Category Archives: General Stuff

Thursday trivia #106

Busy, busy, busy. Just a few quick hits this week:

  • Great article on Mountain View, my former home in California. I agree with its characterization of MTV as “Googletown,” and anyone who’s been there for more than about 15 minutes can testify that the traffic problems mentioned in the article are a) real b) worsening and c) largely a result of Google’s campus location and size. 
  • Could Columbia have been rescued on orbit?
  • MEC is just a few weeks away— I need to get to work on my slides. 
  • I note that all 3 panes of the animation now showing on the MEC home page talk about Office 365 and none mention on-prem. I’m sure that’s just an oversight.
  • My most recent cross-country trip put me over the 250-hour flying mark, with 141 hours as pilot-in-command and nearly 101 hours of cross-country time. Not much, but it’s a start.

 

 

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Getting ready for Lync Conference 2014 (bonus Thursday Trivia #106)

So, first: here’s the view from my second-floor home office:

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Actually, I had to walk across the street to get this particular shot, but it was worth it. We got about 4” or so of snow in my neighborhood; I got out of Raleigh just in time to miss their snowmageddon, which suits me fine. The boys and I had a good time about 10pm last night throwing snowballs and watching big, fat flakes fall. The roads are passable now and will get better as it warms, but tonight it’ll be cold again and they’ll probably refreeze.

I’m making my final preparations for Lync Conference 2014 next week. I’m presenting a total of four times:

  • VOICE401, “Deep Dive: Exchange 2013 and Lync 2013 Unified Messaging Integration”, is on Wednesday at 1pm in Copperleaf 10. This session will cover some of the internals of Exchange UM; it’s targeted at Lync admins who may not have much knowledge of Exchange but are already familiar with SIP signaling and the like.
  • SERV301, “Exchange 2013 and Lync 2013: ‘Better Together’ Demystified”, is on Tuesday at 2pm in Copperleaf 9, and there is a repeat scheduled for Wednesday at 430p (also in Copperleaf 9). This session covers all the places where Exchange and Lync tie together so that you get a bette experience when both are deployed.
  • On Tuesday at 430p, I’m taking part in an informal session on Exchange-y stuff at the Microsoft booth in the exhibit hall. This is super informal, so it’s probably the best place to drop by and say hello if you can.

Dell has a pretty heavy presence at the show; Michael Przytula is presenting a session covering the Lync device ecosystem (Wednesday, 230p, Bluehorn 1-3) that I think will be pretty neat, because who doesn’t love shiny devices? George Cordeiro and Doug Davis are both doing sessions around how to identify the actual ROI of a Lync deployment, which is something customers often ask about before deployment. Even if that doesn’t sound interesting, the Dell booth will be staffed by some of our hotshot Lync guys (including Louis Howard and Scott Moore), and we’re giving away a Venue 11 Pro and a bunch of very nice Jabra and Plantronics headsets.

Now, your trivia for the week:

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MEC and Lync Conference 2014 session list (partly) released

The fine folks in charge of organizing the Microsoft Exchange Conference have released a partial list of the sessions that will be on offer, as well as a list of speakers (oddly enough, the speakers are in alphabetical order by first name… ooops). There are some surprises in the mix, and I expect a few more once the full list of sessions is released in the near future.

First, there’s clearly a heavy emphasis on panel-style discussions: there are no fewer than 8 “Experts Unplugged” sessions featuring product managers from the Exchange team. I’m moderating the UM panel session, which should be a good opportunity for people to have their in-depth UM questions answered by the PMs who own the features in UM. In addition, the support team has a session called “Experts Unplugged: Exchange Top Issues – What are they and does anyone care or listen?” that I can almost guarantee will be worth your time. Amir, Jennifer, Scott, Shawn, Tim, and Nino did a very similar panel at the MVP summit and it was extremely informative— plus they’re a fun bunch to talk to. I expect the other panels to be of equal quality, and the fact that there’s one per track is a good sign that the Exchange team is interested in getting two-way feedback from the community.

Second, there’s a nice mix of topics covered: a number of sessions promise to compare or contrast the on-premises and service environments (I’m particularly looking forward to “Engineers vs Mechanics”), and there seems to be a balance between architectural-focused sessions that explain design principles and sessions focused more narrowly on how to administer, manage, or use features such as RBAC (presented by Bhargav Shukla, who taught RBAC for the late lamented MCM program) and archiving. This balance between explaining why features work a particular way and how to use them was a hallmark of MEC last year, and I’m pleased to see it continuing in the sessions this year.

