^zhurnaly 0.9901

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Howdy, pilgrim! No ads — you're in volume 0.9901 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 = 0.99 ... 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


Coming together in the sky
Two planets in their orbits kiss,
Or rather, seem so to the eye
While in reality they miss
By millions of kilometers.
Mere accidental line of sight
Along their azimuth confers
A false proximity one night
Whereby celestial gods, at best,
Can feign to share a starry bed.

But we, my dear, are truly blessed:
When our terrestrial souls are wed
Two fleshly bodies join as one,
Until no void remains to grow
Between our spirits. Thus we run
Together, just as rivers flow
Into the ocean, and become
A universe of I-and-thou
Via conjunction, and our sum
Unites us in the holy now.

- Tuesday, December 25, 2012 at 05:28:37 (EST)

2012-12-02 - B-CC High School Intervals

~3 miles @ ~9.5 min/mi

"I'm not ready to do a 100 miler — yet!" says Stephanie Fonda. Then she flinches when she realizes what that would sound like to a normal person, especially so soon after her first ultra, the 2012-11-17 - Stone Mill 75k. We're at the Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School track on a chill, foggy Sunday morning. Stephanie jogs steadily while I attempt half a dozen 400m repeats, pacing a ragged 91, 94, 96, 96, 97, and 98 seconds, with two-minute half-lap recoveries between. Two other people are walking slow laps and chatting. Random band-aids stick to lane 2 in the northern straightaway. My right hip ITB is still achy; Stephanie experiences foot issues. (plantar fasciitis? achilles tendinitis?) Our average speed is the same; I never quite manage to overtake her during my intervals. We do a few bonus laps to make the total distance exceed ~3 miles, then retreat to the Louisiana Kitchen that Ken Swab and Barry Smith introduced me to a few weeks ago. After happy breakfast conversation I take carry-out catfish beignets home to the carnivores.

- Monday, December 24, 2012 at 04:24:43 (EST)

Trusted Advisor

A comrade at work told me about the concept of "Trusted Advisor" which he had encountered in a recent two-day corporate-leadership seminar. A trusted advisor is honest, dependable, responsible, and objective. And there's a "Trust Equation" that the authors of The Trusted Advisor (David H. Maister, Charles H Green, and Robert M. Galford) propose:

trustworthiness = (credibility + reliability + intimacy) / self-orientation

(Hmmm, so total Zen-like selflessness produces infinite trustworthiness, as long as the sum of the other three terms is nonzero? Maybe I take equations too literally!)

Note the word "intimacy" there, a delicate term that co-author Green analyzes on in a fascinating essay "Intimacy: If You can't Say the I-Word, You Have the I-Problem". He describes consulting for organizations who, "... are uncomfortable using the word 'intimacy' in a business context. They'd prefer something a little more, you know – business-ey. Intimacy, they feel, is, you know, that other stuff ... not appropriate ... uncomfortable ... you know ...". Green analyzes the real problem that fear of the word "intimacy" symptomizes: an attitude toward customers, colleagues, employees, et al. that sees them as abstractions rather than human beings. Serious stuff, and worth thinking about.

- Sunday, December 23, 2012 at 07:37:46 (EST)

2012-11-28 - Speedy Neighborhood Loop

~7 miles @ ~8.7 min/mi

Yesterday afternoon while crunching into a dried wasabi pea a tooth breaks — it was already cracked and overdue for fracture — so this morning it's take-time-off-work to visit the dentist. Nothing he can do immediately, so schedule a crown installation in a month when he returns from vacation. This afternoon is the signing ceremony for our latest mortgage refinancing op. Not enough time between to go to the office. What else to do but run? The X-rays that check out my molar raise atoms to an unusually high energy level, and pace is brisk like wind and temperature this morning. After half a block the inner gyro locks and directs me along Forest Glen to Georgia and then north to Plyers Mill. Instead of branching homeward prematurely, as on 2012-10-09 - Lost in the Neighborhood Woods, today it's sweet to glide down the long hill and only turn south at St Paul, where an "archway of springtime pink dogwood flowers and cherry blossoms" suddenly springs to mind from when I last ran this road in 2003. Zig across railroad tracks at Kensington Station and zag by the Post Office. Coast down Kensington Parkway to Rock Creek Trail. Push to maintain speed as breath comes faster. Slow only slightly climbing from stream valley to home ridge. Garmin GPS splits are 9:25 + 8:36 + 8:20 + 8:45 + 8:14 + 8:25 + 8:49 (the Ireland Dr hill) plus a final faster fragment for the last block to read 7.10, with Runkeeper in close concordance at 7.15. Pulse a minute after finishing is ~140. Right hip-end ITB aches before and is achier afterward. Perhaps shorter, faster runs are appropriate for the near future?

- Saturday, December 22, 2012 at 05:21:23 (EST)

Free Smells


... a neon sign glowing in the window of Jimmy John's sandwich shop in Bethesda early one morning ...

- Friday, December 21, 2012 at 04:02:53 (EST)

2012-11-27 - Clemyjontri Laps with Kristin

~2.5 miles @ ~10.5 min/mi

It's dark at 5:30am, and a temperature of 40°F in light rain isn't too comforting either. But when I arrive Kristin has already been running laps for almost half an hour on the rubbery ~1/6th mile path at Clemyjontri Park next to Georgetown Pike in northern Virginia. I've jogged past here dozens of times since 2009 but never ventured inside. It's called "one of the world's coolest playgrounds" but in the gloom we can't see much of it. Kristin and I do about 15 loops together, chatting about how we met our respective spouses, meltdowns that our kids had recently, etc. We have some spooky parallels in our families, though I'm a couple of decades farther down the road ahead of her. The Garmin GPS credits us with ~2.77 miles together at ~10 min/mi pace. Runkeeper's app on the iPhone is more conservative, at 2.60 miles and ~11 min/mi. Split the difference, and add ~2 miles for Kristen's warm-up. Afterwards she stretches while I attempt to do a pull-up, and fail. We drive the few miles down the road to the office and get to work.

- Thursday, December 20, 2012 at 04:02:30 (EST)

Status and Teaching

In the book Impro author Keith Johnstone explains (in "Notes on Myself", section "Getting the Right Relationship") group interaction and how to teach improvisational theatre, or just about anything else, most effectively:

The first thing I do when I meet a group of new students is (probably) to sit on the floor. I play low status, and I'll explain that if the students fail they're to blame me. Then they laugh, and relax, and I explain that really it's obvious that they should blame me, since I'm supposed to be the expert; and if I give them the wrong material, they'll fail; and if I give them the right material, then they'll succeed. I play low status physically but my actual status is going up, since only a very confident and experienced person would put the blame for failure on himself. At this point they almost certainly start sliding off their chairs, because they don't want to be higher than me. I have already changed the group profoundly, because failure is suddenly not so frightening any more. They'll want to test me, of course; but I really will apologise to them when they fail, and ask them to be patient with me, and explain that I'm not perfect. My methods are very effective, and other things being equal, most students will succeed, but they won't be trying to win any more. The normal teacher-student relationship is dissolved.

Yes, and in some ways this sure sounds like what some call sandbagging, deliberate self-deprecation ...

(cf. PretenseAndLackThereof (1999-10-11), StatusGenetics (2000-05-24), ...)

- Wednesday, December 19, 2012 at 04:37:25 (EST)

2012-11-25 - CCT Meet-Up

~6 miles @ ~10.7 min/mi

I'm ~10 minutes early for the rendezvous with Rebecca Rosenberg, Ken Swab, and Barry Smith, so I sit on the bench in downtown Bethesda and eat part of a Snickers bar while waiting. The gang soon appears and we do an out-and-back southwards along the CCT, diverting onto the Little Falls Trail for part of the return. Conversation is light and fun. "V" (Javi) Hartenstine materializes from a side path and runs with us for the final mile; she greeted me earlier this morning and now is finishing her ~3 hour ramble. When asked "What are you training for?" she replies, "Dinner!". The Garmin measures a reasonable 6.34 miles while Runkeeper says 6.54 with a glitch at the Dalecarlia tunnel. Rebecca and I agree that we need to start training seriously for the spring marathon season. Barry kindly gives me a ride home.

(cf. 2012-06-30 - Meet V, 2012-07-01 - Rock Creek Ramble (and V Again), ...)

- Tuesday, December 18, 2012 at 04:14:22 (EST)

2012-11-25 - CCT Tempo Trek to Bethesda

~4 miles @ ~9 min/mi

"Good morning!" I greet the lady with the flushed-red cheeks on the Capital Crescent Trail. My face is likely the same, given the breeze and near-freezing temperature. After yesterday's 5 mile race I have minor right-hip ITB soreness, but still push the pace for rough splits of 10:10 + 9:15 + 9:05 + 7:30 with that final sprint to the CCT milepost 3.5 sign. The Garmin GPS says 4.05 miles, likely quite accurate; the iPhone Runkeeper app claims 4.61 including some major glitches as I emerge from the tunnel under Wisconsin Av.

- Tuesday, December 18, 2012 at 04:05:59 (EST)

Magazine Memories

They say you always remember your first time. In my case, that apparently means monthly printed publications:

And before there was an Internet, there was Galaxy, and Popular Science, and Worlds of IF, and Electronics Illustrated, and The New Yorker, and QST, and ...

