Howdy, pilgrim! No ads — you're in 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 = 0.9906 ... 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 ...
|The MCRRC Stone Mill 50 miler turns out extraordinarily, uneventfully well this year, after a DNF in 2012 and a fun-but-rough off-course detour in 2013. The weather is great, the volunteers are helpful, the route is lovely, and there's wonderful conversation and fellowship among the ultrarunner participants all day long.|
Official results put me across the line in 181st place (of 252 listed finishers) with a time of 11:40, and 140th of 179 males. The Garmin GPS measures 47.8 miles with 3800 feet elevation gain; Runkeeper on the iPhone more generously estimates 49.6 miles and 5000 feet climb.
This great photo of ^z at mile ~6 is by Dan Reichmann (click for high-res version). My son Merle captioned it, "My dad, giving that ridiculously photogenic runner meme guy a run for his money."
|At the mile ~23 aid station, just before runners leave Muddy Branch Trail and join the C&O Canal towpath, Quatro Hubbard supplements the usual fluids with a special high-octane recovery drink.|
Cheerful friends Stephanie Fonda and D. Marshall Porterfield lead me most of the way today. This photo of them is by Tom Foreman.
|About 5 miles after not sampling Quatro's kind offer of whiskey, I'm descending a steep hill just ahead of my ultra-mentor Professor Paul Ammann (cf. Injury Avoidance, UltraMan, etc.) I'm chattering away, slip on wet leaves, and suddenly find myself in Mother Earth's cold embrace. "That was a full-body fall!" Paul helpfully observes, as I clamber to my feet, fortunately undamaged.|
A few hours earlier in the race, as the morning fog lifts, a haiku springs forth:
Many miles later, in the deepening twilight:
Finally, with a minute of poetic license on the total time so the syllable count scans:
The photo is by Paul Encarnación (click for high-res version).
|Comrade Stephanie Fonda is caught in a great moment by photographer Dan Reichmann (click for high-res version).|
On Tschiffley Mill Rd, near mile 28, I make new friends: Janet Choi (aka "Tape Girl", as per her knee and calf bindings), KC Guevara, and Toni Aurilio. They're flying along so cheerfully that I can't resist pausing to take pictures. KC and Toni finish a few minutes in front of me; Janet is not far behind.
|Today I'm testing out a new minimalistic vest, the Nathan HPL model #028. It has a pouch on the back which holds an extra water bottle, and ample zipper pockets for candy, gels, Succeed! electrolyte capsules, and cellphone with supplementary battery pack. The photo of me is by Tom Foreman (click for high-res version).|
I cross the finish line a few seconds behind Stephanie and Marshall. Kind friend Barry Smith comes in a bit later. It's a long, great day!
- Sunday, December 08, 2013 at 18:48:09 (EST)
My office-mate reported yesterday that she did not do well in computer language class:
|"I got a C-- in C++ !"|
(ok, maybe it's an oldie, but it was new to me!)
- Friday, December 06, 2013 at 04:04:30 (EST)
A pre-literary-award-party speech by novelist Jeffrey Eugenides appeared in the New Yorker online a year ago. It's titled "Posthumous" and advises young writers to be true to themselves and to work as though they're already dead, "... as if the usual constraints—of fashion, commerce, self-censorship, public and, perhaps especially, intellectual opinion—did not operate..." (as Eugenides quotes Christopher Hitchens).
Early in his talk Eugenides offers a brilliant prose-poem explanation of why to start writing:
... it wasn't out of a wish to be published, or to be successful, or even to win a lovely award like the one you're receiving tonight. It was in response to the wondrousness and humiliation of being alive. Remember? You were fifteen and standing beside a river in wintertime. Ice floes drifted slowly downstream. Your nose was running. Your wool hat smelled like a wet dog. Your dog, panting by your side, smelled like your hat. It was hard to distinguish. As you stood there, watching the river, an imperative communicated itself to you. You were being told to pay attention. You, the designated witness, special little teen-age omniscient you, wearing tennis shoes out in the snow, against your mother's orders. Just then the sun came out from behind the clouds, revealing that every twig on every tree was encased in ice. The entire world a crystal chandelier that might shatter if you made a sound, so you didn't. Even your dog knew to keep quiet. And the beauty of the world at that moment, the majestic advance of ice in the river, so like the progress of the thoughts inside your head, overwhelmed you, filling you with one desire and one desire only, which was to go home immediately and write about it. ...
Key to it all, the central imperative: "You were being told to pay attention."
(cf. NotEasy (2001-03-31), TheClassicist (2004-09-09), DangerousLiterature (2006-03-03), This Is Water (2009-05-21), Coming Back to Your Breath (2011-09-25), Bringing Back a Wandering Attention (2013-02-13), Being Still (2013-05-20), ...)
- Thursday, December 05, 2013 at 04:44:12 (EST)
Based on a true story: the dashboard clock on your car only shows hours and minutes (not seconds). You know the clock is only accurate to plus or minus a few minutes; likewise, your digital watch is set to within a few minutes of true time. Assume the car's clock and your watch are independent, equally likely to have any error within that range, but both running at the same rate so the difference between them is a constant.
At a random time you observe the car clock and your watch. At the moment that you do the comparison, you see that they display the same time in hours and minutes (HH:MM displays are equal; seconds are not shown).
Question: after that single observation, what is the likely difference in seconds between the clock and the watch?
This actually happened to my son Robin and me a few months ago, and it provoked a fascinating debate between us (and within myself). Clearly the time difference in seconds — call it Δ ("delta") — could be any value between plus or minus a hair under 60 seconds for two clocks that have the same HH:MM values at a given instant. How likely are the clocks to differ by less than a second? By 29-30 seconds? By 59-60 seconds? By an arbitrary number of seconds? Remember, you can't see the seconds on the car clock display, only the hours and minutes, and before making the comparison you only knew that both timepieces were in error by arbitrary independent amounts within a few minutes of the true time.
One of us argued that, after seeing matching HH:MM displays, the clock and the watch are equally likely to have any offset within the allowed range: -60 < Δ < 60 seconds. That's all that a single observation can tell you, logically. The other of us felt strongly that the odds favor a smaller Δ, since for example if the difference between the unseen HH:MM:SS displays is 59 seconds then only one observation in 60 will show matching HH:MM values and 59/60ths of the time the clock and the watch won't agree. Contrariwise, if the unseen difference between clock and watch is only 1 second, then 59 times out of 60 they will match. This position suggests that the probability P of any value of Δ between 0 and 60 should be peaked at Δ = 0 and decrease linearly to vanish (P = 0) when Δ = 60 seconds.
And even more amusingly: every twelve hours over the following two days my belief flipped back and forth between the two positions! The arguments on each side seem plausible.
So what do you think? To be continued ...
- Wednesday, December 04, 2013 at 04:38:37 (EST)
A fascinating plaque, spotted recently in a high school music room:
No doubt the award is meant to applaud sharp costumes — but the word "appearing" suggests pretense rather than reality, as opposed to Sallust's description of Cato, "He preferred to be good rather than seem so."
Or maybe they were just the best band that appeared in the parade that day?
- Tuesday, December 03, 2013 at 04:26:28 (EST)
Truths? Debatable. David Wong's crude essay "6 Harsh Truths That Will Make You a Better Person" offers some rough-edged comments on how to make the best of life — a modern short-attention-span version of Arnold Bennett's 1923 How to Make the Best of Life, perhaps. Wong's manifesto, in the countdown order that he offers them:
6. The World Only Cares About What It Can Get from You (not just being a nice guy)
5. The Hippies Were Wrong (what you do matters more than what you "are")
4. What You Produce Does Not Have to Make Money, But It Does Have to Benefit People
3. You Hate Yourself Because You Don't Do Anything
2. What You Are Inside Only Matters Because of What It Makes You Do
1. Everything Inside You Will Fight Improvement
Well, maybe not "Truths". Certainly not "Six" given overlap and redundancy among the items. Definitely "Harsh" in their statement.
So upon rereading, Arnold Bennett did say it better, 90 years ago, when he observed among other suggestions:
I am far off old age, but old age is approaching daily. The terrors of old age are solitude, neglect, boredom, lack of suitable activity, utter dependence on others, and the consciousness of wasted opportunities, of having achieved less than one might have achieved. What am I doing now to destroy those terrors, or even to minimise them? Am I sufficiently providing for the final years? Am I keeping my old friendships in repair and constructing new ones? Am I, in the intervals of satisfying my greatest interest, creating minor interests which will serve me later? Am I digging my groove so deep that I shall never be able to climb out of it? Am I slacking?
Good thoughts, and not just in one's elder years ...
(cf. Optimist Creed (1999-04-16), What Is My Life? (1999-04-30), Bennett on Life (2000-03-09), Personal Energy (2000-12-08), Dear Diary (2001-03-19), Practical Productivity (2004-01-20), How to Succeed (2005-03-11), How to Win Friends and Influence People (2008-05-17), ...)
- Monday, December 02, 2013 at 04:45:46 (EST)
Statistician Jacob Cohen wrote a charming essay in 1994, "The Earth Is Round (p < .05)", about the problems with "95% confidence" testing and its misapplication. A 2011 Psychology Today blog post by Joachim Kruger, "What Cohen Meant", explains:
Jacob Cohen (1923 - 1998) was a pioneer of psychological statistics. He taught us about effect sizes, power analysis, and multivariate regression, among many other things. I have always admired his ability to combine technical rigor with good judgment. During the last decade of his life, Cohen published two particularly insightful papers in the American Psychologist. Both had to do with Null Hypothesis Significance Testing (NHST). In "Things I have learned (so far)," Cohen (1990) questioned the idea of living by p values alone and suggested the researchers avail themselves of the multiple tools they can find in the statistical box. In "The earth is round (p < .05)," Cohen (1994) outed himself as a Bayesian. He made clear what many were already dimly aware of, namely that what you want from statistical testing is the probability that an hypothesis is true given the evidence, whereas what you get from the standard tests is the probability of the evidence assuming that the (null) hypothesis is true. How to get from the latter out to the former is a matter of ongoing debate ...
Cohen's original essay is full of hilarious asides:
Jacob Cohen also offers examples of misapplied deductive reasoning, leading up to the classic:
If a person is an American then he is probably not a member of Congress (TRUE, RIGHT?)
This person is a member of Congress.
Therefore, he is probably not an American.
Cohen points out that this is formally the same as the fallacy that, if the null hypothesis is true, a given statistically "significant" result probably wouldn't occur — the root of much bad science. As Mark Reid puts it in his 2009 blog post:
|Repeat after me: "the p-value is NOT the probability the null hypothesis is true given the observed data".|
And as Reid then quotes Cohen:
What's wrong with NHST? Well, among many other things, it does not tell us what we want to know, and we so much want to know what we want to know that, out of desperation, we nevertheless believe that it does! What we want to know is "Given these data, what is the probability that H0 is true?" But as most of us know, what it tells us is "Given that H0 is true, what is the probability of these (or more extreme) data?" These are not the same ...
(cf. Medicine and Statistics (2010-11-13), Introduction to Bayesian Statistics (2010-11-20), ...)
- Sunday, December 01, 2013 at 07:22:10 (EST)
|No, it's not wise to run with eyes wide shut and mouth wide open! Image by Dan Reichmann is from the final stretch of the MCRRC "Candy Cane 5k", a fun run with good friends. Garmin GPS suggests the course was short, closer to 3.0 miles than 3.1, as does gun time of 21:50. The GPS estimates average pace of ~7.4 min/mi (with approx. splits: 7.5 + 7.5 + 7.2 min). Before the event I warm up by jogging from home; afterwards I stay to cheer runners coming in for the final 100 yards.|
Official results put me barely in the top 100, behind 80 men and 16 women, and 3rd of 15 among the 60-64 year old males. Runkeeper has the entire day's trekking, with pauses but no splits between the trip down to the course, the race, and the return jog. The Garmin GPS records three separate trackfiles, before and during the race and afterwards.
