^zhurnal 0.58

Howdy, pilgrim! You're in volume 0.58 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 = 0.57 ... complete list at bottom of page ... send comments & suggestions to "z(at)his(dot)com" ... tnx!

Dickerson-Zimmermann 2006

The 2006 web edition of the Dickerson-Zimmermann family bulletin ...
Paulette_2006 Paulette's big project this year has been to design a significant addition to our house; she is now managing the construction work, to be completed early in 2007. Besides increasing the useful volume of our home by more than a third, the New Place will be one-floor livable — an important long-term benefit as we all inevitably grow older. Also in 2006 Paulette organized and ran a major debate, focused on public library issues, among the candidates for Montgomery County Executive. See her domain http://librariesfriend.com for more information on that, including full transcripts, plus other library-related news. Paulette is an active member of the Chevy Chase Woman's Club.
Mark continues his plodding approach to ultrarunning. This year he finished two road marathons (each within a few seconds of 5 hours), a trail marathon, a 50 kilometer race, and a 50 miler (in 11.5 hours, a 90 minute improvement over his previous experience at that distance). See http://zhurnaly.com or http://zhurnal.net for gory details. Mark_2006
Merle_2006 Merle passed his qualifying exams and has started his third year of graduate study in the University of Maryland's Chemistry Department. His computer systems keep his room cozy warm in the winter (and blistering hot in the summer). He owns more processors and telecommunications equipment than anyone else on the block, perhaps more than anyone in town, with the possible exception of the larger phone companies.
Gray began her third year as a Music major at the University of Maryland, where she plays violin, viola, and viola da gamba in a variety of orchestras and chamber music groups. She also is studying Hindi, so now when she watches a Bollywood movie, it counts as homework! Gray_2006
Robin_2006 "Hmmm — I wonder what this valve does?" Robin's studies of mechanical engineering now include graduate-level courses at the University of Maryland. He remains active as an assistant scoutmaster in the Kensington Boy Scout Troop 439, where in 2006 he did a 50 mile hike and a variety of major campouts and expeditions. Robin also maintains an online journal and is involved in web comics and creative writing pursuits.

Time to go now — Flopsy the Bunny has rung her bell!!


(photo of ^z by Dennis Steinauer; photo of Merle by Christina Caravoulias; cf. Dickerson Zimmermann 2002 (11 Feb 2003), Dickerson Zimmermann 2003 (18 Dec 2003), Dickerson Zimmermann 2004 Flip Side (22 Dec 2004), Dickerson Zimmermann 2004 (23 Dec 2004), Dickerson Zimmermann 2005 (24 Dec 2005), Dickerson Zimmermann 2005 Flip Side (24 Dec 2005), ...)

- Saturday, December 23, 2006 at 13:14:55 (EST)

Darwin on Rudimentary Organs

In Chapter XIII ("Mutual Affinities of Organic Beings: Morphology: Embryology: Rudimentary Organs") of The Origin of Species, Charles Darwin explores how natural it is to see harmless but unimportant bodily features persisting under an evolutionary process, and how unsatisfactory other explanations are for such irrelevant-to-survival organs:

I have now given the leading facts with respect to rudimentary organs. In reflecting on them, every one must be struck with astonishment: for the same reasoning power which tells us plainly that most parts and organs are exquisitely adapted for certain purposes, tells us with equal plainness that these rudimentary or atrophied organs, are imperfect and useless. In works on natural history rudimentary organs are generally said to have been created "for the sake of symmetry," or in order "to complete the scheme of nature;" but this seems to me no explanation, merely a restatement of the fact. Would it be thought sufficient to say that because planets revolve in elliptic courses round the sun, satellites follow the same course round the planets, for the sake of symmetry, and to complete the scheme of nature? An eminent physiologist accounts for the presence of rudimentary organs, by supposing that they serve to excrete matter in excess, or injurious to the system; but can we suppose that the minute papilla, which often represents the pistil in male flowers, and which is formed merely of cellular tissue, can thus act? Can we suppose that the formation of rudimentary teeth which are subsequently absorbed, can be of any service to the rapidly growing embryonic calf by the excretion of precious phosphate of lime? When a man's fingers have been amputated, imperfect nails sometimes appear on the stumps: I could as soon believe that these vestiges of nails have appeared, not from unknown laws of growth, but in order to excrete horny matter, as that the rudimentary nails on the fin of the manatee were formed for this purpose.

... and, a few pages later, via a linguistic metaphor:

As the presence of rudimentary organs is thus due to the tendency in every part of the organisation, which has long existed, to be inherited — we can understand, on the genealogical view of classification, how it is that systematists have found rudimentary parts as useful as, or even sometimes more useful than, parts of high physiological importance. Rudimentary organs may be compared with the letters in a word, still retained in the spelling, but become useless in the pronunciation, but which serve as a clue in seeking for its derivation. On the view of descent with modification, we may conclude that the existence of organs in a rudimentary, imperfect, and useless condition, or quite aborted, far from presenting a strange difficulty, as they assuredly do on the ordinary doctrine of creation, might even have been anticipated, and can be accounted for by the laws of inheritance.

This discussion was presaged succinctly in Darwin's notebooks of 1837-38, two decades before The Origin of Species was published, in which he notes:

When one sees nipple on man's breast, one does not say some use, but sex not having been determined — so with useless wings under elytra of beetles — born from beetles with wings, and modified — if simple creation merely, would have been born without them.

- Wednesday, December 20, 2006 at 05:39:01 (EST)

Probabilidad de Lluvias

The US National Weather Service recently began to offer a choice of language for its online forecasts. One day last week the local prediction in Spanish gave "La probabilidad de precipitación es 50%" along with the corresponding 50% "Lluvias prob" icon — but the otherwise-identical forecast in English had both the words and icon for "Chance of precipitation is 60%"! Where did that extra 10% come from?

- Tuesday, December 19, 2006 at 05:33:29 (EST)

The Ode Less Traveled

Stephen Fry is a comedian and, he says in The Ode Less Traveled, an amateur poet. His book, subtitled "Unlocking the Poet Within" leans rather heavily on slapstick; it tries to substitute wittiness for originality, word-play for inspiration. Sometimes that works, but after chapter upon chapter expounding classical patterns of meter, rhyme, and form ... well, even the cleverest of asides begins to fall flat.

But there are sparkles among the chaff. Toward the end of Part I Section II ("End-stopping, Enjambment and Caesura; Weak Endings, Trochaic and Pyrrhic Substitutions; Substitutions" are indeed the headers) Fry digresses:

Incidentally, when Rubens was a young man he went round Rome feverishly drawing and sketching antique statues and Old Master paintings, lying on his back, standing on ladders, endlessly varying his viewpoint so as to give himself differing angles and perspectives. He wanted to be able to paint or draw any aspect of the human form from any angle, to master foreshortening and moulding and all the other techniques, spending months on rendering hands alone. All the great poets did the equivalent in their notebooks: busying themselves endlessly with different metres, substitutions, line lengths, poetic forms and techniques. They wanted to master their art as Rubens mastered his. They say that the poet Tennyson knew the quantity of every word in the English language except 'scissors'. A word's quantity is essentially the sum of the duration of its vowels. We shall come to that later. The point is this: poetry is all about concentration, the concentration of mind and the concentration of thought, feeling and language into words within a rhythmic structure. In normal speech and prose our thoughts and feelings are diluted (by stock phrases and round-about approximations); in poetry those thoughts and feelings can be, must be, concentrated.

