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.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Janzen Gear is in Business!

It took two years for the hangboard idea to become a reality, but now it exists! I have something to sell!

Janzen Gear Hangboard 0.1, 0.5 and Two 0.8s
I could say more, and I hopefully will over the next couple days, but for starters head over to Janzen Gear and check out the development blog. After you get a taste of the little bit of the first business that I tried to start, and failed, and I suppose am having some success now, head over to Etsy and buy a Janzen Gear Hangboard 0.8!

Thank you guys for reading! This is probably the first time that I have taken something from concept to product and actually have something to sell. It's exciting. This is releasing the entrepreneur in me! I'll probably shoot for the moon once I actually sell one.

Anyway, take a look, tell your friends, tell me you saw this, and go read some Janzen Gear.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!

In the spirit of celebrating the United States holiday of Thanksgiving I am going to tell you about some entities and ideas I am thankful for. Sometimes, when I am bored on a run or want to be reminded of how well I have it I think of a list of things I am thankful for. I usually aim for 50 things, but seeing as how this is once a year, I will give 100 things. The list is in no particular order although the first few things are in order because they do rise to the top. I am thankful for...

  1. God and his son Jesus. I am so blessed. In regards to this, everything else fades away.
  2. My family, specifically my immediate family because they have seen me through so much, but the whole group is a blessing.
  3. The United States. We have it so good in this country.
  4. Running and the ability for me to run.
  5. 55 degrees Fahrenheit.
  6. The Sun.
  7. My blog. I pour myself out here. I hope the world is better because of it.
  8. Asia, for their different perspectives and opportunities. 
  9. The cross country and track and field coaching staff at UD.
  10. My engineering job at John Deere.
  11. The opportunity to go to Indonesia.
  12. Videos, so that experiences can be shared.
  13. Leeks, who knew?
  14. Pasta, especially the whole grain style.
  15. Ladies, women, girls, females whatever the preferred vernacular is now. 
  16. My van with 291,007 miles on it.
  17. Turbofan jet engines. Still one of the coolest things I have ever learned.
  18. National Public Radio. 
  19. My training partner(s) because 5AM is better shared.
  20. My carbon fiber bicycle.
  21. Group bicycle rides.
  22. The organic vegetable section.
  23. Sea bass.
  24. Scallops.
  25. Wood furniture.
  26. The positives, negatives and more positives of Janzen Gear.
  27. Wikipedia.
  28. The general sharing of information and ideas.
  29. The running locations around Dubuque like the Mines of Spain and Heritage Trail.
  30. The athletes that I work with as a coach.
  31. The college kids in Dubuque, you all make the city a better place.
  32. Toilet paper.
  33. My iPhone.
  34. Wine, like a good Cabernet Sauvignon or Malbec.
  35. Steak. I tried vegetarian, I like steak too much.
  36. Electricity.
  37. The Internet.
  38. Peace in the Middle East least for the last day ...not counting Syria.
  39. Progressive taxation.
  40. Dividends.
  41. Employment.
  42. Conservation from natural resources to personal finances.
  43. National parks, and not just in the United States.
  44. Rock climbing.
  45. Mountaineering, alpine and high altitude climbing.
  46. Renewable resources.
  47. Worcester Polytechnic Institute.
  48. Paying off the second of my 11 loans last month.
  49. My 1966 motorcycle, which helped me appreciate antiques.
  50. Suffering, so I know how well I have it.
  51. Pain, so I know what no pain feels like.
  52. Fear, so I know what it feels like to not be afraid.
  53. The truth.
  54. Headlamps with Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs).
  55. Failure, because it makes the success so much sweeter.
  56. The running community.
  57. The mountain climbing community.
  58. Teaching Sunday School. I'm new to it, but I like it.
  59. My church community, I'm one of maybe five 20somethings, but I like it.
  60. Volunteering, from serving free meals this afternoon to going to Indonesia.
  61. Charity. It still boggles me that I was out of engineering (unemployed) for 57 weeks. I understand how hard it can be for others. 
  62. Africa and the runners they send to race me.
  63. Streaming video and audio.
  64. Drug testing.
  65. Jail time for DUI offenders.
  66. Freshly mowed lawn.
  67. Running shorts.
  68. A well fitted shirt.
  69. Holding the door for a lady.
  70. Daily news, specifically Runner's World and the Wall Street Journal.
  71. Prana pants.
  72. The Patagonia R1 Hoody.
  73. Passing 50,000 visits and 100,000 page views this year.
  74. An enclosed house with heating, air conditioning, electricity, hot water, and carpeting.
  75. Food. The volume of food available to me is just staggering.
  76. Electric cars. 
  77. The smell of a book. 
  78. The fact that my sister and I paint with oils and acrylics. 
  79. Pomegranates.
  80. Persistence. The idea of continuing with an idea or plan even when it is hard.
  81. Minimal (low heel) running shoes.
  82. Not getting struck by lightening on Humboldt in 2006.
  83. Not breaking anything on Cannon Cliff in 2008.
  84. My friends who are so strong they can push me more than I imagine.
  85. The flicker of an idea, that 'ah-ha' moment when I realize the solution.
  86. A good hearty laugh, maybe even one that hurts or makes me cry.
  87. Massages.
  88. Empathy. When someone can relate to another's issue and they can emotionally connect.
  89. Down clothing, because it is so warm.
  90. Ten uninterrupted hours of sleep.
  91. Running as fast as I have at every event.
  92. The marathon.
  93. Mexican food and drink.
  94. Stories from one friend to another.
  95. Meetings that end early with all items accomplished.
  96. The freedom to express beliefs and ideas without government backlash.
  97. Friends who taught me about mental disorders. 
  98. The idea of gifts and generosity.
  99. People who care about changing the world for the better.
  100. That we made it this far. A lot had to go right in the last thousand years to get us here.
I hope that you have something to be thankful for today. I am incredibly blessed. I do feel that I have the best life in the world, and I hope you feel the same way about your life.

