Saturday, September 27, 2008

Meadows Family Charity Auction

Event raises $20,000 for local family | | The Newark Advocate

Talk about a heart-warming day in Newark, Ohio. The entire community came together today and raised $20,000 at a 100% volunteer donation auction for a 27 year old widowed mother of 3 girls. Jennifer and I took the girls and spent most of the day there bidding on stuff. We had a really good time, and there were so many people there that we knew. This auction helped shed some light on a very dark day that took place last month. Lucy Meadows husband was violently murdered in front of his family in his home by his best friend, over a stupid bottle of Oxycontin. Here's what I know (which isn't much).

Back on August 8th, James, Phil, and I were in Tennessee at CodeStock. I got a call from Jennifer around 8am that next morning and she was on the edge of hysterical. She told me about this horrific murder that took place about 6 miles from our house (that's considered "close" out here in the boondocks), and we knew all of the members involved. The victims were James and Lucy Meadows and their 3 little girls (Mackenzie, Madisen, and Morgan). Apparently the night before, they were letting their close friend, Jason, stay the night. James had recently undergone surgery, and therefore had a prescription for Oxycontin and a bottle in his house. Unfortunately, Jason had a very strong addiction to Oxycontin and he killed his best friend to get access to these pills.

Jason wanted some of James' Oxycontnin, but James refused. James wouldn't give Jason any, so Jason stabbed James and then went for Lucy so that she could get it. Lucy struggled and fought off Jason; she suffered strangulation bruises and many cuts on her face, arms, and fingers... She struggled with Jason in front of her 3 little girls. Luckily, Lucy did fight him off and she is now raising her 3 girls. For more details, I'm sure there's a lot of information on the internet. I know a lot more than I'm writing, but see no need to share all the details here... they really suck.

I can't imagine how scary that night must have been for Lucy and (especially) those 3 little girls; they literally watched the whole thing unfold in front of them. I think about them a lot. Attending James Meadows' funeral last month was one of the hardest things I've ever done. Lucy was there with all of her bandages and stitches and she was "a rock" (as Jennifer says)... she smiled and let people shower her in love. She was a hero that night and will always be a hero to those girls. The funeral was full of mixed emotions, there was a lot of sadness, a lot of love, a lot of hate, and a lot of confusion. I was experiencing all of them and it's had a very large impact on me. The worst part for me was letting Morgan (the 5 year old, and Lizzie's friend) take us up to her Daddy's casket. She put her little hand on his head while she talked to us about him. I cried like a baby while she talked. Jennifer and I talk about the Meadows' girls a lot.

Tonight was absolutely amazing. More people showed up than anybody ever expected, and more money was raised than was ever expected. Our girls played with James and Lucy's girls the entire night just running around the gymnasium. They were just being kids, and that was comforting to watch. All the volunteers had shirts that had "In Memory of James Meadows" and "We Will Never Forget..." Everything was paid with through donations. All of the money went directly to Lucy. How wonderful is that? However, no amount of money will bring James (aka: Daddy) back.

The thing that I remember most about James Meadows was that he always had a smile on his face. It is amazing how such a good person can go so violently and sudden. His death has really had an impact on me. I don't take my time with my girls for granted one bit. We miss you James.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

My New Job

As I recently stated, I changed careers... Well, last week was my first full week working for InfoPlanIT and I really like it so far. My new job title is not really defined, but I guess you could say that I'm a "business intelligence developer". My role is to develop business intelligence solutions for clients. Period. I am also the lead developer on the company's flagship product: Business Analyzer

The company is based out of Chicago, but InfoPlanIT has clients all over the world. So there is definitely an opportunity for travel. Jennifer and I took a few days earlier this month and went up to Chicago so that I could meet everybody and get acquainted with the main office. We had a lot of fun, though we didn't really get to go around and hang out together a lot. Jennifer had a lot of free time, therefore she shopped while I was out getting introduced everywhere. In her defense, she did shop at the "discount stores" in downtown Chicago. :) We took lots of pictures, and I'll be sure to upload them to my online photo album soon...

