^zhurnaly 0.9903

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Howdy, pilgrim! No ads — you're in volume 0.9903 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 = 0.9902 ... 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


"Good mathematicians see analogies. Great mathematicians see analogies between analogies."

- Stefan Banach, as quoted by Stanislaw Ulam

(cf. KenningConstructionKit (1999-11-17), CreativeDevices (2001-01-01), MetaMan (2001-11-14), Full Moon Metaphors (2007-10-29), Periodic Tables (2007-11-17), Never Say ... (2011-12-28), ...)

- Wednesday, March 20, 2013 at 04:15:55 (EDT)

2013-03-02 - Seneca Creek Greenway Trail 50k

~33.7 miles @ ~16 min/mi

http://zhurnaly.com/images/running/SCGT_2013_finish_Stephanie_Fonda_z.jpgAt 4pm with only ~3 miles to go the sun comes peeking out between the clouds at last. It shines on Stephanie Fonda's ears, which have turned so red from the cold that they almost match the color of her streaked hair. I remember the equivalent point in the 2006 SCGT marathon when sunlight sparkled off of Caren Jew's diamond ear stud as we ran toward the finish line.

Stephanie and I pass a young lady who doesn't have a bib but who is finishing the race nonetheless. Stephanie comments on how strikingly beautiful the woman is. I concur, but with the explicit disclaimer that, although I hate to sound like a Sensitive New Age Guy, I haven't had a chance to speak with her enough to know if she's really lovely.

We climb the final hill and cross the finish line timing mats together to share an official tie of DFL, Dead F*ing Last, in 8:58:09. By some vagary my chip time shows up as 8:57:48, one second behind Stephanie. (Later another person is listed as finishing after us, but not quite within the 9 hour cutoff.) My Garmin GPS credits us with more than 33.7 miles when I remember to stop it a couple of minutes after the endpoint. The iPhone I carry runs out of power a few miles earlier; its Runkeeper app gets confused and adds a few dozen miles from my home to the trackfile.

After some nervous moments, today's race turns out OK. What a wonderful day!

(photo by Hai Nguyen)

"Golden hours are coming to you" my fortune cookie says the night before the SCGT 50k. But it fails to forecast how many golden hours I will enjoy. At 5:25am Barry Smith drives me to Stephanie's home. We stop on the way to get 7-11 coffee. I pick a dark roast. Twelve hours later, Stephanie tastes what's left, after the cup has been sitting in her car all day while we run. "Great iced coffee!" she declares.

When Barry and I arrive at her home Stephanie gives Barry a pair of her running shoes to stow in his car. She's beginning the run today in minimalist Vivobarefoot trail slippers and wants the option to change back to conventional shoes. Far beyond the call of duty, friend Barry volunteers to meet us along the way as needed. He has a bad cough and doesn't plan to run today.

After an uneventful early-morning drive we huddle in Stephanie's car at the Damascus Regional Park, where the race will ultimately end. When the third yellow school bus arrives to shuttle runners to the start we climb onboard and sit on the floor at the very rear. The ride to Riley's Lock on the Potomac is uneventful, except for some coccyx-bruising bumpiness. Once there, waiting in the porta-john line is one of the best decisions I make all day. No further detail needed on that!

At the starting area Stephanie and I find Ken Swab, Don Libes, and Alyssa Soumoff. We turn in our registration forms and payments, pin on our bibs, and wait. After the "Go" signal Ken and Stephanie soon vanish into the distance ahead. Pete McLaughlin of the Delaware Trail Dawgs, whom I met during the 2012-11-17 - Stone Mill 75k, re-introduces himself as we jog along the country road. His shorter buddy Stumpy isn't here today.

Don Libes and Tom Young and I trot together for the first several miles, blathering and telling jokes. Tom is my friendly rival, or was until he began consistently crushing me, most recently last weekend at the RRCA 10 Miler where he came in two minutes ahead. Tom has five sons, ages 6 months to 10 years, and is currently a stay-at-home dad. Today he is only ("only"!) going to Clopper Lake, where he plans to symbolically tag up with a running friend, a nursing mom who will continue on to the end of the SCGT in Damascus, while Tom rides back to his car with her husband.

(photo by Dan Reichmann)

http://zhurnaly.com/images/running/SCGT_50k_2013_z_Tom_Young_KT.jpgAbout mile two I pass Adeline Ntam, a sharp-looking young bodybuilder who is already suffering from horrible cramps and is worried that she will have to drop. I give her a couple of Succeed! electrolyte capsules and advise her to take them, walk twenty minutes, and then see how she feels. A few miles later Adeline catches up and passes me, infinitely better. Apparently we both suffer from similar electrolyte challenges. I give Adeline two more S! e-caps and tell her to drink lots of Gatorade and eat salty foods at all aid stations. She blitzes on to finish the 50k strong in ~7:15. I remember how kind Rayna Matsuno gave me a Succeed! when I was suffering similarly at mile 18 of the 2005 SCGT race, and how Mary Ewell was miraculously resurrected when I gave her an S! at mile 17 of the 2007 HAT Run.

Light snow flurries come and go throughout the morning. About mile 13 I catch up with Stephanie. Her minimalist shoes have done a good job, but now her feet are starting to feel the pounding of rocks and roots. It's time to contact Barry Smith and take him up on his kind offer to bring her a change of footgear. Tom Young goes on ahead, and though Stephanie has already texted Barry I phone to make sure. He's on his way and will meet us at the aid station a few miles upstream.

A bit after 11:30am, mile ~15.7 by my GPS, we arrive at Clopper Lake. Barry is there a few minutes earlier and takes photos while Stephanie changes shoes. Volunteer race staffer Yvette Ju is ultra-cheerful and encouraging as she refills my hydration backpack's water bladder. Although I aver it's unwise to add three bonus miles by doing the lake loop trail, Stephanie decides to undertake the "50k" instead of the "marathon".

Don Libes precedes us by a few minutes. We pass only a few other runners as we circle the lake but encounter flocks of dog-walkers, tourists speaking Cantonese, and family groups hiking along. A huge Great Blue Heron takes flight from close by on the northern shore. We spy runners ahead of us on the opposite side of the water. Dropped yellow chiclet candies mark the path. I pick up bits of litter along the way.

(photo by Ken Trombatore)

Back at the aid station we hastily refuel. Stephanie and Don head out while I pause to chat with sweepers Michele Harmon, Kerry Owens, and Doug Sullivan. They say not to worry too much about cutoffs. They plan to take their time, ensure that all runners are safe, and get to the finish a bit after 5pm.

Now Stephanie's left foot starts to hurt rather badly — we're not sure if it's plantar fasciitis or some other tendinitis, but we all hope it's not a stress fracture. Stephanie runs in front while Don and I chat about the special challenges that ultrarunners face. Besides joint and tendon issues, I emphasize chafing, fueling, and electrolyte balance. After we leave Seneca Creek State Park we catch up with a lady who is not feeling at all well. I talk with her, give her some ibuprofen, and encourage her to check in at the next aid station just a couple of miles ahead.

