Is the third time (to Congress) the charm?

Late last year, I was hoping to get a few folks in Congress to think about the issue of patent reform.  With this third trip to DC, I’ve communicated directly to the offices of about seventy Congressional representatives about HR-9, the Innovation Act.  I remember earlier this year, wondering about what it would be like to speak in front of a group of lawmakers, but now, finishing my third trip to Capitol Hill, it’s starting to feel routine!

On July 23, 2015, I met individually with the following congressional offices:

In addition, I missed a meeting with Rep. Calvert (R-CA), because of a schedule conflict. In full disclosure, I actually met with a staffer of each office.  As I mentioned in previous postings, the staff were smart, courteous and attentive.  Virtually across the board, the offices recognized that SOMETHING had to be done about the current problem of patent abuse, but that they couldn’t ignore powerful lobbies of Universities, Pharmaceutical and Biotech industries who were concerned about changing the status quo.  We met in small offices, and even the hallway for one meeting, starting at 9 AM and going until 5.

The highlight of the day was the House Judiciary Committee briefing, where I participated as a panel member, along with two others.  It was a two part briefing, hosted by Congressman Darrell Issa (R-CA), and emceed by Vishal Amin, Counsel for the Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property, and the Internet.  Vishal us the actual author of the HR-9 bill, and I had met him during my visit to Capitol Hill in May.   Vishal introduced Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office Michelle Lee who presented for the first part of the briefing. Former Senior Counsel at Google, President Obama appointed her to the position as head of USPTO about 10 months ago in an effort to begin some of the necessary changes in leadership, policy and execution at the widely-criticized agency.  As she made her way around the room, she came to me, and we had a brief introduction.  She is a strong supporter of HR-9, the Innovation Act.  Frankly, that’s no surprise, and here’s why.

The USPTO got into a real pickle in the late 90s and early 00s with new computer related patents.  Most of us who are old enough will remember the craziness of the dot-com boom.  People were trying to do new things on the web, ANYTHING they could, as fast as possible. Web-based email was new.  Online storage was new.  Even online storefronts like Amazon and Ebay were just starting to become familiar, with more businesses coming online every week.  Investors were throwing money at anyone with a website, and business people and software developers were creating new things that had never been done online before.   Along with the dot-com was the “do-it-on-a-computer-patent-boom”.  Every Tom, Dick and Harry was filing a new patent for a process that had been done bfore, but never been done ON A COMPUTER before.  In response to the rapid inflow of computer-related patents, the USPTO, lacking sufficient experience and expertise in the fast-changing area of computer technology wound up approving thousands of simplistic patents just because the described processes had never been patented in the context of “doing it on a computer”. Today we’re left with a legacy of incredibly weak patents from the 90s and 00s which frankly, NEVER should have been issued.  I think that Michelle knows it will take a LONG, LONG time and a LOT of manpower at the USPTO to ultimately get these bad patents out of the system.  And so I think she sensibly appeals to the Congressional initiative to discourage patent trolls which is HR-9, The Innovation Act.  The reforms are designed to work in concert: Lee’s reforms at the USPTO aim to reduce or eliminate NEW bad patents from getting into the system; and the Innovation Act will make it harder for bad actors to abuse EXISTING bad patents by turning them against businesses.

Lee encouraged questions from the audience of about 60 staffers.  Congressman Darrell Issa (R-CA), a sponsor of the bill, was also present and contributed to both questions and answers.  I wish Ms. Lee and Rep. Issa success in their efforts and I hope everyone will support them.

After the Q&A was over, the second part of the briefing began.  Three panel members, including myself convened.  The first member was Krish Gupta, Senior Vice President and Deputy Counsel at EMC, a cloud-storage technology company.  I was the second. and Professor Robin Feldman from University of California Hastings College of Law rounded out the panel.  Each of us spoke for about five minutes and then took questions and answers.  I told my story, which felt like the hundreth time, but this time in front of the largest group of Congressional staff that I had ever addressed.  There was lots of interest from the audience, moreso than at the previous briefings, and I got a positive feeling from the discussion that ensued.

