Thursday, May 31, 2012

A History for Memorial Day

Monday morning I started Memorial Day at my grandma's house eating breakfast. First some backstory, my grandpa, who died in 1990 was a Navy veteran during World War Two. He was, as I am informed, a welder on the airplanes on the second Yorktown, CV-10 I believe. He was also one of the deck gunners. He had a number of friends die during the war and from what I understand was not particularly fond of the Japanese the remainder of his life. We never discussed it because I was four when he died.

Anyway, my grandma remarried her high school sweet heart, whose wife had died of cancer, several years later. During the course of his career he worked with a Japanese-American architect, who happened to visit this past weekend while my sister and I were there. During the very brief time that I spent with the Architect and his wife it was very enlightening. The architect's wife was born in Japan, her mother died when she was an infant and she was sent to the US to live with her grandparents in California. Then the war broke out and she had to live in an internment camp in Arkansas. This combines with the one Holocaust survivor that I met in the same town last summer to remind me of what has happened even recently in history. I am not sure if the architect lived in an internment camp as well, but the message that I received just knowing one person conveyed the message I was interested to hear.

We do not need to learn history to innovate or produce goods and services, but we must learn history so that we do not repeat the mistakes of our past. There is significant value in knowing the past mistakes. That is why experienced people get paid more. These lessons are so valuable! We must remember! More importantly than simply remembering we must also learn from our previous ordeals and do the right thing in the present and in the future. Hopefully the sacrifice of a few can be the lesson for the many.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

I Live in Iowa: Week 58

A busy week it was! I spent much of the week in Davenport, one of the Quad Cities, at a welding connections design seminar. It was very educational. For the last year I had been of the conclusion that the increased stress concentration factor combined with the heat affected zone surrounding a weld which decreases the material properties were the two factors which combined to fail structures at welds. Well, that is often the case, but not always. Welds can crack during manufacturing when the weld material is high in carbon or silicon. Welds can also  crack if the angle between the two plates is very small, because the sides of the weld on the steel will cool too quickly and the weld material will cool away from the middle. That kind of crack you might not even be able to see from the surface. There were a number of other things that we learned from weld sizing to bridge design and distortion accommodation.

In total it was another 53 hour week at work. Overtime is bittersweet. I get paid more and I get a lot done, but I spend a whole lot of time sitting in front of a light bulb. It's funny, in college I would be impressed with myself when I put in a four hour study or homework session at a desk. Then I would do something else for an hour or so. Now, I put in more than twice that every week day.

There was no coaching this week, except some schedule planning. My own running went well, 60 miles. I was aiming for 70-75, but I was a little more tired than I anticipated on Friday and Saturday. I was planning for a 50-75-100 mile three week mileage build up. Now it will probably be 50-60-100.

Ending the week my sister came down from Milwaukee and we drove up to our relatives in Minnesota. It was a nice weekend seeing the family. I didn't get to sleep until midnight Friday, despite pulling into town around 9:30. Everyone likes to talk, myself certainly included. Saturday I tried to go help out in the Greenhouse after breakfast, but after about two hours of that I was done. Saturday afternoon was a daze of war movies in my grandma's dimly lit basement. I rarely have five uninterrupted hours of laziness, it was glorious, and strangely agonizing as I felt useless. The night ended with steak and an action movie. Good stuff.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Thank You for Reading

I have been more busy than usual interacting with people, working and running the last week or so. I have more fuel for the blog but it could be a few days before I get it written. Thanks for reading!

Friday, May 25, 2012

Quarterly Financial Results

Hewlett-Packard is laying off 27,000 people. They are doing this because their revenue and profits are down. This is coming up now because their most recent quarterly results were released recently. One requirement for publicly traded companies is that they have to report their results four times per year. Every time they report results the owners (stock holders) will hope that the company makes a little bit more money than they did at the same time last year. If the company is not doing well the investors will request action. If a lack of performance continues the investors will demand action. In part this happens by the share price dropping as people sell their shares, in other words, a measure of the value of a company decreases.

