Life Under Quarantine

As of yesterday, the “stay home” quarantine period due to COVID-19 will mark the longest (two-months) I have stayed in one place since graduating from college back in 2006. in that time, I have logged more than 100K airline miles per year and not fewer than 100 nights (and more often closer to 200) nights in hotels annually.

Working from home has been a very interesting experience. Prior to quarantine at the beginning of 2020, I took at least 2 flights per week often traveling by plane for several hours to attend a 1-hour meeting and getting back on a plane to be off to the next event. The new reality has been quite a welcome change. Waking up in the same bed, at home, with my wife every day has been amazing. Helping this experience is the fact that we’re “stuck” at our house in Costa Rica. About the only negative is that we bought this house not intending for both of us to work virtually out of the house. It is a small (under 1000 sq ft) space. Packing two desks into the house has been challenging. But all things considered, having access to our gym, the trails around Nosara, and all the amazing food the area has to offer has been amazing. In two months, I have only registered one red day on WHOOP, a fitness and recovery tracking wearable, and my average recovery is 30% higher than when I was regularly traveling.

The long-term implications of this quarantine are both exciting and potentially challenging. First, and most importantly, customers are embracing virtual meetings and the reality has forced customer organizations to provide better tools for virtual collaboration. This is not temporary. It’s going to stick and usher in an entirely new paradigm that will result in few trips, lower business travel costs, and much less time wasted traveling. Instead of traveling cross-country for 5 hours for a one-hour meeting, and back again on a red-eye, I can now just hop on Teams, utilize video, and have 85% of the interaction/experience I could have had in person. In the DoD, this is a monumental shift. There will certainly be times where I will find face-to-face valuable and critical, but I believe I will be able to reduce my travel by more than 50%. One potential downside: as a United Global Services member, I was considered part of the backbone of United’s operations, spending more than $50K annually. If many of my GS compatriots are like me, there will be a lot less profitable fliers which means airlines will likely reduce service. Instead of having a flight almost every hour from DC to LA, the new reality could make travel less flexible. Perhaps it won’t matter but it will be interesting to see how limited travel options become.

All in all, the past two months have marked quite the dramatic shift in business operations, travel, and virtual collaboration and mark the beginning the “new normal.” Exciting and interesting times ahead as the world quickly evolves into a new paradigm.

Eating on The Road: Making Conscious Decisions

According to MyFitnessPal my “optimal” level of carbohydrate intake is 294 g per day. I can tell you that number is ridiculously high and reflects many of things that are grossly wrong with diets today.

As I write this I am sitting on an airplane in first class surrounded by relatively successful people most of whom travel as much if not more than I do. Of the 15 other people sharing the cabin with me, all but one is severely overweight. This problem is seen time and time again in any airline lounges and aircraft around the world that I happen to be in. There is a significant correlation between number of miles flown (or traveled period) in a year and BMI. It’s just damn hard to eat well on the road and there are many pitfalls that we as frequent travelers should be aware of and avoid.

Urged by my wife, I read “Why We Get Fat and What to Do About It” and took many of the lessons in this book to heart. First, eliminate sugar. Don’t get me wrong, this is incredibly hard. United might have a pretty poor success rate getting me to my destination on time but they can always be counted on to serve piping hot cookies. Want to grab a quick salad prior to a flight? That dressing almost assuredly has sugar (and soy…seriously there are so many unnecessary ingredients in airport food) in it, as does the dressing served with the salad on board. Fruit? Not any more. As you’ll learn when you read the book, fruit isn’t actually much better for you than raw sugar itself. Honey, sugar, fructose, whatever….It’s all basically treated by our bodies the same, it’s killing us, and it has no place in our lives.

The second lesson I’ve grasped ahold of in my daily life is not just limiting sugar but all carbohydrates. My goal is under 20 but realistically, especially on the road it’s closer to 30 net carbs per day. This has been incredibly eye opening. Seemingly healthy foods like hummus, green beans, quinoa, gluten free bread, etc are carb loaded and aren’t helping your expanding waistline. Serving sizes are also absurd making what you are typically served 4-5 actual servings per the nutrition information. Many foods marketed as healthy, natural, organic, etc are anything but good for you. It may be part of the reason why vegetarians in the United States aren’t typically healthier than their meat eating counterparts. They’re replacing meat with well marketed but ultimately crap food.

So what do I eat? First, I haven’t decreased the amount of exercise I do. That means I’m still burning ~4000 calories per day. It’s a lot of food when you’ve cut out calorie bomb, carbohydrate and sugar loaded foods like fruit, energy bars, and cookies.

The answer is fats and greens. Lots of them. The majority of my net carbs come from leafy greens, broccoli, etc. Breakfast starts with a “smoothie” made with spinach, almond milk, water, green superfood powder, tumeric, ginger, lysine, vitamin c powder, MCT oil and topped with low carb nuts like pumpkin seeds, walnuts, and pecans. My wife and I travel with our blender (you can actually carry this model in your carry on) and this meal to start the day is a godsend. Perhaps around midday I’ll cook some greens with a couple eggs in some duck fat (with a fat goal close to 200 grams per day, adding fat is vital). Lunch might consist of lettuce wraps, while dinner is usually a small portion of meat such as lamb or buffalo and more greens or veggies like brussels or cabbage and a side salad. At no point am I hungry. That’s part of the key to success. Being hungry encourages cheating which becomes habit which becomes the standard.

