Monday, December 31, 2012

I Live in Iowa: Week 88

I am still sick. Five days! It's hard to convey my coughing over writing. To you I might as well be 100% healthy. Interesting. I mean, I wonder how many old texts that we have read were written by people who were sick or in poor condition. Probably quite a few.

I spent most of the week at my parents house in Sheboygan Falls. Christmas was really good. I was sleeping 10 hours a night and taking a 90 minute nap every afternoon, but that was due to the emotional relaxing from work and the fact that I was having some good longer runs and workouts. My body just needed a rest.

In the United States Christmas has come to mean giving presents to each other, so I suppose I will mention that. I gave a couple gifts I could stand behind and I received some gifts I plan to really enjoy, like some shirts and ties. Not many people wear ties to work, but now that I am starting to have a bit of a collection, I might start wearing more ties. On the gift that I gave that I am most excited about, I wrote a sonnet for my parents. I thought for two months, what could I possibly give them? Growing up we did not have the thousands of dollars of iPods and flat screens and jewelry that some families have for Christmas. Now that my sister and I work full time, it is a bit of a cross roads, do we see who can spend the most money or pursue some other avenue for gifts? I say the other avenue, let us create things for others. So I wrote a poem. I'm not sure how I follow that up.

Running started out great, and disappeared. I ran 56 miles including my fastest tempo in months and I did strides once. That is only five days of running. The tempo was 6.6 km around the Petit Ice Center at a 5:34 pace average. My tempos have been around 5:40 recently so it was nice to be back down a little faster. I felt so strong. The next day I was sick in s still snowed in Dubuque. Typical.

Going back to family time, we had a Christmas with our extended family and that was nice. It is always nice to see the relatives especially as everyone grows and has new life situations. It's also nice to be around my immediate family because we all understand each other so well. I feel we also have a compassion for others and an understanding of the world that is lacking among many Americans. I say that because both of my parents are social workers and they are exposed to those in society that are much less fortunate than us. Furthermore, between my international experience and my family's international friends we sometimes think of things from a perspective different than the United-States-only or United-States-is-always-right. In short, we have good conversations, but I would be afraid for anyone who comes to our dinner table talks.

I am tired. I had so many blog articles lined up to work on over break. What happens? I get sick.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

I Have a Cold

I managed to begin a cold four days ago. I woke up Thursday with a sore throat, and my condition deteriorated throughout the day. Friday was the worst, Saturday was not good, and today has been even better.

First of all, I did not have more than four consecutive days off since last Christmas to New Year's break. Which is totally fine. On a tangent, I was afraid of having a job where I only had one week of vacation a year, but the only week of vacation I had this year was last week, when many manufacturing engineering companies have factory shutdowns. In other words, if I can just take off this one week a year this year, I can probably do it next year, the year after, and the year after. The point being, when things in my life are going well, it is like a six cylinder engine running smoothly. However, when I hit a hiccup, all of the cylinders stop. In other words, I have not run in three days and I have felt terrible. I haven't even blogged! It is like my adrenaline flow for daily performance stopped (quite seriously I think that might be part of the explanation). I have probably averaged 10-11 hours of sleep over the last nine days.

Second, visiting Sheboygan and shaking so many hands over Christmas is definitely how I became sick. I probably shook 30-40 hands over three days. The chances that one of them was carrying a contagious cold virus? I do not know but surely north of 95%.

So that's how I have been spending my week off of work. I would like to pity myself that I didn't get to go skiing or travel to Colorado, but honestly, I think that I needed a little bit of a break from doing much of anything. After all, I have not sat around this much over four consecutive days in two years. Despite my best attempts, I am still human.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Two Kinds of People

I was fortunate over this Christmas to New Year's break from routine to talk with my former supervisor at my previous company. We talked about everything from software to running marathons to employee retention in India. Not be strange, but somewhat typical topics for my engineering and running friends. Somehow it came up that it often seems as there are problem solvers and problem creators. People that focus on the limitations, perhaps the majority, and those that focus on a solution.

Next I read an exert of Seth's latest book this morning. He talks about artists versus not artists. (Not artists is inappropriate, because I feel everyone has art in him or her, it is just hard for most to express.) Without saying it, because Seth is not an engineer, it seems to be his way of saying some people solve problems and others create them. Create problems might be an exaggeration, it could be identify problems, or dwell on problems, or fear new solutions.

Third, the last three comments on my blog are enormously negative. However, in the context of the last two paragraphs, that is okay. People will hate me. People will put up road blocks. People will want a piece of my wealth. People will, or maybe already do, want to do the things that I do. That is kind of the point. I want to share my life with you, yes you. God has blessed me so much that I want to pay it forward and share my abundance with you and my other friends and those less fortunate I do not know.  This is a giving war and I intend to give hard. Sure some people will only take from me and others, but I know many of you are bigger givers than I.

Since I can't come up with the words to conclude this article I leave you with a quote, "...encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone. ... Rejoice always..."

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Experiencing Wealth

How does one define wealth?
December 17th, 2012, the day that I became worth something.
Like I said a few weeks ago, I was expecting in December or January to go from a negative net worth to positive. Well, lunch time last Monday it happened! Instead of a black $6,047 or $16,047, the top of my iPhone app Accounts page turned to green. Barely, but it's positive!

Next it get's unfair. I will probably blast through the first comma by January. In a few months I will probably have thousands of dollars saved. People around the world are starving and being persecuted and I'm safe and making money. 

Life is so unfair! I think of our high altitude porter sidar in Pakistan. He had one of, if not the, nicest house in Hushe. He didn't own furniture. Just a collection of rugs and blankets, one lightbulb, a squat toilet in a concrete walled bathroom, and cooking over a fire. Yet he lived across the walkway from the school his daughter attended, and did have electricity, a cell phone, and a window. Watch this video, from 7:11 to 7:20 you can see the house I am talking about.

I would consider him to be wealthy. By any United States standard, that is abject poverty. He doesn't own a bed, a television, a dvd player, a couch, a table, a van, a really nice bicycle, or most of the stuff that I possess. I feel my lifestyle is spartan or austere by US standards, but in the context of my friends in Pakistan or Indonesia, I have more wealth than I can use.

I mentioned recently how wealthy I am, and my income for the month December is off the charts! It’s more than half of what people making 250k per year get every month. I feel that money and income come from wealth not wealth from the other two. I’ll explain. Wealthy is an attitude and abundance. Rich people think differently. Similar to how poor people think differently. Wealth is an attitude of trepidation, patience, surplus, and comfort, not necessarily in that order. In other words, life is pretty good, but not knowing what the future holds let’s just take our time before taking the next step, whatever that step may be. 

Rich on the other hand in my mind refers almost exclusively to money. Having seen poverty in Asia I notice wealth so much more. In other words, wealth in Asia might be going to school, or having electricity. For me having carpeting is a huge sign of wealth. Having a few thousand dollars saved is wealth. Alternatively, the American idea of wealth is driving around a $40,000 vehicle, never mind the $35,000 loan on it.

Poverty will always be with us. I have heard kids are more likely to grow up in poverty in the US now than 20 years ago. This link has graphs of poverty in the US over time. Wealth is having enough to get from one harvest to the next with enough to spare to buy a metal roof. At least in Uganda or Kenya that counts as wealth. 

