^zhurnaly 0.78

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Howdy, pilgrim! No ads — you're in volume 0.78 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 = 0.77 ... 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

Pulsating Hidden World

A New York Times science-section interview last week showcases Carolyn Porco [1], a classmate of mine at Caltech in the 1970s. She's articulate and thoughtful. The conversation concludes with remarks about scientific literacy:

"To my mind," Dr. Porco said, "most people go through life recoiling from its best parts. They miss the enrichment that just a basic knowledge of the physical world can bring to the most ordinary experiences. It's like there's a pulsating, hidden world, governed by ancient laws and principles, underlying everything around us—from the movements of electrical charges to the motions of the planets—and most people are completely unaware of it.

"To me, that's a shame."

(cf. KnowHowAndFearNot (1999-11-19), TechnicalMinded (2003-07-18), CloseToTheMachine (2004-05-06), Rules of Engagement (2008-09-25), ...)

- Monday, September 28, 2009 at 04:52:34 (EDT)

2009-09-23 - Mormon Temple Hillwork

~9.5 miles @ ~10.5 min/mi

It's Wednesday morning and I'm staying home to help put together Paulette's new cast iron bed, due to arrive today [1]. I figure dragging heavy boxes around will be good cross training! Meanwhile, at 5:15am I set out from home, headlamp bright, to Ray's Meadow via the CCT. On my way up Rock Creek two deer, eyes glowing green, startle me as I approach the high trestle. Another buck with a big rack crosses the road in front of me near the Beltway underpass. The Mormon Temple hill, according to CM Manlandro, is called "The Silencer" by marathon training groups because it tends to quiet conversation. I trot the half-mile up to Kent St and back down five times, downhill recovery time consistent at ~5 minutes, uphill splits 5:24, 5:20, 5:30, then pushing 5:09, and finally 4:42—whew! Red-white-and-blue lights gleam on the bushes at the LDS visitor's center. Pairs of ladies walk laps around the smaller church parking lot. A strobe on top of a radio tower illuminates the clouds like lightning.

- Sunday, September 27, 2009 at 09:55:03 (EDT)


Recently while looking for commentary on mindfulness issues I ran across the intriguingly-titled "Medics receive battlemind training to help fellow Soldiers" [1]. It offers some excellent tips on how to assist anyone who desperately needs aid, but doesn't know how to ask for it. The somewhat-forced acronym is TAIL, which the article defines:

OK, it's not that great a mnemonic—but ya gotta love the term "battlemind", eh?

- Saturday, September 26, 2009 at 03:26:17 (EDT)

2009-09-20 - Bachman Valley Half Marathon

13.1 miles @ ~13.6 min/mi

"Stop touching that!" Christina Caravoulias tells me every time she catches me rubbing my arm where the wasp stung me. We meet at Chris's home at 5:30am and ride north together to Westminster MD, coincidentally not far at all from yesterday's Gunpowder Falls run. On the way we pause to take photos. Venus gleams like a brilliant diamond in the eastern sky, less than a degree away from first-magnitude star Regulus. Geese swim in the mist-shrouded pond near the course for the Bachman Valley Half Marathon.

Chris and I sign up for the half-hour early start, and at 7:32am we set off with a dozen or so companions. We meet young Rachel and chat with her; she's getting back into distance running and seems somewhat nervous. My socks keep slipping down at first, and I stop to pull them up and retie my shoes. Everybody else is soon far ahead of us, out of sight on the hilly country road.

The day is cool compared to last year and the race goes uneventfully. I eat prodigious amounts of pretzels and candy at every aid station, to Chris's amusement. At mile 7 I find an electrolyte capsule on the road and, since it looks clean, take it. I text in tweets at start, middle, and end. A mile from the finish line we overtake Rachel, who is suffering slightly. I think that I admonish her gently for going out too fast; Chris scolds me later for saying, "I told you so!" We come in a few minutes under 3 hours, with Rachel just slightly behind us. Chris gives her an energy gel to help her recover more quickly.

After we eat and drink we set off for home, hoping to find an ice cream parlor like last year. Wrong turns and mistaken directions get us to a Burger King drive-through window where I snag veggie burger, fries, and Dr Pepper. Our splits, by my watch:

mile split time

(cf. official results at [1] and last year's notes at 2008-09-21 - Bachman Valley Half Marathon)

- Friday, September 25, 2009 at 04:43:39 (EDT)

Morning Light

The Old Curiosity Shop, one of the earlier novels by Charles Dickens, is full of eccentric characters, improbable coincidences, and insightful descriptions. From Chapter 15, a lovely-lyrical image of a new day's beginning:

The town was glad with morning light; places that had shewn ugly and distrustful all night long, now wore a smile; and sparkling sunbeams dancing on chamber windows, and twinkling through blind and curtain before sleepers' eyes, shed light even into dreams, and chased away the shadows of the night. Birds in hot rooms, covered up close and dark, felt it was morning, and chafed and grew restless in their little cells; bright-eyed mice crept back to their tiny homes and nestled timidly together; the sleek house-cat, forgetful of her prey, sat winking at the rays of sun starting through keyhole and cranny in the door, and longed for her stealthy run and warm sleek bask outside. The nobler beasts confined in dens, stood motionless behind their bars and gazed on fluttering boughs, and sunshine peeping through some little window, with eyes in which old forests gleamed—then trod impatiently the track their prisoned feet had worn—and stopped and gazed again. Men in their dungeons stretched their cramp cold limbs and cursed the stone that no bright sky could warm. The flowers that sleep by night, opened their gentle eyes and turned them to the day. The light, creation's mind, was everywhere, and all things owned its power.

- Thursday, September 24, 2009 at 04:41:51 (EDT)

2009-09-19 - Gunpowder Falls

~10 miles @ ~14 min/mi

"Quiet down back there!" Mary Ewell admonishes Caren Jew and Gayatri Datta, who are chatting noisily in the back seat of Mary's car. We're carpooling to Gunpowder Falls State Park, to run a lap of the Gunpowder Keg 50k. I'm riding shotgun but fail in my duties as navigator: on I-95, always a nervous drive, we almost miss our exit near Baltimore. Mary is wired with coffee this morning. Chastened Gayatri and Caren start to whisper together, like children after a parental outburst. I have to laugh.

As in 2007 and 2008, the pattern continues: I cover a smaller fraction of the course at a slower pace than ever before. But I'm again impressed with the loveliness of the terrain and the friendliness of the Race Director and everybody else I meet. This year is Caren's and Gayatri's first time on the trail.

We arrive, creeping slowly down the potholed road, at 7:45am—just in time to sign in, make donations to the park, drop off our jugs of water for the communal aid station, and get ready to run. At 8:05 RD Chris Cucuzzella finishes his briefing and we're off. Gaytri and I run at the back of the pack, with Mary a little in front of us and Caren cruising fast, soon out of sight. Nancy, a new runner training for the Baltimore Marathon but with no trail experience, accompanies us for the first couple of miles. Gayatri and I encourage her, offer her some suggestions on training and trail running, but have to run ahead near mile 2 as Nancy slows on the hills. (Hope she finished happy and uneventfully!) Other runners who start later are passing us, as are high school cross-country teams out for training.

About half a mile into the run, near where I fell last year, a small yellow-jacket lands on my right arm and stings me—ouch! This makes three stings in the past month (cf. 2009-08-22 - Two Bees, or Not Two Bees and 2009-08-28 - Buzzy Loops), not a pleasant trend. With the previous attacks on my right leg and left arm, that only leaves the left leg as a target for next week.

At about an hour into our journey Gayatri and I arrive at the midcourse aid station. I grab chips and cookies and we proceed onward, branching from the river trail and climbing to the ridge under the power lines. The steep hills start to wear on Gayatri, who has been doing most of her training for the Richmond Marathon on paved and relatively level paths. We chat, enjoy the scenery, and keep looking ahead for a glimpse of Caren or Mary. No joy.

