^zhurnal 0.57

Howdy, pilgrim! You're in volume 0.57 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 = 0.56 ... complete list at bottom of page ... send comments & suggestions to "z(at)his(dot)com" ... tnx!

On the Shore

From Chapter Eight of Post Captain, a novel by Patrick O'Brian, a surrealistic image as Dr. Stephen Maturin walks alone on the beach:

So he paced this strange, absolute and silent landscape of firm damp sand with rivulets running to its edges and the lapping sea, eating bread with one hand and cold beef with the other. He was so low to the sea that Deal and its coast were out of sight; he was surrounded by an unbroken disc of quiet grey sea, and even the boat, which lay off an inlet at the far rim of the sand, seemed a great way off, or rather upon another plane. Sand stretched before him, gently undulating, with here and there the black half-buried carcasses of wrecks, some massive, others ribbed skeletons, in a kind of order whose sense escaped him, but which he might seize, he thought, if only his mind would make a certain shift, as simple as starting the alphabet at X — simple, if only he could catch the first clue. A different air, a different light, a sense of overwhelming permanence and therefore a different time; it was not at all unlike a certain laudanum-state. Wave ripples on the sand: the traces of annelids, solens, clams: a distant flight of dunlins, close-packed, flying fast, all wheeling together and changing colour as they wheeled.
His domain grew larger with the ebbing of the tide; fresh sandpits appeared, stretching far, far away to the north under the cold even light; islands joined one another, gleaming water disappeared, and only on the far rim of his world was there the least noise — the lap of small waves, and the remote screams of gulls.
It grew smaller, insensibly diminishing grain by grain; everywhere there was a secret drawing-in, apparent only in the widening channels between the sandbanks, where the water was now running frankly from the sea.

(cf. Master And Commander (4 Mar 2005), Post Captain (12 Oct 2006), ...)

- Tuesday, November 07, 2006 at 05:42:54 (EST)

Emerson on Self-Improvement

On 13 April 1834 Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote in his journal:

We are always getting ready to live, but never living. We have many years of technical education; then many years of earning a livelihood, and we get sick, and take journeys for our health, and compass land and sea for improvement by travelling, but the work of self-improvement, — always under our nose, — nearer than the nearest, is seldom seldom engaged in. A few, few hours in the longest life.

- Sunday, November 05, 2006 at 11:03:15 (EST)

Start Slower

Some might say that I'm full of heuristics — rules of thumb — especially for distance running, since it's a subject that has so many endearingly quantitative parameters to play with. Recently while sitting at the back of a large room during a long, boring meeting I filled a sheet of paper with calculations and came up with a new formula. It's a corollary to the old rule:

Every minute too fast that you go during the first half of a race costs you two minutes in the second half.

The new guideline is more general:

Your optimal pace is one-third of a standard deviation less than your actual pace.

These two formulæ are mathematically equivalent in some simple cases. Both say that it's best to go at a steady speed. (The "standard deviation" is a measure of the plus-or-minus fluctuation in one's pace; it is zero for an absolutely constant velocity.)

How do these rules compare when applied to actual race data? Take the latest Marine Corps Marathon (29 Oct 2006). I didn't participate in the race, but I went downtown to photograph friends there. Here's a tabulation based on their outcomes. The "half" columns are first and second halves of the marathon, "sigma" (σ) is a rough estimate of the standard deviation of the pace (in seconds/mile, based on crude split data from miles 5, 10, 15, and 20), and the "actual" finishing time is compared with theoretical "best" possible result using the old rule and the new one above.

runner half half σ actual best (old) best (new)
WC 2:42 2:59 35 5:41 5:35 5:36
CJ 2:26 2:42 45 5:08 5:03 5:01
KS 2:21 2:37 20 4:58 4:53 4:55
GA 1:52 1:59 15 3:51 3:49 3:49
TW 1:45 2:05 40 3:50 3:43 3:44
MA 1:40 2:02 35 3:42 3:35 3:37

The agreement between the "old" and "new" rules is amazingly close. I'll run some more detailed tests using my mile-by-mile splits later to see if the correlation persists, or if it's coincidental.

Of course, the fundamental question remains: on a given day, could a peson really have finished several minutes faster by using an even pacing strategy?

((cf. Two Great Secrets (9 Nov 2001), Need For Speed (10 Aug 2002), Logbook Tyrannicide (17 Oct 2002), Handicap Jogging (8 Oct 2003), Deceleration Parameter (28 Dec 2003), Root Mean Square Dance (24 Apr 2004), ... ))

- Thursday, November 02, 2006 at 06:16:39 (EST)

Darwin on Altruism

Charles Darwin's theories in The Origin of Species are scientific because they expose themselves to disproof in countless ways. In Chapter VI ("Difficulties on Theory"), for instance, Darwin discusses the impossibility of evolution producing features which are harmful to the possessor:

Natural selection cannot possibly produce any modification in any one species exclusively for the good of another species; though throughout nature one species incessantly takes advantage of, and profits by, the structure of another. But natural selection can and does often produce structures for the direct injury of other species, as we see in the fang of the adder, and in the ovipositor of the ichneumon, by which its eggs are deposited in the living bodies of other insects. If it could be proved that any part of the structure of any one species had been formed for the exclusive good of another species, it would annihilate my theory, for such could not have been produced through natural selection. Although many statements may be found in works on natural history to this effect, I cannot find even one which seems to me of any weight. It is admitted that the rattlesnake has a poison-fang for its own defence and for the destruction of its prey; but some authors suppose that at the same time this snake is furnished with a rattle for its own injury, namely, to warn its prey to escape. I would almost as soon believe that the cat curls the end of its tail when preparing to spring, in order to warn the doomed mouse. But I have not space here to enter on this and other such cases.
Natural selection will never produce in a being anything injurious to itself, for natural selection acts solely by and for the good of each. No organ will be formed, as Paley has remarked, for the purpose of causing pain or for doing an injury to its possessor. If a fair balance be struck between the good and evil caused by each part, each will be found on the whole advantageous. After the lapse of time, under changing conditions of life, if any part comes to be injurious, it will be modified; or if it be not so, the being will become extinct, as myriads have become extinct.

- Tuesday, October 31, 2006 at 05:58:02 (EST)

On the Metro

 On the metro I set aside my book and glance
 At the map --- a nine-legged spider of subway lines
 Smashed under plexiglas, body a downtown splat,
 Limbs grasping for the suburbs ---
 As headphones pipe a half-understood German song
 Into my ears, as the rumble and roar
 Of the train through the tunnel plays a basso continuo
 To my life. And I wonder what would happen
 To a person if someone, say me, gave her their
 Unconditional love, gave her exactly what she hoped for,
 What she needed to get, for one whole year.
 Maybe new magic would happen. And a girl
 Two rows back slumps against the window,
 Silver stud in her eyebrow, black furry earmuffs
 Cushioning her as the train rocks her to sleep. 

- Sunday, October 29, 2006 at 07:53:02 (EST)

Faux Dumpster

It's tough to park a car in many busy neighborhoods ... yet one can almost always find at least one giant trash bin on every street, and next to every business, half full of the solid wastes generated by commerce and construction and urban life.

