I got a new bike!

Nothing special, just a cheap bike for commuting to and from the train station. I got one of the cheapest ones I could find that I’d be happy with: a Retrospec Mantra. Black frame, red wheels, pink seat and handlebar grips. 57 cm. 26 lbs.

Retrospec Mantra

It’s a single speed with a flip flop hub, so it can be ridden as either fixed gear or freewheel. I tried riding fixed gear for a week and I didn’t like it. I like being able to coast so I can easily position my pedals where I want them at stop lights or when maneuvering. So I switched it to freewheel.

It’s been ok so far. No complaints. I mildly wish I had a few gears to make it easier to start pedaling again after stopping at stop lights and stop signs, but it’s not important enough to change so long as my commute remains flat.

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My old bike was stolen :-(

My 2003 Fuji Silhouette was stolen in mid-October. This is the bike I’d ridden 11,000 miles on. Across North Carolina. From San Jose to Los Angeles. This one:

Day 2 - Between Santa Cruz and Carmel

The Story

I had biked to the Sunnyvale Caltrain station around 7:50am. I locked the bike to the bike rack with a cable lock similar to this one. I hopped on the train to San Francisco for work. I returned around 7:20pm and the bike was gone. I’d been doing this for about a month. I had applied to rent a bike locker from Caltrain but I hadn’t received a key yet (they’re slow—it took them a month). I knew u-locks were preferred, but I was hoping my existing cable lock would suffice until I had a bike locker.

I was extremely annoyed. The bike was 11 years old, was in desperate need of a tune-up, and worth maybe only $50, but it is mine. I hate crime and I had criminals. It is not ok to take something that belongs to someone else. I wasted a lot of my time filing a police report, listing the bike as stolen on various web sites, looking for it on craigslist and eBay, researching a new bike, researching bike locks, researching bike lights, assembling a bike, attaching fenders and lights, and generally being angry.

Suggestions

If you’re thinking about buying a second-hand bike, always check the bike’s serial number against online stolen bike databases. These two seem popular: https://stolen.bikeindex.org/ and http://www.bikeregistry.com/search_bike.php.

You can find the serial number stamped into the metal on the bottom bracket (where the pedals attach). Which brings me to my other point…

Bike manufacturers: Please make sure your serial numbers are easy to read! From what I’ve seen they’re generally a pain in the ass to decipher. Poorly etched. Small. Ambiguous O or 0. It’s doesn’t have to be this way! More clear serial numbers can reduce incorrect transcription and improve bike recovery. I’d be happy if serial numbers were embossed in a huge font across the top tube. Unattractive, you say? Functional, I say. And functional is attractive.

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San Diego Zoo and Safari Park

Earlier this year Emily and I flew to San Diego for Gabe and Korianne’s baby shower in Dana Point. We stayed in downtown San Diego. It was fun! I like San Diego.

While we were there we visited both the San Diego Zoo and the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. The zoo is located in Balboa Park, which is a large park in the heart of the city. The safari park is a 40 minute drive away, in Escondito. We went on a Caravan Safari, which was expensive but I liked it and thought it was worth it.

We also stopped by Point Loma before leaving.

You can see all our pictures on Flickr. A few of my favorites are below.

Rhinos

Emily and me feeding a Giraffe

Old Point Loma Lighthouse

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Sennheiser HD 280 Pro vs Audio-Technica ATH-M50 headphones

I’d been using Sennheiser HD 280 Pro headphones since November 2007. They’re great and I’ve been happy with them. They’re popular headphones—I believe they’re one of the standard headphone choices at both Facebook and Google. Last month the plastic headband on mine broke in half and they were no longer wearable. I figured I’d try something new.

Based on Amazon reviews I purchased a pair of Audio-Technica ATH-M50 headphones. I’ve used them for a week now and I prefer them to the HD 280 headphones. They’re both great and you really can’t go wrong with either choice, but I like everything about the ATH-M50 headphones just a bit more.

The biggest reason I prefer the ATH-M50 headphones is that the sound feels warmer. Low range sounds are fuller and more pleasant. Imagine someone playing an upright bass a few feet away. That’s a very full sound that’s difficult to recreate with headphones. I think the ATH-M50 headphones do a better job without the bass being excessive or overpowering.