(cf. GeoMemory (2001-05-07), PlasticMemory (2001-07-10), ...)

- Monday, December 17, 2012 at 04:35:10 (EST)

2012-11-24 - MCRRC Turkey Burnoff 5 Mile Race

5 miles @ 7.5 min/mi

New Personal Best by 4+ minutes! — but not totally unexpected, given the anomalously slow 5 mile time on the Road Running Records graph and chart earlier this year. The old legs feel solid, even though the 2012-11-17 - Stone Mill 75k was only last weekend. Perhaps brisk winter weather helps.

A small buck dashes across the road at mile ~2.9; another one strolls through the woods behind him but hesitates to cut through the straggling line of runners. We're on the "Deer Loop", a back-woods picnic area in Seneca Creek State Park. It's part of the MCRRC "Turkey Burnoff" course, a race held on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Competition in the 5 mile event is somewhat light, since the 10 miler is what counts for the club award series.

The Runkeeper app and Garmin GPS roughly agree on splits: 7:12 + 7:27 + 7:31 + 7:18 + 7:35. Official results have me 33rd overall out of 332 total finishers. I'm beaten by two young girls aged 12 and 13, and overall finish behind 24 of the 148 men and 6 of the 166 women.

But I do come in first of 12 in the 55-59 year male bracket. Even though I turned 60 a couple of months ago one doesn't change groups until the new calendar year. The oldest folks finishing ahead of me are two 51 year old men and two 40 year old ladies; the next higher age group is won by a 61 year old male in 37:51. My total gun time is 37:32 and chip time is 37:19, for an average pace of about 7:28 min/mi and a 50-second lead over the second place group finisher.

Eric Johnston chats with me after the race and reports he had me in his sights but couldn't quite catch up to pass me at the 5 mile finish line. John Way does the 10 mile race at a pace faster than my 5 miler. Barry Smith kindly drives me to and from Seneca Creek State Park. I treat him to a bagel and coffee afterwards.

(photo by Connie Corbett)


- Sunday, December 16, 2012 at 12:12:07 (EST)

Concept Arbitraging

A good comrade (EC) suggests the other day in a quasi-poem email that I'm exceptional at something he intriguingly refers to "arbitrage" — I speculate he means building bridges. He writes:

I wonder why you find it so easy to arbitrage concepts
Across disciplines and others find it so difficult.
Have any theories?
I've found
It's a skill of successful poets/artists

Hmmm! My reactions flow quickly through the sequence:

... yes, and leaping ahead (as I am wont to do) to that final question, some candidate answers:

More on some of these another time — unless they're discussed here too much already in years past!

- Saturday, December 15, 2012 at 04:23:29 (EST)

The F'ing

Recent iPhone autocorrection glitch: "The Ring", a 71-mile ultramarathon run on the Massanutten Trail, early this week sneakily turns into "The F'ing" and produces an instant-inadvertent double entendre. Fortunately my text-message "We can do The F'ing as a team at night" occurs during a chat with dear comrade ultrarunner Caren Jew, who <<ROFL>>'s back and doesn't take it the wrong way!

(cf. 2009-09-05 - One Third of The Ring, 2011-09-03 - DNF The Ring, ...)

- Friday, December 14, 2012 at 04:11:05 (EST)

2012-11-22 - Thanksgiving Tempo Trot

~14 miles @ ~9.6 min/mi

"Happy Thanksgiving!" I say to Gayatri Datta when she comes to her front door. Then I cruise down the street a couple of blocks and greet Ken Swab likewise. Ken has a pack of runners at his place celebrating a late-morning brunch after the local YMCA-sponsored Turkey Trot. They're amused when I venture inside only to refill water bottles. My mission: put a few brisk test miles onto the old legs after the 2012-11-17 - Stone Mill 75k ultra last weekend. Half an hour later, "Ow!" I say out loud several times. After mile 10 the left metatarsals ache badly. Are thick socks to blame? Perhaps the bones of the foot are slightly squeezed? Back at home post-circuit, "Yay!" I say when, for the first time in ages, a number less than "140" appears on the digital scale display. Not much less, mind you, and it's clearly due to dehydration, but still perhaps it's a small sign of progress. Later today I make up for it with (vegetarian) Thanksgiving Day dinner in Brunswick MD with family friends. Runkeeper thinks I've done a third of a mile farther than the Garmin GPS; both are off a bit after going through the CCT tunnel in Bethesda.

- Thursday, December 13, 2012 at 04:17:20 (EST)

Positive and Obvious

From the "Introduction" of Keith Johnstone's book Impro for Storytellers:

By happenstance I've spent my life teaching the skills that my teachers had ignored. I encourage negative people to be positive, and clever people to be obvious, and anxious people not to do their best. ...

(cf. Impro (2012-11-10), Yes, and... (2012-11-14), ...)

- Wednesday, December 12, 2012 at 04:39:39 (EST)

2012-11-17 - Stone Mill 75k

~47 miles @ ~17 min/mi

Stephanie Fonda and Mark Zimmermann at mile 28 of the 2012 Stone Mill 50 miler - photo by Mark Schadly

(photo by Mark Schadly)

"Don't ask me to run the last mile in 8:17!" declares Stephanie Fonda after 11+ hours of trekking. (She's alluding to our blitz last month along the Metropolitan Branch Trail.) We're in the final stretch of the 2012 Stone Mill 50 miler, Stephanie's first ultramarathon.

As it turns out we "only" do ~47 miles, a bit over 75 km. This year's official course is a couple of miles shorter than planned, and at a temporarily unmanned aid station I inadvertently lead Stephanie along the wrong side of Seneca Creek for the segment between Germantown Rd and Riffleford Rd. That path saves ~1 mile but requires considerable scrambling across wash-outs, through muddy ditches, over massive deadfalls, and across wildly tipping wooden bridges, one canted funhouse-like 30° off horizontal. "I've got bark rash on my butt!" Stephanie complains after we sit and swivel over the trunks of ancient trees taken down by Hurricane Sandy just three weeks ago.

The day before the event Gayatri Datta picks up race packets for Stephanie and me. On Saturday morning I rise at 3am, pick up Stephanie at 4:30, get her coffee at the Giant on the way to Gayatri's home at 4:50, and arrive at Watkins Mill HIgh School at 5:15, comfortably early. We register, deposit our drop bags, and then retreat to the car to stay warm. The thermometer reads 28°F. Venus gleams bright in the eastern sky.

At the back of the pack where we begin conversation is light-hearted. We circle the school building and slant down the trail. Ultrarunner comrade Caroline Williams is with us and we chat about her Vermont 100 plans. Soon — too soon, I think — returning runners start to meet us. The course marshalls turn us around at Brink Rd instead of Huntmaster Rd, cutting off a couple of miles from the initial out-and-back. I argue with them briefly, then acquiesce.

Downstream we jog. About mile 6 a couple of Delaware Trail Dawgs join us for a while. Stumpy, director of Stumpy's Marathon, makes me promise to do his race some day. The Dawgs run on and Mike Edwards falls in with Stephanie and Gayatri and me. Last year Mike kindly drove me to and from this race (see 2011-11-19 - Stone Mill 50 Miler DNF). But just last month he had knee surgery and today says he "only" plans to do 20 or 30 miles. He's wearing a cute kilt, but confesses to having more than socks on under it.

At about mile 9 in Seneca Creek State Park Mike stops the group and asks if we could have missed a turn some distance back. I argue not, and fortunately am able to summon up the course map on the iPhone. We proceed onward but with some trepidation. Happily, however, another mile downstream we encounter cheery volunteers directing us away from Seneca Creek and toward Muddy Branch, the proper outbound route.

The Stone Mill race is relatively uneventful this year, an excellent thing in an ultra. None of us fall down or get wet feet, though there are several scary stumbles that make adrenaline spike. Minor mishaps, however, abound. I forget Gayatri's hat and gloves at the C&O Canal entry aid station (mile ~23) while getting my water pouch refilled; I was carrying them for her stuffed into my backpack. A helpful volunteer hurls the gear across the canal to me after I scramble down the slope on opposite side. When I can't climb back up Gayatri gives me a hand and manages not to fall down herself. I'm reminded of the slip-slides that she and I experienced during the 2012-11-03 - Mike Broderick Memorial Run a fortnight ago.

The aid stations are universally well-stocked. One of them features beer, pumpkin Rice Krispy treats, and chocolate-coated bacon. Hot grilled cheese sandwiches are über-tasty at miles 27 and 33, as is the tongue-burning vegetarian soup. And there are "special brownies" that a volunteer wearing a pink curly fright-wig offers me. "Will I think that you have pink hair if I eat one?" I ask him. "No, they're not that special." he replies. Too late!

Other memorable sights along the way include frost-covered meadows at dawn, mid-day sunbeams glittering off the Potomac River, cool pine-needle-cushioned forest paths, and lovely vistas of Seneca Creek. We spy at least four live deer and one dead one. Passing cars on Route 28, a major highway, witness me pulling Stephanie's pants down — but no worries, I'm just helping her remove an outer shell that has become too warm. My iPhone battery dies after ~32 miles; the wrist Garmin GPS runs out of juice at mile ~37. Stephanie's newer-model Garmin makes it the whole way. On the trail we meet another runner who did the entire course solo the night before, and who is running the race today as the second half of a personal 100 miler.

