^zhurnal 0.33

Howdy, pilgrim! You're in volume 0.33 of the ^zhurnal — see ZhurnalyWiki on zhurnaly.com for a parallel "live" Wiki edition; see Zhurnal and Zhurnaly for quick clues as to what this is all about. (Briefly: it's the journal of ^z = Mark Zimmermann ... previous volume = 0.32 ... complete list at bottom of page ... send comments & suggestions to "z (at) his (dot) com" ... tnx!)

Respect the Distance

"Coach Steve", friend and sub-three-hour marathoner, has counseled me not to attempt training runs of more than 20-23 miles. There's too great a chance of injury, he warns, if one tries to do a full-length marathon in circumstances other than competition where the result really counts. It's important to save one's mental energy for the genuine thing --- and to preserve the magical aura that deservedly surrounds that historic long race.

"Respect the Distance," Steve advises.

No doubt he's right --- for a serious runner. But I run for fun, and am hoping to do some slow jogs around my extended neighborhood that may stretch a bit beyond the 26.2 mile classic marathonic zone. Perhaps some day, in my fantasy-world, I'll even try an ultramarathon.

So I've come up with a mantra to describe a more light-hearted training regime:

Dis the Distance!

But of course, the distance in turn is quite likely to be disrespectful of me ...

(see also Slower Runners Guide (30 Oct 2002), ... )

- Wednesday, November 26, 2003 at 22:33:04 (EST)

Professional vs. Private Life

From Book XII (Chapter x, "In which Mr Jones and Mr Dowling drink a bottle together") of The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling by Henry Fielding, on the disjunction between what one does for a living and what one does while living:
Mr Dowling was indeed very greatly affected with this relation; for he had not divested himself of humanity by being an attorney. Indeed, nothing is more unjust than to carry our prejudices against a profession into private life, and to borrow our idea of a man from our opinion of his calling. Habit, it is true, lessens the horror of those actions which the profession makes necessary, and consequently habitual; but in all other instances, Nature works in men of all professions alike; nay, perhaps, even more strongly with those who give her, as it were, a holiday, when they are following their ordinary business. A butcher, I make no doubt, would feel compunction at the slaughter of a fine horse; and though a surgeon can feel no pain in cutting off a limb, I have known him compassionate a man in a fit of the gout. The common hangman, who hath stretched the necks of hundreds, is known to have trembled at his first operation on a head: and the very professors of human blood-shedding, who, in their trade of war, butcher thousands, not only of their fellow-professors, but often of women and children, without remorse; even these, I say, in times of peace, when drums and trumpets are laid aside, often lay aside all their ferocity, and become very gentle members of civil society. In the same manner an attorney may feel all the miseries and distresses of his fellow-creatures, provided he happens not to be concerned against them.

(see also Catfight Club (5 Sep 2003), Flagrante Delicto Philosopher (19 Sep 2003), Antient Commons (3 Nov 2003), Piling On (18 Nov 2003), ... )

- Tuesday, November 25, 2003 at 19:46:55 (EST)

Maximum Magnanimity

"May your spirit grow so large that all your troubles become small."

- Monday, November 24, 2003 at 06:19:58 (EST)

Ten League Ley Lines

Solo pedestrian jaunts during the past couple of years have exposed me to some formerly-invisible aspects of this planet, both natural and man-made. Walks and jogs have led me beside streams and around lakes, up hills and down valleys, through tunnels and over bridges, behind industrial parks and next to a host of residential structures.

But until now I haven't tried to map out the major long routes that I've explored. When I did recently, I was happily surprised to see a loose network taking shape, splattered across the landscape for a dozen miles around my home base --- the beginnings of a suburban spiderweb, spun by a drunken arachnid plodder with a bias toward byways through woods and alongside flowing water.

So to complement the left-brain textual descriptions posted earlier and elsewhere, here's a topographic thumbnail map:


... and an aerial photomontage to the same scale:


Click for more detailed images (several hundred kB each). North is up and the paths shown are approximate. Marathons or other races aren't included except where their courses happen to have overlapped my fun runs. The river cutting across the southwest corner of the pictures is the Potomac. Each map is about 20 miles square. The yellow dot at the center is chez ^z.

Now, to fill in some of those gaps between the threads ...

(Many thanks to Keith Zimmermann for aerial and topographic snapshots of my extended neighborhood. See also Walk About (9 Mar 2002), Rock Creek Trail (31 Mar 2002), Invisible Web (8 Dec 2002), Anacostia Tributaries (28 Jan 2003), Capital Crescent Coordinates (5 May 2003), Forest Primeval Pedestrian (9 May 2003), Expanding Universe (26 Jun 2003), ...)

- Sunday, November 23, 2003 at 12:22:52 (EST)

Really Great

During a conversation after a recent violin Master Class, the visiting instructor (CC) described what he looked for in a student:
"You have to be really great at something. Not great at everything, but at least at one thing. I'm a good enough teacher that if you've got problem areas I can help you fix them. But if you don't know what it feels like to be great --- well, that's something I can't give you."

(see also Music Master (4 Jun 2001), ...)

- Saturday, November 22, 2003 at 08:28:25 (EST)

Ditch Day

Caltech was a society of subcultures. Undergraduates arrived on campus as the smartest persons (each felt) in the known universe, then had to abruptly renormalize their cosmic measuring sticks. Faculty members were godlike beings of infinite knowledge --- or so they seemed to those who attended their lectures. Between the professors and the undergrads were the postdocs and the grad students: mortals of diverse backgrounds who focused most of their energies on research projects, when they weren't worrying about paying the rent.

Although (or because?) they were under a huge amount of stress, Caltech undergrads found time to play. A major holiday was "Ditch Day" --- when seniors were obligated to leave campus and underclassmen were obligated to break into the seniors' rooms and trash them. Rooms could be protected from damage in several ways. A bribe of food left behind was designed to deter the wrath of freshmen, sophomores, and juniors. But before they got the goodies, a "stack" was typically arranged to make entry a challenge. There were three major types of stacks:

As a grad student (1974-1979) I bemusedly observed Ditch Day proceedings on the way to or from my tiny subterranean office. But I never did see a senior captured and taped to a tree in punishment for not leaving campus on time that day ...

(see also Final Exams (3 May 2002), Real Genius (23 Jan 2003), ...

- Friday, November 21, 2003 at 05:55:37 (EST)

Semiotic Arsenal

A fortuitous slip of the tongue by a local early-morning radio announcer yesterday: in describing a police seizure of a dozen semiautomatic pistols, he referred to them as semiotic handguns.

How apt! What else are such weapons other than symbols --- of (depending on one's viewpoint) freedom, technology, power, death, ...