Thank you all for reading my blog. It is your positive support, mostly in person and usually not related to this blog, that motivates me to write on those days when I don't feel like I am living the best life. Thank you!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Why I Doubted My Sister

I said several times over the weekend that I could not believe that my sister graduated from college. Quite a few people from my parents to my sister's friends asked me why I doubted. They all had the reaction that I should have had more faith in her. On the other hand, Saturday night when things calmed down my sister told me that it was nice I was her brother because I "get it" which means understanding what she went through more than any of our relatives. In other words people, I don't think most of you understand. Here are my reasons for doubting.

  1. Engineering school is hard. A private college science and engineering only school is very hard. I distinctly remember doing Intermediate Physics Mechanics II homework at midnight on a Saturday! Similarly, Spacecraft Design and Mission Planning at 2 AM on a Tuesday when I was the first of five people in our project group to go home for the night. This kind of work load is more than most are willing to suffer through.  Whether my sister suffered more than most or not I do not know, maybe she just articulated her suffering more than most. Either way, most at some point in an education like this harbor feelings that perhaps he or she should drop out and follow some other dream, like climb mountains. I suppose I considered my sister susceptible to this because sticking with something for four and a half years is more commitment than I saw her exercise while we both lived at home with our parents. Seeing her get through it... her effort makes it so valuable and rewarding for her. There were times the first few years when I worried she would take a semester off and not come back. However, she consistently kept at it and pulled the degree off. The effort that she brought to college to graduate will propel her into the next challenge, which will propel her through to the next after that. In other words, she will be a huge success in industry.
  2. My sister is one of the more social engineers. She is a social person in general. I feared that her extracurricular life might interfere with her graduating. 
That is why I doubted. It is not that I saw my sister as weak, it is that her opponent and other priorities were so strong. Once again: Congratulations Berea!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

I Live in Iowa: Week 82

A few more interesting events than usual. At work I presented Indonesia, both technically and nontechnically to 10 and 50 people respectively. It was really nice to share my experiences with others. I had a bit of a feeling while I was presenting how I approach new experiences different than most people. I do not feel that my risk tolerance is higher. I feel that my risk tolerance is more based on the regret that I might feel from not doing something rather than the diarrhea and cramped flight problems of doing something. A perfect example was on Saturday when I was showing raw videos to my family and friends. Particularly Hong Kong, when I wandered off by myself and was not really sure where I was going. Here I am at night in a big city, where English directions are few, admitting on camera that I am not sure where the ferry I am on is going. It was no big deal to me because I figured that when it got to the end it would probably turn around and go back to the start. Yet for my family and friends they admitted that they would not "wander off" like me.

Running was good. 41 miles. No workouts but a nice 13+ mile run in 60F windy rain. Not much but better than 30 odd miles.

Coaching was a down week. I did go in on two days and one day I did a crazy hour and a half core workout that left me sore for two days! I did work on the schedule for 5K/10k/Steeplechase for the next six months.

I also spent time at my sister's college graduation. It was really nice. My family and I went out Friday night, just the four of us and it was nice to talk in person. Saturday was a busy day. A morning run followed by breakfast, the ceremony, and a great lunch! I could say more, but the Walking Dead is starting and I don't want to miss it.

In case I don't say it otherwise, you had to be there. The camera only captures 35 degrees.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Congratulations Berea!

My sister just graduated with a B.S. in Industrial Engineering from Milwaukee School of Engineering! I have to be honest, I had my doubts that we would be here today. Why am I so negative? She struggled! I mean school overall came fairly easy for me, she really had to work at it. I feel that sometimes the struggle gives more value to the final achievement than the results on paper. In other words, the results are what matter more than the effort, but meaningful results are often the product of significant effort and that is part of why the results are meaningful.

