Tuesday, December 31, 2013

How Light Can You Mountaineer?

Well, yesterday I tried to climb Dragon's Tail Couloir on Flattop Mountain in Rocky Mountain National Park. It's an easy 40-45 degree snow and 3rd-4th class chute that I was hoping to cruse in the morning and get down for a late lunch. Well, it was not the day for me. I started off wearing two pairs of leg tights, my R1 Hoody, a thin spandex Nike stocking hat and my new Black Diamond Scree gloves. I quickly put on my Mountain Hardware Alchemy jacket and my Marmot hard shell because the wind was just whipping through the R1 Hoody even down below tree-line.

I was hoping, based mainly on the temperatures (15F-25F) and the fact is is a rather narrow valley that the wind would not be a huge factor. Well, my fingers quickly got very cold once I got into the steeper snow using two ice axes. I had to stop and shake them out and I got the "screaming barfies" which is the sensation when your fingers warm up after being cold that turns your stomach over a little and really hurts! On the other hand, it's a fact of cold weather climbing. So I continued upward.

Finally around 10,800 feet soon after the first constriction in the couloir the snow was scaring me for avalanche conditions. I am certainly no avalanche expert, but the basis of slab avalanches are a heavy wet dense layer on top of a light dry fluffy layer and given the right poking it can all slide. I was kicking in my feet and only the points of my crampons were going in about 2-3 cm (I was flat footing) but when I plunged in my ice axe it went in the full 60 cm. The point being, there was a crust on top of the snow but once below that it was rather soft. It would probably have been okay to continue, but between that and the consistent 20-25 mph winds gusting to 40+ mph and my thin clothing I decided it best to back down.

Every time I turn around in a situation like that I wonder, 'maybe I should have kept going'. I was cold but not unbearably so. Despite the hard/soft snow layers they were probably dense enough throughout that I could have gone the whole way. However, I have learned over time that the summit fever to get to the top of the climb can end poorly as I have learned through a few late afternoon hail storms. If it was that windy down in a valley and couloir how windy must it have been on top of the ridge?

My family first hiked to Emerald Lake in 1997. I could call it my first hike. Now I've climbed Hallett's north face in 2008 and this winter I was trying to do a moderately steep snow climb as an experiment. It's interesting how our view of a place changes with time and experience.

The point is, My legs were too cold today and the wind was just taking the heat out of me and my body reacted by taking the heat out of my fingers and toes. So tomorrow when I attempt to do the Loft on Mt. Meeker (roughly the same difficulty) I will be wearing full winter clothing (hard shell on my legs and thick gloves and maybe even mittens and bring my down parka to climb in just in case). This trip out here is training after all for Everest.

Enjoy the video I took just after I started heading down! (It looks and sounds worse than it actually was. I've climbed on Mt. Washington in New Hampshire in worse.)

Monday, December 30, 2013

I Live in Iowa: Week 138

To be fair I only spent about 16 hours actually in Iowa last week. I started off the week at my parents home in Wisconsin. (Is it not strange the various meanings of "home". Did I go "home" for Christmas?) The week was pretty low key. I spent a fair amount of time watching a few movies and television shows. I slept a good amount, 11 hours one night! I also spent time going to church for Christmas services.

Finally, I should mention that I spent a huge amount of time talking with my family. In the moment, it does not feel like we are "doing" anything but there is a lot of communication and idea exchange going on.

I was on vacation, I didn't work. I didn't even check my emails, although I want too. I want to see what the guys in India are working on and anything that the contractors might have worked on last week. However, checking in while on vacation is not a precedent I am ready to set for myself. Perhaps one day. I mean, I am thinking about checking my email, I am sure there is something I could reply to with an answer to accelerate the various processes we are working through. However, the more clear the vacation, the more vigor I expect to bring back to work when I return. There is a long term value in vacation. My job is awesome!

I ran a bunch, 68 miles. I was tired from the 76 last week and in the process of building mileage, it just takes time to build to a nice (80+ mpw) level. I even did a 4xmile workout with only about 200 meters jogging between intervals. My times were 5:34, 5:26, 5:24, and 5:20, and I was satisfied. It is certainly no big workout, but it is the first intervals I have done since Chicago and they were not easy or totally aerobic, it was a really nice workout at the Petit. Seriously, I always have good workouts at the Petit.

Also, with the help of my dad I changed the oil in my 306,000 mile van. Why is this significant? I've only changed the oil a few times on vehicles. I can do it, I just get frustrated at work as an engineer that I do not do more hands on mechanical work. So I changed my oil.

Saturday I drove to Colorado! I am actually sitting in a hotel in Estes Park right now. I am visiting friends and trying to do some climbing. The plan is Monday to climb Dragon's Tail Couloir on Flattop Mountain. It should be pretty quick and I might even be done by lunch. But in the event there are no tweets or Facebook updates by 6 PM Mountain time someone please call Rocky Mountain National Park and tell them some newbie is lost in the mountains.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Westward Ho!

It is not that I like last minute planning, but I am not good at sitting still. So I am taking off from Wisconsin later today for Dubuque and then Colorado! The plan is to be out there most of next week and get at least one full day of skiing and two days of steep snow and ice climbing. I have contacted a number of my friends out there but in case anyone else will be in the area and wants to go skiing or climbing, let me know.

I am thinking of doing an easy couloir on Flattop in Rocky Mountain National Park and then perhaps Dreamweaver on Meeker for the ice climbing side of things. It will depend on conditions when I get up there. It is not surprise that I am looking for Alpine Ice 2, Class 4, Grade II-III climbing which will be exactly what I expect to encounter on Everest. As for skiing, I've skied Copper Mountain, Winter Park, Berthod Pass, Loveland Pass, and St. Mary's Glacier. While I am open to skiing those places again, I would be more interested in something else, and preferably backcountry although I can pay for a lift ticket if others prefer.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

A Worthy Goal?

In the world of goals, what is worth the time, effort and money? Hard to say, what is worth it for me is not worth it for others.

I have been reading a lot about Mt. Everest lately. I've read most of it in general, but new articles are always cropping up. They run the gamut of opinions from high respect to no respect of the people involved. Spending nine week in the mountains of Asia, after years of training, and enough money to buy an amazing car or a good chuck of a house, is it worth all of that? Obviously I say yes, because I am doing it.

We, or maybe just I, see the ticket price for a "guided" expedition to the highest mountain in the world and think of all the other things that money could be used for. After visiting Rwanda this past summer, I know that money could feed 100 people every day for an entire year. I also know that the money I am spending is contributing toward several people having "office" jobs and maybe ten more people having seasonal jobs, and many of those dozen people have families who I am supporting through economics as well.

In other words, buying a used Porsche benefits basically one person directly, although it does support the continued high prices for used Porsches across the economy. Going on an expedition directly benefits a dozen plus people, with families.

Aside from the financial aspect, there are so many other things that could be worked on instead of climbing a mountain. A third college degree, more direct charity work, more involvement in coaching, painting, building my relationships in the United States are all just a few opportunity costs I will be giving up to go visit a chuck of rock and ice in Asia. Furthermore, I am not attempting to do anything that has not been done before. I am not pushing human limits, just my own personal limits. To be honest, that is part of the allure for me.

Summitting Everest and then dying is not a success. In other words, Everest is not the limit of my imagination. There are things to do afterward that no one else has ever done. While there are many ways to push human limits, I feel one of the best is to tackle challenges that are difficult for an individual personally. In other words, if you want to set the marathon world record, you had better be able to run a really fast 10k. Similarly, if you want to create the next new web start-up social network, you had better know how to program and have a different idea about how people like to connect. This idea of pushing oneself to learn things like overcoming obstacles translates across disciplines. Climbing an 8000 meter peak is like project management, you plan for months, work hard, and try to be ready to go for the ultimate goal despite all of the setbacks like diarrhea, broken gear, dehydration, supplier constraints, and part tolerance errors that require updating the blue prints as you go to production.

In the world of Everest there are many haters. People who think the whole pursuit is worthless. That there is nothing to be gained by retracing steps of what has clearly been done a number of times before. That money could be invested one said, donated to charity another said, that energy could instead be focused on new pursuits like skydiving from outer space. The way I see it, pushing limits happens in steps. A little bit more risk is taken and a little bit more achieved. Eventually, a new endeavor is started with no comparison to know the risks.

The vast majority of people go up in the mountains to live. The view of the surroundings falling away is not rewarding simply because you can see far, it is rewarding because of how difficult it is to get up there. It is rewarding because no matter how permanent it may seem your presence is certainly limited by time. There is an aesthetic beauty to hard work. A mountain summit is perhaps simply a shallow representation of the result of a good effort. Yet it is also a clear symbol that the end of the road has been reached and the goal has been accomplished.

