Ending on a high note

Today I went into my place of work, and picked up all the stuff I’d left in and around my desk. Then I spent a few hours making sure none of my non-work info was left on my laptop, especially my password manager and iCloud account. Left my keyfob on my desk. Then I took my laptop to FedEx Office and sent it back to our head office in Connecticut. And that is it. Forty years of work as a professional computer programmer is over.

I counted it up a few months ago when I was writing my resignation letter, and I make it somewhere between 20 and 22 different jobs depending how you count it. That includes 1 month contracts and two 6 year long permanent jobs and everything in between. It doesn’t include two occasions where I was unemployed for several months in a row. Sometimes it sucked, sometimes it was great, but I’m never sorry that I chose this path.

Early on in the history of this blog, I started a series of “bad job experiences” posts. I stopped that after one of the people I’d mentioned in a post found the blog and disputed some of the things I said about it. I realized these posts might show up when I’m looking for work and potential employers Google my name and that might be harming me. I’d much rather they found my 100,000 plus Stackoverflow points or even my pathetic GitHub profile than that.

Weirdly, even though I had fodder for that series even at the best jobs I had, I am hard pressed to find anything like that to write about my last job. I started at Skillsoft on 5 January 2020. By late March, we very quickly transitioned to working from home. Skillsoft management were great – one of the first things they did was immediately give us a day off to recover from the “stress” of the change. I’d had 7 years of previous experience with working from home and I thrive in that environment, but I took the day off, of course. They then put two weeks of “special leave” in our online time manager that we could take for COVID related emergencies, like providing support for sick family members or needing time to arrange things for your children. I think our sick leave was officially “use as much as you need, but we’ll probably need a doctors note if it drags on too long”.

I loved just about everything at this job. It was fast paced without being frenetic, you weren’t pressured to meet unreasonable deadlines, the tech stack was good, the other developers very approachable. Pat, the team leader was always willing to get on a slack call and walk you through any problems you had. Usually I tried to call my team mate Daquanne rather than Pat because Pat had so many other calls on his time and Daquanne was great at explaining things. I kind of hated sprint demo day, I did at my previous Agile jobs as well, but I got through them ok. And when we were in the office, Michelle would make cookies on demo day.

Other than the stress of demo day, the only nit I could pick was my co-worker Uyen who wore a lot of perfume. I’m over sensitive to perfume, and it would frequently make me sneeze even when she was at her desk and I was at mine. I bought a little USB powered fan to try to blow air towards her desk, and I guess it worked but I only had it for a week when we went to full work from home. Anybody need a cheap fan? She also had an accent which made it hard to understand her over Teams, so I didn’t go to her for help unless it was something where she was the subject matter expert, like our Fastly configuration.

We had a small team, and everybody got to work on front end and back end as per our own inclinations. Everybody had their areas of comfort but they also didn’t seem to mind if you picked up a story in their area or suggested a different approach in a code review. I can honestly say this was the best team I’ve ever been on – I’ve worked with other very smart very good programmers, but every other team had a person or two who you just hoped they’d go away and stop dragging down the rest of you. I’m hoping that doesn’t mean I was the drag.

I’ve been looking forward to retiring for a long time. I’m not going to stop programming – I’ve got a couple of projects I want to work on, and maybe I’ll do some bug fixing for open source projects. It sounds like log4j could use some help?

But also, I’ve been looking forward to having more time for paddling and biking. With more time to train, I was hoping I could try to do the Adirondak Canoe Classic. Unfortunately I’ve been having massive problems with pain in my hips and butt. This summer, I actually had to stop paddling during races to lift my butt out of the seat a few times to relieve the pain. And that pain has gotten worse over the last few months. I can’t paddle, or even sit in a car or a desk chair for more than 45 minutes without being in intense pain. In our recent trip to BC, there were several times I thought I was going to scream I was in so much pain. If I can’t find a solution for the pain, I’m not sure what I’m going to do.

That’s also going to impact my other major goal of retirement – traveling with Vicki. Again, I’m not looking forward to long car rides. Flying business class seems acceptable, especially those amazing pods we got on the flight home from BC. And let’s not even think about what the new COVID variant might mean to our booked Viking cruise.

So I guess task # 1 of the new year will be pounding the desk at my doctor until I get a solution to my pain problems or medication to manage them.