- Saturday, November 30, 2013 at 16:36:23 (EST)
Richard Hamming in his 1986 talk "You and Your Research" discusses the value of regurlarly fencing off time to work on important long-term challenges:
Along those lines at some urging from John Tukey and others, I finally adopted what I called "Great Thoughts Time." When I went to lunch Friday noon, I would only discuss great thoughts after that. By great thoughts I mean ones like: "What will be the role of computers in all of AT&T?", "How will computers change science?" For example, I came up with the observation at that time that nine out of ten experiments were done in the lab and one in ten on the computer. I made a remark to the vice presidents one time, that it would be reversed, i.e. nine out of ten experiments would be done on the computer and one in ten in the lab. They knew I was a crazy mathematician and had no sense of reality. I knew they were wrong and they've been proved wrong while I have been proved right. They built laboratories when they didn't need them. I saw that computers were transforming science because I spent a lot of time asking "What will be the impact of computers on science and how can I change it?" I asked myself, "How is it going to change Bell Labs?" I remarked one time, in the same address, that more than one-half of the people at Bell Labs will be interacting closely with computing machines before I leave. Well, you all have terminals now. I thought hard about where was my field going, where were the opportunities, and what were the important things to do. Let me go there so there is a chance I can do important things.
(cf. ResearchAndLife (2000-09-07), Comments on UndividedAttention (2001-10-22), ...)
- Friday, November 29, 2013 at 04:22:43 (EST)
A list often attributed to John Cage, perhaps from artist/educator Corita Kent, occasionally credited as "Immaculate Heart College Art Department Rules":
(cf. Riot Act (2010-07-07), Keith Johnstone's Impro (2012-11-10), ...)
- Thursday, November 28, 2013 at 12:11:54 (EST)
From Umberto Eco's 1980 novel The Name of the Rose (chapter "Seventh Day, Night"):
"... The order that our mind imagines is like a net, or like a ladder, built to attain something. But afterward you must throw the ladder away, because you discover that, even if it was useful, it was meaningless. ... The only truths that are useful are instruments to be thrown away. ..."
(cf. Go for the Moon (2013-10-26), ...)
- Wednesday, November 27, 2013 at 04:34:51 (EST)
|Frost decorates the meadow as Barry Smith and I trek along Seneca Creek, previewing the first half dozen miles of next week's Stone Mill 50 miler. We ramble upstream to Brink Rd and then downstream to tag MD-355 and back. Barry spies a deer. I mishear it as "beer" and respond, "Where?? Where???"|
When we get back to Barry's car two hours later, we each do ~10 push-ups on the parking lot. Our hands show stigmata from the gravel surface.
|At the scenic overlook we pause to snap photos of each other. An elderly gentleman trots past and asks if we're planning to run Stone Mill. He not, and says that he's in his 70's now and sticks to shorter distances. We salute him.|
- Tuesday, November 26, 2013 at 05:12:43 (EST)
J. D. WIlliams's book The Compleat Stragegyst: Being a Primer on the Theory of Games of Strategy (1954, revised 1966) was formative to my thinking when I chanced upon a copy in the Austin Public Library and read it in the mid-1960s. It's full of cute, easy-to-understand, relevant examples of how to set up and solve two-person zero-sum "games" — quantitative situations where one player's gain is the other's loss. Lessons learned from Williams turn out to be valuable in countless life-contexts. The biggest lesson: it's possible to can think quantitatively about, model, and maybe derive an optimal solution when things are complicated and conflict-ridden. That's empowering.
And hurrah! — The Compeat Strategyst is available free, online (). Rereading the "Preface to the First Edition" conveys some of John Williams's charming self-deprecating humor. For instance, on the conversation that the author's colleagues had which led to the decision to write the book:
Not recognizing that the discussion had reached a reasonable and natural stopping point, the group went on to nominate someone to write the book. After they coursed far and wide, and discussed many fine, though oblivious, candidates, it was anticlimactic to find myself chosen. The qualifications which won, or lost, the election are possibly worth enumerating: (1) I was at hand, and available; it is always immediately evident to research workers that an administrator is available. (2) While associated for some years, sympathetically, with the field of Game Theory, I was a compete ignoramus regarding most of its highly technical aspects; and I would probably not learn enough of these while writing the book to contaminate seriously the message that should be transmitted. (3) I was admirably situated, both organizationally and because of a natural bent to conserve energy, to call freely on my colleagues for aid and counsel; and the thus-shared burden would be more tolerable to all.
Echoes of Jerome K. Jerome's style in Three Men in a Boat! Williams continues to describe the goals of his book, including the dream that, "We believe it possible that Game Theory, as it develops — or something like it — may become an important concept and force in many phases of life." Alas, for most folks, that probably hasn't happened yet. Maybe some day!
(cf. MinimaxStrategy (1999-09-05), DippyHeuristics (2005-08-16), ...)
- Monday, November 25, 2013 at 04:37:20 (EST)
The old thrift-store shorts have become too large and start slipping down every lap — oops! — but fortunately for all the lights are out at the University of Maryland track, as a crescent moon sets and a young couple walks the outer lanes in the gloom. Six 800m repeats (with half-lap walks to recover between) yield splits of 3:48 + 3:41 + 3:40 + 3:43 + 3:40 + 3:32 (!). Son Robin runs steadily, then accompanies me to Marathon Deli for greasy salty French fries. See Runkeeper and/or Garmin for boring GPS oval trackfile maps.
- Sunday, November 24, 2013 at 06:21:45 (EST)
The Fall 2013 issue of Inquiring Mind includes "Dance & Sit—A Conversation with Pir Shabda Kahn". Kahn is a Sufi with some rather mystical notions but who also offers fascinating ideas. For instance, he suggests:
... The work of the Sufi is to be able to keep one's rhythm throughout life's conditions and to be in tune with the Infinite. In other words, an awakened being is a being whose condition is no longer based on circumstance.
And at the end of the interview there's a lovely new mantra, worth recalling and repeating during stressful times:
|This is how it is right now.|
(cf. Softening into Experience (2012-11-12), This (2013-03-09), ...)
- Saturday, November 23, 2013 at 11:08:10 (EST)
The 1984 sf movie The Last Starfighter was rather ahead of its time in a variety of elements. Some of the banter between characters has evolved into household words — in my household, anyway — such as the exchange between the protagonist, young earthling Alex, and his cheerful alien assistant Grig who tells Alex that a sneak attack has killed a large number of their compatriots:
Alex: You mean they're dead?
Grig: Death is a primitive concept; I prefer to think of them as battling evil, in another dimension.
Alex: In another dimension? How many are left?
Grig: Including yourself?
It's that "Including yourself?" question-in-response-to-the-question that gives the answer such charm ...
- Friday, November 22, 2013 at 04:17:05 (EST)
|Begin at the end: Mary Ewell & I do a late lunch of eggplant and tofu, Chinese food at the Jade Rabbit -- yum!|
Then rewind past a mini-hike-tour of brush-overgrown statuary at the National Park Seminary. Pause for photo ops.
Before that, run a brisk 5k along Rock Creek Trail from just inside the Beltway downstream to East-West Hwy and back, past friendly cyclists and dog-walkers.
Start with a stroll through autumn leaves down Ireland Dr to the creek valley.
Throughout, enjoy wonderful conversation and shared memories of past races.
Thank you, Mary!
- Thursday, November 21, 2013 at 05:13:35 (EST)
|If everything is temporary, in flux, contingent on other things ...|
If "I, me, mine" are entirely illusion ...
If all judgment is false, and there is neither better nor worse ...
If the universe is one, and individual parts don't exist ...
Then, what reason can there be ...
For caring ...
For one another ...
For the earth ...
For the cosmos ...
Why practice loving-kindness ...
Or obey any rules at all?
- Wednesday, November 20, 2013 at 06:17:10 (EST)
|"We need to carry a bucket of blue paint," I tell Barry Smith as we trot along Muddy Branch Trail. "Then we wouldn't go off course -- by definition!" Heading downstream we miss the blue blazes and lose our way three times; on the return trip we go astray only once. The path, as Barry points out, is both muddy and branching. Clouds reflect lovely in "Lake Placid" as we begin at sunrise. Soon autumn leaves shine bright. Small herds of deer amble through the brush.|
|Today is a training trek for the Stone Mill 50 miler in a fortnight. Barry says, "You won't remember this," and tells the story of his fall during a training expedition on the Appalachian Trail for the 2006 JFK 50 Miler. He strains a hamstring muscle and is lying on the ground, and as he tells it (perhaps with poetic exaggeration) other runners jump over him or complain that he's in their way. According to Barry, I stop and ask if he needs help. At the time we don't know each other. I don't remember it. Hmmmmmm!|
Runkeeper awards bonus distance for unknown reasons, and says we do ~12.7 miles. The Garmin says it's only an ~11.8 mile trek. Barry's GPS reads a similar number to my Garmin, so he runs an extra couple of blocks to make it a solid 12 for his logbook.
- Tuesday, November 19, 2013 at 04:30:18 (EST)
More than a year ago, neighbor-friend-statistician Doug Reingold lent me his copy of E. T. Jaynes's textbook Probability Theory: The Logic of Science. Thick as a brick, it sat by my bed for months until I skimmed bits of it and immediately saw how good it was. Doug has his copy back now and mine has replaced it in the pile. It's still mostly unread, alas, but at least the clock is ticking slower now!
Instead of a review, therefore, two memorable clippings from magician-mathematician Persi Diaconis's 2004 review "A Frequentist Does This, A Bayesian That" in the SIAM News:
The most interesting parts of the book are its constant focus on foundational aspects. We see far too little of this in our teaching and even less in applications. Jaynes doesn't let us get away without thinking. There are sermons on reality versus models, a whole chapter on paradoxes of probability theory and another on principles and pathologies of orthodox statistics. He is always questioning (and answering his own questions): What does it all mean? Does this make sense?
And Diaconis concludes:
There are many places in which I want to yell at him. He's so full of himself. That's what makes the book so terrific. It's the real thing — the best introduction to Bayesian statistics that I know. Go take a look for yourself.
Good advice, which I promise to take some day (prior probability = 0.8).
(cf. Statistics - A Bayesian Perspective (2010-08-13), Introduction to Bayesian Statistics (2010-11-20), ...)
- Monday, November 18, 2013 at 04:26:24 (EST)
Thich Nhat Hanh — Buddhist monk, writer, teacher, peace activist — is also rather a mystic. His little 1993 book The Blooming of a Lotus: Guided Meditation Exercises for Healing and Transformation definitely goes into dimensions that aren't grounded in (what I think of as) reality. But there are lovely poetic passages, and the 34 exercises and commentaries include some which might be quite useful, as speedwork and hillwork sometimes are for runners. For starters, in the introduction there's the cute footnote-metaphor of how to think about ringing a bell for meditation:
We never say "strike" the bell, because for us the bell is a friend who can wake us up to full understanding. We say "invite" the bell, meaning invite the bell to sound.
And a few pages later, concerning what to do when meditating:
"You only need to sit" is an exhortation of Tao Dong (Soto) meditation. It means that you should sit without waiting for a miracle—and that includes the miracle of enlightenment. If you sit always in expectation you cannot be in contact with or enjoy the present moment, which always contains the whole of life. Sit in this context means to sit in an awakened way, in a relaxed way, with your mind awake, calm, and clear. Only this can be called sitting, and it takes training and practice.
And for one more example, in Exercise 16 there's the brilliant thought of noticing and being thankful for what's absent:
A neutral feeling is neither pleasant nor painful. But when such feelings are recognized in mindfulness, they usually become pleasant feelings. This is one of the benefits of insight meditation. When you have a toothache the feeling is very unpleasant, and when you do not have a toothache you usually have a neutral feeling. However, if you can be mindful of the nontoothache, the nontoothache will become a feeling of peace and joy. Mindfulness gives rise to and nourishes happiness.
Hmmmm ... and at every moment there are so many unpleasant feelings to be mindful of that aren't present! Nonstop-nirvana?
(cf. Eat the Orange (2004-11-28), Laundromat Surprises (2009-03-02), Breath as Vehicle (2009-06-17), ...)
- Sunday, November 17, 2013 at 14:31:15 (EST)
Sunrise at The Lakelands in Gaithersburg, on 2 November 2013: Barry Smith spies clouds reflected in a pond named Lake Placid. "You have to take that picture!" he commands.
- Saturday, November 16, 2013 at 03:50:50 (EST)
Six years ago in the New Yorker Anthony Lane wrote a memorable essay, "Candid Camera", subtitled "The Cult of Leica". It's an exaggerated but delightful song of praise and includes the wonderful quote from Ralph Gibson:
"More great photographs have been made with a Leica and a 50-mm. lens than with any other combination in the history of photography," Gibson said to me. He advised Leica beginners to use nothing except that standard lens for two or three years, so as to ease themselves into the swing of the thing: "What you learn you can then apply to all the other lengths."
