Monday, November 23, 2020

Why I want to be first in line for the Covid-19 Vaccine

I was talking to some educated reasonable people in the last few days, after Pfizer released the basic results of it's phase 3 Covid-19 vaccine trial and Moderna released the interim results of it's phase 3 trial. Both had efficacy of about 95% against the virus with no major side effects. For people in the know, that's a slam dunk, a hole in one, an 80 yard touchdown pass, a sub 2 hour marathon. So I want the vaccine, either one, as soon as possible, and I'll try to explain why in laymen's terms for you doubters.

First, there are two sides to a vaccine, how effective it is, and how dangerous the side effects might be. There is also the option to not get the vaccine. I made the table below to summarize the available data as simply as possible for the two options.

Not Getting a Vaccine and Getting the Disease

Getting the Vaccine

How Effective at Preventing Covid-19



Chance of Dying after Two Months



So, obviously the discussion is more nuanced than that, if you don't get the vaccine, maybe you won't get the disease either. For starters, what are the long term possible health implications of the vaccine? Before I answer that, we need to answer at the same time what the long term possible health implications of getting the disease are. So first, we don't know for the vaccine. We really have no idea if there are any negative effects from either the Pfizer or Moderna Covid-19 vaccines that show up more than 2 months after getting the second shot of the vaccine. Who knows, maybe people will keel over dead exactly six months after the second shot. Highly unlikely, that sentence was sarcasm, but the point is, we really do not know. To answer the second part of that, what are the long term consequences of not getting the vaccine and instead getting Covid-19, well for starters there is about a 2% chance of death, and that's an average, if you are over 60 or have any comorbidities like obesity, your risk of death is much higher. To give an anecdote, one person I know that contracted Covid-19 in July still has not fully gotten back her sense of taste like she had four months ago. There are no reports of that with the vaccine. In other words, we know that getting the disease you could die or have months long health problems, but getting the vaccine seems to have no immediate negative health effects. Again, this is a hole in one.

Second, still on the risk side, what are the short term risks to getting the vaccine or not getting the vaccine? For the Pfizer vaccine, you have a 2-4% chance of a fever or a headache... boohoo. Get over it. For Covid-19, again the average in the USA across all populations is about 2% chance of dying. Personally, I'll take the headache and a fever for the day or a few days. I would enjoy the extra day working from home... and being alive.

Finally, there is the efficacy aspect. Quick clarification, efficacy is basically how effective the vaccine is under lab controlled administration of the vaccine, in the real world, the effectiveness will be a little lower because some people will not get the second dose of the vaccine and others will get them spaced much farther apart than the prescribed 21 days or 28 days. So 95% effective is about as good as it gets. Frankly to definitively raise the official effective percentage higher than 95% there needs to be many more sick people than just the 170 that Pfizer had get Covid-19 (of those 162 were in the placebo group). Also, we don't know the circumstances of the eight people who had the vaccine and then got sick. Maybe some of them got Covid-19 between the first and second shot. Maybe some of them are healthcare workers who were working in Covid-19 wards and on accident received a high dose of the virus. 

Additionally, for those that still don't know how vaccine trials work here is a summary. First there is a pre-clinical phase where the vaccine is basically tested in animals to make sure it creates antibodies and does not kill the animal. If you watched the movie I Am Legend with Will Smith, that's the phase he's injecting the vaccine in rats. Phase 1 is a small group 10-80 people and the purpose is to make sure that it does not harm humans. A vaccine that crippled or killed humans would hopefully be obvious at this stage. Phase 2 trials are something like 100-2000 people to determine what the appropriate dose is to produce the desired antibodies while minimizing side effects. Finally phase 3 vaccine trials are 20,000-60,000 people where the statistics become real. Half are given a placebo and half are given the actual vaccine. Then, we all wait for a predetermined number of people to get sick from that particular disease, in the case of Pfizer and Covid-19 it was about 150 people that needed to get sick to determine how effective the vaccine is. 

This all comforts me because I'm not confident enough to sign up for a phase 3 vaccine trial, although I thought about it, but given the data that is currently available, count me in for either one of these. 15,000+ people have each had these two new vaccines and they seem to be working without major side effects. Long term, I'd much rather take my chances with one of these vaccines than with an actual case of Covid-19.

With all of this said, I'm bullish on these two vaccines for the above reasons and I'm also optimistic that in the future mRNA might be a key to making dozens of other vaccines for diseases that have confounded scientists for decades.  The US government has thrown billions of dollars through Operation Warp Speed at vaccine manufacturers, and let's be honest, it looks to be a huge success! 

Sunday, November 15, 2020

How to Run the Grand Canyon Rim to Rim to Rim

I'm going to write this partly as a trip report, and partly as a how to. I love doing new things, new mountain adventures like this, and I also really enjoy doing routes that I've done many times. There is a comfort in doing a route I've done before, mentally it's easier, and for big routes like this, all of the unknowns on the first trip, like water stops, knowing which sections are difficult and which are easy, are now knowns. So it's possible to go faster too. This was my first R2R2R, but I am already planning an April trip to do it again with a different friend.

Some very basic information, expect to run and walk 43 miles, ascend and descend 11,000 vertical feet, and experience temperature swings of 45 degrees Fahrenheit from coldest to warmest point during the day, with a maximum elevation just over 8,000 feet and lowest elevation of about 2,800 feet above sea level. While definitely a difficult "run" that is NOT for amateurs, it's much easier and safer than Nolan's 14 or running the three Chicago Basin 14ers from Purgatory ski resort, both of which I tried earlier in 2020.

Rim to Rim to Rim Route
Strava Activity:

First, camping and logistics. You're going to want to start early in the morning, we woke up at 5 AM with the temperature in the 30s on October 24th. Being in Covid-19 times we camped on forest service road 328 to avoid people in hotels to the west of the south entrance to the park. You can see it at the bottom of the map below. The dirt road actually goes for 20+ miles with dozens of free camping spots. They are primitive, so no bathrooms or running water. You could also get a hotel in Tusayan a few more miles south, there are at least four large hotels there.

Free camping on road 328 just south of the park.

We woke up, had breakfast, broke camp down, drove into the park, and then drove toward the start of the South Kaibab Trail, on Yaki Point Road. You can't actually drive down the road, they had a ranger stationed at the entrance and only park busses could drive down it, but there are pull offs just 200 yards from the road, so our one person support crew parked and M and I jogged a quarter of a mile up to the start of the trail. We took a quick bathroom break to let the coffee do it's work, and then at 6:45 AM started our watches as we plunged down the canyon. We ran down it too fast. The first mile was a 7:26, and we made it the seven miles to the bridge over the Colorado River in just under 58 minutes, that's too fast for my fitness. It gave me a little muscular tiredness that was unnecessary. When I do it again I'm going to ease off on the first 1/6th of the route, maybe 1:05 or so, and hopefully be in better shape too. 

Interestingly, I found the Grand Canyon to be disorienting, that's really the best word for it in my mind. M at one point said he had vertigo as he looked around on our run. To give an example, 2-3 miles into the canyon, I had of course been focusing on the trail and my foot placement, but we were at an easy stretch so I looked up and around to enjoy the view. I almost fell over! For a second I wasn't sure what was up and what was down. Mountains are like cones. On the way up they are in front of you and generally to the right and left with essentially nothing directly behind you, and behind you to the right and left. On the way down it's the opposite, the mountain is behind you with miles of empty space in front of you and to your right and left. But in the Grand Canyon, as you descend and look out straight ahead, there are cliffs in front of you and to your sides. It's just a strange feeling for people that spend lots of time on mountains.

There are multiple running potable water stops at Phantom Ranch, we stopped at the one closest to the bridge at 1:02 elapsed time for an average pace of 9:22. Of course, at this point everyone is feeling pretty great, and you really should because you're only getting started. 

The route is rather nicely divided into 1/6th sections of about 7 miles each. The next 7 miles are up a 3.9% grade to Cottonwood Campground. We ran it with cool temperatures probably in the 50s, and honestly, I think smoothly running this section is key to having a fast day. We covered these seven miles in 1:30 for a 12:22 pace. Apparently the running potable water was turned off on Friday, October 23rd, and we brought a filter and tablet to purify water, but it was still running so we filled our bottles and headed up to the North Rim. 

After two miles we passed the Manzanita camp, which also had running potable water. It is the last of the three potable water sources in the canyon going from south to north. We continued up to the North Rim, mostly walking with some running, and for those 7 miles my time of 2:31 had an average pace of 20:48. 

