Saturday, July 31, 2010

Germany Trip, An Epic Journey

The start of this month I got a nice surprise: I'd be traveling to Germany during the World Cup finals. I was super excited and I must say, this trip was action packed from take-off to touch down. I've broken this into 4 parts: The trip to Canada... err... Germany (epic, trust me). The work we did. Weekend fun. And the trip home.

The [Epic] Trip to Germany
At 1:30pm pst I left Portland on an 11 hour Delta flight to Amsterdam. From there I would pick up a Holland soccer shirt and catch a short flight to Stuttgart Germany. Oh, if only it was that easy.

While somewhere over the Atlantic ocean my ears popped. I looked around and notice I wasn't the only one having ear issues. Shortly I felt the plane decelerate and start to turn. Then the pilot came over the PA system. "The cabin air pressure valve broke. You might have noticed." As a result we needed to go down in altitude so we all don't pass out from a lack of oxygen. Unfortunately, being that low burns way too much fuel and since we were not quite half way over the Atlantic we needed to turn around.

The Mess Hall
The closest spot for us to land was a little place called Labrador Canada. It has a 4 hour time difference from the West Coast. We landed at 2am (10pm pst) on a military base. Naturally, it took about an hour for them to figure out what to do with us. At 3am (11pm pst) they let us get off the plane and bused us over to the mess hall. I had already made friends with a couple from Romania and they started taking out all sorts of cool instruments. The husband played a little on a handmade wooden clarinet which sounded amazing.

They told us we would be back in the air by 7am, but we quickly discovered the the time had slipped to noon. As a result of the slip in time, they decided to let us officially check into Canada. They brought us into a large warehouse with a couple podiums set up. I didn't get a stamp though which I thought was kind of weird (maybe you only get them when you leave?).

Now fully in Canada by 8am (4am pst) , they let us sleep in some barracks until noon. These were single rooms with shared bathrooms. It was really nice getting to sleep for a few hours on a real bed with blankets instead of on the mess hall's floor. When I went back to the bus at noon (8am pst), I found out that the time had been pushed back to leaving at 3pm. Instead, we went to eat lunch in the mess hall with the other military folks. The food was pretty good. By this time my sleep/awake schedule had already been thrown off.

At 3pm (11am pst) we actually headed over to the little airport to get on the plane that had just arrived to pick us up. Unfortunately, this airport was not really equipped to handle 300+ people all at once. As a result, the check-in took a little longer than normal. Now, I don't know what the big deal was, because I had literally been nowhere except where they bused me, but they were super thorough at security. They padded me down and searched my backpack, and when I say searched my backpack I mean that they took everyone out of it, laid it on the table, and then put it all back into the bag. They did that to me and the 3 people behind me. I couldn't believe it.

Well, as a result of this process it took a while to get everyone on the plane. It seemed like we ready for take off around 6pm (2pm pst... over 24 hours into this trip). Then there seemed to be a long silence when the captain came over the PA system. "Folks, I can't believe I'm telling you this. Words cannot describe how I feel right now. You see, we started at 4:30 this morning out of Atlanta. We knew it was going to be close timing wise to come up and get you. Unfortunately, due to how long it took to get everyone loaded on the plane, we are no long eligible to fly according to FAA guidelines." You could image the murmur that started on the plane. He continued, "The good news is that in about an hour the other pilots will be eligible to fly. The bad news is that they are not trained to fly this airplane." Yeah, we now have a plane that works with no pilots and pilots without a plane that works. He continues, "However, I have heard that they fixed the problem on the original aircraft. So here's what we're going to do: We're going to switch you from this plane back to the original plane and get you back on your way."

By 7pm (3pm pst) we're all getting back on the original plane. The cool part was that while walking to the other plane, the mechanics were hanging out there. We got to talk briefly with them as we passed by. We didn't talk about anything meaningful, but I thought it was cool they were out there. It put a "face to the repair" which was calming. It also told me that the mechanics had enough confidence in their fix that they were willing to stand there and chat with the passengers. One of the mechanics was flown in on a private jet earlier in the day to help with the repair. I bet that cost Delta a little bit of money. Of course, that was probably nothing compared to flying a huge plane and crew to Canada and never actually use it.

At 8pm (4pm pst) we were finally in the air. The rest of the flight was totally fine except for one small issue. The original plane didn't have any food because we ate it all the first time we were in it. The new plane also didn't have any food because they had hurried up trying to make it in time. So, we made the trip over the Atlantic without anything but leftover peanuts and chips.

