Sunday, November 3, 2019

"It's not my job."

First, I hate when people say, "it's not my job". It's a failure of the organization to take ownership.

I've gotten to that point because at my former company design engineers doubled as responsible engineers (a new concept for me), and we would get blamed for a lot of problems. I had a boss that once said about the production line that had thrown up a lot of problems that day, "their job is to build things, we can't take the work out of work."

So I've come to the idea that if it is not your job, it must be mine.

That's one of the fun things for me about being at a startup, especially as we work on these one off facility projects instead of the higher volume products, we don't have a clearly defined structure for who will kit the facility assemblies, so it must be me, I mean, I did design it.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Colorado Startup Life: Week 59

October 20th to 26th. Another good week at work and outside of work. The lowlight was being out sick most of Monday and Tuesday. On Sunday I climbed the 3rd flatiron for the third time with one of my coworkers who wants to learn to trad lead, and it just was too hard for the sore throat and runny nose that I had. I recovered toward the end of the week, but no one likes being out sick.

It's funny how being out sick gives us guilt. I'll tell you what, if retirement is anything like being sick every day, meaning no place to go, nothing to do, than it's not for me. I do usually tell sick people to just go home, and it can be hard to take my own medicine, and go home.

Being sick was definitely the major event of the week. I didn't go rock climbing, I only ran once for 3 miles on Friday after work. Basically I went home every day and laid on the couch. Saturday after spending the majority of the day laying around, I finally went for a little 29 mile bicycle ride, because it was 76 degrees out and probably the last good day for road bicycling for awhile.

If there is a startup lesson for this week it is chapter 7 from the book Extreme Ownership, prioritize and execute. We've prioritized and not prioritized with mixed results in the past and currently. In my personal life I like to imagine that I'm pretty good at it. Without knocking off tasks one at a time I wouldn't have climbed Mt. Everest or been on two Team USA ultra running teams. Point being make a list, in order of priority, and work your way down that list. I really like to see these types of lists, because even if people don't agree, they at least know the priority and can work around that.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Colorado Startup Life: Week 58

October 12 to 19, was a pretty typical week. I feel like we are hitting our groove. People are up to speed and contributing. We're working full blast on the design for our new facility, and it's almost done, the design at least. I'm actually quite happy, this is the most detailed facility design I've ever seen in CAD.

The biggest risk at the moment, in my mind, is validation of our business model. There is a large established company that does what we do, and many companies do what we do internally, but no one does quite exactly what we do. Coming from a large profitable company with a known customer base I worry sometimes that we don't have a customer base. That leads into my next point.

I'm very fortunate. I'm fortunate to have been born in the 1980s and not the 1880s. My electric bill is regularly something like $20 a month. One minute of light in my apartment is so inexpensive I just don't think about it. I don't have to find an oil lamp, find a lighter, make sure the lamp is full, and light it so that I can read after dark. I think light is a proxy for wealth. Being able to have light where I want it when I want it is a luxury that did not exist even 100 years ago, or in all prior humanity. I recently passed an arbitrary financial milestone that by my calculations meant if I quit working today I would have the money to buy food, have a cell phone, and health insurance the rest of my life. Unfortunately, I would really like to live in a a house or apartment and I definitely don't have enough to cover rent or a mortgage, or car expenses, indefinitely. Still, the realization that, if managed well, I will never go hungry is pretty crazy to me.

It's easy for us at every stage of wealth to look up to the next stage and lust after what those more financially fortunate people have. But how often do we look back at where we used to be? Billionaires are starting to really talk about inequality. On a day to day basis they might not have thought about how their standard of living and political power increased so much from when they were an average college student, until the difference between them and us is so large. On a much smaller scale I tell me parents and grand parents they don't need to leave me any inheritance. I don't need it. Spend your money.

The last two paragraphs were really just a long way of saying, I'm totally along for the ride in this startup adventure. If we fail I'm in a better position than many. Probably the two biggest lessons I've learned in the past year are first, sales solves a lot of problems and answers a lot of questions. If you have sales, you have a business. If you don't have sales, you don't really have a business, more of a research project. In other words, while I am an engineer my personal pendulum has swung to the sales side and I would love to sell something that doesn't exist and then spend four years making it exist. (The normal engineer thing is work on a product in your basement for years and then unveil it and wonder why people aren't buying this super cool product.) Secondly, management matters. It makes a huge difference. I thought I had a broad array of managers at my previous large established corporation. As I have learned over the past year, both in person at our company, and vicariously through stories my new coworkers have told of famous managers at other companies, management matters. Now, I'm not saying we need strong authoritarian leaders, I'm still confident that in many circumstances flat hierarchies work, but even in a flat organization there is management of a program.  If a program is not managed, if decisions are not made (which of course is a decision) the program will not progress smoothly.

To be blunt, what I have learned vicariously is that at one company the CEO is the ultimate decision maker and sets the direction. The company delivers, not always on schedule. There is strong clarity about what the goal is, but this CEO often fires people for a single mistake, and often that mistake is more a result of conflicting information than a person's failure to deliver. So there is a culture where people work five years to vest stock and then quit. At a second company the CEO seems to want someone to tell him what the goal is. So they work on this and work on that, interesting projects, but haven't really delivered much for all of the money they have spent. A nice guy, but without a super strong direction. At a third company the CEO is a go getter, but he may very well be willing to burn bridges in an effort to get subset X done, at the expense of the overall program. Entering the startup world has been interesting. I think we have a good management team and good leaders, but it is clear from the rumor mill that not all young companies in our industry are as fortunate.

In short, it's important to think not just about what you are going to deliver, but how you are going to deliver it. What is the balance of culture that gets you where you want to go. It's good to forgive people for mistakes, but at some point you have a draw a line and part ways. It's good to have a strong sense of direction, but it's good to take feedback and pivot too.

Two runs for 6.6 miles, and then Saturday I led the first pitch of the Bastile Crack! Whew it's a fun one!

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Colorado Startup Life: Week 57

October 6th to 11th. Life is good. Again, after the personnel drama at work this summer, and the push to qualify and ship a product, we're in a good place. Sure, it would have been nice to be in this place six months ago or a year ago, but we are where we are, and I'll take it. Plus, I'm sure it's been a lot harder for our CEO as he was even more friendly with the people that left, and he raised a series B during that same time.

I spent most of the week working on designing our new facility, which again is not what I expected I would be doing, but it's an interesting diversion, and it will help me understand our testing much better in the future. Plus, we're doing a lot of forward thinking this time around. Our first facility was really the minimum viable facility, and the new one has some room for expansion, and extra safety precautions.

Outside of work I'm going for the occasional three mile continuous run without pain, which is a big step in the right direction for my ankle. I'm also doing some rock climbing and bicycling on warm days. I think I'm ready to build a training schedule for myself and start getting into more formal shape.

Friday I took vacation and drove to Iowa for a wedding. It was 12 hours of driving and I made it a point to never sit for two hours, so I stopped frequently to take little walks to reset my Garmin activity tracker. Saturday morning I went for a run with an old training partner, had coffee with another friend, and took a quick walk on some trails I used to run almost daily. It was a nice little whirlwind tour of Dubuque. Wedding festivities happened in the afternoon and evening and it was great! I am so happy for my friend S who married H! Ever since they met three years ago we could tell there was definitely something there.

It was interesting, my friends of course talked work and how some things change and some things don't at my old company. The grass isn't always greener on the other side, and I like to tell my former coworkers many of the good things about my former company they may not realize, because for most of them it's the only place they have really worked. But to keep the discussion honest, I tell them about the benefits I now have that I did not have before. In other words, at this exact moment, there is no place else I would rather be. There is no company I would rather work at right now. There is no other place I would rather live. The Ozo coffee shop I am in is playing "Let Go" by Frou Frou, I mean, great music too right?

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Colorado Startup Life: Week 56

It was a good week. Vacation was a nice break. After all of the rush to ship a product, and the stress of last minute changes, and doubting my place here, I am reenergized and relaxed. Life is good.

As far as work it was pretty typical. That being said I spent a huge amount of time designing facility related things, not our actual products, which to be honest isn't as fun for me as designing a product. But it needs to be done for our expansion and I have skills that make it go faster.

A big highlight of the work week for me was assembling a subassembly I designed for our second product (or product line?) and it went together as planned! I've made so many parts in the past that failed to assemble because either my tolerances and design were bad, or because the parts were not made to tolerance, and this time, with more due diligence ahead of time on the tolerances, everything went together as planned. In other words, what I spent so much time designing appears to work just as intended. I even did a little functional checking, which won't actually be relevant for at least six months and it seemed to work!

