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6 Things I’ve Learned in the Bike Station Locker Room Since I Started Commuting to Work

30 Jul

Chicago Bike Station at Millennium Park

 

I’ve thought about biking to work for the past several years, but was apprehensive about riding amongst cars, buses and trucks, was worried about my bike getting stolen even if I locked it up properly, and needed somewhere to shower after my ride.

Fortunately, I found out that Chicago has had a fully-staffed bike station at Millennium Park since 2004! It’s called the McDonald’s Cycle Center and they have indoor bike parking, a bike mechanic, locker room with showers, and the Chicago Police Department bike force is headquartered in the lower level (they have 800 bikes in the force).

Chicago has also done an amazing job of improving their roads with protected bike lanes and it appears that motorists are finally starting to accept bikes as partners on the road, so I bought a helmet, bike rack, gym bag pannier, laptop pannier, front and rear blinkers, and finally took the plunge a couple of weeks ago.

I’ve ridden my bike to work 6 times now and it has been absolutely amazing. I thought the benefits were obvious: get out of the sardine-packed subway trains, enjoy the summer weather, and get some exercise. What I didn’t expect was getting enough material to fill a Second City comedy routine on the biking community.

6 Things I’ve Learned in the Bike Station Locker Room Since I Started Commuting to Work

1) Two kinds of cyclists: commuters and road bike commuters.

The commuters seem to ride shorter distances (4-8 miles one way), are pretty quiet and keep a low profile as they shower, get dressed, and head off to work. If they complain, it’s about a situation involving a car that didn’t respect a bike’s right to be on the road.

The road bike commuters ride for longer distances on their way to work, whether riding all the way down Sheridan road to the bike trail from the North Shore or just hopping on the lakefront path for a long morning ride before work. They are boisterous, highly caffeinated (Maybe steroids like Lance? Kidding…) , and trade war stories about other riders getting in their way.

Not surprisingly, the next 4 things I’ve learned stem from their conversations.

2) TPI: Thread per inch

This refers to the number of nylon or Kevlar fiber threads per inch within a tire casing. I did some research and the general premise is that high TPI tires are faster and corner better, but more prone to cuts and flat tires. Low TPI tires are slower and rougher, but last longer and are more resistant to flat tires.

3) Supple.

As in an actual quote I heard, “Ohhhhh man, John, my ride was supple this morning, real supple. Swapped out my tire for some 160 tpi beauties this weekend. Unfortunately, I put too much air in them and the tire exploded 20 minutes into my ride.”

I laughed inside when I heard this as these tires can cost $50 – $150, perhaps even more.

4) Tri guys.

It wasn’t clear exactly what they were referring to, but I figured out they were referring to time trial riders racing out on the trail. According to one rider, there are only 1 or maybe 2 truly professional time trial cyclists out on the trail in all of Chicago. The rest are idiots and don’t know what they are doing.

5) Coffee Shop Riders. 

Packs of riders are not competing or training. If you see a pack of riders, they are coffee shop riders, meaning they ride together and then get coffee after. Anyone out there can confirm this please? Thank you.

6) Competitive female riders. 

Apparently, females are not supposed to be competitive out on the trail as one of the guys was complaining about one using him to up her game. He didn’t understand why she chose him, so another rider suggested it’s because he has balls. Lovely.

I’m pretty sure Gini Dietrich will get a good laugh out of this one. Maybe she can kick one of these assholes over if she can sense which one of the regular riders feel this way.

That’s it for now. I’m sure I’ll be back with more biking insights as I learn more.

How to Travel to Aruba for Sixty Dollars

28 Jan

$62.50 actually, per person.

My girlfriend and I paid a total of $125.00 for two round-trip economy class tickets to Aruba from Chicago with a connection through Miami.

$125 to Aruba?

Seriously?

Yep, and that’s just for the unavoidable taxes and fees associated with the full price fare of over $1,700 for two round-trip tickets, which we didn’t pay.

How?

We paid for the flight with our American Airlines AAdvantage miles.

52,500 miles each.

35,000 miles for an Economy AAnytime Award from Chicago to Aruba and 17,500 for an Economy MileSAAver Award from Aruba back to Chicago.

We actually overpaid.

We should have paid 35,000 miles each, but the Economy MileSAAver Award wasn’t available for the leg from Chicago to Aruba.

