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).


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.


yakima river canyon marathon race report – about that last 10k …

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Yesterday I ran my first 26.2 mile event since the bike accident, the Yakima River Canyon Marathon from Ellensburg to Selah Washington.  It was a beautiful day all around.  Despite a 26 degree start, things heated up nicely along the course.  We had sunshine the whole way.

I’d done this event three years ago, and really enjoyed it despite having a so-so running day.  The event is small, well-organized, and the atmosphere is great.  Organized by local running legends Lenore and Bob Dolphin, it’s also a big Marathon Maniacs event.  This latter point added some attraction for me, as I qualified as a bronze-level Maniac, at the Green River Marathon last year, the last 26.2 event I’d done prior to the accident.  Getting a chance to run like a maniac seemed fitting for me, as I’d effectively ramped from not running to marathon in just over three months. 

Three months is fast.  When I’d sat down to figure out some running goals at the end of December, I’d actually planned for a June race.  But Yakima popped up as a nice possibility too.  I figured I might try it, only if my training went perfectly.

I’d ramped up with several other Eastside Runner folks who were targeting spring races, including Boston.  My training runs had included some adventure – including running through several inches of snow and single-digit temperatures.  Then I got lost while on a couple of twenty-plus mile runs.  One occasion had three of us climbing a steep, rocky hill to exit a golf course.  Another found me meandering for some extra miles through water, and over logs in the woods.

These adventures illustrate why I love running.  It isn’t really about racing for me.  It’s about the adventures along the way.  And these past few months definitely included some adventures.  Overall things went well, and I found myself ready to give the marathon distance a try again.

In the week prior to the race, I felt pretty nervous.  I had something to prove to myself this time around.  And although I felt confident in my training and preparation, there’s always some uncertainty to running this distance.  Pensively I set out for Ellensburg early Friday, to allow lots of time to traverse the late-season snow on Snoqualmie Pass.

I arrived early enough to relax a while in my hotel room before making the 30 mile drive down to Selah for the expo, pasta feed, and the Marathon Maniac reunion.  I drove along the race course, taking in the great beauty of the canyon, and noting that there were indeed many more downhills than uphills.  I arrived at the Civic Center just as the doors opened, and had my race packet in plenty of time to visit with some of the other Maniacs.

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The reunion event was a good bit of fun.  This being my first one, and my first race running as a Maniac, I didn’t know very many people.  But they’re a friendly bunch, so this wasn’t a problem at all.  I ran into Insane Jane, who I’d actually met while doing the Free State Trail Marathon in Lawrence Kansas last April.  She introduced me to her husband McGyver, who ran over 50 marathons and ultras last year.  My ESR cohort Little Leslie was there too.  After running (I think) 54 marathons last year, she’s been taking it easier in 2009 – with this one being her second or third.  I found myself sitting with the three "senior" Maniacs at dinner : Prez, Hollywood, and tp.  These guys were great company – full of positive energy, and humor.  The vibe in this crowd was great, and the positivity was contagious – just what I needed before heading back to Ellensburg to catch some sleep.

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Race morning was bright, sunny, and COLD.  I’d planned to go in short sleeves. but when I saw that it was about 26 degrees, I opted for my long-sleeved ESR shirt under my Marathon Maniacs singlet.  After a small breakfast, I checked out of my room, and headed down to the starting line.

In the lobby, I ran into another ESR friend, John Swenson and his family.  Seeing them come out to cheer John on was great!

We lined up, and were sent off with a truck horn at 8 am.  The first several miles wind around a loop before we head up into the canyon.  My plan had been to diligently walk 30 seconds per mile to make sure I had something left in my tank in the late miles.  Unfortunately I missed the first mile marker, but my splits for the first two miles were a respectable 8:50.  It occurred to me that I probably wanted to slow down a bit at this point, but for some reason, my legs didn’t listen.

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picture courtesy of steven yee

See- the smart thing to do in a marathon is to go out a bit slow, and then to speed up over the miles.  It’s called negative splitting, and it reflects a thoughtful and intelligent approach.  On this day however, I tried an alternate approach, which was to run faster than I should have for the first twenty miles, and then to ‘bonk’ definitively during the last 10k.  Bonking is an art form really, and I did a nice job of it.

That’s not to say I didn’t have a great time!  Even though my legs felt the fatigue early on, I thoroughly enjoyed running in the sunshine along the Yakima River.  My mile splits were fairly consistent over the first twelve miles, ranging between about 8:50 and 9:15.  I realized that doing sub-four might be within reach, provided I’d not already overdone it.  As I climbed the second and third hills on the course, up to about mile 16, I felt pretty optimistic about my chances.

Time-wise things went well until just after the twenty mile mark.  In reality though, I felt the four hour thing slipping away back around mile seventeen.  By then, my legs were quite fatigued.  This was the disadvantage of having such a quick ramp.  While I’d done adequate long run distance, I’d not developed a sense of my late-mile reserves.  So, I geared back a bit. 

