^zhurnal 0.60

Howdy, pilgrim! You're in volume 0.60 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 = 0.59 ... complete list at bottom of page ... send comments & suggestions to "z(at)his(dot)com" ... tnx!

This Far Inside

One of my favorite scenes from the silly-yet-clever (and maybe wise, in places) movie The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension occurs when Buckaroo and his colleague New Jersey are chatting in the midst of performing brain surgery:

NEW JERSEY: "See, this is the part, where for me, it started to look like a problem. You know, I wanted to sacrifice the precentral vein in order to get some exposure, but because of this guy's normal variation, I got excited, and all of a sudden I didn't know whether I was looking at the precentral vein, or one of the internal cerebral veins, or the vein of Galen, or the basal vein of Rosenthal. So, on my own, me, at this point, I was ready to say that's it, let's get out."
BUCKAROO BANZAI: "You can check your anatomy all you want, and even though there may be normal variation, when you get right down to it, this far inside the head it all looks the same. No, no, no, no, no. Don't tug on that! You never know what it might be attached to."

(transcript anatomically corrected to read "precentral vein" and "basal vein of Rosenthal"; cf. Liberal Education (2 Nov 2005), ...)

- Thursday, April 05, 2007 at 06:10:56 (EDT)

Sicilian Defense

From Chapter 23, "The Siege of Syracuse (414)" of The Peloponnesian War by Donald Kagan (2003):

Most historians agree with Thuciydides in blaming the continuation of the Sicilian campaign on the greed, ignorance, and foolishness of the direct Athenian democracy. But the behavior of the Athenians on this occasion is the opposite of the flighty indecision that is usually imputed to their democracy. They showed constancy and determination to carry through what they had begun, in spite of setbacks and disappointments. Their error, in fact, is one common to powerful states, regardless of their constitutions, when they are unexpectedly thwarted by an opponent they anticipated would be weak and easily defeated. Such states are likely to view retreat as a blow to their prestige, and while unwelcome in itself, it is also an option that puts into question their strength and determination and with it their security. Support for ventures such as the Sicilian campaign generally remains strong until the prospect of victory disappears.

- Tuesday, April 03, 2007 at 22:25:42 (EDT)


An announcement posted to the MCRUN mailing list this morning, describing a new event for the Montgomery County Road Runners:

rUNAWARE 6k --- 31 April
The rU6k is a new race for 2007 which will be held in West Dickerson on a unique course which offers a challenging mixture of natural and artificial hazards. Join us for MCRRC's celebration of "Freedom to Run" --- whenever, wherever, however, and with whatever you may choose. Strollers, mp3 players, sound-canceling earphones, unleashed animals, and heads-up navigational displays are recommended. The 6k (Technology Series) event starts at 9:15am, when the "GO" signal will be transmitted to runners via text message. Participants will encounter automobiles, inline skaters, freight trains, cyclists, electric fences, jitneys, and if we're lucky a few crazed deer. Instead of bib numbers, results will be reported based on IP addresses.
During the race all runners will need to consult their Blackberries, cellphones, and/or laptops frequently to download instructions, since race officials will update the course map in realtime depending on traffic and the location of hostile law enforcement authorities. GPS users are reminded to rely on their scrolling maps and to disregard any human course marshals they may encounter. Free WiFi hotspots will be available for the convenience of runners, as will emergency battery recharging stations. The associated 0.314 mile Kids Run is part of the Junior Geek Series and begins at 9:14am. All youths who score at least 100k points on their Gameboys during the event will receive special music download certificates. The rU6k race is part of our ultra-low-key club series, and is free to MCRRC members, $5 for non-members. Registration is race-day only via email to mcruin@mcrrc.org .
(with many thanks to comrades Caren, Christina, and Ken for inspiration and helpful suggestions!)

- Sunday, April 01, 2007 at 08:21:34 (EDT)

Miracles and Wonders

Ralph Waldo Emerson on 6 Nov 1837 rhapsodizes in his journal like a trail runner in the wilderness:

'Miracles have ceased.' Have they indeed? When? They had not ceased this afternoon when I walked into the wood and got into bright, miraculous sunshine, in shelter from the roaring wind. Who sees a pine-cone, or the turpentine exuding from the tree, or a leaf, the unit of vegetation, fall from its bough, as if it said, 'the year is finished,' or hears in the quiet, piny glen the chickadee chirping his cheerful note, or walks along the lofty promontory-like ridges which, like natural causeways, traverse the morass, or gazes upward at the rushing clouds, or downward at a moss or a stone and says to himself, 'Miracles have ceased'? Tell me, good friend, when this hillock on which your foot stands swelled from the level of the sphere by volcanic force; pick up that pebble at your foot; look at its gray sides, its sharp crystal, and tell me what fiery inundation of the world melted the minerals like wax, and, as if the globe were one glowing crucible, gave this stone its shape. There is the truth-speaking pebble itself, to affirm to endless ages the thing was so. Tell me where is the manufactory of this air, so thin, so blue, so restless, which eddies around you, in which your life floats, of which your lungs are but an organ, and which you coin into musical words. I am agitated with curiosity to know the secret of nature. Why cannot geology, why cannot botany speak and tell me what has been, what is, as I run along the forest promontory, and ask when it rose like a blister on heated steel? Then I looked up and saw the sun shining in the vast sky, and heard the wind bellow above and the water glistened in the vale. These were the forces that wrought then and work now. Yes, there they grandly speak to all plainly, in proportion as we are quick to apprehend.

(cf. Natural Profligacy (20 Dec 1999), Ralph Waldo Emerson (2 Aug 2003), Seeing Nature (19 Jul 2005), ...)

- Saturday, March 31, 2007 at 16:26:19 (EDT)

Historic Texas Dessert

In an old-town San Antonio restaurant, and want to remind the waiter to put ice cream on your slice of apple pie? Just shout:

Remember the à la mode!

- Thursday, March 29, 2007 at 21:38:11 (EDT)

Herodotus on War and Peace

In THE HISTORY by Herodotus, Book 1, Part 87, Croesus is quoted as observing:

"... For no one is, of himself, so foolish as to prefer war to peace; in the one, children bury their fathers; in the other, fathers their children. ..."

(from the David Greene translation)

- Wednesday, March 28, 2007 at 18:21:27 (EDT)

HAT Run 2007

Sole-sucking muck tries to rip shoes off the feet of runners. Soul-sucking muck tries to rip out the will to continue. Neither quite succeeds — but the 50k HAT Run of 24 March 2007 is memorable for the muddy mires that punctuate every mile of the course. It's an exhausting ordeal and therefore (like the recent Seneca Creek Greenway Trail Marathon 2007) is excellent training for the upcoming Bull Run Run 50 miler. I crawl across the finish line in just under 8 hours, more than 20 minutes slower than last year's HAT.

Recent rains have lifted streams in Susquehanna State Park to near-flood stage, a foot higher than normal. My usual timid tactic, tip-toeing across on stones to keep socks dry, is clearly impossible. So I wade through icy waters like a real trail runner. That washes some of the mud off shoes and calves. At the end of the day a thin gray-brown coating remains, a five o'clock shadow of the goo from past hours of slogging. Plenty of grit is still inside the socks, however!