(see also Ingenious Devices (6 Jun 1999), ... )

- Thursday, November 20, 2003 at 06:25:52 (EST)

Piling On

From Book XII of The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling by Henry Fielding, on the natural human tendency to be persuaded by mere repetition of arguments (Chapter ix, "Containing little more than a few odd observations"):
Two to one are odds at every other thing as well as at foot-ball. But the advantage which this united force hath in persuasion or entreaty must have been visible to a curious observer; for he must have often seen, that when a father, a master, a wife, or any other person in authority, have stoutly adhered to a denial against all the reasons which a single man could produce, they have afterwards yielded to the repetition of the same sentiments by a second or third person, who hath undertaken the cause, without attempting to advance anything new in its behalf. And hence, perhaps, proceeds the phrase of seconding an argument or a motion, and the great consequence this is of in all assemblies of public debate. Hence, likewise, probably it is, that in our courts of law we often hear a learned gentleman (generally a serjeant) repeating for an hour together what another learned gentleman, who spoke just before him, had been saying.

(see also Catfight Club (5 Sep 2003), Flagrante Delicto Philosopher (19 Sep 2003), Antient Commons (3 Nov 2003), ... )

- Tuesday, November 18, 2003 at 19:57:34 (EST)

Marathon Graphs

Enough equations! For those tired of linear regressions and tabular data dumps, here are some simple images of the information I gathered during the three longest races that I've run --- the 26.2 miles of the 2002 Marine Corps Marathon and the 2002 & 2003 Montgomery County Marathon in the Parks events.

The first and most obvious thing to do is just to plot the time it took me to get to each mile marker:


This, however, is less useful than it might be. Sure, I was behind at every point during the MitP 2003 (green points), and faster in the midrange of the MitP 2002 (blue) than in the MCM 2002 (red). But the curves lie too close together to get a good look at the details.

So try remapping the data, to reduce the common trend and reveal the significant differences. Subtract out the time an ideal runner would have taken to get to any given point moving at a perfect 5-hour pace. The result is much cleaner:


The curves remain in the same relative positions, and it's obvious that the MitP 2003 was slower but much more level-paced. (Perhaps if the race had been a few miles longer the blue and red curves would have crossed the green one?!) The worst collapse was definitely in the final six miles of the MitP 2002.

Now move beyond time and consider speed --- the slope of the curves. That graph jumps around a lot (taking a derivative amplifies noise) but is nonetheless quite enlightening in several ways:


There's that fast downhill mile 10 in both MitP events ... the potty-break spikes in MitP 2003 at miles 12, 17, and 22 ... the dramatic slow-downs in the late stages in all the races ... and the obviously better pacing overall in the MitP 2003, which beat the prior year's MitP in every mile after 20, and which even defeated the MCM 2002 pace for the final two miles. (And I didn't graph the speed for the ultimate 0.2 mile blitz--- it's probably off the chart in the case of the MitP 2003.)

More analysis to follow ...

(see also Bless The Leathernecks (28 Oct 2002), Marine Corps Ordnance (1 Nov 2002), Rocky Run (17 Nov 2002), ... )

- Monday, November 17, 2003 at 06:27:22 (EST)

Agendered Appellation Advantages

The ambiguous names of our kids --- Robin, Gray, Merle --- occasionally give us a chuckle at the expense of erstwhile privacy-invaders who guess wrong. And at least twice now, well-intentioned colleges have made the mistake that is the archetypal red-blooded boy's fantasy: one son was assigned to an all-female dormitory; the other son received a recruitment pitch from a women-only school.

I'm surprised that more young men don't change their names ...

(see also Gender Benders (13 Dec 2001), ... )

- Sunday, November 16, 2003 at 15:42:05 (EST)

Lightning Rods

Mark Twain once wrote a hilarious short story ("Political Economy") about falling victim to a lightning-rod salesman and ending up with a house that was a virtual magnet for thunderbolts. E. E. "Doc" Smith began his Vortex Blasters sf series with a tragic but similar event, where a configuration of protective devices led inadvertently to a disaster it was designed to avoid.

But in real life, wouldn't it be deliciously ironic if strobes on top of school buses, installed as a safety measure, turned out to distract nearby drivers and thereby cause rather than prevent accidents? And what if pop-ups or flashing-banner Internet advertisements, through an indirect chain of events, triggered the collapse of any company that paid to push them into people's faces? Or if spammers and telemarketers were to lose their veil of privacy and find themselves subject to constant personal intrusion, day and night?

So is it obvious that I abhor the escalation of attention-getting technological devices in modern life? (Not that I'm complaining about displays of decolletage, mind you!)

(see also Strobing Tail Lights (28 Nov 2002), Unintended Consequences (10 Jun 2003), Skylark Duquesne (1 Nov 2003), ... )

- Saturday, November 15, 2003 at 08:56:53 (EST)

Wiki Projects 2003

A couple of wiki-related software-development notions crossed my consciousness in recent days. Lest I lose them:

Perhaps I can make some progress on these in a few months, if there's a huge blizzard this winter that keeps me home for a week (but doesn't cut off electrical and telephone service) ...

(see also Pet Bibli 1 (23 May 2000) re an article I wrote ca. 1979 on relaxation methods to solve Laplace and Poisson equations; see Ir Wishes (4 Jan 2001) for notes on information retrieval programming project plans, mostly unrealized still with the exception of the autolinker; see http://www.his.com/~z/ZhurnalWikiRefCount.html for a snapshot tabulation of the number of links pointing into each Zhurnal Wiki page, not including referrals via wiki headers and footers)

- Friday, November 14, 2003 at 17:26:51 (EST)

Serious Person

"I think I detect a serious person," wrote an anonymous teenager ca. 1984, in reply to one of my posts on a local dial-up bulletin board. This was before the ARPAnet had spread much beyond its military/research origins --- a pre-PC era where a kid who could afford a spare phone line would hook up a 300 baud modem with an Apple II or an Atari or a Commodore computer in his (or rarely, her) bedroom. One person at a time could then call in, read messages, and type replies. Then s/he would hang up and another user would phone in to respond. It was a black-and-white text-only universe, but it was electronic and interactive and hugely fun.

The source of the "serious person" taunt? Apparently I had stumbled into a hangout of high school students, and had answered a perhaps-rhetorical question with excessive technical detail. Maybe it was a homework problem, a math or physics assignment. Frankly, I can't remember. But my reply was obviously far too formal for that environment, where most of the conversations revolved around who was going out with whom, which teachers were the toughest, and where the next weekend's party was going to be held.

So I took the accusation to heart. That was the last time that I've been accused of being a "serious person" ...

(see also Personal Energy (8 Dec 2000), ... )

- Thursday, November 13, 2003 at 05:32:12 (EST)

Marathon in the Parks 2003

"I have never beaten a healthy opponent!" a chessplayer once observed. Likewise, no runner is ever injury-free, uninfected, or properly trained. Even the winner of a race needs a reason for not going faster. So it is with me on Sunday morning: coming down with a cold, suffering from a strained left quadriceps, unable to jog much for the past two months, just had a 'flu shot, feeling old and overweight, stayed up too late watching a lunar eclipse Saturday evening, ...

Excuses? I've got 'em! Expectations? Couldn't be lower!

Now begin at the end: shortly after noon on 9 November, having burnt off a few thousand calories during the prior five hours, I gather my little remaining strength and put on a show for the cameras and crowds --- grinning like a jackass and "sprinting" (relatively speaking) the final hundred meters to the finish line of the 4th annual Montgomery County "Marathon in the Parks" [1] --- behind 213 women and 524 men, putting me in 738th place among 851 finishers, 66th out of 72 males in the 50-54 age bracket. My official time is just under 5 hours and 4 minutes. (My watch shows 5:03:34, since I didn't get across the starting line until about 20 seconds after the metaphorical gun.)

