Rants & Raves

Pismo Beach Building & Planning Department – My Experience

We have purchased a lovely vacant lot in the seaside town of Pismo Beach, CA. and hope to build a home. Hope, the key word. 2 years and counting into the process, plenty of curveballs and surprises.

A wise friend shared this most-zen insight, “Forest, most of our problems in life are with our expectations… change your expectations, and suddenly problems disappear”. Indeed, my initial expectation for the project was that we could hire an architect, get plans approved by the city of Pismo Beach’s Planning and Building Permit bureaucracy, secure a general contractor/builder, dive-in, and within 2-3 years from start, have a new primary home to live in.

Things have been going horribly wrong,

if that were to remain my expectation.

But, this week i changed my expectation. I now hope to build a new home in Pismo Beach in less than 10 years. Anything between now, and 2029, i will consider a wild success. Suddenly, we are doing GREAT. We are right on track.

I will share some of my experience here for the benefit of others who are considering buying and building on a vacant lot in either Pismo Beach, or more generally, the central-coast area of california (Arroyo Grande, San Luis Obispo, Los Osos and Morro Bay, Nipomo… this general area).

I have thoughts to share about:

  • Difficulties in finding architects for primary home build projects on the California Central-Coast
  • What to expect when interacting with Pismo City Planning Department staff. Their style, competencies, general approach to customer-service and collaboration + partnership.
  • What to expect when interacting with Pismo City Planning Commission (review committee for approval of design and land-use)
  • What to expect from the lovely fire staff
  • The wonderful community filled with friendly neighbors and colorful locals in Shell Beach, Pismo Heights, and town center.

Ping me in the comments if you are thinking of your own project and want to compare notes!

Rants & Raves

Carlos Key Filmaker

My son Carlos Key has a few websites up and the search engines need a little help finding them, so the young filmaker and storyteller can be found when he is being sought!

Carlos Key maintains a catalog of his creative film projects catalog here on youtube. Carlos Key has a developing personal site and photo and work sample portfolio here. And Carlos Key’s professional bio is developing on Linkedin.

Hopefully these links will help you, and search engines, to find the proper Carlos Key information pages!

Carlos Key, filmaker

My son Carlos Key’s film won an award at the local film festival, the Seattle International Film Festival, and he has a nice write up in the Seattle Times–Carlos Key won the Youth Award at SIFF for the 3 minute short film category.

But probably just as cool, for us tech geeks, is that Seattle’s own tech blog of record, Geekwire, wrote a nice piece highlighting the work of Carlos as a young film maker, and how changes in film tech and software have made film making for teenagers something entirely magical, with the advent of lower cost equipment in the last decade.

Carlos Key featured in Geekwire here, and here’s the film from his YouTube channel:

Rants & Raves

On the death of my son

As part of my grieving i wanted to write about my son’s passing. This post will be a work in progress that i will iterate on, as I am inspired to write.

I read a book back in summer of 1992 called On the Death of My Son. It was an interesting book which tells the real life story of a father’s experience with his son’s death, and a series of insights and connections to the meaning he got from that experience (including a sense of connecting to his son and hearing about the afterlife). As much as anything, the title of the book has stuck with me and it is with a sad heart that as of Feb 29th of this year 2020, i have experienced the death of my youngest son Caetano. He was 16.

Caetano and me in Beijing in 2008, hiking the great wall together. Ultraman in hand, one of my favorite childhood toys passed from one generation to the next. He would grow up to love all things Japan and Japanese.

My wife and I and our son Carlos put together a memorial site for Caetano Key, which has been visited 10k+ times by over 3000 visitors in its first weeks. The many lovely text messages, emails, notes, flowers, food, and other expressions of love and caring for our family have been incredibly uplifting and we feel part of a larger community. And yet, we are devastated. We miss Caetano in so many ways we couldn’t possibly document or convey.

We are however, ok. I’ll let my wife and son tell their own stories on their own channels. I am ok because i’m feeling many intense feelings, but i’m making good progress feeling them, and understanding my grief. These include:

  • I’m angry. I’m angry at Caetano for trying drugs and not taking the risks of illicit drugs seriously. When he was 11 i had a long conversation with him about all drugs that I could name, and their effects, their joys, and their risks. We did this together in the car while driving to Whistler to ski. His brother was with us. I talked about tobacco, alcohol, psychedelics, stimulants, and depressants like opioids. I told him it was likely that he and his brother might at some point in their lives experiment with drugs. I tried to impart to him a strong boundary with addiction, and risky behavior when under the influence that could lead to physical or emotional harm. I shared with him some of the trauma in my own life that came from family members and my own personal experience with certain drugs. Caetano experimented with drugs: too many of them, and too often. His teenage brain didn’t appreciate the risks. He thought he had it under control. He didn’t. We sought help for him from specialists. He became a nicotine addict (thanks Juul, you bastards), he became a frequent pot and psychedelics tripper, and then the gift of the Sackler family to america, the nefarious opioid epidemic got a hold of him and he became a statistic, one of ~70k people dying a year in america. But this anger has been healing as well. Because being able to feel the anger, but then surrender to it and understand that i didn’t cause his addiction, i couldn’t control his addiction, and I couldn’t cure it… i’m ok with it. His addiction was his. I can only work on my feelings, and being angry is a waste of emotion and time–i want to direct those cycles to doing good in the world for myself and others.
  • I have tons of regrets. At work i often talk with my colleagues about “if you don’t have any regrets about how you did things in the past, then you didn’t learn anything”. There are 16 years of regrets in my relationship with my son. Prime among them, i wish i had been a lot more emotionally in tune with him and empathetic to some of the ways in which he experienced the world. Caetano was brilliant and funny and kind and a type A personality that wanted to try everything at least 1 time, no matter the consequences. He was also more anxious, and sensitive to how others perceived him, than i understood or could directly relate to. He and i shared real moments of connection where we were together and really emotionally bonded–i regret there weren’t many, many more of those moments. There are also tactical regrets–i wish i hadn’t given him access to an ipod touch and later an iphone, at the early age of 4th grade. I wish that we had gotten him better psychological support and more consistent support, earlier in his life. I regret not having learned CPR, so that i could have maybe saved his life when he went into cardiac arrest in our home at 3am, from a overdose of street purchased Fentanyl. These regrets make me feel sad and anxious… but they also make me feel ok, because they remind me of the many ways that i’ve grown and learned, thanks to my time with Caetano.
  • I have no regrets. I’ve read many Greek tragedies where fate dictated horrible outcomes, inescapably, for the protagonist. Chronicle of a Death Foretold, by one of my favorite authors  Gabriel García Márquez, was a frustrating experience to read — i constantly wanted to step in and save the character from his fate, as the very title of the book tells you that the main character will die. But even in a tragic ending, the story is full of redeeming life moments that were worth living. Caetano died at the age of 16. I am glad he was a part of my life for those years I had him: through the joyous moments, the maddening/frustrating ones, and ultimately through to his tragic end. I never thought his challenges in life would lead to such a sudden end; but now that they have, i feel at peace with some cosmic purpose and destiny. It is and was, by definition, his journey in life.
  • I have a very strong sense of peace that comes from my material atheist faith. I believe Caetano is one with the universe. Literally, i believe his essence and spirit and physical self are all, now, inexorably intertwined with all matter and all beings, in a peaceful way. I’m not worried about him.

