^zhurnal 0.44

Howdy, pilgrim! You're in volume 0.44 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 = 0.43 ... complete list at bottom of page ... send comments & suggestions to "z (at) his (dot) com" ... tnx!)

Ice Fangs

Winter running isn't always pretty --- particularly when moisture in one's breath condenses and freezes into farcical facial icicles.

Ice Fangs on the Seneca Creek Greenway Trail (photo by Adam Safir, 29 Jan 2005)

The past fortnight outdoors is most memorable for low temperatures and high spirits along a variety of new pathways. Solo jogs are fun, and companions on the trail offer encouragement and conversation.

Towpath Trot Two

(20 Jan 2005) - 12+ miles, 139 minutes --- Yesterday's inch of snow is the perfect amount to "cool a hobbit's toes" and to display footprints that guide me during today's jog. I drop Paulette & Gray off at an anti-inaugural concert in DC, drive somewhat aimlessly toward Rock Creek, and find a nice parking space in front of a Mini Cooper near the eastern side of the Calvert Street bridge.

Local snowball-hurlers direct me to the Connecticut Avenue ramp down to the park, and I proceed southward, branching immediately onto a natural-surface trail that trends along the western side of the stream. I realize that I've forgotten to bring hat and gloves, and I note that nobody else seems to be bare-legged ... but with the sun shining and temperatures in the mid-30's I feel comfortable enough as long as I keep moving.

I pass by the Normanstone Trail entrance and continue along the well-beaten path uphill and through a playground into the streets of Georgetown (near 30th and R). High fences around the Oak Hill Cemetery are either designed to keep the living out, or the dead in --- but either way create an impassible barrier. I jog past Dumbarton House and a kind cyclist points me down the steep hillside back into Rock Creek Park, on the other side of the Mount Zion Cemetery.

From there it's the usual paved route south to Thompson's Boat Center, where I hope to buy a candy bar. Alas, the building is closed for the winter. So I reverse course and soon spy the entrance to the C&O Canal National Park, 40 minutes into today's jog.

This end of the canal is new to me, so I turn west and follow the towpath, detouring at intervals where construction blocks the way. Melting snow makes some cobblestone slopes slippery, but less hazardous than the traffic at many of the road crossings. Under one bridge there's a bundle of blankets where a homeless person is camping out. The water in the canal is mostly frozen over. A couple of fast runners pass me as I plod upstream, pausing occasionally to walk and sip my red Gatorade.

At about the 1 hour mark I spot the mile #10 post on the Capital Crescent Trail (which here runs parallel to the C&O Canal, on the Potomac River side ~20 feet below me). I click my watch and continue past Fletcher's Boat House to CCT mile marker #8, where I turn back. I'm astounded to find my average pace for these four miles is 10:20, far faster than I can usually manage. But the towpath is nearly flat and cool conditions seem to be optimal for me to have a happy ramble.

Back at Lock 1 of the C&O Canal I turn northwards along Rock Creek and proceed briskly (since the winds have picked up and I'm starting to get a bit chilled again!). Just before the National Zoo tunnel I cross the parkway and clamber upslope until I reach the steps leading to Calvert Street, and thus return to my car. My left calf muscle (or achilles tendon?) feels a bit tight, but overall all systems seem ok.

Icy Shooting Starr

(22 Jan) - 5 miles, 53.5 minutes --- With comrade Ken Swab the "Shooting Starr" MCRRC race goes smoothly. Temperatures are in the teens, significantly warmer than last January's running, and though crowds seem smaller (thanks to the looming blizzard) we still don't finish in the top ten of our age/sex group, and so we earn no points for the Club series tally. Many friends say "Hi!" before and after the run, and volunteer course marshalls are uniformly enthusiastic. Snow begins to fall during the race, at first hesitantly, then strengthening.

Near mile ~4 I pick up a weirdly shaped nail-clipper from the street, probably dropped by a faster runner (which doesn't narrow the list of candidates much!) --- anybody want to claim it?


(23 Jan) - 7+ miles, 91 minutes --- The Sunday afternoon temperature is about 20°F, but northwest zephyrs gusting as high as 40 mph make it feel far colder. Running on a few inches of post-blizzard snow is fun but exhausting. Three measured miles along Rock Creek Trail (home to RCT 4 and back via Georgetown Branch) average a puny 12:30 pace. I try to follow the packed paths made by earlier skiers and runners, but windblown powder has filled them except in sheltered areas. Under the Connecticut Avenue bridge the frozen mud forms an ankle-wrenching lunar landscape. In the open meadows a billion ice crystals sparkle in the sunlight. The water fountain at Beach and Old Spring Road is frozen (though the tap on the side for dogs is ok). The fountain near East-West Highway works fine, but I discover after I get home a giant icicle on the side of my face from water that missed my mouth ...

Greenway Trail Ramble

(29 Jan) - ~18 miles, 341 minutes --- I pick up comrade Adam Safir at 6am and drive to Riley's Lock on the Potomac River where we find ourselves alone in the predawn chill. Shortly before 7am Ed Schultze arrives; he chats with us about the Seneca Creek Greenway Trail [1] and today's training run. Ed directs the Greenway Trail Marathon in early March and has organized a series of training runs including today's to help get people ready for the event. We follow Ed back up the road to Poole's General Store, a splendid anachronism that sells Slim Jims, snow shovels, deer attractant, and chainsaw-carved totem poles. I invest $0.75 in a big cup of hot, fresh coffee plus a banana.

Then it's back to the river where we take a few photos, gather our gear, and pile into minivans for the ride upstream to Montgomery Village where our day's adventure begins. John, Joyce, and Angelo are with us in the back. They're experienced ultramarathon trail runners and offer us friendly advice on weather, clothing, electrolyte-replacement supplements, pacing, and falling down on ice.

The thermometer says 17°F at 8am as we park and get a prebrief from Ed, who has cached munchies and drinks at several points along the route. I've forgotten our map, but Adam and I figure that there's enough snow on the ground that we can follow the leaders' footprints and not get too badly lost. The trail is well-marked with blue blazes on the trees, so although we do go astray occasionally on the way, we always manage to get back on track within a few hundred yards or less.

Adam and I cement our hold on last place shortly into the journey, as we pause under a bridge to adjust his pack and for me to get rid of some excess prehydration. I slip and fall on a patch of ice, thankfully without major injury, and take more care thereafter. Jogging on snow costs significantly more energy than one might think, and soon both of us are well warmed up. We proceed under bridges and across small roads, through open meadows and under coniferous tree canopies, following the partially ice-clad Seneca Creek. A severed deer leg, bloody fur and hoof intact, adjoins the trail.

Shortly before the two hour mark we emerge from the woods at Riffle Ford Road where we spy a sewer pumping station. I think that I remember Ed Schultze mentioning it in his commentary, and so divert from the trail to circle the buildings, where I'm delighted to discover water and candy which he has prepositioned for the convenience of runners. I eat some chocolate and a fig newton cookie while I quaff the remainder of my first bottle of Gatorade. Adam refills his water bottles.

We continue comfortably for the next hour and a quarter, passing a half-eaten raccoon corpse with ribcage exposed. The icicles and rime along Seneca Creek are lovely to behold. A couple of fast runners heading the opposite direction greet us en passant. Soon we emerge onto Black Rock Road and see the scenic Black Rock Mill, where parts of one of the "Blair Witch Project" movies was reportedly filmed. Another runner is awaiting a comrade there, pacing about and trying not to freeze. We find Ed Schultze's next bag of goodies and I enjoy a couple of ginger snaps and another small chocolate candy bar.

