Monday, February 28, 2011

Harshman Road...and Ultrarunning

Today as February exits the temp is expected to hit the 60s here in southern Pennsylvania, but with rain, winds and thunderstorms, as a strong front rolls through. I am hoping our snow is over—my skiing days are long over for fear of injuring my legs for running—but I still would not be surprised by a late-season snow.

That said, there still is something magical about running in the snow. Here are a recent couple shots from earlier this winter of one my favorite runs when I just need to knock out a quick 5 around the house. Or my so called “Harshman Road Loop” can be infinitely expanded to any distance using a network of rural roads.

We all have our Harshman Roads, a comfortable run that we gratefully use or fall back on when the trails are impractical.  It’s not trail running, mind you, but really not a bad substitute for it as a matter of time and convenience. And of, course, with a great view of the mountains, to keep my mental focus of where the real running is.


Sunday, February 27, 2011

Cats in Art: Last Supper

From my continuing weekly Sunday series of cats in art. I'm using some ideas from the coffee table book, The Cat in Art, by Stefano Zuffi.

Image credit here.  Last Supper: Jaime Huguet, (1414-1492), tempera on wood, around 1450, held by Museu Nacional D'art de Catalunya, Barcelona, Spain.

Zuffi comments:

This Last Supper also demonstrates Huguet's capacity for observing reality. The presence of cats in paintings of the Last Supper is certainly not uncommon, but here Huguet does not resort to a conventional image, such as the customary quarrel between a cat and a dog.  His large, solitary cat rubs itself against the apoastles' legs, an unequivocal gesture soliciting cuddles and food.

The artist, Huguet, really nails it, as does Zuffi in describing the painting.  A cat, were it present at the Last Supper, would be doing exactly what this one is doing, regardless of whether the Son of God was there or not.

One of our (bad) cats, of course, may well have made a move onto the table itself.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

True Evil

Via Hecate, who--seriously--is a witch, and proud of it, on the public demonstrations in Wisconsin last week:

There is something so cynically evil/evilly cynical about first giving big tax breaks to those of us in the upper 2% and then declaring that "there's no more money" to pay basic benefits to those who keep our traffic moving, educate the next generation, put out fires, investigate child abuse, inspect our food, etc., that it's almost difficult for me to wrap my mind around it. I don't want to live in that world. I don't want my G/Son to have to live in that world.

I echo that sentiment for the Mister Tristans of this world (the human being, not the blog), who at age 3 is just full of the joy of play and of being securely loved.  He doesn't know yet that there is true evil in this world, in the guise of seeming respectability.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Embarrassing Moments in Ultrarunning

Remember this song, play it if you need to, because you'll need the melody later: "Killing Me Softly" by Roberta Flack:

Strumming my pain with his fingers,
Singing my life with his words
Killing me softly with his song.....

This incident I am about to describe happened to me about a dozen years ago, and again came vividly back to mind when I just ran the Appalachian Trail in the snow this week on President's Day. 

Trigger warning: this post talks about pooping.  Also, I'm going to ruin this song for you forever.

The tale:  I was on the AT for a run on the way home from work when I worked at Fort Ritchie, MD (since closed by the Base Realignment Commission).

This song just happened to be playing on the radio when I parked the car. Now I am not a Roberta Flack fan, but this tune got in my head, perhaps because I turned the car off while the song was still playing and I was trying to mentally finish it.

(By the way, I always heard this tune as "Strumming my FACE...", not “Strumming my PAIN”, but that's beside the point for this story).

There were several inches of snow down.  Minutes after starting the run I felt a fairly strong urge to move my bowels, right at the same time that I was passing a hiker. I was afraid he’d think it quite odd if I suddenly stopped and peeled off into the woods. So I kept on going, trying to put enough distance between him and me before making my pit stop. This was an open wooded area with no place to hide, especially so with the snow cover, so my only recourse was to try to get a 5-minute lead up the trail on him.

Unfortunately, the urge to poop became more and more intense and irresistible. I’d been fighting an intestinal bug for a couple days anyway, and suddenly it all let loose, and there I was with a pantload of poop. Literally. Fortunately, there was a small stream a quarter mile ahead, the safe haven I didn't quite reach in time, off the trail and out of view.

Suffice it to say that the volume and speed of evacuation, coupled with the act of running, had fouled me beyond belief. We're talking stem to stern here, front beltline to back beltline, and every nook and cranny in between. I had to completely strip to the waist from the bottom up, and in the process managed to soil my gaiters, sox, shoes, and gloves (my briefs and tights, of course, were already fully involved).

