Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Surprise, Surprise

Alright, so we are having a baby. A few weeks ago, Audrey goes in for the AFP triple screen test. It is a normal thing to do and is intended to help determine whether the baby might have Down's Syndrome, spina bifida, and things of that nature. We had the test done when Audrey was pregnant with Noah and didn't see any reason not to do it again. I believe it is voluntary, but why not know this kind of thing in advance if you can, right?

So, the results come back and one of the indicators is a bit high. Not far out of whack and not something that couldn't be caused a number of normal conditions. For example, if you get the test done outside of a particular window, the results will have a high potential for false positives. Of course, the test already has a decent potential for false positives, so the timing is everything. Since we already had some concern regarding the inaccuracy of the due date, we figured it was likely that the test results were due to being outside the normal window in which the test should be administered. Armed with a good explanation, we still worried like crazy through the weekend. We were able to get an appointment with a perinatologist early the following week and just tried to keep our emotions in check until then.

So, we go see the perinatologist for a Level 2 sonogram. I can't really tell what the difference is, but it seemed like a stronger machine that produced a much more detailed picture of Audrey's insides and all. Again, the point was to look for signs of something being wrong that would explain that would explain the test result. Well, it was instantly apparent what the cause was. In addition to a mistaken due date and actual birth defects, one of the reasons that test can produce non-normal results is if there is more baby in the womb than you were expecting when you took the test. That's right...the test was done with one baby in mind, but the sonogram clearly showed two! We were totally floored. Suddenly, at 18 weeks pregnant, we found out we were having identical twins. I think my jaw hit the floor. Audrey and I just kept looking at each other in disbelief. Never in our wildest dreams did we even consider this as a possibility. Before you ask, no it doesn't run in our families. Besides, there is no genetic predisposition for identical twins. Identicals are just a random fluke of nature - the cells split at just the right time and you get two matching sets of cells, each with the exact same DNA and each set independently growing into a human being.

We giggled and held hands and just tried to integrate what this all would mean for us. Twin infants means big, big change is coming and we hadn't planned for that degree of change, of course. Is the house big enough? Where do they sleep? Can we fit all the kids in the car? How will we get through the first few months? All sorts of questions popped up. But, the story isn't over yet.

So, after identifying that we are having twins, the sonographer starts looking for the membrane between them. I'm no expert, but there are a number of different configurations for twins. There are fraternal twins, which are two eggs and two sperm and nothing shared between them, including different placentas and all that. Then there are identical twins which can have varying degrees of shared stuff. In our case, the twins are sharing just about everything. They share both the outer and inner sac, otherwise known as monoamniotic twins. This means that there is nothing keeping them from touching each other or from swimming around each other, tangling up the umbilical cords and cutting off their own blood supply. And that is where the issue lies. There is some risk of the babies doing exactly that or of tangling the cords and compressing them at some point in their growth. And, cord entanglement could result in the babies not making it.

What does this all mean? We are having twins, but this is a high risk pregnancy. Up until 24 weeks, babies just aren't viable outside of the womb. So, until we hit that point, there is nothing we can do other than tell these two kids to play nice in there. At 24 weeks, Audrey will likely be admitted to the hospital and basically put on bedrest for the remainder of the pregnancy. The reason for this is that she can be monitored regularly in the hospital, or rather the babies can be monitored, and the doctors can do a c-section in the case that there are signs that something is wrong. The babies would then be kept in the NICU until they were healthy enough to come home. If all goes well, they don't come out until 34 weeks or more and won't be that premature. Then, they will probably only need a few days in the hospital. Earlier than that and they'll need some degree of care and monitoring.

No matter what happens, this is clearly going to have a big impact on our family. Hospital stay, twins, potential risks and complications...it has been a lot for us to digest and deal with. But we are in good spirits and holding up well so far. Whatever happens, happens, but we are very hopeful that everyone involved comes out fine at the end. And, we know right now that we have two healthy babies, so we are planning for their impending arrival.

We will soon be a family of five. Wow.

Visit from an Old Friend

It was just for a few hours, but an old friend stopped by for dinner last night. Our friend, Dan, was in town visiting his family for the upcoming holiday and had some time to come over in his way into DC. He lives in LA and is very, very Hollywood. Okay, I don't know what the hell that means exactly, but I am writing it because Dan reads this blog sometimes and I want to tease him a bit.

I think I gave him too many veggies at dinner. I liked them and was excited about the prospect of eating roasted brussel sprouts and squash, but I am clearly a huge food dork and most people would not be that interested in either item. In any case, I must have piled too much on his plate, although he valiantly ate it without complaint. Veggies are good for you, Dan! Audrey didn't like them much either, so more for me in the end. I'll be eating the leftovers tonight, I imagine. That choco chip banana bread was freaking good, though...you can't deny the wife's baking skillz.

It was great to see Dan. It has been several years since his last visit and since we are sucky people who never travel very far, we haven't had the chance to see him in LA. The amazing thing is that we've all known each other for almost 15 years now. That is unbelievable and makes me feel really old. When Dan hits the big time with one of his screenplays, we'll be able to say we knew him when he was just a guy from Parsippany. While I'm sure he'll be busy with all those A-listers and moneymen, drinking weird icy cocktails and eating oddball foods made with essence of this and foam of that, I hope he'll be willing to take a meeting with us if we ever come out to visit Disneyland.

In any case, thanks for coming over, Dan. We had a great time catching up and hope to see you again soon. We don't have loads of friends, so we really need to keep the ones we've got.

All Sorts of News, One Post At A Time

The easy stuff first, I guess. So, it has been a few weeks since the marathon. My farts still stink and my gut is still a bit weird. But, I am close to feeling normal. I've been running once a week, each time out feels a bit better than the last. I am hoping to get a few runs in over the next several days because the lack of exercise is really starting to bother me. I've been doing some weight training at home, but it just isn't the same.

In other news, we are heading to Pittsburgh for Thanksgiving tomorrow. I love the idea of Thanksgiving and I really enjoy this time of year, but I can't say that I actually enjoy the practice of spending time with family. I want to, but our relatives always drive us nuts and make us want to just go home early. It doesn't matter whether it is my family or Audrey's family...they are both crazy in their own, amazingly irritating ways. We'll be back this weekend and probably need a day just to recover.

There is more news to share, but it requires a post of its own.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Marine Corps Marathon Report

It has been a week and a half since the marathon and I think I am finally getting back to normal. My gut was a mess for days, but it has also taken a while for my legs to feel okay. I was sore for a few days and walked a bit funny, but nothing major. It wasn't until I tried to run this past Sunday that I could tell that I wasn't quite right still. I had terrible shin splints in my left leg and my right knee has been achy since then. I took a few quick laps around the parking garage today and feel better, so I might just try to go for a jog tonight.

Anyways, so for the marathon. Support from friends and family raised my spirits leading into the event, but I could have used a tow truck to get me through the last few miles. It was an amazing experience, hands down. I guess I knew it would be, but I imagine that one doesn't walk away with the sense that it was "amazing" if the marathon you ran was a smaller scale event, with less pomp and pageantry and far fewer spectators. I don't like big races, but MCM might have changed my mind. I've seen estimates that there were 100,000 people lining the course. I don't know if that was true, but it certainly felt like it. I hastily wrote my name on my shirt prior to the start and it turned out to be a very good decision - I got cheered for 26 miles straight. Lots of "Go Dave" and "Looking strong, Dave"...you get the picture. It really made my day and kept my chugging along whenever I started to lose focus. I also met a number of really friendly runners and was able to have conversations with them during the race, a big reason never to wear an iPod to a marathon. Those folks just isolate themselves, but the rest of us got to bond and make friends, even if for just a few miles. And, the Marines themselves were really, really supportive. They had somewhere in the neighborhood of 4,000 Marines participating in mostly support roles and they were the most vocal, most enthusiastic, and most helpful people on the course. So, long story short, they don't call this the "People's Marathon" for nothing.

It was cold in the morning, but it wasn't hard to get around or to get into a Porta-John or anything. I just waited around until things got close to start time and then I moved up in the crowd to try and get near the Clif Bar Pace Team that was shooting for 3:40. I think they were too far up in the pack, frankly, but more on that in a minute. In any case, I got into a good conversation with a guy named Marc from Brookline, MA and we ended up chatting for several miles until we got seperated at a water station later on. The crowd was thick for several miles, in fact I think it was fairly think up until about mile 10 or so. That is what you get with 34,000 registrants. I found that hanging by the Clif Bar Pace Team was problematic since so many other runners wanted to be with them. It created a logjam on the course and it was difficult to run comfortably next to them or right behind them. I think a fair number of runners who started behind these guys were running faster races and had to work their way around the crowd. So, after a fair amount of frustration, I took off around the side figuring I'd be better off trying to just stay in front of them. Even if it was just by a 100 feet or so, it would give me some room.

