^zhurnal 0.55

Howdy, pilgrim! You're in volume 0.55 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 = 0.54 ... complete list at bottom of page ... send comments & suggestions to "z (at) his (dot) com" ... tnx!)

Soul-Numbing Tedium

Rob Pegoraro, columnist in the local newspaper, was "... contemplating such tasks as regulating what software runs at start-up ..." in a certain operating system produced by a convicted monopolist. He came up with a delightfully evocative phrase:

soul-numbing tedium

... a sensation that all-too-often arises when wrestling with modern technology!

(cf. "A Work List for Windows Vista", Washington Post (16 July 2006), and Personal Positivism (16 Nov 2002), Thank You Bell Labs (26 May 2003), Browser Innovation (28 Oct 2003), Worth The Cost (3 Feb 2004), ...)

- Thursday, July 20, 2006 at 18:27:47 (EDT)

Closer to Fine

A few "popular" songs have deep philosophical underpinnings, though one might not notice it upon first hearing the lyrics. The refrain of an Indigo Girls song, for instance, recently caught my ear as it commented on one of my favorite themes, the importance of ambiguity in life:

  There’s more than one answer to these questions
    Pointing me in a crooked line
  And the less I seek my source for some definitive
    The closer I am to fine ...

(cf. Underappreciated Ideas (6 July 1999), Lyric Notes (29 Mar 2002), Prophetic Uncertainty Principle (29 May 2004), Lyrical Hook (2 Sep 2004), Cool Color Right On Rain (2 Dec 2004), Mystery Religion (8 Feb 2005), Southern Cross (28 July 2005), ...)

- Wednesday, July 19, 2006 at 05:34:45 (EDT)

David Copperfield: Estate Law

A funny-cynical moment occurs in David Copperfield, Chapter XXVI, "I Fall into Captivity", where (in a passage perhaps presaging Bleak House?) Charles Dickens comments on how legal proceedings can eat up an inheritance:

I asked Mr. Spenlow what he considered the best sort of professional business? He replied, that a good case of a disputed will, where there was a neat little estate of thirty or forty thousand pounds, was, perhaps, the best of all. In such a case, he said, not only were there very pretty pickings, in the way of arguments at every stage of the proceedings, and mountains upon mountains of evidence on interrogatory and counter-interrogatory (to say nothing of an appeal lying, first to the Delegates, and then to the Lords), but, the costs being pretty sure to come out of the estate at last, both sides went at it in a lively and spirited manner, and expense was no consideration. ...

- Monday, July 17, 2006 at 18:49:51 (EDT)

Balance the Books

Sometimes the most amazing discoveries emerge from a mundane attempt to make two columns of numbers sum to the same thing. Neutrinos, those famously elusive subatomic particles, were invented to keep from losing track of energy and momentum in nuclear weak interactions. Cliff Stoll's discovery of international computer crime (cf. The Cuckoo's Egg) grew out of a mismatch between a pair of billing accounts. James Clerk Maxwell had to insert new terms into his equations of electromagnetism so that moving a coil of wire over a magnet would induce the same current as moving a magnet through a coil of wire. Likewise for Albert Einstein's connections between space, time, and matter.

Other examples?

(cf. Edge Of The Universe (8 June 1999), Cherished Beliefs (19 Apr 2000), Key Problems (11 Oct 2003), ...)

- Sunday, July 16, 2006 at 10:36:01 (EDT)

Old Masters

In competitive running people who are at least 40 years of age are called "Masters" and have their own category of prizes. But honestly, that usage of the word Masters reeks of patronizing euphemism. It's like referring to heavier runners as Clydesdales (males over 200 lbs.) or Athenas (women over 145 lbs.).

So — Modest Proposal #402 — how about some more forthright longevity-based divisions?

For "senior" (another circumlocution!) lady racers, age-rated categories could include hags, crones, harpies, etc. And extending this principle to younger runners suggests some further interestingly blunt possibilities: brats, urchins, whippersnappers, ...

(cf. Big And Strong (27 July 2004), ...)

- Friday, July 14, 2006 at 13:05:25 (EDT)

Pickwick Papers August

In Chapter XVI ("Too Full of Adventure to Be Briefly Described") of The Pickwick Papers Charles Dickens channels John Keats in painting a picture of August:

There is no month in the whole year in which nature wears a more beautiful appearance than in the month of August. Spring has many beauties, and May is a fresh and blooming month, but the charms of this time of year are enhanced by their contrast with the winter season. August has no such advantage. It comes when we remember nothing but clear skies, green fields, and sweet-smelling flowers — when the recollection of snow, and ice, and bleak winds, has faded from our minds as completely as they have disappeared from the earth — and yet what a pleasant time it is! Orchards and cornfields ring with the hum of labour; trees bend beneath the thick clusters of rich fruit which bow their branches to the ground; and the corn, piled in graceful sheaves, or waving in every light breath that sweeps above it, as if it wooed the sickle, tinges the landscape with a golden hue. A mellow softness appears to hang over the whole earth; the influence of the season seems to extend itself to the very wagon, whose slow motion across the well-reaped field is perceptible only to the eye, but strikes with no harsh sound upon the ear.
As the coach rolls swiftly past the fields and orchards which skirt the road, groups of women and children, piling the fruit in sieves, or gathering the scattered ears of corn, pause for an instant from their labour, and shading the sun-burned face with a still browner hand, gaze upon the passengers with curious eyes, while some stout urchin, too small to work, but too mischievous to be left at home, scrambles over the side of the basket in which he has been deposited for security, and kicks and screams with delight. The reaper stops in his work, and stands with folded arms, looking at the vehicle as it whirls past; and the rough cart-horses bestow a sleepy glance upon the smart coach team, which says as plainly as a horse's glance can, 'It's all very fine to look at, but slow going, over a heavy field, is better than warm work like that, upon a dusty road, after all.' You cast a look behind you, as you turn a corner of the road. The women and children have resumed their labour; the reaper once more stoops to his work; the cart-horses have moved on; and all are again in motion. ...

- Thursday, July 13, 2006 at 20:26:24 (EDT)

Unfortunate Billboard

Back in Texas this month to visit family, as I travel down Interstate Highway 290 east of Austin I spy a blank sign high above the roadside. Some years ago at this location appeared what must have been one of the most ill-starred advertisements in all of history. The image was of a huge all-terrain vehicle, and the caption read:

Steroids for your SUV!

The ad was for a brand of radial tire that turned out to be associated with blowouts and fatal rollover accidents. Anabolic steroid abuse by athletes was only beginning. Gasoline prices had yet to skyrocket. That billboard managed to hit three for three! Was it cursed? Is that why it's empty of any image today?

