Saturday, April 30, 2005

Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

I slipped out early to catch the matinee of Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. As the lights fell I wondered, as I do with every movie based on a book, which will be better: book or movie? Sometimes both can differ in many ways, but still be good. For example, The Hunt For Red October or Jurassic Park.

It had been many years since I read The Hitchhiker's Guide and its two sequels (later two more sequels were published). Douglas Adams himself wrote most of the screenplay before his death, so any purists upset about changes can't complain too much. Only a few things were added to the movie, according to Wired magazine: John Malkovich's character Humma Kavula, and the Point-of-View Gun, which causes the target to see things from the shooter's perspective.

The story follows Arthur Dent, rescued from earth just before it is destroyed, and his further travels in space. Along the way there are some hilarious plot twists and several asides (the answer to the ultimate question: the meaning of life, the universe, and everything; mice as higher-dimensional superbeings; earth as a large computer simulation designed to figure out the ultimate question; and so forth). In the movie were a few scenes that drew laughs, and while the books are very funny with a dry British humor, I think it is difficult to translate that. Do you think Monty Python movies are funny? A Fish Called Wanda? If so, you will do well with this one.

Overall I did like the movie, but think the books are much better. I'm not sure this movie will do very well, outside of the core fans who are familiar with the books. But hey, it is opening against XXX: State of the Union.

I didn't realize that Hitchhiker's Guide was originally a BBC radio show, which was then turned into a novel. I should cast aside my earlier search for audio books and try to get my hands on the radio show instead!

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Carpet Cleaners

The carpet cleaner came today, a little late because of an unexpectedly difficult earlier appointment - but that's OK since I work just 5 minutes away. The company is a family run business, of a skydiving friend of Krisanne's, and he did a great job!

My den looks a lot different, partly from the uncluttering I've done, and partly because the carpet is so clean looking. The previous owner didn't clean the carpets before she moved out, and I didn't before I moved in, and I see now that it makes a difference. I have a carpet shampoo machine, but I don't get the same results when I try - maybe there are heavier duty machines or better soaps - who knows. Something to keep in mind before I move into another house.

Anyway, now I'm one of those people who leaves their shoes in the garage, or at the front door. I'm paranoid of tracking anything in and pick the miscellaneous pine needle that hitches a ride on me and then falls off.

I'm not sure what I'll do if it rains this weekend and I need to bike on my trainer. I'll probably by some cheap area rug or drop cloth to spread out, if it comes to that.

Painting 2

Ah, the joys of getting a home ready for the market.

I painted my study (the third bedroom of my house) which presented a challenge - I have three bookshelves, a desk, a table, and two chests, with all sorts of items on them. In the ideal situation, I would have moved everything out, painted, and moved it all back in... but that would have easily taken an entire day just to move my things around. So what I did is paint as carefully as I could, around the various furniture - in other words, my paint job doesn't go all the way down to the floor. Oh well, that is as good as I can do. I still have a small section to do above my desk, which I'll get to after I clear off the desk.

I also attempted the hallway, which was a challenge because of two half flights of stairs - I have one wall that is 15 or 20 feet high, from the bottom floor. I tried various ladder configurations (but my ladder either extends fully or opens in an A-frame) and also bought a long handled roller, but it is still difficult for me to reach the top third of three walls. The problem is stability - I'm stretched out trying to reach, while balancing on the ladder - and can't press with the roller to paint. I don't mind painting when I'm on a flat surface, but bracing a ladder on the stairs to reach waaaay up and over to paint a high corner... that made me uneasy.

After spending a lot of time painting, I'm satisfied with what I've done and how it turned out. To finish off the rest, I'm going to call up a painter my realtor recommended. I think a professional painter will have a telescopic ladder and other gizmos to paint the wall section I can't reach, including the corners.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Audio Books

While I was in the checkout line at the bookstore, I noticed a display of audio books. The ones on display were The Notebook and The Broker, and I decided to browse through the rest of the selections. I've had friends tell me audio books are great, for air travel, road trips, or just listening to at home while doing other things. Krisanne recommends them for road trips because they really make the miles fly by, since you concentrate on the book a bit more than you would for music. My friend Tom really enjoys the adventures of Ruby, a galactic detective, and would listen to it during his commute.

The selection was quite broad: fantasy to classics to non-fiction. As I mused about painting and doing other errands while listening to a novel, I picked one up to check the price... and was shocked - these audio books ranged from $30 to $80! Geez, I was expecting just a few dollars more but for that much, I'm not sure it is worth it.

Still, I've heard good things about them and decided to keep browsing. I saw Life of Pi, which I am currently working through, Guns, Germs, and Steel, which I already own, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, the classic War of the Worlds... as I looked I formed a checklist of what a perfect audio book would be. I decided this: it either needs to be one I would like to read by for whatever reason probably won't, or it needs to be one I'd like to "read" repeatedly, in order to justify the expense over the printed book version.

After checking out the entire selection, I found two candidates: Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand, and Ulysses by James Joyce. I've heard both books are great, but somewhat painful to slog through. Thus, they fit the "I would like to read but probably won't" criterion perfectly.

