^zhurnal 0.56

Howdy, pilgrim! You're in volume 0.56 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 = 0.55 ... complete list at bottom of page ... send comments & suggestions to "z (at) his (dot) com" ... tnx!)

Boys and Cookies


Important safety tip: if you plan to grow up to be wild and crazy and tough, don't let your Mother take a photo of you and a friend being incredibly cute as toddlers!

- Friday, September 15, 2006 at 05:06:09 (EDT)

Simple Names

Some time ago I tried to think of the scientific journals that had the "best" names, the catchiest titles. Straight off the top of my head I came up with:

It's hard to imagine anything shorter and more to-the-point. Imagine my surprise recently when, glancing at an analysis of "high-impact journals", I saw the top three for molecular biology: precisely the above short list! In physics, chemistry, etc. highest honors were also held by Science and Nature, though sometimes in the opposite order. Sure, the rankings are based on citation-frequency analysis, not necessarily a definitive way to pick a winner. But no doubt this is another case of the rich getting richer — potentially prestigious papers tend to be submitted to those journals which have published blockbusters in the past, and the trend snowballs.

(cf. Science Watch, Jan/Feb 2005, "Hottest Journals of the Millennium (so far)" at [1])

- Wednesday, September 13, 2006 at 05:49:34 (EDT)

In the Palm of Your Hand

Steve Kowit's In the Palm of Your Hand: The Poet's Portable Workshop is a book of encouragement and empowerment, full of ideas and exercises for anyone who wants to write better verse. Many of the suggestions are a bit touchy-feely; few of the examples are of classical rhyme and meter; no matter. Kowit is upbeat, rhapsodic, and thoughtful throughout his teaching. At the beginning of Chapter 26 ("Into the Dazzling Void: Writing About the Natural World"), for instance:

In the moment of true experiencing there are no words: there is just the experiencing itself. It is the central paradox of the language of poetry that it is often trying to get beyond language to the sheer suchness of the world — that inexpressible experiencing whose verbal emblem is closer to a sigh or a shudder than to a phrase.

In the next chapter ("Poetry and the Awakened Life") Steve Kowit examines the word in the larger context of existence and the zen of now:

Surely it is one of poetry's sacred aims — indeed, one of the central aims of all art — to lift us out of our sleep into the actual world of this present moment. Art, then, is a way of remembering our real selves, of stepping out of the busy mind and back into the real world of trees, birds, clouds, people, chairs — the extraordinary, unspeakable presence of everything that exists — the sense of our identity with all creation. And once we do enter the present, we are apt to see the world more vividly, more wholly, our emotions open to the miraculousness of the ordinary. ...

(cf. Rules Versus Principles (23 June 1999), Lying Verses (15 March 2001), Iambic Honesty 1 (23 Apr 2001), Poetic Processes (3 Mar 2002), Never Told Anybody (16 Dec 2005), Rhythm Method (24 Feb 2006), Poetic Credo (10 Mar 2006), ...)

- Monday, September 11, 2006 at 05:08:48 (EDT)

David Copperfield Perseveres

Chapter XLII ("Mischief") of David Copperfield begins with a self-assessment by the narrator of his most important talent, self-discipline:

I feel as if it were not for me to record, even though this manuscript is intended for no eyes but mine, how hard I worked at that tremendous short-hand, and all improvement appertaining to it, in my sense of responsibility to Dora and her aunts. I will only add, to what I have already written of my perseverance at this time of my life, and of a patient and continuous energy which then began to be matured within me, and which I know to be the strong part of my character, if it have any strength at all, that there, on looking back, I find the source of my success. I have been very fortunate in worldly matters; many men have worked much harder, and not succeeded half so well; but I never could have done what I have done, without the habits of punctuality, order, and diligence, without the determination to concentrate myself on one object at a time, no matter how quickly its successor should come upon its heels, which I then formed. Heaven knows I write this, in no spirit of self-laudation. The man who reviews his own life, as I do mine, in going on here, from page to page, had need to have been a good man indeed, if he would be spared the sharp consciousness of many talents neglected, many opportunities wasted, many erratic and perverted feelings constantly at war within his breast, and defeating him. I do not hold one natural gift, I dare say, that I have not abused. My meaning simply is, that whatever I have tried to do in life, I have tried with all my heart to do well; that whatever I have devoted myself to, I have devoted myself to completely; that in great aims and in small, I have always been thoroughly in earnest. I have never believed it possible that any natural or improved ability can claim immunity from the companionship of the steady, plain, hard-working qualities, and hope to gain its end. There is no such thing as such fulfilment on this earth. Some happy talent, and some fortunate opportunity, may form the two sides of the ladder on which some men mount, but the rounds of that ladder must be made of stuff to stand wear and tear; and there is no substitute for thorough-going, ardent, and sincere earnestness. Never to put one hand to anything, on which I could throw my whole self; and never to affect depreciation of my work, whatever it was; I find, now, to have been my golden rules.

(cf. Triple Think (25 Jul 2002), Parallel Processing Paradox (24 Sep 2004), ...)

- Saturday, September 09, 2006 at 05:20:52 (EDT)

Dorsal Verity, Ventral Deceit

 What's up front? Logos and half-smiles,
 Clip-on bow ties, frou-frou, and demure eyes,
 Pecs and feathered lashes, combovers,
 And rising accents of décolleté:
 Perky-prowed or shoveled into place,
 Tattooed to reward reflexive peeks,
 Or with a dangling crucifix to chide.

 But the back is blunt. There's honesty
 In shoulder blades, bald spots, and wrinkled cloth,
 Sweat stains, bra straps, and disobedient hair.
 No pretense in shirt labels or dandruff,
 Knobby vertebrae or necklace clasps.
 Mere truth --- precisely where the wearer can't
 See it, and where nobody else will look.

- Thursday, September 07, 2006 at 05:47:55 (EDT)

Baby Gets New Shoes

 The bridge arches high,
 Welcoming our weary feet
 With wide open arms

... by Christina Caravoulias & ^z, for the Annapolis 10 Miler (see below).

Shaky Ladder "Speedwork"

19 Aug - ~10 miles (~12 min/mi) — A soccer ball rolls toward me but I hesitate to try to kick it back, lest I trip and fall on the track. I'm exhausting myself on a "ladder" at the old Blair High School, 1+2+3+4+3+2+1 laps with two minutes of walking and drinking to recover between each set. Warmth and humidity this morning make me contemplate quitting at several points along the way. My ladder pace averages a hair under 9 minutes/mile, not including walk breaks. I survive, thanks to thick clouds and an intermittent light breeze. Bob Dylan's "The Times, They Are a Changing" plays in my mind, from a Kaiser Permanente Thrive public-service announcement on TV at the laundromat last Sunday. (cf. Be Your Own Cause)
I've just started reading Kenny Moore's biography Bowerman and the Men of Oregon and as I run I contemplate a Bowermanism from the introduction, a speech the legendary coach gave to an incoming class of erstwhile athletes: "Take a primitive organism ... any weak, pitiful organism. Say a freshman. Make it lift, or jump or run. Let it rest. What happens? A little miracle. It gets a little better. It gets a little stronger or faster or more enduring. That's all training is. Stress. Recover. Improve." (cf. Bill Bowerman and Without Limits; today's route: home to Dale Drive to Wayne to Blair HS, ~2.5 miles; return via Sligo Creek Trail and Forest Glen Road, ~3.5 miles; ladder splits: 2:04 + 4:08 + 6:37 + 9:00 + 7:16 + 4:42 + 2:07)

Warm Walkwork

20 Aug - ~5 miles (~15 min/mi) — Under a thin crescent moon a rabbit races Christina and me. We jog; it alternates sprinting and watchful waiting. After twenty yards it finds us insufficient competition and veers into the underbrush near Sligo Creek. As the sky brightens Chris and I continue upstream, walking as we wilt in the oppressive humidity. We compare our sweat rates and declare that contest a dead heat (pun intended!). Our bug-bite rate is also equal, as we slap at real and imagined insects on our arms, heads, and legs. But Chris wins the final tiebreak, bruise count: she has lovely purple blotches on her triceps after a tough weightlifting session a few days ago, while I haven't bumped into the furniture recently enough to show damage. We go a block past the northern end of the trail, return to Sligo Dennis Ave. Park where we began, then walk/jog to Forest Glen and back. Good conversation makes for a pleasant final training session before the Annapolis 10 Miler next Sunday.