Onward and upward and downward we progress, taking care not to slip into the creek during water crossings. Adam and I talk about a wide range of subjects including steroids, linguistics, and politics. Two and a quarter hours later, at about the five and a half hour point, we're back to River Road. We jog the final fraction of a mile to the car, where I'm happy to discover that I have brought the correct key with me, so we're not locked out. A couple of fellow runners, assigned to make sure nobody is abandoned on the trail, accept our thanks for waiting for us.

On the way out of the area we revisit the inimitable Poole's General Store, snag some more coffee, and chat with some nice people there. Generous Ed Schultze has given the cashier a considerable sum of money, in case hungry cashless runners show up in need of sustenance. Bravo, Ed!

Magruder Branch & Greenway Trail

(5 Feb) - ~18 miles, 272 minutes --- Another delightful jog along the route for Ed Schultze's upcoming trail marathon [2], this time from the starting line in Damascus Regional Park following Magruder Branch to Seneca Creek, and thence downstream to Riffle Ford Road. Temperatures hover around freezing and the ground is 98% covered with snow and ice. A few muddy patches hinder progress on exposed southern slopes.

Experienced ultrarunner Carolyn Gernand sets a perfect pace for me to follow, ~15 minutes/mile, as she runs "sweeper" to ensure that nobody is left behind on the trail. Carolyn strides fearlessly through streams where the trail crosses water; I tiptoe on stepping stones and try to keep my shoes dry, not always with complete success. We chat a little, but mostly crunch along quietly, scanning for blue blazes on trees and following the footprints of those ahead. At one point we startle a cluster of ducks (and they in turn startle me). Icy spots on the trail are slightly scary, particulary when our course skirts the banks of Seneca Creek.

Carolyn keeps me from dawdling at the aid stops, near miles 7 and 11 where Ed Schultze has cached munchies and drinks. We get semi-lost only once, briefly circa mile 16 where the trail takes a detour to avoid a construction area. Carolyn and I retrace our footsteps to the last definitive blazes and discover that most of the previous runners also went astray there. We take the right course and see their footprints merging again with the trail on the other side of a wide clearing.

- Sunday, February 06, 2005 at 10:12:30 (EST)

Torrential Mailstorm

Recently an email (sent to an obscure user group I'm on) triggered a cascading series of replies-to-all, reminiscent of some of the classic exponential mailstorms I witnessed in the early days of the Internet. After an initial confused newbie note came a trickle of "What does this mean?" messages ... followed by an outpouring of "Why did you send that to the whole group?" missives ... a torrent of "Stop replying to everybody!" admonitions ... and then a flood of "Don't post messages telling everybody to stop replying to the list!!" screeds. Within a couple of days, thankfully, everybody got tired (or died laughing) and the echoes faded away.

After a parallel incident last year a comrade (EMV) in another part of the governmental bureaucracy explained the algorithm that his colleagues use for handling unexpected email:

Read title in hopes that it doesn't apply to you. If necessary read the first sentence or paragraph, but as soon as you realize that it's somebody else's problem forward the email. Think of several meanings of the tiny portion of the email that you've actually read. Forward the email to anybody who could possibly be thought of as having something to do with any of these several meanings.
Special rule: if somebody forwards an email to you because they followed this procedure, it obviously means that the email contains a task that somebody is trying to pass off to somebody else. Immediately forward the email, without reading it, to as many people as you can think of. Delete the email and wipe it form your memory. If asked, claim you "must have deleted it."

(see also Webby Footprints (21 Feb 2001), Amiga Check (19 May 2004), ...)

- Saturday, February 05, 2005 at 05:37:46 (EST)


The current touring exhibit of Tutankhamun archæological materials is noteworthy because it is being run as a for-profit enterprise by a sports and entertainment conglomerate --- with major museums as ticket-collectors and money-launderers. A slice of the profits, purportedly, will go toward restoration and preservation of antiquities. But overall the production smells like the fund-raising cancer that has infiltrated many footraces and other formerly-amateur endeavors --- fund-raising that somehow always sends a big slice of the cash flow into the pockets of the organizers.

Whatever happened to the fundamental concept of doing something valuable for its own sake? On 7 Dec 2004 the New York Times editorialized about the damage that this does to the soul of the museum. It concluded:

... This exhibition essentially outsources the museum's real job --- curating content --- to a commercial company. ... [T]he sorry irony of this exhibition is that the manner of its packaging and presentation threatens to undermine the mission of cultural monuments in this country: the museums.
The Met has decided not to show Tut, Part 2, because it refuses to charge extra for special exhibitions. That honors a commitment and a cultural function that are vital to protect.

(see also Our One Ring (18 Dec 2001), Something To Sell (14 Apr 2002), For Themselves (8 Jun 2003), Circus Sponsorus (10 Oct 2003), ... )

- Friday, February 04, 2005 at 05:53:16 (EST)

Condescending Computer User

Even though it's silly and self-centered of me, sometimes I feel a bit of pride in using computer programs that are technologically superior. Or maybe it's a sense of honor, or privilege, in being allowed to do a few things well ... which reminds me of my favorite Dilbert cartoon. One of the regular gang of characters spies an old eccentric and says, "Hold it right there, Buddy. That scruffy beard ... those suspenders ... that smug expression --- you're one of those condescending Unix computer users!"

The elitist replies, "Here's a nickel, kid. Get yourself a better computer."

But he really means better software ...

(see also Elegant Technologies (10 Sep 1999), Personal Positivism (16 Nov 2002), More Elegant Technologies (8 Nov 2003), ...)

- Thursday, February 03, 2005 at 05:58:41 (EST)

The Undressed Art

Peter Steinhart's book The Undressed Art (2004, subtitled "Why We Draw") is fascinating --- not because of what it teaches about drawing, but because of what it teaches about living. Steinhart describes himself as "a naturalist and a writer" but his first love, clearly, is the almost-thankless challenge of figure drawing. Some brief excerpts follow.

from Chapter 1, "Allure":

We are less engaged in producing than we are in practicing. It's a refrain that runs through the work of even the best draftsmen and draftswomen. We do it not because we're good at it, but because there is some prospect that if we keep doing it, eventually we may be good.
That last idea is one that has run through the minds of many of the great artists. Hokusai declared at the age of seventy-three: "From the age of six I had a mania for drawing the form of things. By the time I was fifty, I had published an infinity of designs, but all that I have produced before the age of seventy is not worth taking into account. At seventy-three I have learned a little about the real structure of nature, of animals, plants, birds, fishes and insects. In consequence, when I am eighty, I shall have made more progress, at ninety I shall penetrate the mystery of things, at a hundred I shall have reached a marvelous stage, and when I am a hundred and ten, everything I do, be it a dot or a line, will be alive."

... and later in that chapter:

I still feel at home in the woods. But lately something has happened to the story, or to the stories, I used to tell. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say something has happened to my ability to go on telling the story. Perhaps I have told that story --- that nature is the fullness of our hearts and that we are draining it dry --- too many times. Perhaps people have heard it so often that it no longer has the power to stir their hearts. Perhaps in the greed of the 1990s, when overnight fortunes were made on trivial inventions, we lost patience with the long and complex uncertainties of nature and biology. Perhaps we reached a point at which too few of us were still in contact with nature to keep a critical mass of opinion that what we were doing to it mattered. Perhaps the overweaning power of corporate lobbyists and campaign contributions has worn down the hope that we can translate the story into meaningful action.

from Chapter 3, "Learning to Draw":

To draw representationally, one must increasingly evade the grasp that language tends to place on the mind, must, in a sense, replace knowing with seeing.This is something many accomplished artists have noted. Monet once said he wished he had been born blind and had vision opened to him later in life so that he could see form without knowing what the objects were that he saw in front of him.

