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:

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 ( 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
  • 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
  • Cross the continent, without motors, via the South Pole
  • 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?"

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Colorado Startup Life: Week 35

This was a good week, May 5th to 11th. In many respects it was a total success.

It started off with me crying in church on Sunday, and then that afternoon I went on a little bicycle ride. My first bicycle ride outdoors of the year. I definitely can't run right now, but I can bicycle, so for the month of May I will try to focus on bicycling and try to go most days because it's a great way to get back in shape. On my bicycle I don't feel the pressure to run sub 8 minute miles, or have a certain heart rate. Bicycling is so variable due to the wind alone, let alone altitude or climbs that you can have a high heart rate going into the wind on flat ground at 13 miles per hour, and a lower heart rate going up a category one climb at 13 miles per hour with the wind at your back. In short, I'm so out of shape I just need time doing cardio exercises, and bicycling and walking are the two of the moment.

Needless to say, my ankle is improving. People tell me it's miraculous, and I agree, but I also don't have much reference. This whole injury has reinforced how blessed I am to have the skills I do, and also to have done all of the things I have done in the past. I climbed Mt. Everest! I ran 154 miles in 24 hours! I ran a 2:30:20 marathon! It's possible I never surpass any of those three feats, so I need to appreciate having been able to do that at all.

Work is going well again. The customer and us are in a much better place than we were two weeks ago. We're communicating, lots of people, from our side and theirs, are involved in the conversations. We're solving problems. This is engineering, we'll figure it out, as long as we communicate with each other and have patience when we don't understand where someone is coming from.

A few weeks ago at work we had an engineering meeting with seven women and three men. It was the first time I remember in my career an engineering meeting with more women than men. Since that time we have had a couple engineering meetings with more women than men. One of my coworkers, a recent college grad, when I mentioned how it was a new experience for me, said, "when I was in college when we were working on projects sometimes we had more men than women and sometimes we had more women than men." And that is how I want to think of it. And honestly I might already be mentally there. When I go into meetings, where I don't check the list of attendees ahead of time, I want to live in a world, or work in a company, where there might be more women than men in the meeting. It's not a requirement at all, but I like that humbling feeling when people are filtering into the room and suddenly there are five women (all engineers) and me. It's a little scary, because suddenly I'm afraid I will say the wrong thing, because I'm basically never outnumbered by women in my life. Do women feel like that when they are outnumbered by men in a meeting room? I asked several of my female coworkers if I am a male chauvinist, and they've all said no so far, but I worry about it. And I also tell them to let me know if or when I say something inappropriate.

That being said, I'm not sure 50% parity in occupations is actually what gender equality means. I don't know that women will ever be 50% of all engineers. I don't know than men will ever be 50% of elementary school teachers and nurses. Maybe, and that would be great, but I don't think that's the yardstick to use. I say that because the variation over different years, companies, and regions mean that 60%/40% splits and 70%/30% splits could easily happen locally, in both male dominate or female dominate directions in a world where men and women are treated equally in the workforce. Personally, and I'm sure people will disagree with me, but I think having equal pay for men and women for the same job is a great yardstick, and I also think having women in management, in particular senior management is another great yardstick. That being said, the job(s) should ideally go to the most qualified person or people, even if that most qualified person is another white male. After all, in the USA there are a lot of hard working white males.

I have said for years, after my unemployment of 2010, that year made me more compassionate and more cutthroat than I was before 2010. What I mean, in this scenario, is I understand how an interviewee might feel discriminated against for something outside of his or her control. In my case it was not having internships, and having an MIT and NASA fellowship. Two caution flags that scared potential employers away. Sure those were mostly my choices, but I didn't know in 2006, 2007 and 2008 that 2009 and 2010 was going to be the worst recession in 70 years. In other words, I've been delighted to have several of the applicants we have recently had because they are incredible, and at my former employer, we would not have gotten those very well qualified applicants, and even if we did, we might have passed on them because they didn't seem to fit the "culture". By the same token, I'm going to try and be amazing at my job so that employers are afraid to not hire me, even though lots of people could do what I do. That being said, I think my current company might be the last traditional full time engineering job I have as an employee. Being an entrepreneur of some sort is wildly interesting to me at the moment.

