^zhurnaly 0.9920

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Howdy, pilgrim! No ads — you're in volume 0.9920 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 = 0.9919 ... 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

Cara Golias Graffiti Memorial

Graffiti memorial under the railroad bridge at mile ~15 of yesterday's Bull Run Run, of a tragic teen suicide in September 2014:


According to the Washington Post article "Family struggles to explain girl's death, among 3 teen suicides in Fairfax since Sept.":

On a sunlit day in June, Cara Lynn Golias joined a group of friends at their secret swimming hole in Hemlock Overlook Regional Park, splashing into the water from a rope swing tied to a railroad trestle.

Cara and her friends, who called themselves the "Naughty Nine," relaxed beneath the bridge over Virginia's Bull Run, smiling for a group photo with their toes in the silty shallows.

It was "perfect," she later tweeted, and by all accounts a carefree afternoon for a 16-year-old with a bright future. Cara, a star cross-country runner, had earned the grand prize at a regional science fair for her microbiology research on E. coli, and she made all A's as a Fairfax High School junior, her father said.

But on Sept. 28, for reasons still unknown to her family, Cara returned to the place she treasured most, slipping into the woods near Manassas Park and hanging herself from the railroad bridge. ...

... so sad.

(cf. Memorial Day (2002-05-28), RossHollandMemorialAward (2003-02-15), Lincoln Memorial (2004-01-06), Rock Creek Trail Miles 10 to 14 (2006-07-10), Marble Steps (2008-11-06), 2014-04-01 - East Austin Loop (2014-05-12), 2014-04-06 - Big Loop with Amy, Courtney, and Stephanie (2014-05-18), ...)

- Sunday, April 10, 2016 at 21:55:58 (EDT)

2016-03-19 - Spring 5k with Amber

~3.1 miles @ ~8.1 min/mi

"But it's actually the last day of Winter!" Dr A doesn't set a PB at this morning's Racepacket "Spring 5k" along the W&OD Trail, but she wins her age bracket in spite of a shoelace that comes untied during mile 1. Temps fall through the mid-40s and a few raindrops sprinkle down.

We start at the back of the pack, just in time. ("Remind me not to take so many selfies before our next race!") Amber's husband makes a surprise appearance on his bike at mile 2 to cheer us along. We miss the final turn into Bluemont Park and add a short bonus cross-country segment. As the finish line clock ticks 24:57 - 24:58 - 24:59 we sprint but don't quite arrive before the 25 minute mark. To preserve her amateur status Amber gives her award, a Starbucks gift card, to my DD Gray.


- Saturday, April 09, 2016 at 03:43:20 (EDT)

Mantra - Now, Here, Nowhere


... word-play and reminder:

    Stay Between

in the gap where
future touches past,
the missing point
at the center of all

... just being,
going nowhere

- Friday, April 08, 2016 at 04:52:33 (EDT)

2016-03-18 - Symbols and Smells

~9.1 miles @ ~12.0 min/mi

"... or the scent of fancy cheese?" Dr Kristin detects what might be a skunk in Pimmit Hills as the sun rises. A mile later, another aroma: "Is that cotton candy?" Or perhaps blooming magnolias and daffodils. The family of pandas has a few new members in the bamboo stand on Great Falls Street. We walk backwards along the sidewalk by Route 7 to watch an Iridium satellite glint, high in the southern sky. On the asphalt path through Pimmit View Park a childish hand has block-printed Cyrillic letters. The world today is full of meaning!


- Thursday, April 07, 2016 at 04:20:19 (EDT)

Nano Languages

From a popular New York Times feature last month, "13 Questions to Ask Before Getting Married", a link leads to the 1992 Gary Chapman book The 5 Love Languages, which offers a taxonomy:

... and a found coffee cup defines "the language of flowers" in its illustrations:

... and a 2012 New Yorker magazine column "I Heart Emoji", that includes the more conventional as well as a "lost in translation" subset of emoticon symbology:

... and as the author, Hannah Goldfield, also notes:

... Sometimes I send them on their own. I recently texted a friend mired in grad school a tiny green turtle, just to let her know I was thinking of her; she responded with a poodle, and then a yellow face blowing a kiss. Even Vladimir Nabokov, arguably unparallelled in his mastery of the English language, acknowledged that sometimes nothing but an emoticon will quite do: when, in 1969, the New York Times asked him how he ranked himself among other writers, he replied, "I often think there should exist a special typographical sign for a smile—some sort of concave mark, a supine round bracket, which I would now like to trace in reply to your question." ...

- Wednesday, April 06, 2016 at 04:44:21 (EDT)

2016-03-16 - McLean Intervals

~8.3 miles @ ~11.8 min/mi

"Windy Hill?" Dr Kristin nominates a route for the Dawn Patrol. Headlamp batteries need replacing, but between neighborhood streets we manage dark cut-throughs without stumbling. Stars twinkle and a lone loud bird calls out from overhead. Dr Beth meets us at mile 4 and we trot to the McLean High School track. Half a dozen 400m intervals at ~7 min/mi are enough to greet the sunrise.


- Tuesday, April 05, 2016 at 05:10:05 (EDT)

2016-03-14 - Early Birds

~6.7 miles @ ~12.3 min/mi

"Foxes!" Two shadowy silhouettes sprint across Poppy Drive as we approach. Kristin and I glimpse them racing down Dalmatian, and then they're gone. On a damp Monday before dawn we roam silent streets: the birds haven't reset their clocks for Daylight Saving Time and are sleeping in. A single runner in the distance leads us around the Kent Gardens neighborhood, then vanishes. New mansions sprawl, windows dark. At mile 5 we find ourselves back at the McLean High School track, and run a lap for luck.


- Monday, April 04, 2016 at 04:18:35 (EDT)

Mantra - Stop, Notice, Appreciate


(cf. This Is Water (2009-05-21), Find the Beauty (2011-04-03), Help, Thanks, Wow (2013-02-25),The Places That Scare You (2015-01-08), Attention (2015-03-03), Ordinary Beauty (2015-12-20), ...)

- Sunday, April 03, 2016 at 16:22:29 (EDT)

2016-03-13 - Meet Eric London

~8.3 miles @ ~9.6 min/mi

"It is what it is!" Eric London observes. We take turns blaming each other for setting too fast a pace, then get back to comparing injuries, philosophizing about life, marveling at parallels in our running and family histories, recommending books, and exchanging training/racing secrets (#1: There Are No Secrets).

Eric is on a slow-for-him solo recovery trek after his Rock & Roll half-marathon course PR yesterday. I'm on a fast-for-me solo sprint along Rock Creek and the Matthew Henson Trail. It's a soggy Sunday morning. Eric catches me after a couple of my ~10.5 min/mi miles. Together, the next half dozen splits by my GPS go 9:06 + 9:42 + 8:45 + 8:48 + 9:10 + 9:33 — whew!


- Saturday, April 02, 2016 at 05:21:17 (EDT)

2016-03-12 - Little Falls Trail

~13.5 miles @ ~11.7 min/mi

"The mind is willing!" says Rebecca, when asked about plans to run tomorrow. We take the Capital Crescent Trail east and pause at "Clean Drinking Manor", an estate George Washington visited ~250 years ago. Ken leads us back via a space-filling curve through the streets of Chevy Chase. Jerry introduces us to the Little Falls Trail, parallel to the CCT. His knee is not doing well today, and his GPS auto-pauses during walk breaks. By the time we finish it reads about a mile less than mine. "Shhhhh — don't tell your knee!"


- Friday, April 01, 2016 at 04:15:42 (EDT)

Awareness of Thoughts

Bhante Henepola Gunaratana in Chapter 7 ("What to Do with Your Mind") of Mindfulness in Plain English discusses the meta-concept of observing one's thoughts rather than just thinking them:

There is a difference between being aware of a thought and thinking a thought. That difference is very subtle. It is primarily a matter of feeling or texture. A thought you are simply aware of with bare attention feels light in texture; there is a sense of distance between that thought and the awareness viewing it. It arises lightly like a bubble, and it passes away without necessarily giving rise to the next thought in that chain. Normal conscious thought is much heavier in texture. It is ponderous, commanding, and compulsive. It sucks you in and grabs control of consciousness. By its very nature it is obsessional, and it leads straight to the next thought in the chain, apparently with no gap between them.

... The difference between being aware of the thought and thinking the thought is very real. But it is extremely subtle and difficult to see. Concentration is one of the tools needed to be able to see this difference.

Deep concentration has the effect of slowing down the thought process and speeding up the awareness viewing it. The result is the enhanced ability to examine the thought process. Concentration is our microscope for viewing subtle internal states. We use the focus of attention to achieve one-pointedness of mind with calm and constantly applied attention. Without a fixed reference point you get lost, overcome by the ceaseless waves of change flowing round and round within the mind.

We use breath as our focus. It serves as that vital reference point from which the mind wanders and is drawn back. Distraction cannot be seen as distraction unless there is some central focus to be distracted from. That is the frame of reference against which we can view the incessant changes and interruptions that go on all the time as a part of normal thinking.

And then, as the Zen advice says, "You know the space between your thoughts? Make it larger!"

(cf. Unselfing (2009-01-14), The Watcher (2010-11-15), Let the Mind Pass By (2010-12-28), Turning Attention Inward (2011-04-17), Coming Back to Your Breath (2011-09-25), Power of Now (2011-12-14), Pay Attention (2013-12-05), Watch the Wound (2015-07-24), ...)

- Thursday, March 31, 2016 at 05:33:06 (EDT)

2016-03-11 - Dances with the Daffodils

~8.9 miles @ ~12.4 min/mi

"Baby bottle!" We pass a full one, lying on the ground in McLean Central Park, dimly visible by dawn's early light and headlamp glow. "And I didn't stop to pick it up!" Temperatures fall, as does a light drizzle on the north wind, as Drs K&K and I revisit Benjamin Street. New mansions are under construction, some with hypermodern architectural designs on their signage. "How will they look 30 years from now?" Daffodils open by the road, and Wordsworth's poem "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud" floats into mind. We give thanks for the morning and the company. Happy Day, everyone!


- Wednesday, March 30, 2016 at 05:07:52 (EDT)

Mantra - Love, Simplicity, Humility


... as variously translated and interpreted from the Taoist "three treasures", chapter 67 in the Tao Te Ching:

(adapted from Wikipedia's "Three Treasures (Taoism)", etc.; cf. Taoist State (2004-11-12), Mystic Mantra (2005-01-15), Not Care (2006-02-13), Hidden Mystery (2011-11-07), Journey Inward (2013-10-31), Gentleness, Sensitivity, Compassion (2014-03-09), ...)

- Tuesday, March 29, 2016 at 05:48:07 (EDT)

2016-03-09 - Pre-DST Dawn

~7.2 miles @ ~12.1 min/mi

"Some days we went hours without seeing anybody!" Kristin notes the contrast between all the joggers out this warm McLean morning and how things were during recent winter months, when only the few, the proud, the foolish ventured out. The sun rises much earlier now, until Daylight Saving Time begins next week. Tiara Chapel joins us to tour the neighborhood, recovering from her recent Nashville half-marathon. We circle back and she passes the torch to Beth, who leads us on a Pimmit Hills loop. Conversation includes dogs and their sometimes-strange names. Kerry's daughter on the Langley HS girls basketball team will be at the Virginia State Finals tonight — go Lady Saxons!


- Monday, March 28, 2016 at 04:23:59 (EDT)

So I Will See

"So I will see the tiny purple flowers by the side of the road as I walk to town each day."

