^zhurnaly 0.71

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Howdy, pilgrim! No ads — you're in volume 0.71 of the ^zhurnal (that's Russian for "journal") — see ZhurnalyWiki for a Wiki edition of individual items; see Zhurnal and Zhurnaly for quick clues as to what this is all about; see Random for a random page. Briefly, this is the diary of ^z = Mark Zimmermann ... previous volume = 0.70 ... complete list at bottom of page ... send comments & suggestions to "z (at) his (dot) com" ... click on a title link to go to that item in the ZhurnalyWiki where you can edit or comment on it ... RSS

2008-09-27 - Lake Needwood 10k plus

Caren Jew and Mark Zimmermann at the 2008 MCRRC Lake Needwood 8k XC

(photo by Ken Trombatore; click for original)
"Tainted Love? That's Soft Cell, not Depeche Mode!" Caren corrects me as we run along.

The tune is today's earworm, on heavy rotation in my head since 6:30am this morning when I heard it on the radio. Humidity is high today, and by this point in the race my singlet is gleaming wet with perspiration.

~2 miles @ ~13 min/mi + 6.1 miles @ 11:37 min/mi

"You look great!" I tell Mical Honigfort, who in her seventh month is suddenly looking "great with child"—after beating me by several minutes in the last two MCRRC races. Today she's a volunteer race official at the Lake Needwood cross-country 10k, and she's lovely, glowing. So are the rest of us, a few minutes later as CM Manlandro and Caren Jew and I trot along the course for half an hour before the main event.

As we head for the starting line Don Libes notices my soggy singlet and asks, "Is that sweat?" I inform him that I've moved the flags and ribbons that mark the race route. "Just run past anything that looks like a barrier—you'll be the only one on course then!" He doesn't fall for it, alas, and sprints ahead with CM. She reports that Don initially believes this to be a 5k race, and appears rather shocked when he discovers the truth near the halfway point.

Meanwhile, Caren and I proceed to run with Megan Carroll, who chats with me about various movies and TV series that we've each found amusing. Megan is ramping up her training and is also coming back from last weekend's tough Womens Half Marathon. She begins to flag after a couple of miles and tells me to go on ahead. But I inform her that, as per the Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland (or in the spell to summon Beetlejuice) she must tell me three times to make it true.

"I release you, I release you, I release you!" Megan chants. So I wish her well and accelerate to catch up with Caren. She and I hang together for the rest of the race. As we cross the dam at the end of Lake Needwood and come down the final hill Caren points out her husband Walter and their daughters Ashley and Jenna. We wave, then sprint toward the finish line to come in at 1:12:10, a bit faster than my 12:00+ pacer shirt's promise.

During our cooldown walk we visit with Don Libes and his daughter Kenna, who is currently racing shorter distances. I admire her orange-and-blue "classic" MCRRC-design running shorts—I'm wearing women's shorts of the same pattern. Kenna tells me that hers are men's shorts. We decide, however, not to trade today.

(cf. Jog Log ...)

- Sunday, October 05, 2008 at 07:24:55 (EDT)

Twitter Poetry

OK, I can admit it when I'm wrong: Twitter may not be totally worthless, especially when the length constraints of text-messaging can lead to theological-philosophical thoughts like this one of Robin Zimmermann's:

"God" is the word people say when they should be silent.

... which works on so many levels, in so many simultaneous directions!

(slightly edited, to add quote-marks ...)

- Saturday, October 04, 2008 at 04:36:58 (EDT)

2008-09-26 - WOD Marathon Run

~26.2 miles @ ~11.7 min/mi

A clue: Kate's worst marathon result is 10 minutes faster than my best marathon! A hint: Alyssa is even faster. A question: why am I running long with these ladies? Answers:

So, unable to say "No!", today I accompany K&A on the first two-thirds of their 40-mile training excursion. I keep up, just barely, at their sub-12 min/mile pace. We cover a marathon distance in 5:05. Whew!

A rainy night dawns cool and damp. On Friday at 8am we meet at Reston Town Center near milepost 18.5 of the W&OD Trail. We strap on fuel-bottle belts, tie extra clothes around our waists in case of hypothermia, and set off westwards. The conversation is fun and wide-ranging. From the start I lay the groundwork for dropping out early: "I need to get home to my family." ... "I have to go to the office this afternoon." ... "The traffic will be horrible for me to get home." ... "You're going too fast for me." ... "I'm getting dehydrated." ... and so forth. All true!

Of course, I'm tempted a few times to keep going—40 miles has a nice ring to it—but then I come to my senses. I persuade K&A to modify their initial plan to do 10 miles out, 10 back to the cars, then repeat. We proceed past the quarry overlook that Mary Ewell showed me last year (cf. AwesomeAdonis) and turn around at 2:32.5 when both GPS units say 13.1 miles, in agreement with the mile markers. We pause at portajohns, water fountains, and vending machines. During the return journey young Alyssa runs far ahead of Kate and me, eventually out of sight. As we approach our starting point she returns—Kate has their car key. I stop my watch at 5:05—by chance we've averaged almost perfectly level splits. I donate some electrolyte capsules and antihistamines from my cache, wish the women well for their next 14 miles, and abandon them.

(cf. Jog Log ...)

- Friday, October 03, 2008 at 05:00:14 (EDT)

The Mysterious Island

Jules Verne's The Mysterious Island begins with great drama and continues through a roller-coaster ride of great fun, if not great logic. Convenient coincidences abound as our heroes land on and take dominion of their fortunately well-provisioned South Pacific island, on which they discover just about every animal, vegetable, and mineral that one might want. In their heads they bring with them an incredible wealth of practical science and engineering knowledge, precisely the right kinds of know-how to build an advanced technological society within a few years. It's hardly sustainable, of course: there are no women in the book, as Isaac Asimov observes in his charming Afterword essay in the edition I read. And luckily no one ever gets seriously sick.

But enough carping! Verne's story, even in a pedestrian English translation, flows well enough to keep the plot bubbling along briskly. His characters are cheerful as they apply names to everything they find. They're tireless as they overcome obstacles and build shelters, roads, bridges, telegraph lines, etc. They're enthusiastic as they mine ores, refine metals, concoct explosives, domesticate animals, and farm the land. The author's breadth of knowledge is amazing. And there are plot-development surprises enough to maintain a constant high interest level. Overall, The Mysterious Island is a romp, a Victorian-era Gilligan's Island—populated exclusively by Professors.

(cf. Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003-04-29), Rider Haggard (2003-06-27), Count of Monte Cristo (2007-06-08), Scarlet Pimpernel (2007-10-19), ...)

- Thursday, October 02, 2008 at 05:53:51 (EDT)

2008-09-23 - Carderock to College Park

~16 miles @ ~13 min/mi

Great blue heron stands erect in water up to her thighs, tail just brushing the surface of the C&O Canal here in Carderock. Turns her head a few degrees to keep an eye on me as I jog by. No sign of fish. Half a mile down the towpath another blue heron stands identically tall, identically still, upside-down reflection knife-sharp on the stagnant water.

The office picnic is still going strong, but at 2pm I prepare to leave and 10 minutes later I'm running. Wife has left car at the University of Maryland, daughter finishes orchestra at 6:30pm, and I'm not quite sure how long it will take me to get there. Google Maps has a new "Walking" option which suggests a good strategy to save 5 miles relative to the freeway drive. So down the C&O Canal I head, to Glen Echo and then Bethesda via Goldsboro Rd. From there, after a short trek along the Capital Crescent Trail it's East-West Hwy all the way to Riggs Rd and then campus via University Blvd. Pretty simple, though as it turns out sidewalks are absent on major segments and shoulders of busy streets are scary-narrow.

