Miserable Kanban Training: Now for Everyone!

Kanban Talk Agenda:

1:00-1:20 – Types of Sticky Notes for Kanban (and the great 3M vs. Walmart brand debate)

1:20-1:45 – Why Sharpies are better for most stickies in Kanban

1:45-2:15 – Types of Board and Board segregation for high efficiency Kanbanning.

2:15-2:30 – Reasons ladders should be avoided while using Kanban

2:30-3:00 – Kanban means “Look at the board.” We’ll tell you why that definition is insufficient, and give 8 methods for “looking” at the board.

3:00-3:12 – What to do when Steve steals your stickies

3:12-3:23 – Public whipping of Steve for stealing your stickies.

3:23-3:30 – Questions about Steve’s whipping

3:30-3:32 – Move “Steve’s whipping” from the column titled “In progress” to the column titled “Complete”

3:32-3:45 – Explanations of the means and reasons for the movement of “Steve’s whipping.”

3:45-4:45 – Existential reasons for dread and why we may be spending too much time on Kanban.

4:45-5:00 – Move the “Final Questions” sticky to the column marked “In progress”

5:00-9:00 – Happy hour and a hope that there is enough alcohol in the world to make us forget the previous afternoon.

 

Putting together an entire afternoon training on Kanban is shockingly difficult. I’ve saved you the trouble of coming up with your own agenda by producing a sample agenda here. Please note: the name Steve is just a placeholder, but experience tells me Steve will likely be his actual name.

Merrell Trail Glove Failures and Minimal Running in a Communist Shoe

In 2004 I arrived in China young and bright eyed wearing Walmart jeans and Walmart shoes because I was a cheap kid right out of college. Within a month or so I had made an amazing discovery. The Chinese have a shoe that cost less than a Walmart shoe (around a dollar for a pair) and it’s built incredibly well. 布鞋, as it’s called in Chinese, translates simply as “cloth shoe” and there appear to be hundreds of factories across China that make a near-identical version of them.

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A lightly used pair of cloth shoes.

The shoe is nothing fancy: cloth top, a cloth insole and a small strip of rubber (seemingly similar to tire rubber) across the bottom. They stretch with use become incredibly comfortable almost immediately. Today they’re largely shunned by young people as a relic of an earlier poorer time, though many of the elderly and poor still wear them exclusively. They quickly became my only shoe for regular life, the only time they’re genuinely terrible is when it’s dumping rain (the cotton insole and upper absorb the water and they become a swamp).

Sometime around mid-2010 I got in to minimal-shoe running. Like many people I started with Vibram Five Fingers and was sold almost immediately on the craze. For the first time ever I had a mid-forefoot strike and my knees stopped hurting overnight. It took about 6 weeks to ramp up completely to running in minimal shoes because I had such weak calves. But then my standard 4 mile run turned in to 7 miles because, for the first time in my life, I was actually enjoying running. Before discovering minimal shoes I ran regularly for mental stability. After discovering minimal shoes I run regularly because I genuinely enjoy it—a huge improvement.

Vibram Five Fingers were cheap in China ($10/pair or so), but then one day I attempted running in my cloth shoes, and they were amazing. They became my default for a number of years until I moved back the U.S.. Once here I decided I needed to find something that was more sustainable. I love my cloth shoes, but since I would no longer be able to buy them easily, I went looking for something else. I landed on the Merrell Trail Glove.

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My original pair looked identical to this. (stolen from here)

It was an amazing shoe. The sole was thin enough to feel every pebble underneath your toes, but thick enough to protect you from the sharpest of them. The Vibram sole was covered on the inside by something that felt like leather and stayed attached to the bottom for the duration of the time I wore the shoe. Perhaps most importantly, the shoe lasted me nearly two years of regular use. I estimate that I run approximately 400 miles every six months, so that means these babies lasted me about 1600 miles.

They were so fantastic that when they finally broke down on me I went out immediately to try to find another of the exact same pair. Sadly Merrell had stopped making them. The Amazon reviews say that the Vapor Glove 2 (the follow up shoe) wasn’t truly a minimal shoe, but had some amount of arch support. I never bought a pair to check if this was true (it was a deal breaker for me). The Vapor Glove 3 is where I landed and when they arrived I was excited that, while different, they appeared to carry on the spirit of the original Trail Glove.

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My Vapor Glove 3

Sadly I was pretty wrong. The toe covering would catch my toenail as I ran (something I eventually got used to). The original Trail Glove had that leather-like lining over the insole, but these had a piece of thin and lose cloth. The cloth covering over the insole came disconnected from the bottom of the shoe almost immediately and pebbles started to get in the shoe and down between the cloth layer and the in-sole.

