Monthly Archives: April 2009

take your dad to work day

Yesterday I had the pleasure of bringing Kayla to work, to observe "Take Your Daughters and Sons to Work Day".  She’d originally hoped to attend work with her mentor, who is an event planner, which is probably a lot more interesting to her than software engineering.  That didn’t pan out though so poor Kayla had to come to work with me.

It was pretty fun.  I was able to trim down the number of meetings I usually have, which meant she didn’t have to sit through too many catatonic displays of engineering goop. 

We exchanged some stories about software.  To her profound boredom, I drew a picture of how software and computers interact – layering Applications on top of Operating Systems on top of firmware on top of hardware.  Then I told her where I thought the terms "Bug" and "Debugging" came from – it turns out I may have incorrectly attributed the terms directly to Admiral Hopper, but she certainly brought the term into popularity.  In doing this bit of research I was reminded that Admiral Hopper invented the compiler – a tool without which my job would not be nearly as much fun.

And we got to play around with a bit of WPF code, which was fun.  Here’s a snapshot of the program we wrote together.  The program animated the radial color gradient on the button, and made the image fade in and out.  Along the way, she got to see me accidentally write some bugs into the code, and even figured some of them out!

We wrapped the day up by visiting the pool table resident several floors down from me.  Definitely a lot of fun for me (even though I stink at pool).

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just like riding a bike

I got home from work yesterday, and had just put my stuff down, when my eldest daughter came up to me and asked "Dad – will you go for a bike ride with me?".

I paused to think about this.  I’d not ridden a bicycle since getting hit last July the 1st.  I’d been saying that I’d ride once the weather changed.  And it was a sunny seventy degrees yesterday evening.

So we went for a family bike ride.  Nothing long or arduous.  Went went around the block.  I felt pretty clumsy out there.  My shifting was awkward as I went uphill, and I felt nervous about how to see traffic approaching form the rear over my left shoulder.  I need to do this more before I feel comfortable.

On the other hand, it felt good to get on the bike again.  I’m riding the same Giant OCR3 that was in the accident.  It’s a good bike, and was a great buy when I found it nearly two years ago.  There are some flecks of orange paint on it, I presume from when the police outlined it after the crash.  The seat’s torn, and there are a couple of dings on the frame.

Part of me really wanted to ride in to work today.  It’s another seventy degree day.  Maybe we’ll get to go around the block a few times again when I get home.

Anyway – thanks Kayla for inviting me to ride.  You’ve done your dad a big favor, getting him out there again.


ramping for another marathon

I’m still feeling a high after completing the Yakima River Canyon Marathon a couple of weeks ago.  My hope is that I can focus more on running than on proving something about my recovery now.  Since running across the finish line in Selah a couple of Saturdays ago, I’ve felt really motivated to do another one.  Running a half last weekend didn’t seem to exercise this out of my system.

So I think I’m going to run the Tacoma City Marathon on May 3.  Like Yakima, this is another maniac event – sure to include lots of friends and great positive spirit.  My hope is that I’m able to complete six marathons over the next six months.  One month doesn’t seem like terribly more than normal – provided my expectations for each of these marathons aren’t too high.

The goal here is to increase my mileage, while increasing the quality of my workouts (speed and hills).  That will increase my strength and stamina, to ward off the big bad bonk that happened in during Yakima.  Also – one doesn’t run their best marathon once a month.  Many of these end up being training runs – with the focus on finishing rather than time.  Before the accident, I’d managed to run 4:24 (on trail), 3:58 three weeks later, and then 3:51 three weeks after that.  I don’t think I would have continued to speed up each time had I been able to continue doing one every three weeks.  Rather – this demonstrates the cyclical nature of marathoning.  I’d hoped to do one on fourth of July week of last year.  I think it would have been another slow one, particularly because I’d done a 30k the previous week.  I was booked to do the Light at the End of the Tunnel in August.  That one may have been faster, because it was all downhill :).

A couple of points here.  First – you have to have reasonable goals.  Second – it’s not about the time for me.  It’s really all about the process of running.  Being outside, facing the physical and mental challenge, and enjoying time with friends or quiet time by myself.  That’s exactly what I’m after.  Six marathon in six months is just one way of attaining the larger goal.

I’ve not really planned this out very well.  I’ll try to run Tacoma in May, Green River in June, and then I need to figure out what happens in July, August, and September. 

