Thursday, December 31, 2009

The New Economy

The future is going to be different. Growth is by nature unsustainable. At some point the world can not sustain more growth. What this means for the population: we have a maximum that can be sustained. What that is wether it is 12 billion or 700 million I don't know but it is important to realize. What this means for people with jobs: salaries that go up and up across the board is not practical. While you will probably get paid more for having more experience and in management roles staying in the same place doing the same thing you can not expect to get paid more every year. Money needs something to back it up.

What does this mean for companies: uhh, people won't keep buying stuff. If people aren't making money hand over foot they won't keep going out to eat and buying new stuff. What does the future hold? That's a good question. I guess I kind of imagine a state of the economy that is half a step above a depression. It won't get much better or worse just always about the same.

It's going to be different. Look how far we have come in the last decade! Imagine how far we will come in the next decade...

Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Unemployment Chronicles: Week 1

I'm starting a new series! A series about my unemployment (sad face). Hopefully this series won't last very long. The conditions for this series to end are employment in a position that is not seasonal and consists of a career, not simply a job. That is to say I would like to get an engineering job using my education. I will be giving an overview of the things I am actively doing to make money and the things that are taking money away from me.

So I shook my advisors hand last Friday and started unemployment. I had a good mile race the next day setting a new PR at 4:36. Then Sunday I had pretty much the worst nine hours of my life thus far. Going through US customs they asked why I went to Pakistan. Which turned into a 45 minute stop where they searched my van and found the Tzo (half Yak half Cow) horns. I had to answer many questions while the lady on my left had problems with her green card and the guy on my right (Zamir or something) was being questioned about why a middle eastern would go to graduate school in the US. It was kind of funny but kind of annoying because I did not break any laws. They eventually let me go.

Then three hours later the spare tire I was driving on blew out. It's not as hard to control a blowout as I thought it would be. So not having a spare I had to call a tow truck, at 7 AM on a Sunday. After a quite 30 mile (and $100) ride to Walmart they fixed my other tire for $10 and I was off again.

Then after two rather usual delays I did the hat trick. Going through Chicago I got to the North end and there were signs for the tollway or the freeway, well I took the free one obviously. That turned into city streets with stoplights. So I headed toward the tollway. It was $ .50 to get on from there and as I looked down to get two quarters I came up to a stop light. I had not seen the stoplight, or the car stopped at it. So as I looked up and slammed on my breaks, and screamed, it was all too late. I rear ended the other car. Who would I hit but a pregnant woman and her husband. Now I was gong pretty slow at that point like 5 mph or less because nobodies air bag went off and the damage, especially to their car, was very small. Yet the fact remains I rear ended a pregnant woman. Want to feel bad about something you did?

The next few days were pretty low key. I ran a bunch of miles. Then I started selling my stuff on eBay. I have all sorts of stuff I don't use and don't need or want so I figure I will try to get paid for it. I haven't actually gotten paid for any of it yet but my first two items are set to sell because they already have bids.

I signed up for one of those take surveys get paid things on the internet. Probably a waste of time...

I bought another 2ft by 3ft canvas and I am going to make a painting of the Worcester Reservoir #1. I figure that I can paint to make money while I am not employed. It is a one or two day investment that could possibly pay enough to pay an entire month of rent.

I did some thinking and pretty quickly decided that I will never draw unemployment pay unless I have some terrible injuries. I mean I have so many money making skills and I am smart enough to figure out some way to make money.

I only applied for like three jobs this last week but I applied for perhaps 15 the week before. I need to apply for at least 100 before I feel like I have really applied to enough places.

Also, Christmas was this week and it went well. I got some shirts, DVDs and money. Almost enough money to pay a month of rent. Of course right now I am at home so rent is free but I plan to make the trip out to Colorado in the next two weeks.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Successful Innovative Companies: Volume 12

The Successful Innovative Company of the Week is: Full Circle.
What they do right: they make organic foods! I turned myself onto Full Circle when I was cereal shopping. I was looking for one of those healthy grain and nut cereals and I wanted something without all sorts of sugar and corn syrup. I saw the organic label and decided to try it. It was really good. In fact most of the cereal I buy now is Full Circle because it tastes good and doesn't make my teeth hurt.

Since then I've tired their pastas as well. The grocery stores I frequent don't have more products that I buy made by Full Circle.

They were started in 2006 in California. I like companies that push the environmental conscious movement. The reason being that the world can not handle the kind of consumption the US enjoys if more than the US enjoy it.

