^zhurnaly 0.69

Zhurnaly Logo
Howdy, pilgrim! No ads here — you're in volume 0.69 of the ^zhurnal (that's Russian for "journal") — see ZhurnalyWiki for a Wiki edition of individual items; see Zhurnal and Zhurnaly for quick clues as to what this is all about. Briefly, it's the diary of ^z = Mark Zimmermann ... previous volume = 0.68 ... complete list at bottom of page ... send comments & suggestions to "z (at) his (dot) com" ... click on a title link to go to that item in the ZhurnalyWiki where you can edit or comment on it ... thank you!

Edge of the Possible

Training? It's just pushing yourself out to the edge of the possible — thereby pushing the edge of the possible out just a little farther ...

(cf. Self Improvement (2002-07-29), ...)

- Thursday, July 31, 2008 at 21:45:54 (EDT)

Abject Reptile

Verlyn Klinkenborg's "novel" of nature — Timothy; or, Notes of an Abject Reptile — is told by a tortoise held captive in an 18th-century British garden. It plods, like poetry in slow motion. At times frustrating. But deliberate, in both senses of the word. Intentional, planned. And slow, careful. Like the narrator's voice in Forrest Gump. Often the conceit works brilliantly. Philosophy and language sparkle as Timothy explains how he escapes his prison:

The true secret? Walk through the holes in their attention. Easier at my speed than at any faster rate. At evening, larkers stalk the wheat fields, nets spread. Bits of mirror flash behind them. Larks fly into the glittering — and the nets. Larkers cage them. Off they go to wealthy tables, waiting mouths, in Tunbridge and Brighthelmstone.

So it is with humans. Quickness draws their eye. Entangles their attention. What they notice they call reality. But reality is a fence with many holes, a net with many tears. I walk through them slowly. My slowness is deceptively fast.

Soon he is recaptured. Back to crawling the garden. Likewise, his story crawls. Timothy is a novelization of Gilbert White's journals and his Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne. Commentaries on the flora and fauna around a small English village. Notes on weather and country life by a rural curate. Early amateur naturalist. Fascinating, to a point. Worth reading. When there's time, ample time, to offer it.

Near the end of his fictionalized life Timothy yearns for escape from the planned. Spurns the artificial. Dreams away the regimentation of man. Klinkenborg, as he so often does, illuminates the magic of life, the great universe beyond all fences:

I wish to live again in a place that is not a map of the gardener's mind. Book of nature, as humans love to think of it. But where I wish to live is not a book at all. Not an argument for the being and attributes of an unnecessary god. Not a theorem, hypothesis, or demonstration. Merely itself.

Like the joys of the wilderness. Trail and forest. Stream and sky. No buying or selling. The simplest things. Simply for themselves.

- Tuesday, July 29, 2008 at 21:31:56 (EDT)

John Muir

From the Foreword by Frederick Turner to the 1988 Sierra Club edition of My First Summer in the Sierra by John Muir:

That in reading Muir now we are as much looking through his texts or around their margins, so to say, amounts to a kind of assent to Muir's own judgment of his works' value: that his words were signposts pointing in the direction of the Beyond and that the ideal book he would have composed would have been one without words, would have instead been the act of reverential encounter with the natural world. We might not want to go as far as he did and say that his books represent anguished compromises between what was felt and what could be expressed, yet often in reading them this is in fact what we do feel. It is an obscure but very important source of their continuing appeal for us. Reading Muir we do not so much read an author as we do a visionary who happened to write, and the books he cared to leave behind for us are the blazes of his heroic encounters with that Beyond.


... The state of grace Muir attained in the Sierras was the knowledge that everything — rocks, bears, stars, raindrops, and he himself — was all one, that separation and boundary lines were illusions; and that there could never truly be such a situation as observer and observed: the observer was the observed. Aloft for a brief moment in the condition of non-attachment to the world below, he saw clearly and so became a seer.

(cf. [1], California Sherpa (2000-05-07), Mount Dana and Mono Lake (2004-09-03), Eastern Yosemite Mountains (2006-06-02), ... )

- Sunday, July 27, 2008 at 03:31:41 (EDT)

Randy Pausch

Yesterday CMU computer science professor Randy Pausch died. He achieved minor-celebrity status by his thoughtful, mature response to the news last year that he had pancreatic cancer and probably only a few months to live. Two quotes from Tara Parker-Pope's report on her interview with him [1], re his looming end:

I haven't found a way to clever my way out of it.


Cancer didn't change me at all. I know lots of people talk about the life revelation. I didn't have that. I always thought every day was a gift, but now I am looking for where to send the thank you note.

(cf. Johnson Condolences, Deep Sympathies (2001-05-30), Universal Instant (2003-12-10), Infinite Sky (2004-10-15), Seize the Carp (2005-07-02), Arnold Bennett Requiem (2006-03-08), ...)

- Saturday, July 26, 2008 at 14:42:23 (EDT)

Let It Snow

If I had been wearing socks when I read it, they would have been found across the room from my body. In the Prologue of Verlyn Klinkenborg's The Last Fine Time, a snowstorm quietly begins:

The first flake appears and vanishes like a virtual particle in the mind of a physicist. ...

As the blizzard progresses:

... You can feel the way the heavy snowfall changes a room, the way it redefines the interior, making the walls seem closer together, the roof heavier, the insulation thicker, as if the house had been built of logs and chinked with sphagnum moss, as if you might wake up in the morning and find the windswept tracks of lynx and snowshoe rabbit running down the middle of the street, as if the street itself were a frozen lake ringed by a forest of dark hemlock and spruce.

And after the snowfall has frozen the city:

... When the wind blows off the lake, it can be hard to remember that close to earth is where the warmth is found. It can be hard to remember that the present is the only campfire in the icy wastes of time.

I remembered the imagery of Steven Dobyns in "Where We Are", and Sandy Mack's comment "Civilization is just one generation thick." — and I had to stop reading.

- Friday, July 25, 2008 at 18:26:13 (EDT)

The Meaning of Life

What's the meaning of life? First answer this: what does "meaning" mean? (Regress! Regress!)

So cut the cord: what's not meaningful? Fame and wealth. Long life, lots of kids. Seeming clever, looking pretty, acting bold.

Key is connection — to others, to nature, to self. Meaning exists in the moment. You don't have to be remembered. You just have to be.

(cf. Foam on the Ocean (2000-07-23), MyReligion (2000-11-06), Most Important (2002-05-16), My Ob (2002-08-18), Search for Meaning (2005-08-27), Liberal Education (2005-11-02), Sunrise Service at Seneca Creek (2008-03-24), ...)

- Thursday, July 24, 2008 at 20:31:06 (EDT)

Seven Minute Mile

The long-daunting Seven Minute Barrier falls, albeit only by a gnat's whisker! At the MCRRC "MidSummer Night's Mile" son Robin slashes 30+ seconds off his PR for the distance. I manage to squeeze 20 seconds off mine and sneak across the finish line at 6:59.74 according to the official record. My litany of mistakes: zero warmup; cross starting line about 2 seconds after the "gun"; lose another second or two passing other runners on the curves at the end of the track. Maybe a slightly smarter race would have been slightly faster for me?

Notes on that and other recent runs follow ...

MidSummer Night's Mile

2008-07-11 - 1 mile @ 7 min/mi — As per above, tonight's race goes as per plan, with fairly even splits: 1:46 + 1:48 + 1:44 + 1:40 according to my watch. Comrades Wayne Carson, Ken Swab, Cara Marie Manlandro, Jeanne Larrison, Christina Caravoulias, and Caren Jew also do well at this warm but pleasant evening event, in some cases running cautiously as they come back from injury. I take more than 500 photos for the MCRRC photo sharing site, a few of which are surprisingly nice. Robin and I have to leave before the final, fastest heats are run. My quads remain sore for four days thereafter.

Candy Cane Trail Run

2008-07-12 - ~10 miles @ ~13 min/mi — From home I trot slowly 2+ miles to Candy Cane City where I arrive about 7:15am. Ken Swab soon materializes, and we sit and chat until the MCRRC weekend trail run group gathers for their trek through Rock Creek. Simultaneously the Club's 8k training squad is starting here, accompanied by graduates from the Club's "Beginning Women Runners" program. Ken runs with the leaders along the Western Ridge Trail, while I bring up the rear. At a fork in the trail Jim Cavanaugh, John Schawbe, and I turn back and take the Valley Trail and the Holly Trail back, while the others proceed on a longer run to the Park Nature Center. J&J&I joke about our various old-man medical issues. Jim is signed up to run Vermont next weekend, his first 100 miler. John & I suggest that he get a young lady for a pacer. (As it turns out, on 19-20 July stout-hearted Jim finishes his century race in 29.5 hours, in spite of being accompanied by a helpful young gentleman.)