Onward under I-270 and MD-355 we go, where the trail climbs to follow a sidewalk to the next aid station. On the way Don points out a house where he lived long ago, near a big curve on Game Preserve Rd where cars frequently skidded off the pavement. I find a corroded quarter. The woman I gave ibuprofen to a few miles back arrives at the aid station, sits on a cot, and decides to drop. Stephanie's left foot is in bad shape so she too sits, takes off the shoe, wiggles her toes, and rests for a few minutes while she drinks Coke and nibbles goldfish crackers.

We ponder accepting a ride back to Damascus from the helpful volunteers. Seneca Creek Trail maven Ed Schultze is there. I tell him about the time in January 2006 when he scared Caren Jew and me by driving his pick-up truck along a segment of trail before dawn as we were doing a training run. Caren thought the glare of the headlights was an axe-murderer coming to kill us. Ed points out a trail worker at the aid station today who was actually carrying an axe when somebody saw him, got scared, and called the police.

(photo by Barry Smith)

http://zhurnaly.com/images/running/SCGT_50k_2013_Stephanie_Fonda_z_BS.jpgStephanie decides to continue on. I promise that if her foot gets much worse we can hitch a ride at the next road crossing. During the 2011 Stone Mill 50 miler dear friend Caren, who lives nearby, rescued me. I assure Stephanie that we can enlist Caren's help today. After another mile Stephanie is almost ready to call my bluff. "OK," I say, "but you have to ask me two times, with 30 seconds between each request. Then I'll call." Stephanie asks once. I start to get my phone out. But before a half minute has elapsed she decides to keep going and cancels the appeal.

At a stone outcropping scenic-overlook high above Seneca Creek I insist on diverting to peer down. While stepping back from the rocks I stumble and give Stephanie a burst of adrenaline — it looks momentarily as though I might fall. At Watkins Mill and Brink and Huntmaster roads we again evaluate her foot pain. But soon there are less than 10 miles to go. "Single digits!" Stephanie declares, and there's no stopping her now. Intermittent snow flurries reappear. The sun blesses us with its rays. I find a clean-looking Oreo cookie on the ground and eat it. Yum! We cross Magruder Branch, rejecting the semi-submerged slippery stepping-stones in favor of safely wading through ankle-deep water.

As we hike along to the finish Stephanie tells how her experience along Seneca Creek during the Stone Mill 50 miler last year has helped her work better with some of the patients she counsels on health issues. "It doesn't always get worse," is an untrarunner proverb that applies in other tough contexts. We talk about family and friends and challenges and life. The final miles are the best part of today's race.

(photo by Barry Smith)

- Monday, March 18, 2013 at 04:32:30 (EDT)

No Syllabus

In Chapter 4 ("Spontaneity") of Impro for Storytellers author Keith Johnstone explains his method of teaching:

I visualize myself as coaxing students away from the rim of a wheel and towards the hub.

This makes a conventional syllabus impossible, since any spoke will do if it enthuses a particular group of students. If a spoke gets boring, I just move to a more interesting spoke. When students reach the hub, all spokes seem equally important and exciting.

- Sunday, March 17, 2013 at 07:36:44 (EDT)

2013-02-26 - Pimmit Hills Loop

~3 miles @ ~10.1 min/mi

Kristin wins a free cup of coffee with a sub-10 final mile! The full moon sets behind thickening clouds as we start at 5:23am; the temperature is 30°F. Hard candies rattle in my windbreaker pocket. Runkeeper and Garmin concur on pace and splits of roughly 10.5 + 10.1 + 9.7 min/mi.

- Saturday, March 16, 2013 at 04:12:23 (EDT)

Ready Player One

Pedestrian puts it mildly. The novel Ready Player One plods through exposition in its initial chapters, so much so that I give up and start flipping ahead in search of something, anything, surprising in character, atmosphere, situation, or plot. Nothing surfaces, only more past-tense paragraphs of scene-setting for a future virtual-reality world that real science-fiction novels take for granted or introduce via action and dialog.

RP1 is the first novel of Ernest Cline, who earlier wrote the movie Fanboys. That's a clever flick, a Trekkie versus Star Wars romp inside a picaresque journey. But when Cline sticks his nose into the future via print the only well-realized bits are derivative: reflections of real sf concepts (e.g., Neuromancer, Snowcrash, True Names) or tired present-day clichés. Perhaps that has appeal for non-sf-literate readers who enjoy allusions to their favorite video games or television shows. Maybe that audience likes trivia tidbits extracted from old gamer archives of easter eggs, walkthrough tips, and cheat codes. In the final chapter, the protagonist wins (is anyone surprised?) and announces, "We're going to use all of the moolah we just won to feed everyone on the planet." Hmmmmm, is it non-obvious to the author that that's an economic fallacy? Oh, and then he kisses the girl. On the last page, something genuine. Yay.

The ginormous problem with all VR stories? Why should anyone give a rat's patootie about an avatar flitting through a simulation with only arbitrary, tenuous connections to reality? RP1 doesn't answer. Reboot.

- Friday, March 15, 2013 at 04:42:57 (EDT)

2013-02-24 - RRCA Columbia 10 Miler

10 miles @ ~7.9 min/mi

Faith Wassink and I exchange panted words of encouragement at the midpoint of today's hilly 10 mile race. We spot what appears to be a bib-chip sensor by the side of the road. "Now we - really - have to try hard - to negative split!" Faith says. "Not easy - on this course," I reply. After we finish Faith and I exchange fist-bumps. And no, we don't negative-split. The mostly-downhill first half is ~38.5 minutes for us, and the remainder takes me about 2 minutes longer.

Today begins with a Snickers-and-coffee breakfast. I walk and jog to the Forest Glen Metro where Don Libes picks me up, in perfect timing as we arrive simultaneously. Barry Smith, Ken Swab, and new friend Anny Rosenthal are fellow-travelers. Anny tells me of her recent races and her plan to run Boston again this year. Dear comrade Christina Caravoulias gives me a hug when we meet in the gym at Howard Community College in Columbia. Jeanne Larrison greets us, as does a young Asian lady whom I met during the Washington Birthday marathon last Sunday.

The race is as usual fast from the start. I remind myself frequently to "soften into the experience" and that conscious relaxation seems to help maintain the pace. Pushing hard on the climbs, recovering while still pressing on the descents, splits by the Garmin GPS are 7:25 + 7:34 + 7:45 + 7:46 + 7:54 + 8:08 + 8:02 + 8:16 + 8:05 + 7:46 and the Runkeeper app concurs within ~1%.

The official clock shows my total time as 1:19:02 but I started 10-20 seconds behind the line. Nevertheless, the total is about a minute slower than in 2012, close to the same time as in 2010. Bottom line: 332nd place of 739 total finishers, 246th of 399 men, 9th of 39 in the 60-69 male age bracket. On the way back Don stops at the Columbia Taco Bell where we enjoy a light recovery breakfast.

- Thursday, March 14, 2013 at 04:09:29 (EDT)

R.I.P. Mr. Diplomacy

As noted here thirteen years ago, "... In 1954, a Harvard undergraduate named Allan B. Calhamer invented a game with rules so brilliantly simple that, like the Asian game of go, its equivalent probably exists on planets of other galaxies. That game was called Diplomacy." The key to Dippy is not, however, the mechanical rules of game-play. It's the negotiation among the players, the shifting alliances, and the outright lies and loyalty and betrayal that lead to victory over-the-board and occasional destruction of real-life friendships.