That's the punch line of Tara Brach's lovely essay "A Heart That Is Ready for Anything", adapted from the last chapter of her book True Refuge. It tells how, via total open acceptance, one can live with deep loss, and help others in their deep suffering, and find both joy and peace:

If our hearts are ready for anything, we are free to be ourselves. There's room for the wildness of our animal selves, for passion and play. There's room for our human selves, for intimacy and understanding, creativity and productivity. There's room for spirit, for the light of awareness to suffuse our moments. The Tibetans describe this confidence to be who we are as "the lion's roar."

If our hearts are ready for anything, we are touched by the beauty and poetry and mystery that fill our world.

When Munindraji, a vipassana meditation teacher, was asked why he practiced, his response was, "So I will see the tiny purple flowers by the side of the road as I walk to town each day."

(cf. Joseph Goldstein's "In Memoriam: Anagarika Munindra (1914-2003)" and Sharon Salzburg's "Meeting My Teacher" for memories of Anagarika Munindra; cf. Heartfulness and Mindfulness (2014-12-15), Radical Acceptance (2015-05-13), Wings of Acceptance (2015-05-26), Widening the Lens (2015-09-30), ...)

- Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 07:31:08 (EDT)

2016-03-07 - Ancient Moon and Baby Park

~8.0 miles @ ~12.1 min/mi

"A new trail — we have to try it!" I exclaim, and drag Drs K&K down the curving pathway by the little creek. In the midst of Tysons Corner office buildings and parking garages, a happy discovery: "Arbor Row Stream Valley Park" aka "Jones Branch Park". It's only a few blocks long, but at least it's a start! From the median of Route 7 we spy a spidery-thin crescent moon, 27.9 days old, only ~3% illuminated. We share weekend news and admire the sunrise.


- Saturday, March 26, 2016 at 05:54:05 (EDT)

How to Do a PhD

Good advice, summarized from James Hayton's "How to do a PhD: top 10 tips", that applies throughout life:

  1. Choose who you work with carefully (including institution, research group, and advisor)
  2. See yourself as a beginner (research work is not the same as taking classes and doing well on exams)
  3. Start early, make mistakes (get to work as soon as possible on doing actual research)
  4. Analyse early (test methods on small data sets as you go along)
  5. Get to know the literature (begin with deep study of a few of the best papers in your field)
  6. Don't obsess over productivity (be flexible and patient, not driven by artificial self-imposed deadlines)
  7. Give yourself time to think (pause, go beyond the obvious, and allow creativity to emerge)
  8. Be decisive (when a choice needs to be made in your work, make it)
  9. Be adaptable (failures are inevitable along the way — face them with enthusiasm and imagination)
  10. Separate writing for yourself from writing for an audience (the goal is to communicate your ideas and results — organize your arguments and figure out where you're going)

Hayton's final supplemental tip is likewise important when generalized: "A PhD is not everything. ... Do your best, but don't let it define your life. Ultimately, it's not that important!"

(cf. Research and Life (2000-09-07), Ein Ben Stein (2002-09-19), How to Succeed (2005-03-11), Great Thoughts Time (2013-11-29), ...)

- Friday, March 25, 2016 at 04:11:06 (EDT)

2016-03-06 - Rock Creek Ramble

~7.3 miles @ ~10.8 min/mi

"So they had to carry a baseball bat in their kayak to fight off alligators!" Rebecca says, explaining why she prefers to live farther north. On Beach Drive in Rock Creek Park we turn back at the horse ford on a tributary stream, an old road on which Jerry recalls his father driving the family car through the water, back in the 1960s. We meet Santa Steve and Joyce as we return. Rebecca reminisces about a long run (2010-08-21 - Megan's Loop Plus) along the Capital Crescent Trail with me. Jerry describes trekking solo on the CCT before dawn, in a pool of light cast by his headlamp. Back where we began near the Candy Cane City playground we rejoin Barry at his car. His hip is starting to feel better, as is Jerry's knee.


- Thursday, March 24, 2016 at 05:23:44 (EDT)

Mindful Body

In Chapter 6 ("What to Do with Your Body") of Mindfulness in Plain English the author, Bhante Henepola Gunaratana, offers nuts-and-bolts advice on how to sit — with the honest disclaimer that all the mechanics are merely a tool, not a goal:

The purpose of the various postures is threefold. First, they provide a stable feeling in the body. This allows you to remove your attention from such issues as balance and muscular fatigue, so that you can center your concentration on the formal object of meditation. Second, they promote physical immobility which is then reflected by an immobility of mind. This creates a deeply settled and tranquil concentration. Third, they give you the ability to sit for a long period of time without yielding to the meditator's three main enemies—pain, muscular tension and falling asleep.

The most essential thing is to sit with your back straight. ...

And, whether you sit on a chair or in full lotus:

... remember your objectives. You want to achieve a state of complete physical stillness, yet you don't want to fall asleep. Recall the analogy of the muddy water. You want to promote a totally settled state of the body, which will engender a corresponding mental settling. There must also be a state of physical alertness, which can induce the kind of mental clarity you seek. So experiment. Your body is a tool for creating desired mental states. Use it judiciously.

(cf. Posture (2009-06-05), Afraid of Chairs (2010-10-15), With Dignity (2010-12-04), Just Sitting (2011-05-21), Wait for the Breath (2013-07-09), Eleven Rules for Mindfulness (2015-11-07), Look at Each Second (2015-11-17), Mindfulness, Concentration, and Distraction (2015-11-23), No Me (2016-01-18), ...)

- Wednesday, March 23, 2016 at 09:55:26 (EDT)

2016-03-05 - RCT Trot

~12.8 miles @ ~11.4 min/mi

"'You were right - I was wrong', says Mark," says Emaad, "and you must begin your report with that!" Banter goes meta in the final mile along Rock Creek Trail. Today's trek begins with Barry, hoping for magic from a corticosteroid shot in the hip on Thursday, still suffering. He accompanies Rebecca and me downstream and back, then sends us on ahead after Emaad joins us at mile ~2.

Temperatures rise from near freezing into the upper 30's. We meet Gayatri and a friend on the Matthew Henson Trail and fist-bump. Chatter includes head-shaking at current political discourse, reviews of classic Clint Eastwood movies, thoughts on refugees from Vietnam and more recently the Middle East, and the obligatory runner injury analysis.


- Tuesday, March 22, 2016 at 05:21:38 (EDT)

Probably Approximately Correct

Does the title apply to the book? Probably Approximately Correct by Harvard computer scientist Leslie Valiant suggests some interesting, important ideas for deciding and learning in real-world situations:

Prof Valiant explores these and related themes of computational complexity and machine learning in this 2013 popularization. But the prose is uninspired, the technical detail is skimpy, and the hubris is distracting ("I believe ...", "I call ...", "I expect ...", etc.). Applications to Darwinian evolution by natural selection appear important but are confusingly presented. And the clunky coined term, ecorithm, for the core thesis? Perhaps Valiant and his topic are far deeper than comes across. Maybe an assertive editor or coauthor could have helped.

- Monday, March 21, 2016 at 04:43:00 (EDT)

2016-03-04 - Running in a Winter Wonderland

~7.6 miles @ ~12.8 min/mi

"I know I'm completely biased — but it's still true!" Kerry observes, metacognitively. Trees are limned by last night's snowfall. Kristin and I sprint to the rendezvous, a downtown McLean Starbucks, second mile at sub-10 pace. The Dawn Patrol meanders and discovers a path through Bryn Mawr Park between Laughlin and Tennyson. On Longfellow Street, quote Robert Frost's "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening". At Tucker Avenue divert to view the funky Victorian house with lavender trim and helical downspouts. Pavement dead-ends at Kent Gardens Park, where muddy path leads to stream crossing and the Pimmit Run Trail. Stream crossing is safe enough for Kristin to traverse it twice and pose for a photo with Kerry. Cite the final-of-all-time "Calvin and Hobbes" comic strip by Bill Watterson:

"Wow, it really snowed last night! Isn't it wonderful?"
"Everything familiar has disappeared. The world looks brand-new!"
"A day full of possibilities!"
"It's a magical world, Hobbes, ol' buddy ... let's go exploring!".

Sure is — today and always!


- Sunday, March 20, 2016 at 07:30:39 (EDT)

Jacques Barzun on Writing

Thoughtful feedback and encouragement from a mature editor to a new writer is described by Helen Hazen in her beautiful 2013 eulogy for Jacques Barzun titled "Endless Rewriting". She quotes from Barzun's letters of gentle (and not-so-gentle) advice, which begin in response to her first draft with:

I am ready to help as needed. I know it's disheartening to think one has finished and to be told one must start again, but it's the common lot. Often one has to tell this to oneself, which is harder, because there's nobody to curse at. I shall be glad to be used, in your anger, as "the idiot who doesn't see that, etc ...," provided you go ahead and reorganize and rewrite. ...

Over a period of years, Hazen says, she shared partial drafts with Barzun and thought about his commentary. He helped her factor arguments into logical components, marshal evidence, and develop ideas. When her fundamental thesis began to take shape he suggested a roadmap to follow:

First, you must decide what your subject is. ...

Second, your chapters keep the reader wondering what indeed (what in hell) you are up to. ... There is a staggering amount of repetition .... And your best original ideas, which should be the strong current by which the rest is carried, are stuck away in corners as mere asides, as trailing comments. In one sense, none of your chapters visibly does anything different from the previous one.

Third. The cure is obviously to assign each chapter A Point to Make—a big point with little ones clustering around. The successive points should be so ordered that they form an argument, a course of reasoning, which can be quickly summed up at the end. To find the points and their order, you need a half sheet of paper, headed "I believe that ..." with brief propositions below. Fiddle with the sequence until it seems to you smooth and natural, by which is meant convenient to follow.

Fourth. When you have this menu for your guest's dinner, stick to the contents of each course as you serve it—no strawberries in the soup. ... You must treat every topic once and be done with it—so you can build on top of it and not have to re-lay the foundation already set.

Hazen comments in an aside, "Strawberries in the soup indeed, an image that has stuck with me these many years."

Fifth. There are too many quotations and they are too long. The result is that the point of each is lost within the general tenor of the passage. Go over them and select the best bits for every different point ... In short, remember that your authors merely illustrate the points of your thesis; your voice must be the one steadily heard, even when you recite the extracts relevant to the point you have just made.

... advice which Hazen applies meta-masterfully in quoting Barzun himself. She passes lightly over "his sixth enjoinder" re nomenclature and concludes the excerpts from his note with:

Seventh. Most difficult of all your tasks will be to balance the kinds of material relevant to your doctrine. ... Too much personal experience will limit it to personality. There must be around each of your subtopics the support of every kind of thing you know, from books, events, reports, experience, and fantasy—or if not every kind for each, at least more than one or two. It is by the accumulation of varied bits of fact that skepticism is overcome ...

Sharp counsel for all writing, and for reason itself. As Hazen metacognitively notes, "I slowly learned to take the thought one step at a time, to think logically from one point to the next and put those thoughts into clear and effective sentences."

And after the book was finished, Barzun's recommendations on how to handle inevitably unfair critics:

1. Take up only matters of fact; i.e. ignore all personalities.
2. Use a very cool tone, which does not exclude irony but does exclude indignation and anger.
3. Keep the rejoinder short (and of course absolutely clear). For this purpose, work quite hard at successive drafts of the letter to the editor, letting it lie a couple of days between finishing and sending it. There is always a word to change before the final typing.

... and finally: stay safe — keep a "fairly wide moat" around the castle for protection against "violent lunatics ... on the loose." Indeed!