(photo by ^z of Mike Edwards, Gayatri Datta, and Stephanie Fonda)

http://zhurnaly.com/images/running/Stone_Mill_2012_z_kt.jpgThe ^z reputation for fame (or infamy) is amusingly enhanced when, at a tiny country road crossing at mile ~20, we pause to let three cyclists zoom by. Stephanie claims that one shouts to the others, "Hey, I know that guy! I see him running! That is Mark Zimmermann!" I'm slightly skeptical that she heard him correctly. But I do have a distinctive appearance and I have been running around the county here for a decade now, so perhaps it's not that improbable a coincidence.

Elite ultrarunner Kerry Owens is ubiquitous, magically appearing at every aid station we visit and again at race's end. I dawdle at some of the rest stops for several minutes, and although Kerry doesn't violently throw Stephanie and me out from our lengthy Route 28 break she does taunt me with a sharp "Are you still here?" and appropriately prods us to get moving.

The biggest challenges Stephanie Fonda must overcome today, besides my interminable monologues, are blisters. A particularly bad set forms on the fourth toe of her right foot. Before, during, and after the C&O Canal segment she stops to treat them. Gayatri, at our insistence, trots on ahead to join other runners. At the mile 27 aid station a thoughtful volunteer suggests applying massive amounts of grease instead of bandages. That doesn't do much good, but at least it's different! After seriously painful walking for over an hour, at mile ~30 suddenly the biggest of the blisters breaks. (Stephanie shouts out a Bad Word to commemorate the occasion.) After that she can run again, so we begin to make good time. She gives me miniature Heath Bars that she's carrying; I share Atomic Fireballs.

(photo by Ken Trombatore)

After a longish pause at mile ~33 to rest, regroup, and ponder the pro's and con's of continuing, Stephanie decides to soldier on. I promise her that she can drop at any aid station and easily get a ride back. She attacks each segment as a separate event, and as we progress her speed continues to improve. In contrast, alas, I slow down as the sun begins to set and the sky fades through deep pinks and oranges. In Seneca Creek State Park (mile ~41) winter holiday lights are turned on for automobile drive-through, part of the Gaithersburg town festival. They're lovely and bright.

But past that point the gloom deepens, as do my spirits. Specters of being lost in the woods or falling down crowd around me. Pink's song "Please Don't Leave Me" plays in my head as Stephanie trots comfortably onward in the dark. At last I catch up with her at Clopper Rd, where she takes a slight wrong turn and I shout her back on course. Ms. S generously stays with me thereafter, mostly walking since I can't run safely in the dark. Her 90-lumen LED headlamp is brilliant, much stronger than mine. I resolve to get a similar one before further dark expeditions.

A fingernail-clip moon sets low in the west. Flashbacks sprint through my mind from past night journeys, especially the 2010-04-03 - Chocolate Bunny and the 2010-08-27 - Cheat Mountain Moonshine Madness where I had so much trouble. A headlamp plus LED flashlights in each hand aren't nearly enough for my old eyes.

Then near mile ~44 Stephanie and I meet Hank Savedge and his wife Michelle. They're picking their way along without any artificial illumination — the lamp that they had planned to pick up wasn't in their drop bag at the prior aid station. No deep thinking required: I hand them one of my flashlights. After they finish the race Hank seeks me out to return it. "It saved our lives!" he says in thanks.

"No big deal," I reply. Ultrarunners always do that sort of thing for each other. Another couple of miles down the trail Stephanie and I pass two guys walking along together, one supporting the weight of the other who has a badly-sprained ankle. They finish a little behind us. People help people. That's part of why we're out here.

(photo by Ken Trombatore)


Before the race buddy Ken Swab expresses doubts about my ability to stay quiet for half a mile. I succeed — but only during a segment early on when nobody else is within earshot. The rest of the race I'm havering as usual, with the bonus addition of some silly jokes I've recently memorized to atone for my inability to offer any humor during the 2012-10-28 - Marine Corps Marathon 2012, when Stephanie's ITB pain needed distraction. Today during the final miles Mr. Know-It-All subjects Stephanie to:

Somehow, Stephanie survives all that, and more. I mercifully refrain from expounding upon the physics of the spectra of mercury-vapor lamps versus low- and high-pressure sodium, even though I'm tempted as we arrive back at Watkins Mill Rd and see the glow of street lights ahead.

http://zhurnaly.com/images/running/Stone_Mill_2012_Stephanie_z_finish_mf.jpgAt the very end of our run Stephanie and I can't find the path through the woods as we approach the high school where the race began. Volunteers shout at us from the finish line area, but we can't make out what they are saying. Finally Race Director Doug Stevens laughs and says, "Just come on in!" rather than making us go the proper roundabout cross-country route. Officially Stephanie finishes 13:28:59 and I'm 13:29:01. Mayra Fairbairn takes photos of us. We stagger to the school cafeteria and nibble on pasta.

And now I'm befuddled: Gayatri Datta was far ahead of me, but the race officials say that she hasn't finished yet. Did Stephanie and I somehow pass her, perhaps during our off-course short-cut, perhaps elsewhere? Apparently yes: Gayatri finishes her second fifty miler safely, phones her son and husband to report the success, and tells me that she feels no need to do it again. I drive her home.

(photos by Mayra Fairbairn)


Stephanie proposes some "Life Lessons" from her first ultramarathon:

My Bottom Line: like St Crispin's Day in Henry V, the 2012 Stone Mill is a day of feats and memories, fellowship and pride. It's all good. (But given the short course and my digressions, guess I'd better try it again next year!)

(cf. Stone Mill 2012 race results, Stone Mill 50 Mile Run web site, 2011-11-19 - Stone Mill 50 Miler DNF, ...)

- Monday, December 10, 2012 at 04:36:56 (EST)

Even Smarter

A postscript to the line from the movie Bandits wherein Billy Bob Thornton's character "Terry" complains that the hardest thing about being smart is that you "... always pretty much know what's gonna happen next. There's no suspense."

Yes, and when you're really really smart you realize that, even if you totally know what's going to happen next, it's all part of one incredibly marvelous joyful unfolding of the universe. Suspense is no longer a factor.

Yeah, you knew I was gonna to say that ...

(cf. LookingUpGullible (2005-02-27), FarTooSmart (2006-10-10), Hear, Hear (2010-02-21), ...

- Sunday, December 09, 2012 at 10:48:50 (EST)


reddit calls itself "the front page of the internet". It's a bulletin-board-like domain with lots of sub-categories, easy posting of items, and one-click voting for or against those items. Popular articles and photos percolate "upwards". Tools exist to sort and view them in various dimensions. It's a fast way to find and share and prioritize gossipy-newsy links and essays for browsing entertainment.

Even more fascinating are some reddit terms used in article titles. Archetypal examples:

A huge amount of reddit is bogus, obscene, angry, etc. A subset, however, is rather amusing — in a watching-a-train-wreck sort of mode. What a wonderful new world the Internet has given us!

(cf. MustLoveDogs (2006-08-27), Go Out and Play (2009-09-07), Billion Wicked Thoughts (2012-04-24), ...)

- Saturday, December 08, 2012 at 04:52:07 (EST)

2012-11-12 - CCT with Ken

~3 miles @ ~10 min/mi

http://zhurnaly.com/images/Louisiana_Kitchen_mirror_breakfast.jpg"Stop walking! Turn back!" the voice shouts in the parking garage. Are you talking to me, I wonder? Yep — Ken Swab has just arrived and is climbing out of his forest-green Miata.

Monday holiday, slight achiness in right-hip ITB connection, taper time for upcoming 50 miler ... sounds like a short run and a long breakfast might be appropriate! So a little before 8am in downtown Bethesda Ken and I meet to trek out-and-back along the Capital Crescent Trail. The pace is comfortable, but I make Ken push it slightly at the end to get us below the magic "10" on the GPS displays. We skip the chance to pick up a half-full pack of Camels along the way, even though it would have looked cool to run with cigarettes dangling from our lips like hard-boiled detectives of film noir.

When done we go to the "Louisiana Kitchen and Bayou Bar" in Bethesda, where Barry Smith meets us for beignets and breakfast. Apparently the fantasy football league in which Barry and Ken compete isn't totally free: the loser of certain games has to buy the winner a meal! I take fried alligator beignets home to Paulette, and drop Barry off at the car dealership on the way. My route takes me near Cara Marie Manlandro's home but she doesn't answer the phone when I call, so CM and George miss out on the chance to sample some cajun food.


The Garmin GPS and the Runkeeper app concur.

- Friday, December 07, 2012 at 04:36:02 (EST)

Boob Check

A dozen miles into a long run a friend pauses to adjust an undergarment: "Boob Check!" she politely explains. The phrase is also a Hash House Harrier ("drinking club with a running problem") term for a slightly-crude trail marking on a cross-country course, where male runners in the lead must wait for a lady to show up. And apparently it's a variety of West Coast beer, sold to raise funds for breast cancer research. Hmmm — three new things I've learned!

