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April 30, 2006

Track and field trip

We’ve taken my nieces to road races before, and they like seeing their relatives run by, but when they don’t recognize most of the runners, they get bored.

Yesterday, my brother brought them over to the NESCAC championships, where A was working and I was hanging out after discovering that it’s not possible for a visitor to get internet access on this particular campus. (Not quite true: I was online on a common machine in the library. But I can’t very well shell in to the University and hack on a programming project from a shared iMac next to the periodicals desk, can I?)

Now, the girls arrived pretty late in the day, so they only saw the end of the men’s 5,000m and a slew of relays. But here’s what we did show them, exclusive of incidentals like strange dogs and doing somersaults in the air while hanging on to Daddy and Uncle pjm’s hands:

  • All the different teams. The girls currently have family connections to six of eleven schools in the conference, so like me, they just cheer for whoever seems to need it, or whoever’s going by at the moment.

  • Hurdles, the high jump pit (and pole vault pit,) and the javelin sector. None of them active, unfortunately, but it’s true that I spent most of the morning at the meet watching throwers when I wasn’t watching runners. I’m actually beginning to develop an appreciation for the javelin. The lag time between events can be a killer if there are no field events going.

  • Daddy’s coach from his three seasons of collegiate running, who shook hands with the girls and said “Pleased to meet you!” We got to congratulate him on his son—not just for his athletic performance, but for the character he displayed as the focus of attention before and after his event.

  • One of my fellow grad students (with a leftover year of eligibility to use) getting ready to run the DMR for the University; I called him over to show the girls his spikes. “Like slippers with teeth,” I told them.

  • The steeplechase barrier on the backstretch. I went over it once or twice—stepping, not hurdling, since I’m not fast enough to hurdle right now—but they found it easier to go under than over at the men’s height.

When we took them back home, the younger one, at least, was definitely interested in running laps around the driveway as fast as she could. I wonder if she’ll carry that up to junior high; assuming they stay in the same district, the high school program is one of the better ones in the state.

Now Playing: Stereotypes from The Great Escape by Blur

Posted by pjm at 8:32 PM | Comments (0)

April 28, 2006


There are fireworks going off at the University; I can see flashes over the treetops, probably more if I went upstairs to my office. I can hear them pretty well.

I think it’s one of the annual University celebrations; Spring Fling is tomorrow afternoon, I believe, and I think there’s something connected to that.

But maybe it’s a measure of how disconnected we are from most of the University, over on our own side of the Commuter Rail tracks, that I had to think about this; at first, I thought that, like the backyard barbeque I just returned from, it was somehow connected with the Ph.D. students who sat for their written quals today.

Update: Here it is.

Now Playing: Deacon Blues from A Decade of Steely Dan by Steely Dan

Posted by pjm at 9:24 PM | Comments (0)

April 26, 2006

No Knight

A link on A’s new site tells me that Ron Bellamy at the Register-Guard has the (public) explanation for my foreword-less copy of Kenny Moore’s Bowerman and the Men of Oregon. Knight likes the book; it’s Rodale he’s having trouble getting along with.

Posted by pjm at 3:54 PM | Comments (0)

My head hurts

In response to an email from a cousin about randomness, I started thinking about how much computational power would be required to model all the possible states of a game of Othello.

It’s entirely possible that my math (and CS theory) is deficient, but I think we managed to conclude that an average game includes something like 3×1030 possible states (greater than the current estimate of stars in the universe by a few orders of magnitude,) and that even applying a supercomputer to a brute-force modeling of all potential games would probably take longer than I expect to live.

I guess I could’ve figured this all out by finding anything published by the IBM team that programmed Deep Blue, which took approximately that approach to chess. The complexity of games is probably not dissimilar, but it’s interesting to try reaching the conclusions on my own. And this is just a simple game that existed before electricity.

Now Playing: Basement Apt. from eePee by Weeping Tile

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April 25, 2006


It may or may not be a good thing when my preferred mode of procrastinating schoolwork (an ASP.net based web application due tomorrow night) is other schoolwork (a parallel program involving Monte Carlo simulation.)

I’ve heard criticism of “random” numbers on computers before, but it wasn’t until this year (in two or three different classes) that I finally wrapped my brain around why it’s actually impossible to have a truly random number on a contemporary computer (and therefore why most functions on these lines call themselves “PRNGs” or Pseudo-Random Number Generators.) In a nutshell, and grossly oversimplifying, the problem is that these PRNGs are built to produce streams of pseudo-random numbers—and those streams will eventually, ultimately, begin to repeat themselves. This has security implications: all kinds of interesting things become possible when you can guess the next random number.

But for me right now, the interesting problem is more prosaic: what if you’re running a program (like a Monte Carlo simulation) which depends on a lot of random numbers? More specifically, what if you’re running that program on some arbitrary number of computers greater than 1? The point of running the program in parallel, after all, is to check more random numbers in the same amount of time; if two machines are getting the same stream of pseudo-random numbers, one of them might as well not bother.

