April 21, 2010


William already shared his insights on our trip to Albuquerque last weekend. I'll add a few other random tidbits.

Albuquerque botanical gardens

I photographed the entire weekend with my (reasonably) new 30mm prime lens. Since it has a fixed focal length, zooming with this lens is extremely manual (i.e. the photographer must physically move). I was a bit concerned this might be too much of a burden, so I actually packed a zoom lens but I ended up not using it. Also, since it has a large maximum aperture of f/1.4 I was able to shoot a lot of indoor photos without a flash (which I didn't even bother to bring).


The Albuquerque airport shares runways with an air force base. Fighter jets are super loud when they're flying... and they're even louder when they take off. It was kind of amusing to watch them take turns with the commercial jets. They were very loud even all the way across town.

Running at 6000 ft of elevation was definitely noticeable in the first few miles, though it didn't seem to bother me much after that.

Albuquerque sunrise

New Mexico apparently has a lot of dinosaur fossils.


Albuquerque has Bicycle Boulevards with lane markings clearly indicating cyclists are entitled to the full width of the lane. Of course, this is true on nearly all public roadways... but most motorists don't understand this.

Bicycle Boulevard

Bicycle Boulevard

Mexican food is quite popular.

The hand that feeds you

The Rio Grande has way more water in it in Albuquerque than it does downstream in El Paso/Juarez. I guess it's all channeled away for irrigation.

Rio Grande

It's really hard (impossible?) to get the white balance right when photographing an aquarium indoors with low light. Either we ended up too red or the water ended up to green.

Albuquerque aquarium

April 12, 2010

Dehydration, part two

Immediately after the finish of Hillsboro-Roubaix, when I felt like death warmed over, my only thoughts were "How in the hell am I going to run 20 miles tomorrow?" The Illinois Marathon is just three weeks away and this weekend was my last long training run before I begin to taper. Fortunately I recovered fairly well throughout the rest of the day and that night. When I woke up Sunday morning (after 10 hours of sleep) I didn't feel completely terrible--almost like I could actually do the run.

I started running just after 8am. I definitely didn't feel fresh, but I felt way better than I expected after the previous day in hell. The temperature was still cool (58F), but it didn't feel cool to me. Just one mile in I was contemplating taking off my shirt. Ugh, here we go again. I had water with me and I drank regularly. I had chia gel (which is mostly water) with me and I ate regularly. It wasn't enough.

I stopped back by home after nine miles to fill up my water bottle and drink a half liter of Gatorade. I went back out with a tank top, a new (dry) hat, and a soon-to-be-saturated wrist band to mop up some of the excess sweat. The temperature rose and I became more and more uncomfortable. What was I doing? I ran out of water at 14 miles, at the farthest point away from home.

I cut the run short... but not because of the dehydration. On top of the thirst I also experienced quite possibly the worst chaffing I've ever had while running. I don't know how or why this happened, but I could do nothing about it. Every step was agony. One mile from home I drank for minutes at a water fountain on campus then I limped the rest of the way home. I felt refreshed. My legs actually felt no worse after 18 miles than they did at the start, which was one positive thing I can say about that run. The only other positive thing was that I covered most of the marathon course, including the one part I had never seen before. So now there can be no race-day surprises out on the course.

I spent the rest of the day eating and drinking everything in sight. My dad was nice enough to come over to help watch William while Melissa was running, because I couldn't keep my eyes open. This was one of the more exhausting weekends I can remember, though my actual workouts weren't that hard. The heat just got to me. I need to lock this down, otherwise this summer will be downright miserable.

April 11, 2010

Dehydration, part one

Saturday was my first bike race of the year. Hillsboro-Roubaix was my first bike race last year as well, and thanks to a knee injury following my two spring marathons it also happened to be my only bike race last year. Last year's cat 4 race was 44 miles with a field size of 100 riders. This year's cat 4 race was 58 miles with a field size of 125. I'll start by saying this is too many people and too long a distance for a cat 4 road race.

Our Wild Card Cycling team had a really strong group of six riders in the cat 4 race. I'm a pretty decent rider (I finished 19th in this race last year) and our other five guys are way better than me. We liked our chances. We headed out onto the course for what I thought was going to be a short warmup ride. We ended up going 10 miles, which is much farther than I should have gone given that I was already nervous about the race distance.