CCT Cutdown

2008-07-13 - 10 miles @ ~11.3 min/mi — CM Manlandro and I arrive simultaneously at the Capital Crescent Trail parking lot in Bethesda; Ken Swab is there ahead of us, and soon Emaad Burki materializes. About 7:15am we set off southbound on the CCT from milepost 3.5, chattering and complaining and accusing one another of being sandbaggers. Emaad admits to having done a 4:05 mile in his high school days; CM confesses to swimming a mile in 16:25. Ken complains that his Georgetown Law School tuition went to pay CM's scholarship. I manage to miss most of the mile markers while quibbling with Ken and entertaining CM. After 4 miles Emaad turns back; the rest of us continue on past Fletcher's Boathouse to milepost 8.5 (58 minutes), reverse course, and accelerate to make it back in 55 minutes. Ken throttles back to a more sensible pace as CM & I blast out our final three miles in 11, 10.5, and 10 minutes respectively. My legs are still aching from Friday evening's mile-without-warmup at the track.

Parks Half Marathon Preview

2008-07-16 - 13+ miles @ ~12.2 min/mi — Ambling before sunrise down Veirs Mill Rd, Cara Marie Manlandro and I startle a bunny rabbit. Three miles later it's our turn to be startled, this time by a huge stag bearing a magnificent rack of antlers on his brow and standing menacingly a few feet off Rock Creek Trail. Perhaps he's protecting the doe that stands behind him? Today CM and I are following the Parks Half Marathon course, a point-to-point route from Rockville to Bethesda. It's CM's longest run by ~30%. Just before 5am we meet at the Rockville Metro, both of us having made wrong turns on the way to the parking lot. We enjoy unseasonably cool and dry weather for a Washington-area summer. Fortunately the impromptu aid stations I've concealed behind trees at miles 5.5 and 9.9 turn out not to be needed. Robins feed on the ground near us as we trek along. At one point a bright goldfinch zips by. Our pace is consistent, between 11.5 and 13 minutes/mile including ample walk breaks. CM's calf muscles begin to tighten after a while, but Succeed! electrolyte capsules at miles 7 and 9 apparently cure them. For a weekday morning we see a goodly number of cyclists and joggers. After 2 hours and 40 minutes we touch an arbitrary stop sign near the corner of Bethesda & Woodmont Avenues which we anoint as our finish line. A few blocks later we're on the Metro back to our starting point, and soon thereafter at our respective homes.

W&OD Trail Trek

2008-07-19 - 9+ miles @ ~12 min/mi — A teacup-sized bunny darts across Mary's toes during our hill climb at mile 8 and gives her a burst of adrenaline. It's already a warm, sunny morning in northern Virginia at 6:30am as I pick up Mary at her home and follow her directions to the parking area near mile marker 29.5 of the Washington & Old Dominion Trail. We take the parallel crushed-bluestone horse path most of the way, with a few side excursions. I tease Mary mercilessly about her overuse of the "S" word (she says "Sorry!" too often, quite unnecessarily) as I garble Shakespeare and Gerard Manley Hopkins in attempts to recite poetic passages from memory. My GPS says we've gone 9.4 miles total distance at a pace of 11.3 min/mi during our running segments. We take 59 minutes outbound and 57 minutes for the return journey. Our overall average pace, including 10 minutes of not-running (potty and water breaks) is about 12.4 min/mi. As we approach the end of our run a cool wind blesses us for the final 30 seconds. Would that it has arisen sooner! Mary avers that two young girls distract me and almost make me miss the path at one turn. I honestly don't remember either girls or turn, and counter-claim that studly dudes on the trail draw Mary's gaze, as does the $5k bicycle that one hunk rides. Meanwhile, I collect coordinates at the mileposts we notice, missing a few where the horse trail takes us aside.

mile latitude longitude

Sweet & Sweaty Seneca Sixteen Sunday

2008-07-20 - 16 miles @ ~17 min/mi — Today starting at 5am from Rt 355 Caren Jew and I follow the same route as on 2008-06-14 (cf. Deadfall Day) but are six minutes slower in the crushing heat & humidity, as temps rise from the upper 70s into the 80s with the dewpoint firmly stuck at 70°F. My flashlight's beam reveals a brown frog on the trail; offended, it hops away and quickly vanishes among the leaves on the forest floor. After sunrise a dead mole on the trail distracts us, as do sunbeams over photogenic fog-shrouded meadows and ponds. Caren scrapes a big tick off her leg just after Brink Rd while black stinging flies swarm about my head. On our return journey we meet comrade Mike Acuña and chat with him as we catch our breath. Caren spies a turtle craning its neck as it stands on a log in the middle of the stream.

Caren claims she's "down" but keeps smiling as we trek along Seneca Creek at a good pace, upstream 8+ miles and back. By my watch we're 48 minutes from Rt 355 to the first of three aid stations that Caren planted in the pre-dawn murk (Watkins Mill Rd, 3 miles), 1:26 more (total 2:14) to our turnaround at Watkins Rd (mile 8), 1:34 back to Watkins Mill, and 46 minutes more to touch our respective cars. Surprisingly we go a couple of minutes faster during the last 3 miles than during the first 3; the fact that it was dark when we started may have had something to do with it. Caren's right foot hurts, and I feel a bit of bruising on the top of my right foot.

Catoctin Overture

2008-07-22 - 14+ miles @ ~20 min/mi — At 0430 Caren & I rendezvous at the Clopper Rd commuter lot by I-270 and carpool north past Frederick to stare the Catoctin Trail in the face — once it gets light enough to see, that is. A long drive on Gambrill Park Rd takes us to Delauter Rd where Caren parks on the narrow shoulder. After a few minutes to let the sun rise we set off northward at 0540 following blue blazes past a pond where a great blue heron eyes us warily. Temperatures are in the 70s with near-100% humidity, and during the morning it gets hotter, past 80°F, until as we're almost finished with our journey breezes materialize and then a gentle shower helps cool us down. Steep, rocky hills slow our progress. Caren spots blackberry bushes by the trail and we pause to eat their delicious fruit both outbound and during our return. We discuss movies and music. I offer mini-lectures on time travel, the optics of retroreflection, and conservation of energy.

Today we're previewing the middle 12 miles of the Catoctin 50k course, in preparation for the August 2 race that we plan to run together. Our splits are 40 min from Caren's car to Fishing Creek Rd, then 34 min to Gambrill Park Rd again, followed by 44 min to the point on a hillside where we realize that we've gone astray near the Manor parking area of Cunningham State Park. I estimate we may have spent 7 minutes climbing off course, so that means it took 37 min "in theory" for that course segment. We expend another 7 min getting back to the race's turnaround point, where I invest 4 minutes in the restroom. (Apparently a pre-run dinner of baked beans and jalapeño-flavored potato chips is slightly suboptimal.) Heading back it takes us 58 minutes to retrace our steps to Gambrill Park Rd, 35 min more to Fishing Creek Rd, and 43 min back to touch Caren's car. We refill our water bottles and add another mile-plus by trotting along the crushed stone road from the car to Gambrill Park Rd, where we tag a stop sign and then run back, a final 16 minutes. Our total "moving time" (not counting going off-course and pausing at the Manor parking lot latrine) is 1:51 out and 2:16 back. Unfortunately the Catoctin 50k cutoffs for this segment are 1:40 out and 2:05 back, so we hypothetically miss both time limits by exactly 11 minutes each. At least we're consistent! Now if we can only go 2 min/mi faster on race day. Easier said than ...

(cf. Ducky Rock Creek Trail (2008-05-12), Catoctin Trail Trek (2008-05-19), Game SET Match (2008-05-27), Barred Owls (2008-06-10), Deadfall Day (2008-06-27), Patient Companionship (2008-07-06), ...)