I suppose I always thought she would have one more semester or one more class to finish, but apparently, she is done. It is great! Not only has she graduated, but a company that she interned with offered her a job and she accepted. She starts working full time at ABB Monday.

She graduated and has a job. I mean, none of this happened overnight, it took years of work, 4 years and three months to be specific. Yet I feel like her IE degree is a brick wall she broke through. This is a significant accomplishment! Most people only have one bachelors degree graduation. She did it! She is a real industrial engineer! Congratulations Berea!!
My Sister and I at Her Graduation

Friday, November 16, 2012

The First Minute in a Foreign Country

Before we left for Asia I told my travel partner that the first hour was usually the hardest mentally and emotionally. Everything is new. Everything is different. As I thought about the first hour now that I am back from Indonesia, Singapore and Hong Kong, I came to the conclusion that the first minute is really more formative for getting an idea of security (and where I will run or eat) than the first hour. Here is the Isaiah Janzen Complete FREE Guide to the First Minute in a Foreign Country. Provided is information about what to look for regarding the overall security in a country you are visiting for the first time.

  1. How do you get off the airplane? Do you use a jet bridge or portable stairs? Chicago, Singapore and Hong Kong all provided our planes with jet bridges but Pekanbaru, Indonesia used portable stairs. Pakistan was also portable stairs. Costa Rica I do not remember for sure, but I think it was portable stairs as well. Dubai, UAE was a jet bridge as well I believe. In other words, jet bridges are a luxury item, portable stairs are cheap. It is a simple one or the other option that gives you an idea of the economics of the entire country.
  2. Who do you see first? In Hong Kong, Singapore and Chicago there were a handful of airline personnel at the end of the jet bridge waiting to give directions if we asked. In Pekanbaru, Indonesia there was a collection of airline personnel, and there were also some security personnel directing us onto the bus to the terminal, customs, and immigration (all essentially the same place). This brings up a follow up question, how well are the security people armed? In Indonesia simple badges, blue uniforms, and a security look or stance signified the security officers, much like in the United States. In Pakistan however, machine guns are the standard. I am not talking little Uzis either, more like M16 or AK47 kind of automatic weapons. The visible presence of machine guns signifies that shooting machine guns happens. I did not go running in public in Pakistan. In Singapore, Hong Kong and Dubai I was honestly hard pressed to identify the security presence. In the case of those three countries that signifies to me a safe place. In Costa Rica and Singapore I ran so far that I had some trouble navigating back to my hotel. I only do that in safe places.
  3. How are the signs or documentation? In Pakistan, Indonesia and Chicago it was follow the crowd. Not terribly friendly to out of town people. Also, there were relatively few advertisements. Singapore signage was good throughout the airport. The directions to immigration, baggage, and customs (all essentially the same place) were quite good. The directions to ground transportation were good as well. Moline, Illinois, USA is one of my preferred airports, as well as Detroit both are simple to navigate. Detroit is in fact great for such a large airport. Hong Kong was a mess. There were billboard advertisements for Samsung and HSBC on the walls, but we had an awful time figuring out where to go. We ended up going to one counter to get our tickets stamped with some sort of exception to Hong Kong security or something. It was a mess. It was like we were the first people with a stop over from one international flight to another international flight. Also, keep in mind that English is not the official language throughout the world. Signs may be in a different language or use pictures. Stay cool. As with most travel, you will get to the next destination eventually.
There you have it. Three and a half things to look for in the first minute in a foreign country you are visiting. The Isaiah Janzen Complete FREE Guide to the First Minute in a Foreign Country. Print it. Email it. Copy, edit and add to it. Take it and call it your own by correcting one grammar error. Hopefully this helps your foreign travel go a little more smoothly.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Rule #3: Do Not Complain. About Anything. Ever.

I believe it was in the year 2002 at Philmont in ROCS that I was first exposed to the Ten Rules of Expedition Behavior. Although it may have been 2001 at Philmont. The point is these ten rules give an overview of what one needs to do to avoid being the despised guy on the trip. Rule #3 has always stuck out to me. Basically, whatever you are doing, wherever you are, for most people, at least Americans, you made choices to get to this place. This place is probably part of development into something grand and worth having and sometimes it is going to be hard. If it was easy everyone would do it. (For example, everyone starts blogs these days, but how many keep at it for four years?)

There was situation recently where a number of people complained about something they "had" to do. On the one hand I understood why they were upset, I was surprised they had to do it. On the other hand, I understood why they had to do it. After more thought I realized that the thing they had to do, I needed to do to improve myself, so I jumped in on the next round and helped white wash the fence metaphorically speaking.

