Monthly Archives: December 2011

Death of a Company (and My Awesome Commute)

It’s been said that “he who lives by the sword dies by the sword.” The Silicon Valley version could be “she who is hired with investor funding is fired when the investors are ready to cash out.”

In 2008 I was hired in a spending spree that tripled the size of my group and included purchasing another software company. Within six months, my group was slashed in half and I narrowly escaped the layoffs. Three years later we were profitable and were scoring A-list customers with our newest product in a new market. But it was too little, too late. The investors wanted their money and we were sold, just two weeks before Christmas.

The buyer was a private company wholly owned by Mr Z, who built his empire by acquiring software companies for their maintenance stream. The day after he bought us, Mr Z visited our California office to welcome us to the family. In his one hour visit, he proudly told us that he had flown in on his Gulfstream, which takes him around the world to the dozens of companies he's acquired. He introduced us to his lovely flight concierge who travels with him, and joked about traveling places where it wasn't safe for him to wear his expensive watches.

Photo credit: Ben Wang via Note: The Gulfstream in the photo is NOT Mr. Z’s actual plane.

Within a week over half of the people in the room were fired, including me. No need for finance, marketing, HR or most of customer support. The official paperwork said we were either redundant or our positions were not in alignment with corporate strategy. For me, I suspect it was the latter. Who needs marketing if you’re not reaching beyond your established customer base?

Most of my co-workers fully expected this outcome, so packing up to leave wasn’t as sad as you’d think. We even had time for a little goofiness in the office before we hurried off for happy hour downtown. The strange truth was that the happiest people that day were the ones let go. The ones who were kept seemed somber, perhaps in fear of the BIG UNKNOWN ahead, perhaps with a bit of survivor guilt.

Aside from losing daily contact with my friends in the form of co-workers, my biggest sadness is the loss of an amazing commute. Before working at this company I had ridden my bike to work, but never with the frequency or pleasure that this job has brought me. A five mile commute on neighborhood streets is distinctly different than a 10 mile commute on high-speed roads through office parks.

Still, if I look back at all the jobs I’ve had in the last 20-something years here, all have been within a one hour commute distance, and half have been what I would consider along Dutch-bike friendly routes where I could ride in street clothes (blue stars). The other half were in locations where I’d need to ride in bike gear and change at the office (red crosses). So I feel confident that I’ll find a job where I can still commute by bike.

My big unknown is what I will do next. We’re in good shape financially, but that doesn’t mean I can retire before 50. I’m not really worried, though. There’s always something interesting around the bend in Silicon Valley, even for a veteran like me.

If you were to lose your job tomorrow, what would you miss most? What would you look for next?

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Posted by on December 31, 2011 in Around Town


Fashion Friday: Little Black Dress in Winter

Add a slim fit knit top, tights, tall boots and a wooly hat and the little black dress makes the transition from warmer to cooler temperatures.



Posted by on December 30, 2011 in Cycle Fashions


Last Minute Tasks Before the End of the Year

Ah, December. The last chance to complete everything you’d set out for the year. Or in my case, spend the remaining healthcare funds out of my Flexible Spending Account (FSA). Top of the list was getting a physical and a mammogram, closely followed by an eye exam, and refilling allergy medicine.

According to Google maps, it’s only 1.8 miles to my doctor’s office: 8 minutes by car, 10 minutes by bike. An easy choice despite the frosty morning. When I rolled into the parking lot I noticed they had moved their previously hidden bike rack to a more prominent location. But the “patient parking only” made me wonder if doctors and staff are not allowed to use it. For those who think doctors wouldn’t ride to work, guess again. I once got stitched up after a mountain bike fall by an urgent care doctor who regularly rides to the clinic.

Since I had allowed 30 minutes for the ride I had plenty of time to fill out questionnaire. I was pleased that they had a section on exercise, but was a little dismayed by the safety section that followed. It asked only five questions, most related to obvious dangers: loaded guns, domestic violence, smoke detectors.

But first on the list was whether I wore a bike helmet. The answer for me is yes, at least when riding in the car-centric areas, like most of the United States. But I couldn’t help wonder if this really the #1 safety issue? What about eye protection when using power tools? Or having a rubber bath mat in the shower? Or never cutting with the knife blade facing toward you?

One thing I like about visiting the doctor is getting the stats. Blood pressure: 116/60. Heart rate: 73. Both normal, but higher than usual for me. Could it be from riding to the appointment? Height: 5′ 6.5″. Weight: about 5 lbs more than usual. Ooops. Time to start counting points again. But everything in the healthy range thanks to bicycling. I rode off to work, picking up my allergy prescription at the drug store along the way.