Jeff Hinte, founder and race director of the Hinte-Anderson Trail Run [1], greets me when I arrive at 8am to register and pick up the usual fine bag of HAT goodies. This year there's a cap, a technical shirt, and a tote sack. A triangular zippered backpack awaits those who finish the 31+ mile event. I capture a prime location for my midcourse drop-bag on a corner picnic table in the Start/Finish pavilion. Temperatures are in the low 50's and light rains have fallen for the past few days.

Comrade Caren has been waiting in the parking lot for an hour and meets me there. We take photos and mingle. Emaad (whom I met at the JFK 50 Mile Run 2006) and his friend Mary are here, and so are Wayne and Paul (whom I last saw at Seneca Creek three weeks ago). Everyone anticipates mud, but our visions fall far short of the reality.


Just before 9am we form a mob at one end of a big field, and the race begins. Caren and I jog and walk comfortably. By the end of the first mile we're close to last place, precisely where we want to be. "Our plan is working!" I exclaim. The advantage of hanging back is that it lets the traffic jam dissipate on the narrow trail and at the first water crossing. The disadvantage is that our predecessors have churned the wet ground into a swampy mess. I recall the Welsh Bog Snorkeling competition that I heard about from friend Ruth, who ran the 2006 HAT with me.

Caren and I stick together for the first half dozen miles, but after she tells me for the tenth time to go on ahead I do so. Rough trail conditions have put us ~1 minute per mile behind last year's pace and I'm concerned about making a critical cutoff at mile 16. Maybe I would have done better by hanging back, however, and conserving energy for the later part of the race? But I'm carrying a small chart of my past times, and the comparison with it makes me nervous.

Onward and upward and downward I go. The HAT course is changed a bit from the past few years and enters the looping roads of a campground area. I get a final chance to shout encouragement at Caren as she begins the circle while I'm leaving. My progress is good on the gravel and pavement but I nevertheless arrive at the second Aid Station 12 minutes behind schedule. I tell myself not to worry. Perhaps the new course is a little longer than it used to be. Maybe I'm slower. Certainly I'm older. The hills are definitely steeper!

I pause for less than a minute to refill my bottles with Gatorade, eat a potato chunk dipped in salt, grab a handful of peanut M&M candies, and then plod away. The path to the unmanned aid station at mile 14 seems shorter than in the past, but it includes the scariest stream crossing and the longest climbs. I press onward through the next two miles of woods and sloughs, calculating that I might just barely make the first cutoff which is published on the web site as 3 hours 50 minutes. I arrive with a minute to spare by my watch.

"Please, Sir, can I try that again?" I ask Jeff Hinte, who is logging runners in. "Sure!" he replies, and tells me that this year the time limit is 4 hours. As in the past he's not strict about enforcing it, as long as a runner looks healthy. In fact, he tells me, anyone who wants extra time to enjoy the woods can start early, honor system. Hmmmm! Maybe next year I'll try that.

Round Two

I tank up, greet Mary and Emaad who are changing socks and dropping off gear, and trot out of the pavilion. Caren arrives only 9 minutes behind me and could in theory start another loop, but she has family commitments and decides wisely to head for home early. A mile downcourse Mary catches up with me, but her stomach isn't feeling good and she's thinking about turning back to quit. I quote the ultra mantra, "It never always gets worse!", and offer her one of the Succeed! electrolyte capsules that I'm carrying. She washes it down with water, adds a sodium-rich energy gel chaser, and perseveres. "You can always stop at the next aid station and get a ride out," I tell her. "See how you feel then."

Five miles later a reborn Mary overtakes me! She's feeling fine now, so we chat as we walk and jog miles 21 through 27. As so often occurs during trail runs we discover a host of things to discuss: personal medical issues (of which we have a surprising number in common), fitness (Mary has done a couple of Ironman triathlons but this is her first ultramarathon), philosophy (we're both vegetarians for ethical reasons), school (Mary is working on her Ph.D. in physics), family, etc. Time glides pleasantly by as we begin to pass a few runners who went out too fast or suffered injury. We sympathize.

At our second loop through Aid Station #2 we get a splendid surprise: french fries, fresh out of the deep-fat fryer! They're almost too hot for us to eat, but we do anyway. At the suggestion of a volunteer I try one coated in peanut butter. It's excellent. "Next year you should cook some onion rings — and jalapeño poppers!" I request.

Mary and I thank the aid station crew and trek on with renewed energy. The flooded creek isn't so frightening this time around; we cross without incident. Mary is stronger than I am on level ground, but I have a small edge on the hills. At mile 28 as I study my watch and chart it seems remotely conceivable that I can finish in less than 8 hours. Illogical, pointless, purely symbolic — but nonetheless the thought energizes me. Mary, less driven, sends me on; I press hard as she and P.J., another lady we've met, climb the slopes toward the final aid station. A member of the Annapolis Striders whom I've seen in other races is ahead and helps pull me along for the final half hour. To the cheers of a few bystanders I break into a feeble jog for the home stretch. I high-five Jeff, Wayne, Phil, Eamon, and others who have made it there already.

Whew! The traditional description of the HAT Run, "... challenging but not daunting ...", is an understatement this year. I grab my camera and photograph Mary as she comes in a few minutes behind me. We're both signed up for the Bull Run Run; neither of us expects to make the cutoffs there, if conditions are anything like they were today. Nonetheless, we'll try.


The race this year is monitored at intervals by Park Service personnel, on horseback and on foot. I salute and thank them whenever I pass. Overall the runners do a great job of keeping the land clean; many of us pick up litter along the way. My day is a productive one as I spy:


Location Distance Time Split Pace
Aid Station #1 ~5 mi 1:13 73 min 15 min/mi
Aid Station #2 ~10 2:19 66 13
Unmanned Aid Sta. ~14 3:14 55 14
Pavilion ~16 3:49 35 18
Aid Station #1 ~20 5:01 72 18
Aid Station #2 ~25 6:17 76 15
Unmanned Aid Sta. ~29 7:18 61 15
Pavilion ~31 7:57 39 20

(cf. Hat Run 2004 (2 Apr 2004), Hat Run 2005 (20 Mar 2005), Hat Run 2006 (31 Mar 2006), ...)

- Sunday, March 25, 2007 at 21:32:43 (EDT)

Portmanteau Words

Think about the possibilities, for poesy and/or humorous effect, of combining two words, e.g.:

... as per Chapter VI of Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass wherein Humpty Dumpty explains the poem "Jabberwocky":

'That'll do very well,' said Alice: 'and "slithy"?'
'Well, "slithy" means "lithe and slimy." "Lithe" is the same as "active." You see it's like a portmanteau — there are two meanings packed up into one word.'

(cf. Too Clever (5 Apr 2004), ...)

- Saturday, March 24, 2007 at 05:32:29 (EDT)

Cheat Codes

Yet Another Curmudgeonly Rant: last week while visiting a library I happened upon the reference shelf holding 2600: The Hacker Quarterly. It's a magazine that a few decades ago had some small fame (or infamy) for offering deep information about long-distance telephony and other technical topics.