And yes, it's hype and mystique and mojo. As photography advisor/reviewer Ken Rockwell says rather less poetically, "The camera's only job is to get out of the way of making photographs." What counts is composition and timing, understanding and exposure, and above all focus, as Rockwell emphasizes in "The Secret: What Makes a Great Photo". The camera doesn't matter — within limits!
- Friday, November 15, 2013 at 04:39:51 (EST)
Start with Monty Python's Life of Brian. Add a tablespoon of Fight Club and half a cup of Forrest Gump. Blend in a pint of Stranger in a Strange Land. Bake for 400+ pages. That's Lamb, a novel (2002) by Christopher Moore. It's subtitled "The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal". By turns, Lamb is silly, naughty, theologically naïve, and distressingly predictable. What it's not, alas, is funny or loving. The Pythons managed the mock-Jesus schtick more cleverly and compactly, with genuine soul and sympathetic spirit.
Unlike its crispy archetypes, Lamb's prose stumbles. Moore's protagonist invents coffee (with cream and sugar), matches, and pencils. Nudge, nudge, wink, wink. And? Perhaps in another medium, Lamb could have worked — graphic novel, anime, campfire story. On paper? Not so much ...
(cf. Cut the Volume (2004-03-05), Forrest Gump (2007-05-14), Stranger in a Strange Land (2009-12-11), ...)
- Thursday, November 14, 2013 at 04:28:51 (EST)
A tremendously important psychological tendency has an unfortunately opaque name: Fundamental Attribution Error. Briefly, the FAE says:
Quite an asymmetry in the blame game. As voluptuous cartoon character Jessica Rabbit says in the film Who Framed Roger Rabbit, "I'm not bad. I'm just drawn that way!"
(cf. SelectionEffects (1999-05-11), Impute Motives (2009-03-18), 2013-03-05 - McLean Loops, ...; and re FAE in politics, see Edsall who cites Tetlock & Mitchell, ...)
- Wednesday, November 13, 2013 at 04:37:08 (EST)
|After a Saturday morning run together along the Seneca Creek Greenway Trail, comrade Barry Smith drops me off in downtown Silver Spring to pick up apples and yogurt at the farmers market. It's a frigid day, and I miss the #5 bus home by a few seconds. So I go into the McDonalds nearby, and start studying the $1 menu, still wearing running shorts, windbreaker, and hydration backpack. A kind gentleman comes up to me and tries to press a couple of dollar bills into my hand.|
Do I really look that homeless?
- Monday, November 11, 2013 at 20:10:53 (EST)
"Car back!" is the chorus on a foggy dark Halloween morning as the usual gang — Amber, David, Kerry, Kristin — starts at 0630 for a pre-work-day ramble around the Pimmit Hills 'hood, accompanied by jokes about transcranial low-voltage brain stimulation, a mini-review Master and Commander, anecdotes of recent races, etc. At journey's end both Kristin and I actually manage (barely!) to control our obsessive-compulsive tendency to do "just a few steps more" and push the distance up to the next integer value. "2.97 miles" is what Runkeeper records. Enough!
- Sunday, November 10, 2013 at 11:21:51 (EST)
The "Barkley Marathons" is an extraordinarily difficult 100 mile trail run, five 20-mile laps through the rugged terrain of the Frozen Head State Park in Tennessee. In 2013 two people — Nick Hollon and Travis Wildeboer — succeeded in finishing it within the 60 hour time limit. They were only the 13th and 14th to do so since the event began in 1986. Race Director Gary Cantrell aka "Lazarus Lake" wrote a poem about it:
|The conditions this year were impossible,|
yet there were finishers.
Nick Hollon, and Travis Wildeboer,
each making their third attempt,
made a lie of human limitation...
at a price.
To be at the yellow gate after a Barkley finish
must be experienced to be understood.
I felt like a child at the grownups table...
13 and 14, collapsed in their chairs, bundled in blankets,
talking with the others who had been where they had been;
in the rarified air of loops 4 and 5.
talking of experiences I can only imagine
with a combination of awe and shuddering fear
their tales are harrowing ones.
of numbing fatigue, desperate climbs and heart stopping descents,
of constant fear and uncertainty
of a time limit that is always just behind them,
when a single error could bring down everything they had worked for.
I felt, at once,
at this glimpse into the thoughts of those
who have been where no man can go
and done what no man can do.
it is hard to explain,
but seeing the barkley done makes it seem more impossible.
(cf. Tales from Out There (2010-05-11), Big Stick (2010-05-18), Hardness Scales (2011-01-05), ...)
- Saturday, November 09, 2013 at 06:15:04 (EST)
|Stephanie Fonda spots a brilliant orange Araneus marmoreus, aka marbled orb-weaver spider, as it crawls along a rocky road in the Green Ridge State Forest. At this point — mile ~22 of the "Fire on the Mountain" 50k race — Stephanie and I have been crawling likewise for half a dozen hours. We pause to empathize with the arachnid.|
Today is a day of beautiful scenery, steep slopes, slippery mud, rocks and roots, helpful volunteers, perfect weather, and splendid conversation in the woods of western Maryland. What's not to love?
|Our morning begins about 0300 — rise and shine! — as we gather gear and rendezvous for the two-hour drive to the race. Mike Edwards gives me a lift to Stephanie's home, where we pile gear into the trunk of her car and head out at 4am. It's an uneventful journey, past multiple deer resting in peace by the side of the highway, victims of unfortunate mating season encounters. Once off the major roads we meander through the forest on gravel-and-dirt byways, park at the finish area, pick up our numbers and race packets, and gird our loins for the day ahead.|
Then it's time to pile into big yellow school buses and bounce along another 45 minutes to the starting line. Stephanie naps while I try to peer through foggy windows. We arrive at the scenic overlook and marvel at the meandering Potomac River below. Good friends from past ultramarathons greet us.
|Stephanie and I capture my favorite location — DFL! — during the initial mile. The course takes us down treacherous declines to stream valleys, across creeks several dozen times, and back up the steep sides of ridges via leaf-strewn pathways. Some of the trails are so narrow and sloping that we fear slipping into the valleys below. At one point there's a muddy chute that some runners are sitting down to navigate. We cling to saplings and hug trees to make our way.|
|At mile 16 we climb a steep hill to the mid-course aid station, with dramatic views of the valleys below. Kind people refill our hydration packs and offer us a huge variety of goodies. I fill my pockets with M&M candies and creme sandwich cookies. Stephanie snags a handful of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.|
Then off we go for half a dozen miles along one-lane dirt-and-gravel country roads, stepping aside for occasional cars to pass by. During the first few miles of FotM today I feared that we would miss the cutoffs, but now it's clear that we're doing fine. Sporadically I recompute our required pace, e.g., "We could walk the rest of the way at 20 minutes/mile!" and a bit later, "Now we only need to average 25 min/mi", etc. We catch up with buddy Anton Struntz, whose yellow-and-orange outfit today makes him look a bit like a giant piece of candy corn. Anton is cheerful as always, pressing onward through injury and aiming to finish comfortably. (He does.)
|At one point contrails from two high-flying jets cross at a 90° angle above the course. We cruise at sub-12 min/mi for three miles in the middle part of the trek, but slow down to enjoy the final stretch once it's clear that we are safely within all time limits. Cheery runners pass us, including a memorable one in über-fluorescent pink jersey and black tights. We offer encouragement to the walking wounded whom we overtake.|
Approaching the race's end, a quarter-mile loop around the field where we parked before sunrise, we're handed split-wood sticks to toss onto the fire at the finish line. We smile for the cameras, snag medals and munchies, and enjoy complimentary coffee and strawberry smoothies from event sponsor Sheetz's van. I pose for photos with another bearded gentleman whose friends think we look alike. Stephanie changes into comfy clothes for the return trip; I sit on a thick towel. We pause at a McDonalds near Hagerstown that I remember from Boy Scout camping trip journeys. Diet Coke hits the spot today.
Runkeeper data documents our route and pace. Official results put us in 93rd and 94th place of 103 finishers, at about 8:14, safely under the final 9 hour cutoff. Comrade Mike Edwards waits patiently, having arrived an hour earlier. It's a lovely day!
- Friday, November 08, 2013 at 04:24:36 (EST)
Recent chats with a dear friend suggest a brilliant one-bit femto-language in which to express two key concepts of life, love, and mindful awareness:
What more need be said?
(cf. My Religion (2000-11-06), Most Important (2002-05-16), The Meaning of Life (2008-07-24), This Is Water (2009-05-21), Core Buddhism (2011-10-17), Big Ideas (2012-05-20), O (2012-10-24), Help, Thanks, Wow (2013-02-25), ...)
- Tuesday, November 05, 2013 at 04:20:02 (EST)
|Stephanie Fonda demonstrates the benefits of cross-training by lifting a rock beside Northwest Branch Trail. This Sunday morning we do a fun loop from the New Place, across Wheaton Regional Park, and down Northwest Branch Trail, over boulders and under the Beltway. We scare three big deer drinking from the stream and greet innumerable dog-walkers.|
When we reach New Hampshire Av we take Piney Branch Rd across University Blvd, pausing to buy a cup of coffee at La Pollera, a friendly hole-in-the-wall where chickens rotate slowly on a spit above glowing charcoal. The trek back to the start is via Sligo Creek Trail. Splendid conversation lifts our spirits throughout, and it's perfect prep for the Fire on the Mountain 50k in western Maryland next Sunday. Thank you, Stephanie!
- Monday, November 04, 2013 at 04:06:30 (EST)
|I envision my mind as brilliant|
A sun, a supernova
And most of the time, I hide
To keep from blinding others
Or so I imagine
Yet could it be that
Huddled in my cave
I've already blinded myself?
- Sunday, November 03, 2013 at 05:42:51 (EST)
Silly poetry, explicit examples, occasional minor anti-Frequentist rants: John K. Kruschke's textbook Doing Bayesian Data Analysis is a useful quick-start to an important set of methods for statistical analysis. Chapter 1 begins with a pep-talk Section 1.1, "Real People Can Read This Book", which gave me a chuckle when it said that the material is not aimed at "... the mythical being who has the previous training of a nuclear physicist and then decided to learn about Bayesian statistics." Hold the phone: I am that "mythical being"!
Kruschke's content is fine, but he had better not quit his day job (he's a professor at Indiana University) to become a bard. The best of his verses, perhaps, is Chapter 7's slightly suggestive:
|You furtive posterior: coy distribution,|
Alluring, curvaceous, evading solution,
Although I can see what you hint at is ample,
I'll settle for one representative sample.
But maybe you have to be a Bayesian to appreciate it!
(cf. Statistics - A Bayesian Perspective (2010-08-13), Introduction to Bayesian Statistics (2010-11-20), ...)
- Saturday, November 02, 2013 at 17:34:38 (EDT)
"Good morning, Liz!" I shout at my neighbor at 7:10am as she brings in her newspaper, wearing her nightgown; her back is turned and she doesn't hear me. From home to Meadowbrook Stables takes almost 20 minutes, pushing the pace to arrive in time. Sandra "Sam" Yerkes and Gayatri Datta greet me, and we set off downstream. Packs of runners in training pass us, wearing bright colors. Peletons of spandex-clad cyclists zip by.
After the first mile Sam runs ahead while Gayatri and I take our time down Beach Dr. At the Broad Branch Rd gate we tag and turn back. I eat a pack of half a dozen Oreos, and Gayatri drinks coconut water and nibbles on figs. "What's that noise?" I ask Gayatri during the return trip. It's a flock of blackbirds, yammering as they rest in a tree. A pair of ladies are bent over, protecting a wooly bear caterpillar from being eaten by their tiny terrier, trying to move the furry critter off the street using a stick. Maybe they dislike touching wooly bears as much as I do, or used to?
Runkeeper and Garmin GPS record the run. Splits by the latter are 10:11 + 9:26 (racing to arrive on time) + 14:15 + 11:50 + 11:00 + 11:55 + 11:05 + 12:29 + 11:41 + 15:38 (latrine break) + 12:11 + 11:17 + 12:26 + 11:18 + 11:47 + 9:32 (solo sprint on the home stretch)
- Friday, November 01, 2013 at 04:10:31 (EDT)
From Day 88 of Rolf Gates and Katrina Kenison's Meditations from the Mat:
When we do feel lost or uncertain, drifting away from our practice, blocked from our own truth, it helps to remember that darkness and confusion, too, are part of the path. The hero's journey is a journey inward. Yoga is not a workout, it is a work in. In the Tao Te Ching, we read that the only real movement is return. And this is the point of spiritual practice: to make us teachable, to open our hearts and focus our awareness so that we can know what we already know, and be who we already are.
