Thursday, September 17, 2015

Megatransect In Sandals (A Race Report)

Long before the race, I did a search for possible tips and tricks for doing the Megatransect in Luna Sandals, and there was nothing I could find online.  So, I may actually have been the first person to run the Mega in sandals.  Or, at the very least, the first person to run it in sandals and write about it online.

At the start I had a nice look at the crowd.  Everyone was wearing shoes.  I don't think there was another person in sandals.  I was actually a little surprised by this because of there were at least a couple of people in Five Fingers.  I've never worn Five Fingers, but I imagined it would be even more difficult than sandals.  As counter intuitive as it might seem, I think the sandals would protect your toes better because there might be a bit more of a base to reduce any shock to a potential toe-stubbing rock.  Anyway, I was passed by a couple of people in Five Fingers.

One thing that was way more difficult in sandals were those jagged rocks.  If the base of my sandals was just a bit thicker, I may have fared better on those rocks.  But a thicker base wouldn't have made a difference on the downhills.  Some of those downhills were so steep, I needed to step down sideways and/or slide down on my butt.  Going down a sharp angle puts a lot of pressure on the thong part between my toes, but since I trained in them, I was able to walk away without a blister.  Going down side-footed was another matter.  Maybe my sandals weren't tight enough, but they seemed tight as they could comfortably be, and yet they would slide around a bit more than what was comfortable.  These elements alone probably slowed me down by about 2 hours.

Failings aside, these sandals were practically built for The Boulder field.  They have a great grip, and the base flexibility was a benefit there.  Getting to the top of that pile of giant stones was my favorite part.  It was so challenging, and so beautiful, and so exciting!  When I reached the top, we were above the clouds and I almost cried.  I made a mental note of what it looked like and promised myself to sketch it out later.  Here's that sketch, though I don't think I did the view justice:

Further along in the trail, someone shouted, "Bees!" There were few of us speckled along the trail (possibly a half mile from aid station 17).  I looked, and people were running off-trail into the woods.  I panicked.  I'm not allergic, but the last time I was stung was 25 years ago and I remember it really sucked.  I followed them off-trail and detoured to a place further along, maybe 10 or 20 yards ahead of the bees.  Some people were not as lucky.  Someone behind said he made a wrong turn and stepped right into the nest.  The bees got him pretty bad.  A lot of people were stung.

Up until around this point, I was "leap frogging" with a nice gentleman who told me I was now something of a legend, that people where calling me "Sandals Chick".  I'll take it!  He also went on to tell me about how you shouldn't be touching the trees because your sweat encourages the animals (deer) to chow down on the bark and damage or kill the tree.  That was an interesting tid-bit I never heard before.

When I reached Aid station 17, I waded in the stream.  As great as that cold water felt, I was thinking about quitting.  I was just a few ounces short on water.  I had a small water bottle with me (about 12 ounces), I didn't anticipate that I would be out there for quite as long.  But as stated in the book "Waterlogged" by Noakes, I was far more likely to die from over-hydration than under-hydration.  I was a bit thirsty, but not to the point of laying down in the woods for the birds to get at.  It was merely another discomfort (pile on top of the muscle soreness and fatigue).  I decided to walk the next 4 miles to the following aid station.

I popped in a headphone and let the Leo Laporte podcast take me through the next 4 miles to Aid Station at mile 21.  My apologies to the race director if headphones were not allowed.  I just really needed to take the edge off at that moment and escape into the wonderful world of "Theeeee Tech Guy!"  At around 1 mile before that next aid station, Eric Landahl caught up to me.  I told him my situation and that I had been thinking about throwing in my towel of pride at the next aid station.  He said, "want some scratch?"  'Scratch' still remains a mysterious drink to me, but it was not half bad, well, if it was bad, I was too tired to notice.  Then he skipped ahead of me and in about 10 minutes I was feeling better about the race, my progress, life in general.

By the aid station at mile 21, Eric was there and gave me what was left in his stick of lube stuff.  That really helped.  People were still asking me how my feet were doing.  They were sore like the rest of me, but nothing compared to the chafing under my arms.  It was really bothering me, but since I was feeling better, I slapped on some lube and trekked forward.

