^zhurnal 0.43

Howdy, pilgrim! You're in volume 0.43 of the ^zhurnal — see ZhurnalyWiki on zhurnaly.com for a parallel "live" Wiki edition; see Zhurnal and Zhurnaly for quick clues as to what this is all about. (Briefly: it's the journal of ^z = Mark Zimmermann ... previous volume = 0.42 ... complete list at bottom of page ... send comments & suggestions to "z (at) his (dot) com" ... tnx!)

Dickerson-Zimmermann 2004

In lieu of a paper copy, here's a web version of the Dickerson-Zimmermann family bulletin sent out with our holiday cards this year, written by Paulette Dickerson. See Dickerson Zimmermann 2004 Flip Side for the reverse.
Robin is a freshman mechanical engineering major at the University of Maryland, College Park. He is in the Honors Program, a member of the first class of Inventis Scholars and a recipient of the Banneker-Key Scholarship which covers tuition, room-and-board and books. He even got a "refund" by choosing the lowest option for his meal plan.
Gray is also a freshman at UMD; she studies violin there with David Salness. This semester she is in a string quartet, is in the first violin section of the University's Symphony Orchestra, is playing a Beethoven violin sonata with a collaborative piano player, was a finalist in the Ulrich Competition and was awarded a CAPA scholarship which pays her full tuition.
Merle is a chemistry grad student at University of Maryland. His first experience as a Teaching Assistant has been to lead discussion sections of General Chemistry for Engineers (where a year's worth of knowledge is packed into one semester). He has 215 students in six class sections.
Mark has run two more marathons and his first two ultramarathons (a 50k and a 50 miler) this year --- though he happily walks a lot along the way. He continues to post a weblog and add pages to his wiki at http://zhurnal.net and to the new domain at http://zhurnaly.com
Paulette still chairs the Chevy Chase Library Advisory Committee and is an advocate for better library service everywhere. She has begun to work on several writing projects that she had set aside while she homeschooled her kids.
Flopsy the Rabbit had a three hundred fifty dollar brush with death this summer but we're glad to report that she is doing well.

And the family as a whole, as of December 2004:

(see also Dickerson Zimmermann 2002 (11 Feb 2003), Dickerson Zimmermann 2003 (18 Dec 2003), ...)

- Thursday, December 23, 2004 at 06:18:25 (EST)

Dickerson-Zimmermann 2004 Flip Side

For those who haven't received an on-paper copy, here's a web version of the "flip side" from the Dickerson-Zimmermann family bulletin sent out with our holiday cards this year, written by Paulette Dickerson. See Dickerson Zimmermann 2004 for the obverse.
Paulette weighs more now than she did when she started dieting a few years ago. Her housekeeping rivals that of the Collyer brothers despite the fact that she has been tossing things for the past year and has rented three storage lockers. The yard is a weed-infested wilderness and the house remains a "pit of despair."
Mark, after years of training, continues to place near the bottom 10% of every race he enters, and in fact finished dead last in one recent event by more than 35 minutes. He is counting the days 'til retirement (currently two thousand four hundred thirty-seven, approximately) and hoping he is low enough on the totem pole to be unaffected by any fracas in, about, around or through the federal government. Mark's key to success is based on the popular Whack-a-Mole game; his motto is "Keep your head down."
Merle, who took Drivers' Ed. three years ago, has not yet passed the test for his license, has been known to spend his bus money on video games and walk home from the Metro. The best part of his day, since we cut his lunch money in half, is "scoring cheap ramen, dude." To all the folks in the front row of class, yes, he did dress himself today and he is sorry if the improbable color and style combinations are distracting you.
Gray's ability to remember names is constantly improving. She is now able to say "Hello"; walk away; go to class; come out and then say to herself, "Hey, that was Bob!" In a futile effort to reduce the sea of shoes on the floor of her bedroom, Gray recently loaded them onto an over-the-door shoe rack. When the supports snapped and everything crashed to the floor, she told us "It's a miracle no one was hurt." She did not, as some have reported, see Elvis's face in the debris.
Robin spends his days reading online comics instead of doing his classwork on time, has been buying a whole cake every three weeks to take up to his dorm room and, when he finally gave Gray the instruction sheet to the calculator he loaned her this semester, there were only two language options... Spanish and Portuguese. Unfortunately, Gray is studying Hindi.
Flopsy the Rabbit has learned that if she rings the bell in her cage someone will give her a treat, thus becoming the first rodent on the planet to invert Pavlov's experiments with dogs.

And a cheery image of a neighborhood tree infested with this year's brood of 17-year locusts:

(see also Dickerson Zimmermann 2002 (11 Feb 2003), Dickerson Zimmermann 2003 (18 Dec 2003), ...)

- Wednesday, December 22, 2004 at 05:47:13 (EST)

Early Morning Phone-in

Thursday, pre-dawn, I'm driving two of the kids to College Park for their end-of-semester tests. As we approach campus the car radio begins to pick up WMUC, the University of Maryland radio station. Its signal has a radius of only a few miles, mandated by FCC rules to prevent competition with for-profit commercial radio stations (which coincidentally are the source of significant political contributions --- hmmm!).

The student announcer says that although he aced his French final exam yesterday, he'll probably mess up the name of the Canadian group whose music he's about to play. After a forgettable garage-band techno piece he reads a public-service announcement about a support group for adults whose parents have recently died. His voice sounds lonely as he does a station identification and then mentions the number to call him at, if anybody wants to.

I've already dropped my kids off and am about to head through town to work. But first, I pull over and phone the studio. The next song has already started. "Hi," I say, "just wanted to thank you for playing the music --- I'm enjoying it."

After the song ends the announcer comes back on the air, totally re-energized. "I didn't expect to hear from anyone," he says, "but some guy just called and said he likes the mix! He really made my day. You should see my face now --- I've got a huge smile!"

So do I ...

(see also Fan Fare (26 Aug 2003), ...)

- Tuesday, December 21, 2004 at 05:47:46 (EST)

Future Literacy

New media technologies: instant messaging ... high-definition TV ... immersive online gaming ... video chat ... satellite radio ... blogs ... telepresence ...

The list continues to grow. But in the long run --- when people get past the newest new thing, the fad du jour, the hottest/coolest/fastest way to be entertained --- there will still be books.

(see also Last Man Standing (4 Nov 2003), ...)

- Monday, December 20, 2004 at 06:09:03 (EST)

This Space Not For Rent

So much greed, so little space on the back of t-shirts. I'm saddened to report that a major sponsor of the Marine Corps Marathon has been censured for selling heavily-loaded mutual-fund investment plans to military personnel: contractual programs that took as much as half of the victim's money in fees during the first year. And that company's logo is still prominent on the MCM's web pages, as well as on the past several years of race paraphernalia.

Rather an embarrassment, I should think --- like the universities that labeled buildings in honor of criminal donors, the museums that accepted expensive artifacts from tax evaders, and the cities that named sports arenas to honor now-bankrupt crooked corporations. (see also Something To Sell (14 Apr 2002), For Themselves (8 Jun 2003), Max Headroom (11 Sep 2003), Circus Sponsorus (10 Oct 2003), Money Olympics (29 Aug 2004), Conspicuous Anticonsumption (17 Sep 2004), ...)

