Reading Seattle #3 — Fremont Library

Date of visit: July 10, 2017

I got these books for my first week of being on call — actually, I went to get them the first week of being on call, because I figured I could run from the Fremont Library to my desk quickly enough.

I ate some work dinner afterwards.

The books:

No No Boy (John Okada): Lots of long sentences with repetition that reminded me of beat poetry. I get the idea that this book is taught a lot around here because it takes place in Seattle.

The Revenant (Michael Punke): A nice book about a bear! No, it’s a man on a fur expedition team who gets mauled by a bear, is left in the care of two teammates, one of whom is a sociopath and convinces the other to also leave him for dead; they steal his gun and knife, to boot. Miraculously, the guy makes it, powered by a desire for revenge.

Conrad & Eleanor (Jane Rogers): About a marriage where the woman is more successful in her work and where the man prefers being at home with the kids.

How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia (Mohsin Hamid): This is the one I chose to skip, but Phil read it and said it was good, but melancholy-inducing.


Bikeshare trip report

I finally completed some substantive bikeshare trips today! It’s not perfect, but it is very good — more thoughts below.


I’d loaded up $20 onto my Limebike account, and thought I should finally use it for a trip of decent length. Today was the day, for a variety of reasons:

Location: I had a picnic to go to at Magnuson Park — this is a park on the Burke Gilman Trail (BGT), which is primo bike infrastructure. I wouldn’t have to ride on roads at all.

Logistics: I didn’t have to be at the picnic at any particular time, and there was food / drink at the other side. A nice bike ride would help me bring an appetite.

Light: My sleep schedule has been getting progressively later, so I decided to wake up “early” today and then bathe myself in sun and endorphins by biking to the picnic.

And — to seal the deal — it turned out that I left home without my wallet (+ bus pass!); there would be no way to cheat by getting on a bus, and I couldn’t take car2go because the wallet also had my driver’s license. Not risking it today.


My plan was to take a bus towards Seattle Pacific University (SPU), find a bike, and get on the BGT at Fremont. This is the bus I take to go to work every day (except I take a second bus or walk from SPU to Fremont), so I know it well. A kindly bus driver let me on the bus without my pass, and I got off where I thought I saw a bike on the app.

I soon ran into my first problem of the day. The app says there is a bike at a map point. I am standing as close to the map point as possible without trespassing. Where is the bike?

It wasn’t such a busy area that someone else would have taken it before the map had a chance to refresh; I can only imagine that the location was inaccurate — or, less charitably, the location was perfectly accurate but inaccessible. Like, someone has put the bike into their garage. Not a bad deal, right? You have 100% access and no risk, and if you don’t want to bring it back one day, go ahead, leave it somewhere truly public.

I assume the bikeshare companies have a way to deal with this, or just factor it into costs, but it’s not a great experience to be stumbling around suspiciously in quiet neighborhoods, peering into yards and alleys.

How was it?

Eventually I got a bike and got myself onto the trail. The bike emits a loud chime when you unlock it, which was pleasant feedback — I wish car2go did this, instead of me putting my hand on the car door and feeling for the lock to release, as if I was trying to exchange energy with the smartcar.

I should say now that I am far from a confident cyclist: I veer a lot, I’m always afraid that I’ll catch an edge and fall, and I can’t reliably start if I’m not on a decline. (I know the theory of starting uphill, but I don’t always land in the saddle.)

But generally, the ride was comfortable — no clanking derailleur issues, the problem I’ve had on every bike I’ve owned. The gears also worked well; biking on all flat or downhill, I didn’t have to use gears 1-5, but gears 6-8 were fine and easy to shift. I also really liked the handlebars — they are broad and contact your palm more than a plain cylinder. I felt that this helped me relax my upper body.

As an aside, the _existence_ of gears 1-5 is what convinced me to deposit my money in LimeBike, btw. If, for some reason, I had to climb a hill, I would be able to. That, and that I swore I had put my payment info into SpinBike, and it seemed like it’d lost it.

Of course, there are a few small problems: the bell worked on my first bike, but didn’t on my return trip. Worse, the bike is so heavy (or the kickstand is so short) that the kickstand can support only its own weight: if you have anything in the basket, the kickstand is useless, and you have to lean the bike against your pelvis.

