Guest post: Low Ropes

I ended up in a bit of a knot on this one…

Today’s blog is a guest post from Marz of Shutter and Ink fame. Marz is a tiny bit cool. She’s a writer, photographer and the kind of all-round adventurer you’d want on your side in a zombie apocalypse.

I’ve been trying to write about an adventure for a while now, since my friend Jay here asked me to write a post for his blog. You see, I’m always having adventures in my life, bite-sized ones, but I rarely write about them. Don’t ask me why. They seem, I don’t know, way too domestic, or something.

However, last weekend, I went out on an adventure day. Now, is there any better excuse to finally write a post on the subject?

 Very early in the morning…
Very early in the morning…

Despite the fact that I had to wake up unnaturally early for a Saturday, I was quite excited about the day.

I packed a change of clothes and some lunch, and set off to meet the rest of the group.

The day consisted of different activities we would enjoy in groups. Our group’s first activity was Low Ropes – I believe that’s the name, anyway, it looked more like one of Takeshi’s Castle games, to be honest.

There is a course of ropes to test your balance and coordination, ranging in difficulty. We started with some easy ones, on the ground area, to get used to it. Moving from one platform to another while balancing on a wire was relatively easy. You just need to hop on the wire, and hold onto the ropes for balance and support. Simples!

I ended up in a bit of a knot on this one…
I ended up in a bit of a knot on this one…

Once we mastered the easy ones, we moved up on difficulty. Now, water was involved. The first one consisted on a series of tyres forming a bridge. The first couple of tyres were above ground, but then the rest of the bridge was above shallow water. You were supposed to walk on the middle, stepping where both tyres joined. I waited for my turn, watching others walk on the bridge with more or less ease. I set off, and after walking a bit on the bridge, as soon as the water was below me, I realised that the tyres were quite wobbly, and it was quite early in the morning, the water looked cold and after all, I didn’t want to be the first one falling down, so I decided it was best to crawl on my fours for the

rest of the bridge. Seriously, my balance is bad, and I’m a bit of a chicken!

Better safe than sorry?
Better safe than sorry?

One of the bridges was quite tricky. It consisted of a wire, again, and a long low hanging rope with no tension at all. The difficulty was in managing to distribute your weight between the wire and the rope, without pushing the latter outwards, which would result in you being completely sprawled, losing your balance and falling face down in the water. I somehow managed to tense the rope somewhat with one hand, while using the other one for support and direction.

Two kids did go in, I’m guessing because they were too short and couldn’t reach both the rope and the wire comfortably, and two of my friends almost fell in as well. We were all in tears with laughter, but we managed to pass this obstacle with some dignity.

The last one of the Low Ropes activity was to involve tyres again, this time as swings. The idea was to lower ourselves from a platform onto one of the tyres, hold the single rope and swing ourselves back and forth to the next one. I lowered myself onto the first tyre with some resemblance of success. Stepping into the next one was relatively easy, but I still struggled a bit. The third tyre proved a task for me. Here, I have to let you guys know I don’t have any strength on my arms whatsoever, so I was already quite tired. At some point, it seems I did manage, so I was now on the fourth one. Then, as much as I tried to grab for the next rope, I never managed to reach it. The tyre wasn’t swinging at all, and I was scared I would lose my balance. Finally, for some reason, and mainly due to tired arms, I somehow ended sitting on the tyre.

I stretched my arm and reached the next rope. Great! I was now sitting on two tyres! Now what? I thought… Well, somehow, I managed to get rid of the fourth tyre, and was now sitting on the fifth one. I managed to stand up, but was losing the balance (it’s very possible I got my soles wet, or maybe I’m just that clumsy). I think I did stand up completely, and even try to reach for the next rope, without success. Thanks to the two kids falling in the water earlier, I knew the pond was extremely cold, so I was going to try a bit more. Nothing, there was no way I could reach the rope and make the transition between swings. My arms were extremely tired by now, so I tried to rest them a bit by lowering myself again and staying on a crouch. As soon as I got into this position, my balance got a bit wobbly and ended up having to sit down on the tyre again, legs up so as to not get my trousers wet. I tried to lift myself up again, but couldn’t find the strength.

