Majorer Milestones

4 hours and 15 minutes.

That was not my marathon time although I wish it was. That was how long I waited in line for my pre-ordered iPhone 4 and it was worth it. Despite the antennae issues and host of other problems, it is the best technology purchase I’ve made in a while. It has replaced my camera, GPS, and mp3 player.

5 hours and 30 minutes.

My third marathon was incredibly fun. Faced with the prospect of flying to Europe the next day, I decided to run at a slower pace. It was the best decision I could have made. It was my first pain-free run of this marathon cycle. I didn’t need much recovery time either which was a fantastic. However, for future marathons, I look forward to having family in the crowd to root for me and provide the lift for the last half of the marathon (the 6.2 miles).

2 hours and 45 minutes.

My wedding. Top of a beautiful mountain in Cinque Terre, Italy. It was a difficult hike and we were drenched in sweat after our adventures. It was perfect.

Eternity.

I’m waiting for my wife to get back to Seattle after her eight difficult months working in Germany. This feels like the last part of the winding line for the iPhone. It feels like the last 3 miles of the Rock and Roll Marathon. I can see the goal in sight and every minute before we get there feels like forever.

This has been an incredible few weeks and an amazing year!

Major Milestones

The difference between a half marathon and a full marathon is THE WALL. The wall is the point of the run where your body stops burning carbohydrates and switches over to fat; this usually occurs at the 14 to 18 mile mark. For most people, this is the point where a marathon pushes them to their limits.

I finally made it past the wall this week. I hit it hard and it finally came down instead of knocking me back. Even with this success, I can’t see how I can manage 26 miles in a month. I was bleeding in places I’ve never bled before. It was brutal.

The Lost series finale was last Sunday. It was brilliant. After so many lackluster endings to my favorite shows, it was refreshing to see Lost stay true to its character. With only a short dreary lull between mid-season 2 to the penultimate episode of season 3, Lost has set a high bar for entertainment in its six seasons.

It’s scary to believe that the show that defined my return to cilivization after the Peace Corps is ending. I’m having my own personal “Lost” experience this weekend as I will be attending the wedding of one of my closest Peace Corps friends. Like the finale, it will be like a reunion of some of my favorite people from the most memorable years of my life prior to us moving on to the next step in our lives.

I spent this Memorial Day weekend relaxing after another long run. I also watched three seasons of a kid’s show called Avatar: The Last Airbender on netflix watch now. M. Night Shamalayan is turning it into a movie. The show will be a tough act to follow; I haven’t been this enthralled with anime since the classic “Spirited Away”.

Testing commitment

Over the past 6 months, I’ve gone through a number of computers:
– HP 2140
– Viliv S5
– Lenovo Thinkpad X200s
– HP 5101
– Sony Vaio P
– Toshiba NB305
– HP 5102
– Lenovo Thinkpad X201s

It’s becoming clear I have a problem – I can’t commit to my gadgets. While I’m ecstatic that eBay allows me to buy and sell them with few financial consequences, I’m wasting far too much time looking for a miracle. My goal has been to find a perfect combination of battery life, portability, features, and performance. I’m not going to find something that makes me happy.

However, I’ve found satisfaction with my new Apple iPad. It is simply the best portable device I have ever used. The touch features and battery life are in a class of their own. As an e-reader, it can’t be beat; I’ve read more books than I have in years using the Kindle application. I love working on blogs and documents with its gorgeous display. Despite the wonderful applications that can be used on an iPad, it’s clear that it can’t be used for everything. It has virtually no way to connect to any USB devices, no real file system, and there are no applications that allow me to code websites.

A net book is a cheap, slow, and smaller version of a regular laptop. An iPad is something new entirely. Over the past month, I’ve realized that it’s perfect for all my portable needs and I can’t be without it.

I’ve placed an order for a new 15 inch MacBook Pro. I feel convinced that a MacBook plus an iPad will meet all my needs. I’ve decided that I’m going all in with this theory. I’ve purchased AppleCare which is a three year warranty on an Apple product. This MacBook will be my last computer purchase for the next three years. Wow. That’s scary.

I’m getting married this year; commitment is a big deal for me this year :)

Life unexpected

I’m engaged. I can’t believe it.

