Thursday, November 25, 2010


I know its been several months since I've written anything here. Life has actually changed quite a bit, and I plan to get to that with a later post. But for now I wanted to share the experience I had of completing my first Ironman race. I don't think I've ever written a race report (a somewhat common practice for endurance athletes), but this event was so huge and the circumstances surrounding it so substantial that it would be a shame to never record any of it. So here we go.


As I mentioned in an earlier post in March, I had registered for Ironman Arizona. The race was to take place on November 21st, 2010. For a variety of reasons that I will get into in a later post, unfortunately I was severely undertrained for this event. I'd even go so far as to say that I was out of shape by the time race week rolled around. But I had already committed myself to this race and there was no way I was going to back out of it. I joked around with my friends that an Ironman itself wasn't challenging enough for me so I had to do one off of practically no training. But the truth was I felt very anxious about it as I had no idea how my body was going to react to something as grueling as an Ironman triathlon when I had grew to be so lethargic.

My friend Mike and I drove from Austin to my mother's home in Gilbert Arizona on Wednesday the 17th. At that time I think it had been three weeks since I had ridden my bike, four weeks since I swam (other than once the week before), and I had only been getting in around one short run a week. Thursday morning we went for a 45 minute run and I surprisingly felt pretty good on it, which gave me a little more confidence that I would survive the coming ordeal on Sunday. Thursday afternoon we went to pickup our race packets and stopped by some local tri shops to pick up on some final items that we needed for the race (mostly nutrition). Late Friday afternoon we drove down and parked near the race site, then went for about an hour ride on the bike course. The ride felt awesome. It was flat and fast and despite not being on my bike for so long, I felt great on that ride. After the ride we got body marked at the race site and then took our bikes back to the car.

We were parked in an open lot behind some condos near Mill Avenue and the Arizona State University campus. We had a race dinner nearby to attend and Mike was really concerned about leaving our bikes there as they might get stolen, even though they would be locked to the bike rack. I wasn't concerned about that at all, but agreed that we should drive around and find a safer spot to park in. We ended up parking at a metered spot along Mill Avenue, a really busy and lively street in Tempe. We both felt the bikes would be safer there because there would be so many people around. Mike still felt worried though, and decided to take the race wheels off his bike and stick them in the trunk, since the race wheels were not locked when they were on the bike (even though the bikes were locked to the car). I didn't have race wheels on my bike so we just left my wheels on.

Now at the end of September I had bought a new bike, a Cervelo P3, specifically for this race. I had fallen in love with that bike from the first day I rode it and fell in love with it all over again each time I went for another ride. That morning I had washed it, lubed it, and done all the final checks it needed to be ready on race day. It was also a rather expensive bike, $3,500 to be exact. Anyway, we headed out for the dinner (the food sucked IMO) and headed back to the car a couple hours later. As we got closer I started feeling really anxious for some reason and wanted to make sure that both of our bikes were okay. And when the car was finally right in front of us, I could not believe what I saw. The bike lock had been cut at the cable and my bike was gone without a trace. The bike and components that I spent nearly $4,000 on, had only owned for 7 weeks, and 36 hours before the start of my first Ironman had been stolen. Fortunately Mike's bike was still on the rack, even though it was clean for the taking as well. Of course we called the police, filed a report, and I talked to people around the area that I could. Obviously I was upset about my awesome bike being stolen, but of more pressing concern on my mind was finding an alternative bike for the race on Sunday.

Saturday morning came and the plan was to get in a quick swim and then go around the race site talking to people and trying to find a bike I could borrow for the race. I also had to get replacement stickers for whatever bike I took, since I had already put the race stickers on my bike before it was stolen. I ended up not getting in that swim because I forgot to bring my timing chip, but honestly I did not care too much (the water was freezing and I was not looking forward to getting in there anyway). Instead I started talking with officials, shop owners, and athletes in the area to see what my options were. I found three people that were willing to loan me their bikes, and I ended up borrowing a Quintana Roo Caliente from an Austin area triathlete who was in town for the race but not doing the race. As soon as I grabbed that from him, I took it over to someone I had met at the Ironman bike shop tent and he helped me change out the pedals, tune it up, and adjust the bike to fit me properly. After that was done I checked it in along with my transition bags and left the site. I didn't bother with taking it out for a test ride because I saw no point to it. Regardless of how good or bad it was, I was going to ride that bike 112 miles the next day and that's all there was to it. As soon as I got that taken care of, I headed straight home, did some final race prep work, and took it easy the rest of the day. It was the most hectic pre-race day I've ever had, but I was happy to know that I had taken care of everything I needed to for the morning.

That night just before I was going to bed, I got a call from the Tempe Police Department. They informed me that they had arrested the thief who stole my bike. He was caught in the act of stealing another one and had confessed to stealing mine the previous evening. He turned out to be a crack addict with prior theft convictions. Unfortunately he had already sold my bike for $100 (which almost insults me to see my $3,500 bike traded for so little). So the police were still trying to locate the whereabouts of my bike. So that was some great news to receive the night before my big race.

It was difficult to set a goal for this race since I wouldn't exactly be "racing" it but rather just "completing" it given how poor my training was and what condition my body was in. My primary goal was just to finish the race under the 17 hour cut off no matter what, and then I was thinking I could finish anywhere between the 12 hour and 14 hour mark. Going into the race my strategy (if you can call it that) was to just take it slow and easy. If I tried to race the way I normally do, I could exhaust my body prematurely and I might not make it to the finish at all.


Nothing spectacular or crazy happened on race morning. Everything pretty much went according to plan, although I was a bit late getting into the water. The water temperature that day was somewhere between 58-61 degrees Fahrenheit, so I wasn't exactly excited to jump in and tread water for 10-15 minutes while waiting for the start. But I did make a big mistake when I did jump in. It was still really dark out (even darker with my tinted goggles on) and I didn't jump far enough away from the dock. I ended up cutting my foot on the side of the concrete wall. I didn't have time to worry about that though, and the water was cold enough that the pain quickly numbed anyway. Despite being toward the back when I jumped in, I actually managed to get a pretty good spot near the front on the outside. That's where I usually try to position myself for triathlon races as I really hate coming in contact with other people in the water and fighting for position. I knew that the swim start was going to be really rough though, since there were nearly 2,500 athletes in the water all around me.

