Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Back East

Today is my parent's 38th Anniversary, and they kicked off the celebration by getting up at 5 am to drive me to the airport. ;) Fortunately, I had no problems getting there in time to catch my flight, so no juggling schedules around and spending the day at the airport.

Unfortunately, my bag suffered a bit of damage. Before, I had and used one of those TSA approved locks, and then one day my bag arrived with the lock gone. Great. This time, either the TSA people or more likely the baggage handling system managed to crush flat about half an inch of the teeth of the zipper, making it impossible to unzip the bag fully. On top of this there is a rip so the zipper needs to be fixed or replaced anyway, which would solve both issues. I plan to take my bag into a store and see about repairs, since my bag is a nice one, a Tumi ballistic nylon model. If I could squeeze into a smaller bag I'd do that and just carry it on all the time, to avoid lock thieves and bag crushers.

Since I had the day off, and it was clear, sunny and beautiful out, I hopped on my Trek 1000 and went for a ride through the streets and very modest hills of Heathrow. The Trek 1000 is my PC bike (powercranks) so it is a challenging ride no matter how far I go. It felt great to get outside and exercise after taking a week off. Total ride was 16.1 miles in 1:09.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Pet Menagerie

I didn't realize my parents bought two more birds after Mom's bird died a few weeks ago. That brings them to two dogs (a pug and a pekingese) and three birds (a maroon-bellied conure and two English budgies). When my grandmother came over and brought her own dog (a chihuaha), I felt like I was in a zoo! It used to be crazier, because before my parents moved to Texas, they also had a turtle.

Originally uploaded by klbarrus.
Mom's pekingese. It isn't cold but this dog is wearing a coat for some reason.

Originally uploaded by klbarrus.
Mom's pug. Yes, this dog is named after the robot from Star Wars. Who knew my Mom was such a fan? ;) R2D2 likes to play catch and dig in the yard, and is highly motivated by doggie treats.

Originally uploaded by klbarrus.
Mom's chihuahua. This dog has a feisty temper and barks all the time. Since the dog bonded with grandma more than mom, Tarzan currently is living with my aunt and grandmother.

Originally uploaded by klbarrus.
Dad's maroon-bellied conure. This type of bird is really for 1.5 people, meaning it will bond with one and barely tolerate another. It bonded with Dad and sort of tolerates me enough to sit on my shoulder for a while. But, it pecks at my neck.

Topaz and Sayang
Originally uploaded by klbarrus.
Mom's budgies. Topaz is definitely an English budgie, but we're not sure Sayang is (he has a slightly different head shape and isn't big enough). Mom trained her previous budgie Emas to speak, but that takes a long time. These two haven't been trained and are quiet.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

A Maccy Christmas

I set up the Mac Mini, and so far it is going over well. I myself am an OS X novice so I have to experiment to figure out how to do stuff. For example, I don't know how to enter an accented e in "Exposé", my favorite OS X feature so far. (NOTE: thanks to Mac expert John I can do it now!) I could use Exposé at work where I usually have at least 8 or 10 apps going. Instead, the Windows alternative is Alt-Tabbing through all running apps to find the one to switch to, and that isn't as fast or easy.

After using the computer for a few hours, I think it is really sweet: compact, attractive, VERY quiet, easy to use, powerful enough for typical usage. Argh, now I want to get one for myself! It is going over well with my parents, and I see getting my aunt and grandmother one eventually.

A pleasant surprise is DSL - now offered where my parents live, and they signed up for it. Since they have broadband I also bought them a wireless router. What a change, from dialup on Windows to broadband on a Mac!

The acid test will be if this computer resists spyware/viruses and generally remains usable months from now. Unfortunately my parents have spent way too much time, effort, and money keeping their old Windows machine creaking along.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Flight Delays

It took longer than expected to fly to Dallas, but the reality is that it was a self-inflicted problem... I got to the airport and just missed my original flight. I left in the morning with a razor-thin margin of extra time, and it took longer than expected to park.

Orlando airport has two terminals, with a satellite parking lot for each one. Unfortunately, the lot for my terminal was full, so I had to drive back through the airport to the alternate lot. I caught the shuttle soon enough, but by the time it dropped off passengers at the closer terminal and made it to mine, I had the sinking feeling I would miss my flight. With an extra 20 to 30 minutes I would have made it, but I lost that time with my parking issues.

