^zhurnaly 0.92

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Howdy, pilgrim! No ads — you're in volume 0.92 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 = 0.91 ... 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

2011-10-09 - Catoctin Trail with Caren

~5.5 miles @ ~20.4 min/mi

http://zhurnaly.com/images/running/Catoctin_Red_Man.jpg"Relentless!" — that's the thousand foot climb from the Manor Area at Cunningham Falls State Park along the Catoctin Trail northward. Less than a minute ahead of Caren Jew, I reach our rendezvous point, "Drop Zone X-Ray", at 5:52am. Intermittent fog blankets highway US-15 north of Frederick. Instead of the southbound route that the Catoctin 50k race follows we head in the opposite direction as soon as dawn makes trail markings visible. I've been this way only once before, and that time didn't get very far. (cf. 2010-04-17 - Catoctin Trail with Caren, Gayatri, and Ken)

Two deer crunch the leaves as they cross the path ahead of us. After an hour we turn back at a big gnarly tree. During the return trip we explore a side trail marked "Bob's Hill" to an outcropping of rocks. Caren takes photos with her iPhone. The mostly-downhill reverse trek is fun and fast, though it certainly stresses the quads.

(photo by Caren Jew of ^z on Bob's Hill, showing off his new trail shoes and matching outfit)

(cf. GPS trackfile, ...)

- Monday, October 24, 2011 at 04:36:48 (EDT)


On Friday while riding with a colleague to a meeting I talked about my irrational obsession with optimization: finding the shortest path to walk between buildings, pinching pennies when shopping, modeling something using the fewest possible parameters, accomplishing multiple errands whenever I drive the car, etc.

For instance, I explained, if I leave home between 5:18 and 5:20am in the morning then I can walk leisurely to the Forest Glen Metro station and catch the Red Line train with 2-4 minutes to spare ~90% of the time. That train gives me a 2-4 minute window to get an Orange Line train (~90% probability) at Metro Center, which gets me to West Falls Church station with ~10 minutes margin of safety to get on the 6:40am shuttle bus to my new job site. Leaving home after 5:22am often puts me on the next Red Line train, which doesn't make as good a connection downtown and which ends up with a frantic sprint to get on the shuttle bus, if I'm lucky and there are no small fluctuations in train schedules.

When my colleague said that my fanaticism with economy didn't sound bad to him, I replied that it really was foolishness on my part, and that I didn't properly take into account the costs of gathering information and of mental computation in figuring out the best strategy.

But later I realized that what I was joking about, self-deprecatingly, is in fact meta-optimization — making the process of being-efficient be more efficient itself. And of course, when doing that one must take into account the enjoyment that some people, like me, get out of skillful hyper-efficient courses of action. In my case, thats's so much fun that it's more than worth the cost!

(cf. Mr. Optimization, ...)

- Sunday, October 23, 2011 at 11:29:08 (EDT)

2011-10-08 - Canal Towpath with Kabrena

~6 miles @ ~11.3 min/mi

Fog on the Clara Barton Parkway adds mystery and adventure to dawn this morning near the Potomac River. A woodchuck (groundhog?) humps across the road in front of me as I approach Carderock. My directions are incomplete and comrade Kabrena Rodda misses the turn; we confer on cellphone and she arrives still early. Along the C&O Canal towpath the trot upstream and back is a chance to catch up on family news. We admire the scenery, including two great blue herons, flocks of geese, ducks, etc. It's such a joy to run with a friend!

(cf. GPS trackfile, ...)

- Saturday, October 22, 2011 at 03:49:36 (EDT)

2011-10-07 - Scott Run, Pimmit View, Griffith, Lemon Road Parks

~4.5 miles @ ~8.8 min/mi

As the GPS trackfile map shows, today's late-morning Pimmit Hills neighborhood loop begins with a short-cut through Scott Run Community Park/Westgate Park past the baseball fields. Then Pimmit View Park and tiny Griffith Park lead to the stairs and bridge entrance of Lemon Road Park. On the return trek there's Pimmit Run Stream Valley Park beside the road. Cool weather makes for speed. Having taken most of the route the opposite way a couple of days earlier, I'm prepared to switch sides of the street as needed when sidewalks vanish abruptly.

- Saturday, October 22, 2011 at 03:44:22 (EDT)

Hardware Guy

Touring a computer server room yesterday I was impressed, not at the racks of fancy hardware — blade servers and fibre channel switches and search appliances and other mysterious devices — but rather at how obsolete all of the expensive apparatus will be within a very few years, and how vulnerable it is to damage. Hence the need for access-control locked doors, exotic fire-extinguishing systems, and hurricanes of cold air blowing down the aisles.

I was going to tell the woman who runs the computer lab that I'm not a "hardware guy". But then I realized that actually, I am. The "hardware" that I dig, however, is half a dozen levels below brand-name boxes and trademarked chips. Instead, I'm into P-N junctions and electrons, fields and energy levels. Likewise I'm a "software guy" — but not one who's expert at the latest version of Microsoft Word or Unix or Perl. Think regular expressions, heapsort, resolution and unification, backpropagation, fast fourier transforms, memoization, and the minimax theorem. Ideas, like electrons, that will keep working forever.

(cf. LoomingDisaster (2001-08-06), MindChildren (2003-04-17), ...)

- Friday, October 21, 2011 at 04:38:21 (EDT)

2011-10-05 - Pimmit Hills Larger Loop

~4.3 miles @ ~9.4 min/mi

Monarch butterfly poses on the pathway, wings together. Sidewalks vanish arbitrarily and reappear, sometimes, on the opposite side of the street. Patches of poison ivy and no-shoulder make for danger. The new loop today goes down busy Great Falls Rd to Idlywood to the elementary school where a trek along the parking lot leads to Lemon Road Park and nice paved bike path, rickety bridge over concrete-clad creek, steep stairs, and suddenly Pimmit Rd, terra cognita from earlier runs in the neighborhood. Walkers coming in to the building as I'm heading out at 1pm say the weather is perfect, which of course means that at 70°F it's a bit warm for running.

(cf. GPS trackfile, ...)

- Thursday, October 20, 2011 at 04:42:32 (EDT)

Bob Williams Sketch - Hawaii Animals


A drawing from last year by friend Bob Williams, of creatures seen in Hawaii at the zoo (Texas longhorn, zebra, buffalo) and on the road (wild pig) ...

(cf. Bob Williams Sketch - Career Marathon, Bob Williams Sketch - Frozen Beard, Bob Williams Sketch - Runner Protection, Bob Williams Sketch - Election Tsunami, Bob Williams Sketch - Out of the Box, Bob Williams Sketch - Work Chair, Bob Williams Sketch - Nearing Retirement, Bob Williams Sketch - Retirement Express, ...)

- Wednesday, October 19, 2011 at 04:46:21 (EDT)

2011-10-03 - Pimmit Hills Loop

~2.9 miles @ ~9 min/mi

Bad news for colleagues: I forget to bring a towel and can't shower after exercise. Good news for colleagues: light rain and cold weather during the run keeps the sweat down, I do remember to bring deodorant, and there aren't any close-quarters meetings scheduled for this afternoon. With GPS the "~3 miles" estimated on 2011-09-14 - Pimmit Hills Loop turns out to be 2.93 miles — but of course that could be plus or minus 5% or more. Cedar branches comb my thin hair in the final mile along Magarity Rd.

(cf. GPS trackfile, ...)

- Tuesday, October 18, 2011 at 04:35:40 (EDT)

Core Buddhism


Like vehicle, destination, highway. The journey is life.

If challenged to encapsulate secular, non-religious, lower-case "buddhism" in a few words, three candidates:

Mystical enlightenment experiences? Unnecessary, often illusory. Also optional: belief (or disbelief) in god(s), karma, reincarnation, afterlife, ...

(cf. Einstein on Self, John Muir, Present-Moment Reality, Being with Your Breath, Beginner's Guide to Insight Meditation, Breath and Awareness, Indra's Net, Total Interconnectedness, MyOb, My Religion, ...)

- Monday, October 17, 2011 at 06:12:16 (EDT)

2011-10-02 - Ken-Gar RCT and MHT

~5 miles @ ~8.6 min/mi

Three big deer peer at the strange sight: a runner in the mist, black gloves, white shirt with sleeves rolled up, shorts, near Veirs Mill Rd on the Matthew Henson Trail. It's a brisk solo afternoon trek for me, start/finish at Ken-Gar. Comrade Caren Jew had hoped to join, but has family duties and isn't feeling good this afternoon. The GPS is off significantly during the first segment from milepost 7 to Dewey Park milepost 8 on Rock Creek Trail, which it logs as less than 0.9 miles. But later it seems to compensate, as it did during the 2011-09-11 - Parks Half Marathon. Today sets record-low high-temperatures in the region; at 3:45pm it's only ~50°F — yay!