What they could improve: lower prices so that direct competition between the inorganic brands and the organic brands for the poor consumer is possible. They could also stand to improve their distribution of products to grocery stores. They seem to be doing well with the cereal but not so well with the other hundreds of products.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas and Thank You!

Merry Christmas! If you aren't Christian and don't celebrate Christmas have you ever considered trying it?

Secondly, thank you all for reading this year! When I started this in February I wasn't sure exactly what would happen or what I would write about. Well, it's easier than I thought, most of the time. There are so many snippets of knowledge, experience and curiosity that I have to share. You can be assured that Learning to DO will continue strong in 2010! So thank you for reading, thanks for the comments both in person and on my posts and thank you for caring. Not necessarily caring about my blog but caring about my friends, my family and I.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

We're not running the same race

I've been cruising the forums a little at RunningAhead but I rarely comment. The problem is that people are running 10 minute miles and that's like their race pace. Besides Reach the Beach relay this year I have not averaged over 6 minute miles in any race since 2007. I'm no great runner. There are guys out there who never average slower than 5 minute miles, including marathons. When it comes to longer distances the difference in time spent running varies a lot for faster runners and slower runners.

One person runs a 4:20 marathon and another runs a 2:10 marathon. A four hour race and a two hour race are vastly different. Where am I headed with this? People need to train differently. A four or five hour race sounds more like an ultramarathon than a marathon. Ok here is good ultra training: super long long runs up to 70% of the race distance (huh, that's about an 18 miler for a marathon). Running miles just to get used to running and building an aerobic base. Any speed work at all is nice and I guess helps a little but the main thing are those long runs. The thing is you will be running the race at the same pace as your easy runs so every mile is pretty race specific. Good two hour race training: lots of intense pace workouts around goal pace, slower and faster as well. Say an hour at goal pace. 30 minutes somewhat faster than goal pace or an hour and a half slightly slower than goal pace, but faster than an easy pace. Still very aerobic runs but faster than for the ultra race. For a two hour race there is a good chance that you will do a 2.5-3 hour long run that covers the same distance as your race, maybe even farther.

The problem is I read about people trying to survive a 15 mile run or a marathon but I don't know what to say because I've only run one ultra. I also mapped out my own marathon and ran it just to see what it was like. The thing is I am in good enough shape that I felt great and was able to turn in like 15 miles over two runs or something the next day. So for me a 20 miler is not much over two hours. But I can't tell a five hour marathoner to go out on a 20 mile run because they would be out there for four hours and I would hate to tell someone to go out and run for four hours to get ready for a marathon. Because I know from experience that if I was to run for four hours I would be so exhausted I would break a rib or something later that day.

So keep in mind what you are training for. Finishing the race, qualifying for Boston or something even more difficult. Your training needs to reflect your fitness and your goals. Regardless, get out there in the blizzard and get the work done!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Goodbye WPI

As you read this I am no longer in Massachusetts. I don't know when I am coming back. This is hard. I mean I knew from my first semester here that Massachusetts is not the place for me. There are so many people. It is hard to actually get away from people in the New England wilderness. There are not really quiet streets. It is loud here. The general attitude is one of putting everything aside for your career. But still it is hard to leave this place that has become a home for me. I have so many friends. I know some of the streets of Worcester and New England better than most locals will every know. I can describe Salisbury street in great detail. It's a great street. I'll write a blog post about it soon.

It's funny how this placed seemed to have nothing to offer until I am about to leave. I did not appreciate the changing leaf color in October until last year when I was injured and biking 25 miles a day around the countryside. I did not fully appreciate Mt. Wachusett until recently when I ran it, biked it, and skied it. I once read an article about qualifying for the Olympic Trials and the author said that you have to create the routes that will become legend, at least in your mind. I don't know if I have actually connected with much here, besides other WPI students, because of my running but there are routes that are legend in my mind. Go run the Rutland Marathon or Paxton Towers or Aaron's XXL. I guess it sounds strange that a run along some route could change a person and make them better but that's the way I feel. Some of my runs have brought me close to crying.

It is really about the friends. There are people here that can easily challenge me running and climbing and career wise. I feel like I am chasing a dream. I don't know if I will find the place I want to be. I have found a number of places I really like but I have also found that as I spend more time in a place the more I see that I don't like. I like to say that Worcester grows on you, but I think it is more about getting comfortable, having friends, and knowing your way around. It could happen anywhere. It is a scary thought. I have moved around so much growing up and still now in my life I am bouncing around. Will I ever "settle down"? I would like to... I think.