Modest Proposal #552: design an automobile to look like, or transform into, a big ugly dumpster! Then there's always a parking space (until everybody's doing it).

Hmmm ... how do I know this isn't already happening?

(cf. Bluick Game (17 Jun 2000), Big Bad Boxes (3 Dec 2002), Su Vexation (24 Dec 2003), Let Trucks Be Trucks (9 Jul 2004), ...)

- Friday, October 27, 2006 at 05:58:56 (EDT)

Emerson on His Journal

Ralph Waldo Emerson, writing in his diary on 1 January 1834:

This Book is my Savings Bank. I grow richer because I have somewhere to deposit my earnings; and fractions are worth more to me because corresponding fractions are waiting here that shall be made integers by their addition.

(cf. Ralph Waldo Emerson (5 Aug 2003), ...)

- Wednesday, October 25, 2006 at 05:55:14 (EDT)

Hat Bulge

Comedy on the high trail tends toward the low. On the Appalachian Trail two ladies and a gentleman jogging south encounter me stumbling north. "Didn't I see you at the HAT Run a couple of years ago?" the man inquires. "Yep," I reply, "I have the hat with me — but my head got too hot, so I've stuffed it somewhere you shouldn't stare at." I glance down at my shorts. One of the women looks, raises her eyebrows, and laughs. "I'm impressed!" she says. I blush. A couple of hours later, the weather still warm, our paths cross again on the return trip. As I pass she smiles and says, "I see you're still wearing your hat!"

Caren's Loop

7 Oct 2006 - 21+ miles (~13 min/mi) — At 4:15am Comrade Caren (aka "C-C") phones to report heavy rain in her neighborhood. "Should we go?" I stick my head out the front door and feel nothing. "Looks pretty nice here!" I reply, and so we rendezvous at 0500 in downtown Bethesda, near mile 3.5 of the Capital Crescent Trail, and proceed southward with LED flashlight and headlamp. Our pace is ~12:30 min/mi through the darkness; I demand walk breaks every half-mile. The temperature is perfect, near 50°F. After the first mile I get hot and take off hat, gloves, and outer windshirt; Caren is smart enough to have left her jacket in the car. Water drips from the trees when breezes blow, but only a few extremely light sprinkles occur during our journey. We see a rabbit on the CCT peering at us, eyes retroflecting bright before it scuttles away. Dawn begins as we pass Fletcher's Boathouse. Caren spies a large deer watching us from the C&O Canal towpath a few feet above our trail.
Thompson's Boat Center is not yet officially open when we arrive at ~7am, but the cheerful attendant lets us in. He marvels at the distance Caren and I are going today and kindly offers us bottles of water. Increasing numbers of runners meet us as we proceed north along Rock Creek, and our measured splits between "P-P" markers confirm that we're still maintaining a pace of ~12:30, though our walk breaks grow in frequency as we both begin to get a bit tired. The National Zoo path is open, a boon which both Caren and I appreciate since it lets us avoid the scary tunnel with its narrow sidewalk. It gives us some extra mileage too! We tank up again at the zoo water fountain and trek upstream. Caren recognizes friends from the MCRRC Experienced Marathoner program on Beach Drive, including director Mike Broderick and Michelle Price leading separate training groups.
My shirt begins to show a red badge of abrasion (cf. Mana Burn) but fortunately it fits in with the autumn color scheme of the design. I apply more vaseline and all's well again. Our pace slows slightly to ~13 min/mi as we climb to the DC line and reenter Maryland. Restrooms at Candy Cane City are locked, so we visit the Meadowbrook Stables, chat with the horses, and continue across East-West Highway on RCT. Then we branch up residential streets to the Grubb Road path near mile 1.3 of the CCT. Both of us are definitely feeling fatigue now, but when we see the marker for the last mile Caren proposes that we blitz it out. We manage a final 11:23 split, our fastest mile of the day. It's almost 10am now, for total of 4 hours 44 minutes on foot. Within seconds of our finish the long-delayed deluge begins.

Bad Santa

9 Oct - ~21 miles (~13 min/mi) — Want to try a 40% scale-model of the JFK 50 Miler course? Today's a holiday, so after dropping Daughter off at the UM campus I park near Adelphi Manor Recreation Center's cricket pitch and gird my loins for what I vaguely estimate to be "a couple of hours", maybe 10-15 miles. A bit over four and a half hours later I'm back at the car. From milepost 4.5 of the Northwest Branch Trail I trot upstream 2.5 miles at an 11-12 min/mi pace, to where the pavement ends and "true trail" begins. For the next ~7 miles my speed slows to more like 14-15 min/mi, as I imagine I'm on the Appalachian Trail segment of the JFK and try to avoid twisting an ankle or slipping on the rocks. Heavy machinery pushes dirt and muck about, improving the trail where it nears Kemp Mill Road. Engine noise masks the sounds of my approach and I startle a worker carrying a big axe on his shoulder; thankfully nothing bad happens. I navigate through Wheaton Regional Park, where I'm sorely disappointed when soda machines at the ballfields say "Sold Out" and reject my wrinkled dollar bill. I console myself with water and an energy gel, the only one I'm carrying today. I take off one shoe and empty out some pebbles. The other foot is soggy from an unwise placement in a muddy puddle.
Then it's via sidewalks to Sligo Creek Trail, downstream ~9.5 miles to the confluence with Northwest Branch in Hyattsville. At Sligo Dennis Avenue Park I refill my bottle and meet Aaron, a young fellow in training for his first marathon, New York next month. We chat as we jog and I'm shocked to see us cover a measured mile in 10:06. Strangely enough, shortly thereafter my legs become quite tired. (Wonder why?) I increase my walk:jog ratio to 1:2 and fall behind Aaron, but catch up after a road crossing. This is his longest-ever run, a 20 miler, so I offer my usual unsolicited advice and encouragement to a mara-novice. We part ways at the last water fountain, Sligo Creek North Neighborhood Park, as Aaron heads for home and I continue southeast. I divert at the East-West Highway crossing to visit a Rite-Aid Pharmacy, where I'm crestfallen to discover that the $1 I carry is insufficient to purchase anything to drink — bummer! My final mile on SCT is a few seconds sub-12, at a walk:jog of 1:1 now. Then it's only 2.2 miles upstream on Northwest Branch Trail to close the loop, holding a steady 12-ish pace.
Towards the end of my journey a pod of junior-high-aged kids shout "Hey Santa!" at me — not threateningly, but certainly without the respect that Father Christmas deserves. (Watch out, dudes, or you may find coal in your stockings!) When I get home I discover a coat of fine-grained sand on my toes, inside both socks, along with a small blood blister on the side of one foot.