(cf. Headlights and Decisions (1999-06-27), Culture, Memory, Progress (2000-09-28), How to Write (2000-11-28), ...)

- Saturday, March 19, 2016 at 06:04:54 (EDT)

2016-03-02 - Physics Interest

~5.8 miles @ ~12.0 min/mi

"Give me two days, and I can get interested in anything!" Dr Beth says. "That's a physicist talking!" I reply, applauding intellectual curiosity. Conversation random-walks into metaphors and category theory, calculus of variations and path-integral methods, wave-particle duality, and how some folks are more open than others to new ideas. It's a brisk morning, with gusts up to 30+ mi/hour. With the wind in our faces Beth notes, "We really are running downhill now!" though it feels otherwise.

Kristin leads a dawn loop when my headlamp fails. She shares some expertise on rap music and suggests a list of gentler, more easy-listening and less-edgy artists for the novice in that genre. Social Distortion's 1990 song "Story of My Life" plays on the antique mental eight-track. Birds chirp, the sunrise glows, and the scent of donuts cooking drifts across the street from Safeway.


- Thursday, March 17, 2016 at 05:34:36 (EDT)

Mantra - No Effort Is Wasted

No effort is wasted.

... from the Arnold Bennett 1923 collection of advice How to Make the Best of Life ... and likewise from the Bhagavad Gita translation by Stephen Mitchell, 2.40:

On this path no effort is wasted,
no gain is ever reversed;
even a little of this practice
will shelter you from great sorrow.

... as in Mantra - Relentless Forward Progress ...

(cf. No Method (2010-01-21), Power of Optimism (2016-02-23), ...)

- Wednesday, March 16, 2016 at 04:34:09 (EDT)

2016-02-29 - Find the Path

~8.0 miles @ ~11.6 min/mi

"We're not lost — we're finding our path!" says Kristin, as we explore a new neighborhood before sunrise and discover ourselves on Pathfinder Lane. Birds chirp and the eastern sky brightens into bands of tangerine and ocher. We loop back to meet Beth, then attack the slopes of Pimmit Hills. On the 1.00 mile Friden-Pimmit-Storm loop I challenge Kerry to see how fast we can go. The clock says 8:29. "I can do better!" Kerry promises. During the return leg of our odyssey I pick up a lost orange from the grass by the sidewalk. "Are you going to eat that?" the chorus asks. They already know the answer.


- Tuesday, March 15, 2016 at 05:28:20 (EDT)

The Person Who You Are

A lovely article resurfaces from three years ago, the gently musing "Philosophy: a case of Sunday afternoon fever" by James Garvey in The Guardian. The subtitle, "It's not therapy or self-help. But people, many with mental health issues, pack out the Stuart Low Trust philosophy forums" summarizes the theme, reminiscent of the Philosophy Cafes of [1]. People get together to muse about "The ancient questions — how should I live? what matters most? who should I be? ...". Among the topics discussed:

... a different conception of the self. The new idea is that a person consists in many changing selves, strung along over time like pearls on a string. The seminars split off again, and there's discussion of Hume's bundle theory here and there. One asks what the string connecting the pearls is supposed to be. There's a moment of baffled silence, smiles, and more conversation.


What's striking is the group's openness to new ideas. "It's not like a debate among academics ... where people just take up established positions and butt heads." There's a real sense of people trying to get at the truth, trying to do philosophy with honesty.


... philosophical questions can play a powerful role in the lives of people who have experienced mental health problems. "Their lives can throw up abstract and fundamental questions that many people drift through life leaving unexamined. Their experiences generate answers that are often novel, plausible and powerful, and as they've lived the questions, the answers they reach take on a different significance. Apart from all that, their thoughts are listened to here with an equality of respect...".


The philosophy forum is one of those rare things that defy the laws of social physics. Everyone gets more out than they put in, particularly the volunteers. "It's the best thing I do," one tells me. "It's the highlight of my week."


"It's quite wonderful, isn't it?"

(cf. Headline Socrates (2000-05-30), Thinker Shrinks (2011-09-19), ...)

- Monday, March 14, 2016 at 04:46:51 (EDT)

2016-02-28 - RCT with RR

~7.0 miles @ ~11.7 min/mi

"It seemed like a bad idea at the time!" I admit to Rebecca, as we run beneath the high Georgetown Branch railroad trestle over Rock Creek. Memories flood back, of wading through the waters here knee-deep (see 2012-10-29 - Hurricane Sandy Soggy Circuit). Rebecca scolds, appropriately.

Before today's frosty trek Jerry Epstein tests his knee, finds it wanting, and like yesterday wisely decides not to (further) damage it. From Candy Cane City RR and I head south to the DC border in search of Santa Steve and his crew. Nobody we ask on the way reports seeing him — and no reindeer spoor or elven footprints are visible in the mud. So we turn north and climb the Mormon Temple hill.

We compare movies: "27 Dresses" vs "The Wedding Planner" vs "Runaway Bride". Rebecca recalls her sister's nuptials at the nearby Audubon Naturalist Society. We share stories of being in the Now, of non-clinging and non-judging, of taking joy at all that is. A fast runner zooms by, finishing his 17 miles of Boston Marathon prep. We salute.


- Sunday, March 13, 2016 at 07:38:33 (EDT)

Mantra - Expand the Context


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

... So, if you practice purposefully expanding the context of the anger (yours or someone else's) right in those very moments that it is arising and peaking, knowing that there must be something larger and more fundamental that you are forgetting in the heat of the emotion, then you can touch an awareness inside yourself which is not attached to or invested in the anger-fire. Awareness sees the anger; it knows the depth of the anger; and it is larger than the anger. It can therefore hold the anger the way a pot contains food. The pot of awareness helps us cradle the anger and see that it may be producing more harmful effects than beneficial ones, even if that is not our aim. In this way, it helps us cook the anger, digest the anger, so that we can use it effectively, and, in changing from an automatic reacting to a conscious responding, perhaps move beyond it altogether. ...

... alternatively:

(cf. Expanding Contexts (1999-10-15), Two Perspectives (2002-02-10), Envelope Pushing (2003-04-24), What We Know (2006-08-15), In the Palm of Your Hand (2006-09-11), ...)

- Saturday, March 12, 2016 at 13:11:27 (EST)

2016-02-27 - CCT with RR

~11.3 miles @ ~11.8 min/mi

"Cheesecake is a vegetable," I tell Rebecca. "At least, it's not an animal or a mineral!" That settled, we move on to serious analysis of cauliflower and the multitudinous ways to prepare it.

Earlier: "I'm just waiting for replacement knee technology to improve!" Gerry Epstein tells me, as we walk back to downtown Bethesda after an experimental 8am mile with Ken and Emaad. Gerry has some serious cartilage damage and today is not his day to run any farther. Back on the Capital Crescent Trail, after a couple of brisk sub-10 pace miles both RR and I come to our senses and slow down. We greet Barry, Joyce, Santa Steve, and other friends.

Temperatures rise from near freezing. Emaad and Ken dash onward, mostly ignoring my shouts of "Walk Break!". At mile ~7 we bid them farewell. Ken has a serious day of House and Garden touring to prepare for. Rebecca is building up her mileage in preparation for the Big Sur Marathon. Today's ~11 is perfect for her.


- Friday, March 11, 2016 at 04:18:42 (EST)

Mirror Fallacy

Called out by a kind, frank friend: the personal tendency to assume during conversation that a listener is just like oneself — e.g., knows about switch-contact bounce and how to diagonalize a matrix, loves to run on strange new trails to unknown destinations before dawn, strives for self-awareness and non-attachment, etc.

In response to the 2011 Edge.org challenge question, "What Scientific Concept Would Improve Everybody's Cognitive Toolkit?", neuroscientist Christian Keysers nominates what he calls the "Mirror Fallacy": the notion that other people feel and think just the way we would in their circumstances.

Not Always So!

(see Wikipedia's Projection Bias, Cognitive Traps for Intelligence Analysis and List of Cognitive Biases; cf. Big Biases (2014-01-09), Negative Thinking Patterns (2015-08-28), ...)

- Thursday, March 10, 2016 at 06:15:12 (EST)

2016-02-26 - Beautiful McLean Sunrise

~9.4 miles @ ~13.1 min/mi

"Luminous pink sunrise, snow flurries, crossing guards — what a great morning!" Kerry's daughter is on the basketball team for tonight's regional Final Four tourney; Kristin vastly overachieves in yesterday's homeschooling review; and this morning I break the handle off the bathroom door. We begin with a meander through an apartment complex, with the lights of Tysons Corner shining in the gloom. A dozen speedy cyclists in formation greet us as they fly past on the W&OD Trail. Kerry saves the Dawn Patrol from disaster when a car fails to stop at a corner. Iced coffee at McDonald's propels us up the hills of Falls Church. The under-construction MITRE-4 building glitters in the distance.


- Wednesday, March 09, 2016 at 04:15:35 (EST)

Capitol Dome Scaffolding

The US Capitol is luminous as work continues to restore the cast iron dome. The dome is about 150 years old; it has many cracks and leaks, and the layers of paint on it are peeling. Most repair work is done at night. The project should be finished by late 2016.

(photo taken 2016-02-09, about 11pm, of the east side of the building as seen from 1st St Southeast)


- Tuesday, March 08, 2016 at 05:07:11 (EST)

2016-02-24 - Rainy Ramble

~10.5 miles @ ~12.4 min/mi

"Spiral rain gutters!" At dawn Kristin points out an awesomely kawaii Victorian house on Tucker Avenue near Barbee Street in McLean. "A stained-glass circular window! And such beautiful lavender columns!" We resolve to revisit in brighter light to witness more detail. Today's ramble around the local 'hood begins in drizzle. We do a lap around the McLean High School track, past a solo walker who doesn't respond to "Good morning!" greetings, perhaps because headphone volume is turned up too loud. At the Kent Gardens Elementary School a partial survey of the perimeter turns up mud but no shortcut-pathways to roads on the other side. Rain begins to fall in earnest as we finish an abridged post-run stretch.


- Monday, March 07, 2016 at 04:22:26 (EST)

Mantra - It Is What It Is

It is what it is!

... and just as things are, right now, right here, is all that there is — and it's perfect ...

(originally from Dr Kristin; cf. Extreme Clarity (2006-12-15), Present-Moment Reality (2008-11-05), Voluntary Simplicity (2008-12-24), Not Always So (2009-07-04), Roadside Distractions (2011-04-30), Ceaseless Society (2012-05-10), This (2013-03-09), No Beginning, No End (2013-03-24), Mindfulness for Beginners (2013-07-18), Winter's Tale on Truth (2014-12-09), 2015-02-06 - Thirteen Degrees, 2015-03-04 - Grizzly Statue, Radical Acceptance (2015-05-13) ...)

- Sunday, March 06, 2016 at 05:41:46 (EST)

2016-02-22 - Tysons Loop

~7.3 miles @ ~12.2 min/mi

"Yow!" To push the crosswalk button for the traffic light at the corner of Spring Hill and International I almost do a split, stepping over a small mountain of ice. Sun rises over McLean as Kerry, Kristin, and I loop through Tysons Corner, admiring the buildings and zig-zagging around thawing snowbanks on the sidewalks. School buses strobe red as they stop. We catch up on weekend news and speculate on future long-run opportunities.


- Saturday, March 05, 2016 at 06:45:31 (EST)

Story of My Life

The 1990 song "Story of My Life" by punk-rock/alternative group Social Distortion offers a summary in its chorus:

Life goes by so fast
You only wanna do what you think is right
Close your eyes and it's past
Story of my life

... underscoring the need to awaken to what's now ...

