trouble started after my bike trip. I was feeling pretty fit and confident, so I decided to do something that I had considered doing for a while.

I decided to run a half marathon a day for 30 days. Five days in, I started to notice a familiar pain in my IT band. I ran with Club Northwest the first Sunday in May, and halfway into a 16 mile run, my IT band suddenly stopped working. I had to limp the eight miles back to Green Lake. Of course, I was only seven days into my goal at that point, so the next day I ran another half marathon. Then I ran another. And then, in a flash of genius (for me) I quit running and got a physical therapist.

Like I'd been afraid of, my physical therapist Kelly told me not to run for several weeks. Of course I cheated at first, and was met with extreme pain. Then Kelly showed me a way to run by taking extra short steps that increased my cadence.  Running this way, I was able to do two miles a day without pain. She also gave me a set of exercises that were both helpful for my IT band and a good workout. Having Kelly as my physical therapy was like having a personal trainer and a leg massage  twice a week, except that I only had a $10 copay. I highly recommend her and Green Lake Physical Therapy. Gradually, the pain disappeared and by August I was able to run 6 miles at a time.

I even did a pain free 50K in September in 110 degree weather, but that's a different story.

A story which may or may not have something to do with Burning Man. Photo Credit IRDeep
A story which may or may not have something to do with Burning Man. Photo Credit IRDeep

I've increased my weekly mileage gradually this fall, and now I'm doing about 40 miles a week. I hope to get to 50 miles a week by the new year, but for the sake of my IT band I'm afraid of overtraining. Having a treadmill in my building helps a lot. I also try to run on Wednesday afternoons with the Seattle Running Club (unofficially, the Amazon Running Club because they're mostly Amazon employees). Then on Sundays at 8am (depending on the night before's activities) I do long runs with Club Northwest. I've run with them three times so far this fall and amazingly I haven't been dropped yet.

Having a gym with treadmills is so nice in winter!
Having a gym with treadmills is so nice in winter!

The Amazon group is a different story. There are two groups that run at noon from the Amazon buildings. They call themselves 'Least Slow Group' and the 'Less Slow Group.' I normally run with the Less Slow Group, and we clip along at an 8 minute pace around Lake Union. But recently, I've been working up to running with the Least Slow Group. They tend to do sub seven minute pace, and I've heard rumors of their killer hill runs. I went for a run with them the week before Thanksgiving. They were doing a loop around Queen Anne, and I asked someone how long it was. "About 8 miles," he told me. We chatted about the Seattle Marathon. The other female runner in the Least Slow Group, Iliana, was doing the marathon on Sunday. I realized that I would be around on Sunday, and figured I should sign up as well.

About 6 miles in, I couldn't keep up with their pace anymore, and they dropped me. I felt a bit discouraged that I couldn't keep up, especially when I reached the Amazon buildings an hour and ten minutes after I started. An hour and ten minutes to run eight miles? What was I doing, thinking of signing up for a marathon? I certainly wouldn't even be close to the front of the pack. If I'm going to pay $140 for a race, I at least want a time that I can be proud of.

Later that day, I decided to use MapMyRun to see how far the Least Slow Group's Queen Anne Loop was. I carefully mapped my tracks and realized that it was not 8 miles - it was 9.5 miles. An hour and ten to run that wasn't so bad, especially considering the hills at the end. Encouraged, I signed up for the Seattle Half Marathon.

Using Beaglebone Black with Mavericks

Grrr. I have spent so much time knocking my head against a wall, when the whole time it was just a simple fix.  I even got so frustrated switched over briefly to using my android tablet with a USB OTG, but that was a time-sink because it takes my a long time to program on a tiny keyboard. Anyway, here's the story.

I started using the Beaglebone Black about two months ago. Everything worked perfectly, and I was impressed with its out of the box functionality. I flashed the latest Debian image, SSH'd into the Beaglebone, installed Python, etc. The world was beautiful.

Then,  a couple days later, I tried to SSH into my Beaglebone, and I couldn't. Just to check, I went through the getting started steps on the Beaglebone page again. None of them worked! The steps didn't even turn green. I wondered if the drivers might be the problem, so I tried reinstalling them.

I tried the steps here. They were a little outdated, but I thought they might work. When I went through the beaglebone getting started steps, the first two turned green, but I still couldn't start the web server. I was about to reset the Pram and SMC, when I saw the fine print on the Beaglebone site:

"Older software images require you to EJECT the BEAGLE_BONE drive to start the network. With the latest software image, that step is no longer required."

I ejected the beaglebone. I started the network. It worked.

Seattle to San Francisco - Last Day (Day 12)

112 miles, 6,135ft elevation gain
112 miles, 6,135ft elevation gain

On Saturday morning I made a bet with myself.

I bet that I wouldn't get off my bicycle for 50 miles.

Now, you might think that since I was doing 100 mile days this would be something that I did every day. But the reality was that it was an event when managed to keep pedaling for more than 20 miles. There was always something distracting. I had to get off my bike take a picture, or fill my water bottle, or fix my bike shorts wedgie. But today, I decided, would be different. Today I would actually stay on the bike.

My first couple miles I decided didn't count. It's nice when you make bets against yourself because you can change the rules whenever you want. I had to pee, and I was dressed too warmly so I had to shed some layers.  Once this was done, and I'd eaten some breakfast, my bet started.