On a local note, I spoke with two Congressmen from my state, Elizabeth Esty (D-CT) and Joe Courtney (D-CT).  Even though I was not from their districts, they were both extremely inviting and strongly behind the changes so desperately needed in our patent laws.  It felt good to have such strong support from some of my local representatives.

In closing, I ask for your support.  One of the things I have learned this year is that getting a bill passed is very much a ground game.  If the side of right isn’t actively and constantly communicating to their representatives, you can be sure the other side is.  If we think our message has been communicated and therefore sit quiet, opponents of patent reform are actively lobbying Congress, slowly chipping away at their resolve, planting seeds of doubt and plenty of misinformation.  Please take five minutes and use this link to Contact Your Congressmen in only 5 minutes.

To learn more about my story and how you can help, visit


Back to Congress

It was an action-packed adventure in Washington with my son.  Lots of fun, definitely exciting, and best of all, everything went according to plan with no hiccups.

Back in May, I was invited to Washington DC by Application Developers Alliance to support Patent Reform initiatives in Congress.  As part of that event, I participated in the House Small Business Roundtable on Patents.  Other participants there included Engine and Consumer Electronics Association, along with trade associations for construction, retail and restaurants.  And three Congressmen presided.  But two of us weren’t from trade associations.  Todd Moore, who is an Arlington-based software developer, and I were small business owners, trying to make an honest living.  I could tell that he and I had the biggest impact on that meeting with the Congressmen because it was our personal stories.

(For more background info on my legal struggle against a patent troll and for how you help, visit

Apparently, both Engine and Consumer Electronics also felt our stories were compelling, because they invited us back for another session to meet with about 35 Congressmen, first individually with ten members, then within a larger briefing at the end of the day.

My son David had expressed an interest in coming and experiencing the day.  I told him he would  basically lay low and introduce himself, but then be an observer.  He thought that sounded reasonable and that the trip would be worthwhile.  Plus, who can resist 14 hours in the car with their awesome dad?

We set out early, leaving a little after 6 AM.  The trip was uneventful and we rolled into DC in the early afternoon.  After checking into our hotel, which was only four blocks from the White House, we set out on foot to see some quick touristy stuff.  The White House was first.  We passed a statue of Marquis de Lafayette and a protest group and joined the throng taking selfies.  Then, we walked to the Washington Monument


and up the Mall.  I hadn’t walked the Washington Mall in years, and I was surprised at how much it was torn up in the midst of construction.  Two-thirds of the Mall was like a battlefield, but a portion near the Capitol was in good shape.  We checked out the Air and Space Museum for a couple hours and then trudged two miles back to the hotel for an early bedtime.

In the morning, we successfully navigated the Metro to the Capitol South station (not a trivial task for a newbie), including passing a talented group of more than a dozen trombone players on the way.  Cool!

Consumer Electronics Association has a base of operations just about two blocks from the House office buildings, so we met there.  Todd Moore arrived shortly after me, and consultants and lobbyists from various groups trickled in.  I got to meet two other really great small business owners — well maybe not as small businesses as mine!  Kate Doerksen of online eyewear company Ditto, and Jeff Glueck of well-known Foursquare. All three of the business owners were super-smart, hard working, and really nice people.  And all of them, like me, had a huge negative experience with a patent troll.

We went largely as a group, throughout the day where we met with Congressional Members and Staffers.  We met with the following Members of Congress or their staff:

Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-NY)
Rep. Bill Huizenga (R-MI)
Chairman Pete Sessions (R-TX), Rules Committee
Rep. Chaffetz (R-UT)
Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD)
Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA)
Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA)
Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ)
Rep. Rodney Davis (R-IL)

I won’t go over each meeting or individual reactions, but here are my takeaways from the meetings.  First, they do acknowledge abuse of the patent system has on small businesses.  That’s the good news.  Unfortunately, the other side has muddled the issue and made certain members worried about changing the patent system.  Biotech and Pharmaceutical Industries along with Universities have for some reason taken the position against this legislation to help protect small businesses.  The funny thing is that the proposed legislation would not weaken the intellectual property rights of legitimate innovation.  This bill is to remove the financial incentives to abuse our patent system.  It is to protect small businesses, and it’s very limited in scope that I don’t think it would have a negative effect on those type of big businesses.  In fact, I believe that this legislation will actually strengthen our system by cleaning up the scourge of bad patents and patent abuse that have cast a negative light on the entire US patent system.

