Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Recovery is More than Only Physical

I'm recovering from my half marathon and racing season and not just physically. Of course, I ate soon after the race, did a short cool down, took an ice bath, had a massage, slept a lot, took a walk, and did a little active stretching. However, the physical recovery is only part of the equation. Mentally and emotionally other things in the body need rest and recovery, like hormones and the endocrine (adrenaline) system. How does rest happen?

I spent some time the last couple days thinking about vacation, why does it rest and rejuvenate people and how can I apply that knowledge to a break from training?

There are a number of reasons vacation is restful and re-energizing:

  • More sleep than normal
  • Physically distant from the daily obligations of work
  • Mentally preoccupied with unusual tasks, such as perhaps home improvement
  • Experiencing new things
  • Being in a place associated with safety and comfort
  • Time spent with people we want to spend more time with
There are undoubtedly more reasons. Feel free to point out what you do to rest and get re-energized on a roughly yearly basis. The kind of deep rest that takes a week or more to really get at, not the shallow rest of a weekend. The point is, incorporating some of these things into my daily life during a break from my heavy running will hopefully allow my the proper mental and emotional, or hormonal, recovery I need to return faster than ever. 

What is on the docket to do during this break? Skydiving on Saturday, some bicycle riding, eat out a couple of times at places I don't go when I think about racing weight, visit some family, go to wedding. Wow, with a list that long I hope I don't forget about running! Okay, that is a lie, I'm probably not going to forget about running. 

It is easy to train hard, it is hard to train easy. Recovery is the secret weapon of the best athletes. To continue improving I cannot be insecure about my rest and recovery by neglecting to do it fully. I must rest hard.

Monday, April 29, 2013

I Live in Iowa: Week 105

This will be short, but I have a couple longer posts for later this week, don't despair.

Work was good. Learning RADIOSS was really the most exciting part. However I also spent a day in the factory watching various machines get built. I really do not have the exposure to that I would like. I endeavor to change that over the next month.

Running was mediocre. Only 40 miles, a 14 mile run at 6:36 pace and a 3k uphill tempo at 5:22 pace. Both of which I should not have done, because I did not recover from them for my half marathon Sunday. That's another story you will hear me discuss this week. In short, not a good half marathon at all.

Coaching was nice. A number of significant PRs and other good races. We have two kids, who PR'd by over 2 seconds in the 800 this weekend! And they have each run at least half a dozen 800s this year. Also, for the first time I can remember we made the suggestion for a person to step off the track and not finish the race, more about that later too.

Other than that, I was sick on Friday from the dream I had Thursday night. I am fine now. I am very blessed to have the talents and resources that I have. I always seem to be striving for more and self improvement, but  I have to remember to be thankful to God and my family and friends for giving me all that I have so that I can strive for such great heights.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Sore from a Dream?

This is so strange. So Thursday night I had some trouble sleeping. I woke up in the middle of the night and had two glasses of water, an ibuprofen and went to the bathroom. During the night I dreamt about running the Drake Relays Half Marathon, which I am actually running in 22 hours. Basically in the dream it was after the fact and I had a good race but I ran so hard I blacked out and couldn't remember the last half. So I was scanning through results and when I got up to 7th place I stopped reading because I didn't believe I could finish any higher. But my friend who also ran it told me to keep looking. I ran 1:10:24 for 4th place and he was 1:10:54 for fifth, which would be a massive PR for him by the way. After blacking out the last part of the race I had been taken to the hospital. I was so excited I had pushed myself so hard and done that well in the race.

Here is the problem. I woke up Friday with physically sore muscles and an upset stomach. Like I raced a half marathon the day before. I felt progressively worse during the day and after getting home after work I took a 2.5 hour nap. So I was thinking what made today different than other days? I did race a 10k last weekend and do a 3k tempo Wednesday. But I expect to be recovered from the 10k and not very sore at all from the 3k tempo. Given my psychosomatic incident and reading a few similar other reports on the Internet it's probably not that I am sick. It's that I thrashed around all night because my mind ran the race three days early.

I'm exhausted. I even have a bit of an upset stomach. Something that also happens after some longer harder runs.

How strange is that? Running myself into a blackout is looked upon as a sign of strength? Not to mention all of this happens in a dream.