Meanwhile, here there are no commercials ... just boring notes on the past fortnight's worth of jogs through the woods and along the streams of my extended neighborhood.

Blazing Cool Afternoon

(2 Dec 2004) - 6+ miles, 61 minutes --- Far faster than I usually can go, from Chez^z to Rock Creek Trail mile 3, then blasting along MitP miles 22-24 at a 9:24 pace and home via Georgetown Branch. I take off work an hour early to get a run in before daughter's concert tonight and to enjoy the lovely weather. My average pace is definitely sub-10:00, amazing for a turtle like me ...

Sligo - Glenmont - Rock Creek Orbit

(4 Dec) - 16+ miles, 181 minutes --- Saturday afternoon is lovely, cool and dry, so I experiment with a new loop: from home via Forest Glen to Sligo Creek Trail, which I follow northward into Wheaton Regional Park. As usual, I become confused and take at least three wrong turns on the winding paths and do an extra mile or so --- but I tell myself not to worry, as per the advice of Eric Clifton.

Eventually I get untangled and find my way to the intersection of Georgia Avenue and Randolph Road; following the latter over hill and dale arrive at Rock Creek, terra cognita for me. Homeward bound along Rock Creek Trail, five measured official miles (MitP 15-20) zip by at a 10:35 pace --- but of course since I know that they're calibrated miles I go faster than I might otherwise!

Today's jog concludes the second 30 mile week in a row, and thus far the old body hasn't totally fallen apart ... so perhaps there's a chance for me to survive with a bit more mileage than my traditional wimpy (20-ish) figure ...

Jingle Bell Jog + Sinkhole Sally

(12 Dec) - 13+ miles, 146 minutes --- Pride goeth before shin splints. Do my two consecutive 30 mile weeks trigger mysterious pains in my lower right leg starting on Wednesday? Whether or not there is a causal connection, I immediately commence an aggressive policy of resting, and thus do no running for 7 days. But Sunday brings a conjunction of events: the 8k MCRRC [1] "Jingle Bell Jog", comrade Ken Swab's birthday, and the cancellation of a planned visit by ultrarunner Morgan Windram and her friend Karen. Morgan (aka Morgana; see Morgan Windram 100 Miler Report etc.) calls on Saturday afternoon to report that the Hellgate 100k has proved more challenging than expected, so she and Karen aren't driving all the way back from southwest Virginia to crash on the Che^z couches that evening.

Since the phantom pains have left my ankle I decide to accompany Ken on the Jingle Bell Jog. We have a good time, setting a fairly steady pace of a trifle over 11 minutes/mile which gives Ken a new personal record for the distance by more than 2 minutes. (Somehow, KS seems to be able to run without doing any significant training; I am less fortunate.) As usual the MCRRC race is superbly organized, and after noshing and schmoozing (Hi Way-No!)and riding back with Ken, I arrive at home still feeling frisky.

Rumor has it that a huge sinkhole has opened up in downtown Bethesda, so I decide to jog over there to check it out. The run goes well, average ~10:30 pace with no walk breaks and only minimal pauses at major road crossings. Alas, my extra half-mile detour to see the pit full of monster SUV debris is a disappointment; apparently the hole has already been patched. Double-alas, the water fountain near mile 3.5 of the Georgetown Branch Trail is nonfunctional --- but fortunately the weather is cool enough that I survive ~8.5 miles without a drink.

Frigid Flood

(14 Dec) - 5+ miles, 59 minutes --- With temperatures hovering a degree or two above freezing and winds gusting to 20 mph, I pile on the layers and feel just right: a little too warm when there's no breeze, a trifle chilly when the zephyrs blow in my face. Cheap tights form the foundation, followed by two pairs of shorts, two shirts, two sets of gloves, and a loosely knitted cap.

It's headlamp time, as a crescent moon plays peek-a-boo with the clouds low in the west. Georgetown Branch Trail takes me to MitP mile 24, and I then hook back to MitP 22 and return home. A couple of snowflakes kiss my face. I scan the woods for deer and rabbits, but they're too smart to be out tonight.

The excitement comes with a couple of miles to go, when I discover a water main break on Jones Bridge Road has flooded a segment of Rock Creek Trail a few inches deep. My socks and shoes are soaked, but thanks to thick Thorlos and the wet-suit effect, the old feet remain comfy warm. My pace is decent, ~10:45. I consume a bottle of Gatorade en route and finish in plenty of time to attend the Montgomery County Coin Club meeting [2] later in the evening.

Emerald Eyes

(16 Dec) - 11 miles, 117 minutes --- Another comfortable night run around my usual Bethesda loop (GB/NIH/RCT), with temps ~40F and little wind. I jog bare-legged, but wear double layers of shorts, shirts, and gloves, with white garments on the outside to maximize visibility

After ~15 minutes bright glowing yin-yang-shaped afterimages develop to block much of my field of view for the next half hour as they grow and spread; are they Ocular Migraines? Fortunately the route is familiar, the terrain is fairly flat, and my headlamp is strong. Although I miss one of the mile markers, after I jog through a foggy tunnel for half an hour the aura fades, leaving no apparent ill effects.

Average pace for the first four miles is ~10:55, but I get energized when I reach Rock Creek and blast out miles 8 & 9 in the sub-9:40 zone. I carry a bottle of Gatorade and sip it along the way, in anticipation of inoperative fountains.

About mile 9 I hear a crunching noise in the brush to my right. When I turn my head to look, a pair of bright green eyes stares back at me: a big deer about 10 feet off the trail, coming up from the stream to feed in the meadow. Shortly thereafter I spy two more pairs of green retroreflecting dots, lower and closer-set. It's probably her fawns ...

Frosty Beard

(18 Dec) - 13+ miles, 139 minutes --- Robin has his final final exam this morning at UM, so after getting up at 0430 to do the family laundry I return home, change into double shorts and single windshirt, gather up the rest of my gear plus a Gatorade, and give my younger son a ride to College Park. It's another fine opportunity to run the PG County trail system for a few hours.

Thermodynamics, the topic of Robin's exam, is an appropriate theme this morning: the brown grass is covered with frost and glitters gemlike in the morning sun. Temperatures are in the upper-20's when I set out at 8am, rising to a bit above freezing during the next couple of hours. Four deer peer at me near mile 1 of the Paint Branch Trail, then bolt noisily through the bracken. A bit later I discover small lumps of ice in my beard, frozen condensate from my excessive panting.

I trot along at steady 10:15 pace, plus or minus ~15 seconds based on 20 half-mile splits recorded between markers. To lengthen my usual 11-mile loop (Paint Branch, Northeast Branch, Northwest Branch, University Boulevard, UM Campus) I add a little tail, an out-and-back jaunt ~1.2 miles each way on the Anacostia River Trail. It's a nice path with some hills, but at one point on it I slip and almost fall on a frozen puddle.

As I cross little wooden bridges over the creeks I see zig-zag patterns on the boards, where shadows from the latticework have protected the frost from the rising sun's beams. Back on the Northwest Branch just north of the West Hyattsville Metro station I spy a 1961 Lincoln cent, face-up, on the asphalt. Alas, it's rather worn and not a rare die variety.