We’ll have to see whether this all happens though.  I’ve been fighting some bad foot pain lately – likely a Morton’s Neuroma.  So far, I’ve been able to run through the pain.

All for the sake of some innocent fun.


recovery and beyond

One question I keep asking myself is whether or not I’ve recovered from the bike accident.  It’s been nine and a half months now, and I’m back to doing the things that I love.  In a number of ways, I’m as "recovered" as I’m likely to get.  Mostly this is true in the physical sense. 

An aside : I still plan on regaining vision in my left eye – no idea how or when, but I’m going to see with it again someday!

In the emotional sense, many things are back to ‘normal’, although there are definitely some changes in me.  Claiming emotional recovery is harder.  There are some consequences to the accident that may never go away.  But it’s way early to say that I’m as recovered as I’m likely to get.  That will take much longer.

I was speaking with a school friend over the weekend about this.  A couple of years back, he was shot while out walking one night in downtown Seattle.  You can read a Seattle Times article about it. My friend is the one named "bystander".  He didn’t know the two guys who were fighting, but just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.  While his injuries were not life-threatening, there are still some physical and emotional aspects to deal with.

He talked about how he didn’t want to "whine" about his injuries, but that some things still bothered him.  We agreed that in many respects, what happens to you becomes a part of you.  But that’s different than allowing it to define you. 

That is the important distinction for me. 

Throughout life we all accrue different experiences, some of them not so good.  It’s not possible to put every bad thing that’s ever happened to you behind.  They stay in your mind, influence decisions, and change you.  In my experience, the thing to do is to make the best of it all. 

I will never let what happened last July define me.  It’s just a part of me.


how to best protect american engineering jobs

Interesting article in yesterday’s New York Times about immigration in the software field.  It centered on an engineer that Google had hired who was offered an H1-b visa to come work here.  He’d opted to live and work in Canada because his wife was permitted to work there, but not here.

Recently there’s been some controversy over whether engineers from outside the U.S. should be offered H1-b visas while American engineers are being laid off.  Even before the recession, people were wondering whether we want to encourage foreigners to work here, instead of hiring Americans.

As someone who has interviewed lots of candidates, I’ve observed a number of things.  Fewer Americans have been entering the software field these past ten years.  The numbers support this observation.  Put simply, we are not able to fill available positions with strong American-only candidates.  There just have not been enough good ones to select from.  On many interviewing trips, the majority of my candidates are folks who will require a visa, particularly amongst graduate students.

Illustrating this point, about seven years ago, my team consisted of nine people, eight of whom were from outside the U.S.  They were all fairly top notch engineers, and hailed from all over : South America, South Africa, India, eastern Europe, and also Montana.  Without all of this foreign talent, things would have been a lot tougher for me as a manager.  These folks earn the same amount of money as American engineers.  In fact – it’s more expensive to relocate them here (relo costs as well as legal costs associated with the visas).  It’s more expensive to hire H1-b candidates, but is generally worth it, because they’re top notch engineers.  In essence, you’re getting people who are ‘one in a million’ from these countries – verses a broader range of American candidates – so generally speaking the talent level is stronger.

In making this assertion, I’m drawing from lots of experience interviewing both American citizens from domestic universities as well as international candidates, interviewed overseas.

Folks who contend that the H1-b holders threaten American jobs are completely missing the point.  Bringing the best and brightest into the U.S. to work, pay taxes, and make American companies successful is the best way to protect the most American jobs.  It’s also the best way to promote America as being the best place to come and pursue one’s dreams, much the same way immigrants have done here for a couple of centuries.

Think about the alternative.  If you don’t bring the best and brightest here, you create incentive for companies to open new subsidiaries overseas, and beef up R&D centers in India, China, the Middle East, and other places with strong or emerging university systems.

In addition, it’s definitely healthier for American students to compete with the worldwide talent pool.  It drives their skills and aspirations higher.  It drives excellence in the university programs as well.

My $0.02.


“trust the mud” – northwest trail series half marathon at squak mountain

 

Eric Bone, local orienteering wiz, and the guy in charge of Meridian Geographics organizes a nice trail running series east of Seattle each year.  Armed with some ill-founded confidence after completing last week’s Yakima River Canyon Marathon, I decided to give the Northwest Trail Series Squak Mountain Half Marathon a try.

Squak is the most sedate of the famous “Issaquah Alps”.  I’d run this mountain a handful of times in the past several years, but never enough to get to know it.  This morning, I was able to spend nearly three hours of quality time with her, and it was a lot of fun.

