Thursday, June 30, 2011

Just When Everything is Going Well...

I buy a new bicycle and my van develops a new rattle and the check engine light comes on. I am sure I am not alone in this feeling. It happens often enough when I am running, I get in shape, and get injured.

I feel there is something to learn from all of this. Perhaps it is that we delude ourselves into thinking we have control of many factors, when we typically have influence over very few. Perhaps it means something else. Whatever it means, it is important not to take things for granted. Who knows when your or my prosperity might end.

In other news on my Wednesday night bike ride we did 50 miles and around mile 45 we took on a two mile long 400 foot tall hill, and I made it to the top first. Of the ten people on the ride four of us were hammering, yet I managed to hammer hardest. It's the first time I have crested a hill first with this group. Perhaps the bike makes a difference... I also hit 50.8 mph going down a hill Thursday. I felt so in control I want to try 60 now. Right now, I have biking. I'm not taking it for granted, I'm going to do 200 miles on Saturday, or at least try. It is a life goal inspired by Gary Erickson's "175 mile epiphany ride". Read the back of a Clif Bar to hear more of the story.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

My New Trek Madone 6 Series

2011 Trek Madone 6 Series (50 cm)
There it is! Look at how light it is, it's like 17 pounds. Maybe less. The statistics:

  • Frame: Madone 6 Series OCLV2 50cm H1 fit
  • Fork: I'm not sure but there is a Bontrager and XXX on it
  • Components: Sram Rival with a 39-53 crank and 23-11 cassette
  • Wheels: Bontrager Race (I think) they were $300 less than the wheels Trek recomended
  • Pedals: Look (I think)
  • Saddle: Affinity RL
  • That little white thing between the handle bars and the fork stem: 120mm (I'm pretty sure)
  • Handlebars: aluminum
  • Computer: the cheapest DuoTrap compatible
  • Bottle Cages: Bontrager carbon (c'mon I had to get carbon cages too)
It flies! I mean Friday I did 46 miles at an average pace of 18.5 miles and hour and it was not flat. Tuesday night, after running a workout on the track I did a little over 25 miles in an hour and a half that is a 16.9 mph average that was very aerobic. I am noticing that I am going up hills in bigger gear ratios than ever before. I'm going up hills in 3rd and 4th gear. That might not sound impressive, but thats a solid 15-18 mph. Of course, when the hill get steep enough, I still have to get off the pedals in first gear. 

Why did I spend all that money on a bicycle, when I already had two? I have wanted a fast carbon bicycle for a long time. Why? Because going a little faster and getting uphill a little easier is thrilling to me and when I am on the bike, I usually spend a lot of time on the bike and those extra five pounds is a huge amount of weight to take off the bike. Especially considering the rotational moment of inertia and air resistance of my new wheels versus my old wheels. Plus, after being unemployed for so long I am have strong fear of being unemployed again and having a physical thing that I could either spend hours on or sell is valuable to me. In other words, if I have money I'll just pay down my debt, but if I have something physical I have some collateral that I will not sell, but I could if I had to.

Top speed so far is 46.5 mph and I was in top gear pedaling at the bottom of a steep hill. I'd like to take it over 50, but it might be hard to find that kind of hill around here.

Monday, June 27, 2011

I Live in Iowa: Week 10

It's past my bedtime and this is a day late so I'll keep it short. I worked 41 hours, ran like 20 miles including a few fast (70-71) 400s, rode my bike a lot, got my new Trek Madone (6 series custom), and took a road trip to Kansas City. Staying true to the title I am busy doing and learning to do. I've got pictures and a few articles in the queue of my head so I'll probably write those tomorrow when I do laundry.

Moral of the story: biking 46 miles solo at 18.5 mph average after work leaves little time to write.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Wait One Day

Warren Buffett apparently calculated that the money to spend on a haircut when he was young would be equal to $300,000 when he was older. His solution was fewer haircuts. Similarly, waiting to pay a bill so that you can earn interest in the meantime earns you money. By waiting even one day you can end up saving serious money. For example, at my bank I earn $0.01 per day on every $350.0 in my saving account. If we say that I spend $7 at the coffee shop on a latte and a muffin, if I do that twice a week, but I delay each purchase one day then I would earn $0.02 over the course of the year.