Candy Cane 5k Plus

14 Oct - ~14 miles (~12 min/mi) — Must replace camera batteries; must find MCRRC race bib #333; must fill water bottle; must replenish candy supply; must fetch in newspapers; etc., etc. So I set off at 6:40am, ten minutes later than planned, and have to hustle the ~2 miles to Candy Cane City where I meet Caren and Ken for a warm-up before the MCRRC 5k. We jog south along Beach Drive to Military Road and back for ~7 miles at ~12 pace. The bright orange traffic cones marking the race are set up and I feel frisky enough to blitz the last mile back to the starting line in 10:32. Then all three of us get chilled waiting for the event to begin. Various comrades chat with us about recent and planned races as I take photos. Friend Ruth (who did the HAT 50k with me in March) appears; she's in town to get her cats ready for the trip to England, as well as to work and to run.
The race begins promptly at 9am, and we start at the back of the pack as usual. Ruth sprints ahead as Ken and I cover the first mile in 10:06 with Caren close behind us. Near the turnaround my attempt to snap a picture of Ruth fails, so I accelerate and catch up with her, foolishly planning to get a bit ahead and do more photography. Ken startles me by appearing at my shoulder, so to open a gap I speed onward and am astounded to see 9:02 on my watch at mile 2. (Hmmm ... maybe I should warm up more often before racing? I've never tried it before, and it seems to be working!) I pass several runners including a little kid, perhaps the same one who soared past Ken and me at Lake Needwood last month. Mile 3 is an 8:25 and the final 5k fraction is 1:02 for an unplanned total time of about 28:35 (plus some seconds from our late start). I station myself near the end of the course and photograph Ken and Ruth and Caren as they blast in. Then it's drink, eat, take more snapshots, and jog home with plenty of walk breaks on the way. I resist the temptation to hitch a ride, barely.

AT Familiarization

15 Oct - ~12 miles (~18 min/mi) — Comrade Ken and I are on South Mountain, getting a taste of the JFK 50 Miler course. Enthusiastic MCRRC ultrarunner Cathy Blessing (who six months ago persuaded me to attempt the JFK) has organized a series of practice runs. KS & ^z arrive at the Weverton Cliffs portal to the Appalachian Trail [1] at 7am, before anyone else. We figure we're the slowest, and Ken needs to get home by noon, so we set off immediately, climbing ~500 feet to the ridgeline during the first half-hour via a series of ~15 switchbacks. This segment of the AT is rocky in the extreme, and it's hard to imagine running down it — though the fast JFK runners clearly do it, and at least some survive. We follow the white blazes and after a mile or two divert to admire the Edward B. Garvey Memorial Shelter [2], a magnificent structure. I photograph it from various angles and we chat with the campers there who are just rising. Trail humor ensues, as the upstairs occupant of the building warns, "Don't climb up unless you want to see a fat naked guy!" I reply, "Stay away from the window please!" and then add, "By the way, this camera can take pictures through wood." His reply, not suitable for family audiences, caused the rest of us to shout, "Too much information!"
Ken and I return to the AT and continue north, meeting a variety of hikers and runners en route. My fantasy is to buy a soda at Gathland State Park, but after 1 hour 45 minutes of Ken's aggressive speed-hiking we're half a mile short of the goal and I'm feeling exhausted. I take a GPS waypoint at our turnaround point [3], which coincidentally is the same hilltop that I reached from the north on 10 Sep 2006 during my prior AT run. The return journey features several incidents of ankle-rolling, toe-stubbing, and near-tripping for each of us — but fortunately nothing disabling. After 3:34 on the trail we emerge from the knee-jarring switchbacks and are back to the car. I get Ken home with 15 minutes to spare.

Curtailed Yassos

20 Oct - 3+ miles (~10 min/mi net pace) — I really plan to do ten repeats --- really! (Well, maybe eight.) But a little more than halfway through my speedwork at the UM soccer stadium track, about 8:30pm, a couple of official-looking guys tell me that they have to close the track. "Can I just finish this lap?" "OK" So my tally is only six * 800m with two minutes of recovery walking between --- times 4:12 + 4:04 + 4:03 + 4:01 + 4:07 + 4:02 --- no cardiac arrest, but some bright glowing blobs in my visual field during the middle segment.

Catoctin Trial

21 Oct - ~8 miles (~20 min/mi) — Lost? No problem! We were just following our own path. Caren and I take a suboptimal turn during the drive out to Gambrill State Park and enjoy an unanticipated visit to the little town of Myersville. Likewise at various points along the Catoctin Trail we experience novel scenery as we lose the blue blazes and wander the hillsides, or pursue a yellow-marked alternative route. An extra mile or so? No problem!
At about 3:20pm on a sunny-cool Saturday afternoon we leave the parking lot [4] and walk/jog on the rocky, hilly path. After four easy stream crossings and about an hour and a quarter the sun is getting low so, although we have a flashlight, we take a rest stop and then turn back from the top of a ridge about 3.5 snaky miles northward [5]. It's a good training session for the JFK. During the return trip Caren spies a small herd of deer descending the hillside behind us. When we discover that we're almost half a mile off-course and near the main road, we resist the temptation to take the easy way to the car, and instead backtrack until we find the junction where we went astray. The GPS loses lock occasionally in the valleys and under the trees but the trackfile indicates at least 8.3 miles journeyed, so I prefer that to the 7.2 mile trip "odometer" which clearly has short-changed us.

Sligo Shamble

22 Oct - ~4 miles (~17 min/mi) — At 7:15am Christina and I are both behind schedule as we meet at the rec center for a ramble along Sligo Creek Trail. We jog and walk, north to University Blvd., then south a roughly equal distance while chatting about speedwork and cameras and injuries. An approaching runner drives a small three-point buck toward us; otherwise the only wildlife we notice are squirrels. Chris has a disposable camera from the Army 10 Miler with a few photos left to burn, so as the sun rises she takes shots of bridges and a fallen tree. We do a measured half-mile in 5:18 together, and on the final segment of the trail I blast a solo half in 3:42.

(cf. Deathly Cold (5 Jun 2006), Sponge Bath (29 Jun 2006), Remind Me Never To (23 July 2006), Intestinal Infortitude (13 Aug 2006), Baby Gets New Shoes (5 Sep 2006), Viking Railroad (26 Sep 2006), ...)

- Monday, October 23, 2006 at 05:53:46 (EDT)

Arbor Avis

 Not one bird in sight --
   Yet always, when I pass by,
 That tree twitter-chirps.

- Sunday, October 22, 2006 at 05:19:39 (EDT)

Appear vs. Is

A label on a new bottle of my medicine raises profound philosophical questions. It reads:


Hmmm ... so although the pills may appear to have changed, in reality they are not altered? After all, I have only the evidence of my senses for their mutation ...

- Thursday, October 19, 2006 at 05:06:18 (EDT)

Darwin on the Fossil Record

In Chapter VI ("Difficulties on Theory") of The Origin of Species Charles Darwin reflects on the challenges that his hypothesis must overcome, and begins with the confession:

Long before having arrived at this part of my work, a crowd of difficulties will have occurred to the reader. Some of them are so grave that to this day I can never reflect on them without being staggered; but, to the best of my judgment, the greater number are only apparent, and those that are real are not, I think, fatal to my theory.

Shortly thereafter Darwin notes:

The crust of the earth is a vast museum; but the natural collections have been made only at intervals of time immensely remote.

