^zhurnaly 0.72

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Howdy, pilgrim! No ads — you're in volume 0.72 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; see Random for a random page. Briefly, this is the diary of ^z = Mark Zimmermann ... previous volume = 0.71 ... 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 ... RSS

Caltech Physics 1b Newsletters 1976

Drinking from a firehose! That's what an undergraduate education at Caltech was like. Freshman physics was one of the first such libations that students experienced. In early 1976 I was a graduate teaching assistant responsible for a discussion section in Physics 1b, the winter term where dazed young people learned about mechanics (both statics and dynamics), harmonic motion, vibrations, waves, and so forth. Walter Bright was assigned to my section; he's now a software developer. Recently Walter sent me copies of some of the materials he saved from his studies three decades ago. Among them were four "newsletters" that I semi-diligently typed (on a manual typewriter!) and photocopied to give to my students.

Frankly, I don't remember much of that year—I had yet to meet Paulette, my wife-to-be. Apparently, however, my writing style was already well-established. The "newsletters" include encouraging remarks directed at the students, feeble self-deprecating attempts at humor, exhortations to persevere, tips on problem-solving, and random physical-philosophical asides. Some excerpts follow. Click on the links to view the scanned PDF documents themselves.

from Caltech_Physics_1b_1976-01-19.pdf

I'm almost out of space, so will make other comments in class or in next newsletter. One item: David Finkelstein, who's fairly famous in the field of relativity, is giving a seminar at 4pm today, in 114 Bridge. It will probably be incomprehensible to me, but these things are good to go to, for entertainment & culture ... you're all invited ...

from Caltech_Physics_1b_1976-01-26.pdf

I'd like to apologize for my lousy performance Wednesday ... my only excuse is that I got up at 5:30 am that day for a T'ai Chi Ch'uan class ... and since I'm going to be doing that for the rest of the term, maybe it would be best if you'd all skip the Wed. session. ...

I'll bet this was a pretty tough quiz for most people, though if you just stayed calm & conserved E & p and recalled that E2=p2+m2, you got it all via a little algebra. After grinding it out, I saw how simple-looking the answers were for b), c), & d), so maybe there's a clever trick whereby you can leap to the answer at once ... but I don't see it yet. The orthodox route goes as follows: ...

Other remarks: looking at last time's homework, I noticed that most people chose to solve the first problem by solving for γ and then grinding around...this works, of course, but using E2-p2=m2 is much quicker & easier. One reason that that equation is so nice is that it defines an invariant, m. Rest mass m is the same, no matter what coordinate system you use, what velocity you're moving relative to the system, etc. E certainly depends on the observer's state of motion, and so does p; by going to the center-of momentum frame of the system (if one exists), you make ptot=0, for instance. But m is independent of all that.

The search for coordinate-invariant things tends, historically, to have been very productive—it was the philosophical motivation that lead Einstein to general relativity, for instance. The beauty & power of vectors is due to the fact that they let you make general, coordinate-free statements about things, like "F= dp/dt", true no matter how you happen to choose your x, y, and z axes. Coordinates are artificial, a human construction; they're very useful for doing particular calculations and for crunching numbers in a computer, but they don't exist in Nature, and the real physics of things must be the same no matter what coordinates you take.

Enough philosophy ... I'll fill out the rest of this page with some good formulæ that we've seen recently: ...

from Caltech_Physics_1b_1976-02-02.pdf

I was shocked at the lecture last Friday, until I realized that it was only supposed to be a preview of coming attractions, and wasn't supposed to be teaching anything much. The first 2 chapters of FVW are that way, certainly. ...

For the quiz: it's really all stuff we've done before. ...

Comments on the homework assignment: it's all mathematics this time, some of it cute, but not terribly exciting. You should be able to do the stuff, in order to be able to solve problems. ...

I have some space left, so I'll fill it with mathematical data that's valuable to know. Again, I remind you that I'd be happy if you would come by my office or room, any time, especially to talk about physics. If I'm trying to work, I can set up a time to meet when I'm less busy. ...

from Caltech_Physics_1b_1976-02-25.pdf

First, a variant on the last quiz. So many people misunderstood what physical system was being described, with those massless frictionless rings at each end, that I marked down a special symbol in my records & didn't really grade their quizzes. If you want to, consider the following problem: ...

Quiz above is open books & notes, but do LIST ALL REFERENCES USED, and if you run across this problem in some book, don't read any farther. No time limit, but don't spend more than an hour or two...it's not worth the effort. No consultation with others until after you're done working. Another problem, for extra credit & fun: ...

Other news: I'll be going to Palomar to fool around, Saturday-Tuesday, and on Wednesday next there's a boat trip to Catalina for the SCUBA class ... so, Rich Flammang will be taking over Mon/Wed at 3 for me. He's in the same office as I am, so if he forgets to show up, please try to remind him. Turn in the quiz & bonus question by Friday afternoon if you want it back early; I'll leave graded things in my TA mailbox.

Supplementary comments for you math freaks: ...

(Many thanks to Walter Bright for his kindness and charity in preserving and sharing these historical documents! cf. CollegeCollage3 (2001-09-29), ...)

- Sunday, November 16, 2008 at 05:44:07 (EST)

This Is It

Self-improvement? How about some self-realization first? From Wherever You Go, There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn, in the chapter "This Is It":

New Yorker cartoon: Two Zen monks in robes and shaved heads, one young, one old, sitting side by side cross-legged on the floor. The younger one is looking somewhat quizzically at the older one, who is turned toward him and saying: "Nothing happens next. This is it."

It's true. Ordinarily, when we undertake something, it is only natural to expect a desirable outcome for our efforts. We want to see results, even if it is only a pleasant feeling. The sole exception I can think of is meditation. Meditation is the only intentional, systematic human activity which at bottom is about not trying to improve yourself or get anywhere else, but simply to realize where you already are. Perhaps its value lies precisely in this. Maybe we all need to do one thing in our lives simply for its own sake.

(cf. BennettOnStoicism (1999-04-29), For Themselves (2003-06-08), NothingHappens (2005-10-08), EmersonOnSelfImprovement (2006-11-05), ...)

- Friday, November 14, 2008 at 18:42:06 (EST)

Back to Normal

http://zhurnaly.com/images/Historic_10_year_PE_ratio_graph.pngAfter all the euphoria of the past two decades and all the despondency of the past two months, where's the stock market? David Leonhardt's column a few weeks ago [1] in the New York Times offers a calm discussion and a revealing little graph. Compared to the long-term average 10-year (lagging) price-earnings ratio (~16) things are now ... roughly normal! It's not quite the end of the world after all.

(cf. TheCancerIdeology (1999-05-19), MoneyWisdom (2001-05-20), PopGoes (2001-06-19), BubbleBusters (2002-02-06), DowTheory (2002-07-27), NextEconomy (2005-01-31), ...)

- Thursday, November 13, 2008 at 05:21:51 (EST)

25-Hour Day

Beware! On the day we go off Daylight Saving Time (in the USA, the first Sunday in November) there are ~4% more giant meteor impacts, and a similar increase in the number of earthquakes, floods, fires, and other natural disasters. Fortunately, on the day we begin Daylight Saving Time (in the USA, the second Sunday in March) there's an equal reduction in these sorts of events. Whew!

But unnatural disasters can also strike: some years ago a friend was on an international business trip the day Daylight Saving Time began. His flight crossed the International Date Line. It took the bureaucracy days to reconcile his travel paperwork!

