^zhurnal 0.54

Howdy, pilgrim! You're in volume 0.54 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 = 0.53 ... complete list at bottom of page ... send comments & suggestions to "z (at) his (dot) com" ... tnx!)

Eastern Yosemite Mountains


In mid-1975 this was the view toward the north-northwest from the top of Mount Dana (13,057 feet elevation) on the eastern edge of Yosemite National Park. The large X-shaped mass on the upper left is probably Mount Conness (12,590 feet). North Peak is in the center of the image, with Saddlebag Lake on the right and Tioga Lake in the foreground. Then again, these tentative identifications could all be wrong!

(photo by ^z; click to get a larger image, and cf. Mount Dana And Mono Lake (3 Sep 2004), ...)

- Friday, June 02, 2006 at 05:40:17 (EDT)

David Copperfield in Fashion

In Chapter IX ("I Have a Memorable Birthday") of David Copperfield a Mr. Omer ("Draper, Tailor, Haberdasher, Funeral Furnisher, &c.") makes a deep observation as he measures a recently-bereaved young David for mourning clothes:

'But fashions are like human beings. They come in, nobody knows when, why, or how; and they go out, nobody knows when, why, or how. Everything is like life, in my opinion, if you look at it in that point of view.'

- Wednesday, May 31, 2006 at 22:12:35 (EDT)

Noose of the Assassin

An early morning run through the woods, or a descent down my front steps between the row of bushes, often results in a sudden spiderweb splashed across the face — ugh! At times as I move I hold up a hand, beside and slightly in front of my head, to intercept and brush aside the silken threads. And that always reminds me of a family proverb:

"The noose of the assassin is swift and deadly!"

That's the line, as we recollect it, from the classic 1925 silent movie The Phantom of the Opera. At one point in the film two characters are creeping along, each with a hand held high in order to foil the "Punjab Lasso", a garrotte which threatens to kill them. As Gaston Leroux writes in the original story (translation by Alexander Teixeira de Mattos?):

I simply told M. de Chagny to keep his hand at the level of his eyes, with the arm bent, as though waiting for the command to fire. With his victim in this attitude, it is impossible even for the most expert strangler to throw the lasso with advantage. It catches you not only round the neck, but also round the arm or hand. This enables you easily to unloose the lasso, which then becomes harmless.

The movie is now in the public domain and can be downloaded from http://www.archive.org — but scanning it quickly I can't find the "noose of the assassin" phrase on any of the dialogue cards. The closest I see are:

Close, but not quite there ...

- Tuesday, May 30, 2006 at 07:16:33 (EDT)

Theoretically Known

uring a recent lecture an experimental low-temperature physicist commented on a certain parameter involved in superconductivity:

It isn't known experimentally. The theoreticians "know" it — theoretically — but they "know" different things!

(KM, 21 Apr 2006)

- Monday, May 29, 2006 at 05:13:51 (EDT)

Google Trends

An amusing new service: "Google Trends", which offers a graphical display of the volume of search and "news" activity for one or more terms. For instance, comparing [earth, air, fire, and water] reveals:


Air (red: air travel, air quality, air force, etc.) usually wins, though water (green) blips up when floods threaten, and recently earth (blue) has become competitive. Fire (yellow) usually isn't close. Playing [rock-paper-scissors] shows:


Rock (blue - music!) trumps paper (red), though in the news they're almost tied; scissors (yellow) lags far behind — unlike in the children's game where, according to expert players, it's one of the best moves (^_^) ...

- Saturday, May 27, 2006 at 13:55:09 (EDT)

Addictive Trope

Two years later, I've figured it out:

"... the crack cocaine of ..." is the crack cocaine of metaphors!

(cf. The Crack Cocaine Of (9 May 2004), ...)

- Thursday, May 25, 2006 at 05:44:38 (EDT)

David Copperfield Prays

At the end of Chapter XIII ("The Sequel of My Resolution") of David Copperfield the young protagonist has finally reached his aunt's house after a long and difficult journey on foot. He thinks of the homeless:

The room was a pleasant one, at the top of the house, overlooking the sea, on which the moon was shining brilliantly. After I had said my prayers, and the candle had burnt out, I remember how I still sat looking at the moonlight on the water, as if I could hope to read my fortune in it, as in a bright book; or to see my mother with her child, coming from Heaven, along that shining path, to look upon me as she had looked when I last saw her sweet face. I remember how the solemn feeling with which at length I turned my eyes away, yielded to the sensation of gratitude and rest which the sight of the white-curtained bed — and how much more the lying softly down upon it, nestling in the snow-white sheets! — inspired. I remember how I thought of all the solitary places under the night sky where I had slept, and how I prayed that I never might be houseless any more, and never might forget the houseless. I remember how I seemed to float, then, down the melancholy glory of that track upon the sea, away into the world of dreams.

- Tuesday, May 23, 2006 at 21:22:43 (EDT)

Clustering Algorithms

During a recent lecture on programs to organize and arrange collections of text, I suddenly realized why so many document clustering systems are so dissatisfying to use. The problem? They're just like letting a monkey or a bird sort brightly-colored objects into piles.

The statistical correlations that make clusters are a black box to the human user — so that user spends most of her time trying to puzzle out why things are grouped the way they are. "Ah, these are all in Portuguese" ... "OK, these all mention cancer" ... "All of these are either about undersea vessels or sandwiches" ... "These seem to be the leftovers that are all longer than a dozen pages" ... etc.

And contrariwise, to the software all the documents are equally opaque — so in the absence of real understanding, the only thing to do is to group items based on various statistical correlations of recognizable features. A smart person could do no better, given a text corpus in an unknown language.

- Monday, May 22, 2006 at 06:02:17 (EDT)

Good Failure

Heard at a recent lecture:

I want to fail fast and cheap!

(by TF, 21 Apr 2006; cf. On Failure (13 Jul 1999), How To Succeed (11 Mar 2005), ...)

- Sunday, May 21, 2006 at 04:12:04 (EDT)

Negative Help

The most frustrating people to be with: those who make more work for others, rather than do real work themselves. I've been fortunate to have met only a few of them, over the years. They tend to ask unhelpful questions late in a project, to point out mistakes rather than offer fixes, and to propose broadening a task without considering the impact on the delivery timetable. When they do produce something, it tends to be a high-level "plan" or "strategy" without consideration of the real-world difficulty of implementation. They're not part of the team that actually has to do the job.

Such folks gravitate to dysfunctional organizations — but is that a cause, or an effect?

(cf. Blame Storming (15 May 1999), ...)

- Saturday, May 20, 2006 at 08:14:34 (EDT)

Red Posers

red_statues_a red_statues_b red_statues_c

Last month at the 2006 "Maryland Day" celebration of learning at the University of Maryland (College Park) the most delightful exhibition I witnessed was one of the seemingly simplest. Two young ladies, presumably from the Dance Department, were dressed and made-up entirely in crimson. They stood in a window of the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, frozen into lovely, coordinated poses. Many passers-by barely gave them a glance, clearly assuming that these were mere painted statues, an art project. But every few minutes when no one was watching the pair shifted quietly and smoothly into another configuration — always in scarlet harmony with one another. It was an amazing display of quiet control. Bravo!

