Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Ultrarunning...and Sirius (the star, not the radio)

Tuesday the bride and I walked together 2 miles at 5:30 am, then I peeled off to run some additional miles.

When we first started out, coming out of our development the street runs east, and there hanging low in the sky was Sirius, the brightest star in the heavens.  It was twinkling fiercely, so much so that the bride swore it was an airplane, but I knew from prior experience that it was indeed "only" Sirius.

I blogged about Orion and Sirius about a year ago, in a post entitled Running Towards Orion, where I wrote:

Ah, and Sirius! This is the brightest star in the sky. You find it by locating Orion’s belt, then drawing a line from his right side (viewer’s left) “down” some 5 or so belt-widths, where you can’t miss Sirius. It unmistakably twinkles. Per the Crystalinks website,
To the naked eye, it often appears to be flashing with red/white/blue hues when near the horizon.
 Sirius is some 8.6 light years away, meaning that the photons sent our way from that star take over 8 years just to reach us. I cannot imagine the number of photons emitted…figure that Sirius radiates in all directions, not just towards Earth.
Earth’s diameter as a percentage of the arc of space into which Sirius radiates is vanishingly minuscule. Then what light reaches earth is spread over the entire Sirius-facing surface of our planet. Some of those very photons enter my eyes (as well as those of all other observers), stimulate my retina, and create the brain image I've been taught to recognize as Sirius. That chain of events is almost too much to fathom.

So, by all means get yourself outside, pre-dawn, for some Ultra training.  Get a good view of the eastern sky, and look for Sirius...but don't be surprised if you first think it's an airplane.


Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Another Reason to Like Clint Eastwood

"The more insecure a man is, the more likely he is to have extreme prejudices."

Besides this quote I've seen attributed to Clint, wonder if you recall the kitty scene from The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly:


Monday, August 29, 2011

Health Care...and Ultrarunning

Via Canadian Ian Welsh on 12 Aug 2011, Hard and Complicated Aren't Synonyms, where he brings to bear something sorely needed in the health care discussion: empirical facts.

See, stopping smoking isn't complicated. All you have to do is. not smoke. But it's hard as dickens, which is why so many people fail to do it.

Now a lot of US problems are like this and health care is one of them. The US spends about 16% of its GDP on healthcare, clocking in at 2 trillion. Changing to a single payor universal system will slash about a third of that. Savings: about 650 billion dollars. Everyone knows this who isn't paid not to know it - every other country in the world that has universal health care pays about a 1/3 or less than the US and when Canada switched, its costs dropped by a third.

This isn't complicated. But it is hard. It's hard for the same reason that quitting smoking is hard, or that losing weight is hard - that 650 billion dollars extra is something the US is addicted to. That money pays for jobs and profits at insurers, drug companies and to hospitals and to some doctors.

That's a lot of money, and the people who are currently making a living, or a huge profit from it, don't want to lose it. So they'll fight tooth and nail to not end the gravy train. The 20% to 30% administrative margins in health insurance companies as opposed to the 2% to 3% margins in Medicare are money that someone is getting. The price is that 50% of bankruptcies are caused by medical costs; that 43 million Americans are unemployed and that American companies like Ford and GM have huge medical costs that companies like Toyota don't have.

Ian's entire post is worth a read.

Oh, and the link to Ultrarunning?  Well, yesterday I had my annual physical and was pronounced fit.  While I realize that could--literally--change in a heartbeat, I already knew I was fit.  And I have no doubt that my fitness is due to the vice of Ultrarunning.


Sunday, August 28, 2011

Cats in Art: Children Teaching the Cat to Read

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 Zuffi (scanned from his book, pg. 158).
Click on image to enlarge.

Children Teaching the Cat to Read, Jan Steen, 1663, oil on panel, 18" x 14", held by Kunstmuseum, Basel, Switzerland.

Zuffi's description:

The cat is the "victim" of a children's game, which makes it the center of attention.  Let us have no doubts about the animal's reserves of patience; however, the game will certainly not last long.  The cat will soon make clear its annoyance, springing free and perhaps scratching the children's hands.

As always, even though it may seem otherwise, the cat is in charge.  Oh, and they make out perfectly well in this world not knowing how to read.


Saturday, August 27, 2011

More Sirius/XM Radio: The Coffeehouse

A couple weeks back I was listening to XM channel 31, The Coffeehouse, during a work road trip to Pittsburgh.  The are self-described as playing acoustic, singer-songwriter tunes.

Usually I listen to Classic Vinyl, plus the 60s and 70s channels, but that day I was more interested in the wistful, the painful, the playful, and the bittersweet, and opted for 6 solid hours of The Coffeehouse.  I was rewarded by a thoughtful blend of passionate and expressive lyrics, with emphasis on the intellectual rather than the visceral.

As a result I'm now a committed Edie Brickell fan, and have even bought her latest album (simply called, Edie Brickell) for my iPod.  I can’t get enough of Waiting for Me, a catchy, perky tune that keeps playing in my head.  I was unsuccessful at snagging a clip of it, although you can find it on the iTunes site as a preview.

