ImpactFlow is Alive! 12 October 2014

Just under two weeks ago, the ImpactFlow platform was officially launched during a party at the EcoTrust building in downtown Portland  The development process was not unlike the writing of a Reed Senior Thesis. Plenty of research, questioning, never quite sure knowing if what you are doing is right, redoing entire sections that no longer make sense, and then presenting it to a group of people and asking "what do you think?" and hoping they do not toss you out.  Stressful? Nah.

And this is just the initial launch. The platform has been public since mid-September and we already have a few hundred nonprofits and donors on the system. Oodles of feedback is coming in on a daily basis and plenty of areas need refinement. My To Do list has shifted more from large feature additions to dozens of small and medium changes required to streamline the entire process of creating projects, grants, and donations. Currently, there is only one part of the site I desperately want to tear out and start over, which is a rare thing for me. Also, a new marketing/sales team is being formed to help focus on a regional/national launch strategy, as apparently companies need to grow and bring in income (who knew?).

Still, after nine months without any time off and way too many nights and weekends working, I have a chance to take a deep breath and relax a bit. In about seven days I am taking an entire week off from both work and staring at the computer. Maybe do a few outdoor trips before the snow comes, a trip to the coast, sipping tea in coffee shops while reading a book, and eating way too many baked goods.  Sounds nice. I am looking forward to it.


Damage Assessment 16 June 2014

While cruising down a bike route ten days ago during one of our recent spats of hot afternoons, I was observing the neighborhood for a possible move when my front bike tire got snagged in one of the many cracks that seem to now be the norm on Portland's non-arterial roadways. With only one sweaty hand on the handlebar, I slipped and slammed into my bike before ungracefully impacting the street. In a word, it was unpleasant; if we can suffer two words, it was fucking unpleasant.

Nothing like bruises, abrasions, cuts, and a partially dislocated shoulder to start the weekend. The shoulder moseyed back into position after a minute or two, wherein I got my bike functional enough to get to the ZoomCare on Alberta. Alas, they had no open appointments, but a reliable stock of ibuprofen and cleansing pads were available for purchase. A half dozen of each, a few phone calls to friends, and I was whisked home in Dave's stately hybrid.

The Hawthorne ZoomCare cleaned up my wounds with such a thorough scrubbing that I quickly admitted all of my past crimes and made up a few more to insure continued Congressional support. With a sling and stronger pain relievers as my companions, I scheduled an x-ray for the morning and went out for pizza. I am always a bit peckish after quarreling with composite surfaces.

Spent most of Saturday in an exhausting pain and drug fueled haze of barely contained insensibility. I have a vague recollection of switching between grumbling, napping, and watching Batman cartoons for most of Sunday. Now things are much improved. A significant portion of the skin on my arm has returned with minimal scarring. The shoulder still aches, but movement is fully restored and the strength is steadily returning. No pull ups or pushups for a few weeks, but my lacrymal gland output remains steady.

The most frustrating part is the inopportune timing. The workload and weather had converged to finally provide me with an excellent chance of climbing Mt. Hood or spending a long day in the Gorge biking. And even with a minor case of shin splints, my stair running up Tabor was proceeding exceptionally well. Not only did the bike crash annihilate my weekend plans, but I am going to spend the next month just returning to my previous level of activity. Again.

This seems to be a repeating pattern in my life. It is a rare year in which I do not have some manner of accident or injury that incapacitates me and sets back months of work. Part of this is simply that I provide ample opportunities for the conspiring of probabilities. Spend enough time sprinting around a soccer pitch, running through the woods, or zooming down hills on a bike...and eventually you are not going to be paying attention at the right moment or get hit just right. I also have a tendency to be unforgiving in the intensity of my pursuits and also not allow sufficient time to recover.

Being intensely physical is deeply ingrained into my person; I revel in it. Yet, my psychology has not caught up with the physical reality that I am a 35 year old male with three decades of injuries on the books. Concussions, broken bones, dislocations, strains, sprains, and plenty of scar tissue. And all of that damage is not going away; I am more prone to re-injury while my ability to bounce back is no longer that of a 20 year old. It is a problem.