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Insole covering ripped almost immediately under my heel, then pebbles spread under it and poked holes elsewhere as I continued to wear the shoe.

In less than two months the outside of the shoe had ripped through and now lots of rocks were getting in. I have pretty thick callouses on my feet and this wasn’t inherently a deal breaker with the shoes so much as it was a huge disappointment. Whoever made the original Trail Glove either dramatically lowered their standards for this shoe, or Merrell decided the two year life of the original was too long to be profitable.

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This hole appeared within about two months of wearing the shoe. Approx 120 miles worth of wear.

I pushed through though because I really wanted to like these shoes. But they just kept breaking down. Soon the other shoe sprung a similar hole. Within less than 6 months of usage (approx 400 miles) they were no longer wearable.

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Hole on the left shoe in the same place. Absurdly large hole.

Some will say that a shoe only has about a six month life, and that’s true for thick soled shoes if you want a significant padding or spring in your step. But as a minimal runner, literally the only thing the shoe needs to do is stay attached to my foot (preferably without gaping holes to let in rocks and mud). And my disappointment with these was entirely related to the high expectations the initial shoe set.

I had been singing the praises of the original Trail Glove to lots and lots of people who I know went out and bought Merrills at my suggestion. Sadly now I’m strongly encouraging folks to look elsewhere. And elsewhere is where I looked for a while. I’ve been eyeing Lems for a long time but I’ve heard mixed things that have held me off for now (folks who love the shoe, folks who hate the service, folks who say they run small etc…). And there are certainly others companies out there (and yes I’ve done huaraches, but almost all the running I do is in the Rocky Mountains, and something to protect my toes from a good stubbing is essential). But then I remembered my cheap Chinese shoe.

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A Chinese 布鞋 with ~2k miles on it.

The pair pictured above is a pair I wore for several years and ran a marathon in. This is a trusty shoe. Look at how small the holes are. The sole did eventually wear completely through as the soft rubber on the bottom is nothing compared to what Vibram is making these days. The cloth bottom tends to last even as the rubber bottom wears out. And twice I covered the holes in the bottom with duct tape and used them for a few more hundred miles.

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Rubber worn completely through, note the small hole towards the bottom, and the large hole towards the top that I’ve covered with duct tape and since worn through.
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Lots and lots of miles did eventually allow my toenail to wear through the the top, but even then the hole is minimal compared the gaping hole of the Merrells above.

My main reason for not using these cloth shoes regularly since I’ve been back in the states is two fold:

1) The toe box is restricted.

2) I can’t easily buy them in the United States. How can my go to shoe be a shoe I can’t get easily?

I’ve dealt with the first part thus far because the beauty of these cloth tops is that they are much more stretchable than a normal shoe. The canvas stretches to allow my toes pretty good spread by about the third run. But I’m under no illusion that this is equivalent space to a true wide-toe box. I am pushing through and ignoring this for now due to lack of a better alternative.

And the second issue I solved by getting on Taobao.com and purchasing 10 pair (and paying for international shipping). I figure if I can squeeze 6mos to 2 years out of each pair these should last me a good decade or two. I may never need to buy another disappointing minimal shoe. I might be set with my communist statement of near-perfection.

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I write this article at least in part to shame the minimal shoe manufacturers in the US for making every shoe cost a small fortune and not last. I’d love to see someone make a business out of importing  布鞋 and selling them for $10/pair. Alternatively, a cloth shoe like this with a wide toe box and a Vibram sole on it would be the literal height of perfection.

Tara with an “S”

As far back as I can remember I have been at least a little socially awkward. A good percentage of this has been from my extroverted nature making me altogether too comfortable around other people and especially in crowds. So comfortable in fact, that I often miss social queues. This involves talking at awkward times, walking away without saying anything (and wrongly assuming this won’t bother anyone), and joking with people I’ve just met as though we’re old friends.

So the other night I’m at a meetup of around 100 people, almost all of whom are white men. That’s why, when I see a table of three women sitting off the side with no one talking to them, I want to go find out who these women are and talk with them. My mind tells me, “I’d want someone to come over and talk with me.”

So I make my way over to this table and ask if I can join them. I’m pretty sure they say yes because saying no feels wrong even if it is the right choice. Unfortunately the table has long bench seats that extend to the wall and therefore sitting down requires a ridiculously big swinging of my legs around and over the bench—squeezing them under the table (this gap was clearly made with different-sized feed in mind).