- Wednesday, November 12, 2008 at 18:17:11 (EST)

Life As a Work of Art

Two insightful articles in today's Washington Post "Health" section:

LaBier concludes provocatively and poetically:

So think for a moment what your life would look like if it were a work of art. When it's finished, what will the picture look like? What purpose will it reveal for your having been here? Do you want to make any changes?

Right now?

(cf. WhatIsMyLife (1999-04-30), Zhurnal Three (2002-04-04), MyOb (2002-08-18), LightMind (2002-08-22), EatTheOrange (2004-11-28), Sunrise Service at Seneca Creek (2008-03-24), Present-Moment Reality (2008-11-05), ...)

- Tuesday, November 11, 2008 at 20:20:39 (EST)

Impatient Patient

"Patient complains of pain but refuses to take his pain medication." That's probably how the Advice Nurse summarizes our conversation at 5am on Sunday morning when I call in to chat. Hey, it's early, I'm up, newspapers are in front of me, tea is brewing—why not ring up a paid-to-be-sympathetic ear and check whether my symptoms seem worrisome to an expert?

^z status report:

So on Sunday afternoon as per Advice Nurse's counsel I bite the bullet and try some prescription painkillers; previously I've been a tough hombre and survived without them. Generic Vicodin is great! It lowers my chess rating a few hundred points, based on a test game with Robin. It also knocks out most of the twinginess of the broken arm, though it doesn't affect the aching engorged lymph node much. A dose in the evening lets me sleep fairly well until almost 3am.

As Billy Crudup's character says in the mock-rockumentary movie Almost Famous, perched on a roof and preparing to jump: "I am a golden god! And you can tell Rolling Stone magazine that my last words were ... I'm on drugs!"

But seriously, I've gotta be thankful that things are generally so good for me. Many friends have been going through tough times in recent years; one passed away (leukemia) last month. I'm walking ~20 miles a week, I'm able to nap when tired, I can read and write and talk and listen and think, I've got my sense of humor—so what do I have to gripe about? I don't have any problems!

(cf. NoProblems (2003-11-29), ChicksWithPicks (2007-12-06), Humerus Fracture (2008-10-15), Bend Sinister (2008-10-24), Ugly Arm (2008-10-30), ...)

- Monday, November 10, 2008 at 05:27:46 (EST)

Mathematics and Poetry

Poetry is the art of giving different names to the same thing.
Mathematics is the art of giving the same name to different things.

(attributed in various forms variously to mathematician Henri Poincaré; cf. No Concepts At All (22 Feb 2001), LogicAndInformation (1 Aug 2001), MillenniumMath (2002-12-05), GatewaysToMathematics (2004-05-20), CircleSquaring (2005-07-25), MathAndSex (2007-09-18), ...)

- Sunday, November 09, 2008 at 06:19:51 (EST)

Lord Privy Seal

Sometimes a nonfiction movie (or TV show, or newspaper article) gets overly-literal in providing images—eye candy—to illustrate concepts. Son Robin recently taught me a delightful shorthand term for that: Lord Privy Seal. A documentary that's "rather too Lord Privy Seal" might show a picture of a lord, an outdoor toilet (privy), and a seal (the animal) when explaining the functions of the Lord Privy Seal ... which in fact is a slightly-obscure ancient British official.

(cf. EyeCandy (2002-12-23), ChartJunk (2007-07-20), ...)

- Saturday, November 08, 2008 at 18:13:52 (EST)

3-D Movie 'PigeonVision'

Lots of methods have been invented over the years to create the illusion of three dimensions in movies: "Stereokino", "NaturalVision", "Illusion-O", "SpaceVision", "Teleview", "Stereovision", etc. They rely, variously, on glasses with red-blue filters, polarized lenses, or alternately opaque lenses for alternately left-right images. None works well simultaneously for color movies, on TV sets, for people without binocular vision, etc. All are expensive and tricky to implement.

So, a new invention from the deep underground chambers of Dr. ^z Labs:


How do creatures like birds with eyes on opposite sides of their heads get depth cues? They simply bob, up-and-down or side-to-side, so that nearby things appear to shift move than distant objects. The brain automatically picks up and processes the 3D information. (Close one eye and try it yourself.)

Likewise with PigeonVision! The camera is mounted on a motorized swivel and bobs about. Voilà — 3-D!

Remember, you saw it here first. (And don't worry about motion sickness when watching PigeonVision!—we're already working on drugs to prevent that.)

(cf. TinyTrainsAndVenetianGlass (1999-10-05), CornFloss (2001-06-16), MockMack (2001-07-13), PowerSponge (2003-09-18), BaconThighs (2004-03-11), MysteryPop (2004-05-04), IpodMiniCooperAccessory (2004-07-06), CpapBong (2006-07-29), ...)

- Friday, November 07, 2008 at 11:52:18 (EST)

Marble Steps

All places are, in a sense, the same. But there's still something magic about certain locations where certain things happened—the battlefield cemetery where in 1863 Abraham Lincoln gave the Gettysburg Address, for instance, or the steps in front of the Lincoln Memorial where Martin Luther King Jr. spoke in 1963. That magic comes to mind again today, when reading a little essay that appears in the middle of the New York Times op-ed page. Self-described former photojournalist Matt Mendelsohn tells of his visit late Tuesday evening to the Lincoln Memorial. A TV news crew is waiting on the plaza below, doing nothing, disappointed that no huge post-election crowds have converged on the site to celebrate for their cameras. Mendelsohn reports on something far more important that he saw:

... I found 25 or so people who had made their way in the dark to the marble steps of the memorial and stood silently around a lone transistor radio. On the spot where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech, they listened, some crying in the drizzle, as Barack Obama began his address before the Grant Park multitude.


And so I climbed the memorial steps and came upon that small group listening to the radio. (What is it about people gathered around a transistor radio?) Surely there was someone else around—a videographer, a print reporter. But there wasn't. ... The crowd standing in the shadow of Lincoln had the scoop, a profound event to themselves, of the people and by the people.

(cf. [1], GettysburgCoordinates (2002-02-27), Lincoln Memorial (2004-01-06), ...)

- Thursday, November 06, 2008 at 15:43:19 (EST)

Present-Moment Reality

From the chapter "What Is Mindfulness?" in Wherever You Go, There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn:

Mindfulness has been called the heart of Buddhist meditation. Fundamentally, mindfulness is a simple concept. Its power lies in its practice and its applications. Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally. This kind of attention nurtures greater awareness, clarity, and acceptance of present-moment reality. It wakes us up to the fact that our lives unfold only in moments. If we are not fully present for many of those moments, we may not only miss what is most valuable in our lives but also fail to realize the richness and the depth of our possibilities for growth and transformation.

- Wednesday, November 05, 2008 at 05:23:40 (EST)

US Election FAQ

There is huge value in someone who knows how to think about hard problems and who also knows how to explain complex issues. Maybe that's one reason that Google Inc. is doing pretty well? Senior staffers at that company include Peter Weinberger (thoughtful mathematician; he's the "w" in the "awk" programming language) and Peter Norvig ("Director of Research"). Along with many fun and important items Norvig has written [1] a detailed, balanced, statistically sound, highly entertaining discussion of the 2008 US Presidential election. It's worth studying as an example of how to analyze and present a knotty subject. [2]

(By chance in years past I've been lucky enough to meet both Weinberger and Norvig over lunch during various technical symposia; cf. TufteThoughts (2000-12-18), PersonalProgrammingHistory (2002-04-02), NorvigLaws (2004-01-30), TimTowtdi (2004-02-07), ...)