In Chapter IX ("On the Imperfection of the Geological Record") he returns to this theme in more detail, concluding with a lovely metaphor:

... Those who think the natural geological record in any degree perfect, and who do not attach much weight to the facts and arguments of other kinds given in this volume, will undoubtedly at once reject my theory. For my part, following out Lyell's metaphor, I look at the natural geological record, as a history of the world imperfectly kept, and written in a changing dialect; of this history we possess the last volume alone, relating only to two or three countries. Of this volume, only here and there a short chapter has been preserved; and of each page, only here and there a few lines. Each word of the slowly-changing language, in which the history is supposed to be written, being more or less different in the interrupted succession of chapters, may represent the apparently abruptly changed forms of life, entombed in our consecutive, but widely separated formations. On this view, the difficulties above discussed are greatly diminished, or even disappear.

- Tuesday, October 17, 2006 at 05:58:04 (EDT)

Limiting Factors

Simple systems are controlled by one, or a few, parameters. Step on the accelerator, and the car speeds up (other things being equal). Warm the bread dough, and the yeast cells divide quicker (within limits). Increase the speed of a projectile, and it flies farther (ignoring other issues).

Complex systems are controlled by a large number of factors, sometimes so many that building an accurate predictive model is virtually impossible. (Global climate may be one such case.) But often, within a given regime, one parameter clearly dominates. (For the Earth's climate today, carbon dioxide is probably that parameter.)

Consider running — unaided human locomotion. For various overlapping distance ranges I naïvely speculate:

miles limiting factor
0 - 0.2 mechanical force — accelerating the mass of the body
0.1 - 2 oxygen intake — getting enough oxidizer to the cells
0.5 - 10 waste removal — carrying off lactic acid or other muscle activity byproducts
5 - 30 stored energy — metabolizing fuels already present in the body
15+ ... fuel input — absorbing additional sugars via digestive system
20+ ... electrolyte balance — maintaining proper concentrations of Na, K, etc.
30+ ... mechanical breakdown — blistering, bruising, joint damage, etc.
50+ ... brain chemistry — continuing key mental functions

(cf. Pushing The Envelope (25 Aug 1999), Envelope Pushing (24 Apr 2003), ...)

- Sunday, October 15, 2006 at 15:11:16 (EDT)

David Copperfield and the Tyranny of Words

In Chapter LII ("I Assist at an Explosion") of David Copperfield, Charles Dickens mocks, appropriately, the department of redundancy department that language often evolves into:

Again, Mr. Micawber had a relish in this formal piling up of words, which, however ludicrously displayed in his case, was, I must say, not at all peculiar to him. I have observed it, in the course of my life, in numbers of men. It seems to me to be a general rule. In the taking of legal oaths, for instance, deponents seem to enjoy themselves mightily when they come to several good words in succession, for the expression of one idea; as, that they utterly detest, abominate, and abjure, or so forth; and the old anathemas were made relishing on the same principle. We talk about the tyranny of words, but we like to tyrannize over them too; we are fond of having a large superfluous establishment of words to wait upon us on great occasions; we think it looks important, and sounds well. As we are not particular about the meaning of our liveries on state occasions, if they be but fine and numerous enough, so, the meaning or necessity of our words is a secondary consideration, if there be but a great parade of them. And as individuals get into trouble by making too great a show of liveries, or as slaves when they are too numerous rise against their masters, so I think I could mention a nation that has got into many great difficulties, and will get into many greater, from maintaining too large a retinue of words.

(cf. Dept Of Redundancy Dept (18 Apr 2003), ...)

- Saturday, October 14, 2006 at 05:14:28 (EDT)

Post Captain

A friend (DW) gave me Patrick O'Brian's second novel in his "Aubrey & Maturin" series of sea stories, Post Captain. It seemed rather pedestrian from the start, and as I read along I heard unfortunate echoes of E. E. "Doc" Smith's style, with characters who were caricatures thrust into too-predictable situations for transparent plot purposes.

But two-thirds of the way through Chapter One, I met this extraordinary sentence:

Whether Mrs Williams liked her daughters at all was doubtful: she loved them, of course, and had 'sacrificed everything for them', but there was not much room in her composition for liking — it was too much taken up with being right (Hast thou considered my servant Mrs Williams, that there is none like her in the earth, a perfect and an upright woman?), with being tired, and with being ill-used.

... and (once I finished parsing it) I just had to read on!

(cf. Master And Commander (4 Mar 2005), ...)

- Thursday, October 12, 2006 at 05:17:25 (EDT)

Far Too Smart

From the 2001 movie Bandits, written by Harley Peyton:

Terry: You know the hardest thing about being smart?
Joe: No.
Terry: I always pretty much know what's gonna happen next. There's no suspense.

(cf. Real Genius (23 Jan 2003), ...)

- Tuesday, October 10, 2006 at 04:43:30 (EDT)


At a recent meeting the chairman, Art B., was gently disagreeing with the notion that having a bunch of people working together is guaranteed to improve things:

We don't know what "good" means with respect to [this topic] — so it's a hypothesis that collaboration makes it "better".

Later, describing another project, Art remarked:

The person we're trying to help has nothing — so all we have to beat is nothing!

- Sunday, October 08, 2006 at 17:41:14 (EDT)

Lyndon Johnson's Political Philosophy

In "My Political Philosophy", an essay published in 1958, Lyndon Baines Johnson (later US President) describes himself:

I am a free man, an American, a United States Senator, and a Democrat, in that order.
I am also a liberal, a conservative, a Texan, a taxpayer, a rancher, a businessman, a consumer, a parent, a voter, and not as young as I used to be nor as old as I expect to be — and I am all these things in no fixed order.

Later in the same essay, LBJ criticizes the false dichotomy within which political questions are sometimes framed:

This equation process is much a part of our party systems and contributes to the myth of the concept that "there are two sides to every question." True, there are two parties. That is not the same as two sides. But, by maintaining the two-side concept, we satisfy our consciences — again as a matter of convenience — that when a partisan majority has prevailed there is no need to examine either the majority's side or the minority's side again. Our reasoning is that since there are two sides, either side would have been acceptable, and hence the answer decided by political strength does not require closer scrutiny.
I think otherwise. This popular view is, I feel, very much counter to our American philosophy based on the thinking of men like Jefferson and Madison. I do not believe we have arrived at an answer until we have found the national answer, the answer all reasonable men can agree upon, and our work is not done until that answer is found — even if the process requires years of our lives.

Lyndon Johnson concludes with:

Some who equate personal philosophies with popular dogma might inquire, endlessly, as to my "position" on this issue or that issue or some other. Philosophies, as I conceive them at least, are not made of answers to issues, but of approaches more enduring and encompassing than that. By these approaches I have set down, I can seek and, I believe, find answers to the issues of 1958 or 1978, as they arise.

(The article "My Political Philosophy" originally appeared in The Texas Quarterly, Vol. I, No. 4, Winter 1958, and is reprinted in the 1964 collection A Time for Action: A Selection from the Speeches and Writings of Lyndon B. Johnson, 1953-64; cf. Living Philosophy (12 Jun 1999), ...)