- Friday, May 19, 2006 at 05:44:09 (EDT)

Stages of Credibility

A rule of thumb postulated by a colleague, for evaluating extreme or extraordinary information:

(RL, 3 May 2006)

- Thursday, May 18, 2006 at 05:55:06 (EDT)

The Avenue

On Rock Creek Trail, attached to trees near mile 4.5, are posterboard signs bearing enigmatic verses of poetry hand-printed in big block letters. Perhaps they were placed there to encourage, or befuddle, members of the local girl's school cross-country team? I remember enough of the words to look up the poem when I get home and discover that it's "The Avenue" by Paul Muldoon. It begins:

 Now that we've come to the end
 I've been trying to piece it together,
 Not that distance makes anything clearer.
 It began in the half-light

... a perfect synopsis of my neighborhood jogging expeditions for the past three weeks:

PG Loop

22 Apr 2006 - 14 miles (12:00 pace) — A goose eyes me as I approach, then steps aside to let me proceed down the Anacostia River Trail. On my return trip there's a kitten taking a dust-bath. It dashes away to join its more cautious mother in the brush by the path. Bladensburg Waterfront Park then beckons to me from the other bank of the Anacostia River, so I cross the footbridge to investigate. The pedestrian bridge is less than a year old, too new to show up on Google Maps or Microsoft's Virtual Earth imagery. The park visitor center is locked, as are the restrooms there, but a water fountain on the backside of the building grudgingly dispenses a trickle of off-tasting H2O — enough to dilute the vile mixture of instant tea and salt that I'm experimenting with today as a Gatorade-substitute.
My daughter has to be at the University of Maryland for some hours this Saturday afternoon, so as her driver I take advantage of the opportunity and do a clockwise loop: across campus to Paint Branch Trail, downstream past Lake Artemesia to Northeast Branch Trail, and south thereon to where the Northeast and Northwest Branches merge and form the Anacostia. To add a few miles I do an out-and-back along the Anacostia River Trail, with the digression to the waterfront park, and then swim upstream through Hyattsville along the Northwest Branch Trail. I return to the UM campus via University Blvd. I pray for cool rain but get only a few unsatisfying sprinkles; temperatures are in the 60's and humidity is near 100%, so I'm sweating. My homemade electrolyte solution (a quarter teaspoon of salt and about half an ounce of sweetened instant tea mix, dissolved in 20 ounces of water) might not be bad if I had made it half as strong. Fortunately I begin the trip with two big bottles of real Gatorade, so my hydration remains adequate.

Happy Birdday

28 Apr - ~18 miles (~15 min/mi pace) — A cool front has just passed by and the weather is lovely, temperatures in the 60's with low humidity. At noon I drop a family friend's car off at the neighborhood mechanic's shop and set out without definite plans, just hoping to have a nice run on my day off. From Linden Lane I take the Woodstock Court route to Walter Reed Annex's forest trail, and just before the little bridge over Rock Creek (near RCT mile 2.3) I see a well-beaten path on the eastern side of the stream, one that I've never tried before. It leads me a mile downstream along Rock Creek and then merges with the "Inner Purple Line" which leads back to RCT. Southwards, past the temple and the stables and the first ballfield, and I leave the asphalt again on a woodsy pathway.
Soon I'm in DC and on the Valley Trail of Rock Creek National Park. I jog slowly with plenty of walk breaks, plus bonus pauses to take photos of oddly-shaped trees, dramatic vistas, trail markers, and whatever else catches my eye. Today is the day of birds — countless robins, quail, vultures, and others that I can't name. Butterflies also flit about in great numbers — tiny yellow ones, middle-sized white ones, and large blue and orange varieties with veined wings. Perhaps the birds are enjoying a feast? I see bumblebees too, gathering nectar. Alas, my camera (or its operator) is too slow to catch bird, bee, or butterfly.
The Valley Trail takes me past the park golf course, where an old water fountain behind one of the greens (maybe [1]?)tempts me to divert and investigate; it's nonfunctional, alas. After ~2.5 hours I reach the end of the Valley Trail and turn northward on the paved jogging path. It immediately passes the Jean Jules Jusserand memorial, a stone bench dedicated to the French ambassador to the US (1902-1925) in a part of the park that he loved. I take pictures of the monument and continue past another broken water fountain and Peirce Mill. I'm trying to find the Western Ridge Trail but have a hard time. Eventually a horse path leads me to a big equitation field where I spy some blue blazes and get back on course. After crossing Military Road at Oregon I detour to photograph Fort DeRussy [2], one of the Civil War era defenses of Washington. Only a plaque and some overgrown earthworks remain.
A bit shy of the four-hour mark I'm back in Maryland. Two calibrated miles (RCT 0-1 and CCT 0.5 to home) suggest that my pace is still 12-13 min/mi on level terrain — but allowing for all the walking I do on hills and all the pauses to take pictures my overall speed is more like 14-15 min/mi, implying a total distance in the 18-19 mile zone. En route today I consume two bottles of Gatorade, 20 oz. of experimental ^z mix (dilute instant tea + instant lemonade + 1/8th teaspoon of salt), a couple of root beer barrel candies, and a Clif Builder's Bar.

Ken Swab Frederick Marathon 2006

30 Apr 2006 - 2+ miles (~11 pace) + ~8 miles walking — Since I feel some vague sense of responsibility for suckering Comrade Ken into running his first marathon, I go with him to Frederick to cheer and photograph him during the event. The course zig-zags enough that by brisk walking and a little jogging I rendezvous with Ken at miles 1, 3, 6, 11, 16, 23, and the finish, and manage to get some decent photographs. Ken in turn has a superb experience and — the rat! — finishes faster than my marathon PR by more than 6 minutes. (In my opinion this calls for a severe thrashing, the next time I get him alone in the woods.) The only excuses I can offer on Ken's behalf are: he had geniuses for coaches and training partners (i.e., C-C & RM & me); he took special "food supplements" that Barry Bonds gave him; he is blessed with good genes; he had near-perfect weather conditions; the Frederick course is "easy" (compared to some of those I have suffered on); he got beer at mile 18, without even being carded; he disabled the competition by explaining US sugar import-tariff policy to anybody who tried to pass him; he trained hard (no fair!); he paced himself near-optimally (~2:20 first half, ~2:23 second half); he's incredibly lucky. Maybe all of the above. Just wait until his next marathon!

Coming To My Senses

2 May - 7+ miles (~11 pace) — As I approach the nexus of the Beltway, Grosvenor, Beach, and Wisconsin it's clear that the sun is setting, I'm getting tired, I don't have a flashlight, and if I proceed on to Old Georgetown Road and Comrade Ken's house (to snag the Thursday Nats tickets he has waiting for me) I probably won't make it home in time to pick up the kids from College Park. And the sushi and fried cheesecake (both yummy!) that I ate for lunch are reminding me that I should be cautious this afternoon, esp. in a wealthy suburban neighborhood where the natives may not appreciate any in extremis use of their bushes.
So after ~3 miles starting in downtown Kensington and trotting via Knowles to Beach, I return to Rock Creek Trail and head for home. My face-saving excuse: I still need to burn a CD of photos for Ken from his Frederick Marathon two days ago. Maybe I can get home before dark, do that, and then drive by his house to trade it for the baseball tix? Speedwork (or what I consider speedwork) also couldn't do me any harm, so I blast (so to speak) along RCT from mileposts 5-4-3 with splits of 9:41 (!) and 8:52 (!!) before slowing down to climb the final hills home.

