Sunday, September 11, 2016

A bargain is not always a bargain

How can we get students more invested in their education?  What factors are involved in incentivizing study habits?  Why are students paying for higher education and then cheating their way to a degree?  When are students rewarded for their efforts?  Who has the answers to these questions?

dopamine
norepinephrine
fenfluoramine

This story has been burning around in my brain like a California wildfire.  This morning I tried to get it contained.  Sometimes the answers to the questions in my brain can only be found in a wide variety of interdisciplinary journals.
amphetamine

The main idea was this: do humans have a hard-wired mechanism for bargain-hunting?  If so, is that pathway activated in an educational context when students make a decision as to whether to actually study for a test or to try to get by doing the least amount of work?  It made sense to me from a caveman or cavewoman's perspective, when food is scarce then a caveperson should put forth the least amount of effort to obtain the food.  In a modern context, at least in Western culture, it seems that we are information and food-rich, so the idea of scarcity doesn't really apply.

However, we are also innundated with "bargains" and our culture loves shopping at malls.  I walked all over my city yesterday and the streets were empty while the mall was super-crowded.  There was no difference in the weather between the inside and outside.  What draws people to the mall?  Getting something for nothing!  Many candy shops and food vendors offer free samples.  There was a big MAC cosmetics display where people were giving free make-overs and cheering on those who were willing to receive them.  There are countless displays of cremes, hair irons, and aromatherapy offering free trials.  This is my psychological question in full demonstration, people love getting something for nothing.  And if not for nothing, then at a huge discount.

I'm not saying that I scoured the literature in an exhaustive search, but I did try to select papers from a range of fields around this general question.  Transaction utility theory says that satisfaction increases as a function of the amount of money saved as well as the perceived merits of the deal itself (e.g. it was a "real bargain").  Darke, et al. found that this was true for low-cost items ($100) but not for higher cost items ($300).  I also found this to be true as the main mall area had a buzzy-busy feel to it while Bloomingdale's had a distinctly different feel.  Shoppers self-selected into groups who were bargain-hunting as opposed to those who were willing to pay more for perceived higher quality merchandise.

I've written previously about dopamine and norepinephrine in the context of exercise.  Salamone and Correa delineate "liking" from "wanting" where the former is an "appetite to consume" and the latter is an "activation to obtain."  Wanting food involves effort in working for food.  Low doses of dopamine antagonists (amphetamine or fenfluoramine) do not impair the appetite to consume food, but disrupt the tenancy to work for food.  These authors argue that it is an oversimplification to consider dopamine as a 'reward' molecule, and that drugs of abuse merely turn on the brain's natural 'reward system.'  The paper concludes saying dopamine could be involved in the tendency of individuals to be willing to work for what they want, and not in the simply liking it.  For example, a student may like to obtain a college degree, but wanting it involves doing the work.

Smoyak writes about willpower and whether an outcome is considered "hot" or "cold."  If an outcome is considered "hot," a person may be more willing to wait for a long-term reward.  Conversely, if an outcome of a short-term reward is "hot" or highly pleasurable, then a long-term reward may not provide a person with enough incentive to choose against it, even if the hot short-term reward has negative long-term consequences.  An example is given in the context of weight loss.  Improved motivation for regular exercise is observed if the subject can visualize a hot, sweet, gooey treat at the end (e.g. a sexy body).  Maybe college students have a hard time motivating themselves to study because a college diploma is a "cold" outcome (e.g. a piece of paper).

acetylcholine
Cohen, et al. compare exploration versus exploitation in decision-making.  There is a cost for exploration (and a high uncertainty), for example "Star Trek: seeking out new life and new civilizations." There is also a cost for exploitation, for example how we are using fracking to obtain oil from deep within the earth rather than using other more easily obtainable hydrocarbons because our economy is already reliant on oil but most of the oil near the earth's surface has already been used up.  In the case of students, it would mean exploiting a single major and getting it done in 4 years.  Conversely, a student may explore a variety of majors and stay in school for 9 years without ever finishing a degree.  There may be an enticement towards exploration in the face of competition from others for resources, which may be why we have so few science majors: the waitlists are too long for our courses.  Acetylcholine and norepinephrine may signal uncertainty, which may regulate the trade-off between exploration and exploitation.  If a student is operating at a high level of exploitation, they will find low short-term utility but high long-term utility, and stimuli will fall more into the chronic stress waveform, called "phasic" in the work of Cohen, et al.  If a student is engaged in exploration, the stimuli will be more of a classic stress response, called "tonic," making each new experience unique.  Exploration may have low or high short-term utility, but resides at the minima of long-term utility.

