Category Archives: Friends & Family

2016 in review: my reading list

Inspired by my mom, last year I started keeping a list of the books I read throughout the year. (See 2015’s list here). This year, I did the same, and I’m publishing it now in case anyone out there needs last-minute gift suggestions for a reader on their list. As with last year, I’ve added a brief summary for most of the books. Unlike last year, I’ve separated the books into categories, including a new “top 10” category. Although my list started in chronological order, unlike last year’s, it’s more or less random now.

Top 10

  • Boys in the Boat tells the story of the team that captured the Olympic men’s rowing medal at the Nazi-run 1936 Olympics. I never cared about rowing as a sport before. Riveting.
  • The Hybrid Athlete: the bible for concurrent strength and endurance training
  • Tyler Dilts‘ “Long Beach Homicide” series: A King of Infinite Space, The Pain Scale, A Cold and Broken Hallelujah, and Come Twilight. Superb writing and resonant, memorable characters.
  • Don Winslow’s two novels about the Mexican drug cartels, The Power of the Dog and The Cartel, are epic, almost literally (they aren’t poems, but they chronicle a hero’s journey). Except the hero is more of an anti-hero. Not light reading by any means, but rewarding.
  • Stephen King‘s Bill Hodges trilogy: Mr Mercedes (excellent audiobook, if that’s your thing), Finders Keepers, and End of Watch. This is King’s best stuff in a while— on a par with 11/22/63. King gives a master class in plotting, dialogue, and characterization throughout the 3 volumes.
  • Being Mortal: a difficult and thought-provoking read. Summary: we all die, so how can we make that process less wrenching for ourselves and our families?
  • Frozen in Time: combine the story of a doomed World War II bomber crew struggling to survive in the Arctic for months and the effort, 60 years later, to find their crash site, aircraft, and remains. Masterfully told.
  • Dave Hutchinson’s Europe trilogy: Europe in AutumnEurope at Midnight,  Europe in Winter. If you liked Gibson’s The Peripheral, you’ll love these. They’re far too rich and complex for my poor summarization skills to do them justice. Just read the first one, and you’ll see what I mean.
  • Redeployment: Phil Klay’s incredibly hard-hitting collection of short stories about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan should be required reading for everyone who’s ever put an “I SUPPORT OUR TROOPS” magnet on their minivan.

Nonfiction

  • You Are An Ironman: inspiring, but ultimately formulaic, chronicle of six athletes who train for the 2007 IRONMAN Arizona race. Still worth reading.
  • The Next Hour: The Most Important Hour in Your Logbook: if Richard Collins writes it, I want to read it. Not only is he an excellent writer, he is an extremely experienced pilot and this book taught me a great deal.
  • Full Body Burden: Growing Up in the Nuclear Shadow of Rocky Flats: a memoir that juxtaposes the story of the author’s family disintegration and the growth of Rocky Flats… and the terrible pollution that followed.
  • Surely You’re Joking, Mr Feynman: a classic. I wish I could have met Feynman.
  • Masters of the Air: America’s Bomber Boys Who Fought the Air War Against Nazi Germany: I know a reasonable amount about aviation history, but until I listened to this book, I had no idea about the realities behind the bomber war in WW II. I am now doubly thankful for men like my grandfather, who flew and fought in an environment few of us can even imagine.
  • Thinking Pilots’ Flight Manual: interesting and useful collection of magazine columns. Some of the material’s not relevant to me (I won’t be landing ski-equipped airplanes any time soon) but there’s a lot of good stuff here.
  • Doper Next Door: summary: ordinary athlete starts testosterone replacement therapy. Hijinks mostly do not ensue. The author comes across as a self-involved man-child.
  • To Hell on a Fast Horse: meticulously researched history of the real story behind Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett. Pretty much everything I thought I knew about those two turned out to be wrong.
  • The Red Circle (audio): memoir of a Navy SEAL sniper. Tiresomely self-promotional and overall not nearly as good as I was hoping.

