Masks Masks Masks !!! A COVID Story from us.

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We all want to help one another, human beings are like that
We want to live by each other's happiness, not by each other's misery - Charlie Chaplin
A COVID times story, which was long pending, that I am writing now at its one year anniversary.  It has been more than a year now we are into the COVID Global pandemic. 

Today marks a 1-year anniversary of a short combat effort we did last year in our local community. In late March 2020, when the initial stay at home orders were announced, CDC had initial guidelines that Masks really does not help. But later they changed the guidance. All because of the mask shortage in US.  I remember ordering a mask online in March, but that did not arrive till end of April 2020. I also heard horror stories, how health care workers were struggling without masks in our city. Btw, we were living in the richest country in the World but could not make masks at the time of need.  Situations are different today, you can get masks in every form and shape, style, and color everywhere here now. Now there is a new problem of oversupply and garbage generation with single use masks landing in the ocean.

But during the initial stay at home days, after reading so many research articles, I realized a good cloth mask can help us and hence I was trying to stitch a mask for my family. Both, my wife Sakthi and I did not know how to stitch, so during lunch time we were having a conversation, shall we ask some folks if they can stitch masks for us, since there is no masks anywhere.  That lunch conversation between us resulted in starting a local community crowdsourcing initiative to stitch cloth masks last year : Seattle Face Mask Army . Sakthi posted in the local facebook groups to recruit few women who knew to stitch and formed a group. The idea here was simple - we sourced mask materials and deliverd the mask materials to your doorstep , you stitch and leave it at your porch. We will pick them and deliver it  to the sections and individuals where it is most needed.

Within a week - we had a lot of friends and volunteers who joined to help us in various aspects of the effort - stitching, procurement, delivery, running awareness campaign, and fundraising.  After ramping up our effort in a month, we had 100+ volunteers helping in various stages to deliver 200+ cloth masks every week to hospitals and public utility services.  

Every stage was a challenge, since supply chain was badly impacted, we did not get enough raw materials. I remember Sakthi and I personally took all the old t-shirts and cut them and made as stretchable elastic for masks. Our friends donated their unused bed sheets that we could cut to make it as masks. Many friends spent their weekends delivering and picking materials and masks to various houses and the health care organizations. Many volunteers joined and said even if they don't know stitching they will do the help with cutting the materials. So we created an awesome supply chain of funding, sourcing materials, cutting and prep of pre stitch materials, stitching, delivery network and campaigning the efforts in a period of 4 weeks. More than 75+ women who spent their valuable hours and labor to do the stitching of these masks at their home.  By end of June we donated more than 5000 cloth masks to people who were in need. Only by end of June 2020, masks supply chain started to open up and a lot of commercially made masks were available when we slowly ramped down our effort.

The beauty of this collective human effort, we never met almost 95% of these volunteers in person and we could not see them because of the social distancing guidelines.  There was no personal connection, we had, and no need for each of these volunteers to help or give their time, money and labour at the time. But they all came together to help others at the time of need. Beacuse we all want to help one another and we are like that only ! 

This is a great story and memory for Sakthi and I to cherish and remember. We spent our weekends planning, packing and organizing this effort together. Thanks to all the friends, family members and volunteers who were a part of this beautiful journey. Big Thank you !!!

A decade, which went fast

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10 years back I posted about the year book that never came when I left XLRI. Can't believe that I had spent the next decade with Microsoft. I did take up different kind of opportunities across the company starting with HR later into engineering, joining in Hyderabad and later moving to Seattle, different managers , clients and challenges. But honestly one thing that has remained same - is my love for this company. Even now my friends mock at some of the failures of what this company made. But who has not grown without making mistakes. That makes it human. I believed in this company when its stock price would never move few dollars up for years. But the last 5 years has been a tremendous transformation for the company and also for me.  Below is the nice note in the form of Kudoboard I received from my colleagues at Microsoft on my 10th year anniversary with the company. Memorable note and reminded me of the great moments of learning.  Thanks to my dear friends for such nice words. I learnt a lot from each of you during this journey that helped me grow and develop to what I am today. 

RAMROD 2019, Late report

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A very late post after RAMROD that happened in July this year, also the first post in 2019 , when it is just 3 days to complete the year. Did not want to miss recording the ride report which would help me reflect in future event prep. This was the third consecutive RAMROD for me (for past event reports RAMROD 2018, 2017). I did not have to go through lottery since I had a bypass for volunteering last minute before the event in July 2018.

