Thursday, January 31, 2013

Have I Done Enough?

"The goal of training is to do the amount necessary to accomplish the goal. Well with no workouts left between now and my debut marathon I am left to hope that I have done enough. I am reading Lance Armstong's book, It's not about the Bike. On the eve of brain surgery he deals with his concept of life and death and morals, and personally he leaves something to be desired. In particular, he wrote that he believed that living a true life was morally enough. What does his life have to do with my marathon? If everyone knew the result before the race there would be no point in the race.

Thus we continue in the competition. These races are not against others they are internal. So much of the battle is mental. Once the gun goes off it becomes physical, but the mental aspect could lose it for me long before Sunday morning.

I don't know exactly what will happen in my first marathon. That is part of the allure. I am sure around mile 23 things will be pretty interesting. Was it enough? We'll know around 10 AM this Sunday." - May 2011

Now more than a year and a half after writing that I still ask the question, 'have I done enough?' But the question isn't only about running, it never really was. I am constantly breaking through barriers and doing things I have not done in the past. For example, writing a master's thesis, moving to Iowa where I knew no one, I've tried to climb most of the famous stuff in this country, I've run two marathons and not terribly slow either, and I have saved my company hundreds of thousands of dollars. Yet, the challenges ahead are larger than the challenges behind. Plus, these hurdles can not be put in a box like a semester begins and ends so quickly. I want to go home and watch tv and eat potato chips instead of reading and writing and running the extra four miles, but I can't. I am tormented by who I want to be and what I want to do. Sure there is joy, amazingly rewarding happiness, and other accolades after milestones and accomplishments, but getting there... it hurts. If it was easy everyone would do it. I tell myself that, then I look at how slowly I seem to be progressing and wonder if everyone is doing it, or if others are working ever harder than myself to reach their goals.

Have I done enough? No.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

People Could Strike More

In this post-industrial age the concept or practice of a group of people going on strike is losing steam. Strikes don’t happen nearly as often as they did over the last 100 years. In part that is because many of the things people struck for have happened. Working conditions are safer, wages [in the United States] have gone up so that everyone in manufacturing can afford things like a house and car. Yet the fundamental reason people struck is still around, inequality. Inequality can take many forms. It could be lower wages, high health risks, discrimination, it could be harsh penalties for minor offenses. 

Striking sends the message that the group is bigger than simply the handful of people who are being subjugated by unfair terms. Striking sends the message, ‘you don’t control us.’ Which is something that needs to be said sometimes. We don’t have control. You don’t have control. I use the word influence in place of the word control because that is really what we have. For example, no one controls what gets published on this blog. I have a ton of influence over it but the circumstances in my life that lead to the articles on this blog I do not control so ultimately I do not control what appears up here. For example, will I write and publish extensively about raising kids in ten years? I don’t know.

For example, I am following a story where I feel a group of people should strike. I feel that particular group is not getting what they deserve. The problem, is organization. I am sure people have thought about quitting and leaving but the group does not seem to have a leader or union representative to direct the attitudes of the group into a clear message. So what do they do?

Diverging on a tangent, I have been trying to get in touch with my emotions more lately. The reason being that physical and mental labor is plentiful. There are all sort of people that will work on some mental or physical task at a specified rate of compensation for some time. However, we don’t really measure caring and emotion that is put into something. At least in my small world I am trying to change that. I am trying to care more. Fortunately, I have already been burned by flaky uncommitted people that I have learned to not “care” about the performance or results as much as the people. Now don't misunderstand, I am incredibly results orientated. I’m not trying to run a marathon “well”, I’m trying to run a 2:17:59 or better. I’m not trying to go mountaineering, I’m trying to summit Mt. Everest. Getting back to putting more emotion into my work, it’s not about knowing and predicting exactly what will happen in one of my finite element simulations compared to real life, it’s about making all of the weak points just strong enough so that the assembly will not crack for a decade or more yet light enough that it will not waste huge amounts of fuel dragging the thing around. Ultimately, there is some art involved in the analysis and an engineering judgement call, which is really just a best practice for best guesses. Basically it involves me staring at some red, orange, yellow, and green spread out over a few elements and trying to decide if it is acceptable or not. It’s emotional, I want to pass the durability test, with the lightest, cheapest solution possible. 

How does caring matter? Caring is the one degree of difference between hot and boiling. It is the one or two extra “odd” solutions I try instead of simply bumping up the plate thickness of an entire plate. It is the load case I invent to see what would happen. It is when I ask an athlete how he or she is feeling and after getting the response, “good”, I ask if they could give me an answer in complete sentences and be more descriptive. Because one can usually tell from the look on a person’s face if that person is in a negative place emotionally. 

It is not that I am a huge proponent of unions. I feel unions have morphed into large organizations that on occasion keep people from being fired who maybe should be fired, such as a teacher who hits a student. Also, unions on occasion prohibit work from being done as efficiently as it might be done due to protecting the jobs of it's members. However, unions have time and again pushed for safer working conditions and a better share of the company earnings. The attitude of the masses is especially interesting to watch in developing countries that deal with issues like the rape in Delhi and the smog in Beijing. 

In short, emotion goes into life whether you know it or not. That emotion deserves respect and just maybe you should strike so that those in authority above you who might try to minimize your emotional contribution recognize it. Some inequality of time, money, reputation or something else can serve well to motivate people, but how much is enough? 

Monday, January 28, 2013

I Live in Iowa: Week 92

Another week living the dream! (Which is sometimes a nightmare.) Life will never be prefect, I have known that for years, yet I still struggle with it. I want life to be perfect. I have this image in my head of perfection, but that is not the world we live in.

Work was good this week. I came up with a couple solutions that considering the constraints are pretty good solutions. Big ego moment, I'm impressed with myself. Usually the stuff I suggest isn't manufacturable or gets in the way of hose routings or requires five other plates to change just because of the one change I suggested. I am learning, and I like it!

Plus it was a four day work week, which makes the week go quickly. Although, I felt like I didn't get as much done as during a normal week.

Speaking of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I spent Sunday afternoon and Monday morning in Cedar Rapids ice climbing and rock climbing (including sending some 5.9 and 5.10) and eating Mexican food with a couple of my friends. I worked with a man in 2006 at summer camp and now it turns out we live somewhat close and share some hobbies, like climbing. It is a small world. I am blessed to have the friends that I do. Cedar Rapids is the kind of flat place I was afraid all of Iowa was when I moved here, yet they have more climbing opportunities, both in ice and indoor rock, than Dubuque. Again, life is never perfect.

Running has been a mixed bag, I ran 82 miles, with one light set of mile repeats in the 5:45 range. My left hamstring has been bothering me so I didn't push it and do anything even moderately fast. I have a massage scheduled for this week and I have been doing some strengthening and stretching exercises. I am sure it is getting better, but doing a 4.5 mile tempo last Saturday in shorts in 42 degree weather, plus 0 degree morning runs Tuesday and Thursday with only one layer of pants was not as good for a tight, probably knotted hamstring. I've been having some right ankle discomfort (dare I say pain) too, but again, I ran 82 miles, so I'm not falling apart exactly. In fact, as my mileage increases my recovery time decreases as my body overcompensates for the stress.