Christmas is a time of year to be be thankful for the gifts we have been given. I have so much! I am so blessed! Perhaps this is all just an attempt to get over my "wealth guilt". On the other hand, I went through 2010 in debt and unemployed. I suppose I should enjoy experiencing wealth more or celebrate it. I mean I did work awfully hard to get to my $59. However, now that I'm there all I feel is sympathy for people that don't have $59. You know what, I imagine that might feel like this the rest of my life. It's good, hopefully it keeps me humble and aware of the realities of this world.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Lessons from the Greatest Grass Roots Movement Ever

Merry Christmas! I was in church last night and the part of the Christmas story about the shepherds was told and it dawned on me that Christianity is the best, most effective, wide spread, grass roots movement ever. In a world where everyone wants to capture viral marketing and have the next big thing, Christianity really owns the idea of a grass roots authentic community. What makes Christianity so successful? Aside from the faith in God, eternity, forgiveness issues that form the basis of Christianity there are a few logistic methods that seem to be effective.

  • Base the movement around perfection. Unfortunately, that takes out just about everything. But it's a good goal.
  • Start early. Most non-profits don't have the luxury of talking about their main character hundreds of years before he is born, or even when he is born or a teenager, but identifying the main characters earlier rather that later gives more time for idea development or communication.
  • Appeal to common people. Appeal to people who have unmet needs. Those that don't need you, don't need you.
  • Be patient. Growth may be linear, non-linear, hockey stick, declining, or a little bit of everything. If the message matters, people will share it.
In summary: Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 24, 2012

I Live in Iowa: Week 87

I had quite a nice week. It was rather busy thus the lack of blogging. Let me tell you about it.

Work was fun. I wrapped up most of my projects. I only have one project with a report I have started and not finished, that's a pretty low number. There was a wealth of food brought in during the week, which I did contribute to a little. The point being I'm sugared out. So many very tasty sweets is both a good thing and a bad thing. It is fitting that we only do this once a year. On Friday we also spent a little time blowing off steam and working on "science projects" or rather things that don't contribute directly to the bottom line. I have a video and posts related to that I plan to put up this week. In short, nice to have a nice week. 

We did have a moderately large snow storm Thursday. I spent half an hour in the morning shoveling to get out of the driveway, and an hour in the evening shoveling to get back in. Only 25-35% of people showed up at work. Given that many people have laptops, working from home on days with blizzard warnings is generally acceptable. Anyway, my little group of engineers all came to work. I think that says something about us.

Additionally, pun intended, I attended our company's first ever additive manufacturing conference. Additive manufacturing is the "technical" or business way to refer to 3D printing. This industry is booming amongst hobby people like me who like to tinker at home. It is also expanding in industry. The difference is that hobbyists usually use plastic while in industry it's all about metals, often steel. The actual methods vary a little between the different materials with metal involving hotter processes and more expensive machinery. Regardless, this is a growing industry and one that will play a significant factor in the "lights out" factories of the future. I have more to talk about this later. For a preview, my favorite book of 2012 is Makers: The New Industrial Revolution by Chris Anderson.

Coaching was almost a nonexistent week. That's not totally true. I ran two workouts with one of the other coaches and we spent a fair amount of time talking about the runners. For example, to us, running is fun. We feel better after going for a run. Running is a short escape from the drama and pressures of other things in our life. Running is generally not training, but more of a lifestyle activity. However, it takes time for most people to get to that level of desire, maybe 2000-3000 miles over a couple of years. Some get there sooner, others later, and some never get there, which is unfortunate. The point being, today, a good portion of the team we coach probably sat on the couch all day and did not run because they don't experience the joy in running that we do. On the other hand, some of their teammates went for a run, or even a workout because they feel good afterward, and that is powerful motivation.

My own running went quite well. I totaled 84 miles, a good long run, and two solid moderate workouts. The long run was an 18 mile run that I wanted to run progression style (second half faster than the first half) and average under 7:00 minutes per mile. Well, I was out in 1:02 for the first nine which is about 6:53 pace, then, and I always do this, I turned around and dropped the pace. For whatever reason when I turn around out at Heritage Trail I often drop the pace 30 seconds per mile, which is huge. Anyway I dropped a 6:21 and more or less continued that kind of pace to the finish averaging 6:16 for the last nine miles. Wednesday I did a 6400 meter tempo in 22:54 on the outdoor track before the snow started. Nothing terribly special, but exactly 100% the kind of workout I need to do consistently. Then Friday I worked out with G and M for the first time.

I run in the mornings and weekends with M. I run most days at practice with G. However, despite working out with both of them for about 16 months the three of us had never run together before. Friday, I suggested a 5x1000 meter workout on the indoor track due to the eight inches of snow outside. Given that school was not in session, the gym was empty. I suggested 3:20 pace for the 1000s with a 400 meter jog rest in 1:45-2:00. Well, in my excitement I got out in 36 seconds for the first 200, 4 seconds too fast. I proceeded to slow down, but those two yahoos decided to push the pace and we finished in 3:08. From there it was mostly 3:09ish for the rest of the workout. On the 4th G tried to slow it down, but I decided to finish what those two started. As I'm leading around the track at the end of the workout I'm thinking, 'so this is what a respectable half marathon pace feels like.' All things considered I felt pretty relaxed. I also led the last interval every step of the way. I should also mention that I pushed the recovery from lane five as the other two tried to slow down the recovery in lane one and two. In short it was a solid workout. Not as great as I would like to run, but strong considering what I planned to do.

After the workout I drove home on somewhat icy roads to Sheboygan. Saturday my sister and I drove up to Door County to experience what it has to offer. We met up with T and proceeded to go a few wineries, coffee places, restaurants, and cheese shops. Overall, it was nice weekend, I was happy we went, but frankly, disappointed with the classiness of the place. The prices were low and there was some stuff to do, but I was expecting some ritzy shops, fancy dining, and more people. To be totally honest, it's about the same as Sheboygan, although it does have more wineries. In fact, compared to the Dubuque, Galena, Potosi area, it is lacking. I suppose it is hard to realize what one has until experiencing what else there is out there.
Door County Coffee (Home of Sumatra coffee that tastes exactly like and just as bad as coffee in Sumatra.)
My life, yeah, it's amazing.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

How Not to Freak Out 401: Work the Problem

This could be the hardest part, but often the solution to your situation has an easy answer. 

From lesson #3, you are drunk and another drunk person just offered you a ride home. After stopping and taking a breath you have to make a choice. Go with the drunk person, take a taxi, call your parents or friends, walk home, sleep at the house where you are... There are multiple options. Personally, I would pick the option with the least risk. Of course, more often than not I would probably volunteer to be the designated driver anyway.

In Pakistan on Broad Peak I was often the first person in team two to head down the mountain. At least three times I was the first person in our group to head down the mountain. While I love spending time high in the high mountains, it is continually a risk being up there and it is much more safe to sit around at basecamp. 

If you are headed the wrong way down a one way street, stop, check for an alley or driveway, check to see how far you are from the next intersection, check for possible parallel parking, check for other cars, put your flashers on, and appreciate a honk rather than an accident.

I can’t give you a solution to the problems that you will face. Sometimes the situations that might be encouraging you to freak out are because of relationships, and I certainly don’t have many answers in that department. 

When working a problem something that often comes up is that you need more information to formulate a solution. Perhaps that only requires a glance around, perhaps it involves asking a question. Keep in mind that you are probably not qualified to address every situation you encounter with the knowledge and experience you have today. In other words, don’t try to go climb Mt. Everest without giving some shorter mountains a try first. Don’t get behind the wheel of a car without some personal instruction. Training and experience are key to problem solving. 