So going back to my role in the company: if you look at Business Analyzers' homepage, you will see that it has a large focus on a certain pivot table control. Yes, that's right, the Business Analyzer uses DynamiCube to deliver a dynamic dashboards and reports in a completely disconnected manner. Since I've come on board full time, I plan to integrate Data Dynamics Analysis and Data Dynamics Reports heavily into the product for the next version.

As an old employee of Data Dynamics, I know exactly how solid their products are and how committed they are to ensuring top quality and ingenuity into their products. Integrating Data Dynamics Analysis into Business Analyzer will add so much to the product.

So there it is, I have moved from a focus in .NET components to actually using them in real world .NET applications. How exciting!? I must say that it's really fun being on the other side of the API. Most of all, now I get to do all fun things like continuous integration, test driven development, refactoring, and all the other fun stuff that us .NET developers love to do.

Best of all, I get to do it from the luxury of my own basement.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Indian Run 2008 - My First Ultra

I did it!
Yesterday I was introduced to Ultra Marathon Running and I loved it! It was definitely one of the hardest things I've done up 'til now and I want more. :) My last two marathons put me on my butt for quite a while after the races. The Trail Marathon put me down for 2 days, the Grand Island Trail Marathon put me out for 1 day. This race was 11 miles further, so I thought I would be down and out for a while... it didn't put me down at all!?! Today my legs are surprisingly fresh; I still can't believe it. You'd never guess I ran 37 miles yesterday if I didn't tell you. I'm sure it has a lot to do with my long training runs, but I didn't expect to feel this good at all. It is a nice surprise.

For those that just want the results and not the fluff, here is a quick summary:
  • Started around 7:15
  • ran 60 kilometers (ie. 37+ miles)
  • met a great new friend
  • struggled on the last few hills
  • fought a spout of nausea
  • ended around 3:45
  • drove ~2 hrs home
  • I feel great today
For those that want the whole story, read on...

Friday Night
I drove down the night before and camped out under the stars in my sleeping bag. I stayed at the same place I stayed last year. I wanted to get to bed early because my race started at 7am, which meant I had to be there by 6:30am... which meant I had to wake up around 5am to break down the tent and drive to the Hocking Hills Dining Lodge. It was hard to fall asleep since I was not tired. I got in the tent and tried to go to sleep around 8pm. Unfortunately my brain was going crazy and I didn't actually fall asleep til around midnight.

Alarm Clock
The cell phone alarm went off at 5am, and I hit snooze a few times, then decided to get up and pack the tent up. The moon was awesome and it had the whole camp ground naturally lit up. I didn't even need to use my flash light. I got everything packed up and headed for the Hocking Hills Dining Lodge. When I got there, there were only a few cars there so I got a great parking spot near the starting line. I decided to use my trunk as my "drop bag". Before checking in, I got my trunk organized and laid out so that as I came through, I could get in and get out. I had replacement head bands and handkerchiefs (I sweat like crazy), 2 peanut butter sandwiches, a couple of high calorie granola bars, a few bottles of Gatorade, a change of socks, Vasoline (yes, you read it), and oodles of gel packs. The routine would be to empty my pockets of the gel packs, pick up some new packs, swap sweat rags, consume lots of calories, and move on. I got everything lined up and headed up to the starting line to get ready for the start.

My trunk with all the essentials

Mike Allen

Let me start this race report by thanking Mike Allen of Ohio River Road Runners Club. He totally helped me finish this race and I'm very fortunate to have run into him (pun intended). Mike is 60 or more years old and is one of the most active people I've ever met. He does triathlons, ultras, and is also into adventure racing and orienteering as well. I hope that I'm half as active as Mike when I'm his age. He and I found that we actually had a lot in common: he started running at age 30, I started at age 28. He raised 4 girls, I'm raising 3. What a dude! He kept conversation with me while we "chugged" along; his conversation really helped me to not focus on the 37+ miles. He complimented me many times for silly things too like my running form, my ability to laugh at his zany humor, and my passion for this sport. Thanks Mike!! I can't wait to see you at Mohican 50 miler and/or Forget The PR 50K next year. Call me any time you need a pacer. Seriously.