There is only one of me. The problem is that I have so many friends all over the place. I also like to do things based on location. Longs Peak rocks! Magnolia road is about as fast and magical as Salisbury, even at 8000 feet. The Crestones are such a great secret don't tell anyone. The drive from Cimmarron to Taos is amazing. It's an hour and fifteen minutes that is barely short of magical. Mount Washington is like this little experiment of the most hardcore weather in the world a three hour hike from an always paved road and great restaurents. Mount Wachusett is like this piece of fun year round. Crow hill is the little crag that launched dozens of climbing careers. Highland street is this timeless college support network keeping us sane. The piers at Sheboygan are so fun to run out on, even when they are iced over. Epic exists everywhere. And to dispell a myth, there are a lot of great single girls at WPI.

Recently I have changed my plans. I was pretty focused for several years on Boulder. Well, just give me a few decent mountains and a paycheck and I'll live about anywhere. Throw in a 200 meter or longer indoor track and I don't care how cold the winter is. I'm out there looking. Looking for my place. There are so many things I want but so few things I need. My life is already awesome! My life just seems to get better and better every year. My life takes me on unexpected adventures. I can guarantee that 2010 is going to be a very crazy year for me. I will run fast, climb hard, make dozens of new friends, sleep in my van, and live it up!

I am afraid of what the future holds. I am nervous it won't go well. I am scared that I will mess up. I am constantly scared that I'm making a mistake. Is leaving Worcester and New England the right decision?

Well, my friend, we may not see each other face to face every day like before, but I will keep my email, my phone number, my Facebook, my RunningAhead, and this blog. So now it is time for you to step up. Who is going to take the place of the 100+ mile per week kid on the track team? Perhaps several of you could. Who is going to go to Mezcal with the girls? All these things I do, you can do. I am just the sum of conversations and reading and media. Most of which I have imparted to you. I can pretty much guarantee you can guess what I would say most of the time. For example:

"How far do you want to run?" My response, "14, but I did double this morning so slower than 7 flat pace..." In reality it is usually just 2-5 miles more than everyone else usually wants to go on days that I double.

"Another pitcher?" My response, "yes."

"What can I do to run faster?" My response, "run more miles."

"How was mountain climbing this weekend?" My response, "we had really good weather, it was almost 20 and the winds were less than 40 mph."

"Buffalo chicken with the dill sauce?" My response, "yes."

"Is that a beer!?" My response, "no."

"What's your mileage up to?" My response, "well I did 110 last week but I took a day off so it's in the tubes this week. I'd be happy to just get 90."

"Movie Sunday at 8?" My response, "yes."

And finally here are some quotes I've used with great success that you are free to use:
"Would you like to go do (something a little unsafe and slightly painful) with me in two days?"

"Oh you've never done (running route X) it's like 10 miles and pretty flat (actually closer to 11 miles and only flatter than a mountain)."

"I'll drive and I have all sorts of extra gear if you need something. Besides the heater works and I have a radio."

"I'm going to add on (some long running route up to 8 miles)."

"I just want to run a (ridiculous time far better than I ever have before) in this race."

"Back in my day when I was first here in 2004 or 2005 we did..."

If you ever actually have any questions let me know. I'm just moving not disappearing.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Successful Innovative Companies: Volume 11

The Successful Innovative Company of the week is: ING Direct.
What they do right: give you interest on your checking and savings account. There was a time in life I paid bills with checks. Then I finally learned something and started using free bill paying on the internet. No more stamps, envelopes, not even bank statements mailed to me. I don't have to pay postage and nobody has to waste paper. ING masters the internet bank. They only have nine locations according to Wikipedia, but they have millions of users.

Now lots of banks give interest, but ING Direct consistently gives 2-3 times higher interest than other banks on their checking account and somewhat higher interest on their saving account. Most of the money saving is due to not have brick and mortar locations and using so little paper. As a corollary they also have less employees than a similar sized bank.

Their website is also set up very conveniently. Several of the banks I am part of have confusing websites but ING has done very well. There are not many buttons, the links are descriptive, and the pages show you everything you want to know without a bunch of advertising fluff and disclaimers.

I must also mention ShareBuilder. Apparently you can invest in the stock market and in very little amounts. I've never used it but Russ told me to mention it. I think that Russ recommends it too and he is a smart cookie with his money so I believe him. So there Russ, I mentioned it.

They also sponsor a bunch of marathons and other races. People that sponsor stuff for running are just cool. It's like a subversive way to get people exercising.