Coaching was good. I could tell tales of advice given, workouts managed, cheering cheered, improvements made, anemia discovered, and communication improved, but I want to focus for this week on two instances that in total took less than a minute of time. Two sophomores, five hours apart, told me, "thank you for being here."I thank the athletes all the time for being here and working hard and putting in effort, and to have two return the favor Saturday at our track meet was really fantastic!

What else? Still some social drama, thus the higher blood pressure, but maybe that's a consequence of caring? In other words, making the decision to care might mean putting one's blood pressure on the line. Even I didn't know I cared that much.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

My Stock Market Gains and Losses 2012

By popular demand (seriously people, vote more!) here are my stock market results for the year 2012. A two to one vote means you get to see how poorly I did this past year. 

Stock Market Gains and Losses 2012

First, A123, what a disaster. This is why long term options may be a good idea. I lost huge on this trade. I lost $1235.08, that's one thousand two hundred and thirty-five dollars and eight cents. I bought in only weeks before they announced bankruptcy. I looked at quarterly reports and things like cash on hand, book value of assets, debts, and the typical value things I think about. I totally neglected the cash flow or profitability of the company. Plus, I have a friend that used to work there. Knowing him I thought it would be a good bet because he does quality engineering, but in my ignorance I forgot to check if he still worked there and turns out he stopped working there a few months before I invested. In other words, I invested because I was looking at old account numbers at a fixed point in time and based on a person that did not in fact work there. The dynamic (cash flow trends) and current picture was not good. Second, I panicked. The day they announced bankruptcy I read their report (this is a more recent update that says about the same thing) and it said that shareholders would probably end up with nothing. The stock plummeted to $0.06 and I sold. A few days later it was more than double that as bankruptcy investors jumped in to see if they could gain any value. Had I just been a little patient I could have saved hundreds of dollars. Developing patience, in the middle of October I spent $1235.08 on that lesson. It's worth at least a few college credits right?

Jiangbo Pharmaceuticals Inc. (JGBO) I mentioned early in the year, I didn’t understand the business and the books looked to be cooked so I lost nearly everything. The CFO left abruptly, and again, I didn't really understand what they did in the first place.

Ralcorp and Post were a classic spinoff that I ended up not having to wait terribly long on. Spinoffs are situations where a company gets so big that divisions don’t really communicate or use many shared resources and management is estranged from the daily operations. This is the difference between Apple and Exxon Mobil, General Electric General Motors, Caterpillar and others. At Apple the head guys sit in on design meetings for new products, at Exxon the head guys probably don’t spend a huge amount of time looking at valve, pipe and system designs. Most large companies are probably similar to Exxon, GM and Cat. So one nearly guaranteed way to “create” value, or more appropriately realize value, is to break the company into smaller pieces so that management has more contact with the products and there is more incentive on how to increase profitability. Plus there are fewer standardizations that limit innovation. In other words, compensation becomes more aligned to shareholders and innovation becomes more likely. Plus, investors can own the business they want to own and sell the business they do not want to own. Basically Ralcorp and Post were a classic spinoff except that Keith Meister decided to get involved and with the pending sale of Ralcorp I made hundreds of dollars sooner than I expected.

Bank of America was a classic value investment. The price to book ratio, price to earnings, and government bailout, which means you would never lose all of your money, made it very attractive. However, it stagnated around $9.80s and with the fiscal cliff I was impatient and sold early, had I waited a few weeks for it to go up another $2, I would have made hundreds more. Lesson: be patient. However, no one goes broke booking gains, so I shouldn’t whine over 40%+ gains in one year. 

US Oil is one of my favorite things to invest in. I didn’t do terribly well, but I have not lost money on US oil yet and I always play it for a few months at a time. Oil is one of the most basic things to bet on. For USO You could make money just buying at $32 and selling at $36, repeat every eight to twelve months. In fact, that’s about what I do. Long term commodity prices decline, but long term some commodities are fixed quantities. Short term as long as we have wars in the middle east the price will be volatile and a great thing to invest in. Oil future usually hit a low near the end of the year and a high beginning in summer, with gas prices following a month or so behind with highest gas prices the end of summer and lowest prices early in winter. Perfect example was gas hit $2.99 a couple weeks ago here in Dubuque but it has begun it's summer climb towards I would guess $3.70-80 this year.

Gravity GRVY was a classic value investment. Low P/E and P/B. Had I waited a little longer I could have doubled my money but after a bad quarter the stock has since plummeted so I will take my gains. Plus I bought in again recently. The interesting thing is that most of the stock I hear is owned by one guy, which means it’s a candidate for going private, which is good because the fewer the large shareholders are the fewer people to please and typically the longer term horizon the small group has.

GTAT was another value investment. However, it was in the solar industry and I had to buy more when the price dropped to make money on the rebound. Lesson learned? It was part of the solar bubble which burst, which sector in general might now be oversold, but that depends on things like carbon tax or government subsidies to renewable energy technologies. In other words, the actual target price of renewable energy sector companies depends on political realities currently. However, I expect the scientific reality of pollution to make renewable energy a more commercially viable business in the future.

ITT, Exelis and Xylem was a classic spinoff. A defense contractor with a water business. That does not make sense, but it was a great spinoff opportunity. I sold ITT back in 2011. Really this was my first spinoff and a success of a few hundred dollars. Spinoffs are classic value realization opportunities.

All one has to do to make money is read a lot. Now I know I lost ground compared to the stock market, and for those that know I am invested in DHT and AAPL which have both dropped significantly in price this year. But that’s how investing goes. Plus, drops in value create buying opportunity. Did anyone buy BOA at $5 per share? You could have more than doubled your money. 

In total I made .7% based on buying and selling alone, but I did make $484 in dividends, mostly from the above mentioned companies but there are a couple others I prefer not to mention thus I will not share the details of my dividends received for the year. Including dividends rounding to the nearest percent I made 5%. So for the year I did better than a savings account by a few percent. Also, had I been a few days or weeks more patient in a couple cases, or done more research I could have made hundreds more, or lost hundreds less if you prefer. And that’s all part of the learning process, failing. Losing $1235.08 is memorable. It hurts. Fortunately, I did learn quite a bit from the year 2012 about investing. Not the 8.4% that I made last year. I still lost to every big index, but I recognize a few mistakes that I made, and I hope to not make them again. 

Finally a note on short term gains and losses. I expect more in the future to own companies for longer amounts of time and have mostly long term gains (and inevitably losses), but being new to investing I felt the need to get some sales under my belt and book some gains. 

Disclosure: I am long AAPL, DHT, GRVY, and USO. Some of those are also value priced right now so I might buy more of any of them in the near future.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Health Update

Wednesday at work they had complimentary health screening for most of the people here onsite. So I signed up at the last minute Tuesday. Given that fasting was required that means that I took a late slot and did not eat anything except some black coffee until 11 AM! How healthy am I by the numbers?

Total: 201 mg/dl                          (Goal: less than 200, marginal: less than 240)
HDL: 100 mg/dl                        (Goal:  greater than 60)
TC/HDL Ratio: N/A                    (Goal:  less than 3)
LDL: N/A                                    (Goal:  less than 150)
Triglycerides: 63 mg/dl                 (Goal:  less than 130)
In short, the total was a little high, but that is because my good cholesterol is so good. In fact, my good cholesterol is so high the machine could not even calculate two of my health numbers!

Blood Glucose:
Glucose: 77 mg/dl                         (Goal: 70 to 99 mg/dl)

This is good news because my family has a history of diabetes. So far, 26.75 years without diabetes!