It was a beautiful day. Twenty miles whizzed by as I peddled along the coast. It was late morning by now, and there was a parade of cars coming toward me. Motorcyclists and convertibles were driving up from San Francisco's suburbs for a joyride on a sunny day.

I was glad I was going the opposite direction.

About 30 miles in I reached the climb. I congratulated myself. 30 miles without even putting one foot on the ground once. This had to be a record for me. The climb was up, up up white cliffs.

There were cows on the road here. It was rather random - the cows seemed to have free range of the place. I came dangerously close to having to get off my bike a couple times, but thankfully the cows moved.

The climb was unbelievable. 10 more miles of climb, and I felt like I was on top of the world. I couldn't believe that I still hadn't gotten off my bike. And then I stopped counting miles. I was having such a fun time that I didn't want to get off my bike.

The downhill was fast. I don't think I have ever been more in the moment than I was on that downhill ride. There were grates in the road that I assume served as fences for the cows, because they were wide enough that a cow would get stuck in them. For me, they served as nerve racking, teeth-chattering obstacle courses, that took every inch of my balance and control to cross without being thrown head over heels. There were cars behind me when I started my descent. I worried that I might be getting in their way, since there was no shoulder . The roads wound back and forth in switchbacks making it impossible to pass safely.  When I had a chance, I looked over my shoulder and realized that I had lost them.

The wind blew my jacket out. It tickled my ears and fanned my sweaty hair under my helmet. I flew down towards the blue of the ocean. This is what it feels like to fly. This is what the Wright brothers dreamed of. Not some airless, soulless metal jumbo jet. They wanted to fly like birds. Like you fly on a bicycle going 50 miles per hour down an 8% grade.

I wish I could say that my whole ride was like that, but Highway 1 took an abrupt left turn and headed inland after Bodega Bay. There were more climbs, and the sun was higher and hotter in the sky, and the wind was against me again. There was nothing but cow pasture. Cows, cows everywhere. I was sick of cows. Also, my water was gone, and it was beginning to look like there wouldn't be a town anytime soon. I had reached my 50 mile goal, and I was in the middle of nowhere. Since I didn't have anywhere to stop, I decided to extend my bet to 60 miles. I was beginning to get dizzy and think about stopping and laying down, when suddenly a tiny town appeared right at the 60 mile mark. I ate a sandwich at the town's deli. Then I went back to the counter and  ordered a pastry. I sat inside next to a fan and leafed through a stray copy of "Vanity Fair." I didn't want to move. I didn't move for an hour. When I finally stood up around 3pm, I realized that I actually wasn't feeling so great anymore. But I decided to get back on the bike and see if I could do the remaining 55 miles to San Francisco in one more long, unstopping ride. I was counting mile posts once again, just trying to reach my destination.

From the map, I had expected to arrive at Point Reyes soon and look out over the sea again. Instead, I kept riding past an ugly brown body of water called "Tomales Bay." I was trying to stay true to my bet though, so I didn't get off my bike and check my maps.

After passing Tomales Bay, I got into another forest of scrubby trees that didn't seem like it would end.  I knew I had to be near the water though. The cars passing me were all carrying surfboards.

It was getting dark by the time I saw the sea again.  I sped up as I approached Stinson Beach. Just after the beach was another insane climb. Frustrated, I broke my bet and got off my bike. I took a few photos, then got back on my bike. About a mile further, I felt like giving up. This climb was ridiculous and I was exhausted. I got off my bike again - this time to walk it up the hill. A young couple in a convertible passed me and asked if I was ok.

"Yeah I'm fine," I told them. "I'm just done for the day." (I must have sounded crazy because I was still 10 miles from any civilization and I was pushing my bike up the middle of Highway 1 in the dark).

Look at the map above to get a feel for the elevation in Mt. Tomalpes State Park. This was after riding a bit over a century. Besides being tired, the other problem was that it was now completely dark and my front headlight was wearing out. It was too dim to help me see in front of me. The last descent into Marin City was even more "in the moment" than my descent earlier that afternoon had been.

My hands hurt from gripping my handlebars. I found a gas station and sat on the cement curb. I was done. I called Tony to let him know that I had arrived. He had arrived in San Francisco earlier in the day, and apparently had been at a beer garden with friends since 2pm. They obviously weren't going to come pick me up.

Maps told me that the only way way to San Francisco was to continue down Highway 1, which had turned into an 8 lane highway with no bike lane, or to head back into the State Park, travel another 10 miles and crest a couple more 3,000 ft peaks. I decided that Uber was the way to go.

And so I ended up in San Francisco. My Uber driver, a young Russian, loaded my bike into her car. I told her my story and she made it clear that she wasn't impressed with Tony and his friends. "I can't believe they didn't come to meet you - and you after ride for 112 miles!"

But they were waiting for me when I arrived.

Just writing this, 3 weeks later, makes me wish that I could go back to that last day on the coast, with the wind blowing in my hair. I felt alive for days after that, as Tony and I explored San Francisco on foot (we walked 14 miles on Sunday after partying all night) and as we returned by train to Seattle.