- Sunday, December 19, 2004 at 11:37:24 (EST)

Despondent Students

A week-long class I experienced recently was fascinating, in part, because of the reactions of the pupils to the material being taught. We faced a jungle of apparently-arbitrary definitions to memorize and an sea of seemingly-unrelated concepts to puzzle out. Looming on the horizon was a tsunami of a final exam, rumored to be almost impossible to pass.

But I discovered an escape hatch: observation of my classmates. They moved, quite reliably, through the classic five stages defined by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross:

Not all of them made it to the final phase, however ...

- Saturday, December 18, 2004 at 04:49:23 (EST)

On One Foot

When somebody is trying to discuss a hypercomplex issue and starts getting bogged down in gory detail I sometimes like to interrupt and say, "Now explain that while standing on one foot!"

It's a good way to pop up a few levels and explore the big picture, where often a problem has an obvious solution. It's also an allusion to one of my favorite stories: Rabbi Hillel was challenged once to teach all of the wisdom of Judaism while standing on one foot. His answer? "Don't do unto others what you would not have them do unto you. That is all the Torah; the rest is commentary."

(see also Creative Devices (1 Jan 2001), Prayers Of Comfort (7 Jan 2004), ...)

- Thursday, December 16, 2004 at 06:10:28 (EST)

Essence of Education

James Garfield, who later became President of the US, captured the key feature of learning --- the relationship between teacher and student --- when he said, "Give me a log hut, with only a simple bench, Mark Hopkins on one end and I on the other, and you may have all the buildings, apparatus, and libraries without him."

(Garfield was a graduate of Williams College, where Mark Hopkins was for many years a beloved professor and college president; see also Education Versus Eduction (30 Apr 1999), Education Of The Youth (1 Dec 2001), Improving My Mind (22 Jun 2003), Big Secret Of Prosperity (14 Mar 2004), ...)

- Wednesday, December 15, 2004 at 05:44:32 (EST)

Engineering vs. Science

Like chess versus checkers:

(see also Great Ideas (3 May 1999), No Concepts At All (22 Feb 2001), ...)

- Tuesday, December 14, 2004 at 06:26:38 (EST)

Fictional Hurdles

It's amusing to analyze the artificial barriers which science-fiction writers erect in order to block technological progress in their stories about the future. The ostensible purpose is to keep things comprehensible for today's reader ... but perhaps it also serves to make the author's job less exhausing. Among the contents of the standard bag of tricks:

With these and other contrived devices, talented sf writers can produce quasi-primitive situations even within the most advanced cultures --- and thereby reduce the hero's job to riding around on big fast animals, fighting bad guys one-on-one with knives, and winning the hand of the girl ... just like in countless classic tales from the past few thousand years.

Hmmm, come to think of it, all of the above mechanisms appear in Frank Herbert's first Dune novel ...

(see also Bu Sab (9 Mar 2001), Battle Language (7 Aug 2004), ...)

- Monday, December 13, 2004 at 05:56:05 (EST)

Good Fortune

In The Intelligent Investor (1949) Benjamin Graham observes that in the financial world, although pursuing a sensible strategy tends to make for more steady progress and fewer utter disasters, the very best results tend to come largely by chance: the result of being prepared, being in the right place, and being lucky. Likewise in life ...

(see also Bennett On Life (19 Mar 2000), Money Wisdom (20 May 2001), Bubble Busters (6 Feb 2002), Magna Fortuna (7 Oct 2003), Practical Productivity (20 Jan 2004), ...)

- Sunday, December 12, 2004 at 17:40:54 (EST)

Dazzling Darkness

 An hour before dawn the sky becomes a crystal sea:
 Wind-torn clouds swim through the air like herringbones of light.
 Stiff strato-cumulus ripples crest and trough, flow and ebb,
    As they behalo the gibbous moon with a rainbow aureole.

 Now suddenly a star emerges, glimmers on the deep,
 And soon a second spark joins it and next a third bestirs;
 Then a whole school of heaven-fish surface to splash and gleam.
    Shimmering chain-mail-scaled, they writhe among the misty reefs.

 "Behold!" I whisper, while my spirit soars above the clouds.
 The moon flares cold beside me now, a silver beacon of night.
 Its fires bless and cleanse me as I hold my breath and dive ---
    Into the infinite ocean of the sky.

(see also The Brink (3 Apr 2001), For Us (31 Dec 2002), Day Break (22 Jan 2004), ...)

- Friday, December 10, 2004 at 06:33:46 (EST)

And Then the Vulture Eats You

John L. Parker, Jr. is the editor of an entertaining little book about ultramarathons, And Then the Vulture Eats You, published in 1999. It includes eight essays by various authors about some ridiculously long pedestrian expeditions. The book's title comes from John Parker's own hilarious article about the historic clash of cultures between "Track Men", who took their speedwork seriously, and classic marathoners, who in contrast:
... affected facial hair and wire-rimmed glasses ... had Ph.D.s in arcane fields ... reveled in the obscurity of their event ... [and] didn't care if you beat them! They seemed almost proud of the fact that they weren't very fast. Their knowing smiles and ethereal comments implied a mystical wisdom that could only be won in that grandaddy, that king, that ultimate of all long-distance challenges. Oh, we could win our little races and have our fun, but we could never know True Enlightenment until we had personally experienced the Great Big Mystical Unbelievably Impossible Kahuna.

Parker then describes the Ultimate Runner competition, a one-day sequence of races at 100 meters, 400 meters, 1 mile, 10 kilometers, and finally a 26.2 mile marathon. Competitors in each event get points based on how their times compare with the world record in that event. But for your score to count, you have to finish every race.

So, as Parker quotes ultrarunner Don Kardong:

"The marathon is like a vulture sitting on your shoulder during all the other events. And then at the end of the day, the vulture eats you."

- Thursday, December 09, 2004 at 05:08:09 (EST)

Zhurnal and Zhurnaly

What's this all about? A few clues for the curious:

Or in the Zhurnal Wiki, just repeatedly click the "Page Action:" button (set by default to "Random page") to view some samples ...

- Wednesday, December 08, 2004 at 05:42:55 (EST)

Dimensions of Voting

Why doesn't everybody agree on the best candidate for every public office? Why aren't all propositions decided unanimously? (And why did you vote for such an obvious idiot?)

Instead of demonizing those who clash with my positions, a wiser approach might be to analyze --- to figure out what causes good people to differ in their choices. Individuals tend to weigh options along several general dimensions, e.g.:

Arguments can be made for each of the above poles. Some lend themselves to clichés: "In the long run, we're all dead." ... "Don't paint yourself into a corner." ... "If not now, then when?" ... "Think globally, act locally." ... "If you're not a liberal when you're young, you have no heart; if you're not a conservative when you're older, you have no brains." ... and so forth.

Most people strike a balance between the extremes. Perhaps that's the best overall political philosophy.

(see also Deliberate Opinion (14 Oct 2001), Learning And Losing (23 Dec 2001), Robert Nozick (2 Feb 2002), ...)