Blood Pressure:
Blood Pressure: 126/86 mmHg     (Goal: less than 120/less than 80)
Pulse: 55 beats/minute                  (Normal is 60-100 BPM)

My blood pressure was high. Perhaps the highest it has ever been, no there was that one time at the doctor's last year. Why was it high? I have been a little stressed out with drama lately. Plus, I had not eaten anything in 14 hours. It would be good for me to find new ways to relieve stress. My record low blood pressure is 90/60 the summer after I graduated high school. It would be nice to hit that again. My pulse was pretty good considering that I had been awake for more than five hours. I am regularly below 50 when I wake up in the morning.

Body Composition:
Body Mass Index: 21                 (Goal: 18.5 to 24.9)
Body Fat: 14%                          (Goal: 8.0 to 19.9%)
Waist Circumference: 30 inches  (Goal: <40 inches="" p="">Height: 65 inches (without shoes)
Weight: 131 pounds (with clothing and wallet but without shoes)

Umm, I'm fit. The nurse said she had never seen 14% body fat. On the other hand, I'm looking at that and thinking I can lose 5 pounds. Eight to ten percent body fat sounds more like a goal to me than simply being fit in the middle of the range. Pretty excited about the height, this is only the second time to be measured at 5' 5" without shoes but I'm not surprised. Both my dad and an uncle had small growth spurts in their mid 20s and my feet have grown a bit the last two years.

Overall, I'm the guy you want to insure. My health plan is basically to live to be at least 90, go set an age group world record for the 90+ division, then die. Invest in yourself. You are a ten million dollar machine or more, don't ruin the machine through lack of maintenance. 

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Apple, the Company

Apple stock will open something like 8% lower this morning because their quarterly financial numbers were only the records they expected. They bring in over $4 billion in sales per week with a gross margin over 38%, they have more than a quarter of their market value in cash (and liquid securities), and their price to earnings ratio is creeping to under 10! By most valuation measures, even those for steel companies and food producers, a price to earnings ratio of 10 or less is a good buy. Of course, the stock market is rarely about real value, it's about prices. Just look at Zynga.

Regardless, it is interesting that Apple continues to hoard cash and build up it's savings account. I'm just wondering what the board is planning to do with that $137 billion that they keep adding to every month. Buy Facebook with a market capitalization of $67 billion? Perhaps Google or Microsoft, both in the $230-245 billion range? I mean, what better way to expand as a technology company than own the two largest operating systems in the world?

Disclosure: I am long (I own) AAPL. Plus, at this price with these sales and earnings I might buy more.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Discount Rate

In the world of value, specifically money and investing, but really anything with present and future value, there is something referred to as the discount rate. Basically, it refers to how something increases in value over time. The specific rate can be a significant issue, especially in the insurance industry. This also makes a huge difference in the pension, annuity, and social security actuary scales. However, on a more human level it makes a difference too.

When determining how to spend my time who and what is more important? There are many variables of course, but take the hypothetical example of a girlfriend. I have no idea how her value to me might increase over time, but the possibility of an increase daily over 60 years means that even a relatively minor value now is huge. Similarly, my sister has been my sister for over two decades and will be for 5 or 6 or more. Similarly, to me the value of racing in the Olympic Marathon Trials means that today, I have to get out there and perform at a certain level. I may have years, but I need to be at a high level today because I can only improve so fast, perhaps only 3% per year or even 1%! You can think of this in weight loss too, if your goal is to average three pounds of weight loss per month through five hours of exercise per week for one year you can start with only three or four hours of exercise per week and maybe not lose weight or only one pound the first month. That is fine because as your fitness and exercise regimen ramps up according to a discount rate you will lose more weight later in the program.

This brings up the other aspect, at some point in many situations we have achieved maximum value. In other words at some point in weight loss perhaps you are losing five pounds per month and at that point get to some moderately fit level. Your weight loss per month will decrease after achieving your maximum loss rate and low future weight to lose. It is the same for athletics. At some point a 1% increase in performance will require 50% more effort.

In short, values typically increase over time. Thus all things being equal the younger person performing at the same level as an older person may in fact be worth more for the probable future increase in value. Obviously that is an over simplification. The ways that a person might increase in value are difficult to estimate. Thus that is why we generally, and appropriately, give attention and economic value (money) to those that have demonstrated past value. Somewhere in the mathematical world of past demonstrated value and future possible value exists significant value, which may in fact be undervalued.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Thoughts on Long Term Motivation

Long term motivation has been on my mind lately. Why is it that I still run day in and day out close to four years after my last race on a college team? How is it that I sit at a desk eight or nine hours a day looking at models and have been nearly every week for the last two years? How is it I have thought about Mt. Everest most days for eight and a half years patiently waiting? Time and again I run into people that are amazed that I do these things. To me however they seem average. I feel that a lot of it comes down to motivation. I have a lot of it. How did I get it and where does it comes from? I am not sure.

I am working on a graph to describe just my running motivation. I came up with seven categories that motivate me to run. Then I am going through by year and estimating with a number how much each one mattered at that point. It is not finished. This graph is a starting point to articulating and describing my motivations for all aspects of my life I recognize. The second step is to generalize motivations first by applying to other aspects of my life and second by studying the motivations of others. The third step is to understand motivations, at least somewhat. Difficult I know, and I will probably be wrong many times, but worth doing. Some answers may be simple, like looking good improves dating prospects, but others may be complex, like a difficult childhood that causes a person to work hard to suffer more than anyone else. I don't have the answers, that is why I am looking for them. Fourth, and ultimate goal of this personal project is to teach or give or develop motivations.

Motivations get things done. If it is possible to spread motivations more things will get done. If more people commit to long term projects more difficult, and more rewarding, results will be achieved.

I am asking you my readers, comment below, email me, talk to me, Facebook me, or send a text message, what motivates you? Starting in the coming weeks and months I will be looking for case studies, people who are willing to open up about their motivations.

Long term I hope to produce some document, ebook, infographic or something from this.

Monday, January 21, 2013

I Live in Iowa: Week 91

All things considered, I had a really good week. What made it so good? A number of things, starting Sunday morning.

Sunday mornings I nearly always go to church. Well, I went with a friend and it is much better to go with someone than alone.

With a start to the week like that, you know it's going to be a good week. Early sunday afternoon I went for a 20 mile run. It was something like 20 degrees Fahrenheit with a 20 mile per hour wind, and I seriously worried about getting frostbite on the way out into the country west of town. My two little fingers, nose, chin, and ears all went numb. Then I turned north, and ran 40 feet past a bald eagle that was sitting in a cut alfalfa field. I have never been that close to a bald eagle. What a great run thus far! Then I turned near Sundown and headed back to Dubuque downhill with the wind. I was flying. A good start to the week.

Monday started for me at 3:30 AM. A coworker and I flew to North Carolina via a 2.5 hour delay in Moline due to a mechanic not being on staff and a change of flight in Detroit. By the time we were in the hotel and I was ready to start my run for the day it was 8:15 PM. Long day, but that is travel. I finished two books and wrote some.

Tuesday was another 13 hour workday at the dealership where we were inspecting a machine. I learned many things. We discovered some things that were not previously known, thus the trip was totally worth it. Plus the weather was in the 50s to 60s, which was a nice little break from Wednesday was another long travel day starting at 3:15 AM Eastern Standard Time.