A few days ago Calhamer's obituary appeared in the New York Times. I was wrong: Calhamer was a grad student in the Harvard Law School and not an undergrad in 1954. After dropping out a few years later he worked in a variety of jobs before returning to his home town in Illinois, where he became a mailman. He was a minor celebrity in the world of Dippy but never made a lot of money off the game. As NYT obit author Margalit Fox observes, however, given the popularity of playing Diplomacy-by-mail, perhaps Calhamer could occasionally take pleasure in the thought that, "... on any given day, slung unobtrusively over his shoulder, there might lurk a letter from one Great Power to another, filled with all the threats, blandishments and cunning hollow promises Diplomacy entails, awaiting delivery by its creator."

R. I. P. Allan B. Calhamer
Diplomat Extraordinaire

(cf. ZarStory (2000-01-16), DippyZines (2003-03-16), DippyHeuristics (2005-08-16), ...)

- Wednesday, March 13, 2013 at 04:31:36 (EDT)

2013-02-21 - Frigid Pimmit Hills Loop

~3 miles @ ~10.4 min/mi

Which sounds colder, -5°C or 23°F? In either case, Kristin and I set out at 0525 and venture through the hole in the hedge to the ballfield at Scotts Run Community Park, and thence past an idling police car lurking on the driveway. Back on major roads we do our standard counter-clockwise circuit of McGarrity-Griffith-Pimmit-Anderson. The middle mile is fast but then we have to slow down climbing hills. Splits by Runkeeper and Garmin are close, roughly 10.8 + 9.7 + 10.5 min/mi. Back at the locker room, what's missing? My towel! Drying off after a shower using a windshirt isn't nearly as much fun.

- Tuesday, March 12, 2013 at 04:05:51 (EDT)

Notice and Return

In response to a question about different forms of mindfulness meditation — Shikantaza ("just sitting") vs Vipassana ("insight") vs Anapanasati ("following the breath") etc. — Jok Hae (aka Keith) on the Zen Forum International in September 2010 suggests:

Any practice that can be called "meditation" has at its core one very simple thing: notice (you are not paying attention) and return (to paying attention). So vipassanna, shikantanza, hwadu practice, Tibetan visualizations, Christian mystical practice, etc., all have at their core notice and return. The rest is just window dressing. I would just do what you're doing. Try doing some different styles, pick one that feels comfortable and then do some practice every day. Sure you'll miss a day here and there, but just do some the next day. Make it a habit, like brushing your teeth. Take it slow, be patient, and be kind to yourself.

... a brilliant reply that turns the entire topic upside-down and focuses attention (ha!) not on what you do while mindful, but what you do between moments of self-awareness --- a Zen-like foreground-background reversal. And the bumper-sticker:

Notice and Return

is a mantra that I must try to hold in my mind. It echoes Jon Kabat-Zinn's admonitions about non-attachment and non-judgment. Neat!

- Monday, March 11, 2013 at 04:11:22 (EDT)

2013-02-19 - Reverse Pimmit Hills Loop

~3 miles @ ~10.6 min/mi

A rabbit scampers away as two somewhat-groggy runners — Kristin on ~3 hours sleep, me with a bit less than 6 — cruise in the opposite direction from our norm through neighborhood streets near the office at 0530. We take a wrong turn at one corner and have to zig-zag to get back on course. Garmin and Runkeeper are in close concurrence on splits: 11:09 (vs. 11:05) + 10:16 (vs. 10:15) + 10:10 (vs. 10:14).

- Sunday, March 10, 2013 at 05:44:56 (EDT)


The is
is all there is.

(from an inspiration that arrived while reading No Beginning, No End: The Intimate Heart of Zen by Jakusho Kwong ...)

- Saturday, March 09, 2013 at 05:36:24 (EST)

2013-02-18 - Chilly Morning Pimmit Hills Loop

~3 miles @ ~10.7 min/mi

A temperature of 21°F makes my bare knees turn rather red by the time colleague Kristin and I finish our pre-dawn loop around the Pimmit Hills neighborhood south of the office. Traffic is thin on this Presidents Day holiday. Kristin spies a bunny rabbit watching us as we trot past the school on Griffith St. Yesterday's marathon has left me only slightly stiff. Runkeeper shows our splits at 11:07 + 10:43 + 10:15, a nicely descending pace. The Garmin agrees.

- Friday, March 08, 2013 at 04:08:13 (EST)

Scourge of Wooly Thinking

From the movie Time Bandits by Terry Gilliam and Michael Palin, a lovely rant by the character "Evil" (played by David Warner) on cleaning up the world and starting over:

... We have work to do. No lesser work than the overthrowing of Creation itself. We will remake man in our image, not His. We will turn mountains into sea, and the skies into rivers, the fjords into deserts, and the deserts into quagmire... into icebergs, and the icebergs into fire, and the fire into a mighty, rushing wind which will cover the face of the earth and wipe clean the scourge of woolly thinking once and for all!

(cf. DialogueDensity (2002-05-21), ...)

- Thursday, March 07, 2013 at 04:25:51 (EST)

2013-02-17 - George Washington's Birthday Marathon

26.2 miles @ ~9.7 min/mi

http://zhurnaly.com/images/running/GWBM_2013_Caroline_and_z.jpgAt a time of 4:13:57 my eighth GW Birthday Marathon is also the fastest, a ~6 minute improvement over last year's result. Pacing is ugly as usual, with the first half in 2:02 and the second half 10 minutes slower. Freezing temperatures, sporadic snow flurries, and northwest gales gusting into the 30 mi/hr range make for a frigid experience on exposed legs of the course, and the few runners venturing to wear shorts find their exposed legs quite red. Sheltered downwind segments are comfy warm in contrast.

For the final two miles of the race I push hard but can't quite make Kate Abbott's pre-race prediction of 4:11. At the awards ceremony I'm startled to hear my name announced as Third Place in the 60-69 year old male "codger" cohort. The slightly-staggering gentleman whom I sprint by in the final half mile blitz — "Excuse me, Sir, passing on your left!" I warn — is in my age group and comes in only 11 seconds behind me. Whew! I give my prize, a $5 Starbucks gift card, to DD Gray who needs the caffeine more than I do.

During today's race for variety the left ITB aches, instead of the right ITB problem I had last month. There's also the usual left-foot metatarsalgia, but it's not too bad. Following the pre-race counsel of colleague Kristin Heckman I make a conscious effort to "soften into the experience" and relax even when working hard. This seems to help, especially during the final dozen miles.

The Tarot card that turns up pre-race is "Judgment", XX of the major arcana and in the Osho deck renamed "Beyond Illusion". Indeed, the event does pass judgment on me, and the illusion of a Boston Qualifier (BQ) time vanishes. Perhaps another day.

Kind Ken Swab drives me to and from, takes the early start, and finishes strong. Comrade Megan O'Rourke is super-cheerful and fast as always, doing the last two legs for a relay team. Dear ultra-friend Caroline Williams likewise is ultra-happy, as is always-active Jeanne Larrison. John Way is super-speedy on a relay team, and Jim Yi Dang likewise cruises well. Before the race Jim realizes that he has no water bottle. I give him a bottle of Gatorade I've brought along. Fortunately for me, shortly thereafter I find a mostly-full bottle of orange juice in the trash, perfect pre-run hydration. Woot!

