Howdy, pilgrim! No ads — you're in volume 0.84 of the ^zhurnal (that's Russian for "journal") — see ZhurnalyWiki for a Wiki edition of individual items; see Zhurnal and Zhurnaly for quick clues as to what this is all about; see Random for a random page. Briefly, this is the diary of ^z = Mark Zimmermann ... previous volume = 0.83 ... complete list at bottom of page ... send comments & suggestions to "z (at) his (dot) com" ... click on a title link to go to that item in the ZhurnalyWiki where you can edit or comment on it ...
|"Double Shot Liquor & Guns" is a business in Schulenburg, a small town in central Texas near where my Father grew up. He gave my son Robin and me a tour of the area when we visited recently. Double Shot, according to its web site, also sells cigars. If it offers fireworks then it touches all the ATF bases!|
And on the other side of the sign the caption says, "SHOOT EM UP - SLAM EM DOWN".
- Tuesday, July 20, 2010 at 17:15:15 (EDT)
An obscure word for the vocabulary scrapbook: "anatopism" — meaning something that's out of place. It's the spatial version of "anachronism", and caught my eye in Bill Bryson's Shakespeare biography: " ... He was routinely guilty of anatopisms—that is, getting one's geography wrong—particularly with regard to Italy ...".
- Monday, July 19, 2010 at 09:18:56 (EDT)
It's a warm humid morning and I'm not planning to run until colleague Stephanie pings me on the computer and suggests an excursion. Why not? We retrace the path we did last week, 2010-07-02 - Claude Moore Colonial Farm, but this time take the left-hand path under the big tree to the Pavilion area and find the Nature Trail that I last saw on the 2009-07-08 - Claude Moore Colonial Farm run. This time we do two laps around it, with a detour to explore a dead-end side route. Stephanie stumbles over a log but recovers without falling. We're back to the office in ~40 minutes.
- Sunday, July 18, 2010 at 10:28:09 (EDT)
At Ken-Gar 15 minutes early I pick up litter around the parking lot and find a dime. Rebecca Rosenberg and Gayatri Datta arrive a few minutes after 7am and we set off downstream along RCT, sweltering in the warmth and humidity. Sunbeams scatter off haze between the trees as we approach the Mormon Temple. Rebecca tells me about her vegetarianism and we compare notes on favorite foods. Gayatri discusses Indian history and cuisine. At Meadowbrook Stables summer interns ask if we need any help. Rebecca has read Touching the Void but hasn't seen the movie; we talk about it as well as Marathon Man and The Princess Bride. Neither of us remember the name of a recent film about a man training to run a marathon to get his girlfriend back—as I predict Paulette identifies it for us as Run, Fat Boy, Run starring Simon Pegg of Shaun of the Dead fame.
- Sunday, July 18, 2010 at 10:25:40 (EDT)
Like the best of Lewis Carroll, A. A. Milne, or Kenneth Grahame: E. Nesbit wrote for children of all ages, with turn-of-the-20th-century dry British humor. Many years ago I read aloud her Five Children and It and The Phoenix and the Carpet to my children. Last week Nesbit's 1907 story The Enchanted Castle jumped off a library used-book-sale shelf and landed in my hands. I immediately set aside my other reading (a tome on epistemology) to enjoy it. The Enchanted Castle begins with:
There were three of them — Jerry, Jimmy, and Kathleen. Of course, Jerry's name was Gerald, and not Jeremiah, whatever you may think; and Jimmy's name was James; and Kathleen was never called by her name at all, but Cathy, or Catty, or Puss Cat, when her brothers were pleased with her, and Scratch Cat when they were not pleased. And they were at school in a little town in the West of England — the boys at one school, of course, and the girl at another, because the sensible habit of having boys and girls at the same school is not yet as common as I hope it will be some day. They used to see each other on Saturdays and Sundays at the house of a kind maiden lady; but it was one of those houses where it is impossible to play. You know the kind of house, don't you? There is a sort of a something about that kind of house that makes you hardly able even to talk to each other when you are left alone, and playing seems unnatural and affected. So they looked forward to the holidays, when they should all go home and be together all day long, in a house where playing was natural and conversation possible, and where the Hampshire forests and fields were full of interesting things to do and see. ...
That's typical Nesbit, arch commentary with thoughtful asides. Later in Chapter 1, for example, there's a little lesson on manners. Young Gerald has been exceedingly polite and thereby gotten permission for the children to go out adventuring. His brother and sister observe:
'Do you think it's quite decent,' Jimmy asked later — 'sort of bribing people to let you do as you like with flowers and things and passing them the salt?'
'It's not that,' said Kathleen suddenly. 'I know what Gerald means, only I never think of the things in time myself. You see, if you want grown-ups to be nice to you the least you can do is to be nice to them and think of little things to please them. I never think of any myself. Jerry does; that's why all the old ladies like him. It's not bribery. It's a sort of honesty like paying for things.'
And there's even more serious philosophical commmentary, like the memorable moment in Chapter 10, when the ineffable is unveiled:
For this hall in which the children found themselves was the most beautiful place in the world. I won't describe it, because it does not look the same to any two people, and you wouldn't understand me if I tried to tell you how it looked to any one of these four. But to each it seemed the most perfect thing possible. I will only say that all round it were great arches. Kathleen saw them as Moorish, Mabel as Tudor, Gerald as Norman, and Jimmy as Churchwarden Gothic. (If you don't know what these are, ask your uncle who collects brasses, and he will explain, or perhaps Mr. Millar will draw the different kinds of arches for you.) And through these arches one could see many things — oh! but many things. Through one appeared an olive garden, and in it two lovers who held each other's hands, under an Italian moon; through another a wild sea, and a ship to whom the wild, racing sea was slave. A third showed a king on his throne, his courtiers obsequious about him; and yet a fourth showed a really good hotel, with the respectable Ugly-Wugly sunning himself on the front doorsteps. There was a mother, bending over a wooden cradle. There was an artist gazing entranced on the picture his wet brush seemed to have that moment completed, a general dying on a field where Victory had planted the standard he loved, and these things were not pictures, but the truest truths, alive, and, as anyone could see, immortal.
Many other pictures there were that these arches framed. And all showed some moment when life had sprung to fire and flower — the best that the soul of man could ask or man's destiny grant. And the really good hotel had its place here too, because there are some souls that ask no higher thing of life than 'a really good hotel'.
And one more exchange that I'd like to scrapbook and remember: in Chapter 11, a thoughtful-hilarious commentary about what a drag it is getting old—which leads to some silly fantasies of future matrimony by the children:
Jimmy added that Gerald rather liked sucking-up to people.
'Little boys don't understand diplomacy,' said Gerald calmly; 'sucking-up is simply silly. But it's better to be good than pretty and —'
'How do you know?' Jimmy asked.
'And,' his brother went on, 'you never know when a grown-up may come in useful. Besides, they like it. You must give them some little pleasures. Think how awful it must be to be old. My hat!'
'I hope I shan't be an old maid,' said Kathleen.
'I don't mean to be,' said Mabel briskly. 'I'd rather marry a travelling tinker.'
'It would be rather nice,' Kathleen mused, 'to marry the Gypsy King and go about in a caravan telling fortunes and hung round with baskets and brooms.'
'Oh, if I could choose,' said Mabel, 'of course I'd marry a brigand, and live in his mountain fastnesses, and be kind to his captives and help them to escape and —'
'You'll be a real treasure to your husband,' said Gerald.
'Yes,' said Kathleen, 'or a sailor would be nice. You'd watch for his ship coming home and set the lamp in the dormer window to light him home through the storm; and when he was drowned at sea you'd be most frightfully sorry, and go every day to lay flowers on his daisied grave.'
'Yes,' Mabel hastened to say, 'or a soldier, and then you'd go to the wars with short petticoats and a cocked hat and a barrel round your neck like a St. Bernard dog. There's a picture of a soldier's wife on a song auntie's got. It's called "The Veevandyear".'
'When I marry —' Kathleen quickly said.
'When I marry,' said Gerald, 'I'll marry a dumb girl, or else get the ring to make her so that she can't speak unless she's spoken to. ..."
(cf. Three Man Boat (2002-01-10), ReadAloud (2002-03-20), Alice in Wonderland (2008-093-22), Frog and Toad (2009-01-09), ...)