It is weird. I need to be careful; more deliberate and more patient. No more of the consequences be damned approach. I spend more time focusing efforts on stabilizing and preventing issues than kicking my ass. And as result of my previous assaults and offenses, parts of my body are regularly problematic when pushed too hard. It is quite a bother. I do not like it. One bit.

It is quite a hassle getting older and living with the consequences of your youth, especially when your spirit refuses to accept that either need happen at all. At the same time, given the chance to relive my teens and twenties, I would do it all again but perhaps even harder. I feel too often that I may have taken it too easy by surviving this long.


VP of Engineering 29 May 2014

Despite requiring significant allocations of mental resources, I am not one to really jabber on about my work recently. There is a slight problem in that our main product has not launched yet, so we are keeping rather tight lipped about its features and the visual and programmatic design. Also, since a great deal of my work is technical in nature with occasional forays into business matters, it is not terribly interesting or accessible to the majority of people. As worthy of my time as I find building an API with 200+ endpoints and testing load balanced environments with multiple horizontal server resources...it lacks a certain dinner hour approachability. Still, I think the time has come to at least start pulling back a bit of the curtain.

We are a little over a month away from inviting Portland individuals, companies, and non-profits to help us beta test, and a splash page is already visible at ImpactFlow.com. Just last week I finished setting up a complete staging environment on the amazing Laravel Forge and we are prepping to start our internal testing at the end of next week. The pressure is beginning to build; it is quite exciting (if a bit stressful). So, what is this mysterious ImpactFlow?

ImpactFlow is a marketplace for philanthropy, where individuals and businesses manage their giving like investments to support the causes they care most about.

Nonprofits showcase their projects and get matched to funds from donors they know are interested in the work they are doing.

Philanthropy is a Big Word™ that has quite a bit of weight behind it. At its core, it is a catchall term meaning one is trying to make the world better though some manner of giving, be it money, property, or personal time. Like any product, we are trying to solve a problem. If you are truly serious about having an impact with your giving, it is a messy and inefficient process. Each non-profit has its own website and their specific projects may or may not be on it. How their projects impact the community or world at large may not be readily apparent. Directly investing in specific projects that catch your eye is seldom possible.  An individual or company can literally spend months searching for the perfect place to give their money, yet still end up just writing a check to the non-profit as a general donation and only receive monthly emails as a result.

On the flip side, non-profits are always searching for funds and donors. Significant amounts of their budgets are spent researching and applying for grants, contacting donors, and building corporate relationships to insure their projects are funded. Smaller, community-focused non-profits are often overlooked and lose out to more publicly recognizable non-profits. And, if they want to promote how their current projects are doing, they are limited by the capabilities of their website and social media team, if they even have one.

Imagine if you could bring both sides, funders and non-profits, to one place and meet all of those needs. Funders of any size (individuals, groups, corporations) can build their own giving programs to indicate specifically where they want their money to go. Non-Profts have all of their projects online and those projects are instantly matched to existing giving programs.  Conversations and collaboration can happen on both sides, and once funded the projects can provide direct reports to their donors on progress and impact.

There is an incredible scope to platform and I cannot discuss the details yet, but that is the seed at the core of it. We want to move beyond giving as it currently stands and allow it to be treated more as a professional investment.

---

When I joined the company as a developer at the end of November, I was only the fourth employee and was primarily hired because of my knowledge and experience with the CodeIgniter framework, which I helped build during my time at EllisLab. Two weeks ago I was promoted to VP of Engineering and have finished an expansive API foundation for the entire platform using Laravel.  The scope of our work, even at this initial launch phase, is simply mind bending. And our list of future enhancements and features is ambitious to say the least.  

To be frank, I took this job because my savings were so depleted after finishing the Pacific Crest Trail that any development position with enough challenge to keep me motivated would have done. Now, after helping to design and build not only the platform but the company itself, I have both an equity and personal investment in its success. There is a real chance that if the platform is successful this might be the last job I ever have.  That is a statement I am still surprised to be uttering in public.

The scars of 2012 still haunt me every day.  As much as part of me desires to continue the path to becoming a doctor and making the world better that way, I can no longer find the will to plunge into that level of financial and temporal debt. I lost too much faith and became too greedy for a life without that level of sacrifice. But what I can do is use all of my technical skills to help build a company whose mission statement is explicit in its goal to make things better.  Not sure how long I will resist the call of extreme outdoor adventures, but I do not mind at least allowing the possibility of sticking around for that.