Before I knew it the cannon fired and we were off. Within about 15 seconds I started having a minor panic attack. There were people all around me, flailing their arms and legs. I took hits from every direction and couldn't do anything about it. In particular there was a really heavy guy on my right side that had to be at least 200 pounds and his big arms kept coming down and hitting me on the head or pushing me on the back. I was literally sinking from the force this guy was putting on me. But I just tried my best to stay calm, keep breathing, and keep moving forward however I could. After about 10-15 minutes, the field had cleared and I was finally able to swim on water instead of on bodies. Once I established my rhythm, the swim was a breeze. I felt like it went by really fast, and I actually did not feel cold in the water at all. Even when I first jumped into the water I wasn't that cold. There were some times where traffic would get congested, especially around the turns on the course. I just did my best to stay out of the way of the other swimmers so I could focus on just myself and not concern myself with them. Swimming on the outside added a little distance for me and I wasn't really able to draft off of anyone, but I didn't care. After surviving that first 10-15 minutes of hell I didn't want to have anything to do with anyone else in the water.

I made it through the swim with relative ease though. I thought my arms would be very sore after that since I hadn't been swimming that much, but they barely bothered me at all. I had projected that it would probably take me an hour and thirty minutes to finish the swim, and my estimate was pretty close to my actual finish time of 1:31:44 (2:25/100m pace). My normal swim pace for a good race is usually around 1:40/100m, which would have me finishing around 1:05:00.

Here's a video of the swim start that morning that I found on youtube. I know I'm somewhere in that video close to the camera and somewhere near the front. That's the mess of bodies I had to deal with in the swim that caused me to have a minor freak out.

Ironman Arizona 2010 Swim Start


T1 was actually one of the scariest parts of the race for me. As I got my wetsuit stripped off and started running through transition, my body was so cold that I couldn't feel a single thing. I ran through there as fast as I could to try and warm up. When I got into the changing tent, I quickly dried off with a towel and put on all my bike clothes. But I was still freezing to death. I was shaking so hard I was having trouble doing anything. I tried to fuel up but didn't really have the stomach for it at that point. One of the volunteers saw my condition and put a foil blanket around me and started rubbing my bike trying to warm me up. It had only a minor effect. I spent a long time in T1 just trying to warm my body up enough so I could feel comfortable enough to get on the bike without shaking so hard that I would fall over.

I looked down at my foot with my cycling sock on and noticed there was blood staining it. I took my sock off and remembered that I cut my foot as I jumped into the water. I had been so cold and numb that I completely forgot about it. This was my first time looking at the wound. It wasn't horrible, but it wasn't anything minor either. I could tell that it was going to be trouble on the run, but though that it should be okay for the bike. I got it treated by the medic in T1 because the sooner I had it taken care of, the better I'd be off for the run and there was no reason to really rush through and ignore it. I was still shaking when I left T1, but I was getting impatient with waiting for my body to stop and I had already spent a long period of time there. (I wasn't really trying for time anyway).

One thing that sort of depressed me when I left T1 was that there were so few bikes left in the transition by the time I hopped on. I had never in my life gotten to T1 and seen so few bikes still racked. But I tried not to let it get me down and just told myself to stick to the plan: slow and easy. I estimated in the race that I spent about 20 minutes in transition and once again, my accuracy was right on. T1 time: 20:11.


Now on to the real challenge. A 112 mile bike on legs that have hardly ridden a bike at all in a month, and that were experiencing a brand new bike for the first time. The bike course was three loops and I decided to just take the first way out as easy as I could to try and allow my body some time to adjust to it. Fortunately I didn't feel cold on the bike and soon my body stopped shaking entirely. I had bought bottled water with sport tops for this race as I don't like to use my normal bottles and be forced to ditch them on the course. Unfortunately the bottle cages on the bike were a little too big, and around mile 3 one of my bottles filled with Pure Sport was launched from my rear bottle mounts. It wasn't a huge loss though as I knew I'd be able to pick up other bottles at the aid stations on the course.

Going out on the first loop was tougher than I thought it would be. It was a lot more difficult than the ride we had done on the course just two days before. The wind was not friendly to any aspiring Ironmen that day and it was extremely rough after the turn around, when we were forced to fight back either a strong headwind or deal with a strong crosswind. I believe the winds were between 15-20MPH that day. That made the bike portion of the race a lot tougher than it would have been on a calmer day. There were also scattered rainstorms that hit the course. They weren't too bad (I've definitely ridden in worse rain), but they were a bit of an annoyance to deal with.

The first 25 miles of the bike were really tough on my body. I was having issues with the bike I had borrowed. My back, arms, and groin were all aching extremely bad for the first quarter or so of the bike. I also felt the need to urinate after making the first turnaround to head back to the transition area. I had promised the owner of the bike that I had borrowed that I would not pee on his bike (as many Ironman athletes do). And even if I was riding my own bike, I wasn't planning to do that simply because I didn't feel comfortable doing so. Around mile 28 I stopped at a porta potty. This was actually a poor stopping point I chose as there was a long line and only a single stall. So I had to stand in line for several minutes waiting to use the facility. I fueled up while I was waiting to make the best use of the time I had. After about 5 minutes of waiting I finally got in, did my business, and was back on the road.

And here's where the second "hitch" of my race started. I had only planned that I would need to use the bathroom once, maybe twice for the entire bike section of the course. But by the time I had finished, I had used the bathroom five times. And each time was usually accompanied with a wait of a few minutes to get in and some extra time to grab nutrition products and refuel. I don't know why I had to pee so much that day, but I did. At least I knew I was keeping myself hydrated. I wasn't comfortable using the rear bottle cages on that bike (I hadn't even practiced that much with the rear cages on my own bike), so I pretty much did bottle change outs whenever I was stopped waiting for a restroom. The stops also helped my body to take a break from all the aching that was going on from riding on an unfamiliar bike, although the aching actually got better from that painful first 25 miles.