- Tuesday, November 04, 2008 at 08:00:52 (EST)

Excellent Question!

All questions are excellent ones, if interpreted by genius. In 1973 I got a glimpse of that when eminent physicist Hans Bethe gave a guest lecture at Rice University. A member of the audience raised his hand and asked something which even I, a wet-behind-the-ears undergraduate, sensed was outrageously silly. Bethe scarcely paused. He nodded, thanked the anonymous man, and used the naïve query as a launching pad for a lovely mini-commentary on nuclear astrophysics that built upon the material under discussion. No embarrassment for anyone, and a superb lesson on how to be gracious and helpful. The same approach applies to innocent questions asked at times by little children—questions which often point to deep philosophical issues ...

(cf. ChandraStories (2004-02-25), HansBethe (2004-11-29), ...)

- Monday, November 03, 2008 at 20:17:46 (EST)

Singularity Skepticism

"The Singularity"—the notion that hyper-accelerating technological progress will produce a radical transformation of humanity within the next few decades—is appealing, especially to technophiles. Who wouldn't want to be living at a critical moment of history, when the Great Wave is just about to break and change absolutely everything?

Alas (or maybe Thank Goodness!), it's not as certain as some Singularity-promoters have postulated. In "The Singularity Is Far" a few months ago thoughtful computer scientist Scott Aaronson offered multiple reasons to disbelieve. In brief:

Aaronson makes an important distinction between transcendence and simple speed in his usual entertaining fashion:

... Now, it's clear that a human who thought at ten thousand times our clock rate would be a pretty impressive fellow. But if that's what we're talking about, then we don't mean a point beyond which history fundamentally transcends us, but "merely" a point beyond which we could only understand history by playing it in extreme slow motion.

He concludes that in any event there are more important things to worry about (and work on) today:

... I see a world that really did change dramatically over the last century, but where progress on many fronts (like transportation and energy) seems to have slowed down rather than sped up; a world quickly approaching its carrying capacity, exhausting its natural resources, ruining its oceans, and supercharging its climate; a world where technology is often powerless to solve the most basic problems, millions continue to die for trivial reasons, and democracy isn't even clearly winning over despotism; a world that finally has a communications network with a decent search engine but that still hasn't emerged from the tribalism and ignorance of the Pleistocene. And I can't help thinking that, before we transcend the human condition and upload our brains to computers, a reasonable first step might be to bring the 18th-century Enlightenment to the 98% of the world that still hasn't gotten the message.

(cf. OnSingularities (7 Jun 1999), VernorVinge (17 Sep 2001), MaroonedInRealtime (2006-05-12), ...)

- Sunday, November 02, 2008 at 18:47:43 (EST)

Meditation Made Easy

Another 50¢ treasure trove from the local library's used-book sale: a slightly-ragged deaccessioned copy of the 1998 paperback Meditation Made Easy by Lorin Roche. If Jon Kabat-Zinn's Wherever You Go, There You Are is a multi-course meal crafted by a master chef, then Meditation Made Easy is a smörgåsbord (yeah, I love those diacritical marks!). Many of the dishes in Roche's buffet won't appeal to many palates, but his catalog of simple techniques probably includes something to everyone's taste. For example, if you've got time-management issues like me, Arrive Early For Everything suggests:

If you are even a little early for the events of your day, you can take a moment to breathe, feel yourself, and enjoy. It's a little luxury that meditators often overlook. One minute here and there can change the whole rhythm of a day by allowing you to catch up with yourself. This simple step will alter your life significantly, unless you are already hip to it.

Roche describes how his military students typically show up five minutes early, stand around preparing themselves, and then walk in the door at the exact second of their appointment—thereby instantly becoming more calm and self-aware. The contrast with his late, out-of-breath civilian pupils is stark. "If you have any control at all over your life," Roche advises, "arrange to be early for everything for a month and notice how many little moments open up." Likewise for his Pause On Each Threshold approach:

As you move through your day, you can use any threshold as a moment of awakening. Pause at any doorway, even an open door, and take a conscious breath, instead of blasting in. ...

Since most of my household pratfalls happen when crossing thresholds, in addition to mindfulness this tactic could also enhance my physical well-being!

Meditation Made Easy isn't poetic in its language or deep in its philosophy. Rather, it offers a relaxed, enthusiastic, wide-open, joyful exploration of a broad continent of concepts, led by a friendly and knowledgeable guide. Not bad for a tourist like me ...

(cf. EatTheOrange (2004-11-28), NothingHappens (2005-10-08), Running to Stand Still (2008-07-05), ...)

- Saturday, November 01, 2008 at 13:10:33 (EDT)

TV "News"

A description of "News" programming on television, from a 1970s-era "McCloud" episode on a rerun channel:

"Ten headlines, twenty commercials, and a semi-literate weather girl!"

Nowadays the weather person is more sophisticated, but the headline-to-commercial ratio has fallen even further—and there's still little or nothing beyond the headlines.

(cf. EssentialNewspaper (2005-03-24), ...)

- Friday, October 31, 2008 at 06:42:04 (EDT)

Ugly Arm

A fortnight after my tumble on the Appalachian Trail the fractured humerus is beginning to heal—but blood has leaked out from the broken bone and drained down to the lower arm. The bruise is now developed into an unæsthetic mottled violet tint as it creeps into the hand.
http://zhurnaly.com/images/bruised_arm_day_15b.jpgAs of Day 15 the back of my left arm is turning almost black. It's not bad during the day, except for sudden twinges when I move the shoulder the wrong way. At night, however, I awaken every two hours. I move from bed to comfy chair and back, seeking a comfortable position.

With one arm in a sling and severely weakened I find it almost impossible to floss teeth, tie shoelaces, or open a beer bottle. But instead of pain pills I'm just trying to relax and be a wee bit more mindful. I'm thankful—it could have been a lot worse!

(cf. Humerus Fracture (2008-10-15), 2008-10-14 - JFK AT Familiarization, Bend Sinister (2008-10-24), ...)

- Thursday, October 30, 2008 at 14:34:55 (EDT)

Chess Is an Ocean

A classic proverb, reputedly Indian:

Chess is an ocean in which a gnat may drink or an elephant bathe.

What a neat image! And it applies to lots of other things in life that have enough breadth and depth ...

(cf. BreadthAndDepth (1999-06-11), CaissicMetaphors (2000-01-08), ChessChow (2001-09-26), OceansOfNotions (2001-12-10), LongThink (2002-04-09), ...)

- Wednesday, October 29, 2008 at 10:24:14 (EDT)

Worst and Bad

"The Best is the Enemy of the Good"? If so, how about, "The Worst is the Friend of the Bad"!

It makes a cute meta-proverb, anyway—and maybe it actually has a bit of meta-wisdom behind it. "The Best is the Enemy of the Good" means that a go-for-broke accept-no-substitutes pursuit of perfection is likely to result in something less, maybe much less, than one could have achieved—perhaps not even "good". Similarly, an extreme risk-avoidance policy focused on preventing worst-case scenarios will also likely result in something far less than the optimum—perhaps not even a "good" outcome.

Or then again, maybe over-analysis just spoils a joke ...