Unfortunately, a difficulty you are likely to encounter in your problem solving is that the times where problem solving is the most critical skill, it is often far more difficult that sitting here in front of your computer screen. Problem solving when drunk is nearly a lost cause. Problem solving when you are the first person at a soon-to-be-remembered-as-deadly motorcycle accident could be tough with all that blood. Working a problem at 23,000 feet of elevation is difficult because it is hard enough to walk on your own let alone help someone else walk. This goes back to lesson two, actions have consequences and it is worth considering those before you are in an impaired state.

Congratulations and thank you for reading these four articles. To summarize everything that you learned, you will die and your actions can have consequences which may in fact be death. Once you get into a situation: stop and work the problem. Now you might as well say you have a B.S. in Risk Management.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Thoughts on Mass Killings

The elementary school shooting in Connecticut is mind boggling. I do not understand what motivates a person to shoot a bunch of six and seven year olds. No idea. My best guess is that bullying somehow played a part. I have been on both sides of the bullying, as have most people, it's not easy. Fortunately, it gets better! Hang in there kids! Adults are usually a lot more mature, it might just take until they are 37 years old. Be patient, wait a day or two before reacting.

However, lest we ignore history:

Except for the postal incident these are all events that have shaped my life. This is the world we live in. For the most part we are actually pretty sheltered in this country. Nearly 10 per day are bombed and shot in radical militant related violence in Pakistan! 

These make me sad. This is our world. It will happen again.

The only possible solution I have, more education and more communication. 

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Everest Question

I am going to Mt. Everest to climb it without bottled oxygen. Fact. I am going within ten years of 2004. Am I going in 2013 or 2014? That is the question. 

It comes down mostly to money. Everest will cost around $38,000 for me as a minimum. It could be $45,000 if I want a second personal high altitude Sherpa to accompany me on summit day. That is a lot of money. There are costs that vary, like the amount of satellite communications I bring, my flights, souvenirs. I do not feel like one consuming to excess discussing spending that kind of money because altruistically, 90+% of that money will get blown in a country that could use it far more than I. In a strange way, I feel like an expedition to an 8000 meter peak involves a significant amount of charity.

Now for the backstory. In 2009 when I went to Pakistan for seven weeks to attempt Broad Peak the total cost to me was around $14,000. That includes everything from the new equipment I had to buy to the plane tickets. While I paid for most of that out of pocket, about $6,000 I charged up on a 0% interest introductory rate credit card, that went up to only 6.24% after the first year. Having charged that up and then being unemployed starting in late December 2009, any debt was not a good thing. After my unemployment experience I do not want to repeat that. Charging up a bunch of debt to go on the trip of a lifetime and then being unemployed is not cool. If I were to employ a similar strategy I could easily go in 2013. 
Broad Peak Basecamp July 2009 with K2 in the Background
Unfortunately, the corporate world is not set up to smile upon people who take nine weeks off. I realize that most people don’t have goals such as climbing Mt. Everest without bottled oxygen, and I am not sure how that would really play out. In other words, do corporations want people who challenge themselves and set high goals and actually put in the eight years of work to get to that level? Or do corporations want people who will sit behind a desk for 40 years for 50 hours a week and do what they are told? Is something like this only done by risk taking people that are corporate liabilities? I don't know. 

Let’s talk financials and job security more. My 401(k) company matching is excellent! They really contribute to my retirement. I am so blessed. However, it takes three years for their contributions to vest. Three years feels like an eternity. Obviously the best financial move would be to wait three years until my 401(k) is vested and then go so that if the company decides they don’t want me back, I have that money. Unfortunately, that would be April and May of 2015, which is past the deadline I set for myself. I can not sacrifice something I have been nurturing and developing for eight and a half years for the sake of a few thousand dollars. 

Additionally this trip will likely set back my possible retirement 2-3 years. Since I do not plan to stop contributing for my entire life, I am not worried about that. I feel guilty enough for how well I have it compared to most of the rest of the world that retirement just seems so foreign to me.

On the job security front, everything can change once I am out of the office. A couple bad economic months could mean they don’t want me back. Perhaps I will say or do something while in Nepal that offends and disturbs my employer so that they don’t want me back. Let’s face it, by the standard midwest United States definition of normal, I am crazy. This adventure would only probably cement that image amongst my coworkers. I know how people look at me when I talk about Pakistan or Indonesia or running 20 miles or a 40 foot rock climbing fall. 

What other factors are there? The 2016 Olympic marathon trials qualifying window opens August 1st, 2013. Missing April and May of 2014 would probably prohibit me from running a spring marathon and could set me back for a fall marathon. On the other hand, I might be able to get in two marathons between August 2013 and March 2014 and a two month break would be nice before I get in two or three more. Another factor is that we are approaching a part of the project that I have been working on for 20 months in April and May 2013 that I do not want to miss. That being said one of the more critical people in the project is having a baby that time of year and will thus miss most of it. Plus, it will be far more important that I am around in July, August and September for a later aspect of the project. 

I planned a few years ago to go to Everest in 2012, but that fell though with a year of unemployment. I have been planning and talking to people about going in 2013, it’s just hard to pull the trigger. I have never regretted traveling or any of these adventures. While I did take on debt to go to Pakistan, I had an amazing eye opening experience that was worth every penny. I am sure Everest and Nepal will be the same. These adventures continually trim away the superfluousness of my life and refine my commitment to the people and endeavors that matter in my life.

There is also all that other stuff like probably buying a new car in the next two years and probably buying a house in that kind of timeframe too. Also, Everest is the kind of thing that you can’t just do. The decision has to be made months in advance so that I can buy things like another pair of boots, a down suit, plane tickets, and get some satellite communications. Three months is about the minimum for plopping down a substantial payment. 

Then there is the even farther away stuff. I hope to have a family some day. Every year I get older and how do I put a significant other through something like me plodding weakly past dead bodies on the summit ridge gasping for breath as my body slowly dies? This video will make you puke, but it is a reality of a place I plan to go. I would like to go back to school and get a Ph.D. I plan to go back sometime before I am 30. How does all of that fit into this?

On a separate note, why Everest? Well, as a cocky 18 year old I went after the biggest most ego boosting mountain out there. I can’t deny that. To say that ego isn’t part of it is lying. K2 is a more beautiful mountain, much cheaper, and more difficult (which is to say more fun), but second tallest. I want to pant and gasp at 29,000 feet and I want to walk there, not walk into a barometric chamber. Truth be told, maybe I can't climb to the top of Mt. Everest without oxygen. Maybe I am not strong enough. I could die up there. Also, chances are I will have some post-traumatic stress when I get back. It will change me. 

All of that being said, I want to know what is possible. 

Sunday, December 16, 2012

I Live in Iowa: Week 86

I have been feeling more self-centered and selfish than usual lately so I'm going to try something today. Because the world doesn't revolve around me and my ego already has enough trouble getting into small cars or going through doorways I'm going to write this week's summary in the first person like usual but without using the words I, me, my or myself. Here we go.

This week at work was fun. It was fun for several reasons. First of all, the projects that are stop shipments or delay of a critical milestone are especially interesting. When a person solves a problem a year before we build the first machine, it almost goes unnoticed. When a problem pops up late in a development program or on production, people care. The salary grades that get interested in these projects and come to these meetings are have titles like "manager" and "senior" and "supervisor" instead of just plain engineer. Second, we are at a stage where projects are getting finished. Everybody like completion and closure. Third, it was the bonus pay period. Sure it is shallow and selfish, but there were a lot of smiling faces in the office this week, especially Friday.

Coaching did not entail much this week. The athletes had finals week and we have no official practice during finals week. Despite not really having coaches around, the rumors are that most of the distance runners did run most days and do the work necessary to get better. It is a hopeful start for the team to a long time away from the coaches.