Everyone in my group was cheering me and encouraging me to keep going, while my friend, who was on a tyre behind me, was laughing and telling me to go on quickly. I looked at my friend, at the group safely on the platform, at the water, and saw it clearly: I was never going to make it. No matter how long it took me, and trust me, it would have taken me hours, I simply didn’t have the strength to go on.

At that point I thought: rather than falling into the water by surprise and accident, I rather do it on my terms. I said: I think I’m going in, and so I did.

I’m just going to let myself go down quietly…
I’m just going to let myself go down quietly…

The water was cold. It was freezing. I felt the air being pushed out of my lungs, and the cold shooting up my spine. I shouted “Oh f***, it’s cold” and started shivering and swearing. I swam as I could to the bank, and couldn’t get out for a moment, as my trainers were getting stuck on the mud, so I couldn’t get a proper grip. Finally, the instructor came to give me a hand and I managed to get out, completely soaked and cold.

It turns out, one of my friends had also gone down, but I didn’t even notice. I was too busy trying to survive myself!

Now, I know what you might be thinking. You’re thinking I gave up, but I must disagree. True, I decided to let go, but there is no shame in giving up when you know you’ve lost the battle. I could have persisted on my task, only to fall minutes later, but when you know it’s a lost cause, it’s better to withdraw and keep the energy for something you actually have a chance in.

All in all, the Low Ropes challenge was truly entertaining. We laughed a lot and learnt about different skills and team effort. I will train to get better and learn how to use my strength more effectively, and will definitely try it again!

After a change of clothes, we then proceeded to the rest of the activities, which consisted of Abseiling, Archery and Caving, but those are stories for another time…

*Please note that due to a sheer panic of falling, and not paying attention to anything but not falling in the water, the true account of each transition between tyres might differ slightly!

The Successful and the Passionate: An Interview with Therese Hansen

imageIt seems to me that people who are passionate and successful in one area of their life are often just as passionate in other areas. In this interview series “The Successful and the Passionate” I will talk to some successful and passionate people about some of the things they share a passion for that they aren’t so well-known.

Today we talk to Therese Hansen about living small and travelling.

Therese is a Computer Scientist, Programmer, Blogger and Startup Weekend Mentor. On top of this, Therese is also the co-founder of Monzoom, and the woman behind xiive.com (the social media filtering site) and rouqk.com (analyzing Twitter every 20 minutes).

Therese’s passion is for travelling and living small. Therese says the two go together pretty well with her professional life as a entrepreneur, but they are her passion and she would be doing it even if she wasn’t a successful entrepreneur.

Therese, you tell me that your passion for living small started when you and your husband moved in with your father when you were 30. What prompted you both to quit your jobs and work full-time on your professional passions in this way?

My husband and I were part of a Startup Weekend (weekend-long, hands-on experiences where entrepreneurs and aspiring entrepreneurs can find out if their startup ideas are viable) in our then-home town of Aarhus. That weekend we met other entrepreneurs, worked on something we were passionate about, and were injected with the entrepreneurial spirit.

It was a transforming experience, and we decided halfway through the weekend that this was the kind of thing we wanted to do full-time. We both had well-paying jobs in IT, so we had quite the nice buffer of money saved and after that weekend we started talking about how to stretch our savings so we had as much time as possible before we had to make money from our new company.

My father was living alone in a really big house at the time, and he had an unused attic as big as our apartment, and when we told him our plans he invited us to stay with him. My father was also an entrepreneur, though with a physical shop, and so was his father, and my great-grandfather.