- Tuesday, October 28, 2008 at 07:15:51 (EDT)

Career Choice

The Big Secret of picking a successful path in life is, like so many Big Secrets, quite obvious—just find something that:

The trick is to optimize the balance among those three criteria!

(cf. AdvantEdge (2001-04-15), HardestPossible (2003-03-02), ...)

- Monday, October 27, 2008 at 06:56:40 (EDT)

Wherever You Go, There You Are

Jon Kabat-Zinn's 1994 best-seller Wherever You Go, There You Are is a gentle, thoughtful, highly-readable introduction to meditation by a professor emeritus of medicine at the University of Massachusetts. Throughout his book Kabat-Zinn manages an adroit balancing act among mystery, humor, poetry, and practical advice. The Introduction describes the plan: "Each chapter is a glimpse through one face of the multifaceted diamond of mindfulness. The chapters are related to each other by tiny rotations of the crystal." It's reminiscent of Marvin Minsky's Society of Mind, with dozens of short, semi-independent essays that together make a pointillistic image. Also from the Introduction:

Like it or not, this moment is all we really have to work with. Yet we all too easily conduct our lives as if forgetting momentarily that we are here, where we already are, and that we are in what we are already in. In every moment, we find ourselves at the crossroad of here and now.


Meditation is simply about being yourself and knowing something about who that is. It is about coming to realize that you are on a path whether you like it or not, namely, the path that is your life. Meditation may help us see that this path we call our life has direction; that it is always unfolding, moment by moment; and that what happens now, in this moment, influences what happens next.

More to follow ...

(cf. EngineeringEnlightenment (1999-10-09), LightMind (2002-08-22), EatTheOrange (2004-11-28), Sunrise Service at Seneca Creek (2008-03-24), Buddhism Without Beliefs (2008-09-19), Buddhism - A Way of Life and Thought (2008-09-30), Being Nobody, Going Nowhere (2008-10-18), ...)

- Sunday, October 26, 2008 at 06:56:31 (EDT)

Bend Sinister

http://zhurnaly.com/images/humerus_fracture_xray.jpgHere's an x-ray view of my not-so-funny humerus fracture from another angle, where more damage is evident. My dive on the Appalachian Trail last week, according to the orthopedist, results in a Neer three-part break in the surgical neck and greater tuberosity—fortunately with minimal displacement. My left arm has to rest and heal for a few weeks, but no surgery is needed. Further details when I go back to the clinic on Halloween. Boo!
http://zhurnaly.com/images/bruised_arm_day_3.jpgThree days after the fall blood from the broken bone has leaked further down my arm and starts to form Rorschach patterns under the skin. One friend tells me he thinks it's a map of Laos. I see Elvis's face. Bizarre lines develop where sling and bandages interfere with blood diffusion. What messages are the aliens sending us?
http://zhurnaly.com/images/bruised_arm_day_5.jpgFive days and the colors on my arm are ripening like the leaves of an other-worldly autumn, an alien "season of mists and mellow fruitfulness", with burgundy-violets and jaundice-yellows instead of red and orange hues. Blood cells break down and hemoglobin turns into bilirubin under the skin.

What can happen next? I break a tooth, an upper molar! The sinister side of my body is a Painting of Dorian Gray, decaying while the right half remains healthy. All of my woes are on the left: the torn toe tendon, the basal cell carcinoma, the broken arm, and now the tooth. Ouch!

The next day while in the dentist's chair getting his verdict—the tooth can't be filled, I need a crown—I show Dr. Ho my arm and ask him to x-ray it. "I can do that," he says, "but we'll have to tape together a few hundred of these tiny dental film chips!"

http://zhurnaly.com/images/bruised_arm_day_9.jpgNine days after my tumble the leaking blood has reached my hand. Wife Paulette kindly gives me a ride to the office where I fill out paperwork and turn in an overdue library book. I apologize for bringing it back late and explain that I've got a fractured arm. "Good!" replies the librarian, "that means I don't have to break it!"

(cf. TornToeTendonRepair (2005-05-05), FurrowedBrow (2005-08-18), Humerus Fracture (2008-10-15), 2008-10-14 - JFK AT Familiarization ...)

- Friday, October 24, 2008 at 17:02:22 (EDT)

Lowly, Lowly Cook

A favorite bit of dialogue from the movie Under Siege (written by J. F. Lawton):

Jordan Tate: So who are you? Are you, you, like, some special forces guy or something?
Casey Ryback: Nah. I'm just a cook.
Jordan Tate: A cook?
Casey Ryback: [Whispering] Just a lowly, lowly cook.
Jordan Tate: Oh, my God, we're gonna die.

... but of course, the "lowly, lowly cook"—played by Steven Seagal—is in fact rather special ...

- Thursday, October 23, 2008 at 06:35:26 (EDT)

Mind Over Exercise

Two decades ago, meditation meets running in a New York Times article by William Stockton (ON YOUR OWN: Fitness; Strategy for Workouts: Mind Over Boredom, 1988-10-17). In this ancient pre-iPod era crude "personal stereos" are used by some to distract thenselves during exercise. But Stockton points out the "touchy-feely" possibilities of simple awareness:

In this approach, meditation becomes a means of paying careful attention to the body during a workout. In the act of focusing on the workout second by second, the mind begins to transcend the pain or the shortness of breath or the sluggishness we feel at the moment, all those things that make the workout such a chore. Time flies in this semi-altered mental state, the proponents claim. They say that when we reach this wondrous plateau, the entire body seems to be moving in synchrony, effortlessly.

The mind tends to become very one-pointed, said Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, an associate professor of medicine in the division of preventive and behavioral medicine at the University of Massachusetts School of Medicine in Worcester, and a proponent of meditation. For the runner it's when you hit that sense that you could run forever or the swimmer could swim forever. The mind is still, just kind of there and still. Completely connected to the body.


Meditation is really a form of concentration. Concentrate on the body. Pay attention to what it is telling you. The mind will wander, so learn to quickly notice when it wanders and bring it back to focusing on the physical task at hand. For example, a runner might focus on each footstep or the swimmer on each stroke or the oarsman on the rhythm of the moving oar. Each time the mind wanders, bring it back, gently but firmly. If there is pain, focus on it. If this is done with enough concentration, the mind turns inward, to a state of relaxed concentration, of detached awareness.

Stockton quotes other medical professionals who find: "... those who are more highly trained tend to pay much more attention to their stride, to their breathing and make adjustments ..." and "... elite marathoners tend to exhibit associative behavior more than less highly trained runners ..." and "... meditation can work for someone, although you probably have to be a more advanced athlete and work hard at it to get results ...". He describes his own experiment in following his breath during a morning jog, and concludes:

And then it's over. To be sure, detached awareness is missing. But is there a hint of it? Perhaps. And the boredom seemed less. Could Dr. Kabat-Zinn be right? Perhaps if one practices his form of meditation enough, sits quietly and thinks about his breathing.

But nevermind. It's time to get ready for work.

His guardedly-skeptical essay ends with a quick-start tutorial:

How to Begin Meditation Training

- Wednesday, October 22, 2008 at 06:19:17 (EDT)

UK Runner's World

Friend Caren Jew told me she accidentally picked up a copy of the British version of Runner's World magazine recently. She gave it to me to read and pass along. The shoe advertisements are essentially the same as in the American edition, as are the breathless articles about magical training plans to get faster quickly and effortlessly. Likewise no surprises in the nutrition essays re "power foods", the injury-recovery tips, and the equipment reviews. As in the USA, no major advertiser ever makes a suboptimal new product.

