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The First Week of Summer 4 June 2016

One of the greatest difficulties with having a blog that is read by friends, acquaintances, current and former employers, current and former coworkers, and then the entire internet (who only knows you from your online presence) is that you can expound on a topic in your life with the greatest care and still befuddle or offend people. I have lost a friend because of this blog. I have definitely irritated former coworkers to the point of an icy cold war developing between multiple parties. Part of me cares, rather deeply, about those situations. On the flip side, this is my little corner of the web and if I am a bit flippant or calloused about how the words put here affect others, it is because at a certain point you have to point to a line in the sand and declare that you are only responsible for your own responses to the world, not the responses of others.

Anyhow. Now that that little introduction is out of the way, onto the quasi-bold declarations.

The past month has had a sharp uptick in the range of emotions I typically experience. And this past week, when I headed off to do adventures and became essentially homeless again, has only helped bring how uncertain my situation has become and also how untenable my psyche finds this manner of existing. There is nothing like climbing a mountain for eight hours and then spending the rest of the day recovering at a remote campsite to give you oodles of time to think. Oodles, people, oodles! One forgets how much stimulation and distraction the modern world provides until you take it all away and you spend the majority of your time unconnected and solely within your own mind. The past five days have felt more akin to five weeks.

Let's see. Where to begin. You know what? There is a list ability in this editor. Let's use it! Bold move, Burdick, bold...

  • First. And most importantly and influential. An implausible situation I daydreamed about for years has actually happened and somehow it is more amazing than I expected. It still surprises me. I am internally blown away that the Universe dropped this into my life. Part of me feels like this is fate giving me a chance at something I have wanted for a while. The more damaged and far less optimistic part of me thinks I am about to get walloped. Nerve-racking for sure. Exciting too. Very difficult being patient while it develops as I have no clear view of the outcome. Uncertainty, doubt, and a lack of pleasantly chilled peanut butter cups. Not the best combo for a relaxed Paul Mind.  ::strikes a Buddha Pose::
  • New work has been problematic. People want me to build them something but no money to pay me. Another client delayed for weeks about next steps until just before I left. A really exciting project just disappeared completely off the radar. And then a UK company that specializes in contract work for high-end clients accepted me into their community...but they have nothing for me yet as their presence in the States is still being nurtured. I know I need employment, of some sort, in the next few months. Unless The Guide magically finds a sponsor willing to bestow an abundance of dollars, I may finally have to bite the bullet and choose a job that does not allow me the outdoorsy, freeform lifestyle I desire.
  • Money. Oh, I have enough money to get through the summer. However, thanks to the unsteadiness of new work and three expenses that I was completely unprepared for, this summer will have less flexibility than I had hoped. And a client delayed paying me by a month, which put in sharp relief how life has been a balancing act these past few months. My expenses are low. Shockingly low when I actually lay it before people ("how?!"), but that means when there is a problematic two months in a row there is not really anywhere else to cut. I do not like this feeling of powerlessness and uncertainty. Leads me to start thinking I need to settle down and focus on significantly upping my savings.
  • Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics.  Three times in the last two weeks a server has gone a bit crazy for a client. ALL THREE TIMES, I have been either on a long bike ride or up on a mountain, which has made debugging impossible so I just restart the server via my phone. This server only has two sites on it. One that I built and have logging, statistics, etc. on and can track usage reasonably well. The other built on Wordpress and (having had multiple developers) is a bit nuts. That's my professional opinion. Guess which one I suspect of causing the server issues? Just a bit stressful having a site you are the lead developer for going down when you are 40 minutes from reliable internet because of something you cannot control. I hear Yoda in my head: Control! You must learn control!

Man, I write those things down and none of them seem that bad. OK, that's not entirely true. They are all addressable, let me put it that way. They are just not addressable with my current plan of being a dirtbag for the summer.

I really do want it all. The adventure lifestyle, the girl, the stable income, and a reliable work environment. (Also, Bernie Sanders for President, simply because I think it is beyond time that college becomes affordable again, we have universal healthcare, and income inequality stops being so insanely bad.).  

::drums fingers::  I am not sure this blog entry was meant to lead anywhere. Just letting a few things into the light by writing them down. One more way of gaining perspective and laying out what is causing stress or joy in my life. Also to show my inability to edit an entry for spelling or grammar mistakes before publishing, because that never gets old...right?