Now it is Saturday morning and I feel much better. I am in great shape and will likely have a great race tomorrow. Since I have already mentioned a few things, let me tell you about the race. The Drake Relays Half Marathon and 10k start together, so there will probably be a lot of people that go out fast, that I am not competing directly against. Plus, it is a downhill start. I could realistically split a couple sub 5 minute miles at the beginning and not go out too fast. I've never done that in a half marathon. I've run sub 5 miles in 5ks and 10ks, nothing longer. Secondly, there is quite a bit of prize money. 7th place in the half gets $1000! Generally speaking that kind of prize money will probably get a 1:05-1:08 performance. The winner gets $12,000 which is in the territory of 1:02-1:03 kind of quality. I'm in the race because it is perfect for me to PR. I'm not going to win. I'm just not in that kind of shape. But there will certainly be at least a couple people ahead of me to pull me along to a PR, and if things go well some prize money. However, given the amount of prize money, and the 10k and half people start together, I could be in 50th place at two miles at 10:20 with women ahead of me. So... if we knew what was going to happen we would not run the race. It is going to be a good day!

Friday, April 26, 2013

Learning RADIOSS

I am learning new finite element analysis software at work. ABAQUS licenses are expensive and while I really like the software, so do a couple scores of other people at work. The solution is to learn a new software with many available licenses. The difference is that the computing power available for RADIOSS is significantly less than for ABAQUS, also, no one around these parts really uses RADIOSS, so I have to teach myself.

A little more explanation, HyperWorks, an Altair company software, has easily my favorite pre-processor, HyperMesh, and a nice post-processor, HyperView. The actual job processor I typically use is ABAQUS, a Simulia company software. HyperWorks licenses can be used for all types of HyperWorks software, HyperMesh, HyperView, RADIOSS, and Optistruct, among others. I currently have access to significantly more HyperWorks licenses than ABAQUS licenses. Of course, as things go in the world, this has not always been the case, and things will inevitably change in the future.

The point of this is not to brag about my new skills or use a bunch of jargon. It is simply to show a concrete example of problem solving. Preferred option 1 is less accessible so I am choosing to selectively use option 2 with similar functionality. I would not be in the wrong for "wasting" time using option 1, but using options 1 and 2 I am certainly more productive. After all, better productivity is a huge goal of work.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

If It Was Easy We Would Have Done It Already.

Many of the great challenges of our day have not been done because they are difficult. Land humans on Mars. Build a car people want that gets 100 miles per gallon on gasoline. Run the Appalachian trail in less than a month. Climb two 8000 meter peaks in one day without bottled oxygen. A smart watch with battery life for three days. There are many other challenges.

The point is, we have already done the easy things, only the hard things are left. One might say that it has always been that way. It is always hardest being first to do something, whether it is the iPhone or the four minute mile. The challenges that are left are seemingly even harder than the challenges that have been done.

I ran the numbers on a "project" a couple nights ago, and the reason no one has done my project is that using current technology, it is not possible. It was humbling to look at the raw numbers and understand that the solution to the problem would be far more intricate and detailed and non-obvious than I was hoping.

I guess that just means that accomplishing these goals we have will be that much more significant.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

An Expensive Hobby

I was reading a business book recently and it had a list of attributes that an idea might have if it is an expensive hobby rather than a sustainable business. Taking this idea one step farther, an original expensive hobby is probably somewhat common.

For example, imagine that you have an idea for a great product but after running the numbers you find that it would never be a sustainable business. Maybe your friends and family think it is such a great idea but when it comes to laying down the money for your great idea only you want it that much. Thanks to additive manufacturing and other custom manufacturing it just might be possible to make a one off of the product.

Plus, actually going ahead with the idea instead of making excuses gets something done. Additionally, after making something, having a functional prototype, you might just find that there is a business behind that hobby.

I mention all of this because I have an idea that might not be a business but after realizing it could be an expensive hobby I had no excuses left for not working on it. I have done more on it in the last three weeks than the last three years. It is one of those moments I thought, 'why did this take me so long?'

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

How Do We Monetize Mobile?

The big open question scaring tech companies is: how do they make money off of mobile devices? There is a list and some unknowns. Here is what we know:

  • Hardware such as phones and tablets and watches. Unlike computers that are upgraded every 3-8 years a cell phone is upgraded every 12-36 months. So there is money to be made there.
  • Software such as the App Store allowing people to buy programs and games.
  • Subscriptions to magazines and newspapers and games. This is likely to be a larger part of the future because it is so easy to pay $.99 versus travel out somewhere and buy a $7 economist or fill out another subscription. With only a couple clicks it is done.
  • Prestige, okay, I made this one up, but one time in-app purchases for games or inevitably articles and other restricted information. It is one time and not software. Yet not what we currently think of as media.
  • Media such as music, movies, serial shows, books, you name it.
  • Advertising for one of the above or physical goods like cars. Although on small screen space there is less tolerance and click through of ads.

What else is there? I don't know, and very few others do either. Perhaps the reason people like mobile so well is that it is a more direct line to the information than sitting in a chair with a large screen and keyboard.