Up Rock, Down Sligo

7 May - 16+ miles (~11:15 pace) — "Top Ten Reasons To Stay Up Late With a Pharmacist". That's the headline on the back of the t-shirt that has just passed me, as I take a walk break after milepost 4 on Rock Creek Trail. A cold front has brought a blessedly cool, dry Sunday morning, so from 9am to noon I run the loop I last did on 4 Dec 2004, but this time in a clockwise direction: home to Rock Creek Trail, upstream to Randolph, eastward across Veirs Mill, Connecticut, and Georgia Avenue to Wheaton Regional Park, and then home via Sligo Creek Trail and Forest Glen.
I can't make out the Top Ten Reasons below the title, so for a few miles I keep the young lady pharmacist (or fan-of-a-pharmacist) in sight. She sets a brisk pace, ~10:30 minutes/mile, but occasionally slows enough for me to almost catch up, then speeds away. Approaching Ken-Gar I close the gap. We chat briefly, but I still can't quite read the fine print on her shirt while running, so I promise her that I'll look it up on the 'Net later. (It's a series of the usual double entendres, a few with a druggist-jargon twist, e.g., "We are Rx Rated" and "We do it PRN".)
I refill my now-empty Gatorade bottle at the Ken-Gar water fountain and trot northward. My pace lags a bit in the sun after I leave Rock Creek Trail to run along Randolph Road. I enter Brookside Gardens through the anti-deer gate with a car, and find it crowded with visitors. I thread my way past walkers and circle most of the perimeter inside the high fence before finding my way out through a gate to the Nature Center, from whence real (i.e., unpaved) trails lead me to Pine Lake. Shortly thereafter I'm in the midst of a 5k Dog Walk fundraiser, but soon escape that and am on Sligo Creek Trail. My tea-lemonade-salt homemade electrolyte drink does the job, and I approach the Beltway doing a few more ~10:30 miles.

Thursday 5k

11 May - 3+ miles (~8:30 pace) — It's the 16th annual run-two-laps-around-the-campus race, sponsored by the health services office at work. The event is advertised as a 5k but I suspect the course is a wee bit short of that (since I did it in 2004 in 24:30, suspiciously fast for me). This year I jog the first mile with a friend in 8:57 and decide then to pick up the pace a bit; mile 2 is 8:11 and mile 3 similar (no marker seen), for an overall 25:59 by my watch. It's a cool and cloudy day, with slight drizzles earlier in the morning.

Herony Towpath

13 May - ~16 miles (~11:30 pace) — About 5:40am I park at Lock 7 on the C&O Canal where C-C is already waiting for me. We start near milepost 7 and proceed southeast on the towpath past Chain Bridge to mile 4, chatting about family and movies and jogging. C-C has sharp eyes — she points out several great blue herons, including one which stands tall on the opposite shore of the canal, warily monitoring us as its breakfast fish flops on the ground near it. C-C also spots a big turtle lurking just below the water's surface. A pair of mallard ducks, male and female, are resting next to the towpath; we try to avoid disturbing them but they don't like our looks and march away as we approach. Half an hour later as we return they're back in the same location and repeat the ritual. The Potomac River is surprisingly loud as it cascades over Little Falls Dam. Honeysuckles scent the air and mists drift across the stagnant canal water.
Ken meets us near milepost 6 and we continue northwest past our starting point at the same steady 11-12 min/mi pace. I insist on taking a brief walk every mile, and sporadically we add additional breaks to peer at wildlife, which Ken like C-C is highly adept at spying. There are more great blue herons, possibly a great egret, a probable cormorant perched in a tree, additional ducks, and ubiquitous robins and cardinals. C-C has to get home early and so peels off at milepost 8. Ken and I continue under the Beltway to mile marker 12, along a beautiful section of the C&O that cuts through some hard rock ridges. When we get back to the parking lot Ken continues on as I punch out for home.

Evening Paint Branch Trail

16 May - ~9 miles (~10:15 pace) — Daughter has a recital to attend at UM, so at about 8pm I park next to the Armory and set off, forgetting my headlamp in the car and not realizing the omission until half a mile later. As I cross Campus Drive a hasty car has to slam on its brakes to avoid threatening me (no great danger, as I had paused when I saw it coming) and the embarrassed young driver waves apologetically; she turns out to be a musician partner of my daughter rushing to hear the same concert. I reach Paint Branch Trail ca. its mile 1.4, proceed downstream to mile 0, then out to the trail's end at mile ~3.9, and back to my starting point with an extra lap around the Armory at the end to make sure I've done a full 9 miles. The twilight deepens as I go and it's rather spooky in the woodsy areas near the golf course, where geese honk and frogs clear their throats. At Lake Artemesia an elderly Asian lady smiles, waves, and blows kisses at me as I jog past her bench. Two big rabbits and a herd of half a dozen deer cross the path ahead of me.

(cf. Late October 2005 Jog Log (30 Oct 2005), Three Mooseketeers (1 Dec 2005), Half Beast (4 Jan 2006), Golden Ticket (6 Feb 2006), Pawing The Earth (12 Mar 2006), March April 2006 Jog Log (16 Apr 2006), ...)

- Wednesday, May 17, 2006 at 05:36:07 (EDT)

Feckless Person

Overheard recently, about a less-than-productive individual:

He's got high RPMs but low torque!

(cf. Four Types (2 May 2000), ...)

- Tuesday, May 16, 2006 at 09:45:05 (EDT)

David Copperfield: Book Escape

In Chapter IV ("I fall into Disgrace") of David Copperfield, Charles Dickens depicts the magic of reading:

The natural result of this treatment, continued, I suppose, for some six months or more, was to make me sullen, dull, and dogged. I was not made the less so by my sense of being daily more and more shut out and alienated from my mother. I believe I should have been almost stupefied but for one circumstance.
It was this. My father had left a small collection of books in a little room upstairs, to which I had access (for it adjoined my own) and which nobody else in our house ever troubled. From that blessed little room, Roderick Random, Peregrine Pickle, Humphrey Clinker, Tom Jones, the Vicar of Wakefield, Don Quixote, Gil Blas, and Robinson Crusoe, came out, a glorious host, to keep me company. They kept alive my fancy, and my hope of something beyond that place and time — they, and the Arabian Nights, and the Tales of the Genii — and did me no harm; for whatever harm was in some of them was not there for me; I knew nothing of it.It is astonishing to me now, how I found time, in the midst of my porings and blunderings over heavier themes, to read those books as I did. It is curious to me how I could ever have consoled myself under my small troubles (which were great troubles to me), by impersonating my favourite characters in them — as I did — and by putting Mr. and Miss Murdstone into all the bad ones — which I did too. I have been Tom Jones (a child's Tom Jones, a harmless creature) for a week together. I have sustained my own idea of Roderick Random for a month at a stretch, I verily believe. I had a greedy relish for a few volumes of Voyages and Travels — I forget what, now — that were on those shelves; and for days and days I can remember to have gone about my region of our house, armed with the centre-piece out of an old set of boot-trees — the perfect realization of Captain Somebody, of the Royal British Navy, in danger of being beset by savages, and resolved to sell his life at a great price. The Captain never lost dignity, from having his ears boxed with the Latin Grammar. I did; but the Captain was a Captain and a hero, in despite of all the grammars of all the languages in the world, dead or alive.
This was my only and my constant comfort. When I think of it, the picture always rises in my mind, of a summer evening, the boys at play in the churchyard, and I sitting on my bed, reading as if for life. Every barn in the neighbourhood, every stone in the church, and every foot of the churchyard, had some association of its own, in my mind, connected with these books, and stood for some locality made famous in them. I have seen Tom Pipes go climbing up the church-steeple; I have watched Strap, with the knapsack on his back, stopping to rest himself upon the wicket-gate; and I know that Commodore Trunnion held that club with Mr. Pickle, in the parlour of our little village alehouse.
The reader now understands, as well as I do, what I was when I came to that point of my youthful history to which I am now coming again.

- Monday, May 15, 2006 at 05:43:35 (EDT)

Church of Ontology

A speaker at a recent computer science conference came up with another metaphor for the "Neats" (who seek structured frameworks within which to organize knowledge) as opposed to the "Messies" (who relish the emergence of new phenomena from chaotic interactions):

They're worshippers in the Church of Ontology!

(JCH, 2 May 2006; cf. Neats And Messies (23 Jul 1999), Mud And Crystals (13 Nov 1999), ...)

- Sunday, May 14, 2006 at 05:57:50 (EDT)

Marooned in Realtime

A recent newspaper article quotes Andy Grove, founder of Intel, in a rather brutal metaphor for how to recognize revolutionary change looming over an industry:

... I have this mental silver bullet test. If you had one bullet, who would you shoot with it? If you change the direction of the gun, that is one of the signals that you may be dealing with something more than an ordinary shift in the competitive landscape. ...

Another test that Grove suggests is to start worrying when "... the people you have worked with for 20 years seem to be talking gibberish ...".

And that reminds me of a long-ago-far-away scene in Chapter 18 of Vernor Vinge's 1986 sf novel Marooned in Realtime, wherein a future castaway recounts his attendance at an incomprehensible meeting, as a hyperlinked civilization creeps closer to transcendence:

"My own company was small; there were only eight of us. We were backward, rural; the rest of humanity was hundreds of light-seconds away. The larger spacing firms were better off. Their computers were correspondingly bigger, and they had thousands of people linked. I had friends at Charon Corp and Stellation Inc. They thought we were crazy to stay so isolated. And when we visited their habitats, when the comm lag got to be less than a second, I could see what they meant. There was power and joy and knowledge in those companies. ... And they could plan circles around us. Our only advantage was mobility.
"Yet even those corporations were fragments, a few thousand people here and there. By the beginning of the twenty-third, there were three billion people in the Earth/Luna volume. Three billion people and corresponding processor power — all less than three light-seconds apart.
"I ... it was strange, talking to them. We attended a marketing conference at Luna in 2209. Even linked, we never did understand what was going on." ...

His tiny company was running a complex matter/antimatter distillery near the surface of the Sun, dimming its light as they absorbed energy to produce hundreds of thousands of tons of antimatter per second. But as Earth changed faster and faster, he recalls:

" ... In 2207 we were the hottest project at Stellation Inc. They put everything they had into renting those easements around the sun. But after 2209 the edge was gone from their excitement. At the marketing conference at Luna, it almost seemed Stellation's backers were trying to sell our project as a frivolity."

So when the words stop making sense, perhaps it's time to wake up ...

(cf. On Singularities (7 Jun 1999), Vernor Vinge (17 Sep 2001), [Andrew Grove speech of 9 Aug 1998], and "Microsoft and Google Grapple for Supremacy" by Steve Lohr, New York Times of 10 May 2006, ...)

- Friday, May 12, 2006 at 07:22:43 (EDT)

Kill the Project

At a recent program review meeting, the Information Technology Boss of a sister organization decided that it was time for a particular old computer system to be shut down, now and forever. He declared, with a twinkle in his eye:

"I'm Herod's wife — bring me on a platter the power cord!"

- Wednesday, May 10, 2006 at 22:13:14 (EDT)

D. Dee De Nise

Some months ago a coin club colleague (SK) gave me several issues of The Numismatist (flagship publication of the American Numismatic Association) from 1952, the year of my birth. The half-century old advertisements are attractive, the articles are amusing, and the announcements are absorbing — but most arresting of all are the monthly "From Your Librarian" columns by the alliteratively appellated Mrs. D. Dee De Nise, who writes enthusiastically about books and sundry related matters. For example, in the August copy:

As we grow older, time goes almost as swiftly as money! We have hardly finished reading our Numismatist, and answering advertisements of interest to us, when the next issue arrives! Since I talked to you last month, we have outgrown the four walls of this room. We now have to make a momentous decision — whether to finish a large room in our nice dry basement, or whether to move our bedroom to an extra room we have upstairs, and use the downstairs bedroom as a "library annex" — it being right across the hall from this room. Now don't suggest that we use the upstairs room for the library — the elevator is out of order! And the walls will not take high bookshelves!

Clearly the ANA Library at that time was a welcome guest in her own Seattle home. Mrs. De Nise continues in cheerful detail:

We have added more than two dozen books for you this last month, some of them splendid references. You might be interested to know that it takes just about an hour to add one book to the library. First you record it under donations or purchases in the record book, and give it an Index number. Then you make a card for the Index Files — author, title, where published, year published, itemize the contents of the text, number of pages, number of plates, name of donor or from whom purchased, date, and value. Then type the same thing on the Association label to stick in the book, put the Index number inside and on the back of the book, make out a loan card and paste a pocket in the book, and then shelve the book if you can bring yourself away from the desire to sit down and read it. Now don't let this ritual keep you from sending us a book now and then — we love ritual!

Most of the "From Your Librarian" essays are similarly upbeat, though not all are as full of exclamation marks. In September 1952, for instance, the article begins:

Well, Cheerio, my fine public! You thought you weren't going to have a column this month, but I am stopping in Vancouver, B.C. on my way to New York and I am going to fool you. We won't have time to list the new books we have acquired this month, but I would like to tell you about a letter I received ...

Mrs. De Nise concludes her September notes with an apology:

If your orders have suffered during August, it is because my husband is an electrical engineer and not a librarian. He has sent you the books which you ordered by number, but he was unable to do any research work or to send you books on topics about which he knows nothing.

And in October 1952 she commences:

Cheerio, my good friends — we are back at the old grind after having seen America by Greyhound — 5000 miles of it. I now have a much better idea of the cities and towns where hundreds of you live and as I send books out now, I can better visualize where they are going. ...