I thought the North Rim was closed, and I was not sure there was any water, but when we topped out there was a water spicket 30 feet from the top, and two full parking lots on paved roads within 200 yards of the trail! M beat me up the trail by running much more of the uphill. When I got there we only stayed maybe 10 minutes so I could eat a little and drink some water, cold water from the spicket which was great! At this point we were already in trouble. I reached the top right at 5:00, although we had been aiming for 4:45. Neither one of us had been eating enough. I think M was at 600 calories, and I was very similar. I brought 1400 for the day, and I definitely had not had enough at that point. The problem was while my stomach wasn't revolting, it was craving mostly fat and a little protein, not the carbohydrate Shot Bloks and Jelly Beans that I had brought. So I could still eat, but my stomach was only desiring eating a single 33 calorie Shot Blok in a mile, instead of three of them in that mile. In other words, I still felt good on the North Rim at half way, but I knew that sub 10 hours wasn't going to happen and I needed to keep eating and drinking to avoid a bonk, but still thought sub 11 hours was possible.

We ran down from the North Rim, briefly stopping at Manzanita for a few minutes to enjoy having run a mountainous marathon and then we made a rather significant mistake. The potable water was flowing, and both of us had about 3/4 of a liter left, but instead of refilling our bottles, we decided, per the original plan, to refill back at Cottonwood Campground, where there had been water in the morning. Unfortunately two miles later at Cottonwood Campground, having covered those seven miles downhill in 1:37, the water spicket was dry, there was maybe 1 ounce that came out, and by that point we each had less than half a liter. We decided it was "only" 7 miles down a 4% grade, let's just go run it, and filter water if we need. Running 7 miles down 1,300 feet seems like the kind of thing you could easily do on a half liter of water. Well, the problem was it was now into the 80s and mostly sunny. Thank God there was a thin cloud for a good portion of this run because we quickly became dehydrated. (I was doing a fair bit of praying at the time, it's pretty common for me on these sort of adventures.)

This section from mile 28 to 35, while not technically the crux or the hardest part, is in my mind now, the key to the whole adventure. M and I both wore short sleeve shirts and shorts, and we didn't bring any long sleeve or jackets. So while the start had been freezing, it was perfect for this section, we were going as light as we could, which again helped us move quickly in the afternoon heat. However, because we were both dehydrated, our bodies were not craving the carbohydrate food we had brought either, which slowed us down even more. And once you dig yourself in a hole on an ultra run, even if it's not that deep, it's awfully hard to get out of it. Eventually, about three miles in, as I was having to sit for a minute every half mile or so in patches of shade we made the call to stop the next time the trail and river were close and in the shade. That happened about a mile later, when I was down to a few ounces of water. M had the filter and stepped over to the creek and filled one of my bottles. As I sat on a rock and gulped the half liter, my body immediately started sweating profusely. I had been sweating a little, but it just poured out of me as my body realized it was no longer in dehydration mode. I filled up another liter of water and we ran the three miles to Phantom Ranch. Along the way I had to pee, and there was not much that came out and it was not at all the color you want to see. 

I did a lot of mountain traverses and link ups this summer involving 8+ hour days. However, a mountain is quite different than the Grand Canyon. When you start in the morning on a mountain it is cold, and often stays a similar temperature as you ascend to the summit. With the cooler temperatures you might not need to drink as much or eat as much. However when you turn around and go down, the day has usually warmed up so you can shed layers, and drink a lot more, and eat any food you have left. When you reach a stream crossing between two mountains, it's often the warmest time of a traverse or link up, so purifying water and drinking it feels right. Rim to Rim to Rim is different. It starts out the coldest it will be for the day and immediately gets warmer as you descend. As you do the bottom section and go back up the other side, the temperature is relatively consistent for hours. When you are on top of one of the rims, it's cool and so you don't feel the need to drink as much. However, the second time you drop down into the canyon, it's afternoon in a lower altitude desert, and you need to drink a lot, and you really have to plan the water stops.

At Phantom Ranch we took a solid 20 minute break to drink and eat and sit down. Both of us were craving fat, like a milk or cheese at this point.  At this point 35 miles in with the crux of the route remaining, we both knew it was basically going to be a hike out, between the dehydration and eating less than 1000 calories each, we were not getting out of the canyon quickly. It took 3:41 from the time we stopped for water until reaching the parking lot at the top, a section we had run down in 1:01. Had we had better hydration and nutrition earlier in the day, we could have easily trimmed an hour off of that.

With 1.5 miles to go M carried the empty backpack of a woman who had twisted her ankle and who's husband was trying to carry her out. The two of them seemed pretty competent and self sufficient, apparently she had already limped something like 8 miles since twisting her ankle, and was almost at the top. With a half mile to go the sunset was dark enough I turned my headlamp that I had carried all day and not used so far. I turned around to see the people we had passed on the way up and there was a string of more than a dozen headlamps heading up to the South Rim in the dark. Lesson learned, definitely bring a headlamp to the Grand Canyon, I almost left mine behind.

I finished in a total time of 11:52, and moving time of about 10:31. I definitely want to do it again, in under 10 hours, I know I can do that. The April 2021 trip might be a more measured effort in the 12-14 hour range. At the top we had enough cell service for a text message to our support crew who drove up the road and picked us up. We drove into Tusayan and had drive through McDonalds, I devoured a milkshake and spicy chicken sandwich with extra mayonnaise, which I had also been craving. That was a first, craving mayonnaise They were delicious! We were all caked with dirt from the canyon, and spending another night sleeping in the dirt didn't sound appealing, so we booked a hotel in Flagstaff and drove there before showering and collapsing. The next day we drove the 11 or so hours back to Denver with many stops to stretch and walk a little.

What will I do differently next time?

  • Start earlier. M and I are both somewhat fast, so aiming for sub 10 hours and a leisurely 6:45 AM start to running was very reasonable, and with him I'd do again. But with a slightly slower or less experienced group, I think leaving the South Rim at 5 or 5:30 AM is probably a good idea. For two reasons, one, it will help most people slow down on the descent because you would be running in the dark, and two, when night falls it's demoralizing, and so finishing in the daylight is highly preferred.
  • Bring some fat and protein to eat. Specifically there are some one ounce cheese slices that are individually packed and bringing 2-4 of those would be a huge boost. Also, I'll probably bring some Mini Moo's half and half shots, they are only 10 calories each, but my body was craving them on this run.
  • Drink more in general, and specifically refill my water bottles when I have the chance, like at Manzanita. 
What did we do right, that really worked?
  • Short sleeves and running shorts with no backup clothing. Yes, I realize this is a huge risk to not bring more clothing, but for people who are really planning to do this 43 mile adventure, sub 4 hour marathon types, carrying an extra 8 ounces of spare clothing or even more will slow you down a little and you don't really need it.
  • We brought headlamps, even if you only use it for 15 minutes like I did, it's worth it.
  • Each of us had two liters of water capacity. Most of the time I only had one liter of water on me because many of the sections take 90 minutes or less, which again helped us move faster, but having the extra capacity of a second liter was used, especially hiking up both sides of the canyon on 2.5+ hour sections.
  • Navigating is easy. Most of the trail is 4 feet wide, it feels a little like you have to try to get off the trail, but every year there are rescues of people that get off the trail and quickly get lost, which I would understand if you get off the trail because it can be disorienting.
  • Living at altitude before attempting this. I've started to take for granted the last two years that I can just show up almost anywhere in North America and not worry about the altitude, where as people who live near sea level would struggle with hard exertion at 8,000 feet elevation.
Thanks for reading!

Saturday, November 14, 2020

A New, Positive, Perspective

 The last few weeks have been rough. #understatement 

Work has been eventful... and I mean stressful for me. After not shipping one of our products since September 2019, we shipped five in eight days. Shipping is stressful as it's letting our works of art out into public to be judged. I took a new role in September, and whew it's been difficult! I took it, because the last two people in that role quit and who else was going to do it? Yet I quickly learned why it's so difficult. It's a nexus for both information, and physical hardware, and when any aspect of those two things don't get done a certain way by a certain time, it falls to this role. In my previous role I was responsible on the digital and information side, which is a strong suit for me, now I'm getting into the actual hardware too, which contains more data. I'll get back to that. Plus, not sure you've seen, but the USA had an election recently and Covid-19 cases are skyrocketing around the country.

Add it all up and I felt overwhelmed. 

My boss, who I am very open about with my struggles, offered to go to lunch, and as we were heading out the door, another coworker, and very good friend of my boss, who I'll call A, asked to come with us. I was planning to tell my manager the struggles of the day, but A beat me to it, by going on a ten minute description of the issues he was working on. It blew my mind! I was aware of two issues he brought up, but a few others were new to me. I also realized, 'wait, I can help here.' I have the skills to maybe not help with these immediate issues, but I can make sure that in three weeks, he won't have to deal with these issues again, at least for the next 9+ months... until we have another ground up redesign effort, but possibly never again, if we can front load some existing software tools we use.