The consensus is that the House bill will pass, but not by a wide margin as Biotech, Pharma and Universities are pushing hard to maintain the status quo, even at the expense of small business.  I guess Macchiavelli had it right when he wrote: “There is nothing more difficult to carry out, nor more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to handle, than to initiate change.  For the reformer has enemies in all those who profit by the old way, and only lukewarm defenders in all those who would profit by the new way.”  And then there’s the Senate bill, which is a whole other thing, but one step at a time.

One highlight of the day meeting with House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (Republican from Texas), who strongly supports the legislation.  .  His meeting started with a lively photo op with the Congressman and plenty of friendly banter.  When I went to take my picture with him, he yanked the water bottle which was sticking out of my pocket.  Throwing it to the side, he said “you don’t want that in the picture” and my son and I quickly posed for the picture with him.

Another highlight was meeting with Freshman Congressman Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ).  At just 35 years old, he is one of the ten youngest members of Congress.  Tech-savvy and approachable, Ruben brings a new perspective that understands some of the newer issues, including how tech industries really suffer at the hands of patent abusers, hence the need for patent reform.

Mid-day, I received a healthy a dose of drama from the pro-troll camp that doesn’t want to lose their gravy train.  On Twitter, one opponent equated my activities on Capitol Hill to “working against  the cure for breast cancer and childhood leukemia by killing patents.”  He ended his Tweet with the oh-so-classy “WTF?”  I guess if you want to fight for change, you had better be prepared for a little mud to be slung.  I think it’s pretty transparent though. This is the type of people we’re fighting against.

Finally, it was off to the Energy and Commerce Briefing at 4:00 PM, where the four business owners would present our stories to staffers representing 25 Congressmen.


We were in a larger room this time with our table facing the audience.  It was the last meeting of the day, and I presented my story with a little extra passion.  The audience actively listened, and there were some good followup questions.

I hope they do what needs to be done, and that they don’t cave to the big industries that frankly won’t even be affected.  The only ones that will suffer will be the abusers of our patent system.  Stay tuned!

My Congressional Adventure

As you know, I was the victim of patent abuse last year.  Sometimes I feel bad to continue harping on it, but frankly it was the single biggest challenge my company had to endure in its first decade of existence.  It consumed the vast majority of my time, energy, emotions and cash in 2014, and that’s why it’s so important.  I want to give a quick “thank you” to all of you who have given me moral support, and I thank you also for not unfriending me on Facebook as I continue to share updates on the story.

I’m writing this as much for myself as for others to read.  It’s been an amazing experience filled with highs and lows.  My wife, Janine, says that this should be the second book I write!  For now, this entry will serve to capture some of my memories about my trip to DC to meet with members of Congress to share my story as a patent abuse victim.

Being sued last year created an immediate stigma and sense of shame, like I had done something wrong.  Fact is, I KNEW I had never done anything wrong.  I had simply come up with an idea to take photos at race events, and I had built a website where you could search for those photos.  There was never any copying or stealing involved.  A big part of me wanted to hide and lay low.  I didn’t want anyone to know this tawdry situation I had been drawn into.  But despite this desire, my wife and I decided to go public to try to raise funds for what we knew would be an expensive legal defense.  So I called up some TV stations and I built a website,

Donations trickled in, but the decision to go public yielded another benefit.  Two different organizations attempting to coordinate support for patent reform contacted me in February of 2015, United for Patent Reform and Application Developers Alliance.  They asked me to do certain activities like write an Op-Ed piece for the Hartford Courant, speak with my congressman, appear in a video which would be submitted to the House Judiciary Committee, etc.  As a fierce advocate for sorely-needed patent reform, I jumped at the opportunity.