Running went very well. A pleasant 80 miles total, a tempo, and a 15x200 workout were done this week. The 15x200 on Saturday morning was especially interesting. It was 40 degrees Fahrenheit and raining as we ran circles around the Loras track on a deserted campus. Nothing really special about the training this week, but it was consistent. Experience teaches that consistency makes a huge difference in performance.

Socially life continues to be interesting. First of all, four hours Saturday afternoon were spent at Park Farm Winery, volunteering basically. After spending several evening out there over the last several months it was agreed that a young male engineer and coach who is not too socially awkward could contribute something unique to the business and learn a bundle. It is a relatively small family owned winery amongst some amazingly scenic little hills down a crumbling two lane road a few miles west of Dubuque. Plus, the wine is good across the board. Not all small wineries can say that. It was a somewhat slow day, yet giving out wine samples and making pizza on a wood fire brick oven are two skills that can be added to the list of life experience. Yes, this kind of thing will certainly happen again!

Secondly, socially, the single parent mom world continues to expand and stay interesting. In general parents, and especially single parents have a maturity and responsibility that those of us without children just do not not have. They seem to have a seriousness and deepness in conversation as well as patience and reluctance in a new relationship based on previous experience. They seem to have a slightly better idea of what they want or do not want than the standard 20something woman. Don't jump to conclusions about any of this or start checking anyone's Facebook relationship status! It is that there is so much to be learned from these women, or people, although I do not know any single parent dads. They have been through the ups and downs in a relationship, and their lives are so serious because they have a child or children who depend on them. Certainly an interesting demographic.

Third, socially, Galena, you are welcome for Saturday night. Between the sushi, chocolate and wine, there went the bonus.

In other news, big announcement/question/thought to be published Monday.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Thoughts on Motivation

I had a discussion on motivation last night, rather extensively with half a dozen people describing their motivations in careers and life, and this morning in regards to college and running. A few thoughts:

  • Motivation is like a pine tree. It starts as a seed inside a cone. First you have to figure out how to get it out of the cone, then you can plant it and water it and try to protect it from animals, but ultimately you can not make it grow. If you are fortunate to experience it start to grow then it has to face fires and animals when it is young. If grows larger, it will be strong and can further develop and mature without squirrels and deer eating it or surface fires burning it down. In other words, motivation is hard to get started, but once it's on the right path, it will become very strong.
  • People have a hard time articulating her or his motivation. I have a hard time and I still think about it all the time. 
  • There is a certain competitiveness, or as I sometimes say a "hate yourself" feeling, associated with motivation. The achievements are never enough. I (or you) want to be the best I (or you) can be.
  • Motivation begins at a young age. It can begin at an older age, but either way it takes years to develop.
  • Not all people are motivated by goals, many are motivated (often women) by relationships. 
What motivates you?

Friday, December 14, 2012

My First Bonus

I was paid today, a lot! Wow, I mean I was paid more after taxes today than I made before taxes in 2010. That does not say much about my 2010, still I worked three and a half months full time. It is astounding to me. I see this from several different perspectives.

We are so rich in the United States.We have so much wealth. Just ask a person from Africa or rural Asia.

If I made so much money at the bottom of the totem pole, the people on top of me must be rolling in money. Seriously, tens of thousands of dollars in one paycheck kind of thing for some people. Is that why so many people drive new cars?

Along those lines, how much money does a person need?

As a stockholder I think that the company could easily reduce expenses and increase the dividend.

As a taxpayer I could stand to pay a lot more in taxes. Preferably for better or more education and healthcare for the entire country.

As a future old person, there is absolutely no need for people in my income range to rely on social security. We make plenty of money to save on our own.

As a former contractor, wow, that is a lot of money to miss.

I am so blessed. I have so many luxuries. The scary part is that I hope this wealth does not make me soft. With my back against the wall and little to lose I do things that are difficult, like try and run 93 miles around Mt. Rainier on the Wonderland Trail or solo the Nose on El Cap. Maybe I should get rid of my tv and dvds? Maybe I should sell my road bicycle? I need to go to Africa or again to Asia. I haven't been out of the country in six weeks and I am forgetting how to be tough. I need to suffer more. My life is far too easy.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Unemployment to 6.5%

The Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said that yesterday that they will keep interest rates low until unemployment is 6.5% or below and inflation remains below 2.5%. Why does this matter?

First, the Fed does not clearly state what they will do or for how long or until what numbers. I like the increased transparency. It clearly shows in terms we (non-professional economists) can understand. In other words, the people printing money are telling us how cheap that money is, right now it's basically face value, and how long it will stay that cheap. When interest rates go up money gets more expensive.

Second, if you are in the market for a house, prices probably won't rise much until unemployment busts through 6.5%. Okay, maybe I'm the only person reading this blog interested in buying a house. The same stands for buying just about anything else. Car loans will stay cheap. Student loans hopefully should stay cheap but with some loans at 8% now that is not the case.

Third, it means that the US Congress has to do something. Although, maybe this whole debacle has come down to John Boehner and Barack Obama arguing ideologies out over the kitchen table. Great. People we elect to get stuff done, don't get much done. That's a good radio listen about the filibuster in the Senate. I had no idea...

Fourth, things are getting better! People will get jobs! We do have abundance in this country. It is easy to forget that. We have so much food and clothing and shelter. We are so fortunate. Just ask someone from Africa or Asia to describe the differences.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

How Not to Freak Out 301: Stop. Okay.

This is probably the hardest of the four lessons. The first lesson and the second lesson generally give you plenty of time to think. This has to happen quickly, often in less than a second. In a car accident this would probably happen immediately before the accident or while your car is still in motion or just after it stops. Seconds matter. Just like the Stop, Drop and Roll training if you are on fire, you must not take off running. Every time I have been in a crisis, time slows down. A perfect example is the summer of 2004 on the north face of Long Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park. Three of us were climbing unroped up a snow slope. I was very new to crampons and plastic boots at the time. To the best of my recollection I heard something above me, looked up, and saw a giant bolder about .75 meters on each side (30 inches or so) tumbling toward us. In the time it took you to read that sentence I was already stopped (it’s easy to stop above 13,000 feet when you are barely acclimated) and began to work the problem (lesson four). 

Another time I was with two high school friends in Lawrence, Kansas for a Saturday and we turned the wrong way down a crowded one way street. I was sitting in the back but my friends in the front started screaming. In the time it took me to lean forward to get a good view out the front window I stopped and prepared to talk. It happens so fast, even though time is going slowly. The point is, while time matters it is better to freeze and pause for even a second, dare I say two seconds, rather that skip to an irrational reaction. 

For example, if you go the wrong way down a one-way street it is better to slam on the brakes and sit there than accelerate into an attempted u-turn. If you are in the stop stage, hopefully you already knew that something in this situation could go wrong so you at least had some preparation. 

Another example, my first night camping above 20,000 feet of elevation I endured a serious headache, the worst I have ever had, that started at 9 PM an hour after I went to bed. It got worse and worse throughout the night. I knew that acute mountain sickness and cerebral edema were possible maladies that could occur at high altitudes. I knew that drinking water and heading downhill were the top two ways to cure it. So when 5 AM came, I quit rolling around and packed my stuff to head down the 4,500 feet to basecamp alone. I arrived in time for a late breakfast. That is a simple example because I had hours to decided what I was going to do, but the other members of my expedition described the situation as though I was packed and gone very quickly as soon as the sun was up. 