I had an opportunity to chat with one of the flight attendants while I was waiting for the bathroom and got a little more of the back story. He said the big problem (ie. why it took so long) was that we couldn't land at a big airport. They wanted to go to JFK, but simply didn't have the fuel to make it. Had we gone to JFK, they could have gotten us on another plane with another crew within a couple hours. Instead, they literally had to fly everything in and it just takes too long. Furthermore, from the airline's perspective, since we're already late, it's better to make us more late and keep everyone else on schedule, than make a whole bunch of planes a little late to get us closer to being on time. This makes sense. I'd rather a small subset really angry at me than a bunch of people annoyed with me.

Once we got off the plane at 6:30am (9:30pm pst) in Amsterdam, we had a couple nice surprises. First, they gave us a 10 Euro voucher for food. They also gave us a 5 minute phone call voucher. Finally, they gave us a letter apologizing and saying details would follow explaining that Delta would be giving each of us a free international round trip ticket. Now Jessi and I are starting to figure out where we want to go.

I must say, even though I was delayed a whole day, I was pretty impressed with the way Delta handled the situation. Sure, I wish they could have done better, but it was clear that they tried. The entire time they were nice and as transparent as possible (though I still don't know what happened to that 7am plane...). I actually think I would fly Delta again and still think they're a good company. Of course, that could just be the free ticket talking.

HP Project
Once I actually got to work, it went really well. HP is working on expanding it reporting capabilities for the LaserJet division. I can't go into huge detail, but we're getting better and better at tracking our printers. This team was assembled to create the road map for the project. I got to go because up until now, I was the foremost expert on doing this type of reporting. So I got to sit there, answer questions, bring up potential issues, and help solve problems before they happened.

Overall, I would say it was a great meeting. We accomplished a lot which would not have been possible sitting on the phone for two days. Now the really difficult part has started - actually doing the project. I'm still just a resource, which is really nice. I can see why people try to get into the consulting world.

Weekend Fun
I was able to stay the weekend which was great. A colleague was able to stay through Saturday and I was on my own on Sunday. On Saturday we headed out to check out a couple castles. To get there meant I got to drive on the Autobahn. I was told that it's very similar to driving on freeways in the Bay Area, and that's so true. Most people go around 120kph which is about 75mph. It was like driving on any other highway except I did get passed by a couple Ferrari's - one of which I'm pretty sure was doing double my speed. I can see how the Autobahn would be a lot of fun to drive on with a high performance vehicle, otherwise, it's just like driving normally.

Neuschwanstein Castle
Anyways, we saw the Neuschwanstein castle on Saturday. This castle is famous because it's the castle that Disneyland's castle is based off of. It's really cool looking at it because you can definitely see that they're related. What's also amazing is the surrounding area. This castle was a vacation spot and it definitely felt like it. Check out the picture and the video to see what I mean.

Destroyed Heidelberg Tower
On Sunday I went to the Heidelberg Castle which was actually used to defend the city. It wasn't in nearly as good of shape, but was still amazing to see. I would have like to spend more time just exploring the city because it had an old-time feel.

The First Car
I also went to the Mercedes-Benz Museum on Sunday. That was really fascinating to learn about the history of the car. Both Daimler and Benz started out separately. They independently created an engine which each of them brought to the World Fair in Paris (the event the Eiffel Tower was built for). After that they started competing against each other. It wasn't until after WWI that they merged because they were both in such bad shape financially that the only way they could survive was to combine. Since then, Mercedes-Benz has been a huge player in the car industry.

Finally, I got to watch Germany play Uruguay for 3rd place and Holland play Spain for the World Cup title. Both games were a lot of fun and the Germany celebration was unbelievable. Though, I'm pretty sure they go crazy after any win against anyone any time because soccer is their life. The weird part about it was half time. I noticed that they didn't do a round-up of other sports. Instead, they just talked about regular news. I guess I never thought about it: that a country that only has one main sport wouldn't talk about other sports. You want the sports update? Just wait a couple minutes and watch it.

The Trip Home
After all that, I was ready to go home. The trip had been a blast. Thankfully, the rest of the trip was mostly uneventful. The only hiccup was in Atlanta. There was a lightening storm going on and when that happens everyone has to get off the tarmac. So when we got there, we had to circle for a bit before we could land. Then, when it was time to leave we had to wait again. It was fun once we started boarding though. They really wanted to get us out of there before the lightening started up again and so they really moved us along. You could feel the intensity to move fast and get going. Because of timing issues they didn't wait for other people to come either. So about a quarter of the flight was empty. So I got to stretch out a little bit which was nice.