- Saturday, July 17, 2010 at 07:14:57 (EDT)
Happy Independence Day! Mountains hug the horizon as I head west on the Dulles Toll Rd toward Mary Ewell's home. A pair of big deer scamper across Waxpool Rd. We fill bottles with water and I follow Mary to the Potomac Lakes Sportsplex where we leave her car and proceed in mine to cache a jug of water near the intersection of Island Av and Potomac River Rd. Then back we go, to the start of today's run, the Kephart Bridge Landing kayak launch site on Goose Creek at 43942 Riverpointe Dr. It's where we turned back during our 2010-06-16 - Goose Creek adventure a fortnight ago.
Our trip begins with a walk, which after less than a mile turns into a trot. Mary stumbles at one point when crossing a log but after a scary near-cartwheel recovers, sunglasses tumbling to the ground. We take turns leading through the spiderwebs across the trail. At several points near Landsdowne Golf Course the trail is overgrown with weeds or eroded to nothingness, and we have to follow side paths farther inland. Mary attempts to shinny across a log over a deep gully, but wisely turns back before falling. We bushwhack through stinging nettles that turn our legs red for several minutes. Ouch! Trail talk as always is a delightful mix of physics (superabsorbent hydrogels, Martian atmospheres, etc.) and the private/personal.
We initially estimate the distance along the trail to be ~7 miles. Little do we know that approaching Broad Run the PHT vanishes—aha, so that's what a dashed line means on the map!—leaving us to trek along roads back to our start. In the sun we both get overheated and our pace slows. But Mary is as always cheerful (between apologies and good-natured complaints); the three hour journey goes well. Afterwards I follow her car to get barbecue from the general store formerly known as Partlow's on the W&OD Trail in old-town Ashburn—always a hit with the carnivores in the family. The next day my head is badly sunburned.
- Friday, July 16, 2010 at 19:47:44 (EDT)
James McWilliams in The Atlantic muses about "in-vitro meat" and the ethical considerations associated it. On the plus side of artificially cultured flesh, if/when the cost comes down enough to be practical, are massive reductions in:
On the other side of the equation, as McWilliams notes, are the disruption of both the large-scale meat industry and small-scale eco-sustainable farms. Interesting that these two groups find themselves allies!
The big issue to me remains the torture of animals inherent in raising and slaughtering them for modern society's consumption. I don't have answers for many associated questions. Would it be all right to eat meat if the animals involved didn't suffer at all, whether because they were never conscious or because they were killed painlessly and unawares? If the animals had enough of a better life before death that any final moments of torment were negligible, on some utilitarian balance-sheet? If the meat came from a consenting rational adult human, or from a peacefully deceased human who bequeathed her/his body to be butchered, or from oneself?
(cf. SufferTheAnimals (2000-06-11), RobertNozick (2002-02-02), CompassionateCarnivorism (2002-11-19), Franklin on Vegetarianism (2008-06-17), SufferTheAnimals (2009-05-16), ...)
- Thursday, July 15, 2010 at 18:27:26 (EDT)
|"Whatever you're doing today, you've gotta bottle it for your next race!" I tell Caren Jew. Today is clearly Her Day—she runs super-strong and leads Gayatri Datta and me along the off-road bike paths at Schaeffer Farms in a reprise of our 2009-05-31 - Schaeffer Farms run.|
When Gayatri and I arrive at Black Rock Mill, 10 minutes before the assigned 0600 rendezvous time, Caren is already there as I anticipated. It's a cool dry morning, but multiple water crossings get our socks damp. We see a bleached skull (raccoon?) and a broken robin's egg (hatched) on the trail. The maze of twisty little passages reminds me of the computer game ADVENTURE which I describe to Gayatri and Caren. When I offer to explain how DSL modems work, however, Gayatri attempts to run away from me.
Caren and I reminisce about how different scenes bring different memories to different minds. Caren spies three airplanes flying in high formation and we speculate that President Obama is returning to DC. At trail intersections we stop to puzzle over the maps; my GPS helps us figure out the right branches to take. The car thermometer registers a delightful 50°F when we finish.
- Wednesday, July 14, 2010 at 06:13:24 (EDT)
What to do if you encounter a bear in the woods? A few days ago Kate Abbott and I were doing the Skyline Challenge 50k run, and met a black bear on the trail. A friend of mine later offered suggestions on what to do if attacked:
The same advice, metaphorically, can apply to arguing with one's spouse!
- Tuesday, July 13, 2010 at 04:41:44 (EDT)
Stephanie and I meet at the office building exit at 7:35am and take advantage of the unseasonably cool morning weather to trot down the road and visit the Claude Moore Colonial Farm. I miss the path to the Pavilion that I took a year ago, and instead we follow a gravel road past fields of tobacco until it dead-ends at a zig-zag wooden fence. Then back we go, a total of 40 minutes of pleasant morning conversational pace.
(cf. 2009-07-08 - Claude Moore Colonial Farm (2009-07-18), ...)
- Monday, July 12, 2010 at 04:40:17 (EDT)
Sometimes winnning means losing. In Chapter 28 (2009) of Tales from Out There author "Frozen" Ed Furtaw quotes the message he received from Barkley ultramarathon race director Gary Cantrell:
I regret to inform you that you did not make the waiting list ... that means that you will have to run.
(cf. Big Stick (2010-05-18), ...)
- Sunday, July 11, 2010 at 22:27:23 (EDT)
The jogging path snakes through the woods, and as I approach the 3/4ths mile mark I shield my eyes against the low-angle sunbeams. For a moment I catch sight of someone ahead of me—blonde ponytail flying, going fast. Can I catch her? I think I see her again as I round the next curve, and then she's gone. I unconsciously accelerate the rest of the laps. Dream? Mile splits: 9:38 + 8:45 + 8:17 + 7:23.
- Saturday, July 10, 2010 at 21:28:08 (EDT)
|A big deer eyes me cautiously; a tiny rabbit hops aside but continues chewing the leaf dangling from its mouth. An amazingly cool morning ends the month of June. I've got an 8:30am dental appointment to install a permanent crown. So starting at 5:30ish I trot from home to Rock Creek Trail, upstream to Cedar Lane, across to NIH, down Old Georgetown Rd to Bethesda, and back home on the Capital Crescent Trail: my traditional loop, CCW. Pace accelerates from 10.5 min/mi down to sub-9 for final miles.|
- Saturday, July 10, 2010 at 21:25:12 (EDT)
Decal seen on the back window of a MINI Cooper:
... a label that works anywhere!
- Friday, July 09, 2010 at 07:08:34 (EDT)
The usual early-morning laps around the 1.5 mile office perimeter, accelerating the pace: ~9.5, ~8.6, and ~7.9 min/mi. Whew!
- Thursday, July 08, 2010 at 04:47:45 (EDT)
|Caren Jew and I start running at 5am as lightning bugs flicker over my neighbor's front yard. "You won't need that headlamp!" I promise Caren, so she stashes it in the grass by the corner fireplug. But today is a day of tunnels for us. Under foliage that arches over the Capital Crescent Trail it's still quite dark—we're forced to walk for much of the first mile. That investment pays dividends later as Caren feels strong and pushes the pace on our return trip. The view of Connecticut Av in the distance between the trees reminds me of the Paw Paw Tunnel on the C&O Canal. A near-full moon sets over the Barnes & Noble bookstore in downtown Bethesda as we emerge from the CCT passage under Wisconsin Av and prepare to turn back toward my home. The GPS trackfile shows big glitches at each end of that tunnel.|
Our conversation is wide-ranging trail-talk, always therapeutic and fun. A medium-sized rabbit hops to the shoulder of the CCT as we approach. Caren spies a field mouse, which reminds her of a recent mouse-in-the-house adventure that her family had. When we're back to the end of the interim CCT, mile 0.31, two young ladies are getting ready to run. I try to be polite and not gawk, especially since I'm with a lovely companion myself. When I ask Caren later to confirm the color of the running bra that the one without a shirt was wearing, Caren says she didn't notice. (I remember it as deep grape-purple. Hmmmm!)
We don't have quite enough mileage, so we continue onward to CCT milepost 0, then cross the one-lane wooden Grace Church Rd bridge over the Metropolitan Branch of the C&O Railroad. We pause there to look down at the Georgetown Branch switch where a train collision occurred some years ago. Caren admires the quaint houses in the old neighborhood on the other side of the tracks. Our mile splits: 13:44 + 12:25 + 13:25 + 10:47 + 10:41 + 12:38 + 12:37 + 13:12, plus a 13:31 pace for final 0.60 miles. Total 1:48 time, 8.6 miles, 12:31 min/mi by the GPS.