Good preparation: at the picnic I drink two or three cans of soda water and a glass of ale (don't tell the Park Service!) to get pre-hydrated. Then I fill my bottle with another can of pop, dilute it with water, and shake it to get rid of the carbonation.

Bad preparation: at the picnic I eat a veggie burger on a bun thickly slathered with BBQ sauce, along with chips, potato salad, and fruit. Oh, plus some cornbread. And three desserts. But they were small servings, and at least I avoid the beans and cole slaw!

But the excess food sits in my stomach and weighs me down for much of the journey. I walk almost all the hills—there are many—and take additional walk breaks on level terrain. The trip begins on the same stretch of the C&O where the DC Road Runners Club held its age-handicapped on 2008-07-04 (cf. Patient Companionship). It takes me half an hour to reach the brown pedestrian bridge over the canal that leads me along the eastern bank of Cabin John Stream under various parkway roads to Glen Echo in about half an hour. It's the same path that Christina and I ran during the DCRRC "Bread Run" (cf. LightningCrashes) on 2007-12-09.

Goldsboro Rd is a series of long climbs which eventually takes me past the golf course to Bradley Blvd, from which I climb the steep stairs to the CCT 40 minutes later. I refill my bottle at the Bethesda fountain and in 10 minutes I'm on East-West Hwy. For the next 1.5 hours I'm still on it, progressing through Silver Spring and Takoma Park. I pause at a National Tire and Battery store where a friendly clerk directs me to the water fountain in the customer lounge. I'm tempted to try to take a short cut along the high-tension power line right-of-way, but resist. Once I reach Riggs Rd and follow it to University Blvd the end is near: I see the UM campus in the distance.

Half an hour later, total time 3:27, I touch the door of the music building and stop my watch. I'm almost an hour ahead of the deadline—whew!

(cf. Jog Log ...)

- Wednesday, October 01, 2008 at 04:53:09 (EDT)

Buddhism - A Way of Life and Thought

Friend Mary Ewell recently lent me Buddhism: A Way of Life and Thought by Nancy Wilson Ross. It's a highly-readable historical overview of what may be the least religious of religions, the least mysterious of mysteries. As Ross describes it in the first chapter ("The Buddha's Life Story and Basic Teachings"):

What sets apart the Buddha's Enlightenment from the experiences of other religious figures in world history is the absence of any divine intervention, or transcendent illumination from some higher-than-human sphere. The truth to which the Buddha came was entirely a discovery made by a human being, brought about by his own efforts. The one way to man's peace, fulfillment and release lay through the calm control of his own mind and senses. Even the original Buddhist goal of nirvana (or "salvation," if one wishes to use a Western term) was the realization that life's meaning lay in the here-and-now and not in some remote realm or celestial state far beyond one's present existence.

Ross's discussion of Zen Buddhism is particularly provocative. She concludes:

In summation, what can one finally say about Zen? It is not easy, it may in fact be impossible. One can only try. First, perhaps, it should be reaffirmed that there is in truth no goal to be attained. Even satori, enlightenment, is not to be imagined as something achieved after arduous effort. Arduous effort may be involved, to be sure, but it is not the real meaning. The real meaning, the real enlightenment, happens in the way a ripe fruit falls from a tree. All the effort of the seed struggling up through the soil, the tree putting down roots and putting out branches, leaves, blossoms, its patient endurance of the many opposing natural forces—all in the end produce the fruit which, when fully ripe, silently, easily falls. Yet, this whole process of fruition was a process, not a goal and the seed itself was as much the goal, the reality, as the fruit itself. The seed as seed is eternal; an apple seed is eternally an apple seed, and given the chance it will become an apple tree producing more apple seed. As Dögen said, wood is wood and ashes are ashes. Wood has its own past, present and future, as also do ashes. Enlightenment is, then, to live in accordance with one's true nature. That is what Buddha did. That is how he was "Enlightened."

(cf. SenseOfWhereYouAre (1999-06-04), EngineeringEnlightenment (1999-10-09), FoamOnTheOcean (2000-07-23), My Religion (2000-11-06), MostImportant (2002-05-16), MyOb (2002-08-18), LightMind (2002-08-22), EatTheOrange (2004-11-28), Sunrise Service at Seneca Creek (2008-03-24), The Meaning of Life (2008-07-24), ...)

- Tuesday, September 30, 2008 at 04:51:02 (EDT)

2008-09-21 - Bachman Valley Half Marathon

13.1 miles @ 12.7 min/mi

A mysterious brick-red step-pyramid looms in the distance above fields of corn and soybeans. It looks like the ruins of a great castle, with ragged gaps in what were once proud towers and daunting battlements. But as the sun rises and the light changes the castle transforms, gradually, into what it really is: a neolithic mountain of hay-bales, stacked to the sky on the crest of a hill.

Christina Caravoulias and I are at a farm near Westminister MD for the 26th annual Bachman Valley Half Marathon today. This race is so cost-effective at $8 pre-registration fee that I can't possibly resist. Besides, it's a chance to run for a few hours with a good friend along country lanes—what's not to like? So we leave Chris's home at 5:25am and cruise cautiously northward, chatting while watching out for stray deer. Strands of fog linger above a pond near the course. We stop and take photos, then drive on, park on the grass as directed by volunteers, sign in, visit with friends, and as 0730 approaches line up on the road for the Race Director to send us away.

"The 'E' on our bibs means Elite!" I tell a fellow early starter. There are only seven of us: a mother and two daughters doing their first half marathon together, a pair of dressed-in-black ladies, and Christina plus me. The rest of the flock prefer to begin at 8am. Black cows graze in the fields and horses lift their heads to watch us pass by. It's a cool morning, with a last-quarter moon sailing high overhead behind a spray of cirrus clouds.

My quads and left hip ITB are a wee bit tight after yesterday's trail run, and this distance is a bit of a stretch for Christina, so neither of us plan to go fast. We both survived the Parks Half Marathon last Sunday under crushing humidity and heat. Today begins with far gentler weather, a temperature rising from 50°F into the 70s and a dew point pleasantly fixed near 50. The big issue for us is the sun, since the course is largely unshaded. Our first lap goes well, as cheerful volunteers greet us at every corner and the aid stations offer water, pretzels, candy, and occasional energy gels. I try a "Honey Stinger" gel packet and find the granular texture distracting but the sweet flavor pleasant. A sample of "Power Bar" cola-flavored "Gel Blast" gummy-bear-like candies is likewise fun, but unengaging in comparison to the salty pretzels. At every opportunity I take two or three and wear them on my fingers like rings until I eat them.

Lap two is tougher, but Chris continues to challenge the hills and we accelerate to a strong finish together. Our splits: 12:59 + 12:42 + 12:09 + 12:22 + 11:55 + 12:07 + 12:38 + 11:39 + 13:49 + 13:10 + 14:07 + 12:52 + 13:00 + 1:01 (final 0.1 mile dash) — for a total 2:46:30 time by my watch.

(cf. Jog Log)

- Monday, September 29, 2008 at 05:02:27 (EDT)

Spectrum of Deceit

Falsehood comes in a variety of flavors, some innocent, some less so. The current US campaign season has already exhibited many sub-species, ranging from:

Often it's hard to tell these beasts apart. One hates to assume that so many politicians and their supporters have moved to the deliberately-deceptive end of the rainbow, but sometimes ...

(cf. KnowledgeAndPublicHappiness (2003-07-29), ...)