But mostly i’m just sad. I’m sad because of the lost opportunity to meet and befriend the adult Caetano that was yet to come. I imagined years of continued work on our communication and relationship, of good times and bad times. I wanted to see the 2nd act in his life, post teenager. To continue to learn from him. To watch from afar and follow his journey with curiosity and fondness and a father’s love. I had many plans for me and the adult Caetano, including:

  • We had such a good time visiting Japan together for spring break when he was 13, just the two of us. We traveled on trains, ate adventurously in restaurants, marveled at large and fanciful Buddhist temples, took a okonomiyaki cooking class, shopped for manga and other J-curios, and bathed in a onsen near mount Fuji. At the time i thought we would have a dozen such trips together, father and son, in our lives. That was our last 1:1 trip.
  • One summer i convinced him to train with me for a 10k race. At first he had a hard time committing to train, and complained. But then he found that runner’s rhythm and became a fast and long runner, completing a 14k training run on his own and letting me know via text message. He was proud of himself. I was proud of him. We had a great race day together, and i remember how happy he was at the finish line as we crossed together in a feverish sprint. I thought we would have many more races together… not now when he was a surly teenager, but perhaps in 5 or 10 years. We never ran together again.
  • Most of the quality time we had spent together in the last 18 months was in therapy. We had family therapy weekly, and it wasn’t always a joy or even productive. But some times it was… sometimes it was really great. He and I and his mom and brother all went to therapy individually as well, and we would convene as a quad-team to share what progress we were making individually, and as a family group. It was hard work. But it was rewarding. It has changed me profoundly, allowing me to grow emotionally in ways i haven’t ever before in my life. I was looking forward to more years of discussing our individual work, and more sessions together helping each other to grow.
The moment of joy for both Caetano and I as he took his first steps as a 1 year old. One of many, many happy moments together in his 16 years.

I’m sad. I’m happy. I’m angry. But mostly, i’m ok. Taking it a day at a time, and a week at a time, and know that Caetano will be with me the rest of my life.

I love you Caetano, always.

Rants & Raves

Remove and Replace Ford Focus RS mk3 Billet Badges/Emblems

My 2017 Ford Focus RS (mk3) is a joy to drive and i like its styling.  I’m a first time Ford owner, and got in on the “made in USA” car thing just in time for Ford to discontinue all future sales of car vehicles (except for Mustang) which might work out just fine for me, as I think of this project car as a long-term toy to use for track and occasional car outings.  Now it will also be the last ford hot-hatch made for a long time?!  Bonus.


When i looked over the exterior stylings of the car one of the things that stood out for me as a eyesore is the blue on white stock “billet badges”, the thing on the hood and the trunk that say “Ford” in the classic font.  I found a custom fabricator and design shop called Billet Badges that had awesome designs, and when i contacted them they assured me that as long as I was patient and gave them time (turned out to be about 4 months) to design and spec the new billets, they’d be happy to do a custom design.  I went with “Fury” in the same Ford font, which feels playful and true to the original mark, but unique and a tribute to the awesome heroine Furiosa from the last Mad Max Fury Road film.

The badges came a few weeks ago and I got started on install over the last day and wanted to post my findings/process for others thinking of this kind of mod.


Here’s the first headline:  Be warned, the Ford Focus RS mk3 (2016-2018) front billet badge (“ford emblem” on hood) does indeed have screws that need to be removed from inside the engine bay. Floss and a heat gun alone will get you nowhere!  I was unable to find any videos or posts that correctly showed this install challenge. Floss alone will rip and hurt your hands–this job requires unfastening two screw bolts from under the front bumber/face of the hood.

Let’s jump right to the problem piece.  Using a heat gun (to warm up the pieces and make the glue that binds them to the surface a little looser/easier to manipulate) is a great first step and I’ve used to remove several outer badges on this and other cars.  Then, using tooth-floss, you can shimmy the floss between the surface and the badge, with a back-and-forth motion gently bitting into the adhesive and releasing the bond, eventually leading to the piece/badge popping right off.

But not with the front badge, which looks like this:

You can see the removed emblem and the fasteners. Note the thick plastic screws that are fused to the emblem and are threaded.  Those little fasteners are threaded onto the end of the two outer plastic aligners.  DO NOT try to rip/pull this off, you’ll damage the body fender/bumper.  Instead, go in through the engine compartment, get behind the badge, and use some pliers to twist/turn the fasteners off.  Then the piece will come off with some gentle tugging and the floss/cutting of the glue-binding.  When off, you’ll see this:

There is lots of adhesive to break down.  A little elbow grease, some Goo Remover fluid, and some gentle scrubbing and fingernail work, and voila:

I then placed the new billet badge in the slot to see if the fit was right, and was amazed at *perfect* fit.  Flush to the hood, perfect depth, oval size, etc.

