^zhurnaly 0.99

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Howdy, pilgrim! No ads — you're in volume 0.99 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 = 0.98 ... 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

2012-10-21 - Metropolitan Branch Kicking with Stephanie

~10 miles @ ~10.6 min/mi

Stephanie Fonda kicking high on the MBThttp://zhurnaly.com/images/running/Z_kicking_MBT.jpg

How can Stephanie and the dancer on the wall lean back so much farther and kick so much higher than I? Is it their youth, balance, and flexibility? Or maybe the, um, lovely counterweights that they bear? See 2012-06-10 - Metropolitan Branch Trail to Clair for an image of this painting as of 4 months ago, in significantly better condition then.)

http://zhurnaly.com/images/running/MBT_with_Stephanie_map.jpg"Ow!" Near Catholic University I wave at the lady policeman and immediately run into a telephone pole guy wire, nearly unmanning myself in the process. Luckily the cable catches only left hand and thigh, so I survive with minimal bruising and light abrasion. Whew!

I promise Stephanie Fonda an adventure, and the Metropolitan Branch Trail delivers. We set off from my front steps at 7:30am, proceeding as I've done several times before to downtown Silver Spring. Our goal is a gentle tune-up before the Marine Corps Marathon next weekend, so we try to hold the pace to 11-12 min/mi. We discuss the MCM race plan; I remind Stephanie of my chart showing 17 marathons, only 3 of which had negative splits, all 3 of which resulted in PBs. Perhaps we should start slowly?

Along the MBT we see decorative benches and other public artwork (cf. 2012-06-10 - Metropolitan Branch Trail to Clair). Stephanie wonders whether big pipes, arranged obliquely at a construction site, are sculptural? We do our best to stay on course and mostly succeed. The MBT signs are tiny and far apart, however, so blasting down the long Fort Totten St hill we overshoot a turn and have to backtrack. Discussing drugs for pain relief I speculate that placebo effects are significant for some runners. Stephanie tells of her daughter Haven's injury some years ago while kayaking and her plaintive cry, "I need a PLACEBO!" Her mother taught her well, it seems.

As we pass the big industrial-trash-dump Fort Totten Transfer Station I tell Stephanie that I think it's a cement plant — and she notes politely but with a grin that I pronounce the word "SEE-ment", thereby revealing my southern US origins. Guilty as charged! We share bites of a "Peanut Toffee Buzz" Clif Bar during the run. Is my fondness for peanuts also a regional heritage?

After nine miles the MBT passes near the Rhode Island Avenue Metro station, and with only a bit over a mile to go I challenge Stephanie to pick up the pace. "I bet you a cup of coffee that you can't go under 10 minutes for the next mile!" How wrong I was: the Garmin on my wrist says "8:17" when we finish that sprint. Wow!

We cooldown-walk to Union Station and, my treat, share a cup of excellent java from Au Bon Pain before riding the train back to Forest Glen, then walking home. Garmin GPS splits are 10:28 + 11:09 + 10:21 + 10:30 + 9:40 + 11:14 + 10:42 + 10:28 + 12:41 + 8:17 (!) — Runkeeper GPS is quite similar.

- Sunday, November 11, 2012 at 05:48:50 (EST)


Many months ago an extraordinary, creative friend recommended Keith Johnstone's 1979 book Impro: Improvisation and the Theatre. Belatedly I bought a copy and yesterday finished reading it. Impro may be one of the most inspirational, liberating books of all time. Johnstone describes how he understands and teaches acting. His book consists of four long essays titled "Status", "Spontaneity", "Narrative Skills", and "Masks and Trance". Quotes and commentary will follow in due course, as I digest; for now, from Johnstone's "Notes on Myself" a discussion of Contrariness that echoes Z. A. Melzak's self-description:

At about the age of nine I decided never to believe anything because it was convenient. I began reversing every statement to see if the opposite was also true. This is so much a habit with me that I hardly notice I'm doing it any more. As soon as you put a 'not' into an assertion, a whole range of other possibilities opens out—especially in drama, where everything is supposition anyway. When I began teaching, it was very natural for me to reverse everything my own teachers had done. I got my actors to make faces, insult each other, always to leap before they looked, to scream and shout and misbehave in all sorts of ingenious ways. It was like having a whole tradition of improvisation teaching behind me. In a normal education everything is designed to suppress spontaneity, but I wanted to develop it.

(cf. PlansAndSituations (1999-08-13), SituationalStrategy (2007-06-11), ...)

- Saturday, November 10, 2012 at 04:50:17 (EST)


From popular music, another running-related chorus line! The best remains the classic 1982 refrain:

If you say "Run", I'll run with you

in "Let's Dance" by David Bowie. But the 2010 Gareth Emery song "Sanctuary" features the phrase:

When there's nowhere left to run, run with me

... how lovely!

(cf. If You Say 'Run' (2010-05-14), BPM (2012-09-22), ...)

- Friday, November 09, 2012 at 04:04:40 (EST)

Southwest Airlines Flightpath

http://zhurnaly.com/images/Southwest_Airlines_Orbit.jpgIn-flight tracking on the return trip from Austin to DC shows a low-resolution version of the orbit — was it a poorly-sampled set of figure-eights? — that the airplane was instructed to take over West Virginia while waiting for a cold front to pass through the Washington area.

- Thursday, November 08, 2012 at 04:28:48 (EST)

Blood Rush

Blood rush climb thigh
Smile, sigh, sway bare
Coy fold glow moist
Rump curve arch high
Now, where here grows

(an experiment in consonance and assonance, inside and outside, memory and amnesia; cf. DayBreak (2004-01-22), Rock Creek Valley Trail (2004-04-30), ...)

- Wednesday, November 07, 2012 at 04:13:18 (EST)

Friendship and Meditation

The Fall 2012 issue of Inquiring Mind includes a thoughtful, moving essay by Hozan Alan Senauke, "Tangled Up in Blue", that wrestles with challenges of mental depression. The core of his discovery is the paradox that, just maybe, there's nothing better than right now, regardless of how rough it is:

As for me, after nearly thirty years of meditation I have come to no great enlightenment. I haven't seen the cosmic light shows or transcendental visions of reality. This is not to say I do not feel changed or even free and joyful at times. But freedom is momentary. I appreciate it for what it is. I just don't stay there, and that is okay with me. That's a loaded word—"stay." In terms of the law of anicca or impermanence, one does not stay anywhere. But I digress.

What I mean to say is that I have come to think that given my propensity toward depression—biochemical, hereditary, or karmic—the settledness of meditation, the sense of relief in just sitting down, may be as good as it gets for me. There is a phrase I love from Eihei Dogen, in our Zen tradition: "When Dharma fills your body and mind, you realize that something is missing." That is, the very incompleteness of our being, actions, aspirations, is a manifestation of Buddhanature itself. Everything is broken. No regrets.

Senauke summarizes various attempts to treat his depression, including drugs, herbs, psychiatry, acupuncture, vitamins. None fixes him. What really works, besides meditation, is friendship:

So I return to what I trust, meditation—and to that other reliable remedy: friendship. Actually, the two are not unrelated. Meditation is not a cure, but if I can sit down in a quiet space and follow my breath, the weight of depression usually lifts while I am sitting. If sitting is not possible, I will take a long walk. Either way I have bridged the internal disconnect; I am, for this time, friendly toward myself.

The power of friendship multiplies when extended beyond oneself. I keep in mind E. M. Forster's famous epigraph to Howards End: "Only connect." In the darkest moments, when I feel least able to do so, I know this is necessary and true. So I leave my room and seek a friend. In depression, friendship is an alkahest—the alchemist's universal solvent that brings forth light and energy. It's the best remedy.

Senauke's essay concludes:

There is a message in depression. Things in life are roiling. Change is afoot. After years of practice I sense this even in hard times. If I can bear it, see through it, depression becomes the harbinger of transformation. I know that things are always in a state of change. Only connect. With that kind of understanding, life seems to be a fortunate accident, even in moments of despair. I am alive, so change is always possible, however unlikely it seems . . . What am I doing here on the planet? Oh, I remember. I'm setting up shop in the saha realm, the world that must be endured, the land of samsara, literally wandering on.

The heart of Buddhist practice may be a matter of faith, in a dark night when faith seems hard to find. My friends help me through the night. Night and day, depression and joy—there is really one whole, true life. Practice gets me to what is true. That's where I want to live.

Connections — like the meditation of long slow running, immersion with the moment, with Nature, with friends ...

(cf Liberal Education (2005-11-02), Running to Stand Still (2008-07-05), Constant Kensho (2012-01-19), O (2012-10-24), ...)

- Tuesday, November 06, 2012 at 04:15:49 (EST)

2012-10-20 - CCT Back-and-Forth

~20 miles @ ~12 min/mi

High-flying airplane twinkles as it glides past Venus in the east. Microwave tower dish flanks Sirius. Orion bestrides the southern sky. A baby rabbit zig-zag-zigs back and forth along the trail in front of me before finally escaping to one side. In pre-dawn gloom the trek on the Capital Crescent Trail is quiet, with only a couple of bobbing headlights from runners heading the opposite way to greet. On the mental music player, Lady Gaga's "Edge of Glory" accompanies footfall beats.

At 7am the Bethesda Row Arts Festival is just setting up. I crouch low and take photos of brass curves that catch the eye and echo musical, feminine forms. Streets are blocked by orange cones and parking is chaotic, but Gayatri Datta soon arrives, then Sara Crum. We run south along the trail for ~1.5 miles, then back to meet Rebecca Rosenberg and Barry Smith. Both are delayed by the Arts Festival which has blocked more lanes. Gayatri and Sara's arms are strikingly thin, sharp-edged compared to mine.

Once the gang's all here we proceed south again, this time ~4 miles (to milepost 7.5) and return. Sara startles at what she thinks is a snake on the path. A black bike-lock cable is lying by the trail; I pick it up and wave it at her, but she isn't fooled. We discuss movies we've seen recently: Rebecca recommends Argo, Gayatri and her husband Atin saw The Master, and I put in a plug for Battleship. Gayatri chats about sociology, her graduate school topic, and mentions that comrade Dr. Stephanie Fonda is the only other person she knows with a degree in that discipline. We talk about juvenile delinquency, income inequality, and the Bengali-born Nobel-laureate economist Amartya Sen.

My foot slips on the wet leaves at the edge of the CCT asphalt. Sara recalls a training run long ago together when I fell in the snow here. Later I look it up in my log and confirm her recollection — see 2011-01-08 - CCT Rock Creek Park Loop Plus. We talk about plans for next weekend's Marine Corps Marathon. I laugh at Rebecca and Barry's jokes. In Bethesda we bid Gayatri and Barry farewell, refuel, visit facilities, then proceed east on the CCT. Rebecca and Sara turn back at Connecticut Av and I dash home, managing a final pair of brisk miles at ~9:20 pace.

Tunnels along the CCT cause significant glitches in the GPS trackfiles and likely exaggerate the distance measured. Mile splits from the Garmin GPS are 10:49 + 10:26 + 10:28 + 8:54 (possible GPS error) + 17:35 (waiting and photographing) + 10:59 + 11:01 + 20:01 (more waiting) + 11:03 + 10:56 + 11:44 + 11:57 + 13:00 + 11:18 + 11:09 + 14:30 (final break) + 13:29 + 11:05 + 9:20 + 9:16 as Runkeeper registers 20.80 miles.