Starting Line
All the runners gathered around the starting line while the park ranger briefed us all on the course. He went over each step of the way and told us what to expect, where to expect it, and warned us about some tricky spots. The 30 (or so) of us all took off around 7:15 am. The first loop was so much easier this year than it was last year. :) I made sure not to take off at the start, I just started off jogging very slowly, which was extremely difficult with all the adrenaline. Around mile 2, I ran into a runner by the name of Mike Allen, and we talked for the next 6 miles about all kinds of stuff. He was great company and I learned a lot of history about Dayton, Ohio and the Great Flood of 1913. I would have never guessed I would learn so much history on this race, especially by mile 3. :) We parted ways around mile 8 and I ran the remaining 4+ miles of the first loop alone with no problems what so ever. I remembered back to last year and compared my fitness level to today's level. WOW! First loop was no problem this year and I felt great!

Here's me after my first loop

Second Loop

I stopped at the car and threw away my empty gel packs, grabbed some new gels, pounded a bottle of Gatorade, grabbed a peanut butter sandwich to go, then took off again for my second loop. The whole process took me right at 1 minute. As I started my second loop, I ran past Mike on his way in and we traded greetings. I felt real good on the road course and had no problems what so ever. Around mile 15 I ran into Steel Hill again... This is a hill that goes strait up for about 1/4 mile. Ouch. During my climb, Mike caught up with me and started conversation back up. He and I ran together for the next 8 miles keeping conversation and just talking. It helps so much to keep conversation with another runner. I now understand the importance of "pacing" people in ultra marathon races. The second big hill on this loop was very tough for me. I came to a crawl and Mike went on without me. I told him I catch up to him later but had to catch my wind up this thing. This was around mile 22 and I was feeling pretty used up by this point. Once I got to the top of the hill, I got my wind back and caught back up with Mike. We crossed the lap marker together.

Here's me after my second loop

Final Loop
At the lap marker, I stopped at my car again to dispose of my trash, pack some more gels, replace my sweat band and handkerchief, pound a Gatorade, then grab a high calorie granola bar to go. Off I was to the 3rd and final lap.

About 1 mile into my 3rd loop I came upon who other than... Mike again! We ran a few miles with another runner named Alfred. A few miles down the road, Alfred held back a bit and let us move ahead. This time Mike and I really bonded. I had already told him it was my first ultra and he was genuinely excited for me. He told me on this lap that (pending no injuries) he would help me finish this thing and it was "his pleasure". I thanked him big time and ensured him that he was not obligated. He was very sincere in his claim and I was extremely grateful.

Ironically I looked down at my watch and it showed 26.22 miles on my Garmin. This meant that every step from here on out would be farther than I've ever ran before. I was surprisingly in really good shape at this point; a lot better than I thought I would be. My quads were a bit tingly, but not necessarily hurting and my knees had a bit of pain only when doing the downhill sections. Nothing serious at all. As we approached the end of the road section down RT 664, we ran face first into Steel Hill again. This time, it literally crushed me... I wanted to get on all fours and crawl up it. However, I kept some dignity and pushed down on each leg with my hands every step of the way. It probably took me 10 minutes to get up this hill and I was totally spent when I got to the top... I mean completely exhausted. It was right at the mid day heat by this point, so I took some time at the water stop and poured some water over my head to cool down. It helped.

Mike totally waited for me at the top, then we took off up the (now gradual) hill on Chapel Ridge Rd. Right before we entered "Old Grandma's Trail" for the last time, someone left a pleasant surprise at the entrance to the trail. Someone had left a gallon jug of water sitting in a tub of ice with a bunch of cups... I drank a big cup of ice water (right or wrong) and then we mozied on into the forest with welcoming shade and breeze. This part of the course got me back to reality, and I really soaked in the beauty of Hocking Hills this time around. My legs were pretty numb by this point so I walked up most of the hills, even the small ones. I totally appreciated the flat sections and downhills. When we got to Rose Lake, we ran into another runner named Ted (I think... may have been Tom??) and he was taking his time through this area, as it was very technical. There were roots, bumps, dips, rocks, and drop offs for about a mile. I was slipping into a deep funk about this time and Mike really pulled me through it with his conversation.

