Friday, January 29, 2010

Successful Innovative Companies: Volume 15

The Successful Innovative Company of the Week is: Clif Bar!
What they do right: They make stuff you can digest. On my first backpacking trip in 2001 I was 15 and we ate all sorts of unpalatable stuff. Energy bars that tasted like beef jerky meets fudge. The point is that from that experience I have learned that nutrition is an important part of multi-hour and multi-day activity. Clif Bar has shown that they know how important taste and nutrition are.

For the uninitiated, Clif Bars have a story on the back. I have learned through experience that a story while you eat is better than no story. This is especially true when entertaining teenagers. Anyway the story, and corresponding book, tell the tale of how Clif Bar came about. Basically this endurance nut was out on a 175 mile bike ride with a friend and bonked and could not force himself to eat anything because of the terrible taste of energy food back then. So he worked on
making his own tasty food in his mom's kitchen and eventually named it after his dad. At some point he founded a company and expanded the product line.

Now they have a fantastic line of products. In fact when I went to Pakistan I took five of their products with me: Clif Bars, Builder Bars, Mojo Bars, Shot Bloks (these are amazing!), and a few gel Shots. The thing about their products is that they all taste good. The Builder Bars are protein bars that are really big and filling. The Mojo Bars are like pressed trail mix and provide a different taste and texture than traditional energy bars. Their energy gel, Shots, are nice because they have this thing called a Litter Leash. It allows you to tear the top off and the little piece of plastic stays attached to the rest of the package. I like this energy gel package design best of all although the tastes of their gels are not my favorite. You can see the Litter Leash on the right side below.
Shot Bloks get their own paragraphs because they are so awesome! They are like very firm pudding. Six come in a package with 200 calories. They are convenient because you can open the package and eat one or a few with your gloves on and put the package half open back in your pocket. With energy gel you have to commit to eating the whole thing or get this sticky mess all over everything. With energy bars you have to chew, when it's cold you have to chew a lot, and it sometimes feels like you am wasting as much energy trying to eat it as you are getting. So like 33 calorie Shot Bloks are a fantastic alternative to eating on the go. They require very little chewing, aren't messy, and come in small doses. Additionally the extra salt flavors are very nice when you are sweating a lot.

Clif Bar is committed to using as much natural and organic food in their products as possible. I do not know if this has anything to do with why their food tastes good but it might. Personally I think that some of the world's farming practices are unsustainable or in fact unhealthy and using organic food is a good alternative to those practices.

What they could improve: the taste of their energy gels. To be honest I have a hard time eating all the flavors I have tried because they are rather bitter. Perhaps that is the caffeine talking because all of the flavors of theirs I have tried contain caffeine. So my argument is somewhat premature I admit but I have had a hard time downing their gels.

Another desire I have is that these companies would make it easier for people like me to get discounted products. I spent over $150 on energy food before I went to Pakistan. Half of it I brought back but still that was a major expense for me. I also go through lots of energy food with running and climbing. I know I am not one of the top 20 athletes in this country in my sport much less the world but it would really nice to at least get like a 25% discount on orders of $50 or more. Some kind of discount would be nice. I usually buy my energy food in bulk like 6, 12 or 24 packs and at about a dollar per bar/gel and two dollars for Shot Bloks the costs add up. I do not mean to whine and I know that when I net some engineering jobs $20 will seem like nothing but at the moment and for the last year it has kind of been an issue.

Thursday, January 28, 2010


For about 60 years from the turn of the century to the early 70s these little pieces of iron were most of the protection that was used rock climbing or any other sort of climbing. Eventually Chiounard Equipment kind of turned the tide and intruduced chocks (nuts) and hexs and then Wild Country introduced Friends (cams). Today very few climbers practice the art of piton placement.
There is a good reason so few use them. Pitons are usually solid iron, sometimes titantium. They are pounded into cracks in the rock, breaking the rock and changing the shape of the piton (also known as peg or pin). When they are removed there is a scar in the rock commonly called a "pin scar" where the crack has been slightly widened. As you can probably immagine climber often put protection in the same place and after 50 or 100 or 1000 climbers go part one particular spot the crack which used to be two milimeters thick is now a whopping 15 millimeter thick. Also with modern technology they are largely unnecessary on most free climbing routes.

However, for a select few crazy people they alone serve a purpose. Alpine climbers and aid climbers. Aid climbers often encounter very thin cracks where nothing else will hold them and a piton is really the only option. Alpine climbers often encounter cracks that are iced over and will not hold removable protection. They also deal with rotton rock. In both of these situations pounding in a piton, which is kind of like a big flat nail with an eye hole in it, is the safest option.

Remembering that removing a piton destroys the rock, climbers often leave pitons there so that future parties can use them. In fact this is such a common practice that most trade routes have fixed pitons or fixed pins at all the necessary places. So there is really no need to even have pitons unless you are trying a first ascent or obscure route or some crazy twist to a route like doing an unusual route in winter or something. So taking the responsibility to place pitons is like a right of passage. It is something that is earned. Anyone can buy pitons on the internet and go out and use them, but the sport of climbing has advanced so far that these pieces of metal are now used by very few people. It is an interesting and unspoken twist to the world of climbing. You should not be seen with pitons unless you are doing something hard enough to demand their use. It is like a cowboy hat among real cowboys. If you are a pretender do not wear one. The same with certain color shirts in certain cities. If you are not a part of the gang do not wear it.