In the mere act of sitting down I’ve taken long enough to get situated and had a difficult enough time that everyone at the table is already uncomfortable. But unwavering, I introduce myself and ask their names. I meet Andrea, and Jenny, but I cant quite hear the woman furthest from me at the table when she says her name.

“Tara?” I ask.

“No,” she clearly says, followed by something else inaudible in this very noisy room. I want to be considerate and get this right though, so I try again.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t hear. Is it Tara?”

“No,” this time she screams, “Tara with an ‘S’.”

“Taras?” I offer, really quite confused now.

“I said Tara with an ‘S’,” she yells again. And now I’m just completely baffled.

“Tsara?” I offer.

Her friend then finally turns to me and says, “It’s Sarah.” And hoo boy are we off to a good start.

I did continue to make conversation as best as I could, and Tara with an S has a pretty fascinating job advising startups. But I’m pretty sure I just came off as the awkward ass who couldn’t do some of life’s most basic tasks, things like sit down or hear names. Of course, it didn’t help that when the conversation was done and it was time to exit the table gracefully, I was incapable of the operation and everyone stared for a good while as I tried to figure out how to get my feet out from under the table.

Beard: a retrospective

My father had a mustache when I was small—a thick mustache—and I had never seen him without it. One day he shaved it off and I was so weirded out I was afraid to be dropped off at school because I was afraid I wouldn’t recognize him when he came to pick me up.

Those fears were probably unfounded, but they express the reverence I had for the glory of facial hair even at a young age.

As long as I can remember, I have wanted to grow a beard. Unfortunately I’m not an overwhelmingly hairy guy and so this took a number of years—and failed attempts—to be truly feasible. My first real attempt at a beard was when I was twenty, and it did not go well. I have a large bald spot on the right side of my jaw bone just along my chin line. I tried my darnedest but it just looked like a strap-on stage beard, one I had found in a dumpster behind a center for performing arts as it wasn’t even a “full” fake beard.

It was with that lopsided and patchy beard (I liked to call it post pre-pubescent), and some equally bad-looking white-guy dreadlocks, that I first expressed interest in the woman who was to become my wife. And it was because of that beard, and probably also those dreadlocks, that I was initially emphatically rejected.

After shaving off the beard and the hair, and eventually winning the woman (there may have been a few more steps involved in this, it’s hard to say for certain), I tried almost every year of marriage to grow out my beard. I made it a few weeks—one month at best—and then my wife would put her foot down and threaten to pour peanut butter in it while I was sleeping (my wife doesn’t believe in passive-aggression). Then I would shave, and usually stop buying peanut butter for a while.

Finally, after six years of marriage I decided it was time to push through. I grew stubble. Then I grew longer uneven stubble. Then my wife began to be ashamed to be seen with me in public. Then I pushed through the month mark. Somewhere around six week after starting, I had a reasonably respectable beard on my chin, and my wife was no longer horrified by the man she married.

This beard grew slowly and took a while to fill in. I still had that bald spot along my jaw line and it remained visible until the hair was an inch or two long.

I was living in China at this time and the locals absolutely loved that I had a beard. One big reason is so few of them could grow one if they wanted to. Another reason is there are some funny cultural issues surrounding beards. While it is a very old tradition, and most admit it shouldn’t really be followed anymore, the tradition states a man should not grow any facial hair he is the oldest living male in his family. That is, my beard declares that I no longer have a grandfather or father or even an older brother (all false). With the increase in quality medicine, this has dramatically limited the number of people in China who feel comfortable growing a beard, but it did not limit folk’s amusement that I had one.

While this current generation mostly discards the tradition, they nonetheless fear the wrath of their fathers should they take the leap and grow something out. Because of this tradition, and because of the lack of hair follicles on their faces until late in life, people would often mistake me for being much older than I was.

At one point, when I was 27, I hopped in a taxi, gave directions, and the driver took off without a word, yet he stared a bit at me. He looked back at the road and then looked at me again, this time looking me over head to toe as a gawking man might inappropriately do to a woman on the street. Again his eyes went to the street and after about a minute he turned and said, “So, what are you, 50?”

More than a little aghast, I said no and told him how old I really was—he simply refused to believe me.