Thursday and Friday were spent busy working on developing the machine from the information we acquired on the trip to North Carolina. The project became sort of high pressure, time sensitive work. The kind of work that makes one sit on the edge of the chair. In short, work was good.

Overall my running went well. I have not logged my mileage yet, but it is possible I ran more than 70 miles this week including a couple workouts. Forward progress.

Coaching was good. The athletes are slowly and consistently developing into faster runners with more endurance, athletes are learning to articulate feelings, and we scored well as a team at our second meet of the year. Only four months to go until the end of the season. How much better will they develop!

What about socially? Kind of a quiet week on that front in terms of personal interaction. No lie, in my extended circle of relationships there has been some drama, but there will always be drama when you know any amount of people. It seems the more people you know the more drama you will hear about. I didn't instigate it, but you know what, I'm there. I'm committed. My friends, I am in it for the long haul. This is reconcilable. I am here to help.

Life is such a blessing for me. I am continually rewarded with more than I need in every aspect of life.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Should I Quit?

The thought is simple enough. Every event is a struggle. There is dissent among the members. There is a serious lack of communication. Every collaboration I say to myself, ’one more day, it’s not about me, it’s about something bigger.’ Obviously they don’t need me, but without me the situation would only be worse. I can’t do that to the majority of members that appreciate my presence. I know, I know, trying to please other people is a losing game. Yet it is my lot in life. I would much rather prefer we get along. Let me tell you a story of discontent.

Years ago I was assigned to a team. When I looked at the other members of the team I thought, ‘this is ridiculous! There is no way that being on this team is going to be enjoyable.’ How naive I was! I brought this up to the two people that assigned me to the team, and they simply said, “Isaiah, we knew you were the only one who could handle this position.” That one sentence shocked me. I had been looking at the task ahead as a punishment or some length of torture. Suddenly, the motivation changed. No longer was it a hassle or a series of arguments waiting to happen, it was an opportunity to unite, connect, teach, and be the peacemaker. The team was not about me. Yet I had a role that only I could fill. In the time that followed, it ended up being one of the greatest professional collaboration experiences I have ever had. I amazed myself. I had more patience than I knew. I had more tact than I ever expected. I learned more from my formerly feared teammates than I expected. It was a really great experience. Finally, when the team disbanded and we each went our separate way, I was rewarded with a reward beyond my imagination. Known only to two or three people I still struggle to understand what I did to receive such an award. 

When I am in difficult collaboration situations I often think about that team. How did we do so well? I was there. I was part of it. I know that I can help replicate similarly stellar results on difficult collaborations in the future. Yet, I struggle because I know it is difficult. The emotion required is so great. The reward so distant. There is absolutely no guarantee of success. Also, I am fine with quitting. Quitting something refines our priorities. It allows us to develop more deeply in areas that are more important to us. We all need to quit different things at different times in our life. 

I know I sound like a hypocrite for all I talk about loving commitment and now I’m writing about quitting. And I still do love commitment, that’s why I keep showing up. If I absolutely knew that quitting was the best option I would have taken it. Yet I am very analytical and deliberate, when I do something, I usually mean it. Sometimes I do shoot my mouth off without enough thought, but my actions usually remain more consistent with my best intentions. As I age I am getting better on both of those accounts. In fact, this particular conflict is teaching me enormous amounts about relationships. I suppose a question worth answering is, is the amount I am learning or quality of instruction from this challenge worth the suffering? Well, it must be because I am still here. 

As the struggles continue, and many people suffer, and I continue to redefine my respect for others, I am reminded of a quote from Theodore Roosevelt, “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” I leaned very recently, that I have a very big stick. I did not know that. I didn’t even think I had a stick. Which brings us to a Stan Lee, FDR or Luke 12:48 quote depending on your interpretation, “With great power, comes great responsibility.”

Friday, January 18, 2013

Cooperation, Retention and Commitment

That is some title. I hope this doesn’t disappoint. 

I know many people. Somewhere over a thousand or two. Not a huge number, but large enough to be continually exposed to, or at least aware of, relationships that I do not understand, or that I feel could possibly be handled better. Here begins my crusade of the day to learn how to do relationships better. 

How do we cooperate better? It is a good question. It is also a hard question. I suppose part of the reason achieving better cooperation is a hard question is the reasons for more and deeper cooperation are likely not immediately evident. For example, I was recently (or am currently?) struggling to communicate with another individual to achieve the best results on a project. I feel that I communicate in advance of deadlines and openly discuss options, while continuing to reinforce my basic views of how value can be added to the project. However, often it seems that communication is one way. Not long ago I submitted a list of proposed solutions privately and clearly according to the boundary conditions specified at the beginning of the project, and when the meeting came to reveal the solutions to a larger audience the plan was different. I was visibly and verbally upset so much that another team member even asked if it was okay to be around the two of us at that moment. Not to be dramatic, I wasn’t swearing or yelling or throwing anything, simply frustrated. Frustrated that I was brought on to this team to contribute my experience and I was privately, but the project continued in public to diverge from my contributions and the original set of boundary conditions. The other aspect of this is that on this project I clearly do not have as much ownership of the project as a number of other team members. There is something to be said for people that have more invested than me. They have more time invested than I do, yet I do have unique experience, which in my mind brings value.

Circling back to the cooperation issue, we all want the best outcome for the project. On that we are on the same page. No one is trying to sabotage the project or just sitting around collecting experience, riches or whatever each person gets out of it. We all care. The issue is that there are many roads to Rome. Of course you don’t want to get to Rome and get lost in the outskirts without seeing anything. Thus we must cooperate so that all aspects of the project excel. 

What happens when the views on the path of the project diverge so much that one is not even sure everyone is headed toward Rome? Then you have a retention problem. A team can not follow two ideals. One can not serve two masters. Unfortunately, instead of the dramatic and ambitious, “Who’s commin’ with me?” more often people just leave, quit, or give up. Retention or lack of retention comes in many forms. Positive retention, even though “loss” of a team member, could be a college student that leaves his or her family home during the school year, but still identifies with her or his family. Negative retention could be the force out of one or more members who did not want to leave. Live long enough and you will know someone who is fired, laid-off, or has immigration status revoked despite the fact that person is the kind of person most groups would love to have. Even more likely you will hear about someone that quits something because the person was, “tired of fighting.” 

It is common to read about recruitment and retention, but even saying it in that order is inappropriate. The members of the team already have history invested in the project. A new individual does not have the skin in the game that a current contributor has. Alternatively, in my experience, all too often it seems there is a conflict between recruitment and retention. Rather the choice often seems to be recruitment not retention. The best prospects for future customers or future team member contributors are current customers or current team member contributors. It is very basic, but neglected far too often. 

If the focus strays too far to the new people, what benefits are there to stay? What does commitment to the project reward a person? Perhaps I am too naive but people seem to commit to ideals, tangible possibilities, and less often to other people. As an example, thousands of people are committed to John Deere. They use Deere products because experience has shown them Deere products work, and if the product does have a problem Deere will probably fix it. That is an oversimplification of the emotions involved in brand loyalty, but a great example. The point is, Deere sells tens of thousands of machines because of the ideals of Deere that thousands of people work hard at most days every week to make true, not because of any one or even any small group of people. For very relevant examples take Lance Armstrong, Tiger Woods, Michael Vick, or General Petraeus. People let us down. The Green Bay Packers and the Boston Red Sox on the other hand are larger than the individuals that keep trying to ruin their public image. Similarly, the greatest human institution of commitment, marriage, is so difficult that we only do it in pairs because more than that would be far to difficult to handle emotionally.

