Friday, January 31, 2020

From the Archives - Freak Bicycle Accident


I consider bicycling to be a reasonably safe activity. Obviously it has its risks, and I’ve been injured a few times. Even so, by my rough calculation, I’ve cycled close to 200,000 miles, so I’m fine with my track record so far. There are those who think urban cycling in particular is unconscionably dangerous, but you know what else is dangerous? Urban walking. I don’t recall anybody trying to make the case that pedestrians should just give it up (unless you count Irvine, California where walking is so unheard of, it’s practically against the law.)

A recent article in “Berkeleyside” provides maps of where in Berkeley the reported pedestrian and cyclist accidents occurred last year. According to the Berkeley police, 230 people were injured across 220 accidents, and three killed. Of these, 98 involved bicycles, with 99 injured and one dead. Here is the map of bicycle accidents:

A yellow marker indicates that the driver was at fault; blue means it was the cyclist’s fault. So how does this break down? Police ruled that “fault was evenly split, with drivers and cyclists each responsible 47% of the time.”

What about the other 6% of the time (indicated with a green icon)? In those cases, police didn’t assign blame to either party. And yet, in three of these four accidents, the cause was “unsafe door opening.” So … would it be that hard to ascribe blame? Let me give you cops a hint: do bicycles have doors?

In my experience, and that of most of my cycling pals, police are quick to assign blame to cyclists in the absence of overwhelming evidence that the motorist was at fault. Consider my worst bike accident ever: the driver ahead of me inexplicably swung to the right, and then cut a hard hairpin left turn in front of me to head into her driveway. Needless to say she didn’t look behind her, nor signal her turn. I laid down the bike trying not to T-bone her car. Later, after the ambulance hauled me away, the cop rang her doorbell to get her story. (She’d been hiding in her house throughout the ordeal, ignoring my screams, which her neighbors heard a block away.) She claimed to have used her turn signal and that she had behaved very predictably and safely. The police officer took her word for it, even though (as detailed here) her testimony cannot have made any sense. The fact that my bicycle didn’t actually collide with her car further exonerated her. The cop chalked it up as my fault because I was “going too fast” (even though I was below the speed limit). I guess he had a point: if I’d been going walking speed, I might have been able to stop in time. So I’ll make a deal: I’ll go at walking speed from now on, so long as motorists agree to do the same.

Bicycling (like driving) will always involve some risk, no matter how careful we are. Just today, a friend of mine was hit by a car while bicycling. The driver was texting. While driving. While driving, in fact, through a roundabout. Who does that?

But yeah, I’ll confess that cycling has its dangers even when drivers aren’t directly involved. I recently stumbled across an email to a few friends from about six years ago, recounting my most bizarre bicycle accident ever. What follows is about 80% gripping yarn, 20% cautionary tale.

Freak bike accident – November 2013

Let me tell you about my crazy bike accident. Yesterday evening I was riding home from Bart [the train station, less than a mile from home] in the dark, around 6 p.m. I had basic lights front and rear. I was trying to turn left on Gilman Street and thought a particular driver was going to let me in, so I was out in the road. It’s a never-ending stream of cars at that hour, heading towards I-80, and they’re all fricking zombies, stricken by tunnel vision as they slog through their commute. Alas, it soon became apparent that, eye contact notwithstanding, the driver wasn’t going to let me go ahead of him after all. The gap he’d allowed to open ahead of his car was apparently unintentional, for now he closed it right up, shaving precious fractions of a second off his commute time. I guess the look he gave me was meant to convey, “I see you there, and I don’t care.”

[Coincidentally enough, this act of non-courtesy occurred almost exactly at the site on the map below, where—about four months ago—a driver failed to yield while turning left, struck and injured a cyclist, and didn’t stop.]

This guy’s attitude was shared by the whole line of drivers, whose safety seemed assured at this speed even though unbeknownst to most of them they were slowly dying, a withering wasting car commuter’s death, the death of actual living that doesn’t become apparent until it’s too late. I rode back across the (empty) left lane and hopped the curb up onto the sidewalk. My plan was to head a short distance down to a crosswalk where I could walk my bike across Gilman, as that’s the only way to get these rush hour motorists to let you through.

So there I was, riding along on the sidewalk, and then suddenly I was down. I mean, it was the weirdest thing, because normally you see a crash coming, and in fact time seems to slow down. (This is because, as detailed here, “your amygdala [acts] as an emergency control center that gets all the other parts of the brain to quit mucking around with their daily tasks and concentrate all the resources on the one, main thing that is happening.”) Normally, there’s an opportunity for evasive action or at least to think, “Oh, shit!” But not this time. I just suddenly realized I was no longer in control, was no longer moving, and was somehow in great pain. Given the suddenness of this situation, and the astonishing force of it—suddenly, everything hurt—I automatically assumed a car must have been involved.

And yet, the weirdest thing was, I wasn’t actually on the ground. The bike was down and I was tangled up with it, but I’d landed on my feet. “Landed?” you may well ask. “What do you mean landed? Like, from where?” I know, it makes no sense. Somehow I went from biking to landing with seemingly nothing in between. I immediately dreaded having to tell my wife about the crash, and the whole situation was so horrifying I found myself yelling, “NO! NO! NO! NO! NO!”

And then I thought, wait, if I’m not actually down on the ground, then I haven’t really crashed. This was a bit of a relief because I was wearing a nice suit and it’d have been ruined. But it wasn’t much of a relief because I was in so dang much pain. My back hurt, my neck, my groin, but especially my head. My head? WTF!? Why would my head hurt when it was nowhere near the ground?