Training : 2019 winter was really bad in Seattle, this February had the maximum historical snowfall. The whole month went on TrainerRoad. But March weather helped with good training  especially with HOWC ride with HPC and also a early Tacoma narrows century around the sound. Had an official trip to India and was able to do a metric century in India. With mostly solo training in April, May was the best month of training this year. For the first time I was  able to stay in paceline with Earthdream and HPC group rides. We did a super fast Skagit classic (my fastest century) but I limped with cramps for the last 15 miles. It was also a dream 7 hills century with Earthdream group and my fastest in the event so far. This was a great improvement since my 2016 ride in this event. June highlights were the usual suspects of North Cascades and Chelan century and also a car free Rainier Sunrise point ride. I was able to ride cramp free back from Mazama and also after McNeil canyon. But my YoY improvement in these mountains were not that impressive gains, which annoyed me a bit. This was primarily because I was not able to reach my goal weight and I was oscillating in the weight scale often and probably it was only in September during my India Trip I was at my lowest weight this year. I was fighting gravity in all the mountain pass rides. I had one last training in Rainier with Mountain goats gang – Dave and Joey and Tim as our SAG support.  That summed up my key rides building up my fitness to my A event of the year – RAMROD 2019.
Ride Day: Unlike the last couple years, this year, Dave and Joey took me on their carpool. Usually I would have started at 5 am , but had to wait for Somu and Subbu , so we rolled out together from the start at 5.35 AM. A late start compared to my previous years, stuck to the pace line till Eatonville. I did not push hard on these to save my legs for the climbs. Without a power meter, I was not able to clearly measure, weather I was putting the right effort or under estimating here and not pushing a bit more. But mostly I was able to catch every one in the rest stops and started the Paradise climb at mostly an easy pace. Last year I really pushed hard on this climb and cramped badly in cayuse pass. So this year I made sure to not push hard, but did not wait long any where and linger in any of the rest stops. Probably that is why in the 152 mile ride you would see my total wait time was only 59 minutes including multiple rest stops. This was probably my least elapsed time for RAMROD in the last 3 years. I guess I did not push really hard, so there was not much recovery time needed for me in these rest stops. Mostly soloed the climbs, met HPC folks in Box canyon stop but soloed cayuse pass. Was not super strong in Cayuse but at least I did not limp badly with cramps like last year.  From Deli stop joined a big HPC group for the last 40 mile flats. We maintained a steady 200 watts for the rest of the 40 miles and finished as a group at 3.40 PM. This was also the earliest I have completed RAMROD but not the fastest in terms of my average mph. I only averaged 16.5 mph compared to the 17 mph in 2018. All credit to this slow speed goes to the few extra pounds that I carried in the mountains that slowed me in all the long climbs.

Takeaways for next season  :
  • Drop weight to goal weight early before the season and not during the season.
  • Nutrition – nutrition – nutrition. Plan for this and eat at regular intervals. This would have saved me from cramps and limps.
  • Train with power – A power meter probably would help me to pace well on those long events
Here is the Strava Link for RAMROD 2019. And some photos from the ride.

Colonial Creek to Mazama

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North cascades national park’s Highway 20 is one of the challenging biking routes in Washington. This year I had the opportunity to ride twice. I went in May with High Performance cycling team and did an unsupported 100 mile /10K elevation ride. Later in July , just 2 days after RAMROD did a 72 mile / 7K elevation ride with Native planet cycling group. Usual route biking folks ride is from Colonial Creek campground before Lake diablo to Mazama store and back, which makes up a nice 100 mile out and back. The hardest part of the ride is the ride back from Mazama to Washington pass. It becomes hard because of 2 reasons
  • Its an 18 mile long hors categorie climb, which you are trying to climb after 50 miles in the ride and having completed a rainy pass climb in the beginning of the ride.
  • When you climb this section, it is usually noon and the temperature can be easily above 90F and even sometimes above 100F , and can be super windy.
I did this ride first in 2016, and cramped, suffered in the climb from Mazama , but had a better ride this year in May. I would say this is a beautiful and quite challenging bike route in Washington.

Here are some photos from the ride,  that cannot cover completely the beauty of the place. 
LIberty Bell Mountain Rainy Pass Lookout area
Lake Diablo
Highway 20, WA
Also Strava activity of the full 100 mile loop :

RAMROD 2018 , Training and Ride Report

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After RAMROD 2017 experience I was really interested to participate in the ride this year as well. Thanks to Tim, I got a bypass for 2018 ride. Tim volunteered last RAMROD and could not use the bypass because of injury concerns. RAMROD was one of my goal events for 2018, in addition to Chelan century.  Without Dave and Tim, I was going to do train alone this year. For some major organized rides and other mountain rides, I tried to be part of couple of Teams. Primarily High Performance Cycling, where I found really strong riders, who have been riding over years but without race focus. Native planet cycling was one other team, which focuses on mountain climbing rides, where I joined for some of the good rides in mountains.

Training : Last winter, my focus was to improve base fitness and improve my aerobic endurance. Hence I did not focus much on increasing my FTP unlike the previous year but focused on training at lower intensity but with regular consistency where my heart rate was with in zone 1 or 2. Trainer Road and Kickr helped me to continue the training in winter. One modification was to add a couple of days of strength training, and reduced my swim sessions. I did few short rides near to home when there were occasional sunny days here. But my first big ride was early February in one of the cascade winter training series. I joined few other HPC riders for this ride, and within first 10 miles I got dropped by other HPC folks. Though it was a strong ride for me early in February, I could hardly keep up with other folks in paceline and punchy climbs. I continued my training rides and by March I joined a HPC hills ride, and was the last one to climb every mountain, even holding on to their paceline in flat was really hard for me. Though I was slow compared to other folks, I was improving and wanted to hang on to these guys at some point. By March when I though was slowly improving , I crashed hitting a bump near my home when I was finishing the ride. I landed on my right rotator cuffs and barely move my right arm. It was more than 2 months of down time because of the crash, and I had to go through PT. Luckily it was not a fracture. I continued to be back on trainer and my right arm in a sling for the next 5 weeks. Only by April, after PT suggestion I got back on the ride outside, and did some century rides in April for the first time in the year. I continued to do rides on my own, focusing on improving endurance and base building, and improve my climbing. May , I did the Skagit classic , a bit flattish ride but was able to hold on to fast pace lines. Again after 85 miles, I cramped badly and limped my way to the finish line. End of may came the biggest weekend ride doing North cascades ride and 7 hills of Kirkland in a 3 day weekend. Both rides were stronger compared to previous year and doing this back to back in 3 days helped me to improve my fitness. I decided to do Flying wheels since Subbu could not go and gave his registration. Probably my fastest ride by then. My goal event Chelan century was the big ride in June. I camped out with HPC folks, and my big focus was to complete the ride strongly unlike last year. Paced well on Mc Neil, and for both 2nd and 3rd loop I was able to hang on with HPC riders and that showed some sign of improvement. Holding to pace line and especially not getting dropped on the small climbs were big improvements for me. July 4th I went with Victor to do some training rides in Rainier ( 2nd year in succession to be in Rainier on July 4th). Did Sunrise, Chinook and cayuse climbs and my climb timings improved. Re visited Rainier the same weekend with Native planet folks to do Sunrise, chinook and crystal.  All these helped me with some extended climbing practices. I got a lucky draw entry for STP, and did STP as a training ride. This was my fastest STP and also a fastest century
or double century ride. Thanks to many pace lines and HPC group I was able to hang on.  Post STP I focused on tapering down my training for RAMROD.

