^zhurnaly 0.90

Zhurnaly Logo
Howdy, pilgrim! No ads — you're in volume 0.90 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 = 0.89 ... 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

Off By One Error

One of the most common mistakes in computer programming is getting the boundaries of a loop wrong by one. To repeat something ten times, for instance, one counts down from 9 to 0, not 10 to 0.

So imagine my embarrassment when I discovered recently that my planned retirement from Federal Service will be after 30 years and 1 day — not 30 years, as I had planned! My blunder in filling out the forms was to put down the same day of the year, August 2nd, as I began working for the government in 1981. Oops! The taxpayers get me for one extra day ...

(cf. Wikipedia "Off-by-one error", and ProgrammingProverbs (2001-12-04), ...)

- Saturday, June 25, 2011 at 16:29:39 (EDT)

2011-06-12 - Metropolitan Branch Meet-Up

~11.5 miles @ ~11.2 min/mi

"'Sup, Pop-Pop?" says the kid urinating on a wall outside the Silver Spring Metro station at 6:15am. A tiny rabbit hops across Second Av at Spring St; a large bird with a patch of red behind black-and-white speckles flutters away. It's a warm and humid Sunday morning, temperature in the 70s, dew point in the upper 60s. Pure coincidence: exactly one year ago Cara Marie Manlandro and I ran the Metropolitan Branch Trail from Silver Spring to Union Station (cf. 2010-06-12 - Metropolitan Branch Trail). Today's start is at home, so that adds a couple of miles. MBT signs along the northern part of the route are still too infrequent, but I manage to stay on course along 3rd St NW and then Gallatin St. Near Fort Totten on Bates Rd NE there's a nice lavender plastic water bottle on the street, unfortunately empty.

Comrade Clair lives near the R St intersection with the MBT, so we make plans via Internet and synchronize timing via cellphone as I pass through Takoma Park. An hour later near Rhode Island Avenue I leave her a voicemail, and she texts back three letters: "Omw". I'm mystified until the translation dawns on me: "On my way". At the next corner I look west on R St and there's Clair, cruising down the road with her six-month-old baby Sophie in her running stroller. We trot together along the trail and Clair lets me practice pram-pushing. Sophie rewards me with a smile between sucking on her thumbs.

http://zhurnaly.com/images/running/GPS_track_lap_errors.jpgWe run down to M St and turn around there. On the way to her home Clair points out the stairs leading to a track at McKinley Technology High School. I meet her friendly husband Michael and friendly dog Quiggly, fill my new-found violet bottle with water, and on my way back to the MBT divert to do a test lap. In spite of scary No Trespassing signs the stadium is open and the infield is occupied by soccer players. The track is marvelous, rubbery-cushioned — a fast 1:41 lap ensues. The trackfile map shows some lack of georectification. The Metro train home is air-conditioned frigid.

(see GPS trackfile, ...)

- Friday, June 24, 2011 at 04:39:39 (EDT)

Don't Worry What People Think

Seen last year on "la douleur exquise", a blog which occasionally seems to have provocative quotes and images:

"Don't worry what people think. They don't do it very often."

(yes, it echoes the Richard P. Feynman autobiography title, What Do You Care What Other People Think?)

- Thursday, June 23, 2011 at 04:55:51 (EDT)

2011-06-11 - MCRRC Gaithersburg XC 5k Race

~3 miles @ ~9 min/mi

http://zhurnaly.com/images/running/Gaithersburg_5k_XC_2011_KT.jpg"What?" Caren Jew feigns astonishment when she sees me arrive at the club cross country race just before the 7pm Friday evening start. I explain that when I ran this morning I thought that daughter Gray would be playing in a chamber music concert tonight, but it turns out to be next week. Photographer Ken Trombatore declines my invitation to photograph my rashes, but I insist on showing them to all who will look. Ken Swab and Barry Smith are preparing for an ultramarathon next weekend in Wyoming. Jeanne Larrison and Christina Caravoulias cheerfully tell me about Lyme Disease.

The race at the Agricultural History Park is around stubbly fields and over rolling hills. Big cumulonimbus clouds loom in the east but provide no relief from ~90°F temperature and high humidity.

"You're going at too fast a pace!" a runner tells me when he passes at about mile one. I don't realize until an hour later that he's joking about my bright orange "12:00+" singlet that I wear today and as a pacer for the Parks Half Marathon. My GPS is forgotten at home, but in general I trek along at 8-9 min/mi, pushing hard on the downhills and trying to survive the climbs. For the final mile I pursue 66 year old Donald Hensel, but can't manage to catch him.

Shortly after me Don Libes finishes strong and explains that his foot only hurts when he's not running. Great-with-child Mical Honigfort and Caren come in together, but Caren isn't wearing her chip and Mical slows to run across the line with her two-year-old son Eric, waiting with papa Paul nearby. Peggy Dickison and her son Max greet me at the post-race refreshments. Max and I agree that lime ice-pops are the best flavor.

Official result:

65 51/84 5/10 666 Mark Zimmermann M 58 Kensington MD MCRRC 26:43 8:36

(photo by Ken Trombatore)

- Wednesday, June 22, 2011 at 04:58:50 (EDT)

Change of Heart

"When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?" said John Maynard Keynes [1], supposedly. Bayes Theorem is the simple rule for how to update one's beliefs as new information arrives, that is, "when the facts change" about a situation. People are mocked when they modify their lifestyle abruptly after a major event — a heart attack, a lucky lottery drawing, a religious conversion, a divorce, the loss of a job. "Nobody on their deathbed ever wished they had spent more time at the office," etc.

But perhaps they're just making a proper (Bayesian) adjustment? A sudden shift in one's life expectancy should result in a sudden change in behavior; likewise for alteration of financial resources, or values, or the range of available choices in other dimensions.

(cf. Expert Political Judgment, ...)

- Tuesday, June 21, 2011 at 04:34:37 (EDT)

2011-06-11 - Lyme Laps

~4.5 miles @ ~9 min/mi

Dermatologist Ilene Bloom yesterday argues with me that I've got Lyme Disease, based on rashes that first began almost three weeks ago. I take the contrary position that they're not the classic "bullseye". But she prescribes a month of doxycycline and refers me to the lab for blood tests; we'll see what they reveal.

Meanwhile, I'm feeling frisky and at 8:30am undertake three ~1.5 mile laps around the office parking lot. They feel fine in spite of warmth and humidity, with pace descending 9.2 ⇒ 8.6 ⇒ 8.1 min/mi. A feather rests on the sidewalk below the aircraft-sculpture. Segments of concrete are being replaced and force a brief cross-country diversion onto the grass.

- Monday, June 20, 2011 at 04:35:46 (EDT)

Three Poisons

In Chapter 9 ("Effort, Discipline, and Letting Go") of Meditation for Dummies author Stephan Bodian discusses an exercise to help break away from clinging in both positive and negative forms:

Holding on tightly and pushing away hard, lusting and hating, defending and attacking — traditionally known as attachment and aversion — are the primary causes of suffering and stress. Along with indifference, they form the proverbial three poisons of meditation lore.

Fortunately, you can cultivate the antidotes to these poisons by practicing the two most important gestures or functions of meditation: accepting and letting go. They're inextricably entwined: Until you accept, you can't let go; until you let go, you have no room to accept again. As one Zen master put it, "Let go of it, and it fills your hand." ...

He goes on to sketch out a 10-20 minute sitting session starting with following the breath and moving on to nonjudgmental awareness of thoughts and feelings, consciously attending to welcoming and then letting go of whatever arises.

- Sunday, June 19, 2011 at 12:18:08 (EDT)

2011-06-08 - McLean Ramble

~5 miles @ ~10 min/mi

Cool under the trees when the wind blows, warm in the sun when it stops: an 8:30am random-walk revisits the streets of 2011-05-18 - McLean Dead Ends plus bits of 2009-07-14 - Langley Labyrinth. And more: Rachel Rd is a one-block digression, as is Ramshorn, Crushed-stone path from Evermay to Aldebaran leads back to Dolley Madison where, on the opposite side, Dunaway trick-loops. Calico kitten mews at curbside. I mew back.

- Saturday, June 18, 2011 at 04:53:26 (EDT)

2011-06-06 - Woodsy Loop

~5 miles @ ~9 min/mi

Da-dum DUM! Sound of startled deer, as it leaps into the brush, brings to mind soundtrack bass rhythm in Big Trouble in Little China when the heroes find themselves in the middle of a gang battle. A late (8:30am) start makes the morning more warm and humid than it need have been. Dried mud from cloven hooves dapples the asphalt to complement sunlight speckling through the leaves. Marked miles descend in pace 9.9 ⇒ 9.3 ⇒ 8.5 ⇒ 7.8 min/mi.

- Saturday, June 18, 2011 at 04:44:51 (EDT)

Things to Write About Some Day - 1106

Half a dozen random items on my ever-growing list to think about:

(cf. ThingsToWriteAboutSomeDay0701, ThingsToWriteAboutSomeDay0702, ...)

