Keep Two Thoughts

Personal essays

Convenience - Essay from Newsletter 105

Sometimes I need a little extra push

Traveling without moving

Saturday morning I woke up early to give a talk “in India” at a Functional Programming Conference.

As luck would have it, the time zones had adjusted in the weeks since the talk was scheduled so there was a nine and a half hour time difference between Cleveland and Bangalore. This meant that my 6:30 am talk was now at 7:30.

It’s not a big deal but this change meant that the sun had come up before I started my talk and that gave me a little more energy which, in turn, made my talk better.

Sometimes it’s these little man-made things that make all the difference.

More power

One of the metaphors I used in my talk was riding a bike.

There’s that moment of freedom I remember of my dad running along beside me while I peddled holding onto the bike.

And then he let go and I was biking all by myself.

Of course it wasn’t long before I panicked and fell. And there he was again getting me back up on my bike.

It didn’t take long before I could ride by myself and apply the coaster brakes and come to a stop.

Once you know how to ride one sort of bike, it’s doesn’t take much to learn another type. You can switch from coaster brakes to hand brakes, from single speed to three speed to ten speed, and from one shift mechanism to another.

We biked everywhere in my hometown.

Shortly after I was married, my parents helped Kim and me buy bikes. While we were dating we’d rented bikes in wine country - but that’s a story for another day.

We never rode them as much as we should and last summer I decided I would clean up the bike and have someone get it into shape for the summer.

The bike was twenty-five years old but still ran just fine.

I, on the other hand, didn’t run nearly as I had twenty-five years earlier.

I used the bike to meet friends for coffee and occasionally took rides around my neighborhood. In the first four months of the season I rode eighty miles.

And then I decided to get an electric bike.

Well it wasn’t that simple. I agonized over the decision for months. I understood it was a luxury and that really I should just ride this bike more often. I felt guilty after ordering it - spending that much money on something I didn’t need.

I’m just giving you a peek inside my head.

The effect

I didn’t want a bike where I can press a button and it pedals for me. I wanted one that boosts my efforts - a so-called pedelec.

In my first four months of owning the new bike I rode 600 miles.

I could and should ride more, but it was an immediate change.

The main difference is that I don’t struggle so much to get up to speed after stopping at the stop signs that greet me at so many of the corners near my house. The boost flattens some of the hills near me.

The bike folds up so I can put it in the trunk of my car and drive down to trails along Lake Erie or in Metroparks.

I meet friends at coffee shops that are five or six miles from my house - I never would have done that before.

I stop to pick up groceries on my way home and put them in bags on the back of my bike.

If the weather is decent, I opt for my bike for any trip that would be less than ten minutes in my car.

This small convenience of having an electric boost to my efforts has had a big impact.

I still recognize it as an extravagance. I have a friend who is much older than I who bikes steep hills near his home outside of San Francisco. He does this in a good old-fashioned mechanical bike. I needed the encouragement that the electric bike provides.

Yeah. If you need another peek inside my head, I still feel badly about needing this encouragement.

Embracing convenience

I told you that I bought a new flour mill a couple of weeks ago.

Happily, I found a home for the old mill. It was a Retsel that was quiet and reliable and milled beautiful flour for more than a dozen years.

The new mill is a KoMo Mio. It is louder than the old mill but smaller, lighter, faster, and sits on my counter.

You already know that I have guilt feelings about buying this thing that I don’t really need - but I really love this mill.

If I need 100g of whole wheat flour, I measure out 100g of wheat berries, turn the mill on, pour the berries in, and in no time at all I have 100g of flour. If I need a high-extraction or more of an all purpose flour I’ll have to sift the flour and it will take longer and take more wheat berries - but not much longer (I have an attachment coming) and not much more.

In the two weeks since I’ve had the mill I’ve baked nearly every other day.

I decide what kind of wheat I want to use and how much I need. I mill the flour for my preferment the night before and freshly mill the flour for the final dough the next morning.

It’s trivial.

With the old mill it required set up and clean up time and so I was less likely to use it each time I baked.

Like the bike, it’s as if an obstacle has been removed.

Last weekend I wanted to make whole wheat matzah. I milled 480g of flour and mixed it with 10g salt and 290g of water. I rolled the matzah, docked it, and baked it in less than an hour. (Not eighteen minutes so it’s technically not Kosher for Passover.)

For these conveniences I’ve decided that if they are going to encourage better behavior - or just have the potential to do so - I’ll go ahead and feel guilty about it, but I’m going to buy them anyway.

I’m hoping to benefit from the guilt this summer. I’m hoping that it will help me get back on the bike and put in the miles once the snow melts and the weather is warm enough to be biking.

Then again, growing up in my hometown, we never waited for the snow to melt to get on our bikes.

Essay from Dim Sum Thinking Newsletter 105. Read the rest of the Newsletter or subscribe

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