Howdy, pilgrim! No ads — you're in volume 0.88 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 = 0.87 ... 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 ...
My good friend Bob Williams and I disagree about most political issues. Or, to be more precise, we agree about the fundamental Good Things — peace, freedom, justice, etc. — but often differ on how best to achieve them. Shortly before the November 2010 election Bob was inspired to draw this image. It clearly applies in a much wider context!
(cf. Bob Williams Sketch - Frozen Beard, Bob Williams Sketch - Runner Protection, ...)
- Sunday, February 27, 2011 at 06:47:09 (EST)
Like an unshaven street-corner preacher, garments awry, teetering on a soapbox as he shouts out a sermon: A Guide to the Good Life: the Ancient Art of Stoic Joy by William B. Irvine is an oddity, clunky yet clearly well-intentioned. This is a book that one would truly like to like, devoted to a crucial subject: how to live. Yet it's by turns pedestrian and personal, full of shaky logic, ill-turned phrases, and self-indulgent flattery. Quotes from the Stoics of ancient Greece and Rome are presented as gospel truths, without critical analysis of coherence or applicability to modern life. The author, a professor of philosophy, complains that his field is virtually ignored today — but then he claims that those who practice Stoicism must expect to be mocked and harassed, viewed somehow as a threat by the unenlightened. Hmmmm.
Like a elderly aunt who repeats herself while making a good argument: the poorly-named concept "negative visualization", for instance, is mentioned literally dozens of times. It's "the single most valuable technique in the Stoics' psychological toolkit" and consists of "... imagining that we have lost the things we value—that our wife has left us, our car was stolen, or we lost our job." This helps Stoic practitioners appreciate more what they have, and be better prepared for its loss. But elsewhere it's said that Stoics should scorn ephemeral, material things, and focus only what can't be lost, namely their own virtue. Succeeding at that would, it seems, make such "negative visualization" irrelevant. Hmmmmm.
Like a young political idealist, intent on theoretical arguments and unable to see the other side of a complex issue: a lengthy discussion in Chapter 5 of "the Dichotomy of Control" argues that Stoics should concentrate their energies on things within their sphere of command. The author declares that "we have complete control over the goals we set for ourselves" and likewise total mastery of our values. True? Some might argue that social norms, evolutionary forces, and random bits of brain chemistry often intrude on this happy state of free will, and at times disrupt it entirely. His non sequitor conclusion is, however, a pleasant enough one: set internal goals such as doing one's best, preserving mental tranquility, performing one's duties to society, enjoying but not becoming attached to wealth, etc. And later Irvine confesses that negative visualization is "really little more than a psychological trick" and that the internalization of goals that he recommends is nowhere to be found in the writings of classical Stoics whom he cites as his authorities. Hmmmmmm.
Like a new convert to a competing religion: Irvine frequently cites Buddhism as an attractive philosophy of life with many parallels to his beloved Stoicism. His reasons for dismissing Buddhism, however, are unconvincing as well as inconsistent or factually incorrect. He thinks that Buddhism would require him to turn off his self-described "relentlessly analytical" personality. He fears that Buddhist meditation would be "both time-consuming and (in some of its forms) physically and mentally challenging", requiring a person to spend hours sitting "with his mind as empty as he can make it." Yet Irvine advocates a Stoic acceptance of voluntary discomfort (esp. in Chapter 7, "Self-Denial"). Hmmmmmmm.
One more example of important but poorly-written advice, Chapter 8 suggests a self-improvement ritual that the author recommends performing at bedtime every night:
Besides reflecting on the day's events, we can devote part of our meditations to going through a kind of mental checklist. Are we practicing the psychological techniques recommended by the Stoics? Do we, for example, periodically engage in negative visualization? Do we take time to distinguish between those things over which we have complete control, those things over which we have no control at all, and those things over which we have some but not complete control? Are we careful to internalize our goals? Have we refrained from dwelling on the past and instead focused our attention on the future? Have we consciously practiced acts of self-denial? ...
Like a well-intentioned puppy, clumsy yet eager to please: A Guide to the Good Life could have been so much better a book, were it shorter, more consistent, and less authoritarian in tone. And more joyful prose itself would have helped too. Hmmmmmmmm.
- Saturday, February 26, 2011 at 07:40:55 (EST)
Recently posted on TED is an entertaining 10-minute talk by Australian Nigel Marsh, "How to Make Work-Life Balance Work". He postulates four key points:
Now my point is the small things matter. Being more balanced doesn't mean dramatic upheaval in your life. With the smallest investment in the right places, you can radically transform the quality of your relationships and the quality of your life. Moreover, I think, it can transform society. Because if enough people do it, we can change society's definition of success away from the moronically simplistic notion that the person with the most money when he dies wins, to a more thoughtful and balanced definition of what a life well-lived looks like.
- Friday, February 25, 2011 at 05:15:36 (EST)
|It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!|
(from "I, candidate for governor: and how I got licked", cited in Chap. 12 of Dan Ariely's Predictably Irrational)
- Thursday, February 24, 2011 at 04:34:16 (EST)
A lovingly-written article in honor of a clearly wonderful person appears in the February 2011 issue of Physics Today. It's by Robert N. Compton and James E. Parks and begins, "George Samuel Hurst, a world-acclaimed scientist, inventor, and entrepreneur, passed away in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, on 4 July 2010 from a brain aneurysm." and goes on to discuss Hurst's life and accomplishments. The last paragraph is particularly moving:
Sam had a generous spirit and gave freely of his time, encouragement, and ideas. His personality, much admired by his colleagues and friends, was best summed up by his friend Fletcher Gabbard: "Sam Hurst is a gentle man with a quiet and efficient manner. He is an irrepressible optimist and a delightful companion. Quiet and unassuming in his relationships, Sam brings out the best in fellow workers through congenial and encouraging direction. His criticism is gentle, his sense of direction is strong, and his praise filled with good will."
- Wednesday, February 23, 2011 at 04:35:33 (EST)
The Dan Ariely Lecture that I attended some months ago had a lot of overlap with the contents of Predictably Irrational, Prof. Ariely's 2008 book subtitled "The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions". The published version has more detail, however, and covers a wider range of human foibles. It's also extraordinarily well-written, fast, and fun. The tone is chatty and personal-anecdotal, but with lots of statistically tested data and quantitative analysis.
In brief, Predictably Irrational is about why people make the choices they do. We clearly have not evolved into utility-maximizing machines, at least not for any logical definition of "utility". As Ariely observes in chapter 2:
Socrates said that the unexamined life is not worth living. Perhaps it's time to inventory the imprints and anchors in our own life. Even if they once were completely reasonable, are they still reasonable? Once the old choices are reconsidered, we can open ourselves to new decisions—and the new opportunities of a new day. That seems to make sense.
Ariely's thoughtful, self-critical tone is reminiscent of Ken Knisley's in No Dogs or Philosophers Allowed. Some other memorable tidbits from Predictably Irrational:
Bottom line: just as we've learned about optical illusions (and similar perceptual breakdowns) and, once educated, are wary and can avoid being fooled, we should know about the bugs that have evolved in naïve human decisionmaking mechanisms. Then we can avoid being manipulated by marketers, hornswoggled by politicians, and the like. Predictably Irrational does a fine job of highlighting many such flaws in human choice.
- Tuesday, February 22, 2011 at 04:24:45 (EST)
"I have a web page devoted to that!" — my response to almost anything anybody says, or so it seems at times. After more than a decade of throwing kitchen sinks of thoughts into this journal, it feels rather like John Galt's infamously long speech in Atlas Shrugged. If I've pondered something and written up the results, why bother to think it through again? Just cite the relevant ^zhurnaly page!
Hmmm ... maybe rethinking is better once in a while?
(cf. It Usually Begins with Ayn Rand (2003-09-29), ...)
- Monday, February 21, 2011 at 06:05:06 (EST)
Recently at work I was writing up instructions for doing a tricky task (the assembly of complex class notebooks for student-managers). From Chapter One of Robert Pirsig's Zen in the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance I quoted the advice: "Assembly of Japanese bicycle require great peace of mind." Not the commonest allusion in an internal government memorandum! But it fit, and in doing a quick search to confirm that I had it right I ran across Passion for Learning, a blog entry last year by Michael Hopkinson which observes:
You know the voices you hear in your head, sometimes doubting, sometimes encouraging but rarely shutting up. They can get in the way of pure enjoyment of life. They can also get in the way of pure control of a machine like an Airplane.
You can take these concepts a bit further reading www.pilotpsy.com which is an excellent resource for taking your airmanship to the next level. This is not beginner "Stick and Rudder" type of stuff so be warned, it's a how-to of a completely different sort.
And at the cited site Dave English in turn begins with the thought:
Ever experienced the blinding brightness of near-perfection in the cockpit? Would you like to learn the hard-won techniques that define elite aviators? Modern psychology and neuroscience research has found that experts are truly different from average performers. The profound differences are not always easy to see, for they are found inside the mind. It is not talent or luck. But it can be learned. It is the Inner Art of Airmanship.
