Ride the Lightning

Riding in Lightning

Question: What is the protocol for riding in a thunderstorm? Lightning is a rare occurrence in San Diego and I found myself wondering about the safety of it as I rode Monday morning in the dark toward ever increasing lightning strikes. I was fortunate to be able to get onto the train before it even began to rain (I was not expecting adverse weather and did not have any rain gear, but I did have my laptop).

I'm sure that the terrain has a lot to do with how safe the ride will be; an open field will be far more dangerous than midtown Manhattan, between all the skyscrapers. Do the tires of your bike work the same as your car tires to insulate you from the ground so that you are safer on a bike than walking? Should you just abort whatever trip you were on and wait the storm out (or call for a ride if you are so lucky)?

I don't know the answers to these questions, but I hope that you do.

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Four Day Work Week

One often overlooked method to relieve the stresses of traffic (including the stress on the environment, stress on the roadways and the mental stress of being stuck therein) is to lessen the number of days spent traveling. I'm talking, of course, about a four-day work week.

The purpose of a four day work week is to work longer shifts causing work the same number of hours in fewer days. In a traditional 40-hour work week this would mean working four 10-hour shifts instead of five 8-hour shifts. Ideally, we could just work on less day at the same length shift and just make every weekend three days long. Let me know if you can talk your boss into it and then forward me an application. If you work a non-traditional number of hours or length of shift you might have to tweak the numbers a bit to get that day off.

There are many benefits to working only four days a week. Not least among them is the extra day off. You can use this day for projects around the house, working on a side business, hobbies or even just blow it on video games. Better yet, use it to do bike rides that are longer than your commute. Another great benefit of a four-day work week is saving money and who doesn't like to save money? That day off that you get to take every week isn't just a day off from work. It is a day off from your car, a day off of traffic, or a day off of public transit. You spend less money on gas, you save wear and tear on your vehicle of choice (be it automobile or bicycle) or free up a seat on the bus or train. You are also available to clients, customers and co-workers for more hours in a day. If you are working 10 hours in a day, you will be able to help a co-worker who is in early working on that report that is due by the 10 o'clock meeting and still be available to that client who calls "after hours" because of a mistake on their order that they just noticed.

While these are all great reasons to start working just four days a week, there are also potential costs. The most noticeable cost is the longer work days. In fact almost all of the costs of this arrangement are due to working more hours a day. First, and most importantly to your employer, there is a potential for a loss of productivity. Working a longer shift can wear you down mentally and physically so that you are no longer working at your peak level. On top of the wear of working a ten hour shift, you would have to get over your mental idea of what a full day of work entails. If you are used to making 800 widgets a day when you work 8 hours a day, you will need to notice that you now need to make 1000 widgets a day. While this example is simplistic, many jobs do not have a quantifiable way of determining the amount of work done; if you work one of these types of jobs, it might be good to start your day making a list of things you need to accomplish that day or week. On a personal level you will also find that there is less time in your day for sleep or even your personal time at home before and after work. This feeling can be mitigated some by using your time more efficiently, you can make your lunch before bed or set your coffee maker on a timer so that it is ready for you when you wake up. Another cost is that while you are available to your company for more hours in a day, you are available for fewer days.

Now that you have decided whether the four-day work week is for you, there is one big hurdle before you can start your eternal 3-day weekends: permission from your company. Before you march up to your boss and demand this to be an option available to you, try this plan I've outlined. Start by talking to your co-workers. Find out who is interested and if they are willing to meet with your bosses with you. The more people in your workplace that are interested, the easier it will be for your management to support the idea. Next, meet with your boss (or send an email if that fits your workplace better) and outline how this can improve working conditions, worker morale and that it can lower the workload of office equipment; then show the number of (and names of if possible) people who are interested in pursuing this option. If you boss seems wary, offer to look into your state's labor laws regarding this practice. Employers could be worried about paying overtime which is required in some states after an eight hour shift. There should be options, however, built into your state's labor laws that could allow non-traditional work schedules. If your boss still seems wary, have other employees bring the idea up to them so that they can see there is a desire among your co-workers. If all else fails, send him to this article or any of the number of columns, articles and studies done on the subject.

I have personally been enjoying three day weekends since the start of September. My case is a little different from normal. My train ride limits the number of hours I can work in a day. If I take the first train north in the morning and the last train south in the afternoon I get in exactly nine hours of work. This is not really enough to put in a full work week in four days so I was not able to cost-effectively achieve a four-day work week. My boss had even floated the idea to the employees in order to help the company out (we have been expanding this summer and purchasing computers and workstations for each employee was putting a strain on the company financially). However, now that my wife is comfortable on her bicycle again and is riding up to four days a week (without the help of public transportation!) I've figured out a way to tryout the four-day work week. I have been working two nine-hour shifts (where I ride my bike and take the train) and two eleven-hour shifts (to which I drive our Civic hybrid).

While this does cut down on my bike commuting it does free me up to go on some longer rides I was not able to find time for when I was working Monday-Friday. (Next week I'll talk about a great site for finding and planning rides.) I've also found that my fears about productivity slide were unfounded. Once I got used to working the longer shift (and assuming I am getting enough sleep) my production has not dropped off at all. One of the best parts of this setup is the money saved. I do not buy a monthy pass to the Coaster ($156) instead I buy a two round-trip tickets a week ($11 each) and driving the hybrid saves gas money (costing me about $5 in gas a day). Combine that with the day that I do not pay to go to work and I'm coming out way ahead.

Do you have any stories about alternative work schedules? Post them in the comments section below.


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What a difference 10 months makes!

November 2007:
"Oh no! Oil is going to hit $100 a barrel!

September 2008:
Wow! Oil is only going to be $100 a barrel!
(of course gas prices are still going to go up).

Ride your bike!

I should also take a moment  to explain my absense. I've been thinking about how I want this blog to be and what I want to do with it. I have decided to try to convert to once a week, column style publishing. This means less in the way of writing, but hopefully what I do post will be of higher quality. I will probably still post short tidbits when I have something I want to say that doesn't warrant an entire article.

So look for that soon.

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