It runs in the family, and I think my father was quite happy to learn that I had the startup-spirit as well. With the support of our family and a lot of great feedback from our social circle we decided to do it.

Alongside this another side of the story developed. I was stressed out from commuting 4 hours a day to and from work, and sometimes staying in hotel rooms alone to avoid the long commute. The Startup Weekend woke me up to see that there are other ways to live.

You mentioned to me beforehand that your travels to date have so far mostly been to Asia, with cheap trips also within Europe. Can you tell me about your first trip — or about a particularly memorable trip?

Our first long trip took us to Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Bangkok, Krabi, Kuala Lumpur, Krabi, Hua Hin, Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh City, Bangkok, and then home. We were travelling for 7 months and loved it. I learned a lot about myself and my husband on that trip. It changed our view on our daily life.

Anyone who travels a lot will tell you that seeing how other cultures organize themselves and what they hold as truths will make you do some introspection and question the things you take for granted.

It also inspires you. Nothing compares to the freedom you feel when you know you only have the things in your suitcase (we are too old to be backpackers). You can’t spend a lot of money because if you buy new things you will need to discard something old to be able to still carry your things with you.

As an entrepreneur, when you are travelling have you found there are marked differences to how you are received in different places to how you are at home?

I wouldn’t say that I know how it feels like to be received as an entrepreneur in different cultures because it has never been something we told people. We always just say “we work in IT” and the response you get for that is not much different in Thailand to what we hear in Denmark.

In what ways has living small changed life for you and your husband? What impact has it had on your outlook on life?

Living from a suitcase and living on a small budget has changed a lot of things for us. We are able to support ourselves by doing relatively little paid work. Our budget requires us to work 2 days a week on paid work and we can do what we want with the rest of the time.

It turns out what we want is to work some more on getting our own products out there, and I can’t say that that was what I had predicted when we started cutting back on spending.

I have had a lot more mornings waking up and thinking that I’m too lucky after we made this change in our life. In the old days I would work hard to earn a lot of money to spend on expensive clothes and gadgets and now my clothes and gadgets are mostly packed away and my newest dress cost 150 Thai Baht (about 30 DKK, $5 USD, £3.50 GBP or €4 Euro).

I do not spend a lot of money, but when I do, I spend it on things that will make it easier to travel. My latest purchase was a foldable whiteboard – something we really have missed while travelling. I have a whole new outlook on spending and consuming. “Do I really need it?” is the one question I have with me all the time – not “Do I want it in this second?” which were my old criteria for shopping.

You tell me that living small and travelling go well with your professional life as a entrepreneur. Can you tell me about the benefits and challenges your lifestyle has had on your professional life?

The benefits are simple. I don’t have to spend a lot of time making money to put food on the table, because my expenses are low. That allows me to create the products that I want to make and not focus on the profit from day one. My priorities are different.

The challenges I have faced while travelling have been relatively small. We couldn’t go to a certain island because the internet connection was not good enough for us to work. We can’t meet with customers in person when they are in Denmark and we are in Thailand. My professional network in Denmark is shrinking because we are not there a lot of the time and I have to use a lot of time online to keep it.

Cutting back on expenses also means a lot of public transport and that makes it a bit difficult to get places to meet with customers. It also takes a lot of time to save money.

What are the top pieces of advice you would offer to others who wanted to start living small but are unsure how to break the cycle of always collecting more “stuff”?

Start with changing your thinking. Brand “collecting stuff” as something undesirable in your head. Stop and think before you buy. Do an experiment: don’t buy anything for a week (except food) and when you get tempted, write it down. If at the end of the week you can’t live without the things you have written down then buy it; my guess is that you won’t miss anything on the list.

Where would you like to see yourself in 10 years time? Do you and your husband plan to always keep travelling, or do you think you might travel less while still living small?

When my father died last year we reexamined our priorities. Yes, we do want to keep travelling, but we will probably do it less because of our business and how it is changing.