- Thursday, December 06, 2012 at 04:08:48 (EST)

2012-11-11 - Sligo-Randolph-Rock Creek Loop

~16 miles @ ~10 min/mi

http://zhurnaly.com/images/Sligo_Creek_Trail_roadkill_buck.jpgMating is risky business, especially for deer: a dead stag lies by Sligo Creek Trail, hit by a car on University Blvd, presumably when he crossed the road looking for love. I pause to photograph his magnificent antlers. Today's trek is along the same course (but in the reverse direction) that Cara Marie Manlandro and I took during a spring 2011 journey together. Today the deer gate (parallel bars on the ground) at Brookside Gardens isn't as scary as it was then. Two mini-bags of Sports Beans and a pair of Succeed! e-caps are my only fuel along the way.

The baseball field at Wheaton Regional Park is occupied with players, tempting for another photo op, but I've already paused for too long. At Brookside Gardens I refill water bottles and meet a trio of ladies waiting outside the men's restroom; one of them has a young autistic son inside. I volunteer to check, confirm no others are there, and tell them "Go on in!"

Along Randolph Rd signs argue in Spanish against the same-sex marriage referendum which narrowly passed in the election last week. Two young women smile as they hold hands and walk along Rock Creek Trail. We wish each other "Good morning!" During the last half dozen miles I start feeling tired, and when I finish find that my weight is down 4 lbs, close to 140. Likely need more water, more sugar, maybe more electrolytes would have helped.

The Garmin GPS has gotten sick and refuses to download a trackfile, so the iPhone app Runkeeper track file must suffice for map data. From the Garmin (vs. Runkeeper) display aggregate data are 2:40:33 (2:40:35) time en route for 16.13 (16:20) miles, an average pace of 9:57 (9:55); individual mile splits look like 10:00 + 8:56 + 10:58 (pausing to photograph the poor buck) + 10:41 + 9:21 + 11:23 (pausing to refill water bottles) + 9:00 + 9:38 + 9:59 + 9:13 + 10:58 (another water stop) + 9:43 + 9:36 + 9:21 + 9:44 + 10:58 (getting tired and climbing up from Rock Creek valley) + final 0.13 mile sprint to home at 8:51 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, 2011-04-23 - Oh Deer Gate , ...)

- Wednesday, December 05, 2012 at 04:03:53 (EST)

Thop Words

"Stop Words" are terms that are omitted by some free-text information retrieval programs. They're usually common little strings like "the", "and", "of", and so forth. Leaving them out improves performance and often saves huge amounts of space in the computer-generated index. On the other hand, without them some queries can't be performed, or won't be at all efficient.

Yes, and a few mornings ago at 5:20am, while walking to the Metro, I got to thinking about another kind of stop word: controversial ones that tend to derail conversation, or at least act like speed-bumps. They're arbitrary sounds (or when written, letter-patterns) and are associated, in my world anyway, with vulgarity, obscenity, profanity, violent hatred, etc. Hence, euphemistically, the the F-word, the C-word, the N-word, etc.

Which raises the question: is there a naughty-offensive word for every letter of the alphabet? And how about truly obscure letters, like thorn, eth, hwair, yogh, and the like? Or thop, a letter that my thesis advisor, Kip Thorne, used in an astrophysics lecture four decades ago? Does thop even exist? (Why can't I find it anywhere?) And what's the unspeakable Thop-word? (hmmm, maybe thop itself? excuse me!)

(cf. Troublesome Words (2006-04-09), ...)

- Tuesday, December 04, 2012 at 06:21:38 (EST)

2012-11-10 - Stone Mill Course Preview

~5.7 miles @ ~13.7 min/mi

http://zhurnaly.com/images/running/Gayatri_Datta_SCGT.jpgThe #5 county Ride-On bus drops me off a block early — I yank the cord prematurely — so at 0645 I jog a block to get to Stephanie Fonda's home on time. We ride to Gayatri Datta's neighborhood but I can't remember her house number and tell Stephanie to park in the wrong driveway. Fortunately Gayatri spots us and waves from her front yard. At Watkins Mill High School the snafus continue: the three of us attempt to follow the Stone Mill 50 Miler course, in rehearsal for next week's race, but halfway around the building encounter a construction barrier that blocks our progress. We backtrack to the start and then try to find the cross-country trail down to Seneca Creek, with only partial success. Stephanie spies a path that leads us upstream under the Watkins Mill Rd bridge, so we take that and finally join the blue-blazed Greenway Trail proper. Along we trek, Gayatri and I offering advice to trail virgin Stephanie about picking up feet, avoiding stumbles and ankle rolls, etc. We try to slow down to race pace of ~15 min/mi but without success. Stephanie leads us back from the turnaround at Huntmaster Rd at ~12 min/mi for the middle of the journey. We cross Watkins Mill Rd and take the sidewalk back up the hill to the school, and then head home. Garmin GPS and Runkeeper app roughly concur on distance and pace.http://zhurnaly.com/images/running/Stephanie_Fonda_SCGT.jpg

- Monday, December 03, 2012 at 04:05:15 (EST)

Just One Thing

Rick Hanson's essay "Notice That You Are Alright Right Now" was so gentle-sweet (cf. It's Not So Bad, 2012-03-13) that I couldn't resist buying his wee book with the lowercase title just one thing. Its similarly subtle subtitle is "developing a buddha brain one simple practice at a time". J1T comprises 52 short musings, #47 of which is the aforementioned essay — but with "Alright" corrected (O Thank You, Nameless Editor!) to "All Right".

Though I'm a notorious list-lover I will strive mightily to refrain from tabulating Hanson's chapter titles, fine though they are. The book's spirit — neuroanatomy, meet mindfulness — is better illustrated via thoughtful tidbits. The first to catch my inner eye appears in the Introduction ("Using Your Mind to Change Your Brain"):

Basically, practice pulls weeds and plants flowers in the garden of your mind—and thus in your brain. That improves your garden, plus it makes you a better gardener: you get more skillful at directing your attention, thinking clearly, managing your feelings, motivating yourself, getting more resilient, and riding life's roller-coaser.

Practice also has built-in benefits that go beyond the value of the particular practice you're doing. For example, doing any practice is an act of kindness toward yourself; you're treating yourself like you matter—which is especially important and healing if you have felt as a child or an adult that others haven't respected or cared about you. Further, you're being active rather than passive—which increases optimism, resilience, and happiness, and reduces the risk of depression. At a time when people often feel pushed by external forces—such as financial pressures, the actions of others, or world events—and by their reactions to these, it's great to have at least some part of your life where you feel like a hammer instead of a nail.

What wonderful metaphors! More clips and commentary to follow ...

(cf. EngineeringEnlightenment (1999-10-09), Coming to Our Senses (2009-01-01), Fully Present (2011-02-14), Great Peace of Mind (2011-02-20), Core Buddhism (2011-10-17), ...)

- Sunday, December 02, 2012 at 06:38:28 (EST)

2012-11-07 - Chilly Ladder

~4.7 miles @ ~8.6 min/mi

"Two more?" I beg the groundskeeper who has just told me that he needs to lock up the University of Maryland track. It's approaching 8pm and I've been running in the dark for the past half hour. The field is dark, I'm the only one still circling it, and I'm on the penultimate repeat of my 400-800-1200-1600-1200-800-400 series of intervals. "Sure!" he tells me. He and his buddy on the motorized golf cart take their time checking the restrooms and closing everything down. I speed-walk through a half-lap recovery, then drop the hammer on the last loop. The pair of students wait kindly at the gate for me to stagger out. I thank them and apologize, "I'm not throwing up!" as I bend over to spit on the mulch outside. "Know how you feel," one replies.

Overall the pace during fast laps of my ordeal is close to 7 min/mi for the running bits. Split times 1:50 + 3:33 + 5:18 + 7:01 + 5:13 + 3:28 + 1:36 from the Garmin GPS; I carry the iPhone with Runkeeper app active. Kind friend Stephanie Fonda texts me about her treadmill speedwork today and inspires me not to stop before I finish the series. Son Robin does shorter intervals and runs with me for the last 100m of my tough mile, then takes refuge in the car from the cold west wind. We both reward ourselves with veggie gyro Value Means at the Marathon Deli. My weight continues to drop a bit, from the upper 140s into the lower 140s again, perhaps thanks in part to Stephanie's orders to avoid sugary sodas. Later that evening, about 10:30pm, I get an ocular migraine aura, a growing blind-spot with vibrating edges. No headache, though.

- Saturday, December 01, 2012 at 18:42:08 (EST)

Meinke Family Tree

Personal ancestry is terra incognita to me, so when I visited my Mother many moons ago I interviewed her about the family tree. Lest the scrap of paper with my notes get lost here's a transcription, rotated into hierarchical list format:

More to follow, perhaps, some day ...

(cf. BookhouseBoy (1999-09-29), Zimmermann's Cafe (2009-01-22), ...)