My splits were still better than a sub-four finish would require.  Of course that just makes it a bit tougher.  You can’t take yourself out of contention while it’s still within reach.  So against my better judgment, I continued to hammer out the miles, going a bit faster than prudent.

Things changed when I hit the final hill heading into mile 21.  My legs were pretty fried, and I’d started to feel a bit lightheaded.  Since I didn’t want to be carried off the course, especially so far into the race, I walked up the entire 1.5 mile ascent.  It really isn’t very steep, totaling about 250 feet over that distance.  By this time, I was pretty well cooked though.  My splits from mile 21 through 26 averaged about 11:23, about two and a half minutes slower than the first 20 miles.  By the time I hit the 26 mile mark, I was able to muster a slow trot into the finish.  It wasn’t very pretty.  On the other hand, if I’d run smarter for the first 20, things might have been different.

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I crossed the finish in 4:09:48, an average pace of about 9:31.  Not one of my fastest, but I’ve also done some slower ones.  This actually exceeded my original expectations of 4:15-4:30 too.  And given where I started out, I’m definitely proud of my effort.

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pictures courtesy of hal david

My parents met me at the finish, having braved the weather and traffic going over the pass to take in my fifteen seconds of glory in crossing the finish.  I felt a bit emotional at having completed the race, after having placed such an important personal stake in doing it.  Most importantly though, I’m ready to do more.

It’s great to be back in the pack.

Chart and Graphs for Running Geeks

The chart tells the story.  I clearly started out faster than I should have, as the slope of the cumulative average pace is supposed to decrease over time :).  Part of me recognizes that what I did during Yakima was to go out and give it what I had though, which is nothing to be ashamed of.

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t minus 18 hours

I’m cooling my heels in a hotel room in the central Washington city of Ellensburg.  Tomorrow at 8 am, I run the Yakima River Canyon Marathon, my first post-accident marathon.

I’ve prepared well.  Good quality miles along the way, as well as a long run at greater than marathon distance, followed by a three week taper.  I’ve taken things easy this week, running just three days, to a max distance of only 4.25 miles.  I should have plenty in my tank tomorrow morning.

I am feeling a bit nervous about this though.  At the start of all 16 marathons that I’ve previously done, I’ve always been aware that finishing is not guaranteed.  Running for around four hours takes a lot out of you, no matter how well prepared you are.  And what if I forgot to pack my shoes ?

Beyond the normal level of uncertainty I’d have, I’m feeling I have something to prove this time.  I very much want to call myself a marathoner again.  This is all sort of silly, because I’ve proven it to myself already, by ramping up so nicely in training.  And nerves aside, if I simply focus on enjoying a beautiful run through the canyon tomorrow, I’ll be fine.

I don’t have a particular time goal.  I’m planning on taking a 30 second walk break per mile, to keep things fresh.  The goal tomorrow is to finish.

Driving here this morning was pretty nice.  Driving along I 90,  I thought about the running routes along the way.  I passed parts of the Best of Bellevue run I did last month with Rod and Sue – we got lost on a golf course along the way, necessitating a scrabble up a steep hill with rocks and water.  Then I passed the West side of Tiger Mountain, where I had a great run not too long ago.  Going through North Bend, I saw Mount Si looming over us, reminding me that I need to run up this one too.  I’m mostly ready for that too, but probably want to do several weeks of hill work beforehand.  I’d worried a bit about the snow going over Snoqualmie Pass, but it wasn’t a problem.  More distant memories of running up to Melakwa and Pratt Lakes came to mind.  I need the snow to melt for those, but will be out there this summer to be sure.

Driving past these memories reminds me again that it’s all supposed to be fun.  So, if you think about it tomorrow morning, wish me fun!


visiting the harborview neuro icu

Yesterday morning I went down to visit the Harborview Hospital Neuro ICU.  I spent nine or ten days following my bicycle accident last July.  The trip was definitely worthwhile.

I walked up to the nurses station and told them that I’d been a patient with them about nine months ago.  A small group of people gathered around while I stammered out my thanks to them for saving my life, and for treating my family, friends and I so nicely. 

Some of them remembered me as the guy who they had trouble fitting into a bed (because of my height).  This inspired lots of laughter when I relayed the story to Kris and my parents.  They remembered this being an issue at the time.

When I talked a bit about the circumstances of the accident with the Harborview folks, more memories were sparked.  I know they have hundreds of patients go through their doors every year.  From their perspective, I could have been yet another Traumatic Brain Injury patient.

I’ll remember the looks on their faces for a long time.  Quite a few of their patients don’t make it.  Others are never able to return to "normal" life.  Some will require constant care for the rest of their lives.  Many of their patients are from different states too – that’s because people are transferred into the premier trauma center in the Pacific Northwest.  In any case, they don’t get to see many of their (former) patients up and walking around, let alone working, running, swimming, driving, and blissfully returned to ‘normal’ life.

People who work in the ICU see patients and their families when they’re not at their best.  The folks in the Harborview Neuro ICU treated my family with compassion and respect, and offered me great medical care.  I’d been wanting to make a visit like this for a long time.  Seems like the least I could do.