If only The Ode Less Traveled were so concentrated. At intervals, it is, or tries to be; sixty pages later, for instance, discussing "Sprung Rhythm" and Gerard Manley Hopkins:

The manner was designed to create an outward, poetic form ('instress') that mirrored what he saw as the 'inscape' of the world. He said in a letter to Patmore that stress is 'the making of a thing more, or making it markedly, what it already is; it is the bringing out its nature'. His sense of instress and inscape is not unlike the medieval idea of haecceity or 'thisness' and the later, modernist obsession with quiddity ('whatness'). If such exquisite words are leaving you all of a doo-dah, it is worth remembering that for those of us with a high doctrine of poetry, the art is precisely concerned with precision, exactly about the exact, fundamentally found in the fundamental, concretely concrete, radically rooted in the thisness and whatness of everything. Poets, like painters, look hard for the exact nature of things and feelings, what they really, really are. Just as painters in the late nineteenth and eary twentieth century tried to move their form on, tried to find new ways to represent the 'concrete flux of interpenetrating intensities' that T. E. Hulme saw as reality, so Hopkins attempted to create a prosodic scheme that went beyond the calm, regular certainties of iambs and anapests ('running rhythm' as he called traditional metrics) in order to find a system that mirrored the (for him) overwhelming complexity, density and richness of nature. How they mocked Cézanne and Matisse for their pretension and oddity, yet how truthful to us their representations now seem. The idiosyncrasy of Hopkins is likewise apparent, yet hwo can argue with such a concrete realisation of the skies? 'Cloud puffball, torn tufts, tossed pillows ...' The density and relentless energy of his stresses and word-yokings are his way of relaying to us the density and relentless energty of experience. There is nothing 'primitivist', 'folksy' or 'naïve' in Hopkins's appropriation of indigenous, pre-Renaissance poetics, his verse strikes our ear as powerfully modern, complex and tense. 'No doubt my poetry errs on the side of oddness,' he wrote to Bridges in 1879. 'It is the vice of distinctiveness to become queer. This vice I cannot have escaped.'

And then Fry comes crashing back to earth, as when he tries to justify the mundane problem-solving that rhymed verse requires:

It may strike you as trivial or even unsettling to discuss rhyming options in such detail. I know exactly how you feel and we should address this: we must be honest about the undoubted embarrassment attendant upon the whole business of rhyming. Whatever we may feel about rhymed poetry it is somehow shaming to talk about our search for rhyming words. It is so banal, so mechanistic, so vulgar to catch oneself chanting 'ace, race, chase, space, face, case, grace, base, brace, dace,lace ...' when surely a proper poet should be thinking high, pure thoughts, nailing objective correlatives, pondering metaphysical insights, observing delicate nuances in nature and the human heart, sifting gold from grit in the swift-running waters of language and soliciting the Muse on the upper slopes of Parnassus. Well, yes. But a rhyme is a rhyme and won't come unless searched for. Wordsworth and Shakespeare, Milton and Yeats, Auden and Chaucer have all been there before us, screwing up their faces as they recite words that only share that sound, that chime, that rhyme. To search for a rhyme is no more demeaning than to search for a harmony at the piano by flattening this note or that and no more vulgar than mixing paints on a palette before applyling them to the canvas. It is one of the things we do.

Perhaps. Fry concludes his book with a not-too-un-useful (if jarringly non-parallel) list of tips:

  1. Consider your readers
  2. Keep a journal
  3. Consider the voice of your poem
  4. Read poetry
  5. Truthfulness
  6. Control
  7. Enjoy yourself
  8. Forgive yourself
  9. The muse is capricious
  10. Say it out loud

He prefaces them with the even sharper observation, "Concentration and total commitment to language are far and away the most important qualities needed for poetry writing."

Right. And likewise for writing about poetry ...

- Monday, December 18, 2006 at 06:04:02 (EST)

Blind Lake

Blind Lake is an haunting, thoughtful science-fiction novel by Robert Charles Wilson. It revolves around transcendence: the emergence of a new form of mind, and the profound impact this has on individuals and on society. There are strong echoes here of Vernor Vinge's best sf, but with quieter power and deeper humanity. Blind Lake is no flashy space-opera. In some ways, not much happens for hundreds of pages. But as John Clute observes in his review, Wilson believes "... that everything may become a little better with much work ...". A lovely sentiment ...

(cf. Vernor Vinge (17 Sep 2001), True Names (16 Oct 2003), Countermeasure And Godshatter (30 Oct 2004), The Chronoliths (9 Dec 2006), ...)

- Sunday, December 17, 2006 at 12:37:38 (EST)

Extreme Clarity

Patrick O'Brian writes sea stories — the "Aubrey and Maturin" series — that at times rise far above the ordinary in their artistry. Chapter Ten of Post Captain, as Stephen Maturin prepares himself for a tragic yet apparently inescapable duel with his best friend, includes a striking Zen moment:

The evening, as he rode back, was a sweet as an early autumn evening could be, still, intensely humid, a royal blue sea on the right hand, pure dunes on the left, and a benign warmth rising from the ground. The mild horse, a good-natured creature, had a comfortable walk; it knew its way, but it seemed to be in no hurry to reach its stable — indeed, it paused from time to time to take leaves from a shrub that he could not identify; and Stephen sank into an agreeable langour, almost separated from his body: a pair of eyes, no more, floating above the white road, looking from left to right. 'There are days — good evening to you, sir' — a parson went by, walking with his cat, the smoke from his pipe keeping him company as he walked — 'there are days,' he reflected, 'when one sees as though one had been blind the rest of one's life. Such clarity — perfection in everything, not merely in the extraordinary. One lives in the very present moment; lives intently. There is no urge to be doing: being is the highest good. However,' he said, guiding the horse left-handed into the dunes, 'doing of some kind there must be.' He slid from the saddle and said to the horse, 'Now how can I be sure of your company, my dear?' The horse gazed at him with glistening, intelligent eyes, and brought its ears to bear. 'Yes, yes, you are an honest fellow, no doubt. But you may not like the bangs; and I may be longer than you choose to wait. Come, let me hobble you with this small convenient strap. How little I know about dunes,' he said, pacing out his distance and placing a folded handkerchief at the proper height on a sandy slope. 'A most curious study — a flora and a fauna entirely of its own, no doubt.' He spread his coat to preserve the pistols from the sand and loaded them carefully. 'What one is bound to do, one usually does with little acknowledged feeling; a vague desperation, no more,' he said, taking up his stance. Yet as he did so his face assumed a cold, dangerous aspect and his body moved with the easy precision of a machine. The sand spat up from the edge of the handkerchief; the smoke lay hardly stirring; the horse was little affected by the noise, but it watched idly for the first dozen shots or so.

(cf. Master And Commander (4 Mar 2005), Post Captain (12 Oct 2006), ...)

- Friday, December 15, 2006 at 05:32:50 (EST)

Poem Crazy

The deliberately-lowercase poemcrazy (1996) by Susan Wooldridge is a little self-help book (as its subtitle "Freeing Your Life with Words" hints) in the guise of a portable poetry workshop. There's good advice on imagery, emotion, and language, but scarcely a nod in the direction of form, meter, or other traditional aspects of versification. The author writes well, though rather too autobiographically. Her rhapsodies about the wisdom of Native Americans and the Kabbalah are sporadic distractions. But the exercises at the ends of many chapters are productively provocative, and the overall enthusiasm and spirit that Wooldridge brings to the table are likely to be liberating to the inhibited bard.

