^zhurnaly 0.87

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Howdy, pilgrim! No ads — you're in volume 0.87 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 = 0.86 ... 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

Scrapbook Bookmarklet Version 0.1

A "bookmarklet" looks just like a web browser bookmark, but instead of a static address like http://zhurnaly.com it contains a tiny Javascript program to do something dynamic. A couple of weeks ago my wife, Paulette, was talking about how handy it would be to have a quick-and-easy way to take clippings from a web page. She wanted to highlight a snippet and single-click save it, along with a reference to where it came from. I've often wished for the same thing. To do it using the ZhurnalyWiki or a text editor takes a back-and-forth series of copy/paste maneuvers, more than slightly inconvenient.

So how to grab a text selection and stash it with the source URL? It took me an embarrassingly long amount of messing around to relearn enough Javascript and Perl, but now I've got a pre-beta prototype. This "Scrapbook" bookmarklet throws the information to a small program on the zhurnaly.com server which catches it and appends it to an HTML file. To try it out, copy this text and put it into a bookmark in your browser:


To use the Scrapbook, highlight some text on a web page and click the Scrapbook bookmarklet. You'll see the address of the page as a link, followed by the selected text. Neat! The default demo scrapbook lives at http://zhurnaly.com/scrapbook.html.

Of course, a public scrapbook is likely to accumulate a lot of garbage, could get erased at any time, and isn't appropriate for material you don't want everybody in the world to see. If you want to experiment with your own semi-private scrapbook, just drop a note to z(at)his(dot)com and I'll set one up for you to play with. Note that this "Version 0.1" scrapbook has all sorts of weaknesses. In particular, it can't accept more than a few paragraphs of text at a time, it doesn't handle formatted text or images, and it lacks a way to clear out the scrapbook and start over (without asking me). Maybe in version 0.2 it will be better.

Meanwhile, if you have a web server and want to experiment with it yourself, here's the source code:

# ^z = Mark Zimmermann = z(at)his(dot)com --- 2010-12-18 - 2010-12-25
# this is a CGI-BIN script to take a URL of the form
#     http://host.com/cgi-bin/scrapbook.cgi?X=http://source.com/url&Y=selected_text
# from a scrapbook-bookmarklet, and put the source URL and any selected text into a "scrapbook.html" file
#   - can't accept more than ~2kB of selected text (URL length limitation)
#   - lacks one-click clear/reset/initialize scrapbook file, with backup/safety-net
#   - requires access to the server to install and run CGI-BIN file
#   - needs specially-crafted scrapbook-bookmarklet
#   - lacks any security
# FORMAT: scrapbook.html has a header section followed by a body tag, the scrapbook items,
# and an anchor <a name="SCRAPBOOK_END"></a> to let the browser to jump to the end
# of the file after a scrapbook item has been posted
#      javascript:location.href='http://zhurnaly.com/cgi-bin/scrapbook.cgi?X='+encodeURIComponent(location.href)+'&Y='+encodeURIComponent(window.getSelection())

undef $/;                         # grab entire files at once
$domain = "http://zhurnaly.com";  # set this to domain where CGI-BIN and scrapbook reside
$file_prefix = "../httpdocs/";    # set this to prefix to get from CGI-BIN to scrapbook directory
$scrapbook = "scrapbook.html";    # set this to scrapbook file name
$scrapbook_end = "SCRAPBOOK_END"; # set this to scrapbook end anchor name

$file = "$file_prefix$scrapbook";
$end_tag = "<a name=\"$scrapbook_end\"></a>";  # HTML marker near end of scrapbook file

# parse query string, decode, store variables
my ($item, %item);
foreach $_ (split(/&/, $qs)) {
	s/\+/ /g;
	s/\%([A-Fa-f0-9]{2})/pack('C', hex($1))/eg;
	($_, $item) = split (/=/, $_, 2);
	$item{$_} = $item;

# change all newlines in selected text into <br> tags
$item{"Y"} =~ s/\n/\<br\>/g;

# assemble new scrapbook item: HTML link to source document, selected text, and divider line
$new_scrap = "<a href=$item{'X'}>$item{'X'}</a><br>\n$item{'Y'}<br>\n<hr>\n";

open(F, "$file");
$body = <F>;

# put new scrapbook item into scrapbook page just before the SCRAPBOOK_END tag
$body =~ s/$end_tag/$new_scrap$end_tag/;

open(F, ">$file");
print F $body;

# redirect browser to display end of scrapbook page
print "Content-type: text/html\n\n";
print "<head><meta http-equiv=\"Refresh\" content=\"0; url=$domain/$scrapbook#$scrapbook_end\"></head>";

To make the scrapbook page display nicely, you can begin it with something like this, customized of course for your own domain:

<!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.01 Transitional//EN"

<meta http-equiv="Content-Type" content="text/html; charset=utf-8">
<style type="text/css">@import "zhurnaly.css";</style>

Scrapbook for accumulating URLs and short selections (^_^)
<a name="SCRAPBOOK_END"></a>

If you find this at all interesting please let me know — and especially suggest improvements and new features (and how to implement them, if you're really enthusiastic). Tnx!

- Sunday, December 26, 2010 at 15:51:05 (EST)

2010-12-19 - Rock Creek Park Loop

~11 miles @ ~12 min/mi

Cara Marie Manlandro wants to run early, continuing her comeback training from summer illness, so at 0630 I set off from the front steps and trot by dawn's early light the 3 miles to the DC line. On Brookville Rd police car lights are dazzling near the Walter Reed Annex gate, where a tow truck is recovering a car that has spun out on the ice and smashed into the protective fence. I wave at the officer as I jog past. The Capital Crescent Trail is icy but I manage not to slip. At the used-car lot I wet a toe accidentally in an unseen salt-melted puddle. A trio of other early runners follow me from Meadowbrook Stables past Candy Cane City and down Beach Dr to the Maryland border. I walk about and await CM, GPS paused at 3.02 miles. A squirrel digs for buried nuts.

CM arrives a couple of minutes later and after a brief debate about whether to wear an extra layer or not (she chooses "not") we proceed on Beach Dr into DC. After ~4 miles at near 10 min/mi pace we're at the corner of Broad Branch Rd. Instead of retracing our path I propose a loop: we turn right and take Ridge Rd up the steep icy hill up to the equitation ring. There's so much melted and refrozen ice here that we can only run brief stretches for the next few miles. At the Rock Creek Nature Center I lead CM in a wrong turn and we do a loop around the parking lot. We return to her car via the bikepath along Oregon and, after crossing Wise Rd, the Western Ridge Trail. I recount how I introduced Christina Caravoulias to this trail (cf. OperationAcclimation) in May 2007.

(see [1] for trackfile map and other data for the Rock Creek loop route)

- Saturday, December 25, 2010 at 16:42:10 (EST)

Sit Up Front

At a lecture, a public meeting, any major get-together:

Sit Up Front — Something Good Will Happen!

... even though it's hard advice to take if you're sleepy, introverted, lazy, and/or worried about getting called upon.

(with a nod to Edward Tufte's "Finish early — people will be thrilled. Something good is bound to happen!")

- Friday, December 24, 2010 at 05:49:07 (EST)

2010-12-18 - CCT and Leland St

~9 miles @ ~11 min/mi

Noisy front-loaders are moving salt/sand into a quonset hut at the county facility by the Capital Crescent Trail a bit after 7am, as the sky brightens. Icy snow ridges make crunchy sounds underfoot on the high trestle. Rock Creek is partially frozen far below. For half a mile through the golf course I press the pace (~8.3 min/mi) and arrive 15 minutes early in Bethesda, where the all-weather water fountain isn't working. In the parking lot Sam Yerkes recognizes me and gets out of her car. We chat as I eat half of my Snickers candy bar breakfast. Nick arrives, then other members of the Bethesda Rebel Runners, Gayatri Datta and Rebecca Rosenberg.

Leland St gives us hill work on the way to Beach Dr with a detour when Rebecca and I, leading, get lost in conversation about Rebecca's recent Rehoboth Beach marathon. Sam challenges the hills with me. Gayatri tells of her 100 mile 5 day stage run in the Himalayas. At Beach we circle back via Woodbine St, where Sam points out "The Castle", an impressive house with crenellated towers and a portcullis-like gate. In Bethesda we loop around the parking lot until Sam's GPS gives her 5+ miles. Gayatri kindly gives me a ride home.

