Archive for 2008

A good trip

Sunday, December 28th, 2008

Last night, Shirley and I returned from a one month visit to India to see relatives. I’d been to India three times before, and I plan to return. Nonetheless, this trip was particularly special. This was most likely my dad’s last trip to India — so he will never see his brothers and sisters again. Most of my favorite aunts and uncles are in their 70’s and 80’s, so I need to hurry back if I want to see them myself. As we left, I faced some of the hardest goodbyes of my life.

Technology allows me to yak with the Indian side of our family several times per week via chat, email, SMS, and Skype. However, there’s just no substitute for being there. Many times, I wondered why it took us 10 years to return. I have no intention making the mistake of waiting so long before going back.

I could easily fill several volumes with my impressions of our trip, so I won’t share them here. However, I will say that it was a humbling experience, and I’m glad we went. I’ll post photos as soon as I can.

Why can’t we provide information the same way we provide other services?

Monday, November 17th, 2008

Despite the fact that people like libraries and say nice things about them, we’ve had our butts handed to us on a platter over the past few years.

We position ourselves as information professionals. However, according to a report from the Pew Internet and American Life Project, people turn to the Internet, professionals (doctors, financial experts, etc.), friends, family, colleagues, newspapers, magazines, government agencies, TV, and radio before they ask for help from librarians.

The reason people like libraries but don’t really use the information we provide is simple. We recognized sometime back that the morgue-like library atmosphere of yesteryear just wouldn’t cut it. To address this problem, we devoted increasingly large portions of libraries to social spaces. Coffee shops, snack bars, and other amenities became the norm rather than exception. Patrons like what we did.

Unfortunately, we haven’t yet done the same for information services. We may provide access to online resources, but we’re missing the point. People want their information in a social context. That’s why they consult their colleagues, family, and friends. That’s why they go to bulletin boards and a million social networks like Facebook when they need help. That’s why they like online services that know who they are and what interests them.

We won’t provide what patrons need, but we actively encourage them to turn elsewhere.  We tell them they should subscribe to Meebo — a service that keeps track of passwords and conversations across all kinds of systems. We meet with users in social networks that track who our patrons associate with as well as what they say. The web sites we use and recommend to track everything patrons do, down to their physical location. We use insecure email for all kinds conversations that include private data.

At the same time that everyone else not only expects but demands we share information, we go backwards. We pretend we protect patron privacy when we impose the most ridiculous barriers to transmitting any kind of information that would be useful to system integration. Meanwhile, the rest of the world moves forward.

America at her best

Wednesday, November 5th, 2008

American politics is rarely something to be proud of. Cynicism, divisiveness, and appeals to our worst qualities dominate.  In recent years, we have increasingly used flimsy pretexts to justify morally bankrupt behavior. As a result, our expectations of ourselves and our image abroad have suffered greatly.

Yesterday, we reminded the world of who we can be if we set our minds to it. Whenever there is an election, winners always celebrate, and the losers have long faces. But this last one was very different from the others.

I can’t remember ever sensing so much pride and joy in so many people — especially on the part of members of the defeated party. McCain’s very classy concession speech recognized that something special was achieved.

The best part about the election is that it wasn’t just about breaking the race barrier. Obama inspired millions by appealing to people with a message of hope and an image of who we can become — and who we are becoming.

Sometimes, a kind word is a bad sign

Friday, October 31st, 2008

Like most other people, I think it’s a good idea to be nice to other people. I also like it when people are nice to me (which is practically always). However, there are times when kindness strikes fear into my heart.

Last week, I heard the words I dread most — “How ya doin’? Everything OK?” This may sound like friendly banter, but experience has taught me that people say this only under three circumstances:

  1. When they’re checking in on you
  2. When you’re styling
  3. When you’re falling apart

If one of first two possibilities don’t clearly apply, most likely the third does, and you just don’t realize it yet.  I heard these words just minutes before I succumbed to heat exhaustion on the Ultimate Road Ride last year (I thought I was fine until I almost blacked out on the bike). This year, I heard them again towards the end of the Shasta. This time, I was smart enough to realize people were telling me something.