Nutrition : This was a big focus for me since November last year, and I drastically reduced my carb and sugar intake and increased fat intake with regular fasting. Sakthi was super supportive and she also joined my food experimentation craziness. We went completely gluten and sugar free for more than 3 months. With low intensity training combined, I was able to continue with this more high fat and moderate protein diet. We mostly ate whole foods, and avoided ultra-processed refined items. Changed our cooking oils to healthy fats like Butter, avocado oil etc. I started experimenting with eating meats as well. Eliminated most of the flours and grains, with increase in green vegetables. This helped me in dropping body fat and my weight dropped by March. Though since March with increased training and mixing other food into diet, I did not drop my weight further but maintained the weight I dropped. I diligently fasted every day morning with a compressed eating window, and also a 24 hour fast every 2 weeks. This helped my body for better fat adaptation to use fat as a fuel.

Ride Day : Same like last year, carpooled with Subbu, and thankfully did not get a ticket again. Started the ride at 5 with couple of HPC folks, I maintained a not too hard pace for the first 50 miles. The group was hanging on at the Eatonville  and Wildwood food stops a bit too much. I wanted to start the cayuse climb earlier in the day, as the weather forecast was above 90F. So I joined the faster HPC folks to start the first climb to inception point. I was feeling good and was pushing a bit more than needed on the first climb. By the top of inception point, I could feel fatigue in my legs. Continued the downhill to box canyon and took a 10 min break at the food stop. I continue the climb to back bone ridge, and if I was pushing the pace up on the climb, I could feel the cramp set-in on my quads. So I continued at a lower pace and met Tim at the Back bone ridge check point, where both Dave and Tim were volunteering. Tim gave me the coke I had asked him to carry for me.  Had a coke and continued the descent in Back bone ridge and entered cayuse pass climb at 11.45 am, a bit earlier than last year. With crampy legs I continued climbing at slow pace. The initial few miles of cayuse had some good shade given I was there earlier in the day. But temperature continued to rise, I was cranking up slowly , and reached the top of cayuse by 1pm, and continued the downhill to deli stop and reached around 1.15 pm. Took a good break of about 50 minutes here, fueled well with a deli sandwich and pickle juice. Also had another coke here, (probably last coke for the year). I left Deli stop along with Joe and Somu by 2.35pm after resting and fueled up well. We maintained a solid pace though there was head winds as usual. Wheel sucking on other pace lines, 3 of us finished the ride by 4pm. With a total elapsed time of 11 hours, and ride time of about ~8.30 hours, averaging 17 mph. Though I felt crampy in between the ride, the longer rest and some good fuel helped me to finish the ride strong.  Strava activity link

Takeaways for next season
  • Be more cautious and not to over push early in the season to crash like this year.
  • Increase winter base training and continue get back strength training.
  • Learning to pace well on climbs, probably get a power meter to stay within Threshold on earlier climbs
  • Get back on the diet to increase fat adaptation and go complete off season for 3 months with just low intensity rides.
  • Add some yoga to the routine to increase flexibility.

Here are some of the ride photos.
At Start line 5am Back bone ridge at 11.15am
At Finish line 4pm Inception point

RAMROD 2017, Training and Ride report

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Ride Around Mount Rainier On a Day - RAMROD - a 152 mile ride with ~10,000 feet of elevation to climb. I heard about this ride from my cycling mentor Matt McTee 4 years ago. I never imagined I would ever be doing this brutal ride for what I was used to riding. But since last summer, after my renewed passion in cycling and also following Tim, who is also my cycling mentor, I made up my mind during the winter to do RAMROD this year. After climbing Haleakala , RAMROD was one of the 2017 fitness goals .  Tim, Dave and I applied for the lottery as a team - "Team Mountain Goats". On April 1st we received a note that I was not selected in the Lottery. But realized, there was a system glitch and that mail was sent to every one on April 1st (Hmm..what a April first joke). Luckily next week we received a mail that we are selected in the lottery.  Getting in the lottery is good, but now I should be fit enough to ride this brutal ride.