Another story, February 2006, the north side of Mt. Adams in the Presidentials, New Hampshire on a Saturday was the worst weather I have ever encountered. Temperature was about -10F and winds were around 50 mph and gusting to over 70 mph above treeline. My face was cold, my hands were cold, I could hardly balance, we were moving slow, then my partner had cold feet in his leather boots. That was it we turned around. We did not reach the top, but neither had any permanent damage. The point is, we knew it was not going to be easy and given our two personalities there was no complaining. It is an extremely memorable trip for me that is entirely positive.

The point of all of this is, do you want to be here (wherever that may be) and suffer and work hard or not? You can quit, that is okay. But for those of us that stay, it is going to be tough. We will struggle. We may not even reach our goals, but when all is said and done we will know we gave our best.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Back on Stage

Today I presented Indonesia to about 50 people at work. I shared what I learned and what I saw. And the videos buffered and skipped like crazy! It was terrible!

However for the first time is nearly a decade I felt like the actor from high school. Sure I have had camp jobs and coaching that reflects talking to groups, but on stage, the only one standing, getting constant attention, it has been awhile. (I had a great time!) Aside from the video issue, which was a significant problem, it was great to be up there presenting, answering questions for 40 minutes. Is this what teachers feel like every day?

So Indonesia is done. I have presented it twice. Both a technical presentation and a non-technical presentation of learned experiences. It is strange to have finished it because obviously we never know what it all means until after it is over. My role seemed to be communication, not necessarily engineering or problem solving. If I can help guide 60 people in some small way to make better machines through access to unique information the trip was a success. I did not realize that until today. I suppose that is what $4,273 of travel expenses gets.

More videos to come. It will take a few weeks for them to trickle out. Today is a blessing!

Monday, November 12, 2012

I Live in Iowa: Week 81

What a week, certainly not normal. How do you recover from a whirlwind tour of Indonesia? Well, for starters you don't feel normal the week after.

Work was an awfully strange week for me. I did not do any finite element analysis. I opened up a couple models, but I spent all of my time doing clerical work and video processing stuff that I just never got around to doing any FEA. That being said, I have two presentations this week and I am still not ready. I even worked on the presentations Friday after I left work and on Saturday. I probably only spent 30 or so hours in the office this week. I was in every day, but not necessarily very long. But then again I did work on my laptop out of the office. I suppose that is not abnormal, working on the laptop out of the office. What is abnormal is that on my Indonesia trip I used my own cameras and I am using my own laptop to do the video editing and creating the report. It's the only Apple laptop I've ever seen at work.

In the running world my mileage was low again. Maybe 30-40. I haven't logged it yet. No workouts, but a couple 200s. Still the lower leg pain that hurts, but not enough to totally stop me from running. It is what it is, I need to keep massaging it and strengthening my feet and ankles.

In the coaching world I went to a couple practices and on Saturday our season ended up at St. Olaf in the NCAA XC Regionals. Neither of our teams and none of our individuals are going to nationals. There were a couple bright spots. A strong race from one of our two seniors. Some other strong races from the younger people. We did not have the success that I expected given our mid season results. We have some things to work on as a coaching staff. Part of it has to do with a predominately freshman team that struggled to endure the whole season. Part of it is that we probably didn't do enough long runs. Maybe we focused on specific endurance too early. We did better than last year, but that only says so much.

On the social side, I have helped to inspire a number of people to start blogs. By my count I have helped to encourage at least eight. One of those is one of the assistant cross country coaches I work with. This needs more backstory. Our track and field coaching staff this year is set to be six white men/boys all coming from relative middle class backgrounds. Talk about diversity... I have heard about it. So we were fortunate enough to have a woman on staff this season. I am very thankful that we did for the benefit of the ladies on the team. I can probably handle anything the ladies would tell me, but frankly I know they have issues I don't understand and having a woman resource there seems like a great idea to me. Anyway, her and I have carpooled to a couple of races and hung out a few times so we have had hours to talk. One of the interesting things about her is that she is also a single mom. This is relevant for a couple of reasons. First, I know of a number of other single moms or people in a dating relationship with a single parent, and it would be good for me to better understand those situations. Second, 40% of babies are born to unmarried mothers. This is a situation that could present itself to me in the future and I made the decision years ago that I would not let a woman with a child deter me from dating her. That being said, I imagine it would certainly make the relationship more complicated. Anyway, she started a blog and wrote an article, which her and I discussed in further detail this past week, about single parents and dating. It is a segment of the population which seems to be growing.

So that's my life. More Indonesia videos to come it's just a matter of doing the stuff I have to for work first and then assembling the other videos into my YouTube channel.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

At a Crossroads

I am at a crossroads. But aren’t we usually? Buy a newer car? Change the oil? Pay the bills? What's for supper? Where are we running today? What should I wear? The number of choices available is astounding. Most of the time the choices are not ultimatum style, but sometimes they are. It sometimes seems like we spend more time at intersections on our commute than we do driving. Even during the driving we pass intersections. 

