Huntsville to Vermont

As some of you may have noticed, I am planning to run a triathlon in a couple of days. This of course requires me to get to where the triathlon is, which in this case happens to be Vermont— several hundred nautical miles away from where I live. Luckily I had a solution for that problem. I took off from Decatur, stopped briefly at Winchester to fuel up, and headed north. Why Winchester? Fuel there is about $1/gal cheaper than it is at Decatur, and that makes a big difference when you’re buying 50+ gallons. Plus the staff there are super friendly and their facility is nearly brand-new: great, well-marked runway with a nice building. I saw an AgCat there filling his spray tanks and met Zachary, who just bought a Piper Lance a couple of months ago. We had a nice visit while I waited for my starter to cool down; I am still getting the hang of hot-starting the engine in this plane. The best technique seems to be to prime it just a tiny bit, then open the throttle full, set mixture to idle, and crank. You just have to be aggressive about enriching the mixture and closing the throttle when it does catch.

My flight northwards could not have gone better. I set up the autopilot, climbed to 7500’, and spent an hour or so dodging built-up clouds before settling on a steady course. During that time, I learned that the floor air vents can be opened or closed; when you open them, they work great at cooling down the cabin. This was handy because it was super hot on the ground— hot enough to melt my stash of protein bars inside my flight bag. I brought a cooler along so I could enjoy diet Coke on demand, which was a wonderful bonus.

On the first leg, I spent some of my time in flight reading the manual for my ancient panel-mounted GPS, which was installed in 2001, and I was surprised to find how capable it actually is; it just isn’t very user-friendly, so I still have a lot to learn, but I did get the time zone set, figure out how the altitude alerting function works, and learn how to set up complex flight plans instead of just using the “direct to” button. Originally I’d planned to stop at Rostraver (just outside Monongahela; try saying “Rostraver Monongahela” five times fast) but I noticed in flight that they close before I would have gotten there, so I decided to divert to Allegheny County instead. Fuel is a little more expensive, but that was offset by the fact that the airport was still open when I arrived. I parked the plane, hopped across the street to the Holiday Inn, and enjoyed a delicious calzone delivery from Mama Pepino’s. Then I hit the sack, intending to leave early this morning. The weather was not great when I awoke, so I did a bit of work and headed to the airport about 0900.

WP 20140703 001

706 on the ground at Allegheny County on Thursday morning

You can’t see it in the picture above, but the keys are on the dashboard, as shown below. This serves the extremely useful purpose of making it easy for everyone around to visually confirm that the keys aren’t in the ignition and that the airplane is therefore not startable. No one wants to tangle with an 84” propeller. This keychain has sentimental value, too; it came from Custer State Park on our 2005 trip to Sturgis. It was a Christmas present for Matt that year and he gave it back to me for the plane. The attached buffalo is named Pappy, after Pappy Boyington, not to mention Grandfather Buffalo, a family favorite book. Pappy is not quite as famous as The Lego Pilot but maybe he’ll get there someday.

Buffalo keychain

Corporate Air had taken good care of the plane overnight, so after a thorough preflight I launched with the intent to go direct to Montpelier, with Rome as an intermediate stop if the weather further north was still iffy. Pittsburgh limited me to 3000’ until I got further to the east, then I got 5500’, which was comfortably above the tops of the scattered clouds in that area. I went up to 7500’ about 50nm to the northeast and even then ended up having to dodge some higher buildups, but the clouds were gorgeous and by the time I got to Ticonderoga (see below) they were widely scattered.

Ticonderoga

Overhead Ticonderoga, NY; that’s Lake George 

 

My flight into Montpelier was completely uneventful (except that I got to talk to Boston Center, which was kinda cool). Julie and her boys were waiting for me, and I had a great time giving them a tour of the plane while we unloaded. Then it was back to her house for a nap, the Montpelier Mile, and the town’s fireworks.

Interestingly, I had a ton of different female air traffic controllers along my route. I’ve never had that happen before; I’m not sure why, but Nashville approach, Indianapolis Center, Pittsburgh Approach, and a couple of smaller approach control centers en route all had women working the tower cab.