Touch of Grey

24 Aug - 15+ miles (12- min/mi) Dawn floods Ray's Meadow: / Doe and her fawns wade through fog / To drink from Rock Creek — It's closing day for our mortgage, so I get to stay home and take an early-morning jog. Outbound along RCT (mileposts 1.25-8) splits average ~11:45 min/mi, but downstream on the return trip I feel frisky enough to pick up the pace to ~10:45. My 13th mile is a freakishly fast 9:25, and fortuitously that's when a colleague from work, out cycling on Beach Drive, spies me and shouts ironically, "We should go in to the office once in a while!" Intermittently Jerry Garcia sings to me: "... Every silver lining's got a / Touch of grey / I will get by / I will get by / I will get by / I will survive ...".

Annapolis Ten Miler 2006

27 Aug - 10 miles (12:50 min/mi) — Today's Annapolis 10 Miler is a new experience for me, a return to old stomping grounds for Christina. At dawn she picks me up at the Hillandale Safeway parking lot and we ride together to the Naval Academy stadium, to join several thousand close personal friends in line for the restrooms. Although the weather is warm and humid there's a decent breeze with enough clouds to protect us from the morning sun. Dozens of people greet Chris as we meander to the starting area. I take photos, drink up my bottle of homemade Zelectrolyte, and commence shuffling forward when the siren goes off at 0745. After ~6 minutes we're across the starting line and are able to jog. Chris's training has been ultra-low-mileage and frugal, so our goal is to avoid injury while staying ahead of the sweepers. We achieve both, comfortably, and finish in 2:08 chip-time. (splits = 11:24 + 11:47 + 12:03 + 13:25 + 14:11 + 12:56 + 15:17 + 12:00 + 12:17 + 11:47)
Along the way we see the Maryland Statehouse, cross and recross the Severn River Bridge, and tour a variety of quaint neighborhoods where residents cheer and spray us with water from their garden hoses. During mile 7 I snag a cool cup of beer from a cardtable set up by helpful spectators. I'm running the race incognito — "For National Security Reasons", as I explain to an observer. Cheerful USNA midshipmen and volunteers rake up discarded cups and offer encouragement as we approach the finish line. Afterwards we eat, drink, see still more comrades, applaud the winners as they get their awards, and eventually escape the traffic jam and cruise homeward: Mission Accomplished.

Ernesto Mist

2 Sep - ~16 miles (~11:30 min/mi) — On Saturday morning the legacy of Hurricane Ernesto is intermittent light drizzle, with a sporadic breeze that shakes big drops down from the trees. Leaves mottle the pathways. I follow the same loop I did on 7 May 2006: from home to Rock Creek Trail, upstream to Randolph Road, east to Brookside Gardens, across Wheaton Regional Park, then down Sligo Creek Trail, returning to Che^z via Forest Glen Road. Today's cool conditions are wonderfully refreshing, with temperatures in the upper 60's (°F). For the first 90 minutes I feel frisky and maintain an ~11:15 pace; the upcoming JFK 50 doesn't seem quite so impossible. But on Randolph crossing the "Silver Spring Divide" from the Potomac to the Anacostia watershed I start to flag. I suck down a caffeinated Clif Shot plus some of my my homemade Zelectrolyte brew. That, plus a lifesaver and a root beer barrel, perk me up enough to do a sub-11 measured mile along Sligo. I spy a chipmunk, countless squirrels and robins, and several other runners out puddle-hopping.

Baby Gets New Shoes

4 Sep - 24 miles (12 min/mi) — Yesterday I venture into the remainder-shoe room at RnJ and as an experiment snag a deep-discount pair of Saucony Grid Hurricane 7's. They feel so good on my feetsies today that after I get home and shower I go back to RnJ and pick up another box of the same model, the last they have in my size. Geometric logic says that if I can do 24 comfortably with one pair, then given a second set I should be able to do 48 happy miles, eh? That's almost enough for the JFK 50! (^_^)
Alternate minutes of walking and jogging are my strategy from the starting line at the end of my driveway. The morning begins with temperatures in the upper 60's, rising into the upper 70's by early afternoon. During the first mile on the way to Rock Creek Trail my eye is caught by a Chinese fortune cookie slip of paper on the ground at the Walter Reed Annex bus stop. It reads, "You like participating in competitive sports." Totally false! At Meadowbrook Stables the horses are out and a big one's action inspires: Mare rolls on her back / Taking a cat-like dirt bath / Then stands up and shakes. After 2 hours I refill a bottle at the National Zoo water fountain and suck down a Power Gel packet. At the 2:30 point, Thompson Boat Center, I rinse my head under a hose and refill again. The 3 hour mark finds me homeward bound on the Capital Crescent Trail. I locate a battered Succeed! electrolyte capsule in my fanny pack and take it. Half an hour later I swallow another half-crushed salty-tasting one. Other consumption includes two sweat-stained root beer barrels, four similarly-soggy life-saver candies, and 40 oz. of Zelectrolyte lemonade-tea blend.
Countless holiday cyclists blast by me on the CCT, though I do manage to pass a couple of little girls pedaling tiny pink bikes with training wheels. Throughout the day my measured miles fall consistently in the 11:30-12:00 zone; add a few minutes for water stops and the net pace is almost exactly 12 min/mi. In Bethesda after 20 miles I douse my head, refill my bottle, and plod on. Crossing the high Rock Creek trestle I remember passing below it 4 hours earlier, looking upward, and trying to envision my future self there.

(cf. The Avenue (17 May 2006), Deathly Cold (5 Jun 2006), Sponge Bath (29 Jun 2006), Remind Me Never To (23 July 2006), Intestinal Infortitude (13 Aug 2006), ...)

- Tuesday, September 05, 2006 at 05:33:14 (EDT)

Mystery Dot

Sometimes it's the littlest things that make for the most happiness. A few weeks ago I helped a colleague at the office who was tearing his hair out over what seemed to be bizarre, intermittent browser errors. The links in a document he was preparing sometimes worked, in other circumstances failed. After a bit of over-the-shoulder observation I suggested a few experiments, none of which enlightened either of us. Then I happened to look closely at his browser's address field, and spotted an extra "." after the host name in the URL. Hmmmmm! We removed the superfluous dot, and all his links functioned perfectly.

Some days later the same fellow complained about a frustrating inability to paste into a particular web page's text field. I watched him try to summon a pop-up menu — none appeared — and agreed that the standard Edit menu for the page had "Paste" grayed-out. "Try typing a control-V," I suggested. His jaw dropped when it worked. "That field you're trying to put text into is part of an applet," I explained, "and perhaps the programmer didn't add menu support but did keep the keyboard shortcut active."

