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September 30, 2007

Autonomous toys

There was yet another mouse last night. I heard a ruckus in the bathroom and got up with a flashlight. Iz was easy enough to find, and as he came to the door to greet me (“Hey, want to sub in?”) I flicked the light around the room to see if there were any corpses. Iz moved to reveal another small, grey mouse frozen on the floor, and then corralled it like a hockey player with a loose puck. After smacking it a few times (whereupon it would squeak and change direction) he chased behind the door for a moment and emerged with the mouse in his mouth.

He carried it out into the dining room and dropped it next to my bag, then stepped away a few feet, apparently hoping I was up to give him breakfast. The mouse sat, frozen, for a few seconds, then bolted in to the kitchen and under the stove (clearly the source of all mice.) Iz pounced too late and found himself with both front paws under the stove and no mouse.

I’m developing a theory now that Iz really does have a problem killing the mice. Pardon the blunt images, but cats kill their prey by biting down hard near the neck, snapping the unfortunate critter’s spine. I can vouch for Iz’s jaw strength, as he has sometimes clamped down on me so hard I’ve imagined the bones in my hand rearranging under his teeth. He just doesn’t seem to know that’s what to do with mice; his M.O. seems to be playing with them until they expire. (A thinks he doesn’t even realize they’re alive, and that he considers them a self-propelled version of his faux-fur toys. There’s something to that.)

Another, related theory centers on the fact that so far, he’s only killed mice when I’m in Amherst. The idea is that my reaction is generally positive (I take pictures of the “trophies”), while A seems a bit disapproving of the dead-mouse concept. This theory suggests that he needs a “father figure” around to really mature as a mouser.

Either way, I’d rather have him here keeping the rodent population in line than relying on traps or poison.

Now Playing: Begin from Dulcinea by Toad The Wet Sprocket

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Posted by pjm at 9:04 PM | Comments (3)

Gebrselassie 2:04:26

Before I fly off into speculation, let’s start with the bare facts. This morning, in Berlin, Haile Gebrselassie of Ethiopia ran 26.2 miles (a standard marathon) faster than anyone before in recorded history. His time of 2:04:26 was 29 seconds faster than the previous best, 2:04:55, run by the Kenyan Paul Tergat in 2003 over the same course. (Full disclosure: I’ve been a Haile fan for a dozen years or more, and he’s the one on the right in that remarkably young-looking photo of me from 2001.)

From here, notes. First, there’s the obvious continuation of a long-term pattern: Haile breaks Tergat’s world record. In the wake of the Atlanta Olympics, where Haile won the 10,000m gold medal, Salah Hissou, the bronze medalist, took down the WR in that event; Haile reclaimed it the next spring. In ‘97, Tergat, the silver medalist, broke Haile’s record; Haile took it back the next spring. Most of Gebrselassie’s track records are gone to Kenenisa Bekele now (have I mentioned that?) but this marathon record is like a coda (or a rim-shot, if you look at it from one point of view) to that long-standing rivalry.

Another point: Haile has been trying to do this for years. In 2002, the organizers of the London marathon set up what was supposed to be a great duel between Tergat and Gebrselassie; Khalid Khannouchi won instead, in what was then the world record of 2:05:38. It’s taken Haile a long time to re-make himself into a marathoner, and at the longer distance he’s certainly not the sort of dominant athlete he once was on the track.

Which leads me to what I was speculating about this morning on my own run. In the 1960s, the marathon, which had for sixty years been a race of attrition won by athletes who were able to survive the distance, was revolutionized by an Englishman named Jim Peters. Peters was the first man to run under 2:20 for the marathon, and he did it by training himself to run harder than anyone else for the length of the race. Before Peters, the world record stood at 2:25:39; after him, 2:17:39. Peters opened the door to the 10,000m men, like Segey Popov, Buddy Edelen, and (most memorably) Abebe Bikila.