Birthday presents are tested and enjoyed today: many thanks to friend Mary Ewell for neat runner's carseat cover ("Are You Still Sitting on Towels?" is the taunting slogan) and to brother Keith Zimmermann for spiffy Mizuno gloves that keep hands warm in spite of drizzle and chill breezes.

(cf. GPS trackfile/map, ...)

- Sunday, October 16, 2011 at 06:22:53 (EDT)

Diary of Regret

From "Hagakure", a book about Japanese samurai life written by Yamamoto Tsunetomo in the early 1700's:

When I was young, I kept a "Diary of Regret" and tried to record my mistakes day by day, but there was never a day I did not have twenty or thirty entries. As there was no end to it, I gave up. Even today, when I think about the day's affairs after going to bed, there is never a day when I do not make some blunder in speaking or some activity. living without mistakes is truly impossible. But this is something that people who live by cleverness have no inclination to think about.

( as translated by William Scott Wilson; cf. DearDiary, Diary Habit, ...)

- Saturday, October 15, 2011 at 04:12:12 (EDT)


~19 miles @ ~11 min/mi

"Deer!" Rebecca Rosenberg whispers and points as we approach the three scrawny critters feeding near the northern end of Sligo Creek Trail. Damp has turned into intermittent light rain. Ken Swab and Emaad Burki are a few dozen paces behind us. Matt Romano, good-humored, training for his first marathon, put up with our advice for 10 miles before he had to leave. Honey stinger stroopwafels fuel my run, one at mile 8 and a second at mile 12. (Many thanks to brother Keith Zimmermann for sending me a box of them as a birthday present!) I begin at home, trot to meet the gang at Sligo Creek Parkway near Forest Glen, and follow them in a double out-and-back downstream and up.

A little dog with dreadlocks looks like a mobile string mop. Bright orange mushrooms and yellow flowers decorate the ground near the trail in its Prince Georges County segment. My shirt comes off at mile ~13, with my apologies. Although the day is surprisingly cool, friction makes a top uncomfortable. Naughty banter by Ken and Emaad is hilarious. Rebecca and I blush and run ahead to discuss ritual practice for the High Holy Days. After a ball field circuit in Wheaton Regional Park we return to the cars. I jog home, then enjoy egg fu young and General Tso's veggie pseudo-chicken for a recovery-reward meal.

(cf.GPS track file map, ...)

- Friday, October 14, 2011 at 04:41:18 (EDT)


Sissala Bok's 1978 book Lying: Moral Choice in Public and Private Life wrestles with a wide range of issues surrounding truth and its communication. Its attempt to make a systematic taxonomy of lies (e.g., paternalistic, vengeful, profitable, trivial, modest, boastful, etc.) falls short. But the examples that Bok provides, both classic and original, are always entertaining and provocative. For instance:

Among the amusing thought-experiments Bok quotes is Saint Augustine's reductio ad absurdum, "... I am not moved by the fact that, when we are unwilling to lie and men die upon hearing what is true, truth is called homicide. Why, if a shameless woman expects to be defiled and then dies of her fierce love because you do not consent, will chastity also be homicide?"

Bok argues, reasonably, that all dishonesty needs to be judged in the light of public examination, i.e., ask oneself how a lie would look on the front page of a newspaper. Lies must not be told to take advantage of someone weaker. The general corruption of society also needs to be kept in mind when evaluating untruth.

- Thursday, October 13, 2011 at 04:50:23 (EDT)

2011-09-25 - Western Ridge Trail and Beach Drive

~10.8 miles @ ~14.4 min/mi

"I'm never coming here again!" Caren Jew swears as she descends a staircase of super-steep slippery rocks. I apologize for luring her into this adventure; memory had faded from the scary experience I had here in 2004 on a solo trek, and I didn't realize how dangerous this segment still is. Important safety tip: next time when trail signage offers the choice between "Strenuous" and "Moderate", take "Moderate".

Earlier today I get the classic migraine aura — slowly growing asymmetric blind spot, surrounded by glittering zig-zag crenalations — but thankfully no headache follows. Perhaps the can of "classic" Pepsi that I chug, when symptoms appear, heads it off? Caren's training schedule demands a few hours of hoof time this Sunday afternoon, so I nominate Rock Creek Park. We park at Boundary Bridge and proceed down the Western Ridge Trail, speculating as to where Chandra Levy was murdered years ago. (Caren's guess turns out to be right, according to subsequent research.) At the horse stable area near Oregon Av a small deer feasts on succulent turf inside the equitation ring.

After we descend from the ridge to Beach Dr it's my turn to apologize again: I lead Caren along Piney Branch Parkway half a mile out and back in search of the Valley Trail. Memory fails me again: the Valley Trail doesn't start until a mile upstream. We decide to stick to Beach Dr and return to Caren's car that way, rather than gamble on another off-road adventure and possible delays.

(cf. GPS trackfile, ...)

- Wednesday, October 12, 2011 at 04:45:50 (EDT)

Self-Interest and Understanding

A recent article by Gardiner Harris in the New York Times quotes Otis Brawley, of the American Cancer Society, re the conflict between evidence and self-interest:

"If your income is dependent on you not understanding something, it is very easy not to understand something."

... an observation quite relevant in many areas, including politics.

(It's probably an allusion to Upton Sinclair's 1935 quip "It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!"; cf. Medicine and Statistics (2010-11-13), ...)

- Tuesday, October 11, 2011 at 04:34:32 (EDT)

2011-09-24 - MCRRC Lake Needwood 10k XC

~6.2 miles @ ~9 min/mi

"Wait, Mark!" Dee Nelson shouts as I stagger away from the finish line. Dee has finished a few seconds behind me at today's tough MCRRC 10k cross-country race. She runs across the grass and gives me a big hug. This is what "competition" means: striving together. Dee is an amazing runner, in her 60's and super-strong. For the past few years we've been informal friendly rivals, helping each to bring out the best in the other. Today is no exception. Matt Bevan and I are cruising along near the midpoint of today's race when Dee blasts by. We give chase, and at about mile 5 on a big downhill I manage to pass again, flying almost out of control, and maintain a lead to the finish line. The official result:

48 39/60 3/7 666 Mark Zimmermann M 58 Kensington MD MCRRC 55:56 9:00

(cf. GPS trackfile, September2005JogLog, 2006-09-16 - Ken-Gar plus Lake Needwood Orbit, 2008-09-27 - Lake Needwood 10k plus , ...)

- Monday, October 10, 2011 at 04:58:36 (EDT)

Verses from the Center

Stephen Batchelor knows Buddhism and writes well, but Verses from the Center: A Buddhist Vision of the Sublime is rather a failed experiment of a book. It centers on Batchelor's translation of poetry by Nagarjuna, a second-century Indian mystic-philosopher. But most of the material as presented is not at all poetic. Instead it reads like the pseudo-intellectual aphorisms of "The Sphinx", a wannabe-superhero character in the movie Mystery Men. Is the problem with the original Mulamadhyamakakarika or with the translation? An outsider has no way to tell.

Nevertheless, among the stanzas that Batchelor provides are some memorable images, e.g.:

Imagine a magician
Who creates a creature
Who creates other creatures.
Acts I perform are creatures
Who create others.
When buddhas don't appear
And their followers are gone,
The wisdom of awakening
Bursts forth by itself.
Your muddled conclusions
Do not affect emptiness;
Your denial of emptiness
Does not affect me.
The dissolving of objects
And easing of fixations is peace.
The Buddha never taught
Anyone anything.

See [1] and [2] for Batchelor's own presentation of a literal translation. Many of his comments in Visions from the Center are thoughtful and evocative, far more poetic than the original verses. Examples to follow ...

(cf. Buddhism Without Beliefs, Confession of a Buddhist Atheist, Faith to Doubt, ...)

- Sunday, October 09, 2011 at 04:38:03 (EDT)

2011-09-21 - Backwards Pimmit Hills Loop

3+ miles @ ~10 min/mi

Change of luck needed: to avoid tripping and falling on the sidewalk (cf. last week's 2011-09-14 - Pimmit Hills Loop) today the course is run in reverse, Magarity to Griffith to Pimmit to Anderson. And when the loop closes I start it over again for a few blocks, Magarity to the neighborhood park behind the elementary school. No Golfing the sign at the entrance warns. OK! Along the edge of the ballfields are weeds, brush, poison ivy, and fences. Finally, a gap. Back in the office parking lot, back to the loading dock entrance, total time 32:34.

- Saturday, October 08, 2011 at 04:44:31 (EDT)

Emperor's Handbook

"It's up to you!" — is that an athletic shoe slogan, or the distillation of Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius's Stoic philosophy? Apparently the latter, according to C. Scott Hicks and David V. Hicks, translators of The Emperor's Handbook, a 2002 edition of the Meditations (aka To Himself).