I was drinking, but I don't think I was drinking enough. I ate my first pack of Sports Beans (a "special" version of jelly beans for energy and salts) at about 6.5 miles and a second packet around 13 miles. For some stupid reason, I never ate another thing after that - I really regret this. I know better, but the Sports Beans were turning out to be a real pain to eat this time around. I've never had an issue with them in the past, but the chewing was making it a bit harder to breath right and after I went through that twice, I just didn't want to do it again. Of course, I had no gels and I didn't grab anything along the course. So, instead, I switched to drinking Powerade when I got the chance. But, as I said, I don't think I drank enough fluid along the course and I am pretty certain I got dehydrated. I get fooled by cool weather and my thirst mechanism doesn't often kick in until it seems too late. I hydrated well prior to the marathon, but I'd be surprised if I took in much more than 50 oz of fluid during the race itself and that wouldn't be enough to even get me through 20 miles in one piece. The wind on the course was a killer too. But, I didn't really lose much time during the windy stretches. I did lose energy though and could feel myself running out of gas as I passed over the bridge and worked my way towards Crystal City.

By my calculations, I ran my fastest miles from 20-23, at a 7:40/mi pace. This was the stretch Audrey and Noah were going to be in, so I guess I just got excited and took off looking for them. I was rewarded with a chance to see them twice, but I hit the wall not long after that and ran 10:00/mi pace for the last 3.2 miles or so. I bet it was more like a 9:00/mi pace that quickly fell into an 11:00/mi or worse. By the end, I felt like hell and kept wishing for it to just be over. It was at this time, and only this time, that I thought about never doing another marathon. Oh, and that hill at the end just sucks. It is short, but it is like the final little torture, one last reminder that a marathon just isn't a walk in the park.

Here are the general splits from the race website (I didn't do my own and my math skills break down dramatically when I run):

Mile 5: 42:30
Mile 10: 1:23:44
Half: 1:48:40
Mile 15: 2:04:23
Mile 20: 2:46:45
Mile 23.5: 3:13:41
Finish: 3:43:36

I'm a bit disappointed in that I think I was on pace for more like 3:36 or 3:37 and I believe I could have done that if I had been smarter when it came to energy and fluid. I know I got dehydrated because I was stumbling like a drunk at the end. I was totally coherent, but very dizzy and I needed to lay in the grass for several minutes before I could move on and head for home. That has only happened to me a few times before - always on long runs when I got dehydrated. I think I dropped 6-8 pounds in weight during the race and I usually get light-headed (or worse) in that range. The wind didn't help and I wonder how much of an effect that ultimately had too. But, it was my first and I had a wonderful time overall. So, after this soreness wears off, I'll be back running and it will be time to plan how to do a faster marathon. I think I learned a few lessons and I can only get better. Oh, and those guys running with the Clif Bar Pace Team for a 3:40? It looks like they paced properly and got it. Their pacer, a guy named Greg, came in at 3:39 and change. So, maybe I should have just stayed with them.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Sign that Hell is Freezing Over

My alma mater, Rutgers University, is not only ranked in the Top 25 in NCAA Division Football, but actually in the BCS standings as well. I never thought I'd see such a thing and I can barely believe it. Will they be able to sustain their success and stay ranked throughout the entire season? I think so. They've got some tough games coming up now that they are into Big East play, but I think they can hang. They can beat Pitt, although it will be hard, and then they can take care of UCONN, Syracuse, and Cinncinati. As for WVU and Louisville, well, the Scarlet Knights just need to put on a good show. Could they steal one away? Sure, but that would be too good to even dare dream about at this point.
GO RUTGERS! I'd sign the school song, but I don't know much beyond it saying something about the banks of the Raritan River.

Army Ten Miler Race Report

I know, I know. You, my faithful reader, are sick of all the running related posts. But, what did you expect? I spend as much time running and thinking about running as I do working or dealing with my family. So, bear with me, a few more running posts and then I might chill out for a bit.

So, a little over a week ago, I ran the Army Ten Miler. I signed up months ago with my friend Jon. We were going to run in the team competition, but we never got a fourth member on the team, so the team was disbanded and we ran as individuals in the "All Comers" group. This race was huge, something like 24,000 people registered for the event. I read that only 16,000 or so actually showed up, which seems like a heck of a lot of drop offs to me. Did those clowns not care that they paid $45 or more to run this thing? I don't get it and I wonder if the total registration numbers weren't inflated a bit to get some press and to pressure people to sign up quickly. At 24,000 people, they can claim that they are the largest 10 mile race in the US and the second largest in the world. In any case, as you can expect, a big race means a big pain in the ass for most runners. I'm not interested in going to a festival, but that is how these events often turn out. packet pick-up is always a chore since there is a limited amount time to get your stuff and they don't do race day pick-up, something that smaller races can handle. So, I had no choice but to waste time on a Saturday afternoon to go get a bib and the t-shirt for the race at some overcrowded hotel. And it was a waste. Parking was a bitch, the hotel was packed, and the t-shirt is fairly boring to look at. Not the ugliest one I've got, but not something I want to even wear on a plane when travelling home from a business trip. I thought the expo might be worthwhile, but I was wrong about that too. No good deals and a bunch of shitty idiots milling about, making it impossible to move or to find anything on sale. Ah, anyways. I got out of there, irritated and not particularly excited about the race. I wouldn't have even bothered to do any of this if there was any way to get my money back, but there wasn't.

The night before the race, I fell asleep early, but woke up at 2AM or so. And I couldn't get back to sleep. As it was, I planned on getting up around 5:30AM to drive to the race. I would have loved to take the Metro, but the wacky security that they'd set up for the race that disallowed runners to have cellphones, not to mention heart rate monitors and bottled water (fascist idiots), had me concerned that I'd have no way to contact anyone post-race to figure out what was going on. There were plans for a picnic at a nearby park, but I didn't want to just wing it and head over there without calling Audrey to make sure that the plan was still valid. In any case, I did catch a bit more sleep, but not enough to make much difference and then I was up and out of the house.

It was freaking cold. 50s maybe? Maybe 40s even? I didn't make any coffee (and no place was open at that time), so I grabbed my crap and headed out. I got to the parking garage in Pentagon City at 6:20AM or so. Race starts at 8AM, so I've got tons of time to kill. I hung out in the car for a bit, listening to the radio, before deciding to head over and check things out. Crowds were starting to form, but there wasn't much else to see. I hung out in the starting area, watching the parachuters come down and rubbing my legs together to try and stay warm. I didn't really prepare for the cold, so I only had shorts and a t-shirt on. Next time, I'll bring a black plastic garbage bag or something that I can ditch during the race.

It was a pretty cold and boring morning until the race started. Despite the wave start and the bib colors for general race paces, lots of people didn't listen and jammed the front. I got off fairly lucky, only having to wait a few minutes from when the gun went off until I passed the start. Some folks had to wait fifteen minutes or more. So, gun goes off and the throng lurches forward, slowly jogging as one, then suddenly stops. We start jogging again, slowly through the start, and then things pick up as the pack thins out a bit. The pack never really thinned out much over the ten miles. I spent the entire time dodging and jumping and sidestepping other runners to try and keep my pace and find room to run. It was very frustrating and I'm glad I didn't trip anyone or have anyone trip me.

I'm sure it was a scenic run, but I can't ever pay attention to the overall surroundings when I'm running, so I didn't see the Pentagon or enjoy running the bridges or look at the monuments or anything like that. It is a shame and kinds of makes it silly to keep running races in the city. If not for the sites, who cares where it is? I've enjoyed my regular runs much more, particularly those on the boardwalk in Jersey and the few runs I got to do out in Carmel-by-the-Sea.

I didn't intend to go crazy and push it, but I couldn't help things once I got started. I don't consider myself to be supercompetitive, but I just had to run as hard as I could that day. In truth, I think I could have run a bit faster, but I didn't rest up much and I took it easy for the first few miles. In the end, I crushed my previous PR for a 10 mile race, but I assumed I would considering all the training I've done since the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler.

Army Ten Miler Bib # 4725
Washington, DC
October 8, 2006, 8:00 am

Time: 1:16:42
Overall Place: 1942/15589
Gender Place: 1669/8970
Pace: 7:40

Moral of the story? After my marathon, I'm not doing any more giant races like this. Except the New York City Marathon and the Boston Marathon, of course. But, really, that is it.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

The Really Big News

So, while I am rather preoccupied with running and all, there are bigger things going on in my life. Audrey is pregnant for the second time. We are expecting next April, but that is about all we know right now. We have just entered the second trimester, but have no idea what the sex of the child is. We've gotten a few votes for a girl, which I think it what I "want", but I'll be happy either way. Boy or girl, just not dumb or weird looking. So, one more thing to update on this blog.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Marathon Training Update

Anybody care really? Things are going well, all in all. I've run three 20 milers now and think my training is on track. Yesterday's run was rather hard, ending with me collapsing on the front lawn. But, I feel fine today. Two more big runs, the Army Ten Miler, and then it is time to start the taper. I've got time, but I can feel the marathon getting closer now. I am bit nervous, but I'm also really excited.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Music Makes Me Feel Old

One of the nice things about the iPod is that I get to drag around lots of music I haven't listened to in a long time and I get an opportunity to reacquaint myself with. I'm listening to U2's Rattle & Hum and it just brings me back to early high school. I forgot how good some of these songs are, man. And I forgot how much U2 meant to me back then. Goddamn those Irish boys were good!