Bottom-line lessons:

(cf. Tim Towtdi (7 Feb 2004), Career Management (28 Jun 2005), ...)

- Sunday, September 03, 2006 at 15:51:48 (EDT)

Darwin on the Face of Nature

In Chapter III ("Struggle for Existence") of The Origin of Species Charles Darwin offers a violent metaphor for the constant strife between creatures, the deadly competition that prevents exponential growth for any one species:

In looking at Nature, it is most necessary to keep the foregoing considerations always in mind — never to forget that every single organic being around us may be said to be striving to the utmost to increase in numbers; that each lives by a struggle at some period of its life; that heavy destruction inevitably falls either on the young or old, during each generation or at recurrent intervals. Lighten any check, mitigate the destruction ever so little, and the number of the species will almost instantaneously increase to any amount. The face of Nature may be compared to a yielding surface, with ten thousand sharp wedges packed close together and driven inwards by incessant blows, sometimes one wedge being struck, and then another with greater force.

- Friday, September 01, 2006 at 05:52:34 (EDT)

Fun vs. Entertainment

I've begun reading Kenny Moore's biography Bowerman and the Men of Oregon and have repeatedly been struck by the activity — physical and mental — of Bill Bowerman, his family, and just about everybody else mentioned. People go canoeing; they work long hours to pay their tuition bills; they teach, raise kids, and build houses. When they go to a track meet, they shriek and cheer for the home team. In stark contrast to modern life, nobody seems to sit passively in front of a TV set. It reminds me of an observation in David Mamet's movie State and Main:

Everybody makes their own fun. If you don't make it yourself, it isn't fun. It's entertainment.

(cf. Worth The Cost (3 Feb 2004), Gift For Fiction (15 Apr 2005), ...)

- Thursday, August 31, 2006 at 06:03:51 (EDT)

All-Night Recording Session

Dateline 1975 - The cassette machine is my new toy, but I can only borrow my friend's turntable for one night. So I go to the store in mid-afternoon and pick up a dozen blank tapes. At the library I check out all the phonograph records they'll let me have. Back in my dorm room I plug in the cables and start recording — Scarlatti, Telemann, Vivaldi. After midnight Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier flows into Beethoven's symphonies. I begin to doze off and awaken to the needle's kerchick-click at the center of the album. Pause tape, lift tone arm, flip disc, lower stylus, unpause tape ... back to sleep. Repeat.

Then — startle! Have I done this side already? How many times?

- Wednesday, August 30, 2006 at 05:42:41 (EDT)

David Copperfield Learns Shorthand

Chapter XXXVIII ("A Dissolution of Partnership") of David Copperfield begins with a hilarious description of the protagonist's attempt to pick up a new skill:

I did not allow my resolution, with respect to the Parliamentary Debates, to cool. It was one of the irons I began to heat immediately, and one of the irons I kept hot, and hammered at, with a perseverance I may honestly admire. I bought an approved scheme of the noble art and mystery of stenography (which cost me ten and sixpence); and plunged into a sea of perplexity that brought me, in a few weeks, to the confines of distraction. The changes that were rung upon dots, which in such a position meant such a thing, and in such another position something else, entirely different; the wonderful vagaries that were played by circles; the unaccountable consequences that resulted from marks like flies' legs; the tremendous effects of a curve in a wrong place; not only troubled my waking hours, but reappeared before me in my sleep. When I had groped my way, blindly, through these difficulties, and had mastered the alphabet, which was an Egyptian Temple in itself, there then appeared a procession of new horrors, called arbitrary characters; the most despotic characters I have ever known; who insisted, for instance, that a thing like the beginning of a cobweb, meant expectation, and that a pen-and-ink sky-rocket, stood for disadvantageous. When I had fixed these wretches in my mind, I found that they had driven everything else out of it; then, beginning again, I forgot them; while I was picking them up, I dropped the other fragments of the system; in short, it was almost heart-breaking.
It might have been quite heart-breaking, but for Dora, who was the stay and anchor of my tempest-driven bark. Every scratch in the scheme was a gnarled oak in the forest of difficulty, and I went on cutting them down, one after another, with such vigour, that in three or four months I was in a condition to make an experiment on one of our crack speakers in the Commons. Shall I ever forget how the crack speaker walked off from me before I began, and left my imbecile pencil staggering about the paper as if it were in a fit!
This would not do, it was quite clear. I was flying too high, and should never get on, so. I resorted to Traddles for advice; who suggested that he should dictate speeches to me, at a pace, and with occasional stoppages, adapted to my weakness. Very grateful for this friendly aid, I accepted the proposal; and night after night, almost every night, for a long time, we had a sort of Private Parliament in Buckingham Street, after I came home from the Doctor's.
I should like to see such a Parliament anywhere else! My aunt and Mr. Dick represented the Government or the Opposition (as the case might be), and Traddles, with the assistance of Enfield's Speakers, or a volume of parliamentary orations, thundered astonishing invectives against them. Standing by the table, with his finger in the page to keep the place, and his right arm flourishing above his head, Traddles, as Mr. Pitt, Mr. Fox, Mr. Sheridan, Mr. Burke, Lord Castlereagh, Viscount Sidmouth, or Mr. Canning, would work himself into the most violent heats, and deliver the most withering denunciations of the profligacy and corruption of my aunt and Mr. Dick; while I used to sit, at a little distance, with my notebook on my knee, fagging after him with all my might and main. The inconsistency and recklessness of Traddles were not to be exceeded by any real politician. He was for any description of policy, in the compass of a week; and nailed all sorts of colours to every denomination of mast. My aunt, looking very like an immovable Chancellor of the Exchequer, would occasionally throw in an interruption or two, as 'Hear!' or 'No!' or 'Oh!' when the text seemed to require it: which was always a signal to Mr. Dick (a perfect country gentleman) to follow lustily with the same cry. But Mr. Dick got taxed with such things in the course of his Parliamentary career, and was made responsible for such awful consequences, that he became uncomfortable in his mind sometimes. I believe he actually began to be afraid he really had been doing something, tending to the annihilation of the British constitution, and the ruin of the country.
Often and often we pursued these debates until the clock pointed to midnight, and the candles were burning down. The result of so much good practice was, that by and by I began to keep pace with Traddles pretty well, and should have been quite triumphant if I had had the least idea what my notes were about. But, as to reading them after I had got them, I might as well have copied the Chinese inscriptions of an immense collection of tea-chests, or the golden characters on all the great red and green bottles in the chemists' shops!
There was nothing for it, but to turn back and begin all over again. It was very hard, but I turned back, though with a heavy heart, and began laboriously and methodically to plod over the same tedious ground at a snail's pace; stopping to examine minutely every speck in the way, on all sides, and making the most desperate efforts to know these elusive characters by sight wherever I met them. I was always punctual at the office; at the Doctor's too: and I really did work, as the common expression is, like a cart-horse.

(cf. Self Reliance (16 Jun 1999), Hand Of Ones Own (9 Aug 1999), ...)

- Tuesday, August 29, 2006 at 05:58:15 (EDT)

Lessons of the Marathon

In Chapter 9 ("First Principles") of Bowerman and the Men of Oregon, Kenny Moore discusses some of the grindingly-hard jobs that Coach Bill Bowerman arranged for his student-athetes. Working weekend shifts in local sawmills "... offered much-needed assistance and, in return, taught a greater set of lessons. Among them were those of the marathon, of not giving up, of finding out what others could endure and then, once a little calloused in both mind and body, whether one could measure up."

