Plan Accordingly

I’ve been thinking about this the past few days. I never had any expectation of any return to what things were like before, but I guess I hadn’t really internalized the “plan accordingly” part. Funny enough, it’s manifested for me in not being on my bike. I used to commute to an office every day, go running at lunch, participate in meetings, hang out in the work kitchen catching up with people. What I miss the most is that time at the beginning and end of the day, being on my bike – riding hard or easy if I wasn’t feeling it. It was compound fitness. A lot of that time is now replaced with desk time at home.

I was thinking of a club for people who used to commute by bicycle, to meet up in the morning for a short ride, then return to home offices to start the day. I have even considered doing a loop in the morning and ending up at home to shower and get to my first call. Perhaps.

I was just talking to a friend and he said he bought VR goggles and was expounding on riding his smart trainer and lifting. Unsurprisingly, he mentioned he hadn’t left his house in weeks. Strange times indeed.

Plan accordingly. I’m thinking through how to navigate these new times. I’m a fan of healthy habits and I had a lot of them – but circumstances have changed and I need to form new ones.

I think it might be time for some micro-adventures. Maybe some multi-sport bike/run adventures in the neighborhood. 2 weeks ago I grabbed a heavy backpack and hiked 4 miles early in the morning. More creative exploration of healthy habits is what’s needed.

When you lose something, it’s natural to mourn. To sit with the pain and realize THIS is what it means to be human. I don’t know if there will be a general recognition of all the things lost over the past 2 years, but I know it’s healthy to mourn their loss.

There are two ways to wash the dishes. The first is to wash the dishes in order to have clean dishes and the second is to wash the dishes to wash the dishes.

Thich Nhat Hanh. RIP.

Day One

Lately my pull has been toward finishing up major projects. I keep a running to-do list in Notes and only add the next 2 or 3 items I need to do. I woke up Sunday and wanted to make a push to get closer to completion on the portico project. When I’m focused on projects, my running miles plummet. I can’t go for a long run, then eat, change and reset to start working. I’m not sure what fitness value I’m getting from being on my feet for 14 hours, moving back and forth between saws, kneeling down to measure, lifting work pieces and nailing over my head. I can tell you I’m exhausted at the end of the day and the next day my body hurts.

Saturday I wrapped the 4×4 posts in cedar. I could have simply boxed them with 1x boards. but I wanted them to appear solid, with no seams. I mitered the corners by cutting a 45 degree bevel, then glued and nailed 2 pieces together forming a symmetrical L, did the same to the other 2 pieces, then placed them around the post, clamped and nailed them together.

I took care to trim the base of the post around the stone – it’s an aesthetic I’ve taken from Japanese construction where the form of the object flows from one medium to another – in this case, cedar post to stone.

I think about the design process as I’m working. I watched a documentary about Philip Glass years ago and he described the creative process as a river that’s always flowing under the surface, and sometimes he’s able to tap into it. I can only say that I, like many designers – see things that don’t yet exist and set about to make them real. Composers must be able to hear the music before the compose.

Sketch I made on the iPad before I excavated the base for the stone wall.

Sunday I set about installing the tongue and groove ceiling. Much of construction is comprised of little tricks you learn as you go and the sequence those tricks are executed. In hindsight, I would have done things in an alternate order – if there’s one trait I have that hinders my work, it’s that I lack patience and move too fast. I miss my long runs, and early ski days, I want to get back to the mountains, but at the same time, I can’t leave projects like this incomplete. So there’s tension. I try to keep in mind that perfection is the enemy of done, and sometimes it’s good to be done.

The most difficult part of this project was the final tongue and groove board at the peak, and cutting the pieces where the light attaches. In these images, there is still a gap at the peak where I’ll cut a piece of trim. I tried to finish this at the end of the day and confidently adjusted my saw to cut a 17 degree bevel on two pieces. When I placed the trim over the gap, I just laughed. It’s not 17 degrees, it’s the opposite. 2 bevel cuts at 163 degrees. I paused for 30 seconds to think through how I could cut 163 degree bevel. The light was fading, I still needed to clean up – it would have to wait for another day.

