Monday, January 31, 2011

The Life of a Contract Engineer: Week 1

Since I like series, and especially series that end, I'm starting a new Monday series about, well, my life. I figure I'll talk about... stuff. Just read it to find out what I say.

The first week of work was great! I put in my 40 hours and it was nice. My first day was a little stressful because I felt a sense of urgency that if I wasn't awesome from hour one they were going to fire me. Strange, but that's how I felt. Fortunately, I got over than and finished my first ANSYS simulation project by 10 AM the second day. Yep, about 10 hours into a new company and using a new software I finished a simulation that has practical application to work. My ego is still huge from that.

Fortunately for the size of my ego, the rest of the week turned out to be a little more challenging. I worked on a stress analysis simulation and another steady state heat transfer simulation. My quote of the week was, "I'm not interested in how much heat goes into the heat sink [in a steady-state heat transfer problem] I want to know how much goes out of it." Steady state means that what goes in equals what goes out. That is Heat Transfer 3003 week one: steady state conduction. My bad. Fortunately, I was corrected without much fanfare.

In the 12 hours and 25 minutes of my life that I spent running last week I ran 102.2 miles for a ridiculous 7:18 average (fast for me). That included a 7974 meter tempo in a blistering 27:09 which is faster than my open 8k 27:34 personal record. Then I ran 5xmile averaging 5:16 pace over the five miles with only about 300 meters in 1:40 rest in between each mile. Also in there I had a 15 miler at sub 6:50 pace. Plus I had a 23 mile long run at the beginning of the week at a decently fast pace. That's two very solid workouts and two respectable workouts all in one week. I wasn't expecting my week of running to go that well.

Other than that I kept writing on my manuscript and I'm over 20,000 words now. What Gen Y Wants You to Know was only 5300 words so I figure that getting past 20k means I have a significant amount to talk about.

Oh and since most of you will read this Monday, I'm going skiing tonight at Sunburst. You're welcome to come just give me a call or text.

Friday, January 28, 2011

What and Who Conspired to Aquire Me a Job

This story starts with me, but most of it has nothing to do with me. So we begin...

  1. There was a boy (yours truly, call me a man if you want but don't kid yourself). 
  2. Boy worked moderately hard for years in school and out of school to be awesome. 
  3. Boy finished all the formal school he aspired to as a 14 year old and tried to find a job.
  4. Boy failed, about 400 times.
  5. This particular boy had a father (aka dad) who was a social worker with a component of his job in public motivational and ethical speaking. 
  6. One particular person, an engineering manager, who attended those motivational and ethical speeches noticed that the father had a son in engineering. Out of respect for the father he was interested in a short after work coffee meeting with the son about job opportunities at his place of employment.
  7. The meeting took place in October and the engineer advised the boy to apply for one job in particular, because it would be a good fit.
  8. The boy applied for said job.
  9. The boy received a rejection email several days later that they were pursuing more qualified people. 
  10. The boy forwarded the rejection email to the engineer with a sparse note about them finding someone more qualified.
  11. Engineer was surprised.
  12. In December an unexpected temporary position in Engineer's group opened up for a person with almost exactly the boy's skills. 
  13. Without the boy applying, the engineer asks if the boy would like to come in for an interview. 
  14. Desperate for a job he agrees.
  15. In interview number one before the end of year most of the employees are gone so the interview is rather informal.
  16. A second interview is scheduled with more people in attendance.
  17. At the second formal interview the boy presents his thesis, is grilled about past experiences and how clean, or rather dirty, his room is. 
  18. Several days later the engineering manager is still unsure of a decision and asks the boy to meet him at Starbucks at 7 AM ten miles from his house.
  19. The boy agrees without hesitation.
  20. At 7 AM meeting in a snow storm the two talk for over half an hour.
  21. The boy leaves the meeting having no idea where he stands.
  22. Several days later the engineer emails and calls the boy to offer him a job.
  23. Boy accepts.
It's humbling. I thought that it wouldn't take this much effort to get a job, but I was wrong. I know that my experience is not typical for everyone, but it is the only situation that resulted, thus far, in a concrete job offer.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

I Love My Life.

I've said that many times, dozens, probably hundreds of times. However over the last year I haven't said it as much. Unemployment is depressing. Really depressing. Now that I have a job, it's like everything is different. I wake up before the sun is up and get home just as the sun goes down, but strangely when I go for a run in the dark around here the snow reflects so much light that it is far brighter out than any run in Massachusetts I ever had at night. I thought running in the dark would be depressing, but it really isn't.

I haven't been paid yet, I don't have a company email yet, I can't login to my computer, I barely know how to use the software, and I know about three people so far, but it's such a good situation! They are going to pay me to hang out and make colorful pictures on the computer! (It's actually called finite element simulations, generally stress analysis or heat transfer and it requires a bunch of math and science, but the results are generally colorful pictures.)

For some strange reason I know hundreds of the most interesting people. Every time I turn around I meet another person who is incredibly interesting. Life, for me, is about relationships. Therefore having an awesome life means having awesome relationships, and I do. It was hard for me to appreciate that fact as I was sucking the money out of everyone in 2010, but I didn't forget! Over the years you all (those of you that I know) have given me so much! I can't believe that I actually lived to be 24 in the year 2011 and get an engineering job! There were so many barriers and events that have happened in the last two years that I am surprised I'm alive. Not in a depressing way, but I am truly happy that I lived to take a six thousand mile road trip though the middle of nowhere and huge cities without killing myself. I didn't take a final fall off a rock or ice cliff. I didn't get hit by a car while I was running.

