Family Mystery: Solved!

In every family tree there are squirrelly branches. There are stories, legends, secrets, and it’s hard to tell what is real and what was exaggerated for the sake of a better story. For me, one of those stories was the reputed last name of my great grandfather. My father’s, mother’s father’s last name was Delpino, but he had been adopted by his step father. According to family legend, his biological father was Polish and their last name was “Shibbiwubbish.”

Helen Garvey Performing at Assumption School Minstral
My grandmother, Helen Garvey, singing at the Assumption School

As kids, we found this name hilarious, but as I got older I thought this couldn’t possibly be true. It had to be some sort of whisper-down-the-lane situation where the actual name had been modified across four generations. I became so convinced of its inaccuracy I stopped telling the story and forgot about it.

My Aunt Peggy on my mom’s side is a genealogical genie. She’s worked for years on mapping out their extensive family history across the world and has now branched out to other parts of the family, like my Dad’s. A few weeks ago, Aunt Peggy was in town reviewing the 1920 census records and interviewing people. I asked her about the name and she gave me the spelling: Przybylowicz

Przybylowicz didn’t seem anywhere close to the family legend. My mom and I discussed how to find out the actual pronunciation and luckily, I work with a guy from Poland named Andrzej Borysewicz. Without telling him any backstory, I showed him the name and asked him how to pronounce it.

Here is the result:

!!! I couldn’t believe how close the passed down pronunciation was! Phonetically it’s something like “Shi-bee-WO-vich.”

What it’s like to do the Philadelphia Broad Street Run

Getting up at 5:30AM on a Sunday and forcing my body to run 10 grueling miles on Philadelphia’s most famous street doesn’t seem like a good idea, and yet, over 32,000 people including myself did that last weekend. What is it about the IBX Philadelphia Broad Street Run that makes it the most popular 10 miler in the country and Philadelphia’s most sought after race ticket? Here’s my experience.

I consider myself a runner, but a very casual one. My frequency fluctuates throughout the year and I usually do 3 or 4 5K races per year. I’ve never considered doing a marathon or a half. 10 miles seems more doable.

I got up at 5:30AM and made my way to the Collingswood PATCO station by 6:15AM where I caught the train with about a dozen others. Once we transferred to the Broad Street Line we were packed in so tight you have to talk to the people around you to prevent it from being awkward.

Broad Street Line was packed with runners

While on the subway I met some people from Audubon, NJ, where I lived for 5 years. While dominated by Philadelphians, NJ’ers make up about 20-25% of the Broad Street Runners.

She was proud to show off the best possible race number

It’s hard to describe the feeling of riding along in a train, covering approximately half the distance of your upcoming race. Even the train ride feels long. Knowing you’ll have to run twice that far in a couple hours is intimidating.

The runners get off on the Olney Ave stop and join the thousands waiting to start the race. In the pre-race information they state there are 350 portable toilets available at the start which makes the potty to runner ratio around 90:1. If you even think you might have to go, get in line right away.

Runners getting ready to start.

There are so many people around, you’re bound to run into a few you know. I spotted @k8iedid mostly because she had her twitter handle on her t-shirt.

As each group (corral) of runners start, your stomach starts churning. Did you eat enough? Too much? Are your ankles going to hold up? I made the decision a few weeks prior to the race to wear my old running shoes since my new ones were giving me some weird pain after 3 or 4 miles. I didn’t want to find out on mile 6 how bad it would get. On long runs like this I also usually bring some leftover easter candy with me for some extra fuel, but I forgot. Oh well.

Start! Not having run enough recently I nervous about being able to finish the race. I took the start pretty slow and it showed. I must have been passed 1000 times in the first minute. It wasn’t until about mile 3 until things started to even out.

The best thing about the course route is that it’s one way. You start farther north in Philadelphia than I had ever previously been and finish about 500 yards before you’d have to jump in the Delaware. You can barely see Center City from the start or the finish. Psychologically this messes with your mind as City Hall slowly creeps into view, but it also feels badass once you finish.

The Broad Street Run seems to attract all sorts of people who run in crazy costumes, so here’s a rundown of the best ones I saw.