Six days after getting back from Indonesia I still woke up at 7:30 AM, an hour and a half after normal, and two and a half hours after the time I get up to run in the morning. I don’t really know what kind of expectation there is to returning from 12 hours time difference in a country that is very different than I am used to. I feel like I am not getting much done, despite getting things done. The feeling is a little like being sick, a little like not getting enough sleep, and 

I don’t know. I mean... I don’t know. Next week I am set to present what I learned in Indonesia to both the people directly impacted by my trip and anyone else at the company who cares to listen. I am not ready. As in, I don’t have the presentation ready. I’m stressing out because I learned so much so quick, how do I communicate that to other people? I have videos, but a video with a 35 degree field of view does not well compare to the 180 degrees of view I have or the smells or the temperature and humidity of actually being there. 

On top of that, I have been planning something for a long time. It was, and hopefully is, going to happen in 2013, it still could. As the stock market dives and I pay my bills, I wonder, should I give up or postpone this dream? That is a depressing thought. 

On top of that my running is not going great. As I often say, when life is going well, running is going well. 

Reading this, listening to myself whine, I wonder, ‘what in the world do I have to complain about?’ I mean I am so blessed! I am so fortunate! I have so many gifts! I have the best life in the world. Seriously. Who gets to go to Indonesia for a week on business? Not to mention I visited Singapore and Hong Kong. Perhaps this is the return from international travel culture shock. 

I feel obligated to perform at a certain level all of the time, with the expectation for myself that some times I will perform above that level. I did a short two week project last year which we calculated will save the company $150,000 in the first year it is implemented. If that is at all accurate I more than made up for my salary in two weeks of normal work. Yet one day of feeling unproductive or one week and my mind kicks into fear of being fired. Unemployment was not fun. Yet now I have two years of additional engineering experience, I could probably find a job most places. I could probably start my own shop and have a good idea of what I am doing versus 2010. 

I am nearing my second full year of work without more than two consecutive business days of vacation. (The exception is that our company shuts down from Christmas to New Year’s so I did not work that week.) Assuming a 40 year career I’ve passed 5% of it. Assuming a 50 year career from age 20 to 70, I’m 13% of the way through it. Those are both significant numbers. Not huge, but enough to have a look into what my future could be. It makes me nervous. Why? Because I spend about 45 hours a week at work, 55-60 hours a week sleeping, 15-25 hours per week running and coaching, probably six hours a week in the bathroom, six hours a week driving around, three hours at church, ten hours a week watching something, five hours a week cooking and eating, and that leaves 18 hours a week unaccounted for. That probably gets taken up reading, watching something, walking around, socializing, sleeping in, and doing one-off things like calling my family, going to a Heritage Trail meeting, grocery shopping or doing my laundry. The point is, maybe 2-3 hours every day do I have at home after I finish supper before I go to bed. I hear that a family or at least parenting probably takes 30+ hours a week. How am I ever going to do that?

I just finished reading Makers, by Chris Anderson. The book is about me. I have funded projects on Kickstarter, I have used, I have used CNC mills, and gotten parts produced on a 3D printer. Yet I work at a giant international Fortune 500 company. Where do I exist and where does Isaiah Janzen, or ij05083, exist? When I was in Hong Kong, I saw people everywhere. It is crowded. Crowded more than I have ever felt in New York, Chicago, LA, Boston or anywhere else. I wondered, amongst the crowd, how does one have any personal identity in such a dense and populated region?

I don’t know. I care. I do know that. I want to best the best I possibly can be, which in many respects means being a world expert and totally unique. After my recent trip to Indonesia I can easily say that I am one of the most invested and knowledgeable people in the world when it comes to the structural fatigue of leveling tracked feller buncher lower frames. That is not saying much, but that is knowledge and experience I have that few others have. And honestly, it’s worth at least tens of thousands of dollars, if not hundreds of thousands. 

Perhaps what I am trying to say is that I have value for the panoply of experience and achievements I have and despite the feeling that doing something crazy (standard American definition of crazy) would diminish my value, it may actually increase it. Honestly, you can’t give me advice for the right answer, because the right answer for you is not the right answer for me. Furthermore, the path I choose to follow is a path that has never been done before. I can’t read what I am supposed to do from a book or manual or website or worse, a blog. So I’m a little stressed out. I do this to myself. I think it’s all part of a process. I wasn’t stressed out in Indonesia when I had to be on my game. No, I come back to comfortable United States with everything that I know and understand and I struggle. I would think it would be the opposite. 

So we sit here at this crossroads. Make a choice and thus make a change? Or make the choice to don’t make a change?

People might think it is premature of me to talk about stepping outside of my comfort zone and taking a risk. ‘You just returned from Indonesia!’ they say. ‘Wait another year, a few more paychecks.’ Just like they did. I’m not trying to be just like them. I’m also not trying to be not like them. I don’t know. I’m a bit of a restless person. Like I said before, it is never enough.

Changing subjects, here is a crossroads video from Indonesia. 