Since the early ’90s, though, the 10,000m itself has changed, and I think that the belated relocation of the Tergat/Gebrselassie rivalry to the marathon distance signals a change in the way that race is run. Certainly many races will still be won the “old way” just as some smaller marathons are still won by the runner best able to survive the distance, the marathon’s own manifestation of “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny” (heard that from me before?) But I think in the coming decades we’ll see increasing numbers of marathons won by athletes who can cover the entire distance at a terrifyingly fast pace, very close to their anaerobic threshold. The 5,000m in some European meets has already become a long sprint, with the athletes running close to flat out all the way. The 10,000m is headed that way. It will take a long time for that approach to transfer to the marathon, but Haile has now done it, and he won’t be the last.

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Posted by pjm at 1:56 PM | Comments (3)

September 29, 2007

Two down

After Iz’s previous kill, there were some predictions that it would not be the last. In fact, we heard the little tiger tearing around last night and maybe some squeaking. I remember thinking, “It doesn’t matter whether he catches them and kills them, or just scares them to death so they move out.” At any rate, when I got up to feed him this morning I opted to sweep my path with a flashlight rather than step on something. Sure enough, mousie down at the side of the kitchen door.

Again, I got a photo of his trophy (which, again, I won’t post.) This one was smaller than the first, with less white marking, and looked a lot more like the one we’d initially seen in the house. It also wasn’t quite dead, and peeped as I swept it up in the dustpan, which was a bit disconcerting. As we discovered with his bats, Iz is fine at catching, but he has to get better at killing.

It took Iz a little while to get used to this house, but now I’m guessing he thinks it’s the best place he’s ever lived: the toys are great!

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Posted by pjm at 6:41 AM | Comments (0)

September 27, 2007

Missing tools

During the great relocations back in August, I sent most of the kitchenwares out to Amherst with A. After all, I reasoned, D wasn’t going to be taking all his kitchen with him out to Pittsburgh for the fall, right?

The reasoning was sound, but the judgement, perhaps, was not. I learned this last night when I tried to make pizza dough and discovered that the kitchen has two liquid measures, but no dry-measure cups and no measuring spoons.

Now Playing: Antenna from Starfish by The Church

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Posted by pjm at 10:21 AM | Comments (1)

September 26, 2007

Grape season

It’s grape season. Or, it’s slightly past grape season. Since returning from Japan, I’ve been continually noticing the scent of grapes on my runs—not just while running through vineyards but in the middle of the woods in Amherst, last night in the Breakheart Preserve in Wakefield, this morning on Battle Road in Lexington. I can seldom pin down the source of the scent, but suddenly the air will smell thickly and unmistakably like grape juice. (I’m running, and therefore probably thirsty, so grape juice comes to mind rather than, say, jelly.)

Last week our coach picked clean the grape vines in his back yard and brought “the last of the grapes” with him to our workout, then sent them home with us. I had a few I hadn’t consumed before I going to Germany, and I thoughtlessly left them out on the counter while I was gone. On my return, the container (and, consequently, the trash afterward) smelled strongly of wine.

Now Playing: Closing Time from Feeling Strangely Fine by Semisonic

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September 24, 2007

Stupid details

I’m back on EDT.

Rather than spend thirty-odd euros on a cab to the airport, I walked to Bad Cannstatt and spent 2.50 on an S-bahn ticket which got me there in plenty of time. At some point in the trip I had made a faulty deduction, I think based on obsolete experience in Berlin, that “S-bahn” was “Strassenbahn” or streetcars, and “U-bahn” was the underground. Maybe that is true in Berlin; in Stuttgart, U-bahn is both, and S-bahn is the equivalent of what we call “commuter rail” here in the land of the MBTA.

So the trip was balanced: I walked to Bad Cannstatt Banhof, took a train to the airport, flew to Logan, and took the T back out to Davis Square and walked home, with everything balancing on a close connection in Zurich. (I made it easily, plus a joke from one of the security screeners about my last name, which I’ve heard a few dozen times before, but never with a Swiss-German accent.)

