^zhurnal 0.62

Howdy, pilgrim! You're in volume 0.62 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 = 0.61 ... complete list at bottom of page ... send comments & suggestions to "z(at)his(dot)com" ... tnx!

Black Eyed Susan Bee


... outside the kitchen door, flowing across the invisible line between our yard and the neighbor's, a sunny patch of black-eyed susans offers itself up to bees visiting this time of year ... and a cheap digital camera plus a close-up lens held in front of it produces some fauna/flora imagery ...


(click to enlarge; see http://flickr.com/photos/zhurnaly for other samples)

- Sunday, July 29, 2007 at 04:14:24 (EDT)

Crossed Paths

A chipmunk scampers away from the front door as I step out to start a Saturday morning jog. Eight miles later, curbside on Missouri Avenue just west of North Capitol, there's a flash of sky blue surrounded by brown as half a dozen wee birds fly up at my approach. They perch in a scrubby tree just over the sidewalk. Amidst a flock of sparrows: a feral parakeet! An hour later I'm heading home, and a big deer bounds across the Western Ridge Trail and crunches through the brush below. Observations from other recent ^z rambles follow ...

Eastern Urban Circuit

21 July 2007 — ~16 miles (~13 min/mi) — After a week of too much heat, a cool front pulls the Saturday morning temperature and humidity down: it's ramblin' time! I interpret the chipmunk sighting in my front yard as a good omen, and so it seems to be. A rising sun dazzles my eyes as I walk and jog east on Forest Glen and then southeast along Sligo Creek to cross East-West Hwy. I leave the trail there to follow the sidewalks along Riggs Rd, Missouri Ave with its urban budgie, and Military Rd into Washington DC to Rock Creek Park. I slip-scramble downslope to join Beach Drive and refill my bottles at the Park Police Hqs fountain. Then it's the steep trek up the horse trail to Ft deRussey, the Western Ridge Trail north past deer to Maryland, and home.

CCT Out and Back

22 July 2007 — ~6 miles (~10.7 min/mi) — Dina and Ken are running on the Capital Crescent Trail, and it's cool enough for me to try half a dozen miles with them. They go faster than I usually do; splits by my watch are 10:29 + 10:32 + 10:28 out to Dalecarlia and 10:44 + 11:21 + 10:32 back to Bethesda. K&D do two more while I go to the grocery store.
Sunday evening Christina is starting her preparation for the Annapolis 10 Miler with a couple of hours of trekking, and I join her. The Sligo Dennis Avenue Park is overloaded with a loud Jamaican party so we leave our cars in the small lot just north of Forest Glen Rd and proceed south, jogging some but mostly walking and talking. The weather is still nice and dog-walkers are out in great numbers. One hour out we reach the little Sligo Creek North community park near New Hampshire Ave, where we drink and turn back. The return journey is ~15 minutes slower, for an overall pace of perhaps 17 min/mi over 7+ miles. My fluorescent green trail shoes are half a size too big and cause a little bruising of my ankles.

Downtown Silver Spring

25 July 2007 — ~5 miles (~12 min/mi) — "I wonder where that bike path goes?" asks my fevered brain, desperately seeking an excuse to change plans. I'm about 1.5 miles from home, following Dale Dr to the old Blair HS track for some much-needed speedwork. But this Wednesday summer evening it's warm enough for me to feel exhausted after the first few minutes of jogging. Laps of interval training are not appealing, and with nightfall coming in an hour I don't have time to do many.
So I divert onto the trail with fantasies of discovering a new route to the Silver Spring Metro. Alas, the bikeway goes exactly one block before ending at an intersection of residential streets. I follow Alton Pkwy since it seems to be heading in the most reasonable direction, and after half a mile and one more single-block no-cars path it deposits me on Spring St near the familiar glassy frustum of the Maryland National Parks and Planning Commission. Spring takes me toward the setting sun, past the post office and over the train tracks. I'm hoping to find signs pointing to the Capital Crescent Trail, but no joy.
So after 16th St south East-West Hwy leads me within a few feet of the 1792-era northernmost DC Boundary Stone (cf. http://zhurnaly.com/maps/DC_Boundary_Stones.html). I divert to walk around it but then must tread cautiously along the narrow shoulder of the road, dodging traffic until the sidewalk reappears. As I plod toward Grubb Rd. my cellphone beeps to inform me of an earthquake off the coast of India. Hope nobody was hurt! The last mile homeward zips by (relatively speaking) without walk breaks in a little over 11 minutes.

(cf. They Bull Run Run (6 May 2007), Trail Improvement (21 May 2007), Operation Acclimation (3 Jun 2007), Babes In The Woods (18 Jun 2007), Awesome Adonis (3 Jul 2007), Summer Shambles (17 Jul 2007), ...)

- Saturday, July 28, 2007 at 06:16:20 (EDT)

Soft Core

At William Rubin's burial ceremony a couple of months ago his family and friends reminisced and shared anecdotes about him. Sometimes Bill got cranky and abrasive, especially in later years as his health failed. He often grew impatient with those who couldn't keep up with him. But he had a sharp sense of humor, and he truly cared about people. After he retired from a career as a science journal editor he served for several years with my wife on the County Library Board, where he helped Paulette in the fight for better libraries for all. The best description of Bill at the interment was given by his son, who in his eulogy observed:

"He lived a good life — but with a crust!"

(and for the opposite metaphor in the context of neutron star physics see Soft Outside Crunchy Center (1 May 2000), ...)

- Thursday, July 26, 2007 at 19:36:33 (EDT)

One Wrong Step

In a journal entry of August 1859 Ralph Waldo Emerson observes:

One wrong Step. On Wachusett, I sprained my foot. It was slow to heal, and I went to the doctors. Dr. Henry Bigelow said, 'Splint and absolute rest.' Dr. Russell said, 'Rest, yes; but a splint, no.' Dr. Bartlett said, 'Neither splint nor rest, but go and walk.' Dr. Russell said, 'Pour water on the foot, but it must be warm.' Dr. Jackson said, 'Stand in a trout brook all day.'

Not much has changed over the years in the treatment of sports injuries, eh?!

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

- Tuesday, July 24, 2007 at 20:37:45 (EDT)

Harold Skimpole

In Bleak House Charles Dickens introduces one of his most amazing characters, Harold Skimpole, whose philosophy of cheerful irresponsibility is depicted charmingly near the beginning of Chapter 8 ("Covering a Multitude of Sins"):

Mr. Skimpole was as agreeable at breakfast, as he had been overnight. There was honey on the table, and it led him into a discourse about bees. He had no objection to honey, he said (and I should think he had not, for he seemed to like it), but he protested against the overweening assumptions of bees. He didn't at all see why the busy bee should be proposed as a model to him; he supposed the Bee liked to make honey, or he wouldn't do it — nobody asked him. It was not necessary for the bee to make such a merit of his tastes. If every confectioner went buzzing about the world, banging against everything that came in his way, and egotistically calling upon everybody to take notice that he was going to his work and must not be interrupted, the world would be quite an unsupportable place. Then, after all, it was a ridiculous position, to be smoked out of your fortune with brimstone, as soon as you had made it. You would have a very mean opinion of a Manchester man, if he spun cotton for no other purpose. He must say he thought a Drone the embodiment of a pleasanter and wiser idea. The Drone said, unaffectedly, "You will excuse me; I really cannot attend to the shop! I find myself in a world in which there is so much to see, and so short a time to see it in, that I must take the liberty of looking about me, and begging to be provided for by somebody who doesn't want to look about him." This appeared to Mr Skimpole to be the Drone philosophy, and he thought it a very good philosophy — always supposing the Drone to be willing to be on good terms with the Bee: which, so far as he knew, the easy fellow always was, if the consequential creature would only let him, and not be so conceited about his honey!

Shades of Bertie Wooster and the Drones Club!

(cf. Code Of The Woosters (14 Oct 2005), ...)