So that is my spiel on pitons. I only own four. Just in case I try something ridiculous, well more ridiculous than usual, and have to repel a bunch this winter. I'm not planning on doing any routes obscure enough and hard enough to have to use them, but we shall see...

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Forget Layering!

The wisdom of the ages says, "wear a whole bunch of different layers in the winter to keep you warm. If it gets too hot take one off, if it is cold put another one on." Well, I'm here to tell you forget that because it is inefficient. Oh it does work, sort of. I'll explain...

Layering as it is practiced by all of the people I know who use it consists of 1-3 layers of light long sleeve silk or polypropylene or capilene. Think Under Armor type of shirts, except a little bit more loose in general. Then these people wear 1-2 layers of heavy insulation like wool or fleece. They cover that up with 1-2 layers of wind/water resistant jackets or pull overs. That's a great combination if you plan on standing around all day. However, if you plan on doing something physical and generating heat you are going to sweat, even if the windchill is below zero.

How can I blast a time tested system? How can I say that it is not the best cold weather clothing system? Experience. Nearly every time I go on a winter hike or cold weather outing with less experienced people we have to stop in the first twenty minutes and they take off clothing.

I do not know the name of the person who coined the name "action suit" but I discovered it on my own in New Hampshire's mountains and with a little help from friendly corporate softshell advertising. It works like this: wear one combination of clothing that consists of relatively few layers and commit to wearing them all day long even if it gets hot. Those layers hopefully have venting zippers and hoods so that you can cool off while working hard. Then have one (just one) layer that you put on when you stop to rest or cook or belay. This is generally a belay parka and puff pants.

My preferred system which I have now used in three states, two countries, and three time zones, hiking, ice climbing, skiing, bicycling in the winter, and up to 23,000 feet is this:
  • A full body softshell bib made by Ragged Mountain that I bought used that they don't make any more. Mine has two chest pockets, leg zippers to chinch it or loose it near your ankles, a half moon zipper for using "the loo", and a two way zipper in the front so I can zip the bottom part open if I have to go or zip the top part open if I am too hot. Here is a similar suit that is twice the price of what I paid.
  • The Patagonia R1 Hoody! I think I average blogging about this once every two months. Anyway it is an extremely breathable yet insulated hoody with a half zipper and partial face mask. It also has hand extensions with thumb holes. The nice thing is that if it really warms up I can unzip the chest and take the hood off and vent a lot of heat. As some of my videos in Pakistan in the tents at camp two and three show. I even have a spare that still has the tags in case they quit making it. This and the bibs make up the core of my system.
  • A pair of gloves. Always a pair of gloves they are light and do wonders to keep your hands a little warm and out of the wind. The actual gloves vary based on the temperature, wind and activity. I have four different pairs that I rotate through depending on the activity. Although I am not an expert on gloves and I can't wait to have $160 to drop on a pair of nice insulated leather ones...
  • Depending on the temperature I will either wear running shorts, half tights, or thick full length 2008 Patagonia nordic skiing tights that they don't make any more under the bibs.
  • If it is cold I will wear a long sleeve under the R1 Hoody. I have two Nike long sleeve shirts that are really light and fit very nicely. I also have some compression tops similar to Under Armor but I usually feel my motion is restricted when I wear those.
  • Occasionally I wear my Mountain Hardware Alchemy jacket over the bibs when it is cold and windy. More often than not though it is too warm. This is a tried and true jacket that has been around for ten years and will probably be here another ten.
  • When the temperature is too warm for my parka I carry a three ounce 2007 Marmot Ion jacket. It's mostly wind proof and water proof. I will start sweating when I wear it most of the time but it really keeps the wind off and is absolutely worth the three ounces of weight. I carry this in the summer rock climbing and cycling too. Basically it's the one thing that is guaranteed to be in my pack on any trip in any season.
  • For a belay/rest/cooking parka I have a Mountain Hardware Sub Zero Hooded Jacket. It is not the warmest parka out on the market but has always been plenty warm up to 7000 meters. I like it because the waist cut is a little higher than many jackets so I can get to my harness. It also has a ton of pockets including an inside pocket big enough for a one liter Nalgene or thermos. It also has an insulated hood which is a must.
  • I have a pair of Mountain Hardware Compressor pants which are synthetic and again not the warmest insulating pants on the market. They have full side zips so I can put them on while standing and wearing crampons without lifting my feet off the ground. One note on why I have so much Mountain Hardware stuff is that the stuff just fits me really well. The sleeves are the right length for me.
  • A pair of thick mittens. I don't always carry these for skiing or short hikes but anything more than a few hours or in serious weather will see a pair of either Outdoor Research Alti Mitts or Valandre Oural (down) mittens in my pack because I like my fingers.
  • When it is really cold I wear the Outdoor Research Gorilla balaclava. It is very warm and windproof and can be worn with my goggles or with my sun glasses.
I will skip the discussion on footwear because that could take up a whole post. So that is my action suit. You can see that in general there are not many layers, just several functional layers with hoods and chest zippers so that I can air condition myself or turn up the heat. Is there room for improvement? Yeah, any clothing system will vary based on the weather and more importantly in my case the budget. This system and these articles of clothing have served me very well so far so I do not expect any big changes to my system in the next few years.