- Monday, November 05, 2012 at 04:06:28 (EST)

Gold Nonstandard

One of the arguments for using gold — or silver, or cowrie shells, or some similar physical medium of exchange — is that gold has "intrinsic value", unlike paper money. But that's not true once the price of gold comes to be dominated by its utility in trade, that is, its exchange value. When that happens then gold becomes subject to the same sort of loss-of-confidence avalanche that any other trust-based money suffers from. And one of the other arguments for gold, that its supply is dominated by natural forces outside the control of governments, likewise crumbles under closer analysis. Governments can hoard and release gold, they can expand or contract production via subsidies or penalties, and they can manipulate its use in countless other ways. And as technology changes the claimed stability in gold's production rate looks increasingly dubious. Think of all the new developments in mining and applied chemistry, in the ability to move mass quantities of earth and water to capture and enrich tiny amounts of selected elements.

Bottom line: there's no magical store of value in the world, other than perhaps human creativity. The enchantment I (and many others) felt as a teen-ager with ultra-simple rules for how the economy works? Misplaced, immature. Real life: always complex, always ringing changes on what used to be, always putting a new twist on old truths. Wiser: diversify, think long-term, don't imagine you're cleverer than everybody else.

(cf. BookhouseBoy (1999-09-29), MoneyWisdom (2001-05-20), SilverSkepticism (2001-07-29), PermanentPortfolio (2003-06-02), ...)

- Sunday, November 04, 2012 at 05:40:47 (EST)

2012-10-17 - Ten 400m Intervals at UM

~3.6 miles @ ~9.4 min/mi

As Robin and I drive toward campus we speculate as to the odds on the track being unavailable. I give it 20% chance of preemption by soccer or other sporting event; after all, it happened two weeks ago. Robin is less optimistic and says 25%. As good Bayesians we revise our estimates when we see floodlights as we get closer — now I speculate that there's an 80% chance of a game. Wrong! Tonight one boy does sit-ups by the track, then leaves. Two girls, clad in black, are sprinting 100m repeats, then move outside the fence to toss a frisbee. Robin runs steadily while I push through ten 400m laps: 1:57 + 1:49 + 1:45 + 1:44 + 1:43 + 1:42 + 1:42 + 1:40 + 1:40 + 1:36. Then we're off to the Marathon Deli for sodas, salty fries, and gyros.

- Saturday, November 03, 2012 at 04:33:07 (EDT)

Milligan on Vegetarianism

Philosopher friend George points me toward an article in The Philosopher's Magazine by Tony Milligan titled "Is It Ethical to Eat Meat?". It's a brisk, funny review of the New York Times's online essay competition for arguments on the omnivorous side of the aisle. Milligan is the author of Beyond Animal Rights: Food, Pets and Ethics, which joins the long queue of books I hope to read some day.

Admit it: I'm biased against unnecessary animal suffering. At mile 20 of the Marine Corps Marathon a few days ago, coincidentally, I sketched that position for a fellow runner and pointed out that it implies test-tube in vitro synthetic meat is fine to consume. Milligan highlights the same conclusion, and then takes pokes at two carni-theses: "first, that we need livestock for ecologically balanced systems of farming; second, that there is a reciprocal arrangement, variously described as 'cooperation', a 'deal', a 'relationship', and a 'partnership' between farmers and farm animals." His verdict is that the ecological case for agro-meat is factually incorrect. And as for the other argument, he observes:

There are two significantly different claims on offer here. The first is that the animals get protection and food in return for their lives. This strikes me as something of an unequal exchange. The second is that they get their lives in return for their lives. Without farming, the animals in question would not exist. On Tuesdays and Fridays I'm almost convinced that this is a plausible deal. But for the rest of the week I can't help thinking that we would never accept such an arrangement in the case of humans. We would never accept that it is permissible to kill humans because they have been bred to be killed and would not otherwise have come into existence. Breeding in order to kill is an action that looks hard to justify.

(cf. SufferTheAnimals (2000-06-11), RobertNozick (2002-02-02), CompassionateCarnivorism (2002-11-19), Franklin on Vegetarianism (2008-06-17), Omnivore's Dilemma (2009-05-16), No Simple Answers (2009-12-01), Philosophical Vegetarian Issues (2010-07-15), ...)

- Friday, November 02, 2012 at 04:09:00 (EDT)

2012-10-16 - ATM Deposit Trek

~6 miles @ ~9.7 min/mi

Daughter has a paycheck to deposit in the ATM, and it's a pleasantly cool evening: perfect excuse for a mission-oriented run! Heavy traffic along narrow neighborhood streets forces hesitation during the first mile along snaky sidewalk-free Capitol View. Cut through nursing home parking lot to join Barker St and Leslie St. Swerve off the sidewalk to pass pleasingly plump cyclist walking her bike. Commiserate with her: "It's a lot easier going downhill, isn't it?" Front yard of one house is full of faux-tombstones and pseudo-spiderwebs in preparation for Halloween. Resist the temptation to stop for photos; sun is too low for good lighting. Six quick swallows of water at the Homewood-Capitol View Park water fountain, then run the edge of the ballfields past a lone dog-walker at the elementary school. Discover a narrow paved pedestrian path bridging the gap between Jutland Rd and McComas Av. Small lake by the sidewalk at Drumm and McComas is protected by high fences and stern "NO FISHING" signs. Dash between cars across busy University Blvd to invest 90 seconds depositing Gray's check at the money machine. The clock keeps ticking: sprint back home via the south side of Wheaton Plaza and adjacent apartment complex streets. DW's Friend of the Library friend Ari Brooks texts to report that she sees me dashing down Georgia Av. A woman in regular clothes starts running just as I pass her and almost keeps up with me for a block. "You're fast!" I compliment her. GPS looks likely to be ~5.5 miles going straight home, so instead continue south and meander along little lanes near Beltway sound barriers. Splits according to Runkeeper app: 10:34 + 10:03 + 11:35 (including ATM) + 8:57 + 8:26 + 8:32 — Garmin is more generous and awards me an extra 0.1 mile.

- Thursday, November 01, 2012 at 04:28:12 (EDT)


Samuel R. Delany's 1968 sf novel Nova is a pirouette of poetry and physics, a tour de force that reads as well now as it did more than 40 years ago. It's a wild amusement-park ride of wealth and obsession, vision and ballad, archetypal myth and stellar nucleosynthesis, chaos and civilization, quest and question. Perfect? Far from it. But thoughtful, startlingly well-written, and inspirational? Definitely, with echoes of Liz Williams, Roger Zelazny, and Peter Beagle. A sample, from a costume party in a future Paris (Chapter 3):

Behind him a girl laughed sharply. He turned to her—

—head of a bird of paradise, blue feathers about red foil eyes, red beak, red rippling comb—

—as she pulled away from the group to sway against the low wall. The breeze shook the panels of her dress so that they tugged at the scrolled brass fastenings at shoulder, wrist, and thigh. She rested her hip on the stone, one sandaled toe touching the ground, one an inch above it. With long arms (her nails were crimson) she removed her mask. As she set it on the wall, the breeze shook out her black hair, dropped it to her shoulders, raised it. The water reticulated below them as under flung sand.

He looked away. He looked back. He frowned.

There are two beauties (her face struck the thought in him, articulate and complete): with the first, the features and the body's lines conform to an averaged standard that will offend no one: this was the beauty of model and popular actresses; this was the beauty of Che-ong. Second, there was this: her eyes were smashed disks of blue jade, her cheekbones angled high over the white hollows of her wide face. Her chin was wide; her mouth, thin, red, and wider. Her nose fell straight from her forehead to flare at the nostrils (she breathed in the wind—and watching her, he became aware of the river's odor, the Paris night, the city wind); these features were too austere and violent on the face of such a young woman. But the authority with which they set together would make him look again, he knew, once he looked away; make him remember, once he had gone away. Her face compelled in the way that makes the merely beautiful gnaw the insides of their cheeks.

Image, sharp and focused; highlights that pierce and chill.

(cf. Dhalgren (2011-07-23), ...)

- Wednesday, October 31, 2012 at 04:13:02 (EDT)

2012-10-14 - Lost in the Mulch

~5.5 miles @ ~8.8 min/mi

Sun setting, dinner at Taco Bell an hour ago — at 6pm just time enough for a brisk trek around the 'hood. Garmin GPS glitches as I start out and sends me flying at pseudo-sub-seven min/mi pace an extra tenth of a mile; compare with the Runkeeper app's more accurate track. Neighbor kids' lemonade stand has a full pitcher as they abandon station to scamper along the sidewalk. Friendly moms watch from the front steps and wave as I sprint by. Pushing hard to maintain pace, downhill to Rock Creek, past a headphone-wearing man. Cyclists cruise upstream as I head down. What Would Lance Do? Neglecting the juice, follow Supertramp's advice and "Take the Long Way Home".

Pause to gulp one swallow of water at Ray's Meadow. Aluminum bat clangs on baseball as a kid swats pitches from his dad. Hook along East-West Hwy to Jones Mill Rd to the CCT and trot across the trestle. Chase a young lady who, music in ears, drifts across the middle of the trail and then startles as I swerve by her. At the end of the official Georgetown Branch Trail continue onward, since distance will be short of 5 miles if I head directly home from here. High-step through the weeds, seeking a path and trying not to trip in the gloom. Stumble into mounds of leaves and mulch. Clamber over them to a dead end and backtrack. Pass "Four Feet to the Yard" landscaping business trucks, zig around the industrial park gate, and emerge back into suburbia. Cross the one-lane bridge over the railroad tracks and scurry home past the elementary school. Stop timers, take pulse: 160-170 zone. Splits by Runkeeper are 8:40 + 8:25 + 8:33 + 8:28 + 9:55 (mulch mountains) plus last half mile at 8:11 min/mi pace.

- Tuesday, October 30, 2012 at 07:18:35 (EDT)

South and North Dakota

On 2012-08-18 the front page of the Washington Post featured a map of a proposed oil pipeline. Zooming in reveals North Dakota south of South Dakota. Hmmmmm!


- Monday, October 29, 2012 at 08:55:09 (EDT)


Near the end of a profile of Bill and Hillary Clinton in The American Scholar ("The Clintons Up Close" by Jane Warwick Yoder and Edwin M. Yoder Jr.) appears the intriguing paragraph:

Psychologist John Gartner, in his persuasive book In Search of Bill Clinton (2008), applies the term "hypomanic temperament" to Bill Clinton. I read the book with the eye of a Clinton friend but also with the eye of a practicing psychotherapist. The term "hypomanic" doesn't sound flattering, but Gartner considers it a positive quality—useful in describing one who is exuberant, garrulous, quick thinking, a risk taker, occasionally overzealous with the opposite sex. He doesn't regard this cast of temperament as a personality or character disorder. Brains are sometimes wired this way.

Official symptoms of Hypomania, according to the DSM are:

Hypomania came to mind a few days ago when a young fellow sat down next to me on the Metro and started talking. He sketched out his life in a cheery torrent of words: divorced earlier this week, eager for change in his life, frustrated by the need to "turn down the volume" on his intelligence around most people, excited about the future. He displayed a girlfriend's photo on his cellphone, which he dropped and picked up. He gave me his business card. Throwing caution off of the train, I gave him mine. The divorce, I suggested gave him a "Get Out of Jail Free" card good for the next month (at least). Maybe he should do something outrageous — travel, hike the Appalachian Trail, go back to school for a new degree?