What they could improve: ATM access is always a little troublesome. It's fine when you find one of the free withdraw ATMs but when I am traveling it is a hassle because I'm looking for an Allpoint sign which is tiny. So I often get charged the two or three dollars to withdraw money.

Also, ING group recently announced that their business model was unsustainable. Their insurance branch received like 7.4 billion from the dutch government because of the recent economy so they announced they would separate the insurance and bank instead of being a banc-assurance company. Also, it is possible for other companies to copy the business model of offering a high interest rate and steal customers. So ING Directs looks poised to lose a bunch of customers because people have no loyalty. That being said they are the first and still the biggest online bank so they have experience which will probably help them survive a slew of new competitors.

As I set out to publish the 11th edition of this series I have to remind people that success as I define it can be short lived or long term. Also, innovative sometimes means just harder marketing so people forget about your competitors. I'm saying that in ten years perhaps none of these companies will be around because their business was not sustainable. That being said I think we have a lot to learn from failure and success. Even short term success if properly managed can turn into something great. Professional athletes compete for 5-15 years and many never have to work again. I will be interested to see in several years how my "successful" companies are doing.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Read More!

I realized a while ago that I read a lot. It is not all quantifiable book reading either. In fact I do not read too many books. Maybe one or two books a month on in a busy month. I do read articles, blogs, status messages, away messages, scientific papers, emails, and a little bit of computer programming language all on a regular basis. I like reading because everything I read contributes to making me more well read. It helps me see through arguments. What I mean is that while often there is more than one way to accomplish a task there is often one way that is better than another. I should explain...

Once again I will talk about running because I do that almost every day. I am also quite well read on the subject. You want to run a 5k faster. There are several options which may all lead to a faster time. The challenge is to find the one that is right for your situation. Not the one that will make you the best 5k runner you can be but the one that fits you. In my running I have always been my own biggest competitor. I want to set a personal record as well as I can. I try not measure my progress against my friends because to some extent we are all doing different things. So if you are content to run 10 seconds faster than why go down the path of trying to run 40 seconds faster? You might become discouraged or injured. It is very counter productive. Everyone has to decide for themself the appropiate level of commitment.

For example:
  1. Run hard three times a week and go swimming or biking another three days a week.
  2. Run hard twice a week and easy four days a week and do no cross training or anything physical on the day off.
  3. Run hard 2-5 times a week, run every day, cross train, run twice some days, and take recovery seriously.
You might be able to run better than before doing 1 or 2. Doing 1 you won't get bored as easily because you are doing a different sport every day. Doing 2 you can be part of a team and have time to do something else important. Doing 3 you will most likely get a lot better, destroy that 5k, be tired all the time, and have no social life outside of running. What is the point of all this running talk? This post is about reading! The point is that each method accomplishes the goal of getting faster. Like reading, reading status messages is like the news because people will comment on the news so you don't have to read the news. Reading emails is like having a lecture without having to sit there. The future of communication is far more diversified than it ever has been. Now pretend the message of X, Y and Z is the same. Who is to say you should read X when Y and Z will get the message across?

The point is to extract the information you want the way you want. How you are educated on some topic is almost irrelevant. There are so many sources saying the same things. In fact search engines search by words. So the more words there are in a webpage relating to what you are searching for the more relevant that webpage will probably be. While audio media is a big force it does not have the transparency that written word does.

I'm just saying: read more.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Tales of a Broken Rib

After breaking my rib a week and a half ago I rebroke it Sunday, doing dishes. I had just finished a 19.5 mile long run and was cold and wet and I was washing a bowl in the sink and I twisted to place it in the drying race on my left and I heard a snap like a twig from my chest. I gently set the bowl down and twisted back to normal and felt the pain. It was in the same place as before but it was much much worse.

My theory is that after about 20,000 cycles (steps running) the rib and cartilidge were weaker due to fatigue and that slight twist was enough to break it. I did not run Monday because it hurt that much and only ran six miles Tuesday. This morning it felt ok again. I think I am a fast healer. I know that when I run a lot mmy body reacts to injuries and muscle tears by recovering very fast. I think that is what is happening to fix my rib. While Sunday and Monday were terribly painful, Tuesday was ok and today has gone well.