- Tuesday, July 11, 2006 at 15:22:18 (EDT)

Rock Creek Trail: Miles 10 to 14

[1] Milepost 10 of Rock Creek Trail stands beside the path just south of Veirs Mill Road, as the trail nears a set of soccer fields and Parklawn Memorial Park (a cemetery). This section of RCT crosses or follows park access roads as it passes over hills and through woods. Deer, rabbits, squirrels, and other creatures are often to be seen. After the milepost the trail proceeds via a sometimes-swampy area to Veirs Mill Road (busy street = DANGER!) and then zig-zags on neighborhood lanes until it returns to the creek at Aspen Hill Park. A good all-weather water fountain is located immediately west of the circular parking lot. RCT10
RCT_SueWen Approaching mile 11 is "Sue's Spot". This is a small memorial meadow on the east side of the trail created and maintained in memory of Sue Wen Stottmeister, local jogger and young mother who was murdered near here in 2001. By the bench in the glade are flowers and race medals donated in honor of Sue. (cf. Sue Wen Run, 29 May 2002)
[2] The trail around milepost 11 follows the creek closely, past dramatic rock outcroppings. Side paths lead to neighborhood streets. Fallen logs often exhibit bizarre fungus growth here. RCT11
RCT12 [3] Milepost 12 is just south of Baltimore Road (DANGER! — fast traffic and poor lines of sight). The trail proceeds north and passes under Norbeck Road, where an all-season water fountain is available.
[4] After milepost 13 the Rock Creek Trail includes two more hazardous street crossings (Avery Road and Southlawn Lane) before it begins the climb to its end. This section of the trail features nice bridges over tributary streams. Lake Bernard Frank and various nearby community recreation areas can be accessed via side paths from the main RCT. RCT13
RCT14 [5] Here RCT curves away from Rock Creek, eventually to emerge from the forest to run beside large open playing fields to Milepost 14. A few hundred meters farther is a final water fountain near a parking lot at the southern end of Lake Needwood.
Lake Needwood, the end of Rock Creek Trail, was placid when this photograph was taken in August 2004. During late June of 2006, after days of heavy rain the lake rose dozens of feet and the earthen dam in the foreground began to leak. Several thousand people were evacuated until the water level could be lowered and the dam stabilized. RCT_LakeNeedwood

See [6] for a zoomable map showing the locations of GPS waypoints taken by ^z at every milepost along Rock Creek Trail, plus landmarks on other hiker/biker/jogger trails in the metropolitan area. Note that some map links in the image descriptions above have been tweaked to correspond to true milepost locations as depicted on Google Maps.

(photos taken by Mark Zimmermann along RCT; cf. Rock Creek Trail (31 May 2002), Google Map Experiments (11 Sep 2005), Rock Creek Trail Miles 0 To 4 (26 Sep 2005), Rock Creek Trail Miles 5 To 9 (16 Jan 2006), ...)

- Monday, July 10, 2006 at 13:25:12 (EDT)

David Copperfield on Animal Rights

A striking passage appears in Chapter XXIII ("I Corroborate Mr. Dick, and Choose a Profession") in Charles Dickens' David Copperfield, when David's aunt criticizes the London food supply:

Supper was comfortably served and hot, though my aunt's rooms were very high up — whether that she might have more stone stairs for her money, or might be nearer to the door in the roof, I don't know — and consisted of a roast fowl, a steak, and some vegetables, to all of which I did ample justice, and which were all excellent. But my aunt had her own ideas concerning London provision, and ate but little.
'I suppose this unfortunate fowl was born and brought up in a cellar,' said my aunt, 'and never took the air except on a hackney coach-stand. I hope the steak may be beef, but I don't believe it. Nothing's genuine in the place, in my opinion, but the dirt.'
'Don't you think the fowl may have come out of the country, aunt?' I hinted.
'Certainly not,' returned my aunt. 'It would be no pleasure to a London tradesman to sell anything which was what he pretended it was.'

- Friday, July 07, 2006 at 12:13:48 (EDT)

Pickwick Papers: Width and Wisdom

Chapter 55 of Charles Dickens' The Pickwick Papers includes an important obvervation about getting old, rendered by Mr. Weller the coachman when his son tries to hurry him in getting dressed to go out:

"Vait a minit, Sammy," replied Mr. Weller, who, having tied his shawl with the aid of a small glass that hung in the window, was now, by dint of the most wonderful exertions, struggling into his upper garments. "Vait a minit, Sammy; ven you grow as old as your father, you von't get into your veskit quite as easy as you do now, my boy."
"If I couldn’t get into it easier than that, I'm blessed if I'd vear vun at all," rejoined his son.
"You think so now," said Mr. Weller, with the gravity of age, "but you'll find that as you get vider, you’ll get viser. Vidth and visdom, Sammy, alvays grows together."

- Wednesday, July 05, 2006 at 05:09:14 (EDT)

Smell of Good Prose

The other day I started to read a movie review on a web page, and before I had gotten three sentences into it I just knew that it was well-written. What are the characteristics of "good prose"? Nothing that can be put into a bottle and sold. But four (somewhat?) measurable features that contribute:

What else is necessary? Preferable? Can writing be top-notch when one of the above is absent? Two, or more? How about the ineffable element of "style", the author's "voice"?

(cf. Dream Songs (12 Feb 2004), ...)

- Monday, July 03, 2006 at 06:32:40 (EDT)

David Copperfield Alone and Forlorn

A hilarious passage appears in Chapter XXI ("Little Em'ly") of the original manuscript version of David Copperfield, where several paragraphs had to be deleted to save space when the story appeared serialized in 32-page pamphlets. Gloomy Mrs. Gummidge encounters the hyper-charming young Steerforth:

Mrs. Gummidge as usual was taken poorly in her spirits when we showed a disposition to be merry, and was as usual adjured by Mr. Peggotty to cheer up.
No, Dan'l," said Mrs. Gummidge, shaking her head. "I gets worse and worse. I had far better go in the House tomorrow afore breakfast."
"No, no," cried Steerforth, "don't say so! What's the matter?"
You don't know me, sir," said the doleful Gummidge, "or you wouldn't ask."
"The loss is mine," said Steerforth coaxingly, "but let us know each other better. What's the matter?"
Mrs. Gummidge shed tears, and stated her unfortunate condition in the usual terms. "I'm a lone lorn creetur', and everythink goes contrairy with me!"
"No!" cried Steerforth, "why, we must be designed by Heaven for one another. I'm a lone lorn creature myself, and everything has gone contrary with me from my cradle. Mr. Peggotty, will you change places, and allow me to sit next to her?"
The immediate effect of this on Mrs. Gummidge was to make her laugh. "You lone and lorn!" cried Mrs. Gummidge, peevishly. "Yes! Your looks is like it!"
"They are as like it as yours are," said Steerforth, taking his seat beside her.
"Indeed!" said Mrs. Gummidge, with another laugh.
Ay, indeed!" cried Steerforth. "Come! Let us be lone and lorn together. Everything shall go contrary with us both, and we'll go contrary with all the world."
It was in vain for Mrs. Gummidge to resist this league, or to try to push him away. He sat there all the rest of the evening, and, whenever Mrs. Gummidge began to shake her head, repeated his proposal. The consequence was that Mrs. Gummidge was continually laughing and pushing him, and had so little leisure for being miserable that she said next day she thought she must have been bewitched.