The November issue features a special report by Mrs. De Nise titled "Sidelights of the 1952 A.N.A. Convention", chock full of anecdotes and personal profiles. It ends:

Now in closing these notes I think I should tell you the "success story of the year." I brought along a certain number of A.N.A. Reprints and placed them on a table in the Exhibit Room, marking each with its price, and on a paper beneath an ordinary drinking glass, I wrote: Please pay as marked and put your money in the glass. An hour late a Committee member came hurrying to the registration desk with a handful of dollar bills and considerable change, and said, "Don't you know this is New York — you can't leave money around like this!" I answered, "Bur these are Collectors!" Whereupon he hastened to assure me that there was also a constant stream of visitors going through. Well, I didn't have time to go and take care of the table, and in another hour another friend brought me a handful of money and said, "You don't realize this is New York. Can't you bring those Reprints out here in the hall by you?" This happened twice again, and at the end of the day I went in to the Reprint table, and saw that it was empty of Reprints and that the glass was again full of money. I counted all the money which had been brought to me, added the amount from the glass, totalled the prices of all the Reprints which had disappeared from the table, and found that the A.N.A. was seventy-five cents to the good. That was New York!

Obviously she enjoys her job!

(cf. Numismatic Ramblings (7 Aug 2000), Numismatic Luck (19 Sep 2000), The Coin (5 Mar 2002), Montgomery County Coin Club (20 May 2003), Artistic Infusion (15 May 2004), ...)

- Monday, May 08, 2006 at 05:37:01 (EDT)

God Pocket

Overheard yesterday at the office, when a neighbor some cubicles away was thanking a colleague:

You're doing a mitzvah for me — score one in the God Pocket!

- Saturday, May 06, 2006 at 11:34:06 (EDT)

For Greater Justice

Blood Done Sign My Name by Timothy B. Tyson is an important autobiographical history of race relations in the United States, centered on events in North Carolina in the 1960's and 70's. Tyson writes with extraordinary grace and wisdom about the lives (and deaths) of people, black and white. The author is a deeply religious preacher's son, driven to fight for justice. As he notes in Chapter 1 ("Baptism"):

Before I could grasp what had happened in my hometown, I had to root through the basement of the courthouse, ransack the state archives, read a hundred years of old newspapers, and kneel beside the graves of blood kin and strangers. I had to get to know my own father and mother as real human beings, and to understand that the Lord works through deeply flawed people, since He made so few of the other kind. ...
The truth will set us free, so the Bible says, and my own experience bears witness. This story has carved changes in my life as deep as the enduring chasm of race in this country, but far more fortuitous. My search for the meaning of the troubles in Oxford launched me toward a life of learning, across lines of color and caste, out of my little boy's vision of my family's well-lighted place in the world and into the shadows where histories and memories and hopes abide.

Blood Done Sign My Name is full of deft, often self-deprecating humor. In Chapter 5 ("King Jesus and Dr. King") Tim Tyson adroitly explains the circumstances in 1966 which led to his father's abrupt move as pastor to the Oxford United Methodist Church:

Their previous minister — the Reverend Smith, as I shall call him — apparently had become spiritually and perhaps otherwise entangled with one of the more prominent women in his congregation. Counseling the good sister on matters of the Spirit, alas, Reverend Smith had wandered into the realm of the flesh. And the poor fool, intoxicated by love, had written Herself an amorous and wistful letter, which had fallen into the hands of her husband. Mr. Jones, as I shall call him, was a shopkeeper in a nearby town who sold, among other things, shotguns and pistols.

After recounting the outcome of the Smith and Jones confrontation — an abrupt, indefinitely-extended vacation by Reverend Smith — Tim Tyson describes his father's reaction to the transfer to Oxford:

The thing you have to understand about Daddy is that he wasn't just saying that stuff about the Lord. His God was a God who had a plan for your life, but who left you room to make your own mistakes. Your job was to watch for signs and listen for guidance. What others might dismiss as the vagaries of fate, my father interpreted as dancing lessons from the Divine. Every step was part of a ballet too large for you to see it all, a provisional choreography perhaps not even intended for you to understand, and the key was to move into its rhythms with both humility and boldness, never mistaking yourself for the director. ...

In Chapter 11 ("We All Have Our Own Stories") Tyson sketches a profile of family friend Ben Averett, who owned a farm where Tim spent some of his summers as a youth:

Ben was a brawny, forthright man whom I liked to call "Pharoah," because he kept me and Ed busy picking up rocks, weeding the garden, and carrying wood for the fires. Ben worked us hard, but he also showed us how to ride horses, shoot guns, catch fish, and think for ourselves. Though he had a gruff manner and a quick temper, he was also gentle and kind, quick to forgive, and defied all stereotypes. Ben kept rifles, shotguns, and pistols of all descriptions, drove a pickup truck, and liked country music. He made the best barbecued chicken the South has ever seen. Possibility was his playground. "Anything that you ever want to do, there is a book about it at the library," Ben liked to say. And his life bore testimony to his philosophy: he could build houses, do plumbing and electrical work, grow peaches, lay tile, and dance like nobody's business. Growing up, I considered Ben a model for what a man ought to be and do, and I was not far wrong. One day Ben decided that writing a sonnet couldn't be any harder than building a house, checked out a bunch of books about sonnets, and wrote a masterful sonnet — about building a house.

Finally, near the end of the "Acknowledgements" at the back of his book, Tyson describes a lovely scene with his mother:

When I was only three years old, Mama found me on the floor with a book pulled tightly against my face, sobbing hard. When she asked me why on earth I was crying, I told her, "Because I can't get in the book." Now, I could not read at that age. What had happened, really, is that my mother had read so many books to me, so vividly, so beautifully, that I expected to be able to pick up the book and plunge instantly into beautiful depths of the imagination, and was disappointed that I could not. In later years, of course, I found exactly that kind of staisfaction in books, and I owe all that to Mama. Martha Buie Tyson stands like a tree beside the river of our lives, giving shade and sustenance, and teaching all of us by example. ...

A good friend loaned me Blood Done Sign My Name and told me that after he read it he immediately bought additional copies to give to his children and lend out to others. I am doing likewise ...

(cf. For Great Justice (1 Sep 2002), Interracial Intimacies (24 Feb 2003), Racial Relationships (10 Jan 2004), An Hour Before Daylight (25 May 2004), Interracial Checkmate (20 Jul 2004), Race And Love (6 Aug 2004), Troublesome Words (9 Apr 2006), ...)

- Thursday, May 04, 2006 at 05:56:00 (EDT)

Syntactic Sugar

Poet Robert Pinsky took part on 18 April 2006 in an online conversation hosted by the Washington Post newspaper. Among many thoughtful comments, a few leapt forward. In response to a question about how to improve one's literacy in poetry:

Everybody is different, but I think general, how-to books are less useful than starting with something you already love ... and reading more by that author. ... And, try reading aloud. Try typing out or writing out the words of a poem that interests you.

Concerning poetry that seems "purposely really obscure, or difficult to understand or parse," Pinsky suggests:

MERE difficulty is nothing. But a worthy difficulty, the difficulty of Milton or Dickinson or Wallace Stevens, is a great source of pleasure and light. ... A worthy difficulty about a difficult matter is a great, valuable gift.