- Friday, October 06, 2006 at 05:35:08 (EDT)

Wineglass Marathon 2006


(graph of pace (minutes/mile) versus distance (miles) for ^z at the Wineglass Marathon 2006; red circles are "raw" splits, blue crosses are "smoothed" nearest-neighbor averages, and the yellow-filled line depicts my "doubly-smoothed" pace — making my deterioration after mile 16 rather obvious)

"Your pulse is weak and thready," the nurse at the medical tent tells me. My calves have been cramping for most of the past hour; comrade Ken has felt lightheaded since mile 20. His pulse is likewise diagnosed as "thready" — a word we both find intriguing — and at 90/40 his blood pressure trumps my 94/60. A few minutes earlier we staggered across the finish line of the 25th Wineglass Marathon. One hour later Ken observes, "All things considered, that wasn't a bad experience!" After laughing, I agree with him.

How did we get here? The 1 October 2006 Wineglass Marathon violates several of my cardinal rules:

Well maybe they're not rules, they're guidelines. Ken really wants to try the Wineglass, he offers to drive us there, and he argues cogently that this is a fine training run for the JFK 50 Miler [1] that I've signed up for in mid-November. Besides all that, Ken's wife grew up in the area and owns a lovely house on Seneca Lake [2]. Ken arranges for us to crash free overnight with family friends nearby. How can I resist?

So on Saturday morning Ken and I begin the 280-mile journey to race packet pick-up. On the way we stop at the Red Rabbit, just north of Harrisburg, but are disappointed to find it closed. The Fry Brothers Turkey Ranch in Trout Run PA nurtures me with excellent raspberry pie à la mode. We listen to CDs of African popular music, Bollywood show tunes, and Chicago street musicians while cruising north on US-15 through intermittent drizzle.

In Corning NY near the marathon finish line we pick up our goodie bags, including spiffy technical shirts and small commemorative bottles of champagne. We decide to preview the course by driving to the start in Bath. That's fun and worthwhile — scenery en route is splendid — and it also offers a chance for humorous banter about the impossibly long distance we're going to cover on foot the next day.

After we survey the starting line we drive on to Watkins Glen at the southern end of Seneca Lake. On the way we pause at a cemetery where some of Ken's in-laws are buried, and I photograph several outré modern grave markers that catch my eye. Then Ken takes me to see his wife's lake house and some neighborhood wineries, where the depths of my oenological ignorance become apparent. After camerawork at dramatic waterfalls, historic markers, and classical buildings, we eat a light dinner at a noisy but nice microbrewery/bar, "The Rooster Fish". (Note to self: avoid banana-flavored ales!) At Rocky and Pam's home in nearby Montour Falls we have an enjoyable chat with our hosts. I retire to a comfy air mattress on the living floor.

Sunday morning I'm up at 5am for coffee and a real banana. The day dawns cloudy but dry, contrary to last night's weather forecast. Ken and I cruise back to Corning, passing the Watkins Glen race track; I see several MINI Coopers outfitted for rally competition with numbers on their rear windows. We park, organize our gear, and ride on a school bus to the start at the Philips arc-lamp factory in Bath. Friendly workers, on watch to keep wayward runners out of the machinery, answer our questions about their dangerous-looking furnaces.

At the starting line Jeanne L. greets me. She's an enthusistic photographer/runner comrade whom I last saw at the Annapolis 10 miler and, before that, at Riley's Rumble half-marathon. Jeanne's with a buddy, Joanne H., who's doing her second marathon here. J&J jog with me for the first three miles at ~11:30 pace, including many pauses for Jeanne to take pictures of the houses and spectators in the town.

This would have been a smart pace for me to maintain but I'm feeling frisky and foolish — so I excuse myself and trek on ahead, pushing the tempo slightly to the 10:30-11:00 zone. About mile 5 I spy a fork by the shoulder of the pavement and pause to pick it up. I place it carefully on the asphalt, telling myself that competitors behind me can scratch their heads when they encounter a fork in the road. Aid stations every two miles are staffed by energetic, helpful volunteers. Ham radio operators provide comms support, and local ambulances cruise the route in case anyone needs help. One fallen runner has a bloody nose and is being tended at the roadside as I pass.

Entering Savona at the mile 9 porta-johns I'm startled when someone shouts my name: I've unexpectely caught up with Ken and with Susan Q., a veteran ultramarathoner whom he's been running with since the start. We discuss the JFK 50 miler, the HAT Run, the Marine Corps Marathon, and several other races that Suzy has done over the years. I insist on taking walk breaks every 4-5 minutes, and so for an hour I entertain S&K as I fall behind and then catch up with them while they maintain a steady 11 min/mi forward velocity. Along the way I see a cute kid, maybe four years old, who points out my long beard to his mother. "I'm Santa Claus," I tell him as we jog by, "in training for Christmas!" He's delighted; several miles later we see him again — the family has driven down the road to cheer someone else along — and he chases after me shouting, "Santa!"

But alas, my too-brisk-for-the-day pace catches up with me: I begin to feel significant fatigue about mile 15 and increase the frequency of my walk breaks. I still manage to keep in contact with Suzy and Ken, but more intermittently. I'm only carrying two "Succeed!" electrolyte capsules, and swallow them at mile 16 and 18. I've been drinking Gatorade religously and sucking down packets of energy-goo every 45 minutes, but to no avail. The day begins cool and cloudy but when the sun comes out temperatures climb into the mid-60s, a bit too warm for my comfort. My shirt is sweat-soaked.

At mile 20.5 Suzy's family meets her and gives us all bananas. Ken gets dizzy standing there, an ominous sign. Our route leaves the highway at Painted Post and zig-zags through parks and down residential streets. We press onward as an abrupt squall throws icy-cold rain in our faces for ten minutes. Then the sun returns.

I start to feel serious cramps in my calves which soon make it impossible for me to run for more than 45 seconds at a time. Ken meanwhile is feeling increasingly weak, so he sticks with me. At our insistence Suzy runs ahead, to finish seven minutes in front of us. At mile 26, with the end in sight, Ken tells me to go forward. I stumble across the line 13 seconds under the arbitrary 5-hour mark; Ken crosses 19 seconds later.

We eat, drink, shower at the nearby YMCA, and enjoy the 6-hour drive home. Between stops for Chinese food and ice cream we pause to investigate a tiny tombstone perched in a traffic triangle by the highway. The engraving on it reads:

John Lee - Major - 1 BN. PA. MIL. - REV. WAR - AUGUST 12, 1782

(cf. Washington Birthday Marathon 2006 (20 Feb 2006), Seneca Creek Greenway Trail Marathon 2006 (5 Mar 2006), Hat Run 2006 (31 Mar 2006), Viking Railroad (26 Sep 2006), ...)