(There’s a ton of really cool stuff you can do with a cluster and a stream of really random numbers. Finding integrals in high dimensions, for example: try doing that with calculus. But I’m not there yet myself, and I digress. As usual.)

Enter SPRNG, a marvelous collection of big words: the Scalable Parallel Pseudo-Random Number Generator. I’ve just installed it in my account on our little learning cluster. This is much more fun than ASP.net.

Posted by pjm at 5:46 PM | Comments (0)

April 24, 2006

Missed opportunities

I’ve been reading Bowerman and the Men of Oregon since last week, which should come as absolutely no surprise to anyone. It’s probably also unsurprising that I love it; it’s a rock-solid book balanced between Moore’s own familiarity with the subject and his extensive research, and like the best running books, it’s not just about running.

I’m sure I’ll have more to say when I’m done (I haven’t even reached the Prefontaine era,) but one of the entertaining subplots so far has been the birth and rise of Nike. Maybe it’s not so entertaining to everyone: the book isn’t yet available on Amazon or on Rodale’s own site, and the rumor is that Phil Knight has something to do with this. Moore makes Knight-as-college-student look a bit silly, but in my opinion shows plenty of respect for the company he founded with Bowerman, and how he got it started. In fact, one of the regular jokes has been the impressive list of people who declined to put a few hundred bucks into early Nike stock—Moore included.

Now Playing: Our Retired Explorer (Dines With Michel Foucault In Paris, 1961) from Reconstruction Site by The Weakerthans

Posted by pjm at 8:00 PM | Comments (0)

April 23, 2006

Get 'em young

I was hunting up a link (to John Brant’s “A for Effort” article, as it happens,) and was reminded how so many of my “Bell Lap” columns are no longer available in the RW Online archives. One in particular is related to this, a 2003 column featuring my older niece and some other characters. I haven’t edited this extensively—Deena was still Drossin then, not Kastor—so some of the links are broken, and there are other anachronisms, but it’s in the extended entry. I don’t remember if RWOL ran the photo with it or not, but I will.

Now Playing: This Will Be My Year from Feeling Strangely Fine by Semisonic

Continue reading "Get 'em young"

Posted by pjm at 10:21 PM | Comments (0)

April 22, 2006

Story from a bygone age

When I lived in Pennsylvania, I had a roommate from Connecticut. At holidays, he would drive home, and I’d have him drop me off at Newark airport so I could fly up to Maine.

At some point, the heater core in his car started leaking. The heater core, at least in that car, is warmed by hot coolant fluid from the engine block, which is circulated through (coincidentally cooling in the process,) then piped back to the engine to suck up some more heat. When the heater core started leaking, his car reeked of antifreeze, so he took the in and out hoses of the core and short-circuited them so no fluid passed through the core. He also had no heat in the car, but that’s only a minor annoyance; I do recall getting in his car once and having him hand me a blanket.

After driving up to a wedding in New York one winter and having to scrape frost off the inside of his windshield, he finally decided to fix the heater core. Not two days later—and, I might add, the day before we were headed home for Thanksgiving—he discovered that there was a leak in his gas tank. Like many tanks, it was a stamped top and bottom welded together; it was coming apart (and leaking) at the seam. This was discovered by the town fire marshal during a fire drill at our office.

He deduced that as long as the gauge showed he had less than half a tank of gas, there were no leaks, so we had a tentative drive to the airport. But not before I had hauled out my book of Frost and recited “Fire and Ice” to him, of course.

With that in mind, consider the link “L’el” sent last night: If Robert Frost had been a software geek.

Now Playing: Riding on the Subway from The Fine Art Of Self Destruction by Jesse Malin

Posted by pjm at 4:18 PM | Comments (0)

April 21, 2006

The road not taken

I had a chance, briefly, to talk to John Brant in the press room on Monday. Improbably, we didn’t need an introduction; if I were in his position, I would have had a short conversation with this person whose face I remembered but name I didn’t. He asked what I was up to nowadays; I told him how much I liked Duel in the Sun. He seemed disappointed when I told him I was studying CS and not journalism. “We need young running writers,” he said, so I self-deprecatingly mentioned some others.

On Sunday, A found another of the track writers I have a lot of respect for signing another Rodale book at the expo: Kenny Moore and his new book, Bowerman and the Men of Oregon. I didn’t know the book, a biography of the coach who brought Moore himself to prominence (4th place in the 1972 Olympic marathon, and an American record in Fukuoka in 1970,) was even available due to some interesting permissions issues, but there it was.

She bought me a copy, and it wasn’t until Monday evening that I looked inside the cover and saw it signed.