RAMROD Training : During winter I bought a Wahoo Kickr and signed up for Trainer road. The last winter was a severe and long winter for us, so I had to train most of the time indoors. But I tried to be as regular as possible with at least 2-3 spin session and definitely that improved my overall aerobic fitness. By March I had a decent fitness to do my first ride with lots of climbing. Tim & I did the Edge 42, with some steep hills around the east side. Definitely I got dropped by Tim in one of the hills. But I was improving. Along with Tim & Dave, we started doing some regular weekend ride picking up the Ramrod Training series routes. By April I bought my new bike - Trek Domane SL6. A nice endurance geometry with ultegra groupset, this was a beautiful bike to ride. I did my first century ride in April with good climbing in the first half and a mostly flat route in the second half.  By may with regular weekday and weekend rides I had put on some good mileage on the bike. Third week of May I had to travel to China and India and took a 10 day break in-between. Came back by end of May with few additional pounds, but still managed a Personal record in the 7 hills of Kirkland century . By the time I was doing flying wheels, I was in good run and even completed my fastest century ride ever at 17.9 mph.  At Tour de blast, I was definitely climbing St. Helens at a much easier heart rate and also was able to complete the ride with a personal record time and speed. By end of June I went to Lake Chelan for one of the toughest ride ever I have done. Dave and I with help from Tim went and rode at Mt Rainier couple of times. We did all the climbs in Rainier to get familiarized with the climb. Thanks to Tim who was our personal support during this ride. Unfortunately he had to drop from training because of injury. I definitely PRd on the sunrise, chinook climbs compared to last year. By July 2nd week, I had put good mileage on the bike with some serious climbing practice.
Nutrition : This was the biggest struggle because of family and my own self control. I was on and off with a good eating habits. My travel to India and China in May was a set back in my weight goals. I came back with additional pounds. One of the key in these extended climbing rides is body weight, since you are riding against gravity. By June I got into a serious diet rhythm, which partly helped in being at a decent weight for RAMROD, but definitely not the right time trying to cut down food intake, since I was also training hard. But the last two months before RAMROD, I was completely off sugar and any refined carbs. I mostly had good vegetables, fruits or eggs. I did take dairy since I need my yogurt . The day before hard rides, I did take rice and tried to cut back on other days. This helped in my overall performance and also my hear rate improved on the climbs.

On RAMROD Day : I carpooled with Subu to the start point, and had to wake up at 2.30 AM to be there at the start by 4.30. The day started with getting a speeding ticket on my way to the start point. But still was hoping for a good ride. I started at 5.00 AM and had to ride solo for the first 36 miles, since Dave was not there at the start at 5. It drizzled for the first 30 miles, since it was not pouring, a very pleasant weather.I averaged about 18mph till Ashford sticking to few pace lines which were at decent pace. I tried to avoid hard pacelines since there was some good climbing to do post the 65 miles. After the first rest stop Dave and I stuck to each other for the rest of the ride, and was at Wildwood food stop by 8.30 AM. We were going at some decent pace and I was not eating enough till this point. I was avoiding the bagels and did not like eating the bars, So mostly I was running low on nutrition and I could feel slowly in my legs. In the first climb to inspiration point, my legs were not at it best , and I was a bit slower but we managed to reach Inspiration point by 10.45 AM. I did some stretching with yogasanans and also tried eating some bars, but did not like the taste of it. After inspiration point , it was a long and fun downhill  to back bone ridge and I stopped at Box canyon food stop to eat some potatoes. They definitely tasted better and that is where I got some real nutrition. By the time I entered cayuse pass, it was 12 noon and we were super lucky to have the weather in the 70s and lots of shade in Cayuse. The potatoes and gu shot gave the energy to climb cayuse not at my PR but at a decent pase. The nine mile climb with the stop in between for water following another amazing downhill, took  about 1 hour and 50 minutes ,we were at the deli stop near crystal mountain before 2 pm.  The deli stop had some chips and fruits I gorged every bit of it, and they had a coke can. A coke tasted never better before, and the sugar and caffine helped me to push the next 36 miles of mostly flat to down hills but with heavy head wind. The head winds for the last segment were just too much and Dave did pull a good 19 miles in this part. For last the 10 miles, I found a good pace line and stuck to it in every section till the end which helped us to push really hard. By 4.15 PM we were at the finish line. I averaged a 15.8 mph for this 152 mile ride with some good climbing. When I finished I still had gas left in the tank and definitely was not feeling completely done ( I could barely move when I finished first STP or even this year Chelan century). A good weather and a great support helped in completing this ride which I never imagined I would be doing it.

Fundraising : Since 2014, I have been trying to support the cause to educate children. There are many other causes I support, but Educating the first generation of school goers is something I personally fundraise every year through the bike ride I do. Educating a kid who is in need is like teaching someone to fish. A good education could transform the life of not just the kid but also that of his/her family. The impact is amplified more so because most of the children we support are first-generation school goers. A learning from my own personal life and have seen many such stories among my friends. To continue with this effort, I raised funds to educate kids in need through Asha for Education initiative for RAMROD. A Million thanks to all the friends who supported me in reaching the fund raising goal to support the cause to educate children through Asha for Education - Seattle Chapter
Takeaways :
  • Winter base training is must base fitness. Improved base fitness with reducing my resting heart rate.
  • Focus on weight loss and get to goal weight before spring. Trying to lose weight during training was a struggle. 
  • Improve on the bike eating pattern and find the right nutrition balance
  • Work on core fitness, this would help me do better on these long climbs in holding a steady line.
  • Improving fat adaptation and reduce carb dependency and focus on high fat lower carbs by eating fresh and natural food more.
  • Avoid sugar and other packaged items all through winter before I start training hard in spring.
Here is the link to my RAMROD ride . Also some photos from the ride.