Since the last three paragraphs are probably sexist and discriminatory and offensive, I want to explain why I went ahead and if you are reading this I must have clicked publish. The world is changing, in my life time, and I want to record it, and share it with people who don't circulate in the same circle of people that I do. If I don't say I want to work in a world where there might possibly be more women than men in an engineering meeting, who will? Equality isn't just a conversation for the Op-Ed writers at big city newspapers. Since I am involved in hiring new employees, I'm part of the conversation. Years ago I was out at a bar with five men and the conversation turned to objectifying several women that we all knew, and I was disgusted, as were two others at the table. That's my fear, that if I don't say something about equality, however unenlightened my comments are, I could live in a world where that kind of toxic conversation happens at work and permeates our whole culture.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Physical Therapy is Pretty Hard

The first couple physical therapy (PT) visits were like a deep tissue massage. I was mostly just worked on. I didn't do much, I just kind of sat there while M manipulated my ankle. I would walk out sore, but that's to be expected. However, the manipulation part is pretty small now, and I end up having to do a number of exercises now, which are not easy.

For example, while standing on one leg, my bad leg, on a 2 inch thick foam mat, I need to bend over and reach across my body to touch something, like a counter. It's super hard! I spend a quarter of the exercise just wobbling back and forth trying to get my balance. That being said, it's the kind of exercise I think that would be good to do in normal life just to keep your balance. I think it will help my poor slacklining.

The last visit my torturer (physical therapist) M came up with a new exercise. Putting a band around my bad ankle, below the actual ankle, that was attached to a couch or anchor of some sort behind me. Then with my feet about one foot apart side to side and my good foot a foot ahead of my back foot, in other words a narrow staggered stance, I would try to squat down. The band will then pull on my talus bone, which is sticking a little and doesn't have the range of motion needed, yet. Wow it hurts! Not in a damaging way, but I squat like four inches and it feels like my ankle is getting stabbed.

In short, I now understand why people might quit going to PT. It's hard and once you get to a certain level, it's like, 'I don't want to be tortured.' That's not me. I have a strange relationship with pain so a big part of me hopes if I keep going to PT, eventually I'll be better than I was last year. Meaning, I will be stronger, more well rounded, more durable because I will have addressed the small muscles and ligaments in my body necessary to do crazy stuff.

Monday, May 6, 2019

Colorado Startup Life: Week 34

I had a really good week! Of course it was capped by five of my friends hiking Pikes Peak in nearly winter conditions. It was even the first 14er for three of them.

The trip to Atlanta was really good! Both them and us have had a lot of people start in the last four to six months, even in the last month, so it was good to reset the relationship in person. Additionally, our CEO was on the trip, and having not spent a lot of time with him, I was unsure of his response to the trip. Fortunately, from my perspective, he had essentially 100% the same reaction I did! I was not expecting that. No doubt loyal readers could tell that my confidence in my company was flagging a bit the last couple weeks. We still certainly have our issues, but the guy at the top is not oblivious at all, and I told him I would work at least a month for him without pay.  He has my confidence.

On a different note, we had our first person voluntarily leave the company announce the intention this week. So far, in nearly four years of existence, one person was fired, which is really our fault for not screening for exactly the skills we were looking for, and now the first person is leaving. Here is one article shedding light on where we are. And here is an article, in a great series about startup growth, about our current phase!

I had two physical therapy sessions this week, and they both were a workout! Wow! my ankle is as sore after a PT session as it feels being an idiot on Pikes Peak. I am very excited by the progress I am making and very thankful to God that this injury appears to be quite minor.

The weather has turned warmer and I am taking little walks daily both around the parking lot at work, and also in the evenings in my local park. This injury has shown me how beautiful a little flat walk on a paved trail around a subdivision can be!

Sunday, May 5, 2019

It was stupid and I did it anyway.