(cf. How Great Thou Art (2005-03-06), Meditation Made Easy (2008-11-01), No Method (2010-01-21), Beginner's Guide to Insight Meditation (2011-08-05), Beginning Mindfulness (2013-09-22), Being Zen (2014-05-26), ...)

- Friday, March 04, 2016 at 04:38:40 (EST)

2016-02-21 - Sunday WOD with Courtney

~15.0 miles @ ~14.0 min/mi

"Are you running home with that?" the lady on the W&OD Trail asks as I sprint by holding a cup of coffee. Courtney Jenkins and I have just emerged from the Whole Foods in downtown Vienna, a quarter of the way into today's training trek. Two hours later we pause the GPS again to refuel at a Rite Aid drugstore in Falls Church, where a chocolate-peanut-butter ice cream cup cancels out several more of my miles. A light drizzle begins mid-morning, but temperatures stay warm. Fine conversation includes race anecdotes, injury reports, training tips, and random reminisces. A gray-brown female cardinal flits away next to her scarlet mate. We admire a Bavarian-style mansion with turrets and stonework.


- Thursday, March 03, 2016 at 04:17:12 (EST)

Self, Discovery, and the Barkley Marathons

The "Barkley Marathons", a ridiculously difficult ultramarathon run through the wilderness of Tennessee, inspired Leslie Jamison to muse about addiction, recovery, meaning, and life in the May 2011 issue of The Believer magazine. Some memorable thoughts from her essay "The Immortal Horizon":

The race consists of five loops on a course that's been officially listed at twenty miles, but is probably more like twenty-six. The moral of this slanted truth is that standard metrics are irrelevant. The moral of a lot of Barkley's slanted truths is that standard metrics are irrelevant. The laws of physics and human tolerance have been replaced by Laz's personal whims. Even if the race was really "only" a hundred miles, these would still be "Barkley miles." Guys who could typically finish a hundred miles in twenty hours might not finish a single loop here. If you finish three, you've completed what's known as the Fun Run. If you happen not to finish—and, let's face it, you probably won't—Laz will play taps to commemorate your quitting. The whole camp, shifting and dirty and tired, will listen, except for those who are asleep or too weak to notice, who won't.

... and:

It's probably a misnomer to talk about "getting lost" at Barkley. It might be closer to the truth to say you begin lost, remain lost through several nights in the woods, and must constantly use your compass, map, instructions, fellow runners, and remaining shards of sanity to perpetually unlose yourself again. First-timers usually try to stay with veterans who know the course, but are often scraped. "Virgin scraping" means ditching the new guy. A virgin bends down to tie his shoelaces, perhaps, and glances up to find his veteran Virgil gone.

... and:

He needs a compass. He needs pain pills and NO-DOZ pills and electrolyte pills and Ginger Chews for when he gets sleepy and a "kit" for popping blisters that basically includes a needle and Band-Aids. He needs tape for when his toenails start falling off. He needs batteries. We pay special attention to the batteries. Running out of batteries is the must-avoid-at-all-costs worst possible thing that could happen. But it has happened. It happened to Rich Limacher, whose night spent under a huge buckeye tree earned it the name "Limacher Hilton." ...

... and:

There are some strong virgins in the pack, including Charlie Engle, already an accomplished ultra-runner (he's "done" the Sahara) and inspirational speaker. Like many ultra-runners, he's a former addict. He's been sober for nearly twenty years, and many describe his recovery as the switch from one addiction to another—drugs for adrenaline, trading that extreme for this one.

... and:

... Dropping, unless you drop at the single point accessible by trail, involves a three-to-four-hour commute back into camp—longer at night, especially if you get lost. Which effectively means that the act of ceasing to compete in the Barkley race is comparable to running an entire marathon.


... It approximates the pleasure—pleasure?—of ultra-running itself: the simultaneous exertion and ceding of power, controlling the body enough to make it run this thing but ultimately offering it to the uncontrollable vagaries of luck and endurance and conditions, delivering oneself into the frisson of this overpowering.

... and:

... why do people do this, anyway? Whenever I pose the question directly, runners reply ironically: I'm a masochist; I need somewhere to put my craziness; type A from birth; etc. I begin to understand that joking about this question is not an evasion but rather an intrinsic part of answering it. Nobody has to answer this question seriously, because they are already answering it seriously—with their bodies and their willpower and their pain. The body submits itself in utter earnest, in degradation and commitment, to what words can speak of only lightly. Maybe this is why so many ultra-runners are former addicts: they want to redeem the bodies they once punished, master the physical selves whose cravings they once served.

... and in conclusion:

This is benevolence as surprise, evidence of a grace beyond the self that has, of course, come from the self—the same self that loaded the fanny pack hours before, whose role has been obscured by bone-weary delusion, turned other by the sheer fact of the body losing its own mind. So it goes. One morning a man blows a conch shell, and two days later—still answering the call of that conch—another man finds all he needs strapped to his own body, where he can neither expect nor explain it.

(cf. Tales from Out There (2010-05-11), Big Stick (2010-05-18), Hardness Scales (2011-01-05), Like a Child at the Grownups' Table (2013-11-09), ...)

- Wednesday, March 02, 2016 at 04:40:13 (EST)

2016-02-20 - Relativistic Run

~11.0 miles @ ~10.9 min/mi

"... in a shorter skirt than I had ever seen her wear before!" A late-night babysitting anecdote catches the ears of those running ahead, who slow down to listen and commiserate. Ken and I have already done a few miles, along hilly Leland St and looping through downtown Chevy Chase where our banter about the fancy French restaurant there brings an enigmatic smile to the face of a woman who overhears. Gerald Epstein joins us in downtown Bethesda as we await Emaad and Rebecca, who arrive with entertaining stories of their morning travails. Small world: Jerry's undergrad advisor (Rainer Weiss) and my grad-school mentor (Kip Thorne) were both in the news this week re LIGO and gravitational wave detection. We chat about black hole event horizons and cosmological background radiation, injuries, marathons, and other fun topics. For the final mile I sprint to catch up with the fast youngsters, then can't resist adding a few more feet to get the GPS odometer to roll over past the next integer mile.


- Tuesday, March 01, 2016 at 04:23:55 (EST)

2016-02-19 - Short Pimmit Circuit

~4.0 miles @ ~11.8 min/mi

"At first I thought it was a rat!" says Kerry, as she detours in the gloom around an early bird taking a pre-dawn stroll on the sidewalk. We catch up on family news, review spring running priorities, and test out the 1.00-mile Friden-Pimmit-Storm neighborhood loop that Kristin explored (with Beth) earlier this month. A final sprint gets us back early enough for morning meetings.


- Tuesday, March 01, 2016 at 04:19:35 (EST)

Mantra - Mind Like Sky

As Pema Chödrön is often quoted, "You are the sky. Everything else is just the weather." — or, in Tara Brach's words from Chapter 4 of Radical Acceptance, "... Like the weather, sensations, emotions and thoughts were just moving through the open, empty sky of awareness. ..." — and more briefly:


(cf. My Own Weather (2009-04-17), Core Buddhism (2011-10-17), 0-1 (2014-08-29), Mantra - Let It Go (2014-12-27), No Thing and Every Thing (2015-09-20), ...)

- Monday, February 29, 2016 at 04:26:23 (EST)

2016-02-17 - Speedwork Wednesday

~4.7 miles @ ~11.8 min/mi

"Mark, we're people doing silly exercises!" says Dr Beth, when I so label the young men performing calisthenics in the gloom at the far end of the football field. The sun is rising behind thick clouds as we reach McLean HS track and discover it runnable, albeit with frosty-slick patches that mandate caution. Five 400m intervals in lane 2, with half-lap two-minute recovery walks — 1:45 + 1:48 + 1:46 + 1:47 + 1:48 — pushing hard and not quite puking. "I'm starting to pray that you say it's time to stop!" I tell Beth midway. She's running at a more sensible pace and applauds as I sprint by. My chronic double vision is a little troublesome as the day brightens and white lines on the maroon cushioned track curve around the ends of the oval. A crimson cardinal watches from a nearby cedar tree.


- Sunday, February 28, 2016 at 07:09:37 (EST)

Austin Walnut Creek Graffiti

Concrete art from 2016-02-06 - Northwest Austin Dawn trek:


- Saturday, February 27, 2016 at 06:48:03 (EST)

2016-02-13 - Barry Bilocation

~5.9 miles @ ~13.0 min/mi

"Roid Joy?" Barry seems even more optimistic than his usual cheerful state, just minutes after taking newly-prescribed (cortico-)steroids in hopes they help heal his hurt hip. We trek together around the Dennis Avenue flood control reservoir in his 'hood, scaring dozens of geese, witnessing a great blue heron in flight, and comparing notes on injuries. Stiff northwest zephyrs gust to ~30 mi/hr, and combine with temperatures in the low 20's Fahrenheit for near-zero wind-chill. Brrrrrrrr! First and final miles are a brisk ~10 min pace. A panorama photo taken at the pond shows Barry twice, as he runs around to the opposite side while I pan.


- Friday, February 26, 2016 at 04:27:03 (EST)

Mantra - Pause and Breathe


... from Chapter 6 of ("Positive Insecurity") of Pema Chödrön's Practicing Peace in Times of War, "... Before the chain reaction starts, before the aggression or the habitual pattern clicks in, there's a shock and open space ... pause and breathe deeply in and breathe deeply out. Never underestimate the power of this simple pause. ..."

(cf. Beginning Mindfulness (2013-09-22), Space Between (2013-10-15), Pause and Breathe (2014-07-25), ...)

- Thursday, February 25, 2016 at 05:34:25 (EST)

2016-02-12 - Brisk McLean Sunrise

~5.7 miles @ ~12.4 min/mi

"Chill AM run, Dawn Patrol??" Kristin throws down the gauntlet Thursday evening via text-message. Peer pressure plus bragging rights compel Kerry and me to pick it up. Temps hover in the mid-to-upper 'teens as we meander around the local 'hood, sharing family news and reminiscing about unconventional placement of hand warmers. ("Don't look, children!") Near Ursa Minor an Iridium satellite flare shines through the clouds. Frozen fingers tingle-thaw during a welcome warm shower afterwards.


- Wednesday, February 24, 2016 at 04:22:02 (EST)

Power of Optimism

The Power of Optimism by Alan Loy McGinnis surfaced again recently, half a dozen years after kind correspondent Lila Das Gupta shared the list of "Twelve Characteristics of Tough-Minded Optimists" from its page xiv. Unsurprisingly, it's a super-cheerful book, full of success stories and suggestions for self-improvement. Alas, it's a bit heavy-handed in its Judeo-Christianity, and tends to cite apocryphal anecdotes that a little research would have soon debunked. Many of the quotes disagree with one another. Maybe that's ok.

And so, adding sub-items from the text of chapters 1, 4, 5, and 8 to the master list:

  1. Optimists are seldom surprised by trouble.
    1. Think of yourself as a problem solver.
    2. Look for multiple options.
    3. Anticipate problems.
    4. Talk freely about negative feelings.
    5. Look for the good in bad situations.
    6. Avoid phony pep talks.
  2. Optimists look for partial solutions.
  3. Optimists believe they have control over their futures.
  4. Optimists allow for regular renewal.
    1. Attach yourself to hopeful people.
    2. Change your intellectual habits.
    3. Feed your spiritual side with care.
    4. Talk to a young child.
    5. Make use of the ancient idea of the Sabbath.
    6. Get to know someone new.
  5. Optimists interrupt their negative train of thought.
    1. Monitor your automatic thoughts.
    2. Question whether your automatic thoughts are actually yours.
    3. Correct your cognitive distortions.
    4. Strive for favorable connotations.
  6. Optimists heighten their powers of appreciation.
  7. Optimists use their imagination to rehearse success.
  8. Optimists are cheerful even when they can't be happy.
    1. Begin the day well.
    2. Employ the therapy of laughter.
    3. Insist on celebrations even during hard times.
    4. Employ uplifting music to lift your mood.
    5. Take a brisk walk.
  9. Optimists believe they have an almost unlimited capacity for stretching.
  10. Optimists build lots of love into their lives.
  11. Optimists like to swap good news.
  12. Optimists accept what cannot be changed.

