Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead?

In my June 25th post I detailed the excess of the President's United Way of Central Carolina's compensation package. Today the board of directors forced her out, concerned about the negative implications for their upcoming fall campaign.

Here are some related documents for you to read and decide yourself

Charlotte Observer article detailing the board's decision
(in this article there is a drop-down detailing per capita UW giving in various cities)
United Way's Official Statement
Observer Analysis of United Way CEO Compensation

I say good riddance, but with a slight twinge of misdirected justice. Sure, she's exceptionally greedy. And she's going to get the rest of the salary on her contract, but thankfully no more of the benefits (which was the real issue). But really, this is the board's fault. They admit it. Why is King the only one getting the ax? They should all be fired.

These individuals should join our board and redo my benefits package. I demand a Prius, an endless supply of M&Ms, and a dog bone a day for Winston.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

An Afternoon at Sugaw Creek

On Friday we had our "official" celebration at work for our accreditation work. We ordered in Mama Ricotta's and I went for something bizarre, a large pizza with fried calamari, jalapenos, and some peperoni. I did not order the large because I was being greedy, but because I thought others would be interested. Well, at least two of my colleagues took the plunge. It wasn't all that bad. I saved a few slices for Monday since (as usual) I plan to run into work.

Shortly after it was time to ride home. I left around 14:00, the temperature was about 82 degrees and the conditions were quite sunny. My route to and from work is highly standardized, and I use my GPS watch to time four segments for daily analysis. After finishing two of the segments, I was cruising down Auburn. At the bottom of the hill, the street ends and Hartford runs perpendicular. I was gunning it for my left turn, obviously blowing the stop sign. Too bad there was a cop coming westbound. Whoops. I must be one of those cyclists giving the others a bad name. Of the 11 times I've completed this segment, my average time is 25:20 and today I came in with 25:12. Had I been stopped for a ticket I would not have counted that time anyway!

Suffice to say I was super stressed over this class I am slated to teach next week at Queens. I did find a nice outlet. I took Winston, picked up Julie, and headed out to Sugaw Creek Park to play the disc golf course there. It is a par 54 course with 5,220 feet. Compared to the pro level Renaissance course nearby my house, this is an easy venue. This was perfect on two fronts - most important Julie had never played before and Renaissance makes me cry. I thought I had been year about five years ago with my old co-worker Rebecca, but I mistook that for Kilborne.

It turned out to be a great afternoon. Winston was extremely hyper, so he was kept on the leash for most of the time, but on the back sections I did let him go. I must be one of those dog owners giving the others a bad name. I have about ten discs, and I thought the Shark would be the most appropriate single disc for her to learn on. I personally relied heavily on my beat-up Cheetah, which I bought as a package deal from my old housemate/landlord Sean a number of years ago. I really dig this disc, although I really should invest in a real distance driver.

My favorite photo of the afternoon - too bad the disc had left the picture!

One could definitely see Julie's consistent improvement through the eighteen holes. Apparently she was able to use her intense putt-putt skills to cross over into this discipline. The course was a good fit for a beginner too, a number of the holes featured some wide open areas to help her gain confidence in the longer shots. While she took lots of shorter distance shots, she had two amazing sinks on the 14th and 18th holes.

She throws...

She sinks!

I started early with forehand shots and noticed I was just "on," relative to most frustrating days and obviously much harder courses. I ended up shooting 13 over par, which is very good for me!

I had a yellow thing going on Friday...

We were out for about two hours. Once finished, we made our way to NoDa so Winston (and myself!) could experience The Dog Bar! We got there right at the 6:00 opening, so it was a little dead at first but then the canines started to roll in through the double gate!

Winston first had to rely on human friends

But that didn't last long!

As usual, Winston never attacked any dog, although a few (including Chewie) initially wanted a piece of him. But even those two eventually got along, running back and forth. Winston did do more of his (usual) share of dominance humping. But perhaps Winston's biggest party foul was knocking over my drink! After a while it was interesting to note he didn't want to hang out with the dogs there.

Afterwards we went to the Common Market to pick up some sandwiches and some Magic Hat Jinx, which got Julie's great logo design seal of approval, not to mention two seal of approvals for tasty brew. We watched the somewhat disturbing movie "Notes on a Scandal." Judi Dench is an amazing actress, although not everything she touches turn to gold (cough, Chronicles of Riddick, cough). All I have to say is that if I were a suave-looking 15 year old boy and Cate Blanchett became my art teacher, well, uh, why not?

Did you know?
The annual United States Disc Golf Championships are played nearby at Winthrop University?

Monday, August 18, 2008

Not quite 100 miles...

Naturally anxious after last weekend in San Diego of "doing nothing," this past weekend was certainly an attempt to do too much. So this is the life even of someone who is training "half-ass" for an Ironman triathlon. On Saturday I SHOULD have gone out with Kathy's group to do 16-18 miles of running, but INSTEAD my curiosity was piqued to attend the Lake Norman Y Open Water Swim. I went once last year and managed three laps (750 meters x 3) and so this time Julie and I showed up at 7:15 right when registration opened. Unfortunately the line was huge!

[photo of long line]
It's a Fact: Swimmers like to get up early

In the end I was assigned to the fifth wave (versus wave 2 last year). As a non-member (a YMCA membership is a HUGE waste of money for me) I had to fork out ten bucks, and I only would get 1-2 laps out of the deal (I had wanted three or more). Waiting in the line was a little vexing for me, although I did get to see Cheryl, Scott, Kevin, Jocelyn, and a few others. I even hopped in before my time. Versus the previous year, my times were quite slow, clocking in 18:56 then 19:xx for the 750 meters. I was going around for three but they turned me around as they were dismantling the course. Lame! Most were out for a ride, but we made our way home.