Homeward bound: Kindly officials wrap an aluminized mylar blanket around my shoulders and hang a finisher's medal around my neck. I swallow a banana and a slice of pizza, walk about stiffly, and am greeted by a friend and her daughter who had by chance seen me at the same point last year. (Hi Cindy and Misha!) Another friend shouts at me in the final stretch; he was there to cheer his wife at her first marathon. (Hi Bill!) Then there's the subway ride back to the starting point and the ~20 mile drive home, where I get ready to take a shower. My face feels gritty; I look in the mirror and see salt caked on my forehead. Dried sweat, a sign that the weather has been cold and dry, perfect for a long run.

Bottom line: It's a wonderful experience. Spectators are numerous and noisy. The MitP course, as always, is a pure delight as it ripples alongside Rock Creek, through the woods, up and down hills. (Subjective perception: mostly up hills, contrary to the laws of physics.) The organizers, course officials, and volunteers are uniformly helpful, efficient, and enthusiastic. A big Bravo! to all.

Flash back to dawn: The temperature hovers slightly above freezing as herds of runners gather in the starting corrals, sorted by anticipated finishing time, shivering in their skimpy shorts but soon to be sweating. Parks and Planning Commissioner Derek Berlage and US Representative Chris Van Hollen speak briefly and inspiringly. Then we're off!

My goofy preparation: In one hand I carry a GPS receiver; in the other, a water bottle. Around my waist is a pouch holding several energy bars, with an extra pair of socks tucked under the belt. (Last year's trot through the mudpuddles has made me hydrophobic.) I'm wearing my lucky fluorescent pink-orange shorts and my lucky loose-nylon-weave lacrosse shirt, both thrift-store purchases, both veterans of a pair of 2002 marathons, both historically proven to be non-chafing on delicate unmentionable body parts. Over the shirt I don a loose-fitting MitP long-sleeved jersey, planning to take it off if I get overheated. My hands are clad in cheap cotton gloves. My feet are protected by thick padded wicking socks inside a pair of new, but not too new, shoes. On my old bald head goes my lucky Gilligan-style floppy hat, vintage 1975.

In the beginning: The marathon commences comfortably and remains so throughout. My strategy is to keep a steady pace of about 11 minutes/mile as long as possible. I fantasize that I might feel strong enough to accelerate slightly during the second half --- achieving so-called "negative splits". Before the start I set my watch to beep every five minutes to remind me to take one-minute walks. I relax and chat with others who are moving along at a similar average rate. We pass each other repeatedly as our walk breaks phase in and out. (Hi Betty -- great to see you again!)

Happy trails: For the first phase of the race, the plan seems to be working. There are hills, but I can handle them. The stiffness in my upper left leg fades, and my stride actually becomes a bit smoother (or so I tell myself). I invent a new game, of complexity proportional to my mental ability at that point: cup-stomping. After each water stop, when the trail is strewn with discarded paper cups, I swerve to step on any that are uncrushed and near my route. Sure, it's not much of a game, but it's all I can come up with at the moment, and it's fun under the circumstances.

Midcourse correction: The path stays pleasantly puddle-free, with only minor exceptions which are easily circumnavigated. My half-marathon time is 2:24:43 --- which means that I reach the 13.1 mile mark a few minutes before the winner of the race crosses the finish line. I take some pretzels from a young lady and wash them down with electrolyte-replenishment drink from my bottle, which I refill at each water stop. My hydration is good, as witnessed by the breaks that I take ca. miles 12, 16, and 22. "The woods are lovely, dark and deep," poet Robert Frost said. Many competitors take advantage of that observation when nature calls and latrines are not available.

Cruise control: On I go, still in relative comfort, increasingly tired but never experiencing anything like The Dreaded Wall that I hit last year. The tune and words "While strolling through the park one day," play on an intermittent tape-loop in my mind, followed by "In the merry month of November," which neither scans nor rhymes. I try to edit the playlist without success. Refreshment breaks are staffed by people dressed in increasingly wacky costumes who are clearly having great fun. I get a chuckle at one point by remarking that I had been clean-shaven when the race began. (My full beard thus suggests how long I had been en route.)

Carbohydrate consumption: I slow down and reschedule my walk-breaks to correspond mostly to the uphill segments of the course --- which come at ever-more-frequent intervals. A friend meets me with a candy bar at Mile 17 (thanks, Ken!). Another friend serves as a volunteer race official near Miles 20 and 22, where the course loops back and forth in Kensington. He also gives me candy (thanks, Carl!) and cheers me along. The sugar rush helps clear my thinking a bit. In addition to that nourishment I suck down four energy-gel packets (~100 calories each) and eat half of a peanut-butter-crunch energy-bar from my pouch.

Lucky Leathernecks: During the last quarter of the race I catch up with a couple of runners who did the Marine Corps Marathon only two weeks earlier and who are suffering the aftereffects. "I'm paying back my debt!" says one of them with a good-natured grin, as he instructs me not to walk with him and sends me on my way. I salute and obey.

Final blitz: With a couple of miles to go I compute that I might, barely, finish in under five hours --- if I can string together a few solid 11 minute miles. Fortunately, however, at the next mile marker that goal moves obviously out of reach and sanity returns to me. So I take it easy until mile 26 and only crank up the speed for the ultimate rush to the finish line. That last 385 yards takes 2 minutes 18 seconds, as I attempt to put on a happy face --- and achieve the fastest velocity that I manage for the entire course, by my calculations.

Comparison to last year: My time is about 8 minutes slower than in 2002, but my pace is much steadier and I feel infinitely better throughout the run and afterwards. Most importantly, my slowest mile is 13 minutes (and that included a potty break!). I'm faster than I was on every one of the final six miles of the previous MitP.

For any numerical analysts in the audience: a least-squares linear regression (omitting the final 0.2 mile segment) to the splits in the table below reveals what the rest of you already know:

That's far healthier than my 2002 MitP performance, where for the first 26 miles I averaged 11:15 minutes/mile but with a huge sigma of 98 seconds and a correspondingly bad deceleration parameter of 11.3 seconds/mile/mile. Maybe next time, with better training and carrying fewer pounds of body fat (not to mention GPS unit, belt pouch full of uneaten food, water bottle, spare socks, ...) I'll be able to run a brisker and more level pace.

The only tragedy: somewhere around Mile 17, alas, I suddenly realize that I have lost my 28-year-old floppy hat. I recall taking it off my head after half a dozen miles as I get warmed up, and then using it to insulate the hand that holds my icy-cold water bottle. Somehow I must have dropped it, maybe while unwrapping a candy bar. I drive back to that point late in the afternoon and walk along the trail looking for it, without success. I do observe that post-race clean-up was almost perfect. I pick up a couple of empty energy-goo packs and discarded water bottles, and find an intact lemon poppyseed Clif Bar, my favorite flavor.

It's a good day!