Next trip, my mood may well be quite different, and classic rock will float my boat.  That's the beauty of music--you can always find a style to match your mood.


Friday, August 26, 2011

Conventional Wisdom Is Wrong Regarding Running Surfaces

I am convinced that trail running extends one's running longevity in two ways.  First, the walking breaks that are necessitated by uphills or rough footing. But what I want to focus more on is the running surface--it's a no brainer that running on dirt is easier on your body than running on roads.

Which segues into the real point of this post: the hardness of the two main types of road surfaces. I think conventional wisdom is mostly all wet when it comes to the hardness of running surfaces.  Sure, as I just pointed out, running on dirt or pine needles is clearly softer than running on a road.  But beyond that I disagree with the conventional wisdom, which is that macadam (blacktop) is easier on the body, impact-wise, than concrete.

Sure, you could drive a nail more easily into macadam (just ask the carnival guys who pound tent stakes into macadam parking lots), but I submit that there is no appreciable difference when it comes to running.  For there to be a real difference in impact, when your foot strike happens, the macadam would have to give in a measurable way.  Your running shoe would actually need to leave a discernible footprint...and of course, it doesn't. 

My opinion: Think placebo effect.  Macadam may seem softer, and mentally we want to think that if we can't run on trails, macadam running is the next better choice, but it really isn't any softer than concrete.  Nor would I think that running on a boardwalk would be any better than macadam or concrete, either.

Of course, this would be a perfect doctoral thesis for some aspiring physics major.  And I'd be willing to be proven wrong.


Thursday, August 25, 2011

Otters are Back in England...and Ultrarunning

A piece of good news, small but encouraging.  Here in the U.S., I have seen wild mink but never a wild otter.  The bride just loves otters in zoos (well, the concept of seeing otters, not necessarily the fact that a particular otter is in a zoo), and in any zoo we have ever been to, she makes a beeline there to see them.

From Grist (also the photo credit):

Once nearly extinct in England, otters have now returned to every county, indicating that rivers are at their healthiest in decades. Conservationists had predicted that it would be another 10 years before the otters reached this level of repopulation, so it's a real triumph for the little dudes. Not to mention an overwhelming stroke of good fortune for Brits, who can now watch otters play from the comfort of their homes, the lucky bastards.

Otters have reappeared in places where they have not been seen since the industrial revolution, including Bristol, Birmingham and Manchester, and even on the Thames and the Lea in north London. A recent survey on the river Ribble, in Lancashire, showed a 44% increase in otter numbers since 2008.

Once in an old Marty Stouffer Wild America TV show, he says something like, "If it isn't fun, an otter won't do it," meaning that they are one of the most playful of mammals in the wild.

Plus, they are cute!

Way back in my formative outdoor years I did some hiking in the Otter Creek watershed in northern West Virginia, and hope to go back there to do some trail running someday.  I don't know this, but if otters are not there presently (having been exterminated), I only hope that the WV Department of Natural Resources will re-introduce them...and that I will see one there in the wild.

Then I could die a happy man.


Wednesday, August 24, 2011


Well, cross that one off my bucket list.  I’ve now experienced an earthquake, a pretty rare occurrence here in Pennsylvania. 

News reports tell us that the magnitude 5.9 quake occurred at 1:51 pm Tues 23 August, was centered about 40 miles northwest of Richmond VA, and was felt throughout the northeast.  I was home on my regular telework day, leaning against the island in my kitchen, and felt the island and floor shake strongly for a couple seconds.  Nothing fell and there was no damage to the house.

I have traveled extensively to the west coast, Hawaii, and Japan, and always wanted to experience (in a non-threatening way, of course) an earthquake.  I guess it was meant to be here in my own home, I guess.

Speaking of natural phenomena, I’ve been up close and personal with flowing lava from a few feet away, and that was a scary experience.  Now, if I could only see a tornado….

(Note: This is old hat to many of you, but not to me, so pardon me for thinking it was a big deal. And if any of you have had a negative personal experience with natural phenomena, please don’t think I am being cavalier or insensitive to possible death and destruction.  It was the perfect benign way to experience an earthquake).


Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Use of "Bird" to Denote a Flying War Machine

Tomahawk cruise missile image credit here.

I'm hating on this expression, and as a civilian employee of the Defense Department, believe me, I hear this term used a LOT. 

Examples: We launched a lot of birds (Tomahawk cruise missiles) at Libya.  Or, The birds landed at bin Laden's compound to insert the Navy Seals.

Mostly "bird" is used by present and former flyboys, flyboy-wannabees, missile shooters, and missile providers via the supply chain.  Additional subsets include aficionados of both fixed wing and rotary wing craft (which I mention only because I wonder why they don't just say airplanes and helicopters, respectively), and NASA types.  There are undoubtedly more user categories, I'm certain.

Wait, I know why people say this--it's the sexy lure of MIL-Speak.  Tossing around insider military terms identifies you as, well, an insider.  Well, my entire career has been spent in the Department of Defense--30+ years--and not once did I ever utter the word "bird."  Nor will I.  I just have standards, I guess, about the English language (see here for a recent example).