Artist Point, Mt. Baker ride report

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Writing after a long time. I have been doing some bike rides in the mountains since last seasons. During the ride, especially on those long climbs I go through a lot of emotions and always wanted to pen them down. For example my thoughts climbing Sunrise point in Mount rainier last year vs this season has been way different. Last year, it was the hardest climb I have done. But after doing many such climbs including Haleakala, this year, my goal was focused on climbing at a without spending much time in threshold heart rate. As some one said, cycling is all about progressive insanity, every year the goals move as I progress in my fitness to be a stronger in cycling.
Yesterday, I had an awesome ride to Artist Point in Mount Baker with High performance cycling group (HPC). We started the ride from Maple Falls in Whatacom county. It is a good 2 hour drive from my home, and for change I was driving the carpool with David from HPC.  We started to Pedal with couple more folks around 9.15 am. One other rider was supposed to join, but she started at 9.30 but caught us at the summit.
The ride to Artist point from Maple falls is 32 mile long, and the summit at ~5K feet elevation. So net you would have climbed about 4500 feet in total elevation. The main climb is from mile 22, and the road just goes up till the summit at an even grade of 5-6%. But as you start climbing, and go towards Mt. Baker Ski area, you get some stunning views of snow covered Mt. Shuksan. About 4 miles to the summit, you reach Heather meadows. This winter had snowed a lot so we could not see the meadows, it was covered by snow. There were folks still trying to ski around that area.   I was riding at a steady pace average 7-8 mph. Not the fastest climber in the pack, but steady pedaling took me to the top in about 15 minutes behind the fast guys. The last 2-3 miles had a quick switch backs and the grade went up to 8%, and the roads had snow walls on the side which made the ride spectacular. Artist point had snow depth ~8 inches and it is July.
We started the down hill, was being super cautious seeing the road condition. Unfortunately David hit a pot hole and went down pretty hard. I was behind them and I was cursing the pot hole as I crossed it and saw David was standing with other riders trying to figure out what has happened. Luckily he got away with some road rash, but the bike had some issues. We were able to ride back to Maple falls with the fast guys pulling us a descent but not at a super fast pace. We stopped for Ice cream at Glacier, I skipped the additional sugar load.  We finished the ride around 2.30 PM.  Looking at the final stats, even with a super cautious descent , I had a steady pace and completed the ride at 15mph. Lots to work on the climbing skills, need to work on improving core strength to hold the line on long climbs and also improve the power to weight ratio before next season.
If you plan to do this ride, definitely it is worth the effort  for its spectacular views. But be super careful on the descent, the road is nasty , it is not worth the risk to improve your average speed by descending fast.  Here are some photos from the ride. If you plan to do this ride sooner, you can get these amazing views. Strava ride stats :

2016 Looking back

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I called 2016 as "Year of intentional focus". Looking back , it was 365 days filled with lot of action , some inaction as well. I doubled my focus on some of my passions but also got distracted from a few areas I did want to put some focus.  On personal front, my little angel is more than a year old now , Sakthi & I complete two years of marriage. At work, I survived more than a year in tech product management. Similar to what I have written in the past, I will review my goals and progress on my various passionate areas.

Technology :
For 2016, my goals outside of work are : (1) Swift programming (2) Machine learning basics.
  • I attended a basic course on "Swift programming" and reviewed my programming basics in February.
  • Dirtied my hands along with few other developers in understanding the bot framework and we managed to build a basic bot called AskHR Bot and demoed in our Hackathon
  • I did sign up for couple of MOOCs on Data analysis and machine learning and never spent dedicated time to complete them. I wanted to read few technical books , but ended up learning only one on web designing.
  • I did plan to build a basic mobile app and also write a classifier or spam filter to deepen my learning  - but never managed to spend time in this area
For 2017 my 1 top goals for this area : Take up a coding project online and work on that regularly over the year

Plan : I would spend time dirtying my hand with coding and spend time writing code at least one hour a week.

Health & Fitness
2016, my top 3 goals for fitness are  : (1) Get body fat level to below 20% (2) One day finish at STP  (3) Swimming : 300 miles , cycling 1000 miles
2017 , my top 3 goals for fitness are  : (1) Get body fat level to below 20% (2) (Completing Ramrod (if I win the lottery))Complete Everesting (3) Swimming : 50 miles , cycling 3000 miles
Plan : I would stick to the same diet of eating real foods (Veggies, egg, meat , fruits, skip sugar and grains), with intermittent fasting. Good base training with cycling and swimming with added strength training twice a week. I would also do kriya yoga at least once a week.

Personal Finance
2016, my top 2 goals : (1) Increasing the saving rate to move towards financial freedom (2) Continue to stay away from debt
  • Continued to stay away from debt, and doubled the focus on saving rate with lower focus on investment returns.
  • Continued my retirement investing to US index funds completely with 401(k), Roth IRA, Health savings account.
  • Finally managed to build the 6 month emergency fund and that also helped on overall asset allocation of my portfolio which was heavily equity biased. This will be my risk cushion
  • Biggest goal achievement was finally closing and getting my house in India which was bought for India.
  • Managed to complete the Living will through a local attorney. Also continued to regularly update the master document and managed to close on all real estate documentation work.
2017 goals : I stay with past goals and last year plan of  (1) Increasing the saving rate to move towards financial freedom (2) Continue to stay away from debt