- Wednesday, December 13, 2006 at 06:12:22 (EST)

Sharper Image


A fancy focal plane, a big lens, a fast processor — and a keen eye — can make a huge difference in photographic resolution and results. The hairy image above is by Dennis Steinauer, who catches me in a euphoric moment during a post-Thanksgiving MCRRC race. (Thanks, Denny! Click for a higher-resolution version.) A fortnight later another semi-professional runner/photographer, Jim Rich, gives me a mini-tutorial on modern digital cameras, Canon v. Nikon, etc. Christina Caravoulias likewise has been advising me. Some day, perhaps ... but meanwhile, I'll continue to plod along and take snapshots of whatever crosses the little viewfinder. And speaking of recent rambles:

Turkey Burnoff 2006

25 Nov 2006 - 10 miles (~11 min/mi) — "Don't do that!" I admonish myself as I scrape my knee on a big wooden stake, part of the construction project in our front yard, while fetching in the newspaper early this morning. The injury hurts but is superficial enough not to interfere with the "Turkey Burnoff" 10 mile jog. I arrive early at Seneca Creek State Park and take photos of and visit with various MCRRC officials and associates, including Don Libes, so helpful at the JFK 50 miler last weekend. Race Director Sethiya Renwick is busily keeping things under control, so I chat with announcer Lyman Jordan and thank him in person for the mile markers along Rock Creek Trail and Beach Drive that he painted many years ago. Christina Caravoulias arrives and introduces me to Beth Starr, widow of much-missed Jim Starr [1]. Beth is a volunteer at today's race; she tells us quietly and cheerfully about how alive Jim remains in her thoughts daily.
Then it's time to race. Christina has scolded me for coming out to run so soon after the JFK but nonetheless she sets off at a brisk ~10:30 min/mi for the first two miles as I follow along behind her and threaten to hitch a ride by clinging to her long braid. Then the reality of the hills and distance set in, so we begin to take walk breaks and slow to ~12:30 pace. As her training plan dictates Chris punches out at the five mile point, but since I'm still feeling fresh I round the marker and start another five. The blister on my left foot is essentially healed already but I do feel soreness on the sole of that foot between miles 6 and 9. Mike Broderick's proverb energizes me: "If the bone ain't showin', then keep on goin'!" I average ~10 min/mi in the second half of the race and manage to run almost the entire way, quite an anomaly compared to my usual walk-jog habit. Maybe the JFK was a good training run for me?

Blockbuster Loop

1 Dec - 13+ miles (~12 min/mi) — A mission is always a good excuse to run. Today, #1 Son has rental movies to return and I volunteer to be the courier. There's a cold front coming through so I have hopes of heavy rain and high winds, maybe even thunder and lightning. Alas, no luck on that front: the Friday afternoon temperature remains unseasonably high (low 70's °F) and aside from a few gusts and light sprinkles the front is a bust.
After last week's Turkey Trot I'm overconfident and run via Second Ave. and 16th St. to Blockbuster (17 min), then proceed along East-West Hwy. to Rock Creek Trail (18 min) and via Jones Mill Rd. to join the Georgetown Branch Trail. I'm getting tuckered out now and start to walk a minute every half mile. I suck down an energy gel at the downtown Bethesda water fountain before navigating north via Old Georgetown Rd. Several traffic lights are out, perhaps from power failures due to fallen branches.
My left foot starts to hurt, and chafing on my inner thigh from a seam of my shorts is no party game either. Maybe when the weather cools down to normal things will get better. On Rock Creek Trail at Cedar Lane I consume another gel and manage an 11:03 mile before slogging the final uphill into the old Forest Glen Seminary. Construction work there has blocked access to the pulchritudinous mermaid fountain, so I have to admire it from a distance as I follow the perimeter fence down to Linden Lane, and thence home.

Chilly NWB and SCT

3 Dec - ~6 miles (~15 min/mi) — Christina swears that the temperature is at least 50°F, but I feel much colder, especially when the wind gusts in our faces. (The weather service puts us in the lower 40's °F I discover later.) We meet at the University of Maryland (College Park) but fortunately the soccer field is closed. So instead of boring laps around the track we drive west on University Blvd. to the Northwest Branch Trail at Lane Manor Park and proceed to jog downstream, chatting (and, in the case of my teeth, chattering) along the way. My hips feel sore for the first few miles, perhaps from working them too hard on Friday, perhaps from sitting too long at recent evening concerts. I'm giving my old shoes one last run before they go into the scrapheap, and they reward me with minor pain on the top of my right foot.
Chris did well in a two-mile race this morning, so after going at ~12:00 pace for the first ~20 minutes this afternoon we increase our walk breaks and enjoy the scenery. At the confluence of Sligo Creek and Northwest Branch we take SCT upstream to Parklawn Recreation Center. Kids' playground equipment attracts Christina's attention and we attempt some pull-ups and other arm exercises on it. We touch the stripe at the edge of East-West Highway and turn to retrace our path to the cars. Graffiti under a bridge distracts us during the return trip, as does a brilliant-crimson cardinal in the brush.

Anacostia Tributary Orbit

8 Dec - ~11 miles (~10:15 min/mi) - Temperatures hover near freezing and a zephyr from the northwest gusts 15-25 mph during this mid-day jaunt around Hyattsville and College Park. After dropping off the kids at the University I leave the car at the Lake Manor Park and jog east through campus to join Paint Branch Trail. With the breeze behind me I get overheated and strip off an outer windshirt, but as soon as I pass Lake Artemesia and join Northeast Branch Trail I start to get cold again. Instead of putting the layer back on though, I keep moving and limit my walk breaks to one minute every mile. I only see one or two others on the path, unsurprisingly. The final four miles are straight into the wind on Northwest Branch Trail. I press the pace and finish with a blazing 9:14 mile, then pull on some clothes over my running togs and go to a North Campus Dining Hall lunch with my younger son who has excess credits to use up on his meal plan this semester.

Rundown Battery

9 Dec - 4+ miles (~14 min/mi) — My plan is to do nothing today, but Christina wants to sprint up some hills! So we meet in mid-afternoon at the newly-remodeled park at the corner of Dewey and Edgebrook Roads in Silver Spring, near mile 9 of the Rock Creek Trail. I arrive there first and wait with my headlights inadvertently left on, listening to the radio until the battery runs down — oops! There are jumper cables in the trunk and Chris promises to help me get the car started, so we run and walk north a bit over two miles to the Sue Wen Stottmeister glade where we ring the wind chimes in Sue's memory. Coming back southward Christina accelerates up the long inclines between mileposts 10 and 9, a good bit of hillwork that I need but don't often prescribe for myself. We proceed downstream to Randolph Road, then return to our starting point. After the hour-plus rest my car magically starts, so I drive home with fingers crossed that it doesn't fail on the way.

Jingle Bell Jog 2006

10 Dec - 5- miles (~11:10 min/mi) — Christina and I see lots of friends and have a nice ramble on neighborhood streets in this chilly morning's 8k MCRRC event. The first two miles go by at ~10:40 pace, but then we begin to take walk breaks and slow to ~11:20 for miles 3 and 4, where we see comrade Caren working the water table. I take photos along the way and pick up a shiny but badly scratched brass parking token on the course to give to Ken at the finish line. Jim gives me some digital camera advice; friend Ruth is in town and visits with us before and after the race.

(cf. Sponge Bath (29 Jun 2006), Remind Me Never To (23 July 2006), Intestinal Infortitude (13 Aug 2006), Baby Gets New Shoes (5 Sep 2006), Viking Railroad (26 Sep 2006), Hat Bulge (23 Oct 2006), Inner Goat (12 Nov 2006), Jfk 50 Mile Run 2006 (20 Nov 2006), ...)