My fiancé, Megs, is in Germany for a two year contract with the US Military as a civilian nurse. The distance makes the relationship challenging, but we’re having fun exploring new ways to stay connected. The future looks very interesting for the both of us.

I’m typing this blog post on an iPad. I didn’t expect it to be a useful device but it is a game changer. A few more weeks and I will write down my thoughts on the iPad and it’s impact on computing.

Quick thoughts – people say that the iPad should replace a net book. I disagree. With an iPad, I feel like a regular laptop can be replaced with a net book. For media consumption, the iPad is a phenomenal device and it isn’t too bad with content creation. For significant content creation, I would argue that a net book isn’t much worse than a regular laptop. Conclusion: iPad + net book > laptop + net book.

Golden Pig

Sometimes an event occurs that is so memorable that it defines all similar events.  When Kanye West got on stage and stole the spotlight from Taylor Swift, it was something so unclassy and unexpected that it became known as the “Kanye”.  It wasn’t the first time that a drunken stooge got up on stage and humiliated himself and ruined a celebration.  However, it gave us a new name to call these special occasions.

This weekend, I had a “golden pig”.  It occurred at a Euchre card game in Aberlyne, Wisconsin.  I had never played Euchre before and I had no idea what I was getting into.  The card game was an annual event and all the players were seasoned veterans.  It’s a team game where four people play at a table and two players are paired up.  The winner moves on and the loser stays at the same table. 

For the first hour, I never moved.  I was a blight upon any Euchre player partnered up with me.  Despite their best attempts, I just wasn’t getting it.  The second and third hour were not significantly better but I started to enjoy myself and accept my plight.  Between meeting all the new people and learning the game, I was having a great time.

After the game, the host gave out awards.  I earned the best award ever – a large wooden pig painted in gold a bottle of male sexual health pills.  There were only 57 pills in the bottle of 60 and it had expired in 2004.  However, the pig was the real prize.  It has such an awkward, silly grin.

I came to an event were I knew no one, I embarassed myself, and I left with a golden pig.  I had no expectations and I had an awesome time.  I later realized that this wasn’t my first golden pig.  I have a special talent.

Scott Oki at Seattle Works

One of the goals of Seattle Works is to inspire.  As a board member, I often find that inspiration at our monthly meetings.  On September 15th, we had a visit from Scott Oki who spoke to us about his current projects and his efforts to improve public education.

Scott Oki is a former senior-vice president of Microsoft who helped develop their international operations.  Since leaving Microsoft in 1992, he has been involved some amazing efforts in the community.  He has served on dozens of advisory boards for both for-profit and non-profit companies.  He also runs the Oki Foundation which tackles many societal issues. 

Initially, he talked about a new social entrepreneurship idea that is geared to bringing donors closer to the people that they help.  This effort focuses on people who are willing to donate small amounts of money to help those in need around the world.   With basic technology such as camera phones and free Web 2.0 cloud based services, this new organization will help donors see the impact of their contribution and build an emotional connection with the people being helped in developing nations.  By combining this effort with social media networks, Scott talked about the tremendous viral potential of this strategy.   

After that, he focused on his research on public education.  I was alarmed to learn about the following issues in the American school systems:

  • There are more non-teachers than teachers on the payroll of school districts
  • A large number of teachers have tenure which makes them impossible to fire even when they are ineffective
  • It’s difficult to reward insanely great teachers due to unions
  • Children are often socially promoted to the next grade instead of earning the right by merit.   This hurts the entire class as the educator must babysit instead of teach
  • Parents have no choice in where to send their children even if they know the school is awful
  • Standardized curriculums and testing have taken the creativity out of the classroom as teachers are encouraged to teach to a test instead of to the subject

The sense of outrage in the room was palpable.  Scott then talked about his recent book and his ideas to reform the educational system. The name of the book is Outrageous Learning: An Education Manifesto and it is available on Amazon.  I’ve had a chance to read it and it is brilliant.

The mark of a great speaker is the amount of discussion that happens after their ideas settle into the audience.  After Scott left, the board talked about his ideas and the impacts of the educational crisis on our generation.  Some of my closest friends who teach in our public school systems have been laid off recently; these are people who I would consider “insanely great”.  Several other board members mentioned this as well.  We also talked about how the WASL and the “No Child Left Behind” act have affected local school districts.   We also asked ourselves if radical change was possible or even necessary. 