But back to "birds."  That term is particularly annoying to me, because I love real birds and it seems a slight to them to prostitute the term.  A flying war machine can never be as wondrous and magical as a living, breathing bird.

House wren image credit here.


Monday, August 22, 2011

The Wright Brothers, the Aircraft Carrier...and Ultrarunning

Just back from a week at Nags head, along the beautiful North Carolina Outer Banks.  This is an annual pilgrimage we make with the kids and grandbabies, renting a 5 bedroom house (although for some strange reason, rental houses there are called "cottages"...even those with multiple bedrooms...go figure.) We stayed in South Nags Head, a few miles south of Kitty Hawk and the site of the Wright brothers' first successful, sustained, controlled, powered flight of a heavier than air machine.

This event took place on December 17, 1903.  You've probably seen the iconic photograph above (credit here from the National Park Service site).

The National Park Service's Wright Brothers Memorial is a really cool attraction.  The museum and visitor center are good, and you can wander around outside at the actual site of the four flights on that day some 108 years ago. Plus you can hike the trail to the top of a big dune where sits a large and inspiring monument to the event.

Now, let's move on to trivia.  Given that the first real flight was this one in Dec 1903, how long was it before the military folks conceived and executed the bright idea of landing a plane, and then taking off, from the deck of a Navy ship?  In other words, when was the first aircraft carrier?HINT: The ship was the cruiser, the USS Pennsylvania.

HINT: The pilot was Eugene B. Ely

HINT: Location was San Francisco Bay

ANSWER follows the photo....

Here's the shot (image credit here, along with a great narrative of the accomplishment):

The event took place on 18 Jan 2011...less than 8 years after man first flew an airplane!  That, my friends, is an astounding accomplishment.

On the morning of January 18, 1911, Eugene Ely, in a Curtiss pusher biplane specially equipped with arresting hooks on its axle, took off from Selfridge Field (Tanforan Racetrack, in San Bruno, Calif.) and headed for the San Francisco Bay. After about 10 minutes flying North toward Goat Island (now Yerba Buena), Eugene spotted his target through the gray haze the PENNSYLVANIA. on the morning of January 18, 1911, Eugene Ely, in a Curtiss pusher biplane specially equipped with arresting hooks on its axle, took off from Selfridge Field and headed for the San Francisco Bay.

Ely's plane was first sighted one-half mile from the PENNSYLVANIA's bridge at an altitude of 1,500 feet, cruising at a speed of approximately 60 mph. Now ten miles out from Tanforan, he circled the several vessels of the Pacific Fleet at anchor in San Francisco Bay. The aeroplane dipped to 400 feet as it passed directly over the MARYLAND and, still dropping, flew over the WEST VIRGINIA's bow at an height of only 100 feet. With a crosswind of almost 15 knots, he flew past the cruiser and then banked some 500 yards from the PENNSYLVANIA's starboard quarter to set up his landing approach. Ely now headed straight for the ship, cutting his engine when he was only 75 feet from the fantail, and allowed the wind to glide the aircraft onto the landing deck. At a speed of 40 mph Ely landed on the centerline of the PENNSYLVANIA's deck at 11:01 a.m.

Oh, and the link to Ultrarunning?  Sometimes, not often, a day is just your day.  A day when it all seems effortless, when every variable that could have derailed you breaks in your favor, when you are just easily gliding around as Eugene Ely did 100 years ago, finding his target and heading in with speed and confidence.  When you reach the critical juncture where you must either commit or abort, and you know, you just know, that this is your day and it'll all flow perfectly.  And when Ely accepted the cheers and backslaps on the deck of the USS Pennsylvania, and you accept the hugs and cheers of your loved one as well as strangers at the finish line, you both knew it was meant to be at that moment in time.


Sunday, August 21, 2011

Cats in Art: The Idle Servant (Maes)

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.  Click on image to enlarge.

The Idle servant, Nicolas Maes, 1655, oil on wood, 27" x 21", held by National Gallery, London, England.

Zuffi's interpretation:

A versatile painter who created powerful images, Maes was one of the most talented of Rembrandt's many pupils...If the cook falls asleep, many problems may arise, causing her dutiful colleague to smile (almost a secular version of the Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins).  One such problem is the fact that the household cat, always on the prowl, is allowed free rein.

See, cats know that every thing in and around a house is for them.  Free rein indeed--it's just the way things are or should be, at least according to the cat.


Saturday, August 20, 2011

Organ Cave, WV

 In my younger days I was an avid caver, and still keep up somewhat with the science and with the sport. I’m at the place in my life where I’m taking my grandkids to see things I am interested in, just to expose them to lots of stuff.

I was looking at the web site for Organ Cave in Greenbrier County, WV for a possible trip to a commercial (tourist) cave. Organ Cave is in the heart of West Virginia cave region and is a huge system, ranking 29th, plus or minus, on the list of the world's longest mapped caves. Plus it contains saltpeter mining relics from the American Civil War.  Saltpeter (potassium nitrate) is a key ingredient of gunpowder.