- Sunday, December 10, 2006 at 22:06:17 (EST)

The Chronoliths

Robert Charles Wilson's The Chronoliths is a fun, fast-paced science-fiction novel with exceptionally good prose, decent characterization, and a provocative premise involving causality and paradox — definitely a worthwhile read.

Alas for nit-pickers: Chronoliths suffers from a flawed, deeply pre-Copernican worldview. Why should an object sent decades backward in time appear at precisely the same location — relative to a turning, precessing, revolving Earth — as the object was transmitted from? Perhaps a few sentences of pseudo-science could have dismissed or papered over this problem (e.g., "... nonlinear equations lock the body's location into a co-rotating coordinate system centered on the nearest mass greater than 1025 grams...", etc.).

But apparently to the author (and editors, and reviewers, and readers) the Earth is still the static center of the universe. "Eppur si muove!" to quote Mr. Galileo ...

- Saturday, December 09, 2006 at 06:42:09 (EST)

Strawberry Fields

Suzy Nakamura, one of my favorite unrecognized actors, is brilliant in the low-budget movie Strawberry Fields (1997, by Rea Tajiri). Nakamura is a disturbed, destructive teen-ager, haunted by her dead kid sister and her family's past in the WWII Japanese-American interment camps. The film is undisciplined: it resembles a poem written by a talented, enthusiastic, but self-indulgent author. Some of the acting is amateurish (particularly in contrast to Nakamura's performance). But the story is strong, the sound track features excellent music by a variety of Chicago "alternative" bands, and the cinematography is striking in its mix of old and new stylistic elements. It's a worthwhile movie, offbeat and ultimately uplifting, though the ride is rocky along the way.

(caveat: Strawberry Fields includes sporadic harsh language, drugs, nudity, sex, violence, and insanity; cf. Stark Raving Mad (28 Oct 2005), Must Love Dogs (27 Aug 2006), ...)

- Thursday, December 07, 2006 at 05:48:45 (EST)

Darwin on Taxonomy

In The Origin of Species, Chapter XIII ("Mutual Affinities of Organic Beings: Morphology: Embryology: Rudimentary Organs"), Charles Darwin explains the counter-intuitive importance of unimportant organs in discovering relationships among creatures:

Let us now consider the rules followed in classification, and the difficulties which are encountered on the view that classification either gives some unknown plan of creation, or is simply a scheme for enunciating general propositions and of placing together the forms most like each other. It might have been thought (and was in ancient times thought) that those parts of the structure which determined the habits of life, and the general place of each being in the economy of nature, would be of very high importance in classification. Nothing can be more false. No one regards the external similarity of a mouse to a shrew, of a dugong to a whale, of a whale to a fish, as of any importance. These resemblances, though so intimately connected with the whole life of the being, are ranked as merely "adaptive or analogical characters;" but to the consideration of these resemblances we shall have to recur. It may even be given as a general rule, that the less any part of the organisation is concerned with special habits, the more important it becomes for classification. As an instance: Owen, in speaking of the dugong, says, "The generative organs being those which are most remotely related to the habits and food of an animal, I have always regarded as affording very clear indications of its true affinities. We are least likely in the modifications of these organs to mistake a merely adaptive for an essential character." So with plants, how remarkable it is that the organs of vegetation, on which their whole life depends, are of little signification, excepting in the first main divisions; whereas the organs of reproduction, with their product the seed, are of paramount importance!

- Tuesday, December 05, 2006 at 06:07:39 (EST)

Birdy Sunset

We arrive early at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC for daughter Gray's concert, and as the sun begins its descent I venture onto the terrace around the top of the building. Solo seagulls soar by, much too far away for my little camera with its wide-angle lens to get a decent picture. Then I see a flock of small black birds land in the bushes at the southwest corner of the deck. They take flight as I approach, so I position myself a few meters back from the edge, huddling near the top-story windows in a vain attempt to evade the chill breeze. Eventually the birds return to perch. I emerge, and they launch themselves. (Click on the thumbnail for a higher-resolution version.) Birds_Kennedy_Center_Terrace_Sunset

(cf. Kennedy Center View (12 Mar 2004), Birdless Silence (5 Jun 2004), ...)

- Sunday, December 03, 2006 at 11:25:23 (EST)

Operator Head Space

I learned a new bit of slang the other day: "Operator Head Space". It describes the source of many, perhaps most, computer problems — thoughtlessness, aka "user error". (Hmmmmm ... maybe not just computer problems!)

- Saturday, December 02, 2006 at 12:52:29 (EST)

Witchcraft and the Inquisition in Venice

Witchcraft and the Inquisition in Venice (1550-1650) is a highly readable adaptation of Ruth Martin's Ph.D. thesis. It was published by Basil Blackwell in 1989, and except for the fact that Ruth and I are sporadic running buddies would never have come to my attention. More's the pity; the book offers glimpses of a society rather alien to current experience in some ways, but quite similar in others.

Witch mania did not erupt in Italy four centuries ago, unlike the situation in many other countries. As the dust jacket notes, "While in Switzerland, France and Germany those accused of witchcraft were subject to terrible ordeals of innocence, and if convicted, burnt alive, the severest treatment meted out to Venetian witches was a whipping."

To an analytic mind one of the most fascinating discussions in Dr. Martin's book is her taxonomy of witchcraft (also referred to as stregoneria) as used in Venice:

Ruth concludes that the bottom line for the Inquisition in Venice was to focus on the individual, to correct errors in doctrine, and to increase public awareness by education. The Inquisition's most important achievement was thus the total avoidance of mass hysteria. "Witches were different, but, thanks to the Inquisition's interpretation and prosecution of witchcraft, they never assumed the threatening proportions that would have called for their elimination rather than their correction, and Venice did not experience the witch-hunt that hit so many other parts of Europe during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries."

A huge success, in other words — perhaps one that offers lessons to other situations of social turmoil.

(cf. Hat Run 2006 (31 Mar 2006), ...)

- Friday, December 01, 2006 at 06:12:13 (EST)

Emerson on Nature as Antidote

From Ralph Waldo Emerson's journal, 28 February 1836:

Cold, bright Sunday morn, white with deep snow. Charles thinks that if a superior being should look into families, he would find natural relations existing, and man a worthy being, but if he followed them into shops, senates, churches, and societies, they would appear wholly artificial and worthless. Society seems noxious. I believe that against these baleful influences Nature is the antidote. The man comes out of the wrangle of the shop and office, and sees the sky and the woods, and is a man again. He not only quits the cabal, but he finds himself. But how few men see the sky and the woods!

- Wednesday, November 29, 2006 at 06:07:00 (EST)

Secrets of the Padding Masters

What's the market value of a clever short story? Next to nil compared with a 500-page novel, no matter how pedestrian the prose of the longer work. Likewise a truly useful one-page quick-reference sheet nets the author zilch in contrast to a weighty tome containing not one iota of additional information. And when you have a major term paper assigned three months ago and due tomorrow — but your fingers have yet to touch the keyboard — five paragraphs of brilliance will still send your GPA into a nosedive; 30 pages of copy/paste drivel may, with typically careless grading, keep your nose above water.

So who but a fool would write with brevity? Ah, you may object: "Longer items take longer to write. I don't have time to crank out the words." Not so! Once you've learned the Secrets of the Padding Masters, you'll laugh at publisher's deadlines ... you'll chortle when the rest of the class groans about homework ... you'll stay up late drinking with your buddies rather than fret about the memorandum that your boss expects to see by 10am tomorrow. "No problem!" you'll reply to every ridiculous new requirement for documentation or expanded discussion.