- Friday, June 17, 2011 at 04:59:41 (EDT)

2011-06-05 - Capital Crescent 5k

~3.1 miles @ ~7.4 min/mi

http://zhurnaly.com/images/running/CCT_2011_5k_KT.jpgWizard needs speedwork — badly! Better pacing wouldn't hurt either. Before the race Patricia Maloney, volunteering, asks how I happen to know Cliff Stoll; he's a high school friend of hers. Mical Honigfort glows, expecting her second son in a few more months. Ken Swab is tapering for an ultra in Wyoming in two weeks. Don Libes is fired up from his battles with the electric company. The GPS trackfile shows a slight downhill for the first half, contrariwise for the return trip. Splits are nonetheless ugly: 6:58 + 7:32 + 7:43 by my watch. Total time ~22:56, ~40 seconds slower than in 2009 but ~40s faster than in 2010.

Official result:

89 76/171 6/19 666 Mark Zimmermann M 58 Kensington MD MCRRC 00:22:56 7:23 00:24:02 7:45

(photo by Ken Trombatore)

- Thursday, June 16, 2011 at 04:48:21 (EDT)

Audacity Lab

Long ago a friend (JC) at the office set up something he called "The Audacity Lab". It was a skunk-works place where people could attempt some truly far-out projects without being penalized if they failed. That concept, and the name he gave it, inspired my recent advice to a friend about to turn 50 years old: "Every year from now on, do something audacious, something outrageous, something you never thought you would do!" It can be anything — get a tattoo, learn to play the bagpipes, pet a cobra, jump out of an airplane, ...

And doing something outside the norm once in a while isn't a bad goal at any age, or at any stage of one's career. Be bold!

(e.g., if you're a boss in a bureaucracy, set up an unconventionally-named unit to encourage creativity and innovation; cf. EnvelopePushing (2003-04-24), FreakingTheMundanes (2007-05-02), ...)

- Wednesday, June 15, 2011 at 04:59:21 (EDT)

2011-06-03 - Parking Lot Test

~3 miles @ ~8 min/mi

With a 5k race on Sunday this cool Friday morning is a chance to check pace. Alas, it's not pretty, with ~1.5 mile laps of 11:47 and 11:57 (i.e., ~7.9 and ~8.0 min/mi respectively). Perhaps the morning coffee wasn't strong enough, or the speedwork and distance runs of the past week were too much, or the salty greasy food yesterday is still sitting too heavy, or ...

- Tuesday, June 14, 2011 at 06:53:25 (EDT)

Relentless Forward Progress

Three years ago at a local half-marathon Bryon Powell was standing in the line for the portajohn near me. We chatted and discovered a common acquaintance as well as a common interest in ultrarunning. Powell is elite in that field. He has long managed a helpful web site and now he has published a book: Relentless Forward Progress: A Guide to Running Ultramarathons. It's full of solid, well-written advice on all aspects of the sport. For starters, in Chapter 2 ("The Building Blocks of Ultramarathon Training") he boils the entire enterprise down to a primary factor:

There is perhaps no better predictor of ultramarathon success than total training volume. Make consistent, significant mileage a primary goal throughout your ultramarathon training, along with logging your long runs. You don't want to overdo it, but one of the best ways to run better at any race length, and especially in ultras, is to run more.

Powell goes on to explain that the pace of runs during training is relatively unimportant, but that there is a floor of weekly mileage to aim for:

On the low-mileage end, it would be beneficial, or at least make for a better experience, if you were running at least 35 to 40 miles per week before attempting an ultramarathon. Regular weekly tallies around 50 miles often lead to strong, comfortable ultra finishes. If you log upwards of eight weeks near 70 miles per week, you'll be in top form and, if you've had success at other distances, will likely be competitive at many ultras. As for running 100 miles or more per week, very few ultrarunners do so, and many of them are the very best in the sport.

Excellent counsel, which Powell then follows by cautioning about the risks of injury, especially when ramping up one's mileage abruptly. And there's the need for balance in life:

... the broad message to remember is that, despite their utility, logging massive miles should not be done at the expense of your physical or mental health. If you need to take a few days off to heal from a minor injury or illness, do so. If the combination of your training and other obligations has you on the brink of collapse, analyze all your obligations and determine which need to be pared. If that includes cutting your weekly mileage by 10 or 20 miles for a week or two, but being better rested, less stressed, and happier, then you and your running might very well benefit in the long term from a short recovery period. Take care of yourself and make relentless forward progress.

RFP includes thoughtful commentary by other ultrarunners. Geoff Roes (in "The Need for Speed?: Why Speed Training Is Unnecessary for Ultramarathons") observes:

How, then, do you prepare your body (and mind) to race well for a full 50 or 100 miles? There are a lot of potential answers to this question, but, in my mind, the most important one is to let go of the idea that we need to focus in our training on improving our leg speed. Racing 50 or 100 miles is about strength and endurance. It's about nutrition and hydration. It's about patience, stubbornness, and determination. It's about a lot of things, but it's really not much about leg speed. ...

Later in that same chapter Powell underscores the need for balance:

Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) is a frequent cause of fatigue and burnout in the ultrarunning community. As you become aware that you're capable of running vast distances, especially through gorgeous locales or with new and interesting running companions, you may continually add outings and events to indulge your physiological, spiritual, and social desires. While such desires are wonderful motivators, FOMO can leave you taking on additional events without consideration of training benefit or adequate consideration of physiological cost.

If you find yourself unable to decline invitations for a group run, you might have FOMO. If you're unable to resist signing up for every race, you might have FOMO. If you miss a holiday meal to run, you might have FOMO. Beware of FOMO.

Moderation in all things — including ultrarunnning ...

(cf. AndThenTheVultureEatsYou, OnceARunner, PerfectMile, RunningThroughTheWall, Why We Run, ...)

- Monday, June 13, 2011 at 14:56:36 (EDT)

2011-06-02 - Woodsy Path Laps

~5 miles @ ~10 min/mi

A young lady running the opposite way along the path stretches her arms upwards, as if to signify "Victory!" — and then greets me with some embarrassment. It's warm and humid, temps in the upper 70s, dew point approaching 50°F. The grass is high. I think about quitting after a couple of laps but realize how bad that would look in this report. Pace on the marked "mile" (with ~0.16 mile recovery to close loop) descends 9.8 ⇒ 9.2 ⇒ 8.5 ⇒ 7.7 min/mi, pulse pounding at the end.

- Sunday, June 12, 2011 at 04:58:42 (EDT)


An old new word: shul. Stephen Batchelor (Buddhism Without Beliefs, in the chapter titled "Emptiness") defines and explains:

"Emptiness," said the Tibetan philosopher Tsongkhapa, in 1397, "is the track on which the centered person moves." The word he uses for track is shul. This term is defined as "an impression", a mark that remains after that which made it has passed by — a footprint, for example. In other contexts, shul is used to described the scarred hollow in the ground where a house once stood, the channel worn through rock where a river runs in flood, the indentation in the grass where an animal slept last night. All these are shul: the impression of something that used to be there.

A path is a shul because it is an impression in the ground left by the regular tread of feet, which has kept it clear of obstructions and maintained it for the use of others. As a shul, emptiness can be compared to the impression of something that used to be there. In this case, such an impression is formed by the indentations, hollows, marks, and scars left by the turbulence of selfish craving. When the turmoil subsides, we experience tranquility, relief, and freedom.

To know emptiness is not just to understand the concept. It is more like stumbling into a clearing in the forest, where suddenly you can move freely and see clearly. To experience emptiness is to experience the shocking absence of what normally determines the sense of who you are and the kind of reality you inhabit. It may last only a moment before the habits of a lifetime reassert themselves and close in once more. But for that moment, we witness ourselves and the world as open and vulnerable.

So a shul is a dual, a nothing that's something, a whole hole ...

(cf. further comments by Batchelor, and GreatIdeas (1999-05-03), OnDuals (1999-12-02), TwoFaces (2000-02-10), ...)

- Saturday, June 11, 2011 at 15:52:53 (EDT)

2011-05-30 - LBJ High School Speedwork

~5 miles @ ~10.6 min/mi

Memorial Day morning is warm and humid, as usual this season in central Texas. From Mother's home to the Lyndon Baines Johnson High School track is ~1.3 miles, spiraling up the ramps to cross over TX-183 and back down again. Five 400m laps on the rubbery surface are 1:43 ± 1 second each, with ~2:15 for the 200m recovery walk/jog between. There's a crossing guard at the corner by the local elementary school on the way back — why? Later Mom explains: Austin had rare a "snow day" this winter, and today is a make-up day. The GPS stubbornly reads short of 5 miles, so I divert to add a little extra distance, then run a block past home and back again for good measure.

(GPS trackfile, ...)

- Friday, June 10, 2011 at 04:42:46 (EDT)

Greatest Inventions

John Brockman's book The Greatest Inventions of the Past 2,000 Years is an interesting hodge-podge, often silly and occasionally thought-provoking. Dozens of semi-celebrity scientists and techno-pundits write a few paragraphs each on their nominations. Some play one-upmanship games. Some show off their knowledge of obscurities. Some are myopic in their focus on recent novelties. Among the better suggestions that are actual "inventions" (mostly):

... or in a more philosophical direction:

... and perhaps tongue-in-cheek (or perhaps not?):

Best of all, in my humble opinion: Lee Smolin's proposal Mathematical Representation, which I would simplify and call Modeling. Smolin explains:

The most important invention, I believe, was a mathematical idea: the notion of representation—that one system of relationships, whether mathematical or physical, can be captured faithfully by another.