The Guide 2 June 2016

Ladies and gentlemen. Here is a little project that I started in the last month and am now unveiling a bit more publicly today.

The Guide!

This is an idea that has been percolating for nearly a year now and with literally nothing better to do, I am going to spend most of the summer working on it. Given the number of biking, hiking, backpacking, and mountaineering trips I do on a yearly basis, I felt I should start sharing this knowledge and experience publicly. This site is meant for advanced beginners and intermediate level outdoors people who want to do more challenging trips and want the information to carry those trips out safely. Everything from route descriptions, the maps/guidebooks needed, and suggested gear lists. All in a readable, printable, perusable, and shareable format.

Focusing on the PNW area for now and I have already compiled a list of trips that I want to photograph and document this summer. Hope a few of you find this useful/amusing/enjoyable. There is a long list of things I wish to add to this site, so if you can, please provide a bit of support.


Everything Wrong With Star Trek: The Motion Picture 26 May 2016

Link. CinemaSins does an excellent job showing how painfully bad the first Star Trek film was.  I am not much of a fan of the Star Trek reboot films, but I have to admit, they're better than this one. Thank goodness we got Wrath of Khan next.



Dissatisfaction and Dependencies 19 May 2016

The blog post "Your Lifestyle Has Already Been Designed" is making the rounds on social media again two years after it was written and rereading it now is pushing me to write about my own views.

In just under two weeks, I will be homeless again. Despite considerable efforts both in job hunting and searching for investors for a promising startup, nothing ever clicked. And since my last contract job is complete, I am free to shake things up.

In the past six months I have turned down three job offers and declined a half dozen in-person interviews–two that would have had me being flown to another city at the company's expense. Nothing was intrinsically wrong with any of these jobs. Quite simply I could not convince myself that they were right for me. There is no formal analysis I perform, I just ask myself three crucial questions:  a) do I care about the company/product; b) would I enjoy living in that location; c) is it a solid team of developers and executives. If I feel strongly positive about two of the three, then there is a chance. If I am merely lukewarm on all three, my personality and approach to life is unlikely to make that a tenable position.

As for funding the startup. Gosh, what a lesson in frustration that has been. The upfront cost in these matters, especially in the social/conversational realm, is exhausting. And then, they want just a bit more information or what they are really interested in is their own ideas for a company. You realize five emails and two in-person meetings later that it is going nowhere. Rinse, repeat, roll eyes.

All of this led me to just toss up my hands and stop trying. I gave my landlady notice at the beginning of May and now I need to figure out a new strategy. If only I had a Wookie. Why, yes, that was a Star Wars reference. Well done!

––

Part of me wonders where in the Seven Hells my life is going at this point. Homeless. Again. What is this? The third time in three years? For a guy who has the highest income potential of anyone I know, I sure seem to be wretched at finding employment and having reliable financials.

Part of me is cheering that I am once again reducing my possessions and snubbing my nose at those fully employed people who seem unhappy with their lives and spend their recreational hours drinking or purchasing even more stuff. My time will be spent in Nature or in small pockets of civilization, as I see fit. Just the bare essentials. There is a certain romantic notion to being a dirtbag.

However. Perhaps it is age. Perhaps it is because after having a ludicrous amount of savings eight years ago my funds have dwindled. But, I am finding that part less romantic and more tiresome this time around.

A friend on Facebook said it well, "My problem is that I want it all. I want to have a stable living situation, travel, and work from home so I can divvy up my time as I please."

I want a home base of my own. A little island of stability to reduce the constant low-level stress that comes from not knowing where you are living next and how you will pay for things like food and health insurance–without the compromise of being required to work 40+ hours a week at a job while having an unfulfilling lifestyle.

Crazy, right?

Right now, I have a loose plan for the next few months involving mountains, backpacking, and challenging adventures with a possible move to either Burlington, Vermont or Boulder, Colorado at the end of the summer to get residency in one of those states before attending school. School continues to being a sticky idea in my brain and if nothing changes it seems like the inevitable choice.

I might have another idea though. More details on that soon.


Between the Lines of a Reed Reunion Email 29 April 2016

Hi Paul,

Can you believe it’s our 15th Reed reunion this year?

Nope. Thanks for the reminder that 15 entire years of my life have flown by though.  Whoosh!