^z split information for the Wineglass Marathon 2006:

Mile Time Pace Mile Time Pace Mile Time Pace
1 00:10:34 10:34 10 01:49:49 11:21 19 03:31:38 12:00
2 00:22:14 11:40 11 02:01:06 11:17 20 03:43:11 11:33
3 00:33:48 11:34 12 02:12:12 11:06 21 03:55:24 12:13
4 00:44:37 10:49 13 02:23:02 10:50 22 04:07:21 11:57
5 00:55:37 11:00 14 02:34:18 11:16 23 04:20:02 12:41
6 01:06:17 10:40 15 02:45:14 10:56 24 04:32:26 12:24
7 01:17:00 10:43 16 02:56:16 11:02 25 04:44:12 11:46
8 01:27:35 10:35 17 03:07:35 11:19 26 04:57:30 13:18
9 01:38:28 10:53 18 03:19:38 12:03 26.2 04:59:47 10:26

- Wednesday, October 04, 2006 at 06:27:27 (EDT)

Darwin on the Tree of Life

In Chapter IV ("Natural Selection") of The Origin of Species Charles Darwin rhapsodizes over the often-overlooked interrelationships among all creatures on Earth, and how taxonomic patterns reflect a deeper kinship:

... It is a truly wonderful fact — the wonder of which we are apt to overlook from familiarity — that all animals and all plants throughout all time and space should be related to each other in group subordinate to group, in the manner which we everywhere behold — namely, varieties of the same species most closely related together, species of the same genus less closely and unequally related together, forming sections and sub-genera, species of distinct genera much less closely related, and genera related in different degrees, forming sub-families, families, orders, sub-classes, and classes. The several subordinate groups in any class cannot be ranked in a single file, but seem rather to be clustered round points, and these round other points, and so on in almost endless cycles. On the view that each species has been independently created, I can see no explanation of this great fact in the classification of all organic beings; but, to the best of my judgment, it is explained through inheritance and the complex action of natural selection, entailing extinction and divergence of character, as we have seen illustrated in the diagram.
The affinities of all the beings of the same class have sometimes been represented by a great tree. I believe this simile largely speaks the truth. The green and budding twigs may represent existing species; and those produced during each former year may represent the long succession of extinct species. At each period of growth all the growing twigs have tried to branch out on all sides, and to overtop and kill the surrounding twigs and branches, in the same manner as species and groups of species have tried to overmaster other species in the great battle for life. The limbs divided into great branches, and these into lesser and lesser branches, were themselves once, when the tree was small, budding twigs; and this connexion of the former and present buds by ramifying branches may well represent the classification of all extinct and living species in groups subordinate to groups. Of the many twigs which flourished when the tree was a mere bush, only two or three, now grown into great branches, yet survive and bear all the other branches; so with the species which lived during long-past geological periods, very few now have living and modified descendants. From the first growth of the tree, many a limb and branch has decayed and dropped off; and these lost branches of various sizes may represent those whole orders, families, and genera which have now no living representatives, and which are known to us only from having been found in a fossil state. As we here and there see a thin straggling branch springing from a fork low down in a tree, and which by some chance has been favoured and is still alive on its summit, so we occasionally see an animal like the Ornithorhynchus or Lepidosiren, which in some small degree connects by its affinities two large branches of life, and which has apparently been saved from fatal competition by having inhabited a protected station. As buds give rise by growth to fresh buds, and these, if vigorous, branch out and overtop on all sides many a feebler branch, so by generation I believe it has been with the great Tree of Life, which fills with its dead and broken branches the crust of the earth, and covers the surface with its ever branching and beautiful ramifications.

- Sunday, October 01, 2006 at 22:38:30 (EDT)

David Copperfield Satanic Mills

In Chapter XLVII ("Martha") of David Copperfield, Charles Dickens draws a scene of industrial London that echoes the William Blake poem of 1804, with its "dark Satanic Mills":

The neighbourhood was a dreary one at that time; as oppressive, sad, and solitary by night, as any about London. There were neither wharves nor houses on the melancholy waste of road near the great blank Prison. A sluggish ditch deposited its mud at the prison walls. Coarse grass and rank weeds straggled over all the marshy land in the vicinity. In one part, carcases of houses, inauspiciously begun and never finished, rotted away. In another, the ground was cumbered with rusty iron monsters of steam-boilers, wheels, cranks, pipes, furnaces, paddles, anchors, diving-bells, windmill-sails, and I know not what strange objects, accumulated by some speculator, and grovelling in the dust, underneath which — having sunk into the soil of their own weight in wet weather — they had the appearance of vainly trying to hide themselves. The clash and glare of sundry fiery Works upon the river-side, arose by night to disturb everything except the heavy and unbroken smoke that poured out of their chimneys. Slimy gaps and causeways, winding among old wooden piles, with a sickly substance clinging to the latter, like green hair, and the rags of last year's handbills offering rewards for drowned men fluttering above high-water mark, led down through the ooze and slush to the ebb-tide. There was a story that one of the pits dug for the dead in the time of the Great Plague was hereabout; and a blighting influence seemed to have proceeded from it over the whole place. Or else it looked as if it had gradually decomposed into that nightmare condition, out of the overflowings of the polluted stream.
As if she were a part of the refuse it had cast out, and left to corruption and decay, the girl we had followed strayed down to the river's brink, and stood in the midst of this night-picture, lonely and still, looking at the water.

- Friday, September 29, 2006 at 18:21:16 (EDT)

David Newsom

At the office picnic last Wednesday Dave Newsom was his usual jolly self. On Saturday he died of a heart attack. Dave was a colleague and comrade, highly professional, perhaps a bit portly, always with a puckish sense of humor lurking slightly below the surface.

An archetypal Newsomianism: our mutual friend is a semi-vegetarian who only eats creatures that "don't have a face". Once upon a time, she reports, Dave went into her office while she was away ... and drew faces on her grapefruits.

David Newsom — R. I. P.

- Wednesday, September 27, 2006 at 05:16:29 (EDT)

Viking Railroad

viking_train_whistle In a box of children's toys, stored in our basement for a decade and a half, I find an old wooden train-whistle — amazingly loud — and a plastic viking-style helmet — rather too small for my head. During the Parks Half Marathon on Sunday (24 Sep 2006) I'm part of the crew at Water Stop #6, about 1.5 miles from the end of the race. To help the tired runners smile I tie the helmet on with a chain of rubber bands, looped over the horns and under my chin, concealed by my beard. The course follows an abandoned railroad track, and my manic tooting actually makes at least one racer think there's a train nearby. Other outdoor tomfoolery:

Marina Meltdown

9 Sep 2006 - 18+ miles (~11:40 min/mi) — Ken invites me to accompany him during his Capitol Hill Running Club jog today, led by Marine Corps members as part of an MCM training program. A nearly full moon sets in the west as the red disc of the sun, haze-filtered, looms beside the Iwo Jima Memorial. I sit quietly while the group does stretches. "It's all about the running for you," a Marine colonel observes. "Nah, I'm just not a member of the club!" I respond with a grin. The colonel sets off with a "slow" group downhill past Arlington Cemetery to the Mount Vernon Trail (MVT) — but since "slow" to him means sub-11 pace, after a few miles I deliberately lag behind. Ken is charitable enough to stick with me.
A helpful young corporal has set up an aid station at ~5.5 miles, where we catch up with a few compatriots and I refill a water bottle. In Alexandria we briefly zig-zag with some of the group to a dead-end waterfront wharf where construction has blocked the trail. Since this is only ~90 minutes out I'm sure we haven't reached the halfway point. Ken and I backtrack, detour, and continue below the new Woodrow Wilson Bridge to the "official" 9 mile cone. This still feels a bit short, so we take a side path and visit the southernmost [ DC Boundary Stone ] , placed at the Jones Point lighthouse on April 15, 1791 by surveyors Andrew Ellicott and Benjamin Banneker during an elaborate Masonic ceremony.
Now it's definitely turnabout time. The heat and humidity are slowly cooking me, and after two hours my singlet and shorts are totally drenched. I extend my walk breaks and increase their frequency; our pace slows to ~12 min/mi. When we arrive at mile ~13 the kind corporal there helps us refill our bottles and gives us banana and orange slices. Passenger jets roar overhead as the MVT takes us by the end of the main runway at Reagan National Airport. Ken and I notice the time and wonder how Caren (on the Punxsutawney Groundhog 50k in Pennsylvania) and Ruth (on the Marathon du Medoc in France) are doing now. We manage a final ~11-minute mile in their honor before branching off the MVT at Memorial Bridge. "I am a leaf on the wind," I say in an effort to feel lighter on my feet. (It's a line from the sf movie Serenity by Joss Whedon.) "Or maybe," I tell Ken, "I'm a wet leaf stuck to the bottom of somebody's shoe."