Now onto the back tailgate.  Turns out the badge in the back is NOT fastened, rather, is simply pushed in through some alignment holes.  here’s what the piece looks like removed, with some floss to loosen the grip, and some gentle tugging.


And the tailgate hole after some cleanup:


I did have a fit problem with the back, you can see here that i could fit a US 1 cent penny in the gaps that remained around the badge, to be flush with the body of the tailgate:


Here’s the same view, from flush above, without the penny in place:


I contacted the friendly folks at Billet Badges and they said to send back and they would grind down the width of a penny, i think we agreed on a few mms.  When it came back a week later, perfect:


So in summary, here below are (left) the FRONT badge, which has screw fasteners and needs to be loosened from inside the engine bay, the (right) rear badge, which has alignment push-in plastic protrusions (can simply be pulled off after loosening the glue bond), and the back of my new badges which are smooth, with the Made in the USA sticker (thanks again!)


And here is the front after it is fully installed:


And a wider shot, with my now more recently added decal stripes:

e, voila!
Rants & Raves

F80 BMW m3 Kidney Grill Replacement Install

I changed the kidney grill “bib” from the factory chrome to a matching black; this is apparently pretty common cosmetic upgrade/change, and it was ultimately pretty easy to do–however, i found the online documentation/help to be a bit confusing so I thought I’d pass my learnings forward herein for others, feel free to post a question if I can help you out with more details.

before after f80 grill

First, I bought from IND who were very good with customer service, prompt on delivery, and super knowledgeable when i called a few times with questions before and after purchase.  Highly recommend.  Here’s the F80 Front Grill Surround part that i ordered.

Here’s what the part looks like:

Front Grill

IND provides a DIY video tutorial which is generally correct, but, it was not sufficient for me to succeed with the installation.  Here’s the video:

And here’s what was wrong / additional information needed to be successful:

  • In addition to a Torx 27 tool to remove 6 screws that hold the top of the bumper to the frame (which need to be removed in order to lift the bumper forward to gain access with your hands to the rear where 8 separate tabs snap the plastic of the cover to tabs on the bumper), there are 2 ADDITIONAL screws that require a Torx 25 screw driver.  It may be possible to complete the project without pulling these additional Torx 25 screws, but I would not recommend as it would put needless pressure on the plastic bumper element.  See photo for location:

torque screws

  • With all screws removed, the next step is correct in the IND video, but grossly oversimplified.  it is VERY tricky to find and remove the 8 individual snap/pressure points to get the original grill off the bumper.  After 20 minutes of fidgeting and trying to figure out what to do, i found this very helpful and more accurate video illustration that correctly captures the effort and steps needed:

  • Despite being much harder/trickier then the IND video made the project look, it is actually only a 10 minute project and very DIY… just a little tighter space to work with and some small hands come in handy given the tight spaces.

I love the result and i think it is a great cost/benefit upgrade, much better looking!

Here’s some additional photos in the process which i wish I had as reference, hope they help you out:

pulling off

In photo above: try to get one grill off first by starting with top 3 fasteners, then either the left/right one which allows to start to pull out of frame (as seen in picture, where top 3 and left 1 (so 4 of the 8) have been unfastened), with the right 1 and the bottom 3 still to go.  Once all 8 of them are unsnapped, the piece just pops out.  And THEN, the other grill is easy, as you can now stick your hand through the empty space you created, making for a much faster remove  of the 8 snaps.  It took me 10 minutes to do the left grill, and less than 1 minute to repeat for right side.

Photo below: shows both grills removed.  Inserting the new grills is a simple push/snap gesture, takes 2 seconds each.  So all the work is in getting the existing grills to pop-off!

grill offAnd here is the finished result:


Rants & Raves

My Apple Watch Review, vis a vis Fitbit Surge

I sold my Apple Watch after 1 week of use, here’s why!

After a sordid 1 week fling with the Apple Watch, i decided this AM that I had had enough and i posted it for sale on my internal company bulletin board.  I hope to unload it quickly to a lucky colleague so that she/he can have at least a week of fun, if not a lifetime!

Apple Watch

Here’s my experience with the Apple Watch, starting with the many cons/problems that led me to such a rapid falling out of interest for what otherwise should have been an exciting new product for a ultra geek early adopter like me! :

  • Another device that needs to be charged every night and that with any kind of active use during the day, runs out of battery before dinner time (and thus creates more battery anxiety that governs the use of the device during the day!)
  • Another USB cable to take on business trips or vacations, with a completely proprietary charging end which thus requires that this cable be taken anywhere if the watch is going to be used for more than 1 day!
  • I’m not a watch guy to begin with–haven’t worn a watch for 10+ years, and only started to have a time-piece on my wrist in the last year because of my interest in activity trackers (i’ve owned 3 to date, and found myself liking having the time on my wrist again and not needing to reach for my phone to get the time throughout the day).  But the Nike Fuel Band, FitBit v1, and FitBit Surge (the 3 trackers i’ve owned) are all much better casual time-checking tools as they are smaller/lighter and or can be charged 1x per 7 days.  This is a huge tradeoff for me–i can take a business trip and not need another cable, and, they use a standard cable that works with other things besides themselves.
  • The daily activity app is lame.  I like the visualization with the cool colors and wheels, but am totally disinterested in tracking “minutes of activity”, “number of hours in the day where you stood for at least 1 minute”, and “calories”.  I’m much more interested in tracking miles walked/traveled, stairs climbed, points against an index of activity (such as fitbit steps or nike fuel), etc. type metrics
  • The exercise tracking app is lame.  I’ve had a lot of experience with FitBit and Strava apps as well as MapMyRun.  All much better than the app on the watch which does not integrate with any gps/map functionality despite its dependency on the phone?  Or if it does, after 1 week of use I couldn’t figure out how to do that, which means it is an impossibly confusing and hard to use device which is just as bad!  The heartbeat tracking on the watch is very intermittent (not continuos throughout the day, like the FitbitSurge), which makes it just a “approximate” tracker of heartrate at best, and at worst a waste of battery since it read my heart rate at 180 beats per minute for a contiguous 30 minutes today on a run (which is at least 10% too high as that rate of beats would have killed me!)–i sense the heart rate reader is just crap bad (maybe they can fix with a future software update).
  • The UI for finding and loading apps is lame.  It has a dedicated button to get to “friends” screen, which in 1 week i didn’t use once.  When i want to IM or call a friend I reach for my phone.  However, when I want to use the various apps on the Watch (which I did often) such as the exercise, music play controller, Strava app, stock picker, settings menu, New York Times reader, etc. you enter into wacky land of hunting and pecking with tiny screen real-estate and the scrollable nob.  I found that by the time i found the app and got it to load (very slow to load apps, eg: 3-5 seconds per app) i could have much more quickly reached to my pocket and pulled out phone and gotten to the information/app i wanted.
  • The actual “killer apps” for me on the Apple Watch turned out to be…. none.  there is nothing that i found myself using the watch for that was actually useful, or fun, or exciting, or … anything other than “meh!”.  That coupled with the hassle of taking it off to shower (it is not water proof), taking it off to charge each night, and having to look at yet another cable to drag with me everywhere I go so it can be charged… wow, really underwhelmed.