I washed out my clothing in the icy stream, wrung it out as best I could (thank goodness for synthetics that don't hold much water!), and quickly dressed again in my wet clothes. Brrrr!!--talk about incentive to get moving! I rejoined the AT as quickly as I could to get running again so hopefully I could warm up.

I had gone but a short distance when I saw in the distance the hiker, who had by now passed me. At that point I felt compelled to alter my intended route for fear of freaking him out by passing him again--I figured he'd think I was stalking him.

The rest of the run, thankfully, went uneventfully.

Now….back to Roberta Flack. The incomplete song from the radio had kept playing in my head the whole time. When I was attempting to clean up, the little stream was big enough to rinse out my clothes in, but I began my attempt to clean myself up by using the only thing I had available: snowballs.

And that's when I mentally replaced "Strumming my pain with his fingers" with "Wiping my a** with a snowball."

With this message I have now totally lost all privacy. Prospective employers will shun me like the plague.

I posted this voluntarily, to be sure.

But see, I get the last laugh: now, for the rest of your life, anytime, anywhere you hear this Roberta Flack song, you'll think of me, and MY lyrics will spring unbidden to your mind's ear:

"Wiping my a** with a snowball."

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Good Kitties and Bad Kitties

Match each cat photo to the correct caption.

Tizzy is:
1. A good kitty
2. A bad kitty 

Amanda is:
1. A good kitty
2. A bad kitty 

The correct answers:  Good and Bad.  Sorry, don’t have any ugly cats or I'd have included a third option.

Things--cushions and sinks--exist around the house just to make life easier for the cats (at least, that’s their interpretation).

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Freedom...for Some

Via Vagabond Scholar on 17 Feb (thanks, Batocchio), I see a reference to the Tea Party's (mis)appropriation of the word "Freedom."

Batocchio's piece is a worthwhile read, and contains a wonderful gem from Steve Benen

This is about "freedom."

Well, I'm certainly pro-freedom, and as far as I can tell, the anti-freedom crowd struggles to win votes on Election Day. But can they be a little more specific? How about the freedom for same-sex couples to get married? No, we're told, not that kind of freedom.

I guess the notion that the government should keep its nose out of our personal business is caveated by the trumping notion that we (read: Tea Party, social conservatives, etc.) get the deciding vote on which "personal business" is public enough to warrant our control.

Back to Batocchio:

This attitude may be unconscious, or rarely spoken aloud, but it offends right-wing social conservatives if someone outside their tribal group exercises individual rights, without their permission. "Freedom" somehow means superiority, privilege and power – and just for them.

Say no more, can't improve upon that encapsulization.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Tuxedo to Trail

The sport of Ultrarunning encompasses a wide spectrum of society. This President’s Day weekend is a case in point. On Saturday evening the bride and I attended a black tie gala to support the Cumberland Valley School of Music. This is their big fundraiser of the year.

The CVSM offers a wide range of lessons, classes, workshops, and summer camps, and present recitals and concerts. They teach all orchestral and band instruments, voice, piano, guitar, drama and theatrical techniques, Suzuki piano, and numerous classes for all ages.

We like the notion of being a patron of the arts, but at least an equal component is the opportunity to do some ballroom dancing. At the bride’s behest several years ago, we took lessons from a wonderful instructor, but our chances to employ our skills are limited. Plus it’s just fun to dress up—I actually have my own tuxedo, and the bride wears a stunning version of the little black dress. The food is out of this world, the selections of wines is great, and the companionship is wonderful (we attend with the same 3 other couples as a regular annual date).

Anyway, so I go from tuxedo to trail in the same weekend. Actually, I was hoping to make that segue in the span of 6 short hours—to get out on the Appalachian Trail at daybreak on Sunday morning after the Saturday evening soiree—but Mister Tristan (the human being, not the blog) duties trumped all else so my run was deferred until the morning of the Monday holiday.

It had been some time since I was on the AT. Although it’s only a 20 minute drive to reach the closest point of the trail to my home, for some reason the past couple months making that trek and planning the run seemed like too much. But this weekend it just felt right, and it turned out to be a great run. The temp was in the mid-thirties and a trace of snow had fallen at the lower elevations. Up on the trail, where the elevation ranges up to 2000’, I would encounter about 2” of snow. The trail was a green and white tunnel where the mountain laurel crowded close to the path.

I did all the stuff that makes a trail run great. I drank from the springs at Bailey Spring and the Deer Lick shelter. I scampered over rocks in a mad downhill dash, just for the hell of it. While I did not see another human soul or their tracks the entire 10 mile loop, animal tracks abounded. Mostly these consisted of squirrels, mice, and deer, but the real bonus was encountering a couple sets of tracks that I need to key out—I am no animal track expert but I’m leaning strongly towards bobcat.

