Irrationality Assumption

Freelance writing requires a digital workhorse, and my Asus netbook, running Windows XP Student Edition, is a tired old mule. It’s bluescreening out of spite and taking 30 seconds to like, open the control panel. I’m pushing it too far and too much, I know. It’s time for an upgrade. A rational person at this point  buys a new laptop and ends the story.

Here’s what I’ve done:

1. Research: My hacker cousin messaged me a list of laptops. Good start!

2. Budget: Consulted with the Budget Committee (my husband, Sal) and line-itemed the purchase.

3. Store: Fry’s Electronics, because they are nice to me. They have a rodeo theme. That’s quirky and fun.

This was all decided days and days ago. So why am I typing this blog on Mr. Bluescreen? Why am I flailing my arms at him, stomping around, making idle threats?

Why haven’t I bought a new computer?

It’s a phenomenon of purchasing behavior that economists have missed. I know this because there’s no sexy term for it.* It goes like this: you know you should upgrade a thing – you’ve calculated the benefit / cost ratio and rationally it makes sense. But the one-time hassle cost of the purchase looms in your perception as greater than the accumulation of 30-second mini agonies of your present, outdated thing. Neither self-awareness of your irrationality nor clear benefits of the upgrade are enough to push you to change.

What will ultimately propel me is an explosion of frustration. I predict it will be 3:00 am, midweek. I’ll floor it to Walmart, and buy the first computer I can see through the rage-fog and a pane of glass, to replace the one Mr. Bluescreen broke.

I sent this text to Sal 59 minutes ago:

“I can’t take it anymore. The 12 seconds between every bloody click are tiny eternities binding me in DIGITAL HELL! If we don’t update my laptop to one that works you may come home to find this netbook roped off in a crime scene!! AHHHHH SAVE ME FROM MYSELF!!! love u.”

I’m getting close.


*Feel free to correct me if there is a word for this phenomenon. I’ll use it, acting like I knew it all along.




On how listening to NPR can kind of ruin your day if you let it

To supplement my freelance writing experiment, I’m working part-time at a cafe. Part-time sounds breezy and fun, doesn’t it? Sometimes it is.  Some days, though, I spend seven hours on my feet and want to collapse on the floor in a dramatic faint. But I never do. I just get on my bike and ride back to our apartment, flop in a chair, and drink a cup of oolong. Where was I going with this?

Right, NPR.

So, it’s been a marathon day, and it ain’t over. I hop in the car to pick up the veg bag, and hit Silicon Valley’s infamous rush hour traffic. I mash buttons on the radio, landing on NPR. This guy is talking about organic products, and how maybe they are not organic, and there’s conflict of interest between the farmers and companies that certify organic products.

Are you kidding me, NPR? The organic label is all I have to assure me I’m buying actual food! And now you’re telling me I can’t trust it? That it might be full of pesticides and nano-computers or whatever? That the moral superiority I’ve been feeling in the checkout line has been for naught?

I mash buttons again, landing on “With or Without You” by U2. I wail along happily, cracking the window to release those inconvenient facts into the California breeze.

Some days I just want the radio to be nice to me and not challenge deeply held beliefs, ok?

Is that so much to ask?

Throwback Thursday: Chat rooms

O, the chat room! You may no longer be popular, but I remember you fondly. Conversing with strangers, on any topic, at any time of day or night! The thrill of a pop-up message from MrRight22, inviting you to a Private Chat!

Confession: my friends and I didn’t use chat rooms to chat. We used them as social science experiments. Many an hour of summer break we spent dipping in and out of chat rooms, observing people’s reactions to our comments.

One of our favorite avatars was “Pog”, whose modus operendi was interjecting absolute nonsense into a normal chat and then ditching. For example:

Brian: So my dad says I have to go to piano camp, but I really don’t feel like it.

Mary: That sucks, Brian. Do you hate the piano or something?

Brian: Naw, it’s just that I already know how to play, you know?