We must have built up our miles through our previous travels, right?

Nope.  Most of the trips we have taken in the past have been all-inclusive packages where the flights are included in the deal.

We must have built up our miles by traveling for business, right?

Nope.  Neither one of us travels for business in our current jobs.

So where did we get so many miles?

Travel hacking.

What is travel hacking?

The art and science of traveling for little to no money.

Let’s take a step back into the past.

I turned 28 last February (2011) and suddenly felt time passing me by.

I blogged about How I Want to Travel and made a commitment to myself to learn how to make affordable travel possible (for the rest of my life).

Through my research, I learned about the sport of travel hacking.

By the end of 2011, almost a year later, my girlfriend and I accumulated over 350,000 miles and points.

None of which was earned through any travel or money spent outside of our normal expenditures.

We earned it all through a variety of travel hacking tactics including credit card bonuses, social media promotions, email sign-up bonus offers, free insurance quotes and more.

75,000 points here, 1,000 points there, 50,000 points here and so forth.

To fund our trip to Aruba, we used 105,000 miles (52,500 each) from our haul of 150,000 miles we earned as a bonus for hitting the earning requirement for two 75,000 mile Citi AAdvantage cards, one Visa and one American Express.

The earning requirement for each card was to spend $1,500 in 6 months.

With our normal expenditures (groceries, cell phone bill, utilities, etc), reaching the earning requirement was easy.

It was even easier reaching the earning requirement for the 50,000 bonus mile Chase Continental Onepass Plus card.

Make one purchase and the 50,000 bonus miles were in the bank.

In another promotion, we earned 1,500 Delta SkyMiles for getting an auto insurance quote from Liberty Mutual.

We’re still rookies in the travel hacking game, but it has been a blast planning our trips so far.

In May, we’re flying to Cancun, Mexico for a wedding.

We paid for that flight with our miles as well, which would have cost us over $1,200!

We’re leaving this week and still can’t believe we are traveling to Aruba for $62.50 each.

As far as accommodations, which are much cheaper and easier to attain, we lucked out with 9 days at the La Cabana Beach & Racquet Club for $499.

They even threw in a 5 day cruise for us to use sometime in the next 18 months, just for attending a 45 minute timeshare sales session.

I hope Captain Schettino is still in jail next New Year’s Eve.

Joking, joking…

Why I Switched Careers From Social Media Manager to Product Manager

16 Jan

In December, I accepted a job offer as a Product Manager for our suite of eCommerce APIs within the Online Business Unit (Sears.com, Kmart.com) at Sears Holdings Corp.

What does a Product Manager do?

Wikipedia defines product management as “an organizational lifecycle function within a company dealing with the planning, forecasting, or marketing of a product or products at all stages of the product lifecycle.  Product management often serves an inter-disciplinary role, bridging gaps within the company between teams of different expertise, most notably between engineering-oriented teams and commercially-oriented marketing and sales teams.”

Put another way:

Think of a Product Manager as the conductor of the orchestra, the sheet music as the PRD (product requirements doc), the musicians as the engineers, marketers and designers and the audience as the customer.

What are APIs?

Application Programming Interfaces. Wikipedia definition: Source code based specification intended to be used as an interface by software components to communicate with each other.”  Think of them as a set of guidelines and specifications that allow developers to build interesting products and features leveraging the Sears.com, Kmart.com and MyGofer.com site functionality and data.

Put another way:

Think of Sears.com as a car, developers as after-market accessory manufacturers and APIs as the set of specifications that make sure the 24″ rims, custom roof racks or bumper guards fit the car.

So what exactly am I doing?

I have two main job responsibilities:

  1. Lead the product offering/development and marketing roadmap for our Sears Developer Network site and Open API Platform.
  2. Evangelize or raise awareness of our suite of APIs to developers and provide them with the support and tools they need to build interesting products/features leveraging our data.

Why did I change my career path?

Quite simply, I missed tech.  I enjoyed my career in social media, but found my role becoming increasingly tied to online marketing campaigns than the underlying technology platforms.

Furthermore, I felt a lack of entrepreneurial freedom (intrapreneurial, in this case).  I like creating things.  Counting Firmology and Firmology Reviews, I’ve launched 6 online-based businesses ranging from eCommerce sites to media sites.  Product management is similar to running your own business as you’re essentially running your own show and are held accountable for the success or failure of every decision you make.