We all started the race in good position--perhaps too good. After the first uphill Luke rode off the front of the group without really trying (the speed was low). I suddenly found myself at the front of the 125 rider group not knowing whether to catch up to Luke (who certainly wasn't planning to be alone at this point in the race) or slow down and let his gap grow. I slowed down. Nobody came around me. Luke's lead continued to grow. I slowed down more. Nobody came around me. Finally, after several minutes, a small group surged past on my left super fast. I caught onto the tail end of this group which caught up with Luke just before a turn into a tailwind. We looked around and this group of around 15 riders contained all six Wild Cards. Game on. We pushed the speed even higher and opened up a sizable lead. This was only a couple miles into the race and it was just too early for that kind of move. After a couple miles of chasing the rest of the main field eventually caught up and we were one group.

This is where my race would begin to go wrong. It happened so gradually that I didn't really notice. I moved from 15th to 20th to 30th to 50th to 80th. The pack was so big and the road was so narrow I couldn't maintain my position and before I knew it I was at the back of the field. This is not where I wanted to be. In addition to the inherent danger of being directly behind scores of cyclists moving at high speed in tight formation, the back of the pack does a lot of yo-yoing. There's an accordion effect. There were times when I felt like we were coming to a complete stop, then there were times when I was going flat out to hang on to the group. I knew I need to be eating frequently for such a long race, but there was no time to do it. At one free moment I tried to snarf down a Clif Bar. I got half of it in my mouth before I had to accelerate hard. My mouth was so dry I couldn't swallow it. The half bar remained in my mouth for several miles before I could finally choke it down.

Making matters worse was my looming dehydration. My bike holds two water bottles. This is enough to get me through 30 miles. The race was twice that distance, this was one of the hottest days of the year so far, and I sweat more than any human being on the planet. I knew I had to conserve what I had, but it was costing me.

The race made its way through the countryside without much excitement. I knew my race would be over if I wasn't closer to the front by the end of the first lap. The big hill and brick roads in town would definitely split the field. Seizing my only opportunity I found an opening on a straight flat road with a tailwind and flew past about 30-40 riders in one go. Entering town around 40th place or so really only prolonged my agony.

Sure enough the group split going up the big hill in town, and, like every other time I've ridden up this hill, I got stuck behind people going very slowly and basically had to stop on multiple occasions. By the time I turned the corner to go back down the hill the leaders were almost at the next corner, almost out of sight. This was bad. I flew down the hill onto the brick road, struggling to keep my bike upright. The group was completely shattered. There was a big group ahead, a big group behind, and I was in no-man's-land with a couple dozen other stragglers. We remained separate heading back out of town, nobody was able to get organized. The leaders rode away and we could do nothing about it.

Hillsboro 2010

At this point my fate was sealed. I could neither get a good result nor offer any support to my stronger teammates. I don't like seeing DNF next to my name in race results so I was determined to finish the race. It was a real struggle though. I baked in the sun the whole second lap. I was out of water, thirsty, tired, miserable. In retrospect, I would have been better off stopping. Eventually I came upon my teammate Alexei, who was changing a flat tire. I stopped to talk to him and we rode together for a few miles until cramps in my legs (a sure symptom of dehydration) slowed me down even further. I had more cramps on the first hill coming back into town. I actually had to stop and stretch for a minute because I was unable to rotate my pedals all the way around without cramping up. I made if halfway up the last hill when I pulled off to the side of the road long enough to watch the cat 1-2 riders blow past me up the hill on their final lap. Once at the top I basically coasted on to the finish line.

The other guys on the team had done alright, but not as well as they had hoped. We had a couple of guys with pretty good chance of winning who ended up 6th and 11th. They raced well, but it just wasn't our day.

I crossed the line completely alone in 70th place (which is actually far higher than I thought). I immediately chugged as much water and gatorade as I could find. I felt absolutely terrible--muscles twitching, head aching, disoriented, hungry, and a bit nauseous all at once. The race didn't go at all how I planned. But that was just my Saturday...

April 5, 2010

Robot 1-X

Six weeks ago Apple announced the iPad, a portable touch screen computer. It runs the same operating system and application software as the tremendously successful iPhone and iPod Touch devices, but it has a larger screen and faster processor. A lot of geeks panned it as just a big iPod Touch. Sure, an iPad is just a big iPod Touch in the same way a swimming pool is just a big bathtub.

The geeks didn't get it. I got it, but that's because I had actually used one. This device doesn't do everything a geek would want to do with a computer, but it does everything a non-geek would want to do on a computer. And it does so in an easily understandable way, without software installation/configuration headaches, viruses, malware, etc. In other words, it's not targeted at the geeks, it's targeted at everyone except the geeks.