I did find out something interesting. I've had to reschedule flights on the same day a handful of times, and I've never had to pay extra. But flights vary wildly in cost, so how could this be? I never really thought about it, until the very helpful agent told me what was going on. Airlines can make same-day flight arrangements and give them to you for the price you originally paid, even if the new flight would have cost a lot more, as long as those tickets are booked within three hours of the new departure. Basically, extra seats on flights can be moved around this way, but only within a three hour window of time. I had the option of paying an extra $450 to guarentee a spot on the next flight, or wait 15 minutes and trying again (it was 12:10 pm and I was trying to change to a flight at 3:25) with the small risk the flight would sell out. The agent did give a solid hint that selling out wouldn't be problem, so I chose to wait and got that flight. It only cost an extra $30 because this new itinerary stopped in Atlanta, where my original itinerary was direct, and the airline passes the extra landing fee on.

So I waited... and that 3:25 pm flight was delayed until 5:30 pm and then to 6:00 pm and then 6:15 pm. These delays made me miss two connecting flights so by the time I made it to Atlanta, I had to wait until 10:35 pm to fly to Dallas. I ate dinner in Orlando before departing, and in Atlanta all I felt like eating was a strawberry milkshake that tasted absolutely horrible. Not a great diet day.

Oh well, next time I'll add in an extra 30 minutes to handle holiday parking crowds.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Tyrian Adventures

With the extra time I have from my sports off-season, I picked up another hobby of mine: computer games. I crank up the PS2 occasionally, but over the past few weeks I've been pecking away at Guild Wars. I've played a total of 75 hours in 6 months on my main character, which probably breaks down to 15 hours in the first 3 months, and 60 hours in the last 6 weeks.

I reached a milestone in the game by completing all the missions for "Ascension", which basically grants me access to the last part of the storyline. In the mythos of the game, by Ascending I seek to prove myself worthy of fighting off the evil consuming the world of Tyria - standard game plot stuff, but there have been a few nice twists along the way.

About to Ascend

Here I am before the Ascension trial. Most missions require multiple players to finish (at the very least you can take along henchman which are controlled by the computer), but the Ascension trial must be fought solo.

Holiday Decorations

After winning the Ascension trial and finishing the next mission, I reached a new city that sells better armor. I dyed my earlier armor red (top picture), because I got tired of the default color; now that I bought a new and better set, I am back to brown (lower picture). Maybe I'll try a different color this time like green or blue. Some games of this type make you grind or farm for gear (i.e. repetitiously killing monsters for their loot) but in Guild Wars you can just buy the armor and the dye from in-game vendors.

For the holiday celebrations, a few cities in the game are sporting various holiday themed decorations: snowmen, gingerbread horses, decorated trees, candy canes, giant nutcrackers, and so forth. No gaming while I visit my relatives. Instead I'll read a book or two!

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Alarm System

I decided to activate the alarm system my house already has installed. Maybe I watched too many episodes of It Takes A Thief on the Discovery Channel - that show generally recommends everybody get AND USE an alarm system. Their point was an alarm dissuades a casual, opportunistic thief. Obviously, you can't keep out someone who is very determined, but an alarm system will make most decide it isn't worth the hassle and move on to some other victim. ;)

What was really interesting was how fast two experienced thieves can clear out a house. On the show, they would find a suitable target (and talk to the homeowner to get permission), rob the place, make security recommendations, and come back to check on the improvements. The interesting part of the show for me is the recommendation section, but the most exciting is the actual robbery, which they filmed for the homeowners and us to watch. Many times, they would zip into a house while the occupant was off doing some errand like grocery shopping or going to the post office, and essentially take 80% of the valuables in just 20 minutes. Jewelry was one thing, but these guys would also make off with big screen TV's, electronics off all sorts - one house had a small safe that wasn't bolted down, so they just took the whole safe! Another guy had a motorcycle collection and they just drove them onto the truck.