- Tuesday, July 22, 2008 at 20:50:34 (EDT)

Trouble Is My Business

In blunt-impact contrast to Mickey Spillane's purple narrative, Raymond Chandler's collection Murder Is My Business dazzles like a flashlight in the eyes of a guilty spouse trying to tiptoe into a dark bedroom at midnight. In Chapter 3 of the title novelette, for example, a lady is described:

She wore a street dress of pale green wool and a small cockeyed hat that hung on her ear like a butterfly. Her eyes were wide-set and there was thinking room between them. Their color was lapis-lazuli blue and the color of her hair was dusky red, like a fire under control but still dangerous. She was too tall to be cute. She wore plenty of make-up in the right places and the cigarette she was poking at me had a built-on mouthpiece about three inches long. She didn't look hard, but she looked as if she had heard all the answers and remembered the ones she thought she might be able to use sometime.

Or there's a simple landscape at the beginning of Chapter 7 in "Finger Man" that gets the narrator from Point A to B:

In twenty minutes we were in the foothills. We went over a hogback, drifted down a long white concrete ribbon, crossed a bridge, went halfway up the next slope and turned off on a gravel road that disappeared around a shoulder of scrub oak and manzanita. Plumes of pampas grass flared on the side of the hill, like jets of water. The wheels crunched on the gravel and skidded on the curves.

And witness the opening lines of "Red Wind" where the atmosphere is the murder suspect:

There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husband's necks. Anything can happen. You can even get a full glass of beer at a cocktail lounge.

I plead guilty of pedestrian prose, Your Honor. I'll try to do better next time ...

(cf. The Simple Art of Murder (2005-12-04) and comments thereon, The Thin Man (2006-01-21), Battling Bosoms (2008-07-09), ...)

- Sunday, July 20, 2008 at 03:58:48 (EDT)

Will Power

"I can, but I don't want to!" So say I to myself, standing at the bottom of three flights of stairs. I've already climbed them twice, earlier today. The elevator is just around the corner. My legs feel tired.

Then I remember what a friend's running coach told her, about how incredibly hard he works so that he can become the best that he can possibly be as an elite ultrarunner. I think about the differences between knowing and choosing and doing. I envision the Catoctin 50k trail run coming up in a couple of weeks, and wonder whether climbing the stairs now will make the hills easier then. I ask myself whether I have free will, and whether this decision somehow a test of my willpower — or whether "willpower" is the right word for doing something unpleasant in the short term that's going to be valuable in the future. I think of my friend who's going to be doing that ultramarathon with me, and how hard she's training to improve herself.

And then I climb the stairs.

(cf. Knowing Choosing Doing (1999-05-29), Self Improvement (2002-07-29), My Ob (2002-08-18), Runs in the Family (2003-01-25), Flagrante Delicto Philosopher (2003-09-09), Practical Productivity (2004-01-20), Contemporary Introduction to Free Will (2008-06-15), ...)

- Friday, July 18, 2008 at 19:46:20 (EDT)

Refuse to Be Terrorized

Bruce Schneier began his career as a technical expert on cryptography. In recent years he has broadened his base and become a widely-quoted pundit on a variety of security issues. Like many such he's always articulate, often inconsistent, and rarely deep. But in a 2006 Wired magazine essay ("Refuse to be Terrorized" [1]) he hits the nail on the head as to how to respond to terrorism, or indeed to any over-hyped "threat":

The surest defense against terrorism is to refuse to be terrorized. Our job is to recognize that terrorism is just one of the risks we face, and not a particularly common one at that. And our job is to fight those politicians who use fear as an excuse to take away our liberties and promote security theater that wastes money and doesn't make us any safer.

(cf. Terrorism and Philosophy (2001-10-11), Thermodynamics of Terrorism (2002-01-15), Probabilistic Tragedy (2003-03-12, CryptoGram (2003-12-23), Criminal Behavior (2004-01-08), Weight of Evidence (2004-03-21), ...)

- Wednesday, July 16, 2008 at 20:53:15 (EDT)

Franklin on Libraries

Benjamin Franklin in his Autobiography tells how in 1731 he started what may have been the first public library in the United States, and mentions some of the benefits thereof:

And now I set on foot my first project of a public nature, that for a subscription library. I drew up the proposals, got them put into form by our great scrivener, Brockden, and, by the help of my friends in the Junto, procured fifty subscribers of forty shillings each to begin with, and ten shillings a year for fifty years, the term our company was to continue. We afterwards obtained a charter, the company being increased to one hundred. This was the mother of all the North American subscription libraries, now so numerous. It is become a great thing itself, and continually increasing. These libraries have improved the general conversation of the Americans, made the common tradesmen and farmers as intelligent as most gentlemen from other countries, and perhaps have contributed in some degree to the stand so generally made throughout the colonies in defense of their privileges.

(cf. Book Houses (1999-12-14), Boston Public Library (2002-06-20), Got Library (2003-09-17), Room to Read (2004-10-23), Library History (2007-02-16), Emerson on Libraries (2007-08-31), Asimov on Libraries (2007-12-28), ...)

- Monday, July 14, 2008 at 21:37:56 (EDT)

Gross Anatomy

Continuing the ^zhurnaly tradition of clinical medical imagery begun in 2005, here are some up-close and personal gut-shots of my entrails. They're the only souvenirs I brought back from a colonoscopy two months ago. The drugs were so good that I remember nothing of the exam itself.

I also have no idea what these photos show — but they somehow remind me of the 1966 movie Fantastic Voyage with its improbably shunken submarine cruising around the improbably connected innards of an improbably comatose human victim. Mad Magazine ran a highly memorable parody (April 1967, issue #110 — ah, I was younger then!) that focused, not improbably, on scientist Raquel Welch's improbably fascinating body being attacked by improbably targeted antibodies. Isaac Asimov did his best to reduce the improbabilities in his novelization of the screenplay, but without much success.

In preparation for this slightly-invasive procedure I lost 6 lbs. Alas, it all came back within 6 hours.
^z 2008 colonoscopy pictures

(cf. Torn Toe Tendon Repair (2005-05-05), Healing Process (2005-05-15), and Furrowed Brow (2005-08-18), ...)

- Sunday, July 13, 2008 at 05:52:37 (EDT)

Verlyn Klinkenborg

The New York Times editorial page rattled my cage and knocked me off my perch today when I saw Verlyn Klinkenborg's column, The Rural Life. In his essay "Summer's Night" Klinkenborg launches a philosophical skyrocket:

The last couple of nights I've stood at the edge of the pasture watching the fireflies. They rise from the grass, flickering higher and higher until one of them turns into the blinking lights of a jet flying eastward far above the horizon. I can feel, rather than see, the bats working around the house and in the coves between the trees, feeding on insects that are invisible but fully audible to them.

What the insects are noticing — the bats, too — is beyond me. Our perceptions overlap without ever converging in the night. All the entangled lives on this farm seem to run on separate tracks, except where they collide as predators and prey or companions and caretakers. Push this thought far enough, and nature seems to fray, to come apart into a disunity that is gathered up only by our human perceptions. And yet that gathering up is just our own kind of solipsism. I don't know that the horses have ever made a general proposition about nature, but then they don't know that I've made one either.

... and goes on to rhapsodize about bats "... like origami contraptions capable only of struggling flight ..." and birds with their "... secret knowledge of the ripeness of cherries." Would that I could occasionally write as well as that.

But of course, to put off doing any actual writing I've ordered a few Verlyn Klinkenborg books ...

(cf. New Nickel (2005-03-09), What We Know (2006-08-15), Full Moon Metaphors (2007-10-29), Only a Little Has To Go Wrong (2008-01-08), ...)

- Friday, July 11, 2008 at 17:26:47 (EDT)

True Gentleman

In the letters column of the New York Times yesterday Ben Miller quoted from the 1877 Ladies' and Gentlemen's Etiquette: A Complete Manual of the Manners and Dress of American Society by Mr. E. B. Duffey. He, or perhaps the editors, slightly garbled the title of the book and truncated the quaint and thoughtful passage that Miller cited from pages 13-14. Here it is in its entirety:

The true gentleman is rare, but, fortunately, there is no crime in counterfeiting his excellences. The best of it is that the counterfeit may, in course of time, develop into the real thing.

A true gentleman is always himself at his best. He is inherently unselfish, thinking always of the needs and desires of others before his own. He is dignified among equals, respectful but not groveling to his superiors, tender and considerate to inferiors, and helpful and protecting to the weak. He does not put on his gentility among gentlemen and gentlewomen only to turn ruffian among ruffians and among those of the other sex who from any cause are not recognized as ladies. Women — all women, of whatever age or condition — claim his respectful care and tender and reverential regard. A gentleman is, in fact, a man with the strength of manhood combined with the delicacy of womanhood.