So when I heard this question in a work context, I was worried. Under normal circumstances, I tell people I’m happy if I fail only 90% of the time. If you look at the great advances made throughout history, it’s pretty clear that progress is what you get when you screw up so many times that you finally learn something useful.

However, sometimes the stakes are high, and the success through iterative failure model can’t be used. I have a project at work that’s like that right now (even if some specific components of it might be improved best by rapid, iterative experimentation). So when more than one person asked me if I was OK in the same week — I had no reason to believe they were checking in on me because I work with them all the time — I took it as a sign of crappy work at best and an early sign of meltdown at worst.

My prescription was to pound out a threshold ride (held the ol’ HR at 170+ for a solid hour maxing out at 184 ), knock back a few beers, and get my head screwed back on. This past week has been much better. No one has been asking except to check in. Good…

Redemption

Saturday, September 27th, 2008

Once in a long while, I go on a ride that is truly special. Last weekend was one of those times. Shirley and I drove to California so I could participate in the Everest Challenge. The Everest involves 29,035 feet of climbing on steep roads at high altitude.

The ride hardly could have gone better. I had a blast. Naturally, there was a bit of fatigue, but my legs felt good to the end. I had zero knee pain. Zero numbness. Zero problems with cramping. Zero times with my head in a fog. Zero times wishing it would just end. As I was climbing the last few miles where the average grade is 14%, I found myself thinking “it doesn’t get any better than this.” When you can hold a thought like that after riding so far, you know it must be true.

It has been over 25 years since I felt so good about a ride. When I was 15, I rode my first century — by accident. Although I now think of 100 miles as nothing, I have always regarded that day as one of my great rides because the experience opened my eyes to what was possible. As was the case back then, I didn’t ride the Everest that fast. But unlike most of the other riders who were hurting after finishing, I’m putting in about 200 miles this week.

The only thing that kept the Everest from being an absolutely perfect experience is that despite the fact Shirley provided great support, I drank only a fraction of the liquids I needed and ate practically nothing on the second half of the ride. That was stupid. Shortly after I crossed the finish line, my body decided it had enough so I wound up taking a nap in the gravel for 45 minutes. I wasn’t suffering — I felt as if I was in a feather bed. A few hours later, I had some food and fluids in me and was back to normal.

One thing I didn’t tell anyone is that I was carrying one of Keiko’s old tags for good luck. Despite the fact that my bike computer tells me I’m not nearly as fast as I used to be, this has been my best riding season ever. I’ve had a great time on some real rides, lost no time to injury (something that hasn’t happened for years), and I am dedicating my training effort as well as my performance on the Everest to her memory. There may be no outstanding successes, but there has been a string of consistently good experiences which remind me of why I ride in first place.

I haven’t quite figured out what I’m going to do next year. While I like a challenge, I find that riding slower so I can enjoy the experience speaks to me more than pushing my body to its limits. For this reason, I’m thinking of trying my hand at randonneuring (basically, self supported long distance riding). I’m toying with the idea of trying to pull off 600 km in one day. We’ll see.

Heat exhaustion mystery solved

Sunday, August 31st, 2008

Starting sometime last year, I started having problems with heat exhaustion on longer, more challenging rides. The funny thing is that no matter how hot it is, it’s not an issue on shorter rides (less than 100 miles). Last week, I found out why.

In preparation for the Everest Challenge, I climb Mary’s Peak 3 times every Saturday or Sunday. Last week, I strapped on a heart rate monitor and rode the same as I normally do just to see how hard I was working. I discovered that even on extended rides, my HR is over 160 a lot of the time and practically never drops below 155 except when I’m going down a hill. That’s fine if I’m on my trainer in the garage for an hour (in fact, I’ll take my HR higher than that). But putting those kind of numbers up hour after hour? I had no idea I was doing that — no wonder I felt so bad.

Today I did Mary’s Peak again with the HRM strapped on and took it easy. I tried to keep my HR around 145 most of the time and didn’t spend much time over 150. It was a totally different type of ride. My second climb was faster than the first, and my third was faster than the second. Plus, I was able to enjoy the scenery.

The bad news is that my average speed that was 0.7mph slower than last week — that’s huge in cycling terms. Nonetheless, I was happy with the results. I could have easily done another lap. Just for the heck of it, I cranked up the effort near the end to see how much strength was left, and there was plenty of gas left in the tank. Even though I lost almost 18 minutes during the ride, I was in MUCH better shape afterwards, so I think I’d recover the lost time if I had to stay out much longer. Things are looking good for the Everest.