"This book belongs on the desk of every business executive, political leader, and military officer," the dust jacket trumpets. Really? The Introduction includes a strained defense of the torture and execution of early Christians, by order of M. Aurelius and in contrast to his benign tolerance of other belief systems. Why the strange apologetics? Overall The Emperor's Handbook feels oddly unnecessary. Yes, modern CEOs might profit from pondering M. Aurelius. So would lots of other people. But although Hicks & Hicks have produced a chatty, readable tome, it's unclear how accurate or authoritative it is compared to all the other translations.

(cf. BennettOnStoicism (1999-04-29), InsideTheInnerCitadel (2002-10-15), MemorySupport (2002-10-31), EatTheOrange (2004-11-28), ...)

- Friday, October 07, 2011 at 04:38:51 (EDT)

2011-09-18 - N3WQM de N6WX

~5.5 miles @ ~9.9 min/mi

New ham radio handi-talkies arrive, thanks to my brother Keith (K5WX), for son Merle (N3WQM) and me (N6WX) — time to test their range and signal quality! Around the neighborhood late morning on a pleasantly cool Sunday, the GPS track file map shows the route. We use 444.445 MHz on the 70cm band for the experiment, Merle at home upstairs. No signal after losing line-of-sight during the descent toward Rock Creek along the Ireland Dr bike path. Reestablish contact at the entrance to the Mormon Temple Visitor Center on Stoneybrook St; stay in touch over the big hill until after Leafy House when another valley notches us out. OK once more at McKinney Hills Learning Center, which has been demolished and is now a construction site for something unspecified. Fine comms at the Forest Glen Metro station, then fade out along Georgia Avenue until Seminary Rd past the fire station. Weak at the corner of Brookeville and Warren, but solid again a few blocks closer to home.

- Thursday, October 06, 2011 at 04:52:03 (EDT)

Bob Williams Sketch - Retirement Express


A drawing by comrade Bob Williams, in honor of another colleague who recently left the workforce. Rumor has it that Bob himself is taking the Retirement Express soon — congratulations, friend!

(cf. Bob Williams Sketch - Career Marathon, Bob Williams Sketch - Frozen Beard, Bob Williams Sketch - Runner Protection, Bob Williams Sketch - Election Tsunami, Bob Williams Sketch - Out of the Box, Bob Williams Sketch - Work Chair, Bob Williams Sketch - Nearing Retirement, ...)

- Tuesday, October 04, 2011 at 19:02:46 (EDT)

2011-09-17 - Great Falls Trails with Mary

~4.5 miles @ ~24 min/mi

Heavy rains and resultant flooding make a hazardous mess of the Difficult Run Trail. Deadfalls and flotsam mandate scrambles and detours. As Mary Ewell and I approach the Potomac River we find a notch cut into an already dangerously-narrow trail segment, with Park Service warning barriers on each side. We dither, scout about, contemplate and then dismiss crossing the stream, fail in an attempt to climb the too-steep slope, retreat, and eventually manage to crawl up the ridge. But now where are we?

Sharp-eyed Mary spots a deer ambling through the woods on the other side of a ravine. We figure the critter may know something, so we take a parallel path and eventually reach the River Trail. Whew! First we head downriver, then turn back, get bearings, and take the green-blazed trail to the Great Falls National Park visitor's center. Lots of people are out hiking today, many with dogs. At the snack bar I buy Mary a Gatorade and myself a Snickers candy bar.. Frank and wide-ranging conversation makes for great fun during the trek back to our starting point on the old Carriage Road.

(see GPS trackfile, ...)

- Monday, October 03, 2011 at 04:39:45 (EDT)

Insight into Emptiness

Stephen Batchelor in Buddhism Without Beliefs (in the chapter titled "Compassion") talks about how liberation from self can lead to connection with others:

Insight into emptiness and compassion for the world are two sides of the same coin. To experience ourselves and the world as interactive processes rather than aggregates of discrete things undermines both habitual ways of perceiving the world as well as habitual feelings about it. Meditative discipline is vital to dharma practice precisely because it leads us beyond the realm of ideas to that of felt-experience. Understanding the philosophy of emptiness is not enough. The ideas need to be translated through meditation into the wordless language of feeling in order to loosen those emotional knots that keep us locked in a spasm of self-preoccupation.

As we are released into the opening left by the absence of self-centered craving, we experience the vulnerability of exposure to the anguish and suffering of the world. The track on which we find ourselves in moments of centered experience includes both clarity of mind and warmth of heart. Just as a lamp simultaneously generates light and heat, so the central path is illuminated by wisdom and nurtured by compassion.

Batchelor goes on to warn that "A compassionate heart still feels anger, greed, jealousy, and other such emotions. But it accepts them for what they are with equanimity, and cultivates the strength of mind to let them arise and pass without identifying with or acting upon them." He then concludes, "Just as we need the courage to respond to the anguish of others, so we need the discernment to know our limitations and the ability to say 'no'. A compassionate life is one in which our resources are used to optimum effect. Just as we need to know when and how to give ourselves fully to a task, so we need to know when and how to stop and rest."

(cf. No Self-Blaming (2011-09-11), ...)

- Sunday, October 02, 2011 at 14:45:57 (EDT)

2011-09-14 - Pimmit Hills Loop

~3 miles @ ~10 min/mi

Sidewalk stumble: as usual, balance goes as the end of the run nears. A crack in the pavement catches my left big toe and to the ground I tumble. A robin's-egg bump immediately rises on the left forearm (ulna side), plus bonus scrapes on heel of the right palm and outside of the left calf. Ouch!

It's the first excursion from the new job. I join the Fitness Center on Monday, and yesterday's yoga class is encouraging. Today the computer folks ask me to stay logged off while they fix my user ID, so instead of lunch there's a chance to do a jaunt around the neighborhood. Exiting at the loading dock I meet a sweaty runner coming into the building, Darryl, who confirms the local course. "Route 4 - 3.0 miles, some hills" as the list says, sent to me by the yoga instructor gym supervisor. South on Anderson Rd to its end, then southwest on Pimmit Dr, north on Griffith Rd, and back to the start northeast via Magarrity Rd. The second half follows the 3T Metrobus route that's already familiar from several commutes. "Griffith Park" is a flea compared to the elephantine version in Los Angeles. Total time 27:21

- Saturday, October 01, 2011 at 23:09:41 (EDT)

Closer Than They Appear

"Objects in mirror are closer than they appear"? Well, Duh! — that's just the Triangle Inequality, assuming flat spacetime and flat mirrors and no refractive media.

Yep, Mr. Picky re-emerged yesterday morning to quibble again, during my walk to the local Metro station at 0530 ...

(pedestrian explanation: the Triangle Inequality says that the sum of two legs of a triangle — like the two legs of light's path between an object, a mirror, and the observer — is greater than the third leg, the distance directly between an object and the observer; the usual warning etched onto a car's curved side-mirror is therefore redundant, technically)

- Friday, September 30, 2011 at 04:49:18 (EDT)

Will Rogers

Already on the Reading List Someday, but worth moving up a few notches: a biography of humorist-commentator Will Rogers (1879-1935). He once said:

"Never miss a good chance to shut up."

... which is particularly apt on days like today, when I have to give a presentation to a group and need to control a tendency to ramble on too long!

- Wednesday, September 28, 2011 at 04:44:12 (EDT)

Coming Back to Your Breath

Meditation for Dummies by Stephan Bodian devotes Chapter 15 to "How to Meditate in Everyday Life". Among the nicest suggestions:

Sometimes you feel like you're just moving too quickly and dealing with too many matters at once to know how (or where) to be mindful. "Where do I place my attention," you may wonder, "when things are happening so fast?" Just as you can begin your formal practice of mindfulness meditation by counting or following your breaths (see Chapter 6), you can always return to the direct and simple experience of breathing, even in the most complicated circumstances. No matter how many other things you may be doing, you're always breathing — and the physical experience of inhaling and exhaling provides a reliable anchor for your attention in stressful times. Then, once you've begun to pay attention to your breath, you can gradually expand to include mindful awareness of your other activities.

Besides, gently paying attention to your breath gradually calms your mind by shifting awareness away from your thoughts and slowing your mind down to the pace and rhythms of your body. With your mind and body in synch, you start to feel a natural ease and an inner harmony and tranquility that external circumstances can't easily disturb.

You can begin by stopping whatever you're doing for a moment or two and tuning in to the coming and going of your breath. Your attention may be drawn to the rise and fall of your abdomen as you breathe, or to the feeling of your breath as it enters and leaves your nostrils. Be mindful of these sensations for four or five breathing cycles, enjoying the simplicity and directness of the experience. When you breathe with awareness, you're consciously awake and alive in the present moment. Then resume your normal activities while continuing to be mindful of your breath. (If you find this multidimensional awareness too confusing or complicated, you can just remember to come back to your breath every now and then.)