(cf. Cardinal Newman and Missed Manners (2001-10-04), John Jarndyce (2007-07-15), ...)

- Thursday, July 10, 2008 at 20:35:44 (EDT)

Battling Bosoms

For a decade Mickey Spillane has been on my should-read-someday list of authors. His "Mike Hammer" series of hard-boiled detective thrillers were hugely popular in the 1940's and for decades thereafter. Something that sensational has to be good, eh?! Recently at the used-book sale I picked up a pair of yellowed-page cracked-spine paperbacks: copies of the first two novels in Spillane's signature series. Sadly, at the same time I also snagged a couple of Raymond Chandler mystery collections and James Cain's The Postman Always Rings Twice.

Major mistake! In comparison to Cain and Chandler, Spillane's prose stutters and stumbles. His improbable female landscapes are punctuated with blunt-force-trauma paintings of improbable male violence. Soon the repetitive motions turn into comic self-parody. Three mildly risqué samples from I, the Jury, the book that introduced Mike Hammer:

... The picture was taken at a beach, and she stood there tall and languid-looking in a white bathing suit. Long solid legs. A little heavier than the movie experts consider good form, but the kind that make you drool to look at. Under the suit I could see the muscles of her stomach. Incredibly wide shoulders for a woman, framing breasts that jutted out, seeking freedom from the restraining fabric of the suit. Her hair looked white in the picture, but I could tell that it was a natural blonde. Lovely, lovely yellow hair. But her face was what got me. ... (Chapter Two)


... The dress she wore was not at all revealing, being a long-sleeved black business garb, but what it attempted to conceal was pure loveliness. Her breasts fought the dress as valiantly as they had the bathing suit. I could only imagine how the rest of her looked since the desk blocked my vision. ... (Chapter Four)


... She strode provocatively across the room and back toward me. Under the dress her body was superb, unlike what I imagined the first time. She was slimmer, really, her waist thin, but her shoulders broad. Her breasts were laughing things that were firmly in place, although I could see no strap marks of a restraining bra. Her legs were encased in sheer nylons and set in high heels, making her almost as tall as I was. Beautiful legs. They were strong looking, shapely ... (Chapter Six)

A glance through the second novel in the Mike Hammer series, My Gun is Quick, turns up the similar:

... Her dress was loose at the shoulders, tapering into a slim waist that was a mass of invitation. She sipped her drink, then drew her legs up under her, letting me see that not even the sheerest nylon could enhance the firm roundness of her thighs. When she breathed her breasts fought the folds of her dress and I waited to see the battle won. ... (Chapter Seven)

No imagery, no poetry, no metaphorical depth. Perhaps Mickey Spillane's later works are better ...

(cf. Catfight Club (2003-09-05), The Simple Art of Murder (2005-12-04), The Thin Man (2006-01-21), ...)

- Wednesday, July 09, 2008 at 11:09:09 (EDT)

Patient Companionship

Who holds the record for the most time spent suffering (a word I choose carefully for its literal meaning) with me on long runs? The overall winner to date is surely tireless Caren Jew, based on countless training treks we've done together. For a single session — defined as staying within earshot the whole way — Steve Adams sets a tough-to-beat mark of 43 miles (11.5 hours) at the Tussey Mountainback of 2004. Mary Ewell is a strong second with 35 miles (9.5 hours) during the final two-thirds of the 2007 JFK. Ruth Martin and Caren Jew are tied for third by virtue of putting up with rambling ^z monologues for the entire HAT Run 50k races (7.5-8 hours) of 2006 and 2008. Ken Swab hasn't been subjected to my continuous company for quite as long on a trail, but he probably has spent more time cooped up in a car with me than anybody else non-family in going to and from the Wineglass Marathon of 2006.

Notes on more recent torments I've inflicted on fellow travelers follow:

Sweater Sweepstakes

2008-06-28 - ~9 miles @ ~13 min/mi net — Physicist Mary Ewell meets physicist me at 7am at the skating rink parking lot on physicist Michael Faraday Ct in Reston VA. We set out briskly southeastward on the W&OD Trail and in less than a minute pass milepost 16.5, from which our first mile is a far too fast 9:35. Our second mile is a somewhat more sensible 10:32, but then the fact that both the temperature and the dewpoint are above 70°F hits home. We turn around at milepost 14 and walk quite a bit on the return trip, so our miles 3, 4, and 5 come in at 13:28, 12:58, and 12:19 respectively. During the last mile a brave chipmunk forages on the trailside a few feet from me before scampering away into the brush. Then it's back to our cars to refill bottles, whereupon we take the Lake Fairfax trail to/from the main parking lot near the soccer fields, a couple of hilly miles each way, in 51 much happier minutes. The shade of the trees and the varied terrain make it infinitely more fun. Unlike our run of 2008-05-31 on the same trail (cf. Barred Owls) this time I'm not dehydrated, and I actually can notice things and enjoy myself. Both of us are drenched before the end of our journey. Mary challenges me to a "Who sweats more?" competition, in which I concede defeat when at the end of the run she takes off her socks and wrings out puddles from each of them.

Lake Needwood Descent

2008-06-29 - 6 miles @ 11 min/mi — Cara Marie Manlandro and I meet at Lake Needwood and set off at 6:30am for a 6 mile out-and-back along Rock Creek Trail. We manage a "descending" pace, with splits by my watch of 11:47 + 11:39 (technically, 11:39.21) + 11:39 (technically, 11:38.82) + 11:11 + 10:45 + 9:53 — that amazing final mile including the long uphill segment back to milepost 14. (cf. Rock Creek Trail Miles 10 to 14) I chatter as usual along the way, offering gratuitous advice about how CM may wish to prepare for the Riley's Rumble Half Marathon coming up in a month.

Sligo 5k

2008-07-02 - ~3.5 miles @ 11.5 min/mi — CM escapes her lab early, but I miss one train on the way home and get stuck in local traffic so I'm later than I hoped meeting her at Sligo-Dennis Avenue Park. At a bit before 7pm we trot southward "beside the banks of bounteous Sligo" (to quote Bob Forward's recollection of his middle-school song from the 1960's). The weather is surprisingly cool and dry this evening, and we chat and jog at a comfortable pace all the way to Colesville Rd and back. A medium-sized deer is munching foliage a few feet off the path as a few walkers watch and one takes a cellphone-camera photo of it. When I ask CM to lend me her knife so I can kill the four-legged locust, however, the deer bolts away into the woods.

DCRRC Age-Handicapped 4 Miler

2008-07-04 - 4 miles @ 8.3 min/mi — Christina Caravoulias tells me about a cute race concept that the DC Road Runners Club implements every 4th of July. Based on age/sex performance tables, the race starts at different times for different people. My group has a 14-minute handicap relative to the baseline, 70+ year old ladies. Chris begins about 3.5 minutes ahead of me. The young fast folk have to start later. It makes for more passing mid-race as the leaders sort themselves out, like isotope separation in uranium enrichment. There's a lot of standing around before the start, but much less at the end.

In spite of warm (75°F) and humid (65°F dewpoint) conditions I trot along briskly and do rather better than I expected, but rather worse than my fantasy-world goal of 8 minutes/mile. From the starting point on the C&O Canal Towpath at Carderock, near Canal mile 10.5, the first fractional mile to the turnaround at milepost 11 takes me 3:55. My mile splits thereafter, markers 11-10-9-10, are 8:09 + 8:14 + 8:50 (ugh!) and the final roughly-half-mile back to the start/finish is 4:11, for a total elapsed time of 33:19 and a handicapped time of 47:19, which puts me 75th out of 126 or so racers. I stay near the finish to greet Blair Jones, Jaime Lopez, and Christina who finishes strong with her friend Sharyn Gordon. The C&O Canal mileposts are notoriously inaccurate, so who knows how far we actually went? After the finish we eat, drink, and all get prizes, some rather weird; as the Race Director notes, "One man's trash is another man's treasure!" I cheerfully snag an XXL DCRRC singlet.