(see also Coordinate Collection (19 May 2002), Good Day (25 Jun 2002), Marathon Coordinates (3 Oct 2002), Bless The Leathernecks (28 Oct 2002), Marine Corps Ordnance (1 Nov 2002), Rocky Run (17 Nov 2002), ... )

Gory details:

Mile Time Pace Mile Time Pace Mile Time Pace
01 0:10:53 10:53 11 2:00:31 10:59 21 3:59:29 12:28
02 0:21:51 10:58 12 2:12:20 11:48 22 4:12:29 13:00
03 0:32:40 10:49 13 2:23:28 11:08 23 4:24:14 11:45
04 0:43:30 10:50 14 2:34:55 11:27 24 4:36:33 12:19
05 0:54:10 10:39 15 2:46:52 11:56 25 4:48:45 12:12
06 1:04:51 10:42 16 2:58:56 12:04 26 5:01:16 12:31
07 1:15:48 10:57 17 3:11:07 12:11 26.2 5:03:34 10:31
08 1:27:20 11:32 18 3:22:59 11:52
09 1:39:01 11:41 19 3:34:55 11:56
10 1:49:32 10:31 20 3:47:01 12:06

- Tuesday, November 11, 2003 at 16:33:39 (EST)

Writ in Water

Disingenuousness? True Modesty? Bitter mistake? Whatever the reason, few epitaphs could be so wrong as the one John Keats composed for himself:
Here lies one whose name was writ in water

Likewise, few self-critical comments could be as far off the mark as Abraham Lincoln's in the Gettysburg Address:

The world will little note nor long remember what we say here ...

And though William Shakespeare, in his Sonnet LXXI, called for oblivion:

     Nay, if you read this line, remember not
     The hand that writ it; for I love you so,
     That I in your sweet thoughts would be forgot,
     If thinking on me then should make you woe.

... the Bard was both less shy and more accurate in concluding his famous Sonnet XVIII:

     So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
     So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

(see also Gettysburg Coordinates (27 Feb 2002), ...)

- Monday, November 10, 2003 at 17:27:13 (EST)

Chess Crisis

The US Chess Federation [1] is in a red-ink well of woe. Unlike past arguments over minor issues (quibbles over international caissic politics, clashes among prima donna grandmaster personalities, nit-pickery about rules, ...) today the USCF, 64 years old, perches on the brink of bankruptcy. New President Beatriz Martinello is trying to pull it back from the edge.

This month's Chess Life epitomizes the situation: it's a bare-bones publication, shorter and without many of the design frills that past issues featured. Martinello confesses to the sudden discovery that "... we had so little cash that we were unable to pay the prizes at the U.S. Open, unable to meet our national office payroll, and unable to mail our own catalog to new members because we could not afford the postage. Our printer refused to accept Chess Life from us without an up-front payment."

Tight times indeed --- but with radical spending cuts and a radical sharpening of focus perhaps there's a chance that the organization can recover. The core of the Federation's mission statement is simply: "... USCF promotes the study and kinowledge of the game of chess, for its own sake as an art and enjoyment, but also as a means for the improvement of society." Noble sentiments. As a life member I applaud.

The challenges that face the USCF are likely related to a subtle meltdown that is happening in many parts of the world economy. A mountain of malinvestment happened during the manic dot-com euphoria of the past decade. Now it has to be written off, recycled, or sent to the incinerator. The cash flows are gone that supported a herd of middlemen. Many outfits that thrived in boom times have to cinch up their belts and get used to being hungry. More news to come on that front.

(see also Pop Goes (19 Jun 2001), ... )

- Sunday, November 09, 2003 at 05:14:20 (EST)

More Elegant Technologies

Every once in a while a name pops into my head. Sometimes it's an old acquaintance, or a writer whose works I've enjoyed in years past, or an artist, or a discoverer of some obscure scientific phenomenon --- whatever. The big net of modern search engines makes it easy to do at least a quick survey of recent news and commentary related to such names.

So it was that several weeks ago I happened to be scouting the 'Net for Peter Reintjes, author of the 1992 essay "Elegant Technologies" which I read and recommended in the ^zhurnal (10 Sep 1999). In an example of pure coincidental synchronicity, a few days later Peter Reintjes in turn happened upon my Zhurnal Wiki page Elegant Technologies and added his brief comments. Peter was also kind enough to send me an electronic version of his original paper. With his permission I've archived it at http://zhurnal.net/~z/ElegantTechnologies.pdf since, alas, the original site where I found it seems to have fallen victim to passing time.

Revisiting Peter's paper raises the question: What new "elegant technologies" have emerged since he identified such candidates as CMOS, UNIX, and PROLOG? And what earlier systems deserve that honorable mantle?

My idiosyncratic list includes finite state automata, collectable trading card games, paint, transform/inversion methods, the Elizabethan sonnet, flavored ice creams, and of course Wiki!

- Saturday, November 08, 2003 at 13:26:58 (EST)

Saros Cycle

Eighteen years, eleven and one-third days --- that's a Saros. It's the result of a cosmic close-coincidence among three independent astronomical quantities: the lunar month, the precession of the plane of the moon's orbit, and the time between lunar perigees. Every 6,585.3+ days the relative configuration of the Sun, the Moon, and the Earth repeats, almost precisely. (Footnote: whether it's 11 days or a wee bit less past the 18-year mark varies, depending on the number of leap-year days involved.)

So every 18+ years "the same eclipse" happens again. The Earth has turned an extra ~8 hours, however, and eclipse tracks relative to locations on the surface of the planet are thus likewise shifted by ~120 degrees of longitude. And there are other slight misalignments which make for a further slow drift away from exact repetition. Those errors accumulate enough that after about a dozen centuries a new eclipse family begins.

It's an astounding discovery: clear patterns in dramatic heavenly events that extend across decades and beyond. The Saros Cycle was recognized by ancient Babylonian astronomers. Some have speculated that Stonehenge is related to a triple-Saros 54+ year multi-cycle. And modern astrologers have not been shy about taking advantage of the Saros for their petty purposes.

But real events are infinitely more awe-inspiring than pseudoscience could ever be. Cicadas emerge in massive cohorts every 17 years (and other prime-number cycles) to avoid or overwhelm predators ... annual meteor showers wax and wane with planetary perturbations of comet orbits ... sunspot activity and solar flares move in 11 year patterns, driven by magnetohydrodynamic forces ... the alignment of the Earth's axis changes, both on timescales short (Chandler wobble) and long (precession of the equinoxes) ... the Earth's magnetic field varies, as do climates, as do ocean currents, and as do countless other phenomena great and small.

As Gerard Manly Hopkins says (in "God's Grandeur"):

     And for all this, nature is never spent;
          There lives the dearest freshness deep down things ...

This weekend, on the night of 8-9 November 2003, a lunar eclipse will occur --- as one did near the end of October 1985, and as will another in the later part of November 2021. My twins were infants last time; I hope to be happily retired next. The prior instance of this eclipse saw me entering adolescence. The previous time to that, my wife was a baby; my parents were still in high school.

Saros --- bridges to past and future ...

And in 2004 Venus will transit the Sun --- for the first time in well over a century. More on that anon!