I cried in church this morning during the sermon. The topic was Jesus on the road to Emmaus, "walking" with two of his disciples.

Yesterday I tried to hike up Pikes Peak via the Northwest Slopes route, about 14 miles round trip. I failed.
Pikes Peak Strava Activity
I did a two mile hike with 500 feet of elevation gain and loss last Saturday and I was making great progress this past week, so I thought there was about a 30%-40% chance of actually making the summit. Which is enough for me to try. Plus, I have 26 14ers left to do, and I want to finish them this year which means taking advantage of good weather days before all of the snow has melted or I am 100% recovered. Pikes Peak is the easiest one I have left within a four hour drive of Longmont. I announced my intentions for a 14 mile 8-12 hour adventure to my coworkers and six of them decided to join me!

I left my apartment at 3:30 in the morning, stopped at a coworker's apartment in Longmont at 3:45, another coworker's in Louisville at 4:05, another coworker's in Broomfield at 4:20, and then another coworker's to change vehicles in Westminster at 4:35, and then the seventh coworker in Highlands Ranch at 5:15. The seven of us carpooled down to the trailhead getting there about 7 AM and starting hiking shortly after. I quickly led us on a wrong turn wasting about a half mile. Initially the trail was good. Stable footing, very shallow grade. I was feeling great! Out with friends on a beautiful day, life is good! My ankle wasn't feeling too bad, and the adrenaline of attempting a 14er was coursing through me so I wasn't feeling all the pain.

Near treeline the route became very steep and only one of the six people with me know how to properly flat foot and break trail, so either him or I led, which tired me out and put my ankle at poor angles, which strained it more. It was a struggle, but it was okay. I've had worse. I put myself about at a D in terms of how I was doing. When we crested the broad ridge the trail leveled out a bit and we made good progress, but even some slight downhills were torture on my ankle. I had a few moments where I choked up and my eyes watered. I didn't exactly cry, but I was close. There were a lot of emotions going through my head.

The last year has not been totally delightful. I had a pulmonary embolism, which can kill people. Fortunately I am here, and my dream for nearly a decade of being on the USA 100 km team was fulfilled, but I was unable to even run 9:30 pace consistently and it is not a race experience I want to repeat. Then I broke my leg and strained my ankle ligaments. The recovery is going excellent! People can lose their foot from especially bad ankle crush injuries. My mom is battling cancer. It seems to be going very well, but this past fall it was not going well, and people die from cancer. Another relative had cancer and a different relative had a health scare last summer, all in the past year. My mortality and fragility has been fully reinforced. Are my competitive running days over? Is going to high altitude too great of a risk for me? As I was doing this difficult and painful thing yesterday I was on cloud nine, high from the prospect that I could still go into the mountains. Why me? And I mean that in the most positive way, that others will never experience even the minor mellow hike I experienced yesterday. Plus it was only eight weeks after a serious injury. Even with all of these adversities, I have the ability to hike from 9,700 feet up to 13,000 feet over 6.5 miles on mostly snowy terrain. Why has God so blessed me with these great abilities?

We reached the first road crossing and I was still optimistic, however in the short less than half mile section to the next road crossing we went up and down on snow that led to some post holing and my ankle just couldn't take the irregularity. I felt like an F, I had failed, it was time to call it quits, at approximately 11:30 AM. One of my fellow hikers is recovering from a metatarsal stress fracture and he called it day too. We hitchhiked down in a rental car thanks to a nice couple (including a helicopter pilot) from Utah. The two of us spent the rest of the day bumming around Colorado Springs down town, eating, drinking, and napping in a park with the homeless people. As we grew worried about our friends we finally heard from them at 7:30 PM, only an hour from when were were planning to call Teller County search and rescue. They all made it down safe! Despite it being harder than they expected, they summitted and had fun! I was afraid when they picked us up at 8:40 PM for the drive home that they would want to kill me.

