^zhurnaly 0.73

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Howdy, pilgrim! No ads — you're in volume 0.73 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 = 0.72 ... 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

2009-01-04 - Massanutten Mountain Mayhem

~17 miles @ ~25 min/mi

Sunday morning's Massanutten Mountain Trail journey proceeds along the blue line from Camp Roosevelt at lower left to Veach Gap at upper right. Photos show cheerful Caren Jew on an atypically smooth segment of the über-rocky trail, and Mark Zimmermann making a mudra on a leafy slope above the valley to the east of a ridge line scramble. Namasté!


photos by Caren Jew—GPS trackfile adapted from Bobby Gill's excellent report—background terrain courtesy Google Maps

The MMT jinx continues! Just as happened last year, when a training run began with near-disaster on ice-sheathed roads, today's trek to the Massanutten Mountain Trail gets off to a bumpy start. On Interstate 66 in the pre-dawn darkness a huge buck lies in the left lane, multipoint antlers sticking up, struck dead by an earlier vehicle's impact. Caren is driving and makes the right decision when it looms in her headlights: go over it rather than swerve and risk disaster. Thump!

We're shocked and shaken by the impact, and though Caren's car still drives straight we stop at the next exit, Front Royal, to check the undercarriage and identify the source of a low-speed scraping sound. Veteran ultrarunner Gary Knipling is coincidentally there with a friend at the gas station. He and I lie down on the asphalt and I shine my flashlight on the bottom of the chassis. Besides furry fragments we see cracked plastic and a blue/white pair of wires hanging down, apparently leading to the right front passenger door—a line to the open-door sensor? I reach across, fix the wiring back in place temporarily, and since nothing else seems broken we continue onward.

After following the winding Fort Valley Rd five miles between steep eastern and western ridges of the mountain, Caren finds the tortuous dirt lane to Veach Gap and after a scary journey parks. Whew! Gary and other runners chat with us and we contribute our bit to the aid station cache. Here at Mile 17 is the first place to replenish water and food on today's trek. Some runners plan to go farther, but for us it's the endpoint. Gary shows off Dallas Cowboys thong-underwear that he's carrying today, and complains, "I wish it said Cowgirls!" We reassure him that we embrace his trail-running lifestyle, whatever it may be. (^_^)

At 6:30am we meet kind ultrarunner Carter Wiecking, who lives nearby and who gives us a ride to the start at Camp Roosevelt. We stop along the way to let her neighbor's dogs out for a walk, and chat about kids, brain chemistry, long-distance horse races, testosterone-driven differences in ring-index finger lengths, and a variety of other fun topics.

After a brief orientation lecture by organizer Greg Loomis, at 7:30am our journey begins with a 500-foot climb along a winding path. We quickly capture our rightful place, "DFL"—dead, uh, last—and meet our friends today, the bright orange dot-dash blazes painted on tree trunks every few hundred feet. The Massanutten Mountain 100-miler follows parts of the trail, but in the opposite direction. Caren and I joke as we labor along about how easy it would be if only we were doing the race and going downhill instead of relentlessly up.

Finally, with everyone else out of sight, we reach the crest—whew!—at a corner of Mountaintop Dr where Fort Valley Rd zig-zags. From here for the next ~15 miles, about six hours, we follow the ridge line northeastward, admiring views into the valleys to either side. A thick blanket of brown leaves conceals rocks and roots. Contrary to earlier forecasts the weather is near-optimal, just above freezing with light intermittent winds. A rising sun soon peeks through broken clouds and gleams off the meandering loops of the South Fork of the Shenandoah River on our right. Rocks are covered with varieties of lichens and mosses, in some places giant curled-up black ones.

Every 3-5 miles Caren and I take a break to eat, drink, and unfold my map on the ground to gauge our progress. We're mostly speed-hiking and only run during the rare segments where the trail is relatively smooth. This turns out to be fortunate, since although we don't know it another runner ahead of us, Amy Agnolutto, takes a nasty tumble on some sharp rocks and tears her knee wide open. Quick work on the part of her savvy companions saves the day: the wound is bandaged, cellphone calls are made, Amy is escorted during a hike down a seldom-used side trail, and after a couple of hours reaches a place where an ambulance can take her to a hospital where the injury is cleaned and stitched up. Gruesome photos posted later on the VHTRC news page are accompanied by warnings such as "They are graphic. Do not look at these pictures after eating."

But unaware of that near-disaster, Caren and I continue cautiously shuffling through the piles of dried leaves and trying not to get injured while making relentless forward progress. I reminisce aloud about some of my interminable monologue topics from last year's run on the same mountain and resume my Mr. Know-It-All rôle, with additional discussions on:

At one point we hear what sounds to me like a jet airplane taking off—but the sound continues for minutes upon minutes. Then Caren spots its source: a noisy-long freight train heading south from Harpers Ferry in the valley to our east, perhaps five miles away from us. We reach an ultra-rocky trail segment that's scary semi-technical in places as it scrambles over boulders on the side of the ridge. This leads to a discussion of "The Varieties of Runnable": embarrassingly runnable, mostly
runnable, runnable only during a race when trying to make a cutoff, runnable at great risk of bodily harm, runnable only by elites, totally unrunnable, etc.

Caren and I both stay well-hydrated, and after more than 6.5 hours we arrive at the side trail to Veach Gap. The descent of 500+ feet is comfortable though it includes several stream crossings and boggy areas where we see the first ice of the day, in protected patches where the sun never shines. We pass a fancy trail shelter, and then for the final mile Caren insists that we run it out. We blast into the parking lot to discover nobody else there, just her lone car—next to which sits a splendid cache of leftovers from the Aid Station. Especially welcome are the mint-flavored Oreos, the Tootsie Rolls, and the cylinder of Pringles potato chips. We take turns driving cautiously home. We feel tired but triumphant, in spite of what turns out later to be significant damage to Caren's car from our close encounter with the deer carcass on I-66 so many hours earlier.

On the Massanutten Mountain Trail Caren as usual comes up with the big insight of the day: I run in order to have something to write about. As usual, she's right!

- Sunday, January 11, 2009 at 05:42:45 (EST)

Frog and Toad

In the early 1970s Arnold Lobel (1933-1987) wrote a series of gentle, thoughtful children's stories which featured two characters named Frog and Toad. The books' illustrations are lovely pastels, the vocabulary is straightforward, and the plots are simple. One of the duo bakes cookies, and after enjoying a few together our heroes struggle to stop eating them before they're all gone. Or one loses a button, and as they search together for it a host of other buttons turn up, each wrong in some way—wrong color, wrong size, wrong number of holes, wrong shape. Or one makes a to-do list and then misplaces it; with the other, he strives to reconstruct the items on the list, and eventually figures out how not to fret over it.

But the most brilliant Frog and Toad story is surely "The Leaves". One day each goes to the other one's house and, by pure coincidence, simultaneously decides to rake fallen leaves as a secret favor. The labor is hard, but when it's done each feels happy and proud as he returns to his home. But as they're separately walking back a wind rises and scatters the piles of leaves, wiping out all of their work. They reach home and each sees a big job of raking ahead of him. But as they prepare to tackle it, both Frog and Toad feel good. Each remembers the anonymous gift he's given the other.

So Zen!

(cf. ReadAloud (2002-03-20), Sunrise Service at Seneca Creek (2008-03-24), ...)

- Friday, January 09, 2009 at 05:38:04 (EST)

Big Hair

A fine example of language extension via "signing": last year the family was going to a fancy restaurant to eat, a somewhat unusual event for us. I dropped everyone off near the entrance of the mall, then drove off in search of parking. Several minutes later I found a space and hiked back in. My wife and kids were nowhere to be found. I went up to the lady who was in charge of assigning tables and asked if the Dickerson-Zimmermann party had already been seated. (Quick context: my wife is "black", I'm "white", the kids are what they are, and everybody's hair is more-or-less natural.)

The helpful waitress-manager didn't have that name in her computer because it was early, the huge restaurant was far from full, and everyone who had been waiting for a table was already gone to sit down. She thought for a moment, then held her hands up and made a big-puffy-cloud gesture around her own head. "The African-American family?" she asked?

"Yes!" I replied, and we both smiled.

- Thursday, January 08, 2009 at 05:02:21 (EST)

Sippy Cups

Babies are so joyfully proud to outgrow their little non-spill mugs and move up to using "real" drinking glasses! It's a huge triumph, like graduating from diapers and from riding in an infant car-seat. But in recent years, it seems, adults are going back to sippy cups, especially for coffee. And the lids have gotten far more sophisticated—instead of crude tear-open flaps they now have clever slots, sliding valves, and pressure-equalization ports. What progress we've made! It brings to mind Shakespeare's famous lines about the seven ages of man, where after going from babe-in-arms through schoolboy and various adult phases, we come back full circle to toothless second childhood, "Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything." But we've got our sippy cups!

(As You Like It, Act II, Scene vii)

- Wednesday, January 07, 2009 at 05:01:57 (EST)

2009-01-02 - Wheaton Loop

12+ miles @ ~10.7 min/mi

CM & I leave my home 7am, and take Linden La past Walter Reed Annex to Rock Creek Park, then head upstream. Two small deer standing in the field by the trail stare at us. We crank out a 10:49 mile between marker posts. Just past the tunnel under Connecticut Av it feels like the planned 16 miler today might be too long, given yesterday's 5k race. So we take the bikepath back to Connecticut and follow the sidewalk northward through Kensington, climbing to University Blvd, then on past Wheaton to Sligo Creek Trail. I reminisce about the "Super Sligo" 4 miler, my first race here. A painted marker on the asphalt leads me to challenge CM to do a comfortably-fast mile, so we accelerate and punch out one in ~8:30, then have to walk to cool down. At Forest Glen Rd near Holy Cross Hospital CM's GPS says only ~9.4 miles, so to avoid falling short of 11 we keep on SCT to Colesville Rd, then come back to my home via Dale Dr, a total of 2:08:25 for 12.15 miles. My left hip flexor starts to ache: is it connected to our speedwork, or yesterday's race, or would it have happened anyway at this point?