Wearing any headphones for a long period of time eventually makes my eardrums tired. I’m able to wear the ATH-M50 headphones for longer before that happens.

They both block out a similar level of ambient noise. I feel like the ATH-M50 headphones attenuate mid and high range environmental noise more, which means background conversations are harder to hear which I appreciate because it allows me to stay focused because voices are distracting.

I also find the ATH-M50 headphones to be more comfortable. The ear cups feel more appropriately sized for my ears (bigger? smaller? more square? not sure). The clamping force doesn’t feel too tight. Maybe my head is big, but I felt like the HD 280 headphones clamped too tightly.

I also prefer the build quality of the Audio-Technica headband: the padding is sewn to the headband and not replaceable. It’s solid yet soft. Whereas the padding on the HD 280 headphones is removable, replaceable, and always felt a little flimsy to me. In fact, the padding on mine had been slowly tearing and twisting for years.

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My Headphone Preferences

I wear headphones a lot at work. Specifically for three or four hours a day, five days a week, for the past 8 years.

I prefer headphones rather than earbuds. I find earbuds to be uncomfortable for long periods of time. Headphones are easier to slip off and on, which is important because I want people to feel like they’re not bothering me when interrupting me to talk. Also earbuds get gross and slimy.

I prefer circumaural (“over-the-ear”) instead of supra-aural (“on-the-ear”). My ears get sore from supra-aural headphones pressing my ears against my head.

I prefer closed-back instead of open-back for two related reasons. Closed-back headphones don’t leak as much audio into my surroundings, which means I don’t bother my co-workers (I hope). It also means they block out a fair amount of ambient noise, which allows me to listen at a lower volume which allows me to worry less about hearing damage due to having speakers next to my head for many hours. They don’t block out as much ambient noise as well-fitting earbuds, but I’m ok with that.

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Europe 2013, Part 3: Spain

Barcelona

You can see all 90 pictures from Barcelona or the best 10 (mixed with the best pictures from elsewhere on our trip).

After watching stage 8 of the Tour de France, we drove back to Barcelona and picked up the keys from our Airbnb host. The place was OK. It would have been great, except the floor was filthy. No matter—we were located on Plaça Reial, close to La Rambla and close to a subway station.

La Sagrada Família I’ve always liked Barcelona. It’s a fun city. Easy to get around by foot, subway, or taxi. The Gaudí architecture is great. I recommend going in La Sagrada Família—I thought the inside was cooler than the outside. Casa Batlló and Park Güell are also neat, but not required if you find architecture and design boring.

We saw a fantastic flamenco show at Palau de la Música Catalana. We bought our tickets in California before we left and the only seating options were far back or front row. We opted for front row. It was a little awkward, but also a little totally friggen sweet. The dancers were intense, especially the women. Fierce, piercing, angry. The tickets were $100 each and absolutely worth it.

Our only notable meal was at Bodega La Palma. It was great and I recommend it. Creative and delicious food, a friendly and accommodating waiter, and a shitload of wine—we had a great nap after this.

A word of caution: Thieves and pickpockets run rampant in Barcelona. We saw a thief grab a mobile phone from a table and run down an alley. Don’t leave valuables sitting on your table in big cities!

Madrid and Toledo

You can see all 50 pictures from Madrid and Toledo or the best 9 (mixed with the best pictures from elsewhere on our trip). Also check out this photosphere of Plaza Mayor in Madrid.

From Barcelona we took high speed rail to Madrid. It’s 380 miles and would have taken 5.5 hours by car, but takes only 3 by train. Our speed topped out around 300 km/h. We bought the tickets minutes before boarding and they were pricey, €110 each. They would have been half that if we had purchased in advance.

The landscape between Barcelona and Madrid is less interesting than Italy, Japan, Slovenia, or really anywhere else—scattered farms, scrappy big grasses, desert shrubs, and rolling rocky sandy hills. A bit like California, actually.

We stayed at Hotel Moderno, which is in a great location. Immediately next to Plaza Del Sol and a few hundred yards from Plaza Mayor de Madrid. We dropped our bags in the room then grabbed lunch outside.