The Last 5 Miles
The last 5 miles were pretty hard for me. There was a big hill at the end of Rose Lake that got me winded again, and then the nausea came. I couldn't drink my water because I feared it would make me barf. I didn't want to consume any gel packs for the same reason. I think the jogging motion of bouncing up and down was just shaking me up and I felt I could toss my cookies at any minute. I decided to walk for a while to see if that helped, and it did... a bit. The last 2 mile climb to the finish line was very slow going. I jogged when I could and walked only when I had too... Sure enough, Mike stayed with me each step of the way. What a guy! He could have finished his race 1 hour ago if he wanted to, but he didn't.

The Finish Line
Mike and I crossed the finish line together.

Me after the 3rd loop with Mike

There were only a few people remaining at the finish line when we got there around 3:45pm. No roaring crowd, no balloons or fireworks, and no bikini models. It was just me pushing the 'Stop' button on my Garmin and telling the lady at the finish line my finishing time. I sat down and got my stomach back in order and let my legs recover for a minute, then waddled to my car for the 2 hour ride home.

The After Math
Nothing! I feel fine! Can you believe it? I was a little sore when I got home last night, but today (ie. Sunday) I feel great. I've been on my feet all day with very little pain whatsoever. Daizi had her 2 year birthday party today and I cleaned the yard, hauled things up and down stairs, everything I'd normally do and I'm fine. Here is a picture of me with my (extremely cute) little niece, Gracy on my shoulders. I think this is my body telling me that it's ok with my decision to continue running ultra marathons... which I plan to do.

It's official, I'm an official ultra runner, and proud of it. :)

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Changing Jobs

Yup, you read it right. Today was my last day at Data Dynamics. Leaving DD was a tough decision. Especially after the company has done so much for me and my family. DD was, is, and always will be an amazing company. They took a chance on me and they helped shape who I am today. For the sake of good blogging, let me tell you what I mean by "they took a chance on me". Don't worry it's just a recap of the first year or two at the company... :)

The Mooch
Back in 2000, Jennifer and I got married in June and I was a student at CSCC looking for a job doing Assembler Language, COBOL, or AS400 programming. I was working 2 piddly jobs making a total of about $100 a week and completely mooching off of my new wife. At the time, I was a COBOL whiz kid and breezed through all of my programming classes. CSCC didn't offer very good courses at the time for Visual Basic, but I really wanted to know how to create windows applications using that fancy GUI stuff. I had done some small database projects for some friends here and there just so I could self teach myself VB5.

The Interview
Fall was quickly approaching that year and I had been through countless dead-end tech interviews. Everybody wanted someone with "experience". However, how was I supposed to get experience if I didn't have a JOB!? I had to start somewhere... So sometime around September 2000 (exactly 8 years ago this month), I got called in from some head hunter telling me to show up in Columbus for an interview at some company called Data Dynamics.

Lucky for them, I had just cut my long hippie hair and bought some new clothes. This picture was actually taken the morning of my interview. Jennifer took the picture before we hopped in the car and headed to DD headquarters (I can't believe I found this pic!). So anyway, I walked in the door and was pummeled with a ferocious roar of a miniature pincher named Zeus. This really added insult to injury at that point; I was nervous, looked like a dork, and now everybody in the office knew that the potential "prospect" had arrived. Aside from the ferocious beast, this looked like a hip place to work. They had a pool table with tie-dye pool balls... I mean, it doesn't get much cooler than that! Right?