There are a couple of sessions whose abstracts are missing or incomplete. For example, the “Enterprise Social” session promises to “discuss Social experiences in the MSFT suite beyond e-mail.” I’d bet $5 that this is a code phrase for “talking about Yammer,” but we’ll see. As we get closer to MEC, expect to see more detailed abstracts, as well as additional sessions.

Turning abruptly to Microsoft’s other major unified communications conference: I’m speaking for the first time at Lync Conference (which lacks a catchy acronym so far: I suggest “LyC”, pronounced “like”). The session list is worth a careful review; I don’t know if there are more sessions forthcoming, but the ones that are there focus much more heavily on on-premises topics than the MEC sessions do, and there’s an entire track titled “Business Value” dedicated to helping attendees identify areas where Lync can add value to their environments and then squeeze that value out as rapidly as possible. There is also a “Lync Online” track shown in the track selection pulldown but it shows no sessions right now— I’m sure they’ll appear in the near future. It looks like the content for the developer-focused track will be super technical; it will be interesting to see how the level of detail in those sessions compares to the developer-track session at MEC. I get the sense that there will be more admins-who-are-interested-in-development at MEC and more developers-who-write-code-every-day at LyC, but I could be wrong.

My Lync Conference session is a 300-level look at integration between Exchange 2013 and Lync 2013. It’s nicely complemented by Jens Trier Rasmussen’s 400-level session on the same topic; we’ll be working together to coordinate topics. The Lync Conference also features sessions presented by sponsors; Dell (or, more precisely, Michael Przytula, my boss) will be presenting one. I’ll have more to say about its contents when we get closer to showtime.

I’m looking forward to both shows— meeting with the community is always really energizing, and both shows have a great session lineup. If you haven’t already registered for one or both, you should strongly consider it while early registration is still ongoing. What you learn in a single session can easily save you (or make you) enough money to make the entire trip worthwhile, and the social and community benefits of attending are icing on the cake. See you there!

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Thursday trivia #104

  • Last week I had a fantastic visit to Louisiana for Thanksgiving, bracketed by perfect flying weather. It was great to see my mom, grandmother, uncles, and cousins.
  • Next week I’m headed to Dell World in Austin, where I’ll get to meet my boss for the first time, help run some nifty hands-on labs, and see a number of family members and long-time friends. I’m also looking forward to Elon Musk’s keynote.
  • It amazes me that PayPal continues to prosper with as many problems as their back-end systems have. For example, my account contains ship-to addresses going back at least four years and there’s no way to remove them except by calling support. Ooops.
  • This article about what it was really like to fly commercially in the 1950s was fascinating. I know that I am much happier with the navigation and communications technology available to modern pilots than I would have been using the 1950s equivalents. 
  • My friend Glenn posted a photo to Facebook of one of Amazon’s new drones labeled “Amazon drones: Skeet Shooting With Prizes”. Yep.

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MVP Summit wrap-up

I’ve just returned from the 2013 edition of the mostly-annual Microsoft Most Valuable Professional (MVP) Summit. I say “mostly-annual” because Microsoft normally holds a Summit about every 12 months. The previous event was only 9 months ago, but for various logistical and product lifecycle-related reasons, they decided to return to the tradition of holding the event towards the end of the calendar year.

This year’s Summit was probably the best that I’ve attended in terms of both logistics and engagement from the product groups, at least for the sessions I attended. The transportation, housing, and events all ran very smoothly, with few delays and plenty of the delicious oversized cookies usually served in the afternoons. The product group mixer, which is an opportunity for each group of MVPs to mingle with various folks from their product teams, was nicely organized and well attended. I met a few Exchange MVPs I didn’t already know (such as Germany’s Norbert Klenner, Ratish Nair from India, and Damian Scoles from the US, a first-year MVP) and was able to spend time with many that I have known for a while, including Michael van Horenbeeck (whom Tony had previously christened “Michael van Hybrid”), Jeff Guillet, Michel de Rooij, Jason Sherry, my Santiago homeboy Jorge Patricio Diaz Guzman, Magnus Björk (now known as “Magnus Availability” after asking one too many questions about Managed Availability), J. Peter Bruzzese (who for some reason doesn’t yet have a snappy nickname; I am thinking that maybe “Mailbox Pete” would fit?), Siegfried Weber, Serkan Varoglu, and too many others to list.

The session content was generally excellent. Overall, the Exchange team did a solid job of both telling us about upcoming changes and improvements and asking for our feedback. There is a lot of exciting stuff coming in the recently-announced Service Pack 1, and from both the formal and informal discussions it seems clear that the product group has a clear vision of where they want to invest effort— product quality being one of the key investment areas— as they deliver new capabilities. Many of the sessions were held in a panel format that allowed full and frank discussion between MVPs— always an opinionated bunch— and the people responsible for designing and building Exchange.

