Category Archives: Adventure

Marine Corps Historic Half 2017

One of my goals this year was to run the Marine Corps Historic Half, on May 21st, 2017, with two of my three kids this year (my youngest has no interest in running 13.1 miles, understandably…).  The last time I ran with my oldest two kids was in 2011 when we ran the Marine Corps Irish 10k.  Here are some pictures from our 10k run on March 26th, 2011:

We have not run together since 2011, so I wanted all of us to get back out there to tackle bigger and better challenges.  We had a great time yesterday at the Marine Corps Historic Half Marathon (13.1 miles) in Fredricksburg, Virginia.  My kids and I have come a long way since the last 10k run we did together!  My girlfriend joined us on the run.

Our next big goal is to run the Marine Corps Marathon together this October.  Oohrah!

I Command You To Grow!!

Society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.

I love synchronicity – the Jungian idea that events are “meaningful coincidences” if they occur with no causal relationship yet seem to be meaningfully related. This Spring, I started reading Mike Michalowicz’s book ‘The Pumpkin Plan’. The central idea of his book is that business people should be more inclined to trim away customers to focus solely on their best customers in order to grow them, and their company, to the biggest size possible. Mike likens this business focus on the best customers to a farmer who tries to trim away all pumpkins on a vine to a select one or two in order to grow the biggest pumpkins possible. This Rhode Island farmer’s pumpkin grew to 2,261.5 pounds!! What?!?

Speaking of books, I currently have two books for sale on Amazon if you’re interested: ‘The Lean Startup’ and ‘Sprint’.

Growing is what Spring is all about. For some reason, this Spring in particular has had me focusing inordinately on growth: growing my own vegetables, growing my income, growing my net worth, growing my muscles, growing my cardiovascular strength, growing my family bonds, helping my employer grow. Every day I think about GROWTH. How can I grow more? How can I get bigger? How can I 10x my life??!?! I’m done shrinking!!! I look at the earth – not the World as a whole, but dirt – and biological organisms and how life literally springs forth from it every Spring. No matter what man does to the planet, seemingly, life still springs forth every year. The life force is so strong on earth. Life wants to grow! Life must grow! It can’t be stopped. That’s what this planet does – springs forth life and growth – and humans are no different.

My girlfriend and I started a garden in our back yard a few weeks ago. It was back-breaking work. We got covered in dirt and mud. It rained as we worked. Our backs and hands hurt. I could barely stand upright the next day. It felt awesome. We now have spinach, beans, herbs, bee-balm, tomatoes, potatoes and cucumbers growing. We also have planters of grape vines, black berries and blue berries growing. Despite our lack of farming skills and knowledge, the earth continues to spring forth life. The energy to give life, emerge and grow is unstoppable and everywhere. It’s awesome to think that we humans are products of this energy.

We didn’t stop at a garden in the back yard though. I bought some land down in Southern Virginia this Spring so I could grow even more life! My family and I were down there last weekend (West of the Richmond area) planting Apple, Plum, Cherry and Oak Trees.  We also seeded Sun Flowers, Wild Flowers, and some other seeds.  If we let the land sit for long enough without intervention, trees and weeds of all sorts would eventually take over the land. I am trying to impose my own growth plan and will on the land instead by determining what life I say will grow there.  Why must we grow Fruit and White Oak trees and Sun Flowers, JC? Because I said so, that’s why.  I command it to grow!!

Also in the last few weeks, I discovered this guy, CT Fletcher, and how he uses the phrase, ‘I command you to grow!’, to grow his muscles as he lifts weights. He commands his muscles to grow! Why? Because he said so! It’s his ‘Magnificent Obsession’! This is genius! CT has learned to envision the change he wants to affect in his life, and to impose his will over it to make it so. Can I do that too? Can you?

My new mantra when I look at my Bank Account, my Gardens, my Trees, my Relationships, AND my muscles is: ‘I command you to grow!’ Why JC? Because I said so, that’s why!

EDM Love

When I was in 6th grade, I discovered one of my Dad’s records (what the heck is a ‘record’?) called ‘Switched-On Bach’. I gave it a listen and was ABSOLUTELY mesmerized. I had never heard anything like it! The album was full of J.S. Bach music played on a Moog Synthesizer by Wendy Carlos. According to Wikipedia, this album placed in the top 10 on the US Billboard 200 between 1969 and 1972! The combination of old school Classical Music being played on a high tech instrument like the Moog Synthesizer was a blissful combination to me.