By the time I was on my third and final loop of the course it was getting a little lonely out there. Most of the other cyclists had already finished while I was still behind. The combination of a slow swim + a long T1 + numerous bathroom stops were really setting me back, but I just kept telling myself that this isn't a race (at least not for me) and the goal was to just finish in one piece. The final loop of the bike hurt the most as my legs were feeling pretty fatigued now, especially from fighting against the wind. I was relieved to roll back into the transition area and finally get back into some familiar gear (my running shoes). I had projected that the bike would take me something like 6 hours, but I spent so much time in bathroom lines I estimated I lost between 45-60 minutes there alone. My bike time turned out to be a humbling 7:05:12, or a 15.8 MPH pace. Ouch. I usually ride between 20-22.5 MPH in a typical triathlon, and that's on my old road bike. I didn't have a bike computer or even a watch though so I had no idea how long I was out on the course for.


As soon as I got into T2 the first thing I did was go to the restroom (again). I used this time to fuel up and give my legs a short break. I felt like my nutrition was actually serving me very well because I didn't feel very tired at all. But in both of the half Ironman races I've done my legs cramped up really bad when I got out onto the run and I was afraid of the same thing happening here. My legs were feeling fatigued so I had no idea what was going to happen when I stepped out onto that course. After getting some food into me I sucked it up and headed out of there. T2 time: 18:52.


I couldn't believe those first few steps I took. I felt absolutely fantastic heading out onto the run. I estimated I was doing somewhere between a 7:00 and 7:30 run pace. I didn't have a watch though so I had no idea (the battery for my running watch died just a couple days prior to the race and I didn't bother getting it fixed). But by the time I had finished the first two miles I felt a strong need to poop, so I stopped at the next aid station to use the restroom. Only...I couldn't poop. I tried really hard because I felt like I had to but nothing would come out. I gave up after a couple minutes and continued running. A couple miles later I stopped again...and failed again. Around mile 5 I caught up with someone I had briefly met on the bike course who was from Austin. He was walking and I was in no hurry (still 21+ miles to go...) so I decided to walk with him and talk for a while. We walked for quite a ways and had a nice chat and talked about both of our situations in the race. He actually advised that I continue trying to poop and I took his advice for the next 8 miles or so. Finally though I just gave up and kept running. I did experience occasional stomach pains during the run which sometimes forced me to stop and walk it off, but they weren't too bad nor too frequent. Being constipated in a marathon run sure is no fun though.

I did walk certain parts of the race, most notably I'd walk through most of the aid stations and walk up any major uphills (I was afraid of my quads giving out on me since they were already exhausted from the bike). But I ran most of the course and I ran it well. I was probably averaging around a 7:00-7:15 pace when I was running I'd say. On the third and final loop of the run again the course became deserted as most people were finishing. It got a little chilly, but I didn't feel cold and didn't have to put on extra clothing or anything (which was good, because I didn't put anything like that in my special needs bag). The final loop was the hardest as even though my body was still properly fueled, my muscles were fatigued from the day (not to mention the whole "not training" thing I did in the months before the race). I started having to walk more frequently for the final 10K, but I saved enough so that I could pretty much run the entire last mile and sprint in to the finish. Originally I was hoping to complete the run in around 4 hours, but all of the bathroom stops and walking added quite a bit of time onto that. My run time was 5:12:50 with an average pace of 11:57/mi. Again: ouch. The marathon I ran back in February was a 3:17, so to go almost two hours slower than that hurt my pride a bit.


I sprinted through the finish and was absolutely elated to be done. Mike found me right as I finished and I got some pizza and sat down to eat. My mom had already taken care of collecting all my transition bags and returning my borrowed bike, which I was very thankful for because I really didn't want to worry about that. She really did a great job of supporting me that day and in the days prior to the race, even if she annoyed me with her pestering from time to time. It was nice to have someone there supporting like that, which is something I've never had in any race I've done before. After sitting for 15 minutes my legs stopped working and I had great difficulty walking. My mom helped me to the car and drove me back home.

When I got home I took off my running shoes and once again my sock was stained with blood (I had changed socks in T2). The wound on my foot had gotten much worse from when I last looked at it. The cuts weren't deep, but they were very broad and stretched from the middle of my big toe down past the knuckle. It honestly didn't hurt at all during the run (I didn't even notice it), and looking at it now I had no idea how it did not bother me or cause me severe pain. Below is a picture of what it looked like the next morning. Its a little difficult to see because its blurry, but that gives you an idea of what its like. I traveled 140.6 miles on that foot and I have no idea how I did it with no complaints.

I thought that I was going to sleep like a rock that night, but somehow after only being asleep for 3-4 hours I woke up and my body was on fire. I felt like I had a fever and my entire body was burning up, even after I threw off all of my blankets. I was actually scared because I didn't know what was happening to me, but after about half an hour it calmed down and I was able to get back to sleep. I think it was just my body freaking out because it didn't know how to absorb all that shock from that long day.

The next day I woke up so sore I could barely move a muscle. Which is probably how it should be. I started loosing up over the duration of the day and by the afternoon of the next day I was pretty much back to normal. But my foot wound still bothers me a lot. It causes discomfort and pain, especially when I try to move my foot in any way. Its almost like all the pain I should have felt during the race is now coming back to haunt me. But it will heal in time, as all injuries do.

I had been dreading this race for such a long period of time as I realized just how out of shape I was letting myself get. But I have no regrets about starting and finishing that day. The most important thing is I learned a lot from that race and this experience is going to be invaluable for me for the next Ironman race I do. And I'll use this sobering experience to train properly for the next race. :) My total finish time was 14:28:48, which I guess isn't too bad for someone who was not in shape and who had to face all the unexpected challenges that I encountered for that day. Without a doubt I know that I can do much much better than that, and it will be up to me to prove that next time.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

What's Wrong With Engineering Interviews -- Part I

This past week has been a crazy one. I don't know how it happened or why it happened, but starting Monday morning I had a good number of recruiters calling me, e-mailing me, and asking if I would be considered in about a dozen different jobs. And ironically enough, all of these jobs sounded like something I would be interested in doing because they were mostly Linux related. I had been searching (though not that hard) for Linux software engineering jobs for months and couldn't find anything promising so I found it odd that suddenly all these Linux jobs were falling in my lap.