- Thursday, December 23, 2010 at 04:40:52 (EST)

Michael Wood on the Buddha

From Chapter 2, "The Power of Ideas", in India by Michael Wood, a thoughtful explanation of the core of Buddhism:

We are used to our heroes in history being warriors or men of action, which usually means men of violence, for good or ill. That, after all, is what we teach our children at school. These are the makers of history. But here the hero sat under a tree and simply thought. During the course of the night he came up with an idea, a technique for self-knowledge. It was an idea so powerful that it would transform half the world and be spread not by war, violence and coercion, but by curiosity, dialogue and a thirst for knowledge.

The key idea is deceptively simple. The human condition, by its very nature, entails suffering; suffering is caused by the human ego, by desire, clinging, attachment, and greed. Humanity can find tranquillity only by removing attachments that are at the root of all human unhappiness, anxiety and aggression. The way to liberation is not through worship of a god (or anything else), but by becoming a fully autonomous and compassionate human being. Those, in a nutshell, are the noble truths, and the Buddha called the way to them the eightfold path — one of right conduct and truthfulness. To expound his system further would need far more space than this book allows, and more conversance with the subtleties of Buddhist thought than I possess. But to this definition one might add a further observation — that the implication of the Buddha's logic is that even belief in god is itself a form of human desire and clinging, a product of the ego and another cause of suffering in that it prevents a person from becoming an autonomous and free human being. This was nothing less than a rebellion against history.

- Wednesday, December 22, 2010 at 05:10:25 (EST)

2010-12-13 - Langley HS

~3.5 miles @ ~10 min/mi

My gloves are forgotten, back in my windbreaker pocket at my desk, so when I venture out with Stephanie this Monday morning I retract hands into sleeves like a turtle to keep them from freezing. A strong cold front has just come through and the wind is brisk in our faces. We trot along Georgetown Pike past Langley High School and turn back at the next corner's traffic light, Ridge Dr. A huge puddle makes us detour and gives us muddy shoes. Outbound is 18:25, return trip 17:58.

- Tuesday, December 21, 2010 at 04:50:21 (EST)


Walking home in the evening, on a snowy sidewalk by a busy street: I look down and see brief flashes of light in front of my feet as I stride along. What's up? A quick experiment shows that headlights of approaching cars are reflecting from the white snow-coated soles of my shoes. Every time I lift a foot to take a step, the light bounces: car to shoe to ground to eyes. It's just like the way sunlight hits the earth, ricochets to the moon, and comes back as "Earthshine", a glow on the dark side of a few-days-old moon. Wow!

- Monday, December 20, 2010 at 06:42:35 (EST)

2010-12-11 - Magnus Gluteus Maximus 50k

~30 miles @ ~15 min/mi

http://zhurnaly.com/images/running/MGM_2010_honey_bourbon.jpgAnstr Davidson takes good photos — at about mile 18 he catches me at the Fountainhead aid station of the VHTRC's Magnus Gluteus Maximus, a trek along the Bull Run Trail in northern Virginia. My GPS, in the full-res version of this photo, shows an elapsed time 4:28:34 at a 15:10 min/mi pace. The bottle of "Evan Williams Honey Reserve" bourbon is tied to a tree limb with a red string. Anstr apologizes for forgetting to bring the Bull Run Run "I" pin that he intended to give me, to replace the one I lost; I apologize for failing to remind him as I promised to do.

This morning I arrive at Hemlock Overlook about 0645 and meet Bill Wandel, who advises me on the "official" route for this low-key fun-run. At 0700, an hour ahead of the normal start, I set off. Icicles form on my moustache. Three deer bound across the path in front of me. Geese honk and ducks paddle in formation. Little Rocky Run, a tributary stream, is partially covered with ice, as is the surface of the Occaquan reservoir.

I pass Carolyn Gernand and meet multiple small groups of Asian hikers who greet me politely as I trot past. The ground is covered with a thick blanket of fallen leaves, but although I repeatedly stumble I manage not to fall. Ten miles in I experience a twinge in my left heel, perhaps an achilles tendon strain? It doesn't bother me during the run, but the next morning and several days thereafter it feels tight.

The fastest runners begin to pass me about mile 12, as I approach Fountainhead. For a change I don't get lost in the "Do Loop" maze of horse trails at the southern end of the course — or rather, I only go astray briefly, for a few dozen yards. Caroline Williams meets me and gives me a hug as I congratulate her on her recent ultramarathon successes.

I'm a mobile pharmacy: about mile 19 I pause to give 4 ibuprofen tablets to a young runner who is suffering from knee and ankle pain. A few miles later I catch up with Mike Hannon, who remembers me from the Bull Run Run earlier this year. Mike is suffering from leg cramps, so I give him a couple of Succeed! electrolyte capsules.

Cheerful Rob Colenso and his fast friend Amy Lane zip by me, as do Gary Knipling, Michele Harmon, and countless other speedsters. Between miles 23 and 26 I accidentally stop my GPS, but since the course is an out-and-back that doesn't affect the map. About mile 29 Andrea Varea whistles to get my attention and asks what route we need to follow. I show her the path back up to Hemlock Overlook and we finish together. I snag the last slice of veggie pizza.


(cf. 2006-12-16 - Magnus Gluteus Maximus, 2007-12-15 - Magnus Gluteus Maximus Minimus, 2009-12-12 - Magnus Gluteus Maximus, ...)

- Sunday, December 19, 2010 at 05:15:21 (EST)

Only the Director

Leadership is personal. At a recent meeting the former head of a major organization talked about issues including morale and trust and communications — and how some things just can't be delegated to your assistants, no matter how high you rise, how busy you are, or how many private dining rooms you control. One of his best remarks:

Only the Director can be the Director eating lunch in the cafeteria.

(cf. BuckMantras (2001-04-13), CultOfLeadership (2005-01-28), Prudent Leadership (2008-09-17), ...)

- Saturday, December 18, 2010 at 05:53:30 (EST)

Money Mantra

Eknath Easwaran's book Meditation includes some hilarious and parhaps important parables. In Chapter 4 ("One-Pointed Attention", page 134) he tells of the 19th Century mystic Ramakrishna's great powers of concentration:

... Sri Ramakrishna once went to see a religious drama produced by his disciple Girish Ghosh He was very fond of Girish and of the play, so he sat right up front. The curtain went up, and a character started singing the praises of the Lord. Sri Ramakrishna immediately began to enter the supreme state of consciousness. The stage faded; the actors and actresses faded. As only a great mystic can, he uttered a protest: "I come here, Lord, to see a play staged by my disciple, and you send me into ecstasy. I won't let it happen!" And he started saying over and over, "Money . . . money . . . money," so as to keep some awareness of the temporal world.

That story made me laugh! Money is one of my major fixations; I need to stop being so attached to it, stop fretting so much about spending it. And likewise my other big challenges, which I'll refrain from mentioning here. The list of things to which I cling is long ...

(cf. Meditation by Eknath Easwaran, Machines Obey Me, ...)

- Friday, December 17, 2010 at 04:45:35 (EST)


~3 miles @ ~10 min/mi

Winds in our faces, ice on the puddles: Stephanie's birthday was yesterday and she wants to atone for partying with something different, so we head down Georgetown Pike to Langley High School and back. Comrade MRM on his way in to work beeps his horn at us. Outbound takes 16:52, return 15:59.

- Thursday, December 16, 2010 at 05:06:47 (EST)

Run Fast by Hal Higdon

"More Art Than Science" — a subsection title, and a good summary of Hal Higdon's 1992 Run Fast: How to Train for a 5-K or 10-K Race. Throughout the book Higdon quotes experienced coaches and athletes, then immediately proceeds to contradict their advice. On page 6 in describing what he offers beginners who take lessons from him, Higdon admits, "... mostly, we are not teaching running; rather, we're peddling motivation." In the next paragraph: "The most important thing we tell beginners is ... simply 'You're doing great. Keep it up.'" Training plans are generic at best.

Higdon offers a list of prescriptions in Chapter 14 ("The Polishing Touch: Be Your Own Best Coach"):

How seriously should one take these, or any other, training rules? Hal Higdon's comment on page 36 is: "Again, do what works best for you." OK.

- Wednesday, December 15, 2010 at 04:39:08 (EST)

2010-12-05 - Mormon Temple Hillwork

~6 miles @ ~10 min/mi

A sleek red fox trots across the path and pauses to wonder why anybody is out today. I've replaced a circuit board on the water heater, and am rewarding myself with a few Sunday afternoon repeats on the hill near the Kensington Mormon Temple (Stoneybrook Dr between Beach Dr and Kent St). Temperatures in the 30's and winds in the 20-30 mi/hr range blow away intentions to do five or more—I'm satisfied with three, climbs of 5:08 + 5:03 + 4:57 and recovery-descents of ~4:40. Heavily bundled against the elements, a few pedestrians hike by as I run back and forth. A father-daughter tandem bike flying a pirate skull-and-crossbones flag coasts down. I meet it again on Ireland Dr during my return home.