Madrid Day 2

So if there’s one thing harder than racing hard in a pack against hard competitors for 8 miles, it’s getting up the next day to race another 13 miles. Two of my main competitors, Bob R and Chris L didn’t come back for day 2, but Dave W and Eric Y were here (even if they avoided the mixed pleasure of camping at the race site, which I think is one of the pluses of this race). JM was going to double with the inimitable Roger G in Roger’s V8 Double – not sure if that would make things better or worse for Eric, but such things will be decided well ahead of me on the water and probably won’t even get more than a glimpse in my race video. And after all, these days my video is the main focus of my race.

Pre-race activities were started off by an old fart who yelled at me for spending time on my iPad while waiting in line alone for the diner to open. Because why would I want to be reading stuff that I like from people I know and like when I could be talking to a rude stranger? And then in the diner he picked up a newspaper because while reading things lovingly created by your friends is rude, reading lies created by political entities determined to destroy democracy is not.

There are a lot fewer people racing on day 2. A lot fewer boats, not least because a lot of people who were in C-1s on the first day were doubled up in C-2s today. The other kayakers other than the ones I mentioned earlier were people who wouldn’t be a factor in my race so unfortunately I didn’t really take note of who they were. Sorry.

At the gun, I decided that there’s no point trying to outsmart Dave W so I should just paddle my own pace and see what happened. Eric and the double disappeared into the distance – I think I made a half hearted attempt to get on Eric’s stern wake but that lasted a few seconds. So I settled down to tow Dave for the foreseeable future.

I kept telling myself all the way down that my goal was a good average speed and to stop worrying about Dave, but of course I still thought about him lurking back there. But mostly I was concentrating on avoiding weeds – any time I had to cross a weed bed, I tried to keep my boat perfectly parallel to the current so my bow wouldn’t cross the weeds. And that actually seemed to mostly work.

Working my way through the c-2s, I liked to take a brief rest in the stern wake of one and then sprint ahead to the next. At one point there were two C-2s side by side but they kept coming together and nearly hitting each other, then parting. The first time, it looked like one of them was swerving to avoid a stump, but I’m not sure about the other times. Whatever, I wasn’t going to go up between them in spite of how cool a double wake is.

Later, about 500 meters from the turn buoy I was with two other C-2s and I didn’t want to try turning with them so I put in a dig and got ahead of them. But in doing so, I banged my rudder really hard on a rock. (The rudder made it through the race, but it’s going to need a bunch of epoxy to fix it now.) Rounding the turn I got a glimpse back and realized Dave wasn’t on my stern any more. He was about 30 seconds back, but riding the stern wake on one of the big stock C-2s, getting a good ride and primed to power ahead at some point and demolish me like he usually does.

I continued to not look back, just try to keep a good pace and not get any more weeds or hit any more rocks on the way back up. At the take out for the portage, I snuck another look back and could see some C-2s a minute or so back, and I wasn’t sure if Dave was in that group or not.

Without 3 rivals right around me, I don’t think I was quite as fast on the portage this time, but I’d also already done 15 kilometers of paddling so I was pretty tired. It felt good to stretch my legs a bit. As I dropped in at the end of the portage, I could see the c-2s had closed the gap a bit, but I still couldn’t tell if Dave was with them.

On the way upstream, I saw Eric in his way downstream and he said something about “them” being about 100 yards back. I don’t quite understand that, because a minute later I hit the turn and glanced back, and I couldn’t see anyone, canoe or kayak. I still was sure Dave was just biding his time to come smashing through.

I kept that sense of paranoia and impeding doom all the way through to the finish. I put in a nice strong finish sprint, which is unusual enough for me, but especially after 21 kilometers of racing. Turns out I needn’t bother, because Dave was actually about 3 minutes behind me. I guess sleeping in a real bed instead of a borrowed air mattress didn’t work out so great for him.

So like I said on day 1, I don’t know why I do this race, but I’m always glad I do.

Madrid Regatta Day 1

“Why do I do this”? That’s a question that occurred to me a few times this weekend. I mean, the race course is shallow and weedy, which are two things I hate. But on the other hand, it’s the first 2 day race I ever did, and so far in the 3.5 times I’ve done it, it’s always been gorgeous weather. The organization is pretty good, and they allow us to camp on the grounds so that’s pretty cool, and it keeps the costs down.