Nearly three hours?  You might point out that this is a good bit longer than I usually take doing a half marathon run.  And you’d be correct.  But then half marathons don’t usually include about 3300’ of ascent either.

I found myself with several dozen others parked askance at the trailhead this morning just before ten.  I was pleased to see my new friend Insane Jane who had also run Yakima the previous weekend.  Jane is also headed back to Lawrence Kansas for one of the Free State Trail Series runs in a couple of weeks, so we exchanged well-wishes about this great event.  I ran the wimpy event (the marathon) last year and really enjoyed it.

We left the trailhead in a steady drizzle, with the temperature a chilly-feeling 49 degrees.  After a few twists and turns, we headed up the fire road for a long steady ascent.  I started out walking it, because I wanted to make sure I had enough in the tank, and mixed in some slow running along the way. 

It began to occur to me that 3300’ is a lot more than I’ve climbed in any recent run.  Perhaps this adventure wasn’t the wisest just one week post-marathon.  The reason I’d come out though – beyond this being a nice organized trail run – was to bolster my strength in the late miles though.  There’s no better way of doing that than running uphill a bunch.

After finally reaching the summit about 4.6 km into the race, we marked the end of the first round of “chinscraper” hills by careening down some very hairy, muddy hills.  There were some fairly alarming downhill grades, especially given the soup we were relying on.  Patrick, my cohort for the second half of the race coined our motto there : “trust the mud”.  You really had to trust it too.  If you leaned into a turn at the wrong time you’d skid off the trail, perhaps completing the downhill a bit faster than you’d anticipated.

Patrick and I turned off for the extra goodness that formed the half marathon route, and settled into conversation.  He’d taken to distance running fairly recently, and had done the Seattle Marathon last year for the first time, following a pretty ambitious rampup to the distance.  He teaches Environmental Studies and Sociology at the University of Washington – which definitely made for more interesting conversation that the ins and outs of Software Engineering.

We spoke a bit about how it feels when people come back to you, saying thanks.  I shared my story about visiting the Harborview Neuro ICU.  He told me how it feels when students from previous years come back and share their reflections with him.  Given that many of these folks are working on Peace Corps projects in developing countries, it has to feel great to have that kind of positive impact.

Having great conversation like this made the miles fly by, even the harder uphill ones.  We did a second loop around the chinscrapers, and passed a guy bringing fresh water to the aid station at the summit.  It would have been good to have asked him for some too, since the aid station had run out by the time we reached it, but that’s why I like to pack my own stuff.

After reaching the summit again, we started weaving (a bit more slowly) down the steep muddy hills.  Trust the mud indeed. 

By the time we rejoined the trail, we had about two miles to go.  By now my legs were pretty finished, but we still made good time.  The half marathon route added a small little foray around a side trail (to round the distance out to 13.1 miles I guess), and by then we were both ready to be done.

We clicked in to the finish at about 2:43:29.  I’d suspected I’d be closer to three hours than two, but you never really know until you get out there.  This was a challenging course, but owing to the magic of running on nice soft dirt, I suspect I won’t hurt as much as I would have after running for less time on asphalt.  I figure this was roughly equivalent to running 17 or 18 on the road, timewise.  Amazing to do this and feel so good, a week post-marathon!

All in all, a great way to spend the morning.


field trip to islandwood

Yesterday I joined Kayla’s 6th grade classmates on a field trip to Islandwood.  This is a unique environmental learning center on Bainbridge Island, a 35 minute ferry ride from Seattle.

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The purpose of the place appears to be to inspire people to appreciate the world around us, enough to preserve it for future generations.  We heard about the relationship of the environment and native cultures in the area too.  There was a nice talk about native baskets as a means of storytelling, and of preserving language and culture.

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For me, the highlight was the "each two, teach two" nature walk.  The kids got into teams of two with each team teaching other hikers about something along the trail- fungi, moss, trees or plants.  It was a kind of educational bucket brigade.  It was also fun to see the kids own their part of the experience – lots more than having to sit and listen to someone lecture at them for a couple of hours.

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The be fair, the ‘lecture’ parts of the day were plenty interesting.  The talks out on the trail seemed to include lots of stuff about slugs and poop – topics that might ‘stick’ more.

The other parts of the day that were fun included spending time with my 11 year old’s crowd.  The trip over was pretty raucous, and I learned some new jokes on the way back.  But what a great opportunity to learn about our world, both the natural and people parts of it.