I’m sure LimeBike is aware, but reliability in starting and ending trips could be improved — I had app flubs on both ends. On the way back from the picnic, I wanted to take the same bike, but was unable to unlock it. Let it be known that I _intended_ to bring it back to civilization — however, I tried three times, and each time, the app said that the input was invalid, unlocking failed, please try later, etc. In the end, I walked out of the park and, as luck would have it, found another bike that I was able to unlock.

And when I ended my trip, I locked the bike, listened for the little chime, and went inside to shower — imagine my alarm when I saw that the clock was still running on my ride! I trotted outside to check (definitely locked!); then I went to see my trip history in the app, and I had indeed ended that ride successfully — it just hadn’t been reflected the screen I had been on.

Overall, this was a great experience. I got some exercise (hopefully I’ll sleep early tonight), and felt more confident about biking. Unfortunately, even if unlocking a bike became more reliable, the fact that you can’t know that there will be a bike near you will always limit bikeshare’s role as transportation. But for a fun weekend picnic jaunt, it was excellent.

Reading Seattle #2 — New Holly Library

Date of visit: July 1, 2017 (7/1/17, how palindromic)

Have you heard of New Holly? Newholly? I hadn’t, and while looking through the map of Seattle libraries, that is how I chose to go to this one. I decided to take the bus on the way there and take light rail back; the 36 drops you off right there, or so it looked on the map.

It proved slightly harder to find than that. The library is in a compound, except the three buildings that made up the compound were only one or two stories high, and in my mind, compounds comprise tall buildings, with lots of shops / services at the ground floor so that you don’t really have to exit the building clump to live your life.

These buildings were the Newholly Early Childhood Center and Newholly Learning Center, and the library was inside the learning center. I think there may have been only one or two people there besides me and the staff; notably, there was a good selection of English language learning books, as well as books in other languages, with targeted resources for East African immigrants.

And it was very small — a single rectangular room, and I think the low shelves and low ceilings further reminded me of elementary school.

Anyway, the books!

The Shepherd’s Life (James Rebanks, @herdyshepherd1): Consider this the Northern English / Lake District translation of JD Vance (@jdvance)’s Hillbilly Elegy, but with less social commentary on inequality, and more sheep. “I thought school was stupid until my grandfather died and in grief, I read all his books”

A nice read, but I don’t think I learned anything about herding sheep. Namely, I want to know how Old English Sheepdogs were ever useful with all that hair, and how you train a Border Collie to herd. How do you show it what you want to do without running circles around your own sheep?

Watch out for the BIG GIRLS (J.M. Benjamin): This is under the imprint of ‘Urban Books’. It’s about a lesbian motorcycle gang of plus-sized women in Vegas that the Feds are trying to infiltrate. I thoroughly enjoyed this story, and will note that I have never seen this publisher in the Queen Anne library.

A Map of Betrayal (Ha Jin): I basically will read anything by Ha Jin. I feel like he understands my parents’ cohort — educated Chinese emigrants from the north. I mean, I think he sent the protagonist (a history professor) to be a visiting scholar at Beijing Normal University, my parents’ alma mater (though he calls it Beijing Teachers University), and then he puts the protagonist on the BU campus. The familiarity is reassuring.

I also like his translations of Chinese phrases — you can see exactly what is being translated, but it doesn’t try to make them sound exotic.

Books returned: Still have them; I’ll do it this weekend.




Reading Seattle – An Introduction

A while ago, I started going to a branch of the Seattle Public Library and browsing for books. Instead of going in with a list of books to fetch or just going in to pick up a hold, I scanned along the shelves for books that seemed fun, and preferably, were not too big.

The first week, I went to my neighborhood library, just blocks away, but the second week, I decided that this was a good way to visit neighborhoods in Seattle — ones I wouldn’t visit or even know about otherwise. And I was reading more.

Here’s why: I decided to stop choosing books that I thought I should read, and instead, just checked out books I would read. I’m not a very strong reader, and checking out books above my level, even if they were prestigious or “good for me”, wasn’t going to help if I never opened them. On the other hand, if I read horrendous trashy tales and didn’t like them, this would just push me back towards the virtuous, “name” books; if I did like them, well, great!

The order of visits is mostly by convenience / “is there anything interesting to eat nearby”, and I started doing this last July; I’m only now publishing these entries and I have no idea how the backdating will work.

Without further ado, Reading Seattle #1 — Queen Anne Library.