Emily at the Plaza de Oriente at the Royal Palace of Madrid

After lunch we walked half a mile to the Royal Palace of Madrid, which is totally sweet. It’s a large palace typical of 18th century Europe. Ornate and extravagant. I loved the expansive Plaza de la Armería Courtyard on the south side.

Royal Palace of Madrid

The next day we took a short train ride to Toledo. It’s a walled city on a hill partially surrounded by a river. The city has been known for making bladed steel weapons since 500 BC, and knives and swords are common in gift shops.

The Toledo Cathedral is awesome. So old! Intimidating, big, detailed, precise.

Sevilla

You can see all 55 pictures from Sevilla or the best 6 (mixed with the best pictures from elsewhere on our trip).

The last stop on our trip was Seville, in southern Spain close to the Mediterranean coast. We stayed at El Rey Moro Hotel Boutique and loved it. It’s in a part of town with narrow, winding, cobblestone streets. The building has a lot of character and the rooms are all unique.

Plaza de España, the Alcázar and Cathedral of Saint Mary of the See are all really cool. We had a few good meals along Calle Mateos Gago, near the cathedral.

Plaza de España

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Europe 2013, Part 2: Venice and Le Tour

Venice

You can see all 54 pictures from Venice or the best 8 (mixed with the best pictures from elsewhere on our trip).

From Krk, Croatia we left Amy, Brian, Melanie, and Martin and struck out on our own. We drove back through Slovenia and into Italy. We dropped the rental car off at the Venice airport (on the mainland) and took a shuttle bus to the edge of the islands that make up Venice. From there it was a short walk to our lodging.

As with any city where real estate is at a premium, hotels in Venice are expensive. We chose to rent a room via Airbnb. Nothing special, but it was only $122 per night. Our hostess was friendly. All in all, a positive experience.

Venice at night

Venice! Everyone has seen pictures or movies. I loved seeing it in person and I enjoyed our time here. The city is a maze of canals, bridges, and curving streets. We spent our day and a half here exploring, eating, and drinking wine. We went on a cicchetti and wine walking tour for lunch (cicchetti are small appetizers, similar to Spanish tapas). It was fun, though the high price wasn’t quite justified. The food + walking + wine (especially) led to a multi-hour nap. We ventured out again in the evening and had dinner at a pleasant outdoor cafe along a busy canal.

Two or three full days here would have been better, but we enjoyed it nonetheless.

Tour de France

You can see all 13 pictures from Le Tour.

From Venice we flew to Barcelona, rented a car, bought some groceries, and set a course for the Pyrenees. I totally dig mountains and I’m happy I got to see the Pyrenees. They’re striking. Dark. Each subsequent peak higher than the one in front of it.

We stayed the night in a hotel in the small country of Andorra, on the border between France and Spain. Andorra, by the way, is basically a big ski town. The next day I made Emily wake up early and we headed into France to see the mountaintop finish of stage 8 of the Tour de France. We parked our car at the base of the mountain, in the town of Ax-les-Thermes, and rode the convenient gondola lift to the ski resort of Ax 3 Domaines at the top of the mountain.

Truth be told, I made Emily wake up a good bit earlier than needed. We would need to wait eight hours before the riders would arrive… so we had some time to kill. We wandered around, Emily bought a t-shirt, we ate the food we’d bought the previous day (Nuttela sandwiches, in honor of Renaud). We walked half a kilometer down the mountain and found a place along the road to watch from. The final kilometer of each mountaintop finish on Le Tour is typically lined with fences to keep out the riffraff. Consequently the riffraff tends to congregate just below this. We were safely above the riffraff, which was maybe less fun, but was calm and we had a great view.

The tour is a serious operation. Many trucks, many workers. Preceding the riders is a publicity caravan of the sponsors of the race. They throw random souvenirs at you—hats, a T-shirt, some bad beignets, coupons, etc. Then a lull. Then team cars, neutral equipment cars, police, camera motorbikes, and finally the riders! After waiting all day, it’s quite exciting. Stage 8 was the first day Froome broke away from the rest of the GC contenders. He claimed first on the stage and wore the yellow jersey for the rest of the tour, eventually winning by 4 minutes and 20 seconds.