The first full use of the idea of a representation was the analytic geometry of Descartes, which is based on the discovery of a precise relationship between two different kinds of mathematical objects—in this case, numbers and geometry. This correspondence made it possible to formulate general questions about geometrical figures in terms of numbers and functions; and when people had learned to answer these questions, they had invented the calculus. Now we come to understand that it is nothing other than the existence of such relationships between systems of relations that gives mathematics its real power. Many of the most important mathematical developments of the twentieth century—such as algebraic topology, differential geometry, representation theory, and algebraic geometry—and the most profound developments in theoretical physics—are based on the notion of a representation, which is the general term we use for a way to code one set of mathematical relationships in terms of another. There is even a branch of mathematics, called category theory, whose subject is the study of correspondences between different mathematical systems. According to some of its developers, mathematics is at its root nothing but the study of such relationships, and for many working mathematicians, category theory has replaced set theory as the language in which all mathematics is expressed.


Smolin goes on to discuss physics, computer science, information theory, and the possibility that mind itself can be understood, or at least studied, in terms of representations. Deep waters indeed ...

(cf. online version of parts of the book, BuildingBookWeb, PublicDomain, ...)

- Thursday, June 09, 2011 at 07:15:40 (EDT)

2011-05-29 - Last Lady Bird Lake Loop

~10.2 miles @ ~11.6 min/mi

Two phone calls permit guilt-free long walk breaks on a warm and humid Sunday morning in Austin Texas. Chain-link fences on the south shore protect portajohns and other preparations for the olympic triathlon to be held tomorrow. By Riverside Dr a limestone cliff looms over the sidewalk, red-budding prickly pear cactus hanging down from above.

(GPS trackfile, ...)

- Wednesday, June 08, 2011 at 10:48:59 (EDT)

Self-Creation and World-Creation

A striking image of life, by Stephen Batchelor in Buddhism Without Beliefs (chapter "Imagination"):

... Our words, our deeds, our very presence in the world, create and leave impressions in the minds of others just as a writer makes impressions with his pen on paper, the painter with his brush on canvas, the potter with his fingers in clay. The human world is like a vast musical instrument on which we simultaneously play our part while listening to the compositions of others. The creation of ourself in the image of awakening is not a subjective but an intersubjective process. We cannot choose whether to engage with the world, only how to. Our life is a story being continuously related to others through every detail of our being: facial expressions, body language, clothes, inflections of speech—whether we like it or not.

- Tuesday, June 07, 2011 at 04:39:55 (EDT)

2011-05-27 - Two Austin Town Lake Loops

~20.5 miles @ ~ 12.5 min/mi

A two-foot-long snake slithers across the path and into the brush. At ~7am the temps are in the upper-60's but during the next four hours rise to the upper 80's. My phone rings multiple times, so walk breaks come early and often. Two Luna bars and a few hard candies provide energy. Water from RunTex coolers is a blessing. I contemplate stopping after one 10-mile lap around Lady Bird Lake, but realize how bad that will look in this report.

(GPS trackfile, ...)

- Monday, June 06, 2011 at 04:40:48 (EDT)


The American Physical Society is a serious professional organization that occasionally comes up for a breath of levity. For example, the April 2009 issue of APS News offered staff science writer Michael Lucibella's "Zero Gravity" comic strip — a recursive universe of topology, cosmology, and absurdity:


(cf. PublicDomain, SimpleAnswers, VeryGoodDay, Rose Is Rose on Tolerance, ...)

- Sunday, June 05, 2011 at 05:12:25 (EDT)

2011-05-25 - Lady Bird Lake Loop

~10.2 miles @ ~10.6 min/mi

Warm and humid early morning in Austin Texas, as a big rabbit crouches by the trail at the canoe rental on the north side of the town lake and a big turtle watches runners on the south shore. Yesterday's fast bicycling experiment with brother Keith is fun: "This could be highly addictive!" I tell him.

(GPS trackfiles for Tuesday flight from Baltimore to Austin and for Lady Bird Lake loop trail, ...)

- Saturday, June 04, 2011 at 06:34:03 (EDT)

Reno 7, Round Rock 2

Round Rock is a little town just north of Austin Texas. The Round Rock Express plays there, AAA minor league baseball affiliate of the Texas Rangers. When I visited family in the area my brother took his son and me to a game on the evening of 25 May 2011.

The Express lost to the Reno Aces. An Austin American-Statesman after-action article blamed poor hitting ("Express bats cooled off as Reno rolls to win"). But the box score and my record of the game tell a rather different story. In the third inning, a Reno batter singles, steals a base, and then advances on a wild pitch before scoring. Another runner that same inning moves to second on a wild pitch but is eventually stranded. After a base on balls in the fourth inning, a Reno player steals a base before advancing to home on a double. The fifth inning sees a Reno player walk, steal a base, and then go to third on a wild pitch; he's tagged out at the plate when the Round Rock left fielder makes an excellent throw. In the ninth, versus a different pitcher, Reno scores its seventh run after a batter walks and then proceeds to second on a wild pitch.

Round Rock's pitchers gave up nine walks, produced four wild pitches, and suffered three stolen bases. Reno's had two walks, no wild pitches, and met with no stolen bases. So was it erratic pitching that cost Round Rock the game, not weak hitting? Round Rock batters got 9 hits; Reno had 10.

But then again, as Robin points out, a recent XKCD comic suggests that perhaps all sports commentary is just the result of building narratives around a weighted random process ...

(cf. RoundRockExpress (2004-06-04), ...)

- Friday, June 03, 2011 at 04:38:46 (EDT)

2011-05-22 - Seneca Creek and Magruder Branch Trails

~8.7 miles @ ~13.7 min/mi

Jennifer Wieland Zuckman is ready to go at 0505 when I arrive at her home, and we beat Caren Jew to the Watkins Mill Rd trailhead by 30 seconds, taking care along the way not to activate speed-cameras. Multiple big dogs dash through the woods, excited to see us. A small herd of deer watch from the ridge. At the deep-water Magruder Branch crossing I chicken out and ask Caren if there's not another route we can take, so she shows us a neighborhood side trail. We turn back near a back yard treehouse. The ladies are amused by how much better they are at cursing than I am.

(see GPS trackfile for details)

- Wednesday, June 01, 2011 at 06:08:16 (EDT)

Quiet in There

Sylvia Boorstein's book It's Easier Than You Think: The Buddhist Way to Happiness in its chapter "Larry King and the Swami" offers a neat metaphor for mindfulness:

... I remember watching Larry King interviewing a swami in the Hindu tradition. I don't remember exactly what the swami said, but I remember his demeanor was calm and unruffled. Although the phone calls from viewers were often either antagonistic or, at the very least, skeptical, the swami kept a clear and contented presence about himself, responding to each question with clarity, precision, and even quiet humor. Larry King is an interviewer known for the directness of his style and his probing questions. At one point he leaned across his desk and looked into the swami's unblinking eyes. He said to him, "How did you get it so quiet in there?" The swami replied, "It is quiet in there. We just all ruffle it up so much."

Boorstein continues, after a description of an exercise where the reader just sits comfortably for 15 minutes and experiences the quiet:

Fundamentally, the swami is right: it is quiet in there, until it gets stirred up. But there is no willfulness or purposefulness about stirring it up. We don't mean to complicate life for ourselves. It's not naughtiness of mind; other people's minds don't stay quiet any better than ours do. It's in the nature of mind to be stirred by confusing energies, like winds that blow back and forth across the surface of a clear pool, disturbing the visibility. Becoming a meditator doesn't mean stopping the ripples of the waves. Probably totally realized masters can see through all the ripples all the time. Regular seekers like myself are really happy if they can remember that they're just ripples and that there is another side.

(cf. Finding the Quiet, Lunchtime Enlightenment, Meditation by Eknath Easwaran, Meditation for Dummies, Meditation Made Easy, Wherever You Go, There You Are, ...)

- Tuesday, May 31, 2011 at 08:59:57 (EDT)

2011-05-20 - Parking Lot Laps

~4.5 miles @ ~9 min/mi

Sawhorses and orange cones remain from yesterday's Office of Medical Services "5k" (more like 3 miler) at which comrades Clair and Kate both log good results. Cool and comfortable weather this morning: average pace descends 9.7 ⇒ 8.7 ⇒ 7.8 min/mi.

