Category Archives: Life

Looking back on a day in the mud – 2015 Rasputitsa

Back in mid-January, the weather in New England had been unseasonably nice and it was looking like we were going to have a mild winter. I had completed the Rapha Festive 500 at the end of the year and felt like it would be a good winter of riding although it was starting to get cold in January. Someone mentioned the Rasputitsa gravel race (probably Chip) and I thought it looked like it could be fun. There was one little blizzard as we neared the end of January (and the registration increase!) but things still seemed okay. So I signed up, thinking it would help keep me riding even through the cold. Little did I know that we were about to get hit with a record amount of snow basically keeping me off the bike for six weeks. So March rolls around, I’ve barely ridden and Rasputitsa is a month away. Game. On.

I stepped up my riding and by a week ago, I started to feel I’d at least be able to suffer through things. But everyone that I’d been talking with about driving up with was bailing and so I started thinking along the same lines. But on Friday afternoon, I was reminded by my friend Kate that “What would Jens do?”. And that settled it, I was going.

I drove up and spent the night in Lincoln, NH on Friday night to avoid having to do a 3 hour drive on Saturday morning before the race. I woke up Saturday morning, had some hotel breakfast and drove the last hour to Burke. As I stepped out of the car, I was hit by a blast of cold wind and snow flurries were starting to fall. And I realized that my vest and my jacket hadn’t made the trip with me, instead being cozy in my basement. Oops.

I finished getting dressed, spun down to pick up my number and then waited around for the start. It was cold but I tried to at least keep walking around, chatting with folks I knew and considering buying another layer from one of the vendors, although I decided against.

It's overcast and chilly as we line up at the start
It’s overcast and chilly as we line up at the start

But then we lined up and, with what was in retrospect not my wisest choice of the day, I decided to line up with some friends of mine who were near the back. But then we started and I couldn’t just hang out at the back and enjoy a nice ride. Instead, I started picking my way forward through the crowd. My heart rate started to go up, though my Garmin wasn’t picking up the HR strap, just as the road did. The nice thing was that this also had the impact of warming me up and not feel cold. The roads started out smooth but quickly got to washed out dirt, potholes and peanut butter thick mud. But it was fun… I hadn’t spent time on roads like this before but it was good. I got into a rhythm where on the flats and climbs, I would push hard and then on some of the downhills, I would be a little sketched out and take it slower. So I’d pass people going up, they’d pass me going down. But I was making slow progress forward.

Until Cyberia. I was feeling strong. I was 29.3 miles in of 40. And I thought that I was going to end up with a pretty good time. After a section of dirt that was all up-hill, we took a turn to a snow covered hill. I was able to ride about 100 feet before hopping off and starting to walk the bike up hill. And that is when the pain began. My calves pulled and hurt. I couldn’t go that quickly. The ruts were hard to push the bike through. And it kept going. At the bottom of the hill, they had said 1.7 miles to the feed zone… I thought some of it I’d ride. But no, I walked it all. Slowly. Painfully. And bonking while I did it as I was needing to eat as I got there and I couldn’t walk, push my bike and eat at the same time. I made it to the top and thought that maybe I could ride down. But no, more painful walking. It was an hour of suffering. It wasn’t pretty. But I did it. But I was passed by oh so many people. It was three of the hardest miles I’ve ever had.

The slow and painful slog through the snow. Photo courtesy of @jarlathond
The slow and painful slog through the snow.
Photo courtesy of @jarlathond

I reached the bottom where the road began again and I got back on my bike. They said we had 7.5 miles to go but I was delirious. I tried to eat and drink and get back into pedaling.  I couldn’t find my rhythm. I was cold. But I kept going, because suffering is something I can do. So I managed to basically hold on to my position, although I certainly didn’t make up any ground. I took the turn for 1K to go, rode 200 meters and saw the icy, snowy chute down to the finish… I laughed and I carefully worked my way down it and then crossed the finish line. 4:12:54 on the clock… a little above the 4 hours I hoped for but the hour and 8 minutes that I spent on Cyberia didn’t help me.

Yep, ended up with some mud there.
Yep, ended up with some mud there.

I went back to the car, changed and took advantage of the plentiful and wonderful food on offer before getting back in the car and starting the three hour drive back home.