And most delightful (to me, a sucker for self-reference) is Pinsky's reply to "How do you feel about the usage of metaphor in poetry?":

It's sugar.

(cf. [1], Rules Versus Principles (23 Jun 1999), Iambic Honesty 1 (23 Apr2001), Lying Verses (15 Mar 2001), ...)

- Tuesday, May 02, 2006 at 05:45:43 (EDT)

Indexer/Browser Flashback

Last week during a break between talks at a science and technology conference I had a delightful chance encounter with an old acquaintance, WP, who gave me a precious gift: he told me that he still uses the "Free Text Indexer/Browser" software that I wrote 20 years ago! I suspect he's the last person on the planet to do so. What he still likes about my antiquated real-time high-bandwidth information retrieval (IR) code is that it's:

It's also free and works on just about any computer system. The interface is ugly but functional. Free Text provides some powerful features that are lacking in most "modern" IR tools:

Hmmmmm ... I really need to dig out that old software and rewrite it — maybe in Perl, using a proper database, with a web interface, etc. Tnx for reminding me, WP!

(cf. [Free Text Archive], [Free Text IR Philosophy], and Free Text Desiderata (29 Oct 1999), Kwics Chinks And Chunks (31 Jan 2000), World Texas History (15 May 2000), Free Text Friends (25 Aug 2000), Ir Wishes (4 Jan 2001), Personal Computer History (25 Feb 2002), ...)

- Sunday, April 30, 2006 at 04:47:55 (EDT)

Feeding Frenzy

A colleague recently described the ultimate in selfish competition among elements of the bureaucracy:

It's like a shark feeding-frenzy over bits of styrofoam!

- Friday, April 28, 2006 at 05:27:49 (EDT)

Ransom of Russian Art

John McPhee is, in my opinion, the world's greatest living writer of nonfiction — which makes his 1994 book The Ransom of Russian Art an enigma. Unlike every other work of his that I've read, Ransom is curiously disorganized in its structure and sporadically clumsy in its language. Perhaps a heavily-edited subset of it would have made a good brief article. Perhaps someone other than the McPhee whose words I worship was responsible for wrestling it into book format.

But in spite of all that, at intervals the McPhee I adore emerges. For example, here's a description of American professor (and Russian art collector) Norton Dodge's home environment:

On top of a small fire extinguisher on the kitchen wall at Cremona Farm are thirteen hats, hung there offhandedly, one upon another, each a sign of fresh arrival, each a distinct moment in epicranial time, as random and as ordered as any stratigraphy, and all belonging to Norton T. Dodge. One ignores, of course, the great formal portico and enters the house through the kitchen — a fairly large room, square, with a professional range, a countertopped island, a refrigerator six feet wide. There is topography in this kitchen — hills, valleys. Mail, for example, on the central island, appears to represent a wedge of time from the present backward two years. Spices in little unracked cans, enough for twenty farms. Bottles, boxes, bags in great profusion, contents half consumed. West of Anatolia, there may be no bazaar denser than Dodge's kitchen. On a corner table is a heap of newspaper clippings and other printed materials that date back — riffling reveals — at least seven years. What is all that? One can't help asking. "Inert stuff that needs to be processed," the owner says. "Meanwhile, the cat lies on it." Posted on the door to the kitchen porch are many bulletins. One lists a hundred and fourteen bird species seen on Cremona Farm in a six-week period twenty years ago.
The kitchen porch is long, narrow, glassed-in, full of canoe paddles and climbing vines. The table where Dodge works and takes his meals requires plowing to get down to surfaces level enough for the meals. Within the eight-year-old stack on a second table is a blackboard eraser, a book called "Self Management and Efficiency — Large Corporations in Yugoslavia," a three-year-old Washington Post, and a seven-year-old letter signed "Vladimir Urban."
Nancy Dodge has said of her husband: "Norton is a collector in all respects. Books. Magazines. Art catalogues. It's like living with the Sorcerer's Apprentice. If you clear a place it fills right back up.

... which reminds me, alas, of my desk!

(cf. Sense Of Where You Are (4 Jun 1999), World Trade Center (11 Sep 2001), Indian River (30 Jul 2004), Mardi Gras (5 Oct 2005), ...)

- Wednesday, April 26, 2006 at 05:48:25 (EDT)

Light of Evolution

Another book joins the too-long list of those I need to read: On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life (1859). A recent article about "Intelligent Design" led me to Charles Darwin's rhapsodic words in the concluding chapter of Origin:

... When we no longer look at an organic being as a savage looks at a ship, as something wholly beyond his comprehension; when we regard every production of nature as one which has had a long history; when we contemplate every complex structure and instinct as the summing up of many contrivances, each useful to the possessor, in the same way as any great mechanical invention is the summing up of the labour, the experience, the reason, and even the blunders of numerous workmen; when we thus view each organic being, how far more interesting — I speak from experience — does the study of natural history become!

That quote took me back to Theodosius Dobzhansky's essay with its wonderfully poetic title, "Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution" (published in The American Biology Teacher, March 1973). It's a lucid and thoughtful discussion, from a deeply religious viewpoint, of the non-conflict between faith and the Darwinian theory of evolution by natural selection. Dobzhansky in turn led me to Pierre Teilhard de Chardin's The Phenomenon of Man, where in Book Three, Chapter III appears:

Is evolution a theory, a system, or a hypothesis? It is much more: it is a general condition to which all theories, all hypotheses, all systems must bow and which they must satisfy henceforward if they are to be thinkable and true. Evolution is a light illuminating all facts, a curve which all lines must follow.

Well, maybe not all; it seems to me that most of mathematics, for instance, stands outside. Nonetheless ...

(Teilhard de Chardin as translated by Bernard Wall; cf. Human Nature (5 Dec 1999), Physics Envy (11 Apr 2001), Invisible Zebras (7 Aug 2001), Essential Knowledge (20 Jun 2005), ...)

- Monday, April 24, 2006 at 05:45:45 (EDT)

Adventure Racing

The Thrill of Victory, the Agony of My Feet is an interesting but ultimately forgettable collection of "Tales from the World of Adventure Racing", edited by Neal Jamison, Maureen Moslow-Benway, and Nic Stover. Jamison's earlier anthology of inspirational ultramarathon participant essays, Running Through The Wall, was a joy to read. In contrast, Thrill seems like a pedestrian depiction of artificially-imposed risk, bad judgment, expensive equipment, and self-promotion. The television exposure of "adventure racing" during the past decade is likely responsible for most of these problems. As usual, it's all about the money: in order to attract large audiences and thereby sell expensive commercials, fake "reality" drama has to be injected into what otherwise might be interesting wilderness experiences. Participants have to play the game, or they won't get sponsorship.

But among the chaff, Thrill offers occasional grains of thoughtful writing. Most noteworthy perhaps is Michael Shepardson's "The Beast in Me", where he observes:

The four of us share a few final words as friends before we cross the starting line and become racers. In life, you know who you are and generally how you will feel each day. In adventure racing, you don't know from hour to hour. One moment you make a brilliant navigational coup de grâce that avoids seven miles of bushwacking. An hour later, your team-mates are force-feeding you GU in hopes you'll stop complaining that Santa Claus is stalking you.
During an adventure race, you will be the hero and you will be the goat. Somehow you must come to terms with that and handle both states with grace. It is impossible to adquately prepare for uncertainty so you must simply set aside your concerns and "have a go." ...