Hypomanic? He sure acted that way. And though self-assessment is fuzzy-rough, many hypomanic characteristics sound like they could describe, uh, me. So some dear friends have hinted, delicately, at times. (But "hypersexuality"? Only in my dreams!)

(cf. Strengthsfinder (2008-01-24), Hogan Development Survey (2010-04-18), ...)

- Sunday, October 28, 2012 at 03:59:08 (EDT)

2012-10-13 - Matthew Henson Trail with Stephanie

~9 miles @ ~10.4 min/mi

Stephanie Fonda"Fist bump!" I request, and Stephanie Fonda rewards me with a gloved hand-to-hand salute at the end of our brisk morning trek. The Matthew Henson Trail begins here, just before milepost #9 of Rock Creek Trail, and extends ~4.5 miles east-northeast to end near Alderton Road. Grass is sprinkled with glittering frost diamonds. Saturday morning traffic is polite and pauses at crosswalks for us, but we have to wait at major intersections.

"Deer!" I spot the first stag of the day, a two-pointer grazing in the woods near Turkey Branch. Soon thereafter a doe followed by three of her daughters, or maybe little sisters, crosses the trail in front of us. Half a mile later another small herd eyes us from the brush. Approaching the turnaround Stephanie spies the largest buck of the day, well-camoflauged and flaunting a 4-point rack.

"The hill ends just around this bend!" I promise, but when we get there the climb continues. This happens often enough to become a joke, funny at first, then less so. At the icy meadow of Layhill Village Local Park I make Stephanie stop for a couple of photos. She smiles for some, but her impatient Ozymandian "...wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command ..." is my favorite shot. Highlights of blue and green in hair echo cap and jacket. (click for larger version of photo)

"But I'm just trying to read the text on their chests!" I explain to Stephanie. Fluorescent orange and dayglo-lime shirts, snug-fit, catch the eye as we encounter flocks of outbound training-group runners during the return trip. We push to bring our average pace down. Near the finish we overtake a trio of ladies. "Neat scarf!" I compliment one who sports a long beige and white cloth around her neck. She grins and says it's a gift.

The Garmin GPS gives our splits: 9:56 + 9:25 + 10:13 + 11:17 + 11:59 + 10:16 + 10:28 + 10:12 + 9:26. I add a short bonus sprint at the end just to make sure the iPhone's Runkeeper app crosses the magic 9.00 mile point.

- Friday, October 26, 2012 at 04:04:57 (EDT)

Signal and Noise

The Bad: there's a lot of noise in Nate Silver's new book The Signal and the Noise: excessive name-dropping and celebrity sound-clipping, ugly charts with mislabeled axes or ill-chosen scales (linear when they should be logarithmic), and an author who too often stands between reader and idea. "I grew up in ...", "I visited ...", "I interviewed ...", etc. And there are typographical errors, some inadvertently funny, e.g.: "... the definition of rocket science is using relatively simple psychics to solve complex problems ...".

The Ugly: Silver's lack of subject-matter technical depth is evident in his discussion of computer chess and climate modeling. He too often relies on catchy anecdotes in place of statistics. Perhaps it's part of a conscious effort to popularize a technical topic, but it clashes with a core principle of the book itself. And there are some big blind spots, as in a discussion of online poker that totally ignores the possibility of deliberate cheating by the invisible House. What touching faith in human honesty!

But the Good: overall The Signal and the Noise does an excellent job of explaining Bayesian ideas, how to weigh evidence and update forecasts, and what are the common pitfalls that so-called "experts" fall into. The book's subtitle, "Why So Many Predictions Fail — But Some Don't", captures one of its strengths. Silver is no Phil Tetlock (though he quotes Tetlock, appropriately). But he does bring balance and critical thinking to a complex subject. And he offers sharp insights, for instance in citing Bill James on mature thinking and respect for others:

There are a lot of things I wrote in the eighties that weren't right," he told me. "The big change was my having children. I know it's a cliché, but once you have children you start to understand that everyone is somebody's baby. It is an insiders-outsiders thing. You grow up and these people are characters on TV or video games or baseball cards — you don't really think about the fact that these guys are humans and doing the best they can."

As are we all. While immersed in The Signal and the Noise I missed my stop on the subway — a signal that correlates with a well-written book. There are few surprises if you already know Bayes Theorem, if you've read Tetlock's Expert Political Judgment, and if you remember some rules of elementary probability. But whether you do or not, Silver is a fast, enjoyable, worthwhile read.

(cf. Introduction to Bayesian Statistics, Statistics - A Bayesian Perspective, ...)

- Thursday, October 25, 2012 at 04:18:14 (EDT)


What is the absolutely smallest (nontrivial) philosophy? Perhaps something built upon nothingness — the mathematical empty set symbolized by φ or {}, from which all numbers are derived? Alternatively, a system starting with everything, the entire spacetime universe(s)? Or derived from a single pointlike here-and-now, this very instant? Could it be raw-existentialist, like theologian Paul Tillich's "Eternal Now" or John Robinson's "being-itself"?

Zen again, maybe not!

(cf. No Concepts At All (2001-02-22), Joy of Sets (2010-06-25), Core Buddhism (2011-10-17), ...)

- Wednesday, October 24, 2012 at 04:38:32 (EDT)

Pinhole Leak Ceiling

Copper pipes develop tiny leaks after decades of use, and to replace them plumbers have to knock holes through a lath-and-plaster ceiling and wall. These are the new pipes post-repair.


- Tuesday, October 23, 2012 at 04:32:25 (EDT)

2012-10-11 - The Acorn - Nature's Ball Bearing

~6 miles @ ~8.8 min/mi

Slight slips but no falls today. In shorts and short-sleeve shirt, brisk temps in the 50s, fast pace makes a sweaty forehead but chilly bits down below. Setting sun blindingly aligns with Wayne Avenue. Heavy rush-hour traffic on Colesville Road adds involuntary recovery breaks during miles 3 and 5; Georgia Avenue crossings are luckier and only incur slight delays. Branch off Rock Creek Trail at the Silver Spring International Middle School and do a fast lap around the old track there, dodging around walkers and soccer-playing kids chasing errant balls. Young man blasts past at sub-8 pace. The Runkeeper app and Garmin GPS concur on distance and rough mile splits of 8:40 + 8:06 + 8:43 + 8:38 + 9:31 + 8:42.

- Monday, October 22, 2012 at 04:08:22 (EDT)

2012-10-09 - Lost in the Neighborhood Woods

~5.5 miles @ ~9.1 min/mi

Starting 6pm, fueled by Cheetos, blast along sidewalks east to Georgia Avenue and north to Plyers Mill, then west past the park and hook back with a water fountain pause. Garmin GPS and Runkeeper app roughly agree on splits: 8:41 + 8:22 + 8:24 + 9:10 + 9:37 and a partial mile at 10:18 including rambling along a woodsy path and taking the wrong turn back to Capitol View Avenue.

- Monday, October 22, 2012 at 04:05:36 (EDT)

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(footnote/disclaimer: a few weeks ago in a moment of solo silliness I invented the above parody-game takeoff of FarmVille; apparently the domain serverfarmville.org exists and was registered in 2010 by Thomas Gericke of Germany, though it doesn't seem to be active at the moment)

- Sunday, October 21, 2012 at 06:44:01 (EDT)

2012-10-07 - Stephanie's Loop and Rebecca's Blitz

~27 miles @ ~11.7 min/mi

http://zhurnaly.com/images/running/Stephanie_Loop_map_2012-10-07.jpg"Holy Moly!" Stephanie Fonda exclaims as we slip-slide on thick layer of mud in the tunnel under Connecticut Avenue. We've done ~17.5 miles without a mishap and neither of us wants to fall now. Thankfully, we keep our footing.

Our long-run day begins before dawn as I catch the first #5 county Ride-On bus and arrive at Stephanie's home. Husband Charlie, cat Lava, and chocolate labrador Duck greet me and introduce themselves. I bring Stephanie a spare windbreaker, windshirt, etc. in case she needs foul-weather gear for upcoming events. The forecast today is for rain but thus far it's just brisk enough to suggest layers and long sleeves. At 6:02am we set off for a big loop with, as I promise Stephanie, "adventure as its middle name". After a few dozen steps I stop — my water bottle is missing! We turn back and find it by the sidewalk where it fell from the fanny pack. Stephanie leads at a strong pace past the Strathmore Arts Center to Tuckerman Lane and thence south on the Bethesda Trolley Trail to its end. Five rabbits scamper away at various points as the gloom lightens.

Local streets take us to the Capital Crescent Trail during our mile 5. When at last we can do without the flashlight I ask Stephanie to take off her cap for a moment to show her sharp new haircut, polychromatic highlights at the front. A mile down the CCT we dash across the high River Road bridge and pause at McDonalds to visit the facilities. I buy a Senior Discount cup of coffee for us to share. (I turned 60 last week, but am not carrying any ID with proof of age; fortunately they don't card me.) The fast food shop is clean and lovely-bright.

For the next mile the coffee tastes great and raises our spirits as we sip and jog along River Rd to the DC line. Stephanie apologetically speculates that I would look younger without the scraggly gray beard. We head up Western Avenue and then east along Military Road, dodging pedestrians on the narrow sidewalk and trying not to trip on tree-root-induced irregularities. The construction project that almost blocked progress eight months ago during the 2012-01-29 - Loop with CM is still present at Nebraska Av but it's easier now to get past it.

As we enter Rock Creek Park at mile 10 I lead us to the Nature Center and show Stephanie where I tripped and fell during my 2004-07-17 - Rock Creek and Capital Crescent Mini-loop. Attempts fail to find the path over the ridge and through the woods to Beach Drive, and the one person we see doesn't know it either. So back it is to the corner of Military and Oregon Av, then cautiously along the grassy shoulder by Military, cars whizzing by, for half a mile until we turn off near Park Police Headquarters.

Intermittent sprinkles now turn to light drizzle, perhaps occasionally a shower. Stephanie and I debate whether it deserves to be called "rain". Northward now, along Beach Dr where Stephanie and Gayatri Datta and I ran in the other direction during the 2012-09-23 - Rock Creek CCT Loop with Stephanie and Gayatri. A big brunette doe, followed by two beige middle-sized fawns, dances across the road ahead of us. Conversation is lovely as we slow a bit and walk a few of the hills. Stephanie and I are amazingly similar in our backgrounds and concerns about many topics — money, for one — issues which we both realize are sometimes justified but often not.

Increasing numbers of runners greet us along Beach Dr. Perhaps many are braving the weather in order to do a final long trek three weeks before the Marine Corps Marathon? At mile 13.5 we're back in Maryland. Participants in "Ellen's Run", a fundraiser 5k, greet us. Approaching Meadowbrook Stables two sleek young thoroughbreds race past. "I am not talking about horses!" Stephanie jokes later with me. The pair of young men, one black one white, are clad in shorts and singlets and gloves. They cruise by at what seems to them an effortless pace, several minutes/mile faster than us. "Wow!" I whisper in envy and admiration. Half a mile later they meet us on their return journey, chatting with each other.

Stephanie's ilio-tibial band inflammation and plantar fasciitis are much less troublesome today than they were here during our 2012-09-29 - Bethesda Loops and Swirls trek, but she's still suffering a little. We each have taken a few energy gels. I share S! electrolyte capsules and root beer barrel candies. Near the Mormon Temple she breaks out a Clif Bar to split.