- Thursday, October 31, 2013 at 03:45:38 (EDT)
|DNF: Did Not Finish. Again, on the fourth attempt to run a 100 miler, expectation falls short in the face of Reality. But I stay open to the possibilities and do finally "run my age" in miles, and do reach ~100 kilometers, and do have a wonderful time trekking through Long Island's Rocky Point State Pine Barrens Preserve with Rayna Matsuno, dear friend, epidemiologist, and experienced ultrarunner. A few months ago Rayna learned of the inaugural Tesla Hertz Run, told me of it, and after patient effort snookered me into entering with the promise of her support.|
So between mile ~46 and midnight when I decide to call it a day, Rayna and I hike through the woods and discuss Bayesian statistics, the Game of Thrones fantasy saga, mindfulness, sensitivity vs. specificity of diagnostic medical tests, love, programming languages, yoga, Japanese slang, self-actualization, favorite movie quotes, and countless other topics including the meaning of life. As a pacer Rayna can't lead the way or carry gear for her runner, but she can assist in navigation and gently encourage the spirit. There is no way I could have gotten nearly as far without her gracious companionship and constant vigilance. And I feel great the next morning — no blisters, chafing, or significant soreness. Thank you, Rayna!
And in spite of intermittent metatarsal pain the 18 hour journey truly is All Good — and I really am glowing in the photo that Rayna takes of me at mile ~15.
|My son Merle's mega-suitcase is an instant resource that I can draw upon every 2 hours 45 minutes when the THz's path takes me past the midpoint of the ~10.4 mile loop. Rayna and her buddy "K2" can almost set their watch by my appearances, as I steadily follow veteran Meredith Murphy for the first 30+ miles. She patiently answers my questions about her amazing Badwater experiences, racing and pacing. We discuss nutrition, shoes, our families, work, and more. It's so nice to make an unexpected and helpful new acquaintance. After the first three laps when Meredith pauses in the woods I feel strong and trot ahead, with her blessing. She goes on to finish the 50 miler.|
Whenever I see Rayna at our Aid-Station-in-a-Box she ultra-efficiently takes care of my needs. In turn I try to be coherent and direct. "Six gels and a Snickers candy bar, please!" ... or "Just some water and a package of Oreos!" ... or "I need a change of socks!" At mile 36 when that happens Rayna grabs a tiny towel and quickly massage-cleans my feet. She explains that it's crucial to prevent blisters. All I know is that it feels great! (Thanks again, Rayna!) I advise K2, "You must ask her to do this for you!"
|As part of being a good trail runner I pick up litter whenever I can. At one point along the THz route there's a bottlecap from a local brewery, featuring a mystical all-seeing eye. Is it associated with Nikolai Tesla's nearby Shoreham laboratory? Did Tesla's experiments in electromagnetic radiation cause any strange phenomena among the wildlife? A few days after I get home I find what seems to be a deer tick on my shoulder. Will its bite give me super-powers, or simply Lyme Disease? (My doctor prescribes a dose of doxycycline in case it's the latter.)|
As night falls I see little emerald-green gems sparkling by the path. Hallucination? Ah no — upon closer inspection they turn into brown spiders, their beady eyes retroreflecting light back to my headlamp. Kind friend Stephanie Fonda, who is running a night 50 mile experiment and pacing her comrade Marshall Porterfield, tells in her THz race report of seeing the same "glinty-eyed wood spiders".
And then there's the insect battle that I lose, in late afternoon at the mid-course aid station, when the bowl of candy corn is swarming with yellow-jackets. I reach in to grab a handful (of corn) and come out with just one (wasp). It stings my left little finger — ouch! The pain only distracts me for a lap or two, but the swelling lasts a couple of days.
|The inaugural 2013 Tesla Hertz run is the brainchild of Vinny and Nichole Cappadora. They do a splendid job, as do all the cheery race associates I meet. The loop through the woods is well-designed, and strangely enough not at all boring to navigate. Helpful volunteers assist runners at the only major hazard, where the trail crosses Rocky Point-Yaphank Road.|
After a circuit or two, in fact, certain corners and features become old friends: the sandy hill, the narrow channel, the mountain bike path crossings, the rusty ironwork protruding from the concrete pillars that perhaps once supported a high-tension power line. Not to mention the high school football field where the amplified announcer calls the plays of an invisible game, which is followed in the evening by a party. Homecoming, perhaps?
And there's the creeky old tree that lies aslant through the fork of its neighbor, and groans as the wind blows to shift it slightly, like a bow across a violin's strings. Every time I pass by it I feel a chill and remember Stephanie Fonda's term "widow-maker" for a falling branch. Fortunately, nothing untoward happens. The post-grunge song Machinehead by Bush runs through my noggin for much of the day, as does Tubthumping by Chumbawamba. As its chorus repeats, "I get knocked down but I get up again / You're never going to keep me down." Today, however, there are stumbles but no falls.
Nikolai Tesla's experiments may had some nonbiological effects on the locality. To save the phone battery I only record the sixth (and final) lap of the adventure using Runkeeper. But the Garmin GPS captures the entire distance and the full 18 hours. As the graph shows, in violation of the conservation laws of gravitational potential energy, every lap is ~40 feet lower than the one before. Is it a magical Penrose Staircase? A warping of the spacetime continuum? Or perhaps, more mundanely, is the barometric altitude correction fooled by an incoming high-pressure cell during the race? Hmmmm ...
(cf. 2010-05-15 - Half Massanutten Mountain Trails, 2012-04-07 - Philly 100 Endurance Run, 2013-04-27 - C-and-O Canal 100 DNF, ...)
- Tuesday, October 29, 2013 at 04:54:42 (EDT)
(taken on the Amtrak train home from the Tesla-Hertz 100 miler, October 2013; non-glasses components thanks to Rayna Matsuno)
- Monday, October 28, 2013 at 04:11:22 (EDT)
George R. R. Martin's Game of Thrones is a soap opera, a movie script, a romp, an orgy, and a delight to read. Dear friend Rayna Matsuno recommended the video, and after watching the first season I began the book. (The two are virtually identical.) About a seventh of the way into its 800+ pages comes an explanation of why literacy is so crucial. Tyrion Lannister, dwarf from a noble family, explains why he reads so much:
"... My legs are short and twisted, and I walk with difficulty. I require a special saddle to keep from falling off my horse. A saddle of my own design, you may be interested to know. It was either that or ride a pony. My arms are strong enough, but again, too short. I will never make a swordsman. Had I been born a peasant, they might have left me out to die, or sold me to some slaver's grotesquerie. Alas, I was born a Lannister of Casterly Rock, and the grotesqueries are all the poorer. Things are expected of me. My father was the Hand of the King for twenty years. My brother later killed that very same king, as it turns out, but life is full of these little ironies. My sister married the new king and my repulsive nephew will be king after him. I must do my part for the honor of my House, wouldn't you agree? Yet how? Well, my legs may be too small for my body, but my head is too large, although I prefer to think it is just large enough for my mind. I have a realistic grasp of my own strengths and weaknesses. My mind is my weapon. My brother has his sword, King Robert has his warhammer, and I have my mind . . . and a mind needs books as a sword needs a whetstone, if it is to keep its edge." Tyrion tapped the leather cover of the book. "That's why I read so much, Jon Snow."
- Sunday, October 27, 2013 at 02:33:27 (EDT)
Thoughtful advice in the chapter "How to Continue" of Andrew Weiss's Beginning Mindfulness:
When in doubt, go back to basics. Remember your breath is your anchor, and simple, honest mindfulness of breathing can lead you right back to the present moment. Don't get caught up in technique. Remember that the instructions and techniques, and even the words of great teachers, are no more than a finger pointing at the moon: Always go for the moon.
- Saturday, October 26, 2013 at 07:53:48 (EDT)
|New sweatband, birthday gift from my brother Keith, is helpful today as Barry Smith leads a warm & humid afternoon trek from his home, up Sligo Creek, and across to Northwest Branch Trail. Unlike last Sunday (2013-09-29 - Northwest Branch and Sligo Creek with Barry) this time we go downstream to Colesville Rd. After a short additional scramble over slippery leaves and rugged rocks, we turn back, take the sidewalk along Colesville to Blair HS, run a lap on the oval asphalt track, and then continue to Sligo Creek Trail again, thence upstream back to our start --- whew!|
- Friday, October 25, 2013 at 04:12:04 (EDT)
Daniel Kahneman's book Thinking, Fast and Slow has a great ending, a fine middle, and a weak beginning. The "Conclusions" chapter summarizes his key points quite nicely in terms of "two fictitious characters, two species, and two selves":
Kahneman's flaws? The book is slow and often feels padded. The evidence cited from psychological experiments is often weak, possibly wrong. Statistics are skimpy. And every chapter ends with silly little make-believe quotes. Is that a deliberate device to deceive the System 1 anecdote-prone part of the reader's brain? If so, it's a disappointing trick that doesn't work well and reduces credibility.
Happier tidbits from the book? There are many. One of the best is in Chapter 17 ("Regression to the Mean"):
There's also the excellent rule for correcting one's intuitive predictions in Chapter 18 ("Taming Intuitive Predictions"). To forecast something in a specific case — an individual person's height, a particular company's growth next year, the score on day 2 of a golf tournament by the leader on day 1, whatever — follow these four steps:
And there's the solid, valuable argument in Chapter 21 ("Intuitions vs. Formulas") in favor of ridiculously simple rules of thumb. Based on Robyn Dawes's article, "The Robust Beauty of Improper Linear Models in Decision Making", Kahneman presents the formula for predicting marital stability:
|frequency of lovemaking minus frequency of quarrels|
Positive numbers mean a healthy marrige. A similar rough formula gives the Apgar Score to assess newborn baby health. Expert human judgment, based on intuitive appraisal of a multitude of factors, tends to be much worse than the results of simple additive formulas, as Philip Tetlock's Expert Political Judgment showed in other realms.
Thinking, Fast and Slow is a best-seller (talent + luck) that appeals (System 1) but also persuades (System 2). Good reading.
- Thursday, October 24, 2013 at 04:19:04 (EDT)
|Venus gleams low in the west and gloom deepens under the trees along Northwest Branch Trail. During mile 2 it's hard to see the bumpy asphalt through glowing afterimage-like blobs (ocular migraine effect?) but eventually they fade. The steep hill climb to Oakwood Dr is at paved path's end just inside the Beltway, past a cluster of girls wearing headlamps (a cross-country team?). The return trip is via sidewalks along busy New Hampshire Av & University Blvd, dodging cars at crosswalks and driveways.|
- Wednesday, October 23, 2013 at 18:09:49 (EDT)
- Tuesday, October 22, 2013 at 04:13:01 (EDT)
Glowing clouds at dawn let Jupiter peek through but not much more. Colleagues David, Kerry, and Kristin gather at the loading dock and set off at 0630 in a neighborhood circuit, but Kristin is still recovering from injury — so after ~1.5 miles she and I let the rest run onward while we walk back. I insist on leaving my GPS on until it shows 2.0 miles, as per Runkeeper; Garmin concurs.
- Monday, October 21, 2013 at 04:07:49 (EDT)
Peter Singer — Australian, Utilitarian, Princeton philosopher — has long been famous in the animal rights world for his arguments against cruelty associated with carnivorism. His book The Life You Can Save focuses on human suffering and explores arguments in favor of greatly increased charity toward those in the worst corners of the world, the poor and sick mainly located in Africa, Asia, and less-developed areas of the Americas.
It's a fast-reading but complex and multifaceted discussion, convincing in many parts, shaky in others. From near the beginning of the book Singer mixes intellectual fallacies, such as appeals to emotion, with solid logic and fact. Wealthy people — meaning virtually all of us who may read this — throw away money on frills, in Singer's judgment, like bottled water, fancy cars, spectator sports, etc. Yes, we enjoy them. But we should, Singer contends, throttle back on such spending in order to donate several percent of our income to organizations like Oxfam that efficiently direct resources toward projects that save lives and lift people out of poverty.