Actually that last bit sounds a lot like real life, eh?!

(cf. Running Through The Wall (23 Jan 2005), ...)

- Saturday, April 22, 2006 at 09:38:21 (EDT)

Maximum City

Suketu Mehta's Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found was a runner-up for the Pulitzer Prize in nonfiction last year. Its topic — Mumbai, aka Bombay — is a fascinating one. But although there are promising images along the way, Maximum City falls short in several dimensions. It's excruciatingly first-personal; the author's mantra might well be "ego, ergo sum" as he constantly stands in the way of his subjects. The book is also senselessly potty-mouthed, crude, and voyeuristic, not to mention disorganized. It includes what appear to be gross exaggerations, presumably for dramatic effect. Without support or qualification, strings of superlatives ("biggest city on the planet", "world's longest constitution", "world's largest backlog of court cases", etc.) become distractions or worse. How can "... workers inject granite into the spiderweb of fissures in the building's walls, shoring them up", when granite is a solid igneous rock? Can there really be as many actively murderous gangsters as Mehta claims to rub shoulders with? How much of the obtrusive sexuality here is real, as opposed to literate fantasy? Credence boggles.

And yet! And yet, in spite of all obstacles, at intervals the people of Mumbai succeed in sneaking onto the stage of Maximum City and manage to say a few words or strike a memorable pose. There are slice-of-life moments, as when Bollywood superstar Shahrukh Khan goes into a movie director's kitchen to make tea during a script conference, or when the author's younger son Akash takes his first steps, or when we glimpse people on the edge of existence in Mumbai's sprawling slums. And there are cultural flashes, such as a tempting recipe for "masala Coke" (in Part II, "Pleasure", chapter "Vadapav Eaters' City"):

... This is the same old Coca-Cola you know, the same fizzy brown liquid, but with lemon, rock salt, pepper, and cumin added to it. When the Coke is poured into the glass, which has a couple of teaspoons of the masala waiting to attack the liquid from the bottom up, the American drink froths up in astonished anger. The waiter stands at your booth, waiting till the froth dies down, then puts in a little more of the Coke, then waits a moment more, then pours in the rest. And lo! it has become a Hindu Coke. The alien invader has come into the country. It has been accepted into the pantheon of local drinks but has a little spice added to it, a little more zing. ...

Maximum City is a mess of a book, without index or adequate maps. (Problems extend to the physical volume; my copy mysteriously repeats pages 243 through 258.) Chunks of it were previously published in various magazines; perhaps that accounts for its patchwork feel. And yet! Like the great metropolis itself, it has scenery and spirit, struggle and sound. But like a too-slow bus tour, not quite often enough.

(cf. Ankh Micholi (12 Jul 2002), Tiffin Wallah (14 Jan 2004), Love Winds And Fan Service (2 Feb 2004), Navy Blue Of India (19 Apr 2004), Marry The One (20 May 2005), Sound Of Bangles (24 Aug 2005), Death Of Vishnu (14 Feb 2006), ...)

- Thursday, April 20, 2006 at 05:22:23 (EDT)

Fascinating vs. Interesting

Once upon a time online I referred to an idea as "fascinating". A colleague chided me for over-enthusiasm, and cited a remark by ultra-logical Mr. Spock of Star Trek:

"Fascinating" is a word I use for the unexpected. In this case, I should think "interesting" would suffice.

That reminded me in turn of the legendary politeness of Danish quantum physicist Niels Bohr (1885-1962), who would reputedly say, "Interesting, very interesting," when a speaker's presentation was either boring or wrong.

(Mr. Spock quote from the Star Trek episode "The Squire of Gothos" by Paul Schneider; cf. Attractive Opposites (10 Jul 1999), Great Ideas (3 May 1999), Dis Sanity (13 Mar 2001), ...)

- Tuesday, April 18, 2006 at 05:53:14 (EDT)

March-April 2006 Jog Log

For the past month my jogging has been an infrequent but pleasant affair, with a happy race result, a thunderstorm run, and three 20+ mile outings. We'll see how well I can continue this sort of thing as weather gets warmer and more humid. Meanwhile:

Top 100

18 Mar 2006 - 4 miles (8:40 pace) — Four years ago my road racing "career" (loosely defined!) began at the MCRRC Super Sligo event with a 34:59 result, 84th of 148 finishers (see Jog Log Fog, 2 Jun 2002). At the 2003 running I slipped to 38:58, 100th of again 148. I missed the next two runnings since the 50k HAT Run fell on the same day in '04 and '05. This year's HAT is scheduled for next week, however, so the Super Sligo is an option. It goes well, by my watch in 34:30 for yet another 100th place among an unknown but, I fantasize, somewhat larger number of participants. The '06 course is 4.0 miles, so my 2002 result is a faster objective pace. But if I allow a handicap of 1% per year of advancing age the 2006 Super Sligo may well be my fastest race ever – or at least, so I can delude myself!
I arrive late and snag the last parking space available, thanks to volunteer Jim Rich and colleagues. After last Saturday's lockout I carefully take the correct car key this time and wend my way to the registration desk, greeting comrade Ken and fellow Boy Scout father Paul en route. I've once more forgotten my race bib, so a kind person writes one out for me by hand. There's now barely time to amble to the starting line, where I arrive just as the "GO!" signal is given. I see nobody recognizable to run with, and so launch forward. Miles 1 and 3 are downhill on this double-loop course, so my splits of 8:13 + 9:07 + 8:14 + 8:52 are relatively even in perceived-effort. Ken's daughter Hilary greets me and zips by at mile 1. I then chat briefly about Chi Running with Betty Smith before settling down to work; no walk breaks today except for a few seconds at the midpoint water station. At the finish line I applaud Ken and Caren, and we all go inside to talk and eat and drink. Others have to leave early so I end up with five door-prize tickets for the drawing, but alas win nothing. Conversations with various experienced ultrarunners cement my resolution to attempt the JFK 50 miler this November. We shall see!

Hat Run 2006

25 Mar 2006 - 31 miles (~14:40 pace) — see Hat Run 2006 for details of this splendid sylvan ramble with friend Ruth.

April Fool

1 Apr 2006 - 11+ miles (~11:30 pace) — High noon, an hour into the Bethesda Loop, and as I'm jogging north along Old Georgetown Road it's time to make a tough decision: take off the shirt, or not? In favor of keeping it on: I'm trying to get acclimated to the heat before summer arrives; it's a "Tussey Mountainback" ultra shirt which might impress some random passer-by; and baring my manly chest likely will terrify the natives and cause car accidents. (cf. the Rainer Maria Rilke poem "Archaic Torso of Apollo", e.g., "... And yet his torso / is still suffused with brilliance from inside, / like a lamp, in which his gaze, now turned to low, / gleams in all its power. ...") But on the other hand I'm starting to feel some abrasion on certain delicate male decorations (cf. Mana Burn) and it would be a shame to get a pair of bloodstains on this nice t-shirt. So off it comes.
The jog today, a week after the HAT Run, feels comfortable with one-minute walk breaks every half mile. I'm trying a new brand of sunscreen (which doesn't run into my eyes, thank goodness) and a new fanny pack (an Ultimate Direction mini-thing) wherein I've replaced the little gel bottle with my cellphone. As I approach the end of the journey, climbing the Ireland Drive bike path in Walter Reed Annex, I find the top of the trail is blocked by construction fences (a developer is building condos; your tax dollars at work, more or less). But a brief scramble through the woods just outside the barrier soon leads me to Woodstock Court and thence home via the always-inspirational Triple Mermaid Fountain ... all three of whose horses are now headless.