What I really can’t figure out, with such a close comparison to the European rail systems now in hand, is why the MBTA trains are so damned loud. Noise, as I understand it, represents some kind of drag or wasted energy in a mechanical system, and compared to the whisper-quiet S-bahn, most T trains (the blue line in particular) sound like they’re rolling over crushed stone rather than steel rails. I suspect this is a T issue more than a US/Germany issue simply because on the line that passes through Medford, I noticed that the commuter rail trains were louder than the Amtrak trains on the same line by a multiple of at least two.

Can they not take care of the cars, or do they simply not care how much of a racket they make?

(I can’t believe that’s the only thing sticking in my mind now; I must really be tired. I complain about traveling and working, sure, but I like the opportunities my little sideline has opened up for me, and when my life situation changes in a way that keeps me from doing this as much, I will miss it.)

Now Playing: This Light Is For The World from Universal Hall by The Waterboys

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September 23, 2007

What I've been doing to pull my weight

This afternoon I found myself standing in an echoing concrete tunnel interviewing a Kenyan (a naturally soft-spoken bunch) with the worst of our three digital recorders while a thousand German pre-teen girls stood at the end of the tunnel chanting “FRANKA!!!” at the top of their high-pitched lungs in an effort to get their new hero to come down and sign her name to anything that would take a mark.

So it’s possible that my headline quote was… a little distorted. (“Even if he didn’t say it, he’d probably thank you for writing it,” said my editor.)

Either way, that’s my first feature story of the weekend. (I have this week to write a story for the IAAF Magazine now, as well.) The rest of my work has largely been along the lines of quick, 150-to-300-word recaps of what just happened (how much can you write about a race that lasts less than 14 seconds?), about midway between the very short form of the IAAF “blog” in Osaka and the longer analyses I did in the RW Osaka blog. With thirty-six events on the weekend, four of us split into two teams; my pair took the women on Saturday and the men on Sunday (which happened to give us ten events each day, but I had a light load outside the reports so I’m not complaining), and did our best to divide those events in a way that let us write and post as soon as possible after the event. So, in the name of recording the links and without at all claiming these as great literature, here’s my output:

I’m still trying to work out the gamesmanship involved in passing heights in the vertical jumps, particularly in the men’s pole vault, but I can understand when I see a bar raised to a world-record height.

Now Playing: Undo from Numbers - EP by The Church

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Posted by pjm at 4:17 PM | Comments (0)

Another distance switch

It was agreed yesterday in the media tribune that we’d like to see some of the Ethiopian distance runners (Meseret Defar, Tirunesh Dibaba, Kenenisa Bekele) who routinely wow the crowds with scorching last-lap finishes in the 3,000m, 5,000m and even 10,000m, step down and run a proper 1,500m. Dibaba and Defar, in particular, could be competitive with the best in the world; Defar’s 8:24.x 3,000m PR represents, at worst, two consecutive 4:12 1,500m runs, but her closing 1,500m was probably significantly faster.

Now Playing: Dreamer In My Dreams from Being There by Wilco

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Posted by pjm at 5:44 AM | Comments (0)

Where are the Americans?

I noted a few days ago that the fatigue factor has a pretty big impact on the start lists here for the World Athletics Final, but I hadn’t really appreciated the real degree that reached. For example, there were six starters in the women’s 5,000m yesterday. Six. This means that someone at the IAAF spent a good chunk of last week calling down the 5,000m standings list and still only found seven women (Meseret Defar switched to today’s 3,000m at the last minute) willing to be brought to Stuttgart at the meet’s expense, put up here, and to race with a guaranteed $1,000 payday (and, in a race as small as the 5,000m ended up being, even Russia’s Kseniya Agafonova, who was off the back at halfway and finished sixth, won $4,000.)