Remaining to-do:

  • trim at the peaka
  • front placard to cover the fascia peak seam (like my sketch)
  • trim along the front edge. I have 45 degree off cuts from the cedar posts that I’ll use to affix a bevel to the front edge of the fascia. In hindsight, if the tongue and groove was done first, I would have increased the width of the fascia to cover the seam of the tongue and groove. This is what I mean about sequence of events.
  • paint the fascia
  • go skiing (I’m going to try and take a couple of weekends off and get outside to play).
Making up for working outside all day.

Trades

Roofers, drywallers, framers, plumbers, flatwork(concrete), finish carpenters, masons, cabinetmakers, tile setters, electricians. I think that’s it. The trades in order of skills required. I only put electricians at the end because I hate doing electrical work. Mostly from renovating old houses and having to deal with ungrounded wiring, knob and tube, asbestos insulated wiring, etc.. And I would never do a job like replacing an entire panel – too easy to make a mistake and get dead.

This weekend I roofed the portico. It’s not particularly skilled labor but doing it well takes patience. Much of building and construction is about thinking through final measurements and then subtracting to some starting point. With framing completed I had to install fascia and drip edge before asphalt shingles. As an amateur – I posit it takes 5x longer to do something… and sometimes longer if what you did needs to be undone/redone. Luckily I didn’t have to redo anything except the underlayment. It’s been exposed to rain for the past 5 weeks and some water had gotten onto the plywood. We had sunny, warm weather so I pulled off all the underlayment and let things dry out in the sun while I cut and installed the fascia and drip edge. Once the plywood was dry, I cut 3 new pieces of material and stapled it on before starting to shingle.

I tend to over-engineer when doing rough work (framing) and think measurements need to be more precise than need be. On a 4/12 roof pitch, the rafters are about 17 degrees, but where a vertical fascia board meets roof line, dimensional lumber is a little bit too wide. I made some test cuts and put a 17 degree bevel on the fascia with the track saw so that it would tuck right up below roof line. It fit perfectly, but in the end I realized if I leave a 90 degree edge, the space between the edge of the fascia and roofline will make a nice little 17 degree inside corner and fascia will match the roof perfectly. The bevel is unnecessary.

I rented a coil nailer from the local home depot which made quick work of fixing the shingles. I never run my nail guns on auto (holding the trigger and just pressing the tip shoots the nail), but with roofing, it’s way faster to shoot 5-6 quick nails. It’s the sound of working being done. The nail gun firing and the kick of the compressor. Starting with a half shingle and overlapping the drip edge by 1/4 inch, I put a starting border across the more difficult to access side of the roof. The portico roof is 84 inches long and a shingle is 40 inches long. With the overlap required front and back, 2 shingles won’t cover the roof, so I had to split shingles into 3rd’s in order not to leave short runs.

I roofed one side to the ridge, leaving half a shingle overlapping the ridge beam – I wasn’t sure how I was going to connect to the other side, but would decide once I completed the other side. There is a particular nailing pattern provided on the packaging by the manufacturer. It must be related to wind shear and/or water penetration of the shingle. I followed the nailing pattern for all the shingles and brought the other side up to the ridge line. I was able to wrap one side over the other to create a watertight covering over the ridge and then began to cap the ridge.

Common practice is to begin capping the ridge on the opposite side of the prevailing weather, the establishes an overlap of shingles that prevent high winds from lifting a shingle and pulling the roof off the structure. I think this was the most enjoyable part of the project. I cut 12 inch shingles, measuring as to keep a single flexible surface at 6 inches where the shingle would bend over the ridge line. I finished the last shingle on the west side of the roof, shot in 4 nails (the last 4 are exposed as there are no more shingles to overlap) and then caulked over the nail heads with silicon. I’ll check on the silicon in the spring and reapply or get some roofing tar to keep those nails covered.

That’s how to shingle a portico.

Stone wall, recently poured concrete retaining wall. Post and beam construction with 3/4 threaded rod supports across the beams.
Watertight for PNW winters.

