Powdercattin’ it

March 17, 2008

Some of the best memories I have of the 1990s is of ripping sidecountry runs with my friends at Stevens from the first chair to the last, pulling 9AM to 10PM days with a brief 5PM stop to dry off and power-nap.

We drifted apart over the last couple of years, due to lifestyle changes — jobs, infants, moves, etc. But we got back together this last weekend for a day of guided riding with Cascade Powder Cats. This late in the season, I didn’t exactly get my hopes up for epic conditions, but I was definitely looking forward to spending time with the old crew (and by old, I mean we’re all circling 40 and quickly moving north).

In fact, as the week started, temperatures were high and rain was plentiful, lowering my expectations of the conditions to basic guanch — aka Cascade Concrete — layered over random death cookies. But Tuesday night, temps dropped and the rain stepped up. I willfully ignored the snow reports, because (a) I wanted to follow the Law of Low Expectations, and (b) we were going to be guided, and so keeping up on snowfall, temp ranges, wind load, etc was effectively outsourced.

We pulled in late Thursday night to the pornographically named Mysty Mountain Cabin (I mean the only time I’ve ever seen anyone named Mysty was set to the backbeat of a lame disco soundtrack, and involved a Pizza Delivery Man) nestled just north of the damp and moss encrusted idyll of Skykomish. The next morning we woke up and rolled up to the headquarters of CPC, just off to the side of highway 2. We loaded up into one of the cats and trundled off around the ridge.

9 miles later we jumped out, underwent a brief recap of avy training using digital transceivers, and jumped back into the cat for a ride to the top.

One potentially limiting factor: I hadn’t ridden in 6 years. I have no idea how that happened, but there you have it. So as we unloaded, strapped in, and got some instructions from the guide on where to go, I was kind of wondering if I could even turn anymore. As usual, rational thought was overridden by the potential for fun. Fortunately, riding powder — especially light, fluffy powder — is like riding a bike. It all came back after the first three turns and there I was, with the rest of the guys, hooting and hollering like a complete idiot 🙂

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Cat riding rules. The guys at CPC were awesome. Harlan, the lead guide, was super cool, setting us up epic after epic after epic… Jeff, the sweep guide and one of the owners, was as excited as we were to be out in such killer conditions. The cat driver (I forget his name) was a total stud, I had no idea cats were so maneuverable. At lunch they took us into the yurt for some sandwiches, tomato soup, and oreos. Any gourmands might be snorting in disgust right now, but that’s exactly the fare to refuel with in the middle of a big day. Fast and good eating, minimal down time. Back in the saddle.

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This is what we rode: wide open bowls followed by perfectly spaced glades littered with super fun rollers that started with an ollie and ended with a pillow soft touchdown. Had we been younger, bolder, and riding more, they would have pointed us to cliff drops and windlips, but we were more than satisfied with the ride quality and selection.

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By late afternoon I was getting pretty beat, but only felt it on the ride up. Once we strapped in for the next one all pain was forgotten — sure, the reflexes were getting a little slower and the legs had a little less pop, but the spirit was still willing. Even though we had left the Vitamin I at home.

The last run was a hero run, the boys at CPC obviously were catering to our aging legs and our youthful egos. It started with a traverse into a bowl so wide open that we were all gripped with ‘Point it or Slash it ?!?’ syndome. I opted for GS turns, keeping the speed while feeling the g’s of a nice arcing powder turn, driving my back foot down and letting the front ride free. The snow was still light, and fast, and the angle was relaxed enough so that we could enjoy it without maxing our battered legs. It was the perfect way to end the day.

The next day, after passing out promptly at 10PM (so much for traditional bachelor party hijinks :)), we rallied for a half day at Stevens, our old stomping grounds. Of course we all talked it down, claiming tiredness and expecting chopped up conditions. While inbounds was quite chopped up, requiring jump turns, focus, and legs I didn’t quite have, time had stood still in all of the powder stashes, and there was still incredible light pow to be poached just out of bounds on skiiers left past Southern Cross. We were 15 years older, but riding the same glades, ripping the same lines, smiling the same stupid grins, and feeling the same stoke.

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So now I’m heading back into a high pressure week at work, but feeling so much better than I would have sans 2 epic powder days. I think I’ve lost my way in the last couple of years. In the middle of having a family and getting real about work, I’ve forgotten some of the basic essentials of good living — basically making time to have great adventures outside with good friends that get as stoked as I do, whether we’re riding powder, or climbing, or doing a killer ride. It’s a little late for a new years resolution, but here I go. 2008, despite work and family and a busy life, needs to be balanced, sprinkled with days like the last couple. One of the guys said it much better than I could ever have: he turned to me in the cat after yet another epic ride and said “I mean it’s not like I’m going to be on my deathbed saying ‘I could’ve worked more, or finished that project earlier’. We’ve got to get back on this while we’ve got cash, time and legs.”

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My Early Morning Exercise Commandments

January 21, 2008

Tomorrow, at 5:45, I will get up and prepare to go on a nine mile run. It’s the only time of the day, between job and family, that I have to run, and while  I’m not a super hardcore kind of guy, you know, the kind they show in the Nike commercials, but going on a long run or ride in the morning actually helps the rest of the day go much better.