(cf. Meditation Made Easy (2008-11-01), Midcourse Correction (2009-02-13), Try It for a Few Years (2009-05-19), Being with Your Breath (2010-02-20), Cat Bellies and Dog Noses (2010-10-12), The Watcher (2010-11-15), Calm Technique (2011-05-07), ...)

- Sunday, September 25, 2011 at 11:00:58 (EDT)

Total Immersion Philosophy

Total Immersion by Terry Laughlin (with John Delves) teaches swimming, via an approach which grandmaster comrade Cara Marie Manlandro says is quite sensible. The book is also well-written and inspirational. From the Introduction, a summary of "how TI will change your swimming":

- You'll learn to be Fishlike. Rather than churning out endless laps of pulling and kicking, you'll learn to swim with the effortless grace of fish. You'll feel the difference from your very first lap of intelligent, purposeful TI practice.

- You'll learn the qualities of beautiful swimming as well as the mechanics. While your initial goal is probably to swim faster, you'll quickly realize that it's far more important—and more satisfying—to swim with grace, flow, and economy. Speed will surely follow if you first master ease.

- You'll achieve transformation along with fluid strokes. TI, alone among all swimming-improvement programs, teaches swimming as a practice—in the same mindful spirit as yoga or tai chi. By swimming the TI way you'll sharpen the mind-body connection leading to heightened self-awareness and self-mastery, and greater physical and mental well-being.

- You'll master swimming as an art. TI emphasizes the same studied precision and refinement taught by martial-arts masters. You'll start with simple skills and movements, will progress by small, easily mastered steps, and will thrive on the attention to detail and the logical sequence of progressive skills.

Whew! What's not to like about self-mastery and self-awareness, not to mention beauty? As Chapter 1 ("Swimming Laps and Going Nowhere") concludes:

Grace, speed, technical proficiency, fitness, and peace of mind. Wait a minute—is this a swimming book or a whole human potential movement? You'll find the answer in the following pages, so let's get started. It's swimming we're going to be talking about, and you've no time to be skeptical. You've got more important things to do.

(cf. Swimming Fine (2008-04-24), ...)

- Saturday, September 24, 2011 at 07:16:01 (EDT)

2011-09-11 - Parks Half Marathon

13.1 miles @ 9.0 min/mi


(photo by Tom Brennan)
Nope, no plans to run the PHM this year — leading the 12+ min/mi slowest pace group 2008-2010 was enough public service — but when comrade Kate Abbott survives being Race Director of the VHTRC Women's Trail Half Marathon and itches to reward herself with a hard fun run, I volunteer to go sign us both up. So at the virtual-last-moment, 10am the day before the race, I'm standing in line. Well-intentioned data entry lists me as a one-n "Zimmerman" of "silverpsring". Kate is logged as Male, which would surprise her husband and sons. But no matter; we're in! Cara Marie Manlandro can't make it but is preregistered, so I snag the race packet for her too. The volunteers all seem to know me, an advantage of looking weird, so no need for ID or letter of authorization from Kate or CM.

Race morning dawns humid but mercifully cool. Hyper-early as usual I snag a fine parking spot at the Rockville Metro. Kate arrives and I deliver her chip, bib, commemorative shirt, etc., plus energy gels to fuel her run. We mug for the photographer and stand in a snaky portajohn line that moves efficiently. Rebecca Rosenberg joins us to start in the 8-9 min/mi wave. Kate and I blast out, enjoying the initial downhill segment on Veirs Mill Rd. At the two mile marker she pulls ahead. I shout "You're 16:01!" and she waves a hand over her shoulder — the last I see of Kate until after the finish line.

When the course enters Rock Creek Park I take my sweat-soaked shirt off and wrap it around an arm. Rebecca catches up and zips away about mile 6, as does "Speed Coach" Evan Carlson. I somehow pass him later on without noticing; he finishes close behind me. At mile 9 the GPS is a few percent off: actual elapsed time at the sign is almost exactly 1:20. It continues to read low through the end, where it records the distance as 13.05 rather than the certified 13.11 miles, about 0.5% short.

Kate and Rebecca meet me at the finish area. Kate improves her recent-memory PR for the distance by a monster ~3 minutes. She lands in the top ten of her age/sex cohort — brava! Rebecca passes her near the end. Official results:

  723  41/219   1589 Rebecca Rosenberg     F 44 Kensington MD      1:27:30 1:58:38 1:54:57  8:47
  733   8/152   2955 Kate Abbott           F 45 Fairfax            1:26:37 1:58:56 1:55:16  8:48 
  850  24/73    2954 Mark Zimmermann       M 58 Silver Spring MD   1:29:12 2:01:29 1:57:48  9:00 

The GPS trackfile reports mile splits as: 8:07 + 7:56 + 9:02 + 9:21 + 9:05 + 9:02 + 9:41 + 9:24 + 9:07 + 9:05 + 9:14 + 9:26 + 8:52 + a final 22 second fragment. All pleasingly consistent, after a pair of initial meteoric downhill miles.

(cf. 2008-09-14 - Parks Half Marathon Plus, 2009-09-13 - Double Parks Half Marathon, 2010-09-12 - Parks Half Marathon Plus, ...)

- Thursday, September 22, 2011 at 19:41:48 (EDT)

Big Idea, Big Deal

In the October issue of The Atlantic Marshall Poe's delightful little essay "Meme Weaver" reveals the magic formula for getting a major-cash-advance book contract: a Big Idea.

... A big idea is an enthusiastically stated thesis, usually taking the form of "This changes everything and will make you rich, happy, and beautiful." A big idea must be counterintuitive: the this that changes everything must be something everyone thinks is trivial, but in fact matters a great deal. In my case, the this had to be Wikipedia, so my big idea was "Wikipedia changes everything." I had done no research to substantiate such a claim. Third, I needed a catchphrase title like The Wisdom of Crowds, The Tipping Point, or The Long Tail. The title had to be the kind of thing that becomes a cliché. Trade editors would demand this. And in fact a trade editor suggested a good title—WikiWorld.

But of course after some research Poe found that Wikipedia doesn't really change everything. His first draft "... was a convoluted story involving evolution, human nature, media technologies, and their effects on human society and thought." No cookbook full of simple slogans and gripping yarns. At his editor's request he tried a rewrite, but:

... I couldn't write a big-idea book, because, as it turned out, I didn't believe in big ideas. By my lights, they almost had to be wrong. Years of academic research taught me two things. First, reality is as complicated as it is, not as complicated as we want it to be. Some phenomena have an irreducible complexity that will defeat any big-idea effort at simplification. Detailed research has, not surprisingly, cast doubt on the reality of wise crowds, tipping points, and long tails. Second, most of the easy big questions about the way the world works have been answered. The questions that remain are really hard. Big ideas, then, can only reinvent the wheel or make magical claims.

That's honesty. Alas, it doesn't sell ...

(cf. a baker's dozen related musings: SimpleAnswers (1999-05-04), ComplexityFromSimplicity (1999-08-05), ComplexSimplicity (2000-02-12), AwesomelySimple (2001-01-26), ExaggeratedCertainty (2002-12-16), ProbabilisticTragedy (2003-03-12), ProofsAndRefutations (2004-06-24), AlGore (2004-09-14), CreepingConfidence (2004-10-13), HardCoreBelievers (2005-09-02), WeeBitMoreComplicated (2007-08-29), Unreasonable Attention (2009-02-22), False Certainty (2010-03-23), ...)

- Tuesday, September 20, 2011 at 21:55:22 (EDT)

Thinker Shrinks

Socrates or psychotherapy? Plato or Prozac? Last month a thoughtful Washington Post article, "Philosophical counselors rely on eternal wisdom of great thinkers", discussed the notion that instead of psychiatry or medication some people struggling with grief, depression, marital woes, etc. might be helped more by studying philosophy. Author Emily Wax describes advisors in the field: "They're like intellectual life coaches. Very intellectual." Mental health professionals are of course worried by the competition. Many recent objective studies show that conventional therapy is largely a placebo phenomenon. And as Lou Marinoff, professor at City College of New York notes, "The Greeks had ancient philosophers at every street corner. Today, our society is more like Rome with our circus culture. It's all very entertaining. But we have to change the public perception of a philosopher as some useless academic relic." Wax's essay ends with a Zen-ish quote from Epicurus: "If a little is not enough for you, nothing is."

(cf. HeadlineSocrates (2000-05-30), ...)

