Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Fixing the Water Heater Thermocouple

I am insecure about my mechanical skills, so I'm often excited to work on fixing something broken around the house or on a vehicle. Well, my hot water went out Monday or Tuesday and four attempts to relight the pilot light were for naught. A couple websites suggested that the thermocouple is often quick to break and try replacing it first. So I went to Lowes and bought the only one they had, which was only $8. It was so easy, unscrew the old one, pull it out of where the pilot flame goes, put the new one in the pilot flame, and then screw it in, and relight it. It lit up the first time. 

Looking into the furnace with the new copper thermocouple. The pilot light was lit, but didn't show up in the picture, interesting. 

Pretty awesome. Old home: 0 Isaiah: 1

The broken thermocouple all chared and rusted.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Am I a Narcissist?

I was reading comments in an article at a running website, I won't tell which one, but one commenter called the person at the center of the article a narcissist. This started to worry me, so I took the Narcissistic Personality Inventory and scored a 16, and it takes a 20 to qualify as narcissistic. Still, 12-15 is normal, so given one 40 point quiz (statistically not very big) I am more self centered and egotistical than normal. I would admit to that. Maybe that's not necessarily a bad thing, but I do worry about it. Even the word narcissist is not a nice word. It brings to my mind darkness and not the warm and fuzzies that words like sunset, happy, friendly, social, or altruistic do.

I worry that I am self centered and that prevents me from having the kind of relationship I want. I'm not sure it's a problem, I mean, I would not say that I use people, although I do know of a few people in my life that certainly feel used by me. That being said, I think those people might say that they are used by most people, so while I don't feel good about those relationships, the relationships are where they are because I am not sure what I can do to change that perception. In other words, "Haters gonna hate." -Taylor Swift

The antonym of narcissism would be altruism or selflessness. I can site a couple examples where I was selfless, but then again, I spend a fair amount of time taking care of myself. In part it's not really possible to be a high level athlete without taking care of yourself. Similarly, I coached for three years, trying to help the younger generation, and while I plan to coach again, it was taking a lot out of me.

Often I walk with a friend at work over lunch. Something he often tells me, that I would agree with, is that priorities change. Who knows what the future holds? I told my running partners a few weeks ago, "what would I do if I didn't run?" And that is where I am, doing my thing because I know how to and I don't really see a better option at the moment.

What I'm saying is, I don't think I am a narcissist now, and I plan to keep it that way, by occasionally worrying about being one.

Monday, November 24, 2014

I Live in Iowa: Week 179

Another finished week. Every finished week is a blessing. It's true. There are so many reasons that I should not have made it this far. I mean seriously, I am so blessed, I have so much to be thankful for. Okay, I won't get ahead of myself before a Thanksgiving post about many of the specific things I am thankful for this year. Suffice to say, I have my fair share of things to be thankful for this year.

Work was work. The good news is as we wind this particular project down on our end into the next stage the work load is fairly light. But, and of course there is a but, when there is something to work on, it's usually high priority, high visibility, should have been done three months ago, we messed this up sort of issue. Not exactly the kind of thing that is stress free at work.

More good news about work, as we find a number of small issues and fix them, we are preventing more serious issues from occurring later. It's pretty awesome to know that because I was there, and I measured that thing, and found it to be wrong, we'll get the problem corrected without any delay to the program or significant cost. It's interesting, 97% quality, sounds really good, but on a part by part basis, it's not good at all. If only 97% of the 7000+ parts in your car worked, there is a good chance you would not get to work on Monday.

Running was not good. It started out good with a couple 12 mile runs and some strides. I thought I was recovering from my long pace variation tempo really well, but a little knot, or dare I say it, stress reaction, is currently toying with my left leg and led to my taking an unplanned day off and running 2-4 miles the rest of the week. My high mileage week turned into 43 miles over six days. Not a good lead into a marathon. The upside is, if my body need recovery or cross-friction massage, or whatever, it's getting it. A number of runners have been the kind that trained awfully hard and only when they were forced to rest then ran great races. With less than two weeks to go until marathon day, another big workout isn't going to give me much anyway. The work has been done. The final result is all but trained for.

In college, or high school, going to a state or national competition is often paid for by the school and the  cost is neglected. Well, in the post-collegiate world, I spent $150 on registering for the race and another $450 on flying out to California for the California International Marathon. Then there will be the expenses for food while I am out there. I am staying with family friends, so I don't have to get a hotel, which is really nice. The thing is, it's expensive. Even if I could run five good marathons a year, I couldn't really afford to travel so far all the time. At least I couldn't if I wanted to save any money.

Really not much else happened. I ordered an iPhone 5S because my 4S is getting a little more buggy, crashing more often, and I don't like the new 6 and 6 Plus form factors, I am afraid my size small 28x28 pockets won't fit the new phones and it is slippery enough I will drop the thing.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Amazon Doesn't Really Make Much Money

About two months ago I read this little article about Amazon, and it is interesting. Basically, Amazon is putting all of it's potential profits into expanding or reducing costs. Yes, it often takes money to save money in a structural way. Great example, I can take 100 kg of weight out of a big machine which will save money on every machine we build, but it's going to take four months of a full person engineering, which costs money.