I am just so thankful for everything that I know I have and I am also thankful for those things that I have that I am too ignorant to know that I have. As long as I am able to contribute to society and my friends in particular, I plan to. I certainly did not get here on my own. I can not ignore those who helped me get to this place or those that might contribute more than I in the future. I love my life. I think I probably have the best life in the world. You are welcome to argue. I mean your life is hopefully the best life in the world from your point of view. For all of those depressing blog posts that people sat through the last 57 week, here is your reward, weeks of happiness are to come, probably.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

It's Pay It Back and Pay It Forward Time

The movie Pay It Forward is one of my top twenty, perhaps even top ten, favorite movies. The basis for the movie is a theory that if one person would help three people in some big way and those three people each help three other people in a big way and the process continues, we can change the world. It is a moving concept. It is also in line what what I value highly in life, relationships.

I was asked once what I thought my ideal church would be. Specifically, what the people would do. My answer was help others who were less fortunate. From my rich, privileged, sheltered, ignorant United States upbringing I have been given more in my short life than some families around the world ever have. Yet I can't give back my education and experiences so I must move forward.

Fortunately for my long term money management skills I have tens of thousands of dollars that I owe to various companies. That very detailed blog article is going to show up after my second paycheck (the article is already written). Thus I must pay my bills. Some of those bills also have interest rates that are less than desirable. So I'm not in the black yet, and I won't have a positive net worth for at least a few years.

Scores of my friends and family have given me food, shelter, drinks, driven me places, lent computers and movies and all manner of generosity. I feel that I must pay forward to others what has so generously been given to me. I'm not saying I'm buying my sister a brand new car in a few months, but I am saying that I'll pick up the check for dinner. Just pay it forward, please. Most of the people that read this blog have had it pretty easy in life. I just want to encourage you not to get caught up in the numbers and to remember the people.

And if I was trying to raise money for a charity I would put the link down here. I can't tell you what to support or which less fortunate people to help, because ultimately, your charity in life will mean more to you if it is something that you really stand for.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

My First Day of Work

They wanted me to show up at 9:00 AM, so of course I woke up at 6:30. Paranoid that I wouldn't have time to run shower and eat breakfast and drive six minutes down the road motivated me to get going. I was ready to go by 8 AM so I spent time watching the news and I went out for a mocha. Then I finally drove to work and walked in the door 15 minutes early.

I had to sign a few forms and one particular form mentioned that if I had any previous inventions I should disclose them in an attachment. I didn't sign it immediately because I wanted to make sure I attached info about my patents. The person who was helping me didn't know what to do because that had never happened before. The other person in the office didn't know what to do either. Then their boss got involved and read the form to see what it really said. I suggested that simply attaching the second page of my resume would probably suffice since it listed my patent numbers. Yep, 15 minutes into my new job my ego was as inflated as ever.

Then I drove from the main location to the location I will be actually working at and I missed the highway interchange. I nearly had an emotional episode because at the rate they are paying me I don't want to waste a minute. I managed to finally get to work and start working on tutorials for the software that I will be using, ANSYS, which I have never used. At lunch I went out to my car to get my lunch and I took a few wrong turns and had to get directions on the way out. Then I was locked out because my security badge wasn't activated yet.

In the afternoon I started working on my first "project". It's pretty simple but I had a few issues, such as how to partition in ANSYS. So I was stressing myself out trying to be perfect. I did manage to do a few original finite element simulations, probably half a dozen different ones focusing on two different models. I didn't finish the project, which was upsetting while I was at work. However, as I thought about the day on my evening run I had to laugh. I created and ran a successful 3D heat transfer simulation with 45,000 nodes using software I had never touched until today. HA! I might just survive...

In other news my computer has a bunch of cores and 20GB of RAM. That's the difference between the Mercedes level computers I did my thesis on and the F-22 that I'm working on now. It's a whole other realm. I am totally going to do a 1,000,000 node simulation in the next few weeks! (If I can actually justify it.)

The feeling I had Monday of stress trying to finish everything immediately was unlike any other feeling I have ever had. In college when I had a lot of work to do I just worked 14 hours a day for a week or so. At work, no one really does that. Part of it is that I am terrified that I am gong to screw it up and get fired, which is a little ridiculous, yet it is what I felt Monday. I have not adjusted to working for eight hours and not doing homework yet. I feel lazy.

It's terribly exciting! I don't know what to make of it yet. I even ran about 13 miles over two runs Monday (the day after a 23 miler). It's everything I wanted at this point in my life, minus the mountains. I mean I met half a dozen awesome people over the weekend so my social situation is looking more interesting all the time. I don't know what to make of it.

Monday, January 24, 2011

It's Not Rocket Science: Week 42... THE END!!!

In the world of finding a job... I found one! Monday I was offered a job and Tuesday I accepted it. It is a contract position which for me means that I will only have work through the end of April. They could easily extend the contract or they could hire me as an actual employee. "They" by the way is Kohler Engines. Kohler is famous for bathroom fixtures, but also has a thriving division of several hundred perhaps even a thousand employees that build engines and generators. I will be doing finite element stress analysis for concerns like wind loading on engine covers and skid structural optimization.

The job is local so I will be living at home with my parents at least through April. I am not allowed to discuss "directly or indirectly" what my salary is, but I have a masters' degree in engineering and using Google you can figure out what that means. I also signed at least two different documents saying that I will not share proprietary information and that things I create while using company owned equipment or time is not mine. So I am not sure if I will be able to write any more finite element tutorials using screen shots from work (of course I would never write the actual tutorial on company time, but I would have to take the screen shots at work) but I will figure that out in due course. I am disappointed that what I create will not be owned, even in part, by me. That is going to warrant a blog post in the future.

57 weeks after graduating with my masters' degree I have an engineering job, and only temporary one at that. Wow, that is not how I expected things to happen. It still does not feel real yet. As I write this I haven't actually been to work yet. As you read it I will be at work (and you will probably be at work too, shame on you for not working). In part, until I get that first paycheck I probably won't feel like this is all actually happening.

I don't want to dwell on having an engineering job just yet. After all it is temporary and in May I could very well be out on the street again. I also haven't done anything yet. Finally, I will not place all of my self-esteem and value upon the fact that I have a job doing what I want to do. I learned through unemployment that I have to value things in my life like relationships, health, and my time, not just what I do for 1/4 of the hours every week.