... and perhaps one of the most important bottom line conclusions is buried at the end of McGinnis's chapter 8:

... When people have a troubled life, it gives them good cause to be pessimistic. On the other hand, research shows that pessimists make a mess of their lives and fail to do the things they could to remedy their situations. So for the person who wants to become more optimistic, the question of cause and effect is really academic. ...

... like the Arnold Bennett comment in his 1923 collection of advice How to Make the Best of Life:

... The trouble about discussing how to make the best of life is that one is forced to make so many excursions into the obvious. The failure to make the best of life is due, as often as not, to the neglect of the conspicuously obvious — to the omission to do some perfectly simple thing which everybody agrees ought to be done, or to the commission of some perilous imprudence which everybody agrees ought to be very carefully avoided. ...

... and Bennett's encouraging words, well worth remembering:

No effort is wasted.

(cf. Optimist Creed (1999-04-16), Bennett on Life (2000-03-19) Move On (2007-01-16), Solve the Problem (2007-05-24), Tough-Minded Optimists (2009-12-22), How to Be an Optimist (2011-08-24), How to Master Any Game (2016-02-18), ...) - ^z

- Tuesday, February 23, 2016 at 04:51:41 (EST)

2016-02-10 - Nano-Run

~0.01 miles @ ~4.7 min/mi

"And the vote is unanimous!" At 0545 the Dawn Patrol caucuses by Kerry's car in the parking lot. Amazingly we all overcome our FOMO ("Fear Of Missing Out") and agree: under the dusting of snow there are likely patches of ice, and even on neighborhood streets the risks of injury are too high. So it's an "Executive Workout" day!


- Monday, February 22, 2016 at 04:20:05 (EST)


The recent book Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction by Philip Tetlock and Dan Gardner is fun, fast, and insightful. It's a chatty expansion of the technical articles that Tetlock and colleagues have recently published in scientific journals, based on their work to identify the factors that make for better human prediction of events. Parts are a bit heavy-handed in their self-help second-person you-should-do-this style; parts are too personal-anecdotal; and parts gloss over important quantitative issues. But overall, Superforecasting is a worthy read.

The list "Characteristics of Superforecasters" from the end of Chapter 8 ("Perpetual Beta") summarizes many of their key discoveries. Another useful list appears in the Appendix ("Ten Commandments for Aspiring Superforecasters"):

  1. Triage - "Focus on questions where your hard work is likely to pay off. Don't waste time either on easy 'clocklike' questions (where simple rules of thumb can get you close to the right answer) or on impenetrable 'cloud-like' questions (where even fancy statistical models can't beat the dart-throwing chimp) ..."
  2. Break seemingly intractable problems into tractable sub-problems - "... Decompose the problem into its knowable and unknowable parts. Flush ignorance into the open. Expose and examine your assumptions. Dare to be wrong by making your best guesses ..."
  3. Strike the right balance between inside and outside views - "... uniqueness is a matter of degree ... conduct creative searches for comparison classes even for seemingly unique events ... pose the outside-view question: How often do things of this sort happen in situations of this sort? ..."
  4. Strike the right balance between under- and overreacting to evidence - "Belief updating is to good forecasting as brushing and flossing are to good dental hygiene. ... Skillful updating requires teasing subtle signals from noisy news flows—all the while resisting the lure of wishful thinking ..."
  5. Look for the clashing causal forces at work in each problem - "... In dragonfly eye, one view meets another and another and another—all of which must be synthesized into a single image ..."
  6. Strive to distinguish as many degrees of doubt as the problem permits but no more - "... Nuance matters. The more degrees of uncertainty you can distinguish, the better ..."
  7. Strike the right balance between under- and overconfidence, between prudence and decisiveness - "... understand the risks both of rushing to judgment and of dawdling too long near 'maybe' ... find creative ways to tamp down both types of forecasting errors—misses and false alarms—to the degree a fickle world permits such uncontroversial improvements in accuracy ..."
  8. Look for errors behind your biases but beware of rearview-mirror hindsight biases - "... although the more common error is to learn too little from failure and to overlook flaws in your basic assumptions, it is also possible to learn too much (you may have been basically on the right track but made a minor technical mistake that had big ramifications) ... do postmortems on your successes too ..."
  9. Bring out the best in others and let others bring out the best in you - "... Master the fine arts of team management, especially perspective taking (understanding the arguments of the other side so well that you can reproduce them to the other's satisfaction), precision questioning (helping others to clarify their arguments so they are not misunderstood), and constructive confrontation (learning to disagree without being disagreeable) ..."
  10. Master the error-balancing bicycle - "... implementing each commandment requires balancing opposing errors ... Learning requires doing, with good feedback ... super forecasting is the product of deep, deliberative practice ..."
  11. Don't treat commandments as commandments - "'It is impossible to lay down binding rules', Helmuth von Moltke warned, 'because two cases will never be exactly the same.' ... Guidelines are the best we can do in a world where nothing is certain or exactly repeatable. Super forecasting requires constant mindfulness ..."

Yep, it's all about mindfulness, awareness, metacognition ... and also openness and optimism. From Chapter 5 ("Supersmart?"):

... In personality psychology, one of the "Big Five" traits is "openness to experience," which has various dimensions, including preference for variety and intellectual curiosity. It's unmistakable in many super forecasters. Most people who are not from Ghana would find a question like "Who will win the presidential election in Ghana?" pointless. They wouldn't know where to start, or why to bother. But when I put that hypothetical question to Doug Lorch and asked for his reaction, he simply said, "Well, here's an opportunity to learn something about Ghana."

(cf. Solve the Problem (2007-05-24), ...)

- Sunday, February 21, 2016 at 07:19:06 (EST)

2016-02-07 - Rocky Raccoon 100 Sweeper

~14.6 miles @ ~21.3 min/mi

"Santa Claus is coming to town!" says a Rocky Raccoon ultrarunner at mile 92 when he sees me with a big bag on my shoulder this morning. "No, I'm just picking up litter," I explain. "And sweeping the course, but you're far ahead of the cutoff. Don't fear the Sweeper!"

Despite über-intense cold, friends at the RR100 do great — kudos esp. to Edward Masuoka and Stephanie Fonda! — and overnight duty at the main aid station is good training for me in The Art of Power Napping. Starting ~25.5 hours into the event and covering all but the first/last ~3 miles of the 20 mile loop, I pick up scores of styrofoam cups, scraps of energy gel packets, and other trash dropped (inadvertently, one hopes) by hasty racers. Additionally, it's a good time to take down hundreds of pink/orange course markings, ribbons attached to branches via clothes pins. Race Director Chris McWatters foolishly lends me a big knife to remove yellow caution tape. Yay! And somehow I manage not to hurt myself wielding it or running with it.

One competitor I catch up with is hypothermic and exhausted, lagging the cutoffs and walking slowly back with her pacer. All ends happily, though, after nervous moments in the wilderness: she reaches the aid station called "DamNation" and, at last glimpse, is sitting on a camp chair in the sunlight wrapped in blankets and awaiting a ride out.

Sweeper/cleaner work is tougher than expected, but my part of the job finishes in time for me to get a big hug from the RD before heading back from east Texas to watch some minor sporting event with Mom & Dad. Apparently a few people care about a game called "Super Bowl", though it's hard to see why ...


- Saturday, February 20, 2016 at 07:01:28 (EST)

How to Master Any Game

Found on a table near the coffeepot at the office: a one-pager of inspirational advice by James Altucher, "... American hedge fund manager, entrepreneur, bestselling author, and podcaster". Yes, he's full of himself; his Internet domain shows it. Yes, his advice is unoriginal, debatable, and far from nuanced. That doesn't make it bad! Reformatted, from Altucher's chart published in late 2014:

How to Master Any Game
          Including the Game of Life
                    by James Altucher

  1. Look at All the Possible Moves — List all the options that can happen. Don't go deeply down ANY OF THEM. Only look a couple moves ahead and see which options you can quickly eliminate.
  2. Look for the Short Cuts — Every game, and almost every life situation, has short cuts: ways you can get better without learning the entire literature of the game from beginning to end. Look for the small inputs with huge rewards.
  3. A Bad Plan Is Better Than No Plan — Having a bad plan gives you the ability to analyze what is working and change what isn't. Having no plan give you none of these opportunities to get better.
  4. Master Your Psychology — You can't control what happens to you, only how you respond to it. So better to love than to be bitter, to be grateful than to think you're unlucky, to take action than to not be prepared.
  5. Luck Favors the Prepared — In chess there's a saying, "Only the good players get lucky." This applies to every area of life. As Scott Adams (creator of Dilbert) said to me, "If you know you're only going to succeed at 10% of the things you try, make sure you try 100 things."
  6. Don't Take Too Many Risks — If you play too conservatively, you'll also lose, but don't take any risks big enough to lose the game. E.g., don't quit your job to chase your idea; start your business on the side.
  7. Play People Better Than You — You're the average of the five people you spend your time with. Play against great players, work for great companies, read great books. Don't waste time with the people who will bring you down.
  8. Study the History — If you don't love the history of what you want to master, then you will never master it. The history of your field is your virtual mentor if you don't have a direct mentor.
  9. Play the Cards in Front of You — In chess, don't go for a full out attack on the other person's king when your pieces are not really in place for it. Just play what is in front of you. Improve incrementally and be PATIENT. You will have your chance to win many times.
  10. Maybe the Most Important: the Threat Is Stronger Than the Execution — Microsoft always announces software years before it's done. This is called "vaporware" but nobody really knows whether their vaporware will become real or notes this often dissuades competitors.

... and yes, some silliness, but also some great wisdom, especially in #4 ...

(cf. Optimist Creed (1999-04-16), Minimax Strategy (1999-09-25), Caissic Metaphors (2000-01-08), Ten Thousand Hours (2001-09-20), Tough-Minded Optimists (2009-12-22), How to Be an Optimist (2011-08-24), Big Ideas (2012-05-20), ...)

- Friday, February 19, 2016 at 04:04:09 (EST)

2016-02-06 - Northwest Austin Dawn

~11.3 miles @ ~13.0 min/mi

"The New Moon in the Old Moon's arms," or maybe vice versa: Venus glistens a few degrees away from an earthshine-ashy lunar disc. Sunrise begins near Riata Park, where three dozen ducks and a single pair of alabaster swans paddle. A great blue heron, six-foot wingspan, takes flight from a thicket on the edge of Yett Creek Park. A side path leads across the railroad tracks where beige hopper cars stretch north to the vanishing point.

From the corner of Ganymede and Pluto neighborhood streets lead south to another rail line. A passing cyclist denies knowledge of any trails through the woods, but then points to a open gate and says, "Try it!" Two dome tents appear to be single-person homeless shelters. Bright graffiti decorates concrete abutments along Big Walnut Creek in Balcones District Park.