Gayatri and I emerge onto the country road and run down it to the river. As we round a corner we think we see Mary, or someone who looks like her, reentering the river trail. By the time we arrive there, she's out of sight. Countless fallen trees on the trail require pauses to clamber over or, infrequently, under. Poison ivy and other brush encroaches. With Gayatri's permission I run a bit ahead. Finally, when we're almost back to the aid station, we catch up with Mary. We pause, eat, refill water bottles, and cross the wooden bridge to the north side of Gunpowder Falls. It's 98 minutes into the race, more than 10 minutes slower than in prior years. Still no sign of Caren.

As RD Cucuzzella forecast, we're running through a sea of grass for much of the next segment of the course. Mary cut her left little finger in a kitchen accident a few days ago and is moving carefully to avoid stumbling and tearing out the stitches. She and Gayatri promise to stick together and send me ahead to seek Caren. I sprint eastward for a couple of miles, pass several fishermen and hikers, almost fall at a few points, and wet my feet in a hasty crossing of a tributary creek. Finally, after a rushing ascent to York Rd where the course crosses back to the south side of the river, I spy my friend. "Caren!" I shout, and gesticulate madly. We're thrilled to find each other.

We run together for the final two miles back to the car, finishing the ~10 mile loop in 2:25. (Caren logs it as ~9 since she missed a turn and did an out-and-back instead of the official loop between miles 3 and 6.) We rehydrate, nibble, cheer the leaders as they come through 10 miles ahead of us, chat with the race photographer, and applaud Mary and Gayatri when they appear. Our trip home includes a pause at a Denny's fast food restaurant.

- Wednesday, September 23, 2009 at 18:28:26 (EDT)

Nick of Time

Henry David Thoreau in the first chapter ("Economy") of Walden touches upon the Zen of the present moment, and the difficulty of speaking explicitly about it:

In any weather, at any hour of the day or night, I have been anxious to improve the nick of time, and notch it on my stick too; to stand on the meeting of two eternities, the past and future, which is precisely the present moment; to toe that line. You will pardon some obscurities, for there are more secrets in my trade than in most men's, and yet not voluntarily kept, but inseparable from its very nature. I would gladly tell all that I know about it, and never paint "No Admittance" on my gate.

(cf. Wherever You Go, There You Are (2008-10-26), Plenty of Time (2009-03-09), ...)

- Tuesday, September 22, 2009 at 04:38:37 (EDT)

2009-09-18 - Three Parking Lot Loops

~4.5 miles @ ~8.8 min/mi

Friday afternoon is warm and sunny, but it's also a chance to blow some dust out of the pipes. The locker room is almost empty compared to other weekdays. The first ~1.5 mile lap around the parking lot periphery goes by at ~9.2 min/mi, a bit faster than I intended. The second at what feels like comfortably brisk pace is a perfect 9.0 min/mi, during which I meet my bus-commute acquaintance Lorrine out on a walk. Then pushing on the third gets it down to a slightly startling 7.8 min/mi. As I rush toward its end I zip by a young fellow jogging with headphones; he's wearing a "Ninja Academy" t-shirt.

- Monday, September 21, 2009 at 04:42:40 (EDT)

Fog Computing

"Cloud Computing" is the popular current buzzword for using rented data storage and processor services distributed over the Internet—who knows where—to run one's business or other activity. All well and good, especially as long as the network is reliable and one is willing to put one's entire livelihood into somebody else's hands. It saves a lot of money too. But when data gets lost, when servers go down, when nobody knows what's wrong or takes responsibility, the cloud turns into a fog ...

- Sunday, September 20, 2009 at 04:19:44 (EDT)

2009-09-16 - Passers-By

~4 miles @ ~9 min/mi

The birthday cake for a colleague is calling, but I firmly resist. "Save some for me when I get back!" I joke with office comrades. It's a cool afternoon outside and there's an unexpectedly quiet interlude between meetings: time to slip out from behind the desk to take a few laps through the woods on the jogging trail.

The first marked mile is a throttle-back-pace ramble, during which I pass Lorraine, a silver-haired lady whom I see most mornings on the bus carrying flowers to work. She's walking briskly near the half-mile point and I hope to spy her again on my next go-around. Where the path loops back upon itself I also see a young woman running slowly perhaps a quarter mile ahead of me, and wonder if I can catch her in another lap as well. My first mile is 9:32, a bit faster than the 10ish that was my goal. I accelerate to what feels comfortably-brisk for lap two, and hit the mile mark in 8:38. No sign of Lorraine, who must have stopped after one loop. Then after the close-the-circuit eighth-mile it's time to fire afterburners and see how fast I can go. The young jogger materializes ahead of me, walking one of the hills. "On your left!" I warn. She turns and pushes back her headphones. I'm happily surprised to see 7:20 on my watch at the end of the mile.

- Saturday, September 19, 2009 at 05:17:28 (EDT)

Birds Are Nice

Occasionally a group conversation becomes confrontational, or veers into an area that certain participants know is going to be distressing. A friend tells me that at a job she worked in several years ago somebody came up with a cute code-phrase that signaled, "It's time to change the subject—now!" That almost meaningless phrase was: Birds are nice. Whenever someone said it, a listener who knew the rule was obligated to help move the discussion toward a safer topic.

Learning of "Birds are nice" reminded me of another convention that evolved in a sometimes-noisy group where I worked. When a phone rang, before answering it the person reaching for the handset would shout Ice cream! The rest of the room would quiet down.

- Friday, September 18, 2009 at 05:02:05 (EDT)

2009-09-13 - Double Parks Half Marathon

~27 miles @ ~12.2 min/mi

"Mark!" the familiar voice hails me. I'm jogging along Veirs Mill Road at 5:50am, on my way to the start of the Parks Half Marathon. It's dear friend Caren Jew, volunteering today for the race, accompanied by her daughter Jenna. I dart across the road and shake her hand. Jenna sensibly prefers not to touch a sweaty stranger's mitt at this pre-dawn hour. Like last year, I'm serving as the "12:00+ min/mi" pace group leader. Unlike last year, the weather is seasonably cool with temps in the 60s when I start running from home at 4:00am.

The Pleiades float high overhead and Orion hangs near a last-quarter Moon that provides plenty of light to run by, except in thickly wooded segments of the trail. At PHM mile marker 10 I join the course, in one hand a headlamp, in the other a bag with a change of socks, shorts, and shirt. I stumble into a puddle near the Connecticut Avenue underpass, but it's shallow. Approaching Ken-Gar I startle a herd of half a dozen deer, which in turn startle me as they race away. A few miles later another pair of deer crash through the brush to flee my approach.

By 6:15am I arrive at the starting area for the race, my pace thus far ~12 min/mi. I drink several cups of water to rehydrate and share a Clif Bar with amazing Mark McKennett. He's back from running the Groundhog 50k yesterday in Punxsutawney PA. I change into dry socks and a bright orange "12:00+" singlet, duck behind bushes to put on fresh shorts, and leave my drop bag with Christina Caravoulias who's volunteering at the truck. Then I get my pacer sign and wave it madly about while I stand in the crowd before the start. CM Manlandro and Emaad Burki and others chat with me.

The race commences at 7am for the fast runners, but the wave-start doesn't let my pace group cross the line until several minutes later. I meet a variety of nice ladies and gentlemen who run with me for various segments of the course. Near mile one I spy a nickel on the road and pick it up. Soon thereafter Amy Schmidt finds a penny, heads-up, and gives it to me. Simone Kirk, who ran part of the race with me last year, again accompanies me at the beginning.

A noisy-smelly All Terrain Vehicle follows too closely behind the slower runners, even if they're well within the cutoff. Perhaps it would be better to give the Park Service driver a schedule, and to use an all-electric ATV? Julie Polt trots with me in the later miles, where I subject her to rants about NIMBY politics of the Purple Line on the Capital Crescent Trail right-of-way. She goes on ahead as I slow to finish in 2:40:09, nine seconds over my "prediction" of 2:40—an average speed of 12:13 min/mi, right where I promised to be as pacer.