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

- Tuesday, December 14, 2010 at 04:46:53 (EST)

Like a TV Screen

In 1973 I was a student at Rice University. One evening I went to an informal talk by a grad student (or maybe a postdoc or young faculty member?) whose name somehow stuck in my mind: Reginald Smythe. A metaphor from the talk also endures: think of yourself as an outside observer, watching events unfold through a glass wall, as though you're seeing the world on television. That imaginary separation, Smythe suggested, would give you power and freedom, would keep you from being over-attached or immersed, especially during stressful situations.

In Pragito Dove's brilliant little book Lunchtime Enlightenment Chapter 3 makes almost the same point. The final section offers a short list of "Simple Reminders" that Dove proposes "... to help you cultivate the qualities of the watcher and reduce the noise in your daily life":

  1. Avoid watching scary movies or TV programs
  2. Walk two blocks down the street remembering yourself
  3. Imagine that you're a mountain
  4. Observe the mind as you would a TV screen
  5. Practice the art of doing nothing

Less noise is good!

(cf. IslandsOfStability (2002-04-28), and Lunchtime Enlightenment in Chapter 3, "Frogs Jumping from Lily Pads: Becoming a Witness to the Mind" The Watcher (2010-11-15), and in Chapter 1 Reinhabit Your Body (2010-10-27), ... )

- Monday, December 13, 2010 at 04:47:18 (EST)

2010-12-04 - Frozen Slopes 6k XC

~3.9 miles @ ~8.8 min/mi

As expected, Caren Jew is already parked and waiting for me when I arrive 15 minutes early at Lake Bernard Frank for the MCRRC "Frozen Slopes" cross-country race this morning. She claims to have only been waiting for a minute, but ups that to five when I threaten to check her engine temperature and refute her story. We sit in her car and chat, then make the trek to the Meadowside Nature Center, greet a crowd of friends, and eventually head for the starting line.

At 0900 it's "GO!"; I begin less than 10 seconds behind the line. The slopes are indeed frozen and strewn with leaves, but perhaps recent runs on much rougher terrain have recalibrated my feet—or maybe I'm just in the mood to gamble. I dash out too fast, taking advantage of the downhills and paved segments of the course. For the final mile Leslie Anchor is breathing down my neck. I hear her stumble and check that she's fine; a root makes me semi-roll an ankle and Leslie oohs in sympathy. We pull one another along and pursue but can't catch Kenneth Sevik.

After we finish I grab a cup of water and trek back along the course, encouraging the runners and they climb past me, and at the bottom of the final hill chat with the course marshall who saw me at the NCT Marathon a week ago and who tells me about her winter/spring race plans. When Caren arrives I follow her back to the finish line, and then we return to the Nature Center for conversation and post-race food, including some excellent veggie chili.

Mile splits by the GPS: 8.5, 8.1, 9.0, and a final 0.9 mi at 9.6 min/mi—lots of uphill in the second half, not to mention fatigue. The official 34:31 result puts me second of seven in my age/sex group, 41st among the men, 48th overall.

(cf. 2007-12-01 - MCRRC Frozen Slopes 6k XC, ...)

- Sunday, December 12, 2010 at 07:23:23 (EST)

India by Michael Wood

The PBS/BBC TV series 'India" by Michael Wood is extraordinary, educational, and entertaining. Alas, the book version (2007) is quite good but rather less exceptional. Wood highlights nonviolence and religious tolerance in Indian history, but within a few pages is immersed in descriptions of war and brutality. He offers large doses of outright speculation, sometimes in the course of relating a charming myth, sometimes in parenthetical asides. Wood rhapsodizes about beautiful art and architecture, but only touches in passing upon the grinding poverty and oppression that paid for that beauty. The book lacks good maps, even when it lapses into travel-diary mode. And in places it simply is misedited.

And yet, set all that aside. The author's enthusiasm for India is contagious. The book is well-made and lushly illustrated. The prose is generally smooth and highly readable. And Michael Wood's ultimate optimism about India's future, in spite of religious and economic challenges, is persuasive. As he observes on page 214, "The great struggle for accommodation and understanding continues."

(footnotes: re uncritical speculation see e.g. p. 57, "... whether it is valid at all ... has been questioned. Nevertheless, the insight, I think, is useful and broadly true, ..." and p. 174 "And could it perhaps be ...?" — re poor editing, see e.g. p. 152 where the clause "... a god dwelling on Earth, being a mortal only in the sense that he celebrates the rites of the observances of mankind ..." is almost repeated three pages later as "... He was a mortal only in celebrating the rites of the observances of mankind, but otherwise a god dwelling on Earth." ...)

- Saturday, December 11, 2010 at 05:04:41 (EST)

2010-12-02 - Parking Lot Loops

~4.5 miles @ ~9 min/mi

A trio of leaf-blowers scream in chorus, their wielders dressed in puffy fluorescent orange jackets. The cold front that came through yesterday makes for temperatures in the mid-30s, so to stay warm I'm moving briskly, pace around the 1.5 mile perimeter 9.0, 8.3, and 7.7 min/mi for my laps. Heart rate is in the 170s when I try to measure it after the final sprint.

- Friday, December 10, 2010 at 05:31:06 (EST)

Standing on the Subway

Son Robin has studied control theory; I wish I knew more about it, especially when I'm riding the Metro and try to stand without clinging to a pole or strap. Sudden surges of accelerations toss me back and forth. I react with a time delay, inevitably over-correct, and stagger. How to do better? Maybe some elementary principles of feedback loops and damping could let me feel less of an codger. Perhaps a tutorial, "The Old Fool's Brief Guide to Control Theory" would help. Has anybody written one?

- Thursday, December 09, 2010 at 04:42:26 (EST)

2010-11-29 - Deer in the Woods

~3 miles @ ~10 min/mi

Frost on the ground and I've forgotten my gloves, but retracting hands into long sleeves keeps them warm enough. Neither Stephanie nor I would have ventured out today except for peer pressure from the other. A doe, chased by a buck, races across the path in front of us as we climb the steep hill. After chattering too much about Saturday's marathon I push the pace for the second lap, for mile splits of 10:14 and 9:06.

- Wednesday, December 08, 2010 at 04:38:29 (EST)

Be Earth

Breathe! Breath is life, and "watching the breath" is a classical technique for calming the mind. A few months ago I chanced to notice that the word BREATHE could be anagrammed into BE EARTH — a cute coincidental sentiment, eh?! Pattern-seeker that I am, it was time to investigate anagrams of the other four classical "elements":

Better suggestions?

(cf. ArsMagna (2002-09-27), HarmonicMotel (2003-10-23), Being with Your Breath (2010-02-20), ...)

- Tuesday, December 07, 2010 at 06:07:00 (EST)

2010-11-27 - Northern Central Trail Marathon

26.2 miles @ ~9.8 min/mi

First five miles: average pace ~8:45—visions of a 3:45 Boston Qualifying result. Next five miles: average pace ~9:00 min/mi—fantasies of a solid sub-4-hour marathon. Next five miles: average pace ~9:15 min/mi—dreams of gutting it out for a time like last year's 4:01. Mile 15: reality sets in. As I pick up my foot to step over a stick on the pathway my right calf begins to cramp. The old quads are weak, the hip flexors are tight, and the goal becomes merely to finish. By mile 20 it's time for walk breaks, about one minute every five. At mile 25 during the final climb up from the valley I manage to start "running" at ~11 min/mi pace to cross the line with some shreds of dignity.

It's better than five hours ago, when near panic strikes. Half an hour before the start of the NCT Marathon, in the auditorium of Sparks Elementary School: I can't find my car key! It was in the tiny pocket of my shorts before I visited the bathroom—or was it? I search around the table where I sat, retrace my path, then go to the announcer. He's about use his microphone to call for help when I suddenly feel something bouncing around in the liner of my pants. (No, not that!) My face is as red as the crimson outfit I'm wearing. I carefully thread the key onto my left shoelace and knot it in place. Every few miles during the race I look down to check that it's still there.

Weather today is near-optimal, temperatures in the mid-30's at the start and rising only into the lower 40's. The Northern Central Railway (NCR) Trail is crushed stone, well-packed, clean and dry except in a few slightly soggy spots that are easily circumnavigated. Volunteers and spectators are uniformly helpful. My scarlet garb and full beard yields "Hi Santa!" banter every few miles.