... and later in that chapter:

In the end, you may never really feel you have retrained your brain. The harder truth of the matter is that most drawings are failures and that almost all drawing is merely practice. One draws especially to learn. You learn and you learn and you learn. You are constantly making new connections in your mind. You are constantly trying to stop old connections from redirecting your pencil or from talking your drawing into a muddled death. You are concentrating in a specialized and extraordinary way. And in the end you are drawing in order to grow within yourself. Matisse said he drew "to liberate grace and character" and saw the work as "that of understanding myself."

from Chapter 4, "Connecting":

In this sense it is not the finished drawing that counts. It is the time spent outside oneself, of which the drawing is merely a record, the ticket stub in your pocket after the concert. "The sight is a more important thing than the drawing," declared Ruskin. What counts most is the intensity of one's connection.

from Chapter 13, "Ambition":

I am consoled by the idea that failing to make a living at art has a long and honorable tradition. Ingres advised: "Do not concern yourself with other people. Concern yourself with your own work alone." Van Gogh declared, "The only thing to do is to go one's own way, to try one's best, to make the thing live." As long as one has a seriousness of purpose, one can fairly claim a kinship with such artists.
Even more than that, I am consoled by the thought that there is a great deal of human genius that is not rewarded materially, or at least not in proportion to its contribution to the general well-being. Parenting isn't. Nor is compassion. Nor is one's ability to see clearly into one's own heart. Drawing well makes me feel wiser and more intimately connected with the world. That's a huge reward.

After I had read most of The Undressed Art it became clear to me that Steinhart is talking not just about figure drawing, but rather about any worthwhile activity --- any pursuit that helps the human mind develop toward its fullest potential.

(see also Seeing And Forgetting (15 Jul 1999), Tuscan Masters (25 Jun 2000), Art Courage Life (3 Jul 2000), Conversations In Paint (18 Aug 2000), Art And Ideas (1 Sep 2001), Mirror Art (27 Dec 2001), ...)

- Tuesday, February 01, 2005 at 05:36:48 (EST)

Next Economy

Washington Post columnist Robert J. Samuelson wrote on 29 Dec 2004 about some fundamental changes that loom large for the US (and "developed" world) economy. He argues that we've had a good run, for the past half-century or more --- but several of the key curves are about to bend, maybe fold. Inspired by Samuelson's article, my big-picture synopsis of our situation:

What does all this add up to? Note that, unlike the litany of downers, technological progress can continue indefinitely. (Athough if that last bullet above doesn't turn around soon, maybe not.) And "natural resources" can continue to be discovered, invented, and exploited. (Again with some big footnotes, particularly concerning agriculture.) But those possibly-positives don't outweigh all the emergent negatives during the next several decades.

Bottom line: I predict tight times for young people who expect to live better than their parents without working nearly as hard ... and for old people who expect to retire in comfort by taxing the next generation.

(see also The Cancer Ideology (19 May 1999), Money Wisdom (20 May 2001), Pop Goes (19 Jun 2001), Bubble Busters (6 Feb 2002), Beating Expectations (13 Aug 2004), Feed Or Feedback (6 Sep 2004), ...)

- Monday, January 31, 2005 at 05:36:27 (EST)

In My Journal

A wonderful poem by William Stafford (1914-1993) was featured on the 17 Jan 2005 Writer's Almanac [1]. It's titled "What's in My Journal" (from his 1980 Passwords) and begins:
   Odd things, like a button drawer. Mean
   Things, fishhooks, barbs in your hand.
   But marbles too. A genius for being agreeable.
   Junkyard crucifixes, voluptuous
   discards. Space for knickknacks, and for
   Alaska. Evidence to hang me, or to beatify.
   Clues that lead nowhere, ...

... a good description of this ^zhurnal!

(see http://www.williamstafford.org/ ; see also Zhurnal Three (4 Apr 2002), Treasure Knowledge (26 Oct 2002), ...)

- Saturday, January 29, 2005 at 19:01:12 (EST)

Cult of Leadership

By chance recently my copy surfaced of "Leaders, Leaders Everywhere", an acerbic and funny op-ed piece by Polly Morrice in the 3 Aug 1998 New York Times. Morrice critiques the boom --- which still exists today --- in "leadership development programs", courses that purport to build take-charge charismatic top-o'-the-heap commanders. Most of these programs are, to put it gently, mush.

Morrice quotes Garry Wills's observation, "The ideal seems to be a world in which everyone is a leader --- but who would be left for them to be leading?" She continues:

The assumption that meaningful existence occurs only at the summit, preferably a corporate one, ignores how many endeavors (writing, painting, software design, among others) require the ability to work in solitude rather than command a platoon. And it undercuts the importance of essential nuts-and-bolts jobs like teaching, nursing and playing backup at a recording session. Finally, as Mr. Wills also points out, nobody assumes leadership unless others agree to become followers.

But of course, the managers who send their people off to take leadership development training think of themselves as "leaders" ...

(see also On Hubris (27 Dec 1999), Power As Perception (5 Jan 2000), Peace Scouts (17 Jun 2003), Fearless Leaders (27 Aug 2003), ...)

- Friday, January 28, 2005 at 05:37:24 (EST)

Truck Number

A useful and amusing concept in project management: Truck Number. It's equal to how many project members could be hit by trucks before the group endeavor as a whole crashes and burns.

Maximum efficiency means no redundancy: everybody does something uniquely valuable. So in the extreme, the most tightly-run projects will have Truck Number = 1 --- and thus will be extraordinarily vulnerable to failure if anything happens to anybody during the effort.

(see also One Deep (15 Nov 1999), Over Qualified (4 Mar 2004), ...)

- Thursday, January 27, 2005 at 06:21:18 (EST)

Guerrilla Warfare

Leo Tolstoy in War and Peace describes (Book IV, Part Three, Chapter 1) the means by which the Russians defeated Napoleon in the war of 1812. He uses a metaphor which still seems relevant today:
Let us imagine two men coming out to fight a duel with rapiers in accordance with all the rules of the art of fencing: the swordplay has gone on for some time; suddenly one of the duelists, realizing that he has been wounded and that it is not a joke but a matter of life and death, flings down his sword, seizes the first cudgel that comes to hand, and starts brandishing it. Then let us imagine that this combatant, who so sensibly employed the best and simplest means of attaining his end, was, for all that, inspired by the traditions of chivalry, and, wishing to conceal the nature of the conflict, contended that he had won in accordance with the rules of the art. One can imagine what bewilderment and obfuscation would result from such an account of the duel.
The fencer who insisted on the duel being fought according to the rules of the art was the French army; the opponent who flung down his sword and snatched up the cudgel was the Russian people; the men who attempted to explain it all according to the rules of swordsmanship were the historians who have written about the event.

In the next chapter, Tolstoy continues:

One of the most palpable and advantageous departures from the so-called rules of warfare is the action of scattered groups against men compressed in a mass. This type of action always occurs in wars that have taken on a national character. In such engagements, instead of one mass of men making a stand against another mass, small groups of men disperse and make isolated attacks, instantly fleeing when attacked by superior forces, and then attacking again when the opportunity presents itself. This was done by the guerrillas in Spain, by the mountain tribes in the Caucasus, and by the Russians in 1812.

Tolstoy then analyzes the vital importance of the spirit of the individual fighters --- a factor which, he argues, is far more important than the size of the forces, the quality of their weaponry, or any purported genius of the commanders on either side.

(from the Ann Dunnigan translation; see also see also Truth In Battle (11 Feb 2001), Ooze On Verst (22 Sep 2004), Irresistible Attraction (4 Oct 2004), Infinite Sky (15 Oct 2004), Untutored Voice (3 Nov 2004), Stripped Threads (15 Nov 2004), Patience and Time (11 Jan 2005), ...)

- Wednesday, January 26, 2005 at 05:34:05 (EST)

Hidden Knowledge

A friend who usually projects an image of straightlacedness made me laugh when, hearing of a couple expecting their Nth child (where N > 4), she remarked in deadpan fashion, "They know what causes that."