So, historically and geologically, it is a significant place. 

But it seems to be in the hands of a dogmatic owner.  Because on the cave’s web site I see the statement “We are closed Sunday in honor of the Lord’s Day,” and think “Hmmm?”, that’s kinda odd for a tourist attraction.  But different folks have different religious rules for living, that's OK.

But--and at this my scientific mind bristled--further down on the page I see the statement (in red on the web site to better stand out): “All our tours are based on creation using the King James version of the Bible.”

Now, when I was in college I was actually in the Organ Cave System--I went caving there via a different entrance (called Lipps # 2 Cave), whose passages are characterized by large trunk channels. However, I have not been to the cave to take the commercial tour via the Organ Cave entrance. 

I wonder what that statement above actually means on the tour? Cave guides everywhere tell their groups that cave formations are known to grow at the approximate rate of 1” per century.  This is a documented fact from observation and historic records. 

So might the guide then shine his light upwards and say, "See that big stalactite hanging down from the ceiling?  See that line on it about 5 feet up from the bottom?  That's where the stalactite originally ended when God created it--right there--according to the Genesis story, about 6000 years ago.  This stalactite has grown about 1 inch per century--about 5 feet in length--since God created it." 

Science and religion can co-exist, but not when religion refuses to accept demonstrable facts, such as geologic time or evidence for evolution.

Anyway, thought you’d be amused.  And I MUST go there and take the tour (I will be respectful).

Friday, August 19, 2011

Goose Music...and Ultrarunning

I am a huge fan of Aldo Leopold ever sine one of my college professors back in the 1970s first introduced me to him and his amazingly insightful writings about things wild and free.

From the National Wildlife Federation editorial in the June/July 2011 issue:

What If There Be No Goose Music?

by Larry J. Schweiger, President & Chief Executive Officer

Aldo Leopold shared his concern for the future of his children in his renowned essay "Goose Music," which first appeared in his classic book A Sand County Almanac: "I hope to leave them good health, an education, and possibly even a competence. But what are they going to do with these things if there be no more deer in the hills, and no more quail in the coverts? No more snipe whistling in the meadow, no more piping of widgeons and chattering of teal as darkness covers the marsh; no more whistling of swift wings when the morning star pales in the east? And when the dawn-wind stirs through the ancient cotton-woods, and the gray light steals down from the hills over the old river sliding softly past its wide brown sandbars—what if there be no more goose music?"

We could do all our running on streets or treadmills.  Many do.

But we are a different breed of cat.  We seek the trails and the backcountry, the sights and sounds of the woods, and things like goose music.  We get it, in a visceral way that non-trail runners just don't.  And we are far the richer for it.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

More Sirius/XM Radio: the Flute

I posted here about musical instruments used back in the 60s that you just don't hear much anymore in today's music.  I focused on the organ, harpsichord, and the tambourine.

Today's forgotten instrument is the flute:

Heard it in a Love Song (Marshall Tucker Band )

Pied Piper (Crispian St. Peters)

And of course, Thick as a Brick (Jethro Tull, around 4:40 for the flute work).

The Marshall Tucker song often is in my head while I run easy trails. As a feminist, however, I am torn between the excellent music versus the misogynistic lyrics.  Nevertheless, enjoy!


Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Execution of John Wood on the March to Gettysburg

I have had a lifelong interest in the American Civil War, and in recent years have done some research and written a couple articles for the Gettysburg Magazine.  The most recent issue (Issue 45, July 2011) contained a poignant article that affected me.

Private John Wood, a member of the 19th Indiana regiment, had enlisted days after the initial battle of Bull Run in July 1861.  He had deserted twice before, and was excused by reason of being sick.  His third and final desertion took place In May 1863.  This time the stakes were much higher: as his regiment was advancing as part of the Gettysburg Campaign, as Union General Joseph  Hooker began to follow General  Lee's Confederate army northward.  Every man was needed in the ranks, and if making an example of a deserter would help deter other men from deserting, this would be a small price to pay.

The execution took place on June 12, 1863, across the road from Hartwood Church, near Warrenton, VA.  In military world, it was a necessary action.  But I cannot help but feel for the man who died.  Today he might likely have sought status as a conscientious objector.  But that avenue was unavailable for a soldier in 1863, especially one who had willingly enlisted.  The realities of battle proved too much for Private Wood:

I did not want to go into a fight.I cannot stand it to fight.  I am ashamed to make the statement, but I may as well do it now as at any other time.  I never could stand a fight.  I have done my duty in every way but fight.  I have tried to do it but cannot.  I am perfectly willing to work all my lifetime for the United States in any other way but fight.  I have tried to do it but cannot.

So...148 years ago a Union deserter was shot by a firing squad in northern Virginia and his body was buried in a field near a church.  Presumably it still remains interred there.  The death of one man was but a drop in the bucket compared to the hundreds of thousands produced by that war, but something about this story touches me. 