Alas, today's 2600 seems sadly shrunken (and not just in format) from what I remember seeing in the '70s. The articles that I glanced at resembled tutorials on how to quickly beat video games. Sure, it's not hard to defeat security measures and sneak books out of a library, or make a free phone call, or alter a bar code, or pick a lock — but why bother, and why boast about doing it? And where are the equations, or the nontrivial source code listings, or any other evidence of having studied and solved a hard problem? The intellectual level of the modern 2600 appears to be several notches below Electronics Illustrated, and infinitely short of QST or other ham radio publications. Even the writing style was lame.

So what's the point — why cheat at solitaire? One might as well be proud of "hacking" a wiki ...

(cf. Keep Out (17 Dec 2001), Charles Rodrigues (25 Sep 2005), ...)

- Thursday, March 22, 2007 at 06:09:54 (EDT)

During or Enduring

Ralph Waldo Emerson notes in his journal entry of 22 May 1837:

Among provocatives, the next best thing to good preaching is bad preaching. I have even more thoughts during or enduring it than at other times.

(cf. Ralph Waldo Emerson (5 Aug 2003), Worse Is Better (23 Dec 2003), ...)

- Tuesday, March 20, 2007 at 21:01:44 (EDT)

Compact Living

Comrade correspondent Lila Das Gupta's blog [Recycle of Life] is a thoughtful diary of her family's no-shopping experiment, a counter-cultural adventure in healthy frugality that strongly appeals to me. The simple goal is simplification — which brings to mind some other simple suggestions seen recently:

Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.
(from the beginning of Michael Pollan's "Unhappy Meals" in the Sunday New York Times magazine of 28 Jan 2007; "food" means generally fresh, whole foods — things that your great-great-grandmother would recognize as edible)
Run daily. Run slowly. Don't eat like a pig.
(by the late racing coach Ernst van Aaken, quoted at the end of Rich Engelhart's "Endruance Training's Grand Old Man" in the Mar/Apr 2007 Marathon & Beyond magazine; I would amend "daily" to something like "frequently", and would include walking or other gentle exercise)

(cf. More Fun Less Stuff (1 Oct 2002), Compassionate Carnivorism (19 Nov 2002), ...)

- Sunday, March 18, 2007 at 20:04:21 (EDT)

Aggressive Resting

For the past month the logbook has been mostly whitespace as I let damage heal and mitochondria recharge between long races and training runs. Upcoming are the 50k HAT Run (24 March [1]) and the 50 mile Bull Run Run (14 April [2]). Until the verdicts from those are in:

Hunger & Thirst

10 Feb 2007 — ~24 miles (~12.5 min/mi) — My fantasy during the first 2.5 hours of today's run centers on buying a big bottle of Mountain Dew from the soda machine at Thompson Boat Center. When I arrive, I discover to my chagrin that the place is padlocked with a sign that says "Closed for the Season". Ugh! Today is my first longish jog in more than a month, and half a mile from home I suddenly realize that the George Washington's Birthday Marathon is only 8 days away. Of course, I tell myself, the GWBM is only a training run for the Seneca Creek Greenway event a few weeks later, which in turn is prep for the HAT Run, which is a warm-up for the Bull Run Run in mid-April. Nevertheless, this year I seem to be taking my ultra-low-mileage ultramarathon training philosophy to new heights (or troughs). The results remain to be seen.
It's brisk today, with blue skies and temperatures in the upper 20's eventually rising into the 30's. Intermittent gusty winds shift to blow in my face whichever way I'm headed. After a breakfast of coffee and Oreos I set out from home at 10:23am with bare legs but double shirts, plus cotton gloves and a cap. After a mile my head is warmed up nicely so I stuff the hat into my shorts and trot downhill to join Rock Creek Trail just inside the Beltway. Water fountains at East-Way Highway and Candy Cane City are frozen or turned off, so I attempt to conserve my bottle of electrolyte mix. Mistake #1! The first dozen miles pass by at 11-12 min/mi pace, and I'm feeling confident when I finally get a drink at the Pearce Mill park fountain near Tilden Road. I eat one "Sports Bean" every mile; they're orange-flavored candies with salts in them, a gift from Comrade Christina that taste great. MCRRC members heading upstream greet me as they run the Rock Creek + Capital Crescent Trail loop in the opposite direction to my choice. An unknown cyclist shouts, "Way to go, Mark Dickerson, you marathon man!" (Perhaps he met me through my wife, Paulette Dickerson?) As I begin to get tired I remember the DVDs that Comrade Caren lent me (of the heroic Western States 100 and of David Horton's 66-day traversal of the Pacific Crest Trail) and press onward with renewed enthusiasm.
At the 2-hour mark I reach the National Zoo and suck down an energy gel. Thirty minutes later near the Kennedy Center I pause to take photos of a young couple and baby, using their camera. They're Asian tourists and want pictures of themselves in front of the frozen Potomac River. Seagulls perch on wooden railings. I consider venturing into a fancy waterfront bistro to buy something warm to drink, but fear that I couldn't afford anything; I'm only carrying $2 in quarters. Mistake #2! I should have at least tried to fill my bottle. My pace slips now, to about 12 min/mi for miles 12-16 as the CCT climbs gently. Fletcher's Boathouse appears closed; nothing to drink there. A blind lady runner, training for Boston, and her companion catch up with me as they finish a 20 mile day — I'm impressed. Stephanie King, fast young ultrarunner whom I met at the JFK 50, salutes me as she blasts by in the opposite direction on the CCT. I hear slapshot noises and look down to see a hockey game underway on the frozen C&O Canal.
Then my system starts to suffer. I suspect, belatedly, that I'm dehydrated and probably also running out of energy. My walk breaks expand and now my pace is more like 13-14 min/mi. Thankfully the all-weather fountain at Dalecarlia (CCT mile marker 6.5, about 3.5 hours and 17 miles into my day) is working, so I refill my bottle and start eating my final resource: a lemon-poppyseed Clif Bar. I finish downing it and 20 oz. of water by the time I reach Bethesda, 3 miles and 40 minutes later. That fountain also works, and since I'm still thirsty I re-refill and plough homeward, drinking frequently. My condition seems to stabilize ... but it's too late to recover much and my legs are borderline cramping. I "sprint" into my driveway and stop my watch a hair under 5 hours after setting out. Note to self: drink and eat, early and often!

Windy Cold

18 February 2007 — 26.2 miles (~11.7 min/mi) — see Washington Birthday Marathon 2007 ...

Icy Mud

3 March 2007 — ~28 miles (~ 16.4 min/mi) — see Seneca Creek Greenway Trail Marathon 2007 ...

I'm Free!