My mind raced, trying to make sense of the situation. With no car involved, and my head far from the ground, I figured somebody must have bashed me with a baseball bat or something. Or maybe I’d been shot? I staggered around, taking in the scene. And then I finally put it together: there’s a tree planted in the median with a big stout bare branch, with very dark bark, sticking out over the sidewalk. I never saw it and I’d simply run headfirst into that bad boy—it was a bit like being clotheslined. I wasn’t going all that fast, but this was nevertheless a terrible way to be (mostly) separated from my bike.

Man, it was horrible. I righted the bike, was amazed to see the chain hadn’t even fallen off, and remounted, but I was in so, so much pain. My head, man, it was just killing me. And my groin, it felt like somebody very strong had tried really hard to rip my leg off. My shoulder hurt , my neck hurt, my back, my legs ... I just moaned and groaned the rest of the way home (only a couple blocks). I got into the garage, flipped on the light, and inspected my helmet. I’m so, so glad I was wearing it. Sure enough, the foam was compressed and cracked ... totally unsurprising given that my head felt like it had taken a hit from a bolt gun. This was a big burly Bell helmet, my commuting helmet, and I though I’m sad to see it go, it obviously served me well.

I hobbled into the house, and my 12-year-old daughter saw me and gasped: “Oh my gosh, Dad!”

I thought, oh no, I must be missing some memory of this thing—maybe I did hit the ground, maybe I’m all bloody or ripped up or something! But I tried to play it cool. “What?” I asked faux-innocently. Alexa said, “Well, it’s just ... I’ve never seen you in a suit before!” Man, what a relief. She didn’t suspect a thing.

I went upstairs and it hurt just taking my suit off. I crawled into bed to rest a bit. It hurt to move so I just lay there on my back. I just wanted to lie there the whole night, but of course there was dinner to prepare and kids to deal with, and actually I knew in the back of my mind that it would probably be a good idea to stay awake for a few more hours and make sure I didn’t get dizzy, or hurl, or look in the mirror and see my eyes dilated or spinning like pinwheels or whatever happens when you have a concussion. [If, back then, I’d had the concussion protocol training I’ve since received as a high school mountain bike coach, I’d have had myself checked out far more thoroughly, believe me.]

So I stuck it out, finished out the evening, cleaned the kitchen, read to my younger daughter, stayed up until 10 or 10:30, took like four Advil and some beer, and got to bed. I woke up this morning feeling really sore and stiff, and I can barely walk. My head hurt most of the day but it’s better now. (I took a two-hour online training on RFID technology and passed the test, so my brain does still seem to work.) Mainly my groin hurts,  but also my neck, like I can barely turn my head. Riding is pretty much out of the question. It’s horrible.

Anyway, the funny thing is, when I was heading out yesterday morning, I actually thought about not wearing my helmet. I had fresh gel in my hair, for one thing; plus, a guy in a suit wearing a helmet on his commuter bike is just so nerdy. But I only paused for a second before doing the right thing and putting on the ol’ brain bucket. So what if I have reactivated hair gel and helmet-head for my big meeting ... vanity is for weenies, right? Right. Man, oh man, I’m so glad I was wearing that thing. If I hadn’t, I might be a corpse now, or an extremist political pundit with his own radio show.

For a complete index of albertnet posts, click here.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Everything You Wanted to Know About Getting A Colonoscopy - But Were Afraid To Ask


I recently had my first colonoscopy. I know a bunch of people my age who ought to have had theirs as well but are procrastinating. If you’re fifty or over and haven’t had yours yet, read this to know what to expect (and consider this your wake-up call). If you have had one, what better way to commiserate and have another good laugh at what you’ve been through? And if you’re not fifty yet, this’ll be a good dose of schadenfreude and a sneak preview of what you have to look forward to.

What is a colonoscopy?

A colonoscopy is a procedure a doctor carries out to screen you for colon cancer. Colon cancer is the third leading cause of cancer deaths. The lifetime risk of getting it is 1 in 23 for men and 1 in 25 for women. Early detection is key. Colorectal polyps are fairly easy to find and remove before they can develop into cancer. Details here.

What exactly is the colon?

The colon is one of those weird organs down there in your guts. It removes water from digested food and creates stool, which it conveys to the rectum. As this is already getting gross, I’ll leave it at that.

How does the doctor see in there?

Doctors have got a “back door” they use, through which they thread in a camera the size of your finger.

Which finger?

I forget. To be honest, I haven’t dwelled on that, for obvious reasons. But in all seriousness, the process is a hell of a lot less invasive and awful than chemo, surgery, etc.

Who should get a colonoscopy?

Anybody over fifty should get one, plus anybody with other risk factors like family history of colon cancer, or trouble with digestion, or if a doctor recommends it for any other reason.

Is there any legitimate excuse for a person over fifty not to get a colonoscopy?

Of course not. Don’t be lame, just get it done. As you’ll learn from this post, it’s really not that bad.

What is the preparation for a colonoscopy?

For a week, you have to eat refined food like white rice, white bread, pasta, etc. instead of good high-fiber stuff like whole grains, brown rice, beans, etc. (So, for a week you get an interesting tour into how so many clueless Americans eat.) Also off-limit are seeds, nuts, popcorn, iron, fish oil, and vitamin E. Then, 24 hours before the procedure, you’re not allowed to have any solid food. You can have light-colored juices or broth, or even Jell-O (but why bother)?