While this strikes me as somewhat successful system of establishing value, it also strikes me as an incomplete picture of the health of a company. Employees work on projects from the daily duties to the multiyear projects with value not actually generated through sales until years later. As I am one of those who typically works on projects years before value is typically realized it troubles me to hear about a company responding to poor quarterly results through massive layoffs. It is yet another reminder how fragile our personal "stability" really is.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

I Have My Health

There have been a number of articles recently on NPR and in the Wall Street Journal about health problems. However you look at it, health problems are a hassle. Sometime I forget how fortunate I am to have such incredible health. Millions of people are suffering or burdened under huge medical bills yet I have a health budget surplus. It seems there are more health problems and more afflicted people than there were twenty years ago. I tend to get bogged down in the problems in my life instead of focusing on the positive attributes. Thus, I have my health!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

I Live in Iowa: Week 57

Sometimes I ask myself, 'am I living "the life"'? After going down a hill earlier today on my bicycle at least 43.6 mph with my hands off the handle bars screaming, I do feel that I am living "the life". While that is simply one little three second burst of excitement in my life, it is indicative of everything else. For the record, from a conservation of momentum physics perspective bicycles and motorcycles become more stable theoretically at high speeds. The only problems are small perturbations which may cause excitement of a natural frequency, an imperfection in the road surface, cars, pedestrians, wind, animals, and loss of personal balance. So... it felt right at the time...

Anyway, I worked 53 hours this week. We have quite a lot of work to do and overtime is offered so I took it and worked extra hours. I finished more projects than I normally do, but let me tell you, sitting in front of a computer over 50 hours a week is not entirely fun. On the other hand, my time and a half rate does feel ridiculous.

Coaching was an anticlimactic end to the season. We had one very motivated person who was going to close out the season with a 10,000 on the track, but due to family commitments did not run the race. So that's it. The season is over. Our team has two people going to nationals, one in the 100 and 200 and another in the 400. I am excited for both of them because they are both multiple time school record holders and our only two seniors this year. What a great way to end  your college career.

My own training, went well, really well. I ran 50 miles taking a day off. I rode with the Wednesday night Free Flight group and we hammered on each other for 35-40 miles at an average of 19.6 mph. It's going to be a good summer. I registered for the Gary Bjorklund Half Marathon up in Duluth, Minnesota and the Grandview Gallop here in Dubuque. Of note, I was not fast enough to get into the USATF Half Marathon National Championships, so I am in the actual Gary Bjorklund Half. Plus they have no prize purse for the half this year because it is going to the national championship race. This all means, I am probably one of the fastest people in the half. Which means, I could win the thing. Me? Win the Gary Bjorklund Half Marathon? For those that do not know, it's one of the biggest half marathons in the country.

What else? Does there need to be more? Isn't that enough? There is one more thing, I bought the DVDs "From the Earth to the Moon". It's pretty amazing, we went to the Moon!

Also, the company I invested in back in February, DHT Holdings, has had their stock price drop to the floor. I don't get it. They have more in cash than their market capitalization. Their book value is about five times their market cap. Their most recent quarter had earning per share of $.10 (meaning they are profitable) with a $.02 dividend. That's a Price to Earnings of less than two! That's a dividend of 13%. So I invested even more money in it. Of course there is probably something I am missing and I will lose weeks of pay. The only reason I can figure out people are selling at these record low prices is that they are afraid it will lose more value. In other words, when everyone else is selling, it must be a good time to sell. That's ridiculous. It is bewildering. As time progresses I am sure that I will learn some valuable lesson. Hopefully it is not some key variable I am missing now.

Friday, May 18, 2012

The Facebook IPO is Today

Facebook is going public. That means that you can own part of Facebook. Pretty cool huh? Well, it's not all good. In any start up company venture capital and angel investors (both are groups of rich people) only invest when they feel that the company will go up greatly in value and have an exit strategy. Going public through an IPO means the largest investors in the company are typically selling some of their shares in the company to get more money. In other words, the most informed investors about a particular company are selling their stock.

That is not strictly true for Facebook. When a company has over 500 shareholders they have to release their financials because the SEC mandates it. Facebook passed that threshold and since they will have to publish their financials anyway, they might as well make $18 billion off of it through an IPO.