Pacific Crest Trail 2013 - Entries 21 May 2014

Hola, comrades!

During one of Hatch's monthly Community Gatherings, I was talking with a woman whose son was contemplating hiking part of the Pacific Crest Trail and wanted a few resources to help him along. I suggested Walking with WiredYogi's Handbook, and my own blog.  Of course, thinking it through while brushing my teeth last night, my blog is fairly basic and has no way to look at just the Pacific Crest Trail entries; you have to go through all of my existential angst entries first. Oops. So, at the top of the page the site menu now has a dedicated link to all of the Pacific Crest Trail entries.

Also, I have yet to write an entry evaluating the food I started with and the food I ended up eating throughout the trip.  Will try and find the heart to talk about how I will likely never eat couscous again, while still occasionally eating a jar of peanut butter for dinner now that I am back in civilization.  Stay tuned.


The Social Contract 26 April 2014

In the continuing saga of navel gazing because, let us be honest, YouTube is growing a bit stale, we attempt to evaluate why I prefer to spend my Saturday night working, reading, or writing blog entries instead of heading out for "fun". Self-indulgent, magniloquent, florid prose will undoubtedly make brief appearances as a disguise for missing carefully reasoned rhetoric. Extra-hyphens and random semicolons may; or may not; help provide humorous interludes from any and all seriousness.  We now continue onto a second paragraph.

When did drinking alcohol become the irrepressible mainstay of adult fun? Please, do not get me wrong: I do not dislike alcohol. The sheer scope of varieties and concoctions are a testament to our species' inherent love of it.  Furthermore, I have definitely had a decent fill of it throughout the years.  As Amelia can attest, if you put food or drink in front of me, I have a compulsion to consume it; it is in my nature.  Separate from that, I do not find it particularly inviting as a daily part of life.  I brewed beer solely for the novelty, not for the consumption of its alcohol. I enjoy whisky because it has a certain Scottish allure with a burn at the end that has a manly romanticization from so many Westerns.  As for wine, every single time I am offered a glass the health benefits are what usually sway me.  Saké and sangria are the only alcoholic liquids I am ever genuinely tempted by in a store or restaurant when there are not social pressures.  Even then, I am far more likely to drink juice or water.

Every so often I daydream I have an enzyme that causes alcohol to be less appealing or that certain neurotransmitter receptors are not as beguiled in me as in others.  I suspect it is more the fact that I am a bit of a control freak and over the past fifteen years or so I have become less willing to toy with my cerebral cortex and limbic system.  I find that on a daily basis, what happens in my noggin is rather sufficient. Do not feel much of a drive to be more talkative, more self-confident, or less socially inhibited. Surely do not feel like my emotions need more free rein, especially publicly.  Alcohol will actually inhibit the clarity of my thoughts and dilute the authenticity of what I say and do.  That is downright anti-Paul.

Of course, that is the point of alcohol.  You hear it often said that alcohol is a social lubricant. It seems nearly every important work or professional function requires it. To build those relationships, to form those bonds, it is a necessity. It allows people to relax. It breaks down all of those barriers humans put into place to shore up the walls of our public persona. Nearly everyone has those entertaining stories of a crazy night out.

I think I understand this, but as with so many things I do not accept it as a requirement. Especially given the fact that it tends to go too far, too often. Two weeks ago, I was biking home from a movie and a driver, who I assume was at least mildly inebriated, was speeding down the street and swerved around another car to almost hit me. I cannot emphasize this enough: that is not how I want me or anyone I care about to die. And, if it was a friend driving that car, they would cease to be my friend by their complete and utter idiocy for driving while utter the influence.  It is one of the greatest sins to put others in harm's way without their permission.

On the other front, I am weakening friendships when I am not willing to attend parties or get togethers whose primary form of entertainment is drinking and enjoying its effects.  I do not mind hanging out and having a drink. The drink aspect is not normally appealing to me, but I am willing to make that sacrifice to be social, with select people. But, a party where you know most participants will be quite drunk by the end is both unenjoyable and boring.  More and more I will skip such an event and spend the night watching a movie or reading a book at home, alone. The consequences to my social life be damned.

