Monday, November 15, 2010

CBC Cyclocross Race#2

After getting home late from a seminar at BarCamp the previous day, I had very little motivation to get up early and race my butt off.  Surprisingly, I was up around 7am and feeling almost awake by 8.  That must have meant I was still a little hungover from last nights fun...  I made myself some coffee, got suited up, loaded up the bike & gear and headed over for race #2 of the CBC Cyclocross series...I was certainly not expecting to be able to perform today like I did last week, but curious to see if my hectic week really does play a factor on my performance level.  In other words, I was experimenting on myself.  I already knew the expected outcome, I just wanted to verify it.  Verification complete.  Without an proper night's sleep and a generous amount of mental and physical preparation, I am a sluggish toad.

The weather was perfect.  No extra layers were needed...The course was tough and very different from last week.  It would have definitely been in a mountain bikers favor if I had selected the proper gear and had enough strength to turn the pedals...I ran a 42x12 and really suffered right from the start: Mental preparation error: make sure you can race with the gear you chose...There was inclined forest loam singletrack, layered hillclimbs and sandpit turn traps.  It was gonna be a tough day for sure.

Starting line: the man said go and I couldn't.  The entire pack took off and I sat there trying to get my pedals turning for what seemed like forever.  As I finally got things moving, I snapped into position in the back of the lead pack.  Knowing after only 1-2 laps that I would not be able to hold this pace, I totally backed off and just let people fly by for a while just pedaling along deciding if I should just quit.  I found my body really fighting me to stay moving and my legs were like two slabs of rock.  I kept pedaling along waiting to get past this wall and hope the blast came back soon.  It came back, but a little too late.  35 minutes in, I finally started to pick things up and felt a little better flowing along, but still hating my gear selection.  I dealt with the slow pedaling and started being more efficient in use of my brake as I only had a front brake on the bike because my rear one was at home in pieces.  I then picked up the riders I had targeted to let slip by and placed decent gap between us and I started trying to level my pace to survive the remaining 10 minutes.  Then my chain flew off and I had to stop and fix it.  4 riders flew by again and once again I jumped on and took off after them.  I don't know how I was able to chase them down, but I picked off 3 of them once again and just could not catch the remaining rider in a "Trek" jersey riding just ahead of me...defeated, spent, hungover.

I went out there today to really test myself against the factors of life.  I realized that just because life hands you a hectic week, you shouldn't hide inside on the weekends as a result.  Challenge yourself to the fullest everytime you can.  I may have lost this race on several levels, but I gained some valuable keys to winning races in my future where I stand a better chance.

Good stuff CBC!  Thanks for the fun!

Congratulations to Nathan Smith and David Hall for placing top 2 in Cat 1 Mens!

BarCamp CHS

I recently attended my first and surely not to be my last BarCamp in Charleston.   It was everything I hoped it would be and a bit more.  While it was not an uber:geeky low-level coding seminar like I really want to attend, it was something a bit more diverse.  Bar Camp is a loose network of user-generated conferences that allow one to share their most intense technology or other related hobbies and talents with others of like interests...the name itself is a spinoff of the geeky word which developers use frequently in test applications: "foobar".  Since there was already a "Foo Camp", the only logical choice was to use "Bar Camp", right?  (  

The words of the day were in no particular order: organic, Drupal, cloud, SQL, confidential, Google, beer, Java...did I mention organic?

Upon arrival, I was worried everything that was to be said would have been spam pushed from some major companies wares, but I was slightly wrong.  Yes, there were major influences publicly there such as Google, Yahoo, BlastOff Games, ATDesk, etc...but they were all low-key and very open in their sharing of information...

After registration, I bumped into a few old friends from previous companies I have worked for and we socialized for a few minutes before the sessions got underway.  It was great to see so many local talented technology professionals attending this conference!  

The first thing that happens at BarCamp is the pitch session.  After finding a seat in the auditorium, everyone who wants to hold a seminar goes up before us all and has 30 seconds to lets us know what they are going to be talking about.   There is someone on hand to moderate and holds everyone to their 30 seconds which is great because a few presenters were pushing the 30 second limit...60 presenters went up and 60 presentations were to be voted on.  The vote was, however, skipped after realization that 10 sessions an hour for 6 hours would fill in the timeline perfectly...Thus, BarCamp started and everyone hurried over to the Seminar wall to find out which  seminar to attend during the first hour of BarCamp.  My first hour's choice was a seminar on Cybercrime.  It sounded interesting and I definitely enjoy figuring out how hackers do what they do, so off I went....