Friday night after happy hour at work M and I headed down to southern Colorado and camped at the Blanca trailhead. We arrived at about 11 PM. Then we woke up at 4:30 AM to begin the day.

The Lake Como "road" is pretty terrible. We stopped at 8,500 feet in a Subaru Outback and walked a lot. There are a couple parts of the road where I am not sure any street legal vehicle that can go 75 mph would make it up. We started hiking at 5:07 AM, and went from there. I'm having trouble with my GPS data so I'm not totally sure on the time line for the day otherwise.

We did Little Bear Peak first, including a little stretch of 4th class slab with some ice which made it a little sporty, but the exposure wasn't too bad and there wasn't too much loose rock. We summitted around 10 AM and then began the infamous traverse to Blanca along the 5th class ridge. I got sketched out so we whipped out the harnesses and my 20 meter 8 mm dynamic rope and planned to simulclimb the initial 4th class down climb. I started leading, but I got scared by the snow and ice along the ridge and maybe 150 meters after we started the ridge, we turned around and decided to head down the normal route, and then do the standard route on Blanca and Ellingwood.

We reached the road at 11:55 and then headed up Blanca in the very good weather. The nice thing about months other than June through September is that afternoon weather tends to be better, fewer thunderstorms. We made our way up and around 13,800 feet some rime ice and snow began to cover much of the route. It was cold! Blanca, at 14,345 feet stands noticeably higher than Little Bear and Ellingwood both right at 14,000 feet within a mile. Oh how I wish Colorado had some 15,000 foot tall mountains, or 16,000... or 26,000. We summitted around 2:20 PM, then did the traverse to Ellingwood, summitting around 3:30 or so. Then we headed the long 9 mile back to the car, arriving just 10 minutes after sunset just before 7 PM, making for an almost 14 hour trip car to car. While my watch died after 12 hours, M had just over 20 miles, 52,000 steps for the day, and 8,600 feet of elevation gain, and that includes 3rd and 4th class, a little roped travel and some icy snow. That makes it 44 official 14ers for me! Only 9 official ones remaining. The Wilson group, the Eolus group, Culebra, Pyramid, Capitol, and Snowmass. Not exactly easy ones to get to or to hike. Culebra and Pyramid I'd like to take a crack at this winter, otherwise, it appears they will probably have to wait until next year considering how much snow and ice we encountered this week.

We had Pizza at All-Gon in Fort Garland, and then drove back to Denver, I arrived home about 11:30 PM, took a shower and slept the sweet sleep of night sweats. (After big days it's not uncommon for me to have night sweats, it started in 2014 after the North Coast 24. I figure that my hormones are out of wack after such a demanding day.) I hope you had a good week too!

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Colorado Startup Life: Weeks 52 to 55

Whew, September 1st to 28th. I meant to blog a lot more this month, I even took a full week vacation, but I do this for free and I kind of have to be in the mood to sit there and write and edit it. In short the highlight of the month was watching the first 19 episodes of Designated Survivor with my uncle look alike Kiefer Sutherland. Just kidding. But it is a fun little tv series.

The first week in September was a bit stressful because we made a major change (15% of the product parts) to our product and we made the hardware change before we documented it in our CAD system or in our production system. It was stressful standing there in a group of the people who needed to build one of our products, and as the configuration engineer, not knowing the configuration that was in testing and needed to be built. Fortunately we kept working at it, I worked that Saturday and we managed to build the product.

The second week in September we tested the product. (I kind of enjoy generalizing what I work on so much that I just call it a product, and not the thing it actually is or even the industry I am in.) The testing went very well and then Thursday the 12th, for the first time in the year I have been here, we shipped our product to a customer! We stayed at work until 7:30 pm wrapping up documentation that we wanted to have before we shipped it. Not super late by any means, but the group of maybe seven people who were milling around, there was an energy and a seriousness. It was exciting in a slightly stressful sort of way.

Friday the 13th was an emotional hangover. We put so much effort into getting this thing out there, and it was the first time we have shipped in a long time, by far the most capable product we have ever shipped (and only second in the company's history). I was worn out, emotionally, by the the last two months of senior employee drama, the push to qualify and ship a product, the reorganization, training new people, and last minute design changes. So I took a week of vacation. I knew that once we shipped our product, there would be a good time to get out of the office, and I planned my vacation around our shipping schedule. I'll give a day by day rundown.

Saturday the 14th: rock climbing at white mountain cliff just a mile or two from Silerthorne right off I-70 then some bicycling near Independence Pass.

Sunday the 15th: Kit Carson and Challenger Peak, 15.2 miles, 7,000 feet of elevation gain and loss, 8.6 hours. The cairns on Kit Carson could be a little better, but it was in general a not so hard 3rd class 14er.

Monday the 16th:  Uncompaghre and Wetterhorn, 18.6 miles, 7,400 feet of elevation gain and loss, 8.3 hours. Uncompaghre looks big and intimidating, but you could probably run 95% of it. Wetterhorn has some pretty cool 3rd class the last 200 vertical feet, quite exposed actually. I was up there around 1 PM, and alone. It was beautiful weather, but not a place you would want to be if there was rain or hail.
Summit of Wetterhorn looking at Uncompaghre 9-16-2019
Tuesday the 17th: Handies Peak, and I need to post a video of this. I borrowed my friend's 2006 lifted Sequoia with 32 inch wheels and drove the rough 24 miles up Engineer Pass and slept at the 11,600 foot trailhead on the sweet bed she built for her Toyota Sequoia. It was cold! In the middle of the night it started raining, with a little hail, and then snowing up above 12,000 feet. When I woke up I took a weather forecast from my inReach that said the weather would clear later in the day and decided to wait a couple hours before starting. So I went to start the car to warm everything up and it would not start!

After five start attempts I opened the hood in the 35 degree rain to see if I had damaged anything, nothing found. There were no indications of leaking oil or gas underneath. Everything looked good. The battery and alternator sounded good, like they had plenty of life in them. So I kept just turning the key to get it to start. On about the 10th try, after 15 minutes of mild panic that I would have to get a tow truck out here 24 miles down a very rough all wheel drive road, it started! Way back in high school a mechanic friend of mine, on a trip to Colorado, told me that in the first minute of an engine running the fuel injection system will use the air pressure to determine the fuel air mixture ratio. So at the time he recommended stopping half way up a big pass and just shutting the car off, and then starting it again to adjust for the lower air pressure. As part of that, the theory goes, the car will use the last start's air pressure as the baseline to start the engine. So, being up at 11,600 feet maybe I just had flooded the engine with a rich mixture and it took some turning over to get the correct mixture, and then in that first minute adjusting to the air pressure conditions. I have no idea if that is actually how the fuel injection control system works, but if it is, that makes perfect sense why I would have trouble starting it at that high of an altitude.

Then at 10:30 I went and hiked Handies, 5.4 miles, 2,500 vertical feet, 2.5 hours round trip. It was snowing as I went up, and the winds on top were gusting to 40 miles per hour. It was pretty rough. I had the clothing to handle it just fine, but it was cold! I really need to post the summit video on youtube. It was a total shift from the sunshine the day before.

Wednesday the 18th: Castleton and Connundrum (which is not a "real" mountain but a bump on a ridge), 7.3 miles, 3,500 vertical feet, 4.3 hours. This was a pleasant hike after a little four wheel driving up a steep road. Descending there was a little loose rock and some snow, but overall a very pleasant hike.

Thursday the 19th: Capitol Peak... 17 miles, 5,300 vertical feet, 8.2 hours, and no summit. I made it up to "K2" at 13,600 feet and looked at the ridge, and you can see a picture of it below. I had not seen a single person in 4.5 hours and even though it was a very nice day, attempting to solo that ridge very alone, if anything happened there would be no one else to press my inReach SOS button. It was risk I wasn't willing to take, so I went down. Kind of disappointing, I was way up here in March 2017 and turned around that time too in beautiful weather at 2:30 PM. Capitol will require a third attempt from me.
Capitol from "K2" 9-17-2019
Friday the 20th: I finally took a day "off". Watched Designated Survivor, bicycled up to the Maroon Lakes, read some. Sat on my hosts deck and drank wine.
Life is good.
Saturday the 21st: Maroon Peak, 12.6 miles, 5,500 vertical feet, 7.9 hours, and a pure delight! I did no attempt the traverse to North Maroon because no one else appeared to be doing it when I was on top and it looked a bit scary to solo. However, the standard route on Maroon Peak was a lot of fun, better rock that I was expecting, and had lot of cairns to follow. I would gladly do it again, and in fact it might be not so hard in winter actually because I think it's too steep to hold deep snow.
Top of Maroon Peak looking at Pyramid Peak and Maroon Lake on the far left.
Sunday the 22nd: Snowmass Mountain, 12.3 miles, 4,300 vertical feet, and 6 hours, and again no summit. Once again I didn't see a single person for 3.5 hours, got off the trail for a solid 45 minutes and when I got to the "class 3" part at 12,600 feet I did what might have been 5.0 with some loose rock and decided that was too much to do alone, so I turned around and went down. There are old climbers and bold climbers but not old bold climbers. I made the decision a long time ago I was going to be an old climber. Every time I read about an "experienced" climber dying or getting seriously injured on a 14er or in the mountains, I am very aware I don't want that to be me. If it happens, it happens, I know it's a risk, but I take steps to mitigate it so that on that day when I am involved in an accident and need a rescue, hopefully I am one helping to extricate the injured person and not the one on the stretcher.
Snowmass Mountain, I turned around just above to the left of the small green patch in the center of the photo on the major cliff band 3/4 of the way up the photo.
Finally returning to work last week, it was really good. I won't lie, with all of the work drama the past few months I debated with myself on vacation if I wanted to stay in this startup and vest more options or try to go back to a big corporation. It wasn't a terribly long discussion in my head, yes I want to be doing what I am doing. However it was good to again choose the chaos and stress of more responsibility than I would have in a larger company. We're doing something unique and hard and with a fairly small team. It's a cool opportunity!