But what's really fun is the vocabulary, which demonstrates George Bernard Shaw's observation: "England and America are two countries separated by a common language." Gait instead of stride, for instance, and PB = Personal Best rather than PR = Personal Record. The use of fatigue as a verb, and puff in place of breath. Exotic foodstuffs and ingredients: groundnut oil, rocket leaves, and courgettes. And best of all, for what I've always here crudely called a fanny pack: the alliterative bum bag. Love that term!

- Tuesday, October 21, 2008 at 07:17:35 (EDT)

Pulp Fiction Rules

The Writer's Almanac recently mentioned Lester Dent, an author who "... wrote more than a thousand pulp fiction stories, all with the same formula, which he detailed in an article that explained an exact formula for writing a 6,000-word pulp story." Son Robin found a copy of Dent's essay [1], from which, for list-lovers like me, the rules follow:


  1. A different murder method for villain to use
  2. A different thing for villain to be seeking
  3. A different locale
  4. A menace which is to hang like a cloud over hero

First 1500 Words

  1. First line, or as near thereto as possible, introduce the hero and swat him with a fistful of trouble. Hint at a mystery, a menace or a problem to be solved--something the hero has to cope with.
  2. The hero pitches in to cope with his fistful of trouble. (He tries to fathom the mystery, defeat the menace, or solve the problem.)
  3. Introduce ALL the other characters as soon as possible. Bring them on in action.
  4. Hero's endeavors land him in an actual physical conflict near the end of the first 1500 words.
  5. Near the end of first 1500 words, there is a complete surprise twist in the plot development.

Second 1500 Words

  1. Shovel more grief onto the hero.
  2. Hero, being heroic, struggles, and his struggles lead up to:
    1. Another physical conflict.
    2. A surprising plot twist to end the 1500 words.

Third 1500 Words

  1. Shovel the grief onto the hero.
  2. Hero makes some headway, and corners the villain or somebody in:
    1. A physical conflict.
    2. A surprising plot twist, in which the hero preferably gets it in the neck bad, to end the 1500 words.

Fourth 1500 Words

  1. Shovel the difficulties more thickly upon the hero.
  2. Get the hero almost buried in his troubles. (Figuratively, the villain has him prisoner and has him framed for a murder rap; the girl is presumably dead, everything is lost, and the DIFFERENT murder method is about to dispose of the suffering protagonist.)
  3. The hero extricates himself using HIS OWN SKILL, training or brawn.
  4. The mysteries remaining--one big one held over to this point will help grip interest--are cleared up in course of final conflict as hero takes the situation in hand.
  5. Final twist, a big surprise, (This can be the villain turning out to be the unexpected person, having the "Treasure" be a dud, etc.)
  6. The snapper, the punch line to end it.

- Monday, October 20, 2008 at 13:25:29 (EDT)

2008-10-14 - JFK AT Familiarization

13+ miles @ ~18 min/mi

An almost-full moon plays peek-a-boo behind mackerel-sky clouds at 0515 when I set off from home. An hour later I pull onto the side of the road near Weverton Cliffs to await Kate Abbott's arrival. We leave her car there and I drive us to Zittlestown. At 7am our journey commences, past the Old South Mountain Inn onto the gravel path to the Appalachian Trail. At the Taj Mahal of latrines we pause, then run and walk happily and uneventfully along the JFK 50 Miler course. Today's "area fam" exercise is my contribution to Kate's first ultramarathon—as if I need an excuse to go trail running with a nice friend! We get lost only once, for ~20 minutes, when we prematurely turn off the narrow, steeply climbing road to Lambs Knoll and the FAA/antenna facilities. I mistakenly lead Kate up a rugged track to a deer-hunter's blind at a dead end in the woods. We retrace our steps and are soon back on course. No harm done!

Less than 2 hours after starting we begin to hear traffic noises and know Gathland Gap is near. We meet a pair of runners from the Frederick Steeplechasers who are just commencing their own JFK prep session and who invite us to join them on future group runs. We descend into the Gap, where a cheerful road crew is setting up traffic cones. Both soda machines reject my money (one condescends to eat a quarter) but at least the water tap and restrooms here are functional. Onward we go, sucking down energy gels, walking the hills and rocky zones, chatting, greeting a few hikers out this late-season weekday morning, and simply enjoying the day.

After a dozen splendidly uneventful miles, a near-disaster: I come a cropper and break my left arm. Oopsies! Cool-headed Kate keeps an eye on me down the 14 switchbacks of Weverton Cliffs and we reach her car a mile later wiithout further mishap. Our overall time-on-trail is a bit under 4 hours including all stops. My shoulder only twinges when I move it.

I phone my health-care provider, Kaiser Permanente, and as usual the people there are extraordinarily helpful. Soon my arm is in a protective sling and I'm resting comfortably at home. The orthopedist confirms two days later that I've got a fractured humerus, more broken-up than I could see on the x-rays—shattered bits on the outside, the inside, and the "surgical neck" of the bone. It's not too bad, no surgery needed—but no typing with my left hand, no driving, etc. I must keep the arm in the sling and do the gentle exercises the doctor showed me to maintain range of motion, then return in 2 weeks to gauge the status of the healing. Could have been a lot worse!

(cf. 2008-09-26 - WOD Marathon Run, Humerus Fracture (2008-10-15), ...)

- Sunday, October 19, 2008 at 07:32:52 (EDT)

Being Nobody, Going Nowhere

There's no denying that Ayya Khema (1923-1997) is a mystic. Her "Meditations on the Buddhist Path" are far too fuzzy-minded to be fully satisfying to a hard-headed physicist like me, as friend Mary Ewell warned when she lent me the book. But set aside Khema's scientific garbles and misunderstandings. Being Nobody, Going Nowhere is what it is, a chatty series of sermons, thirteen transcribed talks given to students in Sri Lanka in the mid-1980s. Sometimes it's clunky and repetitive, but often it's poetic and moving in its imagery. For example, in Chapter 4 ("Four Friends"), a metaphor for life:

There is a lot to learn in this realm and that is its purpose. It is a continual adult education class, that is what this whole human realm is designed for. Not for the purpose of finding some comfort, not in order to have riches, wealth, possessions. Not to become famous or to change the world. People have many ideas. Life is strictly an adult education class and this is the most important lesson, namely to cultivate and make the heart grow. ...

... and later in the same chapter, some sage advice that echoes Arnold Bennett and the Stoics:

... The only person we can lead to liberation is ourself. Everybody has to go alone, solitarily. Anybody who would like to come along is welcome. The band-wagon is big and there aren't enough people on it yet.

Khema similarly brings to mind Robert Nozick when in Chapter 6 she discusses the rôle of friends in aiding one another on the road toward flourishing:

When we have the good fortune to have a noble friend with whom we can have noble conversation then it is also our way of repaying that gift by being a noble friend to others. Noble friends are like a chain reaction. We don't only need to search for one. We can also be one.

And in a most mystical mood, at the end of Chapter 10 Khema quotes Buddha:

There is the deed, but no doer. There is suffering, but no sufferer. There is the path, but no one to enter it. And there is liberation, but no one to attain it.

Maybe that's the point, as the book's title hints ...

(cf. BennettOnStoicism (1999-04-29), UniversalFlourishing (2001-12-25), EatTheOrange (2004-11-28), ...)