Another example, you are drunk and you did not plan ahead for this. You did not figure out how you will get home. Someone who is drunk offers a ride home. Just stop for a second or perhaps a minute. 

The hard part is when you realize a crisis is upon you instead of screaming or running, stop. Just pause. The extra half second that the situation gets worse while you stand there will probably be made up when you make a better decision about how to deal with the problem.

To recap, stop, you are still okay, (time to work the problem).

Monday, December 10, 2012

I Live in Iowa: Week 85

Another week living the dream, or something like it. But seriously, I have the best life in the world. No really, I hope you think your life is the best in the world, but I like mine better. Okay enough feeding the ego.

Work was fun. I didn't work as many hours as I usually do maybe only 42 and some of that was spent on the start of Christmas festivities. However, I did finish four project reports this week. In context, I probably write reports for 70-80% of the the projects that I work on and probably file 20-25 reports per year. In other words, while the time spent fixing Jacobians and projecting nodes to surfaces was below average, I am getting somewhat more efficient and getting more done faster. Since I have been doing finite element structural analysis for about two years plus a year in graduate school on the heat treating FEA side, I am getting quite a bit better at what I do. I have probably around 5000 hours of experience doing finite element analysis. Personally, I feel either you learn how to do whatever you do better, or you don't, and I like to imagine I am a learner.

Coaching went well. That is a large part of why I didn't work as many hours. This was our last week of official practice until January and I wanted to contribute as much positivity and desire to train over break as I could. For the next three and a half weeks I can't look any of the runners in the face and tell them what to do. This is their Rocky IV, Russian winter, out on their own mostly alone. I've been through this cycle enough to know that not all of them will train over break, but a few will. That's the exciting part. A few of them want it. Whatever "it" is the point being some of them are developing "the will to win."

My own running went very nicely. I ran 72 miles including two four mile tempos (in 22:40 and 23:53), a short hill workout, a short interval 800 meter pace workout, a 1 mile race (in 4:39) and anchoring a 4x400 meter relay. Dwelling on the mile for a bit, I had a great race! It felt very aerobic for me, which is to say I did not feel the lactic acid burn until the last 200 meters, which I ran in 32.5 seconds. It was also funny because I had mentioned that in indoor it is often necessary to get out hard the first 30 meters because of the tight turns, so some people took my advice and I was in 7th place after 50 meters even though I thought I took it out hard. We flew through 209 meters in 36, which is about 4:30 pace. Anyway, I moved up through the pack and led the last 600 meters in 1:41 to take the win. The 4x4 was a lot of fun! My team was in the lead by 15 meters so I got out moderately paced, scared to put myself in an anaerobic hole the first lap, and thus was passed after 175 meters. Then I had to work awfully hard to pass fellow distance runner J in a classic 4x4 battle in the final 150 meters and maintain the lead as a different J nearly caught up to me. I split 1:00.9, the two guys that I raced split 56 and 58. So our team won in 3:57 and the other two teams were really close in 3:58. I had a great time Saturday morning!

On the social side a very interesting week. I have a friend, who is rapidly becoming quite a close friend, that had an emotionally difficult week due to an event brought about by an unanticipated situation. Thus is life right? Just when everything is going well you break you leg, lose your job, your transmission breaks, and your friends quit talking to you. Basically a standard week that happens to a different someone or another every week. However, this brings up such an interesting question, why me? I don't mean, why do bad things happen to me? The answer to that question is that I have many transgressions and I deserve my problems. The question is, how do I (in this case I mean me, Isaiah Janzen but you might ask yourself this) contribute to a positive outcome and a positive relationship from this experience? I also mean, of all the people that might be privileged to participate in such a relationship or experience what set me apart for this opportunity? Those last two questions could really be asked for more than just comforting a friend, they apply to my role in Indonesia, my daily engineering role, my coaching, or even this blog. Regardless, I tried to get the "why me?" question answered this past week because as I mentioned at the beginning, I have the best life in the world and I feel it is worth trying to find out what traits or attributes I might have that leave me so fortunate.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

A is Dying

A is dying. She has pancreatic cancer. When they found the cancer in September it had already infected two or three of her organs including her liver. She will not be as fortunate as Steve Jobs to survive so long after the diagnosis. This is the second person I know personally to have pancreatic cancer. The first, and I will share her name because she is dead, Janice, learned of her cancer in 2010 and died last year.

When I found out, this morning, I shed some tears. I barely know A. You could wrap up our relationship developed over the last year and a half into less than a 30 minute conversation. Yet I remember some of the comments she has made were simply incredible. As I looked around the room watching the others of our group that were no doubt aware of her situation, I was distraught. She will probably die in 2013. Her and her husband made the decision not to fight the cancer. She is not young, probably in her 80s or at least 70s.

Death reinforces how severely limited our earthly lives are. She will not make great comments for the next decade. She will not be there to smile and say, "Good morning Isaiah". She will not be there to exude the intellectual, sophisticated and extremely educated aura that she backs up so well with her words and actions. This is hard because she is not a silent bystander but a vocal contributor.

There is a lot of comfort to be had in this situation, just as there was with Janice. A's faith in God seems exemplary to me. Our shared beliefs provide me the comfort I need to know that whatever happens is for the best. Yet that only slightly diminishes the fear of loss.

Everyone dies. It can be postponed but not prevented. In a way she is very fortunate to have an idea of how her final days on earth will progress. From the perspective of a naive 26 year old, cancer might not be a terrible way to go. It provides a chance to wrap up the loose ends. A way to say, "what an adventure," without the trauma of bleeding to death on the side of the road. A chance to say, "it's your turn now, kid."

The last time I saw my grandma was about 18 hours before she died. It is the best reason that has ever caused me to miss work. In part, we cry for ourselves. That we are left here with the pain and suffering and one less person to help us navigate the treacherous waters.

To quote the best movie ever, Red (narrating and played by Morgan Freeman) says, "Sometimes it makes me sad, though... Andy being gone. I have to remind myself that some birds aren't meant to be caged. Their feathers are just too bright. And when they fly away, the part of you that knows it was a sin to lock them up DOES rejoice. But still, the place you live in is that much more drab and empty that they're gone. I guess I just miss my friend."

Friday, December 7, 2012

How Not to Freak Out 201: This Activity Will Change Your Chance of Dying

As you stumble out of the house party with your two drunk friends and your friend gets in the driver’s seat to drive you home in his ten year old semi-sports car, hopefully you realize this is a bad idea. When your drunk friend wants to see how fast he can drive down main street, because it’s 2 AM and no one is around, hopefully you realize this is bad idea #2. When you wake up a few days later in the hospital and can’t move your legs (if you still have them) and your family is around you crying and your friend is dead, don’t worry about it. You have the rest of your life to regret the decisions you made that night.

That is hypothetical, although it has probably happened. Everything from running on the sidewalk versus running on the street to buckling your seatbelt to smoking a cigarette to packing your parachute influence the chance that the activity you are about to engage in will result in serious injury or death or just a close call you walk away from and forget tomorrow. 

Risk management happens in milliseconds all the time every day, at least in my head. In fact, I feel I am pretty good at risk management. I was shown the risk management chart early in high school and thought about it a number of times since then.
The Risk Management Square
For example, a low risk low severity activity would be walking the dog on a leash on a sidewalk that you walk every day, low chance of a safety incident, chances are nothing would be worse than a twisted ankle and you could probably still walk home. A low risk high severity activity would be walking across a knife edge ridge with a 1000 meter drop on either side unroped. You are just walking, noting will probably happen, but if you do fall, you will probably die. A high risk low severity activity would be skateboarding or perhaps snowboarding, maybe even football. Chances are you will get injured, but it probably won't be too bad. On the high risk high severity hand are presidents, astronauts and ordinance disposal activities, and Russian roulette. Leaving people assassinated and blown up for decades. 