The other thing you have to do is completely remove every particle of food, and its downstream waste products, from your system. You do this by drinking four liters (more than a gallon!) of a prescription laxative drink.

Is this pre-op process straightforward and well-documented?

Well, that depends on where you’re having your colonoscopy done. The place I went to sent me a big packet of paperwork, and then I got a phone call saying, “We screwed up your paperwork so we just sent out a second batch. When you get the first packet, throw it away. Only read the second packet.”

Well, I received both packets on the same day so I had to figure out which was the evil twin. One set of documentation failed to specify when and where the procedure would take place, and who would perform it, though it did include a “Visit Date” that was wrong. The other packet at least had the procedure date, time, and location, though it also had a (different) wrong “Visit Date” listed. It also provided the doctor’s name, which was helpful, though it also provided a second doctor’s name that was wrong.

I called up to ferret out which packet was the correct one. Turns out, the packet lacking the when-and-where information was actually the right one. Having sorted this out, I requested clarification about the timing of the laxative drink, GoLytely. The directions say to drink 8 oz. every 10-15 minutes, and to “Take 1st dose (1/2 gallon) at: 4pm the day before” and “take 2nd dose (1/2 gallon) at: 5-6 hours before the procedure.” Well, my procedure time was 8 a.m. Did this mean I had to get up at like 1:30 a.m., and then roust myself again every 10-15 minutes until done, to finish 5-6 hours before, or do they mean at least 5-6 hours before? I asked if I could just be done with all the drinking—and its explosive result—before bed. (No, I didn’t put it so bluntly.) The gal answered, “Uh, well, um, I think … yeah, before bedtime should be fine … just, uh, go with that.” She really didn’t inspire confidence.

I called my big brother for a second opinion and he said, “Yeah, I got up every ten minutes for half the night—it was a total drag!” Keep in mind that you’re not just drinking this gross drink. You’re also rushing to the toilet. So this timing thing is important, and I’m here to tell you from personal experience, getting it all done before bed (in my case midnight) is A-OK. The doctor’s office didn’t send me away for incomplete evacuation, which had been my greatest fear (this having happened to someone I know).

Is the laxative drink really that disgusting?

At no point did the gag reflex kick in. That said, it’s pretty damn disgusting, perhaps even more so than bong water (but at least you’re braced for it; I’m pretty sure nobody has ever drunk bong water on purpose, at least no resolute non-pot-smoker like me). Here is a video of my very first 8-ounce shot of GoLytely:

It may or may not help to mix it with the flavor packet. I was on the fence about this, and my decision wasn’t helped by the packet instructions, which clearly say “Not for direct dispensing to the patient,” as thought the pharmacist is supposed to mix the flavor packet with the drink powder before I leave the pharmacy. Could there possibly be any skill involved in this operation? I can’t imagine, and yet the instructions are very clear on both the packet and the jug of drink mix:

The lemon powder smelled like that disgusting Country Time Lemonade mix. If I did decide to flavor my drink, I pondered, why limit myself to the lemon option? I could mix in the flavor packet from some Top Ramen, to have, like, shrimp flavor, or beef, or a combo. But ultimately I decided to drink it neat.

The first flavor to hit my tongue was like someone else’s saliva, but salted and slightly fizzy as though fermented. Then the aftertaste hit me like a thump: very chemical-tasting, like bleach or solvent. So yeah, GoLytely really is gross, but again, nothing that would make you hurl. The problem is, you have to drink nine 8-oz. glasses of this, ten minutes apart, for the first “dose” (i.e., session), and then, hours later, another eight 8-oz. glasses of it, so it gets mighty old.

By the way, my instructions didn’t tell me how many glasses to drink in the first “dose” so I had to do the math myself:

You said something earlier about the “explosive result” of this beverage. Can you elaborate?

Well, over an hour into my first “dose,” when I’d had eight 8-oz. glasses (i.e., 64  oz, almost two liters) of the miracle elixir, nothing had happened yet. I texted my brother with this worrisome update, and he wrote back, “Oh boy. Just you wait!” He wasn’t wrong. Five minutes later, I decided to take the throne and see if anything would happen. I’ll spare you the details, but an hour later I was still there. The word “hydrant” isn’t exactly right, but it’s close.

Hours later, after the second round of GoLytely, I again started feeling some serious stirrings down there, and suddenly (oddly) started to shiver. I ran for the bathroom, up a couple sets of stairs, with all the urgency of an action hero fleeing a building that’s about to explode. I made it just in time … it was so close I didn’t have a chance to close the door. My wife, from one nearby bedroom, and my daughter, from the other, burst out laughing simultaneously upon hearing the whooshing sound. If you don’t think this all sounds pretty funny, click this link immediately, and go read that post, before continuing with this report.

How will I know I’m ready for the colonoscopy procedure?

Trust me, if you’ve completed all four liters of the laxative, you’ll be ready (so long as you didn’t “cheat” and eat anything in the 24 hours before your procedure time). The official directions imply that you don’t need to drink all four liters if you have “clear rectal discharge,” but I find this to be a) gross, b) a needless thing to determine, and c) a great name for a rock band.

All this being said, in my case I can report that after my last toilet visit (which was, remarkably, at like 5 a.m., over five hours after my last glass of GoLytely), it looked like I’d only peed. So complete was the elimination, I lost four pounds. That’s after drinking about nine pounds of GoLytely. Do the math…

Will the nurses be hot?