- Tuesday, January 06, 2009 at 04:52:32 (EST)

Self-Criticism Criteria

In the October 2008 issue of Trail Runner magazine, an editorial note by Elinor Fish discusses "writing about running" such as in a logbook or journal. As she attributes to sports psychologist Robin S. Vealey, when analyzing an experience such as a major race it's important to be:

To these alliterative guidelines, one might add:

And of course these are all quite applicable to other areas of self-awareness and self-improvement ...

- Monday, January 05, 2009 at 05:03:32 (EST)

2009-01-01 - New Year's Resolution 5k

3.1+ miles @ 7.5 min/mi

Barry Smith of JFK 50 miler "Team Lanterne Rouge" kindly gives me a ride to the MCRRC "New Year's Resolution" 5k race this morning. We arrive to the usual madhouse in the start/finish gymnasium, but I soon get registered. Thanks to wonderful friend Christina Caravoulias who's behind the desk I snag bib #333 again this year—the Half Beast is back! (Trail grrrl Caren Jew gets #444, so she's one-sixth more beastly than I.) CM Manlandro, Emaad Burki, Wayne Carson, et al. chat until it's time to venture out. I'm wearing only shorts and short-sleeved shirt, plus hat and gloves, which compared to 95% of the other runners is skimpy in today's 30°F weather with strong gusty winds. But my engine runs hot, and soon I doff the hat. At 10am we start: Caren & I cross the line ~11 seconds after the "gun". Mile one is a brisk 7:28, at the end of which I catch up with CM who's rolling along strongly. I push through a second mile in 7:21, at the end of which I catch Wayne.

"You sandbagger!" I gasp to The Master, as he slows slightly to let me pass. There's no mile 3 marker, but the final 1.1 mile segment flows by in 8:13, for a total official time of a hair under 23:15, doubtless a new personal best for me. Wayne zips in only a couple of seconds later, still sandbagging as he claims that he tried but failed to catch me. (Yeah, sure!) CM is under 25 minutes, a fabulous new PR for her, and then comes Emaad. Caren glides in at just hair over 30 minutes (but under 30 allowing for "gun"-"chip" offset) followed by Christina, recovering nicely from a workout injury.

- Sunday, January 04, 2009 at 02:32:26 (EST)

Future Worries

Julian has been retired for many years; he's in his 80s now, I suspect. His hair is gray and thinning but he still looms tall, formal, and imposing. Thirty years ago he was the chief who interviewed me for a job when I was thinking about dropping out of graduate school. He firmly advised me to go back and finish my Ph.D., then apply again—wise counsel, as it turned out.

At a symposium a few months ago Julian reminisced. The theme was science and technology over the years, a historical review, and the auditorium was full. About 1970, Julian recalled, as a young physicist he had been assigned to give a briefing to an ultra-prestigious organization of famous scientists concerning key problems for them to analyze on behalf of the government. As was normal at that time, the group he addressed was entirely male. It included several Nobel laureates.

As he tells it now, young Julian was extremely nervous. He began by asking his distinguished audience a rhetorical question, "What will we all be worrying about 15 years from now?"

Someone from a corner of the room, he says, shouted back the answer: "Our prostates!"

- Saturday, January 03, 2009 at 06:07:48 (EST)

2008-12-28 - Northwest Branch and Rachel Carson Trail Loop

8+ miles @ 13-14 min/mi

Kind Caren Jew picks me up at 0645 and drives us to the stables at Wheaton Regional Park, where in the dim dawn we set off downstream beside Northwest Branch. It's warm and humid, temps in the upper 50's or lower 60's already, and the wind which greeted us when we started soon fades away. We admire rocky outcrops and scenic sloughs. Caren spies a fox that speeds across the trail at our approach. After 40+ minutes we pass the point where Mary Ewell and I turned around last week (cf. 2008-12-20 - Northwest Branch with Mary) and continue on ~10 minutes to Rt 29. We joke about daring one another to tiptoe across the dam's spillway, but neither of us is foolish enough to try. After energy gels and drinks we take the Rachel Carson Trail back on the left bank of the stream. It's longer and far more rugged than the NWBT, with steep hills and half a dozen muddy tributary stream crossings. Halfway back Caren stops to point out a large gray-and-blue bird with white wing blazes—a kingfisher, most likely. She gives me half a dozen wonderful lime-flavored sports beans, one of which I drop and get to pick up off the trail before eating it. We spy tracks left by cloven hooves—deer, or demon? Back at the stables after 1:54 we visit with the horses briefly.

- Friday, January 02, 2009 at 05:20:02 (EST)

Coming to Our Senses

Jon Kabat-Zinn's 2005 book Coming to Our Senses, subtitled "Healing Ourselves and the World Through Mindfulness", is an intimidating brick-thick tome that I recently checked out of the local library and hesitated to begin. But like his 1994 Wherever You Go, There You Are, once I dipped a toe into it I found the waters warm and welcoming. Already, only a quarter of the way through its 600+ pages, thickets of sticky-note tabs have sprouted from the margins. Many of Kabat-Zinn's observations are reminiscent of Stephen Batchelor's Buddhism Without Beliefs. From the chapter "Meditation is Not For the Faint-Hearted" of Part I ("Meditation: It's Not What You Think"), a sharp-edged scientific-analytic metaphor:

Because mindfulness, which can be thought of as an open-hearted, moment-to-moment, non-judgmental awareness, is optimally cultivated through meditation rather just through thinking about it, and because its most elaborate and complete articulation comes from the Buddhist tradition, in which mindfulness is often described as the heart of Buddhist meditation, I have chosen to say some things here and there about Buddhism and its relationship to the practice of mindfulness. I do this so that we might reap some understanding and some benefit from what this extraordinary tradition offers the world at this moment in history, based on its incubation on our planet over the past twenty-five hundred years.

The way I see it, Buddhism itself is not the point. You might think of the Buddha as a genius of his age, a great scientist, at least as towering a figure as Darwin or Einstein, who, as the Buddhist scholar Alan Wallace likes to put it, had no instruments other than his own mind at his disposal and who sought to look deeply into the nature of birth and death and the seeming inevitability of suffering. In order to pursue his investigations, he first had to understand, develop, refine, and learn to calibrate and stabilize the instrument he was using for this purpose, namely his own mind, in the same way that laboratory scientists today have to continually develop, refine, calibrate, and stabilize the instruments that they employ to extend their senses—whether we are talking about giant optical or radio telescopes, electron microscopes, or positron-emission tomography (PET) scanners—in the sense of looking deeply into and exploring the nature of the universe and the vast array of interconnected phenomena that unfold within it, whether it be in the domain of physics and physical phenomena, chemistry, biology, psychology, or any other field of inquiry.

In taking on this challenge, the Buddha and those who followed in his footsteps took on exploring deep questions about the nature of the mind itself and about the nature of life. Their efforts at self-observation led to remarkable discoveries. They succeeded in accurately mapping a territory that is quintessentially human, having to do with aspects of the mind that we all have in common, independent of our particular thoughts, beliefs, and cultures. Both the methods they used and the fruits of those investigations are univgersal, and have nothing to do with any isms, ideologies, religiosities, or belief systems. These discoveries are more akin to medical and scientific understandings, frameworks that can be examined by anybody anywhere, and put to the test independently, for oneself, which is what the Buddha suggested to his followers from the very beginning.

More light-heartedly, the chapter "No Attachments" later in Part I jokes:

Have you heard the one about the Buddhist vacuum cleaner? ... No attachments!


Two monks in robes who have obviously just finished a period of sitting meditation. One turns toward the other. ... "Are you not thinking what I'm not thinking?"

Then a serious synopsis, perhaps, of the entire enterprise:

The Buddha once said that the core message of all his teachings—he taught continually for over forty-five years—could be summed up in one sentence. On the off chance that that might be the case, it might not be a bad idea to commit that sentence to memory. You never know when it might come in handy, when it might make sense to you even though in the moment before, it really didn't. That sentence is:

Nothing is to be clung to as I, me, or mine.

In other words, no attachments. Especially to fixed ideas of yourself and who you are.

If I did New Year's resolutions, "No Attachments!" sounds like a good candidate ...

(cf. EngineeringEnlightenment (1999-10-09), My Religion (2000-11-06), ThoughtfulMetaphors (2000-11-08), MostImportant (2002-05-16), OldYearRestitutions (2008-01-03), The Meaning of Life (2008-07-24), ...)

- Thursday, January 01, 2009 at 08:08:01 (EST)

2008-12-27 - Another CM PR

18+ miles @ ~11 min/mi

"Don't eat that!" Cara Marie Manlandro admonishes me. "It fell in the mud."

"No, it landed on gravel," I say as I stop to snag the orange sports bean and pop it into my mouth. "Besides, I have to keep up my reputation as a trail runner!" We're 15 miles into a new longest-ever run for CM. Seven miles earlier I pick up another fallen sports bean near the Arizona Avenue trestle. My packet of Hammer Gel is solidified to taffy and I'm hungry, OK?

Our journey begins a bit after 7am when CM's new GPS achieves lock. We tag her car, start our watches, and set off via neighborhood streets to join the Capital Crescent Trail via the Georgetown Branch. The satellite nav system confirms my estimate when it indicates 1.02 miles to the 0.5 milepost on the CCT. Like all good training runs today's is uneventful. In downtown Bethesda after we've done 4 miles we pick up Emaad Burki and Ken Swab as planned. There's also a bonus fellow, Jim Rich, with them. Much banter ensues as the distance flows by. Jim's wife Patti is a bit ahead of us; we chat with her as we pass. After 3.5 miles Jim reaches his turnaround, just inside DC. The rest of us proceed by Fletcher's Boathouse and reverse course at CCT mile marker 8.5, a bit over 9 miles from my home.