I really don’t want to spend another winter in Denmark, ever, so that means that we have to make plans for the period of November-March in another country: with the exception of Christmas. Our mothers don’t allow us to travel on Christmas; we did it one year and they missed us too much.

Living small is now part of who we are. Even if we were millionaires we wouldn’t change much about our current lifestyle. My attitude towards my mindless spending can’t be changed back. I think collecting “stuff” was weighing me down mentally, and I will never go back to that life. Now the top of my priority list is the people around me. Material things has never meant less to me than they do now — it is a learned mindset. Less is more.

This attitude has seeped into all parts of my life.

For example, we launched our company website (monzoom.net) a few weeks ago. The website is one page, and it only has the things on it that our customers asked for. Not the many, many things we could tell about ourselves, but the things that are needed.

You can almost see the change in our mindset in the products that we create.

In our first product, xiive.com (search and statistics about keywords across social media sites), we put in all the features we could think of. Now we create apps and websites that are small and with only a handful of features – and we invite people into the process, not just to see the result.

Other than your work, travelling and living small, do you have any other passions?

I do genealogy as well, but that is a relatively new passion of mine, so there’s not much to tell yet. Although I did find out that my family has blood ties to the Danish royal family far, far back, but this is something I probably share with most Danes :)

Right now I live in a small Danish city where I have found family members all the way back to the year 1600.

Therese is now a mentor at Startup Weekend, and recommends the experience to anyone who thinks they might have entrepreneurial blood. Therese would also like to invite anyone with an interest in travels, entrepreneurship or social media to connect with her on LinkedIn dk.linkedin.com/in/theresehansen
or twitter @qedtherese
.

People of the Internet: I need your help!

imageIt’s ok, I’m not asking for anyone to give me a job (although a new job would be nice), and I’m not asking for any funding or sponsorship (which must make a change). What I need is your connections.

Hopefully, you have heard about my blog post series “The Successful and the Passionate”; where I talk to successful people about their lesser-known passions, the things they love that they are not known for. It’s going well, so far, two posts in: but it needs more diversity.

I had a false start last time I tried this: I aimed maybe too high, or at people who didn’t know me. I contacted Carol Ann Duffy and got no response, and was disheartened. This time, I have started with people I have connections to, have two interviews down and two more potentials in the pipeline.

The only trouble is I am quite limited to the people, so I need your help and your introductions. Who do you know that is either well-known generally or well-known in their specific field? Actors, musicians, dancers, composers, scientists, authors, directors, architects — I want them all.

So, this is why I need your suggestions: and most importantly your introductions.

You can see the interviews so far here and here.

The Successful and the Passionate: An Interview with Peter Lubbers

Peter Lubbers, HTML5

imageIt seems to me that people who are passionate and successful in one area of their life are often just as passionate in other areas. In this interview series “The Successful and the Passionate” I will talk to some successful and passionate people about some of the things they share a passion for that they aren’t so well-known.

Today, we talk to Peter Lubbers about running. And jumping.

Peter Lubbers is best known for his work with HTML5. He is the author of the book Pro HTML5 Programming (2nd Edition Apress, 2011) and the founder of the San Francisco HTML5 User Group—the world’s first and largest HTML5 user group with over 7,000 members. Peter now works as the Chrome Developer Relations Program Manager at Google.”

Peter also has a penchant for running.

Three-time winner of the Tahoe Super Triple (26.2M + 26.2M + 72M in 3 days), Peter also ran the entire 165-mile Tahoe Rim Trail (TRT) in one go, in 57h:54m and completed the River City Marathon in under three hours.

Peter, I understand you are a former Special Forces commando in the Royal Dutch Green Berets. That is quite extreme itself — were you a superhero before you were a special forces commando?