This website will not teach you how to fly. But if you are a pilot maybe it will move you a little closer to touching personal aeronautical excellence. This is a practical guide to peak experience flying, where some proven techniques and esoteric sounding ideas from psychology research and elite sports are translated into concrete cockpit terms. It's all about the perpetual pursuit of piloting perfecton.
Intriguingly alliterative — and perhaps relevant to other areas of life besides flying a plane (e.g., ultrarunning, mindfulness, ...?). I must read, and think, more ...
(cf. MotorcycleMaintenance (2003-06-06)), Theory of Flight (2008-02-26), Lost in Translation (2009-08-15), ...)
- Sunday, February 20, 2011 at 06:58:58 (EST)
Black ice patches make me nervous but I manage to avoid them as I circle the parking lot three times this morning, rough pace 9.2 ⇒ 8.3 ⇒ 7.5 min/mi. The left heel hurts during the first half mile and improves thereafter. But later in the day and especially the next morning it's rather bad — which i interpret as a sign that I should stop running for a few weeks and let it recover. Symptoms match plantar fasciitis, and I still suspect it may have begun in December when I strained that area during a misstep halfway into the 2010-12-11 - Magnus Gluteus Maximus 50k. My plan for the rest of February: peddle on Paulette's stationary bike in the basement while watching trashy movies on DVD!
- Saturday, February 19, 2011 at 05:19:39 (EST)
With no cable system and only rabbit-ear antennas, digital television signals are weak inside our brick home — often so weak that when somebody stands up the picture freezes, breaks into blocky-big pixels, or turns entirely dark. Not a bad way to cut back on time wasted watching TV, eh?! But recently we also discovered that our plight provides a great opportunity for gentle, meditative exercise. When the television image goes awry, to get it back all the people nearby try lifting arms, tilting heads to one side, twisting their bodies, or otherwise making Tai Chi style motions. It really works!
(cf. TaiChiRunning (2002-07-21), ...)
- Friday, February 18, 2011 at 04:40:25 (EST)
Jennifer Weiland Zuckman and I hesitate to run today, given reports of ice along the trails, but the chance of getting some long early mileage is too much to resist. So at 0530 I meet J at her home and we ride together in my car to the Watkins Mill Rd crossing of the Seneca Creek Greenway Trail. On the drive out we chat about the value of optimism to a runner. Our positive mental attitudes are soon to be tested, as it turns out! The trail is icy from the start, but by flashlight we manage to trek along for half a mile before a mass of downed trees force us off course. We blunder downhill and up, discover bramble bushes, and finally manage to get back on the trail. We decide to head back to the car and call it a day. Trotting along smartly, I slip and fall on my side, fortunately without major damage.
Soon after that stumble I discover that we've been going the wrong way on the trail! Backtrack again, and at the fallen trees we're confused again. This time we scramble around the mess, scout uphill and down, and finally decide follow what seems to be the tracks of previous runners. Or maybe it's just a deer path? Eventually we emerge from the woods to find ourselves at the top of a long ridge above Seneca Creek, with Watkins Mill Rd visible to our south. We pick our way downslope, cross a frozen meadow, find a passage over a tributary stream, and rejoin the proper blue-blazed SCGT.
After I get home, via the local bagel bakery, it's not yet 8am so I call Rebecca Rosenberg — she's on her way to run on roads in Seneca Creek State Park, a bit too far away for me to venture again. I check with Karen Donohue but she's busy with family duties. So I drive alone to Candy Cane City a few miles from home with the idea of running with MCRRC buddies on roads along Rock Creek. Alas, the parking lot is completely full. I backtrack, park near Meadowbrook Stables, and set off jogging. It only takes a few dozen steps for my left heel to start hurting seriously, in spite of the brand-new shoes and thick padded socks I'm wearing. Is it plantar fasciitis? My symptoms, dating from the 2010-12-11 - Magnus Gluteus Maximus 50k, tell me it's not my day to run. Back to the car and home once more.
(See the trackfile and for an animated experience click on the "Player" and when it finishes loading choose "Hybrid" map view, then click the "Play" triangle to follow our confused course through the woods.)
- Thursday, February 17, 2011 at 04:31:57 (EST)
Delusions of Gender: how our minds, society, and neurosexism create difference by Cordelia Fine sounds like a book worth reading, particularly if it's as forthright in bashing junk science journalism as rcent reviewers such as Carol Tavris  and Dan Vergano  suggest. They respectively describe it as "... a witty and meticulously researched exposé of the sloppy studies that pass for scientific evidence in so many of today's bestselling books on sex differences ..." that "... turns the popular science book formula on its head." Good news if Fine's analysis is statistically solid, unlike so many nowadays (cf. Medicine and Statistics). It's tempting to get headlines and airtime and other forms of attention by exaggerating dramatic, unconfirmed results, especially on an emotionally-charged subject.
As the Chinese fortune cookie that I saw recently advised:
|Never ignore a gut feeling, but never believe that it's enough.|
Instinct is good, evidence is better.
(cf. ModernPhrenology, CorrelationCausalityAndAstrology, DrawingTheLine, ...)
- Wednesday, February 16, 2011 at 04:43:18 (EST)
The trail through the woods near work is plowed and scraped clean of snow. Amazingly, before 8:15am someone has already gone around the loop sprinkling blue salt mix on patches where yesterday's melting ice refroze overnight. Yay for the groundskeepers! First recon lap shows only a few dangerous places, but also reveals bright orange spray-paint spots on the crusty snow surface — huh? Perhaps they're marking the paths of underground cables? There are also a few green mini-flags in a line, and a couple of pink ribbons tied to tree limbs. Temps in the upper 20s make legs turn red. Pace for marked miles accelerates: 9:26 ⇒ 8:26 ⇒ 7:36 ⇒ 7:08 with sweating brow and racing heart.
- Tuesday, February 15, 2011 at 04:43:02 (EST)
Clunky yet brilliant: Fully Present: The Science, Art, and Practice of Mindfulness attempts to interweave modern neurobiology and classical buddhist meditation. The fabric that results is badly wrinkled. Professor Susan Smalley's "science" discussions are selective in reporting statistically thin research; mindfulness teacher Diana Winston's "art" commentaries drift at times into mysticism. But on other occasions both rise into poetic language and thoughtful insight. Overall the book is strong, with valuable tips for study and personal practice. From Chapter 1, a definition: "Mindfulness is the art of observing your physical, emotional, and mental experiences with deliberate, open, and curious attention." And a promise:
In practicing mindfulness, you are not trying to change who you are, but to become more fully present with your experiences — with your body, thoughts, and feelings and with their impact on your life. In the process, you are likely to get to know yourself better, learn to relax and detach from stress, and find a way to navigate the intense pressures you may face. Through such increased awareness, you may also become more discerning of your thoughts, feelings, and actions, and that awareness will give you greater opportunity to make a positive change if you wish to do so.
More examples to follow.
- Monday, February 14, 2011 at 04:43:10 (EST)
Stephanie is training for her first 10 miler coming up in a couple of months, so we discuss ramping up distance and possible speedwork. We trot on the snow, following the track of an all-terrain-vehicle. A tree has fallen across the path and we clamber through the branches as a workman wields his chain saw on the far side. A vine trips Stephanie but she's not hurt. Along Georgetown Pike the sidewalk is ugly so we reverse course and follow Potomac School Rd to the rich kids' school entrance, then reverse our usual path through the neighborhood and return to 123 to close our loop.
- Sunday, February 13, 2011 at 06:56:03 (EST)
"Mr. Teutonic Efficiency" — yes, sometimes (OK, often!) I over-obsess about avoiding waste, walking lightly on the Earth, following the shortest path, pinching pennies, and so forth. This silly preoccupation leads frequently to frustration when things don't go as planned. But at 5:33am one recent Tuesday it pays dividends as I'm walking to the Metro, the start of my workday commute. A quarter mile down the road, where a few seconds after 0530 (yes, I've timed it) the traffic light flips from flashing yellow to normal red/green mode, I suddenly realize that it's Garbage Day and I haven't taken out the trash. Oops!
I pause for a few seconds. This is where schedule knowledge comes in handy: going back home, I reckon, will take ~4 minutes if I hustle; ~1 minute to lug cans to street; ~4 minutes back to here, plus another ~9 to the subway station. No way to make the 0545 train, no cushion for delays, no slack to grab a cheap Senior Coffee at McDonalds. But the 0554 train should be in reach, just barely, if it's on time. That gets me to Metro Center where, if the switch to the other train goes within normal bounds, I'll be able to race up the long Rosslyn escalator and catch the 0641 bus with a couple of minutes to spare. Reverse Engines — Full Astern!
Back home, drag trash containers to curb, rush down hill, over bridge, along sidewalk ... and make train, transfer, bus. Yay! As George Peppard used to say on The A Team, "I love it when a plan comes together." And a few days later a bonus: again striding pre-dawn to Metro, near the cemetery I spy by streetlight's glow two frosty-gleaming one-dollar bills on the pavement. Whee! Such small victories, such big thrills ...