In some ways I oppose Amazon, because I sometimes fear they are becomming a monopoly yet I still use their website monthly to buy things, like books or running shoes. However, in this case, I have to respect Amazon and Jeff Besos for doing something less conventional than trying to extract all the profit from the business. Often as I research companies to invest in, profit seems to drive so much, it's unusual to hear about a different strategy like fueling growth and cost reduction with all of the excess cash. I have not invested in Amazon, and I don't really have any plans to. I don't understand enough about the logistics business, online sales is a competitive arena (despite what I say about a monopoly), and sometimes Amazon does things that may not be in the best interests of authors (me being an author, it's a little emotional, even though ebook pricing is probably better when it's lower, it would still be nice for authors to set their own prices).

In short, Amazon shows that you can last over two decades and grow into a company with tens of billions of dollars of revenue without extracting billions in profits.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Truth about Expeditions

I read a little article yesterday and at the bottom he addressed some issues of not telling the whole truth about an expedition. I've seen or heard of them all happening.

In many ways it degrades the experience. In other words, I wish that Mt. Everest was a big version of Longs Peak. An interesing objective, with lots of epic potential, but also something accessible that doesn't capture a huge media circus for people who are guided up the normal route. People have died on the Keyhole route of Longs Peak just like the South Col of Everest. In other words, soloing the Diamond on Longs Peak in the winter is a tremendous accomplishment, and not nearly the same as hiking the Keyhole on a nice August day with a guide.

This relates to my views on innovation, I feel there is very little real innovation. Most of the time innovation is the remix of other existing ideas. Is it innovative for this year's model of car to get 40 mpg when last year's had 39 mpg and the only difference is reducing the coefficient of drag by .01?

The point is: "...the truth will set you free." John 8:32

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

I'm Injured, Again.

I always do this to myself, get a little excited, push it, push it a little too far. It is exciting that I recognize a problem so quick, but sad that yet again I have another setback. 

This time it's my lower left leg, outside just above the ankle, I'm thinking a calf and shin issue. Likely cause is running nearly 16 miles the same direction at the Petit Saturday then two 12 miles runs on snow Sunday and Monday. Then when it didn't feel good for the first time yesterday, I did 9 miles on snowy trails. Now it hurts and I only did two miles tonight. 

This too shall quickly pass. It's just frustrating, I just want one perfect build up to a marathon. Okay, don't laugh too hard, I always have good build ups. I was thinking last night, in my three previous serious marathons I always set a PR or two at a shorter distance in the build up, this time it's only 50 mile and longer PRs.  So I have still set several personal records in the months leading to Cal International, but only at longer distances. 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014


With the recent news of Clif Bar dropping a couple climbers it has sponsored for years because what they do, what has made them famous and brought Clif Bar publicity (free soloing), is too dangerous for Clif Bar now. I have not seen the movie “Valley Uprising” but my friends and I have planned a party to watch it when one of us ultimately buys it. Basically, Clif Bar didn’t make the right move, at least not at the right time. 

The issue of sponsorship has come up a number of times in my life. Most recently after I became a 24 hour runner. Before that it was going to Mt. Everest. Before that, I have been wearing my Isaiah Janzen jersey for nearly two years. I realized at the time when I switched to sponsoring myself that while I had been “sponsored” it was for a total of about $100 in free gear only, which I received at the beginning of the sponsorship, and had for 18 months. The benefit to the company and the cost to my chest in races was a little too lopsided. So I became my own brand. I already had the website under my name, why not a racing vest? (Oh I’ve thought about mugs, t-shirts, polos, luggage and bumper stickers too.)

Building a reputation, which is all a brand really is, takes a long time. It can be wasted in a short amount of time, just ask any of the fallen stars, or jailed people who made one mistake. Or thinking bigger, just ask Kodak and US Steel why their companies are not as impressive as they once were. So I decided, if I am going to build a brand, my brand, which is to say my public reputation, I’m going to do it. When I do things, I tend to do them all the way. 