(see also Noise And Predictability (14 Sep 1999), All Sunsets (26 Apr 2000), Glass Darkly (1 Jan 2003), ... )

- Thursday, November 06, 2003 at 05:48:53 (EST)

Hal Clement

Harry C. Stubbs died peacefully a week ago; he was 81. As "Hal Clement" he wrote science fiction novels --- quietly precise stories where physics, chemistry, and mathematics were the central characters.

Mission of Gravity epitomizes Clement's love of learning. That love comes into sharpest focus near the end of the book, when alien-protagonist Barlennan demands to be taught --- taught essentially everything that humans know about the universe. (Minor spoiler note: if you wish to maximize suspense, finish the book before you look at what follows. But the story will still be wonderous if you read on.)

One of the Earthmen replies to Barlennan's ultimatum by sketching out the levels upon levels of complexity upon which science is built:

"Barl, you seemed to have some contempt in your tone when you referred to our excuse for not explaining our machines to you. Believe me, we were not trying to fool you. They are complicated, so complicated that the men who design and build them spend nearly half their lives first learning the laws that make them operate and the arts of their actual manufacture. We did not mean to belittle the knowledge of your people, either; it is true that we know more, but it is only because we have had longer in which to learn.
"Now, as I understand it, you want to learn about the machines in this rocket as you take it apart. Please, Barl, take my word as the sincerest truth when I tell you first that I for one could not do it, since I do not understand a single one of them; and second, that not one would do you the least good if you did comprehend it. The best I can say right now is that they are machines for measuring things that cannot be seen or heard or felt or tasted --- things you would have to see in operation in other ways for a long time before you could even begin to understand. That is not meant as insult; what I say is almost as true for me, and I have grown up from childhood surrounded by and even using those forces. I do not understand them. I do not expect to understand them before I die; the science we have covers so much knowledge that no one man can even begin to learn all of it, and I must be satisfied with the field I do know --- and perhaps add to it what little one man may in a lifetime."

Barlennan, however, is smarter than the Terrestrials realize. In the course of his reply he captures the joy and magic that deep study can bring to every student, and to every society:

"It was actually when you were teaching us about the gliders that I began to have a slight understanding of what was meant by your term 'science.' I realized, before the end of that episode, that a device so simple you people had long since ceased to use it actually called for an understanding of more of the universe's laws than any of my people realized existed. You said specifically at one point, while apologizing for a lack of exact information, that gliders of that sort had been used by your people more than two hundred years ago. I can guess how much more you know now --- guess just enough to let me realize what I can't know.
"But you can still do what I want. You have done a little already, in showing us the differential hoist. I do not understand it, and neither does Dondragmer, who spent much more time with it; but we are both sure it is some sort of relative to the levers we have been using all our lives. We want to start at the beginning, knowing fully that we cannot learn all you know in our lifetimes. We do hope to learn enough to understand how you have found these things out. Even I can see it is not just guesswork, or even philosophizing like the learned ones who tell us that Mesklin is a bowl. I am willing at this point to admit you are right; but I would like to know how you found out the same fact for your own world. I am sure you knew before you left its surface and could see it all at once. I want to know why the Bree floats, and why the canoe did the same, for a while. I want to know what crushed the canoe. I want to know why the wind blows down the cleft all the time --- no, I didn't understand your explanation. I want to know why we are warmest in winter when we can't see the sun for the longest time. I want to know why a fire gloes, and why flame dust kills. I want my children or theirs, if I ever have any, to know what makes this radio work, and your tank, and someday this rocket. I want to know much --- more than I can learn, no doubt; but if I can start my people learning for themselves, the way you must have --- well, I'd be willing to stop selling at a profit."

Note the verbs: understand, comprehend, measure, know, explain, learn, ....

Note the refrain: I want to know ....

Pure Hal Clement. Rest in Peace, Harry Stubbs.

(see also Fan Letter Feedback (7 Mar 2001), ... )

- Wednesday, November 05, 2003 at 06:08:02 (EST)

Last Man Standing

Whenever I get fretful about the degeneration of our culture --- when "modern art" pokes me in the eyes, when "modern music" scorches my ears, when "modern literature" sticks its finger down my throat --- I cherish the words of Dennis Owens, local classical radio station announcer.

As Owens observed one morning, we just need to be patient. After all the fluff is blown away and forgotten, we can be sure of one thing: There will be Mozart.

- Tuesday, November 04, 2003 at 19:34:32 (EST)

Antient Commons

My slugly progress through The History of Tom Jones has at last brought me to Book XII, Chapter i, titled "Showing what is to be deemed plagiarism in a modern author, and what is to be considered as lawful prize". Henry Fielding argues for a sensible position on intellectual property rights and a finite duration of copyright --- in his usual tongue-in-cheek style:
... The antients may be considered as a rich common, where every person who hath the smallest tenement in Parnassus hath a free right to fatten his muse. Or, to place it in a clearer light, we moderns are to the antients what the poor are to the rich. By the poor here I mean that large and venerable body which, in English, we call the mob. Now, whoever hath had the honour to be admitted to any degree of intimacy with this mob, must well know that it is one of their established maxims to plunder and pillage their rich neighbours without any reluctance; and that this is held to be neither sin nor shame among them. And so constantly do they abide and act by this maxim, that, in every parish almost in the kingdom, there is a kind of confederacy ever carrying on against a certain person of opulence called the squire, whose property is considered as free-booty by all his poor neighbours; who, as they conclude that there is no manner of guilt in such depredations, look upon it as a point of honour and moral obligation to conceal, and to preserve each other from punishment on all such occasions.
In like manner are the antients, such as Homer, Virgil, Horace, Cicero, and the rest, to be esteemed among us writers, as so many wealthy squires, from whom we, the poor of Parnassus, claim an immemorial custom of taking whatever we can come at. This liberty I demand, and this I am as ready to allow again to my poor neighbours in their turn. All I profess, and all I require of my brethren, is to maintain the same strict honesty among ourselves which the mob show to one another. To steal from one another is indeed highly criminal and indecent; for this may be strictly stiled defrauding the poor (sometimes perhaps those who are poorer than ourselves), or, to set it under the most opprobrious colours, robbing the spittal.

(see also Trading In Ghosts (1 Oct 1999), Idea Thievery (25 Apr 2001), Art Newspaper (4 Aug 2001), Public Domain (13 Feb 2003), Catfight Club (5 Sep 2003), Flagrante Delicto Philosopher (19 Sep 2003), ... )

- Monday, November 03, 2003 at 05:36:46 (EST)

Skylark Duquesne

E. E. "Doc" Smith wrote space opera, clunky but fun. The novels in his Lensman series were galaxy-spanning epics of intellectual combat, each book unveiling a new layer of wheels within wheels: conspiracy, menace, and power on ever-increasing cosmological scales.

But if the Lensman stories were Capitalized Good versus Ultimate Evil, "Doc" Smith's Skylark books were pure romps. The nice guy protagonists were much too goody-twoshoesish for anybody with a speck of self-awareness to identify with. That left the ne'er-do-wells to capture center stage, a gang of perps led by Dr. Marc C. "Blackie" duQuesne --- selfish, amoral, arch-nemesis-rival of the ostensible heroes. In fact, by the final story in the series duQuesne was solidly on top, to such a degree that the book was titled Skylark Duquesne. Ignore the fact that at the close of the previous episode he had been demateralized, his mind locked in a time-vault stasis-capsule for 100,000,000,000 years ... he'll be back.