After a quick break to drink a bit, on the way home from Bethesda on the CCT (still doing ~12 min/mi) I find a timing chip that fell off somebody's shoe during the race; I pick it up to return, hoping to save the unknown party a $35 penalty. During the race I pause to snag empty gel packets, more than a dozen of them. Two unopened ones are a bonus. I text in tweets before the start and after the finish.

(cf. 2008-09-14 - Parks Half Marathon Plus, ...)

- Thursday, September 17, 2009 at 04:50:08 (EDT)

Warrior Mind Training

My "mindfulness" search-feed on Google News ordinarily doesn't surface much of great interest, but recently it led me to the 6 Sep 2009 Time magazine article "Samurai Mind Training for Modern American Warriors" by Bonnie Rochman. The piece describes a rather macho style of mindfulness-meditation with applications to stress reduction and greater in-the-zone awareness—all good things, especially when applied to the modern military. (I'm not at all hot about ninja-style violence or other mayhem, but I do salute a well-disciplined defense force under civilian government control.) "This is mental push-ups," says a trainer. "There's a certain burn. It's a workout."

The name of the program, "Warrior Mind Training", brings to mind the classic Army slogan ranked just behind "You deserve a break today" as the #2 advertising jingle of the 20th Century [1]:

Be All That You Can Be

That was a marvelous way to promote self-actualization. And perhaps Buddhist-style mindfulness can help in combat, in ultrarunning, and elsewhere in life ...

(cf. MyOb (2002-08-18), EatTheOrange (2004-11-28), Mind Over Exercise (2008-10-22), ...)

- Wednesday, September 16, 2009 at 09:12:59 (EDT)

2009-09-09 - Bethesda Loop Clockwise

11+ miles @ ~9.6 min/mi

Cool weather, decent dewpoint, Paulette at a Library Board meeting—time for an evening run! I do my usual Bethesda circuit but at a brisker-than-usual pace, and finish in under 1:49 just as it starts to get dark.

- Tuesday, September 15, 2009 at 04:38:49 (EDT)

To Be a Philosopher

In the first chapter ("Economy") of Walden Henry David Thoreau comments on the difference between philosophizing and actually living philosophically:

... There are nowadays professors of philosophy, but not philosophers. Yet it is admirable to profess because it was once admirable to live. To be a philosopher is not merely to have subtle thoughts, nor even to found a school, but so to love wisdom as to live according to its dictates, a life of simplicity, independence, magnanimity, and trust. It is to solve some of the problems of life, not only theoretically, but practically. ...

(cf. LivingPhilosophy (1999-06-12), FlagranteDelictoPhilosopher (2003-09-19), No Dogs or Philosophers Allowed (2003-10-13), ...)

- Monday, September 14, 2009 at 04:44:59 (EDT)

2009-09-07 - Rock Creek Trail Recovery

2 miles @ 9 min/mi + 8 miles @ ~14 min/mi

"Bunny!" Christina Caravoulias exclaims, and the rabbit dashes away from us. It's Labor Day morning, time for Chris's last long run before the Parks Half Marathon next Sunday, and my chance to test the legs two days after Kate Abbott and I do 25 rugged ridge miles on the Massanutten Trail (2009-09-05 - One Third of The Ring). Car trouble delays Christina's arrival at Ken-Gar, so I warm up while waiting by doing a couple of brisk out-and-back miles. Then together we jog upstream to milepost 9 and back, and after a break go downstream to Cedar Lane. It's cool but humid and I lose 2 lbs. sweating.

- Sunday, September 13, 2009 at 03:15:58 (EDT)

Data Affection

A pair of bureaucratese-style terms crossed my screen a few weeks ago:

It occurred to me that they could be cross-bred to yield two new relationship descriptions:

Bonds of data
people held together by their shared information
Affection spill
misplaced emotional ties, as in Robert Browning's poem My Last Duchess

(Hmmm!—I wonder if other such jargon phrases could be hybridized to yield useful or humorous results?)

- Saturday, September 12, 2009 at 05:41:23 (EDT)

2009-09-05 - One Third of The Ring

~25 miles @ ~20 min/mi


(photo of Kate and ^z approaching the Sherman Gap mini-aid station, courtesy Carl Camp [1])
"It is not in your character to give up!" a Chinese fortune cookie tells me. I tape the slip of paper to the Massanutten Trail guide I'm carrying, right below the entry for Mile 71.1, the end of The Ring.

Our fortune is correct: Kate and I don't give up. But we do stop far short of finishing the entire loop. Instead of joining the "Fellowship of The Ring" we are Felled by The Ring. Maybe next year!

Massanutten Mountain is a long double-ridge structure embracing the Fort Valley. "The Ring" is the Massanutten Trail (MT), an orange-blazed 71-mile circuit. At 7am on Saturday morning Kate Abbott and I, with 28 other ultrarunners, begin our attempt to run The Ring. We start at the north end of the mountain, the Signal Knob parking lot. Half of us will finish.

The Massanutten Trail is über-rocky; Caren Jew and I did ~17 miles of it earlier this year (cf. 2009-01-04 - Massanutten Mountain Mayhem) in ~7 hours with no aid along the way. Today, the Saturday before Labor Day, temperatures rise to the mid-80s. Kate and I trek along at a steady 20 min/mi pace, with almost all of the other runners ahead of us. Only the indomitable Carolyn Gernand lags behind by a few minutes.

The MT follows a relentlessly rocky ridgeline after a steep climb. We have good shade from the trees, which mostly block the view of the valleys on both sides. Cellphone coverage is decent along the crest, and every hour or two I send a text message to my Twitter account reporting on progress. It auto-forwards to my page on Facebook. We see lots of bear scat and occasional swarms of gnats and hornets. At one point two scruffy individuals stand by the trail; Kate smells gunpowder and gun oil as she passes them. Poachers?

Onward we ramble, running on the few runnable segments, speed-hiking the hills, scrambling across the rocks, and constantly peering ahead for orange dot-dash blazes that mark the trail. We go off course only once (and that for just a couple of minutes) when I take a wrong turn at an intersection close to Sherman Gap.

Then near mile 11 potential disaster strikes: Kate stumbles, sprints to recover, and almost succeeds—before toppling in a skid that leaves a big goose-egg bruise on her left shin and tears open her left hand. We wash her wounds with water from my bottle. Blood drips down her fingers as we proceed. A few miles later at Milford Gap we see Gary Knipling and comrades who have hiked up to the trail. Gary rinses Kate's injuries again and gives her wet paper towels to hold against her palm.

We plod onward. My feet ache, especially the left metatarsals and the bottom of the right heel. Kate begins to develop bad blisters; apparently the layer of duct tape she applied before the start isn't working to prevent hot spots. I try to entertain with an explanation of non-Euclidean geometry, inspired by the saddle-shaped structure of the ridge as it passes a notch. I discuss the book I'm reading, Charles Dickens's The Old Curiosity Shop, and the sf TV mini-series I've been watching, The Lost Room. Kate continues to lead 90% of the time. Perhaps she's trying to escape my monologue.

Then I begin to run out of water. Kate offers to share some of hers, but after taking a sip from her Camelbak suddenly discovers she's out too. I remind Kate that she's signed up for the VHTRC Women's Half Marathon a week from today. And tomorrow is Paulette's and my 31st wedding anniversary; it would be nice to get home early for that. Good face-saving reasons to consider declaring the day a training run and stopping at the first real aid station, Camp Roosevelt at mile 25. Kate promises to consider them.

As we pass Edith Gap at mile 24 and commence the steep descent we meet an increasing number of day-hikers, dog-walkers, and horse-riders. I attempt to send a final text-message tweet announcing our intention to drop, but cell coverage is already gone. Walking gingerly we reach Camp Roosevelt, follow the ribbon-markers to the picnic area, and at 3:26pm find Carl Camp, experienced ultrarunner and helpful crew today for Caroline Williams and Carolyn Gernand. Carl tells us that Caroline is blasting along 45 minutes ahead of us.