- Tuesday, December 07, 2004 at 05:59:41 (EST)

Looking Down

For the past few decades whenever I take a certain cloverleaf exit that loops me across a bridge above the highway, I glance down at the cars passing below. That view always throws me back into a brief scene from Vernor Vinge's short novel True Names:
Mr. Slippery (the other name was avoided now, even in his thoughts) had achieved the fringes of the Other Plane. He took a quick peek through the eyes of a low-resolution weather satellite, saw the North American continent spread out below, the terminator sweeping through the West, most of the plains clouded over. One never knew when some apparently irrelevant information might help --- and though it could all be done automatically through subconscious access, Mr. Slippery had always been a romantic about spaceflight.

Somehow a vertical perspective always puts things into a new light. It works from a tall building, better from an aircraft, and better still from space. And the magic also happens in the opposite direction, looking out into the cosmos ...

(see also Edge Of The Universe (8 Jun 1999), High Glider (8 Oct 2000), Wright Flight (30 Mar 2003), Diffuse Consciousness (21 May 2003), ...)

- Monday, December 06, 2004 at 06:17:08 (EST)

Flash in the Pan

"How's my exercise program doing so far," I asked Paulette yesterday, "toward sculpting my body into the image of a Greek god?"

"Pretty well," she replied, "if your goal is Bacchus!"

(OK, Bacchus is a Roman god --- but Dionysus is too hard to say and doesn't scan. For those who have forgotten, Bacchus is the deity of wine and indolence ...)

Body Mnemonic

Sometimes even the master nods. In Tolstoy's War and Peace (where, like Napoleon before Moscow, I'm still making slow progress) Chapter 13 of Book II Part Three contains a charming description of the scene as sixteen-year-old Natalya Ilyinichna Rostova (aka Natasha) comes to her mother the Countess at bedtime to talk about boys. At one point:
Natasha did not let her finish. She drew the Countess's large hand to her, kissed the back of it, then the palm, then turned it over again and began kissing first one knuckle, then the space between the knuckles, then the next knuckle, whispering: "January, February, March, April, May . . ."

And a page later, as the conversation continues:

"Don't laugh --- now stop!" cried Natasha. "You're shaking the whole bed. You're just like me, an awful giggler! . . . Stop it! . . ." She seized both the Countess's hands and kissed one knuckle of the little finger, saying: "June," and went on kissing. "July, August," on the other hand. "Mamma, is he terribly in love? What do you think? Was anybody ever so much in love with you? And he's very sweet, really very sweet. Only not quite to my taste --- he's narrow, like the dining-room clock. . . . Do you understand? Narrow, you know, gray --- pale gray . . ."
"What nonsense you're talking!" said the Countess.
Don't you understand?" Natasha continued. "Nikolai would understand. Bezukhov, now, is blue --- dark blue and red, and foursquare."
You're flirting with him too," said the Countess, laughing.

Aside from the delightful language, what catches my eye in this extended image is the throwaway line, She seized both the Countess's hands and kissed one knuckle of the little finger, saying: "June," and went on kissing. "July, August," on the other hand. With the earlier passage above, it's a sketch of the only memory aid I know involving the human body.

All of the other mnemonics that I carry around in my cluttered mental baggage compartment are language-based. The digits of pi (3.14159...) correspond to the number of letters in each word of "May I have a drink, alcoholic of course, after the heavy chapters involving quantum mechanics." The labels for stellar spectral types from blue-white supergiants through the Main Sequence to red dwarf stars (O, B, A, F, G, K, M, R, N, S) are brought to mind by the initials of either "Oh, be a fine girl, kiss me right now. Smack!" or alternatively "On bad afternoons fine grapes keep Mrs. Richard Nixon smiling." The colors of the bands that label electronic resistors with their ohmage values (black, brown, red, orange, yellow, green, blue, violet, gray, white) are encoded by the leading letters of words in various silly sentences, often obscene.

But the knuckle mnemonic is different. To remember which months have 31 days there one can use the classic doggerel poem, "Thirty days hath September / April, June, and November / ...". But simpler and faster is to make two fists and hold them out palm down. From left to right, the high points of the bones correspond to the long months; the notches between indicate the short months.

So what's going on in that second excerpt from War and Peace? The little finger knuckle has to represent January, not June. The crossover between one hand and the other falls between July and August. Did Tolstoy, master of detail, somehow make a mistake? Could the Julian calendar used in Tsarist Russia have been that different? (Does, or should, anybody care? No! But it's always fun to spot a slip ...)

(from the Ann Dunnigan translation of 1968; see also Mental Bandwidth Boosters (26 Jun 1999), Truth In Battle (11 Feb 2001), Memory Support (31 Jan 2002), Ooze On Verst (22 Sep 2004), Irresistible Attraction (4 Oct 2004), Infinite Sky (15 Oct 2004), Untutored Voice (3 Nov 2004), Stripped Threads (15 Nov 2004), ...)

- Saturday, December 04, 2004 at 05:04:33 (EST)

Cool Color Right-on Rain

Adam Safir writes (http://anstyn.com/ on 22 Jun 2004) about the magical moments that sometimes come when one goes on a run through nature, free and easy and joyful. Adam overhears a Grateful Dead song with the lyric, "If I was a headlight, on a north-bound train, I'd shine my light through the cool, Colorado rain." He reports:
I smiled, thinking about how for years I thought that line of "I Know You Rider" was "...I'd shine my light through the cool color right-on rain."
Now I know better, and thankfully still sometimes see the cool color right-on rain, in the woods and on the trails, shafts of afternoon sunlight bouncing off the watery beads of a sudden and unexpected shower, the whole forest seeming to shimmer with a raindrop reflection of silver and green.

Occasionally that "cool color right-on rain" blesses even a plodder like me. During the past fortnight of pedestrian adventures, for example:

W&OD Lunch Break

(16 Nov 2004) - 5+ miles, 52 minutes --- a noontime jog along the W&OD Rail Trail of northern Virginia, in weather sunny and about 60 F. I proceed from mileposts 16.5 to 18.5 and back, plus pre- and post-distance to my car. Progress is surprisingly fast for me, with a 10:30 pace for the first half and a breathtaking 9:30 on the return trip.

I change clothes in the restroom, blot my head dry with paper towels, wring out my beard, and return to class only a few minutes late ...

Maryland Mega-Orbit

(20 Nov) - 22+ miles, 266 minutes --- a new experimental ramble from home, looping around the University of Maryland campus (College Park) and back, on a cloudy, somewhat humid morning. I try to go slowly, but measured miles for the first half average a sub-11:00 pace. After 3 hours I start to get tired and take advantage of hills to justify more guilt-free walking. The overall average speed comes to ~12 min/mi.

Two 20 oz. jugs of putrid-green Gatorade, hand-held, make for good hydration in spite of my notorious propensity to sweat like a donkey in a sauna. Before setting out I chug another bottle of Gatorade in preparation, and along the way I consume a Clif Bar. I buy a Mountain Dew from a soda machine in the Clarice Smith Center at UM where I also refill one empty bottle with tap water. The weather is comfortably warm except during a few minutes of rain, from which I get brief chills (perhaps also related to the cold 'Dew I'm carrying at that point).