(Caroline Williams and ^z - photo by Christina Caravoulias)

Phil Hetzler chats with me about "ramping down": realizing that one is running one's last 50 miler, last 50k, last marathon (today may or may not be his last), etc. Phil introduces me to his young friend Sarah who is taking up the torch for the next generation.

One near-disaster strikes at mile ~7, the first aid station: after I refill my bottle with Gatorade I can't find the lid anywhere. A woman looks inside the nearby garbage can and discovers it there. Whew! Without it, my race would have been far more uncomfortable.

During the walk from the finish line back to the Greenbelt Rec Center 45-year-old John Hord, who finishes just behind me, says that when he went raw-vegan he took an hour off his marathon time. If I thought that would work for me, I would definitely try it. John confesses that he also lost a significant amount of weight, which accounts for some of his speed improvement.

The Runkeeper app and the Garmin GPS wrist unit agree to within 1%. My mile splits are roughly, by the Garmin: 8:45 + 8:35 + 9:16 + 9:17 + 9:07 + 9:49 + 8:56 + 9:05 + 9:46 + 9:22 + 9:43 + 9:14 + 9:24 + 9:45 + 9:29 + 10:00 + 10:21 + 10:19 + 10:17 + 9:48 + 10:22 + 10:08 + 10:01 + 10:48 + 9:37 + 9:55 and the final fractional mile at about 8:07 min/mi. These mile splits should probably have ~5 seconds added to each, to allow for the Garmin total distance over-estimate of 26.35 miles.

Past GWBM results for comparison:
      5:11:17 — 2004-02-22
      4:49:20 — 2005-02-20
      4:59:58 — 2006-02-19
      5:04:30 — 2007-02-18
      4:43:37 — 2008-02-17
      4:30:20 — 2009-02-15
      4:20:09 — 2012-02-19

It's another great day.

(Jeanne Larrison and ^z - photo by Christina Caravoulias)


- Tuesday, March 05, 2013 at 04:10:14 (EST)

Work as Self-Portrait

Samuel Butler, in The Way of All Flesh (1903), Chapter 14:

Every man's work, whether it be literature or music or pictures or architecture or anything else, is always a portrait of himself ...

(cf. ConversationsInPaint (2000-08-18), InMyJournal (2005-01-29), ...)

- Monday, March 04, 2013 at 04:19:29 (EST)


From Chapter 23 ("Be Patient") of Rick Hanson's wee book Just One Thing, some sage advice:

Patience may seem like a superficial virtue, but actually it embodies a deep insight into the nature of things: they're intertwining, messy, imperfectible, and usually not about you. Patience also contains a wonderful teaching about desire: wish for something, sure, but be at peace when you can't have it. Patience knows you can't make the river flow any faster.

... and at the end of the discussion, a suggestion:

Offer patience as a gift—to others, dealing with their own issues, and to yourself, wanting true happiness. Life is like a vast landscape with both soft grass and sharp thorns; impatience rails at the thorns; patience puts on a pair of shoes.

- Sunday, March 03, 2013 at 11:08:59 (EST)

Mark Center

Yesterday morning at 6:28am a route 28X Metrobus pulls up with a glowing green destination sign for a commercial region in northern Virginia. "MARK CENTER", it says.

Then suddenly I suss it out — it's really a reminder of the need for me to stay mindful and self-aware, aka, centered. The only thing missing is imperative punctuation.

Mark: Center!

(cf. AchieveNewBalance (2002-07-17), Self-Sintering (2010-05-08), Yoga for Busy People (2011-01-03), ...)

- Saturday, March 02, 2013 at 04:21:47 (EST)


A neat flying metaphor — that of the wingman — is used in the 2005 essay "I Am a Wingman" by Lt. Col. John Stea and Maj. Nicole Frazer to encourage airmen in watching out for one another's mental health, especially during stressful times:

A wingman has specific duties. The perspective of the wingman is clearly different. As in flight, no one person can be aware of all the obstacles and dangers in the environment. Therefore, the wingman complements the lead pilot.

In a wingman culture, a wingman can see the "big picture" and recognize changes in a peer's behavior. The wingman can see how the stress in a person's life relates to his or her functioning. A wingman might be able to help that person change the impact of the stressor, or change the source of the stress.

The wingman culture is one in which no matter where you are, at home or deployed, coming to the aid of a peer in need is paramount. ...

It's reminiscent of fellow runner Stephanie Fonda's thoughts after her first ultra (2012-11-17 - Stone Mill 75k): "Always stop to help a fellow traveler. Always." and "We cannot do great things alone; we need others to support us." as well as the Boy Scout promise, "Help other people at all times."

(cf. HowToSucceed (2005-03-11), CareerManagement (2005-06-28), Networking (2010-10-26), Big Ideas (2012-05-20), ...)

- Friday, March 01, 2013 at 04:40:51 (EST)

Two Types

There are two types of people in the world:

(inspired by a colleague's briefing on types of people last week, and no doubt far from original; cf. TwoGreatSecrets (2001-11-09), LookingUpGullible (2005-02-27), AddictiveTrope (2006-05-25), ...)

- Thursday, February 28, 2013 at 04:13:15 (EST)

Make Mistakes

Keith Johnstone in the final chapter of Impro talks about how he prods his students to lose their inhibitions and be more creative, especially when wearing masks while they improvise:

I encourage students to throw themselves in, and to stop being 'critical', by saying: 'Make mistakes! These Masks are more extreme, more powerful than ordinary faces. Don't be timid. Make big mistakes. Don't worry about being wrong! Rely on me to stop you!' Sometimes I say: 'What you saw in the mirror was right! But you only showed me a shadow of it. Try the Mask again. You'll never get anywhere if you aren't brave.' ...

It's perhaps reminiscent of mathematicians talking about making "good mistakes", and Zen states of losing inhibition as suggested in Lunchtime Enlightenment, or Not Always So, etc. Several pages later Johnstone muses further:

At the moments when a Mask 'works' the student feels a decisionlessness, and an inevitability. The teacher sees a sudden 'naturalness', and that the student is no longer 'acting'. At first the Mask may flash on for just a couple of seconds. I have to see and explain exactly when the change occurs. The two states are actually very different, but most students are insensitive to changes in consciousness. Some students hold rigidly to 'normal consciousness', but most keep switching from their control to the Mask's control and back again. ...

In normal life the personality conceals or checks impulses. Mask characters work on the opposite principle: they are childlike, impulsive, open; their machinations are completely transparent to the audience, although not necessarily to each other. ...

If Masks were subjected to the same pressures as our children are, then they also would become dull and inexpressive. We adults have learned to be opaque. We live among hard surfaces that reflect sound back to us, so we're constantly telling our children to be quiet. Our lives are surrounded with precious objects—glass, china, televisions, stereos—so that movement has to be restrained. Any adult who acted like a three-year-old would be intolerable to us.

Yes, and ...!