- Sunday, July 22, 2007 at 15:27:24 (EDT)

Chart Junk

The New York Times and the Washington Post are arguably two of the best newspapers in the world — so when both of them come a graphical cropper on the same day perhaps it's noteworthy:

In both cases a combination of innumeracy and eye-candy seems to have left rational thought far behind ...

(cf. Tufte Thoughts (18 Dec 2000), Eye Candy (23 Dec 2002), ...)

- Friday, July 20, 2007 at 23:05:56 (EDT)

Natural Aristocracy

In his journal entry of 14 December 1849, Ralph Waldo Emerson offers another definition of a gentleman to complement the one by John Henry Newman:

Natural Aristocracy. It is a vulgar error to suppose that a gentleman must be ready to fight. The utmost that can be demanded of the gentleman is that he be incapable of a lie. There is a man who has good sense, is well informed, well read, obliging, cultivated, capable, and has an absolute devotion to truth. He always means what he says, and says what he means, however courteously. You may spit upon him; — nothing could induce him to spit upon you, — no praises, and no possessions, no compulsion of public opinion. You may kick him; — he will think it the kick of a brute: but he is not a brute, and will not kick you in return. But neither your knife and pistol, nor your gifts and courting will ever make the smallest impression on his vote or word; for he is the truth's man, and will speak and act the truth until he dies.

(cf. Cardinal Newman (4 Oct 2001), Ralph Waldo Emerson (5 Aug 2003), ...)

- Wednesday, July 18, 2007 at 20:04:55 (EDT)

Summer Shambles


It's lucky 7/7/07 and we're on a heat-acclimation walk in Sligo Creek Park when Christina spies a fearless young deer munching the bushes by the trail ahead. A nearby dog-walker keeps her pet quiet as we creep toward the buck, his antlers still covered with velvet. I take a photo with my cellphone from a few feet away before he bolts. Notes on other ^z frolics during the past fortnight follow.

CCT Blitz

4 July 2007 — 6 miles (~11 min/mi) — "Let's see how fast we can go this last mile!" I challenge Ken. It's totally unfair, of course, since he's still recovering from a 50k trail run on Saturday. But hey, I did 20+ miles on Sunday, and we've both just finished five brisk ones on the Capital Crescent Trail with Dina, a Congressional-staffer friend of Ken's who is training for her first marathon. Our splits are 10:33 + 10:26 + 10:47 + 10:46 + 11:36, that anomalously slow one including an extra bit of walking and conversation.
The morning begins at 7am in downtown Bethesda, as I exchange cash for baseball tickets that Ken picked up for me to attend today's Washington Nationals game with sons and their friends. Dina and Ken and I then proceed down the bike path to Dalecarlia, with Ken recounting his serious of falls during the Finger Lakes Fifties. We're feeling good at the turnaround in spite of what I think is a rather fast pace. There's a track meet coming up in two days, however, so when we see CCT milepost 4.5 and have one to go, I decide to blow some rust off the old legs. Thighs and calves feel surprisingly comfortable, as but my lungs are the limiting factor as I soon get severely "out of puff". Or maybe my mind just isn't ready to rumble? I open a good gap in front of Ken and, in spite of slowing down for the last half, finish ~40 seconds ahead of him. We circle back together to welcome Dina, who continues in at her steady-fast pace. My final mile time startles me a bit when I look at my watch and see 8:21. Maybe there's hope for me to break 8 minutes on Friday night after all!

Midsummer Night's Mile

6 July 2007 — 1 mile (7:23 min/mi) — "This is my first track meet ever!" I tell the wife of race director Dan Lawson. She's sitting next to me on a bench near the starting line, and asks me what my goal time is. I confess 7:30ish. "But the miles are a lot longer now than they were when I was young!" Comrade Caren is running in spite of her plantar fasciitis; her husband Walter is here too, for his first race. I cheer them both, and applaud Christina while recording her lap splits for her later analysis.
Then it's my turn. I plan to keep a constant pace, but after rounding the first turn and finding myself in dead last place I throw aside the script and try to at least pass a few laggards. The resulting quarter-mile splits are a slightly suboptimal 1:44 + 1:51 + 1:53 + 1:50. Add on several seconds for starting far behind the line and my official result is 7:23, rather faster than expected. Wayne runs in the same heat as me but more than 30 seconds quicker. After the race he admits, "OK, I'm a sandbagger!" He kindly offers to coach me if I'm serious about attacking the Seven Minute Barrier. I promise to think about it.

Heat Equation

8 July 2007 — ~11 miles (~11.5 min/mi) — Two miles into my Sunday morning Bethesda circuit I pass a couple when they pause at the Rock Creek Trail water fountain on Springhouse Road. Half a mile later they blast past, and I foolishly accelerate to follow. "How far are you going today?" I ask. "Three more to go, for about twelve total," the man replies. They're returning to Ken-Gar where they began. Half a mile later I hazard a guess as to their pace. "No, more like 9:15 to 9:30," the lady tells me. Wow! As soon as I hear that, I have to take a walk break, and soon they're out of sight.
It's already warm, which is good for my training. But my average pace of ~10:30 for the first few miles (including the time I'm drafting that pair) makes me slow to ~12 or worse for the final leg home along the Capital Crescent Trail. On the way couple of cyclists riding fancy bikes come through the tunnel under Wisconsin Ave. behind me but stop abruptly. "It's gravel!" they whine. "Aw, it's not bad gravel," I console them, "and a two miles ahead you can branch onto Rock Creek Trail." I jog onward as they pause to debate their route and consult their maps, and ten minutes later zip by. "We took your advice!" one tells me en passant.
At home I weigh myself — and discover that even though I drank more than two pounds of water, my net change is a loss of two pounds due to sweating. "More hydration!", as Christina advised me during a three-mile walk yesterday afternoon.

Track Loops

12 July 2007 — ~7 miles (~12 min/mi) — An agency of the local government is doing a transportation survey, and today is my family's day to keep a log of all our journeys. So when I get home from work in the evening, I've gotta go out to put something odd into the diary! Besides that, the weather is unseasonably cool and dry, an opportunity not to be missed. I follow Dale Dr. ~2.5 miles to the Silver Spring International Middle School (formerly Blair High School) and find the old asphalt track there clotted with walkers, perambulators, bicyclists, and soccer players chasing balls that escape from infield practice kicks.
With two-minute walk-and-drink breaks between each 400m circuit, my splits are 2:05 + 1:57 + 1:59 + 1:56. A woman about my age is trotting along at a comparable pace, and after we both are forced to change lanes to evade a slow, wobbly young cyclist I observe to her, "Usually the bikes pass us!" After the fourth lap I head for home via Sligo Creek Trail, pausing at the tennis court drinking fountain to refill my bottle and soak my head.

Wheaton Meltdown

14 July 2007 — ~9 miles (~13 min/mi) — Like a string of oases in the desert, the public park water fountains of Kensington, Wheaton, and Silver Spring decorate today's too-hot run and make it, just barely, survivable. I start out feeling strong and telling myself that mid-day heat and humidity will add a little challenge to the journey. After half an hour, though, when I've sipped from the Rock Creek Trail fountain on Old Springhouse Rd. and still feel weak, my expectations start to slip. The dry, broken old tap by the tennis court in Kensington Cabin Park further saps my spirits. After cautiously crossing the railroad tracks I find a new fountain, thank goodness, in the little park on St. Paul St. south of Plyers Mill. But there's no water source to be seen at Kensington Heights Park where I turn to follow University Blvd. eastwards.
A chorus of "Dee, Dee, Dee, Dehydration!" starts to run through my fevered brain, to the tune of the Beach Boys' "Good Vibrations" when I pass the Giant grocery store and other shops of downtown Wheaton. I'm walking almost as much as running now, trying to stay in what patches of shade to be found along the sidewalk. Then ''hooray!" — the drinking fountain at Wheaton Forest Park is working today. It lets me refill my now-empty bottle, wash down a 4x sodium energy gel, and wet my head, to the amusement of picnickers enjoying a summer barbecue nearby. Once I turn onto Sligo Creek Trail I begin to recover and can jog a bit more. At Sligo Dennis Avenue Park the rec center water flows smoothly, as do my final 2+ miles home.