Anyway, with the alarm system I now have to visit the control panel every time I enter or leave the house. This really isn't too much trouble. Before leaving I shut all the doors, then type in my combination. Then I have about one minute to leave before the system is armed - enough time to exit and lock up. When I return and open the door, the control panel beeps, signalling I have about one minute to enter my combination before the security company is alerted. It really is pretty simple.

As for the show, I'm taking a break and not watching it for a while. It is interesting, but is also the kind of show where after viewing 4 or 5 episodes, you'll get pretty much all the info you need. Unless of course you just love to watch homes getting burgled!

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Weight Loss

I'll probably jinx myself writing this before the holidays, but I recently hit a weight loss goal I've been pursuing for about 3 years.

After I bought my house in Kirkland in March 2003, I went to update my driver's license. At the DMV, the lady took my old license, glanced over it and asked "is all this info accurate?" I nodded in agreement as she read off: "height 5' 5", brown eyes, dark brown hair, weight 130..." She must have seen me grimace at that last phrase, because she smiled and said she could just leave it unchanged.

In those few moments, I realized a) I weighed 130 in college, b) that was about 15 years ago, and c) at 145 pounds (at the time) I was one of those people who had put on one pound a year after college! This despite generally higher activity than the average person.

So I vowed to lose 10 pounds and have been working on it ever since. Last week, I tipped the scale at just under 135 for the second week in a row, so I consider this goal achieved. Now there is just the difficult problem of maintaining my new weight. :)

The interesting thing was that it took me about 1.5 years to lose half of my goal. I didn't really have a strategy for doing it other than eating better and exercising, but I had been doing that all along. Even during ironman training, my weight stayed at a very consistent 140-142 pounds, which was good since that meant I was approximately eating the right amount of food I was burning through exercise.

After my July break, I started up training again with a focus on speed. This let me drop another 2 or 3 pounds, and I consistently weighed in at 137-139 pounds. But those last few eluded me... until I got the laser focus of calorie counting. It didn't take many changes, just cutting out a few things from my diet and even then, goodies are OK in moderation.

I plan to take up a strength training program in January, so the irony is I might gain some weight and get right back to 140 pounds. Of course, if I do put on 5 pounds of lean muscle I won't mind. ;)

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Sad Day

This is a tough entry to write; I've been putting it off all day. Earlier this morning a friend David Fielding passed away from cancer... or complications arising from treatment of cancer. I'm not sure how much time passed from the original diagnosis, and I could go search through Gail's blog to figure it out, but it would likely be more sad news as it was definitely less than a year - more like 9 months.

If you read David's blog, you will get the idea he loved to fly. I remember last year when this picture was taken, he had just explained how to do a barrel roll in a small plane. He made it sound easy ("first, learn how to do an aileron roll"), like it would come naturally if you were at the controls. Later at dinner they passed around the rings he helped design, and we talked of how exciting 2005 would be for them.

Gail, David, Me

Dave, it was great to meet you and you will be missed.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Off Season Thoughts

I'm currently in my off season, which will last until January. I'm not completely taking off exercise, but I have cut back and am enjoying a little downtime. It is convenient timing since I've been busy at work lately.

In the early season, I typically do lots of easy miles. But this time, I will go about it a bit differently. Why? Well, part of that is a new training program I signed up for - the Track Shack's Five and Dime speedwork program, targetted to the 5K and 10K distances. This program is offered once a quarter, so either I take it now, or wait most of a year, because fitting it in the spring or summer would be too difficult. Plus, I'd like to see what organized speed workouts are like, and I should meet some other runners.

I usually wear my heart rate monitor while running and biking, but lately I almost never pay attention to it. I hardly even log my heart rate anymore - I just about only check my max and average after a race. That's my dirty little secret. Why is that? For biking, it is more important for me to keep up with the group rather than stay at a certain heart rate. If I want to target a heart rate zone, the trainer is a better way to do it. For running, I've gone from building endurance to run the distances I want, to wanting to get faster at those distances. So the HRM is only useful to keep me from going out too hard during my weekly long run.