- Wednesday, February 27, 2013 at 04:07:33 (EST)

2013-02-13 - Pimmit Hills Idylwood Loop

~4.6 miles @ ~11.5 min/mi

For variety this morning at 0530 Kristin and I venture on a longer neighborhood loop. After the now-traditional "Watch out for the puddle!" warning in the potholed parking lot by the loading dock, down Great Falls St we trot to Idylwood Rd, then southeast on Idylwood to Lemon Rd Elementary School. There we're befuddled by construction barriers that block the route I proposed to take back to Pimmit Dr via Lemon Road Park. Kristin's sharp eyes and my flashlight, however, reveal a segment of orange-plastic-mesh fence that's fallen. We step over it and find the asphalt path. My build-up narrative of adventure in the spooky dark features monsters that fail to materialize. Splits by the Garmin are 11:26 + 11:34 + 12:03 + 10:43 and a final two-thirds of a mile at 10:39 pace; Runkeeper roughly concurs.

- Tuesday, February 26, 2013 at 04:04:06 (EST)

Help, Thanks, Wow

The best part of Anne Lamott's thin tome Help, Thanks, Wow (subtitled "The Three Essential Prayers") is the title. That doesn't mean that the body of the book is bad, but rather that its name is truly, totally brilliant. Those three single-word ejaculations (in the classic grammatical sense of that word) — a cry from the depths of despair, a heartfelt expression of gratitude, a gasp at the glorious wonders of the world — pretty well capture what most people try to express when they talk to God, or the universe, or themselves.

Lamott is smart and wise and funny. Maybe too funny at times, when she comes across as Erma Bombeck on 'ludes or Louis C.K. with existential dreads and dreadlocks. Her pop religion is diluted enough that even devout atheists won't be much offended. Her self-deprecation is effective, though occasionally when slathered on a bit thickly makes one wonder how a best-selling Marin County author can truly feel the pangs of poverty and depression that her earlier life was filled with. There's not a lot of theological logic in Help, Thanks, Wow, and the sections of the book keep creeping into one another's turf. For instance, in the middle of Thanks:

I admit, sometimes this position of gratitude can be a bit of a stretch. So many bad things happen in each of our lives. Who knew? When my son, Sam, was seven and discovered that he and I would probably not die at exactly the same moment, he began to weep and said, "If I had known that, I wouldn't have agreed to be born." This one truth, that the few people you adore will die, is plenty difficult to absorb. But on top of it, someone's brakes fail, or someone pulls the trigger or snatches the kid, or someone deeply trusted succumbs to temptation, and everything falls apart. We are hurt beyond any reasonable chance of healing. We are haunted by our failures and mortality. And yet the world keeps on spinning, and in our grief, rage, and fear a few people keep on loving us and showing up. It's all motion and stasis, change and stagnation. Awful stuff happens and beautiful stuff happens, and it's all part of the big picture.

In the face of everything, we slowly come through. We manage to make new constructs and baskets to hold what remains, and what has newly appeared. We come to know—or reconnect with—something rich and okay about ourselves. And at some point, we cast our eyes to the beautiful skies, above all the crap we're wallowing in, and we whisper, "Thank you."

That's unfortunately typical Lamott logic. Not too convincing, if you diagram out the syllogisms. David Foster Wallace's speech "This Is Water" is a far more thoughtful, useful, insightful guide to life. But Lamott's title is a better mantra. And when things get really rough and a life-preserver is desperately needed, maybe that's good enough. Help, Thanks, Wow.

(cf. HeadlightsAndDecisions (1999-06-26), ...)

- Monday, February 25, 2013 at 04:08:13 (EST)

2013-02-12 - Pimmit Hills Loop

~3 miles @ ~9.5 min/mi

At 0530 on a chill Tuesday morning colleague Kristin and I recap our run of last week but with an extension around the parking lot to reach 3.0 miles by the GPS and to see where the hole in the hedge is to reach the ballfields in Scotts Run Community Park. At the start I lend Kristin my gloves. In turn, "Watch out for the puddle!" she warns me, and I thankfully dodge dipping a foot into the pothole that caught me last week. The Garmin GPS gives splits of 9:56 + 9:48 + 9:33, a nice descending pace that agrees with the Runkeeper app. A rabbit scampers into the bushes as we finish.

- Sunday, February 24, 2013 at 20:13:18 (EST)

Zimm Again

Computer system userIDs are (or used to be) how I remembered people, rather than by name or face. In 1981 when I first joined the US Federal Government I was assigned the ugly and unmemorable string of mostly-consonants "zimmrmn" for my online identity. Less than a year later, however, as a test-user on a prototype information retrieval system I managed to snag the "zimm" login. When the test-system merged with the main one a little friendly finesse got the original userID dropped in favor of the new one. So for more than 20 years, from ~1983 until ~2005 I was happily "zimm", a four-letter word.

Then an inter-agency temporary transfer rained on my paradise. A new username standard trumped the grandfather card that I tried to play, and "zimmeme" was tattooed on my virtual forehead for the final half-dozen years of civil service. After retirement from the government I joined the company where I now work and was given the absurd "mzimmerman" — not only ridiculously long but also missing the last letter of my surname. By good fortune, though, confusion during my initial account set-up (perhaps due to mistyping of that very userID?!) made a reassignment possible. A bit of benign social engineering on the phone with the helpful Help Desk person, and suddenly I was "zimm" again. Hooray!

(cf. SecretOrigins (2001-08-03), Memory Palace (2011-03-19), etc.)

- Saturday, February 23, 2013 at 09:43:14 (EST)

2013-02-10 - Rock Creek Trail Trek

~5 miles @ ~10.5 min/mi

Temps in the lower 20s but minimal winds make today feel gentler than yesterday morning. Blitz from home via CCT to Candy Cane has first two mile splits 9:30 and 8:23 by the Garmin GPS; Runkeeper app is more generous with 9:04 and 8:19. Joyce in her MINI Cooper waves as she passes me, and Stephanie Fonda rolls down her window to offer greetings as I stop to pick up the water bottle that bounces out of my fanny pack. At 8am Santa Steve and a pair of ladies whose names both begin with "C" start their cruise down Rock Creek Trail, run:walk::5:1, Stephanie and I tagging along. One of us takes a break to enjoy the woods, then catches up. Along Beach Dr in DC we continue ahead, me chattering too much. At West Beach we tag the car gate and turn back, Steve & C & C continuing onward. When Stephanie gets to her 3 mile goal we do a cooldown walk back to her car, then share breakfast at the nearby Parkway Deli. Stephanie describes the Insanity Workout system for core strength development and the Vivobarefoot minimalist shoes that dear friend Betty Smith recommends. I vow to try them.

- Friday, February 22, 2013 at 04:05:18 (EST)


"You're wearing real shoes!" says colleague Lynn when she sees me in the new Vivobarefoot brand minimalist running slippers early this week. Racing friend Dr Betty Smith recommends Vivobarefoots, according to comrade Stephanie Fonda who also orders a pair, I choose the office-safe "Oak" model, since it looks more like a normal shoe than my old Brooks-brand "Addiction" walking clogs. On my feet, the new shoes really do have the feel of thin slippers, though they look like normal work shoes. They resemble the Nike "Free" ones that I got in 2008 or the experimental AEI Shoes from 2005. No arch support, no heel drop, almost no cushioning. I haven't tried running more than few steps in them thus far. But now at meetings I feel like a ninja who can step on a dime and call it heads-or-tails!