- Monday, May 30, 2011 at 10:51:51 (EDT)

When Someone You Love Is Unhappy

Thoughtful advice from "Buddhist Physician" Alex Lickerman, on what to do "When Someone You Love Is Unhappy":

  1. Maintain appropriate boundaries. Remind yourself constantly that your loved one's unhappiness is not your own. You may become unhappy in response to their unhappiness, but your unhappiness then becomes your responsibility. You will be tempted to resolve your unhappiness by trying to resolve their unhappiness (not to mention, in a time frame that suits you), but that way leads only to frustration and resentment. Treat the two as separate things that require separate solutions.
  2. Allow your loved one space to be unhappy. People often become unhappy for good reasons, i.e., as a result of a blow or a loss of some kind. After a while, most people most of the time (though, it's important to note, not all the time) find their level of happiness returning to its baseline. Be patient. You often don't need to do anything at all but tolerate their dip in mood. If you're dealing with someone who dips frequently or regularly, learn to recognize the signs. Dialogue with them when they're in a good place to ask how you can best support them when they're in a bad place. Then try out their suggestion. It may work—or it may not. If it doesn't—if they don't know themselves how they should be supported—try other things until you hit on what works best.
  3. Give yourself space from them. When people are unhappy, being around them is difficult. In giving them space, you give yourself space as well. Don't fall into the trap of thinking they need you around all the time to handle their unhappy feelings.
  4. Defend your own happiness fiercely. Misery may think it loves company, but in the long term it doesn't. It's more than just all right to remain happy while someone you love is miserable: it's imperative.
  5. Suggest professional help. When things seem not be returning to normal, sometimes consulting a professional brings new clarity to the problem.
  6. Detach with love. Sometimes people are simply toxic by nature, a fact that often dawns on others around them only after time. Sometimes people refuse to take steps to make themselves feel better. As a result, sometimes you have to love them from a distance. This can be an intensely difficult decision, but sometimes it's the right one. Give yourself permission to entertain the thought and consider it seriously if consider it seriously you should.

(cf. Don't Panic, ...)

- Sunday, May 29, 2011 at 06:25:24 (EDT)

2011-05-18 - McLean Dead Ends

~5 miles @ ~10 min/mi

Savile Lane stops short at the GW Parkway and a multi-million dollar McLean mansion. Heading back I meet two young ladies out jogging, like me, between lines of thunderstorms. On the other side of Hwy 123 the feet decide to explore another road marked "No Outlet", Merchant Lane, which turns left at Ramshorn Dr and soon becomes a one-lane byway over rolling hills. Big boats parked in the side yard signify wealth in this neighborhood. At a turnaround with No Trespassing private driveway signs it's time to retrace steps, zig-zag to Potomac School Rd, and return to work.

- Saturday, May 28, 2011 at 15:13:26 (EDT)

Dark Place

An article in Running Times magazine (March 2011) titled "The Masters Mental Adjustment" by Joe Wojtas talks about training hard as one gets older:

"Whether it's a 5:00 pace, 6:00 pace or 7:00 pace, the effort level feels the same. There's a comfort with that," says David Olds, a 49-year-old high school administrator and coach from Santa Monica, Calif., whose 2:13 marathon best came in 1987.

"That's how I judge myself. Am I still able to put myself into the same intensity level that I used to? I like to test myself and know that the answer is still, 'Yes, I can,'" says Olds, who's a long-time cross-country and track coach at his school. "I can still dig down and go to that dark place."

And as friend Caren Jew recently noted, re the results of hard training, "It doesn't get easier. It gets faster."

(cf. Cave of Pain, Don't Wish It Were Easier, ...)

- Friday, May 27, 2011 at 06:19:06 (EDT)

2011-05-16 - Woodsy Path Laps

5+ miles @ ~9 min/mi

Tulip maple blossoms decorate the winding trail and scarlet cardinals flit by. Stephanie didn't expect me this morning and has already hit the gym, so solo I go in the humid morning, descending pace on the marked mile 9.9 ⇒ 9.0 ⇒ 8.4 ⇒ 7.7 min/mi.

- Thursday, May 26, 2011 at 15:35:39 (EDT)

Bob Williams Sketch - Career Marathon

Friend Bob Williams has run a few marathons himself; possibly I snookered him into trying the first one. My planned August 2011 retirement from the bureaucracy after 30 years of Civil Service inspired Bob to draw this image of career-as-marathon:


The sign reads, "Career Marathon - Summit is 1/2 way - Mt. Everest Base Camp". Thirty years is indeed 10957 days, allowing for an average number of leap years. It's a long way, but I've had the good fortune (as in most marathons) to meet a huge number of extraordinarily nice people en route. Thanks, everyone, for your kind help!

I must ask, however: "Honey, do these shorts make my butt look big?"

(cf. Bob Williams Sketch - Frozen Beard, Bob Williams Sketch - Runner Protection, Bob Williams Sketch - Election Tsunami, Bob Williams Sketch - Out of the Box, Bob Williams Sketch - Work Chair, ...)

- Wednesday, May 25, 2011 at 07:18:29 (EDT)

2011-05-14 - Hilly Neighborhood Half Marathon

~13 miles @ ~11 min/mi

Crimson male cardinals glare from the bushes by the golf course. The Georgetown Branch Trail to Bethesda is busy at 7:30am, with spectators and people to chase. Five miles go faster than planned, 10:03 ⇒ 09:21 ⇒ 09:36 ⇒ 09:27 ⇒ 08:50 from home to Capital Crescent Trail milepost 5 and back to the water fountain. A friend of Emaad Burki recognizes me as I emerge from the tunnel under Wisconsin Av. Pause GPS to await arrival fellow runners. Barry Smith and Nick Zoeller and "Santa" Steve Schreurs meet me, then Gayatri Datta and Rebecca Rosenberg arrive. We go around the Bethesda Rebel Runner circle making introductions:

"I'm Rebecca and I plan to do 10-12 and hills."

"Hi Rebecca. Me too."

"Hi Barry and Rebecca. Me too."

"Hi Gayatri and Barry and Rebecca. Me too."

"Hi Nick and Gayatri and Barry and Rebecca. Me too."

Steve breaks the pattern. He's heading the opposite way on the CCT this morning. I confess upon Gayatri's interrogation to have done "a few" miles already this morning, "kinda" fast. We tag along behind the others and chat about our kids and hamstring issues. Leland St hills are steep. Gayatri and I stop at Meadowbrook Stables and let the others proceed while we visit the horses. At the Mormon Temple we climb and descend Stoneybrook Dr and then meet the rest of the gang at the Old Spring Rd water fountain; they took a longer way, Kent St and a neighborhood loop, to get there. "That was smart!" Rebecca compliments me. "I am, once in a while," I tease her back.

The GPS says 11 miles and the left metatarsals join the left hamstring and left plantar fascia in complaining, so I head for home. Nick gives me a cherry Clif Blok and joins me until I branch off Rock Creek Trail, which he's taking back to the CCT while the rest do another hill repeat.

(GPS trackfile)

- Wednesday, May 25, 2011 at 06:48:29 (EDT)

2011-05-13 - Lake Fairfax Trail

~2.7 miles @ ~16 min/mi

"This looks familiar," I say, optimistically, as we approach another stream crossing.

"But it all looks familiar!" Mary Ewell replies. We're on the trails of Lake Fairfax Park in Reston VA, late morning on a damp and drizzly day. But the pathways have changed considerably since we were last here (2009-04-08 - Hills with Mary) and in spite of GPS help we take several false turns along the way.

Mary meets me at the ice rink on Michael Faraday Court in Reston, and in late morning we set off on the Lake Fairfax trail. Maps at the park entrance and at intervals along the way show the maze of new paths for mountain bikes, horses, hikers, and runners. On our way back to the parking lot we see a cyclist fall on a rugged side trail. "Are you OK?" we shout. No answer, but his buddy shows us and starts to untangle him from the brush. "Guess he's all right," we conclude.

I give Mary a couple of bottles of Succeed! e-caps; she gives me herbs from her garden (rosemary, oregano, chive flowers) and insists on paying for lunch at the Silver Diner. We meet Jerry Lewis and his wife at the next booth — not the comedian, but the fast older runner, who has done multiple JFK 50 milers and Marine Corps marathons. At Trader Joe's nearby Mary advises me on what wines to try.

- Tuesday, May 24, 2011 at 03:48:53 (EDT)

Merle Zimmermann, Ph.D.

On Thursday 19 May 2011 the family attended #1 Son Merle's graduation ceremonies at the University of Maryland. The commencement speeches were conventionally inspirational: be passionate, today isn't an end but rather a beginning, follow your dreams, etc. More memorable were some striking coincidences:

Congratulations to Merle on his accomplishment!

- Monday, May 23, 2011 at 14:50:18 (EDT)

2011-05-11 - Georgetown Pike

~4 miles @ ~9 min/mi

"Chipmunk!" Stephanie says. But the word feels almost like an afterthought: the bright brown creature shoots out of the brush in front of my toes and arcs back into hiding before we have time to finish a single step. Out to the traffic light past Langley High School takes 18:31, and back in 17:15, including a pause for Stephanie to retie her shoe laces.

- Sunday, May 22, 2011 at 03:48:14 (EDT)

2011-05-09 - Parking Lot Loops

~3 miles @ ~11 min/mi

Back from a few days in South Carolina, comrade Stephanie is wearing green kerchief and shirt. We do a few dozen yards of cross-country on the grass where the perimeter road sidewalk is under construction. Pace on our two laps descends ~11.8 ⇒ 9.6 min/mi.