Ten minutes later when we were eating and I was then asked about what was up in my world, I said with a small laugh, "I think A about covered it." My first thought about what I was feeling in that moment was, 'misery loves company' but that's not exactly the feeling or perspective change I had. My mind shift was more, 'the things that are stressing me out are stressing me out because I'm currently responsible for them in a way that I have not been before. So I kind of don't know what I'm doing. But! We are nearing the end of this surge and it is a great time to reevaluate HOW we do things so that a person does not get put in my position, or for that matter A's position during the next surge.' In other words, exactly what I came to a startup to do, build a company by building the processes and roles to systematically create a physical product where there previously was none. In the depths of the trenches I've been in the last few weeks, I've only seen the mud, not the whole battlefield. However, I've now been at the company through three product kickoffs and two product launches, in addition to the kickoffs and launches that I saw at my previous company. I have the experience.

Point being, it's easiest to map a process when you've done every step of it, or at least witnessed them all. And once you have a map, you can get from start to finish more reliably without getting lost, which makes the stress levels go down. You can onboard people and describe to them how to do it. Ultimately you can optimize the process. And my manager actually suggested to me this week, I should write all this down, so that we don't forget it, so that we don't have things fall through the cracks. Honestly, I'm delighted to go spend some time working on that. It's great when you have a thought about going to do something that needs to be done, and then your boss has the same thought and gives you the assignment. 

To step out more broadly, my family and closest friends are taking Covid-19 super seriously. As a competitive runner, I don't want any lasting lung or heart damage from getting the disease. I'm only socializing with a single person in this current wave. She's the only person in my Covid-19 bubble. And seeing all of these people I care about take it so seriously, I have a lot of hope that through Zoom calls, phone calls, texts and some socially distanced outdoor adventures we'll make it through this winter just fine. Oh we'll drink too much alcohol, and have lots of negative depressing thoughts, and anxiety when we have to interact with strangers, but ultimately we won't be dying. I read in an article today, "If you're not dead, you're winning."

So I'm optimistic. We're going to get through this. I'm going to get through this. 2020 is a learning experience that we will all pass on to future generations. As my blog is titled, we are learning to do, and in this case the doing is very difficult right now, and many will suffer mental health effects for a long time, let alone the hundreds of thousands of dead Americans. Many people have been humbled this year, which is often a hard experience, but I'm optimistic that will allow us to help each other heal in years to come.

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

How do we Deescalate the United States?

Syria, Columbia, Kenya, Sri Lanka, Rwanda... The United States is approaching an emotional election. Haha, back in 2012 and 2004 I thought those were somewhat emotional, this feels like a whole other level, especially after I read articles like this. I am a proudly unaffiliated voter (the technical term for what most call independents). I feel that the party system takes away from being American. In other words, being a Democrat or Republican takes mental energy away from being a United States citizen, and also gives you a pressure for to how you should vote regardless of your personal opinions. I have a range of opinions and ideals, not just "conservative" or "liberal". 

I made this chart based on my estimates from the article linked above, so I have almost no idea if they are realistic, but it seems in the ball park. You can't even see the insurgents portion of the chart above, but that's the Oklahoma City bombing, Charleston church shooting, Christchurch mosque shooting, and every other domestic terrorism incident, like the ones that some unfortunate places like Afghanistan or Pakistan have frequently. Frankly, if you enter the militant phase, where you are bringing a gun to a Denver protest or looking for a fight, something like the October Denver protest shooting caught on film that shows a person dying in five seconds, you should ask why you are doing this. How did that person hurt you? What did that person take away from you? How did that person make your life worse? Did you ever bother to tell that person specifically how he or she made your life worse?

The point is, those of us in the masses and the movements need to step up and say "that's not okay" when people show up at protests with bats and guns. When we're doing our online talking we need to keep it civil. I realized years ago that had I grown up in Germany in the 1920s and 1930s I would have been a Nazi, and personally I think I would have done really well as a Nazi. I could have been persuaded when I was a teenager that it was right. Now I've matured and learned a lot and I don't ever see myself working at a concentration camp as a career prospect. But that's a hard lesson! It's way harder to be a Dietrich Bonhoeffer or Martin Luther King Jr. than an anonymous soldier standing beside your friends hurting the enemy. 

I don't have the answer. Well... except to say love is the answer. For anyone that's read the Bible, specifically the four Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke or John, it's super clear that Jesus came to share God's love with us. How many of us actually extend love to people other than our family? There is a homeless person living in his van behind my apartment. We, United States society, have failed that able bodied young man in his 20s. So the statement that now guides most of my voting these days is a Jesus quote from the Bible Matthew 22:39, "And the second is like it, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'" How can I, how can we, better love our neighbors and even our enemies, including the homeless people living on the street behind my apartment complex?

Monday, August 31, 2020

To Succeed as an Employee in a Startup Company...

I'm nearing two years at this little startup company, and we've changed a number of times since I got here. I'm on my fourth organizational structure and third boss. In the last org shake up my boss and I headed the same direction and I'm actually the only person from his old reports that still report to him. Funny enough, I'm actually the only person in my group, my box of the org chart. We're hiring!

We've had a few people leave recently, two nearing 10 years total experience in their 30s and two in their younger 20s, like 23-24. When you break down each person's reasons for leaving they all make sense. Yet, in such a small and young company there is a big sense of loss with each departure. So I've been thinking about why they left and what we might have done differently to either keep them longer, or give them a better picture of the work they were going to do here. And I had a realization...

In a big established company people who are professionally successful are good at going through the existing processes and producing work in accordance with those norms, and people who are comfortable navigating the bureaucracy of a large complicated organization. In a really small company, like less than 20 people, maybe up to 35 people, the ones who are successful get things done. Pure and simple they just produce results. However, to thrive in a startup as it grows you can't just be a person that gets things done, or a person that follow the processes. This has taken me a long time to articulate... Success for a person in a startup comes from being able to just get things done, and then articulate and communicate the process you used to get things done, so that it can be replicated and scaled up. 

Realizing that was a game changer for me in the last few days. Of course as the company grows the quality expectations grow too so processes necessarily get more complicated with more checks to poor work. We had a person leave a few months ago who was good at getting things done, but she was pretty terrible about articulating all of the things she did or communicating those things to people. She had previously worked at a startup where there were three engineers for the whole five years she was there, so all of the engineers knew everything about the product. At our company the product is too complex for any one person to know all of the details. However, the flip side of that is that we don't have the formal processes that a 50 year old company has, so on boarding new people can be a little chaotic and I think we struggle to articulate the expectations. For example, a person with 10 years at established companies might be exasperated at the pace of product change and in particular at the lack of rigor that sometimes happens when we make a change to our product. On the other hand the new graduate has no frame of reference for what it's like to work at a company with established processes so she is free to change things that would never be permitted for such an inexperienced person at a larger company.

Honestly, my company has had a lot of failures when it comes to articulating (which is something you can do in your own head) and communicating how we do things. In particular, we bring people in, we don't give them all the information about how someone else used to do that job, and we expect them to do the job even as we double in size and the requirements from that position change. When I read entrepreneurs writing about how hard it is to build a company, I get it now. Let me put that another way, people crave a process. That's a good article linked there by the way. So I haven't actually been promoted in two years, so take my advice with a grain of salt. However, I have quantified, clarified, and attempted to communicate the processes that I work most closely with and as a result people often default to my processes for things that really might be better suited to a different process. While this may not have resulted in my being promoted, it definitely has affected my peers who seem to enjoy this small amount of structure that we have to document our work. 

Taking the next leap, I've been thinking quite a bit more this summer about a company I'd like to start. The core technology isn't ready yet, but it could be in the next year or two. So all of the hurdles that I am going through with my current company are excellent examples of what to do and what not to do. I think that I've learned enough that I could seriously cut a year of development time from company founding to product launch, maybe even in only four years. Of course, I'm waiting for a certain technology item to be somewhat proven before I launch, and right now it is clearly not proven, so I'm still learning.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

An Ultralight Ice Axe

I can't help myself. When an idea gets in my head that I can make something better, I go out there and make it. It's not super common, but it happens. Most of you have probably seen it, but if you haven't I designed a 2.5 ounce ice axe to be used on short steep sections of snow and ice, like you might encounter on a rock climb or a run in the mountains. I made some prototypes which worked exactly as intended, and now I'm offering it to anyone that wants one by funding my Kickstarter campaign:

It's super niche, not for everyone, not for Mt. Rainier type of climbs, but for Rocky Mountain National Park type of adventures, and 14er adventures when there is still a fair amount of snow to cross. If it's something you might use I'd be delighted if you would be a part of this project, thank you!