Just glance at this excerpt from the Table of Contents of Secrets of the Padding Masters:

And this is merely a glimpse of the barest tip of the iceberg; the three-volume series contains much much much (much) more! Just send $129.95 to P. O. Box 598, Kensington, Maryland 20895, USA and by return mail in a plain unmarked envelope you'll receive this unrivaled roadmap to textual enhancement. And what's more, if your order arrives before the end of the month you'll also get a complete CD set of the companion 72-hour audio course How to Filibuster: A Fulsome Guide to the Fine Art of Speechifying — for no additional charge! (Nominal shipping and handling fees may appear on your bank statement sporadically during the subsequent year. Please ignore them.)

Yes, you too can soon become a veritable Vicar of Verbosity ... a wily Wizard of Wordiness ... a prime Paragon of Prolixity — if you Act Now!!

- Monday, November 27, 2006 at 05:56:04 (EST)

Feynman Lectures

The Feynman Lectures on Physics is a classic multi-volume textbook, delightful and inspirational to read, a formative experience for many a proto-physicist (e.g., me, circa 1970). Recently I found on the library shelf an audio-CD set of the original Richard P. Feynman lectures, as given at Caltech in 1962-64 — "live" in the Master's Voice with that incorrigible Brooklyn accent. It's huge fun to listen to the stage directions ("Can I have the lights, please?"), the rattling of blackboards, the low muttering as he fights balky equipment during desktop demos, the self-criticism as he draws diagrams, the agile recovery from algebraic mistakes, and the silly jokes (e.g., after mentioning Michael Faraday: "Incidentally we have a good day today!").

And then there are the marvelous pedagogical asides that Feynman offers to the class, remarks that never made it into the written transcripts. For example:

That's one of the secret methods of theoretical physics. You can always do a different problem if it's easier to figure out. Then you can come back and make it more complicated.

Or, discussing semiconductor technology in 1963:

Things are changing every day and I will tell you what the applications are up to the latest moment. It is perfectly obvious that by studying these materials there will be new and more wonderful things to make and to do as time goes on. This lecture is, of course, not necessary — it's just for your own interest, in telling you about these things, so that you know at least some of the things you're learning about have got something to do with something.


You've seen this before in quantum mechanical equations or in oscillators or eigenvalues of vectors or whatever you want to call it. Anyway the result is that it has no solution unless the determinant is zero. You see by the way that as you learn things, you really learn much more than you think. Each time that you've gotten something, you find out that you can understand what somebody else is doing in a completely different field!

Above all, there's the incomparable excitement that Dick Feynman constantly conveys — the joy of discovery, the pure love of understanding.

(cf. Late Physicists (24 Sep 2000), Fractal Feynman (30 Jan 2003), ... )

- Sunday, November 26, 2006 at 06:30:23 (EST)

Ever Is a Long Time

W. Ralph Eubanks is a local (Washington DC area) author; he spoke at the Chevy Chase Library's 40th Anniversary celebration [1] where we met last year. His book Ever Is a Long Time: A Journey into Mississippi's Dark Past is a well-told memoir of his childhood, his family, and his discoveries about the State Sovereignty Commission and its attempts to preserve segregation in Mississippi. A lovely passage concludes Chapter Two ("Car Wheels on a Gravel Driveway"):

Our farm was much more than a beautiful piece of land, though. In many ways, it was a world unto us. Distant from The Quarters, The Jungle, and The Bottom. All families structure a world around themselves, designed to keep unwanted influences out. And the outside world was shut out from us when we were on the farm. We were exposed to it only when we read the newspaper, went to town on a Saturday, or went shopping in Jackson or Hattiesburg. Then we saw the segregated bathrooms, water fountains, waiting rooms, the neighborhood dividing lines that could not be crossed, and the racially prescribed codes of behavior. Perhaps because we were exposed to the brazen ugliness of segregation occasionally rather than every day, it seemed the exception. The life we led on the farm was what was normal. Just as my grandfather had built a house at the end of a road to survive a world hostile to his interracial marriage, we spent our time on our farm to guard us from unwanted influences that would tell us we were inferior because we were black.
We were removed, deliberately, but we were not completely isolated. My parents, particularly my father, valued personal relationships with people from all walks of life. From the country sheriff to an illiterate couple whose taxes my father prepared year after year, anyone was welcome at our farm as long as they followed my father's code of treating his family with dignity. It was through watching my father's interactions with people, both on the farm and off, that I learned how to build relationships. In those relationships, people become inexorably tied to place. In my mind, the people in and around Mount Olive remain that way to this day.

(cf. 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), For Greater Justice (4 May 2006), ...)

- Thursday, November 23, 2006 at 09:51:19 (EST)

JFK 50 Mile Run 2006


("Team Oz" — Mark "Cowardly Lion" Zimmermann, Bernie "Glinda the Good Witch" Sylvester, Ken "Scarecrow" Swab, and Caren "Dorothy Gale" Jew)

"We're off to see the Wizard, the wonderful Wizard of Oz!" That's the official theme song of "Team Oz" at the 18 November 2006 JFK 50 miler. The JFK is America's oldest and largest ultramarathon, with more than a thousand participants. Among the members of Team Oz, only one has previously done a fifty miler; one has finished a 50k run; and the other two have "only" completed a few marathons. So the odds are against us — but no matter! During the 3am drive to the start of the 44th annual JFK I crank up the volume and play an old tape of "The Cars" music. It features the 1979 song "Let's Go". The lyrics, as I hoped, get stuck in our heads for the next dozen-plus hours: "Let's Go!"

Cast of Characters

Glinda the Good Witch — "Bernie" (Lisa) Sylvester
It's always best to start at the beginning — and all you do is follow the Yellow Brick Road.
Dorothy Gale — Caren ("C-C") Jew
Somewhere, over the rainbow, skies are blue, / And the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true.
Scarecrow — Kenneth Swab
I could while away the hours, / Conferrin' with the flowers, / Consultin' with the rain. / And my head I'd be scratchin' / While my thoughts were busy hatchin' / If I only had a brain.
Cowardly Lion — Mark ("Half Beast") Zimmermann
What makes the sphinx the seventh wonder? / Courage! / What makes the dawn come up like thunder? / Courage! / What makes the Hottentot so hot? / What puts the "ape" in apricot? / What have they got that I ain't got?
The Wizard of Oz — Jim Farkas
Back where I come from we have men who are called heroes. Once a year, they take their fortitude out of mothballs and parade it down the main street of the city. And they have no more courage than you have. But they have one thing that you haven't got: a medal!

Yellow Brick Road


(click on the thumbnail for a higher-resolution version; map courtesy US Park Service; note that north is to the upper-right)

The JFK starts in Boonsboro, a little town in west-central Maryland. The course climbs east for about 2.5 miles on a road (US Route ALT 40) to South Mountain. It then follows the Appalachian Trail southward along the rocky ridgeline for 13 miles to Weverton Cliffs. There the course joins the C&O Canal towpath, heading upstream for 26.2 miles — a full marathon. At Dam #4 on the Potomac River the race returns to rolling country roads as it proceeds to Williamsport, a total distance of 50.2 miles.

So the JFK has something for everybody: hills for those who like to climb, trails for those who like the rocks and woods, and long flat stretches for those who like to blast along at high speed.


The JFK begins for me exactly eight months ago, on 18 March 2006 at the Montgomery County Road Runners Club "Super Sligo" 4 miler, where after the race veteran ultrarunner Cathy Blessing twists my arm and persuades me that another 50 mile run is in my future. My only prior experience at that distance was the Tussey Mountainback 2004 in the hills of central Pennsylvania. It was actually quite fun, especially if one's definition of "fun" includes almost 13 hours of leg cramps, blisters, heat, humidity, and thunderstorms. So Cathy didn't have to work too hard to convince me.