Bonus picture: I saw this crop-dusting plane (an AirTractor AT802) when I refueled at Winchester. That might be my ideal job…

DSC 2394

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Training Tuesday: and so it begins

Well, “begins” isn’t quite the right word; I’m 9 weeks into my 16-week training plan, but this week has a special milestone: my first triathlon is this coming Saturday. I am about equal parts nervous and excited. It’s my first-ever triathlon, my first open-water swim, and my first wetsuit swim. I have really low expectations, though: my goal is to finish, and, as long as I’m not last, the rest is gravy. I know I can do the swim distance, and the wetsuit should make it a little easier thanks to the added buoyancy. The bike distance isn’t a problem but the course is hilly. (Here’s the bike route, though you may not be able to see it if you’re not a MapMyRide member).

I have all the supplies and gear I’ll need, including a spiffy triathlon bag, although I want to get road tires today or tomorrow. Then it’s a matter of packing, for which I’ll carefully follow the checklist I made. I have TRI101 class tonight, and I’d like to get my long Thursday run in before I leave for Vermont, but I’ll wait and see how I feel; I definitely don’t want to overdo it. Perhaps a swim tomorrow would be nice, too. Tom is letting me borrow his Contour sports camera, so I hope to have some fun video from the trip (and, most importantly, the bike!)

Workouts this week:

  • Tuesday was transition training, which I already wrote about— lots of fun.
  • Wednesday I didn’t do anything.
  • Thursday I ran my first 5-miler! (well, 4.98 miles, but who’s counting?) Took me just over 51 minutes. If you look at the route map, you can see where we ran the HudsonAlpha helix— just look for the squiggly lines.
  • Friday I didn’t do anything.
  • Saturday we had our last group swim of the training season, featuring a drill known as “the washing machine”— you swim laps in two adjacent lanes, in a big swirl. Think of seeing people running laps around a track and you get the idea. Over 45 min or so I swam just over 900m, which is a new record for me. Some of that time was spent taking short breaks, though.
  • Sunday I didn’t do anything except eat.
  • Monday I rode with the Athens-Limestone posse— 26km in 1:11. That’s right, I voluntarily rode a bike in 91° heat for more than an hour. What the hell was I thinking?

Expect a Flying Friday post about the trip up to Vermont; that should be a fun adventure in and of itself. Now, I have to go put my USTA sticker on my car…

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Training Tuesday: Transition Trouble edition

So tonight’s TRI101 class deserves its own post. Coach Rick had us practicing transitions; the coaching staff brought out the bike racks and we set up our bikes, shoes, etc. as we would in a race. When called, we were to run, barefoot, to our rack to simulate exiting the water for T1, put on shoes (and socks, if desired) and helmet, then move the bike to the mount line and ride 2 laps around a ~1mi loop. Then we were supposed to bring the bike back into transition, switch to our run gear (hello, T2!), and run the loop again. The goal was to do 3 complete circuits within 45 minutes. I didn’t quite make it— I got 3 bike laps and 2 runs before time expired. I did, however, learn several things I didn’t know, presented here for the edification of all:

  1. No one will stop you from exiting T2 for the run with your helmet on. You might want to remove it before running, though.
  2. Despite their cleats, bike shoes have little traction. If you get a good head of steam going downhill to the mount line, you may have difficulty stopping without falling on your butt.
  3. There’s only one way to hang your bike on the rack so that it doesn’t fall over.
  4. You (or at least I) can’t just jam your feet into your bike shoes because the heel area isn’t stiff; it’ll just mash down.

Despite these errors, I felt like I got the transition mechanics down OK, and both the ride and run felt pretty good (I averaged ~14mph on the bike and 6.5mph on the run). Oh, and my Cajun-rigged cadence sensor fix failed again, darn it. Onwards!

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Training Tuesday: halfway through TRI101

So last week marked the halfway point in the Fleet Feet TRI101 program. I can definitely see a big difference in my overall fitness level, although (as I learned on Sunday in the gym) I am not nearly as strong as I was when I was lifting regularly. This is in part due to the garbage diet I’ve been following; too many carbs, not enough protein, and probably too much fat to boot. That’s one of the things I want to focus on in the upcoming weeks as I start reintegrating lifting into my workouts. The bricks we’ve been doing at TRI101 class have been really helpful, too, along with the many small tips and tricks that the more experienced athletes and coaches have been sharing.