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Nolan's 14: Third Attempt and Failure

For the third time I attempted Nolan's 14 and failed. First was in 2014 unsupported, the second was supported in 2016, and then again supported starting July 1st. Well, a few hours before my running partner M and I started, Joey Campanelli started going South to North as well, and he smashed the record by about 5.5 hours, taking it down to just over 41 hours. I knew it was possible, and now someone did it. Funny that we started within hours of him, I mean, between the full moon, the summer solstice and the good weather, it was a good day to try.

I'm not actually that disappointed about this failure at the moment. When we were on Princeton and falling behind my idealistic schedule I debated stopping. But one of the thoughts I had was, 'if I stop now, on my third attempt, will I ever do it?' Now, two days later as I limp around my apartment with a clearly injured left lower leg I realize how ridiculous that thought is. I enjoy those mountains so much, that I could easily end up attempting Nolan's 14 every year for the next two decades.

We started up Shavano right at daybreak so that we didn't have to take headlamps. From there over to Antero and then down to the town of Alpine it was seven hours to the minute. I was pretty happy because it felt easy and that's 45 minutes faster than on the training run we had a few weeks ago. Joey did that section in 5:40.

Princeton was not as smooth. It's a loose mountain. Coming down I fell three times, one of those times I stood on about a one ton rock, that was resting on another one ton rock, and they both moved so I fell in an upside down way. When everything stopped my feet were uphill of my body and my butt is still sore from hitting first, which I am thankful for because it's a somewhat padded part of my body.

When we reached the Colorado trail we began running again, and it was delightful! All the negative thoughts went away and I felt confident we were going to do the whole route. We had some pizza thanks to W our crew when we hit the valley and at dusk started up Yale. The exact route we did I have not done, so it was a little disorienting. We weren't moving too fast, in particular I wasn't moving too fast. At 12:45 AM when we finally made the summit M was tired and my leg was not so happy, so we decided to hike down to the the trail and sleep. Unsaid was, 'this is probably going to be calling it quits'. The descent was painful on my lower left leg, and then my shoes appear to be a half size too small, so my toes were hating me on the steep off trail descent down Yale. As we hiked the 1.5 or so miles out on the trail we passed two groups of two starting up Columbia via the normal trail. It was so strange to have been out all day, that the next day's hikers were starting.

We slept for three hours, on the hope that I (we) would feel good enough to go back out there, but it was not to happen. We lounged around by the trailhead and bathroom for a bit then went into Buena Vista and had lunch and drove back to Denver. I don't know exactly what happened to my left ankle/lower leg but it's still swollen two days after finishing and I'm limping around when I walk.

Colorado mountains are a great playground. What I mean is they are big enough to take effort to get up and down, but they are small enough that the risk is generally quite small. Meaning, in Asia the mountains are so big that you can't really afford to make mistakes or you will get hurt badly, but making a mistake on a 14er or a 13er is usually something that is somewhat easy to recover from. Of course on technical routes it doesn't matter if it's 40 feet tall or 4000 feet tall if you fall and hit your head.

What's next? I have four official 14ers and six if you count the unofficial ones left to do and I think there is a very good chance I finish them up in July.

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Good Days

If you ever have the opportunity to break two bones and partially tear two ligaments in your ankle, politely decline the opportunity. I really don't recommend it. I ran a 20:55 5k, on a track, two weeks ago. Almost anytime 2009 through 2017 I would have lapped myself twice.

Saturday I ran over three 14ers, Shavano, Tabeguche, and Antero... and I felt so good my climbing partner M and I started up Princeton before thunder at treeline turned us around. It was clearly the best I have felt in the mountains in three years. The feeling was beautiful. While I was working hard, at all times I had the capacity to push the pace more than I was. That's how I want to feel in the mountains.

After our retreat I drove back to the awesome city of Longmont where I live. During the day I saw a total of nine rainbows, ten if you count a double rainbow as two, most on the drive back to Denver. As I walked up the stairs to my third floor apartment, after 10,004 feet of vertical hiking on 14ers, I was exhausted and ready for bed. It was a full day with a couple of my friends. As I get older I realize how precious days like this are, even if we get snowed and rained on like we did, we had some laughs out there, and S and M are two good friends I look forward to more time with.

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

When I see a Rainbow

The other day, actually a few weeks ago now, I bicycled up Flagstaff Mountain on the edge of Boulder. At the top, waiting for my friend, I was sipping and gurgling water and coughing, making everyone else nervous in this pandemic I suppose. As I would take a sip of water and spit it out, a small rainbow would appear in the spray at 6:45 PM as the sun set through some light clouds. Long enough I could definitely see it, but not long enough to be a normal rainbow, let alone a double or triple rainbow.

In Genesis God says that a rainbow will be the sign that he will never again destroy the world like he did in the flood. (Yes, I realize for non Christians, talking about the flood is blasphemy because if the flood really happened, than a lot of other stuff in the Bible most likely happened too.) Personally I take it one step further when I see a rainbow, even, or maybe especially, when it's in the spit that comes from my coughing mouth in a pandemic as I go through a breakup. I see it as a sign that God loves me.

The last time I spent time with my most recent ex we saw a double rainbow. We were no longer dating at the time, it was the first time since we broke up that we physically spent any time together. For me it was a test to see if I could tolerate being around her, and fortunately I could. We still laughed. As I drove back down from the mountains after rock climbing in a snow storm (not exaggerating) without working windshield wipers in the rain (again not exaggerating) we saw a double rainbow, and I realized it would be okay. God loves me. I don't have much of a clue what that means or what he has in store for me, and after a pulmonary embolism and torn ankle ligaments to deal with the last 27 months, I'm very ready for a little pleasant resolution. But the point remains, God, the big man up there calling the shots when he wants to (and not calling the shots sometimes), is looking out for me. He's not going to spare me pain, just read about Dietrich Bonhoeffer, but the events in my life are ultimately all for His good plan, whatever that is.

Sunday, June 7, 2020

Monday I Cried

I learned last weekend that a friend of mine for over eight years has never cried in front of his fiancé, or me. Might have to dive into that another time. I cried Monday on the drive to work listening to NPR about the protests the night before. Just a few tears. The average cry session is eight minutes and my commute during the pandemic is just over 20 minutes, but this session was only three minutes or so.

I only have a few African American friends. I actually have more friends that are born and raised Africans than African American. In other words, most of my friends are white, Hispanic, or Asian, so I have trouble relating to the experience of people of color in the USA. Yet I've heard the stories of different encounters some of them have had that simply blow my mind, because I don't have those kind of encounters. For example, I haven't been pulled over by the police while driving at all since I went through a yellow light back in 2011.

I haven't watched the 9:31 minute long video of George Floyd being suffocated... because we've seen this before, Philando Castile and Terence Crutcher were the two videos I watched in 2016 that changed me. I just cannot imagine myself ever being in those two situations and getting killed. One challenge is, I know police officers, they don't set out to get into those situations, at all. We live in a world where everything is video taped now, people are going to be held accountable for things that they would not have been even 10 years ago let alone 25. I kind of come at this from a quality control and Six Sigma perspective (hope that's not cold...) meaning as a society we keep trying to get better. However, as the overall quality improves, getting down into the nitty gritty corner cases actually poses harder deeper questions. It's like commercial airline safety, two pilots, basically all instrument flight rules, maintenance is meticulous, certification of the aircraft type is meticulous (737-Max excepted...), and so when there are incidents like the 737-Max crashes or George Floyd's death, it can be hard to overcome, because we've already tried the easy options.

Today I briefly attended the Boulder Black Lives Matter protest. It was mostly on accident, and the crowd was so big I didn't stay long because we are still in a pandemic and I don't want to get sick. I don't know what change looks like, because I already have equality with basically everyone else I want equality with, but obviously many people don't have the opportunities I have had. So I cried.

Point being, Jesus love you. He love me and everyone else too regardless of the sinful things we can change about ourselves but repeatedly fail to change or the things we can't change about ourselves.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Patience and the Blah

We're in a pandemic. We're also in minimum a recession, perhaps a depression. On top of all that I'm processing a breakup, a pay-cut and turning 34. Thankfully I started therapy back in February.
View from my balcony this morning.
I took vacation this past week, and I spent some of the time basically in a state of "blah" like my mind wasn't really actively working that hard. I just completed my portion of a big project at work that we've spent months working on, and I needed a break. But a break can be uncomfortable.