- Thursday, July 08, 2010 at 04:44:26 (EDT)
Excerpts, edited from a Day One lecture that a colleague (James P) gave to some classes he taught:
Is everyone familiar with the term "Riot Act"? It's what the police read to an unruly crowd before they go wading in with horses, pepper spray, and batons. They don't read it with the expectation that the crowd is going to disperse; they might even be a little surprised if it did. They read it as a courtesy to the crowd—as a form of expectation control—so that when they do go wading in with horses, pepper spray, and batons, no one should realistically be shocked or offended; no one can say they didn't get the memo. This is a sort of Riot Act—what I prefer to call Expectation Control.
I have five points I want you to take away with you. Write them down please.
One. This course is not about your self-esteem.
Two. This course is not about getting promoted.
Three. Expect to be singled out.
Four. You are professionals, not students.
Five. The professional is not a passive learner.
- Wednesday, July 07, 2010 at 04:39:22 (EDT)
|Gayatri Datta arrives at my home early, and at 0523 we start running. Four hours and 14+ miles later we tag her car and declare the journey done. Along the way we spy 3 deer, one with a big rack of antlers.|
In Rock Creek Park I lead us astray after a wrong turn off the Western Ridge Trail. We accidentally cruise down to Beach Dr and back, adding a mile and a bonus hill. After returning via the Valley Trail we see the MCRRC Experienced Marathon Program's turnaround marked in chalk on the asphalt near the DC line, and meet XMP runners as we head upstream. We follow Rock Creek Trail instead of the Capital Crescent Trail to add another mile.
At home afterwards, for the first time in ages I see the digits "149" on the scale. It's mere dehydration, of course, but at least there may be a downtrend underway.
- Tuesday, July 06, 2010 at 04:42:28 (EDT)
The chipmunk races me and wins: it darts ahead, pauses under the next car, then scurries across the sidewalk into the bushes. The rattling of ice in my bottle turns to gurgles within the first mile. Temps and humidity in the 70s keep the sweat dripping as I circle the office parking lot, attempting to accelerate. Like on 2010-06-17 - Parking Lot Laps, but not quite as fast, my ~1.5 mile loops go by in 14:42 + 13:21 + 12:04, pushing hard on that last one, heart rate ~165 afterwards.
- Tuesday, July 06, 2010 at 04:35:13 (EDT)
Rhyme involves repetition of the final sounds of words: fish/wish, moon/June, etc. Consonance is repetition of consonant sounds as in pitter/patter or strong/string. Assonance is repetition of vowel sounds: rumbling/thunder, gray/bare, and so on.
How to remember the term "assonance"? Just think of that crude measure of class attendance: Cheeks in Seats!
- Monday, July 05, 2010 at 05:24:19 (EDT)
|Father's Day morning: at 0420 I learn CM Manlandro can't make it (she's been up late in the lab) — back to bed for me! Caren Jew's husband, a powerful amateur golfer, has an early-morning tee-time so Caren can't get out until the afternoon. We promise to meet ~1400 at Cabin John Regional Park and each swear to be on time. I show up 15 minutes early, and beat her there by only a minute!|
The run is fun, along the blue-blazed Cabin John Stream Valley Trail. At Democracy Blvd we try to follow the path we know from past years, but discover the trail has been re-routed—hence the zig-zags on the downstream (eastern) loop as the GPS map of our track shows. On the way back we follow the newly-sanctioned path. Conversation is wide-ranging trail-talk, a delightful chance to speak frankly about any topic. Thank you, Caren!
- Sunday, July 04, 2010 at 06:37:23 (EDT)
... I can see you, your brown skin shining in the sun
You got that hair slicked back and those Wayfarers on, baby ...
Don Henley's "The Boys of Summer" plays on the car radio as I drive to the SSIMS track and begin to fantasize about doing 800-meter repeats. It's high noon and sunny, there's a Code Orange air quality forecast, but temperatures are in the mid-80s.
One hour later: "Thank you!", I tell the rubenesque young Hispanic lady as we leave. "I couldn't have done it without you!" She laughs and thanks me in turn. For the past hour we've been saluting each other during laps, panting out encouraging words, exchanging smiles. Somebody to watch (and watching you) sure helps during interval training—especially for me, particularly when she waves between climbing the steps of the bleachers, most memorably when she does scary-lithe stretches in the shade of the trees at one end of the oval.
Today's double-lap 800m intervals flow by much better than nine days ago when I tried to do 3:45 half-miles and burnt out after only five of them. The rule of thumb for "Yasso 800s" is that if you can manage ten at M:SS (minutes:seconds) each then you can do a marathon at that many H:MM (hours:minutes). I am skeptical, but today average 3:57 with half-lap two-minute walks between each repeat. The splits are 4:03 + 3:53 + 3:57 + 3:57 + 3:58 + 3:55 + 4:00 + 4:01 + 3:58 + 3:51. Numbers 7 and 8 are the toughest; I would have quit then but for my zaftig observer. The last one is the fastest. "Thank you, Ma'am!"
- Sunday, July 04, 2010 at 06:23:05 (EDT)
The latest local water crisis—infrastructure problems are provoking pleas for usage cutbacks—as I walked yesterday morning to the Metro reminded me of an ancient Mad Magazine line drawing captioned "Save Water: Shower with Your Steady". That illustration featured a bathing young couple clothed in strategically billowing steam. It would be G-rated today, but seemed quite risqué to a early-teenaged male mind in an era before the Internet instantly delivered one-click nudity (and more) to the screen. And that memory in turn led to further pleasant musings, including a Mad math parody-promotional-poster of a well-endowed bikini-clad beach-ball-wielding maiden. She smiled as she announced, "I love Brad—he knows CALCULUS!" And then there was the sketch of an au naturel wood nymph perched on a tree limb ... and the lady in the purple sweater ... and ...
But I digress. Among my current reading is a book about epistemology, the theory of knowledge. It wrestles with the question of how can we know anything? Classically, many philosophers have argued that immediate sense-impressions are the rock-bottom foundation upon which all knowledge must be built. But if so, where did the knowledge of "sexy" come from in those oh-so-persistent memories of mine? It wasn't taught, and it sure wasn't the product of deductive or inductive reasoning. It wasn't even there until puberty knocked down the door. Seems that at least some sensory impressions are immediately colored-in by brain chemistry, labeled via neural circuitry hard-wired at certain hormone levels to trigger when certain visual patterns hit the retina. And there are plenty of other examples: sugar-on-the-tongue, harmonious tones, rubs and tickles, etc. Apparently the neurophysiological substrate underneath the mind really matters, at least sometimes. Obvious, sure. But I can't recall seeing it discussed in the philosophy books—and most of philosophy is devoted to discussing "the obvious", eh?!
(cf. footnote of PlasticMemory (2001-07-10), and EpistemologicalEnginerooms (2000-08-10), Red Patch Now (2008-06-21), ...)
- Saturday, July 03, 2010 at 04:24:07 (EDT)
Orb spider's huge web glints in the morning sunrise; tiny bunny hops away from the trail; mangy deer nibbles the grass. I'm running on the woodsy path near work, taking advantage of unusually cool weather, trying another experiment in accelerating pace. Marked miles, accuracy unknown, say 10:06 (holding back), 9:40 (comfy), 8:45 (brisk), and 7:38 (pushing hard). Right knee still feels twinges, and the right quadriceps has odd moments of weakness.
- Friday, July 02, 2010 at 04:47:24 (EDT)
I look at myself in the mirror—gold-and-blue DC Road Runners singlet, orange-and-blue MCRRC shorts, black HAT Run hat—and decide to share the visual pain with incoming employees this morning. So garish three laps in the mercifully cool breeze follow, carrying a bottle of ice water around the parking lot perimeter. Approximately 1.5 miles each, times 14:28 + 12:52 + 11:59 (pace ~9.6 + ~8.6 + ~8.0 min/mi), and the old ticker is doing 165 or so at the end. Whew!