So anyway, a great weekend going from Tuxedo to trail!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Cats in Art: The Birth of John the Baptist

From my continuing weekly Sunday series of cats in art.  I'm using some ideas from the coffee table book, The Cat in Art, by Stefano Zuffi.

Image credit here: Jan van Eyck. The Birth of John the Baptist (miniature from the Très Belles Heures de Notre-Dame). c.1422. Body colour on parchment. Museo Civico d'Arte Antica, Turin, Italy.

I guess cats have been involved, well, pretty much in all aspects of life, including childbirth.  Although if this cat were our cat De Beere, she would actually be up on the bed, checking out baby John.


Saturday, February 19, 2011

"Confession: A Roman Catholic App"...and Ultrarunning

On the heels of yesterday's post involving Lucifer, another of my running buddies forwarded this about a new iPhone application:

Lame tech jokes aside, the makers of "Confession: A Roman Catholic App" say their software is seriously designed to help believers with the sacrament, and to help those who have left the church take a digital step back home.

Worry not, faithful Catholics: The $1.99 application, for the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch, is not intended to replace the confessional. Instead, it's designed to complement the act of confession, offering a "personal examination of conscience" (password-protected, of course) and a step-by-step guide to sin-confessing.

The app provides suggested acts of contrition and the "ability to add sins not listed in standard examination of conscience."

"Our desire is to invite Catholics to engage in their faith through digital technology," said Patrick Leinen, co-founder of Little iApps, developer of the Confession app.

And this one's got the church's seal of approval.

My complaint is that my buddy only suggested that our two Roman Catholic members check it out.  I was outraged at the snub, because I also am a prolific sinner.

The connection to Ultrarunning is that I curse extensively while trail running.  Stumble on a root?  Invectives pour forth.  Trip over a rock?  Expletives fly.  Actually bite the dust?  Then we're talking some serious blasphemy.

And not just for bad stuff.  When I see some delight of nature--a critter, a view, an insight into the natural world--I often say "Holy sh*t!!"  In a thankful, wondrous way, of course.

Of course, the type and volume of the curses are dependent upon whether I am alone or not.  I'm usually a saint when I'm with others, and a real, well, sinner when I'm alone.


Friday, February 18, 2011

Tales From the Perimeter: Tool of Lucifer

Perimeter meaning the 6 mile patrol road inside the fence of the military installation on which I work, where some half a dozen of us comprise a pool of running “talent” and strive to show up for a noontime run a couple times a week if we can escape our desks. We share a lot and these guys are one of the core pillars of my sanity.

With promised 70 degree weather here today in PA, cold weather seems a thing of the past.  Yet we still have a month or so of susceptibility to a BIG snowfall, to say nothing of cold temps and wide. In fact, I am predicting we'll have one snowfall of 12" or more before this winter says adios.

Anyway, reminds me of a conversation we had on the perimeter a couple weeks ago when it was in the low 20s and the wind was a-howling.  Our group was (were?) the only runners out that day, as it was pretty miserable.  However, since the base is basically a circle, you only have to brave the worst wind for maybe 2 miles before you turn and get a respite. 

One of the irregular guys (retired, so he only joins us sporadically) later emailed to mention a trip to the gym to work out.

Love these cold temps and wind....Gary, as we discussed years back, love the adverse conditions....when I appear at the gym and watch the treadmill runners.....I put my miles (slow) outside.

He nailed it.  At the risk of offending some folks, for me, treadmills are tools of Lucifer.  There's no such thing as bad weather, just weather for which you are unprepared.  There's always another layer....

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Your Mainstream Media

I do a lot of reading about current events and find I don't rely all that much on what you'd call the mainstream media.  I use BBC news for much of my world news, as well as the British take on news here in the U.S.  Moreover, I tend to rely on the so called "left-wing blogosphere" and scan a number of progressive blogs pretty much daily.

Anyway, when I ran across the following list, I knew that Lisa at That's Why had pretty much nailed it as far as I am concerned (credit also to Just an Earth Bound Misfit,I, for the link that I followed to Lisa)

Instead of listening to music this morning, I made the mistake of turning on Morning Joe on MSNBC. After about ten minutes, here's what I decided I'd like to see from the media:

Homeless people talking about homelessness.

The unemployed discussing unemployment.

People without pensions, large savings accounts, golden parachutes, trust funds, Roth IRAs or 401ks talking about Social Security.

Women of child-bearing age discussing reproductive policies.

Government workers setting the record straight about their salaries and benefits packages which are allegedly driving this nation to the brink of bankruptcy.