Speaking to the issue of cheating in collegiate academics, perhaps the work of Mary Rigdon can shed some light.  Her work presented explicit rewards and punishments in a contract between a principal (the student) and an agent (a professor, or the university at large).  The agent is trusted by the principal (at some cost) and there are potential joint gains (the student obtains a degree and thereby a good paying job, the university gains an alumni and thereby donations to its foundation).  However, the two parties may not consider each other's best interests without incentives (punishment or reward).  She found that neither incentives nor rewards had a detrimental effect on cooperation.  Low level incentives have no behavioral effect, while high level incentives enhance efficiency and cooperation.  Both high reward and high punish bring the desired payback in line with the actual payback.  The demand for reward (I want an A) exceeds the demand for punishment (I am willing to act within the guidelines of academic integrity).

Walton, et al. summarize research in birds, rats, and monkeys thus: animals do weigh work versus reward.  The amount of time a task takes may be assessed separately from the amount of effort needed.  Also working consistently over a period of time is qualitatively different from applying extra force to a single event.  Starlings, when choosing whether to walk or fly to rewards, the birds optimized the net rate of gain over time.  Dopamine may be involved in a feed-forward loop in decisions where putting in extra work obtain a greater reward; signals would cause additional dopamine to be released.  Interestingly, Auer, et al. describe something like this in their machine learning work.  Studies in humans have noted that we have a difficult time accurately reporting the prices they pay for goods (Darke, 1995) so perhaps they also are not skilled at reporting the time or effort invested in completion of a task, such as getting through a single course, or completing all the necessary coursework to obtain a college diploma.

Arkes, et al. define "inaction inerta" which may be responsible for students "burning out." Inaction inertia occurs when bypassing an initial opportunity decreases the likelihood that a subsequent similar action will be taken. For example, if a person misses out on a sale in the past, they will be less likely to take advantage of another sale in the future. 
Conversely, there is the "sunk cost" effect where an investment of time, effort or money leads to future increased willingness to spend. 
There is also a "foot-in-the-door" effect, where a low-cost behavior heightens the likelihood of a subsequent request to perform a high-cost one. 
The distinction with inaction inertia is that it leads to inaction rather than action.  A reason for "inaction inertia" may be denigration of the target, for example: a student does not get a passing grade in a class.  To make themselves feel better they say: I hated that class anyway (and I would rather change my major than take that class again).  Therefore, students would be unwilling to retake the class when offered a second opportunity.  Two factors which play a significant role in "inaction inertia" are regret and valuation. Regret is induced by antipathy to wastefulness.  Perhaps students are feeling like failing classes is a waste of their time, rather than focusing on what they were able to learn.  A potential trouble at the community college and state university is the relatively low price: product offered at a bargain is often devalued.  Perhaps our mantra of "just take [the class] again" is contributing to a devaluing of the classroom experience and demoralizing our students.

In closing, I will leave you with a paper about delayed gratification.  Simon, et al. studied ability to forgo immediate reward in favor of delayed (and more often beneficial) rewards.  This ability in older populations is often attributed to "life experiences" or "wisdom," however the authors present evidence that there are neurobiological factors in the mature brain that play a role in the ability to delay gratification.  The authors point out that although delayed gratification in aged rats was clearly an advantage in their study, it could be maladaptive in other situations, particularly when behavorial flexibility provides superior advantage.  I believe that I've noticed this in older students.  They have more appreciation for the "big picture" of their educational journey, and are willing to work hard for a long-term reward, but do not as easily adapt to a short-term, new and stressful learning environment.