One of the last groups of riders

As the last of the riders came through we walked five miles down the mountain to our car. At this finish there isn’t enough room for the team buses at the top, so the riders zip down the same road they just ascended, even as other riders are ascending and pedestrians are making their way downward. It felt very dangerous to me.

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Europe 2013, Part 1: Slovenia and Croatia

At the end of June and into July last year Emily and I went on a two week vacation to Europe. We spent most of our time in Slovenia and Spain, but we also briefly ventured into Croatia, Venice, Andorra, and France.

Slovenia

You can see all 99 pictures from Slovenia or the best 22 (mixed with the best pictures from elsewhere on our trip).

Me and Emily

The Republic of Slovenia is a small country just east of northern Italy. It features rolling hills, some small mountains, is heavily wooded, and has a small coastline along the Adriatic Sea. Slovenia split from Yugoslavia in 1991.

We spent a few days in the capital city, Ljubljana. It’s lovely. It feels like any other typical European city. Smaller, less touristy, and more chill than the well-known cities of Rome, Florence, Nice, Barcelona, and Madrid. Pedestrian and bike friendly. A Saturday farmers’ market. Through the center of the city winds a river flanked by small cafes and outdoor seating.

Melanie and Martin Our primary reason for visiting Slovenia was to attend the wedding of our friends Surabhi and Ziga. We met some California friends in Ljubljana and rode an hour in a shuttle bus to the wedding site: Otočec Castle. There was time before the wedding to take pictures and explore the castle. The ceremony was outside the castle walls, with the reception in the castle courtyard. They got married. It was magical. Good times were had. They lived happily ever after. We spent the night in the castle then headed back to Ljubljana the next day.

Otočec Castle

Random tidbit: Lightning rods are prevalent on buildings in Slovenia and Croatia.

After another night in Ljubljana we left to explore the lands. Amy and Brian had flown in from Switzerland, and Emily and I would be traveling with them, as well as Melanie and Martin, over the next few days. We attempted to visit Postojna Cave, but didn’t allot ourselves enough time slash we got lost. We did stumble upon a cool natural bridge, which we briefly wandered around. Next stop was Bled Castle, which sits atop a cliff overlooking Lake Bled. We skipped going into the castle, as we wanted to get to our lodging in Croatia at a sane hour. We did make time for lunch and a quick jaunt down an alpine roller coaster (something like this).

Bled Lake

Croatia

You can see all 86 pictures from Croatia or the best 14 (mixed with the best pictures from elsewhere on our trip).

Short version

Plitvice Lakes was awesome. The island of Krk was nothing special.

Long version

Croatia joined the European Union on July 1, 2013, which is the same day we crossed the border from Slovenia. It was painless. We stayed the night at a simple bed and breakfast and made our way to Plitvice Lakes in the morning.

Plitvice Lakes had a similar feel to Yosemite Valley—a popular park on an amazing landscape. The trails crisscross a series of lakes and waterfalls that flow through a lush canyon. It’s a really cool place to hike.

Plitvice Lakes

The road leading to Plitvice Lakes was small and winding. The road we took on the way out even moreso. Our attempt at a direct route to the coast took us through hills lined with “no trespassing — land mines” signs (picture 1, picture 2). A reminder of the war 20 years earlier.

The majority of the coastline that I saw was rocky and steep, similar to the California coast. We crossed from the mainland onto the island of Krk, in the northern Adriatic Sea. There are a few small towns on the island and some scattered beaches. We had dinner in Vrbnik. The old part of the town had narrow, winding, cobble stone sidewalks and overlooked the sea. It reminded me of Cinque Terra in Italy. It seemed like a cool place.

Vrbnik coast

But that’s not where we spent the night. We spent the night in nearby Baška. In the morning we wandered down to the beach and tried swimming. The water was not exactly warm, the beach was packed, and we didn’t linger here.

Our next stop on the island was the city of Krk. It was cool. Neat. Old. Small. There’s a small fortification (Frankopan Castle) dating back to 1191. Also Krk Cathedral, which is at least as old. The beach here was nicer, warmer, and less crowded. Also not as “happening.”

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