This is significant because Apple's stock has been taking a beating lately, but if you look at all of the above business models that they are taking a percentage of sales, it's all of them. Another note on monetization, I don't intend to clutter this website with ads, except for maybe things that I might be selling like a book, because I now make enough from Squidoo to cover the $11 a year it takes to own my domain name.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Anonymous Comments

I feel that allowing anonymous comments is a great privilege of the Internet. The concept that a person can write something without having to stand behind it is one of the nice things about this day and age. I feel this might allow people to be whistle blowers or point out other faults without fear of retribution. However, I don't really have much retribution for anyone. Seriously, if I don't answer your phone call or email it is because I don't answer anyone's phone calls or emails. (My fault, I know.)

The point being, sometimes these comments get downright rude! Someone even used the F word recently in my comments! Can you imagine? I was flabbergasted!

So it happened that I was having a discussion (in real life) recently with a friend and he said something close to, 'you have a real hater that comments on your blog!' I laughed a little and told him my thoughts on the matter. To him the concept of anonymous comments is ridiculous. He is not alone. My sister moderates comments because she had enough negative ones. Seth Godin, probably the world's most popular blogger, does not even allow comments on his bog. Why deal with the haters?

I deal with the haters because I care. Someone is expressing something because they want to express it and I suppose that in some way I am able to help them with those emotions. Emotions can be powerful things and most people do not handle them well. If expressing those feelings anonymously helps that person deal with whatever emotions I helped elicit, then great, I just helped someone.

However, when people start using the F word, that's not appropriate. I have not moderated comments for nearly 50 months, the whole life of this blog. I wanted to hear all of the raw emotions and thoughts of my readers. (Plus, more comments help my Google search rankings.) However, I don't really need to hear what anonymous haters have to say. If people really want to comment they are welcome to sign in with one of a slew of accounts and leave their name. Sure he or she could come us with a fake name, but the person would likely use the same fake name for every comment. I don't know. Maybe I should not even allow comments? Seriously, most of the people that comment have my phone number or email address so that we can discuss a topic directly.

What do you think? Vote over on the right please. Alternatively you could comment, although, anonymous comments that berate me basically prove the point.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

I Live in Iowa: Week 104

Another week done, another seven days of experience in my life. Experience is an interesting thing, the only way to really get it is live through it. Of course, you can accelerate the learning curve by learning from others, but inevitably one must have some amount of experience gained from living through an experience.

Work is about to explode! I use that in the most exciting way possible! In the next few weeks I will learn a significant amount! My own specific work is going well, it's just difficult sometimes getting pulled in four or five different directions by people who all think their project is the most important. I experience this all the time, but it was especially evident this past week. While it is stressful, learning how to manage multiple projects and communicate with all the stake holders will serve me well as I continue to do future ventures.

My own running went well. I raced a 10,000 at Augustana Saturday morning. I ran a 32:27, which is not the under 32 or at least under 32:12 that I was hoping to run. However, I ran from 4000 to 9950 meters in front leading the race. That's a lot of time breaking wind in first place. I pulled away from second place, and the last mile I slowed down (ran a 5:15 last 1600) and out of nowhere the guy who had been leading the race, who's foot steps I had not heard in 18 minutes pulled even with 75 to go and pulled away with 50 to go and beat me by a half second. Had we ran a closer race, or been in the fast heat I am sure we would have gone faster. This is the most time I have spent in the front of a track race, and it is an experience I needed. Total of about 60 miles including a race and a short 8x400 workout.

Coaching went especially well! Lots of personal records, let's see, three in the 10,000, two in the 5000, one in the 1500, and maybe three or four in the 800. I could talk more, but as we go into the last three weeks of track season I will surely talk more about our taper and personal records.

I could write more, but I ran 14 miles at 6:36 average pace today, not easy the day after a 10k race. Thus, I am tired, goodnight!

Friday, April 19, 2013

The Plan Changes and We Keep Going

Things change. I had been planning to race a 10,000 tonight but for better or worse it was apparently rescheduled for Saturday due to under 40F temperatures. It will probably be warmer Saturday so that is probably the better way to go. Given that I want to race a 10k on the track it's pretty much this opportunity or no race. The plan changes and we keep going. The same could easily be said about other events this week.

I feel persistence is not often recognized especially in it's early stages although it is usually rewarded. Whether that is the CEO with 30+ years of long hours every week experience getting a huge paycheck or the Olympic champion crossing the finish line. We may view these things in the relatively small context of the daily, weekly, or yearly, but those two, and many others, are the result of years often decades of work. "Overnight success" like Psy's "Gangnam Style" is the result of decades of music videos on televisions and one of the most connected countries in the world. 

In all of these stories there are hurdles and setbacks. Injuries and missed opportunities and delays that conspire to stop us instead of only a momentary pause. Bombs may explode in a big city, even at a marathon. That setback will provide at least somebody a reason to decide never to run a marathon. However, that person probably never ran in the first place because he or she did not want to get his or her knees replaced.