(cf. Not So Difficult Run (10 Apr 2007), They Bull Run Run (6 May 2007), Trail Improvement (21 May 2007), Operation Acclimation (3 Jun 2007), Babes In The Woods (18 Jun 2007), Awesome Adonis (3 Jul 2007), ...)

- Tuesday, July 17, 2007 at 06:00:38 (EDT)

John Jarndyce

In Chapter 6 of Bleak House Charles Dickens introduces one of his fascinating characters — John Jarndyce — first via a brief note that Mr. Jarndyce has sent to each of three young travelers:

I look forward, my dear, to our meeting easily and without constraint on either side. I therefore have to propose that we meet as old friends and take the past for granted. It will be a relief to you possibly, and to me certainly, and so my love to you.
John Jarndyce

The young people discuss among themselves the qualities of this extraordinary gentleman:

The notes revived in Richard and Ada a general impression that they both had, without quite knowing how they came by it, that their cousin Jarndyce could never bear acknowledgments for any kindness he performed and that sooner than receive any he would resort to the most singular expedients and evasions or would even run away. Ada dimly remembered to have heard her mother tell, when she was a very little child, that he had once done her an act of uncommon generosity and that on her going to his house to thank him, he happened to see her through a window coming to the door, and immediately escaped by the back gate, and was not heard of for three months. ...

... echoing elements of the "Definition of a Gentleman" by Cardinal Newman (cf. ^zhurnal 4 Oct 2001).

- Sunday, July 15, 2007 at 07:38:40 (EDT)

Headphone Wars

A small battle erupted this week on the Montgomery County Road Runners Club online mailing list. Parallel to events three years ago (cf. Big And Strong, 27 July 2004) the debate began on a jogging-related topic — in this case, the advisability of listening to music via earphones while on trail or track. It soon spread to political and social issues, and then evolved into ad hominem attacks on people's motives. Among the questions raised:

I found the whole fracas rather tempest-in-a-teapot entertaining, and somewhat reminiscent of the reaction to my April Fool's joke (cf. Runaware 6k Race, 1 Apr 2007). When the war started to die down I couldn't resist forwarding a semi-humorous weird-news item about a jogger struck by lightning while wearing a headset. That started the food fight rumbling onward again.

What's the Right Answer? As usual, I recommend a nuanced approach. (Some might see it as a game-theoretic mixed-strategy, or simply mixed-up.) Three major principles interact:

  1. This is America — you can do whatever you want.
  2. So can everybody else.
  3. A Mensch takes responsibility for the consequences of his choices. (As does a Wensch for hers! (^_^))

So sure, run with headphones or without, but be mindful of what you're doing, eh?

(cf. Simple Answers (4 May 1999), Whatever You Want (26 Feb 2007), ...)

- Friday, July 13, 2007 at 18:33:02 (EDT)

Poetic Lines

A wee gem from Ralph Waldo Emerson's journal, dated October 1848:

Every poem must be made up of lines that are poems.

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

- Thursday, July 12, 2007 at 05:50:00 (EDT)

Oddmuse Wiki

For quite some time I've had vague thoughts about experimenting with wiki systems on http://zhurnaly.com/ for a variety of reasons: personal learning, software diversification, feature-space exploration, etc. Of course, I fully realize that when I start doing this sort of seductive programming play, I'm likely to waste (uh, I mean, "invest") huge amounts of otherwise-productive time. The Cluster Wiki code that Bo Leuf developed works exceptionally well on http://zhurnal.net , I'm used to it, and I enjoy it. So why mess with success?

Ah, but the eye tends to rove ... and by chance last week I ran across http://www.wikimatrix.org/ , a site that offers an array of information about a wide spectrum of wiki systems. The "Wiki Choice Wizard" on Wikimatrix accepted my major criteria:

and came up with a short list of candidates: ikiwiki, KeheiWiki, Oddmuse, PodWiki, ProWiki, TWiki, UseMod and Wala Wiki. Several of them looked tempting to me, but one — Oddmuse — jumped out for its apparent ease of installation. Oddmuse supports Creole, a new common wiki markup language that appears to be exceptionally well-designed and is based on a considerable amount of human-factors research. And Oddmuse is still under active development, has a vibrant community of users, and includes some nice version-control features — a frill at times, but valuable for me when I accidentally delete material that I'm working on and have to struggle to reconstruct it.

So with all that as background, a few days ago I set up a test system at http://zhurnaly.com/cgi-bin/wiki running Oddmuse. It took more than minutes to configure but less than hours, and that time includes a flock of mistakes that I made along the way. So far, Oddmuse looks promising, but much more remains to be done.

The ZhurnalyWiki Oddmuse experiment is likely to either:

Meanwhile, feel free to mess around on http://zhurnaly.com/cgi-bin/wiki and let me know what you think about it — thanks!

- Tuesday, July 10, 2007 at 05:46:56 (EDT)

Study Offsets

Too busy playing video games or web-surfing to do your schoolwork? Feel the urge to hit the mall and see a new movie? Want to go clubbing tonight and get totally smashed? No worries, mate! Just send $1 for each hour of studying that you don't perform to Study Offsets Ltd. Then grab that controller, click that mouse, jump into that big car, or dive into the bar scene with not a single speck of guilt. How? It's simple!

We pay diligent students in the Third World to hit the books on your behalf. Their hard work and learning more than cancels out your laziness, yielding a net positive long-term benefit to humanity. And who knows, some day your Study Offset partners may discover a cure for cancer or achieve lasting world peace. (How likely are you to do that?) And even if they don't hit the jackpot, odds are that the scholars you support will get good jobs, earn real money, and pay more taxes — so you won't have to! It's win-win all around.

Send payments to Study Offsets Ltd., P. O. Box 598, Kensington, MD 20895-0598, USA — or click to open an account. Our erstwhile students are standing by!

(tip o' the hat to Thomas Friedman, whose New York Times op-ed column today discusses carbon offsets and their extension to "sin offsets", a concept akin to buying indulgences that cancel out wicked acts; cf. Study Break (5 Oct 2003), ...)

- Sunday, July 08, 2007 at 21:15:40 (EDT)

Shower of Bellringing

A charming pastoral scene painted by Charles Dickens at the beginning of Chapter 6 ("Quite at Home") in Bleak House:

The day had brightened very much, and still brightened as we went westward. We went our way through the sunshine and the fresh air, wondering more and more at the extent of the streets, the brilliancy of the shops, the great traffic, and the crowds of people whom the pleasanter weather seemed to have brought out like many-coloured flowers. By and by we began to leave the wonderful city and to proceed through suburbs which, of themselves, would have made a pretty large town in my eyes; and at last we got into a real country road again, with windmills, rickyards, milestones, farmers' waggons, scents of old hay, swinging signs, and horse troughs: trees, fields, and hedgerows. It was delightful to see the green landscape before us and the immense metropolis behind; and when a waggon with a train of beautiful horses, furnished with red trappings and clear-sounding bells, came by us with its music, I believe we could all three have sung to the bells, so cheerful were the influences around.
"The whole road has been reminding me of my name-sake Whittington," said Richard, "and that waggon is the finishing touch. Halloa! what's the matter?"
We had stopped, and the waggon had stopped too. Its music changed as the horses came to a stand, and subsided to a gentle tinkling, except when a horse tossed his head or shook himself and sprinkled off a little shower of bellringing.