(cf. Without Limits (12 Feb 2005), Bill Bowerman (18 Feb 2006), ...)

- Monday, August 28, 2006 at 07:04:01 (EDT)

Must Love Dogs

The 2005 movie Must Love Dogs (screenplay by Gary David Goldberg, based on the novel by Claire Cook) is surprisingly good. It combines a high density of smart dialog, decent acting, and engaging characters. Sure, the plot is borderline-silly. There are far too many convenient coincidences to sustain belief. Suzy Nakamura, one of my favorite actors, has only an infinitesimal rôle. But no matter! You've gotta salute a movie that — besides repeated scenes of characters watching Dr. Zhivago, a sound track that includes The First Cut is the Deepest, and extensive recitations from poems by William Butler Yeats and Robert Browning — tosses off the line:

"I love this internet. It's part fantasy, part community, and you get to pay your bills naked."

(cf. Stark Raving Mad (28 Oct 2005), ...)

- Sunday, August 27, 2006 at 15:09:44 (EDT)

Darwin on the Struggle for Existence

In Chapter III ("Struggle for Existence") of The Origin of Species, Charles Darwin defines Natural Selection, the nucleus of his theory:

... Owing to this struggle for life, any variation, however slight and from whatever cause proceeding, if it be in any degree profitable to an individual of any species, in its infinitely complex relations to other organic beings and to external nature, will tend to the preservation of that individual, and will generally be inherited by its offspring. The offspring, also, will thus have a better chance of surviving, for, of the many individuals of any species which are periodically born, but a small number can survive. I have called this principle, by which each slight variation, if useful, is preserved, by the term of Natural Selection, in order to mark its relation to man's power of selection. We have seen that man by selection can certainly produce great results, and can adapt organic beings to his own uses, through the accumulation of slight but useful variations, given to him by the hand of Nature. But Natural Selection, as we shall hereafter see, is a power incessantly ready for action, and is as immeasurably superior to man's feeble efforts, as the works of Nature are to those of Art.

Shortly thereafter in Chapter III, Darwin explains a key difficulty in observing and understanding the economy of Nature:

... Nothing is easier than to admit in words the truth of the universal struggle for life, or more difficult — at least I have found it so — than constantly to bear this conclusion in mind. Yet unless it be thoroughly engrained in the mind, I am convinced that the whole economy of nature, with every fact on distribution, rarity, abundance, extinction, and variation, will be dimly seen or quite misunderstood. We behold the face of nature bright with gladness, we often see superabundance of food; we do not see, or we forget, that the birds which are idly singing round us mostly live on insects or seeds, and are thus constantly destroying life; or we forget how largely these songsters, or their eggs, or their nestlings, are destroyed by birds and beasts of prey; we do not always bear in mind, that though food may be now superabundant, it is not so at all seasons of each recurring year.

- Saturday, August 26, 2006 at 08:53:46 (EDT)

Card That Poet!

  It seems to me sometimes
  That forcing verse to rhyme
      And cleaving to the beat
      Of strict iambic feet
  Leads to surprising power,
  To metaphors that flower
      In unexpected sprays
          Of light.

  But when images wrestle for attention,
  When fistfights break out that shatter the meter,
  When at mile 23 my blisters have burst,
    calves cramped, thighs chafed raw,
      I've heaved up a lung, and the stench in the portajohn
        has seized the stanzas and won't let them go ---
  That's when I throw down my pen and shout,
      "To hell with this sonnet!  Muse, gimme a beer!"

- Thursday, August 24, 2006 at 05:38:30 (EDT)

Coupons and Rebates and Offers, Oh My!

A frequent annoyance: the dishonesty of "deals" that require arbitrary, unnecessary, economically inefficient actions to claim. Want that box of cereal for 50 cents off? Clip a scrap of paper from a magazine, carry it to a store, and give it to a cashier with your purchase. The merchant then must send it back to the manufacturer to close the loop and get reimbursed, at a cost that often exceeds the discount. Likewise kickbacks and mail-in rebates and "enter your special code here" online offers. The only logic behind these irrational systems is to produce the illusion of savings among the large fraction of purchasers who won't go to the effort and expense of actually following through.

Even more sadly, and orders of magnitude larger in waste, consider many aspects of modern tax law: complex deductions, targeted credits, special exemptions, pre-withholding spending-accounts, etc. Why fritter away social resources on these circuitous routes to encourage particular activities? The only rationale is that lots people won't take advantage of them. The real subsidy, therefore, goes to the writers of the laws (who get to say they've cut taxes) and to those who have the time and/or energy (and/or hired servants) to reap the benefits. For the rest, it's a shell game ...

- Tuesday, August 22, 2006 at 06:15:59 (EDT)

Free Association

A fun pursuit of my ill-spent youth was browsing the encyclopædia — one article would lead to another, which then took me to a third, and so forth. Not a bad way to spend a winter afternoon.

The 'Net is steroids to a butterfly-mind. Recently I scratched a longstanding itch to learn a smidgeon about "Nash Equilibrium", a game-theoretic concept that I had heard tell of but never understood. A Wikipedia article told me that the proof of John Nash's famous result relied on the Kakutani Fixed-Point Theorem, which I glanced at briefly before becoming obsessed by an apparent coincidence of names: my favorite New York Times book critic is the enigmatic Michiko Kakutani.

Looking up Ms. Kakutani revealed that Michiko is in fact the daughter of the eponymous mathematician, and that she occasionally writes a review in the voice of a fictional character. One such faux-critical persona was "Austin Powers", comic spy. The Kakutani-as-Powers essay "Hipoisie and Chic-oisie And London Had the Mojo" appeared on 23 July 2002. Upon perusal of it I was provoked to pursue the term "mojo".

And that's when I achieved enlightenment: the song "L.A. Woman" by The Doors features the lyric Mr. Mojo Risin' — and that phrase is a perfect anagram of Jim Morrison, the late great lead singer of the group! At which point, the butterly landed ...

(cf. Ars Magna (27 Sep 2002), Net Works (20 Jan 2003), Harmonic Motel (23 Oct 2003), Beautiful Mind (10 May 2004), Seven Basic Plots (2 May 2005), ...)

- Sunday, August 20, 2006 at 18:45:50 (EDT)

David Copperfield on Indifference

David Copperfield, Chapter XXXVI ("Enthusiasm")' includes a comment on the importance of caring, at least a bit, about one's fellow human beings:

'Have you breakfasted this morning, Mr. Jack?' said the Doctor.
'I hardly ever take breakfast, sir,' he replied, with his head thrown back in an easy-chair. 'I find it bores me.'
'Is there any news today?' inquired the Doctor.
'Nothing at all, sir,' replied Mr. Maldon. 'There's an account about the people being hungry and discontented down in the North, but they are always being hungry and discontented somewhere.'
The Doctor looked grave, and said, as though he wished to change the subject, 'Then there's no news at all; and no news, they say, is good news.'
'There's a long statement in the papers, sir, about a murder,' observed Mr. Maldon. 'But somebody is always being murdered, and I didn't read it.'
A display of indifference to all the actions and passions of mankind was not supposed to be such a distinguished quality at that time, I think, as I have observed it to be considered since. I have known it very fashionable indeed. I have seen it displayed with such success, that I have encountered some fine ladies and gentlemen who might as well have been born caterpillars. Perhaps it impressed me the more then, because it was new to me, but it certainly did not tend to exalt my opinion of, or to strengthen my confidence in, Mr. Jack Maldon.

