Friday, August 27, 2010

Summer Summary

So it's been a little while. I've been very busy. I've been working for the Census since April, and I started summer quarter in July, taking two classes - a full load, since summer is a shorter quarter but the classes have the same number of hours. I also did my last 'A' races of the mountain bike season, a few criteriums, and one or two Wednesday Night Worlds races.

To be good at anything, a person has to make choices. I don't like to say sacrifice, because that calls to mind people who make pointedly stupid choices to show their devotion to a goal, rather than more reasonable choices to further their achievement of that goal. At this stage in my life, the things I want to be good at are my relationship with my favorite person, school, and riding bikes, more-or-less in that order. I also need to, more-or-less, support myself. I have a sponsorship as a student right now, which is what makes it possible for me to do a full load.

This quarter's classes were Java Programming and Electrical Circuits. Java programming ended up being mostly review for me, and I actually took it sort-of by accident. It was offered under both a computer science and an engineering course number, and I signed up for it with the engineering number, because it's on my list of prerequisites. It'd been a long time since I'd taken a programming class, and I thought it might cover material more specific to engineering, and that I might learn something. Since my previous classes were in C and this was in Java, I actually did learn some - object oriented programming is a fairly different way of looking at a program than C. One of the particularly difficult aspects of C programming is storing a set of pieces of data of different types. Java makes those sets of data the basic element of the language, and very easy to code. Any procedures used to manipulate the data structure are built into it. So something that could take hours to code and debug in C can be thrown together in several minutes in Java, and it's a language written to be idiot-resistant, so debugging is usually no big deal. I got a 4.0 in the class, and because I'm "that guy" and took the opportunity to pick up some extra credit on the last programming project but only lost half a point over the whole quarter, I think I actually got more than 100%.

Electrical Circuits was a much harder course. In the context of school and electrical engineering, a circuit might refer to an actual, physical set of electrical elements or the mathematical model used to predict its behavior. The math was occasionally difficult, with a lot of algebra, up until capacitors and inductors were introduced. Without a capacitor or an inductor, a circuit is basically a static entity. If there's something like a switch involved, the circuit is considered to change instantly from one state to the other.

Inductors and capacitors have time-variable behavior. If a circuit has only an inductor or capacitor, a source, and no other elements, they follow somewhat complicated exponential growth or decay formulae, but nothing too bad. The last chapter we covered in the course concerned circuits with a resistor, inductor, capacitor and usually a source. When there are multiple elements in the circuit, or the source is also time-variable, sometimes all one can really figure out is a rate of change, or a voltage or current based on something else in the circuit. The behavior of such a circuit is described by a second order differential equation. Second order differential equations are difficult because they combine calculus and some fairly difficult algebra and often trig. The math itself didn't hurt my brain as much this time around, but deriving the differential equation from the circuit diagram is not always easy.

Between school work and working for the Census, I didn't have a lot of time to hang out with my favorite person or ride my bike. So while I think I'm a bit healthier than last year, when I got too skinny, my fitness level is definitely not as high. I think my places have declined slightly from last season, especially in my early-season races. I've had a great time with Adella though, including celebrating our first anniversary of seeing each other, which is a pretty big first for me. We also celebrated her birthday together, which was pretty great.

So what about mountain biking? Since my last post, I've done two races: the Padden Mountain Pedal and the White River Revival. I was exactly in the middle of the pack at White River. It has a huge fire road climb followed by a singletrack descent. There are three different laps in the sport class race - a starting lap, including a low, relatively flat area with loamy soil, the long lap, which has the full-length climb and descent and the low singletrack, and a short lap, with a shorter version of the climb and descent and the singletrack again. I've decided that climbs are my office, but I have a really hard time carrying speed on soft-surfaced, technical singletrack, and lost places there. I also fell off the downhill side of the descent on my first lap, and it took me some time to extricate myself, during which several people passed me. Since the first lap has the biggest climb, I would have had to reel them back in on the singletrack, which wasn't happening.

I felt pretty good at Padden and didn't make any major mistakes, but I didn't do particularly well either. Other riders were just faster. Padden has much more technical climbing than any of the other races I did this season, and that reduces the advantage I get from a race with a lot of elevation gain - it's like being at a stand-up desk in the corner of a warehouse instead of in my high-design ergonomic chair in my corner office. I can still go to work, but I was doing more grunting and mashing and even some running, and a lot less of my new climbing pattern - spinning for a while in my little chain ring (or even my middle one now and then) and then shifting to the next larger ring and getting out of the saddle to use those muscles and let the other ones recover.

I think that being better at mountain bike racing, even within my class, requires a larger time commitment than I'm willing to make right now, although this season also got badly derailed when I had to get my biopsy - I had a great race at the Ski to Sea, and I think I was having a great race until I flatted my tire at the Whidbey Island Mudder. I've just gotten my 'cross bike prepared for this Fall's racing, and I've been trying yet again to reincorporate running into my general array of working out. If I can get myself back on track to where I'm doing an interval workout once or twice a week, running once or twice a week, and taking no more than two days a week completely off my bike, I think I should be able to race hard this season.

So it's been quite a summer.

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