We sit down and Kate takes off her shoes revealing half a dozen huge fluid-filled blisters on the perimeter of both feet. Ouch! Carl tells us inspirational stories and encourages us to continue onward, but eventually we persuade him that we're going to punch out. He kindly offers us a ride back to Kate's car, 15 miles or so up the road. We greet Carolyn Gernand when she arrives at about 3:45pm—she also tries to get us to go on—then help Carl clean up the aid station after she leaves.

Carolyn goes on to finish The Ring in a bit over 30 hours, and Caroline makes the distance in just under 32 hours. Brava!

split mile time location tweet
0:583.00:58Shawl Gap so far so good
0:485.31:46Sherman Gap :-)
1:088.72:54Veach Gap big climb to ridge - whew!
1:2313.24:17Milford Gap Kate took nasty fall at 1040 hurt hand and shin
1:4718.16:04Habron Gap relentlessly rocky ridge continues
1:0320.87:07Stevens Trail bear scat and gnats
1:1925.08:26Camp Roosevelt Kate and I drop - our feet hurt! :-(

(cf. official results at [2])

- Friday, September 11, 2009 at 04:41:35 (EDT)


Recently there's been a disturbing increase in the amount of wacky rhetoric on US political issues. As columnist Tunku Varadarajan says in Forbes.com [1], "The Silly Season ceases to be 'silly' when what passes for political debate in America turns not merely stupid or witless, but certifiably demented." And Bob Herbert in a thoughtful New York Times op-ed column notes [2], "We've forgotten many of the fundamentals: how to live within our means, the benefits of shared sacrifice, the responsibilities that go with citizenship, the importance of a well-rounded education and tolerance."

One hesitates to speculate as to why the situation is so extreme. What's different now? An obvious factor—the race of the President—suggests a discouraging root cause for at least some of the population.

On a lighter note, however, is Gary Trudeau's Doonesbury cartoon of 6 Sep 2009. A "conspiratologist" being interviewed on the radio describes the current climate:

"It's quite remarkable, Mark. Americans believe in many things that can't be verified. For instance, almost half of us believe in ghosts, and 40% in alien abductions. And that availability to alternative reality is reflected in conspiracy theory, from Truthism, which holds that Bush was behind 9/11, to Birthism. And of course we still have many legacy fringe groups like the JFK Grassy Knollers, the Staged Moon Landingists, etc."

"Professor, is there any counter to these powerful theorists?"

"Not really, Mark. Only the Reasonists."


"They believe in an evidence-based world. Something called Rationalism. But it's a tiny group, not so influential."

- Wednesday, September 09, 2009 at 04:44:04 (EDT)

2009-08-29 - Hot Speedwork

~2 miles @ ~10 min/mi

Under an early afternoon sun today Robin and I venture to the local middle school track for some laps. I warm up with a slow quarter mile, then commence 200 meter repeats: eight of them at an average of 44 seconds each, with a 1:50 recovery walk back to my starting point between each. It's a near-recap of 2009-06-30 - Evening Speedwork, but this time with a heart-rate monitor I can report that my average pulse during the fast segments is 146-156 with a peak of 181. The machine claims I burn 273 calories. I immediately go to the Chinese restaurant and get a carry-out vegetarian egg foo yung with greasy fried rice, to neutralize any potential progress on that front!

- Tuesday, September 08, 2009 at 04:44:18 (EDT)

Go Out and Play

A thoughtful letter to the editor in Physics Today, July 2009, by Prof. John Fang of California State Polytechnic University, Pomona:

Science and technology are supposed to make life better for humans. I'm not convinced, though, that the same is true of the internet. Many people, especially young people, are now dangerously addicted to the internet; they think they have the world at their fingertips. But it turns out that people are busier, more stressed and irritable, less thoughtful, less reflective, and less humane now than in the days of less technology.

During more than 30 years of teaching physics at various universities, I have seen the change in students' minds and intellectual levels. Many students go through their days with blank expressions on their faces; they lack the ability to reason logically or think abstractly; and they no longer possess the drive to learn. Many become isolated; they are losing their natural curiosity, their ability to think deeply, and even their capacity and desire to interact with the world—or the people—around them. It's sad.

I recommend that my students—and the rest of us!—stop looking for answers on the internet and instead go out and play in the real world. We can learn a lot more physics from Nature than from being stuck to the computer screen. Why not emulate Copernicus, Galileo, or Isaac Newton, who saw the world with their own eyes. Spend time walking in the woods, listening to the ocean, experiencing the beauty of the spring flowers, and being amazed by the vast expanse of the night sky; it's bigger than your computer screen, you know. Nature—not the internet—is still the greatest teacher.

... and now, with a gibbous Moon peeking through pre-dawn clouds, I've gotta get ready to go out and run along Rock Creek with a friend ...

(cf. StayingTheCourse (2005-07-11), ...)

- Monday, September 07, 2009 at 05:11:16 (EDT)

2009-08-28 - Buzzy Loops

~3 miles @ ~9 min/mi

Twenty-two minutes out I'm zipping along the second parking-lot circuit when a black shape dive-bombs me and lands on my right arm. Ow!—a wasp! (shades of 2009-08-22 - Two Bees, or Not Two Bees) I brush it off and try to pinch out some of the venom as I watch for symptoms of anaphylactic shock. Nothing ... so I finish the lap and retreat back to work. Much-hoped-for thunderstorms have passed and it's just warm and humid. My ~1.5 mile lap times today are 14:06 and 11:48, about the same as 2009-08-19 - Parking Lot Periphery.

- Sunday, September 06, 2009 at 09:16:21 (EDT)

Be an Elmer

In amateur radio slang an "Elmer" is a person who helps novices learn and grow their expertise. It's a funny term for a mentor and I always assumed that it dated back to the early days of the hobby, like the much-dreaded "Wouff-Hong" and "Rettysnitch". So I was surprised to learn from [1] that:

The term "Elmer"—meaning someone who provides personal guidance and assistance to would-be hams—first appeared in QST in a March 1971 "How's DX" column by Rod Newkirk, W9BRD (now also VA3ZBB). Newkirk called them "the unsung fathers of Amateur Radio." While he probably was not trying to coin a term at the time, here's how Newkirk introduced "Elmer" in his column and, as it turned out, to the rest of the Amateur Radio world:

"Too frequently one hears a sad story in this little nutshell: 'Oh, I almost got a ticket, too, but Elmer, W9XYZ, moved away and I kind of lost interest.'"

Newkirk went on to say, "We need those Elmers. All the Elmers, including the ham who took the most time and trouble to give you a push toward your license, are the birds who keep this great game young and fresh."—Rick Lindquist, N1RL

It's fun to be an Elmer, and anybody can do it in any field—knitting, contract bridge, gardening ... or in my case ultrarunning, where in recent years I've snookered several friends into going out long. And of course the benefits go not just to the newbie when the Great Game remains young and fresh ...

- Saturday, September 05, 2009 at 03:11:20 (EDT)

2009-08-26 - Diaper Rash

~3 miles @ ~9 min/mi

The sun is bright and the temperature is in the lower 90s, so in search of shade I follow the same route as on 2009-05-28 - Savile Lane, but at a slightly brisker pace, omitting the extra loop around the woodsy path. The 'hood is dominated by yard-care personnel this afternoon; the house at the end of the road still has a For Sale sign in front. According to Zillow the asking price is $2.75 million. Sweat and friction make for unhappy chafing in my "nether regions".