I continue to be tempted by signing up for more races, but at the same time I’m growing more nervous: my first real tri is in less than two weeks, and it’s hard to judge whether I’m ready for it or not. On the other hand, my friend Dana just ran her first sprint tri and finished 2nd in her age group— so it proves that even your first race can go well. My goals for the Shelburne tri are to not burn up all my energy in the swim. The bike ride is a longer distance than any I’ve done so far, so I’d like to finish that at my same ~15mph pace, and then get the run done in under 35 minutes. We’ll see how that goes.

The past week’s workouts:

  • Tuesday we bricked as part of our weekly class: 34:46 for 8.45mi on the bike plus a weak, slow 15:01 to run 1.41mi. As a bonus, I split my forehead open in transition and had to go get stitches, so I couldn’t swim for a little while.
    WP 20140617 003Like my old man always said: it’s not a project until blood has been shed
  • Wednesday I met up with a group of triathletes for a brick south of the airport. Damn, it was hot. 55:01 for 12 miles on the bike plus a super short 8:15 run of 0.8 miles. For some reason I didn’t get any cadence data from this ride. The reason turned out to be simple: the magnet that the cadence sensor senses fell off somewhere. I replaced it with several Buckyballs, which I stuffed into the pedal hole on the crank; a piece of electrical tape holds them securely in place and now I get cadence data again.
  • Thursday I skipped my normal morning run— after a race last Saturday, a long ride Monday, and bricks Tuesday and Wednesday I was ready for a break. I took Friday off too.
  • Saturday I volunteered at the Monster Tri. It was great fun; I saw a bunch of my tri friends and got a close-up look at how transition is supposed to work. I also took a bunch of pictures, some of which were better than others.
  • Sunday I dragged myself to the pool and swam ~ 500yd. I still don’t think my watch is counting swim laps right. Then I carried my tired self over to the weight room and got a lift in for the first time in about two months. I felt weak but good when done, and the DOMS I had yesterday and today is a small price to pay (especially since my glutes and hams were already sore before I even got there.)
  • Monday I geared up and went to downtown Athens for the 15-mile beginner ride that a group of local cyclists holds… but the weather wasn’t cooperating.WP 20140623 002

    Not acceptable weather for instrument flight or VFR bicycling

    Rather than get hit by lightning, I elected to go home. I didn’t even get to test the sweet handlebar mount I made for my watch so I can see cadence and speed data on the go: a trip to Home Depot yielded a piece of pipe insulation that was just right for holding it. However, I am confident that it will work.

     WP 20140624 004Nothing like a little Cajun engineering

     

Right now I’m hoping that the weather will clear so I can go on to TRI101, where we have a workout cleverly named “Rick’s Special” after our lead coach– it’s a 2 mi bike + 1 mi run brick, repeated as many times as possible. Should be fun!

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Thursday trivia #108

First, my thoughts and condolences are with the families of the pilots killed in the Westwind II crash at Huntsville yesterday. 
  • I don’t normally post on political topics here… but if you believe that six key IRS employees just happened to lose all of their email, at the same time, in a manner that’s not recoverable, then I have some hope and change I’d like to sell you. Government agencies and large companies pay large sums of money to prevent exactly that type of occurrence.
  • This looks pretty interesting: “Loss of Signal: Aeromedical Lessons Learned from STS-107
  • Yesterday was the 100th anniversary of the first successful demonstration of an autopilot. We’ve come a long way since then.
  • Having two teenage sons both driving has reacquainted me with all the reasons I don’t like auto insurance companies. Every six months, when I write that check, my dislike for them peaks.
  • I’m loving the World Cup, but oddly I don’t care much about soccer in general. Go figure. I must be an American.

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Training Tuesday: gearing up

It’s amazing how much crap you can buy for triathlon training. I already had running shoes and a bike; since then I’ve bought a watch, a cadence sensor, a wetsuit, goggles, a race hydration belt, and an assortment of other odds and ends. Yesterday I finally broke down and bought swim fins, a kick board, and a swim pacing timer— not because I need those for the race but because I need them for the drills my swim coach is giving me, and if I actually spend money on the gear I will feel obligated to do the drills. Commitment device FTW! In the same vein, since it was about 25% more expensive to buy a wetsuit than rent one, I bought one for my upcoming triathlon in Vermont… but now, having bought one, I feel like I need at least one more open-water tri to justify it. Candidates include the Lone Star Sprint in Galveston (which seems to have a permanently broken web site), the Frantic Frog in Scottsboro, the Tri-Rock in Austin, the Tawas Festival of Races, or maybe one of these.