Comrades Caren and Ken are present and listen to Cathy's spiel, but are less hasty to sign on the line. Caren has just finished the Seneca Creek Greenway Trail Marathon 2006 with me and loves long trail running, but hesitates at the thought of so much non-trail mileage. The Ken Swab Frederick Marathon 2006 experience is still six weeks in his future, so Ken wisely waits. But after a glorious success in that race, and good outcomes for a couple of other marathons, Ken climbs on board. Caren similarly shines in her first major ultra, the September 2006 Punxsutawney Groundhog 50k, and so after some nudging from Ken and me she likewise pitches her hat into the ring.

The final member of Team Oz, Bernie, takes an independent path to the JFK starting line. We meet each other during September and November group runs along the Appalachian Trail, area familiarization experiments organized by Cathy to help MCRRC members get ready for race day. Bernie is focused and methodical in her preparation, and although she has only done a few marathons she's clearly going to make a strong attack on her first ultra. Our paces are compatible and we enjoy our conversations during the long training runs, so Bernie is an instant recruit to the Team.

Where do our names come from? Ken suggests the Oz mythos, and nobody else appreciates the deep brilliance of my counter-proposals. Decide for yourself:

JFK Team Themes
  Caren Ken Mark
Gilligan's Island Ginger Gilligan Skipper
Barbie Dolls Barbie Ken Skipper
Wizard of Oz Dorothy Scarecrow Cowardly Lion

So Team Oz it is, by a landslide. My cautious and realistic commentary about the challenges ahead of us — interpreted by Ken as the "Voice of Doom" speaking — gets me the rôle of Cowardly Lion. Ken contends that he must have no brains, to have gotten himself into this, so he takes the Scarecrow's part. Caren's cheerful optimism wins her Dorothy Gale and the ruby slippers. When Bernie climbs aboard we assign her Glinda, the Good Witch — which, by pure coincidence, was her Halloween party costume this year. Last of all, once Jim Farkas kindly volunteers to be our support crew we have our Wizard!

Out of the Woods, Out of the Dark ...

At 1:00:00 am on race day my alarm clock goes off. At 1:00:20 my watch beeps to make doubly certain I'm up. I've had only a few hours of sleep — a significant advantage for doing an ultramarathon. I quaff my coffee, grease my body, triple-check that I've got my gear, and at 2:20am pick up Ken at his home. We zoom up the interstate; I disobey navigator Ken's instructions, miss the correct exit, and have to circle back. At Lakeforest Mall, 2:50am, we pick up Caren and cruise onward. Caren shouts a warning as she spies a deer strolling across the freeway ahead of us; I brake because I think she sees a cop.

Shortly before 4am we arrive, after another wrong turn and a slight detour, at Boonsboro where the JFK is to begin. We've signed up for the 5am start since it allows more generous time cutoffs for slower runners. Even so, we're concerned that we may get pulled off the course for lagging too much. Ken catches some shuteye in the back seat as Caren and I unpack and begin to organize our gear. Then the race officials appear to open up the high school gymnasium. We go inside and continue to get ready. I take photos of fellow MCRRC members whenever I see someone with a team shirt or whom I recognize.

Next Glinda the Good Witch-Bernie, appears, just flown back yesterday from a well-earned Caribbean vacation which was also good training during the final week before an ultra. Scarecrow-Ken passes out plastic-laminated pace charts that he has produced for Team Oz. Dorothy-Caren lends him a headlamp and lets me stuff a sweatshirt into her drop bag. We listen to the race director's pre-event briefing, strip off our excess garments, and begin the chilly 1 km walk to the starting line near Boonsboro's downtown traffic light. A fellow near me complains that he has inadvertently brought two right gloves. My childhood topology is with me: "Turn one inside-out!" I instantly advise, and he's amazed to find that right suddenly becomes left.

Brain, Heart, Nerve, ...

The race itself? Almost anticlimactic for me. Everything goes as well as it possibly could, given my ultra-low mileage training regime and ultra-low native talent base. Shortly after the start Glinda-Bernie drops back to follow her own plan, a carefully controlled pace that gets her safely past the cutoffs. Ken and Caren and I walk the uphills, jog the downhills, and constantly joke with one another and with anyone else within earshot. Ken volunteers to identify any dangerous rocks by lying flat on the ground on the far side of them. We discuss "Dark Energy", the latest cosmological fad, and enjoy ourselves.

About six miles into the journey the sun rises and Ken's iliotibial band (ITB) flares; it was irritated during his Marine Corps Marathon three weeks ago. He thus must abruptly change rôles — instead of Scarecrow Swab he becomes Tin Man Ken, stomping along stiff-legged but at a brisk pace. Trail-loving Dorothy-Caren has floated ahead, so Ken sends me onward at the Gathland Gap aid station (mile 9.4) where I expect he will punch out of the race.

Playing Cowardly Lion I push myself while taking care not to slip and twist an ankle. After a few miles I recover Dorothy-Caren and we descend the steep Weverton Cliff switchbacks together. The first 7am starters now catch up with us and race by, virtually flying down the slope. Walking down the rocks in front of Caren I abruptly lose my footing on a patch of wet leaves and fall flat on my back — a potential race-ending disaster — but by great good fortune suffer no damage. (The next morning, emptying my fanny-pack, I discover an energy-gel packet has ruptured and coated the pouch with sticky sugar-goo. Perhaps it cushioned my tumble?)

At the Weverton Aid Station, mile 15.5, Wizard of Oz Jim Farkas is there for us. We ditch our headlamps and other now-excess gear. Caren changes shoes and outer garments, but I decide to press onward. On the narrow trail to the C&O Canal towpath a fast runner in bright yellow-and-black checkerboard tights zooms past me. "Are you Eric Clifton?" I ask. Intent on the race, the all-time record holder for the JFK grunts assent. "I worship you!" I shout after him.

Once on the towpath I start clocking along at my maximum sustainable pace. Patience is a virtue here: I walk a minute, then jog a minute, then repeat. Other runners and I play leapfrog as they pass me and then I return the favor a minute later. MCRRC buddy Ron "Tarzan Boy" Ely speeds by; I sprint along to talk with him for thirty seconds, then drop back to pant and recover.

At Harper's Ferry I'm more than an hour ahead of schedule, so I miss amigo Steve "Coach" Adams who comes out to give me beer and candy. Likewise at the next several aid stations I've outrun Wizard-Jim and his compatriots. But no matter — the day is going splendidly and I'm feeling good, except for a few tiny pebbles in my shoes that I finally pause to shake out. The MCRRC support center at Antietam, mile 27.1, offers my favorite ultra-food, boiled potatoes and a bowl of salt to dip them into, along with my favorite beer, Negra Modelo. (Many thanks to Don Libes and family for their kindness and good humor there!)

Meanwhile, how's everybody else doing? At mile 38.4 I finally learn when I see Tin Man Ken again. He gives me the news that he strode on for more than 20 miles after his ITB began to complain, and only had to punt when it froze up as he answered a Call of Nature near mile 27 — fortunately near enough to Wizard-Jim to join him in the support crew. (Both Tin Man and Wizard helpfully dispose of excess beer at Antietam. Thanks, dudes!) Ken reports that Dorothy is a few miles behind me now but making fine progress, though as a devout trail runner she doesn't enjoy the Towpath as much as I do. Glinda the Good Witch is sticking to her race plan and making all the cutoffs comfortably a few miles behind Dorothy. So Team Oz is battered but unbroken. I salute Tin Man & Wizard, then carry on.