Bryan wants to go riding tomorrow and put the hurt on me since he figures I will have ridden too hard today. I’m looking forward to it….

Not as bad as I thought at first glance

Monday, August 4th, 2008

This past weekend, I took part in the Shasta Super Century. It’s challenging, the scenery is fantastic, and its my favorite ride of the year. For the past two years, I’ve been using it as a training ride for the Everest Challenge.

A few minor snafus aside, most of the ride went well. I forgot to fill my water bottles on the day of the ride and dropped my arm warmers into the porta potty (ugh) at the top of the first mountain. Starting around mile 80, my left knee started acting up, but I cut through the first 100 miles in my fastest time yet by a significant margin.

As I started the final climb, things rapidly fell apart. Heat exhaustion symptoms set in and my legs started cramping. I didn’t take breaks on any of the other climbs, but I wound up stopping numerous times on the last one — including taking a half hour nap on the side of the road only 1.5 miles from the finish. I decided to scrub my plans for the Everest.

I often forget how tough the Shasta is — the whole point of rides like these is to challenge strong riders. The first year, I did the entire final climb in a stupor, my legs were screaming in pain when I reached the top, and I almost didn’t make it. Looking at my blog posting for the Shasta last year, I see I did better then I did the first year, but that pain and heat exhaustion were major issues.  I also see that despite all the problems I had yesterday, I did much better this year.

In short, the Everest is still on. There are 5 weeks to train, and too many things could happen before or during the ride for me to predict an outcome, but my chances at this point in time look decent.

Keiko’s final trip to the beach

Monday, July 28th, 2008

This weekend, we scattered Keiko’s ashes at her favorite place to play in the whole world. It’s near the end of the beach just north of Manzanita, Oregon at the foot of Neahkannie Mountain. Even though we routinely played fetch until my arm was sore and she couldn’t stand, she always resisted when it was time to go home. Today, I let her stay to play in the sand and waves with all dogs and people who go there.

The walk down to the beach made me a little sad. This is the first time in 11 years that I’ve gone to the beach without Keiko, and I can say that she was with me at least 90% of the times I’ve been at any beach over the course of my entire life. Games of fetch and long walks may have been the highlight of her day, but I’m sure I enjoyed it every bit as much as she did. Saying goodbye to all of that is hard, but I felt a strange weight lift from my shoulders when we let her go for good.

The rest of the weekend went pretty well. I’m preparing for a tough ride next weekend, so I rode just shy of 100 miles along the coast to test my legs and equipment. Bad luck could shut me down, but I’m feeling good about my prospects.

Getting affairs in order

Monday, July 21st, 2008

Even if nothing had happened with Keiko, things would be unusually nutty. I’ve been out of town on work business for half of the past two weeks (with more time away planned), and I have some big rides coming up.

This weekend we’re taking Keiko’s ashes to the beach so she can be at her favorite place in the world. She always loved the beach and never wanted to come back, so we’ll take her to the area shown in this video. I doubt anyone watching it would guess she was 10 years old, blind, and very sick when that was taken unless they were told. On a related note, I’ve redone her slideshow so that it is shorter and has a better soundtrack.

While we’re at the beach, I’ll do a calibration ride for the Shasta Super Century. It will be interesting to see how that works out. On one hand, I’m riding much less than I have in the past and my cruising speeds are way down. However, I actually feel pretty good so I may be fine so long as I’m not in denial.

On weekdays, I try to to do something that will help me prepare, and every Saturday for the past 4 weeks, I’ve been climbing well over 10,000 feet by ascending Mary’s Peak three times. That may sound like a lot, but that level of preparation is barely adequate for the Shasta and marginal at best for the Everest Challenge.

However, I have some new wheels and gearing that should make a significant difference. Plus I have some ideas for how to motivate myself when things get difficult. On these tough rides, you need some strength and endurance, but it’s actually the mental part that’s hardest.