- Friday, September 04, 2009 at 04:38:59 (EDT)

Descent into Chess

From the July 1859 issue of Scientific American [1]:

DESCENT INTO CHESS—"A pernicious excitement to learn and play chess has spread all over the country, and numerous clubs for practicing this game have been formed in cities and villages. Why should we regret this? It may be asked. We answer, chess is a mere amusement of a very inferior character, which robs the mind of valuable time that might be devoted to nobler acquirements, while it affords no benefit whatever to the body. Chess has acquired a high reputation as being a means to discipline the mind, but persons engaged in sedentary occupations should never practice this cheerless game; they require out-door exercises—not this sort of mental gladiatorship."

(quoted by Ralph Kaminsky in the August 2009 issue of Chess Life; cf. CaissicMetaphors (2000-01-08), ChessChow (2001-09-26), Chess Is an Ocean (2008-10-29), ...)

- Thursday, September 03, 2009 at 04:39:45 (EDT)

2009-08-25 - Two Fast Loops

~3 miles @ ~ 9 min/mi

"On your left!" I pant as I sprint by the strolling woman. Time is tight this afternoon, so at 2:30pm I'm out in the warmth to do a couple of quick circuits around the hilly path. Two measured miles are 9:09 and 7:34, that latter one about as fast as I can make it over the hills and in the humidity.

- Wednesday, September 02, 2009 at 04:39:35 (EDT)

Mediocre Multitaskers

Half a decade ago I noted here a New York Times report on the myth of multitasking. The topic resurfaced on 30 August in Ruth Pennebaker's "The Mediocre Multitasker":

Last week, researchers at Stanford University published a study showing that the most persistent multitaskers perform badly in a variety of tasks. They don't focus as well as non-multitaskers. They're more distractible. They're weaker at shifting from one task to another and at organizing information. They are, as a matter of fact, worse at multitasking than people who don't ordinarily multitask.

After a bit of cheerfully humorous gloating Pennebaker shares comments from the authors:

"Multitaskers were just lousy at everything," said Clifford I. Nass, a professor of communication at Stanford and one of the study's investigators. "It was a complete and total shock to me."

Initially suspecting that multitaskers possessed some rare and enviable qualities that helped them process simultaneous channels of information, Professor Nass had been "in awe of them," he said, acknowledging that he himself is "dreadful" at multitasking. "I was sure they had some secret ability. But it turns out that high multitaskers are suckers for irrelevancy."


Eyal Ophir, the study's lead investigator and a researcher at Stanford's Communication Between Humans and Interactive Media Lab, said: "We kept looking for multitaskers' advantages in this study. But we kept finding only disadvantages. We thought multitaskers were very much in control of information. It turns out, they were just getting it all confused."

The abstract of the article itself is at [1]. Comrade Paul Heller points out The Myth of Multitasking in The New Atlantis (Christine Rosen, Spring 2008) which begins with the insightful:

In one of the many letters he wrote to his son in the 1740s, Lord Chesterfield offered the following advice: "There is time enough for everything in the course of the day, if you do but one thing at once, but there is not time enough in the year, if you will do two things at a time." To Chesterfield, singular focus was not merely a practical way to structure one's time; it was a mark of intelligence. "This steady and undissipated attention to one object, is a sure mark of a superior genius; as hurry, bustle, and agitation, are the never-failing symptoms of a weak and frivolous mind."

- Tuesday, September 01, 2009 at 05:15:05 (EDT)

2009-08-23 - Matthew Henson Trail

7+ miles @ ~ 10.7 min/mi

Ken Swab is standing by his sporty new Mazda Miata convertible when I arrive at Dewey Park about 0735. I admire it and tease him about it. Then we head north from Rock Creek Trail milepost 8 to 9, swoop back to the junction with the Matthew Henson Trail, and trot along it following Turkey Branch upstream. Ken turns back at milepost 11 on the MHT but I insist on doing the extra ~0.05 mile to touch my toe to the asphalt of Georgia Avenue. I have to race back to catch up with Ken, a sprint that gives me a 9:22 mile in the midst of our seven. Back at the start Ken insists on an extra mile. We continue southward to the faded half-mile line painted on the pavement, then return. Craig Roodenburg beeps at us as he pulls into Dewey Park to commence his run. I lend Ken $5 to buy bagels as we both head for Goldberg's on our way home.

- Monday, August 31, 2009 at 04:45:48 (EDT)

Angry Clouds

http://zhurnaly.com/images/Angry_Clouds.jpgDuring my walk home from the Metro on 9 June 2009 at 5pm I glanced up to see the sky staring back at me. It was an afternoon of severe thunderstorms, large hail, downed trees, power outages, and tornado warnings.

But what it really looked like was a line from the The Rigveda—a glimpse of "... that loftiest place where Visnu is, laid as it were an eye in heaven ..." (1.22.20)

(cellphone photo by ^z)

- Sunday, August 30, 2009 at 10:39:17 (EDT)

2009-08-22 - Two Bees, or Not Two Bees

~13 miles @ ~12 min/mi

"Ow!" Caren Jew and I both exclaim, if not in precisely that language, as we suddenly realize that we've just run through a swarm of yellow jackets and are being attacked. Luckily both of us get stung; otherwise the person who escaped would suffer most grievously, as the victim would be able to rant interminably about pain and suffering and the unfairness of life. As it is, after we get away from the scene of the crime Caren and I brush hornets off and check each other. She has half a dozen on the back of her shirt and skirt. Comparing injuries it's a dead heat: I have a pink mesa developing on my left calf, and Caren boasts a nasty welt on the back of her right thigh. To ward off anaphylactic shock we each pop an antihistamine from my stash.

It's a warm wet Saturday morning. Overnight thunderstorms plus the Jew Family's new dog "Whisper" preempt our plans to run along the Seneca Creek Greenway Trail. Instead, after an early-morning phone conference we agree to meet in downtown Bethesda. We head eastward, but after the attack in the middle of the Columbia Country Club segment of the course we continue to Jones Mill Rd, then return via Jones Bridge Rd for safety and variety.

Caren pays me a lovely compliment during the final fraction of a mile we run together down Woodmont Dr. We're talking about how frustrating life is sometimes, and she says that occasionally she thinks of my mindfulness philosophizing and tries to practice non-attachment. I'm flattered and thank her but point out how much more I have to work on that myself, especially in three crucial areas. I symbolize with my hands, holding them in front of me and opening them in a letting-go gesture. Sometimes it seems to help me.

Caren and I part ways at her car. I get a drink at the water fountain, then push the pace slightly for the final four miles home. Three deer, one of them speckled-young, eye me from the field by the CCT near Brookeville Rd. My overall average pace is ~11 min/mi on the CCT to Bethesda, ~14 min/mi for the 5+ miles loop with Caren, and ~10 min/mi trotting back.

- Saturday, August 29, 2009 at 08:19:02 (EDT)

NVE Award

In the August 2009 issue of Chess Life former US Chess Federation executive director Al Lawrence describes:

... the NVE, a fictional concotion of my own: the No Visible Ego medal. Egos can be a healthy, driving force, of course. But egos are the norm. The volunteers who work hundreds of hours without demanding a high profile, and who are always willing to make reasonable compromises to get things done, are rare. ...

(cf. NoGlory (2000-01-11), DarkGlory (2001-03-23), ...)

- Friday, August 28, 2009 at 04:45:56 (EDT)

2009-08-21 - Ten, Nine, Eight, ...

~4 miles @ ~9 min/mi

A big groundhog humps its way into the brush away from the paved path that I'm following. Three deer peer at me from the edge of the woods. Two are dappled, and one (Mom?) is solid colored but not much larger. A soggy squirrel scampers across the trail. I'm on the hilly loop near the office. Meetings keep me cooped up until almost 2:30pm when I get a chance to look out of a window and see a thunderstorm dumping heavy rains on the area. Wooot! I make my excuses, quick-change into running clothes, and dash outside in time to get drenched on the way to the measured mile.