- Friday, July 02, 2010 at 04:43:39 (EDT)
In the June 2010 issue of Running Times magazine, Jonathan Beverly's "Editor's Note" offers some good advice, for running and for life:
... But the path to running excellence is over the rough, difficult way—avoiding the trail is not only the road to injury, but the road to being less of a runner. The whole purpose of training is to seek out the difficult, to stress our bodies so they will grow stronger. ...
This brings to mind the Latin proverb quoted by Z. A. Melzak in his autobiography: "Difficilior lectio potior." Literally it translates, "The more difficult reading is the stronger." and is a principle of textual criticism in reconstructing ancient manuscripts. But in general it means: Take the hard way!
(many thanks to Caren Jew for lending me her copy of Running Times magazine; cf. InSearchOfTheFulcrumPartThree (2006-06-19), ...)
- Thursday, July 01, 2010 at 07:14:42 (EDT)
|Like a dewdrop on a flower petal, a bead of sweat hangs pendulous from the tip of Mary Ewell's nose as we stand by her car after our run. "I wish you had a camera!" she laughs.|
Last week's barbecue from the store formerly known as Partlow's on the W&OD Trail was such a hit that I have a great excuse to run again with Mary—as if any excuse were needed. Mary as always is a cheery delight. Today she takes me to the Keep Loudoun Beautiful Park, a gateway to the Potomac Heritage Trail near Leesburg VA. We park at the end of Golf Club Rd and first head the wrong way along Goose Creek—oops!
The narrow path becomes increasingly overgrown and steep, until after 0.2 miles we turn back. A fisherman—probably drunk, according to Mary—tells us that the true trail goes downstream under Route 7. We follow it and soon find ourselves cruising through lovely woods. About 1.6 miles downstream, after passing some young ladies cursing loudly into cellphones, we meet young men with an unleashed dog and find the kayak launch area, Kephart Landing in Elizabeth Mills Riverfront Park. Back we go, along the way meeting a big deer. Both Mary and I run hot, so after we get to Mary's car we take turns wetting our faces with what water we have left in our bottles. Then it's off to get BBQ for the carnivores at home.
- Wednesday, June 30, 2010 at 05:22:47 (EDT)
Would the modern-day anti-terrorism airline security screening system let a philosopher carry Occam's Razor onto an airplane?
- Tuesday, June 29, 2010 at 13:50:46 (EDT)
"Look, a rabbit!" Stephanie alerts me. We're on our first lap around the paved path through the woods near work, and five squirrels plus a little bunny are eying us from the meadow. Our 7:45am outing, designed to avoid some of the day's heat, results in nicely descending quarter mile times: 2:46 + 2:45 + 2:42 + 2:37 (= 10:44) and 2:22 + 2:16 + 2:05 + 2:02 (= 8:45).
- Monday, June 28, 2010 at 04:37:42 (EDT)
|On a warm afternoon Caren Jew as usual is there first, awaiting me at the MD-355 parking lot on the SCGT. We trot upstream and are at once startled to find the trail has been re-routed through the woods to avoid a flood-prone eroded segment. Caren demonstrates her Eye by spotting a tiny frog, a big beetle, a fearless deer, and near Watkins Mill Rd a turtle. We admonish it not to cross the busy street before we begin our climb up the long slope to the high school. When we return we're happy to see the turtle a dozen yards downhill, moving toward safety.|
- Monday, June 28, 2010 at 04:35:23 (EDT)
After seeing Philip Tetlock's reference in Expert Political Judgment to Sir Isaiah Berlin's essay "The Hedgehog and the Fox" I borrowed a copy from the library. The last time I remember reading Berlin was 40 years ago, for a freshman class at the University of Texas. This time around, alas, "The Hedgehog and the Fox" felt over-rated: off-the-scale clever, but unconvincing as an explanation of history. Now, I can't hold a candle to Berlin in terms of understanding Tolstoy. If literature is his focus I dare not complain. And I do agree with what I think is the bottom line. Berlin springboards off a quote from the Greek poet Archilochus, "The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing." In his opening sentences Berlin explains:
... Scholars have differed about the correct interpretation of these dark words, which may mean no more than that the fox, for all his cunning, is defeated by the hedgehog's one defence. But, taken figuratively, the words can be made to yield a sense in which they mark one of the deepest differences which divide writers and thinkers, and, it may be, human beings in general. For there exists a great chasm between those, on one side, who relate everything to a single central vision, one system, less or more coherent or articulate, in terms of which they understand, think and feel — a single, universal, organising principle in terms of which alone all that they are and say has significance — and, on the other side, those who pursue many ends, often unrelated and even contradictory, connected, if at all, only in some de facto way, for some psychological or physiological cause, related to no moral or æsthetic principle. These last lead lives, perform acts and entertain ideas that are centrifugal rather than centripetal; their thought is scattered or diffused, moving on many levels, seizing upon the essence of a vast variety of experiences and objects for what they are in themselves, without, consciously or unconsciously, seeking to fit them into, or exclude them from, any one unchanging, all-embracing, sometimes self-contradictory and incomplete, at times fanatical, unitary inner vision. The first kind of intellectual and artistic personality belongs to the hedgehogs, the second to the foxes ...
Lots of commas and dense prose there, but also a crucial idea: some people dig deep, others reach wide. Both kinds are valuable. But in political life, those hedgehogs who demand obedience to a single Big Concept are quite dangerous, as another essay by Berlin, "Two Concepts of Liberty", explains in articulate detail. Near the end of part V Berlin characterizes four basic assumptions of the "It's For Your Own Good" school of dictatorship:
Thus, the philosopher-kinds must repress those who disagree. In contrast, a foxy free society protects an individual's right to do even irrational or stupid things. Sadness happens, yes, especially when multiple goals come in conflict and when people make mistakes. But better things will also happen, and totalitarian catastrophes won't. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld famously said, in a 2003-04-11 press conference, "... freedom's untidy, and free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things. They're also free to live their lives and do wonderful things, and that's what's going to happen here." Berlin would agree.
(cf. IsaiahBerlin (2005-11-24), Contemporary Introduction to Free Will (2008-06-15), Systematic Overestimate (2009-01-30), Expert Political Judgment (2010-05-16), ...)
- Sunday, June 27, 2010 at 17:35:10 (EDT)
|Near dawn on a warm Saturday morning Cara Marie Manlandro picks me up and we drive to downtown Silver Spring, then reconnoiter in search of the new Metropolitan Branch Trail. We find it, park in the Metro garage, fire up GPS units, and at 0630 begin our trek at the corner of Wayne and Colesville Rd.|
The MBT is still incomplete in Maryland, but after a mile we pick it up and follow the little white signs, for which CM has sharp eyes. After zig-zagging through the streets of Takoma Park we enter DC, diverge from the train tracks, and eventually parallel the Red Line Metro route. In the final miles we accelerate to sub-10 min/mi pace. Near trail's end we take the wooden stairs down to the road, tiptoeing around a sleeping homeless guy. At 0801 we enter the Metro at Union Station and take the train back to our starting point.
- Saturday, June 26, 2010 at 04:10:40 (EDT)
Every several years I borrow my colleague George's copy of The Joy of Sets by Keith Devlin and attempt to learn some set theory. The first time, ca. 1993, I crashed and burned on page 16 (section 1.7, "Well-Ordering and Ordinals"). On my second attempt to climb the mountain, ~2002, I reached page 29 and then fell into an infinite crevasse ("The Zermelo-Fraenkel Axioms"). This month I changed tactics and jumped on the magical mystery bus carrying only a tourist visa. I skipped by the proofs, slid past the exercises, skimmed the hard parts, and made it to the end of the line having glimpsed some of the deep inner workings of the universe.
Set theory is so fundamentally fascinating because it's so damnably fundamental. It's the machine language of mathematics. Like subatomic physics, sets come as close to bedrock as you can dig. But as Devlin himself says in the Preface, "... although set theory has to be developed as an axiomatic theory, occupying as it does a well-established foundational position in mathematics, the axioms themselves must be 'natural'; otherwise everything would reduce to a meaningless game with prescribed rules."
I admit: there were times that I thought I was witnessing a meaningless game of symbol-shuffling. But eventually Devlin somehow explained the sense in the situation, or at least convinced me that sanity was within reach. I still don't understand (most of) modern set theory, but this morning I respect it. The Joy of Sets has given me a glimpse of the major constellations, a map of where the stars live. That's all my brain can handle. Maybe I'll take a running start and try again in 2018.