Although the content was all 100% NDA, I think it will probably be OK with the NDA police if I close by saying that Navin Chand and the rest of the Exchange team have some exceptionally cool things planned for MEC that they will be talking about in the not too distant future. If you haven’t already registered I would give very serious consideration to doing so. Navin told me that there are more than 180 session slots available during MEC— compare this to fewer than 40 session slots allocated to Lync and Exchange together at a typical TechEd and you can see just how much more material will be available at MEC. What kind of material? Well, the Lync Conference team announced their session selections this week, and their conference is in February. If one were to extrapolate, one might assume that MEC will be announcing their sessions in January-ish given that the event is in April, so I think we’ll be finding out relatively soon. (Note that I don’t know the real dates, even under NDA, so this is just a SWAG).  

My thanks to all the people at “big Microsoft” and in the Exchange and Lync product groups who worked to get content together for this year’s Summit. They set a very high bar for future events.

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Thursday trivia #103

  • This was a big week! I spent the first part of the week in Redmond for the annual Microsoft MVP Summit. It was amazing— great content (all under NDA, at least for now) and a wonderful chance to catch up with my MVP peers. While there, I found out that my session proposal for the 2014 Lync Conference was accepted, so I’ll be presenting to an audience from what Jeff Guillet has started calling the “Skype Pro” community.
  • I’m also going to be working in the hands-on labs at Dell World. No word yet on whether I’ll get to take Michael and Elon Musk out for BBQ but it will be neat to catch up with family, friends, and coworkers in Austin.
  • Just bought John Ewing’s Concise Guide to IFR. I’m looking forward to reading it. I haven’t spent as much time studying for my instrument written as I need to, so I grabbed the Sporty’s Study Buddy app as well.
  • I sold my Surface Pro because I had planned to take advantage of an MVP discount on the Surface Pro 2 that Microsoft was going to offer at the Summit… then they withdrew the offer. I can’t decide if I want to buy a Surface Pro 2 or a Dell Venue 11 Pro; they seem similar in specs in most respects. The original Surface Pro was a great device for me but if I can get an employee discount on the Venue 11 Pro that might tip the balance in its favor. (I also like that the Surface line is starting to grow an ecosystem of accessories, too.)
  • Weather permitting, I’ll be flying to Louisiana for Thanksgiving, probably with a side trip to Texas. Have airplane, will travel…
  • This is very well said: weightlifting gives you the serenity of the iron. I certainly find that when I am lifting or running (not as much for cycling, meaning I’m probably not doing it with enough intensity) that it clears my mind wonderfully well.

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Thursday trivia #102

Whew. Back from Chile and trying to catch up. Entropy always increases.

  • Upgraded my MacBook Pro to Mac OS X Mavericks (which I still think is a clumsy name) yesterday. So far I don’t notice any major differences in my workflow but I haven’t really had time to explore.
  • If you’re an Exchange designer or architect, I’d appreciate your response to this short survey on Exchange site designs.
  • Burn down the farm? That’s a radical approach.
  • It takes a special kind of crazy— the good kind— to build your own fully functional Boeing 767 simulator.
  • I’m starting to get more and more excited about the release of the Xbox One.
  • From the “industry on parade” department: here’s a really interesting analysis of how Apple builds the new Mac Pro. I have no need for one, but they sure are purty. 
  • Because ROCKETS.

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Santiago, day 2

It’s a measure of how much I’ve been working that I am just now getting around to posting a travelogue from last Sunday. This week has passed by in a blitz of activity, which is good. My team has gotten a lot accomplished, which, after all, is what we came here for. But before all the work started, I had the pleasure of having a day to explore.

I’d planned to meet my coworkers Todd and Dave at the hotel after their flight arrived, then drive to Valparaiso with fellow MVP and well-known Chilean Jorge Patricio Diaz Guzman. Unfortunately, Jorge had a work emergency to tend to, so I kept the rental car I’d gotten on Saturday. I rented through the hotel by asking the concierge to find me a rental car, because this seemed to be the fastest way to get a car. Sure enough, within 20 minutes or so Maxima had delivered a car to the hotel: a tiny Chevy Spark with a manual transmission and almost enough room for 3 adults. (It has 4 seats but it is wishful thinking to imagine that four normal-sized American men could fit into it; luckily we only had 3 people.)