I was excited to be able to run (ever so slowly) again and trotted to aid station at mile 24ish.  I was again passed by people who were shocked that I had gone this far in sandals.  Thanks for noticing!  At some point someone offered me a little water from his pack.  Thank you, kind stranger.  At the 24ish mile aid station, I was a little concerned that I would lose daylight.  I was not carrying a flashlight.  The nice people there told me not to worry, that I would probably be fine if I made it this far in this amount of time.

The boulder mountain called "RAW" was truly difficult.  I was no longer listening to "Theeee Tech Guy" as I needed every ounce of concentration to make it up the steep incline.  I took my time, stopping frequently to examine my future path.  Something interesting I noticed on the way up: the part of the trees where I was leaning my head and arm against to rest were worn down, as if something had eaten away at the bark.  It made me think back to what that guy had told me earlier about not touching the trees as I go.  I did feel bad about that now that I was aware of it.  I made it to the top.  Coming back down was more challenging in the sandals, but I was happy to be past it.

When I got to the road, I was so happy, and smiling at everyone.  I was almost done and with plenty of daylight to spare.  After a stretch of pavement, I reached "The Green Mile" (a stretch of grass to the finish line).  I was thrilled to get there, and then I crashed again in the middle of it.  The sun was beating down and I decided to put another layer of sunblock on, but failed to anticipate that sunblock really burns when put over the raw friction spots wrapping around the backs of my arms.  Ouch!  I tried to eat some of the Larabar in my pack, thinking it would lift my spirits, but it was pretty gross.  I could only swallow about a mouthful, then poured what was left of my water over my head.

I crossed the finish at 10 hours and 44 minutes, and there was beer waiting for me (also my husband, baby, and friends).   So, I probably could have shaved a few hours from my finish time by wearing shoes.  But that doesn't matter much to me.  I never won a race, and I never will.  If it was all about speed and winning, there would only be a handful of people running this race.  It's about the journey; the accomplishment.  I ran the Megatransect in sandals.

Here are some answers to common questions I received:
Q: "How do your feet feel after the race?"
A: Pretty good, I had a little blister under my right toe, and it didn't feel good at some point during mile 18 or so, but it was only there for about an hour and then it magically disappeared.  After the race my feet felt great.  As I'm writing this on the following Monday, my quads quiver with every step I take, and I still need to descend the staircase backwards, but my feet feel just fine.
Q: "Did you wear those sandals for the whole race?"
A: Yes.
Q: "Was it harder than wearing shoes?"
A: In some ways, yes.  I am slower in sandals; more careful with where I step.  Some of my nail polish chipped off, but there were no bruises or cuts.  That may not have been the case if I did not take my time.  On the other hand, it was really great being able to wade in the cool streams without having to take anything off.  The foot-beds tended to slide around a bit when wet, but dried quickly enough for me to be on my way when I need to go.  If my feet were swelling towards the end, I didn't notice because there was no shoe to squeeze into.  Any chafing that might present with the straps or footbed is something you just need to train for.  I think my feet were well conditioned for that.
Q: "For the love of all that is holy, why, oh, why would you do something like that?"
A: I tell people it's because nobody talked me out of it, but on a deeper level, I just needed the challenge.  Thankfully, the race allowed enough time for me to do it, I believed I could do it, I got really excited about doing it, then I did it.
Q: "Would you do it again?"
A: Undecided.

I'd like to thank the wonderful volunteers.  Also, Eric Landahl for sharing his 'scratch'.  I'd like to thank Sarah Rice, for using the "Suffocator" to keep our kid occupied while her parents were out dangling from rocks and trees.  Also, my wonderful husband, Andy, for his unrelenting support.

Breakfast Salad

Ever since I read "Born to Run", I've been making these salads for breakfast.  However, that isn't what the book was about.  It was mostly about running long distances - but there was one paragraph (just a single paragraph) that covered the subject of "salad for breakfast".  It mentioned that a salad for breakfast stays in your stomach if you run right after, and cells break down to provide hydration.  I'm not very hungry in the morning, and never having been a fan of the hearty egg-bacon-pancake-toast kind of breakfast, I found this interesting enough to want to try it.  The "breakfast salad" is something we've done for years now.  Whenever anyone stays with us, I offer them a "breakfast salad".  Several family members have now asked for my recipe which has led me to believe this is not only one of the few meals I'm capable of making, but something so great, it's worth sharing.  Family members, this recipe is for you:

Ingredients (see figure 1):
Figure 1

Here's how I throw it all together:

Take a handful of spinach, dandelion (my favorite) and/or other loose, green leafy substance and plop it on your plate.  This is the bed upon which everything else will rest.  However, I believe it should go down first for reasons of aesthetics (not function) which I could explain further if you're interested.  For now, I'd like to keep this blog-post simple.