Reading Seattle #1 — Queen Anne Library

Date of visit: June 18, 2017

This library is blocks away from home, but I pass by four separate coffee shops on the way, if I use the term coffee shop loosely.

Cederberg Tea House specializes in Rooibos drinks — they put rooibos in the espresso machine, pull shots, and prepare drinks in the same way with steamed milk; they will also make the drinks with coffee beans. Most drinks come with a tiny cookie, and the rooibos drinks have a dusting of sugar on top. (also, you can book tea parties here!)

Then there’s Queen Bee, the coffee shop that always seems to be on the ground floor of the ritzy assisted living community, Aegis Living. I got a coffee from them this morning because Cederberg was closed (it doesn’t open until 10:30 on Sundays! That’s commitment to work-life balance for a coffeeshop.).

Caffe Fiore is the organic coffee shop; I’m sure I’ve been to the Ballard location and enjoyed the coffee there, but something about this one intimidates me, so I always walk past and look at the cool building next door, fittingly housing an architecture firm. Maybe it’s set back from the street too far and I feel like it’s a home to which I haven’t been invited, not a business.

And finally, Top Pot; technically a donut shop, but in a pinch, also a source of caffeine. It’s a great place to sit and look at rich people’s dogs walk past outside. Oh, Dunkin’ Donuts, why do you have locations in Stockholm and Shenyang, but not Seattle?

My visit was in the early afternoon; there were lots of parents with children reading and playing.

Here’s what I got:

Law (A Very Short Introduction), Raymond Wacks – Didn’t read this one; clearly, my fleeting interest in law fled before I got home.

Black Boy, Richard Wright – You know, this was written about Richard Wright’s upbringing in the Jim Crow south in the 1920s, but most of his insights and observations about being black in America are just as relevant today. That’s heartbreaking.

Cabin Fever, Mandy Smith – The salacious tales of being a Virgin Atlantic stewardess, or “trolley dolly.” I love industry insider accounts regardless of the industry, and this told me a little bit about the work of being a flight attendant, but it was also about the author’s sexcapades. It read like a Cosmo article, edible underpants and all; I have reminded myself not to judge other people’s preferences.

Wedding Cake Murder, Joanne Fluke – HAHAHAHA a small town baker makes it onto a nationally televised cooking competition and the celebrity judge gets killed. WHODUNNIT? Very, very loose plot, with characters that seem to eat their bodyweight in cookies daily.

Books returned: June 29th, 2017


natural language

I find you delightful and interesting. I admire you. But if it seems like I am quiet or never talk to you, it’s probably because I literally cannot.

I don’t mean “literally cannot” in the flippant way, as if you’ve done something unforgivable. I think I have an inability to react to certain conversational cues in the expected way, and it makes it painful for you to talk to me.

If you and friends have left a group of people after I tried to join a conversation, or let an opening question wither after I answer in my way, I don’t blame you in the least – it’s good signal, and helps me get closer to figuring out what’s going on.

On the other hand, I’d prefer not to skip events due to not being able to talk to most people (and the natural opposite, monopolizing a few people’s attention because they are the only people I can talk to), so I’m going to list out some observations.

Here are some things that happen in a one-on-one conversation:

  • When someone asks me a question, I answer too fast or too briefly, without asking my own questions, and what should be a conversation turns into an exhausting interrogation.
  • When someone asks me a question, I answer with an entire paragraph, anticipating all future questions. “So what do you do?” “I work for X, the location at Y, doing Z in role W — I’ve been there for about k years. It’s pretty good, I like it!” “Oh, neat…”
  • I interrupt. Horrendously. I can’t tell if the gap is for me to ask a question / paraphrase, or for you to say m–ok, I guess you were going to say more. Sorry!

And in groups:

  • In larger groups, I just. can’t. get. a. word. in.

I vividly remember one end-of-rehearsal discussion at Strictly Seattle about “conversations,” and in 20 minutes, I could not find some way to give my perspective, which was that I have a hard time getting into conversations, and that we should consider whose voices do not sound. (basically, what Jarrett Walker said)

I especially rued this opportunity because Strictly Seattle is a dance intensive, dancers are very body-aware, and maybe they would have had ideas — or maybe they would have just looked at me, “Poor awkward Lu,” left a lot of silence, and moved on in what they were all talking about before.

  • In medium (3-5) groups, I leave dead air.