This is a dangerous question to answer, but arguably the most important one in the entire report. Needless to say, your mileage may vary, but in my experience, these nurses were considerably hotter than the one who helped with my vasectomy. Perhaps this is by design … to encourage periodic colonoscopies, they’d want to make the whole ordeal as pleasant as possible, whereas with a vasectomy nobody wants to instill the wrong kind of, uh, attention.

Will I unexpectedly get disqualified from the procedure and sent home?

As touched on earlier, if you don’t follow the instructions and evacuate your system, you could be sent home. Other than that, I guess the only problem could be if your vital signs don’t look good. I had a tiny glitch in this department. After taking my vitals and wandering off, the nurse came back and said, “Um, are you a very active person?” At first, given recent events and current circumstances, I thought she was referring to my bowels. But then I understood, and said, “You mean, working out a lot? In that case, yes.” She replied, “Okay. I ask because your pulse was only 45 so we thought you might be on some … medication.” I assured her 45 bpm was normal for me, and it was smooth sailing from there.

Will they stick me with a big needle?

Of course they will, it’s a doctor’s office and you’re there for a “procedure!” They run an IV to administer the anesthesia. But they’re total pros. Two nurses discussed which vein to use … not because they couldn’t find a good one, but because my skinny arms presented an embarrassment of riches. “My husband is just like you,” one nurse said. “He’s got such great veins, I sometimes ask him, ‘Can I please run you an IV, just ‘cause it’d go so well?’”

Will they give me a drug to make me forget everything?

This will depend on where you get the procedure done. My brother, when he had his colonoscopy, did get the forget-everything drug (I think it’s typically Versed, aka midazolam) and didn’t like the aftermath … it really messed him up for the entire rest of the day. Myself, I hate the idea of any drug (even alcohol) messing with my memory. My brother mentioned that some people need colonoscopies somewhat frequently, and opt to skip the Versed. So I asked my doctor about this before the procedure, and he said they don’t use it anyway, and that the anesthesia I’m getting wouldn’t have any post-op aftereffects. “You could go for a run two hours afterward,” he said.

What is the actual procedure like?

They had me roll over on my side. This was probably the worst part because my ass was hanging out of the back of that backwards gown they make you wear, and it was kind of cold. The anesthesiologist warned me that it would hurt a bit when he injected the drug into my IV, but the pain was ridiculously minor, like being whacked lightly with a flower.

I lay there, deeply doubting that I would in fact fall asleep, because no anesthesia could be any match for the cold air hanging over my tuchus. So, preparing to be bored, I let my gaze fall on the patterned curtain a few feet from my face. The curtain seemed so unfamiliar. I wondered, did my wife buy new curtains at some point, and if so how am I just noticing? Moreover, why am I still in bed when I should be heading over to the—oh, shit! I overslept! I missed my colonoscopy and now I’ll have to reschedule and go through the GoLytely purge all over again! Total disaster!

Then I thought, wait a second here. Those are not bedroom curtains. That’s more like a hospital curtain. Oh, and I’m not in bed. I’m … oh, right, I remember where I am. This is where the nurses and anesthesiologist and doctor were getting ready to do the procedure. Meaning it’s over. I must have … slept through it. Just like I was supposed to, duh!

Is there an aftermath?

There was so little indication anything had even happened, I had to take the doctor’s word for it that the procedure had actually been carried out. I was handed a bunch of paperwork, which I only remembered to leaf through a few days later. It covers what they did, what they found, etc. My favorite sentence? “The patient is competent.” That’s the nicest thing anybody has ever said about me. I won’t comment much more about the report or the findings because that’s really none of your business. Plus, there are possibly (sometimes? often?) lab results that have to come back before one can conclude anything for certain.

I expected some physical discomfort after the procedure, but in fact there was none. They’d advised me to break my fast with a small, light meal, but I ignored that. I was starving and had a giant lunch, which went down without a hitch. I will say I was really, really tired for the rest of the day. I highly recommend taking the whole day off of work, as I did, for your colonoscopy.

How do I get home?

This is the one time I won’t tell you to get around by bike. This is also no time to get an Uber or Lyft, or even a cab (if you’re lucky enough to live in a place where you can just hail a cab from the sidewalk like in the movies). The clinic I went to requires that you show up with a chaperon to drive you home. Great idea, because you won’t want to hang around waiting for a ride, trust me.

Do I get a trophy?

What do you think this is, a kids’ soccer team where everyone gets a trophy, even the kids who just stood around? No, you don’t get a trophy. But you can get a certificate from Dave Barry; as he describes here, “If you, after reading this, get a colonoscopy, let me know by sending a self-addressed stamped envelope to Dave Barry Colonoscopy Inducement, The Miami Herald, 3511 NW 91st Ave., Miami, FL, 3317. I will send you back a certificate, signed by me and suitable for framing if you don’t mind framing a cheesy certificate, stating that you are a grown-up who got a colonoscopy.” Now, I don’t know if this offer is still good, or if it’s transferable from “Miami Herald” readers to albertnet readers, but you can download the certificate here and just forge Dave Barry’s signature. I won’t tell!

How long until my next colonoscopy?

Wow, you can’t wait to get back, huh? Well, the rule of thumb is every ten years until you’re about 75 or 80, after which they just put you on an iceberg and give you a nice push. That said, your future colonoscopy schedule will depend on what, if anything, they found the first go round.

This all sounds like a lot of hassle. Are you sure this is really necessary?

I watched a man die of cancer. He discovered his the hard way. Trust me, you don’t want that.

