500 Festival Mini Marathon 2010

What a windy morning! I’m glad that we did not allow ourselves to look out the window when we woke up. If we had, seeing the trees bending over in the crazy gusty winds would have sent us straight back to bed. For that matter, we were lucky to wake up on time, after a three hour power outage during the night. (Pop quiz: how do you figure out what phone number to call to report a power outage if the internet is out too? Oh yeah, the phone book. So, if I program the power company’s number into my phone, can we finally get rid of the last phone book?)

The temperature was fine, just windy.

Since the 5k started before the half this year, there was some shuffling around of corrals before the half. This was not a big deal, however, the corrals close to the front filled up more slowly than usual. As runners trickled in, there was less open space, and huddling more effectively blocked the wind. Presumably because of the wind, the huge flag that was usually over the course just after the start suspended from two ladder trucks was not there. That was too bad, because I love running under it. Also due to the wind, there was no archway over the finish, so the finish line was unadorned — a bummer. We heard later that it had been set up the night before, but blew over at 2:00 AM.

Not surprisingly, the Speedway was a major swirling wind tunnel, but after that, the wind was to our backs. It’s nice to finish with a tail wind, but the tail wind certainly did not compensate for the head wind during the first half!

The t‑shirts this year were upgraded to technical fabric, nice! The Geist Half last year also had an upgraded shirt. However, the Geist Half shirt I got was some sort of reject with really weird proportions. It was wider than it was tall, and one arm was shorter than the other. The Mini shirt was made right, and is usable. Bonus! I think the tradeoff for the nicer shirt was that the medals were not “interactive.” There were no moving race car bits like in years past.

I really appreciate that Rose-Hulman had a tent set up in Military Park to block the wind as I waited for Emily and Sarah to return. It was neat to watch her cross the finish line in her first half marathon, and to see that she was smiling and talking about the next one. Will she catch the bug? I hope so.

Whose turn is it?

We’ve been working for a long time to teach our son how conversation works: we take turns talking and listening.

Similarly, the activities of said 4‑year-old are represented thus:

GPS and altitude readings

Runners and cyclists can take advantage of some neat GPS technology. It is now possible to create routes, replay training runs, make maps, and compare workouts. Software tools for activity tracking are getting better, and costs are coming down to the point where some good options are even free.

While GPS enables accurate position and speed measurements, elevation measurements are on the weak side because there is a relatively large amount of “noise” in the readings. Even small changes in elevation can be significant to runners and cyclists, especially if running over rolling hills. These smaller fluctuations can be at the limit of the GPS’s ability to accurately measure, and sometimes the smoothing algorithms obliterate all that extra work you did running up and down all those hills. So, more accurate elevation information could give a clearer picture about the effort required.

Some of the tools for working with GPS data from outdoor activities can apply corrections to altitude data. The corrected data usually comes from the National Elevation Dataset, much of which came from the Shuttle Radar Topology Mission.

Out of curiosity, I compared elevation data from my GPS with elevation data from NED on three recent runs in different areas: a 6 mile run in Fishers, the USAF Marathon in Dayton, and the IU Mini in Bloomington. For the most part, they agreed to within a few feet, and the differences fit tidily into a normal distribution.

Fishers morning run mean difference: +1′ between GPS and corrected elevations; standard deviation: 12′

USAF Marathon mean difference: +18′; standard deviation: 14′

IU Mini mean difference: +2′; standard deviation: 19′

To loosely summarize those graphs, my GPS tends to read around 7′ higher than the USGS altitude data. 95% of the time, they agree to within ±15′.

The US Geological Survey claims that the NED data is accurate to within ±7–15 meters (23–49′). That’s about the same accuracy claimed by the GPS, so this is all probably a wash. It looks like it is not practical to get any better data for small elevation changes without adding a barometric pressure sensor to the GPS. Higher-end cycling GPS units have these, but I am not aware of any running GPS units with barometric altitude sensors.

Uphill and into the wind

Sunday, we took a 3‑hour bike trip up and down the Cardinal Greenway in Muncie. We made a round trip starting at the Depot trailhead in downtown, riding 17 miles to the Losantville trailhead for a picnic at the southern end, and returning.

Emily and I took turns towing David’s trailer. He keeps getting harder to pull. He’s up to 43 pounds, and the trailer adds 23 more. Neither of us could be sure, but it sure seemed to us that both segments of the trip were uphill. To settle my curiosity, I plotted the elevation profile of the trip, and sure enough, Emily’s half was the uphill portion, and I got the downhill. That may or may not have been lucky, since the return half was into the wind.

The net altitude gain on the first half was only 183 feet, but the entire round trip included 791 feet of climbing. “Real” cyclists will scoff, but hey, we’re from Indiana, so it’s not like we see hills very often.

David was a champ as usual, but I think he started to get a little bored toward the end. When we returned to the trailhead, David got to ride his Speed Racer bicycle for a while as I repacked the car and hitched up our bikes on the bike rack. I wish it would have been practical to let him ride more on his own. His time will come, and soon enough, we won’t be able to keep up!