Monday, August 07, 2006

Foot is Good

Ran 19 miles yesterday, a bit over 3 hours with a pee break and a visit with Audrey and Noah for water refills. I felt great for most of the run, although the uphill climb for miles 13-16 are pretty rough. I'm sore today and will probably be more sore tomorrow, but the foot didn't hurt yesterday. My knees were pretty cranky, but they are fine today.

In any case, I think it is safe to say I can do a marathon. It still remains to be seen whether I can do a 3:40, though.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

iPod Saga, Part Five

It is about time to wrap up the iPod story. Much email traffic, included automated messages from PayPal and I won't share them all here because it is mostly boring stuff. Mobile PC sent me a replacement iPod, which I didn't get until the last day of the dispute period. That sucker didn't work properly either. I would load up files and all, but it always seemed to hang. On our Mac and on Jon's laptop too. So, despite my desire to resolve this quickly, I had to continue the process and submit a claim for reimbursement. I sent the second iPod back and worked through PayPal, who ultimately refunded all the money back to me. And, while that was working itself out, we went out and bought a brand new video iPod. I can't say I'm happy about that, but we really need a way to take lots of music with us on trips. Noah has a lot of CDs, we have a large music library, and dragging the media with us just isn't an option any more. So, screw it...we gave Apple more of our hard-earned cash. Maybe this stupid thing will last longer than a year.

What did I learn? That you can't trust a damn thing on eBay. That PayPal definitely works. And that iPods are basically throwaway items as far as Apple is considered.

Is This It?

I'm "launching" a new series of posts on this blog called "Is This It?". "Is this it" is what a good friend of mine said to me one night when we were discussing where our lives have taken us and what our futures held. I've been thinking about this a great deal lately; the question of what we are here for or what we are supposed to do with ourselves or what we are trying to accomplish in a general sense. I'm not so concerned with the overall question of why we are here, at least not the spiritual stuff, but I am very interested in what the American Dream is and what we value these days. We say that we should all engage ourselves in the pursuit of happiness, but I just know too many people who seem to be pursuing things that aren't really making them happy. I've been there too and I spend a lot of time thinking and talking about this stuff lately.

What I'd like to do is present a fairly subjective description of someone's life, always a person I know, and pose some questions and see if anyone else has anything they want to say or add to the conversation. Being subjective, I may miss something about another person's situation that helps to make sense of things and you might be the person to point that out. So, with no more delay, let me start off with someone that .

I won't be using real names, of course...

We, the wife and son and I, visited with an old college friend (of my wife's)and her daughter recently. We would have seen her husband, but as is often the case, he had to work this past weekend. I have only seen him three times: at their wedding, at another person's wedding, and once at their apartment for dinner several years ago.

It is pretty clear that they are conservative in their politics and I assume there is a moderately strong religious component, but I can't really say much about it because the friend has basically said that she doesn't like to discuss politics with her friends. That may simply be a nicer way of saying that she doesn't like to discuss politics with her liberal friends because she would find our views detestable and it would permanently damage the friendship. Frankly, if my views on abortion or a living wage or the War in Iraq are enough to devalue a relationship with someone, then maybe there really wasn't much to the relationship.

In any case, the wife is an attorney who recently dropped off the partner track to work more moderately normal hours as general counsel for a large, amoral corporation. Maybe she has gone from 100 hours a week to 60 hours a week. The husband who seems to still work something like 100 hours and doesn't get home many nights until 10PM, works in creative management for a large ad agency. He works long hours to help produce television commercials for things like Mountain Dew and crappy, watered down beers. These long hours make it possible for them to do lots of things, I imagine, but mostly all I can see is that they always have a new and fancy luxury car and a beautiful house in New Jersey filled with nice stuff. Their kid has more toys than any child I've ever met, but they could be the result of gifts or something.

On paper, it is a great life. In photographs, it is a beautiful life. In conversation, it is a very interesting and admired life. But, in reality, is it a happy life? Does this family get to spend enough time together? Are they really enjoying what they do and are the long hours and sacrifice worth a large old house filled with fancy and expensive things? What is driving them?

Is it familial expectations that drive them to this? I have gotten a strong sense that this life they are creating is partly what they want because it is what they know and have come to expect from life. And, it is what their parents may expect of them to achieve. They also may travel in social circles that exist in an elitist arena in which this lifestyle is the the minimum level one must attain to continue to operate.

I know I couldn't do it. I can barely stand a job that needs more than 40 hours of my time at this point in my life. What would I get for an additional 20 hours of effort a week and would it make up for the time I'd lose with my family? In the decades to come, will it matter more that we've got lots of money or that we invested lots of time in our children's lives? Will it matter that I decided to spend my free time running instead of working on a graduate degree or doing additional work in the office?

Don't get me wrong - I like these people. And I'm not looking to judge anyone. I just wonder if they are really getting what they want...and I can't help but start to see in them what it is that I don't want for myself.

Another Marathon Training Update

Short this time. Left foot feels okay, although I sometimes sense something there still. I feel like I am sore all the time and it takes me a good few miles to warm up most days. I am somewhat concerned about the next two weeks. I've got 45 miles this week followed by 50 next week and I didn't recover as much as I had hoped last week, which is what I should have expected considering my "rest" was to run 37 miles. I need to get serious about getting enough sleep and I need to get my eating back on track or I am going to have a hell of a time the next month or so. Frankly, I don't know how I'm going to keep this up if I don't focus my efforts and prioritize a bit better. No more surfing the internet at night to read about cars or advanced physics and I've got to get extremely productive at work so I don't need to continue working after dinner every night.

I can do this. I signed up, I committed to this training, and I'm going to do a 3:40! I could tell you what I would be happy with, but I don't even want to consider anything less than a 3:40 yet. Heck, maybe I can even pull a 3:35. My pace runs have felt rough, but two out of the last three have been fast. Gotta get back to work now.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Marathon Training Update

I'm over 250 miles into my training, but have 600 more miles to go including MCM. These days, I've been having difficulty getting and staying motivated and I find it tough to get myself out of the house for most runs. The weekend runs are a bit easier and are more critical to my training, so I just get up and do it. And, I always feel so good on my long runs that I don't have much trouble getting started. It is the midweek workouts that bore the crap out of me. 4 miles here, 8 miles there...5:30AM on a Wednesday or 6PM on a Thursday just isn't inspiring or exciting. I'm also having trouble with my diet, or whatever you can call it. I can't figure out what I should really be eating and when and I seem to be stuck around 175 lbs. Yes, that is my goal weight, so I should be happy, but I was hoping that I could drop some more weight through this training program. Another 10 pounds would make a big difference in my speed and endurance and would help a great deal in meeting my marathon goal. And, as if motivation and food aren't enough to complain about, I'm still a bit sore from my long run this past Sunday. My left foot didn't feel that great afterwards, nor did my knees, but I can't tell if this is just soreness from hard training or a larger issue. My knees are fine, I think. They usually get sore at the end of a long run and only at the end of the long runs and they usually feel fine by the time I go for my next run. But, the pain in my left foot is similar to the pain I had last November, which ultimately required a visit to the podiatrist, prescription anti-inflammatory drugs, and ten days off from running. My training plan can accomodate a layoff like that, particularly since I am in a "rest" week at the moment, but I'd prefer to not go back to a doctor if I can help it. Foot feels better today, but I should go for a 4 mile run this evening. I think I'll take it easy, maybe a light jog to test the foot, and we'll see what happens. If it hurts, I'll go see a doctor.

Book Review: Ultramarathon Man

Maybe this will become a regular part of the blog. If I ever have an audience larger than three people, it might even be worthwhile to someone. In any case, I recently finished reading "Ultramarathon Man" by Dean Karnazes. Dean is well-known for running ridiculously long distances on his own, but the more non-Dean reading I've done, the more I realized that Dean is just a marketing machine who happens to run a lot. Not to take anything away from the guy. He did run a marathon at the South Pole, completed Western States a few times, and has run a 200 mile relay race by himself several times. But, other people have done crazier stuff, even crazier than his new hype-laden event, the Endurance 50.

In any case, so Dean wrote a book. And, he really did write this himself because it is not very well written. He could have used a better editor, but at least you can hear his real voice...the egotistical, overly happy with himself tone that comes right through on every page. Most of the book is rather boring, but it is such a quick read that it didn't bother me enough to put it down. The descriptions of his physical ailments, particularly how he felt at his worst moments during several of his adventures was the most interesting part. I can't imagine I'll ever run Western States, so maybe Dean's retelling of his first time is the closest I'll come to understanding what it is like to run up and down mountains in the middle of the night, pushing yourself a point where you almost go blind and begin to urinate blood. Nice stuff, right?

In the end, it is good toilet or airplane reading. Pick it up at the library, but definitely do not bother buying it.

Monday, July 03, 2006

iPod Saga, Part Four

Given that I hadn't heard anything, I figured I'd just ship the iPod back. Really, what else can I do at this point anyways? I believe I am on the right side of this dispute and having been the first party to register the issue with Paypal, I think I am in good shape as far as getting a favorable resolution. So, as a show of good faith and an effort to keep things moving, the iPod got packaged up and dropped off at the neighborhood Kinko/FedEx joint.