In the end, I decided to not get one and instead try the half price book store to see if they had any. Or, try the library, as I understand they have some available for borrowing. Since the first Ruby episode is pretty cheap, I decided to order it.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Seattle Day

I met my friend Krisanne at Safeco Field - a going away present to me was to attend this game! The Mariners won 9-1 and the game involved some unusual plays: one balk, and later, the Cleveland Indian's pitcher struggled and walked 5 batters in a row - filling the bases and then walking in two run for us!

Krisanne and I got into a discussion of unusual plays in baseball, and how rare it would be to see a perfect game, or a player hit the cycle. She mentioned the unassisted triple play might be the rarest of them all. In the baseball almanac I found there have been a total of 12 unassisted triple plays, while there have been 17 perfect games. I guess I won't hold my breath hoping to see both in the same game. ;) Instead, I might make a checklist of unusual plays, and carry it to future games.

Baseball Bat sculpture inside Safeco Field

I had a little time before volleyball, so I went over to Magnuson Park to wander around. It was a sunny windy day, so several people were out on Kite Hill... flying kites (imagine that!), and practicing canopy skills for skydiving?

Flying a giant kite.

This woman was filling her canopy with air, and then tugging on the strings before letting it fall back to the ground. I'm not really sure what she was doing, but it looked pretty cool.


Along one path are several "fins" from submarines. The name of this sculpture is "The Fin Project: From Swords to Plowshares".

The entire reason I decided to zip by Magnuson was to see the Sound Garden (the page also mentions the Fin Project) - a sculpture of pipes and vanes that hum as the wind blows through them. Yes, the rock band took their name from this musical sculpture. Unfortunately, I could only get close enough to see it from the other side of a fence - due to security concerns, there is no access on the weekend. This may seem really strange, but Sound Garden is technically located on NOAA property. I plan to return when I can walk through it and take pictures.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Painting 1

I spent a few hours this afternoon painting the living room and dining room. The rooms look fine, but could use another coat of paint. I was actually looking forward to doing this myself - partly from the satisfaction of taking care of this type of work around the house, and partly from saving money.

Prepping took about an hour. First I removed everything from the walls and stored smaller items. Then I carefully placed painters tape around the various faceplates in the wall. Finally I poured the paint and started away, using the roller for the walls and a smaller brush for corners and the ceiling edge. My biggest tip is: wear latex gloves so your hands don't get drowned in paint. I did and it was really nice to peel them off and throw them out afterwards.

Total time: 3 hours. And, this might sound strange, but it was almost... fun!

I still have about half or a third of the gallon left, which should be enough to do the part of my study that I want to do. I also need to paint the hallway, which will be trickier due to odd angles and stairs. I decided to hire a company to clean the carpets and wash the windows, since those are very time consuming, yet cheap to have someone else do.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Eight Years

Today is a bit sentimental to me, because eight years ago today, I moved to the Seattle area, to start a new job on the following day. My family moved around quite a bit when I was younger, and I never really got attached to any specific place. I usually just saw each move as another adventure to embark upon.

As an adult, I moved to Houston to attend college, and wound up living there for over 10 years. However, a few months after moving away, I didn't miss Houston very much at all, just a handful of friends that remain. As I prepare to move away, I realize that I am attached to my current home area, for the first time ever in my life.

The Pacific Northwest offers quite a bit: lakes, mountains, rivers, and plenty of activities that go along with a great outdoor environment. Yes, it rains often, but most of the time it is a light drizzle, which is nothing like the heavy thunderstorms that used to drench the Houston area. Here, you can still persevere and go out; there, you might die in a flash flood or tornado. The climate is mild and overall, I like the weather. Beautiful summer days here are better than anywhere else I've lived.

Since moving to this area, I have taken up running, snowboarding, volleyball, swimming, biking, and triathlon. So I've gotten healthier, made several great friends... but sadly no relationships whatsoever. That's the only thing about my time here that I am sad about. However, I am optimistic that Florida will be different in that respect.

Part of me is excited about the move, it is just drowned out by the reality of errands getting a home ready to put on the market. And of course, actually moving away.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Interior Decorator

My local realtor setup an appointment with an interior decorator, to come see my home and give me a list of things to do before putting the home on the market. I found we had a different idea of what a "motivated seller" is. I always thought that term meant somebody who was forced to sell a home quickly - for example, they already moved and bought another house, and don't want to have double mortgage payments. Lynne, the interior decorator, explained a motivated seller is somebody who is willing to put some money into improving the house before listing it, in order to get the best price possible.

I'm not sure I fall into the latter category, and certainly don't want to be in the former. I had some landscaping done, and am willing to do a few things to enhance the appearance of my home, but let me just say I'm not going to flip out and put a lot more into the house before I sell it.

After a walkthrough, Lynne suggested I do the following:

  • Get rid of clutter. Basically remove all small items from counters and table tops, remove most art.
  • Have the carpets professionally cleaned.
  • Have the windows professionally washed.
  • Clean my gutters.
  • Clean off the deck.