(a significant glitch that I noted in the book, explained in the online errata: a key symbol for "function restriction" was not printed in 70 instances, on 21 pages, Oops! And cf. No Concepts At All (2001-02-22), LogicAndInformation (2001-08-01), MillenniumMath (2002-12-05), ThirdNormalForm (2004-02-28), GatewaysToMathematics (2004-05-20), StayingTheCourse (2005-07-11), ...)
- Friday, June 25, 2010 at 04:42:26 (EDT)
The MCRRC 5k cross-country race at Gaithersburg High School is intense in Friday evening's heat and humidity on a course with small rolling hills. I manage to come in (barely!) under 25 minutes. GPS mile splits are 7:51 + 8:22 + 8:05 + 24 seconds for final fraction, which it thought was 0.07 miles or so. The official result puts me in 78th place of 132 men (and behind 16 out of 79 women), 5th of 16 in my 55-59 year male age group, at a total time of 24:50.
- Thursday, June 24, 2010 at 04:51:22 (EDT)
Robert Maurer, author (but see footnote below) of One Small Step Can Change Your Life, is a medical professor at UCLA and a business consultant/motivational speaker. His thesis is that by starting with tiny nonthreatening actions --- exercising for one minute per day, flossing a single tooth, discarding a single bite of a candy bar, saying a single nice thing to a colleague, picking up and filing a single piece of paper on a too-cluttered desk --- people can overcome huge barriers and eventually make profound alterations in longstanding habits. Maurer argues that most resolutions fail because the human brain naturally reacts to abrupt change with fear. He suggests that small steps effectively tiptoe around that response. (It's reminiscent of the make-believe book "Baby Steps" that appears in the comic film What About Bob?)
The tactics that Maurer advocates are:
All of the above are well-motivated and often productive on an individual human scale. But the subtitle of One Small Step is The Kaizen Way", which Maurer explains is a post-WWII Japanese industrial term for continuous improvement via small steps. He contends that the baby-step approach to breaking bad personal habits can work miracles of large-scale innovation and corporate reform. That argument is far less convincing. A company's (or a nation's) cultural inertia doesn't arise from fearful brain wiring. And Maurer's examples include many exceptions and caveats that he himself mentions. One Small Step is a helpful, inspirational, easy-to-read guide to self-improvement. Some of the metaphors in it may be relevant on larger social scales—or may not.
Footnote: in the Acknowledgments section at the very end of One Small Step Robert Maurer notes, "The words in this book are the gift of Leigh Ann Hirschman, my co-writer, whose humor and talent are an inspiration to me, and who helped me bring the power of kaizen to the written page." No other mention of Hirschman appears on the title page, copyright/catalog information, or dust jacket. Hmmmm!
- Wednesday, June 23, 2010 at 04:45:27 (EDT)
"Mice?" "No, termites!" In an old house, copper pipes develop pinhole leaks over the decades. A plumber fixes them and notices a possible insect infestation. That's why on a hot Thursday morning I'm at work around the outside of my home, helping to dig up and transplant ferns, daylilies, and blackeyed susans to clear a perimeter so that the underground ant attack can be repelled. I'm also home to get a tooth crowned (cf. 2010-05-25 - King Me). But the dentist discovers that the mold he took a fortnight ago wasn't good enough, so he fills a cavity for me and makes another mold. After yardwork the temporary crown cracks, but fortunately I can rush back and get another one.
So following that comedy of errors what else can go awry? At 4:30pm I decide to try some speedwork at the local track (SSIMS = Silver Spring International Middle School). In the sun my goose is soon cooked: I try to do 800 meter intervals in 3:45, and manage to maintain that for two pairs of laps. But when repeat #5 deteriorates to 3:51 I toss in the (wet) towel. Maybe another day!
- Tuesday, June 22, 2010 at 04:54:00 (EDT)
Bill Bryson, author of the hilarious A Walk in the Woods, moved to England and in 2007 penned a highly-readable biography of William Shakespeare for the "Eminent Lives" series. As he says:
... this book was written not so much because the world needs another book on Shakespeare as because this series does. The idea is a simple one: to see how much of Shakespeare we can know, really know, from the record.
Which is one reason, of course, it's so slender.
That's one of the relatively few funny bits in Shakespeare: The World as Stage. Bryson describes, in skeptical and honest detail, how scanty the historical record is with respect to Shakespeare. Besides the plays and poems themselves there are only a handful of legal documents that mention the Bard, only a few references to him in contemporary writings. On this tiny rock was built the massive edifice of speculation about the man's life. Bryson does an excellent job of dissecting what's plausible from historical context and what's pure handwaving on the part of later authors. He's thorough and entertaining, particularly in knocking down the claims of those who fantasize that somebody other than Shakespeare wrote his works. Fun, fast, worth reading.
(cf. InvisibleWriting (1999-12-16), ShakespeareanIvy (2000-01-22), PregnantSails (2001-06-26), WillInTheWorld (2005-04-20), Shakespeare versus The Philosophers (2008-05-08), ...)
- Monday, June 21, 2010 at 05:07:15 (EDT)
"It's a biochemistry experiment, on myself!" is how ultra-analytic colleague Clair describes her view of pregnancy's huge hormonal changes. We're walk-running along the woodsy path near work, a single loop around the course with lots of conversation. As we did a couple of weeks ago, topics include my ongoing knee "issue", Clair's traditionally tight ligaments (which she hopes loosen up soon), upcoming travel plans, etc. Fun!
- Sunday, June 20, 2010 at 04:41:16 (EDT)
Bureaucratic Success Tip #342: Always have something in your hand when you walk the corridors! If a senior official encounters you you'll look purposeful, productive, praiseworthy, and maybe even promotable. The object you're toting can be an envelope, a scrap of of paper, a notebook, or just about anything else businesslike. But don't get caught empty-handed!
Apparently I've internalized this rule at a deep subconscious level, as part of my ritual for not losing my appointment book. A few days ago I discovered it was missing; I had left it behind in a friend's car when we went out to lunch. Walking back into the building I was carrying a little box of leftovers—and with my hands full my mind didn't register the absence of the Filofax. Oops!
(for another valuable organizational tip see TouchTheFlagpole (2005-05-30); cf. BureaucraticImmuneSystem (2000-08-09), OrganizationalInertia (2004-08-11), BureaucraticAcronyms (2004-08-23), PrimeDirective (2005-07-26), ...)
- Saturday, June 19, 2010 at 16:59:11 (EDT)
Class in Reston gets me most of the way to Mary Ewell's home in Ashburn VA, and the possibility of getting good barbecue for my family provides a plausible excuse to avoid rush-hour traffic. So late on a warm weekday afternoon I pick Mary up and drive at her direction, first to a nearby hardware/garden store and then to the W&OD Trail parking area near milepost 27.5. (See  for map.) We run/walk east to Smiths Switch Station where I refill my water bottle, then trek back. Soon we're dripping wet in the sultry summer heat, but the staff at the formerly-Partlow's-General-Store are funny, friendly, and tell us that they have seen worse.  The BBQ is excellent, as predicted, according to the carnivores to whom I take it home.
- Friday, June 18, 2010 at 04:51:57 (EDT)
|If you had something important to say —|
Something more intimate than love,
More personal than a nightmare
Closer than a breath,
Warmer, softer, nearer, ... —
You would have to say it in a poem.
- Thursday, June 17, 2010 at 04:44:29 (EDT)
"Mulberries!" speedy Pete Darmody tells me, revealing his secret. "Maybe I'll write a book about them!" I'm early for this morning's humid 5k MCRRC race on the CCT, so I do a warm-up jog to loosen my stiff right knee. Mical Honigfort and Lorrin Harvey chat with me and are humorously evasive about their target paces. They talk more freely about their young sons, respectively Erik and Eddie, who are both doing great. Congratulations!
It's a multi-wave chip-timed out-and-back run today, with hundreds of participants, and quite a few are overly optimistic. I set off briskly and weave to pass people. The course is downhill out, uphill back. Splits on my watch say 7:15 + 7:50 for the first two miles. The final ~1.1 mile segment goes by in 8:35 (= ~7:50 min/mi pace). Official total time for me is 23:38, maybe a minute slower than I had fantasized. Apparently long runs on Friday and Saturday aren't the best way to prepare for a short fast race on Sunday!