- Saturday, July 01, 2006 at 05:24:48 (EDT)

Sponge Bath

After only 65 years the bathroom at Che^z is being remodeled, so I take off work at noon on Tuesday to see if my help is needed. It's not, and when wife and contractor go out to shop for tile and sink and faucets I put camera into plastic sandwich bag and set off for a jog. Torrential rains have caused flooding along Rock Creek where my feet lead me. At Candy Cane playground, inundated a day or two ago, a local TV cameraman is trying to get commentary from two girls who are out walking their dog. I overhear him ask: "Do you come here often?" A Washington Post reporter seeks some color from me: "What do you think about mud?" I fail to come up with a snappy sound bite and miss my chance for fame. Back home two and a half hours later I take a standing sponge bath in the basement at the laundry sink. A chill breeze from the air conditioner duct overhead blows on my carcass. Other adventure runs in recent weeks from the logbook include:

Gaithersburg XC

9 Jun 2006 - 3+ miles (~10:30 pace) — Jeff and Bonnie (recovering from knee surgery) greet me on the way to the sign-up pavillion at this Friday evening's MCRRC-sponsored cross-country 5k. I leave home early but take a "short cut" that leads me roundabout but eventually to Gaithersburg High School. A violent thunderstorm en route gives me hope that turnout will be small, but (alas) more than 200 runners show up. I discover that I've forgotten my #333 bib again. The same kind volunteer with exquisite penmanship who did it a few months ago creates a replacement for me, and advises me to keep it in the glove compartment of the car. Way-No and C-C chat with me, and then friend Ruth appears, in country for only a few days and eager to run. We cruise the course together, pushing the pace a bit but taking walk breaks on hills and as needed. C-C, who ran a mile around the track before the race, trails us by a few yards and likely could have passed us but for pausing to visit with her husband and daughter with half a mile to go. We finish under 33 minutes, and I loop back to jog in with Christina, who is suffering a bit in the humid air. She mentions the need for a water table volunteer in next week's "Run for Roses" 5k (she's the Director), so I offer to help.

Wicca Wonderland

10 Jun 2006 - 16+ miles (~11 pace) — For the last half-dozen miles of today's jog, with a copy of friend Ruth's book Witchcraft and the Inquisition in Venice 1550-1650 in hand I feel pretty intellectual. (The 1989 book, based on her thesis, is wrapped in a plastic bag to protect it from sweat.) Weather today is perfect, cool and breezy. I finish my weekly family laundry duty and commence running at 8am, hoping to intercept comrades Ken and/or C-C on Rock Creek Trail. They had planned to leave Ken-Gar at 7am, but since the Nats game went into extra innings I figure Ken (who attended) might be late. So instead of driving the car I trot from home to RCT near the Beltway (about mile 2.3), then turn toward Meadowbrook Stables. No sign of Ken or C-C. I figure they must have changed plans, or started early, or went fast. All three turn out to be true: C-C had to run at 5am closer to her home, and Ken has already passed by on his rapid return journey a few minutes before I reach the trail. (He went to mile marker 2, not 1, and that threw off my spacetime rendezvous calculations.)
So at about a 10:20 pace I go solo south to milepost 1, then reverse course and am taking a drink at the Cedar Lane fountain when who should materialize but Ruth! (A bit after 8am she drives to Meadowbrook, sees no one there, and leaves for Ken-Gar perhaps 10 minutes before my arrival, where she begins a run southwards. Along the way she meets Ken and chats with him.) I backtrack and accompany Ruth to milepost 4, from which we turn and head for her car. I'm getting tired and walking the hills now, so Ruth and I manage ~11:30/mi with pauses for water and goo consumption. At Ken-Gar Ruth gives me a copy of her book and I head back for home. In spite of walks every quarter mile I continue at ~11:10/mi until the final hills. Z-lectrolyte (my custom tea+lemonade+salts concoction) works wonders, but the upper-back regions of my arms still suffer from their usual mysterious long-run rash.

Northwest Branch Eastern Shore

14 June - 17+ miles (12-13 min/mi pace) — A jet-black butterfly with small wings and a skinny iridescent blue body flits across the path. Today when I cross Colesville Road (US Highway 29) following the Northwest Branch I choose the eastern bank trail, terra incognita to me. It turns out to be nicely marked with sky-blue blazes, but has enough obscure twists to get me slightly lost more than once. The terrain seems far more interesting than the equestrian trail on the opposite side of the stream, but perhaps that's a function of novelty. In places the foliage is high and the pathway narrow enough to form a tunnel. Tributary streams feature entertainingly tippy rocks or fallen logs to cross on. I see numerous baby squirrels and one large doe, a reminder to beware Lyme-disease-bearing deer ticks. Voices from the far side of the stream lead to fantasies of skinny-dipping wood nymphs; alas, none are seen.
I'm feeling surprisingly good almost two hours into the jog. (I got here from home by Linden Lane and Dale Drive to Colesville, then Sligo Creek Trail, Piney Branch Road, and thence Northwest Branch Trail.) The contrast of birdsong and brook-babbling to traffic and construction noise is extreme. Today's morning is cool but humid. I dip a hand into the creek and wet my neck. My cellphone loses the network in the deep valley, near where I fell into the water a few years ago. Two park service workers have hiked several hundred yards upstream from their truck and, almost underneath the Capital Beltway, wield a chainsaw to remove chunks of a tree trunk that lies across the path. I thank them for their trail maintenance and trot onward. Eventually the eastern route crosses Northwest Branch via a wooden bridge and joins the horse trail to Wheaton Regional Park. From there I follow another equestrian loop south past a park building to the baseball fields, where just short of the three hour mark I suck down a Clif Shot and refill my bottle with water. "Z-lectrolyte" brew has kept me comfy so far, but now I'm getting tired and my walk breaks are longer. Home again, home again, jiggedy jig in 3.7 hours, via Sligo Creek Trail and Forest Glen Road with an unexpectedly fast 10:55 measured SCT mile along the way.

Run for Roses Water Table

17 June - 0+ miles"A chance to meet hundreds of sweaty women for a few seconds each!" is how I describe today's volunteer opportunity. Christina C., race director, needs somebody to set up an aid station at today's "Run for Roses" 5k, and since it's a women-only event this is my way to earn a nice t-shirt. I arrive early at Wheaton Regional Park, meet comrade Ken, return his book (The Perfect Mile), lug some supplies to a pavillion, and then load my car with folding table, water jugs, paper cups, and rake. I pick up a map of the course and drive to Brookside Gardens. After walking and jogging for half a mile I finally figure out that I'm in the wrong parking lot. So it's off to Brookside Conservatory, just down the street, where I configure the water stop and begin filling cups. Carol and Prashat soon appear to help me; they've walked from the starting line. Carol remembers seeing some of my poems in the MCRRC newsletter; I'm embarrassed to admit that I have written ragged-right-margin doggerel.
I crank up the volume on my tape player and music by The Cars booms out ("My Best Friend's Girl", "Just What I Needed", "Let's Go", etc.) for a high-energy sound track to support the passing racers. About 8:15am the first runners blast past, too fast to need a drink with less than a mile to go. Soon thereafter thirsty masses materialize to keep us busy. As the flood slows to a trickle and then stops we're left with only a pint or two of water in the bottom of the cooler and a single cup — that's cutting it a bit close! Prashat and Carol and I police the area and declare our mission accomplished. Back at the start/end area I return the club gear and chat some more with Ken, who has been handing roses to the happy finishers.