Perhaps that is why teams last. At any given time the perception is that movement towards Rome is happening. People leave when they feel Rome is no longer the goal or perhaps his or her goal is no longer Rome. I am still learning. I do not have the answers. But I do feel that cooperation develops better commitment which leads to better retention. The reverse is probably true too. Invest in retention and you will gain more commitment which means people will work harder for cooperation. 

I fear for the future of our society. It seems that commitment is losing traction to things that are easy. I understand that the world moves fast and things happen faster than they did 50 years ago and people need to be able to adapt to change and a new mobile operating system every year. Yet the Large Hadron Collider wasn't build in a year. Curiosity on Mars didn't happen in one fiscal year. Good things take time. There are setbacks and challenges and arguments. This is life! 

We can not continue to jump away or cut away our relationships at the first sign of difficulty. Life is gonna hurt. You will cry. You will suffer. Can you commit? Commit to something more than your meager contribution, more than a weakly defined outcome, more than the poor relationships?

This is your wake up call. Love commitment. Play for the long haul. Can we cooperate? Please? We have a decent group of people, we should work to keep them. These goals are bigger than your ego or reputation. They are certainly much greater than I. The journey will make us suffer. The path will be difficult. We will all be broken in every way. "...when I am weak, then I am strong."

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Nothing Worth Having Comes Easy

It's a pretty basic premise, and not strictly true depending on your view of easy, but for the most part quite accurate. Do you want easy or something worth having?

Monday, January 14, 2013

I Live in Iowa: Week 90

Honestly, not a good week. I feel bad writing that, but not every week can be a good week. And, in the context of bad weeks, this wasn’t that bad. On the other hand, manure makes the flower grow.

For starters I wasted a fair amount of time at work. I spent days trying to pick up an analysis where someone else had started. Days spent spinning my wheels. I’m not happy with myself. However, I did learn some things about connector elements, which is something which is really a big opportunity for me to learn more. I would like to take some time and focus on learning more about connectors, but then again, when do I have free time?

Fortunately, the problem was resolved when I actually started over, from the beginning. I took a very different approach and within an hour started to have results. Never the less, it was mostly an emotionally frustrating week. Another interesting opportunity this week happened when one of our test units came back for an inspection. It is always interesting to see how wear and tear accumulates compared to what we expect. For the most part, our expectations were rather close. To see expectations happen is a pretty rewarding experience.

The week in coaching went really well. Well, more or less it went well. There was at least one unfortunate injury and some sickness still on the team. We also had our first indoor track meet on Saturday. More on that in a minute. Along the lines of the difficult times, a runner on a relay classically over-lived this week. He is going to Spain as we speak, it was his first college meet, and he is working on finding a place to live next year as well as a couple other things. He basically fell apart in the middle of his race and the relay team did not finish. We had a brief chat after and I told him about the same thing I just wrote, he was over-living. It is okay, this happened to our star runner a year and a half ago in cross country. It will happen to more kids. It happened to me a couple times in college. When a person tries to do everything, something has to give and physical ability, like running a race, is an easy thing for the mind and body to decide is optional. Basically a psychosomatic incident.

My own running went somewhat poorly. As I often say, when life is going well, running is going well. Due to the work frustrations and the lingering virus I had that still had me coughing and hacking in the early part of the week, I didn’t get in the quality work that I wanted. However, that is life, and I did run every day, I did run a nice moderate 3 x mile workout Monday evening and I ran a race Saturday. 9:18 for an indoor 3000 meter race, run roughly 3:00, 3:00 and 3:18 for each kilometer. I got out in 3-5th place and we ran 71 for the first 400, 2:24 for the 800, and at the point I decided we were too slow since I was stepping on several people’s heels and I took the lead and ran a few 35s to bring the pace down. However, after five or so laps at about 1800 meters I was slowing down.  The other runners spit me out the back end of the pack and I struggled home full of lactic acid. A race run like an African, with the lead until I can no longer run that pace.

On top of all of this, I was quite sick at the beginning of the week. I was coughing and spitting up phlegm most of the week. My body revolted and I slept 10.5 hours Tuesday night, 10 hours Thursday night, and another nine hours Saturday. I don’t get a solid nine hours as often as I would like and to do that solidly three times this week, was needed. 

Like manure grows flowers difficult times in life seem to lead to better times. Saturday was one of those days. My own race aside, our track team set at least five school records that I know about this past weekend. The men’s and women’s 4x800, the women’s weight, the women’s pole vault, and the women’s 4x400. Some of the other races were also awful close to school records. In part that doesn’t say much about our weak records, but every little barrier is a barrier that we haven’t been through yet. 

Finally, it was an interesting day Saturday in the world of relationships. In one respect it is incredibly interesting to watch my generation redefine relationships. It seems to be unfortunate the ways that we are redefining relationships. I worry about our emotions and wellbeing in the future. On a different note, I was totally sideswiped mentally by a person this week. My expectation was in one place and all of a sudden a few sentences later the relationship was a few levels deeper. Mind boggling.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

How to Lose Weight and Eat Chocolate

It's not that I'm trying to lose weight, but I am trying to be lean and efficient so that I run faster. That being said I am very conscious of what I eat. I don't count calories, but I do read labels. Now, I like to eat chocolate. As an American I am addicted to sugar and sweets. Part of the progression to amazing athlete involves continually refining my diet and reevaluating the things that I eat and drink. Recently, it has been frustrating how quickly I demolish a 230 calories package of M&Ms in far less time than the 2.5 miles it takes to run it off. Yet I do like to eat chocolate. After perusing the organics section I decided to try some chocolate. After trying several kinds I discovered dark chocolate.

When I eat high percentage cocoa chocolate I eat much less of it. I feel that the darker the chocolate the more it bites back. That dark bitter taste is just unpleasant enough to quit after a few bites. Yet, it is still chocolate! It still tantalizes my mouth. I still pay nearly a gallon of gas for a three ounce morsel. My advice, if you want to eat less sweets eat sweets like dark chocolate that bite back.

Friday, January 11, 2013

My Friend Is Having an Arranged Marriage

A friend that I work with, who has been in the United States ten years, and is probably more of a standard American than I am is getting an arranged marriage. I heard about it a few days ago, but this afternoon at work we had a chance to talk about it. One of the best conversations I had all week, no all month, no... all year.

For those that didn't guess, he is from India, yes an engineer, and one with a master's degree. He has seriously been here ten years counting graduate school and working since then. He is 31 now. Other relevant information: his parents are retired Indian professors, his father an economics professor, he has more Apple products than I do (I know, hard to believe right?), and his English is so good that when I first knew him I thought that he was born in the United States.

How does an arranged marriage work? Well, it ranges from classified adds in the paper to family friends. The human network of people in India is more developed than in this country. In other words, families are often more connected to other families. That is not strictly true, and obviously varies a lot over there as it does over here. Point being, he was getting some pressure from his parents (who isn't after college?) so they basically went about setting him up with women. Think of it like a blind date, with much higher stakes. You get married on the third or fourth date. So he was in talks with a few women over the last few years, not only in India, but in the US as well.