Over the years I’ve found that the following suggestions are the only things that keep me rolling out of a warm and very comfortable bed:

  1. I give myself bonus points just for being awake, let alone awake and running.  That means I spend a lot of time immediately after I wake up  thinking “way to go! way to be awake! way to be stepping out into the cold and wet!”
  2. Those bonus points mean that  I don’t have to run fast if I don’t feel like it. Which is good, especially in the first few miles, because I usually start running at a pace generously termed as an ‘aggressive shuffle’.
  3. They also mean that I don’t have to run as far as I had previously planned the night before. In fact, if I’ve been running regularly for a while, and don’t feel like getting out of bed one morning, I won’t. I wait until I’m actually looking forward to running to start up again…
  4. That said, it’s best to get out and start going before I wake up and rational thought kicks in. The rational thing to do, 99% of the time, is to go back to bed.
  5. While I love running to heavy metal, I stay away from the iPod, because on a dark and windy road at 6:30 in the morning, I need my ears and everything else fully functioning. So I run more to an internal iPod, I get a good Ronny James Dio tune going in my head and use that to kick it up a notch. We Rock, anyone?
  6. When I get tired I pretend I’m a Kenyan, i.e. I weigh next to nothing, have lungs the size of a small house, and just float over the ground. I’m still a shuffling Indian, but the visualization has gotten me up more steeps than I can remember.
  7. I cycle through my body as I run, relaxing tensed up shoulders, concentrating on good form, analyzing my foot strike, etc. It’s amazing what you can find to focus on for an hour and a half.
  8. I walk home the last 1/4 mile. You would too if you lived at the top of a steep hill. This gives my legs time to warm down, and makes them less sore.
  9. I then ride into work. This is also a good warm down for the legs, it’s about 5 miles in, with one hill of any consequence.
  10. I take the next day off of running. I ride, or climb, or do something else. This lets my 39 year old body recover in time for the next early morning session.
  11. I try to make these morning runs ‘adventures’, by going on new routes, exploring different areas, reversing parts of loops, etc. Nothing sucks worse than being unexcited about a run because you’ve done the same route for the last 6 months.

This has kept me fresh and excited about running for a long time now. Hopefully I can stay relatively injury free (ankle is bugging me lately) and keep it together for a couple of 1/2 marathons later in the year.


Time to stop talking and start coding

December 23, 2007

I was in the middle of a lengthy blog post on Java complexity when it hit me: I’ve been opinionating this whole time, with nothing but vague references to my work to back it up. So much for credibility 🙂

Obviously I can’t spill the beans about work, other than in very specific instances of technology use, like I have been. But that is of limited interest. Who really cares what I think about technology X , or that I got in a flame war about Code Coverage? I think more people would be interested in what I’m using for code coverage, how I’m using Spring, or Rails, or Ext or {insert technology x here}.

Something that would be even better would be to document an actual application, one outside of work that I can be completely transparent about.

So…I’m a data geek. I love data, and I love the way it has become so easy to mash up. For me collecting and exposing data is what motivated my early involvement in the project that eventually became a real company. While Evri has a noble mission statement that is applicable to data in general, an itch I have that is not getting scratched right now is the juxtaposition of exercise data with geoloc data in a way that is actually useful to me.

When I strap on my Garmin 305, I want to be able to:

(1) Track my HR, speed and location for any activity that I happen to do outside.

(2) Upload my data, and with little to no extra configuration

(3) View/Pivot on the data in the following ways:

  • I want to be able to view my stats — specifically, how hard am I working over the course? What is my average HR, average pace, average elevation gain, etc, for that run ?
  • I want to see that run/bike/run on the richest map UI possible. Right now that’s Google Earth, tomorrow it might be something else.
  • I want to be able to track those stats over a specific segment of my bike/run/ski. I want to break them out per mile, but also be able to be able to select a segment of my bike/run/ski and view them.
  • If the route I have just run correlates (within an adjustable delta) to a route I have previously run, I want those two to be grouped together.
  • I want to be able to view my progress (or lack thereof) over those routes by graphing the stats over time. If I run course X on week Y, then run it on week Y+1, I want to see how my average HR compares. I want to see how my average pace compares.

That last point was the important one to me. One way to measure fitness is Actual Effort Expended — how hard did I work vs how fast did I go? Ideally, if E = effort and P = pace, you would want E to drop while P increases. In other words you want E/P to go to zero. I might graph it the other way so that it looks good on a graph (going to infinite instead of zero.

Every solution I’ve looked at so far does (1) and (2) above, but they don’t quite do (3). If they do,

(1) they charge you for that kind of calculation.

(2) they make you do the calculation.

First of all, I don’t think that anyone should be charged for that. I think that the ability to mash up and pivot data is very close to being commoditized, and that the cost of that should be underwritten by ads. Additional services, like personal training, should be subscription based. But the ability to view and manipulate your data should be an inalienable right, goddamnit.

Second, I want to be able to view and pivot on this kind of data with little to no effort. I don’t want to do anything more than adjust standard defaults if and only if needed. I don’t want to have to create or update or enter new routes, I want them to emerge from the data. I want my data to tell me when I’m in shape, when I’m out of shape, when I’m having a bad day, when I’ve got a new favorite route, when my route starts to change, etc.

I dont want to think too hard about manipulating my data. I may be a data geek, but I want to have a low to no barrier experience once I upload the data.

Over the next year I want to treat this like a real software project. I want to

  1. determine feasibility
  2. evolve requirements
  3. evolve user scenarios
  4. build a data model that supports those scenarios
  5. start implementing trace route prototypes of the software using things that I want to, and processes I want to.
  6. move the app off of my box to an EC2 stack.
  7. point my friends at it (and make them write their own filters if they use some other kind of GPS).

I want to have some fun, on my own time, with something I might actually use, and sharpen up my total stack skills on the way. Stay tuned fearless reader (even if that fearless reader is the fearless writer 🙂 This one actually excites me.

The first step in the feasibility process is to make sure I can actually parse Garmin 305 data….I’ll update when I get some more details.