I also kept thinking about what the girl in the red raincoat, Tara, had said about living in the moment.  But it wasn't just about living in the moment. That last day when I didn't let my feet touch the ground for 60 miles, and the day that I biked 176 miles, I realized that determination leads to happiness. The act of forcing yourself to do something difficult makes you to live your life with passion.

Seattle to San Francisco - Day 11


I was in a black mood on Friday morning, and the skies were even blacker and rainier. I was so damp and cold and I hadn't slept the night before. I had left my U-lock sitting behind my tent, and the U piece was no longer there. I guess that it had been washed down the hill the night before, but had no intention of looking for it.

I also had nothing to eat but hammer gel. Even after not eating for 12 hours, the taste was still repulsive. I'm never going to get the espresso flavor again. Nokia maps told me that there was a town, Rockport, in 20 miles. I could feel myself drooling, anticipating buying breakfast food. But when I got there the sign said "No Services." The next town, Westport, was another 10 miles away. I used every mental trick I had to get over the next hill. I imagined that my bicycle was a horse, and my legs were actually the horse's legs. I cursed at myself like a drill sergeant. In the end, I got off my bike and walked it up the last bit of hill. Then I coasted down the 7% grade for four miles.

There was the coast. And it was beautiful.

What is it about riding along the coast? I don't think it's the wind, and it's certainly not the hills that Highway 1 offers. But there's something about hearing the waves crashing into the cliffs below that makes my spirits rise and my legs move faster.

Westport didn't have any restaurants, but it had a General Store that doubled as the Post Office, deli, and hangout spot.  I went in and grabbed a coffee.  The lady behind the counter looked at me and said, "Aww, honey."

"Stay here as long as you want," she told me. "We have a hand-dryer in the bathroom. You can go in there and turn it on you until you're dry." I stayed there for an hour, drying out, warming up, drinking hot coffee, and chatting with the clerks. By the time the hour was up, the rain had nearly let up. By Fort Bragg, the sun was out. I stopped at the bike store to get some wet lube (a pessimistic purchase, but it served me well). Then I kept going. As long as it wasn't raining I wanted to cover as many miles as possible. I still had 200 to go before San Francisco. Around 2pm, the wind started up. But this time, it was at my back. When the wind is at your back it feels like you're flying.

In a little town called Elk I saw another cyclist sitting by herself eating a sandwich outside of a store. I bought some peanuts and joined her. She had just quit her job also, she told me, and was traveling to figure out what was next.

Another girl suddenly came over. "Excuse me, can I ask you a question?" She asked.

"Sure," I said."

"Where are you coming from? Are you Bicycling the Pacific Coast?"

Me and the other cyclist looked at each other. "I started in Astoria," said the other cyclist. "Me in Seattle," I said.

"So you're doing the Bicycling the Pacific Coast Route?" Asked the stranger.

"Yes," said the cyclist.

"What's that?" I asked.

"You're not together?" said the girl.

"No, we just met," the cyclist and I confirmed.

"Oh, you look like you're together. I mean, you're both wearing red rain jackets and you have red paniers."

"You're wearing a red rain jacket too," I said. "You should join us."

"I want to," She said. "I just woke up this morning and thought about doing a bike trip."

The other cyclist left to keep riding, and me and the stranger crossed the street and went to sit on a picnic table in a park overlooking the coast.

"I've been traveling for 9 months," said the stranger.

"Why are you traveling?" I asked.

"I just felt like I needed to. I need to figure out what I'm meant to do."

"Me for the same reason." I told her.

"Some people just seem to know what they're meant to do. Like I tell my sister about my existential crisis and all she says is 'I like my job and my boyfriend.'"

"Yeah, I have a lot of friends in Seattle who I think of as successful. They never seem to have any identity crisis. I don't know if it's a front, or if they're lying to themselves, or if they really have just found their calling. Meanwhile, I wake up in the middle of the night sometimes panicked that I won't leave my mark on the world."

"What kind of mark do you want to leave?"

"I don't know. I think I would like to do something with technology....but sometimes I want to make films, sometimes I want to paint, sometimes I think I would just like to travel. Honestly, I have no idea."

"I think sometimes we can make a mark just by being passionate about something."

"Well, I'm very passionate, but I'm passionate about too many things."

"I don't think you need to limit yourself. For instance, you could think of yourself as a person who creates things. Not just as a technologist or a filmmaker or a painter."

"Mmmm," I said, staring at the ocean.

"But how would I know? I'm just a closet philosopher," said the stranger, half-smiling.

"So, are you cycling?" I wanted to know.

"No, just sort of bouncing around from friend to friend. I've been here for the past month. One of my friends is letting me stay in his beach house."

"That sounds cool. Are you planning to go somewhere specific?"

"No, I just wanted time to work on art and projects. I'm getting tired though. The thing is, when you're traveling, you don't ever have your own space. You're always invading someone else's space."

"I know how that feels. I've been couchsurfing a bit, but mostly just camping. I was delayed and had to cancel two of my couchsurfs, and I felt like such a flake."

"Yeah, I always feel like an imposition. I think I'm almost ready to be done traveling. But I'd really like to do a bike trip."

"You should do one. This one has been really good, except for the rain." I told her about the lady in the store and the hair dryer.

"That's what I love about bike trips," said the stranger. "You appreciate the little things."