- Monday, September 19, 2011 at 07:19:25 (EDT)

2011-09-03 - DNF The Ring

~40 miles @ ~22 min/mi

Real-time tweets tell the tale:

0259Up early getting ready to try The Ring, 71 mile Massanutten Trail loop
0806Shawl Gap, dead last ... so far so good ... humid ...
0849Sherman Gap ... bees buzz ...
10110945 Veach Gap - kind Cindy crewing for husband David Woll gives me water... THANK YOU! ... lonely in last place
1116Milford Gap ... refuel and move on!
1144Indian Grave Trail crossing - haze in valley - zippy lizard whizzes by
13111255 Habron Gap - Kerry Owens passes, started half hour late - bear scat? - thunder rumble? - no service in valley soon
1412Kennedy Peak - last post for a while - pass Brian, chat, commiserate
1847Wow! Mega climb to Crisman Hollow aid station
2214DNF! Missed cutoff at mile ~41 - Moreland Gap - too slow night rock runner - fear of falling & breaking bones (again!)

Yep, it's yet another Did Not Finish on The Ring, aka the Massanutten Trail. During the 2009-09-05 - One Third of The Ring attempt comrade Kate Abbott and I wisely decide to punch out at mile ~25. This time the bell tolls at mile ~40.7, after 15 hours en route. I arrive at 10pm, half an hour behind the official cutoff. Is it really appropriate to keep kind volunteers waiting at the aid stations ahead while I stumble through the night? Perhaps not. Elite ultra runner Dan Rose gives me a ride to Edinburg Gap. I drink chocolate milk, help a couple of runners as they come through, nap two hours. Ride back through fog to the start/finish, drive home, arrive 4:03am — precisely 24 hours after I left. The circle closes.

Of ~35 starters this year only a dozen finish The Ring. Weather is warm and humid. For most of the day I'm all alone in last place, though near the start the position is briefly inverted when fast runners take a wrong turn and reverse course to get back on track. I cheerfully salute as they pass. The motto today is "Relentless Forward Progress" with aggressive focus on hydration and nutrition. A water backpack plus hand-held bottle help with aid stations ~10 miles apart. Luna bars, Clif Bloks, and GU energy gels fuel the journey, though something in that diet produces major intestinal gas. Fortunately I'm alone in the woods most of the time.

I've now experienced the entire Massanutten Trail. The final two segments were Camp Roosevelt to the Waterfall Trail, and Jawbone Gap to Moreland Gap. My pace averages ~18 min/mi in daylight, but slows to ~30 min/mi or worse when night falls. That's marginally adequate to do The Ring successfully, if one doesn't get injured, lost, or dispirited. Maybe next year?


(cf. 2008-01-20 - Massanutten Mountain South Training Run, 2009-01-04 - Massanutten Mountain Mayhem, 2009-09-05 - One Third of The Ring, 2010-01-15 - Massanutten Trail over Short Mountain, 2010-04-03 - Chocolate Bunny, 2010-05-15 - Half Massanutten Mountain Trails, Between, ...)

- Saturday, September 17, 2011 at 20:34:47 (EDT)

Old News

The idea that there are no new ideas is not a new idea.

(used this month in [1], and last year in [2] (with the extra meta-riff of "The idea that the idea that there are no new ideas is not a new idea is not a new idea." ) — and long before that in Ecclesiastes 1:9, etc.; cf. OntologyRecapitulatesPhilology (2005-04-06), ...)

- Friday, September 16, 2011 at 04:48:45 (EDT)

Swept into the Current

From the Summer 2003 issue of Tricycle magazine that surfaced here randomly some months ago, a striking image at the end of an article, "The Appetite of Birds: The Challenge of Nonkilling" by Joe Franke:

Everything we touch, everything we think about and produce, ends up swept into the current, flowing downstream toward an uncertain causal stage, on a course back to us.

... reminiscent of John McPhee's "Coming Into the Country" essay on canoeing in Alaska, starting and finishing magically at the same point.

(cf. SenecaCreekGreenwayTrailMarathon2006 (2006-03-05), How to Be an Optimist (2011-08-24), ...)

- Wednesday, September 14, 2011 at 05:00:32 (EDT)

Work vs. Personal Freedom

Recently running buddy Rebecca Rosenberg and I have both been "between jobs". It's a spooky feeling — especially for a workaholic, especially for someone who loves what s/he does and has scarcely taken any time off for many years. But on the other hand, there's the fresh air of liberty and the chance to be irresponsible in new dimensions. It brings to mind an exchange between the two feckless protagonists of the underappreciated movie Tremors, Fred Ward and Kevin Bacon, as they muse upon the frustrations of their work and the possibility of doing something different with their lives:

I ask you, is this a job for intelligent men?
     Show me one. I'll ask him.
If we were serious about money, we'd quit being hired hands.
     Handymen, Earl. We are handymen.
We should quit this job and find ourselves some real employment.
     Are you going to give up all this personal freedom?
I don't know.

(cf. WhateverYouWant (2007-02-26), Retirement News (2011-08-18), ...)

- Monday, September 12, 2011 at 04:53:38 (EDT)

No Self-Blaming

Arianna Weisman and Jean Smith in the Beginner's Guide to Insight Meditation write in Chapter 5, The Buddha's Basic Teachings: The Four Noble Truths, about "Finding Balance" when one is struggling to be loving and forgiving:

... The Buddha's path ... is to reach out in sincere friendship to alleviate suffering when we can. Our hearts can expand in compassion and companionship to share and hold our own and others' suffering. At the same time, it is important to remain at peace when we are not able to reach out or to help. After you have been meditating for a while, you may feel you should be able to reach out to help others or to hold all your own difficulties with compassion instead of aversion or frustration. If you cannot, you may find yourself faced not only with difficulties but also now with negative self-judgment.

But Insight Meditation does not expect us to always be able to respond with open-hearted compassion. Sometimes we cannot, and that is the way it is. In such instances, we must be cautious not to add negative self-judgments. That phenomenon the Buddha compared to being struck by two arrows. Something happens to cause us pain, such as becoming ill, breaking up with a partner, or losing a job (the first arrow), then we heap self-blame on ourselves, shooting a second arrow right into the first wound. Insight Meditation is seeing ourselves as we are, without judgment.

(cf. BlameStorming (1999-05-15), Awareness, No Blame, Change (2009-04-07), Homer Simpson Career Advice (2011-04-28), ...)

- Sunday, September 11, 2011 at 04:45:18 (EDT)

2011-08-28 - RCT and CCT with Barry and Emaad and Rebecca

~14.5 miles @ ~12.9 min/mi

http://zhurnaly.com/images/running/Capital_Crescent_Trail_after_Hurricane_Irene_2011.jpgDorothy Gale, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion wonder how to get to the Emerald City.

(photo by the Scarecrow)

Hurricane Irene passes by overnight, bequeathing the Washington DC area blowdowns and detritus. But as the winds decrease so does the dew point. After a couple of days of digging a drainage ditch next to the house ("Cross Training!" as comrade Caren Jew characterizes it) it's hard to resist venturing out — especially after Barry Smith texts at noon that he's running to Bethesda to meet up with Emaad Burki and Rebecca Rosenberg. Barry's route passes within a quarter mile of Chez ^z. There he is, right on schedule, when I arrive at the corner of Forest Glen and Seminary near the railroad tracks. We jog down Newcastle Av to join Rock Creek Trail, which leads to the Capital Crescent Trail. By mutual agreement come walk break excuses: it's a bit humid, we've eaten too much, afternoon is the worst time to run, etc., etc. A major tree has fallen across the trail; the climb over-and-under further slows us. Barry is pursuing a Hanson-Brooks marathon training program which suggests he do ~16 miles today. I'm in the mood for ~8. Little do I know.

On the way we greet Warren and Priscila Prunella, out enjoying the day with many dozen runners, walkers, and cyclists. Emaad appears and reports that parking is maniacal. The tunnel under the Air Rights Bldg and Wisconsin Av is spooky-dark, perhaps a storm-induced power outage. Cyclists sans lights blast past far too fast. At the Bethesda water fountain we await Rebecca, who is orbiting the garage in search of a place to leave her car. As per my rule, the clock never stops (hence the 20+ minute mile #5 in the GPS trackfile). When the four of us are together we proceed down the CCT. Emaad and Barry discuss movies while Rebecca and I run ahead and talk about the great personal freedom that our status — we're both between jobs at the moment — provides, especially for race training. Rebecca is signed up for the Steamtown Marathon, but it falls only one day after Yom Kippur this year. The required fast is not optimal pre-race preparation.

A police car, red-and-blue strobes flashing, leaves the pathway in front of us via a steep slope to Massachusetts Av. Yellow "Do Not Cross" police tape arcs across the trail under a fallen tree that rests ominously on a pair of insulated cables. Barry runs ahead to take a photo with his cellphone. I hold up the tape so cyclists can ride beneath. The Dalecarlia Tunnel is unlit but much less scary-dangerous than the earlier one, since it's short and straight. At the water fountain turnaround Rebecca and I tag the Mile 6.5 sign and await Barry and Emaad. As we proceed back to downtown Bethesda a bicycling family is stopped at trailside. "Do any of you have a wrench?" the father asks, as he attempts to reattach a pedal on his daughter's bike.