Fairfax Loop

2008-07-05 - 9+ miles @ ~14 min/mi — After two hours of no significant animal sightings, other than fellow homo sapiens, a big deer bounds across the trail in front of us and then turns to eye our progress. Mary Ewell and I are finishing the tempo run segment of her Fairfax loop. At 0705 we meet at Colvin Run Mill and walk to Rt 7, avoiding the geese that are feeding in the wet grass by the roadside. We cross at the light and trot along the Fairfax Cross County Trail: the F-CCT, or as I call it the Faux-CCT, to distinguish it from the MD-DC Capital Crescent Trail = CCT. After 46 minutes we're at the W&OD Trail, and turn to follow the hilly gravel horse path. A drizzle now turns into rain, and including a pause at a water fountain we reach Michael Faraday Dr and turn onto the Lake Fairfax Trail in another 33 minutes. We enjoy the "rock garden", roots, ruts, and stream crossings for another 30 minutes, with rumbles of thunder for sound effects. The Lake Fairfax restrooms are filthy the morning after Independence Day. Mary begins to push the pace for the final 20 minute segment back to Rt 7. In spite of significant digestive upset she challenges the hills — and wins!

Valley Trail and Beach Drive Loop

2008-07-06 - ~7 miles @ ~13 min/mi — As CM Manlandro and I approach Bingham Dr in Rock Creek Park, a little chipmunk scurries across the path in front of us and vanishes into the leafy clutter. A few hundred yards later another does the same, and a bit later another repeats the act. We accelerate north along Beach Dr and manage the two miles back to our cars at Boundary Bridge at a brisk 10:18 min/mi pace. Our journey downstream via the Valley Trail began at 6:10am and without walk breaks averaged 13-14 min/mi including some significant hill work on the way. I estimate we've done about 5.5 miles when our loop is closed, so Cara Marie adds a 1.5 mile cooldown jog along RCT past Candy Cane City and back. The warm and humid morning leaves me totally sweat-soaked.

(cf. Sunrise Service at Seneca Creek (2008-03-24), Sharp Focus (2008-04-30), Ducky Rock Creek Trail (2008-05-12), Catoctin Trail Trek (2008-05-19), Game SET Match (2008-05-27), Barred Owls (2008-06-10), Deadfall Day (2006-06-27), ...)

- Sunday, July 06, 2008 at 16:58:14 (EDT)

Running to Stand Still

A copy of the January 2008 issue of Outside magazine happened to fall into my hands recently, and between all the glossy advertisements for trucks, sports drinks, and expensive vacations, on page 68 was a thoughtful little essay by Michael Roberts, "Running to Stand Still", subtitled "Meditation doesn't mean sitting. True practice can work on the trail, in the surf, or on the slopes." Yes, it's also a review of a course at a yoga and health center, with URL and pricetag "From $775" at the end. Nevertheless, the article soars above that. A key thought:

... I've come to understand that awareness isn't something you obtain — it's a way of living. It's a practice.

Roberts concludes:

I also ran. I worried that the adrenaline kick would make a quiet mind impossible, but Rosenberg kept saying awareness is something to bring into every waking moment. So off I went in the early evenings on wooded trails, trying to run mindfully but inevitably falling into my pattern of thinking about everything except that which was right before me.

Then it happened. On my last evening at the retreat, I bolted two miles up to a ridge, stopping to take in the autumn forest. I closed my eyes and found my breath. In, out. In, out ... I can't say how long it lasted — ten seconds? a minute? — and I can't say how it felt, because I didn't feel anything. I was just there. Right there. For the first time ever.

(cf. Engineering Enlightenment (1999-10-09), Achieve New Balance (2002-07-17), Light Mind (2002-08-22), Aikido Spirit (2003-12-09), Nothing Happens (2005-10-08), ...)

- Saturday, July 05, 2008 at 21:19:29 (EDT)

The Creation of the Presidency, 1775-1789

For Father's Day this year Paulette gave me an unusual little hardback she found at the used-book sale: The Creation of the Presidency 1775-1789 by Charles C. Thach, Jr. This copy is a 1969 reprint of the 1923 original edition; based on a comment at the beginning of Chapter III it was Thach's Ph.D. dissertation. Like most such, it's rather heavy sailing at times. Miracle At Philadelphia: The Story of the Constitutional Convention by Catherine Drinker Bowen (1966) is far more entertaining and takes a wider viewpoint. But overall Thach does an excellent job of investigating the origins of the US President's powers and limitations. He includes a considerable number of thoughtful quotes from contemporary documents, as in this New Hampshire 1776 "Town Paper" discussing the need for a strong executive (from Chapter II, "State Executive Power, 1776-1787):

This power is the active principle of all governments: it is the soul, and without it the body politic is but a dead corpse. Its department is to put in execution all the laws enacted by the legislative body. It ought, therefore, to have the appointment of all the civil officers of the State. It is at the head of the militia, and therefore should have equally the appointment of all the military officers within the same. Its characteristic requisites are secrecy, vigour, and despatch. The fewer persons, therefore, this supreme power is trusted with, the greater probability there is that these requirements will be found. The convention, therefore, on the maturest deliberation, have thought it best to lodge this power in the hands of one, whom they have stiled the GOVERNOR. They have, indeed, array'd him with honours, they have armed him with power, and set him on high. But still he is only the right hand of your power, and the mirror of your majesty. Every possible provision is made to guard against the abuse of this high betrustment and protect the rights of the people. ...

Thach explains how the experiences with runaway legislatures and weak executives in the various states led to the building of a strong President. He quotes Oliver Ellsworth's contemporary remarks in summarizing "The true purpose of the Constitution":

We allow the president both an influence, tho' strictly speaking not a legislative voice; and think such an influence must be salutary. In the president all the executive departments meet, and he will be a channel of communication between those who make and those who execute the laws. Many things look fair in theory which in practice are impossible. If lawmakers, in every instance, before their final degree had the opinion of those who are to execute them, it would prevent a thousand absurd ordinances, which are solemnly made, only to be be repealed, and lessen the dignity of legislation.

Thach concludes his book with some stirring words:

... Weak men have occupied the office without the ability to support its great responsibility. But there have always come into office at critical times men who would utilize its powers fearlessly, independently, and with a full acceptance of responsibility, striving each to be the "man of the people," to serve as a mouthpiece for the national will, to be the guardian of those great national interests intrusted to him, the conduct of war, maybe, the management of foreign affairs, the honest conduct of administrative business. These men have kept the original spirit of the Constitution alive.
... [I]t may not be amiss to recall two facts: that never yet has the choice of the people put into office a corrupt President, and that the office as organized successfully has withstood and completely recovered from the violent assault of a hate-blinded Congress. This in itself is no slight tribute.

Well, maybe when Thach was writing in the early 1920's ...

(There are also some good vocabulary words along the way, including "onubilate" meaning to cloud over, confuse, or obscure; it's probably a typographical error for "obnubilate", and appears in a quote from James Wilson on page 174.)

- Friday, July 04, 2008 at 16:19:14 (EDT)

Roman Humor

A recent book review brought to mind a clever ancient joke, mentioned in Frank Muir's introduction to the 1990 Oxford Book of Humorous Prose (a hilarious anthology misplaced around the house here many years ago). The joke dates back to the early Roman Empire and is told ca. 400 AD. Loosely translated:

In Cæsar Augustus's time a man from one of the provinces was visiting Rome. He looked a lot like Augustus, and so attracted considerable attention. The Emperor sent for him and asked, "Young fellow, was your mother ever in Rome?"

"No," the man replied, "but my father often was!"

(from The Saturnalia (II.iv.20) by Macrobius [1], [2]; cf. So Funny (1999-08-10), DesertTest (2002-09-04), DalaiLamaBirthdayGift (2004-08-24), ...)

- Thursday, July 03, 2008 at 20:39:11 (EDT)

Kolache Memories

A colleague saw me in the hall a few days ago and, knowing that I originally hail from Texas, told me that the Smithsonian Folk Life Festival this year features Texas food — including Texas Czech delicacies. That reminded me immediately of what we called "kolaches" when I was growing up: bready pastries with white frosting and a fruit-filled depression on top. I told my comrade about how, on the way to my grandparents' farm, my folks often would stop the car at a roadside market in a tiny town to buy fresh-baked kolaches. We usually ate them up before we got to our destination!

- Wednesday, July 02, 2008 at 21:05:56 (EDT)

Win a Date with Tad Hamilton

The 2004 movie Win a Date with Tad Hamilton! (written by Victor Levin) is a sweet and well-done (if occasionally predictable) romantic comedy. It includes its share of snappy one-liners, such as the archetypal male reaction to a much-too-long female description of the title date — "Wow. I cannot remember a time before you started telling that story." — the cynical agent's explanation of why Tad Hamilton can't get the girl — "You're too different. Your values are different. For example, she has them!" — and the girl's angry plan for revenge — "I am going to kill that Pete, bring him back to life, and then kill him again!".