- Friday, August 18, 2006 at 21:52:36 (EDT)

Many Worlds

A flicker of sunlight catches my eye. Is it:

Answer: all of the above. I choose the final interpretation, slide over, and give her a kiss.

- Thursday, August 17, 2006 at 05:36:50 (EDT)

What We Know

Verlyn Klinkenborg in the 9 August 2006 New York Times has a wonderful article, "On the Recentness of What We Know". More precisely, it's an essay full of wonder and wonders. Klinkenborg stands under a starry sky and muses about science, and especially about the growth of human knowledge concerning our place in the universe. His commentary is so well-written that it's impossible to synopsize, so cut to the punch line:

... Science is a cultural enterprise, of course, like everything else humans do, and it sometimes suffers from characteristically human flaws. But the recentness — or, to put it another way, the evolution — of what we know about the universe around us doesn't reveal the indeterminacy of science. It reveals the extraordinary intellectual and imaginative yields that a self-critical, self-evaluating, self-testing, experimental search for understanding can generate over time.
We know the universe to be a very different — and in every way more amazing — place than we did even a generation ago. We have no idea how much more surprising it will turn out to be in the years — not to mention the eons — ahead, should we manage to survive as a species that is able to do science. If what you want from life is a constant, fixed, unchanging truth, then the spate of fresh news from science can only seem bewildering. But the unchanging truths that people cling to in this inconstant world tend to rest on unexamined and untestable assumptions. At their best they are permanent ethical truths, which cannot be contradicted by the open-ended possibilities of scientific exploration. At their worst, they are mere dogma and deserve to be contradicted.
To me, the open-endedness of science isn't its failing. It is its very beauty. Each answer is merely the prelude to the next question, and you never know when you'll come upon an answer that forces you to rethink almost everything. ...

Near the beginning of his essay Klinkenborg quotes a line of dialogue from the movie Men in Black (screenplay by Ed Solomon):

"Fifteen hundred years ago everybody knew the earth was the center of the universe. Five hundred years ago, everybody knew the earth was flat. And fifteen minutes ago you knew that people were alone on this planet. Imagine what you'll know tomorrow."

He concludes with:

Knowing how and why the universe is expanding doesn't change the rules of celestial navigation any more than it changes the stories people tell about the figures in the constellations. The recentness of what we know doesn't annul the old knowledge; it transfigures it. Suddenly, what we used to know is now part of the story of how we go about knowing things and no longer a description of the universe around us. But go out on a deep summer night and there overhead are all the skies we have ever seen.

(Lela Moore is credited with doing research for Verlyn Klinkenborg's article; cf. Edge Of The Universe (8 Jun 1999), Worth Remembering 1 (28 Dec 2000), Universal Knowns (13 Jun 2002), Big Picture Fallacy (22 Jan 2003), New Nickel (9 Mar 2005), ...)

- Tuesday, August 15, 2006 at 05:53:03 (EDT)

Intestinal Infortitude

The guy lying on the restroom floor next to the bicycle is sleeping (or dead, but I hope not) and the stalls have no doors, but there's plenty of toilet paper for which I give thanks to the National Park Service. It's about 7:30am on 12 August 2006, Ken and I are on Hains Point in East Potomac Park, and something I ate yesterday (maybe the garlic bagel with jalapeño cream cheese?) has come back to haunt me. But a few minutes later, happily exorcised, I catch up with Ken and we continue on today's run, a Marine-Corps-related training regime to help Capitol Hill folks prepare for the MCM. Further details of that "Iwo Jima Jog", and other training runs during the past few weeks, follow.

Sligo Swing

29 July 2006 - 8+ miles (~12 min/mi avg pace) — Christina has been weightlifting but not running much, and plans to do the Annapolis 10 Miler next month as well as several shorter races. So I trot eastward from home to meet her for an early Saturday morning training session starting at the Sligo Dennis Avenue Park. At my suggestion we experiment with alternate minutes of jogging and walking. It feels absurdly slow to her for the first two miles downstream but turns into a comfortable pace during our return trip, net ~13 minutes/mile. We chat about houses and jobs, take a wrong turn once, quickly recover Sligo Creek Trail, and along the way encounter almost a dozen folks who know Chris and greet us. Back at the park Christina shares watermelon with me, I pour water over my head, we take rides on the kids' swings in the play area for a few minutes to cool down, talk to a lady with a cute baby, and then part ways. During my jog home I try some "speedwork" by following a fast runner between markers and manage a 4:09 half mile before exhaustion sets in.

Dog Water Shower

30 July - 7+ miles (~12 min/mi pace) — Comrade Ken calls me Saturday evening and proposes a 10 mile Sunday morning. I point out that I've gotta do the family laundry first, and it's going to be humid and hellishly hot, so we compromise and converge on Meadowbrook Stables at 9:15am. The temperature is already in the mid-80's and I soon wilt as we head north from milepost 1 on Rock Creek Trail. I survive until Cedar Lane, where at mile marker 4.75 Ken proceeds onward while I crawl back to the fountain to wash down a Power Gel packet and await his return. At every opportunity along the way I refill my bottle with "Dog Water" from the tap on the side of the fountain, and pour copious amounts of liquid over my head. When we're almost back to the stables a passing cyclist takes a tumble; we pause to check on her, and find that she's ok. "Did you see the deer that knocked her down?" I joke.

Bethesda Looop

5 Aug - ~11 miles (~12 min/mi pace) — I slam on the brakes as the rising sun glints off a giant spiderweb spun across the trail, and manage to stop before I plunge my head into it. (The scene reminds me of the "Far Side" cartoon, with a web blocking the bottom of a playground slide and one spider saying to the other, "If we pull this off, we'll eat like kings.") It's the first cool day in a week, and I'm on the way from home to Rock Creek Trail, on which I jog a few miles upstream to Cedar Lane, then take to the sidewalks there to Old Georgetown Road, downtown Bethesda, and home again via the Capital Crescent Trail (Georgetown Branch). I go slowly with walk breaks every minute, but still feel tired and have some rubbing between toes on each foot. It's the morning to get out: along RCT I meet a fellow Boy Scout father and fast marathoner, Philippe (cf. Welcome To The Club), out jogging with his wife; at the Cedar Lane fountain MCRRC President Craig Roodenburg greets me.

Rabbit Run for Roses

6 Aug - ~9 miles (14-15 min/mi) — Christina continues her training for the Annapolis 10 miler, today with me in a slow jog that more than doubles the length of her longest recent run. We meet a little after 6am at Sligo Dennis Avenue Park and proceed upstream, slowing to a walk whenever we see a rabbit (of which, fortunately for me, there are many). At trail's end, Wheaton Regional Park, Chris leads me to a nice paved path from the old ice rink downhill behind the ballfields. She points out landmarks as we converge on the "Run for Roses" race course (see http://www.mcrrc.org/racing/race01/wdf01.gif), and I challenge her to do the whole 5k certified route with me. We've already gone 3+ miles so it's not fair, but no matter; as RfR's Race Director she can scarcely refuse, eh? We take it easy and enjoy the scenery at Brookside Gardens en route, resulting in mile splits of 13:01 + 14:39 + 14:58 plus 1:28 for the final leg. The return journey to our cars takes another ~45 minutes, during which Chris tells me about the time she and her fellow runners were attacked by hornets in the middle of a 15k race — ouch!