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they see me rollin’, they be laughin’

After Dave and Todd arrived and had a few minutes to unpack and freshen up, we set out for Valparaiso. The route to get there is very straightforward: get on highway 68 going west and keep going for 120 km or so until you hit the ocean. It’s a lovely drive, with two large tunnels and some long up- and downhill grades that our car could barely handle. The speed limit ranges from 70 km/h to 120 km/h, but no one except American tourists and people in underpowered cars like hours follow it, especially not big trucks. We made it to Valparaiso but decided, since none of us had any firm plans to do anything there, to go back to a restaurant Todd knew of in Concon, another 20 or so km down the coast. The weather was pleasant and there were great views along the coast, so off we went, braving significant traffic along the way. Both sides of the narrow coastal road are packed with restaurants, shops, and rental property but there is little parking, so we spent lots of time waiting while other drivers maneuvered in or out of parking spaces. We also made frequent stops for photos, both on the route out and back.

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a view of the coast while standing on a rock in a tidal pool (Nokia 920)

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ocean view (Nikon D5100)

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action shot! rock climbing + sailboat

Eventually we made it to the restaurant Todd had recommended, Punta del Este. It was well worth the trip– think Dave’s Cajun Kitchen, or your favorite hometown restaurant for those of you who aren’t from Houma, and you’ll get the idea. We had an appetizer platter of razor clams, conger eel, and several kinds of fish. I had tilapia with shrimp sauce, which was also excellent. Then we drove back, stopping at a few different places to take pictures; there was one gorgeous house that Dave was particularly smitten with.

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We haven’t picked out a name for this other than la casa de Dave

On the way back we needed gas, so we stopped at a highway rest stop that would be familiar to anyone who’s ever traveled the New York or Ohio Turnpikes. Fuel here is expensive, but at least you get full service at the station in exchange for your hard-earned CLP$. After returning the car (a simple matter of giving the keys back to the concierge), we walked over to Costanera Center, the nearby mall, to find dinner. We had an excellent meal at Le Due Torri, an Italian-and-seafood place that delivered very well on both fronts, then back to the hotel. e were all pretty worn out by that point but it was an interesting way to spend the day. I’d love to come back to the Vina del Mar/Concon area during the Chilean summer; the views are gorgeous.

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Thursday trivia #101

I wrote a long post, then WordPress ate it, so here’s what you get instead: I am still in Santiago and have already worked 40 hours this week, with more on the way. A typical day starts about 8am with a team breakfast at the hotel, then about a 2km walk to get there, then boom! the fun begins. I have not left the office before 9pm yet, but I haven’t been there after 10pm either, so that’s good. When I get time (hopefully this weekend) I’ll write up my trip to Vina del Mar this past Sunday, then another post with some random observations about Santiago based on what little I’ve seen.

One Exchange-related note: I am fortunate to be working with two extremely sharp graduates of the Microsoft Certified Master program. I am more convinced than ever that Microsoft is doing themselves a great deal of damage by ending the program that takes smart, experienced consultants and gives them a means to sharpen their skills to such a high degree.

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Exchange 2013 Inside Out: Clients, Connectivity, and UM now available

At long last!

Today is officially the release date for Microsoft Exchange Server 2013 Inside Out: Clients, Connectivity, and UM. Because I missed my original deadline, the book was not available at the same time as Tony’s Exchange Server 2013 Inside Out: Mailbox and High Availability, which is a shame since the two books complement each other well. Between the two of them, they cover virtually every important or interesting aspect of Exchange 2013. My book focuses on client access, transport, unified messaging, Lync, and Office 365 integration, which is plenty!

I feel like it’s fair to reprint a section of the acknowledgements from the book here; I owe a great debt to the many people who volunteered their time to read drafts of the manuscript, point out errors, and make suggestions for improvement. As always, they share in the credit for the high quality of the book, and I am solely responsible for errors and shortcomings in it. Many thanks to my posse:

I was incredibly fortunate to receive a great deal of help with this book from a variety of sources. A large group of Exchange experts from the Microsoft Most Valuable Professional (MVP) and Microsoft Certified Systems Master (MCSM) communities volunteered their time to read early drafts of the chapters as they were produced; their mission was to identify shortcomings or errors and to suggest, based on their own experience, ways in which the book could be improved. This book is much better thanks to their efforts, which I very much appreciate. My thanks to Kamal Abburi, Thierry Demorre, Devin Ganger, Steve Goodman, Todd Hawkins, Georg Hinterhofer, Miha Pihler, Maarten Piederiet, Simon Poirier, Brian Reid, Brian R. Ricks, Jeffrey Rosen, Mitch Roberson, Kay Sellenrode, Bhargav Shukla, Thomas Stensitzki, Richard Timmering, Steven van Houttum, Elias VarVarezis, Johan Veldhuis, and Jerrid Williams. My thanks also go to the broader MCSM and MVP communities, particularly Paul Cunningham, Brian Desmond, and Pat Richard, for discussing topics or sharing scripts that informed the material I wrote.