Where this gets better is the compound interest and frugality at the same time. What if I go a week without going to the coffee shop? I would save like $13. If I went four times the next week, I would spend all of the money I budgeted, but that $13 ($.50 cost of coffee at home) would earn a weeks worth of interest.

This all seems like small potatoes but if you are spending several hundred dollars per week on food, clothing, entertainment, and other things and getting any better than 1% interest (like 8-9% from international corporate bonds) then suddenly waiting a day or a week to go out sounds like a good idea. Of course, if you can go one day or one week without something, maybe you can go two weeks? If you can do that, then maybe a month. If you did not need that thing for a month, maybe you don't need it at all.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Be The Change...

There is an elementary school in Dubuque that has "be the change you want to see in the world - Ghandi" on it's letterboard. While I am not the biggest Ghandi fan I'll agree with that statement. What does it mean to me at this point in my life? I need to ride my bike to work, give more money to charity, and throw a grilling party for all of my new friends in Dubuque. Well, something like that...

Monday, June 20, 2011

I live in Iowa: Week 9

Another pleasant week in Iowa. I only worked 41 hours this week, usually I work a few more but the weather was nice this week and when my eight hours for the day came to a close it was time to go outside. That being said it was a little warm this week, in the 80s, and air-conditioning at work is rather nice.

I hardly ran at all this week probably only 20 miles over a few runs, but I spent a lot of time riding my Miyata around in anticipation of my new 6 series Trek. I figure I put in around 220-230 miles this week on the bike. My biggest rides were 75 on Sunday, 35+ on Friday and 60 on Saturday with a few 25 milers in there. Cycling is so easy. You get to sit down the whole time, you don't have to pedal all the time, although I probably do 98-99% of the time. Plus, on a hot day there is constantly wind going across your body and towns around here are nicely spaced about one water bottle apart.

Speaking of traveling around this part of the country I rode to Galena, Illinois on one of my rides. That place looks pretty cool. A very well developed downtown complete with all sorts of stores to take my money including a number of historical sites. I have to make it back there when I am not wearing spandex.

Not too much else happened this week. I spent some time socializing both from the seat of my bicycle, and a restaurant. I am also in the middle of one of my anthropology experiments and I can't help but laugh about it. It deserves it's own article. It is one of those things that I figured out, with much help from my sister actually, and now I am applying it outside of my family.

Circling around to running, I have decided not to do an October marathon. My recovery, specifically my foot, is not healing fast enough for me to be ready for an October marathon. There is one in December and one in January that I am considering. In the meantime the local better-than-I runner is aiming for a sub-15 5k this summer and it's about time I set a personal record at that distance so for the next probably two months it will be the 5k then probably fall half marathons and a winter marathon. Who knows, I mean I have not run even one 5k workout yet so we shall see how it goes.

In all another good week, "living the life." Hopefully you are enjoying some success or more success than I am. At least hopefully you are employed. If you are unemployed, for the better, although possibly unknown reason, you are still in the game. Two 24 year old women died this week, one in Sheboygan and one in Dubuque. On had a six year old and the other was engaged to be married. Life is short y'all.

Friday, June 17, 2011

My Old Road Bicycle

I had a question from my friend who rode a bicycle from Vancouver to Tierra Del Fuego about my bicycles after the article about my cyclocross bike. Well I currently ride a 1980 era Miyata Professional with a Dura-Ace crank and Campagnolo everything else. It has six gears on the back ranging from 24 teeth to 13 teeth. My cranks are 42 teeth and 53 teeth. It's a racing bike.
Complete with a hard saddle, and new aerobars from my uncle
It says, "Miyata" will be a cool restoration project
"Professional", "Dura-Ace" and I just bought pedals!
The bike is made from 4140 and is double butted at the joints so that thinner steel can be used throughout. It's a great bicycle. I've done several 100+ mile rides on it, I've ridden it up Mt. Evans in Colorado, and all over Kansas, Wisconsin, Massachusetts and Iowa.