One of my [probably genetic] gifts is acute inflammation. My body will swell up and then recover quickly from traumatic things. My ankle yesterday afternoon grew, probably a quarter to half inch in diameter due to the twisting on uneven ground. However, today, after getting some sleep, and icing it it actually doesn't feel too bad or look terribly big. It's still clearly bigger than my right ankle, but it's been that way for eight weeks. I'm going to wear the ankle brace most of today, because I can feel my ankle is weak, but frankly it feels better than I expected after the stupidness that I put it through.

So this morning in church, when the sermon was on Jesus walking with two disciples on the road to Emmaus, I cried. For years I've through of my running, especially my long runs, as dancing with God and I think of hiking and climbing in the mountains as spending my time in the greatest cathedrals in the world. Yet today, I felt for the first time that my limping slow walk is also with God. He meets us where we are at, when we are hurting and desperate and sad, and doing things which are probably detrimental to ourselves.

I feel that these many experiences I have had in the last year are a lesson to me that my time on earth is limited. I need to speak out. I can't stay silent. I can't leave things until tomorrow. No guarantees that I actually make any changes to my life, but I am definitely thinking about the big things I want to accomplish in life and doing them sooner rather than later.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Physical Therapy is Pretty Cool

I started going to physical therapy last week, and wow what a difference is makes! After every visit I have walked out the door with a little more flexibility than I came in with. I've been to physical therapy before for more minor injuries, and it's helped, but with a much more dramatic injury, the recovery steps have been more dramatic. Turns out ankles are pretty complicated, and when you don't flex it much for six weeks it gets stiff in between several different bones. So I'm dealing with a lot of soreness both in physical therapy and just walking around. It's all part of the recovery process, and I'm thankful that I can walk as well as I do already. Power sports injuries often end up crushing joints, and even leading to amputations.

The point is, when you get hurt, spend the time getting better. It can be painful in recovery, but every little increase on the road to full physical ability is totally worth it!

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Colorado Startup Life: Week 33

April 21 to 27, was a much better week at work than the last two weeks! From top to bottom in the organization I saw a renewed interest in solving the customer's problem, and not just making a cool product and expecting customers to show up and buy it. I expressed my opinion to the relevant people in the previous weeks in nearly the same words I used in my blog, and I see the change happening. Instead of the customer visit being just two people as it was originally planned, it will be five people, including me.

Another concern has popped up in my mind, are we growing too fast? I'm a big fan of organic growth. Put another way, I think a mountaineer should slowly build up skills on easy routes and short mountains before tackling hard routes and tall mountains. In other words, I don't see us having enough customer delivery contracts to justify the number of people we are hiring. That could all change with the stroke of a pen, but I'd rather us sign that contract and then hire people than hire people and hope we sign that contract.

It's fascinating to see these issues. At a 180 year old company, these things just aren't issues. Management understands responding to the customer in a timely manner, the importance of face to face meetings, and doesn't grow faster than sales dictate. So it's fun to watch the flip side of that. Although it is like being in the TV series Silicon Valley with it's ups and downs. The hard part is that it seems there is no middle ground. Either we're going to be successful, and I'm going to be rich, or we're not going to survive. That being said, given our current contracts I like to imagine that worst case scenario all but four people are laid off and those four would then have a nice little lifestyle business selling our most mature product. Kind of like this. Frankly, if I was one of the laid off people, I'd do just fine, in fact, I can think of a couple uses for our one small existing product at the moment that I would then have the time to create a new product around.

My ankle has greatly improved! I even went for a two mile hike on Saturday! I started Physical therapy and went twice this week, and had a deep tissue massage which have all helped my to have a greater range of motion in my ankle. I again went rock climbing indoor this week, and did three 5.10s, which is pretty incredible in my mind for having a kneed high boot on. I even ditched the ankle brace on Saturday!

I hope you had a good week too!

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Colorado Startup Life: Weeks 31 and 32

April 7th to 20th. These were the worst two weeks I have had since I moved here. I've had worse weeks in the past, but it's frustrating when the issue or issues seem preventable from my perspective.