If we knew the results of the race before it started we wouldn't run it. If a marathon was 19 miles it wouldn't be nearly as interesting. Unexpected things happen. You can stop. You can give up the challenge and resign yourself to less. Or you can keep going. 

I don't know how things I would like to do will pan out. I may fail miserably across the board. Yet the satisfaction of knowing that I held nothing back and adjusted to changes and overcame obstacles is more rewarding than living with the question of, "what if...?"

Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Hard Answers

Question: Do I think more highly of myself than appropriate?
The hard answer: Yes.

I have been reading Proverbs in the Bible. I have also been reading some business books. I have also been thinking about my relationships and interactions with others. I hate the feeling of realizing my own immaturity. It is good that I do realize it, learn from it, and develop better habits.

Maturity is a long term process. Hopefully I am still maturing in my 90s. Yet there come times when I say things, or do things, and all too often think things that I know better than to say or do or think.

Sometimes we need to look at ourselves and really, honestly evaluate our thoughts, words and actions.

The truth will set you free. Masking over the truth through willful ignorance and egotistical thoughts does not lead, especially in a positive direction, to more productivity, creativity, and deeply committed relationships.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

49 Blessings a Minute

With the trouble at the Boston Marathon and the usual life stress, it can be easy to forget our blessings. As I laid on the couch last night after a workout and a walk my heart rate was below 50 in just a few minutes. Every beat a blessing.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Boston Marathon Explosions

What does one say? I am surprised. That is what I say. For those that have not been there, most of the people had finished the race, and people usually don't stick around the finish line. So on the positive side, it was not nearly as deadly as it might have been 1-2 hours earlier. In 2009 the only year I went into Boston to watch the finish I was on the other side of the street from the bombs. It hits close to home. In the summer of 2001 my family went up in the World Trade Center on vacation. In 2009 I traveled through Abbottabad. Also in 2009 (and probably 2015 or 2016) I was at the finish of the Boston Marathon. 

I feel like, what's next? Dubuque, Iowa? I suppose that the reason I've been to these places before these events, or to Oklahoma City after, is that the place has something that draws crowds of people. After all, bombers don't target field of corn. 

The running community is small. I guarantee by the time this is all over a friend of a friend of mine will be among the injured. As I write this Monday evening there are three dead and 141 injured. It is just surprising. On the one hand, I like running and marathons because they are so accessible, you can get a front row seat to the action, albeit for only a few seconds. It is almost always free to spectate. Unlike the sports surrounded by elitist stadiums and high ticket prices and likely drug use, marathoning is raw. Honestly, hang out at the finish of a marathon for a couple hours sometime. It is painful to watch people come in. I am surprised people can do this to themselves. 

Where do we go from here? Well, even though I plan to run Boston in a few years and a big city marathon this fall, I really do not want to pay $400 for that privilege. I mean, by their nature marathons are long and sprawling and thus extremely difficult to secure entirely. Trying to fit them in a box, while I would still do it, would get hectic with more than a small number of people. Is the marathon going to be the first event at track meets held three hours before everything else starts? (While that is a bit of a joke, I think it is actually a great idea, a flat and fast coarse, only 105.5 laps or 211 indoor. I've considered that might be the best way for me to qualify for the Olympic Trials.) 

I guess, I don't feel like much else is going to change. At Monks this evening the theory is that it is a domestic act. Who knows? God help us!

Monday, April 15, 2013

I Live in Iowa: Week 103

Work was good, really good. I went to the internal company engineering conference in Moline, IL for two days and met a number of engineers from around the world. People gave presentations on the new things they are doing and the problems they are solving. While many were not "new" technologies exactly, there were a lot of new application specific knowledge and automation scripts (computer programs). Plus, the networking for me was very fulfilling.

Coaching was limited because I was gone half of the week, but out meet on Saturday went really well. We set more than a few personal records, including one or two significant ones. It is so exciting to see things work out well after a year of hard work.

My own running, while not what I wanted, went really well. Sunday I did an 11k pace variation tempo averaging 3:12 and 3:39 per kilometer and Saturday I ran a 15:51 5k. I was disappointed in the 5k race Saturday. I thought I was surely in better shape. However a long week, plus the snow and 15 mph winds during the race slowed me down the last mile. Last year in the two weekends leading up to the Augustana 10k I ran a 16:15 5k race in great weather and 7k pace variation tempo at 3:13 and 3:45 kind of averages. So I am in unequivocally better shape this year despite missing my 5k PR by 7 seconds. I am expecting new personal records in the 10k and half marathon in the next 13 days.

That's about it. It was a busy week. It might be another busy week this week. I hope you had a good week too.