Gathland Gallop

10 Sep - 7+ miles (~15 min/mi) — Cathy Blessing of the MCRRC organizes a get-together this morning at [ Gathland State Park ] on the Appalachian Trail. It's an area familiarization drill, designed to help folks who hope to do the JFK 50 miler in two months. Son Robin and I arrive early. We chat with fellow trail runners and then set off northward in proper ultra fashion: briskly walking up the first hill. Tarzan Boy and another fast runner soon race out of sight. After the rest have likewise zoomed ahead ultra-experienced and ultra-helpful Mike Broderick hangs back to keep an eye on me and Bernie, a young lady training for her first ultra. Mike gives us good advice on exercise, nutrition, general trail strategy, and JFK tactics. The conversation keeps me moving along comfortably, even though I'm a bit tired still from yesterday's warm and humid jog.
Three miles zip by in less than 45 minutes, and I'm startled when we to catch up with the bulk of the crew at the AT's intersection with [ Bear Spring Cabin Trail ] . Time to head back to the start. On the way we meet Robin, who has been taking photographs and is now hiking with a runner who strained his hamstring and wisely isn't stressing it further. At the cars we refuel and continue southward on the trail. I go to the top of the next ridge, 3/4ths of a mile, then reverse course and rendezvous with Robin at the car. The Appalachian Trail in this area is wide and well-marked, albeit a bit rocky in places. We'll see how it looks pre-dawn in mid-November, when today's segment will serve as miles 6-10 of the JFK!

Ken-Gar + Lake Needwood Orbit

16 Sep - 20+ miles (~12 min/mi pace) — After finishing the dangerously enthusiastic novel Once a Runner yesterday I'm energized to think long thoughts ... maybe jog 13 miles from home to Lake Needwood, do a 10k MCRRC race, and jog back? Fortunately I come to my senses and decide to start at Ken-Gar Park. At 6:30am Rock Creek Trail is dark under the trees, but I know the way. A pair of rascally rabbits tempt me to stop and take out my camera before they scamper away. Part of a Brandenburg Concerto, heard on the radio this morning, plays in my head. A couple of miles upstream I realize that I've forgotten my #333 "Half Beast" racing bib, and will have to get another temporary one. At mile six a cheerful woman greets me; she's training for a 60-mile 3-day walk. We stroll together for a minute and exchange tips on how to prevent blisters, as I try without success to persuade her to enter the race today.
The seven miles to Lake Needwood average 11:40 pace in cool but humid air. I arrive with 50 minutes to spare before the race — plenty of time to take pictures of cute kids and chat with friends. Way-No is volunteering today, since he's nursing what may be another broken bone in his right foot. Comrade Ken and his softball buddy Steve line up to run with me. We prepare by recounting our various injuries, illnesses, and pitiful lack of training.
At 8:50am the 10k cross-country race begins, and Ken, Steve, and I make it through the first half in 34:26, slightly before the winner finishes. A lady runner ("Masoomeh") falls in with us; she hasn't done this XC distance before, so she and I stick together for the rest of the race, walk the hills, and cover the remaining 5k in 34:03. Our overall pace is a hair over 11:00 min/mi, and I finish 23 seconds faster than last year. Ken and Steve are a couple of minutes ahead of us. We hang out, eat, drink, and chat. At half past ten I point my feet south toward Ken-Gar for a return trip at an average 12:30 pace in a light drizzle. Several chipmunks scamper across the trail. Various mystery twinges appear and disappear in my feet and legs. My cellphone in its plastic bag is decorated with crystals of dried sweat-salt.

Bethesda Stroll

17 Sep - 8+ miles (~17 min/mi pace) — Christina, Ken, and I meet at 7am in downtown Bethesda to put some miles on our feet. Chris is preparing for the Parks Half Marathon next week, while Ken and I have our near-term sights set on the Wineglass Marathon on 1 October. We trek northwest along Old Georgetown Road, vector east on Cedar Lane, and then return to our starting point via the final 5+ miles of the PHM course. Chris's hip is troubling her today so we do more walking than jogging, but that's perfectly all right: I'm still recovering from yesterday's long run, and Ken plans to do another dozen miles after we get back to our start. So we talk, greet fellow travelers along Rock Creek Trail (many of whom know Chris), and enjoy the relatively cool morning air — though as usual I'm sweat-soaked after half an hour, start to feel chafing, and pause to apply petroleum jelly to my nipples at the corner of Wisconsin and Cedar. When we've finished the loop Ken heads on down the Capital Crescent Trail, I buy beignets at Louisiana Express and Christina treats me to a strawberry-banana smoothie from Dunkin Donuts as we do a cooldown walk, dodging cyclists and dogs along the CCT.

Sligo Speedwork

22 Sep - 11+ miles (~11 min/mi pace) — Ken invites some young Capitol Hill friends to join us at Sligo Dennis Avenue Park early Saturday morning, and shortly after 7am Langston arrives; he's training for the Army 10 Miler next month. We proceed downstream at 10-11 pace (far faster than I usually train at) and arrive at Sligo Creek Trail's intersection with East-West Highway a few minutes past an hour en route. Less than a mile into the return journey another Congressional staffer, Dom, meets us; he's getting ready for his first marathon, Honolulu in December. We chat as we jog back to Dennis Ave., still averaging sub-11 min/mi, while twinges on the bottom of my left foot develop into a sporadic pain. Dom continues north on the trail as the rest of us cool down. This will likely be my last run before Ken and I try the [ Wineglass Marathon ] on 1 October, from Bath to Corning in New York state.

(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), Baby Gets New Shoes (5 Sep 2006), ...)

- Tuesday, September 26, 2006 at 05:45:09 (EDT)

John Darnielle

Ghosts and weeds ... hands and mirrors ... blood and clouds — some of the recurring images on John Darnielle's latest album, Get Lonely. Darnielle and friends are The Mountain Goats . His songs are electric poems set to haunting, minimalistic music. Typical lyrics from "Woke Up New", as the narrator asks himself, "What do I do without you?":

  The first time I made coffee for just myself I made too much of it
      But I drank it all just cause you hate it when I let things go to waste
  And I wandered through the house like a little boy lost at the mall
      And an astronaut could have seen the hunger in my eyes from space

Rian Johnson has created an enchanting video for "Woke Up New"; it's on Youtube and in a high-res version on Johnson's own site for free download and sharing.