Finally, as a value investor one of the metrics I look at is Price to Earning Ratio. That is the price that you pay compared to the profits of the company on a yearly basis. P/E below 5 is typically a great value. P/E below 10 is still a bargain. A P/E of about 12 is the 300 year average valuation of the largest companies. Facebook's P/E will be over 100 today. It could go up to 150 or even 200 today. That's not ridiculous, if you feel that Facebook will make ten or twenty times as much money in the coming years than it does now. However, Facebook is already not what it used to be. It is trying to be a one stop entertainment (and recently, shopping) stop. It was cool because it connected people. At the beginning it was even more cool because you had to have a .edu email address. Now anyone can get in, they reduce their privacy policy every eight months or so, they are trying to sell stuff, and they are getting into the games arena. It's just not what it used to be.

That being said, I'm still thinking about buying some. I do hope that Twitter doesn't follow in Facebook's steps. Twitter is cool because it is simple. It is actually my prefered social media at the moment.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

A Failed Doctor

Five years ago I spent two months with two friends in Costa Rica. The lessons from that trip I am still working on understanding. Among them, my friend's dad was (probably still is) a doctor. He was a doctor in the military for some time then went into private practice for himself. However, as many small businesses do, his practice failed.

I was astonished that a doctor could fail. That was still back in the day when I thought doctors were superhuman. I also thought that since medical doctors made so much money that even a doctor who was poor at business would still make a good living. When I asked my friend why his dad went out of business, and inevitably to work for someone else, the answer was that he tried to help too many people. I suppose that refers to pro-bono (free) services that he provided.

That story has stayed with me. It is the epitome of charity. A doctor who tries to help so many people that he can't afford his own family. There are several lessons in that, when you excel or desire to do something, there are often other necessary skills to make that possible that you do not have. If you did not already know, doctors are as capable of failure as the rest of us. Even though one can be really good at one's business, that does not mean one is good at business. Finally, everything worked out for the doctor and the family even after the business failed. The paths that each of our lives takes are not strait lines, yet him and his family, my family, many of my friends, and I are very blessed along the way in a multitude of different circumstances.

Monday, May 14, 2012

I Live in Iowa: Week 56

This will be short. I just wrote I Have So Much!! and that is clearly more exciting than my weekly update on life.

Work was good this week. It is as always a learning experience. I made progress on my projects, I collaborated well, and I had a couple good conversations. It is progress and development. There is something I am wrestling with right now, in my own head, which I see as having only positive outcomes, but which is not completely organized yet, so I won't talk about it. It is just something I am excited about and look forward to.

On the coaching side I was at one practice all week I think. They practiced at a different time most days. However, we had the IIAC meet and it went really well for us. It is bittersweet though. School records were set in the decathlon, women's 4x800, women's 400 and we had dozens of PRs and season bests. I often have hesitation as a coach wether I am doing the right thing, and then to have the athletes I work with have great days, it is such a blessing! I also spent some time talking with other coaches and participating in a coaches meeting and talking to a couple of athletes from other teams. It was a wonderfully educating experience. I already look forward to the next school year and developing the relationships I have started and developing more relationships. I also look forward to making statistical progress and improving the performance of our team, not only on the track, but in everything else as well.

My own training was a much needed rest. I only ran 3.5 miles this week. I did bicycle about 60 miles and spent a few hours walking, which is pretty much nothing for me. It was good. After a moderately successful season I needed the break both physically for my leg and mentally to rekindle the fire of desire. Fire rekindled. Please do vote on what my next marathon should be. I get most excited training for a marathon, and I plan to run one before April 2013, I am just not sure which one.

I don't often talk about my faith, or even mention that I go to church, especially on this blog. The reason is that I hope my actions will be representative of the great faith that I have. However, in this case I must make a mention of my experience Sunday at church and Bible study. It was exactly what I needed, the Gospel and sermon were about love and in Bible study we are going through Isaiah. The middle part of Isaiah 61:1 is, "He has sent me to bind up the broken hearted,..." I turned 26 this week and the main thing that means to me is that I am still single. Of course reflecting on the last year I made a ton of money and ran faster than I ever have before, and this year looks to be an improvement on that in both respects, yet I am still single. It was two hours of reference and direction right where I needed it.

