Friday, March 27, 2015

Agreement and Disagreement

This blog post is inspired by the upcoming 2016 US presidential election. In Iowa, it gets serious, way too early. I'm not going to go into specific issues, because those are often polarizing, and to write something decent about an issue takes a lot of research and several revisions, and I don't want to spend that long on it today.

One problem I face in political elections is that often the opposing candidates both stand for something I passionately support, and something that is just plain ridiculous. And how do you reconcile that? I mean, we vote for the person, good, bad and ugly. I mean, are we supposed to pick the least worst?

What is interesting about this concept is that politics simply exposes a few people's thoughts and ideas. Aren't we the same? We have friends that we enjoy, who we give lots of our time, yet how often does one have some crazy opinion on something that we have learned just not to ask about? How often can each one of us look in the mirror after having a group shoot down our idea again, and wonder, 'am I crazy to think this is a good idea?' Okay, so maybe this happens to me a bit more than other people, but I know other people have these moments where chocolate covered bacon sound like a good idea. (I had it, it's okay, I don't recommend it.)

I realize that the concept of agreement and disagreement extends to basically all relationships. There are issues where I don't agree with my coworkers. There are issues where I don't agree with the majority of my church. There are issues where I don't agree with other runners. You would not believe the anger in college over recovery foods and drinks we had one time... I have no advice for how to agree with people, how to align as a team. Well, maybe I do, try to see it from the other person's perspective. Also, if the issue is basically irrelevant to the ultimate goals, you can just stop arguing, or even agree to do it the other person's way, and then head off toward more important issues. That's actually something I gained from Boy Scouts, when people are arguing about navigating, just let them take the map and navigate, unless you think they have no idea what they are doing, in that case you take the map. (I took the map away from my parents when I was 14.) The point being, navigating is a very emotional thing, it's a responsibility, it's visibility to the whole group, and nobody likes wasting time backtracking or going the wrong direction. So it can lead to lots of disagreement.

There is no grand point I have today. I don't have the answers. Today I'm just pointing out how often agreement and disagreement seem to go together, and how challenging that can be. And the logical question is, 'why is it so difficult to find people, or even a person we are totally in agreement with?' That's probably an idealism I have about the world that I will not see in my short life on Earth. I suppose... recognizing imperfection is a step in gaining wisdom.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Gloves, Mittens, and Frostbite

I have a lot of gloves. Ten full pairs and three pairs of mittens. Welcome to the struggle against finger frostbite. Each pair fulfills a slightly different purpose, usually based on activity and temperature range.

Four of pairs of my gloves have some sort of leather on the palm and fingers for dexterous yet durable winter activities like mountaineering, or even shoveling snow. Each one has a different thickness for a different temperature range. It's hard to find a glove with more than a 20-30 degree Fahrenheit range. 

In order from thinnest on bottom to warmest on top is mountaineering/skiing on the left and running/camping/miscellaneous on the right.
My Gloves and Mittens
Naming them off first the mountaineering gloves. Black Diamond Scree, a great glove at warmer temperatures, breathable and tough. This has become my go to work glove for skiing or mountaineering when the temperature is above 20°F. REI One, maybe One Element glove, they don't make it anymore but another great glove. I wore this pair to 23,000 feet on Broad Peak in Pakistan and my mom even shortened the index fingers so they fit great. A nice durable soft shell with a thin leather palm and fingers. Outdoor Research Nuance, a woman's glove I bought used, that is also no longer made. It's a nice mildly beefy glove but below zero it usually lets my fingers freeze because the finger insulation is not great. I wore this glove to 21,000 feet on top of Mera Peak last spring after Everest. Valandre Oural down mittens I bought on sale way back in college maybe 2006. Warm, but tight around the wrist, they saw a lot of use in New Hampshire in the winter. Marmot Ultimate Ski glove I think? I bought it used at the Wilderness Exchange last winter specifically for Everest. Wow it's a warm glove. I have not had a chance to wear it and get cold fingers, not that I really want to. Two layers of thick leather and lots of insulation. Had Everest gone really well I could have seen myself wearing these on the summit, who knows I still could. Finally Outdoor Research Alti Mitt, the warmest mass produced mitten money can buy. I rarely wear these, even in subzero temperatures because they make my hands sweat, and I tend to have cold hands. This is a -20°F and below mitten. This is the 8000 meter summit mitten, most people use it. I assume I'll take them to the poles with me too someday. 