I titled this blog "A bargain is not always a bargain" because I wanted to discuss the idea that an education is worth what you put into it.  An affordable education may provide you with great experience, an expensive education may be merely decorative; and vice versa.  It's impossible to get a great deal of value unless you invest yourself in the task.  A human instinct, "to get something for nothing" or bargain-hunting, does not apply to higher education.  Cheating your way through classes will leave you only knowing how to cheat.  Also, it will be necessary to "weather the storm" of hard classes and local failures, if you are committed to the task of completing the degree.  By cutting corners, you may experience short-term rewards, but your long-term exploitation mechanism (to fully pursue all the knowledge available in your field of study at your particular university) has been short-circuited.  As a teacher, I will do my best to invoke both BIG CARROTS and BIG STICKS.

Works Cited

Arkes, H. R.; Kung, Y.-H.; Hutzel, L. "Regret, Valuation, and Inaction Inertia" Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes (2002) Vol 87, No 2, pp 371-385.

Auer, P.; Cesa-Bianchi, N.; Fischer, P. "Finite-time Analysis of the Multiarmed Bandit Problem" Machine Learning (2002) Vol 47, pp 235-256.

Cohen, J.; McClure, S. M.; Yu, A. J. "Should I Stay or Should I Go? How the Human Brain Manages the Trade-off between Exploitation and Exploration" Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B (2007) Vol 362, No 1481, pp 933-942.

Darke, P. R.; Freedman, J. L.; Chaiken, S. "Percentage Discounts, Initial Price, and Bargain Hunting: A Heuristic-Systematic Approach to Price Search Behavior" Journal of Applied Psychology (1995) Vol 80, No 5, pp 580-586.

Rigdon, M. "Trust and Reciprocity in Incentive Contracting" Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization (2009) Vol 70, pp 93-105.

Salamone, J. D. Correa, M. "Motivational Views of Reinforcement: Implications for Understanding the Behavioral Functions of Nucleus Accumbens Dopamine" Behavioral Brain Research (2002) Vol 137, pp 3-25.

Simon, N. W.; LaSarge, C. L.; Montgomery, K. S.; Williams, M. T.; Mendez, I. A.; Setlow, B.; Bizon, J. L. "Good Things Come To Those Who Wait: Attenuated Discounting of Delayed Rewards in Aged Fischer 344 Rats" Neurobiology of Aging (2010) Vol 31, pp 853-862.

Smoyak, S. A. "The Science of Marshmallows: What's Going On with Willpower?" Journal of Psychosocial Nursing and Mental Health Services (2009) Vol 47, No 4, pp. 8-9.

Walton, M. E.; Kennerley, S. W.; Bannerman, D. M.; Phillips, P. E. M.; Rushworth, M. F. S. "Weighing up the Benefits of Work: Behavioral and Neural Analysis of Effort-Related Decision Making" Neural Networks (2006) Vol 19, No 8, pp 1302-1314.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

smog > smug


This summer, I've been driving to work.  I hate it.  I realized that when I bike to work, I feel smug about it because I feel like I am personally improving the air quality.

With the current wildfires in Santa Clarita, there is a considerable amount of particulate matter in the air.  Several biking events (626 Golden Streets, the Tour de Laemmle) have been postponed due to poor air quality.  It's one thing to blame the air quality on wildfires, but the truth is that there are many things we all do on a day-to-day basis that generate particulate matter.

Particulate matter affects human health, leading to asthma and chronic bronchitis.  Sources of particulate matter that we can eliminate include: agricultural (leafblowers) or construction activities which liberate mineral dust, combustion of fossil fuels and biofuels, electricity generation (via coal and natural gas).

Smog is visible air pollution made up of NOx, SOx, ozone, smoke or particulates.  The air quality in Los Angeles County is pretty bad year-round but we really notice it when we can see how bad it is. Lately, all you need to do is look up in the sky.  Angelinos have been asking each other, "are those clouds or just smoke?"

Surprisingly, two sources of indoor particulates are hair dryers and curling irons.  Our vanity might be making us sick.  I had heard that clothing dryers were a major source of particulates in the home, but it turns out that hair dryers and curling irons are 17 times worse than a clothes dryer.  The other major source of indoor particulates is cooking.  Spending time in a restaurant is almost 7 times worse than sitting in traffic on the freeway.