Mmm, all the food
Mmm, all the food

So how was it? AWESOME. One of the most fun days I’ve had on the bike. Incredibly well-organized and run. Great food both on the course (Untappd maple syrup hand up, home made cookie handup, home made doughnuts at the top of Cyberia, Skratch Labs bottle feeds) and after. The people who didn’t come missed out on a great day on a great course put on by great people. I’m already thinking that I probably will have to do the Dirty 40 in September. As for next year? Well, with almost a week behind me, I’m thinking that I’ll probably tackle Rasputitsa again… although I might go for more walkable shoes than the winter boots I wore this year and try to be a bit smarter about Cyberia. But what a great start event for the season!

Fire.  Chainsaws.  Alf. Basically, all of Vermont's finest on offer.
Fire. Chainsaws. Alf.
Basically, all of Vermont’s finest on offer.

My Journey to Becoming a Cyclist

As most who know me know, I consider myself a cyclist. I ride my bike often, do distances that most consider questionable and even at times in pretty unsavory conditions

Eight years ago, this wasn’t the case. I was your typical pretty sedentary software engineer. But I got a bike and started riding a little. I thought that maybe I would get to where I would do a 50 mile ride. Or a metric century (that’s 62 miles/100 km for those not in bike circles). But I was going up and down the bike path so was at 15-20 miles. 25 was long for me.

And then I decided one Saturday morning in May to join the group ride from the bike shop down the street, Quad Cycles. I showed up and it was a little intimidating. There were probably 30-40 people and they all looked like they knew what they were doing. As we hit the time for the ride to start, Bobby yells out asking for anyone who is new. I acknowledge and he describes the ride. I figure I’ll ride to the end of the bike path and then ride home. But we got to the end of the path and Bobby encouraged me to continue and said he would ride with me. I think I rode 30 or so miles that day, all of it with Bobby right with me.

From there, I began riding more. Bobby encouraged me to do the Red Ribbon Ride. He always was encouraging people to do a charity ride to give back for all that we had. But it was a two day ride totaling 175 miles. And it was two months away. A little intimidating for someone who hadn’t been riding at all six months earlier. But he encouraged me and I did it and it was incredible.

The rest, as they say, is history. But I saw the same thing play out many many times over the following years. Someone new to riding encouraged to push themselves, to go further than they thought they could, to give back. And always to be nice to everybody while doing so.

RIP Bobby… you will be missed even more than you could know. I am glad to have called you my friend. I only hope that I can be as encouraging and helpful to others as you once were to me. And I’ll never forget to ride with love in my heart and a smile on my face.

My new role

I’m still at HubSpot but my role within the company has changed a bit over the past few months.  Related to the article that Yoav wrote which was posted on onStartups today about how we’re trying to better empower our engineers and teams to really own things, I’ve shifted my focus some.

Instead of working on the product which is front and center to all of our customers or even working on the free tools at grader.com that millions of people use, I’m now instead focused quite a bit on various infrastructure related things for us. Obviously, I’ve done some of that all along, but at this point, it’s my primary job.

It’s a lot of fun. We are heavy users of EC2 and some of the other Amazon services. We also are using Rackspace Cloud some. And I wouldn’t be surprised if we add another provider in the future. So there is a challenge in making all of these environments look the same for the rest of our dev team as well as our on call folks.  We’re also working to make it so that we can easily continue to scale out as our compute needs increase.  All the sorts of things that I’ve spent some time thinking about over the years, but there’s no theoretical here — we’re really deploying, managing and everything else a pretty large distributed system. We are using a fair bit of open source stuff in addition to building some stuff ourselves.  The first thing was obviously ami-creator but there’s more to come almost certainly. In addition, we’ll probably be doing some work and submitting some patches to improve some of the tools and things that we use as it makes sense to do so.

And as we we are growing like crazy, I’m looking to hire some people to join my team to help us get even more things done. If I were writing a job description it would probably include bits and pieces like Linux administration, python, puppet, probably devops (as it’s something that’s in mind), cloud automation (… even though I still hate the word cloud), release and build tooling, monitoring, and more. Sound interesting? Drop me a line and let’s talk.