Immediately, the boss at the front desk (aka: Tim) starts yelling at this dog and comes out and shakes my hand. By this point, I didn't know what to think; I had a cloudy fish tank to my right, a really cool pool table in front of me, a snarling miniature pincher at my feet, and I'm shaking the owners hand. He told me to have a seat, so I did. About 2 minutes later I see this scruffy looking dude (aka: Scott) come out of one of the offices near the back and he tells me to come on back. He looked like Jesus, so I listened.

The interview was absolutely painful! Scott had a wrinkled up t-shirt, cut off shorts, long scruffy hair, a go-T, and he was sportin' Jesus-sandals. Tim looked like an owner (whatever that means), but I couldn't help but notice that he was drinking coffee from a VBITS '99 mug. I had heard about that conference (VBITS, now VSLive) from my Visual Basic Programmers Journal magazine (now Visual Studio Magazine) subscription. I thought it was so cool that this company exhibited their products at that show! This is what I wanted to do! This is the job that I want! I answered the questions as best as I could, but the one thing that sticks out for me (and always will) was when Scott asked me where I wanted to be in 5 years... I froze. Who knew this would be a question at an interview. I stuttered for a minute and thew up my index finger so that they knew I was onto something. Right then, I pulled out my Palm III out of my jacket pocket so that I could remember exactly where I wanted to be in 5 years... Lucky for me, I took notes before the interview and had this information readily available. I told them that I wanted to be a developer and that I wanted to be a drummer in a successful rock band. We talked a bit more, and then I shook their hands figuring it would be the last time I'd ever see them...

The Call
The whole ride home, I was pissed! I told Jennifer that there was no way they were going to hire me. I barely knew Visual Basic and this was a cutting edge company that was writing ActiveX components specifically for Visual Basic. We laughed about my interviewing skills for a while and talked about how cool it would have been if I could have worked there... But, I was going to keep interviewing until something else came up, since I tanked this interview.

The rest of the day just played out, and we had friends over that night for some cards and beer. I had just come back from the store or something and when I walked in the back door, all our friends at the table were looking at me with big smiles and Jennifer was grinning ear to ear... "What's going on?", I asked... "You got the job!"... "WHAT!?"... "YOU GOT THE JOB!!" Talk about a life changing sentence. I couldn't believe it. I had pretty much written them off since I was nowhere near qualified for the job. I remember how exciting it was to know that we were gonna be making some real scratch now. Jennifer and I had lived on pennies for way too long, and the starting salary at this job was waaay more than I could even fathom at that point. We all got drunk.

The Rookie
My very first role at Data Dynamics was DynamiCube 2.0 support. I would be in charge of assisting other programmers about how to use this product in their applications. Not only did I know very little about Visual Basic, but I knew NOTHING about pivot tables and analyzing numbers in a cross tab. I felt like I was in way over my head right out of the gun. Scott was my mentor for the first few months on the job and rather than helping me by answering my immediate question, he helped me teach myself how to learn. Rather than bugging him with insanely stupid questions day in and day out, I would basically spin my wheels for hours on this component trying to figure out how it worked and why anybody would even want to buy it. At times I felt like I was on my own trying to support these users while at the same time trying to learn this epic product. Looking back now, I wouldn't have wanted it any other way. Thanks Scott! :)

In no time, I was traveling all over the place. My first trip was to head out west to San Jose (aka: Silicon Valley!). It's safe to say that I felt like I had "made it" in my career by this point. I had never been past Indiana before that trip, so going out to California to learn some new technology was huge for me. After Silicon Valley, I was pretty much on the move all the time after that (or so it seemed). I was going to places (some regularly) like Orlando, San Fransisco, Boston, Los Angeles, Denver, Pittsburg, Las Vegas, Seattle, Tulsa, Russia!, Grand Rapids, Ann Arbor (puke), Tulsa, and of course various cities around Ohio. Since the day I started, I've supported and some what mastered :) DynamiCube, ActiveBar, SharpGrid, ActiveCube, ActiveSizer, ActiveReports, SharpUI, SharpGraph, and Data Dynamics Analysis. The company has let me develop my speaking skills, my PM skills, all kinds of stuff!