It's an amazing bike. I do not plan to ever get rid of it. In fact, I would like to get it restored some day. The problem is that it does not have the best steel technology in it so it is not as stiff as the modern bicycles, which means it doesn't climb hills as well when I stand on the pedals. It also weight as shown about 23 pounds. Light in it's day but my new road bicycle is going be 16-17 pounds, because I went with low class parts. With high class parts it would totally be 14-15 pounds. For a lightweight like me that's a huge difference.

Thursday, June 16, 2011


So I run a lot and part of that involves running in races. Sometimes I do well in those races and they give me stuff. 
2nd Place 25-29 Male Green Bay Marathon 2011
 At Green Bay I finished 6th, and they give money to the top five, typical. I have finished first out of the money several times. That's the kind of runner I am. Not good enough to walk away with the check but good enough to get a huge heavy medal. It is by far the biggest I have.
1st place 25-29 Male Grandview Gallop 2011
This past Saturday the race I ran gave me a picture frame. That's kind of a unique item. I just have to find a picture to put in it now. At least it's useful. Often prizes have no practical purpose, like a medal.

What are the best prizes? Money, gift certificates to some place I will actually use (like a running shoe store or grocery store), and any sort of consumable. Rumor has it the Napa Valley Marathon gives the winners his and her weight in wine. While you may hear about $100,000 prizes for the winner of races like the Boston Marathon or the New York City Marathon, for guys like me, dreaming of being in the top 10 is almost a stretch let alone breaking the tape at something that big.

Until that point, I'll probably keep getting my race bling.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

A Month Without Internet or Cable

Well, I did it, I went the month of May without a cable or even an Internet subscription. The results:

  • Redbox: 10 rentals for a total of $10.17
  • Coffee Shops: 2 visits (I may have missed a third) for a total of $10.52
  • Best Buy: One season of Entourage and the Wall Street double pack for a total of $57.76
  • iPhone usage of 1.6 GB of data, the most I have ever used by far

The result from this experiment is that I really do not miss access to the Internet that much. I miss it of course, but I still can not justify $55 a month for cable Internet.

My iPhone Data usage May 2010 to May 2011
(the month listed refers to last day in billing cycle, usually the 1st or 2nd day of the month)
The implications are that I do not plan to have cable for a long time, while I miss having quick access to the Internet, I have it on my phone, at work, at the public library, at the laundry mat, and at a number of coffee shops. The interesting thing is that I probably used my computer less since moving to Dubuque than I have in the whole time I have owned it. I suppose that is not surprising considering that I spend 8-9 hours a day in front of a computer at work. Sitting in front of the computer at home does not always seem like relaxing.

So the trend will continue. With the money that I save, I'll probably buy a down suit. No kidding.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

If Left to My Own Devices...

This weekend was basically a model for how I generally imagine the weekends the next few years of my life going. It is strange to get to the place that I have been expecting, because I wonder, 'is this all there is?'

Saturday I ran that four mile race, went to coffee and used the Internet. Went out to eat with my parents then did a 90 minute bike ride in the afternoon. Sunday I went to church then did a 4.5 hour bike ride in the afternoon covering 60-70 miles of back road Iowa. I watched a movie or two in there but the point is I spent 1.5 hours running and 6 hours biking. That's nearly 4 hours per day of exercising, and I probably have a stress reaction in my foot.

I am not really sure there is a point to this or a lesson to learn. Perhaps that I am less than social and self centered, or perhaps I realize that my goals require hundreds of hours of training. I don't know. However, I can say that I had fun out there on the bicycle and running. It is nice to run a race without any major injuries in a little bit of shape. I am really fortunate. I get paid. I get to exercise. People are nice to me. Life is good. But I still wonder, 'is this all there is?'

Monday, June 13, 2011

I Live in Iowa: Week 8

Two months! That's crazy! Actually, I had quite the good week. I was stimulated on several fronts. In the engineering world I have been working on a plastic simulation and this is cutting edge stuff. No one has said it, but this might just be my ticket to a published scientific paper. There are so many unquantified variables that trying to make it all work in the computer environment is not strait forward.