Hard to argue with some of that. Singer's heart-wrenching examples of suffering are unforgettable. And the quantitative estimates of how much it costs per death prevented, per major medical problem repaired, etc. all add weight to the case. It turns out, for instance, that factoring in all the probabilities and overhead, most anti-disease campaigns are only a few tens of dollars per life saved — more than the pennies that are sometimes advertised, yet still shockingly low.
But there are weaknesses. Singer's arguments against (most) saving for retirement and against (much) charity toward local higher education and hospitals, etc., are (largely) questionable. Likewise his attempts to compute a sliding-scale formula for the appropriate percentage that well-off people should donate from their income and accumulated wealth. That doesn't mean he's wrong; it does suggest that more careful thinking is needed in those areas. (His unstated bottom line judgment: tithing isn't too far off. More would be better, if you're rich enough to afford it.)
And the key questions that Peter Singer tries to explore — fairness and inequality and obligation — remain tough challenges. The Life You Can Save is a flawed but unblinking look into those areas of ethics and social morality.
(cf. EstateTax (2005-05-06), Philanthropy and Charity (2010-03-28), ...)
- Sunday, October 20, 2013 at 16:25:49 (EDT)
|Sunday afternoon: trot to Barry Smith's home, then up Northwest Branch Trail and back via Kemp Mill and Sligo Creek. Dog-walkers along Northwest Branch are out in force. At the big rock I practice cross-training by faux-lifting it. Barry shares an image on Facebook and reports that it gets more "Like" clicks than anything else he has posted.|
We follow Kemp Mill to Arcola rather than take the Wheaton Regional Park trail. A svelte girl at University Blvd in black two-piece running garb encourages us to push the pace. To reach the water fountain at the Sligo-Dennis Rec Center I sprint a fast quarter mile.
- Saturday, October 19, 2013 at 15:08:27 (EDT)
From Day 63 of Meditations from the Mat by Rolf Gates and Katrina Kenison:
If we are to find lasting happiness, we must not only clean up our rooms but clean up our thoughts as well. Fortunately, that is precisely what the practice of yoga is all about. To begin, we let go. We let go of our thoughts, our old scripts, our expectations, our darkness. The solution is not to fight but to let go. We let go of everything and hold on to nothing. Over and over again, on the mat and off, we let go. This letting go is a purification. We let go and it is like dropping a pebble into a pond, the ripples slowly growing to encompass our every waking moment. In our letting go we create an emptiness, a space that health and grace will move into. We begin to live with a joyful awareness.
- Friday, October 18, 2013 at 04:13:50 (EDT)
- Thursday, October 17, 2013 at 04:10:25 (EDT)
Friend LaNedra meets me at the elementary school near Paint Branch Trail. We follow the path down to Lake Artemesia and walk a lap, chatting about life, money, friends, and the threatened Federal Government shutdown. The Reward: a Marathon Deli dinner! Alas, I miscalculate the duration and parking tickets ensue — my fault, my responsibility. Runkeeper and Garmin record distance and pace.
- Wednesday, October 16, 2013 at 04:04:36 (EDT)
From the chapter "Seventh Week: Mindfulness in Thinking" of Andrew Weiss's Beginning Mindfulness:
There is a story about a Zen student who kept pestering his teacher to tell him the secret of awakening. After being asked so many times, the teacher finally got annoyed. He said to his student, "You know the space between your thoughts?" The student eagerly answered, "Yes, yes!!" The teacher said, "Well, make it larger!" ...
- Tuesday, October 15, 2013 at 04:08:50 (EDT)
A quarter moon near Jupiter peeks through scattered clouds at 0-dark-630 when I meet Sandra "Sam" Yerkes, Gayatri Datta, and Jennifer Weiland at Candy Cane City. A slow walk-jog with Gayatri, who is experimenting with a heart-rate monitor, warms us up. Then after 0730 faster trekking along Rock Creek begins with Ken Swab, Rebecca Rosenberg, Emaad Burki, and Barry Smith. Ken and Rebecca share stories of the Marathon du Medoc and other recent races. We pass through the midst of a strange underwear-over-clothes running event taking place near Military Road. Ken trips and falls at one point but not badly. Jennifer's mom is in town, this morning working on staining her cedar shed. Ken tells about visiting the Eiffel Tower and a huge sand dune in France. Near our return to Candy Cane a young cross-country crew sprints past and lures us to run faster. Runkeeper and Garmin concur on route and pace.
- Friday, October 11, 2013 at 07:02:58 (EDT)
Those who know the most, say the least.
Yes, and how many pages are there in the ZhurnalyWiki already? (^_^)
- Thursday, October 10, 2013 at 07:07:24 (EDT)
More a hike than a run: Wednesday evening walk and jog along the Paint Branch Trail in rapidly deepening darkness, chatting on the phone with friend Rayna Matsuno and trying to avoid speedy cyclists near the University of Maryland campus. Turn back before entering Lake Artemesia to avoid being locked in if the fence is closed while inside. In the other direction, turn back at the dog park near Metzerott Rd and dash the last half mile back to the parking lot near the Route 1 underpass. Runkeeper shows splits as 14.5 + 16 + 10.1 minutes each; Garmin GPS generally agrees.
- Wednesday, October 09, 2013 at 04:08:25 (EDT)
From Day 53 of Rolf Gates and Katrina Kenison's book Meditations from the Mat:
Forgiveness can never be entirely self-serving. We do forgive others for our own spiritual growth, but the most important reason for forgiveness is our belief in interconnectedness. Because we are all one, what we cannot forgive in others we cannot forgive in ourselves; what we withhold from others we withhold from ourselves. The judgments we pronounce upon others are ultimately being pronounced upon ourselves, because there is no you and no me, there is only we. Forgiveness, therefore, is an act of self-ove, and by loving ourselves we love the whole of humanity. Ensnared in our own condemnation, we can find no peace. Forgiveness frees us from this predicament and lays the foundations upon which our spiritual life can be built.
(cf. This Is Water (2009-05-21), Core Buddhism (2011-10-17), Inner Iguana (2013-07-05), Ground of Being (2013-10-03), ...)
- Tuesday, October 08, 2013 at 04:16:07 (EDT)
|"If I weren't with you, I would give chase. What a great ponytail!" I tell comrade Kate Abbott after a young lady blasts past us at our mile ~12. "Hmmmm," Kate observes gently, "maybe your eyes are drifting a bit lower than the PONYtail, to, uh, ...?" I deny it, we laugh together, and I confess to past instances of going too fast in similar foolish past pursuits. The girl pauses to stretch, then races by us again. We see her a couple of times later, when she reverses course to run the opposite way from us.|
It's a lovely Sunday morning for four Burke Lake loops with Kate. We talk and trek with early morning mist on the water, sunbeams slanting through the trees, a giant spiderweb above the trail, a great blue heron wading near the far shore, and cyclists, joggers, dog-walkers, pram-pushers, hikers, and flocks of buff young cross-country runners. Our first two laps clockwise, last two CCW.
Although temperatures are in the ~60°F area when we start at 8am, they rise as the sunny morning progresses. Yesterday's evening rain has left puddles on the trail and high humidity in the air. We're both overheating a bit after the first ~4.6 mile loop, and Kate takes off her short-sleeved shirt and lends it to me, to replace the long-sleeved one I was wearing. Coke Zero from Kate's cooler helps us rehydrate. We both begin to stumble more as the miles flow by. In the final stretch Kate trips on something, perhaps a hidden root, and almost falls, but catches my arm and recovers.
When I ask Kate about what I can do to improve myself, she responds with something that's much like the great quote from Joe vs. the Volcano by Ossie Davis's character Marshall, the limo driver who takes Joe to get a good suit: "Clothes make the man. I believe that. You say to me you want to go shopping, you want to buy clothes, but you don't know what kind. You leave that hanging in the air, like I'm going to fill in the blank, that to me is like asking me who you are, and I don't know who you are, I don't want to know. It's taken me my whole life to find out who I am, and I'm tired now, you hear what I'm saying?"
- Monday, October 07, 2013 at 04:00:26 (EDT)
In late August an anonymous genius posted on the Oddmuse Wiki a much-improved way to capture tidbits from web pages with a single click, which my 2012 initial-version Wiki Scrapbook Bookmarklet did via a complex method that required a server-side module. The new approach uses the "Comments_on" feature of Oddmuse. To begin, simply:
To use it, when browsing a web page just highlight a section of interesting text (up to a few paragraphs), then click on the bookmarklet. The URL, page title, and highlighted selection will be appended to the target page of the bookmarklet. (Note that for this process to work on ZhurnalyWiki you likely will need already to have accepted a cookie that permits editing. See page Editor Password for instructions on how to do that, if you aren't a spammer.)
Brilliant — many thanks to whoever created this neat hack!
(cf. Scrapbook Bookmarklet Version 0.1 (2010-12-26), Wiki Scrapbook Bookmarklet (2012-01-11), ...)
- Sunday, October 06, 2013 at 11:01:13 (EDT)
Excuses: tight left hamstring, ran already this morning, slight sniffles, Marathon Deli closes in an hour, etc., etc. — so stop with a guilty conscience after only five 400m repeats (1:42 + 1:39 + 1:41 + 1:43+ 1:45) and a limping trot to accompany DS Robin on part of his final lap, as a nearly-full moon rises over the University of Maryland track. Runkeeper and Garmin concur in the oval path.
- Saturday, October 05, 2013 at 11:41:45 (EDT)
Pre-dawn with Kristin Heckman around the MITRE/McLean neighborhood: Orion, Sirius, and Jupiter glimmer through the gaps between streetlights. We chat about family, friends, training, soreness, and life. Runkeeper and Garmin concur on the distance and pace.
- Friday, October 04, 2013 at 04:16:33 (EDT)
Thoughts on Oneness, from the chapter "Eighth Week: Mindfulness in Objects of Mind" of Andrew Weiss's Beginning Mindfulness:
... When we truly experience non-self and impermanence, our illusion of being separate falls away and we contact the ground of being from which all things arise and pass away. In the "I/you" world in which we live we encounter the reality of nonduality when we truly experience that we cannot separate ourselves as the perceivers from what we perceive or ourselves as the thinkers from what we are thinking. The personal identification slips away; the fear is at once "my" fear and, simply, fear, part of the common ground of being. In this nondualistic world, the world of mindfulness, there is no "I/my/me," no labeling, no personalizing. Once this door is open, we can simply be present in mindfulness, aware of what is going on, and even for brief moments, as we experience the nonduality inside our dualistic world, not even being aware that we are aware. In Zen, this experience of mindfulness is expressed: "In the seeing, only what is seen. In the hearing, only what is heard. In the touching, only what is touched. In the feeling, only what is felt. In the thinking, only what is thought."
When we "get" the reality of all this in our being, we encounter life as it is. I have noticed that those who truly have lived this awareness, even if only for a moment, soften a bit around the edges. In my own life, my experience of this has helped me open my heart and be more loving, kind, understanding, and compassionate. For me, it is very simple: Everything makes up me, I am part of everything. I am the result of causes and conditions that I and countless others create, and I create causes and conditions for myself and countless others. I know that all things change when causes and conditions change, and that brings up the desire to make as many as I can of these causes and conditions ones that promote peace and love. To manifest this in my daily life, I must cultivate the space and activity of mindfulness, where the words, and my own personal narrative, drop away. This lies deep at the heart of the Buddha's teachings on mindfulness. Here we can touch life directly, outside of notions, concepts, and beliefs. Here we can embrace the heart of the cosmos.
(cf. This Is Water (2009-05-21), Core Buddhism (2011-10-17), Zen Training (2011-10-29), Mirroring Each Other (2013-05-12), Opening to Love (2013-09-27), ...)
- Thursday, October 03, 2013 at 04:19:25 (EDT)
Another fun early morning run with colleagues Amber Sprenger, David Foster, Kerry Buckley, and Kristin Heckman: David did an Olympic triathlon 9 days ago and leads us around the neighborhood (one rabbit sighted), then sets off for bonus mileage after the rest of us stop; Amber's young son is recovering from a broken arm; Kristin is surviving on only a few hours of sleep; Kerry is happy and fast! Runkeeper measures the distance.