- Saturday, February 12, 2011 at 08:13:45 (EST)
"Soft knees!" Karen Donohue warns. Dogs are wrestling and racing about, and Karen doesn't want anybody to get knocked over. We're on the snowy meadow near the stables and gardens in Rock Creek Park, following the Western Ridge Trail south.
At 0645 Michele McLeod and Jackie Vanhee plus their dogs are at Candy Cane City when I arrive from a 2.25 miles jog from home. Karen appears soon thereafter, and four humans plus five dogs set off along the icy packed trail. The thin crescent of an old moon cradles Venus in her arms, low in the eastern sky. We chat about families, movies, training, and of course dogs.
Our run is uneventful until just past Fort DeRussy when Romeo, a cute little 10 pound one-year-old Shih Tzu, disappears. We call for him and search back and forth to no avail. Michele and I climb back up the steep horse trail while Jackie and Karen proceed with the other dogs. Finally Romeo returns, accepts a liver treat from Michele, and sticks close to us until we catch up the rest of the crew. We cross Beach Dr to take the Valley Trail back to our starting point, about 7.5 miles total. At the end Romeo has icicles on his beard, as do I.
(cf. trackfile map for route details)
- Friday, February 11, 2011 at 04:38:28 (EST)
Dan Ariely, professor of psychology and behavioral economics at Duke University, gave a fascinating talk at a conference I attended a few months ago. (The talk was particularly powerful because the previous speaker, David Freedman, gave an unfortunately weak presentation, far beneath the quality of his article "Lies, Damned Lies, and Medical Science".) Ariely discussed perception, bias, and decision-making, with comments based on his research and personal experience.
In high school Ariely was accidentally burned over ~70% of his body and spent three years in a hospital. He saw lots of mistakes there in patient care, and when he became a professor he did experiments on his students (!) including putting their fingers into vises, giving them electrical shocks, etc. Among the results of his measurements of pain and perception:
The nurses who treated Ariely in the hospital meant well, he said, but they generally yanked the bandages off his burns abruptly, started with his feet and worked their way up to his head where it hurt more, and didn't give him any time to rest up between the necessarily painful steps of the procedure. They didn't know any better. Hence, the importance of doing experiments and measuring what people actually prefer, which can be counterintuitive. This field, behavioral economics, became Ariely's career choice.
Prof. Ariely discussed the importance of defaults. Organ donation, for example, rates vary wildly between otherwise-similar nations in Europe. The entire difference is explained by the opt-out versus opt-in choice given to potential donors. "When we don't know what to do, we do nothing!" summarizes the situation, Ariely said, especially when the situation is complex. Ariely gave examples from medicine, from retirement planning, and from marketing. Offer people 6 different flavors of jam to taste, and most of them ll try and then buy something. Offer them 24 flavors and they're overwhelmed and generally don't buy any. Ariely's conclusion: "Defaults are neither good nor bad ... but as people who design environments, we should consider defaults carefully" — and help people make the best possible decisions by setting the default choice to something sensible.
In another analysis that Prof. Ariely described, folks who are asked to do something difficult become biased against the activity. Ask some people to come up with 3 reasons why they love their spouse, for instance, and ask others for 10 reasons. The ones who had to come up with 3 answers will then rate their spouses higher on a scale of appeal than the folks who had to struggle to produce 10.
Asking a question forces people to make up an answer — and once we have an answer we tend to become more certain. "When we don't know what we want, we focus on the small universe of choices given," Ariely observed. An economist who believed that humans are rational actors would have to conclude that "people prefer food to living", given the epidemic of obesity today.
Ariely then discussed cheating and how honor systems work, when they do. He talked about the "Ikea phenomenon", that we love things more when we've made them ourselves. The same principle applies to craft projects, to ideas, and to the love one has of one's own children. Conflicts of interest cause people to rationalize their behavior. One's culture can affect choices also. In a restaurant in the USA, people in a group feel they should order different things; in Japan, diners feel they should order the same dishes.
Dan Ariely is the author of Predictably Irrational and The Upside of Irrationality. Recently I began reading the first; much of its content overlaps Ariely's lecture. Review to follow ...
- Thursday, February 10, 2011 at 04:49:49 (EST)
"Yoyo Mode" is how electrical power in the neighborhood has been since Wednesday's storm. When I leave home at 7:11am and crunch along the icy Capital Crescent Trail we have power; by the time I get home, it's out again. The long curving tunnel under Wisconsin Av in downtown Bethesda is spooky-dark, not something to venture through without prior experience. At the parking lot my GPS hits 4.00 and I pause it. Hilary Swab and I find the rest of the Bethesda Rebel Runner crew and off we go along hilly Leland St to Beach Dr. Rebecca Rosenberg and I chat about how to heat a home without electricity (a well-supervised gas stove can do wonders).
Then heading the opposite way on Beach Dr who should greet me but neighbor Karen Donohue? We've been meaning to run together for much too long, but something always interferes. So I bid good-bye to Rebecca and reverse course to accompany Karen and her friend Dan who are being led by their dogs Sully and Libby. Fine conversation ensues: Karen is almost as chatty as I am while running, and pushes me to a ~9 min/mi pace as we do a couple of miles together back to her car. From there it's a slower return trip for me home, with a slight detour along Seminary Rd in the final block so that my GPS rolls over to 13.00 miles as I walk up the steps to the front door.
(cf. trackfile map, ...)
- Wednesday, February 09, 2011 at 04:52:41 (EST)
Last year a friend passed along to me a copy of a speech by John W. Gardner titled "Personal Renewal". Gardner apparently gave versions of the talk at various times in the 1990s; one of the best is at . Among the most striking bits:
You come to understand that most people are neither for you nor against you, they are thinking about themselves. You learn that no matter how hard you try to please, some people in this world are not going to love you, a lesson that is at first troubling and then really quite relaxing.
It may just mean doing a better job at whatever you're doing. There are men and women who make the world better just by being the kind of people they are—and that too is a kind of commitment. They have the gift of kindness or courage or loyalty or integrity. It matters very little whether they're behind the wheel of a truck or running a country store or bringing up a family.
Meaning is not something you stumble across, like the answer to a riddle or the prize in a treasure hunt. Meaning is something you build into your life. You build it out of your own past, out of your affections and loyalties, out of the experience of humankind as it is passed on to you, out of your own talent and understanding, out of the things you believe in, out of the things and people you love, out of the values for which you are willing to sacrifice something. The ingredients are there. You are the only one who can put them together into that unique pattern that will be your life. Let it be a life that has dignity and meaning for you. If it does, then the particular balance of success or failure is of less account.
And one other John Gardner quote, from another talk he gave:
It's a great delusion to imagine that one or two big decisions or lessons shaped your life. Thousands of decisions and lessons have shaped your life so far, and there are thousands more to come. Don't succumb to the melancholy thought "If I had only taken the other path!" The story is still being written.
- Tuesday, February 08, 2011 at 04:49:36 (EST)
|At 6:00am Jennifer Weiland Zuckman and I start at the little cemetery near the corner of Clopper Rd and Game Preserve Rd, the same location as on 24 Nov 2007 when Caren Jew and I did an early morning run along the Seneca Creek Greenway Trail. Today the temperature is in the upper teens. We tread carefully on the frozen ground as we proceed downstream to Black Rock Mill. Pairs of mallard ducks paddle along the stream in an open patch of water. When we get back to the car the icicles on my mustache and beard begin to melt in the sun. Jennifer falls three times en route, at miles 5, 8, and 11. She stumbles once more going up her front steps on the way into her home. "Just call me Grace!" she laughs.|
(photo by Jennifer Zuckman)
- Monday, February 07, 2011 at 04:43:44 (EST)
Upon hearing about my various falls and injuries when trail running, colleague Bob Williams got concerned and was inspired to draw this picture of me more safely outfitted with helmet, bigger shoes (I showed him my Zombie Toes), etc.:
(cf. Bob Williams Sketch - Frozen Beard, ...)
- Sunday, February 06, 2011 at 04:16:11 (EST)
At 14°F it's frigid in spite of all the layers I'm wearing. The pressure sensor on Cara Marie Manlandro's car says one tire is low, so I drive out to meet her and run a loop around her extended neighborhood. CM is still coming back from pneumonia some months ago, and that plus the cold makes us agree each to thank the other for not going farther or faster. We do an extra loop around the tiny cemetery near CM's home to make the GPS read 4.00 miles.
- Saturday, February 05, 2011 at 09:40:55 (EST)
In the Jan/Feb 2011 issue of Marathon & Beyond magazine Carey Smith's article "How I Trained for My First 100-Miler" discusses what he did and what he wished he had done. His concluding suggestions:
- Friday, February 04, 2011 at 04:41:46 (EST)
After yesterday's ice storm today's sudden warm spell — close to 50°F! — sees me in shorts, with rolled up shirtsleeves after the first 1.5 mile circuit around the parking lots at work. Pace improves each loop: ~9.1 ⇒ ~8.0 ⇒ ~7.5 min/mi.