People without health insurance walking us through their experience with the American health care system.

Workers discussing business policies.

Family farmers talking about farming and food.

Small business people discussing about small business.

Students, teachers, administrators and parents talking about education.

People without access to opportunity describing what it's like for them.

Scientists talking about environmental policy.

Illegal immigrants describing what it's like to live in a place where you're part welcome, part not.

The uber rich, with a straight face, describing their lavish lifestyle to a group made up of the underclass and including, but not limited to, the elderly, children, veterans and anyone who lost their retirement funds to the swindlers of Wall Street.

People who hire undocumented workers explaining their motivations for doing so.

Lobbyists truth telling about how they influence the government.

Politicians admitting who they really answer to.

Pundits explaining that they're pretty much talking out their asses.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Cheyney U Concert Choir...and Ultrarunning

Tuesday at work (I'm a Federal employee) we had a special treat--a program in honor of Black History Month.  The core of the program was a number of selections by the Concert Choir of Cheyney University of Pennsylvania. (archive photo above).  Employees were encouraged to attend.

Some eight women and six men made the trip to central PA, plus their choral director and an accompanist.

The music was sweet and lovely, consisting to a large extent of modern arrangements of traditional Negro spirituals.

Relationship to Ultrarunning?  Although I never use music devices when I run--just not my preference--music does figure strongly into my trail running.  I have a number of "sing-along" tunes in my head and often sing aloud.  When I'm by myself, of course!

The music in my head from this concert is of another sort--not a driving beat or a melodious ballad.  But rather a soaring sort of swelling harmony that would be appropriate for a spectacular view, or a beautiful sunset along the trail.  A pure, sweet offering of the best that these young people had.  That's what'll be in my head for a long time to come.


Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Valentine's Space

Credit to Phil Plait over at Bad Astronomy, which never disappoints and should be on your blogroll:

Happy Valentine's Day from Spitzer Space Telescope! This image is of a region called W5, part of a bigger complex of gas and dust shining 6000 light years away in the constellation of Cassiopeia. The resemblance to a Valentine is remarkable!

What you're actually seeing here is an enormous star-forming factory 150 light years across. Deep in its (haha) heart massive, hot, and bright stars are being born. When they switch on for the first time, they blast out a flood of ultraviolet light as well as a fierce wind of subatomic particles. These eat away at the cloud from the inside-out, forming an enormous cavity. It's the edges of this cavity that form the cosmic valentine.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Cloud Computing...and Ultrarunning

(Image credit here)

Got this unsolicited email at work the other day, part of which is reproduced below:


By now, we know that you know what Cloud Computing is along with its benefits. But the $64,000 question is do you know how to get there?

Join DLT Solutions and for the Best Practices for Achieving Migration to a Cloud Model webcast on Wednesday, February 23rd at 2pm (EST) to learn the steps agencies should take to aid in their migration to cloud-based solutions. DLT Solutions' own CTO, Van Ristau, will be presenting along with panelists Dawn Leaf, Senior Executive for Cloud Computing from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and Greg Potter, Analyst with In-Stat....

To which I replied:

Nope, I have no idea what Cloud Computing is. Frankly, don't care.

Then I hit unsubscribe.  But the terminology got me to thinking about clouds.  I may have blogged about this some months ago, but this summer I was out on a solo run at lunchtime at work because all my running buddies were either on travel, in a meeting, etc.  I sent an email later to bust them for missing the run, when it was so pleasant.

I was describing the cloud cover as being, say 46%, and asked them how I would know, with that precision, how much cloud cover there was.  Note that this run is entirely in the open.  Basically I used my running watch to time how much I was running in the shade vs how much time I was running in the sun.

My cloud computing answer was 46%.


Sunday, February 13, 2011

Cats in Art: New York Art Expo

My continuing series of cats in art.

Image and text credit here.  [1983, Neumeier, poster published by Gazelle Editions]

This striking poster by Marty Neumeier for the New York Art Expo of 1983 illustrates the fact that, as in life, the cat in art can demand and hold the center of attention.

Of course cats are striking and can demand and hold the center of attention.  Duh!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

More Health Care...Plus Political Tactics

This is an article about health care reform from the blog Balloon Juice, and how the Republicans want to repeal the Affordable Care Act (AKA Obamacare).  This goes along with my post of Wed on health care.

Coming at the end is a priceless quote about tactics. This is the Republican message:

American health care is the best in the world and doesn't need fixing. If it does need fixing, it just needs the power of the free market. If it needs something beyond the power of the free market, it needs something other than what Democrats are proposing. And if what Democrats are proposing gets passed, then it's unconstitutional.