To a colleague on the road, and sitting terrified before a blank page.
Kenny Moore

Damn. Of course, A reports that he was initially confusing me with another track writer with whom I have significant name overlap. (Needless to say, I have a signed copy of that book as well.)

I’ve put down the John McPhee I was reading, and I’m three or four chapters deep in Bowerman now. It’s everything I’d hoped for: a true biography, and an interesting one, not just a running book.

Now Playing: Check It Out from Play by The Nields

Posted by pjm at 9:59 AM | Comments (2)

April 19, 2006

Students, free food, and timing

There’s a weekly colloquium here, which is required for Masters students (and, while it isn’t explicitly required for Ph.D. students, it is part of their degree criteria.) There are usually cookies and soda in cups.

The speaker should start by 3:00, so everyone should have cruised the food table (outside the door) and be seated by then. However, there’s an undergraduate ECE course in just up the hall which is supposed to end at 2:45, but always runs late. If the food is out when the class lets out, the majority of it will be consumed by undergraduates not attending the colloquium.

I just realized I’ve started mapping out an XML schema in my head to describe the requirements which achieve the most efficient distribution of “refreshments” to the appropriate audience. I must stop now.

Update: It gets better. The cookies were there, and so were (approximately) ten grad students and junior faculty, but apparently the talk was yesterday. We have all agreed that this (the presence of cookies without a talk) presents a difficult and disturbing challenge to our world view. However, we did eat the cookies.

Now Playing: English Girls Approximately from Love Is Hell by Ryan Adams

Posted by pjm at 2:52 PM | Comments (0)

April 18, 2006

Dar at Wellesley

Post-marathon, last night, A and I went out to see Dar Williams at the Wellesley College campus center, partly in acknowledgment of the fact that I am no longer a teenager, even in hex.

Considering the mobs who turned up when Dar played nearly anywhere in Northampton, largely coming down in packs from Smith, I was a bit surprised at how sparse the audience was, but maybe it was because the opening acts drove them away. They weren’t bad, they were just very unlike I would have expected; when we’ve seen Dar before, the openers were a bit more… laid back. And quiet. Kris Delmhorst, say, or Ben Taylor. The first band, with a name I never figured out, looked like college students themselves, and didn’t really have their stage manner down, though their music was OK. The second band was much more “professional” in appearance and musicianship… but they were playing seriously heavy metal. (The lead guitarist looked like Axl Rose with a goatee.) We were old fuddy-duddies and went upstairs to wait them out in the more relaxed section of the campus center.

There was a long wait for Dar, which was a bit funny considering that there was no stage to set up: it was just her and her guitar, so two mics and an amp. I think four different stools came out, were placed on the stage in varying configurations, then shuffled to something else. Of course, when Dar finally came out, she rearranged them. Most of the audience sat on the floor, the exceptions being those who stood by the walls. The room itself is apparently a model of modern architecture, but it reflected noise in very odd ways; we had good sound from the stage, but our occasional whispers earned us at least one very dirty look from a woman who should’ve been out of earshot.

Dar’s talent is really her skill at telling stories, both in introducing her songs and in their lyrics. She’s so open and disarming when she starts out that the listener gets completely drawn in to the stories, and then she’s ready with the knockout punch line, flipping the mask around to show the other side. A wondered if she gets tired of telling the stories, but I haven’t heard the same one twice yet.

She didn’t play much from her newest album last night, but she did play “Teen for God,” which starts out sounding like sarcasm and satire of self-righteously-religious teenagers a la Saved until it skips forward four years to the agnostic and depressed college student—there’s the punch line. Then she toured all the old favorites (“I thought you’d say, ‘No, no, not Iowa again!’”) I still think the guitar part she plays with “As Cool As I Am” sounds weird by itself, but maybe I haven’t listened to the recording closely enough. That was enough to get everyone up and dancing for a few minutes, anyway; it was interesting how the sound in the room changed immediately.

She also told a story about “Are You Out There” which was interesting; I’d always assumed the song was about Northampton (given the name-checks of two WRSI personalities, Johnny Memphis and Jim Olsen,) but she described a weak signal from a New York station (sounds more like the Velvet Underground’s “Rock and Roll”,) and imagining the city fathers in her town standing at the town borders with sheets of tinfoil trying to block it. Hence the “walls of static.” Huh.

It was definitely the unwinding I needed at the end of that day.

Now Playing: Horrible Qualities from Josh Ritter by Josh Ritter

Posted by pjm at 10:33 PM | Comments (0)

Three-hour conference call

For the fourth year, I talked with the bike spotters all afternoon. We’ve finally got the communications part down, though moving cell phones are always sketchy. (I’d like to know in what planet cell phone connections are clear and reliable no matter where you are, provider propaganda notwithstanding.) This meant that I spent the race on my feet in the press room, with a land-line phone handset clamped to my ear (they were sore, afterward,) dialed in to a conference call of disembodied voices to whom I provided information, both spontaneously and on request, coming to my group from the bike spotters. I get the idea that I was feeding more than just OLN this year, but I can’t prove that; just that now and then I’d hear a voice I’d never met asking me for data. (“Can you run down the men’s pack? What was the last split for #10?”)