Friday, April 12, 2013

A GPS Watch and a Heart Rate Monitor

I have entered the 21st century! It took me a long time. So long that I view heart rate monitors and GPS watches as superfluous to my training instead of necessities like many others do. Training effectively is all about effort, and the only way to really feel effort is by spending a lot of time running different efforts. Eventually one can feel everything from the gut wrenching I-can't-eat-after and I-can't-believe-I-did-that to the I-just-got-passed-by-a-middle-aged-woman recovery pace.
My New Garmin 210
Waxing philosophical, I feel so rich. Look at me, yet another toy I didn't need. My wealth makes me sick to my stomach. Sure, I only spent $25 on this and the heart rate monitor, but people in Africa are dying because they don't have access to $25 worth of AIDS or Malaria or Tuberculous medication, not to mention just plain clean drinking water or 1500 calories a day.

I don't get it, why do the fruits of my labors make me feel guilty? That is a question I will not try to answer tonight. Tonight we celebrate the fact that now I will be able to measure the trails and my heartbeat. I will be able to do the 4x5k with 1k rest type workouts that are just not realistic on the track. Plus, this will give me proof of what I have done. I will Strava the hills of Dubuque and set foot and bicycle records left and right. I will get my heart rate over 200, or wear myself out once or twice trying. I will send it below 45 too. Tonight we celebrate the rewards of living in the 21st century instead of my relatives in the 18th and 19th centuries that could have never dreamed of the technology that we use daily. We are so fortunate.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

A Place I Have Never Been

Over the next three weekends I am racing a 5000 meters, 10,000 meters and half marathon, in that order. I just finished Once A Runner, probably the most classic fiction book about running there is. I will write a review about it sooner or later.

In the book Cassiday is trying to push himself to a new level, the best in the world. There is ample discussion about others not understanding his pursuit. For the most part, I totally get it.

We, competitive long distance runners, are trying to race times that we have never physically done before. The last 600 meters of my mile a month ago was a place I had never been. In those 103 seconds I was experiencing the fruits of thousands of miles and hundreds of hours of training. Oh it was suffering alright. But that is what we are searching for, the feeling of a new experience only rewarded through weeks, months, and for me now years of training. An experience that in our dreams seems one step past mortal.

Nothing really changes. We still have to grocery shop, pump our own gas, and go to the bathroom. We still get tired.

These next three weeks may be my end. Oh I don't plan to quit running and competing, but this 5k and 10k on the track may be my last good chance to set personal records. I have no future track season planned. Due to other commitments in my head I don't even know the next time I will have a chance to step on a track for a race. This may be it. I really hope to go to a place in the last mile I have never been. Have a split, and of course a finish time, I have never had. It will hurt. I will be stiff on the last lap.

As I grow older the immediacy becomes more clear all the time. I did not set a 5000 or 10,000 personal record in 2009, 2010 or 2011. If that happens again I may not be able to set a personal record at those distances. This is it.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Not Goal Orientated

I am very goal orientated. I set a goal and I go after it. The extent to which I commit to my goals seems staggering, or simply crazy. Many people are not like that. As a coach, or even fellow team member, I struggle to understand their motivations.

Goals are easy to understand. They are clear, often defined by numbers, like Mach 1 or 26:17. It is easy to see progression against a numerical goal. The alternative I struggle with.

I understand that others are relationship or experience orientated. In a sense I have some of those tendencies too. The extent and detail of those motivations mystify me. For example, an athlete that simply wants to improve and set personal records and eat a lot of food is more difficult to work with than an athlete that says, "I want to run AB:CD in the 5k."

How do I, how do we, work with people who are not goal oriented better? I don't know. Is it that goals are more amorphous than concrete numbers and milestones? Goals do take years to develop for the most part. Perhaps it is that younger people, my age included, have not formed their goals yet? I don't want to convert everyone to as goal orientated as myself, but I would like to better understand their motivations or reasons for lack of motivations. What do you think?

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

A Little More Consistency

I see this mainly in running. When a person can simply stay healthy for a few months good race results usually follow. Stay healthy for a year, really good race results follow. The same applies to everything else too. Blog regularly, and I will become better at it. Engineer more (instead of being unemployed I suppose) and my engineering will be better.

People are often trying to hit one project or event out of the ballpark. Trying to go viral or have a big opening weekend. When it doesn't work after some length of time they move on to the next project. On the other hand, putting in the time and the effort weekly and daily for months, and years, dare I say decades, will hone the skills needed to hit one out of the ball park. Before that crunch-time seventh-game ninth-inning homer though, expect to get on base just barely a few times, strike out a few times, get walked, hit a fly ball to an out, and hit more foul balls than anyone wants too.

If consistency, working hard on the days you don't want to, was easy, everyone would do it.