There is no issue you can't do this with.

I'm speechless at how perfectly the writer nails it right on the head.  This tactic works, and we've all seen it in operation.  And during the "debate," it all sounds so reasonable, so practical, so sensible, that we almost lose sight of the original basis for the discussion.  Namely, that tens of millions of Americans are without health care (some 47 million, according to the U.S. Census, and that was in 2006).

We can do better than this.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Entropy...and Ultrarunning

I finally figured out why some runs are good (i.e., energetic, feel easy) and why other runs are just a struggle.

The reason is simple: Entropy.

Entropy was the featured Word of the Day a few days ago on the wonderful homepage I use, REFDESK (do go check it out if you are unfamiliar).

REFDESK linked to The Free Dictionary, where we read:

In popular, nontechnical use, entropy is regarded as a measure of the chaos or randomness of a system. In thermodynamics, it is the measure of a system's energy that is unavailable for work or of the degree of a system's disorder.

See, if we consider me to be a system, and if I have an excess of entropy, it ties up too much of my energy, rendering it unavailable for running purposes.  That's why I have draggy runs sometimes.

So I guess as part of my warm-up, I must go through some entropy-purging routine.  Next step is to figure out just what that would consist of!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Medicaid Belt Tightening

Time to get political again, I guess.

From Diane at Cab Drollery on 4 Feb 2011. As a government employee, I have good health care. But I shudder to think if I did not, and tens of millions of Americans are in that particular boat. Heading up that particular creek, and they just lost their paddles.

(Diane's post links to this LA Times article )

Helpful Advice

Yeah, right, this is going to help states out when it comes to Medicaid expenses.

On Thursday, in a move that reflected both the changing political landscape and the still-troubled economy, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius sent a letter to governors suggesting a range of cuts, including removal of some people from the program. ...

The Obama administration is suggesting that governors could cut optional health benefits that many Medicaid programs offer, such as physical therapy, dental care, eyeglasses and even some prescription drugs.

States could also require beneficiaries to pay more for some of these services.

After all, the people using Medicaid (MediCal in California) are poor. They probably don't vote. And besides, they are entitled to the same things that rich people are, the best medical care money can buy. If they don't have the money, well, they get what they deserve, which ain't much.

Besides, glasses, fillings for cavities, physical therapy after injuries, medicine, these are just frills, luxuries, if you will. Surely they can eat cake without the icing.

It is to die for.

The richest country on the planet and we cannot take care of the least of our brethren.  This is not a priority for the Congress because--literally--they are all millionaires.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Chasing PRs (Personal Records)

The blog Dependable Renegade is always a good read, full of quirky photos, videos, and stories.

This delightful clip above—which you really should watch in its entirety (it’s only 121 seconds)—makes me think about my first few years of running when success and PRs came often, versus my current experiences. The poor kitty here keeps trying and trying, but the evil owner keeps the feather just out of reach (although the cat still loves the game). See, I’m like the kitty, trying hard and striving mightily towards an elusive goal, but my efforts are largely in vain.

For me, PRs are really a road running phenomenon. Although courses can be quite different, it still is meaningful to compare, say a 10K or marathon time on one course to those times on other courses.

Not so much in the ultra world, where race courses over 50K or 50 miles or 100 miles are so disparate that the only meaningful comparison would be your time on the same course if you’ve run there multiple times. And for me, given the fact that I enter organized events somewhat infrequently, I tend to prefer going to a new venue to see different sites and have a different experience.

It’s kinda tough to admit, but my days of PRs are over. Yet with that admission of aging and slowing comes a huge amount of relief and burden-lifting. I can be childlike again, just running as little, as often, as fast, or as slow as I choose.

For example, as I posted yesterday, I’ve entered the Capon Valley 50K in May, and I did run it 2 years ago. There is, admittedly, a small part of me that wants to better my 2009 time. But there's a bigger part that just wants to link up with another runner of similar pace and just spend the hours and the miles chatting. Or if the mood strikes me, to just run solo and think about as much or as little as I wish.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Capon Valley 50K

(photo credit Capon Valley 50K website)

Although I blog regularly about Ultrarunning, I only enter an event or two per year. The main reason is that I have many commitments in other areas of my life, principally having to do with family, so that investing my effort and $$ in multiple races is just not a priority.

That said, I am excited that I just entered the Capon Valley 50k in Yellow Springs, WV, on 7 May 2011. This is in northeast WV, with the closest bigger town being Winchester, VA, about 25 miles away. 

I entered this race in 2008 but did not run due to my mother's health (she died a week later). A couple weeks after the race, the Race Director, Robin Kane, mailed me the shirt that I would have gotten had I run.