So, you know... I am extraordinarily blessed. God blesses me with abundance and opportunity at every turn. While it is rarely when I would like it, it is always at the right time and better than I expected.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

I Have So Much!!

Not according to an American lifestyle, but have you seen the way I live? I live in far more luxury than most people in the world ever have. What has exemplified all of this was buying a motorcycle. I don't need a motorcycle. I have a van that runs well and I have bicycles. I have plenty of transportation options. Now the stator is broken so the battery does not recharge while it is running which means that I have to fix the stator and it will cost more money. I feel this motorcycle is a status symbol that just shows off my incredible wealth. Perhaps some of you will laugh that a 1966 125cc Yamaha with a broken stator can be seen an a sign of incredible wealth especially when it cost less than half as much as my road bicycle, but as I look around my garage at my three bicycles, skis, motorcycle, carved book shelf, canvas, chainsaw and van I am afraid the trend will continue. 

Traveling internationally has been wonderful for me. Particularly visiting Baltistan, Pakistan in 2009. To see the wealth of one of the wealthy of the community in Hushe was eye opening. At the time it all seemed very natural and ordinary given the six weeks leading up to it, but as I recall that experience I feel so materially rich. The house, as far as I could tell had a main room, a kitchen, and a bathroom (with a squat toilet of course). The main room had no furniture. There was simply a collection of rugs and blankets which when rolled up made back rests. All of the food was on the floor. The family had no car or motorcycle that I know of. There was a lightbulb and window in each room. When I sit on my couch eating off of my coffee table watching a dvd on my television set over a nicely carpeted floor having cooked on an electric stove I feel like a materialist pig. I don't deserve to have a couch. I don't deserve to have an air conditioner or carpeting. 

This attitude extends to other aspects of my life as well. I don't deserve to have a great job, or really two great jobs. I don't deserve to run a 32:12 10k or a 2:30 marathon. I didn't deserve surviving Broad Peak without any damage. I don't deserve some form of coffee every morning. I don't deserve the amazing formal education that I have. I don't deserve the food that I eat. I eat really really well. I'm serious, I have great food every day from Larabars to raw Ahi tuna from Hy-Vee to whole wheat pasta to Texas Roadhouse, which is a great bargain steak restaurant. 

When I describe some of the things I would like to do in the future something that usually comes out is I want to change the world. I know that most 26 year olds don't really talk that way, unfortunately. The Occupy Wall Street protests have come at an interesting time in my life. I see the wealth distribution of the world as unfair. I know that life is and will always be unfair, and I am not proposing that everyone in the world lives on the same income. I feel that the wealth inequality incentive to work harder is a valid albeit shallow method of encouraging progressively increasing performance. However, I believe there is a cycle of poverty and a cycle of wealth. People from undeveloped regions do not have the access to basic education that we enjoy in the United States. Due to that they are less likely to reach the level of education that will allow them to pursue an advanced education. Without people with an education everything from clean water and electricity to terrorism and violence become more significant problems. 

One of the great things about blogging is that once you start, there does not always have to be an ending. This is one of those times. I have a few things brewing. A few things that have caught my passion. I have been struggling for most of my short life to find a cause which I could get behind. While that is still developing in my mind, a few things are becoming more clear. First, education is a big deal. The impact of one person's education on a community is astounding. The impact of thousands is unfathomable. It may seen cliche but the movie Pay it Forward and idea is something that totally meshes with my spirituality and inspires me to contribute to others. It can be hard to put others ahead of myself, but as I get older and have more opportunities to put others ahead of myself I find that the experiences become more rewarding. 