CM and I begin to build up a lead during the next few miles, and CM notes that she has a new half-marathon PR of a bit over 2:20 when her odometer passes 13.1 miles. My left hip flexors ache a little. CM get a cramp in one foot, but a Succeed! electrolyte capsule seems to drive the evil spirits out within a mile or two. Just before we're back to Bethesda K&E sprint, catch up, and bid us farewell. CM and I zig-zag between cars, avoid getting run down, and accelerate to make the 16th and 17th miles our fastest yet—near 10 min/mi pace. At the end of the GBT (milepost 0.31, GPS mileage ~17.5) CM finally takes a walk break, once she's well past the 15 Nautical Mile point. We recover a bit and walk/jog the final leg home. Her magic tights have done the job again.

Cumulative time and individual mile split data:

Time Split Comment
0:11:040:11:041.02 GPS miles to CCT 0.5
0:43:510:11:20meet Emaad, Ken, and Jim in Bethesda
1:39:060:10:59turnaround at CCT 8.5, past Fletcher's Boathouse
2:31:440:10:20back to Bethesda
3:02:070:09:5717.23 GPS miles back to CCT 0.5
3:16:220:14:14home after 18.25 GPS miles, including cooldown walk

(note that some mile splits are off by up to 5 seconds when I was tardy in hitting my stopwatch button)

- Wednesday, December 31, 2008 at 04:58:20 (EST)

David Caminer

The New York Times obituary that appeared six months ago for business computer innovator David Caminer (1915-2008), like many of the best obits, included splendid similies, e.g.:

... That a food conglomerate [developed the first business computer] seems almost incredible. New Scientist said in 2001: "In today's terms it would be like hearing that Pizza Hut had developed a new generation of microprocessor, or McDonald's had invented the Internet." ...

along with striking factual tidbits:

The finished LEO, which had less than 100,000th the power of a current PC, could calculate an employee's pay in 1.5 seconds, a job that took an experienced clerk eight minutes. Its success led Lyons to set up a computer subsidiary that later developed two more generations of LEO, the last with transistors, rather than the noisy vacuum tubes used in the first two models.

and bottom-line insights:

Mr. Caminer ... had many explanations for the failure of Lyons to press its advantage. One was that it had no idea how rapidly technology would advance. Another was: "We were too often arrogant about always knowing best."

(cf. McGs (2002-02-28), DeathAndLife (2005-01-02), ...)

- Tuesday, December 30, 2008 at 04:46:28 (EST)

2008-12-25 - Xmas Mile

~6 miles @ ~11 min/mi

"Merry Christmas!" a passing runner gasps out to me; "Merry Christmas to you!" I return, panting. Paulette has given me permission to run a bit on her birthday, so I trek eastward to Sligo Creek and then head downstream, nibbling at a seasonal pumpkin spice Clif Bar and sipping my electrolyte blend. A brisk mile between trail markers near Forest Glen Rd and Colesville Rd flows by in 8:25, which confirms my plan to go all in for a mile on the Old Blair track. So I slow down, walk half a lap when I arrive at the field, doff my vest, and recite bits of Henry V's St. Crispin Day speech to inspire me. A new PR apparently results, with laps 1:45 + 1:46 + 1:45 + 1:41 for a total of 6:58.4 taking roundoff into account. Wow! Of course, the track may be short, my watch may be off, and I may just be a brain in a vat deluded by a Cartesian demon—but I don't really care, if I can go sub-7 again some day. I walk a few minutes to get my heart rate down and take Dale Dr home. Police cars lurk on side streets and one zips past with sirens on; perhaps a local VIP is slumming today?

(cf. 2008-07-11 - MidSummer Night's Mile, 2008-12-09 - Dose of Insanity, ...)

- Monday, December 29, 2008 at 04:45:59 (EST)


Moments that smile:
     Sun peeking above the trees
     Eyes meeting across the table

Moments that dissolve:
     Torrents of grief
     Echoes of sin

Moments that leap:
     Into the usual
     Away from the usual

Moments that are

- Sunday, December 28, 2008 at 04:50:13 (EST)

2008-12-24 - Temple Hillwork

~6 miles @ ~10 min/mi

Christmas Eve, and cars pull into the LDS (Mormon) Temple parking lot to prepare for the live nativity scene in a few hours. After eating half of a Chinese carry-out lunch of egg fu young and watching Eternal Sunlight of the Spotless Mind with Paulette, at 4pm I sense a sudden urge to run a hill. The nearest long one is on Stoneybrook Dr, a half-mile 6% grade where Christina Caravoulias and I tested our legs three weeks ago. Trotting along the sidewalk to Ireland Dr this warm afternoon feels so good that I fantasize doing ten or more repeats. Dream on! Rock Creek is brown with suspended mud as I take the gravel path beside it toward the Beltway.

Then reality sets in, as my first climb from Beach Dr to Kent St takes 5:35, followed by a leaf-in-the-wind return of 4:56. My limited arithmetic powers suggest that I don't have time for many iterations before sundown. Even with fluorescent orange shorts on I won't be visible in the dark along local streets. The next cycle is faster, 5:28 + 4:42. I roll up my sleeves and start to sweat. A black SUV beep-beeps at me and the driver waves through tinted glass. Who was it? Commuter trails rumble by and a man leads his little boy into the woods by the church so that the kid can relieve himself.

A crimson sun peeks through lavender-fuchsia-mauve cloud banks behind Temple spires. The words "purple mountain's majesty" gush to mind, cuing up a tinny version of "America the Beautiful" on the mental Victrola. The first verse repeats in synchrony with my stride as I blast out a final 4:49 ascent and finish with a fist-bump to the stop sign's post at the top.

Homeward bound now I fail to record the last downward split, distracted by a truck at the Beach Dr crossing which pauses, perhaps to avoid taking down Santa Claus before his evening journey can begin. Climbing back to Walter Reed Annex on the forest path I recall the frosty poem "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening". The journey today is all run, no walk. Maybe training, and keeping one's weight down a bit, can help even me?

(cf. 2008-11-30 - Hillwork with Christina, ...)

- Saturday, December 27, 2008 at 05:01:21 (EST)

Runner Code - Part 1

The original "Geek Code" by Robert A. Hayden was a shorthand way to describe oneself among computer weenies. An abridged example:

d- s-:+ a+ C++ w--- t+++ y?

describes a casually-dressed, short, overweight, 30-39 year old, computer-savvy, Windows-hating, "Star Trek"-loving, male.

Runners need a similar compact way to identify themselves. Herewith, Part 1 of the "Runner Code". Within each category, pick your self-description symbol(s); skip categories that don't apply or that you don't wish to disclose. This installment of the Runner Code mainly deals with relatively serious parameters; (more) silly stuff will follow.

Physical Parameters

Sx = female; Sy = male
A0 = 0-9 years; A1 = 10-19 years; A2 = 20-29 years; etc. — alternatively, As = sub-Master (<40 years old); AM = Master (40+ years); AG = Grandmaster (60+); AS = Senior master (80+) — or A followed by numerical age
Wx = no measurable body fat; Ws = skinny/scrawny (e.g., typical fast runner's build); Wn = normal body type (Body Mass Index in the low-to-mid 20s); Wp = pleasingly plump; WC = Clydesdale (male weighing >200 lbs.); WA = Athena (female weighing >145 lbs.) — or W followed by numerical weight or BMI

Racing and Training

Distance preference(s)
DU = ultramarathon (50 km and up); DM = marathon (26.2 miles); Dh = half-marathon (13.1 miles); D10k = 10 kilometers; D1 = one mile; etc. — or list favorite distance(s) after "D"
Mileage per week
M0 = 0-9 miles; M1 = 10-19 miles; etc. — or range, e.g., M15-25 — and Mx = ex-runner, not currently training due to injury, illness, or other circumstances
Surface preference(s)
St = treadmill; Sp = pavement, sidewalk, bike paths; Sn = natural-surface trail; Sr = rocks and roots, St = technical climbs
EW = I've set a world record; EO = I'm an Olympic medalist (add suffix "s" for silver, "b" for bronze); EN = I'm a national-class runner and win major events; Ec = I regularly win club races and often place high in major events; Ef = I'm one of the faster runners in my group; Em = I'm a middle-of-the-pack runner; Es = I'm slow, but I don't care


Sy AM Wn DU M2 Sn Es

labels a slow male runner over 40 who likes ultras and natural-surface trails, and who typically trains 20-30 miles/week — someone like me. Future installments of "The Runner Code" will explore more controversial issues, including iPods, pacers, performance-enhancing drugs, etc.

- Friday, December 26, 2008 at 13:47:30 (EST)

2008-12-21 - CM and Emaad on RCT North

8+ miles @ ~10.5 min/mi

Freezing rain, sleet, and thin layers of ice force Caren and me to punt on this morning's plan to run the Bull Run Run course from Fountainhead together, but by early afternoon the sun has come out and it's safe to trot. CM Manlandro and Emaad Burki are planning an excursion down Rock Creek Trail from Lake Needwood, so I walk/jog to Georgia Av and catch the Q2 Metrobus to Shady Grove, a pleasant 45 minute ride, where CM picks me up and drives me to our starting point. I've got multiple layers on today, which turns out to be good when the chill wind blows.

Three deer turn their tails toward us as we pass the area where a rampaging doe knocked CM off her feet last month. We ramble down the trail to Aspen Hill Park where after a brief debate about crossing Veirs Mill Rd we loop around and head back upstream. On the return trip we explore two side trails that include quarter-mile climbs—good hillwork! Emaad reveals his true sandbagging colors when he takes off for a final sprint during the last quarter mile. CM runs strong after setting a new 5 mile PR yesterday.

- Thursday, December 25, 2008 at 10:58:19 (EST)

Voluntary Simplicity

The chapter "Voluntary Simplicity" in Wherever You Go, There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn focuses on something especially apropos for this hectic "holiday" season—the impulse "... to squeeze another this or that into this moment. Just this phone call, just stopping off here on my way there." Resistance is not easy:

... It involves intentionally doing only one thing at a time and making sure I am here for it. Many occasions present themselves: taking a walk, for instance, or spending a few moments with the dog in which I am really with the dog. Voluntary simplicity means going fewer places in one day rather than more, seeing less so I can see more, doing less so I can do more, acquiring less so I can have more. It all ties in. It's not a real option for me as a father of young children, a breadwinner, a husband, an oldest son to my parents, a person who cares deeply about his work to go off to one Walden Pond or another and sit under a tree for a few years, listening to the grass grow and the seasons change, much as the impulse beckons at times. But within the organized chaos and complexity of family life and work, with all their demands and responsibilities, frustrations and unsurpassed gifts, there is ample opportunity for choosing simplicity in small ways.