- Sunday, May 22, 2011 at 03:45:28 (EDT)

Just Sitting

Chapter 6 of Meditation for Dummies by Stephan Bodian explores various approaches to meditation. The mindfulness method of following the breath is a central one, but in a text box Bodian discusses an "alternative":

(cf. Air Breathes Me and Wherever You Go, There You Are, esp. Try It for a Few Years, ...)

- Saturday, May 21, 2011 at 06:43:39 (EDT)

2011-05-08 - Catoctin Trail

~6 miles @ ~21 min/mi

Happy Mother's Day! At 5am Gayatri Datta and I meet Caren Jew at "Drop Zone X-Ray" aka the Exit 10 parking lot from I-270. Caren drives us out to the Hamburg Rd crossing of the Catoctin Trail. The old left hamstring twinges as I start running. Our path includes multiple water crossings (Gaytri and I tip-toe; Caren runs through) and a cluster of bright ladies slipper flowers, which for a change I'm the one who notices by the trail. Caren takes photos with her cellphone. Two brightly-clad men ahead of us turn out to be Mike, a 19-time JFK 50 Mile streaker, and Jim Treece, race director of the Catoctin 100 Mile race. We chat about possibly being pacers there next year. Back at Drop Zone X-Ray goslings and a groundhog watch traffic at the freeway onramp.

(cf. trackfile, ...)

- Friday, May 20, 2011 at 05:25:22 (EDT)

How to Write a Sentence

Professor Stanley Fish is an odd bird, famously controversial in literary criticism circles [1] — which is to say, not famous at all in normal circles. Fish's new book How to Write a Sentence recently got a glowing review by Simon Blackburn, a philosopher who writes well about complex topics (cf. Think Again and Being Good). The general theme of Fish's book is noble: to identify fine sentences, to analyze them, and to aid the reader in crafting better ones.

But alas, How to Write a Sentence is an uneven voyage. Early sections discuss structures that sometimes make a sentence good. The patterns that Fish focuses on are helpful, but far too few. And Fish's own efforts tend to be cute or clever rather than creative.

Then the book really starts to drift. Final chapters offer mystical commentary on selected first and last sentences of famous novels, plus a discussion of "Sentences that are about themselves" which descends into even murkier depths. Perhaps Fish has sailed these waters so often, in his decades of teaching, that it all makes perfect sense to him. But alas, How to Write a Sentence is nowhere near a useful manual for the student who wants to improve her or his own writing. Inspirational examples don't make a map.

- Thursday, May 19, 2011 at 05:33:34 (EDT)

2011-05-07 - Brookeville 5k Race

~3.1 miles @ ~7.2 min/mi

http://zhurnaly.com/images/running/Brookeville_5k_2011_z.jpgMCRRC's "Capital for a Day" Brookeville 5k race is a fly-and-die. Mile splits from the GPS trackfile:

7:02 — forgivably fast, mostly downhill after inadequate warmup
7:05 — foolishly following two young ladies
7:38 — flameout, fading until the finish line comes into view

Christina Caravoulias works the registration table; Jim Farkas does data entry. Michele McLeod ran three miles from home to the starting line. She's planning a double-crossing of the Grand Canyon soon. I thank her daughter Sophie for helping me entertain Kate Abbott's sons a couple of years ago at Fountainhead Park on the Bull Run Trail during the Women's Half Marathon. My bib "666" is pinned upside down to avoid demonic jinxes.

"This portends a hill!" a young man tells me as we blast downslope near the beginning. "Don't say that!" I reply. Today the strategy of pushing hard works only for the first two miles, 14 minutes flat at the official marker (allowing 4 seconds to cross the starting line) . Two women run a bit ahead of me. Near the halfway point I overtake one and pant out pace info at her request. The other gal stays strong; after I finish in ~22:22 I congratulate her. Pete Darmody comes in ~5 minutes ahead of me. We chat briefly about physics and fallacies.

(photo by Ken Trombatore)

(official result: 47th place overall, 43rd of 101 males, 7th of 14 men 55-59 years old, 22:19 for an average 7:11 pace)

- Wednesday, May 18, 2011 at 04:39:32 (EDT)

MMT 2011 Aid Station

Rain drips from the trees. Thunder rumbles. Flashlights flicker as exhausted runners climb the muddy track, blistered and chafed, their feet bruised into hamburger. Between 2am and 6am on Sunday morning the first thing they see is me.

"Welcome to the Picnic Area!" I say. "You're at mile 87. It's 8.5 miles to the next aid station, 14 miles to the finish. I salute you — this is 33 miles farther than I got last year!"

Massanutten Mountain Trails is actually a bit over 101 miles, rocky and steep, among the most brutal trail runs east of the Rockies (excluding the Barkley Marathons of course). Weather this year makes it especially challenging. A few months ago I come to my senses and withdraw from the entrant's list to make room for somebody more likely to survive the ordeal. But I volunteer to assist, so here I am with son Robin. Storms move in as we drive out Interstate 66 though bands of fog and heavy showers. The clock in the MINI Cooper rolls over to read 0:00.

Quatro Hubbard, captain of our aid station, tells us when we phone that they're already running out of ice. We pull off I-81 at Strassburg and buy 30 pounds. A Denny's 24-hour restaurant offers carry-out but is too slow, so Robin grabs a sandwich at the 7-11 next door and I snag a bottle of chocolate milk. About 1:30am we arrive. The picnic area just off US-211 is a mess, with runner's crew cars parked helter-skelter on the shoulders of the sloppy dirt-and-gravel loop road. We find a spot and pull in near the aid station pavilion.

Then it's a night of cheering runners in and guiding them out again, with pauses to direct traffic. Robin works, then sleeps a bit during the wee hours until, after dawn, Quatro sends us down to Luray to buy jugs of water. When we get back I nap for an hour and Robin takes over guide duty. Comrade Kate Abbott, who attempted MMT with me last year, came out Friday to mark a segment of the trail with streamers in preparation for the race. Early Sunday morning her massage therapist (Farouk Elkassad's assistant) Cathy greets me. "You're all dressed up!" she observes, eying my business-casual slacks, long-sleeved shirt, and mud-covered black shoes. "Are you going to the office now?" I explain that I arrived this way after Saturday night's concert. Cathy wishes Robin and me well and sends her regards to Kate, whom she describes as my "best friend". (Hmmm, I hadn't thought of us that way, but I guess we are — as are some other dear ultrarunning buddies of mine. Quite a bond develops after going scores of miles on foot in the wilderness with somebody!)

My Tweets summarize the real-time tale of MMT 2011:

After an uneventful drive home I sleep another hour and wake to find my scalp covered with dozens of inflamed mosquito bites. Ouch!

(cf. 2010-04-03 - Chocolate Bunny, 2010-05-15 - Half Massanutten Mountain Trails, Big Stick, ...)

- Tuesday, May 17, 2011 at 12:22:38 (EDT)

2011-05-05 - Clair in the Woods

~3 miles @ ~12 min/mi

Comrade Clair shows me how to power up the digital scale in the gym. Whee! — it reads a pre-run 150.0 lbs even though I've got shorts, shirt, socks, and trail shoes on. Clair likewise is happy to be back down to her pre-pregnancy weight, with baby Sophie not quite 5 months old. On the hilly path through the woods we do a deliberate first lap with marked mile of 11:29 including some walks and much dialog. Then, pushing Clair beyond her conversational zone, a second comes in at 8:52. This portends well for her achieving her near-term goal of a 5k in under 30 minutes. Pulses after the final mile are in the 170+ zone. Five deer eye us from the meadow. Clair wonders if, as vegetarian beasts, they would prefer to eat a vegetarian (me) rather than a carnivore (her)?

- Monday, May 16, 2011 at 04:38:37 (EDT)

Mutable Laws

When I was young, "rights" seemed to be natural, God-given, eternal truths. Now I'm not so sure. Ralph Waldo Emerson said it well, in the first sentence of his essay Politics:

In dealing with the State we ought to remember that its institutions are not aboriginal, though they existed before we were born; that they are not superior to the citizen; that every one of them was once the act of a single man; every law and usage was a man's expedient to meet a particular case; that they all are imitable, all alterable; we may make as good, we may make better.

- Sunday, May 15, 2011 at 18:14:32 (EDT)

2011-05-04 - Wet Loops

~4 miles @ ~9 min/mi

Sensible Stephanie demurs, so this morning's outing is alone in light rain, temps upper 40s. Crimson cardinal flits away from the winding path through the woods. Sticks to kick clutter the asphalt. Measured mile pace descends 10.1 ⇒ 8.4 ⇒ 7.5 min/mi. Frigid fingers afterwards can barely turn a doorknob. Twinges in left hamstring are almost gone. Left heel plantar fasciitis still slightly troublesome. New problem, past week: tendons on the top of the right foot are sore. Ouch!

- Saturday, May 14, 2011 at 05:50:27 (EDT)

Take It Up

In the final pages of Paul Wilson's The Calm Technique, a tiny meditation guidebook, there's a brilliant suggestion in the course of some rules for overcoming addiction:

Instead of giving up smoking (drinking or whatever), take up non-smoking. Take up feeling healthy. Take up being able to breathe properly, being able to taste food again. Take up being socially acceptable. Take up being good to be around. The correct attitude is essential. ...