  Late for my first seminar was not a good sign...why I was late is a good question...I must have been trying to make sense of the schedule for too long.  I missed his opening case scenario and introduction and wondered if I would even get anything out of this.  After hearing all the regular mundane, do's & don'ts about personal information security, the speaker (from Phishlabs) hit upon a neat little topic which I thought would be great if he intended to followup entirely.  Fortunately, he did followup and described a situation involving the tracking of a generic spam message based on the email address.  The basics of the message were unimportant, but the spam senders email (hotmail) address had an IP embedded in it which revealed its origin.  Upon tracing that IP back to its source, it was found to be based from some PC in Somewhere, USA.  After then being able to contact that actual PC owner directly, it was found out that the PC was in fact infected and was being used as what is sometimes referred to as a Zombie Bot!  So, by being able to, with the owners permission, trace back the directed commands being sent to that ZombiePC to perform, they were able to trace it beyond the reflected source.  The trace resulted in the command coming from some spot in the Netherlands.  After further investigation, it was found to be an IPSec line and not traceable at any point beyond that...Fascinating!  This is an organized endeavour!  After further analysis of it all, it was found that this entire "system" is made up of coordinated efforts... First someone creates software used to initally infect PCs via undisclosed vulnerabilities.  Still another developer writes tools used to "control another persons PC in an efficient and virtually undetectable manner. Then they sell those tools on the blackmarket to someone else needing "infection & control tools".  The buyer then uses those tools to setup "virtual harvests" of compromised PCs out there that obey their every command via those secure connections.  Well, once that was understood, the speaker even described the technique used to be able to obtain over 5 million actual, not stolen "hotmail" addresses.  The buyer basically purchases blocks of valid hotmail address from yet another source which specializes in creating bulk hotmail addresses mappable to the Zombie PCs IPs for tracking purposes.  This "email source" even has a special technique in validating these email address to get by the Captcha system by paying people in third world countries pennies per captcha that they decode for them.  Once decoded, the captcha answers are zapped back to awaiting automatic scripts specialized in creating the hotmail accounts...It was more than enough to make your head spin!  There is a serious game being played out there!

My next seminar goal was to attend my friend Paul Reynold's: Reading Code for the was a really great seminar and started out simple and thorough.  My objective was to see if there were other techniques being implemented out there to write more "readable" code.  Halfway through, I remembered the HFT(High Frequency Trading) seminar was going on, so I promptly exited his talk since most of this was review for me. Since I am a novice day-trader, anything having to do with trading, high speed and awesome technology were really intriguing to me.  I walk in and realize a friend of mine Nathan Smith whom I ride bicycles with is doing the presentation.   They were still going over basics of HFT which I already knew somewhat and made it just in time for the juicy details of what happens during a  live transaction.  That was pretty cool.  Then they explained that there were algorithms (business logic rules) applied to the feed to further analyze and set buy / sell points in a more optimized manner.  Truly cool stuff.  Live trading feed, realtime analysis, semi-artificial intelligence algorithms used to handle  Then, when I thought I had it all grasped in my head,  they said this stuff happens at the rate of some ridiculous # of transactions every 2 micro seconds...micro seconds is equivalent to one millionth of a second...insane..Needless to say, I really got a lot out of this presentation...

Then off I went to my next seminar: Cracking a Windows accounts...I was curious if other methods existed which were more creative.  After 10 minutes in this seminar, I summarized the methods he was going to use and exited promptly not wanting to waste time as I wanted to get some info from Andre Pope's seminar on "Teacher's Preparation for the upcoming wave of tech-savvy students".  Andre is out in the teaching trenches talking about what he is doing in realtime.  He speaks from the heart as well as his technically enlightened mind on how he is converging his collaborative knowhow with current teaching methodologies in order to better connect with his current students.  As a technical futurist myself, I really can "envision" the realities he is attempting to explain to modern-day teachers.  I also gained a lot from this seminar.

Lunch happened afterwards and I got there a little too late as there wasn't much left to choose from.  I was able to cobble together a ham and cheese sandwich from some scraps and flung some lettuce in there to help ease the hunger pains...chips were also available.  I found myself feeling very much like a kid in high school again not knowing where to sit and overwhelmed by the amount of people already congregated in the eating off I fled to find a nice quiet couch outside the scope of the enormous amount of talking heads...I find a spot near Nathan and continue to pick his brain on the ATD machine itself...not a lot more was gleaned as most of my questions had to do with areas of a confidential nature which he was not at liberty to discuss...I found alot of this door slamming throughout the day with many professionals...regardless, lunch was a good time.

Then off to the History of Hacking seminar I went.  I had high hopes for this seminar, but found it to be stammered and lacking in essential immediate information.  The topic header did not accurately reflect the subject matter and I left early and disappointed.  I slipped into the Yahoo Query Language seminar and found it to be a powerful way to get information from the yahoo databases that they allow you access into.  It's a great second door if Google APIs start to get bogged down from user glut....