Slowing everything down is a big part of this. Telling my mind and body to stay put with my daughter rather than answering the phone, not reacting to inner impulses to call someone who "needs calling" right in that moment, choosing not to acquire new things on impulse, or even to automatically answer the siren call of magazines or television or movies on the first ring are all ways to simplify one's life a little. Others are maybe just to sit for an evening and do nothing, or to read a book, or go for a walk alone or with a child or with my wife, to restack the woodpile or look at the moon, or feel the air on my face under the trees, or go to sleep early.

I practice saying no to keep my life simple, and I find I never do it enough. It's an arduous discipline all its own, ...

- Wednesday, December 24, 2008 at 05:16:12 (EST)

2008-12-20 - Northwest Branch with Mary

6+ miles @ ~13 min/mi

Mary Ewell picks me up and we drive to the stables at Wheaton Regional Park. The day is cool and winds are light after some heavy rains, so we dodge puddles and damp manure piles as we trot along the horse trail, cross Kemp Mill Rd, and follow Northwest Branch Trail downstream. We go 5k as measured by Mary's new GPS, which seems to get good data even under the occasional trees. A couple of intent runners blast upstream toward us, and we meet a few dogs and their owners. At a concrete sewer manhole we turn back, probably half a mile or less short of Colesville Rd. At Mary's car we brush mud splashes off our ankles, and on the way home visit the Silver Spring food coop.

- Tuesday, December 23, 2008 at 04:51:17 (EST)

Real Enchilada

An amusing mixed-metaphor appears in Science News magazine (2008-12-06), wherein a speaker confounds "whole enchilada" (all of something) and "real McCoy" (a genuine article):

"There is good reason to hope that that this is indeed the first true image of an extrasolar planetary system," says theorist Alan Boss of the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington, D.C. "This one might well be the real enchilada."

- Monday, December 22, 2008 at 04:44:29 (EST)

2008-12-19 - Puddle-Hopping NIH Loop

11+ miles @ ~10 min/mi

Physical therapy session this morning for the recovering arm is fun, and by 1pm the cold rain has begun to taper, so I set off from home to re-learn how it feels to run in 40°F drizzle. Overall I'm fine with a cap, mittens, and a windshirt over a regular running top—but below the waist gets a bit frigid, since I'm only wearing one pair of trail shorts without any extra insulation "down there". But after about five miles I've become comfortably numb, to quote Pink Floyd, and the run otherwise goes so well that I can scarcely complain. Along Rock Creek Trail I cruise at 9:58 + 9:47 and continue at roughly that pace up Cedar Lane and down Old Georgetown Rd into Bethesda. The final four miles on the Capital Crescent Trail take 9:37 + 9:47 + 9:48, a total journey time of 1:53, probably a course record for me or close to one. I carry water in a spiffy new hand-bottle that Caren kindly gave me, and subsist on two root beer barrels during the circuit.

- Sunday, December 21, 2008 at 04:55:01 (EST)

Michael Mikhaylovich Speranski

On New Year's Day of 2001 I typed in a quote from War and Peace that Z. A. Melzak had in turn quoted in his mathematical-philosophical book Bypasses. Recently I found that fragment again, but in a larger context which made it even more fascinating as a portrait. Speranski is the ultimate rationalist—calculating, cold, confident. Tolstoy is skeptical. From Book 6 Chapter 6:

This first long conversation with Speranski only strengthened in Prince Andrew the feeling he had experienced toward him at their first meeting. He saw in him a remarkable, clear-thinking man of vast intellect who by his energy and persistence had attained power, which he was using solely for the welfare of Russia. In Prince Andrew's eyes Speranski was the man he would himself have wished to be—one who explained all the facts of life reasonably, considered important only what was rational, and was capable of applying the standard of reason to everything. Everything seemed so simple and clear in Speranski's exposition that Prince Andrew involuntarily agreed with him about everything. If he replied and argued, it was only because he wished to maintain his independence and not submit to Speranski's opinions entirely. Everything was right and everything was as it should be: only one thing disconcerted Prince Andrew. This was Speranski's cold, mirrorlike look, which did not allow one to penetrate to his soul, and his delicate white hands, which Prince Andrew involuntarily watched as one does watch the hands of those who possess power. This mirrorlike gaze and those delicate hands irritated Prince Andrew, he knew not why. He was unpleasantly struck, too, by the excessive contempt for others that he observed in Speranski, and by the diversity of lines of argument he used to support his opinions. He made use of every kind of mental device, except analogy, and passed too boldly, it seemed to Prince Andrew, from one to another. Now he would take up the position of a practical man and condemn dreamers; now that of a satirist, and laugh ironically at his opponents; now grow severely logical, or suddenly rise to the realm of metaphysics. (This last resource was one he very frequently employed.) He would transfer a question to metaphysical heights, pass on to definitions of space, time, and thought, and, having deduced the refutation he needed, would again descend to the level of the original discussion.

In general the trait of Speranski's mentality which struck Prince Andrew most was his absolute and unshakable belief in the power and authority of reason. It was evident that the thought could never occur to him which to Prince Andrew seemed so natural, namely, that it is after all impossible to express all one thinks; and that he had never felt the doubt, "Is not all I think and believe nonsense?" And it was just this peculiarity of Speranski's mind that particularly attracted Prince Andrew.

(cf. InSearchOfTheFulcrum (2004-03-19), ChekhovOnTolstoy (2005-17-15), IsaiahBerlin (2005-11-24), ...)

- Saturday, December 20, 2008 at 04:57:38 (EST)

2008-12-14 - Jingle Bell Jog

5- miles @ ~11.6 min/mi

Since I still can't drive, kind Christina Caravoulias picks me up at my home and gives me a ride to the Rockville senior-center where today's MCRRC Jingle Bell Jog 8k will start and finish. She's a race volunteer, and I do my part by testing the club food & drink. Jim Rich takes photos of all and sundry. Fast runner Pete Darmody chats with me about trains, sound effect phonograph records that we remember from our youth, and classic-rock musicians. CM Manlandro appears, as does Wayne Carson; we visit until almost time to start. Then, outside in the chill, I find Christina and her friend Houra Rais whom I met two months ago at her comeback race. We run together comfortably along the course of bikepaths and neighborhood streets with splits of 0:10 (to cross the start line) + 11:07 + 11:30 + 11:17 + 11:54 + 11:35 (the final 0.97 mile). The MCRRC annual meeting is uneventful except when Wayne wins a door prize. Don Libes and his daughter Kenna race about the parking lot playing keep-away/tag and joking with passers-by.

- Friday, December 19, 2008 at 05:04:33 (EST)

Habitual Virtue

Gretchen Rubin's Happiness Project offers yet another gem [1], which she summarizes nicely as:

"What you do every day matters more than what you do once in a while."

It's a pointed observation by Dr. Samuel Johnson, in The Rambler issue #28 (June 1750):

One sophism by which men persuade themselves that they have those virtues which they really want, is formed by the substitution of single acts for habits. A miser who once relieved a friend from the danger of a prison, suffers his imagination to dwell for ever upon his own heroic generosity; he yields his heart up to indignation at those who are blind to merit, or insensible to misery, and who can please themselves with the enjoyment of that wealth, which they never permit others to partake. From any censures of the world, or reproaches of his conscience, he has an appeal to action and to knowledge; and though his whole life is a course of rapacity and avarice, he concludes himself to be tender and liberal, because he has once performed an act of liberality and tenderness.

As a glass which magnifies objects by the approach of one eye to the lens, lessens them by the application of the other, so vices are extenuated by the inversion of that fallacy, by which virtues are augmented. Those faults which we cannot conceal from our own notice, are considered, however frequent, not as habitual corruptions, or settled practices, but as casual failures, and single lapses. ...

(cf. JohnsonOnAnecdotes (1999-04-19), JohnsonCondolences, ConcerningCharity (2003-12-22), ...)

- Thursday, December 18, 2008 at 04:43:46 (EST)

2008-12-13 - Rock Creek West Loop

15.5+ miles @ ~11 min/mi

Hip-hop, the rabbit sees CM and me
Approach. It stops to stare from neighbor's lawn,
Then flees to pop through hedge and out of sight.
We round the block, setting about our trial
Of miles on legs and hearts. Clouds part, moon looms
In west. Dawn breaks as we make haste by trail
Through frosty morn, up hill, down creek, climb west
On street, sip drinks from hip-pack flasks, dodge cars,
And greet the other runners whom we meet.
CM dances in place as traffic makes
Her wait to cross. Our pace persists until
A final steep ascent dents plans to race
For home. Now we commence a walk and then,
Recovered, run again. Fifteen-plus miles
Has brought us back full circle. So we split
A candy bar, to celebrate the trek:
New record distance for CM—for now!

At 0630 Cara Marie Manlandro starts running at the end of my driveway and doesn't stop until more than 15 miles later. I, on the other hand, am shameless about walking whenever I feel like it! According to astronomical authority [1] the full moon as we set out is exceptionally close to perigee, "... 14 per cent bigger and some 30 per cent brighter than most full moons this year ...". The temperature is a few degrees below freezing and we dodge scattered ice patches on the asphalt. Within a few miles I overheat and have to take off my outer windshirt, exposing a radioactive lime-green HAT Run longsleeved shirt that sears the eyes of all who glance at it. I soon realize that I haven't properly reset my GPS and have to subtract about 1.7 miles from whatever the digital odometer reads.

We trot together along neighborhood streets to the Georgetown Branch Trail, then take the side path to Rock Creek Trail and East-West Highway, past Meadowbrook Stables, and into DC. Police cars zip along Beach Drive as officers close the gates to keep weekend traffic out. At Military Rd we turn west and take the paved path that climbs steeply out of the valley. CM challenges the hills and I practice my Lamaze breathing behind her. Along the sidewalk we meet other runners, all ladies until more than half a dozen miles into our journey.