Stephanie has been tolerant of my interminable blatherings, including far too many geographically-based reminisces of points along the path we follow. At mile 19 we branch from Rock Creek Trail (mile marker ~5.5) onto Beach Dr and take it back to MD-355 and the Strathmore Arts Center. I'm amazed to discover that I don't recognize the pathway we took only four hours ago. It was dark then and we were going in the opposite direction, but nevertheless all now seems strangely changed.

At the drainage pond Stephanie points out the mini-mountain of rock where she and daughter Haven saw a huge tortoise some months ago; "Yertle the Turtle" they named it. Stephanie's left ITB isn't too bad but now the right let starts complaining, so as an experiment she moves her beige velcro-and-elastic strap from one knee to the other. It seems more annoying than helpful. She's experimenting today also with new orthotics, which seem to have deterred a PF flare-up.

Mile 20 on the GPS finds us nearing our start. We commence a cooldown walk and exchange hilarious stories of unmentionable long-run issues (trail talk: say no more!) as I debate whether to jog home or take the bus. Then Stephanie spots Rebecca Rosenberg chatting with a neighbor just ahead and shouts greetings. Rebecca has run a few miles with Ken Swab and others already this morning but is eager for company during a few more. I ask Stephanie's permission to abandon her, which she grants, and then shake her hand and congratulate her on a superb circuit. My wrist GPS reads 20.75 miles. Great job, Stephanie!

Rebecca and I proceed along her neighborhood sidewalks and into the next-door town of Garrett Park. The trendy Black Market Bistro at the post office is busy, parking lot full. Food there is fine but portions are rather too small to suit hungry runners, Rebecca observes. We attack hills, cross train tracks, and sprint down to Schuykill Rd. Garrett Park Rd takes us to Rock Creek Trail where Rebecca pauses to let me refill water bottle and catch breath. She leads me at a fast tempo upstream to milepost #8 and back down to the Knowles-Strathmore Rd intersection, with bonus hillwork on the side path up to the old Ken-Gar neighborhood.

We each enjoy blaming the other for the brisk pace. "What's this called?" Rebecca asks. I suggest "double-sandbagging" as a new term, though it sounds vaguely obscene to my ears. Rebecca has just returned from visiting Ireland and France with comrade An. When she mentions Dublin I can't resist lurching into Lecture Mode and telling of mathematician William Hamilton and his discovery of quaternions, which he invented during a walk there. He carved the key equation into the side of a bridge, lest he forget. Rebecca tells me about James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, and other titans of literature from the area.

We return to Garrett Park, still pushing hard at ~10 min/mi. Rebecca points out alphabetical street names in her neighborhood: Aurora, Bangor, Cushing, Druid, Euclid, Flanders. That last reminds me of the poem In Flanders Fields ("In Flanders fields the poppies blow / Between the crosses, row on row, ...") but I misattribute it to Wilfred Owen; it's actually by John McCrae. My attempt to recite it doesn't get far either. A final out-and-back on a side street makes my GPS mileage close enough to 27 to declare "victory". Rebecca escorts me back to the bus stop on Strathmore Avenue, makes sure I cross the busy street safely, then turns back to do a few more miles. Whew!

Splits from Garmin GPS: 11:56 + 10:32 + 10:45 + 11:29 + 10:17 + 10:32 + 15:57 (includes stop at McDonalds for a cup of coffee) + 10:45 + 11:30 + 12:46 + 10:52 + 11:48 + 11:48 + 10:35 + 11:38 + 11:38 + 13:07 + 11:17 + 11:39 + 14:11 + 17:04 (includes cooldown walk back to Stephanie's neighborhood) + 09:55 + 10:13 + 11:02 + 10:17 + 10:00 + 09:43 — in general concurrence with the Runkeeper app.

- Saturday, October 20, 2012 at 05:05:05 (EDT)

Pac Man Brie


Another sight at the MITRE/G154 office picnic, 27 July 2012 (cf. Watermelon Man) ...

- Friday, October 19, 2012 at 04:09:11 (EDT)


The proverb "What is a trick the first time one meets it is a device the second time and a method the third time" came to mind recently when the term shikake surfaced in the 2013 symposium workshop announcement "Shikakeology: Designing Triggers for Behavior Change". It says:

Shikake is a Japanese word that represents physical and/or psychological trigger for implicit or explicit behavior change to solve problems. The aim of this workshop is to gain a holistic understanding of Shikake, i.e.:
- Shikake principles
- Behavior change triggers
- Sustained behavior change
- Case studies
- Approaches to design simple and complex Shikake

The merits of Shikakeological approach are summarized as four points; low expertise, low cost, wide range of target users, and long term continuous behavior changes. Developing a Shikake can be easier and less expensive than developing complicated engineering mechanism. These advantages allow people to use the Shikake approach to address immediate problems without requiring specific expertise.

Another Shikake objective is to induce spontaneous behavior. When people feel controlled or forced by someone or something to do something, they never do that again. On the other hand, if people desire and enjoy changing their behavior, they would do it repeatedly. Shikake aims to change behavior through a continuous engagement and transformation process.

Aside from the charmingly broken English (machine translation?) the promise of cheap self-change is seductive. But shikake according to other online sources really is just a Japanese word meaning a "device, mechanism, system, or trick", not necessarily associated with psychological or behavioral modification.

So is the use of an exotic term here a mere marketing ploy designed to seize a roaming eye — a shikake itself? Hmmmm. If so, in this case it worked!

(cf. One Small Step, Dan Ariely Lecture, Predictably Irrational, Upside of Irrationality, ...)

- Thursday, October 18, 2012 at 04:35:26 (EDT)

2012-10-06 - New Neighborhood Loop

~7.3 miles @ ~10.8 min/mi

The Moon overhead glows a few degrees away from Jupiter. Down to Rock Creek via National Park Seminary. Startle a big deer on Ireland Dr. Trot to Candy Cane City a bit too fast to make the 0730 rendezvous, and then wait for the group to get ready. Emaad Burki and Barry Smith trail behind and chat. Megan O'Rourke in sable lycra and Ken Swab in verdant Bull Run shirt discuss ITB treatment: Ken advises doing less than half one's mileage during a weekly long run, perhaps the inverse of my 1/f Power Spectrum Running strategy. At West Beach Dr I branch off and push the pace solo to get home early so I can visit the Silver Spring Farmer's Market in timely fashion. Up the hills along North Portal Dr, 16th St, and Second Av, sprinting the sidewalk stairs and greeting dog-walkers and bored pedestrians. Garmin GPS mile splits 9:57 + 9:31 + 9:08 + 18:26 (waiting for the gang) + 10:00 + 9:40 + 9:08 and a fraction at sub-9 to finish up. Runkeeper app concurs.

- Wednesday, October 17, 2012 at 04:05:53 (EDT)

Let's Go

The rock music group The Cars had a 1979 hit song titled "Let's Go" that has, for a long time, been popular-inspirational running music — fast and fun to have stuck in one's head during a long race. See, for example, JFK 50 Mile Run 2006 and other reports here.

But now a 2012 electronic dance song with the same name is on my short-list of favorites: "Let's Go" by Calvin Harris. The catchy lyrics are a present-moment Zen reminder not to look back, including:

Let's go!
Right now is where you shine
I'm talking here and now
I'm talking here and now

It's not about what you've done
It's about what you doing
It's all about where you going
No matter where you've been
Let's go!

It's on heavy rotation at BPM, as well as in my mind.

- Tuesday, October 16, 2012 at 04:26:19 (EDT)

2012-10-03 - Paint Branch Trail Evening Blitz

~5.2 miles @ ~8.7 min/mi

A soccer game is in progress at the UM Ludwig Field — no running laps on Kehoe Track tonight! On the opposite side of campus the parking lot near Route 1 is not quite full. At 7pm it's already dark, but clouds reflect enough city lights to show the dashed stripe down the middle of Paint Branch Trail most of the time. Darkness wins under the trees. Shoes are Nike Free slippers, better on a cushioned surface. North it is on a warm and humid evening, from just before PBT milepost 1.5, cruising briskly past empty dog-park and silent football field. Slow down in the gloomy tunnel under University Blvd. Tiptoe through puddles or dodge around them. Swerve to miss the small handful of cyclists and walkers out this late. At the Cherry Hill Rd crosswalk first turn around, then dither, check the GPS distance estimate, go back, wait a moment, and finally dart across the street when there's a gap in the traffic. Proceed to trail's end, circle the marker, and zip back. Mile splits 9:02 + 8:34 + 9:12 + 8:24 + 8:08 from the Garmin; similar stats from the Runkeeper app. Sit on a brick wall when finished, pant, drip sweat, and through the plastic bag around the iPhone tweet the result.

- Monday, October 15, 2012 at 04:09:55 (EDT)

Watermelon Man


Melon carving by colleague Brigitta Rubin for the MITRE/G154 department office picnic on 27 July 2012 ...

- Sunday, October 14, 2012 at 10:15:51 (EDT)

2012-09-30 - Northwest Branch-Northeast Branch-Paint Branch-UM Loop

~10.7 miles @ ~9.7 min/mi

Throw away the shorts! Trash the socks! After a fraction of a mile it's clear: this has to be the last excursion with ancient thrift-store-purchased "Moving Comfort" running shorts. The lining sags and rides up, leaving unmentionable body parts sporadically at, ah, loose ends. Likewise it's past time to abandon low-cut Thorlos anklet socks that keep slipping down into shoes, defying best efforts to adjust. Into the garbage they shall go, as soon as I get home!

Nonetheless, in spite of wardrobe malfunctions, a new Personal Best: today's solo circuit on Anacostia Tributary trails beats prior PB by a few minutes. Daughter Gray has got ~50 pounds of books to return to the University of Maryland library, Son Robin has got to get to the Metro for a meet-up stat discussion downtown, and I've got the itch to run a classic College Park-Hyattsville loop on this pleasant low-humidity ~70°F afternoon. The song "Titanium" comes up on BPM just as I park near the UM track. The chorus cycles in my head. But after a mile, when I pass an ice cream truck, intermittently "Titanium" gets replaced by "Old McDonald Has a Farm".

Sweet Sunday-afternoon backyard-barbecue smells tickle the nose. Cyclists out in force on the path greet runners. Fueled by bites of a Snickers candy bar every ~20 minutes, pace is slightly over-optimistic for the first half. Then, deceleration as walk breaks come every ~5 minutes. One water bottle isn't enough to ward off dehydration. One S! e-cap suffices. Segments of the trail are under construction, with asphalt torn asunder, packed earth awaiting new pavement. Sun plays peek-a-boo with clouds that portend rain tonight.

Garmin GPS estimates splits: 9:28 + 9:22 + 9:31 + 9:04 + 9:53 + 9:19 + 10:00 + 10:24 + 9:49 + 9:58 + a final .75 mi climb across campus back to the car at 9:37 min/mi pace in front of student-witness eyes. Runkeeper iPhone app concurs. The Nike Plus sensor on the shoe that Merle gave me isn't calibrated for my stride yet and overestimates the distance by ~10%.

(prior excursions on the same loop:include 2004-11-11 - Lockout, 2006-01-09 - College Park Loop, 2006-05-18 - Evening Anacostia Loop, 2006-12-08 - Anacostia Tributary Orbit, 2007-11-08 - Anacostia Tributary Orbit, 2009-06-14 - UM Loop, 2011-06-14 - College Park Loop, 2011-08-23 - NWBT-NEBT-PBT Loop, ...)