Figure 2
Get out your avocado - awesome, awesome avocado!  Cut it in half by circling the pit with your knife (see figure 2).

Then take the two halves and twist apart.  One side will have the pit, the other will not.  Put the pitted half in the fridge for future salads.

Figure 3

Take the unpitted half and cut that in half (see figure 3).  If you're making salad for two, you can use one quarter for each salad.

Now, slice your quarter avocado once down the middle lengthwise. Don't press too hard or you'll pierce the skin and stab yourself in the hand if you're holding on to it (probably best to use a cutting board).  Then slice it the other way five or six times to make little avocado cubes (see figure 4 below).

Figure 4

Slide your thumb between the skin and avocado meat while holding it over your salad so the chunks fall onto your greens, but the skin stays in your hand.  Throw the skin away (or compost it).  You don't want to eat that.

Get your orange pepper, the sweet variety, but you can use any kind (red, green, whatever) - you're only going to use a quarter of it.  Chop it in half.  Then chop that half in half again.  Slice it how you want it (or see figure 5).  Remember to use your cutting board - it'll save you a few fingers.
Figure 5
Now for the fruit.  If it's apple season, I'll use half an apple cut into cubes and sprinkled on top.  Lately, I've been on a clementine trip.  I'll take a whole clementine, peel it, and place the slices around the edges of the plate (see figure 6).  You know what else is great, though?  Big, red, sweet grapes!  I cut about 5 or 6 in half and drop them on top.

Grab a handful of nuts.  That is what I said.  Cashews are our favorite.  But any nut will do.  Sprinkle on top.

Lastly, the cheese.  Whatever cheese you can break apart and sprinkle on top.  Our favorite has been feta cheese which crumbles between your fingers.  But chevre is also very good (though a little more work to break into pieces).
That's it (figure 6).  Enjoy with some olive oil and vinegar, or Teriyaki, Ponzu, whatever your taste.
Figure 6

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Windows 10 Update

I decided to update my Surface Pro 3 running Windows 8.1 to Windows 10.  Here's how it went (roughly):

I first noticed the cool interface.  I liked that the start screen was back (for desktop mode at least).  However, all of my pinned items were out of order.  So I spent some time re-ordering them.  Next I discovered Edge.  Nice, however I later discovered that it  doesn't support LastPass, so I can't import my passwords.  Also, I tried to import my bookmarks from Chrome, and they not only imported out of order, but most of them lacked favicons.  I tried searching for a fix for that and went so far as to "ask the Microsoft community".  Someone replied with an action that involved making changes to the registry.  I don't know about you, but I don't think I should need to mess with my computer's registry to solve a problem.  I mean, it's nice that we're allowed to do that, but I thought Windows10 would be so fantastic, you wouldn't need to!  I didn't feel comfortable messing with the registry, so I left that one alone, and continue to use Chrome for most things.

This next issue requires me to tell you that I like to use my virtual keyboard and writing tab.  I noticed my open windows were not resizing to make way for the virtual keyboard.  For those of you who don't use an on-screen keyboard, I use it because I don't like lugging a physical keyboard around with my SP3.  It just gets in the way when I'm trying to draw (first world problems, I know).  So, if the window doesn't resize to make way for the keyboard (or writing tab), I can't see what I'm writing after jotting down a few paragraphs.  Facebook, for example, has a message box at the bottom of the screen.  If I want to write a Facebook message, I need to continually switch the keyboard on and off so I could see what I was writing.

After about a day of searching, I discovered that this feature was no longer available in Win10.  I was feeling the suckiness of being me and possibly the 5 other people on the planet who actually use that feature.  Then I realized I could just pop off the keyboard and move it around the screen.  Not a bad compensation, but not what I was expecting I'd need to do.