That afternoon I rode to the clinic in Palo Alto for my mammogram, riding under the Caltrain tracks through the Homer Tunnel. When it was built, the tunnel was controversial because it’s at the end of one-way street along a bike-unfriendly arterial road. The city considered a contra-flow bike lane along the one-way street, but it was nixed after an outcry by businesses not wanting to lose eight street side parking places. The city found a workaround by changing traffic light timing sequences so now patients, staff and other cyclists and walkers have a much-needed tunnel.

The whole facility is really lovely. Who wouldn’t feel better after visiting a clinic with beautiful garden areas and comfortable, attractive interiors. With only a small amount of pinching and poking, I passed the mammogram.

Finally, last week I had my eye test where I learned that the optometrist rides his bike to the office too since he only lives a mile or so away. Tomorrow I’ll ride back down to the optometrist’s office to pick up my reading glasses, adjusted with a slightly stronger prescription. If only bicycling could help keep my eyes as young as it does the rest of me.

Is there anything you’ve been putting off all year that you’re in a rush to complete? Or will it roll over to become a New Year’s resolution?

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Posted by on December 29, 2011 in Around Town


A New Bike for Christmas

It’s such a traditional Christmas gift that it’s almost a cliche: the new bike. I don’t remember ever waking up to find a bike under the Christmas tree, but I do remember that one year my father repainted my older sister’s outgrown bike and updated it just for me. Off came the 1960’s style handlebars and saddle and on went Stingray handlebars and a banana seat with bold flowers and a sissy bar. I was very excited to have a girly bike with the latest style.

As an adult, I appreciate even more that my father took the time to not only paint the frame and upgrade the worn parts, but to choose fashionable accessories for me. My dad is more of a “function over style” kind of guy. There were many crudely but effectively repaired items around our house to attest for his skill. I don’t have a photo of the bike, but it resembled this one I found on Craigslist, except that mine was hand painted blue and had long handlebar tassels. But the saddle is identical to mine. Isn’t it groovy?

This year I didn’t get a bike for Christmas, but I was lucky enough to have one of my bikes become someone else’s Christmas bike. A friend-of-a-friend was looking for a good used mountain bike for his girlfriend, so I sold him my carbon-framed full-suspension 2007 Trek Fuel 9.8 race bike. After I bought Scarlet, my Ibis Mojo, in 2009, the Trek was pushed into a corner of my garage and ignored. She never even got a name or a bike portrait, even though she got me on the podium at Sea Otter in 2008.

With the extra cash from selling the Trek and the extra garage space now available, I was hoping to buy Dick a new bike for Christmas. Ever since we got back from London, he had been eyeing the Pashley Roadster Sovereign, a classic English city bike with a relaxed, upright geometry in a lugged steel frame, a leather sprung Brooks saddle, a full chain guard, hub-generated lights and a sturdy rack. On Christmas Eve, we went down to A Street Bike Named Desire and took a test ride.

For all its good looks and great details, something about the Pashley’s geometry/sizing didn’t work for him. It seemed like a combination of its high bottom bracket and his preference for full leg extension made the seat feel awkwardly high, especially when stopping and starting. Disappointing.

Both Dan and Joe, the dad-and-son shop owners, recommended the Pilen, a bike made by a small manufacturer in Sweden. From the big smile spread across his face during the test ride, I could tell that Dick liked the feel of the Pilen much better.

Dick also liked the the Pilen’s components, accessories and the color choices, but he wasn’t ready to commit. He wants to test ride more city bikes, like Gazelles and WorkCycles from the Netherlands. But I have a feeling we’ll be back for the Pilen.

If you were to add another bike to your stable what would it be? Would it replace an existing bike or would it be yet another bike to ride?

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Posted by on December 26, 2011 in Around Town


Wishing You a Joyful Christmas

Today I share some things that bring me joy during the holiday season. What brings you joy at the holidays?

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Posted by on December 25, 2011 in Other Stuff


Fashion Friday: Special Delivery for Christmas

Recipe for staying warm while delivering Christmas treats: First, combine wool leggings, suede boots and a turtleneck sweater. Then add heat with a flap-eared bomber hat and a puffy down vest. A festive bow on Juliett and cheerful cookie tins complete the look.


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Posted by on December 23, 2011 in Cycle Fashions


Christmas Lights Ride with Passion

Have I said before that I really love checking out Christmas lights on my bike? Apparently I’m not the only one. Over 70 people joined in on the Holiday Lights Ride hosted by Passion Trail Bikes. We had so much fun last year that Dick and I brought along a few friends this year to join in the fun. I guess we weren’t the only ones.