I'm happy to report that I did get an offer from one of these positions, which I accepted. Its a short-term contract that will only last a few weeks but the contracting agency I'm employed by should be able to keep me busy with more opportunities after that. I think giving contracting work is a good opportunity for me because I'm still unsure of what I would like to do for my career and being exposed to a variety of different companies, responsibilities, and technologies should help me to get closer to finding an answer to that. And perhaps best of all, I'll be able to gain a wide array of experience much more rapidly than if I were to sit stagnant in the same corporate job for several years. So I think this is ultimately the right choice for me, for now.

One immediate drawback though deals with health insurance. I've been without health insurance for almost a year now, since I left my previous job. So I was looking forward to having it again, but then I learned that the provider for my contracting agency is Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS). I was "insured" by these bastards under my father's plan when I was in graduate school. When I fell ill and experienced all those psychological and physical problems I spoke about so many years ago, they denied me coverage again, and again, and again. Always coming up with a new bullshit excuse for why they shouldn't have to cover me (such as "you're not a full time student", even though I submitted proof that I was). So when I needed health care the most, they tossed me aside. Now I've looked at their plans and the minimum deductible is $1,500, which I doubt I would spend through in a normal year. So what's the point in getting health insurance? Yes, I realize that the purpose of having health insurance is "in case something happens". But guess what? Something happened to me when I was under BCBS in the past and I ended up having to pay everything out of pocket anyway. Being insured under BCBS is not going to give me much in terms of comfort or security, and I am sickened at the idea of giving that evil corporation a single dime of my money. So I'm undecided as to whether I'm going to enroll in their health benefits program. I might try to seek out better insurance on my own (if it exists), although I know that's probably a lot more expensive to purchase individually than through your employer (and in my opinion, that is wrong).

All of that talk aside, what I really wanted to discuss in this post is what I perceive to be the problems concerning the way that engineering interviews are conducted. As you can imagine, I had a lot of interviews this past week (both on the phone and in person). I did well in all of them so I'm not bitter or anything, but I found some of the questions I was asked to be inappropriate. For those of you who are not engineers, engineers (at least in my discipline) are subject to a little something called technical questions. The primary purpose of technical questions is to figure out if the interviewee is actually competent in the material that their background education and experience highlights. There are many different types of technical questions as well. Some may cover your knowledge of basic/core concepts while others test your analytical problem solving abilities. I'm going to use an analogy to give you an idea of what this is like. Lets say a banker is interviewing for a job at a local branch. After the common Q&A between the interviewer and interviewee over the contents of the resume and past experience, the interviewer then proceeds to ask the interviewee the following technical questions.

1) What is a deposit?

2) Explain to me the concept of currency.

3) What are the trade-offs between a barter system and a monetary system and which do you prefer?

4) Give me a specific historical example of hyper inflation, including dates, the inflation rate, the cause of the inflation, and the response(s) of the bank(s) involved.

5) A customer comes in wishing to open a new savings account with a $500 deposit. The customer continues to make a $25 deposit each month and withdraws $100 every year after the account has been opened. The account accrues monthly interest at a rate of 0.25% when the value of the account is less than $1,000 and the interest rate increases by 0.01% for every additional $1,000 that the account is valued at. What is the total value of the account after 64 months? (You may not use a calculator or computer to solve this problem)

6) You are blind and need five pairs of matching colored socks for a trip. Your sock drawer has a total of one hundred socks of five different sets of colors. Each colored set has at least five pairs of socks. What is the minimum number of socks you need to take from that drawer to ensure that you have at least five pairs of matching colored socks?

Sounds like a fun interview, doesn't it? I tried to come up with a good sample of the types of technical questions I and other software engineers are typically asked in an interview. Let me give you a brief explanation of the above questions.

1) Defining a Basic/Core Concepts
This is such a basic question its almost insulting. You (presumably) have at least a bachelor's degree in your field from a respected university and years of experience on your resume. Yet they insist on asking a question that you learned your freshman year of college. Its ridiculous, isn't it?

2) Explaining a Basic/Core Concept
This is another easy question, but its a little awkward. You know what a currency is, but perhaps you're having a difficult time coming up with a proper explanation for it because its something so fundamental in society that you've never had to explain it to anyone before (except maybe a young child). So you may fumble around with words and try to explain it as best you can.

3) Historical Irrelevancy
An odd question. They want you to analyze something that is only of historical relevance to your position (banking) but is pretty much guaranteed to not be applicable in any way to the work that you'll be doing.

4) Demonstration of Esoteric Knowledge
Now we get into the bizarre realm. They are asking you for a specific example of a situation that you may come across in your job, but are unlikely to. You may have studied something like this years and years ago when you were still a college student, but you've likely forgotten about it by now since its not knowledge that you applied on a regular basis.

5) Practical Problems in Impractical Situations
Now you're asked to do a task that seems a lot more applicable to your job, but they strip away any and all tools that you'd always use to do that job. What does this prove? That you can still do your job during a power outage?

6) Puzzles
The example question I asked above I have actually been asked in an interview. In fact, it was asked of me in my very first engineering interview and caught me completely by surprise since I hadn't yet been enlightened to the joys of technical questions in an engineering interview. These types of questions are completely irrelevant to the job you are interviewing for and only serve to test your general problem solving skills.

This post is already long and I'm just getting started, so I'll finish here for today and continue with a part II post another time. I'll be going over some of the recent questions I've had, the formats in which I was asked those questions, and analyze what questions I felt were useful (for the interviewer) and what questions I felt served absolutely no purpose other than to irritate me enough to blog about it.

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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Five Months Later...Life is Great

Its been a long time since my last post. I didn't forget about my blog or anything. I just never updated it due to being either too lazy or too busy. But let's spend this time recapping what's happened in life since that time. Here we go.

October 2009 ended with completing my second Half Ironman and concluding my second triathlon season. That race went well despite suffering numerous problems from start to finish, like getting kicked in the face and having my goggles knocked off within the first 5 minutes of the swim. I was happy with the result though and I enjoyed the race more than I did last year. Before the end of tri season I was already working on my next goal, completing the Austin Distance Challenge, which is a series of seven races from a 10K up to a full marathon throughout the fall and winter months. Before my half ironman race I already completed the first two races in the series at a distance of 12K and 10K. The 10K race I ran I set a personal record by over two minutes, which I was really excited about.