- Wednesday, October 02, 2013 at 04:10:27 (EDT)
"30 Things to Start Doing for Yourself" by Marc Chernoff is a glittery list of positive admonitions that DS Merle forwarded some months ago. It's hyper-optimistic and hard to argue with — but also frustratingly redundant. Minus the cheery explanations of each item, the list suggests:
All quite splendid, of course. But wouldn't it be better to sort and arrange and structure them into fewer, more orthogonal and independent dimensions? What are the key virtues to really strive for in life? Perhaps they include:
And can these be further compressed, unified, or otherwise structured as aspects of The Good? Hmmmm ...
(cf. My Religion (2000-11-06), The Meaning of Life (2008-07-24), Core Buddhism (2011-11-17), ...)
- Tuesday, October 01, 2013 at 05:13:47 (EDT)
|"It's all over except the crying!" Maura deMouy offers a new mantra for the final fast segment of a long run. We meet at KenGar where Barry Smith & Rebecca Rosenberg & I are setting off for half a dozen miles along Rock Creek Trail. Maura joins us as we hear of Rebecca's Marathon du Medoc last weekend. For the last stretch Maura and I pull each other along at near-race pace — whee! Then she heads off to pick up her young sons, Rebecca decides to do a few more miles, and Barry gives me a ride home via Donut King.|
Backstory: I leave home at 6:15am; jog via Kensington, startling two rabbits in a front yard; take a detour when it seems I'm ahead of schedule; pause to photograph luminous sunrise-painted cirrus clouds behind barbed wire fencing; still arrive early, so proceed upstream (Barry overslept and texts that he is coming later); answer Gayatri Datta's phone call and turn back to meet her; run a few miles with Gayatri, then join Barry for a couple of hill repeats, pulled along by a passing freight train.
- Monday, September 30, 2013 at 04:12:03 (EDT)
Sight from the Metro train at 0542 one morning some months ago, a brightly glowing neon sign that read:
An admonition from one of my kids reminding me to say, "Yes, and..." to everything? Hmmmm, maybe that would be a good thing. But after a quick doubletake, I realize it's just a Popeyes fried chicken restaurant with the first "e" burned out. Shades of Mark Center ...
- Sunday, September 29, 2013 at 19:15:34 (EDT)
Lovely-cool weather for a trek along Rock Creek. Spy: a dozen deer, including one buck with a great rack eating flowers from a neighbor's garden. Middle miles flow with comrades Gayatri Datta and Barry Smith. Runkeeper roughly agrees with Garmin GPS, which has splits as 10:45 + 9:47 + 11:27 + 12:58 + 10:58 + 16:12 + 11:14 + 11:58 + 12:56 + 11:14 + 11:55 + 15:19 + 10:46 + 11:29 + 11:01 + 11:30 + 9:16 + and a final fraction at ~9:10 min/mi pace.
- Saturday, September 28, 2013 at 04:49:48 (EDT)
In Chapter 10 ("Cultivating the Qualities of Loving-Kindness and Compassion") of Phillip Moffitt's book Emotional Chaos to Clarity, the section "Opening to Love" wrestles with questions of what love really is:
Loving-kindness and compassion meditation are transformational when practiced over several years. They become established mind states such that you spontaneously respond to all situations with one or the other or both. When you reach this stage of development, you realize not only that you are capable of experiencing such beautiful mind states but also that when your mind is free of greed, aversion, and delusion it automatically generates these mind states.
As your capacity for compassion and loving-kindness grows, you also begin to discover the many nuances of love. Is love the same as desire? Is it love you are feeling when you wish good things for your loved ones? Or is love an unmoving energetic state from which all else moves, including your good intentions and good wishes? If it is the latter, then there is an unchanging state of love that we are sometimes in touch with and other times not. When you are in touch with this unchanging state, feelings of compassion and loving-kindness spontaneously arise in your. You value these responses so much because they allow you to temporarily become part of this unchanging state of love. From this perspective, love is always present. It is we who are separated from this love due to our inability to simply be with things as they are. As you begin to stay more present, to fully receive the moment just as it is, you experience move loving intentions — even toward difficult people — because you feel less separation.
Interesting speculations. Does the image of love as an unmoving center, at least metaphorically, suggest how nonattachment can still flow toward love rather than just into a null state of emptiness? Maybe the key to giving direction to mindfulness and nonattachment is the third leg of the core buddhism stool, oneness?
In the same section Moffitt confesses his own early feelings toward deliberately cultivating love, and how those feelings evolved:
When I was first introduced to loving-kindness and compassion practices, during a ten-day silent meditation retreat more than twenty years ago, my reaction was to walk out of the room each time they were taught. I was interested in deepening my understanding of the mind, and when the teachers started discussing developing emotional qualities, I thought they were being sentimental. I was convince one could not practice compassion as a discipline, and the idea of fostering loving-kindness through repetition of certain phrases seemed silly. Moreover, since mindfulness practice involves not controlling the mind but learning to stay present with it wherever it moves, I thought what the teachers were asking us to do would interrupt the momentum of the practice. I was really irritated by the whole idea and felt resentment and distrust. I skipped the sittings in which these practices were taught and used the time to run on a nearby track, feeling simultaneously defiant and a bit guilty. After a few days of rebellion, it occurred to me that maybe I should have some actual experience of the practices if I was going to have such animosity toward them. So I started taking the instruction and, once I stopped feeling self-conscious, discovered that they had real value. The practices involve deepening compassion and loving-kindness for yourself, your benefactors, those you are close to, and those for whom you have neutral or even negative feelings. I was amazed that they really worked.
Anecdotal, so symbolic, fascinating — and possibly important as well as useful?
(cf. Steadiness of Heart (2011-11-17), Softening into Experience (2012-20-12), Emotional Chaos to Clarity (2013-07-06), Expectations vs. Possibilities (2013-08-13), ...)
- Friday, September 27, 2013 at 04:45:03 (EDT)
Some years ago, running buddy Cara Marie Manlandro tells me that we need to tack a couple of extra miles on to the end of the day's long run, to reach her weekly goal.
"Sure, CM," I reply, "but why don't we do the extra miles at the start, when we're fresh?"
- Thursday, September 26, 2013 at 04:19:59 (EDT)
|A cool morning gives a monster ~5 minute PB (Personal Best) improvement in this year's Parks Half Marathon. Many tnx to Kate Abbott for snookering me into running it, and for training with me!|
I push hard the whole way, maintain a level pace after the first two downhill miles, take a couple of Succeed! electrolyte capsules before the start, suck down an energy gel every half hour or so, and drink as much Gatorade as I can at every aid station. Nervous stretches commence halfway through, when visions surface of fly-and-die cramp-up in the final miles — but fortunately that doesn't happen. I chase down and pass folks who went out a little too fast, and salute volunteers and county police at road crossings.
Memories: a bagpiper at mile ~2 (transition from Veirs Mill Rd to Rock Creek Trail) and a baby grand piano played by a guy in a tuxedo at mile ~6, in Ken-Gar Park ... greetings to and from Tom Black, Anny Rosenfeld, Alyssa Soumoff ... MCRRC announcer Lyman Jordan embarrasses me at the start by calling me out by name as the third wave gets ready ... an overmuscled "Mr Incredible" cartoon character in a hypermuscular suit at mile ~5 salutes me as he dances to the tune of "Born to Run" ... elite Michael Wardian jogs back along the course after finishing in 1:12, greeting competitors and encouraging them ...
Kate borrows my Garmin wrist GPS (hers is kaput at the moment) and finishes in about 2:02, near Emaad Burki who almost but not quite gets under 2 hours. We skip the finish-line pizza and walk back to my car in the Bethesda garage where Kate met me before 6am, drive back to Rockville (with a stop for coffee and muffin breakfast at McDonalds), get Kate into her car, and part ways.
What a day!
|Splits, from my watch based on the mile markers: 7.3 + 7.5 + 8.5 + 8.2 + 8.1 + 8.4 + 8.3 + 8.2 + 8.1 + 8.2 + 8.3 + 8.4 + 8.2 and 0.9 min final fraction.|
Official result: overall 434th place, 6th of 42 in the male 60-64 year cohort, chip time 1:46:39, gun time 1:50:13 (starting in the third wave), average pace 8:09 min/mi. Total finishers: 1141 women (96 of them ahead of me) and 1145 men (337 ahead of me).
Runkeeper has the trackfile for the run, based on the iPhone GPS.
(cf. 2008-09-14 - Parks Half Marathon Plus, 2009-09-13 - Double Parks Half Marathon, 2010-09-12 - Parks Half Marathon Plus, 2011-09-11 - Parks Half Marathon, ...)
- Wednesday, September 25, 2013 at 04:35:06 (EDT)
In "How to Write the Perfect Bug Report" Dan Loewenherz begins by telling a story:
You woke up this morning to a nice cup of coffee, opened up your application to get work done ... and you can't login.
First thing, DON'T PANIC. It's easy to feel helpless if you're not the developer, since you may think there's not much you can do.
Wrong! Your role is super important. You speak for the users. The better you do this, the quicker the issue will get fixed and the happier everyone will be. So if you find that you're stressed, just take a deep breath.
Brilliant advice, especially the reminder to remain calm, breathe, and "speak for the users" (an allusion to the movie Tron). It's also reminiscent of some of the best rules for bug reporting (and reporting almost anything else!) from the ancient (1980s) "Understanding Bug Reporting" guide in the GNU Emacs manual:
The most important principle in reporting a bug is to report facts. Hypotheses and verbal descriptions are no substitute for the detailed raw data. Reporting the facts is straightforward, but many people strain to posit explanations and report them instead of the facts. If the explanations are based on guesses about how Emacs is implemented, they will be useless; meanwhile, lacking the facts, we will have no real information about the bug. If you want to actually debug the problem, and report explanations that are more than guesses, that is useful—but please include the raw facts as well.
As in the TV detective show Dragnet: "All we want are the facts."
(cf. ParaMode (2000-05-09), PureTheory (2001-08-04), PickyAboutFacts (2003-03-11), ...)
- Tuesday, September 24, 2013 at 04:30:46 (EDT)
|"Do NOT let me stop running!" Mary Ewell sternly instructs me as we prepare for the final segment of our hyper-humid Labor Day afternoon run-walk along the Potomac near Riverbend Park. A tiny lizard scampers across our path as we begin the upstream trek; a couple of hikers point out an even tinier snake on our way back. Raindrops sprinkle the fern leaves all-too-briefly midway. The park snack bar provides sugary-soda rehydration. We each carry two water bottles and debate who is more totally sweat-soaked when we stop.|
- Monday, September 23, 2013 at 04:05:33 (EDT)
Another used-book-sale gem: Andrew Weiss's Beginning Mindfulness. It captivates on the second page of the Introduction with, "... the best idea about life is no idea at all." Similarly, at the end of that foreword comes the enchanting advice, "If, after all this introduction, you have an idea of what mindfulness meditation practice is, I encourage you to throw it out the window as the first step on your true path to mindfulness. The Buddha used to say that the teachings of mindfulness are a raft that takes us over the waters from the shore of delusion to the shore of awakening. It would be silly, he reminds us, to worship the raft or to carry it around on dry land."
Then, the encouraging words, "Remember: Go Slowly, Breathe, and Smile!"
What's not to like with that launching pad? So disobey instructions as usual, open the book randomly, and near the end of the chapter for the Fourth Week discover the utterly enchanting:
And now for a surprise:
In four short weeks, you have learned the very basics of mindfulness practice: how to become aware of your breathing, how to follow your breathing and your actions in everyday life, how to become aware of thoughts and feelings when they arise and how to stay present with them, and how to challenge and begin the process of letting go of your most cherished assumptions about yourself and the world. You now have all the basic tools you need to make mindfulness practice the ground of your life.
If you simply practice mindfulness when you are sitting, walking, standing, lying down, eating, cooking, driving, or doing anything else in your life, your life will change. Living with awareness of what you do and the consequences of your actions will alter your life and your relationships with others. If you follow the practice of asking "Who am I?" and "What is this?" about everything and everyone you encounter, even about every thought and feeling you have — in other words, if you go through life without making any assumptions and simply encounter things as they are — your life will change dramatically. When you live with the awareness that questions are more important than answers, that encountering things as they are is more beneficial than just accepting your old stories about them, a huge burden falls by the wayside and you transform your life.
These practices require meticulous attention. They ask us to pay compete attention to what is happening right now, no more or less. They ask that we live in present time without distraction. They will not allow us to settle for what we already know. Are you ready to change your life?
There is much more to learn and experience. In the next section, we begin to explore the world of our own beings in more detail. We begin to cultivate our awareness of body, feelings and sensations, thinking, and the objects of our mind's focus and attention. So if you think you've reached the end, that's just what you think. The reality is different. Let's go on.