Saturday the 28th I hiked Mt. Sneffels, 13.2 miles, 5,400 vertical feet, 8 hours with three friends including J who used that mountain as his finishing mountain for climbing all the 100 highest mountains in Colorado and the 14ers. It was a very good day! I'm up to 41 official Colorado 14ers and only 12 official ones left to go.

Finally I get asked about my dating life, well, it's not what I would like, it would be great to skip to the committed relationship stage, and not have to go on a bunch of dates and text and get essentially nowhere, but I am meeting new women, and honestly, there are a lot of great women out there! The vast majority of the women I have dated this year are awesome and they are going to be just fine, but let's face it, I'm not normal and I'm not looking for normal, so it's not a fast or easy process. I am confident, as a Christian, that God has a plan for my life and whatever that plan is it is better than my own desires, even, or especially, when I don't understand why I'm 33 and very single. Funny story, I thought coming out to Colorado that there would be more active women I would mesh with and be able to go hiking and climbing with, but I still seem to intimidate many women with the things I have done and do.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Recovery Setbacks and Resilience

Ugh. After over compressing my ankle descending Crestone Peak two weeks ago, and then before I was totally recovered from that on Monday trying to run five miles. This has not been a great two years for me athletically. I seem to do well on a six month long cycle and I'm now in the process of missing my fall 2019 cycle, the fourth in this chain of physical issues.

It's been depressing at times. A big part of me just wants to throw in the towel and not dream about doing big cool things in the future. For example, I had thought that this would be the year I go and crush Nolan's 14, but with my ankle, that's not the case.

I think sometimes people look to me as resilient. As a person that continues to overcome this and that, unemployment, the 2014 Everest disaster, and more running injuries than I care to admit. When I coached at UD track and field I would say I had "buckets of motivation" and having spent years thinking about it, I still don't know where it all came from or why I have it and others do not. And that's the struggle, how do I describe it to others? I'm sitting in a coffeeshop about to go on a longer bicycle ride this Saturday, because at least I can do that and yet, why?

One thing I like about running and mountain climbing are how accessible or democratized or informal they are. Where as if I was an NFL player or a golfer, you are either in the big leagues, or you aren't. However, there is a spectrum. I stood near the top of Everest with national heroes from other countries and I ran the first mile of the 2013 Chicago Marathon faster than Rita Jeptoo (who was doping). I think maybe that's part of the motivation. Maybe my leg speed is gone and I'll probably never run under 4:40 for a mile again, but if I can get my durability up there are 48 hour races and six day races...

Again, I don't have any magical answer. Sometimes I feel like I have some super deep insecurity that I am trying to fill through athletics that keeps me motivated to recover, but I don't know what would be. Maybe we get up and try to recover and get back to where we have been because, that's just what we do and it's easier to pursue the goal than debate it. I'm off to bicycle.

Monday, September 2, 2019

Changing Orders of Magnitude

As my little startup grows I’ve had some time to think about what sort of scaling I like. I think about orders of magnitude as a good indicator of the challenges. I'm not talking about number of employees, as I have bounced this concept off of some of my coworkers that's what they all assume, but rather number of products made. So to get into it:

First is zero to one. That in many respects is the hardest order of magnitude because you go from nothing to something. Advantages: you don’t have to worry about tolerances, because as long as it fits it works, if not pull out the die grinder.  Disadvantages: performance might be all over the map, it will probably take a long time to make it, it might fail quick, like within 120 feet like the Wright brothers first airplane crashed after four flights. 

At this stage even things I consider engineering and science are really in large part an art project. At my old company we called these builds "mules" because they were cobbled together to test a very specific set of variables. Typically only one was built, although sometimes two were. While we then qualified and warrantied our eventual products to 8,000 hours, a mule might only see 100-200 hours of operation to confirm that some big technical issue worked. 

A fun story, which was stressful at the time, back in the fall of 2012 I believe I was part of a big project, a $150 million dollar program, as a very junior engineer. Prior to my joining two mules had been made to test a new transmission, one for vehicle type A and one for vehicle type B. Vehicle type A was a success, the transmission worked well, but vehicle type B the same transmission just did not have the shift timing required, so about six months before we were planned to build 24 prototype machines, we made a program change to a different transmission. It was a big change that required a lot of design updates, analysis, and tooling changes. It was the right decision and shows the value of "failing" when you make a sample of one.

The next step is from one to ten. Suddenly tolerances start to matter, but you can still pull out a die grinder and make it fit if needed. There are small economies of scale, amazingly the difference between ordering one part and two parts is about 25%. In other words, to buy just one might cost $100, but to buy two might cost $150, and three might be $190. 

The same program I mentioned earlier, in November of 2013 when we had the 24 prototype machines I think six were in the field collecting hours. Suddenly we had a failure that we had not seen before. Turns out I had failed to account for a side load in my FEA the year before. So in the space of two days I confirmed the FEA with the new load case, we made some steel plates, and on the third day flew to Canada to oversee the weld repairs to fix the machine. We ended up having to rework basically all the machines with that particular feature, about 12 in all. 

At this point you can joke about being in production, although even if you try to keep things the same there will be inevitable differences, which might amount to several percent of performance. 

From 10 to 100. This is my favorite order of magnitude to transition across. Tolerances really matter at this point. If you screw it up and have to rework 100 parts, suddenly that’s a big deal. You get sizable discounts on machined parts. Castings and forgings are possible and may be financially justified at this scale depending on the application. At this stage problems are more expensive. 

I like this transition because in addition to the problems typically being more complex (like tolerance stack-ups with 15 parts) there is a level of consistency and volume that gives it a feeling of a real business. A big upside is that certain things become routine, as in every product achieves a basic level of performance. 

As an example, in the winter of 2014-2015 that $150 million program went to production. I was responsible for a very large welded structure. I reviewed the dimension inspection reports for each of the first 20 structures, and we were seeing 100+ points out of tolerance, I went through and listed things that were unacceptable and things that were acceptable, in a four page email. One of the dimensions was the overall length of the structure. It was up to 12 mm too short. I didn't know if that was bad or good. Turns out the other parts that mounted to this structure did not have the tolerance stack up correct fit. We ended up grinding hundreds of holes larger to make the parts fit, until we realized that adjusting the welding fixture on the large structure would solve the problem. 

100 to 1000. At this point you are probably outsourcing some operations to companies that will be doing them full time. Companies that make one of your components will make that during all working hours because the volumes are that high. At this point mistakes become quite expensive. My most expensive mistake was failing to correct an interference between two parts that ended up having over $500,000 in warranty claims in 2015 and 2016 before the design and tooling was updated in late 2015. 

At this stage, things start to happen fast. Mistakes are propagated uncomfortably fast. Making a change, after 100+ have been made an old way is hard and expensive. There is still an air of improvisation, most product lines will have individual product deviations from perfect and dimensions that are out of tolerance (unless the designers are amazing). Production is low enough that if you have to stop the assembly line for a day or a week or even a month, it's not the end of the world. Most likely profit margins are still high enough to tolerate that kind of pause. 

1000 to 10,000. This is where automation starts to become a bigger factor. To get programs set up and running without constant stoppages takes a longer ramp up. At lower levels of manufacturing humans can basically assemble it all, but at this point there will likely be fixtures and keep out cages to keep people away from interfering with the robot operation. 