All of the above is fine, and I can see how that needs to happen. I think I can handle cleaning my deck and gutters, and obviously I'll need to do the uncluttering. I'll be making a trip to IKEA to buy of bunch of the plastic stackable boxes I like!

She also suggested:

  • Replace all my energy saving bulbs with normal brighter ones.
  • Paint the living room and dining room.
  • Paint the hallway.
  • Paint my study.
  • Replace blinds in the guest bedroom and master bedroom.
  • Do some rearrangment of stuff in my den.
  • Buy light fixtures and ballasts throughout the house.
  • Oil kitchen cabinets.
  • Fix various nicks in trim and woodworking; spackel a bunch of nail holes.
  • Caulk along the baseboard in the living room and dining room.

These suggestions didn't do much for my level of stress. ;)

The logic behind the bulb replacement is to make my home appear brighter. Similarly, painting the living room and dining room is to make a good first impression. Admittedly, the hallway could use some paint because of various scuff marks on the walls. But the study... argh... that will take forever to move all my stuff out just to paint it. I could hire out, but I am trying to save money where I can so I'm considering doing the painting myself. Hearing about the light fixtures and ballasts is irritating, mostly because the home didn't come with any. It isn't as if I went through and tossed them all out! Hopefully ballasts and fixtures aren't expensive... As far as bulbs, I guess I could save my energy efficient bulbs.

The blinds are also irritating. The guest bedroom blind is very heavy and she actually broke it while using it, so that needs to be replaced. Her excuse was that people would try to open the blinds so they have to work. I can see that, so I'm not too bent out of shape over it. The two halves of the blinds in my master bedroom don't match and she thinks it would appear much nicer if they did, or if I replaced them with a single larger blind.

My boss asked if I needed some time off to get stuff in order. I think I'll take him up the offer and take a few half-days here and there, so I can get this stuff done and not eat up all my evenings and weekends. I'll be checking out prices and Home Depot and figuring out what I'm willing to spend.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Australia Quiz

My friends Shaula and Darrin recently returned from a trip to Australia, and they invited several people over for dinner and to see their pictures. Dinner was Australian themed: crackers with Vegemite (in a squeeze tube), salad with cheese and bacon, beef and cheese pie, and some Australian cake and cookies they brought back with them.

They were entirely on the east coast, except for a trip to the center to see Ayers Rock. They visited Sydney, Brisbane, Alice Springs (Ayers Rock), and took a few interesting hikes and day trips. Seeing their pictures reminded me of my own trip to Australia I took in December 1995, which was very enjoyable.

After dessert, they surprised us with a quiz! They handed out sheets with 20 questions - many of the answers were covered as they spoke of their trip... if you were listening carefully.

I only got 13 out of 20 questions correct, but this was good enough for first place of my fellow quiz-takers (six total - Shaula and Darrin exempted themselves).

My prize was the "pouch" pictured below.

Kangaroo Pouch?

They also had door prizes as we left - I chose a cute little Koala bear hugging a boomerang.

Koala Bear

I know some people may want to take the quiz, so here it is:

1. Name 3 Australian cities.
2. How many species of venemous snakes are there in Australia? Is it 22, 57, or 115?
3. Which of the following musical acts is NOT Australian:
  • AC/DC
  • INXS
  • Kylie Minogue
  • Def Lepperd
  • Midnight Oil

4. What sport debuted at the Sydney Olympics?
5. What is the name of the crocodile hunter?
6. Who of the following was the highest grossing Australian performer last year (2004)?
  • Nicole Kidman
  • Russell Crowe
  • Cate Blanchett
  • The Wiggles

7. Sydney is in which: New South Wales, Queensland, The Northern Territory?
8. Which one of the following Australian performers was actually born in Australia?
  • Cate Blanchett
  • Mel Gibson
  • Nicole Kidman
  • Russell Crowe

9. Mammals are broken in the three groups: Placentals, Marsupials, Monotremes.
Match those to the following animals: Camel, Koala, Platypus
10. What WWI action cost Australia 26K+ casualties and 8K+ deaths and still looms large in their history? G________?
11. The soldiers who fought there are still referred to as ANZACs, and their memorial day is called ANZAC day and happens to be April 25th. What does ANZAC stand for?
12. The aboriginal name of Ayers Rock is:
13. Which is bigger, Australia or the contiguous 48 States?
14. Which side of the road to people drive on in Australia, left or right?
15. True or False, Australia has the world's largest Alligator species?
16. The busiest travel day of the year in Australia surrounds which holiday? Christmas, Easter, ANZAC day?
17. Name a famous WNBA player from Australia.
18. What famous navigational aid of the night sky can you NOT see from Australia?
19. What two-word feature do they rely on instead? The ___ ___
20. Australia comes from Terra Australis which means what?

I missed numbers 2, 6, 8, 10, 11, 17, and 20.

Maybe I'll put the answer key up also. ;)

Sunday, April 17, 2005


I enjoy games, from boardgames to computer games to console games. A few years ago I bought a Pocket PC, when prices on low-end models dipped below $250, what I was willing to pay for one. I used it to store addresses, keep a calendar, read books in ebook format, and carry around street maps. But I really bought it to play games. I thought, how many times am I waiting around somewhere, at an airport, for example. I could get a Pocket PC to use for something practical, but pull it out to play a game or two on.