Monday, April 8, 2013

An American Doing a Portuguese Take on an Italian Workout

Sunday I ran the best workout of my life. Eleven kilometers of 1000 meters moderate, which I averaged 3:39, followed by 1000 meters hard, which I averaged 3:12, and repeat. Apparently the Italians came up with the pace variation kilometers, in the 1980s likely, but they focused on slower above and below marathon pace. Then allegedly the Portuguese decided to do the same workout but faster. I'm getting this from a blog that no longer exists, so it's like third hand by now. You might as well not believe any of it. (Renato Canova and Gigliotti were the Italian coaches and it was Nate Jenkins old blog.)

Total time was 37:56 passing 10k around 34:20, the hard way. I am fit!

The larger idea is, we are living in a global society. The best marathon coach in the world (Renato Canova) is an Italian, who has spent time around the world learning about running, and now coaches arguably the best American (Ryan Hall) while spending most of his year in Kenya with the majority of his athletes, who are mostly Kenyan and Ethiopian. The world is more global than it ever has been, and we are moving more in that direction. How many languages do you speak? If the answer is one you might likely be an American. The chef at the Indian restaurant I go to speaks eight. The guy who sweeps the floor there speaks Spanish.

The point is, education and communication is global, not just international. Welcome to the 21st century! We are standing on the shoulders of giants!

Sunday, April 7, 2013

I Live in Iowa: Week 102

The week started with Easter! I was home in Sheboygan Falls, WI visiting my family! Very exciting stuff. We also had Easter dinner Sunday afternoon with more family in a small town north of Madison. Time seems to become more valuable every year. For example, when I was 17 and my sister was 13 we took a three day, three night back packing trek around and over Mt. Elbert in Colorado with a 16 year old friend of ours. At the time the experience pushed me, and we had our share of scares. Tears were shed, laughs laughed, snow melted, and water eventually ran out. In short, a typical backpacking experience for someone not terribly experienced. At the time I kind of envisioned it as the beginning of many more similar trips. While there have been many more similar trips for me since that one in 2003, around 250-300 nights in tents in the wilderness for me, my sister and I only had one more backpacking adventure in 2004. I will guess that it will happen again, but it has been nearly a decade. Time with family and friends is short, don't take it for granted and waste it!

Past 295,000 Miles!
Another milestone was passed in the world of my van. It now has a recorded 295,000 miles (not counting the 2,000 with the broken odometer in September 2010 from Idaho to Wisconsin). It has trouble starting, possible issues are with the engine temperature sensor and the fuel filter. It runs on the highway fine, it just takes 10-20 minutes to warm up and run smoothly.

Work, as often is, was a good blessing! I helped save the company from the expense of an unexpected issue. I was given some geometry to do finite element analysis on after I left for the night and invited to a meeting to discuss the unexpected issue at 10 AM the next day. I worked on the project in the morning before the meeting and had positive results to share with the 15 person meeting even though most did not know I was working the problem and no one was expecting me to have results by then. Under promise and then over deliver! I like to throw around my business goal at work in meetings, informally of course only with people I know face to face, "ahead of schedule and under budget!" It does not happen that way all the time, but it's a nice goal to have.

A second work project, which took significantly more time, involved taking a shell model and converting it to a solid model with solid welds and contact surfaces. In layman's terms, stepping up the complexity an order of magnitude. Analysis is a little frustrating searching for such a small level of detail given that the accuracy of the model is diminished at smaller scales. Yet incredibly satisfying that I know what to do and how to do it. We are, and I am, making things better! We are creating value.

Coaching went quite well. A couple hard workouts, a large number of miles for our young team, and a slew of personal records. Although, only one had run the 1500 meters before so that was six automatic PRs. Our university does not have the best distance running reputation, and there was a moment during one of the races when I was watching a couple of our athletes compete very well with the other teams when I thought: 'We're doing it. We are really doing it. The kids are improving!'

My own running was okay. Only 61 miles run for the week. One and a half workouts and only two miles run in the goal pace range of 4:50 to 5:20. That being said, I looked at what I did last year leading up to my 5000 and 10,000 PRs and I am in far better shape! I have run a number of workouts with 5-6 miles of quality at paces, on average around 5:15-20 instead of only 2-3 miles at those paces. I have had five 20-22 mile long runs this year at paces from 6:21-6:56 instead of only two in that range last year. I ran a 2:08 800 and a massive 5.5 second PR to 4:31 mile this indoor season. (I'm actually about to go run my last hard workout of the season so I'm trying to work myself up a little.) The point is, I am planning a 5000, 10,000 and half marathon the next three weekends and I feel that I am ready to set personal records, significant ones, at all three distances.