Yesterday we had the great opportunity to attend LA Rooted Youth Organizer Led Art Exhibit: Movement for the Earth.  It really got me thinking about how to: Masticate, rely on Ancestral wisdom, be Intentional, and aim for Zero-waste (MAIZ).  We had a great time biking to the event and the themes presented by the youth really resonated with me.

When possible, I will get back to biking to work.  And I'll try to be less smug about it.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Slow Mo

I had the best time on my birthday, on foot, taking public transportation.  I took the Glendale Beeline bus to Glendale Community College and walked up Sunshine Drive.  It was a steep hill.  I walked through winding neighborhoods, eating Animal Crackers.  I ran downhill to just miss the NoHo to Pasadena express bus, which was okay because I got a sandwich and ate it while waiting for the next bus.

I boarded the bus at its Glendale stop and got off at Memorial Park in Pasadena just 6 minutes later.  I walked down the staircase to catch the Gold Line and had a nice chat with a friend who also happened to be waiting for the train.  It was only 2 stops to Allen station.  I got off the light rail and walked down to Pasadena City College campus.  I was out all day, and I got a headache from either stress relief or dehydration, but in the end I was glad that I gave myself the time and invitation to slow down and enjoy life for the day.

Last Friday, I took the Metrolink to California State University Northridge.  I rode with a guy who was taking Metrolink for the first time in his life.  He had a career as a limo driver and knew the freeway system better than most people.  In his opinion, the current freeway system cannot accommodate the population of Southern California.  The best we can do is exercise imminent domain, paying market value for people's houses and businesses, to add one or two more lanes to the existing freeway systems.  This will, in his experience, never be able to address our growing population.  The answer, as he sees it, is to get more people taking buses, light rail, and trains.  He also had his bicycle on the train and was planning to get off at Van Nuys and ride about 5 miles to Sherman Oaks.

It was so refreshing to see another person taking transit that seems to "get" the situation like I see it.  I didn't tell him anything about myself, he just let loose with his life experiences.  It was refreshing and part of the reason we think it's so important that cyclists have a dedicated bicycle car on every train. Those recent transit adventures reminded me of Kelly Kearns, who gave up her car for a full 60 days. There's nothing like it to help you appreciate mobility, two legs, two arms, two ears, two eyes, two lungs, and one heart all working together to get you around town.

I've been reeling over a set of maps published in The Washington Post showing our world's natural resources and the effects of climate change.  Los Angeles is part of the SF-LA megacity that drives the gross domestic product (GDP) of the entire United States.  We absolutely need to continue investing in the transit infrastructure to prevent our city from pollution, gridlock, and health issues.  I was meditating this weekend and the only concept that helped me reach a calm, peaceful state of mind was the color green.

Fostering more gardens and less concrete, biking more and driving less, recycling and conservation; these are all ideas that can help us live more sustainably on this planet.  I'm not saying we can reverse the damage we've already done, but I think that there are things we can all do to enjoy what we have now.  We watched the movie Valley Uprising this weekend, about rock climbing in Yosemite National Park.  We also watched some Huell Howser on Starr Ranch in Orange County.  It's difficult to imagine a changing climate that would drive out the plants and animals living in California. Prolonged drought and increased development will lead to such a future where the state I love is no longer habitable.

I hope we can plan an escape for Bike to your National Park day, September 24th.  If you're planning something, let us know where you're going.  Try to completely eliminate the need for a car if you can. Challenge yourself!  Take it slow, enjoy the journey.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Value Update

I wrote a post titled "value" about 3 years ago, and my views on the topic have evolved since.  Rightly so.  I was riding (one of) my bikes to school last night and thinking how privileged I am to be able to do that.  Not that I'm special, but "having the rare opportunity to do something that brings particular pleasure."  We were brainstorming the theme for Earth Day 2017 and we came up with "Biking is for Everyone."  Which is to say that everyone has access to the privilege of riding a bike.

$0.15 per week
I was thinking about the bikes that I ride.  The first is a 1987 steel MTB.  I've been riding the mountain bike since I could stand over the top tube, maybe like 1993.  Taking into account the amount my dad paid for it and the length of time I've been riding it, it's like he paid 15-cents per week for me to have the privilege of riding this bike.  I read an article about custom steel frames and this bike isn't custom to me, but I feel like it is because we are aging together.  In the article, the frame builder points out that the bike will often outlive the rider.  I hope to keep riding this bike until it costs $0.10 per week, which is only about 11 years from now.  By then, I'll have my student loans paid off.  Everyone has goals, right?