Being a people person, the best part is I get to meet and do business with a variety of interesting people within engineering, user experience, online marketing, finance, legal, vendors, consultants and most important, our customers.  In the context of my specific role as Product Manager for our suite of APIs, my customers are internal and external developers, founders of tech startups and executives like VPs of Business Development.

I’m excited.

It’s only been about a month and a half since I started transitioning into the role, but it’s been amazing so far.  It’s empowering knowing that the sky is the limit and the role is truly what you make of it.

Help me learn!

Any of you in product management?  Help me learn!  My goal is to learn about and read everything I can about product management.  I’ve found some interesting (and some hilariously entertaining!) product management blogs like The Accidental Product Manager, On Product Management, The Experience is the Product, The Cranky Product Manager and a number of others listed on Alltop’s Product Management section.  What blogs, sites or books do you recommend I check out?  Do you have any tips for me?  Leave a comment below

The Blog of Philip Nowak is Now, PHILosophy

13 Jan

I’m back.

It’s been a long time.

I completely abandoned my personal blog last year.

Why?

It became a chore for me to write.

I felt like everything I wrote was forced.

For whatever reason, I thought that I had to write every single day.

Like Seth, Gini, Jonathan, Danny or so many other RIDICULOUSLY consistent, entertaining and well-respected bloggers out there.

The thing is… I don’t really want to write everyday on this site.

I always meant for it to be an outlet for my thoughts, ideas, experiences, articles, travels and funny short stories about crazy Russians (I love you honey).

My best writing comes to me naturally on the spur of the moment.

Something randomly triggers my thought-process and I feel compelled to share it.

When I started this site, I named it ‘The Blog of Philip Nowak.’

I couldn’t think of a better name.

But now I think I have it.

Let’s call it,

PHILosophy.

Surviving Russia: Russian New Year’s

31 Dec

So…… we’re going to a Russian Restaurant for NYE tonight.

Picture Russian Dolls, the Bolshoi Ballet and any short-cropped hair, droopy eyed, cigarette smoking Russian terrorist from a late 80s/early 90s action blockbuster all gorging on “fell off the back of a NYC delivery truck” import quota black caviar while guzzling premium vodka in between dancing to Russian techno music at a renaissance period furnished palace in the middle of a suburban strip mall.

Did I mention the liquor leader??

He’s the group-appointed coxswain or drill sergeant who makes sure the entire group toasts at perfectly timed intervals while commemorating everything from health to happiness to sexual vigor.

Here’s to the Russia I live in or as I like to call it, ‘Surviving Russia’.

To good health, endless happiness and strong like ox sexual vigor in 2012!

I Want to Travel

17 Feb

Photo: (WanderingtheWorld)

I’ve always wanted to travel around the world.  I’m grateful for all the typical tourist destinations I’ve already visited: most of the big cities in the U.S., parts of Canada, beaches of Mexico, Dominican Republic, Bahamas, Barcelona and even the suburbs of Chicago.

While great places to visit, I wouldn’t exactly call them life-changing or worldly experiences.  Outside of a one week college spring break trip to Spain to visit my girlfriend, who was studying abroad, I’ve never been to Europe.  I haven’t even been to Poland, my family’s home country.  I feel even more shame after a Polish hair stylist told me not to admit that I am of Polish heritage if I ever do visit as “they’ll look down upon you that you aren’t fluent in the language because that’s what we do.”  Nor have I visited any country in Asia, Africa, Australia or South America.

I’ve always thought about traveling, but this year it has really been on my mind.  I’m writing this post on my 28th birthday and I feel ashamed that I haven’t made any effort to travel since graduating from college 6 years ago.  I now feel a time crunch as my girlfriend and I start planning our future together which includes little Fockers in the next couple of years.  We can always travel with kids in the future, but it will be that much harder to start if we don’t even go exploring now.

I also envy our friends, who have collectively traveled, lived or worked in Singapore, Hong Kong, Amsterdam, Germany, Lebanon and other countries in the Middle East.  My former boss alone has backpacked throughout South America including Brazil, Columbia, Chile and Peru.  He’s kite-surfed in the Dominican Republic, taken a break to go skiing in Park City, Utah and flown back for more kite-surfing in the Dominican.  Did I mention he even threw in Puerto Rico for good measure?  That’s all in one year!