At this point, I was getting dizzy from the amount of information being gleaned, but I was determined to make the most of this day.  Thanks to the many BarCamp sponsors, delicious Island Coffee was available everywhere and anywhere.  Tasty cookies and other sweets were also available as well as major label sodas! 
After getting my fix, I went on to my next seminar: the Google Q&A session.  Like the history of hacking, I was also disappointed by this seminar as practically every question you could possibly think to ask was carefully considered, muttered aloud and then redacted as not being able to answer on grounds it could disclose some key piece of the Google Collective.  The head Absorbaluff, er I mean speaker smiled and made lots of clever remarks and was able to hop skip and dance his way through a one hour session with no juicy details of the Google empire described.  Yes he was that good at dodging questions.  

So this was a mjor revelation that at BarCamp, you are just have to realize that you are not going to enjoy everything said, or not said.  Its about what you get out of it that matters most....

My next seminar was userinterface design with emphasis on the button.  Unfortunately, this talk was focused on web design and I absolutely loathe web design, primarily because I suck at it.  I can do the technical stuff all day long, but layout, graphics and visual aspects stop me cold.  So I left early knowing this was over my head, and went onwards to find out about NoSQL.  I had no clue what this was and still don't really have a clue, but from what I determined it is primarily for web-based data management, and allows very loose typing of records...which spells danger in data integrity in my old programmers head, so I get up and leave before I get lazy and adopt this a a new way of programming.  I hop into a few other talks and find nothing being accomplished by doing this, so I wait out the hour in a Java seminar and move onto the last seminar of the day: HomeBrew 101...

Yes beer making is one of my passions and this being a 101 seminar would make it simply a review of the basics, but you don't know what you may have never known, and I knew that much so in I went...It was a good review and I was relieved to see that many of the same difficulties I faced in brewing beer were also challenges faced by others.  The speaker was clear and focused on the basics.  He demonstrated with real equipment and kept it simple and clean the entire time.  He keyed in on sanitation many times throughout and stressed it heavily at the end.  There were even a few homebrews to try out at the end which really peeked interested from more than a few.

Then off to the afterparty!  After being mostly on my own floating from one information session to the next, I was now able to catch up with Mikey, Andre, and Paul to discuss BarCamp at the Mellow Mushroom.  It was a great time and we talked about anything and everything for more than a few hours eventually finding ourselves back on the path to our homes...what a day!

I am really looking forward to the next BarCamp and hope to have something to present next time myself....

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Pumas Final Match...

I must say after seeing my girls play their hearts out on Thursday against the Cougars, I was very optimistic about next season.  They played with such passion and fierce desire to prove they are learning, that I was able to stop "coaching" for a little while and just watch the great game unfold.  Yes, they did not win, and the odds were stacked against them, but that REALLY did not matter in this match.  What mattered was that they completed every basic and intermediate play that is vital for developmental soccer.  Defending was outstanding, offense was actually moving the ball downfield, and the attackers really figured out where to go without my constant "coaching" from the sidelines....too much fun to watch!  After not seeing that "spark" most of the season, I am glad I was able to witness it once before waiting out winter and starting up again in spring.

Gooooo PUMAS!

Monday, November 8, 2010

CBC Cyclocross Race#1

After looking forward to this event series all fall, it is finally here! Cyclocross racing time again! Thanks to the guys at Charleston Bicycle Company & North Charleston Wannamaker Park, the CBC Cyclocross series is in full effect!

Upon the initial week before this race, I was in mediocre shape with occasional rides out at Tuxbury, Francis Marion gravel roads and a little bit of Marrington thrown in for variety. I even hit the spinbike for a few days to regulate my cadence and work with more resistance. I was in good shape, but not great shape...too much else going on in my surrounding life to really focus on my passion for cycling right now unfortunately.

So, the first official cyclocross race of the season crept up on me way too soon and before I knew it, I was loading up the bike in the frosty early morning weather. There was a decent turnout for the first event and the course seemed fast and furious. I wish I had geared up more as I was turning a 42x17 which gave me a decent flat singletrack speed, but a spinny open road speed. So, the race starts with a whimper and I roar like a lion to the front of the pack....front of the pack? really? seriously? Yes, front of the pack is where I set myself and then proceeded to hold that position in the top 4 for the first 3-4 laps...then as expected, I started to fade. I was mentally ready for 30 minutes of hard effort and found that the new combined classes based on little or no expert class resulted in a mixed category race with everyone hammering for 45 minutes, that was that, I was running on fumes and trying to hold steady. I would burst forward, pass and then fall back and get passed. The last 15 minutes were all like this...tough and high-speed...I was passed on my final lap by one other rider who had been with me neck in neck for quite a while near the end. 6th place would have to do...

I finished the race with my lungs burning and my heart pounding. It was an indicator that I needed to do more to place better next time around....But how to find the time??

Overall, lots of fun, lots of support and I definitely heard more than a few cowbells cheering us on, which is great to experience.

Can't wait till next week!