Professionally = fulfilling

In the exercising world I ran about 2 miles at 5:50 pace in a 5:00 AM workout with the triathlon club. Then I took two days off and ran a 4 mile race, the Grandview Gallop. I was second overall out of like 1000. I talked to the winner (who was like 1:45 ahead of me) and it looks like I might have a good training partner in the future.

I only ran 32 miles so running a 21:38 4 miles was rather satisfying considering the one small workout I have done in the last month.

I also spent a lot of time bicycling and hanging out at the bicycle shop. Eventually those hours at the bicycle shop ended with me buying a 6 series Trek Madone. So in 2-3 weeks I will have quite the high end road bike.

On Friday night I did like 40 miles on the bicycle including 16 miles from Balltown to my duplex in 38 minutes. That's 26-27 miles an hour. That's huge for me. I shelled out several hundred dollars for shoes and pedals this week and it makes a huge difference. I mean sustaining 25+ mph for that length of time by myself, wow, I must be in better shape than I thought. Anytime that I have a good performance it makes me wonder, 'since I didn't work that hard to get this performance, what can I do if I work a little harder?'

Physically = fulfilling

On the social front I spent time with my friend from high school that I work with. People change, all the time, and my friend has changed for the better. He is pretty cool.

I am also enjoying Wednesday night bicycles rides. Bicycling in a group is very social, much like running, and I like doing something healthy with others. Next step, getting other people to eat whole wheat pasta and organic vegetables and filet mignon with me.

Socially = not totally fulfilling but partially fulfilling

So it is what it is. I am still single, a little lonely, but I am making a ton of money, exercising like crazy, and eating great. I suppose I can't have everything at once. I am enjoying life and exploring the backcountry Iowa roads. I enjoy work as much as ever. Life is good. I mean, I am doing it, living the engineering and athletic life that I would like. Of course I hope I get better at both aspects, but I am improving.

I am so fortunate and blessed.

Friday, June 10, 2011

I bought it...

Thursday I went to the bike shop to get my pedals and rear wheel. I was asking the nice manager some questions and over an hour later I had 20% down towards a new Trek Madone. Baaaghh! It will be two or three weeks before it gets here, but rest assured that I will write more and take pictures and list stats and talk about stuff.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Limited Edition You

I am reading Jared Diamond's book Collapse. Dozens of societies across the world in recorded history have collapsed. One of the take away ideas thus far seems to be that he mentions people dying of war and starvation. Human lifespans are so short. We like to think of life as a growing process, and it is, but it is also a dying process as we move closer to the grave.

I talk about death more than most, because I feel it makes me appreciate life more. I have not died on a mountain yet. I haven't been killed by a car yet. I haven't been killed by a drunk driver. I am as healthy as can be without so many of the medical problems that plague others. I am so blessed.

Someday, the United States will no longer exist. Perhaps it will be 7,000 years, perhaps less. Someday, you and I will be dead. And tomorrow we will both be one day closer. If there is something to take away from this article it is: don't waste your time. You don't have very much in the first place.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011


I spent my Tuesday lunch break on the Trek Project One website building and pricing different bicycles. I have done that in the past, but this time I might actually buy something. As I consider buying a third bicycle, albeit far better than my other two, I feel a little evil. There are so many other things in the world I could spend my money on. Furthermore, I get excited by not spending money. I still don't have cable or Internet at my apartment. My preferred vehicle is a 1993 Toyota Previa with 270,000 miles on it.

It seems to me like a really nice bicycle is a waste while people around the world starve and die. I have a friend from college and he would say, "I never want to have any money." The meaning is that there are people in need who could use his money. It took me awhile to understand that, but it has made an impact on my life.

Related to the title, I overheard a conversation recently between two people complaining about the high price of insurance and taxes on "old" luxury cars, specifically the years 2002 and 2004. In some ways it was appalling and in more personal ways it was representative of my life and specifically buying a new bicycle.

Five months ago I was passing the year mark for unemployment. It is amazing how quickly the money seems to be changing me. Because now it is just a bicycle, that once I buy it I never have to pay more for it. Next year it's a car with gas, insurance, and taxes. Then it's a house. Then it's a pool in the backyard and a huge tv, a newer car, a second property, and an endless list of material junk.