So how can I do this on the road? Step one: Save your meals out for client dinners and be that guy in a restaurant. Something on the menu not in line with your desires? Substitute it. You are paying for a meal. Get it the way you want. Order the steak, pass on the bread and substitute extra spinach or broccoli for the loaded potato. Want dessert? Have a cheese plate. Obviously there are limits to this and picking the right restaurant is critical. Steak and seafood houses are great. Perfect for client dinners and you won’t leave hungry. Step two: cook for yourself. Go to your local organic grocery store upon landing and pick up the essential items and cook for yourself, picking hotels like the Residence Inn by Marriott. Step three: have willpower. Served an airplane meal of a “Southwest” chicken salad with a side of fruit and a cookie? Don’t eat the fruit or the cookie, and take a minute to pick out the tomatoes, corn and black beans. Don’t even think about the dressing. The second ingredient is soybean oil, the third is sugar. Want dressing? Carry a small squeeze bottle of olive oil and apple cider vinegar. It’s low carb and tastes better than the syrupy crap served most places. There are tons of resources online and the real secret is just to take a moment and be conscious of the choices you make.

So what about results: in 2015 I was 18% body fat. I was basically eating what I wanted and using the “I worked out today so I deserve this” mentality toward crap eating. Lots of beer, the entire bread basket, and whatever else I could scavenge. By mid 2016, with careful calorie control and insane exercise programming I was able to lose around 20lbs and get down to just under 10% body fat, relatively healthy and fit by most standards, but I had flatlined and calorie control/binge eating was a problem and although I was lighter I also lost quite a bit of strength. I could run a mile faster but couldn’t lift as much. Changing to this ultra low carb/ketogenic diet had almost two immediate impacts. First, in the period of 4 weeks I dropped to just under 7% body fat and actually increased my overall strength (bench press, squat, and clean) by almost 10% getting back to my strength level prior to beginning to diet in 2015 without any reduction in endurance abilities.

Truthfully, when I started this diet protocol it was to be a good partner in my relationship with my wife. I was a bit skeptical as I had always adhered to the “calories in/calories out” mantra and strive to control portions, eating “healthy” foods and abiding by traditional nutrition guidelines that emphasize carbohydrates in our diet. Fact is, it would appear traditional nutrition guidelines are bullshit. I’m living proof, but I’m just one person. If you’re traveling as much as I am, look down. What do you have to lose besides a few pants sizes? Added bonus: You get to buy new suits. Check out Gary Taubes books and try it out for yourself.

Being Selfish With Your Time

img_20161219_133336Wherever life takes me on the next journey, one thing I learned in running a startup is that more is not always better. This is applicable in many areas. Top line revenue at the expense of profitability, contracts and projects that you can’t deliver on (better to say no than do a crap job) are both things that are typically in every management textbook as examples of “more is not better.” What I have come to realize is that time is probably the best example there is.

Running a startup, it is an understatement to say that time is a precious thing. If there was a way to add three or four hours to a day I would have taken this over many, many tangible goods. Over the past five years there have been more than a few times where I felt I was able to exercise little control over my time. Meetings were set by others, my schedule was not a priority and I wore many hats owing to lack of steady funding to support additional staff. The reality of this may not have been quite to out of my control. I definitely have a hard time saying no. Over time, like any successful startup, the day-to-day operations slowly shifted to operations staff and I am now almost fully committed to strategic operations and growth initiatives. There is still plenty of work to be done and I could theoretically continue to put in 20 hour days 7 days a week, sleep at the office, and continue the toil.

However in 2016 I committed to being selfish with my time. I have come to realize I don’t need more time. I just need to take back that time which is wasted by others. I needed to be selfish. No more attending meetings that could be handled with an email. No more travel for pointless conferences and events. And, most importantly, prioritizing and planning my days to focus on what really matters, ensuring I have built in time to appreciate life and take care of myself physically and mentally. Long gone are the days of priding myself on getting as little sleep as possible. It turns out I am far more productive calling it quits and going to bed and getting 6-7 hours of sleep. Waking up, enjoying a cup of coffee in bed, reading, going to the gym, then getting rolling and focusing on the day. In 7-8 hours I am accomplishing more than I was working almost three times as long. Productivity aside there are a number of other benefits. First, my life no longer revolves solely around work. Secondly, while I have always eaten pretty healthy, the lack of sleep, irregular eating patterns, and irregular exercise patterns took it’s toll. In the last year I have lost 20 lbs, and more importantly, my body fat percentage is down from 14% to just under 7%. This commitment to be selfish with my time has also allowed me to focus and slow down. In Dec 2016 I took the first vacation (With my wife to Chilean Patagonia, where the above picture was taken) I have had in 10 years where I didn’t bring (and use nearly full time) a work laptop. While I am on my 9th year as a United 1K and have had the privilege to visit 23 countries, I have rarely explored these locations due to short trips, back to back meetings and quick departures to fly to another meeting. I’ve committed to taking some time when I travel to explore, to use the downtime to decompress, focus and reflect on the best ways to proceed. Being selfish doesn’t mean doing less. Quite the contrary, I have found I can do more just much more efficiently and be exponentially happier.