2010, The Quick Look Back

I could give some excuse about being busy, but everybody does that.  Let’s do the rundown of big events of 2010

  1. Finished and submitted my thesis to complete the work necessary to finish up the SDM program and graduate in January.
  2. My daughter was born in February.  There are plenty of pictures on Facebook if you know me and are on there (mostly taken by my wife)
  3. I’ve continued working at HubSpot where there’s no shortage of work to be done and it seems like always something big going on or coming up
  4. Picked up cyclocross racing in the fall.  Read all about it. Since apparently I managed to blog about that.

If you wanted more details, well, there was a lot more on twitter.  But hopefully going to get back into the habit of some blogging again for the new year.  Then again, I’ve said that before.

10 Year NCSSM Reunion: Has it really been that long?

I spent the weekend at my ten year high school reunion. A lot of people that I’ve mentioned this to have been somewhat surprised or responded along the lines of “I wouldn’t go to my high school reunion”. Which I can understand. But Science and Math is different than your typical high school. As a two-year residential magnet school, you end up getting to know people pretty well — it’s basically like going to college a couple of years early, only with a little bit more supervision. And so it’s the same sort of bond and friendships that a lot of people end up getting in college.

Kara and I flew down on Friday morning and then met up with a friend for lunch. We then spent some time just kind of relaxing before meeting up with a group of my friends from high school for dinner. It’s a good group although we don’t get together anywere near as frequently as we used to… for the first few years after high school, we made it a point to get together around New Year’s or at some point over the holidays. This has fallen off as we’ve all moved increasingly far apart distance-wise and have increasingly busy lives. It was good to get together and catch up, though, and especially in a smaller group environment.

Later in the evening was the sort of opening party/reception type thing and my class had a surprisingly good turn-out. The event was held at a bar in Durham (Tyler’s) which was fine. It was a little weird seeing people smoking indoors as that’s something kind of foreign after living in Massachusetts for almost six years. This probably contributed to the scratchy throat feeling I had the rest of the weekend. As I walked around, I was able to see and catch up with a ton more people; both that I had been friends with through high school or people I barely talked with. It was really nice as pretty much everyone is doing something that is kind of interesting now and it was cool to talk with them. None of the usual crap that people complain about with high school.

Saturday was the main day of reunion stuff but my group of friends started earlier with breakfast at Elmo’s on 9th St. As usual, Elmo’s was good and we got there just in time to beat the majority of the rush. Then, it was down to campus and we watched a presentation about some plans to expand the school. I’m not really sure how I feel about it. On the one hand, it looks like a fair bit of work is going into making sure that things are nice and really trying to turn what had been a hospital hastily converted to a residential high school into a very nice residential high school. On the other, more people in the same sized space could be a bad thing. A day later and I’m still not sure where my opinion falls on the expansion. The rest of the day was filled with catching up with more people, walking around campus to see what had changed (both a lot and very little at the same time), our slide show (always fun to watch again) and the like.

Kara and I then skipped the evening’s festivities so that we could grab dinner with my parents as we haven’t seen them in a while and it’s unclear exactly when we’re going to be down again. It was a low-key evening and then rather than attend the late night party, we just watched Valkyrie in the hotel room.

This morning we slept in a bit more and then headed to campus for what had been billed as the faculty brunch. The location stated for it had been a little bit odd, and when we got there, we learned why — it was actually in PFM (the cafeteria). Also, the number of faculty present overall was pretty low at least that we saw.

We skipped out a little, though, so that we could grab lunch at the NC Farmer’s Market Restaurant with another group of friends. This was, as always, tasty and it was good to get to catch up with another group of friends. Then we met up with my sister and her husband and now we’re sitting at the airport waiting on our flight back to Boston. (Well, we were… home now. But I’m a day later posting it)

It was a fun weekend and it was great to catch up with a whole bunch of people. There were some people who I would have liked to have seen who couldn’t make it, but I got to see a lot of people that I hadn’t seen since our 5 year reunion or even longer for some of them. And while most are on Facebook, some aren’t. The event was better organized and a better set up than we had for the five year reunion, but there were a few things which bothered me and can hopefully be better for the next one…