Day 1 is 9 miles, including a 1/4 mile portage around a dam (and skirting the edge of our campground). I had planned to drive up early in the morning, arriving in plenty of time to get my surfski and video cameras ready to in time for the race. And instead what I did was have an incredibly sleepless night, leave an hour before I’d intended to, and have so much time before the race that I actually had to time to set up my tent and realize that in spite of all the tossing and turning I did mulling over the things I needed to remember, I forgot my air mattress. Although I did remember my air mattress pump.

Once again there was hardly anybody in “Unlimited” kayak – just me, Eric Y, and JM. I could guess where I would end up in that group. “Touring” was a bigger group, with Dave W who usually beats me, Chris L who I’ve only raced against twice and he beat me, Bob R who beat me badly at the USCA Nationals in 2018 but who I’ve barely beat a few times since, and a few other guys who probably wouldn’t be a threat.

At the gun, JM and Eric Y took off like a shot. At first, Chris tried to tag onto their wakes, and I got on his side wake. He quickly gave up trying to stay with them, but I really wanted to make him lead rather than doing my usual thing and towing all my rivals around the course. Dave of course was going to stay on somebody’s wake no matter what. And after the initial burst of speed to try to stay up with JM and Eric, we slowed down so much trying to make each other lead that it felt like a “track stand”. And of course, I was the first to blink and say “I didn’t come here to paddle at 9 km/hr” and head off at my own pace, towing Chris, Dave and Bob.

The canoes were cutting it in tight on the corners but we don’t try to divine their motives. I was just trying to avoid weeds – the bow of my V10 Sport (and Bob’s V8 Pro) is completely vertical at the water line and if it crosses a weed you’ll never get it off. I try to “bounce” the boat to shake off weeds, but it doesn’t work very well and I probably have a 5% success rate at best. I had picked up a very small amount of weed by the down stream turn but it wasn’t slowing me too much.

At the down stream turn, I tried to a bit of a sprint – sometimes you can get a gap at a turn and make it harder for the hangers-on to get back on your wake. I did get a tiny gap, but I couldn’t hold on and they caught back onto my wake pretty quickly.

About a quarter to a third of the way back to the carry from the down stream turn, I’d picked up some more weeds and evidently it slowed me down enough that Bob decided to take the lead. There was a bit of a shuffle around and now it was Bob, with Dave on his side wake, and then Chris sort-of on Bob’s stern wake, and me on Dave’s stern wake.

I don’t know if it was somebody practicing race craft, or just the varied depths of water, but the two ahead of me would suddenly speed up to 11+ km/hr forcing me to pull hard to get back into their wakes, then they’d slow down to 9 km/hr. The weeds on my bow made it a hard pull if I was even a foot behind Dave’s stern, so I was in as tight as I could get. But with the speed fluctuations, I tapped Dave’s stern a couple of times. I tried to turn aside when he slowed down, but sometimes I didn’t react quite fast enough. Dave didn’t take it well, and yelled at me a couple of times in the heat of the event. (We had a good laugh about it afterwards, so no hard feelings I hope.)

About a kilometer before the portage, I decided I wanted to be in the lead again. I’m pretty sure I can get started on the portage pretty quickly because I practice this stuff, but I know I’m pretty slow doing the actual carrying part. At least getting to the take out first would keep me out of any pile up at the start, even if there’s nothing I could do about there being another one at the end. And sure enough, I got to the put-in right behind Chris and Dave and slightly ahead of Bob. Unfortunately I couldn’t squeeze in until Chris and Dave were basically leaving and then Bob kind of landed right beside me. Chris and Dave had a good gap on me, and I couldn’t close it down. On the other hand, I got a decent gap on Bob, but he managed to catch me up about 3 kilometers later after the turn at the top. And we battled back and forth until we were almost in view of the finish where I put in a dig and managed to get ahead of him. I did a pretty decent finish sprint and he didn’t manage to come around me.

Final results had less than 45 seconds between Dave and Rob, with Chris and I in between. A very close race.


New Bike

Trek Checkpoint ALR5

I bought a new bike. First time I’ve bought a brand new bike since 1993. First drop bar bike I’ve ridden since the 1980s. It’s a thing of beauty, isn’t it?