Within the hour before today's event I drink a cup of coffee and take two Succeed! e-caps and a Clif Shot energy gel. I suck down half a dozen more gels during the run. At mile 15 as cramps loom. I swallow another pair of S! caps, and at mile 20 yet another duo. The sodium and potassium ward off catastrophic breakdown, but I've still got weakness in the major leg muscles. I drink Gatorade at every aid station and, judging by the kidney activity that commences after the finish line, am well enough hydrated.

A loud bang! startles me at about mile 10—hunting nearby? Music on the radio during the drive up—"Lightning Crashes" by Live—plays through my head during the race. I invoke the spirits of running friends Caren, CM, Kate, Mary, et al., but to no avail. Jennifer Weiland Zuckman of Rockville, wearing the same red MCRRC Parks Half Marathon shirt as I do, runs with me for a while during the first several miles. We chat about upcoming winter/spring marathons in the area. I blitz through aid stations and get ahead of Jennifer, but she passes me in between. Eventually she runs on ahead, to finish at my fantasy pace of near 9 min/mi.

Official result: 234th place overall, 15th of 19 in my age/sex group, chip time 4:15:34, my second-fastest marathon ever. But why did I break down? Perhaps I should have tapered more: recent ultras include the 28 mile 2010-11-07 - Potomac Heritage 50k, the 44 mile 2010-10-23 - Quad State Quad Buster, and the 45 mile 2010-10-09 - Andiamo 2010. Maybe my pacing was bad: the first (partly downhill) half marathon takes me 1:55, close to a PR. The second half is 2:21.

For whatever reason(s) the four hour marathon goal remains an open issue. Maybe next year!

(cf. 2009-11-28 - Northern Central Trail Marathon, ...)

- Monday, December 06, 2010 at 05:01:30 (EST)

With Dignity

Jon Kabat-Zinn in discussing mindfulness meditation suggests that one sit or stand "with dignity". It's a simple way to describe a not-so-simple posture: spine straight, shoulders back, head up, face relaxed. Calm, like a peaceful lake. Stable, like a mountain. Often during the day I catch myself slouching and must remind, "With Dignity!" The image of a soldier standing at attention is useful, though it suggests a tension and stiffness that aren't quite on target. When young I occasionally walked around with a big book balanced on my head, without much result, alas. The ultimate goal: awareness. Mind needs balance more than body. Think: "With Dignity!"

(cf. Wherever You Go, There You Are (2008-10-31), Coming to Our Senses (2009-01-01), Posture (2009-06-05), ...)

- Saturday, December 04, 2010 at 13:05:20 (EST)

2010-11-22 - Parking Lot Perimeter

~3 miles @ ~10.5 min/mi

Tapering for Saturday's marathon is put on hold this Monday morning when comrade Stephanie asks for company. At 8am we do a couple of comfortable loops around the big parking lot area, ~1.5 mile circuit times ~16:30 and ~15:05. Stephanie's husband had a birthday party this past weekend—sounds like it was fun!

- Friday, December 03, 2010 at 04:41:54 (EST)

The Unfinished Game

Mathematician Keith Devlin writes well, and The Unfinished Game: Pascal, Fermat, and the Seventeenth-Century Letter that Made the Modern World is a fast read, technically accurate, factually entertaining. If only it weren't yet another example of a Molehill Book, one that makes a mountain out of a tiny thread in the tapestry of history! Devlin focuses on the 1654 correspondence between Blaise Pascal and Pierre de Fermat, letters that included several key concepts of what's now elementary probability theory.

Were others doing the same thing at about the same time? Yes. Would the world of math have come to the same conclusions, with or without the Fermat-Pascal dialog? Yes. Would a book sell as many copies if it honestly tried to depict an actual constellation of discoveries, instead of telling a ripping yarn about the Great Man who Did It All By Himself? No, at least not unless the author is another Tolstoy.

But setting aside that fundamental flaw, Devlin does a decent job. In particular, the peripheral stories he tells are quite engaging: John Graunt and the first mortality tables, Daniel Bernoulli and the concept of utility, Edmund Halley and the analysis of annuities, etc. Neat stuff, deserving of more attention.

(cf. CelebrityHistory (1999-05-08), WebsOfEvidence (2000-02-15), LogicAndInformation (2001-08-01), TrueStory (2002-11-30), MillenniumMath (2002-12-05), StayingTheCourse (2005-07-11), Joy of Sets (2010-06-25), ...)

- Thursday, December 02, 2010 at 04:39:07 (EST)

2010-11-21 - Ten 800m Repeats

~6.2 miles @ ~8.5 min/mi

A pair of young ladies in fuchsia and black materialize to do yoga-stretches on the track infield and disrupt my plan to maintain steady-pace intervals. Confession: my last three sets are significantly faster than those before. At 4pm on Sunday the temperature is 50ish with east winds that blow chill. On the way to the store it's belated solo time trials for me at the local middle-school track, double-lap (half-mile or maybe 800m) repeats with half a lap (~2 minutes) of recovery walk/jog between each. The splits accelerate due to vanity and enthusiasm: 3:47 + 3:44 + 3:39 + 3:41 + 3:45 + 3:42 + 3:46 + 3:38 + 3:37 + 3:31 (!). If the "Yasso 800" formula is right this forecasts an incredible marathon next Saturday. We shall see ...

- Wednesday, December 01, 2010 at 04:48:32 (EST)

Senior Coffee

With my gray beard and bald head I can officially pass for a geezer now: at the McDonalds in Rosslyn, at least, I've never been carded when I order a 50¢ "Senior Coffee". It's a discount for the elderly that an aging fellow MetroBus rider told me about some months ago. The coffee is only ok, but the price is definitely right. When I arrive early and have at least 10 minutes to wait, I often indulge myself. It's all part of an ongoing campaign to stop fretting quite so much about money. Clearly, however, I have far to go in that department: I'm still noticing and clinging to and commenting on trivial sums, such as the price of a cup of coffee!

- Tuesday, November 30, 2010 at 06:54:18 (EST)

2010-11-17 - Deer and Debris

~3 miles @ ~10 min/mi

As is often the case, I'm thinking about not running when Stephanie pries me out of my chair. A strong cold front has come through overnight and the woodsy path is interrupted by fallen sticks and branches, sometimes big enough to require us to leap. Stephanie tells me about the 5k she ran on Saturday, and I recount my similar adventure. Our first marked mile is 10:20, and we accelerate to make the second in 8:44. A medium-large doe standing by the path eyes our progress.

- Monday, November 29, 2010 at 05:10:06 (EST)


A couple of decades ago then-colleague Dianne Q. Webb told me about her observation of then-and-now-again Apple Computer executive Steve Jobs. Dianne noted that Jobs in conversation seemed to focus laser-like on the person he was talking with, a deliberate attention that was somewhat disturbing. We speculated then that it might have some relationship to his studies of Eastern mysticism. Or perhaps it was a psychological ploy to gain an advantage, or a habit that had the positive result of enhanced understanding for the listener. The Dalai Lama, according to Jon Kabat-Zinn, likewise shows an intense concentration. Worth studying, or emulating, or avoiding, or at least being aware of?

(cf. Chuck Norris on Zen (2008-10-12), Mind Over Exercise (2008-10-22), Cultivation of Wisdom (2009-02-09), We Are the Pot (2009-08-13), Kundun (2010-03-31), ...)

- Sunday, November 28, 2010 at 07:35:27 (EST)

2010-11-14 - Lake Needwood Neighborhood Loop

~6 miles @ ~11 min/mi

Cara Marie Manlandro's car won't start, so Sunday morning I drive out to her home in Derwood. At 8am we set off along local sidewalks, up Crabbs Branch Way to Redland Rd to Needwood Rd and then down the east side of Lake Needwood. CM's goal as she continues to get back into shape after summer illness is to run 3 miles, and that we do comfortably with splits of 10:28 + 10:22 + 9:52 by my GPS. Then we start walking the hills and take to the trails around the southern end of the lake. Guided by my recollection of a run with Caren Jew (cf. 2009-04-05 - Lake Needwood Trails), Parilla Path leads to Gude Trail which we follow over frosty grass, along a gas pipeline right-of-way, through suburban back yards, past barking dogs and weathered bird houses, until we arrive at East Gude Dr (splits 12:57 + 12:49). CM knows the way here and declares that there's one mile to go. I insist on accelerating and trying to push our average pace for the day down under 11:00 min/mi, so we dash along the sidewalk and make it back to her place in 9:26. Whee!

