Sunday, January 26, 2014

First miles (er, kilometers) of 2014

Let the biking begin!  For this trip down south, I brought an actual bike with me to take advantage of the extended riding season.  No disrespect to the BikeSampa three speeds, but sometimes a guy needs more speed and comfort than they can provide.  I'm hopeful that last week's 45 miles in Sao Paulo are the first of many before I return north for winter's thaw.

As alluded to in the title, being in South America means that I'm actually logging kilometers, not miles.  The 45 miles was translated from kilometers at the spot rate of 1.60934.  I just hope I don't lose any miles due to differences in the conversion rate between now and March.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Three Quick Steps to BikeSampa

My last post reminded me of the challenge I encountered in May of 2013 when I wanted to make use of the BikeSampa program in Sao Paulo.  From the BikeSampa website, registration appears rather straight forward, but the requirement of having a local phone number threw me for a loop.

Luckily, I was able to complete the process in three quick steps(*see note below):

Step 1 - Acquire an unlocked cell phone
After almost a year out of service, my Blackberry was pushed back into duty when I brought it with me to Brazil.  I consulted a few videos on YouTube to learn how to do the trick, then $8 and five minutes later and my phone was ready to use.  

Step 2 - Purchase Brazilian SIM card 
These are readily available and cheap, about $5 for the chip itself at any number of retailers.  When the phone is powered back on with the SIM card installed, a text messages provides the assigned cell phone number.  Technically, I think the process could stop here, because the phone doesn't actually have to be activated to complete the registration at the BikeSampa website, only a valid phone number is required. But the last step will allow the phone to be used to actually access the bikes, so it's worth doing.

Step 3 - Register chip with mobile phone provider
I bought a chip from the Brazilian provider TIM and their customer service line even had support in English.  All that's needed is the number of your passport and a few other details and the phone is activated. The first time I did this there was a two hour delay until the phone was actually ready to be used, but I think the current setup is pretty much instantaneous.

If you have a smart phone and international data plan you can also download the BikeSampa app which is very easy way to get a bikes.  To do this, you still need to follow steps 1 and 2 because the registration  requires a phone number.  The app itself is very easy to use and there is an English version available.

Alternatively, you can use the activated cell phone to withdraw a bike by calling the number on the station placard, pressing the station and bike numbers, and waiting for the bike to be released.  After that, it's happy biking on the concrete jungle of Sao Paulo!

*In all actuality, my first attempt at accessing BikeSampa took me closer to 10 steps, mostly because I didn't know which steps were required and doing them out of order.  For instance, I first purchased the SIM chip but didn't realize it needed to be unlocked or my phone needed to be registered.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Three Speeds

After three months in South America, I'm finally back in Minneapolis. I've spent much time recounting my work experience in Sao Paulo to friends and family, and as I told them about switching among English, Portuguese, and Spanish every day, I realized that the perfect metaphor for this time could be found on the streets of Sao Paulo: the ubiquitous BikeSampa three-speeds.

I can get anywhere I need to go in Portuguese, it might just take a little longer than usual and the crank just might have to spin a few more times than in the other gears.  I am still working to expand my vocabulary, but for the most part I can express myself as I need to.  I can typically talk my way around a gap in my verbal arsenal.  I stayed primarily in Brasil, so I also lived a lot of my day in first gear.  Although my co-workers could have upshifted and dropped me like a bag of dirt at any time, I was able to keep pace well enough for them to let me stick around. 

My Spanish is quite serviceable for almost any circumstance, which is good because I usually have one or two calls a day with my colleagues from Argentina.  I’m never moving too slowly here, even on the days that I’ve spent a lot of time in Portuguese and am shifting out of low gear.    I studied Spanish for a long enough time and have picked up enough business vocabulary that I can get anywhere I need to go without problems, even accounting for some variations in Argentinian "castellano".  People always ask me if I’m
“fluent” in Spanish.  All I know is that my second language almost feels like a first language after I've stayed too long in Portuguese, but I'd have to defer to my colleagues on whether they'd call me "fluent" or not.  

There are absolutely no impediments to my ability to communicate in my native tongue.  If my legs (or lips) are willing, the bike is able.  Of course, if I need to slow down to first or second in English to accommodate my colleagues that have it as a second (or third) language poking along in those gears, that’s obviously not a problem either.