Damn dude, I thought this post was kind of funny until just now. What the hell?

I know too many 50-somethings who have been putting this off. Don’t be one of them. Just get this done, and then we can share GoLytely stories and have a good laugh!

For a complete index of albertnet posts, click here.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

albertnet Frequently Asked Questions


Well, I’ve been at this blogging thing for over eleven years, and have posted more than 500 times. For better or for worse, that’s some traction. Now, I’m well aware that blogging is an audacious act. It takes a lot of cheek to assume that anybody cares to read what I care to write. (But if everybody erred on the side of modesty, nobody would write anything.)

As long as I’m being audacious, I’m going to assume that my readers are curious about how it’s gone, what’s working, what isn’t, and so forth. That what this post is about. (As a special bonus, a good number of these are real questions from real readers! And at least one of these questions has been asked at least twice!)

albertnet Frequently Asked Questions

How many posts have you written?

524, including this one.

How can I quickly peruse all the posts you have on offer?

Check out the albertnet index here. All my posts are listed and categorized, with the newest at the top.

It’s been said that your average post is 15 pages of single spaced comic sans text. Why are they so damned long?

The guy who said that was my (okay, our) dad [this question being from my brother]. That was his calculated figure. For a guy with a 170 IQ, Dad sure could be sloppy with his math. This supposed average post length was one of his excuses for not reading my blog; in reality the average post is more like 5 or 6 pages.

Okay, 5 or 6 pages is still pretty damned long, I’ll admit. I write that much because I can, because nobody is making me shorten my essays. If I wanted to write shorter stuff, I’d just be a journalist and get paid for this.

Have you ever met one of your readers in real life?

Good one. But that’s enough now. Bloggers have feelings, you know!

I did meet a guy at a party once who, when I introduced myself, knew my name already, from my blog. In fact, after reading my “Ode on a Double-Edged Razor”, he said, he bought an old-school Merkur razor just like the one I touted in my post. (No, Merkur didn’t pay me for this. I wish.) Full disclosure: I probably knew this reader already and just didn’t recognize him. I’m terrible with names and faces, and in fact I wonder if I might actually be face-blind.

At what point in the writing process of a post do you feel that you’ve met the goal, that you’ve “struck fire from the heart of man, and brought tears from the eyes of woman” (as Beethoven said of his music)?

Well, I wouldn’t say my goal is anything like that. (My mission statement is “Increasing shareholder value since 2009!”) I’d say my feeling of general satisfaction begins when I have that first rough draft complete and the basic bones of the post have been assembled. Then I know I have something, and I’ll polish it until I run out of time or figure I’ve reached the point of diminishing returns. (Occasionally I’ll discard a totally finished piece, but that’s pretty rare. Posting an essay here that fails to strike fire or bring tears is—I’ll own it—a largely victimless crime.)

What blogs do you follow?

Well, I could list them, but there’s no point because five of the six have gone under. (One is entirely extinct, and the others haven’t had a post in three years.) The only active blog I follow is The Smoky Mountain Hiking Blog and I confess I don’t check it that often. Next time I’m in the Smokies I’ll be all over it, though!

If you don’t read blogs, why write one?

Fair question. The problem is, too many blogs are too specific. I have no particular interests, so why would I narrow my focus like that?

As far as other media I could try to publish in, that seems like a lot of hassle. Plus, I hate being hemmed in. I considered publishing my vasectomy story in something like “Men’s Journal” but they had some guideline like “Under no circumstances can a story run more than 500 words” which was a show-stopper. I cannot tell that story—and nobody could, not properly—in fewer than 2,000 words.

How do you manage to keep politics out of your blog? Do you ever want to just rant?

Honestly, I’m just not very interested in politics. Where I live, this topic strikes me as a pissing contest around who knows the most. To my mind, the differences among parties and candidates aren’t subtle, and we only get one vote, so I see no point in anybody devoting that much attention to them. Besides, why would I want to alienate half of my readership and attract a lot of hateful comments?

This isn’t to say albertnet never brushes up against politics, in a non-partisan way. Check out “Glutted by Campaign Signs” (a relatively popular post), “My Brief Foray Into Politics,” “Election Follies - A Proposal to Change Daylight Savings Time,” and “Election Follies – CA Prop 7, One Year Later.”

You have this incredible platform to spread important messages. What do you want all seven of year readers to know?

Ouch! Well, I guess I asked for it.

I don’t consider this blog a public service, and my goal is really to entertain, not so much to educate or inform. That said, I guess I could take a swing at a few life lessons you could read about on albertnet:
  • Eat well
  • Ride your bike
  • Laugh a lot
  • Read a lot
  • If you’re a parent, be earnest about it
How do you promote your blog?

I don’t.

How can I provide feedback on a post?

You can leave a comment below the post, or email me at

What are your top three most popular posts ever?

The most popular ever is “New Cycling World Record Set in Berkeley!” which racked up many thousands of pageviews within just a few days. I gather there are blogs with hundreds of thousands of pageviews a week, and good for them, but this was a fairly big deal for me.

My second most popular is “Everything You Wanted to Know About Getting A Vasectomy - But Were Afraid To Ask” which was one of my earliest posts. For many years, it carried the distinction of being the very first search result when you Googled “california vasectomy law.” (It’s not in like the first hundred hits now … a lot has changed in eleven years I guess.)