- Saturday, October 13, 2012 at 05:26:01 (EDT)

Behind Her Back

Happy-faced crescent
Moon smiles, oblivious, as
Venus and I wink.

(composed during the walk to the Metro at 0520 yesterday morning ...)

- Friday, October 12, 2012 at 04:56:00 (EDT)

2012-09-29 - Bethesda Loops and Swirls

~16 miles @ ~13 min/mi

A medusa-haired tangle of clouds glows low in the west, lit by a full Harvest Moon hiding behind it. At 5:30am a freight train sits silent on the tracks. Jupiter hangs overhead, Orion's belt points to Sirius, and Venus climbs in the east. Low beams from street lights exaggerate the ripples on the surface of the Capital Crescent Trail and make every leaf look like an obstacle. The only sounds are my feet crunching on the gravel as I tread cautiously toward Bethesda. Gloom is thick under the trees. Gayatri Datta and Stephanie Fonda and I plan to meet at 0630; I arrive early, take the surface detour instead of the tunnel, and do a fast out-and-back mile on the CCT. Then in front of Barnes & Noble bookstore Stephanie materializes, followed a little later by Gayatri who went east in search of me.

We do another mile warm-up together and return in time to join the 7am XMP training group. The big pack stops to caucus so we set off ahead of them, accompanied by Caroline Silva, a fast and patient runner. Michelle Price joins us after a mile (she lives nearby). At Meadowbrook Stable faster sub-groups have overtaken us. We stop for people to refill water bottles and visit the facilities. Stephanie and I decide to branch upstream and loop back to Bethesda.

The chorus of David Guetta's song "Titanium" is stuck in my head: "... I'm bulletproof, nothing to lose / fire away, fire away / ricochet, you take your aim / fire away, fire away / you shoot me down, but I won't fall / I am titanium ..." — a dangerous sentiment to have for a long-distance runner prone to injury! In fact, comrade Stepanie's ITB and plantar fasciitis are already starting to trouble her today. Near the Beltway we reject the option to cut through Walter Reed Annex to my house and continue along Rock Creek. Near Cedar Lane we throttle back to a walk and take Rockville Pike to our starting point, from which Stephanie kindly gives me a ride home.

The Runkeeper GPS splits are a bit wild: 10:56 + 10:51 + 10:56 + 10:45 + 8:33 (solo sprint) + 18:16 (waiting for the meet-up) + 23:32 (more waiting) + 7:55 (tunnel GPS anomaly?) + 10:44 + 10:39 + 11:29 + 12:20 + 11:02 + 12:28 + 16:02 + 15:51 plus a final fraction strolling back to our starting point. The Garmin GPS shows more reasonable splits: 10:43 + 10:55 + 10:59 + 10:51 + 8:30 + 18:18 + 19:33 + 14:05 + 10:49 + 10:48 + 11:10 + 13:06 + 11:54 + 12:01 + 16:23 + 17:00.

- Thursday, October 11, 2012 at 04:06:31 (EDT)

Doing, Preparing, Telling

There are three levels of activity in life:

The inner rewards in each of these zones are quite different for different individuals. Some folks love to act, some to strategize, some to boss. Some loathe certain categories of action.

Yesterday I felt great heading out of the office: I had done some really good stuff. But then I paused, thought about it a bit more, and realized: what I actually had produced was stuff to help other people prepare to tell their bosses the plan to tell still other people what to do — with maybe a few more layers of indirection in between.

Some of the air went out of my Happy Balloon ...

(cf. PlansAndSituations (1999-08-13), PowerAsPerception (2000-01-05), FamilyHierarchies (2000-05-21), ...)

- Wednesday, October 10, 2012 at 04:32:21 (EDT)

2012-09-26 - Five 800m Repeats

~3 miles @ ~9 min/mi

Gentle gibbous moonlight is too faint to read my splits by as the evening darkens and I circle the track at the University of Maryland. A few others jog or run in the gloom on Yom Kippur, perhaps atoning like me for past or future sins such as my planned visit to Taco Bell. Splits for the 800 meter intervals: 3:41 + 3:36 + 3:34 + 3:33 + 3:31 while weight remains in the upper-140s. Garmin GPS and iPhone Runkeeper record the news.

- Tuesday, October 09, 2012 at 07:01:01 (EDT)

Inside the Old Barn

Cedar logs and beams in the barn, built ~1875, on the farm where my father grew up:


- Monday, October 08, 2012 at 04:05:31 (EDT)

2012-09-25 - Mormon Temple Loop

~4 miles @ ~9.5 min/mi

Get home, sort the mail, check the bills, and feel sleepy. Lie down on the bed. Nap? Or run?

First half mile is rough, with popcorn-and-egg-salad-sandwich lunch heavy inside. Then the wind gusts and the low-70s temperature wakes me up. Young red-haired fellow pauses to cross Linden Lane at the industrial park and runs ahead of me. I fight the urge to give chase and let him open a gap, waiting to see where he goes. A quarter mile later, at the new NPS Seminary row of condo townhouses, he reverses course, nods as we pass. Down through the woods this time I don't miss the obvious turn to Rock Creek, unlike in the dark on 2012-09-23 - Rock Creek CCT Loop with Stephanie and Gayatri.

Take gravel path, cross Beach Dr, at base of Mormon Temple hill, and push hard up the slope, panting past 4 dogs and 3 dog-walkers. Zig through neighborhood above train tracks, zag past retirement/nursing home where motorized wheelchair guy cruises ahead of me. Cross stream, zip by new elementary school and empty community swimming pool, then blast hard past Our Lady Queen of Poland - St Maxmilian Kolbe church to make a fast final mile home. Runkeeper splits 9:15 + 9:40 + 10:04 + 8:48 with concurrence from Garmin GPS. Salty sweat drips into my eyes when I stop.

- Sunday, October 07, 2012 at 04:13:18 (EDT)

Mindless Mind

From David Allen's newsletter, a notion which combines time management and philosophy of mind (plus maybe mindfulness):

Your mind doesn't have one. A mind, that is. If your mind were smart, it would only remind you of something when you could do something about it.

That is, when there's something you need to remember — especially something you need to remember to do at a point in the future — write it down so you don't have to try to hold it in your head. As Allen says in the introduction to his little essay:

If all you get from the GTD methodology is to retire your mind from the job of being your list manager, you'd be light years ahead of most people on the planet. It's one of the easiest principles to implement, and probably one of the most common to disregard in terms of how powerful it can be. Do yourself a favor—get smarter than your mind. It would love to let go of this stuff; it's simply afraid you don't have a better servant.

(cf. Mind Like Water (2011-12-24), Getting Things Done - Summarized (2012-05-14), ...)

- Saturday, October 06, 2012 at 06:08:50 (EDT)

Hours I Have Tried to Think

A poem by Robin Zimmermann in honor of his father's 60th birthday:

Hours I have tried to think
What words to copy down
That speak to how you make me glad
But have a pleasant sound.

There's baseball running through the field
Us, trying to keep score --
Or running trails through the woods,
Ideas we explore
On running, scoring, baseball, sound,
A thousand things or more --

I've found a thousand, but here's the core:
I'm happy you're around.

- Saturday, October 06, 2012 at 05:53:50 (EDT)

2012-09-23 - Rock Creek CCT Loop with Stephanie and Gayatri

~24 miles @ ~12 min/mi

Venus, Jupiter, and Sirius form a sparkling right triangle in the dawn sky as I set off from home at 6:18am. Empty hands cause befuddlement until sudden realization: iPhone is in a shoulder holster and water bottle in fanny pack. Nothing missing after all!

But in the gloom under the trees I miss the turn and get lost in Walter Reed Annex on the way to Rock Creek Trail, at a corner I must have taken hundreds of times over the past decade. At the water I turn first downstream, then upstream, and finally find my way via a hiker path to the bridge near the Beltway after a few minutes. No poison ivy, thank goodness.

Rendezvous at Candy Cane City: Santa Steve and Joyce, Gayatri Datta and Stephanie Fonda. The portajohns are filthy. "I've got PTSD!" is Stephanie's rating. We walk the first half mile and then trot ahead of S&J. Conversation flows, with Gayatri's report on her recent trip to Brazil, random advice about ultramarathon strategy ("Walk the hills!", "No bad spell lasts forever!", "Relentless forward progress!") plus anecdotes about family, work, studies, past races, etc. The weather is lovely crisp. Increasing numbers of cyclists whizz by as the day progresses. In the National Zoo a polite biker keeps trying to get the attention of an earphone-wearing runner who blocks the left side of the trail near us. Eventually I shout "Bike back!" and he moves over.

Gayatri, who did 20 miles yesterday, continues on in spite of my attempts to persuade her to turn back at the Zoo. She catches up with Stephanie and me at Thompson's Boat Center where we pause to enjoy the facilities and chat with the super-friendly staff behind the counter. The three of us run together under the Whitehurst Freeway, where I inadvertently reveal that Robin, who will be cycling down to meet us, is my son. Stephanie has been trying to figure out the genders of the others but guesses wrong on Merle vs. Gray. Her daughter's name "Haven" is likewise ambiguous.

DC Road Runners Club aid stations are set up along the pathway for a duathlon, kayak paddling plus cycling. We get through the area before riders began their CCT segment. Stephanie and I give thanks for how lucky-blessed we are to be able to run long, how rare a privilege it is (wealthy society, tolerant families, etc.), and how much fun it can be to hold back and not mention how far we've ran when others cheerfully boast about doing lesser distances.

Son Robin materializes near the DC line and gives us bottles of Gatorade. He started his ride just after 9am (see his trackfile) and continues along to find Gayatri not far behind us. She accepts his gift of Gatorade, but after the rest of his out-and-back on the CCT he doesn't quite catch up with Stephanie and me in time to pass along Gayatri's message to wait in downtown Bethesda.

Stephanie accelerates the pace as we progress. We joke about sprinting the final miles but decide not to. At River Road there's more banter — "You walk first!" ... "No, you!" ... "I'll walk if you'll walk!" — which leads to reminiscing about childing conversational gambits. Stephanie adjusts a garment that begins to chafe a sensitive area. I avert my eyes and offer petroleum jelly, but with a caveat: "Sorry, I can't rub it on for you. I'm married!" A dead mouse on the CCT and a dead raccoon on Beach Dr near the National Zoo, plus sporadic stenchy smells from the DC sewer system, are the only unæsthetic observations today.

When Stephanie's GPS reads 21 miles we stop the instruments and begin a final cooldown. As we approach the cars we see Joyce and Santa Steve, back from their trek to the Zoo and getting ready to go out for more. "Come on, they'll see us walking — we've gotta run!" I tell Stephanie, so we break into a slow canter together. Then Stephanie gives me a ride home. We see Gayatri on her way to the finish, only a few minutes behind us.


My consumption en route: 3 S! e-caps, 2 energy gels, a couple of Atomic Fireballs, a bottle of "Fierce Grape" Gatorade, and part of a Clif Bar shared with Stephanie. She gives me some of her Gatorade. Sad news, however, when I check the scale: my weight afterwards is ~146 lbs., higher than it should be. But perhaps I avoided dehydration. Intermittent left metatarsal pain is troublesome; Stephanie had some too, as well as left ITB issues. Fortunately my right foot seems not to hurt on the top/outside bones, unlike after last weekend's long run. The Garmin GPS and Runkeeper app both glitch, perhaps due to signal loss in the Dalecarlia and Air Rights tunnels. Garmin says 24.6, Runkeeper thinks 25.3 miles.