I guess it's the fact that he enlisted, as did thousands of other young men on both sides, in the heady enthusiasm of the war, but as reality set in, the realization that you were to load and shoot your rifle at other human beings, Private Wood realized that he could not do that.  No matter how noble the cause, he could not pull that trigger, and deserted multiple times to avoid that dilemma.

Many of us face dilemmas in our lives, but seldom do they rise to the level of life and death as it did for Private John Wood.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Dancing...and Ultrarunning

Maybe an analogy to Ultrarunning...a compulsion to do something apparently silly, at best?  My money's on mass hysteria.  The reading I've done on it convinces me that it can be a very underestimated and powerful phenomenon.

From the Writer's Almanac (24 June 2011):

An outbreak of dancing plague, also known as St. Vitus' Dance or epidemic chorea, began on this day in 1374 in Aachen, Germany. From Aachen it spread across central Europe and as far away as England and Madagascar. Dancing mania affected groups of people -- as many as thousands at a time -- and caused them to dance uncontrollably for days, weeks, and even months until they collapsed from exhaustion. Some danced themselves to death, suffering heart attacks or broken hips and ribs. Most outbreaks happened between the 14th and 17th centuries, though there are reports of dancing mania as far back as the 7th century. The 1374 outbreak was well-documented by several credible witnesses who reported that dancers sang, screamed, saw visions, behaved like animals, and experienced aversions to the color red and to pointy-toed shoes.

At the time, people believed the plague was the result of a curse from St. Vitus or St. John the Baptist, and so they prayed to the saints and made pilgrimages to their shrines. Exorcism was another treatment option, as was isolation, and many communities hired musicians to accompany the dancers in the hope that it would help them overcome their compulsion; it usually just resulted in more people joining the dancing. Scientists today are still at a loss to explain it, putting it down to economic hardship, ergot poisoning, cults, or mass hysteria.

Oh, and I totally agree on the part about having an aversion to pointy-toed shoes.  They tend to catch rocks and roots, you know.


Monday, August 15, 2011

Bodily Autonomy

Here's why abortions as a strictly medical procedure should be safe and legal.  That's reason enough, without even touching the fact that it should be an inherently no-brainer issue that women should have bodily autonomy and the power to decide whether they choose to be pregnant.  Her business, not the government's.
I was taking an afternoon nap when the hemorrhaging started while my toddler napped in his room when I woke up to find blood gushing upward from my body. Though I didn't know it at the time, I was experiencing a placental abruption, a complication my doctor had told me was a possibility. My husband was at work, so I had to do my best to take care of me and my toddler on my own. I managed to get to the phone and make arrangements for both of my children before going to a Chicago hospital.

Everyone knew the pregnancy wasn't viable, that it couldn't be viable given the amount of blood I was losing, but it still took hours for anyone at the hospital to do anything. The doctor on call didn't do abortions. At all. Ever. In fact, no one on call that night did.

My two kids at home almost lost their mother because someone decided that my life was worth less than that of a fetus that was going to die anyway.

Back to Yellow Dog:

The story also highlights the subversive strategy the right wing has followed: there is now a serious dearth of doctors trained to do abortions, so when a necessary abortion case shows up in an emergency, you've got a muddle of the self-righteous and the ignorant, all incompetent to do anything, milling about with their thumbs up their asses. She might as well have stumbled bleeding into a church and asked for help...which is exactly what the Coathanger Coalition wants them to do.

Imagine if someone showed up in an emergency room having a heart attack, and for religious reasons, no one had any training in using a defibrillator, and the only one available was in an underfunded clinic across town. That's the direction we're going, only we're suppressing information and skills that would help just women's lives. Which makes it OK, I guess. No men will die of a placental abruption, so it's a low priority.

Can't add much to that, other than to observe that if were men's bodily autonomy that was being messed with, we would not be having this discussion.  Personal autonomy would prevail, natch.


Sunday, August 14, 2011

Cats in Art: Cat Tended to by an Old Woman (Teniers)

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. Click on image to enlarge.

Cat Tended to by an Old Woman (or Cat Having its Fleas Removed by an Old Woman), David Teniers the Younger, c. 1640, oil on canvas, held in a private collection.

Zuffi tells us:

In a poor, humble setting typical of Teniers' paintings, an elderly woman removes fleas from a cat's fur. In Dutch painting of the period, this operation was considered a symbol of morality and cleanliness, as if eliminating parasites from the body also indicated a desire to remove sins from the heart.  In Teniers' case, however, it carries a very different meaning; taking advantage of the cat's enforced immobility in the old woman's grasp, a line of mice passes by unmolested.

This painting is another example of the same work being known under different titles.  Zuffi seems to be the only one calling it Cat Having Its Fleas Removed by an Old Woman. 

I have run across this nomenclature dichotomy numerous times as I research my Cats in Art series of Sunday posts.  I figure it comes from the fact that while artists do tend to sign their work, thereby establishing authorship, works of art rarely have their titles affixed to the work.  Thus if the artist does not leave any sort of written list of works, subsequent "experts" may come up with their own best fit titles...some of which will differ.