One last comment I have is about hoods. When it comes to winter clothing hoods are a must. You can put it on or take it off in several seconds and you do not have to worry about putting it in a pocket or your backpack. You lose a lot of heat through your head. Protecting your neck and head from the wind and cold can keep in a lot of heat. This is again why the R1 Hoody is so amazing. When fully zipped up only my nose and eyes are exposed. When unzipped my chest, head and neck are all exposed and I cool off rather quickly.

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Unemployment Chronicles: Week 5

In the job hunting world: it was an up and down week. I made a few phone calls. I left a few voicemails and as usual have not heard back. I did however get an invitation from a staffing agency that works, it seems primarily, for a heat treating company so this week they told me to call and schedule an interview. I went to an entrepreneurs meeting and met several people, one of whom asked for my resume and we are probably going to meet up in the near future. I contacted my two biggest leads for job opportunities in the Denver area and haven't heard back from either one of them. I only applied for like five jobs this week because I'm not finding as many new jobs that I am qualified for.

In terms of this upcoming week, I am joining a high school robotics team. Apparently they could use some help that I might be able to offer in the next several weeks. Additionally there is at least one engineer advisor for the team who works for a company I am fond of...

So while I have not netted the interview I want yet, I do have three upcoming meetings, of sorts, with people who may know people. Isn't the whole "it's not what you know but who you know" game fun?

In the rest of my life: I ran 90 miles. I was tired most of the week kind of destressing or at least trying and that entailed a lot of sleeping. I had two workouts and my first race at altitude. All three went worse than I had hoped. I did play video games but not as much as last week. I spent some time reading one of the books I bought. I did spend some money on three pitons and a water bottle with a hand holder for running. I went backcountry skiing on Monday. Round trip we were only out for five hours and two of that was driving and nice trail hiking. Still no rock, ice or alpine climbing although I think that perhaps I might get out this week or weekend and do something. In short, I could be doing all of this in just about any state.

Money. It is frustrating. I want to find a place where I can have fun making money. I think that far in the future, years down the road when I have other stressful problems that I will handle them well. This unemployment and these seemingly massive debts of mine are just another stressful challenge I have to overcome. I survived a night and snow storm at 23,050 and seven weeks in Pakistan. I finished my thesis after thinking about it just about every waking hour of the day for months. There are other somewhat stressful situations I have conquered in the past and this one is nothing terribly different. So because most of you who read this are my friends and family, thank you for supporting me because I can not do what I do alone. Of course it seems like the end of the world now but in time things will work out and I shall be where I am supposed to be. Even if that means running across the country for more than three years like Forrest Gump... (It's an option.)

Friday, January 22, 2010

Dealing with Altitude

I have gone to moderate and high altitude a number of times. When I say altitude I mean like 8,000 feet or more or 2500 meters for the rest of the world. I handle altitude very well, I think. I have gotten altitude sickness a number of times like going from 6,000 to 11,000 feet in one day or trying to sleep above 20,000. However, I have never been so sick that I threw up or couldn't do things for myself unlike the experiences of many of my friends. In fact I have dealt with altitude so well that it's hard to describe how great I felt at 23,000 feet this summer. I was hungry. I ate everything in the tent that looked appetizing. That is not supposed to happen. People are supposed to lose their appetite at high altitudes. I also made the hike from camp two to camp three fairly fast. Still twice as slow as the fastest time from camp two to three that I have heard of, but faster than many.

All of that being said trying to run at altitude is hard. I did my first workout on a track Thursday at altitude, specifically 7200 feet. I ran 200s because one third of the track was iced over and I couldn't safely run farther. Anyway I was able to run the 200s within a second or two of what I would be running at sea level. That was not the problem though. when I jogged back to the starting line I would jog far slower than at sea level and never really get my breathing under control. In another example I was running a hard aerobic effort Tuesday in Denver on a treadmill. The pace I was running is one that is not terribly hard for me, except for running it at 5300 feet. As I ran the treadmill stopped at one point and asked to take my heart rate. I was thumping at 185. That is somewhat harder than what my heart should be beating at that pace. Yet both times my legs have not really gotten tired, I just can hardly breathe.

I know from limited reading that it takes three weeks for human bodies to start making more red blood cells, which in turn carry more oxygen, which in turn makes it possible to perform better at altitude. So two weeks into my new home at 7500 feet I still have not adjusted and am running nearly a minute per mile slower than normal for many of my runs. However, I remain hopeful that this physical stress will contribute to faster race times down the road.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Value of Guidebooks

As electronic reading devices become more popular there becomes a time when you wonder if any book will be worth buying in person. I like books I like them in person more than on a computer screen but still it is cheap and easy to get a book on the computer. Now one small section of the book market is the guidebook. These are books which contain information about a location be it climbing, hiking, hotels, tourist attractions, restaurants, and other location specific information.