What a wonderful way to turn a negative into a positive!

(cf. OptimistCreed, ...)

- Friday, May 13, 2011 at 05:17:38 (EDT)

2011-05-02 - Parking Lot Perimeter

~4.5 miles @ ~9 min/mi

At the end of the first ~1.5 mile lap zero time has elapsed on the watch. Oops! I hit the wrong button starting out today and miss getting split information for that circuit. It feels like ~10 min/mi, and the next two orbits descend in pace: 8.7 ⇒ 7.8 min/mi. Sidewalk-destruction jackhammer pauses politely as I detour into the street beside its orange traffic cones. Leaf blower dude and I exchange salutes.

- Thursday, May 12, 2011 at 04:44:11 (EDT)


A British word to learn, from The Economist's coverage of the recent royal wedding:

... Englishmen of his upbringing think it naff for men to wear visible wedding rings ...

Naff means tacky, uncool, lame. It appears in that magazine about once a year. That's about twice as frequently as twee, which refers to something excessively dainty, cute, or quaint. Is it naff to say 'twee' more often?

(cf. Wobbly Bits (2009-06-27), ...)

- Wednesday, May 11, 2011 at 04:53:59 (EDT)

2011-05-01 - Cabin John Stream Valley Trail

~3.3 miles @ ~15.1 min/mi

Family duties keep me from running the MCRRC 5k XC in Cabin John Park, but after dropping off Ken Swab's Bull Run Run "slowest team" blanket award at his neighbor's home I meet Cara Marie Manlandro, who has just finished the race. We recap part of the course, blue blazes south to near Democracy Blvd and back to Tuckerman La. A pair of deer dash across the trail in front of us.

- Tuesday, May 10, 2011 at 04:42:31 (EDT)

Kundalini Yoga

Sometimes the used-book sale strikes out. Kundalini Yoga: The Flow of Eternal Power by Shakti Parwha Kaur Khalsa (1996) is a pretty book but extraordinarily, unhelpfully mystical. From Chapter 4 ("Breath of Life"), for instance:

Your body temperature is regulated by the flow of the prana through alternate nostrils. They function somewhat like an air-conditioning unit and a furnace, turning on and off, switching back and forth from heating to cooling every two and a half hours, keeping your temperature normal and your energies in balance.

Your pituitary gland — the master gland of the body — serves as the thermostat to control the switches. The left nostril draws in the cooling, soothing, mind-expanding energy of the moon. It is the "water" element. The right nostril draws on the sun's energy. This is for vitality, activity, and mental alertness. It heats the body. ...

And in Chapter 14 ("Sleep"):

Just as the needle of a compass is always pulled toward the north, your personal energy will get swallowed up by the pull of the earth's magnetic field unless you sleep with your electromagnetic field at right angles to it. Positioning your bed north/south could be the reason you wake up tired and grouchy in the morning.

And on and on, often with embarrassingly sexist asides aimed perhaps at female readers who are apparently the target audience. ("Three days of simply living on watermelon can clean your body as a woman. A man requires eleven days.") No critical reasoning, no citations to reproducible scientific/medical evidence, no logic. Just bowing to authority, in this case "Yogi Bhajan, Ph.D.". Bizarre to glimpse that style of fuzzy thinking. The world has odd corners.

- Monday, May 09, 2011 at 04:55:57 (EDT)

2011-04-30 - Rock Creek-CCT Loop West

15+ miles @ ~10 min/mi

http://zhurnaly.com/images/running/Rock_Creek_CCT_western_loop_map.jpgCurse you, GPS! How can somebody slow down at the end of a run when the average-pace display says it's possible to get under a nice round number, but only by pushing hard for the final five miles? Arggghhhh!!

Two deer saunter across the road and vanish into the bamboo thicket as I begin today's solo trek at 0606 on a cool (~50°F) Saturday morn. Another deer startles and dashes away through the brush on the Ireland Dr path down to Rock Creek. A couple more flinch at my approach in the park. Cheerful chipmunk dashes across the path in front of my toes.

An Avon fund-raiser to fight breast cancer is underway, with the ballfields at Candy Cane City turned into a pink tent city. Pastel markers that say "Mile 25" and "Mile 26" are only 0.7 miles apart — perhaps they're deliberately out-of-place to encourage participants near the end of their Day One "marathon"?

The circuit goes nicely: Rock Creek Trail - Beach Dr - Military Rd - Western Av - River Rd - Capital Crescent Trail and home.

(cf. trackfile [1]), 2004-07-17 - Rock Creek and Capital Crescent Mini-loop, 2008-12-13 - Rock Creek West Loop, ...)

- Sunday, May 08, 2011 at 04:00:21 (EDT)

Calm Technique

Paul Wilson's 2009 book Finding the Quiet is a discussion of mindfulness, in various flavors, that is mostly hardheaded but runs aground in places. Wilson's little 1985 volume, The Calm Technique, is a similarly mixed bag. It's only partly successful in delivering on its subtitle "Meditation without Magic or Mysticism", but nonetheless does well in most aspects. After some plodding chapters of build-up Wilson introduces what he calls "The Breathing Meditation":

It is a simplified, old Zen breathing meditation. In this book its purpose is to provide a comfortable first step into meditation. In practice, this breathing meditation could be an end in itself. You could perform this every day and night for the rest of your life and in the long run it would probably be as beneficial as any other meditation. But it has been simplified and many people find difficulty in sticking with it for any length of time. (Probably because it seems too simple.)

(As Jon Kabat-Zinn suggests "... you might want to stay with the breath, or use it as an anchor to bring you back when you are carried away. Try it for a few years and see what happens." See also Being with Your Breath and Breath and Awareness.)

Wilson then moves on to the core of his book, a practice which he labels, a bit pretentiously, "The Calm Technique". It's a straightforward mantra-based method. Wilson spends several pages talking about choosing a mantra and concludes, "... the meaning of the mantra has about as much inherent significance to the meditator as the colour of the barbell does to the weightlifter." After a rather unnecessary digression into brain physiology he then describes how to do the meditation, with emphasis on consistent practice. He observes:

There are no prizes for cleverness or originality in the Calm Technique. The only prize comes with being able to charm your consciousness into being totally involved with your Calm Expression. Please remember this is not an exercise in self-discipline. You don't have to force yourself to concentrate, nor do you have to go to great lengths to 'hear' this meaningless phrase. Be passive. Go with the flow. If your mind begins to wander, calmly redirect it to its task. When distractions come, ignore them and go back to 'hearing' your Calm Expression.

The Calm Technique relentlessly underscores the dangers of multitasking. (cf. Mediocre Multitaskers) It proceeds in its later chapters to offer tai chi style "Calm Exercises", some slightly mystical advice on diet, and reasonable thoughts on the value of an optimistic attitude. The book concludes with a question-and-answer section. It's far from a great book—the prose rarely sparkles and the commentary often drifts—but overall Wilson has written a straightforward, useful little handbook. Among the bits of levelheaded advice is the amusing aside:

There is no call for heroics in the Calm Technique. If you're really troubled by something (and not just being impatient), stop what you're doing and take a break. If you've only just begun the session, try performing the Calm Exercises until you are more relaxed. If, on the other hand, your problem is tiredness, the Calm Exercises should wake you a little. If not, try sleeping. Should you really have something serious on your mind that you find impossible to ignore, don't worry, resume your meditation the following morning or evening. There is no advantage in forcing yourself to do anything; that does little more than add to your overall level of anxiety. You should condition yourself to have the right frame of mind, to reject distractions, to keep your attention focused on the task. It is this gradual and persistent conditioning (and your willpower) that perfects the Calm Technique. Acts of great intensity and personal sacrifice can be reserved for more deserving occasions like running marathons and saving civilizations.

(cf. Wherever You Go, There You Are, Finding the Quiet, Lunchtime Enlightenment, Being Nobody, Going Nowhere, What Is Meditation, Meditation by Eknath Easwaran, Fully Present, Waking Up to What You Do, Meditation for Dummies, ...)

- Saturday, May 07, 2011 at 06:05:11 (EDT)

2011-04-27 - Lake Artemesia Tempo Run

~6 miles @ ~9.2 min/mi

Warm and humid, it's orchestra rehearsal night. Thunderstorms spawn tornadoes south of town. Son Robin drops his antique iPhone face-down on a concrete floor and the front glass plate is crazy-cracked, sharp edges ready to give a close shave to anybody making a call. The AT&T store sells him a new one but then it's too late to attempt a ~10 mile trek around the region. (previous journeys along that route: 2009-06-14 - UM Loop, 2007-11-08 - Anacostia Tributary Orbit, 2006-12-08 - Anacostia Tributary Orbit, 2006-01-09 - College Park Loop, etc.)

So at 8pm from parking lot ZZ near the engineering buildings at UM it's pretty Paint Branch Trail to Lake Artemesia. Two rabbits sprint away, white tails bouncing dots in the deepening gloom. Two big deer stand guard watchfully. Swarms of gnats float in the air near the lake. Lightning flickers in the distance. Green Line Metro trains rumble by.