To-do’s:

  • wrap the posts in clear cedar
  • cedar tongue and groove on the ceiling
  • paint the fascia to match the house
  • foundation concrete pour (in sections) to repair the foundation wall. I’m looking forward to this because I’m going to try to create a wood pattern with the form.

Ways of Building

I’ve been designing and building drawers and a sleeping platform in the back of the truck as a fun little project and wanted to try to get some more organic shapes in my plywood cases – so I started to experiment with template routing. I want to have a warm, dry place to sleep for winter alpine starts in the mountains. One side of the truck bed will be a drawer on 36″ locking drawer slides, the other side is a countertop with 4 cubbies below to store things.

I have 3 routers. A small Rigid trim router that’s great for putting a radius on a corner or routing out a small area (I used it to last to create an opening for an electrical box in a portico I built), a Bosch 1617 fixed and plunge base router, and a Triton 2 1/4 horsepower router that I keep mounted in the router table. I used the Triton last to make tongue and groove from clear fir to repair a floor in our old house before we sold it last October.

I was looking forward to using a template guide from the Bosch, but when I got the tool set up and turned it on, I immediately smelled burning and realized the motor was about to catch fire. The smell of a burning electrical motor is unique – and terrible. I turned it off and on again, and realized the Bosch was dead.

The trim router isn’t powerful enough to cut a template so I had to disassemble the Triton from below the router table. It’s been mounted in the table for the last 8 years and have never used it as a handheld. I was pleasantly surprised. The Triton came with a set of template guides and centering bushing (so that the collet can be centered in the guide and the bit doesn’t spin into the guide).

Routing using a template guide is the like having a CNC machine. Using the template and accounting for the thickness of the guide (1/8″ in my case), any shape can be reproduced exactly. I found that using a track saw (I use a cordless Makita) I can plunge cut any size opening and use that as a guide for the router.

Left case that will hold a 36″ drawer. The top is on piano hinges so that with the tailgate closed I can access anything inside.
Opening for the storage area around the wheel wells – driver’s side. I used 4 pieces of 1/8″ x 1″ aluminum to fabricate tabs that a lid sits on. They’re screwed in from the bottom on each side of the opening.
Attached with piano hinges affording a way to open the top of the case to access anything inside. I used furniture screws and t-nuts to attach the top to the case. The drawer can be disassembled and removed when I need to do truck stuff.

As I was driving back from Mt. Hood after skiing with my daughter I realized how young our civilization is – thinking about how we’ve built the environment from raw materials, extracting resources in the simplest way possible. We build houses from dimensional lumber – 1 step away from a tree. We mix lime and cement and rock to make concrete to build roads and bridges. Our manipulation of the natural world is clumsy and basic, it leads to the ugliness you see in the built environment. In the future, my hope is that we learn to merge with the natural world, using materials at a more atomic level – to build in a simpler, more elegant way. That’s what I mean by young – we’re just infants trying to brute force our will on the world. It’s a losing strategy.

Waiting for snow

I’m beginning to feel the pull of snowy mountains and sunshine. In the meantime, I’ve been staying busy. Someday I’ll write about what it’s like being at a seed stage tech startup. It’s not for everyone, but I really like it – maybe it’s the controlled chaos. Kind of an oxymoron – but it describes the experience well.

Someone on the internet wrote yesterday, “I’ve been getting ready to go on a run… for 4 days.” Haha. That’s how I feel about writing. I have a few minutes between meetings and thought I’d drop some recent projects.

My last post was about the stone wall… so here are some pictures of the wall completed. This is going to be a multi-season project. Next in the queue for this project is to anchor the opposite posts into the newly poured concrete wall, and then begin to build the portico. I’m imagining the interior roof of the portico in tongue and groove cedar, with a blown glass light at the apex. I’ll need to do some electrical work to make that happen. I also want the entryway to have a steel gate – I haven’t designed this yet, but picked up a small welder a few months ago and will weld + powder coat the gate from mild steel. The front of the gate will consist of simple Bauhaus inspired geometric shapes… I might need to borrow a plasma cutter to build what I have in mind.

The two posts are supported by the concrete piers set below the frost line. I think in hindsight I would have set a few courses and then poured footers for the posts. The wall will outlive me and maybe the next owner of the house will pick a few favorite stones as I have.