Back on the sidewalks meander up the rocky trail in Great Hills Park. Get lost briefly, tangle feet in vines and almost fall onto the limestone. Sprint along roads back to the start — ~11.3 miles @ ~13 min/mi including photo ops. (Ignore GPS trackfile glitch at end that adds a few infinite-speed miles.)


- Wednesday, February 17, 2016 at 04:55:34 (EST)

Mantra - Be Your Own Best Friend

  Your Own
Best Friend

... treat yourself with love and kindness, as you would any other person — don't set impossibly high standards, don't always sacrifice yourself for others, don't blame yourself for things outside your control ...

... and since We Are One, being kind to one's own self is also being kind to everyone else ...

... and maybe sometimes we can even be our own Best Friends Forever! — for short:


(cf. Just One Thing (2012-12-02), Notice and Return (2013-03-11), Opening to Love (2013-09-27), 01 (2013-11-05), 0-1 (2014-08-29), Mantra - For Us (2015-11-28), ...)

- Tuesday, February 16, 2016 at 05:39:14 (EST)

2016-02-04 - Spicewood Springs - Austin Texas

~10.7 miles @ ~11.1 min/mi

"Nothing in this world worth having comes easy" says the memorial plaque honoring Justin Patrick Murphy (1986-2012) placed by his family on a bench near where he was cycling when killed by a hit-and-run driver. Eroded limestone cliffs make for magnificent views of the hill country in northwest Austin Texas. Shadows are long at sunrise on Q Ranch Road. The track at Canyon Vista Middle School is thick with student athletes, so circle the perimeter fence and continue along Spicewood Springs Road following Bull Creek.

Frost whitens ferns in the valleys. Pause for a selfie at a giant prickly pear cactus next to a barbed wire fence. Regret not bringing reading glasses along while squinting at the phone-GPS map display and trying to find a way back. Apparently a sign that warns cars to watch for cyclists "NEXT 3.5 MILES" really means that there are no through side streets for 3.5 miles!



- Monday, February 15, 2016 at 05:36:25 (EST)

Cakes, Custard, and Category Theory

Eugenia Cheng's charming book Cakes, Custard + Category Theory (also titled How to Bake Pi in another edition) is fun and fast-paced. Cheng loves her subjects — all of them — and it shows. Her book doesn't have much explicit category theory in it. It's rather about category theory, and offers a glimpse of the abstraction and generalization behind it for the nonmathematical reader. And there are real cooking recipes to make all sorts of puddings, pastries, and other delicacies. And real mathematical recipes, often reminiscent of Martin Gardner's Scientific American columns on "Mathematical Games".

The spirit of Professor Cheng's book perhaps is most evident in Chapter 9 ("What Is Category Theory?") after a discussion of making things out of objects out of Lego modular blocks. In her section "Lego Lego" Cheng muses:

Have you ever tried making a Lego brick . . . out of Lego? It would be a sort of meta-Lego brick. Instead of a Lego train or a Lego car or a Lego house, you'd have built 'Lego Lego'. I have seen pictures of cakes made out of Lego bricks — a Lego cake. And I've seen Lego bricks made out of cake: cake Lego. And inevitably, there are cakes made out of Lego bricks that are themselves made out of cake: cake Lego cake.

Category theory is the mathematics of mathematics, a sort of 'meta-mathematics', like Lego Lego. Whatever mathematics does for the world, category theory does it for mathematics. This means that category theory is closely related to logic. Logic is the study of the reasoning that holds mathematics together. Category theory is the study of the structures that hold mathematics up.

At the end of the last chapter I suggested that mathematics is 'the process of working out exactly what is easy, and the process of making as many things as easy as possible'. Category theory, then, is:

      The process of working out exactly which parts of maths are easy, and the process of making as many parts of maths easy as possible.

In order to understand this we need to know what 'easy' means inside the context of mathematics. That's really at the heart of the matter, and is what we'll be investigating in this second part of the book. In the first part we saw that mathematics works by abstraction, that it seeks to study the principles and processes behind things, and that it seeks to axiomatise and generalise those things.

We will now see that category theory does the same thing, but entirely inside the mathematical world. It works by abstraction of mathematical things, it seeks to study the principles and processes behind mathematics, and it seeks to axiomatise and generalise those things.

Or as the authors of the Wikipedia article "Abstract Nonsense" put it:

... (Very) roughly speaking, category theory is the study of the general form of mathematical theories, without regard to their content. As a result, a proof that relies on category theoretic ideas often seems slightly out of context to those who are not used to such abstraction, sometimes to the extent that it resembles a comical non sequitur. Such proofs are sometimes dubbed "abstract nonsense" as a light-hearted way of alerting people to their abstract nature. ...

In other words, Category Theory is the generalization of generalization, the abstraction of abstraction, the meta (meta (meta ...)) of meta. Perhaps it's related to what some call "far domain analogies" or "concept arbitrage".

(cf. Do Meta (1999-05-08), No Concepts At All (2001-02-22), Key to the Treasure (2004-04-23), Greatest Inventions (2011-06-09), Simplicity via Abstraction (2016-01-07), ...)

- Sunday, February 14, 2016 at 05:43:51 (EST)

2016-02-01 - Pimmit Loop

~5.3 miles @ ~12.3 min/mi

"Hello - again!" the walker greets Kerry and Kristin and me as we encounter her for a second time during our meander through Pimmit Hills. Her retro-reflective striped vest looks like a serape by the glow of headlamp and flashlights. Hills are steeper than remembered from past expeditions. As a beautiful blue-gray-orange dawn begins Kristin spies a rabbit that scampers away over front-yard snowbanks.


- Saturday, February 13, 2016 at 12:41:19 (EST)

Blizzard 2016


Much cross-training was done on Gwyndale Drive after ~80 cm of snow fell during the January 2016 blizzard in the Washington DC area!

- Friday, February 12, 2016 at 04:36:03 (EST)

2016-01-31 - Snowy Sunday Vienna Venture

~9.4 miles @ ~12.5 min/mi

"Do you need me to come pick you up?" It's total role-reversal: last night Kerry is at a friend's birthday party; her daughter, with newly-minted driver's license, texts to check. Later when Kerry gets home she discovers DD fallen asleep on the couch, waiting up for the prodigal Mom's return. And so the wheel turns ...

On Saturday morning, "Anybody feel like a run tomorrow?" Kristin texts. Assuming she's confused about the date I reply with Monday plans — but no, she really wants to do a Sunday expedition! The W&OD Trail is ice-clad and the Vienna Community Center parking lot is snowed in, so we rendezvous at Whole Foods and random-walk along neighborhood streets, doubling back from culs-de-sac and stepping into driveways to let cars pass. Impressive mansions line the roads, with faux-Victorian turrets, towers, dormers, cornices, and gables.. Afterwards Kristin confesses to running on no sleep and being tempted to eat snow for hydration.


- Thursday, February 11, 2016 at 05:23:10 (EST)

Mantra - Relentless Forward Progress

An ultrarunning motto that applies everywhere:


... no matter how bad the current situation is, don't give up — walk a mile, take a nap, eat a snack — things will get better!

... and if not today, then learn something (if only "No Goals!") and try again another day!

(cf. Move On (2007-01-16), Solve the Problem (2007-05-24), Tough-Minded Optimists (2009-12-22), ...)

- Wednesday, February 10, 2016 at 04:39:21 (EST)

2016-01-30 - CCT with DKR

~15.0 miles @ ~12.4 min/mi

"Ice up!" The Capital Crescent Trail south from Bethesda is amazingly snow-free, but melt-and-refreeze makes for dangerous footing in a few patches. Don, Ken, and Rebecca maintain nonstop banter about flaws in Social Security law, medieval history, cosplay, decades-old issues of "Playboy" magazine featuring an interview with Donald Trump and images of the women of Enron, a questionnaire that candidates for elected office in the local running club must fill out, droll British comedy shows, false memories, and more, including the observation "Pandas are tasty!"

Streets seem safer than sidewalks, though it's necessary to step into shoveled driveways or lean back toward high snowbanks when cars must pass on narrower segments. At dawn contrails from high-flying jets streak the sky next to the gibbous moon. Training groups of local runners do out-and-back mileage on the CCT, exchanging greetings and hugs. Temperatures rise from the low 20's to above freezing.


- Tuesday, February 09, 2016 at 07:21:17 (EST)

Learning vs Performing

Among the tiny epiphanies from volunteering to work overnight at an ultramarathon aid station:

  1. Some people really are different than others — there's a huge range of personal abilities in any topic (and one's own abilities change over time)
  2. Everybody can strive to improve, to learn, to maximize their potential

That latter is the "Growth Mindset" that Carol Dweck's work on "self-theories" emphasized, and that features prominently in Phil Tetlock and Dan Gardner's recent book Superforecasting among the "Characteristics of Superforecasters". Adapted from various sources including their work:

Learning Orientation Performing Orientation
Belief that effort leads to success Belief that ability leads to success
Trust in one's potential to improve and to learn Concern about being judged as able and performing well
Preference for challenging tasks Preference for doing better than others or succeeding with little effort
Satisfaction from personal success at difficult tasks Satisfaction from interpersonal comparison and public evaluation
Problem-solving and self-instruction when task is difficult Helplessness and self-criticism when task is difficult

(cf. Self-Standardization (2002-04-06), Hardest Possible (2003-03-02), ...)

- Monday, February 08, 2016 at 08:51:10 (EST)

2016-01-22 - Cookie Dough Blizzard Mission

~15.4 miles @ ~13.2 min/mi

http://zhurnaly.com/images/running/Northwest_Branch_Trail_pre-blizzard_2016-01-22.jpg"No time for pleasantries ... we have a Level 5 Emergency!" Yes, the snowstorm of the millennium looms, and we're completely out of chocolate chip cookie dough. Although ancient legend holds that alchemists once knew how to concoct such amalgams from mysterious substances — e.g., "flour", "sugar", "salt", "toll house morsels" — such art, if ever it existed, has long been lost.

Hence, today's quest. The route meanders past Wheaton Library (where a book on hold must be picked up) and House Henderson (where mail for Robin and Merle must be dropped off). In Wheaton Regional Park the only other souls seen, if beasts have souls, are six big does and a buck. They startle, stare, and sprint away through the brush. On Arcola Trail a wrong turn adds a half mile. Northwest Branch is beautiful, the stream already half frozen. Snow flurries begin at 1:13pm.

Emerging from the woods onto a US Route 29 traffic jam, Trader Joe's has just closed. Safeway is open but lines are far too long. Sidewalks are slick, not from ice but from pellets of ice-melt chemicals spread thickly. Fire trucks, ambulances, and police cars line Forest Glen Rd where something burnt and is now safely extinguished.

Finally — success! Snider's Supermarket has the Holy Grail. Now let the storm strike. "Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! Rage! Blow!" With four pounds of cookie dough in the refrigerator, all's well in the world.


- Saturday, February 06, 2016 at 06:18:56 (EST)

Snow Country

Yasunari Kawabata's novel Snow Country (in the translation by Edward Seidensticker) was written in the 1930s-1940s and was praised by the Nobel Prize committee when Kawabata received the Literature award in 1968. It's a quiet, moody story of a doomed love affair between a young geisha and an older man visiting a small mountain village in northern Japan during a few winter months. Not much happens. The language and images are beautiful, even rendered into English. Halfway through Part One:

It was a stern night landscape. The sound of the freezing of snow over the land seemed to roar deep into the earth. There was no moon. The stars, almost too many of them to be true, came forward so brightly that it was as if they were falling with the swiftness of the void. As the stars came nearer, the sky retreated deeper and deeper into the night color. The layers of the Border Range, indistinguishable from one another, cast their heaviness at the skirt of the starry sky in a blackness grave and somber enough to communicate their mass. The whole of the night scene came together in a clear, tranquil harmony.