- Saturday, November 27, 2010 at 04:42:18 (EST)

Grand Design

Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow's book The Grand Design is a fast-reading general-audiences discussion of modern physics. It's rather off-putting, however, in its dismissal of philosophy on the first page when, introducing questions surrounding existence and the universe, the authors pronounce, "Traditionally these are questions for philosophy, but philosophy is dead. Philosophy has not kept up with modern developments in science, particularly physics. Scientists have become the bearers of the torch of discovery in our quest for knowledge. ..."

Well, no one said physicists suffer from low self-esteem! Hawking and Mlodinow are confident that humanity's current understanding of Nature is essentially complete, and all that is left is a bit of filling in details. Many scientists have said so in years past. All have been wrong. Perhaps the end of scientific discovery is near, but I wouldn't bet on it. More likely something new will turn up in an experiment or an observation within the next decade and all bets will be off yet again.

Grand Design is reasonably well-written but the prose is far from poetic. A rather striking stylistic break happens around the midpoint (Chapter 5) after which dry humor begins to appear every few pages. Based on the jokes that Stephen Hawking loved to make in the mid-1970s when he was a visiting scholar at Caltech (I was a grad student in the astrophysics/relativity group there at the time) my suspicion is that Hawking wrote most of the second half of the book, and Mlodinow mainly did the first half in which the asides are less evident. Maybe I'm wrong.

A major conclusion of the book is nicely stated at the end of Chapter 6:

We seem to be at a critical point in the history of science, in which we must alter our conception of goals and of what makes a physical theory acceptable. It appears that the fundamental numbers, and even the form, of the apparent laws of nature, are not demanded by logic or physical principle. The parameters are free to take on many values and the laws to take on any form that leads to a self-consistent mathematical theory, and they do take of different values and different forms in different universes. That may not satisfy our human desire to be special or to discover a neat package to contain all the laws of physics, but it does seem to be the way of nature.

Hmmmm. like most things involving cosmology, I'd give that judgment a definite "maybe" ...

(cf. OnSomethingness (2000-01-17), AntiAnthropism (2000-05-26), No Concepts At All (2001-02-22), Standard Model (2008-09-06), ,..)

- Friday, November 26, 2010 at 08:20:02 (EST)

2010-11-13 - Candy Cane 5k

~3.1 miles @ ~7.3 min/mi

"Your outfit ... looks like ... it's for ... the Jingle ... Bell Jog!" the young man pants as I catch up with him near mile 2 of the race. I'm wearing a bright red shirt and matching shorts.

"And my skin ... is turning ... the same color ... from the cold!" I reply. It's hard to have much of a dialog when running almost as hard as you can.

Today's Candy Cane 5k turns out OK, total time 22:29 including ~8 seconds to get to the starting line after the "Go!" signal. It's ~30 seconds slower than my 2010-01-01 - New Year's Day 5k PR. Excuses, excuses: my weight is higher than it should be (~155 lbs this morning), I didn't warm up, I haven't been doing speedwork, etc., etc. I always have excuses!

At 7:10am I leave home and walk/jog the two miles to the starting area, pace ~15 min/mi. Michelle Price is cruising along Rock Creek Trail and greets me near Ray's Meadow. I visit with acquaintances at the ballfield where the event is taking shape, sip water, and tell newbies about the course that they're going to face.

As the race is about to start I take off my windbreaker and discover that it's far chillier than I had imagined. My hands tingle and almost freeze for the first mile. I've forgotten to bring a GPS and there are no mile markers, hence no split data, but the pace feels steady with perhaps a slight acceleration throughout. Afterwards I scarf down a couple of cookies, cheer Wayne Carson and others as they finish, then head for home, arriving before 9am—just in time to go to the Silver Spring Farmer's Market with Paulette and Gray.

(cf. 2004-10-23 - Candy Cane 5k, 2006-10-14 - Candy Cane 5k Plus, 2007-11-10 - Candy Cane 5k, ...)

- Thursday, November 25, 2010 at 07:27:53 (EST)

Mr. Optimization

Like many things I do to excess, I'm a sucker for efficiency. It's hard for me to do only one thing during a trip: whether walking downstairs to the basement or driving around town, I'm always alert for an opportunity to kill multiple birds per stone. Or maybe it's just a reflection of my cheapness? Remember the archetypal thrifty Scot who, when he accidentally drops a coin into the toilet, tosses in a few more to make it worth reaching in to get them back. Alas, that's my kind of foolish frugality!

- Wednesday, November 24, 2010 at 04:36:28 (EST)

2010-11-11 - Lake Artemesia Tempo

~3 miles @ ~7.6 min/mi

Lake Artemesia is paved with ducks, and clouds of midges float in the sunbeams. I try to dodge them but at least one gets into my left eye—a gnat, not a duck, that is. With a 5k race coming up in a couple of days I head down Paint Branch Trail from the UM engineering bldg parking lot ~4pm, running hard to see what sort of pace I can sustain. By GPS the first mile is 7:58, swerving past young joggers and pedestrians. Mile 2 around the lake is 7:20. I'm definitely winded now, and intermittently am blinded by the light as I round the north end of the lake and head back. The third mile is 7:31 in spite of an effort to accelerate. Pulse is ~180 during the walk/jog return to the start. Daughter Gray isn't done yet so I grab a water bottle from the car and, heart rate now ~110 and falling, walk half a mile upstream, scanning the woods for deer without success.

- Tuesday, November 23, 2010 at 04:43:00 (EST)

This Thistle

http://zhurnaly.com/images/thistle_butterfly.jpgThis photo was taken in our front yard three years ago, with a simple magnifying glass held in front of the lens of a cheap digital camera. The thistle is a spiky "Don't touch me!" plant; it's the symbol of the Encyclopædia Britannica and the national flower of Scotland. That brings to mind a catchphrase around home, originally from a Saturday Night Live skit, said with a heavy mock-burr: "If it's not Scottish, it's crrrrrrrrrrap!"

- Monday, November 22, 2010 at 04:46:47 (EST)

2010-11-10 - Woodsy Laps

~3 miles @ ~10 min/mi

Drinking decaf coffee doesn't motivate me enough, but thank goodness comrade Stephanie steps in to drag me away from the desk. Two laps are her prescription, around the paved path under the trees. Three deer lurk nearby and eye us in the first go-around. The second pass one stands on the asphalt but ambles away as we approach. Marked miles: 9:45 + 9:09.

- Sunday, November 21, 2010 at 07:01:41 (EST)

Introduction to Bayesian Statistics

What's Bayesian statistics? Essentially, it's how to update your beliefs about probabilities as new data come in. Bayes Theorem says:

before * likelihood = after

For example, suppose somebody tells you that they're going to toss a coin which is either double-headed (HH), normal (HT), or double-tailed (TT). You start off not knowing which of the three possibilities it is, so your before belief is that each is equally likely, odds 1:1:1. The first toss comes up "tails". What are the chances now for each type of coin?

Well, after that single "tails" result you can completely eliminate the double-headed case, since its likelihood of yielding "tails" is zero, and (using Bayes Theorem) before times 0 gives an after chance of 0. The normal coin has a 50% likelihood of giving "tails", so its before odds get multiplied by 1/2. The double-tailed coin, however, is absolutely guaranteed to produce "tails". Its odds must be multiplied by 1, certainty.

Thus the chances for HH:HT:TT now become 0:1/2:1 (or equivalently 0:1:2). So the double-tailed coin is twice as likely as the normal one. If the next toss is also "tails" the odds that it's the TT coin will double again. And so forth, as long as "tails" keeps coming up. But if at any time the coin lands "heads"—a result with zero likelihood for the TT coin—the chance that it is the double-tailed coin gets multiplied by zero. We can eliminate it; the odds are now 0:1:0. The coin in use must have both a heads and a tails side.

The art of Bayesian statistics consists of applying that single, simple principle in complex situations. That's where William H. Bolstad's textbook Introduction to Bayesian Statistics comes in. Bolstead explains probability and statistics, works out numerous examples that illustrate the application of Bayes Theorem, and gives a variety of exercises for the student (with answers to the odd-numbered ones in the back). Calculus is used in some derivations but isn't essential; Appendix A is a brief tutorial on the topic.

But unfortunately Introduction to Bayesian Statistics isn't just a textbook—it's also a religious tract, explaining why what the author calls "Frequentist" doctrines are wrong, and why Bayesianism is the One True Way. This, along with a heavily New-Zealand-centric view of the universe, is humorous in small doses but eventually distracts from the presentation. Other problems are typographic errors, both grammatical (principal vs. principle, it's vs. its, etc.) and in formulæ (e.g. a missing parenthesis in equation 7.4).