We’re planning a party for the Class of 2001 on Friday, June 10. Details are slowly emerging, but think: a buffet of Oregon’s bounty, including tastings of adult libations made by our fellow alumni and amazing food, catching up with long-lost lab partners and rugby teammates, and reminiscing about the semi-feral dogs of Olde Reed and the decidedly feral punk shows in the SU.

Who the what now? You mean all those people who you have not friended on Facebook and at Reunions you awkwardly look at their name tags while desperately trying to recall why they look familiar in that "Didn't we meet once at a grocery store in Des Moines way?" Also, the semi-feral joke and Olde Reed reference is a bit lame, guys. Come on, we all know it was the Scroungers that were semi-feral.

Please let us know that you will be coming to Reunions by registering. Lots of great people will be there. We’ll send more details about the 2001 party in the next few weeks, but if you have any questions in the meantime, please get in touch.

Please let us know how many people are going to show up so we do not have a 300 capacity room for 15 people.

We can’t wait to see you,

Your 15th Reunion Committee
Andrew Schpak, Chair
Breesa Culver
Lindsay Kanter
Greg McClellan
Darlene Pasieczny
Steve Seal
Katherine Woods-Morse

You should know at least one of these people–at least by reputation–unless you were a Physics major and we all know you're not coming anyway.

PS Don’t forget to make a gift to Reed in honor of our 15th Reunion as well

First, it is "p.s." since it is an abbreviation, which stands for post scriptum.  As Reedies I expect you to have higher standards when writing emails. Second, thumbs up for helping the Alumni office reach its quota for Yet Another Request for Donations–third or fourth this month, I believe. You do realize the Board still refuses to Divest from Fossil Fuels for weak reasons and Reed just built a $28 million performance arts building while the cost of attendance has skyrocketed? While I loved my time at Reed and do think the endowment could use a boost, I cannot help but believe that other causes or nonprofits are a bit more worthy of my money at this time.

UPDATE: A fellow Reedie has informed me that is perfectly acceptable to use "PS" without periods. To which I reply that you are ALL monsters!  Brother Maynard!  Fetch the Manual of Style! Relatedly, this cold is making me VERY passionate about grammar...and a bit wacky.


The Temple of Productivity 26 April 2016

Watched my first episode of Silicon Valley the other day and was completely horrified. Not by its lack of technoliteracy or its presentation of nerds as socially inept children (which still seems pretty common on television). Instead because of how realistic its tropes and themes were when dealing with technology companies.  Everything from the posturing of programmers to the heartlessness of venture capitalists who think they know best.  It was painful to watch with my housemates and sadly admit at the end of it, "yeah, that's pretty accurate..."

Silicon Valley - Show Photo

Silicon Valley TV Show

––

Along those lines, I have been having a dickens of a time reconciling my nostalgic for past work accomplishments with the aggravating state of development today. Without a doubt, this has been a major contributing factor in my inability to accept any of the jobs offered to me in the past few months. My tolerance for marketing buzzwords, agile development religions, and productivity apps is incredibly low.  And, if I have to hear the terms "technical debt" or "pair programming" one more time, I might just lose it.

Not everything is bad.  Test Driven Development for frameworks and APIs seems incredibly smart. Abstracting code with interfaces and using templating languages like Twig have definitely been a significant step in the right direction. These things genuinely have improved my life and made code more reliable and stable. I wish I could magically transport them back 12 years to when I first started coding.

However. There are plenty of things that I have reached the point where I give Zero Fuchs if you are using it or if you think it is the best thing to hit development since IDEs–which incidentally I am not overly fond of either.

––

Single page applications and front-end frameworks are both high on my list lately. They claim they make teams more productive. However, at this point they are getting so complex and so heavy that they require a team to do anything significant with them. Do they abstract common functionality and allow the creation of components? Yes.  But do they also add the subsequent overhead and complexity of a framework and its dependencies to the frontend?  Most definitely.  After building two different SaaS applications, one using Backbone/Marionette and another with Vue.js, I have decided that my current project will use neither. No more messing with routing, components, and little tricks to get everything loading perfectly.  And now the page loads are so light and speedy in comparison. I am still using AJAX and have API on the backend, but I am no longer front loading so much of the display logic since I actually have a backend that can do 90% of it effectively.

Flux Application Architecture

Flux Application Architecture

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I have also completely abandoned every productivity tool that I have tried in the past three years. Websites like Trello and Pivotal Tracker only seem to complicate the process of structuring development.  Both seem to require that you have a team member tracking tasks full time. If you start letting things slide or if one person does not buy in, it completely falls apart.  Few small teams can afford that kind of overhead.