10 March 2007 — ~3 miles (~9.5 min/mi) — I set two alarms for 5am but wake before either of them goes off. When I roll over in bed the room suddenly spins around me — vertigo that's followed by profuse sweating. Hot flash? Brain parasites? Reaction to the dawn of Daylight Savings Time? Whatever it is, it's scary enough that I decide not to jog the ~5 miles from home to Wheaton Regional Park for this morning's MCRRC "Run Aware" 5k. When the dizziness partially subsides I get up, make a cup of coffee, check the Web of Lies for potential diagnoses, and send an email to comrades Caren & Christina & Ken telling them not to worry if they don't see me today. Then it's back to bed for another hour of rest.
By 7am I'm feeling no dizzier than usual, so I change into running gear and drive to Wheaton. Decked out with big headphones and holding a DVD, a Chinese restaurant menu, and a cellphone, I walk to the starting line and ask Race Director Pat Maloney and announcer Lyman Jordan, "Is OK for me to send text messages during the run, to order carryout hot-and-sour soup?" — anathema to the theme of the "Run Aware" campaign, of course. They laugh and politely tell me what I can do with my headphones.
I register, ditch the excess paraphernalia in my car, and warm up a little with C & C & K. Last evening Christina and I walked much of the course; along the way we met Pat Maloney with Jim Farkas rolling a measuring wheel. Before the start Stephanie King greets me and says that she "plans to skip this race": she and a friend are going to cover the distance step-hop step-hop fashion, skipping along.
The course is hilly and pleasant, with occasional mudpuddles from last night's rain. Ken and I jog the first mile together in about 10:45, with Caren and Christina a bit behind us. Ken's ITB seems much better now, but he's still recovering from something that resembles pneumonia and hasn't been able to train much lately; Caren is coming back from a bad calf muscle injury; and Christina is still doing a regime of intensive weight-training and speedwork along with swimming, spinning, and frequent road racing. So we all have good excuses well marshalled for today.
On the plus side of the equation, I'm trying new shoes: size 12 Nike "Free" ultralight soft sneakers that approach running barefoot. I found them in the half-price room of RnJ Sports, along with some low-rise wicking socks. After mile 2 flows by in ~9:45 Ken challenges me to run ahead, so I throw coal onto the fire and reach the finish line in an additional ~7:45 — an impossibly-fast pace for me. Likely the final segment of the course is short by ~0.1 miles. No matter — my feetsies feel so good that I've gotta get some more of these magic slippers!

(cf. Baby Gets New Shoes (5 Sep 2006), Viking Railroad (26 Sep 2006), Hat Bulge (23 Oct 2006), Inner Goat (12 Nov 2006), Jfk 50 Mile Run 2006 (20 Nov 2006), Sharper Image (10 Dec 2006), All Good (13 Jan 20007), Racy Jetsam (4 Feb 2007), ...)

- Saturday, March 17, 2007 at 13:53:15 (EDT)

Gibbon-o-Matic Requiem

During the early 1990s I began a voyage through Edward Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, both for the history and for the wonderful use of language. I read with highlighter in hand, and circa 1995 I posted my collection of favorite Gibbon quotations to my web site [1]. It quickly became the most popular of my pages, probably because it attracted hordes of lazy, desperate students who had been assigned to read the "damned, thick, square book" and wanted a short-cut. Maybe the title I gave the excerpts — The "Best of" Edward Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire — also helped. (Note those deliberately ironic quote-marks!)

A few years later Paul Heller (the owner of HIS.COM, my ISP at the time) mentioned that some of those witty Gibbonic pearls might be fun to deliver via the same random-selection message that generated a constantly changing proverb-of-the-day on the HIS.COM main page. The mechanism of producing that random quote was a relatively standard, simple CGI-BIN script running on the web server. It took a symbol-delimited file and, when triggered by an HTML request, returned a pseudo-randomly chosen chunk of text. This script was called a "fortune cookie" generator in the UNIX world where it originated.

So I picked out several dozen of the "best of the best" (shortest, most stand-alone, politically-relevant, whatever struck my fancy) aphorisms from my set and put them into a text file with some standard delimiter between quotations. I sent that file to Paul and he modified the default fortune cookie program, gave it the http://www.his.com/cgi-bin/fortune.gibbon URL, and put it to work. I added an HTML framework so that a page counter and a link back to the main Decline and Fall page could be displayed with each selection.

According to the Internet Archive's "Wayback Machine" the Gibbon-o-Matic had registered ~5,000 hits by late 1999. It added ~15,000 hits/year through most of 2005. At that point it appears to have broken, probably due to system upgrades or server changes. Now all that's left is the counter, mindlessly incrementing.

Rest in Peace: the "Gibbon-o-Matic" — 1998?-2005?

(cf. Gibbon Table Of Contents, ...)

- Thursday, March 15, 2007 at 19:07:39 (EDT)

Herodotus on Geologic Time

In Book 2 Part 11 of The History Herodotus takes a surprisingly modern, scientific view of the millennia-long processes of erosion and deposition. In the David Greene translation:

There is in Arabia, not far from Egypt, a gulf of the sea entering in from the sea called Red; its length and narrowness are as I shall show. For length, if one begins a voyage from its inner end, to sail right through into the broad sea is a matter of forty days for a boat that is rowed. In breadth, at its broadest, the gulf is only a half day's voyage. It has floodtide and ebb every day. I think that once on a time Egypt was just such another gulf; there was one gulf running from the northern sea toward Ethiopia, the other, the Arabian, of which I shall speak, bearing from the south toward Syria; their ends bored into the land near to one another but left a small strip of ground in between. If the Nile should now turn its stream into the Arabian Gulf, what would hinder it from being silted up inside of twenty thousand years? For myself, I could well believe that it would do so within ten thousand. How, then, in the huge lapse of time before my birth, would a gulf not be silted up — a gulf even much larger than this one — when the river concerned was so vast and so hard-working?

(as Greene notes, Herodotus's "Red Sea" is what we call the Indian Ocean; his "gulf of the sea entering in" is our Red Sea; his "northern sea" is our Mediterranean)

- Tuesday, March 13, 2007 at 20:45:05 (EDT)

Ruddock House Mottos

Arts & Letters Daily [1], as it so often does, started me yesterday on an entertaining random-walk through the Web of Lies. My latest journey began with a link to a review of The Price of Admission by Daniel Golden. This is a book about selective university admission policies that (as one might guess by the subtitle, "How America's Ruling Class Buys Its Way into Elite Colleges — and Who Gets Left Outside the Gates") is rather critical of current practice.

But Golden sees a few shining exceptions: Cooper Union in New York City, Berea College in Kentucky, and the California Institute of Technology. "Caltech doesn't compromise admissions standards to attract donations or foster to a wealthy alumni base. Nobody gets into Caltech because their families are rich, famous, or well connected; they get in because of their talent, period." A noble principle, but as many reviewers of The Price of Admission have observed, not a doctrine that all other colleges could or should adopt. (And as I must note, CIT's selectivity is far less stringent in graduate school as my presence 1974-79 proves.)

Drifting onward, however, that mention of Caltech led me to blogs and discussions re undergraduate campus life, which brought me to a Wikipedia article about the House System, which led in turn to Ruddock House's wiki, where I found a demonstration of excessively-active neural networks that really need to be harnessed to the cause of Science. In the debate to decide Ruddock's new motto, the following were among the candidates:

Mentis cum studio laboro et ludo. I work and play with devotion of mind.
Sine balanis vivimus. We live without chestnuts. (chestnut=motto)
Armipotentes non ceciderunt. The mighty have not fallen.
Fructum directum approbamus. We approve of organized fun.
Inventio recta effectis miseris impedit. Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance.
Unum pomum per diem medicum acret. An apple a day keeps the doctor away.
Omnia dicta fortiora si dicta latina. Everything sounds impressive when said in Latin.

