Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Spartan Super

Besides Ben's birthday, and Freddie's blessing, this weekend was the long dreaded "Spartan Super". What a blast that ended up being. As it turned out the Spartan was 8.6 miles through some very rugged terrain and 26 obstacles. The course was a lot of twists and turns and very steep inclines and treacherous descents but a lot of fun. The obstacles for the most part were also a ton of fun and involved climbing and jumping over things. There were however, some very notable exceptions. If you missed an obstacle the penalty was 30 burpees and let me just say up front that no one was monitoring the burpee count and I for one tended to lose count when doing my burpees. Thirty is a long way to count when you are dying and I watched many people doing them. I'm pretty convinced that no one in that race completed all of the burpees they were supposed to do. The photo shows the route that we ran and all of the obstacles we had to complete. Unfortunately I can't remember what all of the classified obstacles were but the ones that I can remember are the rope climb, memorization test, twister, and a bunch of other monkey bar types. 
Six of us ran the race, Ben, Alex, Brandon, Sarah, Frank and myself. We all started out together and Alex and Ben were obviously going to maintain a faster pace than I was able to. Brandon and Sarah were also quite happy to hang back with me but Frank really wanted to run with Ben and Alex. About three miles into the race Frank made the tough decision to run with the slow crowd. 

The one obstacle I was worried about and that I really wanted to pass was the rope climb. I had to climb up a fifteen foot rope, ring a bell and then drop back down. When I was a young man I did that often but I am not a young man any more. Ben and Alex were still with us and I was watching with dread a lot of people fail this one. Finally Ben made it and I knew I had to try. I wasn't nearly as pretty as Ben was but I did manage to make my way up that rope and ring the bell. If I failed every other obstacle it would have been OK with me. As it turned out the only obstacles I did fail were the ones where you had to climb hand over hand. I just don't have enough strength in my arms for that. My hands are strong but not my arms. The taller walls would have been a challenge for me to but we were allowed to help each other over them. I also failed the spear throw. I hit the target but my spear didn't stick in the hay bale far enough to stay. 
Of the challenges that I did make, the hardest for me was the bucket brigade. We had to fill a five gallon bucket with gravel and carry it about a mile up some pretty tough hills. Carrying it wasn't the problem but the bottom rim cutting into my hands was not fun. I did carry it without stopping and then went back and help Sarah with hers. Another was a 100 pound concrete ball. I could carry it OK as well but getting it off the ground was nearly impossible. We also had to flip a 400 pound tractor tire. When I grabbed onto that thing it didn't even budge. Brandon and I had to do it ourselves. Sarah managed to flip her tire by herself though. I'm impressed. The girls tires were NOT 400 pounds. 
They had some mud pits that were pretty cool. We had to slide down a fairly steep embankment into the mud and apparently Ben and Alex decided it would be fun to cannon ball into the mud. I guess there were some pretty unhappy contestants. 
After the race I told Lisa that I thought I had sunburned my neck and my shoulders but now that things have settled down I realize that I'm not sunburned at all. My neck is sore from carrying that bucket of gravel for a mile and I have a huge scrape on my ankle. I have no idea where that came from. I have also found a scrape on my elbow (probably from crawling under some barb wire through some sand) and one on my knee. The one injury that took me a bit to figure out was my sore ribs. Finally Ben pointed out that the way I cross every single wall (and there were many of them) was to jump up on the wall and land my chest on the top of the wall while I flip my legs over. Today I have a big bruise on my chest. 
My only other injury was a lost crown. At one water stop they were handing out chewing energy candies. I bit into one and bit into my crown. I just about lost it but thankfully found it. It is getting glued back on tomorrow. 
What a great weekend this was. 