It’s always agitating for the first few miles, but when things start to settle out, it’s gratifying work. For one thing, I never feel like I’m out of touch with the races. The men or the women might be out of sight for a few minutes while TV cuts back and forth, but somehow it seemed to be the case that whichever race we were currently getting spotter info about was the one the TV wasn’t showing.

Apparently when the lead women went by, the Mile 19 pace clock wasn’t working, so nobody got a split—athletes, press room, anyone. I don’t know if or when it came on; we didn’t get a split for the men, either, but that could’ve been the spotter not paying attention.

One of the women’s spotters got highlighted on camera early in the race: the truck shot pulled out a bit, so he was in the frame, and someone circled him on the screen for a minute. I don’t know what that was about; I hope they were pointing out that he was a part of the race organization, not some random meathead who decided to ride with the leaders.

Late in the race, the men’s trail bike got more useful than he’d been early on, giving us regular updates on Alan Culpepper (not so exciting, but we were being asked for the data and we had it, which was satisfying,) and then they started mentioning Brian Sell. He kept moving up, gaining places with nearly every mile, and while I don’t know if any of it made the TV commentary, I could hear the guys on my call saying, “Wow,” with some regularity.

I got tapped for some information which wasn’t really spotter data. Are the leaders really on record pace? (Yes, by some definitions: they didn’t break the ungodly checkpoint records set by Juma Ikangaa in 1990 before he was tracked down and put out of his misery by Gelindo Bordin, but they were ahead of Cosmas Ndeti’s course-record splits at nearly every checkpoint.) On Hereford street, they asked, can Cheruiyot really make the record? (Yes, if he puts the hammer down now, and he did. I guess they wanted to make sure the announcers weren’t waxing hyperbolic.) Later, they wanted to know how Meb’s time stacked up against American performances historically? (Tied with Benji Durden for 8th all-time, best since Bob Kempainen in ‘94.)

Later, I talked with Dave Kuehls, who had my iaaf.org gig for this race. He was brainstorming points for his report and we agreed that the men’s first-half splits had been unreasonable by any measure. 1:02 and change? A pointed out that that can’t have been far from Meb’s half-marathon PR. Nobody, but nobody, can run the second half of the Boston course well after an opening half like that; it’s a minor miracle that Sell didn’t mow down Meb and Maiyo as well, and a credit to them that they could hang on. I slipped in an opinion: “These guys are running absurdly fast.”

Even at that, from 25 miles on it was plain that Cheruiyot was in a world of hurt himself. He looked back several times and his pace was leaden, not the fluid power his coach Moses Tanui used to have in the closing miles. The only reason Maiyo and Meb didn’t catch him was that they were hurting even more. Another opinion: “He did that the hard way.”

When the broadcast shut down, I called my former roommate (already on the road home) with the news. When I made it on the T, there were shuffling zombie-walking runners coming on as well, and I wondered why anyone would want to run a marathon. Ouch.

Posted by pjm at 5:08 PM | Comments (0)

April 17, 2006



More later.

Posted by pjm at 2:35 PM | Comments (0)

Return of the Jackets

This year, they put me in a blue volunteer jacket rather than a black media jacket. Obviously it doesn’t make much difference to me, but it has changed reactions: last night, in the Park Street T station, a runner thanked me for volunteering. I just mumbled politely rather than explain that I’m actually getting paid.

This morning, coming across the Charles River bridge shortly before 7:00 on the Red Line, it’s like an ad for Boston: placid river, skyline, and one rower in a single out on the river. Let’s hope the weather stays this cool past noon.

Posted by pjm at 9:10 AM | Comments (0)

Boston Marathon buildup: Mark Plaatjes

I promised a few months ago that I would post the articles I wrote for the Boston Marathon program. I was pretty busy yesterday and didn’t get a chance to post this one, but I did finally see the finished product, and they didn’t really change much, which is a good sign.

I have no problems talking to a certain group of athletes. Dathan Ritzenhein, Tim Broe, Carrie Tollefson, the Culpeppers, no problem. But the older group, the ones who were active when I was in high school and college, that’s tougher; I got to form the hero complex around them. Todd Williams, Bob Kennedy, Haile Gebrselassie, I might as well just stand and stutter. (My former roommate from PA is now working fairly directly with Kennedy, apparently, through Kennedy’s new consulting gig with Puma.)

Mark Plaatjes, about whom more in the extended entry, is one of that class (though older than Williams and Kennedy.) He won the World Championships marathon in 1993, the summer I was working at a Nike store. But as I said in my comments after his interview, he turned out to be the easiest one to talk to of all. It helped, I suppose, that he was one of the first professional athletes I ran with, at a Runner’s World meeting in 1997. Even then, he took it easy on us.