Trello Board

Example Trello Board

My current development process is the exact same one I was using 10 years ago with ExpressionEngine. A list of features for the next two major versions and then a detailed document (usually a spreadsheet) with the current version being worked on with detailed notes for each feature being added. Before GitHub issues (love 'em), EllisLab had a bug tracker that did essentially the same thing. Worked extremely well. We got work done. A pretty impressive amount of work, honestly.  Now, it seems development moves at a slower pace with oodles of more "process" in the way.

––

Maybe it is just me. Maybe if I worked with teams larger than 2-5 individuals these things would matter more. I just look at front-end frameworks, productivity apps, and many other development tools/apps and I cannot honestly say my life as a developer has gotten faster, better, or easier because of them. Yet, I see them mentioned everywhere in job postings and on company websites. Almost as a badge of honor: "Look! We have process! We have apps measuring our productivity!"

A bit maddening when they also claim they're innovative, data-driven web professionals and yet their site or application has no SSL certificate, is not ADA accessible, breaks in mobile, has images that are not optimized for retina displays, has page sizes that are 10MB+, includes literally dozens of JS files, etc., etc.

“A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” –Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

I, for one, will continue to try and keep my tools and techniques for development as simple as possible while still striving to build well-designed and user friendly websites and applications.  For what is development, except a process that we, as developers, design to build products?



A Fistful of Words 21 April 2016

Lots of typing today.  There are two startup ideas I have that a potential partner wanted more information on, so I spent an hour this morning typing up an email for each startup describing the problem, how the startup solves the problem, example usage cases, important features, and competitors or sites/products trying to solve at least part of the problem.  Preliminary research work mostly, and it was nice to finally get a smattering of thoughts and links into a more organized state.

And then I wandered off and finished a new email template design for Bookbranch v3 and created the events in Laravel that would trigger the sending of two new emails to users with that template. Wrote the content for those emails too. When you are the sole developer and there is no writer available, you have a tendency to write quite a bit of the filler content yourself.  Thankfully with all of the emails I receive on a daily basis, I found a few examples that helped me along.  Also, I am ever so naturally charming over digital communication, right?

However.  Before I go to bed, there is a little thing I need to get off my chest.  This whole primary season has shown how bad politics and elections have become in the United States. People in line for 4-6 hours to vote in their state's primary. Massive, vexing voter purges. Candidates sounding like Nazis/sociopaths. $33K a person fundraising dinners.  The media hardly challenging the blatant lying and their flagrant biases for or against candidates. It is all rather embarrassing. Not exactly a beacon of democracy.

And the long arguments in Facebook threads between friends and family about what is wrong with the other person's candidate. Oof. Is it over yet?

For me it really comes down to the fact that there are long standing problems with the health of this country's people, infrastructure, and economy that are not being adequately addressed and forcing many things to limp along in survival mode. The middle class is in a shockingly bad shape.  Our government has such high debt and an aversion to raising taxes that our infrastructure got a D+, to the point that many schools, bridges, roads, etc. are unsafe for those who use them.  And, if you consider the potent combination of income inequality, stagnation of wages and underemployment, tax havens in foreign countries, skyrocketing healthcare costs, and low household savings, I think it is pretty obvious our economy is far from being in a stable, healthy state.

These problems are systemic and dangerous for the long term future of our country. On the surface we present a stalwart and glamorous face, yet there is strong erosion in our foundation. We are not months away from a dystopian hell on Earth, but I am concerned. Very.  If things do not improve, I expect a slow decline in our fortunes with an eventual, seismic level shake up.

I am an idealist. I believe in the United States and its potential. I also am acutely aware of its self destructive tendencies and bouts of careless behavior. I would rather we be the country with huge swaths of scenic beauty, the ability to explore the cosmos, and a leader in diplomacy, peace, and social progress...than the militaristic, polluting, barely disciplined bully of the world.

Of all the candidates, Senator Bernie Sanders is the only one I believe in.  Maybe it is my curmudgeon side rearing its head, but it is time to proclaim loudly and forcefully that "The line must be drawn here! This far, no further!"  No more billionaires and their Super-PACs.  No more wealth funneling to the top 1%.  No more denying climate change. No more of going bankrupt because of injury or illness. No more working 2 or 3 jobs and barely surviving.  No more pay inequity between men and women. No more massive student load debt just to get a college education.