(for other runs on this same general loop see 2005-10-23 - CCT-RC Loop, 2006-10-07 - Caren's Loop, 2007-10-20 - Mary's Loop, 2009-01-10 - CM's Loop, 2010-08-07 - Gayatri's Loop Plus, 2010-08-14 - Night Run - Karen's Loop, ...)

- Friday, October 05, 2012 at 06:13:16 (EDT)

Playa Gift

Elder son Merle, back from Burning Man 2012, tells of a brilliant rule: "If you notice something on the ground, then it's yours!" That is, if you see a bit of litter then your duty is to pick it up and put it in its proper place. If you find something worth keeping then consider it a "playa gift", from the desert plain to you. Feel free to give it to someone else or hang on to it. Smart psychology: the result is a much cleaner festival site and a hugely enhanced sense of personal responsibility. Works for me too, walking to/from the Metro in the morning and elsewhere.

(cf. Picking Up Litter (2011-10-25), ...)

- Thursday, October 04, 2012 at 04:28:20 (EDT)

2012-09-19 - Four 800m Repeats

~2.5 miles @ ~9.2 min/mi

Crescent moon hangs low. "Is it waxing or waning?" Robin asks as we circle the University of Maryland track. We've just dropped Gray off at orchestra rehearsal and dropped a toaster and a toaster-oven off at Value Village as donations.

"Waxing!" I pant out as I pass by during an interval sprint. No lights at the track mean that I have to click the button on the wrist GPS in order to see my times. Pairs of laps for 800m intervals are fast, 3:49 + 3:31 + 3:27 + 3:26 splits. Two young women chat during recovery between their hundred meter sprints. Runkeeper roughly concurs with the Garmin GPS.

- Wednesday, October 03, 2012 at 04:12:17 (EDT)

Air Force Standards

Air Force Policy Directive 1 dated 7 August 2012 "... highlights Air Force culture and establishes Air Force policy with regards to the professionalism and standards expected of all Airmen." It specifies a wide range of fascinating rules. Among the Air Force Standards are:

3.2.1. Members, while in uniform, will not stand or walk with hands in pockets except to insert or remove an item.


3.2.4. Members will not consume food or beverages while walking in uniform.

... both of which (ignoring the "in uniform" parts) are personal weaknesses that I need to work on.

- Tuesday, October 02, 2012 at 04:26:22 (EDT)

2012-09-16 - CCT-RCT Oscillations

~25 miles @ ~11.6 min/mi

Child of morning rosy-fingered dawn paints the sky in baby-blanket pinks and blues. Three bunnies bound away at 6:40am as I begin the jog to Bethesda for a 7:30am meet-up. It's a lovely-cool day, perfect for a long slow excursion. Today's newbies, Raul Blazquez and his wife Ida Wahlquist, are preparing for their first marathon. Of course everyone else — Ken Swab, Emaad Burki, Barry Smith, and me — have advice to offer.

Stephanie Fonda is also with the group today, and although she has seen me on the trail we haven't previously gotten to know each other. We chat, resonate, and run together much of the way today. Stephanie is training for the Marine Corps Marathon, where she hopes to break 5 hours. Her short black hair has a striking blue streak; her Ph.D. is in sociology. Stephanie works at the Walter Reed Medical Center as an epidemiologist, analyzing diabetes issues. The two of us discuss our families (her daughter Haven is now eight), commiserate concerning foot pain (she shares my intermittent metatarsalgia), and exchange chafing anecdotes. I try to snooker Stephanie into doing the Stone Mill 50 miler with Gayatri Datta and me in a few months. "We'll walk most of it; 15 minutes/mile pace will be fine!" is my sales pitch. "And it costs less than $1/mile. How can you resist?" She seems interested.

A muscular young woman does slanting push-ups near CCT mile marker 3.5, arms on a park bench, legs extending into the trail. She forces us into a slight detour and provides humor opportunities later during the run when we talk about emulating her. To accommodate various people's constraints the group first proceeds down the trail for a couple of miles and then returns to Bethesda and continues eastward to Rock Creek Trail. A downstream jaunt there includes an inadvertent pause when I mistakenly think Barry is visiting the men's room at Meadowbrook Stables. We wait a couple of extra minutes before discovering he is with the rest of the group waiting for us at East-West Highway. Mea culpa!

Up RCT to Susanna Lane and back westward on the CCT, Stephanie and I try to slow down but inexorably keep catching up with faster Rebecca and Ken. "We're mammals," Stephanie explains, "we like to be in groups!" A dozen miles is enough for some but not all, so a subset of us go through Bethesda and proceed again southward for more out-and-back. I've done four extra miles getting here and have four more ahead to get home. Kind Barnes & Noble bookstore lets me refill my empty bottles at their downstairs water fountain.

The iPhone RunKeeper app adds two-thirds of a mile, probably linked to losing and reacquiring the GPS signal as I enter and leave the CCT tunnel under Wisconsin Av. It credits me with a ludicrous 6:50 mile #16 and lesser speed blips at miles 4, 8, and 22. The Garmin 205 GPS trackfile map shows some zig-zags but doesn't seem to have been quite as confused there. It records splits of 10:23 + 10:07 + 9:53 + 9:40 + 9:14 + 17:19 (waiting for late-comers) + 10:38 + 14:24 (pausing at road crossings) + 10:25 + 11:21+ 14:08 (Ray's Meadow) + 10:43 + 14:20 (Meadowbrook stables) + 10:48 + 10:08 + 10:46 + 10:29 + 12:07 + 11:16 + 11:57 + 10:56 + 14:53 (refilling water bottles at B&N) + 10:23 + 11:02 + 10:31.

- Monday, October 01, 2012 at 04:13:48 (EDT)

Hot Beverage Warning

Seen on a shopping cart at the neighborhood grocery store:


"Warning! Do not place hot beverage in holder when child is in seat!"

- Sunday, September 30, 2012 at 12:15:33 (EDT)

2012-09-15 - RCT with Megan, Karen, Alyssa, Rebecca, Barry, ...

~10 miles @ ~12 min/mi

"Fast stroller passing!" I warn our group as we trot along Rock Creek Trail in the woods. We move politely to the right as the young father blasts by. He tells us that we'll pass him and his nine-month-old daughter again soon. "Only if we all climb into the baby carriage!" I reply.

The pack includes Alyssa Soumoff (who just took her medical board exams a few days ago), Megan O'Rourke (who is nursing an ITB injury back to health), Karen Taggart (Megan's fellow triathlete friend), Rebecca Rosenberg, and Barry Smith. A little rabbit watches me and then bounds away as I set off this morning at 7am. I arrive early at Candy Cane City and walk about until the group converges. Karen and I chat as we climb the Mormon Temple hill; this is her first time running with us. "We're suckering you in," I explain, "by running slowly now. You'll be abandoned in the forest soon." The iPhone Runkeeper and Garmin GPS trackfiles give rough splits of 9:47 + 8:52 + 26:04 (with ~15 minutes of waiting for late arrivals at Candy Cane) + 11:41 + 11:34 + 11:15 + 10:58 + 11:38 + 9:02 (blasting off solo) + 8:58 and a tiny fraction more to reach home.

- Saturday, September 29, 2012 at 04:43:51 (EDT)

Meme Pools

Sometimes I think of people — their minds, that is — as collections of concepts. We carry around ever-changing subsets chosen from a vast pool of notions. Some of these concepts are passive, like the value of the fine-structure constant (about 1/137) or the name of the fellow who deciphered Linear B (Michael Ventris), to give a couple of examples from my silly subset. Others are more active concepts, like how to do recursion, how to multiply fractions, how to change a sentence from passive to active voice, etc.

Progress occurs when a few people happen to have a fortunate coincidence of concepts in their heads so that, like a lucky genetic roll-of-the-dice, the combination turns into a really new idea: Newton and Leibnitz inventing the calculus, John Nash coming up with game theory, a bunch of folks figuring out how to mass-produce firearms and automobiles, etc., etc. So the Big Win for society is reducing friction, to enable more diverse subsets of ideas from the vast meme pool to interact more vigorously.

(cf. HumanNature (1999-12-05),...)

- Friday, September 28, 2012 at 04:23:10 (EDT)

2012-09-12 - Six 400m Repeats at UM

~2 miles @ ~9.7 min/mi

Young men practice standing jumps to a metal platform. Young ladies jog slowly around the oval. Bleachers block lanes 1 and 2 on the east side of the Kehoe Track at Ludwig Field. I notice and immediately forget the donor's name on the press box above the western seats. Perhaps the University of Maryland at College Park will soon sell campus naming rights? Robin runs steadily for ~1.5 miles while I sprint a lap and then walk a half-lap to recover. The iPhone Runkeeper app and Garmin GPS generally concur on splits: 1:40 + 1:37 + 1:36 + 1:36 + 1:37 + 1:37 for this cool-for-late-summer evening. Marathon Deli provides post-interval gyros, salty french fries, and sodas.

- Thursday, September 27, 2012 at 04:22:28 (EDT)

Change, No Change

Driving around the Beltway to work
     Heavy traffic, 6:28am
Metro train arches above the road
     Satellite radio glitches under the bridge
How would someone from 200 years ago
     Understand the cascade of miracles?

"The signal processor lost lock
     When the bit error rate got too high ..."
"There's a transmitter in a highly elliptical orbit ..."
"It's a tiny moon, launched by rockets ..."
"Radio is like sound, only it's more like light ..."

But what am I actually doing?
"I just had breakfast, told my wife I loved her,
     And now I'm going to work ..."
"I studied in school for many years ..."
"My job is mainly listening to people,
     Understanding their problems, and
     Helping them find solutions ..."
"I spend most of my time
     Putting words together
     To organize and explain stuff ..."

No change, in other words, for centuries

- Wednesday, September 26, 2012 at 05:10:25 (EDT)

2012-09-11 - Pimmit Hills Loop

~3 miles @ ~8.4 min/mi

Stigmata on my feet sting when the post-run shower water hits them. Today I go without socks, and after a mile already feel a bit of scraping inside the Nike Free slipper-shoes. Maybe the little footsies are too delicate this morning? Cut the run short and try to keep it fast.

Rewind: "Are you waiting here for your running buddies?" boss Pat Cook asks on his way into the building. I'm at the loading dock ~0632 and nobody from the 0630 running crew is around. So solo it is in the brisk late-summer dawn, temps in the upper-50s, delightful 50°F dew point. Kids stand on corners awaiting their banana-yellow school bus. A pumped-up rabbit peers at me through a chain-link fence. Pet or trapped? No time to observe — I'm blasting along with splits 8:50 + 7:56 + 8:05 by Garmin GPS unit, and close-enough 8:49 + 8:01 + 8:09 according to iPhone RunKeeper app. Zig-zag to rejoin Pimmit Dr, add a fraction of a mile, and make the total distance exceed 3 by a thin film of sweat.

- Tuesday, September 25, 2012 at 05:02:03 (EDT)

Hair Loom Tomatoes

Heirloom is so hard to spell. Or maybe they're referring to a kind of woven wig?