Circa mile 17 on Northwest Branch near Riggs Road there are scary-bright orange signs declaring the trail closed for "bridge repair" --- but I persevere and have no trouble tip-toeing across a tributary stream and picking my way around some scaffolding in the tunnel under Piney Branch Road. There are a goodly number of lady joggers, a couple of cyclists, multiple pram-pushers, occasional pedestrians along the various trails, and countless fallen leaves which make many of the bridges slightly scary-slippery.

(route details: from home via Forest Glen to Holy Cross Hospital and Sligo Creek Trail (~1.5 mi.); south along SCT to its end at Northwest Branch Trail (~6+ mi.); down NWBT to its beginning at Northeast Branch Trail (2+ mi.); up NEBT to its end at Paint Branch Trail (3+ mi.); up PBT to the University of Maryland (1.5 mi.); across the UM campus past the football stadium to the Clarice Smith Center, then west along University Blvd. to Northwest Branch Trail near milepost 4.5 (2+ mi.); upstream on NWBT to New Hampshire & Piney Branch (~1.5 mi.); via Piney Branch to Sligo Creek Trail (~1.5 mi.); via SCT to Wayne to Dale to Linden to home (~2.5 mi.))

Dazzling Headlights

(22 Nov) - 8+ miles, 87 minutes --- a nighttime jog along the Paint Branch Trail (PBT) near the University of Maryland campus in College Park. Yesterday I got a triple-LED strap-on headlamp, and so this evening I have to try it out. The temperature is 50-ish, with intermittent drizzle. I random-walk from the parking lot on the western side of campus, past the football stadium and the basketball arena, seeking an entry to the PBT. It takes me almost half an hour since I get slightly disoriented and, for a while, develop huge glowing afterimage-like blobs in my visual field (see Ocular Migraines) that interfere with night vision. But I slow down and the iridescent amoebas go away, so eventually I find the path to the trail near milepost 1.5.

My five measured miles on the PBT average ~10:10 pace, fast for me but comfortable since the weather is so pleasant. I spy 10 (ten!) rabbits during the run, and hear a few more scurrying away. There are only a handful of other folks on the trail, walkers who return my "Good evening!" greetings.

The headlamp teaches me a quick lesson in the inverse-fourth-power radar law: every time I reach up to adjust it or to rub my nose, my gloves reflect a blindingly bright glare. Likewise, droplets of rain appear suddenly in front of me as they streak through the beam, like cloud-chamber tracks. My breath condenses into momentary fog with every exhalation. The triangle of glowing light-emitting diodes on my forehead make me look like a small, slow UFO to oncoming traffic.

Turtle Turkey

(25 Nov) - 14+ miles, 154 minutes --- It's too warm for me at the start (~60F and ~90% humidity at 9:30am) so in spite of intermittent drizzle and breezes I bare my chest to the elements at mile 3 as I cross the DC boundary and enter Rock Creek Park. A couple of hours later a front passes, bringing gusty 20-30 mile/hour north winds plus a few minutes of chill rain that stings pellet-like as it strikes my face. The temperature plummets ~5 degrees and the humidity starts to drop as well.

The trees are mostly denuded now: crimson-umber leaves swirl in intermittent vortices across the road. As I exit the District (ca. mile 11) I put my shirt back on, so as not to terrify the citizens of Maryland. My pace is a fairly steady 10:30, with the fastest measured mile of 9:44 in the middle of the journey.

(route: from home via Georgetown Branch Trail to Rock Creek Trail, then downstream along Beach Drive to Broad Branch Road, where I reverse course and return to Chez ^z about noon.)

Misty Gray Afternoon

(27 Nov) - 10 miles, 109 minutes --- A trace of cold drizzle drifts down, faint as a harpsichord playing behind a brass band. The weather is cool, ~50 F with light winds. Maybe I'm trying to go a little too fast, or too far, or too soon; I feel slightly weak for much of today's trip. Attempts during walk breaks to do vague Tai Chi Running gestures don't seem to help much. Maybe it was unwise to get up at 4:30am to do the family laundry for the week ... but nonetheless, the journey along Rock Creek Trail is a fun one. I greet a variety of baby-carriage-pushers and their cargo.

Average pace: ~10:40 for six measured miles (posts 3 to 6 and back). Litter picked up: 2 Clif Shots and 2 GU packets, possibly detritus overlooked after the Marathon in the Parks a few weeks ago.

Night Rumblings to Bethesda and Back

(30 Nov) - 8 miles, 90 minutes --- It's damp and dark along the Georgetown Branch Trail, 7:30-9:00pm, cool (50F) with intermittent drizzle. Jogging is comfortable, a little too warm with a hat on but just right without. The new headlamp works well: high beam illuminates the inkier parts of the route, and at major road crossings I can set it to flashing mode in hopes of alerting cars. Street signs and license plates retroreflect with great drama. At one point I think I see a distant pair of eyes glowing and winking at me, but as I approach they transmute into distant street lights, flickering behind the intervening tree branches.

A head-mounted lamp does introduce one non-obvious difficulty: it produces almost no visible shadows, since the beam source is so close to the eyes. So puddles and irregularities in the trail surface are often hard to spy. Fortunately I only slip once, on a metal plate in a traffic island in downtown Bethesda.

Beginning at mile 6 I hear distant rumblings --- apparently thunder, but of a strange variety that sounds at first like strings of firecrackers being set off, then develops into a pop-pop-pop resembling a remote ammo dump explosion. Bizarre atmospherics. My average pace is slightly slower than 11 minutes/mile.

- Thursday, December 02, 2004 at 05:51:49 (EST)

Philo Spam

Spam (unsolicited commercial bulk email) comes in countless flavors nowadays: cheap watches, pirate software, mortgage loans, prescription drugs, pornographic images, and on and on. But have you ever seen philosophical spam? Why aren't there mass mailings asking about the meaning of life, or what "truth" is, or how to achieve wisdom?

Well, perhaps it's simply wrong, and Enlightened Ones don't want to achieve good via bad means? Or possibly it has been tried, but anti-spam filters were trivially built to block message traffic containing words such as "epistemology" and "ontological"? And maybe it's simply too ineffective as a consciousness-raiser, so cost-sensitive sages prefer to hang out in the Stoa, or the subway, or the bar?

But the most important reason for the absence of philo-spam? There's no money in it!

- Wednesday, December 01, 2004 at 06:39:31 (EST)

Hans Bethe

Hans Bethe was the first to figure out the details of how stars work. His insight remains one of the foundations of modern astrophysics: that a sequence of specific nuclear reactions in the hot, dense gas at the center of the Sun and other stars releases the energy that makes them shine. The same nuclear interactions synthesize the chemical elements that comprise the Earth --- and us. The measurement and calculation of those reaction rates has kept countless grad students busy for decades since Bethe came up with the key idea in the late 1930s. He was awarded a Nobel prize (1967) for this and other research in atomic and nuclear physics.