Normally I would never run that late in the morning, but temps were down a bit and I had to get something in. I took a standard half marathon loop from my house that headed east towards Ferncliff. A staple-gone by, Ferncliff used to be the home of a running friend of mine. I couldn't help but think of her as I passed the parsonage, especially since she just had a baby girl - CONGRATS! At the hurricane evacuation sign on Providence I clocked in half way just under one hour, definitely not all that speedy. It was at Wendover that I stopped at the foundation for my gel and some water. I then descended down Sharon and up to Queens. I passed Freedom Park then the usual death march up Marsh. For the last 30-40 minutes the sun started to come out in all its glory. It was a few minutes after two hours when I stopped my pedestrian stopwatch (my Garmin had been left on and as such uncharged!). I obviously took the afternoon to relax. In desparate need of groceries, I left later in the afternoon noticing the toaster had returned to the paper store. And yes, I did buy over $100 in groceries! I really had a fabulous meal that night of lamb, corn, and bread - all of which cost me less than eight bucks - score!

That evening the women's marathon was on and I was genuinely (and warmly) surprised how much coverage NBC put on! Thankfully the weather/pollution was not a factor. I knew there was no way Paula would win, and sure enough with her minimal training following injury that came to pass. And what a huge disappointment for the Americans - Deena out at 5K with a broken foot and Lewy-Boulet waysided. I had no problem cheering wildly for the amazing effort of Constantina Tomescu-Dita. Her running style looked pained to me but she punished the frontrunners for their slow pace and held that strong minute all the way - FANTASTIC! And I'm glad Catherine the Great outsprinted that Chinese woman - although for someone that trains/runs about 26 miles a day (?!?!?) I suppose I should reward that (insane?) behavior.

During my quick moments away from the marathon I planned out my big century ride for tomorrow. My planned route would start at 5:30 and took a big clockwise loop, starting down Providence, looping through Waxhaw, continuing out to Highway 5, then up 161 to India Hook and up my favorite road Paraham, crossing back on 49 and taking Dixie River to finish the century. Winston and I were in bed around 10PM.

Obviously 5:13 (I never set my alarm clock to rounded/even times) came way too early. I was a bit slow in moving all the parts together. When I opened the door I saw the roads were wet. I assumed that was from some sprinkles the night before. I did see that today was forecasted for a 30% chance of early thunderstorms, which was odd. I was totally dressed for hot summer sun. When I got out I realized it was actually raining, but very lightly. In the dark I made my way up the Woodlawn/Runnymede hill. I flew past the same stretch of Ferncliff again out to Providence. It was there it started to drip a little harder and I started to see a lightning show in the direction I was heading. It didn't seem like a smart idea to proceed but I felt like I had a shot of slipping by the worst of it and seeing my big goal for the day through. Once I got on to McKee there was a bolt of lightning that was frightening close, and the rain had started to come down harder. With the depressed temps I was starting to get cold. Continuing down Antioch Church there was little light coming online but by that time I was completely soaked and freaked out about getting electrocuted. When I got to Beulah Church I actually made a wrong turn, going right instead of left. This, upon retrospect, was a good move. My goal at that point was to seek some sort of shelter in Waxhaw, but instead I came out at Providence north of Weddington. By then it was clear I had to make my way home and get out of this bad situation. At the Ardry Kell gas station I stopped underneath the shelter for about twenty minutes. I then pedaled west towards Rea and make my usual way up north, except I took the very direct route of Tyvola west towards shelter. I was obviously cold and miserable when I arrived at home.

So instead of my century, I barely put in 40 miles. The worst part was that the storm essentially went away and later in the day it was relatively mild and nice. So for those people in Charlotte who suspect I could be making this up as a sad excuse, I think some people in Union county noticed. I had a huge plate of biscuits and gravy for breakfast as I started to watch the Olympics and recover. I wonder if I would have made it if the weather was decent, as I was quite tired that early afternoon. Hopefully that will be my only frustrating cycling experience for this critical window.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Staff Retreat time (again?)

This past Wednesday and Thursday was the second edition of the staff retreat for the Conservancy. In January we all gathered at Dave's second home on the shores of Lake James. Supposedly it was named for the great James Duke, who after he was done causing cancer in millions of people, decided to switch his efforts to destroying the natural ecology of the Catawba River and screwing everyone else who didn't smoke with an electricity bill. Not only that, Duke Energy stole thousands of acres of land which they never used for power generation. This land is now owned by their former arm, Crescent Resources, who is turning around this unused land
with massive upscale waterfront developments like The Sanctuary. Oh by the way, I went to the university spurred on by his family's cancer money. At least they are doing some great medical research to reverse such a horrible legacy. And through the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, excellent initiatives in the environmental field.

Hey, who left this box here? This is my blog!

As we swung around the courthouse, I could not help but notice Chafin Rhyne's (the Rhynes are an influential family in Lincolnton who are very supportive of the Conservancy) bicycle shop had a big Swiss flag out front. No doubt this was a tribute to Fabian Cancellara's fab-tastic exploits at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, starting with an amazing gap bridging to take bronze in the road race and now gold medal in the time trials. I pondered whether I was the only person not going to the bike shop who would even make that connection. Our destination was once again the Courthouse Grill. Avoiding the large calzones (once again), I opted for a nice baked ziti and salad. Besides the lemonade being horrible, it was a pleasant meal. Before leaving Lincolnton, I advised the toaster's driver where the cheap gas was in Lincolnton, and then we had to get some mixed nuts. For some reason, we ended up with gum and the big issue of People magazine that had Brangelina family photos. Atrocious. But not quite as atrocious as Colleen's misunderstanding of how play the Big Red Challenge. Smart alec.