- Wednesday, June 16, 2010 at 05:31:33 (EDT)
At a recent seminar on how to communicate better with one's boss, a senior colleague talked about differences in expectations. She came up with a cute aphorism:
|Resentment is what you feel when you don't get the response you want to the question you didn't ask!|
- Tuesday, June 15, 2010 at 04:38:55 (EDT)
|At 5:40am fog hovers over Ray's Meadow as Cara Marie Manlandro and I park at the Ohr Kodesh Congregation synagogue and quietly head downstream. A large deer crosses Beach Dr in front of us. The temperature is 75°F, the humidity 75%, and we're both dripping sweat within a few miles. Before we start I warn CM that I may have to drop, given yesterday's meltdown on the W&OD. Fortunately that's not necessary. CM leads all the way as we follow Rock Creek Trail to Military Rd, then head west to the Capital Crescent Trail via Western Av and River Rd. Our loop hits amazingly close to CM's 12 mile goal, her longest run since November.|
(map by ; cf. 2004-07-17 - Rock Creek and Capital Crescent Mini-loop, 2008-12-13 - Rock Creek West Loop, ...)
- Monday, June 14, 2010 at 04:46:01 (EDT)
Infotopia by Cass Sunstein is subtitled "How Many Minds Produce Knowledge". That subtitle really should add "(or Fail to Do So)" since large portions of the book are devoted to problems of opinion surveys, group deliberation, and related mechanisms for adding together individual judgments. Infotopia reads like a legal brief, perhaps understandably: Sunstein is a Harvard law professor and currently serves as a senior US Government official. It's heavily-footnoted and somewhat slow-paced, often pausing to restate the obvious and then turning to "on the other hand" exceptions. It's also unfortunately repetitive. I lost count of references to the Condorcet Jury Theorem, the Challenger disaster, Friedrich Hayek, and the Iraq WMD case; each is mentioned over a dozen times. Surely there are more diverse examples worth citing?
But for those (Harvard law professors?) who are relatively new to wikis, blogs, prediction markets, and suchlike new developments, Infotopia provides a decent primer on the pitfalls and potentials. In the Introduction Sunstein categorizes four ways that a group could combine information:
Each of these is analyzed at length. Prediction markets come out well, when there's information to be aggregated and when manipulation or speculative bubbles aren't a threat. Averaging can work too, though the "wisdom of crowds" is often overrated. Deliberation frequently fails, according to the author: information isn't shared, some members dominate discussion while others succumb to social pressures to conform, and early errors tend to be amplified until they become locked-in. Wikis and open-source software development are often surprisingly productive. Blogs, in contrast, provide "... a stunning range of claims, perspectives, rants, insights, lies, facts, falsehood, sense, and nonsense."
Bottom line? Sunstein is optimistic, but as always with a caveat. "Far more than ever before," he concludes, "humanity has promising methods for seeking out widely dispersed information and creativity and for aggregating these into uncannily productive wholes. The ultimate value of the new methods depends, of course, on how we use them."
Hard to disagree with that!
- Sunday, June 13, 2010 at 06:20:39 (EDT)
A big brown groundhog humps off the trailside as I approach. Nobody tells me that the air quality today is Code Orange, but soon enough after I start, about 4pm from Reston near the corner of Wiehle and Sunrise Valley, the heat and humidity start cooking my goose. Within a few miles I'm well-done. It's a bit over a mile to the W&OD Trail, and from milepost 15.5 the first three miles are 9:51 + 10:20 + 10:31. I drink down my water supply and stop at the Trolley fountain in Vienna to refill and take an S! e-cap. The next three miles on the trail have involuntary walk breaks every few minutes, and pass by in 12:26 (including the water stop) + 11:12 + 11:06. Total time to tag the post at the Dunn Loring Metro is 1:30:33.
- Friday, June 11, 2010 at 05:21:46 (EDT)
Yesterday a friend shared with me a cute BBC news item, Feeling Grumpy 'is good for you', about an Australian psychologist's research. It suggests that while cheerful people may be more creative, "...miserable people are better at decision-making and less gullible". Hmmmm! In reply I must put on my Mr. Pollyanna hat and ask: At what price? Besides the huge physical and mental health benefits of happiness, there's the contribution to a smoothly functioning society. Balance is needed. Samuel Johnson says it best:
Whoever commits a fraud is guilty not only of the particular injury to him whom he deceives, but of the diminution of that confidence which constitutes not only the ease but the existence ot society. He that suffers by imposture has too often his virtue more impaired than his fortune. But as it is necessary not to invite robbery by supineness, so it is our duty not to suppress tenderness by suspicion; it is better to suffer wrong than to do it, and happier to be sometimes cheated than not to trust.
(from The Rambler #79, 1750-12-18; for other Johnson quotes see JohnsonCondolences, JohnsonOnAnecdotes (1999-04-19), RightToInterfere (2003-02-22),HardestPossible (2003-03-02), TimeToRead (2003-03-08), PickyAboutFacts (2003-03-11), Habitual Virtue (2008-12-18), ...)
- Thursday, June 10, 2010 at 07:24:10 (EDT)
|"Dog up!" warns a woman behind me about 0.8 miles into the race. "Leash please?" she asks the irresponsible owner as we pass by her a moment later. "Sorry I had to say that," the runner apologizes as she overtakes me, "but runners could get hurt. So could that dog!"|
"You're right," I pant. "Thank you!" As usual a warm and humid Memorial Day brings a Sue & Connie's Run, the MCRRC 4 miler in memory of Sue Wen Stottmeister, Connie Barton, and others who have passed away. After recent long slow runs (e.g., MMT/2, BRR, etc.) it's a chance to blow the dust out of the tubes and see whether the old legs can still twitch.
Suboptimal pacing? My middle name! The bright orange singlet I wear reads "12:00+" on the back, and splits by my watch tell the sorry tale of deceleration: 6:59 + 7:45 + 8:00 + 8:17. The official results have me at 31:04, beaten by 50 men and 10 women but by only one man older than me.
The first mile of Sue & Connie's is contains ~100 foot of drop; there's ~30 feet of up and down in miles 2 and 3, and ~100 foot climb back to the start in the final mile. My GPS, on the other hand, says:
... which confirms my rule-of-thumb: subtract 100-200 feet/mile from claimed GPS elevation change to get something in the ballpark of the truth.
(cf. SueWenRun (2002-05-29), 2007-05-28 - Sue and Connie's Run, 2008-05-26 - Rock Creek Trail plus Sue and Connie's Run, 2009-05-25 - RCT plus Sue and Connie's Run, ...)
- Wednesday, June 09, 2010 at 04:40:34 (EDT)
A $1.50 word that I learned from Stephen Batchelor's book Confession of a Buddhist Atheist: "soteriology". It's the theology of salvation. Batchelor uses it in an important paragraph in Chapter 8:
... I realized that what I found difficult to accept in Buddhism were precisely those ideas and doctrines that it shared with its Indian sister religion Hinduism. Rebirth, the law of karma, gods, other realms of existence, freedom from the cycle of birth and death, unconditioned consciousness: these were all ideas that predated the Buddha. For many of his contemporaries, such notions would have been uncritically accepted as a description of how the world worked. They were not, therefore, intrinsic to what he taught, but simply a reflection of ancient Indian cosmology and soteriology.
(cf. Valorization of Mind over matter (2010-05-16), ...)
- Tuesday, June 08, 2010 at 05:24:08 (EDT)
"What do you think about during long swims?" I ask Cara Marie Manlandro as we trot along the Capital Crescent Trail. "Life!" she replies. And that includes the next meal as well as bigger issues.
At Bethesda about 7:40am the "Team in Training" fitness program is gathering; CM and Emaad Burki aren't here yet. I take advantage of the lull to run down the Capital Crescent Trail, mileposts 3.5 to 4.5 and back, at a brisk pace (8:33 + 7:57 splits) in an effort to thaw my stiff and achy right knee. Gayatri Datta and Barry Smith are on their way back from their first 5 miles, 7am start, but I don't see them yet. Approaching me a woman pushing a racing stroller runs ahead of it, restores her baby's toy to the tiny hand that dropped it, and slides back to grab the handle. "Great job!" I compliment her.
Emaad and CM arrive a bit after 8am, at which point Gayatri and Barry also materialize. Together we jog the first mile. Then CM and I shift gears and move ahead. The morning is humid but an intermittent breeze helps us keep cruising. A tiny chihuahua scurries to keep up with its master, feet a blur. Bicycles zoom by.