So, I bought a few games for it. However, the interface of the Pocket PC is really only good for certain types of games: card games (hearts, blackjack), puzzle games (diamond mine), board games (chess, reversi, scrabble), and possibly real-time strategy games (Warfare Incorporated, which I playtested for some friends). So, not ideal, when I also like to play racers, platformers, RPG's, combat, sports games, and so forth.

I considered buying a Nintendo Game Boy Advance, but the target audience is really a lot younger than me. When I heard Sony was planning to release a handheld gaming device, I was pretty excited. I missed out on the first wave of pre-orders, but finally managed to get my hands on my own PlayStation Portable.

This thing is pretty sweet. It has a great screen, decent sound, gaming inputs (directional pad and buttons), and plays real video games. It has built-in wireless networking for playing head-to-head against other PSP's. It can also play music, show photos, and even play video - Sony sells an inexpensive program that transcodes video to a format that plays on the PSP. I'm not sure if I'll ever carry around TV shows to watch, but the option is there. Movies will also be available on the PSP, but I'm not sure I'll buy any since it is a new format (Universal Media Disc - UMD) which only plays on the PSP.

I bought a few games for it, but haven't had a chance to play any of them yet. Next time I'm flying somewhere, I'll have plenty to do, if I can keep from falling asleep on the plane. ;)

My New Toy

Friday, April 15, 2005

Seastar Restaurant

A few coworkers from the Florida office were visiting for various meetings, and they invited me to dinner. I'm always up for a nice dinner, especially when the chances were good it would be expensed by somebody else. They selected the Seastar, which I had never been too. Even better!

The restaurant was very nice, and I felt a little underdressed as I was very casual. We were seated at a round table that could accomodate six. Kathryn, who was originally my boss, and then my boss's boss, and then was moved to a related but different position, examined the wine list. She couldn't decide and the restaurant sent over a lady who apparently was the in-house wine expert - she made various suggestions until we made the final choice. I'm an fairly unsophisticated wine drinker so I just mostly nodded sagely as though I had a real opinion to offer.

The wine arrived on its own tray, and the wine expert opened it and poured a bit for each of us. She then smelled the cork, swirlred the wine in a glass and smelled the "nose", and pronounced we were victims of "cork taint", an apparently grevious condition in which the cork didn't seal properly and thus the wine was possibly spoiled. She whisked away the wine and replaced it with a similar one, brought fresh wine glasses, and this time the sampling went well.

Eventually we ordered our entrees, and I selected "Mahi Mahi with Cucumber Macadamia Nut Relish" which (from the description) is flash-seared with Thai chili, yellow curry and lemon grass served on sticky rice with sweet chili sauce and cucumber-macadamia nut relish. It was delicious and I'm pretty sure I didn't speak for a while because I was too busy eating. Another coworker Donna let me try a piece of her Seared Ahi Tuna, and it was also wonderful. All the food was delicious, and I made sure to leave room for dessert, "Malted Vanilla Ice Cream". After this, I was quite stuffed and content.

Four of the six at the table were based in the Florida office, so they asked about my relocation plans, and I summarized for them: the exact date depends on when I sell my house, but soon... Another interesting conversation was coworker Darryl telling a story about his son who is taking flying lessons, at age 14!

The group wanted to hang out and socialize more, so we decided to visit the lounge/piano bar at Daniel's Broiler, another excellent restaurant. We found seats at the piano, and listened to the pianist work through several Billy Joel and Elton John songs. He was actually really good, taking requests from the crowd. The piano had a thick glass cover, so you could see the hammers and strings move as he played.

Eventually, after a... little more to drink, we left. My Florida coworkers were flying out at various times on Friday, and I was looking forward to crawling into bed.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

After the Sunset

I really enjoy a sub-genre of films: heist movies, where the plot revolves around stealing something. For example, The Italian Job, Ocean's Eleven, The Thomas Crown Affair, and of course The Heist. Interestingly, the first three of the movies I listed are all remakes!

Part of what I want is a good plot where the double-cross or twist is a bit of a surprise - hinted at and finally revealed, but definitely not a "solve the plot hole" turn of event. Ocean's Twelve suffered this problem, where at the end it was revealed most of the movie was in fact an elaborate going-through-the-motions hoax as the theft occured off-screen way before most of the plot we saw.

Other problems include movies that have too many double-crosses, like Entrapment. Actually, that movie had other major believability problems which dwarfed the double double-cross ending.

So I was eager to watch After the Sunset, which made it to the top of my Netflix queue. The setup is Pierce Brosnan (Max) and Salma Hayek (Lola) are master thieves, never caught during their career. They pull of a diamond heist which humiliates Woody Harrelson (Stan), and then retire to some exotic tropical island. Months later Stan pays an unofficial visit because another diamond is on display on a cruise ship currently docked... Stan just knows Max can't resist trying to steal it. Max doesn't want to involve Lola, so he works with a local gangster, Henri, played by Don Cheadle.