Unemployment taught me that my life "situation" is a whole lot more fragile than I knew. Hopefully you never experience living on credit cards, and if I wasn't so proud perhaps I would never have experienced it either. For the next several months I expect to have more revelations about what unemployment meant to me. So stay tuned. I feel no one can ever fully appreciate a situation until after it is over. Only then can we view the event or events with more objective eyes.

I had a great week running! I ran three workouts plus a 20 miler. I ran a total of six miles faster than 5:10 per mile pace, which is more miles at that pace then I have ever run in one week before. As part of that I ran a 4:56 mile in practice and two 5:00 miles. A 4:56 is the fastest mile I have ever run in practice. I also ran a 6.6 mile tempo and did some strides which puts my quality at the end of the week near 13 miles, which is a much larger amount and percentage that it has been in months, perhaps even a year or more. My total for the week was 101 miles, my third consecutive week over 100 miles. Needless to say running is going very well. I hope, and I feel from fall of 2009 experience, that my running is going to continue to be on the up and up. A job adds stability and routine and I do well when I have a schedule to follow. Which is to say I feel my life is more productive when I have some demands on my time, up to a point. But I can't imagine how working 40 hours a week will demand much of my time. I've never had a job that is only 40 hours a week. School and Boy Scout Camp always seemed to be 60+ hours a week. Who knows, maybe my mileage will get up to the magical 130 miles a week? (I tired about a year ago and ran myself into the ground for a 127 mile week.)

I am also writing another book.  It is about new college graduates and trying to find a job in this economy. While we have officially recovered from the recession, we are having the worst recovery from a recession that I have ever head of. So many things are changing that many of the expectations that younger people have, or did have, are naive and unrealistic. For example, people are living longer and due to the recent economic problems many people close to retirement chose not to retire so that they could earn a little more money to ensure their lifestyle in retirement. Thus jobs are not opening up as quickly due to retirements. Another example is the growth of less developed countries and the relative economic stagnation of developed countries. We are not building and constructing like we have been the last 60 years. Almost everyone in the United States has a cell phone and a house and a car that they drive on paved roads. The markets for those things are pretty saturated compared to a place like China or India.

I am up to 13,000 words with no clear idea how big it is going to get. The goal for this book is to get it taken up by an agent who gets it taken up by a publisher who prints a few thousands copies. Hopefully that will means things like Barnes and Noble and fan mail from people who were helped from reading my book. It's not about the money because I just got a job! Also, if this book has any amount of success and I write a second book in the future I can likely expect a pay check from that. I would rather help 5,000 people than get a $5,000 check.

How is this book going to be different than just reading the last 57 weeks of my blog? First, it's going to be far more organized. Second, it's going to include information that is not on my blog such as research and examples of other people who have encountered unemployment after graduation. Third, I'm going to address the mental aspect in more detail that I typically do on my blog. For example, everyone who regularly reads my blog or knows me knows that I love to run. I'm really going to try and explain that because I feel it is a critical aspect of my mental health during my 57 weeks unemployed.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

I Am Slow

This has so many implications and examples from my life that I do not know exactly where to start (ha! perfect example!). Anyone that has ridden in a car that I was driving for long enough probably complains about how fast I drive. I've sped, I've gotten a speeding ticket, I could have gotten a much larger speeding ticket many times, and I like to imagine that I learned my lesson. So I drive near the speed limit, not 10 miles an hour over it. That way I figure it, I am driving to something that I want to be at, something that matters to me, something worth my time and 100% of my attention while I am there. It does me no good to die in a ditch, get in a car accident, get a speeding ticket, or have some other problem because I might never arrive at my destination. Same for texting and phone calls when I drive. I won't answer or respond and I usually don't check when I'm driving. I'm not getting killed so that you can know I'm 2 hours and 17 minutes away.

I am not a fast runner. Well, okay, I am. But it wasn't always that way. In middle school I got lapped by all of the boys and beat by the girls. In high school it started out the same way and I got a little better but nothing to note. In college I was the rotund kid that showed up and my coach actually told me a few years later that when he first saw me run he thought 'well, this kid is never going to be any good but at least he tries'. Also, I tend to get better the longer the distance is, because I am slow, I have the ability (and I work pretty hard) to have more endurance than just about everyone else. My 400 meter personal record is 58 seconds and my 800 meter personal record is 2:11. Thousands of high school kids run faster than those times every year, but after a decade of tracking my training, that's still all the faster I run. Also, I have ridiculously high standards for myself and I would like to look back at where I am running now and think about how slow that is compared to where I hope to run in the future. For me defining "fast" as world record pace makes getting to 90% of world record pace possible because it is not that "fast".

I am not a fast climber. I try to climb faster, but I still do some routes more than 10 times slower than the fast kids. I spent two days (probably 12 hours total) on the Nose on El Capitan and I didn't even make it to the fourth belay out of 33. The speed record on the Nose is like 2 hours and 44 minutes.

Timing is not my thing. In relationships I always seem to do things too late. Yeah I don't known enough to say anything deeper about that.

I used to think that I was a fast learner. Then I became an engineer. It took me over a year of working with one specific computer program before I believed my own results. A year! I tried to tell myself that it was so complex that it would take anyone that long to understand it, but I don't really know. It took me until March 2006 to understand that running more would make me a better runner. I remember running an 800 meter race competitively in sixth grade (1998). Over the next eight years I had about five coaches directly coaching me on how to run faster but I didn't get it. I even self coached myself to a 1:27 half marathon at age 16, but I still didn't get it until I was almost 20. Eight years!

I feel like all of those examples are just the tip of the iceberg. What else am I missing out on or don't I understand?

All of that being said, some things take time and I'm not in a huge rush to do everything. Part, if not most, of the adventure is the process of progressing toward the goal. In other words, the adventure is in the journey not the destination.

Friday, January 21, 2011

We are Alone Together

Facebook, what a place. People go spend all their time on that website. They even spend time on it using their smart phones. I feel like we might be missing out on some actual interactions because of it.