You see there is no economical global wireless service to search the internet or information. In fact there are places without electricity. These constraints pretty much limits devices like mobile phones and net books and without electricity even electronic readers are worthless. At that point the value of a self contained book with everything you desire to know about an area is very valuable. I recently paid $70 for three guidebooks to Colorado. Some may question that logic because probably 85% of the routes are available free on the internet. That's true but as has happened more than once people print the route information for a climb and only read the descent information once so they have an adventure descending easy terrain that was more scary than the route itself. Also in the case that you are holed up in a location without internet access you may want to climb another route or do something else. With a guidebook you will have a number of options of things to do in that area whereas otherwise you may have no idea what to do.

Additionally there are usually those few routes or activities in the book that are not online because they are obscure or infrequently done. I know that several times while my family was on vacation we would stop at places where we were the only tourists. In fact it has happened so many times it isn't even strange anymore. We have also stopped at those national monuments that get only a few thousand visitors a year and we were one third of the groups there.

So there is still value in a guidebook. Something that does not need recharging or a wireless signal. A one time purchase with no residual costs.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Creating Champions

I've spent some time recently thinking about why I am where I am. In pretty much every sense of a place you can be, mentally, physically, emotionally, employed, living, etc. Anyway one of the things I have been doing recently is searching for people to run with. This is pretty much a constant battle for me. Do you know how few people in the US do the kind of running I want to do? I don't either but I think it is only about 2000. When I compared that to the 300 million in this country I thought that that really puts me in the 99th percentile. So my mind wandered to MCATs and such other standard tests and I thought that when people get to the 99th percentile they are treated as if they have arrived. However that is not really the case is it?

I thought about how so many of the systems I grew up with are focused on small areas. Top of the class, best in the state, winner of some small race, or other accolade that more or less means you are .01% better at something than your peers. Now since I thought of this while running it relates to running. I read the book More Fire recently which talks about the best Kenyan runners. I've also learned a little about Japanese running along the way. Then from experience I know a lot about United States running. So when I thought about how runners rise to prominence in the different countries I realized that it is similar to how people rise to prominence in other career areas as well.

You see in the US we are afforded a great number of possibilities. We are supported by our parents, teachers, coaches, extended family, friends and everyone to pursue whatever we want to pursue. In other countries it is not this way. Not every child is supported to follow their dreams. They have to fight for what they want. They have to fight their parents, family and friends. Probably not physically but they have to endure the comments and stares of the others.

So much effort produces a person who has no limits. They have been breaking limits other people placed on them their whole life so why should that ever change? In the US childhood is a celebration of participation. Why will the African runner out run the American? He will actually go hungry if he does not get more prize money. We are not afraid of that with our support system.

It seems that people get complacent where they are because they are not afraid of losing it all in an instant. That is fine, I guess. However, I submit that we can lose it all in an instant. Getting back to the point it seems that champions can rise out of adversity as well, possibly better than those that are supported almost endlessly. It's just an interesting thought that I had on my long run that took four days to get down on paper.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Unemployment Chronicles: Week 4

This was what I will consider a good week. In the world of job hunting I filled out about 15 applications. I also made a phone call to a local staffing agency who I thought was an aerospace heat treating company and while it was kind of vague I am pretty sure they invited me in for an interview. (I realized that staffing agencies may also be hurting because fewer companies are hiring.) I think that this coming week I will make a lot more calls to several companies. People seem a lot more accommodating on the phone than in an email. However, I have not yet hit up the big three aerospace companies yet this year because I am waiting for two people to return my resume critiqued. I want to make sure that when I make the first or second impression (depending on the person and the company) that they like me!

I checked for local part time jobs in town a little but there really isn't much available. It seems that here there are lots of people that work those "part time" jobs as a career. Perhaps it is to go to the mountains more or to have less responsibility. Whatever the case it is a more competitive market than I anticipated.

Job hunting is like persistence hunting. That is hunting when you physically run down an animal. You head out looking for an animal. Then you see a heard and decide you want one specific animal. So you (and your friends) chase after it. However it might not be the right animal or easiest to catch so you set off after another animal. Eventually you figure out which one you want and keep chasing it. The problem is that when you start you don't know how long you are going to have to run. It could be ten miles, it could be a marathon it could be longer than a marathon. It is the same with job hunting: you take a few steps forward but you don't know how long until you get a job.

On the financial side of things: I bought two books and a new pair of running shoes. I also went grocery shopping and bought a mocha one morning. I did not go out to eat, which is good, and I did not buy any gear despite going to the REI flagship store in Denver. So the week was a loss but not terribly so. This coming week I have bills to pay so it will be a bigger loss.

On the "leisure time" side of thing: I ran 102 miles. 28 miles at 5000 ft the rest at 7400-8400 feet. I also had two good workouts. So in terms of running it was a good week. But running does not pay my bills. I also played too many hours of video games. What counts as too many? More than three hours in a week.