It’s a Trek Checkpoint ALR5 gravel bike. It’s got hydraulic disc brakes and a 2×11 Shimano GRX drive train, and a light weight aluminum frame. My old 1993 Nishiki Rockhound had manual cantilever brakes, a 3×7 Shimano Deore DX drive train and a steel and chromoly frame. The aluminum frame is stiffer and it rides a bit harsher, but other than that, and the shifters on the brake levers (“brifters”?) take a bit of getting used to, but otherwise it’s a dream. Those hydraulic brakes are amazingly grabby. I haven’t tried any big climbs like Rich’s Dugway but there seems to be a good range of gears. And it’s so light!

I have done two rides on it, and set numerous PRs on both rides. I probably would have set more but for today’s ride I had a huge head wind for parts of it, especially the long drag up East Avenue from Fairport.

Round The Mountain again

Today was the annual Round The Mountain paddle race. I think in the past I’ve referred to it as a canoe/kayak race but that really does a disservice to the people who race in Adirondack guide boats and SUPs and probably other paddle and row craft that I didn’t notice. For me, it’s usually my first race of the year- I know people who start racing earlier but there is something I love about starting my season in Saranac Lake and finishing it in Long Lake in September. Well except last year when I only did one race, the Madrid COVID race. Being back on the semi-normal schedule is the first normal thing that’s happened since last March.

Being the first race of the year, weather is almost always a factor. We always joke that it’s flat calm when we arrive in Ampersand Bay to prepare our boats and then 10 minutes before race time it’s blowing a gale and there are two foot waves just outside the bay. That didn’t happen today. All the pre-race talk was about how cold it was – it was forecast to be 43F at start time and raining an hour later, which is a pretty miserable combination. I’d have to check, but I’m pretty sure that’s the coldest race I’ve ever done. I elected to wear my farmer john wetsuit and viakobi storm top. I was thinking of wearing a Mountain Hardware fleece vest as well, but once I got my pfd on it seemed too warm to I took it off. I had regular socks under plastic bags under neoprene socks. I also wore my favorite fiber pile toque. Warming up on the water I felt like my torso was too warm and my feet too cold. I was hoping the warmth would redistribute a bit after my blood got flowing.

The race is under new management this year, although Brian Mac is still helping them with the transition. Two of the changes they’ve implemented are that you had to pick up your race packet at the community center a few miles up the road, and when they called your wave you had to go through a chute carrying your boat to get to the water. I’m not a fan. The first one didn’t really change anything except the route you drive to the start. The second one was a huge bottleneck which slowed down the process of getting each wave ready and acted as a disincentive to warming up early because you’d have to get back out of your boat and carry it through the chute after you’d warmed up. A traditional paddle wave would probably have been faster.

In the past they’ve messed with the order of the start waves and who starts in what wave. I think Brian’s usual method was to try to start the slow people first to minimize the amount of time they’d have to staff the finish line. This time they announced that they’d start the fast boats first in order to reduce congestion at the portage. Except when we picked up our race packets, we noticed that while unlimited kayaks were second wave and touring kayaks were third wave, for some reason guide boats and SUPs were in the first wave. As a matter of fact, other than the touring kayaks starting behind us, it was looking a lot like a Brian Mac start order.

Before the race, I like to scope out “the quality”, IE the kayaks that are faster than me and the ones I’m competitive with. And really, I felt like I was going to be alone out there. Two really fast paddlers, Royal and Matt, were going to be in doubles (but not with each other, thank goodness), two really fast old guys in my age group were obviously going to be up with the doubles and then there was Eric, who I’ve occasionally been close enough to see him finish but I’ve never managed to be with him for more than a thousand meters or so. The people I felt I had a chance to paddle with like Dave W and Bob R were in touring class and starting several minutes behind me, so I was hoping not to see them.

So when we started, as expected the two old guys and the two doubles were off like a shot. Initially I was just going to find a c-2 wake to ride across the lake like I usually do, but it wasn’t as wavy as it usually was. I was amazed to find myself on Eric’s stern wake and ahead of Tim’s c-2 which I’d tucked in behind in 2019. I figured this might last all the way across the lake if I was lucky, but there’s no way I’d be able to hold it once we got into the sheltered water and down stream parts. Eric and this very fast c-2 were side by side, and I briefly thought about transferring to their stern since they put out a bigger wake than Eric’s V10, but I decided it was too risky. I still second guess that, because they eventually pulled away. But Eric didn’t. I was stuck on him like a limpet.