- Thursday, February 03, 2011 at 04:42:07 (EST)
From Michael Shermer's article The Conspiracy Theory Detector in the December 2010 issue of Scientific American magazine, ten excellent rules for telling when something is bogus:
1. Proof of the conspiracy supposedly emerges from a pattern of "connecting the dots" between events that need not be causally connected. When no evidence supports these connections except the allegation of the conspiracy or when the evidence fits equally well to other causal connections—or to randomness—the conspiracy theory is likely to be false.
2. The agents behind the pattern of the conspiracy would need nearly superhuman power to pull it off. People are usually not nearly so powerful as we think they are.
3. The conspiracy is complex, and its successful completion demands a large number of elements.
4. Similarly, the conspiracy involves large numbers of people who would all need to keep silent about their secrets. The more people involved, the less realistic it becomes.
5. The conspiracy encompasses a grand ambition for control over a nation, economy or political system. If it suggests world domination, the theory is even less likely to be true.
6. The conspiracy theory ratchets up from small events that might be true to much larger, much less probable events.
7. The conspiracy theory assigns portentous, sinister meanings to what are most likely innocuous, insignificant events.
8. The theory tends to commingle facts and speculations without distinguishing between the two and without assigning degrees of probability or of factuality.
9. The theorist is indiscriminately suspicious of all government agencies or private groups, which suggests an inability to nuance differences between true and false conspiracies.
10. The conspiracy theorist refuses to consider alternative explanations, rejecting all disconfirming evidence and blatantly seeking only confirmatory evidence to support what he or she has a priori determined to be the truth.
Of course, the above is just one more piece of the puzzle, yet another case the Rational Thinking Conspiracy trying to pull the wool over our eyes ...
(cf. StupidityAndConspiracy (2001-02-05), Reasonists (2009-09-09), ...)
- Wednesday, February 02, 2011 at 04:29:55 (EST)
Geese on the partially-frozen water stage a mass take-off and cruise in formation overhead, honking to get our attention. We stop to join a cluster of ladies staring up at a bare tree; they point out a big red-tailed hawk on an upper limb. Comrade Kate Abbott is testing her legs before deciding on what race to run in New Orleans next month, marathon vs. half-marathon. We meet in the dark at Burke Lake in northern Virginia and at 0640 start trotting along the park road, navigating by the glow of our flashlights.
When the sky brightens enough, ~7am, we branch onto the trail that follows the shore. Our first two almost-five-mile laps go clockwise, stopping each time at our cars to refuel. Then we reverse course and do the last two in the opposite direction for variety. Small world: marathoner colleague from work Linda, plus two of her friends, greet us as they walk the perimeter. See  for the trackfile map. At the end of our journey Kate's GPS has passed 20.00 miles but mine is a few feet short, so I run an extra tiny loop around the parking lot to reach the magic number.
- Tuesday, February 01, 2011 at 04:41:45 (EST)
My friend Bob Williams is almost as close to retirement as I am. Sometimes he draws cartoons, usually with a political or personal theme. Here's a recent one, inspired by a photo of icicles on my whiskers after a winter run:
- Monday, January 31, 2011 at 04:39:18 (EST)
Jennifer Weiland Zuckman crushed me at the Northern Central Trail Marathon, but before she shot ahead to a sub-4 hour result we chatted and resolved to run together some day. This morning I pick her up at her King Farm home at 0600 and we ride to the MD-355 crossing of the Seneca Creek Greenway Trail, a few miles from her home, new terrain to her. We dance ~2.7 miles over icy patches upstream to Watkins Mill Rd, thankfully without a fall. As the sun rises we return, with pauses to stare at deer feeding near the trail and view the scenery from a rocky overlook. We continue then down almost to the I-270 trail underpass before returning to my car. Conversation along the way and afterwards is great: Jennifer and her husband Mike are homeschoolers, and we have many other surprising parallels. Neat!
- Sunday, January 30, 2011 at 04:48:50 (EST)
|A boat is a hole in the ocean—|
Mere nothing, to float what's inside.
When you fall into the water
A boat can still help you survive:
Just cling to the edge of nothing.
(cf. Coming to Our Senses (2009-01-01), ...)
- Saturday, January 29, 2011 at 05:58:32 (EST)
(photo by Jeanne Larrison, gloves from Christina Caravoulias)
|The MCRRC "Shooting Starr" is a fun local run, the lineal descendant of my first-ever footrace (see JogLogFog, 2002). This year I leave home at ~6am and trot along sidewalks the 2+ miles to Sligo Middle School. I capture bib #666 for 2011 — The Beast is back! Race Director Eric Bernhardt assigns me volunteer traffic-director duty, so after helping arrange bagels and other food on plates for the runners I get a flag and vest, head out to a nearby intersection, and entertain drivers who are attempting to find the parking lot.|
The race itself loops along icy Sligo Creek Trail and neighborhood streets. I manage not to fall down, push hard, and finish officially in 58th place overall, 51 of 151 males, 6 of 18 among 55-59 years old men, in a total time of 27:24 at a pace of about 7.4 min/mi. The distance is ~3.7 miles by my GPS, more than a quarter mile short of the planned 4 miles. Leading runners took a wrong turn and went straight to the finish line rather than taking a final out-and-back. No problem!
On the trek back home I stop at comrade Barry Smith's home, help him cook some bacon, pet his dog, and nosh in his basement with friends. (Thanks, Barry!) Then, jogging along Forest Glen Rd I step aside to let a fast young runner pass. She's wearing multiple water bottles on a cold day, so I ask how far she's going. She's Amber Rankin, her marathon PR is near 3.5 hours, she's training for her first ultramarathon (maybe the Bull Run Run 50 miler), lives not far away, and saw me recently with my BRR backpack getting off the Metro here. Small world! We resolve to run together soon.
(cf. 2009-01-17 - Super Starr, ...)
- Friday, January 28, 2011 at 04:59:19 (EST)
On Facebook recently son Merle posted a link to NASA's report Preventing the Forward Contamination of Europa with the comment: "Europa, one of Jupiter's Moons, appears to have water on it. This government book is about preventing contaminating the moon with earth organisms during an unmanned space mission to investigate the planet with a lander." One of Merle's friends replied with a quote from the movie 2001, "All these moons are yours except Europa. Attempt no landing there."
|All Europa base are belong to us.|
If that doesn't make you snort your milk out through your nose, see AllYourBaseAreBelongToUs (2002-08-28) and/or .
- Thursday, January 27, 2011 at 19:46:22 (EST)
Snow is due later today, so I make the most of the opportunity and attack the paved track at 7:45am. Cap and windshirt are clearly too warm before the first lap is over, so I ditch them on a park bench. I contemplate shucking my tights, but the presence of potential spectators deters me. A little ground-crew cart pulls off the road to let me pass. Mile times 9:55 ⇒ 8:49 ⇒ 7:51 ⇒ 7:06.
- Wednesday, January 26, 2011 at 04:37:54 (EST)
My boss and I are complementary personalities: he's big on structure, planning, and procedure; I prefer chaos, situations, and improvisation. So we respect one another and get along quite well. Recently he taught me a new term that I like: mos maiorum, Latin for "ancestral custom". It's literally the traditional set of principles of ancient Roman life, including the sequence of offices for a rising young star to work his way up through, the relationships among members of a family, and a host of other social patterns and interactions. My boss is striving to set up a mos maiorum collection of procedures at work, so we can get stuff done reliably and efficiently. I salute that, even though my style is more attuned to gliding along the rising air currents of the bureaucracy, turning and banking and spiraling in response to events as they occur. That works quite well — for me, most of the time, until I hit a sudden downdraft!
(cf. PlansAndSituations (1999-08-13), SituationalStrategy (2007-06-11), ...)
- Tuesday, January 25, 2011 at 04:41:31 (EST)
Stephanie patiently awaits me on the bench by the exit. She teases me about my attire: the same tights and shorts, shirt and windshirt, gloves and hat that I wore for yesterday's run. But it's chilly outside and we're going at a comfortable pace, not fast enough to get overheated. We repeat the 2011-01-05 - Langley High trek, this time taking a few seconds longer: 18:20 outbound and 17:11 for the return.
- Monday, January 24, 2011 at 04:31:37 (EST)
Anna Heintz's article "Being Brad Hudson" in the Jan/Feb 2011 issue of Marathon & Beyond magazine offers some good thoughts on training along with a fine profile of Coach Brad Hudson. Key concepts:
1. Your first goal is to get to the starting line healthy. You work backward from there.
2. Put your easy days before your hard days. ... If you are not fully recovered, you cannot run hard. The biggest mistake marathoners make is not going easy enough on their easy days, nor going hard enough on their hard days. If all your runs seem to blend together, you are not going to benefit from the workouts. It is better to run your easy run at what feels like practically a walking pace so that you can do your next workout at the target rather than a mediocre pace because you had not recovered.