The red bike has had about 3 or 4 different seats, 3 or 4 sets of handlebar grips, and now has front and rear racks.  The picture above makes it look like the bike has front suspension, but it doesn't.  Instead there is a lovely curving front fork that is graceful and attractive.  Also the top tube is more horizontal.  Right now, the bike has 1.95 inch wide tires, which are a comfort on pothole-infested streets.  They are knobby on the outer edge and smooth where the rubber meets the road, causing some people to say, "hey your tires are bald," but the tires were made like that.  In the past, I've bolted a milk crate to the rear rack, which was fantastic for carrying things like textbooks and birthday cakes.  This bike has only one water-bottle cage.  I have a cup-holder that could be attached to the handlebars, but it's not on there now.  I use a dog hiking backpack as a mini-pannier toolbag when we go out on group rides.  Also, I have a sweet flag mount that fits on the rear wheel quick release, and we ziptie the flag to the rear rack to prevent it from flapping around too wildly.

$0.61 per week
The blue bike is a repurposed mountain bike that I found on Craigslist back in 2010.  It was made in the late 1990s, and is branded Performance M505.  It's a steel frame, but some components are aluminum (like the handlebars).  It's a fantastic city bike.  The bike has a sturdy rear rack that I hook panniers on, or bungee my backpack on top of.  Of the time that I've had it versus how much I paid for it, it's cost me 61-cents per week.  It easily fits on the rack of a bus.  I rode it from San Francisco down to Salinas loaded down with camping gear.  I ride it back and forth to Pasadena, loaded down with textbooks and homework.

I've been looking for pedal toe clips and straps to make climbing easier, either new or vintage, but for now the bike has platform pedals.  This bike has two water bottle cages. My coffee in a 40 oz hydroflask is bungeed to the rear rack while milk and an empty coffee mug are in the bottle cages.  Perfect for work.  I am considering a handlebar bag.  I had one on a bike that I rode as a kid, and totally loved it.  What would I put in there?  My new big smart phone, which is too big for the old seatbag that I used to put my old phone in.  I always carry a pump, spare tube, tire irons, and a patch kit in my backpack.  By the time the price of this bike comes down to $0.10 per week, I will be 68 years old.  I could still be riding a bike then!  Why not?

$3.40 per week
The road bike I have is the only rack-less bike.  It's great for traveling ultra-light, with the exception of two water bottle cages.  I include a pump on the down tube and a seatbag with tire levers, spare tube(s), patch kit, and an emergency phone.  This bike has clipless pedals.  On a recent layover at LA Union Station, we had 2 minutes to run from the Metro Red Line to the Metrolink Orange County Line.  On the marble floors, my shoes made quite a horrible noise.  Maybe I should get some shoe covers.  I would have to live to be 336 years old for this bike to cost $0.10 per week, so I'm guessing that won't happen.  But I do think of this bike as a gym membership.  We pay $40 to use the YMCA per month, and after owning this bike for over 7 years, it has been cheaper than paying a monthly fee for gym access.  When I belonged to Bella Fitness, that was $80/month and so it would have worked out to pay for the bike within 2 years (in case you're looking to justify buying a new bike).

We're going down to the beach this weekend for a pre-4th of July LACBC Sunday Funday ride. I'm considering going to the party store to get some patriotic decorations and cover the bikes in stars and stripes.  Reminds me of the J. E. George 4th of July Parade that went through my neighborhood in Omaha, NE.  This year is the 66th year of the parade.  Although I won't be there, I really want to decorate our bikes with streamers and such.

Strava Heatmap
Speaking of my new smartphone, I'm starting to use Strava.  All the data from Strava users is put on a map, which city planners can use to justify adding more cycling infrastructure where people actually ride.  So I'm trying to ride where I wish there were more infrastructure and mapping it on Strava.  For other stuff like walks and regular commutes, I am still using MapMyRide.  No more Nike+ device, no more Garmin Forerunner 110, just one smartphone with GPS.