Science fiction

  • The Cat Who Walks Through Walls: one of Heinlein’s final books; sadly not as good as I remembered it
  • Farmer In the Sky: a Heinlein juvenile that holds up quite well 50+ years later
  • Imhotep: surprisingly enjoyable… think “A Connecticut Yankee In Pharoah’s Court”
  • Crux: terrific, complex thriller with tons of plot twists
  • Fold (audio): this narrowly missed my year’s top 10. I wish the protagonist were a real person so we could hang out.
  • Written in Fire: final volume in Sakey’s “Brilliance” trilogy. Superb.
  • Exigency
  • Going Dark: third volume of the Red Trilogy
  • Chains of Command: for my money, Marko Kloos writes better military science fiction than anyone else since Joe Haldeman
  • The Forever War: hasn’t lost any of its bite since its debut. People will still be reading this book in 50 years.
  • Rich Man’s War, Poor Man’s Fight, Dead Man’s Debt: Can’t pay your student debt? Join the military to work it off. Not as good as Kloos but not bad.
  • Ctrl-Alt-Revolt: skip this. Now I know I don’t need to read any more Nick Cole books.
  • Slavemakers: what if there’s an apex predator that threatens humanity’s survival? Gripping.
  • The Black: mysterious deep-sea life form emerges, starts tearing stuff up. Nice mix of horror and tech.
  • Flex: “interesting” is the right word to use here.
  • Year’s Best SF: a mixed bag. Three stars at best. Loved some of the stories, while others were super tedious (if I never see another Aliette de Bodard or Kelly Link story in this anthology, I’d be delighted).
  • Dave vs the Monsters: Emergence: completely implausible, featuring a crude and unpleasant anti-hero. Birmingham is a better writer than this would indicate.
  • Dave vs the Monsters: Resistance: worse than the first one.
  • Anomaly: more like a philosophy lesson than an SF book.
  • Something Coming Through: if aliens appeared on earth and said “we’re just here to help,” would you believe them? Should you?
  • Windsweptsurprisingly enjoyable tale of a labor organizer on a faraway planet. She’s a badass.
  • Extremes: tedious second novel in the Retrieval Artist series. Liked the first one, but probably won’t bother with the others now.
  • Stalin’s Hammer: Paris: novella set in the “Axis of Time” universe. Good, but too short.

Thriller / spy

  • The English Spy (audio): Silva never disappoints, and the narration on this is terrific.
  • The Fall of Moscow Station: I hope Mark Henshaw writes more books, and very soon. Terrific spy thriller.
  • The Wolves: Berenson’s yearly John Wells thriller. Reliably good.
  • Darknet: meh
  • Little Sister: if James Bond were a hacker, this might be a Bond novel. Enjoyable but lightweight.
  • Unforgettable: what if a weird quantum effect made it impossible for anyone to remember your existence? You could be a spy. But you probably couldn’t have a girlfriend. A clever idea, well executed in this book.
  • Tier One: a decent thriller, if predictable.
  • Ghost Fleet: naval and cyber war with China. Not nearly as good as I was expecting based on its hype. Poyer’s two Lenson novels dealing with the same topic are far better.
  • Traitor’s Story: a deceptively quiet but clever book
  • Disciple of the Wind: Steve Bain’s latest “Fated Blades” novel. Just as good as the others.
  • The Low Bird: novel of USAF pararescue operations in Vietnam. Quite good.
  • Onslaught: Navy Captain Dan Lenson and USS Savo Island are back on the job. Excellent depiction of battle at sea in the modern Navy.
  • Red Sparrow: very good debut by a former CIA officer. I look forward to more from him.
  • Lights Out
  • Hard Road

Mystery / crime

Other fiction

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The next big thing: joining ENow as CTO

It is a cliché to talk about an opportunity that’s too good to refuse (not to be confused with an offer you can’t refuse), but sometimes it doeshappen.

I am very excited to announce that, effective 26 October 2015, I will be taking the position of chief technology officer (CTO) for ENow Software. In that role, I will be driving the development of their next generation of products for both on-premises and Office 365 monitoring. It’s a big step forward for my career, moving me simultaneously back towards the development world and further into the cloud. (It’s also a little surreal to see one’s job change announced in a press release.)

Before I get into the nuts and bolts of what I’ll be doing, a personal note: I want to thank Scott Edwards, Ben Curry, and all my coworkers at Summit 7 Systems. What a talented and skilled group of people! I accidentally learned much more than I expected about SharePoint from them, and both Ben and managing consultant Matt Whitehorn were instrumental in helping me identify soft skills I need to work on— always a challenge. I have huge respect for what the Summit 7 team has accomplished and recommend them in the highest possible terms to anyone who needs Office 365, Azure, AWS, or SharePoint design, strategy, or migration help.

So, the new job. In the CTO role, I’ll be reporting directly to Jay Gundotra, the CEO. I’ll be responsible for technical product strategy and implementation, the customer success team, technical presales, and internal IT. (I am still working on a transition plan to establish an ENow corporate aviation department, but don’t tell Jay.) That’s quite a broad scope, which means I can bring to bear everything I’ve learned throughout my career as a developer, consultant, and administrator. Driving beneficial change across these disparate fields is going to be an exhilarating challenge! Luckily I will have a really powerful team on my side, including Michael Van Horenbeeck (noted hooligan/tequila drinker, Microsoft Certified Master, and Exchange MVP) and Tony Redmond, a member of ENow’s advisory board.