Years later I fell in love with the movie, ‘Tron’. The Tron soundtrack was authored and played by my idle from the ‘Switched-On Bach’ days, Wendy Carlos. It was about this time (I was a freshman in High School), that I started to get what an awesome combination computers and music made.

Since then, I’ve tinkered with digital music. I’ve written a few goofy songs. I’ve tried my hand at producing a few songs on Garage Band. I’ve dreamed of becoming a DJ, even talked to a few DJs about how to go about it. But I’ve never pursued this passion much further than that. I’ve been called a ‘fart in a frying pan’ because I chase alot of different dreams. I do need a bit of focus in my life…Anyway, two years ago I took my girlfriend to U Street in DC once to try to get a feel for the DJ scene in Washington DC. The main DJ was Afrika Bambaattaa, one of my faves in High School. We had an awesome time, but the vibe wasn’t really what I was looking for. U Street is no Ushuaia.

One thing on my bucket list is to party in Ibiza

Fast forward to 2016. Never mind how old I am now. Not important. This past November, I had the privilege of attending a Martin Garrix performance in Las Vegas with my girlfriend. We were blown away by the richness of the bass, the visual sensations, and the overall experience. The Martin Garrix performance was at the AWS re:Invent 2016 Cloud Conference at the re:Play party. I felt I had been reconnected with my childhood fascination with computers and music. It was SENSATIONAL!!!

AWS re:Play Party 2016

Fast forward to today. Where is the EDM scene? Where are the best DJs in the world? Where can we go to hear them and experience the vibe? Turns out one of the best EDM DJ experiences in the world is in Boom, Brussels at Tomorrowland. So guess where we are going this July?!?!?! Headliners currently include most of my favorites, including Martin Garrix, Armin van Buuren, Afrojack, Kaskade, Steve Aoki, etc. I’m hoping that David Guetta, Dmitri Vegas and Like Mike are also there for the Weekend 2 performances – BE THERE OR BE SQUARE!! Tickets have already sold out. We are so stoked!!!!

If you are going to Boom this summer, drop me a line.

Building A Startup On AWS

Let’s Dance

Building on the knowledge learned from my previous two blog posts on my following of the Wild Rydes AWS Serverless Computing Tutorials, ( Wild Rydes Part I and Part Deux), I decided to put some of that information to use in my own work at www.nautilustracker.com.

I’ve been working on some mobile apps and a back-end platform supporting my trans-Atlantic Ocean Rowing attempt last year with my girlfriend, Cindy. I’d like to turn some of the things I’ve developed thus far into a Software as a Service (SaaS) for other people to easily use on similar adventures. To that end, I wanted to quickly create a responsive website to put out some information about my future offerings, including the ability to allow interested parties to contact me by providing their email address and a contact message in a simple contact form.

Know Your Limitations. Build On the Shoulders of Giants

I know I do not have great web design skills. Web Design is just not my focus. But I needed to create a nice looking website for my startup landing page. What to do? I did some quick searches and found lots of free Bootstrap templates I could use for my purposes. Over the course of an afternoon I grabbed a free Bootstrap Template that I liked, cut-in some of my own images, and modified the html to create the menus and sections I wanted in my landing page. I brought in some of the JavaScript from the Wild Rydes tutorial I was working through to connect my Contact Form to my DynamoDB database running in my AWS Account. After I had a look-and-feel I was going for, and the functionality was working ok for the Contact Form, it was simply a matter of uploading my web site assets to my S3 bucket:

> aws s3 sync . s3://www.nautilustracker.com

Stop Daddy

I had previously registered my Domain Name (nautilustracker.com) with GoDaddy last year. Now I wanted to move the DNS Registrar to AWS. This turned out to be very easy. Once I followed the documented steps to move a domain to AWS, I only had to add an A Record to point to the domain to my S3 Bucket containing website artifacts. I will point this A Record to a CloudFront endpoint soon.

Lipstick On A Pig

Now that the landing page is up, there is a mountain of work to do. The next step is to get email working for my domain using AWS SES so I can use that domain email to register as an organization in the Apple iOS Developer Program.

Food As Craft. Craft As Life.