No, I’m not having a quarter or mid-life crisis where I am going to quit my job, sell my possessions and rent our home to travel the world.  That’s not realistic.  What I’m talking about is being more strategic with how, when and where we are going to travel.  That includes planning in advance, leveraging smarter options (or hacks) for travel, saving money and continuing down the path towards online cloud-based entrepreneurship enabling me to work from anywhere in the world I can find an Internet connection.

So today, on my 28th birthday, I am committing to travel more often.  I actually made this decision about a month ago, but spent the last few weeks researching how to make it happen.  During this time, I’ve been introduced to the world of travel hacking and am absolutely hooked on the possibilities.  I’ll explain more about this in future blog posts, so stay tuned!

In the meantime, my first step in my commitment to travel is another typical tourist vacation.  I’m going to Riviera Maya, Mexico next month to get some sun! :-)

Surviving Russia: The Stumble

8 Jan

Photo: (Stuck in Customs)

KABOOM! AHHHH! SPLAT! OWWWW!

Russian Future Mother-in-law: What happened?!?

Phil: I just slipped and fell down the stairs.

Russian Future Mother-in-law: Is your laptop okay?

Phil: Yea, it looks like it’s still working.

Russian Future Father-in-law: How did you fall?

Phil: These last two steps are slippery.

Russian Future Father-in-law: You see! You need to stop wearing socks!

Russian Girlfriend: Nobody has ever fallen down those stairs before.

Phil: Thanks for letting me know.

Confirm that nothing will cost money:

Check.

Confirm that it is completely my fault:

Check.

Confirm that I am a clumsy idiot:

Check.

Recipe: Orange Glazed Cashew Chicken w/ Mixed Vegetables

3 Jan

I tried a new stir fry recipe for dinner last night and it was absolutely delicious.

Ingredients

2-3 Chicken Breasts (cut into bite sized pieces)

Mixed Vegetables (preferably steam in a bag for ease of preparation, reduced cleanup & less oil absorption)

Macadamia Nut Oil or Olive Oil (2-3 tablespoons)

Cashews (1/2 cup)

Iron Chef Orange Ginger Sauce (or other similar sauce) (1/2 cup)

Wok or Large Nonstick Frying Pan

Recipe Instructions

1) Cook the vegetables separately from the chicken, preferably in microwave while cooking the chicken on the wok. Time: 5-6 minutes

2) Warm up the wok with macadamia nut oil on medium-high heat.

3) Throw the chicken into the wok and cook until white on the inside.

4) Lower heat to medium and pour orange sauce over the chicken. Mix well.

5) Add vegetables into the wok and cook for another 2-3 minutes.

6) Top everything off with the cashews for 1-2 minutes.

Feel free to serve the chicken and vegetables over a plate of rice if you’d like.

Time to eat!

Most Popular New Year’s Resolutions of 2011

1 Jan



Photo: (I like)

Hope you had a fun time ringing in the New Year last night.  It’s now time to start thinking about your goals and resolutions for 2011.  Need inspiration?

Here are the most popular New Year’s resolutions of 2011 according to 43things.com, a social networking site built around the goals, to-do lists and bucket lists of its members.

Most Popular New Year’s Resolutions of 2011

1 ) Lose Weight

2 ) Be Happy

3 ) Save Money

4 ) Eat, Drink, Learn or Try Something New

5 ) Fall in Love

6 ) Get a Job

7 ) Set an Attainable Athletic Goal, Like Running a 5k or 10k

8 ) Read More

9 ) Take a Photo Every Day for a Year

10 ) Quit Smoking

What do you think of this year’s list?  Do any of them come as a surprise to you?  What are your resolutions for 2011?

Go Out and Celebrate the End of 2010

31 Dec

Photo: (Timothy K. Hamilton)

Go out and celebrate the end of 2010.

It’s a Friday night and it’s the perfect way to end the first decade of the new millennium.

Don’t worry about what you did or did not accomplish this past year.

Don’t worry about what your New Year’s resolutions are for 2011.

We’ll get to that later this weekend.

You’ll have plenty of time to recover and rejuvenate to start your year off STRONG!

Happy New Year!