- Saturday, October 18, 2008 at 12:26:54 (EDT)

2008-10-12 - Ag Park XC

10+ miles @ 12+ min/mi

Mical Honigfort stands with her husband Paul near the starting line of today's 5k cross-country MCRRC race. She's truly radiant, only about six weeks away from her due date. Caren Jew and I are chatting with her. "You're beautiful, you know? Can I tell you a secret that no woman ever believes?" I ask Mical. "Men think that pregnant ladies look absolutely lovely!" As per prediction, both Caren and Mical disbelieve me.

We're at the county Agricultural Historic Farm Park in Derwood. Two hours earlier Caren and I arrive to get some extra miles in before the official event. Fog hangs over the valleys and the stars are bright, but a hint of dawn is beginning to appear in the eastern sky. Our headlamps make glowing circles on the dewey grass. Caren leads me on a loop around the big corn field, then into the woods on a pretty side trail that brings us through meadows where we startle several deer. Our feet get wet at a stream crossing. A trio of horses observes us curiously from the adjacent farm where Caren showed her own horse many years ago.

Back at the park headquarters an hour later set-up is beginning for the "Little Bennett's Revenge" 5k XC race. "Just put us down for 25 minutes!" I tell the officials there. Caren and I trot past them and down a gravel road, following what turns out to be today's course. It's already marked with little orange flags and traffic cones. We cross a wooden bridge to another huge corn field, turn left, and at my challenge run up a big hill, continue along a quarter mile, reverse course, and finish up by tagging our respective cars at 8am.

We greet Ken Swab, Michelle Price, and other friends, then go inside the building to sign up for the race. I snag a cup of water and several chocolate chip cookies. Back outside I find Christina Caravoulias and her friend Houra Rais. Chris takes photos of flower gardens and various runners. At the starting signal Christina and Houra and I take our places near the back of the mass. The race flows uneventfully as I chatter away, much to Houra's amusement. We finish together in a bit over 37 minutes, but speculate (as do others) that the course may be a tad short.

- Friday, October 17, 2008 at 08:32:53 (EDT)

Humerus Fracture

http://zhurnaly.com/images/fractured_humerus.jpgYesterday comrade Kate Abbott and I are jogging along the Appalachian Trail. It's an "area familiarization" exercise for Kate—she's planning to run the JFK 50 Miler next month. After a dozen uneventful miles over rocks and roots, I stumble during a relatively smooth segment. I roll as I fall and land hard on my left shoulder. Ouch!

This tumble feels different from my usual experience. My left arm is scraped and bruised, but beyond that it hurts to lift it. Kate, who is an Emergency Medical Technician among other things, immediately suspects a dislocated shoulder or fractured humerus (the bone that connects elbow and shoulder). I cradle my aching wing and we walk with caution the final mile down the switchbacks of Weverton Cliffs. An x-ray that afternoon shows fragments chipped off the bone.

Several hours later a huge purple bruise begins to develop on the left arm. Below the elbow is an oval abrasion from my skid on the dirt. According to my doctor:

... The bruise is the result of the fracture. Don't be surprised if with time it tracks all the way down the arm -that's just gravity pulling the blood down. It's not a concern, it's expected after this type of injury. Ice can limit how much bleeding occurs so can be useful for another 24 hours. An NSAID isn't necessary in this setting but can be used if you are having discomfort. Its ability to limit inflammation is not too useful here, as swelling will occur regardless when trauma is substantial....


So for the next few weeks, at least, I'm grounded—and the key element of my fitness training will be to avoid eating too much!

(cf. FacePlant (2004-08-09), TornToeTendonRepair (2005-05-05), ...)

- Wednesday, October 15, 2008 at 16:51:05 (EDT)

Wind Men

In her discussion of Tibetan Buddhism (cf. Buddhism - A Way of Life and Thought) Nancy Wilson Ross dismisses "sensational stories of impressionable writers" concerning mystical phenomena. But she then can't resist telling the story of the "Wind Men", also called "lung-gom-pa". These are described as able to run hundreds of miles per day in a trance-like state across incredibly rough mountain terrain. Ross cites Alexandra David-Neel's account of being passed on a trail in Tibet by a Wind Man:

... I could clearly see his perfectly calm impassive face and wide-open eyes with their gaze fixed on some invisible far-distant object situated somewhere high up in space. The man did not run. He seemed to lift himself from the ground, proceeding by leaps. It looked as if he had been endowed with the elasticity of a ball and rebounded each time his feet touched the ground. His steps had the regularity of a pendulum. He wore the usual monastic robe and toga, both rather ragged. His left hand gripped a fold of the toga and was half hidden under the cloth. The right held a phurba (magic dagger). His right arm moved slightly at each step as if leaning on a stick, just as though the phurba, whose pointed extremity was far above the ground, had touched it and were actually a support. ...

Sounds like the ultimate ultramarathon elite trail runner!

(cf. TwoTowers (2002-12-29), ...)

- Tuesday, October 14, 2008 at 04:22:53 (EDT)

2008-10-11 - Candy Cane Trail

14+ miles @ ~12 min/mi

Brother Keith sends a package of goodies for my birthday, including a squeeze pouch of exotic orange "Enervitine" energy drink. Early Saturday morning I suck down a dose after jogging from home 2+ miles to Candy Cane City. Does it help? Hard to say, but for whatever reason it's a great day to run, cool and crisp, fog over Ray's Meadow, dew on the grass by the ballfields. Ken Swab appears and we wait a while, then phone CM who turns out not to be joining us this morning. So Ken and I trot 1.5 miles along Rock Creek Trail, upstream to the high trestle and back.

It's now 8am and the MCRRC Saturday morning trail run led by Jane Godfrey is about to start. The group's normal speed is significantly faster than my training pace, but folks pause at intervals for Ken and me to catch up. We take the Western Ridge Trail to the Rock Creek Park Nature Center, then cross the hill to Beach Drive and return to our start via the Valley Trail plus side branches for extra climb/descent. Conversation tends toward current politics. Total distance ~7.5 miles.

Today's theme song playing inside my head is "Take the Long Way Home". Instead of proceeding directly back to my house I continue up Rock Creek, again passing the trestle. At Winkler's Meadow are two lost souls, one with a video camera, looking for "a playground near a swamp". After some head-scratching I figure out what they want and direct them northward. Near the side-trail to the Audubon Society, suddenly Mark McKennett and Michele Price materialize, blasting along as they train for the tough Mountain Masochist 50 miler coming in three weeks. I take Ireland Dr to the unofficial Woodstock Rd trail and jog from there back to my starting point, hoping that the GPS I carry will record 15 miles. It's a wee bit short.

- Monday, October 13, 2008 at 07:16:55 (EDT)

Chuck Norris on Zen

Last month I found another irresistible 50¢ volume at the local used-book sale—The Secret Power Within: Zen Solutions to Real Problems by Chuck Norris, published in 1996. Mr. Norris is famous to some as a tough-guy action-movie star and martial artist. The book is a fast read, with 31 brief chapters. Alas, the commentary here isn't terribly well-written; nor is it terribly enlightening. Secret Power Within focuses on autobiographical anecdotes, mainly from the hand-to-hand unarmed combat world. The ideas are presented with an upbeat "take control of your life" self-help slant. But there are occasional interludes between self-congratulatory scenes. At the end of "Stay With the Moment", for instance:

I have found that to be here and not anywhere else is the key to total concentration. By living in the present, I am in full contact with myself and my environment; my energy is not dissipated and is always available. In the present there are no regrets, as there must be when thinking of the past, and worrying about the future only dilutes our awareness of the present. I have learned to focus all of my concentration on each individual moment, whether it's a voice on the other end of a phone line, a face looking at me from across a desk, that single eye of a camera, or that rose garden. There is only now, only the moment. There is nothing else. Nothing.