I am frustrated because living in my parents' basement in a place I did not grow up, I only know a few people. Furthermore, the ways that I planned on meeting new people, are not entirely practical here, there are only so many runners and climbers. I planned to meet people by doing things like running, climbing, skiing, or bicycling. Active healthy things that were fun, and not hazardous to my health. Being unemployed has also isolated me from other engineers and scientists who I could be a geek with. The problem is that so few people seem to do that stuff. Instead the bar scene is huge! Don't get me wrong I like to go out to the bars as much as anyone, but I would like to go with friends and friends of friends. My first thought about people I meet in a bar is 'is this person an alcoholic?' I can't create a world of alcoholic friends around me. Alcoholism isn't cool, it's depressing.

Don't get me wrong, I don't need to be friends with only active people and engineers. I take all types, but I have no idea how to meet people that don't get out and do stuff.

One of the common complaints that I hear from people around my age are that they are lonely. Well, I am lonely too. I can go on Facebook and see what people are doing or talking about, but at the end of a 15 minute Facebook session I'm still sitting alone in my room. Thursday night is Jersey Shore night and I know that there are dozens of people my age watching it within three miles of my house, but I am not watching it with any of them. (For the record, Jersey Shore makes me a little sick, but I'll watch it as long as most of the women in the state of Wisconsin my age watch it.)

So what I'm really trying to say is does anyone in the state of Wisonconsin want to go downhill skiing, watch Jersey Shore, go running, ride bicycles, get taken rock climbing (we have to wait until it's a little warmer but I have gear for three people), paint, take a weekend road trip to Canada to look at the northern lights, go out to eat, go to a bar already sober friends, hang out and watch a movie, or do anything else? Anyone?

Just send me an email, text, voicemail, facebook message or whatever else you can think of and I would be pleased to spend time with you. I'll probably even pay for whatever it is we are doing that costs money.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Valuing Arable Land

Through the rumor mill I heard yesterday that large corporations were buying up arable (farm) land in the northern midwest. This brought to my attention once again one of my opinions on the United States. The United States currently exports more food than imports food in terms of dollars. (That search led me to an interesting article about food and fuel on Wikipedia.)

My thoughts are:

  1. Oil prices will continue to rise to the point that shipping becomes very expensive. I'm not sure if that would be at $5 a gallon for gas or $10 a gallon for gas in the US, but sooner or later prices will creep up. Shipping will be more expensive, and I don't mean the same percentage of income, I expect the price of oil to rise faster than inflation due to demand in developing countries.
  2. The world population is rising. This can be a tense subject. Because the truth is the world can only support so many people. There is a limit. I understand that that limit goes up and down depending on climate change, our technology, and land use cycles (forrest to farm land to desert or in the case of California desert to irrigated farm land). The point being the world can only produce X pounds of food and that only feeds Y number of people (on day Z). 
  3. Food is typically thought of as non-negotiable. Billionaires and homeless people all need the same 2000 calories a day. The possible future problem is that countries that do not produce enough food for their own people might have a problem. How long will people starve before riots break out?
  4. Farming is a concrete business. Seeds are planted, plants grow, are harvested, and finally people eat the grains, fruit and vegetables. What I mean is that when the "smart" people on Wall Street were trading sub-prime mortgages and not everyone understood how they were making so much money but they went along with it because they were making so much money, that does not happen in the world of farming. 
  5. There is only so much land in the world and not all of it is arable. We can build more computers, houses, cars, lattes, cell phones, books, and shirts than there are in the world, but we have a much more difficult time making more land, especially land we can farm.
Respect it. Love it. Eat. I mean without arable land no one would grow to be old enough to learn how to read.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Do I Have to Choose?

About three years ago I was interviewed by phone from a company on the west coast for an internship. They asked about my running, if I ever thought about doing that professionally. I laughed. I told them that I was not nearly that good and that it was really more of a way for me to relax and get rid of stress and stay in shape.

If the same question was asked of me today the answer would probably be different.

To the point, I plan my life in way more detail that most people. Well 2010 was an awakening that things do not always work out the way I plan. Still, I have goals that I want to accomplish and some of those goals are not strictly professional. In my mind, there is enough time to do all of the things I want and I can work toward multiple goals at the same time. That is exactly how I intend to live my life.

The Hansons Distance Project in Michigan has two coaches Keith and Kevin and one mentioned in an interview once that it is not possible to run 140 miles a week working towards a world class marathon and still work 40 hours a week. Well, my goal for a marathon is not so lofty and one national class performance would satiate me just fine.

I told someone recently that I run about 13 hours per week, and I could tell he was surprised that I did not run more. I feel as though, at least in running, two quality hours per day on average every day for several years will yield amazing results. Three hours per day, if you can handle it will make you one of the best in the country if not the world.

Finally, I will retell a story that I just heard Tuesday night. A pair of people, who I don't know, made a list of things they wanted to do before they died and one person who I do know looked at the list and told them that 3/4 of it they could do this year. You can probably work towards A and B and C all at the same time or just A. It's your choice.

In the words of Nike: Just Do It.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Quality Matters

My computer is an Apple 12.1 inch Powerbook G4 1.33 GHz, vintage 2004. In other words, it's old and not terribly fast. I bought it in the spring before I went to college and I have owned it ever since, nearly seven years.

As I gaze around my room and see how much junk I have, I also appreciate all of the valuable quality things that I have. Things that could very well last longer than I do. For example, I have a 1930s Royal typewriter that is in almost as good of condition now as when it rolled off the production line over 70 years ago.

I feel that quality stuff is totally the way to go when buying anything that will be used multiple times. For example, I bought and broke several $8-18 watches before I finally bought a $50 watch that does everything I need and it has lasted longer than any of those previous watches. My computer is a prime example. At $1,600 it was a huge expense when I bought it but provided it makes seven years that is an average of $20 per month. Considering that it helped me through two engineering degrees, thousands of hours of work, and that I pay way more than that per month for my cell phone, I can't imagine a much better deal.