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April 15, 2006

Marathon flash cards

The Boston marathon’s elite athlete apparatus has been making an effort, this year, to put at least the top athletes in varying uniforms. There was a horrible race some years ago when two major runner-sponsoring companies inadvertently (we hope) chose the same colors for the year’s uniforms, and the entire lead pack were in roughly identical uniforms. This year, the shoe companies and the marathons are cooperating to minimize the number of athletes with the same uniform. (This is an extension of the Marathon Majors program, in that London next weekend is arranging for the top dozen or so runners there to have actually unique uniforms which they will retain through the Majors cycle.)

There was a PDF distributed to the media a week or so ago, which may be making an appearance in the newspapers soon, which lists the male athletes with bib numbers one (defending champion Hailu Negussie) through twelve (Tanzanian journeyman John Yuda) and shows their uniforms. I printed several copies this morning, then as I rode the T into the city I cut them up and taped them to index cards with packing tape to make elite-athlete flash cards for my bike spotters. They don’t really need to know names, but if they can pick out the uniforms and that makes it easier to identify who’s in that big lead pack, so much the better.

I’m really hoping that some form of this PDF is printed for mass consumption, in color, perhaps in the Sunday Globe. In the meantime, if you have a color printer, here it is. I suggest printing two-up if you can. It goes a long way toward dispelling the myth that all East African marathoners are the same.

Posted by pjm at 7:01 PM | Comments (0)

Boston Marathon buildup: American women

I promised a few months ago that I would post the articles I wrote for the Boston Marathon program. I still haven’t seen the finished product, though it’s undoubtedly out there somewhere now, but I’ll post one a day through Sunday. Monday, there will be plenty to read.

These are, of course, the rough versions; they’re a bit long, I think, for the space, and my writing tends to improve from being shortened. Also, what’s appearing in print has probably had the benefit of a professional copy-editor. And there will probably be photos.

The three women who were the top American finishers in 2005 are all back, and all hoping (justifiably, I think) to do better than last year. Justifiably because all three had, I think, sub-par days in the 2005 heat. On the other hand, we didn’t have long-range forecasts for Monday when I talked to them, and while the current forecast is OK, I think there’s still a pretty good chance that it will turn warm for the fourth year in a row.

In the extended entry: Emily LeVan, Caroline Annis, and Carly Graytock. LeVan and Graytock are now BAA members, which means (I think) that the BAA pretty much has a lock on the open women’s team race.

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April 14, 2006

I don't talk about politics


I bought a slew of books to go to and from Japan, some of which were worth the time (Under the Banner of Heaven, by John Krakauer, which made me forget how sick I was on the flight over, fascinating and in some ways frightening,) and some not so much (Faithful, by Stewart O’Nan and Steven King, which I kept expecting to get better, but it never did—not even at the end.)

One which for some reason amused by brother tremendously when he saw it on the stack was Dark Tide, by Stephen Puleo. Dark Tide is, I think, the only book to tell the story of the great Boston molasses flood, a favorite story (if a disaster can be “favorite”) of many in this area (particularly in the North End, where it happened.) There are all kinds of anecdotal tales of the flood, and a Schooner Fare song:

In the morning it was forty-two
Molasses vat split clean in two.
Two million gallons covered the bay
Twenty-six people drowned in the flood that day.

One of the points Puleo makes in the book is that the massive molasses tank was sited in the North End because at the time, the bulk of the local population were Italian immigrants living in tenements. The Italians took a beating in those days; most weren’t citizens and stayed out of local politics (Boston’s Irish population was only just beginning to amass political power,) many traveled back to Italy seasonally, and few learned English. It didn’t help that the radical anti-war movement (opposed, at the time, to World War I,) and the violent Anarchist movement were largely Italian-led; hundreds were deported.

Because the Italians weren’t represented in local politics, there was nobody to resist the placement of the tank in a busy area. After the disaster, Puleo points out, Boston’s Italian community took a greater interest in learning English, becoming citizens, and entering politics (by voting, at a minimum): essentially, assimilating, but also taking up political power. The current speaker of the Massachusetts House has an Italian name, for example.

While I was reading that, I was hearing radio reports about the immigration demonstrations this week. About how, for once, there were demonstrations in opposition to proposed government policy which were coherent, direct, and stuck to a single message.

The proposed immigration bill isn’t (yet) a bizarre and sudden disaster which kills dozens and injures over a hundred more. But I wonder if it might have the unintended effect of motivating an immigrant community to enter the system formally (learning English, gaining citizenship however possible, and voting as a bloc.) And, potentially, changing the balance of power.

Like I said, I don’t talk about politics much. But the possible parallel seemed worth mentioning.