On the other hand, my bicycle will contribute to dozens of peoples paycheck and employment, I will surely ride even more, and if regular use of my bicycles allows me to delay buying a car for a year or more, then it would be worth it. Plus Trek gives their frames a lifetime warranty, so basically this is a one time, until I either do Ironmans or am in my 40s, kind of purchase.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

To Buy a New Bicycle

It may seem appalling or crazy that a month after buying a second bicycle I am talking about getting another one while I am still massively in debt and already have two that work (for the most part). I shall of course explain my thinking.

My road bicycle is a 1980s Miyata Professional with Shimano Dura-Ace crank and Campagnolo other components. I started riding it in high school after my dad traded a car for it when I was eight. In it's day it was the top of the line bike. My limited research years ago indicated that this particular model was ridden in the Olympics and Tour de France. It's hot stuff, but it's 22 pounds of unaerodynamic and flexible steel. People say it is not about the bike but I have been dropped going down hills and on moderate sprints by carbon bikes and I have to say, when seven locals drop me like I'm standing still and I'm a 2:34 marathoner, I feel I am at least in a little better shape than my bicycling performance shows.

I have been shopping for a top of the line road bicycle since at least the summer of 2007. I have put thousands of miles on my bike and I have no plans to ever get rid of it, but I want something that will allow me to go faster and in a race of some sort be competitive. Basically for the price of a used car I can get a brand new top of the line bicycle that has a frame that comes with a lifetime warranty. Let's see Ford do that.

So this isn't a whim, entirely. After four flats and a broken spoke in six days over maybe 120 miles I am a little frustrated. Secondly, no one drops me in an endurance sport that easily. I may be very aerobically strong, but I am not strong enough to keep up while on my 30 year old bike. Third, the whimsical part is that my uncle gave me a pair of aero bars last weekend, and I think they are the greatest thing. I plan on doing an Ironman or several when I get done with my more serious running and to be competitive you need a triathlon bike.

So as I browse the local offerings I see that about $2,500 gets a nice tri bike with most of the good features like carbon frame, internal cables, aero specific handle bars. However, on the road biking side you have to go up to about $3,200 to get the internal cables. I know it is just one ridiculous feature compared to the overall like frame material and choice of wheels, but I think it shoes the comparison between bicycles well. The problem is I already have a road bike, it just weights 22 pounds and is too flexible.

Then there is my general attitude of go big or switch hobbies which has a voice in my head telling me to shell out another $1,000 to get the next step up carbon frame, which I felt in the store and it is lighter. Because the truth is whatever I buy will thrill me on every ride, this summer. But what if next summer I get a little more serious and do more races and those 14 ounces of weights and extra flexibility slow me down noticeably compared to my competition. Then what do I do? Get another new bike?

Then there is the miser in my head which says thing like, 'if you save the $4,000 you could retire six months earlier or spend a month at the Trango Towers basecamp.' I have all sorts of loans and other financial goals that buying an expensive bike seems crazy. On the other hand, every year I am getting older. Now it means I am coming into my prime, but in 10-15 years I won't be getting faster. If there is ever a time to be using the best athletic equipment in my life it is now.

How is this going to play out? I don't know. I do know my current road bike is very nice and I enjoy it. My new cyclocross bike is great and I run errands on it probably four times per weeks or so, especially on the weekends. Finally, I am going for a test drive. Wednesday night the local bike shop is letting me take out a carbon mid grade (women's) bicycle for the weekly group ride. So we shall see how that goes.

I have not gotten around to writing about instant gratification versus delayed ultimate gratification yet, but any bike purchase at this point would fall into the instant category, which is often not the best category.

Monday, June 6, 2011

I Live in Iowa: Week 7

Another week making bank, paying bills and building aerobic endurance... my life. So I worked 42 hours although I had Monday off so I really only worked 34 hours in 4 days.

One of the projects that I have spent time on recently is pressure testing a new platic tank. This is new territory for my group and it involves a different set of skills. I am enjoying it very much. I got an A in plastics in college (always an accomplishment for me) and my professor thought I would be a plastics guy. In all this is an interesting area.

Something that I enjoy about engineering is not knowing the answer. I like to understand the physical phenomena and have a generally simplified way to mathematically express it. It is constantly problem solving. Without that mental component of problem solving in my life I feel unfulfilled.