Finally, buying quality is environmentally friendly because you buy less. Had I gone through three computers in the time that this one has lasted me how much of those computers would be sitting in a landfill? Similarly, using ceramic plates instead of paper or styrofoam plates entail a little bit of washing but nothing ends up in a landfill.

The same can be said for products as for time. Such as how I spend my time running. Running eight minute miles for 13 hours a week is great and I get into great slow aerobic shape, but seeing as how my goals involve running paces much closer to five minutes per mile, I need to run workouts close to those paces.

Just something to think about.

Monday, January 17, 2011

It's Not Rocket Science: Week 41

Well, I had an interview in Michigan at a aerospace company this week. Yes, I want the job, it was somewhat more interesting than I expected. My preconceptions of Michigan were not the most positive, but time and again everyone that I talked to gave me a different picture of life there. The job itself also seemed quite interesting. Unfortunately, since I've been away from engineering for longer than I ever expected I do not feel in a position to say that I like this or that better than something else. Who I am to be picky about my career? Perhaps I will get a job where the work is not as interesting as I hoped, but I expect it will take me months to figure that out, and I'll be so happy to have an engineering job that I really won't care for awhile that the work is not the most interesting to me.

In short, no job offers yet.

Running I had a great week. 101.7 miles, exactly the same to the tenth of a mile that I had the week before. I had a great 6300 meter tempo run in 21:12, which for me is exceptionally good. In fact I am pretty sure that is the best tempo I have ever had. It's still nearly 10 seconds per mile slower than I hope to run a marathon some day, but it is a step in the right direction. I also had a nice 21 mile long run which went quite well.

Other than that I spent time with family and friends, spent a little time painting, drank some coffee, and didn't get enough sleep.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Tempo Running

Tempo running is one of the cornerstones of long term aerobic development. What is a tempo run? Well, that term is typically applied to runs that are are somewhat fast but not a sprint. It is typically used to describe workouts that include only one interval or repetitions, without repeating anything. That is to say a continuous run at a somewhat fast pace. This includes just about every run from a few miles up to distances over a marathon, which are at close to marathon pace. Tempos are sometimes referred to as quality work performed at slower than race pace.

The general purposes of tempo runs are lactic acid production and metabolism, aerobic respiration, and mental endurance. In my opinion, and based on what I have read from Canova and Daniels, tempo runs accomplish these purposes better than any other workout.

Below is a graph of my tempo runs over the past four years. Now this graph is incomplete and a little misleading because I spent many workouts running tempo paces over long intervals (such as 3 x 1.5 mile, or 5 x 1 mile). Which means I was training the aerobic and lactic acid systems in my body through interval training, but I was not doing it continuously. Since ending my NCAA elegibility in 2009 I have spent more time doing tempos, in large part because of a lack of training partners, but also for their benefits.
My graph

For the sake of comparison the graph below is all of my interval runs during the same time that were at least 3 miles or longer. However, these workouts include jogging between intervals so a four mile workout could be 1 mile fast, .5 mile slow, 1 mile fast, .5 mile slow, 1 mile fast. So 120 miles of interval workouts is not 120 miles of quality fast running.
My graph
One the workouts that I try to do regularly now but never really did in college, is a longer tempo run. Often seven to ten miles. Ideally, before I am comfortable running a marathon I will have at least one tempo workout over 20 miles in length. These slower tempos do not produce the immediate results that faster interval workouts do, but they contribute to making me stronger and generally faster. I notice nearly every time after a 7+ mile run that I feel faster for a few days in my other runs.

However, most of the above information aside, one of the most potent workouts in the history of sport is the 20 minute tempo run. It is run at a pace that is about the pace the runner can handle for one hour. It corresponds to a lactic acid concentration of about 4 mmol in the blood. Workouts of this duration are so widespread that I would guess every runner who runs 1500 meters or farther in the Olympics or Olympic Trials has done 20 minute tempos. Even Lance Armstrong does these workouts on a bicycle.

The purpose of a 20 minute tempo is to run very close to the limit of sustainable lactic acid consumption, but not faster, so that the body adapts to the production and consumption of lactic acid and can then run marginally faster at the limit of sustainable lactic acid consumption.

For example, anaerobically runner A and runner B can both tolerate a lactic acid level of 15 mmol in their blood before they slow to a jog. Runner A can maintain a pace of 5:30 per mile for a blood lactic acid level of 4 mmol. Runner B can only run 5:40 per mile for a blood lactic acid level of 4 mmol. Pretend that at a pace of 30 seconds per mile faster than the sustainable lactic acid consumption rate both runners produce 5 mmol of lactic acid that can not be metabolized every mile. So at a pace of 30 seconds per mile faster than the blood lactate level of 4 mmol corresponding to sustainable lactic acid metabolism both runners can run three miles before being slowed to a job. In a race runner A will win because all other things being equal he has the ability to metabolize the lactic acid that he produces at a faster pace than runner B.

It is such a great, objective workout that I feel it is one of the best ways to judge fitness outside of races and time trials which come with long recovery times, an inevitable short term setback.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Holding it Together Mentally

I just read an interview that I have read several times over the past few years. The original website it was on is no longer active, fortunately, it is reposted on a message board. The interview is with Italian athletics coach Renato Canova easily one of the best running coaches in the world. I even own his book on marathoning, which is a little complicated to order. I will get to why that is significant and relevant in a minute.

Tomorrow I have an interview at yet another company. Three interviews in eight days is at the limit of my imagination. In many respects it is a little frustrating. Each company requires specific, but similar to other companies, paperwork. Many of the questions are the same or very similar from interviewer to interviewer. Interviews are about communication between an employer and a prospective employee. Part of that process is honesty and consistency. I do not have a problem with honesty, but I fear that in the course of applications, questions, paperwork, emails, and non-verbal communication I might appear inconsistent in some manner which could lead to an interpretation of dishonestly. This frustrates me because I like to think of Isaiah Janzen as one person who is the same, or at least nearly the same, around everybody. (You will have a very tough time find anybody who has heard me swear.) So as I feel myself being picked apart, or my brain being picked, I worry that I will say something which will be misunderstood and lead to another rejection.