Application Developers Alliance (I’ll abbreviate as ADA) coordinated an event they called a “fly-in” where a number of patent victims would come to DC and meet with Congressional representatives.  I took the train from New Haven down to DC, where the first part of my adventure begins.

Walking on the train to store my bag, I passed an elderly Asian gentleman.  His face looked vaguely familiar.  (I’m so bad with faces.)  Returning to my seat, it dawned on me.  It was George Takei of Star Trek fame.  I was almost certain.  I’ve never been one to seek out celebrities for autographs or introductions.  But here we were on a four hour train to DC, and I had a potentially captive celebrity audience.  So I mustered up the courage and went back and said hi.  I kept it brief, always respectful of others’ time and privacy.  I introduced myself, shook his hand, said I was a big fan of his work on Star Trek.  I asked if he was going to DC because of the impending Supreme Court Ruling on gay marriage.  He said he was going to the State Dinner at the White House.  Impressive!  I told him I was impressed with his efforts and success on social media and he gave me a big smile and a thumbs up.  I turned to his partner Brad and and George introduced us.  I gave him a big smile and handshake.  I excused myself by saying “I don’t mean to bother you.”  George said “Not at all.”  He was a very gracious person.

On another side note, when the train stopped in Baltimore, Anderson Cooper passed me on the way out of the train.  Two celebrities in one day.  Nice!

The morning of April 29 brought beautiful weather.  Perfect blue skies and blossoming dogwoods were the backdrop as I stepped out of the car on Capitol Hill.  The Capitol dome was shrouded in scaffolding, but still impressive.  I passed through security at the Rayburn House Office Building and saw inside the halls of Congress for the first time.  The building was nice, but not luxurious, with plain wide halls that extended for hundreds of yards.  My first stop was Mike Bishop – Republican from Michigan.  As would happen for the remainder of the day, all of my individual meetings were with Congressional staffers, not the representatives themselves.  The ADA members who set up these meetings assured me that speaking to the staffers was every bit as important as meeting with the members of Congress themselves.  For one, the staffers were able to spend more time with me (an average of 15-20 minutes), whereas I would be lucky to get 3-5 minutes with an actual Congressman.

I won’t attempt to rehash every meeting individually.  But in general, the staff members were very interested in hearing my story.  I got several minutes to speak about my story, followed by some questions from the staffer, and then a brief general discussion about the pending legislation.  I was surprised at how small the offices were.  Sometimes we were crammed around a small table adjacent to several cubicles.

Next, I met with GOP Conference Senior Advisor Rebecca Mark.  She is a former executive it MySpace and Microsoft.  Again I shared my story along with another ADA member.  She agreed about the general need for patent reform, said there was a lot of support among Republicans, though some members favored less government regulation.

After that meeting, we walked down Capitol Hill to the O’Neill House Office Building where six of us ADA members met with Vishal Amin.  Vishal actually wrote HR-9, the Innovation Act, sponsored by Bob Goodlatte (R-VA).  It was 30 minutes of preaching to the converted as we told our stories to the author of House Bill.  He said more stories like ours helped those members of congress who might be “on the fence” to come over to our side.  He said the opposition to patent reform is extremely vocal and well-organized and encouraged us to continue getting the word out.

Several members of the Alliance escorted group members as we separated and came back together throughout the day for different meetings.  Each of them was professional and very knowledgeable.  One of them named Geoff, who looked like a young George Michael, would point out Congressman and Senators as we walked through the halls.  “That’s so-and-so,” he would say, “he was the most powerful man in Congress five years ago” and “that’s senator so-and-so” always incorporating some juicy political tidbit about each person.  The names went right past me.

Some of the meetings were in different buildings, so most of the transitions were made via large subterranean hallways that connected them.  They weren’t fancy at all, just long large plain hallways lit by flourescent lights with signs at various intersections pointing to “Capitol Building” and “Cannon House Office Building.”

Then it was lunch at the Rayburn House Cafeteria.  Not much different than a high school or college cafeteria, except significantly larger.  I was surprised that at an institution where much power is located, the cafeteria was a bit of a mess.  The salad bar had bits of lettuce, cheese and other scraps strewn about where you would slide your tray.  I guess hungry people make a mess, no matter the setting.  There was one lane for Congressional members and staff, and other slower lanes for us lowly visitors.