- Sunday, September 28, 2008 at 08:15:48 (EDT)

2008-09-20 - Gunpowder Keg Fat Ass 2008

17+ miles @ ~16 min/mi

"Are you cuckoo...?" I start to ask, then hesitate, trying to remember the name of the Race Director. The guys standing behind the registration table smile at me but offer no help. "Cuckoo ... cuckoo ... uh, Cucuzzella?" I finally get out.

"We're all cuckoo!" one replies, and then points me toward Chris Cucuzzella, RD for the Gunpowder Keg Fat Ass run today. I shake his hand and thank him for organizing the event. Gunpowder Falls State Park near Hereford MD is as lovely this year as it was at the 2007 race but today's temperatures are 30°F cooler—and that makes a gigantic difference in comfort and performance.

An hour later, friend Mary Ewell exclaims, "I'm steaming!". At the first aid station she pauses to point out fog rising from her shoulders, visible in the rays of sunlight that peek between the trees. I move around until I can see the mist streaming off me too. We both remember our JFK 2007 Preparation run of 20 October last year when we saw the same phenomenon at dawn in Rock Creek Park. Our day began early, as Mary left her home and picked me up for the long ride to the park. Before the start we greet Megan, Michelle, and other running acquaintances.

RD Chris apologizes for the water-only minimalist aid station today, but a personal emergency has preempted a key volunteer. But hey, it's a "Fat Ass" race, so Rule One is "No Whining!". Mary and I donate to the kitty that Chris is collecting for the park (he raises several hundred dollars today) and place our jugs of water among the dozens others have brought to share.

Then we're off, trailing along at the back of the pack, enjoying the lovely day. Half a mile later I trip on a tree root and take a dive—oopsies! Fortunately the result is only a scraped knee and a little blood, but no major damage.

A mile farther down the trail we meet young Heidi, bent over as though she's about to vomit. We offer her sympathy as well as her choice from everything we're carrying: water, electrolytes, ibuprofen, anithistamines, candy, etc. "Water!" is her choice, and after a few sips she feels much better and starts to walk/run with us over the hills. Heidi is just out of college, she tells us, and is now a teacher dedicated to working with autistic children, thinking about going back to school to get an advanced degree. Last night she was up a bit late partying, she confesses, and perhaps that's what upset her stomach. Soon she's recovered and runs on ahead.

Mary and I catch up with Paula near mile 4, and I debate with her which of us is slower. (Evidence shows that I am!) Then we introduce ourselves to Gail, who turns out to have run the VHTRC Women's Half Marathon last weekend in a time surprisingly close to Mary's—small world! Onward we trek, chatting together for a while until Gail outpaces us. Karen of the MCRRC greets us later at the tiny aid station as our paths intersect there. The out-and-back loop course offers us many such opportunities to see faster runners.

Mary and I are happy campers, walking and jogging through the woods, until alas at mile 9ish when Mary's turn comes: she trips on a twig, falls, scrapes one hip, bruises a muscle, and twists the other knee and hip. Arggghhhh! At her insistence we carry on, walking more now, but decide to skip the middle out-and-back 2.5 mile circuit during our second major orbit of the 10-mile course.

At mile 15 we hear a voice calling us: it's Gail again, standing in the middle of the Gunpowder Falls! "Falls" means "river" in the local parlance, and Gail is hip-deep in the water near the ruins of an old bridge, cooling off her tired muscles. The start/finish campground is directly across from us. We're tempted to take the invitation and save a couple of miles, but Mary decides that "17+" sounds better than "15" and her injuries aren't too bad.

So onward we go, through seas of grass. Two-by-twelve boards, placed over drainage ditches beneath the high Interstate-83 bridges, bounce and teeter as we cross them. Just under 5 hours we cross the "finish" line. RD Chris logs us out and accepts our thanks. Tim Gavin, new HAT Run race director, greets me; he's recovering on the gate of his pickup truck after doing 50 kilometers in the same time it took Mary and me to do about half of that. I salute him.

During the drive up to Gunpowder Falls I play with Mary's car's GPS system, without much success. On the way home she lets me mess with her radio during an unexpected traffic jam, likewise without luck in terms of finding useful information. Soon we pass the local accident, however, and all's well again. We stop at a Wendy's to get some quick food.

After hearing a fragment of CCR's "Proud Mary" we start discussing song with "Mary" in them—Mary knows them all—which leads us to reminisce about our favorite show tunes. In chorus we sing "Maria" from "West Side Story" together as we cruise the Baltimore Beltway. It's a happy day.

split time mile location 2007 split
0:510:51~3.5mini-aid station (first time)0:49
0:351:26~6mini-aid station (looping back)0:36
0:552:21~10start/finish (lap one)0:53
0:072:28-pause to eat/drink -
0:593:27~13.5mini-aid station 1:00
1:004:27~17.5start/finish (lap two)0:53

What I ate: at the major start/finish aid station, potato chips, two donuts (a chocolate-topped glazed and an old-fashioned sour cream), cookies, animal crackers, half a boiled potato dipped in salt, etc. En route I take two Succeed! e-caps plus a Clif Shot gel and a ginger chew Mary gives me.

(cf. Gunpowder Keg Fat Ass 2007 and Jog Log ...)

- Friday, September 26, 2008 at 05:54:02 (EDT)

Rules of Engagement

A neighbor-friend recently passed along the 2008-09-12 issue of Commonweal. It's a fascinating Catholic "review of literature, politics and culture" that I rarely see. A blockquote in one article caught my eye: it cites Carolyn Porco, a fellow Caltech grad student whom I knew, distantly, a few decades ago. She's now a somewhat famous researcher at the Space Science Institute.

The article, "Rules of Engagement: Communion in a Scientific Age", makes an unfortunately muddy attack on Carolyn for her comments (cf. [1]) that the author, Robert N. Bellah, interprets as anti-religion. His criticism is in stark contrast to the glowing praise he gives to the book A Secular Age by Charles Taylor:

... It would be hard to find a book on this subject with so little polemic, with so generous an understanding of all the possible positions—including those farthest from his own—and so little need to show that any side in this multisided process of change is more virtuous than any other. ..."

What a marvelous image of the ideal! It reminds me of the Cardinal Newman description of a true "gentleman": tolerant and thoughtful, polite and profound.

(cf. Underappreciated Ideas (1999-07-06), Ethical Fitness (2000-12-05), Tolerance and Pacifism (2001-10-08), Liberal Education (20005-11-02), Rose Is Rose on Tolerance (2006-06-25), ...)

- Thursday, September 25, 2008 at 07:03:55 (EDT)

2008-09-18 - Anacostia Evening Loop

~11 miles @ ~12 min/mi

"Nice headlamp!" a cyclist, resting on a park bench by Northwest Branch Trail, compliments me in the near-darkness. An hour earlier five deer pose behind the engineering building and stare at my approach. One is a big stag with a dramatic rack of antlers. I'm not much of a threat, they decide, so they continue across the trail to Paint Branch to take a drink. It's an evening op: wife and daughter are attending a concert at the University of Maryland, and I'm the night driver. So I prepare a bag of gear to stash in the car, since I'm arriving via subway.

Unfortunately I forget to include a fanny-pack—but hey, the weather is cool, the route is familiar, and I can get by carrying only water in one hand and cellphone in the other. Before running I restrain myself and only eat half of a carry-out veggie sandwich and drink extra water. I change in the restroom, ditch my street clothes in the car, and set off at 7:30pm. No extra light is needed on campus, but under the trees approaching Lake Artemesia things begin to get a wee bit spooky, and stay that way thereafter. At the North Brentwood sewer construction site (cf. 2008-09-08 - Anacostia Tributaries and Lake Artemesia) I ponder climbing around safety barriers, but the noise of diesel engines and the bright arc lights deter me. I take my custom detour from Crittenden St through Magruder Park and rejoin the trail without incident. A big just-past-full moon rises in front of me as I return to the UM campus and stop my watch at 9:45pm.