I think that for shorter distances running events (half marathon and below) the way to go about hitting certain time goals is to actually train at that desired race pace. What is easier - to set a PR by figuring out what heart rate to keep, or by figuring out what pace to keep and stick to it? After many years of trying to break through my old half mary PR, I did it this year with simple math: my goal required an 8 minute/mile pace, so I stuck to that from the start. Granted, I have a larger exercise base and had been running at faster paces than I ever did before. The funny thing is, I set my previous PR the one time I didn't use the HRM - the strap was loose and it slipped to my stomach less than 5 minutes into the event. I ran that one by picking out other people and catching up to them.

Anyway, this is my philosophy as a self-coached athlete. I might crash and burn, but I should also notice that happening and make a tactical adjustment if necessary.

Later I'll add more on what I plan to do schedule wise.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Corporate Confidential

I heard about this book by reading some of the comments on the Mini Microsoft blog. I went to look for it at a local Barnes & Noble, but they didn't have it in stock, so I ordered a copy from Amazon.

It arrived, and I started reading... and couldn't put it down. The reviews on Mini Microsoft's site and the comments on Amazon are all true, at least to me. The author, Cynthia Shapiro, has written an outstanding and revealing look at corporate politics and personnel policies. She was a former human resources executive, and logically and methodically explains the reasons for various unwritten rules, how they affect you, and how to work around them. I wonder if after reading this, I'll become a total cynic and say that HR exists solely to gather documentation to defend against lawsuits.

I'm only 50 pages into it, and it has been page after page of absolutely fascinating insight on how the HR departments at real corporations work, and what they do. I have to be careful about reading it tonight or I'll be up way too late again!

She explains that due to the legal climate, companies are very risk adverse and have to carefully sidestep issues and potential problems, and this is what blocks career advancement for the majority of people. She gives advice on what to do and what to avoid doing, and to always think of how the corporation would view things. I'm looking forward to absorbing the rest of the information.

I don't have any friends who are human resource specialists, or I'd ask them what they think of Corporate Confidential.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Cult of the Mac

My poor parents are long-suffering Windows users. They recently had to take their computer in to have it wiped and reinstalled, due to all sorts of spyware and virus related problems. This is at least the third of fourth time it has happened, and I'm thinking long term, a different strategy might be needed: getting them a Mac.

My first computer was an Apple IIe. Actually, my first computer was a Sinclair ZX-81 (anybody remember those?) but it was limited. Unfortunately, I lost it during a move - it would make a great wall ornament or museum piece. I also owned an Amiga 2000, but other than that every computer has been a DOS/Windows system. Now might be the time return to the Apple family and get a Mac. I think the Mac Mini might be perfect for them.

Last time I visited, I installed anti-spyware software including Ad-Aware and Spybot-S&D. But, as Windows systems are prone to do without constant vigilance, it degraded over the last year and became unusable.

Having the store fix the computer is like having an axe executioner perform surgery. To be fair, sometimes all that can be done is a complete reinstall. After such a drastic fix, all their files are gone, all their applications need to be reinstalled, and worst of all, their system had Windows ME put back onto it (store policy is to use the install disk the computer came with) instead of the XPSP2 I upgraded them to.

If you are familiar with Windows ME you can already see the problem - returning a computer running some ancient unpatched version of Windows ME is disaster. My parents are on dial-up, and even if the first thing they did was go to Windows Update and try to patch their system, they would be reinfected again before finishing the download. In the past, I've found patches, burned CD's and mailed, but that is a long turn around time before the system is usable.

To cap it off, they got fooled by the Win Fixer spyware and have that running around already. The uninstall instructions are not something I can walk them through over the phone. I'm curious what the Hijack This log would say for their system.

So, I'm seriously considering the Mac. I'd set them up on Ubuntu Linux (which I run on one of my spare boxes) but I think that might be a little too much to absorb. No software is perfect, but with OSX there are at least an order of magnitude (or two) fewer problems due to better design. Things like not running as an Administrator (yeah, you can do that too on Windows but not with the default out-of-the-box install). If I order soon it can even be delivered for Christmas, and then I can set it up and play around with it!

I'm also interested in Apple's internet service, .Mac. I think my parents would really get some great usage out of some of the features: iDisk and Backup. I don't think anything of burning CD's and storing important files on multiple USB keys, but for them, having an easy place to store files would be wonderful.