Posted by pjm at 10:26 PM | Comments (0)

Boston Marathon buildup: Women's team

I promised a few months ago that I would post the articles I wrote for the Boston Marathon program. I still haven’t seen the finished product, though it’s undoubtedly out there somewhere now, but since there are four articles and four days to the marathon, I’ll post one a day from today through Sunday. Monday, there will be plenty to read.

These are, of course, the rough versions; they’re a bit long, I think, for the space, and my writing tends to improve from being shortened. Also, what’s appearing in print has probably had the benefit of a professional copy-editor. And there will probably be photos.

This was one of the toughest to research, because the women involved are busy, and often not in ways that let them check and respond to email so we can arrange interview times. The team-scoring aspect of Boston is under-reported in the media, probably because the athletes involved aren’t professionals, nor are they (usually) world-class. However, it does mean a lot to the athletes participating. The three women here will likely be the slower part of the B.A.A.’s team; two other women on the team will be in tomorrow’s post about the top American women.

I’m looking forward to picking up my credentials etc. tomorrow, so I can lay hands on hard-copy of all this stuff.

Anyway, in the extended entry: Mimi Fallon, Laura Smith, and Carrie Zografos.

Continue reading "Boston Marathon buildup: Women's team"

Posted by pjm at 10:03 AM | Comments (0)

April 13, 2006

Boston Marathon buildup: Men's masters team

I promised a few months ago that I would post the articles I wrote for the Boston Marathon program. I still haven’t seen the finished product, though it’s undoubtedly out there somewhere now, but since there are four articles and four days to the marathon, I’ll post one a day from today through Sunday. Monday, there will be plenty to read.

These are, of course, the rough versions; they’re a bit long, I think, for the space, and my writing tends to improve from being shortened. Also, what’s appearing in print has probably had the benefit of a professional copy-editor. And there will probably be photos.

That said, in the extended entry is an article about Paul Hammond and Chris Spinney, who run for the Whirlaway Track Club. A few things that didn’t make it to the article: Hammond and Spinney run for one of the many teams which trains on the University’s indoor track through the winter. The night after I did this interview, I walked over from my office (in a building which adjoins the fieldhouse) and watched part of their track workout. Hammond also won one of the first road races I ever ran, the Portland Boys Club race (a 5-miler on Patriots’ Day,) in 1989 if I remember correctly.

Now Playing: Lustre from Priest = Aura by The Church

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April 12, 2006

Found money

I’ve mentioned that when I see money lying on the ground—even pennies—I will stop to pick it up. I don’t usually need the cash, and as we’ll see, I’m not raking it in this way, but I see it more as a philosophy; it’s about not passing up opportunities or missing a chance.

A. thought this was amusing, so for quite a while if she saw change on her runs, she would pick it up and give it to me afterward. About this time last year, we both started putting our found money in a tin set aside for the purpose. This morning I poured out the tin and counted it: $24.71 in a year. It’s going in a savings account, which will also get next year’s haul a year from now, etc. I’m interested in seeing how much can be accumulated from nothing—and how long it takes. It would be entertaining if, a few decades from now, we could pay for some big-ticket item entirely from money we picked up on the street.

Folding money was a nice boost—there was a $5 and two $1 bills in the tin—but the single biggest line item, in value terms, was the sixty-four dimes. Pennies had the biggest bulk, of course: 431 of them, though like all the coins some of them are in pretty tough shape. (One even has a big chip missing; I’m not sure the bank will take it.)

$0.09 CDN (four pennies and a nickel) plus a Mexican ten-centavo coin represented the foreign haul. There was also a T token, which I “bought out” for $1.25, the current fare.

Now Playing: Cold Roses from Cold Roses by Ryan Adams & The Cardinals

Posted by pjm at 10:08 AM | Comments (2)

April 11, 2006

You know you've been in the CS building too long...

…when you see a headline about “Boston drivers” and wonder which operating systems the city is compatible with.

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April 10, 2006

Getting the name out

While I was in Japan, I talked with another journalist who is very active in promoting Kenyan athletes. You wouldn’t think they’d need promotion, but what he’s generally focused on is image control: communicating individual personalities (as opposed to a faceless group, “the Kenyans,”) and understanding of the backgrounds from which these stellar athletes emerge—the relative poverty, the farms, the bare-bones training camps.

One of his most recent projects is using athletic ability to get talented students accepted and/or funded at American colleges and universities better known for their academics. More than a few Kenyans have run on athletic scholarship at NCAA Division I universities; this effort is focusing on sending the best Kenyan students to Ivies and some Division III schools, none of which offer athletic scholarships. He talked to me about one of these students, who he was trying to connect with the College, but who had also had interest from M.I.T.

“Prestige is a problem,” he explained. “The only schools they know by name are M.I.T., Harvard, and ‘Ya-lay’.”