Stan has a love interest, a local police officer, Sophie (Naomie Harris), a romance which I think was forced into the plot to balance Max and Lola. Stan and Sophie were good for possibly two laughs altogether. The movie also builds up a friendly rivalry between Max and Stan (who wants to redeem his earlier failure) as they bond while drinking, fishing, and spending some time together.

Salma Hayek's character doesn't do much in this movie except plead with Max to give up thievery and enjoy their retirement. Ultimately, Max engineers a heist with an alibi involving Lola, Stan, and Sophie. He also double crosses Henri the gangster, and makes it up to Lola by marrying her (technically, he finally writes wedding vows). At the end it seems Stan was a step ahead, and finally catches Max, but the ending shows Max has the last laugh as he steals the diamond back a similar way the movie started with.

Overall, this was a mediocre heist movie. Lola didn't really have much of a role in the plot, and the romance between Stan and Sophie wasn't very believable. However, the rivalry between Stan and Max was done a little better. The heist itself took place quickly towards the end, and we didn't get to see much of the setup. Still, I did basically enjoy the movie.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005


I'm sure someday I'll look back and think "it didn't go that bad". ;) In summary, I think I did reasonably well on my first four interviews, so-so on the fifth, but generally flailed around on the last one.

Amazon has several locations in the city - I found out the "Frankenstein's Castle" building up on Beacon Hill is where corporate services is located, functions like legal, marketing, accounting, etc. The software development mostly happens in a great location near the International District, between Uwajimaya (a giant Asian grocery store) and Qwest Field, where the Seahawks play. That was the interview location.

The first interviewer asked some general questions and then handed me a small program and had me find all the bugs I could. I do pretty well at these types of questions. The second interviewer had an interesting design question involving firewalls, and presented sample inputs. The third and fourth interviewers were managers so the interviews weren't as technical. The fifth interviewer asked one problem that I solved quickly, and while I stepped through I found a bug, which I could easily fix. His second question stumped me for a while and I needed a hint to get the best (most efficient) answer.

So far, so good. But the sixth interviewer asked a really general, open-ended design question, and I spent altogether way too much time considering the various issues that needed to be handled, and never really got started on solving it. Towards the end I just wound up describing how I would proceed in general, but I think he was getting impatient and wanted to see more concrete progress.

Oh well! Lunch at the Shanghai Garden restaurant was really good. ;)

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

New Lawn

One of the things I needed to do before putting my house on the market is to have some landscaping done. The front yard really needed some weeding, and in all honesty, I'm too lazy to spend hours of my time to do it. But that was just a side issue - the main thing I wanted done is to make the lawn look better. The grass was a bit thin, growing in erratic clumps. I couldn't seem to fill in the various holes, despite multiple attempts to seed and fertilize more. So, I gave in and called up a landscaping company to come re-sod my front lawn.

I'm very pleased with the results:

New Lawn

Now I have to make sure the lawn gets plenty of water, but that should be easy with the typical Seattle early spring weather. ;)

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Ironman Arizona


Francesca did it! Despite high winds on the bike course, and a tough run, she finished the inaugural Ironman Arizona around 16:36. Looking really happy, with a great big smile!!


I got up at 5:40 am to make it to the pro swim start at 6:45 am. The swim was in Tempe Town Lake, which is actually a section of a river that is dammed on both ends. I found Jen, Alexandra, Mike, and Joe, and we waited by the water's edge for the start cannon.

A typical ironman swim start is often described as a "human washing machine" due to the churning water, arms, and legs. Sometimes a determined person will attempt to swim right over you, their stroke crashing on your body, or perhaps you'll get kicked or nudged. I'm not sure where Francesca was in the melee, but we watched the mass head off for a loop.

Swim Start

She's in there somewhere!

We walked over to a vantage point along the transition zone, to spot her on the way to pick up her T1 bag and head into the changing tent. We expected about a 1:15 swim, and she beat that by a few minutes. We waved and she grinned when she saw us, as Alexandra, Jen, and I were wearing our moose hats.

Moose Hat

Jen, modeling our moose hats.

After she went by, I raced to the bike start, hoping to catch her at the mount line. Soon enough I spotted her getting on the bike and screamed as she went past, starting the 112 mile bike segment.

At this point, I met with Alexandra and we drove over to volunteer at bike special needs (a stop along the bike course where the athlete can retrieve a bag they pre-pack with whatever: food, extra clothes, spare equipment). We both signed up to help at this aid station, which was along an out-and-back section of the three loop bike course.

Bike Special Needs

Each white bag has a race number and corresponds to an athlete. There were about 40 different stations - potentially 50 numbers at each. Not every athlete left a special needs bag.

I settled into working my section, and delivered bags as needed. As the athlete arrived near the start, they would call out their race number. Volunteers would scream it out and repeat it up the line, until it reached the appropriate spot. Ideally we'd have their bags ready by the time the reached us.

Alexandra and I got to Bike Special Needs too late to see Francesca heading out on loop one, but around 10:00 am I spotted her heading in. With a quick consultation of the race map, we estimated she would return for loop two in about 90 minutes. Sure enough, she showed up just a few minutes after 11:30 am and picked up her special needs bag.