Since coming to Colorado last Sunday I have not yet climbed a mountain, gone rock or ice climbing, gone skiing, gone biking, or met up with any of my Colorado friends from 2008 and before. Kind of strange. I come here for the mountains yet I just run circles around them instead of climb up them.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Successful Innovative Companies: Volume 14

The Successful Innovative Company of the week is: Saucony!

What they do right: I first heard of Saucony in the summer of 2007. It was the only summer the last five years when I was not in the mountains with little or no outside world access. As such I followed the Tour de France, the European track season and learned a lot about running. Going across the internet I ran into the blog of Nate Jenkins. This was back in the day when he had only ran a few decent races and was so far off most people's radar that no one considered him a serious threat in US marathoning. Well, I was inspired by his 130 and 140 mile weeks week after week including lots of workouts. That fall he ran to a seventh place finish at the olympic marathon trials. That's kind of a big deal. What makes that so special is that When he decided to take the path of professional runner and again when Saucony decided to sponsor him he was pretty slow by professional runner standards. So I have to be thankful to the company that gave this hard working guy a chance.

Secondly, in 2009, or perhaps 2008, they came out with the best shoe I have ever owned: The Grid Fastwitch 3. I've had other Saucony shoes and they were nice too. I've had shoes fromm just about every running shoe company in time but this model takes the cake. My first pair has 560 miles on it and I'm going to keep using it to at least 1000km. The other two pair have less than 50 miles between the two of them I am just so scared that when the Fastwitch 4 comes out they will change it. I know at least five people that train mainly in this shoe and everyone likes it. You can see my two newish pairs and the old pair with salt stains.
What they could improve: Saucony is mostly a New England company. It seems that most of their athletes are in the New England area. While there are a lot of runners there they could probably expand to the rest of the country (and world). They have a good stable of products they are just not one of the biggest shoe companies so people don't know about them as much as say Nike or Asics.

Coming from a NCAA division three background it seems that shoe companies often cater only to the best runners and to joggers. What I'm saying is that I would like to see more sponsorship for guys like Nate Jenkins and shoe companies sponsoring more races. With the increase in race fees for marathons climbing every year it would be nice if that $130 entry fee would get you a pair of shoes instead of another technical microfiber shirt.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Out of Sight, Out of Mind

Researching the job market I found some interesting things. For some jobs less than one percent of applicants are even interviewed. Since most jobs are apply online these days it is easy to apply for dozens of jobs and for hundreds of people to apply for each job. Some of the recurring advice from my family, friends and the internet is to do something to put yourself in their sight. Call somebody, anybody at the company and ask questions, get your resume to the top of the list. Show up at an association meeting and talk to people. Get coffee where they get coffee.

On paper you may look great, but so do thousands of other people with your qualifications.

In person you may be mediocre, but you took the effort to show up when no one else or very few did.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

How to Acclimate: For Athletes (Part 2 of 2)

In the first part of this series I mentioned a few ways that people could adjust to higher altitude. Today I will suggest some details that help the process move along.

When I say athletes I only mean people doing something physical. That could be a few days of hiking or skiing it doesn't have to be a competitive sport. In my experience at altitude people can often react very negatively to the change in altitude. In fact the only place I have seen people throw up is after the first day of backpacking when they ascended too fast. So all of the suggestions from yesterday stand. Just because you think you are trained better than an average person doesn't mean you can ascend faster. So here are some additional recommendations.
  1. Be patient. It takes three weeks before your body produces the extra red blood cells to allow you to transport the limited oxygen. I believe there are other changes as well that occur within the first month so it is important to remember that just because you feel better on day four than day two doesn't mean you are acclimated yet.
  2. Don't compare the quality of a workout directly to the same one performed at sea level. In 2002 I was hiking up the north ridge of Mt. Elbert. There is a plateau at about 13,500 feet that is nearly flat and about half of a mile long. It took me an entire hour to walk that half mile. At sea level I could probably crawl a half mile in an hour. What I'm saying is that that half mile at 13,500 feet is not the same as a mile at 500 feet. Comparisons can be made to workouts at altitude and those at sea level but that comparison should also rely on how the workout felt, if it was harder, easier or about the same as something at a lower altitude. Then it is up to the athlete to decide if it felt better or worse, as in where is an ideal training location.
  3. Get your rest! Recovery is harder at altitude because there is not enough oxygen to use for repairing your body. After exercise there are micro-tears in your muscles and they heal faster when there is more oxygen available.
  4. Eat! I think that it just takes more calories to sustain life at higher altitudes than it does at lower altitudes. This could be because you heart and lungs are working harder to keep you alive. So you may need to consume some extra calories, or end up losing weight.
Pretty simple and pretty effective.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

How to Acclimate: In General (Part 1 of 2)

I am beginning the fifth extended period (more than six weeks) at altitude (above 6000 feet) in my life and I realized that many of the challenges that once plagued me are no longer issues because I have experience to understand the acclimatization process. So here are a number of things you can do to ease the stress of going to a higher altitude.
  1. Do aerobic exercise before you get to altitude. Any amount of aerobic exercise you can do will be beneficial but a month or more will really help. I find running to be a really good conditioning exercise. Biking and swimming also help and cross country skiing if you have it available. This enables your body to transport oxygen better than someone who does not do aerobic exercise.
  2. Drink water! Most of the altitude sickness problems that myself and my friends have had I would trace to dehydration. You are breathing out more water in the dry air as well as sweat evaporating off of your body so you will not realize how much water you need to drink. The few headaches I have had at altitude all cleared up by drinking more.
  3. Ascend slowly. The traditional method is no more than an average of 1000 feet or 300 meters per day above 8000 feet or 2500 meters. By giving yourself an extra day to adjust to a moderate altitude before going to a higher altitude you can mitigate the drastic changes of a large altitude ascent.
Those are the most basic recommendations for adjusting to a higher altitude. Tomorrow I will address several of the finer points of adjusting to altitude.