How do engineering interviews and an Italian coach interview relate to each other, specifically under the "Holding it Together Mentally" banner? Canova talks in the interview about one of his top athletes that does not like to take time off of running and instead enjoys hard training. The first time that my post season non-running lasted only a week was my sophomore year of high school after cross country season. In 2010 I ran at least a little in every week. Unemployment, and interviewing, is kind of like the off season in running. It involves waiting, anxiousness, doubt, and in the short term a step back instead of a step forward. As far as both a break from running and a break from engineering are concerned it is the most mentally challenging aspect of development in both areas. I think I have cried more in the last year than in the five years before when I was learning engineering constantly. Similarly, I once ran a mile and was in such great pain that I started crying and walked home because I knew I wouldn't be running for weeks.

However, and quite fortunately, I feel that breaks are very constructive for long term development. Breaks narrow the focus.  Breaks ask how bad you want it, which for me typically means either I work harder at it in the future, or I quit. (I have quit things like band, acting, baseball, and basketball because the truth was, I didn't want to excel at them enough to continue.)

So how do I hold it together five hours into an interview when the seventh person and eighth person of the day are asking questions similar to the ones that the first six people asked? I give the best answer I have and if possible, talk about a different situation from the situation I described when previous interviewers asked the similar question. In essence I try to give each of my eight or so interviewers for the day a different 40% of myself so that I end up giving my career, and life story, about two and a half times or so over the course of the day. (I totally just made those numbers up don't read too much into them. One interviewer could get 90% while another gets 10%. Part of it has to do with the depth that specific interviewers place on different aspects of my life.) The point is that I'm honest, I answer the questions, and over the course of the day I try to communicate everything I feel is important to multiple people. I figure the more examples I can give them from my past the better my chances of the person with authority to hire me liking one of those examples.

I will give a theoretical example to demonstrate what I mean. The theoretical question is, "tell about a time when you were working in a group and one member was not pulling his or her weight or causing trouble." Now imagine that I have three examples: One, Two, and Three. I think that One is the most pertinent or best example from my past to answer that question. I think that Two is the second best example and Three is an acceptable example but not the most clear. I will give example One to the most senior people who really have the ability to hire me, and example Two or Three if the question is worded differently or simply as another example when I was in a group setting with an under-performer. Now to me, example One is the best, but perhaps Two or Three is liked better by the hiring authority so it would be remiss for me to leave out those examples.

Finally, there is a chance that someday I will be working on a joint project with a company, and people, that I interviewed with but did not get a job with and knowing those few people for a few hours might possibly help me accomplish something.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

2010: My Year in Review

January started with me as confident as ever about my career and my running going as well as it ever had gone. I moved out to Colorado to live with some college friends and I have to say that was an amazing three months. I met so many people. I had so many beautiful runs through the mountains. I enjoyed life. I even officially started Janzen Gear in February. However, my running took a hit as I adjusted to the altitude.

However, March came and went and I fell apart. After three months of unemployment I was totally out of money and without any interviews in that whole time, I was depressed. I was so stressed out that things were not going the way I had planned that I gave myself back pain. That was a huge life lesson about the things in my life that I value, and what is really important to me. I am guessing that it will never happen again because I have a better understanding of my own mentality.

Because of the whole money thing I packed up and went to Minnesota and worked for my uncle for six weeks in the family greenhouse. It was tough physical labor. Not what I ever expected my first job out of college would be.

In mid May I headed back west to teach rock climbing at Boy Scout camp again. It was my fourth summer at a Boy Scout camp. I had a fantastic summer. I climbed harder than I ever have before. I ran like crazy until I got a stress reaction. My friends and I had a great time. Again, it's humbling to have a master's degree in engineering and be teaching 13 year olds how to belay for a relatively small paycheck. I also attempted the Grand Teton for the first time and I led two pitches up the Casual Route on the Diamond before it rained and snowed us off. Regardless, this summer was about the relationships I have with my friends, and it was an unequivocal success. I have the best friends in the world!

I followed up the summer with a month long road trip through Utah, California, Washington and Montana and a few other states. In the psychological aspect of life I was able to spend time with two of my American friends who shared the summer of 2009 experience with me in Pakistan. In many ways it was the final chapter in my mental recovery from that experience. I also spent two days trying to climb the Nose on El Capitan solo and a day trying the Regular Northwest Face on Halfdome. The inspiration for the road trip was to do something "big" my climbing just did not pan out, I had a great time, learned a bunch, but I ended up scared and tired. So at the suggestion of my friends, on two days notice I ran the Wonderland Trail, and accomplished something "big".

Once again out of money I had the choice between staying in Colorado and making snow (physical labor) for a few months or going home in the hopes of a job offer and more Internet access to apply for more jobs. I went home, also because my grandma had a stroke this summer and my family is very important to me. I only have one family.

The last three and a half months of the year were, by my standards, uneventful. I gradually began running more miles in hopes of some good races from the 5k to the marathon in 2011. I had an interview at GE and they ended up going with someone more qualified.

By the numbers:

  • I estimate from reading my own blog, that I applied to approximately 378 jobs in 2010. 
  • I ran 3379.6 miles total including five 4+ hour runs and nine 100+ mile weeks. That is an average of 9.25 miles per day, every day all year. Only one personal record racing this year, 1:36 at 15 miles.
  • I slept in 12 states and traveled in 22 states. 
  • 11 painting started and 10 paintings finished, a record for me.
2010 was, for me, about valuing the intangible things in my life like relationships, health, freedom, and life itself more than I did when I was younger. The lessons I have learned about saving for a rainy day, starting a company, stress, communication, and other still unknown things are not all clear to me yet. I think that the lessons of 2010 will impact me for the rest of my life. I feel that events of the past year will teach me new things for years to come as I continue to mature and better understand what really happened in many situations.