An ocular migraine develops during the second 1.35 mile lap: glowing circles expand slowly, make it hard to see the path even with headlamp in hand. Walkers greet me as I pass. After three laps I'm concerned that the gates will be locked. Paint Branch Trail back to the start. GPS says 5.98 until a couple of tiny final loops around the car roll it over to 6.00 miles. Splits 9:41 ⇒ 8:51 ⇒ 8:57 ⇒ 9:11 ⇒ 9:03 ⇒ 9:45 with a final average of 9:15.

(see trackfile for details)

- Friday, May 06, 2011 at 04:46:33 (EDT)

Bob Williams Sketch - Work Chair

A 1989 drawing by my friend Bob, his vision of the workstation of the future:


(cf. Bob Williams Sketch - Frozen Beard, Bob Williams Sketch - Runner Protection, Bob Williams Sketch - Election Tsunami, Bob Williams Sketch - Out of the Box, ...)

- Thursday, May 05, 2011 at 04:42:37 (EDT)

Great Understatement

Modesty goes far — especially when one has just done something extraordinary. Witness this sentence in the paper that first explained the structure of DNA:

It has not escaped our notice that the specific pairing we have postulated immediately suggests a possible copying mechanism for the genetic material.

What a gentle, memorable way to underscore an amazing discovery!

(J. D. Watson and F. H. C. Crick, "A Structure for Deoxyribose Nucleic Acid", Nature 171, 737-738 (1953); for an annotated version see [1] ...)

- Wednesday, May 04, 2011 at 04:34:46 (EDT)

2011-04-25 - Parking Lot Loops

~3 miles @ ~10 min/mi

Stephanie is back from a couple of days off, celebrating her 3rd Anniversary. It's our first run together since her 10 miler 9 days ago. Humidity is near 100%, so two laps leave us sweat-soaked. Our pace descends ~10.6 ⇒ ~9.9 min/mi.

- Tuesday, May 03, 2011 at 04:26:13 (EDT)

Ementor Emantras

At work people who ask for one can be assigned a "mentor", somebody to be a friendly advisor in another part of the organization. Alas, although I mean well I've never been a very good mentor, at least not in any formal fashion. The latest person who had the ill fortune to draw me, for instance, seems to be always too busy to meet with me for a cup of tea. (Hmmmm, perhaps he took my disclaimer seriously when I warned him about myself?!) So I told him last month that I would post my career-enhancing words of wisdom via Twitter as text-messages. Thus far, the eMentor has tweeted more than a dozen mini-thoughts. Some are recycled old offerings from the ^zhurnal; others are new bumper-stickes:

- Monday, May 02, 2011 at 04:50:28 (EDT)

2011-04-23 - Oh Deer Gate

~15.6 miles @ ~10.6 min/mi

http://zhurnaly.com/images/running/Rock_Creek_Sligo_Creek_Loop_map.jpg"Watch out!" I warn Cara Marie Manlandro as we enter Brookside Gardens and suddenly find ourselves treading on narrow pipes set several inches apart on the roadway. It's what I call a "deer gate", aka cattle grid, designed to keep hoofed creatures from invading and eating all the flowers. For CM and me it's an adrenaline moment, as we must step carefully to keep feet from slipping through and causing ankle damage or worse.

In general, CM is quite dangerous for me to run with, and vice versa. We each push the other a bit hard, in both pace and distance. At dawn this Saturday morning with intermittent light rain falling we set off from my home and proceed up Rock Creek Trail, reminiscing about other long runs along the way. After ~7.5 miles we turn east and follow the sidewalks beside Randolph Rd. I find a shiny penny on the street near Georgia Av. My warning, "Too fast!", has no effect as our average pace drops below 11:00, below 10:45, and then below 10:30 min/mi. But we slow down a bit later, and lose additional time at major road crossings. Previous solo journeys I've undertaken on this route were all at 11+ min/mi pace (cf. 2004-05-16 - Rock Creek and Sligo Loop, 2004-12-04 - Sligo - Glenmont - Rock Creek Orbit, 2006-05-07 - Up Rock, Down Sligo, 2006-09-02 - Ernesto Mist)

Achy left heel plantar fasciitis is my annoyance today; CM suffers from quad and hamstring twinges. My weight is moving in the right direction, down ~1.5 kg when I get home, due mainly to dehydration of course. In recent weeks the digital scale has shown me numbers under 150 lbs with increasing frequency. I hope to continue pushing the poundage slowly downward. Alas, it's probably the only way I'll get any faster. (cf. NeedForSpeed)

The Gap of Shame

CM's plan is to do 14-16 miles today. I'm not sure of the exact length of the loop when we start. "Will you kill me if this turns out to be 17 miles?" I ask. CM hints that she might. But as we approach my home the GPS reads only 15+ and I begin to breathe easier.

At the final short steep hill CM proposes a cooldown walk. "No, we must run up," I contend. "If we don't there will be a Gap of Shame in the trackfile!" But I'm overruled, so I hit the "Stop" button on the GPS. On this magnified view the green marker shows where we started. The red is where we finished, ~50 m short. I blush.


(cf. trackfile)

- Sunday, May 01, 2011 at 13:44:19 (EDT)

Roadside Distractions

Somewhat to my distress, Meditation for Dummies by Stephan Bodian gets quite mystical in places. But on the brighter side, the author often expresses skepticism and counsels non-attachment toward the farther-out zones which some people report discovering. In Chapter 12 ("Troubleshooting the Roadblocks and Side Effects") he comments on "... what consciousness researchers call altered states — nonordinary experiences of body, mind, and heart that, though essentially harmless, may be startling, confusing, or frightening for the neophyte meditator." These can include, Bodian says, visions of "angels and other transcendent beings". He writes:

Meditation traditions differ too in how they regard such extraordinary experiences. Some teach that the point is simply to be here now — and anything else that occurs is merely a potential distraction. Another New Yorker cartoon puts it succinctly: A grizzled old monk sitting in meditation turns to his young companion and says, apparently in response to a question, "This is it. There is nothing else." If a moment of true awakening occurs, according to these traditions, it merely takes the form of a shift in perspective, without fireworks or flashy signs. By contrast, other traditions view extraordinary experiences as meaningful or possibly even necessary landmarks on the path to freedom and awakening. ...

That's a slight misquotation of the cartoon caption, by the way. As per NothingHappens and This Is It, the elder monk says simply, "Nothing happens next. This is it." But no matter. Bodian continues in his next paragraph with level-headed advice:

... simply approach the extraordinary in the same way you greet the ordinary — with gentle, mindful attention. Since the point is to welcome whatever arises — and in the process to awaken to who you already are — any experiences you encounter along the way are just roadside attractions. Enjoy them and keep going. If they become distracting or painful, you may want to seek a qualified teacher.

Alas, in later sections of this same chapter Bodian appears to accept the existence of mystical energy, "... kundalini, the powerful life force that (according to the Indian tantric tradition) animates all things and lies coiled at the base of the spine like a serpent." He goes on to discuss chakras, "energy centers", rather uncritically. Probably I should just skip this part of the book. Bodian himself notes, in discussing visions, "But the point of meditation as I teach it in this book is to awaken to the present moment, not to spend your meditation time exploring the endless world of altered states." Excellent advice!

(cf. AlteredStates (2000-02-03), DreamData (2002-03-22), Atheist Spirituality (2009-01-29), ...)

- Saturday, April 30, 2011 at 05:17:16 (EDT)

2011-04-20 - Parking Lot Laps

~4.5 miles @ ~9 min/mi

Lawn mowers and leaf blowers — it's springtime! Comrade Caryn rolls down the window of her blue Z-car and waves at me as she drives past. Laps descend 9.5 ⇒ 8.7 ⇒ 7.8 min/mi.

- Friday, April 29, 2011 at 04:36:51 (EDT)

Homer Simpson Career Advice

From the Writer's Almanac of 2011-04-19, words of wisdom by Homer Simpson, the feckless cartoon character:

(cf. GoldenChief (2001-03-17), AdvantEdge (2001-04-15), StagesOfWork (2001-07-28), MySpeciality (2002-07-28), HardestPossible (2003-03-02), CareerManagement (2005-06-28), FourHoursDaily (2005-08-06), ThroughObscurity (2005-09-23), Joan Benoit Samuelson on Pleasing Yourself (2008-02-23), Career Choice (2008-10-27), Four Factors for Work (2010-02-22), Small Number Choices (2010-03-05), ...)

- Thursday, April 28, 2011 at 04:54:24 (EDT)

2011-04-18 - Woodsy Loop

~4 miles @ ~9 min/mi

Contemplate not running — but make the mistake of reading about yesterday's London Marathon and today's Boston Marathon — at which point guilt sets in and have to go out. In the locker room a fellow asks about the beard. Reply with an old joke: "Had it for more than 30 years; think wife just doesn't want to see my face." He laughs uproariously. Today's early Monday morning trot on the winding hilly path begins with a slow first lap that includes some pauses to move fallen branches out of the way. High winds and heavy rains on Saturday must have brought them down. Accelerating the pace makes miles 9.6 ⇒ 8.4 ⇒ 7.4 minutes.