Saturday, August 13, 2011

What the World Needs is More Studies of Cats

Image credit to Fahmi Sani Photography Getty Images, via Scientific American.

That's the title of this post from my friends over at Corrente.  Lambert links to a cool study reported in Scientific American:

Where do cats go when they are lurking out of sight? The question is of interest not just to pet owners but also to conservation scientists who study the impact of free-roaming cats on wildlife populations. Scientists at the University of Illinois and the Illinois Natural History Survey recently attached radio transmitters to the adjustable collars of 18 pet and 24 feral cats in southeastern Champaign-Urbana and tracked the animals by truck and on foot for more than one year. The research, published in the Journal of Wildlife Management, shows that pet cats maintain a rather lazy existence: they spent 80 percent of their time resting.


They devoted another 17 percent to low-activity pursuits such as grooming and only 3 percent to high-activity pursuits such as hunting. Unowned cats rested just 62 percent of the time and spent 14 percent, mostly at night, being highly active. Feral cats roamed far more widely than researchers had expected: up to 1,351 acres. In contrast, pet cats stayed within an average of about five acres of home.

Like feral former Democrats....

Sometimes in the winter when it's snowy I try to follow my cats' tracks outdoors, but usually I just get confused.  I can determine gross directionality and location, but with multiple cats and overlapping trails I'm just not that good of a tracker.  My overall impression is that these kitties tend to stay fairly close to home, at least when it's cold out.


Friday, August 12, 2011

Water Project...and Ultrarunning

Image credit The H2O Project.

The other day I ran with the guys at work at lunchtime, and as I exited the gym after my shower, heading back to my desk, I was walking along the sidewalk beside the building on my way to my car.

Suddenly a door burst open in front of me such that I had to stop suddenly, and a workman dumped a full bucket of dirty water into the gutter.  I exclaimed, "That doesn't look good," meaning that I figured he'd had some sort of plumbing disaster.

He looked up and said in a serious voice, evidently thinking that my comment pertained to the water itself, "This water would be considered potable in many countries around the world."

I was quiet, realizing he was right, and also realizing that he wasn't trying to be funny.  He was sort of a blue collar prophet, I suppose.

I just Googled terms like "Water Purification Technologies Third World" and the like and got page after page of hits.  I scanned various sites but came away thinking that this was a still largely-unsolved problem.  Sure, Westerners could waltz in and install some super-duper device, but the key is making the technology appropriate for the site, cheap, dummy-proof, and sustainable.

So...I have a notion that would help billions of people on the planet, and maybe help repair the trashed image of the United States of America.  I'm sure that many others have already had this thought.

Why not a full court press, much like that which resulted in us putting a man on the moon, using the practically unlimited funds that we have been pouring into the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and all those other unnamed places where we spill blood?  The objective of the full court press would be to provide safe water all over the world.  How?: 1) develop an array of appropriate technologies, 2) field the right site-dependent solution, and 3) assist recipients in life cycle sustainment.

I just took a look at the Fiscal Year 2012 Defense Department Budget, which starts on 1 October 2011, and particularly noted all the cool (read "lethal") names that we've given to our biggest military hardware acquisition programs.  I see names like Predator and Reaper ($2.5 B); Ballistic Missile Defense ($10.6 B); AEGIS Ballistic Missile Defense ($1.5 B); Terminal High Altitude Area Defense ($1.2 B); Tactical Tomahawk Cruise Missile ($.3 B); and the Virginia Class Submarine, which outgoing Secretary of Defense Robert Gates wanted to torpedo ($4.9 B).

I don't know enough militarily to say whether these particular weapons systems are good, bad, or indifferent; the point is simply that we spend billions of dollars on weapons system acquisition, and I just innocently wonder whether somewhere in the "guns" budget we couldn't find funds for "butter" (or on this case, water).

We could come up with some really cool names. One of the issues is that water pumping and purification takes energy.  Could we not develop some out-of-the-box solution to that problem using solar, wind, or even people power (i.e., the "Merry-Go-Round Powered Pump" or the like)? Or how about "Wind Into Water"?  Or "PureSun"?  Any solution would need to be scalable, meaning it would serve xx people, and to serve more you'd either have to upgrade to the next class of system, or add more modules of your basic system.

I'm not an engineer but if we can put a man on the moon (...oops, well, actually we can't do that anymore; I posted about that here).  But the principles of the best and the brightest engineers and project managers, full court press, copious amounts of development, fielding and sustainment dollars...we've done that before, and we did put a man on the moon.

We could generate literally thousands of new jobs and get some $$ pumping into our economy. 

And we'd be helping the least of these, my brethren.  Rather than soldiers and tanks and Humvees and Strykers and Predator drones invading a country and slaying its people, it'd be a convoy of drilling rigs or trucks of solar panels and windmills and pipes rolling across the landscape.  The result would be clean water supplies and millions of averted deaths.  And at least an attempt to erase our global black eye.

And the obligatory salute to Ultrarunning: we trail runners probably know better than just about any other Americans about how important hydration is.  The vast majority of citizens take the pure water from their taps for granted, and we don't.  In the backcountry, we worry about how much to carry, where we can refill, electrolytes, even the color of our pee. 