We have essentially one real paying customer. We have two more strong leads, where they are beginning to build their product around our product, but they are years away from production. We have a couple huge leads too, from established players in the industry who might like us to develop a product from scratch, but until the contract is signed and some money is in the bank, they aren't really real. A few months ago, we made a change to the geometry of our product, making it larger. This really matters to the customer. Unfortunately no one communicated this change to the customer, despite the fact that they are the ones that requested the feature that we had to enlarge the product to achieve. In other words, they asked for it, we made it happen (which was and still is a difficult technical problem), but we made the geometry somewhat larger than originally agreed to, because we couldn't get it to work with a smaller geometry.

Back at my old corporate job, as soon as there is a problem, you sort it out at your desk for perhaps few hours, confirm it is a problem, and then let all the stakeholders know as soon as possible. I used to have near daily communication with Germany in one job and South Korea in another because of the challenges we were encountering throughout development. I expected to have a similar role here, yet I have not interacted with the customer at all. Which I thought was totally fine because others were handling it, but then they fail to notify the customer of a change like this, for months, and I'm embarrassed. What amateurs! Instead of being a fast moving startup, in this particular area we're slower than a 180 year old company!

The customer is always right. That's not strictly true, but I think it's the best starting point. If you spend all of your effort showing the customer they are wrong, eventually they'll probably leave for someone else, who they FEEL solves their problem better. Every business is a mix of quality, service, and price to their customers. If you ignore service you had better have excellent quality and a bargain price.

I work with a lot of smart people, who are younger than me. I don't like the word smart because it implies there is a dumb, and I think everyone has some ability to contribute, and talents that others do not have. So we'll say book smart people who went to Harvard and MIT and worked at prestigious companies. They don't always have the most humility. I would have never thought back in 2013 through 2016 when I worked a few weekends a summer at a winery just how much I would learn from that job! It was generally very low stress because I didn't need the paycheck and it was something to do that made money, and my coworkers were great. However, a few times we would have a customer who just ruined everyone's day. The wine is terrible, he wants a different bottle. The pizza is terrible, remake it. Why haven't you been back to fill up our water glasses? The sun changed and we want to move seats. To top it all off, no tip when he pays.

What I learned in that little part time service job is that with almost every customer interaction there is the ability to diffuse a tense situation and have a positive outcome. People get upset in restaurants all the time, and a free bottle of wine, or an extra pitcher of water, or some free breadsticks, or better yet checking on their table every three minutes instead of every six minutes, goes such a long way toward giving them a positive experience. It's the same in business to business customer service. You can't make everyone happy, and sometimes you really need to ditch the worst customers because they aren't worth it, but the majority of time you can make the situation better. Unfortunately I don't think many of my coworkers have ever had those sort of fast paced customer service jobs where you have 80 customer interactions in a four hour shift. You learn very fast with that kind of volume. In the corporate world customer interactions happen one or two emails per day or maybe two meetings per week. It takes forever to learn the same lessons, and the stakes are much higher than missing an eight dollar tip.

The result of all of this is that I'm traveling to Atlanta next week with four of my coworkers to have a day of meetings at the customer's location and reset the relationship. We need them. We might not always need them, but at this point we do.

In other news, I'm walking much much better! The knee high inflatable boot came off April 11th, and I switched to an ankle brace, which allows about 15 degrees of flex versus the boot allowing maybe five degrees. My step count has climbed from about 2000 steps per day to averaging about 8000.

My parents, sister, and her fiancé, came for Easter! We had a great time! It was great to get to know my sister's fiancé a little better. I picked out a new suit for their wedding, which I am a groomsman. Getting a suit was pushed on me, although I have wanted to get a nice tailored suit for years and I guess this is my chance. It's going to be a rather bold blue, so I'm a bit nervous that it won't be appropriate for situations where I want to blend in a little. My sister's wedding is probably going to cost me around $2000 in total, and I'm not even planning to get her a present. I'm probably going to elope if I ever get married...

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Movie Review: On the Basis of Sex

I have the best life in the world.

I have the best life in the world…

I have the best life in the world, in large part because I was born in the United States as a white male to Christian parents who deeply valued education. (Most importantly because I am Christian, but I’m going to take an economic and financial bent to this article and more or less ignore the Christian part.)