3. Put strength before speed. This is the best way to prevent injury. ... It is better to build strength doing specific exercises that have meaning and will not allow you to overstride and get injured. ... Hudson advocates using hill sprints rather than any other type of polymetric or weight-training exercises for runners. ...
4. Finally, Hudson advises, "You need to look at what you've done in the past and then look forward." Most runners have followed only one or two different training styles over their lifetime, but there are many ways to train to maximize your potential in the marathon. The best way to realize this is to look at what has worked for you in the past and carry that into your future, while leaving behind those strategies that have not worked. ...
Hudson also emphasizes going out slowly in a marathon (and in training) and picking up speed throughout the run. He recommends doing long training runs at no slower than 90% of marathon goal pace, to "teach the body to burn the same fuel" in training as in the race. "The marathon is an event of fuel. It's all about the specificity of training that makes you a successful marathon runner."
Sensible suggestions, as is Hudson's, "The main thing about coaching is adapting to who you are coaching." Especially if you're your own coach!
- Sunday, January 23, 2011 at 03:38:09 (EST)
Sorry Dr. Mary, I'm late! Until I go out to the car this morning I don't realize that the MINI Cooper has headlight washers; today I see that one of them is stuck, protruding next to the headlamp. A quick Internet search finds that other people have had the same problem, and a quick tug removes an errant white grommet that seems to have been left in the wrong place, perhaps during recent work in a body shop. When I arrive at the River Rd parking lot for the Cabin John Stream Valley Trail, Mary Ewell is patiently awaiting me. We've run from here before (see 2008-05-17 - CJSVT with Mary and 2008-08-30 - CJT - Mary's WHM Warm-Up). Upstream we trot, admiring the Frank Lloyd Wright house cantilevered above us near Bradley Ln. The turnaround is after ~2.4 miles, from a side path to Seven Locks Rd instead of crossing the creek. Mary is back from a holiday break (and some illness) so we take our time, walk the hills, and chat about training, family, friends, injuries, sweating, electrolytes, and a host of other fun themes. Back at our cars Mary decides we need to do a few more furlongs to make the magic 5 mile mark for the logbook, so we cross River Rd and do a quick out-and-back there.
- Sunday, January 23, 2011 at 03:33:55 (EST)
In the dawn's gloom a rabbit startles me as it scampers across the Capital Crescent Trail. Light snow that has been falling takes a break now. I'm slouching towards Bethesda to accompany Sara Crum and Harold Rosen on their last long run before they taper in preparation for a February three-day trek in the Andes. Shirley Skorbiansky and Debbie Elliott join us, and a little after 7am we proceed down the CCT. Their pace—10-11 min/mi—is a bit too brisk for me, so I lag behind and let them pull me along. Proof: I hardly talk at all today!
As we approach Fletcher's Boathouse snow showers begin again. We take a porta-john break (but I keep my GPS timer running). A mile farther along Harold points out the lovely black-and-white scene across the Potomac River. I drag a gloved hand along a wooden railing by the trail, first leaving a wiggly line in the snow, then making dashes, then dots. At the end of the rail where the trail narrows I slip and fall, fortunately without damage.
We pause at the National Zoo but the water fountain isn't working. Shirley loses a veneer off a tooth and laughs but refuses to smile. "I look like a witch!" she says. A mile up the trail there's running water in the park restrooms, but I still have plenty in my hydration backpack. At Meadowbrook Stables when the group again pauses I thank everyone and branch homeward. I almost turn off Rock Creek Trail at Ray's Meadow, but a glance at my GPS says that it will only read 23.5 miles when I finish—not as luminous in the logbook as a mile more. So upstream I proceed toward the Mormon Temple, still pushing the pace, still treading carefully on icy spots. The big hill to Walter Reed Annex is a challenge. At the top I turn left to make a figure-8 trackfile pattern and avoid retracing my path until I reach the front steps and stop the clock.
(cf. GPS track map)
- Saturday, January 22, 2011 at 05:48:15 (EST)
A colleague at the office lent me her copy of Vladimir Nabokov's famous novel Lolita recently, after I admitted to never having finished it. Many years ago as a teenager I shelved books in the Austin Public Library. If memory serves, Lolita was one of many volumes that I glanced into as it returned from being checked out.
This time I read it all the way through, and my dominant reaction is befuddlement. What's the author's point? Madness and perversion, written in high literary style with dollops of French en route, are still mad and perverse. Yes, there are poetic passages. In Part Two, Chapter 1, for instance, a lyrical description during a long road trip glitters:
At night, tall trucks studded with colored lights, like dreadful giant Christmas trees, loomed in the darkness and thundered by the belated little sedan. And again next day a thinly populated sky, losing its blue to the heat, would melt overhead, and Lo would clamor for a drink, and her cheeks would hollow vigorously over the straw, and the car inside would be a furnace when we got in again, and the road shimmered ahead, with a remote car changing its shape mirage-like in the surface glare, and seeming to hang for a moment, old-fashionedly square and high, in the hot haze. And as we pushed westward, patches of what the garage-man called "sage brush" appeared, and then the mysterious outlines of table-like hills, and then red bluffs ink-blotted with junipers, and then a mountain range, dun grading into blue, and blue into dream, and the desert would meet us with a steady gale, dust, gray thorn bushes, and hideous bits of tissue paper mimicking pale flowers among the prickles of wind-tortured withered stalks all along the highway; in the middle of which there sometimes stood simple cows, immobilized in a position (tail left, white eyelashes right) cutting across all human rules of traffic.
Nice — but that scarcely redeems a disjointed plot of wishful-thinking fantasy, with convenient accident getting rid of inconvenient spouse, convenient "... it was she who seduced me" critical-moment twist, convenient murder-dream-revenge finale, convenient narrator-heart-attack framing device, etc. (For those who don't already know: Lolita tells of a middle-aged man's obsessive molestation of a child.) Characters, other than the first-person storyteller, are thinly sketched at best. Atmosphere is a stamp-album collection of rural and small-town scenery, motels and deserts, colleges and tennis courts, kerchiefs and downy-haired limbs.
Perhaps my search for sense is in vain, and the novel Lolita simply signifies: nothing? Nabokov dismisses any need for moral or meaning in his afterword essay. He offers only "æsthetic bliss" as his goal in writing. Maybe that's enough for him. In a book, I find it insufficient.
(cf. CloudAtlas (2005-04-07), NabokovOnBleakHouse (2007-06-26), ...)
- Friday, January 21, 2011 at 04:39:59 (EST)
It's a triple Amy Day: midway through the second sidewalk lap I glimpse Amy #3 driving to work, intent on the car in front of her and not noticing pedestrians. In early afternoon Amy #2's path crosses mine in the elevator where she compliments my running, spied that morning during her inbound commute. I greet Amy #1 online, as she's working hard in her windowless office. Three ~1.5 mile circuits descend in pace: 9.4 ⇒ 8.2 ⇒ 7.3 min/mi.
- Thursday, January 20, 2011 at 04:41:51 (EST)
Kwame Anthony Appiah, philosophy professor at Princeton, wrote an interesting essay in the Sunday 26 Sep 2010 Washington Post: "What will future generations condemn us for?". It's a theme that has been touched upon here occasionally. Appiah looks back at past acceptable behavior:
Once, pretty much everywhere, beating your wife and children was regarded as a father's duty, homosexuality was a hanging offense, and waterboarding was approved — in fact, invented — by the Catholic Church. Through the middle of the 19th century, the United States and other nations in the Americas condoned plantation slavery. Many of our grandparents were born in states where women were forbidden to vote. And well into the 20th century, lynch mobs in this country stripped, tortured, hanged and burned human beings at picnics.
... and then looks forward to see what might seem repugnant in the future. He suggests "... three signs that a particular practice is destined for future condemnation ...":
First, people have already heard the arguments against the practice. ...
Second, defenders of the custom tend not to offer moral counterarguments but instead invoke tradition, human nature or necessity. ...
And third, supporters engage in what one might call strategic ignorance, avoiding truths that might force them to face the evils in which they're complicit. ...
Then Appiah nominates "... four contenders for future moral condemnation ...":
Interesting! And what other candidates come to mind? I speculate that the worst abuses will involve money and power.
(cf. SufferTheAnimals, WhatCounts, OurStonehenge, ...)
- Wednesday, January 19, 2011 at 06:48:24 (EST)
Comrade Stephanie is dressed stylishly in black tights and top, brilliant orange kerchief over her dreadlocks. I'm clothed in mismatched floral shorts and beige windshirt, turquoise sleeves protruding, gray gloves that clash with black-striped socks. In our first run together of the new decade Ms. S votes for Georgetown Pike to the light past Langley High School, as we did on 2010-12-13 - Langley HS. Temps are in the upper 20's but there's no wind, so we're soon comfy warm. Outbound takes 18:12, pausing for student traffic into the school. We accelerate to return in 16:56, atoning for the past few weeks of holiday sins.