At this point there will be many continuous improvement changes that at a lower level of production might have been recalls or reworks for all of the parts built. This is why most engineers with some experience don't like to buy the first model year of a new vehicle. There are dozens of changes that need to get ironed out that you don't even know about until you get to a higher volume. Unfortunately sheetmetal and plastic parts are often one of the issues. A skilled assembler will be able to make the part fit by loosening and tightening various mating parts, but then a new person will try it and nothing will fit. Inevitably the design will need to be changed to make it more robust. Similarly, long term drivetrain issues often start to appear at this magnitude. Gears and bearings are often robust enough to last thousands of hours, but minuscule misalignment will often destroy them. In other words, this is the reliability of vehicles in the 1960s, 1970s. 


10,000 to 100,000. This is the limit of my experience. I’ve never worked on a part with over 60,000 used per year. Stamping is huge at this point, because it’s super fast and repeatable. Mistakes are different at this stage. Programs are typically large enough with enough testing that the really low hours, gross errors, don't happen any more. Improvements are typically based on warranty claims at this point. It may be millions of dollars in warranty claims over years, but it can take awhile for those to show up. They are often due to specific conditions. The largest warranty issue I worked on had something like $2 million in warranty claims over seven years and it took us more than half a year to figure out how to replicate it in the lab. It was quite debatable on how to go about fixing it. 

At this level statistics becomes far more important. At lower levels of production when there is an issue, you just go fix it. You might have to parallel path multiple different fixes if you aren't totally sure what will do it, but at this level there are random failures that statistically are not worth the time and effort to go and fix. For example, I have only ever heard of one belay loop breaking on a harness ever. He was a famous climber, so it's a somewhat well known event. As a result the climbing companies did some testing and determined it was so rare no big changes were needed. In the automotive world, this is basically the range of statistical confidence that manufacturers get into when they are doing their prototype testing. It becomes much more expensive to fix these "little" issues or even find them when testing 100 prototype cars. 

From 100,000 to 1 million is beyond anything I have worked on. However, I am familiar with a couple stories, when bolts have a bad steel lot for example, or the base steel material is defect, it can be nearly impossible to determine when the problem began. When you see huge automotive recalls this is because they are getting into corner cases of corner cases. The Takata airbag saga is still another level or two beyond this level, but it is illustrative of the issues at this level. Somewhere around 20+ people died and 250+ injured worldwide and there are 45 million affected vehicles that had those airbags. Finding that kind of error in a typical testing program is not guaranteed. I'm sure after one or two people died the engineers and managers scratched their head and wondered, is it a bad design or a random occurrence? Kind of like Teslas having crashes while on autopilot. It's hard to say from such a small sample size with much confidence what the real issue is. People slip and fall and die in the shower all the time, but we don't quit taking showers. 

In short, while I really like statistics, these huge orders of magnitude do not really interest me because the problems can be so complex with so many variables that a solution can easily be worse the the original problem, even with additional testing. That doesn't mean we shouldn't try for improvement, rather that the reality is we will never achieve it. In other words, there will always be engineering jobs, even if something happened to reset the world back to zero and we had to start over again. 

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Colorado Startup Life: Weeks 46 to 51

July 21st to August 31st. Woof. Work has been tumultuous. First the bad, get the elephant out of the room. After our CTO was fired, about a month later two of the "original six" had a rather public fight. Trust was broken with both of them amongst us little people. The week after, one of them quit. Related, but not exactly related, a third person of the "original six" quit citing wanting to diversify financially, which makes sense after spending nearly four years at a little startup. Point being, we lost a lot of history and experience in the space of a little over a month, and are down to three of the original six people at the company. In particular, we lost experience on the design and virtual side of the business. Our production team is doing just fine, and our test team is rapidly growing into it's own responsibilities, but our design side has struggled. On top of all that we reorganized, which I am very optimistic about. I again have a first time manager for the fourth time in my career, who is going to go far, he's pretty awesome, he's also younger and every time I have a younger manager I ask myself, "What did I do wrong that my career has not reached that level?" Anyway, both him and our now most experienced design engineer both had babies on Wednesday and are out on paternity leave, so suddenly the design team is looking very small and inexperienced. Not to mention that we have made a relatively large number of changes (about 15% of the product) in the last month and have to ship our product to our first customer in two weeks.

Trying to get everyone on the same page, and get all of the work done, is difficult. It's interesting, because we have high standards, both individually and as a company, there are things that honestly, we don't have to do to meet our customer obligations, however, doing them is clearly the right thing, and that's what's causing me stress. Essentially, as configuration engineer, I want to deliver a packet that more or less says, 'this is what you bought'. Even if we just keep it internally, it's important, if anything goes wrong, that we know exactly what we shipped. The design matches the assembly and the testing.

On the scale of turmoil that is possible, we're actually not doing bad at all. It's interesting to see the new people, I think we are up to 52 people total, come in and have no idea both of what we have done, and what we haven't done. It's easy to think from the limited public information out there that we are more advanced than we are. I struggle because despite making huge progress in the past year, and especially this past week, I know we have a long way to go to even justify our current valuation, let alone any future dreams of big success (profitability).

There is a part of me that thinks I should just go work for one of the big beaurcratic companies where I just navigate the system to get things done and they move super slow, but have lots of stability and a lower emotional investment because of my lower status in the company relative to it's overall trajectory. That being said, everyone knows startups go through tough times. I feel a bit like Jony Ive at Apple in the 1990s. Meaning, I think this is the place to be, but at the moment with all of the chaos, I don't know. Our success as a company with our products is not guaranteed at all. At my old company, you knew your market, you knew the volumes through good times and bad times, you knew the problems, and you knew how to deliver a new product successfully. We're just not there yet. We're not ready to ship the Mac or the Apple II or the iMac, those cool things that ultimately were precursors to really big changes like the iPod and then the iPhone.

There's an old saying among professional runners, I think one of the British guys from the 1960s or 1980s, that if you don't question pursuing this goal, you didn't aim high enough. There are lots of bad days as an athlete. There are lots of mundane average days too. Then occasionally there are those days where you just float and PR by 19 seconds in the 5k. The second part of the professional runner quote is that ultimately, you can question pursuing the goal, but the decision to pursue the goal has already been made. You're going to go run 18 miles in the 50F degree rain, because to get where you are going every workout matters, even when they aren't so fun.

I think this stress is just a short term thing really, and I plan to take a full week of vacation in September after this little push the next two weeks. We have unlimited vacation but I've only taken six days this year, that's just less than one day per month, and we don't have a lot of paid holidays, unlike my last company.

Running and climbing are more or less going well. I twisted my ankle last Saturday coming down Crestone Peak. However I still did it, including class 3 parts, for 20.2 miles, 7600 feet of elevation gain and loss, in 9:07 which is pretty good. I even "raced" a pick up truck down the last 2.5 miles of the four wheel drive road, and won, by like two minutes. However it's taken most of the week for my ankle to recover. I've now done 34 Colorado 14ers and have 19 remaining. I also did Dallas and Teakettle two technical 13,000 foot mountains part of the 100 highest in the state. I've done the third flatiron twice in the last weeks weeks after work, it's a delight! I've even plain run 8 miles over trails from 5800 up to 6800 feet in the my longest continuous run in the recovery. It's been five months now and I'm happy with what I can do, but frustrated that my ankle recovery isn't fast. I just want to cry sometimes.

In other news, I am renewing my lease to stay in Longmont another year. At church I've befriended a somewhat recent widow in her 80s and most weeks she will have me over for dinner. Totally strange I think, but I like it and frankly, there is a loneliness epidemic in my generation and little things like this help mitigate it. Dating is going. I'll just leave it there.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Nervous (about Scarcity)

Coming from a company where basically no one is ever fired, to a place where two out of 50 employees were fired in a single week, I'm nervous. I'm nervous I'm next. I'm nervous that it's a sign the company has hard times ahead. I'm nervous that despite my perceived ability to execute, I'm not as good as I think I am. I'm nervous that applies to everyone in our company.

It's interesting coming to a startup from a large corporate job. Everything you read about, it's all based in some truth. We may try to tell ourselves at times that it's different, that we are mature for our age or our size, but we still have a lot to figure out. It's a strange feeling.

I'm probably going to talk about money more in the future than I have in the past. The reason being I've benefited from a high paying job, a long bull market, and a decent savings rate, that my horizons have been expanded, and I view the world differently than I did nine years ago.

It's easy for us to have a scarcity mindset. There are only so many jobs available for a person like me. I can only save so much money. If I mess this opportunity up there will never be another one. However, there is more abundance in the world, especially at this point in human history. There was a tension around the office this past week, because people don't know what is next. We like to make our own decisions and being fired or getting laid off is not a decision people usually make for themselves.