After lunch, I met with the office of my Congresswoman, Rosa DeLauro (D-CT).  They didn’t have enough office space, and so the staffer actually asked if we minded meeting in the hallway.  So with the sound of people walking and talking amplified by the echo of the marble hallway I shared my story, and he politely listened.  It was clear that they were worried about backlash from pro-patent constituents like chemical and pharmaceutical companies.  I explained that I am not anti-patent — I’m anti-patent-abuse!  Legitimate innovation deserves protection.  So we’ll have to see where the DeLauro vote comes down on this.

Next came the highlight of the day.  The House Small Business Committee Round Table.  It was held in a large room with cameras and tiers of seats where Congressmen would sit in the case of a larger hearing.  In total, I would estimate that the room would seat about one hundred people.  Our meeting was much more intimate, with about a dozen participants and perhaps 20 in the audience.

A number of trade associations were present, including Consumer Electronics Association, National Retail Federation, and National Restaurant Association, about eight participants in total.  They each had spokesmen speaking on behalf of their members.  But there were two of us, myself and Todd Moore of TMSoft, who got to tell our own personal stories as patent abuse victims.  The Congressmen in attendance were Rep. Payne (D-NJ), Rep. Brat (R-VA) as well as the chairman Rep. Chabot (R-OH).  Congresssman Chabot pleasantly opened the meeting by thanking us for being there. Each participant got  to give a 3 minute statement, with mine second-to-last.  After we finished, Congressman Payne said my story made him feel so bad that the very survival of a business could be threatened by abuse of the patent system.  Looking over at the other two Congressmen, he said “Guys, we have got to something about this.”  Congressman Brat appeared genuinely stunned upon hearing of the financial intimidation tactics which we had to endure.  Congressman Chabot was very sympathetic as well, and they each pledged that they would do their best to address this growing problem of patent abuse.  They all thanked us for participating and for helping to promote awareness of the growing problem.

After that, it was off to the steps of the Capitol where we had a group picture taken.  Then we traveled through through some back doors and hallways to meet Senator Reid’s staff.  Beautiful tile floorways and walls adorned the plush main hallways.  And then we turned in to some side corridors to meet Senator Reid’s staff in a small office.  Throughout the day, I was impressed with the quality of the staff members, with perhaps one exception.  They were mostly young, probably averaging mid- to late-twenties, with the oldest perhaps a few years younger than me.  They were focused, articulate and incisive.  They were on their  political game.  It was very impressive to witness.  They weren’t just hearing what I was saying.  You could tell they were actually processing it and asking insightful questions in response.  For those who want to criticize, ridicule or oversimplify our political machine, I’m gonna tell you, they have some very sharp people working very hard to move things forward.  Very impressive.

The penultimate meeting of the day was with Alexandra Givens, Senior Counsel on the Senate Judiciary Committee.  She has been working hard to put together the Senate version of the bill called the PATENT Act, Sponsored by Senator Leahy and others.  Like the others, she was super-sharp and you could tell she really was working hard to do some good in our society.  But you could tell she felt there were strong political waters to navigate in order to get this bill passed.  You could also see her optimism and enthusiasm for it.  I relayed my story once again, and I also mentioned how SOMEONE still has patent numbers and information prominently on his website even though we invalidated them over six months ago!  She had a strong negative reaction to that, and she offered some resources in order to correct that situation.

It was already past 5 PM when I headed off to meet Senator Blumenthal’s Senior Counsel, Sam Simon.  It was yet another maze of hallways and elevators, this one through a more modern and open Hart Senate Office Building.  For reasons unknown, it was a meeting in the hallway as had been the one before, but the halls were quieter and did not echo.  Without going into details, I got to see how some political considerations go into authoring and supporting a bill through the legislation process.  Sam, like the others, was razor-sharp, enthusiastic and just wants to do the right thing.