That afternoon most of us were able to hang out on the porch and chat since two of my colleagues were on their way from some meetings in Raleigh. Particularly interesting was to hear Kenni's story about how she got hired, which started two years before in 1997.

Who doesn't love to hang out on the porch and drink Coronas?

While these days "We'll keep you in mind" means "forget it" this story proved that some people are capable of following through on their promises over the long term. We grilled out for dinner and that discussed our status with the newsletter.

Near sunset on Lake James

I once again had to sleep in the upstairs TV room because of my "odd man out" as a, uh, man. There was a sleeper sofa in there this time but the mattress was thin and uncomfortable. Halfway through the night I switched over to the inflatable twin that served as backup.

Was up at 6AM to hopefully get a chance to swim across Lake James. It wasn't almost until an hour later that I hit the water - Dave and Ann manned the kayak.

Ready to jump in for a leisurely swim!

They then guided me east across to Lake James State Park. It was roughly 0.65 miles. The water was reasonably warm and I wasn't heating up in the wetsuit. The chop was minimal and I made it across with relatively little effort in a little less than 23 minutes.

Cruising along Lake James

While I good feel myself slowing down, it certainly felt like we returned to the dock in less time. I could have done much more, which is obviously where I should be at this point! For the most part Kenni had some great taste in food choices, with the very small exception of some of the sugar cereals. For the heck of it, I balanced my breakfast with some Coco Puffs, which I've probably eaten like five times in my life. They tasted just like the item they were mistaken for by one of my colleagues!

That morning we tackled our own internal staff survey. The same staff survey was given in January. The results were not all that positive, showing a serious erosion in morale - most of which I would attribute to the soul-sucking exercise of accreditation by the Land Trust Alliance. The sandwiches for lunch were nice, especially with the home-grown tomatoes! That afternoon we discussed the upcoming board retreat, and I was struggling by this point. Unfortunately for me I wasn't wearing the Paris Hilton-style sunglasses Colleen had on, which allowed her to fall asleep without most (!) knowing. Stellar move! After that I was quickly hurried out the door so the master toaster driver could get to the paper store in Charlotte before it closed. Ironically, this is the store right next to my house, the one I've never visited. There's a surprise. It was mildly amusing. I then was back in Plaza Midwood in time for the Thursday night run there. Apart from the Volvo-driving Carissa, I didn't know anyone there and ran rather anonymously with the smaller type group, posting just over thirty minutes for four miles. I was pleased with my new rule that I would stop my watch on both Central crossings. I have no wish to get hit by a car to save a few seconds.

All Good Things...

Sunday marked my final day in San Diego. And I slept in. Duh. For brunch that morning Jay and Jan took me to the Emerald Restaurant for Dim sum, something I do not think I had experienced. Basically a brunch of Chinese food. Jay and Jan, with all their guests recently and general tendencies, have made the weekend journey for quite a little streak! It was a good culinary experience for me, especially the little ladies pushing the carts around. The turnip cake took the most to get used to, but I liked most of the things we tried. They remarked the carts were few and far between, and a lot of the dishes were cold. I did notice.

We were quite lazy today, watching a lot of Olympics and hanging out. I was treated to a visit of one of San Diego's Costco stores. We first started with some cheap Costco fare out front - I don't think I've ever bought the prepared food out front - ever. And I do have a "long" Costco history. I mean come on, I grew up in Kirkland, Costco's original home, and no doubt genesis of the "Kirkland Signature" brand. It looked a lot like the Costco here in Charlotte. Big surprise. The big treat before heading out to the airport was a stop in at In-N-Out Burger. One must experience this, even if the food is "simple." It's a classic burger joint founded in 1948 and found only in the southwest. Locations are found throughout the southwest, and it has a lot of cult popularity. Burgers are cooked to order, you can see them preparing raw potatoes, and the milk shakes (deemed "Weapons of Mass Destruction" by a nutrition book Jay was reading) are the real deal, not the cellulose variety found at McDonald's. I got the Double-Double, fries, and a strawberry WMD. Unfortunately I had to wait longer than usual as some kid stole my meal before I could get to it, but props to the staff for rectifying the problem. The shake was unbelievably concentrated, I could feel the 690 calories in such a small cup oozing through my body! If you want, you can add up the damage yourself! The main problem was that there wasn't too much time to enjoy - we had to hurry up to the airport. And even worse, Point Loma was closed so I would not be able to get a shrimp sandwich to go!

We did arrive at the airport later than I would normally be comfortable with, but Jay was spot on in stating the facility is not a particularly busy one, especially at this time of the day. There was a moderately long line at the US Airways counter, but it consisted of folks on a canceled Pittsburg flight. I got whisked up past them and made the quick checkin. Apparently I wasn't going to be charged $15 each way for my piece of baggage - most likely because I purchased my tickets far before the announcement, although the date of the flight was after the one the airline set. Security was quick and I was at my gate with 45 minutes to spare. It was a full flight and they were offering tickets to those wanting to leave tomorrow at noon. I would have been in a position to benefit, but I was anxious to get home! Once on the plane there was a "chatty Kathy" in my row but super props to the guy in the center (reading Into Thin Air) who shouldered the initial barrage. The flight left around 10:30 so this was the red-eye special. I think I fell asleep for 30-40 minutes, but I'm not totally sure. I just could not stand the seat constraints, mostly with my long legs.