Stay tuned, things are developing which I feel are significant. My friends, we are changing the world. One tiny miniscule aspect of it at a time.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

How Frequently to Run Races: Part Two of Two

In April 2006 I started recording how many miles and how much time I ran in an online running log. That has saved six years of data and now we have something mildly useful to look at, in this case my races since 2007.
My Races 2007-May 2012
You can see a few things, I don't run longer races strictly for fun. I also feel that I race sparingly.  In the fall of 2007, my best cross country season I ran five 8k races. That is once every two weeks the last ten weeks of the season. That also included a 20s PR in the last race. I feel that three to six races is about all that can be handled in a college cross country season. It is hard to run a strong race every weekend for two months. At some point either you are not racing as hard as you could or you are not getting any faster.

 It is also interesting to note how often I ran shorter races. The 5k is my most common race distance and it is also a race that is easier to recover from than the longer races.

When setting up a season plan some things to keep in mind:

  • The goal race or races, and really there can be no more than two for a 10k or longer runner. A marathoner gets one shot only two or three times a year. In other words you can not expect to race your best five times within a season.
  • The longer the race, the longer the recovery. It is harder to recover from a 10k than a 5k.
  • There is a certain adrenaline experience involved with racing and pacing yourself and feeling your comfort level. For most people that means that several B or C races leading up to a goal race are suggested so that you do not get into the goal race and start out way too fast or feel very uncomfortable at half way.
Hopefully some of this is helpful to understanding how frequently to race. 

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

How Frequently to Run Races: Part One of Two

One of the other coaches I work with is new to long distance running but experienced with sprinters and his view of frequency of racing and my view are different, but not entirely different.  We both feel that it is important to "race into shape" by running some races leading up to the goal race, but the number of racing leading up to a marathon is significantly different than the number of races leading up to nationals or state in the 60 meters or 400 meters.

First some background. I view my races as either A, B or C races.

  • A races are those that I peak for. Those races where I put a lot of emotion on the line. The races I want to break through and do something way better than I have done before. I typically take time off after A races because they are usually the end of the season.
  • B races are the stereotypical race. I put in a lot of effort and I hope to do well, but they lead up to a more important race in the future. It is a way of gaging fitness while still training at full load.
  • C races are those that I do to get in an effort I could not do in practice by myself. I ran an 8k for St. Patrick's Day over in Dyersville and I ended up finishing the flat course in 28:30s or something, which is basically marathon pace. Just calling something a race gets more effort out of me than I would do it I was trying to run a tempo on the track or down the rail trail. 
I rarely articulate if a race is an A, B or C race beforehand, but I do think of my races using those descriptions. Once I have a goal race for the season set, everything builds around and to that. Marathons are A races because at this point in my career I can't really imagine using them as a lead into another race because it takes so long to recover.

Races of different lengths will typically require different recovery periods. Similarly, training for different races requires different recovery times as well. For example, a hard 5k may take 2-5 days to recover from, a 10k 5-15 days, a marathon one to six weeks. Training on the other hand: 5x1000 (5k specific workout) may take 1-3 days to recover, 6xmile 2-4 days (10k specific), and a 23 mile long run with 11 miles of pace variation from 5:50 to 5:20 could take an entire week, but it is great marathon training. Additionally, it can be hard to tell what kind of shape you are in while you are training, especially when you are younger and less experienced, that getting in races is a great way to see how you progress. Two examples, two weeks and three weeks before my most recent 10k I ran 5ks. One went well, getting a 19 second PR and the other did not go well, but it gave me direct input that I was at the line of over living (over training) and I needed to ease off. The second example is before both of my marathons 4-6 weeks out I have run a half marathon. It is a great workout because I am likely to PR, there is no way I can get that kind of performance out of myself running on Heritage Trail, and it will show me where I actually am compared to where I think I am.

I do feel that for races of 5k and shorter despite the great training that you do leading up to it, you really need to race it at least once before your goal race to get your body used to it. When you get to the longer distances, there are so many factors, like tapering, that it is harder to generalize racing multiple times throughout the season as an effective training method. 

Tomorrow, Part Two, the last five and a half years of my running races, and more specific thoughts on collegiate track and cross country and setting up a season racing plan.