<Pog has entered the chat room.>

Mary: Hi, Pog. a/s/l?

Brian: So, like I was saying, I’m pretty much a prodigy or whatever…

John: I play the piano, too. But I like the guitar better.

Mary: Wow, there are a lot of musicians in this chat room! He, he!

Pog: I ate a piano.

John: Yeah, I can play like Jimmy Hendrix, with like, a Pink Floyd twist…

Mary: Wait, did someone just say they ATE a piano?

Pog: Erm.

Brian: Yeah, what the ****, Pog?!

Pog: It was delicious.

<Pog has left the chat room.>

We never got personal or bully-y, but we were teenagers and said stupid teenager things. One time, we pissed off a hacker who threatened to send us a computer virus. I don’t know if that was really possible, but we shut the computer right down, just in case. We were more careful after that.

The chat room to the budding social scientist was a laboratory, providing hours of research on social codes, courting behavior, herd mentality – with live, unsuspecting subjects! You didn’t even have to chat to be a part of it. You could just “listen in”, like sitting in a thousand subway cars, catching patches of countless juicy conversations.

I’m sure you’re all too young to remember the chat room. You’ll never know those heady summer days of silly banter before it was “trolling”, innocent eavesdropping before it was, well, creepy and weird.


Self reflection

Yesterday I had one of those rare moments of self-awareness, when you can see yourself as others see you, and it makes you laugh. Or cry. Whatever.

A little backstory:

While we look for an affordable apartment in Silicon Valley, my husband and I are staying at my mother’s house in Palo Alto. Apartment searching has been tougher than I thought, but we are resilient and stubborn people.

One night, after a couple drinks at our favorite pub (the Rose and Crown), my husband pulls into the driveway and returns with a surprise – a kick scooter!

“I found it for 7 bucks at the thrift store!”

I laugh with delight and ride it around the quiet suburban street, at 10:00 at night. Despite the couple glasses of wine, I do a fair job of keeping it upright. It sits against the garage for several days, until I am running late for a writers’ meeting, and my husband has the car. I decide to give it a go.

It’s hard work, scooter-ing! It’s exercise, actually. Entering the Stanford Mall, I pass shoppers filtering in and out of restaurants, including a child and his father.

“Daddy, look at her! She’s riding a scooter!”

“Yes, son, it’s like yours.”

“But mine is cooler.”

“Ha ha, yes. Yours is cooler.”

I start to feel a bit self-conscious passing Neiman Marcus, when yet another child comments on the scooter. Instead of bringing it into the cafe, I prop the scooter discreetly against the door.

After the meeting, I am whizzing past Palo Alto High School and it hits me: this isn’t London, where you see trendy, green professionals zipping along the Thames path and popping out of the tubes on their scooters.

This is Palo Alto, California, and I’m wearing a backpack, riding a scooter back to my mother’s house.  In my thirties. What must these people think of me? Google professionals, no doubt, passing me by in their Prii and Teslas.

In the near-darkness, at 5’2″, I reckon I’m short enough to pass for a high schooler.

I take small comfort in this.

Don't listen to them, Rocinante. You are my noble steed. Together, we shall slay the windmills of preconceptions of appropriate adult commuting methods!

I call her Rocinante.




“Join a gym,” my doctor tells me. “Get some cardiovascular exercise.”

My stomach sinks. I am not a “gym person”. The weights, the machines, the infernally cheerful fit people. The protein powder. It’s all very intimidating to a small, puny creature like myself.

“But what about the classes?” Gym People helpfully remind me. “Classes are so fun!” 

Ok, let’s break this down – Exercise Class. Exercise is only “fun” if you’re a Gym Person. And Class – no one links “fun” with that word. It’s all learning, desks, and homework.

Aerobic classes are labs for motor skills evolution, shaking out the uncoordinated and awkward, creating ideal Gym People for the fitness environment. This is not “fun”. This is survival of the fittest.

So how did I end up in this BodyPump class?