- Friday, November 30, 2012 at 04:06:42 (EST)

2012-11-04 - KenGar to Home

~6 miles @ ~9.8 min/mi

After a few minutes of cooldown from the 2012-11-04 - Wormhole to KenGar dash I join Alyssa Smith, Emaad Burki, Ken Swab, and Rebecca Rosenberg at Rock Creek Trail milepost #7. After exchanging obligatory rubber glove jokes we see Barry Smith approaching from the north, and set off southward with him. Ken and Alyssa run ahead, Rebecca and Barry hang back, and Emaad and I run a bit with Rick, a new face who came to check out the 8am MCRRC group but missed them by a couple of minutes. Emaad tells me about his plans to try for a fast marathon early next year, about the Hansen-Brooks training approach (see [1], [2], etc.), and about the upcoming major election. We agree on most issues, including gay marriage, the complexity of state-sponsored gambling, and the attractiveness of the B&A Marathon (see 2012-03-04 - B and A Marathon) which we encourage each other to register for. After three miles we pause for Ken and Alyssa to catch up, then continue another mile with them to RCT milepost #3. The gang then turns back towards where they began and I proceed onward to home. As they vanish in the distance I shout, "Negra Modelo! Negra Modelo!" — there are a pair of bottles in the 'fridge — but to no effect. At the branch from RCT to Ireland Dr a quartet of big does, probably looking for love, move off the trail to let me pass; it's deer mating season now. The Runkeeper iPhone app gives the distance as 6.08 miles and splits of 10:35 + 9:26+ 9:15+ 10:09 + 9:19+ 9:51 — I inadvertently turn off the Garmin wrist GPS unit for half a mile in the middle of the journey so its data are incomplete but generally concur.

- Thursday, November 29, 2012 at 04:11:59 (EST)

Bluebird Feather


Bluebird feather found after a run on my birthday, 29 Sep 2012, and posed on a thistle for this portrait ...

- Wednesday, November 28, 2012 at 05:52:58 (EST)

2012-11-04 - Wormhole to KenGar

~7 miles @ ~9.5 min/mi

Set off from home at 0642, thinking that the distance to KenGar Park is at least 5 miles. Allowing for delays I should make it there by 8am for the planned meet-up with comrades. But taking the short way across the train tracks and down Newcastle Av gets me to the base of the Mormon Temple hill in less than a mile. Sunbeams glint on the golden spires. A lost pair of half-rubber cyclist gloves lies lonely on the ground. Climb to Kent St, zig past the Kensington post office, take Howard Av to Connecticut to Plyers Mill Rd and another half mile is saved. Startle a big rabbit that sits meditatively in the middle of the path down to the creek. Arrive more than 45 minutes early, so text everybody and let them know I'm heading north for an out-and-back.

Scare a deer near Dewey Park. Push the pace to Winding Creek Park near milepost 9, where the Matthew Henson Trail branches off. Take a hasty sip at the water fountain there, then blitz the two miles back to KenGar. Garmin GPS gives mile splits as 9:50 + 9:41 + 9:45 + 10:59 (including walk breaks to send text messages) + 9:16 + 8:31 + 7:56 (!). Runkeeper app on the iPhone is a little more conservative; I have to run another hundred yards to make it reach 7.00 miles. Greet Barry Smith, who also arrives early and begins his bonus warmup as I cool down and upload the results. The MCRRC 8am running group converges and sets off. Alyssa Smith, Emaad Burki, and Ken Swab appear, followed by Rebecca Rosenberg. We prepare to set out.

- Tuesday, November 27, 2012 at 04:05:32 (EST)

Extraordinary Man

Brian Doyle's profile-essay "The Right Honourable Mr. Burke" in the Summer 2012 American Scholar concludes with some striking personal anecdotes of his subject. Noteworthy in particular is the impression that Edmund Burke made on Dr Samuel Johnson (from James Boswell's Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides):

... if you met him for the first time in the street where you were stopped by a drove of oxen, and you and he stepped aside to take shelter for five minutes, he'd talk to you in such a manner, that, when you parted, you would say, this is an extraordinary man."

Doyle also tells about a time when Burke and a companion were touring an old cathedral (from James Prior's A Life of Edmund Burke):

... One of the Canons observing two respectable strangers making inquiries of the attendants, very politely came up to offer such explanations as they desired, when a few minutes only had elapsed before the feeling of superior information on such matters, with which he had met them, became changed to something like amazement at the splendor, depth, and variety of the conversation of one of the strangers. No matter what topic started, whether architecture, antiquities, ecclesiastical history, the revenues, persecutions, or the lives of the early ornaments and lives of the church; he touched upon them all with the readiness and accuracy of a master. They had not long separated when some friends of the Canon met him hurrying along the street: "I have had," said he, "quite an adventure; I have been conversing for this half hour past with a man of the most extraordinary powers of mind and extent of information, which it has ever been my fortune to meet, and I am now going to the inn to ascertain if possible who this stranger is." There he learnt that his late companion who had just set off, was the celebrated Mr. Burke. He regretted much that he had not known this sooner; and his friends that they had not had an opportunity of knowing or seeing him at all.

This is quite reminiscent of Ferdinand Mount's sketch of Sir Isaiah Berlin, gentleman and conversationalist — a combination of style and substance to which I can only dream of ascending. My actual volubility? Alas, more along the lines of the Mr. Know-It-All character played by Sir Ralph Richardson in the comic movie The Wrong Box. Perhaps I should take speech lessons ...

(cf. SelfAbsorption (2003-03-27), ...)

- Monday, November 26, 2012 at 04:04:14 (EST)

2012-11-03 - Mike Broderick Memorial Run

~8 miles @ ~14.8 min/mi

"Even if something is crazy, if you talk about it often enough it begins to sound reasonable," Michele Harmon says in describing how she lured Mike Broderick into doing his first 100 miler with her. Mike died from lung cancer two years ago, and this morning a crowd is gathered to remember him and run along his favorite trail. Michele and Mike trained with each other and ran the Rocky Raccoon 100 together in 2002. At mile 80, Michele reports, Mike declared "There shall be no more running in this race!" They walked it out together. Linda Wack, Doug Sullivan, Tom Corris, and others tell stories of Mike's helpful spirit, praise his wife Jill and family members who are present, and reflecte on how much Mike still influences us all. On the trail 90 minutes later, Megan Carroll and Gayatri Datta and I exchange our own Broderick memories. Mike coached trail runs and marathon training programs. He took the time to run with everyone, and when he was with you he listened, advised, and made you feel special regardless of pace.

Before the talks begin Joe Clapper greets me. He's the director of the "Magnus Gluteus Maximus" (yes, that's Latin for "Big Fat Ass") VHTRC fun run and reminds me that I need to sign up. I do so on the spot via iPhone browser. Then Rebecca Rosenberg chats with me. We're thinking about the B&A Marathon in March, for which registration has just opened. Rebecca plans to do the Rosaryville 50k next weekend. I'm tempted to join her, but suspect it would be madness to do so just before the Stone Mill 50 miler. (But when has that stopped me?!)

We start running at 9:40am, speedsters dancing ahead on the trail. Gayatri leads a small pack including Megan, Rebecca, and Don Libes. We talk, walk the hills, and eventually settle down to trekking. Don and Rebecca run onward. Megan is about to reach a symbolically-major birthday and is building up distance after time off. She explains weight training and other exercises, which sound like a wise strategy after her experience of injuries when building toward major marathons in years past. Megan has entered the HAT Run 50k lottery, and I offer my advice for that race: hillwork! When she notes that I seem to have become much faster I cheerfully reveal the Big Secret that CM Manlandro taught me ca. 2008: it's OK to keep running even after you're tired. (Duh! But it was news to me, in a way. Thank you, CM!)

Heading downstream there are numerous small tributaries streams to cross. Gayatri is in the lead and slips near the top of a gully. I slap a hand to the small of her back and stop her fall. We joke about toppling domino-fashion backwards into the ditch, like the Three Stooges. Soon it's my turn to stumble and almost take a tumble. We meet a pair of bow hunters trekking along the path. After 4+ miles on the GPS Megan turns back, and though she says it's unnecessary Gayatri and I decide to accompany her; we've had enough distance for today. I'm running in between my two companions again, trip on a root, and do a spectacular stagger-recovery to avoid knocking Gayatri down. Megan witnesses it and almost applauds. A little later, in the lead I nearly fall again. Gayatri and I both are wearing Brooks Cascadias, and suspect that they're slightly longer than the road shoes we're accustomed to. Fortunately the toe protection is good and neither of us gets injured.

Megan moves out in front of Gayatri and me as we re-enter Seneca Creek State Park. We re-converge to finish the run; I take a photo of my comrades in their color-coordinated turquoise-aquamarine attire.


(cf. Mike Broderick, R.I.P. (2011-03-08), ...)

- Sunday, November 25, 2012 at 05:55:13 (EST)

No Worries, Mate

About 11 hours into the Stone Mill trail run last Saturday comrade Stephanie Fonda quotes a colleague who spent time in Australia and who described to her a rank-ordering of Australian greetings. "No worries, mate" means all's well; "Good on ya" is OK; "Big worries" suggests trouble looms. The Wikipedia article titled "No worries" leads to a delightfully apropos summary of the archetypal Australian style by Anna Wierzbicka, Polish-Australian linguist:

... amiability, friendliness, an expectation of shared attitudes (a proneness to easy 'mateship'), jocular toughness, good humour, and, above all, casual optimism ...