I dunno. It's weird. It is another area of civilization where I feel regularly out of place. I read Calvin & Hobbes on a daily basis and on some level I identify far more with them than I do with most of my adult friends. I want to play in the woods, daydream about grand adventures, read about dinosaurs, do slightly reckless things, and all the while be both goofy and philosophical in my conversations. What aspect of adulthood steals that from our souls and replaces it with a need to drink to have fun?


A Shadow's Shadow 31 March 2014

If there is one component of my personality that seems to cause the most difficulties, it is my questioning of nearly every component of my life, repeatedly and without mercy. Even when an internal consensus is reached on a topic and an action taken, I will still reflect on it long after the fact and possibly reopen the floor to debate after a suitable amount of time has passed. It is a rare topic that has an edict against further deliberation.

The recurrent one that I think most people can relate to is "why am I here?" Of course, at any given moment it might refer broadly to my continued existence on our fair planet or narrowly as to who I am socializing with at a certain time and place. It is a tricky thing constantly questioning each of your motivations, probable consequences of your actions, and willingness to accept those consequences. Something as simple as meeting a friend for breakfast will occupy a prime place on the carousel of my thoughts for days beforehand.

Because of that carousel, I rarely take action without being acutely aware of the influence that a choice may have on my life. Of course, I am exceedingly aware of how chaotic and unpredictable life is. You can ruminate as frequently and deeply as you wish, but you will never see the complete patterns of consequence until they are well behind you. With all of my deductive reasoning skills, knowledge, and experience I cannot even hope to reliably predict all of what will happen tomorrow, let alone the rest of my life.

Consider all the interwoven patterns of human interaction that you superficially perceive on a day to day basis, then think back to those moments in your life that were the true, root cause of a dramatic shift in the direction of your day/year/life.

Leaving my dorm room door open on a sunny Saturday morning Sophomore year; applying for a programming job that I was laughably underqualified for; jumping down from a rock ledge on Mt. Adams. I just want to laugh at the absolute absurdity of trying to prepare or plan for anything.

This is all a long winded way of introducing how I perceive my actions. There are absolutely no promises in life. Even if you believe in a God or gods, there is no guarantee you will get safety, comfort, or happiness. The Universe is rather ambivalent towards your needs and wants. For some, that realization means they seize onto whatever feels the most stable. That is not so much my public modus operandi.

Which is odd because I do not consider myself reckless or even particularly impressive in my accomplishments. Instead, I consider most everyone else timid and lazy. How can you possibly go through life wanting more and knowing you should do more, and then not do it? As a well known Dutch author once said: It's maddening; I get mad about it.

I have a tendency to think of my life as a narrative. There are certain themes and rules that I tend to follow, and I aim my actions to fall within those lines. I obsess over my decisions and carefully evaluate how I want to act, but once a decision is reached I take action. Discovering the "should" is the hard part, taking action is easy for me.

I grant there is a certain cold, clinical approach in how I disregard emotional considerations and physical comforts when I believe an action is called for. Breakups are emotionally painful, but if it is necessary there is no reason to delay. Leaving your warm, dry tent and getting moving in cold, wet conditions is unpleasant but you must leave and start hiking. I understand that others are motivated by these considerations in varying degrees, I really do, they just rarely affect my own actions; they lack potency.

I think our culture is making progress on accepting that there are a wide range of behaviors in humans. The entire introvert/extrovert distinction being one that is often brought up on social media. It bothers me that my actions are given less acquiescence than if I pretended to have those more tender sensibilities that others have and I often seem to lack. Almost as if by being me, I am somehow broken.

....

This entry took an exceptionally long time for me to finish. It is all true, yet it feels woefully incomplete and surprisingly one sided. There is a metaphor there, I am sure.

I think in the end, I am just tired. Of what, a single word cannot adequately explain. Feeling aberrant. Being lazy by my own standards and yet told I am exceptional. Caring, trying, and then seeing it all fall apart again and again. Never being able to, myself, accept why people act the way they do.  How the bloody hell I don't have a TARDIS.


Training 13 March 2014

There is a misconception among friends that since I was able to complete the entirety of the Pacific Crest Trail that my knee is magically all better. I am not sure how to politely phrase it to them how incredibly annoyed that makes me. Every single day I am acutely aware that I have scar tissue in my tendon and missing articular cartilage on my patella. I habitually massage my knee whenever I sit down; almost as if subconsciously I believe I can rub the damage away. My knee is never going to be "good" again.