In November I ran my first half marathon in San Antonio. Well, technically it might have been my third half marathon, since there's a half marathon run in the final leg of a half ironman. But this was my first time running a half marathon race that didn't have anything other than running to it. It was also my first time staying overnight in a hotel for a race away from home, something I think I'll be doing more often in the future. I will have to say though that I had to learn the hard way how to race these longer distances. In San Antonio I started out at a blistering (but comfortable) pace that put me at sub 20 minutes for the first 5K and sub 41 minutes for the first 10K. I totally ran out of steam in the last mile of that race and I was hurting bad, but I still finished in 1:30:48, which I was pretty pleased with. What was amazing about that race was the sheer number of people in it. I finished in 150th place overall of over 30,000 runners. That's right: thirty thousand runners. And that doesn't even count the few extra thousand runners who did the full marathon that day.

The week before Thanksgiving I visited my mother who lives in Gilbert Arizona, part of the Phoenix metropolitan area. In addition to visiting family that week, I had one other very special purpose behind this trip: Ironman Arizona. I've had my eye on this race for over a year. In fact I intended to register last year, but at that time I didn't realize that Ironman races sell out within hours or minutes after online registration opens. I learned that volunteers get priority registration at Ironman events, and since Ironman Arizona was less than a week before Thanksgiving it just worked out perfectly for me. So I volunteered there both at packet pickup and at one of the run aid stations. I also got the opportunity to study the course, the race, and get some training time in. I have to say that Tempe Town Lake was the coldest water I think I have ever swam in and I am not looking too forward to jumping in there again. But it was a great race to watch and the atmosphere was unlike anything I've ever felt before. It just felt so epic, with so many people pouring in so much time into this single day in their lives. There were motivational signs, chalk writings, and crowds everywhere. And yes, I am now officially registered for my first Ironman race to occur in November 2010. I've got a few months left to get in the best shape of my life!

Since the only racing I was doing after October for the next few months was running, that's pretty much all I did. It was nice to take a break from the continual struggle between wondering whether I should swim, bike, or run on a given training day, but I quickly grew anxious for the next season and wanted to do another triathlon right away. December marked the furthest I've ever ran in my life, getting in a 20 mile and then a 22 mile run. My training was going great until that 22 miler, when somehow my right achilles heel just exploded on me. I took an ice bath after that long run (my first one since high school 10 years ago) and did everything I could but it wasn't enough. The pain was so bad that I was broken and unable to run. Well, I could have ran but I didn't want to develop severe injuries over the winter and then start the next tri season with a beaten-up body. So I took a couple days off, that turned into a few days, that turned into two weeks. Two weeks with almost no exercise. I could have done some cross-training, but I was just lazy.

I sunk into a depression at the end of December and throughout the first part of January for a few reasons. First, I missed triathlon training that much that it affected me emotionally. Second, I couldn't run due to this annoying injury that just appeared out of nowhere with no warning whatsoever. And third, I felt like I didn't have any direction or purpose to my life at the time. I was still unemployed and hadn't found the type of job I want, I wasn't in school or doing anything productive other than keeping my body in shape, and I just fell into a rut. I started playing video games a lot, which is something I have a habit of doing when I get depressed or don't have a social life (sadly I admit that I don't have much of one). Its a self-replicated cycle, because playing games too much makes me depressed, which only makes me play games more to forget about being depressed. Pathetic, I know. During this time of 3-4 weeks I experienced many feelings and symptoms that I had during my fight with my anxiety disorder as a graduate student, which made me recall details about that experience and the hell I went through then. Fortunately, I later managed to get my head back on my shoulders and I feel great about myself now. But that's jumping too far ahead. Lets go back to the end of 2009.

At the end of December I interviewed for a software engineering job at UT Austin. This was the first job I was really interested in since I left my last job in April 2009. The interview lasted a full 8 hour day and I met with perhaps 10 different people on the project, from engineers to astronomers to managers. It was a little different than what I was used to, but not so different that it was unfamiliar. The interview went great (I thought) but I fumbled at the end. They decided to save all of the technical questions for the end of the day, when my mind was feeling a bit weary from the last 6 hours. I hate technical questions, really. I mean I have an undergraduate and graduate degree from two of the top ranked engineering universities in the entire world and I've been successful at two full time engineering positions in addition to being an active member of the open source community and founding and leading my own project. Why does it matter that I can't tell you off the top of my head what the standard signature is for a pointer to a method of a C++ class? I know the answer: because somehow people seem to sleaze their way through college and work by relying on others instead of being diligent with their own studies and work. I know because I've observed and worked with some of them. But I still find technical questions irritating, especially because they're often the weakest point in my interview. Anyway, the technical questions I was asked weren't too difficult, but I gave poor/incorrect answers to a small number of them because I was so anxious to spit out an answer that I didn't take the time that I should have to really think through the problem. This happens to me sometimes in interviews and I need to work on it. Well a week later I am told that neither myself nor the 4-5 other people that they interviewed were hired. They decided that they wanted to have another round of interviewing candidates but would still consider me, basically not giving me a yes or a no. A couple months later I learned through UT's system that they hired someone (I was told that they'd keep me informed but I guess they forgot). So it was disappointing, but I wasn't exactly holding out hope that they'd reconsider me anyway.

Now on to January. I start my first race of 2010 with a 20 mile race on January 10th. I had barely run or done any exercise for two weeks prior to this race and my achilles injury wasn't completely gone either, so I went into this one not feeling very positive. What I had learned from my training runs is that I can run for a few miles just fine, but my achilles starts acting up after maybe 7-8 miles and it really kills me. So my plan for this race was to go out at a speedy pace and get as far as I could before the pain disabled me. The race happened to be on a freezing cold day too, below 20F, easily making it the coldest race I ever ran. Well I held a 7:00 minute pace for 9 miles, which was as long as I could. And then I fell not due to my foot injury, but to exhaustion. My legs were practically suffering from atrophy due to all my non-exercise (mostly composed of sitting in a chair and playing video games all day) and I really paid the price. I only got slower and had to walk more and more as the miles wore on. The last 5 miles especially were sheer torture for me. Cardiovascularly I felt fine, but my leg muscles were so fatigued they could barely support me. It was a horrible race for me. So bad that it knocked me back from 2nd place to something like 6th place in my age group in the Austin Distance Challenge rankings. That sucked, but I was glad that it was over. Surprisingly, my achilles didn't bother me one iota that race. So the good news was that I was healed. The bad news was that I was out of shape, with a little over a month remaining before my first marathon.