I tried to ask myself if I could exist with only one bike and one pair of shoes.  It would be difficult for me.  But we're definitely working to simplify our lives as much as possible.  As we're approaching an ideal level of space vs. clutter, I will try to make a vlog about our tiny house and post it/share about it here.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Car-free Disney

After watching "Confessions of a Retired Disney Princess" I had the urge to visit Disneyland.  I love traveling, but hate the hassle of driving, parking, and sitting in gridlock.  So we visited Orange County car-free using bicycles and the Metrolink train.  We brought our dog on the long weekend vacation, using a Pet Gear 3-in-1 carrier.  We took the OC line to ARTIC, the multimodal transit hub in Anaheim.  It was less than 3 miles to our hotel, which was easy to travel by bicycle. We walked through Downtown Disney three times for free, and I was even able to take my dog through security with no problems.  I didn't see any Disney Princesses, but I did see the Monorail go by a few times (which, by the way, you can't board without a valid park pass).

The only downside of this trip was a disruption to Metrolink and Amtrak service due to a gas leak on Sunday when we were on our way home. Luckily, with the help of the LA County Bike Map and Google Maps directions, we biked our way through Anaheim and Cerritos along Ball Rd, which had intermittent bike lanes.  As we approached El Dorado Park, there was even a protected bike lane.  We got on the San Gabriel River Trail, which we love because it has lots of green parks with restrooms and free water.  At the Whitter Narrows we got on the Rio Hondo bike path to El Monte Metrolink Station.  Even though we got home pretty late, we still made it (35 miles of biking).  Although a gas leak is something we could not have predicted, it did force us to follow through on something we had been wanting to do for awhile, which is to find Metrolink train lines that intersect the Rio Hondo/San Gabriel River Trail.

We missed the Viva SGV! event and the Los Angeles River Ride, and I didn't see the fireworks over the Sleeping Beauty Castle, but we still had a great car-free weekend at Disneyland.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Best $1 Ever

Bike To Work Day 2016... I was flying down White Oak in the valley and this happened:


I got screwed! Earlier that morning, I was going through the checklist in my mind of everything I would need to change a flat to make sure I could change my tire if I had to.  I always do this when I'm biking to or from work.  I wondered if I was really prepared to fix a flat on that day.  I knew I had:

  • Pump
  • Tire irons
  • Patch kit
  • Spare tube

Yes, I thought, I had everything.  I just didn't think I would actually need it.  So there I was, hauling as fast as I could away from work, towards my house on Bike To Work Day, trying to make it to one commuter pit stop before it closed, and PSSsssst the tire went flat.

I had my GoPro running, and I considered filming myself changing the flat, but then I thought, "what if I can't do it and then all I end up filming is myself having a pity party right there on the curb."  So I turned off the camera and took out all my gear and got to work fixing the flat.

I love having a road bike with quick releases, it makes getting the tires on and off very fast and easy.  Removing the screw from my tire involved unscrewing it and inspecting the inside of the rim for damage.  I used the tire irons that I keep in my backpack at all times.  They cost $1.  They're lightweight plastic.
So I got the tire and tube off the rim.  I removed the flat tube and placed a $1 bill over the hole in the tire.  The image below uses the wrapper from an energy gu or bar, which also cost about $1, but I was taught by Riverside Bicycle Club to use cash so that when you get to the bike shop, the mechanic gets a nice tip!

Photo from bikehacks.com

When I reached for my pump, I took one look at it and realized (S#@$) I had brought a mountain bike pump instead of a road bike pump.  I have at least 3 small pumps and some of them are configured for Presta and some for Schrader.  But luckily, just this month we had purchased several adapters for a cost of, you guessed it, only $1.

After opening the Presta valve and fitting it with the adapter, I placed the tube inside the tire and gently inflated it.  This gives the proper shape to the tire and makes the fit snug between the tire and tube.  I shimmied my gloved hands along the tire with the tube inside it to make sure that the tube was seated comfortably in there.