A few weeks ago, the totality of the issues facing us hit me, and I had a little bit of a meltdown. It's going to be hard to get where we want by when we want. Since that meltdown we've recalibrated and can probably achieve our new schedule. I had the thought that we might not make it, which despite being a startup was kind of new for me, and I would have worked hard and have nothing to show for it. But then, I considered when I am in life, financially especially, and I think I would take six months to get a membership at Mr. Money Mustache headquarters to do a little work on couple side projects that could each use at least 50 hours of dedicated time, I would go finish the 14ers, and probably the centennial 13ers (100 highest peaks in CO), and then I would reach out across my network and see what job opportunities are out there.

It's cliche, because I'm a white male engineer, especially now at a startup, but money and job security are things that my relationship with has changed in the past nine years. In 2010 and 2011 I was happy for any job that would have me. I was super excited to have $1,000 in my savings account or pay off a credit card. While those things are still exciting, now I think about paying off the mortgage on my rental house. Who owns rental property? Rich people! Similarly, when recruiters reach out to me through LinkedIn their offers are not bad. Sure in every case they appear to be a step backward in responsibility and pay, and I'm not looking for a new job, I hope that I can be at my current company for years to come. The point is, there is abundance in the world. Maybe I'm coming at that perspective from a place of privilege, but there really is a lot of opportunity in the world.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Colorado Startup Life: Week 44 and 45

July 7th to 13th, where I was too lazy to blog about, and then the more recent July 14th to July 20th. So the first week of the two, was relatively uneventful. I spent Sunday the 7th recovering from my trip to Durango and doing three 14ers. The work week was relatively uneventful. We continued to make make consistent progress toward a few goals, but not the progress we really want to make. Saturday M and I went to climb The Sharkstooth in Rocky Mountain National Park via the northeast ridge. It's like 5-6 pitches of 5.6 and then three double length rappels. It's a cool looking little mountain. Well worth the 11:15 car to car time it took us. It's the biggest technical climb I've done in my ankle recovery and that was quite enjoyable. I only have three pictures, of M, my climbing partner descending some rather steep snow in running shoes. But in the pictures you can't tell how steep it is, like many pictures of slopes.

This past week though, that was something else, something new. In the history of the company, less than four years, three people have been let go (fired) and one has quit. Two of the three to be fired were fired this week. In both cases there were warning signs to me as a person that worked with both people. I won't go into the details today, maybe later. I do want to share this experience so that more people might learn from it, but it's been emotional, because I feel like I failed both people by not helping set them up for success. And in the case that people are scared away from my company because of this, we're not the Lord of the Flies, in both situations there were signs that neither situation was working as effectively as desired.

Coming from a large corporation where once you are hired, it's almost impossible to get fired, it rattles me. We all take time to get up to speed. We all make mistakes on the job. No one is perfect. So being in a place where multiple people have been fired this year, for job performance, I have to wonder, 'am I next?' Probably not, but who knows. I'm not going to live my life in fear. I have to do the best job I can, and fortunately I'm in a financial position where I would not immediately be homeless. But it keeps me wanting to work toward financial independence so that I could retire early if I was fired tomorrow.

Saturday I went and hiked Mt. Lindsey, and it was a delight! The ridge goes at 3rd class, and frankly it was very pleasant. We passed people going up and coming down just moving along very quickly. Blanca looks great from the northeast! I'm excited to go do Blanca and Little Bear! 32 of the 53 Colorado 14ers done! Only 21 to go!

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Colorado Startup Life: Week 43

You know how weeks are up and down, and all over the place some times? Yeah, that was this week.

Sunday I sat around for awhile until deciding to finally go for a hike up around Camp Dick and Beaver Reservoir. So about two miles into my walk, I saw a black bear! It was off the trail about 30 feet, and about 50 feet away from me, and we kind of surprised each other, and after that 1 second of confirmation that it was a bear, I started yelling and shouting at it and waving my hands and it ran away. Five minutes later a light rain turned into hail, so I couldn't hear anything as I quickly hiked away from the location the bear probably was. It was a bit scary being out there alone, it's the fear that when I turned and walked away the bear would come after me and I wouldn't know it until it was 15 feet away going 25 mph right at me. Of course that didn't happen, but it's not a crazy fear.

It was a three day work week, punctuated by a couple conversations with leaders in our company about possible improvements we could make. Those, and some interesting articles I read, led to a crisis of confidence on my part Wednesday. So risk is something that exists everywhere. Our reaction to risk varies. It varies between people, and it even varies within a person at different times. Alex Honnold has gotten scared free soloing at times. It's not that I became aware of any new risks, it might just be that I recognized those risks in a more clear way, and it scared me. I'm good now, but it was a moment of "Hello, you're working at a startup! It's not guaranteed! This is hard to build not only a product from scratch but a company from scratch!"

It was kind of fascinating from an objective point of view. I occupy an interesting place in the company. So, a lot of the company leaders probably feel a responsibility to be stoic and project confidence, and a lot of the company is young, and doesn't really recognize the risks that those of us more experienced might see. I happen to be in a situation where I can recognize issues that younger people don't and have the security to speak up and say something in public. I lean toward the transparent side of communication instead of opaque. I'd rather we get stuff out in the open, yell and cry about it, and then move on and eventually laugh about it, rather than sweep it under the rug. In other words, we might all be thinking something, and I might as well be the person to say it. It's a balance though, and I don't know what is the right amount of public discourse. I think I went a little too far on Wednesday, but whatever, I'll learn and move on.

Thursday I woke up at 2 AM and headed to Creede to climb San Luis Peak, which I did in about seven hours. There was a fair amount of snow, and the hike down in the afternoon was a bit of a slog. Still I did 38,000 steps and 14.8 miles, which I'm super happy with! Then I went to Durango and met up with a friend of a friend, had dinner, and went to bed at like 8:30 PM before hearing any fireworks.

Friday I hung out at Starbucks most of the morning, and walked around Durango. I left my wallet in Longmont, so my only form of payment was Apple Pay, until I was able to Venmo my new friend W some money for cash. It was super convenient to have Apple Pay! Exxon and Shell gas stations seem to accept it, Starbucks, Walgreens, and most fast food restaurants seem to take NFC (Near Field Communication) devices like Apple Pay. Without that, I had about $3 in change in my car, and would have had to resort to pan handling to get back to Longmont when I discovered the issue at 6:30 AM July 4th, in Del Norte with only two gallons of gas left in my tank. However, able to get a full tank of gas, I was able to prolong my trip and do some 14ers like I set out to do. I did a little bicycling up a small category 2 hill called Coal Bank Pass, and then drove into Silverton, for my first time ever in Silverton. It's a cool little town and I expect to visit more in the future for both mountain climbing and skiing.

My friend arrived Friday evening and we went out for dinner. The ultra running scene in Durango is small enough they all know each other, but large enough they don't all train together. In Dubuque the few of us strong runners would train together, at least sometimes. In Boulder county where I live now, it's so big I have no idea what 2:18 marathoners live within 15 miles of me.

Saturday I again woke up at 2 AM, and drove the four hours to Lake City to climb Sunshine and Redcloud peaks. I did that, going up the East ridge of Sunshine, which is the standard winter route. Over Sunshine, to Redcloud, back over Sunshine, and down, all in 5 hours 40 minutes. I am pretty happy with that 5500 feet of elevation gain and loss and 9.7 miles in that short time. I did a little running on the way down and my ankle is getting better all the time! With those summits I have 31 different Colorado 14er summits and only 22 to go (using the 300 feet minimum height rule for what counts as a mountain).

So the week ended really well, despite my fears during the week.  Just a note on June, I bicycled 309 miles and took 393,000 steps, which are both the highest numbers I have done since March 2018, when I provoked my pulmonary embolism. They aren't great numbers or super high, but a huge step in the right direction.

Friday, July 5, 2019

Colorado Startup Life: Week 42

What a good week! It started Sunday at 1 AM. We woke up from a little hotel in Ashford and after some last minute packing and a midnight snack, headed up to Mt. Rainier for our one day attempt. About 4000 feet elevation we drove into the clouds and a light misting rain. 'Huh...' I thought.

We unpacked at the parking lot and headed up, into the light rain. Yep, that 35 degree kind of rain, just above freezing. It was okay as long as we kept moving because it was so light. Eventually we made it to the top of the cloud and the rain stopped, and then around 8500 feet we broke out of the clouds on the Muir snow field. The snow was perfect! It was very consolidated, but still snow and not ice. We were able to make quick progress. We started hiking at 2:30 and made Camp Muir at about 5:45.

Unfortunately J had an old back issue flare up and he decided not to continue. Then T was feeling dizzy and also decided not to continue. I looked at M and said, with a hint of frustration, "M do you still want to climb it?" He responded with an enthusiastic, "Yes!" So the two of us roped up and left Camp Muir around 6 AM. (It's normal to leave Camp Muir at like 1 or 2 AM on a two day climb.)