Well crap... I had a whole huge post written up that was going over everything that I had learned and experienced while I was at Data Dynamics. I wanted to give credit where credit was due, but once I got towards the end of the post, I realized that it started to look more like a resume. Rather than post a list of "look what I can do now", I just deleted it all and decided to stick to the point of the post. The purpose for this post is really to just say that I'm very happy to have had the chance to work for such a cool company. They took a chance on me, and really helped me "be all I could be" for many years.

The Data Dynamics motto is deliver reporting and analysis tools to developers, and that is exactly what they are still doing today. It's amazing how the vision hasn't changed in my 8 years there. They are constantly striving to deliver stellar products at a fair price. There is some intense competition right now in the component market, but I know that Data Dynamics has some tricks up it's sleeve... some of the upcoming products are sure to take the component and BI market by surprise.

I'll forever be a customer and proud alumni if Data Dynamics. I'm going to miss everybody! Tim, Ferhat, Issam, Scott, and everybody else... Thank You!

What's Next for Me?
Without going into too much detail right now, my new gig is this: I will be working from home, writing code out of my basement full time for a small software company out of Chicago. This is a dream come true for both me and my family. I've always wanted to be able to stay home and write code to "bring home the bacon" and that's exactly what I'll be doing now. It's for that reason that I decided to change jobs...

I'm following my dream. :)

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Google Chrome

It's now 2pm on Tuesday, September 2nd, and I (along with half the world) am still waiting on the official announcement and download link for Chrome. If you've not heard of Chrome yet, take a few minutes and check it out:

Til then, we wait...

Update: It's heeeeere:

Preparing for My First Ultra

My first ultra is less than 3 weeks away now and I'm getting pretty excited. Jennifer and the girls will be coming down with me this year and we're going to make a weekend camping trip out of it. So cool! Training has been going really good and I'm feeling really strong. I'm doing my pushups religiously and building my base up for the hills of Hocking. However, I may have sprung a slight injury in my right ACL last week... I've been worrying about it pretty bad and concerned how it will affect my training and ultimately my race.

So, this morning I was catching up on my blog roll and found a cool post that helped me convince myself I can still do this thing. I stumbled upon an old post from the iRunFar blog, titled Ultra Advice From a Master. I faintly remember when it was posted last year, but at the time I was only doing 5k's, so I had little interest in the advise and didn't really read it. It had a whole new meaning to me today when I found it on a whim... Best yet, I saw comments on this post from two of my buddy-bloggers (Olga & Jamie). :)

While reading through the tips, number 6 was the one that stuck out the most for me:
6. Don't over train AND taper well....your base is well established and you will be better off rested than running a lot up to the race even though you may think you are not in the best of shape. Muscle memory is there for those who have run a lot over the years.
My Sunday long run this past weekend was supposed to be 25 miles, but I was only able to do a little over 9 miles, for I didn't want to completely shoot my chances for running the race. My right ACL was pulling pretty bad and all hills were totally out of the question. It's feeling surprisingly better today and I'm scheduled for an easy 4 miler; I'm anxious to see how it holds up. I'll admit, I've been getting pretty discouraged since my Sunday run, but I'm not letting it get me down and out completely. Since revisiting the iRunFar post, I've decided to downsize this weeks miles and I've reduced my Sunday run from 30 miles to a 20 miler instead before my taper week. I figure I have enough training behind me to finish 37 miles fairly easy. Especially since I'm not going for a time; finishing will be no problem.

Notice the optimism here. :)

Monday, September 01, 2008

Hartford Fair Girls

The Hartford Fair Girls

(Daizi, Jazzy, and Lizzie)

The fair was a few weeks ago, and this picture pretty much captures the girls involvement. Jennifer took the girls to the fair grounds pretty much everyday. I've got oodles of pictures from this years' Hartford Fair, and I'll be sure to upload them to my online photo album. For all you RSS junkies, be sure to subscribe to my online photo feed. ;)
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