I replaced the tire onto the wheel, again it helps to be wearing gloves, firmly gripping the tire and stretching it back into place.  I did use the tire levers a little bit here, too.  Then I put the wheel in my lap and started pumping to reinflate the tire to specificication (110 psi).  The pump I have has a gauge on it.
Mini Dual G

Try as I might, I could only get just past 60 psi but I figured hey, I'll just ride slow and get to a bike shop.  But I ended up riding all the way home.  So I guess the take-home message is that you MUST travel with these items at all times.  This flat was not patchable I would say, so I'm grateful I had a spare tube.  And the $1 adapter saved my a$$.

From our commuter workshops we learned that most cyclists fear biking to work because they aren't sure how to address changing a flat tire.  I did the job in about 15 minutes with very little drama and with no help whatsoever from passersby.  If I can do it, so can you!


Profound thought from the ride home: If I ride fast, it'll hurt less when I get hit by a car from behind. That's physics people!  But why was I having such a morbid thought?  Hey drivers: give me 3 feet.  And slow down please.  I got a flat while riding in a bike lane.  If I had swerved to avoid the hazard (screw, glass, etc) and not swerved towards the door zone, there would have been nowhere to go since cars were whizzing by me at 50 mph in an area with a 35 mph posted speed limit.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Tiny House Realness

I was thinking about my tiny house today.  I was thinking about hiring some help for some spring cleaning.  Even though it's small, I really hate cleaning house.  The good thing is that there's hardly any carpet to vacuum.  The bad thing is that there's hardly any way to "put things away" in order to clean since there's hardly any space to hide things.

I found this website http://planner.roomsketcher.com/ that I used to make a mock-up of our house. The first house I drew looked lovely with all our furniture in it.  Then I calculated the area of my drawing and found it was 680 sq ft.

680 sq ft = too big
So then I started moving things around and trying to reduce the size of the floor plan.  I got it down to 500 sq ft.  I also added a few other key pieces of furniture that were missing in the first drawing.

500 sq ft = still too big
But our house is actually listed at 372 sq ft so I had to keep moving everything closer together to more accurately reflect the actual size of the home.

380 sq ft = closer to the true size
Now this is more of a true picture of what I'm living in with my husband and dog, Edna Jo.  When I watch the "tiny house" reality TV shows, I laugh at the people who are trying to consolidate their lives from 4000 sq ft into a tiny house.  They really have no idea what's coming.

I was considering taking you on an actual tour of our house, but as I said in the first paragraph, it's really messy right now.  Looking at the renderings from the roomsketcher is encouraging though because it shows me how it COULD look if it were really clean.

view of bedroom from bathroom
 One key piece of furniture that I loved when I first got it is the vanity (desk) pictured in the foreground above.  It was funny because it looked small in the box but when we tried to fit it in our tiny (Smart ForTwo) car, it was too wide.  There's a bench seat (with storage) that doubles as a stepstool.  The vanity itself has two drawers for my hair doodads and cosmetics.  It has a big three-fold mirror that I use to get ready for work.

view of bathroom looking inward
Removed from the drawing so that you can see inside is a really large shelving unit that we hang our bathrobes and stock linens and towels.  Under the sink is where I store the chemicals like Simple Green, Bleach, Drano, and PineSol.  We also keep laundry detergent, a travel-sized iron and small ironing board on that shelf.  There are dirty laundry baskets on the floor under that shelf, too.

view of bedroom from doorway
 The green shelves in this picture are pull-out canvas drawers (baskets) that we store our socks, t-shirts, shorts, underwear, and things that we wear every day.  We have a washer and dryer outside (through the French doors) on our back patio.  There's a clothesline out there, a bbq grill, and a bikestand.  There also a small table and chairs, which we hardly ever use, but they're there.  And a doghouse.

view of bedroom from vanity
Our actual closet is pretty tiny.  We have some bins in there for workout clothes and non-wrinkling dress clothes that don't fit on the hangers.  Mostly we hang our dress shirts that we wear to work and our cycling kits so that when we want to go for a bike ride, everything's grab-and-go.  I also have a bin for sweaters and another bin for pants.  Our nightstands are filing cabinets, which I put my scarves and swimsuits in.

galley kitchen
The kitchen counters have a knife-block, a coffee maker, and a microwave.  Above the oven, there's a spice rack.  On top of the fridge are two baskets for cereal and cereal bars.  In the cabinets below the countertop are pots & pans, and other special dishes we don't use often.  In the cabinets above the countertop are the everyday dishes.  The drawers below the countertop have all the utensils and ziploc bags.  We have our toaster oven just outside the kitchen on top of an old wine rack that you can see behind the blue chair pictured below.