The flight did land in Charlotte early, about 5:48AM Eastern time. I quickly retrieved my bag and took a taxi home. It was very odd to come home to an empty house. I had about an hour to quickly unpack certain things and get ready for the day. This idea turned out to be a horrible one, as I struggled mightily to get through the day. The funny part was that I brought my running gear for a lunch run! I was a little bit loco to think that! Time for some serious recovery!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

One Arrogant Bastard

The conference may have ended, but that did not mean sleeping in on Saturday morning. I was up around 6:20 and quickly dressed for my long run. I was both nervous about the run, given how little I had exercised this week and how much I have eaten! My plan was to run to University of San Diego via Genesee and Linda Vista and clock in four miles. From there I would turn back to Thornwood. Then it would be a loop around the neighborhood clockwise. The weather was overcast in the mid 60s. I took a new route down the hill to towards the long climb up Genesee. I was very curious about the canyon beyond and the trails there. It made me think about my recent read of T.C. Boyle's The Tortilla Curtain. In the novel, an illegal immigrant couple live in a canyon much like the one I watched as I slowly ascended towards Linda Vista. From there it was more undulations and then down to the university. I stopped immediately at 4.0 miles, rested, and made the long journey back. The climb back to Thornwood was so tough! For the break I had to quickly use the restroom and then take in some fluids and granola bar. The last part was supposed to be another 4 miles. During this time I slowly began to lose my ability to hold an 8 minute mile pace. The sun slowly made its way out to haunt me. I got a little confused on a turn in Mesa College, so ended up adding about 0.9 miles to my total. It took about 1:54 and I was thrilled to do so relatively well given the circumstances!

After cooling down in the relaxing courtyard, Jay and I went to have a late breakfast/early lunch at Point Loma Seafoods. This was quite the unique business, having a wide variety of fish and seafood for sale by the pound, along with a wide variety of wines, including the now ubiquitous Chalk Hill chardonnay. And of course, they served up our lunch. Jay (and apparently his sister) were big fans of the shrimp sandwich, which came on sourdough. I had to give it a try, along with some onion rings, clam chowder, and lemonade to wash it all down. What a fantastic combination! I seriously though about coming there with a cooler and filling it up on sandwiches. From there we took "the long route" north through the gaudy Mission Beach and Pacific Beach up through La Jolla. This being just another sunny day in San Diego (and a weekend to boot!) there were just people everywhere! Jay had hoped to show me the Torrey Pines State Natural Preserve, but it was too full so we doubled back and ended up at perhaps a more interesting locale, the Torrey Pines Gliderport. It was downright fascinating to watch all the action, and by action I mean people parasailing and of course, the clothing-optional Black's Beach far below. Next time I will bring very powerful binoculars - to watch the distant paragliders of course.

There's naked people down on that beach - but probably not the kind you want to see

Today I was able to see the men's road cycling race in the pure goodness of hi-def. Last night I had tried watching the live feed, but it was very jerky and had no commentary. Somehow I managed to avoid reading who won before NBC chose to show it. I was very confident it would be someone from the strong Spanish contingent - they just had too much firepower. I noticed though NBC inadvertently gave away the winner! While at the front desk, behind they had video shots of all the sports. And one of the shots showed a man in a Spanish uniform winning the race! Wow, what a gaffe! It didn't take much to see that Sammy Sanchez would win when it came down to the final breakaway. But what a move by Fabian to bridge the gap - he totally deserved the bronze!

For dinner that night we went quite a distance, heading north to Escondido. Our destination was the Stone Brewing Company. When I was on my recent trip to Providence the question was posed to my dear friend Eric about his favorite beer - the response was the Arrogant Bastard Ale. So that's why we were here! Additionally, Jay had heard from co-workers that the food was good. It was in a new business park and was quite the ($13 million) facility. We had gone hoping to get in without a reservation - this was one busy place! We strolled through their gardens and the wait wasn't long - the dream eating team received a very nice table outside. Both Jay and I began with the signature brew.

There is at least one arrogant bastard in this photo...

I really enjoyed it, but it wasn't the best beer for my palate - I especially do like some amber ales. It was a relatively strong pint, and both of us got pretty buzzed off that drink. It was nice to see the owners/chef were using the Slow Food movement. The menu was a lot more interesting than I thought it would be. We settled on a potato skins appetizer that was okay, along with splitting an entree of the Mac and Beer Cheese. Jan tried the duck tacos, I got the chicken snitzel, and Jay just had to go for the special filet mignon with a scallop. The food was very decent; a powerful entry into the San Diego 2008 fare but not spectacular. For my second beer I went with a 2003 Russian Imperial Stout, which I did enjoy more. Since Jay's dinner was not cooked correctly (so high maintenance, that guy!) he got a free (third) beer. The double Bastard was so bitter I couldn't believe it! The experience was what really counted though!

I think I would have gotten more for my money with this bike jersey...

Stray Shopping Cart Heaven

Friday marked the final day of the ESRI User Conference in San Diego. We were up and out a little earlier than yesterday, as I missed a little too much of the first session. Jay had given me a juror day pass that he never used. I scratched off the date and boarded. Immediately three cops boarded and performed the only ticket check I encountered during the week. He did a double take on my ticket only to check the date, otherwise I was clear. I then had a look at the (obvious) fine print that stated transferring the ticket to others was illegal and punishable! Awesome. As I walked in all the posters were being dismantled as if my little world of the past week was falling apart. Not that I was upset... The session I chose for the morning was on advanced cartographic symbology and I found it to be very cool and hopefully very useful. Then at the end someone asked about the license level needed and I was totally left out to dry! Boy was I pissed!