We get it. This notion of a full court press to deliver clean water to the third world is right up our alley.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Raising Potatoes...and Ultrarunning

When we first moved to south central PA as newlyweds, the bride and I rented a trailer in the country and started a garden.

I soon heard the expression "raising potatoes" and naturally assumed it meant the complete life cycle act of growing potatoes, much like you'd raise a pet goat or a child.

Wrong.  Around here the term has a very specific and narrow meaning, namely, the act of digging one's potato crop out of the ground.  Thus one might grow potatoes, followed by raising same.  Get it?

Anyway, this past weekend the tops of all my potato plants had just about died off and it was time to raise them.  No further growth would be taking place underground anyway.  You dig carefully from the side with a digging spade; even so, you will spear and thus ruin a couple potatoes.

My garden is small and I cannot devote copious space to the tubers.  So my raw yield consisted of two 5-gal buckets, which I sorted into 3 sizes as depicted in my photo above.

I prefer the red potatoes simply because in a home garden you get a lot of small ones, which are great for special or elegant dishes.

And the obligatory connection to Ultrarunning?  That's easy: many folks just love cut-up chunks of potatoes dipped in salt at aid stations during our races.  Me, not so much; I go for stuff that both protein and carbs, such as turkey and cheese sandwiches.


Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Abomination of Timing Training Runs…and Ultrarunning

I used to run with a guy—call him John--at an Army base where we both worked.  Owing to a corporate fitness program for us civilians, we could run for an hour 3 times a week (I still have this GREAT benefit!).

Anyway, John always had this dream of qualifying for Boston, but family and work demands always seemed to impede his ability to get those critical long runs in that are necessary to marathon success.  So he’d run the noontime runs at a great pace, Boston-qualifying pace, but never could get over the hump of being well enough trained to maintain such a pace over 26 miles.  That is, until the fall of 2009, when John qualified at the Steamtown Marathon in PA to finally earn—and I mean earn—his way into Boston in April 2011.

But the point of this post is to point out a huge philosophical difference between John and I.  Whenever we would run the military base perimeter, there were a couple road crossings at the gates, and in the main part of the base.  John would always start his chronometer at the beginning of our training runs, and whenever we would get stopped at a road for cars, he would pause his watch until we were clear and able to run again.

It drove me absolutely nuts. I never said anything to John, but to be that anal—to my way of thinking—was the absolute antithesis of everything that running is supposed to be: the freedom of movement, the flow, the pleasure of being a good animal.  To time to the second an ordinary training run, and to parse the seconds to cull out traffic and other delays, was just beyond my comprehension.  I figured that in any run there are delays, and you just accept that.

That said, I am mindful of the clock during training runs, but only to a point.  It is important to me to know whether a particular stretch of the Appalachian Trail usually takes me about 4 hours, and if today it takes me 5, I do note that and try to figure out why.  Was it the heat?  Did I stop to take photos?  Was in rainy and wet and slippery?  Did I just not have it today? 

But I limit that analysis to gross terms and times.  My benchmark unit of measure is the quarter hour or even the half hour…certainly NOT the second.

But then again, I never qualified for Boston.


Tuesday, August 9, 2011

"A Bleak and Hostile Landscape of Diminishing Opportunities"

Melissa McEwan deftly points out the turd floating in the punchbowl:

I would just like to take a moment to note the irony that members of Congress, who are at the best times reluctant to do something wise but unpopular for fear of losing their jobs, are now avoiding like it's radioactive any legislation that would legitimately stand to create actual jobs or help unemployed people, because they don't want to lose THEIR jobs and have to try to make it out there beyond the Beltway where their own craven self-interest has created a bleak and hostile landscape of diminishing opportunities.
There are only so many openings at the lobbying firm of McGuire, Dickstein, & Thanks for Your Help Deregulating Those Pesky Consumer Protections.

Once upon a time, back in elementary school or junior high, I learned that the ancient Greeks, I think, had a system of representative government in which every citizen had to take a turn at serving as a delegate or member.  Such a system today would neatly remove the incumbency/re-election motive that seems to drive 75% 95% of all Congressional efforts.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Cat Blogging

Once a stray, Tizzy has embraced the good life and been assimilated into human society. 

Here she celebrates being part of the Borg and enjoys occupying Mister Tristan's (the human being, not the blog) changing table.  You know a cat is really relaxed when they lay sprawled out on their back.


Sunday, August 7, 2011

Cats in Art: "Twelfth Night" (Teniers)

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.   Click on image to enlarge.

Twelfth Night, David Teniers the Younger, 1634-40, oil on canvas, 27" x 23", held by Museo Del Prado, Madrid, Spain.

Zuffi's words:

Teniers liked merry crowds of people and often set his scenes in inns that were far from refined...Amid the general descent into chaos, the cat [see lower right center] does not lose its customary calm.  Positioned under the very chair of the evening's mock king, it knows perfectly well that this is an opportunity to grab a juicy morsel, even at the cost of the odd inadvertent kick.