My goals for 2016, (1) Read 25 Books at an analytical level (2)  Write about 10 companies
  • Beginning of the year I started reading at a good pace, and after my India visit, I dropped my focus in reading big time. This is one of the areas where I did not hit my goal
  • I just read 8 books and had been on and off with reading. Facebook and other random web surfing had been a big time killer from reading books.
  • I did not write about even one of the company, I did start researching early in the year and that stopped mid-way.
For 2017, my top 2 goals : (1) Read 15 Books (2)  Write about 3 companies after deep research
Plan : Read 1 books a month, I already have a reading list for 2017 ready here. I will still  have the plan to read at least 25 days a day. Write a page every week and at least one post a month in the blog

2016 goals were  (1) Play Aadi Talam in Mridangam fairly well (2) Memorize Rudram, and sukthams
  • Had been regular to the mridangam classes till holidays, but definitely this was lower in priority with my biking schedule.
  • I did learn the basic Aadi talam in Mridangam , but far away from playing it in greater fluency.
  • I also ensured I attended most of the monthly Seattle Rudram chanting event based on availability. I am able to chant most of the Namakam without book, but yet to memorize completely. I am able to chant most of the Sukthams.
For 2017 I keep the same goals , as I am yet to hit completely: (1) Play Aadi Talam in Mridangam (2) Memorize Rudram, and sukthams
Plan :  Practice Mridangam at least 1 day a week and attend weekly classes regularly. Memorize one stanza of Rudram every two weeks

Movies , Travel & More
I did want to reduce my movie binge watching, but definitely the movie buff in me could not control last year as well. I did watch most of the Tamil / Malayalam movies last year. Since Sakthi & Swara were in India for a good 6 months of the year, I spent most of the leisure time outside work in biking and catching up movies. This is where I could have doubled my focus on reading. On travel, we visited India in March and visited our extended family in Coimbatore, Chennai & Salem. In the summer because of biking I travelled nearby to Vancouver & Whistler. During the holidays we had a short trip to Los Angeles and Leavenworth. The biggest travel we had this year was a 10 day vacation to Hawaii. We fell in love with Hawaii, and would love to visit the beaches again. We spent good time in the beaches and a good break from the weather.  For 2017, we hope to make a visit the east coast.  Outside of work, along with my past colleagues we did spend a good amount of time in floating a math coaching company. But by the end of year just before signing up, we had to drop the plan because one of the major partner bailed 
I have been pretty bad with posting in the blog last year. But one of the posts I made on OCI application process is the most read and commented post ever in my blog. Hope to post at least one post a month in 2017. 

For 2017, my theme would be - "Year of learning". I would like to focus my learning at work and outside work in the above areas. All my goals are around learning. Hope to post more of my learning in the coming months. Happy new year 2017 every one, There will never be a day when we won't need dedication, discipline, energy, and the feeling that we can change things for the better!

STP 2016 : Recap

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This was my third attempt to complete the Seattle to Portland ride in a day. I started training for this year STP pretty late. I was in India till end of March and came back to Seattle only by April first week. By then my other biking friends have already started training regularly. I had not touched my bike since finishing last year STP. Big events in life during winter, we welcomed our little angel Swara to this world. Catching up on sleep was a big fight, so riding the bike was almost impossible during that time.
2014 - 2016 STP finisher badges
When I came back to Seattle, Sakthi & Swara stayed back in India for a few months to spend time with the extended family. So that gave me time back. I had a single goal this year to focus on complete this year STP in one day before the announced cut off time of 9pm.  By the time I started my first ride in the saddle, my training group had already done a month long of rides. So I had to start on my own to manage even a 25 mile ride. I also had gained some additional pounds last winter, and fitness level was near zero. My  first ride was just 8 miles and I could barely touch a 10 mph speed. After the first ride, I was contemplating whether I should be planning for a two day STP this year. But I slowly started to add miles every week, and I started to track every ride through my sports watch and logging them in Strava. Last year I did not pay much attention to tracking my stats post the rides, but this year I started to get into details of my post ride stats. One of my past colleague and friend Tim, was  training for RAMROD, and he was giving me tips on routes as I started to pile more miles by May. My first challenging ride I signed up was 7 hills of Kirkland century route. This had about 6000 ft elevation gain and about 11 hills to climb. I averaged only 12.2 mph but was able to complete the ride in about 10 hours of total time. Climbing those hills gave me some confidence, which showed up immediately in this year Flying wheels. Even with added elevation to the usual route, I was able to average 14mph and was able to complete the century route in about 8 hours and 22 minutes of total time. By June slowly I started to add more hill training, and I started to enjoy the challenge of climbing. The first extensive climbing I did this year was at St.Helens, in the event Tour de Blast. This was quite a challenging ride with 2 big categorized climbs of Cat 1 & 2, with 10000 Ft of total elevation.  But completing this event gave me huge confidence boost. I also started tracking my food intake to pull down my weight for better performance.  Before STP in July , I managed to shed about 15 pounds and ride ~1500 miles with some good climbing practice. 