No Place Like Home

The C&O Canal segment of the JFK ends at Dam #4, a lovely sight. I complete a 5:25 marathon and commence walking up the narrow road from the Potomac toward Williamsport. I'm off the Tin Man's pace chart, since none of us anticipated doing anything under 12 hours. My mental arithmetic abilities are feeble now but I estimate that by maintaining a 13 minute/mile pace I may barely squeeze in under 11.5 hours. So I jog as much of the downhills and level segments as I can, shiver at the cold wind, and watch for the mile markers. All goes well and I cross the finish line in 11:26 — more than 90 minutes faster than my previous record for the distance.

It's chilly outside as the sun sets and I'm starting to feel dizzy, so I go into the Williamsport school and enjoy hot pizza, hot cheddar noodle soup, and the awards ceremony — the first such that I've finished early enough to witness. Then I go sit inside the front door of the building where I greet Tin Man Ken (who has driven my car here from Boonsboro; thank goodness it has an automatic transmission!) and Dorothy-Caren (who finishes in 12:46) and Glinda-Bernie (who crosses the line in 13:18). We salute one another, celebrate, and commence the drive homewards. We give a ride to a young Air Force lieutenant, Stephanie King, who is nonchalant about her 9:50 result; she "only" trains 100 miles/week, in her spare time. The rest of us in the car are astounded.

"Never again!" is the immediate post-race consensus sentiment for Team Oz ... and yet, only 24 hours later I feel myself beginning to waver. By Monday, as my blister shrinks, my ultimate ultra fantasy — surviving a hundred miler — doesn't seem impossible. It must be the medal that the Cowardly Lion received at the JFK finish line. Courage!

(see http://flickr.com/photos/zhurnaly/ for additional photos from the JFK; cf. Tussey Mountainback 2004 (8 Oct 2004), Baby Gets New Shoes (5 Sep 2006), Viking Railroad (26 Sep 2006), Hat Bulge (23 Oct 2006), Inner Goat (12 Nov 2006), ...)

- Monday, November 20, 2006 at 19:19:31 (EST)

Inner Philosopher

"Colin McGinn is a wanker!" an Australian philosopher told me a few months ago. I had asked his opinion of McGinn during a class break, and his vehement reaction surprised me. (He did smile, however, when he said it.)

So not long ago when I chanced to see a multi-CD set of audio lectures by Professor McGinn titled Discovering the Philosopher in You: The Big Questions in Philosophy on the library bookshelf, I knew that I had to check it out — and I wasn't disappointed. Colin McGinn is an engaging speaker, and his brisk tour through the universe of classically ponderable issues was both provocative and rewarding. As anticipated, I still disagree (though less wholeheartedly than last year) with the "Mysterian" thesis that mind is a great incomprehensibility. But McGinn's musings on knowledge, truth, ethics, God, and the meaning of life are constantly entertaining. And even when he's wrong, he's somehow wrong in a way that illuminates.

(cf. The Mysterians (2 Aug 1999), Man Of Mystery (12 Aug 2004), ...)

- Friday, November 17, 2006 at 05:46:50 (EST)

Newtonian Dog Earring

A clever way to mark one's books, reportedly used by Sir Isaac Newton himself: dog-ear pages so that the tips of folded-in corners point precisely to the important sections of the text. Interestingly enough this is almost always possible, at least for books that aren't too tall and narrow. Drawback: with modern cheap paper the creases may deteriorate and crack after several years. Don't do this to other people's books!

- Wednesday, November 15, 2006 at 20:36:21 (EST)

Darwin on Extinction

In Chapter X ("On the Geological Succession of Organic Beings") in The Origin of Species Charles Darwin muses on the common difficulty people have in understanding and accepting the extinction of a species:

It is most difficult always to remember that the increase of every living being is constantly being checked by unperceived injurious agencies; and that these same unperceived agencies are amply sufficient to cause rarity, and finally extinction. We see in many cases in the more recent tertiary formations, that rarity precedes extinction; and we know that this has been the progress of events with those animals which have been exterminated, either locally or wholly, through man's agency. I may repeat what I published in 1845, namely, that to admit that species generally become rare before they become extinct — to feel no surprise at the rarity of a species, and yet to marvel greatly when it ceases to exist, is much the same as to admit that sickness in the individual is the forerunner of death — to feel no surprise at sickness, but when the sick man dies, to wonder and to suspect that he died by some unknown deed of violence.

... and a few pages later:

Thus, as it seems to me, the manner in which single species and whole groups of species become extinct, accords well with the theory of natural selection. We need not marvel at extinction; if we must marvel, let it be at our presumption in imagining for a moment that we understand the many complex contingencies, on which the existence of each species depends. If we forget for an instant, that each species tends to increase inordinately, and that some check is always in action, yet seldom perceived by us, the whole economy of nature will be utterly obscured. Whenever we can precisely say why this species is more abundant in individuals than that; why this species and not another can be naturalised in a given country; then, and not till then, we may justly feel surprise why we cannot account for the extinction of this particular species or group of species.

- Tuesday, November 14, 2006 at 05:55:27 (EST)

Inner Goat

"Unleash your inner goat!" comrade Bernie advises me as we tread carefully among the sharp stones of the Appalachian Trail atop South Mountain. The past fortnight includes a few such long runs, as I prepare myself for the JFK 50 miler on 18 November. I've also taken some recovery walks with friend Christina, have changed the batteries in my LED flashlight, and have gathered materials for a "drop bag" to enable resupply along the C&O Canal towpath during the event itself. Memoirs of recent major journeys:


28 Oct 2006 - ~29 miles (~13 min/mi) — Today's Mad Dog Zimmarathon Plus follows the classic MDZ course — home to Lake Needwood and back, via Rock Creek Trail — but adds a loop around the lake for a bit of off-road fun. (See Hoof Time for a report on the original, and thus far only, running of the Mad Dog Zimmarathon, 29 Aug 2004.) As the sole competitor my finish, a hair under 6:16, is a new record. Along the way I meet (or am passed by) a flock of friendly people, including a fellow JFK 50 miler trainee who recognizes me from our Appalachian Trail run of 10 Sep. The day dawns warm and humid, ~60°F at 8:30am, but gradually becomes drier, windier, and cooler-feeling although temperatures hold almost constant. "I am a leaf on the wind," I tell myself, as breezes yank red-orange-yellow autumn foliage from the trees to pirouette down upon me.
Overnight rains have left huge puddles on the path, but I manage to avoid them for the first two hours. Then approaching Viers Mill Road (mile ~9.5) as I divert to avoid a sea covering the asphalt, a deep swamp hidden under the grass renders both feet instantly soggy. A mile later it's panic time due to equipment malfunction: the Saucony shoe inserts beneath my feet start to curl up and slip out of place. Visions of horrid blisters form instantly in my brain. (Visions in the brain of blisters on the feet, that is!) I sit down on a stump and take the shoes off, pull out the inserts, shake away as much water as I can, and replace them. The right one is ok now but the left again wrinkles, so a mile later I stop to adjust it once more. This time it settles into place. Whew!
My pace between mileposts on the RCT averages 12:52 (± 35 seconds) on the outbound leg and 12:49 (± 44 seconds) during the return trip. The Lake Needwood loop takes ~40 minutes, so I guestimate it as a bit under 3 miles. En route I consume a bag of Ritz mini-cheese-cracker sandwiches, three root beer barrel candies, four energy gels, half a Clif Builder's bar, and four bottles of Zelectrolyte Formula. (I carry with me a little flask of 10x concentrate that I squirt into my water bottle when I refill it at the fountains.) I suffer only minor blistering on the inside edge of the right foot, the same area that troubled me during the Wineglass Marathon 2006 earlier this month. Bottom line: a pace of ~13 minutes/mile may with luck be feasible for the flatter parts of the JFK, but I should probably not try anything faster.