... all of which are perfect traits for success in ultramarathoning — as well as everywhere else in life!

(cf. HowDoYouDo (2005-10-18), ...)

- Saturday, November 24, 2012 at 06:18:28 (EST)

2012-11-03 - Warmup in Seneca Creek State Park

~3 miles @ ~15 min/mi

Shorts over short-shorts, windshirt over long-sleeved shirt, gloves over hands: it's brisk but not frigid at 6:40am, thanks to minimal wind and overnight clouds. At 7:00am the J2 Metrobus is due at Grubb Rd as it heads for Bethesda on East-West Hwy. Jogging ~1.5 miles at ~10 min/mi gets me there with a few minutes to spare. Gloom is heavy except beneath streetlights. The old water bottle almost bounces out of the old fanny pack until I drink it down a bit. A truck idles in front of the discount tire warehouse, driver eager to be first in line for new radials when it opens in a couple of hours. Four heavily bundled guys are at the bus stop ahead of me, and more show up just before the crowded J2 arrives. I climb on last and snag the penultimate seat, text Gayatri Datta to let her know all's well, and then settle back to read some Reddit. An amusing item catches my eye and I forward a link to comrade Stephanie Fonda, who's out of town visiting her family in New York this weekend. As the bus approaches Gayatri's neighborhood at 7:25am I yank the cord and get off. There's no sign at the end of her street. I overshoot, text her again, summon up a GPS map, backtrack, and find her outside in sandals, warming up her car and getting ready.

At Seneca Creek State Park we likewise overshoot and take a mini-tour of the area before finding the "Nuthatch" pavilion. A bonfire blazes. I chat with Tom Corris in front of it about the Massanutten Mountain Trail 100 miler and other running topics until Gayatri drags me out at 8:15am for our warmup before the official Mike Broderick Memorial Run. We trot down the road and almost bump into Mary Lou, Anton Struntz's wife, whom I met less than a week ago at the Marine Corps Marathon. We shared a table in the MCRRC hospitality suite before and after the race. Today Mary Lou is out for her long run — small world! We greet Michelle Price who's also out doing a few early bonus miles. Then Gayatri and I branch north onto the Seneca Creek Greenway Trail, thick with leaves that cover roots and dips. At the Nuthatch picnic area we rejoin the road and trek back to the Lake Shore Trail, pause at a restroom, then do a bit more off-road mileage before heading back on asphalt to our start. Sara Crum drives past and offers us a ride, but Gayatri and I thank her and decline. We're just in time to join in the celebration of Mike Broderick's too-short life.

(cf. RunKeeper and Garmin GPS trackfiles, ...)

- Friday, November 23, 2012 at 04:26:02 (EST)


Earlier this week I gave a short talk to a group of colleagues about a project that I led a few months ago. Public speaking always makes me nervous, though somehow it usually turns out OK. This time instead of blasting through a hastily abridged reenactment of the two-hour final project briefing, I tried doing a meta-briefing — a talk about how to give a good talk, with the project as a case study. I sketched out how the briefing was developed and organized, quoted astrophysicist Chandrasekhar and statistician Tufte, emphasized the importance of revealing the Bottom Line Up Front ("BLUF"), and pointed out the value of concluding with high-level next-steps. As my own meta-bottom-line, I began by offering a four-word bumper-sticker mantra to remember:

Know Your Customer's Customer

That is, don't just study the direct sponsors who are paying for a job, but also analyze the driving forces behind their project and the people who will be served downstream. That way, whatever you do can be useful in the largest possible realm, even if your immediate customers themselves don't know the bigger picture.

And yeah, in spite of my nervousness the talk turned out ok. And it resulted in a meta-meta zhurnaly entry!

(cf. DoMeta (1999-05-08), MetaMan (2001-11-14), ...)

- Thursday, November 22, 2012 at 07:21:43 (EST)

2012-10-31 - Four 800m Intervals

~2.4 miles @ ~8.5 min/mi

As Samuel Johnson advised in 1752, "The greatest benefit which one friend can confer upon another, is to guard, and excite, and elevate his virtues." So I quote to running friend Stephanie Fonda, and so her example does for me on a gloomy Halloween night. Lights are out at the UM track and a chill west wind blows briskly. Folding sign says not to use the field because of an athletic event, but none is obviously in progress. A trio of students finish their walk around the oval as Robin and I arrive.

We set off too fast, with my warmup pair of laps at 3:34. Repeatedly I hit the wrong button on the Garmin as exhaustion looms. The plan to do 10 reps becomes 6, then 5. Remember the 1967 Keith Laumer story titled "Test to Destruction"? Heartbeat races ~180. Subsequent 800m dashes of 3:24 + 3:23 + 3:24 are too fast to sustain. Stop after fourth repeat and head with Robin for Marathon Deli, where as part of attempt with Stephanie to watch diet I avoid sugared soda for a change with my greasy salty french fries and veggie gyro "Value Meal". See Garmin GPS and Runkeeper iPhone for data.

- Wednesday, November 21, 2012 at 04:18:45 (EST)

Scents and Sensibility and Brian Eno

Kind correspondent Lila Das Gupta last month pointed me toward an old essay by Brian Eno that she knew I would love, not least because of the vocabulary and philosophy it contains. "Scents and Sensibility" appeared in Details magazine in July 1992, and begins autobiographically:

I started thinking about smell in 1965. At art college, a friend and I made a little collection of evocative aromas, housed in about fifty small bottles. There was rubber, naptha, motorcycle dope, cuir de russe (used to make leather smell like leather rather than dead animals), gasoline, ammonia, juniper wood. In 1978, in a neglected and unlikely part of London, I discovered an old pharmacy that was crammed with oils and absolutes.

Their beautiful names — styrax, patchouli, franipani, amber, myrrh, geraniol, opoponax, heliotrope — and their familiar/strange aromas attracted my curiosity, and I bought over a hundred bottles. Soon I found myself actively collecting the primary materials of perfumery — in Madrid I found a crumbling apothecary's with dozens of mysteriously labeled phials; in San Francisco I discovered the strage olfactory world of Chinatown, of five spices and jasmine and ginseng; a woman I met in Ibiza gave me a minute bottle containing just one drop of an utterly heavenly material called nardo (I later came to think that this was probably spikenard oil, extracted from a shrub growing at between six and eight thousand feet on the Himalayas and used by wealthy Indian ladies as a prelude to lovemaking).

I started mixing things together. I was fascinated by the synergies of combinations, how two quite familiar smells carefully combined could create new and unrecognizable sensation. Perfumery has a lot to do with this process of courting the edges of unrecognizability, of evoking sensations that don't have names, or of mixing up sensations that don't belong together. ...

Eno goes on from there to rhapsodize about the dimensionality of aroma, and to speculate about metaphors connecting fragrance and the rest of experience:

So, just as we might come to accept that "coriander" is a name for a fuzzy, not very clearly defined space in the whole of our smell experience, we also start to think about other words in the same way. Big Ideas (Freedom, Truth, Beauty, Love, Reality, Art, God, America, Socialism) start to lose their capital letters, cease being so absolute and reliable, and become names for spaces in our psyches. We find ourselves having to frequently reassess or even reconstruct them completely. ...

Fascinating thoughts, about uncertainty and life ...

(cf. Underappreciated Ideas (1999-07-06), ThoughtfulMetaphors (2000-11-08), ...)

- Tuesday, November 20, 2012 at 04:26:04 (EST)

2012-10-29 - Hurricane Sandy Soggy Circuit

~4 miles @ ~9.6 min/mi

"Thweep! Thweep! go the plucked phone lines. Wind gusts sway tree branches to strum the wires, catching and letting go. A rumble-thrum ricochets across Brookeville Rd as flat metal roofs rip-rattle at the industrial park. Hurricane Sandy is approaching this mid-Monday afternoon. Rain comes down in near-horizontal pellets that sting like sleet. Official records show 30-40 mi/hr blasts and temperature falling through 50°F. A great time to run, stretch the legs and see how everything feels after yesterday's Marine Corps Marathon. Within the first mile stop twice to pull up sagging anklet socks. Throw them away as soon as the run is over. Beltway traffic is thin.

Few branches have fallen, but bronze-scarlet-ocher autumn leaves coat the path to form a slippery surface. Puddles dapple Ireland Dr down to Rock Creek Trail. The stream fills its banks and scrapes the shores. A young couple clad in slickers and hoods pause on the bridge near mile marker 1.7 to photograph the flood; they're startled by my footfalls on the wooden span. Under the high railroad trestle waters on the path are almost knee deep. I wade cautiously, one hand on the stone retaining wall for stability. Squidgy up the stairs at Ray's Meadow, past a boarded-over apartment building with signs that warn of contamination. Climb the hill to the Capital Crescent Trail, then dance through rivulets and pools to its end. A porta-john door bangs shut as a young man emerges and dashes to his car.

Race for home, with mile splits on the Garmin GPS of 9:43 + 9:23 + 9:53 + 9:24 and a fast final fragment back to the front steps. Runkeeper generally concurs.