- Thursday, July 05, 2007 at 05:22:45 (EDT)

Awesome Adonis

"Wow, I wish I had the female version of that body!" Mary confesses to me, shortly after we witness a strikingly-developed shirtless young Hercules jogging through Rock Creek Park. "He's probably a juicer," I reply with marginally-repressed envy. A couple of hours later it's my turn, when a svelte lady runner approaches us on the Valley Trail. "Gee, I wish I had the male version of that body!" I admit to Mary — who agrees that she likewise wouldn't mind looking so fit. We're on a Sunday morning trek to get a drink at the National Zoo (1 July 2007), a baker's dozen miles including the return journey. Notes on that, and other pedestrian excursions during the last dozen days, follow.

(^z on a rock near Difficult Run's confluence with the Potomac River, at the beginning of the Fairfax Cross County Trail — photo by Mary Ewell)

Difficult Run Stream Valley Trail

23 June 2007 — ~9 miles (~14 min/mi) — On 10 June Mary ran in Rock Creek Park with Ken and me, so today we return the favor in her neighborhood. We start at historic Colvin Run Mill, just off Route 7 (near 38.970°N 77.294°W) and tootle downstream along the Fairfax Cross County Trail CCT Overview map which here follows Difficult Run. The weather is surprisingly cool and pleasant this near-midsummer morning, and with minor hesitations Mary navigates to the Potomac River, where we inspect the rocks of Great Falls and take photos of one another. On the trip back we divert onto the Ridge Trail and the Old Carriage Road in Great Falls Park, where Karen of the VHTRC greets us. She remembers Mary and me from Bull Run Run 2007. Several riders on sleek horses also pass by.

Hot Time on the Railroad

26 June 20007 — 12+ miles (~13 min/mi) — As on my birthday in 2005, this morning I'm at the MINI Cooper dealership in Sterling VA for Paulette's car to be serviced. the Washington & Old Dominion rail-trail is adjacent, and I've got my GPS with me. Sounds like a chance to collect a few more W&OD milepost coordinates! (cf. September 2005 Jog Log, 30 Sep 2005) At 7:30am it's already warm and humid. Mary jogs eastward from near her home in Ashburn while I head west from milepost 24, swatting black stinging flies that settle on me to feed. We meet and proceed to mile 30, admire the big stone quarry, then turn back. This sweat-fest eventually has to help us get used to the heat!
W&OD GPS Waypoints
mile latitude longitude
24.0 39.01281 -77.43549
24.5 39.01726 -77.44287
25.0 39.02168 -77.45023
25.5 39.02616 -77.45769
26.0 39.03048 -77.46490
26.5 39.03495 -77.47224
27.0 39.03932 -77.47964
27.5 39.04377 -77.48701
28.0 39.04815 -77.49433
28.5 missing! missing!
29.0 39.05706 -77.50893
29.5 39.06387 -77.51126
30.0 39.06841 -77.51840

Sunset Trackwork

27 June 2007 — ~1+ mile' — At 6:15pm light rain begins to fall on the way to Montgomery College, lowering the temperature slightly and raising the humidity. I've never been to an MCRRC track workout, so Christina suggests the experiment. We arrive early to avoid some of the crowds. After a few 200m half-laps at ~1 minute each Chris challenges me to do a 400m at speed, and I manage a 1:38, puffing like a steam engine at a far faster time than I expected to accomplish. We do more 200's together, increasing the pace slightly, and then cool down with a walk around campus. Then I meet son Robin, who is finishing late work in his etching class, and give him a ride home.

Zoological + Botanical Gardens

1 July 2007 — ~3 + ~13 + ~3 + ~2.4 miles (~14 min/mi) — I trot from my home to the DC-MD line, where Mary and I plan a medium-long loop this lovely Sunday morning: south on the Western Ridge Trail; add a mile or so to the National Zoo where there's a good water fountain; then back via the Valley Trail. Mary is delayed so I walk about trying to get a cellphone signal and observing poison ivy in the underbrush. The weather is unseasonably cool, and hikers are out in force. We walk the first hill, trot down, then canter comfortably to the Park Nature Center where we lose the trail but soon find it again.
Mary sets a good pace past an equitation arena as we descend to Beach Drive. Near Peirce Mill we admire the aforementioned Adonis of impressive upper-body musculature. Approaching the Zoo a trio of fast MCRRC ultrarunners pass us. We catch up at the water stop and chat, learn names: they're Caroline, Tom, and Jerry, doing a long point-to-point. I take photos with my cellphone, and then follow Mary back north. Near the Jusserand Memorial we find the Valley Trail starting marker and proceed over some steep hills back to the boundary parking lot. I catch my breath and then jog the final 3 miles home, RCT + CCT + local roads.
That same afternoon Christina calls. She craves a short but fast session, as part of her own summer acclimation program, so we agree on Wheaton Regional Park at 4pm. Chris leads me from the Nature Center parking area to the Brookside Botanical Gardens where she knows the 0.8 mile orbit well (it's part of her "Run for Roses" certified race course). Christina leads me around three circuits, alternating direction for variety. We dodge strolling pedestrians, photographers, and a wedding party. "Congratulations!" Christina tells the bride as she lifts her skirts to cross the pathway from a photo session on the greensward. Our splits are 9:32 + 9:08 + 8:53, a nice acceleration. My new shoes — an obsolete fluorescent-green Brooks Cascadia size-13 pair, found at a $20 ultra-deep discount in the RnJ half-price room — pass their first test. At home I cook a buffalo-burger birthday dinner for the twins and enjoy jalapeño poppers and onion rings with them.

(cf. Racy Jetsam (4 Feb 2007), Aggressive Resting (17 Mar 2007), Not So Difficult Run (10 Apr 2007), They Bull Run Run (6 May 2007), Trail Improvement (21 May 2007), Operation Acclimation (3 Jun 2007), Babes In The Woods (18 Jun 2007), ...)

- Tuesday, July 03, 2007 at 06:11:38 (EDT)

Great and Noble Tasks

From "Optimism: An Essay" (1903) by Helen Keller:

I, too, can work, and because I love to labor with my head and my hands, I am an optimist in spite of all. I used to think I should be thwarted in my desire to do something useful. But I have found out that though the ways in which I can make myself useful are few, yet the work open to me is endless. The gladdest laborer in the vineyard may be a cripple. Even should the others outstrip him, yet the vineyard ripens in the sun each year, and the full clusters weigh into his hand. Darwin could work only half an hour at a time; yet in many diligent half-hours he laid anew the foundations of philosophy. I long to accomplish a great and noble task; but it is my chief duty and joy to accomplish humble tasks as though they were great and noble. It is my service to think how I can best fulfil the demands that each day makes upon me, and to rejoice that others can do what I cannot. Green, the historian, tells us that the world is moved along, not only by the mighty shoves of its heroes, but also by the aggregate of the tiny pushes of each honest worker; and that thought alone suffices to guide me in this dark world and wide. I love the good that others do; for their activity is an assurance that whether I can help or not, the true and the good will stand sure.

(cf. Optimist Creed (16 Apr 1999), Remember Me (21 May 1999), On Comfort (8 Dec 1999), Foam On The Ocean (23 Jul 2000), My Religion (6 Nov 2000), Religion And Reverence (8 Jul 2001), ...)

- Saturday, June 30, 2007 at 11:28:32 (EDT)

Constant Crisis

In October 1848 Ralph Waldo Emerson observed in his journal:

The salvation of America and of the human race depends on the next election, if we believe the newspapers. But so it was last year, and so it was the year before, and our fathers believed the same thing forty years ago.