Getting her bag

This is about halfway (mileage wise) through the bike segment.

Some athletes stopping at special needs grabbed their bag on the fly, balancing it on their handlebars and holding it open with their teeth while they pedaled away, steering with one hand and fishing through it with the other. Some athletes took their time, like #1828. She pulled up to the aid station next to mine and we didn't have her bag ready. She said "don't worry, I'm not in any kind of hurry". I liked what she wrote on her race number and took a picture.

Race Number Message

In another hour I spotted Francesca as she headed in on loop two, so I could calculate a return at 2:00 pm, heading out on loop three, and another pass at 3:00 pm, heading in on loop three.

Unfortunately, the weather conditions were taking a toll on everybody. It was very windy - we had to anchor boxes and bags with rocks and stones to keep them from blowing away. The palm tree across the street from me lost big chunks of bark to gusts, and I knew it would be a very difficult time on the bike course due to the winds. I was expecting to see Francesca at 2:00 pm, but it was more like 2:45 pm, as bike special needs was winding down. We stayed open longer but eventually folded up around 3:30 pm, and I still hadn't see her pass us on the way in from loop three. It was a little cloudy so it wasn't as hot as it could have been, but the winds were picking up. Alexandra and I stayed at the station and waited to cheer her on. Finally, around 4:15 pm we saw her and shouted some encouragement as she passed.

Bike Course

Heading back in from loop three.

I drove us back to the transition zone, and dropped off Alexandra while I went to park. By the time I got that settled and met up with everybody, it was a little after 5:00 pm. Ironman triathlons have cutoff times, when you need to be finished with a particular segment. For example, you must be done with the swim by 2:20 into the race. Similarly, you must be done with the bike 10 hours in to the race (some allow 10:30) or 5:00 pm. The event ends at midnight, 17 hours after the start. It was a little past 5:00 pm and I saw a few athletes finishing the bike, and it appeared as though they weren't stopped from continuing. Perhaps the race director allowed some grace time as the conditions were very windy.

I found out Francesca made the bike cutoff, finished transition, and was out on the run course. The run was a double loop, and due to the route, the start, mile 4, 13, and 17 were all the same area. Joe was out on the course shadowing her, riding her bike, calling in every now and then to inform us of her progress. We got the call that she would be passing by in a few minutes, so we moved and gathered along the course to cheer.

At Mile 4

After she passed, Joe continued to scout while Mike, Alexandra, Jen, and I... went to eat dinner. While we were eating, at 7:45 pm, Joe called us to relay a progress report - she was at mile 11 and having a tough time. I did some quick math and realized that starting the run at 5:00 pm gave her 7 hours for the marathon, which meant she would ideally be past the transition zone and starting lap two no later than 8:30 pm, in order to have the best chance to finish before the cutoff. I announced this to the table and we all realized that it would be close, but still very possible.

We finished up dinner and went back to the spot along mile 4/13/17, to wait for her to pass again. We brought our leftover pizza for Joe, who had basically been eating race nutrition (gels, bars, sports drinks) - he wolfed down the pizza and got back to monitoring Francesca for us. By now it was dusk, and runners would move by carrying glow sticks and other reflective material. We broke out glow sticks of our own and some kazoos, to cheer as she ran by. She looked good, still smiling and making steady progress.

At Mile 17

As she faded into the distance, Joe followed, keeping a good distance so as to not draw her a penalty for assistance. We went to sit in the stands and watch finishers for a while, to see regular people who struggled all day long finish the event. All types passed by: young, old, parents with kids, couples holding hands. Some were limping, some smiled and waved as the crowd cheered them on, some stared vacant and glassy-eyed at the finish line, seemingly unaware of the crowd. We even heard a marriage proposal: a man who finished earlier was given the mike to pop the question to his girlfriend who just finished. She accepted!

At 9:50 pm Joe called and said she was coming along great, and was currently at mile 19. I couldn't help it but immediately began calculating times, and realized that and 11 or 12 minute mile would bring her to the finish around 11:15 pm, 45 minutes before the cutoff.

We cheered more finishers, getting more and more concerned as time advanced towards 17 hours and the midnight cutoff. 11:15 pm came and went, and Jen went to call up Joe to find out what was up. She relayed the message that Francesca was last spotted at mile 23 some time ago, entering a park with a few others, and none had exited yet. We hoped the small group she was near could stick together and help motivate each other to the finish...

At last, at about 11:30 pm, Joe called and said he reacquired her at mile 26. She was turning onto the final loop around the block and all of us instantly knew she would make it! Jennifer and I ran over to a nearby section to shout more encouragement at her as she appeared around the corner. We also found Brian and Rod, who also traveled to specate IMAZ, and the group of us made as much noise as we could when she passed.

Jen and I raced back to the stands, knowing she'd be coming up the finish chute any minute. She ran by looking excited, as Mike Reilly (the Voice of the Ironman, i.e. the race announcer) proclaimed her as an Ironman!

In the finish chute...