Overall, it was a great trip and I'm super excited to go back again and visit with Jessi someday.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Analyzing Steps

HP has been sponsoring a shape-up program for the last 12 weeks. We report our steps and minutes exercised onto a online form. There's lots of cool features, but one missing was a way to analyze your activity. So, I exported my data into Excel (and by "export" I mean typed it in myself) and did a little bit of my own analysis. I thought the findings were cool and wanted to share. All the data is in totals (steps & minutes), but you can still do a relative compare since it's all over the same time frame.

First up are my steps by the day of the week.
Since I have a desk job, I wasn't too surprised that my week-day steps were lower. On Tuesdays I mow the lawn which accounts for the slight bump. My goal was to take a minimum of 5,000 steps a day, but aim for 10,000 steps a day. I hit my 5,000 goal every day but Monday and Wednesday. Saturday was the only day I hit my 10,000 goal.

When I exercise, I take my pedometer off. Most of the time (if not all), these are an official sport I'm playing. Throughout this time I played soccer, volleyball, jiu jitsu and softball.
This data was exactly as I expected. I do jiu jitsu and Wednesday, then split between Monday and Thursday. Soccer and softball happens on the weekend. Since I mow the lawn on Tuesday, I don't feel bad that I'm not doing anything. Friday is really my only free night, and Jessi and I often take that night to go on a walk and talk about our week. Over all, I'm satisfied with my exercise level.

I thought it would be interesting to look at it across the month. July isn't done yet, but enough time has passed that I think it's OK to look at.
Looking at both, I don't know what happened in July. I think it has to do with summer. I've been going on trips, which tends to increase my steps and lower my exercise because I'm out of town.
I haven't fully decided yet, but it would be fun to continue to track my data and see how it changes during the year. I need to find an easy way to do it, or it won't happen.

Finally, here's the raw step data over time.
Do you see the huge spike? That's over 26,000 steps! Jessi and I did that while on a camping trip to Little Crater Lake. Otherwise, you can see I really have two types of days. Either I take 5,000 or less steps, or I take around 10,000 steps. What I really need to focus on is moving those lower numbers up just a little bit more. Perhaps I can put some sort of plan together to add 1,000 steps during the week-day.

Here's what my exercise over time looks like. The data is more sparse, but that's because I don't play a sport every day.
90 minutes is jiu jitsu. 60 was soccer and volleyball. 75 is softball. Some of the higher numbers are days when I had multiple activities. Again, I'm pretty happy about this.

So that's it. Pretty cool findings. I need to work on taking more steps during the week-day, especially Monday and Wednesday. I like my level of exercise and need to just keep it going.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Little Crater Lake

I said this month would be crazy and so far it has been. First up is a camping trip Jessi and I took. We went up to Little Crater Lake which is in Mt. Hood National Forest. This was our first trip not on the coast, and it was a lot of fun. This particular camp ground is pretty sparse with only an out-house. Below is a video I took which shows the camp spot itself. You'll notice how private it is.

On one of the days we decided to go hiking around the near-by Timothy lake (Southwest on the map). When we looked at the sign, it looked like a 7.3 mile hike. That's far, but not unmanageable in a day. Thankfully, we decided to pack a lunch and take our time around the lake. As it turned out, the map was slightly miss-leading. I mean, if you stop and study the map, you'll see that it's actually 13 miles around the lake with another half mile to and from our campsite. I'm sure you could imagine our surprise when we got across the lake and realized we had already gone 7 miles.
By the time we got done, we had set a new single-day steps record. I wear a pedometer to make sure I get at least 5,000 steps a day and I aim for 10,000 steps a day. On this particular day, we went 26,000 steps. The previous record was 25,000 steps which we did in Paris. By the end of the day my feet hurt a lot because I was wearing regular shoes.

The next day we spent lounging around and campsite. I finished a good book and took lots of naps. There's something fun about camping and being super lazy.

So, what's so special about Little Crater Lake? What I found interesting is how small it was. The diameter was less than 50 yards across which you can kind of see in this picture. The amazing part is how deep it is. If you look carefully, you can see that it drops off super fast, and is indeed deeper than wide. The reason for this was explained on a nearby post. I guess there's a body of water underground which is under pressure. With slight tectonic shifts of the crust, it created a crack which the water rushed up. Over time, that crack grew large and larger until it created the pool we see today. Over time, until pressures equalize, the lake will continue to grow.