Meaning, when I go to sleep at night I am alone, and when I wake up I am alone. I spent four days this week in the mountains, attempted four mountains and summitted three, all alone. When I think about work, I know I'm at a startup, and I'm super happy we've made it as far as we have. The progress we have made in the last year is tremendous! Yet when we have a pay-cut because there is uncertainty about having enough money to support operations, I'm worried about the next hard conversation, will there be layoffs or even worse? Most likely not, we have such great talent that getting aquihired seems to me the worst case scenario. Of course, that doesn't include any effects from the pandemic. And on the dating side we've now been broken up longer than we actually dated. The whole relationship kind of blindsided me. Yes it was mostly what I was looking for but now that it ended, I again ask God, "What are you trying to teach me?! What is your plan for my life?! I'm 34!"

Point being, this is a time, in my life, and many other's I suppose, where I'm being required to have patience, more that I care to have. With all of the restrictions, I can't just go out to a bar with a friend and hang out and talk and empathize, so I'm spending time in a blah state of mind, not processing things as quickly as I used to pre-pandemic. But it's 57F and sunny with no wind right now and I'm very thankful to live in this expensive apartment with a great view and plenty of space as I spend so much time home alone. It will be very interesting to see how the world is in a few years, will we all be more patient and caring towards each other, or fearful and mistrusting? I suppose some will go one way and others the other way. Years ago my dad talking about people that lived through the Great Depression tended to fall into two groups financially speaking, those with lots of fear for the future who pinched pennies, and those that lived for today. I think we'll see the same, financial independence will probably become more popular, and so will partying like it's the last party you will ever get to go to. I don't know. But those that survive the pandemic will get to find out.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

What's the value in one ounce?

I'm in the market for a set of hiking poles. I have adjustable ski poles, which work great, but they aren't super light or very compact, measuring about 2.5 feet long when collapsed. Comparing non-adjustable poles there is a set of the aluminum poles at 12.5 ounces for $75, and essentially the same pair in carbon fiber at 10 ounces for $128. Over $50 to save 2.5 ounces!? There is a saying in bicycling that the cheapest pound to save is the pound around your midsection. Meaning, most of us could put in a few weeks of moderate workouts and eat a few salads to lose a single pound instead of spend another $1000 on carbon fiber bicycle accessories.

Back to the trekking pole discussion, the vast majority of the time, I don't see a need for trekking poles. In general I do for heavy packs or long easy snow stretches, where the slope is too low for an ice axe but you want something to keep balance and distribute the weight. However, in my ankle recovery, I've found I'm a bit more wobbly in some other scenarios too, in particular crossing logs over creeks. I've seen people fall in before and the past year I've had a few missteps and gotten a foot full of water more than once. As I learned on my recently little trek into the Chicago basin, especially with early season conditions, where you are wearing running or approach shoes, but spending a lot of time on snow, having some poles can be very nice.

I ended up buying the aluminum ones. You'll probably see them in a picture eventually. They haven't shipped yet.

Saturday, May 9, 2020

How to Cope when Life Feels Hopeless

Well, one friend had a bit of a suicidal moment a few weeks ago, many have been laid off or furloughed and many, like myself now, have had pay cuts. Strangely I don't personally know anyone that has the Covid-19 coronavirus, but friends of friends do, and even some people that have some say over me financially.  So I was asked not long ago how do I cope, how have I coped with difficult times. Let me tell you, my life hasn't been all roses, but I have lots of strategies, although not all are available to everyone.
  • Take a walk. It's simple and even in this pandemic you can probably find a place to do it while avoiding other people. I recommend finding the most expensive neighborhood you can around you and walking around their streets or sidewalks. The houses are usually so spaced out, and police often cruise through those neighborhoods that you're likely to be alone.
  • Go for a run or a bicycle ride. When I hit the lowest point in October 2010, living in my parents basement, on a $500 a month bail out fund, massively in debt, exercise was one of the main ways that I kept myself motivated. It paid off as I had a good spring racing season in 2011.
  • Talk about it with someone. I currently am seeing a therapist weekly for video chats. Also, family and friends works too. It's nice to articulate your particular stresses with others, misery loves company, and no one is alone in this.
  • Don't talk about it. To be honest, sometimes you just won't want to talk about it or think about it, and that's okay too. Moderation is good.
  • Play some video games. I have an old Play Station 1 from like 1996, I won it in a contest and I didn't even know what it was at the time. In the fall of 2010 I spent dozens of hours playing Command and Conquer. In the winter of 2010 when I lived with some friends I played Call of Duty and Forza while my three roommates worked and after I had applied for all of the new jobs every morning.
  • Watch some movies. For me Forrest Gump is my go to cry movie, and sometimes you just need a good cry. Or maybe Star Wars or Indian Jones or Back to the Future are the kind of out there adventures you need to transport you away from not knowing if you will be able to pay all of your bills in June. 
  • Apply for a job. When I was unemployed, simply applying for a job, any job, gave me a little boost of energy that maybe this would be the one. Maybe this would be what got me back on my feet financially, and give me a purpose. 
  • Read about the Great Depression or the Plague in the 1300s or other terrible historical event. For all of those difficult times, your ancestors survived and you are here now. Both Kohler and Railway Motors during the Great Depression had so little work but such commitment to their employees that they reduced the assembly line workers down to one day a week, that's a 80% pay cut from working a standard five days a week, let alone overtime on weekends. Yet, for many people or families that might be enough to keep a roof over their heads or some food on the table. Speaking for myself, I could survive on an 80% pay cut. I'd definitely need to find a cheaper place to live, and cut out lots of spending and saving, but it's possible. I just ran the numbers, I could take about a 50% pay cut and still live where I live. But when you think about a 50% pay cut, you can save a lot of jobs with that kind of drastic cut. Plus, some people might go find work elsewhere to return to their normal salaries, which further reduces a company's expenses.
  • Save money like next month you will end up out of work for a year. If you haven't been doing this the last ten years then you kind of missed the boat, but assuming you survive the pandemic, you'll get another shot at it. For myself, the last nine years I've saved a lot of money. Not as much as I could have, because I went to Mt. Everest twice, just bought a BMW, have gone skiing plenty, have a carbon fiber road bicycle, and spent plenty on smaller climbing trips. However, as I wrote in my recent Emergency Fund (Advanced Edition) I've been building up little pockets of financial resources for the scenario that I get laid off next week, every week for the last nine years. I think this whole pandemic is going to drive my generation to try and achieve financial independence even faster than the Great Recession did. I'm definitely not financially independent, but I'm in such a strong position compared to 2010 that if my life would revert to 2010, things got really bad in this country.
  • Get a $4 coffee. For me coffee shops are one of the luxuries in my life. It used to be going to the coffee shop and doing something on my laptop for an hour or two, but now it's just to pick up the coffee (and maybe sit in one of the outside chairs actually). This process or act did a number of things for me. It tastes good! And it costs a fraction of the cost of going to a fancy restaurant. It gave me a place to blog or apply for jobs, where as sometimes at home I can get distracted by TV or movies. Paying that little bit of money helps me feel like a contributing member of society. I'm helping keep that barista employed. Finally it's a little routine out of the house. When I was unemployed, just like during stay at home orders in this pandemic, I had nowhere to go, and going out for a $4 coffee gave me a little place to go that I could mostly afford. 
  • Work on a side project. You know what I'm talking about, that business idea that will probably never go anywhere, or that home improvement project or car repair you've been delaying. It will give you something productive to work on, and you'll feel better about making progress after it's done. In fact, I was doing a little mentoring, and Janzen Gear might not be dead after all...
Okay, that's all I have for today, I'm going to go bicycle a bit.

Monday, May 4, 2020

How Bad Will the Pandemic get in the USA?

Apparently you can publish papers based on statistical models of how bad you think a pandemic is going to be. That's just plain stupid. So I'm going to do a little of my own math and predictions for the Coronavirus Pandemic of 2020.

100,000 USA deaths by May 19th. 

I arrived at that on May 1st by estimating about 1900 Covid-19 deaths a day until we reach 100,000, and that's 19 more days from the 1st. I estimated 1900 deaths a day based on recent deaths of 2200-2400, and a general down trend in cases and deaths over the last two weeks, but a very minor one. I think deaths could be under 1000 per day by May 19th, but as long as we're seeing 25,000+ new cases per day, we're going to keep seeing a lot of deaths.