(Some other suggestions are omitted due to naughtiness or silliness.) The proposed mottos "with the fewest nays" were submitted to an official vote in February 2007. The apparent winner:

Virtutis mammilas exsugimus. We suck dry the teats of virtue.

Hubris, thy name is Ruddock ...

(cf. College Collage 2 (3 Oct 2000), Embros Herete (30 Dec 2000), Lens Manic (16 Jul 2001), College Collage 3 (29 Sep 2001), Heavy Sleeper (19 Nov 2001), Knowledge And Society (25 Mar 2002), Final Exams (3 May 2002), Real Genius (23 Jan 2003), Ditch Day (21 Nov 2003), Purpose Of Science (28 Feb 2005), ...)

- Sunday, March 11, 2007 at 05:30:37 (EDT)

Public Glimpses

Ralph Waldo Emerson's journal entry of 12 Nov 1836 is a reminder of the sudden joy that can come by chance during a subway ride or in a crowded airport waiting room:

How many attractions for us have our passing fellows in the streets, both male and female, which our ethics forbid us to express, which yet infuse so much pleasure into life. A lovely child, a handsome youth, a beautiful girl, a heroic man, a maternal woman, a venerable old man, charm us, though strangers, and we cannot say so, or look at them but for a moment.

(cf. Ralph Waldo Emerson (2 Aug 2003), ...)

- Saturday, March 10, 2007 at 11:19:24 (EST)

A Race for the Soul

A Race for the Soul is Brian Harder's video celebration of the 2001 Western States 100, a fabled ultramarathon. The scenery is splendid enough, but what really makes this movie shine are the people: the runners that challenge themselves (including some living legends in the field: Scott Jurek, Tim Twietmeyer, Ann Trason, Gordon Ainsleigh, ...); the families and friends who help them along the way (while wondering why they do it); and the volunteers and organizers who make the event possible. Along with inspiration and joy and disappointment come moments of great humor — such as the comment by one competitor (#167, Renda Gail) who when told near mile 50 that she's looking good replies with a sentiment I share:

Looking good is the most important part when you're slow!

(great thanks to ultrarunner comrade Caren for lending me this DVD; cf. Running Through The Wall (23 Jan 2005), Running On The Sun (4 Nov 2005), ...)

- Friday, March 09, 2007 at 06:05:35 (EST)

Sorry for Your Loss

Another memorable exchange from Lake Placid, a 1999 comedy-horror film involving (among other things) a giant crocodile and an engagingly-egotistic wealthy genius scientist named Hector Cyr, played by Oliver Platt. After yet another dead body is discovered Hector tries to express sympathy — but as usual for him it comes out, "Whenever somebody dies, I always think it's such a waste that I didn't know them any better." The local sheriff replies deadpan, "Sorry for your loss, Hector."

(cf. Hidden Knowledge (25 Jan 2005), ...)

- Tuesday, March 06, 2007 at 06:00:55 (EST)

Seneca Creek Greenway Trail Marathon 2007

Tough — that's the adjective that everybody uses to describe this year's ultra-icy, ultra-muddy Seneca Creek Greenway Trail Marathon & 50k. An almost-full moon plays peek-a-boo between tree trunks at 5:30am as I drive out River Road and park on Seneca Road at mile 27 of the course, near a rotting deer carcass. (Perhaps it portends the state of my carcass at that point of today's race?!)

I wait in my car for a few minutes, then gather up my gear and commence the hike to Riley's Lock, the endpoint of the event, where Seneca Creek flows into the Potomac River. I'm passed by Jim Farkas, crew for Team Oz at the Jfk 50 Mile Run 2006, who kindly gives me a ride. Good friend Caren Jew, also a JFK Team Oz member, is waiting. Last year Caren and I ran the Seneca Creek Greenway Trail Marathon together; this time she's a volunteer course marshal.

Caren and I chat, and I give her a bag to hold for me at mile 20 where she will be guarding a road crossing — extra energy gels, a bottle of electrolyte drink, and a change of shoes & socks. Then Caren fills her minivan with runners and drives us to the start in Damascus Regional Park. As always, Ed Schultze and his MCRRC [1] helpers are doing a superb job of organizing and supporting the race. Registration is quick and efficient, so I talk with other competitors and dither over whether or not to wear an outer windshirt. Wayne Carson advises against it, and given the forecast of temperatures rising from early-morning freezing into the 50's I take his counsel.

Just before 8am we line up for Ed's traditional briefing. A cheer from the crowd greets his announcement of ice and mud along the route. (What fools these mortals be!) The paved bike path down to Magruder Branch Trail is treacherous in the extreme, and most of us are reduced to walking on the crunchy surfaces to its sides. Others slip and fall. I meet Christine Papadopoulos, an experienced marathoner who ran 50+ miles during a local 24-hour endurance race last year and who next month is going to be one of the event managers [2]. We chat about today's run and I express optimism that conditions will improve once we're on the real trail. At first they appear to, so I wish Christine luck and jog ahead.

Soon it's obvious that the ice isn't going away, it's getting worse. I catch up with a group of runners and tag along as they gingerly pick their way across, along, and around slick surfaces. The official rules forbid trekking poles, but I see somebody else walking with a stick and experiment with one for a while, then hand it to a shaky person who appears to need it more than I. We joke about Gandalf's staff and my beard. I tell the story of Burnt Njal and his son's on-the-ice battle, but nobody else seems interested. One might think that walking would use less energy than running, but in fact everyone quickly becomes exhausted by the effort to remain upright on the ice.

I manage to keep my balance for several miles and am patting myself on the back until the first major water crossing. The creek is unusually high and before I can grab the guide rope I slip and fall into water up to my knees. My left hand scrapes on the rocks as I catch myself. Fortunately there's no major damage, and from now on I'm not afraid of wading through the water at the fords. My socks are soaked but the trail shoes I'm wearing drain well and my feet warm up within another mile or two.

Where the trail crosses Huntmaster Road the ice is even more dangerous, polished to a glaze where previous runners have trod. A woman ahead of me looks like a giant spider when she sits down and uses all four limbs plus rump to traverse the mini-glacier. (Is she therefore "on all fives"?!) Others walk along the road, trying to find a safer way up the slope. A barbed wire fence beside the trail reminds one lady near me of a course where the runners had to step over such a fence — and the challenge that it presented to a friend of hers who was under five feet tall. "Whoa — don't visualize that!" I warn the woman in front of me. She groans and informs us all that it's too late. Ouch!

I reach the aid station at Brink Road, mile ~7, after 97 minutes. My pace today is ~1 min/mi slower than it was with Caren last year, and I anticipate trouble making the cutoffs ahead. I refill my bottle, grab a handful of chocolate candies, and trek onward. Now surfaces have evolved to a mix of icy mud and muddy ice. Small lakes appear, tops frozen into a thin clear layer. I tap a toe on one and watch the cracks spread. Approaching the Route 355 crossing, mile ~11, I look at my watch and start to push myself to run harder. The time limit here is 11am, and I crawl in at 10:58. Probably the officials won't enforce rigid deadlines today, given course conditions, but just in case I figure I should try to squeak by them. Another bottle refill, a handful of pretzels, and I'm off.