In addition to these volunteers, I benefited greatly from the efforts of many people from the Exchange, Lync, and Office 365 product teams at Microsoft, including Diego Carlomagno, Bulent Egilmez, David Espinoza, Kern Hardman, Pavani Haridasyam, Tom Kaupe, Roy Kuntz, Lou Mandich, Jon Orton, Tony Smith, Greg Taylor, and Mini Varkey. Extra thanks to Rajesh Jha for taking the time to write the foreword for both books—no easy task considering how often Tony and I have hassled him about various matters.

One thing I can’t explain is the pricing of the two books. For some reason, the Kindle edition of my book is selling at list price, $39.99. The Kindle edition of Tony’s book is discounted, and both the Kindle and print editions of his book are less expensive than the print edition of my book! This is solely due to Amazon’s complex and inscrutable pricing algorithms; it seems unfair since Tony’s book is longer (and probably better written) but there you have it.

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Santiago, day 1

Yesterday was my first day in Santiago, Chile, which means it was also my first day in South America. I’ve previously visited Asia, Africa, Australia, and Europe, so now all I need to do is contrive some way to get to Antarctica and I’ll be all set.

To get here, I flew on Delta’s flight from Atlanta, about which I can say that only that it was adequate. My Economy Comfort seat was decent, and I slept for a good six hours or so, waking up just in time to watch the sun rise over the Pacific.

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sunrise, before it got too bright to actually take pictures of

Upon arrival at Santiago’s airport, I found that Chile, like Brazil and Argentina, charge incoming visitors if those visitors are citizens of a country that charges Chileans an entry fee. For example, Chileans visiting the US must pay a $160 fee, so Americans visiting Chile have to pay the same fee. This is handled via separate set of stalls at customs: first you pay the fee and get your passport stamped, then you go through immigration, then you claim your luggage and go through a customs inspection. During this process, I learned that you are not permitted to import beef jerky (or other kinds of smoked meats) into Chile, which is too bad because I had packed a bunch of it for quick protein. Alas.

I’d already reserved a taxi through TaxiOficial.cl, as recommended by our travel department. After baggage claim, a quick stop by the payment desk netted me a receipt that I handed to the driver, who whisked me off to the Intercontinental in the business district. The hotel is well situated right near a major highway, a large mall, and, well, lots of businesses. I checked in, took a quick shower, unpacked, and set out to go exploring.

First, though, I rented a car. This was recommended by SantiagoTourist.com, a web site I found while at the hotel. (Oddly the hotel wifi seems to block Bing, but allows Google.) For about $60, I got a manual-transmission Chevy Spark, the smallest car I’ve ever driven. However, it proved to be adequate for my needs, since all I really needed was basic transportation. First I drove to the Bellavista area so I could go up Cerro de San Cristobal. (ed note: I’m typing this on a Windows machine that doesn’t make it easy to add accent marks, so I’m not adding them. Just pretend like they’re there.)  I parked in a public garage on Calle Pio Nono and walked about 8 blocks to the entrance of the park, from which you can take a funicular railway to the top, hike up a trail, or ride on a bike path. I elected for the funicular, which was a good call, as I got some excellent pictures on the way up. As you can see, it was a typically hazy/smoggy day, so the mountains were visible more as a suggestion of mountains than anything else.

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looking down onto the city from the railway

The funicular, which cost CLP$2600 (or around US$7)  stops halfway up so you can go to the zoo; I declined and went all the way to the top, whereupon I was able to climb up to the top of San Cristobal. There’s a chapel there, along with a large statue of the Virgin Mary, which you’ll see often in images of Santiago. However, from one angle I spotted something unusual—a ladder running all the way up the statue. I was sorely tempted to climb the scaffolding next to the statue and ascend this ladder, but since I didn’t think going to jail in Chile would be much fun, I decided not to.