And so he is, saving the universe before heading off for another galaxy to set up his own empire, designed on principles something like Plato's Republic with garnishes of megalomania and eugenics. As the novel careens to a conclusion duQuesne is about to pop the question to Dr. Stephanie de Marigne, aka "Hunkie", genius feminist nuclear physicist. She asks him whether or not he loves her and he replies, memorably and characteristically:

"The word 'love' has so many and such tricky meanings that it is actually meaningless. Thus, I don't know whether I love you or not, in your interpretation of the term. If it means to you that I will jump off of a cliff or blow my brains out if you refuse, I don't. Or that I'll pine away and not marry a second best, I don't. If, however, it means a lot of other things, I do. Whatever it means, will you marry me?"

So of course she says yes!

(see also Lens Manic (16 Jul 2001), ... )

- Saturday, November 01, 2003 at 15:52:15 (EST)

Be the Change

Bumper sticker glimpsed today:
Be the change you wish to see in the world

(a quote from Mohandas Gandhi; see also Bennett On Life (19 Mar 2000), Exempli Gratia (22 Apr 2000), My Ob (18 Aug 2002), ... )

- Friday, October 31, 2003 at 20:31:49 (EST)

Colin McGinn

As it so often does, Chance led me by the hand a couple of weeks ago, this time to the philosophy section of a local bookstore. Specifically, I found myself in front of the shelf of authors whose names begin with "M". Some years back while browsing in that very spot for John Stuart Mill I happened to discover Mary Midgley. This time I picked up a book by Colin McGinn: The Making of a Philosopher: My Journey through Twentieth-Century Philosophy.

McGinn's name was already in the back of my mind from a review that I saw in the New York Times Sunday book review in 1999. It either critiqued one of McGinn's tomes or was written by him; I have entirely forgotten which. I do remember that what I saw irritated me enough that I scribbled out a ^zhurnal note of reaction and counter-comment (The Mysterians, 2 Aug 1999). And I'm still skeptical of McGinn's thesis that the human mind is fundamentally incomprehensible to the human intellect. But my disagreement is less violent today than it was four years ago. (Am I maturing, or just getting fuzzier?!)

An indication of an exceptionally poor book is that one's mind wanders while reading it. But an indication of an exceptionally good book is likewise that one's mind wanders while reading it. Every few pages in Making I found my thoughts drifting, as I debated with McGinn, groped for counter-examples, or discovered happy confirmation in my own experience of one of his propositions.

A worthwhile argument isn't one that can be refuted in a few paragraphs, or even explained compactly. I think that McGinn is wrong much of the time, but he's also transcendentally right at crucial moments. And he's always entertaining. Making is a fine intellectual memoir --- fast, fun, and delightful in its juxtaposition of anecdote and idea. (At times it reminds me of John Stuart Mill's Autobiography.)

For example, from Chapter Four, "Mind and Reality":

The general point here is that it is wrong to confuse reality itself with our ways of knowing about it. Reality is one thing; our knowledge of it is another. The past is not the same as our memories of it; physical objects are not the same as the sensory states we have when we perceive them; other people's minds are not the same as the behavior we use to infer things about them; the future is not the same as the current indications of how it will turn out; elementary particles are not the same as the meter readings that signal their presence; and so on. To be sure, there are exceptions to this general rule; as already mentioned, fictional entities have no reality beyond the intentions of authors --- they are invented, not discovered. That is why we call them fictions, and distinguish fiction from nonfiction in bookshops and libraries. Real detectives are not the same as fictional detectives --- of course they're not.

and a few pages later later:

I wrote a book all about this subject while teaching in London, entitled The Subjective View (published in 1982). What fascinated me about the subject was that the world as it is, in itself, independently of human minds, is not a world that the human mind could ever apprehend other than theoretically. We do really see physical objects and their properties, but we cannot expect to see them purely objectively, just as they are represented in physics; we are necessarily locked inside our subjective perceptual perspective. Nevertheless, human reason does enable us to get outside of our necessary perceptual subjectivity in order to form a representation of the world that is purely objective. We have concepts that contain no subjective taint, even though perception is irremediably subjective. This is a remarkable feature of human reason --- its ability to transcend our subjective perceptual viewpoint and describe the world as it is, independent of that viewpoint. The human intellect works as a device of distancing from our subjective makeup. It is almost as though we have a subjective self and an objective self ... . I don't think other animals are capable of this kind of cognitive transcendence to absolute objectivity, being far more confined to their given perceptual point of view; we alone know how the world is constituted independent of our natural perspective on it. That is what science fundamentally is: a way of describing the world that abstracts away from human particularity and bias. The most obvious example of this "de-centering" is astronomy: We now see ourselves as occupying one small planet in a vast universe, no longer at the center of things, and subject to universal laws of nature --- though this is certainly not the way things naturally appear to us.
When I think of these topics I recall my old friend Ian McFetridge, a very local presence on the London philosophical scene. He came to London, to teach at Birkbeck College at the same time as I, but came from Cambridge. He was a short, springy man with a small moustache, fiery brown eyes, and an ebullient manner. I started talking philosophy with him soon after we arrived, as we shared an interest in philosophy of language and logic. I appreciated his quick, darting intellect and his fine philosophical judgment. He was the kind of philosopher who saw one's point immediately and always had something to add to it, either critically or creatively. He could sometimes be a bit too animated, as if small explosions were being detonated in his head, but I liked his seriousness and sound philosophical sense. I also liked him as a person. He was humorous, generous, lively, compassionate, human. At the end of my teaching day I would often stroll over to Birkbeck to meet Ian, who taught mainly in the evening. If he wasn't in his office he was already in the pub. I would order my usual half pint of lager while Ian went through the pints of beer at an impressive pace. We would gossip and talk philosophy, sometimes with others in attendance. I would try out my latest idea on him, or he on me, and we always had an illuminating discussion. I valued his opinion of my work immensely. Then, after about five quick pints, he would hurriedly announce that he had to go and give a lecture. This never ceased to amaze me: I would start to lose my philosophical head somewhere through the third half of lager, while Ian would be perfectly coherent after his fifth pint, no doubt proceeding to give a scintillating lecture.

In Chapter Five, "Belief, Desire, and Wittgenstein", McGinn describes some time he spent in southern California, where a friend introduced him to video arcade gaming. He started with Ms. Pacman:

... Often it would be painful to drive home afterward because my right arm was so strained from slamming the lever around. Then I started going solitary, feeding my addiction. My obsession with Ms. Pacman eventually shifted to Galaga, a game of shooting not gulping. Even now, nearly twenty years later, I can still see and hear the icons as they dove from the top of the screen, and I can feel my shooting fingers start to twitch, the adrenaline rushing. I would park my battered Chevy near Wilshire Boulevard and take the ten-minute walk to the UCLA library through Westwood Village, but invariably I would be drawn to the amusement arcade for a "quick game." Two hours later I would blink into the L.A. sunlight, bleary, frazzled, twenty bucks poorer --- but onto stage thirteen at last! Much later I moved on to Defender, a game so demanding, so all-consuming, that I began to understand all those stories about teenagers hopelessly lost to video games. I became an arcade addict, a machine machine. But I will fight the temptation to dilate further upon this ludic phase of my life, lest the reader suspect I am still not over it. (I haven't played a game in years, honestly.)
The obsession with video games went along with another nerve-fraying obsession at this time: Wittgenstein. Both took abnormal amounts of concentration, enormous persistence, and a slightly masochistic taste for frustration. ...