Second point, the University of Washington IHME predictions are terrible! Why? Because they've been screwing up Colorado Covid-19 deaths since March. We haven't had any zero death days since mid-March, but there are four days with zeros. This is simple data entry to feed the models. How are they getting this wrong? In short, their models are so broken they have basically no validity.
Example 2 for IHME: We're going to have over 120,000 Covid-19 deaths in the United States, but the upper bound of the model is 115,000 or so, with a median prediction that we are going to pass this week.

Final question, how many deaths will we see in the United States and world wide before this is over? I'm not sure, I think it will be on the scale of World War 2, but I'll leave that for another post.

Saturday, May 2, 2020

Emergency Fund (Advanced Edition)

If you read the experts they will talk about saving $1,000 first and then saving 3-6+ months of expenses in a savings account in case you are unemployed or have a medical emergency or maybe pandemic emergency. That's nice. It's simple and easy to understand, but there are probably many more tools at your disposal if you are facing a long stretch without income. So, I thought I might as well run through my personal list of ways you can survive in a financial emergency.
  1. First the savings account emergency fund itself. I only have about two months of expenses in mine at the moment. I had about four months but I dumped a bunch of money into the stock market in March. I really do think three months of expenses is a good baseline for most people. That's enough time to figure out things in an emergency. You can pay the next month of rent and bills without a worry, and figure out unemployment or usually find a new job.
  2. Introductory 0% interest rate credit cards, might not be high on anyone's list, but most have 12-15 month time frames where you only have to pay something like $30 a month, and if you are confident that in 12 months you will be back on your feet, it's a great way to save actual cash. I speak from experience here, I maxed out three credit cards in 2010. While I got killed on the interest later in 2010 and 2011, I paid two of them off in 2011 within months of starting working. Although I did live in my parents basement the first three months of work, so my expenses were super low. This essentially allows you to cut your cash flow expenses temporarily to basically just rent, health insurance, and various cell phone and utility bills. You have to pay it all back eventually, but it might save you from getting evicted, and it can definitely put food on the table and gas in the tank.
  3. Brokerage investment account is where I would turn next. Mine is not so big, about three months of expenses, but I could sell those stocks and again be able to pay rent. I realize that relatively few of my friends have brokerage accounts or know how to use them, but again, this is the advanced emergency fund blog post.
  4. Sell a car. I have two cars, one worth about one month and the other about two months of expenses. If things got bad, simply sell one. In fact, I'm actually thinking about selling one anyway.
  5. Take out cash from my whole life insurance policy. I know I know, whole life insurance is a terrible "product" but I have a policy anyway. I bought it because I had student loans at the time and it always pays out, whether I died the month after I started, today, or in 60 years, it will pay out more nominally than I put in. Plus, with my expeditions and flying airplanes, seems like a reasonable thing to have. Not everything does that. It has a small cash value, again about two months of expenses if I took it all out. 
  6. Take out my Roth IRA contributions. This is a tough one, only for dire emergencies. I used to contribute quite a bit to my Roth 401k at my old job and rolled it into my Roth IRA, plus I make regular Roth IRA contributions. I don't actually know how much I have in contributions, but it's somewhere over a year of expenses I believe. 
For me that's it. There are many smaller things like bicycles and climbing and skiing equipment I could sell too, but all of those together are maybe a little more than a month of expenses. Frankly, if it came to withdrawing from my Roth IRA, things are pretty bad, but that's part of the beauty of the Roth IRA, it's perfect as a backup emergency fund for when things get really bad. Similarly, a whole life insurance policy is stupid financially, but in a financial emergency it might be able to keep me afloat.

I realize that all of these options might not be available to many people and that I am fortunate to have these six levers to pull. Because of what I went through in 2010, I have offensively invested and saved and defensively built up my financial options so that when I am presented with that kind of financial difficulty like I went through in 2010, I'll be able to handle it without overdrawing checking accounts, like I did in 2010. Hopefully you are employed during this difficult time, but if you aren't, hopefully you can exercise some of these options to keep yourself afloat.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Individually, how do we return to physical socializing?

I'm not talking states, nations, counties or cities and the laws and restrictions they are imposing to stop the spread of the coronavirus, I'm talking about each one of us as individual humans. There are weekend days where I eat out for all three meals. It's not common, but it happens. I think the most takeout meals I've had in a week recently is three times. Other previously normal things, going into an office with 40 people. Going to church with 100 people. Going to a ski resort with who knows how many people, 1000? Sometimes I go to densely packed concerts or bars. Or at least I used to.

So what do we do individually to open up and return to socializing?

This weekend, I had dinner with two friends, who are both younger and in good health. It's the first time in over a month any of us has had dinner with anyone. We explicitly said we weren't sick, or hadn't been sick, as far as we knew. It wasn't an implicit agreement that there was a risk to seeing each other, we said it out loud. So for me, I think that's how I'm personally going to open up. Part of opening up will be going back into work, like sheep to the slaughter. But the part where it's my choice, those will be hikes and climbs and dinner with friends. No, I doubt I will go to restaurants when they open. I doubt I will be the first to go sing at church. I'm afraid to be too close to people or around large groups of any size.

In addition to my little social outings, I plan to space them out. In other words, while I could possibly hang out with four different little groups of one or two people over a weekend, I'm not going to do that. I may be contagious as I write this. That's the challenge, we just don't know, and you can't really get a test until you are sick and it's too late you've already spread it. So basically it's like hang out with A1, then hang out with J and K, and then wait a week before any more socializing. It's going to be that way for awhile. Church in particular scares me. Why? Everyone is over 50! They're just more likely to get really sick and die. When I see that 31% of people over 80 in Colorado who test positive die, that's a huge number!

We have to strike a balance. The world is not risk free. I don't think we can ask everyone to stay home except for going to the grocery store once a week, for six months without causing a host of other mental health problems, or even delayed care for other physical health issues that scares people away from going to the doctor. And, frankly, with 3 million cases of Covid-19 worldwide, we're not going to stamp it out this year. It will continue circulating, somewhere in the world until we reach herd immunity either through lots of sickness and death or a vaccine or most likely both. We need to be safe and keep our distance, but also let our loved ones know we love them. Finally, we need to be responsible and not put anyone at undue risk, and when we inevitably do get sick, be as clear as possible about others that might be sick too.

Monday, April 20, 2020

We are Living at the Perfect Time

When I was younger, I often wondered why I was alive now? I mean, it feels like I have a diverse set of skills, and I could have thrived at many periods earlier in history. The whole lifetime scientific progress of Ben Franklin or Leonardo Di Vinci can be understood by most graduate students these days. Of course, to a physics graduate student the majority of what Einstein did is understandable too, and we still haven't proven or disproven a fair portion of his work. However, it's always hardest to be first, or to push the limit in some way.

In the book "The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy" Earth is destroyed to make way for a super highway on the day that someone woke up with the answer to the question "what is the meaning of life?". Up until that point Earth was basically just an experimental computer to answer that question. A human, living experiment. In a similar way, each one of us is pushing the collective world forward, in some tiny little way. We all have a purpose, even though it doesn't feel like it all the time.

In other words, for my peers, I know we suffered at the start of our careers in the Great Recession, and now as many of us were just getting established we're having the coronavirus pandemic of 2020 to deal with. Not to mention the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that many fought in. Then assuming we survive all of this, we still have climate change, automation, and inequality to deal with. Any one of those three could lead to wars and famines if we aren't a little more generous and equitable with the wealth of the world.

The point is, I believe we are all here at this point in time because it's when we were meant to be. You weren't born in 2090 or 1890, you were born in 1990. That doesn't mean it's easy. That doesn't even mean you will survive the pandemic. But to me, it's like a fun puzzle, like a very interesting game, where you want to keep playing to see what happens. Along those lines, people are freaking out over the cover-19 coronavirus and the resulting recession we have entered, justifiably so, both are pretty serious, but I'm hoping we're going to have some roaring 20s, so please try and be patient as we get through this.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Colorado Startup Life: Week 84

Another week, being employed, working semi-hard. I worked six days, all but Easter, and it was like drinking from a firehose most of the time. Requests came in from all directions and while trying to address them all, I made a mistake.

I'm not actually upset about it. Usually I beat myself up when I make a mistake. However, I'm in therapy trying to look at the bigger picture. Frankly, I was rushed, and made a relatively simple error at 5:30 pm on Friday, on a project where I see a limited amount of value added. I didn't even know about it until Saturday morning. Sigh... It's just one of those errors where I'm like, 'eh, on to the next one.'

I ran 30.5 miles, didn't get a long run in this week because my ankle started acting up, specifically a tendon on the outside of my ankle.