Things can and should be better.  No more bullshit about this is how politics work or how it is not politically feasible.  Time to standup and demand that things change.


Strava Wars - The Search for More Data 17 April 2016

A year ago, when I switched from training for a 50K trail run to training to bike 100+ miles for Reach the Beach, I finally downloaded the Strava app for my iPhone. At the periphery of my knowledge, I knew the app existed and that multiple professional athletes used it to publicly share their training, but for a long time it seemed a bit more serious than I was willing to be, just like my training log.

Curiosity got the better of me though and I wondered how fast I was flying down some of those hills in the West Hills or in the Columbia Gorge. And yes, I craved a bit of bragging rights too. My profile is located here. As you can see my usage is a bit sporadic. Entire months and multiple weeks have no data, despite them being in the middle of prime running or biking season. What can I say, I am inconsistent. While I love my phone, I have a tendency to ignore it as a computer device as it seems silly to be so consistently connected to the world when you are Outside™. More than a few rides have ended and I discovered much to my chagrin that I had not started Strava at all. One of those fancy GPS-enabled watches would likely help, but I have not bit that bullet yet.

As far as the data Strava provides post-run or post-ride, it is quite a bit of fun to see what my average speed is, the elevation gained, and what my mile times are for various sections of my run or ride. Just recently, during a downhill section on Newberry Rd., I apparently hit a maximum speed of 51.7mi/h. And during a trail run this past week, I was running half my miles at 8 minutes or under. That is pretty darn fast on both accounts. I am a tiny bit impressed with myself. It makes me think that this more structured approached to training is providing real results. That is a positive feeling.

However. The data is not entirely reliable. My trail running takes place primarily in Forest Park where there is a copious amount of trees and more than a few ravines, which regularly interrupt GPS or lessen its accuracy. The trail run I did this past week is a whopper of an example.

As you can see the route Strava thinks I followed deviates a non-trivial amount from the actual trail. Then, you can see in the upper left that it seems to draw a line straight across the map to another point. Seems Strava completely lost signal for about 20 minutes and did not track any of my running past that last point in the upper left. Did not regain signal until I was almost a mile back. I think this is the second or third time such a huge "break" has occurred on a trail run. Biking is typically much better with its data, since it is on a road with a clearer signal from the GPS. Still, I have definitely seen a few cases where because of speed or conditions, a jump or two has happened during a turn or in a valley.

Strava also has what it calls a Grade Adjusted Pace (GAP) speed, which they describe as an estimate of what your pace would have been if you had been running on flat land, opposed to a grade. I am sure there is some solid research and math behind their calculations, but for my first mile last Wednesday I ran a 7:25 pace. Strava informed me that my GAP pace would have been 5:55. Um, I think not. Pretty sure you could put me on a flat mile with a decent tail wind and I would not even come close to a sub-6 minute mile. It's a fun thought but I am certainly not taking that GAP pace seriously anytime soon.

Finally, Strava has "segments" where you can compare yourself against other athletes who have done a similar route and your own past rides. Stirs up one's competitive side, which is not a bad thing. Most of the time I fall pretty square in the top 10-12% percentile of people who use Strava. Every so often I take a look at the top athletes for a segment and notice oddities. For a segment I did during yesterday's ride, most of the top 10% people were doing a 22-25mph pace. The top athlete though? 43mph. Hm. I may be wrong but I have serious doubts that pace is accurate.

These segments also do not take into account conditions either, so you have to be mindful that your pace for a segment done in winter while running 15 miles will definitely be slower than an athlete who did that segment in summer while only running 6 miles. Is it really that important? No, not really. But, if the data and statistics are there, you should understand their faults and adjust your expectations accordingly.

Overall, I enjoy Strava because I can regularly evaluate my baseline and progress during my training. I am definitely getting faster overall. Yet, on days when I feel tired, my pace definitely suffers. When I do 2 or 3 moderate to hard days in a row, the final day is usually the slowest in whatever activity I am doing. Not always though, which forces me to acknowledge the strong effect that rest, hydration, and nutrition have on my performance. Strava validates the power of data in training. Further, it is planting the idea firmly in my noggin' that if I wish to strive for even more performance I need to seriously consider tracking more data, such as heart rate and caloric intake pre, during, and post exercise.