Oddly enough, on the same day that happens, I get this email from the lovely Dena:

Hello David,

I have spoken with my supervisor and we are going to
go ahead and send you out your replacement despite the
buyer dispute. However, we cannot send you a
replacement until we have received the defective iPod.
You should have already received an RMA# (DS062806)
and a return shipping label via email. Please package
the defective item securely and attach the return
shipping label to the outside of the box. Once we
receive the defective iPod, we will issue you a
replacement. Once you receive the replacement, please
remove the buyer dispute so that we can receive
payment for the item. Please let me know if there is
anything else that I can help you with.

Thank you,

She needed to talk to her supervisor about this? I'll be keeping an eye on the FedEx tracking information and sending her a reminder email when it looks like my package has been received by them. The sad part is that all I wanted is this kind of response, really. Just work through the dispute, resolve it quickly, and I'll be happy to close it. I'm not looking to hold them over a barrel here, but I don't understand why they never chose to communicate with me through Paypal.

Friday, June 30, 2006

My Marathon Training Program...

This is my hybrid plan, based on Hal Higdon's Intermediate II and a lot of the comments I've read on Runner's World Marathon Forums. Things are going well so far, but I have trouble remembering exactly how many miles I am supposed to run during the workweek.

More Language Acquisition

So, I say to Noah that something is awesome and he says:

"No, Daddy. It's not awesome. It's great."

iPod Saga, Part Three

So, while waiting to hear back from Dena, I get the RMA and shipping information from a new person, Lindsey. Maybe Dena is the "bad" cop and Lindsey is the "good" cop?

Sorry you are having problems with your unit and for
any inconvenience
this has caused you. Please follow
these instructions to return the
item safely to us.

1. Please package the item with all accessories
(ac adapter/power
cord, CDs, instruction manuals, etc)
in the original packaging. If
the plastic wrap has
been broken, please use bubble wrap and/or foam
to make sure the item is securely packaged. Please
note that
you are responsible for any damage incurred
during the return shipment
due to insufficient

2. Please send the item to:

Attn: RMA #
10225 Barnes Canyon Rd Suite A112
San Diego, CA 92121

Make sure to include a detailed description of
the problem you have
been nencountering.

3. Please note that this RMA is only valid for
2 weeks. If your unit
is not received back within
2 weeks, this return authorization will be
voiding any future warranty coverage through MobilePC.

4. Print and attach your FedEx return label to your
unit and ship
back to us. Please notify us when you
have sent it out, so we can know
when to expect it.

5. Please allow us a few days to review your item
and duplicate the
problem. If possible, we will
repair the item and return it to you.
If unable to
repair the unit, we will replace it. If we do not have
any units to replace the defective one, we will issue
a refund. (If
we are not given the opportunity to
repair or replace the unit, we charge
a 25% restocking
fee as stated in the auction listing.)

6. If you would like a replacement unit sent prior to
returning the
original, please send us payment for the
full value of the unit. We
will send a replacement unit
out to you once payment has been
received. When we receive
the original unit, we will refund the
amount in full.
If unit has been damaged during shipment:

7. Please make sure to keep all original packaging.
If possible take
digital pictures of the damage. We will
give you instructions on how
to file a damage claim with
If you have any other problems or questions,
feel free to contact us.


So, I print out the label and figure I can package the iPod up and send it back the following day. Before I get around to doing that, I get another message from Dena and she addresses the Paypal dispute again:

Hello David,

We apologize for the confusion. As you mentioned, the
hold is on the transaction, not the account. While the
transaction is on hold, Paypal has taken the funds
from our account so we currently do not have payment
for this item. However, I am going to issue you a RMA
#DS062906 and a return shipping label so that the item
can be returned to us on our account. The return
shipping label will be sent to your email address.
Simply print out the label, attach it to the package
and drop it off at your nearest FedEx location or
dropbox. Be sure to package the item securely. We
will ship a replacement after receiving the defective
item; the only thing we request is that you end your
buyer dispute prior to shipping out the replacement.
Please let us know if this is acceptable.

Thank you,

They still want me to close the dispute prior to any real action on their part. Again, they are giving me an RMA and taking care of shipping, but that is a few extra dollars to them and doesn't exactly compare with the cost of sending me another iPod. Maybe they are just concerned that I am going to stiff them somehow, maybe get Paypal to refund my money while I actually keep the device or something. I guess it is possible to do something like that, but I don't know how effective it would be. And, frankly, I don't know why they continue to choose to not communicate with me through Paypal's dispute process. I can't help but think they want to keep their requests for closure outside of Paypal's purview so it doesn't negatively impact them if we can't resolve this. So, I responded with this:


I appreciate what you are requesting and that you are
working with me to resolve this. But, I have some
concerns about how things have gone so far and I do
not understand why you require me to close the Paypal
dispute. You have issued an RMA and covered the
shipping expenses, both of which certainly suggest
that you have every intention of honoring your
exchange/return policy. But, you must know that if I
close the dispute, I have no avenue for recourse
whatsoever. So, if I do as you ask and then ship the
device, you can collect the funds, never send me a
replacement, and there will be nothing I can do other
than submit negative feedback on eBay, something that
will do nothing to get my money back or to get me a
working iPod.

I will be happy to close the dispute once I've
received a working iPod, but I do not see any valid
reason to do so beforehand.


And I haven't heard a peep since yesterday afternoon. I am going to ship the device back because it is no good to me and I am confident that I will be able to resolve this, one way or another, through Paypal. But, I don't think this story is finished yet.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

iPod Saga, Part Two

If you are just joining me on this trip, you should probably scroll down and read the prior post to put the following exchange in context.

Within 20 minutes of filing a dispute claim with Paypal, I hear from the seller:

We apologize for any inconvenience. We will gladly
replace your iPod. We will email you a shipping label
which will cover the cost of return shipping. Simply
print out the label, attach it to the package and drop
it off at your nearest FedEx location or dropbox. Be
sure to package the item securely, as any damage
caused during shipping will be your responsibility.
As soon as we receive the defective item we will ship
out a replacement. For future reference, your RMA# is

Thank you,

I assume that this email was spurred by having filed the claim, but it sure sounds like they are proactively responding to my original request to the support team, doesn't it? Note that they are choosing to email me directly and to not post messages through Paypal, something Paypal suggests so that there is documented evidence of dispute resolution. Not surprisingly, 12 minutes after this first message, I get the following:


According to our records you have a Paypal hold on
your account. You will need to cancel the dispute
before we can issue you a replacement. Please let us
know when you have removed the dispute and we will
then issue you a return shipping label for the
defective iPod.

Thank you,

Interesting timing, huh? It almost looks as if they were responding to me independently and in the process of taking care of the issue, they realized that I had filed a dispute. Of course they couldn't be staging this process, right? They issued an RMA, but didn't give me a method for actually sending the device back yet. So, I have just enough to feel like this is being taken care of, but I can't actually get it taken care of yet. So, I respond back:


There is no hold on the account. I filed a dispute
with Paypal regarding this purchase. You, as in
MobilePC, should have received notice not that long
ago. In fact, you emailed me not long after I filed
the dispute, so I assumed you were contacting me in
response to the dispute itself.

In any case, I don't see any reason why I should close
the dispute until you have satisfactorily resolved it.
I appreciate that you are willing to replace the
device, but I don't have an RMA, have not yet shipped
the device back, and obviously haven't received a
working device. Closing the dispute prior to getting
a working device cuts off the only method I have for
effectively resolving this issue.

If you are unwilling to process an exchange while the
dispute is open, I am happy to forward this
information to Paypal and request an investigation to
settle the matter. I would prefer to simply get the
RMA, send the device to you, and get the exchange,
though, and be able to update Paypal that I am


And, now I wait. Let's see if there is a FedEx shipping label or if they tell me to shove it. I realize now that I did have the RMA, but that doesn't help me much, does it?

iPod Saga, Part One

A while back, I posted about how our 40GB 4th Generation iPod died and how I couldn't find a good solution to replace or repair it. Well, after looking around and researching prices, we figured that the best option was to eBay a used iPod. I wanted to just replace the hard drive in the 40GB, but getting a new hard drive was more expensive than getting a used 20GB iPod. And, since the hard drive specs have changed for each model, it wasn't going to be that easy to get a drive that I could be sure would fit properly in the iPod we currently owned.

After watching the market for a few weeks and losing several bids, we scored a used 20GB 4th Generation iPod for $112.50, plus an additional $15 for shipping and handling. The auction listing actually said "Apple iPod" and the item description stated "Apple iPod Fourth Gen. (20 GB, MAC/PC - M9282LL/A) MP3 Player". I include this because while it is all loosely true, it isn't exactly true. What showed up was an HP-branded iPod with an entirely different serial number. If I had known that, I wouldn't have bought it since it requires some effort to reformat and restore the device so that it will work with a Mac, a hassle I don't need.

We did try to use it, though. But, it was pretty clear that the device was shot from the beginning. The usual error messages, the dreaded folder icon on the iPod, the Mac having no idea what this thing is and usually not seeing it at all. I tried to make it work, but the hard drive made clicking sounds from the moment we touched it...not a good sign.