"Yes! Like a warm shower feels like the best thing ever."

"Or a meal."

"Oh my god, I know! All food tastes delicious! The trouble is, you get home and immediately return to your normal comfort level. It's the hedonic adaptation."

"Yes, well that's what, you know, buddhism is for. You stay zen. You stay in the moment. You feel things as they happen. "

I stared out at the water, thinking. Then I got up to leave.

The stranger held out her arms and I gave her a hug.

"By the way, my name is Tara," she said.


I reached a town called "Gualala" by evening. Say it. "Gua-la-la."

There was a little campsite in a state park, and I set up my tent before heading back to town to get food. The grocery store was already closed, so I went into the bar. I ordered a glass of wine and a salad. Wine hits you fast when you've just biked 120 miles. The other patrons in the bar were Mexican, and I found myself talking to them. The man next to me asked what I was drinking.

"Es un Cabernet."

He sniffed it, and told the bartender to bring me something better. I protested. It was good enough.

"Solo lo mejor para ella." The bartender brought me a local (Sonoma) merlot. And another one. By the time the bar closed at midnight, I was dancing merengue furiously and teaching the other patrons Argentine swear words. The bartender turned on the closed sign and me and the Mexicans continued to dance merengue, bachata, and salsa, slipping and sliding on the bar floor, until at least 2am.

Seattle to San Francisco - Days 8-10


You'll notice I've lumped 3 days into one. Three muddy, miserable days.

I had hoped to make up some miles in California, but a giant mountain covered in giant trees appeared out of nowhere and slowed my progress. Tuesday afternoon was when the rain started. The forest and the rain made the road too dark to see, and the road's shoulder ended so giant semis were passing me with inches to spare.  A motel appeared through the trees. I decided to stop and get a room. I was clearly the only one there. There was no phone service and no internet. I asked the white-haired clerk at the front desk if I might be able to order some food and she just laughed at me.


I've seen Psycho, so I know what happens at deserted motels in the middle of nowhere. I put a chair in front of the door, and I didn't linger in the shower. It was nice to have a room though. I was able to wash my clothes in the sink and spread my wet things over every surface to dry. 

On Wednesday, the rain cleared up in the morning. I stopped at the first gas station I came to to eat. The cashier asked if I was cycling by myself. "Aren't you afraid?" She scolded. "You should be careful."


I wondered if she would have said it if I were a male cyclist.  So many people along my ride said similar things, and it rubbed me the wrong way.  I'm not a child who is going to accept candy from strangers. I'm also not a precious vessel that exists to provide a womb for the next generation. I don't need to be protected. I understand the risks and I knowingly accept them. Why do you take it upon yourself to warn me of dangers? Are you trying to get me to doubt myself? Would you prefer it if I had stayed home? Do you think women shouldn't have adventures, shouldn't risk our lives, shouldn't ride bikes, shouldn't travel, shouldn't meet new and interesting people?

If you want to give me advice about safety, I have some words for you. Get the #@$! out of my way.

Wednesday didn't stay clear for long. Once again, I didn't make my goal distance because I was wet and miserable and shivering. I camped at a nearly deserted campsite and the rain pounded on my tent roof all night. In the morning it had pooled on the floor and my things were damp.


On Thursday, the rain never let up. I had just reached highway one around 6pm when the fog rolled in so thick I couldn't see car headlights 50 feet in front of me. My phone told me that there was nothing - no campsites, towns, or gas stations - for at least 20 miles. I wasn't sure what to do. The road followed a steep series of switchbacks and there wasn't a flat place to put my tent. Finally, I found a turn-off that had space large enough to camp.


Whenever I bush camp by myself, there are a couple of movies that I wish I had never seen. Deliverance is one. The Blair Witch Project is up there also. In fact, in the tree above my tent  there was a bit of rope draped in the branches that reminded me of the witchy tree things in that movie. All night I listened to the cars passing on the road next to me and the sound of rain on my tent as I shivered in my wet sleeping bag.

You've Come a Long Way, Baby

The brain isn't fully developed until around age 25.* Various factors, such as trauma, parental styles, and having dumb friends can delay or stall brain development, so some brains aren't fully developed until later, or may never fully develop. While visiting for the holidays I told my parents that I now have an adult brain. They thought that I said that I have an addled brain.

In spite of their opinion I believe that my brain has improved significantly over the past two years.  Reading over my blog I can definitely see this. In fact, I'm surprised that my adult friends have put up with me for this long. Even comments that I made a month ago on twitter make me do a facepalm.

One thing that seems strange is that we are sent to college before we can truly take advantage of the learning opportunities there.


*You can see the development in the young adult brain at MIT's site here:

Seattle to San Francisco - Day 7


A week in. It doesn't seem like I've been on the road for this long. Today was another slow start and a  slow ride day. To say the coastline here in Southern Oregon is "rolling" might be an understatement. It goes like this - I huff and puff up a giant hill, standing up to get over the top. Then I glide to the bottom without pedaling once. Than another hill. Then I soar to the bottom, probably going over the speed limit. The coast here is also known for it's giant sand dunes. I took one break to climb a few - they looked so irresistibly soft.


I ended up getting sand everywhere, and the sand in my hair didn't come out for days.  It was still worth it.