For the opportunity to even contemplate abstract ideas like this and not worry about where my next meal will come from I am thankful to God. This is an opportunity, and where exactly it leads I do not know. I will say, I intend to make the most of this trip that I can.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas!

There is a lot to say about Christmas. However, I am busy spending time with my family and away from computers in general, so I am only going to say one thing. Christmas is about Jesus, God on Earth as a human, being born. Pretty crazy when you think about it. Yet, in a way I, or any other human, do not totally understand, it is perfect.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Emptiness of Fulfillment

Have you ever finished something and felt afterward a sense of loss because you no longer had that purpose in life? It could be a goal you worked toward for a long time and accomplished and after did not have any higher goal to go after. It could be a relationship you worked at for a long time only to have the other person leave after some predetermined length of time, like going graduating college or high school.

We all have this feeling, the inevitable let down that accompanies loss. It is not so much the action, relationship or achievement that we enjoy as much as the sense of purpose from that action, relationship or achievement. For years I wanted to run a marathon, now I have run several. The mystique that the distance once had it no longer has for me. It is still certainly a challenge, but more scientific than mysterious.

I bring this up because 2014 is going to be an interesting year. I certainly do not understand all of the events I will go through. In some ways 2013 has already been that for me. Being vegan for ten weeks and then not having a good race at Chicago left me with an emptiness about all of the effort I put into the sport. The little thought in the back of my head, 'I have done so much already, I've proved a point, I can stop whenever I want.' Yet I keep going.

I do not know of a solution to the feeling of loss of purpose after realizing a dream. Perhaps diversify life activities enough to always have something worth work toward? Definitely being a Christian there is always something more than can be done to further my faith. Perhaps the temporary nature of the earthly things we pursue is the reason fulfillment in our experiences seems just as fleeting as the experience itself.

The world will continue spinning, despite your life feeling like the world should stop. I suppose the only advice I have is to have a deeper purpose. A purpose which transcends all our actions.

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 23, 2013

I Live in Iowa: Week 137

This was a really satisfying week, in several regards. Work went well. I touched on the drama last week  about promoting a particular part through the stages to production and getting that straightened out Monday was a big relief for me. Huge, it came up two or three times a day the rest of the week to completely positive feedback from others.

My job as a design engineer is in large part about project management. I have responsibly for something like 20 projects, yet so many of the details of those are done by other people that I am more of a motivator and persuader of priority than actually making design changes. Something I learned from my old position was that the person who inquired the most about their project, got their project done first. It's pretty simple really, you can just drop off a project and expect it to come back in a month or you can drop it off and ask every day or every other day how it is progressing, and I guarantee it will get done faster.

I took this concept to a new level of directness recently by asking every day, but only once per day, how someone was progressing on finishing a project. It worked out well, the project finished this week, from his end at least. These requests are always difficult because in one sense, one group is waiting on another group to finish their work. On the other hand, we don't want to come across as jerks because there is a reason projects are usually not finished: more important projects are being worked on. Business and prioritization of business activities is a huge deal, it is different for most everyone and matters a significant amount when it comes to finishing projects on time.

Ran a whopping 76 miles including a 14 mile run and a 4 mile tempo which was just over 10 hours of running. Much of that was on slick snow and ice covered roads, so effort wise, it was probably a mid 80s mileage week. It's a nice boost from the 40s and 50s of the last few weeks. I am returning! This recovery is seeming to happen slower than previous buildups. I think Chicago really took it out of me, physically, mentally and emotionally. So much goes into a marathon that to come out the other side knowing I made mistakes is humbling and disheartening. Never the less I want to chase a 5k PR and I know I need to be in great shape for Everest.

Friday I drove home to my parents in Wisconsin. It has been pretty quiet ever since. I am just into 16 consecutive days of vacation and still unwinding a bit from work. Not 100% sure where this little vacation will take me, but there will be some adrenaline pumping moments to be sure!

Friday, December 20, 2013

Useful Product Life (Product Quality)

My van has 305,000 miles. In a couple weeks it turns 21 years old. The engine, transmission, axles, sheet metal, and all the major components are original. The dash isn't even cracked! I did not realize until the last year or two how much this van has driven my view of quality and durability and expected useful product life.

So often in the United States we view many things as disposable. Cars, televisions, furniture, appliances, clothing, and I suppose I could even say relationships, but that is beyond the scope of this post and I don't even really agree with that opinion. That is really all I have to say about product quality, that I have a van that is nearly 21 years old with 305,000 miles on it and when I think of quality, that's what I think about. A high price does not necessarily mean high quality and an inexpensive product with a good value does not necessarily mean high quality either. Quality is something that lasts a long time, through thick and thin, in good times and bad. In my case, hopefully one more winter of salted roads.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Consistency Matters

That's why I run on days I don't feel like running and blog on days I have nothing interesting to say. Habits, especially positive ones, take a long time to build but can end in a fraction of the time they took to get going. 

Keep your good habits.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

How Plush Are Your Luxuries?

Wow! It has chocolate and coffee and some milk. Not only does it taste really good the caffeine gives me a kick to get going! It's awesome, and it only costs $4!

Those are the rough thoughts in my head before I order a mocha or any other latte. For me, still, five years after first starting to drink coffee of any sort, I still get excited at the prospect of drinking a cup of coffee. It is a huge luxury for me. At least in my head it is clearly a luxury. I certainly was just fine before I drank coffee and lattes, my life is only marginally different now. I spend more time at coffee shops than I did before. That is another luxury, a coffee shop. The thought that there is a place you can go and sit down and leech wireless Internet for three hours for a $2 cup of coffee while in the company of others, astounding.

I can't place my finger on exactly what event or events led me to think of a coffee shop and $4 mocha as huge luxuries. Maybe it was seeing the poverty in Costa Rica, Pakistan, Indonesia, or Rwanda. Maybe it was growing up relatively poor when going out to eat meant the luxury of McDonald's. I still view a nice piece of clothing as a well fitting new piece of clothing, even if it cost $8 at Gap. My view on plush luxuries versus normal versus the cheap alternative must not be normal. Honestly, I still feel I live the life of a college grad student.

There is no advice today. No witty conclusion about viewing the world better. No, the uncomfortable question you get to leave with is, "how plush are your luxuries?"

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

My Quiet Time

I think I default to introvert. Some would say I definitely am, others would say I am plenty outgoing and more extroverted than many. I won't argue either way. I know I get lonely and crave the company of friends. I also know that other times I dread the constant presence of others and the expectations, perhaps only imagined in my mind, those people have for me.

Sometimes there is a silence. As we stand in a group I have said my peace, yet I feel people want me to say more. There is no more. Or maybe there is more and I don't feel like telling it, either because I have told it 30 times before or because the pain of telling it is not something I want to relive. I am boring. Just like the world is boring, so I am. I read books of people who are far more interesting, yet at the same time, just as normal as you and I.

I fear that because I have moved around so much growing up that there is a long term ability to make relationships work, like on the 7+ year scale, that aside from my family, I have not really had. What do you talk about with someone after you have talked about "everything"?

Everyone gets mentally recharged somehow. I often get energy from doing things alone. In many ways running is a daily way that I recharge my batteries. I return with a zest for life that I likely did not have pre-run. I know I need my quiet time. Yet like Shangri-La, quiet time in best in moderation. What is the balance of people time and alone time? I have no idea. It varies so much for me.

Monday, December 16, 2013

I Live in Iowa: Week 136

I'll be honest, this was a long week, somewhat stressful too. If I haven't returned your text, call, email, tweet, Facebook message, or just about anything it's because I basically shut off my phone a few nights this past week. Let me tell you about it.

It's work I tell you! Work is not just money in exchange for my time and talents, it's my emotions too. It's my heart and passion that I put into my work, and last week, I really struggled to get that passion renewing satisfaction out of work. It is easy to say this now, today the issue was solved! However, I'm getting ahead of myself. Since moving into my new role two months ago, one particular project was on the top of my list. We have stages that parts and assemblies must go through before they are implemented into production. At every step the design engineer (me) initiates the step, and then a cascade of other people are responsible for doing various things. For example, assembly has to verify they can actually assemble it. Product support has to make sure it has the right part codes so that the dealerships can get a replacement when one fails. These are called tasks. Each task has five steps and depending on the step each step has three to five different people (groups) that need to sign off on the design as acceptable. In short, people have been asking me, about every third meeting, when I will get to the rather important third step. Last week we had the soft deadline of Tuesday to get to step three. Well we missed that. Wednesday, Thursday and Friday we missed it too.