So, after trying for a few days, I contacted the support department of the eBay seller, a seller who states a 30 day repair/exchange/refund policy. About a day and a half passes with no answer back. So, in looking for other options for resolving this, I realize I can file a dispute with Paypal. And, that is exactly what I did. In the dispute claim, you can send the seller a message. So I sent this:


I recently received a 20GB "used" iPod from you guys,
MobilePC. What I did not know when I purchased the
device was that it was an HP iPod and not an "OEM"
Apple iPod. If I had known this was an HP model or
one originally intended for use with a Windows PC, I
would not have purchased the device. I only own a Mac
and plan to use this iPod with a Mac. Trying to
switch the iPod to work with a Mac voids the
manufacturer's warranty, assuming that there is any
time left on that warranty in the first place.

Despite this, I did try to find a way to make it work
with my Mac. The moment I turned it on, I got the
folder icon suggesting that something was wrong. And,
more ominous was the audible clicking sound and the
feeling of the hard drive needle moving rather harshly
inside the device when I tried to use it. I believe
that the hard drive is likely bad in this device,
something I am familiar with having had my previous
40GB iPod's hard drive die on me.

I would like to either have this device repaired with
a good hard drive, exchanged for a working iPod that
is native to Mac, or I would like my money refunded to
me. If I have to ship this back to you, I don't think
it is fair that I have to pick up the shipping tab
twice. I paid to have this iPod sent to me the first
time in what turned out to be less than stellar
condition. I don't think I should have to pay to have
it returned to working condition, something that was
guaranteed in the auction.

Thank you,

And, in the next few posts, I'll share with you the back and forth responses...

First Loves

I think Noah has fallen in love for the first time. And with an older, married woman. Audrey's friend, Kate, came to visit this week and Noah has been absolutely beside himself with interest and affection for her. I can't explain it, other than she is a great person and good with kids. Maybe he has a thing for blondes.

We've never seen him so interested in someone. He has been acting out, in a sense, since she arrived. He has been excited and loud and totally engaged. He wanted to show Kate all his favorite things, wanted her to follow him around, and made a point of telling her all his likes and dislikes. The whole experience has been amazing, but I hope he isn't going to be depressed when he gets home tonight and realizes that Kate is gone and that he won't see her again for some time.

We'll have to get him a girlfriend in the neighborhood.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

The Latest Boundary Crossing

One of the measuring sticks we seem to use as parents is to recognize certain boundaries that Noah has yet to cross. That is, we note that there is a line of some form that he hasn't yet gone past. It might be a fear that he conquers or a place he can't yet reach. Or, not getting out of bed and leaving his room despite the fact that there is nothing physically stopping him. After the conversion of his crib to a toddler bed, we figured he'd bust through that line immediately, but he didn't. Visions of Noah standing next to our bed in the middle of the night, or going into the kitchen to get a drink of water from the refrigerator, or falling down the stairs in the dark immediately popped into my head. But, he gave us no reason to worry until recently. First, he sneaks up on me at 5:45AM while I am getting ready to go out for a run. I'm just about to leave and there he is, just standing at the top of the stairs. I took him back to his room, got him settled and back to sleep, and left without any trouble. But, now I think we are cooked. We all slept in this morning, or so I thought. Around 6:45AM, I heard Noah talking, but it sounded like his usual sleepy calls for help finding his binky. He can find it himself and once he does so, he goes back to sleep. I closed my eyes, but woke up about 15 minutes later and got in the shower. Neither Noah, or anyone else for that matter, seemed to be awake. After the shower, I open the bathroom door to peak at the alarm clock to check the time. And, there he is, just standing next to our bed, patiently and quietly waiting for Audrey to wake up.

"Hi Daddy. I'm awake."

Yes, he is...more every day, it seems.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Landlocked, Yet Drowning

Here in Fairfax, we have lots of lakes and some small creeks or "runs" as they are called in these parts, but no major bodies of water. I guess the Potomac isn't too far or the Rappahanock either. In any case, though, not something that means one should be too concerned about floods. Except when the skies open up and won't stop dumping water out on us. We have had somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 inches of rain since last Thursday. This is just getting absurd. A good morning is one in which I don't have to bring my bags of lawn clippings back from where they floated the night before.

Friday, June 23, 2006

I Lost the Battle, but I Will Win the War

I mowed the lawn last night. Normal occurence, usual effort. Actually, it was quick this time, but I don't know exactly why. In any case, it turns out that we have a nest of yellowjackets living in a hole in the front part of our lawn. I aroused them during the mowing. I didn't see them, made my first pass, and clearly pissed them off. Then, because I am rather stupid, I thought it would be a good idea to run the nest over again, since a giant spinning blade should be able to kill any of them that tried to get out. Besides, it is my lawn and I'm not going to concede anything to them. Yeah, well, that second pass ended in me running into the street, cursing from the sting I had just gotten on the back of my right leg.

I left them alone the rest of the night, but I will soon pay them a visit with death on my mind.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Strange Disappearances

So, I leave the house for a run at 6AM this morning. Sitting on the stoop, tying my shoelaces, I drink about half of a sports drink before taking off. I'm gone a bit over an hour.

When I come back, there is a flyer stuff into the handle of our front door for some housecleaning service. I go in and get on with coffee making, breakfast eating, and all the getting ready for work and taking Noah to daycare stuff. As I'm getting ready to leave, I realize that the sports drink is still out on the porch. But it isn't. It has vanished. So, someone put a flyer in my door some time between 6 and 7AM this morning and thought it would be perfectly reasonable to take my half-used sports drink off my hands. Audrey thought maybe they were just cleaning up, but it wasn't in our garbage can.

Would you take a used drink from some stranger's porch and drink it? Would you use a cleaning service that employs people who would?

And So It Begins...

Noah has been rather "bossy" lately. Clearly, he recognizes his verbal abilities and how well he can communicate with us. And, he has a good understanding of many of the nuances and intricacies of language. Add to this the fact that he is becoming very aware of himself in terms of age and relation to other people and you get an interesting mix.

He tells me what to do on a regular basis. Like not to sing with his music or to drive the silver car instead of the red car. The other night, while Audrey is working at the sink and Noah is getting a head start on dinner, I take a moment to replace the lighbulbs in one of the lights in the kitchen. Not a big deal, really. I finish the job and am replacing the light fixture when Noah says "Good job, Daddy".

Just what I need...another person in my house commenting on everything I do.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Talent Kills

I was just wondering why all the great music artists, at least the ones I really like, have to die. Some of the most amazing stuff I have ever heard was made by people that died, either by drugs or suicide or a combination. Hendrix, Elvis, Jeff Buckley, Elliot Smith. Sure, they aren't all in the same category, but my list of favorite artists or albums would be rife with dead people.

How come people like Britney Spears or Toby Keith don't die "young"? Is it that the truly talented have too much and it kills them? Is it that whatever is the source of their creativity is also the source of whatever it is that drives them to behavior that kills them? Kind of like how genius always seems to be separated from insanity by a paper thin margin. Maybe we aren't meant to be very smart or creative or interesting as a species. That would at least explain why the planet is largely populated with halfwits and bores.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

What Did You Do?

A lot of people have asked me how I lost all the weight, but there is no simple answer. I didn't get surgery or get shipped off to some fat camp for the summer. I just had to work at it, day after day. But, there are some things I've learned and that I would tell anyone who wanted to lose weight and get in shape.

1. There is no easy solution. Period. You will have success and failure. You will wake up some days and not care and have other moments when you feel great about yourself and your progress. You won't lose weight as fast as you want and you won't always have the self-control you need, but you can still meet your goals. I lost 90 pounds by staying motivated, re-committing myself to losing weight every few months, and to being open to trying different strategies to accomplish my goal. I did South Beach, Atkins, Weight Watchers, and all sorts of wacky diets I invented on my own (like the eat a Balance Bar and then starve yourself until dinner diet). If you want to make it, you just have to keep working at it.

2. Near term and achievable goals were a big key for me. Originally, I had wanted to get down to 200 pounds. But, to stay motivated, I set near term goals for myself. I would work to lose weight in 10-15 punds increments and then ease up when I hit each goal. It allowed to shoot for something I could achieve in a short period of time, which meant that I didn't have to work at it for too long a period of time without any gratification. Then, I'd get "sick" of being that weight and push on to the next goal. This strategy ultimately led me to push back my final weight loss goal from 200 to 185 to 175 pounds. This was particularly helpful the longer I worked at weight loss since it became increasingly hard to lose weight. It is not that hard to lose 15 pounds when you are 265, eat garbage all the time, and don't exercise. Some very basic changes can make a huge difference. When you are 200, eating healthy, and working out fairly regularly, you need to have a pretty serious approach to drop another 25 pounds, not to mention some extra patience. So, break up your weight loss into shorter term goals and just focus on making it through the next 10-15 pounds.