I took my family to Paris, France for the 2016-2017 New Years Eve celebrations. We were essentially just there for the weekend, but it was a fabulous weekend – one that I will never forget. The sites and food were unforgettable. For New Year’s Eve, I treated my family to an 8 course French Meal and Wine/Champagne Pairing at the Hotel Raphael in Paris very close to the Champs-Elysées. My kids and I were definitely not used to fancy food such as this, but it was a beautiful and tasteful introduction to food as art (as opposed to American style ‘fast food’). Here’s a video of my dessert (thanks Alison ;):

In Paris, we were delighted to see the Eiffel Tower, The Arc De Triomphe, The Palace of Versailles, and to listen to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, and other beautiful musical pieces, performed by a Chamber Orchestra at the Église de la Madeleine Roman Catholic Church. I left Paris with a profound appreciation for the art and beauty that abounds in this wonderful city, from her cuisine to her architecture, to her music and her people. The French seem to have a genetic disposition toward an aesthetic appreciation of life, which I find hard to come by in the United States. The french term, ‘Joi De Vivre,’ comes to mind when I reflect on our weekend trip to France.

According to Wikipedia: “It ‘can be a joy of conversation, joy of eating, joy of anything one might do… And joie de vivre may be seen as a joy of everything, a comprehensive joy, a philosophy of life, a Weltanschauung…'”

I happened to catch a Netflix Documentary this evening called “Chef’s Table, France,” Season I, which was a story about an amazing French Chef, Alain Passard. As I watched the story unfold about how Chef Passard became a Chef, identifying his career path as early as 14 years old, how he found a mentor and soon bought his mentor’s restaurant, which he named ‘Arpege’, I was completely drawn in by Chef Passard’s sense of life purpose, mastery and pursuit of excellence in his craft. It is not often you find or learn of someone who absolutely loves what they do for a living. I hung on his every word in this documentary and even took notes, hoping to graph some of his sense of aesthetics and Joi de Vivre into my own life and professional career. Here are some of Chef Alain Passard’s quotes and anecdotes I noted from the Netflix Documentary, ‘Chef’s Table, France’:

“When you close your eyes at night, what’s important? You’ve spent the day taking risks. You’ve made some people very happy.”

Chef Passard relates that what you create is just as important as how you create it, which he refers to as ‘Gestures’ or ‘Hand Gestures’. The way you move your hands to create something of value is important and takes hours and years and decades of practice. Chef Passard’s Grandmother was an amazing cook; his mother sewed and his father was a musician. His Grandfather was a sculptor who worked with wood. He learned the importance of hand gestures early in his life and applied them to his craft. He works bread dough like it’s fabric. He sews Duck and Chicken together to create a unique dish. With regards to the hand gesture, he says: “In cuisine, in music, in sculpture, in painting, it’s everything. Either we like the gesture, either we like the hand, or we do not. And this hand, if we want it to be more beautiful, we must work seven hours, eight hours, ten hours in the kitchen every day. This makes the hand more precise, and more elegant.” He goes on to say that a 14 year old does not have the precision of hand that a 30 year old cook has. He says, “I am never happier than when I put my fingers on a new gesture or a new flavor. It feels wonderful.”

“You really become a cook between 40 and 50 years old.”

Can the same not also be said about other professions as well?

Allez Chercher

When Chef Passard started his restaurant, Arpege, he says that the one and two star ratings came fairly easily, but the three star rating was very difficult to attain. Three Stars is the highest rating for a restaurant. Maintaining three stars is apparently extremely difficult to do, but Chef Passard’s mentality is to pursue higher and higher standards, never stopping or resting upon his current achievements. The search for excellence is never ending, but it’s something he loves. I was struck how there was no mention of the pursuit of money in this documentary, it was purely the pursuit of passion, excellence, and the art of food. In fact, there came a point in Chef Passard’s professional career where he was losing his passion for cooking meat, so he decided to take a year of introspection to find his passion again. He reinvented himself and his restaurant as primarily vegetarian while still maintaining their three star rating. He found a new hand. A new outlook.

“My only ambition is to love what I do more each day. Just the idea of a job well done. No outside projects, needs, or dreams. If this story exists today, it’s because I love my job more than anything.”

Bon!