Third most popular is “Highbrow vs. Lowbrow,” also with many thousands of pageviews. I’m not sure exactly why it’s been so popular. I mean, I like it—I like all my stuff, or I wouldn’t post it—but it’s not like I poured my heart and soul into it. You tell me.

What are your three least popular posts ever?

That’s kind of a tough one, because obviously anything I posted quite recently hasn’t had time to accrue many views. To answer this one, I had to go back and figure out what posts have very few views despite hanging out there on the Internet for years. I did a rough calculation of how many pageviews per year I see among the loss leaders. Here’s what I came up with.

The very least popular is “London – Part Four,” which has received a grand total of 39 views in roughly a decade, for a paltry 3.8 views a year. Pretty pathetic! Why so poorly received? Well, anything that’s fourth in a series deserves what it gets. (You hear that, “Star Wars” people?) Also, this is one of the “bloggiest” posts I’ve ever done; it was back in the early days of albertnet when I thought it was enough to report on something interesting that happened to me (like a web log, you know). I’ve since decided that there ought to be a point to my posts and they should hang together better. Anyway, I reread this one and it’s actually not so bad … I chuckled a few times.

Next is “From the Archives – My First Cell Phone” with only 53 views over 10.5 years. I just skimmed it, and it’s really not such a bad essay … it’s just that it’s a bit too sincere and nerdy, without the good sense to be comic. But how could anybody know that going in? Anyway, who cares.

Finally, we have a short story, “Doctor’s Daughter.” It’s seen 50 readers over about 8 years. Pretty sad.

Is your blog mainly popular among Americans?

I wouldn’t say it’s mainly popular among Americans, because it’s not popular at all, duh!

As far as my audience, about 47% of my pageviews are from the U.S. Fully 16% are from Russia, and just behind that is the Ukraine with 14%. Isn’t it ironic that foreign enemy bots aiming to swing U.S. elections should be targeting a decidedly apolitical blog?

What do you most commonly blog about?

What a great question! I myself had no idea until I researched this a bit. It’s a bit hard to tell because many posts fit more than one category, but here’s a rough cut of the leading realms: 
  • Polemics/opinion                                                                      108
  • Bits & bobs (i.e., impossible to categorize)                            87
  • Advice & how-to guides                                                             86
  • Cycling – My first-hand experience                                        81
  • Cycling – equipment, technique, & culture                           60
  • Parenting                                                                                      59
  • Cycling – pro race coverage                                                      56
Obviously if you add the cycling tallies together that would be the biggest category, but there’s a lot of overlap there. This truly is “a blog about nothing” [in particular].

What posts have occasioned the most comments?

I don’t get a lot of comments, except from bots, and I delete those as fast as I can. Here are my top three. 
What post got the most negative comments?

Did you mind that?

Not at all. Pageviews across my blog went way up after that post. I think I got some new readers!

What’s the nicest comment you’ve ever received?

My “Book Review – Cowboy Sam” post got this nice comment from the granddaughter of the book’s author: “Dana, I have to say that I enjoyed your post about the Cowboy Sam series. Very entertaining, well written and definitely brought a smile to my face! Edna Walker Chandler was my Grandmother and passed away in 1982. Her son (my father) passed in 2014 and I inherited copies of most of her books. Would you mind if I copied your post to my family history book for personal purposes only? Thank you! Celeste Chandler”

What’s the meanest comment you’ve ever received?

That would be in response to “Velominati’s ‘The Rules’ – Brilliance or BS?” with this acidly sarcastic remark: “Hilarious. I've have never seen the point of something missed by such a large amount, and then written about to such a great length. Bravo!”

What’s the angriest comment you’ve ever received?

In response to “The British Faucet Conundrum” I received this comment: “Tim Berners-Lee INVENTED THE INTERNET WORLD WIDE WEB AND HE IS BRITISH NOT AMERICAN... so stick that in your hat and smoke it. In typical fashion of most americans you try to take credit for most when you don't have a creative bone in your bodies.. give credit where credit is due.. not to mention the fact that you stole most patents off of the Brits when you decided to pathetically decided to pitch up for the tail end of ww2. thanks.. wankers.”

I got a good laugh out of that one. Plus, it brought about two other comments, both supporting me. At least one was presumably British, as he referred to the U.S. in the third person: “Tim Berners-Lee did indeed invent the world wide web, which is a system that runs atop the internet, which predates it. The Americans can quite legitimately claim the internet.”

How much money have you made from albertnet?

Let’s see … factoring in subscriptions, residuals, passive income, royalties, and referrals, that would total about … um … zero dollars. And zero cents. On a positive note, I’m supporting the US economy by paying for server storage space and all my domains.

Domains, plural?

Yes. Just in case would-be readers can’t be counted on to remember, you can reach my blog via,,,,,, and

Part of why I snapped these up is to prevent anybody else from creating an “evil twin” blog. I guess I should have grabbed the Instagram handle “albertnet” which is rendered on the site as “Альберт Нет.” That’s in Russian, which perhaps explains why I get so many Russian pageviews?

At least they’re cool photos, mainly of beer. (Kind of a neat coincidence since I like to blog about Beck’sting.) Maybe I would have that many followers if more of my photos looked like this:

So, if you aren’t making money, and you’re not famous, why continue blogging?

Keeping this blog alive keeps me writing, and that’s my main criterion for success. Details here.

What would you say is the most useful essay you’ve posted?

What’s the opposite … that is, your most frivolous post?

Has albertnet ever gotten you in trouble?