Now arranged marriages are on the decline in India and "love" marriages are on the rise. Before you think that arranged marriages are a terrible thing that puts two people together who are not compatible, how come the divorce rate in the US is close to 50 times higher than in India? This may be the last generation for arranged marriages to be common place. Plus, I would not be surprised if dating software would hit India and wreak havoc on the market eventually. That being said, my friend did have a long term girlfriend for six years when he was younger, it just didn't work out.

Getting back to how it all works, the families meet and discuss whatever families discuss. That makes a lot of sense to me. No one probably knows me better than my parents. I would guess the same for most people. Why not use your parents (and perhaps other family members) directly in the search for a lifetime mate? There is wisdom in that communication.

Another factor, is that most people, once they grow up a little and spend a little time thinking about himself or herself and what she or he desires in a husband or wife will come up with criteria. I have three things I look for myself. Maybe one day I will even share them here. The point being, between the three things I am looking for, and my parents experience with me, and their experience of being married nearly 30 years, if there was a market of available women (or families I suppose) looking for a marriage, my parents would probably do a pretty good job. Plus, given that I would obviously talk to any prospective mates as a sort of finals round, quite likely a mutually beneficial marriage partner would be found.

On his recent trip back to India over Christmas and New Year's him and his fiancé met in person for the first time and in his words, "It was time." He knew that this woman was the one for him. As everyone always does, how does one describe just knowing it's the one person to spend the rest of one's life with? He was nervous before, as most people are in the dating pool, but now, he is ready. "It is time."

About the time we finished discussing this a Muslim friend walked up and we proceeded to joke about my love life. Where do I meet women? The bars? (On a side note "the bars" in relation to joking about my social life came up about two hours later with a totally different part of my social life.) So a Hindu from India, a Muslim from Sudan and a Christian from wherever I am from are all there talking about women and marriage, sharing the same laughs about how single male engineers at a construction company are supposed to meet women. Getting serious, we did come to the conclusion that volunteering is supposedly a place quality women go and church is another place. Both of which have been successful for me in the past, just not quite the success I desire.

Focusing on my friend, in India, all of his friends thought of him as a huge catch! Here is the (nearly) American who must make a ton of money and he is really cool! Which is funny, because "the catch" in India arranged marriages of the caste system is not nearly the same as a single male engineer in Iowa. Slight tangent here, an example, when is a nerd cool? When others are borrowing the Porsche or drinking the wine or when the nerd is working hard to make you happy. Nerds are rarely cool at the gym or on a Saturday night or at the swimming pool or even talking to your friends or even trying to have a conversation with you.

The point is, in the United States we write off arranged marriages as archaic unhappy unions, yet in many respects the system succeeds in putting like families together, and there is something to be said for families that share values. (Their kids probably share values.) Perhaps the arrangement makes the deeper values that 20somethings and 30somethings don't even know about yet or can't yet articulate more similar than 20somethings and 30somethings might be able to pick on their own?

Thursday, January 10, 2013

It's Called Recovery

I am no longer sick. Well, I'm good enough at least 95% healthy. Two nights ago I went to bed at 7:30 pm. Laundry has to be done. I could run more. I took this afternoon off. I feel so lazy. Not to mention I have been less productive at work than I desire. I'm just beat. I am tired. Just finished reading an article ( about the cold and flu season. Surely something mentioned in there is what I had. Eleven days of sickness? Four consecutive days off of running?

I write this with my thumbs on my phone as I lay on my couch covered in a blanket at 6:30 pm. Tonight is going to be an early night too.

The challenges are mental and emotional more than physical. I'm in an explicit mood tonight, I suggest you read the article linked above. This sickness is so unusual to me because it's been two weeks since I started being sick and I'm still tired! I had a flu shot, probably had the whooping cough shot too, despite sleeping so much the last three weeks I might just be in bed by 7 pm. It's like the mental effects of the cold have lasted past the physical effects.

Wash your hands and pray these diseases don't escalate.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Mt. Everest 2013 Will Not Happen For Me

I made the decision today that I will not go to Mt. Everest in the spring (April and May) of 2013. The reasons:

  1. I can't afford it. It is so expensive. While I have improved my saving skills (just ask about the Dawn soap) I don't have the money to "retire" for seven weeks and travel abroad to the resort known as Everest Basecamp and South Col. If I had the money, I would probably go.
  2. There are a couple interesting opportunities, mostly engineering career related, that will happen in the spring and summer of 2013 that I would like to attend. The kind of opportunities that I will be able to talk about being a contributing member for the next couple decades. 
That's it. The hidden message, which I will explicitly write because people don't always understand reading between the lines, I am going in April and May 2014.

Monday, January 7, 2013

I Live in Iowa: Week 89

Honestly, not a fun weak. I had a cold, all week. It started Thursday, December 27th, and I am still sick. It puts a damper on everything. I started the week in Sheboygan Falls and progressed to Dubuque on the first.

I ran 45 miles over the last five days of the week. I took the last four days of 2012 off of running. Four consecutive days off of running! That's huge for me! If that doesn't tell you how sick I was, well, you don't know me. I did do an 8x400 workout on Friday averaging about 71.5 with 1.5-2 minutes jog rest between intervals. Through all the intervals I followed the athletes I coach around the track as they walloped on my coughing and hacking self.

I worked three days this week. Pretty standard. Actually, we were a little light on work, that is, no one was breathing down our throats this week. A good week, I enjoy the short weeks. I have a good job, I enjoy working.

The highlight of the week, besides sleeping and napping a lot, was ice climbing Saturday afternoon. In Iowa, we climb a silo. About 70 vertical feet of ice. Three routes are open so far. I will definitely go again.
Yours truly starting out!
That's me on the right. The guy in the middle was taking my picture.
Upper left red pin is silo location near UNI in Cedar Falls
Finally a video, featuring one of the same characters from Devil's Tower this summer.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

2012: My Year in Review

For a history of where we have been, see the year reviews from 2009, 2010 and 2011

First some analytics. I don’t often talk about the macro viewing trends of my website. Well 2012 experienced only 15% growth in visits over 2011. In the Internet, growth that low could be understood as dying. (Not really, it is a joke, but 15% is far too low to warrant any investment.) However, for reference my just over 20,000 visits was more than double 2010 and almost four times 2009 viewing, years when in my opinion I was experiencing more interesting stuff. So I’ll take my 20,000 visits and 15% growth. 

I must talk a little about the viewing statistics and analytics because I do have mixed feelings. I like how prominent “Isaiah Janzen” has become. Part of the goal of having a website was to define my online presence in a way that a Facebook or Linkedin bio could not communicate. In other words, I realized years ago that from pictures my friends post of me to race results, the Internet was going to have content about me. Since that information will continue to grow and I am not the one ultimately responsible for how it is portrayed, I wanted to make a place, the top search result, that would be how I want to be viewed. In short, I want to grow the site and get more visits and page views so that I am considered an authority, even if it is only an authority on me and bottom-up meshing in Abaqus. Mission accomplished! The reverse aspect is, I don’t want to lose the personal touch. I talk about my daily life and relationships because I learn from them and also many of my family and friends read this. The articles now are not as candid as some were in the past. I beat around the bush more and give ambiguous examples more often. Perhaps that is just the wisdom of getting older.

So where would I like to head in terms of website analytics? A nice slow growth as I learn more and share more would be nice. The fear is if my statistics diminish, so will my influence over my online presence.