In all probability, gone are the days when I would run a half marathon before breakfast. Those intense trail running days where I would fly through the woods of Forest Park are likely behind me. Not only would attempting to run them be unpleasant, but my orthopedic surgeon believes it would cause more damage in the long term. Alas, the medical technology does not yet exist where we can reliably regrow cartilage and smooth scar tissue.

Obviously, I can still be extremely active with it. Thanks to another month of physical therapy post-trail and constant exercises, I can reliably do three hour bike rides, swim two miles in the pool, and row nearly an hour on the erg without pain. Further, just last evening I was at the gym and after an hour of biking and rowing, I finally pulled off 200 lunges. If I am patient and slowly increase the length and difficulty of my exercises, I can strengthen my knees to a level where I can safely do mountaineering and full day bike rides, perhaps even on consecutive days. Patience and commitment are key though.

I love being active. Prior to my knee injury, I took a special joy in not giving a damn about races or training programs, yet still smoking serious athletes during runs or rides. Whenever people get too serious about stroking their egos, I get bored. Who really cares about PRs? Did you have fun? Was there joy in what you did? Pushing yourself to the point of exhaustion and still grinning is one of the best feelings. Staring at a watch is ever so boring.

Of course, I will never win a race. I lack the discipline and the requisite hardcore psychological quirk that drives athletic people to track their protein intake and heart rate. The idea of flying to another state to run 26.2 miles on pavement? Inconceivable.

My workouts are meant for one thing and one thing only, to permit by body to do even more. I constantly daydream about biking 200 miles in one day (Hood River to The Dalles to Mt. Bachelor), doing another thru-hike, and organizing a weekend adventure race of my own devising with swimming, biking, climbing, and kayaking.

If you ever want to do truly amazing things with your body and push it to point of making things seem effortless, that is how you need to train, not for numbers or ego but for fun and joy. Or, at least, that is what I believe.


Mind and Iron 9 March 2014

Where do we begin...

My birthday was last week and despite my continued calls to absolve the day of any significance, I still find myself suffused with thoughts of the past 35 years of life. In inverse proportion to how much I like to publicly discuss my true inner thoughts and past history, I am fascinated by how others perceive me. The first person narrative is the most important, but I have access to all the secrets and have evaluated most of the inner workings, so it lacks novelty. And ultimately how others perceive you is directly related to what you can accomplish in this world.

At one time or another I have been referred to as a reckless fool, manic-depressive, insane, black hearted, soulless, untrustworthy, asocial, utterly ruthless, vain, and unhealthy. Heartwarming to be sure and there has been a joke that all potential mates should be given a stern warning and an informative pamphlet prior to a first date. On the flip side, I have also been described–often by the same people–as calculating, reliable, loving, strong willed, charming, principled, and one of their closest friends. I find an emotional core strengthening program is important in preventing whiplash.

I question myself if I could be rightly called all those things and it is a resounding yes. Naturally, those labels pale in comparison to how I think of myself.

"All the world is a stage," goes the adage; one that often seems poorly rehearsed and written at the last minute–typically on a typewriter with a few sticky keys. But consider, if you will, that a play is just a three hour presentation, which has months and months of preparation and work behind it. That backstage perspective is how every single person thinks of him or herself on the stage of life. There are decades of memories and entire days full of positive/negative, emotional, and physical stresses behind every interpersonal interaction. That thought echoes through my brain every single time I interact with another person. It drives me a bit insane but it also gives me a much needed dose of perspective when things go awry.

Our actions are how others define us. What we are underneath only matters to us. That is one of the reasons I keep a great deal of my thoughts and machinations to myself. As much as people like to claim they are open and accepting, there are stigmas, stereotypes, and fears laying just under the surface. People like to name and categorize their world into simpler terms; understanding and accepting the underlying complexity is neither a pleasant nor relaxing way of living. Based on my experience, few are willing to put in the legwork and clemency on a daily basis.