Similarly, one of my favorite lines in the horror movie Lake Placid is delivered by Oliver Platt in his rôle as an obnoxious genius scientist. When a local sheriff expresses incredulity at a crocodile's abilities, Platt's character replies, "They conceal information like that in books."

(Lake Placid was written by David E. Kelley; see also Digging The Stacks 1 (21 Jun 2001), Invisible Culture (24 Nov 2001), Room To Read (23 Oct 2004), ...)

- Tuesday, January 25, 2005 at 05:53:56 (EST)

Running Through the Wall

Neal Jamison's collection of essays by ultrarunners --- Running Through the Wall: Personal Encounters with the Ultramarathon --- is delightful in its diversity. There are racers who tell of their speed, and adventurers who describe their wilderness survival experiences. There are winners. There are amazing triumphs over incredible adversities.

But most fascinating to me are the honest remarks by people who fell short, who "failed", and who in the process succeeded in learning something important about themselves. Some brief, happy, memorable, metaphorical excerpts follow.

Scott Mills:

Ultrarunning is different from shorter-distance running in several ways. Perhaps the biggest difference between an ultra and a shorter distance race is the mind-set you must adopt. The mental attitude I try to take to every race is one where the goal is going the distance and finishing. That often means working with other runners instead of competing against them. In ultras I am competing against the distance and myself rather than against my fellow runners. One of the things I like about ultrarunning is how many people finish together. You don't see that in marathons or shorter distances. Another big difference is the mental toughness required. There are mental aspects that make an ultrarunner different than a shorter-distance runner. You must be able to realize that no matter how bad you feel, it is probably not going to get worse, and in most cases it will get better if you can mentally regroup and just keep going.

Ann Trason:

This might seem really silly, but I look at Western States as life in a day. The start is like being born. Then in the first mile I'm one year old and so on. The first 16 miles I run like a child, becoming a teenager. I'm having fun and I think I am going to run a great race. I have this adolescent confidence that I can do anything. I am totally hyper until about mile 20, where, approaching adulthood, I start to worry about what I'm going to do with my life. Then I hit the canyons, and it's like having a midlife crisis. That's where things can start to go wrong. Then I'm 50 years old, cruising along, looking forward to retirement, which is eventually marked by a great downhill section at mile 60. Retirement is followed by a horrid section around mile 78, and I'm forced to remind myself, Well, Ann, you know you're 78 years old, so you're a little tired now. And at the end, when I'm 99 and 100 years old, I look really bad. I always look bad when I'm running. Every year brings its own unique ups and downs, but that little mind game helps me get through it year after year.

Clark T. W. Zealand:

One important lesson ultrarunning has taught me is to have a good attitude, no matter what happens in a race. After all, it is the hard times and challenges in life that truly test your character. To be an ultrarunner means week after week, I push myself to the utmost limits of what I can do. With each test, I learn how to push those limits farther. Then, the next time I'll be able to push even harder.

Francesca Conte:

In races like the Arkansas 100, the real competition is between me and my own body and mind, not with other runners. Fast times come from within me. It does not matter who is around. All that matters is how much I am willing to endure. My first goal is to always enjoy it. I like the competition and I like the challenge, but what I like the most is the freedom of putting my shoes on and covering so much ground in so little time. I hope to never get caught up in racing so much that I forget what it is all about. I always want to allow myself to cut a run short, or to take the trail with the better view, even if it does not fit into my weekly mileage. I always want to smell the pine trees. I always want, in every race, to take the time to look up at the sky at night, because remembering how lucky I am matters more than winning.

Keith Knipling:

In the process of completely exhausting myself, I connect with an inner part of me ordinarily veiled by the everyday distractions of life. During that short time spent on a trail in the mountains, my life is reduced to its simplest terms. Most ultrarunners are people who find goodness and joy in difficult times, who see beyond the misery to the beauty of nature, and who truly realize the elemental and important aspects of life. Going for a run always clears my head, but running 100 miles distills my soul.

(see also Ultra Man (8 May 2002), Hat Run 2004 (2 Apr 2004), Dead Brain Cell Theory (6 Apr 2004), Eric Clifton (1 Oct 2004), Tussey Mountainback 2004 (8 Oct 2004), And Then The Vulture Eats You (9 Dec 2004), ...)

- Sunday, January 23, 2005 at 09:54:29 (EST)

Endless Stairmaster

In J. R. R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings there are countless tales of exceptional physical endurance. I can accept most of them. The three-day ultramarathon of Gimli, Legolas, and Aragorn across the plains of Rohan (~135 miles) is reasonable enough (see Two Towers, 29 Dec 2002). So are the long, desperate marches undertaken by various of the hobbits. Challenging, yes. Impossible, no --- given enough time, water, food, and hard work.

But in LotR there's one crucial feat that gets little recognition, but which I find absolutely incredible: the climb up the Endless Stair by Gandalf and the Balrog, from the lowest dungeon of Moria to the highest peak of the mountain Celebdil, aka Zirakzigil.

Yes, neither Balrog nor Gandalf were human. But to climb even a few flights of stairs is exhausting enough. To race up more than a mile of elevation gain? In hot pursuit of (and/or flight from) a deadly enemy? Without stopping for food or drink? I don't think so!

- Saturday, January 22, 2005 at 05:55:59 (EST)

Einstein's Credo

Kind correspondent Lila Fenton shares the following translation of a speech, "My Credo", given by Albert Einstein to the German League of Human Rights, Berlin, in the autumn of 1932:
It is a special blessing to belong among those who can and may devote their best energies to the contemplation and exploration of objective and timeless things. How happy and grateful I am for having been granted this blessing, which bestows upon one a large measure of independence from one's personal fate and from the attitude of one's contemporaries. Yet this independence must not inure us to the awareness of the duties that constantly bind us to the past, present and future of humankind at large.
Our situation on this earth seems strange. Every one of us appears here involuntarily and uninvited for a short stay, without knowing the whys and the wherefore. In our daily lives we only feel that man is here for the sake of others, for those whom we love and for many other beings whose fate is connected with our own. I am often worried at the thought that my life is based to such a large extent on the work of my fellow human beings and I am aware of my great indebtedness to them.
I do not believe in freedom of the will. Schopenhauer's words: "Man can do what he wants, but he cannot will what he wills" accompany me in all situations throughout my life and reconcile me with the actions of others even if they are rather painful to me. This awareness of the lack of freedom of will preserves me from taking too seriously myself and my fellow men as acting and deciding individuals and from losing my temper.
I never coveted affluence and luxury and even despise them a good deal. My passion for social justice has often brought me into conflict with people, as did my aversion to any obligation and dependence I do not regard as absolutely necessary. I always have a high regard for the individual and have an insuperable distaste for violence and clubmanship. All these motives made me into a passionate pacifist and anti-militarist. I am against any nationalism, even in the guise of mere patriotism.
Privileges based on position and property have always seemed to me unjust and pernicious, as did any exaggerated personality cult. I am an adherent of the ideal of democracy, although I well know the weaknesses of the democratic form of government. Social equality and economic protection of the individual appeared to me always as the important communal aims of the state.
Although I am a typical loner in daily life, my consciousness of belonging to the invisible community of those who strive for truth, beauty, and justice has preserved me from feeling isolated.
The most beautiful and deepest experience a man can have is the sense of the mysterious. It is the underlying principle of religion as well as all serious endeavour in art and science. He who never had this experience seems to me, if not dead, then at least blind. To sense that behind anything that can be experienced there is a something that our mind cannot grasp and whose beauty and sublimity reaches us only indirectly and as a feeble reflection, this is religiousness. In this sense I am religious. To me it suffices to wonder at these secrets and to attempt humbly to grasp with my mind a mere image of the lofty structure of all that there is.