In the course of my undergraduate work I remember studying Bethe and Salpeter's text Quantum Mechanics of One- and Two-Electron Atoms. It is a meticulous and precise map of a path through the thickets of horrendously complex calculations needed to understand, in full detail, the simplest of the elements. In a less serious context, Bethe's name also appears on an important nuclear physics paper written in the 1950s by George Gamow and Ralph Alpher --- research which Bethe was not actually involved with at all. But Gamow insisted on listing him as a co-author, and Hans acquiesced. The paper has become famous in astrophysical circles as "Alpher, Bethe, and Gamow" --- pronounced, of course, like the first three letters of the Greek alphabet.

Circa 1973 Bethe visited Rice University, where during one of his talks I snapped the above photo of him.

Hans Albrecht Bethe (1906- ) --- Stellar Performer

(I used a subminiature Yashica Atoron camera and 8mm Tri-X film; click on the image for a higher resolution version. See also High Precision (16 Jul 2002), Essential Elements (4 Feb 2003), Fred Hoyle (25 Sep 2004), Hannes Alfven (16 Oct 2004), ...)

- Monday, November 29, 2004 at 19:17:28 (EST)

Eat the Orange

On a gray and drizzly day, I suddenly see the light. As so often happens, I'm fretting to myself about money, or rather my lack thereof.

That's when I realize: if I simply enjoy everything more, then all my problems are solved! I can become a personal utility monster --- somebody whose internal value system is so huge that it dominates all other factors (to a Utilitarian anyway). My pleasure in the moment can be big enough that nothing else matters.

And then I recall the extraordinary book The Miracle of Mindfulness (Thich Nhat Hahn, 1976) and its advice that, when eating an orange, eat the orange --- don't focus on peeling and separating the next orange slice, and thereby miss the slice in your mouth right now. Nhat Hahn observes:

The universe exists in this present moment. No desire can pull you away from this present peace, not even the desire to become a Buddha or the desire to save all beings. Know that to become a Buddha and to save all beings can only be realized on the foundation of the pure peace of the present moment.

And that in turn reminds me of Arnold Bennett's remark in his diary on 3 Apr 1908:

Every morning just now I say to myself: Today, not tomorrow, is the day you have to live, to be happy in. Just as complete materials for being happy today as you ever will have. Live as though this day your last of joy. 'How obvious, if thought about' --- yet it is just what we forget. Sheer M. Aurelius, of course.

Which leads me back to Stoicism, and all the things I should remember to be utterly indifferent to. Easier said ...

(thanks to Lisa Yanaky [1] for the Miracle of Mindfulness quote above; and see also Bennett On Stoicism (29 Apr 1999), Fair For All (28 Nov 1999), Basement Worries (15 Jun 2002), My Ob (18 Aug 2002), Light Mind (22 Aug 2002), Spiritual Exercises (25 Oct 2002), Stoic Struggles (22 Dec 2002), ...)

- Sunday, November 28, 2004 at 07:09:07 (EST)

Running Man

The 18 November 2004 cover story of Nature, the British scientific journal, is titled "Endurance running and the evolution of Homo". It's by Dennis Bramble and Daniel Lieberman, who summarize in their abstract:
Striding bipedalism is a key derived behaviour of hominids that possibly originated soon after the divergence of the chimpanzee and human lineages. Although bipedal gaits include walking and running, running is generally considered to have played no major role in human evolution because humans, like apes, are poor sprinters compared to most quadrupeds. Here we assess how well humans perform at sustained long-distance running, and review the physiological and anatomical bases of endurance running capabilities in humans and other mammals. Judged by several criteria, humans perform remarkably well at endurance running, thanks to a diverse array of features, many of which leave traces in the skeleton. The fossil evidence of these features suggests that endurance running is a derived capability of the genus Homo, originating about 2 million years ago, and may have been instrumental in the evolution of the human body form.

In short, people evolved to run.

Well, maybe. The article has attracted a huge amount of press, mostly for good reasons. But there are a couple of points that I haven't seen discussed in any published commentary: how about the ladies? Wouldn't proto-hominid females be significantly handicapped by their (to put it delicately) upper-body development? Not to mention sex-specific hip and knee issues? Did ur-women have to invent jogbras in order to get their share of endurance-run advantages? Or did they become swimmers, or stay-at-home moms? What other consequences resulted from the differences between prehuman male and female athletes?

To put it scientifically: if covering long distances rapidly on foot is an important evolutionary driver --- and not simply a captivating just-so story --- then it needs predictive power. It should imply other testable hypotheses which fresh evidence can verify or falsify. Those new hypotheses shouldn't leave out half of early humanity ...

(for a good discussion of the Nature article see "Marathon Man", the 17 Nov 2004 entry in http://pharyngula.org/ by Paul Z. Myers; see also Science And Pseudoscience (6 Oct 2001), Predictive Power (23 Oct 2001), Women And Men (20 Nov 2001), Need For Speed (10 Aug 2002), Brainy Jogbra (7 May 2004), ...)

- Friday, November 26, 2004 at 18:35:00 (EST)

Nativity Network

Yesterday's New York Times carried an On Education essay titled, "Giving Poor Children a Chance to Study Hard, Long and Late" by Samuel G. Freedman. It's about the Nativity Network [*], schools that offer inner-city children good teachers, long hours of tough academic work, extended summer sessions, and lots of individual interaction. The motto is "breaking the cycle of poverty through education".
"While everybody else is debating how to fix the system," said the Rev. Richard DeLillio, the executive director of Nativity Prep in Wilmington, "we'll deal with the kids one by one by one."

Freedman concludes his article with:

The temptation in discovering a school like Nativity Prep and a system like the Nativity Network is to look for easy ways to copy them. Certainly, these schools offer a replicable model of rigorous curriculum, unstinting standards, small class size and individualized attention. But there is something else, something more ineffable, something that can't be learned at a workshop or in graduate school.
"It sounds syrupy, but this school is about unconditional love," said Ciro Poppiti, a graduate of Salesianum High and Princeton University who teaches civics at Nativity Prep as a volunteer. "You can see in the kids' eyes, this sense of, 'Why do these people care about me? These white people? Do they want me to become a priest? Is this a secret seminary?' And then, gradually, they realize this is a gift. The only strings attached are to study hard and respect others. You do that and you keep getting the gift."

Something to be thankful for ...

(see also Education Of The Youth (1 Dec 2001), Learning And Losing (23 Dec 2001), Boston Public Library (20 Jun 2002), Invest In Peace (9 Jul 2002), Freedom Peace Commerce Education (13 Sep 2002), Room To Read (23 Oct 2004), ...)

- Thursday, November 25, 2004 at 15:54:11 (EST)

Car People

A few weeks ago Paulette and I took part in in a "focus group" on behalf of the automobile company that makes and sells the MINI Cooper. The gathering's goal was to provide feedback on how the MINI affiliate in the US is doing and how it could improve. Our experience was rather entertaining, particularly since among the dozen or so participants were archetypal representatives of:

Among car aficionados there are apparently many wavelengths to which I'm colorblind. Paulette and I occupy another category; we like the MINI Cooper for its safety, economy, comfort, paradoxically large carrying capacity, and elegant engineering.

Yeah, I can admit it: we also enjoy the fun-to-drive cuteness factor ...

(see also Elegant Technologies (10 Sep 1999), More Elegant Technologies (8 Nov 2003), Ipod Mini Cooper Accessory (6 Jul 2004), Biker Envy (21 Sep 2004), ...)