(cf. ChangeYourLife (2002-09-25), HowGreatThouArt (2005-03-16), Present-Moment Reality (2008-11-05), Being with Your Breath (2010-02-20), Breath and Awareness (2011-03-12), Beginner's Guide to Insight Meditation (2011-08-05), Core Buddhism (2011-10-17), It's Not What You're Thinking (2013-08-17), ...)
- Sunday, September 22, 2013 at 04:51:42 (EDT)
|"Have you heard people using the word 'Ask' as a noun? That drives me crazy!" Rebecca Rosenberg says as we trek along the Bethesda Trolley Trail. We discuss linguistic back-formation (which I mistakenly call "back-construction"), neologisms, and Shakespeare's vocabulary. Rebecca confesses to coining "Funge" with reference to using something fungible; I approve. We concur on the misuse of apostrophes and the loss of the good/well and who/whom distinctions.|
It's a warm and humid Sunday morning. Rebecca will be doing the Marathon du Medoc in northern France next weekend. She tells of a 20 page detailed information packet that the race organizers sent her — entirely in French!
As we return to her neighborhood via Rock Creek Trail, Rebecca spies multiple rabbits and deer. Flocks of other runners greet her by name. "We're not TOO obsessive!" we agree, as we zig-zag to make both GPS units exceed 9 miles. At the Garrett Park train station we pause for a photo op: RR crossing!
- Friday, September 20, 2013 at 04:07:00 (EDT)
From the movie Argo, about carrying on, even in tough circumstances:
"There are only bad options. It's about finding the best one."
"You don't have a better bad idea than this?"
"This is the best bad idea we have, sir. By far."
(cf. OptimistCreed (1999-04-16), Suboptimism (2008-05-26), ...)
- Thursday, September 19, 2013 at 05:30:02 (EDT)
^z and Father (Werner Edward Zimmermann)
- Wednesday, September 18, 2013 at 04:14:15 (EDT)
In "Ending Up", his penultimate column in The American Scholar a few years ago, local author-essayist Michael Dirda writes scathingly about illiterate modern politicians:
... Gladstone, England's most famous 19th-century prime minister, built a personal library of more 32,000 volumes and it was for use, not ostentation. His rival Disraeli, when out of power, brought out excellent and witty novels. At best our leading politicians may occasionally open a book if shown how. ...
and engagingly about his own addiction to reading. In a used-book store he opens a collection of Flaubert's novels at random:
... and my eyes lit on my favorite passage from The Temptation of St. Anthony, the section where the Queen of Sheba appears to the austere saint to tempt him with the delights of her body. Her enticements rise to a climax with the words: "Je ne suis pas une femme, je suis un monde." And it was just those words I opened to: "I am not a woman, I am a world." ...
So of course he had to buy it!
(cf. RadRobReMichaelDirda (2002-10-31), ReadingAtRisk (2004-09-01), ...)
- Tuesday, September 17, 2013 at 04:37:41 (EDT)
|"Have I explained the Sea Breeze phenomenon yet?" I ask Kate Abbott, as the wind picks up when we run along the Potomac near National Airport. "Yes! Many times!" is Kate's instant answer. I've just finished lectures on Scoring Rules for probabilistic predictions, and Contract Bridge bidding systems.|
Today's run reverses the loop we did a fortnight ago: from East Falls Church Metro down the W&OD, Custis, Mount Vernon, and Four Mile Run trails. Heat & humidity wear us down, but a pause at the Shirlington "Weenie Beanie" for jumbo sodas makes the final miles tolerable. Best passing-bike warning comes from a babbling baby in the jumpseat. Rabbits and a chipmunk scamper close to us. A cyclist heading the opposite way says, "Hi Mark!" but Kate and I don't recognize her. A few days later, when by chance I send an electronic "GM!" to a colleague, she replies, "You were out early Saturday!" — and it turns out that Beth S. was the one on the bike, near the beginning of her own 30 mile excursion. Small world!
Jupiter glitters by the crescent moon as we set off ~6am. The morning sun is shining like a red rubber ball — and guess what song gets stuck in my head for miles 2-12? We pause at a park on the Potomac to take photos of the scaffolding-clad Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial across the water, and one of mine, with Kate in silhouette, turns out quite nicely after a little post-processing to crop, straighten, and adjust contrast and saturation.
- Monday, September 16, 2013 at 04:07:22 (EDT)
From last year, a lovely thoughtful essay by Rayna Matsuno Weise, titled "The Importance of Having a Teacher", on the value — especially in times of stress and crisis — of setting aside time for oneself and of doing a regular practice of mindfulness:
My partner is also my teacher. As such, we typically avoid any discussion of my practice in the home, but tonight it came up. Like many, I am attached to the practice — or rather, asana. In the heat of feeling sorry for myself, I began to lament that over the past five years of practicing, I've made little growth. My partner stopped me in my tracks and corrected my limited definition of "the practice." But being the stubborn person that I am, I still needed to get everything off of my chest.
"I've always moved forward then backward, forward then backward."
All sorts of challenges — pregnancy, parenthood, finishing a Ph.D., losing a parent, recovering from a serious illness, moving across the Pacific Ocean (twice), big changes in my professional career — all of these have tempered any forward movement in my asana practice. When I took a breath between rambling my list of woes, my partner simply said, "And this is why your practice has grown so much."
I stopped to reflect.
What this practice has done for me over the years is it has given me the quiet that I needed — a centerline through the "zig-zagging" that is life. The daily routine, the discipline — there's comfort in knowing that at least something is the same every day. In its ideal form, this is a practice of sameness: six days a week, same time, same shala, same teacher, same asanas, matching inhale and exhale.... While every other aspect of our lives may be in disarray, the practice is a reliable constant.
A particular memory comes to mind as I write this. The morning my father passed away, I followed the usual routine of dropping my son off at daycare and making my way to the shala. Upon sharing the news with my partner, he told me, "Just practice primary today." The next morning, I thought I would again have some kind of "reprieve," but instead my partner said, "Do your usual practice." It was a major effort just being there on my mat, let alone exerting myself to my (perceived) physical and mental limits. But as I struggled to maintain my focus through feelings of sadness, I started to realize what an amazing teacher I have. There was great comfort in the sameness. My world as a daughter may have felt shattered, but for those two hours of my practice, nothing had changed. My teacher had given me the ultimate solace.
Whatever my external, physical practice may be now or become in the future, it will always be my own, where I find stillness. And I am grateful for my teacher, and my past teachers, for sharing this practice with me. As my teacher always reminds people, "It's the method, not me." But, without our teacher, there is no medium for which the practice to pass through.
(cf. SpasmodicHercules (2007-05-01), This Is It (2008-11-14), Without Effort, Analysis, or Expectation (2010-08-04), Expect Nothing (2012-02-20), Mindfulness As a Love Affair (2013-08-10), ...)
- Sunday, September 15, 2013 at 05:33:13 (EDT)
|Convex curves catch my eye as I pass an iconic Austin water tower near mile 4.5 of this morning's neighborhood trek. First miles go fast, but then the rising sun starts to sauté my skull and slow the pace.|
A couple of mid-course diversions lead finally to a water fountain in a roadside park. Finally, clouds move in to shade-enable a few bonus miles at speed around the LBJ High School campus.
- Saturday, September 14, 2013 at 05:12:27 (EDT)
In the spirit of Ernest Hemingway's purported Six Word Story — "For sale: baby shoes, never worn." — at MITRE some months ago an online discussion invited readers to submit a six word job description. Many were forgettable. One, by digital media specialist Michael Baker, jumped out:
|Ideas have dimensions, I move camera.|
What a great metaphor!
- Friday, September 13, 2013 at 04:39:13 (EDT)
In Margaret Foster's recent analysis/discussion of "College's Raison d'être" in The American Scholar , a thoughtful comment about the value of learning to think:
"Good professional training must include the kind of intellectual scope and imaginative flexibility that one develops only through liberal learning," said Brennan O'Donnell, president of Manhattan College. "I've heard many times from graduates of our school of engineering (all of whom take required liberal arts courses) some version of the following: 'My engineering courses got me my job; my arts courses got me my promotions.'"
(cf. SkillsOfDeliberation (2006-03-23), Full Realization (2013-05-04), ...)
- Thursday, September 12, 2013 at 04:20:57 (EDT)
|Soggy Summer Sunrise Speedwork: at LBJ High School track, a ladder of laps 1-2-3-4-3-2-1 with half-lap recovery walk between each interval. Yesterday's dinner of primary color TexMex food may have been slightly suboptimal (photo is a guacamole & queso tortilla cup)|
Splits during the ladder are 1:52 + 3:45 + 5:52 + 7:51 + 5:49 + 3:53 + 1:44. Infield sprinklers suddenly pop up like black mushrooms and welcome-surprise-spray me halfway through the pattern. A Texas-sized dragonfly buzzes by. On the way home, a tiny chihuahua dashes across the street and chases me, barking furiously.
- Wednesday, September 11, 2013 at 04:12:50 (EDT)
A Chinese fortune cookie received at Pei Wei's in Austin Texas:
|The pleasure of what we enjoy is lost by wanting more|
(cf. Insight Meditation for Letting Go (2011-08-16), Patience (2013-03-03), Groundhog Day (2013-06-19), Expectations vs. Possibilities (2013-08-13), ...)
- Tuesday, September 10, 2013 at 04:17:29 (EDT)
|Mad dogs, Englishmen, and Texans?|
I land in Austin to visit family and begin with a noonday run about the old 'hood — including an impossibly-fast 50 second lap around the track at my alma mater Pearce Jt High — apparently not everything is bigger in Texas! (perhaps it's only ~200m?)
Temps are in the low 90's and the first half of the trek at ~10 min/mi degrades into a second half at 12+ pace. A kind gentleman watering his lawn refills my bottle from one of his four (!) garden hoses.
When I get back to my Mom's house I discover that her kitty, Delilah has torn into a bag of catnip (sent by my brother) that I had hidden, apparently not well enough, in my backpack. Naughty Deli!!
- Monday, September 09, 2013 at 04:16:01 (EDT)
Neighborhood loops with Amber Sprenger, David Foster, Ed Brown, and Kristen Heckman — one rabbit sighting on this warm and humid morning, with distance and pace from Runkeeper.
- Monday, September 09, 2013 at 04:13:17 (EDT)
A March 1955 photo of ^z and brother Keith, ages respectively 2.5 and 0.5 years:
- Sunday, September 08, 2013 at 04:11:52 (EDT)
In Samuel R. Delany's sf novel Nova there's an arch exchange between a couple of the characters, Mouse and Katin, that expresses a sensible attitude toward tarot cards:
The Mouse dared half the distance of the rug. "You're really going to try and tell the future with cards? That's silly. That's superstitious!"
"No it's not, Mouse," Katin countered. "One would think that you of all people—"
The Mouse waved his hand and barked hoarse laughter. "You, Katin, and them cards. That's something!"
"Mouse, the cards don't actually predict anything. They simply propagate an educated commentary on present situations—"
"Cards aren't educated! They're metal and plastic. They don't know—"
"Mouse, the seventy-eight cards of the Tarot present symbols and mythological images that have recurred and reverberated through forty-five centuries of human history. Someone who understands these symbols can construct a dialogue about a given situation. There's nothing superstitious about it. The Book of Changes, even Chaldean Astrology only become superstitious when they are abused, employed to direct rather than guide and suggest."
The Mouse made that sound again.
"Really, Mouse! It's perfectly logical; you talk like somebody living a thousand years ago."
(The story of Nova is set ~1,150 years in the future.)