I read a lot. I read articles, books, magazines, tweets, blogs, and all sorts of random stuff. Much of what I have read is about mountaineering, particularly in Nepal, China and Pakistan. One of the big things people write about, or did 10-15 years ago was climbing all 14 8000 meter peaks. Ed Viesturs did it. I have two of his books, he is famous for doing them all without oxygen bottles and being an American. (Being half decent at anything and being a US citizen usually means higher earnings than only one or the other.) Climbing 14 8000 meter peaks is dangerous. For the record I emailed back and forth with Ed before my Everest attempt asking advice. His advice: don't go for the summit in the first weather window, too many people usually do. If we say there is a 2% chance of dying on each 8000 meter expedition, and you only summit one out of three expeditions, that means to get 14 summits you have roughly a 43% chance of surviving. The list of people with 10 or more 8000 meter peaks who have died on an expedition is long. The list of people with less than ten, but more than one, and thus at least some experience, is much much longer. So this is my background. I know these numbers. It is a dangerous game. You can read in Ed’s book the conflict in him returning to Annapurna to get his 14th, after multiple failures on that mountain. Did he go back for himself? Or did he really go back because the publicity was high and he was sponsored by 20+ companies including Rolex who wanted to be part of the first American and sixth person without bottled oxygen? I don’t want to have to make that kind of choice. Lists get people killed. There is a list of 14 mountains that has killed many people, probably dozens by now, who were captivated by that list. People who had sponsors who expected something in return, summits. 

While sponsorship interests me, I don’t think I can separate the sponsorship from the external expectations, which may nudge me into making a poor decision that is a little too risky. I didn’t tell anyone but my parents what my goal was in the 24 hour race (160 miles) until I was about 12 hours (and 83 miles) into the race and I had lots of evidence it was possible. Few people here in Iowa knew I even climbed mountains until I announced I was headed for Mt. Everest. Listen, I have big plans, big, ridiculous, outrageous, stupid, dangerous, unrealistic, “impossible” dreams that I desire to chase. For me to keep a clear head I need to shun external expectations. 

When a child first rides a two wheel bicycle on his or her own, the child wants to ride that bike. If the child did not want to ride the bike, he or she would stop the pedals. When one starts to ride there is also the question of how to stop, put your feet down or fall over? Similarly, how do you turn the bicycle without training wheels? This is complicated stuff for a five year old. The child is not going to do his or her best if there are distractions like yelling siblings, or even yelling parents, cars, or other local hazards. I am like that five year old child. God is like the parent, it feels like he is still there pushing me along, but I can’t see him and I don’t hear him yelling. External expectations might be like the sibling, that is yelling while I first try it on my own, who I glance at just before I hit a curb and crash. Maybe that sibling is not yelling, but wants to help push while I learn, or give me his old bicycle. Maybe that sibling wants me to learn to ride my bicycle so that we can both race the neighborhood kids down the block, and hopefully not get hit by a car. Sponsorship can be the car driving down the road not looking for five year olds on bicycles. Get on board and ride, or get out of the way.

I am in the business of risk management. I am rather good at it. The risks scare me, and they may kill me, so I can not ignore them. Anything that may contribute risk to the program is a candidate for elimination. Cotton clothing when the temperature is below freezing? No, that’s too big of a risk. Continue to push my body when workouts are already going poorly? No, that’s a sure way to setback months instead of just days. Drive faster? Usually not a great choice. Sponsorship comes down to much of the same. I want to do what I want to do, and I don’t want people that fund my fun to expect success because success is not the goal. Oh success is the goal, but it pails in comparison to doing the right thing. When success becomes the sole focus, you see Rita Jeptoo taking EPO, and beating me at Chicago last year. She probably would have beat me without taking EPO, but the fact that she probably was taking it makes it worse for me. I want 148th place in Chicago last year!

In mountaineering, the discussion is not about taking drugs, it’s about climbing the day after a snow storm, when avalanche conditions are terrible, but the sun is out and it’s a beautiful day. If your sponsors expect you to climb the mountain you may be more inclined to climb when avalanche danger is higher.

To expect success, at the really hard, really dangerous stuff, is ignorance of the previous failures. Yes, we went to the moon, but we had the Apollo One disaster, and numerous pilots died in airplane crashes, not to mention the probable fatal industrial accidents that occurred during production of the vehicles. You don't just go to Mt. Everest and climb it, sometimes unexpected things happen, and no one summits.

My reluctance to take on sponsors has to do with other factors as well. I have worn shoes by seven different companies in the last six days because of different applications, even within running alone are four of those seven brands. Going with one company may limit me from using the best possible tool, which may be made by a competitor. No, the shoes that I wear in a marathon aren’t going to make a 10 minute difference on my performance, maybe one minute tops, probably more like 10-20 seconds. Mountaineering, maybe one sleeping bag or tent, or ice tool is the best, and another may break the second day in a five day storm and leave you exposed. The point being, in the pursuit of best, it’s a risk to lock yourself into one product line up. I will say, knowing both mountaineering companies and running companies, you can have success with any particular company, the vast majority are of quite a high quality. The risks I am talking about are almost insignificant compared to not even bringing an ice axe on a trek over a 19,000 foot pass and a 21,000 foot mountain.

So that’s where I am. I spend a lot of money on shoes and other outdoor clothing, race fees, and equipment every year, not to mention my $70 weekly grocery bills. Perhaps I could find sponsorship for all or some of the products and services I use. I just do not want to do something half way and open myself up to a risk, however small, of not having the best tool for the job, or pushing myself into a situation that is far beyond my comfort zone.