I made plans yesterday to Skype my grandmother when my extended family was at her house eating Easter dinner. But the phone service was so spotty that I missed all of it. When I called at 3pm my time, everyone had gone home and my grandmother was the only one left. I was lying in the sun on a picnic table in the tiny town of Bandon. We chatted for a bit on the phone and I drank a coffee. Suddenly, a wild looking boy on a white fixed-gear bicycle loaded down in gear wheeled up with a huge smile on his face.  He had long hair in a ponytail and was wearing super short jean cutoffs.

He smiled and asked how I was, as if we had been friends forever. I honestly wasn't feeling too great. The night before I hadn't slept because I'd been so cold in my sleeping bag. Despite the sun and the nice weather I still couldn't get warm today, and I found myself shivering uncontrollably on this bench.

"I'm good," I said.

He introduced himself as Mark. A few minutes later, Steve rolled up. Steve at least was wearing padded bike shorts. His gear was in actual paniers. They weren't friends originally, but they were going the same pace so they were riding together. Steve was from Alaska and he was on a month long ride to try to grow as a person. Mark was from Vancouver by way of Manitoba and he had started two weeks earlier and was riding indefinitely. They were both 27 years old, although Mark looked much younger. All of us were born in July.

We lay in the sun for about two hours and talked. Another man showed up randomly and started talking to Mark. Apparently, they knew each other from the road. Mark explained that they had met several miles before.  The other man was from Seattle, and his recumbent bike had blown a tire and he was getting it fixed and staying in a motel in Bandon.

I asked if I could ride with Mark and Steve and they were happy to include me. Mark seemed to almost to have been expecting me. We coasted along. Having them in front of me to break the wind took all of the effort out of riding. We went another 20 miles or so, and then rode 5 miles out into the misty forest to a lighthouse and a campsite in the state park.

It was beyond beautiful. Probably because it was Easter Weekend, the campsite was empty. I had a long shower. Mark had an even longer shower - he was gone for about 2 hours. Steve made a fire. We drank wine, ate and talked. I hadn't even realized how much I had wanted someone to talk to. I had barely said a word to anyone since leaving Florence yesterday afternoon.

Now that the sun had set, I was shivering uncontrollably again. Mark and Steve offered me their food. I pulled my sleeping bag out of the tent and draped it over my shoulders by the fire. "Oh, that's why you've been cold," said Mark. "You don't have the therma-rest."

Apparently, my type of sleeping bag's thermal rating (20 degrees) is based on having the therma-rest to go with it. This was why I had frozen the night before. When I bought it, the clerk at REI hadn't even mentioned this. I felt a little bit pissed.

Seattle to San Francisco - Day 6


I’m writing this as I feed my fire. There is an odd combination of analog, digital, and stone age technology that is present in my campsite. I wish that I had an illuminated keyboard on my tablet so that I could type faster. Also, I wish that I had a spoon. Have you ever gotten most of your hand stuck in a jar of Nutella?

I didn’t get very far today. There was a headwind. My bike felt heavier than ever. The mile markers were farther apart also. The headwind blew sand in my hair, which became itchy under my helmet. I passed through a tiny town called Reedsport, about halfway to my intended destination of Coos Bay. There were some random motels and a Dairy Queen, where I decided to stop and get some mountain dew and a pastry. Yesterday I had eaten that same combination at a little country store around 150 miles in, and it had given me an amazing energy boost. I was needing that again today. It surprised me to see that it was already 4pm. I hadn’t started until almost 2pm, but I was still only going about 10 miles per hour.

I skyped my parents and told them about yesterday’s ride. Mom scolded me for not taking a rest day. “Just because you CAN ride 180 miles doesn’t mean you have to do it every day. You look exhausted.”

She had a point. I picked out a campsite about 6 miles south at a state park called Umqua Lighthouse State Park. I could make it there in time to take a shower, set up my tent, organize my things, and watch the sun set over the Pacific from the lighthouse point before making a fire and writing about my day.

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VIVONOTE - WIN_20140419_195946

Seattle to San Francisco - Day 5


Before you do anything, you have to decide to do it. A decision is not a static thing. You have many opportunities to decide whether you want to keep doing that thing or not. In fact, you have infinite opportunities, because at any one of the infinite moments in time you can decide to keep doing that thing, or stop doing that thing. Often, between the beginning of a task and the end of a task I will forget why I wanted to do that task in the first place. Or perhaps a more interesting task comes along and I choose to do that task instead of finishing the first task. Or perhaps I have bad luck and it seems like the task isn’t worth the effort it’s taking.

On Thursday night, I decided that I would get to Florence, Oregon before 10pm. I decided that again on Friday morning. I had no idea about how I would do it. I didn’t have a nutrition plan, or a goal pace, or an odometer. That didn’t matter, because I had decided that I would do it.

I set out in the cold morning. The nearly full moon lingered in the sky. I reached Oregon City by 7am without even one incident of snakebite or cholera. Every 10 miles or so I checked my phones maps to make sure I was still on the correct route. Today I was not going to fuck around with directions. Mists hung over the vineyards on the Oregon Countryside. I was going the right direction, so I was able to return to my thoughts.