After that race I started coming out of my depression. I got working on Hero of Allacrost again, that open source game project I founded oh so many years ago in June 2004, a few months before I first started writing to this blog. I had repeatedly tried to get myself back into working on it, as I had been lacking motivation/interest for some time, but it just wasn't happening. Then suddenly one day, it did. And since then I have been working on this project like crazy. It feels great, and I've helped our team to accomplish so much in such a short time of a few weeks. About a week and a half ago we made our first release since 2008. It's an unstable beta, but its also the best thing we've ever released in my opinion. I may comment more about this project and my roll in it in another post, but for now I'll leave it at that.

Toward the end of January I had another half marathon race (my third, as I had one in November and December last year). It was two weeks after that awful 20 miler race, but I had renewed energy and my body wasn't making any complaints so I went into it feeling good, though definitely still not 100%. Friday night before the race I did a swim workout and some light weightlifting, then went to the grocery store. And then it happened. I still don't understand what "it" was, but suddenly my right foot started hurting so bad I couldn't even stand on it. I was baffled. I was shopping and I got injured? I thought I must have just temporarily sprained a muscle somehow, but it was still there the next day. I had a friend come in to town that weekend and we did a lot of walking, which was painful. I was not happy with my situation at all. Sunday morning was race day and my foot pain was worse than ever. I couldn't do my usual warm up run because it hurt so much. I even avoided standing on it because it hurt. This particular race had a start delay of almost an hour due to high winds knocking over police barricades and making the course unsafe, so I had to stand there, on one leg, wondering what was going to happen to me. I was prepared for the likely possibility that I might DNF (not finish). Finally the race starts and the first mile is torture. I was wincing in pain with every single step. I took it out really slow and easy. Then at about mile 1.5 my foot started to feel a little better and so I started to go a little faster. And the pain gradually subsided and eventually I was able to run my normal pace. I did have a few instances where the pain suddenly came back strong if I landed on my foot wrong and I was also unable to make sharp right turns, but other than that I was good to go. I had a great race after that. Actually thanks to that injury, I managed to run that race in negative splits (a good running strategy where you run your last half of the race faster than your first). I'm still not sure what that injury was all about, but within another couple of weeks it was gone for good.

Then came February, and on Valentine's Day my first marathon. Due to these wacky injuries I had been having, I was nowhere near the shape I wanted to or should have been in coming into this race. But as in life, things don't always go your way and you have to make the best of what you got. One thing I had learned was that races tended to go my way if I started out slower than my goal pace and then sped up along the way. If I went out too fast in a race, I would die well before the finish and end the race on a bad note. I had run the entire marathon course (not all at once, but in two pieces) during my training so I had a strategy for every section of the race. I have to say my strategy worked well and things were looking good. Unfortunately though I just didn't have the endurance for a full marathon in me and starting with mile 19, I started to falter. But I still had enough left in me to finish those last 7 miles with dignity. My total finish time was 3:17:54, but I wasn't too upset about it. In fact, immediately after crossing that finish line I knew that I wanted to do another. I knew that if I trained properly and diligently and didn't let these injuries put me down, I'd be able to cut off 10 minutes or more. I don't know when my next marathon will be yet though, and I've backed off of running those long distances for now as tri season training has officially begun for me at the conclusion of this marathon.

Its March now. I'm starting to feel pretty anxious about still not having a job. Next month will mark the one year anniversary of resigning from my last position. Money isn't a problem yet, but I find myself wanting to buy things I want/need but having enough sense to know that I should only be spending my money on essentials right now like food, gas, and rent. I'm also so happy and busy working on Allacrost that part of me doesn't want to get a job now, which will greatly reduce the amount of time I have to spend on one of my favorite hobbies. I had an interview earlier today for a job I'm really interested in, but unfortunately even though the interview went well the likelihood of me getting the job is low since I am missing experience with some of the libraries and toolsets that they are using. But we'll see. I might actually work on the project pro bono if I don't get hired. I really do need to get on the ball and be more proactive about job searching and not restricting myself to non-corporate jobs. I don't feel I have the luxury of time anymore to wait around. I do get contacted by recruiters maybe once or twice a week, but usually I'm not interested in what they're selling.

So I guess I'll start to wrap this up. Its 5:30 in the morning and I was unable to sleep last night, hence why I decided to kill time by writing to my neglected blog. I've been on a really weird sleeping schedule and even I don't know when I will fall asleep now. 2010 is going to be a year of many firsts for me. Next month I'm riding in the MS150, a 150 mile bike ride to raise money and awareness for multiple sclerosis research. If you'd like to make a US tax deductible donation to help me raise money for this cause, I'd greatly appreciate any help you can give! I've heard of this cause for some time and finally decided its time to do it. I've already finished my first marathon last month. Before summer begins I plan to complete my first century, which is a 100-mile bike ride (the 150 mile ride for MS150 is split across two days). And then of course in November I'll be competing in my first Ironman. This is going to be a big, successful year for me I can already feel it. And not just with regard to athletics either. Oh, and in case you were wondering yes I still have many things to remark upon and criticize regarding religion. I've actually found a lot more material and continue to study and learn all that I can so you can expect many of those things to show up on here soon. I'll try to write here more frequently than I have in the past few months, but I'm not making any guarantees! Thanks for reading.

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Saturday, October 10, 2009

Short Films on Atheism

I mentioned before that I had collected a series of short films and video clips covering atheism, religion, and science. This post contains the first half of that collection that focus on atheism.

Atheism: Jonathon Miller's Brief History of Disbelief

This hour long BBC documentary examines atheism in a very different way than other films and books that I've studied. It doesn't really try to promote atheism, it simply seeks to explain its causes. I wrote down in my notes that this film takes a very philosophical approach to belief. It also discusses some of the consequences of belief, visiting Ground Zero in New York City. It also addresses the history of religion in America, providing concrete evidence that many of the founding fathers were not religious men at all.