After taking the funicular back down, I walked through part of the Barrio Bellavista area, more or less following the walking street-art tour that SantiagoTourist recommended. This turned out to be time well spent; some of the art was amazing, while some was just good, but there’s a lot of it. A few samples:

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A few of the many murals and street paintings in Bellavista

After Bellavista, I drove back to the hotel to plug in my gadgets for a few minutes and plan the rest of my day. (I made another stop en route, thanks to a suggestion from my friend Anne, but it’s classified until Christmas.) A quick glance at the map showed that I was close to Parque de las Esculturas, a large  open-air sculpture park and botanical garden, so I headed out to walk it and see what’s what. The park itself is right next to the Mapocho River, the level of which varies greatly according to how much snowmelt and/or rain is nearby. The park was full of people, mostly couples apparently looking for a place to smooch away from their parental units. Lots of stray dogs, too; that’s sort of a hallmark of Santiago (one night I saw three dogs in the middle of a six-lane road chasing each car as it passed; miraculously none of them got hit.) None of the sculptures especially resonated with me, but the park also has little islands of trees, most native to Chile and/or Argentina, and it was neat to see the differences in the native flora and the kinds of trees I’m used to. As an example, here’s a picture of an ombu treefrom the park.

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I’d never heard of an ombu tree before

After the park, I walked back towards the hotel, stopping at the enormous Costanera Center mall. It’s basically just like an American mall: it has a Dunkin Donuts, an Applebee’s, and a ton of other US-centric shops. That made me want to leave, since ordinarily I avoid malls like the plague. It was moderately crowded, so I could people-watch, and I was hungry, so I decided to stay. Luckily there were some local restaurants; the top-floor food court has a very nice assortment of sitdown restaurants, American fast food, Chilean fast food, and snack shops. I decided to sit down and have a steak… but took the waiter’s advice and ordered without looking at the menu, a mistake that ended up costing me $87 for what was, admittedly, an excellent steak, a platter of jamon and mozzarella, and a pisco sour. Still, I was surprised; Santiago is pricier than I’d anticipated. Apart from that, there was nothing remarkable about the mall except for its size; it has five huge floors with several hundred stores; if I don’t go back that will be fine with me.

By that point I was pretty tired, so I headed back to the hotel, read a bit, and went to bed. What I should have been doing was planning my trip to Valparaiso for the next day, but hey.

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Fitness update: two months in

So far I’m just over halfway through the four-month group fitness program I signed up for on Fitocracy: I’m doing the program with John Romaniello, but there are others with different focuses.

tl;dr: I am super pleased with the results. I’ve lost 8 pounds, which is no big deal; I wasn’t doing this to lose weight per se. I have also greatly improved my strength; my bench press went from around 100 to a max of 165 (so far). My deadlift max is 245, and I have squatted 235 (and am working on going higher). My goal is to break a 200 bench, 300 deadlift, and 300 squat by the end of the year. Just as importantly, I look better. I’ve lost quite a bit of body fat (more on that in a minute) and my muscles are bigger. Most importantly of all, I feel better. My balance and posture have improved, I am more mentally alert, and I am less stressed.

How’d I do it? There’s no magic, just picking up heavy things and putting them back down. Oh, and eating better. The big deal for me has been cutting down the amount of carbs that I eat. I used to eat a lot of carbs, which contributed to a high fasting glucose level. How high? Well, last year in California it was 99 mg/dl, which is 1 point away from the checkbox labeled “prediabetic.” This year, before I started exercising, it was down to 92. I am eager to see what it looks like now that my carb intake has gone down. How much has it gone down? On rest days, I get 63 grams of carbs. A single piece of Costco pizza has 66 carbs (as does a 20-ounce bottle of Dr Pepper). Since I absolutely adore bread, pasta, and desserts this has been a bit of an adjustment, but because I am eating plenty of fats and protein, I rarely feel hungry or deprived.

My goal is to hit certain targets for protein, fats, and carbohydrate intake each day. These are known colloquially as macros, or macronutrients. There are many different philosophies on what you should eat, when, and how much. For me, at least, counting my macros and eating whatever I want as long as it falls in those numbers (often called “if it fits your macros”, or IIFYM) has worked well. That basically gives me the freedom, much like Weight Watchers, to skip or combine meals in order to squeeze in an occasional treat. This excellent beginner’s guide to macros by Mike Vacanti, one of my coaches, has a lot more detail if you’re interested.

I’ve also changed my eating habits in another way: I follow the “leangains” method of intermittent fasting. It’s simple: I eat all my calories within an 8-hour window (sometimes stretched to 9 or 10 hours depending on what’s going on that day). If I eat “breakfast” at noon, that means I can eat until 8pm, but ideally nothing after that. This process helps tailor your body’s production of insulin, leptin, and other hormones to maximize fat burning and muscle gain. It sounds foolish, but you know what? It works. Basically, I skip breakfast, eat my first meal around noon, snack in the afternoon, and eat a normal dinner. This is not hugely different from my past life, except i no longer chow down on huge bowls of sugary Raisin Bran first thing in the morning. John Romaniello, my other coach, has a great summary of IF principles for beginners; purists may quibble with some of his broad definitions but the basic message is spot on.