For me, a country boy who grew up outside a small town in Virginia, this was an amazing opportunity.  I’m thankful for the things I’ve been able to do in my life.  I hope that in some small way my contributions to this effort will help make the world a better place.  Thanks to all those who have followed me and supported me during this story.

If you’d like to learn more about this case, please visit and support our cause.

My trip to Indiana

I dunno.  This may be really boring and uninteresting to some of you, maybe to everyone.  But my quick little trip to Indiana was so smooth, interesting and fulfilling that I felt compelled to document it, and even to share it with anyone else who might possibly be interested.

I feel that life is made of moments, and we only get a finite number to experience.  The way I see it, the more moments you get to fill with positive experiences, the better you’re doing in the long run!  This little trip was filled with just enough positive, interesting and rewarding experiences to make it noteworthy.

The trip centered around a new event for Capstone Photography, the Purdue Boilermaker Half Marathon.  For the uninitiated, the Purdue in question has nothing to do with chickens.  Purdue University is one of the top engineering schools in the country, particularly regarding Aviation and Aerospace Engineering.  I earned my BS degree in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Virginia in 1990, and the education there was first-rate.  But had I the chance to do it over again, I would have very seriously considered going to Purdue for that degree.

You see, I happen to be a huge astronaut buff.  My heroes are guys like Buzz Aldrin and John Young, guys who risked their neck with stoic calmness as America first reached to the realm of space.  It still blows my mind to this day how a bunch of young engineers, project managers and test pilots put together some of the world’s most daring and technically challenging accomplishments, all based on slide-rule calculations in the nascent field of Aerospace Engineering.  You won’t be surprised to know that one of my biggest heroes is Neil Armstrong.  I won’t fill the narrative here with details of his accomplishment, but I encourage anyone to read about him and some of the highlights of his gutsy career. A great book on Amazon is here:  and a brief biography is here:  My two favorite and vicariously hair-raising stories are how he successfully bailed out of the Lunar Landing Research Vehicle, just seconds from death, and his recovery from a stuck thruster in the Gemini program that would have doomed most of us mere mortals who lacked the ice-water that ran through his veins.

The connection is this.  23 NASA astronauts studied at Purdue, including Neil Armstrong (first man on the moon), Gene Cernan (last man on the moon), Roger Chaffee and Gus Grissom (who both died in the Apollo 1 fire).  I had always dreamed of at least visiting the campus, and being in the same place where so many of these young heroes-to-be earned their education about the physics of earth and space flight.  So going to the campus was a chance to do just that, while completing an assignment for my company.


I arrived a day early, to scope out the start, finish and half marathon course.  With a little time to kill, I decided to explore the university campus.  My first reaction was its visual appeal.  It was very clean, with appealing architecture that somehow merged the late 1800’s with contemporary design.  Students bustled to and fro, and it made me reminisce about being an undergraduate a long time ago.  I downloaded an app for my iPhone which gave a campus tour.  Of the various landmarks, of course it was the Neil Armstrong Hall of Engineering which caught my eye and became my first stop.  Outside is a statue of Neil Armstrong as a student, and just about three days before Buzz Aldrin posted a picture of himself next to the same statue.  In a way, I felt like I was connecting with two of my heroes just by being there.

IMG_0588 IMG_0591IMG_0592IMG_0596

As I walked into the lobby, more like a large atrium, again it brought me back to my college days.  Bulleting boards were overstuffed with flyers about activities and the availability of math tutors.  Computer labs were lightly occupied on what was a Friday afternoon.  Engineering labs were visible through glass walls, stuffed with various electrical and mechanical equipment and projects.  There was even a “Danger: Radiation” sign on one room.  But in the main atrium, something else was happening.  Rows of chairs were lined up, an oak podium with the university name sat at the front of the room.  A technician was setting up a video camera while another technician spoke “Check.  One, Two.  Test” into the podium microphone.  A Boeing display sat on the far side of the room, and a large mysterious item about 15 feet long was cloaked in a black cloth.  I asked the video technician what was going on and he smiled “Shhhh… it’s a big secret.  We’re unveiling a dedication, but I can’t tell you what.  The ceremony begins in about an hour.”  My mind pretended for a moment that I had arrived just in time to an event scheduled to coincide with my arrival, almost like it was just for me.  IMG_0594