Humid Summer Morn

23 June - 15+ miles (12+ pace) — Early on I see one baby bunny rabbit every mile, frozen at my approach, but their numbers decline as the morning progresses. At 5:35am I set out from home, via Linden Lane and the Forest Glen Seminary, for Rock Creek Trail where C-C and Ken plan to head southwards from Ken-Gar at 6:30. It's already warm and humid, and when I meet them at the 1 hour mark I've already gone through a whole bottle of Gatorade and have begun sipping the "Dr. Zap" ^Zelectrolyte Formula that I carry. We proceed back downstream — past a deer, some adult rabbits, and a possum playing dead quite convincingly — to the DC line, at close to or just under 12:00 min/mi pace. A robin's egg lies broken on the trail. I'm carrying some 10x concentrate of my personal sports drink, and it reconstitutes well in a bottle with water from the fountain along the trail. I get quite tired after 2 hours and take increasingly long walk breaks. Back at RCT mile 2.3 I leave Ken & C-C to branch home again. Climbing the hill into Walter Reed Annex I hear a swish-swish sound, which I soon identify as the legs of my totally sweat-soaked shorts brushing past one another; my shirt is saturated now too. The long-promised torrential rains never materialize, alas.

Swamp of Despair

27 June - 11+ miles (13-14 min/mi) — A deluge begins a quarter mile into the run rather than at the end when I really could use a shower. But ten minutes later the rain pauses and I take my camera out of the plastic bag to capture photos of Rock Creek under the Georgetown Branch trestle, where a big tree has fallen and the high waters are brown with silt. Beach Drive in DC is closed to cars but is quite passable, with only occasional puddles. Picnic tables are washed askew into trees and trash cans are toppled, but otherwise the park looks decent enough. There's even running water in the restroom at Picnic Area #10. I proceed south to Military Road, suck down a chocolate Clif Shot, and accelerate for part of the return trip to do the two miles from Bingham Road to the Maryland state line at 11:45 pace. Then I slow to get comfortable again. Girls and horses are training one another at Meadowbrook Stables.

(cf. Half Beast (4 Jan 2006), Golden Ticket (6 Feb 2006), Pawing The Earth (12 Mar 2006), March April 2006 Jog Log (16 Apr 2006), The Avenue (17 May 2006), Deathly Cold (5 Jun 2006), ...)

- Thursday, June 29, 2006 at 05:54:17 (EDT)

David Copperfield on Shaving Materials

In David Copperfield, Chapter XVII ("Somebody Turns Up"), Charles Dickens alludes delicately and with tongue firmly in cheek to suicide as a last resort in a dire situation:

I felt the utmost sympathy for Mr. and Mrs. Micawber in this anxious extremity, and said as much to Mr. Micawber, who now returned: adding that I only wished I had money enough, to lend them the amount they needed. Mr. Micawber's answer expressed the disturbance of his mind. He said, shaking hands with me, 'Copperfield, you are a true friend; but when the worst comes to the worst, no man is without a friend who is possessed of shaving materials.' At this dreadful hint Mrs. Micawber threw her arms round Mr. Micawber's neck and entreated him to be calm. He wept; but so far recovered, almost immediately, as to ring the bell for the waiter, and bespeak a hot kidney pudding and a plate of shrimps for breakfast in the morning.

- Tuesday, June 27, 2006 at 05:59:31 (EDT)

"Rose is Rose" on Tolerance

One of my newly favorite comic strips, right up there with "Get Fuzzy" and "Foxtrot", is the often-surprising "Rose Is Rose". It was created by Pat Brady and features superb artwork and creative design. The story revolves around a delightful, gentle, loving family ... with a mother who sporadically turns into a tattooed leather-clad biker chick, a father with a fondness for rubenesque ladies, a cute idiosyncratic cat, and a tyke whose guardian angel occasionally looms huge over the landscape. And there's philosophy — for instance, this image from the online store:


"Rose Is Rose" has elements of "Calvin and Hobbes", "Curious Avenue", "The Far Side", and several other comic strips that are no more. And in 2004 "Rose is Rose" itself began the transition to a new artist/author, Don Wimmer. How it will evolve remains to be seen ...

(Copyright © United Feature Syndicate and Pat Brady. The caption, for web-crawing robots that can't read text inside pictures, says: "Tolerance is important. You never know when you're the one being tolerated." Cf. Tolerance And Pacifism (8 Oct 2001), Rubensesque Passers By (24 Aug 2004), ...)

- Sunday, June 25, 2006 at 05:54:36 (EDT)

David Copperfield on Busy Mischief

In Chapter XVI ("I Am a New Boy in More Senses than One") of David Copperfield, Charles Dickens comments on the relative dangers of idle hands and busy hands:

'I could wish it done as soon as it can be done, Wickfield,' said Doctor Strong, 'for Jack Maldon is needy, and idle; and of those two bad things, worse things sometimes come. What does Doctor Watts say,' he added, looking at me, and moving his head to the time of his quotation, '"Satan finds some mischief still, for idle hands to do."'
'Egad, Doctor,' returned Mr. Wickfield, 'if Doctor Watts knew mankind, he might have written, with as much truth, "Satan finds some mischief still, for busy hands to do." The busy people achieve their full share of mischief in the world, you may rely upon it. What have the people been about, who have been the busiest in getting money, and in getting power, this century or two? No mischief?'

(cf. My Business (30 May 1999), Four Types (2 May 2000), Life Time Management 1 (13 Jun 2001), ...)

- Friday, June 23, 2006 at 05:38:27 (EDT)

^Zelectrolyte Formula

Some people — like me — sweat a lot when they exercise. Some people — like me — lose a lot of electrolytes when they sweat. Some people — like me — don't enjoy spending a lot of money for fancy "sports drinks". That chain of geometric logic has led me to a trivial concoction that costs a tenth as much as commercial electrolyte-replacement fluids, and as far as I can tell does the job about as well. The flavor is decent too; it's based on the "Arnold Palmer" concept, a tea + lemonade beverage.