A seam on my tights starts to chafe a delicate area, so I caution CM not to look back as I stuff my hat "down there"; the insulation works well. We zig from Military onto Western, zag onto River, then join the Capital Crescent Trail at milepost 4.5. Flocks of runners are jogging along, including many dressed in a Christmas theme. No bib numbers are visible, but perhaps it's a group fun-run? I salute a Santa Claus with a long faux-beard, who salutes me back. Two fair maidens blast past and I'm naturally tempted to give chase, but CM's presence restrains me. Hitherto we've maintained a "Forever Pace" of ~11 min/mi. Now hubris takes over and we zip along ~10% faster for a few miles—until we come to our senses, that is.

We hit almost all the traffic lights almost perfectly, but at the final Connecticut Av GBT crossing we have to wait for a gap in the cars. CM jogs back and forth to maintain momentum; I stand. At Jones Mill Rd I hook us onto Coquelin Terr to add an extra quarter mile, "Just to make sure!" that we make CM's goal of 15 today. That insurance turns out to be superfluous. We take the long way home, Rock Creek Trail northward almost to the Beltway, then ascend steep Ireland Drive. That unrelenting hill finally makes CM say a naughty word—but she maintains stride until we've crested the ridge, coasted down Linden Lane, and crossed the Beltway. When my GPS confirms that we're well past mile #15 she finally condescends to take a short walk break with me.

"OK," she admits, "now everything hurts! My eyebrows hurt!" Her left foot has been cramping for the past mile, and my left metatarsals began to complain several miles before that. We reach my home in a total time 2:50:37 start-to-finish with a GPS distance estimate ~15.7 miles. The USATF route I laboriously clicked in on 12-25-2005 (Merry Xmas!) [2] indicates "only" 15.1 miles, but it took a couple of short cuts, did not cross the Beltway, did not take the Jones Mill Rd + Coquelin Terrace bypass, etc.—which explains the extra .5+ mile we went today. CM sets a new personal distance record and removes the fear factor that had previously surrounded the number "15". Brava!

Split info:

11:38first approx. mile, home to CCT/GBT milepost 0.5
11:02about a mile to RCT new milepost 1 by Meadowbrook Stables
10:51mile on RCT to DC line
21:002 miles on Beach Dr to Bingham Rd "P-P" marker
47:53Bingham Rd, Military Rd, Western Av, River Rd to CCT milepost 4.5
09:54mile to post 3.5 on CCT near Bethesda water fountain—wow!
10:03mile to CCT post 2.5
10:33mile to CCT post 1.5
09:38less than a mile, Jones Mill Rd + Coquelin Terr, E-W Hwy, to RCT 1.25 line
10:03mile to RCT 2.25 line
18:00Ireland Dr, big hill climb to Linden La, cross Beltway, train tracks, and thence home

(cf. CM Manlandro's report at [3] as well as 2004-07-17 - Rock Creek and Capital Crescent Mini-loop & 2005-12-26 - Winter Wardrobe)

- Wednesday, December 17, 2008 at 05:09:37 (EST)

Walk on the Wild Side

A new book by Geoff Nicholson, The Lost Art of Walking, receives a mostly negative critique in the New York Times by a self-admitted somewhat-disabled non-walker, whose main complaint is that walking is slow and dull—and who thus misses the entire point. So it's "dull" to be alone with one's own mind? "Slow" to be immersed in reality?

The Economist offers a contrastingly upbeat review [1] by someone who gets it, titled "More than gadding about". It includes such tidbits as:

Lovingly collected factoids leap off the page. British troops in the first world war were given "forced march tablets" consisting of cocaine. It takes a brisk 35 miles (56km) to burn off a pound (0.45kg) of body fat. Some of the commonest synonyms for walk in the English language (such as trudge, stroll and saunter) have no clear etymological roots. The best term associated with walking is not English at all: the French flâner, he writes, is "a truly wonderful word ... it can mean to stroll, but it can also mean the act of simply hanging around."

This book is no mere miscellany, but the story of a man's love affair with the oldest means of locomotion: one foot in front of the other. Walking, he says, is like sex: "basic, simple, repetitive activities ... capable of great sophistication and elaboration. They can be completely banal and meaningless, and yet they can also involve great passions and adventures. Both can lead you into strange and unknown territories: a walk on the wild side."

Nicholson punctures the hot-air balloon of "Psychogeography" and similarly brings pompous literary theorists of pedestrianism down to earth. His book is yet another addition to my too-long to-read list ...

(cf. WalkAbout (2002-03-09), TwoTowers (2002-12-29), ExpandingUniverse (2003-06-26), FastWalker (2005-04-03), ...)

- Tuesday, December 16, 2008 at 04:51:21 (EST)

2008-12-10 - WOD Evening Ramble

4+ miles @ ~12 min/mi

The phone rings. "Look behind you!" It's Mary Ewell, sight for sore eyes, parked on the other side of the street in old town Herndon near Mile 20 of the W&OD Trail. We haven't had a chance to run together for far too long. Mary has just survived the oral candidacy exam for her Ph.D. project, my broken arm is mostly healed, and I'm in her area for a class today. It's a golden chance to celebrate and catch up. Whee!

At 5pm the December evening is ridiculously sultry, temp near 60°F, humidity close to 100%. We stash gear in the trunk of Mary's car and set off westward. Mary is overdressed in long sleeves and tights, so within a few minutes she's cooking. After a couple of miles at ~10.5 min/mi pace it's getting quite dark; we turn back. I spy what might be a fox crossing the trail in front of us, but as we approach it turns into merely a large tabby cat. A young couple pushing a stroller overtake us. We chase them for a few blocks, pass at a road crossing, and are soon passed again in turn. The big problem today: our outing finishes too soon, as Mary and I can only partially catch up on two months of missed conversations. We chat about personal and family news, both happy and sad. Fog thickens as we return to Mary's car. More next time!

- Monday, December 15, 2008 at 04:45:27 (EST)

Hurry Patiently

From the chapter "Patience" of Jon Kabat-Zinn's Wherever You Go, There You Are:

I see patience as one of these fundamental ethical attitudes. If you cultivate patience, you almost can't help cultivating mindfulness, and your meditation practice will gradually become richer and more mature. After all, if you really aren't trying to get anywhere else in this moment, patience takes care of itself. It is a remembering that things unfold in their own time. ...

Patience is an ever present alternative to the mind's endemic restlessness and impatience. Scratch the surface of impatience and what you will find lying beneath it, subtly or not so subtly, is anger. It's the strong energy of not wanting things to be the way they are and blaming someone (often yourself) or something for it. This doesn't mean that you can't hurry when you have to. It is possible even to hurry patiently, mindfully, moving fast because you have chosen to.

... which brings to mind my need to re-read Robert A. Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land, and to pay special attention to some of the more philosophical sections—particularly those with immediate applications to trail running (and not falling down!). For example, from the section "His Eccentric Education":

He was not in a hurry, "hurry" being one human concept he had failed to grok at all. He was sensitively aware of the key importance of correct timing in all acts—but with the Martian approach: correct timing was accomplished by waiting. He had noticed, of course, that his human brothers lacked his own fine discrimination of time and often were forced to wait a little faster than a Martian would—but he did not hold their innocent awkwardness against them; he simply learned to wait faster himself to cover their lack.

(cf. MarryTheOne (2005-05-20), ...)

- Sunday, December 14, 2008 at 05:35:18 (EST)

2008-12-09 - Dose of Insanity

4+ miles @ ~12 min/mi

Averages can be deceiving, especially during speedwork: the "12 min/mi" number above, for instance, includes a couple of dramatic-fast miles for CM Manlandro, interspersed with recovery sauntering. My physical therapy session this Tuesday morning goes well, and when CM and I arrive at the track it's our turn to trot. Is the old Blair High School asphalt loop 400 meters, or a quarter mile? Probably the latter, but the difference is only a few seconds—so who cares?

A tall young gentleman wearing a Cornell sweatshirt is training this morning, as are a few walkers. CM and I do a warmup mile together in 10:01, pause to drink, walk a slow lap, and then it's CM's turn to test her legs. I take lane 2 and plan to pace but she sets the initial tempo with a 1:45 lap. Whew! We slow to 1:55ish for the next couple of orbits, and then I implore CM to exert herself. So we throw on the coal and kick to finish in 7:26—a PR for CM by almost 20 seconds, just like the one two weeks ago. Brava!

I exchange a few words with Mr. Cornell as he glides by. He reveals that he's hoping to do a Boston Qualifying time next marathon season; perhaps we'll see one another at the Washington's Birthday Marathon, though that's a tough course to BQ on. CM and I chase him in a brisk but slightly-less-radical mile which we finish in 7:43—only the second-fastest time ever for CM at that distance. I taunt her, "Maybe you're a miler and don't know it?!" I also challenge her to come up with a good bumper-sticker quote for today. We walk to bring down our heart rates, then decide to finish up with a "fast lap", which comes in at 1:43. I salute Cornell as he cruises effortlessly past, and fantasize that some day I'll be able to train almost that hard and look almost that relaxed while doing a string of sub-8 minute miles.

As we walk away from the track CM observes, "That was a good dose of insanity!" Sounds like the name of the day, eh? See her report at [1].

- Saturday, December 13, 2008 at 05:10:27 (EST)

Pacer Debate

A small controversy broke out on the MCRRC discussion list last month concerning the rightness or wrongness of "pacers"—runners who via their companionship on the course try to help another runner do better than s/he otherwise might do. There are good points to be made on both sides, pro and con, depending on circumstances. I pointed out a classic example of pacing from the Times (of London) obituary of Chris Brasher, the 1956 Olympic steeplechase champion and founder of the London Marathon:

An imperishable moment of British sporting glory followed two years later when, on May 6, 1954, with Chris Chataway, he helped to pace Roger Bannister to the first sub-four-minute mile, at the Iffley Road track in Oxford. At the gun, Brasher shot into the lead as the first pacemaker, reeling off a fast first lap to help keep Bannister's record bid on target. With Chataway taking up the running when Brasher tired, Bannister powered past with 200 yards to go, to come home in the historic time of 3min 59.4 secs.