Hmmm… what would they unveil?  From the shape, I guessed it was a Northrop M2 lifting body.  (This is what crashed in the beginning footage of the old Six Million Dollar Man episode)File:Northrop M2-F2.jpg

So with an hour to kill on a college campus, I did what any forty-something year old pretending to be 20 years younger would do:  I asked directions to a nearby bar.  A student directed me to Harry’s Chocolate Shop.  Without questioning why I was being directed to a confectionary store, I followed the directions and found the destination to be a bar alright, and a bit of a dive at that.  I ordered a local brew, chatted with a few locals and then made my way back to the Neil Armstrong Hall.  This time, a few more displays were set up, including a picture of Mr. Armstrong himself next to a strange bird I’d never heard of called the X-20.  And so that was what the event was all about.  Boeing had built a mockup of the X-20, which Neil was slated to fly, but the program was canceled before it ever took flight, with funds redirected to the moon program.  So I wasn’t far off, thinking it was the Northrop M2.  The two were definitely relatives.

Feeling under-dressed in jeans and a golf-shirt, I eschewed the formal seating area and instead went up to the second floor balcony, where I got a great view of the proceedings alongside a few dozen students.  The dean of the school spoke, and a few people from Boeing.  And then voila, the cloth was pulled back and the X-20 revealed.  It was really cool to have the good luck of walking into this.  I would have been satisfied with just a stroll around the campus and the building.  But I’ll never forget the feeling as if they had been awaiting my arrival to complete the unveiling!

The rest of the weekend went fine.  I had a nice quiet dinner before retiring to my hotel in nearby Lafayette.  (The 70’s called.  They want their room decor back!)  I woke early to meet 8 other photographers back at Purdue Saturday morning to cover the race.  It was dark, cold and rainy, but that’s part of what we photographers do!  After the race, I had a couple more hours to pass, so I found a place with great beer, chicken wings and the Purdue game on TV.  Now an instant Purdue fan, I cheered on the Boilermakers, but unfortunately they lost to Michigan State.  Then it was off to the airport.  That Indianapolis airport is so calm compared to other airports… what a pleasure to fly out of!

Thanks for letting me share my trip with you!  I hope your life brings you some small, pleasant adventures soon.  And of course, I’d love to hear about them!

Pumpkinman Triathlon 2012

It wasn’t pretty.  But I did it.  I finished the Pumpkinman Sprint Triathlon today with a time of 2:05:58.

After the race today Jeff Donatello, husband of Race Director Kat Donatello, slapped his onto my shoulder and said “Mike Skelps, you ARE a triathlete!”  I never was much of an athlete, so it struck me as kind of funny.

This whole thing started last winter when I was talking to Kat about her race.  I told her that it had been more than seven years since my last marathon and that I needed to get in gear again.  She said “Check your email when you get back to the office.”  And when I did, I found a complementary entry to her race my inbox.  She’d  thrown down the gauntlet.  It was a matter of honor now.  Her events always sell out, so she was sacrificing $85 by inviting me to participate.  I couldn’t refuse that challenge.

Fast forward to this morning.

I arrived at 5:50AM, nice and early.  Maybe a little too early.  I was the first one to rack my bike.  So there was this big bike area with room for more than 500 bikes, and my old green bike with ungainly wide tires sat there in by itself.  It was a funny sight to behold.

The day was cloudy and comfortable, and I was happy about the favorable weather conditions.  The crowd formed near the lake, all wearing our colored swim caps.  After the national anthem, the first wave (elite athletes, white caps) went into the water.  For some reason, the turnaround markers looked further away than I had remembered training for.  And then my wave entered the water (six more waves of athletes would go afterwards, one every three minutes).