We're going to get there, we're going to be okay, even it takes two years of this kind of shutdown. Here is the best article of the last couple days I have read about how we will open up from this shutdown/lockdown.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

India, Indonesia, Brazil and Pakistan Covid-19 Pandemic

India, Indonesia, Brazil and Pakistan are four of the world's six most populous countries, with the USA and China being the other two. I've been to all four of those, and let me tell you, you think the coronavirus pandemic of 2020 is bad in the USA? It's going to be worse in all of those countries. Brazil has a strong fighting chance, but the other three, have some big challenges. Why am I so pessimistic?
  1. Large populations, it's no secret larger populations have more people who might be infected with Covid-19.
  2. Dense urban centers. Sal Paulo, Islamabad, Pekanbaru, Mumbai... these are cities I've been to in those countries where people live in close quarters, and not all have electricity and clean running water, in any of those cities. It's a recipe for a virus to spread.
  3. General wealth of the country. This is a stand in for all things medical, because in short, a more wealthy country is going to be able to mobilize doctors, nurses, ventilators, medications, etc. better than a poorer country. Again, Brazil has a strong chance here, and frankly India and Indonesia do too, but not like the USA has.
The big upside those four countries do have is younger populations. Covid-19 is affecting older people far worse overall than younger people. Sure, it's still killing people in their 20s and 30s, but it's far more deadly to people in their 60s, 70s and 80s. An upside for Indonesia and parts of Pakistan and Brazil are that islands and very remote areas make frequently contact with urban centers not too common. In other words, being a little remote in 2020 will turn out to be a good thing. 

In short, I fear for, and pray for, my friends and acquaintances in those countries, because their risks are so high. If countries are going to get herd immunity, it's going to be countries like those first before the wealthy countries like the USA. Oh my heart breaks thinking of the people that need to work every day or they starve!

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Colorado Startup Life: Week 83

I ran only 27.2 miles last week. It's kind of the upside of the week, despite being a big dip from last week. I purposely took Sunday off after a step up of 12 miles last Saturday, then ran Monday but work was a bit stressful this week so I didn't run Tuesday through Thursday. Friday things eased up a little and I want for a run again. Saturday I went big and did 14.6 miles! That's the longest run post ankle breaking I've had. Oh I'm older now and my ankle was sore after, but I'm okay. I mean... that's training. Building mileage I have always found to be the hardest and as I get older and deal with more significant setbacks that is definitely true.

I went into work on Palm Sunday, and then every normal work day. We made a lot of good progress this week, but it had it's stressful moments. In particular, I sometimes send out a daily update email on our progress when we're nearing a product release. I'm not really a fan because day to day progress can vary widely, and seems to bring up more questions than answers. I'm more a fan of weekly updates because that's how you can see progress or not. These aren't simple engineering tasks we're dealing with and we can't just work harder and do 30% more every day. Sometimes you can, but frequently you can't.

On top of that, this was the fourth week of people working remote. It's an adventure. Everyone is a little more on edge. We all want the same thing, but when we can't "see" people at their desks working on it, it's hard to know that work is getting done. It is getting done, quite a bit too. Frankly, when it comes to hardware companies (not software or services) we have got to be one of the best positioned to weather this crisis. We can build products with 2-5 people in the office (should be two with better communication, but it's more like five at the moment as we figure out communication). We can then test products with four people. That's it. We don't need 200 people on an assembly line to make our product. We're very very engineering intensive and low on the actual number of assembly and test people needed. Honestly, it's a pretty great spot to be as a company in April 2020.

I have mixed feelings on the Covid-19 coronavirus. A part of me thinks, 'we're all, or at least 40% of us are going to get this before we get a vaccine, might as well get it now.' Another part of me thinks, 'if I get this, I will inevitably spread it to someone over 60 who will die.' Another part of me wonders, 'if we value each life at $9 million in the USA, how long can we shut down the discretionary part of the economy before we just give up and try and try to go back to normal?' Reopening the country is going to be interesting. The adventures I'm planning for the coming months are all a little stealthy. Meaning, the only real infrastructure I need for them are gas stations and roads that are still open. Everything else I could possibly carry with me.

The weather is going to be a little bad this week, and I'll be in the office, so fairly bland as far as the blog goes. Although, hopefully we get past my portion of the product release, which is a pretty huge accomplishment.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Communicating to Different People

I have a friend, who has been asking on and off for a year or so about how to get set up for retirement. As far as I know she has not opened a Roth IRA yet, because it seems overwhelming to her. In the past month I dumped about $5,000 into various company stocks that were tanking from the pandemic recession. While I'm delighted to tell you I bought Boeing for $101.45 a share and AT&T for $26.28, how do I describe to a person, a very educated person, how to simply open a Roth IRA? It's night and day. A different friend bought puts on a company back in February, and while I've never actually bought or sold and options or puts, I understood it (and he might have made thousands on it). Yet there is this huge gulf where people don't even have investing accounts. Frankly, 48% of Americans 55 and older do not have any money in a 401(k) or IRA.

I work in a role that is highly, highly cross functional. I work with all the departments. Lately I've been stressing out (and I'm in therapy in large part because of it) because I don't know how to communicate with the different groups in ways they understand. My friend who wants to get into a self directed retirement account (she has a 401(k)), but missed out on the recent 23% gain is a great analogy for communication with a person who has very different experiences and ways of communicating.

Here's another example, give me a map, any kind of map, a flight map, a topography map, a road map, and I'll get to where we want to go. But some people need to know the exact distance between each turn. Some people need to see what each intersection looks like before they get to it. Some people can't find themselves on any map.

The point is, communication has to be tailored to the audience to be effective. Each one of us has skills. Sometimes we don't even realize our skills, but we definitely notice when that is not someone else's skill.

When we are entering a critical time at work every 6-12 months around a product release or entering a pandemic I tell people the same thing, "Be patient. Keep Communicating." Yes I came up with it myself. Because impatience often leads to not only yourself getting upset, but others getting upset. And often, communication can mitigate those issues. The problem is, when one person stops communicating well, and starts being impatient, it spreads, other people get impatient and then stop communicating well.

I don't have the answer. I mean, being patient and keeping communicating totally helps, but ultimately it's a two way street. Another way to put it is the best teacher in the world can still have a student fail because the teacher's attempts to communicate in different ways doesn't inspire the student to want to learn.

Where am I going with this? Try. Try to communicate. Try to understand the people you are communicating with. Don't just give up. I've done four 24 hour races and essentially flopped in three of them, but the one that went well, it went quite well, and I look forward to doing that again. So hang in there. Take another step. Keep going. And worst case, if you can't figure out the communication, at least you know you tried.

Monday, April 6, 2020

I Went to Work Today

In my role at my company I'm kind of the liaison between design and manufacturing. We're nearing a big milestone and it was requested I go into the office while we sort out this product build. For the record I offered to go in. So for approximately a week I'll be in the office. I wore a buff over my face most of the day except to eat or drink. Wow, the world has changed.

We have free coffee at work, so I made the first pot this morning, and touched two buttons and three  handles to make it. In the last three weeks I touched approximately five communal handles total in like 22 days. Two at Starbucks, one at the grocery store, and two at FedEx. Going to the bathroom, turning on the sink, going outside to take a walk, handles here, handles there, handles everywhere. Filling up my water bottle, there's one button, I used my elbow.

I know so many people over 60, and people over 60 with health conditions, that I am terrified that I could essentially kill someone I love by inadvertently spreading the virus to them. I go for a run most days, and when I get back and the adrenaline wears off while I'm walking around in the minutes after I often cough a little. Coughing has become taboo. Wearing masks has become very acceptable. We've changed in a month.

The deadline for our little product build is the end of this week, and to be honest, I'm planning to work this week in the office, and then work from home another two or three weeks. I could use a vacation, but it's like, where would I go? I don't want to staycation, and I don't think I really can go anywhere. Assuming we settle down a little this year I'd like to go up to Canada and climb, and go to Hawaii, maybe get my SCUBA license. I won't lie, I feel like one of the old and fragile people amongst my coworkers in this pandemic. Again, I'm sure I would most likely come through fine, but it's those up to two weeks of being contagious and not knowing it where I am afraid to break bread with my older friends.

I've read more than one article that suggests for the next year or two, until we get a vaccine, we are going to self quarantine and isolate, return to a little bit of normal, then self quarantine and isolate again when cases get higher and hospitals get full. A recurring bounce between semi-normal and pandemic life and back and forth, that might last two years. So bizarre. I'm hopeful. I mean, even in the most pessimistic projections I doubt that 50 million world wide will die like did in the 1918 flu pandemic. We have medicine and technology that didn't exist back then. Still, my heart aches for those that die. If that caution means I work from home for two years and don't eat with my parents for two years, well, this is a sacrifice that must be made for the greater good, meaning saving the lives of those susceptible to the covid-19 coronavirus.