No, not at all. I was really only good at one thing: long distance walking. That skill served me pretty well and I owe it all to my dad, who took me out walking on weekends. We started with 5 and 10K walks (my mom would also come along for those walks) and then it became more serious (Mom would stay home for those walks). We would routinely hike 20 to 50K a weekend and by the time I was 14 we hiked all across the Netherlands (where I was born), Germany, and large parts of England and Scotland. I remember we hiked 1000K in a summer vacation when I turned 13 or 14.

In those days, joining the army was mandatory. One interesting anecdote about that was that to join the green berets you had to pass a physical and mental fitness test on the first day you arrived. They sent the requirements a few months ahead of time and one of the items was the ability to perform 8 pullups. I tried it and was horrified I could not even do one! A friend of mine welded an iron pullup bar together for me and every night I would practice before going to bed. It was only the night before I had to go to the base that I was able to so 8 pullups. I was super excited! I arrived at the base and passed all of the other tests and when I came to the pullup station I jumped up to the rail and started pulling myself up, knowing I would be able to do 8. Almost immediately, the drill instructor said “that one does not count, you jumped.” I managed 7 “correct ones” and then tried my best for an 8th, but it took too long and I was dismissed. It was a memorable moment — I was certain I had failed and would need to be stationed somewhere else, but they let it slide and the rest was history.

Authors and programmers aren’t normally associated with being elite athletes. Have you ever had to make a decision to choose between a passion for technology and for running?

I certainly don’t think of myself as an elite athlete. Also, lately I have not been running at nearly the pace I used to — having been super busy with the HTML5 work. In the ultra marathon world there are guys like Karl Meltzer, Scott Jurek, and Kilian Jornet who are the real elite athletes. One elite endurance runner who is a full time husband, father, and top-notch IT professional is Tim Twietmeyer, who held the Tahoe Rim Trail record until a few years ago. Tim has been a source of inspiration for me and many others for years.

What has been the best about the ultrarunning elites though is how non-elitist and generous they were with their advice and time. It is such a great community. For example, when I approached Tim about trying for a Tahoe Rim Trail speed record attempt, he literally gave me all the tips and tricks he had accumulated over the years, including his timing spreadsheets.

I’ve never had to pick between the tech and running, but it is exciting to combine them. For example, in the Pro HTML5 Programming book you will see some examples based on running. In general, there is not a lot of money in ultrarunning and I think that is a good thing: it has kept it very clean. That does make it hard for the elite athletes to make a living, though.

A friend of mine recently ran the London Marathon for the first time. Tell me about the first marathon you ever ran — or if, it is more interesting for you, another memorable race. Or both.

A colleague of mine suggested I should really try out the marathon, so I signed up for the 2004 Big Sur marathon and started training. I still remember driving to the full 26.2 miles to the start in an old school bus and thinking to myself “I have to run all of this?” I paced the run pretty well with a short walk break every mile. It was a beautiful course. Although it was hard between miles 20 and 23, I finished in just under 4 hours and was wondering “is that all there is too it?” It just did not feel like it was the “ultimate achievement” I had expected it to be.

As luck would have it, Les Wright, the race director of the Tahoe marathon and Tahoe Triple Marathon was at the finish line. I picked up a brochure, but as soon as I saw triple marathon, I was sold. Five months later I found myself at the infamous pre race Tahoe Triple Spaghetti dinner buffet, where Les was asking how many of us were running their 500th marathon.

Surprisingly, people got up and they kept jumping up at 750 and 1,000. I felt woefully out of my league all of a sudden. When asked how many people were running their first marathon, I was thinking, “well, that’s not me either,” but it might as well have been.

The next day we started the first marathon. One of the runners was the amazing Helen Klein, who was around 80 years old and going strong, going for another age group record in her long list of records. I kept a decent pace and was able to repeat almost identical times on day 2 and 3 (the last day it is run in parallel with the regular Tahoe Marathon. Finishing that was a great feeling, no matter what place you finished in.