Versailles, France

My Path to AWS Certified Solution Architect – Associate

On December 1st, 2016, I took and passed the AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate Exam.  I took the exam at the AWS re:Invent Conference in Las Vegas, and by ‘passed’, I mean by the skin of my teeth!  But to me, passing is all that matters and I achieved that objective.  Here are some notes on how I prepared for this certification exam:

  • I tried to use AWS Services as much as possible.  I signed up for a free for one year account and started deploying some small applications I had written to EC2.  Initially, I ran MySQL on one of my EC2 instances, but when I discovered RDS, I learned that RDS is an easier and more cost effective approach to using an RDBMS in the cloud.  Aurora and DynamoDB are some other excellent options for cloud-based databases.
  • I bought the Official Study Guide for this certification and started studying it and working through the exercises in the book about two months prior to my exam.  As I am now done with this book, I am happy to mail it the first request for free as long as you agree to pay for shipping.  I have marked my copy up pretty good, however, and I’ve circled all of the answers to the practice test questions in ink.
  • I paid $20 to take the AWS Practice Exam.  I failed it with a 50% score and almost ended up re-scheduling the real exam.  I decided, however, to double-down on my studying and to stick my original plan.  This is one gamble of mine that actually paid off.
  • I attended the 2016 AWS re:Invent Conference in Las Vegas and participated in the Monday Night Hackathon.  Here I quickly learned how to deploy REST services on AWS Lambda using the API Gateway service.  I also learned a bit more about DynamoDB in the process.  The Hackathon helped to focus my understanding of some services, and the re:Invent Conference helped to broaden my understanding of many others.
  • I took my certification exam on Wednesday Night of the conference at 8pm in the Venetian Hotel.  I thought I would be the only one taking an exam at that time of night, but there were at least 15 other folks in the examination room with me.

Here are some of my associated exam expenses along the way:

  • The Official Study Guide on Amazon.com: $57
  • Scheduling the Certification Exam: $150
  • Practice Exam: $20
  • AWS re:Invent 2016 Conference: $1600
  • Travel and Lodging at Las Vegas (me, girlfriend and kids): $750
  • Estimated Exam Focused Time Investment: 2 months
  • Estimated Total Investment: $2,577

AWS re:Invent Conference

So was my investment in this certification worth it?  One thing I learned at the re:Invent conference in Vegas is that if you want to win big, you have to bet big.  I think this investmAWS Solutions Architect Associate Certification Study Guideent was a pretty big bet as far as certifications and technical focus are concerned.  I don’t think attending the re:Invent conference was necessary in passing the certification exam, however, but I do think it was necessary in trying to accurately gauge the viability of the AWS Cloud Platform in the coming years.  Participating in the Hackathon was a great way to get focused on approaches to deploying solutions to the AWS Cloud in a team environment.  AWS re:InventAttending the AWS re:Invent conference helped me to broaden my perception of the sheer breadth of AWS Cloud offerings, not to mention the insight I received in learning about some of the innovative ways companies are using AWS Cloud now.  I witnessed over 30,000 conference participants, from all over the world, attending sessions from 8am to 8pm non-stop, learning as much as they could about the AWS platform.  I, too, drank the cool-aid and truly believe AWS Cloud is a secure, cost effective, highly elastic, high performance platform for all types of software applications.  And I don’t see any other cloud company as a close competitor to Amazon right now, nor may we ever.  Amazon has built their Cloud Platform from lessons learned being the largest E-Commerce Platform in the world.  I feel like I’ve made a safe bet.

AWS re:Play Party

Financial costs aside, the re:Play Party at the end of the AWS conference was truly amazing!  There were drinks (lots of drinks), t-shirts, amazing, amazing food, retro video games, mechanical bull riding, foosball, etc. etc. Time to re:Play I’m sure there was even more stuff, I just couldn’t take it all in.  Then there was the headline performance by DJ Martin Garrix, which was radical.  I took my girlfriend to the party and we had an amazing time.  It was an amazing week in Las Vegas, which ended with a quick family jaunt to the Grand Canyon, but I’ll save that for another blog post.

Foosball

EL Galeon in Alexandria, VA

Today I stood in line with throngs of people along the Alexandria water front awaiting an opportunity to step aboard a 16th Century Spanish Galleon replica.  The vessel (pictured below) is quite stunning.  I tried to imagine how such a magnificent machine could be fashioned by humans in the 1500’s and 1600’s.  Can you imagine how it must have felt to see one of these vessels coming into your home port back in the 16th Century?

image1 image2 image31 image20 image19 image17