Up ahead it looked like the four leading boats had separated into two groups, but I couldn’t tell if it was the two doubles and the two singles or two groups with one of each. The pontoon boat that often sits in the lee of the first big island wasn’t making everybody pass on his left this time so one of the groups went close in to the shore of the island. I’ll have to check my videos later, because I can’t remember which way we went.

In the river, I stayed with Eric. Even though he was sticking to the buoyed channel in places where I normally take a short cut, I didn’t want to risk losing this wake so I stayed with him. And we were making really good time. And a couple of the short cuts I normally take were actually bad choices because we were catching the first wave people and there were crowds in some of them. Better to stick in the channel where there was room to pass. Royal’s double appeared to be in trouble because they went well off course. I couldn’t tell if they were thinking of heading to shore, or were lost.

A couple of times it seemed like Eric was putting in a big dig to try to lose me. We hit a couple of stretches of heavy headwind and I was really grateful for the windbreak so I worked extra hard not to lose him. I still didn’t think this was going to last because my heart rate was in the red zone and eventually I’d have to slow down.

Even in the stump Lake just before the portage, Eric took the very twisty main channel instead of going straight through the stumps like I normally go. And without the suck water, it was probably the better option in retrospect.

When we reached the portage, I was still on Eric’s stern, but he was slow getting out of the boat so I went ahead. I thought this was great, I could prevent him from getting too far ahead of me on the portage and I’d still have a shot at riding his wake afterwards. Royal and partner got there ahead of us, but they were intent on fixing something in their boat so I guessed that their earlier off course moment was a steering issue.

On the climb of the portage, I discovered a very interesting fact – if you put plastic bags between your sock layers for warmth, your shoes will slide around independent of the feet inside them which ruins whatever grip you might have. I’m sure Eric and the C-2 that arrived shortly after us were not appreciative of how slow I was, but it was marked as “no running, walk only” so I was just helping to enforce the rules. Descending the other side was even worse, because as usual there was a place where somebody had slid out on the mud and I didn’t want to slide and drop my boat.

At the dock on the other end, I took the less advantageous right side (which is partially blocked by a tree) expecting Eric to take the left side and get back into the lead with me not very far behind him. Instead, he seemed to be waiting for the right side. Before the race, we’d commiserated over our problems with numb butts and uncooperative joints, so maybe he was having those sorts of problems. The c-2 launched from the shore and was slightly ahead of me by the time I got paddling.

I initially tried to tuck in behind the c-2, but I soon realized I was faster than them so I struck out on my own. I was still expecting Eric to catch up at any moment, although I was vain enough to think maybe he’d ride my wake for a bit so I could say I’d returned the favor.

Being alone now meant I got to choose the route, which meant cutting every corner, going through the “sneaks” I’ve often taken, and generally congratulating myself on being a wiley old veteran of this race. Which of course meant struggling through some horrendous suck water because out of the channel means out of the deeper water. Also there was a lot more head wind around. I was struggling to maintain a bare 10 km/hr and in the really windy parts it was more like 8.5.

One lake was a raw quartering headwind that sent the occasional cold wave into my bucket, which didn’t increase my comfort level much. As well, without Eric to lead, I was letting my heart rate drop out of zone 5 (red) and into zone 4 (orange) which is more comfortable but slower. I was still expecting Eric to blast through at any moment, but when I snuck a glance back I didn’t see him, just that c-2.

Slowly the kilometers clicked up and the landmarks drifted by. No sign of Eric but I was convinced I’d just looked over the wrong shoulder and he’d be powered past on the other side. So even though I was theoretically alone, I put in a “finish sprint”, which is my laughing way of saying I briefly got my heart rate up into the red zone again without having an appreciable effect on my speed.

Because of social distancing there wasn’t an awards ceremony, but I did get a wood plaque for being third behind the two old guys. Other than Matt and Roger in the double, I don’t know if anybody was faster than us three. Maybe that c-2 that pulled ahead on the first lake, and probably Dave W in the touring class in third wave.

It was also a weird semi-post-covid mishmash of indecision about when to mask and when not to. In the pre and post race standing around and talking, mostly I didn’t mask because I’m vaccinated and so were the people I was talking to. But there were a few times I wasn’t sure if the people I was talking to were, but I figured since we were outside it was probably fine. It’s still feels odd and, to use an overused phrase, uncertain. I wonder how long it will take before we feel normal again?