I’m always impressed with the diverse experiences and opinions of our board members.  The inspiring session with Scott Oki was a great break from the tactical work around Seattle Works events and budget. 

Break’s over.  SWANK is coming up fast!  Looking forward to another amazing auction night on October 10th!

Challenges

So much for my wishful thinking.  Losing your boss and his boss is not good for morale.  After many sleepless nights, I have a lot of reflection to do.

Here’s a poem for the moment:

How Did You Die?
By Edmund Vance Cook

Did you tackle that trouble that came your way
With a resolute heart and cheerful?
Or hide your face from the light of day
With a craven soul and fearful?
Oh, a trouble’s a ton, or a trouble’s an ounce,
Or a trouble is what you make it.
And it isn’t the fact that you’re hurt that counts,
But only how did you take it?

You are beaten to earth? Well, well, what’s that?
Come up with a smiling face.
It’s nothing against you to fall down flat,
But to lie there — that’s disgrace.
The harder you’re thrown, why the higher you bounce;
Be proud of your blackened eye!
It isn’t the fact that you’re licked that counts;
It’s how did you fight and why?

And though you be done to death, what then?
If you battled the best you could;
If you played your part in the world of men,
Why, the Critic will call it good.
Death comes with a crawl, or comes with a pounce,
And whether he’s slow or spry,
It isn’t the fact that you’re dead that counts,
But only, how did you die?

Silly Goose!

It’s been an interesting couple of months :)

The first version of the project I was working on in the Gates Foundation was released a couple months ago.  The feedback so far is almost universal disapproval.  It’s humorous that this response is better than what I expected.

  • The problems that have been identified are fixable
  • The conversations to improve the system have finally taken off
  • Leadership has stayed committed to the goals that were defined

I may have skipped out on an MBA for this opportunity, but there are no classes in the world that could have given me a better business education.  What an incredible experience!

I’m adopting a kitten.  My girlfriend and I named him “Silly Goose” months ago and now we finally have him in our hands.  Well… I will have him in my hands soon.  Megan is on a two month stint as a nurse with Project HOPE in South America.  Silly Goose and I are looking forward to welcoming her home.

In my short time as a pseudo-bachelor, I’ve run through an amazing assortment of gadgets:

  • Sold my 17″ Macbook Pro and got an HP 2140 – I love Apple and its eBay resale value.  Surprisingly, I sold the Macbook Pro for $50 more than what I purchased it for six months ago.  The tiny HP 2140 netbook has proven itself to be a ridiculously cheap and effective replacement.
  • Bought and sold a Viliv S5 – I worked with a tiny OQO machine for over an year and loved it.  However, computers that small are not really for productivity.  The company is now out of business.  I purchased a Viliv S5 from Hong Kong to see what the buzz was about and sold it one day later.  I couldn’t justify keeping it.
  • Bought a Slacker G2 Radio – I’m very impressed with the Slacker Radio Service.  I don’t like purchasing music and I no longer have a regular radio.  Slacker provides customized music stations and artist discovery for a very reasonable price. You either hate or love the music it plays and it customizes the playlist accordingly.
  • Purchased a Advanced Frames Inflatable kayak – I knew I wanted a kayak but I never thought I would get an inflatable.  The Advanced Frames kayak weighs as much as a regular kayak but is infinitely more portable.  I take it down to a launching point on Lake Union and inflate it.  This is a purchase you can’t justify by dividing the cost of a kayak by the number of weekend kayak rental trips.  I simply kayak much more often because I own one.
  • Bought a Kindle 2 eBook Reader – Another purchase that can’t be justified by simple math.  With an eBook reader, I just read a lot more books than I would than at a library or through a brick and mortar book store.  It’s wonderful!

There are a ton of cool gadgets coming out soon.  I’m sure I’ll be checking a few of them out.

  • Palm Pre – I predict that Palm will resurrect itself with this awesome phone and finally give the iPhone some competition.  I don’t I’ll get it because I’m not interested in a two year contract with Sprint
  • New Generation Apple Devices – I know a new iPhone is coming.  What else could Apple pull out this year?  What else will I initially dismiss but eventually buy?
  • Larger Kindle DX – Finally, a full page eBook reader that I can print my work documents to.  Who needs a 6″ screen when you can have 9.7″?
  • Nokia N97 – Unfortunately, I’ve pre-ordered this device despite knowing it won’t be a good fit.  For $200 off the retail price plus a bluetooth headset, I’m sure it will eBay well.