I love my new toy

Work has been ridiculously busy the last six weeks. I've been laboring, around the clock at times, to enhance my company's iPhone app (WolframAlpha) to work as well as possible on an iPad. About halfway through that time we hired another employee to help with this project (and future projects). It was a little slow at first, as I had to spend some valuable time actually training the new guy. By the end he was working productively and actually made significant contributions to the project. We ended up with an app that works pretty well.

WolframAlpha on iPad

When the app was initially launched last October it was priced at a premium, $50. I only found out about this price literally minutes before the app went on sale. I was a bit upset. I figured nobody would buy it and all my hard work would have been wasted. I was wrong. It sold remarkably well (close to 10,000 copies), which completely blew away my meager expectations. It was a lot, and the company made money on the app, but the app wasn't serving the exact purpose they wanted.

A few days ago the company announced a radical shift in the direction of the project. Instead of making money on the app directly they wanted to get more people using the service. Presumably they're making money somewhere else. I don't know about these things, I just write the code. Anyway, as of a few days ago the new price of the app is $2. It runs on both iPhones and iPads. Within hours of the announcement (humorously made on April 1st), the WolframAlpha iPhone app became the top selling application in the entire iTunes app store. A few hours later it became the top grossing app (total money earned) in the iTunes app store. It stayed at the top of the charts for a couple days. As of right now it's still near the top, at #12. In other words, the response has been incredible.

On top of the tremendous success of the WolframAlpha app, I was somewhat involved in another side project. My boss, Theodore Gray, collects chemical element samples, photographs them, and writes books about them. Theo saw the potential of the iPad as the killer electronic book platform and put a huge effort into making a really amazing eBook: The Elements. The text and photos are largely the same as the printed edition of the book, but the images are not static, they are interactive, animated, and rotatable with the touch of a finger. It's hard to describe, you really just have to see it.

Anyway, in addition to giving advice and answering technical questions, I worked to create an embedded version of the WolframAlpha app that pops up from within The Elements app.

It would be nice if that was the end of the story, but there is still much work to do, features to add, problems to fix. Hopefully the hours will be a little more sensible for the foreseeable future.

Robot 1-X is a character from Futurama. It is the new model of robot that immediately made all other robots obsolete.

April 1, 2010

March 2010 Stats

Photo of the Day

March 2009 Photo of the Day

I'm still going with this, tough at times this month it was a real struggle (and I think the quality of photos reflects that). I was super-busy with work, and busy on top of that with marathon training, oh, and cycling season is here (first race next weekend).



March was a good month. My training quality has continued to improve, without much change to the quantity. I'm doing my runs a little bit faster without really feeling the extra effort. I ran a 5k race at 5:59 pace and I did a 20 mile training run at 7:30 pace. Aside from my weekly long runs and the race, I've done virtually all of my running wearing Vibram Fivefinger (barefoot-like) shoes and they're feeling really good.

MonthDistance# WorkoutsAvg per Workout
January109.05 Mile1010.905 Mile
February76.18 Mile89.5225 Mile
March84.86 Mile108.486 Mile
Total270.09 Mile289.64607 Mile


I'm seeing red

While my running steadily improved in March, my cycling made a huge leap. Notably, I rode over 100 miles two times in March 2010, after only riding that distance two times previously in my entire life.

March 2010 by bike

BikeDistance# RidesAvg per Ride
Bianchi42.75 Mile85.34375 Mile
Pocket Rocket3.6 Mile13.6 Mile
Thundercougarfalconbird462.48 Mile951.3867 Mile
Total508.83 Mile1828.2683 Mile

January - March 2010 by bike

BikeDistance# RidesAvg per Ride
Bianchi60.75 Mile134.67308 Mile
El Fuego40.9 Mile113.71818 Mile
Pocket Rocket31.27 Mile215.635 Mile
Thundercougarfalconbird682.83 Mile2428.4513 Mile
Total815.75 Mile5016.315 Mile

January - March 2010 totals

MonthDistance# WorkoutsAvg per Workout
January166.25 Mile208.3125 Mile
February140.67 Mile1211.7225 Mile
March508.83 Mile1828.2683 Mile
Total815.75 Mile5016.315 Mile


This little piggy

Despite the better weather I've continued walking on a regular basis. I don't know, I just feel like it helps me in my long distance running.

MonthDistance# WorkoutsAvg per Workout
January28.66 Mile93.18444 Mile
February51.45 Mile163.21563 Mile
March34.7 Mile103.47 Mile
Total114.81 Mile353.28029 Mile