Monday, May 7, 2012

I Live in Iowa: Week 55

Another week come and gone. I went to work every weekday. The funny event of the week was at one of our 2 PM chocolate breaks. My coworker, technically my advisor, said that the last time he took any time off was a half day before Thanksgiving. I laughed at that, then I stopped because I had not taken any time off since Friday December 2nd. Work is... an educational experience.

I ran a measly 35 mile this week. I stopped running Thursday because I have been having some lower leg pain on the outside of my left leg. It hurts down near the tendon but I think that the cause a a knot higher in the muscle closer to the knee. Regardless I'm taking some time "off". I am at three days with no running so far. I have been bicycling and walking instead.

I struggle to take time off because I am so slow that I am afraid to lose the fitness I have built up over years of training. Yet Alberto Salazar, Bill Rogers, Brad Hudson, Buddy Edelen, Josh McDougal and others have run themselves into the ground because of their refusal to rest. How many cautionary tales do I need to read about and watch in interviews before I understand that a week or two without running is far better than a career ending setback. I'm learning how to rest. It's hard. Harder than learning how to run 100 mile weeks in my opinion. The satisfaction is not immediate.

Coaching is... coaching. It has it's ups and downs, the athletes who set personal records and the athletes who get left in the dust in their heat, all within the same hour. This is all progress. It is all a learning experience. For example, athlete B has no base thus the inconsistent running. Athlete M is rested and fresh thus the PR. Athlete B has had an amazing season but is getting worn out thus the good performance, but not a PR. Athlete J has so much talent in his veins that even his light training leads to strong performances. Athlete L has struggled with injuries and not increased his volume of training. Are we having a successful relationship? Am I fulfilling the duties set before me?

On the investing note, DHT gave their quarterly results this week. I was amazed that the backstopped equity offering was only 58% subscribed! I fully subscribed and I continue to be excited about this company. For example, Anchorage Capital, who I am not familiar with, put in tens of millions of dollars over the last month. Why would they invest in this stock if they did not expect to make money? If you haven't bought any, now is a good time. The share price is around $0.80 and in two weeks they are giving a $0.02 dividend per share. Ummm... amazing?! You can make 2.5% on your investment just by buying the stock this week and sell it for the same price that you buy it for in two or three weeks. Of course, the share price could plummet and you would be left with only the dividend.

It is amazing how negative I can be in writing! Life is good my friends! I make a ton of money. I have so many blessings and gifts! By the way, I bought a motorcycle helmet. You can rest easy.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

A Better Athlete or Coach?

The end of the coaching season comes and it is time for reflection. At a team meeting recently I looked around the room and felt the athletes did not improve significantly this year. Quite a few of them did and set life time personal records, but not the performances I imagined in September. On the other hand since the start of the school year I have set personal records at 800, 5000, the 3000 steeplechase (I'm counting it), 10,000, half marathon and marathon.

I think of myself as a better coach than an athlete because I have the ability to view another person with less emotion than I view myself. In other words, athletes often focus on the wrong details. Plus, I am slow and somewhat uncoordinated. Plus, I have read so much about running that the training principles seem so simple to me. Yet based on the results of the team, that is not the case. A few have had a stellar year, but most have not had the year I had hoped for. Again, in the last seven months I have set personal records at just about everything. That is a good seven months. Yet I am still slow enough that multiple freshmen men and collegiate women are running faster times than I.

Even in college I felt I was a better coach than athlete. I understand the physiology of running well, I understand the metabolic processes of running, I have had so many injuries I feel I can help others avoid many of the setbacks I had. Additionally, I have so much motivation to be in this sport from the health benefit and the personal improvement to the everyday endorphin rush and post run satisfaction. I hope that I can convey some of those attitudes to the athletes I work with. Yet this year we have had a number of athletes lose their motivation, get injured, and most have not had many hard workouts since cross country. Cross country was a resounding success, but we have faltered since then and it worries me.

I was telling this to one of the other coaches and he told me, "I think we are brilliant." To be honest that is part of the reason that I do not have a dedicated coach myself. I do not think that one person could aggregate and supervise for me a more effective plan than I can do for myself. I consult many other coaches and advisors, but ultimately assemble the pieces myself.