reading area
 This is where we spend most of our time when we're home.  It's a great spot to put our feet up and read something.  The filing cabinet between the chairs is where we keep office supplies and reading material.  We also put our drinks there when we're sitting down.  We eat our meals in these chairs since the table (shown below) is always crowded with stuff.

table and desk from reading area
This is the other area I spend my time at home.  Not at the table unless I really need the space for some project.  I mean where I am now: at the computer.  We have a great printer and scanner, and a very large monitor that we use for a TV.  We can see it when we're in the big blue chairs.  We have a filing cabinet for storing papers and documents.  Under the table is where we have all of our tools and bike stuff.

looking inward from front door
If this was really our house, every surface and every wall would be covered with items: bicycles, tennis raquets, shoes, clothes, towels, backpacks, etc.  But I'm definitely inspired to reconfigure some of our existing shelves to accommodate books.  I'm not totally sure we could eliminate items, or "put them away" but perhaps reassigning some areas from one priority to another would reduce the clutter.

I promise if I ever get the house as clean as the renderings above, I will do a vlog about it.  We've lived in this house since June of 2011.

curb appeal
 One thing I loved instantly about the house was its stoop.  It's covered with plants now, but the cuteness of the whole facade really drew me in.

view of bathroom looking inward

 The bathroom from the rendering looks pretty much like this photo I took on the day we signed our lease agreement.

view of bedroom from bathroom
The view of our bedroom from bathroom looks similar to the rendering also.  I took these curtains down and replaced them with some noise-and-heat canceling curtains I bought when we lived in La Jolla.  They're darker (not as light and airy) but they do help keep the bedroom cool in the summer and quiet year round.

view of bedroom from vanity
The actual closet is smaller than the rendering (as you can see above) so that's why we have such issues with storing all our clothes in there at one time.  Our solution was to rent a 5' by 10' storage unit at Public Storage, right down the road.  We have lots of books in there, but also we moved all the non-essential clothing to that space, and we have a clothes rack on wheels that is a secondary closet. When winter is over, all heavy coats and clothing move down there.  When summer is over, all shorts and tank tops go there.

bicycle alley

The other charming thing about this house is that we can store our bicycles along the side of the house.  They're ready to go out a gate that leads to the front so we can just roll them out as needed.

BBQing veggie-style

We used to grill outside often, but not so much lately.  It's good because we have a propane refilling station nearby.  This was shortly after we moved in and before we got the storage unit.  All the stuff that didn't fit in our house was outside under a big tarp, which was hooked to the roof.

Using the bikes to dry my clothes
We also got some trainers for our bikes.  When we first moved to this area, I didn't know where to go bicycling and I thought the traffic was too scary to bike on the streets.  But I'm over it now and hardly ever (read: Never) use the trainers.

washer and dryer from craigslist (used)
 I do, however, use the washer and dryer all the time.  In fact, I should be doing laundry now instead of writing about doing it.  The w/d combo have gotten a bit more rusty than you see in this picture, and we had the switch on the washing machine replaced, but other than that, it's been great not having to haul everything to a laundromat.

bicycle-repair stand
We definitely do use the bike stand for simple repairs like adjusting brakes and derailleurs.  I also use it to take wheels on and off to repair flat tires.  Also, for cleaning the bikes.

now that's home
I'll close with this: I never thought I'd be living in this tiny house for 5 years.  Max, I thought, 2 years until we find a bigger, better place to live.  But the rent is relatively inexpensive for our area and the utilities are included.  We would definitely have less money to spend on fun things (or to put into savings) if we rented a larger house (or a condo or an apartment).  I KNOW for sure that we do more outdoor activities living in this house.  If it's a choice between staying in this cramped house and going out to ride bikes, I will definitely choose bike riding (or hiking, walking, camping, etc.).

If you know the joys of living in a tiny house, or you're considering it, drop a comment and let me know if this blog was helpful or at least entertaining.  And if you're bored, and you want to help me clean this place up, come on over.