- Tuesday, January 18, 2011 at 04:49:49 (EST)
In Robert A. Heinlein's sf/fantasy Stranger in a Strange Land the protagonist counsels patience with the words, "Waiting is." Near the end of Chapter 5 ("Meditation is Not Instant Coffee: Developing Patience") in Lunchtime Enlightenment author Pragito Dove suggests:
A meditative awareness comes like a whisper, not a shout, with noiseless footsteps. If you are full of occupations, busyness, and noise it might come and wait, but then it will leave. I can't overstate the importance of having silent, waiting time.
So set aside some time—ten, fifteen, thirty minutes or longer—preferably every day, for sitting in silence. It doesn't matter where you are, just sit, close your eyes, and wait. Don't do anything; just sit in great waiting with an open, trusting heart. Then if something is to "happen" you will be ready to receive it. If nothing happens, at least you've had this "down time" to do nothing, and lord knows we all need that! No matter what, after sitting silently for a while you will feel more in touch with yourself, more peaceful.
- Monday, January 17, 2011 at 04:46:42 (EST)
Frost whitens the dry brown grass in open meadows as I trot along the paved winding path through the woods near work. The rising sun blinds me on eastbound legs. I scan in vain for living creatures until, just after I cross the one mile stripe on my penultimate lap, five deer materialize by the track. One lifts her back leg to scratch an itchy shoulder, like a cat or rabbit. I try to remember "Relax Into It" on the final loop and go as fast as I can, with descending splits 9:43 ⇒ 8:44 ⇒ 7:47 ⇒ 7:04. As I sag into a recovery walk at the end the herd dances across the trail in front of me and vanishes into the brush. My left heel hurts, as it has since the 2010-12-11 - Magnus Gluteus Maximus 50k. Plantar fasciitis? Bone bruise? Whatever the cause, the ache mostly goes away when I run. My fingers are frozen weak in the locker room and I struggle to button my pants. I refrain from asking one of the other gentlemen to help me.
- Sunday, January 16, 2011 at 04:44:02 (EST)
How do you read the word UNIONIZED? If you see it as un-ionized then maybe you're a chemist! Isaac Asimov mentioned it in 1965, in an essay that I saw in F&SF magazine. A few days ago I chanced to spy another diagnostic term during a briefing, a potential test for whether somebody is a computer programmer: how do you pronounce this word?
To avoid spoiling it, no answer here — but see  vs.  if curious. RadRob suggests looking at other hyphenation-algorithm failures to find similar examples, e.g., THERAPIST ....
- Saturday, January 15, 2011 at 05:07:39 (EST)
Cara Marie Manlandro is stuck in the lab with a balky experiment and can't run this afternoon, so since the rain has stopped I go to the local (Silver Spring International Middle School) asphalt track and run a ladder of laps, 1+2+3+4+3+2+1, with half a lap (~2.5 min) of walking and panting between each, trying to get my heart rate down from the ~180 beats/min redline. My attempt to maintain sub-7 min/mi pace fails: no pretty girls are on the track to incentivize me. Splits: 1:41 ⇒ 3:27 ⇒ 5:15 ⇒ 7:04 ⇒ 5:18 ⇒ 3:30 ⇒ 1:40. I try to relax into the running, hold hands loose, and avoid puddles.
- Friday, January 14, 2011 at 04:40:04 (EST)
A few decades ago I was a big fan of "Commander Mark" (true name Mark Kistler), the goofy teacher on a PBS television series called "The Secret City". The Commander taught elementary cartooning and drawing. His show was great fun and I learned a lot from it, though I haven't practiced nearly enough. I sent in a self-addressed stamped envelope and received a membership card that I still carry with me: "Commander Mark's Draw Squad Club".
Besides the "Seven Magic Words of Drawing" — foreshortening, shading, surface, size, contour lines, overlapping, density (OK, eight words!) — Cmdr Mark emphasized the importance of maintaining a Positive Mental Attitude. I remember it by the initials PMA. Years before that the same letters stood for Physics/Mathematics/Astronomy, the name of the academic division at Caltech where I studied. Most recently, in the context of mindfulness meditation PMA is used by some authors to represent Present Moment Awareness. All different, all good.
- Thursday, January 13, 2011 at 04:42:01 (EST)
A first: Caren Jew is a minute late! We meet at the Davis Library in Bethesda at 0631 and, since the rental car has unlimited mileage and excess gas in the tank, I insist on driving to Prince William Forest Park for this year's RedEye fun-run. Anstr Davidson gives me a Bull Run Run "I" pin to replace the one I lost a few years ago. Neighbor Karen Donohue is there with her two dogs and a friend. We chat and promise to run together more often; we could scarcely do it less often, since we never seem to sync up!
RD Gary Knipling introduces the event for ~10 minutes, just long enough for Kate Abbott to make it through unexpected traffic and arrive to join Caren and me at the back of the pack. As Anstr reports experiencing himself last year, we get lost and miss a quarter mile or so of the initial segment of the course. We follow the yellow-blazed Laurel Trail instead of the red-blazed Birch Bluff Trail, and when we reach the next junction and find ourselves ahead of the leaders we pause to salute as they blast past along the south fork of Quantico Creek.
Caren drops back; Kate and I jog and walk together along the course: South Valley Trail, Pyrite Mine Rd, Cabin Branch Mine Trail, North Valley Trail, Burma Rd, and Taylor Farm Rd to the blue-blazed Turkey Run Ridge Trail. Gary meets us along the way, surveying the course in the opposite direction. About mile 8 we reach the Turkey Run Education Center (TREC) where the 2008 RedEye start/finish was.
Kate pauses and I run ahead, following blue ribbons at trail intersections. At mile ~10.8 I'm back to the picnic table start/finish, refill my hydration backpack, fuel up with a chocolate brownie, grab a handful of fritos, and head out. A quarter mile up the trail I greet Kate coming in. I continue in the clockwise direction of the loop, opposite to the first time around, and phone Caren to check on her progress. A couple of minutes later I meet her and we hike back to the car for a total of 13+ miles by my GPS. Kate runs to TREC and back for 17+, and Caren logs it as 10+. We agree that the terrain is lovely and plan to get together here to run again some day.
(cf. GPS trackfile and 2008-01-01 - Red Eye 50k)
- Wednesday, January 12, 2011 at 04:42:10 (EST)
Math books are a hard sell. A math book by a professional mathematician who writes like a poet, tries to explain some of the deepest concepts in his field, and includes equations and tough puzzles is even less likely to sell. Hence, it shouldn't have surprised me when One to Nine: the Inner Life of Numbers turned up on the bookstore remainder shelf for $5 instead of $24.
In brief, this book is extraordinary. Author Andrew Hodges is by turns whimsical and rigorous, naughty and thoughtful. He's up front about his beliefs: militant on liberal politics, vigorous in promoting twistors (one of his own research topics), and cheerfully flagrante in his gayness. A couple of decades ago Hodges wrote Alan Turing: the Enigma, an excellent biography that didn't blink in its coverage of Turing's homosexuality.
In many ways One to Nine brings to mind the stellar playfulness of Douglas Hofstadter's Gödel, Escher, Bach. Hodges loves both numbers and language. He can't resist, for instance, a punny opportunity in discussing Fibonacci numbers (each of which is the sum of the previous two; the Fibonacci series begins 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144, ...). Rabbits are "cuniculi" in Latin, and Hodges notes:
... This sequence of numbers had been known and studied in classical Indian rhythms, but Fibonacci described them in a more down-to-earth way, in terms of rabbit propagation. I will refrain from drawing a family tree of the inbreeding bunnies, leaving these activities to the reader's imagination. My fit-and-fat pictures are intended to be more tasteful than Fibonacci's cunnilinguistics, although of course lines of beauty are in the eye of the beholder, and one man's meat is another man's bottom line. ...
Somewhat similarly, in a comment on the number 23 Hodges slips in: "... The 23 arises as 33 - 22, parallel to 5 = 22 + 1. Does this give the number 23 some aesthetic property? David Beckham, who took this number, is beautiful, but the mystical cult of 23 finds sinister characteristics in it. ...".
But set aside such silly asides. The thread that Hodges follows through the maze of math is pattern — relationships among ideas. Numbers are just one glitter of the gem; others include shapes and slopes, tunnels and towers. As Hodges points out, "This is typical in the æsthetics of mathematics: a formula or picture illuminates one aspect of a structure, yet disguises another one. The mind needs many different pictures to build up understanding, piecing them together into a manifold of insight." And better insight applies in countless realms. Common thinking is cloudy; with discipline, we can do better:
Probability tells you what to expect from a fair lottery; the science of statistics looks at the outcomes and asks how sure we can be that the lottery is fair. Statistics, in the grown-up sense of the word, does not mean the making of lists of figures, nor damned lies, nor proving anything with certainty, but making the best efforts at the rational deduction of cause from effect. These efforts may err because of faulty assumptions, but at least mathematics makes those assumptions explicit, so that they can be identified and corrected. Even this achievement is highly worthwhile, because people generally adhere to their a priori beliefs, and accept or reject evidence according to how well it fits in. ...