Thursday I was so exhausted mentally, and perhaps emotionally, that I came home, didn't even run, turned my phone off, watched a couple of Band of Brothers and went to bed at like 8:30. No one else was emotionally torn up about me not getting the part promoted to step three but I place pretty high expectations on myself. This is actually a really good example of failing (to meet a soft deadline) and succeeding at eventually reaching the deadline today. (Within hours of completing this stage of the task, no less than three people congratulated me.)

On top of all this I have been running more mileage. I have not totaled up the week yet, but I did a 6k tempo Tuesday and a 13.5 mile run Friday night in the dark on the snowy roads. My first workout post-Chicago and my longest run post-Chicago. Probably 40something miles, in only six days of running.

Plus, announcing Everest Thursday was a draining blog post to write Wednesday night. So much has gone into getting to this point, the point of making it official that I am going to the big E, that after paying a deposit and getting permission to take a leave of absence and announcing it, I already feel like I am most of the way to the top. In a mere 30 weeks the whole expedition will be over.

I did get out and go skiing Saturday at Chestnut, south of Galena, Illinois, which was really nice! Best skiing session I have had in years! I caught air a couple times on the sides of jumps and once strait off a jump, but I did fall on that one. I also was feeling like going fast and managed to go downhill averaging over 20 mph a couple times. I figure you have to hit 30 mph to average 20. It's felt really good. Sometimes going off jumps and going fast can be intimidating, and the last few years I have not felt that confidence to stick myself out there. I totally felt it Saturday.

Friday, December 13, 2013

The Emotional Development Through Life

It is very interesting how my emotions change over time. In a strange way I don't feel like my mental capacity has changed much over time, I simply know a lot more through learning now than when I was seven, even though my ability to solve problems has only changed because of the tools I have learned to use. In other words, my IQ might even be lower than it once was because that test is nearly tool independent, but the problems I solve are much more complex because I've spent 20 years learning how to solve problems. My emotional development seems much more profound on the other hand.

When I was much younger I would watch war movies and get excited by the guys running around (me, excited by running...), shooting guns, and laughing. Now I watch the same movies and seem to only see the parts where a person is having a mental breakdown or a man younger than myself becomes permanently disfigured. Forrest Gump was a prime example, I used to think it was a comedy, but when I watched it once in college I broke down crying because it was so heartbreaking.

I can't point to one moment when I changed to acknowledge the emotional side of life. In fact, it's really more of a spectrum of emotions, I knew enough as a 17 year old so that I did not willfully enlist in the armed forces. Yet, in six months I may be standing on top of Mt. Everest, having not used bottled oxygen and thus risking a 7.6% chance of death on the descent. (Mountaineering statistics are skewed by people who do not turn around and descend when they should. My record of turning around on many major climbs such as Broad Peak, El Capitan, several times on Longs Peak, February 2006 on Mt. Adams, etc... should speak for itself.)

I do not know where my emotional development will lead. Maybe it has already peaked for my life. Maybe it will increase to such a high degree that my emotions now seem elementary. What I can say is that emotions are interesting. Food is emotional. Politics are emotional. Love is clearly emotional. How we mix the illogical emotional aspect of an experience with the logical aspect of an experience is difficult to understand and varies for nearly every experience. Being a vegan showed me how truly emotionally most people view food. Ultimately food is about getting the nutrients we need (science) with the taste we like best (the emotional aspect of food, but scientifically definable).

Emotions are clearly interesting.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

I am Going to Mt. Everest and You are Invited

In the summer of 2004 after a family and friends backpacking trip near Aspen, Colorado, I spent a few days wearing crampons and carrying an ice axe tromping around Rocky Mountain National Park. At that point I had close to six weeks of backpacking experience with a couple 14,000 foot mountain summits and half dozen 13,000 foot mountain summits under my feet. At the age of 18 I decided I really liked the sport of mountaineering, at least all the mountaineering I had experienced, and I wanted to see how far mountaineering went. The question that is often asked when teenage Boy Scouts go backpacking is: "would you try to climb Mt. Everest?" With Boy Scouts behind me, as far as I knew, and the paint just chipped off my new crampons, I decided, yes, I want to try Mt. Everest. 

Since timelines get things done I gave myself the arbitrary deadline of ten years from the summer of 2004. Since then I have made significant progress. You name it, I have probably tried to climb it in the continental US. Winter days on Mt. Washington in Huntington Ravine in New Hampshire, afternoon showers on 14ers in Colorado, the vertical cliffs of Yosmite in California, hanging belays on Longs Peak, Utah Towers, the Tetons and thousands of runs at all elevations up to 16,000 feet and over all types of terrain including a former fastest known time around the 93 mile long Wonderland Trail and a 2:30 marathon

Then there was Pakistan. Broad Peak taught me a lot. Among the many lessons the expedition showed me that I can be strong, even at 7000 meters. It also solidified my resolve to experience Mt. Everest.

So I am going. Barring some unforeseen event, and to be honest there is still a likely chance that circumstances change. The total trip for me will last nine weeks from the beginning of April to the beginning of June. I expect to travel with Asian Trekking on the Eco-Everest 2014 Expedition. I chose them because they have a good reputation for food, cost effective services, an experienced Sherpa staff, and arguably most important, they will allow me to climb without bottled oxygen. 

If you would like to go you can come for the trek to basecamp with me. For about two weeks we will trek uphill until we reach basecamp at around 17,000 feet on a glacier. Then you could trek back out in a couple days and fly home. Round trip maybe 3 weeks from the United States and total cost of about $4000 including all airfare. I can send you more details if you are interested in this. I hope to only have an expedition to Mt. Everest this once. 
My Mountaineering Experience in One Photo: Broad Peak Basecamp in 2009 with K2 Behind Me
There are many aspects of this I have not said yet. More details will come in the future. Yes, I have approval to take a leave of absence from engineering. Yes, I have rescue insurance. Yes, I have already paid a deposit worth more than my bicycle and van put together. Yes, there will be a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for a possible book I will write. I may have a charity that I will sponsor on this expedition. The next six months are going to be interesting!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Having a Say

Voices carry weight. People read writing. I bring this up for a couple reasons, first meetings in business and second for the unconnected. If you are not in the meeting that decides something, you will not have a say. We are in the earliest stages of planning a new project at work. The project is so early that we are not even having meetings, we are sitting around desks talking about it. A couple times I have sat in on these discussions and added my fraction of an opinion on the subject. I know that whatever the decisions ultimately are I will end up with hundreds of hours of work from the simple decisions made in these low-key meetings. It is the same even with established projects, being in the meeting, and sometimes sitting at the table instead of around the edge of the room, allows a debate to happen. You do not have to win every debate, and often between choices A, B and C the differences are minute and unnoticeable to the end users, so it can be hard to even call it a debate. Yet the point is, speaking up and having a say is the only way that your ideas will be heard. Without communication, and your ideas, why are you here?

Second, the unconnected people of this world that do not have a say. Slowly it seems more people are having a say about the reality of their worlds. This is good, that the pervasiveness of the Internet is giving ever smaller global stakeholders a chance to say "that's not fair!" That is something, giving recognition and awareness of the plight of the poorest that I am passionate about. What I mean is, I hope that I can help those less fortunate than myself to have a voice, a heard opinion, rather than continuing in their world separate from my world. Global means everyone, not just engineers and MBAs.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

I am Going to Quit… Something

I do too much. At least I sign up for too many things. I get put on too many boards and go to too many meetings. So I end up willfully missing things. The time for the thing comes, and while often I am actually at something else, sometimes, I just don't want to go, so I don't. Everyone thinks her or his thing is the most important. That is not totally true, as people get older they seem to grow more comfortable with the idea of people have other priorities than his or her own.

Part of growing older is learning to prioritize and assign value to one's time. There is also an aspect of learning about oneself. I gain energy from time alone. I gain energy from one on one and small group settings too, but larger groups, or less aligned groups are draining. The last few weekends I have laid on the couch more than I care to admit. It is a result of doing so much most of the rest of the week, that I need to replenish my energy. I often sleep nine or ten hours on a weekend night.

The truth is, I glorify burning out. I look forward to hitting the wall. I envy the person who went so hard that no more can physically be done. It is really not a great attitude. Life is a 90 year long challenge, not a three year sprint, yet I treat it like I am nearing the end, this week.

No idea if I will actually quit anything. I will say I am looking forward to Christmas and New Year's for the time to hibernate. On the other hand, in the long term I cannot let myself not do everything I can in life. Our time here is so limited. What is possible with a little extra effort in life? The chance to change one more person's life.

Monday, December 9, 2013

I Live in Iowa: Week 135

Another week in the bag. I am a week older, another week that we just will not get back. Occasionally I wonder, if I could have redone any major parts of my life thus far would I? Like go to a different school, chase down a different job, run more, climb more, go out on the weekends more, and the answer is not really. I look at the path my life has taken, and is taking, and while not at all what I expected until 2011 changed my life, it is strangely working out really well.