- Monday, November 19, 2012 at 04:10:40 (EST)

Hammers and Nails

"If all you have is a hammer, throw away everything that's not a nail!" Besides being a clever aphorism it's part of a title of a recent paper on parallel algorithms by University of Maryland professor Jimmy Lin. His conclusion, briefly, is that since there's already one excellent tool to solve many important problems, then instead of inventing new, marginally better approaches that are complicated and hard to maintain, it's best to figure out how to make the standard tool work in broader domains. Far beyond that realm, yes, something radically different is needed. But Lin puts it more artfully:

To apply a metaphor: Hadoop is currently the large-scale data processing hammer of choice. We've discovered that, in addition to nails, there are actually screws—and it doesn't seem like hammering screws is a good idea. So instead of trying to invent a screwdriver, let's just get rid of the screws. If there are only nails, then our MapReduce hammer will work just fine. To be specific, much discussion in the literature surrounds the fact that iterative algorithms are not amenable to MapReduce: the (simple) solution, I suggest, is to avoid iterative algorithms!


Taking the metaphor a bit further (and at the expense of overextending it): On the one hand, we should perfect the hammer we already have by improving its weight balance, making a better grip, etc. On the other hand, we should be developing jackhammers—entirely new "game changers" that can do things MapReduce and Hadoop fundamentally cannot do.

Good thoughts, applicable to topics far beyond computer science ...

- Sunday, November 18, 2012 at 17:28:53 (EST)

Lisp Curse

"Lisp is so powerful that problems which are technical issues in other programming languages are social issues in Lisp."

Sometimes (always?!) putting too much power into one person's hands is dangerous. Example: the failure of the LISP programming language over the years, as noted here before (cf. WorseIsBetter (2003-12-23), LISP Lover (2009-10-26), etc.). Rudolf Weinstock's 2011 essay "The LISP Curse" hammers the point home. If any individual can build an extraordinarily expressive, extensible system, then such clever hacks proliferate that nothing is maintainable, usable, or in some cases even comprehensible by programmers of mere ordinary levels of genius. So LISP systems don't catch on, and sub-standard but standardized languages do.

(cf. ThinkingToolsGoals (1999-04-09), HigherLevelLanguage (2007-08-17); kudos to Alex Schröder for pointing out Rudolf Weinstock's essay)

- Saturday, November 17, 2012 at 03:35:05 (EST)

2012-10-28 - Marine Corps Marathon 2012

~26.2 miles @ ~12.6 min/mi

Stephanie Fonda and Mark Zimermann at MCM 2012 - photo by Ken TrombatoreA new PW (Personal Worst) for time, a new PB (Personal Best) for fun and fellowship: the 2012 Marine Corps Marathon is a tough run for Stephanie Fonda, whose right ITB flares midway. We end up walking most of the final eight miles together and crossing the line a whisker under 5.5 hours. Stephanie had to ramp up her mileage rather quickly as she recovered from other injuries, so finishing well under all cutoffs was a success. (cf. Injury Avoidance)

For Gayatri Datta and me the MCM is really just a long training run with lots of cheering along the way and a medal at the end. The trio of Gayatri, Stephanie, and I hope to do the Stone Mill 50 miler together in three weeks. We'll see what hands life deals us that day!

The weather forecast for MCM this year warns of rain and high winds, but as usual for this part of the world the actual weather is warmer and arrives later than predicted. Race day morning is dry, with moderate wind gusts and temperatures stable near 60°F. I pick up Gayatri at her Bethesda home about 5:30am. We attempt to follow a route suggested by Ken Swab, but mistakenly exit from I-66 at the first US-29 crossing and lose a few minutes driving along it to the Holiday Inn in Rosslyn. The parking garage at street level is full of Wounded Warrior hand-crank cyclists getting ready for their race. All spaces are marked "reserved", so we go up a level and park as inconspicuously as possible in the most remote slot. At 6am the MCRRC Hospitality Suite welcomes us. We join Anton Struntz and his wife Mary Lou at a table in the back of the room.

Anton takes photos of us with my cellphone. I spy Gayatri with her outer pants pulled halfway down and join her doing likewise (no worries; we both have another layer underneath!). Ken Trombatore photographs us posing.

Stephanie Fonda arrives in Ken Swab's car, along with Rebecca Rosenberg, Barry Smith, and Emaad Burki. Stephanie and I wear matching shirts, fluorescent lime-green, to maximize visibility in race-day photos and to minimize the odds of losing each other in the crowds. Gayatri has on a bright blue shirt and a black top underneath. My baggy flaming-pink shorts, as recommended by Stephanie, have handy pockets. My fear of getting separated from friends cues the Pink song "Please Don't Leave Me" on the mental jukebox. When Stephanie mentions "I'm Still a Rockstar" I tell her about my other Pink favorites, "You and Your Hand" and "Raise Your Glass", along with a plug for Lady Gaga's "Edge of Glory" that raised spirits on Hains Point when I ran middle miles of the MCM last year with speedy Kate Abbott and Jennifer Wieland.

At 7:30ish Gayatri and Stephanie and I walk to the staging area, with a porta-john stop along the way. I duck my head to stay out of line with the starting-line howitzer's barrel. We aim for for our proper slot according to planned finish time, more or less realistic, unlike the vast majority of folks who start much too far up in the line and then get in the way of others as they take walk breaks.

The race begins and we wait, then walk, and finally lurch into a trot across the starting-line timing mats a full 14 minutes after the gun. Long climbs take us into Rosslyn, where after another porta-john pause we proceed to the crest of Spout Run, back down and then over the Key Bridge, and up Canal and Reservoir Roads in Georgetown. Gayatri notes with pride that we didn't walk any of the hills!

I cheer MCRRC FTM (First Time Marathon) program folks whenever we pass them in their red shirts. Much joking and banter occurs en route with fellow competitors. A kilt-clad man claims not to have heard the old chestnut I tell him (Q: What does a Scotsman wear under his kilt? A: Socks!) I applaud all obvious Texans and say "Go Navy" to Navy folks and "Go Army" to Army folks.

The first half of the race is rather warm. My sleeves are soon rolled up, Stephanie strips off her tangerine windbreaker, and Gayatri doffs her blue outer layer. Both put them back on later in the race as temperatures fall and winds rise. We enjoy stimulating discussions all along the way. Gayatri lectures on Indian literature and recommends reading Anuradha Roy and Arundhuti Roy. Later she denies saying that Bengalis are the world's greatest writers; I think, however, that she strongly implies it! I mention enjoying Death of Vishnu and meeting the author but can't recall his name (it's Manil Suri, from Mumbai, now a math professor at UMBC). We discuss movies: Stephanie recommends Moonrise Kingdom; I put in plugs for Run, Fatboy, Run and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World along with too many others.

I'm still suffering some odd chest pain, maybe in the left pectorals, first noticed yesterday. It bothers me when taking a deep breath, sitting up, reaching out, etc. Perhaps I strained a muscle or cracked a rib or otherwise damaged myself? Thankfully it doesn't seem to affect anything during the race. The big challenge of the MCM this year, alas, is Stephanie's right ITB, which starts twinging the day before along its entire length. She wears a strap cinched tight above the knee and tightens the band even more during our run. When the pain is most severe walk breaks seem to help. Stephanie also suffers from plantar fasciitis and metatarsalgia, though they pale in comparison to the ITB. We speculate as to possible causes. Increasing mileage too quickly? New inserts in the shoes to cushion the PF? Who knows? At least the left ITB isn't hurting Steph today, unlike in some prior runs.

Gayatri Datta and Mark Zimermann at MCM 2012 - photo by Ken Trombatore

I don't carry a water bottle, unusual for me. We pause at all aid stations and I drink as much Gatorade and water as possible. I give Gayatri a green gel, eat a couple of other flavors during race, and cop more to fill my pockets. I also snag a couple of mini-bags of salty sports jelly beans. In Georgetown I pick up an abandoned dayglo-green headband that's a near-perfect match for Stephanie's and my shirts. I wear it wrapped around a wrist for most of the day. On Hains Point I spy a quarter on the road, and at mile 25 I stoop for a cent: almost a penny/mile income today! Earlier during the run I tell Gayatri that I'm trying to get over my cheapskate-tightwad mental attitude. Apparently I'm not there yet.

Stephanie Fonda and Mark Zimermann at MCM 2012 finishOur trio reaches the half-marathon point in 2:33, right on schedule in spite of another break to visit the bushes before that. Porta-john lines are ridiculously long, and the course is annoyingly thick with runners for the entire distance, unlike past years. During miles 13-17 Stephanie accelerates, broken-field sprinting through the slower masses. This begins to exacerbate her right ITB problems, however, and by mile 18.5 the agony is bad enough that we persuade Gayatri to run ahead. Stephanie and I walk half a mile, and that improves things enough for her to keep limping onward. She scorns my suggestion to DNF. I dub myself a member of the "Order of the Garter" when I carry Stephanie's ITB strap for half a mile as she experiments with letting her right leg recover without it. Soon she puts it back on, extra tight, and jokes about cutting off circulation to numb the pain.

The music in Crystal City is excellent: Martin Solveig's "Hello" blasts loud with an infectious beat, and a live band plays The Proclaimer's "I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)". Hash Harriers offer tiny cups of Bud Lite beer, which I can't resist sampling. "You didn't even card me!" I tell one of them, to her amusement.