On the running side, thin Asics I rarely wear, thin Mizunos I wear all the time between like 30-45°F. Above 40°F running I usually don't wear a glove, but this Mizunos would be it. A pair of Black Diamonds with nice Polartec, but a terrible leather Palm that has distorted the whole glove and made it too tight, so I don't wear it often. Next up are the Saucony Nomads I wear all the time, it's a double layer thin fleece on the inside and a polyester spandex blend on the outside. I wear these things five months a year maybe five days a week when the temperatures are between 0°F and 35°F. Next is a pair of Manzellas, all fleece but a little too tight around the fingers so my fingers often get cold in these. Finally a pair of Peak Technology Gravity Mitt that my mom probably bought at Wal-Mart when I was in high school. Despite its lowly stature in a bin of name brand finger wear, it's a great mitten. I wear these things running when it's below 10°F, I also wear them shoveling and skiing. They have a fleece inner removable mitt then the outer mitt is a nylon/pvc vinyl canvas like material with Thermolite Plus fleece inside. It's a humble workhorse. I've had it for over a decade and it doesn't have a rip, and probably cost $15 when my mom bought it.

As a disclaimer, many of the gloves mentioned and linked to have changed since I bought them, so I do not guarantee that the glove you may buy actually matches the glove I have, and more importantly the performance of the glove I have. You could lose your fingers to frostbite.

Your experience may vary, gloves are a tricky part of the equipment for winter sports. I was asked recently to recommend a glove for a particular situation (0°F and below, in the mountaineering context), and I couldn't recommend one because I would probably bring 3-4 pairs of gloves/mittens for anything expecting 0°F and below.

If you want one pair of gloves/mittens for general purpose 15 to -15°F, which is a very common temperature range, go for a pair of insulated glove, with leather on the palm and fingers. If the temperature dips a little farther, your jacket probably has pockets to warm your fingers up between tasks. If it gets warmer, well, just carry a pair of thin gloves, they don't weight much but thin gloves when it's 25°F are much better than no gloves. You can't have it all with gloves and mittens.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

New Product Issues

A new product will never be perfect. It is so complex, that we have teams of people who's jobs it is to support production full time and deal with the long tail of issues and optimization. In other words, look at the picture below.

New Product Issues
I made this chart up based on my experience of a rough number of issues one might encounter in a large new product design and launch, and assuming that for every 10 issues solved, four new ones are created and the cycle time to solve an issue is 6 months. That is much longer than it takes to solve a typical issue, however, not all issues show up immediately, some require months of testing first. However this chart give a very good view of the challenges faced in designing and producing something. The point is, where do you draw the line and go to production?

When some companies meet their durability goals, that's it, they produce it as it is for the next decade without changing. However, as you look at the end of the long tail, those few remaining issues, you might not even know about yet. If companies knew what they were going to have to issue recalls for, they would change it before they launch the product, obviously. However, many other little issues often remain unsolved as cost compromises, things that fail just after the durability goals are met, or things that were not even tested before they were implemented in the final design. These issues are minor the vast majority of the time. They are the compromises that companies make to lower the cost of their product. I mean, if you want an invincible design, it will take a decade of testing, and cost far more than 99% of customers would be willing to pay. That being said, investing in quality is always a good investment because it increases customer loyalty when the product works well for a long time.

The challenge, for the leaders in such a program, is discerning as the program moves along with testing, how it is really doing. What problems are need to fix problems and what problems are nice to fix problems? For example, a car that receives a three star crash test rating out of five stars, is that good enough? If the battery life on an Apple Watch is only 18 hours, is that enough? Is it acceptable to use a new design without physical testing or virtual testing, just to go off of half a sheet of hand calculations done three months before going to production, because it is not feasible to make a prototype and test before production? These are all real discussions that have happened. Although you may never see it, and car companies often struggle to extol the benefits of the new model year car that looks exactly the same as the old model year, inside of those new model years are certainly little updates that improve the quality and reduce the cost. Every problem costs money to solve, which you could say creates the problem of too high of a cost.

The point being, the world could use more engineers. There is a lot of work to do, and as we solve progressively more complex problems, the future problems become even harder to solve, and thus we need more brain power.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

I Grew?