(seen on the board outside a local yuppie-ish restaurant)

- Monday, September 24, 2012 at 04:07:32 (EDT)

2012-09-09 - Rock Creek Ramble with Barry and Sara

~12 miles @ ~10.4 min/mi

Later-than-planned start, after I figure out how to properly put my iPhone in the nice shoulder-strap holder that Keith & Rita gave me as an early birthday present in Austin Texas a few days ago. Cottontail rabbit scampers away at the corner a block from home. Shirtless fast young runner precedes me along Brookeville Rd. Catch up with him on the Capital Crescent Trail: he's trying to drag a big fallen tree fragment out of the pathway. Pause for a couple of minutes to help him, then apologize and blitz onward. Discover empty cars in the Candy Cane parking lot: Sara Crum and Barry Smith started their trek on time. Sprint down Beach Dr and spy them ahead. Catch up as they enter DC. Follow behind quietly until Sara hears heavy breathing and looks back. Enjoy Barry's report of his Disneyland half-marathon and marathon last weekend; commiserate with his breathing problems. Accompany Sara when she continues as Barry turns back at the latrine near Military Rd. Go half a mile farther downstream, circle a tree at the stone wall segment. Race back with Sara hoping to catch up with Barry. Shout his name as we pass the restroom in case he's inside. No response. Continue sub-10 miles back to Candy Cane, searching in vain for the B-man. Cheer when he appears suddenly at the cars. Catch breath, continue upstream with Sara to the old CCT trestle, then head for home. Splits: 11:28 + 8:38 + 8:55 + 11:18 + 10:55 + 11:02 + 9:39 + 9:53 + 9:37 + 13:26 + 10:18 + 9:15 and 8:45 for the final third of a mile, based on Garmin GPS data. iPhone Runkeeper concurs, approximately.

- Sunday, September 23, 2012 at 04:32:42 (EDT)


The new car arrives with a year of Sirius-XM satellite radio, and as my 60th birthday looms I try to keep thinking young thoughts. "BPM" = "Beats Per Minute" is a channel of electronic dance music that, after listening to it for a while, has become quite appealing. The same top-favorite artists, groups, DJs, etc. appear on heavy rotation, Avicii, Afrojack, Deadmau5, Martin Solveig, Skrillex, Shermanology, Cazzette, Knife Party, et al. Electronic mixes from Rihanna, Adele, and others. Modern riffs on old songs. Neat!

- Saturday, September 22, 2012 at 12:32:03 (EDT)

2012-09-07 - Zig-Zag Lady Bird Lake Loop - Austin Texas

~11 miles @ ~11.3 min/mi

Venus gleams like a brilliant-cut diamond low in the east. A last-quarter moon is almost overhead. Shadows under the trees are scary-dark at 5:40am when I start from the park at the north end of Longhorn Dam. It's the last full day of my visit to family in Texas. Temperatures have peaked every day at above 100°F, so the only runs are early-morning circuits around Town Lake (Monday and Wednesday). A "cold" front is due tomorrow morning, too late to do me any good, alas. Today's temps are in the upper-70s already, with relative humidity in the 80%+ zone. The singlet is abandoned in the car before I start. Walk breaks come every ~5 minutes. I ponder doing two loops around the course, but after a few miles I'm dripping with sweat and come to my senses.

For variety, to add a bit of distance, and to explore new paths on the way back I cross bridges over the Colorado River: the Pfluger pedestrian bridge next to Lamar Ave, then the sidewalk on the bridges for South 1st Street, Congress Ave, and Interstate-35. Bicyclists slip past, mostly making enough sound to give warning. Fellow runners are few compared to earlier this week. Perhaps they're awaiting better weather tomorrow? See Garmin GPS and iPhone Runkeeper for data, including approximate mile splits: 11:27 + 11:54 + 12:38 + 11:58 + 11:50 + 11:44 + 11:22 + 11:30 + 10:58 + 10:20 + 8:29 and a final fraction to make sure I'm over 11 miles on both GPS systems.

- Friday, September 21, 2012 at 04:27:39 (EDT)

Busy Fish

Traffic jam in the aquarium, seen while awaiting Chinese carry-out food at "Hunan City":


- Thursday, September 20, 2012 at 04:09:49 (EDT)

2012-09-05 - Double Lady Bird Lake Loop - Austin Texas

~21 miles @ ~11.8 min/mi

"Remember those girls rubbing suntan lotion on each other?" At 0545 the brain plays funny tricks. When I reach the AMLI South Shore apartment complex path I have to decide whether to venture down the eroded sandy slope and back up again, or take the short sidewalk route. Then the old noggin recalls the sight two days ago (during the 2012-09-03 - Lady Bird Lake Loop - Austin Texas). Decision made. No matter that it's dark now, and no lovely lasses are preparing to tan!

But in pre-dawn gloom instead of bikini-clad beauties I spy a low-to-the-ground glowing red light. What can it be? A one-eyed Hound of the Baskervilles? Ah, no — upon closer approach it resolves into a little dog with a crimson LED beacon on his collar, roaming off-leash at the dock while owners chat nearby.

The shirt comes off at mile 6 after I'm sweaty-wet. Today the dominant lady's fashion statement is peach-hued shirts, and for males burnt-orange University of Texas shorts. I reach my Mom's car at mile 10.5 and circle around it, resisting the temptation to stop. During the second loop detour signs proliferate on the pathway as tree-trimming crews eye drooping limbs and prepare to clear brush. Runners ignore the cautions and proceed.

Sudden near panic at mile 14: I reach back and unzip my fanny-pack pouch only to find it empty. No electrolyte capsules could be bad news. Fortunately, however, feeling around the area saves the day: apparently the plastic bag of e-caps — critical on this warm and humid day — got accidentally tucked not in the proper compartment but between the bum bag and my, ah, bum. No harm. I continue to take a Succeed! every half hour and walk one minute every five.

At journey's end add an extra hundred feet to ensure that both iPhone Runkeeper and Garmin GPS distance figures exceed 21.00 miles. Then setting off for my Mother's home, half a block away I hear a "thump". Stray acorn hitting the roof? But then further noises make me stop, look back, laugh, return, and get the bottle and bag I forgetfully left on the car roof. Fortunately no passing cars have crushed them.

- Wednesday, September 19, 2012 at 04:29:06 (EDT)


Instead of permuting vowels or consonants, as in classic Spoonerism, recently sometimes I've mis-read some signs with mildly humorous effect. For instance, I saw:

Indecision Space

in place of "Decision Space" (a set of possible choices), and

It's Epidemic

for "It's Academic" (a TV scholar quiz show). Oops!

(cf. SemioticArsenal (2003-11-20), UndeadTrafficIncident (2004-03-20), FreeTrial (2004-10-03), XmasChrononauts (2004-12-24), ...)

- Tuesday, September 18, 2012 at 04:58:22 (EDT)

2012-09-03 - Lady Bird Lake Loop - Austin Texas

~10.7 miles @ ~10.3 min/mi

"Runner up!" the leader of a pack shouts as he spots me in the gloom. A gibbous moon casts thin shadows as dawn begins. Others have the same idea as I do: beat the heat on Labor Day morning and circle the downtown Austin lake. I start at 6:33am from the Longhorn Dam parking lot and proceed counterclockwise past the abandoned power plant and empty baseball fields. At 7am the second wave of the "LandRover TriRock Austin" triathlon is entering the water on the south shore opposite to me. Humidity is high and I'm sweat-soaked half an hour later as I encounter the traffic jam at the transition area. A small detour ensues to avoid the start/finish cycling part of the tri. Splits by the Garmin GPS: 10:43 + 10:04 + 10:54 + 10:24 + 11:09 + 9:51 + 10:51 + 10:02 + 9:53 + 9:30 and a final fraction at 9:18 min/mi pace. The Runkeeper iPhone app roughly concurs.

- Monday, September 17, 2012 at 04:20:46 (EDT)

Chunking and Thinking

Maria Popova in "Brainpickings" recently reviewed and commented on Daniel Bor's new book The Ravenous Brain: How the New Science of Consciousness Explains Our Insatiable Search for Meaning. Popova's essay argues that the key is chunking, "... combining more primitive pieces of information to create something more meaningful." Quoting from Bor:

In terms of grand purpose, chunking can be seen as a similar mechanism to attention: Both processes are concerned with compressing an unwieldy dataset into those small nuggets of meaning that are particularly salient. But while chunking is a marvelous complement to attention, chunking diverges from its counterpart in focusing on the compression of conscious data according to its inherent structure or the way it relates to our preexisting memories.

Popova gives an example from Bor's book of a psychology experiment volunteer who over time developed great memorization skills via chunking numbers into groups:

This volunteer happened to be a keen track runner, and so his first thought was to see certain number groups as running times, for instance, 3492 would be transformed into 3 minutes and 49.2 seconds, around the world-record time for running the mile. In other words, he was using his memory for well-known number sequences in athletics to prop up his working memory. This strategy worked very well, and he rapidly more than doubled his working memory capacity to nearly 20 digits. The next breakthrough some months later occurred when he realized he could combine each running time into a superstructure of 3 or 4 running times — and then group these superstructures together again. Interestingly, the number of holders he used never went above his initial capacity of just a handful of items. He just learned to cram more and more into each item in a pyramidal way, with digits linked together in 3s or 4s, and then those triplets or quadruplets of digits linked together as well in groups of 3, and so on. One item-space, one object in working memory, started holding a single digit, but after 20 months of practice, could contain as much as 24 digits.

And chunking does far more than just compress information for storage and recall. According to Bor, "... it is not merely a faithful servant of working memory — instead it is the secret master of this online store, and the main purpose of consciousness." Bor also postulates that "Some of our greatest insights can be gleaned from moving up another level and noticing that certain patterns relate to others, which on first blush may appear entirely unconnected — spotting patterns of patterns, say (which is what analogies essentially are)."

(cf. CreativeDevices (2001-01-01), ReadingsOnThinkingAndLiving (2001-10-01), PyramidBuilding (2004-02-21), ChunkyConceptualization (2004-08-21), HigherLevelLanguage (2007-08-17), Brainpickings Tidbits (2012-07-31), ...)

- Sunday, September 16, 2012 at 06:18:19 (EDT)

2012-09-01 - RCT CCT BTT with Megan

~13+ miles @ ~12.3 min/mi

"Are you practicing for curling?" I ask the lady on roller skates in the middle of the road as she sweeps back and forth with her yellow broom.

"No, just clearing off acorns!" she replies. It's a bit before 7am and I'm jogging along Rock Creek Trail toward Candy Cane City, where Megan O'Rourke and I plan to meet and run ~10 miles or so today. I arrive early, with a bit more than 2 miles on the GPS, and after visiting the portajohn meander a bit on the fields until Megan materializes. We head north along RCT to East-West Hwy, take it west to Jones Bridge, and thence join the Capital Crescent Trail. Megan is training for an Ironman Triathlon next year, and we discuss features of that endeavor. At the Bethesda end of the tunnel I find a like-new Queen of Hearts playing card on the ground and pick it up. Nearby there's another card face-down, which turns out to be a Ten of Hearts. "That's the start of a good hand!" a passing runner says.

"I'm trying to draw to an inside straight," I tell him. Megan and I turn north and take Norfolk St to the Bethesda Trolley Trail. Megan lived nearby a few years ago. I'm getting low on energy — our pace is a bit too fast for me to sustain on this warm, humid morning. I also weigh too much, and ate a lot last night. Megan laughs at the excuses I offer in anticipation of poor performance in the Marine Corps Marathon less than two months from now.