In the shop I needed to build a few pieces of furniture. A built-in cabinet for … Lego storage. Surprisingly I was able to match the 1930’s moulding. The base moulding needed to be built-up from multiple pieces to match.

Few books, primary Lego storage.

And a kitchen island. I like how this project turned out. It’s not yet finished (paint), but the construction is finished. Baltic birch panels with poplar face frame. The interior shelves are torsion boxes to support the weight of canned goods.

The countertop is 2 inch butcher block maple reclaimed from a restaurant that I found on Craigslist.

A pot rack or floating shelves – not sure which, will be installed above the island. I have some nice pieces of cherry remaining from a bench project that I may use for floating shelves.

That’s a quick summary of the past few months… Oh almost forgot. I also had a rack fabricated for my truck. It’s the same style of popular racks right now… for a fraction of the price. I found CAD plans online, made some tweaks and then had it laser cut from 1/4″ aluminum. The 2 sides are laser cut, the rails (across the roof) are 8020 extruded aluminum. The rack feet are 2×3 tubular steel that I cut with the angle grinder and then drilled for fittings on the drill press. I had a minor snafu with hardware as I initially used standard metric hardware, but after a few rains realized it was rusting and changed everything out to stainless steel. It turned out better than I anticipated.

Back from the laser cutter.
Painted in flat black and mounted to the shell.

My to-do list never ends, here are some upcoming projects:

  • Finish the portico
  • build out a lightweight, removable climbing dirtbag setup in the back of the truck so I can sleep at the trailhead for alpine starts. Not sure if I should try to get sophisticated with 8020 extruded aluminum or just use birch plywood (most likely)
  • stone retaining wall in the yard. I want to use bigger stones, so I may need to find a way to get a mechanical advantage to move 2-man stones – maybe a winch/comealong or hi-lift jack contraption.
  • more landscaping

**Caveat: if we have a good winter, all projects are on hold for climbing + skiing 🙂

Masonary

I went back in the house and changed out of my worn out trail running shoes that I use for dog walks and put on my work boots. I thought it prudent as I had never used a gas-powered concrete saw and the little sticker on the handle indicated eye protection, ear protection, steel-toed boots.

I have a project that I’m really excited to move forward. We decamped from our Craftsman Bungalow last November to a newer (1915 vs. 1930) English Tudor and the previous homeowner was a general contractor. Most of this tile work is impeccable, electrical work lacking, and he devoted little to no attention to landscaping. The lot is surrounded by a low wall built from dry-stacked volcanic rock. I’ve been slowly disassembling it and giving rocks away on Craigslist. When the weather begins to cool off, I’ll rent a backhoe and grade the lot so that I can create a little outside garden to sit and drink my morning coffee and watch the world go by… but there is a project ahead of that one.

The previous owner finished the basement and created a separate entrance to the house. It’s convenient and currently the only entry / exit we use. A dilapidated pergola was erected over the door and when the driveway concrete was poured, decided not to repair the exposed foundation wall, but instead built a stone flower planter to hide it from view. The flower planter is now disassembled and I need to repair the exposed foundation wall.

On Sunday when I should have been running, after I pulled down the pergola and use the reciprocating saw to cut down the concrete bolts holding it in place, I found myself kitted up and maneuvering a Hilti concrete saw so that I could square off the driveway where the planter had been. The current plan is to pour a new footer against the existing foundation, pour an additional 2 sonotube footers as bases for 6×6 posts and build a new portico over the entrance door.

I was amazed how easily the saw cut through the 6 inch concrete lab. And shocked when I put the saw down flat, stepped away to remove some of the newly cut concrete and out of the corner of my eye, watched the saw begin to slowly rotate. Lesson – don’t ever take your (safety glass covered) eye off of a spinning blade.

Part 3 of this project will be to excavate for a low stone mortared wall and gate that I’ll build beside the door. More and more I realize that if I wasn’t designing software, I would be a stonemason. I think it’s the combination of skill and labor that attracts me. Breaking rocks to build something beautiful. It’s very appealing. And as for the weekend long run, as is most often the case, when I’m out laboring, my sophisticated sport watch tells me that “Recovery is delayed because of high activity”.