While I was angry about my ArcGIS license level, at least I saw a lot of stray shopping carts

The last official part of the conference was the closing session. It was in only one of the bays (A) and featured Jack and the senior staff up front. We watched a nice slideshow and then Jack went over what he heard about the conference. I would gander that they made my slide before the conference even started... Also during that time all the poster and software awards were given, the one I wanted to win for US power plants did win one category. Very cool. Then there was the interaction part with conference members about their observations. Then around noon it was all over!

Jack moments before he joked about everyone taking their clothes off

Following which I wandered up 5th and settled on a Persian restaurant. I had a very delectable Persian salad (cucumber, tomatoes, spices) along with some very quality shish kabob. I then went up to the 5th trolley station, catching a Blue line straight to Old Town. I did want to make special mention of all the stray shopping carts I have seen in San Diego - WAY more than I've seen in other metro areas since my stray shopping cart epiphany. The rest of the commute back was not bad - Jay was actually home as he had a half day with their offices moving.

After a very pleasant afternoon of relaxing, dinner was at the Dumpling Inn, a very small (northern) Chinese restaurant that was anything but normal. We sat at a big table and ordered quite a fare. We ordered it convinced we would have leftovers for the next day. However, the three of us could be described as Coach K's next "dream team." That night we began to enjoy the spectacle of 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. Now personally, I am disgusted by the communist Chinese government, and this whole thing mostly makes me sick. I can't believe the international community would let such a horribly oppressive government host an event like the Olympics. If the horrible regimes of most OPEC powerhouses make me nervous, China makes me tremble with fear. What could I do about this? I honestly can't wait for the cycling events (minus BMX), triathlon, and the marathon. We were up quite late, especially with me going on a long run tomorrow morning.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

No More Beef!

Tuesday marked the first day of seminars at the conference. We were out of the apartment a little later than the previous day, mostly because I knew Wednesday would be a real early one and I was in no particular hurry. Jay dropped me of at Old Town again and getting down to the SDCC was quickly becoming just like a normal commute. My first seminar was on tips and tricks - it was somewhat remedial, but I did pick up some interesting information on using extents to automatically derive location map locations.

For the second session I had volunteered to moderate one of the Society for Conservation GIS sessions. Unlike the conference rooms, this was a theater in the special conservation map gallery room. To attend this conference, I received a conservation scholarship from ESRI, so I was happy to do some work to "pay my way" in what was shaping up to be an excellent conference. There were three speakers and when I got there, the contacts were no where to be seen and I didn't have any paperwork, background, etc. I had to scribble down notes for speakers I had never met. I felt really embarrassed for the speakers because the session was very poorly attended. The first older gentlemen was "using GIS" in his work on burrowing owls in New Mexico. This guy was pretty crazy but I must admit I did learn some neat stuff. The second presenter never showed up, and then the third guy talked about coordinating conservation efforts over multiple countries to map out the domain of the snow leopard.

Lunch was perhaps the most interesting part of the day. Instead of walking up 5th street (with no one?) they had options on the sun-drenched patio for purchasing lunch plates. It was obviously very expensive for a basic taco salad and chips. I sat down next to a middle-aged European-type man and just randomly started talking. His name was Wilhelums and he was from the Netherlands. He worked for ExxonMobil and used GIS for everything under the sun (and earth!) regarding carbon dioxide. It was a real eye-opening discussion about "big oil" and the real situation out there. He was currently in Houston but had obviously worked in numerous places around the world. Explaining what I did was also a curious affair, and I didn't agree with him on everything, but at least we discussed and aired our positions. I also had my first real look at the majority of the map gallery in the Sails pavilion, which links the two upper sections of the SDCC.

The spatial analyst suitability seminar that afternoon was more of the same, perhaps a little too basic for me but I certainly deemed it quality enough to remind the entire time. I was really revived during the presentation on fundamentals of cartographic design - the instructor was obviously a pro and obviously had a lot of cartography-cred. I often struggle with this aspect of my field, since I'm not a designer by nature and obviously am feed more by the analysis side of things.

I was "outta there" pretty much right away, bound for the Thornwood complex. That night we stayed in and Jan made some great beef and noodles, but this was somewhat overload for me in turns of my normal meat consumption. They also introduced me to a bunch of TV shows I would normally not watch, such as Wipeout and tons of Food Channel-based shows.

Friday, August 8, 2008

The ESRI Dog and Pony Show

Monday morning marked the beginning of the ESRI User Conference. I would assume most folks have not heard of ESRI - it is a private company, led by his geographicness Jack Dangermond, that puts out GIS (Geographic Information Systems) software that is rather ubiquitous in the field. I use it on a daily basis for work and it has somewhat of the Microsoft Office monopoly thing going. Except it is actually useful and is designed by innovative people. Every year they hold a user conference in San Diego, attendance is in the 14,000+ people neighborhood. I have been curious about attending this "circus" for about 5-6 years now, so this was finally the big opportunity.

That morning Jay drove me to the Old Town trolley station. Along the way I recognized the street I ran down in 2001 towards University of San Diego. He helped me buy a 4 day pass and even by the time I was on the trolley I was talking with several fellow participants. One then would switch over to the Orange line to reach the Convention Center, which is quite the spectacle!

How many geography nerds can you fit in this building? Let's use Arc$$$ to find out!

The day was spent with everyone in the big plenary session. I tried to get relatively close, and by total randomness I sat with folks from North Carolina. I knew two of them, one was Rob, who works for Char-Meck. Anyway, the whole thing was a totally scripted dog and pony show. I've watched (but not attended) countless Steve Jobs dog and pony shows, and this felt exactly like it. For the most part I think ESRI and their products are great, but obviously I don't feel the passion as much as for Apple. Nor would Jack consider selling me a share of his cash cow. You can see a few official ESRI photos of the plenary and conference. There were a lot of demonstrations of new features for ArcMap 9.3 (of which I did get a copy a few weeks before heading out). "Aren't we great?" CLAP CLAP CLAP.