What's the difference between frequency probability and Bayesian probability? It's a philosophical distinction, akin to the various interpretations of quantum mechanics in physics. For practical purposes, in every one of the examples that Bolstad gives there's no significant difference between the results of the two approaches. Bayesians interpret probability as a "degree of belief" based on observed evidence; frequentists interpret probability as the long-run fraction of time that something random happens.

As for learning Bayesian techniques, Donald Berry's Statistics - A Bayesian Perspective is a better text for self-study. Bolstad doesn't cover as much ground, and his prose is repetitive and less engaging. In a beginning statistics course, however, either book could work well if accompanied by good lectures.

- Saturday, November 20, 2010 at 16:55:36 (EST)

2010-11-08 - Parking Lot Loops

~3 miles @ ~10 min/mi

Happy Monday! The day after the PHT 50k Ms. Stephanie lures me out for a recovery run, two laps around the parking lot perimeter. Daylight Savings Time is over and it's suddenly bright at 7:30am again. Stephanie has a 5k run, her second, coming up this Saturday. The ~1.5 mile circuits take 15:35 and 13:45.

- Friday, November 19, 2010 at 04:43:35 (EST)

Reputation and Reciprocity

When asked why he went out of his way to go to so many of his colleagues' funerals, an elderly philosopher once replied, "So they'll come to mine!" Sounds silly: without exception no one whose funeral s/he attends will ever reciprocate, eh?! But if everybody followed that logic, nobody would bother to go to any funeral (except their own). Establishing a reputation for caring and kindness bears fruit indirectly. It's like the "pay it forward" parable; the world's a better place. Societies that spiral toward revenge and retaliation prove that the theorem applies in the opposite direction too.

(cf. TitForTat (1999-10-31), TwoFaces (2002-02-10), ...)

- Thursday, November 18, 2010 at 04:43:55 (EST)

Don't Panic

Last month an essay on panic [1] in Brownstudy (a blog by Mike Brown) led to a neat list of cognitive distortions:

  1. All-or-nothing thinking ("always", "every", "never", ...)
  2. Overgeneralization (making too much of isolated cases)
  3. Mental filtering (focusing only on the negative)
  4. Disqualifying the positive (shooting down good possibilities)
  5. Jumping to conclusions
  6. Magnification and minimization (exaggerating some aspects of the situation, ignoring others)
  7. Emotional reasoning (relying on intuition rather than reason or evidence)
  8. "Should" statements (looking at wishes rather than reality)
  9. Labeling and mislabeling (naming things instead of understanding them)
  10. Personalization (blaming oneself or others for random events)

Brown suggests that when you feel panic you might try:

Brown also cites [2] (in Alex Lickerman's blog) which in turn suggests:

And of course there's my favorite strategy: try to identify what causes panic and avoid situations where it might arise.

(cf. BlameStorming (1999-05-15), KnowHowAndFearNot (1999-11-19), RepoMan (2003-03-10) SalmonOfDoubt (2005-07-07), ...)

- Wednesday, November 17, 2010 at 04:47:02 (EST)o

2010-11-07 - Potomac Heritage 50k

~28.7 miles @ ~15.1 min/mi

"Was what you were doing under the American Legion Bridge a political statement?" Mike Bur asks when he and his wife Laura and their big dog Scooby see me near mile 18 of the PHT.

"No, I was just leaving evidence to show I was there," I reply. "I hope you didn't take any pictures!"

The Official Results are on the VHTRC web site; see Potomac Heritage Trail 50k 2010 for my quick summary of the event with photos. If the GPS is anywhere near correct the actual distance is ~46k, but since the mile/dollar ratio is infinite in this free fun run who cares? We start at Kerry Owens's home in the Woodley Park neighborhood of Washington DC. Doug Sullivan writes my "bib number" in bold black marker on the back of my right hand when I sign in: 99. "May I be 999?" I request, with the obvious plan in mind to display it upside-down at every opportunity. Doug says no.

In the Beginning

We set off on the street in front of Kerry's townhouse, after a thoughtful moment in honor of Mike Broderick, a local ultrarunner and coach who died of lung cancer a few days ago. Near the back of the pack I thank Laura Bur for the veggie soup she made for runners at the 2010-10-23 - Quad State Quad Buster. Mike promises to post QSQB race results soon and agrees with my estimate that I was DFL of ~15 finishers. I trot onward and meet Bill Grauer, who claims to be a fan of the ^zhurnal. I explain that all materials here are lies, forgeries, or both.

Lucia Davidson and Pam Gowen visit with me, and then I run with Anstr Davidson who tells me about his experiences playing football for Pomona against Caltech, my alma mater. He still remembers delivering a bruising block to his wimpy 'Tech opponent. "I felt about 20% guilty and 80% proud!" he says. The JFK 50 miler is coming in a fortnight, and Anstr has a streak going—he's finished it 27 years in a row. He expresses a desire to sign off some day, maybe when he gets to JFK #30. I point out that 28 = 1 + 2 + 4 + 7 + 14 is a Perfect Number, the sum of its divisors. Maybe this year is a good stopping point?

Ordeals and Temptations

In the PHT there are various "bonus" activities to do, in order to get a subtraction from your supposed time. (It's all a game in any case.) At AS #1 I tweet, then swallow a small donut to gain a 1 minute credit. With a handful of Halloween candy I blast off, leaving Anstr behind. Solo now, I fear that I've gone off course in the woods but a dog-walker I meet tells me that lots of runners are ahead. Doug Sullivan materializes again, marking the return course, and reassures me.

Approaching the stream-tunnel under Macarthur Blvd young Joe Hanle hails me from a side trail; he went off track, not expecting to have to follow the creek. I lead him through the tunnel, over the man-hostile wooden fence, and past Fletchers Boathouse to the C&O Canal towpath. I also advise Joe on how to find the turn onto Key Bridge. Anstr and Lucia and Pam emerge behind us at the tunnel. Joe blitzes ahead of me, but soon I see him again on the opposite side of Key Bridge. He must have gone slightly astray.

Some miles later a female voice from nowhere startles me. "Can you do me a favor?" it asks, as I'm trekking along the southern bank of the Potomac River near mile 10. I look around and see a young lady in a long narrow boat paddling down the river.

"Well that depends," I equivocate, wondering whether she wants me to jump into the water and swim to her. Not that I wouldn't, mind you—but I would need an incentive. Fortunately she's no naiad and her request doesn't involve getting me wet.

"My friends are hiking along, ten minutes or so ahead of you," she says. "It's too windy and I can't wait for them in the cove. Tell them that 'Caroline the Sculler' hasn't drowned and is waiting for them downstream." I promise to relay the message, and as predicted meet her buddies a little farther along the trail.

At Turkey Run (AS #4 outbound, mile ~15.7) I accept an egg to carry to the American Legion Bridge and back for another bonus time credit. "But you have to carry it in your mouth!" the race official teases me, but then let me put it in my pocket. Gary Knipling refuses my offer to trade eggs with him; I tell him that if we did swap I was going to smash his. He confesses to having a secret plan, and at the end of the race he tells me what it was: at Turkey Run on the return trip Gary and Quatro Hubbard throw eggs at their buddy David Snipes. They lose their time bonus but gain great joy.


About mile 22 in the woods near Ft Marcy I pass a young lady, Cathy Wright, who is limping along with bad knee pain in this her first ultramarathon experience. She takes four ibuprofen from my stash and thanks me. A mile later I see Joe Hanle again, who had anticipated that he could run almost as fast on the trail as on road, turned back early, has a work deadline to make, and is worried about being late. He declines my offer of a cellphone but drops at the next aid station so he can get to work on time.

Earlier in the race I leave voicemail for injured comrade Kate Abbott, telling her that at the Chain Bridge Aid Station I met Cathy, her physical therapist Farouk's assistant. Cathy comments on how incredibly tough Kate is, and wishes her a speedy recovery. So do several other runners who know Kate and miss seeing her. Kate calls me as I arrive again at Chain Bridge; I speak with her a bit as I cross over the Potomac River into DC. I'm passing more people now, one guy on the bridge, two men on the C&O Canal towpath, and three women in the woods climbing up from the tunnel.

Then with a few miles to go I see Carolyn Gernand who started an hour early. "Don't look back!" I admonish her as we climb a hill. She's wearing shorts that look to be the same model as some I have, a dizzy violet/blue/green pattern. I slip quietly past her and remain silent as long as I can. Finally I can't hold it in: "Carolyn, I tried hard not to say anything, but I've failed!" She laughs and replies, "I noticed!"