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

- Thursday, June 28, 2007 at 20:41:28 (EDT)

Nabokov on Bleak House

The edition of Charles Dickens's Bleak House that I'm currently reading includes excerpts from Vladimir Nabokov's Lectures on Literature that discuss the classic novel. One insightful, poetic Nabokovian observation appears after he showcases examples of Dickensian "bursts of vivid imagery":

Some readers may suppose that such things as these evocations are trifles not worth stopping at; but literature consists of such trifles. Literature consists, in fact, not of general ideas but of particular revelations, not of schools of thought but of individuals of genius. Literature is not about something: it is the thing itself, the quiddity. Without the masterpiece, literature does not exist. The passage describing the harbor at Deal occurs at a point when Esther travels to the town in order to see Richard, whose attitude towards life, the strain of freakishness in his otherwise noble nature, and the dark destiny that hangs over him, trouble her and make her want to help him. Over her shoulder Dickens shows us the harbor. There are many vessels there, a multitude of boats that appear with a kind of quiet magic as the fog begins to rise. Among them, as mentioned, there is a large Indiaman, that is, a merchant ship just home from India: "when the sun shone through the clouds, making silvery pools in the dark sea. . . ." Let us pause: can we visualize that? Of course we can, and we do so with a greater thrill of recognition because in comparison to the conventional blue sea of literary tradition these silvery pools in the dark sea offer something that Dickens noted for the very first time, with the innocent and sensuous eye of the true artist, saw and immediately put into words. Or more exactly, without the words there would have been no vision; and if one follows the soft, swishing, slightly blurred sound of the sibilants in the description, one will find that the image had to have a voice too in order to live. And then Dickens goes on to indicate the way "these ships brightened, and shadowed, and changed" — and I think it is quite impossible to choose and combine any better words than he did here to render the delicate quality of shadow and silver sheen in that delightful sea view. And for those who would think that all magic is just play — pretty play — but something that can be deleted without impairing the story, let me point out that this is the story: the ship from India there, in that unique setting, is bringing, has brought, young Dr. Woodcourt back to Esther, and in fact they will meet in a moment. So that the shadowy silver view, with those tremendous pools of light and that bustle of shimmering boats, acquires in retrospect a flutter of marvelous excitement, a glorious note of welcome, a kind of distant ovation. And this is how Dickens meant his book to be appreciated.

- Tuesday, June 26, 2007 at 16:13:50 (EDT)

Peltier Effect

Last year I bought a "Hello Kitty" mini-refrigerator for my daughter. Alas, it's a bit too pink to suit her taste, and she has no real need for it, living at home as she now does. So after the unit sat in its box for some months I "ungifted" it (with her permission) and took it in to the office, where it has attracted no small attention and has enhanced my reputation for idiosyncracy. The wee 'fridge only holds a can of soda, a sandwich, and maybe a fruit or two. Since it doesn't get terribly cold one can't store perishables in it for long. It's just a handy place to keep lunch or a snack.

But what's most interesting (to me) about this "Hello Kitty" appliance is how it works: thermoelectric cooling. Run a current through a circuit made of two dissimilar materials. One of the junctions where the different kinds of wires meet will become warm, and the other will get cool. This fascinating phenomenon is called the Peltier Effect, first observed in 1834 by a French researcher of that name.

Which leads to the real reason for this note: at a going-away party last month, my boss's boss was chatting with me and asked how the little "Hello Kitty" refrigerator worked. I not only managed to explain it to him in terms which seemed to satisfy a non-physicist ("It's a heat pump that uses electrons instead of Freon...") — I actually dredged up the words "Peltier Effect" from the old ^z subconscious and thereby impressed a technically-savvy colleague who was lurking nearby.

Ah, the life-long value of a science education!

(for another personal triumph of techno-trivia recollection see Foxy Fables (23 Apr 2002), ...)

- Sunday, June 24, 2007 at 11:28:01 (EDT)

Unknown Friend

In London on 19 April 1848, Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote in his journal:

Happy is he who looks only into his work to know if it will succeed, never into the times or the public opinion; and who writes from the love of imparting certain thoughts and not from the necessity of sale — who writes always to the unknown friend.

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

- Thursday, June 21, 2007 at 05:30:52 (EDT)

Babes in the Woods

Saturday morning Paulette wakes me before 4am, and by 0600 I'm at Wheaton Regional Park to assist with the women-only "Run for Roses" 5k race today (16 June 2007). I meet Race Director Christina's husband, Stan, and chat with him before loading up the car. The water table at mile 2+ is popular, especially with the slower set who need hydration. Don helps keep runners and cars well-separated, and Mystery Volunteer Ann (who happens by, and stays to help) is great in handing out cups and encouraging the ladies with cheerful chatter. The next day, Christina and I walk three miles on trails in Rock Creek Park as she tells me some behind-the-scenes skinny on how race preparation and execution went. (You don't want to know — it's rather like making sausage.) Other excursions during the last dozen days follow:

Doe a Deer

5 June 2007 — ~5 miles (~10:15 min/mi) — At 7pm it seems relatively cool and low-humidity, so I skip dinner (having eaten too much earlier today) and do a short neighborhood loop instead, trying to maintain a steady tempo a bit slower than 10 min/mi. The Capital Crescent Trail is newly groomed for its first mile, with zen-garden-smooth crushed bluestone, wooden edging, and big rock drainage borders. After the Grubb Rd. side trail, however, work is still incomplete, so there's some mud from recent rains until the trestle. I cross, turn to follow the MitP course in reverse, then shift to a lower gear and climb Ireland Dr to return home past Walter Reed Annex. Near the Audubon Society branch a big deer chewing a mouthful of leaves fearlessly crosses Rock Creek Trail just a few feet in front of me, and shortly thereafter another stares at me with contempt from the bushes near milepost 2.

Gaithersburg XC 5k

8 June 2007 — ~3.1 miles (~10:30 min/mi) — Just like last year (cf. Sponge Bath, 29 Jun 2006), shortly before today's race a set of torrential thunderstorms move across the region, yielding a brief rainbow and a persistent high humidity. On the way from parking to registration Caren and Walter's daughter Jenna greets me. She carries a lavender butterfly-motif umbrella that features protruding wings that look a bit like cat-ears. Ultrarunner comrade Ruth is in country and still glows from her sub-five-hour London Marathon in April. Christina, home sick yesterday, arrived early to help set up and is eager to run. Moments after the start Ken and Wayne zip out of sight, Chris begins to melt in the heat, and Caren trots along with me. Ruth takes an early lead that I chip away at and manage to close after a mile. We do the rest of the race together, chatting and commiserating about the weather and trying to identify poison ivy in the brush. A cute little rabbit crosses our path. I begin with splits of 10:18 + 10:32 and achieve an official time of 32:38 — which Christina points out is precisely 1 second slower than my 2006 result. All my friends get points for finishing in the top ten of their age/sex group. I'm 12th of 12 in mine.

Seneca Creek Speed-Hike

9 June 2007 — ~6 miles (~18 min/mi) — At 7:05am Caren and I meet at the Darnestown Road (Rt. 28) parking lot and proceed upstream on the Seneca Creek Trail, mostly walking as Caren evaluates how her left foot, suffering from plantar fasciitis, is doing. Dew on the grass soon penetrates my trail shoes and soaks my socks. I experiment with running up the hills and taking my pulse at each crest. We go a quarter mile or so past Germantown Road (Rt. 118) to admire a view of the creek. Emaad, outbound, meets us during the return trip. The trail is a bit overgrown with brush in places, and both Caren and I find some uninvited fellow-travelers when we get back to our respective homes — tiny ticks which we hope aren't going to give us Lyme Disease.

Rock Creek Trail Loop

10 June 2007 — ~7 miles (~13 min/mi) — At 8am Mary and Ken and I meet at the Wyndale Drive parking lot and walk along Rock Creek Trail to the DC Line. Then we trot briskly downstream on the Valley Trail, amusing one another with anecdotes and marveling at the tolerable temperature and humidity this morning. Approaching Military Road we miss a turn and have to backtrack a tenth of a mile or so to get to the proper blue-blazed path. On the other side of the creek we climb the steep horse trail to Fort DeRussy and then take the Western Ridge Trail back to Maryland. At her car Mary demonstrates how to change clothes in perfect modesty with the aid of a large blanket, as gentleman Ken and I avert our eyes.