Monday, January 11, 2010

It's All About Energy

Wether watching Star Wars or Back to the Future 2 or any other futuristic movie or television show it's all about energy. Listening to talk about hydrogen fuel cells, global warming, and new wind farms it's all about energy.

I shall explain, and take up a good chuck of your time. First, I'm going to start with how we get energy. Now it more or less all comes from the Sun. Solar power converts the photons (light particles) from the sun into energy through use of layers of photovoltaic material that becomes electrically charged when in the presence of light. Second there is wind energy. Wind is created by the sun heating up sections of the earth more and creating convection currents which is basically warm air and cool air moving in different directions and because of gravity the air doesn't float away into space and thus moves horizontally when it collides with air of a different temperature. Hydroelectric power from from water that is pulled by gravity closer to the center of the earth. Much of that water is carried to higher elevations by rain and slow. Some of it also comes from ground water. How does ground water move uphill you ask? Well, there are probably several mechanisms but the one that sticks out in my mind is the capillary action from trees and plants and the soil itself. Things move from areas of high concentration to areas of low concentration. So the water collects at a low spot but just above that spot imagine that the ground is bone dry and there is a tree slightly uphill. Because the ground is packed so close together a wet piece of dirt beside a dry piece of dirt will create a gradient and some of the water will move to the dry piece of dirt. Now imagine the same concept but a hill side miles long. Too big of a jump you say it doesn't scale up?

Luke: "It's too big."
Yoda: "Size matters not."

How about ethanol and vegetables and other plants? Well they grow by photosynthesis which is another way of saying they use the light energy (the sun) to grow. So biofuel and ethanol and other fuels like that are basically produced from the sun. Although they have to be refined which takes a large amount of energy as well.

How about oil? Oil is thought to be created by organic material (plants and animals) that have been compressed under great pressure to form polymer chains we call oil. That means that we can create oil in a lab (ever heard of synthetic oil?) by replicating the conditions thought to produce oil in nature.

Then there is fission and fusion power. Fission is traditional nuclear reactor design and the atomic bombs they dropped on Japan. It consists of really heavy elements getting split into two smaller elements and when that occurs a lot of energy is released. Fusion is basically the bombs that are way bigger and not used in any nuclear power reactor. If we can solve fusion power and put it in a reactor that will give up so much energy. It consists of Hydrogen that is combined to form Helium and released energy when that reaction occurs. However it is so hot it will melt anything we have yet created to hold it in. This is the reaction that we think makes the sun shine.

Secondly there is another problem, besides producing a ton of energy. Containing that energy in a small place. Currently we have a bit of a problem with energy density. It's not exactly a problem because we have never known different but it limits us from flying cars, traveling to Mars in a week, and other science fiction fantasies. While lithium batteries seem so amazing with so much power imagine a battery so powerful the size of your cell phone that you put it in your car and don't have to fuel up ever again.

Now that example is a leap from where we are now but the world energy consumption is increasing. From about 5 terawatts in 1965 to 13 terawatts in 2006. Think about the energy usage in your house. Fifty years ago who had more than one television set? Twenty years ago who used the computer and internet as much as we use it today? I see no way that our energy usage can honestly be reduced. As people begin to acquire huge screens and touch capable screens and have more of them the power required is just going to go up. As the world food supply becomes incapable of handling the world population will we start farming underground or in buildings with artificial lights?

As the world progresses to easily renewable energy sources like solar and wind anther problem is how to store lots of energy for times when the sun does not shine and the wind does not blow? This goes back to energy density and also the efficiency of storing and then extracting that energy.

I feel that in the future energy is going to be a very big issue. Someone who controls energy can have clean water, electricity, heat or air conditioning, computers, internet access, transportation, food, and other communication. Basically the more energy we have the more we can do. Of course the converse of that is the more we want to do the more energy we need.

The future is going to be interesting.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Unemployment Chronicles: Week 3

The view on Interstate 90 Wednesday before they closed it down for two days.
In the job hunting escapade: the week started off with me emailing several people in my WPI life that have been influential asking for introductions to people in the Denver metro area that might be looking for employees or know people looking for employees. Well I completely struck out with one of them and only hit a grounder to get on first with the other one. Not exactly the home run I was looking for. I spent the later half of the week snowed in in Minnesota away from internet access, besides my phone. So I applied for zero jobs online. However, due to the world being small I am following up with another friend for a possible introduction to a person that can probably help find me a job. As far as actually applying for jobs and such the week was more or less a wash. However, I am now in Colorado and I have thought up a few other contacts which I will pursue in the next week.