Later in the discussion I was inspired to lay out the facts in mock-lawyerly style:

Counsel for the Prosecution obfuscates several points.

What difference in status (pacer v. non-pacer) can it possibly make if a self-admitted pacer starts and finishes a race? If a person is assigned to run in front of another runner to help that runner keep an optimal speed (e.g., for the first lap or two of a record-setting mile on a track) then that person is a pacer, someone who deliberately provides pace assistance --- regardless of whether s/he eventually crosses the finish line or not. If a person starts a race deliberately slowly, (e.g. standing just past the starting line) so that s/he is almost lapped, then runs ahead of another runner to help that runner keep an optimal speed (e.g., for the third or fourth lap of a record-setting mile on a track) --- and then jogs a final lap after the rest of the runners have all finished --- does completing that fourth lap magically transform that person from pacer into non-pacer? The answer to both questions, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, is obviously "No!"

A pacer can provide an unfair advantage to a runner trying to set a record, trying to win a race, or trying to place high among competitors. What harm does a pacer cause to others if the only result of pacing is to enable a runner to complete an event among the last few finishers? All those who have crossed the line ahead of the pacer-assisted runner are ranked in precisely the same place they would have occupied otherwise --- but they have beaten one additional runner, and thus stand higher in percentile ranking than they would otherwise. The only runners who might be arguably hurt by a pacer-assisted runner are those few whom the pacer-assisted runner finishes ahead of. None of them have complained to this court. Plaintiff thus lacks standing in this case.
The key issue, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, is simply one of fairness. Pacer assistance is unfair if pacers are allowed in support of some runners but not others. Pacer assistance is unfair if it changes the finishing order of runners in contention for a prize (and a "prize" can include the honor and glory of setting a record).

Pacer assistance that only enables a marginal runner to marginally finish a race thus does no significant damage to other runners, unless the egos of those other runners are so fragile that they suffer when one more person completes a distance. Races, particularly longer races, take place on vastly different courses and under vastly different environmental conditions. Pacer assistance is 'de minimis' compared to those other factors.

The defense rests (aggressively!) ...

I added to my comments:

P.S. close frame-by-frame analysis of the video of the first sub-4-minute mile reveals, in addition to blatant pacer assistance:
- Sir Roger was apparently wearing headphones and carrying a primitive personal music device.
- Tree roots on the track were apparently painted to mark them as hazards (the color of the paint cannot be determined since the film was black-and-white, but they are likely to have been orange).

Also, as a medical student Sir Roger had easy access to performance-enhancing substances, plus full knowledge of how to use them to greatest advantage. All blood test results from the first sub-4-minute-mile have conveniently been "lost". Coincidence?

Note for the humour-impaired: the above is not to be taken seriously! (^_^)

(cf. Don Quixote 55k Run 2007 (2007-11-22), At My Pace (2008-09-14), ...)

- Friday, December 12, 2008 at 05:16:08 (EST)

2008-12-07 - GBT with CJ

6+ miles @ ~11 min/mi

So much fun to be able to run with friends again! Caren Jew arrives at my house 0645 and drives us to milepost 0.31 of the Georgetown Branch Trail where we adjust our gear and prepare to trot to Bethesda and back. We warm up at ~12 min/mi pace but soon find ourselves accelerating to ~10.5 min/mi, even including a short walk break at the downtown road crossings. Temperatures in the 20's this Sunday morning feel fine, until a chill wind begins to rise during the return journey. Conversation flows delightfully as we catch up on gossip, family, and life in general—only regret is that we don't have longer to talk together. Next time!

- Thursday, December 11, 2008 at 04:58:32 (EST)

At Large and At Small

Anne Fadiman's wee book of musings, At Large and At Small, is cozy and idiosyncratic. These are "familiar essays", as she explains in her preface, like those Charles Lamb and William Hazlitt penned two centuries ago:

... The familiar essayist didn't speak to the millions; he spoke to one reader, as if the two of them were sitting side by side in front of a crackling fire with their cravats loosened, their favorite stimulants at hand, and a long evening of conversation stretching before them. His viewpoint was subjective, his frame of reference concrete, his style digressive, his eccentricities conspicuous, and his laughter usually at his own expense. And Though he wrote about himself, he also wrote about a subject, something with which he was so familiar, and about which he was so enthusiastic, that his words were suffused with a lover's intimacy. ...

So Fadiman talks about her passion as a child for collecting insects, her love of ice cream, her tendency to stay up late and work through the night, the joy of sending and receiving letters, and so forth. In telling of her family's move out of New York City, she delicately introduces a delicate-naughty word:

... If we'd been selling the loft instead of just renting it, we might have been tempted to hire a fluffer. (Fluffer is a term borrowed from pornographic filmmaking; he or she gets the male star ready for the camera.) In the housing market, the fluffer—also known as a stager—introduces a temporary state of real-estate tumescence by removing much of what the client owns and replacing it, from a private warehouse of props, with new furniture, carpets,plants, paintings, towels, sheets, shower curtains, throw pillows, lamp shades, ice buckets (to hold champagne next to the Jacuzzi), breakfast trays (to hold tea and the Sunday Times), and Scrabble sets (to spell out beautiful home). One fluffer ordered his client to remove a Georgia O'Keefe painting from the wall and hide it under the bed. The colors were wrong.

Fadiman's book offers many such delightful moments, clever and thoughtful. The point? Just the journey, not the destination. I fancy that this ^zhurnal sporadically offers something similar: amusing anecdotes, plus an occasional item worth remembering or thinking about. Or maybe just bits of my mind ...

- Wednesday, December 10, 2008 at 05:00:47 (EST)

2008-12-06 - Zoo and Back with CM

12+ miles @ ~10.2 min/mi

CM Manlandro has on her magic tights, and even I am wearing leg coverings for the first time this year—plus two pairs of pants, two shirts, cap, and gloves—as dawn breaks and we set off from Boundary Bridge toward the National Zoo along Beach Drive. We're reprising our Zoo Run of four months ago (cf. 2008-08-09 - Lost and Found), which we managed in ~11.7 min/mi. Today is crisp, temps in the 20's as the sun rises. I doff and don my hat to control my temperature as we ramp up the pace and as the wind blows and pauses. On the outbound leg we control the pace ("I could do this forever!") and the push it on the way back ("This hurts! Everywhere!") There are plenty of other runners and walkers out in spite of the chill, but few other animals. Our average for the first half is about 10:40 min/mi but we make 9:50 min/mi for the second, pulled down by doing ~9.5 min/mi over the final three miles. Good work, CM!

- Tuesday, December 09, 2008 at 06:17:30 (EST)

Rose, Where Did You Get That Red?

Kenneth Koch's 1973 book Rose, where did you get that red? is subtitled "Teaching Great Poetry to Children". It's a teacher's guide, but it's also a collection of enthusiastic poems. Many of Koch's guinea pigs, youngsters at PS 61 in New York City, produce little gems like sixth-grader Lisa Smalley's:

Come with me to the world of secrets.
Do you know how a mind grows? I do. Do you? If you don't, you won't find it on a piece of paper, you'll find it on the dark blue sky.
Do you know how to get to the end of the universe? I do. If you don't, you won't find it in the almanac, you'll find it in the number nine.
Do you know where fish came from? I do. If you don't, you won't find it in a book about fish, you'll find it on the earth's equator.

A Peace Corps worker in Swaziland, Mary Bowler, used Koch's poetry ideas with her students. They came back with sparkles such as:

I wish to have a black cat with long broad ears so that when it walks the ears could touch down and hear when the ants sing.

Koch (1925-2002) tried to set poetic fires burning in a wide range of places (cf, LyingVerses and NeverToldAnybody). If these little kids can do it, why can't I? Good challenge!

- Monday, December 08, 2008 at 04:39:16 (EST)

2008-11-30 - Hillwork with Christina

~2 miles @ ~12 min/mi

Small world: at 0745 on a drizzly-cold morning I'm awaiting friend Christina Caravoulias near the bottom of the hill below the Latter Day Saints (aka Mormon) Temple in Kensington, and who should jog past but Pete Darmody, followed shortly by Jean Arthur and several other MCRRC runners. Chris arrives and we walk to the corner of Stoneybrook and Beach, then up the big hill to survey the situation. Along the way we meet Betty Smith and her friend Lily, also out training on this dreary day. Chris and I jog down, recover, follow Betty & Lily up, then repeat a few times. Hill work is clearly something all of us could use more of. Christina gives me a ride home and along the way we get mileage estimates for various points along Stoneybrook. Later I return, with driver Merle, and take crude GPS measurements. The results:

location latitude longitude altitude distance
Beach & Stoneybrook 39.01268-77.06392199 feet 0 miles
Temple driveway #1 (south)39.01623-77.06366294.25
Temple driveway #2 (north)39.01716-77.06372305.31
Church driveway #2 (north)39.01905-77.06464353.44
Kent & Stoneybrook 39.01961-77.06439356.48

The agreement with Christina's car odometer is good. Altitudes are approximate, plus or minus 20 feet or so, but line up well with topo map data. Likewise there are similar errors in distances. Bottom line: the climb from the start at the corner of Beach & Stoneybrook is about 100 feet elevation gain to the turnaround at Temple driveway #2, or about 150 feet climb to the Church driveway #2, and not much different to the corner of Kent & Stoneybrook.

- Sunday, December 07, 2008 at 05:16:39 (EST)

Goes Without Saying

When a musician refers to a violin concerto without naming the composer, my daughter explained to me the other day, the assumption is that it's one of Johann Sebastian Bach's. Similarly, an English literary quote given without explicit authorship is most likely by William Shakespeare. In what other fields is there a default who "bestrides the narrow world like a colossus"? It's not so easy to come up with them; talent seems to be more widely distributed. In mathematics, Karl Friedrich Gauss? In physics, Isaac Newton? Much less so. Counterexamples?