But there's also some fine advice offered by one of the less-major characters, a tattooed bartender/advisor named Angelica. At a key moment she counsels one of the protagonists, Pete:

So how much do you love her? Is it love, big love, or is it great love? Like, what do you mean? Well, love you get over in two months. Big love, two years. Great love ... Yeah? Great love changes your life. ... Oh, my God. It's great love. ls that great? Well, you got to win her back. Angelica, trust me, I have tried everything. What did she say when you told her that you love her? Well, uh, actually not everything, but ... What did she say when you kissed her? It's more like, uh, two things I haven't tried. Well, what have you tried? I have very unsubty implied how I feel about her. OK, get up. What? Get your ass off the barstool. Angelica. Hey, if you feel it and you don't do everything in your power to reach for it, you are basically slapping life in the face. I hate to break it to you, but I don't stand a chance here, OK? As my father told me when I said I'd never get that job in a bar, "Honey, your odds go up when you file an application." Sure, but I'm up ... against ... Tad Hamilton. You are Tad Hamilton. What? Don't you see? Everybody's Tad Hamilton to somebody, Pete. Rosalee's Tad Hamilton to you. And you're Tad Hamilton to me. Angelica, thank you. So start acting like it. OK. Yeah, OK. ... You are a really good bartender!

A bit later, Angelica similarly helps get the female protagonist back on track:

I cannot believe I am taking my work home with me. When great love is rejected, Rosalee, something inside a man dies. So all he can do is run away, where he can meet the girl he'll love second most. Unless ... Unless what? Unless you can get to him before he closes the book on you. But once it's closed, it's closed. lt's finished. lt's gone, dead. lt's crushed. lt's beaten. lt's buried. It is lost for all of time in a sea ... Angelica. OK. I owe you. Go.

(see [1] for some excellent movie scripts; the above fragments were corrected by ^z; cf. Must Love Dogs (2006-08-27), ...)

- Monday, June 30, 2008 at 05:34:04 (EDT)

Metabo versus The Media

The catchy new Japanese word for obesity is metabo, short for "metabolic disorder". It's a significant health issue nowadays ... but predating it is an apparent obsession in movies, on TV, etc. with anorexia — and a corresponding bias against fat people, who are frequently depicted as lazy, evil, incompetent, etc. Recently when an overweight friend noted this media tendency, I quipped back, "So the Thin Man is getting you down!"

(cf. Simple Art of Murder (4 Dec 2005), The Thin Man (2006-01-21), ...) - ^z

- Saturday, June 28, 2008 at 05:02:15 (EDT)

Deadfall Day

A gibbous moon hides her face behind the clouds in the west, as Jupiter glitters bright above her. This Friday is a long run day: I meet Caren Jew at 4:45am, park my car at Riley's Lock on the Potomac, and ride up Seneca Creek with her, pre-positioning jugs of water and bundles of munchies where the trail crosses Berryville Rd, Black Rock Rd, Riffle Ford Rd, and Clopper Rd. By Caren's headlights we spy two raccoons and two foxes. Her car radio plays "You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet" (BTO) and "Wild Night" (John Mellencamp, after Van Morrison).

Then, a mini-tragedy: after our last aid-station drop, I discover that I've left my cellphone behind in my car — and we need it, since it's the only device holding comrade Mary Ewell's number. Without the phone our rendezvous plans with Mary will surely fall through. Caren makes the correrct command decision and pilots us back to Riley's Lock, where I fetch my forgotten phone. Then it's upstream once more. We start running an hour later than planned at Rt 355 — a delay that, 17 miles later, will cost Caren half a dozen miles of her goal today. I'm sorry — mea culpa.

And yet, in spite of my snafu it's still a wonderful run for us all. Further notes on it, and other recent excursions, follow ...

Rickety Ladder Speedwork

2008-06-11 --- 4+ miles @ ~10 min/mi --- A new assignment has me working slightly late at the office, so when I get home today I suggest that we get carry-out food for dinner ... and on the drive to the restaurant pick-up I stop at the Silver Spring International Middle School track for a bit of speedwork. Robin comes along, and we find the field active but not too crowded. I decide to do a "ladder", 1 lap, then 2, 3, and 4, then retreating back down 3, 2, and 1, with a half-lap ~2 minute recovery between each. My splits are 1:56 + 3:50 + 5:45 + 7:43 + 6:04 + 4:05 + 1:53, with Robin pacing me on that last brisk quarter mile. I'm quite tired by the middle of the ladder as slowing times reveal during the later segments.

Seneca Creek Sixteen

2008-06-14 --- 16 miles @ ~17 min/mi --- Caren Jew and I meet at 0530 at Rt 355 and Seneca Creek, then head north past Watkins Mill Rd, Brink Rd, and Huntmaster Rd, to Watkins Rd. Caren has left water and goodies at several places on the way, and we pause at each to refuel. The woods are lovely and our total time is 4:27 out and back. On the way we meet MCRRC comrades Mike & Gina Acuña and chat with them. Sharp-eyed Caren spots owls and shows me a tiny brown toad by the path; we also see seven big deer, a couple of whom exhibit small antler-bump on their foreheads. There are lots of folks on the trail during our return trip, including dog-walkers, hikers, and offroad bikers.

CCT Rambles

2008-06-15 --- ~4.7 miles @ ~13 min/mi + 6 miles @ 11.3 min/mi --- Christina Caravoulias calls me the evening before: her friend Julie Tresp wants to run on the Capital Crescent Trail at 6am Saurday morning. I'm happy to join her, as is comrade Cara Marie Manlandro. We meet at the mile ~3.3 parking lot and jog eastward to the Rock Creek Trestle (CCT mile 1.0) and back, pausing to view Rock Creek from the trestle observation platforms. Julie and CM and I chat about about deer hazards, summer running, how Julie used to race more than 100 times/year, and our various injuries and ailments. (Julie's birthday is looming next week, on the 22nd — happy birthday, Ma'am!) Back at the parking lot we see Ken Swab & then Emaad Burki. Julie and CM have to go, but I stay to chat and then accompany K&E. As we prepare to start, a pack of fast young lady runners blast by and are soon out of sight — fortunately for us, since if we tried to keep up with them we would soon be doomed! We jog from CCT milepost 3.5 to the water fountain at milepost 6.5 and back; our splits are 11:10 + 11:17 + 11:00 + 12:07 + 12:15 + 10:53. On the way we find a Kashi protein bar, apparently sealed, on the ground. I shamelessly pick it up and share it with K&E at the end of our journey. As usual, the CCT features hordes of cyclists, pram-pushers, walkers, joggers, inline skaters, etc. Patti Rich jogs by as we're returning; Jim Rich meets us at the water fountain while we're recovering and shows off his heart monitor and GPS gear.

Kensington Wheaton Silgo Loop

2008-06-18 --- ~9+ miles @ ~11 min/mi --- Before I leave home at 0645 Paulette shows me the map of where water supplies may be contaminated due to the pipe break near Lake Bernard Frank; I promise not to drink in Wheaton, where the water is rumored to be risky. Fountains in Kensington and along Sligo Creek should be fine, however, and today's lower temperatures and dewpoints make an incredible difference! An empty robin's egg lies on the path near where I join Rock Creek Trail at the portajohn (RCT mile 2.3) where, overhydrated, I pause. A few miles down the road I meet a friendly Kensington runner pushing her baby carriage who catches up with me after pausing to give her daughter a drink. She's doing 2 miles today, and I recommend Saturday's "Run for Roses" where I'll be a volunteer. We part ways and I proceed up Kensington Pkwy to the railroad station, cross the tracks cautiously, refill my bottle at the small park near Plyers Mill Rd and St Paul St, and continue along University Blvd to arrive in Wheaton at the 1 hour mark. A Queen of Spades lies on the dirt by the sidewalk — is it an omen? I turn onto Sligo Creek Trail and trot briskly downstream, with a measured mile of 10:16 past dogs, kids, and walking couples. Then it's home via Forest Glen Rd.