Lightning (Bug) Run

13 June 2007 — ~4.5 miles (~11.2 min/mi) — Streets turn to streams and sidewalks become swollen washes, as the downpour commences in earnest during the final mile of today's jog. At 6:30 a line of thunderstorms advances into the area, so of course I must venture out (Forest Glen to Sligo Creek Trail, downstream to Colesville, and home along Dale). It's warm and rather humid for the first half hour. A lonely firefly flashes me as skies darken and thunder rumbles, first distantly, then closer. Winds rise and the last half of the outing becomes pleasantly cool, once I'm soaked to the bone.

Drop and Roll

16 June 2007 — ~13+ miles (~12+ min/mi) — On the Western Ridge Trail I jog past three young ladies going the opposite way through the woods. One carries in her arms a wee infant wrapped in pastel blue. "Lovely baby!" I observe, between huffs and puffs. "How old?" — "Three weeks!" one of the women replies. — "Excellent!" I exclaim over my shoulder, and wave. It's good to get kids onto trails early, eh? I call home to check on a few-decades-older son who has college art projects due next week, and encourage him to stay focused. The home Internet connection is down at the moment, which helps. In a valley of Rock Creek National Park my phone tells me "Emergency Calls Only", but as I climb the signal returns.
The sole of my left foot starts to ache after a few miles, and by the time I get home there are twinges on the other foot too. Sympathetic pain, given all the friends who are now suffering from plantar fasciitis? Brusing inside? Incipient stress fracture? Hard to say, though the feeties do feel worse on tarmac than when I jog on grass parallel to the paved trail. Maybe it's all just a subconscious excuse to get new shoes.
At mile 12, entering the CCT from the Grubb Rd./Terrace Dr. corner, I trip on an invisible twig and start to fall. "Roll!" I tell myself, and escape with only slight bruises to the heels of both hands and scrapes to the right knee and elbow. Plus grit and tiny pebbles in one shoe, as I soon discover. Today's midday ramble is another get-used-to-the-heat investment, and is uneventful except for that one clumsy collapse near the end. Temps are in the upper-70s but humidity is high, so within an hour my shirt is completely sweat-saturated. I take the long way from home to the purple-blazed connecting trail, which leads me via Ireland Dr. to mile 2.3 of Rock Creek Trail. Downstream to DC cyclists galore whiz along the path. Once in the park and off-road I shamelessly walk up most of the hills.
The dirt horse trail east from Ft. DeRussy is scary-steep but I manage to gallop down without tripping or putting a foot into equine deposits. A chipmunk scurries under the Military Rd. bridge. In the Valley Trail's "Keep Out!" segment a large recently-fallen tree lies across the steeply eroded hillside. It actually helps by providing handholds and protection against sliding sideways into Rock Creek, as hikers are forced to thread their way over/under limbs. At the East-West Hwy. fountain I pour water over my head. My weight post-run is down by almost five pounds, to the low 170's — but three of that comes back quickly when I quaff a post-race Arnold Palmer potion.

(cf. All Good (13 Jan 20007), Racy Jetsam (4 Feb 2007), Aggressive Resting (17 Mar 2007), Not So Difficult Run (10 Apr 2007), They Bull Run Run (6 May 2007), Trail Improvement (21 May 2007), Operation Acclimation (3 Jun 2007), ...)

- Monday, June 18, 2007 at 21:08:54 (EDT)

Mount Whitney

Mount_Whitney Here's a photo I took during a 1976 Caltech grad student expedition (cf. California Sherpa, 27 May 2000) to climb the east face of Mount Whitney. That mountain itself is the mass almost cut off by the right-hand edge of the image. Nearest to Whitney is the Keeler Needle, a jagged spar a few hundred feet lower and less than half a mile to the south. If you look very closely at the foreground (click to enlarge) you can see a pair of my friends, one in an orange windbreaker and one in black, on a rock at the bottom-right of center. They hint at the resolution of Kodachrome 64 film, the scale of the Rocky Mountains, and maybe the relative importance of mankind in this context.

- Saturday, June 16, 2007 at 19:46:45 (EDT)

Emerson on Race

Ralph Waldo Emerson, in his journal on 23 May 1846, observes:

If I were a member of the Massachusetts legislature, I should propose to exempt all colored citizens from taxation because of the inability of the government to protect them by passport out of its territory. It does not give the value for which they pay the tax.

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

- Wednesday, June 13, 2007 at 05:31:13 (EDT)

Situational Strategy

In the middle of William Gibson's 1984 sf novel Neuromancer a character observes:

"... I try to plan, in your sense of the word, but that isn't my basic mode, really. I improvise. It's my greatest talent. I prefer situations to plans, you see ... "

That's a perfect description of me — for better or worse, I'm no planner!

(cf. Plans And Situations (13 Aug 1999), Data Space (31 Dec 2005), ...)

- Monday, June 11, 2007 at 20:28:43 (EDT)

Meaning of Life

A half-remembered fragment of dialogue between a person and an early "Artificial Intelligence" computer program:

"What is the meaning of life?" the human asks.
The machine answers, "Ten thousand volts surging through your transistors!"

Part of the joke (for me) is that most transistors can't handle that kind of voltage. But what's the original source of this transcript clipping? I can't find it anywhere — perhaps it was in a book about early computer "hackers", the MIT AI Lab, etc.? Reference, please ...

- Sunday, June 10, 2007 at 06:46:02 (EDT)

The Count of Monte Cristo

"Potboiler" doesn't do it justice; nor does "melodrama". As Robert Wilson notes in his Introduction to an abridged (but still >500 pages) edition that fell into my hands recently:

... The Count of Monte Cristo itself has many weaknesses as a novel: its characters who are either good or evil, but rarely anything in between; its relentless piling up of dire events, including betrayal, attempted suicide and infanticide, kidnapping, stabbing, poisoning, dueling, and retribution bloody and pecuniary; its confusing array of people and subplots; its abundance of implausibilities, having to do with the fate of certain characters (for instance, that so many of the modest inhabitants of Marseilles should end up as important personages in Paris), the theatricality of their speech and behavior and, more seriously, the reliance on chance as an essential lubricant of the plot, if not actually its fuel.

Nevertheless — and in spite of sentences like "A sob of anguish was wrung from the young man's breast, and he looked long and mournfully at his beloved." (Chap. XLVII)The Count of Monte Cristo is a gripping yarn. And it includes sparkling literary moments, as in this telling observation about the King of France:

There was a moment's silence during which Louis XVIII wrote in as minute a handwriting as possible a note on the margin of his Horace, which having finished, he said, rising with the satisfied air of a man who thinks he has an idea of his own because he has commented on the idea of another, "Continue, my dear Duke, I am listening." (Chap. IX)

and the poetic:

At seven o'clock the next evening all was ready, at ten minutes past seven they rounded the lighthouse just as the beacon was kindled. The sea was calm with a fresh wind blowing from the south-east; they sailed under a sky of azure where God was also lighting up his lanterns, each one of which is a world. (Chap. XVIII)

and a rhapsody about technology, the optical telegraph:

"Yes, indeed. On a hillock at the end of the road I have sometimes seen these black, accommodating arms shining in the sun like so many spiders' legs, and I assure you they have always filled me with deep emotion, for I thought of the strange signs cleaving the air with such precision, conveying the unknown thoughts of one man seated at his table three hundred leagues distant to another man at another table at the other end of the line; that these signs sped through the grey clouds or blue sky solely at the will of the all-powerful operator. Then I began to think of genii, sylphs, gnomes, in short of occult powers until I laughed aloud. Nevertheless I never felt any desire to see at close quarters these fat, white-bellied insects with their long, slender legs, for I feared I might find under their stone-like wings some stiff and pedantic little human genius puffed out with science or sorcery. One fine morning, however, I discovered that the operator of every telegraph was a poor wretch earning a miserable pittance of twelve thousand francs, who spent his whole day not in observing the sky as the astronomer does, not in watching the water as the fisherman does, nor yet in studying the landscape as the dreamer does, but in watching that other white-bellied black-legged insect, his correspondent, placed at some four or five leagues from him. Then I was seized with a strange desire to see this living chrysalis at close quarters, and to be present at the little comedy he plays for the benefit of his fellow chrysalis by pulling one piece of tape after another. I will tell you my impressions on Saturday." (Chap. XLI)

A couple of times while immersed in The Count of Monte Christo I nearly missed my subway stop. Maybe that's the best measure of Alexandre Dumas's success in this novel.