I was instantly hooked and came back again in ’05 and stepped up to the Super Triple (26.2M + 26.2M + 72M in 3 days) in 2006. I trained harder and had a lot of help from my dear friends Chris and Rebecca who crewed for me. (CREW here stands for Cranky Runner, Endless Waiting). That very first Super Triple was one of my most memorable races. I was in second place overall and completely hit the wall with about 50 miles to go. It was a very long dark night, but I made it through and with the help from my super crew, I found that second wind and was able to start running again and actually won the race overall in the end.

It seems like a big leap to go from half marathons and marathons to Triple Marathons and 165 miles races. Did you always intend to do these ultra marathons, or did it come from wanting to always do bigger and better things?

When I ran my first 50K trail race on the Tahoe Rim Trail, I looked at the map and said, “one day, I want to just run the entire trail in one go.” That was the start of a 4 year training expedition in which I kept running longer and longer, but also really studied the trail and how other runners had tackled it. The 165 mile run all around the TRT was not an official race with other runners, but a solo record attempt. Lots of friends from the ultra community came help me and I had 4 crew members and 7 pacers who I can’t thank enough. That was the most memorable adventure I have ever experienced. when you run straight for 57 hours (2 x 12 minute sleep breaks) you go through a lot of highs and—unforgettable times!

Life to me is all about experiencing a series of “moments.” Sometimes doing something extreme can force you into the present moment and allow you to experience it more vividly, however, it is also simply being present in the more “mundane” moments of our lives that can be surprisingly powerful. It’s like the elusive runners’ high. You can’t really reproduce it at will, but you can create the circumstances to allow it to happen. We can add rich experiences like that to what I like to think of as an “imaginary backpack full of life experience.” I am glad to have put some great moments in my backpack along the way, but there is still space left ;-)

After I completed the 165-mile run and the sub-3 hour marathon, it was time for something a little different and that is when I started writing the book and that led to a lot of other great stuff. I am still running a little bit (currently training to run the 72-mile, 7-person Tahoe Relay with my kids and some of their friends in June). Something that I am planning for the future is a speed record attempt on the Pacific Crest Trail (2600+ miles). That is currently at around 60 days. It would play into my multi-day long walk strengths, but would require some serious time off. One day!

Speaking of big leaps — you tell me that you also skydive, and that it started with parachuting when you were in the military. What made you recently want to go back to jumping out of aircraft?

Yes, I love the thrill of skydiving and learnt how to do it in the army. My oldest son, Sean, recently turned 18 and wanted to go skydiving for his birthday (you have to be at least 18), so I was happy to get back into it. This time we jumped from a lot higher altitude (13,000 feet) than I was used to (in the army, you mainly learn how to dive from just above 1000 feet to lessen the chance you will get shot out of the sky), so we had a lot more time in freefall and that was a lot of fun. We already decided to go back for the full certification this summer. I can’t wait!

Aside from skydiving, you also bungee jump. Tell me about the attraction of bungee jumping for you?

Although many people think they are very similar, skydiving and bungee jumping are quite different. Bungee jumping is a lot more direct. Unlike Skydiving, when you are about to bungee jump, you see the ground below very clearly and close. The rush is incredible and very therapeutic. On a side note, every time I have made a bungee jump, I have somehow gotten very lucky. Once I even won a trip to Hawaii right afterwards!

Other than running and jumping, and generally being an authority on HTML5, do you have any other passions?

I love spending time with my wife Vicky and my sons Sean and Rocky.
Most recently I have also become really excited about the power of Massive Online Open Course (MOOC) education.

The HTML5 Game Programming course we recently launched with Udacity has more than 65K students enrolled now—an incredible number, but somehow it seems like it is still just the tip of the iceberg. There is a lot of untapped potential in that area.

Also… did I mention HTML5? ;-)

To read more about Peter’s running, check out his blog:
http://runlaketahoe.blogspot.com/ and you can join the San Francisco HTML5 User Group here: http://www.meetup.com/sfhtml5/