You do not have to whip this chart out and try to figure out where getting into the car with a drunk driver stands or the risk of going to Indonesia, but thinking about the possible consequences as well as the probability of those consequences will help you develop your acceptable risks. In other words, ask these two questions:
  1. What could go wrong in this activity?
  2. How likely are those things to happen?
Now, the hard part is thinking about the risk before you engage in an activity. Before people go out drinking alcohol for the night, how much time is spent organizing safe transportation? Before you put your car in drive or reverse do you put your seatbelt on and check your mirrors? Before you step off the sidewalk while running into traffic do you check behind you?

As an example, before going to Indonesia I did a little research. The major risks seemed to be militant violence, isolated toward the north of Sumatra, tigers, which are in decline, and sicknesses from the food, which did affect me a little. The first two had a very low risk of occurring, but would have been very severe had either one happened to me. The sickness had a moderate to high risk of occurring, but was not very serious. Those were, and are, risks I am ready to accept. 

Similarly when I went to Pakistan I put the chances I was involved in an incident with militants or the Taliban at 0.0X% but the chances I was involved in an accident on the mountain at Y%. As for things above my risk tolerance, Annapurna with a risk percentage in the double digit (AB%) range and Russian Roulette with a 16.7% chance of killing myself, per round, are things I do not intend to do. Of course, on occasion there are activities for which the risk is unknown. When Chuck Yeager broke the speed of sound for the first time people thought he might not survive it. Given activities with unknown risk chances, I would probably take the opportunity. That is me in a nutshell. Not everyone has the same risk tolerance. I don't see myself as a high risk taker, but I certainly do things that have deadly serious consequences.

My goal for this lesson in this series is to help you can make decisions ahead of time in a safe and level place about possible outcomes, often dying or simply life changing, so that when the moment comes that you are presented with the negative consequence of your actions you have mentally prepared for the possibility of those actions. 

To recap, your actions can have consequences. By simply taking the time to think about the possible consequences and likelihood of those consequences you can make better decisions. 

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Decline of Cable

I read this article about the decline of cable. Similarly on Saturday I was in a group of four, three engineers and one nonengineer, all ages 23-30. The only person with cable was the nonengineer, who probably makes less than half of what the rest of us make.

A few reminders why I went cable and Internet free when I moved to Dubuque:

  • $45 a month for a two year contract or $55 a month for a one year contract just for Internet
  • Bundled cable and Internet was around $90 a month. 
  • For $90 a month I can go out for tea ($3-4) ten times a month and coffee (lattes $3-5) fifteen times a month. 
  • At the coffee shops I can watch the Olympics or The Walking Dead or whatever else I might like.
  • It's more social to go out than stay in alone. Yes, I do meet people.
  • I take walks around town and read books quite often instead of sitting and watching something like I would if I had a subscription.
What will the future be like? Something like iTunes, with series, but still commercials, probably fewer. More of a pay for exactly what you watch sort of thing. The advertisements will be based on similar shows because the ability to just turn on the TV and watch a random show you have never heard about before will probably not happen nearly as much as it does today. That's bad news for networks. The good news is you will get what you pay for instead of having to pay for things you don't want.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

2016 Olympic Marathon Trials Standards

They released the standards today. The expenses paid weekend will be 2:15:00 or better for the men and 2:37:00 or better for the women. It will take 2:18:00 or 2:43:00 in the marathon or 1:05:00 or 1:15:00 in the half just to get entry.

That's 5:15.7 per mile. About two and a half seconds per mile faster than it was in 2012 and around ten seconds a mile faster than in 2007.

What can I say? The goal is running at the trials. Thus, 5:15 just became my new favorite pace. At least it's easier to calculate around than 5:18. So 95% is about 5:30, 90% is about 5:46, 85% 6:02, 80% 6:18, and 105% 5:00, no, let's say 4:59. Those will all be key paces I try to put hundreds of miles in at during the next four years.

Would I prefer an easier standard? It doesn't really matter does it? The standard is the standard. It would be nice to feel that my yearly dues go toward my entry in a race once in my life. But that is me grappling with the reality of the task ahead.

Can I run a 2:17:XX or better? Yes. Am I willing to do what it takes to run that? I am not sure. To be honest, there will be a lot of failure along this experience. Do I have to make major life changes to run that kind of race? I don't know, possibly. We will find out. This will be interesting.


Monday, December 3, 2012

How Not to Freak Out 101: You Will Die

I was in a situation recently, maybe it was in Indonesia or maybe it was in Milwaukee or both, when I was totally relaxed in a situation where another was not. It must have been in a vehicle. Then I thought about some of the more hair raising situations in my life and how I handled them really well. Examples such as sitting in the back seat as we went the wrong way down a one way street, being really far away from my last piece of rock climbing protection, driving down an unknown road in the dark, immediately after a 40 foot rock climbing fall, at a checkpoint with armed soldiers, and those are just the ones big enough to stand out in a minute of thinking. While I do stress myself out more often that I would like, when push really comes to shove in terms of physical safety I do not struggle nearly as much as most. Thus, in four parts I will try to give some advice on how not to freak out. A good example is the 6600 meters video from Pakistan, I cheered (at 3:10) how, "hardcore" it looked as the wind and snow blew while I was sitting there. I watch it now and think, ‘that was not the most safe place to be.’ That being said, it wasn't that dangerous at the time. I would not even call that day a close call. By the way, the mountain sitting on my right, that is K2 the second highest mountain in the world.

First the question, what things make people freak out? Things that make people scared. A stranger who follows you down a dark alley, riding along as the driver drives 90 mph while texting, a remote checkpoint with guards carrying assault rifles, are all examples where in your head you might be freaking out. Unfortunately, panic leads to poor decisions, like a passenger yanking the wheel as you fly along at 90 mph or doing something impulsive or aggressive at a checkpoint. That brings us to lesson 101: You Will Die.

Today, now, if you have not already, realize and really understand that you will die. It may be in 80 years or it may be sooner. You will die. At some point your presence on Earth will no longer exist. One day you will be alive, the next you will be dead. There is approximately a 1 in 365 chance that today is the pre-anniversary of your death. Same for tomorrow or yesterday or any day of the year. There is a 2% chance that this week will have the pre-anniversay of your death. 

When death happens your car, your house, your smart phone, lunch yesterday, your wine collection, and all of the other physical stuff is lost to you. That’s it. You saved for two years to buy that car and then paid payments on it for five years? Great, but now you’re dead so it doesn’t matter.

You will die. In the face of death everything else falls away. This, I feel, is a good attitude to bring to life all the time. I do not have cable or a game system for that reason. When I die, even though I enjoy playing video games, I do not want to think, ‘man, I really rocked level 17 in...’ Obviously I still waste a lot of time watching reruns or pursuing activities that lead to nothing positive, but I think that gets a little better every year, and I do think about contributing instead of continuously consuming.

Once you realize that you will die, you realize that one of the few measurable ways to consider death is based on the time you have left. How much time you have is a mystery. You could die crossing the street today or in 80 years in a rest home after a prolonged battle with all sorts of ailments. The idea is that you do not have control over when you die, assuming you would like to see how much life you can live. You don’t control how long you live. You can influence how long you live by exercising, eating well, not smoking, and otherwise living a healthy lifestyle. But ultimately you do not control when you die. Even people that try to commit suicide often get it wrong.