As the stream enters gentler terrain the mud deepens, and I discover that my shoulders are now starting to ache. Apparently when I slip and flail to recover my balance, I'm stressing my arms and associated joints. Ugh! My big fear now is not so much of falling, as of doing a sudden split and straining groin or hamstring muscles, tendons, etc. I take another tumble on an icy patch under the old stone railroad bridge. Here the only safe walkway is along the wooden border of the trail, but my balance isn't good enough to do that reliably at any speed.

Now the course enters Seneca Creek State Park, and as the minutes pass I again hurry to make the symbolic noon deadline at mile ~15, Clopper Lake. I'm obviously too late to qualify for the 3+ mile lake loop option that makes the course into a 50k — even if I weren't already too exhausted to contemplate it. At 11:55am I hobble up to the aid station, check in, tank up, and dip a chunk of boiled potato into a bowl of salt. That hits the spot. Fortified with a handful of candy, I proceed.

The cutoffs from here onward are less daunting, and I calculate that I can walk more now without risking the dreaded DNF, "Did Not Finish". Thus far I have never DNF'd in any race that I've started, and barring sudden mishap my streak seems safe today. A couple of miles farther downstream at Riffleford Road I get a chance to thank race director Ed in person. Then I enter what generally is one of the easier sections of the trail — but today, recent rains have flooded much of the lowlands and the mix of mud and slush continues to challenge.

Comrade Caren welcomes me at the Route 118 crossing, ~20 miles into my pilgrimage. She and another volunteer are armed with flags to help runners cross safely here. I arrive at 1pm, hands too weak to open the Gatorade in my drop bag. So Caren refills my bottle for me as I reload my fanny pack with four more Clif Shots. I've been trying to eat a 100-calorie energy gel every hour, to avoid the bonk that I suffered a fortnight ago at the Washington Birthday Marathon 2007. The wind has picked up and at intervals I feel chilly, so I tie a windshirt around my waist in case of need. At the JFK '06 I failed to do so, and regretted it; today, as it turns out, it's not required.

With words of good advice, soon forgotten, and a final encouraging hug, long remembered, Caren sends me on my way. Annapolis Strider member Ron Bowman plays hopscotch with me as we talk about recent and near-future races that we both plan to attempt. Then he slows and I catch up to a woman who's suffering from ITB pain. I offer her ibuprofen from my cache but she has some of her own. Signs begin to appear along the course, joking about tofu delights awaiting at the Route 28 aid station of Don Libes and company. I arrive at 1:52pm, well in front of any hypothetical 2:30pm cutoff. A sliver of tofu, a salted potato, a fistful of M&Ms, and I'm outta there. Onward and downward: only seven miles to go!

The bogginess (bogosity?!) of the course increases as Seneca Creek meanders through wetlands, swampy even during normal times, semi-submerged today. 50k runners pass me frequently now, as do marathoners who are less fatigued than I. Passenger jets cruise overhead on final approach down the Potomac to National Airport. A massive bonfire burns in a nearby field and noisy farm machinery moves earth to no obvious purpose. At 3:04pm I reach Berryville Road where volunteers inform me that my estimate of ~4 more miles is wrong; there are only ~2.5 miles remaining. "I love you!" I tell them, "Say that again please!"

The waters are high at the next stream crossing but unlike prior years I waste no time searching for rocks to tiptoe across on: there clearly aren't any. I grab the guide rope and wade. Excelsior! The big hill is strangely pleasant as I pass a couple of young fellows who are slowing. Then I'm on the road, trot past the decaying deer skeleton, and leave my bottle on the roof of my parked car as I go by. I manage to run the majority of the final mile and cross the finish line in 7:38:32 official time (or a few seconds faster by my watch since I started at the back of the pack). I'm 18 minutes slower than last year, and a lot more tired.

Running friend Betty Smith congratulates me, as does Christine Papadopoulis whom I met at the beginning of the day. She introduces me to her husband and tells me that she decided, wisely, to stop after the first several miles of ice. I walk along the canal and cross the bridge to join the small party on the other shore. Alas, all the veggie dogs have already been cooked. I snag a bagel and drink a soda, then give 50k men Wayne Carson and Paul Crickard a ride back to Damascus where they left their cars near the starting line.

Yet again, countless thanks to Ed Schultze and his merry band of volunteers, and special kudos to Caren Jew for her cheerful encouragement and help at a critical stage of today's race — brava, C-C!

(cf. Seneca Creek Greenway Trail Marathon 2005 (5 Mar 2005), Seneca Creek Greenway Trail Marathon 2006 (5 Mar 2006), ...)

- Sunday, March 04, 2007 at 18:46:50 (EST)

Drawing Life

David Gerlernter, Yale computer scientist, was almost blown up by the Unabomber in 1993. That event changed him, but it also left him the same. Drawing Life offers a glimpse of Gelernter's thoughts during the first few years after the explosion that almost killed him and wrecked much of a hand and an eye. He's scarred, and it shows. Often he rants. But in between the forgettable finger-wagging and ponderous prescriptions for how to repair Western Civilization, Gelernter paints beautiful word-pictures that combine passion and self-deprecation. A few samples:

Chapter One
If you insert into this weird slot machine of modern life one evil act, a thousand acts of kindness tumble out.
Chapter Three
But eventually my poetry got better. I have always been a devoted and solitary poet, moved only rarely to publish. People still write poetry today, but no one reads it, a freakish anomaly of supply and demand — as if society had forgotten to notify a certain whalebone-corset plant or detachable-wing-collar factory that tastes have changed. So the product builds up, neatly packaged, and in the end the producers are surrounded and cut off. Unfortunately a poet writes because he can't help it, not because it serves any purpose, and poem-writing today has the futility of alchemy.
Chapter Four
Goodness is a matter of seeing what is right and not offering to do it, just doing it. I learned this from my mother; it does no good to hear about it — you have to see it in action. It is a rare quality and I don't have it.
Chapter Six
And despite this amazing fact that I am now devoting myself mainly to art — painting and writing — art is no picnic and never has been. At any rate, not for me. I am a stumbling clumsy oaf of an artist, a Keystone Kop, disregarding the brambles as I lunge after a private butterfly that grazed me once on the cheek (or maybe I dreamt it); I have a certain technical facility, but facility is as likely to be an enemy as a friend. It's a frustrating chase. I chase in prose or poetry the way I grab a big brush or a small one as I try frantically to pin down the painting I have in mind. My world view lines up wrong with the normal categories; I care about beautiful things and my range is narrow, but I am interested in a certain type of beauty instead of a certain type of thing. In paint one time, prose another, it's all the same desperate chase. Success is just as fleeting and the trail just as hard everywhere, and you are the same bloody wreck at the end of the day.

David Gelernter doesn't deserve the celebrity that he now has; few celebrities do. His social commentary is loud and heavy-handed and sometimes embarrassingly inconsistent. But he can sure write!

- Thursday, March 01, 2007 at 21:32:54 (EST)

Things to Write About Some Day (0702)

Some more things to discuss eventually, taken from my offline list of random notions:

- Tuesday, February 27, 2007 at 21:35:45 (EST)

Whatever You Want

Caren and I arrive at dawn for a long jog along Bull Run Trail. The official group run won't begin for almost an hour, so we seek out one of the organizers and ask if it's ok for us to start early. He laughs at us and says, "This is America — you can do whatever you want!"