GIS icon Jack Dangermond servin' it up for his GIS peeps

During the break I hung out with Rob, and ended up going into the Gaslamp Quarter and up to a Mexican restaurant he liked. Since Rob also taught his first class at CPCC this Spring, we talked a lot about our experiences.

That afternoon was more of the same, but good more of the same. At one point this sixth grader Molly got up and spoke to 14,000 people about her project looking at race/income trends in her St. Louis neighborhood. Basically the neighborhood was divided - you were either privileged or not. I definitely gave her a lot of props for speaking to such a big group! I remember I gave the graduation speech when I was in sixth grade - hmm, there must have been 300+ people in that gym (which has long been razed to the ground). It was still uncomfortably scripted to me, and Jack on the cuff asked Molly where she lived in the neighborhood. Oooh. Bad impromptu question. Obviously she was white and came from a privileged background. Of course he didn't directly mean it as that, but it was nevertheless out there. The keynote was the director of the botanical gardens there. I had not heard of him, but he was interesting and enough of a visionary to keep my interest.

I do my GIS work by myself. This is somewhat of a change for me!

Following that the map galleries were open. I spent most of my time in the special Conservation room (I never even saw the 90% of maps in the main Sails area). It didn't take me long to spot one of the more annoying "rock star" classmate of mine from Duke. I wondered as I sipped on my chardonnay whether to talk with her, but I really didn't talk with her then and she was obviously still causing the boys to center round! In the end I walked away. The real treasure was meeting Bob and Brenda from TPL. I've been working with them on the Carolina Thread Trail project but this is the first time I met them in person!

Hey look, I recognize that map!

That day I had lugged my CLC laptop with me in my backpack so I researched how to get back "home" without having Jan or Jay picking me up. it turned out to be rather straightforward. I retraced my steps with the Orange and Blue lines to Old Town, then took a Green to Fashion Valley Mall. From there I caught a 41 bus that dropped me off on the corner of Genesee and Marlesta. At that point it was a ten minute walk up the hill - not bad!

Dinner that evening was a new experience for me, a Korean BBQ joint. The grill was in the center of the table and there were bowls everywhere! I probably ate enough beef to last me through the remainder of the year!

Of course a big birthday shout-out to longtime (can you say elementary school?) friend Alvaro, who just happened to be here in San Diego a week ago for the gargantuan Comic-Con. Apparently over ten times as many people are into comics as compared to GIS.

I recognize Alvaro but didn't see this when I was at the Convention Center.
(Photo credit to paparazzi that was following Alvaro)

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Off To The Races! (and not the conference dinner)

After yesterday's early start, on Thursday I managed to sleep in, requiring a live individual to remind me I had to get up. After getting a tour of the Old Town area next to the station, I made my way downtown, waiting once again to hop on a Orange line to the Convention Center. There was a man about my age who asked about what was going on at the convention center. I explained about the geographical/cartography aspect and he told me about how he was wowed by Google Earth. We laughed about Comic-Con, he obviously had as little interest as I do. I then was punished for my efforts to actually take some sidesteps up to the higher level. Apparently I have to be a lazy conference attendee just like everyone else.

The word was out that Jay's office/department was going to the horse races at Del Mar that afternoon, so I was in fact going to miss the big party/dinner ESRI celebration at the park. So I posted a for sale sign on my dinner ticket. I then worked my way, quite tardily, to the session on geodatabase topology. I got a call quickly for the ticket, becoming "one of those people" who doesn't turn of their mobile during the presentation! No one responded, so I went back in but actually left early (my first seminar this week which I did) and went to catch the tail-end of a seminar on shortcuts/trips and tricks. Around the time that ended I got another amazing call about the ticket - a guy who had posted a free ticket on the board called me to accuse me of taking his ticket and then selling it! Wow! I told him I wasn't "that guy" and my ticket was still attached to my namebadge. Jackass. I then wandered to the board area and got the call back from the guy. He came up from the exhibit hall and paid for the ticket - score! Now I had money to gamble!

For the last session that morning I went on a session on printing/exporting, especially focusing on ArcPress and new capabilities with Adobe Acrobat 9 for layer and georeferencing support. Very interesting! Once that was over I went back to the trolley system and made my way to Old Town. I seemed to recall we went to eat one night with Jay in 2001 to this tourist mecca. I wandered around looking for quick/cheap eats and found at the Alamo $2 Taco Thursdays! Score! Jan then picked me up and went headed north towards Jay's office.

Would Frida have appreciated her likeness being used in a tourist trap?

Our destination was the Del Mar Fairgrounds for an afternoon of thoroughbred racing! This was a completely new experience for me, and quite confusing. We had missed the first of the eight races, and for the second race I watched and struggled to figure out the system for odds and everything under the sun. The race guide was like reading a Martian map. Did I mention how I felt like I was in another world that afternoon? It was just so different than what I am used to!

The front paddock area before going inside

By the third race we had figured enough out to get vouchers and punch in choices. I started real easy, taking a $2 show bet on Mr. Chips. The obvious choice that Jay bet on was onetimeatbandcamp, since I know Jay through Husky Band. The honorable predictor Brad Free (whose ability to predict races equates to his ability to spell) was leaning Jay's way but the actual results did not impress either. For the fourth race I placed two $2 bets, picking Public Image to win and You Is What You is - once again there wasn't anything happening there. No wonder I don't go to Vegas and gamble that much. It so complicated as well with the odds and pooled odds based on everyone's bets. It really is just like throwing your money away. That of course, is the observation of someone (me) who had no idea how to bet on horses.