Our conversation is wonderful during miles ~24-26 (passing the Pentagon) as we walk and discuss friendships and acquaintances and families and priorities and running and life. There's something special about long-distance physical fellowship that brings out thoughtfulness, honesty, and joyful sharing.

Arriving at the finish line the crowds thicken. Super-helpful and polite Marines throughout the event offer fist-bumps and handshakes to all. To one of them I offer, "Two words of advice, sir: Hand Sanitizer!"

Stephanie and I finish with idential chip times — 5:28:57 — but somehow I manage to beat her by two places, 18,782 vs 18,784. A helpful competitor ahead of us takes a photo with my cellphone camera. Notice the Washington Monument peeking over Stephanie's right shoulder!

Gayatri comes in almost half an hour ahead of us. Walking back to the hotel Stephanie and I meet friends of hers and shake their hands, apologizing for energy-gel-sticky fingers. Dear friend Kate Abbott texts to report that she had to drop at mile 5: jostling and zig-zagging through the crowds exacerbated her sciatica/back/hamstring woes. Kate realized that she could stop in Rosslyn where the course loops back and get her drop bag immediately there. But she had already thrown her bib away in disgust and couldn't remember her number! Fortunately a friend answered Kate's phone call and was able to look the data up for her, and the kind Marines gave Kate her bag based on her word of honor.

After the race at the Hospitality Suite Anton Struntz almost persuades me to try an Ironman-distance triathlon some day. He tells of his training and what the requirements are, ~14 hours/week of work at the peak. Maybe some day!

(cf. Bless the Leathernecks (2002-10-28), MarineCorpsMarathon2004 (2004-11-07), 2009-10-25 - Marine Corps Marathon 2009, ...)

- Friday, November 16, 2012 at 04:17:40 (EST)

Fifty Mile Jinx

The day after tomorrow two dear friends plan to tackle the Stone Mill 50 Miler with me. An ominous historical pattern, however, has already emerged:

And now it is Gayatri's and Stephanie's turn to run 50 miles with me ...

- Thursday, November 15, 2012 at 05:04:03 (EST)

Yes, and ...

Yesterday morning's resolution:

Yes, and I will start saying "Yes, and ..." to everything!

As Keith Johnstone explains in Impro (Chapter "Spontaneity", section 5):

There are people who prefer to say 'Yes', and there are people who prefer to say 'No'. Those who say 'Yes' are rewarded by the adventures they have, and those who say 'No' are rewarded by the safety they attain. There are far more 'No' sayers than 'Yes' sayers, ...

Saying "No, but ..." is an act of blocking that stalls progress in improvisational theatre, and in life. Saying "Yes, and ..." is an act of accepting that propels the action forward, that opens the door to surprise and creativity and joy.

Yes, and as Shunryu Suzuki says in Not Always So, "So the secret is just to say "Yes!" and jump off from here. Then there is no problem. It means to be yourself in the present moment, always yourself, without sticking to an old self. ..."

Yes, and ...

- Wednesday, November 14, 2012 at 05:07:19 (EST)

2012-10-24 - Ten 200m Intervals at UM

~2.4 miles @ ~10.4 min/mi

The crewcut boy and the ponytailed girl occupy lanes 4 and 5 on the dark track tonight, chatting as they jog. Speedwork produces an almost-identical average pace: I pass them during 200m sprints, and they trot by during my recovery walks. Another young fellow is doing 400m repeats. "Good job!" I compliment him, and he reciprocates. During my penultimate repeat he asks if I'd like to partner for a lap; I apologize and decline, explaining that I feel obligated to finish the series I've started. He leaves before I can mention the Marine Corps Marathon coming up on Sunday. The Garmin GPS records splits in seconds of 48 + 45 + 43 + 43 + 43 + 43 + 43 + 44 + 43 + 44, nicely consistent. Runkeeper roughly concurs.

- Tuesday, November 13, 2012 at 19:04:38 (EST)

Softening into Experience

The Fall 2012 issue of Inquiring Mind includes an excerpt from Phillip Moffitt's book Emotional Chaos to Clarity: How to Live More Skillfully. In discussing challenges — mental, physical, emotional, financial, etc. — Moffitt offers a brilliant metaphor, that of "softening" rather than tensing up when facing troubles. He explains:

The untrained mind naturally reacts unskillfully to difficulties because it does not realize that there is an alternative response, which is to soften into the experience. By this I mean that you can learn to relax your attention and cease to resist the unpleasant feelings that arise in response to difficult situations.

Attention is the capacity of your mind to focus where you direct it, and the quality of your attention can vary dramatically depending on your life circumstances. During difficult times, when it is disturbed by tension, your attention may have a jumpy, rigid, fixed, or fuzzy quality. As a result you may be unable to effectively respond to difficult circumstances. Therefore it's crucial to cultivate relaxed attention.

In relaxed attention your focus is neutral. There's no tension in your attention, so you feel more at ease in the face of difficulty. You cultivate relaxed attention by practicing noticing the tension underlying your attention whenever you experience something difficult and remembering your intention to relax your attention. Most of the time the tension will release immediately. If you are deeply enmeshed in a difficulty, it may take some time for this release to happen, but with continued practice you will develop the ability to focus on any degree of difficulty without added tension.

Relaxed attention sets the stage for softening into your experience. I like to use the phrase softening into your experience because it captures the felt sense of relief that occurs when you become mindful of your resistance to the difficult and then release it. Softening into your experience isn't about collapsing or quitting on yourself but rather about fully accepting that difficulty is a natural part of life. When you stop objecting to the difficult, two benefits arise: you suffer less, and you have more energy at your disposal to skillfully deal with the difficult when it arrives.

Relaxation, acceptance, letting go — all quite unnatural, and so paradoxically central.

(cf. AikidoSpirit (2003-12-09), ...)

- Monday, November 12, 2012 at 05:58:21 (EST)

For back issues of the ^zhurnal see Volumes v.01 (April-May 1999), v.02 (May-July 1999), v.03 (July-September 1999), v.04 (September-November 1999), v.05 (November 1999 - January 2000), v.06 (January-March 2000), v.07 (March-May 2000), v.08 (May-June 2000), v.09 (June-July 2000), v.10 (August-October 2000), v.11 (October-December 2000), v.12 (December 2000 - February 2001), v.13 (February-April 2001), v.14 (April-June 2001), 0.15 (June-August 2001), 0.16 (August-September 2001), 0.17 (September-November 2001), 0.18 (November-December 2001), 0.19 (December 2001 - February 2002), 0.20 (February-April 2002), 0.21 (April-May 2002), 0.22 (May-July 2002), 0.23 (July-September 2002), 0.24 (September-October 2002), 0.25 (October-November 2002), 0.26 (November 2002 - January 2003), 0.27 (January-February 2003), 0.28 (February-April 2003), 0.29 (April-June 2003), 0.30 (June-July 2003), 0.31 (July-September 2003), 0.32 (September-October 2003), 0.33 (October-November 2003), 0.34 (November 2003 - January 2004), 0.35 (January-February 2004), 0.36 (February-March 2004), 0.37 (March-April 2004), 0.38 (April-June 2004), 0.39 (June-July 2004), 0.40 (July-August 2004), 0.41 (August-September 2004), 0.42 (September-November 2004), 0.43 (November-December 2004), 0.44 (December 2004 - February 2005), 0.45 (February-March 2005), 0.46 (March-May 2005), 0.47 (May-June 2005), 0.48 (June-August 2005), 0.49 (August-September 2005), 0.50 (September-November 2005), 0.51 (November 2005 - January 2006), 0.52 (January-February 2006), 0.53 (February-April 2006), 0.54 (April-June 2006), 0.55 (June-July 2006), 0.56 (July-September 2006), 0.57 (September-November 2006), 0.58 (November-December 2006), 0.59 (December 2006 - February 2007), 0.60 (February-May 2007), 0.61 (April-May 2007), 0.62 (May-July 2007), 0.63 (July-September 2007), 0.64 (September-November 2007), 0.65 (November 2007 - January 2008), 0.66 (January-March 2008), 0.67 (March-April 2008), 0.68 (April-June 2008), 0.69 (July-August 2008), 0.70 (August-September 2008), 0.71 (September-October 2008), 0.72 (October-November 2008), 0.73 (November 2008 - January 2009), 0.74 (January-February 2009), 0.75 (February-April 2009), 0.76 (April-June 2009), 0.77 (June-August 2009), 0.78 (August-September 2009), 0.79 (September-November 2009), 0.80 (November-December 2009), 0.81 (December 2009 - February 2010), 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), 0.9902 (December 2012-February 2013), 0.9903 (February-March 2013), 0.9904 (March-May 2013), 0.9905 (May-July 2013), 0.9906 (July-September 2013), 0.9907 (September-October 2013), 0.9908 (October-December 2013), 0.9909 (December 2013-February 2014), 0.9910 (February-May 2014), 0.9911 (May-July 2014), 0.9912 (July-August 2014), ... Current Volume. Send comments and suggestions to z (at) his.com. Thank you! (Copyright © 1999-2012 by Mark Zimmermann.)