Music

Spotify served up a playlist built from my interest graph.. and demographic data, etc. etc. And Midnight Rider by Allman Brothers Band was piped into my ear holes, and I remembered…

In 1993 I was 20 years old and worked at Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, MD as “security”. Allman Brothers Band played and I worked backstage. I was literally standing off to viewers right on stage for the whole concert. It was amazing. A list of [some] concerts I remember seeing (in no particular order):

Hall & Oates with my mom

Aimee Mann at Merriweather Post Pavilion (I think I was working)

Steve Miller Band at Merriweather Post Pavilion (I think I was working, but was in the grass on the hill not working)

REM – some stadium somewhere

Lollapalooza #1 (in Atlanta) (Ice-T sang with his metal band Body Count), Jane’s Addiction, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Violent Femmes, Nine inch Nails.

HFStival (x2 or x3?) (A DC music festival at RFK stadium: Beck, Red Hot Chili Peppers, etc etc). It was incredible.

Soul Coughing – in Fells Point, Baltimore. Wild night I don’t really remember.

Mike Doughty at Wonder Ballroom in Portland. He’s a poet, what can I say.

The Decemberists at McMenamins Kennedy School

DJ Shadow at Wonder Ballroom in Portland

Bruce Hornsby, Wolf Trap Center for the Performing Arts. I think this was my first grown up concert. Good seats, drinking wine listening to Wynton Marsalis in the summer.

Skankin’ Pickle – some bar in Baltimore. A friend of mine was really into Ska at the time.

Martin Garrix in Las Vegas.

DJ Snake in Las Vegas.

And who would I want to see in concert now… Future Islands is on my list. Maybe Olivia Rodrigo with my daughter.

Right Now

As we enter the beginning of the end of Covid in the US, I find myself returning to a simple thought throughout my day. It’s this: “This is the best that things are ever going to be”. When I’m talking to my children, taking my dogs for a walk, finishing my day of work.

I guess it can have many interpretations, but for me the phrase is synonymous with being present, enjoying this moment. Not the expectation of some future or regret for some past. It’s an expression of gratitude. I find it extremely powerful — maybe it’s the combined weight of relief from the past year, or just reaching some maturity and acceptance of my place in the world. I’m not sure what comes next, but I’m grateful for right now and the people in my life.

Product Design Modes

I’ve been kicking around this idea of modes for the design for software products. Primarily from a designer’s perspective when considering different market segments. In particular the distinction between designing for consumer applications vs designing for enterprise applications. There’s a massive distinction in approach that can be distilled down to a simple concept.

In consumer software the designer is focusing on engagement, stickiness, and ultimately behavior change. In consumer applications you can triangulate on various metrics – DAU’s, MAU’s, etc. to gauge whether or not the design is succeeding.

There was a great talk by the head of product from Metromile at the first Amplitude conference a couple of years ago in SF. The topic was product growth and the design of virtuous acquisition loops. The small behavioral nudges that can be designed to move a user toward conversion. These can be planned and deliberately designed to keep progress moving toward conversion (whatever that is for the particular product).

In enterprise software, all that goes out the window. Distinct from a consumer audience (large), daily usage of an enterprise product tends to be much smaller. The buyer and the user are more often than not different personas. The buyer may not understand the capabilities of the product, but is making a buying decision on behalf of the user. And most importantly, the user has no choice – they are unable *not* to use the product if there is a corporate mandate. Depending on the domain, the product may be complex. This creates challenges for product design.

Task flows are repetitive, there isn’t much of an opportunity to do multivariate testing as the test pool is smaller, and the overall motivation for users within the product is much different. Complete a task and move on.

All of this changes the goals of building products for an enterprise audience. In my experience this can be distilled down to a simple but important distinction. The goal of building software for the enterprise is to educate the user in best practices and to show how the product allows the user to accomplish those goals – and then exit the product. It’s not uncommon for a high “time on task” metric to be associated with confusion about what the user should do.