Rebecca and I taunt one another into some fast miles — "It's your fault!" "No, it's you!" — and accuse one another of sandbagging. At milepost 3.5 we reverse course and meet Barry and Emaad at the Bradley Blvd bridge. Emaad punches out with ~6; Rebecca seeks extra mileage. Barry and I sucker her into the unlit tunnel under Wisconsin Av. Bad words are heard in the darkness. Near Connecticut Av (milepost 2.0) Rebecca leaves us, planning to take Leland St or some other alternative surface path back. Barry proceeds homeward, pushing me hard up the hills. We part ways where we met ~3 hours earlier.

(cf. GPS trackfile, ...)

- Friday, September 09, 2011 at 21:52:51 (EDT)

Peek-Through Privacy Glass

"Privacy Glass" has a pattern of bumps and ripples on it so that it transmits diffuse light, but people can't see an image through it of what's on the other side. This is convenient most of the time — but what if you're indoors and want to look out for a moment?

Easy solution, which I've never seen implemented: a little piece of anti-privacy material, maybe in a holder with a handle, like a classic magnifying-glass. It just needs to have an inverse pattern of bumps and ridges, valleys where hills are and vice versa, so that when properly aligned and placed next to the window it will cancel out the distortions. With cleverness in designing the original privacy pattern, the anti-privacy shape can be made to match in multiple positions and even at a distance from the main window. It's like a temporary magic peephole in a door.

(for a different system with some of the same functionality, but expensive and electronic, see Wikipedia:Smart_glass etc.)

- Thursday, September 08, 2011 at 05:00:19 (EDT)

2011-08-25 - Derwood Loop with CM

~6.5 miles @ ~11.2 min/mi

"This run is all your fault!" I tell Cara Marie Manlandro as we struggle up another hill. It's an allusion to her comment on 2011-08-09 - RCT with CM. Mid-day is warm in her neighborhood as we set off in a pseudo-random-walk that takes us onto segments of the Millennium Trail, abridged by side streets. Rain pours down in torrents, pauses, returns as light drizzle. CM and I reminisce about past runs, commiserate about humidity, discuss training plans for upcoming races, compare injuries. Congrats: her and George's fifth wedding anniversary is coming on 9/9; Paulette and I reach our 33rd on 9/6. Afterwards at the Rockville Taco Bell parking lot I practice discreet beach-towel-aided quick-change into dry clothes, as taught by Mary Ewell long ago (cf. 2008-05-17 - CJSVT with Mary etc.).

(cf. GPS trackfile, ...)

- Wednesday, September 07, 2011 at 05:01:59 (EDT)

John Archibald Wheeler 1985 Letter

John Archibald Wheeler (1911-2008) was a brilliant physicist and above all a gentleman. While cleaning out my metaphorical "desk" (actually, one of several big boxes of papers) before retirement from the Federal bureaucracy last month, a lovely letter from Johnny Wheeler surfaced. It is dated February 8, 1985, and epitomizes his self-deprecating modesty and meticulous attention to detail:

Dear Colleagues,

     How can I thank you enough for your "mucho pronto" help over the phone in answering my questions and your subsequent follow-up letter! Would that I could live up to your standards of information gathering! I have not succeeded. I know at least two errors in the enclosed manuscript. That's why I have put off sending it to you. One is my quote from Acheson about the heart of Politburo policy: At all costs, hold on to the reins of power. I have zooped through all four books of Acheson that I own, but too fast to find the precise words. The other is more serious. On page 10, I quote Khrushchev as proposing in a Harvard address in 1956 a U.S.S.R.-U.S. collaboration in the domain of controlled thermonuclear energy release. Adam Ulam came up to me after my talk and told me that Khrushchev never made such an address, least of all at Harvard. I understand from my colleague, Bill Drummond, that the actual proposal was made by Kurchatov at Harwell. I am almost ready to swear that I got my disinformation from my World Almanac and Book of Facts 1983, (Newspaper Enterprise Association, Inc., New York). Going through it again just now to write you both, I am desolated not to be able to find immediately the item that threw me off. Some other commentaries on the U.S.S.R. in that little book seem to me to be rather slanted, and to raise questions in my mind about at least one peson on the staff of World Almanac. However, I think it is more blessed for me to thank you right now for the past than to spend more time finding something concrete for your mill to grind.

     Warm good wishes.


John Archibald Wheeler
Ashbel Smith Professor and
Blumberg Professor of Physics
   and Center Director

Hmmm ... in the seventh sentence of the letter is "zooped" a typographical error for "zoomed", or a Wheelerism for fast skimming?

(cf. scanned image of the original letter — and see Top Down, Bottom Up (1999-05-16), No Concepts At All (2001-01-22), Silly Seminars of '75 (2001-04-21), John Archibald Wheeler (2008-04-15), Geons, Black Holes, and Quantum Foam (2008-06-25), ...)

- Monday, September 05, 2011 at 12:56:05 (EDT)

2011-08-23 - NWBT-NEBT-PBT Loop

~10.9 miles @ ~10.5 min/mi

Clothes randomly strewn next to Northwest Branch Trail near mile 3.9 entering the woods — is there a naturist convention ahead? None seen; today's afternoon run is peaceful, around the loop starting on the eastern side of the University of Maryland campus and proceeding zig-zag to University Blvd down to the Adelphi park where NWBT heads south. Trains are running slowly at the West Hyattsville Metro, after today's magnitude 4.8 earthquake. At the entrance to Lake Artemesia, the end of Northeast Branch Trail, a police car is parked just north of the College Park Airport, and a park policeman is watching as a Metro crew inspects the train bridge over Paint Branch Trail. Marathon Deli is open for salty/greasy post-run repast.

(cf. GPS trackfile, ...)

- Monday, September 05, 2011 at 12:47:25 (EDT)

Let It All Go

Add to the Belated Epiphany file:

Death is the ultimate "Letting Go".

Sounds grim, but hey, just coaching myself again, trying not to care so much about saving money, feeling secure, etc. Recent minor earthquake and hurricane reveal a need to fix up the house, reenforce a wall, improve the drainage. Major expenditures loom. Yep, as soon as it looks like the old bank balance may crawl into significant positive territory, something comes along to knock it back down. Le temps, c'est de l'argent = "time is money" — but in my case that should read: "In no time there's no money!"

Hey, that's OK — in fact, it's a fine lesson to learn. Feels nice to be comfortable, to have lots of neat stuff. But soon enough it's all gone. "The man who is not satisfied with little will be satisfied with nothing," says Epictetus, and "... let your desire go. Covet not many things, and you will obtain." Or the Buddha's "Nothing is to be clung to as I, me, or mine." Especially not "mine". Keep it real. Just breathe. It's all good.

(cf. MoreFunLessStuff (2002-10-01), LessMore (2005-03-14), WhereWeAre (2005-04-24), SeizeTheCarp (2005-07-02), Coming to Our Senses (2009-01-01), Letting Go (2010-09-18), Michael Wood on the Buddha (2010-12-22), ...)

- Saturday, September 03, 2011 at 03:13:53 (EDT)

2011-08-22 - Northwest Branch Trail with Rebecca

~6 miles @ ~11.6 min/mi

"It's as safe as kittens!" I reassure Rebecca Rosenberg, who's a wee bit concerned about running along the urban-isolated Northwest Branch Trail. The only miscreants seen there have been underage kids drinking beer or snogging by the stream. So rendezvous Monday afternoon at the Adelphi Manor Park cricket pitch, after Rebecca's car navigation system sends her on an unscheduled orbit around the neighborhood. Two miles at ~10.5 min/mi pace, then heart-pounding hill climb to Oakview Dr followed by rock-scramble speedhike to gape at the underside of the dizzying-high Beltway bridge. Return, accelerating the final miles to 9:16 and 9:05. "All your fault!" Rebecca unfairly blames. The Marathon Deli is closed this evening, alas, so no reward dinner.

(cf. GPS trackfile, ...)

- Saturday, September 03, 2011 at 03:09:06 (EDT)

Elitism and Arrogance

Some years ago a senior manager, talking to a group of incoming employees, made a fascinating observation. Our organization, he told the newbies, really is a lot better than other places: smarter people, more resources, tougher problems, the most important customers, etc. We're the elite. But we mustn't be arrogant about it. It's our duty to work harder, and accept the fact that we won't receive public credit for all that we do. Get used to it!

And of course, compared to almost everyone throughout history and around the globe today, anybody who's reading these words is a member of a tiny elite minority — relatively wealthy, powerful, educated, ...