The route was in the best condition I have ever seen it in in my four attempts. There were few crevasses all of the lower crevasses were closed up. There is often a crevasse above Ingraham Flats that is all sorts of sketchy. About 13,000 feet the route split, with the previous trail going left and a new trail going right. We asked several parties which one to take, because we knew there was a new trail, but didn't know why. None of the people seemed to know either. So we took the left trail up which appeared to have X wands in front of it. Around 13,500 we went to cross two different crevasses, which on the surface each appeared to be to two separate crevasses 20 feet apart. However, from the right angle I could see down 100+ feet into the crevasse. We were walking over a snow bridge! I had M anchor me as I walked across, and then I anchored him as he walked across. Most crevasses seem to be less than 40 feet before you would hit a ledge, and many are only 15 feet or so before there is a ledge or the bottom. On those crevasses, in a worst case the one of us that didn't fall into the crevasse would simply be pulled toward the crevasse, however, in a 100 foot deep crevasse, both of us would probably be pulled into the crevasse... and that would be it. I can't believe the other teams did not see the danger of those two crossings!! They were two of the most scary features I have  encountered, because it wasn't immediately and superficially obvious the danger. We of course descended the new route, which was a little steeper, but no dangerous crevasse crossings.

The winds at the top around 11:30 AM were about 30 mph, which was cold and we stayed about 2 minutes, long enough for me to sit down, take a few pictures and a video, and then we headed down. The snow was a little soft on the way down, but not enough to really slow our progress. We made it back to Camp Muir about 2:30 PM and after changing clothing and a short break, made it down to Paradise about 5:00 PM, for a 14.5 hour round trip adventure! Not nearly as fast as the 8.5 hours I blasted it in 2016, but given my ankle and I'm not in as good of shape now as I was then, and M and I were on a rope team, it was a really good time. I told him after not to take this for granted as a normal Mt. Rainier ascent. There is nothing normal about doing that mountain in 14. 5 hours car to car. It's not a special or record setting climb, but it's like going from the 99th percentile to the 99.9 percentile in terms of most Americans mountaineering. I would estimate less than 10% of Mt. Rainier climbs are one day climbs. Probably 2-5%.

Monday we lounged around a bit before heading for Mt. Hood. Tuesday we woke from a little Air BNB at 2:30 AM and headed up hill, we started hiking at 3:45 AM, just minutes after another group, and maybe the last group for the day. However, we just started catching group after group. We made it up to the flat area at the Devil's Playground in 2:26, which is a crazy like 4000 feet of elevation gain from the parking lot. We just flew up the mountain. M and I were joined by his high school friend F for this, and F being fresh just pushed the pace on the hiking part. We then roped up and did the Pearly Gates, which was steeper than I was expecting, maybe 50 degrees and very icy. I even put an ice screw in, because there were crevasses below and I didn't want us tumbling down. We then made the top, and spent 10 minutes confirming it was the top because I thought it was 11,600, and our altimeter and GPS were saying 11,200, but it turns out the top is only 11,166 ft. We trekked back down, and M's crampon fell off three times, because he was wearing running shoes and hadn't adjusted the length tight enough. Each time we stopped for him to adjust his crampon, I put the pick of my ice axe in the snow and a clove hitch around the adze, it was a simple way to put an anchor into the ice for our little group.

Mt. Hood round trip took us 6:41, which was just a plain fun day. We were back at the base by 10:30 AM. Often these mountain days are brutal, difficult, painful, tiring, but Mt. Hood was not any of those, it was just fun. It wasn't that cold, it was steep, but not that steep, there were crevasses, but not scary ones.

Wednesday after sleeping in and touring Seattle a little I flew back to Denver. Hard day, rest day (or two), is a combination that I think really helps my ankle recover. It's hard on the ankle and then there is some swelling and then there is time to recover and get some blood flow into the ligaments that are still healing.

Thursday and Friday I was back at work. We're nearing this important time where we are certifying our product and delivering one to a customer, and it's stressful. We all want to make it as successful as possible, and whenever there is a miscommunication emotions rise. We'll get through this. We closed the first part of our series B funding this week! So we have runway to get us if not through 2020, as least through most of it. That's exciting because we will have our second product in testing at that point, and while our first one is cool, the second one is the real money maker. Our first product we have to sell about one per week to be profitable, our second one it's less than one per month.

Saturday I was pretty tired from the week so I went to the coffee shop and then went on a little 35 mile bicycle ride.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Colorado Startup Life: Week 41

It was a busy week at work. We're trying to meet two different deadlines, both an internal testing milestone, and an external customer delivery milestone. They are very related, but every step of the way it's like we are walking through quicksand as we encounter new challenges. The cool part is, unlike working at a big corporation where the pressure and challenges are essentially the same, it feels as if the reputation, and really the success of the whole company, is on the line. It's exciting! I've stayed past 5 PM a number of times recently, which was super rare for me when I was back at a large corporation. This, this transition from a one off that meets the goal for a couple minutes, to a reliable production line that can hit the goal for hours, is why I came here.

My parents were in town for a few nights this week. They have more or less retired and are looking to move to a warmer climate than Wisconsin and closer to a large airport, and the Denver area checks those boxes. So they were house shopping as prices and interest rates have declined a little out here over the course of 2019. Still a long way from being a bargain or truly affordable, but hey I'll take a $25,000 discount.

I ran twice on the Alter-G treadmill. My physical therapy office has one and I get to run on it for free in half hour increments, so I went twice this past week. I'm doing well, very well, but I still can't really run. I ran at 75% body weight and 80% body weight and at 80% it was still hard on my ankle. Running pushes my ankle both in range of motion, and force. I can hike for 14.5 hours on a mountain. I can bicycle for seven hours in the mountains. Yet, I can't run an 8 minute mile on flat ground at the moment. However, at the rate I am progressing I think by the end of July I'll be able to go out and run without limping.

Friday I flew out to Seattle with my friend M. We had separate flights and both were delayed about 3.5 hours. So we arrived at like 2 AM on Saturday. Fun. Saturday we met up with a college friend of mine and his friend, and the four of us headed up to Mt. Rainier. Unfortunately, they were out of permits for Camp Muir for the night, so we got a permit for the next couple nights, and then on the drive back to Ashford, decided that we'd attempt it in one day on Sunday. Tune in next week for the story of my second one day Mt. Rainier climb!


Monday, June 17, 2019

I don't really get summit fever.

Two of the people I have been hiking with recently talked about how they each get summit fever, and it scares me. I told both of them, "Don't attempt Everest yet, please." I really don't get summit fever much any more. I did, when I was somewhat new and felt I needed to get the summit to build up my climbing resume. But after enough bad weather days and a couple close calls high in the mountains, and reading enough accident reports, I don't really care about making the summit like I used to.

I like mountaineering, climbing, hiking, skiing, and being out in the mountains on difficult terrain in general. The summit is just a pile of rocks and snow, and they all basically look the same. The main difference is the size of the Longs Peak or Devil's Tower summit plateau vs a much smaller one like Crestone Needle or Mt. Everest, the same way some parking lots are larger than other parking lots.

It's interesting, the number of times in the last few years when I've been within about 500 vertical feet of the summit and been ambivalent about making it to the top. I would not have guessed this is a mental state of a climber. I used to think everyone wanted to get to the summit on every attempt. But now I realize that the process, the climbing itself is most of the fun. I've been on the top of well over 100 mountains above treeline, and while I will keep going after summits, I have no problem turning around near the top if conditions aren't right.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Colorado Startup Life: Weeks 38 to 40

I've been busy. May 26th to June 15th. My ankle has been healing well enough for me to get back into doing my more normal weekend fun. Actually, I feel my healing has plateaued the last two weeks or so, I'm not sure if that is temporary, or I need to get on my physical therapy exercises harder, or maybe there is a little more ligament damage than initially expected, or perhaps my weekend jaunts are a little more than I should be doing at this stage of the recovery.