(cf. Jog Log ...)

- Wednesday, September 24, 2008 at 18:10:06 (EDT)

Ted Corbitt

The latest issue of Marathon & Beyond (Sep/Oct 2008) features Gail Kislevitz's charming eulogy to legendary ultrarunner Ted Corbitt (1919-2007). It's titled simply "Saying Goodbye to Ted" and includes, among many wonderful stories, an anecdote told by Joseph Perez at Corbitt's funeral:

Perez describes Ted as a fine man who never lost his temper, never raised his voice, and always had a kind word for everyone. One of their favorite things to do together was going to running events. He recalls a night they attended the MIllrose Games. Perez had received free tickets and invited Ted to accompany him. When they arrived at Madison Square Garden, the ticket taker recognized Ted and immediately escorted them to the VIP entrance, an upgrade from the general admission tickets. While riding in the elevator, Perez recognized Joe DiMaggio. "I start yelling like a kid, saying to Ted, 'Oh, my God, it's Joe DiMaggio,'" recalls Perez. "Ted just stood quietly in the corner reading the event pamphlet. When DiMaggio looked over to see what idiot was making all the noise, he recognized Ted and came over to shake his hand, saying 'It's nice to meet you. I understand you are the greatest runner in America.'" According to Perez, Ted quietly said to DiMaggio, "Well, that's a bit of an exaggeration."

(cf. EricClifton (2004-10-01), PaulReese (2005-02-11), Misogi Harai (2008-02-11), ...)

- Tuesday, September 23, 2008 at 04:41:33 (EDT)

2008-09-11 - NWB Hill Work

5+ miles @ ~8.5 min/mi

"Do you play for ZZ Top?" the passing cyclist asks me. "No," I reply, "but I wish I did!" With an hour to invest in a tempo run before daughter Gray's orchestra rehearsal finishes, I'm blasting along Northwest Branch Trail, long beard streaming. Today's trek begins near the Adelphi Manor Park cricket pitch at NWB's mile 4.5 marker. A few miles upstream a group of young men are digging for worms in the mulch while another fishes in the stream. Older gentlemen walk their dogs. A plump girl smiles as she sits on a log by her boyfriend.

I'm pushing hard on this cloudy-comfortable 75°F late afternoon. If the markeers are correct my half-mile splits outbound come in at 4:20 + 4:16 + 4:09 followed by 9:08 on an unmarked segment to the end of the pavement. From there I "run"—taking baby steps, pumping arms furiously, panting Lamaze-fashion—to the top of the gravel Hill-That-Never-Ends in 3:47. The downhill return on the steep slope only takes 2:11. My inbound splits are then 9:43 followed by half-miles 4:25 + 4:17 + 4:01, with a heart rate after that final sprint of 180. Whew!

(cf.Jog Log, Oakview Hill Work (2007-09-12), Northwest Branch Tempo Run and Hill Work (2007-11-28), ...)

- Monday, September 22, 2008 at 04:53:00 (EDT)


An article in a recent Commonweal magazine introduces a splendid old-but-new-to-me word: kenosis—Greek for emptying. According to Wikipedia, in a Christian theological context kenosis describes "... the 'self-emptying' of one's own will and becoming entirely receptive to God and his perfect will ..."; in literary æsthetics it's "... the experience of the emptying of the ego-personality of the reader into the immediate sensory manipulation of poetics ...".

Heavy zen. To my simple mind, kenosis resonates with my all-time favorite Russian word: Ничего, transliterated nichevo. Idiomatically, it's an all-purpose response that, said with a shrug, means "It can't be helped!" Literally, nichevo means "nothing". (Hey, that's me!)

(cf. RussianJournal (2003-03-28), NationalCharacters (2005-05-16), Nine Layers of Sky (2008-04-10), ...)

- Sunday, September 21, 2008 at 04:34:21 (EDT)

2008-09-08 - Anacostia Tributaries and Lake Artemesia

12+ miles @ ~10 min/mi

The roar of diesel engines greets me as I approach the WSSC construction project on Northwest Branch Trail near mile 0.5—heavy machinery at work! Time for a detour: my plan to tiptoe around the KEEP OUT fences is a non-starter. It's Monday morning, and after taking the kids to the University I set off on my usual College Park/Hyattsville circuit. My first few measured miles flow past cool and crisp like the weather, 10.5 min/mi or so. But now at the barrier where NWB is closed I must pause, regroup, backtrack. I discover a path through the woods to Magruder Park, follow the eastern edge of the ballfields, discover a pretty neighborhood trail. It leads me to a wooden bridge over a tiny creek from which I turn right and climb the big wooden erosion-control staircase to the end of Crittenden St. A trash truck thunders past as I trot along 41st Pl to Charles L. Armentrout Dr, where I rejoin the trail. Cars here refuse to stop for pedestrians in the crosswalk, so several of us pause and await a gap in the traffic.

Onward, uneventfully, I pick up the pace as Northeast Branch Trail leads me to Lake Artemesia, ~10 min/mi. A boy in sweatpants and a girl with a flying ponytail zip by as I approach. I follow them, accelerate to pass, and inform the young gentleman, "I don't want to make you trip, but I think your left shoe is untied!" He looks down and runs more carefully thereafter. Onward at tempo, my 1.35 mile Lake Loop is a blazing 8.8 min/mi pace. The remaining 1.5 mile up Paint Branch Trail is a slightly-slower ~9.5 min/mi to the engineering bldg. I meet son Robin who kindly buys me a rehydration soda at the ASME Lounge. Then it's greetings to son Merle at the Terp Zone and back to the car at the Stadium garage.

(cf. Jog Log)

- Saturday, September 20, 2008 at 04:23:07 (EDT)

Buddhism Without Beliefs

Stephen Batchelor's Buddhism Without Beliefs is a fascinating, nonlinear, nonreligious interpretation of a major world religion—"not something to believe in but something to do" as the author describes the subject. In the chapter titled "Agnosticism" Batchelor lays out his skeptical vision:

An agnostic Buddhist eschews atheism as much as theism, and is as reluctant to regard the universe as devoid of meaning as endowed with meaning. For to deny either God or meaning is simply the antithesis of affirming them. Yet such an agnostic stance is not based on disinterest. It is founded on a passionate recognition that I do not know. ...

This is quite reminiscent of some aspects of Cardinal Newman's description of the proper gentleman's attitude toward religion. Batchelor also echoes Daniel Dennett's "Multiple Drafts" metaphor for the mind from Consciousness Explained. In the chapter "Anguish", for example:

Normally we are unaware of the extent to which we are distracted, for the simple reason that distraction is a state of unawareness. This kind of exercise can force us to recognize that for much of the time we fail to register what is happening here and now. We are reliving an edited veersion of the past, ...

The theme recurs when Batchelor touches upon something that sounds like Dennett's model of Self as "narrative center of gravity" (in "Imagination"):

Self-creation entails imagining ourself in other ways. Instead of thinking of ourself as a fixed nugget in a shifting current of mental and physical processes, we might consider ourself as a narrative that thransforms these processes into an unfolding story. Life becomes less of a defensive stance to preserve an immutable self and more of an ongoing task to complete an unfinished tale. As a coherent narrative, our identity's integrity is maintained without having to assume an unmoving metaphical center around which everything turns. Grounded in an awareness of transiency, ambiguity, and contingency, such a person values lightness of touch, flexibility and adaptability, a sense of humor and adventure, appreciation of other viewpoints, a celebration of difference.