To a 20 ounce (~600 ml) bottle of water, simply add:

This formulation provides:

For comparison, the same amount of Gatorade claims to contain 270 mg of sodium, 75 mg of potassium, and 35 g of carbs — hardly a significant difference — at an order of magnitude higher price. (If a stronger blend works better for you, just use a third less water or a third more dry ingredients in the above.) It takes only a few seconds to mix up a batch of my recipe, and since I've begun sipping it during long hot runs I've totally avoided the muscle cramps and fatigue that used to trouble me, which I suspect were caused by loss of sodium and potassium.

Now, all I need is a sexy name for the brew: ^zelectrolyte? ^z-lectrolyte? ^zeelectrolyte? ...

- Wednesday, June 21, 2006 at 05:42:14 (EDT)

In Search of the Fulcrum: Part III

Z. A. Melzak — professor of mathematics, Holocaust survivor, pessimistic social critic, and at times humorist — concludes his autobiography with a hard-headed yet tongue-in-cheek observation:

As for the whole undertaking loosely proposed in these three volumes, there is no possibility whatsoever of finishing; the end of that work is unreachably far. So is completing the preliminaries to its beginning so that it might be understood and continued. That would have to be done by others, by those who will come hereafter and who will know how to sidestep the Cleanthes-Seneca-Spengler 'fates'. Here ends the tale of a bore who thought that he had a lot to say, and has said it all.

Volume Three of Melzak's In Search of the Fulcrum is even darker and harder to read than its predecessors. Like them it smolders hot and occasionally flares into brilliancy. Parts of the book are annotated bibliography; they bring to mind the pioneers who raised cairns and blazed trees to mark their journeys through wilderness. Parts of the book are dystopian screed. Parts are philosophical musing. And parts are throwaway remarks, at times hilarious in their impropriety, by a man who has clearly enjoyed and suffered the extremes of life. Some representative core-samples follow.

From the Introduction to Part Three:

Regarding truth and importance, a philosopher who thought he knew was quoted: importance is not important, truth is. ...

From Chapter 25, "On Education":

... Glorification of violence in arts is also mentioned and here the completely unnecessary euphemism which substitutes 'arts' for television entertainment is as superfluous as it is offensive. Current television violence could stand many orders of improvement and beautification but it has hardly any connection with arts, being partly explained by lack of ideas among those who design that entertainment, and partly by lack of taste among those who consume it. Further, that poor quality is also intentional since it is realized that nothing other would answer to mass demand. This will do for a short and cheerful preface.

Later in that same chapter, concerning the decline and popularization of what was once called "higher" education:

Of course, there is something serious and even tragic underneath it; something so obvious that it will be suppressed and opposed by every means. Namely, the world has not found out yet what to do with its abnormal increase of population, and more particularly, how to keep youth off the street corners. And so, the contemporary method is to 'educate' them. But to educate the masses, the level of instruction (and in particular of teacher training) must be thoroughly lowered.

In Chapter 28, "Antinomies", a numismatic observation concerning an inscription on "one of the earliest German coins with a swastika":

The coin is a silver two-mark piece of the year 1937 and the inscription is 'Gemeinnutz geht vor Eigennutz' (common weal (or advantage) comes before personal (or individual) weal (or advantage)). And now for the antinomy of polyenia itself. In a previous chapter it was suggested that certain four national or religious groups can be somewhat more incisively characterized, not superficially by the single supposedly distinguishing property, but by a pair of more or less diametrically opposed features. It was suggested that the history and the development of these groups go together with the swings from one pole toward the other. The four groups and their respective polar opposites were as follows. For the Germans it was inertia-violence, for the French vanity-glory, for the British hypocrisy-righteousness, for the Jews humility-impudence. Later, another pair was tentatively added for the Poles: delicacy-crudity ...

From near the end of Chapter 29, "Nostalgia, Prejudice, Polyenia":

When the ship carrying Apollonius and disciples was passing between the legs of the colossus of Rhodes (one of the seven wonders of the ancient world) one of the disciples, Damis, asked Apollonius if he thought anything could be greater than that; and he replied, "Yes, a man who loves wisdom in a sound and innocent spirit." ...

From Chapter 30, "Views From Far Below", concerning the shape of the near-future catastrophe which Melzak foresees for our society:

... The enormous convenience of computers is unarguable, and there are few things which corrupt more than lasting convenience.

From Chapter 31, "Views From Far Below Ctd.":

Even well-meaning readers might be confused by the preceding paragraphs or, for that matter, by the whole vol. 3 of this book. They might ask the following question which, incidentally, occurred as a direct self-challenge: just what is being proposed? ... This simply cannot be answered precisely or imprecisely; only the sole direction of pointing remains feasible. The only further comment here might be an augmentation of a lovely maxim of Lao-Tse: those who tell do not know, those who know do not tell. Add to it 'but it must not be assumed that silence implies knowledge'.

And later in that chapter Melzak quotes the Latin aphorism:

... 'dificilior lectio potior' (always choose the harder way) ...

Good advice. Two years ago I opened In Search of the Fulcrum to learn about the author of the best-written math books I've had the pleasure to encounter. Although the way at times was hard, I found myself reading onward and finishing the three volumes of Fulcrum — to salute and to honor the life of that extraordinary man.

Zdzislaw Alexander Melzak — a profoundly human being

(cf. In Search Of The Fulcrum (19 Mar 2004), Years Of Wandering (2 Feb 2006), ...)

- Monday, June 19, 2006 at 05:54:14 (EDT)

Barbara Gregory Fan Club

Where do I look first when I get a new copy of The Numismatist, magazine of the American Numismatic Association? For several years now I've turned to "The Editor's Desk", a page five column by Editor-in-Chief Barbara J. Gregory. Like the 1950's era ANA Librarian Mrs. D. Dee De Nise, today's Ms. Gregory makes articles about even the most arcane area of coin-collecting sound fascinating, or at least worth reading. And her essays are graced every month with a new cheery photo of her smiling face.

Only once have I written a letter to Ms. Gregory: in August 2005, when an issue arrived with a rather mean-looking feline on that page. After words of praise for her work I observed in a postscript:

Note that I'm not complaining about the photo of your cat this month — but I don't think he would win many kitten wars for cuteness ... (^_^) ... maybe he wasn't in the mood to pose for the camera?!

Barb G. replied:

You're right ... Murphy did not want his picture taken. He's also not the sweet, cuddly type. We like to say he has "cattitude."

(cf. Judith Krummeck Fan Club (26 Feb 2003), Dee De Nise (8 May 2006), ...)

- Sunday, June 18, 2006 at 09:41:42 (EDT)

Perfect Mile

Add another fine book to the shelf of fitness inspiration: The Perfect Mile by Neal Bascomb. Since "everybody knows" that Roger Bannister was the first to do it, for drama's sake this book pits him against rivals from Australia (John Landy) and the USA (Wes Santee), both in the race to crack four minutes and in a subsequent major international track meet. It makes for a stirring story, but Bascomb writes so well that any plot device is unnecessary. He pieces together the not-so-simple history of Bannister's achievement through interviews with the men themselves, their friends, and the news reports of the time.