It's a scary thing. Being unemployed. In fact in the next week I am going to start searching out jobs that I can do until I land that engineering job with a fat salary. Well, a salary big enough to pay my loans. Honestly any engineering job that I could land I would be happy for. I'd even be happy with an internship right now. I'd even be happy for the next month if I could just sharpen cross cut saws or use one of my other skills. When you have a future be it another semester, a job lined up, or even just work on Monday you have this peace (and possibly ignorance) instead of this anxiety.

On a somewhat unrelated note I started coaching my first athlete, and he is going to pay me! While this is not the job I am looking for and it won't even cover one of my bills each month it is something which is better than nothing.

In the rest of my life (what is not getting me a job): I ran a meager 83 miles but had a good workout and took a day off to drive 13 hours across the country. I finally painted my political theory. Besides the 120 dollars I spent driving 1300 miles I didn't spend really any money which is always a good thing.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Stuck in Minnesota

Traveling through the Midwest to Colorado I stopped at my grandparents
house. Not an hour too soon. I-90 has been shut down in southwest
Minnesota most of today. What happened is a little less than a foot
fell in a few days combined with temperatures around zero and
windchills around -20 going down to -40 tonight. That wouldn't be too
bad except it hasn't been above freezing here in several weeks so the
last three feet of snow that fell is still here. I mean seriously how
often do they close the interstate?

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Bipartisan Political Theory

It's rare that I get political but I've had the following idea in my head for six years and I finally made it a picture. It is also abstract art so if you just want to enjoy it and draw your own conclusions don't read the explanation below. The title is "Bipartisan Politics".

Explanation of the non-obvious. This story begins in high school. I had a thorough current events and government teacher who taught us about the US political system. He explained the two party system as a linear range with a red and blue, conservative and liberal, which ranged from fanatical people on one end to moderates in the middle and then more fanatical people on the other end. When I thought about his theory I thought that when you get to the extreme people on the ends it really don't matter what side you are on. This system can also be applied to many other systems such as conservative and liberal Islam or environmentalism. Thinking about other systems I realized that if you take it to the very extreme to the one or two people on the very end of spectrum that destroy logging machinery or bomb stuff their affiliation is not clear. To me these drastic acts are often destructive and it is not always obvious if it conservative people or liberal people who are doing it. So I thought up the political system theory above.

The white background is painted with traditional horizontal continuous brush strokes representing the traditional view of one dimensional politics. The circle represents the range of traditional dichotomy political views. The red and blue represent two opposing political parties. The white represents those with no clear views. The black represents those with extreme views that neither party wishes to be identified with. This is where the rest of the canvas becomes important. There does not necessarily have to be a view that is with one party or the other. It is a false dichotomy that we traditionally think of in politics. There may be other options beyond those on the circle. I considered putting more color on the canvas such as some green but I could not decide where to put it and this way I am not trying to completely describe an entire political system just the fact that there are other options. I also can not sign it because every part of the canvas has a different meaning and I do not want to be permanently identified with any one corner.

I hope you enjoy it get some value out of it.

Monday, January 4, 2010

The World Leader!

Unfortunately in the United States we don't focus on the world leader very often. When I was driving back through Canada I heard a commercial on the radio for an optemologist in Toronto who was one of the best in the world. I thought that was odd because in the US we never hear commercials for best in the world. It's always best in the nation or best in Wisconsin or best in New England or best in Worcester. While those are all nice things I would much rather be the best in the world.

Think about it. You have some sickness with some complication that requires some specialist. Do you want the best in the nation or the best in the world? While the price of flying to Spain for frostbite treatment is probably prohibitive for the best care in the world now, things are changing. With robotic surgeries occurring with the surgeon on one side of the world and the patient on the other it is not long before the best in the world is within reach.

This could be expanded to a bunch of other fields. You are building the largest suspension bridge in the world how about having the best suspension bridge builder in the world build it? In the world of running this is kind of standard. It's great to win a national championship but by far and away being the best in the world is more important. Ask any runner and winning a gold medal at the olympics would be far far better than winning the national championships in the US.

I realize that many fields are hard to quantify and defining one world leader would be difficult. But still, narrowing it down to the best five or ten in the world improves your odds of getting high quality instead of the best five or ten in the US. I also think that the US has many of the world leaders already we just don't advertise that fact. I can guarantee when it comes to space exploration the US has most of the best in the world.

The prevalence of the internet is making it so that companies, almost regardless of the products or services they offer, can be used around the world. While cornering any market is a good thing, cornering the world market is likely more profitable.

Consider your place in the world as you consider your impact. You may be more unique than you realized.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Unemployment Chronicles: Week 2

This week was a slight improvement over last week.

Applying for jobs: I applied for eight jobs in three states: California, Arizona, and Colorado. I also did some research trying to extrapolate possible second or third degree connections I have to employers in Colorado. I figured out two connections which I shall definitely follow up on. The way I see it the chance of getting called for any one job I apply for online is very low but then again I am only looking for one job.