My next issue occurred a few days after I upgraded.  OneDrive stopped working.  I'm not sure it ever started to work after the update - I just didn't notice until I tried to save a file to it.  It would just crash quietly.  Sometimes it would tell me it was crashing.  Most of the time, the little cloud icon at the bottom of the screen would vanish and I couldn't find a trace of it in the task manager.  I asked the MS community again.  The first response was to run some kind of a "reset" for OneDrive.  That didn't work.  The next thing I tried was turning the computer on and off (it works for some things, but not this).  Then someone suggested I go into my "Libraries" and disconnect that.  No dice.  Another someone suggested I get a new Microsoft user ID and transfer everything over to that one.  Mind you, I have a crawling baby I'm caring for while all of this is going on.  I only got as far as to set up a second user ID - never figured out how to make the transfer.  I gave up on making a new ID and (as another online alias suggested) I decided to "refresh" my computer.  I'm not sure if "refresh" is the right term.  What it really did was to erase most of my Windows settings along with almost every installed program.  After that, OneDrive still didn't work and I was feeling defeated.  I was contemplating one of two things; either I was going to revert back to windows 8.1, or I was going to toss the whole machine out the 3rd floor window.

After several deep breaths (and a 2 mile run in the great out doors), I'm happy to say that I did neither.  With a little more searching, there was a mention of changing some OneDrive settings in the cloud.  I did just that.  I went straight to my browser, opened up OneDrive in the cloud and promptly deleted the offending computer from the list of "PCs".  Initially, I thought it actually worked!  I was able to open up OneDrive and the program went through a brief initiation process (wanted to log me in) before abruptly crashing after an attempt to assign a OneDrive folder.  This new issue lead me to a small thread that gave me the answer.  A very, very strange answer!  "Change your display settings" it said.  So, I was willing to try anything at this point.  I went to settings, display and changed it from 150% to something else.  Logged out, logged back in, and it was fixed!  Oh, fixed at last!  Onedrive now works on my SP3 running windows 10.

Do I get a consolation prize for figuring this out?  Probably not.  But I got Windows 10 for free.  Isn't that nice?

To celebrate, I drew this picture:

Now I'm having problems getting the flicks to work in my drawing programs and the baby is pressing buttons on the printer again.  *Sigh*

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Surface Pro 3 (Artist Review)

Pre-order drama
I might as well start this story from the very beginning.  I pre-ordered the i5 128 with the keyboard maybe a few weeks before the release date.  Roughly 5 days before it was going to ship, I get this e-mail stating that I had canceled my order.  I didn't authorize any kind of cancellation and called them to inquire.  The guy on the phone said he'll get back to me and put me on hold for a while.  Then an automated service said I could chose to have them call me back within 20 minutes - I chose that option.  From that point, I went online and saw that the SP3 128 ship date was bumped up by 10 days.  If I was to order again, I would have to wait even longer for it to arrive.  40 minutes had now passed since I chose the call-me-back-in-20 option, and I called them.  The guy on the phone told me that because my credit card declined the order, the entire order was canceled - odd, because when I ordered it, I gave my credit card the notice and they appeared to let the order go through.  He offered to have this issue reported to Microsoft's higher management, open up a case report and deliver some kind of extra service to be sure this order would go through.  But, after some thought, I decided to upgrade the order to an SP3 i5 256 (which still had that initial release date of June 20th).  This is the point at which my needs as an illustrator come into play.  After some serious thought, I decided that the keyboard would get in the way of my drawing experience, and I would be better served by a cheap bluetooth keyboard that I can place wherever I want (for hot-key use, it works best to place one on my left).  The cost difference between the 128 (with keyboard), and the 256 (without the keyboard) was roughly a hundred fifty dollars.  I'm now happy I chose the latter option.

I placed my order for the faster machine (without the keyboard), called my bank to clear the charge, and 2 days before it was set to ship, another customer service rep called me.  He informed me that my credit company declined the transaction AGAIN, and the ship date had been bumped up for the 256 as well.  But, this customer service rep seemed to know a bit more about what was going on and apologized for the glitch they seem to have with their pre-ordering system.  He offered to re-order (for a 3rd time), but place it on complementary expedited shipping.  I cleared this order with my bank.  This was exciting - I finally had an estimated delivery date.  Unfortunately, I think the expedited shipping charge was sent to my credit card company before it was removed or waived, and the order was declined...AGAIN.  I called the credit card company and told them to let it go through for the final time.

A rough start, but the Surface arrived in once piece (or two pieces if you include the pen), and I was eager to load it with all my graphics goodies.  From all of this, I'd conclude that Microsoft, like any big company, has its problems, but when it comes to solving these problems and getting on top of customer service support, they do a good job (at least that's my experience).