Not deep, not poetic ... a bit heavy-handed and first-person ... but not bad either.

(cf. AikidoSpirit (2003-12-09), NothingHappens (2005-10-08), Running to Stand Still (2008-07-05), ...)

- Sunday, October 12, 2008 at 04:38:08 (EDT)

2008-10-08 - Butter and Eggs

4+ miles @ ~12 min/mi

Four days after Andiamo and I feel the urge to blow the dust out the pipes. We need eggs and butter; the coöp is a couple of miles away; what to do but jog to market? I follow neighborhood roads Sharon, Hale, Linden, and Warren to Brookville, where on a whim I cut through the back of the industrial park onto local lanes that zig-zag along the eastern side of the train tracks. Signs say that the little one-lane wooden bridge at Talbot St is closed, but a jogger whom I ask says that it's ok for runners, just not cars. I take it to cross the railroad line and meander back to Grubb Rd, spend 5 minutes at the store picking up the two items I sought, and then take the more-conventional streets back homeward. A light drizzle starts and the parking lot at the synagogue is full—it's Yom Kippur. I have much to atone for, as my twinging left metatarsals and right hip remind me.

- Saturday, October 11, 2008 at 05:48:12 (EDT)

Cents and Dollars

Grave financial crisis? For the United States there's a quick and easy solution, which as a bonus would instantly solve several other problems:

Declare that all Lincoln cents are now worth $1!

The benefits are manifest:

The one cent coin now buys less than a nickel did only a generation ago, and less than a quarter did when it was first introduced in its current form. No other major nation bothers with a coin so nearly valueless. Why are we wasting our time, and our money? Write your Congressman and Senators today. Offer them a penny for their thoughts!

- Friday, October 10, 2008 at 04:52:45 (EDT)

ZhurnalyWiki Software Update 2008

The Oddmuse gang of programmers, led by Alex Schröder, have been hard at work improving the underlying wiki engine that drives the ZhurnalyWiki, and after more than six months of running the late-2007 version of the code I've upgraded to the latest, v. 1.876 (dated 2008-10-06). It offers several new features, some of which I'll be activating in weeks to come, others of which are already here. In particular, the Creole wiki markup implementation has been enhanced and new features are now available. I'll update the Markup Syntax documentation page soon, but for starters there are now available definition lists, improved inline monospaced text and Small Caps. Neat-o!

The bad news: my non-standard wiki syntax for blockquotes—prefixing every blockquoted paragraph with a colon—doesn't work any more. Now blockquotes can span multiple paragraphs, but a blockquoted section must be preceded and followed by three double-quotation marks on lines by themselves. I'll be fixing the messed-up pages gradually, as I encounter them. If you wish to help me, please do! Meanwhile, please be patient. Tnx!

(cf. Convert to Creole, InitialOddmuseInstallationNotes (2007-12-27), ...)

- Thursday, October 09, 2008 at 04:55:56 (EDT)

2008-10-04 - Andiamo 2008

Andiamo 45 mile run - map + ^z pace
(the green line is the trail; elevation profile and map are courtesy of the Friends of the W&OD Trail)
At about mile 40 the horse begins to smell the barn. My mental arithmetic powers are virtually shot, but looking at my watch I see that I may be able to break 9 hours—if I can crank up my pace to ~11 minutes/mile. The old legs are stiffening but not yet cramping.

So I cut back walk breaks to 30 seconds every few minutes, take an electrolyte capsule, suck down an energy gel, drink remaining water, blast downhills, power-walk uphills, punch crosswalk buttons impatiently at traffic lights ... and as the graph shows, close out the Andiamo 2008 with my fastest splits of the day, including a last-mile 9:51. I finish in 8:56:27, sixth place of 13 starters.

~44.6 miles @ ~12:03 min/mi

Andiamo means "Let's go!" in Italian. It's also the name of a race, the full length of the Washington & Old Dominion Trail. The W&OD was originally a railroad, so the trail is reasonably straight and reasonably level, making the Andiamo a reasonably easy ultramarathon—if any ultra can be said to be "easy". Its length is variously estimated as 44.6 miles, 44.7 miles, 44.82 miles, or "about 45 miles".

The Virginia Happy Trails Running Club sponsors the Andiamo in alternate years, so last month when I chance to see it mentioned I have to decide quickly whether to try it. Sure, I'm undertrained. Official support along the course is minimal. Only a handful of people do the event, so most participants are alone most of the time. Finishers get only a round of applause and an Andiamo pin or patch. Hmmm—all that sounds pretty good! And the icing on the tiramisu: the entry fee is only $10—less than 25¢ per mile. Who could resist?

The 13th Andiamo attracts 15 entrants, of whom 13 line up to start at 7:31am in Purcellville VA. Race Directors Carolyn Gernand and Joe Malinowski give a quick pre-brief, the essence of which is "Follow the trail!" Official aid is planned near miles 6, 11, 17, and 25. There might be an impromptu aid station around mile 36, or then again maybe not. As the official web page warns, "ALL OTHER AID WILL BE THE RESPONSIBILITY OF THE RUNNER." Near the trail are convenience stores and occasional water fountains.

So I'm toting $7, a cellphone, two water bottles, half a dozen energy gels and a dozen electrolyte capsules. I fill the pockets of my fluorescent pink shorts with root beer barrel candies and ginger chews that friend Mary Ewell gave me. Just in case, I also bring ibuprofen and antihistamine tablets, a folded up paper towel (in case of dire emergency), and a tiny tin of petroleum jelly. Fortunately today I only need the last, to grease delicate parts of my chest when they start to chafe.

Race Plan: start at the back of the pack, walk/jog at a comfortable 13-14 minute/mile pace, and try to finish in 10 hours, safely within the 11 hour time limit. Soon my scheme is left abandoned by the trailside. Jim Cavanaugh, coming back from knee surgery, has given three of us a ride to Purcellville from the finish line where we parked our cars at 6am. Everyone else in the car has done at least one 100 miler, so the conversation during our nearly-an-hour drive is fascinating. Dan Rose is running the Andiamo as a tune-up for the upcoming national 24-hour competition in Texas. Today he hopes to make 8 min/mile (and in fact does, winning the race at an average 7:52 pace). Lou Jones moseyed through the woods with me for the first loop of the New Year's Day Red Eye 50k 2008. I remind him of his wise ultramarathon advice to me: "You just have to not quit!" He chuckles.

So when the trio of sexagenarians Jim, Lou, and Paul Dwyer canter away, how can I hang back? I chat with Clarence Wilson Jr. briefly, but when he slows I catch up with the threesome. (Clarence finishes the Andiamo with a net pace just over 15 min/mi.) We pass the official 44.5 milepost in 1 minute 22 seconds by my watch, and continue together at about 12 min/mi pace for the first half dozen miles. Jim follows the parallel gravel horse trail whenever possible; I accompany him if it seems fairly level, but otherwise stick to the asphalt-paved bike path or its grassy shoulder. Lou and Paul chatter as I draft behind them. (Paul later drops from the race; Lou cruises through at an average ~14.5 min/mi.)