Monday, February 27, 2017

Freddie Charles Leavitt

What a great weekend we just had. Exhausting but wonderful. We went to Phoenix for three very worthy causes. First, Ben and Sharley blessed their baby Freddie, second, it was Ben's 31st birthday and third, in an effort to prove that he isn't getting old, Ben signed up to run a Super Spartan. He invited others to join him and when Alex, Brandon and Sarah signed up how could I not?
Because so many of the family was going to be in town it seemed like a good time to get us all together and bless Freddie. Most of Sharley's family was there as well. The blessing was held at Chuck and Jean Cotters condo and a member of Bens bishopric was there. 
From our family we had Lisa and I, Brandon, Sam and Sarah and Frank and Hannah Criger. Well they aren't married yet so I guess Hannah isn't a Criger just yet. Frank is like a son to us. After the blessing we had tacos and hung around the rest of the afternoon.
We did have one incident that we had to deal with. Because so many of us came, there was no room for us all at Ben's so Lisa and I rented a motel room nearby. I specifically ordered a no smoking room but alas, we ended up in a smoking room. It was so bad that it was actually hard to breath. Since there was no non-smoking rooms left we ended up taking the room. Lisa actually got up in the middle of the night and slept in the car. I think she has many more smelling neurons in her nose that the average person. She is very sensitive to smells.
Lisa posted a scathing entry on Instagram the next day and received several offers of help. The Motel 6 offered to move us to a non-smoking room. It was much better but you could tell it had been smoked in. In the end they gave us a full refund and we spent the night with a girl who had grown up in our Stake. Erin McMullin Tarwater. I love the name Tarwater, it just sounds cool. Their son Cove graciously offered us his bed to sleep in. Thank you Cove. The bad part was that I use a CPAP machine and when I put it on the next night I was breathing cigarette smoke. I went to sleep smoking but thank goodness it was gone when I woke up the next morning.
Ben gave Freddie a beautiful blessing. While I can't remember much of what he said I do remember that the gist of it was that Freddie would grow up to be a peacemaker.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Today was the big day. For the last two years we have been working on a project for NASA and today we demonstrated our first prototype to the guys at JPL. The demonstration went off better than I could have hoped but boy what a stressful day. 
We have made one prototype and we've just about completed our second one. The first prototype, RPS#1 (for Radioisotope Power Supply) gave good results. Not perfect but pretty good for a first test and with a decent presentation we would be able to show exactly what the problems were and how we can correct them. 
Some members of our team really wanted to focus on RPS #2 because they were convinced that it would perform even better than RPS #1. I told them that we would be far better off with one really good demonstration that we would be with two poor demonstrations and that we should focus on the RPS that we knew was performing well. They promised that they could have RPS #2 on test by noon so I caved in and let them work on it. Big mistake. 
The plan was to program a DAQ (data acquisition system) that would take data from our RPS and display the operating parameters on a big screen so everyone in the room could see how it was performing. Since we knew it would perform well, and I think it looked impressive, I was confident that everyone would be impressed. We had replaced the outside aluminum shell with a clear Plexiglas shell so you could look inside it and see how it worked.  

Finally, around 4:00 in the afternoon I had to shut down the work on RPS #2 and tell everyone to focus on RPS #1. I got some push back telling me that it would only take an hour to get the DAQ operating on the laptop but I insisted. When I went home at six it still wasn't working but I was assured it would be done soon. 
This morning when I walked into the lab at 5:45 guess who was still there working on the DAQ? You've got it, the unnamed team member. He had gone home frustrated around midnight and came back at 4:00 this morning to finish the work. In order to get to our meeting on time we had to leave at 6:00 so you can imagine I was starting to feel a bit stressed. Finally at 6:30 I had to call off the work on the DAQ, give up on the cool display and hit the road. My new saying was that a poor demonstration is better than none at all. 
On the road to Pasadena the unnamed team member (feeling pretty down at this point) was scrambling to find a way to redeem himself and came up with a scheme where he would take data manually and enter it into the cool display that he had working. Since we had both the RPS and the laptop in the car I told him to give it a try. He did and was confident it would work but his battery died before he could complete the test. I suggested that he just enter the data into a spread sheet and have that on the big screen. 
We arrived at JPL just before 10:00 when our meeting was supposed to start so we had no time to set up the demo. People started arriving right away so I started our power point while the guys got the RPS set up. I finished my spiel and then asked the guys if they had something to show us. For some reason they weren't able to get the DAQ to work but based on my suggestion they did have a spread sheet where they could enter the data. They took a reading and entered the data but got some wild number. The spread sheet was supposed to accpeted the raw data and do some math and display how much power was being produced. Our demo was supposed to produce 40mW of power and according to the data we were making about 500mW. 
The discussion at that point got pretty interesting. The guys were sweating bullets because now they were trying to solve a confusing math problem with the entire room watching them. I felt for them because I know how tough that can be. What was cool is that the entire room started to help them out. These were smart people and some of them were well versed in thermoelectrics and they were telling them where the mistakes were. It didn't take me long to figure out what they were doing wrong and in no time we were posting some impressive figures but it was good that our customers (JPL) were helping my team solve their problems and I could tell that JPL was a)  becoming invested in the RPS and b) they had zero doubt that the RPS was performing as it should. 
The other cool thing that came out of this was that we did bring the partly assembled RPS #2 with us so they could see the internal components and how it went together and how it worked. They were completely enthralled with it and begged to keep it. I think that was every bit as impressive as the working RPS #1. 
So, even though I have rarely been under that kind of pressure, the demo went very well. I was also reminded, in the harshest of ways, that you don't start on your "nice to have" work  until after your "must have" work is done. I knew better, and I can't get mad at the guys because I've been in their place and I have done the exact same thing and I knew better. It is exciting work and you really want to do the best you can. It isn't fun settling with second best when you just "know" you can do better. 

It was a great day. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The Homeless Shelter

Wednesday is Scout Day. Tonight we took the scouts to serve dinner at a homeless shelter. We had to supply all of the food and we couldn't cook at the Shelter so we had each of the kids bring a couple of cans of Chili and dumped them all in some crock pots. We also had a salad and corn bread muffins. I think it was an eye opener for the kids. ​After dinner we were given a tour of the facility. I felt like I was intruding as we walked right through a room with about 25 bunk beds set up in it but I guess if your in a single room with 25 bunk beds you have no privacy. They had a bunch of women in there too. All of the women were on one side of the room and the men on the other side. It was kind of sobering for the boys. On our way home we made sure we pointed out that this is why you want to do well in school.