In all honesty, I much prefer riding my 20 speed carbon fiber bicycle, but I don't plan on picking up another 17 languages just to push the metaphor further.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

56 days, 5 countries, 4 bikes...

In my previous post I commented on being "below budget" in my goal for cycling mileage in 2013.  A large part of this has been due to significant travel so far in 2013.  Since March, I've been out of the country for 56 days, 10 of which were vacationing with Pati and the rest were for business trips to Brazil and Argentina.

Although this kept me from quality cycling on a quantitative basis, it has not lacked in qualitative experiences as I've been able to experience biking in several other cities.  My first trip out of the country this year was to South America, and after a week in Sao Paulo without biking, I left for a week in Buenos Aires where I was able to do some riding.

The city has a bike share program for locals, but I was not eligible to try Mejor en Bici due to eligibility limitations having to do with the type of visa I had (or rather, didn't have).  So instead I rented a bike and explored the city.  Trusty #128 (see below) turned out to be the worst bike I have ever paid to ride, but even a horrible bike is better than no bike.

I was quite impressed by the cycling facilities.  There are many on-road bike lanes, and many of the parks also have dedicated bike paths separated even from running and walking lanes.  For locals it is especially convenient because the bikeshare stations are ubiquitous in the heart of the city.  Biking the city as a means of transportation seems to be gaining momentum in Buenos Aires.  

I picked up my rented mule in Palermo and initially biked back to my hotel to load up my laundry (I noticed a laundromat a few blocks away from the bike station so thought I'd put the bike to work).  The chain fell off no fewer than three times, and after I dropped off my laundry and washed up, I exchanged the first bike for good ol' #128, which was only superior in that the chain stayed on the entire time.

I did most of my exploring in and around the Palermo area, but did get as far as the Estadio River Plate (to the northwest) and also to my hotel near the Estacion Retiro and Torre Monumental.  I really wished I had a more comfortable bike to traverse the 20-some miles, but it was still worth the 75 pesos I paid for four hours of biking.

After my time in Buenos Aires was up, I returned to Sao Paulo for another week and a half or so and was back in Minneapolis by the end of March.

The next post will cover the Barclay's Cycle Hire scheme in London..

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Get busy bikin', or get busy drivin'

Somehow five months of 2013 are already in the books, and I glanced back at my mileage goals for the year compared to my actuals YTD.  It's extremely disappointing: I haven't even logged 100 miles on the Cross Check and I planned to get to 4,000 for the calendar year.

There have been circumstances contributing to this poor performance (more to come in future posts), but in order to achieve these goals I am going to have to do a lot less commuting by car, and a lot more biking.  The round-trip commute will add 24 miles a day, which will definitely help reach 4,000, but it would take 167 days of bike commuting alone to get there.  With an average of 20 working days per month, this would mean more than eight months of commuting every day to do it so the miles will have to come from other riding, too.

So if anyone out there is looking for a biking buddy, just let me know, remind me about this post, and I'll pretty much be obligated to join you.

And the other goals?  Here's what else I want to achieve by 12/31/2013, (and what I've achieved so far):

25 blog posts (this will be #6)
30 hand written letters to friends / family (written 5 so far)
3 hours per week of Spanish / Portuguese study or practice (on track - more details to come)

Other than the language practice, I have some more work to do.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Achieving Proper Cut-Off

Every time a new biking season comes around, I tell myself that "this will be the year" that I finally get an accurate count of my annual bike mileage.  In each of the past two years, I purchased a new bike but failed to buy a bike computer at the same time.  As a result, I've ridden hundreds of miles that never get recorded, or they get recorded but I forget to identify how many relate to one year versus the next.  A classic cut-off problem:

(Disclaimer: if you have no interest in accounting nerdspeak, just skip to the bolded part below)

AU Section 326:

The Use of Assertions in Obtaining Audit Evidence

.14 Management is responsible for the fair presentation of financial statements that reflect the nature and operations of the entity.  In representing that the financial statements are fairly presented in conformity with generally accepted accounting principles, management implicitly or explicitly makes assertions regarding the recognition, measurement, presentation, and disclosure of information in the financial statements and related disclosures.