This guy in a Terminex shirt ran with a butterfly net the whole time
This girl thought dribbling a basketball for 10 miles was a good idea
This guy made me hungry during the race.
This optimistic Flyers fan carried an inflatable Stanley Cup during the race. Photo by Vincent J. Brown.

See more of Vincent’s great Broad Street photos here.

Lots of girls in tutus

I haven’t mentioned the weather yet, but it couldn’t have been better. Slightly cool at the start and never too hot the entire race.

Drum bands and choirs lined the streets as we ran by Temple University. Every time I ran by a cheering group of people or a band set up to entertain runners I felt my energy level go up, even if just for a 30 seconds. The amount of people out on the streets cheering is kind of astonishing, especially as you get closer to City Hall.

City Hall at last! This is about the halfway point.

A little over halfway through you finally reach the landmark you’ve been staring at for the last 45 minutes or so, William Penn on top of City Hall. Here you encounter the only turn in the whole race as you follow the road counter clockwise around to the other side. Here’s where the crowd really starts to get big and look for Ed Rendell hanging out on the right over the next quarter mile. He’s been there both years I ran.

After you pass South Street and Center City starts to fade away, you enter the final third of the race where you start to question what the hell you’re doing. Miles 6-8 are just awful, awful, miles and the volunteers who hang out all day just to hand out water to the slow pokes like me are awesome. Why someone would care enough to give out water, but not run, is crazy to me but thankfully there were hundreds of crazy people who did it. This year there also seemed to be way more people cheering in South Philly and it made these miles a little more bearable.

Lots of people cheering the runners on this year.
Some people got really into it

Miles 6-8 are tough, but 8-10 is hell. I was so hungry and tired at this point the only thing keeping me going was the bag of snacks I was about to get at the finish.

Ridiculously Photogenic Guy, I am not.
The Navy Yard is coming up

Soon after you start mile 9 you get a glimpse of the Navy yard gates. This is not the finish! It looks like the end but you have at least another 1/4 mile to go. It narrows down tight and there isn’t much room. Around here is when one of my shoelaces came untied and there was nowhere to stop and tie them.

At last!!!

And finally the finish. At this point, most of us are too tired to even manage a high five. We walk over, get a medal, a soft pretzel, a bag of random Philadelphia snacks, and some kind of sense of accomplishment and community that can only be had by running 10 miles with 30,000 strangers.

List of Interesting Places in 8-Bit Google Maps

I love the new retro 8-bit Google Maps, kind of an early April Fool’s joke. Just go to Google Maps and click “start quest.” It reminds me of old school Final Fantasy or Dragon Warrior. Update: My memory is failing me a little. It’s not just a tribute to Dragon Warrior. All the tile graphics and enemies are lifted straight from it!

Here’s a list of interesting places I’ve found:
Statue of Liberty
White House
Washington Monument
MLK Memorial
Smithsonian Institution Building