Iwo Jima Jog

12 Aug - 10+ miles (~12 min/mi) — We begin at 0645 near the Iwo Jima Memorial, which I snap pictures of while a cheerful crewcut leatherneck leads Ken and Co. in stretching. Katie and Jasmine play leapfrog with us, taking turns in last place during the run. I pause to photograph The Awakening, a strangely evocative sculpture emerging from the Earth, and later get a shot of a great blue heron in the Tidal Basin. Ken and I detour to see the WWII Memorial but then sync up with Katie for the final mile, which gives us a chance to chat with her and offer encouraging anecdotes; she's training for her first-ever marathon and seems slightly nervous. Back at the starting point after 110 minutes for 9+ miles we drink, and then at Ken's insistence run down to Memorial Drive and back to add a mile and make the logbook look prettier. Fastest measured split en route was 10:13 between MCM mile markers 18 and 19.

Bridge Out

13 Aug - 9+ miles (~14 min/mi) — The Annapolis 10-miler is looming, so Christina and I meet at Sligo Dennis Ave. Park before dawn to put more time-on-feet into her logbook. We trot downstream at ~12:30 pace, ecstatic over the mid-60's temperature. At the one hour mark we've reached Sligo Creek North Neighborhood Park, just short of New Hampshire Ave. After drinking from the fountain and sucking down a gel packet Chris does a hopscotch dance on a chalk-drawn diagram that decorates the paved path. Near the old Blair High School track there's a fluorescent-orange BRIDGE CLOSED barrier where a span across the stream has been demolished. Some scalawag has edited it to read BRIDGE IS NOT CLOSED, so we pause there to take photos. Back at the cars we strategize for the coming fortnight, and then I head for the laundromat to wash the past week's worth of family dirty clothes.

(cf. Half Beast (4 Jan 2006), Golden Ticket (6 Feb 2006), Pawing The Earth (12 Mar 2006), March April 2006 Jog Log (16 Apr 2006), The Avenue (17 May 2006), Deathly Cold (5 Jun 2006), Sponge Bath (29 Jun 2006), Remind Me Never To (23 July 2006), ...)

- Sunday, August 13, 2006 at 15:24:11 (EDT)

Darwin on Skillful Breeders

In The Origin of Species By Means of Natural Selection, Charles Darwin comments (Chapter I, "Variation Under Domestication") in charming fashion on the extraordinary genius for unnatural selection possesed by the best animal breeders:

... If selection consisted merely in separating some very distinct variety, and breeding from it, the principle would be so obvious as hardly to be worth notice; but its importance consists in the great effect produced by the accumulation in one direction, during successive generations, of differences absolutely inappreciable by an uneducated eye — differences which I for one have vainly attempted to appreciate. Not one man in a thousand has accuracy of eye and judgment sufficient to become an eminent breeder. If gifted with these qualities, and he studies his subject for years, and devotes his lifetime to it with indomitable perseverance, he will succeed, and may make great improvements; if he wants any of these qualities, he will assuredly fail. Few would readily believe in the natural capacity and years of practice requisite to become even a skilful pigeon-fancier.

(cf. Light Of Evolution (24 Apr 2006), ...)

- Friday, August 11, 2006 at 21:50:21 (EDT)

Firmware Bugs

"It's not the computer that's wrong, it's your program!" is the universal response nowadays when a newly-written piece of software fails a test and the developer tries to blame something other than his/her own code. But it wasn't always so, youngsters. Back in my undergraduate days (~1973) a roommate at Rice had the first scientific pocket calculator I had ever seen, the marvelous Hewlett-Packard model 35. It cost $400 and came out of the box with a built-in bug: take the natural logarithm of 2.02, then exponentiate that; instead of getting back 2.02 as math demands, the HP-35 calculator stubbornly returned exactly "2". The original algorithm that the little processor used had a glitch at certain critical numbers.

Half a decade later I found a minor flaw in the Microsoft BASIC burned into the ROMs of my own first home computer, a Commodore PET. (I paid $800 to get the 8 kilobyte model instead of the cheaper, standard 4k memory version — woo!) When I ran long monte carlo calculations that relied on pseudorandom numbers, after a day or two the interpreter started to repeat the "random" numbers it generated. I spotted the problem when statistical fluctuations in the results didn't average out properly.

Easy to repair, once you know it's there. "Trust but verify" applies to firmware as it does to everything else in life ...

(cf. Pet Bibli 1 (23 May 2000), College Collage 2 (3 Oct 2000), Pet Bibli 2 (14 Jul 2001), Programming Proverbs (4 Dec 2001), Personal Computer History (25 Feb 2002), Close To The Machine (6 May 2004), ...)

- Thursday, August 10, 2006 at 06:06:27 (EDT)

David Copperfield and Miss Mowcher

In Chapter XXXII ("The Beginning of a Long Journey") of David Copperfield, the protagonist gets a lesson in prejudice from a dwarf:

'You are a young man,' she said, nodding. 'Take a word of advice, even from three foot nothing. Try not to associate bodily defects with mental, my good friend, except for a solid reason.'

- Tuesday, August 08, 2006 at 06:02:18 (EDT)

Why Post?

"What prompted you to publish the essay of Cardinal Newman?" a curious correspondent asked last month, inquiring about one of my older web pages, "Definition of a Gentleman".

My answer: ca. 1996 I chanced upon Newman's "Definition" in a multi-volume children's collection of readings titled Journeys Through Bookland by Charles H. Sylvester. The content of Bookland is now available electronically, at least in part. We have an inexpensive physical copy, many decades old, acquired used. Sylvester's selections and commentary are enlightening for readers of any age; he assumes that his audience wants to learn to think.

I enjoyed Cardinal Newman's prose style, and I saluted the gentle sentiments he espoused; they seemed to echo Marcus Aurelius's Stoic philosophy. So I retyped "Definition of a Gentleman" and uploaded it — both to make it easy for like-minded people to discover it as I did, and to help me find it again whenever I wanted to reread it or share it with a friend.

Come to think of it, that explains most of what gets posted here!

(cf. http://www.his.com/~z/gentleman.html and Culture Memory Progress (28 Sep 2000), Cardinal Newman (4 Oct 2001), ...)

- Sunday, August 06, 2006 at 18:54:26 (EDT)

Baseball Blues 2006

This summer's baseball season has felt a bit less rhapsodic than in previous years; perhaps it's me that's changed? In any event, from the scorebook, some memorable moments during the games witnessed thus far:

The game's conclusion on webcast is as the first half foreshadows: strong defensive play by the 'Bolts combines with powerful hitting to yield a well-deserved 13-1 victory, and the championship of the Cal Ripken Sr. Collegiate Baseball League.

(cf. Tbolt Monkeys On My Back (19 Jul 2002), Round Rock Express (4 Jun 2004), Official Scorekeeper (3 Jul 2004), ...)

- Friday, August 04, 2006 at 05:42:23 (EDT)

Shame of Carthage

David Anthony Durham's latest book, Pride of Carthage, is a tragedy — not for what it contains but for what is missing in it. The author's earlier Walk Through Darkness had flaws but also great strengths and occasionally scintillating prose. Pride, subtitled "A Novel of Hannibal", plods as it follows the Carthaginian general and his adversaries in their long marches across mountain ranges, swamps, deserts, and other hostile terrain. A cast of characters take turns stepping into the spotlight and then retreating, without ever getting a chance to become real people. Genitalia appear every few pages sans obvious purpose, except perhaps to underscore the crudeness of life in the third century B.C. Women and underclass individuals are depicted as anachronistically modern in thought and deed. Battle scenes are action-packed and momentarily engaging, but ultimately pointless.