- Wednesday, November 24, 2004 at 18:34:17 (EST)

From: ^z

Fly High

The central theme in business today (and in many other aspects of life) is growth. Sell more stuff. Attract more hits to the web site, by whatever means necessary. Get a raise. Increase quarterly profits. Recruit crowds of new people to the club, the party, the religion. Expand the empire. Become famous.

But are wealth and celebrity and sheer numbers the ultimate sources of meaning in life? Maybe not. It's OK --- more than OK! --- to live modestly. It's noble to do good through quiet, invisible acts. It's decent to listen, and think, and read, and learn.

Eagles make up an infinitesimal fraction of all the mass in the biosphere. Yet they fly high and see far ...

(see also Celebrity History (8 May 1999), The Cancer Ideology (19 May 1999), Remember Me (21 May 1999), Celebrity Immunization (26 Mar 2000), Foam On The Ocean (23 Jul 2000), Pyramid Peaking (26 Aug 2000), Cardinal Newman (4 Oct 2001), ...)

- Tuesday, November 23, 2004 at 05:57:20 (EST)

Petroleum Patriotism Tax

How to make a society stronger? In the long term, education is doubtless the best investment. But more immediately it's surely a Great Good Thing for people --- thoughtful citizens --- to encourage each other not to waste resources, not to throw things away that they likely will need in the future. (Hmmm, maybe education fits into that same category of conservation? It seems unwise to discard knowledge, or the years within which folks are most able to acquire it.)

What's the most wasteful large-scale human activity at the moment? Arguably it's moving things around: transportation of people and materials across the surface of the planet. Current conveyance usually involves extracting, refining, distributing, and then burning crude oil products. That may in fact be the best way to get the job done, with today's technology. But how smart is it to deliberately discard petroleum distillates without getting anything useful in compensation? Why not strive to go from Point A to Point B while generating the smallest possible amount of entropy? (Physical footnote: energy is always conserved; it's entropy, i.e., disorder, that increases inexorably over time, and that grows faster when things are ill-managed.)

The cost of inefficiency is roughly proportional to the price of gasoline --- it's almost negligible if fuel is cheap. That suggests a simple cure: collect a tax on every gallon of gas sold, and raise that tax every year until fuel consumption goes down significantly. If this hurts poor people, or those living far from civilization, it's easy to give them some of the money back via targeted refund mechanisms. (But note: usually the argument "it will harm the poor" is just a cover for the well-to-do when they are protecting their own pocketbooks and privileges.) A gradual increase in gasoline taxes would give everybody time enough to adjust their buying and spending patterns toward higher efficiency. (But don't make it too gradual, or it won't help matters until it's too late.) Many countries in the world already tax gas at seemingly high rates, and their civilizations haven't collapsed.

Ramping up the price by ~$1/gal/year2, for perhaps a decade or two, would probably be enough to make a big difference, in a good way ...

(see also Education Of The Youth (1 Dec 2001), Big Bad Boxes (3 Dec 2002), Su Vexation (24 Dec 2003), Let Trucks Be Trucks (9 Aug 2004), Feed Or Feedback (6 Sep 2004), ...)

- Monday, November 22, 2004 at 06:02:37 (EST)

Three Thoughts


  The world is filled
  With light and life and love,
  And yet our eyes are shut.


  Within a bleak
  Unfeeling universe,
  You are my only hope.

  Across the void
  Of senseless space and time,
  Our mission is to mind.

(see also My Religion (6 Nov 2000), Cosmic Context (10 Nov 2000), The Brink (3 Apr 2001), Religion And Reverence (8 Jul 2001), ...)

- Saturday, November 20, 2004 at 20:55:29 (EST)

Remembrance Day

(How many faces do you see in the water? All, of course, are just ripples in the reflected light --- or rather, in the mind of the viewer. The photo was taken late in the afternoon of 11 November 2004, from a small bridge over Northwest Branch near Lake Manor Splash Park, Hyattsville, Maryland, near milepost 4 of the Northwest Branch Trail ...)

- Thursday, November 18, 2004 at 05:06:50 (EST)

Wardrobe Malfunction

"Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds." Is that a quote from Herodotus? Or an inscription on the US Postal Service's classic New York building, designed by the same McKim architectural firm that created the Boston Public Library's original edifice? Or is it the mantra of the dedicated long-distance runner-in-training?

Answer: all of the above! And the same words correlate well with another rabidly rugged outdoorism:

"There is no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing."

I agree --- in the wintertime. But when temperature and humidity zoom, alas, I find it tough to come up with a garment solution that won't get me arrested. Fortunately, after my 31 October 2004 Marine Corps Marathon melt-down the local environment has taken a turn toward dry cold ... and that has pushed my recent runs into the blissful zone again. For the record:

Leaf Blower Day

3 Nov - 10+ miles, 110 minutes --- cool weather moves in, and makes all the difference for a brisk mid-afternoon jog (from home via Georgetown Branch, MitP course, and Rock Creek trail) with 7 measured miles at an average 10:16 pace (+/- 13 seconds) ... three gasoline-engine-powered mega-leaf blowers under/near the Trestle offer the main hazard (airborne dust) ... alas, at mile 8 suddenly I hit, if not The Wall, at least The Curb (low blood sugar?) ... abrupt energy loss leads to much walking and ~13 min/mi on home stretch ... wildlife: one deer on the other side of Rock Creek ...

Fallen Leaf Forest Floor

6 Nov - 11+ miles, 137 minutes --- A crisp-cool afternoon jog from home (via Dale, Colesville, and Sligo Creek) to Piney Branch Road and New Hampshire, where I join the Northwest Branch Trail and head upstream. Ocher-dun leaves blanket the path and make footing treacherous where they conceal rocks and crevices further north after the pavement ends. Signs say that the trail is closed for sewer repair (October-February) but the bright orange plastic fences are low and easy to climb over, and the route seems no more hazardous than usual. As I approach the Colesville Road crossing I meet three ladies, each walking big German shepherds. Sirens indicate police and ambulance activity, which backs up traffic and makes it impossible for me to cross Colesville, so I jog along the median to Four Corners and thence home via Forest Glen Road, arriving just before sunset.

W&OD Luncheon

10 Nov - 5+ miles, 55 minutes --- a nice cool day, and the noon break (from a class I'm taking in the Reston area) gives me enough time to jog ~0.7 miles to the Washington & Old Dominion trail where it crosses Sunset Hills Road. I head east, from milepost 16 to 14 and then reverse course. Average pace for the first half of the journey is ~9:20, but I tire and the second half is ~10:30, still quite fast for me historically. "Rod" overtakes me near the end and introduces himself.


11 Nov - 11+ miles, 134 minutes --- cool afternoon loop (Northwest Branch - Northeast Branch - Paint Branch - University of Maryland) with a camera. Starting at the park near mile 4 of the NW Branch, I take over 100 photos of creeks, bridges, trees, towers, and mileposts along the way. The first segment averages ~13 min/mi pace and includes many stops and diversions to snap pictures. Then my camera batteries begin to run down so I skip more of the photo ops and average ~11 min/mi thereafter. Alas, when I get back to the car I discover that I am carrying the key to start the engine, not the key to unlock the doors. An embarrassed call home and Paulette comes to save me. Fortunately there's no wind, so although I get goosebumps during the wait, I'm not terminally chilled. A crowd of Hispanic guys play soccer as the sun sets and their girlfriends sit and watch. I shiver ...