This makes things a little easier to accept

Thursday, July 10th, 2008

As you can imagine, Shirley and I are very upset over losing Keiko. The house is just so empty and it will never be the same again. Today, we don’t feel like doing anything, but one of the things I have been doing is looking at pictures of Keiko as well as the very few video clips of her.

Keiko was an incredibly strong dog, but her decline was gradual enough that we couldn’t see it ourselves. It wasn’t until I saw this video of her opening presents in January that I realized how bad things had gotten.

When this footage was taken, I was depressed because Keiko looked terrible and the energy just wasn’t there. Looking at it today, though, she looks great. She’s not her old wild self, but she’s playful and happy.

A few months earlier, but still after Keiko was given her terminally ill diagnosis, this video was taken. Keep in mind that this is only a short excerpt. No one watching this could guess she were sick or blind.

Especially over the past couple weeks, the spark had just been gone. She wouldn’t even get up when we came home from work or her favorite people visited. But since we’ve been through multiple instances where she recovered from the brink, we felt we had to give her a chance to recover. Seeing that video makes me glad we didn’t wait longer.

People have been very understanding and kind through this situation. Just in case you bump into one of us and aren’t sure what to say or do, just be your normal self. We remember Keiko fondly, and one of our favorite topics hasn’t suddenly become taboo. We want to dogsit for others because the happiness dogs carry with them is contagious.

And if you need us to help you with anything, we’re happy to. The only thing we shouldn’t do is stew in our own juices and go insane. Keiko is not the first dog I’ve lost to cancer. Almost 30 years ago, I was heartbroken when it took Nappy. I still think of her frequently just as I do of anyone or any great dog that’s touched my life.

Goodbye Keiko

Wednesday, July 9th, 2008

It’s really late and in a few hours, I have to say goodbye to Keiko forever. I’m not even going to try to explain what that means to me. If you really need to know, one of the neighborhood girls asked me when it would stop hurting when she thought about her dog Squeaker (he passed away a few months ago).

I told her the truth. You get used to things and the past fades with time, but the pain never goes away completely. It’s not a matter living in the past, but understanding that once you lose something special and irreplaceable, all you can do is cherish the experience you had.

I’ve never believed in navigating the highway of life with one hand on the wheel, and Keiko’s full throttle attitude, her enthusiasm, and sense of fun made her popular with almost everyone. Despite being a very playful girl, she could be serious too. I’ve been in some pretty severe dogfights, but I will always be in awe of the raw power and focus she could summon when she thought we were in real danger. As Winston Churchill famously put it, what counts isn’t the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog.

Anyway, I know nothing about videos, but here’s my first attempt ever to string together some pictures. The lyrics come from a different context, but if you ignore the first stanza, the message is surprisingly appropriate.

What a difference 3 weeks makes…

Sunday, June 29th, 2008

Three weeks ago, I posted a picture of Shirley and me enjoying some skiing on Mary’s Peak. Well, today it was over 100 degrees, so I rode my bike up there to test my new climbing wheels and alpine gearing. I’m happy to report that the wheels and gears work great.
The cyclist is another matter. Despite having better equipment, I clocked the worst time I have in years going up and down the mountain twice. I would love to blame the heat, but I have good heat tolerance and today was no exception.I drank 8 large bottles of water (I hid water along the route so I could restock), and I felt good after the ride.

Although my speed was pitiful, my legs felt just fine afterwards so there is reason for to believe I’ll be able to get ready for the tough rides at the end of summer.

Incidentally, it was a gorgeous day and the view was exactly like this picture — minus the snow.

Knowing when to throw in the towel

Friday, June 27th, 2008

I enjoy challenging myself physically, so last weekend I went on a 200 mile bike ride. It just so happens that this ride passed a few blocks from our house so Bryan and I popped by for a short visit around mile 130.

I felt great all day, but around mile 170, one of my knees hurt so bad I couldn’t bend it without causing excruciating pain. I thought about bailing since abusing knees is a great way to permanently injure them, but when you’ve come that far, you really don’t want to quit. I popped some ibuprofen and tried to compensate with the other leg, but within a few miles, the extra strain led to massive cramps which forced me off the bike. Fortunately, it took only a few minutes for me to get a handle on the knee pain and continue to a good finish.