In its conclusions, Buddhism Without Beliefs resonates with Martha Nussbaum's Therapy of Desire analysis of Greek philosophy, and with Robert Nozick's Philosophical Explanations. In his final chapter, "Culture", Batchelor paints a utopian vision:

An agnostic Buddhist vision of a culture of awakening will inevitably challenge many of the time-honored roles of religious Buddhism. No longer will it see the role of Buddhism as providing pseudoscientific authority on subjects such as cosmology, biology, and consciousness as it did in prescientific Asian cultures. Nor will it see its role as offering consoling assurances of a better afterlife by living in accord with the worldview of karma and rebirth. Rather than the pessimistic Indian doctrine of temporal degeneration, it will emphasize the freedom and responsibility to create a more awakened and compassionate society on this earth. Instead of authoritarian, monolithic institutions, it could imagine a decentralized tapestry of small-scale, autonomous communities of awakening. Instead of a mystical religious movement ruled by autocratic leaders, it would foresee a deep agnostic, secular culture founded on friendships and governed by collaboration.

(many thanks to friend Mary Ewell for lending me this provocative book! cf. OppositeThinking (2000-03-16), ThoughtfulMetaphors (2000-11-08), CardinalNewman (2001-10-04), UniversalFlourishing (2001-12-25), ...)

- Friday, September 19, 2008 at 05:02:16 (EDT)

2008-09-07 - Needwood RCT Taper

6 miles @ 12 min/mi

Capella gleams high overhead, a jewel in Orion's crown as CM Manlandro and I set off on Rock Creek Trail from the Lake Needwood parking lot shortly after 5am. Yesterday's near miss by Hurricane Hanna leaves behind some puddles along the path and a few fallen branches, but no major obstructions bar our way. I dance around a frog that hops in front of me. CM describes the not-quite-tragic adventures she has had recently with flat tires on her car.

Yellow police tape at both ends of a tiny bridge near Southlawn Ln puzzles us, but we soon see more such barriers at Avery Rd and Baltimore Rd and deduce that they must have been placed yesterday to warn of potential high waters. My watch band broke so CM is our timekeeper; she tells me that we're clocking along downstream at about 12.5 minutes/mile. Then suddenly, after about 2.5 miles, it's Mud City with a boggy wallow all across the path. The creek must have risen here yesterday and only receded slowly. Our shoes and ankles are half-coated and our socks are wet now. At milepost 11, just after the Sue Wen Stottmeister glade, we turn around. The return trip, as I forecast, is a faster one in spite of our best efforts to keep the pace under control. CM hands me the flashlight for the last few miles so she can retie her wayward hair and take a drink. A frog hops out of the way during the final hill climb, perhaps the same frog I missed stepping on outbound.

We finish up with miles of 11.5 and then 11.0 min/mi pace. CM is tapering for the Parks Half Marathon in one week; so far so good! Dawn brightens and the sun rises as I drive home and CM heads for the MCRRC kids runs where she's a volunteer race official.

(cf. Jog Log and Rock Creek Trail Miles 10 to 14 (2006-07-10), ...)

- Thursday, September 18, 2008 at 05:29:44 (EDT)

Prudent Leadership

Another list for the scrapbook—the four Cardinal Virtues:

Prudence is the only one of the four which doesn't traditionally have a Tarot card of its own. It's also, in the context of politics, the theme of David Brooks's column "Why Experience Matters" in the 2008-09-15 New York Times. Brooks observes:

What is prudence? It is the ability to grasp the unique pattern of a specific situation. It is the ability to absorb the vast flow of information and still discern the essential current of events—the things that go together and the things that will never go together. It is the ability to engage in complex deliberations and feel which arguments have the most weight.

How is prudence acquired? Through experience. The prudent leader possesses a repertoire of events, through personal involvement or the study of history, and can apply those models to current circumstances to judge what is important and what is not, who can be persuaded and who can't, what has worked and what hasn't. ...

Sounds like Wisdom ...

(cf. HareBrainTortoiseMind (2005-06-03), Monday Morning Mentoring (2008-01-30), Ten Strategies for Success (2008-08-29), ...)

- Wednesday, September 17, 2008 at 07:09:36 (EDT)

2008-09-14 - Parks Half Marathon Plus

~11 miles @ ~13 min/mi + 13.1 miles @ 12.24 min/mi + ~3.5 miles @ ~13 min/mi

At mile 11.5 on the trail I see a lump of ice almost the size of my head. It's a frozen-together agglomeration of chips. I stomp on it, break it into fragments, and pick up a couple of handfuls. I remember reading about an experimental device that football players put their hands into, to cool the palm and thereby reduce overheating of the body. I offer ice to folks running near me and then grip what I'm still holding tightly. After it melts down a bit I'm inspired by a good friend's story of stuffing ice chips into her sports bra: I put what's left into my shorts. Brrrrrr!


Today's pedestrian excursion begins at 3:35am. I'm a volunteer pacer for the Parks Half Marathon, assigned to run a bit over 12 minutes/mile. My mission is to make steady progress and help people near me beat the 12:36 min/mi official cutoff. (That cutoff isn't strictly enforced, by the way.) In return I get a free entry into the race, a cardboard sign on a stick to wave about and attract attention with before the start, a bright orange singlet that says "12:00+" on the back, and a chance to make some new friends. What a deal!

An audacious running buddy suggests an outrageous plan: instead of driving to Rockville to begin the race and taking the subway back from the Bethesda finish line, I decide to get up ultra-early and jog to the starting line. At 2am I rise, breakfast on coffee and super-salty ramen, grease my feet, gird my loins, and set off from the end of my driveway. I've got an LED flashlight in hand and a bag on my back with dry clothes to change into. The weather is already warm and humid, dew point lodged in the lower 70's, temperatures rising from the upper 70's. Soon I'm thoroughly sweat-soaked.

Ten minutes from home I reach the mile 10 marker for the PHM. A nearly-full moon is setting. Shadows stretch long and spooky across Rock Creek Trail. A pair of mysterious glowing eyes blink at me, then dart away—a were-rabbit? I'm nervous and turn my light on frequently, especially in the dark tunnels through the dense woods of Kensington. Fog scatters the beam back at me. Deer, in pairs and triplets, lurk in open meadows. At intervals of half an hour or so a car drives past.

I take plenty of walk breaks and average ~13 min/mi of comfortable progress. At 0530 with 2 miles to go I turn onto Veirs Mill Rd and see the Cone Truck cruising down with its police escort, marking off a lane for the runners to use. Christina Caravoulias phones me as she heads for the parking lot, and we agree to rendezvous before the race.


The starting line crew is doing set-up in the dark; Lyman Jordan has a small light and is testing out the microphone. I chat with him and tell him I'm thirsty. "Prepare water for Mark Zimmermann!" his voice booms out. I find my "12:00+" sign-on-a-stick in the pile and carry it with me to the check-in area, where Mical Honigfort, 7 months pregnant, is cheerfully managing the chaos of last-minute race packet distribution. "Sorry," she tells a procrastinator, "it's too late to register now!" (Mical runs the race at a relaxed pace and, as at the Comus cross-country event a fortnight ago, beats me by a few minutes.)