JFK Prep

4 Nov - ~13 miles (~20 min/mi) — As Bernie (aka Lisa) and I trek along the Appalachian Trail an older gentleman passes us. His name is Paul Betker and he tells us that this year will be his 25th consecutive running of the JFK 50 Miler. We are impressed; we're preparing for our first JFK attempt. Judging by the icicles on my beard the temperatures are in the mid-20's (°F) this morning. The sun is mostly up and the leaves are mostly down when we set off from the [ Old South Mountain Inn ], a 250-year-old establishment at Turner's Gap in the hills of western Maryland. Earlier this morning I pick up Gina (aka Mrs. T-Bone) and give her a lift to [ Weverton Cliffs ] where we leave my car, meet Carol, and ride with her and Bernie to Boonsboro. We do a quick drive-by reconnaissance of the first ~2.5 miles of the JFK course, then park and commence jogging.
The trail is pleasant though steep in places. Autumn leaves conceal many treacherous rocks and crevices. Gina and Carol trot ahead; Bernie and I chat as we progress carefully and relentlessly southward along the ridge called South Mountain. We know each other from our first JFK prep run on 10 Sep. Today, as the slowest members of the group, we keep each other company. After an hour or so we reach terra cognita, the Appalachian Trail's junction with [ Bear Spring Cabin Trail ]. Then it's onward and downward to [ Gathland State Park ], mile 9.3 of the JFK. We arrive after 2h09m and spend eleven minutes eating, stretching, and enjoying the facilities. Then we continue, arriving 2h07m later at Weverton, the 15.5 mile point of the race. During the actual 50 miler we had better go a bit faster to make the time cutoffs comfortably. We rejoin Gina, eat, drink, pile into my car, take Bernie back to hers, then head for home.

Gude-Southlawn-RCT Trek

6 Nov - ~15 miles (~11:10 min/mi) — At about 2pm Paulette and I are finished with Tile Viewing (yes, there's a major construction project underway at Chez ^z) at a shop near the intersection of Gude Drive and Rockville Pike. So I set out jogging, hoping eventually to find my way home. Gude takes me to Southlawn, where I run a gauntlet of depressing dumps, junkyards, and the like to where the road narrows and the sidewalks (and shoulders) vanish. I tread carefully around the curves and finally see the familiar RCT crossing at mile 13.5, roughly half an hour into the journey. The rest is as usual: trot downstream, maintain a 2:1 ratio of jog:walk, refill my bottle at the fountains, and watch out for bicycles. A small deer feeds on the opposite side of the stream; my passage frightens dozens of squirrels. At Ken-Gar I suck down an energy gel and a mile thereafter greet a young friend of the family who is studying her college textbook on an isolated park bench, her bicycle leaning against a nearby tree. My final measured miles are a brisk (for me) ~10:30. I experience the usual intermittent twinges in feet, shins, and knees. This is probably the last semi-major jog before the JFK on 18 November.

Seneca Nightfall

11 Nov - ~7 miles (~13 min/mi) — At 4pm Caren (C-C) and I meet at the [parking lot] where Seneca Creek crosses highway 355 and trot downslope to join the Greenway Trail headed southwards (downstream). I'm trying out my new "Welcome to the Dark Side" team-MCRRC shirt designed for the JFK 50 miler next week, and Caren is wearing her similarly-colored "Run for Beer" tee. We set a brisk pace with minor walk breaks on hills and rocky spots as we talk about the upcoming ultramarathon. I stop to photograph a century-old stone railroad bridge. After ~45 minutes we're well inside Seneca Creek State Park and pause to look at the setting sun before turning back. Then Caren spies a side path, so we climb it to find ourselves at a picnic area (officially named "[Chickadee]" according to the online park map). We run a symbolic lap around the little paved turnaround loop, then return to the Greenway.
Half an hour later it begins to get seriously dark and slightly spooky. I've got my trusty LED flashlight, still shining nicely though the original batteries from a year ago are starting to run down. Teal-green blazes painted on the trees are faded and far apart, so I drift off-course frequently but Caren is sharper-eyed and always gets us back to the path with minimal delay. We debate whether to attempt the pre-dawn Appalachian Trail segment of the JFK with headlamps versus hand-held lights, and decide that maybe carrying both would be better. Our main concern now is to avoid falling in the mud, twisting an ankle, or otherwise doing damage to ourselves in the dark — we're saving that for the race itself! A sprinter blasts past us on the 355 bridge over the stream as we step aside in amazement. At about 5:45pm we're back to our cars.

(cf. Sponge Bath (29 Jun 2006), Remind Me Never To (23 July 2006), Intestinal Infortitude (13 Aug 2006), Baby Gets New Shoes (5 Sep 2006), Viking Railroad (26 Sep 2006), Hat Bulge (23 Oct 2006), ...)

- Sunday, November 12, 2006 at 20:45:29 (EST)

Training Effects

Part 2 of "Your Personal Marathon Zone: Training Guidelines and Building Blocks" by Guy Avery has a splendid list of what happens when you run long. In Marathon & Beyond magazine (the Nov/Dec 2006 issue) Avery writes that the physiological benefits include:

  1. developing deep capillary beds in the leg muscles that will enable you to transport oxygen far more efficiently
  2. increasing your ability to store glycogen and use it more efficiently
  3. using more free fatty acids as a partial fuel source
  4. increasing significantly the number of oxidative enzymes and the size and number of mitochondria that help process oxygen and create energy more easily at the cellular level
  5. recruiting and converting certain muscle fibers toward gaining greater endurance ability so that a higher percentage of your key musculature can be come more effectively engaged in running, and
  6. strengthening all connective tissues to prevent future injuries while also providing a reserve training capacity to more easily handle shorter but more intense training sessions that are critical to your marathon racing success

As a sucker for lists I've gotta love this one, and I especially applaud the idea of powering up my mitochondria --- crank out some more of that ATP, little fellas!

(cf. Self Improvement (29 Jul 2002), Runs In The Family (25 Jan 2003), Reset The Thermostat (1 Apr 2004), ...)

- Saturday, November 11, 2006 at 09:04:26 (EST)

Confucian Homilies

Some months ago Paulette gave me a tiny book, a reprint ca. 1940 of the 1910 translation by Oxford Professor William Edward Soothill of The Analects or The Conversations of Confucius with His Disciples and Certain Others. It includes a helpful essay by Prof. Soothill's daughter (Lady Hosie) concerning the historical context of the ancient sage. The renderings of Chinese into English are somewhat stilted, but occasionally rise to the level of charming proverbs. Among the most memorable:

Book II, Chapter XV
"Learning without thinking is useless. Thinking without learning is dangerous."
Book V, Chapter XXV (concerning the Master's wishes)
"... [C]omfort the aged, be faithful to my friends, and cherish the young."
Book VII, Chapter XXI
"When walking in a party of three, my teachers are always present. I can select the good qualities of the one and copy them, and the unsatisfactory qualities of the other and correct them in myself."
Book XV, Chapter XVIII
"The noble man is pained over his own incompetency; he is not pained that others ignore him."

- Thursday, November 09, 2006 at 21:28:08 (EST)

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