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Colorado Startup Life: Week 82

The Covid-19 Coronavirus Pandemic of 2020... What a story we are living through. What is the summer and fall going to look like?

Overall it was a good week for me. I was fairly productive at work. Frankly, I'm pleasantly happy with my productivity working from home. It's not that great, but then again I started therapy back in February because I was stressed out that I "wasn't enough" at basically anything. So I'm getting better with being enough.

I ran 41.5 miles! I said back in early March that when we got to working from home, I was basically just going to run and that would be it. No climbing. No mountains, because I don't want to put anyone else in danger if I would get injured and need a rescue. I've never needed a rescue and I've offered more than once to help in a rescue, including being first on the scene of a basejumping accident in Moab in November. Point being, it's just too much of a risk for me to be out doing anything other than very basic mountain sports right now.

My life was super basic. I didn't touch any common door handles with my hand this week, I always use my sleeve now, and always wear long sleeves, like a hoodie, when I go out. Wake up, work, spend too much time reading coronavirus articles, work some more, send a daily update email, call someone, go run, watch a movie, drink too much alcohol and go to bed too late. While that could be perceived as depressing, it's not. This "sacrifice" that I am going through, isolating and cutting off interactions with people, it's minor and temporary. I'm very very fortunate that I have the wealth and the income right now that millions of Americans and probably billions around the world do not have. Meaning, I now pay $80 a month for high speed Internet at home, and I can afford that because I still have a good paying job. Sigh... all of the economically unfortunate people that might go through what I went through in 2010.

The thing that worries me the most about this whole pandemic is not the economic fall out, or the sickness itself, but the deaths. I think the USA will pass 27,000 deaths this coming week, we're at 9,616 as I write this. My heart aches knowing that is coming.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

I'll Buy a new iPhone this Year

I'm a saver. As I continue to work in a lucrative engineering career I am in a far far different financial position than I was in 2010. In 2010, with deferred student loans, I maxed out three credit cards. It was the worst year of my life. I don't like to talk about it. I don't say I'm in a good financial position now to brag, I actually say it as a burden, as an obligation to help restart the economy when the pandemic subsides. The fortunate need to pay it forward. People like myself will most likely be able to jump start the economy better than those who have been laid off from median and lower wage jobs. And frankly, I feel it's our duty to do that, to help our neighbors recover and get back to work.

That being said, I write these things in the moment, based on where I am today. It is entirely possible that I am laid off in the near future and quickly begin looking for a job in a terrible job market.

In normal times, talking about financial independence (and retiring early) is this fun thing where we all have jobs, salaries are increasing, and there is a little thrill in saving money and seeing your 401(k) and saving account increase a little every month. However, in a recession it's entitled. Oh I know, I applied for over 400 jobs in 2010 and was pretty angry at anyone with money and a job at the time. I have not forgotten that experience or those feelings.

The point is, we with jobs and wealth can hole up, stop spending, and not come out of our caves until the vaccine arrives likely sometime in 2021, or we can get out there. I bought two 3D printed facemarks at Shapeways to donate to medical workers today. It keeps Shapeways in business, who I use from time to time, and gets some medical equipment to hospitals in New York City that need them.

I realize that my going out for take out food right now isn't going to keep a restaurant in business by itself. I realize that buying some piece of outdoor gear 40% off isn't going to keep that company in business either. But I also realize than an economy is the flow of money. If the money stops flowing between people, the economy stops. During the Great Depression the stock market dropped 86% from it's high to it's low. If we allow the economy to drop 86%, we're so screwed. (Of course the stock market does not equal the economy, but they are related.)

Point being, I basically unintentionally shut down the spending the last three weeks living and working from home, and seeing now that I am not sick, my company is stable, and even somewhat productive, it's time for me to not only think about my financial defensive strategy to worry about myself, but offense too, how I can help out those that are clearly in need.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Reason the World will Pull Through The Coronavirus Pandemic

That's a great little article, the best I've read yet about why this is spreading so rapidly, and why every single day that we all stay home reduces the spread of this coronavirus pandemic, by allowing those infected to get sick and those asymptomatic to pass through their contagiousness into being not contagious or less contagious.

Secondly, the Colorado Department of Public Health has a great website they update every afternoon with data on the Covid-19 cases. You should check it out here: This graph is the most hopeful to me, as a younger person.
Image from: on March 31st, 2020
No one under 40 has died in Colorado yet. Plus, as you go down the age spectrum younger people are being hospitalized at much lower rates. Granted, if you are 70+ it's about as terrifying as playing Russian Roulette. And again, since I know so many older people I am sure that I will know someone that passes away from this virus and I definitely don't want it to be because I passed it on.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Colorado Startup Life: Week 81

March 22 to 28. I'm optimistic, because I have to be. I think about death and injuries a lot. This was the second week I spent working from home. Unfortunately I don't think my productivity was as good as last week. It's harder to know what's going on. Where as normally when two people talk in the office, another two might be nearby and join in the conversation and then each person goes off and tell another person what's happening, so now eight people know. However, when everything is being forced to happen remote, two people talk and make a plan, and that's kind of it. Those incidental conversations aren't really happening as much. So if you want to know what's going on, you have to dig and pry a little more than normal.

On the flip side, wow am I in a fortunate situation! We're set up to work from home quite well. Because of a couple government contracts we count as essential, and I'm excited about that for probably different reasons than you might expect. It's not about the revenue that is coming in or the fact that we're still testing our product, it's that I have something to do right now that gives me purpose. I'm spending plenty of time reading news articles about the Covid-19 pandemic, plenty of time watching The Office, and it's nice to be able to sink my brain into a cool project right now that still adds value. I told my boss this past week, even if we do get shut down, I want to keep working on this stuff because it gives me something to do. I've even offered to take a pay cut or forgo my salary for awhile. I'm confident that if my company survives the next five years, I won't have any basic financial worries.

If you haven't read the book "Drive" by Daniel Pink I recommend it. In fact, I might reread it while I'm homebound. So often in life the focus is on more money, but he points out that after our basic needs are satisfied, we are looking for autonomy to do our jobs as we see fit, mastery of our profession, and purpose to make the world better in some way. I'm in a good spot financially being a saver and working for the last ten years, and so I really don't want to lose the purpose aspect of my career right now. I have plenty of autonomy and mastery, but if we had to shut down and I was not allowed to work, oh that would be tough for me now.

Running was good, 43 miles I think? I ended on Saturday with an 11 mile long run, my longest pure run in over a year. My ankle is sore right now as I write this. The 22nd, Sunday, I spent 8 hours and did 14.5 miles on skis with M for this 25th birthday. Conditions were not great so we turned around at 11,100 feet of elevation. I think I'm going to try and hover around the 40-45 miles per week mark for the next month or so and hopefully my ankle will rise to the challenge and not be sore as frequently as it was this week.

Predictions for the coming week: The USA passes 250,000 Covid-19 cases on Friday, and 5,000 deaths on Thursday. But honestly my predictions have been too optimistic and so there is a good chance we pass those milestones before then.

Tears for my Friends

I write this as tears stream down my face. I went on Facebook for the first time in March (it's the 28th) and asked how my friends were affected by this pandemic. People are laid off, people have babies due, small businesses are shut down. I cried. I'm so fortunate. I've been working from home the last two weeks, and we're basically productive. We're an essential business due to some government contracts, and our IT department (two guys) saw this coming weeks ago and prepared us to work from home. It's been rather smooth for a transition. Of course I want to get back in the office, but we're managing.

For those that don't really know me, I've broken or fractured seven bones. I've had a pulmonary embolism. I'm currently in mental heath therapy, for the second time in my life. I've almost died on mountains three times. I'm thankful to be alive, every day. Today I ran 11 miles for the first time in over a year, since I broke my ankle, and my ankle is very sore, but bearable. Plus, I've had a pulse oxygen level of 59% and been coherent and felt fine (at 23,400 feet on Mt. Everest). I'm going to survive this pandemic because I'm kind of hard to kill... but I'm not sure everyone I know will.

Love is a strong word, and it might have burned me today (long story), so I'll say care. My friends, I care for you. Even if we haven't talked in years (HS friends especially) I still think about you. I have the best life in the world, seriously. I hope you think the same about your life, but honestly mine is better. God loves me so much. The stock market has been crashing and I bought both GM and FedEx on their lowest price days in over five years. I'm going to be fine. I don't know how I can help, but if I can, let me know.