With a couple of miles to go I sense that I may be able to finish in under 7:15, about half an hour faster than last year. I dash along as fast as I can, ~12 min/mi, for most of the remaining distance and tag my self-defined Finish Line, Kerry's front door, with 7:13:27 showing on my GPS, 28.77 miles. Inside I eat lasagna, scalloped potatoes, Spanish pumpkin, rotini with a little vegetarian chili, and a bit of apple pie. Yum! Many thanks to all the organizers and volunteers.

Timing Information

location miles 2010 time split 2009 time split 2007 time split
Aid Station #1 - Battery-Kemble Park, DC ~4.41:011:011:061:061:011:01
Aid Station #2 - Teddy Roosevelt Island parking lot ~8.11:450:441:540:481:520:51
Aid Station #3 - Chain Bridge ~11.92:531:083:031:093:041:12
Aid Station #4 - Turkey Run Park ~15.73:551:024:091:064:191:15
American Legion Bridge (turnaround)~17.44:250:304:390:304:450:26
Aid Station #4 - Turkey Run (returning)~19.14:550:305:100:315:130:28
Aid Station #3 - Chain Bridge (returning)~23.05:571:026:141:046:321:19
Finish - Woodley Park, DC (Kerry Owens's home)~28.87:141:177:451:318:271:55

(cf. Potomac Heritage 50k 2007, 2009-11-01 - Potomac Heritage 50k 2009, Potomac Heritage Trail 50k 2010, ...)

- Tuesday, November 16, 2010 at 05:00:52 (EST)

The Watcher

An inside observer, a second semi-separate consciousness: sounds like multitasking or maybe parallel computing. In Lunchtime Enlightenment Chapter 3 ("Frogs Jumping from Lily Pads: Becoming a Witness to the Mind") Pragito Dove expands upon the theme that "The special knack of meditation is to develop the one who pays attention, the watcher." As she explains:

Simply by watching the disturbance of mind, body, and emotions, with nonjudgment and acceptance, slowly, over time, the traffic of the mind begins to slow down, and we move from being controlled by the mind to connecting with the heart. This brings us more balance and clarity as it accesses our inner intelligence, dignity, and wisdom.

This is what happens in meditation. The meditator takes a journey from the outer realm to the inner, subjective world where she finds the parts of herself she often ignores, forgets about, or is disconnected from: her feelings, emotions, soul, her essential being. Patience is needed, but this knack of witnessing brings rich rewards. It is a thread of awareness we can weave into the fabric of everyday life.

And a few paragraphs later Dove suggests, reassuringly:

Whatever you are doing—walking, sitting, eating—try to do it watchfully. Or if you are not doing anything, just breathing, resting, relaxing in the grass, try to bring yourself to an awareness that you are a watcher. Yes, you will forget, over and over again. You will get involved in some thought, some emotion, some sentiment—anything to distract you from being the watcher. Just remember and come back to your center of watching.

By making this a continuous inner process, you will be surprised how life can change its quality. Once we reach that place of watcher, or witness, we begin to see ourselves with more clarity and objectivity. We see the dramas in our lives with perspective and compassion, and insights and understandings will begin to arise naturally.

The mind and the ego will want to make it complicated, but it is not. Mind always wants to control. It is a technician; technology is its field. But watchfulness is beyond its control. It is beyond it, above it, and in fact can be death to the control the mind can have over us.

(cf. TripleThink (2002-07-25), Finding the Quiet (2009-02-05), Practice Makes (2010-03-12), Supervisor Mode (2010-04-13), ...)

- Monday, November 15, 2010 at 04:37:50 (EST)

2010-11-05 - Parking Lot CCW

~4.5 miles @ ~9 min/mi

At 8am I begin my three laps around the parking lot perimeter in the opposite direction to my usual habit. Orange cones and sawhorses to block traffic are already being set up for a fundraiser-charity race to be held at 10am. "Are you running later?" a guard asks me. "No, this is all I can handle!" I reply. Torn-up sidewalk squares, bare rebar awaiting a concrete layer, require a detour onto grass. Friend Christina and her husband Bill wave on their way in to work. Laps: 14:47 + 12:39 + 11:36.

- Sunday, November 14, 2010 at 06:24:44 (EST)

Medicine and Statistics

"Lies, Damned Lies, and Medical Science" is a well-written article by David H. Freedman in this month's The Atlantic magazine. It explains why so much published news about health is dead wrong:

... as when in recent years large studies or growing consensuses of researchers concluded that mammograms, colonoscopies, and PSA tests are far less useful cancer-detection tools than we had been told; or when widely prescribed antidepressants such as Prozac, Zoloft, and Paxil were revealed to be no more effective than a placebo for most cases of depression; or when we learned that staying out of the sun entirely can actually increase cancer risks; or when we were told that the advice to drink lots of water during intense exercise was potentially fatal; or when, last April, we were informed that taking fish oil, exercising, and doing puzzles doesn't really help fend off Alzheimer's disease, as long claimed. Peer-reviewed studies have come to opposite conclusions on whether using cell phones can cause brain cancer, whether sleeping more than eight hours a night is healthful or dangerous, whether taking aspirin every day is more likely to save your life or cut it short, and whether routine angioplasty works better than pills to unclog heart arteries. ...

Why the huge error rate? Freedman highlights the work of John P. A. Ioannidis ([1]) whose analysis points out obvious but often-overlooked statistical factors that hit especially hard in modern medicine:

Freedman's article concludes:

We could solve much of the wrongness problem, Ioannidis says, if the world simply stopped expecting scientists to be right. That's because being wrong in science is fine, and even necessary—as long as scientists recognize that they blew it, report their mistake openly instead of disguising it as a success, and then move on to the next thing, until they come up with the very occasional genuine breakthrough. But as long as careers remain contingent on producing a stream of research that's dressed up to seem more right than it is, scientists will keep delivering exactly that.

"Science is a noble endeavor, but it's also a low-yield endeavor," he says. "I'm not sure that more than a very small percentage of medical research is ever likely to lead to major improvements in clinical outcomes and quality of life. We should be very comfortable with that fact."

(cf. VulnerableTheories (1999-05-17), AlteredNative (2002-01-24), ModernMedicine (2005-04-29), Evidence-Based Medicine (2010-01-16), ...)

- Saturday, November 13, 2010 at 06:12:18 (EST)

Potomac Heritage Trail 50k 2010

A more detailed report will follow in a week or so, but meanwhile here are a few photos and comments from Sunday's fun run. Kudos to the volunteers and organizers!

http://zhurnaly.com/images/running/PHT50k/PHT_50k_2010_map.jpgThe Potomac Heritage Trail 50k of 2010 takes place on 7 Nov 2010. It begins in the Woodley Park neighborhood at VHTRC member Kerry Owens's home, meanders west through DC to Fletchers Boathouse, and then follows the C&O Canal towpath down the Potomac River to cross into Virginia at Rosslyn via the Key Bridge. From Teddy Roosevelt Island the course goes ~10 miles upstream to the American Legion Bridge. Runners then proceed back to Chain Bridge, follow the towpath back to Fletchers, and then return to the start. My GPS says the actual distance is ~46k.

This year I finish in about 7:14, ~30 minutes faster than in 2009. Perhaps a third of the improvement is due to not getting lost, a third due to better weather conditions, and a third due to running harder.

(map by Google, trackfile plot by GPSvisualizer)

Coming into the Turkey Run aid station I pull down a glove to flash my "bib number" written on the back of my hand: 99. Really I want to be 999. but during registration Doug Sullivan refuses to give me the extra digit.

(photo by Shawn Ferry)
http://zhurnaly.com/images/running/PHT50k/PHT_50k_2010_Pimmit_Run.jpgPimmit Run is rocky, like many of the creeks that the PHT encounters. This year the water is low and I manage to tiptoe across with dry feet. Compare with 2009 where I'm standing almost knee-deep in the stream.

(photo by Bobby Gill)
Returning to the Chain Bridge Aid Station with only ~5 miles still to go, the gloves have come off and I show my race number upside down and with an attitude. Too bad I wasn't #999!

(photo by Robert Fabia)

(cf. Potomac Heritage 50k 2007, 2009-11-01 - Potomac Heritage 50k 2009, ...)