Everything we do in life starts with some sort of decision. You decide to keep doing something, or you decide to stop doing something, or you decide to do something else. Sometimes, if you have a bigger long-term goal, not reaching a short term goal makes sense. For instance, I wanted to get through Salem by 10am, but I stopped for a sandwich and a donut at a café and I ended up helping an old lady with her new ipad and writing a blog post for an hour and a half. If I hadn’t done these things I might not have had the morale or the stamina to continue.

Some people are very good at making the same decisions over and over. We praise these people as “determined.” These are the people who make their ideas come to life because they act and then they follow through.

This is a macabre example, but the Donner party was determined. At least some of them were. They had decided that they were going to get to California, so they kept going, despite how late it was in the fall. And once they were trapped, they resorted to cannibalism because they were determined to survive. Oftentimes, unforeseen circumstances, or bad luck, can reverse our decisions. Often, we have conscious or unconscious lines that we will not cross in our determination. I had decided that I would get to Florence, but one of my unconscious boundaries was that I would not continue if I had to eat humans. Don’t worry, this is not a story of cannibalism in that sense.

I think that the people who we praise as “determined” can sometimes also be the people who have the loosest boundaries for what they will do to succeed. They may not realize it when they dream their dream, but when something gets in the way of their dream – when they have to fire a good employee because they can hire someone else at a lower wage, when they have to use ingredients that aren’t ethically sourced, or when they have to have to make shoddier gadgets because their shareholders want higher margins – they don’t think twice about it. They have their goal, and they are going to reach it no matter what. Whenever any of us goes after our dreams, we are faced with this type of decision. Often, the people who succeed at making their dreams come true are psychopaths. They don’t mind throwing someone under the train for the sake of their dreams. And the kind-hearted people? They are just dreamers. They don’t believe in breaking eggs, so they don’t make omelettes.

In today’s world, we are obsessed with speed. When we are trying to do something, and someone else does it faster, it can be discouraging. Business people talk about the advantages of being “first-to-market.” If you only care about where you are going and not how you get there, you can cut corners and get there faster. But that is the difference between a power boat trip and a cruise on a sailboat. How you get somewhere still does matter. Otherwise, I would have flown to San Francisco.

I’d like to believe that the world is still a place where kind people can achieve their dreams and be recognized by others as being achievers. I’d like to think that people who keep their determination in an ethical check and cooperate with others to reach their goals will be more respected than the highly competitive self-promoters.


I did achieve my goal that day, and I don’t think I hurt anyone except for a few hapless flies who flew into my open mouth. The roads were smooth and flat, and the wind was at my back. It was a cyclists’ dream. The last stretch was along the Eugene-Florence Highway. There is nothing along that road, not even a gas station. Finally, 33 miles from Florence, I found a farm that sold pastries and old-fashioned sodas. I drank a Mountain Dew and ate a muffin. The grandmother who sold them to me was concerned that I would be riding in the dark. So I took off again, trying to beat the sunset by riding towards it. I was surrounded by tall pine trees, and the air smelled wild. Giant RVs pulling trailers filled with dirt bikes drove past me. Although I cursed myself to ride faster, there was nothing I could do to keep the sun from setting. It sank behind the trees, and I was surrounded by dark and occasional car headlights. Thankfully, the margin of the road had grown so that I had my own lane to ride in. The only time it disappeared was when I had to go through a tunnel. Knowing that this might be the last thing I ever did, I pushed the bike signal on the tunnel and rode in. The worst thing about being hit by a car in a tunnel would be the fact that I wouldn’t see it coming. I hate the idea of not being able to face my death.

I didn’t die (obviously). I made it through the tunnel, and then I followed the dark, forest road for another 20 miles. The air smelled wild, like pine trees and salt. The darkness was total, and except for the sound of frogs, it was silent. At last I reached the welcoming lights of Florence. I sat at a gas station and called Matt, my couchsurf host, to let him know I was there. I think I may have been delirious. I had done it. I had ridden 176 miles in one day by myself carrying all my own gear. Matt offered to come pick me up. I think he noted the tone of delirium in my voice. He offered me my own room, a bowl of lo mein and a hot shower. I am eternally grateful.

Seattle to San Francisco - Day 4


Wednesday night I had dreamed that I was stealing peanut butter and jelly sandwiches from children’s lunchboxes and eating them. I was happy to find peanut butter and jelly and artisan bread in the hostel kitchen. I helped myself to it liberally, before heading to Ray’s coffee shop for a soy latte.

Ray and I charted a course. He told me that the best way to get out of town would be to take Cornell Road to the 26, the 26 to State Route 6, and then State Route 6 to the Tillamook, and then to Lincoln City if I made it that far, which was unlikely given that it was almost noon and I hadn’t started. He told me that once had ridden to Tillamook and back in one day. It was one of the happiest days of his life, he said.

Back at the hostel, a package was waiting for me containing my phone and passport. It was pouring rain, so I had to unpack and repack my bags to get to my rain gear. Leaving the warm, dry hostel and the other young people playing board games and chatting in the common area was difficult.

Leaving civilization is always difficult. It is never a desire, it is a compulsion. This, I realize, is why I had drawn the comparison between myself and El Cid. Whether you are compelled by something internal or external, leaving is always against your instinct to stay. Humans find safety in numbers. We find comfort in company. To leave the herd, you must fight this instinct.