Note that six Americans ranked higher than Agafonova in the standings, though some of them didn’t qualify for this meet because scoring in three series meets is required. There are all kinds of reasons why not; some of them are training for fall marathons, some are training for spring marathons (!), some are just tired. So, skip down to the men’s 100m. No fall marathons there; these guys aren’t planning on doing anything until December, when they may start training for the indoor season (or they may start training for Beijing then, but it is an article of faith among distance runners that sprinters don’t really train.)

There wasn’t a single American in the men’s 100m.

This is a little like having no Kenyans in the steeplechase. Or no Fords in a NASCAR race. No Stanford grads at Google.

Not all events are so gutted. The women’s steeplechase featured a decent field, and the new American Record holder, Lisa Galaviz, showed up to race. Galaviz turned out not to be a factor, but it’s easy to picture American steeplechasers getting the call inviting them to Stuttgart and saying, “Sure, I’ll come! I haven’t raced since July, but I don’t get that many chances; bring it on!” (Steve Slattery in the men’s steeple is, with Galaviz and Alan Webb, the third American distance runner here.) Wallace Spearmon is here, the shot putters showed up, the pole vaulters are here. We had two discus throwers here, though the discus guys are probably like the steeplechasers, happy for whatever payday they can get.

It’s also fair to note that for someone like Deena Kastor, a $1,000 payday isn’t worth the disruption of a trip from California to Stuttgart if it wasn’t part of a larger plan; there’s a narrow line between “taking a good opportunity” and “compromising long-term goals chasing small paydays.”

And the Americans aren’t the only ones going missing. Only one Ethiopian in the women’s 5,000m? No Jamaicans in the women’s 200m?

Now Playing: F.M. by Steely Dan

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Posted by pjm at 5:15 AM | Comments (0)

Not quite empty seats

Pat Butcher has a splendid article in the Financial Times this weekend about athletics’ (track and field’s) declining profile in its traditional audience center, Europe. It makes a lot of the same points made by the Globe article about indoor track earlier this year.

The biggest problem with the article in question, however, is no fault of Butcher’s. In the print edition (I have to read something, and FT is around and in English) they illustrated “performing before empty seats in Osaka” with a shot of a javelin thrower. The background is not empty spectator seats… it’s the press tribune. A vast expanse of white desks which may look like empty seats in the background, even when they’re full.

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September 22, 2007

Stuttgart at night

Schlossplatz fountainSometimes I carry a piece of equipment around to multiple places without ever finding a good use for it. Tonight I was struck by inspiration, though, and while walking back to the train station from dinner I pulled out my Gorillapod and used it to take some long-exposure shots of Stuttgart at night. I probably couldn’t have taken any of these shots without a tripod of some kind.

My M.O., in general, was to find a place to prop the Gorillapod, frame the shot (a bear of a problem, as you can see; frequently I was resting the tripod on the ground, and I wasn’t willing to lie full-length on the sidewalk to adjust the shot properly), and set the camera for no flash and a ten-second delay. Why the delay? Because pressing the shutter button made the camera shift on the tripod, and since most of the exposures were a full second, I couldn’t have that. So I’d press the button, then take my hands off and let the shot take itself.

I got shots of the Collegiate Church tower, the fountain here, the Neues Schloss (where last night’s dinner was), the Landesmuseum Württenburg, a column I haven’t identified yet, a relief on the facade of St. Eberhard’s Cathederal Church, and some more. For the full set, look on Flickr.

Not all of them are quite as pretty as this, I admit; this is the one I like most, in fact. (You really want to see the full-size version.) I’m still looking for a good shot of the stadium.

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September 21, 2007

Around the neighborhood

I haven’t traveled more than a short walk from the hotel, which is not exactly in the city center, but I’ve done some not-insignificant tourism today.

Counting the main stadium, there are four tracks in a short distance from here. I’ve now run on two of them, one apparently being the warm-up track for the meet, a four-lane all-weather affair and pretty hard, relatively speaking. This morning I did a workout of quarters with short recovery on a second. This one is barely a track any longer; it’s more like a nice trail that happens to be laid out in a roughly quarter-mile oval around a soccer field. The only sign that it was once in use as a track is some traces of the old inside curb and a rail around the outside. The second bend, in fact, goes through awnings set up for the patio of a nearby beer garden. Fortunately for me, they were not serving at the time of my run.