2010 taught me that we can plan and pursue goals yet sometimes we will be sidelined and take tangents that we never expected to take. Somehow, life always works out.

Work was more productive than last week. As I spend more time in my new role as a design engineer I am getting better at understanding what I do. It is really more of project management than simply modeling CAD parts all day long. I currently have five people working on projects "for me". The projects are really for the program and everyone is part of the program, yet I am the one ultimately responsible for the structures. So it is my job to amalgamate all of the work people do on those structures and incorporate that work into a better, more refined product. It's actually better experience than the simple modeling that I hoped for as a design engineer.

I ran 48 miles. A little less than last week, in part because I ran so much last week. I spent the first part of the week tired. I am building up slowly. I had a 12 mile run on Saturday, the longest since Chicago. It is always interesting to run through the Mines of Spain during opening day of Deere season and seeing all of the guys in orange sitting with their guns staring me as I ignorantly gallop through the forest in mostly black…

Coaching is a lesson in retention. Seriously, how do you retain and motivate people?

I have big news in the next week! I'm not going to announce it until I waist deep into it, but hopefully that will be this week.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Authority and Confirmation Bias

Often people in authority only hear what they want to. It's because we get rewarded for making others happy. It's really hard to spend time around people who disagree. In fact, disagreeing with authority seems that it will only result in negative repercussions. This is a problem. Confirmation bias is we want to please people by confirming their ideas, or rather we want people to confirm our ideas. We are biased to agree that people with views like us have better, more credible, ideas than people who disagree with us. When I say that anyone who makes as much money as I do is rich, only a couple of people have actually agreed with me. Most either assume I make way more than they do or think that six figure income or $150k in annual income might be rich. It's always "the grass is greener on the other side of the fence" which means my neighbor must be rich, at least more rich than I am.

In electronics negative feedback loops typically create stability in an output and positive feedback loops amplify output. A stampede is a positive feedback loop, first five cows are running, then twenty cows running then 100 cows running, and the whole herd. A negative feedback loop is our ears, when something is too loud, we turn down the volume or move away from the speakers. In any endeavor to achieve perfection, negative feedback is necessary. Confirmation bias is positive feedback, and it is the reason why products sometimes end up flops, but senior management thinks it will be great, there was no negative feedback. I will not deny that negativity hurts, but we must seek it out to refine our weaknesses.

I do not know how to convey this forward in your life. Perhaps to say that honesty is important. The truth is more important than your honest opinion, which you likely believe to be the truth. It's a small distinction because often giving an honest opinion based on a limited number of facts is not telling the whole truth, the truth might not be totally known. However, not giving the honest, and negative, opinion only leads to confirmation bias. It is the reason people lead to ridiculous directions and conclusions.

Negativity is not fun, but we cannot be our best without it. Without recognizing the flaws we pretend to live in an imaginary world. There is no perfection. None of us are perfect, and no human made thing is perfect. That being said, I like the phrase, "it's perfect" because it sends the message that we did the best we could with the tools we had, it's really good, and for what it's purpose is, it fulfills the role exactly.

What take away advice is there from this: disagree with someone verbally or in writing the next time you disagree in your head. Maybe that person or those people have no idea of the flaw. You know things that no one else knows, that is what makes you unique. If you never share that unique information, we all lose out.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Mini Fever

I am coining a new term, the mini fever. I am not a warm person. Only about one in twenty hands I shake are colder than my own. Between the normal aging and slowing of my metabolism and the running which is ever so gradually making me more lean, I get cold easily. This is not a problem, I just wear more clothing. However, sometimes, when I sleep or rest I get mini fevers. 

I had another one a few nights ago. They are somewhat common. I have probably had three in a week before, typically when I am training hard. What happens is I go to sleep in the 64-65F apartment (winter indoor temperature) under a sheet, fleece blanket and thin down comforter and I am cold when I get in bed but inevitably wake up in the middle of the night roasting. It is more common when I am not hydrated enough, in addition to the hard training, but I typically wake up in the morning feeling very rested and a comfortable temperature. 

My theory is that my body in a nine hour attempt to recover goes into white blood cell, or rebuilding, overload and churns through energy in an attempt to repair itself. If you ask me at 1 am how I feel during a mini fever, fever would be a decent description, but if you ask me at 6 am I will say I slept like a rock. 

I have no scientific basis or evidence to back this up. It is more or less unpredictable although increasing the physical stress in my training or being dehydrated seems to be the only times I wake up in the night to notice it. 

Have you ever had a mini fever?

The Hunger (and the Terror)

Motivation, drive, perseverance, pain, suffering, they all mean the same thing: watch out for the person that has a lot of it. The last two days, I have been on fire! In more ways than one, but the subject is running today. I really struggled after the Chicago Marathon this year. I felt after so many years of trying and working toward my goals I was not nearly as close as I need to be to achieve them. I like big and difficult goals, but let me tell you first hand, not achieving your goal, and knowing that you will not, is a hard pill to swallow. I have not admitted defeat yet, but simply wrestling with defeat brings your motivation into the mud.

I struggled to understand why I kept running and training. I have already run a couple good marathons. I have run good races on the track and the roads and the trails. The only person I have left to prove anything to is myself. Is all the toil worth it?

The last two days I went running, and wanted to do more when I finished, lift weights or run 200 meter sprints. Additionally I went indoor rock climbing Sunday in Madison for the first time in too long. I feel strong.

Motivation breeds motivation. Success breeds success. Who is the CEO? The guy that once was a VP, the same guy that became a project manager before her peers. Who wins the gold medal in the Olympics? The fastest guy in his training group, the guy who was fastest in high school, the kid who beat the others in middle school gym class. What kind of lawyers win billion dollar settlements? The kind who once won million dollar settlements, who convinced their high school friends he or she was right.

Motivation has two parts, what we are moving towards and what we are fleeing from. The ideal motivation involves the hunger pulling you forward and the terror pushing you on. I am once again hungry to see what can be accomplished, and terrified that I might not do everything I can to know…what is possible.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Danger of a Promotion

The danger of a promotion to a position within the same group is micromanagement. A person I know was in a position under a manager who had been promoted within the group and that manager was micromanaging. It's just not the most productive situation in the world.

About the only time I have been a supervisor has been in rock climbing and running situations. About all one can do is give the training (to the instructors or students or athletes) and then let them go. In climbing, while I was the director, I was also an instructor, and I found that being out of sight of the other instructors (on the other side of our climbing rock) allowed the other instructors to do good work. Yvon Chouinard would call that "management by absence". I think it is an effective method.

Runners on the other hand can be a little different. Students are typically young and as such can either be very competitive with each other or all not work hard enough. In other words, getting them to run the appropriate effort on any given day can be a little more difficult. Ultimately though it is up to each individual person as to what level of seriousness he or she wants to take the training, which takes the pressure off of the coaches desire to do the best we possibly can.

In short, if you manage, you have people who are getting paid to do a job, get out of the way and let them do their job. I must say, I suppose I am rather fortunate, I have never had a manager who I saw as micromanaging. I can not even think of one.

Monday, December 2, 2013

I Live in Iowa: Week 134

Kind of a quiet week. I worked three days, with a large number of people out of the office. I was not able to get everything done I wanted to. You see, as a design engineer a large part of my job involves coming up with ideas, and they "selling" the ideas to all the affected parties to find the holes in the idea and either make it better, and acceptable to all or mostly all, or discard the idea. Honestly, most ideas never see the light of a welding spark.

I ran a whopping 54 miles! I ran all seven days of the week. No track or cross country practice this week, but I did run with a high schooler that I went to Africa with. I suppose every running partner has something different to offer. Here is a really interest running website I found and started reading through this week. Just when I think I have read it all, I haven't

I spent Wednesday night though Sunday up at my parents in Wisconsin. Thursday we had all four of my immediate family and my sister's boyfriend over. The next couple days I mostly slept 9-10 hours a day, talked with my parents, ran and watched maybe four movies on Netflix including the Andromeda Strain (1971) and Europa Report. Both solid science fiction movies stronger on the science than most of their genera. The interplanetary travel and orbital mechanics aspect of the Europa Report was particularly satisfying.

In short, it was really nice to see my family for so long and have a chance to rest. I even got on Facebook a couple times! On the other hand, not terribly productive from the little side projects I wanted to work on point of view. It was a nice week. God has really blessed me.

Friday, November 29, 2013

I am Still Thankful

I am spending the weekend at my parents house and black Friday has passed us, I didn't go shopping, just to the coffee shop, and I am still thankful. It is funny how our minds kind of turn off or slow down on breaks. I feel like I push hard all the time and when I slow down, I really slow down. After all, I'm writing today's blog post at 5 pm.