I have found, in regards to my running but also life in general, that as my performance increases my expectations increase. I will run a workout that last year would not have happened, and I have the attitude I wanted to run it faster than I did, regardless of the fact it was the best 3x2 miles or whatever workout I have done. In other words, my fitness increases 3% and my expectations increase 4%. It is the same for engineering. I struggle with a problem and inevitably finish it, but not as fast as I would like regardless of the fact that it is far faster than I finished a similar project a year or two ago.

I am so blessed! I have so much! My family, my friends, my employment, my health, a 4:31 mile, my master's thesis and degree, 23 pairs of running shoes, and a van with over 295,000 miles. I don't deserve so much wealth and prosperity and success.

My friends, I hope that you are well. I hope that you are enjoying more prosperity than I am. I hope that your blessings outnumber mine.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Psycology of a Third Job

In my widely publicized plunge into my winery job, I now have three jobs, and five sources of income. This new job has come with a fear...

First of all, I have my day time job. Economically it’s number 1. I'm an engineer. I have been since middle school trying to make camping stoves and rockets in my basement. When it comes to priorities about where to spend my time, I spend three to four times as much time engineering as exercising. I spend about as much time during the week engineering as I do sleeping, and I sleep a lot. In short, I am incredibly fortunate to be blessed in the situation I have.

Second, I have my coaching job. It's scant on income, but half of minimum wage is worth it to me get the physical and social experience and develop as a coach and communicator. It is an opportunity for me to teach and lead, and given that I am relatively new at it, a huge opportunity to learn.

Fourth I have my investments. I have a knack for losing money, but between dividends and cumulative sales I have ended the last two years, my only two investing year, positive. What do I do with "extra" money that I don't need to live? I invest it. It is possible that one day my investments will be my greatest source of income, although that thought too scares me for similar reasons to my third job fear.

Fifth, I have Squidoo, which surprisingly earned me close to two tanks of gas last year. No, it's not much, I blow that much money going out to eat on the weekends, but it is something.

Third, yes I put these out of order on purpose, I have my new winery job. It fulfills a social aspect that I had been lacking. I have a lot of fun out there! It does not feel like work. However, I do earn money out there. I am afraid that after my 57 weeks of unemployment and underemployment I have a fear of unemployment happening again, so I seek out income opportunities. I don't want to think of myself as that person who works all the time and never takes the time to relax a little and enjoy life, but at least a little, that is who I am.

I have had the discussion a few times about how people (specifically people I know or knew) reacted to the Great Depression. Almost all Great Depression survivors worked awfully hard economically. Some sought to escape the harsh memories through spending and extravagance and luxury, while others diverged into the image of visible states of poverty, with massive savings, fearing another collapse. It may be that those who were older pursued the image of visible poverty route while the slightly younger pursued the luxury route, although that is just conjecture. 

I always thought that I would get a new car right out of college. I still have not bought a car, more than three years after grad school ended. Now I have a third job. As I think about the future I wonder, 'how will my fear of another Great Recession impact my life? What impact will those 57 weeks have on me throughout my life and how will that that affect my relationships with others?' 

Thursday, April 4, 2013

What or Who is a Growth Hacker?

By the time I find out about most things, it is past the early adopter phase. In an effort to stem the tide of feeling not innovative I learned about growth hacker and downloaded Clinkle Wednesday. First of all, the first Growth Hacker Conference is in May. Yep, the phrase already has a conference. I learned about the term in Seth Godin's very good article about meetings, and an 11 month old blog post from Andrew Chen with comments from a number of prominent people in the start up company industry. The term was "invented" by Sean Ellis in a blog article nearly three years ago!

Trying to describe the term "growth hacker" in words that make more sense to me, it seems that the ideal concept of a growth hacker is: directly engineering functionality.

Functionality might not be the best word, usability or profitability might be better. I suppose it would be product/company dependent. In more than three words, Apple would probably do nearly as well, perhaps better, with only two commercials a year featuring Jony Ive talking about the latest Apple product. Valve probably has people that notice trends in their environments, and focus on that area, or focus on the area people just left. Google figured this out a decade ago when they simplified search to something that was very quick and uncluttered. The other companies could not match the speed, results, and simplicity of Google. More than a decade later Google still rules the world of search because they directly engineered functionality. Facebook might be losing this with the redesign and one-stop-shop complexity progression every few months. The opposite would be the concept of an employee being told to work on something, and working on it. That is not wrong at all! It is simply the perspective that is different. Looking for the problem to solve versus solving the problem that is given. Hopefully the two are the same, but I know that is not always the case. Regardless, directly engineering functionality is a great way to increase value and by repeating increase productivity.

Every day we are getting better. Every day we learn.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Talking About Work

I have not specifically addressed this topic with an entire article. It’s a shame that this post should rectify. Let us begin.