Start line University of Washington, Seattle
Now coming to the D day, unlike last year, my friend insisted on starting the ride at the start line which gave a nice feeling to begin. I had a slow start with 2 other friends, since it was still dark and I was struggling to see the road with and the lights were not very helpful. By the time I completed the first 10 miles, it was 5 am and it was getting bright. I slowly picked pace in the at Sewards park hill, where I could drop many people. I joined a pace line which was averaging 19-20 mph and followed them till the first stop at REI. To finish early my plan was to not wait in rest stop more than 10 mins. I reached the first hill at Puyallup. With good hill training this year, the Puyallup hill was a very comfortable climb where I dropped many other riders as I went up. At mile 55, I joined a great pace line who were doing this STP as a practice ride for RAMROD. They averaged 20 mph, and they were kind enough to let me stay behind their pace line. I also stopped only at those places when this group stopped and was able to reach the midpoint at Centralia by 10.40 am well before my planned time. I had average 17 mph for the first 100 miles, my fastest 100 miles every. I took a little longer break in Centralia and took a massage to ensure I don't cramp in the rest of the ride, so I missed the earlier pace line. I left midpoint at 11.30 AM, and joined a group of 3 friends and maintained a steady pace of 18 mph. This year, the rolling hills over the next 44 miles was a fun ride. Unlike last two years, I did not have the fear of seeing the small hills and slow down drastically. I attacked every hill and went past them. I crossed the Lewis & Clark bridge by 3pm and joined one other lady called Sonia. 
We kept pulling each other for the rest 50 odd miles averaging 16-17 mph.  It was 6.45 pm when I entered Portland, ( in 2015 I reached Portland at 10 pm). With so many signals and traffic, I crossed the finish line at 7.20 PM with a  total ride time of 12 hours and 50 minutes averaging 16.1 mph over the 206 miles. The best part in this, I was feeling good and could continue ride for some additional miles.  Thankfully I did not have any mechanical problem or flat tires this year. It took me 3 attempts to have a strong one day finish STP. You can see my full ride stats here in Strava.  
Finish line, Portland
After 206 miles on the saddle!!!
On the fund raising part, raise money for educating kids in India through a non-profit.  Over the last 2 years with the help of friends & family we sent more than 15 kids to school free of tuition fee for a full year through Isha Vidhya and Asha for Education initiatives. This year my goal was to raise 1000 USD, and with all your help and support we raised 1190 USD without adding up the matching contribution from corporates like Microsoft , Amazon etc. My heartfelt thanks to my family, friends (especially Tim), Team Asha bikers and also those great pace lines who supported me in the 2016 STP journey and also contributing generously to Asha for Education.  
Looking forward to biking more on the saddle as I explore those unexplored routes, and climb those great mountains. Thank you!!!

Support me to educate a child as I bike Seattle to Portland for the third year

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Back again for the third year in succession. Biking, which came into my life out of necessity, became a passion for me. I have been into biking as a passion and a hobby for the last 6 years. Since 2013, with your support I have combined my passion for cycling with supporting a cause. Over the last 2 years with all your help, we sent more than 15 kids to school free of tuition fee for a full year through Isha Vidhya and Asha for Education initiatives. Educating a kid who is in need is like teaching someone to fish. A good education could transform the life of not just the kid but also that of his/her family. The impact is amplified more so because most of the children we support are first-generation school goers.

To continue with this effort, I will be attempting to ride from Seattle to Portland in a day (STP, 206 miles in a day) and also raise funds to educate kids in need through Asha for Education initiative. I look forward to your generous contribution to raise $5 for every mile of my ride, with a fund raising goal of $1000.

Every single dollar of donation from you shall go towards teaching under-privileged children in India. Needless to say, this shall also strengthen my resolve along every mile of this cycling expedition. As a gesture of my heartfelt appreciation, I promise to mark your names on a “gratitude poster” and wear it proudly as I cross the finish line.
If you are an employee of companies such as Microsoft, Intel, Google, (or a few others which are similar), your contribution could be even more valuable! Your employer has committed to match your donation dollar-to-dollar, typically above a fairly low threshold ($25) – thereby doubling the impact of your generosity! I will also match with 500 USD if we reach the goal whcih gets matched by Microsoft, thereby we end up having a triple match. 
Please support Asha for Education by contributing generously using the link on this page.
Looking forward to your support. Click the below Donate button to Contribute
Click the below Donate button to contribute.
Link to my profile page at Asha for Education : Hariharan Ragunathan

How to apply for OCI card for new born in USA by post - CKGS global services

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I had to go through the OCI application process for my recently born daughter in October. Thought of sharing my application process so that it would help folks who also would be in same situation. Also when I applied for OCI , I had to search in the web so much for every question I had through the process and Cox & Kings Global services site  who is the intermediary and India Passport OCI site did not have all the minor details in which I was stuck. They do cover the high level documentation process but do not cover some minor details.  In this post I will summarize the steps I went through to get my daughters OCI (Overseas citizen of India) card in less than 60 days.

Before you read the remaining : Let me re-iterate, this is application process explained below is applicable only for new-born who has an Indian origin through his/her parents or grand-parents. I was on a work visa in USA when my daughter was born here few months back.  If you are a naturalized US citizen and applying for OCI,  refer Cox & Kings Global services site and it has enough details and it is not as confusing. 

Cox & Kings Global services , an intermediary service provider, who would be facilitating you in the process of the OCI application. You never write directly to the Indian consulate in USA or to the Ministry of overseas affairs in New Delhi. Indian government has outsourced the service of facilitating Indian Visa and OCI application in other countries (especially in USA) to CKSGS.  If you are applying for OCI when you are in India  you may not reach out to CKGS.  This is a two stage process.

Step 1 : Visit  Cox & Kings Global services site to ensure they are the service providers still when you are reading this. ( I have seen BLS and CKGS fighting for these services most of the time). Check the latest process mentioned in the OCI page for new born. They keep revising this almost every couple of months. The current process as per the site, involves the following.