I’m 5 minutes early and already the room is nearly full. Weights and strange objects are piled neatly in front of each person.

Turn around. A tiny voice inside me suggests. Run, before the music starts!

I am frozen. This is what a deer feels like, having stumbled into a class for lions.

“Um, this is my first BodyPump class,” I say to the shortest person I can find. “What is all this stuff?”

“Don’t worry, I’ll set you up!” She bounds cheerfully to the back of the room, arms loaded with blocks, weights, a ball…

Dear Lord, what’s that strap for??

In five seconds she has set me up a fitness nest of my own, complete with a pale purple bench suspended by pink and blue blocks. She smiles at me encouragingly as the instructor turns up the music.

The instructor wears a headset with a tiny microphone. She shouts out instructions, calling out people by name. Weights are moving up and down, strong legs are squatting, music is pumping. I haven’t picked up a weight bar in about 7 years. I’m doing it all wrong. She comes up to me, shouts instructions I can’t sort out. Manually manipulating my arms, she gives me a quick nod and goes back to shouting at the class.

Between sets I look around the room and observe. Everyone is smiling. Smiling! They are having a fabulous time.

My muscles are screaming. The shouting and club music reverberates in my head. I’m bending, pumping, flailing. I look at the clock – 30 more minutes to go!

You’ll never make it through. The tiny voice gets snippy. You’re almost dead now. I tried to warn you.

The rest of the class is a blur. I am certain that each new set will be the one that kills me. But something in me just won’t quit. And suddenly, it’s over.

I’m laughing. I don’t know why. Relief, maybe. Mild hysteria.

Later, my husband looks up from his laptop and grins. “How did it go?”

“I’m already sore.”

He laughs. As a personal trainer, he finds physical pain amusing.

“But you know what? It was kind”

He raises his eyebrows.

Gym People. Who can understand them?

Inconvenient Citrus

I signed up for a weekly veg and fruit box from this local CSA called Freshness Farms.  Let me be clear, the produce is beautiful and delicious – I have no complaints.

Isn't it lovely?

Isn’t it lovely?

The thing is, well…I’m overwhelmed by the citrus.  Where I grew up on the east coast in the mountains, I could only dream of so much citrus.  In California, I can go to the back yard and pick a lemon off a tree – any time I want, any day of the year.  This blows my mind.

The fruit box comes heaving with citrus fruit – bags and bags!  Not just safe fruit, like oranges, but tiny things I had to Google – kumquats.  You eat them whole, apparently.  The peel and everything!

Citrus is taking over the fridge.  I can’t eat it fast enough.

“Look,” I tell my family, “I’m instituting a Citrus Quota.  Two pieces, everyone, every day.”

I expand my culinary horizons, throwing citrus into every meal – orange salad, a lemon in every cuppa tea, blood orange sangria, kumquats in stir fry.  Sal whips up a dish with black rice and candied orange peels.  We’re trying.

Blood orange sangria

Blood orange sangria

At last count we have:

– 4 oranges

– 20 mini oranges (maybe clementines?)

– 2 grapefruits

– 57 kumquats

– 2 lemons

– 1 mystery Monster Citrus

The citrus is winning!

I pull the Monster Citrus out of the bag.  Sal says it’s a lemon.  I scoff – no lemon could aspire to be so large!  I declare it a grapefruit, and tackle it for breakfast one morning.

I cut the thing open and take a bite.

“Oh my God.”

“What?” Sal calls from the dining room.

“It’s a lemon!”

“Do I get any ‘I’m right’ points for that?”

It takes a gallon sized plastic bag to store it.  I stand a moment at the fridge, staring at it with awe mingled with trepidation.

Monster Lemon must be cut with a bread knife

Monster Lemon must be cut with a bread knife

Dear Lord, California.  What citrus mysteries to behold!

Monster Lemon showed some antisocial tendencies. He was quarantined in the fridge after this incident.

Monster Lemon exhibited some antisocial tendencies. He was quarantined in the fridge after this incident.