When coffee-house music doesn't work it's like the beat-poetry brilliantly parodied in Daniel Pinkwater's Snarkout Boys and the Baconburg Horror. Darnielle's verse, however, almost always works ...

(cf. Mountain Goats fan site , Rat Tales (10 May 2003), ...)

- Sunday, September 24, 2006 at 06:14:34 (EDT)

Running vs. Training

In Chapter 23 ("Enter, Prefontaine") of Kenny Moore's Bowerman and the Men of Oregon, Bill Bowerman quotes fellow coach Bill Dellinger:

... [W]hen you get really fit, running's easy, running's like brushing your teeth. Of course, that [isn't] training. Training is like having your teeth cleaned an hour a day. ...

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

- Friday, September 22, 2006 at 20:57:42 (EDT)

Darwin on Cats and Flowers

Charles Darwin in The Origin of Species (Chapter III, "Struggle for Existence") offers charming and graphic illustrations of the subtle connections between elements of the ecosystem:

Here we see that cattle absolutely determine the existence of the Scotch fir; but in several parts of the world insects determine the existence of cattle. Perhaps Paraguay offers the most curious instance of this; for here neither cattle nor horses nor dogs have ever run wild, though they swarm southward and northward in a feral state; and Azara and Rengger have shown that this is caused by the greater number in Paraguay of a certain fly, which lays its eggs in the navels of these animals when first born. The increase of these flies, numerous as they are, must be habitually checked by some means, probably by birds. Hence, if certain insectivorous birds (whose numbers are probably regulated by hawks or beasts of prey) were to increase in Paraguay, the flies would decrease — then cattle and horses would become feral, and this would certainly greatly alter (as indeed I have observed in parts of South America) the vegetation: this again would largely affect the insects; and this, as we just have seen in Staffordshire, the insectivorous birds, and so onwards in ever-increasing circles of complexity. We began this series by insectivorous birds, and we have ended with them. Not that in nature the relations can ever be as simple as this. Battle within battle must ever be recurring with varying success; and yet in the long-run the forces are so nicely balanced, that the face of nature remains uniform for long periods of time, though assuredly the merest trifle would often give the victory to one organic being over another. Nevertheless so profound is our ignorance, and so high our presumption, that we marvel when we hear of the extinction of an organic being; and as we do not see the cause, we invoke cataclysms to desolate the world, or invent laws on the duration of the forms of life!
I am tempted to give one more instance showing how plants and animals, most remote in the scale of nature, are bound together by a web of complex relations. I shall hereafter have occasion to show that the exotic Lobelia fulgens, in this part of England, is never visited by insects, and consequently, from its peculiar structure, never can set a seed. Many of our orchidaceous plants absolutely require the visits of moths to remove their pollen-masses and thus to fertilise them. I have, also, reason to believe that humble-bees are indispensable to the fertilisation of the heartsease (Viola tricolor), for other bees do not visit this flower. From experiments which I have tried, I have found that the visits of bees, if not indispensable, are at least highly beneficial to the fertilisation of our clovers; but humble-bees alone visit the common red clover (Trifolium pratense), as other bees cannot reach the nectar. Hence I have very little doubt, that if the whole genus of humble-bees became extinct or very rare in England, the heartsease and red clover would become very rare, or wholly disappear. The number of humble-bees in any district depends in a great degree on the number of field-mice, which destroy their combs and nests; and Mr. H. Newman, who has long attended to the habits of humble-bees, believes that "more than two thirds of them are thus destroyed all over England." Now the number of mice is largely dependent, as every one knows, on the number of cats; and Mr. Newman says, "Near villages and small towns I have found the nests of humble-bees more numerous than elsewhere, which I attribute to the number of cats that destroy the mice." Hence it is quite credible that the presence of a feline animal in large numbers in a district might determine, through the intervention first of mice and then of bees, the frequency of certain flowers in that district!

- Wednesday, September 20, 2006 at 15:55:54 (EDT)

Honest Voting Machines

Given the recent troubles in local elections (a week ago I stood in line for half an hour before being told that my name couldn't be found in the voter lists, but when I came back that afternoon everything went swimmingly; thousands of others had similar experiences in Maryland) it seems likely to me that the electronic vote-tallying machines here are not crooked — since if they were fiendishly rigged, the same über-genius conspiracy would make the election process run über-smoothly, to avoid raising suspicions!

Of course, that's still no reason to accept voting systems that don't offer a paper audit trail, any more than one should trust an automated teller machine that refuses to issue a receipt ...

(cf. Crypto Gram (23 Dec 2003), ...)

- Tuesday, September 19, 2006 at 05:12:05 (EDT)

Once a Runner

John L. Parker, Jr. has written an extraordinarily dangerous novel: Once a Runner, the story of a year in the life of a young world-class miler. It's dangerous in that the temptation, after reading it, is to go out and run too fast, too hard, and too long — likely to the point of injury or burn-out. Caveat Lector! But there's good writing along the way in Once a Runner — powerful imagery as well as apt metaphors, sophomoric humor, arch understatement, and pulse-pounding race action. An early sample, from Chapter 3 ("The Morning Run"):

The weight men were cocky, masculine and gentle; they never needed to bully, such was their looming physical presence. These specimens made their particular way in the world by heaving 16-pound iron balls great distances, tossing fiberglass plates out of vision, whipping sharpened aluminum shafts to the horizon. They were the most direct throwbacks to ancient times when such arts were cultivated to bash and puncture the armor of one's enemies; to spill blood from a distance. The confidence of those who do such things well is enormous and needs no bravado for support. They feared only each other.
The distance runners were serene messengers. Gliding along wooded trails and mountain paths, their spiritual ancestors kept their own solitary counsel for long hours while carrying some message the import of which was only one corner of their considerable speculation. They lived within themselves; long ago they did so, and they do today.
There was great unspoken respect between the weight men and the distance runners that was understood but never examined closely. They all dealt in one way or another with the absolute limits of the human body and spirit, but the runners and weight men seemed to somehow share a special understanding.
The sprinters and jumpers were quite another story. ...

And some representative striking snippets:

Chapter 10 ("Demons"):
... The back of her neck smelled like a parakeet's tummy, sweet hay and fluff. ...
Chapter 17 ("Breaking Down"):
... He did not live on nuts and berries; if the furnace was hot enough, anything would burn, even Big Macs. ...
Chapter 19 ("The Awesome Midnight Raid"):
... These fundamental imbalances led them into concentric circles of ever decreasing size: a nautilus shell of their discontent. ...
Chapter 33 ("Orchids"):
... What was the secret, they wanted to know; in a thousand different ways they wanted to know The Secret. And not one of them was prepared, truly prepared to believe that it had not so much to do with chemicals and zippy mental tricks as with that most unprofound and sometimes heart-rendering process of removing, molecule by molecule, the very tough rubber that comprised the bottoms of his training shoes. The Trial of Miles; Miles of Trials. ...

Once a Runner is not a refined book; there's plenty of grossness and impolite language. It's a fine book, though, in a multitude of meanings of "fine": superior, keen, pure, fit, ...

(cf. ISBN 0915297019 (UK), And Then The Vulture Eats You (9 Dec 2004), ...)

- Sunday, September 17, 2006 at 05:52:00 (EDT)

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