- Saturday, December 06, 2008 at 05:16:48 (EST)

2008-11-29 - MCRRC Turkey Burn-Off

10 miles @ 9.3 min/mi

Come Mile 4 we get hot. Caren Jew peels off her zebra-striped arm-warmers and I roll up my sleeves. The stirring speech Shakespeare wrote for Henry V echoes in my head:

Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars.
And say "These wounds I had on Crispin's day."

We're no band of brothers, gentlemen in England aren't abed, it isn't St. Crispin's Day, we haven't shed any blood, and we don't bear wounds or scars—but we certainly are battling, or at least running hard!

Early this morning son Merle drives me to Gaithersburg, where he's now encamped in a Starbucks playing online wargames with a party of German adventurers. Caren picks me up and together we ride to Seneca Creek State Park for the 5 and 10 mile MCRRC Turkey Burn-Off races. CM Manlandro arrives a few minutes ahead of us. We register amidst a chorus of "Who's your Pacer?" banter from fellow runners (to be explained another time!) and then return to Caren's car for warmth. "M-m-m-my Sharona" plays on the radio and gets stuck inside my head for the next 10 miles. I've had worse!

Huge crowds turn out and delay the race start by several minutes as they register. I donate my copy of the book Sub 4:00 to announcer Lyman Jordan to award as a trivia contest prize. Caren and I trot the first 5 miles together at a brisk conversational pace, chattering with one another as I catch up on news after a month of solitary confinement. Two deer amble through the underbrush at mile 3.1 (the "Deer Loop") but there's not much other wildlife, excluding crazy runners. Then Ms. C-C peels off for home and I attempt to catch up to Ms. CM, who has built up a 5 minute lead but now begins to flag. I throw on the coal with a succession of sub-9 miles but can't quite do the job, finishing 1:33:19, about 35 seconds behind CM who PRs today by many minutes.

- Thursday, December 04, 2008 at 18:42:40 (EST)

Screw Shoes

Eleven and a half months ago, the evening before Caren Jew and I do a ridiculously tough winter training run on Massanutten Mountain, I find myself inserting 10 sheet-metal screws (#6, 3/8th inch long) into the soles of an old pair of shoes. It's a test of the (in)famous "Screw Shoe" recipe for safer running on ice. The trick seem to work: hex-heads of the screws stick out and provide decent traction. (My only fall is on some slick leaves, and it's a minor one onto my backside.) When I get home and take inventory, however, 3 out of 10 screws from one shoe are missing in action, and so are 4 of 10 from the other. Apparently they work themselves loose during long runs. Fortunately I bought a box of 100 at the hardware store—at this rate I'm ready for several hundred more slick miles. Whew!

- Wednesday, December 03, 2008 at 05:41:28 (EST)

2008-11-27 - SCT-Wheaton-RCT Circuit

~10 miles @ ~11 min/mi

Thanksgiving Day offers much to be thankful for: I'm back out on the run, and haven't fallen down yet! My only complaint is that after an hour my shoulder blades start to get tight. Perhaps the atrophied left arm isn't doing its share of the job, or maybe I'm just holding my hands wrong. Or maybe the physical therapy exercises have strained the joints a bit and I'm not quite recovered. In any case, the run is good, the weather is moderate, and the people I encounter are friendly. I hit the major road crossings fortuitously in sync with the traffic and encounter few delays. "Lightning Crashes" by Live successfully drives "Mamma's Little Helper" out of my internal music loop. A faster runner leads me on a 9:39 mile eight along Rock Creek Trail.

- Tuesday, December 02, 2008 at 04:37:18 (EST)

Sinecure Kvelling

Two marvelous new-to-me words spied recently:

"Kvell" is loosely the opposite of kvetch, to whine and complain. "Sinecure" reminds me of Sir Martin Rees's description of the duties of the British Astronomer Royal, "... so exiguous that they could be performed posthumously." (exiguous = scanty or meager)

(cf. CreativeDevices (2001-01-01), ...)

- Monday, December 01, 2008 at 04:41:31 (EST)

2008-11-26 - CM's Mile PR

4+ miles @ ~10 min/mi

This morning is my initial physical therapy session after I broke my arm last month. The therapist asks me what I'd like to be able to do. "Well, I wish I could swim again," I begin. "And maybe play the piano. And the violin, yeah, I'd like to be able to do that too!" She dutifully types into her computer, but I can't see what she's writing—probably "Patient is Nuts!" I show her a small bump that I've noticed on my biceps. "That small lump is your biceps!" she informs me.

A few hours later I'm home with a set of stretching exercises to work on for the next fortnight. Friend CM Manlandro has offered to run with me today; she arrives and changes into running gear while I'm measuring out flour into the bread machine. Wednesday afternoon weather is brisk and she's wearing spiffy new tights, her first time running with covered legs. We canter along my local loop to Forest Glen, through the Seminary, to Rock Creek Trail. I recount historical tidbits about the neighborhood as we pass various landmarks. "Don't fall down!" is my refrain, said aloud to CM but more properly addressed to myself.

CM tells me that she has never gone faster than 8:10 for the mile, so when we reach RCT marker 2.25 I tell her, "Let's go!" Downstream we blitz, panting and dodging dog-walkers. I call out our time at every quarter, and at each we're a few seconds better than 8 minute pace. After a final sprint we cross the 1.25 line at the Rays Meadow ballfields together in 7:48.46 by my watch, a new Personal Record for CM by more than 20 seconds—congratulations! A cooldown walk and slow-jog hill climb brings us to the CCT, whence we trot back to my home, noting oak leaf prints on the sidewalks.

- Sunday, November 30, 2008 at 06:07:19 (EST)

You Do Not Talk About ...

From the chapter "Keeping It Simple" of Wherever You Go, There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn:

Every time you get a strong impulse to talk about meditation and how wonderful it is, or how hard it is, or what it's doing for you these days, or what it's not, or you want to convince someone else how wonderful it would be for them, just look at it as more thinking and go meditate some more. The impulse will pass and everybody will be better off—especially you.

- Saturday, November 29, 2008 at 07:22:16 (EST)

2008-11-25 - Frigid Loop

~11 miles @ ~11 min/mi

The chorus of "Mother's Little Helper" ricochets around inside my head as I run after today's dental appointment. The classic CCT-Bethesda-RCT circuit is brisk in early afternoon, with gusty west winds. The bottle of Gatorade that I found on 14th Street during the Marine Corps Marathon last month goes quickly, and then I begin to nibble on an ancient blueberry crunch Clif Bar that I found in my stash. At the downtown Bethesda fountain I take off my shoes and reposition the sub-anklet socks that have slipped down.

- Friday, November 28, 2008 at 05:35:07 (EST)


Sub 4:00, subtitled "Alan Webb and the Quest for the Fastest Mile", is an extended sports magazine feature article disguised as a book. Chris Lear follows young Mr. Webb during the spring of 2002 as Webb attends the University of Michigan, competes in a series of high-pressure track meets, and decides to drop out and turn professional. There's scant mention of education, other than college parties and race strategy. The writing is fast-reading but journalistic, not literary. Author Chris Lear is no Kenny Moore. The main lesson: elite runners train on the edge of injury, and often cross that boundary.

(cf. WithoutLimits (2005-02-12), BillBowerman (2006-02-18), Joan Benoit Samuelson (2008-01-16), Joan Benoit Samuelson on Growing Up (2008-02-14), ...)

- Thursday, November 27, 2008 at 06:02:21 (EST)

2008-11-23 - Sunset Speedwork

~4 miles @ ~9.5 min/mi

Too late in the afternoon to run far, so I push the pace on a counterclockwise mini-loop around the neighborhood and manage a middle mile on RCT of 7:44—wow! At the halfway point I peek at my watch and see 3:55. Three little deer chase one another on the hillside near the CCT.

- Wednesday, November 26, 2008 at 06:03:54 (EST)

Fond Memories Remain

A sweet goodbye to a fellow runner at the end of Jim Hage's column [1] in the Washington Post a few days ago:

TRUE BLUE: Top age-group competitor Ray Blue, 84, of Oxon Hill, died Nov. 10 after a long illness. Unable to compete in recent years, Blue volunteered at races. Always an iconoclast, Blue requested that there be no obituary, no funeral and no tears. Fond memories remain.

(cf. DeepSympathies (2001-05-30), McGs (2002-02-28), LeetObit (2004-06-10), DeathAndLife (2005-01-02), ObitCode (2007-11-15), ...)

- Tuesday, November 25, 2008 at 08:48:27 (EST)

2008-11-22 - 0.1 JFK

~5 miles @ ~10 min/mi

The JFK 50 mile run is on today, so this morning son Merle drives me out to Antietam (mile ~27 of the course) to pick up comrade CM Manlandro and give her a lift back to Weverton (mile ~15, which Kate Abbott & I were approaching when I fell and got a broken arm six weeks ago). CM meets a friend and jogs with him back to her car. This afternoon, in honor of those doing the JFK I crank out 10% of that distance, following the same route as yesterday but in reverse. For a change no deer threaten me. A measured mile on RCT flows by (as I refrain from peeking at my watch) in 8:46, one second faster than yesterday—hmmm! I weigh myself before and after. The scale claims I lose 1.4 lbs.—but it's notoriously inaccurate.

- Monday, November 24, 2008 at 05:29:08 (EST)

Hemingway on Letter-Writing

From the postscript of a letter by Ernest Hemingway to F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1925-07-01:

"Or don't you like to write letters. I do because it's such a swell way to keep from working and yet feel you've done something."

Likewise journal-writing!

(cited in Anne Fadiman's essay "Mail"; cf. JohnsonOnAnecdotes (1999-04-19), LaterDude (2002-10-14), InMyJournal (2005-01-29), AnneFadiman (2007-12-12), ...)