Just to state some positives for fun, and to practice being a positive person:

  • Its cool how it lights up the screen when it senses i’ve raised my wrist or otherwise gestured with the intent of looking at the screen.  it works most of the time–only a few times did I find myself having to tell it to turn on by touching the face
  • several nifty/cool UI concepts at play that with iteration could really be fun/work.
  • lots of support from 3rd party apps–good for apple to being such a powerhouse monopoly with the attention of phone app developers… there were almost TOO many applications, i found myself almost wishing there were fewer so i could focus on a few great ones (most of them are not that interesting)
  • the band fits really nicely, doesn’t chafe, and snaps on/off easily but securely.
  • The dictation voice-to-text is good, you could use to send text messages to friends without pulling your phone out of your pocket (if you aren’t a total Dick Tracy want to be dweeb!)
  • The talking to the thing as a microphone/speaker to answer a call works if you are Dick Tracy and don’t mind being a dweeb!dich tracy

So i’m going to go back to my FitBit Surge–charges 1x a week, tells the time, is a better health tracker for both casual activity (walking around) and exercise (has GPS and more accurate distance and performance tracking, and a great community of friends that use fitbit, and integration with Strava which I use for more serious training for marathons and such).  Here’s a photo of the surge next to my apple watch on its last day of use (when i wore them both to compare the data they generated).

Apple Watch and Surge

I actually am not sure who the Apple Watch is for other than people that really like watches?  If the battery life approached 5-7 days on 1 charge, it was 50% thinner, and the physical buttons or other macro gestures could be linked to the 3-4 apps I actually care about (so it was faster to get it to load the info/app that I want when i want to use it), i would give it another try.  Otherwise, this is the first apple product in 15 years or so that I wish I hadn’t bought (last time that happened was… wait, that has never happened!?)

God forbid anyone would buy a product like this and pay $10k+ for the Gold Edition.  I can’t think of a less practical way to spend that kind of money–the shelf life on this thing, at very best, will be 1 year.  Apple desperately needs to make a v2 of this product that overcomes the many, many, many v1 deficiencies that I think make this a product strictly for super-fan-boys and or fetishist of watches.

Update: after a day on my company bulletin board i had no offers–i guess the demand amongst my peers is zero?  So i ran it over to the Apple store and was given a full refund, no questions asked–A+ customer service Apple, once again.

Rants & Raves

Strava and FitBit Surge Together / Review of Fitbit Surge

I’m training for the Copenhagen Marathon in May of this year (2015), and have been using Strava and a new Fitbit Surge device to track my runs.  Unfortunately the two systems are not compatible (update May 2015–they are now compatible, details towards end of this post), and I can’t use the heart-rate readings from the Fitbit Surge as health data inside the surge app.  I just completed a 15m training run and I thought I would post the side by side data that the two apps gathered in hopes this might be of use to other runners considering using either of these two systems.

Strava Report

Fitbit ReportSome immediate observations about the differences in the data that was gathered:

  1. The GPS tracking of the Strava, which is running on my iPhone 6, is much more accurate than the location readings on the Fitbit Surge.  The Strava/iPhone readings are really precise and show small variations in my 4 laps around the lake.  The Fitbit Surge GPS is almost comically “loose”, suggesting a meandering variation on each lap, sometimes straying into the lake itself or across non-existent streets.
  2. The splits/pace information is pretty consistent.  I tried to start both devices tracking at the same time, but the differences in the splits and the total distance and time of the run may be as a result of slight differences in start time, and, when I paused for a 40 second water break mid-way i manually paused the fitbit clock, but the Strava was on auto-pause and may have taken a different sense of that timeframe.  That would account for the 2:05:08 (fitbit) v 2:05:34 (strava).
  3. No idea how to rationalize the 15.01m Fitbit distance vrs. the 15.3m for Strava, which results in the pace discrepancy:  Ftibit says i had a 8:20 overall pace, Strava 8:13 pace.

My sincere desire is that Strava and Fitbit will get their systems connected, not sure who has the burden to do what work, but certainly can’t be very far from core to their missions to support as many devices/APIs as possible in this connected health tracking wearable category?  Strava is focussed on community, Fitbit on devices–let’s go guys!