On the whole, Pride of Carthage most closely resembles a writing assignment by a brilliant undergraduate — someone who did his research, organized his notes, and turned in the requisite number of pages. As such it gets an "A", but as a story it fails. What a shame; one hopes that Durham's next effort will be more inspired.

(cf. Walk Through Darkness (10 Feb 2006), ...)

- Wednesday, August 02, 2006 at 13:57:33 (EDT)

All Caught Up Now

A several-years-old Rose is Rose comic strip by Pat Brady that I need to remember: protagonist Rose is racing along outdoors, thinking "Somebody please stop the world until I catch up! I have so many things to do, I ..." when she catches sight of a fawn. She stops and watches as it moves away. In the final panel she thinks, "Thank you. All caught up now. Way ahead, actually."

The following day's strip shows Rose's husband Jimbo hurrying away from the breakfast table, pulling on his coat and saying, "No time for breakfast! Late for work!" Rose is sitting at the table, clad in her robe, smiling down at her cup of coffee. She says, "I saw a fawn yesterday, and felt as if ..." — at which point Jimbo looks out the window and spies the baby deer. He freezes. In the last frame of the comic Rose continues her remark, "... the world stopped for a moment. And afterward, I didn't feel rushed anymore." As her husband sits back down he says, "I see no reason not to take the day off today."

(cf. Bennett On Stoicism (29 Apr 1999), Light Mind (22 Aug 2002), Eat The Orange (28 Nov 2004), Rose Is Rose On Tolerance (25 Jun 2006), ...)

- Monday, July 31, 2006 at 06:03:41 (EDT)


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(cf. Corn Floss (16 Jun 2001), Mock Mack (13 Jul 2001), Power Sponge (18 Sep 2003), Bacon Thighs (11 Mar 2004), Ipod Mini Cooper Accessory (6 Jul 2004), ...)

- Saturday, July 29, 2006 at 15:55:47 (EDT)

David Copperfield in Love

Chapter XXVIII ("Mr. Micawber's Gauntlet") of David Copperfield begins with a hilarious picture of the young protagonist pining away in a state of puppy love:

Until the day arrived on which I was to entertain my newly-found old friends, I lived principally on Dora and coffee. In my love-lorn condition, my appetite languished; and I was glad of it, for I felt as though it would have been an act of perfidy towards Dora to have a natural relish for my dinner. The quantity of walking exercise I took, was not in this respect attended with its usual consequence, as the disappointment counteracted the fresh air. I have my doubts, too, founded on the acute experience acquired at this period of my life, whether a sound enjoyment of animal food can develop itself freely in any human subject who is always in torment from tight boots. I think the extremities require to be at peace before the stomach will conduct itself with vigour.

- Thursday, July 27, 2006 at 05:57:49 (EDT)

Bear vs. Mantis

Not Beethoven, not Schubert, but Hailstork!

"I Will Lift Up Mine Eyes", a three-movement cantata written in 1989 by Adolphus Hailstork (1941- ), was the highlight of Saturday's concert by the University of Maryland 2006 Summer Chorus & Festival Orchestra. Most striking was the performance by tenor Issachah Savage, a giant bear of a man whose voice filled the hall and soared above the hundred-plus members of the chorus, as sweat beaded his brow from his hard work. Savage looked even larger than large when standing next to the conductor, Jason Max Ferdinand, whose long thin limbs made him most resemble a praying mantis in a gray suit. Quite a visual contrast, to accompany the superb music.

And as a bonus, the concert program notes (author unspecified — Ferdinand?) included a fascinating bit of historical trivia re Beethoven's Choral Fantasy, op. 80:

The first performance of the Choral Fatnasy took place Thursday, December 22, 1808, at the Theatre an der Wien in Vienna. Beethoven served as both conductor and pianist. At this performance he wanted to introduce a myriad of his works and as a result preparation time was short, leaving many of the works under rehearsed. The theater was freezing, as monetary constraints did not allow for the heating of the hall, and the program tested the endurance of a public already accustomed to very long concerts. Historical accounts suggest that the program was about four hours in length. Beethoven was forced to restart the Fantasy from the top, as it fell apart midstream (this aspect of performance practice we will try not to emulate) which only served to aggravate the orchestra and the already uncomfortable audience. It is probably no coincidence that Beethoven never appeared again in public as a soloist with orchestra.

And one more literally humorous note: after the intermission on Saturday evening, when the stage crew had brought out the piano for the Beethoven piece and the orchestra was about to tune up, the Concertmaster as usual struck a key. But instead of A above middle C, she accidentally hit G, a full step lower! Everybody in the orchestra started to laugh — including the concertmaster herself — and chuckles spread to the audience when she corrected her mistake and those of us with less sense of pitch belatedly got the joke.

(full disclosure: my daughter was one of the violinists in the orchestra on 22 July 2006; cf. Music Master (4 Jun 2001), On Stage (29 Oct 2001), Musical Values (3 Nov 2001), Webb Wiggins (15 Dec 2002), Swaying Musicians (30 Apr 2003), The Power Of Small Numbers (3 May 2004), ...)

- Tuesday, July 25, 2006 at 06:02:19 (EDT)

Remind Me Never To ...

... run a summertime race — such madness! Riley's Rumble, a low-key half-marathon held on 23 July 2006, is my slowest ever in spite of surprisingly mild weather for a mid-summer morn. Notes on that experience and other expeditions of the past few weeks follow ...

Northwest Branch Erosion

1 July 2006 - 14+ miles (~14 min/mi pace) — A small buck, proudly displaying velvet-covered antlers with only two points each, stares at me from the side of the path at Wheaton Regional Park, then retreats to join a larger doe (his mom?) as I pass by. Many unpaved trail segments are washed out after the deluges earlier this week, so I have to tread carefully on newly-exposed rocks and circumvent muddy sloughs. Sligo Creek Trail north from Forest Glen Road is almost unscathed, but as I cross Arcola and join Northwest Branch Trail the situation becomes worse. A quarter mile downstream I take a wooden bridge to the eastern bank and immediately lose the trail. My route is blocked by countless fallen trees, including some with official blue blazes. I follow deer paths through the soggy bracken and sporadically pick up the trail, only to misplace it again within a few hundred feet. My shirt is sweat-soaked after less than an hour in the Saturday morning humidity.
Crossing a hillside of wild pachysandra my foot plunges into a concealed pit. Shortly thereafter on another slope I slip and fall. I get nervous enough to check my cellphone, and am comforted to see that it has a strong signal here. Segments of trail near the creek have been undercut by the rushing waters, some to a scary degree. My technique for squatting and creeping under fallen treetrunks needs work — I repeatedly strain thigh muscles doing that. On two slanty washed-out spots I roll my right ankle. It doesn't hurt much during the jog, but gets rather sore a few hours later. At Colesville Road the flood control dam's parking lot is crisscrossed with yellow "Caution" tape. I take the shoulder of the street to the other side of Northwest Branch, where erosion is much less, and follow the trail upstream to Lockwood Drive, then proceed home via Dennis, Sligo Creek Trail, and Forest Glen.