The God Who Wasn't There - The History of the Gospels

This clip is from the documentary film "The God Who Wasn't There", which I watched in full earlier this year. This particular section discusses the history of the gospels, how the story of Jesus fits into the known historical framework, and a comparison of Jesus and Christianity to older heroes and legends in folklore and mythology. I enjoyed the film and would recommend it to others, even though I recall that I had some reservations about it. The contents of this clip I think contain my favorite discussions in the film.

The Root of All Evil? - The God Delusion
Part 1

Part 2

This film features Richard Dawkins discussing the perils of religion. He also analyzes the stark differences between scientific inquiry and dogmatic faith. I personally find it immensely interesting, even though it does have some rather provocative moments. Dawkins visits fundamentalist Christian gatherings in America, speaks to Jews and Muslims in the Middle East, and visits various religious leaders in London. In the second part, the discussion turns to childhood indoctrination and an analysis of the contents of the Christian bible, particularly focusing on morality.

If Atheist Ruled the World

Finally is this humorous and terrifying video. These guys read out aloud text directly from online Christian fundamentalist forums. This stuff is absolutely unbelievable. It really scares me to think that there are people out there in this world with these sorts of warped views and opinions.

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Monday, October 05, 2009

"Might Makes Right" Argument and Personal Experiences

I realized that there were two clips where I appeared on The Atheist Experience that I forgot to share on here. If you recall I shared one clip where I called in back in March. There was a second discussion to that phone call that I neglected to mention, and I also called in a second time a few weeks later to discuss another topic. Those videos are embedded below.

In this video I ask the hosts how Christians can make the claim that their god is always good and always loving when there are so, so many atrocious and vengeful acts in the bible. I think this is really at the core of what really upsets me. How people can say their god is good, and then when I point to some horrible action of their god they don't abandon or question their position, but simply retain this dogmatic mindset and make excuses and special pleading for why it was okay or even correct for their god to do that. The hosts and I have a great discussion on this topic so definitely give this clip a listen.

Here I share a couple of personal experiences I've had that I think a religious person could easily have misinterpreted. Most importantly I demonstrate that the human brain is fallible and often subject to error. Due to an accident I had in the past, I became a lucid dreamer and my dreams can be so real to me that at times I have difficulty distinguishing whether an event happened in real life or happened in a dream.

In the later half of the video I then challenge one of the hosts who said that he thinks personal experience is a good reason to believe in a god. Using my earlier example as support, I disagree with that stance. We have a nice discussion about the subject. It did somewhat upset me at the end of the clip though when the host accused me of being dogmatic and automatically discrediting personal experience. I don't think I am dogmatic about this or anything. If I was, I'd surely change that belief because I hate dogma, as I've expressed here many times before.

Finally, here's a list of all the video clips from the Atheist Experience that I shared on my blog earlier this year (not including the ones where I called in). Remember that when I selected all the videos for this list, my criteria for selection were based on the value it would have for my discussions with my religious friend. They were never intended to convert/de-convert her, but merely to get her to think, to question, and to evaluate her own beliefs. But most importantly, I wanted to have a discussion with her about what was said and analyzed in these videos. Maybe you will be able to make use of this list in the way that I was never able to. I also chose the ordered these clips carefully, saving the more controversial/upsetting clips for last.

God's Plan For Atheists - On emotional attachments to the church and religious beliefs
The Bible As A Moral Guide Book - Morality of humans, immoral acts in the bible

The Bible As A Historical Record - Why is the bible absolutely correct?
Important Message From God To All Atheists - Damnation rant, believing in God, why to worship a hateful God
Religion Makes This World A Better Place - On the good and evil in people projected through religion, homosexuality issues, thinking and believing for yourself
The Problem of Evil - why does god allow evil to exist in the world
The Bible Is Just A Book - Why eye witness accounts of Jesus are nowhere outside the bible?
Sin As A Religious Control Mechanism - Speaks for itself, only first ~4 minutes (view from 6:00-35:00)
A dialog on what motivates people to believe in Christianity, reasons for beliefs, reasons for disbelief, and touches on young Earth creationism.
Jesus' Resurrection & Problems with the Bible
Dogmatic Religious Mindsets - On why it is hard for people to escape religious mindsets and why dogmatic beliefs are wrong because they limit critical thinking (view from 1:14:00-end)
Atheist Experience #503: Responding to Christian apologists - On reasoned arguments, God's immorality, old vs new testament, picking and choosing parts of the bible, focusing on only the positive parts of the bible...very similar to our arguments
Atheist Experience #578: A great conversation with a Christian on why people are more moral than God


Friday, September 25, 2009

Evidence to Convince Me of a God

I've been thinking lately about what it would take to convince me that a God exists. I've spoken with and listened to many believers who have offered all kinds of different evidence that they think are sufficient justification for proof that their god exists. Obviously, the evidence they shared was insufficient for me to believe in their god. I keep an open mind when listening to believers, but it can be difficult at times because I am disappointed again and again by flawed or otherwise invalid arguments. Each and every person has different standards of evidence for believing in the same thing, so there is no single piece of evidence that would convince everyone of any particular thing, especially for something as nebulous as an invisible god character. So I asked myself "What evidence could a believer offer me that I would accept as sufficient for me to believe in their particular god?".

This is actually trickier to answer than it sounds. The simplest answer, and also the answer that would be most likely to convince me, would be that this god reveal himself to me physically. I want to see it, whatever "it" really is. But its unfortunate that believers tell me that their worshiped god doesn't want to provide this kind of evidence to anyone (even though Christians claim that their god once walked on this Earth as Jesus...lucky for the people who lived in those times). There's this odd "faith" aspect. Gods don't want to present you with concrete evidence of their existence, but want to give you just a taste and then you have to "just believe" from there. ***coughBULLSHITcough*** Ahem, excuse me. The answer to the question I am asking myself I formulated upon the following assumptions of whatever the true god (or gods) really are:

  • The true god is omniscient
  • The true god is omnipotent
  • The true god is omnibenevolent
  • The true god does not wish to provide concrete evidence of its existence to anyone, asking us to rely on "faith"

First, allow me to note that if all of these criteria are true, I should already be a believer. This god would know what evidence I require to believe without relying on me making this blog post (omniscient), it would be capable of providing me that evidence (omnipotent), and it should want to provide me that evidence because its such a nice guy/girl/thing (omnibenevolent) and I've asked very kindly and sincerely multiple times before. Yet it has not done so, nor has it done so for billions of other people on the planet, which can only leave me asking "why the wait?". The answer that makes the most sense to me is that no such god exists, or at least if there is one then its either not omniscient, not omnipotent, or/and not omnibenevolent.