Updating Firmware
It takes a bit of time, but be patient, it's worth it.  Please see the Surface Pro Artist blog for more detail:

Screen lock, where are you!?
So, it took me a small bit of time to figure out how to lock the screen so that I can rotate the surface to draw a smooth line in the direction I need.  Turns out, it's not a difficult thing to do if you know where to look (swipe from right of screen -> settings -> screen).  Also, the home button on the right side sometimes reacts to my hand placement, but it isn't such a huge issue that I've looked to turn it off.  I do kind of like using it.  What I would love to see, however, is an option to deactivate it completely, or while using specific graphic programs.

A pen and pressure sensitivity side note:
Before the announcement of the SP3, I had been waiting for the SP2 prices to drop so that I could get one, so before looking up anything about the SP3, I had assumed that it would come with Wacom technology and all that jazz.  While I was waiting for my surface to come in, I was so excited to get it, I had to look up all the reviews and live vicariously through people who got their hands on the pre-release product.  Initially, I was shocked and disappointed, not only to discover that Wacom was no longer included with this design, but the pressure sensitivity was reduced to only 256 levels (down from 1024 on the SP2).  The digitizer was N-Trig.  It had me wondering if Microsoft was ditching its smaller artist fan-base in favor of targeting a much larger audience.  After reading about it, I decided it would be a risk, but I was willing to take that risk for something that was Wacom Cintiq-like, yet portable and with a fully functioning stand-alone OS.  Here's one nice resource I found on the subject:
After receiving the device, I'm not entirely sure there is too much of a difference between my Wacom Intuos 5 and drawing directly onto the screen of the SP3, except that drawing onto the screen is still slightly more awesome, but the pressure settings for the pen must be adjusted within the programs used (if there is an option, since there doesn't seem to be a way to adjust the general pressure sensitivity within the surface controls).  After doing my research, I see this as a much needed update on firmware (if possible) *raises left eyebrow and glares at N-trig, then at Microsoft*.

I have the impulse to put the pen, point down, into something that resembles an inkwell (like what came with my Wacom Intuos).  But, really it doesn't matter to me if I don't think it'll be harmed by setting it on its side.  There's quite a stir about the lack of pen-holder on the surface.  I don't really need one.  If I'm at work, the pen is always-always in my hand and it would actually bother me to have to stick it in some little loop every time I need to place it down for something.  It doesn't phase me that there isn't an attached pen-holder (since I opted not to get the keyboard).  What I wouldn't mind having would be a little pen-box to protect it while traveling, but again, this is a minor detail since the padded pocket of my travel bag works well enough.

I haven't yet taken it out on the road because I'm so in love with it, that I'm afraid someone is going to swipe it from my hands in a public place (I've actually experienced this with another item).  But, I love being able to take the functionality of my entire desktop away from the desktop.  I like to use it on a painter's easel at an ergonomic angle with a generic bluetooth keyboard on my left side (for short-cut keys), and actually get some illustrating work done.  It's still not quite as fast as my desktop (comparing an i5 with 8GB of system memory to an i7 with 16GB), but it certainly gets the job done better than my 7 year old Dell laptop (a machine that served me well back in the day).  I'd like to see a protective cover for it that has holes in the back for some ventilation.  Not that it gets too hot, because it doesn't really at all, but I like for my devices to be able to breathe.  I also feel that I need to put something on it to protect it since I pick it up and place it down a lot, and sometimes use it as a sketchbook replacement that I can twist and turn on my lap (it's a bit slippery for constant shifting and could probably use some rubber stickers along the edges).

Wifi Woes
I did notice some wifi connectivity issues, but they're not a dealbreaker for me.  I understand it takes some time for my desktop (a more powerful machine) to fully connect to the internet while turning on.  If you just give it a minute or two, it does connect most of the time.  The real test will be when I work up the courage to finally take it out on the road.  Maybe I'll come back and update this blog entry if I discover anything new.

*update: the wifi will not connect on startup.  It seems to want to connect, but the solution for me has been to turn wifi off, then back on again - that solves my issue.  I don't use the connectivity as a major part of my work schedule, but if I needed to, it would be a definite annoyance.  It connects fine from sleep, but not from startup.

I really wish I could show-off some of my latest work, but as usual, I'm under non-disclosure contracts, so to your right is just a random sketch for my #SketchOfTheDay series.  I hope all of this info helps another artist out there, someone looking to make the switch.  Thanks for reading.