The finish of an unknown race which I probably lost money on

My break finally came on Race 5, when I put $2 on a place for Smooch and $2 on show for Helmsgold. For the latter, I liked the Lord of the Rings feel to the name, but really, I found a section in the program guide that listed the jockey as second in the rankings. Very exciting - that pulled in a big $5.60! As if I were really at the fairgrounds on the rollercoasters, I hit three duds for the next races, placing a show on Toll Road, a win on Afleet's Desire and a place on Time Tosay Goodbye. My big break came in race 7 when I correctly picked a Quinella (and technically I got the Exacta right, but didn't chose it) and won $49!

The start of (turf) Race 7 that changed my fortunes! Thank you Carl Orff.

For the record, my $2 would have turned into $64, especially since that was the order I wagered on. Okay, so I definitely went a little crazy down the stretch for that race, but last time I checked that was the whole point. For the last race, I thought about just walking away or taking "the house (and ESRI conference dinner)" money and placing a ton of bets. Memories then came back to the last time I saw Jay in Vegas. It was a few years ago and on that night I was doing very well at Blackjack. I remember from there (during my Blackjack training and a comment by Bill Pitzner in 1996 Reno) to just go for it. In Vegas I was rewarded handsomely! In Del Mar I did again, which included a very expensive Trifecta box on Brad's predicted finish (JB Wine, Coastal Souvenir, and Brave Justice). That all went up in smoke - the closest I came was $3 bet for Tom Quinn to win. The real story for this race was Jay's co-worker Danielle who put 10 cents on the Superfecta (choosing the order 1-4 correctly). The payout was $867! Turns out though she didn't box her bet (which would have cost her a whopping $1.60) and so she walked away with $4 instead. Her young son, who got all jacked up on the news, was beyond distraught. Another of Jay's co-workers Rory probably did the best of us, winning about $330 during the middle. As for me, I walked out with a $5.60 gain (really, a $14.40 loss). Still though, it was from the money I made from selling my dinner ticket, so I really felt like I had nothing to lose! This was a very fun experience! That goodness there is no horseracing anywhere near where I live.

That night we went to a sushi restaurant, Edo Sushi, near Jay's work in La Jolla and it was F-A-N-T-A-S-T-I-C. Best sushi I've had - ever. Specifically the shrimp tempura and salmon were of exceptional quality.

My First Aerobics Class!

On Wednesday, instead of the 5:40 alarm I had set my co-workers decided it would be more appropriate to phone with at 5:00 Pacific time with server issues. Yes, technically I am not on vacation, but it did need to be addressed! This morning Jay drove me all the way down to the convention center. The route was behind the Marriott on flat sidewalk/parks on the Embarcadero Boardwalk. There were 250 participants and this was not your ordinary 5K! A lady got up fifteen minutes before, tuned up the music, and started having us do aerobics. Most of the hardcore runners (almost myself) scoffed at the ridiculous nature of the request, but I thought it over and realized I didn't know anyone and if anything it would help me out. It had been since Sunday that I "exercised" and Saturday that I ran. I really felt out of it and this was a golden opportunity, specifically a pan-flat course and early cool sunshine.

For about four years now I have been fixated on breaking a 20 minute 5K (6:26 minute mile pace). Up to this point, my PR is in the low 20s. But recently the desire has in reality put aside for training aimed at endurance only. It is patently ridiculous that I expect such a record to fall and not do any tempo/organized 5K training. I was clearly (personally) humiliated trying to break this record a few months ago at the Gaston 5K. I might be in better general shape now with the Ironman looming around a month away, but this was stupid.

Nevertheless here I was, participating in the suffer-fest that is always the 5K. The route was essentially loops at either end of the park. It took about three seconds to cross the start line and then I slowly began to pick people off, not because I was competitive but because that's just how it happened. My first mile was a 6:30, and then we all looped back down the stretch to the northern loop. Assuredly my abilities began to taper, coming in with a 6:37 on the second mile. It was after her during my out-and-back I saw the layout - two guys far in front and a total of two women in front of me. All I could think about was finishing before I died. I finished out the last mile at 6:47 and then clocked myself at 20:27 across the line, a new PR!! There turned out to be a guy about my age behind me who congratulated me for a solid pace that he held on to. It made me happy that I could have been of some service! I also noticed Wilhelums (whom I talked with at lunch yesterday - his time, whatever it was, was way solid for an upper 50s. I did spot the female winner and started talking with her in detail - Alexandra (19:03) lived in Houston and like myself at this time of year had to run either very early or late in the day. I also talked with a guy who currently lives in Spokane but spent 8 years in Raleigh. At the time they only gave out trophies to the overall winners, so I left knowing not much more. Some more photos from ESRI.

From there it was back to the Convention Center where I changed out to my "conference attire," going shorts for the first day, mostly because I noticed it was a growing trend. I just happen to love wearing shorts! I really didn't have as much time as I thought I would before the first session, which was on some querying and analysis techniques.

Later on that morning I sauntered back to the Activities Desk and inquired about the results. They asked my age group and sure enough I had placed third in my age group (out of 29 participants!). For my efforts I received a bronze medal, which I graciously accepted and wore throughout the day. There were 270 finishers, so my 25th place barely put me under the ten percentile. Only two women finished in front of me (Alexandra and another not too far behind her). I noticed my lunch companion from yesterday, Wilhelums, was 58 and finished in 22:02, taking first (out of 11 in his age group) - well done! The overall winner was 26 years old and looked much like the same Mike G I passed in the airport - his performance of 16:23 was certainly high local talent (5:17 minute mile pace).