It is such an odd injury. Who breaks a rib? There is basically no way to fix it, besides surgery and putting metal plates in me but that is not practical unless I am in danger of internal bleeding. So I live with this constant feeling of what feels like a stick is jabbed in my side. This too shall pass.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

My Thesis Presentation (Defense)

Here is how it went down yesterday: I shaved and showered and shampooed (twice) then made my way to WPI. I went over my presentation one more time and headed over to the room to get everything set up. Everything was working out better than I expected. Everyone was being really helpful. They opened the room and the Facilities guy moved some chairs out and found a table cloth for the food at the back. The ME secretary brought a poinsettia in for the table as well. Then I took my suit jacket off before anyone arrived and I realized later that I went to the trouble of wearing a formal jacket and no one saw me wear it!

Before I started presenting a number of my undergrad friends showed up. I think it was a nice benefit for them. I would have liked to go to a thesis presentation when I was an undergrad just to see how it works. My advisor got up and started talking about how I shaved and stuff. Then I presented for I think 19 minutes. Then people started asking questions. Most of the questions I either expected or felt comfortable answering. It was a bit odd because one of the members of my committee was on the phone. So after a few initial questions the questions got deeper. The kind of questions I expected them to ask when the general audience left the room. The other committee members followed suit.

After 30 minutes of questions and discussion everyone left. They gave me one comment about how to modify my report by separating some sections. They complemented my writing but not my organization, which is exactly word for word the feedback I got on my Janzen Gear business plan. Then we spent ten minutes talking about Sergey Brin and Google, my ice axe, and Tiger Woods. I was speechless because I was expecting harder questions like, "Do you think you deserve this?"

Then it was over they said I did well and I proceeded to not get much of anything done the rest of the day. Well, I did have a fundamental change in my business strategy. I'll talk about that tomorrow.

Monday, December 14, 2009


First, I just presented my thesis and it went really well. I had a bunch of tough questions at the end because in reality this project is more than a master's thesis. I'll write about it in the next few days but I'm going to talk about something else today.

Global warming. In Copenhagen they are having a big multinational meeting to set limits on emissions for the future. A corollary to this is the money that rich nations will give to poor nations to reduce emissions or for that matter how rich nations are going to reduce their emissions. There are a lot of protesters basically saying that the governments aren't trying hard enough. In fact over 1000 protestors have been arrested during this summit.

Global warming is something that I am passionate about. It didn't start with me caring about global warming. It started because I went hiking and backpacking in the mountains. I saw the wilderness first hand and learned about invasive species and ecosystems and the effect of hot dry summers on northeastern New Mexico. The moral of the story is that forrest are being killed by beetles because of the dry climate the trees are more vulnerable and there have been no fires to thin the forests because we have put out all forrest fires the past 100 years.

The problem is that the problem is not life threatening right now and the solution is not cheap. Well, I guess riding your bike and walking instead of driving is cheaper. Also, buying less stuff is cheaper than buying a bunch of stuff that takes fossil fuels to process. Unfortunately, buying a car that doesn't need gas is nearly impossible and not economical. But what is economical? How do you quantify an investment in life? I wrote about this in my ebook. Who thinks about the world in 2100? There is a real chance that my kids (assuming I have some) will be alive in 2100. There is no way my 23 mpg van will be around then, except in a museum or classic car show. I think in 30 years less than 100 mpg will look fuel inefficient.

The world now is about 1 degree Celsius above where we were the last 2000 years on average. Now that was a generally cold time so maybe we are only a half degree above a nice average but we have upped the temperature rather rapidly.

  1. Solar panels on every upward facing man made surface. Roofs, cars, even roads.
  2. Wind turbines in places where people won't complain about how they look. First I think they look cool. Second there are a lot of places miles and miles from "population centers" where land is cheap and wind blows. For example, the oceans, the 300 miles East of the front range of the Rock Mountains, Canada, Alaska, Siberia, Australia, or even Antarctica.
  3. Capturing rain water for whatever use. Use it in toilets or purify it and use it for everything. In stead of trying to get rid of the water on your roof how about try to keep it? When wells go dry it will be a much better alternative.
  4. Spend one minute a day plugging your car in. People that live in the far north have to plug heaters into their cars at night to keep the battery warm. Why not plug the whole car in?
  5. Recycle as much as you can. Not everything recycles well. Plastic is kind of depressing with only 25-40% of the plastic actually getting recycled. Aluminum is great! It takes like 5% of the energy to recycle Aluminum as it does to extract it from ore.
  6. Globalize some things. This is already happening but it could be much better. Is there a problem with tech support in India? It probably only depends on how well you understand their English.
  7. Localize more things. How often do you need bananas? Where does that jacket come from or how many countries did it go through before it you put it on?
The problem is that these things cost money. They cost money today. They also don't match the current capabilities. I mean I could build you a solar powered car that drove 50 miles a day just about every day that you never have to plug in. But let me guess, you want an unlimited range, like a gasoline car. While that barrier has been conquered by a remote control airplane we aren't very close at the level of a practical car yet.