Emaad rejoins us as we return after 4 miles outbound (pace ~10.2 min/mi). Uphill on the way back we slow slightly (~10.6 min/mi) including time for one of us to go off trail and pause behind the bushes, plus water fountain breaks.
After 8 miles on his GPS Emaad punches out. CM and I continue eastward to milepost 2.5, then back to marker 3.0, pace ~10.2 min/mi. "You're really great to run with!" we salute one another. For a hard workout, that is.
- Monday, June 07, 2010 at 04:53:30 (EDT)
Upon re-reading Once a Runner (the novel by John L. Parker Jr.) I'm struck once more by how powerfully metaphorical the writing is—like the heart-pounding pressure of a too-hard race, like the chirping chaos one hears at dawn when jogging by a tree full of larks, like the steady water-wears-away-stone carving-crafting of muscles during training. Some of John Parker's images are rather too, ah, Georgia O'Keeefe-vulvic to repeat here. (e.g., in Chapter 20, "there are no secrets"). But an example from Chapter 17 ("Breaking Down") perhaps shows Parker's intense style:
Cassidy sought no euphoric interludes. They came, when they did, quite naturally and he was content to enjoy them privately. He ran not for crypto-religious reasons, but to win races, to cover ground fast. Not only to be better than his fellows, but better than himself. To be faster by a tenth of a second, by an inch, by two feet or two yards, than he had been the week or the year before. He sought to conquer the physical limitations placed upon him by a three-dimensional world (and if Time is the fourthe dimension, that too was his province). If he could conquer the weakness, the cowardice in himself, he would not worry about the rest; it would come. Training was a rite of purification; from it came speed, strength. Racing was a rite of death; from it came knowledge. Such rites demand, if they are to be meaningful at all, a certain amount of time spent precisely on the Red Line, where you can lean over the manicured putting green at the edge of the precipice and see exactly nothing.
A few paragraphs later that chapter concludes:
Running to him was real; the way he did it the realest thing he knew. It was all joy and woe, hard as diamond; it made him weary beyond comprehension. But it also made him free.
And there's a Zen moment, in Chapter 27 ("A Too Early Death"), when the protagonist describes deep-water free-diving in his youth:
One time, though, his best friend had pleaded until, when they were alone on the end of the jetty late one afternoon, Cassidy told him: "You've got to make yourself calm, right down to the little blood veins in your fingertips, and when you are as calm as you can make yourself, then you make yourself like a rock and start sinking, and the most important thing is that you've got to not care. That's the hard part, the not-caring part. And the deeper you go and the colder it gets the more you have to not care. And then when you start back up, back toward real life ... then you've got to start caring again. A lot."
(cf. OnceARunner (2006-09-17), ...)
- Sunday, June 06, 2010 at 06:18:18 (EDT)
Trekking along today I get a blister—on my hand! The small black bag in which I'm carrying pants, book, etc. has double drawstrings. It bounces too much on my back when I run, so to keep tension I tuck thumbs under the nylon cords, and don't realize until an hour later that the friction burn has torn up the skin between right thumb and index finger. Ouch!
Today is a recap of the 2009-04-09 - WOD Reston to Dunn Loring Metro journey. Early in the run a long-time colleague, Wilson, pulls up next to me and rolls down the window. "You're not running home from here?!" he asks. "No, just to Dunn Loring," I reply. Four miles later, near the Vienna Inn, another co-worker from decades ago approaches and does a double take. "I thought that was you!" Steven says. He's on his way to pick up his bicycle from the repair shop. I explain my mission as we pass.
On the W&OD Trail the bikes zoom past, but most riders seem careful and give warning. Long ago kind comrade Caren Jew gave me some "Nuun" electrolyte tablets. I experiment with them in my water bottle. They taste fine but need to be supplemented with hard candy since they're sugar-free; the fizzy effect is highly entertaining, especially when pressure builds up and I get mini-spritzed opening the nozzle. Splits between mileposts 16 and 10: 10:01 + 10:00 + 10:22 + 10:12 + 11:14 (including a pause to refill my bottle at the Caboose water fountain) + 10:04.
- Saturday, June 05, 2010 at 04:51:53 (EDT)
"The home team has turned the tide" ... "The market is going up" ... "The other candidate is closing the gap". People talk as though the physical metaphors of inertia and momentum have reality in all sorts of areas. In most cases, they don't. (OK, if enough speculators believe that there's momentum in price movements they may make them act that way—but only temporarily.) Lots of studies show the lack of correlation between past fluctuations and future ones in sports, markets, etc. It's a human tendency to connect random-walk dots and see patterns. That leads to the illusion of streaks and momentum. Trust the statistics instead!
(cf. NoiseAndPredictability (1999-09-14), Expert Political Judgment (2010-05-13), ...)
- Friday, June 04, 2010 at 04:59:12 (EDT)
Colleague Clair and I meet at 0855 at the gym, early enough to avoid locker room crowds and some morning heat. We jog to the woodsy path and do 1 mile in ~12 min, walking the hills and enjoying the conversation. Clair, who has already experienced major knee problems and surgery, demonstrates how to adjust one's stride to minimize stress on an achy knee, and how not to swing one's hips to avoid back or ITB pain. Clair has The Eye: she points out birds, rabbits, etc. that I overlook.
And there's happy news, embargoed until 1 June ... Clair is expecting. Congratulations!
- Thursday, June 03, 2010 at 04:45:03 (EDT)
The dentist installs a temporary crown over my broken tooth—I feel royal! To celebrate the coronation when I get home at 1pm I dress Hamlet-like in black. (Well, at least the black technical shirt looks appropriate; Hamlet isn't usually costumed in black shorts and baseball cap.) Out the front door, and I dither over which way to go. It's warm and sunny, so in search of shade I head for Rock Creek Park. The GPS agrees with CM's measurement of 1.01 miles to Capital Crescent Trail milepost 0.5, and confirms my estimate of 3.0 miles to the DC line. (splits 10:11 + 10:20 + 10:28)
The Western Ridge trail offers good hills to practice walking up and running down. A cute brown chipmunk scampers across my path in the woods. Approaching Military Rd I divert by the ruins of Ft DeRussy. A big deer steps onto the path, turns her head 180° to eye me, flips up her tail, and dances away into the brush. I descend the steep horse trail, which doesn't seem steep at all after Massanutten. A woman walking two big dogs greets me. "They look like they're having fun!" I say of her animals. "So do you!" she replies. After three more miles I reach the Valley trail. (splits 12:17 + 12:56 + 12:56)
Heat, humidity, and hills slow me now. Muddy patches from rains earlier this week block the path. At a complex intersection I take a wrong turn, follow the eastern bank of Rock Creek for a few hundred yards to a dead-end, and scramble up a rocky slope to return to the proper trail. Blue blazes are infrequent here. After three miles I cross Boundary Bridge and am in Maryland again. (splits 13:47 + 14:45 + 12:37)
On the paved Rock Creek Trail by the soccer/baseball fields I hear footsteps behind me; it's a lady pushing a stroller, occupant a boy fast asleep. She catches me and we commiserate about today's early taste of summer. She's doing five miles, she tells me. After she runs past I can't help but accelerate to keep her in sight, and log the fastest mile of the day. The rest of the trip home is an effort to maintain sub-12 pace. (splits 9:44 + 11:28 + 11:05)
- Wednesday, June 02, 2010 at 05:51:02 (EDT)
Colleague Ed in a recent talk suggested that when a group says, "We are the best!" then they're cutting themselves off from improvement—because Best is the enemy of Better. Hmmm!
(cf. Worst and Bad (2008-10-28), ...)