Now Playing: Cherub Rock from Siamese Dream by Smashing Pumpkins

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April 9, 2006

Long wait

It’s going to be a good long time before I get at this archive. Somewhere on the order of 231,000 years, if I’m doing the math correctly.

Now Playing: This Is It (Acoustic Version) by Ryan Adams

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Dying camera

It looks like my camera is suffering, and as a result, I don’t have (m)any photos from Japan. This is one of the ones I took before I gave up, of Fukuoka harbor from my hotel window.

I had hoped that the problem was just the LCD on the back, but since the actual photos show the distortion as well, now I’m thinking it’s somewhere near the CCD—either a distortion above the CCD, or a weak connection between the CCD and the rest of the system.

This has been a good camera for me, so even though it’s possible to get something smaller/sharper/faster/newer, I’m going to see if I can get it fixed, first. If it can’t be fixed, I’ll probably look for another Pentax this summer.

Now Playing: Losing Lisa from Rockin’ The Suburbs by Ben Folds

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April 7, 2006


One result of losing six days to travel and work—particularly right after spring break—is that there’s classwork due on return, and it’s not easy to be well along on that. Starting Tuesday, amid the jet lag, I’ve had two programming projects and a midterm—the midterm kindly make-up, since the rest of the class took it while I was away. That one, oddly, I may have done best at. The first programming project was an utter hash; I gave up when the deadline came, handed in what I had, and happily moved on to the next. That one went in a few minutes ago; I’m sure if I’d started on time (it was assigned the day before I left,) that one would have been fine.

Unfortunately, programs tend not to be partial-credit sorts of things: they work, or they don’t. This one, so far, doesn’t, though it pretends to in some situations. It looks like I’m going to exercise the 10% one-day-late penalty and try again tomorrow.

This is, of course, nobody’s fault but mine; I made the decision to be away. Still, ouch.

I’ll be head-down through the weekend, as well, while I try to get on top of the stuff due next week—and the week after that, so I won’t have to work through Marathon Weekend.

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April 3, 2006

Runners in the family

Sitting on a Boston-bound plane scheduled to arrive sometime after midnight on Tuesday, it’s hard to remember where this hyper-extended Monday actually started.

It was, I think, when I joined my relatively illustrious running partners for a last few laps around the 2K tartan track in Fukuoka. (I’m being coy; these are not names you’d know as runners, but certainly at least one you would recognize if you’ve been paying attention to the sport for the last year or so.) I listened with big ears to semi-lurid stories about the post-race parties which I had passed on. (“Passed on,” in this case, means “I was comatose by 9 PM.”) We didn’t make it halfway around the park when one of the many Japanese women also running in the park spotted us, lit up, and did an about-face to join us, exclaiming “Run-u?” It turned out that nobody knew her—but our Japanese-speaker knew of her, since she turned out to be a promising high schooler responsible for breaking several regional records. I don’t know if she knew who she had joined (at first; she was introduced,) or if she just spotted our “USA” hats and wanted to be friendly. She led us back to the hotel by a different route, and I realized that (1) I have no speed, and (2) Japanese runners all seem to train in racing flats.

That had me thinking about an incident on my outbound trip: I was selected for “special security screening” in Logan, which I found simply amusing. I was pulled out of the regular line for a pat-down and a bag search; the TSA officer doing the search spotted the RW logo on my backpack (I think that’s how he made the connection,) and asked if I was a runner. Turns out he ran (thirty or so years ago) for UMass Dartmouth, which was (over ten years ago) where I ran my fastest-ever collegiate cross-country time. I’m not sure how careful my screening was, given the two of us trading stories, but I didn’t have any trouble making my plane.

And then there was the relay of All Nippon Airways employees who literally ran me through Osaka on the outbound leg. If I hadn’t been able to keep up, I suspected they might have tried to carry me.

See? Runners take care of each other, just like I said.

I’ve got 600 words and a lot of “TKs” (bizarre editorial shorthand for “fill this in later when you can check it”) in a file for New England Runner and nearly 700 (but fewer TKs) down for Running Times. With any luck I’ll be able to fill those out easily and wrap up my work for the weekend; with a bit more luck, it won’t be obvious (without checking the byline) that the same hack wrote both stories.

Posted by pjm at 11:15 PM | Comments (0)

April 2, 2006

Day's work

~5:30 AM, Monday, April 3, Fukuoka

For some reason, I’ve been unable to sleep much past 5 any morning I’ve been here.

I’ve done all six of my stories for the weekend, so there’s only the two magazine pieces to be written on the flight home. (Sunday’s pieces have all been posted now. I wish I’d been able to get a little more raw material for the features, but by the end of the day at the course, when my body was telling me it was around 4 AM, I was far from a sharp reporter.)