- Thursday, February 21, 2013 at 04:17:12 (EST)

2013-02-09 - Rock Creek Trot and Mormon Temple Hill Repeats

~20 miles @ ~11.7 min/mi

"What would Lance do?" — "What would Tiger do?" — "Is it a 'Repeat' if you only do it once?"

Such questions arise as I branch off at the base of the Mormon Temple hill from the gang — Gayatri Datta, Barry Smith, Rebecca Rosenberg, Sara Crum — and head for home alone.Temps are near freezing and a brisk northwesterly wind makes it feel far colder. Gayatri meets me at Rays Meadow Park about 0730 as I trot downstream. At first I don't recognize her, bundled against the elements, face sheathed with balaklava. We ramble until Barry and Rebecca appear, then follow their warmup to the DC line. Gayatri and Barry wear matching Annapolis Strider windshirts.

Sara arrives, followed by audacious Stephanie Fonda who is recovering from post-Disney-Marathon injuries. She accepts my fist-bump salute and joins the group for a mile or so in slipper-shoes and sharp white windbreaker, then turns back solo. The rest of the crew continues upstream, skipping around frozen puddles. A bit after RCT milepost 6 we reverse course. I lag behind with Gayatri most of the way, to chat and keep her company. She tells of a tense encounter at the Bethesda YMCA swimming pool, where a near-fight breaks out over lane-sharing.

"Normal people train to run a half-marathon," Rebecca observes. "We run a half-marathon just to train."

My dares and taunts fail to persuade anybody else to undertake hillwork today, so after ~15 miles I leave the others heading back to their cars and sprint (so to speak) up the long Stoneybrook hill, feeling good except for minor left-foot metatarsalgia and a few right-hip ITB twinges. That's when the question arises: what will look best on the trackfile and run report? A single climb isn't enough to be a "repeat". Two would qualify, marginally but minimally. Three sounds better. So three it is, smiling at passing cars and trying to maintain reasonable pace up and not impact too hard down. The potential bumper-sticker slogan "Your Repetitive Motion Injury is our Warmup" comes to mind but sounds a bit too arrogant. Then onward, past the Ireland home and through the woods, taking the long way to ensure both GPS systems exceed a magic "20" on their displays.

Garmin GPS and Runkeeper app concur to within ~1%. Rough splits: 10:46 + 9:10 + 9:48 + 12:02 (waiting for group to assemble) + 13:16 + 16:12 + 12:13 + 10:56 + 10:58 + 12:52 + 11:53 + 13:52 + 11:16 + 12:09 + 12:51 + (branching off for hillwork alone) + 9:38 (!) + 10:07 + 11:11 + 10:35 + 10:49 and a final half-mile at ~9:57 pace. For the first time in ages I see a weight on DW's digital scale beginning with the digits "13" — a dehydration-lowered 139.7 lbs — but post-shower it's back up to 140.1, making obvious some amount of measurement error.

- Wednesday, February 20, 2013 at 04:22:54 (EST)

Trance, Possession, and Memory

In the last chapter ("Masks and Trance") of his book Impro, Keith Johnstone waxes rather more mystical than usual in section 5, "Trance". He quotes Sybil Thorndike:

'When you're an actor you cease to be male and female, you're a person, and you're a person with all the other persons inside you.'

After other such quotations Johnstone muses:

In another kind of culture I think it's clear that such actors could easily talk of being 'possessed' by the character. It's true that some actors will maintain that they always remain 'themselves' when they're acting, but how to they know? Improvisers who maintain that they're in a normal state of consciousness when they improvise often have unexpected gaps in their memories which only emerge when you question them closely.

It's the same with Mask actors. ... An improviser writes, '. . . If a scene goes badly I remember it. If it goes well I forget very quickly.' Orgasms are the same.

Normally we only know of our trance states by the time jumps. ...

... How much then are we to trust what anyone tells us about their state of mind?

We don't think of ourselves as moving in and out of trance because we're trained not to. It's impossible to be 'in control' all the time, but we convince ourselves that we are. Other people help to stop us drifting. ...

In 'normal consciousness' I am aware of myself as 'thinking verbally'. In sports which leave no time for verbalisation, trance states are common. ...

... Zen Masters, and sorcerers, are notoriously difficult to creep up on. (Castaneda's Don Juan, for example.) In Mask work people report that perceptions are more intense, and that although they see differently, they see and sense more.

I see the 'personality' as a public-relations department for the real mind, which remains unknown. My personality always seems to be functioning, at some level, in terms of what other people think. If I am alone in a room and someone knocks on the door, then I 'come back to myself'. ...

Shades of Daniel Dennett's theory of Self as the "narrative center of gravity" in Consciousness Explained!

- Tuesday, February 19, 2013 at 04:09:09 (EST)

2013-02-06 - Pimmit Hills with Kristin

~2.9 miles @ ~10.3 min/mi

In the men's locker room at work, changed into my running gear, suddenly I realize that I've forgotten to bring my shoes! So street shoes it is for today's pre-dawn circuit around the Pimmit HIlls neighborhood. Fortunately the heavy old scuffed-up Brooks "walkers" work fine for the outing, as do double shorts and shirts. And it's dark enough that I'm not too embarrassed. Colleague Kristin cruises faster than she planned, in spite of having to scamper onto the sidewalk and pause at some road crossings to avoid traffic. An old crescent moon peeps at us. Runkeeper makes a nice route map when we've finished; so does the Garmin wrist GPS. Both are in close agreement as to splits, plus or minus a few seconds per mile.

- Monday, February 18, 2013 at 04:16:00 (EST)


As I get older, I more and more recognize (or suspect) the arbitrariness of social norms, laws, property rights, languages, standards of beauty, etc. So many patterns and decisions are clearly random, or grew out of historical accident by selection effect and consensus. They seem to be carved in stone. But if a chance fluctuation or mutation had gone another way many generations ago, they could have turned out completely different. Even the universal laws of Nature, such as the physical constants that show up in the equations for gravity and electromagnetism and nuclear forces, might have taken on their current values during fluctuations early in the cosmos. Maybe they could have been otherwise?

So whenever my eyes linger on a lovely face, or a hilarious incongruity makes me laugh until my eyes water, I really need to pop up a level and recall how fortunate we all are that such wonderful pleasures exist. And if my gall rises at an ad hoc clause in the tax code, I should shrug it off as just an unlucky roll of the evolutionary dice. Next time may be better!

(cf. OnConventions (2000-01-01), AntiAnthropism (2000-05-26), CoincidentalTaxonomy (2001-10-19), DepartmentOfRed (2002-01-09), FourthGradeTwerp (2003-02-01), Roses by Other Names (2004-02-01), ...)