Now, that was real personal service, but I'm pretty sure she had an ulterior motive. After all, the shirt was bought and paid for; all she "lost" was the postage. And somehow I think she knew that I would not and could not wear the shirt unless I ran the race. So it was her way--I think--of guaranteeing that I'd enter in 2009.

And enter I did. This time I did run, notching a 6:30, placing 62 of 127 finishers. And what a course--it was beautiful, and a nice runnable blend of dirt road, jeep trail, and single track. Lots of uphill, but seemingly more downhill, particularly towards the end.  Go figure, because the course is a loop course. Having finished, then I felt entitled to wear both shirts, 2008 and 2009.

One comment on the course: you know how when you're slogging uphill and you're peering ahead, looking for the daylight thru the trees that would indicate that you are approaching the summit? Well, when I ran in 2009, in early May in northern WV, the dogwoods were blooming, and their white flowers pretty closely approximated the color of the sky that day. So when I was looking up and ahead, time after time I mistook the dogwoods for the "daylight thru the trees" effect. So instead of reaching the top, it was only false summit after false summit. After awhile it became a wry joke on myself, so I gave up looking ahead and just trudged until eventually I reached the summit.

I will be heading south with a running buddy, who ran in 2008 when I did not. He's much faster, so essentially we are carpooling and will synch up after the race.

The Capon Valley 50K benefits the Capon Springs Volunteer Fire and Rescue, the Capon Valley Ruritan, and various other local charities. The small local community really gets behind the race, and is just plain fun! So if you are looking for a nice little 50K this spring, this is one fine race.


Monday, February 7, 2011

Social Networking...and Catholicism

I think it's important to keep things in perspective, and to call out logical disconnects when they are evident in popular culture. Even if the one being called out is the Pope.

This is an article and observation I shared with my running buddies, two of whom are Roman Catholics. They laughed, and do still run with me.

Anyway, our Roman Catholic computer geek brethren can rest easy now. From the NY Daily News on 24 Jan:

On Monday, Pope Benedict gave his approval to social networking - while cautioning to not replace real friends with virtual friends.

The religious leader gave the blessing in honor of World Day of Social Communications on Monday, saying it created "a great opportunity" for users and encouraged social network users to adopt a "Christian-style presence" online.

"If used wisely, they can contribute to the satisfaction of the desire for meaning, truth and unity which remain the most profound aspirations of each human being," he wrote in a letter to followers.


The pontiff himself does not tweet - or even use a computer, according to reports.

Gary here. Not everybody is impressed. On the science site, Pharyngula, that pointed me to the NY Daily News article, I laughed aloud at this comment:

"The Pope doesn't even use a computer, and apparently writes all his missives in longhand, with a quill, unless he's still using a stylus and wax tablet. Letting this antique make recommendations about your computer use makes as much sense as asking a mob of celibates to dispense sex advice, and no one would be that crazy, would they?"

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Cats in Art: Woman and Cats

My continuing series on cats in art.

Image and text credit here.  [1962, Will Barnet, Woman and Cats, woodcut printed in color]

This woodcut, entitled Woman and Cats, was created by American printmaker Will Barnet. The elegance of the cats in this work recalls the "good old days" in Egypt when humans thought we were divine.

Thought we were divine????  We are divine!!!


Saturday, February 5, 2011

A Polar Bear...and Ultrarunning

Not many of us could pull off a feat in Ultrarunning that would be analogous to this one in swimming.

From the BBC (also the photo credit), where I find I often get a sampling of different news, or a different take on stories I'm familiar with from the U.S. news.

A polar bear swam continuously for over nine days, covering 687km (426 miles), a new study has revealed.

Scientists studying bears around the Beaufort sea, north of Alaska, claim this endurance feat could be a result of climate change. Polar bears are known to swim between land and sea ice floes to hunt seals.

But the researchers say that increased sea ice melts push polar bears to swim greater distances, risking their own health and future generations.

In prior decades, before 1995, low-concentration sea ice persisted during summers over the continental shelf in the Beaufort Sea. This means that the distances, and costs to bears, to swim between isolated ice floes or between sea ice and land was relatively small. The extensive summer melt that appears to be typical now in the Beaufort Sea has likely increased the cost of swimming by polar bears.

Friday, February 4, 2011

If I Were King of the Railroad....

(Note: this post was triggered by comments to a couple of my posts over the past week in which I was critical of President Obama.  Here I try for a better explanation of why I've been disappointed in President Obama, and if I were king of the railroad, the dreams that I think need to be dreamed.)

