Random Happenings

Random notes and pics about events in the life of a not-your-typical Computer Science grad student. (Yes I am a nerd, but I don't live and breathe the SciFi channel, well maybe Stargate SG-1...)

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Jingle all the way

Downtown Houston was filled with ringing jingle bells Sunday afternoon as 1000 runners jogged through the streets with red and green foam antlers on their heads and bells on their feet. This past weekend I ran in the annual Jingle Bell Run with one of my best friends growing up, Sara.

In high school we ran cross-country and track together. And by "ran together" I mean literally ran together. Especially our freshman year, our coach must have thought we were joined at the hip! Inseparable. We crossed practically every finish line side by side. In fact, I distinctly remember one 2 mile race on the track where we ran the whole way together. We were just behind the 2nd place girl. I was so excited that we would tie for 3rd. 3rd! Just as we were about to cross the finish line together in triumph, Sara leaned forward. I remember thinking "What is she doing?" That little bitty lean was all the difference between 3rd and 4th. I didn't know you could lean! It didn't really matter anyway because I was pretty proud of that 4th place ribbon. I think it was the first time I "placed" in a track meet.

Running together this weekend brought back a lot of great memories. The race was 5 miles, the farthest distance I had run probably since high school. Audrey and I had been practicing the last few weeks working up to 4.5 miles, so I felt pretty good.

I managed to keep up with Sara (who is training for a half-marathon by the way!) most of the way. After the half-way point she got about 20 feet ahead of me or so. I slowly caught back up with her and finished only 1.5 seconds behind. I was so excited. It was really fun and I felt really really good.

You can see our official results on the web: overall and by age group. My goal was to run the race in 45 minutes or under which works out to 9 minutes per mile. I ran it in 42:34.30, which is about an 8:30 pace. I'm no where near an Olympic pace, but I'm pretty proud of my time. I made my goal!

During the race I wore my iPod and Nike sensor to track my running. You can see from my running profile below that it wasn't exactly the steadiest pace, but it got the job done. Running underneath those overpasses with a bit of wind is harder than you think. Anyway, I'm pretty jazzed and ready to tackle the next race. I think a 10K is in order.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Trash to treasure

I've been inspired by a few of my friends and the vast number of leaves falling from the trees to build a compost bin. I'm not the greatest gardener, but I think this is something I can manage not to kill, only because it is already dead! I kind of think of it as a little chemistry experiment. Input leaves, sticks, weeds, and kitchen veggie scraps and get "brown gold" as output. My very own organic compost.

So, after reading way too much about composting online (I tend to do that --- Google knows everything, you know), Nathan and I headed out to Lowes to get materials. Being a nerdy engineer, I had to make a design diagram first:
One thing to notice is that the design is for a 3ft x 3ft x 3ft compost bin --- definitely a manageable (and recommended) size. When we got home, I made the genius observation that if we just bump it up to 4ft a side, then we would have zero wood waste. (The wood came in 8ft lengths.) Otherwise, we would gave a bunch of 1ft useless scraps left over. It shouldn't be that much bigger than planned, we justified... Neither one of us thought to use our almost Math minors from undergraduate days to realize that adding 1ft per side more than doubles the volume. That's a lot of compost! I guess we need a little basic math refresher... We didn't really appreciate the impact of our "no-waste" decision until we built the whole frame.

Here is the final finished product, painted to match the gazebo already in our backyard. Pretty professional looking, I think. Maybe we should go into business building compost bins... (just kidding!) We picked an out of the way spot in the corner. (Plus it is furthest from the house in case it smells at all, which it shouldn't if I do things right.) This picture was taken a week or so ago. It is already filled about 1/3 of the way up with leaves and scraps, and there are plenty of more leaves just waiting to be added to the pile this weekend. Fun, fun...

What a crazy turkey

Yup, that's me running in the Houston Turkey Trot this Thanksgiving holiday, number 205. Do I look speedy in the picture? Trust me, I was. Of course, the picture doesn't show all the runners that were in front of me, but that's really not the point...

Every year, a few thousand crazy runners (yes, there were almost 3000 there!) get up really early Thanksgiving morning. They get up not to watch the Thanksgiving Day parade or to be in a local parade, but to race through the streets of Houston. They have a 5K race and a 10K race. I wasn't sure I was up for the 10K race just yet, so I signed up for the 5K (that's a little over 3 miles for you non-metric folks).

I was worried that it would be really cold so I packed many many layers, even a ski cap! (A little over-kill, but hey, what can I say. Better safe than chilly.) I lucked out and I only need a T-shirt and pants.

I was mainly unprepared for the sheer number of people that were there. Besides the runners, there were spouses, parents, children, and pets. It was quite a crowd. I was about mid-way in the pack when we "started", and I think it took me about 5 minutes just to get to the starting line.

I had an absolute blast! It wasn't my fastest time ever, but I hadn't run a race in a while, so I was proud anyway. Plus, it was really crowded in the beginning trying to get past the walkers and slower runners.

We also convinced our nephews to come with us. They seemed to have a really good time. I don't think they'd been in that kind of setting before, in a big race like that. I think they could sense the excitement. Jonathan (the youngest) asked me, "Why do you want to run this again?" "Because it's fun", I replied. "Oh yeah" he said, "I knew that."

Here we are enjoying the post-race goodies: all-you-can-drink lime powerade, bananas, muffins, kolaches, and hot chocolate. I think that sealed the deal for them. I remember Joel (the oldest) asked why we didn't have to pay for any of it. "Because your with me, and I'm one of the runners," I answered. "We're special." It pays to be with the in-crowd. (Of course, it was free for everyone there because no one else was silly enough to crawl out of their warm beds that early on a holiday morning, but I didn't tell him that.)