Once you realize that you do not have control over when you die, the world opens up. You do not have to fear death, or at least if you a Christian you don’t have to. Death will happen sooner or later when it is right, not when it is convenient for you. Why let the fear of death control you?

To recap, the first lesson, you will die and you do not have control over when it will happen. The education and understanding from this step occurs today, before you close this window.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

I Live in Iowa: Week 84

Boy oh boy. I have been gushing thankfulness for my wealth recently, and it will probably continue to explode over the next month. Why? In the next month my net worth will probably swing from negative to positive for the first time since 2005. Lest I just talk about money, I feel money is a symptom of wealth not the definition of wealth. Other articles to be posted on that in the future.

I worked at work a full five days. I was not particularly productive this week. Sometimes my job engineering involves clerical or administrative work and I don't get to do the standard work that I might normally do. With my recent upgrade to Windows 7 and my desk changing locations and lingering projects from Indonesia I spent time emailing and downloading software nearly as much as I spent time solving structural problems. Thus is life.

On a related note, I sent a couple of emails this week at work where I expressed emotion. This is unusual because engineering is a rather factual, unemotional discipline. To be more specific, a few months ago when I articulated that I cared it changed my outlook on the projects I am involved in. In other words, sometimes, perhaps often, in engineering we determine that something is good enough. Well, "good enough" is often a matter of opinion. If everyone agrees, it is good enough, but when not everyone agrees that it is good enough the product suffers, at least in someone's opinion. So I expressed concern, written in emails. It reminds my of the financial emails they are always reading on the news about brokers selling bad investments. Obviously it is not like that at all. It is rather like producing B work versus A work, although to be business honest about it, B work costs $X and A work costs $10X. Anyway, it's interesting. I am learning both about the economic realities of business and my personal quality values. I will say, customers, your voice carries weight.

Running was interesting to say the least. Sunday I ran 12 miles with three Loras alumni at a modest 6:43 pace, which given my relative low state of fitness, was a task. I did not run Monday, trespassed on private property in a five mile run Tuesday, and took Wednesday off as well. The private property incident, unintentional, won't happen again. Don't worry too much I was not shot at or sent to jail. I had a massage Wednesday night and as often happens my body rebounds after such an event and by Saturday I doubled for more than 23 miles on the day. So I ran 60 miles this week, in five days of running, and I am probably going to be injured again.

Coaching was a mixed bag. I had some very nice runs and good conversations. The season, and years ahead, looks to be just fantastic! Yet the wisdom and relationships of a few force me to really wonder about the future stability of a number of individuals. These situations are so foreign to me that I have no idea what to make of them. Perhaps these things are normal? I do not know. Regardless, I am committed to the development of these individuals because once again, I care. Perhaps these issues are simply standard faire in the realm of working with young people.

Interestingly enough, November was the first month ever in the 46 months this blog has existed that I did not experience year over year growth in pageviews or visits. I seem to be leveling out in the 50-60 visits and 70-90 pageviews per day range. However, I see that as a temporary dip as I continue to develop my platform. Additionally, I have not been doing much publicity recently, and that is usually good for hundreds of hits.

Janzen Gear Hangboards are for sale!

My social life deserves a mention. I might as well be a counselor or therapist. At every turn in my life I am blessed. My life is very simple. My baggage, while heavy and regrettable, fits in one carry-on. That needs to be clarified. My sins are extremely significant and destructive.  The enormity of my transgressions is unmeasurable. Still my blessings have an abundance I can not fathom. To hear of the struggles of my friends and acquaintances intrigues and astounds me. Of the several issues that came up for the first time to me in the last week, I can not mention a single one because each one is so unique that it would be immediately obvious to several people which incident was about which person. That is another idea, are these issues unique or am I just naive? The world is a scary place.

I am here to hear. However, one of these days I will die, probably sooner rather than later in the grand scheme of things, and I will not be here any more. An article on death, and the beginning of a new mini-series tomorrow. In the meantime, how can I help?

Thank you for reading! It is always a huge compliment, that I will try to deny in person, when someone says, "I read your blog." I am so blessed. I hope that this blog is one small way that I can share the abundance and experience of my life with others.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Post Adventure Travel Let Down

It happens. Returning from an exciting, different place leaves one feeling that everything else is not very interesting. Sitting at my desk... I've done that. Drive to work along the same route I have driven for the last 19 months... I've been there. Look at little squares and the same eight colors on the computer screen...

I had this after Pakistan. That was worse. I went to Colorado for a week and did things I had never done before. Run at elevations previously breath taking. Go on a 15 hour hike and climb and not feel terrible. Curl up on the floor of my parents van as we drove. (I wear my seatbelt so often it is extremely rare for me not to wear it.) Really the whole five months of 2009 after I returned I was pretty affected. Cristina died and I did not.

My sister told me, " are addicted to travel."

I had, and still have, no good response. Am I addicted to travel? I don't know, probably.

Perhaps it is not travel per se that I am addicted to but rather new experiences. Again, I say that but then I think about something like running, I have been doing it seriously for quite a few years. Somehow it does not really get boring in the same way that driving to work gets boring.

Traveling, specifically to a less developed place is exciting. The language is different. The food is different. The people have great perspectives on the world. Most I have talked with understand the global community context better than most Americans. Our problem is that you do not need to understand other countries to exist and succeed in this country. The people are interested in what I have to say, wether that is because I am an American or they perceive me to be rich, which in the context of the world I am, I do not know. The weather is often a little different. The terrain is different. The animals are different. There is often the fear of a bombing or something, and fear is strangely exciting.

In contrast, the United States is easy to travel around. Having spent over 100,000 miles out on the roads in one manner or another I have yet to come across a check point in this country where I have to sign my name or have my identification checked. We don't have many bombings. Everyone speaks the same language.

The post adventure travel let down is no fun. Those chores that may have seemed dull before, no longer  just seem dull because you know they are dull. In a strange land time seems so important, the goal so majestic, the adventure so nobel. Back in the routine feels... routine.

Lest this be a negative, quit-my-job-to-bicycle-Vietnam sort of post, the feeling does go away. With time the depression of being back in the routine goes away and the importance of what was learned is diminished. But the memories do not disappear. Adventure still remains. Poverty still remains. The challenges still remain. For these reasons I will return. Perhaps to a different place. Until the job is done and my work, whatever that might be, is finished, I will not stop.

You should come sometime. I won't promise that you like it. In fact, you will probably hate it... and get diarrhea. But I guarantee it will change your life.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Do You Create Problems or Solve Them?

Just the fact that I am the one writing this and publishing it makes the topic almost irrelevant. In other words, the vast majority of people reading this are problems solvers.

I work with a number of skilled and experienced people. Every person has something to contribute and make the product better. However, sometimes, some people seem to simply point out problems. There is value in identifying problems. Identifying the next problem is a good thing. I spend plenty of time identifying problems. Just ask my sister, she probably thinks I only have negative comments for people.

However, when it comes to work, business, and really relationships, I like resolutions, positivity and developing deeper connections. It amazes me how little math and science go into engineering sometimes. I really thought I would get to do more math in engineering. Regardless, engineering = problem solving.

Where do you see yourself? How do you hope others see you? Are you valuable to your organization because you find problems or because you fix them?