(from the Appendix of Einstein by Michael White and John Gribbin, 1994, and the Albert Einstein Archives, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel; see also Foam On The Ocean (23 Jul 2000), Simply Good Hearted (25 Apr 2002), Einsteinian Advice (25 Nov 2002), ...)

- Thursday, January 20, 2005 at 17:16:45 (EST)

Dejah Thoris

Some books leave an entire world behind them in the reader's memory. Others bequeath only a few words, perhaps a single image. Although Edgar Rice Burroughs was a hugely popular writer in his time, the traces in my mind are faint from a dozen of his novels that I raced through as a teenager. Besides a scene of young Tarzan (improbably teaching himself to read English from a picture book), for me the Burroughs oeuvre boils down to one delightful phrase which occurs repeatedly in the John Carter of Mars series:
... the incomparable Dejah Thoris ...

Dejah's transcendent beauty has inspired countless fantasy artists in their attempts to portray a pulchritude that is --- by definition --- impossible to depict. (But thanks for trying, guys!)

(see also On Incomparables (3 Oct 1999), Incom Parable (26 Sep 2000), Fayaway Sail (23 Nov 2000), Pregnant Sails (26 Jun 2001), ...)

- Wednesday, January 19, 2005 at 06:36:54 (EST)

Winter Fantasies

The new year begins with a decent fortnight of footing, plus a heavy dose of hubris as I fantasize the weeks ahead:

How much (if any) of this will actually occur? Much depends on health, family, work, and weather. My goal remains simply to enjoy myself, regardless of speed (or rather, my lack thereof). Along the way, recent hoof times on trails and treadmills have brought happy experiences, simply For Themselves:

Glowing Green Eyes

(2 Jan 2005) - 10+ miles, 126 minutes --- Another fun evening jog with Adam Safir [1], lengthened a bit for me when I get lost trying to find Adam's house on the winding streets between Walter Reed Annex, the Capital Beltway, and Rock Creek. We proceed upstream, turn north on the Kensington Parkway, and then take University Blvd. through Wheaton to Sligo Creek Trail, where we encounter a couple of big dogs, their eyes shining eerily bright as they retroreflect in our headlamps. (They don't threaten us, thankfully.) The weather is pleasant, ~45°F --- infinitely more comfortable than yesterday's record heat --- and the conversation is good ... personal horror stories, training plans, and comments about the neighborhoods we're passing through.

Fog or Phantasm?

(4 Jan) - 8 miles, 85 minutes --- to Bethesda & back on the Georgetown Branch Trail, 7-8:30pm, nice ~50°F evening. The water fountain (near milepost 3.5) is fixed, thank goodness, but there are unusual muddy patches between the Wisconsin Avenue tunnel and the East-West Highway bridge. The air seems somewhat foggy, particularly above Rock Creek --- or is it another one of those Ocular Migraines that I seem to be subject to on occasion? I encounter several cyclists on the trail, with their blinding headlights, and overtake one walker bearing a flickering red LED on his backpack.

Treadmill Traveler

(7, 9, 10, 11, 12 Jan) - 5*5 miles --- On business travel for the week I run in the hotel "health club": five treadmill miles on Friday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday ... zero gradient, just trotting along and wiping sweat off my face every minute or two with a beach towel, slowing briefly to a walk every mile in order to take a drink and recover. A gradually improving sense of pace lets me increase the average speed steadily during the week, so my times respectively are 53, 53, 49, 48, and 46.5 minutes ...

Mud Wallow

(14 Jan) - 11 miles, 135 minutes --- I dither about where to go, then finally set out at 4:15pm along the Georgetown Branch route to Bethesda. The cold front has passed and the trail has some puddles, but nothing to impede jogging. I feel a bit weak but decide to carry on and do my habitual loop around NIH. Winds increase and the temperature falls into the lower 40's as I go north on Old Georgetown Road; I'm getting seriously tired now, and somewhat chilled. As the sun sets I don a headlamp and turn onto Cedar Lane.

The adventure begins when I reach Rock Creek Trail and commence the final 3.5 mile trek toward home. Heavy rains overnight have flooded many sections of the trail between Cedar and Connecticut, and where the waters have receded there are rippled muddy sloughs. It's dark now, and I frequently attempt to zig-zag off the asphalt to avoid wetting my feet --- but usually that leads to swamps and more moisture rather than less.

Then at Connecticut Avenue I foolishly follow the usual trail route, rather than taking the alternative high road to cross at the traffic light. The pools of water increase in size and depth, but I navigate them. Then I arrive at the underpass. It looks passable, but as soon as I step into the mud deposits there I discover that they're much deeper and wetter than any previous patches. My shoes sink completely into the muck and are almost pulled off by the suction. My socks are covered to above the ankle. I almost slip a couple of times, but luckily catch myself (and get mud on a glove in the process).

The final few miles are slow but uneventful. My pace begins ~11 minutes/mile but slows to ~13 at the end. A 4-day-old crescent moon glimmers through the clouds.

Three Merry Men

(16 Jan) - 4+ miles, 50 minutes --- Ken Swab comes by and gives me a lift to meet Adam Safir at Walter Reed Annex, where the trio commences a conversational jog at 6:30pm. It's slightly above freezing, so puddles remain liquid and muddy patches are still sloppy. We jog together down Ireland Drive to Rock Creek Trail and follow the MitP route south to join the Georgetown Branch Trail, and thence circle back around the other side of WRx. Glows from reflected city lights (and a first-quarter moon behind the clouds) make flashlights almost optional, though some shadowy rough spots threaten to twist ankles. I become tired and fold without trying a true through-the-woods unpaved trail adventure (which Adam would like to do some day).

Towpath Ramble

(17 Jan) - 4 miles, 48 minutes --- Comrade Ken Swab introduces me to part of the C&O Canal that I've never seen before. We start at Lock #7 and jog upstream to Lock #11 (milepost 9), then return (with a little extra to pass beyond milepost 7). It's frigid at 25°F plus intermittent winds in our face outbound, in spite of the bright afternoon sunlight. I wear corduroy jeans on top of two pairs of running shorts, two shirts, gloves, and a headband which keeps my ears warm enough. Apparently the top of my head doesn't need protection against the elements.

Ken is far better a naturalist than I; he reports that among the creatures he pointed out to me:

They were black vultures, not the more common turkey vultures (which have red heads). The white wing spots are characteristic. So not a bad day --- run 4 mi., see ducks (seemed to be mallards to my untrained eye), six black vultures, a cardinal, a (likely great blue) heron, and a pair of deer.

- Monday, January 17, 2005 at 19:44:48 (EST)

Project Management 101

Recently I took an introductory class in Project Management. Much of the material was silly, or irrelevant, or obvious --- but there were also fascinating ideas that struck me as worth remembering, maybe even pondering. Some quotes and fragments from my notes (with ^z asides in italicized parentheses):

The main lesson I learned from the course? Honesty is key to good project management. The prime directive should be to make things explicit --- including assumptions, decisions, and their implications --- so as to avoid unpleasant surprises, especially when working on large-scale, complex, collaborative endeavors.

(see also Better Faster Cheaper (29 May 1999), Common Understanding (8 Oct 1999), One Deep (15 Nov 1999), Big Lessons (17 Feb 2001), Project Management Proverbs (2 Jun 2002), Triple Think (25 Jul 2002), Motorcycle Maintenance (6 Jun 2003), ...)

- Sunday, January 16, 2005 at 16:43:11 (EST)

Mystic Mantra

Among my favorite bumper stickers are ones with a philosophical or existential slant, combined with linguistic whimsy ... like the classic VISUALIZE WHIRLED PEAS. Recently I had to chuckle when I spotted a new one on the car in front of me, featuring a yin-yang motif in the center. It read:
That was Zen - This is Tao

(see also Tone Woods (5 Oct 2002), Got Library (17 Sep 2003), Be The Change (31 Oct 2003), Philosophical Bumpersticker (23 May 2004), Dyslexic Metahumor (26 Aug 2004), ...)