The last few weeks have been somewhat emotional for me. In this case I mean not positive emotions. There have been incidents at work that have upset me. There have been incidents coaching that have also upset me. In the odd chance that any of the athletes I work with read this, none of my athletes have upset me directly. I feel that my job could have been done better by someone else, although I'm not exactly sure how. Finally, after every season ending there is a let down, as in why did I only run 32:12? Why couldn't I run half a second per lap faster and get under 32? There is often the feeling that I did not do all I could have. I have an amazing life. I feel it is the best one in the world, but my goals are so consuming that I fail dozens and hundreds of times before I reach any of them. In fact the only long term goal (four years or more) I have really accomplished was getting my two college degrees.

There is a dissatisfaction in my life involved in the progress leading to the larger goals. Similarly with coaching we have a handful of athletes that I feel could go to nationals in their college career but we are so far away from that level of performance, and I am not entirely sure of their motivation that I have trouble determining my own progress as a coach. I aim for the top, in everything that I do, but not everyone has that attitude about everything they do.

The question remains. We have one week to go as a team in the regular season. This week is the IIAC championship. I'm really excited to watch the 10ks, as I always am. I am taking a little running break. I have not run in three days because of a muscle/tendon problem on the outside of my lower left leg. What does taking a day off for me mean? Walking and bicycling 1-3 hours per day. Where is my self-confidence to fully rest?

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

How Does One Measure Patience?

I was complaining to some friends and coworkers last week about something that I always neglected to do, I don't remember what it was, maybe it was get an oil change or clean my van or check my email or something. I explained that I rarely have the patience to sit around and wait for whatever it was to get done. My friends laughed at me! They went on to explain that I sit at a desk nine hours a day and then go running for an hour and a half and that is far more patience than most people can admit to having.

After that I did what I always do, think about it for a few hours. I came to the conclusion that I have no idea. Without some way to compare patience or mental activity or time versus rewards across disciplines there seems to be no great way to measure patience. If anyone has any comments or thoughts I would be interested to hear them.

Furthermore, is there a good level of patience? Is it important to have some patience, but not so much that you never progress?

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Beyond 150 People

I read in one of my books, I think it was Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell, that once a company passes 150 people, communication gets complicated. The example company that he uses is Gore, the makers of Gore-Tex, who always start a new location when one of their locations get to be 150 people. That way everyone at the location knows everyone. Another example was the military company. They do not climb above 150 much from what I understand.

I read this blog article by Seth Godin about working for a big company, and it stuck a chord with me. A couple of times I have come up with solutions to problems, and for whatever reason have not been able to follow through with the solution to a production change. Obviously part of business is deciding what needs to change and what does not, and my clout to decide between the two ranks at the bottom of the organization. In other words I desire to fix problems as soon as we find them, but there is a system of checks and balances that keeps people from running off and changing things without verification.

I should note that I don't like the word smart. If you start thinking in terms of "smart" and something else next thing you know you will start using standardized testing as one of the more important measures of a person.

This past week I also read the Valve company "Handbook for New Employees". It's really good, and it makes a lot of sense to me. For example, in a top down organization a few people at the top decide what projects are important enough to have people work on. In a flat organization, people work on the projects they feel are important. In other words, if the website at a top down organization gets redone it is because those at the top decided it was necessary. If the website at a flat organization gets redone it is because the employees decided it was necessary.

From a statistical point of view it makes sense. Instead of four people deciding on projects to pursue, 50 people deciding on projects to pursue are less likely to make mistakes. It is kind of like the financial crisis. A few people realized they could make a ton of money selling CDOs short, and managed to convince everyone else that if they took part in it they could have a larger house or larger paychecks. Of course, that is a huge oversimplification, and we could argue that everyone bought into the idea while it was happening, but giving loans to people that could not afford them seems like an obvious mistake. Remember they were not lending their own money and were thus protected from the potential losses. From the Valve handbook it seems that there is more accountability for value creation to the individual who does the work. In other words, how different would your work be if you were accountable for the value it creates through it's success or failure?