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Secrets to the Asian Equipment Markets

I listen to people talk about themselves or others not understanding the China market or the India market or Indonesian market in terms of selling a product that is desirable. In fact, this is a multibillion dollar issue. Well, no one ever asks my advice, and given the people that typically proffer these questions have more years of experience in the office and get paid more than I, I don't feel it is my place to offer a suggestion. Plus, billions of people live in Asia, they must have a better perspective on what Asia wants than I. However, this is my blog, and you are at the mercy of my writing, so I'm going to tell you about Asia. I think my perspective will actually be very accurate, but to be honest I could be totally completely wrong. So how does one win in Asia?
  1. Price matters, more than you imagined. 
    1. Try buying a car in the United States. The salesman will talk to you about Bluetooth, radio, speakers, traction control, acceleration, heating, air conditioning, colors, comfortable seats, lighting options, and then he will get to the optional features where you can spend more money. All of that is ridiculous. Air conditioning? I hope you aren't serious. Charles Lindberg flew across the Atlantic in an uncomfortable wicker seat instead of nice and heavy leather. In other words, an excavator digs holes and lifts stuff, a loader carries stuff, neither is a machine designed for comfort.
    2. Secondly, the way that we build things is expensive. Our labor is expensive. Roughly 8-10 times as expensive. Our designs are expensive. Our materials are expensive, because of their quality. How many engineers does it take to design a new machine? Somewhere between 20 and 100, and they aren't cheap.
    3. Everyone in the US supply chain has to make an American sized profit of what 5-70%? In Asia, a 0.5% profit margin is making a profit. With three billion people economies of scale work really well.
  2. Reliability is about the stuff that takes more than three people, basic welding, or simple lifting to fix. Dented fenders or sheet metal, cracked windows, rusted bolts, a terrible pain job, leaky fluids, squeaky joints, no exhaust filtering, moderate cracks like a cracked bucket, and other problematic issues in the US are not problems in most of these places. In fact these other countries are similar to what a typical farmer might have access to on his farm. The ability to weld a crack or ignoring a cracked window or taking safety gear off the machine are all standard procedure. However, an engine problem, a cracked frame, or other issue that requires serious skills to replace, that is unacceptable. In short, make sure the critical stuff will last, ignore the other stuff.
  3. Relationships matter more than the transactions. This is probably changing in the US with the Facebook generation, but it is especially true in Asia. For example, in Pakistan I had tea with a Pakistani at his climbing shop for 30-40 minute and afterward I bought an ice axe for 1/3 of what it would cost in the US. No employee at REI would sit with me and talk for over half an hour while we sipped tea just for me to buy a $38 item. I don't expect them too, but in Asia, the relationship happens before the transaction, not because of the transaction. Three Cups of Tea is the perfect example of this idea. If it took 30 minutes and tea to get me to spend nearly $40, how much more is required to sell a $200k piece of equipment? The other aspect of the relationship is the unspoken question, 'will you be here in ten years when I have a difficulty?' That is the problem the US withdraw from Afghanistan is up against now. Do we really care about making it better? It will take a generation or more. There is plenty of blame to go around, not just big US companies or countries but the indigenous people as well. In short, relationships matter more in Asia than in the Americas and relationships take time to develop.
That in a nutshell is the key to the Asian markets. Can you compete on price to the point of selling at a loss for years so that over decades you can make your profits? Can you make sure that the right stuff breaks and the right stuff does not break? Will you take the time to develop the relationships?

Sunday, November 25, 2012

I Live in Iowa: Week 83

I had a really great week! I am so blessed. Taking a couple hours to write down 100 things I am thankful for helped reinforce that. Obviously the highlight of the week was spending two long days with my parents and my sister. Our family is just amazing! Where to start? We are really supportive of each other. When others tells me I am too crazy, my family understands and accepts me. Of course we are great on paper too. At least six different college degrees between the four of us, capabilities in at least four languages, way more income than four people need (but nowhere near the richest 1% in this country), a diversity of experiences and careers that help each of us better understand others, and a lot of love. 

I worked three days this week. It was funny I left work around 3:30 PM Wednesday and at least 80% of the office was gone, maybe 90%. Yet, in our little group, I was the first to leave. I am getting rather proficient at what I do. I am finishing projects in hours that took days, more than a week really, 18 months ago. It is exciting. It is nice to get good at something so that I can produce results timely and effectively. 

Janzen Gear Hangboards are for sale! This is great! This is big for me because it represents yet another thing that I started and finished. Sometimes I dwell on the failures, like the ice axe, more than the successes. In fact, I am so excited to have a stack of cut boards sitting in my apartment, that even if no one buys one (unlikely) I still have one set up that I can use. It is all a process: design, production, marketing, sales, shipping. I have learned so much about business from the more or less failed money sink that is Janzen Gear that when Janzen Automotive or Janzen Aerospace or whatever my next endeavor is starts I will have a much better idea what I am doing. Alternatively, maybe I will be a 40 year company man with my present employer, at some point along the way I suppose this entrepreneurial side of me might matter.

Running, I had a great week. I had several runs that ended with me running low 6 minute miles. I also significantly upped my mileage to a whopping 72 miles. That is 31 more miles that last week. A huge increase. An asking-for-an-injury size increase. I know this and am spending the time rehabilitating and prehabilitating myself to avoid an injury. 

My family went to see Skyfall the new James Bond movie and it is good! SPOILER ALERT!! They brought back, or kept, a few of the old classic elements, like the Walther PPK, a radio, Aston Martin, the ejection seat, shaken not stirred, and a few other things (I won't tell you everything), including a person or two that set the stage for at least a decade of really good Bond movies. Personally, all of the plots recently have been somewhat realistic, and I would kind of like to see a moon base, nuclear weapons, or maybe a plausible plot of a global corn and rice crop disease. Anyway, the movie is good.

On Saturday I went to a wedding. I am very excited and happy for the newlyweds! Strangely I do have mixed emotions from my observations and I am not sure what to make of it all. Not negative at all, but they look so young! I am sure I will write more in the coming days and weeks.

I uploaded a few videos to my YouTube channel. Here is one of classic American consumerism. I have mixed emotions watching this. I have mixed emotions because I was there. 

Saturday, November 24, 2012

You Don't Understand Poverty

I am generalizing based on the Americans that I know, but I don't understand poverty either. I was laying on the couch as one of my parents read my blog and asked what I meant by an enclosed house (#74).  I mean the houses we live in are so luxurious in this country. When we lived in Oklahoma we had a chicken coop in the back yard for a couple of years. It had standard wood slats wall construction and a corrugated sheet metal roof. That is exactly the type of house that probably a billion or more people live in throughout the world. No one in the undeveloped world drives down to Lowe's or Home Depot to pick up sheet rock or more insulation. This picture of a slum in Jakarta, Indonesia is an extreme example, but it's real. People live there. The Wikipedia page for Poverty is a good one. Lots of pictures and numbers.

Poverty is a strange phenomenon. The worse it gets the more irrational people become. Few suicide bombers come from middle class families. What does make a difference in the war on poverty? Education seems to be the one thing that makes the biggest difference. Of course, it takes two or three decades for an education system to really make a dent.

An education teaches people to wash their hands to avoid getting sick. An education teaches people how to read so they can be informed about whatever is relevant to them. An education opens up economic opportunities that shut the door on poverty. A farmer that learns about crop rotation, irrigation, and erosion stands to be more productive and successful than one that does not have an education about such things. A business person that understands math well enough to manage a loan and balance the sales and expenses will be able to measure profit and thus likely have more success. People are more likely to invest in a person with more education and jump start one little part of that economy.

I hope that my international travels can help convey an idea of what these other countries are like. I hope that in some way I can help improve communication across international boarders and provide some education to create wealth for others. I have so much. I am so blessed. I hope that I don't forget that or take that for granted.