I pick up my garish orange pacer singlet. Rather than occupy a porta-john I duck behind a line of bushes shielding the railroad track fence and do a quick-change into dry shorts. Then I sit down again by the parking lot to don the new shirt—photographer Jim Rich catches me in flagrante—and change into dry socks. My shoes are totally wet but there's nothing I can do about that.

CM Manlandro arrives, chanting her mantra-of-the-day: "Start Slow!" (She succeeds, and runs a smart 11 min/mi race to set a new PR for the distance in spite of the heat.) I fill my drop bag with damp gear and the flashlight I no longer need, and turn it in to be carted to the finish area. Christina appears and takes funny photos of CM and me with my pace-group sign. We proceed to the pre-start area where John Noble herds the mass of kittenish racers into the proper wave-start corrals. The leaders sprint away shortly after 7am, followed in turn by slower groups. At 7:07 it's our turn as Lyman announces "Go!"

Race Pace

As the sun rises in our faces the sky is painted with pink-and-blue mare's tails, harbingers of an approaching front. For the first few miles I've got a small cluster of beat-the-sweeper runners near me. Young Simone Kirk has recently started working at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission; this is her first half marathon. Eric Thompson, age 66, chats with me about family; we both have kids at the University of Maryland. A psychiatrist and someone who claims to be his patient hear me called "Dr. Zimmermann" by an announcer as we jog by, and ask what kind of doctor I am. That leads to a brief discussion of physics. I warn them how deadly my on-the-run lectures have proven to be to anybody who tries to do a 50 miler with me. (cf. Bull Run Run 2008) They soon slip back, safely out of earshot.

Unlike last year when the weather was kinder, today's PHM is a struggle for most runners to stay hydrated and electrolyte-balanced. Christina begins at ~11 min/mi pace but flags after a few miles; I pass her near the halfway point. I spy an unused energy gel on the ground, pick it up, and suck it down. The salt is welcome, but the strawberry flavor sticks with me for miles. Jim Cavanaugh is guarding the Knowles/Strathmore Rd crossing; I give him a high-five and tell runners near me that he recently finished his first 100 miler. A few miles later a car is parked with doors open and Bruce Springsteen's "Glory Days" blaring. I slow to a walk and explain, "We can't run away from The Boss!" Then I see Ken Swab, protecting runners at the Beach Dr crosswalk there; it's his car. We banter, and I trek onward.

As more and more runners falter in the heat I ask those I pass, "How are you? Do you need anything?" An Asian girl asks for a gel. I offer her a choice from the two I carry: "Chocolate, or Apple Pie?" She instantly decides "Chocolate!" and accepts the gift. Simone has fallen back, and now only Eric is with me. My pace fluctuates with the terrain and the presence of aid stations, but I check my watch at every mile marker and manage always to stay within 75 seconds of the ideal time for a 12:15 min/mi runner, a few hundred feet error or less—not too shabby for a novice pacer, or so I tell myself.

When I check the pocket in my shorts I discover that my house key is missing—oops! Then I realize that it's in the soggy pants that left in the drop bag. Whew! In the final miles my metatarsals ache, but not too badly. I encourage Eric to run on ahead while I slow to come in at my goal pace. I cross the finish line half a dozen seconds earlier than I had forecast in the "Predict Your Time" contest. Alas, I forgot to allow for the time delay between starting my watch and crossing the official starting line.


In the runner's corral I give Patty Rich my timing chip, snag a slice of cheese pizza, quaff a small cup of tea and a larger cup of sports drink, pick up my soggy gear, and head for home. I alternate minutes of jogging and walking for a net of ~13 min/mi, carrying my drop bag over my shoulder like a sweaty Santa Claus. Christina is coming in to the finish now and I cheer her, and greet the other runners who accompanied me earlier but had to decelerate. Everyone I see is happy just to have survived the rough conditions. At home I stop my watch and sit down on the front steps to take off my shoes and socks. I immediately get mosquito-bitten on my exposed feet.

Official Result

1873rd place — 52nd out of 59 runners in my age/sex group — 2:47:26 total time — 2:40:22 chip time — 12:14 min/mi average pace

Raw Numbers

time comment time cumulative comment time comment
PrefaceParks Half MarathonPostscript
10:32home to PHM Mile 1012:070:12:07including ~8 sec offset 12:02PHM mile 13 to PHM mile 12
09:45error: missing ~3 min 12:290:25:36Mile 202:59PHM mile 12 to CCT mile 2.0
12:2313:050:37:4106:40CCT 2.0 to CCT 1.5
13:1112:160:49:5713:06CCT 1.5 to CCT 0.5
13:1312:041:02:0012:58CCT 0.5 to home
26:19missed PHM Mile 111:532:01:29
total 2:18:2712:102:13:38
12:382:38:58Mile 13
01:322:40:30Mile 13.1

(cf. Jog Log)

- Monday, September 15, 2008 at 21:40:15 (EDT)

At My Pace

This morning I get to be a "Pace Group Leader" for the Parks Half Marathon: I'm supposed to run at a steady speed, like the moving blue line magically superposed by the television network on the swimming pools during coverage of the recent Olympic Games. The goal is to help runners keep a steady pace, enjoy their race, and achieve a better result than they might otherwise. To help prepare his pacers, MCRRC organizer Ken Trombatore sent a link to a recent article in Runner's World magazine by John Hanc. It's titled "Party at My Pace" and includes a lovely description of a well-run marathon by ace pacer Starshine Blackford:

"We're going to run these first ten miles with our heads, the second ten miles with our legs, and the last six miles with our hearts. So during this first ten, run smart, run conservatively, run controlled."

(cf. DecelerationParameter (2003-12-28), TimeVault (2006-03-15), StartSlower (2006-11-02), ...)

- Sunday, September 14, 2008 at 02:47:13 (EDT)

2008-09-01 - CM's PHM Warm-Up

13+ miles @ 11 min/mi

A bat flits around the Rockville Metro parking lot at 5:55am, harvesting bugs from the swarms around the streetlights. "Waiting is the Hardest Part" (Tom Petty) plays on my car radio. Soon CM Manlandro arrives and we set off along the Parks Half Marathon route. A layer of fog hangs over the soccer field near mile 2.2, gleaming as dawn brightens. Groups of deer in the woods pause to watch us pass; a tiny rabbit in the grass by the trail freezes, then retreats. Twinges come and go in my metatarsals. CM notes similar pains in her ankles and arches. My "aid station" is a poorly concealed cache behind the rock at Ken-Gar (mile 5.5). I snag the bag as we pass and sip from a can of Cherry Coke for the next 2 miles. Our pace is a slightly-too-brisk 10:20 min/mi for the first half, so we slow to an average of 11:25 min/mi for the second section. A fast buff fellow passes us in his outbound & then return trips, doing 8-10 miles before taking his son to march in the Kensington Labor Day parade. Sunbeams slip through the trees near mile 9 as we approach the Mormon Temple. Near "Winkler's Meadow, mile 10.7, I stare a deer in the face and it blinks. (It's an allusion to the movie Stark Raving Mad.) We finish a bit under 2:22, a new PR for CM, and walk to the Bethesda Metro for the ride back to get our cars. Farecard snafus are resolved with the help of the station attendant.