3. The only real solution is diet AND exercise. Diet alone or exercise alone just won't get all the wight off or help you to keep it off. I lost a fair amount of weight by basically dieting, but I had to starve myself fairly often just to keep it going. I got sick of that. I needed to incorporate exercise to lose the last 35-40 pounds. And, as a result, I also had to eat more (my hunger became unavoidable) and I had to learn how to eat more without sabotaging myself. So, eating more didn't mean loads of any food I wanted, but meant increasing my intake of healthy options in proportion to each other and in moderation. And, I also let myself enjoy more treats (okay, so I basically didn't eat any when I was in serious dieting mode).

4. Drink water. It sounds simple, and it is, but it makes a huge difference. I probably drink between 75-100 ounces of water a day. At the same time, I've cut back on how much coffee I drink, from 5-6 cups to 3-4, and I will never drink any soda that isn't a diet soda. One can of Coke is 150 calories. Think about that for a moment. One 12 ounce can of Coke is 150 calories. And it has no nutritional value whatsoever. There is absolutely no good reason to ingest that stuff when it is simply sugar water. Is a can of Coke worth running a mile and a half? Is it worth getting on an elliptical machine for 20-30 minutes? Right, I didn't think so.

5. Eat your veggies. And fruits too. Vegetables are more important, though, since they carry a great deal of the vitamins and minerals that we need and don't bring along nearly the same amount of sugar with them. Fruits are great and have a lot of cancer-fighting agents, not to mention fiber, but they all have some degree of sugar. If you eat 5-6 servings of fruits and vegetables a day, but eat them all as fruit, you are ingesting a much larger amount of sugar than if you balance your fruit intake with more vegetables. Same amount of food, less sugar, and more variety. I eat all kinds and try to mix it up regularly. You'd be amazed at how easy it is to eat all the vegetables you need.

6. Whatever you are doing, it has to be for the long haul. The changes in your eating habits and level of activity should be changes that you are willing to accept as part of your life...for the rest of your life. I always think about the fact that I spent my 20s as a fat slob and that I wasted those years. Yes, I had a lot of great times. I fell in love, got married, started a family, bought a home...sure. But, I never wanted to go anywhere because I spent ten years feeling like crap all the time. I wasn't able to enjoy myself and the opportunities that I had, both work and personal, because I was overweight. So, for me, it is easy to commit to making life changes because I never want to go back. I pissed away a good chunk of my life as an unhappy lardass who ate anything he wanted and indulged himself all the time. I don't plan on doing that any more.

7. You have to pick an exercise that focuses on fat burning. The majority of your effort should be on some aerobic activity so that you can drop the weight and build up a general level of fitness. I think women probably benefit from weight training more than men do, but I've seen some men who have horrible muscle tone and need to pick up a dumbell. And, once you've lost most of the weight, you should really shift your exercise to something that you enjoy and that will give you the kind of body you want. If you really like lifting and want to be a beefcake, go for it. Me...I spent so much of my life "husky" that I want to be lean. So, I stick with running with a bit of lifting just to take care of my core and upper body. Weight lifting bores me, but I love running and don't want to ever stop doing it.

I'll share more stuff in the near future, like what I do when it comes to ordering food at restaurants. That is, assuming that anyone cares to hear about this stuff. I guess I'll just post and then everyone can complain.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Capitol Hill Classic 10K

Great race, rather ridiculous weekend. When I signed up for this race, it was because Jon was coming down for some show at the 9:30 Club. Some gay stuff he thought he heard on Sirius, but it turned out to be really fruity stuff that he hadn' t even heard before. I think he might have enjoyed himself if he had gone seeing as how the place probably would have been packed to the rafters with teenage girls, but I guess he was more interested in seeing if the folks in DC can measure out a race course properly. Anyways, he would be in town, so why not do another race together? He says he challenged me, but I think it was more of a mutual thing, like "You want to race when you come down? Sure...". But, if challenging me sounds good, I'm happy to keep that story. I screwed up, though, and forgot that my mother was going to be in town that weekend too. So, instead of having her stay with us and play with Noah, I had instead offered up the guest bedroom to Jon and figured I'd spend my time with him. This is all fine, of course, because my mother drives me nuts and I'd rather not spend more time listening to her prattle on about her weight loss than I absolutely have to. I prattle on about running a bit, but I don't think I'm as irritating and besides...I like listening to myself talk about running. But, this irritated my sister, since it meant that she would have to do all the driving around. Alyssa was already in Florida and was flying back home with our mother in tow, but she didn't want to get stuck with her all weekend either. I figure it is only fair that Alyssa has to do this once in awhile considering all the shit my parents do for her. What an ungrateful turd she can be!

I got a bit nutty trying to plan things out and appease everyone, to the point where I clearly made Audrey nuts. As a solution, I finally just accepted that it could be weird and messy and that somebody might not be too happy. But, screw it. What can you do? I couldn't tell Jon not to come down and I couldn't tell my mother she couldn't come over. As the weekend got close, it turned out that our friends, Karsten and Laura, and their daughter, Sofia, would be in town too. But, at least they didn't need a place to stay.

The weekend didn't go all that badly, actually. I got to spend a fair amount of time with Jon, which I know he really enjoyed. I kept catching him looking at me, smiling. I think it makes him feel special to hang out with me. My mother and sister were fine most of the day on Saturday, but they got strange at the end. We had a BBQ and invited a few more people over to help justify all the food we planned to cook. I can't understand why Sheila had to stuff our fridge with Mike's Hard Lemonade, since she is the only lightweight that drinks that kind of crap. That stuff is for sorority girls and has no business in my fridge. Shit, man, it took up all the room we had intended for the Amstel Light! By the way, don't buy beer at Giant. Jon and I went to get a six pack before the BBQ and those slippery bastards tried to rip us off. Jon wanted the new Heineken Light stuff, but the six pack came up at the register as $15.99! That is the same price they are charging for a 12 pack. When we pointed this out, the bitchy woman who seemed to be some sort of manager couldn't bother to do anything other than tell us that the price is whatever came up on the register, basically. We tried to show here the obvious mistake at the shelf, but she didn't care and just gave us her backside and walked away. Nice. We bought the Amstel instead and won't be buying any more beer from them.

After the beer and BBQ and cake, everybody quickly left and/or fell asleep. Jon was going to stay over, but it seemed like Sheila strong armed him into coming to her house. Maybe she wanted to get him to try some wedding cake or to help her pick out some invitations or something. He is good at all that sensitive stuff. And Sheila needs all the help she can get. Do I sound like a total dick yet?

My mother and sister couldn't decide whether to stay at our place Saturday night or go back to Alyssa's place. They ended up going back to the city. I can't really tell why and I can't say that it matters all that much. It meant we had the house to ourselves, which was kind of nice. The next morning, I picked up Jon and we headed into the city for the race. I got a little turned around on the way there, but we had plenty of time to sign in, get our packets, travel back and forth to the car, hit the bathroom, and meet up with Bridget. We tried to get into the pack in the few moments before the gun went off, but we couldn't really figure out where to enter and what exactly was going on. The signs to indicate overall finish time, providing some indication of what kind of group you belonged in, were hard to see. So, we just jumped in and took off when it was time. I didn't have to do much dodging or weaving, so I guess we picked the right spot.

The race was enoyable, but uneventful. Running around RFK was rather boring, but the section that went through the neighborhood was nice. A fair number of people were outside, a bunch of kids were waving and cheering, and a few people had hoses going to help runners cool off. I was feeling pretty good until the last 1.5 miles or so. We headed down the hill and turned around the US Capitol and then it hit me...we'd be finishing the race by running back up the hill. That was not easy...uphill, into the sun, heading into the home stretch. I did have some energy left at the end, though, and "kicked it out" in the last few hundred feet. I felt great afterwards and wandered around for a while trying to find Jon, Bridget, or Audrey and Noah. I found my family first and then Bridget and Jon joined us in the playground.

For some reason, I often have to take a big crap after a race. I guess the excitement gets peristalsis going or something and my intestines gotta get to work. So, despite the warnings from Jon and Bridget about the tiny toilets, I went to do my business in the elementary school that race was staged at. Yeah, tiny is an understatement. These toilets were made for a doll house. I laughed out loud when I went in the stall. I sat down, though, and did what I had to do. Of course, this required holding my junk to the side with my left hand to keep it out of the water. It also required that I stand up to make room for my pile as it mounted up...you wouldn't want to just sit on your own doo if you can help it. And, I had to stand up, hold my can open and wipe with the free hand. There just was no way to wipe normally. Not the most inconvenient poop I've ever had, but it certainly ranks in the top five.

After the race, we went up to Adams Morgan, grabbed some bagels at So's Your Mom, and hung out in the park for a while. My mother and sister met up with us, keeping my mother from bitching about not seeing Noah again, and keeping us from having to buy those two moochers breakfast.

Here are some shots from the race...I did a screen capture of the stuff from Brightroom. There is no way in hell I am going to pay them for these photos.

I had wanted to run a sub 8:00/mi pace and I went way past my expectations. I've ramped up my "training" as a result and I think this bodes well for my goal of a marathon in less than 4 hours. In the end, the weekend worked out well and I surpassed the goal I had set for the race. I can't complain...too much.