Tyler's Divine Evidence Test

Alright, now let me share with you the answer I came up with. First, you will require a human partner to do this. That partner must be a believer and they should make the claim that they've communicated with the divine at least once before. The test involves asking three simple questions. Only if all three questions are answered correctly will it be sufficient for me to believe in their god. The god must use the partner as a means to communicate the answer to you (in other words, you ask the question, the god tells your partner the answer, and the partner says the answer). With me so far? Okay, here are the three questions.

Question 1. I am now thinking of an experience from my childhood. Please tell me what this experience was.
It works best if you recall something uncommon/unobvious to reduce the likelihood that your partner simply guesses correctly. It should be something that you have never shared with anyone, or with only very few people (and certainly not with your partner).

Question 2. Please tell me the answer to the following mathematical constant/equation.
This is one that you will need to have either memorized the answer for or have it written down on a card beforehand. For example, "tell me the value of the golden ratio constant in base 19 up to 10 decimal places". Obviously, your partner should not be allowed time to calculate or research this answer. You should exercise extra caution if your partner happens to be an autistic savant.

Question 3. "....."
Don't ask this one with your mouth. Ask it inside your head. It could be anything at all, but should not be something obvious to guess. If you know a foreign language I would recommend that the answer be in another language, especially if your partner does not know that language. For example, I might ask in my head "How do you say 'black cat' in Japanese?".

There it is! If any believer can answer these three questions for me, I would become a believer in their god. If anyone reading this would like to be my partner for this test, I would love to try it with you. I think its fair game in asking for evidence, but not "concrete" evidence, from the god/gods and I would still have to rely on "faith" to fully believe. Now just to throw this out there, passing this test still does not serve as proof of a god because, after all, if the partner has some psychic mind-reading ability they would be able to pass this test with ease regardless of whether or not a god exists. But I don't believe in psychic powers, and I'm willing to overlook this technicality. I should also note that this should be done with direct questions and direct answers. There is no repeating the question once asked. The partner is not allowed to ask any questions of their own. The non-believer should not feed any "clues" to their partner at all (this is how psychics trick you into thinking that they are speaking with your dead relatives). Once asked, you should keep your mouth shut until the partner answers and then tell them they are either correct or incorrect (or you could ask all three questions and wait to tell them the results at the end).

I will admit that I am skeptical that anyone would pass this test, or even pass a single question, and in fact it wouldn't surprise me if no one is willing to take the challenge with me. Here are some of the apologetic answers I'm anticipating I would/will hear if a believer fails to pass the test as my partner.

  • The evidence that this would provide is too strong and my god won't provide it.

    Too much evidence, not enough faith...darnit!
  • He's telling me the answers, but I'm not hearing god correctly.

    Isn't god supposed to be infallible?
  • He's not telling me the answers, so he must have some reason.

    The ever-annoying "he's mysterious" argument.

Personally I think asking for the answers to three simple questions is a very reasonable request. Ball's in your court, oh mighty creator.

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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Picking and Choosing Your Moral Code

I saved the best for last. These two clips are the final in the list I had made to share with my religious friend, and they also happen to be my favorites.

This is episode #503 of the Atheist Experience. The topic is on responding to apologists. The portion of this episode that I want to focus on is in the last fifteen minutes or so, but feel free to watch the entire episode. Go to the 1:14:00 mark to listen to a great conversation between the hosts and a Christian caller.

The discussion here eventually turns to biblical inerrancy and morality. When the host points out some of the deplorable acts of god and his immoral laws in the old testament, the caller claims that those things no longer apply and that those laws were to "train up" the people of ancient times. The host knocks her argument out of the water by making three important points.

  • In the bible, god says that he us unchanging and therefore if something was morally correct in the past, it should be morally correct today
  • Jesus himself in the new testament says that not a single aspect of the old laws will be changed (Matthew 5:18)
  • The caller believes that the ten commandments are binding today, yet those are written in the old testament

This is a great example of how many believers are guilty of picking and choosing from their religious text. They focus on only the positive parts of their doctrine that make them personally feel good. And they ignore (or choose to remain ignorant) of all of the horrific acts and commands. Here's a nice long list of cruelty and violence found in the Christian bible. It says to kill children, kill those who commit adultery, kill non believers (hey, that's me!), kill homosexuals, cut off the hand of a woman if she touches a man's genitalia, etc. Now why do you think Christians ignore all of those commandments? Probably because they don't want to follow them, because an average human being is much more moral than this psychopathic deity character that so many millions of people worship. It makes no sense to me. But I suppose I would rather have them pick and choose and only focus on the good stuff than try to live out what the bible says word for word. But I still find it really, really annoying when believers pick and choose parts of their doctrine that they like and ignore everything else.

This is another Christian caller and the discussion in these clips focuses on the morality of human beings and god. Moral superiority and inferiority, justification of adequate punishment for misdeeds, biblical portrayal of the nature of god, and thoughts on hell. I don't have much to add here because I think this video needs no commentary. I do share the host's frustration and disappointment with the caller. He seems like a very nice, very decent guy and he just doesn't have the balls to oppose his religious dogma. The last two thirds of the second clip are a passionate rant by the host on the caller's reluctance to be honest with his feelings.

Well, that's it! I finally finished posting all of these clips. I'm going to make another post later that has every single one of these clips embedded to make it easy to reference. I also have a lot of other videos I found related to these discussions that I'll share in another large post. But I'm not going to analyze and discuss each of them like I have done so here. Most of them are long documentaries, but they really taught me a lot and gave me some interesting perspectives on the matter. Thanks for sharing in all this material with me and I hope that you thought about the topics and gained something out of it!

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