Texas Homecoming Speedwork

7 July - 7+ miles (~12 net pace) — The sign at the entrance to Lyndon Baines Johnson High School reads:
Whether you're licensed to carry or not! NO WEAPONS ON SCHOOL PROPERTY
That admonition is followed by a long list of forbidden objects. I'm in Austin Texas, visiting family, and this warm and humid morning I arrive at the LBJ Jaguar ballfields after a 1+ mile jog. There's a nice springy-surface track here, which I have to myself until a couple of young señoritas appear to walk some laps and chat together. Half an hour later three señoras pile out of a minivan, walk a mile, and then return to their car and drive away. Large passenger jets cruise overhead as they depart the local airport.
My "speedwork" consists of eight 800 meter trots, average ~4:27, with half-lap (~2 min) recovery walks in between. My long shadow on the dew-coated grass displays a retroreflected halo aroung the head. Crows feed on the infield and a black dragonfly buzzes past. I take a Succeed! electrolyte capsule after the first few miles, and that plus sugar candies keep me moving. My Red Sox mesh shirt is sweat-soaked and I take it off for several laps, then don it again for the jog back to my Mother's home, where I lived from 1964 into the 70's.

Town Lake Loop

8 July - 10+ miles (~11:30 pace) — My brother Keith drives me early Saturday to the parking area under MoPac Blvd. just north of the Colorado River. (This is the Colorado that flows through the middle of Austin Texas, not the one that waters much of the southwestern USA.) RunTex, a local sports supply store, has already set up water coolers at this corner of the hike-and-bike trail that circles Town Lake. We set off eastwards on the sandy dirt pathway. Hundreds, maybe even a thousand, folks are out this warm and humid morning, biking and jogging and walking and leading dogs. Their numbers diminish, however, the farther we progress. Signs explain how to recognize poison ivy, and dozens of the noxious weeds have individual tags labeling them. A fast runner pushing a stroller blitzes by us. My brother says that the baby must be pedaling; I speculate that there's a motor in there.
Keith is now a cyclist rather than a distance runner, so a few miles after we start at a too-fast-for-me-to-maintain ~10 min/mi pace he branches off, leaving me to proceed the length of the lake. The path here is not terribly well-marked but there are enough other joggers that I recover quickly when I take a wrong turn. A pair of big gray long-necked fuzzy water birds float next to a slightly-larger sleek-snow-white parent — swans, perhaps, or geese? Later, cute baby ducklings swim after their mother. Mile markers and water fountains are intermittent, as are fishermen and rowing club launch points. Bat viewing areas and informational displays appear at intervals.
At the Holly Street Power Plant I zig-zag onto Longhorn Dam and cross to the southern shore of the river. Dozens of memorial benches and markers are positioned by the trail, as is a bronze statue of the late musician Stevie Ray Vaughn with flowers at its base. A long downhill stretch on the sidewalk by Riverside Drive gives me a 10:14 split, but otherwise my frequent walk breaks keep me in the 11-12 min/mi zone. I miss the bridge over Barton Springs but the sudden narrowing of the trail and paucity of joggers leads me to ask directions, and I double back to rejoin the trail within a few minutes. A bit less than 2 hours later I meet my brother at his car.

Slower Texas Speedwork

12 July - ~9 miles (~12 net pace) — Blessed sprinklers are running on the LBJ High School ballfields, so I tread cautiously over the swampy ground and soak my head after a few miles, and again when I finish my ten 800's on the tartan track. Wednesday morning dawns warm and humid here in central Texas, and as I did five days ago I jog/walk the mile-plus from my Mother's home and alternate double-laps with half-lap walks. Occasional southerly breezes rejuvinate me as the sun goes behind a cloud, but I age rapidly when the wind pauses and the sun comes out again. Today I'm significantly slower (~4:45 per 800m) than I was last week, but I do an extra couple of reps to make up for it. I find two coins, a 5 centavo and a 10 centavo, on the way to the track. The bottle of Gatorade I bring with me is so hard to open that I struggle with it for most of a recovery half-lap before succeeding in cracking the seal.

Final Texas Heatwork

15 July - ~7 miles (~12 net pace) — Our last day in Austin dawns warm and humid. I get up early and again jog to LBJ High School, past a field where 40+ years ago my brother and I launched model rockets. Shadows from distant trees stretch long across the track, but shorten rapidly as the rising sun hammers them, and me. I do a slow speedwork "ladder": a sequence of laps 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 3 + 2 + 1 with half a lap of recovery walk between each. My pace is a steady ~9:20 min/mi. A fragment of a Black Cat firecracker lies in lane 1, bringing back memories of unofficial Fourth of July festivities in years past. One water sprinkler irrigates a distant soccer field, so when I finish my ladder I trek there to wet my head before the jog/walk home.

Riley's Rumble 2006

23 July - 13+ miles (~11 net pace) — At 3am I wake, check the clock, and try to get back to sleep. Repeat that at 3:20, 3:35, and further decreasing intervals until the 4 o'clock alarm goes off and it's time to eat breakfast, don my Traje De Luces, and go pick up Comrade Ken. Today's half marathon is a foolish experiment: I know I'm not a hot-weather runner. But the forecast is for unseasonably cool conditions so I decide to try my luck, further motivated by having done no significant exercise since Saturday a week ago.
Ken, who ran more than a dozen miles through sweltering heat and humidity yesterday, is ready to rumble when I reach his home shortly after 5am. He directs me along a new route and we arrive before 0530 at Riley's Lock on the C&O Canal, where Seneca Creek flows into the Potomac River. I wander about, register for the race, take photos, and chat with athletic acquaintances. Eventually I find myself behind several hundred fidgety folks awaiting the 7am start.
Way-No "Mr. Sandbagger" and Ken "Mr. Marathon" try to pull me along for the first half dozen miles, but their pace is a bit faster than I can maintain. We hear sirens, wend our way around rescue squad vehicles, and after the race learn that one of the fast runners has been hit, and knocked out, by a vengeful deer. (No joke!) A medevac helicopter flies in to pick him up. In contrast to 2003 and 2004 no llamas are present this year — unless they've had haircuts and are disguised as the horses that eye our passage.
In the final miles I lose track of distance, assume that I'm going ~12 minutes/mile, and tell several fellow-travelers that we've got 3 miles to go when we're really within 2 of the finish. I meet Scottie and play leapfrog with her: she speeds by me on the hills, and I catch up with her again on the downslopes. We finish together a bit over 2:20, slowest of my three Riley's Rumbles. Ken cheers me at the conclusion of the run, so I give him a ride back to his house even though he seems scarcely fatigued. Is it his good genes, or superior training, or spiffy equipment, or mental toughness, or injected steroids? No matter; I survive, sweat-soaked but happy and unblistered. See http://flickr.com/photos/zhurnaly for some silly pictures taken before, during, and after the run. Bravo! to Tom Temin, Race Director, and all the volunteers who made the event possible.

(cf. Rileys Rumble (27 Jul 2003), Freudian Half Marathon (2 Aug 2004), Half Beast (4 Jan 2006), Golden Ticket (6 Feb 2006), Pawing The Earth (12 Mar 2006), March April 2006 Jog Log (16 Apr 2006), The Avenue (17 May 2006), Deathly Cold (5 Jun 2006), Sponge Bath (29 Jun 2006), ...)

- Sunday, July 23, 2006 at 15:39:56 (EDT)

Make Your Own Weather

Daniel Coyle recently profiled elite cyclist Floyd Landis, who suffers from a serious hip problem and still competes at the highest levels of the sport. A memorable comment by Landis occurs near the conclusion of the interview-essay:

" ... I have to work with what's true. Things end. We're all going to die. But until that happens, there's really a lot you can do. Especially if you realize this is your last opportunity."

(from "What He's Been Pedaling" in the 16 July 2006 Sunday New York Times magazine; cf. Ein Ben Stein (19 Sep 2002), Eat The Orange (28 Nov 2004), ...)

- Saturday, July 22, 2006 at 17:49:45 (EDT)

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