There are so many things to be thankful for. I ran 10 miles today and it was somewhat "warm" and there was no wind. My parents have a wonderful house. My van just keeps running. It really does not have to. A 20 year old vehicle with 304,000 miles is welcome to break and quit working. The fact that I get a paid day off! How cool is that! Plus, I get paid so much. Sure I want more, but I certainly don't need more. Nobody with my salary or higher needs this kind of money. My life is great.

I look at my life and there are so many advantages that I have, and have had, that billions of people do not have. For one I was born in the USA, probably the greatest country out there, despite it's flaws. I am white. While skin color obviously has no real implications on ability, from my many friends and a slew of articles I understand that being white is easier than most other skin colors, it's sad. It turns out I went to a high school in the top 5% of high schools in Kansas. I did not know that until years after I graduated. I went to a prestigious private university. I am on salary at a top 100 (top 80) brand company.  Every step of the way I have been blessed with opportunities. Sure I've had a couple missteps, like 2010, but on the whole, and especially right now I have so much to be thankful for!

Thanks again for reading! Also, for my friends, because I know most of you know me personally thank you. We might not always talk as much as I would like, but for the time we have talked, I would not trade that honesty and sincerity for billions of dollars. Seriously, I think money brings it's own set of problems, among them the honesty of those close to you. I am thankful what I do have, it is honest.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving! One of the more recent holidays, only 150 official years old. Lincoln promoted it back in 1863. I am very thankful. It is important to remember our thankfulness, hopefully always, but if not than at least for a day.

Instead of making a list of 100 things that I am thankful for, like I have in the past. I thought what one thing am I most thankful for? God. Well, that was too easy. Quite seriously, everything is second to God. I am thankful for all of the blessings that I have, the family and relationships, the wealth, the jobs, the physical ability, but it all comes in second.

On a separate note, the holiday of Thanksgiving and the day after, are not rights. We may treat them as rights but we should be thankful for the days of privilege, that many of us are paid for not even showing up.

I encourage you to pay it forward. Take gratitude and thankfulness into work next week. Thank your boss for hiring you. Thank you coworker for getting all that stuff done you didn't really want to do. Thank your neighbor for plowing the extra five feet of your sidewalk.

Thank you for reading! I really appreciate the visits and page views. It's not the most personal, but for all of the in person conversations it has started, even the ones with others that I am not present for, I am thankful. Thank you!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

How Much MORE STUFF Do You Need?

A major holiday is coming up, Black Friday. As good consumers everyone is expected to worship at the altar of the "SALE". 

Frankly, yes, spending your money helps keep the economy going. Without the flow of money between people and companies there would be no modern economy. And I for one like living in the 21st century. So yes, spending money helps the person receiving the money and employs people. 

That being said, how much is enough? Is anyone who will be shopping at the sales Friday really lacking anything they need? Maybe, I am sure there are examples, but what about the people in the Philippines? While they are devastated, their damage actually still pales in comparison the the Indonesian tsunami of nearly a decade ago. Personally, I struggle to enjoy stuff, but I rarely regret the experiences, even the expensive ones. Do you really want to change someone's life? Send her to Africa, to a village without clean or running water. A new handbag does not really compare. 

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

What is Courage?

It is a good question. Courage must be doing something difficult, but what is difficult? Courage seems to be doing the uncomfortable, so more of a mental and emotional state rather than a physical state. In other words we typically don't call football players courageous. 

I am leaving this question open today. I don't have the answer. I have a few ideas, apologizing, doing something that may result in death, doing something not normal that is uncomfortable and the right thing. Is courage a facade? Is one person's courageous act another person's weakness? What is not courageous?

Monday, November 25, 2013

I Live in Iowa: Week 133

What happened this week? While at work we saved the company over $20 million in three days of brainstorming and simple critiquing. Not bad for a group of 40 mostly young people like myself. Of course, we still have a few months, and in a couple cases years, of work to put the ideas into practice, but we generated over 1000 ideas on possible ways to reduce costs. Of course you have to take cost cutting ideas with a grain of salt, we don't want to reduce the quality of our product. It was an interesting, and long, three days.

We also learned that we would be getting a bonus this year because the company did so well. I try not to talk about my enormous wealth often because it makes Americans uncomfortable, and they are still 75% of my audience. However, there are a couple points I would like to share:

  1. I never expected to get a bonus in life. I always thought engineers were paid for their work and time, but no bonus if the company did well. It's a nice perk to have.
  2. I will get twice as much before taxes in my bonus in 2013 than I made in all of 2010. That's not saying much, but it is something I am incredibly thankful for and don't take for granted.
Running went great! I basically tripled my mileage to 27 miles for the week! I even doubled on Saturday. I am still maybe only 90% but my right calf pain has nearly disappeared and in no time I will be doing workouts. 

Coaching was very limited, but as always, it's like an addiction. The hope that my presence will help a couple youngsters be a little better, not just on the track but off too, keeps me motivated to keep showing up, even when I seriously question my coaching value.

What else? I logged on Facebook for an hour. That's rare enough it's newsworthy.

Thanks for reading! I haven't said that recently. I hope that sharing as much as I do helps provide real concrete advice and encouragement to do the right things in your life. The fact that people do read this keeps me posting.

Friday, November 22, 2013

My Weakness

Yesterday as I had a massage my therapist laughed when I said that I see myself as weak. She laughed because she said that the amount of pressure she was putting on me was enormous. Most people don't pay for that kind of pain. 

I run marathons and train thousands of miles in all weather. It seems I am not weak. Yet I look at myself, the things I have endured, and I see weakness. I have never starved. I have never been lethally chased, barring an incident in 2004 with a boulder. My life is and always has been easy compared to billions of others. I can't imagine any self inflicted pain equivalent to the difficultly the poor, starving, chronically sick go through every day. 

In short, no matter what pain and suffering I endure it will never be enough for me to consider myself strong. I mean, I am strong, but in the pursuit of more strength there is always weakness. 

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Future Does Not Involve Operators

Not only is the Google autonomous car changing things, semis and heavy equipment are ripe for automation. In fact back in 1997 John Deere started working on an autonomous tractor. Steadily they have been introducing features to tractors that allow a more automated tractor, and less chance for operator error. One of the most expensive parts of a tractor is the cab. Without it the whole machine would be less expensive. Cab-less vehicles also open up the possibility of true 24 hour operation. With infrared cameras to spot people and animals a cab-less tractor might not even need lights to run at night. 
Certainly, we aren't there yet. Do you want to be the guy trying to hitch an implement to an autonomous tractor backing up? What if it doesn't stop? Also, what if your kid runs out in the field in front of the tractor? Finally, how do you transport the tractor and the implement two miles to your next field?

Overall, the method of a tractor with a person driving pulling an implement has not changed in decades, it is an industry ripe for disruption. 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

They Downgraded Our Gas

If you live in Iowa, chances are for the last few years you have filled up with 89 octane and 10% ethanol gasoline. Well, in the last few weeks the gas stations and producers have quit offering the 89 octane fuel in favor of 87 octane with 10% ethanol added. This resulted in a 10-20 cents per gallon price decrease. While it is nice to pay less for gas, we are actually getting less gas now. While I like paying $2.829 per gallon it will not go as far as 89 octane would take us. You can even see the new sticker in the picture I took this weekend below.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

There Is No Going Back in Time

The last couple weeks I have reminisced a few times about the times that were in college and high school. Part of it was watching the cross country team, part of it was talking to an old friend, and talking to my grandparents. I will never be younger than I am today. There is no going back. This, time, our life, is a one way street.

I guess it scares me. I remember the simplicity and predictability of my younger days. As I get older everything gets more serious. Running has the connotation, 'are you going to lay it all out there and be your very best?' Dating has the connotation, 'are we going to get married?' Work has the connotation, 'will you put in more time to end up getting the promotion?' Life says, 'did you pay all of your bills this month?'

I think these things, and honestly I still have almost no responsibility. I have no dependents. I have more money than I have debts. I am just scared that life, the tiger of adventure, the world of possibility, might be getting away from me. I know, that's ridiculous! I went to Rwanda this summer and was in the top 0.5% of the Chicago Marathon last month. That doesn't sound like letting life get away from me. Yet...

I've mentioned before that I feel like I am tormented. Tormented by my own mind which demands that when I do something I do it all the way, the best I can. And I suppose... I am afraid that I have not given my all in the past. As I write this I am trying to think of a situation when I could have or would have given more and I can't come up with one. Maybe it's an insecurity, that no matter what I do, it will never be enough. There is some truth to that statement, that everything is meaningless and no one can do enough to change the outcome of life, which is death. Not only the insecurity of 'maybe I can't do it' but the fact that I could die trying is a really hard idea to grow into comfortably.