Friday, November 9, 2012

Election 2012: What Happens Next?

Well, the election is over. Only two and a half years until we have to go through this again. Except it will be worse next time because both the Republicans and Democrats will have primary elections.

In the short term, we have the "fiscal cliff" to deal with. We have many options but basically it means either taxes go up and defense spending goes down, some long term compromise happens, or the government delays doing anything about it by simply extending the extensions. Extending extensions is what they do best. In the words of a teenager, "Just another hour please! All the other kids..."

Longer term, unemployment looms. I expect 0.4% to 0.7% improvement over the next few years, which is improvement. How to fix it faster? I don't exactly know. Just a theory, develop apprentice programs for skilled positions which enables in the short term cheap labor and in the long term highly skilled labor.

Longer term (5-30 years), the budget looms. All things considered we get such a low interest rate now (less than 1%) that we might as well keep borrowing until unemployment is close to 5% or 6%. Yet it is something we have to deal with and the most effective way to deal with it involves some sort of entitlement (social security, medicare, medicaid) reform. Interesting article and video from the WSJ.

The elephant in the room is climate change. You thought Sandy was a big deal? Or maybe Katrina was eye opening to you? Either way, we are going to have more storms like that. Not all will hit cities, but some will. It wasn't really mentioned during the election, unfortunately, but it's a big deal, and something that I hope we work on correcting. Frankly, it is appropriate that a portion of natural disasters around the world hit major industrialized cities. We can learn from the devastating effect of natural disasters in the third world, such as the 2004 tsunami killed over 230,000 people. On the other hand, Sandy kills somewhere a little over 100, and we know enough about it to talk about how one 78 year old man died. I mean, this is one of the best Wikipedia pages I have ever read. We (my generation, this country) don't really know hardship and serious natural disasters. Granted not all will be attributed to your tail pipe or electricity bill, but if any are, I say it is a problem worth working.

Back to politics, I am not surprised that Obama won. I mean, taxing those making over a quarter million a year a little more doesn't seen like a bad idea. Along the money line (isn't that all we talk about in politics anyway?) Romney lost it for me with his comments about borrowing money from your parents.  Ryan lost it for me when he said he ran under three hours for the marathon, but ran over four. When I started Janzen Gear in February and March 2010 I tried to raise money from everyone I knew. Parents, relatives, professors, coaches, friends, and anyone I thought had money or knew someone who had money. I had a few interested people, but not enough money to really get the $25,000 that I needed to up production and buy some casting molds. The point being, if a guy who has two engineering degrees and won a business competition for this idea and had two patents pending could not get money from friends and family, then it would probably take some pretty unique (wealthy) family members to have $25k to spare on a hair-brain idea.

Lest everyone think I voted for Obama, I did not. That is all I will say for now. Happy not election season!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

A Muslim Prayer Room

Muslim dominate countries are different. For one there is the five times daily call to prayers that is heard in the streets through loud speakers courtesy of the local mosque. Similar to other countries the mosque is often the nicest building in town, just as churches and synagogues are often very nice buildings. Another aspect of the Muslim culture is that in many traveling establishments like hotels and airports there are prayer rooms. A place where travelers can go and pray facing Mecca. Typically the hotel rooms in these countries will also have a small arrow on the ceiling pointing in the direction of Mecca. It's kind of like the Gideons Bible in hotel rooms throughout the United States.

Anyway, here is a tour of a prayer room at our hotel in Kerinci, Indonesia at 5:30 in the morning October 31st before my work day started.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Election 2012: Will Budgets and Foreign Policy Improve?

With voting day upon us, which is really just the last day you can vote, I wanted to get a few more things off of my political voting chest. First we talk budgets, then foreign policy.

I feel this country has both an income and spending problem. That is not a surprise, have you seen television advertising? Do you know that banks are now in the business of selling loans instead of facilitating loans? We have a culture of having. Unfortunately, having costs money. I feel that the culture that pervades this country, of which I fully take part, does not have the monetary sense that is best. Since this is a bottom up trend, or middle class up trend, it sticks and matters at the national level.

What I am trying to say is that congress has approved money to be spent on programs over the last 30 years that might have been the best decision. It is hard to be specific because the budget is a big thing and we have a new one every year. Fortunately a few things stick out. The mortgage interest tax deduction is something that benefits the wealthy more than the poor. It doesn't benefit renters at all and often renters are the ones who need the most help. Second, we spent a lot of money fighting wars the last couple decades and I am not sure that was always the best option. I supported (still support) our efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq because I feel that those countries were suffering under oppressive leadership. However, the scale of the conflicts I am not sure was the best course. In other words, if we wanted to get Osama Bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, and Husseins second in command sons, why couldn't we just get them? After all, after a war in Afghanistan we got Bin Laden in Pakistan. I am getting long winded.