After a careless motorist caused me to crash my bike and break my femur, I found a lawyer and looked into filing a lawsuit. He immediately asked me to disclose anything on social media that could jeopardize the case (e.g., by making me seem like a daredevil who got what he deserved). I coughed up several cycling-related posts including “Diablo Ex Machina” and “Death Ride ‘99,” both of which mention descending fast. These didn’t help my cause, but they alone wouldn’t have mattered, as I’d previously published “Five Seconds on a Mountain Pass” in the Daily Peloton, which concerned high-speed wobble.

(Ultimately, I didn’t pursue the lawsuit because the whole episode made me too angry. Dragging that anger over a long term and involving lawyers just would have extended it.)

Im a bit behind on albertnet ... how long will it take me to catch up?

If you read a post a day, it would take you a little over a year and five months to catch up to today. But by that time, I will presumably have posted another 69 times, so you’d need another couple of months ... so, a year and seven months total. You better get cracking.

Do you ever do podcasts?

I’ve done 26 of them. If you’re interested, you can email me for details.

What’s the hardest part about blogging for you?

Obviously finding the time to write is a perennial problem, but what’s even harder is coming up with decent topics. (To the extent this post hasn’t done it for you, you can see the problem!) So, if you have any good blog post ideas, please send them my way!

For a complete index of albertnet posts, click here.

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

New Year’s Resolutions - Let’s Get It Right This Time


There’s a lot to hate about January. If you’re in the northern hemisphere, it’s probably cold. Meanwhile, the holidays, though they can be a grind, at least represent a slowdown at work—but now they’re over, it’s a new year, and corporate leadership is all gung-ho about plans and quotas and everything. And on top of it all, everybody is talking about New Year’s Resolutions.

Okay, that last statement was untrue—not “everybody” is talking about Resolutions. But if just a few people are, especially in the media, it can sure seem like everybody. Well, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. In this post I’ll provide some strategies for grappling with this annoying ritual. Don’t worry—I’ll try to be more snide than sanctimonious.

Recycling old resolutions – fair game?

When I bothered to research New Year’s Resolutions for a previous post, I found that most goals were pretty predictable: lose weight, exercise more, drink less alcohol, get out of debt, spend more time with family. Probably not a lot of first-timers, then … more like recidivism, people renewing their resolve to improve in ways they failed at the previous year. No wonder these Resolutions are such a drag! So what is to be done?

Well, one obvious solution is just to give up. I often tell my kids, “Look, if there’s one thing I’ve learned in life, it’s that anything difficult isn’t worth doing.” (This isn’t my own idea; I think I’m quoting, or at least paraphrasing, Homer Simpson.) Face it, if you’ve been in debt for ten years, you’re probably not gonna suddenly make it into the black just because it’s January and you’ve resolved to do so. And if you want to spend more time with family but both your kids are teenagers, good luck with that, too. I’m not trying to be defeatist … but maybe you should scale back or jettison the perennial good intentions if they just frustrate you year after year. Be compassionate with yourself!

Did you see what I did just now, when I said that I didn’t want to be defeatist, even though I was totally being exactly that? That’s a sophisticated literary technique called “bullshit.” If I were a Ph.D. I’d probably call it “being slightly disingenuous.” But I kind of meant it. I really, actually don’t want to be defeatist, not when we’re still only in the first week of January. Let’s try harder.

Improving your approach

Just because you’ve failed at a Resolution before doesn’t mean there’s no hope … maybe your approach was wrong. A friend of mine sends me articles he writes for his Counseling website, and the thing is, I don’t mind because they’re actually useful. They’re also really brief. (I could probably learn from that, but I refuse.) He writes here, in his article on Resolutions, that it’s really helpful to “create a social accountability network” by enlisting friends to help cheer you on when you make progress and/or shame you when you fall off. I think this makes tons of sense.

I’d been employing the accountability strategy to some degree already, in my effort to lose weight. I have always used the buddy system when tackling my watered-down version of the South Beach Diet (click here for details). But after reading Ceely’s article I doubled down and looked for ways to “gamify” my program. So now my Sloth Beach buddy and I have a new tab on our shared spreadsheet where we summarize our meals (Good vs. OK vs. Crap) and color-code them red or green. We even have a rudimentary scoring system: 2 points for a Good meal, 1 point for an OK meal (only two meals a day count), plus we subtract a point for Crap, add 2 points for a Large workout, add 1 point for a Medium workout, and tally it up. On a good day you can score six points. On a bad day you may come up negative.

Is this working? Hell yeah! I applied the scoring system retroactively to last year so we could compare our results. So far this year, my average score is up 31% and my buddy’s is up 80%—no  joke! Yes, the year is young, but we’re off to a roaring start.

A low-tech approach

Obviously the above example only applies to nerdy people who don’t mind infusing yet another aspect of their lives with high-tech tools. So for the rest of you, here’s another case study: I’ve resolved this year to manage stress better, and (given my poor track record in this area historically) I’m trying two new methods: focused breathing and a mantra. (You can’t get much lower-tech than a mantra.)

You might think I’m joking, or that I’m a joke, but the thing is, as I researched stress reduction I kept stumbling on articles expounding the virtues of a mantra, and I’m willing to try anything. I’m pretty early in the process and am still deciding what my personal mantra should be. Apparently it doesn’t really matter what the word or phrase is; many that people select (e.g., “Aum,” “Namah Shivaya”) aren’t in their native tongue, and some are almost like babble. It’s the repetition that does the trick, I’m advised. So last night, when I was tossing and turning in bed, stressed out after a hard day, I started trying out different phrases. Nothing worked until the edges of my consciousness became ragged and my subconscious started to take over. Then a suitable mantra suddenly popped into my head: “Kick your ass, kid!”