8-bit Collingswood, NJ

Google HQ
Empire State Building, Chrysler Building
Weird little guy in the ice near Mt Everest
Seattle Space Needle
Area 51
Alcatraz
San Francisco Ferry Building
Sutro Tower
St Louis Arch
Druinlord (Weird crab thing in NJ). There seem to be a few of these around the map.
There are lots of these little people like these two in Chicago
Mt Fuji
Bus in Tokyo
Little blue slime guy in Tokyo
Dog statue in TokyoRelated info
Japanese castle
Tokyo Tower
Japanese House
Temple of Heaven, Beijing
Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, and the Arc de Triomphe
Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, some tower
Tate Modern, Tower Bridge
One Canada Square in London
Magician in England
Great Pyramids, the Sphinx
Christo Redentor, Rio De Janeiro
Easter Island
Parthenon
Roman Colosseum
The Kremlin and St Basil’s Cathedral
Fernsehterm of Berlin
CN Tower
Hollywood Sign
Eames building in LA
Sydney Opera House
Tower Hall, San Jose State
San Diego Zoo
Pennsylvania Wolf Monster
Rock Golem outside of Indy
Dragon in the middle of the Atlantic!
Ayers Rock, Australia
Oldenburg Spoonbridge Sculpture
Georgia Tech Tower
MIT, Hancock Building, and Faneuil Hall
Angel of the North
Buenos Aires Cabildo
Burj Al Arab
Burk Khalifa
Cathedral of Learning, Pittsburgh, PA
Chichen Itza
Diamonji
General Post Office, Dublin
Graceland
Great Wall of China
Heinz Field in Pittsburgh
Horyu-ji
Itsukushima
Japanese Cedar
Buddha statue
Troll near Cuba
Dragon
Loch Ness Monster
Drollmagi (Bug Eyed Monster)
Leaning Tower of Pisa
Monona Terrace
Biosphere and Habitat 67 in Montreal
Mt Rushmore (ugh, I looked forever for this one, thanks reddit!)
Nagoya Castle
Naruto Strait Whirlpool
Nazca Lines, Peru
Obelisk in Buenos Aires
Oriental Pearl Tower, Shanghai
Osaka Castle
Petronas Twin Towers, Malaysia
Table Mountain
Taipei Building
Taj Mahal
Building in Japan
Walking to the Sky, Carnegie Mellon University
Pittsburgh Zoo Polar Bear
Red Knight
Demon Knight
Drakee (purple dragon thing)
Gold Golem
Green Dragon
Blue Knight
Red Drakee
Red Wyvern (I hated fighting Wyverns in Dragon Warrior)
Metal Scorpion
Metal Slime
Poltergeist (purple ghost)
Red Dragon
Red Slime
Blue Scorpion
Skeleton
Blue Slime
Spector (blue ghost)
Warlock
Wolflord (red wolf)
Werewolf
Wizard
Wraith Knight
Kyoto Tower
Seattle Asian Art Museum
Toripolliisi, Finland
Flinders Station and Eureka Tower, Melbourne
Neuschwanstein Castle (Very cool!)
Uluru, Australia
Chocolate Hills National Park, Phillipines
Churchhill Downs
Sagrada Familia, Barcelona
Tower in Tokyo (and more)
Kinkaku-ji, Kyoto, Japan

Update::
There’s an awesome Reddit thread about this. Here’s the best comment that has most of the items found so far, many of which I’ve added to my list.

I also got a hacker news thread going and some have added or identified things in my list. Thanks!

Great shout out today from ars technica!

Another great site with pics of the locations.

Ok, this guy wins the Internet. a Google map with all the monster locations in it!

Review: Book a Week with Jen

I’m a painfully slow reader.

I can only think of a few books I’ve read in under a week and some of my favorite books took me over a year to finish (I’m looking at you Cryptonomicon). I met Jen Miller through twitter in 2007. Back then she was working on a project reviewing 52 books in a year on her blog. The genres were all over the place from Julie and Julia to books on how to get into a threesome.

Why did she do it? Her grandfather died, her income had gone down, and she’d been dumped for the 3rd time in 12 months. Sometimes a project, ANY project, to focus your time can help get your mind off things.

I was aware she was doing the project, but I don’t think I read a single review. When she told me she was releasing the entire run of blog posts as an ebook I thought the work vs payoff ratio made it a worthwhile project for her (the writing was already complete), but was skeptical about how good it would be. I’m a big proponent of self publishing and selling digital goods as you know if you read my blog. Sometime last year she released Book a Week with Jen as an Amazon ebook for $2.99 and I downloaded it to my phone.

In retrospect it seems so dumb that I thought this would simply be 52 book reviews in a row. The book reviews are, of course, a vehicle for working out issues with love, career, and not fitting into the role others want for her. Each review is like an episode of a TV show where 90% is about the plot that week, but there’s this little sliver of time devoted to the overall story arc. You can’t skip any of the book reviews that sound boring because you’ll miss some important piece of the story. It’s great and it helped illustrate to me what separates writers from people who just write (like me). Part of it is a willingness to share their thoughts and problems. Jen and I have this increasingly common type of friendship where you have a bunch of asynchronous online messages back and forth and a few real life hangouts throughout the year. Book a Week with Jen gave me a clearer picture of who she is and who she was when we first met. Some chapters made me want to give her a hug. After others I felt happy knowing where she is now.

There’s a bunch of reasons to read Book a Week with Jen by Jen Miller, but the easiest is that it’s good.

I read the ebook when she released it months ago, so I’m a painfully slow reviewer as well.