I was thinking these thoughts as I pushed myself out of the Willamette Valley on a bicycle and headed south. I came to the 26. It was a busy highway with a narrow margin for bikers. The rain was pouring by now though, and visibility was poor. I decided to attempt another route. I didn’t want to take my phone out of my bag in the pouring rain, so I decided to just try riding West. I set off. Riding without thinking of where I was going or how fast I was going gave my mind time to meditate. I thought about the past few days, and my time in Portland. I thought about my time cycling in France. I had had one day of rain the entire trip, and I had forgotten about it. I was leaving Arles, I think, and the rain was cold and wet, as April rain tends to be. I didn’t have far to go. I was staying in a town called Jonquieres, I think. But riding in the rain again, I remembered the misery of that ride, and how alone I had felt. Interesting how I had completely forgotten that day. I wondered if I would forget this day also, or if I would turn the memory of my soaked socks and sneakers and the way my raincoat soaked through and stuck to my bare skin into a happy memory of an adventure.

And it was a happy memory. When the rain let up, I felt myself flying on two wheels through Suburban Oregon. And more suburban Oregon. And more suburban Oregon. And it started to rain again, and the sun got lower in the sky. And I passed under I5. But I was too lost in thought to notice. Until I got to the 26 again. This time I pulled my phone out of my bag and turned it on. I almost cried. I was past Beaverton, headed back into Portland. Instead of crying, I laughed. I had been riding in a circle all afternoon. I had to make a decision – whether to head back to Portland or turn around and continue heading to Tillamook. It was an easy decision. It was getting darker and rainier, I was soaked and shivering, and I knew there was a warm hostel bed waiting for me in Portland. I crossed over the 26th and climbed for a ways before heading towards the arboretum and zipping down curving, narrow roads through beautiful homes going faster than the speed limit. I returned to the hostel and walked in, dripping and covered in mud and gravel. They were full, they said, but I could call the hostel downtown. They were full too. I tried calling my friend Zach, but he was trecking in Nepal. So I called Ray and asked for yet another favour. “Maybe you know someone who could host a cyclist for a night?”

He said he would try to find me a place, and invited me over until then. It was nice to be somewhere warm. I sat in one of his chairs and soaked through the cushions. He laughed it off. He let me use his shower and it was the best shower I have ever taken. None of his friends had space. “Do you mind if I crash on your floor?” I asked. He didn’t. Well that was easy. We planned my route for the next day. I had to be in Florence, where my next couchsurfing host lived. I could either do 169 miles going west out of the valley and then south, or I could do 176 miles going south through Oregon City and then west. Going South first had fewer hills, and since I was carrying 40 odd pounds of gear and water it made more sense. I was nervous. Cycling 175 miles in a day is not a small deal for me.

Seattle to San Francisco - Day 3

Wednesday morning I woke up a bit hungover. I'd celebrated a birthday with my couchsurfing host the night before. During the celebrations I knocked my phone off of a barstool and it fell about 3 feet. The screen blinked and turned an odd tinge of blue. I didn't think much of it, but Wednesday morning it was clear that it wasn't going to turn back on. I'd broken my phone. I went to the Verizon store, but they didn't have windows phones, so I left.  

I was now missing my phone and my ID and I still had about 900 miles to go. Also, my host had plans for the rest of the week, so he wasn't able to host me again. I decided to find a hostel. Unfortunately, the only hostels in town required ID. I still had my tablet, so I decided to find a coffee shop and figure out what to do from there.

I chose the coffee shop that had the coolest bikes outside. There were two beautiful fixies. Clearly, this coffee shop, Coffee House Northwest, was a bastion of Portland culture. The barista asked where I was going. "To San Francisco," I told him.

"I want to do that," he said enthusiastically. "But I don't know if I would stop in San Francisco. I think I would keep going to Ecuador."

Ray, the barista who wanted to go to Ecuador, made me the best almond milk latte I've ever had. I camped out at one of the tables and started sending emails to Tony, begging him to send me my old phone and my passport. Finally I caught him on Skype, and he agreed to send both next-day air. He also sent me a photo of my passport so that I would be able to stay at the hostel.

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VIVONOTE - WIN_20140416_182412

Ray invited me to sit at the counter so that we could talk bikes as he worked. Clearly he was an expert barista - he not only got me to move away from the table that I was camping at - he also made me feel like he was actually interested in talking to me (he claims that his desire to talk bikes was sincere, and he wasn't just trying to get me to leave the table). It turns out that the black fixie with the pink rims outside was his. He invited me to come over to the garage where he keeps his bike tools once he was off work to see if he could fix the shifting on my bike. 

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VIVONOTE - WIN_20140416_213050

I spent the day in Portland, and around 5pm I headed over to the "bike shop." Not only was it a bike shop, it was also where Ray roasted coffee for work. There is something so innocent about Portland that I feel almost protective of it. It's the type of town that you read about in childrens' books - there is a community of happy people who work together and get along despite their differences. Baristas visit each other at their respective coffee shops. People hang out and listen to music and roast coffee and fix bikes and drink craft beers. 