One could draw several parallels with ultrarunning...our scenes, too, are often far from refined, and while aid stations often offer tasty morsels, one may suffer an inadvertent kick from a disgruntled volunteer or competitor.


Saturday, August 6, 2011

Are Humans Liberal or Conservative by Nature?

I recently read a fascinating post by Gareth Cook of the Boston Globe.  In it he delves into the moral precepts that seem to divide liberals and conservatives:

Scientists have started to provide provocative answers by looking at the roots of morality. The influential psychologist Jonathan Haidt has surveyed the world's cultures and suggested that virtually everyone is born with an innate propensity for five broad moral instincts: fairness, not harming others, loyalty to one's group, respecting authority, and purity.

And in psychological experiments, conservatives value all five of the instincts, yet liberals tend to put far more weight on the first two - fairness and not doing harm - while discounting the other three.

It is easy to see how these play out in our political life. For conservatives, loyalty to a group easily translates into a suspicion of outsiders and, therefore, say, a discomfort with immigration. If respecting authority is a central moral value, then burning a flag is deeply offensive. Liberals want to talk about what is fair, and whether anyone is being hurt, while conservatives respond that liberals are missing the point.

There's more, a lot more.  In fact, the entire post is well worth clicking over to read.

I've previously posted on the differences between liberals and conservatives, here and here.  Now it seems that the discipline of psychology may provide empirical evidence to confirm our gut feelings.


Thursday, August 4, 2011

Ultrarunning Replaced by Ferret Legging

I'm done with running, period. I'm throwing my total allegiance to the sport of Ferret Legging.

Courtesy of Wikipedia (

In the sport of ferret legging, competitors tie their trousers at the ankles before placing two ferrets inside and securely fastening their belts to prevent the ferrets from escaping. Each competitor then stands in front of the judges for as long as he can.

The sport is said to involve very little "native skill", simply an ability to "have your tool bitten and not care". The current world champion, Reg Mellor, is credited with instituting the practice of wearing white trousers in ferret legging matches, to better display the blood from the wounds caused by the animals. Competitors can attempt, from outside their trousers, to dislodge the ferrets, but as the animals can maintain a strong hold for long periods, their removal can be difficult.

The ferrets are occasionally put inside the contestants' shirts in addition to their trousers. An attempt to introduce a female version of the sport--ferret busting, in which female contestants introduced ferrets down their blouses--proved unsuccessful.

Nothing else for me to add.  I just need me a couple ferrets to get started.  I should have the free time now that all those hours formerly spent on the trail are available for me to use for other things.


Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Rude Pundit, the Debt Deal, and Ultrarunning

I've previously posted (here and here) about my love affair with The Rude Pundit, a secret vice, actually, where via using profanity and vulgarity and crude sexual imagery he makes political points that are right on the money.

His post for Monday about the debt limit deal was another great example.  At the bottom he gets more serious and asks the question about the linkage--or lack thereof--between the debt deal and the fact that our two three wars are kinda accepted as a budgetary given, some sacred off-limits nondiscretionary spending:

One thing the Rude Pundit can't get his mind around is that the wars continue. Aren't they the vestiges of a fallen empire, attempting to remain relevant in a world that wants to move on? That we prefer war to roads and health care and education here is unfathomably depressing.
Oh, and the connection to Ultrarunning?  Just this: even though I rail about how the U.S. is coming off the rails, we still have it good (at least if you are safely employed).  By that I mean that if I want to go trail running, I go.  It's safe, and there are no bands of armed partisans or rebels waiting to butcher me for trespassing on their turf.   That's not true everywhere on the planet.  for example, ultrarunning is a pure luxury in the Sudan or Somalia.


Tuesday, August 2, 2011


Tuesday is my recurring telework day, so it has a special place in my heart.  Why, you may ask, did you select Tuesdays?  Well, Mondays and Fridays were largely taken by other telecommuters in my office, so I had to avoid those days so that we had sufficient personnel coverage.  That left Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday.  Well, at the time our daughter was a commuting college student and was in class all day on Tuesdays.  So I figured it'd be a very quiet day and chose it for teleworking.

Since then I've really come to embrace Tuesdays.  Monday is special because, well, everyone dislikes it.  Wednesday is "hump day," meaning that midweek has been reached, so it has its claim to fame.  Don't need to comment on Friday, everyone's favorite.  So that leaves the two "T" days, and I just like Tuesdays.  Seems like classic rockers do too. are 3 Tuesday classics.  Enjoy!

Tuesday's Gone (Lynyrd Skynyrd)

Tuesday Afternoon (Moody Blues)

Ruby Tuesday (Rolling Stones)

Monday, August 1, 2011

Raising Taxes and Cutting Social Security/Medicare

Late posting today.

Via Jill at Brilliant at Breakfast, a picture is worth 1000 words.  Too bad the politicians can neither read nor interpret a picture.

Look closely at the numbers.

So why did the deficit deal ignore this data?

Wait, I know.  Our leaders are beholden NOT to you and I, but to the moneyed interests that installed and keep them in office.