Catherine Mohr Builds Green

In her TED talk, Catherine Mohr Builds Green, Mohr articulates a suspicion I often have when trying to figure out the “right” thing to do by our planet: that there are an awful lot of people “long on moral authority and short on data trying to tell us what to do.”

While these tips may be well-intentioned, you really have to figure out for yourself what really makes a difference. Often they are trying to get you to buy a new product? Are you missing the elephant in the room? Mohr has an anecdote comparing several different ways for wiping up a spill: using a paper towel, sponge, cotton towel. Her illustration shows a funny obsessiveness with finding out the truth that I can identify with. Some of these truths can be trivial, but there’s still something interesting in the process of discovery.

Then she takes the obsessiveness to the ultimate level by making spreadsheets comparing different building methods for her new house. She writes about the process on her website, 301 Monroe. Her spreadsheet takes a little effort to pore through, but she has clearly put a lot of time into researching the relative effects of lots of different materials used in building a house. For comparison, she includes the effects of other activities that we are more familiar with, such as driving and flying.

Still, is “embodied energy” the right measure for making comparisons? Tons of CO₂? Water use? A different measure could lead to a different “right” choice. Everything we do or use involves tradeoffs, and we should take care that the tradeoffs are worth the worry, and that they make sense. Mohr gives real examples of how the answers are not always obvious!

Spring cleaning

Spring is here, and we’re working on cleaning out the stuff that tends to accumulate for no good reason. Fishers folks have the opportunity to take care of a few “someday” items next weekend, related to Earth Day activities. Since we often miss learning about these events until after they happen, we’re spreading the word a little further.

  1. Fishers Town Hall will be accepting unused medications for disposal on Saturday, April 24 from 9:00 AM until noon.
  2. Shred old documents for a $5 per box donation at the Carmel Police Department the same day from 10:00 AM until 1:00 PM. They will also be accepting unused medications, as well.
  3. While we’re getting rid of accumulated stuff, we’re going to dispose of some paint and other things that don’t belong in the regular garbage. The Hamilton County Household Hazardous Waste Center accepts these items on an ongoing basis on Saturdays from 8:00 AM until 1:30 PM, and they have weekday hours as well. Indianapolis residents can take advantage of their own Tox Drop program at various locations and times.
  4. Only peripherally related, since it’s one of those recurring things that tends to get brushed aside: check those smoke detectors! Buy yourself some precious extra moments in an emergency. We’ve seen too many house fires.

A use for Wolfram Alpha

Wolfram Alpha, the infamous answer in search of a question. Today I actually got a useful answer out of Wolfram Alpha! I was working on a project to correct altitude information from my GPS watch, and I needed a sanity check. Looking at exported data from Ascent, I wasn’t sure whether Ascent had exported altitudes in feet or meters. Wolfram Alpha reassured me that I was indeed working with feet. Whoopee-doo!

Unfortunately, for a service that was hyped to revolutionize the way that computers “think,” this seems like a hopeless waste of engineering effort.

IU Mini Marathon 2010

Rainy and hilly. That’s the most succinct statement I can make about Saturday’s IU Mini Marathon.

Save for one nasty hill on Winslow Road on the southern part of the old route, I have found the IU Mini to be an enjoyable race in past years. Affordably priced, appropriately-sized, and well-organized, with a scenic course, it has been a good all-around event. We missed last year’s IU Mini because we were attending the long-anticipated wedding of some good friends of ours, but we returned this year to find some disappointing changes.

I was prepared for a revised course. However, with so many turns, I had no hope of memorizing the route, which was almost exclusively on the campus of Indiana University. The campus is pretty nice, and there is some nice scenery, but the Winslow hill that I did not like had been replaced by seemingly endless ups and downs on twisty campus roads. The entirety of miles 2 and 3 were up one long hill that banked to the right, obscuring the view of the course ahead. I thought several times that surely the summit was approaching, only to disappoint myself. At one point, I spotted a cell tower and thought that would be at the top of the hill, but no, it kept going for another half mile. With the cloudy sky, I became disoriented a number of times, not knowing which direction I was heading. It helps me to have a general idea of where I am, in addition to simply knowing how many miles remain to go. Instead, I just followed the shoes in front of me the whole way and watched the miles tick by slowly on my watch. I was a bit disappointed that the southern, off-campus portion of the course was removed, because it passed a number of nice neighborhoods with friendly people holding their morning coffee mugs, waving at their friends, students, and family. Even on campus, the fraternity and sorority houses were dormant.

Emily and I were both left with the impression that this year’s race was thrown together at the last minute. I did not hear the announcement before the start of the race, because the loudspeakers were not facing the starting corrals, but they warned that due to the Easter weekend, they were short on volunteers, and that some of the water stops might be self-serve. I appreciated the warning, and I can certainly understand that many of the people who would otherwise volunteer would be with family instead. One wonders, then, why they chose to hold the race that weekend. I did not find the shortage of water stop volunteers to be problematic, as I brought my own water bottle, in keeping with my goal of reducing water cup waste. If I remember right, only one water table seemed especially short handed. Fortunately there was adequate course coverage by safety officers.