Alas, a few minutes later the rain stops. At least it knocks the temperatures down a dozen degrees or so. Rivulets stream across the pavement and I dodge small puddles as I take the first round slow, aiming to accelerate from 10 to 9 to 8 min/mi pace. The sun comes out during my final loop. Times by my watch: 9:37, 8:46, and 7:36, with slower jogs before, between, and after.

- Thursday, August 27, 2009 at 04:46:12 (EDT)

Rural Life

Verlyn Klinkenborg's collection of mini-essays, The Rural Life, is like a bucket of rocks, among which are a few diamonds and rubies and sapphires. But the rocks that aren't gems are also precious. Klinkenborg has an eagle's eye for detail and a micrometer's accuracy in description. For example, when he touches upon one of my favorite personal obsessions, the visible cosmos, he brings it into sharp focus. He's lying "... in a Wyoming hay field looking up at the sky on a warm September night ..." and observes:

In the cottonwood draw where Little Goose Creek flows, deer cough from time to time and a great horned owl screeches punctually. A cricket in the hay stubble emits a pure, intermittent, staccato whine that could as well be the sound of some pulsar deep in the recesses of the universe. The horses that live in this field keep their distance, but I can feel their presence, a weight and a wariness nearly as palpable as the breeze that stirs the grasses. It's almost time for Saturn to rise, a bright spot (scarcely eight hundred million miles away) climbing into the sky just below M31, whose light tonight is as ancient as the oldest stone tools ever found on Earth. On a night this clear, near and far, past and future, seem almost to merge, bisected only by the observer."

- Wednesday, August 26, 2009 at 04:37:54 (EDT)

2009-08-19 - Parking Lot Periphery

~3 miles @ ~9 min/mi

Afternoon thunderstorms loom but don't materialize locally. At 2:30pm I venture out into the warm afternoon and survive the humidity to do two 1.5 mile laps around the office parking lot, the first in just under 15 min, the second pushing hard at just under 12 minutes. Then back to the locker room to strip, towel off, dress, head for home. Two women ride the elevator with me, also leaving the gym. One says "You're still sweating like we are!"

"Yes," I reply, "for hours to come, I'm afraid!"

- Tuesday, August 25, 2009 at 08:03:33 (EDT)


Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse is a riddle of a book, more like a philosophy lecture than a novel. Perhaps I expected better of it. Perhaps I've been reading too much Buddhist literature, some of which may be derivative. Perhaps it's about the difference(s) between Zen and more-orthodox Buddhism. Perhaps the translation I found, by Hilda Rosner, turned Hesse's poetry into a pedestrian parable. Perhaps I'm just not ready for it yet.

But for whatever reason(s), Siddhartha didn't make me prick my ears until near its end, when the title character tells his friend:

"... Knowledge can be communicated, not wisdom. One can find it, live it, be fortified by it, do wonders through it, but one cannot communicate it and teach it. I suspected this when I was still a youth and it was this that drove me away from teachers. There is one thought I have had, Govinda, which you will again think is a jest or folly: that is, in every truth the opposite is equally true. For example, a truth can only be expressed and enveloped in words if it is one-sided. Everything that is thought and expressed in words is one-sided, only half the truth; it all lacks totality, completeness, unity. When the Illustrious Buddha taught about the world, he had to divide it into Samsara and Nirvana, into illusion and truth, into suffering and salvation. One cannot do otherwise, there is no other method for those who teach. But the world itself, being in and around us, is never one-sided. Never is a man or a deed wholly Samsara or wholly Nirvana; never is a man wholly a saint or a sinner. This only seems so because we suffer the illusion that time is something real. Time is not real, Govinda. I have realized this repeatedly. And if time is not real, then the dividing line that seems to lie between this world and eternity, between suffering and bliss, between good and evil, is also an illusion."

... and a couple of pages later, when the protagonist continues:

"This," he said, handling it, "is a stone, and within a certain length of time it will perhaps be soil and from the soil it will become plant, animal or man. Previously I should have said: This stone is just a stone; it has no value, it belongs to the world of Maya, but perhaps because within the cycle of change it can also become man and spirit, it is also of importance. That is what I should have thought. But now I think: This stone is stone; it is also animal, God and Buddha. I do not respect and love it because it was one thing and will become something else, but because it has already long been everything and always is everything. I love it just because it is a stone, because today and now it appears to me a stone. I see value and meaning in each one of its fine markings and cavities, in the yellow, in the gray, in the hardness and the sound of it when I knock it, in the dryness or dampness of its surface. There are stones that feel like oil or soap, that look like leaves or sand, and each one is different and worships Om in its own way; each one is Brahman. At the same time it is very much stone, oily or soapy, and that is just what pleases me and seems wonderful and worthy of worship. But I will say no more about it. Words do not express thoughts very well. They always become a little different immediately they are expressed, a little distorted, a little foolish. And yet it also pleases me and seems right that what is of value and wisdom to one man seems nonsense to another."

That's poetic, and important.

(cf. My Religion (2000-11-06), UnsystematicTheology (2002-03-15), Most Important (2002-05-16), 2008-03-23 - Sunrise Service at Seneca Creek, ... )

- Monday, August 24, 2009 at 04:37:40 (EDT)

2009-08-16 - Kabrena Rodda

9+ miles @ ~11.6 min/mi

Stretching is sometimes scary to witness, especially if your body is as creaky as mine. I arrive at Fletchers Boathouse about 0630 and Dr. Col. Kabrena Rodda is already there, loosening up pre-run by twisting and flexing like a pretzel in dimensions that make me flinch. (I resolve to practice yoga!) As happened last summer, Kabrena is in the area for meetings—this is our chance to visit and chat. We take the Capital Crescent Trail uphill to Bethesda, encountering herds of runners in training for fall marathons. A pair of deer stroll across the path in front of us; sunbeams pierce the mist between the trees during our return trip. Kabrena is acclimated to hot-and-humid San Antonio weather, so this morning is relatively cool and dry for her. Ken Swab & CM Manlandro & CM's friend Sarah meet us twice as they run the opposite out-and-back.

(cf. 2008-06-07 - Kabrena Comes to Town, ...)

- Sunday, August 23, 2009 at 13:01:16 (EDT)

Dorothy Zimmermann, R.I.P.

Dorothy Zimmermann was my stepmother. At her funeral/memorial service two weeks ago her son Pat Casey delivered a lovely eulogy that expresses how everyone who knew Dorothy will remember her:

Thanks to all who came today, to honor our mother and friend, Dorothy.

Thanks for the opportunity to say a few words. And thanks to all who traveled long distances to be here.

For those who don't know me, my name is Patrick, and I am Dorothy's oldest child, the first of four. Following my birth in 1949, came Michael, Corinne, and then Shawn. Corrine is here today; Mike and Shawn have been delayed in travel, and are on the way.

I usually think of our mother as one who had a tough life. Her parents divorced when she was just 8 years old; she was raised by her working mother in poor circumstances during the Depression and WWII years. At age 16, Dorothy married our father, Edward, and thus began a 20-year marriage characterized by great difficulties.

But, in 1968, after the ending of that unhappy marriage, Dorothy's life took a happier turn. She met and married, in 1969, the greatest man I know, Werner Zimmermann.

The two of them seem to have been made for each other. The were a great team. They became partners in life, and partners in business.

Werner loved our mother, totally, unreservedly, not least during the last two years of Dorothy's life, when her health began to deteriorate more rapidly. They were the best things that ever happened to each other.

They were, and are, people of true grit. They had good times and bad times. Usually the good times and bad times were all happening at the same time. Such as when their business burned to the ground in 1971 while Werner was in the hospital having abdominal surgery. No matter what happened to them, they just picked up the pieces and kept working.

I think of myself as a hard worker, but Werner and Mom make me look like a slacker.

I wasn't always nice to mom. Especially when I was much younger thought I knew everything. She wasn't one to pass judgement, though. She always allowed me to have my opinions, no matter how harebrained they might be. Mom wasn't well-educated in the arts and sciences, but she had a wisdom of thought and a grace of behavior that many who hold doctorates would be lucky to possess.