Later update (March 10 2015): I’ve continued to run 4-5 times per week using both Fitbit Surge and Strava and can add some new data:

  1. The Fitbit Surge is VERY inaccurate in terms of distance travelled on a run, whether that be a 3 mile or a 21 mile course, on road/path or on a treadmill.  I’ve seen a consistent 15-20% under-report of distance run in both free-run (GPS tracking on) mode and “treadmill” run mode.  In Treadmill mode the distance travelled is under-reported almost comically–the device is just pretty much worthless in accuracy on a treadmill.  I would think that the device’s software could compare my GPS enabled and not-enabled runs and correct itself to a better estimate of my gait/pace based on the other data its sensors are gathering.  Alas, the software is clearly NOT doing that kind of comparison of the data and optimization to individual user performance.
  2. The Fitbit Surge is VERY inaccurate in terms of geo-location in GPS mode, and as a result, the pace readings during a run are absurd as well.  While running at a 8:15 minutes per mile pace the surge will report anything in a range of 7:45 to 9:30–ostensibly because it has no idea where i am physically on a map.  The readings that come back from my runs are hilarious–showing me running through buildings, into lakes, etc.–yes, it is approximately correct, but nowhere near accurate enough to track distance and therefore useless for pace and overall splits.
  3. While i have no second heart rate monitor tool to compare the readings to, i’m also confident that the hear rate readings are wildly inaccurate, as during a long run where i’m in a steady state zone of pace/energy/effort, the heart rate readings will ramp up and down by 10% range which is attributable to inaccuracy of the device’s readings, not variations in my heart rate load.

Here is a recent run that Strava reported as 21.1 miles, side by side with Fitbit.  Notice the accuracy of tracking on Fitbit Surge leaves much to be desired–which makes the device pretty useless as a serious fitness device:

Side by side Strava and Fitibit Surge

Give my first 2 months of experience with the Fitbit Surge, i would not recommend as a health tracker–way too inaccurate.  I’m actually now very curious about the Apple Watch which is shipping soon, given that it will rely on the phone for measurements which i’ve found to be much more accurate (via Strava).

Update May 2015.  So a few things happened next for me.  On a 15 mile run i tripped and fell face first into a ditch.  At the time i had enough natural endorphins pulsing through my body that I just got up and kept running–but within 24hrs i was in incredible pain along my left rib-cage.  For next 5 weeks I have been laid up and haven’t been able to run, alas, the travails of training for marathons (this seems to happen to me 50% of the time I train).  So i missed my marathons (i had rescheduled my target run to the San Luis Obispo race, since I was ready for a earlier race than the originally planned Coppenhagen).  At this point, i’ll be re-starting my training for a late summer date tbd.

But, in that timeframe a lot has happened:

  • Fitbit released a patch to firmware that some have asked/suggested might improve accuracy.  I have yet to try (will update once I do).
  • Fitbit got their act together and there is now compatibility with Strava,, which seems to push performance data back and forth between the two systems.  Yay for fitbit.  I’m going to try soon, have linked my accounts but am not yet pushing real miles through the system so need to get my runs up to 5+ miles for the data to be interesting.
  • i got an Apple Watch, and have started using it as yet another ecosystem of data and sensors.

Apple Watch

So, here’s my first impressions of the Apple Watch as a fitness and performance sports tracker:

  • I miss my Fitbit.  Apple’s passive tracking focusses on 3 key performance indicators (KPIs)–how often you stand for 1 minute in an hour of each of 12 hours of a day, how many minutes of “activity” you have in a day, and how many calories you burn in a day.  I miss the Fitbit Surge’s focus on steps and distance and stairs/steps, which felt more accurate and meaningful to my daily “activity” goals.  The Apple Watch notion of standing for 1 minute of each hour leads to several little notifications throughout the day while i’m at work at the end of a 60 minute meeting that has run over a few minutes… when suddenly not only I, but the other geeks in the room with a new Apple Watch, all get this little buzz on their wrists.  I feel like a lemming!  The little concentric circles in the UI of the watch, each representing one of the 3 KPIs, is *very* cool visualization, but the KPIs that are being tracked are not for me!
  • As a distance/performance tracker, i’ve had limited experience but the Apple Watch application with the green circle and a figure running, which offers tracking for various walk, run, swim, row, pedal type sport workouts, is really pretty lame.  It allows distance, calorie, or time targets or Open setting to just track–but it doesn’t track GPS activity on the watch or give splits or any other serious feedback on performance.  I think apple will add more integration of this data in the future, or build a companion app for the iPhone… but for now, this is pretty much useless.
  • Strava does have a nice handy companion app so that you can start/stop and get other workout data from the watch, while the phone in your pocket running Strava does the real work.  This seems likely to be my continued preference, and also gives me a remote on the watch face to control the playback of my iPhone spotify account (which i couldn’t do before without taking the phone out of my fanny pack on long runs).  So i thin the Apple Watch is going to be a great REMOTE to control my iPhone, but not a self-contained tracker to replace a wrist worn GPS tracker or activity tracker of any kind.  Weird, yet another thing to put on my wrist/pocket while i run which also does NOT actually do all the things I want!

Apple Watch and Surge

Ok so here we go, 4m run using all three: fitbit surge and Apple Watch on my wrist, Strava running on iOS on my iPhone 6 in my fanny pack:

  • Apple Watch exercise app says I ran 3.83m, 32:54 time, 288 calories (active), 61 cal (resting–no idea what that is because I was running the entire time, must be part of run where my heart rate was in a lower range, nay, incorrectly reading as low as I was running fast first mile), 349 total calories, 8:34 pace, average heart rate 175bpm (yikes, i’d be dead if that was true–i’m 44 years old).  Pretty poor and inaccurate data.
  • Fitbit Surge says i ran 4.00 miles, 32:38 time, 8:09 pace, calories burned 474, and average heard rate 160 bpm and of the 33 minutes heard rate was in “peak” range 30 minutes, cardio range 2 minutes, fat burn 1 minute (seems like much much better heart rate readings than the apple watch.
  • Strava says i ran 4.00 miles, 32:40 time, 8:01 pace, burned 686 calories.  Not sure how I get the strava/fitbit data to sync, i don’t see the fitbit heartrate data in the strava app… nor did either app post to the other in any other way that I can see.  Hmm…

So, 3 pretty messy and different reports.  The time differences have to do with me not being able to exactly start and stop them all at once as I had to fiddle with each device.  I like the mileage reading from strava+fitbit now showing exactly same figure, which i know from measuring on google-maps to be accurate!  that’s an improvement on the fitbit surge with the new firmware (it has never previously reported this run as 4.00m).  Here’s the mapping data from fitbit and stava side by side, which looks much better than previous runs (i would still like to test on a longer run and with more varied route, but this does look like it has been fixed by the firmware update last month to fitbit surge!)

strava fitbit side by side

In figure above the Strava track is on the left, Fitbit on the right.  I can definitely see huge improvements in accuracy and much more frequent samples in the Fitbit Surge data, which actually caught a few subtle route details that were missed by the Strava plot.  This is a huge improvement.