The central character Komako's face is described near the end of Part One as she performs a song:

The high, thin nose was usually a little lonely, a little sad, but today, with the healthy, vital flush on her cheeks, it was rather whispering: I am here too. The smooth lips seemed to reflect back a dancing light even when they were drawn into a tight bud; and when for a moment they were stretched wide, as the singing demanded, they were quick to contract again into that engaging little bud. Their charm was exactly like the charm of her body itself. Her eyes, moist and shining, made her look like a very young girl. She wore no powder, and the polish of the city geisha had over it a layer of mountain color. Her skin, suggesting the newness of a freshly peeled onion or perhaps a lily bulb, was flushed faintly, even to the throat. More than anything, it was clean.

At the beginning of Part Two, an observation, this time by Shimamura, the male viewpoint character:

The windows were still screened from the summer. A moth so still that it might have been glued there clung to one of the screens. Its feelers stood out like delicate wool, the color of cedar bark, and its wings, the length of a woman's finger, were a pale, almost diaphanous green. The ranges of mountains beyond were already autumn-red in the evening sun. That one spot of pale green struck him as oddly like the color of death. The fore and after winds overlapped to make a deeper green, and the wings fluttered like thin pieces of paper in the autumn wind.

And near the end of the story, more sky:

The Milky Way. Shimamura too looked up, and he felt himself floating into the Milky Way. Its radiance was so near that it seemed to take him up into it. Was this the bright vastness the poet Basho saw when he wrote of the Milky Way arched over a stormy sea? The Milky Way came down just over there, to wrap the night earth in its naked embrace. There was a terrible voluptuousness about it. Shimamura fancied that his own small shadow was being cast up against it from the earth. Each individual star stood out from the rest, and even the particles of silver dust in the luminous clouds could be picked out, so clear was the night. The limitless depth of the Milky Way pulled his gaze up into it.

Love, and loss, in meticulous detail ...

- Friday, February 05, 2016 at 09:27:33 (EST)

2016-01-18 - DC Boundary Stone Tour

~10.6 miles @ ~12.2 min/mi

"Rose, from Norway!" the cheerful young woman introduces herself. "I like it cold!" Temps are rising from teens into the low 20's, with brisk north winds that make it a good day to test breathing through a "neck gaiter" covering nose and mouth. Rose is just beginning her morning run near the northernmost point of the District of Columbia, and follows me as we meander around her apartment complex, seeking an unlocked gate through the fence. I tell her about the DC boundary stones, markers placed during 1791-1792 when the Federal City was first being surveyed.

Today I'm on my way home, taking selfies every mile at a boundary stone as I run along Western Avenue, starting near River Road where DD drops me on her way to teach a violin student. But the yellow-blazed Pinehurst Branch Trail lures me off the sidewalk, and I follow its natural-surface path downstream to Rock Creek Park. On the way, "Hello-o-o-o-o-o-o!" says a lady walking her dalmatian, startled to see anybody else out in the woods. A light dusting of snow on a gray-brown log is all that remains of yesterday's flurries. Waters are low and half a dozen stream crossings are easy. Trees groan and sway against each other as breezes blow. What a wonderful day!


- Thursday, February 04, 2016 at 08:51:37 (EST)

Taxonomy of Con

Teresa Nielson in her 2002 "The underlying forms of fraud" lists seven varieties of Confidence Game:

  1. Simple misrepresentation.
  2. Using high-pressure tactics to confuse or intimidate the victim.
  3. Shell games, sleights of hand, and switch-and-retraction cons: the pigeon drop, the Jamaican switch, Three-Card Monte, etc.
  4. The Spanish Prisoner
  5. Ponzi Schemes
  6. Pyramid schemes
  7. Selling information about, or access to, uncommon opportunities

Wikipedia's current "List of confidence tricks" article has a more ornate schema:

  1. Get-rich-quick schemes
    1. Salting
    2. Spanish Prisoner
  2. Persuasion tricks
    1. Grandparent scam
    2. Romance scam
    3. Fortune-telling fraud
  3. Gold brick scams
    1. Pig in a poke (cat in a bag)
    2. Thai gems
    3. White-van speakers
    4. Iraqi Dinar
  4. Extortion or false-injury tricks
    1. Badger game
    2. Bogus dry-cleaning bill scam
    3. Clip joint
    4. Coin-matching game
    5. Fraudulent collection agencies
    6. Bogus or fraudulent law firms
    7. Insurance fraud
  5. Gambling tricks
    1. Fiddle game
    2. Glim-dropper
    3. Lottery fraud by proxy
    4. Three-card Monte
  6. Spurious qualifications or endorsements
    1. Diploma mill
    2. Vanity publications and awards
    3. Who's Who scam
    4. World Luxury Association
  7. Online scams
    1. Fake antivirus
    2. Phishing
    3. Fake support call
  8. Other confidence tricks and scams
    1. Art student
    2. Big Store
    3. Change raising
    4. Fake casting agent scam
    5. Fraudulent directory solicitations
    6. Jam Auction
    7. Money exchange
    8. Mystery shopping
    9. Pigeon drop
    10. Predatory journals
    11. Promotional cheque
    12. Psychic surgery
    13. Rain making
    14. Recovery room
    15. Rental scams
    16. Rip deal
    17. Unsolicited goods
    18. Wedding planner scam
    19. Blessing scam
    20. Pay up or be arrested scam
    21. Dropped Wallet scam

... not as well-organized or structured as it might be, and all (not including simple cheats) essentially variants on the same thing: a wonderful opportunity, secret or otherwise unavailable to others, to make a huge profit on a small investment.

(cf. Techniques of Financial Fraud (2015-05-02), ...)

- Wednesday, February 03, 2016 at 04:44:33 (EST)

2016-01-17 - 5k Race with Amber

~3.1 miles @ ~8.0 min/mi

"Too bad the snow didn't start sooner!" Flurries commence during our cooldown walk after this morning's brisk "Celebrate Community - ALIVE!" 5k race. It's a calibration experiment for Dr Amber, who claims not to have trained but who nonetheless keeps up with me for a slightly sub-8 min/mi overall pace. Flashing red/blue strobes on police cars (protecting the course) contrast with leaden skies. A doppelgänger for colleague Dr Beth fools me during the race but turns out not to be her upon closer inspection afterwards. Both Amber and I finish in 2nd Place for our respective age/gender cadres. Faster next time!


- Tuesday, February 02, 2016 at 05:21:58 (EST)

Perfectness versus Goodness

A friend's young son (DS) relays great wisdom from his elementary school teacher about the proper level of attention, about keeping self-criticism under control: "It's about perfectness and goodness. It doesn't have to be perfect. It has to be good." Executive guru David Allen likewise counsels in [1]: "We've got to learn to declare things done. Especially when they're not. Not completed, that is, to the level of perfection or result that we initially visualized or committed to."

"Good" is good. And part of good is timeliness, efficiency, and balance — mental peace about outcomes that could have been different, but at a cost that would have damaged other things more.

(cf. SelfReliance (1999-06-16), WickedWork (1999-09-08), SolublesInsolubles (2000-07-15), Pursuit of Happiness (2008-11-19), It's About Choices (2009-04-21), Iterative Delivery (2014-05-10), ...)

- Monday, February 01, 2016 at 04:27:23 (EST)

2016-01-15 - All In

~10.8 miles @ ~12.9 min/mi

"I'm in!" That's what a good friend instantly replies when you propose something audacious. Kerry and Kristin are thinking about the Rock & Roll DC Marathon in March. They could survive it now, but perhaps putting a long run or two into the logbooks would enhance confidence and comfort. "Doing anything Monday?" — "Nope, I'm in!" — "Me too!" That's why we run together!

Near Idlywood Rd two rabbits dash away from Kristin's flashlight beam. A mile later a pair of deer bound across the path in front of us. A luminous chiaroscuro sunrise begins with pink pastels shading into azure above the horizon. The W&OD Trail bridge over Route 7 passes near a hot yoga studio picture window. "They seem quite, uh, ...," I pause to select the right word, "limber!" K&K laugh.

Everybody feels great this morning so we extend the run to a Starbucks where Kerry shares iced coffee. A few minutes later friend LaNedra texts, "Did I just see you running on Broad St?" Apparently the long gray beard is rather recognizable!


- Sunday, January 31, 2016 at 05:52:44 (EST)

Mantra - Yes, and...

And ...

As Keith Johnstone says in Impro:

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, ...

So just say, "Yes, and..." ...

(cf. Yes, and... (2012-11-14), Mantra - I'm In (2015-10-12), ...)

- Saturday, January 30, 2016 at 05:58:03 (EST)

2016-01-11 - David Bowie Smiles

~4.0 miles @ ~12.1 min/mi

"Co-enablers in cold craziness!" Peer pressure combined with early morning meetings and stiff northerly breezes plus temps in the upper 20s make for a short Dawn Patrol ramble. Before lips go totally numb we catch up on weekend family news and mourn the passing of David Bowie. Kerry mentions the film The Linguini Incident in which he stars; her college roommate was involved in producing it. Other performances are saluted: The Prestige, Labyrinth, and Into the Night. Icy patches alternate with muddy puddles. A meteor streaks overhead — perhaps a late Quadrantid, perhaps Sir David checking that we're ok.

From the song "Let's Dance":

If you say run, I'll run with you!


- Friday, January 29, 2016 at 04:32:53 (EST)

How to Explain Anything

Develop a mental model of what the listener:

Then look for the intersection of those three sets!

(cf. One Transcend Suffices (2009-10-14), Principles of Better Teaching (2012-09-14), ...)

- Thursday, January 28, 2016 at 05:18:13 (EST)

2016-01-10 - Sligo Creek Night Run with Amy

~12.4 miles @ ~12.9 min/mi

"Is the green fur his hair, or a hat?" I ask Amy as we pass a young fellow in Wheaton Regional Park. "You may be a bit too old for that look," she suggests gently. As the sun sets we ready our flashlights. A cold front has just passed through the area, bringing ten minutes of torrential rain that delays our start. (Amy saw a double rainbow earlier as the squall line came by her home.) Winds gust and temps drop from the upper 50s into mid 40s.

We proceed upstream along Sligo Creek Trail from near Colesville Road. Conversation is thoughtful and inspirational. I learn a new word, "spectrumy". (Yes, it reminds me of Category Theory - but so does everything nowadays!) And we muse: "Why do people give so much praise to somebody just for doing what any really good friend should do?" - "Well, maybe not so many people are really good friends nowadays?"

DS Merle greets us at mile 5 and offers a can of "Surge" brand soda water for rehydration (accepted) and a Rubik's Cube for entertainment (declined, with thanks). The carbonated drink leads to a result Amy anticipated, and she counts my belches. Total at journey's end: twenty-one!


- Wednesday, January 27, 2016 at 04:21:22 (EST)

2016-01-10 - Rock Creek and Chinese Food with Mary

~4.9 miles @ ~17.5 min/mi

"This feels great!" Mary observes as we experiment with speed-walking backwards up the hills along the Western Ridge Trail in northern Rock Creek Park. Her left knee has been troublesome since a New Year's Eve race. Today we test a velcro band and compare natural-surface with paved road. "Cute-sicle" dogs cavort on- and off-leash. Cyclists zoom along Beach Drive. Temps are in the upper 50s and morning drizzle has left scattered puddles and muddy patches. Our post-trek reward: egg fu yung and broccoli-eggplant in garlic sauce at the nearby Chinese restaurant!