We did all of those things. I wasn't involved in the coffee roasting part, obviously, but I did learn a lot about coffee. I heard the beans' first crack as they roasted. It sounded a bit like popcorn popping. Ray got my gears shifting perfectly also. He showed me features that I never knew my bike had. Another friend showed up and Ray guided him in installing new handlebars on his own bike. I cleaned my bike and removed some of the grease that had built up on the derailleurs.

I strongly considered moving to Portland.

Seattle to San Francisco - Day 2


I woke up on Tuesday morning knowing that I had 140 miles ahead of me. I dreaded it slightly, since I expected the same scenery (or lack of scenery) as yesterday - just 60 miles more of it. Also, the sun was gone and it looked like possible rain.

I did the first 30 miles in under two hours, despite my heavy paniers. I took an hour break in the Centralia library to charge my phone and figure out which paths to take.

I knew that it was going to be a long time on a bike by myself, but I hadn't expected the feeling of loneliness. The countryside that I was riding through was desperate and unpeopled. My neck was crooked from fighting the wind. To pass the time, I listened to the Chinese tapes my Mandarin tutor had given me.

"Listen and Repeat," the English voice said, and I dutifully repeated words.

"Please say it again."

"Qing zai shuo yi bian."

I listened to all of the conversations, and then I listened to them again. And again. I wasn't really paying attention. I was in a meditative state, and I repeated the words like a thousand mantras. My Bluetooth earbuds died, and I put them back in my pack to charge. I felt like I was starting to die also. The headwind was strong, the bike was heavy, and the hills were long. My rear shifter stopped working and my bike was stuck permanently on the highest gear. I couldn't fix it. I drank some hammer gel, spilling the sticky brown goop on my shorts and my face. I was getting sick of the flavour, but it gave me the will to ride on.

I crossed under and over I5 and considered hitchhiking the rest of the way to Portland. 80 miles in, I saw signs for a coffee stand. I didn't want to stop before I crossed to Oregon, but I really wanted a coffee. I stopped and went back to the stand. I asked for the richest thing they had. The barista suggested a coffee with chocolate and vanilla fudge and whipped cream. That sounded excellent. I sat down to eat it at the nearby picnic table. Sitting down, I realized how tired I was, and how late it was. It was almost 4pm and I still had 64 miles to go. At that moment, I gave up. I had a white trash bag and a pen, and I made a sign that said "Portland." I would go sit by I5 and wait for some serial killer to pick me up.

I slowly got up and walked to my bike. "Do you want me to fill that up for you? Asked the barista, gesturing to my water bottle." She took it from me and filled it, explaining to her friend, who had just arrived, that I was doing a trip from Seattle to San Francisco.

"How much farther do you have to go today?" Asked her friend.

"60 miles, but I don't know if I'll make it," I admitted.

"You got this," said the barista and gave me a huge smile and my full waterbottle.

And with her smile and encouragement, I got back on my bike, put away my sign, and rode over the Lewis and Clark Bridge. Never, ever ride over the Lewis and Clark Bridge on a bicycle. Although it doesn't expressly forbid bicycles, there is a sign before the bridge that says "end bike lane." Indeed the bike lane ends. There is a 3 foot margin on the side of the road filled with pieces of lumber, trash and hubcaps. Semis carrying oversized loads of logs headed down the coast whoosh by you at 60 miles per hour as you try to keep your balance while riding over chunks of gravel and wood that have fallen off previous trucks. And then you get to the top of the bridge, and you wish you could take a picture but you have to keep moving or lose your balance.

And then you're in Oregon.

I should have been glad. The sign said 48 miles to Portland and I was 2/3rds done with my trip. I just had to continue along highway 30. I continued. My legs didn't hurt, but there was a leaden quality to my whole body. I coasted along the Colombia River. My palms, under their gloves, were red from grasping the handle bars, and my crotch was sore from the saddle. I was determined to get within 20 miles of the city. Then I could see if there was a bus that I could take the rest of the way.

23 miles from Portland, I sat down to eat the rest of the nutella. I sat and I sat. Sitting by the side of the road felt so good. It was 7pm. Once again, the sun was going down. A car did a U-turn and pulled over to make sure I was ok. I smiled and waved them on. But I couldn't get up. I remembered the power of the encouraging words that morning, and I called Tony to see if he could encourage me. I was also worried my couchsurfing host would be pissed at me for arriving so late. So I decided, at last, to hitchhike. There was no public transportation this far outside the city, and the taxi company I tried calling refused to go that far either.

I stood by the side of the road with my sign. My bike was lying in a pile behind me. I figured I looked pitiful enough. I decided to try smiling at people. But nobody stopped. 50 cars passed and nobody stopped. Finally, about to give up, I turned around and saw a little blue car backing up towards me.  A mom and her preteen daughter were coming home from a track meet and I could tell they were giddy about the adventure of picking up a hitchhiker for the first time. They helped me to fit my bike in the car (it just fit) and agreed to drive me to Portland, which happened to be completely out of their way.

We talked for a bit, and then turned up the music when we ran out of nice things to say. I sat, completely exhausted, on their comfortable seats.

Not only did they drive me to Portland - they bore with my navigational errors that landed them on the northeast side of Portland when I was trying to go to the northwest side. She refused to let me off until we actually found the exact address that I was staying at.

And after chauffeuring me across half of Portland, she refused to take any money for her efforts.

Whoever you are, thank you!!