It's magic, like the words that Bascomb reports the track announcer saying early in the evening of 6 May 1954:

"Ladies and gentlemen, here is the result of Event Number Nine, the One Mile: First, number Forty-One, R. G. Bannister, of the Amateur Athletic Association and formerly of Exeter and Merton Colleges, with a time which is a new meeting and track record, and which subject to ratification will be a new English Native, British National, British All-Comers, European, British Empire, and WORLD'S RECORD. The time is THREE . . ."
The rest of the announcement was drowned out by the joyous cries of the 1,200 people who had witnessed history. Banister had run the mile in 3:59.4 — at last the barrier was broken.

(cf. Touching The Void (2 Jun 2004), And Then The Vulture Eats You (9 Dec 2004), Running Through The Wall (23 Jan 2005), Ultramarathon Man (14 Apr 2005), Swimming To Antarctica (22 Aug 2005), ...)

- Friday, June 16, 2006 at 06:00:18 (EDT)

Mister Christmas

"You've got great hair — I really like your dreadlocks," I compliment the little girl as I overtake her during my walk home from the subway. She and her mother have just emerged from a neighboring house and are on their way to the local park. She appears to be about four years old, and her hair reminds me of my younger son's at a similar age.

"That's Mr. Christmas!" she says shyly to her mom.

I smile, wink, and tug on my long gray beard. "You be good, and I'll bring you some presents!" I admonish her. Her mother prompts her to reply, "I will!" Earlier during my journey I picked up a small cubical beanbag, abandoned on the sidewalk. I give it to her mother. "It's for juggling," I explain, "but you need a few more of them."

"One will be plenty for us!" she laughs. I wave good-bye and trek onward ...

- Wednesday, June 14, 2006 at 21:34:29 (EDT)

Dog Ticket

In a review of Daniel Dennett's Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon, Freeman Dyson demurs from Dennett's "passionate" atheism, in a style reminiscent of Cardinal Newman's splendid "Definition of a Gentleman". And along with philosophical insight, Dyson brings great humor to the debate, e.g.:

... Every country is different, especially in matters concerning religion, and no single solution to the problem of religious education fits all. In each country, a workable solution has to be found by political compromise between conflicting views, within the rules imposed by the local culture. To be workable, a solution does not need to be scientifically or philosophically consistent. When I was a boy in England long ago, people who traveled on trains with dogs had to pay for a dog ticket. The question arose whether I needed to buy a dog ticket when I was traveling with a tortoise. The conductor on the train gave me the answer: "Cats is dogs and rabbits is dogs but tortoises is insects and travel free according." The rules governing religious education should be administered with a similar freedom of interpretation.

(see "Religion from the Outside" by Freeman J. Dyson, in the 22 Jun 2006 New York Review of Books [1], Volume 53, Number 11; cf. On Quickness (12 Sep 1999), Cardinal Newman (4 Oct 2001), Mechanical Advantage (9 Oct 2003), ...)

- Tuesday, June 13, 2006 at 05:13:34 (EDT)

Pickwick Papers: Ghost Removal

In Chapter XXI ("In Which the Old Man Launches Forth Into His Favourite Theme, and Relates a Story About a Queer Client") of The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens, a character explains how to get rid of a ghost, via an anecdote related in a single long paragraph:

'I knew another man—let me see—forty years ago now—who took an old, damp, rotten set of chambers, in one of the most ancient inns, that had been shut up and empty for years and years before. There were lots of old women's stories about the place, and it certainly was very far from being a cheerful one; but he was poor, and the rooms were cheap, and that would have been quite a sufficient reason for him, if they had been ten times worse than they really were. He was obliged to take some mouldering fixtures that were on the place, and, among the rest, was a great lumbering wooden press for papers, with large glass doors, and a green curtain inside; a pretty useless thing for him, for he had no papers to put in it; and as to his clothes, he carried them about with him, and that wasn't very hard work, either. Well, he had moved in all his furniture—it wasn't quite a truck-full—and had sprinkled it about the room, so as to make the four chairs look as much like a dozen as possible, and was sitting down before the fire at night, drinking the first glass of two gallons of whisky he had ordered on credit, wondering whether it would ever be paid for, and if so, in how many years' time, when his eyes encountered the glass doors of the wooden press. "Ah," says he, "if I hadn't been obliged to take that ugly article at the old broker's valuation, I might have got something comfortable for the money. I'll tell you what it is, old fellow," he said, speaking aloud to the press, having nothing else to speak to, "if it wouldn't cost more to break up your old carcass, than it would ever be worth afterward, I'd have a fire out of you in less than no time." He had hardly spoken the words, when a sound resembling a faint groan, appeared to issue from the interior of the case. It startled him at first, but thinking, on a moment's reflection, that it must be some young fellow in the next chamber, who had been dining out, he put his feet on the fender, and raised the poker to stir the fire. At that moment, the sound was repeated; and one of the glass doors slowly opening, disclosed a pale and emaciated figure in soiled and worn apparel, standing erect in the press. The figure was tall and thin, and the countenance expressive of care and anxiety; but there was something in the hue of the skin, and gaunt and unearthly appearance of the whole form, which no being of this world was ever seen to wear. "Who are you?" said the new tenant, turning very pale; poising the poker in his hand, however, and taking a very decent aim at the countenance of the figure. "Who are you?" "Don't throw that poker at me," replied the form; "if you hurled it with ever so sure an aim, it would pass through me, without resistance, and expend its force on the wood behind. I am a spirit." "And pray, what do you want here?" faltered the tenant. "In this room," replied the apparition, "my worldly ruin was worked, and I and my children beggared. In this press, the papers in a long, long suit, which accumulated for years, were deposited. In this room, when I had died of grief, and long-deferred hope, two wily harpies divided the wealth for which I had contested during a wretched existence, and of which, at last, not one farthing was left for my unhappy descendants. I terrified them from the spot, and since that day have prowled by night—the only period at which I can revisit the earth—about the scenes of my long-protracted misery. This apartment is mine: leave it to me." "If you insist upon making your appearance here," said the tenant, who had had time to collect his presence of mind during this prosy statement of the ghost's, "I shall give up possession with the greatest pleasure; but I should like to ask you one question, if you will allow me." "Say on," said the apparition sternly. "Well," said the tenant, "I don't apply the observation personally to you, because it is equally applicable to most of the ghosts I ever heard of; but it does appear to me somewhat inconsistent, that when you have an opportunity of visiting the fairest spots of earth—for I suppose space is nothing to you—you should always return exactly to the very places where you have been most miserable." "Egad, that's very true; I never thought of that before," said the ghost. "You see, Sir," pursued the tenant, "this is a very uncomfortable room. From the appearance of that press, I should be disposed to say that it is not wholly free from bugs; and I really think you might find much more comfortable quarters: to say nothing of the climate of London, which is extremely disagreeable." "You are very right, Sir," said the ghost politely, "it never struck me till now; I'll try change of air directly"—and, in fact, he began to vanish as he spoke; his legs, indeed, had quite disappeared. "And if, Sir," said the tenant, calling after him, "if you WOULD have the goodness to suggest to the other ladies and gentlemen who are now engaged in haunting old empty houses, that they might be much more comfortable elsewhere, you will confer a very great benefit on society." "I will," replied the ghost; "we must be dull fellows—very dull fellows, indeed; I can't imagine how we can have been so stupid." With these words, the spirit disappeared; and what is rather remarkable,' added the old man, with a shrewd look round the table, 'he never came back again.'