This time in our history calls for a strong person with vision to say “screw bipartisanship,” and do what’s right for the children who will inherit what we have created. Forget what opinions prevail in the Congress—the American people overwhelmingly want a habitable planet, meaningful jobs, secure and affordable health care.

Here’s the dream I would like to see:

--We’re putting on a full court press using the vast resources of the United States of America.

--We need to address the fact that we’re running out of oil and until we get off it completely we’ll be hostage to any nation that wants to shut off the tap. So we’re instituting an Apollo-like program to get off foreign oil by 2020 and completely off using oil as a fossil fuel by 2035.

--Man made climate change is an unimaginable threat--and we may already be beyond the tipping point--but we pussyfoot around with tinkering at the margins, and the Republican party is lockstep against even talking about it. As with oil, we have to go full court press on this one, investing in and building a team of the country's and the world's best scientists, to figure out what we need to do.  And build an international coalition with the clout to implement needed changes, which may be painful.

--On the people front, we’re instituting programs like FDR’s to put millions of people back to work (CCC, WPA, etc.) to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure and put money in the hands of families.

--As for health care: the business model is completely wrong. It makes no sense that our basic well-being is in the hands of a for-profit industry whose providers have a vested bottom-line interest in denying claims and NOT paying. Health care is a fundamental human necessity that we will provide via a Medicare for all program (AKA single payer) to every American, regardless of wealth or station. The elimination of the no-value-added middleman will more than pay for universal coverage.

--America’s image in the world is in the toilet. Via our misguided war efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, combined with our use of torture, targeted killings, and incursions into our domestic personal rights and freedoms, we have squandered our right to be called the good guys. We must repudiate these actions.

--We must fully exit Iraq promptly in accordance with our announced plans and not drag that out.  And no matter how long we stay in Afghanistan, it is not going to turn out well, so we are leaving now. The money we would have spent on war there we will instead use for schools, wells, hospitals, and roads, leaving the politics to the Afghans.

Even if these not all of these dreams succeed, at least in pressing forward we will have opened the dialog and perhaps moved the goalposts back towards the left. What passes for progressive policies in 2011 are pretty much what mainstream Republicans were calling for back in the Eisenhower administration.

I believe in American exceptionalism, that we can do what we put our minds to. And everything we do--everything--we must do with this thought in mind: For. The. Children. Is it good for them to inherit a planet that’s becoming uninhabitable, one in which they live in a ruined economy, with limited or unaffordable health care, and scorned by the rest of the world?

We can do better.  We must.


Thursday, February 3, 2011

Lunar Phases...and Ultrarunning

(Image credit NASA)

On Sunday, feeling smug, and on the heels of my post here I called "Things Ultrarunners Know: Astronomy" I was commenting to the bride on how I think Ultrarunners are more aware of the phases of the moon, as compared to the populace at large.

Specifically I pointed out that the small sliver of the moon (the left side, in fact, from the observer's standpoint) was in fact dwindling as the lunar phase heads towards New Moon on Wednesday. I knew this since I'm always aware of the moon as I run, and knew it had been full moon a couple weeks ago.

So I asked whether she thought that most people even know whether the moon was waxing (getting bigger) or waning (getting smaller).

She quickly deflated me by saying that anybody can tell just by looking at it. When the moon is waning the illuminated part is on the left. When it is waxing, the illuminated part is on the right.

Somehow I missed that that little astronomical nugget. Of course, I will refer you to Bad Astronomy for the easy explanation.  As usual, Phil Plait does not disappoint.  Just in case, here's another moon phase schematic.


Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Freezing Rain...and Ultrarunning

After several days of political or otherwise non-ultra posts, let's get back to basics, shall we?  As in running and shoes and weather (all photos by Gary).

Well, the post title is kinda a misnomer.  It's not Ultrarunning, strictly--this post is more about just plain running.  Because when we have freezing rain as we did on Tuesday and is happening again today, I cannot imagine even thinking about any back country trail running.

But if you are braver than me and want to tackle icy trails, I do understand it. has been discussed many times on the UltraList, some years back I went ahead and created some semi-slip proof running shoes by screwing in a number of 1/2" hex head screws.  The screws go around the perimeter of the bottom of the shoe.  It's best to use a nut driver or socket, because a screwdriver would slip out of the screw head pretty easily as you try to torque the screw down.

For me, both the heel screws and the forefoot screws are equally important: the heel because I am a heel striker and need a solid grip as my foot comes down.  And the forefoot, because that's how I push off for the next stride.

Tuesday morning I was out the door at 5:30 AM as I needed to be back to begin teleworking at 6:30.  I knew there had been some freezing rain overnight, so I busted out my old Adidas Trail Response shoes that I only keep for ice running. In running my Harshman Road 5 mile loop, I was quite surefooted and really never had any instances of needing to catch myself.