This ride worked out well, but the question still remains on how you know when it’s time to concede things won’t work out they way you hope. Anything worth doing requires perseverance and sacrifice. At the same time, if you refuse to exit with grace when you reach a point where all the willpower and effort in the world can’t help you, the line between dedication and delusion is crossed.

Knowing where these boundaries are is not just an academic exercise. For example, Keiko’s condition has been deteriorating steadily. As recently as a few months ago, we walked 4 miles a day. Now we walk 2 blocks. I’ve been sleeping on the floor with her for the past 2 months because she can’t climb stairs and needs to go out several times each night. She’s lost a huge amount of weight and is in constant pain from a giant and rapidly growing tumor.

You’d think that would make the decision obvious, but it’s not so easy. Her appetite is strong and she enjoys eating. I’ve been feeding her bacon and eggs for breakfast, and at night she’s been eating things like cheeseburgers, pizza, steak, meatballs, etc. She is content when she’s asleep. She’s been a very tough girl her entire life, so we will not give up until she indicates she’s not interested in hanging around anymore.

People who’ve known Keiko become sad when they see the fading shadow she’s become of her former self. At some point, there won’t be enough left for her, and we will have to let her go.

Dr. Lindsay and the other staff at the vet have been truly impressed with Keiko’s resilience, and he tells me that she will let me know when it’s time. I hope he’s right.  Even doing what I know is right will rip my heart out, so it’s really important to get this right.

How not to treat customers

Saturday, June 21st, 2008

I’ve maintained my website with the same company for years. There are a lot of reasons I’ve been with this company, but the main ones are that they offer services I like, customer service has been excellent, and the value is good.

This past week, I was unpleasantly surprised to find that my account was suspended and that I was locked out. I called to find out why, and their abuse department told me I was keeping files unrelated to my website there. They explained that it didn’t matter that I was using only a tiny fraction of my quotas. The service is for hosting websites.

One of the selling points of this account is that I have shell access. That allows me to do things you can’t do with a regular account, so I’d sometimes use it as a workspace for things unrelated to my website. Before I started doing these things a few years ago, I called to make sure it was OK since it wasn’t clear in their policies (I’m one of the few people who actually reads user agreements). I was assured it was. I would go so far as to say I was encouraged to do what I wanted.

The company reserves the right to change policies. If they decide they can’t make enough money doing things the way they did in the past, that’s fair enough. But I wasn’t too happy to be blasted off the internet when they changed and I didn’t catch the change. I think a warning would have been in order.

The trick is that I chose this company specifically because of the services it offered me and the price I had to pay. By changing the terms of service so I can’t do something important that I chose them for, they lose most of their edge over the competition.

Aside from that, having to deal with sudden changes forces me to scramble and find a new way to do things — this is bad service in my book. If they need to change to stay competitive, they need to work with their customers and not just flip a switch and expect people to instantly adjust.

I will stick with this outfit for now because my overall experience with this company has been very positive. However, they lost quite a bit of goodwill with this last stunt, so it really needs to be an isolated experience.

Cycling season begins

Tuesday, June 17th, 2008

Oregon may have a reputation as a cycling Mecca, but the reality is that the weather is pretty crummy for most of the year. It’s cold, windy, and rainy. The good news is that once the sun finally comes out, it stays out.

This year, I’ve not been able to put in nearly as much saddle time as I normally do and I’m paying the price. My bike computer tells me that even on a good day I’m not as fast as I was on a bad day last year. When I first realized beyond any doubt that I wasn’t being slowed by the weather or other factors, it was a bit depressing.

Last week, Bryan and I did the Strawberry Century. Like me, he’s also not been putting in enough riding time.We’re accustomed to being pretty speedy, but instead, we got to watch people that we should have been blowing by pass us up. It was crystal clear to me that there’s no way I have a chance of finishing my favorite rides unless I get my act in gear. At least we had some nice scenery as you can see in this photo.

Now that the weather is finally clearing up (though it would be nice if the morning temps could crack the lower 40’s), riding season can begin in earnest. The Watermelon is this weekend. It’s 200 miles in one day, and I’ll extend it a bit. Then, I can start working on Mary’s Peak — that’s where Shirley and I went skiing last weekend. I’ve got quite a bit of catchup to do, but there’s still enough time to be ready when the really challenging rides start up in August.