The thing, though, that I most admire about Mom, is her tenacity in living. Those of us who know the physical and emotional trials that she endured, know that those trials would have killed most humans. She loved life to the uttermost. She valued every breath. At her core was an optimism that would not admit defeat.

Those few of us who watched that life finally escape her body, know that she fought to the end. Mom was not a quitter.

I am one who, seeing her suffering, would say, oh, I would have given up. When she chose to suffer one more surgery, I thought, it seems irrational.

Seeing Werner by her bedside for weeks at a time, refusing to eat or sleep, refusing to leave her, holding her hand, seeing to the details of her care, keeping the doctors on their feet, I learned lessons.

Life is too valuable to give it up easily. It comes from our Creator, and is a gift that we must never take for granted, or cast away because it gets too hard to endure.

So, thanks, Mom. Thanks for teaching us about life.

We miss you.

(cf. 2009-08-09 - Dorothy Zimmermann, ...)

- Friday, August 21, 2009 at 21:26:28 (EDT)

2009-08-15 - The Bridges of Sligo Creek Trail plus Comus Run

16+ miles @ ~ 10.2 min/mi

Starting at 5:35am it's cool in contrast to later today. CM Manlandro and I follow Forest Glen Rd past Georgia Av and Holy Cross Hospital to the trail and head downstream. A rabbit hops away from us as we approach the dark underpass below the Beltway. We lose count after the fourth or fifth bridge over Sligo Creek, but I remember enough of The Bridges of Madison County to tell CM about the novel. Fog floats over the meadow beneath the high-tension power lines as we enter Prince George's County and the sun rises.

At Riggs Rd we turn toward town and trot along sidewalks as the street changes into Missouri Rd and then Military Rd. We pass bus stops where commuters wait quietly. Before we start, CM asks me whether she should wear her glasses. "No," I tell her, "that way you won't be afraid in the tougher neighborhoods!" She wears them, and it's not that bad; the boarded-up houses and broken windows aren't scary early on a Saturday morning.

At Rock Creek Park familiar Beach Dr takes us back to Maryland. CM's GPS shows steady pacing, 9:50-10:10 min/mi, but she pauses her watch when we stop to cross major streets and at the water fountain. My watch never stops, I tell her. After mile 16, at the eastern end of the Capital Crescent Trail, we walk/jog the final 0.9 miles home.

3+ miles @ ~13 min/mi

Grasshoppers and other small insects leap out of the hayfield when I take my first steps out of the car. The MCRRC Comus cross-country run is always fun, not least because of the free ice cream afterwards. Caren Jew, back from family vacation, meets me at the parking lot off I-270 and gives me a ride out to the upper-country farm where the race occurs. We visit with runner friends and line up at the back of the small pack at 5:30pm on a warm and humid afternoon, then set off jogging and walking the hills. It's a pleasant day for a run, and we enjoy the chance to chat and catch up on news. Caren is planning to do the Annapolis 10 miler and the Groundhog 50k in the next few weeks, as she comes back from ankle injury. We resolve to do some training runs together, and back at my car she watches carefully to see that I don't leave my wallet, cellphone, etc. on top of the vehicle as I drive away, as I did last time.

- Thursday, August 20, 2009 at 05:08:42 (EDT)

Ptwo Pnew Pwords

Weird-looking words—I love 'em! Thanks to the American Physical Society a fresh one crossed my screen recently: pnictide. A pnictide is a Group 15 element, in the Periodic Table column that includes nitrogen, phosphorus, arsenic, antimony, and bismuth; it's from the Greek for "choking". Certain pnictides form a new class of high-temperature superconductor.

And quite by chance a couple of days ago a friend I was running with told me about the psoas muscle, pronounced something like "so as". It's part of the hip flexors, and psoas problems may be connected to piriformis syndrome, a sciatic nerve disorder. Interesting stretches can help loosen the psoas.

So pnow I have a pair of pnew leading-silent-p pwords, to go along with pneumonia, pseudonym, psycho, pterodactyl, and Psmith, the pfictional pcharacter by P. G. Wodehouse pwhom I pneed to pread pmore of ...

(cf. FascinatingWords (2001-12-02), ...)

- Wednesday, August 19, 2009 at 04:50:35 (EDT)

2009-08-12 - Fast Trek with CM

~8 miles @ ~11 min/mi

Yesterday afternoon's planned run didn't work out for CM Manlandro—she had to stay late at the lab—but today looks good, and about 6pm she arrives at my home. The jog to Rock Creek Trail milepost 3, maybe 2+ miles, takes 20:33 and then we fire up the engines. CM's assignment from her Experienced Marathoner Program coach is to do 4 miles at about 9 min/mi, but knowing her competitive nature I figure we'll go faster, and we do. The miles, to RCT marker #5 and back, flow by at an accelerating pace: 8:57, 8:49, 8:46, and 8:44. We take a ~2 minute recovery walk at the turnaround, which I taunt CM about mercilessly. Our jog-walk back home is ~29 minutes. The evening is warm and humid, and my clothes are sweat-soaked before the halfway point. I lose 2 lbs. in spite of drinking more than 20 oz. of water along the way.

- Tuesday, August 18, 2009 at 04:41:27 (EDT)

Dew Point vs. Relative Humidity

Simple formulas are fun and powerful things. My rule-of-thumb for handicapping runners based on age, sex, and weight is helpful in comparing people with one another. Likewise my empirical relationship between speed and distance, and my equation for how much poor pacing hurts during a race. I'm still looking for a good way to estimate the winning chances for each team in the middle of a baseball game.

My latest challenge: find a simple relationship between Dew Point and Relative Humidity. There are complex equations, but much better would be something that one could do in one's head while jogging along. Dew point is the more important parameter—it changes less throughout the day, and a high dew point is strongly correlated with uncomfortable conditions for exercising. Relative humidity is most often what's reported on the TV/radio.

At 100% relative humidity the dew point equals the current temperature. As the percent humidity falls, so does the dew point. Over a wide range of conditions, the difference between the temperature and the dew point (in °F) is 2 to 5 times the difference between the relative humidity and 100%. As an equation I propose:

Temperature - Dew Point = (100% - Relative Humidity) / 2.5

It's far from perfect, but it's simple and it's a start. For temperatures between 40°F and 100°F and relative humidity above 50% it gives the right answer to within 3°F. But the errors get rather bad at lower or higher temperatures and at low humidity levels. Can this formula be improved without making it too much more complicated?

- Monday, August 17, 2009 at 04:39:02 (EDT)

2009-08-10 - Beep, Beep, Beep, ...

~7 miles @ ~11 min/mi

A meteor, maybe an early Perseid, streaks overhead. A pair of dog-like shapes move off the track and watch me from the infield for the first few laps. A frog hops away from Lane 1, following track etiquette and giving me the right-of-way. Bats flitter into and out of formation, snagging gnats as the sky brightens.

I set off from my Mother's front door about 5:30am and follow the usual route to LBJ High School's track, where I do a "ladder" of 1-2-3-4-3-2-1 laps. I've never tried a heart-rate monitor before, but my brother Keith lends me his. Data suggest that I'm going a bit fast for my age:

939 calories burned, 25% fat — estimated "training zone" 107-139 beats/minute — below zone 1:10, in zone 27:39, above zone 48:30 — average pulse 143 (87%), maximum 170 (104%).

The individual laps look like:

laps split avg end recovery avg end

Yesterday's early-morning run may have slowed me today; I push hard on the last few laps to get them under 2 minutes.