While my incompetences and failures frustrate me, my own mortality gives an urgency to everything I do. There is no going back. I have one less day ahead of me than I did yesterday. One less night of sleep in the countdown to my death. I can not delay doing the things I have to do. Yes, that means you will have to hear me whine about more failures as I continue to push my limits. It also means there are higher goals that will be accomplished.

My torment, which is my incompetence and failure in the limited time we call life, is my motivation.

Monday, November 18, 2013

I Live in Iowa: Week 132

Work was a week of some ups and downs. While another member of the team was in Lousiana checking up on a machine, I was describing over the phone the problem we had to go to Canada for, and wouldn't you know it, even though he is a software and electrical guy, he found the issue. I almost jumped out of my seat at work when he said, "Oh! That's a big crack! I can't believe I didn't see it." Great. So we have a repeatable problem to fix. Fortunately, we are not expecting to travel for this incident, we can just send the repair information. Still it's unfortunate because it means the Canadian incident wasn't a fluke, it's the norm.

We made progress in other areas. It can be hard, from the ground level engineering where I am to see the day to day and weekly developments, despite the fact I am the one sending out the reports and new information.

Running is getting much better! I put in a 9.7 mile week! That's not even counting the 2.5 miles I jogged during the men's and women's races up at St. Olaf either. I'm coming back. There is still a chronic muscle tear deep in my right calf and it's not healed yet.  It takes time.

Coaching, was not quite as great as I hoped it might be. We had a number of personal records this week, and best race of the season for others, but due to injuries the last month we just are not the team we were six weeks ago. I don't really want to dwell on it right now. In short we ended the season with NCAA D3 regionals at St. Olaf in Northfield, MN.

Finally, I went to see my grandparents who live in Minnesota. Seeing as how my grandma is 87, it's best I cherish all the time I can. What did I learn on this particular trip? My grandma has had a slew of dental work, so I feel better about my first filling and cavities. Also, a large ethanol plant closed in their town and that means 40 people are out of a job. Small town economics are sad. I mean either you have the young people or you don't. What defines young people is hard to say, it might just mean a steady supply of 65 year old retirees, but it means new people. A town with no one new will die off.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Forgetting Africa

It is so easy in the wealth of our daily lives, with all of the "small" luxuries we enjoy, to forget just how hard life is for the poorest five billion people in the world.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

My First Dental Filling

It finally happened, 27.5 years of no dental work, aside from cleanings and check-ups, ended with a couple fillings on my lower back teeth. For some reason my lower teeth have worn faster than my upper teeth, no one has had a good idea why yet. The best I can come up with is I drank too many sugary drinks for so long.

It's depressing, first having anything done to my teeth. Second, now it feels like I have a lump of cement on top of my teeth, however I can't "feel" it like I do my normal all real teeth. Third, enamel and dentin are two rather simple structures when it comes to the human body, we can't develop a paste or veneer sort of matrix that promotes regrowth? (They are actually working on such things around the world.) As the saying goes, "an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure" and it could refer to both more bushing and eating less sugar instead of a filling, or getting a filling instead of a root canal or whole new tooth. Either way, I could do better. Less sugar, more brushing and flossing, more vegetables, and more calcium, it's a simple list, but aw with any endeavor, easier said than done.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Forestry Management: Logging and Environmental Sustainability

I work for the largest manufacturer of mechanized forestry equipment in the world.  I am also a conservationist, so much a conservationist that I call myself a tree hugger and environmentalist depending on the context. How does one reconcile the image of destructive clear cutting with that of the pristine wilderness? Well, there are a number of ways, I support the creation and protection of national parks as places where the ecosystem is relatively undisturbed, preservation land management. I also support land actively managed for productivity and sustainability. I also recognize that there are parts of my life that are currently only found through localized exploitation practices, in other words, I know where my smart phone comes from. (Read yesterday's article for more information.)

I enjoy conservation because it seems like a great use of land. We get to use the resources from the land, yet do not take so much away from it that future generations can not use it. Forests are a great example of this. On my recent trip to Canada we visited a logging site and the view behind us of the government owned hillside was a great example of conservation in action.
Example of Canadian Forestry Management
See what I mean? The tops of ridges are left intact to act as wind blocks for soil erosion so that newly planted tree saplings are not uprooted. They are also left intact so that animals have places to run and forage. The rest of the forests are cut in patch style rotations so that trees of three or more ages are in one place. For example, in the immediate foreground the trees were cut in the last week, about 200 meters away the trees were in the 10-15 year old range, and on the opposing hillside I have labels for the different areas. Seed trees are also left every 30 meters or so to help reseed the forest and act as land stabilizers as the young hand planted saplings take root. The sapling trees are all planed by hand by seasonal workers in the summer. The large seed trees left are of the type that is most productive for lumber. The smaller trees left, seen in the foreground and of varying species, were trees too small for any economic use so they were left, run over several times, but otherwise undisturbed.

When I explain the exploitation, conservation, preservation continuum to people, often people think think of one extreme or the other, but between removing every single tree and not removing any of the trees is a medium that is economically productive, on land that aside from hunting is otherwise economically unproductive. The negative aspect is that in this part of British Columbia the trees are in the neighborhood of 70 years old when they are harvested. With growing cycles that long sustainability takes on a complex meaning. It is good to know that somewhere in the world people are attempting to plan environmental practices decades into the future, and not only for the sake of recreation, but for an economic benefit, every year.

Finally, it is worth noting that increases in carbon dioxide levels and rising global temperatures will increase the rate of growth of northern (and I suppose far southern) trees. In other words, the CO2 levels have gone from about 310 ppm to 390 ppm from 1960 to 2010 so a 70 year cycle in the past might only be a 50 year cycle going forward. The negative of this is that the wood will be less dense, and thus a slightly lower quality. The positive is, there will be more wood available to harvest. In a perverse way higher CO2 levels and warmer temperatures will help the logging industry reduce the time between harvest cycles.

Clearly, forestry, and wood, paper and related products, are one tiny aspect of the global resource pool yet a complicated topic whose best practices we are still learning. In short, Canadians, nice job, it seems like you are thinking about all of these things in a proactive manner!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Preservation, Conservation, Exploitation

There is a small continuum of possible ways to use land. On the one hand is preservation, do not disturb the land at all. On the other hand is exploitation, get every little bit of value out of the land as possible. In the middle is conservation. Using the land for productive capacities, but aiming not to deplete it and thus lose one's livelihood. In graph form:
Preservation, Conservation, Exploitation

That's the spectrum of how to use land, energy, and just about all material objects. The examples I give below the line are only that, examples. I realize that calling farming "sustainable" (in quotes) may rile some readers but it is worth noting that we aren't entirely sure the century long results of our environmental impact, specifically when it comes to agriculture in the midwest United States. Also, listing Superfund sites as anything other than pure exploitation may make others angry, but the fact is many superfund sites are successfully reclaimed to nontoxic levels.

Every person has an opinion on where we should stand on average in the world. The truth is the world is finite. It is very big, and has a lot of resources to offer, and gets bombarded with more sunlight, adding energy every day, yet it is finite. I tend toward the preservation side of conservation, but I know what materials my cellphone and laptop require, which come from open pit mines and future Superfund sites, and I recognize those are a fact of our world. Yet I worry that the impact we have on Earth right now may not be realized for decades or centuries to come, and for that reason I suggest we attempt to reduce our consumption of resources and enhance our use of more renewable resources. Land use and land management, not to mention energy use and management or resource use and management, are complicated topics. No one person has all the answers. I simply want to point out there is a spectrum of opinion and use of land, energy, and resources and with a continually growing global population more tough choices will be demanded in the future. For your own good, and the health of us all, think about this now in your own life before someone else makes the choices for you.

Monday, November 11, 2013

I Live in Iowa: Week 131

A busy week it was! It started with Sunday, and while a "standard" Sunday for me it was, it included a 51 mile bicycle ride. Bicycling is so easy, you sit down 99% of the time. I mean I can go out and ride for three and a half hours, and the next day not be very tired from it. Maybe that speaks to my fitness, but compared to running, it doesn't take nearly the effort for me.

Monday started well before daylight, picking up a coworker for the drive to Madison, WI. Then we flew to Denver, CO, another flight to Spokane, WA, drove through Idaho to Canada, and ended our journey well after dark in Cranbrook, British Columbia. The trip took around 14 hours total, and we had little downtime between segments.

Tuesday started with breakfast and coffee at Tim Hortons and a day at the dealership fixing the problem we were sent to Canada to fix. I would show pictures because I'm pretty happy with what we did, but that is definitely not my own personal intellectual property, but my company's so I won't. We also had a chance to get out in the field and see some machines operating. My fourth time in the field but my coworker's first. It's always good to get another engineer out into the field to see how our equipment is used.