This is a phrase dredged up from my past. When I was like ten years old, I got into an altercation at the roller rink with a bigger kid. He was a total stranger to me. His name was like Shane or Shaz or Shalom or something and he was a friend of one of my schoolmates, Brian Bogart, whom I’d previously gotten in a fistfight with during a slumber party. Now, at the roller rink, Brian essentially sicced Shane on me, seeing an opportunity for revenge. I baited Shane a bit, even though I was kind of scared, because I knew my big brother Max wasn’t far away. Sure enough, Max showed up in the nick of time, he and Shane started pushing and shoving and mouthing off. “Kick your ass, kid!” Shane shouted a couple of times. Max threw this phrase back in Shane’s face, mocking him. Just as they were about to start throwing punches, we all got thrown out of the roller rink. That really sucked because Mom had dropped Max and me off there for the whole afternoon, so we were basically standing around in the parking lot for the next hour. Needless to say this incident made “Kick your ass, kid!” part of our family lore.

I totally get that “Kick your ass, kid!” seems like the wrong tone for a mantra, and you probably think I’m being facetious here, mocking the whole mantra concept, but really I’m not. I’m not against finding a new mantra that’s a bit calmer, but the thing is, “Kick your ass, kid!” really did the trick last night. I just kept working on my breathing—this “square breathing” technique where you inhale for four counts, hold your breath for four counts, exhale for four counts, and then pause again for four counts to complete the cycle—while saying (in my head), “Kick your ass, kid!” over and over in a very non-threatening way, kind of droning it. Four counts per breathing step, four steps in the cycle, and a four-syllable mantra ... perfect. I’d breathe in, with the phrase counting off the beats for me, then hold my breath through another iteration, then breathe it out—“Kick your ass, kid!”—before completing the cycle with one more (albeit silent) incantation of it during the pause. It was like magic … I was asleep in no time.

(Even upon reflection I find that “Kick your ass, kid!” holds up well as a mantra. Had I been better educated at age ten, I might have summed up that roller rink altercation, and the parking lot purgatory it begat, and in fact all the fights teens get into everywhere, and how that turns into posturing and one-upmanship in later life, by quoting Ecclesiastes: “All is vanity.” That was one of the candidates I’d come up with when first casting about for a mantra. But phonetically speaking, “All is vanity” is just not as satisfying as “Kick your ass, kid!”)

The brain-dead simple approach

Okay, this breathing and mantra regimen—though low-tech—isn’t exactly easy either. You want a super-simple way to be more successful in your Resolution? Employ an “affordance.” My wife came across this term in some book. It has to do with a change you make to your environment to encourage and facilitate a desired behavior. (Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about it.)

An affordance can be extremely basic. For example, if you want to work out more often, and are looking for a way to hold yourself accountable, that doesn’t mean you have to keep a really complicated training diary complete with heart rate and power data. You can just get a fresh wall calendar and record your workouts with a check mark. This is positive feedback, and by hanging the calendar where you’re sure to see it, you make it into an affordance. My family has a shared workout calendar posted in our phone room. This is perhaps the simplest “social accountability network” imaginable.

What if you’re too perfect to need a Resolution?

Look, I know there are people out there who so totally have their acts together, it’s impossible for them to formulate a single New Year’s Resolution. Maybe you’re just too perfect and there’s no need to change a thing!

I’ll confess, when I look at my life every January and think of what to fix, I don’t see a lot of low-lying fruit myself. Though I chafe at having a belly where there was none before, my actual body-mass index is spang in the middle of normal. I exercise a lot and I’ve never smoked. Medical studies suggest I should perhaps drink more alcohol than I do. I’m no further in debt than anybody fortunate enough to own real estate. But to assume everything is fine is simply a failure of the imagination. If nothing else, I’m a year older and that automatically suggests some Resolutions:
  1. Get a colonoscopy … it’s time
  2. Work with a physical therapist – learn some spine exercises I can do regularly, to lower my odds of randomly throwing out my back
  3. Research 401(k) catch-up contributions (which I’m entitled to now that I’ve turned 50)
I’m lucky enough that if I’m ever tempted to leave well enough alone in January, I have my brother Max for inspiration. Most years he comes up with new fewer than a hundred Resolutions, many of which could easily apply to me. Here are some highlights from his fresh 2020 batch:

9. Be alone with someone else who likes to be left alone and leave each other alone.
11. Mom
19. Stop lying to the universe.
21. Stop dripping oil. Period.
49. If I see something, say something, and vice versa.
62. Increase popularity among non-college-educated white males.
65. Don’t eat hot dogs because dogs are sentient beings.
68. Become more sly, selfish, and manipulative but in a good way.
71. Be boring, but with a twist.
72. Learn to ignore impulses by fashioning a quick list of possible outcomes until the moment’s gone.
78. Go easy on myself. I’m a stupid dumb-ass, I make mistakes.
79. Take it easy on all stupid dumb-asses who make mistakes.
93. Scratch ear lobe in a way that doesn’t make it look as though I have bugs or mites. Make it sort of suggestive.
94. Find my secret talent and use it to exploit myself.

My brother sure makes it look easy, doesn’t he? If you’re lamenting (as I am) not being nearly that clever, well … maybe 2020 is the year you finally do something about it!

For a complete index of albertnet posts, click here.