I’ve also caught up on a ridiculous number of TV Shows:

  • First Season of Fringe – This looks like a cross between the X-Files and Alias.  Its one of the best new shows I’ve seen in a while.  With all the good shows ending over the past couple of years – the Wire, Shield, Heroes (I like to pretend that ended after the first season), Sarah Conner Chronicles, Battlestar Galactica – it’s nice to have a new show to enjoy.
  • Seventh Season of 24 – Almost too predictable after 7 seasons.  It’s still fun to watch, but its novelty is gone.  Jack Bauer needs to retire.
  • Dollhouse – It’s been renewed for another season, but I’m not sure if I like this show yet.  I’ll give it time.
  • Season 5 of Lost – This is definitely my favorite show of all time.  The season finale was another game changer.  It’s too bad that there is only one season left.

I’ve had visits from my friends in other states and countries, and I’ve taken a few trips on my own.  Life is good.  I will be launching another workoutrageous competition.  I’m looking into twitter integration…

Polar Bears or the Poor?

“It is interesting how often the impact of climate change is illustrated by talking about the problems the polar bears will face rather than the greater number of poor people who will die unless significant investments are made to help them” – Bill Gates, in his 2009 Annual Letter

Polar bears or people?  Unfortunately, it’s obvious that the impact of climate change on Polar Bears would resonate more with a Western audience than hordes of suffering people in Africa.  Even more unfortunate is that this statement is applicable to almost every world problem.  If underserved populations around the world looked more like sad puppies or disheveled kittens, perhaps we wouldn’t have to market global issues this way.  Kudos Mr. Gates… you’ve used a single concise statement to describe the frustration of millions of social workers.

My work is getting more intense as we approach a major deadline.  I’ve had a chance to reflect on some of my key decisions over the past few months:

  • I did not apply for an MBA.  Given the state of the economy and the fact that I’m already in an organization that I would join post-MBA, I’m happy with the status quo.  I’ve recognized that movement within the Gates Foundation is more difficult than I imagined.  An MBA might not be the right degree to help me get to the positions I want.
  • I’m downsizing my material possessions.  It’s time to go back to the basics… getting rid of the 52″ LCD TV, netflix subscriptions, most of my gadgets, and potentially most of my furniture.  I plan to reinvest this into the community using my 3:1 Gates Foundation match.  My job gives me an option to be a social entrepreneur in my community.   I’m going to take full advantage of it.

Another Workoutrageous competition has started.  This would be the 5th one since I created the site.  For the first time, someone else is the Administrator.  I plan to make updates “in game” based on her feedback.  The code base is stable.  I’m excited about how it will go… maybe my mistake in previous games was being the Admin.  While I’m great at development and solving the technical side of the game, I have definite weaknesses on the social side of it.

Malcolm Gladwell

One of the main benefits of being at the Gates Foundation is the large number of special guests and speakers we have every year.  Last Friday, we hosted a chat with the brilliant Malcolm Gladwell.   I had never read any of his books before but I had heard glowing reviews for Tipping Point and Blink.  The focus of his discussion was his new book – Outliers.  Despite the name, the real intent of the book is not to point out what is unique about an individual or situation, it is to present the unique set of circumstances that lead to an “outlier”.  He was brilliant!  Some of the things he discussed:

• Why rice growing traditions in Southeast Asia have led to higher math test scores
• Why most elite hockey players are born during the early parts of the year
• Why the birthdate of a majority of our software tycoons is within the same three year period

I purchased his book for a friend and got it signed, however I could not stop myself from reading it from page to page over the past weekend.  It is brilliant!

The inauguration of Barack Obama is tomorrow.  One of Malcolm’s most interesting speaking points was that America sees Obama as an outlier but in many ways he is not.  Symbollically he might be the fruition of Martin Luthor King’s dreams, but technically his background doesn’t match.  In the end, it doesn’t really matter.  Tomorrow we will have an inspiring new president with an inbox from hell.  I have tremendous faith in him.