- Saturday, September 07, 2013 at 12:15:03 (EDT)
|"We're not obsessive!" I reassure Kate Abbott, as I insist on running until the most conservative of the three GPS units we carry exceeds 20 miles. Today is a new loop: W&OD Trail from East Falls Church to its Mile Zero origin, then Four Mile Run Trail to National Airport, Mount Vernon Trail to Rosslyn, and Custis Trail back to the W&OD and then our start. Sporadic rain keeps us cool, if soggy.|
Kate and I meet at the East Falls Church Metro in the drizzle at at dawn. We climb the stairs to near mile marker 5 of the W&OD Trail, a location we ran by last weekend (see 2013-08-11 - W-and-OD Trail with Kate). Kate cautions me not to slip and fall on the damp wooden bridges — when I stumble over a curb a few yards after we start, she reminds me of the fall I took at the beginning of our run long ago along the Potomac Heritage Trail (see 2009-01-19 - PHT Valkyrie). OK, Ma'am!
|For the first hour the trail is relatively empty. We pass the Custis Trail junction before W&OD milepost 4 but decide to go onward rather than branch off. I remember segments of the route here from the Andiamo race (see 2008-10-04 - Andiamo 2008, 2009-10-10 - Andiamo 2009, 2010-10-09 - Andiamo 2010). We pass an abandoned hand-cart tipped over under a bridge. I recall the ocular migraine blind-spot problems that I experienced entering some underpasses during runs here years ago.|
We reach Mile Zero of the W&OD and pause to pose for forgettable pictures in front of the sign. Kate spies arrows leading to the Four Mile Run Trail across the street, and we proceed on eastward. The stream next to us is rocky-pretty, then widens into the tidal Potomac. Water treatment and "foam" plants are next to the pathway. An underpass creates a contrasting edge-effect between drizzle and dry. We stop again to take photos. Other runners meet us, and even a few cyclists.
|Suddenly we see a giant plane descending in front of us — it's National Airport! We join the Mount Vernon Trail and turn north, upstream. Greater numbers of folks are on the trail now, and Kate remembers being here before for a long-ago race. I reminisce about a point-to-point run with Gayatri Datta (see 2010-09-04 - CCT and MVT to DCA) that ended here. The MVT curves onto Gravely Point, and I remember Stephanie Fonda telling me about this as a place to lie on one's back and watch aircraft zoom low overhead. We're under the takeoff flight path now, and I capture a happy snap of Kate outrunning a big jet.|
|Farther up the trail we see the Capitol, the Jefferson Memorial, and the Washington Monument across the water, that last one clad in attractive scaffolding as repairs continue from the 2011 earthquake. Kate spots a fascinating stone sculpture by the trail, featuring gulls in flight and cresting waves. It's the Navy-Merchant Marine Memorial, and we pause again to take photos of it.|
At the end of the MVT near Teddy Roosevelt Island we reminisce about the turnaround of our Potomac Heritage trek (see again 2009-01-19 - PHT Valkyrie) and debate briefly whether to get another photo there, 4.5 years later. But not today — we continue on following the Custis Trail signs which lead us through Rosslyn, past where Kate remembers dropping from the 2012-10-28 - Marine Corps Marathon 2012 at mile 5 due to horrible back pain, since then greatly improved by surgery. As we proceed along the Custis Trail I remember long long ago (mid-1990s?) runs from Tina Chancey's home near here, when DS & DD were taking viola da gamba lessons. Back then a 1-2 mile trek was a lot. Kate and I laugh at how much one's standards get recalibrated over time. Kate recognizes a pair of young women who met us a couple of hours ago when we were outbound on Four Mile Run Trail. Apparently they're doing the loop in the clockwise direction. We greet them and salute.
|As the Custis Trail mile markers count down we reckon ahead that we'll be back at East Falls Church Metro about mile 18.3 or so. But when we arrive the temptation to stop is easily resisted, and we continue on in an out-and-back to just short of Great Falls St. A young couple runs ahead of us, the girl in bright orange with a cute pony tail, the boy buff in black. I'm in a silly mood and ask if we should give chase, but Kate counsels moderation. When they pause at the North Washington St crossing Kate and I blitz past. We see them again when we turn back.|
At the top of the stairs, as planned, Kate's GPS rolls over to 20.00 ... but "We've gotta do a few more steps, just in case!" I demand, so we run on to the next corner. Then, "Enough!". A cooldown walk takes us to a 7-11 where I buy Kate a cup of coffee for the road home. Conversation is sweet — for instance, Kate recounts her dream last night of being late for a road race in Rio de Janeiro and doing a fist-bump salute with President Obama — and it's so nice to run with a friend!
(Runkeeper and Garmin GPS concur to within a few percent)
- Friday, September 06, 2013 at 04:11:47 (EDT)
Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer makes a powerful case for vegetarianism and against modern factory farming. The writing style is smooth, the stories of cruelty to animals are gruesome and graphic, and some of the arguments are convincing.
But Eating Animals is also frustratingly sloppy, repetitive, inconsistent, derivative, and fuzzy in its philosophical thinking. There's the feel, in the final chapter, that he was scooped and knows it:
The secrecy that has enabled the factory farm is breaking down. The three years I spent writing this book, for example, saw the first documentation that livestock contribute more to global warming than anything else; saw the first major research institution (the Pew Commission) recommend the total phaseout of multiple dominant intensive-confinement practices; saw the first state (Colorado) illegalize common factory farm practices (gestation and veal crates) as a result of negotiations with industry (rather than campaigns against industry); saw the first supermarket chain of any kind (Whole Foods) commit to a systematic and extensive program of animal welfare labeling; and saw the first major national newspaper (the New York Times) editorialize against factory farming as a whole, arguing that "animal husbandry has been turned into animal abuse," and "manure ... has been turned into toxic waste."
Foer means well, no doubt — but throwing personal anecdotes against a wall isn't the best way to make a rational argument. The three big issues that form his case are crucial:
Externalizing the social costs of modern agriculture makes meat prices artificially low and encourages massive waste in multiple dimensions. That's simple economics; everyone (except those immediately profiting) can likely agree that it needs fixing. The larger questions of animal rights and justice to fellow living creatures are important and deserve deep examination. Eating Animals doesn't provide that. It's a thin book, and could have done better.
And yes, it persuaded me to turn away from my daily egg sandwich. But that's not logic!
(cf. SufferTheAnimals (2000-06-11), CompassionateCarnivorism (2002-11-19), FeedOrFeedback (2004-09-06), Franklin on Vegetarianism (2008-06-17), Omnivore's Dilemma (2009-05-16), Philosophical Vegetarian Issues (2010-07-15), Milligan on Vegetarianism (2012-11-02), Grace To Be Said at the Supermarket (2013-01-08), ...)
- Thursday, September 05, 2013 at 04:31:15 (EDT)
A new linguistic term for the ^z scrapbook: hachek, also written haček. It's the name for the diacritical mark shaped like an inverted circumflex over a "c", making it "č" and indicating that the letter should be pronounced affricate, palatalized, iotated, or postalveolar — whatever that means! (Sounds pretty much like a "ch" to my tin ear.)
(cf. VoicedPostalveolarFricative (2003-09-27), ConfoundedConflation (2007-12-18), ...)
- Wednesday, September 04, 2013 at 04:30:46 (EDT)
Roger Zelazny's novels The Chronicles of Amber are fun fantasy from the 1970s, with sharp-edged swordplay, cross-time travel among universes, Tarot imagery, Chandleresquely noir banter, heavy smoking, excessive drinking, narrow glinting eyes, and on occasion strikingly lyrical passages. In Chapter 1 of Nine Princes in Amber, the first of the series, the protagonist awakens in a hospital, suffering from amnesia after an "accident" that clearly was no accident:
So I sat up. It took me a real effort, as my muscles were very tired. It was dark outside and a handful of stars were standing naked beyond the window. I winked back at them and threw my legs over the edge of the bed.
... and a few pages later, as he makes his escape by knocking out a guard:
I shoved him into the closet and looked out the latticed window. I saw the Old Moon with the New Moon in her arms, hovering above a row of poplars. The grass was silvery and sparkled. The night was bargaining weakly with the sun. Nothing to show, for me, where this place was located. ...
... followed in Chapter 2 with a sinister encounter:
Like all libraries, it was full of books. It also held three paintings, two indicating quiet landscapes and one a peaceful seascape. The floor was heavily carpeted in green. There was a big globe beside the big desk with Africa facing me and a wall-to-wall window behind it, eight stepladders of glass. But none of these was the reason I'd paused.
The woman behind the desk wore a wide-collared, V-necked dress of blue-green, had long hair and low bangs, all of a cross between sunset clouds and the outer edge of a candle flame in an otherwise dark room, and natural I somehow knew, and her eyes behind glasses I didn't think she needed were as blue as Lake Erie at three o'clock on a cloudless summer afternoon; and the color of her compressed smile matched her hair. But none these was the reason I'd paused.
I knew her, from somewhere, though I couldn't say where.
... and a page later, Our Hero continues his verbal fencing match in spite of being clueless as to who, or where, he is:
I drew on my cigarette, hoping she'd say something more. But she didn't, so I decided to seize what seemed the advantage I'd obtained in this game I didn't understand with players I didn't know for stakes I had no inkling of.
A clichéd beginning to a tale, sure — but charmingly well-done!
(cf. Lord of Light (2010-04-12), Science vs. Fantasy (2010-04-28), ...)
- Tuesday, September 03, 2013 at 21:00:25 (EDT)
For back issues of the ^zhurnal see Volumes v.01 (April-May 1999), v.02 (May-July 1999), v.03 (July-September 1999), v.04 (September-November 1999), v.05 (November 1999 - January 2000), v.06 (January-March 2000), v.07 (March-May 2000), v.08 (May-June 2000), v.09 (June-July 2000), v.10 (August-October 2000), v.11 (October-December 2000), v.12 (December 2000 - February 2001), v.13 (February-April 2001), v.14 (April-June 2001), 0.15 (June-August 2001), 0.16 (August-September 2001), 0.17 (September-November 2001), 0.18 (November-December 2001), 0.19 (December 2001 - February 2002), 0.20 (February-April 2002), 0.21 (April-May 2002), 0.22 (May-July 2002), 0.23 (July-September 2002), 0.24 (September-October 2002), 0.25 (October-November 2002), 0.26 (November 2002 - January 2003), 0.27 (January-February 2003), 0.28 (February-April 2003), 0.29 (April-June 2003), 0.30 (June-July 2003), 0.31 (July-September 2003), 0.32 (September-October 2003), 0.33 (October-November 2003), 0.34 (November 2003 - January 2004), 0.35 (January-February 2004), 0.36 (February-March 2004), 0.37 (March-April 2004), 0.38 (April-June 2004), 0.39 (June-July 2004), 0.40 (July-August 2004), 0.41 (August-September 2004), 0.42 (September-November 2004), 0.43 (November-December 2004), 0.44 (December 2004 - February 2005), 0.45 (February-March 2005), 0.46 (March-May 2005), 0.47 (May-June 2005), 0.48 (June-August 2005), 0.49 (August-September 2005), 0.50 (September-November 2005), 0.51 (November 2005 - January 2006), 0.52 (January-February 2006), 0.53 (February-April 2006), 0.54 (April-June 2006), 0.55 (June-July 2006), 0.56 (July-September 2006), 0.57 (September-November 2006), 0.58 (November-December 2006), 0.59 (December 2006 - February 2007), 0.60 (February-May 2007), 0.61 (April-May 2007), 0.62 (May-July 2007), 0.63 (July-September 2007), 0.64 (September-November 2007), 0.65 (November 2007 - January 2008), 0.66 (January-March 2008), 0.67 (March-April 2008), 0.68 (April-June 2008), 0.69 (July-August 2008), 0.70 (August-September 2008), 0.71 (September-October 2008), 0.72 (October-November 2008), 0.73 (November 2008 - January 2009), 0.74 (January-February 2009), 0.75 (February-April 2009), 0.76 (April-June 2009), 0.77 (June-August 2009), 0.78 (August-September 2009), 0.79 (September-November 2009), 0.80 (November-December 2009), 0.81 (December 2009 - February 2010), 0.82 (February-April 2010), 0.83 (April-May 2010), 0.84 (May-July 2010), 0.85 (July-September 2010), 0.86 (September-October 2010), 0.87 (October-December 2010), 0.88 (December 2010 - February 2011), 0.89 (February-April 2011), 0.90 (April-June 2011), 0.91 (June-August 2011), 0.92 (August-October 2011), 0.93 (October-December 2011), 0.94 (December 2011-January 2012), 0.95 (January-March 2012), 0.96 (March-April 2012), 0.97 (April-June 2012), 0.98 (June-September 2012), 0.99 (September-November 2012), 0.9901 (November-December 2012), 0.9902 (December 2012-February 2013), 0.9903 (February-March 2013), 0.9904 (March-May 2013), 0.9905 (May-July 2013), 0.9906 (July-September 2013), ... Current Volume. Send comments and suggestions to z (at) his.com. Thank you! (Copyright © 1999-2013 by Mark Zimmermann.)