The last session before lunch was somewhat humorous - after a bunch of fundamental sessions that I felt myself mostly overqualified for, I went in for some heavy duty regressional analysis, specifically the geographically weight regressional analysis they were touting in ArcGIS 9.3. The lead woman who taught the course provided a window right out of Legally Blonde. Of course this woman had a PhD in statistics and knew way more than I did, but that didn't mean she was a great public speaker. She was a bit nervous, and once again in all fairness, gave a good presentation. She had one horrible gaffe when she made a subjective comment about how poor people shouldn't spend all their money on alcohol. In no way was there any malice associated with the comment, she just slipped up and the audience erupted with laughter. Still though, this tool would open a lot of potential windows for me, but it seems like with the reality of my employment the need for more tedious map and simple production would maintain its priority. She closed with her quirky attitude on life - one perhaps that I'm smart enough to laugh at and enjoy.

"I'm not an outlier. I just haven't found my distribution yet."

I was on my own for lunch, and chose Royal India for a delicious lunch buffet. I was out on the patio enjoying all the nice sunshine San Diego had to offer. I went in for two full plates and some decent dessert. The afternoon featured two sessions on two topics I need to force myself into using, geodatabases and annotation. Naturally though, I was looking forward to returning to Thornwood to relieve myself of all the stinky clothes in my backpack. That night I went to my first ever taco shop, visiting Lolita's Taco Shop (no young women were seen working on the premises). There I had my first taste of horcate (sp?), a kind of milky cinnamon drink.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Biking my way to San Diego

My journey to San Diego began last Sunday, but the day hardly started with me stepping on the plane. After watching a bit of the Charlotte Criterium on Saturday night, I was in bed early for the 5:30 rise. It was quite dark when I rolled Holman out the door at 5:45. My goal was simple - ride as early as possible to avoid the dreaded and oppressive Charlotte summer and get in 100 miles on the bike! So for about the first twenty minutes it was dark as I rolled up Tyvola. The route from my house was a loop to King's Mountain National Military Park. The direction was counterclockwise and would mimic (in reverse) much of the famed Crowders 60 mile ride. The first 42 miles were quite pleasant. My climb time up Cramerton Mountain was 4:10, which was rather slow, but this ride was all about the endurance! The first major stop was the visitor center. I had to hop over the gate then ride up to the bathrooms and water. I had a nice discussion with a very friendly ranger who could had opted to toss me out. Leaving the vistor center was the last tough pitch, and then it was "goodbye" to all the early morning shade/tree cover. Riding 160 in reverse was perhaps the most odd part. At the Filbert, SC peach stand I opted to bang my head on the overhanging pole instead of getting some delicious peaches. Shortly after I veered off to 557 towards Highway 49. There was one more stop to get the largest fountain drink possible. It wasn't as searing hot as my first century, but it was up there. Finally around 12:45 I rolled back into Wexford Court with barely over 100 miles. My average speed was quite disappointing at 16.3 miles per hour, and even worse I did not brick, but I was on a tight time schedule!

I then began the process of cooling off and getting packed. Julie then came over and had her first experience videoconferencing! Even better she got to "meet" my sister! We then went off for a late lunch at Mac's before heading over to the airport. I heard there was going to be a walk later for Winston at an undisclosed park - perhaps Cheney would be there with his sun umbrella. I was extremely excited about this nonstop flight to San Diego. While headed down to the B concourse I spotted fellow Ultimate player Mike G, who apparently was returning. I couldn't help but feel bad that I was going to be missing the playoffs this Tuesday for our Ultimate team, Seven Minutes Abs, which amazingly went 2-0 last week! Actually, that is a bit of an insult as we all know our team has some serious talent.

This was my first time flying now with virtually everything extra costing you, including $15 for the first bag, $2 and up for drinks, etc. For the direct nature of the flight, I certainly wasn't complaining, just my long legs. I keep telling them the moment they start earning some big bucks by being some amazing runner or biker, they will be upgraded to first class. Until then... Just a little over four hours to fly across country - what a deal!

I was last in San Diego in 2001 to visit my friend Jay when he was in law school at University of San Diego. Since then he has finished school, gotten married, and they are now living in roughly the same area on San Diego. Arriving here again brought back many memories of where I was in early 2001. On the timeline of events previously mentioned in this blog, it was just after hiking with Dee at Great Falls that I ventured out to visit Jay. That visit to the DC area was mainly for a job fair hosted by my school, and there were a string of events that defined my deepest nadir of graduate school. It was at that point that things were about to turn around in a very profound way. I would be glad to be much more open about the major frustration/challenge of the 2001 visit. At the time I was still dealing with extreme effects of my peripheral neuropathy, which was onset by the chemotherapy drug vincristine which was part of my regimen in December of 1996.

It was at this time I had began to blossom in terms of my way ability to run (without feeling any pain associated with the neuropathy). I vividly recall several runs, one to USD and back. Jay and I then set to be tourists, but more importantly push my ability to stand still (slow walking, and waiting in lines). We hit the San Diego Zoo, Wild Animal Park, Disneyland, and then Sea World. I remember Sea World being last and being in a lot of pain, but the trip was definitely judged to be of great benefit - I may even say another turning point in my life.

So there I was in 2008 (Sunday night to be exact), waiting to be picked up, thinking about this (because not thinking about this minutiae is just so not me!). Despite all the meals and my own snacks on the plane, I was once again hungry. After being whisked away by the Jay and Jan mobile, we headed to Little Italy for a (for me) late night dinner. After sharing some space with a red Fiat, we arrive and I go to bed around 1:00AM (East Coast time).