(cf. NoGlory (2000-01-11), ThankGoodness (2002-12-25), ...)

- Thursday, September 01, 2011 at 14:48:55 (EDT)

2011-08-21 - 10x200m Intervals with Clair

2.5 miles @ ~12.5 min/mi

Clair gives me ice water — heavenly! — and we decide to do a bit of speedwork at her local track: ten 200m repeats with ~2:30 gasping recovery between. Clair runs a second or two faster than me after the first few half-laps. She averages ~47 seconds for 200m. Gentle interrogation elicits a confession: she was a sprinter, hurdler, and mile relay racer in her well-spent youth. Back at her home: refill bottle with ice and water, say good-bye to cute baby Sophie, then follow R St west to 7th St. Catch a #70 Metrobus in a few minutes. Stand up to get off in Silver Spring: seat-mate looks suspiciously at the wet spot where I've been sitting. Sorry Sir! That's summer running for you!

(GPS trackfile, ...)

- Thursday, September 01, 2011 at 14:25:53 (EDT)

Meta Math by Gregory Chaitin

Exclamation marks! Even in the title! And first person singular, oh my! On almost every page! With bold and italic text to hammer home key points!

No, Meta Math!: The Quest for Omega isn't your usual mathematics book. Its author, Gregory Chaitin, isn't shy about blowing his own horn. A decade ago I read another Chaitin book on the same topic, title now forgotten. Deja vu rose up like a tide over Meta Math! — he's written about this before.

What's Meta Math!? In brief, Chaitin approaches incompleteness, complexity, and provability from an algorithmic information theory viewpoint. He draws broad philosophical conclusions — extremely broad conclusions. As he summarizes in the Introduction:

So that's what this book is about: It's about reasoning questioning itself, and its limits and the role of creativity and intuition, and the sources of new ideas and of new knowledge. That's a big subject, and I only understand a little bit of it, the areas that I've worked in or experienced myself. Some of this nobody understands very well, it's a task for the future. How about you?! Maybe you can do some work in this area. Maybe you can push the darkness back a millimeter or two! Maybe you can come up with an important new idea, maybe you can imagine a new kind of question to ask, maybe you can transform the landscape by seeing it from a different point of view! That's all it takes, just one little new idea, and lots and lots of hard work to develop it and to convince other people! Maybe you can put a scratch on the rock of eternity!

Remember that math is a free creation of the human mind, and as Cantor—the inventor of the modern theory of infinity described by Wallace—said, the essence of math resides in its freedom, in the freedom to create. But history judges these creations by their enduring beauty and by the extent to which they illuminate other mathematical ideas or the physical universe, in a word, by their "fertility." Just as the beauty of a woman's breasts or the delicious curve of her hips is actually concerned with childbearing, and isn't merely for the delight of painters and photographers, so a math idea's beauty also has something to do with its "fertility," and with the extent to which it enlightens us, illuminates us, and inspires us with other ideas and suggests unsuspected connections and new viewpoints.

Ahem! But setting aside indelicate metaphors, how new are Chaitin's discoveries? Did Gödel, Church, Turing, et al. plow this field long ago? In a rather scathing review of two earlier Chaitin books, mathematician Panu Raatikainen suggests that the answer is "Yes". Raatikainen raises significant scientific and historical issues with Chaitin's statements and notes, "At worst, Chaitin's claims are nearly megalomaniacal."

Echoes of Benoit Mandelbrot, who popularized and promoted fractal geometry, and of Stephen Wolfram in his work on cellular automata. Revolutionary? Time will decide. But the contrast with Richard Feynman is striking. Feynman's new approaches (path-integral methods) solved tough, important problems in quantum electrodynamics and elsewhere in physics. But Feynman didn't do a relentless self-promotion schtick, and he didn't re-write the same book every few years. He let the work speak for itself.

- Tuesday, August 30, 2011 at 17:09:40 (EDT)

2011-08-21 - Metropolitan Branch Trail to Clair

~9.5 miles @ ~12 min/mi

"Feeling really really tired," reads the text message sent at 4:35am from my running comrade. We had planned to drive together to the Takoma Metro and run down the Metropolitan Branch Trail together, refuel at friend Clair's home, and run back. At 4:36am I reply, "Me too! Want to sleep in, start late, go slow? Or skip today?" After I promise not to mock, the buddy (who shall remain nameless) returns to bed. A quick check of Sunday morning DC bus schedules suggests an alternative solo plan: run from home down the MBT to Clair's home and take the bus back. Major track work means that trains aren't running to Silver Spring today.

So begin, 5:39am on a warm, humid morning. Take it slow, walk the hills and try to maintain an average pace by the GPS of about 12 min/mi. Lose the MBT route after a wrong turn in Takoma Park. Follow Blair Rd and then Riggs Rd into the Ft Totten metrobus area, and recover the scent. Admire the façade of the Columbus School of Law at Catholic University, where an inspiring list of words appear along the top edge of the building: justice, charity, freedom, etc. Arrive on schedule at Clair's lovely home. Greet husband Mike, eight-month-old daughter Sophie, dog Quigley. "Can Clair come out to run?"

(GPS trackfile, ...)

- Tuesday, August 30, 2011 at 16:52:17 (EDT)

2011-08-20 - Comus Run 5k XC

~3.1 miles @ ~8.7 min/mi

The great game continues: "Meet at Drop Zone X-Ray at 4:31pm," Caren Jew proposes. "OK," I reply, "but not too much before 4:25 please!" Of course, when I arrive at 4:19 Caren is already there, with her daughter Jenna. I ride in their car out to the MCRRC Comus Run, a ~5k cross-country race in the rolling hills of northern Montgomery County. Mical Honigfort and her cute son Erik are there; Mical glows, great with child, due in a few more weeks. Ken Swab, Emaad Burki, Mark McKennett, and others visit with us before the start. I push hard and finish in 27:26, about thirty seconds slower than last year. Thanks to the Bachman family there's free ice cream (and beer, though we don't partake of it) at the finish line. Bravo!

(official result: 60th place overall, 53/83 men, 6/12 men 55-59; cf. GPS trackfile, ...)

- Tuesday, August 30, 2011 at 16:46:16 (EDT)

Steve Cisler

          Steve Cisler
librarian — philosopher
   information activist

Steve Cisler died on 15 May 2008 of cancer. In the late 1980s and into the 1990s Steve ran the Apple Library of Tomorrow project, where we met in connection with personal free-text information retrieval (cf. ThanksAlot). After Apple shut down its corporate library Steve moved on.

Steve helped people. He made introductions, shared resources, organized conferences, distributed information, and traveled around the world to work with folks who had less — a lot less — than most of us take for granted. He was a believer and a skeptic. "The Internet is like a library," he once said, "where somebody has taken all the books off the shelves, torn all their covers off, and then thrown them randomly on the floor." Steve tried to make things better. R.I.P, buddy.

(some eulogies and appreciations: [1], [2], [3], [4], ...)

- Sunday, August 28, 2011 at 09:45:01 (EDT)

2011-08-18 - Northwest Branch Thunder Run

~5.5 miles @ ~9.6 min/mi

Rumblers — growlers — flash-bangs — low jet flyovers with afterburner — cracks — distant thrums — ... From 4 to 5pm all the varieties of thunder develop as I trot along the Northwest Branch Trail from milepost 4.5 to the end of Oakview Dr and back. Half a dozen kids, likely high-school aged, perch on the edge of the stream and guiltily quaff beers. The steep gravel hill is a heart-pounding climb. During the descent the GPS display shows a grade ranging as high as a ridiculous -41%. Sewage stench and rainfall rate increase on the return jog. Sun peeks out near the finish, but alas no rainbows appear. Newly discovered trail shoes from a long-forgotten box in the basement get wet on their first excursion. The shirt is abandoned in the car from the start, in hopes of keeping it dry enough to wear into Marathon Deli for after-run salty french fries and veggie gyro feast.

(cf. GPS trackfile, 2007-09-12 - Oakview Hill Work, 2007-11-28 - Northwest Branch Tempo Run and Hill Work, 2008-09-11 - NWB Hill Work, 2010-04-01 - Northwest Branch Trail, 2010-10-11 - Northwest Branch Trail, ...)

- Sunday, August 28, 2011 at 02:28:05 (EDT)

2011-08-17 - Rockville Millennium Trail

~10.7 miles @ ~11.1 min/mi

Mid-day Wednesday: Daughter Gray has a rehearsal in downtown Rockville, and a quick poll of the masses (Cara Marie Manlandro, Emaad Burki, et al.) suggests the Millennium "Trail" — a 10.6+ mile asphalt bikepath loop, renamed recently to honor Carl Henn, local activist killed by a lightning strike during a freak storm last year. Mile Marker 5.0 is right in front of the car, at a drug store/strip mall near the corner of Rockville Pike and Wootton Parkway, but somehow it goes unnoticed until the end of the run. Sweat washes sunscreen into eyes for the first few miles.