Wednesday was more time at the dealership finishing fixing the first problem and fixing a second problem. Ultimately we documented 24 "issues" with our prototype that we took back to the office. That night we drove back to Spokane, hoping to catch an early flight. We stopped for great steak at Lou's in Ponderay, which I highly recommend, if for no other reason than to see a building made largely with beetle kill wood. I also had the chance Wednesday night to see two of my friends from Dubuque that moved to Spokane. It's so nice to see friends after moving away. People grow and change, and often it's surprising, and usually for the better.

Thursday, the early flights were full so we slept in and took a quick tour of Spokane before a flight and working on our five page trip report for an hour and a half in the Denver airport.
Spokane, with a Hydroelectric Plant on the Right
Friday I was into the office for a ultimately tiring seven hours before a 21 mile bicycle ride. Four hours of sleep is not enough for me. However, we sent out our trip report to our engineering team and I felt very good about that. Not everybody who travels sends out a report, but I feel that as the company pays thousands of dollars for us to travel to these far away places it is my duty to put together a few pages so that those who do not travel can have a glimpse of our products in action.

Saturday was leisurely, beginning with 12 hours of sleep, but did include a few pitches of rock climbing, a two mile run, and a trip to Buffalo Wild Wings. It's only the third time I was out rock climbing in 2013 and my right leg is healing, slowly but it is healing. A busy week, and a good productive week. I am so blessed!

Happy Veterans Day!

Friday, November 8, 2013

We Improved the World

It's late, but it's a weekday so I will post, this week, we improved the world. Actual problems were fixed. Communication was improved. These things happened in a measurable way. 

The feeling of a concrete problem solved is so rewarding. The feeling trumps any material possession gained. You can't eat and drink your way there. 

This week we, certainly not just I, made the world a little better. Whatever happens next week, this week we had success.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Takeaways from Being Vegan

What are some take away lessons from being vegan?
  • The “protein” sources are just not as good from plants as they are from animals. Now, we are so basic in our understanding of protein vs carbs vs fats, that I will go so far as to say, no one has figured out the ideal diet, at least not the ideal diet for everyone. For example, there are at least ten (okay nine, plus one that your body makes a little of) amino acids in protein that you need to get from food, and animal meat is the best way to get it. Fats can be broken down into monounsaturdated, polyunsaturated, saturated, and transfats, and there may be more, and they all have slightly difference metabolism mechanisms in our body. Carbs run the gamut from fructose, to sweeteners, to sugar, to whole wheat pasta, and hearty Ezekiel 4:9 bread. We break a diet down into carbs,  protein, and fats, but it’s not that simple. Yet who has time to make sure you get enough phenylalanine and threonine on a daily basis? As a competitive marathoner I need to get enough of everything, on a daily, or at least nearly daily basis to recover after a hard workout and before the next. If a lack of threonine meant it took me six days between hard workouts instead of five, the diet is inadequate. While you won’t see my grilling brats four times a week, eating chilidogs, or having meatlovers pizza, maybe ever, I plan to have steak and (ocean) fish at least once a week each. Probably small portions of each, 4-6 oz, but enough to get some quality protein. I might also go for MSC fish and free range cattle since I will be eating so little and I can afford the cost up. I will also probably eat up to half a pound of sandwich meat per week spread over five lunches. I realize that eating 16-20 oz of meat per week sounds really low, only 2-3 oz per day, but in addition to vegan protein sources I think I can thrive on those levels.
  • Very related to the first point, I am know that protein helps muscles repair and recover, I also think it might make a difference in glycogen storage, i.e. the right mix of proteins and minerals, perhaps something like retinol (animal vitamin A), may just help our muscles store more glycogen. This is more so a theory, but I think carbohydrate loading, which happens on a daily basis does not happen simply because we eat carbs, and it doesn’t happen best just eating carbs after a run, it happens best eating carbs after a run with the other chemicals that help our cells store it, and what those chemicals are, be they amino acids (proteins) or what, I think that eating a sufficient amount of animal protein (again we’re talking maybe only one pound a week) probably helps with this process. Even if it increases the glycogen stores in my body (my legs) from 1700 to 1750 calories, that could make a huge difference in a well paced marathon. Keep in mind, this is only my own personal theory, and we’re talking about a complex chemical reaction responsible for perhaps 3% of the total glycogen storage process. Also, on my one 27 mile run I really struggled the last seven miles just to run 6:20s. Other than that I never reached the level of depletion in training that I did at miles probably 18-22, let alone miles 23+ in Chicago.
  • I never had that post-thanksgiving-tryptophan-super-full feeling, like I do after a large meal particularly a large amount of steak, milk, or butter. I really enjoyed not having that feeling. For that reason I will continue in the future on a plant based diet, omnivore of course, but there will be many vegan meals and probably even vegan days. It only took about three days for me to realize that heavy stomach feeling had gone away. I may just be lactose sensitive, certainly not intolerant, but I just don’t feel as good after drinking a pint of cows milk as I do after that much soy or almond milk. I had a huge 20 oz mocha with cows milk Monday morning, and I felt sick to my stomach.
  • I seriously felt less inflammation. It’s a subjective feeling, but especially in my joints, especially my ankles, I felt in the first week that they felt, narrow, less expanded, less inflamed, I liked this feeling too. Another reason to eat plant based food.
  • I stepped on the scale after a run in September, on a hot day, and I was a dehydrated 123.6 pounds, wearing all my running gear. That’s three pounds less than I ever weighed in college, and I almost always weigh myself in the afternoon after a run, so it is consistent with previous weights. Part of the goal of this was to lose a little body fat, and I did, about 2% of my body weight, so roughly 11% to 9% body fat. While that helped with some of my faster training, I think that simply not eating pizza and doughnuts at work would do the same thing. In short, yes, you will likely lose weight if you turn vegan, but no guarantee that you lose a lot of it.
  • My bowel movements were softer and more regular. I think milk and cheese contribute to constipation, even if only mildly. The take away is instead of drinking two gallons of milk per week and half to a full pound of cheese, I will probably drink a gallon or less of milk (and drink soy and almond milk in addition) and less than half a pound of cheese per week.

In total, I have four positives from being vegan and two negatives. Some aspects of being vegan will stay with me, others will not. It was a great 73.5 day experiment.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Reasons my Chicago 2013 Marathon Fell Apart

85% of my performance was due to going out too fast. Both the mental aspect of not slowing down enough when I realized I went out too fast and the physical aspect that led me to the wall. I went out almost as fast as CIM, although Chicago is flat, not downhill, like CIM. Hands down that was the reason I hit the wall. 10 miles in 55:14? I was just not at the level to do that for a full marathon in October 2013. I have no business hitting 5:2X miles in a marathon this year. The oxygen and glycogen demands for me at that pace are just too great to sustain for more than two hours.

The other 15% I’m going to attribute to nutrition. About 5% from trying the strategy I tried of eating in the middle of the night and not having breakfast, plus a low protein meal the night before. Another 5% is due to my nutrition 24 hours+ from the marathon. Not eating in the 30 minutes after my Friday run hurt me. If I stored 50 calories less because of that mistake Friday night, that's almost another mile of hard but not post wall hard speed. The other 5% I’m going to attribute to being vegan. I realize this is a can of worms and I will likely be vilified by the vegans and vegetarians out there for blaming any negative aspects of my performance on a vegan diet, however, I’m a 2:30 marathoner and low 32 10k and a 4:31 miler, hear me out!

In the last 30 days I had the best marathon specific intensive workout (1k medium, 1k hard for 21k total) of my life, the best marathon specific extensive (20 miles in 1:57) workout of my life, and an open 8k PR of 26:30. Clearly it is possible to run really well as a vegan. However, compared to October 2011 my recovery was not as fast in September 2013 as it was then. Perhaps that is the difference between a 27 year old and 25 year old, but I don’t think those two years should make as big of a difference as it did. Plus, part of the reason I did such great workouts was that I was only trying to do a big workout once a week, Bill Squires and new Renato Canova style. However in October 2011 I did nearly as big of workouts, with a lot more quality during the week. I could do that quality during the week because I was recovering so fast. I feel that, at least for me, getting the macro and micro nutrients from meat products is the most efficient and bioavailable way to get the recovery food I need. 