I think I am done buying stuff for this tri season, unless I break or lose something— certainly not out of the question. I think I’d like a heart rate monitor but that’s just because I like looking at pretty graphs, not because I think it would help my training. At this point I need to stick to the plan, be a little more careful about what I eat, and start getting some actual races under my belt. More experienced cyclists have suggested changing the big semi-knobby hybrid tires on my bike for thinner road tires, and I might do that, but we’ll see how my first race or two goes. I figure I can always buy more crap later, but having more stuff isn’t going to make me go any faster or train any harder.

This week’s workouts:

  • Tuesday and Wednesday I was out of town and didn’t do anything.
  • Thursday I went back to Bridge Street for another group run. I felt really slow starting off, but in the end I ran 4.67 miles in about 47:25— a new distance record for me. (In fact it was a bit longer because my watch didn’t start timing when I thought it did). This was a real confidence boost, because if I can run that distance well that puts me in good position to complete a 10K. I’ll do better this week, too; at once point I stopped to walk because the group in front of me had run out of sight and I didn’t know where the planned route was, so I waited for the group behind me to catch up.
  • Friday I swam. Maybe 475m, maybe 500m, maybe 600m. It depends on which set of data from my watch you believe, as I wasn’t manually counting laps.
  • Saturday I ran the Alabama A&M Cross-Country 5K. I ran it in 31:59, which is certainly not great. The course features a good-sized hill, though, so that’s my excuse. I saw a ton of folks from my TRI101 class, which was cool, and it was a good workout. Plus each finisher got a hand-painted souvenir rock instead of Yet Another T-Shirt, so that was cool.
  • Sunday, I celebrated Fathers’ Day by not doing anything exercise-related. I did eat a steak, though, and I think that should count.
  • Monday I joined the local Kreme Delite group (so called because that’s where we ride from) and did 12.51 mi in 55:29. I got to the ride site a few minutes late, and the group had already left, so I blundered around trying to find the correct street for the route, then encountered another late rider along the way— so he and I rode the route, only to find a big group at the finish line. Note to self: be on time for next time.

On to the next!

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Does Azure Machine Learning open the door for on-premises Office Graph?

Microsoft continues to expand the reach of its Azure services by introducing new capabilities, seemingly on a daily basis. Today I was surprised to see an announcement for the new Azure Machine Learning service (more background in this NY Times article). The link for the service apparently isn’t live yet, though.

The availability of this service raises some interesting questions around Office Graph, the set of nifty social-ish features that Microsoft introduced at SPC and reiterated at MEC and TechEd. We recently learned that, at least for now, there are no plans to offer Office Graph, and its associated features, to on-premises customers in the next release of Exchange Server. Carefully parse that statement; it could mean anything from “there will never be Office Graph features in on-prem Exchange” to “we can change our plans and include them at any time.”

It’s fair to say that Office Graph is designed to leverage the high scale of Office 365, and that because it is a resource-intesive group of processes and services, that there’s likely to be a lot of infrastructure for management, monitoring, and tuning of its components— not necessarily something that could trivially be unleashed on the existing base of on-premises customers. I’d bet that these services have a lot of interconnections, too. However, if Microsoft is adopting the Amazon approach of  “everything is a service”, as they seem to be, you’d think that having some parts of Office Graph running on Azure ML is not only possible but probable. And the Azure folks are clearly comfortable with hybrid environments, as witness the fact that the Forza 5 and Titanfall video games on Xbox One both make extensive use of Azure-based resources.

So, if Office Graph is (or could be) consuming Azure ML as a service, it would seem to lower the barrier for getting Office Graph-related services into on-prem Exchange. I’ll be watching closely to see what Microsoft announces, and even more closely to see what they do, around this issue— it seems like the best possible world would be one where on-prem customers can harness the scale of Azure to get access to Office Graph features and where Microsoft doesn’t have to engineer a complete support system around on-prem variants of the Office Graph components. Stay tuned…

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