Well, not quite; there are unspoken qualifiers, limits on that blank check. And of course it doesn't just apply to the US of A. Nevertheless, there's also a great truth there. If (adult, sane) people choose to engage in peaceful acts, there really is no reason to interfere — especially when they consciously decide to shoulder the risks. Be fools! Get lost in the woods! That's freedom, isn't it?

(cf. Independence Day (4 Jul 2001), Personal Positivism (16 Nov 2002), All Good (13 Jan 2007), ...)

- Monday, February 26, 2007 at 15:06:37 (EST)

Flopsy the Bunny

I park the car at the animal hospital and turn off the radio. Flopsy in her carrier is making soft sounds — not moaning, but something like singing along with the music. Or so I tell myself. A few days ago she got sick and began to lie on her left side. We think she may have had a stroke. She doesn't seem to be in any pain. We pet her, and hold her water bottle to her mouth so she can drink, and hand-feed her berry-flavored yogurt drops, her favorite "candy".

A caring neighbor puts us in touch with a home-rabbit rescue society and the kind person there suggests that instead of a stroke it might be an ear infection or parasite. She recommends a local veterinarian, the same one whom we took Flopsy to a couple of years ago. That was the only other time she left the house. Paulette's glasses are stained with tears that have dried on the inside of the lenses. We think of Flopsy when we go into the room where she lived with us for the past decade and turn on the light, glance at her cage, start to talk to her.

The animal doctor puts her on an IV and an antibiotic, but warns us that she's "one sick bunny". After a couple of days she still can't do anything but lie there. The vet regretfully tells us that it's time to say good-bye. Paulette and Gray go to give Flopsy one last hug. Her ashes will come home next week.

Flopsy_2006 Flopsy the Bunny — 1997-2007

(cf. Dickerson Zimmermann 2004 (23 Dec 2004), Dickerson Zimmermann 2005 (24 Dec 2005), Dickerson Zimmermann 2006 (23 Dec 2006), ...)

- Saturday, February 24, 2007 at 18:58:48 (EST)

Diving Bell and Butterfly

My favorite scenes tend to be messy ones. In Jean-Dominique Bauby's wee book of essays The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, the tenth chapter ("The Photo") offers another such, as the author describes his Father's apartment in Paris:

All around us, a lifetime's clutter has accumulated; his room calls to mind one of those old persons' attics whose secrets only they can know — a confusion of old magazines, records no longer played, miscellaneous objects. Photos from all the ages of man have been stuck into the frame of a large mirror. There is Dad, wearing a sailor suit and playing with a hoop before the Great War; my eight-year-old daughter in riding gear; and a black-and-white photo of myself on a miniature-golf course. I was eleven, my ears protruded, and I looked like a somewhat simpleminded schoolboy. Mortifying to realize that at that age I was already a confirmed dunce.

Bauby's prose is compact, poetic in image and energy. There's a reason for that: he wrote it painstakingly, signaling letter-by-letter via blinks of his left eyelid. A massive stroke transformed him within moments: from an active forty-something fashion-magazine editor into a mind trapped inside an almost-inert body — a butterfly in a diving bell. And yet, he often manages to soar ... and to convey that glorious freedom through his writing. An ancient Stoic philosopher would have been proud.

(translation into English by Jeremy Leggatt; many thanks to friend Lila for recommending this book to me!)

- Friday, February 23, 2007 at 05:04:25 (EST)

Sparky to the Rescue

Fibula_ankle_xray_1 While walking his dog Sparky at midnight last week my good friend Mike slipped and fell on the ice. He shattered his ankle. Fortunately Sparky kept his wits: he trotted home, phoned 911 to summon aid, and then came back to keep Mike company. Awaiting the arrival of the medics, Sparky constructed a splint for the broken ankle out of popsicle sticks. He then rode with Mike in the back of the ambulance to the emergency room, conferred with the doctors, and interpreted the X-rays for them. Fibula_ankle_xray_2
ankle_bandaged The following day an orthopedic surgeon confirmed Sparky's diagnosis. Soon Mike is scheduled to have the ankle operated on, to install pins and plates in it so it can heal properly. Sparky has volunteered to lead the surgical team.
Here Sparky rests after his traumatic experience. He has been staying up late, playing poker with the other dogs in the neighborhood in order to raise money to pay Mike's hospital bills. Sparky_rests

- Wednesday, February 21, 2007 at 06:09:47 (EST)

Washington's Birthday Marathon 2007

Today's run is dedicated to Flopsy the Bunny, our family's beloved pet who seems to have suffered a stroke a few days ago. She's paralyzed on one side, can only sip a few drops of water at intervals, and probably won't be with us much longer. Ten good years. She will long be remembered.

According to the thermometer GWB Marathon weather this Sunday (18 Feb 2007) is almost balmy, just below freezing. It's more than 10°F warmer than last year. But that's not allowing for the wind — and a mighty wind it is, 20 mi/hr from the northwest with gusts above 30. When the course is shielded by trees, runners feel fine; when we turn the corner from Beaver Dam Rd. to Springfield Rd. and the breeze blasts across the icy fields into our faces ... well, there's an explanation for our "brisk" pace during that segment of every lap. We're trying not to freeze!

Pat Brown, GWBM Race Director, greets me at 8:30am when I arrive. As usual the controlled chaos of registration and packet-pickup goes smoothly, and at 9:23:30am the optional Early Start happens, a few minutes ahead of schedule. A couple of women jogging along near me are chatting. "I feel good when I run 5:15," one says, meaning five and a quarter hours for the marathon distance. "Wow!" I deliberately misinterpret, "5 minutes 15 seconds per mile!" We all laugh, then turn the corner from suburban Greenbelt into the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center. My plan is to trot along at 11-11.5 min/mi and enjoy myself. I stick to it for the first mile, and then start feeling too good for my own good.

A few miles later, like a fool I'm averaging well under 11 min/mi. A posse of Annapolis Striders pass me, jolly gentlemen whom I met at several races last year. Like me they're training for the 50k HAT run in a month. They arrived at the starting line a few minutes before the officially planned 9:30am Early Start only to find everyone already gone. So out they blast! But although my pace is too fast, they're going even farther beyond what their condition allows, and 10 miles later I catch up with them. Typical mid-marathon banter ensues: "I'm hung!", one of them pants. "Well-hung, I hope?" I ask. "Nope, just hung out to dry", he replies sadly.

My turn to hang arrives an hour later. I only have three packets of energy gel in my pouch, and I suck them down at miles 8, 15, and 22. That, plus copious amounts of Gatorade and a couple of root-beer-barrel hard candies, isn't nearly enough — my energy level starts to plummet shortly after the halfway point, which I reach in 2:22:50. The unsustainable early pace takes its revenge and my walk breaks become longer and more frequent. Fortunately a few days ago I checked out a library book, Fast Walking by champion racewalker Ron Laird. So I practice my technique, extending my stride and swiveling my hips vigorously. Apologies to anyone who's following me!

After quick-striding up the killer hill out of the Ag Center I manage to lope most of the final half mile to the finish line. As always the veggie chili is superb at the awards ceremony. I chat with fast runners, applaud the winners as they receive their prizes, then drive home to rest. I'm sore the next day, but not horribly so. The Seneca Creek Greenway Trail Marathon/50k will be held on 3 Mar, followed by the HAT Run on 24 Mar and the Bull Run Run on 14 Apr. We shall see ...