- Wednesday, January 27, 2016 at 04:15:12 (EST)

Mantra - Be Like a Log

Be Like a Log

... in times of conflict and stress, try to bite your tongue, pause before replying, observe your emotional state, and de-escalate — you will feel better, the battle will be briefer, and maybe it will turn out not to be a battle at all, just a brief ripple on the surface of the ocean that soon returns to calm awareness ...

(highlighted by a friend when reading Emotional States (2012-04-26); perhaps the phrase alludes to Shantideva Chapter 5 in the Bodhisattvacaryavatara; cf. Space Between (2013-10-15), Betwixt (2015-07-04), Moving from Experiences to Experiencing (2015-08-06), Learning to Pause (2015-08-10), Mantra - Gap (2015-11-11), ...)

- Tuesday, January 26, 2016 at 07:34:18 (EST)

2016-01-09 - KenGar and Ken and Rebecca

~7.1 miles @ ~10.2 min/mi

"So I'm a water molecule," says Ken. "I always thought so!" interjects Rebecca. We're in the midst of discussing thermodynamics, two miles into a brisk trot along Rock Creek Trail, and the Ken-^z improv act is at full throttle. Conversation random-walks from a Shakespearean episode of the Twilight Zone through general relativity, Edward Gibbon, category theory, and into accountant jokes. Light drizzle falls, with temps in the low 40s. We dance around puddles and pause to cross busy Randolph Road. Ken spies a pair of soggy gloves by the path and snags them for me on the way back.

At Ken-Gar parking is already tight at 0745. The DC Road Runners Club is setting up for a race that starts just as we return. Climbing a long hill known as "The Silencer" I pause to catch my breath before explaining the Many Worlds Interpretation of quantum mechanics. "Have I lectured on this already?" Rebecca's answer is kind but ambiguous: "I always enjoy hearing your lectures again!" Hmmmmmm ...


- Monday, January 25, 2016 at 08:03:42 (EST)

2016-01-08 - Tysons Trip

~7.3 miles @ ~12.1 min/mi

"Curb!" Kristin warns, for the fifth time. She's being kindly cautious after I take a near-epic stumble and make a skin-of-the-teeth recovery in a close encounter with a dark median-divider on Lisle Avenue whilst running ahead to avoid inadvertently overhearing management-talk between Drs K&K. We conjure technical solutions. Curb-feelers? Proximity warning sensors on shoes? Stabilization gyroscopes? Runner airbags? "Maybe I could develop a bat-like echolocation sense." Better still: pay attention!

A neon "7777" sign on Route 7 glows fiery crimson in the mist. We loop through Tysons Corner, admiring lights and reminiscing. Kerry recounts her daughter's feats of memory from infancy. I recite bits of the Optimist Creed. Kristin's feet feel fleet. She pulls Kerry and me up the hills along Lewinsville Rd as a foggy dawn begins.


- Monday, January 25, 2016 at 08:00:56 (EST)

Living Mindfully

Singularly flat: the new book Living Mindfully: at Home, at Work, and in the World feels oddly dispassionate, and not in a deliberately-mindful way. The language, with few exceptions, is polysyllabic declarative. Poetry is scant; metaphors are few. (And typos, at least in the first several chapters, are distracting: "breath" for "breathe" on pages 8, 24, 34; "chaffing" for "chafing" on page 12, etc.) The author, Deborah Schoeberlein David, takes center stage and intrudes as First Person in describing how she escaped an unsatisfactory childhood, encountered Buddhism, struggled with depression, met with various teachers including the obligatory Tibetan lama, and eventually arrived at the mindful place she is today. As do the authors of so many books of this genre.

And when a chapter titled "Mindful Sex" takes itself super-seriously, something may be missing from the agenda!

Nevertheless there's great good here, presented in a calm and workmanlike way. Starting from the beginning, Living Mindfully leads baby-step-wise through a gentle progression of practices. First suggestion, "Take one Mindful Breath":

Brilliant, simple, and worthwhile. Likewise in the next chapter, "Pause":

Author David explores attention versus awareness, and proceeds to explain mindfulness meditation via following multiple breaths, without and with counting ... and then the focus fades. Lectures ensue on mindfulness and thinking, feeling, listening, and sensing — but without obvious conclusion. Likewise lovingkindness is discussed, directed toward oneself and others, in relationships and at work and toward one's children. All good enough, all presented with gentleness and tolerance ... and flat. Where's the joy of now?

And maybe that's ok ... now happens elsewhere.

(cf. Try It for a Few Years (2009-05-19), Being with Your Breath (2010-02-20), Breath and Awareness (2011-03-12), Just Sitting (2011-05-21), Coming Back to Your Breath (2011-09-25), Notice and Return (2013-03-11), Mindfulness for Beginners (2013-07-18), Beginning Mindfulness (2013-09-22), Pause and Breathe (2014-07-25), ...)

- Sunday, January 24, 2016 at 07:54:52 (EST)

2016-01-06 - Frigid Pimmit Hills

~3.0 miles @ ~12.1 min/mi

"You caught me!" Kristin arrives to find me foraging for leftover cookies in the kitchen area near her office. Kerry meets us at the loading dock and, with temps in the upper teens, we concur on a short neighborhood loop. Lips are soon too numb to talk much; Kristin reconfigures her hood into a ski mask; Kerry offers to share handwarmers. Low in the east the waning crescent moon, in line with Venus and Saturn, brings to mind long-ago Texas observations of far-southern Omega Centauri, the largest globular cluster in our galaxy. Post-run in the locker room, as I stoop to turn off red-green shoe lights, water drips onto hands from thawing icicles in the beard. Brrrrrr!


- Saturday, January 23, 2016 at 07:57:21 (EST)

2016-01-04 - Happy New Year, McLean

~9.4 miles @ ~12.1 min/mi

"We'll run by your place and join you there!" Kristin and I suggest to Kerry, whose alarm didn't go off this morning in time for her to meet us at 0545. We catch up on holiday news and wish each other a Happy 2016. Xmas front-yard lights glitter and a few lonely snowflakes fall. It's within a day or so of the latest sunrise (which happens later than the winter solstice because of the earth's orbital ellipticity).


- Saturday, January 23, 2016 at 07:55:15 (EST)

Heart of Meditation

Lovely metaphors, in the essay "The Heart of Meditation" by Lama Surya Das:

Meditation, simply defined, is a way of being aware. It is the happy marriage of doing and being. It lifts the fog of our ordinary lives to reveal what is hidden; it loosens the knot of self-centeredness and opens the heart; it moves us beyond mere concepts to allow for a direct experience of reality. Meditation embodies the way of awakening: both the path and its fruition. From one point of view, it is the means to awakening; from another, it is awakening itself.

Meditation masters teach us how to be precisely present and focused on this one breath, the only breath; this moment, the only moment. Whether we're aware of it or not, we are quite naturally present to this moment—where else could we be? Meditation is simply a way of knowing this.


Like the archer straightening his arrow and perfecting his aim, the practitioner of meditation straightens out the mind while aiming his or her attentional energy at its object. Learning to drop what we're doing, however momentarily, and to genuinely pay attention in the present moment, without attachment or bias, helps us become clear, just as a snow globe becomes clear when we stop shaking it and its flakes settle.

(from the collection Commit to Sit of articles from "Tricycle" magazine; cf. Contemplative Zombie (2009-08-04), Without Effort, Analysis, or Expectation (2010-08-04), Quiet in There (2011-05-31), Ceaseless Society (2012-05-10), Notice and Return (2013-03-11), Mindfulness for Beginners (2013-07-18), ...)

- Friday, January 22, 2016 at 20:29:38 (EST)

2016-01-03 - Derwood with CM

~2.8 miles @ ~15.4 min/mi

"My phone is on the kitchen table — in Saint Augustine, Florida!" says Cara Marie, whose early flight back this morning from a family holiday visit left a few things behind. And yes, all's well! Her husband George and I shake hands and wish each other a happy 2016. CM and I walk and jog a loop around the neighborhood, sharing cheerful news and plans for training and racing in months to come. Fingers crossed: no injuries!


- Thursday, January 21, 2016 at 04:18:04 (EST)

2016-01-03 - Towpath with Mary

~5.4 miles @ ~14.2 min/mi

"Quantum mechanics: we're running but only when you're not observing us!" Mary Ewell and I tell Bob Yarchoan and his wife, who pass us during our warmup and cooldown walks. Mary's schedule has her running four miles, so for variety we head upstream from Lock 8 on the C&O Canal towpath. A bald eagle (or excellent eagle-impersonating vulture) soars over our heads. We catch up on family news, commiserate about bad pre-run dietary habits, and compare sins of overindulgence from the recent holidays. Bob offers a mini-lecture on how to optimize Boston Marathon qualifying. And he compliments me, "You've got a fast look-alike with the same name!" In my dreams, maybe ...


- Thursday, January 21, 2016 at 04:16:38 (EST)

Mantra - The Method of No Method

The Method
No Method

"... no going anywhere, nothing to practice, no beginning, middle, or end, no attainment, and nothing to attain ..." — just being awake to what is ...

(cf. No Method (2010-01-21), Mantra - No Goals (2015-07-26), ...)

- Wednesday, January 20, 2016 at 05:27:43 (EST)

2016-01-02 - Neighborhood Tempo Run

~4.6 miles @ ~9.7 min/mi

Chili, chips, hummus: not the best breakfast before a dash around the 'hood! Mini-moped idles on its kickstand by the sidewalk, rear wheel slowly turning. Perambulators are out in force along Sligo Creek, babies singing to themselves as parents talk to each other. A sub-10 pace blows a bit of dust out of the pipes after yesterday's ~15 min/mi at the 2016-01-01 - VHTRC RedEye 50k.


- Tuesday, January 19, 2016 at 04:44:02 (EST)

No Me

In Chapter 2 ("What Meditation Is") of Mindfulness in Plain English by Bhante Henepola Gunaratana, a stirring call to self-questioning:

Vipassana meditation is a set of training procedures that gradually open us to this new view of reality as it truly is. Along with this new reality goes a new view of the most central aspect of reality: "me". A close inspection reveals that we have done the same thing to "me" that we have done to all other perceptions. We have taken a flowing vortex of thought, feeling, and sensation and we have solidified that into a mental construct. Then we have stuck a label onto it, "me". Forever after, we treat it as if it were a static and enduring entity. We view it as a thing separate from all other things. We pinch ourselves off from the rest of that process of eternal change that is the universe, and then we grieve over how lonely we feel. We ignore our inherent connectedness to all other beings and decide that "I" have to get more for "me"; then we marvel at how greedy and insensitive human beings are. And on it goes. Every evil deed, every example of heartlessness in the world, stems directly from this false sense of "me" as distinct from everything else.

If you explode the illusion of that one concept, your whole universe changes. ...

(cf. Unselfing (2009-01-14), Unselfing Again (2009-11-01), I Q's (2012-04-28), Mindfulness in Plain English (2015-11-01), I Want Happiness (2015-12-04), ...)

- Monday, January 18, 2016 at 06:48:45 (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), 0.9913 (August-October 2014), 0.9914 (November 2014-January 2015), 0.9915 (January-April 2015), 0.9916 (April-July 2015), 0.9917 (July-September 2015), 0.9918 (September-November 2015), 0.9919 (November 2015-January 2016), 0.9920 (January-April 2016), 0.9921 (April-June 2016), ... Current Volume. Send comments and suggestions to z (at) his.com. Thank you! (Copyright © 1999-2015 by Mark Zimmermann.)