So, June 1st I bicycled up Pikes Peak! I had two attempts last fall, both failing due to having a pulmonary embolism. Even though I am 10 pounds heavier now and in worse shape aerobically than I was last fall, I was able to do it. I think this particular Strava segment best encapsulates having a PE and in below average shape, and having no PE, in poor shape, and weighing 10 pounds more, meaning a PE makes it really hard to breathe.
58 minutes with a Pulmonary Embolism, 35 minutes without.
Fun fact, I don't think of myself as a great descender, on a bicycle or running. But I'm not bad. I mean, I generally take big descents at a speed that I feel very in control, but somehow I have the time to beat for the first 12 miles of the Pikes Peak descent this year.
Then on Tuesday, June 4th I fell off my bicycle near the top of "SuperJames" which is the HC bicycle climb that goes from highway 36 up to Jamestown and then up to 8,500 feet above Jamestown. It's my go to 42 mile bicycle ride. It's so cool to go bicycle a HC (French for beyond category, meaning something like 3,000+ feet of ascending) climb on an average weeknight from my apartment! We had snow May 21st, and maybe even more recent up there at 8,000 feet, so there was still quite a bit of sand on the road and I could not slow down enough to make a left hand turn and when I hit the sand I fell over and thankfully did not get hurt any more than a bruised knee! It really got my attention. My head (encased in my helmet of course) bounced when I hit the ground. I am sure I do not have any concussion, but without a helmet I probably would have. Plus, I had slowed down to maybe 10-12 mph when I finally fell over, I only slid about 10 feet. Whew! I could have easily been going 25 mph, and in that case I would have hit the guardrail (which I was only 3 feet away from when I stopped) and maybe even gone over a steep slope.

June 8th I attempted "The Loop" as I call it. From my apartment in Longmont to Estes Park, over Trail Ridge Road, through Granby, up Berthoud Pass, into Idaho Springs, down to Golden, up to Boulder and back to Longmont. It would be about 180 miles, and include a 12,000 foot pass and 11,000 foot pass. Well, I failed, but I had a really good ride. I bicycled up to Estes Park, and just wasn't feeling as strong as I feel I need to be successful and safe and finish in the daylight. So I turned left and bicycled down the Peak to Peak to Ward and then down Lefthand canyon for a little 86 mile bicycle ride with 7000 feet of elevation gain.

June 15th, yesterday, I did a 11 hour and 45 minute excursion up and over Mt. Yale and down the north ridge into the airplane gully in my continuing research for a Nolan's 14 attempt. There was a lot of snow and in places it spend up our progress, but overall it definitely slowed us down when we would inevitably post hole. We then did a loop hiking down the valley until we met up with the Colorado trail at 9,400 feet and went back up to nearly 12,000 feet and down into the Avalanche Gulch Trailhead. Apparently I burned 8,051 calories yesterday. I estimated it would take 6-8 hours, so I was pretty off on that estimate. My ankle held up well. I did limp a fair amount, and had to take many small steps (52,000 steps to be specific), but the three of us made it. It was the hardest thing I have done since moving out here. Harder than doing Pikes Peak, the 86 mile bicycle ride, the February Piz Badille climb, Princeton and Longs Peak with a pulmonary embolism. It rained, snowed, and hailed on us at different times. I don't think my ankle will be ready to attempt Nolan's 14 this year. Or at least, it will most likely not be in condition to go sub 48 hours on Nolan's this season.

Work has been good. It's been a bit stressful and I've put in a number of 10 hour days, mostly unintentionally, because I get excited. We have a customer delivery coming up and it's all hands on deck to mitigate as much risk as possible and make it successful. What are some highlights? We were trouble shooting an issue three weeks ago, an issue we had been working on for weeks before that, and we finally made enough changes to get rid of the issue! It's the classic: struggle, struggle, struggle, success! Then, just Friday a new subsystem that I designed was tested, and it worked! There were so many little thing wrong with my design and prototype parts, that frankly I was not very confident it would work. But it did! It's a completely new subsystem to our product, and something that will speed up both our internal operations and is a huge customer benefit. I was not at all the driving factor, the credit goes to my coworker J for pushing for a long time to get this subsystem designed and implemented. The difficulty was that I just had never designed something like this from scratch before, so I didn't have much confidence it would work. I was afraid there was something I did not understand that would lead to failure.

I hope you've had some good weeks too. Next weekend I'll be out in the northwest climbing Mt. Rainier, so check out my Garmin inReach tracking to see how that goes: https://share.garmin.com/IsaiahJanzen

Monday, May 27, 2019

Colorado Startup Life: Week 37

May 19 to 25. This was a good week! I bicycled 92 miles, which is good considering that four days of the week it was wet and rainy and I didn't want to go out and get my bicycle all dirty. My ankle is recovering well. At physical therapy on Friday my therapist said that it was time to start jumping, and next Friday, May 31st, I will run on the Alter G treadmill that they have! I've never seen an Alter G in person until I went to Altitude Physical Therapy, but I'm excited. If it goes well I'll probably run there a couple times a week for the beginning of June until my ankle is a lot stronger.

Saturday in particular was a good day for bicycling. I did 62 miles, from my apartment up Lefthand Canyon, then down the Peak to Peak highway into Lyons and back to my apartment. I rode past the Boy Scout camp I worked at in 2008 and 2010, the Piz Badile, which is a classic beginner trad climb, and plenty of other little cool spots along the front range of Colorado. In fact, the Millsite has closed and is for sale. Maybe I should buy it and only have it open on the weekends in the summer? We used to have a lot of fun there when I worked at the summer camp.

Work was down, and then up. We've been trying and trying and failing and failing at a project, and finally, at 7 PM on Friday night, it worked! The strange thing about my new industry compared to my old industry is that success can be measured in seconds and minutes now, where as in my old industry it was thousands of hours before you had any idea if it was successful. I'll tell you what, the more you fail at something, the more valuable it becomes when you finally succeed.

All startups talk about traction, which is basically being the preferred vendor for your customers, so I will too. When a business starts from scratch there are no customers and no product delivered yet, traction would be getting those early customers and keeping those early customers. We have traction, definitely, that's why I joined this little company last year. I could see that already in it's short life it was filling a need. Now that I've been here eight months I'm not sure we have enough traction. I think we have enough, but again, I've never been through a startup before. At my previous company roles were well defined, we were staffed for trough conditions meaning when business was good we were very busy, but no one was ever really laid off when business was bad, at least among the salaried workers. As we ramp up hiring, without directly ramping up revenue it's a strange feeling. That could all change with the stroke of a pen and a new customer contract, in which case hiring people and getting them up to speed, before the contract is signed is exactly what needs to happen now. I've just never been on the proactive side of business planning. My previous employer was generally reactive to increases in business.

Finally my 15 year class reunion was on Saturday in Kansas... and I didn't go. Friday night as I sat on my couch checking my phone to see our project updates I decided not to drive across the state of Kansas over the weekend. I had a good time at my 10 year high school reunion. However, between my recent pulmonary embolism, likely from driving across Kansas in March 2018, and the possibility that I might have worked over the weekend, I decided not to go. Plus, and I know it's not good to compare yourself to others, but my high school classmates are my ultimate peers, and seeing the vast majority married and with kids, I know I'll feel like a failure, at least as far as my relationships go. Feelings are not fact. I'm sure I'd end up talking about Mt. Everest, and maybe some of them might feel like failures. On top of all that, 15 years! In three years my high school graduation will only be the halfway point in my life. Where has the time gone? Goal for five years from now, have my pilot's license and access to a plane so that my major concern, the pulmonary embolism from 18 hours of sitting would only be six hours of sitting.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

People will keep dying on Mt. Everest.

It's in the news again, people are dying on Mt. Everest. I'm not surprised. The photo that is being circulated this year (https://www.outsideonline.com/2397164/everest-summit-traffic-jam) of the summit ridge traffic jam is pretty crazy. For perspective, when I summited at 4:35 AM on May 21st, 2016, there were three mini groups of 2-3 people each ahead of my Sherpa Tshering and I. In other words, my ascent was totally unencumbered by traffic. I have always had more traffic on the Casual Route on Long Peaks than I did ascending Everest. However, on the way down we passed the approximately 35-40 other people who summited Everest from the south side May 21st, and 40 is a very manageable reasonable number. Even 50 or 60 is probably no big deal, but when I see 80+ doing it on the same day, that's just too many.

Because Everest is the tallest, it's going to keep attracting people with the time and the money... and not necessarily the experience. I don't have a lot of sympathy for most of the people that die on Everest, the way I do for starving people in South Sudan, disabled veterans, Ebola victims, victims of gun violence and car accidents. When you go to an 8000 meter peak, you need (in my opinion) to think about all of the different ways you could die, and how that would affect people you are leaving behind, and then either go or don't go. Maybe 5-10 percent of the people that show up at Everest basecamp every season leave and go home when the full reality of the possible consequences (their death) hit them. I respect that. It's better to realize that when you are within a half mile of camp two or in the Khumbu ice fall than on the summit ridge.

That harsh attitude being said, there are some accidents, such as people who die alone in their tent of a heart attack or a pulmonary embolism, that do make me feel sympathetic. Especially since last year, when I had a pulmonary embolism, what if I had another one on an ordinary day at base camp? You can't predict that.