There were some mixups with registrations and bib numbers at packet pickup, no banners at the start and finish lines, no national anthem sung prior to the start, no medals for 5k finishers, and the goodie bags were empty, save for a white IU Mini t‑shirt. I mention these things not out of indignation, but because they were conspicuously absent this year, where previous years included these niceties. It just seems like there was more of a story behind all this besides a last minute shortage of volunteers.

So, the rain. We had kept an eye on the forecast, and were pretty confident that we would be able to finish before the rain came, and it wouldn’t be a lot of rain, at that. Not so. I do not remember exactly when it started, but probably only 45 minutes had elapsed. It rained progressively harder through the second half of the race. Of course, this was out of everyone’s control, and everyone pressed on. I escaped without any blisters, but one small nick from an adjacent toenail managed to dye my entire left shoe red because the rain helped spread the color. It vividly illustrated how well modern materials disperse moisture away from the skin. Two thorough washings with Simple Green the next day got the new shoes looking new again.

All told, the event was a mixed bag. We enjoyed visiting with friends, being together, and starting our little half marathon season, and we hope that next year’s IU Mini comes together as smoothly as it did for its first three years. Hopefully we will all be healthy enough to enjoy the 500 Festival Training Series 15k on Saturday and a long bike ride on the Cardinal Greenway in Muncie on Sunday. Next month we’ll have the Mini and the Geist Half marathons to look forward to!

View in Google Maps

Security 5k 2010

While at a trade show in Las Vegas this week, I participated in the inaugural Security 5k benefitting Mission 500, a charity founded by members of the security industry with the goal of sponsoring 500 children through the World Vision program. The organizers said they were expecting around 100 participants, however, 249 showed up on race morning. They had to start late in order to accommodate everyone who showed up. I’m glad to see a stronger than expected turnout, despite minimal advertising. However, with nearly 40,000 exhibitors and attendees, one would think that more publicity could yield significantly more than 249 runners. I tried to talk two others from my company into signing up, but they wisely did not show up. The night before was our annual rep and distributor meeting at a Las Vegas brewpub, and let’s just say that running was a bit unpleasant the next morning.

It was a cool, dry, and gusty morning. The wait before the race was quite gusty, though the wind died down a bit while we were running. The route was a “scenic” jaunt down Industrial Road, which is exactly what it sounds like. It was a busy six lane road servicing construction for new hotels and the hotels on the west side of the Strip on one side, and seedy nightclubs on the other. I realize that it is completely impractical to hold a race on the Strip because it is so busy. I did get a chance to run along the Strip early the day before. We also got to experience a freight train go by for a little fun. There were a couple incidents with impatient drivers trying to turn across the route or not paying attention to the traffic cones and mass of runners. The police had their hands full keeping things moving along smoothly, but they managed to do so.

I am not sure whether the race organizer plans to post official results on the web somewhere, but they did send results to participants via email. The editor of Security Systems News also has results in a blog post, but they’re not searchable. What I really would like to have seen would have been results associated with the companies represented. How many ways can my company find to beat the competition? We may not be huge, but we are respected in the industry, we are closing an excellent sales month, and we’re hiring. And we’re faster than all but nine others.

The race sponsors included lots of trinket trash in the post-race goodie bags, which I normally would not have taken, as I do not like throwing that much stuff away, and I was trying to travel light since I did not want to check my luggage after the last flight experience my family had. However, I took a goodie bag anyway this time because I thought it would be fun to take home some extra “what did you bring me” stuff to give to my son. Along the lines of trying not to throw so much stuff away, I also kept to my word and brought my own water with me so I didn’t waste water cups along the race route. It’s not much, given the excesses of the place where I was, but I tried to stay honest. It’s a good thing I brought my own water, too, since I needed a lot to balance the combination of the dry air and the effects of the previous night’s meeting. I hope that my thirst did not have too much of a negative effect on Lake Mead’s water level.

(Aside on water consumption: is it necessary to line a business park with bright green grass and palm trees? The landscaping in the area around my hotel used so much water that the bark on the palm trees was bleached and rotting away up to the levels of the sprinklers’ spray pattern. What part about “desert” doesn’t compute? After being full a decade ago, the Lake Mead storage has steadily declined to the point where it is less than 50% full right now.)

The last time I visited Las Vegas in 2007, I also serendipitously found a midweek race associated with a trade show. That one, I think, was for vascular surgeons. Of course I signed up and ran, but it was a very small production. There was no RFID timing, and I had left my GPS watch at the hotel. I had told some other people about the race who were at the show with my company, and one of my parent company’s Latin American representatives came along too. He was training for the Chicago Marathon at the time, and he was used to running at crazy altitudes in Mexico City. I was able to keep up with him for a bit, but then he poured on the gas and smoked me.

View route in Garmin Connect

View route in Google Earth (8 KB KML)

View 2010-03-25 Security 5k 2010 in a larger map


The garage door sensor and parking sensors are now installed and calibrated on the stop light controller! I know the video below is shaky — I’m experimenting on several levels here, so there will be better video as the project progresses.

When the garage door is opened, the controller checks for an empty parking space. If a space is empty, then the left and/or right stop light turns green. Then as the car pulls into its spot, the lights turn to yellow, then red as it reaches its exact parking spot.