(cf. Jog Log for the running journal)

- Saturday, September 13, 2008 at 07:42:18 (EDT)

Art of Physics Appreciation

After almost a year of being buried in a pile of detritus a gem surfaced recently: an essay by Dwight E Neuenschwander in the Fall 2007 issue of Radiations, a physics society newsletter. Neuenschwander's article is called "Motorcycle Maintenance and the Art of Physics Appreciation". It springboards off the 1974 Robert Pirsig novel Zen in the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and talks about how invisible modern science has become:

How many people driving a car every day carry in their minds a mental image of the mechanics, thermodynamics, and electromagnetism that make their machine possible? Our society is saturated with technological applications of science. Yet most people you encounter in the laser-equipped grocery store checkout line, waiting in the clinic for their MRI, or sitting next to you on the airplane, seem amazingly uncurious about how any of this stuff works. How quickly the marvelous becomes commonplace and taken for granted!

Some perceptible progress has been made towards science being claimed as the intellectual heritage of everyone. Practically everybody has some mental picture of the Earth as a planet orbiting a star, agrees that human genetics gets encoded in helical molecules, and assumes that floods and earthquakes have geophysical causes. But although science has revealed a breathtaking vision of the universe and our place in it, here again the typical citizen, by and large, seems unreflective about it all. How quickly the astonishing becomes mundane! ...

Neuenschwander and colleagues do physics workshops with little children, and the questions that some of the kids ask are extraordinary. In particular, from "Chris" (note that "acrus" = "occurs"):

I want to know if space ever ends, how magnets work, how lightning acrus, how electricity works, how sound works, if numbers ever end, how clowds acru.

Wonderful questions!

(cf. MotorcycleMaintenance (2003-06-06), ...)

- Friday, September 12, 2008 at 05:08:16 (EDT)

2008-08-30 - CJT - Mary's WHM Warm-Up

12+ miles @ ~16 min/mi

After two days of rain the Cabin John Stream Valley Trail is surprisingly non-muddy this morning as Mary Ewell and I do a 12-13 mile out-and back, probably her last long run before the VHTRC Women's Half Marathon coming up in a fortnight. At 0630 I establish an Aid Station by caching chips and a jug of water behind the guard railing at the end of Bell's Mill Rd. In spite of multiple washings the plastic bottle still smells faintly of salsa, but no harm in that.

Bachman-Turner Overdrive's "You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet" is playing on the radio, and later echoes in my mind. Before 7am Mary and I meet at the River Road parking area and set off briskly upstream. We take turns leading; whoever goes first gets to break the spiderwebs that stretch across the trail. Mary insists on running for the first 20 minutes, which gets us past Bradley Blvd (16 min, 1.2 miles by the official reckoning) and into the hills of the next Cabin John Trail segment. When we get near Seven Locks Road we turn onto a longer side path, the ruins of an old paved driveway, to avoid a notoriously-boggy section. Mary spies deer in the woods, and soon I see one too. At the impromptu Aid Station (mile ~3) we sit down on the asphalt to drink, nibble, and retie shoes.

On the other side of Democracy Blvd the paths through the woods wind and twist but we continue to make good progress. At Tuckerman Ln (mile ~5) we decide to continue north. Mary's plan for the day is only a 3-hour tour, but as on Gilligan's Island we extend that a bit by going to the end of the trail at Goya Dr (mile ~6+). Our feet get wet during the stream crossing, and we have to swim through a sea of high weeds farther up, but we reach the turnaround in 1:37.

During the return trip Mary's right foot slips on a rock and she twists her ankle and knee. We slow our pace and take the high path to the Cabin John Regional Park. Approaching the children's playground I torque my left hip a bit when, as I later confess to Mary, I'm distracted by two brobdingnagian conical piles of mulch which remind me of, uh, intriguing mammalian architecture. At the hippo-faced water fountain near the playground we refill bottles, suck down energy gels, chat together, and recover for five minutes. Then we cross the parking lot and descend to rejoin the blue-blazed CJT Trail.

At the Locust Grove Nature Center just north of Democracy Blvd we see some huge logs carved into the shape of crouching bears and banter: "Were those there when we came by an hour ago?" "I don't think so—they must have carved them while we were jogging!" Mary reminds me of how everything looked strangely new to me when we were lost in the woods at Fountainhead last week, and yet seemed strangely familiar to her.

We catalog and compare our twinges and aches, walk more frequently, pause to freshen up at our Aid Station, and nonetheless arrive back at Bradley Blvd in 3:08. The final mile+ to River Rd takes only 17 min, for a total of 3:25—of which 15-20 minutes was spent relaxing during our three refueling stops.

Overall it's a splendid morning's journey. Both of us are totally sweat-soaked as the humidity remains high. Mary does her signature towel trick and changes discreetly into dry clothes (cute pajamas!) but I simply sit on a towel for the drive home.

(cf. Jog Log for the last 10 entries in the running logbook)

- Thursday, September 11, 2008 at 04:52:26 (EDT)

Divine Hieroglyphics

John Muir, in his journal entry of 6 June 1869 (in My First Summer in the Sierra), rhapsodized about the manifold beauties of nature in which he found himself immersed. He observed that "as love for everything increased" all loneliness would inevitably fade away:

Another conifer was met to-day—incense cedar—(Libocedrus decurrens), a large tree with warm yellow-green foliage in flat plumes like those of arborvitæ, bark cinnamon-colored, and as the boles of the old trees are without limbs they make striking pillars in the woods where the sun chances to shine on them—a worthy companion of the kingly sugar and yellow pines. I feel strangely attracted to this tree. The brown close-grained wood, as well as the small scale-like leaves, is fragrant, and the flat over-lapping plumes make fine beds, and must shed the rain well. It would be delightful to be storm-bound beneath one of these noble, hospitable, inviting old trees, its broad sheltering arms bent down like a tent, incense rising from the fire made from its dry fallen branches, and a hearty wind chanting overhead. But the weather is calm to-night, and our camp is only a sheep camp. We are near the North Fork of the Merced. The night wind is telling the wonders of the upper mountains, their snow fountains and gardens, forests and groves; even their topography is in its tones. And the stars, the everlasting sky lilies, how bright they are now that we have climbed above the lowland dust! The horizon is bounded and adorned by a spiry wall of pines, every tree harmoniously related to every other; definite symbols, divine hieroglyphics written with sunbeams. Would I could understand them! The stream flowing past the camp through ferns and lilies and alders makes sweet music to the ear, but the pines marshaled around the edge of the sky make a yet sweeter music to the eye. Divine beauty all. Here I could stay tethered forever with just bread and water, nor would I be lonely; loved friends and neighbors, as love for everything increased, would seem all the nearer however many the miles and mountains between us.

- Wednesday, September 10, 2008 at 04:54:14 (EDT)

2008-08-26 - RCT Evening Acceleration

4 miles @ 10.8 min/mi

"Awesome!" is CM Manlandro's verdict. Our mile splits tell the tale: 11:48 + 11:12 + 10:41 + 9:29. It's a pleasant evening, temperatures in the upper 70s and dew point about 50°F, with a pleasant breeze. We meet at Ray's Meadow and trot upstream along Rock Creek Trail from mile marker 1.25, expecting to do about 12 min/mi pace. CM's achilles tendon feels relatively good after a day of rest but complains when too much mileage gets thrown at it for too many days in a row. We pass a couple walking their cat in the woods. Beach Drive is being resurfaced and the lack of lines makes me nervous when we must run on the road to get under the Beltway. A lady jogs by the other way pushing a double-wide stroller and holding a large dog's leash. Our last mile is a brisk one but we're both still able to talk—a little!—as we return to our starting point.