Now let’s get on to the issues. Work before play, as always. Wow, what a blessing was this year! I improved significantly, dare I say tremendously, at finite element analysis. I invented dozens of load cases to match experimental data. I modeled plastics in ways that I have never seen another model plastics. (Thanks to S for setting me up on that!) My understanding of manufacturing improved greatly. A number of the design solutions we developed, while not sexy at all, I am confident will be incredibly robust throughout the entire part life from manufacturing and assembly to a rusted 20,000 machine hours. 

Technically I have gotten better. I am faster and more efficient at finite element analysis. However, I don’t think that has been the most instructional aspect of my career development this past year. First, I relearned to volunteer. Look a a room of little kids, they will all volunteer. However, wait a few years and they will have embarrassing experiences so that no one volunteers anymore. That trend might just continue throughout life. To be honest, I can’t say if others volunteer or not because I chose to volunteer, and I focus on myself and the job to be done. This is a fundamental change, while I may have always offered myself for interesting tasks, now I’m really making an effort to help when someone has a need.

Second, related directly to the previous paragraph, was my trip to Indonesia. I volunteered for the finite element projects related to the Indonesian failures and I certainly volunteered for the trip to Indonesia. Seeing another culture, or another part of the world is always informative. Seeing the forestry industry first hand in the tropics is so directly related to my daily work, yet estranged from my daily observation that it was incredibly informative. Plus, I experienced Singapore and Hong Kong. Seven words in that sentence that took a 15 hours flight one way and hours of traveling on foot and mass transit. I’ll say it differently, I walked, looked, photographed and even ran a little in Singapore and Hong Kong. No, still doesn’t compare to seeing it first hand. That trip was just great! My life is awesome!

My year in running was good. Wait, it was incredible! Only a stepping stone to where I want to go, but one must keep in mind that there are a myriad of maladies that may strike any day and prevent me from the athletic feats I plan to achieve. I broke 16 minutes in the 5k, finally! The 5k is my nemesis event. It never seems to go as well as other events do for me. I also took a whopping 46 seconds off of my 10k to run 32:12 and two seconds off of my 800 to run 2:09 and become a “Two Oh... (inaudible)” guy. However it is not without imperfections. I ran something like 850 miles less than last year (only 2773.9 miles this year) largely due to tendonitis in the summer and did not PR at the half or full marathon, which are my two better events. I did win a half marathon by seven minutes though. That doesn’t happen all the time. Looking forward, because I must in running or I will get lazy and quit, persistence and patience is key. The expectation is that 2013 will be better than 2011 and 2012 combined in terms of significance of personal records. Also, it will probably have awfully hard training. 

Coaching is such a can of worms that I’m not going to say much. Plus, with most of the athletes we are so early in our relationship, which I hope for many might laster longer than simply four years, that it is almost too early to comment on progress. Suffice to say: 1. Stay Motivated 2. Stay Healthy 3. Train Hard and perhaps I should add 4. Be Patient? More thought is needed on that.

In the world of reading I read all three of Chris Anderson’s books this year. They all have merit, but Makers is about me. My choice for 2012 Book of the Year: Makers: The New Industrial Revolution by Chris Anderson. No I don’t own a 3D printer, but I do have a couple of things that I designed and my friend R “printed” for me in graduate school in 2009. The concept of extremely specific, unique, optimized products delivered in far shorter times, and perhaps for lower cost, than in the past is something that I will surely be a part of in a big way. There are a couple things I want to do, which unfortunately will be expensive, that are far more possible with additive manufacturing than with standard subtractive manufacturing and other standard processes like welding. Disclaimer to anyone who reads any of Chris’s stuff, he is from Silicon Valley so quite often he sounds like he had too much coffee, too much wine, or that people already live on Mars. 

Finally, since some people think I succeed at everything I do and this is a good time to dwell on failures and less-than-total successes. First, a mostly success, the year in rock climbing. I climbed Devil’s Tower and a number of other climbs, but overall, I did not lead anything harder than 5.8. Plus, I climbed so slow that I put our group in a very hairy situation on top of the tower in a thunderstorm. Overall, climbing was a success, but there was so little of it and at such a low difficulty level compared to previous years. Second, there was my ski season. It consisted of two days, once down Loveland Pass for about 20 minutes, and a second time at Sundown here in Dubuque. After a few runs I went down the terrain park and proceeded to go across a slide box. I fell backward and really hit the back of my head, no blackout, but it hurt. Skiing was kind of a failure for the year. Ice climbing? Not a single day in 2012.

Deserving it’s own paragraph, I don’t think I went on a single date in all of 2012 that both parties would consider a date. I’m 26 now, and this is my dating life? I like to imagine I can be patient, but my dating life is throwing me questions I can’t answer. Am I suppose to keep vigilant for the right situation, or am I supposed to look for someone to settle with? I feel that with the right attitude of total commitment and the correct shared values even “settling” could be extremely fulfilling. I have a load of things I would like to accomplish in my life, am I excluding any woman I meet because she doesn’t mesh with those ambitious plans? I am quite confident, and somewhat arrogant, about the things that I do well, does that chase people away? Perhaps, and this is a relatively new thought I have been entertaining, I will remain single my whole life. Wow, that’s the first time I have written it down. It looks so lonely. It’s out there now. Once again, like with unemployment in 2010, I feel I did everything right, I don’t have the baggage of a kid or kids, no AIDS or hepatitis, I have a couple of college degrees, I’m a Christian (which hopefully conveys something about my morals), my parents are happily together after nearly 30 years (hopefully a good indication of my perspective of a long term relationship), and I think I’m at least somewhat pleasant to be around. This is on my mind because I am a planner. Date for some length of time, likely a couple years, hopefully enjoy marriage for a few years before having kids, then have kids, plural meaning at least two, it could easily be eight years from “Hi...” to a second kid. I would also like to stop having kids before I am 40, because frankly I’m not sure that I will be able to keep up with them by then. I realize than 13.5 years is an awfully long time, but every week I am creeping closer to that.

Wow, that paragraph was way too long. That’s why I don’t talk about my love life.

Other failures? I didn’t go visit my family often enough. I visited my only two remaining grandparents only three times. I don’t have a big family and every relative means something to me. This would be an opportunity for improvement in 2013.

I’ve been working on carving a bookshelf out of a beetle kill tree since 2010, and it’s not done. I could probably finish in one Saturday, but I have been so lazy. My motorcycle needs some gaskets replaced, it is something totally within my capabilities. I even cleaned the rust out of the gas tank and took apart the carburetor this year, but it still leaks. All it requires is a full day or two of attention, but once again I let it sit around. My apartment was cleaned by a friend. I am a mess, 4% a hoarder to be specific. I gave myself tendonitis on my foot and on my lower leg by not doing the little things that prevent tendonitis in runners.

People starved to death and I didn’t help. People are sick. People want an education. Yet, I gave only meagerly of my abundance. I am rich, or what would pass for rich in 90% of the world. And, I keep so much of it for myself (and Mt. Everest). It’s a dichotomy, I am thrilled to see the accounts grow bigger and the debts grow smaller, but seeing the undeveloped and developing world wrenches my gut with sadness and guilt that I have it so well. I have it so well because of where I was born and how I was raised. Don't get me wrong, I worked awfully hard to reach the point where I am paid what I am twice a month. In some way this goes back to the relationship issue, because I want to pass on the awesomeness I have to others, and an easier way is probably having kids. It takes years, probably a decade or two to develop awesomeness and simply buying rice for someone is not the same as teaching that person how to “earn” rice. 