That's typical McGinn prose. He's a living, breathing human being who grew up in a poor family in a British mining town, was lucky enough to meet some good teachers at critical moments, worked hard for many years, and eventually "made it" as a professional philosopher. His youthful career goals included being a circus acrobat, or maybe a drummer in a band. Now, to take a break from his work, he goes out onto the ocean surf in a kayak. Quite a guy.

McGinn concludes his autobiography with:

There are many excellent books that try to make science intelligible to the layperson, many of which I have read with great interest; yet very few books try to do the same for philosophy. That is what I have attempted here, by describing what it is like to be a philosopher from the inside. I hope you have gained an impression of what a philosophical life is like, at least the life of one philosopher, and I hope even more that philosophy now strikes you as a fascinating and rewarding subject for study and thought.

(see also The Mysterians (2 Aug 1999), Wonder Why (10 May 2000), Education Culture And Blame (1 Jun 2000), Irreducibility And Pseudoscience (6 Jul 2000), Parts And Wholes (3 Jul 2001), The Defenders (27 May 2002), Wonder Land (4 Jan 2003), ... )

- Thursday, October 30, 2003 at 19:08:21 (EST)


In the (g)olden Apple days of the early Macintosh there was a simple copy-protection method: if you set bit 11 of a file's attribute flags then the operating system would simply refuse to duplicate that file. The flag was officially called "noCopy" but in less formal language it was "the Bozo Bit". Commonly available tools could flip a Bozo Bit and thereby make a file instantly replicable. Only a clueless newbie --- a "Bozo" --- would be stopped for long.

So, to use a Garden of Eden metaphor, the Bozo Bit was a fig leaf ... one which Apple dropped (don't try to visualize that!) within a few years after version 5.0 of the Mac operating system came out.

How effective was the Bozo Bit? Not very --- but it did, perhaps, make the legal or illegal duplication of programs slightly more deliberate an act. Like a hook on a screen door, it was more symbolic than physical. Maybe some of the arguments over mechanisms to protect intellectual property rights should move in that direction too, toward consciousness-raising rather than war of technological measure versus countermeasure ...

- Wednesday, October 29, 2003 at 17:55:22 (EST)

Browser Innovation

Mitchell Baker has written an excellent essay titled "Browser Innovation, Gecko and the Mozilla Project" [1]. It's available at http://www.mozilla.org/ along with good, free web browsers and a variety of thoughtful commentary on Internet issues. "Free" in this case means zero cost, but it also means liberty. As Baker summarizes:
The web is becoming increasingly integrated into our lives as more and more critical financial, health and other personal information is managed through web-based transactions. Browsers are the mechanism through which individual human beings access and manage this digital data. We don't yet know what new innovations will be possible in this arena. New innovations should be judged on their own merits, on their ability to benefit human beings, and not solely by their effect on the business plans of one or even a few companies. Mozilla.org remains committed to a world-wide-web based on open standards and developed for the common benefit. We provide world-class software and technology to promote this vision.
Come join us.

Without openness, there's the real likelihood that a quasi-monopoly will effectively take over ... and thereby add costs, slow progress, and increase the fragility of the 'Net.

A delightful and intelligent part of Baker's commentary is the courteous, optimistic attitude he shows toward Apple's Safari browser --- my current favorite portal to the web. Baker observes:

In addition to the Mozilla-based browsers, Apple has recently launched its own browser for Mac OS X, known as Safari. It may be that the majority of Mac end users will end up using Safari because it comes with the OS, just as many people end up using IE because it comes with the Windows distribution.  Some see this as traumatic or as a mark of doom. But the Mozilla project understands that almost everyone in the US market (and a substantial percentage of the international market) receives Internet Explorer when they acquire a computer, and our job is to provide an alternative. We would have preferred to have Apple use Gecko or collaborate with us on the development of the Camino browser, but providing an alternative to an OS-sponsored browser is nothing new to us. The key goal of the Mozilla project is to help keep content on the web open and help keep access to that content from being controlled by a single source. Apple's decision to ship a browser based on an open source rendering engine, with a focus on standards compliance, is a good thing for the big picture goal.

This "big tent" philosophy is smart. It reminds me of an aphorism attributed to President Lyndon Baines Johnson --- who, speaking about politics and the wisdom of working for reform from within the system, noted that it's far better to stay inside the tent and, uh, relieve oneself outwards, than it is to go outside and, um, aim inwards.

But LBJ said it more with more pith (and he didn't lisp!).

(see also Para Mode (9 May 2000), Personal Positivism (16 Nov 2002), ... )

- Tuesday, October 28, 2003 at 17:39:37 (EST)

Destination: Mind

    At the end of discussion
      We reach philosophy,
    Where all is meaningless
      Except for belief.

(Note: The above is slightly edited from words found near the end of http://icl.pku.edu.cn/yujs/lecture.htm --- part of vugraph 37 of a lecture on Statistical Decision Theory by Yu Jiangsheng, Institute of Computational Linguistics, Peking University. What does it mean? I don't know! I was looking for information about Möbius inversion (don't ask!), and one thing led to another. The original poem on Yu's page: "At the end of discussion, / We reach at philosophy, / Where all is meaningless, / Except the belief." Has my attempt to polish the English lost something? I have no idea ... )

(see also My Religion (6 Nov 2000), No Concepts At All (22 Feb 2001), Why This (22 Jun 2001), ... )

- Monday, October 27, 2003 at 05:44:09 (EST)

Club Science

How does scientific progress really happen? To a huge extent it's a genetic process. Ideas float around the community, in numbers far too great for any individual to grasp more than a handful. Each grad student accumulates a different subset, depending on interests, past experience, guidance from advisors, and luck. The same holds for professors and everybody else involved in the vast social enterprise of science.

And then the bundle of notions inside an individual noggin smashes up against a research problem. As with the bundle of genes in a living organism, most of the time the result is failure ... but every once in a while a spark lands on dry kindling and a new fire starts to burn.

(see also Genius And Complexity (25 May 1999), Judy Re Memes, All Your Base Are Belong To Us (28 Aug 2002), ... )

- Sunday, October 26, 2003 at 07:01:48 (EST)

Off Week

Football was once central to the Texas educational system. (Perhaps it still is? Alas, I've lost touch.) Several decades ago my high school twice won the State Football Championship. This was, to understate matters, an Amazingly Big Deal. Huge digits representing those victory years were proudly posted in on the side of the building, where they remain to this day.