The ride was only nine miles or so, but the route was carefully chosen to hit the highlights (pun intended) of Belmont and San Carlos. The pace was easy, the costumes were silly and bike decorations were over the top. Last year my favorite bike was a tandem with a trailer long enough to haul lumber with a sound system operated by a car battery. This year’s favorite was a vintage Schwinn Twinn tandem with a real four foot Christmas tree jutting off the back. With battery-operated lights and ornaments of course.

The climax of the ride was the amazing displays of holiday excess on Eucalyptus Street in San Carlos. Not only is the car traffic moving along at less than five mph, even bike speed was too fast. We had to pull over, gawk and take photos. The most impressive house had 700,000+ lights–all solar powered. Another had a beautiful 25 foot live tree with basketball-sized ornaments while another set up an icycle-draped gazebo with a plastic Santa. There was a long line so I didn’t get a photo.

Afterward, we headed back to the shop where Charles, Patty and their loyal customers served appetizers and desserts. I made a small batch of my mom’s Louisiana pralines. If I had known there would be such a large turnout I would have made more.

What’s your take on holiday lights? Awesome or tacky? Where do you draw the line?

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Posted by on December 22, 2011 in Around Town, Dirt Trails


Day One as a Free Woman

I slowly savored my first day of unemployment. I slept in, took care of a few business details, then met my friend Katie for lunch and finished the afternoon with a little Christmas shopping. Like me, Katie was let go as marketing director after a corporate buyout, so we had plenty of common experiences to chat about.

Katie has been dog sitting at her brother’s house in Old Palo Alto, so I rode up from Mountain View to her brother’s place, then we rode downtown together for lunch. Katie grabbed her nephew’s Electra Townie, which worked OK for her after she adjusted for the Townie’s flat foot slack geometry. She also grabbed her nephew’s skater-style helmet, which looked more stylish than it fit.

Our destination: Oren’s Hummus Shop, billed as “an authentic Israeli Restaurant in Silicon Valley.” I can’t attest to the restaurant being authentically Israeli, but it was truly Silicon Valley, with a disclaimer that the store was in beta and an internet passcode right on the wall menu.

My six item sampler had two kinds of eggplant, beets, carrots, a yogurt sauce that would be good on anything and something else that I can’t remember. All good. Katie’s hummus and falafel combo left her too full to finish the bowl. Could have been those thick and soft pita breads that went with everything.

After lunch, Katie ran off to meet some former colleagues, but suggested I check out Live Greene, a new “green” gift shop down the block. So I did. Among all the recycled paper and plastic items were a surprising number of recycled items recreated from bike parts, mainly chains and tubes. I may not ride my bike to be green per se, but it’s cool to see how the bicycle has become an icon for green, which makes sense of course.

Do you recycle any of your used bicycle parts for anything interesting? Is being green a factor in why you ride?

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Posted by on December 20, 2011 in Around Town


Fashion Special Edition: Black Monday

When the grim reaper visits your workplace, etiquette dictates black attire out of respect for those whose time has passed. RIP to my small software company.



Posted by on December 19, 2011 in Cycle Fashions


A Saturday Afternoon Trip to San Francisco

Who needs an official “staycation” when you’ve got a free afternoon and you live only 35 miles from a world-class tourist destination? On Saturday, Dick and I grabbed our bikes and hopped on the Caltrain’s “baby bullet” weekend service and headed to San Francisco. One of my favorite bike manufacturers, Public Bikes, was having its holiday party and I was curious to see what new bikes and accessories they might have in stock.

What we found was a delectable new assortment of colors for their highly approachable city bikes, some new bike panniers inspired by the Clarjis ones I bought in Amsterdam, and some really interesting books. I came out of there with an iPhone mounting bracket that has a few kinks I wasn’t able to work out in the five minutes I spent installing it on the sidewalk.

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After the party, the plan was to shop at bit at Union Square, or at least check out the window displays. It is the Christmas season after all. But once we started rolling down the Embarcadero we didn’t want to stop. We cruised past the Bay Bridge, the Ferry Building, Fisherman’s Wharf and the Marina, and ended up at Fort Ross underneath the Golden Gate Bridge. I brought my little GoPro helmet camera, which created a bit of a stir among the tourists and natives alike, including a “thumbs up” from a limo passenger.

But the only interesting footage I got was a short piece down Lombard Street, the “world’s crookedest street.” We were disappointed to find the tourists were out in force even in the off season, so we had to share the narrow, twisty street with too many cars to be fun. It was hardly worth the steep climb to get up to the top, especially when you’re grunting up a 20% grade next to a pickup truck belching diesel-fumes. Blech!

Still, it was a great and inexpensive to spend the day as tourists in what’s practically our own back yard.

What’s your favorite tourist activity near your home? Are you saving money by taking a “staycation” this year?

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Posted by on December 18, 2011 in Travel

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