- Sunday, August 16, 2009 at 04:23:58 (EDT)

Lost in Translation

When I stumbled across it this morning I had to smile at the following paragraph, one of the most literal translations I've seen. (Was it done by machine?) It's from a page titled "Sports bras - plus size swimwear and bra for womens and mens":

Tight fitting bra, like tights, consequently dries easily and does not impregnated your body to be sweat. So do not give your body overheat. In early use, you can feel the density of bra, but this is only the beginning, then you quickly get used to this and did not want him to withdraw. Sport bra works very well with the rhythm of the heart that allows you to monitor the strap, thus will give you excellent feel on a hot day or the sweaty workout. Also, thanks to the material, which may or stretch bra, it will always fit closely and conform to your figure, regardless of the duration of use, of your actions and especially of your clothes. In general all this can be argued that Sport bra is long-term and ideal approach for long and dense training.

... which somehow reminds me of the instruction-manual excerpt mentioned by Robert Pirsig's philosophy-novel Zen in the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: "Assembly of Japanese bicycle require great peace of mind".

(original at [1]; cf. MotorcycleMaintenance (2003-06-06), BrainyJogbra (2004-05-07), ...)

- Saturday, August 15, 2009 at 05:08:19 (EDT)

2009-08-09 - Dorothy Zimmermann

9+ miles @ ~10 min/mi

5am: a gibbous moon floats high. Fields on each side of the one-lane road are painted in shades of gray. Venus flares huge to the eye, Orion on her left hand. Jupiter sets. Thin clouds crawl up from the south, their fingers stretching across the sky.

I'm in east-central Texas for my Stepmother Dorothy's funeral. Yesterday afternoon my brother Keith drives my Father and me from the family farm to the church where we drop off the obituary info for the pastor. We see the house where Dad was born, the two-room schoolhouse that he attended. On Sunday morning I'm up early to run along the same narrow lanes. It's a little scary, out here by myself; I imagine how much spookier it would feel to run alone here if not a white male. It's warm and humid, temperatures rising from the upper 70's to a high of 100+.

At 4:50am I begin in my Father's front yard. The gravel driveway takes me to Farm-to-Market 609, a two-lane highway, speed limit 70 mph. As headlights approach I move off the shoulder and wade through the grass to stand still by a fencepost, hoping to escape notice in my black shirt, face turned away. It works: the truck blasts past and I return to the road, burrs sticking to my socks and shoelaces. Side streets here are named after local families. I pass Zimmermann Lane, a dead end, and turn a quarter mile later onto Peeler Rd.

As I trot between fields the line "Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough" comes to mind, from the Gerard Manley Hopkins poem "Pied Beauty". In the dim I can't make out the big rolls of hay or the herds of cattle that were so apparent yesterday. My moonshadow chases me. A distant rooster crows prematurely. Dogs bark when I pass near a farmhouse. Otherwise, silence.

At the next corner I try in vain to make out the street sign. Eric Clifton's anecdote about peering at trail markings by the light of his watch suggests a solution: I open my cellphone and in its glow see Thuemler Rd branching to the left. Not time to turn yet. Ten minutes later at the end of Peeler Rd I must choose left or right on Knape Rd. I go left, a mistake—but it turns out ok. My plan is to jog to the church, but I only carry one bottle of water and resolve to turn back when it's half finished.

At 5:30 Orion is mostly obscured by clouds. At the crest of a hill I see another highway a mile ahead, headlights racing past. My country lane remains traffic-free. A small pink-edged halo rings the moon. A whiff of skunk tickles my nose as the road descends to cross over a dry creek. Climbing up I begin to see the lights of La Grange and Schulenburg in the distance, between twinkling beacons of TV/radio towers. At 5:41am I reach US Hwy 77, tag the stop sign at the end of Knape Rd, and turn back.

A few minutes later I hear a noise from the field to the right. It sounds precisely like rain. I stop and peer. In the moonlight I spy a herd of cows, sides brushing against the tall grass as they stroll toward the barbed-wire fence, curious as to who could possibly be coming by at this strange hour, water bottle sloshing.

I think about Dorothy now, and how she looked in the coffin at the funeral home yesterday, and how I can still hear her voice, friendly and inviting and joking and loving. Then the clouds begin to thicken and cover the moon, and it seems to me that Dorothy is like the moon, waxing and then waning. As are we all. And just before the moon goes away completely, the horizon starts to glow with the light of a new day.

Dorothy Zimmermann
1931 - 2009

- Friday, August 14, 2009 at 04:50:13 (EDT)

We Are the Pot

In "Meditation Reveals and Heals" (Chapter Six, "The Almond Tree in Your Front Yard") of The Miracle of Mindfulness, Thich Nhat Hanh offers a brief tutorial on meditation, concluding with a cute cooking metaphor:

Sitting in mindfulness, both our bodies and minds can be at peace and totally relaxed. But this state of peace and relaxation differs fundamentally from the lazy, semi-conscious state of mind that one gets while resting and dozing. Sitting in such lazy semi-consciousness, far from being mindfulness, is like sitting in a dark cave. In mindfulness one is not only restful and happy, but alert and awake. Meditation is not evasion; it is a serene encounter with reality. The person who practices mindfulness should be no less awake than the driver of a car; if the practitioner isn't awake he will be possessed by dispersion and forgetfulness, just as the drowsy driver is likely to cause a grave accident. Be as awake as a person walking on high stilts—any mis-step could cause the walker to fall. Be like a medieval knight walking weaponless in a forest of swords. Be like a lion, going forward with slow, gentle, and firm steps. Only with this kind of vigilance can you realize total awakening.

For beginners, I recommend the method of pure recognition: recognition without judgment. Feelings, whether of compassion or irritation, should be welcomed, recognized, and treated on a absolutely equal basis; because both are ourselves. The tangerine I am eating is me. The mustard greens I am planting are me. I plant with all my heart and mind. I clean this teapot with the kind of attention I would have were I giving the baby Buddha or Jesus a bath. Nothing should be treated more carefully than anything else. In mindfulness, compassion, irritation, mustard green plant, and teapot are all sacred.

When possessed by a sadness, an anxiety, a hatred, or a passion or whatever, the method of pure observation and recognition may seem difficult to practice. If so, turn to meditation on a fixed object, using your own state of mind as meditation's subject. Such meditation reveals and heals. The sadness or anxiety, hatred or passion, under the gaze of concentration and meditation reveals its own nature—a revelation that leads naturally to healing and emancipation. The sadness (or whatever has caused the pain) can be used as a means of liberation from torment and suffering, like using a thorn to remove a thorn. We should treat our anxiety, our pain, our hatred and passion gently, respectfully, not resisting it, but living with it, making peace with it, penetrating into its nature by meditation on interdependence. One quickly learns how to select subjects of meditation that fit the situation. Subjects of meditation—like interdependence, compassion, self, emptiness, non-attachment—all these belong to the categories of meditation which have the power to reveal and to heal.

Meditation on these subjects, however, can only be successful if we have built up a certain power of concentration, a power achieved by the practice of mindfulness in everyday life, in the observation and recognition of all that is going on. But the objects of meditation must be realities that have real roots in yourselves—not just subjects of philosophical speculation. Each should be like a kind of food that must be cooked for a long time over a hot fire. We put it in a pot, cover it, and light the fire. The pot is ourselves and the heat used to cook is the power of concentration. The fuel comes from the continuous practice of mindfulness. Without enough heat the food will never be cooked. But once cooked, the food reveals its true nature and helps lead us to liberation.

(translated by Mobi Ho; cf. "The Miracle of Being Awake" [1] for an earlier version of this and other materials by Thich Nhat Hanh; see also LaughingAtOneself (2002-01-14), EatTheOrange (2004-11-28), Present-Moment Reality (2008-11-05), ...)

- Thursday, August 13, 2009 at 04:53:03 (EDT)

Plastic Knife

In the cafeteria at lunch last week a friend, telling me a tragic story, is overcome with emotion. Her eyes fill with water. I push a clean paper napkin across the table toward her. As she pats her eyes I quietly slip the plastic knife away from her and then say, "As she pats her eyes, he quietly slips the plastic knife away from her." We laugh together.

(cf. PrometheaAndMetafiction (2004-04-26), ...)

- Wednesday, August 12, 2009 at 04:56:06 (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.)