I bet the drivers of the 5 cars that passed me thought I was nuts.  But I was in heaven, tooling along with my arms out like an airplane, enjoying myself like an ebullient drunk (I did not do the arm thingy when seen).

I know that all runners have a stash of shoes that are not quite wrecked or worn enough to toss, but for that very reason are never worn anymore either.  Go ahead and get pair ready for ice.

When I say "for ice" I am being literal.  I should point out that these studded shoes really don't help appreciably on snow.  I find that a pair of trail shoes with an aggressive tread is much better for snow running.

And then when you get home, you take off your wet duds, hang them by the woodstove, pet the cats, and life is mighty good.


Tuesday, February 1, 2011

More State of the Union Thoughts

Since President Obama's State of the Union address last week, I've been unsettled and vaguely uneasy, unable to put my finger on how he gets it wrong. I have no doubt that he gets it wrong, but exactly how?

From a comment thread at Majority Report Radio, one Kevin Baker responded to the State of the Union address. Since Kevin gets it exactly right (and expressed his desire to widely share his opinions) I am reproducing his comments below in their entirety. Thank you, Kevin--seriously--for articulating all those half-formed notions in my head in a coherent way (bolding is mine, not in original):

The real problem with Obama's speech tonight was, once again, the historical narrative that he led off with, and that he is determined to have us believe.

That is:

Once upon a time, Americans had all sorts of really good jobs because "they only had to maybe compete against their neighbor," and they could count on getting ahead if they worked hard, "and maybe even see life improve for their children."

But then "over the course of a single generation, came great technological changes." Steel mills "that had been employing thousands, now only needed hundreds of workers." Countries such as "China and India" started "making adjustments, and teaching their kids math."

Americans suddenly found themselves competing with the whole world, and that's been really tough, especially since our kids have gone from best-educated in the world to only ninth. But fear not. We "still have the best innovators in the world, the best colleges and universities. We still lead the rest of the world in patents." All it will take is a lot of education, a little social investment here and there, some strict budget-minding, and.voila! We'll beat anyone on this planet!


Well-intentioned though it may be, this whole narrative makes no sense on the face of it.

So, back in the good old days, we were the best at everything, but we did well only because "we just had to compete against our neighbors"?

Say what? Which is it? Were we the best, or were we not?

China and India sure did make changes. But of course the Chinese have been "teaching math" since long before the rest of the world knew the Americas existed, and didn't India invent it? Were the changes so much better education, or the fact that the two countries emerged first from under Western thumbs, and then from suffocating systems of caste and communism over the course of the last couple generations?

And how DID we fall behind? I mean, while still having the world's best universities, best innovators, most patents, etc.?

What Obama's pseudo-history conveniently ignores is that what really changed is not Chinese students buckling down to their algebra homework, or "sweeping technological changes in the course of a generation." What changed was government policy.

American workers have ALWAYS operated in times of rapid, sweeping technological change. They've ALWAYS competed with other countries, in one way or another. And they've generally done pretty well.

The reasons they did well included the fact that for most of our history, our government protected our industries against competition from countries with desperately underpaid labor. And because the people running the industries kept inventing new stuff, and ploughing money back into their American industries, instead of shipping their plants overseas and devoting all their time and capital to figuring out new financial Ponzi schemes.

Still, though, the old America that Barack Obama refers to used to be plagued by constant, wrenching depressions. And those old industries didn't necessarily help people make a good living, or improve their children's standard of living.

Being a steelworker, or an auto line worker, doesn't INHERENTLY pay well. In fact, for many decades, such jobs didn't pay much at all.

Then the people who did them organized themselves, and forced higher wages out of owners (who didn't have the option of searching out child slaves abroad), and elected representatives who defended and extended their rights.

THAT'S the "magic formula" that American prosperity came out of. Innovation, education, inventiveness-sure. But also industrial policy, unionism, protectionism, real patriotism, and all those other things that Barack Obama and the whole, lovely class he hails from don't want to hear about because they might chip away some small portion of their staggering wealth.

But without acknowledging that narrative-without letting that narrative guide our future actions, which is the whole reason to learn history in the first place-we'll just keep butting our heads against the wall.

We can make our kids do math problems until their fingers fray and they still won't be able to compete with sweatshop dictatorships where workers make 20 cents an hour.

We can talk all we want about making social investments.and they will never be made, as long as the financial oligarchy which has severed all bonds of loyalty to this nation continues to co-opt and buy off our leaders.

But hey, in the meantime, let's find common ground: fire all the teachers!