ENow is already very successful in their chosen markets, but the cloud poses a brand-new set of technical and business challenges, both for them and their customers. The #1 question I hear from IT pros and business decision makers is simple: how will the move to the cloud affect me and my business? It’s interesting that I don’t remember many people asking that during the years-long transition from mainframe- and mini-based solutions to the x86 world; people just naturally assumed their skills would transfer. That hasn’t been the case with the cloud. Figuring out how to effectively monitor and manage cloud services when you don’t control the underlying platform is a tough problem. Instrument flight is probably a good metaphor here. On a clear day, you can see the ground, so flying is easy. There’s a visible horizon and landmarks. In the clouds, everything changes– if you’ve ever been in an airplane on a cloudy day, you know that you can see where the clouds are but not what’s inside them. Flying inside clouds is like being inside a ping-pong ball, with no visual cues you can use for orientation. You have to use your instruments to keep the plane pointed in the right direction and right side up. Moving workloads such as Exchange email or SharePoint to the cloud doesn’t lessen your need to monitor what’s happening, it just changes the way in which you’ll do it, and figuring out that change is a key task in my new role.

Of course, Microsoft is releasing new services and capabilities in Office 365 at a rapid clip, so another key challenge will be figuring out how to keep up with them and how best to bring ENow’s experience in simplifying the complexities of enterprise application monitoring to a world where Microsoft seems intent on giving everyone Fisher-Price-style monitoring and reporting tools.

Despite the new job, some things won’t change: I’m still living in Huntsville, I’m still not a Cowboys fan (sorry, Jay), and I’ll still be blogging here, although I expect to be writing some more strategy-oriented posts for ENow’s blog. Where I can, I plan to share details of what I’m working on, so stay tuned!

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2014: my major goals

I am a big believer in the SMART system for goals: any time you make a goal, it should be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound. The counterpart to that is another “A” that’s missing: accountable. Both academic research and practical experience show that accountability helps make it easier to achieve those goals. I’ve seen this principle in action throughout my professional and personal life so I wanted to set out some of my 2014 goals here as a means of making myself accountable for progressing towards them. So, in no particular order, here are some of the things I plan to accomplish by the end of 2014.

On a professional level, my SMART goals revolve around specific things I need to do at work, including getting my MCSE certification, producing a certain set of internal IP documents, and a few other things that are related to our internal processes. They’re not necessarily things I can discuss in depth here. However, in my professional-but-not-at-Dell role as an MVP and author, I’m planning on doing at least one book in 2014. I have discussions underway with a couple of publishers and my agent about possible topics.

On the skills front, I will complete my instrument and commercial ratings in 2014. I will do this by continuing to train and fly with my instructors, setting a regular schedule to fly so I can maintain proficiency, and learning as much as I can about every aspect of IFR operations. Once I get the ratings, I will fly with them regularly to remain proficient. My target is to fly at least 120 hours of pilot-in-command time in 2014, with more if my schedule and budget allow.

From the health, fitness, and activity department: I want to train for and complete a sprint triathlon (probably this one). I will do this by taking advantage of Fleet Feet’s training programs and continuing my weightlifting and exercise regimen. I’m doing another increment of the Fitocracy group coaching program from January through April, when triathlon training season starts. (I’ve also signed up for several 5K races spread throughout the first quarter of the year.) I also want to continue to maintain a healthy body weight and appearance. I will do this by continuing to lift weights and track what I eat to ensure that I’m getting the right mix of macronutrients to support my activity level and goals. (Obligatory numbers: bench my bodyweight of 185, deadlift 300, and squat 275. I have no idea whether these are reasonable numbers or not since I am not used to setting goal weights, but I’ll stick with them for the time being.)

To help support those goals, I’ll continue to learn to cook new things. This is a squishy, non-SMART goal because I don’t have (or want) specific targets for learning to cook N new dishes.

Turning to the personal: I want to be more generous with my charitable giving of both money and time. I have some ideas about how to do this, and be accountable for it, but I’m still puzzling through what I think will work best. More on that another time, perhaps. The rest of the personal goals I have are, well, personal, and mostly non-SMART, so I’m leaving them out as well.

Expect a progress post each quarter so we can see how I’m doing on the specific things I’ve listed here. That’s the “accountable” part, y’know.

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Thursday trivia #104

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

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Fitness update: two months in

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Thursday trivia #99

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

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Thursday trivia #98

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

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