I think most of what they need to run can be handled natively on the Mac (web browsing, email, PDF docs) or through Virtual PC for the handful of other apps they use.

If I like it, maybe I'll get one too. I'm just on Windows for the games. ;)

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Touching the Void

I'm sure my friend Krisanne recently watched this movie, but I can't find her post on it. Reading her post made me queue it up in Netflix, since I found the book very interesting when I read it. The advantage of the movie is great scenery and commentary from the actual men involved. By the way, another great mountaineering book is Minus 148, about the first winter ascent of Denali. Those two, along with Into Thin Air will make you realize mountain climbers and all nuts and you are way better off taking up something tame like skydiving. ;) The thing that struck me in all these books is avalanche risk, how you are basically at the mercy of the weather and pure luck to not have one happen while you are in an exposed spot.

Touching the Void covers the famous incident in the Andes where two mountaineering friends got caught in bad weather during their descent. Joe Simpson fell and broke his leg, and his partner Simon Yates tried to lower him so they could continue. Unfortunately, while lowering him, Simpson again slipped off a cliff, and was suspended in mid-air due to the rope. Trapped like this, he tried to climb up slowly using his gear, but he dropped a crucial piece of equipment. After all, he was only dealing with the pain of his broken leg, darkness and bad weather, plus the freezing cold... and I can see where his fingers were frozen solid and something slipped.

Anyway, he could no longer climb up the rope, and Yates couldn't continue with his weight holding him down, so Yates did the very agonizing thing of cutting the rope, releasing Simpson into free fall and nearly certain death.

Simpson did survive the 100+ foot fall and live. Now he was faced with the struggle to climb out of a crevasse and back to camp, hoping Yates had not packed up and left, since that would have meant a death due to starvation/dehydration. He did make it, surviving against the odds, crawling like an animal over rocks back to the camp.

Watching the movie made me think of my own limited climbing experience. Since Mt. Rainier is so close to Seattle, it is a popular climbing destination. I was a little interested in joining a guided climb to the top, but over the years I grew less and less interested and now I have no desire to do anything more than a hike or snowshoe.

When I lived in the Pacific Northwest, I joined the Mountaineers and took some of their classes: navigation, snowshoe, scrambling. You might wonder why you need a class for snowshoeing - well the Moutaineers are pretty serious about safety. The are very dedicated to safety and education, so the classes are very informative. The snowshoe series involved map/compass navigation, ice axe arrest, avalance beacon rescue, and snowcamping. The most interesting of these was avalanche beacon rescue - using beacons to search for teddy bears buried in tupperware containers. It was fun, until you realize in a real avalanche, you have ~30 minutes to find a buried person before they asphyxiate. Avalanche rescue is one of the few situation where going for help is the wrong thing to do; victims will die before you get back to them. If they have any hope of living, YOU have to start searching immediately.

Scrambling is non-technical climbing, which means getting to the summit without having to use ropes or other gear you attach to the mountain. Of course, there are peaks that can't be scrambled and must be climbed.

What I found out from backpacking is that for me, dragging around all the gear needed isn't fun. I went on two backpacking trips on the Wonderland Trail (which encircles Mt. Rainier) plus a trip to the Hoh Rainforest, and for those trips I had to take about 45 pounds of gear: backpack, tent, clothes, food, supplies. If I were a mountain climber, I'd have to take all that stuff PLUS heavier boots, cold weather gear, climbing axe, crampons, rope, etc. Net result: less enjoyment for more risk. Hm... let me think about about that... The views are great, but then you can get most of that benefit from some of the nicer and safer hikes and snowshoe routes available. Towards the end of my time in Washington I would only do day hikes.

I wound up leaving the Mountaineers - they are a great organization very serious about teaching and safety - but I just wasn't having fun doing anything more than hikes and snowshoes. Instead, I got into triathlon, where I can easily get my gear fix. ;)

Monday, December 05, 2005


One TV show I really enjoy is Medium. The premise is Allison (Patricia Arquette) can communicate with the dead and occasionally see glimpses of the future. This may sound cheesy but the show is very well written. CBS liked it enough to imitate for their own show Ghost Whisperer.