Will we figure it out before the arctic glaciers flood the world? Will we learn before a heat wave kills crops and famine kills millions? I don't know. As a master of science most of what I know is that I don't know things.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Masters Thesis Presentation

I am presenting my Masters Thesis, Modeling of Heat Treating Processes for Transmission Gears, Monday morning at 9 AM in Higgins 102 at WPI.

If you are in the area and have 45 minutes of free time come by and watch. You will probably learn something. There will also be coffee and some sort of pastry.

If you are wondering what I am going to talk about it's all in the title. Basically, I have spent the past year and a half learning how to make finite element models and heat treat them. All sorts of crazy things happen when you heat up and cool down steel at different rates and add carbon to the mix. Before you know it you have a $50,000 gear that likes to turn into a potato chip. So I have worked on simulating the process and trying to have the exact distortion results in my simulations that have been measured on the gears.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Successful Innovative Companies: Volume 10

The Successful Innovative Company of the Week is: Wikipedia.
What they do right: they give away free information. I first heard about Wikipedia in high school and at the time we were not allowed to source it. In serious publications people still don't but everyone takes a journey there to verify information. It is a starting step for a journey of a thousand miles. It is a pool of knowledge to swim in or dump your glass.

The strength of Wikipedia is in the millions of people that update it. I was reading a message board the day after Dathan Ritzenhein set the 5000 meter US record and one of the first comments was something like 'you know Wikipedia is great when it already has his record less than an hour after he set it'.

Wikipedia is also vastly underutilized by the advertising industry. I mean if you are doing something that you want to make your company look good, well go on Wikipedia and change it so that people know you are trying. I mean when it comes to companies first there is your website (propaganda) then there is Wikipedia (the truth). I'm not saying delete the negative information on Wikipedia I'm saying add more of the positive stuff. Add the history, the people stories, sales information, product information, details, add wikipedia pages for your products. It's free. People believe it. It's like a snowball effect, start a page for your new product and as people update it it will grow and become it's own thing. I mean it's just so obvious to me how any company, brand, famous person, whatever can help their image by using Wikipedia. It's like a minibiography that you have the chance to edit. Do you want to see how history will remember your company (or you), well, write history! For all the money spent on bandwidth, website templates, computer templates, just about anyone could add a paragraph to Wikipedia.

What they could improve: If people had to have an account to update Wikipedia that would make them more accountable. I mean you could still set up an account to falsely update one thing and then not worry when it was deleted, but it would slow down a lot of trolls.

I see accountability as the largest challenge to Wikipedia. For incorrect information there is no punishment to the person that posts it. I am not sure exactly how to get around this, maybe some sort of approval before something goes live by the page author.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Aiming for a Higher Standard

So often we try to achieve the minimum in some pursuit.

"I hope to get a B in this class" or "It has to be at least five pages" or "I want to run 3:10:59 and qualify for Boston" or "we have to run eight miles today" or some other statement of work. Now those are all very good goals. There are a lot of people that would love to get a B in that class. Billions of people will never qualify for the Boston Marathon. However, I think you are better.

This may not apply to everyone that reads this blog but since I know most of you here it goes: If you do something, do it. None of this wishy washy half effort stuff. Get the work done. Set a higher standard for yourself.

I have found that whatever standard I create for myself I usually end up achieving, but just barely. Examples: I just wanted to pass a class (twice), I got a C. I wanted to break 33 minutes in the 10k and I did by 1.5 seconds. I wanted to get above 7000 meters this summer and I got to 7030 meters.

I don't always hit my goals, in fact I fail a lot. However, setting these goals changes my attitude and focus so that I put in the work necessary to achieve those goals. Many of my failures are also failures by the slimmest of margins, which in retrospect are sometimes as good as the goals. Setting a higher goals makes you figure out how to get there. Instead of thinking of tasks as impossible you can understand the steps necessary to get to that level.

I also think we are limited by our goals. As soon as we set the bar for ourselves we want to just barely get over that bar. Anything much higher or harder is seen as nearly impossible. By setting higher goals we also change our thinking so that we fail at a higher level. There are many examples of this: the kid who gets the highest score in the class on a test and still asks the teacher why she got two questions wrong or the guy who PRs by 30 seconds in the 5k and is disappointed that he wasn't 15 seconds faster. I've seen these people and it's not that they are better it's that they hold themselves to a higher standard.

"Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss it you will land among the stars." — Les Brown

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Crossing the Street

I spend a lot of time crossing streets. I found this article and it puts an interesting spin on an interview. The basics are that you can tell a lot about a person's risk taking and priorities by how he or she crosses the street. So if you ever have to cross a street immediately before an interview or during an interview you might want to consider what message you are sending.

It's amazing how little things can tell so much about a person.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

I broke a rib!

Well, probably not exactly a rib but the cartilage from the highest floating rib on my right side to my actual rib cage. How did this happen? I went for a 20 mile run Sunday and proceeded to slip and fall on an iced over section of pavement going downhill turning a corner. I landed on my right side. Now watching runners fall is always kind of amusing. We are so focused on running that we just fall. There is no putting our arms out to slow ourselves down. There is no slow motion, down to our knees, fall down slowly action. It's: trip, boom. After I got back up I took two steps and forgot about the pain. After I finished the run it started to hurt but I thought it was a side stitch because we didn't really cool down or stretch. It continued to hurt and 31 hours after it started to hurt I remembered that I fell on the ice.
(The bruise is just beginning!)
I thought I was just being a wimp. I thought maybe I was dehydrated or slept strange. Then I remembered the fall and told the trainer at WPI and she poked and pushed and said that it would be two months before it was healed. She also said that I could do whatever was at my threshold of pain. This means no stopping. I mean on Monday I ran over 15 miles including an eight mile tempo at 6:08 pace. That's a good day for me healthy, but I did it with a broken rib, the day after a 20 mile run at 6:40 pace. I must be some kind of different.

It hurts to sit up from laying back, it hurts to take a deep breath (but really who needs a deep breath to run six minute miles?), and it hurts to touch it, it hurts to cough, and it hurts to laugh. If I just smile instead of laughing please excuse me, but it hurts.

Now why would I be so enthusiastic and optimistic about having a broken rib? Well, I thought I had a side stitch for over a day. I've never known how my pain tolerance compares to other people because I can not be other people. This shows me that I can handle a lot of pain. Granted I have a somewhat minor break compared to others.

I look at other people in the world in awe. They do so much more than me. I measure myself to the impossibility of being the best in the world, at everything I do. So I hammer on myself. I want to be the best. More specifically: I want to be the best (that I can be without sacrificing too much). Which is to say I do not measure myself to the world's standards but to my own. I hope to do things that have never been done. I also hope I am able to do things other people have done. So if Brian Sell ran through a broken rib, well then, I will too.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Pre-start-up work

Before a company starts there are things that usually happen. They do not have to happen for every industry and I am focusing on the production of goods for the outdoor industry and selling them to consumers. For those that have started businesses or read about this sort of thing please comment below when I miss something.

A hopefully complete list in no particular order:
  • A business plan: usually a document but it could just be in your head that provides insight into how the business will be run, who the customers are, How many customers there are, how you will get the customers, the money that is needed before a profit is made, the employees and management team, the predicted growth, and more or less where you want to be in five years.
  • A customer(s): someone willing to hand you money for something you are doing.
  • An employee(s): who is actually going to do the work. I count a small business of only a few people all as employees. The reason is that, I think, customers and investors are the ones that determine how good of a job you are doing. So they are in essence your boss.
  • Money: unless there is basically no barrier to entry (like blogging) there needs to be some input of money to jump start the process. People need to eat and they can't do that working for free. Products need to be made but someone has to pay for the material and production.
  • An idea: you have to have something that people will pay for be it an idea, service or product. You have to provide something for them to consume.
  • You have to be enthusiastic and committed: I can not think of even one business where you start making money on day one. Perhaps in the first month for ebusinesses. Probably the day you go "live" or open your doors but chances are you are working on it full time before that point. This is more like investing and gambling than working at a job. You don't get paid just for showing up.
Additionally there are things that you should consider before starting:
  • A lawyer: if you are starting with founders having a personal lawyer in addition to the company lawyer can help insure that you are not forced out overnight as has actually happened to inventors before.
  • An accountant: because money will be flying in all different directions you might like to know where it is all going because there is a good chance that someone's money disappears and you will get the blame.
  • Money: if you can live without a salary for several years more power to your start-up!
  • A vacation: when is the next time you are going to get to go somewhere?
  • Insurance: there is a better chance you will get sued as a business owner than an employee of the man.
  • A place to live: just incase you can't afford rent for awhile it's nice to have friends with couches or parents or a van.
  • Found with a woman: there are many grants and loans available to women in small businesses. There are also incentives for minorities and people with disabilities.
  • Do work for the government: there are hundreds of grants through the government for science and technology in addition to contracts for all sorts of work.
  • Consider location: what resources could help your business grow? Business incubators, state tax incentives, target market, potential employees, cost of living, and shipping costs all vary by location.
  • Have fun: if you're getting into the business to make millions of dollars you're in it for the wrong reasons. If you are starting this business to make the world a better place, well, I can't really think of a better reason to start a company.
Please add your thoughts below. I'm sure I missed something.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Successful Innovative Companies: Volume 9