I followed the news more this year than perhaps any other year. The exception being that my family always watched the national news while we ate supper and discussed it at the commercials. A few observations from the news this year:
  • Sandyhook Elementary school shooting
  • Aurora theatre shooting
  • Neil Armstrong died. Is the golden age of exploration for our civilization over?
  • Democrats and Republicans seem awfully polarized...
  • Is the tipping point for belief in climate change hurricane Sandy or the summer drought or will it be hurricane Olga in 2013? Can we please believe the science and do something about it?
  • The US is becoming increasingly stratified with the affluent having incredible wealth yet the poor remaining unemployed.
  • The most viewed video, and first over 1 billion views, on YouTube was by a guy from South Korea.
  • The middle east is having some trouble understanding who they are or how to stay happy. Specifically conflicted: Syria, Egypt, Israel/Palestine and Iran.
  • Europe is very wealthy, but they paid for it with debt.
  • The world is not what it used to be. 
I'll leave you with an enticement to be an engineer, because we have fun. 

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Take a Break from Running, Then Rediscover Running

The runners are back from break! While this is partly cause for celebration, it also involves comments like, "I needed a break from running" or "I only ran one day over break" or "It was really snowy and there is nowhere to run where I live". Great, take three weeks off so that you are really ready to start racing most weekends for the next four months.

First of all, to develop long term as a runner, one needs to run often. I'm talking 40+ weeks a year, preferably 45+ weeks a year. Running, once past the 2000-3000 mile break in, is fun and you feel good afterward. That alone is enough to keep me motivated most days. One must run to get better at running. Strange, I know.

That being said, sometimes people need a break longer than two or three weeks at the end of a season. I have a feeling that younger people need longer breaks from organized training. In other words, elementary middle schoolers might benefit most by doing six sports over a year for 6-10 weeks at a time, while high schoolers 1-4 sports in 8-16 week blocks. By college most have found a single sport. However, the college aged person is often still not ready for the 45-48 weeks of sometime monotonous and repetitive training that must occur to excel in a single sport. I get that, I've been there, and I have two examples.

Senior year of high school we ran our legs off in cross country. I ran 191 miles in September 2003. Since I didn't run on Sundays that's just over 7 miles per day. At the time it was way too much. I set a personal record of 18:26 at the state meet that year, and our team finished 7th the highest finish for our school at the time. The women's team won state by the way. Kind of a big deal. So the miles made us do so well, but I lost much motivation. Sophomore and junior year I trained for and ran a half marathon between cross country and track. Senior year I had no motivation for it. My senior year of track I did not PR. That summer I decided to take six months off, July 4th to January 4th. I did not run a step, not even to catch up to my friends when I was late. I also gained five pounds the first three weeks of college.

When January 5th, 2005 came around I went for a run. I was itching to get back out by that time. January and February I ran by myself at like 8 in the morning listening to Frou Frou and Coldplay as I slowly trotted around the street of Worcester. It was slow and I didn't do any workouts, and I probably way over estimated my mileage, but I was rediscovering running. The joy of going for a run on a bright crisp winter morning is something akin to getting a good grade in a hard class or coming out of treeline on a mountain or a really good cup of coffee combined with a good view. In March I joined the track team and proceeded to run 19:07 sort of 5ks around the track. Not pretty, but I was back on a team working toward a goal. Three years later I set a school record in the 10,000 at the conference meet. Things worth having take time and effort to acquire.

A second example, my friend L in college came in as the best freshman of his class. He ran cross country his freshman year and did fairly well, but then he needed to take some time away from the team. A family member died and he needed some time to think on his own without the pressure of a weekly race or conversation with obstinate teammates. I would often ask him, because we saw him all the time, "are you planning to run on the team at any point in the future?" He typically responded, "Probably." That was all I needed to hear. He went and ran a 2:54 marathon or something that year and after missing a full year from the team, came back and contributed in a number of ways.

The point of both of these stories is that running, and a team environment, can become a mandatory chore and that attitude is not sustainable. I have a feeling that is why so many D1 athletes burn out. They work so hard for scholarship reward, and can't quit for fear of losing the scholarship, until finally, they really quit. Given the mix of adrenaline, testosterone, and cortisol that accompanies difficult team training it is no wonder that people want a break. Extrapolating farther I think that is also why people retire. Physical, or chemical, stress is simply easier to recognize in athletics than in intellectual pursuits.

How do we, or how do I, go about managing a positive mental attitude full of motivation over the long term? Well, I did take a six month break once. I didn't run with a team in 2010 or the first half of 2011. I bicycle and take days off. Plus, I have written concrete goals (such as a 2:17:39 marathon which is 5:15 pace) that I know require total commitment even on days when sleeping in or not running in the afternoon would be easier. Same for my career, not every day is exciting, but every day is an experience that will help me in the future. Also, it is realistic to admit that some days are bad days. Some days are no fun. For me though, I feel that the hard times make the good times so much better. Knowing that helps me lean into the difficult things. Yesterday, at practice I talked about how nice it was outside. The wind was not blowing. The temperature was in the 20s, not below 0. The sidewalks were mostly clear. It was not snowing or raining. There was more light out at 4:30 PM than two weeks ago. I feel one has to look for the positive things because life is hard enough on it's own. Sometimes you might be unemployed for 57 weeks despite a pair of engineering degrees from a respected engineering school.

Development is non-linear. Sometimes long term progression involves short or even medium term regression.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

2013: Bring It!

2012 was a very good year for me. I will write a year end summary later in January like I have for 2011 and 2010 and 2009. However, I spent over three hours today driving back to Dubuque and thinking about the future quite a bit. Let me share the future with you.

Professionally this is going to be a huge year for me. I will learn things about manufacturing and product development that I use for the rest of my career to make incredible products, and save millions of dollars. Part of this process will involve me traveling, mostly throughout the United States, but perhaps Canada or Brazil. In fact, I have to book a trip to North Carolina tomorrow.

This bring up an interesting point, I am not one to make a slew of resolutions, but I hope to improve my ability to make connections professionally in 2013 even better than I did in 2012. What do I plan specifically to do?

  • Follow up every business card I am handed with an email or more.
  • Understand the customers and what they do better than I understand today.
  • Only go to meetings that are very informational or that I contribute. There is not point for me to be in an hour meeting when I have nothing to say. Yet most meetings have people who never say anything.
In the rest of my life, I hope to improve. Run faster. Specifically break 15:00 in the 5k and 4:30 in the mile this year and run a fall marathon, it's looking like either Twin Cities or Chicago. I want to get that iOS sonnets app published. Do something with my unemployment book. I wrote 55,000 words, and some of them are pretty good. Maybe I could hire someone for a portion of the profits? Unemployment is still high isn't it? If you know someone who wants to get into the publishing industry, I have a book, let's discuss. 

If there is one kind of overarching idea that I would like to apply to my life in the new year it is to develop more connections with people. They don't have to be deep connections. I don't have to get anything out of most of the connections. I would like to be able to tell people, "you should talk to so-and-so." I suppose, I am also quite interested in others perspectives and stories. What inspiration might I gain from a person that I meet tomorrow? I do not know.