After that, all of us gathered to take pictures with her. She was very animated, whirling around and looking like she needed a few miles of a cooldown run. ;) After lots of hugs and pics, she mentioned she was feeling a bit dizzy so Joe, Jen, and I accompanied her to the medical tent. Inside, the doctor checked her blood pressure and said she was fine, but probably just needed to hydrate. Francesca asked if she could lay down for a bit, so we found a cot and she stretched out.

Ironman Francesca!

As a precaution, they administered an IV and one liter of saline. We talked for a bit but it was clear she was fine and just needed to rest and drink, so Jen and I said our farewells to her and left her with Joe, who would drive her home when she felt better.

The next morning at the airport, I called and left her a message with two questions: are you getting in line for IMAZ 2006? And where on your body will you get your M-dot tattoo? ;)

Anyway, this was great success all the way around! Francesca exceeded her own expectations and finished IMAZ, under some harsh conditions. I will be scouring the usual websites looking for more race reports to read. Plus, I want to hear how it went from Francesca's viewpoint, especially the windy bike course and what can only have been an extremely difficult run.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Secret Revealed...

I'll just spill it: for several months, Francesca and I have been training for an Ironman triathlon. Later today, I fly to Tempe, AZ to attend Ironman Arizona and a) volunteer at bike special needs, b) spectate the race, and most of all, c) cheer her on. I'll be joined by Alexandra, Brian, Rod, Joe, and Jennifer, fellow triathletes and training partners!

We kept it on the "ultra down low". Months ago I started up another blog, IronDreams, and started putting most of my training related posts there. So check it out if you are interested in generally dull posts about daily workouts. ;)

A Bit More Background Info

Last September, Francesca and I did a bike workout in preparation for the Kirkland Sprint Tri. After eating, we chatted a while and she asked if I would workout with her in the off-season. I said of course! nothing like building base. I was thinking of three short workouts per week, one in each sport, just to keep from getting rusty. She was thinking, multi-hour trainer rides twice a week plus runs and swims. While she talked about the workouts she wanted to do starting in December it dawned on me... that kind of volume so early could only mean one thing...

"You signed up for Ironman Arizona, and didn't tell me, didn't you?"

Francesca froze and looked at me with a classic deer-caught-in-the-headlight expression. She immediately fessed up, enlisted my assistance, swore me to secrecy, and then lobbed out the bomb "You know, Coeur D'Alene is still open. You should check it out."

And thus, a small conspiracy was born.

Really High Level Thoughts

I don't think training for an ironman is that hard, ASSUMING you have realistic expectations, and possess basic triathlon (swim/bike/run) skills. What is proving difficult is finding the time for it all. As the adage goes "90% of ironman training is just showing up every day. The rest are details." Pushing yourself, avoiding injury, resting, and doing it again the next day... this is the hard part. Every day it is a struggle to find the time to train.

Francesca and I have realistic goal: just finish. To be able to say "I am an Ironman."

Pedantic note: Ironman is a trademark owned by the World Triathlon Corporation, so only WTC sponsored events can call themselves "Ironman" races. There are a whole slew of "IronDistance" races, but then you can't really claim to be an "Ironman". Yes, this distinction is lost on most people, but we picked our respective official Ironman events for a variety of reasons which boil down to: if my body only has one effort of this distance in it, I want it to be an official Ironman event.

The paragraphs on the Sub 17 T-shirts site sum it up nicely. I like the "Be Stealthy" design, and hope to wear one sometime. :)

The Amazing Francesca

It's been tough. It is hard to train, aside from family issues, work issues, health issues, and having a life beyond work and training. Francesca has worked through all of the above and is going to give her best shot tomorrow, determined to enter and do her best. We're all gonna be cheering as loud as possible, without being evicted by race marshals.


I finally got around to doing my income taxes. I'm usually faster, but I have the excuse that I had to wait until the middle of March to get one form I needed.

That form was Schedule K-1 Form 1065: Partnership Income (because of the investment club I joined). It all sounds so exotic until box 6a, ordinary dividends, where listed was a grand total of $0.44. What is even funnier is the IRS allows you to round to the nearest dollar, so TaxCut just truncates that to zero!

I wound up owing $285, so pretty good! Long ago I looked forward to big refund checks, usually when I was employed part-time. After working full time a few years, I realized what I was doing was extending the government an interest-free loan. The heck with that - ever since I've been ratcheting around my withholding trying to fix it so I owe a small amount.

I'll finalize the payment date and just have it withdrawn electronically. This may be another year where I don't have to send anything at all (via mail that is) to the IRS!

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

In Person at Amazon

The pace of the Amazon interview process can be described as glacially slow. First there was a phone screen, then two weeks later a programming puzzle, then two weeks later another phone screen (last Friday)... finally they are interested in bringing me into interview. I had just about written them off entirely, thinking they'd get back to me after I'm in Florida!

So next Tuesday it is... I'll see how it goes. There are still many bridges to cross before getting a competitive offer on an interesting job. Amazon would be a good move education wise - working on some different technologies. On the other hand my two friends who are ex-employees put forth a rather reserved endorsement, that included cautious talk of long hours and chaos. Kinda sounds like me talking about Microsoft.