Blowdown Town

2008-06-20 --- ~23 miles @ ~18 min/mi --- At 6:32am Caren and I commence our run this morning on the Seneca Creek Greenway Trail at Md-355 — an hour later than we had planned because of my misplaced phone. We trot downstream, pausing about once every mile to circumnavigate freshly fallen trees that block our path; the heavy rains and high winds of a few days ago resulted in numerous deadfalls. At Clopper Rd we stop at Caren's first "aid station" to refuel, then continue into Seneca Creek State Park. Our loop around Clopper Lake takes us past the aroma of burning marijuana at the Longdraft Rd end of the waters. Caren spots a great blue heron near us; it takes flight to perch on the opposite side of the lake until we approach it there, whereupon it flies back to its starting point again. White-tailed deer, several with small horn-bumps developing on their brows, eye us cautiously and retreat.

Caren and I reminisce along the way about SCGT marathons of years past, including our first one together in 2006 — Caren's first trail marathon and, technically, her first ultra since the course is significantly longer than 26.2 miles. A lady runner zips out from a side trail and soon races out of sight in front of us. Caren knows her from MCRRC events, and we get to greet her again as she returns speedily to meet us ten minutes later. We pause to feast at Riffle Ford Rd aid stop, then proceed. I phone Mary Ewell to confirm our new schedule, and soon we meet her coming up the trail toward us. We continue together to Black Rock Mill and refuel from Caren's cache there.

Then up a steep slope we climb to join the Schaeffer Farms white-blazed trail for a 3.5 mile loop. Numerous off-road bikers maneuver past us. Mary, fresh and cheerful, cruises ahead as Caren and I plod happily behind her. As we finish our circuit we see a kid's bicycle lodged up in a tree, the landmark that reminds us to head back down the hillside to Black Rock Mill. Caren and I have now finished more than 15 miles, and our late start comes back to haunt us: Caren has to return to her family by 2pm, and there's no way for her to continue on to my car within that time limit. Regretfully but wisely she phones her husband Walter and arranges for him to pick her up at Darnestown Rd, the next major intersection of the trail and civilization. I kick myself for having forgotten my phone half a dozen hours earlier and costing Caren her planned 22+ mile day.

But Caren accepts my apologies and forgives me, as only good friends can do. Mary and I proceed onward, past more blowdowns along the relatively flatter parts of the trail. We do a pair of fifteen-minute "tempo runs", as prescribed for Mary by her coach, at 10-12 min/mi pace. We reach Berryville Rd, the first aid station set up this morning, and thank Caren for her foresight since both Mary and I are out of water and are desperate at this point. My ankles are each bruised from my clumsily kicking them with my own other feet. Mary's knees are blooded after a nasty fall she took back in Schaeffer Farms. But onward we go, over the big hill and down again. We walk the last half mile to my car and I stop my watch after seven hours, a net pace of ~18 min/mi over ~23 miles, including pleasant pauses at Caren's aid stations. Mary's total mileage is 10+, and Caren's is 17+.

Times from my watch, distances from Wayne Carson's GPS measurements:

split mileage location
1:053.6 miles Clopper Rd aid station + Seneca Creek State Park Lakeside Trail
0:573.4Clopper Lake loop
0:291.3Riffle Ford Rd aid station
0:402.6Germantown Rd (Rt 118)
0:261.5Black Rock Rd
0:10- - -aid station break at Black Rock Mill
0:56~3.5around White Trail at Schaeffer Farms
0:332.4aid station break + Darnestown Rd (Rt 28)
0:564.1Berryville Rd
0:512.2Seneca Rd + Rileys Lock

Rock Creek Park Loop

2008-06-22 --- 5+ miles @ ~11.5 min/mi --- A bit before 6am on Sunday morning Cara Marie meets me at Boundary Bridge. We set off southward as I chatter like a chipmunk, giving my 2¢ commentary on running lessons-learned of all sorts. By my watch we're 22:16 for the measured 2 miles down Beach Dr to the speed-limit sign after Bingham Road, 22:26 back to our cars (via Bingham Rd, the bikepath alongside Oregon Av, Wise Rd, and Western Ridge Trail). Then it's another 15:24 for an out-and-back along the Valley Trail, a total of an hour for 5+ solid miles — whee!

Descending at Lake Artemesia

2008-06-24 --- 3+ miles @ ~10 min/mi --- CM and I rendezvous at parking lot XX1 on the UM campus near Paint Branch Trail, shortly before 6pm. Her pace plan is what she calls "Descending": start off slow and then accelerate for three miles. (I would have called that "Ascending"!) The weather is warm but not too humid, with an intermittent nice breeze. We walk to milepost 1.5 behind an engineering building and commence the fun downstream, with a 10:49 mile, too fast as usual. After going a fractional mile to join the Lake Artemesia loop we find ourselves blasting along counterclockwise while fast young buff runners nevertheless pass us. Maybe they lure us into our second mile-plus at what my watch and the painted markers suggest was 9:16(!) pace. In spite of pushing hard on the trip back upstream we can only make the last mile in 9:27. As our pulses race I think of Mark Anthony's lines, "My heart is in the coffin there with Caesar, And I must pause till it come back to me." (Julius Caesar, act III, scene ii) We walk half a dozen minutes to recover, then agree that we've gotta try it again — some day! — with better pace control next time.

(cf. Comfortably Numb (2008-03-13), Sunrise Service at Seneca Creek (2008-03-24), Sharp Focus (2008-04-30), Ducky Rock Creek Trail (2008-05-12), Catoctin Trail Trek (2008-05-19), Game SET Match (2008-05-27), Barred Owls (2008-06-10), ...)

- Friday, June 27, 2008 at 05:30:26 (EDT)

Geons, Black Holes, and Quantum Foam

John Archibald Wheeler died a few months ago. Recently comrade Dave Ward lent me his copy of Wheeler's 1998 autobiography, Geons, Black Holes, and Quantum Foam: A Life in Physics, coauthored with Kenneth Ford. It's a slow-starting but in the end delightful book, throughout which shines Wheeler's magnanimous spirit. In a span of two pages, for instance, Wheeler refers to a succession of colleagues as "engaging", "attractive", "warm", "puckish", "beloved", "down-to-earth", and "charming". That's representative of his generous attitude.

Beyond his own life's story, Wheeler also offers self-deprecating anecdotes about the host of famous and less-famous physicists that he met and and collaborated with during his long, productive career. As he worked with Niels Bohr in Copenhagen, for instance:

... I would start talking about what I was working on, and Bohr would say, as if his mind were elsewhere, "That's beautiful" or "very interesting." (It was always necessary to "renormalize" Bohr's comments. "Beautiful" meant "probably correct, even if not significant." "Interesting" meant "not quite entirely trivial.") ...

(cf. Top Down, Bottom Up (1999-05-16), No Concepts At All (2001-01-22), John Archibald Wheeler (2008-04-15), ...)

- Wednesday, June 25, 2008 at 05:34:21 (EDT)

Salience Bias

Scott Aaronson's Shtetl-Optimized journal is almost always thoughtful and entertaining. Yesterday he comments most engagingly on the challenge people have of evaluating low-probability but high-impact events — in this case, whether high-energy physics experiments could cause the catastrophic destruction of the Earth, or maybe the entire Universe [1]. Aaronson mentions "salience bias", the fascinating tendency humans have to worry about dramatic things (explosions, disasters, big fierce animals, etc.), rather than to objectively evaluate the odds. In a follow-up comment Scott observes:

I think it's easy to fall victim to "premature Bayesianism": that is, trying to be rigorous by demanding probabilities for specific astronomically unlikely events, while implicitly assigning many other related events a probability of 0 because you haven't even considered them. Economists might consider this an instance of salience bias. From my perspective, though, something like it is probably inevitable when computationally-bounded agents like ourselves try to simulate Bayesian rationality. We're never going to succeed, since the space of potentially-relevant events is exponentially large, and summing over them would be #P-complete even if we knew the right prior.

and in a later remark:

As a side note, it's always struck me how people get more worked up about civilization being destroyed by grey goo or malevolent AI-bots or particle physics disasters, than they do about its destruction by completely non-hypothetical methods: say chopping down all the forests, filling the oceans with garbage and the atmosphere with billions of years' worth of accumulated carbon. Maybe the fact that the real dangers are (relatively) slow creates a false sense of security, or maybe the fact that they're real makes them less fun to worry about.

(I've written about this sort of thing here sporadically — cf. Noise and Predictability (1999-09-14), Bigger Pictures (1999-11-22), Looming Disaster (2001-08-06), Probabilistic Tragedy (2003-03-12), Illusion of Control (2004-10-21), ... — and for an earlier hat-tip to "Shtetl-Optimized" see Beware the Breakthrough (2008-01-07))

- Sunday, June 22, 2008 at 21:00:32 (EDT)

Red Patch Now

"Red Patch Now"
The philosophy-class mantra of perception,
All that an observation can be.
Everything else is mere theory.