One to Nine roams widely. Sometimes it trips over its own feet, but more often it's provocative, entertaining, and joyful. As with his biography of Turing, Andrew Hodges has done a fine job. In this case, the job is little appreciated. Too bad ...
- Tuesday, January 11, 2011 at 04:36:54 (EST)
Eye-searing fluorescent lime green sleeves make drivers, hastening in to work, slam on the brakes when they see me. No wind, but temps in the upper 20's cause chilly bits in spite of tights and vest. Gloves insulate the fingers but not quite enough. Laps of ~1.5 miles descend: ~9.5 ⇒ ~8.4 ⇒ ~7.6 min/mi, with pulse ~180 a few seconds after that last sprint.
- Monday, January 10, 2011 at 04:36:04 (EST)
Newest mantra: Relax into it! It's originally from yoga, where teachers say not to stretch or force a difficult position, but paradoxically loosen up and soften toward the goal. The same counter-intuitive approach applies in many contexts. Relaxing into a hard, fast running pace works better than pushing. Walking home into a frigid breeze, conscious relaxation and self-observation makes the weather feel less horrid. Likewise in stressful home or work situations. Relax into it!
- Sunday, January 09, 2011 at 06:14:50 (EST)
"Run an extra lap for me!" a man tells me as we meet, he on the way in to work, me heading out to the jogging track. White sidewalls line the path, snow pushed off the asphalt by mini-scrapers. I glimpse a doe as I begin the first loop and a few minutes later spy a small four (x2) point buck ambling away. Pace between the painted mile markers: ~9.5 ⇒ ~9.0 ⇒ 8.2 ⇒ 7.2 min.
- Saturday, January 08, 2011 at 04:44:05 (EST)
William Langewiesche's Fly by Wire: The Geese, the Glide, the Miracle on the Hudson is brilliant aviation writing, a marriage of hard-headed engineering analysis and edge-of-the-seat storytelling. Hook: the 15 January 2009 water landing of US Airways Flight 1549, minutes after encountering a flock of birds and losing both engines during inital climb from takeoff. Meat: how state-of-the-art aircraft are designed to maximize safety and performance, via intimate collaboration between pilot and computer.
This is a lovely book, John McPhee class in prose and organization, crude in a few places but polished gold in its overarching message. Along the way Langewiesche interviews "... a charismatic French test and fighter pilot named Barnard Ziegler, now retired, who must stand as one of the greatest engineers of our time." Ziegler was the driving force behind the Airbus Consortium's "... culture of intellectual courage that existed in the 1980s ... a bet-the-farm determination to rethink airplanes from scratch and to challenge Boeing in the only way that might succeed—by leaping forward unhindered by tradition and without fear or compromise in the design."
In Chapter 6, Langewiesche explores the root cause of most accidents. He tells of a 1995 crash into the Andes near Cali, Columbia, and in the middle of the story digresses:
Intelligence is not a prerequisite for safe flying, but an acceptance of human fallibility is, and the two are generally linked. Ziegler mentioned it on the banks of the Garonne. He has seen such variations over the years. He said that the mark of the great pilots he has known is that they admitted in advance to their capacity for error, and they addressed their mistakes vigorously after making them. He said, "Vous savez, monsieur: L'erreur est humaine." Actually the Latin original, in full, goes, Errare humanum est, sed perseverare diabolicum. To err is human, but to persist is diabolical. Maybe it should be posted in polling stations. Certainly it should be posted in cockpits. The captain [of a particular airliner about to crash] was having a hard time with it that night. He never admitted that he had screwed up. He never even admitted that he and the copilot together had screwed up. Instead he said that they had gotten screwed up, as if it had been done to them by outside forces—presumably some mysterious equipment failure. The distinction may seem like a semantic quibble, but it fits into larger patterns at play that night and helps to explain the ongoing and maddening descent. Even now the captain did not fully accept what the navigational instruments showed—that they had overshot the entry gate, that they had proceeded into uncharted territory far to the east of the final approach course, and that after all these years spent flying airplanes, this time his mental map was wrong. He was intellectually arrogant. It was diabolically stupid of him. He kept thinking they could salvage the arrival.
Several pages later Langewiesche concludes the accident analysis: "No technology can protect passengers from such pilots, but in this particular case, had they been in a fly-by-wire design, it seems likely that everyone would have survived. ... Experiments later found that perhaps 10 percent of airline pilots can (on a good day) squeeze the maximum performance from conventional airplanes during emergency maneuvers like pull-ups that require them to go to the very edge of flight. Ziegler was not building protections for them, but for all the others, 90 percent of airline pilots worldwide. He could not keep crews from descending on autopilot into the Andes at night, nor could he keep such crews from crashing, but once the autopilot is off and the pilots' hands are on the controls, he could guarantee the same performance to everyone—from the top 10 percent to the Cali crew, and all the pilots in between."
In my teenager years of reading Flying magazine I loved the detailed analyses of plane crashes. Now, I think I know why. Accident reports aren't just data-dense tense human-machine stories. Nor are they sure-glad-that's-not-me schadenfreude spectaculars. When well-written such a report can bring one into a hyper-aware mindful state, perhaps similar to the slow-motion total-immersion that people in crisis sometimes feel. Fascinating, and important.
(cf. WrightFlight (2003-03-30), Theory of Flight (2008-02-26), ...)
- Friday, January 07, 2011 at 04:54:10 (EST)
The sidewalk is white with salt drifts. This morning I was crowned, or rather, got a temporary crown at the dentist. By mid-afternoon when I venture out the temperature has risen to the mid-40's, but strong gusty winds make it feel cold enough to keep hands retracted inside sleeves. I regret not wearing double shorts. Circling the parking lots, I dodge drivers intent on escaping work. Beams from the setting sun reflect from aluminum pillars into caustics, ripples of light frozen into lines like at the bottom of a swimming pool. Descending pace for the 1.5 mile orbits: ~9.3 ⇒ ~8.4 ⇒ ~7.7 min/mi; pulse ~180 after that final blitz.
- Thursday, January 06, 2011 at 04:44:56 (EST)
Minerals vary widely in their hardness, the strength of the molecular or interparticle bonds that make them resist scratching. To quantify that property geologists have defined the Mohs Scale. It ranges from soft talc = 1, through calcite = 4, quartz = 7, up to sapphire = 9, and finally diamond = 10. But those rank-order numbers don't reflect the true hardness of diamond. It should actually be many hundred, as this quantitative graph of absolute hardness depicts the data:
For trail running, similarly, there's a difficulty scale that Ultrarunning magazine has defined. It's two-dimensional, with ratings for terrain and surface ranging from 1 to 5 for each:
1 = flat or nearly flat
2 = rolling, total climb up to 50 feet per mile (2500 feet in 50 miles)
3 = hilly, total climb between 50 and 150 feet per mile (2500 - 7500 feet in 50 miles)
4 = very hilly, total climb between 150-250 feet per mile (7500-12,500 feet in 50 miles)
5 = mountainous, total climb more than 250 feet per mile
1 = paved or very smooth surface
2 = mostly groomed trail or dirt roads
3 = trail or dirt road with some rocks, root, and/or ruts
4 = trail or dirt road with substantial rocks, roots and/or ruts
5 = very rough trail
In this system the Bull Run Run = (2,3) and Massanutten Mountain Trails = (4,5). The legendary Barkley Marathons is officially (5,5) — but, like diamond on the Mohs scale, perhaps should be more like (100,100)!
(cf. Big Stick, ...)
- Wednesday, January 05, 2011 at 04:58:11 (EST)
A week ago Cara Marie Manlandro and I planned a long run today, tentatively an abridged version of our big loop on 2009-08-15 that went down Beach Dr into Rock Creek Park and then curved eastward along urban and suburban streets. But the forecast for this Sunday morning is snow, possibly in significant amounts. When I awaken early I decide to go at 0530 to take care of the kittens of a friend who's out of town. Comrade Kate Abbott and I had hoped to run together, but the threat of a blizzard preempts that.
But as the sun rises there's no snow, only a big raccoon dashing across the street as I return home. CM and I confer and agree to meet at the DC-MD Line at 0745. I jog the 3 miles there as I did last week; alas, on her way there CM's truck is rear-ended by a car which then drives away. Damage minor, but must file report, so no run this morning.
Coincidentally a text message from Ken Swab arrives: he's on his way to Bethesda for an 8am run. We talk and decide to head along Leland Dr in opposite directions and meet, assuming neither of us gets lost. Just west of Connecticut Av I spy Ken, clad in ninja-black. My attempt to hide behind a bare sapling is feckless, especially since my fluorescent-green HAT Run shirt is blindingly bright.
Ken and I return to Bethesda, chattering all the while, and proceed up Old Georgetown Rd to loop around NIH, in the opposite direction to the circuit CM and I did on Friday. Ken's son Andrew Swab spots us as we pass the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Rescue Squad building where he's working, and gives Ken a call on the cellphone. Ken shows me the Bethesda Trolley Trail south of the NIH campus, and we return to finish at the Vace Italian delicatessen which Ken recommends.