- Sunday, June 11, 2006 at 09:37:30 (EDT)

Mirror Image

The New York Times does it again! In the 24 May 2006 issue this amazing photograph by David Scull appeared:


The two honorable gentlemen captured in a moment of unconscious symmetry are General Michael Hayden and Senator Patrick Leahy. What a great shot!

(photo © NYT; cf. House Proud (5 Jan 2005), ...)

- Friday, June 09, 2006 at 05:46:53 (EDT)

Revolutionary Technologies

In a recent book review Tim Harford critiques a new over-the-top "futurology" book, and en passant notes:

Robert J. Gordon of Northwestern University has skeptically contrasted the Internet to five truly revolutionary technologies: electricity, the internal-combustion engine, bulk chemical processing, information technologies such as the telephone and the telegraph, and (funny but true) indoor plumbing. These astonishing clusters of innovation set a high benchmark for anyone claiming that change is about to accelerate today.

The reference is to Gordon's 2000 paper "Does the "New Economy" Measure up to the Great Inventions of the Past?" in the Journal of Economic Perspectives (draft versions are available free online). Gordon's analysis indicates that the productivity growth during the Internet "boom" of the late 1990's was mainly in the computer/telecommunications sector — and that the remaining 88% of the economy showed no real growth, or even declined. His paper also discusses in more detail the five "Great Inventions":

These five clusters of innovation led, during the first half of the 20th Century, to huge increases in living standards and productivity across the entire spectrum of society — not merely new ways of buying and selling stuff more quickly.

(cf. "Futurama" by Tim Harford in the Washington Post, 28 May 2006, and Money Wisdom (20 May 2001), Pop Goes (19 Jun 2001), Bubble Busters (6 Feb 2002), More Fun Less Stuff (1 Oct 2002), Social Wealth (18 May 2005), Steady State Economy (11 Jun 2005), Ecological Economics (15 Sep 2005), ...)

- Wednesday, June 07, 2006 at 05:39:07 (EDT)

Deathly Cold

"Oops, it feels deathly cold!" In the classic computer role-playing game Moria (cf. Here Be Dragons) that's what happens when you hold a cursed weapon — and it's what happens to me early on the morning of 4 June 06, when I try to carry a frozen bottle of my custom electrolyte mix on a long run. I wrap the bottle in a paper towel, and curl my MCRRC bib (#333) around that for extra insulation. Two and a half hours later the contents are finally thawed out enough to drink. Some other observations from the past fortnight of jogging:

Evening Anacostia Loop

18 May 2006 - ~11 miles (~11:30 pace) — A pair of pieces of pineapple pizza sit heavy in my stomach from dinner (on top of a pair of soft tacos from lunch) so I resolve to take it slow and pursue a 3:1::jog:walk ratio. At the UM Alumni Center I pat the bronze Testudo turtle on the nose and take Paint Branch Trail to Lake Artemesia. The ancient Asian lady who blew kisses at me two days ago is again sitting on her bench, this time wearing a red quilted jacket and a green Chairman Mao cap. She smiles, waves, blows kisses, and this time says "Bye-bye!" as I pass. Small clouds of midges drift above the stream and occasionally invade my eyes. Farther down the Northeast Branch there's the clang of aluminum bats and the hustle of soccer players on the ballfields. Latino toddlers wave at me and fishermen stow their gear as it begins to get dark.
During my upstream journey along Northwest Branch a group of kids at a basketball court call me "Forrest Gump". A fox crosses the trail and bats flit overhead. My LED headlamp comforts me in the darker woodsy areas, but it's unneeded after I emerge at University Blvd. and follow that street back to campus. I change clothes in a music building restroom and nap for a while in the car, awaiting my daughter until it turns out that she can get a ride home with a friend (the one who almost ran over me on Tuesday).

Seneca Dawnshadows

21 May - 9+ miles (~12 min/mi) — At 5:20am, a moment after I park at the Seneca Creek Greenway Trail crossing of Wightman and Brink Roads [1] C-C arrives. It's still a bit dark as we set out, with a last-quarter Moon and Venus shining bright in the eastern sky. Our socks soon get wet from the heavy dew on the grass that laps over the trail's edge. C-C sets a brisk pace but deigns to allow me brief walk breaks on the steeper hills. She spots some deer during our northward journey, as we go past Huntmaster Rd. and across the creek on steppingstones to join Magruder Branch Trail, then onwards beyond Watkins Rd. We turn around after 1 hour 1 minute, near a weird construction of sticks [2] that C-C walks over to investigate. It's something like a big "V" lying on the ground, dozens of branches piled up a couple of feet high, with the angle of the "V" covered with another layer of sticks. Was it created by space-alien technology, or highly-evolved woodland creatures, or simply some over-energetic Boy Scouts as a primitive shelter? We can't decide.
The return trip is fun, as I spy a semi-fresh severed deer hoof attached to ankle bones and C-C shows me the location of bleached deer skeleton fragments, including a hip bone placed on a tree branch overlooking the trail, as she first noted a couple of months ago [3]. The low sun makes long shadows that race along with us whenever we cross a gap between woods. Lovely mists linger over a meadow, and we pause to debate whether or not the scene could ever be adequately photographed. Dogs (maybe assisted by a coyote?) howl in the distance. We arrive at Huntmaster again, and with less than a mile to go I feel a need for speedwork (maybe it's an urge to surge?). We sprint most of the final leg of the trail and make it back to our start, well-winded and wet-footed, a few seconds under 2 hours.
New product opportunity: during the first half of the course C-C, in the lead, finds herself constantly racing into spiderwebs spun across the trail overnight — ugh! Clearly there's a need for a shield or helmet for early-morning runners who don't relish feeling spider-silk on their faces — or perhaps a head-mounted high-powered defensive laser, to zap and destroy webs before one encounters them? (^_^)

Lost in Bethesda

25 May - ~11 miles (~11 min/mi) — Well I'm not really "lost", but I do get confused, miss my turn, and find myself a few blocks farther than expected along Old Georgetown Road at the intersection with Wisconsin Ave. It's Thursday evening on my usual loop, from home to Rock Creek Park, upstream to Cedar Lane, past NIH to Old Geo., and back via the CCT. I start later than expected (~8pm) but have a headlamp and encounter no difficulties. In fact, the evening is cool enough that I can omit almost all walk breaks; traffic delays at major road crossings make up for them. Masses of frogs shriek as I pass by in the dusk.