Thank you all for the comments and the caring in person, on the blog, in letters, on Facebook, and in your prayers. This blog has been a great way to express myself and I plan to keep at it for years to come.

Thank you,
Isaiah Janzen

Monday, January 10, 2011

It's Not Rocket Science: Week 40

This was by far the best week of 2011 for me so far. I didn't apply for a whole lot of jobs, again in the single digits, but I did have two interviews. One was an in person interview at a local company that lasted a total of about four hours. The second was a phone interview that was a little more than half an hour. I also have an interview for this upcoming Thursday in Michigan. Three interviews in the space of eight days! Perhaps I will have a chance to entertain more than one job offer before I accept one. That would be a little funny considering the lack of job offers the last 13 months.

Running I had a great week. 102 miles total with a nine mile tempo and a workout of six by 300 meters between 800 and mile race pace. That fast workout was with a college friend of mine, who I had not seen in a year, who focuses on the 800. After that workout my runs the rest of the week were somewhat (20 seconds per mile or so) faster than before. Part of that is due to the three treadmill tempos I did over the last two weeks and generally fast running on the treadmill but a lot of that is due to running 4:20s and 4:30s pace around an indoor track. The strange thing about the week was that my longest run was only 14.2 miles, which is somewhat strange because long runs are my favorite workout.

I spent about ten hours total driving around Minnesota and Wisconsin this week, fortunately it wasn't snowing anywhere.

That was about it. There was a little socializing in there with a college friend and my sister, but the high points are the interviews, and a good week of running.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

How to Recover from a Long Run (Two Hours or Longer)

I just had a good 21 mile run, not terribly fast, and not the farthest I have have run but a good pace and distance for where I am today. However, what was great about this run was that I recovered nearly perfectly and only an hour later I feel relatively great.

When a runner starts to do long runs that last longer than two hours all sorts of things happen. Form deteriorates and runners cover the distance less efficiently. Good habits deteriorating into bad habits exposes runners to a heightened risk for injury. Nearly all of the glycogen in a runner's body is depleted so that more fat has to be used to cover the distance. Basically what happens is that it takes a lot more perceived effort to cover the same distance at the same pace that earlier in the run was relatively easy. This is why the wall in marathoning is so famous, it hurts. Also, during the entire run the runner is sweating and creating micro-tears in his or her muscles. This broad combination of problems can be dealt with quite quickly after the run is over, but it can also be dealt with poorly and lead to a setback in training.

  1. The first 15 minutes are the most important:
    • Do not quit moving around, simply walking around or standing or active stretching for 15 minutes will dramatically help your muscles cool down slowly and prevent them from getting uncomfortably tight.
    • Drink some fluid. About one liter in the first fifteen minutes is pretty standard for me. I prefer milk because it contains a little of everything mentioned below.
    • Eat some carbohydrates (sugars), electrolytes (salts like sodium and potassium), and a little bit of protein (to help start repairing your muscles).
  2. For the next hour:
    • Continue to eat and drink. The more you can eat in the hour after such a long period of exercise the better, up to about 1000 calories is a good place to start. The problem often is that after such a long period of exercise the body might not feel hungry.
    • Try to be a little active before you take a nap or become a couch potato.
  3. Several hours later:
    • Eat a large meal if you did not eat much in the hour after your run. Your body is still replenishing it's glycogen supplies so a carbohydrate rich food like pasta is ideal. Your muscles are also quite torn up so consuming protein will help your muscles recover.
    • Take a walk even if it is short walk it will help stretch out your legs. A bike ride, swim, or even another run are all positive things that will help your muscles from being incredibly tight the next day. Keep in mind that whatever physical activity you do after a two hour or longer run that your primary run for the day is over, so take it easy.
These principles apply to short runs but the significance is magnified on longer runs. Now go and suffer comfortably.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Life is Moving Quick in 2011

In the first four business days of 2011 I have been invited to three interviews in three different states. I have already had one of those interviews. That's about as many as I had the whole of 2010.

A friend sent me a message along the lines of "Aconcagua tickets round trip only $1011!! We leave in two weeks are you in?"

I had 60 and  70 visit days to my blog, that's above average for me.

I made $0.31 from an Amazon sale on Squidoo, which considering the 50 or so people that have visited my Squidoo pages that is a good start for a new thing.

I ran with a college friend I had not seen in a year.

This is all so exciting!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

I am More Feminist than Many Women

I've been thinking about this post for weeks, and in part even months. I was directly inspired because through the grapevine word had it that I said wrote some chauvinistic things in previous posts relating to women. So here I go, on a vain attempt to salvage some integrity, which will likely only portray me as an even more evil person than everyone previously suspected. So what else is new?

Let's talk feminism. I really knew nothing about it until a very close friend of mine went to college a year before me. In the course of her studies she learned about feminism and the subject came up during a phone call once. I really knew nothing about it, so when she said that she was feminist I decided to do some research and see what that meant.

On January, 2nd, 2011 Wikipedia defined Feminism by the following opening sentence: Feminism refers to movements aimed at establishing and defending equal political, economic, and social rights and equal opportunities for women.[1][2][3]

There is absolutely no question in my mind that feminism, as defined above, is something that should be practiced by everyone. Therefore, I decided as a high school senior that I am a feminist.

As the years went past one of my jobs in college was taking pictures at sporting events, specifically the basketball games. I took pictures for both the men's and women's teams. While I have little interest in the sport itself, I found women's basketball more fascinating than the men's and not because they were women I may have been attracted to. Women's games are often lower scoring than men's games which means that more time and thus effort is put into each goal. Passing, dribbling, turnovers, and other ball handling skills are more important in a low scoring game. Unfortunately, as just about anyone that has gone to a men's game and women's game in the same night has experienced, there are typically far more spectators at the men's game than the women's game. Unfair? I think so.