What are some possible solutions to reduce crowding and deaths?

  • Extend the season. With better weather forecasting, instead of waiting only for the eight perfect days a year we need to start using those days, and then the next best eight days, and probably extend the season into June a week or two.
  • Limit the number of climbers each day. It would not be that hard to put a human check point 200 yards outside of camp four where the fixed ropes for the summit start, and limit it to 60 or so people per day. Since you don't want to start a fist fight, people (Sherpas and Nepalis included) would be banned for life from getting a permit if they went past the check point after 60 people. (While it can be confusing to identify people in down suits, it's not that hard.) I realize this sounds nearly impossible to have a staff of say four people at the south col for a month, but with increasing helicopter technology it would not be impossible to drop off oxygen bottles. Plus, there are plenty of loose rocks at the south col, a makeshift stone hut could be built to protect a little area from the wind. Difficult? Yes. The potential to save lives? Yes. The possibility to do fascinating human research? Yes, definitely.
  • Start fixed ropes on another route, probably the west ridge. Actually, you could avoid the deadly Khumbu ice fall by going straight up to the ridge from base camp. I guarantee that announcing fixed ropes on the west ridge would attract a higher caliber of climber, because it will be hard, it's steep above 7000 meters. At this point, anything that takes the pressure off the south col route would be good.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

The Mountain Opportunity List

I've not put a list down in writing before because lists get people killed in the mountains. The 14 8000 meter peaks have killed hundreds of people, and dozens of people with more than five 8000 meter summits. How can a person with five 8000 meter summits put himself or herself in a position to die? There are old climbers and bold climbers, and despite what people probably frequently think of me, I plan to be an old climber. On Saturday, hours after I stood at the base of the Bastile Crack in Eldorado Canyon, a free solo climber died falling off. So for my whole climbing career up until now I've resisted a list, because I don't want to die, or take such a high risk, to stand on top of another pile of rock and ice.

I'm putting the list out now so that when other people want to do one of the same things they can invite me along if they are looking for a partner, or push me to organize an expedition and take him or her along. I've gotten to the point where I have so many climbing partners around the world, I can't keep track of what everyone is doing, wants to do, or is qualified to do. Plus, as I get older, doing all of these things while I am still very able looks like it might not be possible and I'd just like to attempt as many as possible.

In Pakistan (the coolest, most interesting, mountains I'd like to attempt):
  • Gasherbrum IV, any route, but the Southwest ridge first ascent would be super cool!
  • K2 (without bottled oxygen of course)
  • Trango Tower (Nameless Tower if there is any confusion)
  • Gasherbrum I and II... in one push
In the USA:
  • Mt. Rainier
    • Liberty Ridge
    • Willis Wall, any route
  • Mt. Hood
  • Mt. Baker
  • All Colorado 14ers in the winter
  • All Colorado 13ers (There are about 630 of them and I've done around 50)
  • All the lower 48 14ers
  • Lead the whole Casual Route on the Diamond (likely summer 2019)
  • Sykes Sickle on Spearhead (likely summer 2019)
  • Petit Grepon, any route (likely summer 2019)
  • Tetons Grand Traverse
  • Denali with a ski descent
  • Epinefrine at Red Rocks near Las Vegas
  • Nolan's 14 (attempting summer 2019)
  • Mt. Massive and Mt. Elbert loop via the ridge with Oklahoma and French Mountain
  • John Muir Trail
  • The Appalachian Trail
  • The Nose on El Cap... in a day
  • Wind River Range in Wyoming, any technical route
In Canada:
  • Becky-Chiounard on South Howser Tower
  • Northeast ridge of Bugaboo Spire
  • Anything on Snowpatch Spire
  • Anything in the Adamants
  • Howse Peak, anything on the East Face
South America:
  • Aconcagua
  • Anything in Torres Del Paines national park
Europe:
  • The Matterhorn
  • The North Face of the Eiger
  • The Dolomites, any long route
Islands in the Ocean:
  • Ball's Pyramid
  • Mt. Otemanu on Bora Bora
  • Bicycle up Mauna Kea from the ocean
  • Skellig Michael a first ascent
  • Faroe Islands a first ascent
Antartica:
  • Cross the continent, without motors, via the South Pole
Greenland: 
  • Any route grade V or longer
Because "everything" I want to do seems super dangerous to most people, I have my limits and here are the mountains or routes I will not even attempt because they are simply too dangerous for my comfort level:
  • Annapurna, all routes
  • Lhotse the South Face
  • NW Face of Devil's Thumb in Alaska
Finally as a disclaimer, there are lots of routes and mountains where I'm open to attempting them, but everything (route conditions, partners, political situation, etc.) would have to be nearly perfect. Nanga Parbat and a lot of ice climbing routes, like M16 on Howse Peak, fall into that category. As I recently showed on Pikes Peak May 4th, 2019, I'm not afraid to turn around even in good weather if it's not my day. This list is not definitive, there are other very interesting things out there to go up and down. It's simply a list of things, that given the opportunity, I'd like to try. 

Monday, May 20, 2019

Colorado Startup Life: Week 36

This was another good week. Really good actually! I bicycled 108 miles and went rock climbing three times, twice indoors and once outdoors at Eldorado Canyon. My new normal bicycle ride is 35 mile from my apartment up Lefthand Canyon to Jamestown and back. My ankle can tolerate the bicycling quite well. It is often swollen after, but the physician assistant I saw last week for my last doctor's check up said that will be normal for a while and it will be swollen just from normal use for six months or so from the ligament tears March 9th. Rock climbing, even just 200 vertical feet is harder on my ankle than a 37 mile bicycle ride. Twisting at those angles just takes some time to get used to. I still can't run, but I can walk without a limp. I'm supposed to be doing band exercises and single leg squats, and ow they are hard!

Work is going well. At a meeting I did not attend tempers flared, and there was a mini restructure of responsibilities afterward, and I'm happy with it. It could have happened two months ago and saved everyone some frustration, but sometimes you really have to dig in and make the mistakes super obvious before realizing them. We learn from failure, and sometimes we have to really fail to see it.

It's fascinating watching the emotions around the company. For myself I realized this past week, when I wasn't invited to two different meetings, that I was feeling entitled to go to those meetings. My ego was telling me, 'that since I have now been here for eight months, it's my right to go to those meetings, I've earned it.' It was very interesting! Coming from a big company, I can't remember ever having that feeling of entitlement to responsibility or to be part of the decision making. When there are people in their 40s and 50s and ever 60s around, being in my early 30s I still felt like the new kid on the block. Realizing that my ego was getting the best of me, I was mentally able to backtrack and simply go with the flow and be a little more humble. I'll go to the meetings I am invited to. It's a privilege to have the job I have, I don't need to go to all the meetings.

Along those lines, I said this years ago, everyone wants more control and more money. I spent months thinking about that after I first articulated it. At the time I wanted more money and more control specifically over my work. As I've gotten older my situation has changed. I've had a few promotions and raises since then. I have enough control over my work, that I no longer really want or feel the need for more money or more control. Yet I see in some of my coworkers the entitlement and desire for more control and more money. It's like the easy money venture capital rocket ship has accelerated the gradual build up of ego in some cases. To be fair, I'm being super critical of what I perceive is honestly a small issue that only affects a few people at the moment. The funny part is when I read about past startups, Apple, Google, etc. the issues we are facing are not new at all. They've affected technology startups for 40+ years. So I'm sure we'll get through them.

I hope you had a good week!

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Future Proofing Designs

I'm working with the most expensive individual parts I ever have. The materials are expensive, the processing is expensive, and there aren't a huge number of suppliers capable of making these parts. Plus, since there can be six months between ordering and receiving the part, there can be some resistance to change. The challenge is when additional sensors, tubes and brackets are added later, there is nowhere to bolt them to. The solution is to future proof the design.

In high volume manufacturing these extra features might be scrutinized so much that it is not possible, but the again I would hope you are working with all of the requirements from the start (and I mean how sensor X is going to connect to location Y) because in low volume manufacturing that is often not the case. The ancillary systems are added in later after the bulk of the design is complete.

So this has been frustrating me a bit because I can see that in the next six months there are a lot of things we will need to add to one of our products and there aren't many places to add them. Years ago I owned the engine frame design for a large off road vehicle, and it was extremely eye opening how probably every other day someone would have a request to add a clip or a clamp, and this was just a few months before going to production! The solution was to add a few extra holes and mounting features in possible locations that might be useful in the future.

In short, if you ever are responsible for the design of a core part or a base part of a product, add a couple features so that when someone else comes by later and needs to route a wire or a tube they have a place. It's easier if you ask yourself the question before releasing the part, "will anyone ever want to attach something to this part that I was not expecting?"