Best Things this Year (2011)

Here are some best things I’ve come across this year. Not all are new, or even new to me, but they kicked ass in 2011

1. Kids Dungeon Adventure – A floortop RPG for pre-school age kids and their geeky parent(s). What started out as a little game with my daughter grew into a full fledged eproduct and side business. This project was life changing for me.

2. Notepadd++ – I used the same text editor for Windows for at least 11 years, Editpad. I finally decided to try Notepadd++ and was blown away by how much more I liked it. Color coding for almost any language and built in FTP are enough right there. Love it. Side note: Editpad was introduced to me by a college friend, Jonathan Meyer, who passed away soon after college. I often think about how much he’d love what is going on with the Internet over the last 10 years.

3. HTML5 – Have you seen how fast modern browsers can draw on an HTML5 canvas? Mobile browsers still need work, though.

4. Garageband for the iPad – I love the iLife Garageband, but the iPad version is amazing and portable. Check out the theme song I recorded for Rock the Animals with Sasha. At this point the song is a bigger hit than the game.

5. Thingiverse – I built a Makerbot Thing-o-Matic at work and have been obsessed with finding a use for it other than making crappy bottle openers.

6. Sword and Sworcery – Best iOS game of the year. It’s King’s Quest meets Punch Out while having coffee with David Lynch. Jim Guthrie’s music on it is amazing (listen).

7. Honoro Vera Garnacha – Best new wine I tried all year. It’s Spanish and only $8.99.

Honoro Vera Garnacha - Best new wine I tried this year
Honoro Vera Garnacha - Best new wine I tried this year

8. Movies – I don’t think I saw any new releases in 2011, but here are all the movies I liked that I saw this year in no particular order: The Kids are Alright, Blue Valentine, The Social Network, Kung Fu Panda, Catfish, Toy Story 3, The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys, Scot Pilgrim vs. the World, Howl’s Moving Castle, and Shutter Island.

Launched: Evidensity for Highrise

HighriseFor the last few weeks I’ve been working on a new analytical dashboard tool for Highrise and it finally launches today! Read about it here.

In the launch post I talk about what makes Evidensity different from other tools and my worldview on sales dashboards:

  • Some people don’t want customizable line graphs
  • They want actionable intelligence about their data.
  • Sales pipelines are built on faulty assumptions and overly optimistic sales people
  • They should be built on historical data.
  • Your eyes and brain can handle it, so fit tons of data into one screen.

Creating a comma separated list

For years, whenever I have to create a comma separated list from an array I have been writing code that looks vaguely like this.

$first = true;
foreach($arr as $m) {

if ($first) {
$first = false;
}
else {
echo ",";
}
echo $m;
}

I’ve had it. There has to be a cleaner way than using $first to skip the comma on the first value. What am I doing wrong?

Spam as Spoken Word Poetry

This spam I got today on our lead generation form could easily pass for spoken word poetry at an open mic night.

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37signals Sent Me a Gift for Pwning their Leaderboards

This year I took an AK to the Answers leaderboard at 37signals, mostly answering Highrise questions. The Answers board is the best place to learn how to use Highrise because if you have a question there’s a good chance someone else has already asked it. I scoured it during our implementation in April, 2010 and continued to read it in case anything new came up. In that time I started helping people out and answering questions myself and this week I cracked #3 on their leaderboard.

I cracked the #3 spot this week
I cracked the #3 spot this week

On Wednesday a packaged was delivered to my office. I wasn’t expecting anything, but it’s not unusual for me to get random samples for us to test run from customers. I opened it up to find 6 beer glasses from 37signals.

6 premium beer glasses
6 premium beer glasses

The genius move of this is not the free gift for a good customer who gives back the company he’s already paying $150/month for business software. Any company can write a algorithmic trigger for x number of questions answered gets a t-shirt, if then else, etc. and come out a winner. The best part was the note that let me know they researched enough about me to know that I brew beer and would appreciate good beer glasses.

note from 37signals
Ben - Thank you for all your hard work on 37signals' Answers page! You've been a huge help to our customers. We hope you can use these glasses for your next home brew. Thanks again from the crew at 37signals.

I love great customer appreciation stories and for once I got to be in one. Thanks!