(pace chart, GWBM 2007: red circles show "Raw Splits"; blue plus-signs represent a smoothed pace averaged over adjacent miles; yellow filled area is doubly-smoothed)

Here are the data upon which the pace chart is based:

Mile Time Pace Mile Time Pace Mile Time Pace
1 0:11:25 11:25 10 1:48:04 11:00 19 3:31:31 12:16
2 0:21:41 10:16 11 1:58:53 10:49 20 3:43:39 12:08
3 0:32:43 11:02 12 2:10:11 11:18 21 3:56:09 12:30
4 0:43:13 10:30 13 2:21:42 11:31 22 4:08:52 12:43
5 0:53:35 10:22 14 2:32:28 10:46 23 4:22:23 13:31
6 1:04:19 10:44 15 2:44:16 11:48 24 4:36:22 13:59
7 1:14:54 10:35 16 2:56:13 11:57 25 4:49:22 13:00
8 1:26:12 11:18 17 3:08:20 12:07 26 5:02:30 13:08
9 1:37:04 10:52 18 3:19:15 10:55 26.2 5:04:30 10:00

As in 2004 and 2005 and 2006, major thanks to Race Director Pat Brown, his assistants, and the DC Road Runners for the 46th running of a fine race!

(cf. Washington Birthday Marathon 2004 (23 Feb 2004), Washington Birthday Marathon 2005 (20 Feb 2005), Washington Birthday Marathon 2006 (20 Feb 2006), ...)

- Monday, February 19, 2007 at 15:57:35 (EST)

The Runner

The Runner is a movie about David Horton's 2005 traversal of the Pacific Crest Trail — 66 days, 2666 miles, an average of more than 40 miles/day, from Mexico to Canada. It's lovingly photographed and features superb music by Cody Westheimer and Chris Lashelle. Unfortunately, like many other depictions of extreme "adventure" events, after a strong start The Runner plods: it becomes flat and uninspiring. Perhaps the film tries too hard to conjure deep meaning out of an essentially arbitrary activity? Maybe what counts is the great reality of being there, not merely seeing somebody else there? Or could it be that what's missing is the fun?

Nonetheless, wisdom and beauty appear at intervals during the journey. My favorite quote in The Runner comes from veteran ultrarunner T. J. Key of San Diego, who summarizes the experience of wilderness, of sheer Nature:

It simplifies everything. You don't need all the junk we have out there. You don't need all this technology. All you need is this beautiful background. What more could you ask for?

(many thanks to ultra-comrade Caren for lending me her DVD of The Runner; cf. Cut The Volume (5 Mar 2004), Running On The Sun (4 Nov 2005), Adventure Racing (22 Apr 2006), ... )

- Saturday, February 17, 2007 at 14:56:24 (EST)

Library History

On the day I finished reading Library: An Unquiet History I glanced out of the bus window and saw garbage cans lined up curbside. One of them was overflowing with books ... and I had the sudden urge to stop the bus, leap out, and pick through the trash heap.

Guilty as charged: I love books. Matthew Battles, a Harvard librarian, does too, and he has written a delightful (if at times rambling) history of them and of their accumulation and organization. It's idiosyncratic and incomplete — no mention of Andrew Carnegie? — but it's also well-researched and accurate in its anecdotes. And it's philosophical. For instance, a paragraph that my wife (who read Library before me) highlighted in the final chapter, where Battle discusses some ideas from Walter Benjamin's essay "Unpacking My Library":

... So the personal library carries with it a potential that the publicly owned collection or the academic library, as Benjamin points out, tends to obscure. As the library offers passage into the universe of possible ideas, so the book as cherished object reveals to its owner the connections that individual books can make across time and place, reflected in the story of its previous owners, the history of its bindings, its uncut pages. The book is a tool, and like all tools, it tells the story of its making. It is the door and the key, the passport and the transport. ...

Library does have weaknesses. As the author admits, large sections were originally published as magazine articles or were presented as speeches. At times, the seams show. And Battle misses the chance to end his book on a powerful self-referential note, when he browses the shelves in the Z721's:

... But my own book is missing. I stoop to ankle level, to where it should be shelved. All I find is a little tent of darkness — an empty space, a geniza hole — where the next book leans to rest against its neighbor. My book isn't here; I like to think that someone has already checked it out.

What a brilliant image! Alas, it's followed by four pages of anticlimax.

- Friday, February 16, 2007 at 05:47:22 (EST)

Your Own Bible

From Ralph Waldo Emerson's journal entry of 21 July 1836:

Make your own Bible. Select and collect all the words and sentences that in all your reading have been to you like the blast of triumph out of Shakspear, Seneca, Moses, John and Paul.

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

- Tuesday, February 13, 2007 at 19:28:33 (EST)

Phallusy and Wombatism

D. H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover is infamous beyond its merits. The paperback copy that fell into my hands (found on the roadside near the University of Maryland last month) was damp and, when dried, fell to pieces — not unlike the story itself. Lawrence's book resembles Middlemarch in many plot elements, but lacks the coherent thoughtfulness of George Eliot's novel. Perhaps it was modern in its time — but that time is past. Lawrence's unconscious racism, misogyny, upper-class snobbery, and "womb-ism" (how else to describe his frequent attribution of the protagonist's emotions to her uterus?) are distracting, as are his lengthy lectures on social issues. The heroine's naked self-examination in the mirror is clichéd, as are the ur-Ayn Randian depictions of glorious industrialization. And the exclamation marks! So many! So unnecessary! So!

And yet ... and yet, there are moments of high poetry. Near the end of Chapter VII, for instance, when Lady Chatterley starts to realize the need to separate herself from her husband, after years of growing closer:

It was as if thousands and thousands of little roots and threads of consciousness in him and her had grown together into a tangled mass, till they could crowd no more, and the plant was dying. Now quietly, subtly she was unraveling the tangle of his consciousness and hers, breaking the threads gently, one by one, with patience and impatience to get clear. But the bonds of such love are more ill to loose even than most bonds ...

And the notorious sex scenes? Most of them fail; a few manage to rise briefly to poetry, e.g. in Chapter XIII:

And it seemed she was like the sea, nothing but dark waves rising and heaving, heaving with a great swell, so that slowly her whole darkness was in motion, and she was ocean rolling its dark, dumb mass. ...

Lady Chatterley was no doubt meant by its author to be a revolutionary novel of loneliness and passion. At intervals, perhaps, it succeeds.

- Monday, February 12, 2007 at 21:45:03 (EST)

Catch and Release

Does my careful capture of a beetle, which I carry outside and set free to find its fate there, cancel out my hanging up of flypaper which binds and thus kills dozens of gnats? Am I guilty of fractional insect-cide if I wave my hands near tiny flies that are resting on the wall, so that they take off and then are likelier to land by chance on the flypaper? If I cover or put away food, so the little bugs can't eat it and then starve, how much does that count as killing them?

(cf. Bits Of Consciousness (21 Jan 2000), Baby Squirrel (6 Nov 2002), ...)

- Saturday, February 10, 2007 at 23:22:08 (EST)

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