- Saturday, January 15, 2005 at 18:06:22 (EST)

How Many Left?

One of the benefits of traveling is the chance to discover new radio stations. During a recent trip some friends and I picked up a mostly-English-language India-interest FM signal on the rental car receiver. The broadcasts we heard while driving around included some great Bollywood show-tune music, off-the-wall commercial advertisements, and funny listener call-ins.

At one point a little girl phoned to pose a riddle, one which works best when pronounced with a Hindi-background accent:

"Six teacups on my head. One fell down. How many left?"

(Spoiler warning! --- solution follows)

The announcer tried, but couldn't get the child to explain the puzzle; whatever he guessed, she replied, "No!" One of my comrades speculated that the girl was too young to actually understand it. The trick is a meta-linguistic one: if the victim says "Five?" then the riddler says, "Wrong --- only one left my head!"; if the victim says "One?" then the response is "Wrong --- five are left!"

Hmmm ... perhaps the joke is related to the classic, "Do you like that button?" asked while pointing to a fastener on somebody's shirt. If s/he says "Yes" then you tear the button off and hand it over; if "No" then you tear the button off and throw it away ...

(see also Semiotic Arsenal (20 Nov 2003), Undead Traffic Incident (20 Mar 2004), Early Morning Phone In (21 Dec 2004), ...)

- Friday, January 14, 2005 at 14:32:33 (EST)

Patience and Time

In Book III, Part II, Chapter 16 of Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace the wise old Commander in Chief of the Russian army at the battle of Borodino, General Kutuzov, gives Prince Andrei Bolkonsky some excellent advice:
... And changing the subject, Kutuzov began talking of the Turkish war and the peace that had been concluded. "Yes, I have been much blamed," he said, "both for the war and for the peace . . . but everything came at the right time. 'Everything comes to him who knows how to wait.' And there were as many advisers there as there are here," he went on, returning to a subject that evidently occupied him. "Oh, those advisors, those advisors!" he said. "If we had listened to them we'd still be in Turkey: we should not have made peace, and the war would not be over. Always in haste, and the more haste the less speed. If Kamensky hadn't died first, he'd have come to grief there. He stormed fortresses with thirty thousand men. It's not very difficult to take a fortress: what is difficult is to win a campaign. And for that it's not storming and attacking that are wanted, but patience and time. Kamensky dispatched soldiers to Rustchuk, but I dispatched only them --- patience and time --- and I took more fortresses than he did, and made those Turks eat horseflesh besides!" he said, with a nod of his head. "And the French shall too! You mark my words!" he concluded, growing more vehement and pounding his chest. "I'll make them eat horseflesh!" And again tears shone in his eyes.

"But we shall have to accept battle, shall we not?" asked Prince Andrei.

"Very likely. If that's what everybody wants, then there's no help for it. . . . But, believe you me, my dear boy, there is no more powerful adversary than those two: patience and time --- they will do it all. But the trouble is . . . that the advisers don't see it that way. Some want this, some want that. . . . What is one to do?" he asked, as if expecting an answer. "What would you do?" he repeated, and his eyes shone with a deep, shrewd look. "I'll tell you what to do, and what I do. When in doubt, my dear fellow ---" he paused, "do nothing." He spoke with deliberate emphasis.

... counsel which I find increasingly true as I become an ever-older, ever-slower runner ... and likewise relevant elsewhere in life.

(from the translation by Ann Dunnigan)

- Tuesday, January 11, 2005 at 13:46:11 (EST)

House Proud

Here's an absolutely stunning photograph taken by John Lei, from a New York Times article by Christopher Mason titled "For the Baron of Yonkers, a Gothic Revival". The caption explains that it depicts "Kohle Yohannan, a decorative arts historian who ... bought a 19th-century castle with views of the Hudson River for $469,000. An octagonal ballroom ... provides a setting for his animal trophies."

kohle yohannon room

I must change my life, to model myself and my surroundings on this image --- and all it implies about our civilization.

(click for an enlargement; photo from the 23 Dec 2004 issue of the New York Times "House & Home" section, © NYT; see also Something To Sell (14 Apr 2002), More Fun Less Stuff (1 Oct 2002), For Themselves (8 Jun 2003), Cut The Volume (5 Mar 2004), Dalai Lama Birthday Gift (24 Aug 2004), Conspicuous Anticonsumption (17 Sep 2004), ...)

- Wednesday, January 05, 2005 at 06:44:26 (EST)

Comic Filters

The local newspaper is about to do yet another purge of its comic pages, getting rid of some old strips and inserting some new ones --- a process that apparently provokes more furious reader feedback than the publication of out-and-out mistakes, ridiculous editorials, offensive advertisements, or just about any other feature of the paper. At the dinner table, members of my family started free-associating about which cartoon series were the most expendable, for which reasons. We came up with several filter-function proposals.

Drop any comic strip that:

Other criteria for comic critiques?

- Tuesday, January 04, 2005 at 05:54:33 (EST)

Floral Cabin

What do you call a little beach hut decorated with highly æsthetic flower arrangements?
An ikebana-cabana!

(or maybe an ikecabana?)

- Monday, January 03, 2005 at 05:57:53 (EST)

Death and Life

Retired newsman Bob Barnes reflects on his 20 years of writing obits --- more than 15,000 of them --- in a good-humored memoir in today's Washington Post. Among the many gems in his essay:
It was longstanding Post policy to include the cause of death in our obituaries, and we kept a mental tab of the more unusual ways in which people died. We once published the obituary of a psychiatrist who drowned in a sensory deprivation tank. We had a man who perished in a midair hang-gliding collision and a retired ambassador who died in an in-line skating accident. It was a sad and tragic death, but we all thought it was a class act that the former diplomat was Rollerblading at the age of 79.
We wrote the obligatory obituaries of world leaders and celebrities. But mainly we wrote about ordinary people, the rank-and-file bureaucrats and businessmen, doctors, nurses, teachers, letter carriers, plumbers, taxi drivers, soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, most of whom had never had their name in a newspaper. They were the people who kept the social machinery running. Without them, there would be no civilization. I liked to call them the real people. They deserved an obituary in The Washington Post. There were gems and treasures among them, and real heroes who survived hell-on-earth experiences, recovered and returned to society, wanting no more than the love of family and friends and the chance to make a quiet contribution.

Barnes notes that "success has many fathers" (as illustrated by countless obits of atomic scientists, computer technology inventors, etc.) while "failure is an orphan" (apparently no one has ever died who was involved in the Ford Edsel project, space program disasters, or any other horribly unsuccessful enterprise). Bereaved family members and friends have a tendency to omit inconvenient episodes in the recently deceased's past. Ex-spouses seem to have the sharpest memories.

But overall, as Bob Barnes observes about his career on the death beat, "You have to love humor and irony, pathos and mystery, tragedy and romance. You have to be reverent and irreverent. You have to laugh a little or you'll go crazy."

True also for life in general ...

(see "You Really Have to Love Life to Write about Death Every Day ..." in the Washington Post of 2 Jan 2005; see also McGs (28 Feb 2002), ...)

- Sunday, January 02, 2005 at 10:57:26 (EST)

Fifteen League Ley Lines

Last year ended with 1152 miles in the jogging logbook, including the Washington Birthday Marathon 2004, the 50k Hat Run 2004, the Tussey Mountainback 2004 fifty miler, and the Marine Corps Marathon 2004. Spreadsheet analysis may follow some day, but meanwhile I've updated the topographic map and aerial photo of Ten League Ley Lines to include several new non-competitive journeys around the extended neighborhood (click on the thumbnails to see more detailed images):
Ten Leauge Ley Lines Topo Ten League Ley Lines Aerial

The major additions to the routes of 2002 and 2003 include urban and suburban crossovers between the Sligo Creek/Northwest Branch/Northeast Branch basin and Rock Creek Trail, plus the short but sweet Anacostia River Trail.