Staying Fit On The Road

img_20161031_094853As you may have read about in a previous entry I travel a relatively large amount. In looking at upcoming trips and my year-to-date travel I will have flown 160,000 miles on United and 55,000 miles on American, spent 156 nights in Marriott/SPG properties and about 30 in AirBnB and smaller boutique hotels by the end of 2016.

Staying healthy on the road is going to be a multi-entry storytelling adventure on my part. I’d like to start with exploring fitness related aspects of being healthy. A future post (probably at will explore the food aspects of staying healthy (particularly breakfasts). Another will explore a relatively new aspect of health, my mental health, and ways in which Kundalini yoga (introduced to me by my wife, a Kundalini instructor and certified PTSD yoga therapy healer) has helped me stay centered and focused in a sometimes-hectic routine.

A critical part of my daily routine is exercise. I will go out of my way to schedule meetings, stay in certain hotels, and plan travel around finding appropriate locations to work out. Back in 2008 I discovered CrossFit which provides a highly variable and intense mix of weightlifting and cardio. There has been plenty of praise and scorn directed at CrossFit and both camps are right in some ways. Certainly, with poor form and poor coaching you can injure yourself as you can in any activity. Personally, I am seeking to maintain a fitness level/body type that incorporates weightlifting and cardio so CrossFit has been perfect for me.

There are some drawbacks, primarily associated with bad coaching and bad programming. For those not familiar with the concept, CrossFit consists of coach-led small group classes where everyone performs the same (or a scaled version of the same) workout. The potential downside is that if the coach programs an easy or mundane workout you often don’t have the flexibility to do your own thing. Having travelled around the world and worked out at more than 85 different CrossFit affiliates in 19 states and 8 countries, I have only had issues at a handful of locations. The group fitness aspect is critical to me. If I take a red-eye flight across the country from SFO-BOS and land at 530AM, I can make the 6AM class at CrossFit Lando Charlestown where the other 10-12 people provide the motivation I need to get that workout in and not succumb to the “I’m tired…I’ll workout later” voice that would otherwise win out.

Nothing beats jet-lag into submission on my quarterly trips to Stockholm Sweden like a morning workout at Crossfit Solid nor provides a better avenue for my fidgetiness after a 16-hour flight to Sydney Australia like CrossFit Athletic City. Adding CrossFit as a key part of my day provides a solid routine that I can find in 99.9% of the places in which I travel. This is important. Most hotel gyms suck and running/bodyweight exercises on my own only goes so far. The further from major metro areas you are, the worse hotel gyms tend to be. This tends to be inversely true of CrossFit gyms (although not totally true, looking at you DC & Potomac CrossFit). Some of the best gyms were in converted RV garages, barns, etc. such as Appleton CrossFit. Every CrossFit gym provides a certain level of equipment (weights, rowers, rings, oh-my!) that I can usually count on to get a good workout. Note: CrossFit is not enough by itself (nor is one hour of daily exercise of any type) to be fit and healthy. Instilling a personal goal of near constant movement throughout the day is definitely a goal and as important if not more so is nutrition (more on that in the future).

In addition to CrossFit I still run (especially when I’m in a new place I want to explore) and break up my day with walks, probably do some pushups and sit-ups in the hotel room, and if I’m in lucky enough to get a per-diem rate room at the Marriott Marquis in DC, might grab a hotel-gym-workout after dinner just to keep the blood flowing. My wife and I have both been obsessed with tracking our movement, distance traveled, and calorie burn with our Garmin-235 watches. We will definitely post more about our praises and frustrations with this device in the future.

What do you do to stay fit on the road?

Optimizing Application Performance

systecon_computersWe’ve had some interesting results lately when testing large Opus Suite models on various hardware configurations that have resulted in Systecon offering custom and semi-custom hardware solutions for clients depending on their Opus Suite use cases. We’ve encountered LORA models with more than 10K repair alternatives, SIMLOX models with more than 1000 individually tracked items over a 50 year period, and more. In designing hardware solutions capable of meeting acceptable run times we’ve tested more than 50 different configurations before deciding on our current “standard” and “advanced” offerings. Our baseline offering runs on an Intel X99 chipset motherboard with a Windows10 installed on a 500GB M.2 drive (found to be 20% faster than a SATA SSD) with 128GB of RAM. We chose high end eight-core i7 processors that are significantly overclocked allowing for multi-threading in next version of SIMLOX. Our “advanced” offering offers dual Xeon processors & 512GB of RAM running Windows Server 2012. We’ve noticed significant performance improvements (run times cut 30-40%) over standard workstation and server offerings from HP or Dell. We’re offering these solutions to existing Opus Suite users at very affordable prices. Contact me for more information or a demonstration of how much faster your predictive analytic solutions could run.