I actually feel like I talk too much in medium groups, especially when other participants are women. But if I’m saying something, I don’t indicate well that I’m finished with a thought, and it seems like the other people are courteously hanging, waiting for me to conclude. This is a natural opposite of the aforementioned interrupting problem.

One thing that makes these (fairly mild, in the grand scheme of things) worse is that it seems to happen so much more with women than men, especially women who are mostly friends with women.

I fear being seen as a homewrecker or otherwise unacceptably heterosocial, but mostly, it’s a problem because I can’t be friends with so many of you.

Are men more tolerant of me because I share interests with them? Have I deliberately cultivated interests that primarily let me interact with men?  Under the assumption that people are mostly homosocial, maybe a greater percentage of men are awkward, and so, men have more practice talking to awkward people and waiting out conversational awkwardness?

Are women’s conversations more advanced: more teasing fragments, confiding of piquant opinion, and other devices I don’t even understand, arenas where a drily-delivered pun has no currency?

I guess I’m looking for a Speech-Language Pathologist, but one who deals with gestures and sentences, not phonemes as atoms. I don’t have trouble putting my lips together and parting with a pop, just once, crisply, but I do have problems answering a question and returning it gracefully, not with a kludge like “what about you?”, and not with a torrent of information.

I do realize that a lot of these ‘awkwardnesses’ I list are due to the assumption that conversations are about declaring facts. Maybe the easiest thing I can do is to think of conversations as opportunities to learn about people, and that I should ask more questions. Maybe this is what makes some people seem easier to talk to: they are comfortable with conversations composed of statements, and others feel that this shuts them out?

(addressing the smaller-eared elephant in the room: no, I don’t think it’s race or age – there are counterexamples all over the place)

Or you know, it could just be that I am still a nerd, and I forget how much of a nerd I am until I am with people who are not nerds. I like digital cats, partner dance, fitness, music, transit, and using words from science while having forgotten most of the details behind them. I dunno. This seems like a long-enough list of things.

You might be tempted to think, “well, I’ve never had a problem talking to you!” This is what makes this problem so hard to figure out: if I can’t talk to you, I can’t become good enough friends for you to take me aside and say, “Hey, Lu, do you ever notice that you do X?” It’s unfair for me to expect people who don’t know me well to do the hard work of observing and commenting.

But if it’s not a lot of work for you and this post inspires you to help, please, post just that. I really appreciate it, in unspeakable amounts.



I am going to write about cutting fruit.

Each way to cut fruit gives the eater a different advantage, but we don’t often list out the ways. This listing could be a table, though a sparse representation is more compact, and leaves room for comments.

Cutting an apple (around the core): allows you to eat a portion of the fruit at a time, lets you have no trash after eating the desirable parts of the fruit, easier to fit in the mouth / less noisy eating

Cutting an apple (through the core): This is an American practice that I have never understood. You risk more knife-injury, the hapless kids still have to eat the seeds, the seed particles spill out everywhere, and it’s not any faster than cutting around the core.

Cutting an apple (perpendicular to the core): to show that apples are the fruit of God, something something DaVinci code? art projects (look, a star stamp! also we should learn about monocots and dicots*) that seem incredibly wasteful in a modern context but maybe legit in an agrarian society?

[*] Once I was running one of those useless STEM events where we made soft serve ice cream in a bag. I actually tried saying “colligative property” to 5th graders. I also tried introducing graph theory concepts (yes! you said ‘family tree’ and isn’t it cool that you are never your father’s mother?) to a 13-year-old boy and a high-school-aged girl at a party this weekend and that did not really go over well.

Peeling an orange / citrus to eat in sections: allows you to eat a portion of the fruit at a time, lets you have no trash after eating the desirable parts of the fruit, lets you not emit odors that might be offensive to others

Cutting an orange into wedges: Allows you to serve a lot of people quickly while providing them with antioxidant-rich facials.

Cutting a durian: allows you to eat the fruit, lets you emit famously offensive odors, even before eating

Cutting a drupe (peach / plum / apricot / chimeras thereof) hemispherically (free stone): allows you to eat a portion of the fruit at a time, lets you have no trash after eating the desirable parts of the fruit, easier to fit in the mouth / less noisy eating, joy and satisfaction of the pit being free of the smothering flesh as you twist the two halves, as if cracking your knuckles or wiping your hands of some messy business

Cutting a drupe hemispherically (cling stone): sadness. bruising.

[pithy ending about fruits and labor]