What I am trying to say is we could have probably accomplished similar results in terms of the leadership that we were most interested in with smaller total expenses. I realize that you can't run a war based on money, that's how we ended up with the Vietnam war problems. What I am saying is that I feel, and I could be wrong of course, that a more focused (smaller thus less expensive) military could accomplish many of the things (like getting Osama Bin Laden) that a larger military could. Obviously that is open to debate, but it is a large portion of our spending.

Second, 60 and even 65 is not the most appropriate age to start giving out retirement benefits. People live too long in this country to give out benefits for 20 years. Think about it, a person spends 20 years getting a free education, 40 years working, and another 25 years getting retirement benefits. Romney says 47% are dependent on the government? It seems to me that everyone who enjoys either a free education or retirement benefits would qualify as dependent on the state at some point. Sounds more like 99% to me.

Going back to the income problem, progressive tax is obviously the way to go. Payroll tax only applied to the first $110,000 of income is a regressive tax, the opposite of a progressive tax. The same can be said for a flat sales tax. If a low income family spends 10% of their income on food then maybe they will spend 0.5% on food sales tax if that is 5%. A higher income family with four times the income may spend twice as much on food, and thus 5% of their income on food and only 0.25% on food sales tax despite a bill that is twice the size.

Changing gears totally to foreign policy, aside from the wars I have already talked about. We need more discussion in the world. We need people talking at the table. My trip to Indonesia reinforces that. Many of the issues were simple to resolve, we just did not have the details in the documentation that they needed. It is amazing how much was accomplished in a few hours of face to face talking. Minutes really.

I could say more but the polls close soon and I need to publish. I hope you voted. I voted, I had some doubt that I would, but I did.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

A Week in Indonesia

Instead of the usual, I Live in Iowa, weekly series I am doing a series of one this week. I spent less than six hours in Iowa so the normal title is not really appropriate.

Obviously what I talk about since I was in Indonesia will be different than other weeks. However, I was there for work, so work has the first paragraph. First, video, I was there to get video of machine structures and machines in operation. I bring back approximately 152 minutes of video plus or minus five minutes. If that was the sole purpose of me being on this trip then the cost of  each minute of video would be around $30. That includes the videos of scorpions, Singapore, and traveling. Condensed down to strictly structural evaluation and machine operation I probably have around 90 minutes. It is a little mind boggling how little time was actually spent with boots on the ground near machines. I mean we would pull up to a machine with our caravan of four to seven pickups and spend hardly any time there. The first machines we spent probably 45 minutes inspecting but the other machines we probably spent less than 15 minutes evaluating. I easily had my video camera running most of the time when we were at a machine. Honestly my video camera was probably running 70-80% of the time we were at machines. I don't feel like I missed much. In fact, segue into ego boosting story telling mode, I felt like one of the astronauts to walk on the moon. So much effort was taken to get me and my camera to this place where I had to take a look at about eight different things before the caravan took off for the next destination. It was one of the those times when every three seconds I felt like I was adding knowledge to the database. Videotape that weld, done. Videotape that pin, done. Videotape those bolts, done. Every few minutes it seemed like I discovered something new that the engineers in Dubuque either did not know, had not seen, or did not communicate.

Aside from the paltry volume of time we spent inspecting machines with our boots on the ground, we spent time in meetings, traveling and eating. We met for about two hours on Monday with the dealership in Pekanbaru. Another hour and a half with the machine operator company on Tuesday. Three hours preparing our conclusions on Thursday and another hour and a half in the final summary meeting Thursday with all involved parties. So around eight hours of meetings in four days. We also spent a significant amount of time eating and drinking. Breakfast and lunch were rather short most days but supper started around 7 or 8 PM and the socializing lasted basically the rest of the night. In fact, our celebration of machine inspection dinner Wednesday night lasted over four hours.

The traveling on the other hand was extraordinary time consuming. We spent around 42 hours in airplanes over eight flights. We also spent about an hour in the car Monday, three hours Tuesday, nine hours Wednesday, and another two hours Thursday plus or minus an hour each day. I really enjoy traveling to new places. I feel that seeing the world from the window of a vehicle is one of the better ways to see things. Certainly it gives one a better understanding of the place than the view from an airplane or train. The first video of the day is a very typical example a paved road experience in the Riau province of Indonesia. This was taken during the morning of Tuesday, October 30th on the outskirts of Pekanbaru. The unfortunate part of this video is that you only have something like a 35 degree field of view where as I had about 180 while taking the video. There are things you miss watching just the video.
After factoring in traveling, meetings, and sleep there was not much dead time at all. I mean I do not remember ever having more than two hours before the next scheduled engagement during the day. I did have enough time to go running every day but three times I was done by 5:30 AM, once I started out at 6:30 PM, and the other time I started at the late hour of 6 AM. Sorry no video of me running. It would be nice to get some, but again who do I ask to get it?