Rice University, my alma mater, also partook of football. For a tiny science-and-technology research-oriented institution to play in the Southwest Conference --- against a long list of superpowers including Texas, Arkansas, Texas A&M, Louisiana State, Southern Methodist, Oklahoma, ... --- might seem the height of folly. It was. "The Fighting Owls" virtually had a lock on last place in the standings, year after year, in spite of heroic efforts on the part of the players, coaches, boosters, and everyone else involved.

Vigorous recruiting created a subculture of jocks within Rice, an anomalous clique that had its own area of study to major in: "Commerce", a discipline which no one outside the scholarship-athlete club was permitted to sign up for. Eventually the Southwest Conference fell apart, victim of its own abuses. At one time near the end a majority of universities in the SWC were either suspended from play or on the verge of it, due to various fraudulent activities.

Rice students nonetheless had a healthy attitude about football. Many came to home games at the on-campus stadium only during halftime, strictly in order to watch the Marching Owl Band. "The MOB" had a grand time making fun of the serious choreography of other schools' performances --- to such an extent that on occasion the Rice musicians had to have police escorts to protect their exit from the field after a game, when disgruntled visiting-team fans threatened to express their criticism in violent fashion.

The schedule of football games always included a week of rest, called "Off Week". Note that I confess to being seriously naïve. (Perhaps I still am!) Only years later did I figure out the meaning of the handmade banners and signs that appeared that time of year and bore the words:

Beat Off Week

(see also Bookhouse Boy (29 Sep 1999), College Collage 1 (29 Sep 2000), College Collage 2 (3 Oct 2000), High Cool (15 Jul 2001), Heavy Sleeper (19 Nov 2001), ... )

- Saturday, October 25, 2003 at 09:17:24 (EDT)

Rail Trail Politics

All politics is local, in some cases exponentially so. In my neighborhood there's a tense struggle going on between well-intentioned people who want to expand east-west public transit facilities versus well-intentioned people who want to preserve the lovely foliage and quiet ambience along the route proposed for that transit line. One side accuses the other of being elitist country-clubbers who have chopped down the trees in their own pesticide-treated yards and now want to block the County from using public land to solve serious traffic problems. --- "Au contraire," is the reply, "we just want to preserve green space and a bikeway/jogging-path." --- "No, you just want to keep your property values up, even if it means poor folks of other races from the wrong side of the tracks can't get to their jobs via an energy-efficient light-rail system." --- "You're wrong; the rail line would be dangerous, noisy, and wouldn't hook up to the places people need to go." --- "Aw, you're just showing the NIMBY syndrome, Not In My Back Yard. Without the mass transit construction a safe trail will never get built on the east side of the creek." --- "Wrong again, the transit would destroy the trail." --- "Would not!" --- "Would so!" --- ...

And so the dialogue degenerates. A few days ago someone posted a rather one-sided note to the Montgomery County Road Runners Club (MCRRC) discussion group concerning this question, and suggested that club members write their elected officials to support a particular position.

I have taken no public stance on the "Inner Purple Line", and tried to craft a balanced (some might say wishy-washy) message on the subject. A lightly-edited excerpt:

This is an extraordinarily complex topic, and I expect that people on all sides of it will condemn me for not fully agreeing with them. It is impossible to discuss adequately in a short note, so instead I suggest that MCRRC members look at pages by Wayne Phyillaier (http://home.earthlink.net/~wphyilla/purple.html etc.) and the Coalition for the Capital Crescent Trail (http://www.cctrail.org/ etc.) for thoughtful commentary on why mass transit along the Georgetown Branch could "... result in a CCT that most equitably serves neighborhoods on both sides of Rock Creek Park and that best completes the regional trail network". On the other side of the aisle, MCRRC members should study Pam Browning's pages (http://mysite.verizon.net/pbrow/ etc.) and the web site of the Greater Bethesda-Chevy Chase Save The Trail (http://www.savethetrail.org/ etc.) for thoughtful commentary on why the Inner Purple Line "... would have a devastating effect on the Capital Crescent Trail and the surrounding communities".
I see good arguments in all directions here --- as is the case with almost every interesting and important political topic --- and I must gently disagree that "... this one is very easy ..." to decide upon. As for the MCRRC membership, I would encourage all runners to study the issues and talk with Wayne, Pam, and others before signing on to any position. (BTW, beware of sending form letters to politicians --- such letters carry far less weight than a personal note or phone call.)
I'll cc: this note to Pam & Wayne, in hopes that they may wish to offer additional suggestions and commments.
I myself cherish the Georgetown Branch Trail; I frequently jog along it between Silver Spring and Bethesda; my home is within a mile of it. I am delighted to see the improvements that have occurred on the Trail in recent years. I salute all those who are working so hard to preserve and enhance it.
... and now, I've gotta change clothes and go out for a run along the Trail, to get my pitiful legs semi-ready for the MitP!!
^z = Mark Zimmermann

Personal aside: The "MitP" alluded to above is the 9 November 2003 Marathon in the Parks. I've strained the quadriceps muscle (or something associated with it) in my left leg and have tried resting up for the past couple of weeks: zero running, not easy for me to do. But the leg still aches. A few days ago I gave up and started jogging again --- thus far without observable effects, either pro or con, on the healing process. Today's 14 miler was slow and exhausting but tolerable. I'm now busily lowering my performance expectations for the race itself ...

(see also Living Philosophy (12 Jun 1999), Slower Runners Guide (30 Oct 2002), Rocky Run (17 Nov 2002), Healthy Trails (24 Nov 2002), Capital Crescent Coordinates (5 May 2003), ... )

- Friday, October 24, 2003 at 05:26:39 (EDT)

For back issues of the ^zhurnal see Volumes v.01 (April-May 1999), v.02 (May-July 1999), v.03 (July-September 1999), v.04 (September-November 1999), v.05 (November 1999 - January 2000), v.06 (January-March 2000), v.07 (March-May 2000), v.08 (May-June 2000), v.09 (June-July 2000), v.10 (August-October 2000), v.11 (October-December 2000), v.12 (December 2000 - February 2001), v.13 (February-April 2001), v.14 (April-June 2001), 0.15 (June-August 2001), 0.16 (August-September 2001), 0.17 (September-November 2001), 0.18 (November-December 2001), 0.19 (December 2001 - February 2002), 0.20 (February-April 2002), 0.21 (April-May 2002), 0.22 (May-July 2002), 0.23 (July-September 2002), 0.24 (September-October 2002), 0.25 (October-November 2002), 0.26 (November 2002 - January 2003), 0.27 (January-February 2003), 0.28 (February-April 2003), 0.29 (April-June 2003), 0.30 (June-July 2003), 0.31 (July-September 2003), 0.32 (September-October 2003), 0.33 (October-November 2003), 0.34 (November 2003 - January 2004), 0.35 (January-February 2004), 0.36 (February-March 2004), 0.37 (March-April 2004), 0.38 (April-June 2004), 0.39 (June-July 2004), 0.40 (July-August 2004), 0.41 (August-September 2004), 0.42 (September-November 2004), 0.43 (November-December 2004), 0.44 (December 2004 - February 2005), 0.45 (February-March 2005), 0.46 (March-May 2005), 0.47 (May-July 2005), ... Current Volume. Send comments and suggestions to z (at) his.com. Thank you! (Copyright © 1999-2005 by Mark Zimmermann.)