(cf. Simple Art Of Murder (4 Dec 2005), ...)

- Friday, June 08, 2007 at 15:59:07 (EDT)

Stinging Dialect

Ralph Waldo Emerson, on 24 October 1840, wrote in his journal:

What a pity that we cannot curse and swear in good society! Cannot the stinging dialect of the sailors be domesticated? It is the best rhetoric, and for a hundred occasions those forbidden words are the only good ones. My page about 'Consistency' would be better written thus: Damn Consistency!

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

- Tuesday, June 05, 2007 at 21:42:51 (EDT)

Operation Acclimation

"I don't remember this stream crossing!" I remark. Later: "See those signs that say, 'Hazardous Trail Conditions – Keep Out'? They don't apply to us!" followed by, "Gee, this cliff looks a lot higher than last time!" and "Be careful, the path seems a bit narrow here. Don't look down!"

Well, maybe it's not the best way to introduce someone to the trail experience. But Christina has already done plenty of cross-country races, and on Saturday (26 May 2007) we're taking a walk in Rock Creek Park. It's 2pm and I'm still exhausted from yesterday's run. Chris has already been through a tough early-morning session at the gym. So we rendezvous at the DC-MD border parking lot (cf. Rock Creek Trail Miles 0 To 4) and hike southward on the Western Ridge Trail. Officially temperatures are approaching 90°F, but in the woods it feels several degrees cooler.


Poison ivy abounds, as do bugs and dog-walkers. We chat as we trek, and soon we're at Military Road and turn east. At Beach Drive the sign says "Valley Trail" and "Boundary Bridge 3.0 miles". Christina treads with some trepidation on the stepping-stones at the first few creeks, but after a while she's leaping across crevasses and showing contempt for mud wallows. We ask a passer-by to take a photo of us at a giant fallen tree, where exposed roots give an unorthodox backdrop. Back at our cars the GPS trackfile says we've gone 6.7 miles — a good Step One toward getting accustomed to summer heat and humidity. Other excursions during the past fortnight:


22 May 2007 — ~5 miles (~11 min/mi) — Tempo run? For me, only if the tempo is adagio, largo, or maybe lento! A road crew is placing mini-boulders for drainage beside the CCT again, circa mile 0.7, but they pause and wave me past. Pete, my neighbor across the street, is out cycling with his younger son. We meet at Rock Creek Trestle and he jokes that I look like the Billy Goat Gruff, and he should be the Troll and charge me to pass. "I'll pay you to stop me — please!" I respond. The 75°F afternoon is low-humidity and quite pleasant, but I'm still sweating. Maybe if I keep running as it gets warmer I'll eventually acclimate ... but I'm skeptical. Coming home I manage to trot all the way up the Ireland Dr. hill before collapsing into a walk.

Home Run Meltdown

25 May 2007 — ~11 miles (~14.5 min/mi) — As anticipated, the federal bureaucracy releases folks a few hours early for the three-day weekend. This morning on the subway and bus I lug my gear to the office in hopes of making the trek home on foot. After 25 years it's my first attempt to do so. At 1:45pm I'm off, with a thermometer reading in the mid-80's and the sun hammering down. Twenty minutes jogging and walking eastbound from McLean on the shoulder of busy Route 123 brings me to the GW Parkway. I cross the overpass and start looking for blue blazes or signs that indicate the Potomac Heritage Trail. Just southeast of the intersection, there it is!
The trail is narrow but well-marked. It follows closely along the heavily forested river side of the Parkway, up and down rolling hills with stone stairs on steep segments. An iridescent green fly catches my eye, as does the oily green of poison ivy. A blue lizard scampers across a log in front of me. After a dozen minutes I'm at Fort Marcy, where my appearance startles a couple of Asian tourists who have just gotten out of their car. A sign at the other end of the parking lot points me toward Chain Bridge. I dip my cap into the waters of Pimmit Run where the Potomac Heritage Trail crosses on small boulders. The pathway then parallels the stream down to Glebe Road and Chain Bridge, a trifle scary when it skirts the edges of eroded cliffs 10-20 feet above sharp rocks.
Traffic is backed up at the light, and in the crosswalk I look down and see a circular rainbow-glory surrounding my shadow on the pavement. Perhaps they have diamonds in the street of this rich neighborhood? On the high bridge over the Potomac I keep pace with the cars in spite of much walking. Instead of descending the ramp to the C&O Canal towpath I look across the Clara Barton Parkway and discover a narrow path up the hillside. At the top, an hour into my journey I find myself at mile 7.1 of the Capital Crescent Trail. Terra cognita at last! And less than 8 miles to home.
Alas, here is where I realize how hot and tired I've become. I can't run for more than a minute before my heart rate shoots up and I start to see glowing auras. My pace on the CCT is a consistent but feeble 14-15 min/mi. Tufts of cottonwood seed drift slowly down across the blackness of the Dalecarlia tunnel entrance. Cyclists and joggers zoom past. I finish a 32 oz. bottle of Gatorade and start sipping from a 20 oz. bottle of water. At the Bethesda fountain I fill the empty Gatorade container, step onto the grass, and pour it over my head, much to the amusement of a shy little girl. "Do you want to try that?" her mother asks her. She shakes her head no.
The final four miles feel a little better, but I'm still weak and drenched with sweat. A construction crew is working on the CCT east of the Rock Creek trestle. When I arrive home my weight is just under 174 pounds — too heavy, I know, but down ~5 pounds from what it was this morning. My pulse is too feeble for the blood pressure machine to register. I have to sit down for a few minutes in the shower to avoid fainting. After drying off I try the BP box again and get a ridiculously low reading of 71/58 at a heartbeat of 103, similar to what Ken and I registered at the end of the Wineglass Marathon 2006. Whew! Clearly I need a lot more acclimation, and stronger electrolytes, for summer running.

Rock Creek Park Revisited in Reverse

27 May 2007 — 6+ miles (~13 min/mi) — I follow the route that Christina and I walked yesterday, but solo and in the opposite direction. The first couple of miles on the Valley Trail are flat and fast, and the final leg of the Western Ridge Trail is mercifully downhill. I meet a Red Sox fan walking the other way, and we agree that Johnny Damon made a big mistake when he defected to the Team Whose Name Shall Not Be Mentioned. Instead of the paved bike path parallel to Military Rd., I climb a steep horse trail that takes me to Ft. DeRussy's earthworks. Today the weather is slightly cooler but more humid than yesterday. I pause at the gardens near the Park Police Stables to pour water over my head and refill a bottle.