This places a greater emphasis on the information architecture of the product and how the product helps the user establish a mental model that guides them to making efficient decisions that lead to action.

How does this manifest within a product and product design? In a few ways:

  • Guided onboarding
  • Contextual help
  • Tooltips
  • Data dictionaries

The product should aim to educate while guiding the user through a workflow of good decisions with clear actions and end states.

Happy Runner, Happy Life

I’m reading The Happy Runner and part of the book is about gaining some clarity on your personal running Why’s. This is what I came up with in 30 minutes. I reserve the right to edit at any point in the future.

Why do I run at all? I run because I like to get out into the forest on the trails. I like being close to the trees and to nature. The air is cleaner, it’s quiet, there usually aren’t many people. I like running to explore new places. I like running when I travel – I can see more of a new place on my feet. I like to learn routes in new cities. There’s some discovery appeal. The idea of serendipity. I’m open to the unexpected. I like to run uphill a lot. Mostly in the mountains. I don’t like running downhill fast because I’m scared I’m going to get hurt. When I was a kid I was running into our apartment in Berlin and slipped on a metal grate and fractured my ankle, then I used a pair of my sister’s crutches and proceeded to fall down a flight of stairs, fracturing the other ankle. I wheeled around in a wheelchair before I could hobble and scoot across the floor to get around. The final reason that I run is because my mom has multiple sclerosis. I’m terrified that some day I won’t be able to be active and so it’s a reminder of my own fragility and mortality. Running is freedom. I feel great after I run, like the world is full of possibilities and that thing that was so heavy on my mind before I went running is just a mild annoyance.

Why do I run each day? I’m mostly constrained by work and family obligations. If I have the time, I’ll typically seize the opportunity to go for a run. If I’ve been on my feet all day working (physical work, like in the shop or in the garden) I may not go for a run – on those days I get nearly as many steps as a 10K or longer just walking up and down stairs and around the house. I find it relatively easy to get out the door, I don’t ever dread going for a run. More often I’ll get to the farthest point out on my run and maybe take a brief pause to recognize that I’ve come halfway and savor the way home. If I had the time, I would run every day, but some days I have meetings or just a short window between responsibilities. In my 20’s I made a vow to myself to never run for less than 45 minutes. I’ve only broken that when I’ve gone running with my children or racing a 5k… wait… or a 10k 🙂

Why am I racing at all? I’m not right now. Ultra running events feel more like group runs, which I can muster only occasionally. I’m concentrating really hard when I’m trail running – it’s meditative. I’ve raced shorter trail races in the past and really enjoyed the tight pack running through the forest at high speed. It’s exhilarating. But I don’t enjoy it more than going for a long run in the woods by myself. In order to race longer, 50k – 100 miler, it takes more time and planning. I would rather listen to my body and run when, where and how I feel than following a training regimen. I planned to race a marathon in July 2019, but overtrained between cycling and increasing my running mileage. I didn’t have the foundation to do a hard 30 mile ride followed by a hard 20 mile run the next day.

Why do I have long term goals? This one is super tough. I’m sorry to say that I don’t right now. The past 3 years after running my first and only 100 miler I have only tried to be consistent – consistently balancing 20-30 miles / week + family obligations. I’ve tried to be overall mountain strong by lifting weights in addition to cycling about 40 miles per week. I feel as if I’ve been in maintenance mode. I climbed a bit more, Mt. Rainier in July 2018 and a few days ice climbing in Ouray in February 2019. I completed (partially) my goal of riding my bike from Portland to Mt Hood, then climbing and skiing it. This one may warrant a do over, but it was my second attempt and I got much further than the first attempt (I climbed and skied from Illumination Rock). Overall, the future plan is the problem I’m working on. I’d like to race a 100 miler (now that I know I can go the distance). And I’d like to do some multi-day linkups in the PNW. I also have climbing goals for the coming season for which a strong aerobic base and strength training will help. There’s one goal I can think of that’s been rattling around my brain for a while. I want to run the Zane Gray 100K in Arizona.

The book is great. First part is all about getting into the right mindset to have a long running career. It’s good. I just set a calendar reminder to register for Zane Gray 😉