Imperfect Mile (* for steroids)

27 May - 3 miles (net ~8:30 pace) — Comrade Ken lends me The Perfect Mile (by Neal Bascomb), an excellent book about Roger Bannister et al., and when I finish it I've got the urge to confirm how pitifully slow I really am. Mid-morning Saturday the old Blair High School track is slightly cluttered with walkers and joggers but the asphalt is resurfaced and the stripes are bright. After half a lap of warm-up it's time for a time trial. Hammering at top speed the laps go 1:48 + 1:51 + 1:57 + 1:56 = 7:33 ... so the 7-minute barrier still stands impregnable. Probably a record-breaking run wouldn't have counted anyway, since for the past five days I've been coating my arms with (cortico-) STEROIDS to knock down a bad poison ivy rash. My pulse is ~160, a hair below the death zone for my age, so I walk a lap and drink, then trot a more rational mile in 9:01, walk half a lap more, then finish up with an 8:40. So much for speedwork!

Sue & Connie's Run

29 May - 4 miles (~11:30 pace) — Christina C. (CLC, not C-C!) and I jog together during this Memorial Day MCRRC race along the Aspen Hill segment of Rock Creek Trail. It's warm & humid, temperature & relative humidity both in the 70's. Christina starts off fast (the downhill first mile is seductive) but soon we're both overheated and start taking walk breaks. MCRRC lensman Jim R. snaps an incriminating photo of us at the boardwalk near mile 3, as a woodpecker thrums and we feign a run. Our splits are 9:45 + 11:04 + 11:37 + 13:24 = 45:51 total. We try to count the little American flags that have been placed alongside the course, but I lose track and end up with a rough estimate of 80ish. Chris & I both suffer in hot weather; we resolve to train and attempt to get acclimated this summer.

Hot & Short

30 May - 1+ mile (net ~9:00 pace) — On a 90+°F afternoon only a fool would run, and so when I get to College Park to pick up my son I've got my jogging clothes on. The fancy track on the western side of campus is closed for construction work, so I park illegally at the chemistry building and trot downhill to Paint Branch Trail, planning to do some 880's in the shade. The distance between PBT mileposts 1.5 and 2.0 is probably short, since I cover it in a suspiciously fast 3:47. I walk and drink for a couple of minutes and then do the return trip in a more plausible (but still too brief) 4:19, at which point I'm drenched with sweat and sensible enough to walk back to the car.

Jog, Race, Jog

4 June - 7 + 3 + 7 miles (net ~12 min/mi) — I leave home at 6am, frozen "Z-lectrolyte" mix in a bottle that chills my hand. A medium-sized deer trots in front of me between the Rock Creek Trestle and Jones Bridge Road. After four miles I get to Bethesda and still have an hour until race time, so I go an extra three on the Capital Crescent Trail, with an overall pace thus far of ~11:30. C-C and Ken arrive, and I help pass Finisher's Ribbons out at the Kids' Run, then line up for the official 5k event.
Ken, back from blasting out the Buffalo Marathon last Sunday (cf. Ken Swab Buffalo Marathon 2006), is soon out of sight on the way to improving his personal record for the distance by an amazing ~10%. Caren and I chat as we jog along, with splits of 9:27 + 10:27 + 10:24 and an overall time under 32 minutes as she sprints the final stretch. C-C accuses me of running "effortlessly" and of being a "gentleman" — neither, alas, are true. After the finish Way-No and C-C and Ken and I eat, drink, and chat; C-C tries to persuade me to do the Catoctin 50k in August, which sounds rather insane given how much I suffer in the heat.
With 25 minutes of lollygagging recovery I'm ready to head home. The remaining seven miles are on my usual loop course, Old Georgetown Road to Cedar Lane to Rock Creek. The weather is incredibly pleasant for this season, cool and dry with an intermittent breeze. I shift from a 4:1 ratio of jog:walk to 2:1 and feel good enough to do 10:44 and 11:01 miles along RCT, climb the hill into Walter Reed Annex, orbit the Mermaid Fountain, and reach home in time to eat a bowl of spaghetti and lose a game of Scrabble to my younger son.

(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), The Avenue (17 May 2006), ...)

- Monday, June 05, 2006 at 05:47:13 (EDT)

Ray Davis, R.I.P.

Raymond Davis died last week at age 91. He was an experimental physicist par excellence; in 2002 he received a Nobel Prize for his work on detecting solar neutrinos. Experimentalists are a funny breed: they have to understand theories well enough to figure out how to attack them at their most vulnerable points, and they have to understand technology well enough to figure out how to design apparatus to measure things that have never been seen before.

Ray Davis realized that everybody thought they understood how stars work — nuclear fusion — but nobody had actually taken a look into the center of a star and observed this happening. Merging hydrogen atoms into heavier elements creates neutrinos, subatomic particles that scarcely interact at all with ordinary matter. By putting tons of chlorine-rich cleaning fluid deep in an underground chamber to shield it from cosmic rays, Davis calculated that he could, just barely, sense the neutrinos flooding out from the core of the Sun and thereby get data about how the Sun really worked. Every month a few dozen chlorine atoms in the cleaning fluid should get changed into argon atoms, if theory was correct. Kenneth Chang writes in a New York Times obituary published on 2 June 2006:

"Ray was the most optimistic person you could ever encounter," said Kenneth Lande, a professor of physics at the University of Pennsylvania and a collaborator on the Homestake experiment. "For Ray, this was a challenge. The greater the challenge, the more fun it was to attack it."
Dr. Davis was meticulous, Dr. Lande said, willing to tackle almost every challenge from other physicists. Dr. Lande said that William A. Fowler, an astrophysicist at the California Institute of Technology, asked Dr. Davis if he could inject 100 argon atoms into the detector and then pull them out, to demonstrate that his detection method worked. Argon, a gas, was flushed out by a stream of helium bubbles and then trapped in ultracold charcoal. The number of atoms were counted by observing the radioactive decay. "Most people would have said, 'Come on,' " Dr. Lande said. "Ray went off and he in fact made 100 atoms, put them in and took them out."

Ray Davis's equipment worked well, but it only detected a third as many solar neutrinos as theory said should be there. Figuring out what happened to the missing two-thirds took decades more ...

(cf. Late Physicists (24 Sep 2000), Nobel Neutrinos (13 Oct 2002), ...)

- Saturday, June 03, 2006 at 20:33:07 (EDT)

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-June 2005), 0.48 (June-August 2005), 0.49 (August-September 2005), 0.50 (September-November 2005), 0.51 (November 2005 - January 2006), 0.52 (January-February 2006), 0.53 (February-April 2006), 0.54 (April-June 2006), 0.55 (June-July 2006), 0.56 (July-September 2006), 0.57 (September-November 2006), 0.58 (November-December 2006), 0.59 (December 2006 - February 2007), 0.60 (February-April 2007), ... Current Volume. Send comments and suggestions to z (at) his.com. Thank you! (Copyright © 1999-2006 by Mark Zimmermann.)