Wonderful Windy Weather

13 Nov - 14+ miles, 167 minutes --- another big loop from home (via Georgetown Branch to Rock Creek Trail, south along Beach Drive to Military Road, then west to Western Avenue to River Road, arriving at Georgetown Branch Trail near mile marker 4.5; thence home again). Cool and comfortable; the first five miles glide by at ~11:30 pace, and the final final five at ~11:00. Considerable walking in the middle segment lowers the overall speed.

I carry a digital camera and take zero pictures; I begin by wearing a hat and take it off after the first couple of miles. Heavy rain the previous day bequeaths big puddles to the paths. Creeks are engorged and muddy. Autumn leaves accumulate, then scatter when the wind whips them. MINI Cooper count: 1, on Military Road near Chevy Chase. I drink a bottle of Gatorade before setting out (~10am), and consume a Clif Bar and ~32 oz. of water en route ...

- Tuesday, November 16, 2004 at 05:53:58 (EST)

Stripped Threads

Leo Tolstoy, in Book II, Part Two, Chapter 1 of War and Peace delivers a perfect metaphor as a character wrestles with the meaninglessness of his life:
... No matter what he turned his thoughts to, he always came back to these same questions, which he could neither solve nor cease asking himself. It was as if in his head the main screw that held his life together was stripped. The screw would neither go in nor come out, but went on turning in the same groove without catching, yet it was impossible to stop turning it.

(from the Ann Dunnigan translation, 1968; see also Truth In Battle (11 Feb 2001), Ooze On Verst (22 Sep 2004), Irresistible Attraction (4 Oct 2004), Infinite Sky (15 Oct 2004), Untutored Voice (3 Nov 2004), ...)

- Monday, November 15, 2004 at 05:55:27 (EST)

Forgiven Trespasses

In her 11 Nov 2004 New York Times review of Wodehouse, a new biography by Robert McCrumb, Janet Maslin writes of P. G. Wodehouse's collaboration with the Nazis during WWII, when he made upbeat radio broadcasts from a German prison camp:
... Though Wodehouse was viciously excoriated at the time of the broadcasts, this book takes the revisionist view (shared by George Orwell, Evelyn Waugh and John Le Carré among others) that stupidity, however colossal, is not evil. ...

That thought --- "stupidity, however colossal, is not evil" --- offers profound hope. Everybody who's human acts like an idiot, at least some of the time. It's good to cut some slack for one another ...

(see also Pretense And Lack Thereof (11 Oct 1999), Muddling Through (21 Aug 2002), Good Recovery (29 Jan 2004), ...)

- Sunday, November 14, 2004 at 06:42:09 (EST)

Taoist State

Gary Dudney recently offered some ideas for older and/or slower runners like me, including the gem:
Dave Olney, veteran of many 100-mile runs, tells of how he changed his outlook on participating in long races when he discovered his strong walking pace would get him to the finish. "Instead of feeling like I had to run, run, run and feeling guilty every time I was reduced to a walk, I assumed an almost Taoist state of calm. I realized that I could walk the hundred miles at a good clip, and whenever I felt like running I could put a little extra time in the bank."

Wisdom that I need to learn!

(from the article "Run for Your Life!", subtitled "Aging is Not the Enemy of the Runner as Long as the Running Can Be Kept Fresh", in the November/December 2004 issue of Marathon & Beyond magazine; see also Light Mind (22 Aug 2002), Slower Runners Guide (30 Oct 2002), Dead Brain Cell Theory (6 Apr 2004), Eric Clifton (1 Oct 2004), ...)

- Friday, November 12, 2004 at 06:16:45 (EST)

Emily Dickinson

 We do not play on Graves --
 Because there isn't Room --
 Besides -- it isn't even -- it slants
 And People come --
 And put a Flower on it --
 And hang their faces so --
 We're fearing that their Hearts will drop --
 And crush our pretty play --
 And so we move as far
 As Enemies -- away --
 Just looking round to see how far
 It is -- Occasionally --

(poem by Emily Dickinson; photograph taken in Amherst, Massachusetts, August 2004; see also Robert Frost Trail (10 Aug 2004), ...)

- Thursday, November 11, 2004 at 05:19:01 (EST)

Neighborhood Coincidences

Two belated discoveries about events near where I live:

Small world!

(see also Long Tails (14 Feb 2000), Coincidental Taxonomy (19 Oct 2001), Coincidental Taxonomy 2 (14 May 2002), Erdos Numberz (13 Jul 2002), ...)

- Wednesday, November 10, 2004 at 06:23:23 (EST)

Be Unprepared

The Boy Scout motto, "Be Prepared", is unquestionably a Great Idea --- and if the opposite of every Great Idea is also a Great Idea, then what's the opposite of "Be Prepared"?

Well, maybe it's not strictly opposite, but consider the complementary concept: Don't overprepare. That is, don't invest too much effort in getting ready for things that (probably) won't happen. "Waste not, want not", or "Walk lightly on the Earth".

And then, joining the two conjugate notions together: Be prepared to be surprised!

(see also Great Ideas (3 May 1999), ...)

- Tuesday, November 09, 2004 at 06:06:08 (EST)

For back issues of the ^zhurnal see Volumes v.01 (April-May 1999), v.02 (May-July 1999), v.03 (July-September 1999), v.04 (September-November 1999), v.05 (November 1999 - January 2000), v.06 (January-March 2000), v.07 (March-May 2000), v.08 (May-June 2000), v.09 (June-July 2000), v.10 (August-October 2000), v.11 (October-December 2000), v.12 (December 2000 - February 2001), v.13 (February-April 2001), v.14 (April-June 2001), 0.15 (June-August 2001), 0.16 (August-September 2001), 0.17 (September-November 2001), 0.18 (November-December 2001), 0.19 (December 2001 - February 2002), 0.20 (February-April 2002), 0.21 (April-May 2002), 0.22 (May-July 2002), 0.23 (July-September 2002), 0.24 (September-October 2002), 0.25 (October-November 2002), 0.26 (November 2002 - January 2003), 0.27 (January-February 2003), 0.28 (February-April 2003), 0.29 (April-June 2003), 0.30 (June-July 2003), 0.31 (July-September 2003), 0.32 (September-October 2003), 0.33 (October-November 2003), 0.34 (November 2003 - January 2004), 0.35 (January-February 2004), 0.36 (February-March 2004), 0.37 (March-April 2004), 0.38 (April-June 2004), 0.39 (June-July 2004), 0.40 (July-August 2004), 0.41 (August-September 2004), 0.42 (September-November 2004), 0.43 (November-December 2004), 0.44 (December 2004 - February 2005), 0.45 (February-March 2005), 0.46 (March-May 2005), 0.47 (May-July 2005), ... Current Volume. Send comments and suggestions to z (at) his.com. Thank you! (Copyright © 1999-2005 by Mark Zimmermann.)