- Sunday, November 23, 2008 at 07:47:54 (EST)

2008-11-21 - The Half Beast is Half Back

~5 miles @ ~10 min/mi

"Hey big guy," I say, "don't hit me!" A menacing stag stands eying me from the side of the road. He's been sharpening all 8-points of his antlers and is ready to use them. I remember comrade CM's recent close encounter with a deer (who knocked her into the mud) and try not to look like competition for any doe's favors. The buck lets me pass.

At 9am today the orthopedist says my left arm, broken on 14 October, is healed enough for me to run. At 11am I'm out pounding the pavement of my local 'hood, circuit #1B: Seminary to Linden, Rock Creek to East-West Hwy, Jones Mill to Capital Crescent. I can't drive, swim, do push-ups (no naughty comments, pls!), lift anything heavier than 5 lbs., or otherwise stress the fractured humerus as it continues to mend. Jogging is fine—as long as I don't fall down.

How much fitness have I lost during since I came a cropper on the Appalachian Trail 38 days ago? Apparently not too much. A 10 minute per mile overall trot is almost comfortable in the brisk air today, with intermittent northern gusts and light snow flurries. Pushing the pace makes a measured mile on RCT go by in 8:47. Hills are a challenge, as always, but I run the whole way and finish happy. Apparently 20+ miles/week of brisk walking has more-or-less kept my pitifully-slow carcass from deteriorating too badly. Hey, when you're as close to the bottom as I am, you can't sink too much farther!

(cf. 2008-10-14 - JFK AT Familiarization, Impatient Patient, Bend Sinister, Humerus Fracture, ...)

- Saturday, November 22, 2008 at 05:58:24 (EST)


Yesterday a comrade was describing his daughter's semi-obscure illness and without much hesitation I was able to come up with two or three potential diagnoses. Then it flared on me: I've acquired a mini-medical education during the past few years of running, especially on trails and over long distances. There are many reasons:

So my vocabulary has grown exponentially: metatarsalgia, stress fracture, cœliac disease, piriformis, Prinzmetal's angina, ITB inflammation, hemorrhoids, the Koebner phenomenon, plantar fasciitis, Dequervain's tenosynovitis, hip flexor tightness, etc., etc.—spiffity technical names and homebrew treatments for a menagerie of things that can go awry—not to mention some unmentionably specific female and male "issues". I've enjoyed a lot of pages from this catalog of woes myself. I also now know the maximum "military dosage" for ibuprofen and a few other common pharmaceutical products, along with their potential side-effects, just in case. As the old DuPont slogan used to say, "Better Living Through Chemistry"! (^_^)

(cf. TechnicalMinded (2003-07-18), TrueNames (2003-10-16), HAT Run 2006 (2006-03-31), ...)

- Friday, November 21, 2008 at 06:49:56 (EST)

Pursuit of Happiness

Gretchen Rubin's "Happiness Project" is a book-in-draft collection of "rules for living" that occasionally hits a home run. A recent list of 10 tips, for instance, suggests:

1. Don't start with profundities. ... start with the basics, like going to sleep at a decent hour and not [getting] too hungry ...

2. Do let the sun go down on anger. ... Expressing anger related to minor, fleeting annoyances just amplifies bad feelings, while not expressing anger often allows it to dissipate.

3. Fake it till you feel it. ... Feelings follow actions. If I'm feeling low, I deliberately act cheery, and I find myself actually feeling happier. If I'm feeling angry at someone, I do something thoughtful for her and my feelings toward her soften. This strategy is uncannily effective.

4. Realize that anything worth doing is worth doing badly. People who do new things—learn a game, travel to unfamiliar places—are happier than people who stick to familiar activities that they already do well. ...

5. Don't treat the blues with a "treat." ... The pleasure lasts a minute, but then feelings of guilt and loss of control and other negative consequences deepen the lousiness of the day. ...

6. Buy some happiness. Our basic psychological needs include feeling loved, secure, and good at what we do and having a sense of control. Money doesn't automatically fill these requirements, but it sure can help. I've learned to look for ways to spend money to stay in closer contact with my family and friends; to promote my health; to work more efficiently; to eliminate sources of irritation and marital conflict; to support important causes; and to have enlarging experiences. ...

7. Don't insist on the best. There are two types of decision makers. Satisficers (yes, satisficers) make a decision once their criteria are met. ... Maximizers want to make the best possible decision. ... Satisficers tend to be happier than maximizers. ... Sometimes good enough is good enough.

8. Exercise to boost energy. ... Exercise is one of the most dependable mood-boosters. ...

9. Stop nagging. ... I knew my nagging wasn't working particularly well, but I figured that if I stopped, my husband would never do a thing around the house. Wrong. If anything, more work got done. Plus, I got a surprisingly big happiness boost from quitting nagging. I hadn't realized how shrewish and angry I had felt as a result of speaking like that. I replaced nagging with the following persuasive tools: wordless hints (for example, leaving a new lightbulb on the counter); using just one word (saying "Milk!" instead of talking on and on); not insisting that something be done on my schedule; and, most effective of all, doing a task myself. ...

10. Take action. ... Although it's true that genetics play a big role, about 40 percent of your happiness level is within your control. Taking time to reflect, and conscious steps to make your life happier, really does work.

OK, so some of these aren't deep, or even consistent with one another—but all of them are worth thinking about and maybe even trying.

(cf. UnenviableHappiness (2006-02-27), ...)

- Wednesday, November 19, 2008 at 21:27:29 (EST)

Buddha in Your Backpack

The 2003 book Buddha in Your Backpack by Franz Metcalf is a strangely disappointing attempt to sell Buddhism to teenagers. As with every other 50¢ remaindered tome from the local library's sale, my expectations were low when I snagged it—but it fell short even of those. Too doctrinaire, too preachy, too predictable. No poetry of language, no glimpses of enlightenment ... not even moments of nothing. The author tries too hard to be cool (e.g., "I quote Hamlet a couple of times there. If you haven't read it yet, you soon will. It's great. Why? Because Hamlet is this totally honest guy dealing with huge family issues. Sometimes he acts loco, but ...") and invariably comes across as a pedantic pretender. Maybe it's just me ... but there have to be better introductions to the subject than this one.

(cf. EatTheOrange (2004-11-28), Buddhism Without Beliefs (2008-09-19), Buddhism - A Way of Life and Thought (2008-09-30), Being Nobody, Going Nowhere (2008-10-13), ...)

- Tuesday, November 18, 2008 at 21:56:15 (EST)

Iron Man

The movie Ironman is silly in too many ways to catalog. It's also surprisingly good, with snappy dialogue and unexpected plot/character twists. For instance, when protagonist Tony Stark escapes his evil captors and is on his way home he tells his personal assistant Virginia "Pepper" Potts what his immediate goals are:

Tony: There are two things I want to do. One, I want an American cheeseburger, and the other ...
Virginia: That's not going to happen.
Tony: It's not what you think. I want you to call for a press conference now.

Somewhat earlier conveniently brilliant Tony has conveniently invented a revolutionary power supply. His conveniently brilliant co-prisoner is amazed:

Yinsen: That could run your heart for fifty lifetimes!
Tony: Yeah ... or something big for fifteen minutes.

And you know he's got something big in mind ...

(cf. Extraordinary Gentlemen (29 Apr 2003), ActionMovieRules (2003-08-10), ThisFarInside (2007-04-05), ...)

- Monday, November 17, 2008 at 05:25:18 (EST)

For back issues of the ^zhurnal see Volumes v.01 (April-May 1999), v.02 (May-July 1999), v.03 (July-September 1999), v.04 (September-November 1999), v.05 (November 1999 - January 2000), v.06 (January-March 2000), v.07 (March-May 2000), v.08 (May-June 2000), v.09 (June-July 2000), v.10 (August-October 2000), v.11 (October-December 2000), v.12 (December 2000 - February 2001), v.13 (February-April 2001), v.14 (April-June 2001), 0.15 (June-August 2001), 0.16 (August-September 2001), 0.17 (September-November 2001), 0.18 (November-December 2001), 0.19 (December 2001 - February 2002), 0.20 (February-April 2002), 0.21 (April-May 2002), 0.22 (May-July 2002), 0.23 (July-September 2002), 0.24 (September-October 2002), 0.25 (October-November 2002), 0.26 (November 2002 - January 2003), 0.27 (January-February 2003), 0.28 (February-April 2003), 0.29 (April-June 2003), 0.30 (June-July 2003), 0.31 (July-September 2003), 0.32 (September-October 2003), 0.33 (October-November 2003), 0.34 (November 2003 - January 2004), 0.35 (January-February 2004), 0.36 (February-March 2004), 0.37 (March-April 2004), 0.38 (April-June 2004), 0.39 (June-July 2004), 0.40 (July-August 2004), 0.41 (August-September 2004), 0.42 (September-November 2004), 0.43 (November-December 2004), 0.44 (December 2004 - February 2005), 0.45 (February-March 2005), 0.46 (March-May 2005), 0.47 (May-June 2005), 0.48 (June-August 2005), 0.49 (August-September 2005), 0.50 (September-November 2005), 0.51 (November 2005 - January 2006), 0.52 (January-February 2006), 0.53 (February-April 2006), 0.54 (April-June 2006), 0.55 (June-July 2006), 0.56 (July-September 2006), 0.57 (September-November 2006), 0.58 (November-December 2006), 0.59 (December 2006 - February 2007), 0.60 (February-May 2007), 0.61 (April-May 2007), 0.62 (May-July 2007), 0.63 (July-September 2007), 0.64 (September-November 2007), 0.65 (November 2007 - January 2008), 0.66 (January-March 2008), 0.67 (March-April 2008), 0.68 (April-June 2008), 0.69 (July-August 2008), 0.70 (August-September 2008), 0.71 (September-October 2008), 0.72 (October-November 2008), 0.73 (November 2008 - January 2009), 0.74 (January-February 2009), 0.75 (February-April 2009), 0.76 (April-June 2009), 0.77 (June-August 2009), 0.78 (August-September 2009), 0.79 (September-November 2009), 0.80 (November-December 2009), 0.81 (December 2009 - February 2010), ... Current Volume. Send comments and suggestions to z (at) his.com. Thank you! (Copyright © 1999-2010 by Mark Zimmermann.)