Based on this run’s data, if Fitbit and Surge data integration is actually working (still tbd how to make that work) i think i might sell the apple watch to a colleague at work who wants it, and go back to using the combination of fitbit and strava.  The apple watch is a turkey–too little battery life (1 day), not enough useful functions, and crappy sports tracker.

I’ll add to this post if I learn more.

Rants & Raves

Small Talks event in Seattle re: Millennials in the Workplace

I spoke at a Small Talks event last week on the subject of Millennials in the Workplace (millennial are the generation born in the 80s and early 90s, that came after my generation “gen x”).  buuteeq has a lot of team members from this age group/generation.   A few multimedia and related pieces from the event:

Video of the event:

Thanks to Turnstone for putting together the event and providing snacky snacks!

A cool infographic that someone made that listened/watched the event over the web, love how they captured so much of the content in this graphical/summary form:

SmallTalk 10_30_13 2K rev1

And, when i got home that evening and was doing some googling on the subject, I came across this hillarious (if snarky/harsh) summary that makes for a great comedy piece and interesting adjunct (i do not endorse or subscribe, necessarily, to the position it takes–but it did make me laugh!).  Why Generation Why Yuppies are Unhappy

Rants & Raves

Tokyo Marathon

What a great experience.  First some context, a marathon is 26+ miles, or 42.165 km.  I ran my first and only other marathon in Los Angeles 2 years ago, with my brother Andy and friend Adam Brownstein, and while the experience was ultimately fantastic/wonderful, that race was a ball buster because of a surprisingly warm March 4 in Los Angeles, with temperatures over 80 degrees on the race course (the street reflects heat back up in your face!)  In that race, despite training very hard for many months and feeling physically ready, i hit the proverbial “wall” very early in the race, at about mile 17, and suffered a combination of heat fatigue and cramping as we limped along at my reduced capacity, finishing in a 4:32:00 or so time, well beyond our stated goal of 4:00:00 or less.

So, fast forward two years and here i am in Asia, and it occurs to me that it would be a good experience to try to run another marathon, to achieve my lifelong goal/ambition to do a sub 4:00:00 marathon (i had trained twice for the San Francisco Marathon, when I was in my 20s and weighed a good 25-30 pounds less than I do today, and despite being in great running shape, both times I was sidelined by illness or injury in the very weeks leading up to the race 😦 ).  The problem is, as you might have guessed, that the Beijing air is absolutely, beyond belief, god *awful* and no outdoor training would be possible… and certainly i would not want to run an actual marathon in most major chinese cities.  There is an intriguing “great wall marathon” which includes a large section on the great wall, but that course is not the kind of course i could aim to break 4hrs on, given the ridiculous altitude changes, and unsteady surface of running on the wall.  So while in tokyo on a business trip, i stumbled upon the fact that the Tokyo marathon was being held March 22nd in 2009, and i valiantly entered into the lottery to see if I could get a slot.  Apparently, 260,000+ people applied for a chance to run this year, and I was one of the lucky folks to be awarded a position in the race, making me one of 35,000 privileged runners on race day today.

When I got the notification in october that I had been selected, i immediately told myself “well, that settles it, i HAVE to run…”, as the slot was awarded to me and divine providence was weighing in.  The problem, is that for the entire month of October and much of November, i was suffering from a really bad/painful plantar wart on my right foot, and running exacerbated the pain, leading to me having a pronounced limp and eventually not being able to walk at all!  It was exactly while I was in this condition that I got my notice… so while I knew i must train/run, i had to first attend to a series of painful cryo-surgeries (freezing) on my foot, which further debilitated me for a good 6 weeks.  It wasn’t thus, until December, that I finally could start running regularly, giving me just Dec/Jan/Feb and early march, 3 months, to get into marathon shape.

So, with a real sense of urgency, i through myself religiously into training, on TREADMILLS in our house/basement, at our Villa complex’s gym, and at hotel gym’s as i travelled to Korea, Tokyo, London, Paris, Munich, and Redmond USA.  In my entire training, i did only 4 runs outside on cement, 2 in beijing (after days when it had rained and temporarily cleared the air and revealed the blue sky) and in San Francisco, where i tested myself on a 18 mile course that Adam Dawes and I had run together back in the 90s as we trained together for the San Francisco Marathon (which I never ran as mentioned earlier).

The treadmill routine turned out to be very interesting.  Running on a treadmill can be BORRING beyond belief, especially when i was regularly spending 60-90 minutes a day, sometimes 4 days in a row, and on my long weekend runs, 2-3hrs at a time on the machines.  Some of my friends who run a lot and who have done marathon’s were incredulous when I shared this regimen, mostly out of absolute amazement that I could put up with the monotony.  I passed the time by listening to the exact same playlist on my ipod, day after day, week after week, forming a intentionally repetitive cycle for my workouts.  A friend in the US asked me what was on  my playlist, here’s the basic gist:

  • Minute by Minute – Michael McDonald;  this is a great track to just warm up to/get loose.  The chorus of “minute by minute” reminding me of the temporal challenge of what awaits
  • These Words Are My Own – a totally cheesy track from Natashia Beningford, who i otherwise never listen to but for some reason this song get’s me loose/fired up
  • Let’s Get Retarded – Black Eyed Peas; note, this is NOT “Let’s Get It STARTED”, the lame retooling of the same song to make it radio friendly and which had chart topping success, rather, i prefer the original with its edge
  • Hey Ya – Outkast; love, it…
  • Star Guitar – The Chemical brothers; this kicks off a more techno oriented 90 minutes of tracks, which is the bulk of my many runs since I less frequently made it into the 2hr+ times
  • Alive 2007 – Daft Punk; this live album, 80 minutes long, of awesome techno/beat music, is my muse.  The music and I have come a long way together, with so many runs listening to this stuff, i’ve come to love it like religion.
  • PDA – Interpol; this was a late addition to the playlist, as I only learned  of this song/group in the last month or so, while playing RockBand2 with the family on the Wii.  It is a great song, and today when it came on, at the 20km mark on the track (approximately half way), it brought a big, silly, sh*t grin to my face.
  • A few songs from Gnarles Barkley’s second album, then follow, before dumping me into the complete Dark Side of the Moon – Pink Floyd.  This Floyd comes during the beginning of the “DARK” period of the run, entering the phase called “the wall” at mile 18-22 or so.  In training when I did my long runs, i just focused on getting past this album to the song that came after it, which would bring me to 3hrs and that’s plenty during training.
  • The playlist continues, of course, all the way to 4:20:00 or so (in cae I have another bad experience and need some music to get me over the finish line past 4hrs).  However, i built the playlist back in december and never heard it till today, which brought many uplifting/music inspired positive moments during the hardest last hour of the run.

So, the treadmill and my iPod playlist were the entire training program, and until today during the real run it was har
d to know how exactly that kind of training would translate into a real road race.  The
treadmill is bouncier than cement, and on a positive note it spared my feet some of the damage that I took 2 years ago, when my feet were pretty much trashed for as much as 6 months after the run (the usual, toes swollen, toenails fell off, etc.—par for the course for long distance runners).  On a positive, it seemed like the monotony of the treadmill would get me into really good mental condition—on race day there is all kinds of things to look at, thousands of people, good crowds, music and revelry… it seemed coming into the race that those distractions, coupled with my Buddha-like ability to mark off the hours while staring at a wall or a mirror in the gym, would make for a happy mental/emotional day on race day.  However, the lingering worry was of course that the hard cement would beat my bones/joints and that the lack of training for that would leave me wounded/defeated mid course on race day.

The happy news is that treadmill training was AWESOME preparation—the mental edge i had was incredible, with the race literally zooming by; i was OUT OF MY BODY and my MIND for most of the race.  That came because of my beloved treadmills.  And as for the cement, yes, i’m beat up, but I now think that any road running is just damaging, not something that per se develops a tolerance/resilliance to the pounding; so i feel like by using the treadmill as much as I did, i actually spared myself injury and stress during training, and today on the race course I handled the 42.165km relatively effortlessly (more on that in a sec!)

So, couple of thoughts about this event in particular: the Japanese are amazing at organizing and structuring things, as anyone who has visited this marvelous country knows.  The starting blocks were so well organized, it made the LA Marathon starting line look like it was run by a motley crew of high school students/amateurs.  In Los Angeles, it took nearly 25 minutes from when the starting gun was fired, to when i crossed the starting line, and we were in the middle of the pack (by comparison, the LA race had only 24k runners, Tokyo today 35k).  Today, i’m pretty sure all 35k of the runners had crossed the startline within 10 minutes of the gun being fired, my group in approximately 4 minutes.  The course was really well maintained/marked, there was lots of volunteers everywhere, porta potties, fluids and food.  Spectacular—really an amazing world class event (as should be expected of this great city); interestingly, Tokyo is trying to get the summer Olympics in 2016, and it is said that this metropolitan marathon in many ways is done in order to show that it has the stuff to organized such activities in the middle of the metro area.  The subways handled all the traffic, as the city was basically shut down to cars throughout the morning, and when i took the subway home after the finish line, everything was humming along.


Ok, so the race… here are some thoughts:

  • There were thousands of people around me the entire day.  The course is relatively narrow, so for the entire first 40km or so, it was wall to wall people, and I constantly had to be on the lookout to not trip on someone or trip someone in front of me.  This made for a exhilarating, if stressful, RACE like feeling.  I never felt alone out there, and kept pace with 3 or 4 guys that i saw during most of the 2nd half, who either would pass or be passed by me as we clearly ran a very similar time/pace.
  • The constant attention to the people around me, so as to not trip, kept me focused/distracted, as did the routine of getting fluids and downing my 5 packs of GU fluids (a syrup of brown rice, in a little silver pack, that gives the body much needed calories and energy throughout the race, when i probably burned as much as 3,500+ calories.)  That, and my ipod routine, kept me largely IN THE ZONE, or better said, OUT OF MY HEAD.  i have impressionistic memories of the first 3 hrs, but basically, it was as if in a dream, and shot by in no time at all
  • I was running a blazing pace, faster than any of my training runs.  I had really good energy, and was able to sprint around people and really dig in.  Most exciting to me and something that really lifted my spirits, is that at the dreaded 32km mark, i really felt good, and i was able to push through all the way to km 37 or so before I really felt any fatigue or “i’m ready for this to be over with already” kind of dread. 
  • I never hit “the wall”, unless you can call the 20mph headwind that blew into us, during the last 3 miles or so, on 2 separate uphill sloaps no less, a wall!  That definitely slowed me significantly, but I kept my arms a pumping, and never walked at all, during the entire race.  I was partly inspired to not walk by the memoir i just finished reading by a famous Japanese novelist and author who is a big runner, Haruki Murakami; i just finished reading the book this very morning, when i woke at 4am and couldn’t go back to sleep, and the words “i never walked, in all of the 20+ races i’ve completed” were with me whenever i considered a short walk to recoup some mojo.
  • The weather was perfect; i ran in shortsleeves, and was never cold, despite the wind and a light rain that came down during the last hour of the race—which was actually very refreshing and i think contributed to my energy levels and confidence (as compared to the heat of Los Angeles, which was my nemesis).
  • Running hard the first 3 hrs was a great decision; rather than acting on fear (of hitting the wall, of running out of juice, of getting cramps) the fast pace gave me tons of confidence, because as I crossed 32km i realized i had a TON of time to make my goal of 4:00:00, and could afford to slow down in the last miles to a much slower pace if necessary—this was a great, great mental edge.  Basically, i knew that as long as I didn’t get injured/cramps, i was going to get to my goal of 4hrs, so it became more about how much I was going to smash the time, not whether i would/could.
  • The last 5km i was following some celebrity dude the whole way; i have no idea who he was, but there was a camera crew following him the whole time, and whenever the bystanders saw him and realized who it was, they would do a double-take and then go absolutely bonkers.  The girls in particular, some would follow along for a hundred meters screaming hysterically.  He looked like an average joe, not a athlete or musician, but who knows… maybe i’ll show up in some photos with him as I was right next to him at times.  Being close to celebrity gave me some nice bonus energy.
  • I knew from the course layout that the last 5km had some uphill spots, mostly bridges that we had to run over as we traversed bodies of water in Tokyo bay.  These were indeed brutal, bringing me to a slow pace and making me pump my arms HARD, with the added full frontal (20mph per weather report) headwind…. fun!