Moving represents adventure, and starting over. Coincidentally, I'm reading Life of Pi and just got chapter 29, which starts with an appropriate quote:

Why do people move? What makes them uproot and leave everything they've known for a great unknown beyond the horizon? Why climb this Mount Everest of formalities that makes you feel like a beggar? Why enter this jungle of foreignness where everything is new, strange, and difficult?

The answer is the same the world over: people move in the hope of a better life.

That is a powerful motivation indeed! More on this at a later time.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Smith Tower

I planned to drive to Mount St. Helens or perhaps Mt. Rainier, but I slept in a bit. I would blame that on Daylight Savings, but that would only explain one extra hour... Instead I decided to visit Smith Tower and see the Observation Deck/Chinese Room.

Smith Tower

The elevator to the Observation Deck is manually operated, so I waited until it showed up. The attendent only let seven people in at a time, shut the gate, and then sent us to the top. Along the way we could see the floors go by as the elevator shaft was see-through.

The Observation Deck is decorated in a Chinese motif, with an intricate ceiling and wood carvings. There are a few ornate tables and chairs, plus a few works of art on the wall. Unfortunately, the wall art was behind reflective plastic, which makes it difficult to photograph.


Wall Art

Dragon Chair

The Chinese Room isn't very large. A narrow walkway comprises the observation deck, and I opened a sliding glass door to step out and take some pictures.

Second Ave

Do you see the Space Needle?


The view east towards HarborView Hospital.

Southern View

King Street Station, Qwest Field, Safeco Field

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Bike Ride

Sandy Owings, a friend from the Bay Area, is visiting town this week. He is a fellow cyclist, and brought up his bike to ride with Francesca and me. And of course, show it off!

Both Francesca and Sandy have Giant TCR Carbon fiber bikes, and I have another friend Chris who has a Felt carbon fiber bike. This of course left me thinking about how nice a carbon fiber bike of my own would be... unless I outdo them all and get a titanium bike instead - haha!

Anyway, we met at Francesca's and decided to ride to Seward Park. This is a nice ride on neighborhood and bike-friendly roads. Much of the ride is along Lake Washington Blvd which has nice views. We rode to Leschi, where Francesca's toe started to bug her, so she wanted to rest it while Sandy and I continued to Seward Park.

Sandy picked up the pace considerably, but he is tall and offers me a large drafting zone. ;) We cranked along to Seward and I pointed out Mercer Island, the I-90 bridge, and downtown Bellevue. Once we arrived at Seward, we took a few minutes to peel off a layer of clothes (it wasn't as cold as we expected) before comparing odometers and heading back. Mine read 14.8 while his read 11.5. That is a huge discrency and puzzled me. On the way back we compared speed and distance, and found our speeds matched but my distance was incrementing a lot slower. Hm... why is this, I wondered?

On one section of the road we were able to do 20 mph, due to a combination of a slight downgrade, favorable winds, and just pedaling hard. In this section I watched my odometer closely - at 20 mph, I should cover 1 mile in 3 minutes, or 1/10th of a mile in 18 seconds. That didn't happen at all, the mileage increased 1/10th over nearly a minute... and then I suddenly realized what was going on: I had my bike computer set to display average speed, not distance! I wanted to tell Sandy I was a bozo, but he was a bike length or two in front of me, and with the wind, he wouldn't have heard me yell. It took a few more minutes after a small hill, to catch up and tell him.

Once back as Leschi, we found Francesca and hung out and chatted at the Starbucks for a bit. I was quite disappointed they didn't have any of their apple crisps left, but I was able to console myself with a tall cafe mocha. Eventually we motivated and got back on our bikes to ride home. Overall it was a great ride - the weather has been cold and drizzly lately, but fortunately we managed to miss such weather.

Friday, April 01, 2005

April Fools

A friend who is notorious for April Fool's Day pranks IM'ed me. At least I got in the first jab! Our conversation, edited for clarity:

Kandi: Hey
Kandi: How are you today?
Karl: pretty good!
Karl: I'm at home, I broke my toe
Kandi: What?
Karl: hehehe
Kandi: LOL
Karl: I just had to getcha ;)
Kandi: Jerk
Kandi: I have something to tell you...
Kandi: I'm pregnant.
Karl: right
Kandi: Really
Karl: with triplets!!!
Kandi: No
Kandi: Just one
Kandi: Apparently the tubal didn't work
Karl: haha
Kandi: No, really
Karl: if this were true, today is the wrong day for you to convince me ;)
Kandi: Believe what you want to - but I am pregnant
Kandi: I'm due November 20
Karl: I can just hear the "april fools" coming
Kandi: Well, really, do I lie to you?
Karl: on April 1st you do :)
Karl: due November 20... sounds like somebody had a busy Valentine's Day :P
Kandi: LOL

As it turns out, my friend was joking. They already have three kids and are definitely done!

I did search for a pregnancy calculator, and found one that back calculated the conception date based on the due date. It turns out a due date of November 20th means a conception date of February 27th, so my friend missed Valentine's Day by two weeks - a fact which would have helped string me out a little longer. :)