- Tuesday, June 01, 2010 at 04:41:26 (EDT)
Following the pattern of the 2009 Summer-Fall Tentative Race Calendar, here's a potential dance card for my next several months—assuming the old body holds up, modulo work and family duties, etc.:
05-31 MCRRC Sue & Connie's Run 4 miles Aspen Hill 0800 Mon 06-06 MCRRC Capital Crescent Run 5 km Bethesda 0745 Sun 06-11 MCRRC Gaithersburg XC 5 km Gaithersburg 1900 Fri 07-09 MCRRC Midsummer Night's Mile 1 mile Rockville 1900 Fri 07-25 MCRRC Riley's Rumble 13.1 miles Boyds/Germantown 0700 Sun 07-31 Catoctin 50k 50k near Frederick MD 0800 Sat 08-13 MCRRC Going Green Track Meet 2 (& 1) miles Bethesda 1945 Fri 08-21 MCRRC Comus Run XC 5 km Comus 1730 Sat 08-27 Cheat Mountain Moonshine Madness 50 miles Beverly WV 2100 Fri 09-04 The Ring 71 miles Massanutten VA 0700 Sat 09-12 MCRRC Parks Half Marathon 13.1 miles Rockville/Bethesda 0700 Sun 09-18 Delaware 100 100 miles Wilmington DE 0530 Sat 10-09 Andiamo 44.5 miles W&OD Trail VA 0730 Sat 11-20 Stone Mill 50 miles Montgomery Co. MD ???? Sat 11-27 Northern Central Rail Trail Marathon 26.2 miles Sparks MD 0900 Sat
There are several possible conflicts evident, esp. Cheat Mt vs. The Ring, PHM vs. DE100, and Stone Mill vs. NCT. But who knows, might as well dream ...
(cf. MCRRC schedule, VHTRC race calendar, ...)
- Monday, May 31, 2010 at 04:55:11 (EDT)
Driving down the road with the windows open this morning I catch a whiff of flower-scent—hyacinth? rose? daffodil? lavender? I don't have a clue—and suddenly realize how much practice I need at properly noticing things: aromas, colors, sounds, flavors, textures ... and especially faces. By nature I'm largely unaware, unless there's an equation involved. For years I've said that if there were a one-word epitaph carved on my tombstone it would be Oblivious.
So I've learned some new names for hues—fuchsia, taupe, ecru—a good baby step. Paying attention, however, is the crucial thing to work on. Sounds like a belated New Year's resolution!
- Sunday, May 30, 2010 at 16:11:51 (EDT)
Gayatri Datta is scheduled to do the North Face 50k endurance run in a couple of weeks, so to help her preview the course I pick her up at ~5am and we cruise into Virginia, park on Georgetown Pike at Difficult Run, and at 0545 set off downstream on the trail. I'm carrying a turn sheet for the race. We immediately begin to go astray on the branching paths, the first major confusion coming when we miss the connection to the Ridge Trail and dead-end near the Potomac River. Oops! We find our way then to the old Carriage Road and then River Trail, and perch on the same dizzying heights above Mather Gorge that various friends and I surveyed in years past. (cf. AwesomeAdonis, MatherGorge, 2007-09-29 - Overlook, ...)
Backtracking is our bane today; we do it again and again near the dam on the river just above the Great Falls Park visitor center. After retreating and advancing over a jumble of rocks we finally discover the little dirt pathway up a steep hillside and take it. (After MMT the climb seems easy.) At the top of the ridge more confusion ensues, but eventually we make our way to River Bend Park where Barry Smith, Ken Swab, and Sara Crum meet us. The crew runs together half a dozen or so miles, upstream and back, uneventfully except when suddenly I have a stinging/burning on my lower left leg: nettles? insect sting? snakebite? Ken is chased by a frog (or toad?) at one point along the trail—perhaps it gets its revenge on me during the second half of our trek? It lasts several hours.
Regardless, Gayatri and I continue to cruise along, goint off course again a couple of times. When we're back at the car after ~5.5 hours GPS says 19.8 and hers reads 19.2 miles. Close enough!
- Saturday, May 29, 2010 at 05:47:49 (EDT)
My shorts are falling down! An old pair, bought half a dozen years ago at the thrift store for a couple of dollars—perhaps the elastic is dead? Perhaps I've lost weight? Regardless, I have to keep hitching them up. Past time to throw them away!
Cara Marie Manlandro is returned from travels and getting back into running trim. We meet at Lake Needwood and start down Rock Creek Trail a little after 6pm on a warm and humid evening. Downstream from milepost 14 to ~11.5 we go, guessing the turnaround based on time and pace, crossing the side-trail bridge over the creek there to tag the other bank before heading back. I chatter away about mystery tendon twinges: right knee, left index finger, left big toe.
From the start CM says "We're going too fast!", but I reply with "We're better than we think we are!" and challenge her to accelerate the pace. During the final mile I spy a young lady jogging ahead of us, and whisper that we can catch her if we try. On the final hill she's walking, so as CM and I approach, pushing hard, I say, "Ma'am, you've gotta run and pull us along!" She takes off in a helpful trot; CM and I manage to almost keep up until the mile marker. We pant out thanks. Our rabbit runs onward, up the gravel path across the dam at the end of the lake. I joke: "She's obviously a sandbagger—I hate her!" Splits: 10:04 + 9:53 + (4:57 + 4:37) + 9:22 + 9:11 = 48:04.
- Friday, May 28, 2010 at 04:53:11 (EDT)
As if the staff of The Onion took over The New York Times, Christopher McDougall's book Born to Run includes reams of rather entertaining stories, some of which might be partially true. The author doesn't seem to have a skeptical neuron in his brain. His writing is a cocktail of testosterone and adrenaline—fun if you suspend all critical faculties and ride the roller-coaster of prose. He's dead wrong on things that I know a bit about, e.g., at the end of Chapter 13: no, the Queen's Gambit opening in chess does not involve a queen sacrifice, and no, a Queen's Gambit wasn't even played in Karpov-Kasparov 1990; the queen sac alluded to was in Game 3, 15-16 Oct 1990, and led ultimately to a draw. See  for the original article that McDougall garbles for drama.
But why should pallid facts interfere with a ripping yarn? Why bother differentiating between anecdote and evidence? If one person tries something and it works, that's good enough, eh?! Beware following any advice McDougall offers about training, shoes, gait, race tactics, or other aspects of running. The first line of Chapter 6 is a synopsis of Born to Run: "What a con job." Best read with beer.
- Thursday, May 27, 2010 at 04:38:38 (EDT)
Pound cake, peach pie, ice cream, chocolate dipped strawberries, sushi, fruit, hummus ... and superb white chocolate cheesecake made by Cathy Blessing. It's the Thursday evening MCRRC run along the C&O Canal Towpath, which Cathy long ago organized and led. Now she's the guest of honor, moving away to Arizona soon, much to be missed.
I escape work on time, but rather than fight traffic driving home I arrive at the Carderock park two hours early, ~4:30pm. Quick change into running clothes in the restroom, and I'm off. A cardinal is a red blur as he dips and soars across the trail in front of me. Downstream to Lock 7, coincidentally milepost 7, I push hard to see how the legs feel in this first post-MMT jaunt. Temps are close to 80°F but humidity is low. Outbound pace is ~10.5 min/mi, returning 9.5 min/mi if the mileposts are anywhere near accurate. Plop-splash interrupts my reverie as a turtle jumps off a log into the water at my approach.
Back at my car I drink, rest, and as they arrive chat with John Way, Jim Cavanaugh, and other comrades. From Amherst MA, in town briefly, fast runner Christine of the North Hampton Running Company knows a family friend Ruthie Ireland—small world! Ken Swab and Don Libes set off ahead of Jim Cavanaugh, Giovanna Tosato, and me. I catch up and meet Harvey Sugar and Min, young biologist from Shanghai who is working with Bob Yarochan at NIH. Min hasn't changed out of her day clothes but is running well. She's unduly impressed as I say a few words in Chinese to her as we jog together to milepost 13 (~2.5 miles) and back. My right knee twinges but I have no foot problems. Our pace outbound is ~11 min/mi, returning ~15 min/mi with lots of walk breaks.
And then it's time for the potluck—yum! Mark McKennett, fresh from his MMT finish, feasts on the potatoes I've brought. "Ultra food!" he describes them.
- Wednesday, May 26, 2010 at 04:59:12 (EDT)
Thought of the week, from Randy Pherson: People need to be "N-sensitive"—to pay attention to how much evidence they have (the value of "N") before they draw conclusions. If you have one friend who eats a pickle and then comes down with the 'flu, that doesn't mean that pickles cause 'flu. If millions of people smoke cigarettes and thousands of them get cancer, however, that can be extraordinarily strong evidence of causation (or at least correlation). It all depends on getting a big enough N for the statistics to be significant.
A better word for it: N-aware!
(cf. SquareRootOfBaseball (2005-05-13), Normal Distribution (2008-04-26), ...)
- Tuesday, May 25, 2010 at 18:15:23 (EDT)
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