And for the record, the final five ^z outings of 2004 (plus the initial sadly short sally of 2005) were as follows:

Moon Shadows

(21 Dec 2004) - 7+ miles, 78 minutes --- Cat Stevens is on heavy rotation for the mental eight-track this evening, as a gibbous moon casts strong shadows across the trails. I'm a trifle underdressed for the temperature (~30F): thin tights and a single pair of shorts makes for some goose bumps south of the equator, and a wool floppy hat leaves the ear lobes rather exposed. Too many cars are still commuting along Beach Drive at 7pm and I experience brief delays where Rock Creek Trail crosses the road.

The wildlife is too smart to be out tonight, but three cyclists zoom by and there are also two dog walkers and a strolling couple. There's ice on the shores of the stream, and frozen puddles by trailside. I shuffle gingerly across one slippery patch on the route itself.

My pace is brisk (for me), ~10:15 on the measured mile segments. From home I cross Walter Reed Annex and trot on RCT from miles 2.3 to 4.0 where I reverse course and proceed south to 1.3, thence home again on the Georgetown Branch and neighborhood streets. Happy Winter Solstice!

Burgundybow Flood

(23 Dec) - 8 miles, 86 minutes --- Off work early, finished with errands, so there's time for a quick jog at 3:30pm. Torrential rains an hour ago turn normally-dry areas into water hazards. In Walter Reed Annex the forest trail ("Ireland Drive") is lined with fallen leaves that form mini-riverbanks and channelize runoff down the path where it can't be avoided. Once I reach Rock Creek Trail the puddles are even deeper, as are the feeder streams that cut across the normal route. I zigzag and tiptoe as best as I can but still my socks are soon wet. When I reach Connecticut Avenue the underpass is flooded, apparently a couple of feet deep, with ugly brown mudwater ... so I chicken out and reverse course. I meet a couple of young lady joggers and caution them, probably unnecessarily.

When I set out, in shorts and windshirt plus gloves, it is so warm (~50F) that I leave my cap at home. But after an hour the rain stops and the temperature drops; winds roar through the treetops, rip the clouds, and expose shreds of deep blue sky. I continue at slightly-sub-11:00 pace. Rock Creek has risen higher than I can ever remember seeing it. At the Georgetown Branch trestle I discover that rushing waters have surrounded the easternmost pylon and cover the trail to a depth of 3-4 inches. I wade through, since this is one of my traditional measured course segments (MitP mile 23), and even though my shoes make squishy-squanky sounds for a while I feel good and finish the mile in 9:57.

During the final two-mile trot home the sun is setting behind me, and low in the southeast I see a beautiful fragment of an unusually dark crimson-colored semi-rainbow. Apparently almost all the blue sunlight has been filtered out by the intervening atmosphere, leaving only the red end of the spectrum ...


(26 Dec) - 11+ miles, 143 minutes --- Nice evening ramble and fun conversation with Adam Safir (http://anstyn.com/) starting ~6:15pm at Walter Reed Annex. The temperature is ~30F. I'm comfortable and Adam is too warm during the first half of the trip, but as the wind picks up and the air cools down (and our pace slows) I get slightly chilly while Adam feels just right. We follow Rock Creek to Cedar Lane, navigating carefully across icy patches and semi-frozen mud wallows; then it's Cedar past NIH to Old Georgetown and thence south to Bethesda, returning home via Georgetown Branch (turning north at Jones Mill Road to get Adam back home on time).

We discover that we have identical LED headlamps but slightly differing philosophies about training, web development, the risks of jogging alone through the woods, walk breaks, and the appropriateness of blocking public roads for running events. Both of us are more-or-less lapsed Utilitarians.


(28 Dec) - 9 miles, 97 minutes --- Important safety tip: don't watch a certain scene of the movie Dodgeball right before going out on a run. In the film Lance Armstrong makes a cameo appearance. At a critical moment he meets a character who's about to drop out of the competition. Lance tells him:

"Quit? You know, once I was thinking of quitting when I was diagnosed with brain, lung and testicular cancer all at the same time. But with the love and support of my friends and family, I got back on the bike and won the Tour de France five times in a row. But I'm sure you have a good reason to quit. So what are you dying of that's keeping you from the finals?"

If, like me today, you've just changed into jogging garb and are about to hit the road when you see that ... well, suffice it to say that you're not going to feel good about wimping out just because it's a little chilly. What Would Lance Do? Carry on!

So today's loop is a brisk one, especially since the temperature is ~30F. I proceed at ~10:30 pace on my Sligo-Wheaton-Kensington Loop. (from home to Sligo Creek via Forest Glen, north to University Blvd., then west through Wheaton to Kensington, continuing along Connecticut Ave. to Washington St., thence to Kensington Parkway and homeward along Rock Creek Trail.)

A small detour lets me get in a timed mile near the end, the somewhat downhill MitP #21, which zips by in 9:15. Icy patches along the route cause occasional pauses. I turn on my headlamp at ~5pm, strobing to deter turning auto traffic, and arrive back home at 6pm.

Eastern Semi-urban Loop

(30 Dec) - 16+ miles, 189 minutes --- Off work 3 hours early, wife & daughter out shopping with friends, one son at the movies, the other son immersed in computer/video activities --- so left to my own devices I set out for another long slow jog.

But first I dither: west or east? ... north or south? ... trail or pavement? ... loop or out-and-back? After eating a banana and drinking some grape juice eventually (~1:30pm) I'm off. My feet take me along Dale Drive and Colesville Road to Sligo Creek Trail, then downstream into Prince George's County (elapsed time 61 minutes). I pause at every bridge to observe the waters: rusty orange-brown in places, white froth in others, pellucid elsewhere. Rings of ripples expand outward from a pair of feeding ducks.

At East-West Highway my die is cast: instead of hooking back to Wheaton via Northwest Branch Trail I turn southwest along Riggs Road and follow it into DC, past car washes, gas stations, and tiny boarded-up houses. The street becomes first Missouri, then Military Road. A sewer overflows and makes a smelly puddle. Metrobuses roar past. At crosswalks I dodge SUVs which swerve into abrupt unsignalled turns. I wish "Happy New Year!" to more than a dozen folks along the way, and almost all of them return the benediction.

In Rock Creek Park I scramble down an embankment and join the so-called Valley Trail (which is actually quite hilly). Mud accumulates on my shoes, so I pause at a log to scrape some of it off. The trail detours to avoid construction sites. Workers finishing up their day adjust hard hats and rev diesel engines.

A begloved behatted beparka'd lady asks me, "Aren't you cold?" My reply: "Not as long as I keep moving!" Although the temperature is in the 40's there are still frozen puddles in shadowed woodsy areas, cracked like broken glass. I've only eaten half of the Clif Bar I'm carrying but my 20 oz. bottle of orange Gatorade runs out about mile 12, maybe 10 minutes before I reach Boundary Bridge and reenter Maryland. In the final dash home I register two sub-11 minute miles. My average pace is probably just a bit under 12:00. When I enter the house, the family reports that my clothes really stink.

Hot Lavender Trail Loop

(1 Jan 2005) - 4+ miles, 54 minutes --- Temperature in the upper 60's, near-record heat for New Year's Day. With great ambition I set forth at noon, hoping to do a major circuit, but within a mile am reduced to walking and slow jogging. I'm probably not recovered yet from a longish loop two days ago.