(cf. Jog Log for the last 10 entries in the running logbook)

- Tuesday, September 09, 2008 at 04:56:40 (EDT)

Illusion of Perfectibility

In a recent critical essay about economist-philosopher Friedrich Hayek, Jesse Larner notes:

... Hayek understood at least one very big thing: that the vision of a perfectible society leads inevitably to the gulag. Experience should have taught us by now that human societies are jerry-built structures, rickety towers of ad hoc solutions to unforeseen problems. Their development is evolutionary, and as in biological evolution, they do not have natural end-states. They are what they are continuously becoming. Comprehensive models of how society should work reject the wisdom of solutions that work and deny the legitimacy (indeed, from Lenin to Mussolini to Mao to Ho to Castro to Qutb, deny the very right to exist) of individuals who demonstrate anti-orthodox wisdom. Defenders of these models are required by their own rigidity to invent the category of the counterrevolutionary.

To Hayek, this is what socialism, communism, and collectivism—he makes little distinction between them—mean: the dangerous illusion of perfectibility. ...

(from "Who's Afraid of Friedrich Hayek? The Obvious Truths and Mystical Fallacies of a Hero of the Right", by Jesse Larner in Dissent magazine; cf. Common Understanding (1999-10-08), Muddling Through (2002-08-21), In Search of the Fulcrum (2004-03-19), Empire of the Sun (2005-08-08), Arkhipelag Gulag (2008-08-04), ...)

- Monday, September 08, 2008 at 05:17:02 (EDT)

2008-08-24 - Bethesda Trolley Loop

~15.5 miles @ ~12.5 min/mi

"Whoa!" shouts Ken Swab, as the water sprinkler swings around and splashes him. We're standing next to Rock Creek Trail milepost #1 at Meadowbrook Stables, preparing for today's run. Someone turns on the system to wet down the horse exercise fields, and a sprayer atop a tall pole is badly misadjusted. We retreat across the street, start our watches, and run northward.

A few minutes earlier: I'm jogging along from home, about 1.8 miles. As I cross East-West Hwy a car zooms up and the driver rolls down a window to shout at me, "Go faster!" It's comrade Ken, of course. Our original plan is a simple out-and-back along Rock Creek Trail, but I suggest something more interesting: take the Capital Crescent Trail to Bethesda, proceed out Old Georgetown Rd to Cedar Ln, then cross back to RCT and return. Ken sees my bet and raises me a few more miles: he proposes to take the Bethesda Trolley Trail farther north, to Grosvenor Ln, and cross over there to the RCT. Sounds good to me!

So from Ray's Meadow we climb up the Grubb Rd hill to join the CCT. We're making a comfortable 12-13 min/mi, taking walk breaks every half mile or so as the spirit moves us. On the high railroad trestle we pause to look down at the trail below, where a couple of hours later we'll be returning. At the Bethesda water fountain I suck down an energy gel and refill my bottle.

Ken shows me a shortcut through the new downtown shopping court. At a street corner a shiny red Miata beeps at us. It's photographer Jim Rich of the MCRRC, whom I confuse at first with Jim Cavanaugh, whose recent 100 miler Ken and I were discussing a few moments earlier. When I realize my mistake I apologize to Rich and tell Ken, "We've gotta go—Jim is a Canon man and I'm a Nikon guy!"

Proceeding up Old Georgetown Rd we're bantering at a furious pace. "We really should save some of these anecdotes for when we're running with other people, so we could amuse them," I suggest. Ken tells me about loquacious Senator Biden, now VP nominee; Ken's daughter Hillary is at the Democratic Convention in Denver this weeek. At NIH a blazingly fast young lady overtakes us, which leads us to debate how fast (or rather, how slowly) we could theoretically do a single lap on a track "if we really tried".

The Bethesda Trolley Trail is pleasant. Ken and I continue to discuss family, training, and his upcoming race plans including the Marine Corps Marathon and the JFK 50 miler. We sprint across Rockville Pike and proceed down Beach Dr to merge with RCT near mile 5.5.

On the roller-coaster hills approaching milepost 3 both Ken and I are soaked with sweat. Ken tells me that his shirt is merely wet but his pants are totally saturated. "I don't think I'll check that," I tell Ken. I can envision the arrest for public indecency: "Honest, Officer, I was just feeling the liner of his shorts!" We pause to drink, then accelerate and get back to Meadowbrook Stables in a bit over 2 hours 20 minutes, a total of 11+ miles. Ken offers me a ride home but I resist the temptation and jog back, arriving in 3:14 for an estimated total of 15-16 miles.

(cf. Jog Log for the latest entries in the running logbook)

- Sunday, September 07, 2008 at 03:50:53 (EDT)

Standard Model

The Theory of Almost Everything by Robert Oerter isn't sexy. The writing is workmanlike; the graphics are adequate. But the subject—quantum field theory and the "Standard Model" of modern physics—is arguably one of the most important developments of the twentieth century. Robin found the book remaindered at Borders last month, enjoyed it, and lent it to me. As I read it I realized that during my college years (the 1970s) there was actually a hurricane of discovery going on all around me in the high-energy theory side of the physics department, a turmoil that I never knew was happening. My part of the cosmos, gravity and astrophysics, sailed majestically along while the particle physicists fought just down the hall, quarks vs. Regge poles vs. electroweak theories vs. neutrino masses. Fascinating, to be in the midst of a decisive battle and not know it!

Oerter conveys that turmoil, though it's hard to know how much a non-physicist reader would sense. He does transmit some of the importance of the Standard Model via apt analogy, as in the Introduction when he compares physical theories with the operation of a computer:

... The computer is made of wires, integrated circuits, a power supply, and so forth. Fundamentally, all that is "really" happening in a computer is that little bunches of electrons are being shuffled around through those circuits. However, when your computer tells you "ERROR 1175: ILLEGAL OPERATION, APPLICATION WILL BE SHUT DOWN," it is not very useful to pull out the circuit diagram for your CPU. ... We can't locate "the operating system" or "program" on the circuit diagram—it is a higher level of description. Can we understand the error message by looking at the circuit diagram? No. Can we really understand the operation of the computer without understanding the circuits? No again. (Try building your own computer using only the Windows 2000 reference manual!) Both levels of description are necessary to "understand the computer," but the higher-level (operating system and program) functions can be explained in terms of the lower-level (circuitry) processes, and not the other way around. This is why we call the lower-level description the more fundamental one.

The Standard Model describes the "circuitry" of the universe. We can't understand everything in the universe using the Standard Model (even if we omit gravity), but we can't really understand anything at the most fundamental level without the Standard Model. ...

Oerter is excellent at describing how science, especially physics, actually works. In Chapter 3 ("The End of the World As We Know It") he discusses harmonic oscillators—systems that act like a playground swing, a car with bad shock absorbers, a vibrating violin string, a ripple on the surface of a pond, and so forth:

... It may seem surprising, but most of the problems you run into in physics are unsolvable. The mathematics is simply too hard. Progress is made by finding approximate problems that keep the important characteristics of the original problem, but which are solvable. Much of the time, the solvable problem that you end up with is the harmonic oscillator in some guise.

So what's the Standard Model all about? Briefly, it's an explicit set of rules to compute how the world works—that is, how the most fundamenatal subatomic particles interact with one another. The Standard Model is messy. It has 18 knobs that have to be set to particular values: masses of quarks, strengths of forces, etc. It offers no reason why those special numbers are the right ones. It can't handle gravity at all. But within its limitations, the Standard Model is extraordinarily accurate, a triumphant explanation of nature at a deep level.

Yeah, it's a bit messy. So is this book. Maybe that's just the way it has to be ...

(cf. No Concepts At All (2001-02-22), Nobel Neutrinos (2002-10-13), Key Problems (2003-10-11), ...)

- Saturday, September 06, 2008 at 09:49:34 (EDT)

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