Sue and Connie's Run

28 May 2007 — 4 miles (10:24 min/mi) — Christina and I are running together and wilting in the high humidity. But when she reminds me that I can eat ice cream again if I finish under 45 minutes, the thought so energizes me that I commence a finish-line kick with almost 1.5 miles remaining. (Chris orders me to proceed without her, and threatens that if I look back she will stop running. I obey.) A self-baptism via a cup of frigid water at the aid station accelerates my pace, as evidenced by mile splits 10:13 + 11:37 + 10:17 + 9:22. During the uphill home stretch I shamelessly pass an 8-year-old and finish 19th of 20 in my age/sex group. That's about the median for the 65-69 year-olds, but far behind the only gentleman in his 70's. Today's MCRRC Memorial Day race is held in honor of Sue Wen Stottmeister and Connie Barton. A table at the start holds photos of several who have passed away and should be remembered. (cf. Sue Wen Run, 29 May 2002)

Lost and Fawn

2 June 2007 — ~8 miles (~14 min/mi) — Near noon on a hot and humid Saturday I'm jogging from a friend's house toward the W&OD Trail. (My kids stay behind to play cards and board games.) Micro-mansion owners here clearly don't understand the ironic intent of Robert Frost's "Good fences make good neighbors" — all routes to the trail are blocked and marked No Trespassing. After exploring half a dozen suburban cul de sacs in vain I'm tuckered out and mostly walking. On Batten Hollow Rd. near Fonda Dr. I spy a doe standing by the street, next to a sign that says "Clarks Crossing Park". She retreats into the woods at my approach, followed by a tiny fawn.
The baby deer is a few weeks old, Bambi-dappled, the size of a small dog or large cat. I enter the park and mama white-tail bounds away noisily and with great drama, leaving her child crouching in the underbrush trying not to be seen. I set down my GPS and bottle of Gatorade and creep toward the infant, cellphone-camera ready. I get a single photo before the fawn decides to scurry off. (click for larger image; location is near 38.9265°N 77.2869°W)
Alone among the trees now I follow narrow winding paths, probably made by deer, to a tributary stream of Piney Branch and Difficult Run. A sheet of plywood and some stones help get me across, and after a slight scramble I find myself at mile 13.7 of the long-sought W&OD. A noisy gasoline-powered generator drives a pump for some construction project. Cyclists zoom past. I consider jogging to the Vienna trolley/fountain but come to my senses and turn back. A dirt path near mile 12.6 catches my eye. It leads me down to another creek and along a rustic trail into suburbia, a subdivision with streets labeled Prelude, Podium, and Percussion, from which I stagger to my friend's home near the Dulles Toll Road and Wolf Trap.

Capital Crescent Run 5k

3 June 2007 — ~3.1 miles (~8:30 min/mi) — Showers from Tropical Storm Barry begin to move into the area on Sunday morning, raising the humidity as the temperature peaks in the low 70's. I arrive in downtown Bethesda early enough to applaud the little kids in their fun run, then chat with fellow back-of-the-packers as we assemble for our race. Nick recognizes me by my beard. Her 8-year-old son Bill often reports to her, "I ran with Santa!". (He beat me by 7 minutes at last Monday's 4-miler, and his 12-year-old sister Anna was 15 minutes ahead of me.) I meet Dina of Damascus, doing her first race today, and we chat before starting out. I feel strong and start passing people, thinking that I'm doing about 9-10 min/mi. Wrong!
Bad Pacing 101 is the class I'm signed up for this morning. My mile splits are 8:00 + 8:43 + 8:54, plus 49 seconds on a final kick to make 5k. It adds up to 26:26 on my sweat-soaked watch, plus several more seconds since I started so far behind the line. After panting a bit I shuffle back to the 3-mile point and cheer Dina in. She finishes her initial competition strongly in ~42 minutes as her husband takes photos and her family cheers.

(cf. Sharper Image (10 Dec 2006), All Good (13 Jan 20007), Racy Jetsam (4 Feb 2007), Aggressive Resting (17 Mar 2007), Not So Difficult Run (10 Apr 2007), They Bull Run Run (6 May 2007), Trail Improvement (21 May 2007), ...)

- Sunday, June 03, 2007 at 15:46:05 (EDT)

Herodotus Misunderstands Evolution?

In The History, Book 3 Part 108, Herodotus shows some confusion over the facts of life in various species. From the David Greene translation:

... There is a divine providence, with a kind of wisdom to it, as one might guess, according to which whatever is cowardly of spirit and edible should be prolific in progeny, so that, with all the eating of them, they should not fail to exist; while things that are savage and inflict pain are infertile. For instance, the hare is hunted by every wild beast, bird, and man; but it is very prolific. It is the only one of all creatures that conceives on top of an existing pregnancy. Some of its children in the womb have fur already, while others are still bare; some are being shaped in the womb while others are being conceived. That is how the hare is. But the lioness, which is the strongest and most daring of animals, gives birth only once in her life and to but one cub. When she gives birth, she expels the womb with the cub. The reason is that, when the cub in the womb begins to stir, it has the sharpest nails of any creature and tears at the womb; as it grows bigger, the scratching grows worse, and, when the birth is near, there is hardly any of the womb left whole.

... implying that the total population of lions should be roughly halved every generation?

- Saturday, June 02, 2007 at 07:27:54 (EDT)

Assembling California

John McPhee's 1993 Assembling California is delightful in many places, as the author delves into the deep geologic history of western North America. Alas, however, the book too often emulates continental drift in its inexorable progress: it's slow. Large sections resemble research notes which could have been sliced by an editor's blue pencil, or maybe subducted and recycled in a later era.

Nonetheless, McPhee is a brilliant writer and as always his genius does sparkle often enough to make Assembling California worthwhile. A few examples:

page 36
I remarked that geologists are like dermatologists: they study, for the most part, the outermost two per cent of the earth. They crawl around like fleas on the world's tough hide, exploring every wrinkle and crease, and try to figure out what makes the animal move.
pages 213-4
While India was closing with Tibet, it buckled the intervening shelf, raising from the sea a slab of rock more than a mile thick which consisted almost entirely of the disintegrated shells of marine creatures. From the depths of lithification to the rock's present loft, it has been driven upward at least fifty thousand feet. This one fact — as I noted some years ago — is a treatise in itself on the movements of the surface of the earth. If by some fiat I had to restrict all this writing to one sentence, this is still the one I would choose: The summit of Mt. Everest is marine limestone.
pages 248-9
Kerry Sieh, a San Andreas specialist at Caltech, has dug trenches in numerous places across the fault zone near Los Angeles in order to examine the evidence in the exposed sediments. He has established that twelve great events have occurred on the south-central San Andreas Fault in the past two millennia, with intervals averaging a hundred and forty-five years. The Tejon event of January 9, 1857, is the most recent. One does not have to go to Caltech to add a hundred and forty-five to that.
page 279, quoting from a 1983 paper by Leonardo Seeber titled "Large Scale Thin-Skin Tectonics"
"Our direct view of geologic phenomena has been severely limited by the relatively short span of history and by the relatively small vertical extent of outcrops. ... In many respects we only have a two-dimensional snapshot view of the geologic process. Moreover, the interpretation of geologic data was probably influenced by the psychologic need to view the earth as a stable environment. Manifestations of current tectonism were often perceived as the last gasps of a geologically active past. Thus, subjected to the principle of least astonishment, geologic science has always tended to adopt the most static interpretation allowed by the data."
pages 283-4
... Richter was a professor at Caltech. His scale, devised in the nineteen-thirties, is understood by professors at Caltech and a percentage of the rest of the population too small to be expressible as a number. Another professor at Caltech in Richter's time — and someone who manifestly understood the principles involved — was Beno Gutenberg, who provided the data from which the scale was made. The data applied only to southern California; subsequently, Gutenberg and Richter jointly developed the worldwide scale. Gutenberg did not see or hear well and was understandably reluctant to deal with reporters. He generally asked his young colleague Charles F. Richter to explain the scale to them. Since I have no idea how the scale works, let me say only that it is a mathematically derived combination of three scales parallel to one another: a magnitude scale flanked by scales of amplitude and distance. (Amplitude is the height of the mark an earthquake produces on a seismogram.) Where a line drawn between amplitude and distance crosses the central scale, it registers magnitude. With each rising integer on the magnitude scale, an earthquake's waves have ten times as much amplitude and thirty times as much energy. Richter always insisted that it was the Gutenberg-Richter scale.

(cf. Sense Of Where You Are (4 Jun 1999), Invisible Writing (16 Dec 1999), Defensive Questions (12 May 2000), World Trade Center (11 Sep 2001), Indian River (30 Jul 2004), Mardi Gras (5 Oct 2005), Ransom Of Russian Art (26 Apr 2006), ... )

- Wednesday, May 30, 2007 at 05:25:40 (EDT)

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