I ran 23 miles of nice relaxed slow running. In fact, six of those miles were with another runner. Woohoo for training partners! My right root still had outside metarsal pain off and on but if it was too bad I didn't run on it. Knowing when to run and when not to run because of pain and soreness is a long and painful learning process. Knowing what I know now, I'm raising my kids barefoot and in low heel shoes (girls at formal events excepted).

In the bicycling world I went moderate his week and broke down. Seriously, I "broke" in some manner of speaking six times on the bike this week. Monday I hit some gravel on my road bike and had two flat tires at the same time. Tuesday, I hit a truck, he cut my off by taking a left turn and he braked and I couldn't stop fast enough. It scared him more than me! Wednesday, I went on a 35 miler with the local bicycles racers. I got a rear flat and then ten miles later another rear flat. Saturday, I broke a spoke on my bicycle while doing a brick workout with the local tri/runner guy. He's won more races than I so this might be a good step in the training group direction.

So I am thinking about dropping $3-4k on a bicycle. I have wanted that kind of bicycle more than half a decade and I suppose I can afford it, but at the cost of a student loan and perhaps year delay on Everest. I'm going to write a long and wordy post about buying a bicycle and how unemployment, an engineering salary, and my future plans as well as my former plans are affected by buying a bicycle. Okay, I know I read way too much into this but $4,000 for a bicycle is a huge commitment that I would like to make if it would not adversely affect my life in other areas, but I don't make that much money.

In other news I went out for dinner and drinks with two coworker friends. My social life is picking up. Plus I planted my garden this week.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Green Bay Marathon Pictures

One of the disadvantages of not having friends watch me race is that I don't have a supply of pictures (like a picture every lap of the 10k, thank you Greg). Thus, I bought three pictures in this digital matting thing from the people who took pictures at Green Bay. In counter clockwise direction from the top left: that's me at mile 26ish, mile 22ish, and the 26.4 mile finish. I wore my WPI alumni singlet with a picture of a goat in case you can't quite see it.

Friday, June 3, 2011

My Hexagon Desk

Here in Dubuque we have hexagon shaped cubicles with five people to a hexagon, and a corner left open so that we can get in in the morning. Anyway, I have a pretty sweet set up, two 22 inch wide screens and a 4 core 8GB RAM computer even though I only run simulations through our 256 core 560GB RAM cluster.

Screen Real-estate
People sometimes ask, "are you twice as productive with two screens?" The answer is obviously, "no", but if I am 5% more productive and that screen only costs 2% of my productivity then it's a good deal. The more important question is, "are you noticeably more productive?" The answer to that is, "yes". After using two screens one just seems so unproductive.

So that's my life 8-10 hours a day 4-5 days a week.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

My Single Speed Cyclocross Bicycle

After having this thing for more than a month I am finally getting around to talking about it and posting a picture.

Single Speed Cyclocross Bianchi San Jose
There it is, in all of it's 49 cm glory. At first glance this looks like a road bike, but it has tires that are a wide 30-32 mm. That might sound small but I am used to the 20 mm tires on my road bike. It even has a skid plate around the chainring so that I can ride over rocks and stuff.

What makes a cyclocross bike different than a road bike is that the fork and rear supports are wider. That way mud can get caked on the tires and they will still spin. The brakes are also cantilever brakes which means they are attached to the both sides of the fork and rear supports instead of attached at one point above the tire. The brakes are also about twice as long as my road bike brakes so they have a lot of stopping power. The frame is aluminum and it is so light without all of the normal bicycling components that it accelerates well.

Well, that's about it. I bought it used on eBay for $500 including shipping, which I think is a fair price. I use it mostly around town because it is durable enough to handle going over curbs and other city obstacles like the occasional gravel alley. I even took it out to JFK park south of Dubuque and went "mountain" biking with a coworker. It handled it quite well, except with a single speed I could not bike up the steep hills. Aside from the single gear, this bike is capable enough to handle most mountain biking terrain that I would ever go on. Serious mountain biking is scary to me. It happens so fast that I prefer the single or double track trails without and big jumps.