The words in Chinese for a beard vs. a mustache are literally “big beard” and “little beard” respectively. This made for some quality puns and jokes when I joined a mountain biking club with a biker in their ranks who sported an epic mustache. This thick of a mustache would have been impressive in any culture, but it stands in even more contrast in a culture where few can grow more than ten hairs on their upper lip. It’s a big enough deal that, for the entirety of the time I rode my bike with this gentleman (which was a number of years), I never heard his real name or heard him referred to as anything other than Little Beard.

Little Beard had been biking with this crowd much longer than me but people quickly named me “Big Beard” and the comparisons began. There was only one problem with being identified with Mustache, the guy was a total bad ass, and… well… I am not. When out ahead of the pack, instead of stopping to wait for everyone to catch up, he’d ride down the mountain and come back up to check on us. When I was ahead of the crowd, I’d usually lay in the mud and put my feet up on a rock to drift off to sleep with a warm blanket of wet dirt around me. But that’s the difference between Big Beard and Little Beard I suppose.

 

After a little over two years of having a beard, I decided it was time to get serious. From my youngest years a child and my first desire to grow out a beard, it was always with one goal in mind. To cut it in to the style popular during the American Civil War—otherwise known as friendly mutton chops. If you don’t know, this beard is huge mutton chops “holding hands over the top lip” hence the name. Basically it’s when a person grows a full beard and then shaves his chin and all the way down his neck. If done correctly it almost looks like a mustache that went wild and tried to grow up the cheeks to connect with the hairline.

I had hemmed and hawed over this for a while because my wife had finally decided she actually liked my large beard. Both she and I were fairly certain she would not like the civil war cut. A man, however, can only postpone his dreams for so long before he gets antsy and has to pursue his calling. So with buzzers in hand I removed my chin hair and allowed the cold winter air to blow over my neck. It was my childhood dream finally being realized, and I looked looked in the mirror.

I looked like shit. There was no way around it.

My wife was somewhere in the back of the house confused weather she should be crying or laughing after she saw me. I then went back in to the bathroom because surely there was a way to make this better. I looked up some pictures online and found I needed to push the line further out from chin, so I tried that. It was a little better, or…. no it was no better at all. I trimmed, and I snipped, and trimmed and I snipped. But even after a while of working on it, it became abundantly clear, there is probably no style of facial hair less flattering on me than friendly mutton chops.

Then again, this was my life dream. I had wanted this forever. Not just any beard—this specific beard. Unfortunately, the shift from Bert to Ernie is a pretty dramatic shift. I looked like a puppet, not a weathered war general. This was decidedly not what I had in mind.

At this point I did what any self-respecting man in my situation would do. I kept the beard for a month just to make sure I didn’t change my mind about it, and then had a new passport made with a picture of the beard displayed prominently on page one so I could enshrine the horror for ten years. Then I shaved it down to just the mustache and started over again.

Even after writing about just how bad it was, I sit here now thinking about how awesome I’d look if I just tried again. Something about that style is still deep inside of me crying out to be a part of my face. Unfortunately friendly mutton chops are really the worst of both worlds. You have a long enough beard that you have to take care of it with conditioning and combing—or whatever it takes to not look plastered to your face in the mornings. But you still have to shave, and shave regularly. Because, while stubble looks alright on an otherwise clean face, stubble on your chin when you have a big beard floating above it just does not work.

For now, I keep the big beard. There is something about the look of a small animal attacking my face that just is too attractive for me to pass up.

Waking up a badass, and boogers

I’m unusually picky about the media I consume. Life is hard enough the way it is, and I don’t do well compartmentalizing the feelings I experience during media consumption from my real life. If I watch a sad movie, or read a scary book, my life becomes scary or sad—it just simply bleeds over. My inability to separate what I feel from what I consume means all of my favorite stories are fun stories. And the unifying theme of all my favorite fun stories is a person who wakes up and discovers they’re a total badass.

Jason Bourne wakes up and finds out he can break in to anything, escape from anywhere, and destroy anyone in a snap. Harry Potter wakes up to find out he’s a powerful wizard leading the fight against evil in the world. Spider Man is bit by a small bug one second, and can fly through the streets on his own web the next. Heck, even the Princess Diaries are about a girl who wakes up and finds out she’s a Princess.

It wasn’t until later in life that I put together this theme, and I figured if I ever wrote a fiction novel it would be based on something similar. These stories are popular because we all want to wake up tomorrow and find out, “I’m not just a bearded white dude. I’m SUPER BEARDY MCBEARDFACE.” Or…. you know, whatever that is for you. Then our whole lives would change for the better and we’d be able to do something awesome.