We take a walk break as the BTT enters NIH. I swallow a couple of S! electrolyte capsules, which soon seem to help. Smoke from the Bethesda Community Store barbecue cooker tickles our noses as we run north along Old Georgetown Rd. I keep threatening to take my shirt off, as sweaty friction starts to cause "mana burn", but mercifully for passersby manage to keep it on the whole day. There's only a little bleeding and a wince in the shower afterwards.

Alas, after half a dozen miles Megan begins to feel bad ITB pain in her right knee, a problem that she experienced several months ago and thought that she had fixed. We walk a bit, and as we pass the Boy Scout Store at the corner of Cedar Ln and Rockville Pike I talk about the leather wallet kits that Paulette's sister Kathy Dickerson bought there a couple of days ago. Soon we're over the hill, under the Beltway, and arrive at Rock Creek Trail. I refill my empty water bottle at the fountain. Megan's ITB now gets ugly enough that we throttle back to a walk. Fellow runners greet us as we stroll, chat, and enjoy the morning. An elderly stooped-over gentleman meets us outbound and passes us again on his way back. "Jingle Bells!" he says. An allusion to my gray Santa-esque beard?

Megan mentions Madison Wisconsin, near where she grew up. I tell her about how I once memorized (but have now forgotten) an alphabetical list of the US states and their capital cities by associating each one with a quarter-mile stretch of Rock Creek Trail. Just inside the Beltway I branch off RCT to run up Ireland Dr to home, with Megan's permission leaving her to trek the final miles back to Candy Cane. I'm sweat-soaked but feel strong and blitz the hills. A final loop around the block ensures that the total distance exceeds a half-marathon. The RunKeeper data from the iPhone and the Garmin GPS data concur.

- Saturday, September 15, 2012 at 05:36:10 (EDT)

Principles of Better Teaching

A few days ago I took a half-day class in a new technology. The instructors presented some excellent material but fell short in other areas. During suboptimal segments I thought about how the course could have been taught better.

(cf. Riot Act point #5, "The Professional is not a Passive Learner" (2010-07-07) for thoughts on how the student can optimize learning)

- Friday, September 14, 2012 at 04:04:25 (EDT)

2012-08-29 - Idylwood Loop

~4.4 miles @ ~9.3 min/mi

The Runens iPhone app loses my data one time too many a few days ago. Today I try Runkeeper. It seems to work nicely, and the trackfile display has an attractive map, elevation/pace chart, etc. Further experiments to follow. It's a cool Wednesday morning so I borrow Paulette's car and arrive at the office an hour early. Change at the gym, then stand around at the loading dock until the Garmin GPS gets a satellite lock. A fitness coach is arranging weights, balls, elastic bands, and other props on the basketball court for a 6:30am class as I begin the big loop around the Pimmit Hills neighborhood. Grass is dewy and moistens my shoes where sidewalks are missing on the shoulder of the road. I follow the same route as on 2011-10-07 - Scott Run, Pimmit View, Griffith, Lemon Road Parks & 2011-10-24 - Pimmit Hills Loop with Sara & 2011-12-06 - Lemon Road Park Loop but a bit slower, with mile splits 9:32 + 9:07 + 9:36 + 8:52 + and a final almost-half-mile at 8:23 min/mi according to the wrist GPS unit. As I stand panting at the end near the loading dock my boss comes by and congratulates me for getting out to run so early.

- Thursday, September 13, 2012 at 19:59:51 (EDT)

2012-08-26 - CCT with Ken and Rebecca

~8 miles @ ~10.9 min/mi

A glowing rectangle over the girl's navel captures the gaze in the gloom of the Dalecarlia Tunnel. Mutant Teletubby? Robot control panel? Fashion accessory? No, as we converge it turns into an iPhone display, strapped on the front of her belt-pack. Yesterday I fail to call Rebecca Rosenberg and Ken Swab when I miss the planned meet-up at Candy Cane City (see 2012-08-25 - Rock Creek Park with Alyssa and Tim). They waste considerable time waiting. Rebecca is polite but firm as she chastens me. Sorry! — I'll try not to do that again. This Sunday morning I'm surprised to see Rebecca arriving at the Capital Crescent Trail plaza in downtown Bethesda a minute ahead of me; she's usually late. We chat until Ken arrives, then set off southwards. At River Rd two of us walk while the third visits the McDonalds restroom. Then it's speedy trotting time again, with splits from the Garmin GPS of 10:22 + 12:49 + 10:17 + 10:16 + 11:12 + 10:30 + 10:52 + 10:22 as we turn back at mile marker 6.5, take the Air Rights tunnel under Wisconsin Av to mile 2.5, and conclude at mile 3.5 where we began. Conversation ranges widely as usual. The Annapolis 10 Miler is underway today; Ken's daughter Hilary Swab is running it, as are several other friends.

- Wednesday, September 12, 2012 at 04:18:10 (EDT)

Grade Inflation

For a project at the office I'm helping, yesterday I had to assign grades to some submissions. It's the third round of an iterative process and in my judgment this time everybody got extremely high marks. I speculated to the project leader why:

Or maybe all of the above!

- Tuesday, September 11, 2012 at 05:21:56 (EDT)

2012-08-25 - Rock Creek Park with Alyssa and Tim

~19 miles @ ~13.4 min/mi

"When you're with another person," Tim Coté says, "there's really three there: you, the other person, and The Relationship." Alyssa Soumoff and I are trekking along with Tim this cool but humid Saturday morning in Rock Creek Park, and he's philosophizing. We chat about families, marriages, the meaning of "perfunctory", how to use words to establish dominance, how the new Weight Watchers point system system works (fruit is "free", except for bananas, avocados, and cocoanuts) and a flock of other things. Both Tim and Alyssa are physicians — pathologist and psychiatrist respectively — so the discussion often goes technical and touches upon HIV, PKU, psychosomatic symptoms, and other maladies. Meanwhile both of my chatty companions set a pace rather too fast for me. In turn I manage to lead us off course multiple times.

As the Garmin GPS trackfile shows, we start in the gloom at 6am from Candy Cane City. On the Western Ridge Trail in Rock Creek Park I glimpse a gray toad as it hops away from the path. We digress to visit the horse stables near Bingham Dr in search of a restroom, but the building is closed; I donate a paper towel to a companion in need. After Military Rd and the Nature Center I guide us astray onto a horse trail that ends at a rocky stream. Alyssa takes my hand to clamber up a steep slope.

Disoriented we turn right instead of left on Broad Branch Rd and go half a mile up 27th St NW before I consult the iPhone map and get us turned around. A pair of helpful local runners set us on course to Beach Dr and Pearce Mill. From there I lead us down the "strenuous" super-steep continuation of the Western Ridge Trail on the west bank of Rock Creek, but then fail to remember how to connect to the Valley Trail. Rebecca Rosenberg calls and I tell her we're lost; I'm guilty of missing our planned rendezvous at 7:30am and not warning her. We continue south through the National Zoo and down Rock Creek Pkwy almost to the Kennedy Center before I give up. We turn back after tagging the M St bridge.

Now I'm seriously worn out. At the Zoo I take the tunnel short-cut and walk to the water fountain, where I await Tim and Alyssa. The fountain isn't working so we go further in to refill bottles at the restrooms. A vending machine in the men's room sells mini-glow-sticks — hmmm! I'm seriously dehydrated and bonking now. Alyssa kindly gives me one of her energy gels, banana flavored, which along with my last Succeed! e-cap and my last Atomic Fireball keeps me moving, albeit slowly.

Continuing upstream, this time on the eastern bank, finally we discover the Valley Trail starting point. Son Merle phones to report that he's in Los Angeles, on his way to Burning Man. A mile or so along it is plenty for me: I excuse myself and join Beach Dr to jog and walk 4+ miles back to our start. Alyssa and Tim do an extra mile and a lot of steep hills on their trail route.

After the run I enjoy an orange recovery lunch: Cheetos, Tofu Pups, and a heritage tomato picked up at the Silver Spring Farmers Market today, with a near-beer to rehydrate.


- Monday, September 10, 2012 at 04:16:44 (EDT)

2012-08-23 - New Pimmit Hills Loop

~3 miles @ ~10.5 min/mi

At 6:30am at the MITRE Corporation loading dock we gather for an informal group run: Ed Brown, in his 70's, has been inviting me to join him and his colleagues for months now, as has Kristin Heckman. Finally the planets come into alignment and I accept, with a major project completed earlier this week. Ed and Kristin's boss Kerry Buckley joins us, as does young triathlete David Foster. He leads us on a zig-zag course through the Pimmit Hills neighborhood. Parts of it are familiar to me from last year's solo jogs, but as the Garmin GPS trackfile shows we also meander through a couple of local parks. Ed claims to be slower than the rest of the gang but he keeps up with the overall pace, dropping back and catching up as we pause at some road crossings. David turns out to have attended and taught at the University of Maryland in College Park MD, so we compare notes on various bikepaths and trails in that neighborhood.

- Monday, September 10, 2012 at 04:06:56 (EDT)

Power Spectrum Running

As discussed last millennium here (cf. NoiseAndPredictability (1999-09-14), LongTails (2000-02-14), etc.) power spectra are a valuable way to analyze events and understand patterns or the lack thereof. Completely random, uncorrelated activities produce a flat power spectrum, also known as "white noise". Completely regular, periodic activities make a sharply spiked power spectrum with all the energy at a single frequency. A random-walk staggering drift gives a power spectrum dominated by low frequencies — 1/f2 mathematically.

Also as mentioned many times here (cf. JogLogFog (2002-06-09), etc.) variety and consistency are both essential components of training to run long and/or fast. Do the same thing every day? Boredom sets in while improvement ceases. Try to ramp up distance too abruptly or run too hard without preparation? Injury and failure will likely result. (The humorous "Up Your Mileage" prescription is not actually wise in real life.)

So apply the concept of the power spectrum to the running logbook? The same mileage every day (or every week) is too regular and makes for a huge bump in the spectrum. Wildly varying day-to-day mileage is too chaotic. Perhaps the optimum is something in between, like a 1/f distribution?

Project: analyze the power spectrum of my running logbook over the past several years, see what kind of frequency distribution it exhibits, and explore whether a "spectral advisor" could suggest what distances to run in order to make the spectrum better.

- Sunday, September 09, 2012 at 06:26:37 (EDT)

2012-08-19 - RCT with Alyssa, Barry, and Rebecca

~6 miles @ ~10.6 min/mi

Deep-fried candy bars, carnival rides, and draft horses pulling multi-ton sledges: on Sunday evening Rebecca Rosenberg returns from West Virginia where at the State Fair she saw some truly amazing things. Alyssa Soumoff, a day after her 20+ mile run, trots along Rock Creek Trail with Rebecca and Barry Smith and me. We start at Ken-Gar ~6:30pm on a seasonably cool damp evening. The Garmin GPS trackfile shows splits 11:09 + 11:59 + 10:30 + 11:01 + 11:16 + 7:29 — that last as I excuse myself and sprint the final mile as hard as I can just to see what the old legs can do. Half a dozen little rabbits on the meadow south of Randolph Rd nibble the grass and dash away as we approach.

- Saturday, September 08, 2012 at 11:14:59 (EDT)

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