Next was post-college graduation when many of my friends landed their first salaried jobs. Salaries are not often talked about but they tend to come up every now and then. Also, comments people make are very insightful into how much those people make. One of the things that seems to occur is that women make less money than men. I find that ridiculous! I don't want to get paid more simply because I am a male! I want to earn what I get paid because I am incredibly awesome and productive at my job.

Recently I was riding in a car with a woman and we were listening to music and the song "Sound Track to My Life" by Kid Cudi (a male) came on. The first line is: "I got 99 problems and they all bit*$!&." I said to the woman in the car, "Don't you find that offensive?" Her response was a slightly shocked, should-I-be-offended mumbling, "No..." I find it offensive. Wether any women out there do or not, who knows, but I find it offensive that he refers to women that way.

In another example, someone suggested that when I talk about racing and beating women that my tone and words are very chauvinist. I compare my own race results very often to women's racing results. I compare my results to those of my friends and other male runners as well, so my comparisons are not limited. However, many of my running goals, based on times at various distances I want to run, are probably similar to many of the current famous professional female runners in the world. In that way when I compare myself to the women, it provides one understanding of how well I am doing. I ran a 15 mile race in Colorado this summer and I was beaten by one woman, who had been 13th at the 2004 Athens Olympic Marathon. For me it provides a clear understanding of how I am doing. Famous women runners are far more likely to have biographies and race result times listed on the Internet so that I can compare how well she raced at that distance to other distances. This most interests me when it comes to marathoning. I have not run one, and figuring out how I am progressing toward future marathons based on how I race shorter distances against established marathoners is one way that I do that. I could talk about Ryan Meissen, Mark Stenbeck, or Michael Wardian, but it is harder to determine which runners fall into the marathon trials oriented group versus the runners that just enjoy running fast and focusing on the shorter distances. As one of my coaches once said, "Don't compare yourself to others, you are different." Well, I've done a whole lot better about that the last 15 months now that I understand my own training more. Still, I run races to be as fast as possible and I like to know who is beating me. It's self-centered I know, that is part of the reason I'm not in a relationship now.

Finally, I leave with a quote. This quote is very sincere to me. It is not strictly about feminism yet it illustrates one relationship where I stood on an equal footing with this woman and feminism is about equality. The person that said it, and her friends that agreed with her, are so unique among all the friends that I have ever had that I do not anticipate ever hearing this from anyone else. She said, "Isaiah, you are the best guy friend I have ever had, except for my family, that I haven't slept with."

Monday, January 3, 2011

It's Not Rocket Science: Week 39

I spent just about the entire week dog sitting, house sitting, and greenhouse sitting in Minnesota for some of my relative who are in Barbados. Yep, Barbados. They even had a spare ticket. Oh well, I got woken up every night between 1 and 6 AM by their dog, and enjoyed -20F wind chills. Who would give that up to go to Barbados?

On the positive side, I applied for 20 jobs exactly, I don't often count the exact number but I did this week. I have an interview this upcoming week at a local company in Wisconsin, and I am very excited for that. I have spent dozens of hours considering what it would mean for me having a job and living at home with my parents in a town where I know hardly anyone. I have come to the conclusion that I will save hundreds of dollars every month, I know a few young fun people, and I already have an infrastructure (running routes, coffee shops, YMCA, GNC, Michael's, and other random stuff I know) and those things will at worst make it bearable, more likely it would probably be exciting. An extra $500 a month to put towards my loans would really help get rid of them. Plus, there are other expenses that living with my parents I would probably not have if I lived alone or with friends, like food and drink or expensive entertainment like a season ski pass.

Running I had a really good week. It was not fantastic mileage at 83 miles, but I ran a 20 miler in 2:17 (my third fastest 20+ mile run), a 5 mile tempo in 28:35 (which is one of my best tempos ever), and a six mile tempo in 37:23. I don't often get that much quality in one week so I am pretty pleased.

I spent much of the week taking care of a greenhouse and I'll write some about that in the near future. Plants are pretty cool.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

2011 Here We Come

When I talk negatively about 2010 understand that I am not mad about the personal relationships I had in 2010. The connections I made with people in 2010 were the highlights of the year. That being said, I am an engineer and 2010 was pretty terrible as far as engineering. I spent a whole year of job searching without landing even an internship or a technician job. 2% of my career, hopefully it will last another 49 years, is gone and I have gone nowhere.

I have a feeling that 2011 will be different for me. I will find something.

On the other hand, the United States economy is recovering so slowly that I think this recession is pointing out some flaws in our current business model. Among those flaws is the the way we perceive competition. Taking cars as an example, where are the best cars made? Europe and Japan, or at least the best cars are designed by European and Japanese companies. Where are budget cars made? India and probably China as well as Europe but I am most familiar with Tata in India. What kind of cars are made or at least designed in the United States? The lower upper class or cheap luxury style of cars. That happened because we experienced our bargain phase before the second world war and have since grown to have greater safety standards and more expensive standards of living that was available for large amounts of people. The problem is, most of the world can not afford a $27,000 car, $7,000 is far more reasonable. So while companies in the United States were trying to win most of the American share of automobiles Toyota was selling 80% of the vehicles in rural Pakistan.

Why is that important? That example is important because growth in a developed country for an established product will be close to the rates of growth for the population and economy. Growth in a developing country on the other hand, like China, could be huge! Remember Ford's growth during the 1920s and 1930s.

What does any of this mean? While Europe went high class and quality, in part due to the fact that they had to after WW2 and the Cold War, Asia has gone bargain. That leaves the United States without an international market for our bread and butter products, like Ford. Which means that finding a job in this country will not be drastically easier in the near future because most of what we make will only grow at the rate of our growth. Which would be fine is we could all learn to appreciate life and relationships instead of placing so much value on working.

That's what I learned in 2010, to appreciate my life and relationships more. I hope that 2011 is just as fulfilling, with bigger paychecks.