I just finished watching the movie “On the Basis of Sex” and it’s a good movie. I’ve thought about men and women for years. Men and women are different. I’ve thought about this for hundreds of hours, and unfortunately, I can’t be any more specific than “men and women are different”, because every generalization I come up with, I have an anecdotal example to disprove. Importantly, being different does not mean the inability to do something, which is kind of the point of the movie.

In July 2013 when I went to Rwanda for a week I looked at poverty for the first time as something to be solved, not simply as the natural consequence of a person’s birth, as I had looked at poverty in 2009 when I went to Pakistan, or 2007 when I went to Costa Rica. It broke my heart. In the years since I donated to a pastor in South Sudan, and now Give Directly is my main charity. Point being, I've very much realized how fortunate I am to have my life. Privilege is something that accrues slowly and in small pieces. It's generally easier to be white than black. It's generally easier to be a man than a woman. It's generally easier to have two parents rather than one. 100 years ago women couldn't vote in the USA. 160 years ago we had slavery. It can be hard to see your privilege in the moment, but the vast majority of the world can be thankful they are alive today, when there is the least amount of war around the globe on record.

My company has been on a hiring spree lately, and in the next two months as all the new employees start we are about to have double the percent of female workers as the average aerospace company. There is one particular meeting that I lead, where currently it’s four men and one woman, and in two months it will be quite possibly two men and three women. (That’s based on two of the men deciding that they do not need to attend the meeting any more, which is not at all certain, although both have voiced that they would like to hand off their responsibilities. Although they have both expressed that they like this particular meeting, so they might keep coming just because we usually get things done.) I’ve been a part of hiring two of these new women. To me, in aerospace or technology in general, hiring women is a signal that we are an employer that is desired. In other words, the top 5% of employers have their choice of candidates regardless of how low the unemployment rate is. The less prestigious employers don’t have much choice. Having started to interview people, and interviewing two of these women, I can verify that we are attracting great people! Many of the people we don’t hire are going to have good strong careers.

One of the things briefly mentioned in the movie is that perhaps some jobs will be half men and half women. Frankly, I don’t think there are many jobs that will ever achieve that ratio. I think teaching, especially at the elementary school level, and nursing will be dominated by women for a long while, while things like engineering and and law enforcement will be male dominated. That being said, equality in every possible respect is not the point. The goal at the finish line of the Boston Marathon should not be the fastest 20 runners being ten men and ten women. Defining equality as half of each profession being male or female is quite short sighted, and by that I mean that what we define as masculine or feminine today could quite likely change in 100 years. For example, male grooming was not really a thing until somewhat recently while society seems to expect women to shave half of their bodies. I like cooking, and I would be glad in any romantic relationship to do the majority of the cooking.

As I seem to end up dating women that are almost as feminist as me, and a large number of engineers, it should be obvious that mentally women can do the things than men do. Katie Bouman was the instigator behind the first image of a black hole, and she’s not a man. I feel sorry for her because of all the negative feedback she has received for her great interferometry achievement. I look forward to her using that technology to take pictures of exoplanets! I know for a fact that female engineers can have a difficult time, by getting talked over and overruled when a male engineer might say the same thing and be listened to. Having seen that happen, and having a sister who used to be an engineer (but has gone over to the dark side of management and marketing) I try to make sure that the women I work with are heard and have the resources to do their jobs.

With all inequalities, we can't have a scarcity mindset that freedom and justice are limited things. A woman being in senior management at a company doesn't take away a spot from a man, it widens the pool of possible senior managers [from just men to men and women] so that the best can rise to the top. The goal is to have the most appropriate person in each role, not simply a person in each role. Listen, if you aren't capable enough to compete with everyone, maybe you shouldn't be in your position of authority.

Felicity Jones is amazing! Armie Hammer plays just enough of an egalitarian that you might not notice he’s not the typical 1950s New York lawyer. Kathy Bates… always good. It’s a good movie. If you haven’t seen it, it’s at Red Box.