So today is a slow tour of the so-called Purple Line trail, down one side of Rock Creek and back up the other. Three teenage girls are standing by the water, talking and tossing sticks; a turkey vulture orbits overhead; off-road cyclists leave deep ruts in the mud. A cloud of small gray birds (mourning doves?) scold me as they flee my approach. I pick up an abandoned plastic yogurt tub and carry it until I find a trash can near home.

(see also Ten League Ley Lines (23 Nov 2003), ...)

- Saturday, January 01, 2005 at 19:44:14 (EST)

Year in Ideas 2004

This year's so-called "Year in Ideas" feature in a recent Sunday New York Times magazine was, alas, as forgettable as last year's. Perhaps there simply aren't any new good ideas? Or perhaps it's almost impossible to recognize them, at least not until decades later? Or perhaps the kind of folks who want to write articles about the "year in ideas" aren't the right kind of folks to succeed at that task?

In any event, see Year In Ideas (16 Dec 2003) for last year's rant on this topic. As for 2004, my only observation is that one of the showcased concepts --- the change of the US Army's metaphorical model of warfare from (American) football to soccer --- appeared as a front-page Wall Street Journal article in the 1980-1981 timeframe. (I remember it distinctly; sorry, but I haven't yet found the precise reference.) The more things change ...

- Thursday, December 30, 2004 at 05:47:03 (EST)

You Must Believe

To do something amazing, you have to be lucky --- and you also have to be prepared. In the latter half of the 1960s Cambridge grad student Jocelyn Bell (aka Susan Jocelyn Bell Burnell) was both. She explains what she did in "Pliers, Pulsars, and Extreme Physics", her 2003 Presidential Address to the Royal Astronomical Society. Bell's radio telescope generated 100 feet of strip-chart recorder paper every day, with the crucial data encapsulated in a squiggly line of red ink. Her initial discovery came after she had scanned miles of wiggles:
A scientist, particularly somebody trained in the physical sciences, has a brain that stores problems, such as things one doesn't understand. Those of us who have trained as physicists have learnt to be economical with our brains. We know that if we understand something we don't need to worry, but if there's something we don't understand, we file it somewhere. In among each 400 feet of chart paper there was occasionally a quarter inch that I did not understand. What niggled me about that quarter inch was that it didn't look like a scintillating quasar, and it didn't look like interference. It was a bit of a puzzle. A further puzzle was that it was intermittent. The first few times I saw this I noted it as a query. But by the second or third time I'd seen this funny, scruffy signal my brain cells were beginning to connect and said "I've seen this sort of signal before. I've seen this sort of signal, from this bit of the sky before, haven't I?" And then it's easy. You get out the charts from previous runs that cover that bit of sky; you spread them out all over the floor so that you can see them, and you realize that yes, you have occasionally seen a quarter inch of signal like that before from that bit of the sky.

The immediate result?

People have asked me "Was it exciting discovering the first pulsar?" No! It was scary and it was worrying. Finding subsequent ones was great, but finding the first one was not. Tony was quite convinced that there was something wrong, that it was an artificial something or other. And of course the place you start is with your own equipment. I had wired up this radio telescope and was scared that I had literally got some wires crossed, that my stupidity was about to be discovered by the combined brains of Cambridge, and I might be leaving without a PhD. ...

But the signal Bell saw wasn't manmade noise, or a glitch in the equipment, or a misinterpretation of something mundane. It was a flicker of energy emitted by a spinning neutron star, the remnant of a supernova explosion. She explains:

So what would a neutron star be like? There's just over 1.4 solar masses jammed in a 10 km radius sphere. The gravitational field is enormous. The work put into climbing Everest on Earth is comparable to climbing 1 cm on the surface of one of these stars. Even light on the surface is bent by the gravitational field, so you can see tens of degrees over the horizon, and clocks run at half the rate they do on Earth. There's also a very strong gradient to the gravity so I wouldn't recommend going to visit a neutron star. The gravitational force on the lower part of your body is so much stronger than on the upper part that "spaghettification" and rupture take place. There's also some very interesting condensed matter physics. In brief, unlike any other kind of star that is a burning ball of gas, a neutron star is like a raw egg. It's got a solid shell on the outside and some very funny gooey liquids on the inside. More technically, the shell is believed to be an iron-56 polymer with a Young's modulus about 106 times that of steel. The very strong magnetic field --- about 108T --- makes the atoms in the star aspherical. The iron atoms lock together like tent poles, producing polymers. The polymers stick together and are incredibly strong. Inside the crust is a region rich in neutrons. Elements that are radioactive here on Earth cannot decay in that regime, basically because beta decay is prevented. Go in a little bit farther and inverse beta decay takes place, so protons and electrons merge to give yet more neutrons and it gets even more neutron rich. Inside that is a layer of neutron superfluid or probably two layers, one being S symmetry, the other being P symmetry. The core of the star we honestly aren't sure about. It may not be the same for all pulsars. Some may be solid, some may be liquid. The Fermi energy is high enough to create bosons so Bose-Einstein condensates are possible. Technically, the Fermi energy is probably high enough to create strange quarks. In short, you have a star 20 km across, weighing the same as the Sun, with immense magnetic and electric fields (108T and 109Vcm-1 respectively) spinning on its axis up to several hundred times per second. This is extreme physics.
There is more. The first planets discovered beyond the solar system were orbiting a pulsar. Why there are planets round a pulsar is another question. The roundest known thing in the universe is the orbit of a pulsar round its companion star. It's round to 1 mm in the radius of the orbit. And if you drop anything on the surface of a neutron star, it hits the deck at half the speed of light. So, these are bizarre objects, hard to believe, but we are forced to believe in them.

That's such a lovely summary of an amazing aspect of the wonderful world that we live in --- a marvelous universe that, thank goodness, forces us to believe in its magic.

(Excerpts from the Fall 2004 issue of Radiations, the newsletter of Sigma Pi Sigma; original article copyright Jocelyn Bell Burnell and Blackwell Publishing; see also Fast Times (11 Sep 1999), Relativity Plus Astrophysics (29 Mar 2000), Pulsar Waves (6 Apr 2000), Spinning Sources (11 Apr 2000), Qpo Lmxb (8 Jan 2001), Fast Forward (21 Feb 2002), ...)

- Tuesday, December 28, 2004 at 19:55:50 (EST)

Celebrity Takeover

Imagine: what if large numbers of entertainers --- TV stars, movie actors, professional athletes, pop-music idols, best-selling authors, supermodels, radio talk-show hosts, etc. --- suddenly decided to run for public office in all parts of the country? Given recent history, most of them would win.

Hmmm ... given the current state of the State, would a carnival government be such a bad thing?

- Monday, December 27, 2004 at 05:54:01 (EST)

Yes, Virginia

In September 1897 Francis P. Church, an editor of the New York Sun, replied to a little girl's question, "Is there a Santa Claus?" with:
Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except what they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men's or children's, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.
Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus! It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The external light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.
Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies. You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that's no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.
You tear apart the baby's rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.
No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives and lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.

And likewise the hearts of adults ...

(see also My Business (30 May 1999), Christmas Faith (23 Dec 2000), More Fun Less Stuff (1 Oct 2002), ...)

- Sunday, December 26, 2004 at 05:53:43 (EST)

Xmas Chrononauts

Judith Krummeck, dulcet-voiced announcer of radio station WBJC, is reading the news one recent afternoon. She comments on likely heavy traffic during the imminent late-December weekend:
"The government says that's a record number for Christmas time travel around the region."

And what's the destination of this seasonal time-traveling frenzy? Perhaps the vicinity of a certain famous Middle Eastern manger, a couple of millennia ago? Could this be the explanation for why there was no room at the inn?

(see also Christmas Faith (23 Dec 2000), Judith Krummeck Fan Club (26 Feb 2003), Semiotic Arsenal (20 Nov 2003), Undead Traffic Incident (20 Mar 2004), ...)

- Friday, December 24, 2004 at 13:01:30 (EST)

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