- Sunday, February 17, 2013 at 05:46:32 (EST)

2013-02-03 - Rock Creek Park Trail Loop

~11 miles @ ~14 min/mi

Light snow flurries stutter and stop during today's trek. From home, midday, I take the Capital Crescent Trail to Candy Cane City and trot a big "Z" on the ballfields while awaiting Barry Smith and Rebecca Rosenberg. Pause GPS until we're all ready to set out. Temps in the low 30's have turned yesterday afternoon's light snowfall into slippery mud. Soggy paths lead from Candy Cane to the DC line, and then the Western Ridge Trail drops us at Rock Creek Park Nature Center, where the clock keeps running during restroom visits. The Horse Center at the end of the south parking lot introduces a wide trail east to Rock Creek.

"Hmmm, my keen tracking skills tell me that horses have passed along here!" I comment, as we zig-zag around manure mountains and blast down a long slope. The Valley Trail ambles northward, with a digression onto the Holly Trail at Barry's suggestion for bonus hillwork. Garmin and Runkeeper concur to within 2%; Barry's GPS is more conservative by another 3%, so we do an extra jog along the Candy Cane parking lot to make sure he has at least 8 miles. I accept Rebecca's kind offer of a ride home.

- Saturday, February 16, 2013 at 15:00:18 (EST)

Smile at Everyone

A year ago physician Alex Lickerman in his blog Happiness in this World mused, in the spirit of the Optimist Creed, about a simple, cheap way to help others (and himself) be happier: just smile. The little essay "Smiling at Strangers" tells of his encounters as a first-year medical student at the hospital cafeteria with the surly staff. The story finishes with:

In the end, of course, I concluded that I really had no good reason not to smile at everyone. Certainly, it takes some amount of attention and energy. But in smiling at strangers, I acknowledge their humanity, and in doing that, in reminding myself of it, I promote peace. How? By bringing joy to others that's far out of proportion to the investment required—as I learned seven years after I first started my smiling experiment. I'd finished medical school and residency, and had returned to the University of Chicago as an attending physician. One day soon after I'd arrived, I went down to buy lunch in the same cafeteria. And when I approached the check-out line, I found myself greeted by a cashier I didn't at first even recognize who, wearing a happy, surprised smile, suddenly exclaimed in delight, "Where have you been?"

(cf. Don't Panic (2010-11-17), When Someone You Love Is Unhappy (2011-05-29), ...)

- Friday, February 15, 2013 at 04:27:05 (EST)

2013-02-02 - Cold Rock Creek Trail Trek

~20 miles @ ~12.2 min/mi

http://zhurnaly.com/images/running/Cold_Rock_Creek_Run.jpg"Is Ash Wednesday on Wednesday?"

"Yes, it usually is."

"I mean, is it this Wednesday!?"

"The other interpretation was funnier."

"I know."

Banter continues apace on a cold winter morning, as Gayatri Datta, Sara Crum, Barry Smith, and Rebecca Rosenberg join me to trot along Rock Creek.

Temps are in the upper teens when we start, and I'm wearing two hats, one on my head, the other tucked into my shorts. I pause on the way from home to our 0730 Candy Cane City rendezvous to take photos of the pulchritudinous "mermaid fountain" in the National Park Seminary, with dawn's baby-blanket pink and blue clouds behind it.

After out-and-back warm-ups as the gang gathers we commence the trek to Ken-Gar. A friendly fellow who calls himself "Dan" joins us near there, finishing up his 3 mile day. Rebecca and Sara stop when we're back to their cars; Gayatri and Barry and I continue to the DC line and back. Then to finish up her goal distance Gayatri and I run back past Meadowbrook Stables, where Barry picks me up and kindly gives me a ride home.


(Garmin GPS and Runkeeper app concur to within 1%; cf. 2012-06-06 - National Park Seminary Statues)

- Thursday, February 14, 2013 at 04:04:51 (EST)

Bringing Back a Wandering Attention

Chapter 22 ("Be Mindful") of Rick Hanson's Just One Thing suggests exercises in mindfulness, to help "lengthen and deepen" one's ability to pay attention, deliberately, in the present moment. He offers a meta-exercise in self-awareness that's irresistible:

It will support and deepen your mindfulness to bring an attitude of curiosity, openness, non-judgmental acceptance, and even a kind of friendliness to the things you're aware of. Also try to develop a background awareness of how mindful you are being; in effect, you are paying attention . . . to attention, in order to get better at it.

These practices will gradually train your brain to be more mindful, which will bring you many rewards. For as William James—the first major American psychologist—wrote over a century ago (1890, p. 424 [of The Principles of Psychology]): "The faculty of voluntarily bringing back a wandering attention, over and over again, is the very root of judgment, character, and will ... An education which should improve this faculty would be the education par excellence.

(cf. Present-Moment Reality (2008-11-05), ...)

- Wednesday, February 13, 2013 at 04:08:01 (EST)

2013-01-30 - Wednesday Evening Speedwork

~1.8 miles @ ~1.2 min/mi

1:48 + 1:43 + 1:42 + 1:41 + 1:36 = splits for 400m intervals in the evening gloom at the University of Maryland track. After the fourth repeat the groundskeepers warn that they're about to lock up. "You can keep running if you don't mind climbing the fence to get out," one offers kindly. "Oh, I wish you hadn't said that," is my reply. "I'm looking for any excuse to stop!" DS Robin and I decide on one last circuit. He volunteers to be my rabbit for the first 200m. As it turns out, this time the rabbit goes all the way and wins the race, 4 seconds ahead. At the trash can next to the locked gate we scramble over the high chain-link barrier. Robin's dismount is a solid 9+; I stagger and end up on my butt in the mulch. A veggie gyro with salty fries and a Diet Coke is the recovery repast. Runkeeper nicely maps the oval of Kehoe Track at Ludwig Field.

- Tuesday, February 12, 2013 at 04:05:55 (EST)

Arrogance and Humility

From Chapter 1 of Keith Johnstone's Impro for Storytellers:

Yo-yoing between arrogance and humility when you're a beginner is as inevitable as falling off when you learn to ride a bike.

(cf. Impro (2012-11-10), Yes, and... (2012-11-14), Positive and Obvious (2012-12-12), ...)

- Monday, February 11, 2013 at 04:20:35 (EST)

2013-01-27 - Rock Creek Ramble

~14 miles @ ~11.5 min/mi

Ken Swab pulls up his car and rolls down his window as I'm passing Meadowbrook Stables at 7:55am. "Excuse me, Sir," he says, "have you seen any runners near here?" Hordes of runners from MCRRC training programs and elsewhere are streaming along Rock Creek Trail as we talk.

"No," I tell him, "it's illegal to run here, by County Ordinance."

The parking lot at Candy Cane City is almost full — Barry Smith gets a space but Ken and Emaad Burki, Sara Crum, and Rebecca Rosenberg have to park elsewhere. After about 15 minutes of random-walk we all get together and set off down Beach Dr. Barry turns back after a few miles, but remainder of the crew proceeds to the park just north of Peirce Mill where Ken and I tag the big rocks that frame the path before turning back. Including all breaks the mile splits are approximately 10:45 + 9:59 + 17:58 (waiting for folks to park) + 15:00 (more searching to find each other) + 10:28 + 9:59 + 10:24 + 9:41 + 10:50 + 11:21 + 12:37 (latrine break) + 10:20 + 9:48 + 10:26 — overall quite fast, an average moving pace (leaving out the ~15 minutes of waiting around at Candy Cane City) of ~10.5 min/mi.