(cf. GPS trackfile of the run)
- Tuesday, January 04, 2011 at 04:39:14 (EST)
The library used-book sale yields another fascinating little volume: Yoga for Busy People by Dawn Groves. It's relaxed and non-dogmatic in its approach to yoga, with the philosophy that something is better than nothing and that starting small may help harried folks move on to doing more. YBP is also well-written and thoughtful. In Chapter 1 ("Getting Started") Groves suggests three steps to get "maximum value in a minimal amount of time" :
1. Center your attention: Centering refines your concentration and quiets your mind. Centering cultivates a keen awareness of what your body is doing. It teaches your mind to focus, attunes your attention to the body's alignment and breathing rhythm, and intensifies the value of any posture. ...
2. Perform a posture: ... Each posture aligns, tones, lengthens, and nourishes your muscles and internal organs. It's more beneficial to correctly execute a single posture than to thoughtlessly run through a series of postures.
3. Release the experience: Releasing involves accepting what you've done and letting go of the experience. Releasing reinforces the value of the practice, enhancing its long-term effect. With an upbeat, positive release, you're also less likely to procrastinate your next practice session.
Groves also in her introduction offers a sharp definition of meditation:
In a way, yoga is a style of meditation. Meditation is a mental discipline of focusing the mind upon one thing or activity, the purpose of which is to develop a transcendent sense of peace and a mindful clarity of thought. Meditation teaches you how to efficiently think and act without the burden of reactive thinking. People who meditate regularly are light of heart, not oppressed by the crescendo of self-doubt that plagues Western culture. They listen to their thoughts but aren't trapped by them. They become objective, creative thinkers with excellent concentration skills. As you quiet your mind through yoga postures, you're exercising a form of this mental discipline.
(cf. AikidoSpirit (2003-12-09), Yoga and Mudra (2010-08-08), Afraid of Chairs (2010-10-15), ...)
- Monday, January 03, 2011 at 05:44:34 (EST)
Venus glitters bright in the eastern sky at dawn. The Bethesda Rebel Runner rendezvous is scheduled for 8am, so a few minutes after 7am I commence my journey. First steps outside suggest that near-freezing temps and brisk north breezes will require more than a vest, so I go back inside to don hat and windshirt. Twenty minutes later as I cross the golf course Venus is still visible but takes considerable scanning to locate. In Bethesda early I pause the GPS at 4 miles (~10.2 min/mi) and wander the parking lot. Hilary Swab is there so we chat until her father Ken Swab arrives in his Miata, followed by Rebecca Rosenberg, Alyssa Smith, Emaad Burki, and Barry Smith.
Down the CCT we go, avoiding frozen spots for ~4 miles (~10.3 min/mi), then turn back. Ken entertains us with TV game show trivia questions. He and Hilary and I branch to a side trail on the opposite bank of the stream between Dalecarlia Reservoir and Massachusetts Av, where we rejoin Rebecca and Barry (Emaad and Alyssa having returned earlier). I'm chatting and don't notice speedy Hilary running away until she's far ahead. Nobody else wants to try to catch her, so I sprint (~8 min/mi) but am still ~10 seconds behind when she reaches the parking lot and stops. We all go to Dunkin Donuts and then Barry gives me a ride home.
At 2pm Cara Marie Manlandro meets me at Fleming Park and we run down the Bethesda Trolley Trail to NIH, circle the campus, and return (see trackfile on Garmin Connect). The weather is still brisk and CM arrives underprepared, so I tell her to open the little Christmas package I've brought for her: a pair of pink running gloves from the half-price room at RnJ Sports, my favorite shopping venue (besides the thrift store). Our pace is sub-10 min/mi for the first 3+ miles. Then we slow to climb the long Cedar Lane hill. The full journey is a few feet more than 5 miles by the GPS.
- Sunday, January 02, 2011 at 10:04:36 (EST)
Standing with our backs against the wall, I comment to comrade Gina that neither of us at today's big meeting has talked to anybody we don't already know in the group. "Is this where the term Wallflower comes from? From flowered wallpaper?" I ask. Apparently not, a quick search suggests: from at least the 1500's the word just refers to Erysimum, a type of plant that grows up old rock walls. The usage to describe a shy introvert at a party begins in the 1800's. What an apt metaphor!
(cf. , , , , , ...)
- Saturday, January 01, 2011 at 04:59:01 (EST)
No creatures great or small, no fowl of air nor beast of earth are out today, as I run near sunrise along the snaky loop through the woods — until after my fourth and final breakneck lap, when a gray fox trots across the path. Although the temperature is only freezing the gusty breeze adds challenge. "Brave man!" a person entering the office building says as he sees me heading out. "Foolish!" I correct him. The blacktop jogging trail is beautifully clean of snow, with a light dusting of salt and only a few small icy patches, easily avoided, on the side farthest from the gate. I wear two pairs of shorts and two shirts along with gloves, and so don't suffer much chill once slower laps are finished. Mile splits according to the markers: 9:35 ⇒ 8:55 ⇒ 8:06 ⇒ 7:09.
- Friday, December 31, 2010 at 21:59:03 (EST)
Scientific, rational people fairly often report mystical experiences; see, for example, Atheist Spirituality. Mystical people, on the other hand, rarely if ever seem to have scientific experiences. Why the asymmetry? What would a "scientific" epiphany be like? A sudden vision that the world is governed by natural laws, not subject to arbitrary wishes or whims? A deep feeling that numbers and equations are central to everything? A sense that by working hard and studying one can understand past and future events via quantitative models? An instinct that everything in a deep way makes sense? Hmmmmm!
(cf. KnowHowAndFearNot (1999-11-19), LensManic (2001-07-16), RealGenius (2003-01-23), TechnicalMinded (2003-07-18), HalClement (2003-11-05), Standard Model (2008-09-06), ...)
- Thursday, December 30, 2010 at 04:55:25 (EST)
"Ready or not?" I ask Stephanie. She's ready, so out we venture as the sun rises: Hwy 123 (Dolley Madison Blvd) to Merchant Ln, then zig-zag Ramshorn Dr, Somerset Dr, Long Meadow Rd, Perry Williams Dr, where I mistakenly turn us left instead of right. We realize it when we dead-end at a mega-mansion. Back then to Stoneham Ln which takes us at last to our goal, Potomac School Rd. We follow the high-tension power lines to the swanky stone school gate but don't dare venture in. Instead it's back to our start via Potomac School Rd, with a 3-minute pause for the light to change at Hwy 123, then Georgetown Pike and return on the bikepath.
Back in the office, my boss mentions that he saw Stephanie and me waiting to cross at the traffic light as he was driving in. "That's why I run," I explain, "to be seen!" Well, actually that plus to tell stories, as Caren Jew pointed out long ago.
- Wednesday, December 29, 2010 at 04:38:23 (EST)
Another thoughtful image from Pragito Dove's Lunchtime Enlightenment, near the end of Chapter 3 ("Frogs Jumping from Lily Pads: Becoming a Witness to the Mind"):
Remember not to be too serious. Nothing special is supposed to happen. There is nothing to figure out or analyze, no success or failure. You are simply allowing yourself to be less identified with the body, mind, emotions, and environment, which then leaves space for insight or understanding to arise.
Remember, let the mind pass by. These are the five key words for watching the mind. There is no concentration, because concentration creates tension. No forcing, no trying to stop the mind, no fighting with the mind. Just let the traffic of the mind pass by. You are the watcher, observing, disidentified, with no judgment, accepting whatever passes by, as if one would sit high up on a mountaintop, watching life pass by with no attachment or involvement. This will bring you to your essential self.
- Tuesday, December 28, 2010 at 05:51:18 (EST)
Every step I take crunches on the sidewalk — not from snowmelt refrozen into ridges, but due to excess salt crystals applied by the grounds crew. A total eclipse of the moon a few hours ago has left lunacy in its wake: I remember to bring my gloves but only don a single layer of clothes. So the early morning wind is chilly, especially during the first lap around the office parking lot. Though I don't notice it much during the run, afterwards I realize that I should have worn a double pair of shorts. (Say no more!) At least I got rid of the Holey Socks that I've been using for far too long. Descending pace for the ~1.5 mile circuits: ~9.6 ⇒ ~8.1 ⇒ ~7.6 min/mi.
- Monday, December 27, 2010 at 20:01:20 (EST)
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), 0.82 (February-April 2010), 0.83 (April-May 2010), 0.84 (May-July 2010), 0.85 (July-September 2010), 0.86 (September-October 2010), 0.87 (October-December 2010), 0.88 (December 2010 - February 2011), 0.89 (February-April 2011), 0.90 (April-June 2011), 0.91 (June-August 2011), 0.92 (August-October 2011), ... Current Volume. Send comments and suggestions to z (at) his.com. Thank you! (Copyright © 1999-2011 by Mark Zimmermann.)