Hopefully I will be able to spend some time on the plane with the laptop out; if there’s one time when I feel smug about buying the 12” Powerbook, it’s when the person in front of you on a plane reclines their seat and I can still work. Of course, the problem may be lack of elbow room, not legroom.

What I need, though, is not space so much as a network connection to work on projects that live on servers at the University. The rest of this week is likely to be interesting, and new assignments have come in that make me suspect that I probably can’t afford to travel on a weekend again until May. Beyond that, though, I have had a positive and encouraging note from my IAAF editor (and others about this article in particular,) which makes me think this might not be my only meet on scholarship.

Now, I should get some packing done, so I can take the best advantage of my remaining time here. As little geocaching as I’ve done since I started graduate school, I’ll be kicking myself immensely when I get back to it if I miss my chance to make a find in Japan, particularly since one of only two caches in Fukuoka appears to be right next to my hotel.

Now Playing: Bang from Leisure by Blur

Posted by pjm at 4:32 PM | Comments (2)

Early finish

~7:45 PM, Sunday 2 April, Fukuoka

I hadn’t really given much thought to the idea that all of the male winners this weekend could have been named “Bekele” until after the junior press conference was over and Kenenisa’s younger brother Tariku had explained the tactical error which cost him the victory. I had almost finished the delicate task of comparing the two—Kenenisa won the junior race in 2001—when I realized that the elder Bekele’s suggestion, after matching Paul Tergat’s record by winning his fifth consecutive long course race (and becoming the most decorated athlete in World Cross history by winning his eleventh championship,) that he might not run the world cross anymore makes perfect sense. In fact, it matches the thought I had in a column I wrote in 2004.

Unfortunately, that column has been 404 for a while. (Webmasters: Links shouldn’t break!) Fortunately, I have my copy, which I’ve included in the extended entry.

Now Playing: Crawling Back To You from Wildflowers by Tom Petty

Continue reading "Early finish"

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April 1, 2006

And that would have been our good day

~7:30 AM, Sunday 2 April, Fukuoka

The “mixed zone” here in Fukuoka is unlike that at most track meets. There’s no fence separating the athletes from the press; rather, it’s an area open to both, through which the athletes must pass to return to their warmups and their team area. On the plus side for the athletes, the crush of other athletes and media makes it easy to get lost in the crowd and sneak through. On the plus side for the media, if you mark your athlete well, you can actually put yourself between them and their warm clothes and extract quotes before they flee. I spoke to none of the Americans yesterday, and I’m not sure what I missed.

The rest of this isn’t going to make much sense if you haven’t seen the results.

Goucher, obviously, was the highlight, and his sixth was probably the best U.S. finish since Ritz’s medal in Ostend ‘01. The team result was impressive, though not the best we could’ve hoped for; the African teams were exceptionally strong. Aside from Goucher, our guys ran well, just not as well as they needed to, and not a few members of the European media are pointing to their performance as evidence that a non-African team can, in fact, get into a very competitive race (Bekele called it his toughest short course victory,) and perform well—an argument for not giving up, in fact.

The senior women’s long course team, again, was good but not great. Blake Russell ran courageously for eleventh, and would’ve been an asset to the scoring of any team except the Ethiopians. As a marathoner, though, she simply doesn’t have the raw speed possessed by most of the Ethiopians. (Don’t ask me to extend this analogy to Lornah Kiplagat.) Katie McGregor was running well for three laps, but she was invisible on the fourth, which didn’t help us as the Japanese pulled through to an unexpected third-place finish, and those points in the middle where she had been running were the difference between us and the Australians. There were eleven points between the Japanese in third and the U.S. in fifth, and at halfway through the race we had team medal potential. Colleen De Reuck gets extra points for running intelligently, strongly and fearlessly, even if not as fast as she once did.

The junior girls… well, they were just never there. They were buried by the end of the first kilometer, and they didn’t make any big moves in the later stages. From where I was, they looked pained and demoralized. I hope the boys do better today, but I’m not holding my breath. How do we compete with the African seniors when our best runners get so humiliated by them as juniors?

Now Playing: Landed by Ben Folds

Posted by pjm at 5:48 PM | Comments (0)

Sketchy conjecture

~6:40 AM, Sunday, 2 April, Fukuoka

My juniors story is posted, and one of my “wire” reports is also out. I’m in the process of presenting facts and figures to suggest that the short race was indirectly responsible for two of Hicham el Guerrouj’s 1500m World Championships victories. There’s nothing like constructing causation from coincidence…

Update: Here’s the story.

Now Playing: Chaos from Priest = Aura by The Church

Posted by pjm at 4:48 PM | Comments (0)

It could be worse

There are post-race interview sessions which drag on.

And then there are post-race interview sessions where both questions and answers need to be translated twice, into the athlete’s language and into Japanese or English, whichever the question wasn’t originally asked in. Without, this time, the luxury of simultaneous translators.

Posted by pjm at 6:53 AM | Comments (0)