Step 2 :
  • Fill the online application in Government of India site. Select New OCI Registration.
  • On selecting New OCI registration the form has popup makes it very clear it is mandatory to upload Applicant's image and Applicant's signature image during OCI-Registration. 
  • This is where confusion No.1 starts. For a new born where is the signature. So do not worry, it is thumb print image you have upload. That is what I did, which came in the OCI card as well later.  I had put the thumb print of my new born in a white sheet and scanned that image.
  • You can also take a good quality photo of that thumb print with your phone. Now you would need to resize this thumb print to 1:3 aspect ratio. You can use this online tool resize it to get your scanned image to the aspect ratio of 1:3. Select the height as 200px and width as 600px in the resize tool. You should be able to download a cropped and 1:3 aspect ratio image with size restriction of 200KB.
  • For the passport photo you should not have a problem with aspect ratio as it is 1:1 and you could use the same resize tool. White background for passport photo in OCI application is allowed now, since that is the international passport standard and OCI application is complying with it. It is a 2in x 2in photo on a white background with the new born face clearly seen. I had use the services of Costco to take the photo of my new born. We had placed her on a white sheet and clicked it from the top. You might need to hold their head under the white sheet so that they don't move their head while taking photo. There is point in CKGS saying you cannot have same photo as passport photo, this is not possible for new borns. This is given mostly for folks who are applying for OCI after renunciation. In our case, we were applying for OCI immediately after US passport. Refer the specification of photos here
  • Once you have both the images in .jpeg format with less than 200KB size, you can start the fresh application form filling . You would need the USA passport details of the new born as well. 
  • In the OCI registration Part A form everything is clear, may be one box you might struggle is "Visible Marks". For new born I filled as none, which is perfectly ok, as I could not find any in our new born daughter. For address details, you can fill your current US address and it is not mandatory to fill native address or Aadhar card number for new born.
  • Once you submit Part A, you are asked to upload the passport photo and thumb impression. After uploading, you can fill the Part B , which is fairly simple. Enter details of family members living in India , in our case I had filled the details of maternal & paternal grandparents living in India.
  • Now you would need to upload documents, passport scanned copy of new born, and proof of Indian origin I had uploaded the scanned copies of the birth certificate of parents.
  • Then you would get a final application form with a barcode (which is the unique number throughout) which need to be printed and you would stick a physical photo in it.
Step 3:
  • Preparing documents copy to send to CKGS.  Use this check list from this page. Originals are not needed, I had sent all the photo copies attested by me and my wife on behalf of our daughter. We attached copies of our Passport, birth certificate (Daughter & parents), and our marriage certificate copy, parent authorization form, our visa copies ( since we were on visa), license copy as proof of address and the checklist of the documents. For notary, we visited our bank First Tech who provides free notary services for members.
  • After collecting the documents and application form printout, you would need to pay the fee to CKGS.
    • There are 2 options , you can pay online the CKGS fee + OCI fee + return Courier fee ( when they would send the OCI back). The online form may fail if you just paid the OCI+CKGS fee of ~300 dollars and missed selecting courier option in the beginning. It kept on throwing error as "duplicate details". You cannot send prepaid envelope to CKGS to send your OCI back as well. So the best option I took was attached a 15 dollar cashier's check / money order along with the documents. CKGS once received documents, immediately sent a receipt for the 15 dollars courier fee I had enclosed.
    • So if you take the route of money order or cashier's check it is simple, you check the total fee in CKGS Site. As per the site, here is the latest update for money order
Payment can be made by Credit Card / Debit Card or by Money Order / Cashier’s Check / Bankers Check in the name of ‘Cox & Kings Global Services USA LLC.Please print the name, do not hand-write it on Money Order.If submitting by Money Order/ Bankers or Cashier’s Check, kindly mention the Tracking Number / Web Reference number at the back of the Money Order/ Bankers or Cashier’s Check.
Step 4 :
  • Send all documents visa FedEx / USPS, I chose FedEx. You can also buy the FedEx courier option in CKGS, but that is confusing and prefer sending directly through a courier service.
Step 5:
  • Now it is tracking & waiting time. Here is the time estimate it took for my daughters application in SanFransico India mission. Below is the tracking info you would find in GOI site. You also have  tracking in CKGS site, which provides processing status updates outside of Indian consulate.
  • CKGS was prompt in providing updates regularly from the time sent my application till I got the OCI back. You can track your application status in CKGS site from the time CKGS receives your application till  it is submitted to Indian Consulate. After that you would need to track the status in the site about your application. The bottleneck in this process is once the application is sent to MOIA India, it takes about 40 days to get any update. This is the longest time. Once OCI is sent back to Indian consulate, they would intimate the CKGS to request passport for matchup. Here on you would again get regular updates from CKGS.
Step 6:
  • This is match up process, when CKGS requests for passport, you would need to send by courier (FedEX / USPS) them the email you receive from CKGS requesting matchup, original passport of new born, and CKGS OCI matchup form applicable to consulate of your jurisdiction (in our case it was San Francisco), return courier payment receipt (the 15 dollars you paid for OCI return courier services)
  • CKGS provides regular updates once they receive and submit to Indian consulate for matchup. Once OCI is matched, it is sent to CKGS for mailing to us.

I sent the initial application and documents to CKGS on November 28th and received back the OCI After match up on 27th January. So it took ~60 days turnaround time.  The biggest problem I faced when applying was the CKGS payment which was not working fine. But if you chose money order/ cashier's check it would be smooth as well. CKGS has been working so much in the last few months in improving their site, and I have seen a drastic change in their website since I applied in November. 
Hope this was useful for you. If you had some other good info, please leave in the comments, that might help other folks who are also going through this long and tedious process of OCI application for their new born kids.