Overall I struggled most with the food, smoking, and the Chicago to Hong Kong flights. Neither struggle was particularly challenging. In fact, I had the best prawn (shrimp) and crab I have ever had! Although, that was at a Chinese restaurant in Indonesia. I also bit the head off of a fish, a fried little eel looking thing. I suppose it tasted like fish jerky. Also, the food is spicy! I mean, I ate half a large bottle of Tabasco sauce in the two weeks leading up to this trip and I should have had the whole bottle. The second video is of lunch Monday, three hours after we arrived in Indonesia. Google only allows one video per post so this video will have to wait to be embedded. I was thinking the whole time that I was certain to get diarrhea or some other parasite from the food, but I've been back over a day and I am still okay.

The flights were not fun but certainly not as bad as I expected. I am small enough that I travel in economy well. I can cross my legs, read, use my computer, get up and walk around a little, and take my shoes off. That being said, I do not think I could function well commuting to the other side of the world every week. Probably 80% of the men in Indonesia, at least around Pekanbaru smoke. Some more than others, but it is quite the opposite of the United States. That is changing slowly. A few years ago they finally cracked down on smoking on flights around Indonesia. Things change it just takes time.

I managed to run about 34 miles for the week, although about 14 of them were in Singapore and six in the Hong Kong hotel I slept in. Travel does not have to stop everything in your life. I really enjoy running in other countries. I did not run in Pakistan outside of basecamp but I took full opportunity to run in Indonesia. My favorite run was five miles that I did Wednesday morning around 6:30 AM. I ran out of the compound were were staying at into the town of Kerinci and along the main street. I received so many stares! I like the stares from the kids, such as the Muslim girls wearing burkas, because I feel I am probably the first of my kind (a white runner in short shorts) they have ever seen. I feel these trips to other countries are one way that I can be an ambassador of good will toward other countries. There are problems like climate change and sustainability that we have to deal with during my lifetime and they will only be solved if everyone in the world works together on solutions. Putting myself into these other places can help educate all parties. The life expectancy in Indonesia is 60 for men now. Perhaps seeing me running will be one of the events to spur some Indonesians to exercise a little. I am assuming that many of them die from heart attacks and the risk of heart disease can be reduced through exercise. Although speaking of health, allegedly the jungle ants that bite people like to suck out the sugar and are good for diabetics. Yeah, I called my Indonesia friend out on that as soon as he said it. That being said I was probably bitten 40-60 times in two days by little ants whose bite hurts as much as a mosquito. I did get a handful of mosquitos bites, but less than ten probably.

Was it worth it? Yes, I feel it was. Some of the information I am bringing home is mind boggling. I suppose it is nothing totally new, but this is an opportunity for knowledge transfer that I intend to make the most of. Most organizations struggle with knowledge transfer and communication for a variety of reasons. I intend to tell everyone who will listen about the things that I learned.

Would I go back? Yes, just give me some time to process everything that happened this week.

I had a great week! Certainly it was not perfect, my coaching really suffered, but life will never be perfect. We can only make the best of the little time that we have.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Travel, Travel, Travel

I am in the Hong Kong airport now. Flight for Chicago, United Airlines 896, boards in one hour so I have some down time. I am not going to detail all of the details of the last week, but suffice to say by the time I get back to Dubuque tonight, it is 10:30 AM for me in HK, I will have spent 44 hours on airplanes and about 14-18 hours in cars and trucks the last eight days. After all of this I am bringing home only 2-3 hours of video and we only had 4-5 hours of sit down meetings. Now, it is great video. Information per minute is extremely high by my standards. Plus, the meetings were very productive and opened up lines of communication.

Advice for long distance travelers:

  • Delays happen. Always bring something to occupy yourself such as a smart phone, book, camera, etc.
  • Relax, the traffic is not nearly as hectic as it first feels. The drivers know what they are doing.
  • Get out and stretch your legs. I managed to run every morning on this trip. It makes sitting much easier.
  • Watch out for the fish. If in doubt, vegetarian out.
  • Always bring a bottle of water and something to eat. It may be six or seven or more hours between clean rest stops. 
  • Carry a backpack. You can put your sensitive material (computer, smartphone, passport, etc.) and water in it and carry it with you everywhere. Security from thieves is not as guaranteed as most places in the US. 
  • Enjoy it! Seeing the world from the roads and airports of the world is such a great way to get exposure to different cultures and topographies. 

Typical Traffic in Indonesia (Yes, She is Texting)

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Indonesia - From Pekanbaru

This trip has given me material for weeks of blogging. Unfortunately, the Internet is not terribly fast here so I shall keep it short. No philosophical rants, problem solving, or educational lessons. Instead, 8.2 seconds of video. Taken around: Jalan Teluk Kuantan - Rengat, Kelayang, Indonesia. Trying finding that on a map, better yet, in person.

I almost stepped right beside it. Welcome to the jungle Isaiah...