Who’s intellectual property is it? If I write something at work does my employer own it? Yes, at least I think so. If I say something at work does my employer own it? I don’t know. If I think something at work does my employer own it? I hope not. I mean, of course not, or at least they would have a hard time finding evidence they own it. Plus, they probably don't want to own every evil thought in my head. But it’s really an interesting process, from idea to written communication I lose ownership of my idea. My work is no longer my work but the company’s work. 

That’s pretty much the basis of the whole argument.

So my dilemma every week when I write my weekly summary is that of elation about the problem solving that I did, and terror that I will say too much and get fired. I do fully expect at some point in my life to lose a position of economic income because of what I say on my blog and also I expect one or more times to gain an economic income for the fact that I do say things on my blog. In other words, Seth Godin and Guy Kawasaki get paid a lot doing traditional things like consulting and strategizing for traditional companies even though they convey a lot of information to scores of thousands of people. On the other hand, people get fired for things posted on Facebook and other sites. 

When I was younger I always thought I would go into the aerospace defense industry and work on secret projects that I could not tell anyone about. I did the stint at Sikorsky, but my project had nothing to do with any product for national defense. Rather, anyone with the money can buy the products I work on and look at the work that I do. Frankly you can probably buy a little 1/32nd scale model and still see much of the work that I do with gussets, tails and radii. Or at least in about two years you will be able to see it. 

So the rules I set out for myself are:
  • If the work I did is related to production I don’t show it. In other words, I’m not going to show some strain contour plots of a brand new boom. Honestly, I might never show strain contour plots of any assembly because inevitably a crack will show up in a place where we didn’t predict it would. 
  • If the work is related to a failure I don’t show it because I would probably get fired for admitting that things fail during the warranty period (regardless of the fact that we probably fail far less in the warranty period than the competition). 
  • Nobody else at work agreed to the terms I did to blog about my life. Therefore I will not name names or discuss others work. If I can somehow claim that I am responsible, both for the credit and the blame, than I might discuss it. Otherwise, you will not hear about it from me. Most of the time this is not a problem because I usually don’t know what other people are working on and I often spend 35+ hours alone working on a project just to turn around and spend eight minutes presenting it. It’s not that I want authority, but I do enjoy accountability.
So that is where I stand. Am I too open? Some would say so. However, unlike the weekly changes to the privacy policies of Google and Facebook I am all I have to work with. I have done what I have done, both right and wrong. I certainly don’t want you to know everything, but given the choice between unlimited sharing and absolutely no sharing or communication I choose the sharing. Should I share more? Some would say so. Secrets are a strange thing. We all have things from our past we did wrong. General Petraus had a mistress and affair and he was supposed to be the leader of the CIA.  

It interests me that articles about Abaqus and Ansys continually rate as my most viewed, yet most of them I wrote in 2009. I am so much better at finite element analysis now than I was back then. I read the struggling comments and see the page views, and I want to help! I want to make the world a better place!

What does that leave to talk about? Abstract business concept discussions, show pictures of "science projects" that I work on when work is slow, and when I am learning new skills that are probably unrelated to my daily job. Also, it leaves running, which is why I talk about running so much. I bet a lot of people go home and don't really think about work, it's almost 9 at night and I'm thinking about learning Optistruct. And I want to share that with people. My contributions to Wikipedia and Squidoo only satisfy me so far. I want to tell people how awesome finite element analysis is! I want to recruit new engineers from middle school! I want to show animations!!!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Performance is Relative

I have been struggling to run the times in workouts the last couple weeks that I want to almost every time I try to run a workout. So I went back and looked at what I did last year leading up to my 5k and 10k PRs. Wow! I am certainly in better shape than I was back then. I had a few good workouts but not the volume of  5:0X and 5:1Y pace that I have this season. I simply set my expectations rather high, and while I am close to nailing the work required, not reaching those expectations worried me. However, comparing the work done to the previous work done shows that progress is being made.

Performance is relative to expectations and experience. Those two are often at odds with each other. Performance relative to expectations is often lower than desired while performance relative to experience is [hopefully] higher than it has been in the past. The same goes for engineering. A project I expect to take 15 hours might take 30 hours, but two years ago it would have taken 60 hours.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Are Tasks Harder when Closer to the Finish?

It seems that getting most of the way to an end goal is easy, getting all the way there is not. My van has been bumping and thudding and choking lately, and I just passed 295,000 miles yesterday evening. Will it make it 5000 miles more? Back at 255,000 miles 5000 was considered a piece of cake, now it's a significant hurdle, at least I fear it is a hurdle.

This is not limited to vehicles. My engineering projects certainly become harder as they progress to completion. Sometimes I report the results, then spend more than a day, maybe a couple, finishing up the official report, agonizing over "small" details. In running, I am about to have the best month of racing in my life, I hope. Yet, I still have to push myself through a couple workouts and strain as hard as I can in races.

What I have done, I now consider easy. What I have left to do, seems hard.