Another interesting piece of information I discovered while applying for jobs is that I may qualify as an engineer II in some instances. (An engineer I is basically the bottom and III is more experienced and then there are senior engineers and up the management chain and pay scale you go.) Because of my masters degree and limited experience I have very strong credentials for a new starting engineer.

Other diversions of time: I ran my weekly mileage high of 127 miles. I also had a good 15 miler in there, a tough tempo in terrible conditions, then a workout with three miles at LT pace and six 400s at goal mile pace (4:22-23).

I sold two of the four things I listed on eBay. The problem with all the stuff I have is that none of it is worth more than a few cents on eBay or I am not trying to get rid of it.

I spent a good amount of the week painting "Holden Reservoir Number One" which is a view of one of the Holden/Worcester reservoirs along some of my favorite long runs in Worcester. It's two feet by three feet and took more than twice as long as I expected. It's approximately the view in October as the leaves change color. In person the reds stand out a little more. I painted it to remind me of all the wonderful runs and bike rides I had going past that spot. Seen for the first time in public:

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Successful Innovative Companies: Volume 13

The Successful Innovative Company of the week is: GU Energy!
What they do right: they were the first company to produce an energy gel in 1991. This one single invention revolutionized endurance sports. In athletic competitions longer than an hour it is beneficial to consume some calories during the event. Competitions of a longer length use up about all of the glycogen in your muscles and to keep going without bonking you need more fuel.

Basically GU energy gel is a blend of maltodextrin and some other stuff. The sugars are more complex than simple and thus distributes the energy over a longer length of time than simple sugars. In essence they concentrated gatorade and put it in a 100 calorie package that you can carry almost anywhere. This one invention was so successful that something that started with triathletes progressed to marathoners, mountaineers, and probably sports I don't even know about.

Since 91 they have come up with other products as well. They now have a full range of energy and recovery products including more solid chomp pieces and drink mixes. They also sponsor a number of athletes in several sports.

For me personally, once I tried energy gels I was hooked. They give you a blast of energy and really help you keep going longer. In fact I buy energy gels in bulk.

What they could improve: their outreach (not necessarily marketing) could be better. Many of my friends never try GU until the night before their first marathon. Some also don't use GU in marathon. As a veteran of many runs over 2.5 hours and hikes and climbs in the 12 or more hour range I greatly appreciate GU. However, they don't always make it easy to get to GU. Often at races they are not at a convenient locations and they aren't promoted in training very often. Perhaps GU could partner with a shoe company to offer a free gel with the purchase of a new pair of shoes. That way people could try a gel before a race. Or perhaps with your marathon entry they would send you a packet with two gels a month or two before the race so that you could practice eating them, or decide if you need to buy more.

Friday, January 1, 2010

2009: My Year In Review

January: The year started out well with me traveling back to WPI early to work on my thesis. I was also back running after a long term injury. I bought a season pass to Wachusett mountain and I was getting better at skiing by the day.

February: I went to the Mount Washington Valley Ice Fest and had a few good ice climbs as well as talk with people and learn. I also ran my first race in like four months, which while slow was a race I was very happy to run. I also started blogging and teaching the world!

March: Running and researching mostly including a sub 34 10k that was pretty easy showing that I could make a comeback. I also entered the Strage Innovation Awards and won!

April: Research was going full bore and so was the stress. My track season fizzled out due mostly to the stress of finishing my research. There were moments of grandeur here and there that kept me motivated.

May: The stress reached full tilt. I was going back and forth about what I was going to do once I came back from Pakistan. I considered dropping out of school and starting a company or being a climbing bum until the loan companies actually came for me. I learned how frustrating research can be and how deadlines are almost an arbitrary thing because things often finish when they finish not when a month ends. I also ran 52.4 miles in one shot.

June: After a short trip back to Wisconsin to pack my stuff I headed to Pakistan. Wow. Not your average summer.

August: A short trip to Colorado to use the full extent of my acclimatization then back to Worcester determined to actually finish my thesis. Suffering from a little post-traumatic stress I was determined to work harder in everything that I did.

September: Research was progressing as I was finally figuring out some of the basic mistakes that I just didn't understand before. I ran the Presidential Traverse with a bunch of friends then ran Reach the Beach with a bunch of other friends. The weather was nice and research was going well, more or less.

October: A nice month to be in New England as the leaves change colors and the temperature is nice enough to wear shorts during runs but warm enough that jackets are not yet needed. It's about this time that hot mochas come back into style taking a market share away from the iced mochas. I also had like 400 channels of cable. Work was accelerating, but in a good way.

November: Things were starting to look better. Research was going well enough that I was going to graduate in 2009. Running was going well as I was averaging more miles than ever before. I had finally settled into a great daily routine. In fact day to day life was so good that I'm actually considering going to school again because it was a nice place to be. My future was looking like I would start a company. I wrote a business plan and filed two patent applications. I also published a book. I also ran a PR in the half marathon in the middle of base training.

December: Things got a tad stressful as I finished my research and writing my 104 page masters thesis. However, finishing was a huge accomplishment. It was another huge confidence booster. Unfortunately I also left Worcester after getting to know my friends there so well. A month of great accomplishment and also great change as I enter the real world.

2010: Here I come!