So that's our trip. Finally, here's a video of Jessi talking about the trip and showing off the fire we made.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

June Update

Wow - another month! It has definitely been action packed for us and July will be even busier! Thanks so much for reading and allowing us to share with you.

What We've Been Up To
This month we've had two big things happen. First, the World Cup started and I've been really getting into it. Thanks to I've been able to stream almost all the games on my computer. At first Jessi thought I was nuts for being so enthusiastic about the tournament. However, over time it's begun to rub off on her. Now she gets up early (7am is early for her!) and watches the games with me. It's fun to have someone I can cheer with. She finally got enough soccer fever that we went out and bought a soccer ball so we could kick it around. If I'm lucky, I might even get her to join my indoor soccer team! I also found out I'm going to be in Germany during the final match. I'm looking forward to being in a place where soccer is the main sport.

We also went to Denver. Univera held it's annual convention there this year and we won free tickets. It was fun to see all of our business partners again. We talk on the phone a lot, but it's nice to see, and hug, people every once in a while. Jessi's family also lives in Colorado, so we were table to spend some time with them. That was a lot of fun! Since we were in Colorado, Jessi was able to spend Father's Day with her dad which was really special.

Interesting Articles
I'm in the data business for HP. I primarily work with numbers and use data to help HP's managers make better decisions. So, this article about data and it's impact on journalism caught my eye. Basically, governments and organizations are slowly opening up their data to the world. With all this abundance of data, a new need arises: the need to curate and make sense of it all. Often times data hounds will try to get into marketing or finance, however it appears journalism could be an interesting frontier for data junkies.

Now that I eat and living healthier, I've grown attached to the idea of also having plants in our house for the benefit of producing clean air. It seems like a practical solution for someone, like myself, who spends way too much time inside working. The question becomes though, which plants do more than just look pretty? In 2009 there was TED talk about three specific plants. Here's the presentation:

Jessi is in love with the idea of buying any kind of plant. So this summer we're going to start getting them. This month I learned about 12 more plants that, according to NASA, also help clean the air. It's very fascinating and I recommend checking out the list.

Notable Tech
This month I got to use Eventbright for the first time. It's an online service that allows you to post an event, create tickets, and have people purchase them. It's super slick because Eventbright handles all the backend information like who's attending, how many tickets you've sold, how much you've made, and so much more. The interface for posting your event is also very simple. Perhaps one of the small, but useful features is the ability to create a custom, easily memorize-able, url for your event. Finally, Eventbright makes their money by charging a small percent off of each ticket sold. So, if your event is free, so is the service. The next time you're putting together and event, I recommend checking it out. It's definitely more professional than Evite.

A Video I Liked
Like last month, I'd like to share an inspirational video I watched. It's Nick Vujicic talking about his life. (link)

Bible Story
Finally, I'd like to leave you with this Bible story. I read it this month and really like the creativity and wisdom Solomon uses to solve the conflict.

1 Kings 3:16-28

A Wise Ruling

Now two prostitutes came to the king and stood before him. One of them said, "My lord, this woman and I live in the same house. I had a baby while she was there with me.
The third day after my child was born, this woman also had a baby. We were alone; there was no one in the house but the two of us.

"During the night this woman's son died because she lay on him. So she got up in the middle of the night and took my son from my side while I your servant was asleep. She put him by her breast and put her dead son by my breast.

The next morning, I got up to nurse my son-and he was dead! But when I looked at him closely in the morning light, I saw that it wasn't the son I had borne."

The other woman said, "No! The living one is my son; the dead one is yours."
But the first one insisted, "No! The dead one is yours; the living one is mine." And so they argued before the king.

The king said, "This one says, 'My son is alive and your son is dead,' while that one says, 'No! Your son is dead and mine is alive.' "
Then the king said, "Bring me a sword." So they brought a sword for the king.

He then gave an order: "Cut the living child in two and give half to one and half to the other."

The woman whose son was alive was filled with compassion for her son and said to the king, "Please, my lord, give her the living baby! Don't kill him!"
But the other said, "Neither I nor you shall have him. Cut him in two!"

Then the king gave his ruling: "Give the living baby to the first woman. Do not kill him; she is his mother."

When all Israel heard the verdict the king had given, they held the king in awe, because they saw that he had wisdom from God to administer justice.