Capitol Hill Classic - 10K
Washington, DC
May 21, 2006

Gun Time: 49:36
Net Time: 48:19
Pace: 7:47
Age Place: 83/233
Overall Result: 377/1152

Thursday, May 18, 2006

End of the road...what next?

So, it seems official. I have hit my goal weight. When I started this whole thing, getting in shape and all, I figured I'd be happy to get back to my college weight - 200 lbs. And, it would let me fit into my old clothes, waist size 36. I thought that was a good goal and one that I'd be happy with. But, after losing 65 pounds, I guess I needed a new goal and a reason to keep going. So, I set my next target as 185 and a waist size of 34. Hit that by Thanksgiving, which was good timing. I stalled out during the holiday season and probably gained a little back, particularly since I threw all my cares out the window during the Steelers playoff run. But, I got back on track and ramped up the running some. I wanted to get to 20-25 miles a week and I've hit that mark too. The final goal was to get to 175 and a waist size of 32. Not that I needed to do it, but it seemed like a reasonable final goal for weight and all that. Well, I have been at or below that number all week...which I think is good enough to say I've done it. But, what next? I can't just keep losing weight. Audrey has made it clear she doesn't find skinny guys attractive. And, frankly, I don't need to get thinner or have a smaller waist. My health is great (blood pressure, cholesterol, etc.), I'm running 20-25 miles a week, and it seems like I've accomplished what I set out to do. But, I need something to shoot for in order to stay motivated. So, as a "present" and a challenge to myself, I signed up for the Marine Corps Marathon yesterday. I've got more than enough time for a full scale training program and I think I've got a good base to start from. And, since I've consistently done better during a race than I expected to, I am going out on a limb and setting my finish time goal for 3:50. It seems aggressive to me at the moment, but I think I can do this. My performance at the Cherry Blossom back in April is my benchmark at the moment and I think I'm going to get a PBR this weekend at the Capitol Hill Classic. I'm throwing down the gauntlet for that race too...I want a sub 8:00/mi pace for that one. Tough, but I think I can pull that one off too.

If you are up for doing MCM, join me! Registration is open, but it will fill up VERY FAST.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

EX2 Off Road Half-Marathon, Prince William Park

So, this past Sunday, I ran my first half-marathon and my second trail run. It was an amazing experience, but my thighs are still killing me. I have never run so hard in my life. Seriously, this was easily the most physically exhausting thing I have ever done. At the end, I felt so stiff and sore I was afraid to sit down for fear that I couldn't get back up. And, for the first five minutes or so post-race, I had a sharp pain in the middle of my chest. I have no idea what it was other than my lungs saying "Are you fucking crazy?". It is now days later and I still have soreness in my legs to the degree that it makes going up and down stairs somewhat difficult. It didn't stop me from running 4 miles yesterday or mowing the front lawn today, but it is still more pain than I've had from running at any point in the past. I also got two nice new blisters, one for each foot. And, for the second time in as many weeks, the second toe on my right foot developed a blister with blood in it, making it increasingly clear that I'll probably lose that toenail. Nice. Maybe I'll preserve it as part of some sort of disgusting running shrine, almost like the one that BrundleFly collects in his medicine cabinet as his parts fall off in his transformation (catch the reference?).

In colder weather, I might have been tempted to run in my Soprano's Adidas Track Suit, but I stuck with plain old running shorts and a Reebok performance top. I forgot to grease up the nips, but my friend and partner for the day, Bridget, happily lent me some vaseline-like stuff which pretty much saved the day. I was the slightest bit raw afterward, but it was not too bad. I wonder if my nipples won't just harden up from all of this abrasion. I've rubbed them to the point of bleeding at least three times now and I imagine it will happen a few more times before I am through.

I started out my further up in the crowd this time and was able to get past the slowpokes and the thick part of the crowd before we entered into the single track areas. This kept me from getting stuck behind someone who couldn't traverse the more challenging terrain without stopping and backing everyone up. So, I was able to run non-stop for the entire distance. I also made use of the aid stations, stopping for water or Gatorade at almost every one of them and even grabbing a Vanilla Bean GU halfway through the race. It wasn't bad, actually, although it looks odd. It tastes like cupcake frosting, but looks like some kind of clear acne medication or maybe a thick and gooey lube. I don't know if it helped me at all, frankly, but it was a nice treat. The downside to the GU was that I had to carry the packaging to the next aid station before I could throw it out. And, in the process of trying to dispose of it and grab another water, another runner and I almost collided.

The weather was perfect and the trail conditions were very good, so only a few spots of mud to deal with. I must have crossed almost a dozen bridges, jumped a few streams, and run over a hundred logs or so. There were a number of extremely steep climbs and some decent rocky outcroppings to deal with. But, the most interesting part of the run was the segments that were stream side. A good part of the route was little more than running through bushes. There was a trail, cleared enough so that you could tell where to put your feet, but the opening in the brush was extremely narrow. The challenge was to not drag any leaves or branches so much as to have them snap back and smack the person behind you. It was exhilarating to run like that, in such a natural manner. Running feels very natural to me to begin with, but flying through barely cleared woods seems like the purest form of it, doing something that our species has been doing for millenia. Of course, instead of chasing down prey in a loincloth, I was running some silly ass race while wearing all sorts of manmade fabrics.

I did much better than I thought I would, coming in at 2:09:47. I figured it would take me close to 2:30 or so to finish, but I had a fair amount of luck in getting behind strong runners who I could "pace" with. And, at one point, I was the lead runner in a pack, so I felt pressured to keep a good pace up. I think I was running around 9:00/mi at that point, but I couldn't sustain that up the hills over the last few miles. The stronger runners behind me passed on by, slapping me on the back for my efforts. The comraderie was nice and gave me a bit of boost to keep climbing and charging along. I have found that I do well on the hills and am usually able to gain a fair amount of ground on my fellow runners at those points, but this race really tested me and my abilities. I just ran out of gas towards the end, in a way I hadn't experienced before. It came down to willpower, frankly. I could feel my legs tightening up and I knew I was going to have some pain afterwards, but I kept pushing along. I came close to twisting my ankles a few times, but I ignored the jolt each time and just kept running. Sticks, branches, slippery rocks...you just keep going because you know that it will be impossible to get running again if you stop. Sure, you can walk up the hill, but then how long will it be before you get too stiff to continue and end up just walking the whole way? See the pain on my face...

I felt like death at the end, but I think I came in decently fast in the last few hundred yards. There was a good sized crowd and I got really psyched to see that Audrey and Noah (and Bridget's husband, Mike) had made it down to meet us at the end. All I could think about the last few miles was the scones that Audrey was going to bake that morning and I had hoped that she'd be here with them. When I finished, I could barely wait to eat one...those things are just awesome and I think the post-run scone (chocolate and cranberry) was the best thing I have ever eaten. Goddamn, my wife is a good ass cook (okay, so this is for her). I also had some M&Ms, more Gatorade, and a slice of pizza, all thanks to the race organizers. What an amazing day! I'm a total running dork and you should definitely make fun of me!

EX2 Off-Road Marathon - Prince William Park
Triangle, VA
May 7, 2006 9AM

Time: 2:09:47
Pace: 9:54
Age Place: 26/54
Overall Result: 65/208 (really 210, but two didn't finish at all)

Dude, Where's My Music?

Why does radio suck so badly? The one program I really enjoyed, The Sports Reporters, has been moved to 9AM to fill the gap left by Tony Kornheiser (biggest damn arrogant blowhard around). So, I now get Coach John Thompson for my evening drive home...great coach, horrible radio personality. He is long winded, amazingly monotone, slow witted, and just boring enough to make you want to drive your car into a telephone pole for some excitement. As bad as he is, his sidekicks are worse, particularly Doc Walker...the biggest cheeseball ass-kisser on DC radio right now. This dude never has anything negative to say...not just negative, but not even mildly critical. He defends everyone and always seems to either buy the crap that he hears from the local teams or just spouts it because he can't think of anything original to say. Doc Walker...dumber than you would think a former NFL pro could be.

I love sports radio...good sports radio, like I used to listen to as a kid in NJ. WFAN, 660AM, out of NYC is the pinnacle of local sports radio. The hosts are opinionated, loud, and extremely knowledgable. And, none of those guys mess around discussing non-sports crapola. That was why I hated Kornheiser so much. I'm listening to sports radio because I don't like to listen to regular talk radio, I'm sick of NPR, and music stations stink. That last thing I want to hear is more music interspersed with political commentary and the rambling complaints of an aging Jew. Damn, all that dude does is complain and bitch and complain and bitch. I think he is going to bomb on Monday Night Football, but that means his sorry, whiny ass will be back on the radio in DC again soon.

So, what to do? In the mornings, I jump between NPR, Mike & Mike on ESPN Radio (another horrible set of retards), and the Junkies. The Junkies are total clowns, but I enjoy the banter and the fact that these guys are real, everyday guys. And, they spend enough time discussing sports to make me happy, especially since they don't have Mike Golic and his unintelligible nonsense. Golic might have something to say, but you can't make out any words since he always has food in his mouth.

I am tempted to get satellite radio, but I don't want to have to pay for it. And, I imagine I'll find out that I hate most of the stations. I wish I had a working iPod!