.15 Assertions used by the auditor (see paragraph .16) fall into the following categories:

a. Assertions about classes of transactions and events for the period under audit:
iv. Cutoff.Transactions and events have been recorded in the correct accounting period.

But this year IS the year!  I swapped out the Cateye from the Long Haul Trucker and installed it on the Cross Check, my go-to ride these days.  Unfortunately I've already logged a few miles this year, but forgot to first take a peak at the odometer to find out what my opening balance was for 2013.

As such I've had to prepare a "roll-back" schedule to arrive at the ending balance for 2012.  This is similar to what a lot of my clients in public accounting would do if they didn't perform their inventory count right at December 31. Depending on the amount of activity before or after the count and year-end date, this could get messy.

My situation will be fairly straight forward and since I haven't ridden at all this year on the Giant, no roll-back is necessary for those miles.  Here are the key odometer stats, complete with workpapers supporting the balances:

2013 Opening Balances

916 miles = 2013 opening balance, Cross Check

1,111 miles - 2013 opening balance, Giant TCR

The 916 miles comes from backing out the 35 miles already included in the odometer, which actually relate to the 2013 riding year.

As long as I remember to compare these totals to the miles on the odometers as of December 31, I should have no problem calculating and reporting my miles this year.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Last Busy Season Soundtrack

Yet again, I've managed to put off posting my previous year's busy season play list until now.  Of course, were I still in public accounting, I would be creating the 2013 busy season playlist, but I no longer experience the bittersweet phenomenon that is a busy season in public accounting.

The bitter requires no description.  But for those who have never experienced the 70-80 hour work week protecting the vitality of the capital markets, perhaps it's beneficial to explore how this could be "sweet" in any way.

Despite these unfortunate circumstances, my fellow auditors and I always forged ahead with a common goal and found ways to make the most of it.  My defense mechanism was to find the humor in the situation, relieving the pressures from the unreasonable demands and deadlines encountered in a public accounting busy season.  There was no shortage of laughter in the audit rooms, as clients or co-workers usually provided sufficient fodder for new material.  And if they were short on supply, YouTube could always save the day.  These are memories and relationships that I will always cherish.

For me the other bright side of spending so much time in front of a computer is that it gave me an opportunity to get back into music.  As my workday stretched into the evening hours, I looked forward to streaming the Current after the client had left.  It provided a great backdrop for reviewing workpapers, wrapping up memos or taking care of anything else that the day hadn't afforded time to complete.

For the past few years I've enjoyed accumulating the a list of "greatest hits" so to speak of the songs that I heard most frequently and can quickly bring me back to those times.  It's with a slight touch of melancholy that I present last year's, and my last year's, busy season soundtrack.

This year I tried to group the songs into categories that represented what I usually felt over the course of a busy season.  Here goes:

Simple Song / 1996 - These songs are both high energy for me, and I always tried to launch out of the gate with a strong push.

Parade / Neon Indian / Shiny Things - After the initial burst of energy, it's time to focus and get into a strong rhythm.  Energy is still high but you know you can't keep this initial pace the entire time.

Go Outside - The initial round of deadlines (interoffice reporting, preparation of client schedule requests, etc) passes, so you slow down just long enough to catch your breath.

Up, Up, Up / Temporary - That doesn't last long and you realize the breather you took was longer than it should have been.  Time to catch up.

Don't Move / Strange Attractor / Myth - It's back to getting into a rhythm, but as work piles up, the work days drive you deeper into the night.  This leads to dream like reflection, dragged into this state by a lack of sleep and also by the soothing lights of the skyline overhead as I drive home on the vacant highways.  You're not sure busy season will ever end.

Emmylou / 1904 - You don't know if it will ever end, but you no longer care.  The adrenaline has long worn off and you have no energy.  Your mind and body will not allow you to feel anything but a peaceful mellow that pulses through your veins.

The House that Heaven Built - It's over and now you need to blow off some steam.  You hate your job right now, but you know that this will pass.  Or maybe you're just done with it all and it's time to leave.

Busy Season 2012 by James McConeghey on Grooveshark