So, most of interest in the whole experience was the finish line experience.  The whole last 3km or so i was feeling a little bit of cramping coming on in my right leg, so I was not really pushing hard, rather, just trying to stay loose and not get stopped by a bad cramp attack which would have made me loose time for stretching, or worse, make finishing in 4hr a lost cause.  The last 165 meters are so are after a dog right turn, so you know you are close, but can’t see the finish line as you round.  When I did come around the corner, and saw
the finish line so close, i st
arted to get really emotional.  I was looking around in the stands, and all around me, for some sort of connection with the people around me, but it was just 10s of thousands of Japanese nationals.  I stated to get really emotional, and after crossing the finish line, and for the next 10 minutes after that as I hobbled around through the detox process (hand in your race chip, get your medal, get a finisher’s towel, oranges and bananas, water, pick up your stuff, change and stretch) i was really really emotional.  I never totally lost it, but basically i was on the verge of breaking down into uncontrolled sobs.  It was just such an elation, such a momentous achievement, the completion of a lifelong dream to finish in such a great time… and I had NOBODY to share the moment with.  I thought of cristina and the kids, of my runner friends, of all the people i wanted to share my happiness with, but I just felt totally ALONE, surrounded by strangers.  I looked around for an american to share the moment with, someone to hug or say “great job” or something, but it just wasn’t the right crowd; the few american’s I did see were usually with friends, or women, and I didn’t want to break down and freak anyone out.  I eventually talked to a Navy guy who was changing/stretching near me, and we shared a little moment, but by then the emotion had subsided and I kept myself together.

So, here’s the news: I ran a sub 3:50:00 time; i won’t know for sure for another day probably.  My race time was 3:52:02, but that doesn’t account for the fact that I didn’t cross the startline until at least 3 or 4 minutes after the gun… so I may have done as well as 3:48:00.  To put that in perspective, that’s nearly 45 minutes faster than Los Angeles.  I completely, utterly, smashed my goal, and I did it while feeling strong and able all the way through.  In fact, i know I actually could have left even more of that out there on the track—if not for fear of cramping/etc., i probably could have even done low 3:40s.  Alas, nothing to regret, it was an AMAZING race… truly a highlight of life on earth, and definitely the completion of a life long dream, which stated back in 1993 or so when I trained for my first marathon, with a “sub 4hr” goal.  To have achieved that, in my late 30s… wow, awesome!

Update June 1 2009 – I finally received my final time, via snail mail routed to the USA and then to China: 3:46:16!

Rants & Raves

LA Marathon 2007

My head is going to explode, and my toes hurt!

First my toes–I ran the LA marathon this last weekend.  It was an absolutely amazing, horrible, and wonderous experience all at once.  I have never run a marathon, but have come close to several times in the past–done the training, gotten into shape, but then fallen ill at the last minute and missing the race.  This time I made the race, was fit and charged, but boy did the experience work out very very differently than I expected.  One word — HEAT.  I’ve been training in my hometown of Seattle, where the temperature in the winter is in the low 40s, high hummidity, and overcast pretty much every day.  In January and February I did 6 x 18+ mile runs on the weekends, and while I always hit the “wall” (dark place emotionally, where you start to really go to a negative world where all you want to do is stop running and lay down to die), it was consistently in the 18-21 mile corridor, expected and very much a part of the marathon running lore.

Alas, Sunday race day in LA, i get to mile 14, just past the half-way-mark, and low and behold I’m  starring at a wall unlike any i had ever seen in training–one brought on by severe heat on the course, a balmy 80 degrees in the midst of the concrete jungle that is downtown Los Angeles.  Thus began 2+ hours of absolute shear hell… which culminated in finishing the race in a state of euphroria, with a tremendous sense of accomplishment, and now, a few days later, i’m already starting to get excited about running another marathon–perhaps New York City or Paris, just as soon as my frickin toes stop throbbing! 

Which brings me to my head… which is feeling like it is ready to explode.  At work we are running a different marathon of sorts.  You see, I’ve been at msft for 3 years now, and the course I’ve been on is rapidly approaching a finish line.  The amazing platform and tools that I’ve been working on–WPF, “WPF/E”, Expression Studio, various features of Visual Studio related to WPF+/E, are all rapidly approaching the proverbial product finish line.  At this years Mix event, in Las Vegas April 30th, we will be delivering a hole helluva lot of product and news about our platform vision in the area of UX (user experience)… only problem is that we’re at “mile 21” and instead of my toes hurting, my HEAD HURTS from the crazy amount of work we are trying to get done.  My colleagues on the product management and I are already working the insane hours that usually come in the 1-2 weeks before a big event–but we have 7 weeks to go!  That’s the bad news.

Alas, the good news: the finish line is in site.  Mix, Las Vegas, April 30… just 7 weeks to go 🙂