So when I see the scarlet t-shirt
Out of the corner of my eye
Beside me on the bus this morning,
When crimson curves rise and fall with every breath:
Is there nothing inside the shirt?
     No girl, no rustle as she turns the pages of her newspaper,
     No hair tied up in a knot on top of her head,
     No rattle of doors, no thrum of engine.
     No trees dashing by outside the window,
     No river flowing behind the trees, and across the river no city,
     No rush-hour scampering of people to jobs,
     No swarm of selling and buying,
     No crust of the earth,
     No sun, no galaxy in which it swims ...
None of that — only a red patch now?

- Saturday, June 21, 2008 at 20:28:34 (EDT)

Be the Heat

Getting acclimated to running in hot and humid weather is tough for me. Some people tolerate summer stress better than others; I sweat out sodium and potassium, and can lose more than a pound/hour even when I drink as much as I can.

But this year, instead of fighting the warmth and struggling against it, I'm trying a new approach: relaxation, acceptance, and observation of how my body is reacting to conditions. I fancy it's something Zen; at least it's different and seems so far to be less painful. I even have a new mantra for my method, thanks to ironman ultrarunner friend Mary Ewell:

Be the Heat!

(cf. Achieve New Balance (2002-07-17), Be the Change (2003-10-21), Not Care (2006-02-13), ...)

- Wednesday, June 18, 2008 at 20:25:37 (EDT)

Franklin on Vegetarianism

In his autobiography Benjamin Franklin tells of the benefits he found, financial and mental, as a youthful vegetarian:

When about sixteen years of age I happened to meet with a book, written by one Tryon, recommending a vegetable diet. I determined to go into it. My brother, being yet unmarried, did not keep house, but boarded himself and his apprentices in another family. My refusing to eat flesh occasion an inconveniency, and I was frequently chid for my singularity. I made myself acquinted with Tryon's manner of preparing some of his dishes, such as boiling pototoes or rice, making hasty-pudding, and a few others, and then proposed to my brother that if he would give me, weekly, half the money he paid for my board, I would board myself. He instantly agreed to it, and I presently found that I could save half what he paid me. This was an additional fund for buying books. But I had another advanage in it. My brother and the rest going from the printing-house to their meals, I remained there alone, and despatching presently my light repast, which often was no more than a biscuit or a slice of bread, a handful of raisins or a tart from the pastry-cook's, and a glass of water, had the rest of the time till their return for study, in which I made the greater progress from that greater clearness of head and quicker apprehension which usually attend temperance in eating and drinking.

Ever the pragmatist, however, Franklin admits that within a year or so he found a way to make exceptions:

I believe I have omitted mentioning that, in my first voyage from Boston, being becalmed off Block Island, our people set about catching cod, and hauled up a great many. Hitherto I had stuck to my resolution of not eating animal food, and on this occasion I considered, with my master Tryon, the taking every fish as a kind of unprovoked murder, since none of them had or ever could do us any injury that might justify the slaughter. All this seemed very reasonable. But I had formerly been a great lover of fish, and when this came hot out of the frying-pan, it smelt admirably well. I balanced some time between principle and inclination, till I recollected that, when the fish were opened, I saw smaller fish taken out of their stomachs. Then thought I, "If you eat one another, I don't see why we mayn't eat you." So I dined upon cod very heartily, and continued to eat with other people, returning only now and then occasionally to a vegetable diet. So convenient a thing it is to be a reasonable creature, since it enables one to find or make a reason for everything one has a mind to do.

Which brings to mind a hilarious dinner-table conversation with a fruitarian in the 1999 movie Notting Hill (written by Richard Curtis):

"We believe that fruits and vegetables have feeling so we think cooking is cruel. We only eat things that have actually fallen off a tree or bush — that are, in fact, dead already."

"Right. Right. Interesting stuff. So, these carrots..."

"Have been murdered, yes."

(cf. Robert Nozick (2002-02-02), Compassionate Carnivorism (2002-11-19), Ben Franklin on Intellectual Property (2008-05-15), Franklin's Virtues (2008-05-24), Franklin on Pride (2008-06-03), ...)

- Tuesday, June 17, 2008 at 22:28:57 (EDT)

A Contemporary Introduction to Free Will

In response to my request for good subway reading Robin loaned me his copy of A Contemporary Introduction to Free Will by Robert Kane. The book begins with a bang! Chapter One, "The Free Will Problem", provoked a plethora of scribbled notes-to-self, including:

Alas, soon after the first chapter Free Will began to lose me. Maybe my mind's too feeble to follow the modern philosophical debate — or maybe there's less there than meets the eye. As I read onward, the feeling kept arising that a lot of this was only "Argument by Italics" — quibbling over terms, too much typographic emphasis of certain phrases, as if pointing a microscope at commonplace uses of particular words in everyday speech could somehow reveal deep truths. Yes, it happens on almost every page, and after a while it's almost funny. (I do it too, but I don't take it seriously as a foundation for discovery!) I also constantly got the feeling that I was being subjected to "Intuition Pumps", Dan Dennett's delightful term for a deceptively posed thought experiment.

Not to say that Free Will is a bad book; Kane writes well, and the problem is a crucial one. Perhaps some day I'll try studying it again when I'm in a different mood. And the big secret of the entire enterprise is hinted at on page 3, as a mere aside, when Kane says, "... having free will is about being your own person." Maybe that's the best summary of this whole knotty issue!

(cf. BlameStorming (1999-05-15), Mean Meaners (1999-07-03), Many Worlds Demystified (1999-10-24), Free Action (2000-04-03), Most Important (2002-05-16), Freedom Evolves (2003-07-03), No Dogs or Philosophers Allowed (2003-10-13), Strange Loops (2007-10-06), ...)

- Sunday, June 15, 2008 at 05:17:31 (EDT)

For back issues of the ^zhurnal see Volumes v.01 (April-May 1999), v.02 (May-July 1999), v.03 (July-September 1999), v.04 (September-November 1999), v.05 (November 1999 - January 2000), v.06 (January-March 2000), v.07 (March-May 2000), v.08 (May-June 2000), v.09 (June-July 2000), v.10 (August-October 2000), v.11 (October-December 2000), v.12 (December 2000 - February 2001), v.13 (February-April 2001), v.14 (April-June 2001), 0.15 (June-August 2001), 0.16 (August-September 2001), 0.17 (September-November 2001), 0.18 (November-December 2001), 0.19 (December 2001 - February 2002), 0.20 (February-April 2002), 0.21 (April-May 2002), 0.22 (May-July 2002), 0.23 (July-September 2002), 0.24 (September-October 2002), 0.25 (October-November 2002), 0.26 (November 2002 - January 2003), 0.27 (January-February 2003), 0.28 (February-April 2003), 0.29 (April-June 2003), 0.30 (June-July 2003), 0.31 (July-September 2003), 0.32 (September-October 2003), 0.33 (October-November 2003), 0.34 (November 2003 - January 2004), 0.35 (January-February 2004), 0.36 (February-March 2004), 0.37 (March-April 2004), 0.38 (April-June 2004), 0.39 (June-July 2004), 0.40 (July-August 2004), 0.41 (August-September 2004), 0.42 (September-November 2004), 0.43 (November-December 2004), 0.44 (December 2004 - February 2005), 0.45 (February-March 2005), 0.46 (March-May 2005), 0.47 (May-June 2005), 0.48 (June-August 2005), 0.49 (August-September 2005), 0.50 (September-November 2005), 0.51 (November 2005 - January 2006), 0.52 (January-February 2006), 0.53 (February-April 2006), 0.54 (April-June 2006), 0.55 (June-July 2006), 0.56 (July-September 2006), 0.57 (September-November 2006), 0.58 (November-December 2006), 0.59 (December 2006 - February 2007), 0.60 (February-May 2007), 0.61 (April-May 2007), 0.62 (May-July 2007), 0.63 (July-September 2007), 0.64 (September-November 2007), 0.65 (November 2007 - January 2008), 0.66 (January-March 2008), 0.67 (March-April 2008), 0.68 (April-June 2008), 0.69 (July-August 2008), 0.70 (August-September 2008), 0.71 (September-October 2008), 0.72 (October-November 2008), ... Current Volume. Send comments and suggestions to z (at) his.com. Thank you! (Copyright © 1999-2008 by Mark Zimmermann.)