A rabbit on the path first tries to look small, then suddenly becomes big as it scampers away into the brush near the trail's Mile Zero, Thomas Farm Community Center. To avoid swoonage by the staff I put my shirt on before venturing inside and filling my water bottle. After sunny Wootton Parkway the Gude Drive segment of the trail is partially shaded. Thank goodness for fiber optics and cable TV: where possible I run in the shadow of those lines along the sidewalk. At Mile Marker 1, deja vu: less than a month ago Cara Marie led me past here on our 2011-07-22 - Hot and Humid Loop with CM.

Then dehydration sets in. Without money I hesitate to invade pizza/sandwich shops, gas stations, and auto/motorcycle repair businesses to refill my bottle. Sunny stretches along Norbeck Rd reduce the pace to a walk again, as do the crosswalks at Veirs Mill Rd and Rockville Pike.

(cf. GPS trackfile, ...)

- Sunday, August 28, 2011 at 02:20:21 (EDT)

Carpe et Relinqua

In the spirit of mindfulness, a bumper-sticker summary of how to live:

Catch and Release

Seize the moment, experience it fully — but don't cling to it!

(cf. Coming to Our Senses, Letting Go, ...)

- Friday, August 26, 2011 at 21:52:45 (EDT)

2011-08-16 - 10 x 200m Intervals with Ken

~4.6 miles @ ~11.5 min/mi

"You never know what might be your last day," Ken Swab muses as we jog along. He went to a memorial service for a young (i.e., my age!) friend who died of an aneurysm one day last week. "Guess we better up our mileage," I philosophize back. The cushioned-surface oval track at Walter Johnson High School feels springboard-soft. Ken and I arrive after an 0.6 mile warm-up trot from his home. We resolve not to embarrass ourselves and old-man-hood in view of the flocks of young ladies honing soccer skills on the artificial-turf infield. Ken feigns ignorance about interval training. I propose we attempt ten half-lap repeats at as fast a pace as we can maintain, with a half-lap walk-jog between each. Intervals proceed honorably: 47 + 46 + 48 + 48 + 45 + 45 + 46 + 44 + 45 + 45 for an average of ~46 seconds and an average recovery time of ~2:04. See the GPS trackfile's pace graph for an EKG-like spiky chart. On many of the intervals Ken is half a second or more ahead of me.

- Friday, August 26, 2011 at 21:46:08 (EDT)


~17 miles @ ~11.6 min/mi

"Wimpage!" — the word of the day, coined by Cara Marie Manlandro to describe how she (and I) feel after a few too many miles with the MCRRC First Time Marathoners. At 6:30am I leave home and head upstream along Rock Creek Trail to meet CM and her FTM pace group. They're doing an 18 mile point-to-point long run starting at the Grosvenor Metro station. Storms move through the region; intermittent rain pours down . A bit past Connecticut Av the faster FTM groups appear. "Runner up!" one leader announces. "Where?" I reply, amusing the approaching pack again as I did on 16 July. Then CM's posse materializes, running on the road. I reverse course and tag along. It's a soggy morning, temperatures in the lower 70s and dew point only a few degrees below that.

"There's cold beer in the 'fridge at home — I'm tempted to drop out now!" I announce as we pass within a mile or two of home. At the back of the pack Yuexia Li chats with me; she's a biochemistry Ph.D., working at the FDA, suffering this season from foot woes. CM is working on her thesis in a closely-related field. As we tire we take more walk breaks. I press S! e-caps on CM to treat cramps, which are probably associated with sodium or potassium loss. At the Washington Monument we cut our run short, CM's mile 17 (my 17.25). On the trek north past the White House CM buys me a pretzel at a street vendor's cart — "The best pretzel I've eaten in this life!" she swears. We await the train at McPherson Square and text CM's husband with news of our progress. At Metro Center we head our opposite ways homeward.

(cf. GPS trackfile, ...)

- Friday, August 26, 2011 at 21:40:30 (EDT)

How to Be an Optimist

From the January 1996 issue of Good Housekeeping magazine, an article found tucked into the Summer 2003 issue of Tricycle magazine:"Think Positive: How to Be an Optimist" by Tamara Eberlein. She talks about what optimists believe:

Eberlein summarizes this approach in a "ten-step program":

Wonderful, positive ideas!

(cf. OptimistCreed (1999-04-16), ...)

- Wednesday, August 24, 2011 at 20:35:18 (EDT)


2 miles @ 7.25 min/mi

Maybe the pre-race dinner of french fries and soda was suboptimal preparation? Maybe the blood donation of three weeks ago still has my red corpuscles depleted? Maybe the nearly full moon rising gets into my eyes and slows me down? For whatever reason(s), the MCRRC "Going Green" track meet at Walt Whitman High School feels tough. Cheerful Christina Caravoulias takes photos; Ken Swab runs with her in the final heat. My prediction on the sign-in sheet is 14:44.4 and actuality is 14:31 — slower than 2010 (13:53) and 2009 (13:42) but faster than 2007 (16:02).

- Wednesday, August 24, 2011 at 14:10:49 (EDT)

2011-08-10 - RCT with Rebecca

~4.7 miles @ ~10.1 min/mi

Rebecca Rosenberg is exactly like me: she has a hard time accepting a favor. After much haggling she lets me pick her up at her home abut 7am on the way to KenGar where we set off upstream from milepost 7 on Rock Creek Trail. It's cool but humid, dewpoint above 60°F. The trek feels tough. "Maybe we're tired from yesterday's training runs?" — "Maybe I'm coming down with something?" — "Maybe it's the company today?" — "Maybe I'm still recovering from the Catoctin 50k?" — "Maybe I need vitamins?" — "Maybe it was the blood donation a couple of weeks ago?" Lots of excuses, none plausible. Rebecca describes her recent dental saga. She unconsciously speeds up, she says, when she's talking; me too. I suggest a rule for us both: after somebody offers three times to do something for you, just say Yes! Back at KenGar we do a cooldown walk to the water fountain where a woman with a big Lab shows us how her dog can drink out of the palm of her hand. "You should take a photo of that!" Rebecca recommends.

(GPS trackfile, ...)

- Wednesday, August 24, 2011 at 10:29:31 (EDT)

To Forget the Self

Perhaps enlightening for grandmasters, maybe entertaining for beginners, but less useful for most in between — To Forget the Self: An Illustrated Guide to Zen Meditation is a 1977 large-format paperback that devotes many pages to the biomechanics of sitting, to poetic quotes-out-of-context, to stark black-and-white photographs, to schedules for Zen community group practice, to stretching exercises, to instructions for making a sitting-cushion, to historical teacher-praise, and to thickets of other individual species of tree. The forest, however, is only glimpsed briefly and unsatisfyingly at a great distance. John Daishin Buksbazen, author, seems to have reused much of the same material in his 2002 book Zen Meditation in Plain English, but without the John Daido Loori photos, a few of which are striking.

- Monday, August 22, 2011 at 11:03:01 (EDT)

2011-08-09 - RCT with CM

~4 miles @ ~9.5 min/mi

"Don't blame me — today is all your fault!" Cara Marie Manlandro says as soon as she can catch her breath. It's a warm and humid Tuesday morning when, a bit after 10am, I pick CM up at her home and we drive to Lake Needwood. Geese stand by the road and eye us warily. A county truck pumps water out of one hole and into another, with excess spraying across the bikepath. Starting at milepost 14 on Rock Creek Trail we run to milepost 12 and back, descending in pace according to CM's stopwatch: 9:45 ⇒ 9:38 ⇒ 9:19 ⇒ 9:10 min/mi. Chatter includes job interviews, thesis work, upcoming and recent races, etc. The GPS trackfile is a few percent short today, in contrast to Sunday when it erred in the long direction.

- Sunday, August 21, 2011 at 04:20:18 (EDT)

Smile and Listen

A thoughtful essay: "Lessons on the Trapeze: The Art of Making Things Happen". Author Sonya Derian goes to a circus arts camp and hears:

Smile and listen. Those are the only two rules you need to follow to excel at the trapeze.

... which leads to her further musings on life: "Smile and Listen. Let go of resistance so that you can hear your internal guidance and follow its lead. Let grace take over and the wind be at your back." Closely related to mindfulness and non-attachment ...

(cf. Wherever You Go, There You Are, Coming to Our Senses, Finding the Quiet, Lunchtime Enlightenment, Being Nobody, Going Nowhere, What Is Meditation, Meditation by Eknath Easwaran, Fully Present, Waking Up to What You Do, ...)

- Saturday, August 20, 2011 at 12:40:14 (EDT)

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