Thunder Run

3 Apr - ~4 miles (~11:15 pace) — A tornado warning is in effect for the region, raindrops have just started to fall, lightning is flickering in the distance, the wind is beginning to pick up, and at 7:20pm it's about to get dark — clearly a perfect time to head out for a run! Mammatus clouds hang down pendulous overhead. Five minutes from home the sprinkle turns into a downpour. I get an automatic entry into the wet t-shirt contest, and soon thereafter my socks and shoes are soaked. Thunder rumbles and the lightning strobes often enough to illuminate the trail from Woodstock Lane to the paved Ireland Drive path down to Rock Creek. I head south and skip the walk breaks this evening to stay warm. The middle mile is 10:47, between RCT mile markers 2.25 and 1.25. Then it's home via the Georgetown Branch shortcut, holding headlamp in hand to light the way. I arrive looking like a drowned rat.

Ken's Long Run

9 Apr - 21+ miles (~11:30 pace) — "Cormorants!" an ornithologically literate lady informs us. Comrade Ken and I are wondering aloud what were the dozens of small vulture-like birds we saw perched on a tree by the Potomac. Today is Ken's final long run in preparation for his first marathon in three weeks. We start our journey in the downtown Bethesda parking lot by the Capital Crescent Trail, where C-C and Ruth join us at 7am. They each have other commitments and so can only do only the first six miles with us, eastwards from milepost 3.5 to 0.5 and back again. I force everybody to pause for photos on the Rock Creek Trestle, where an icy film makes for treacherous footing.
Ken and I continue south along the CCT, chatting all the while about politics, movies, baseball, running, and whatever else crosses at least one of our minds. We meet Jim Cavanaugh heading the opposite way around the midpoint of our trek and shake hands. I have a sample pack of Clif Bloks and we try those, along with Clif Shots and Gatorade. I take an S! electrolyte cap at the Thompson Boat Center, about mile 14 for us, and another one an hour later. Ken sets a brisk (for me) pace, and seems comfortable with it. I predict that he will have a good time at the Frederick Marathon.

Bonk! Bonk!

16 Apr - ~23 miles (~12:30 pace) — I start to worry when I discover the water fountain is missing at the Adelphi Manor Recreation Center, just north of University Blvd. on the Northwest Branch Trail (NWBT). I'm experimenting this Easter Sunday with a long loop: from home along Forest Glen Road to the Sligo Creek Trail (SCT), then upstream ~3 miles to Wheaton Regional Park where I follow a horse path for a mile over the hills into the watershed of Northwest Branch. I proceed down NWBT for ~9 miles to its confluence with the bounteous Sligo and take SCT ~7 miles back to where I joined it over four hours earlier. It adds up to a ~20 mile circuit plus a bit more for the out-and-back to my home. (The GPS "odometer" says 21.2 but the track recorder computes 22.9 miles. That's still a little low, since the unit lost satellite lock for a few miles in the depths of the valley cut by Northwest Branch south of the Beltway. It replaced that segment with a straight line, so the actual distance is significantly longer.)
The temperature is only in the upper 60's but the old ^z carcass isn't acclimated to anything above 50°F yet. By the time I reach the Sligo Rec Center I've finished the 20 oz. bottle of Gatorade I'm holding and am sorely disappointed to find the water fountain there dysfunctional. Fortunately a restroom in Wheaton Regional is unlocked and I refill my empty bottle there, keeping a fanny-pack squeeze-bottle of Gatorade in reserve. I take a Succeed! electrolyte cap at the 90 minute mark and at the NWBT crossing of Colesville Rd. wash down a Clif Shot with the rest of my water. I ditch the again-empty container in a trash can there — fortunately for me, since the next stretch of the trail is rocky-steep and I need a free hand to steady myself during several of the boulder traverses.
So far my pace has been steady, 11-12 min/mi along smooth terrain with a 3:1::jog:walk ratio; I go slower when on "real trail". Adelphi Manor's cricket pitch is intact and being used, but there's only a concrete stub where the water fountain used to be. I've been husbanding my remaining water, it's almost noon, and I start to suffer. I increase the length and frequency of my walk breaks, soon converging on alternate minutes of jogging and walking for a 12-13 min/mi pace. Finally, about 16 miles into the day's journey I find water at Sligo Creek North Neighborhood Park near the corner of Flower Ave. and Sligo Creek Pkwy. I suck down more than a pint, refill my bottle, take another S! cap, and predictably start to feel better 15 minutes later. The remaining miles home are still a slog but not a disaster. Lesson: Don't get dehydrated!

(cf. September 2005 Jog Log (30 Sep 2005), Golden Trump (16 Oct 2005), Late October 2005 Jog Log (30 Oct 2005), Three Mooseketeers (1 Dec 2005), Half Beast (4 Jan 2006), Golden Ticket (6 Feb 2006), Pawing The Earth (12 Mar 2006), ...)

- Sunday, April 16, 2006 at 20:59:28 (EDT)

Give Me the Brain

One of my favorite silly-social card games is called "Give Me the Brain". It's by James Ernest [1], game designer extraordinaire, and involves a fast-food restaurant run by zombies. They've only got one brain among them, so they have to pass it around and take turns in order to assemble orders and serve the customers.

GMtB came to mind again the other day, when in the context of some bone-headed bureaucratic decision that a large organization made, a colleage of mine remarked, "Occasionally someone takes the communal brain out of the jar and dusts it off."

(cf. Falling Prey (16 Aug 1999), The Defenders (27 May 2002), Wonder Land (4 Jan 2003), Corps Of Mockers (28 Sep 2005), ...)

- Friday, April 14, 2006 at 05:37:51 (EDT)

Qi Running

Qi, a mystical life-force or spiritual energy that flows through the body? Sorry, but I see no need for that hypothesis. Measurable, reproducible physical phenomena — mostly involving chemical reactions and mechanical processes — seem quite effective in explaining the physiology and functioning of animals, including human animals.

So the theory behind Chi Running, a book by Danny Dreyer, doesn't move me in the least. But recently several jogging comrades recommended Chi Running, and one went so far as to lend me her copy of the text. Looking into it, the applications of qi (the modern romanization of the Chinese word) to running that it prescribes seem eminently reasonable:

Nothing to argue with there!

(cf. Tai Chi Running (21 Jul 2002), Slower Runners Guide (30 Oct 2002), Running Advice (2 Oct 2003), Survival Factors (26 Aug 2005), ...)

- Wednesday, April 12, 2006 at 13:57:38 (EDT)

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