I couldn't put my finger on why I like this show so much, until I realized that unlike many sci-fi shows, where "not changing events that are to happen" is often a millstone worn around the neck of the plot, this show is all about doing that. In an episode a few weeks ago, Allison had a vision of a young woman threatened and knifepoint and then killed, and also one of the ex-con who was arrested for it.

Sounds good right? Well there are a few twists. In order to head off this crime, Allison and Detective Lee Scanlon (David Cubitt) go visit the ex-con, to ask him some questions. He sees them and runs off, straight into a car and is hospitalized with major injuries. At the hospital, the young woman visits and Allison and Lee realize these two are dating. It also comes out that the young woman's ex-husband is a psycho, very jealous, and he's the true killer - the ex-con boyfriend was to be wrongfully convicted. So the killer Allison saw in her vision was the ex-husband, and Detective Scanlon arrives just in time to save her from murder.

Most of the shows are similar - Allison will have a mysterious vision and then spend the rest of the episode trying to make sense of it. Detective Scanlon was originally an extreme skeptic, completely unconvinced about the psychic abilities of Allison. He prefers the usual detective work, but has seen how she has helped so many times, he now is more than willing to follow up hunches she has, even though not all pan out. The Assistant D.A. Devalos (Miguel Sandoval) is similar - he wants any advantage he can get so he asks her to help out with a variety of cases.

Now, an item of concern. Last week's episode was a very gimmicky 3D episode. I think the show is good but when they resort to stunts like that it makes me hope it is a stumble and not a sign the show has turned for the worse.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

OUC Half Marathon


It's about time I had a "perfect" race: well paced, well executed, and I hit both my time goals. I finished in 1:42:28, and I was extremely pleased with how it went.


Yesterday I hydrated with 56 oz of Infinit, ate a chicken/pasta lunch, and lasagna for dinner. My own mini carbo-loading protocol! During the race I brought 2 7 oz fuel belt bottles of Infinit - I like to take a sip of sports drink more often than the water stations.

Race Strategy

My previous half marathon PR was 1:50:22, set in December of 1999. I felt like I could improve on that time, since I've been running more, have a larger exercise base, and have been speed training.

My strategy was to hold an 8:00 minute/mile through mile 10, and then take stock and re-evaluate how my race was going. My primary goal was to beat 1:50:22, and my secondary stretch goal was to come in under 1:45:00.

The Race

I seeded myself near the front - even though I'm not that fast by running standards, my experience here is that lots of people are wildly optimistic in their own placement. I just wanted to dodge fewer people - again, I'm not that fast, but I knew any more than 20 or 30 seconds back from the start would be a nightmare for the first mile.

I kept it right around 8:00 through mile 5. It felt like I was running a lot slower than I could have, but I knew that this was necessary for me to hold the pace the entire distance. No use going out hard only to run on fumes at mile 10!

Things were looking really good when I came to mile 10 at 78 minutes, 2 minutes ahead of schedule. I decided 1:45 was looking good so I picked it up slightly.

I had minor delusions of finishing under 1:40, but I was not able to hold the necessary pace from mile 10. Maybe that will be my next goal.

Unfortunately, my footpod was way off at this race - it measured 12.7 miles. That is a 3% error which is pretty big. I replaced the battery recently, but what I probably need to do is recalibrate the footpod at a track, while running 8 minute miles, in order to get as much accuracy as possible.

Overall, this race went very well and I'm going to treat myself to a nice milkshake this afternoon. :)

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Daily Show

I watch Comedy Channel's Daily Show all the time now - it is a great satire on current politics. I haven't been able to get into The Colbert Report, a spinoff, but the original is just great. Yesterday was a funny skit with Samantha Bee on the vote of No Confidence in Canada:

SB: The no confidence vote forced by the three opposition parties leaves Canadians in many ridings wondering...

JS: We Americans don't really know a lot about Canada, could you back up that explanation just a tad?

SB: A riding is like one of your Congressional districts...

JS: Sam, a little further.

SB: Parliment is like the Canadian Congress...

JS: Sam, further!

SB: A former monarchy, our representative democracy arose...

JS: Sam! Where is Canada?

I found that so funny for some reason. I know my Canadian friends won't hate me for it either. ;)