  • The cost and especially the way the costs were organized was unclear. As it turns out, very few things were only for those who paid. This may be partially due to complaints over how much some things were, but it still wasn’t at all clear what you were paying for up-front.
  • Having the full schedule sooner would be nice — I think the final version was published a week or less ago. That’s just kind of poor for people trying to decide if they want to come or not and especially how to schedule their travel
  • Faculty presence was low. I vaguely remember complaining about this five years ago. I know it’s hard to get the faculty to come out, but some of it is communication with former faculty who have retired. They can’t come if they don’t know what’s going on.
  • Little interaction with current students. This is one that seems easily fixable but it’d be really nice to get a chance to have more current students around and talk with them and the like. Get the real story about what’s going on at the school; I didn’t trust the administration ten years ago, I don’t trust them now :-) Things like lunch yesterday or brunch today would have been perfect opportunities for them to be around, eating and join some alums. It would also be great for the current students to get to talk to people who have been there, done that, and are maybe doing something cool or interesting now. I would have liked it as a student and I would have liked it now as an alum.

Even with those suggested improvements, it was a fun weekend and I figure I’ll probably be back for the fifteen in five years and look forward to seeing everyone again then. Even if it does make me feel old to see current students wandering around.

Commuting Pedal Failures

One thing that’s quite nice about the new gig is that the office is in Kendall Square. Much, much, much better location-wise than Westford. It means that my commute is just about seven miles which is quite nice to do via bike. Also, if the weather’s bad or I feel lazy, I can take the bus to Alewife from right outside my house and then take the train in.

Unfortunately, I’ve now had two weird pedal failures in the past week. Last Thursday, I was leaving the office and clipped in. As I got about a block away, I noticed my foot moving weirdly on the pedal. As I pulled over to check it out, it became clear that the cleat was stuck in the pedal. After some investigation later, I realized that I lost one of the two screws holding the cleat into the plate in the shoe. It looks like the plate where the screw went in is actually pretty stripped. And in getting the cleat and shoe disengaged from the pedal, I essentially had to take the pedal apart so I decided to switch the pedals out for the plain SPDs instead of the slightly fancier SPDs that were on there.

Today, I was riding home and realized about halfway home that one of the pedals was coming unscrewed from the crank. I made it home without incident and re-installed the pedal without any noticeable problem, but I’m going to be keeping an eye on it over the next few days. Hopefully the crank isn’t stripped — it looked okay, but at this point, I’m a little cautious of it.

Maybe I should look at building a new commuter bike sooner rather than later :-) Although I really would like to get the Redline to last another year to year and a half.

Review: Amazon Kindle 2

I had asked via twitter a while ago for opinions on the Kindle as I had been thinking off and on about getting one for a while. Responses were very positive with really one exception: the DRM aspect. And it’s something that bothered me, but I decided that the convenience benefit was enough to outweigh that for me at this point. Especially when I considered that I often buy books, read them, put them on a bookshelf for six months to a year and then drop them off at a book drop. Re-reading isn’t my usual, instead buying new books is :-) Especially as the primary purpose for the Kindle is more for pleasure reading as opposed to more technical stuff

Since I knew I’d end up reading a lot while I was on vacation, I figured I’d take advantage of Amazon’s good return policies and try it out. If I liked it, great. If I didn’t, I could certainly hit a bookstore to get “regular” books and return the Kindle when I got back home.

As lots of people have said, the packaging of the device is very good — Apple-like is really the best way I have to describe it. They really want you to buy into a full experience. I turned it on and had already set up a few “free sample” books to be on the device. And reading on it has turned out to be a great experience. The page turning was a little bit distracting at first with a little bit of a flicker, but after half an hour or so of reading on it, I don’t notice it any more than I notice turning the page of a regular book. One thing that I didn’t find at first (because I didn’t read the documentation) is that you can change the font size — this was pretty handy as I can definitely handle smaller than the default — I’m currently using the smallest and am pretty happy with it.

One of the obvious questions with the Kindle is battery life. With the wireless off, it was incredible (I didn’t apparently need to charge during most of my 10 day trip with it sporadically on). Leaving the wireless on I need to remember to charge it every three or four days. But the charge is pretty quick. Unfortunately, it uses microUSB instead of miniUSB, so it’s another cable to have to be carried bringing me to three (miniUSB, microUSB, iPhone).

The selection of books seems to be pretty good. Not everything that I’ve looked for, but the vast majority. Pricing is okay, usually a little cheaper than the price for the dead-tree version and the over-the-air delivery is wonderful. Especially when sitting in an airport between flights.