Conversation along the way is rather bawdy; Emaad and Sara and Ken are notorious for humorous riffing on crude themes. At one point I deliberately attempt to raise the tone by telling Rebecca about a segment in Chapter 5 of James Joyce's Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man about aesthetics (see PortraitOfTheArtist). My attempt fails, and banter quickly returns to the gutter. The Jimmy Fallon "Jogstrap" parody-commercial comes to someone's mind (see [1]). See Garmin GPS and Runkeeper app for distance and pace estimates that agree to within 1%.

- Sunday, February 10, 2013 at 05:25:18 (EST)

Probability Problems

A comment by Edwin T. Jaynes, from "On the Rationale of Maximum-Entropy Methods" (Proc. IEEE v.70, n.9, Sep 1982, p.947):

... for 200 years applications of probability theory have been plagued by the seeming impossibility of communicating to another person exactly what problem is being solved. Dating back at least to Laplace, almost every writer on probability theory has had the experience of giving the correct solution to a problem, only to have it rejected because it is not the solution to some different problem. And indeed, an old joke among mathematicians runs, "I have found a beautiful solution, but I have not yet found the problem."

(cf Programming vs. Thinking (2013-01-18), ...)

- Saturday, February 09, 2013 at 05:13:27 (EST)

2013-01-26 - Snowy Zoo Run

~20.7 miles @ ~12.8 min/mi

A lady in a group admires my beard. I show her the icicles formed on it today. "That's real dedication"! she says. "No," I reply, "it's just condensation!"

Gayatri Datta meets me at the Candy Cane City parking lot at 7:59am on a snowy morning with temps in the low 20's. I've jogged there from home, pausing at the Rays Meadow fountain where I discover the dog-water spout works but the human-water fountain is frozen. Gayatri and I jog back up the road to East-West Highway past Meadowbrook Stables in search of Barry Smith and Rebecca Rosenberg. While we do, Barry and Rebecca turn out to be looking for us; they parked in another lot. The main parking area is almost full with cars of an MCRRC group that started its run before us. A quick phone call syncs us all up, and we proceed down Rock Creek Trail and Beach Dr into DC.

The trek today is fun but frigid; tights and double-layer shorts and shirt keep my core and legs warm, but fingers and toes get chilly at times. Yesterday's light snowfall has left a lovely coating on the woods. The creek is frozen in places but flows freely in others. Many runners greet us along the way, but today no cyclists or skaters. After a few miles we meet "The Running of the Bulls" — pit bulls, in this case, five of them tugging on leashes in front of their humans.

We take sporadic walk breaks (but my trackfile recording never pauses) and visit three restrooms along the way. The Garmin GPS shows fine details in its trackfile, including zig-zags I did near the Rock Creek Park latrine; the Runkeeper app on the iPhone blurs them out, but estimates a total distance of 20.91 miles, ~1% higher than the wrist unit.

I'm wearing the Nathan hydration backpack, and deliberate drinking from it maintains my weight steady, ~143 lbs. before and after the run. Gayatri is amused to observe that I eat more than she has ever seen me do before: a Luna Bar, an energy gel, a root beer barrel candy, and half a Clif Bar. We generally run in pairs, unconsciously permuting: Barry+Rebecca, Rebecca+Gayatri, Gayatri+Barry, and the complimentary combinations for me. I thank Rebecca for the "Mini Zen Gardening Kit" she gave me recently.

Lance Armstrong jokes lead to Tiger Woods jokes. I mention asking, "What would Lance do?" when tempted to cut back on hard hill runs. Rebecca tells of a Tiger commercial wherein he says that he practices his swing for hours when the weather is good — and when it's not, he practices his swing for hours. After we get back to Candy Cane City I'm thinking of hitching a ride home with somebody. My left metatarsals are aching intermittently, and the right hip ITB twinges. But I remember Rebecca's story and decide to head for home. At Rays Meadow the Lance question comes to mind, and I take the long way home to add a bonus mile, the only sub-10 min/mi pace one of the day. I think about doing a Mormon Hill climb — but finally come to my senses!

Later that day, at Taco Bell for a recovery gordita, I'm telling comrade Kate Abbott about how my nose was running faster than I was for most of the chilly run. She means to ask, "Did you blow snot rockets?" (and yes, I did) but the smartphone autocorrect changes "snot" into The Other 'S' Word. After I point out the glitch we both laugh. That's trail-runner humor for you ...

- Friday, February 08, 2013 at 04:07:58 (EST)

Magical Mathematics

Persi Diaconis and Ron Graham are professors of mathematics and, respectively, a magician and a juggler. They're not professional writers; at times it shows. Their book Magical Mathematics (subtitled "The Mathematical Ideas That Animate Great Magic Tricks") occasionally drops the ball (or maybe beanbag, or scarves, or linking rings). But setting aside literary polish, Diaconis and Graham present some amazingly beautiful combinatorics. The core concept: sometimes an apparently-complex situation is far simpler than it seems — specifically, often a mix-it-up operation doesn't actually do a full randomization. Within such subtle order, important information can be conserved, conveyed, and exploited to confuse.

Some of the card tricks and puzzles in MM are startling, but the associated theorems are even more amazing — well, to a mathematically-minded person who studies them for a few hours, that is! Two stand out:

Other chapters of MM deal with de Bruijn sequences, properties of various perfect shuffles, statistical estimates of how many different magic tricks were known at a given time, probability issues in the I Ching, and math related to juggling. MM concludes with fascinating personal biographies of individual "stars of mathematical magic". The last profile is of the inestimable Martin Gardner himself, who died in May 2010, a mere month after writing the Foreword to this book.

(a typo: all the page headers of Chapter 7, "The Oldest Mathematical Entertainment?", read instead "The Olders Mathematical Entertainment?"; and cf. CastingShadows (2000-01-06), SubbookKeeping (2000-06-21), RubikCubism1 (2001-03-16), ...)

- Thursday, February 07, 2013 at 04:19:18 (EST)

2013-01-23 - Frigid Photographic Frolic

~4.5 miles @ ~10.2 min/mi

Back in Maryland after balmy Austin, home from the office with an hour to spare before sundown, and searching for a plausible excuse to go out and run like a fool in the chill (~26°F) wind. DW tells of four houses for sale in the neighborhood that she's interested in looking at. Perfect cover for action! "I'll take photos of those for you, dear."

Through a thin glove a finger can still operate the iPhone's touchscreen, so with list of addresses in hand it's time to trek, pause to snap pictures, sneak around for alternative angles (avoiding major tresspass) and then sprint some more. Exposures get longer and some images are blurred at the fourth stop, but overall I manage enough acceptable shots and get back home before dark. Bundled-against-the-elements dog-walkers and deliverymen roll their eyes at my exposed legs. Garmin GPS and Runkeeper app give rough estimates of distance, pace, and route, with mile splits approximately 11:40 (two photo ops), 10:44 (one more house), 8:11 (down the big Mormon Temple hill), and 8:57 (climbing fast back from Rock Creek's valley), plus a final fragment at ~11:43 (the fourth house).

- Wednesday, February 06, 2013 at 03:50:07 (EST)

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