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.