I knew I wouldn’t be a fast swimmer, so I laid far back as my group of blue-capped triathletes entered the water.  It felt a little surreal actually being in the event after thinking of it and planning for it for more than half a year.  The water was a little colder than what I was used to training in, but still plenty warm enough in my wetsuit.  I stayed to the outside a bit, anticipating faster swimmers overtaking me on the inside, giving them a wide berth.  The two turnaround markers along with the starting point, formed a triangular swim course on the lake.  At my leisurely pace, I expected to get to the next marker in about six minutes.  The blue caps thinned out ahead of me as the faster swimmers progressed at a good clip.  Somewhere around the first marker, I saw the first green cap overtake me, as I turned the corner to the left.  Okay… I’m slow, I thought, but pretty much according to plan.  After turning the second and final corner, two separate lifeguards in kayaks asked if I was okay.  Come on, I don’t look that bad, do I?  I emerged from the water exactly as the final wave was entering the water, just a few yards to my left.  Hurray, I thought.  I’m not going to be the last swimmer out of the water!

I proceeded up the hill towards the transition area where I would get on my bike.  It’s a noteworthy hill of a couple of hundred yards, and I’m not sure that I would realistically RUN up that hill in any case.  But there was something else distracting me from breaking into a full stride.  I could not find the strap to unzip my wetsuit.  It should have been hanging down my back, where I could reach underhanded to the small of my back and just pull it down.  Not there.  I reached overhanded and couldn’t locate it that way either.  Was it hanging over my shoulder in the front?  No.  What the heck?  So, about two-thirds of the way up this 200 yard hill, I asked a spectator if she would help me locate the strap on my back.  She said “Am I allowed to do that?”  I replied in a pant, “No, but I don’t care.”  She not only located the strap, she actually unzipped the suit all the way.  Not what I asked her to do, but THANK YOU!

In the transition area, many of the bikes in my area were already gone. I clumsily peeled off my wetsuit, grabbed a squirt of water, and hopped on my bike.  The course started slightly downhill so I immediately went to the highest gear and moved swiftly onto the bike course.  It felt good to have some velocity.

The course had been described to me as “not hilly”.  I would agree that I would not use the word hilly to describe the course, but that is not to say that the course was without hills.  The course weaved through country and woodsy areas, past houses new and old.  One small house looked a scene from half a century ago with its clothesline, dated style and a volume of cut firewood stacked in a size that was equal to the house!  It was a beautiful ride through trees, neighborhoods and over bridges.  I felt that I was moving well on the level and downward areas, but definitely slowing on the uphill legs.  I passed a few people but was passed by a much larger number.  So I was slow at the swim, and now slow on the bike.  Got it.  But I’m doing it, I thought.  After about an hour to complete 14.2 miles, I saw the transition area, racked my bike and headed out for the run.

As expected, my legs felt heavy as I set out on foot.  I was pretty tired already, and I was grateful that the distance was just a hair under three miles.  The run course I would describe as not only “not hilly” but more as “downright flat”.  Thank you!

About a mile into the run, I was overtaken by my friend Steve Moland.  Steve is a race announcer by trade.  Steve’s in an older age group, so the fact that we were side-by-side meant he was actually 18 minutes faster than me.  We talked and encouraged each other, and even slowed down to hundred-yard walks a couple of times.  I told him “Steve, this is weird.  You and I should both be working the event, and here we are RUNNING it together!”

We neared the finish, passing one of the Capstone photographers (one of them said that taking pictures of me reminded him of the show Undercover Boss).  Steve and I turned the corner where we heard the music playing, then made the final turn to the finish.  As we proceeded down the last hundred yards, Steve hollered to the race announcer “This is Mike, owner of Capstone Photography”, and the announcer passed it on over the PA to the crowd.  It was my 10 seconds of fame!

Steve and I crossed the finish together.  I gratefully received a water and a finisher’s medal and had my timing chip around my ankle removed by a volunteer.  My final time:  2:05:58.  Nothing to brag about.

But I did it.  And it was fun.

Hmmm… what’s next?  It’s too early to answer that, though there will definitely be more adventures.  Right now, I’m just planning to bask in about 24 hours of glory.  And I’ll get a few more chuckles, I’m sure, over Jeff Donatello calling me a triathlete.