What about cardio? I’m essentially not doing anything apart from the weightlifting, which is certainly doing a great job of elevating my heart rate. I guess I should say I’m not doing any endurance work. I’d like to, but on days when I lift I’m too tired, and on days when I don’t I’m resting from the lifting. As a data point, I ran a 5K with Julie and came in within about a minute of my last several races’ average, all without any running. For longer distances, clearly I’d need to get more running in too, and if I want to hit my goal of doing at least one sprint triathlon in 2014 I’ll need to start swimming.

Doing the right exercises (such as barbell squats, the bench press, deadlifts, and a few others) will activate a bunch of your muscles more or less at once. You can do isolation exercises to target specific muscles, but the basic large-muscle-group lifts will take you a long way. (And you won’t run out of options– take a look at a site such as ExRx.net to see what I mean.)

A few tips I’ve picked up, some of which may be more useful than others:

  • You can do an awful lot with protein powder, including making some pretty good cheesecake and really good shakes. As with most other foods, your experience will vary; some kinds of powder taste better to some people than others. For example, I really like BioTrust’s chocolate but their vanilla is only OK. I’ve had other people rave about how good it is though. I normally have a shake each day, with added fruit, milk, almond milk, or other ingredients depending on what macros I need to hit.
  • Beef jerky, nuts, and protein bars are essential for travel because there’s basically nothing in an airport or airplane that is nutritionally acceptable.
  • Greek yogurt: basically pure protein. Add a little to your shake to keep the powder from foaming in the blender (super important if you use the inexpensive and tasty, but foamy, Optimum Nutrition brand that Costco sells.)
  • When you’re doing pull-ups or chin-ups, squeeze your shoulder blades together like you’re trying to trap a tennis ball between them. Makes a huge difference.
  • Learn to distinguish between soreness and pain. (Hint: pain hurts more). It’s perfectly OK to exercise when sore; when in pain, not so much.
  • Different people prefer different exercise programs. Some will swear by high-rep sets with relatively low weight, while others insist that only high-weight, low-rep sets are worth a hoot. I am a big believer in experimenting until you find what works… but lift something, whether high or low reps.
  • If you’re deadlifting properly, the bar will scrape your shins. This will hurt and may draw blood. So buy some deadlift socks. Problem solved.
  • No, weightlifting will not make you too bulky if you’re a woman. Really. Trust me on this.

Although I’m pleased with my results, this is not to say that everything has been perfect. I still have some weak areas. The biggest is that my upper body isn’t as strong as my lower body: I have huge strong quads, fairly strong hams and flutes, and not-as-strong-as-I-would-like calves, but my chest, shoulders, and arms are proportionately weaker. The way to fix this: pick up heavy things and put them back down.

Like every other human, I also have some asymmetry between my left and right sides: my right side is quite a bit stronger. This is improving with time but it’s still a little frustrating because sometimes it limits how much weight I can move. My grip is weaker than I’d like, too, but that’s also coming along.

On the nutrition front, as my homeboy Tim says, food prep is super important to effective nutrition. It is much easier to make out a menu, so that you know what macros you’re going to be getting, and then eat the same thing every day. For example, my normal lunch is two Butterball turkey burgers on the stove. I am not good at this planning, which sometimes results in me eating either too much or not enough for the day’s planned macros. I am getting better at making out the menu in advance, but not at doing bulk-food preparation. That will come with time.

In summary: weightlifting is awesome. I wish I’d started sooner but I will definitely keep doing it. And a big shout out to Brian Hill, whose amazing transformation I’ve mentioned here before. I picked up a lot of random factoids from talking to him that are just now starting to make sense as I become more knowledgable. His discipline, example, and results have been a big motivator for me.

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Thursday trivia #100

Boy, it’s taken me a long time to knock out 100 of these updates.