If I detailed every single thought that flies through my head in a single hour, I think even my closest friends would be aghast. As much as it tickles me to idolize the likes of Sherlock Holmes, The Doctor, or Batman, there is a curse in their approach to humanity. Our ideals and heroes can shape us just as much as our experiences, and in my attempts to explore the depths and limits of who I am, I have lost a certain amount of approachability and even perhaps sanity. There are even days when I feel I am losing my humanity.

That sounds dark. It is not, at least not to me; I think of it as all encompassing. I have suffered from depression, rage, and loneliness. Of course I have contemplated suicide or running away to a remote location. I have also contemplated true love, marriage, and children. The scope of my thoughts and reasoning are not bound in any way.

What it comes down to is that I want to be more than who I am now. I continually feel incomplete and unsatisfactory. Staying still is not an option. When I see people relaxing their guard and slowing down, I know in my bones that that is not who I am. I want to do more; no, scratch that, I need to do more.

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Well, that is one of my perspectives at least.


Negative, Ghost Rider, The Pattern is Full 24 November 2013

The disconnect from self and society stemming from my thru-hike is rather difficult to verbalize. Ask me details about how to successfully backpack 2600+ miles and I can talk your ear off. Ask me how I am handling being back and how the experience changed me, and I stumble to find the right words. Hours and hours have been wasted trying to write it down with it never becoming sufficiently coherent enough for posting.

Thankfully, I have Amelia both as my best friend and a fellow thru-hiker. She captured perfectly many of my feelings and difficulties in reintegrating to society.

Friends have asked me if I am depressed. I cannot say for sure, but I do not feel like I am suffering from depression. Getting up every morning, going to work, eating healthy, daily exercise, sleeping reasonably well, and starting to make plans for the coming year. Instead of a lack of energy, I feel an overwhelming surplus of it. And time, so much time. How do you people handle weekends? And nights? TV and drinking are fun in small doses, but as a post-work ritual it has the misfortune of being rather unproductive. I have developed a previously atypical habit of going for long walks in the evening.

The denial is the oddest part of the whole shebang. I can understand the disconnection, listlessness, and feeling that I am a stranger in my own life. But, my mind is having a hard time accepting that the trail even happened. I have vivid memories of the highs and lows, the pains and joys; they come back every time I stare out a coffee shop window or log into Facebook to see a fellow thru-hiker's photos. And yet, I cannot accept that I finished. A sense of incompleteness surrounds the entire affair, as if I just woke up from a fragmentary dream with no ending. That proverbial other shoe has not dropped. There is more yet to do. I need to fall asleep again and figure out how it all ends!

Amelia proposes the idea of "dosing" ourselves with these adventures. And that is EXACTLY right. Fun Size, Cuddles, Hermes and Lotus, G-Bird, Goodall, and myself are all on Facebook planting the seeds for our next trips. Appalachian Trail? Continental Divide Trail? Antarctica? Himalayan Pass Tour? Just get us back there. We need to go back.


The Secret Life of the Thru-Hiker 9 November 2013

Returning to civilization has been more of a struggle than I expected. While thru-hiking I can only remember a few mornings when it was exceptionally difficult to get out of my sleeping bag and continue hiking. Most days that simple, focused, and uncompromising purpose of continuing North was sufficient motivation. That drive forward on the trail is so powerful that even serious injuries that should have been given a week off rarely got more than a single day. When I took two full days off, it was obvious to every single thru-hiker that I was in serious pain.

Back here in the Real World, it all feels so ridiculously complicated. There are so many considerations that need to be carefully Tetris'ed into my life: employment, money, living situation, bills, driving, socializing, rehabilitation of injured parts, and even what to eat. Over six weeks of being off trail and I am still experiencing a low level of anxiety every single day. It is not a pleasant experience. So bad that most times when I visit the grocery store, I only grab fresh produce and chocolate. Circulating among the other aisles stresses me out.

Not exactly fantasizing about being back on the trail either. That trip is over. But, I am definitely thinking about the next trip; the next time that I can get be out there. For me, "Why am I here?" is a constant refrain in my mind. Why should I not be out there in the forests, deserts, and mountains of the world? Isn't that where I belong? Staring out a coffee shop window at the gorgeous autumn weather when I should be examining spreadsheets for the new job is definitely reinforcing this feeling.

Still, I must bend my will to spending time here; refilling the coffers and reconnecting with people, relearning to labor and wait. Just for a while longer.