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Brand New Flava in Ya Ear!

Or, surgically inserted tubes...

Noah has had five ear infections since the beginning of 2006. And, frankly, I don't think he has ever been without fluid in his ears. So, after having filled him full of antibiotics a half dozen times, we saw an ENT specialist and got "approved" for ear tubes.

In fact, Audrey took him to the doctor last Tuesday and we were scheduled for the procedure for the following morning at 6:30AM. Much faster than we expected, but we had to jump at the chance to just get this done. It was tough to get up that early, but the little guy handled it like a champ. Because they were giving him general anesthetic, we couldn't allow him to have any food or water after he went to bed. It makes you feel like a horrible parent when your child keeps telling you that he is thirsty and hungry and you can't give him anything. He doesn't understand why and probably thinks you are punishing him for no reason. Noah kept saying things like "Daddy, thirsty...water please" or "Hungry for breakfast, please". I felt like a jerk. He even tried to get tricky with us at the surgery center. He could see the styrofoam cups for the coffee available in the lounge (one of those single pod machines), so he asked to have one to play with. I let him have one in an effort to try and make happy, but that immediately led to him asking for water for his cup. Thankfully, it wasn't much longer before they took us back to the operating area. It was unsettling to dress our toddler in a gown and put him in a hospital bed. He was pretty chill, watching Disney and handling the poking and prodding with ease. He got very upset when the time came for the procedure and they took him out of the room and down the hall. It was obvious that he knew something was going to happen and that Mommy and Daddy wouldn't be with him. He seemed scared and cried out for us, which made us both want to cry too. But, no more than fifteen minutes passed before we were called back in to see him. He was just sleeping in the bed, peacefully. I think he started snoring a good bit, so we jut waited for the drugs to wear off. When he awoke, he was somewhat disoriented and had a bit of a crazed look in his eye. His hair was kind of wacky too. But, he calmed down pretty quickly and was quick to accept the cherry ice pop they offered him. The whole event ended rather quietly. He finished the pop, we got him dressed, and headed on our way.

We stopped at an Einstein Bagels joint on the way home. Dude, that place sucks. Horrible bagels that do nothing but disrepect the name "Einstein". The coffee wasn't too bad and the chocolately brownies that we bought grew on me, but Audrey's egg sandwich looked like microwaved ass. Noah was fussy and indecisive and basically couldn't choose just one thing. We bought two different brownies and chocolate milk and he still started to get cranky and ask for a cookie. We wolfed down our food and left.

I think it has made a huge difference in his behavior and general attitude. Think about it...if you no longer had pressure in your ears and verying degrees of discomfort and pain, you'd be much happier too. It hasn't been perfect, though. We are still giving him antibiotics, orally and putting drops in his ears, and we are waiting to hear back on the results of the bacteria culture. There is some concern that the chronic infections are the result of drug-resistant bacteria, meaning it make take some additional measures to truly clear up the problem. Additional measures meaning the doctor straps Noah to a bed and suctions crap out of his ears or they put a central line into him (tube in him up to his heart) and pump him full of more antibiotics. The kid is already getting Cipro, what the hell else can we do?

More Adventures in Product Management

This isn't intended to be funny or anything like that. I just thought I should share these little tidbits I've picked up through work experience.

There are some keys to making product management work. Nobody can argue that there are some "keys", but they might quibble with the ones that I think are most important. They can chew their own nads, for all I care.

First thing is that PM, whether one person or a whole, must have a clearly defined set of responsibilities and an obvious place within an organization. You can't be successful with PM by committee and you can't have it work if all of the stakeholders don't understand what PM is doing. PM has to interface with sales, marketing, development, etc. and those communications need to be seamless. So, for example, developers need to understand that PM will define the requirements for their work, but will not dictate how to design the software. PM decides what the product needs to do, but development determines how the product will do it. If the implementation doesn't work well, then PM has the right to tell the developers to do it over (within reason). This is a frustrating thing for everyone involved, which is why good requirements are so important.

Which leads me to the second key. It isn't just good requirements; it's understanding what good requirements are and knowing how to write them. I'm not good at describing them, but I know them when I see them.

Back to the first key for a moment. It helps a whole hell of a lot when a product manager does not have a boss that ignores his/her efforts. Okay, so this did happen to me. I worked hard on developing product strategy and got the CTO to buy in only to have the idiot CEO I worked for completely disregard it all. Doesn't exactly move things forward if the CEO basically goes back to implementing his own ideas whenever he feels like it, does it?

Alright, more on good requirements. This is probably the one thing that product managers must do well. If you don't know how to do it, learn. Pragmatic Marketing offers a class and Joel Spolsky has written some great articles about it. RTFM and get moving.

Third key...? Plentiful chocolate cake.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Running Burke Lake Park

Burke Lake Park is just down the road from our house and I've been hearing a lot lately about how nice it is to run there. There is a 4.7 mile loop that winds around the lake, much of it along or right near the shoreline. I gave it a shot this past weekend and it was really, really enjoyable. I was attempting to meet with some folks who regularly run the trail, but I didn't find them and ended up running alone. Kind of a shame to get up early and make it to the park before 7AM to not have things work out, but I got to run while it was still cool and while the mist was just starting to rise off the water. And, that early in the day, there just aren't that many people on the trail, so I had the freedom to sing out loud when I felt like it.

If you get a chance, it is definitely worth trying out. Of course, since I've got very few readers, the only way they'd be trying out Burke Lake Park is because they've come to visit and I am dragging them there for a run. The bonus is that Starbucks is on the way back and there is always time for a good coffee and a muffin.

Adventures in Product Management

So, I've got the EX2 Off-Road Half Marathon coming up this Sunday and I'm trying to let a very nasty looking blister on my foot heal beforehand. So, while that happens, why not post about weird experiences I've had in my career...like the time I worked for a guy with a bad mustache who wanted me to "invent" a plastic case for an RFID tag. Long story that won't make sense until I explain it all.

I was a mid-level guy working for a government contractor who mostly handled task-based stuff. I didn't have any real managerial responsibilities of any kind, but I was very happy being a subject matter expert and the only guy who straddled the fence between techie and business type on the team. Usually, people expected me to be the "smart" about technologies we wanted to consider using in a solution. So, I had to know stuff about biometrics, RFID, wireless, etc. and I had to be able to explain it to other people. The guy who ran our group decided that there had to be a huge market for equipping arms rooms with RFID systems to help automate the inventory. Turns out he and a few others, who were no longer around of course, had developed a prototype and showed it off at some trade shows a few years before. But, they never sold anything and they didn't bother to put a lot of effort into it at the time. So, this guy who we can call Stash (as in very fucking ugly moustache), decided it was time to dust this piece of shit off and hand it to me for fixing. There was some sense in doing it since Stash had convinced a friend of his to buy two copies of the solution. But, there is a very basic set of logic when doing product development that at least suggests that you should track the costs versus the revenue so you can determine if you'll ever make money on the product. You know, if it costs more to make than you'll ever get back in sales, well, then it just isn't worth the effort. Stash should have thought about this. I did, but nobody wanted to hear what I had to say. It costs thousands and thousands of dollars to buy equipment, even cheap RFID equipment, and to have a few developers work on something for a few weeks. Those two sales didn't cover these costs, but worse was that Stash decided we should sell it to people for less than $1000 a copy. Ridiculous. At less than $1000 for a software product, you are effectively selling a commodity. To make a profit, you need to sell lots of copies, which requires all of the infrastructure to get there. You know, marketing and sales and a good customer support team...none of which we had nor planned to get. So, all of this effort was essentially a waste. But, the best part was how much of my time was thrown in the toilet on a wild goose chase to get this wacky plastic case made.

So, if you are going to automate the tracking of inventory, in an arms room or any place else, you need to find a way to afix the RFID tag to the item you want to track. With cartons in a warehouse, it isn't that difficult. But, with M9 pistols and SAW rifles, it is a bit more challenging. Where do you put the RFID tag? You can't just slap it on the outside because the metal would interfere with the RF signal too much. You can't lash it to the weapon like a baggage tag because soldiers will rip it off immediately. So, you have to find a place to apply it that will protect it and will allow it to work. The only place, at least as far as we could tell, was to stick it inside the pistol grips. We just expoxied it up inside the grip and it worked reasonably well. But, Stash decided we needed something fancier. So, for this product that we couldn't make any money on...I had to find a plastics manufacturer to make an enclosure for an RFID tag that could fit inside a pistol grip. I spent weeks, on the phone and in meetings, with a manufacturer in an effort to design a piece that would work. In the end, the molds for the piece were going to cost $20-30K. Then, we'd need to pay for a limited production run, employees to assemble the parts and package them up, and we'd have to find a place to store all this stuff. As a refresher, Stash wanted to sell the software for less than $1000 and he figured we could sell them bags of these enclosures for a few extra bucks.

Do you see the problem with this situation? When Stash really understood the costs of making the enclosures, he shut up about a lot of this. He periodically tried to revive the effort, but I purposefully dragged my feet so I could focus my efforts on projects that were actually making money. Moral of the story is that you better have a good sense for what you can sell something for before you go off and invest a lot of money in building it.