In terms of reading on it, the screen is incredibly nice. I had my doubts, but they’re entirely gone. Reading in bed? Check (just be sure there’s a light). Reading outside beside the pool? Check. On a plane? On the couch? … And so on. The screen is incredibly readable and I don’t end up with any of the eye strain problems that I sometimes get after staring at a laptop screen or a monitor for long periods of time. How well it worked in sunlight is one thing that really surprised me. Obviously it’s supposed to be one of the strengths of the screen, but I’m wary of marketing-speak :-) But I really had no problem sitting and reading it even in direct sunlight.

Downsides? There are a couple. The biggest is the DRM stuff. It’d be nice to be able to share books (eg, if Kara decided she wanted to get a Kindle also so that we could both read the same books). It’d also be nice to have some sort of library functionality, although the samples are a big help in deciding whether it’s worth paying for a book.

The other real downside is the case that I got — the Patagonia neoprene case. It’s okay in that it protects it pretty well; it’s kind of crappy to use while reading, though and I’ve taken to taking the Kindle out of the case when I’m reading from it. Other case suggestions would be appreciated since I’m certainly going to keep the Kindle at this point.

First Week at HubSpot

As I wrap up my first week at HubSpot, I have a few observations that are at least sort of interesting.

  • Real hardware. I’m pretty happy with my current laptop so I just got a desktop machine to use at work. The box I got is a Dell quad core with 8 GB of RAM. Nice box overall and Fedora installed with no problems. The nVidia graphics work fine for 2d and even xrandr seems to be doing the right thing. One thing that is annoying is that Dell is still shipping machines with VT turned off in the BIOS. Once I turned that on, though, KVM is also working pretty well on the box
  • Windows is both just as annoying as ever, less annoying and more annoying. You can run it in a virtual machine without real problems. But installing things, the terminals, etc are all still a pain. Stability is a bit improved. The whole “run as administrator” nonsense is a real pain when you’re trying to get a lot of stuff going.
  • Coming in at the end of the scrum cycle seems to sort of be a good thing. Get to see the final push and then the demos from that cycle followed by getting to sit in on the planning for the next sprint. I won’t be on a scrum team until the next sprint and so hopefully I’ll have a better frame of reference¡
  • Commuting to Kendall Square works really well for me. Okay, I knew this from riding into MIT but it’s still a takeaway. The bike ride in is a nice length; shorter would be fine, but longer really isn’t as practical.
  • Complex build processes exist everywhere and are despised everywhere. But it always seems like a build and deployment process is the last thing cared about.
  • I’m having a lot of fun being back in a startup environment.

So yeah, all in all, its been a good week. Now for a long weekend. Two four day weeks in a row for me I guess.

The New Chapter Begins

The new chapter begins… today was my first day working for HubSpot.

It’s a big change for me as I’ve been doing pretty much purely (fairly) low-level operating system work for a decade now. Going to a company that’s doing much more web development is making me shift how I think about everything from considering using Eclipse rather than a combination of Emacs/vim/terminals to the languages I’m writing in and the types of code I’ll be writing. And I think it’s a change that I need — I’ve been feeling a bit stagnant and so getting out of my comfort zone should help a lot.

Also, I think that HubSpot is doing some interesting stuff and I’m glad to be joining the team to help out in a variety of different ways.

Beginning A New Chapter

The end of one chapter and the beginning of a new one for me. Today is my last day as an employee of Red Hat. I still remember walking in the door for my first day at Red Hat and having Nalin set up my account so I could get started as Preston was a little bit late getting in that morning. It’s been a great eight+ years across five offices and two states working with lots of great people.

During that time, I’ve also had the opportunity to play a big role in the development and growth of Fedora. While the start was somewhat rocky, I think we’ve now built up an incredibly strong community that successfully releases a whole distribution (arguably, several!) on a regular schedule. And within that community, we’ve grown a pretty awesome set of leaders to continue to drive Fedora forward.

While I’m planning to still keep at least in touch with the goings-on of Fedora as well as running Fedora in places, I certainly won’t have the time to spend on it that I do today. I hope to keep in touch and see people at conferences and events from time to time. But right now, I’m looking forward to what’s next for me. And for those wondering, it’s something pretty different really. More on it next week..