- Wednesday, April 27, 2011 at 04:41:44 (EDT)

The Book of Zen

The Book of Zen by Eric Chaline (2003) is a well-illustrated historical guide to Zen Buddhism that, unfortunately, has less content than first meets the eye. Lovely images and clever subtitles don't compensate enough for plodding prose and a disorganized narrative. The best message comes near the end:

... Zen has no beliefs—even the Ten Grave Precepts are only guidelines. If you encounter a strong belief, be it in the Buddha himself, during zazen, you are instructed to disregard it totally, because even belief, which is part of the ego, will prevent the realization of one's egoless Buddha-nature.

(cf.Buddhism Without Beliefs, Wherever You Go, There You Are, Not Always So, Buddhism - A Way of Life and Thought, ...)

- Tuesday, April 26, 2011 at 04:36:35 (EDT)

2011-04-16 - Urban Half Marathon Loop

13+ miles @ ~10.7 min/mi

http://zhurnaly.com/images/running/urban_half_marathon.jpgA great blue heron launches itself into flight and glides along Sligo Creek near Riggs Rd. It's the same area where a pair of young herons perched half a dozen years ago during my 2005-06-05 - Dry Wet Ramble.

Cara Marie Manlandro and I are doing a big loop this morning before storms move in. Starting at Candy Cane City we follow Rock Creek Trail upstream to East-West Hwy, which leads us through downtown Silver Spring and Takoma Park. We pass near family friend Nina's home. That leads me to tell the story of her old violin, which some years ago she asked Paulette and me to keep under our bed for safety while she was away. I later discover that the violin was worth more than our entire house. (Lucky that our rickety bed didn't collapse and crush it!)

CM and I do mental math and compute that the Body Mass Index for each of us is virtually identical; we concur that dropping a few pounds could improve our speed. As Riggs Rd turns into Missouri Av I start to develop chafing, which leads to trail tales of unmentionable irritation. Traffic scares us on Military Rd as we enter Rock Creek Park, until we scramble down a steep slope and reach the safety of Beach Dr. We accelerate in the final miles to pull our average pace down to a nice round number.

Perfect timing: we tag CM's car and climb inside just as heavy rain begins to fall. Another fun run, as usual with CM just a little too fast for comfort.

(See trackfile at [1])

- Monday, April 25, 2011 at 04:49:30 (EDT)

The Big Short

Michael Lewis's book about the 2008 real estate/stock market crash, The Big Short, is a well-written but ultimately disappointing effort. It focuses on personalities, not facts; the story is disorganized and cries out for timelines, none of which are supplied; there is no index. In a zero-sum game such as Lewis describes there have to be as many winners as losers, but the author doesn't seem to be aware of that. Instead, he focuses on a small set of obscure, obsessive derivative traders and tries to make them into heroes. They come across instead as foul-mouthed gamblers.

Overall, The Big Short is rather akin to Christopher McDougall's Born to Run, an "Entertainment Tonight"-style collection of dubious celebrity anecdotes. Lewis's earlier book Moneyball was far better, with verifiable statistics and memorable lessons. The Big Short does improve somewhat in its later chapters, when it touches upon Value at Risk and other quantitative measures. But the clear, if unintended, message that this book sends is that most (>90%?) of the current international financial system is built upon sand, speculation that provides little or no social benefit. The implied conclusion: broader, tougher regulation is essential to prevent further damage. Michael Lewis, however, seems not to follow that logic.

(cf. MoneyWisdom (2001-05-20) for excellent financial advice from 1885, still valid today)

- Sunday, April 24, 2011 at 10:20:09 (EDT)

2011-04-14 - Firebirds Mile

1 mile @ 6:50 min/mi

Tricky logistics: bus & metro from work to College Park, rendezvous with wife & daughter, pick up car & son, home for snack & quick change into running clothes, then off to Watkins Mill High School — Thursday evening traffic fortunately thin. Pin bib upside down so it reads "999" on Red Sox shirt, avoid further jinxing them (as they're already in the cellar). Visit Ken Swab, Emaad Burki, Cara Marie Manlandro, exchanging lies. Take photos with Christina Caravoulias's nice Nikon while she races. Trot along on the infield to warm up parallel to CM during her second lap, 8-9 min heat.

My turn: crowd at the starting line, friendly rival Dee Nelson beside me. Rounding first turn, squeeze between two young ladies jogging slowly together in Lane 1. Timing chips scattered on the track, lost from shoes in prior heats. Ken/Emaad/CM cheer/jeer as I pass bleachers; I wave back, panting, trying not to fall. First lap 1:42, then 1:44 and again 1:44 quarters. Pushing hard final lap 1:40. Walk around to cool down, arrange towel to sit on in car, drive back to University of Maryland in time to pick up wife & daughter at concert's end. On the radio, Bruce Springstein: "Born to Run".

Official result:

51 42/98 2/4 666 Mark Zimmermann M 58 Kensington MD MCRRC 6:50

- Saturday, April 23, 2011 at 05:20:34 (EDT)

MetaFortune Cookie

At the Chinese restaurant yesterday, a fortune cookie offered:

Only listen to fortune cookie. Disregard all other fortune telling units.

(cf. UnfortuneCookies (2007-12-04), ...)

- Friday, April 22, 2011 at 04:45:18 (EDT)

2011-04-13 - Wayward Worms

~3 miles @ ~9 min/mi

Sidewalks are confetti-covered under blooming bradford pear trees. I raise a hand to knock down more white blossoms. Hosts of earthworms lured out by the wetness make an obstacle course to zig-zag through as I attempt to avoid treading on them. Comrade Stephanie did her pre-first-10-miler taper run on the treadmill at 0530, when the downpour was soaking my socks as I walked to the Metro. The first post-BRR run for me is comfortable, with only a little heel and hamstring achiness. Parking lot ~1.5 mile laps are at ~9.4 ⇒ 7.9 min/mi paces.

- Thursday, April 21, 2011 at 04:38:09 (EDT)

February Glimpses

Seen on the subway before dawn one winter morning:

And overheard at lunch later that day, a loud matron complaining about the foxes at her country club: "They dig their dens right into the greens! There must be eighty of them! I told the groundskeepers to get rid of them!"

What a marvelous world we live in ...

- Wednesday, April 20, 2011 at 04:32:03 (EDT)

For back issues of the ^zhurnal see Volumes v.01 (April-May 1999), v.02 (May-July 1999), v.03 (July-September 1999), v.04 (September-November 1999), v.05 (November 1999 - January 2000), v.06 (January-March 2000), v.07 (March-May 2000), v.08 (May-June 2000), v.09 (June-July 2000), v.10 (August-October 2000), v.11 (October-December 2000), v.12 (December 2000 - February 2001), v.13 (February-April 2001), v.14 (April-June 2001), 0.15 (June-August 2001), 0.16 (August-September 2001), 0.17 (September-November 2001), 0.18 (November-December 2001), 0.19 (December 2001 - February 2002), 0.20 (February-April 2002), 0.21 (April-May 2002), 0.22 (May-July 2002), 0.23 (July-September 2002), 0.24 (September-October 2002), 0.25 (October-November 2002), 0.26 (November 2002 - January 2003), 0.27 (January-February 2003), 0.28 (February-April 2003), 0.29 (April-June 2003), 0.30 (June-July 2003), 0.31 (July-September 2003), 0.32 (September-October 2003), 0.33 (October-November 2003), 0.34 (November 2003 - January 2004), 0.35 (January-February 2004), 0.36 (February-March 2004), 0.37 (March-April 2004), 0.38 (April-June 2004), 0.39 (June-July 2004), 0.40 (July-August 2004), 0.41 (August-September 2004), 0.42 (September-November 2004), 0.43 (November-December 2004), 0.44 (December 2004 - February 2005), 0.45 (February-March 2005), 0.46 (March-May 2005), 0.47 (May-June 2005), 0.48 (June-August 2005), 0.49 (August-September 2005), 0.50 (September-November 2005), 0.51 (November 2005 - January 2006), 0.52 (January-February 2006), 0.53 (February-April 2006), 0.54 (April-June 2006), 0.55 (June-July 2006), 0.56 (July-September 2006), 0.57 (September-November 2006), 0.58 (November-December 2006), 0.59 (December 2006 - February 2007), 0.60 (February-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), 0.82 (February-April 2010), 0.83 (April-May 2010), 0.84 (May-July 2010), 0.85 (July-September 2010), 0.86 (September-October 2010), 0.87 (October-December 2010), 0.88 (December 2010 - February 2011), 0.89 (February-April 2011), 0.90 (April-June 2011), 0.91 (June-August 2011), 0.92 (August-October 2011), 0.93 (October-December 2011), 0.94 (December 2011-January 2012), 0.95 (January-March 2012), 0.96 (March-April 2012), 0.97 (April-June 2012), 0.98 (June-September 2012), 0.99 (September-November 2012), 0.9901 (November-December 2012), ... Current Volume. Send comments and suggestions to z (at) his.com. Thank you! (Copyright © 1999-2012 by Mark Zimmermann.)