Yes, I’m ignoring the fact that Harry had to then face Voldemort, Jason Bourne was chased down and the love of his life murdered, Spider Man had to fight crime and some pretty gnarly dudes in the process, and Mia had to brave her teenage years. So…. with great power comes some pretty bad shit (I shudder just thinking of puberty). But lets put that aside for now and focus on the good.

 

Now, my childhood was pretty fantastic (all things considered), but I grew up with my share of quirks and oddities. One such “oddity” is the fact that I picked my boogers as a child… well, older age has taught me that almost everyone picks their boogers (even if only occasionally and only when they think they’re not being watched at a red light), but what got me in trouble was that I disposed of said boogers in my mouth. I remember a group of fifth grade girls making a list of the boys in the class who picked their noses, and I remember my friend Filipe being really angry that he was bunched in the rest of us. I didn’t argue—it was true.

There was shame.

But this shame welled up inside of me and gave me magnificent dreams. “I’m the only one I know who eats his boogers,” I thought, “One day, when I’m older, the whole world will discover that eating boogers gives you super human strength, but you have to start early.” And my head then went down the very long and windy road of one day waking up to discover I was a badass. And all because I, unlike any of my peers, had the secret food of super-human-powers. Boogers.

Long before I understood the pattern in my preferred entertainment, I had already figured out how I would join the legion of my favorite characters. In retrospect, I wasn’t wrong.

Lets spew some words, see what happens

In sixth grade my school district held a poetry contest and I submitted a poem titled something like, “Kungfu Mom” about an event a few days prior where my mom had tackled one of my brother’s friends to the ground in the kitchen while holding two large knives. Said friend was attempting to steal a bite of cookie dough (if I recall correctly) and was so shocked by the reaction of my laughing mother, he stayed away from our house for months after that interaction. It was good fodder, and I won.

A sapphire or some other fancy kind of stone was the prize. My mother was incredibly flattered when I gave her a prize I had won writing about her, but then lost the stone (this wasn’t unusual for her). I’m not sure I really minded much, but she was devastated at it’s loss. I was just excited.

I was 12 and I had won a writing contest.

I’ve been writing for a long time. I’m under no delusions that I’m particularly good at it, but I do enjoy wrangling words and having the freedom to go back and change them. I run my mouth almost constantly and there is no correcting what flies out of there when I’m speaking. Writing is like talking, but you get to fix all your fuck ups (or at least the ones you find in editing) instead of being stuck with, “Oops, I probably shouldn’t have said that.”

The work I’m most proud of was a story I wrote about a dry ice bomb in college. Unfortunately when I shared it with my creative writing class everyone seemed mystified. One student grabbed me after class and said, “I understood it. I thought it was brilliant.” Which was a nice consolation prize, but didn’t make up for the C I got from the professor with the words, “I don’t get it.”

Since then I’ve written heaps of mediocre poetry, a humor column for a magazine aimed at (tobacco) pipe smokers, and loads and loads on the topics of expat life and religion. Interspersed throughout I’ve giggled to myself while writing about bodily functions, bad bathrooms, foolish language mistakes, and running up mountains.

I don’t know where this is going to go. Very likely it will go nowhere. But I’m going to keep writing until I figure it out.


p.s. I’m super annoyed that the desire to launch this coincided with the New Year. I do not do resolutions, I choose to do things and I go do them. Unfortunately once a year this aligns with lots of other people choosing to go do things. Can’t win them all.

Ask Hank: To compress? Or not to compress? (Hint: Run naked).

Dear Hank,

I have an internal debate each time I get dressed to run. Should I wear compression pants, shirts, and socks? Or should I wear loose fitting shorts with no underwear and a loose marino wool shirt?

Please advise,

Tight and sexy or loose and comfortable in Vermont.

 

Dear Tight and sexy or loose and comfortable in Vermont.

What you’re really touching on is an ancient debate that has been going on since the beginning of the Roman Empire. The Romans believed you should compete naked, unencumbered by any outside forces. Meanwhile, the Greeks (just a few nations over) believed you should be bound tightly while pursuing any sort of physical activity.

Keep in mind, the Romans gave us the Olympics, and the Greeks gave us Marathons. So we have long-lasting legacies from both parties.

Also keep in mind that this is not a serious column, and should never be referenced for historical accuracy unless it’ll be used in a Donald Trump speech.

And then remember that the Romans are obviously in the right. Compete nude. It’s the only way really.

Barefoot and bare-bodied,

Hank.

p.s. No one is sexy when running naked. Not even me (I know that’s hard to believe, but don’t beat yourself up about it).