Getting back on my bicycle the last few weeks I initially had some knee pain. It was not major pain, but it was enough to make me feel uncomfortable. Great, knee pain from cycling and leg pain from running. This contributed to some of the negatively the last few weeks. I wondered, 'knee pain? from biking?' However, I quickly remembered when I had had similar knee pain from biking many years ago, it was because my seat was too low. So I took out my little torque wrench and adjusted my bicycle for the first time in three years I think, and raised the seat about 4 millimeters. Having done over 100 miles since then, I assume that raising the seat because my legs are longer is what I needed. I realize it's not a lot, but I'm 28 years old!

Our bodies are amazing things. We really don't understand them. We're attempting to map the human brain, but at every step of the way we are finding it is more complex than we originally thought. There are tens of billions of neurons in a human brain, and they don't all work the same in every person, from what we know so far. For example, if you are missing part of your brain you can train your brain to take on some of the functions of the missing part.

The point being, the physical experiment that is my body continues to amaze me.

Monday, March 23, 2015

I Live in Iowa: Week 196

Woohoo! I am on the rebound! Things are looking up. I am finding positivity again. This year has not been all sunshine and roses. Work has really been slowing down. Well, that's not the best description because even though I didn't work this weekend, the factory did work Saturday and Sunday, and several of my design engineering coworkers were down there to support them. However, for my particular areas of responsibility, the vast majority of the bugs have been worked out and we have reached some level of stability.

The product will never be perfect and we have teams of people to deal with the continuing issues of production and I am coming to grips with the idea that I am not one of those people to solve all of the day to day issues, at this point in time. There is so much more I could say, so tune in Wednesday for a blog post about new product issues!

Exercising was all over the place. I only ran twice for 6.4 miles. My left leg was hurting, so I backed off. I was so tired Wednesday and Thursday I took both days completely off, except for a couple short 20 minute walks. Then Saturday I bicycled for 3.5 hours over 53 miles. So... I need to be healthy, and if that means I don't run or bicycle for two days in a row, a rarity for me, then so bit it.

If anyone is looking to follow team USA at the 24 hour world championships in Italy in 19 days the Facebook page is probably the best place to go:

Friday, March 20, 2015

Bone Remodeling

The process of fracture recovery has several stages, immediate inflammation, soft bone callous formation, hard bone callous formation, and finally bone remodeling, which is the constant process of bone replacement. We have osteoclasts and osteoblasts that work to put material where we need it and not where we don't. I keep having this vision in my head of my bones on a microscopic level building cells and having strands of 20 cells thick new bone, that I try to run on and subsequently break. Patience, I tell myself. 

As I search for more meaning to this I stumbled upon an interesting theory. A year and a half ago, being vegan for 10 weeks I probably didn't get the calcium I needed while running 80+ miles a week. But it was so minor that no big deal. Then I went to Mt. Everest and again didn't get much calcium, and spent two weeks above 17,000 feet, not getting stronger. Coming home from that I threw myself into running high mileage and put my body into a program necessitating time off and never really took a few weeks off. Then I go to Colorado, wear tight boots and ramp up my running mileage and get stressed at work (hormonal implications) and then I'm broken. 

April and May are going to be interesting. I have already decided I'm going to take time off and try to heal from everything, physical and mental. I'm planning to work on my motorcycle, take walks, and let my bones remodel.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

My 401(k) is Vested!

Pretty huge milestone for me today, all of my employer's contributions to my retirement 401(k) are vested, which means quit or fire, they're mine! I don't talk about money often, but a few things worth mentioning, particularly to 20something because chances are no one ever told you these things. 

- A 401(k) is a retirement plan. You contribute part of your paycheck, and typically your employer contributes some money as well. 
- It is important for you financial future to get all of your possible employer contributions. For example, the employer might match every dollar of your contributions up to 6%. So if your salary was $2000 a month, you could contribute $120 a month and your employer would contribute $120 as well. It's okay to contribute more than the employer match, but you aren't getting any "free money" for contributing more than the match. 
- This money is somewhat difficult to get at until you retire so it doesn't count as your emergency fund or new car fund. 
- When you leave a job, you can take all of the vested portion with you. It has to remain in a retirement account, like an IRA, but it does not have to stay in the previous employer's 401(k) plan.

Basically the two important things are, get the full employer match, and don't leave the company before it is vested.