The Successful Innovative Company of the week is: The Bean Counter.
What they do right: They have good coffee. After having a cup at The Bean Counter Dunkin Donuts will take pretty terrible. They have consistently been ranked the best coffee in Worcester year after year for the last decade. They have two locations, one in Worcester and one in Shrewsbury. How are they innovative? Simple they focus on the quality of the product.

Starbucks has good quality coffee too, but when you go in you feel like you should be wearing $300 shoes and driving a new Lexus. At the Bean Counter you can go in with holes in your pants and no one will care. It is a place that takes all types. Yuppie college students with laptops at 10 PM grinding out tomorrow's assignment. The 8:30 AM coffee crew age 50+ that defines liberal Massachusetts. The old retired lady sipping the small coffee just looking out the window. The British guy who shows up randomly for a week and hangs out with everyone then disappears for two months. The summer gang of acoustic or punk 20 somethings that smokes and drinks coffee from sunset til close. The pale vegans searching out some unadulterated piece of candy. The impatient business woman waiting to buy a cake. The best part is the girls behind the counter that know your usual drink.

Example: wake up at 7 in January or February and go over to The Bean Counter to do homework. Sitting beside the windows and the heater drinking a mocha. Scribbling rocket science as the snow flitters down from a gray sky. The rush of cars through the slush. The contrast between me warm and dry and productive on the inside and the outside world a cold wet mess three feet away. For some reason I'm three times as productive here as I was last night in the library. How I get so fortunate?

What they could improve: A student discount would be great! They also kind of a strange setup with the register and condiment counter. It's fine as long as they only serve one person at a time but sometimes they are serving three at a time and I have a little trouble knowing where to stand. Also a few of their electrical outlets don't work. My computer's battery lasts all of 15 minutes so an outlet is vital.

Thursday, December 3, 2009


What does the future hold? I don't know. This is a scary time to be graduating. I don't have several job offers like I expected several years ago.

I plan things out in my life. They always change but I still expect things to go a certain way. I always thought I would get a full scholarship to college, I never thought I would be a competitive runner, I never thought I would get out of the direct aerospace business, and I wonder what else I am thinking now that won't go as planned.

How do I deal with fear? Well most of the time I try to think about other things. I mean I really don't have much time to worry. On my run this morning I was thinking about investor repayment strategies and shoe designs, not fear of the future. Things never pan out quite the way we expect but they always seems to work.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Tying up loose ends

I am graduating in December. My advisor liked the draft of my thesis I gave him last week. However, I still have a few things here in New England I need to do before I leave. Sunday I accomplished one of those, I ran 21 miles to the nearest mountain and ran up to the top. It's the kind of thing you think about for a long time but requires a friend to pick you up because a 42 mile run is a little beyond me at this point.

That also means an ice climb on Mt. Washington and since Baxter State Park just changed the winter regulations I would like to get up there before I leave. It also means spending time with my friends before I leave because I have no idea when I will come back. I'm sure I will but I do not know when. I think that moving around and traveling so much when I was young has kind of made me a mover and shaker. Worcester has a lot to offer. I have so many great friends in New England. But at the same time I feel stale, and reminiscent (not a bad thing but not a great way to live). I run around Worcester alone thinking of the shenanigans we pulled and I smile. A gut wrenching smile because I know we will never have that day to day revelry that we did before. Well, actually I can think of a few situations where we might... But those are rare and probably unlikely. Unless someone wants to come out to Boulder with me and live poor while we start a company and run our legs off.

I try to live with no regrets. For the most part I do but there are things I have done and said that I regret. I am about to go from sophomore graduate student to freshman of real life. How many mistakes have I made? How many more will I suffer through? At what point will I look in to my friend's eye and know that the only future we have is a few emails a year and a Reach the Beach or alumni meet here and there?

On the other hand, who will I meet next month, or tomorrow, that will change my life?