- Friday, November 12, 2010 at 04:41:47 (EST)

2010-11-03 - Woodsy Trail Laps

~3 miles @ ~10 min/mi

A chilly morning, but Stephanie and I venture out to do a couple of quick circuits of the paved jogging path under the trees. It's our first run together in several weeks so I blather about the Quad State Quad Buster and other recent experiences, and catch up on how Stephanie and her family are doing. Marked miles: 10:19 and, pushing a bit, 8:50.

- Thursday, November 11, 2010 at 09:02:13 (EST)

Feedback Loops and Delay Lines

Rather amazing, how tough it is for people to understand systems with time delays. It's our natural tendency, apparently, to blame (or credit) the last person who touches the ball with the loss (or victory)—regardless of how many critical earlier mistakes (or brilliant plays) were made. And in a more serious context, consider:

(cf. Transient Behavior (1999-05-11), Freedom Peace Commerce Education (2002-09-13), ...)

- Wednesday, November 10, 2010 at 05:08:39 (EST)

2010-10-31 - Rock Creek Loop

~5 miles @ ~11.5 min/mi

A new high-water mark, the longest distance for Cara Marie Manlandro after her illness: we begin in early afternoon and see the train tracks at the soon-to-be no-whistling Forest Glen grade crossing, then down Ireland Dr and Rock Creek to East-West Hwy. On the way home I note that we'll be a few tenths of a mile short of CM's 5.0 mile target, so we add a little out-and-back to the industrial park on Linden La.

- Tuesday, November 09, 2010 at 04:43:55 (EST)

Not With a Straight Face

Pragito Dove, in Lunchtime Enlightenment Chapter 2 ("The Laughing Buddha: Enjoying Your Way to Enlightenment") observes:

Meditation isn't something you have to work at with a straight face. Be sincere about meditation, yes! but not serious, because then you will try to force and achieve. This will only create more tension. The more fun you have with the various techniques—the more playful you are as you approach them—the more relaxed you will be and the more you will want to keep meditating.

- Monday, November 08, 2010 at 04:37:55 (EST)

2010-10-30 - Cabin John Stream Valley Trail

~3.8 miles @ ~13 min/mi

On Saturday afternoon while daughter Gray is doing a rehearsal at the University of Maryland there's a gap in my schedule of errands—perfect to get in a trail run! I call Caren Jew who suggests the CJSVT, good terrain which we haven't tried for a while. She's already there when I arrive at the Democracy Blvd rec center rendezvous but claims to have been waiting only a few minutes. Northward we go, catching up on gossip and news as we pass random folks ambling along the blue -blazed trail. Caren insists on attacking the hills; I reveal unpublishable details of the recent 2010-10-09 - Andiamo 2010 and 2010-10-23 - Quad State Quad Buster. Back at the cars its 52 minutes later, just right for me to head for UM and pick Gray up.

- Sunday, November 07, 2010 at 05:21:46 (EST)

Buddhism Is Not What You Think

Steve Hagen's collection of short essays, Buddhism Is Not What You Think, is both thoughtful and thoughtless, fun and frustrating. To start with, Hagen belongs to the annoying italicization and Capitalization school of lecturing. In the Prologue he announces:

When we see a relative truth—as in "I see the book before me"—we employ the conventional use of the term "to see." The seeing of ultimate Reality, however, is quite another matter. When such objectless Awareness—seeing, knowing, etc.—is referred to in this book, the word will be italicized. This should not be mistaken for merely emphasizing those words.

Similarly, initial capital letters will be used in words that reflect the Absolute aspect of experience—i.e., Truth, Awareness, Reality, etc.

Hmmph! Not only is it off-putting and pretentious, this "Look at Me!" approach leads to silliness and fuzzy thinking. Chapter 1 ("Paradox and Confusion") almost made me toss the book aside, with its dismissive attitude toward science, philosophy, and mathematics versus what Hagen intuits as Truth and Reality. Italics and capital letters don't make a solid argument. Likewise Chapter 4 ("We've Got It All Backward") and its discussion of religion and science.

But on the other hand: in many later chapters Hagen drops the capitalics and makes excellent points, in provocative prose. He returns again and again to the interconnectedness of everything, to the need to drop the ego, to the vital importance of the present moment. He also writes well. In Chapter 24 ("Before We Say"), for instance, he begins:

Before the fact, wise people often look like fools. In contrast, experts often look like fools afterward.

His technical examples unfortunately weaken his case—he's no scientist—but once past them Hagen returns to his strong suit. As he explains:

Once we had leaders who sought the advice of wise people; today our leaders rely primarily on experts. This is understandable for two reasons: (1) experts are easier to identify and certify, and (2) wise people don't advertise themselves as such.

Nicely put, and reminiscent of John Cleese's sharp observation (cf. Hare Brain, Tortoise Mind): "Sadly, most of us today believe that a computer is of more use to us than a wise person."

- Saturday, November 06, 2010 at 07:19:24 (EDT)

2010-10-29 - Camo Leafy Loops

~5 miles @ ~9 min/mi

It's hard to see the pavement of the jogging path through brown-and-yellow autumn leaves that lie scattered thickly on it this morning, and for the first half lap I have to tread cautiously. Then there's a clear stretch of asphalt, followed by a final quarter of dry pine needles. The second time around my eyes somehow get tuned in and can see through the camouflage a bit. I manage not to slip on occasional twigs and pine cones. Accelerating the pace gives miles of 9:45 + 8:50 + 8:06 + 7:30 on the measured segment.

- Friday, November 05, 2010 at 04:46:58 (EDT)

Roman Warfare

Roman Warfare by Adrian Goldsworthy is an attractive book, well-illustrated but unfortunately not terribly well-written. The author seems to have relatively little to say, and his prose style plods. Most annoying is his repetitiveness. For example, on Page 100:

... To preserve this they needed to prevent or avenge any raids on their allies. Failure to do so, or a Roman defeat, however small, encouraged more widespread attacks and allied tribes to defect. ...

Page 155:

... The Romans needed to maintain an appearance of overwhelming power, since any perception of weakness, such as the reduction in size of a frontier garrison or, even worse, the smallest Roman defeat, risked a return to general hostility. ...

Page 180:

... Rome relied on maintaining an aura of overwhelming might and invincibility to overawe her tribal neighbours. Whenever this façade was shattered by defeats, the Romans had to fight very hard to re-establish it. ...

Page 182:

... Heavy losses to well-trained manpower were to be avoided, since such troops could rarely be replaced in the immediate future, but far more significant was the blow to Roman prestige. Rome's relations with her tribal neighbours were based upon maintaining an aura of invincibility and nothing weakened this more than a defeat in battle. ...

Page 205:

... It was not just this tactical dimension which suffered from a series of defeats. At a strategic level the Romans relied on the domination of peoples outside by creating an impression of overwhelming might. Defeats seriously weakened this façade of Roman strength and meant that the Romans had to fight very hard to recreate it. ...

Embarrassing redundancy, to put it mildly. Excellent maps and photographs don't redeem Roman Warfare. Maybe it needed a better editor.

- Thursday, November 04, 2010 at 04:38:20 (EDT)

2010-10-26 - Noisy Parking Lot Laps

~4.5 miles @ ~9 min/mi

Halfway around the first circuit a jackhammer is breaking up the sidewalk. I swerve left across the road and keep my eyes averted, imagining thereby to avoid flying pavement chips. Next time around, the machinery is still pounding away; I divert to the right and dance along the edge of a grassy hillside. Final lap finds the pneumatic whacking stopped, but workmen are now slicing across another sidewalk slab with a whirring water-cooled concrete saw blade. Timing for the ~1.5 mile loops today: 14:47 + 14:08 + 12:04.

- Wednesday, November 03, 2010 at 04:37:39 (EDT)

Bad Money Counsel

At a pre-retirement course recently I was bothered, repeatedly, by bogus arguments made by financial "advisors" who gave presentations to the class on investments, estate planning, insurance, taxes, and related issues. It was hard to tell whether these speakers were actually ignorant or just pretending to be so. Among the key fallacies:

And sadly, it was clear from audience comments that many of the students had bought into similar scams over the years. Yes, if you're an expert it's legal to take advantage of people who don't know as much as you do—but is it right?

(cf. MoneyWisdom (2001-05-20), Financial Planning (2008-03-15), ...)

- Tuesday, November 02, 2010 at 05:17:02 (EDT)

Zombie Toes

After two recent ultramarathon runs (Andiamo and QSQB) my big toenails have turned a variety of festive holiday shades—if the holiday in question is Halloween!http://zhurnaly.com/images/running/Zombie_Toes.jpg

(cf. ToeTransplantProjectZeta, TornToeTendonRepair, ...)

- Monday, November 01, 2010 at 04:39:37 (EDT)

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