  • I’ve proposed 3 sessions for MEC 2014 and one for the Lync Conference. Let’s see which ones make it into the goal. Worst case is either 0 or all 4: in one case I have to pay for my own conference attendance, and in the other I’ll be so busy speaking I won’t get to really enjoy the shows.
  • I haven’t been flying much lately, but I aim to remedy that shortly. Every time I have a spell where I don’t have time to fly I am reminded of why people don’t buy their own airplanes. They cost you money whether you have time to fly them or not.
  • Fitness progress continues. I have an upcoming post on that in the queue.
  • This story (which has been mislabeled as “hacking”) is a great example of why optional mobile device management (MDM) isn’t worth a hoot: if you want to manage your organization’s mobile devices, users cannot be allowed to opt out. The LA Unified School District tried to go cheap and not spend money on a “real” MDM solution, and they paid for it.
  • Deb Fallows, wife of the estimable James Fallows and a noted author in her own right, has a great set of articles exploring aviation lingo (not surprising, given that she’s a linguist). Here’s one excellent example.
  • I’ve enjoyed using iTunes Radio, but the current version of iTunes for iOS is super buggy. I hope they fix it soon.
  • Apropos of music: the GDR2 + Amber update for my Nokia Lumia 920 has introduced Bluetooth stuttering and problems displaying song/artist data on my car stereo. GDR1 worked flawlessly. GDR3 claims to introduce a bunch of BT fixes, so I hope these problems disappear too, along with the iTunes 11.1.1 bugs.
  • PhotoReviewer sounds like exactly what I want: a tool to quickly triage large numbers of photos and decide which to keep and which to get rid of. I can’t tell from this review whether it works on existing iPhoto libraries or only on pictures you haven’t imported yet, but I’m going to try it.

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Thursday trivia #99

  • I’ve gotten to know Tim Bauer through the group fitness program we’re both in. What an inspiring guy: sample 1 and sample 2. Check out his blog.
  • Mike Vacanti is one of my coaches. This blog post on feeling insecure about your own fitness compared to others was very thought-provoking for me. It applies much more broadly than just fitness, too.
  • Speaking of fitness: you’d be amazed at all the stuff you can make with protein powder. There are so many flavors and varieties! I like the Optimum Nutrition stuff that Costco sells because Costco, but I’m always interested in trying new kinds. BioTrust is pretty good, but it’s expensive and they spam their customers. GNC’s stuff is edible but not great (at least the vanilla and cookies & cream flavors; haven’t tried any others).
  • Amazon’s new “Mayday” customer-support feature has the potential to be a huge game changer. It will be very interesting to see whether they can scale it and provide good quality service. (If you haven’t seen it, it’s like OnStar, but for your tablet.) 
  • I’m always interested in a good invasive-species story, like the one about the testicle-eating fish spotted in New Jersey. However, of more local interest, the plague of little white bugs we’ve been having here in Huntsville is actually the result of the Asian hackberry woolly aphid, an invasive species that was first spotted in Georgia in 1996 (no one’s sure exactly how it got there, it turns out) and has made its way north– and west, having been spotted in Texas. (It’s also in California but it’s not clear if it was imported from Asia to California or somehow made it from Texas westward).
  • I’ve mentioned the use of precision robotics for filming high-speed stuff before, but this video takes the cake. Projection mapping has huge potential for theatrical applications… and just think of what Disney could do with it if they wanted.
  • Like Bo, I have not had good experience refilling printer cartridges. The first time I tried it, everything went well, but it wasn’t my printer. The second time, it was, and I never could get the printer to recognize that the refilled cartridge was usable. When a refill kit costs $6 and an off-brand cartridge costs $13, you know what? I’ll pay $7 to not have to deal with toner backsplash and fiddling with the stupid flag gear.

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Thursday trivia #98

  • I took part of a day this week to open a business bank account, get Alabama license plates, and get my concealed carry pistol permit. Surprisingly, the trip to the credit union took the most time by far. The DMV and sheriff’s office were both quick and the people there could not have been more pleasant. Now it’s a race to see whether my driver’s license or my license plate arrive first.
  • In possibly-related news, I am excited that Last Resort Guns is about to open their new range… at the end of my street. (Well, across a 4-lane road, but still!) I bought a membership, so a couple of days a week I’ll probably eat a sandwich as I walk to the range, get some practice in, and then walk home again. Sounds like a great lunch hour.
  • Got my complex endorsement and checkout in the Piper Arrow this past week. Sadly, of the club’s two Arrows, one is grounded and the other has a broken autopilot, so I’ll probably stick with the 182 for my long trips until that’s fixed… or until I get checked out in the 182RG, which is next on my list.
  • I also shot my first practice ILS approach under the hood. Wow. Lots to learn. I blew right through the glideslope because I was busy managing power and tracking my heading. Can’t do that.
  • Monday marked the start of my fifth week of my coached fitness program, and brought with it a completely new set of workout routines. Ouch. However, over the past month I have gotten much stronger; my bench, deadlift, and squats have all improved and I am starting to see some actual hypertrophy in my upper body, so that’s all good.
  • Heading to Perrysburg again this weekend to run the Rotary River Run 5K. Since I haven’t run a race since Memorial Day, and haven’t been running much, I am not looking for great results.
  • I just noticed that Exchange 2013 Unleashed (which I haven’t read, and which I hope is better than the 2010 version) is available from Amazon as a rental book. Ouch.

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