At the first aid station, the back end of a VTHRC pick-up truck, Jim Cavanaugh turns back; he wasn't signed up to race, needs to let his knee heal, and in any case can't abandon his vehicle in Purcellville. Volunteers fill my bottle with Gatorade, I grab a fistful of cookies and chips, then blast off. Lou and Paul follow shortly behind. I trot at 12-13 min/mi and shortly thereafter they're out of sight.

All's peaceful now as I cruise solo through Leesburg. The aid station at mile 11 is a welcome opportunity to refill and refuel. Soon I'm on terra cognita, the part of the trail that Mary and I ran together a few months ago (cf. 2008-07-19 - WOD Trail Trek). Cyclists, skaters, walkers, and joggers are increasingly common now. At mile 13 I literally "hit the wall"—more precisely, I reach out and slap the ancient stone structure that abuts the trail here, where Kate Abbott and Alyssa Duble and I turned back on our training expedition Friday a week ago (cf. 2008-09-26 - WOD Marathon Run).

A few miles later a lady in a lime-green shirt runs toward me, smiles, and says, "Hi Mark!" I do a double-take: it's Mary Ewell, and in my zoned state I didn't recognize her. (Duh!) She materializes bearing gifts: a gluten-free chocolate brownie, a big bottle of Zelectrolyte, and best of all her pleasant company. We run side-by-side for an hour, bantering and teasing one another: I thank Mary repeatedly and profusely for coming out to see me; in turn she apologizes repeatedly and profusely for leading me along at too fast a pace during our multiple sub-12 minute miles together. (Little do we know that this turns out to be the perfect pace for me today.) We visit with volunteers at the mile 22 VHTRC aid station and accept their kind offer of ice for our bottles. The plastic bag from Mary's brownie serves me for the next 20 miles to carry chips, cookies, candy, and empty wrappers. We discuss meditation, medicine, wine, and upcoming race plans. At Route 28 (the W&OD milepost 24, about mile 20.6 of the race) we shake hands. Mary turns back toward her home, and I stride onward. (Pssst: thank you, Mary!)

I catch up with James Moore, another multi-Andiamo veteran now in his 60's and still going strong. We talk a bit and then part ways. Near mile 26 I overtake Niki Evans and John Acker. One is from Wales and the other grew up locally. Neither has run beyond 13 miles before. I salute their daring and offer them my standard unsolicited advice for succeeding at an ultra (walk! eat! drink! enjoy the day!), then congratulate them as we pass the 26.2 mile point—their first marathon. I inform them that we're in 7th, 8th, and 9th place at this point. They admire my facial hair and confess that they're carrying fake beards to put on as they approach the finish line, so they can claim to have grown them during the long journey. We laugh together, and I bid them farewell.

Since Andiamo means "Let's Go" the classic-rock song of the same name by The Cars is rattling around inside my cranium. Fighting it for top billing is the Supertramp hit "Take the Long Way Home", heard on the radio this morning. Meanwhile I'm attending to my breathing, feeling my footfalls, and generally trying to remain mindful. I take advantage of every opportunity to run in the shade of trailside trees, since I know I'm going to come out of the day with a sunburn and I want to minimize it.

At mile 28 the first and only potential crisis of the day materializes. I've drunk half of my water and at Sunset Hills Rd in Reston I approach the fountain that I'm counting on for a refill. It's broken! My hope now rests on conserving fluids, running gently, and making it to the next oasis without dehydration. I think it's 4 miles ahead, but I'm confused: it turns out to be almost 5. During the hour I drain my last bottle dry and try not to panic. Thankfully soon, the number of pram-pushers and kids riding bikes with training wheels increases significantly. I tell myself that the town is near.

Then the crowds thicken, and I hear music. It's Oktoberfest, a mammoth street festival! The water fountain at the Vienna W&OD station is working fine, so I refill both bottles, take an e-cap and a gel, drink deeply, and thread my way through the throngs. At highway 123 I wait for the cars to stop and then hasten across. More major road crossings for the next several miles slow me down, but I make up the time in between. Having water in hand is good.

At the start of the Andiamo I spoke briefly with Paul Ammann, one of my many marathon mentors (cf. UltraMan, Injury Avoidance, ...). He's far faster than I am; I never expected to see him again. But suddenly, somehow, Paul catches up with me. What happened? He explains that he stopped for 20 minutes back at the Oktoberfest to stand in line for a beer with a friend! Paul shows me the red band around his wrist, proof that he's old enough to drink. I bemoan the fact that I'm not carrying an ID and with my luck would have been carded. Paul looks at my gray beard and suggests gently that that is rather improbable. As we run together he tells me about the grapes and raspberries and other good things to eat along the W&OD Trail, and reassures me that an aid station is shortly ahead. He's right. I refuel quickly and run onward while he stays to visit with comrades there. But soon Paul catches up with me, chats some more, then zips ahead out of sight. (I next see him at the finish line, where mysteriously he comes in a few minutes after me; he took another break later on at a convenience store.)

Now with only a handful of miles to go I get excited. Earlier today I upgraded my goal from 10 hours to 9.5, then 9.25—and now it looks as though I can break 9 hours, provided I push hard and don't go off course. The W&OD here has confusing branches where the Custis Trail and the Four Mile Run Trail diverge and converge. I focus, watch for signs and markers, and somehow manage not to get lost. My legs start to stiffen but I ward off cramps by dosing myself with more electrolytes and energy gels. The miles count down rapidly and now my chief fear is being stuck at a road crossing. Mercifully those delays are brief.

As the chart shows, my final miles are my fastest ones. A small hill looms. I see familiar-looking cars parked on the street nearby—the end is just beyond the crest. Over the top I stride. RDs Carolyn and Joe rise from their lounge chairs, take a photo of my triumphant moment, and award me an Andiamo finisher's pin. Carolyn tells me that I'm sixth today, which astounds me since I never make it into the top half of an event. This must be an aberration, a statistical fluke due to the small number of entrants. I stay to drink a soda, thank the volunteers picnicking nearby, admire the cute three-month-old baby whom I saw at the starting line, phone friends and family to tell them the good news, and then head for home. (Comrade Kate called about an hour ago to offer help, but I never hear the phone ring.) I'm tired and happy. And I can even walk down stairs the next day without more than minor wincing. (^_^)

(see Andiamo 2008 results on [1] and photos on [2])

- Tuesday, October 07, 2008 at 04:52:20 (EDT)

Hold this Thought

A one-year-old, often-provocative, public radio program with a web edition: Hold this Thought. It features "... a daily, 1-minute thought from literature, history, or culture designed to inspire reflection and conversation ...". Good goals!

(thanks to The Key Reporter, Fall 2008 issue, page 7, for profiling the creator of "Hold this Thought"; cf. No Dogs or Philosophers Allowed (2003-03-13), Writer's Almanac (2003-08-22), ...)

- Monday, October 06, 2008 at 04:47:18 (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), 0.73 (November 2008 - January 2009), 0.74 (January-February 2009), 0.75 (February-April 2009), 0.76 (April-June 2009), 0.77 (June-August 2009), 0.78 (August-September 2009), 0.79 (September-November 2009), 0.80 (November-December 2009), 0.81 (December 2009 - February 2010), ... Current Volume. Send comments and suggestions to z (at) his.com. Thank you! (Copyright © 1999-2010 by Mark Zimmermann.)