What will I do differently in the future? 
  • Well, I going to run a lower key marathon, and as soon as I can, so that I can negative split one of these things. I negative split my 2:47 this summer our of shape, but seriously, a 2:47? I could probably do that once a week if I really wanted to. (Barring my current bum leg.) That's the major change. To run a really good marathon, you have to feel great at half way. I don't just mean feel okay, you have to feel capable of sprinting a mile at 5k pace.
  • I eat meat again. I think my diet will consist of steak once a week and fish once a week and cheese on meals. Other than that I will eat some chicken wings or hamburgers here and there but I would guess than two thirds of my meals will probably still be vegan, specifically most breakfasts and lunches. 
  • I will eat breakfast before marathons. Just a bagel and some coffee and orange juice, but a few hundred calories none the less. 
  • I will be absolutely on my nutrition leading up the race so that I carbo-load and get the protein I need in the days before the race. The difference of 100 or 200 calories is all that separates a good race, but running a couple 8:20s miles at the end of a marathon. 

Monday, November 4, 2013

I Live in Iowa: Week 130

An interesting week to say the least. Some weeks I seem to spend more time laying around, going out to write and just socializing. This past week was a blur of activity, mostly at work.

Sunday and Monday were pretty standard low keys days, but Tuesday grew interesting. I was at work early and still there later than normal, and a rumor surfaced about a trip to Canada.

Wednesday the rumor became a fact, I was going to Canada for a minor issue, but field time is always more conducive to understanding issues than sitting behind a computer trying to understand a few unfocused pictures. Preparation and details were being worked out as I grow into my new role I understand what I need to do better. New jobs always start slow, but the intensity eventually builds.

Thursday, the wheels came off, metaphorically speaking, although it's relatively accurate. FAILURE! Dubuque, we have a problem! A major structure has cracked and not only is it now my structure in my three week old job, it was a structure that I, and I alone, did finite element analysis on two years ago. I am the world expert once again on a very specific component, and I'm getting a trip to Canada to fix the problem. I would like to add, we don't fully understand the problem yet either. We are going up with a solution, but it is based on only a fraction of the story. I am quite afraid that once up there we will discover more problems. Although, I am hopeful that we will discover more details to the current problem, enough to allow us to solve it.

Why do companies make physical prototypes? Because things fail in real life that do not fail virtually.

Friday was another blur of coming up with a fix, changing flights once in the morning and a second time in the afternoon. I used my FEA software and my design software to create the two new parts, and virtually test the two new parts in less time than it would take to explain the previous FEA to someone else. In other words, I have already started cannibalizing my previous job. Realistically I eliminated one or two days of highly skilled, highly paid, work because I now have more skills than I had a month ago.

Friday night and Saturday were far more relaxed as I accompanied my cross country team to the IIAC cross country championships. There were I think four personal records on our two teams. Given the rolling hills that isn't too bad. However, a number of other teams had runners set personal records, and the leading times were not terribly slow. Both of our teams came in last, 8th of 8. After two and a half years of coaching, hours a week, probably 600 hours a year, it is not exactly the kind of conference experience we were looking for. It's too early to say more about it.

That's about it. My own running? Half a mile Tuesday and 0.8 miles Saturday was all. A 1.3 mile week. Granted that's a 400% milage increase from last week. My calf is healing due to the massages and stretching, but it takes time. My therapist is doing a great job, and I am rehabbing as I can, but this is one gnarly left calf.

Friday, November 1, 2013

My Problem and a Trip to Canada

It is my fault. I can not blame anyone else. The fact that there is a crack in the prototype structure after far too few hours of operation, when I did the FEA on it, is my fault. Now, I am the design engineer responsible to fix that structure. Not only is it my fault, now it is my responsibility. This is why people move to new jobs far from the old ones, to leave old projects behind for the next poor sap. On the other hand, commitment and a deeper experience are what I am after and having responsibility  for the failure and now the fix is exactly the kind of end to end experience I am after, even if it means I feel afraid of being a failure.

I will be in Canada next week! Tuesday it was a rumor from one person. Wednesday morning it was official and Thursday I booked tickets. Initially the trip was to investigate one moderate issue that is my responsibility, now with the revelation of a major issue that is also my responsibility, the trip will be even more valuable. I'm flying into Spokane and driving north to Cranbrook, BC area. 

Companies exist in large part to absorb the problems of any one person. In other words, failures happen but they do not have to ruin a career. Companies also exist to pool resources so that one person can not do too much damage. In this particular case we have a good team, we will solve this problem, before Thanksgiving. 

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Yes It Hurts!

I see myself as weak. I think of the pain I experience and wonder, why can't I push through it better?

However, when I do not think I am showing any pain, more than once in this recovery people have commented that it looks painful. Well, my leg is painful.

Despite the fact that sometimes, maybe all the time, we don't want to show pain, we don't want to show our weaknesses, we need to be honest without ourselves and admit, it hurts. Only after admitting our weakness can we do the therapy necessary to heal and eliminate the problem. This honestly holds true for math skills in school and mental issues just as well as a bum leg. If there is a weakness, if there is a problem, do something about it!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Long Day

The day's first activity might as well have been last night. The rest of the day started well before sunrise. The morning was a blitz of meetings, including a presentation. The afternoon calmed down, but the to do list still grew. Now I have some baby sitting for a friend and grocery shopping still to do tonight. 

I like being busy, but seriously, it's tiring.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Long Term Development, Progress and Goals

How does one set out a multiyear, decade or longer plan, and then follow through? The key is small steps, intermediate goals that can be somewhat rapidly checked off.

For example, take my running.

  • In 2007 I set out to go after an Olympic Trials marathon standard. 
  • In 2008 I ran 1500, 5k, and 10k PRs and my first ever 100 mile week.
  • In 2009 I ran a mile and half marathon PR.
  • 2010 was not a great year, but I did run something like 3300 miles, including a lot of miles at altitude.
  • 2011 saw PRs at the marathon and half marathon along with some massive mileage.
  • 2012 was a good year on the track as I set PRs at the 5k and 10k.
  • Finally, 2013 overall has been a success as I set PRs at the 800, mile and 8k and learned what it means to go out too fast in a marathon.
  • 2014 will hopefully be PRs in the marathon, 5k and mile along with some more massive mileage.
While I could say the major goal is the marathon, it is noticeable how so much of the development thus far has focused on shorter distances. Another great example would be my climbing and mountaineering.

  • 2002 climb South Massive and Mt. Elbert in one long 15 hour solo day. 
  • 2003 use ice axe for the first time.
  • 2004 first time using crampons on a failed North Face of Longs Peak attempt.
  • In 2005 I led my first traditional rock climbs.
  • In 2006 I tried to summit a mountain every month and experienced winter mountaineering.
  • 2007 saw me climbing longer harder traditional rock climbs.
  • In 2008 I did some big climbs in RMNP (the Diamond) and invented an ice axe.
  • 2009 was the year I spent seven weeks in Pakistan and reached 7000 meters on Broad Peak in addition to ice soloing and aid climbing.
  • In 2010 I pushed my rock climbing ability to 5.12 and did some free soloing and went to Yosemite.
  • 2011 was really more focused on running but I did get out and rope solo climb a little in addition to financial training.
  • 2012 was a decent year for climbing including Devils Tower and more financial training.
  • 2013 had some silo ice climbing and a little rock climbing and more financial training.
  • 2014 will be interesting.
Here again multiple aspects of climbing are addressed so that I have the experience to attempt larger objectives. 

How do you track progress? If what you are running faster, climbing harder or higher in most years, that is progress, even if it doesn't live up to your goals. It can be harder in the working world to see regular career progress but the concepts are the same. If one is developing slightly lighter structures, greater ranges of motion, less expensive to produce, or otherwise more functional devices, progress is happening, even if we don't have hover boards like Back to the Future III.

Monday, October 28, 2013

I Live in Iowa: Week 129

Pretty exciting week. I mean I transitioned to design engineer a little more. I spent most of the week training. I still haven't designed anything yet. Although I did get a phone call asking me a whole bunch of questions and kind of reporting the progress on a project to me. It was strange because I didn't really know it was something I had to do, and all of by sudden I'm responsible for it. The joys of a new position I suppose.

First impressions of design versus analysis:

  • Far more social. We spend more time talking with each other and go to more meetings. 
  • Far less technical. Many of the things we do and decisions we make are ambiguous and more towards the get-it-done mentality than the best-technical-solution. That being said, time is money. 
  • Quite ambiguous. In finite element engineering there are projects to be done and reports to be written. In design there is an entire product to be produced, and it is not as simply broken down into projects and reports. There is also often no right answer. How much should an engine frame weight?
I ran! A whole quarter mile in 3:19, and it wasn't even painful the first 100 meters! 

On the coaching side we didn't have a meet, but I was at practice six days in a row watching, and sometimes bicycling along side. The team has been thinned down by attrition the last month or so, we are not what we were at the start of the season, just like every other team and every other season. The durability to get through a season, let alone several seasons in a row is not to be underestimated. Recovery is hard. 

Ambiguously, I made significant strides this week toward a long term (decade) goal. Probably exciting news to come in the next two months!

I hope you had a good week too.