I checked out the stadium following the afternoon press conference (Pierre Weiss of the IAAF, betraying his current workplace in Monaco, said, “We hope the weather is good, and we hope not everyone goes to the beach.”) It was just a short look-around, since I’ll be spending plenty of time there over the weekend, but it was interesting in that it was a stadium for the ‘06 World Cup (there are photos of celebrations in Stuttgart about the German team’s third-place finish) and also the site of the 1993 World Championships. (On the other side of my hotel is the Porsche Arena, which recently (last month) hosted the World Championships in Gymnastics, and beyond that, I think, is Hans-Martin-Schleyer-Halle, which hosts the Sparkassen indoor track meet every winter, one of the top indoor meets in Europe if not the world.)

Unlike many large stadiums I’ve been in, with steeply-raked seating, this one is very gradually banked, more like the front rows of Fenway Park (or what I remember of the old Wembley, which I visited once in ‘99.) I tried, but failed, to get a good photo of it from my next stop.

The Mercedes-Benz MuseumBeing on Mercedesstraße, it’s unsurprising that I’m a short walk away from the Mercedes-Benz Museum; the original Daimler plant turns out to have been here, and there’s still a significant werk over there, I think producing engines. My brother, who used to work in one of the ramified streams of the automotive-industry river, would’ve killed me if I hadn’t visited, being so close. So I went over there and wound up spending three hours, including an extra-fare ride in a racing simulator.

I’ll post some photos and add some links later, but Lamine Diack and the regional “minister president” have invited me (and a few hundred more of their closest friends) to a reception at the Neues Schloss this evening, and I must iron a shirt if I hope to look even halfway respectable.

(Update: Photos and some links added. Reception turned into a multi-lingual dinner in which English was a minority (I listened in on an extended conversation, in Greek, about their elections, and came out wiser than I’d gone in: now I know the topic exists) but wine was provided—my ironing detained me too long to hear the speeches, what a shame. Happily, I was able to catch a ride back to the hotel, rather than having to wait for the train.)

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Posted by pjm at 12:37 PM | Comments (2)

They know me too well

The hotel-room tea is branded “TeeFix.”

(There is also a peppermint tea called “FixMinze”; at first I thought it was “Fix Minus” and was decaf, but now I see it’s “Mint Fix.” The instant coffee, which comes in the same little tubes you get sugar in here, is called “Kaffe Hag,” which somehow sounds much less appealing.)

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September 20, 2007

Your running tour

I was faintly interested last week when this article about running tours of new cities ran in the NYT, but it really hit me this afternoon. (It’s afternoon here, by the way.) Not that I saw The Sights in any directed way.

Instead, I sussed out using Google Maps that to the north and east of here appear to be farmlands, and through those farmlands appear to be roads which are little-trafficked by automobiles. Sounds like a great place for a run, so I headed in the general direction of the village of Untertürkheim. By an appallingly roundabout route I found myself in the fields I’d spotted on the map, and discovered the reason behind the pattern of the roads: the fields are vineyards, with grapes fairly dripping off some of the vines, and the vineyards are, as vineyards often are, on hillsides.

So I did a little climbing.

Thing was, after forty minutes of running I ended up about here, which is a chapel on a hilltop near an area marked “Rotenburg” which has stunning views of Untertürkheim, the Neckar River valley approaching Stuttgart, and the stadium complex. Were it not for similar ridges and other hilltops, you could see the city quite well.

Not a bad tour for a little exercise.

(Update: Of course, it would’ve been even better if I carried my camera on all my runs with me…)

(Update 2: This is the chapel, labeled as one of the nice scenic overlooks in the city. I’d go to the TV tower if I could figure out when I’d have time.)

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Posted by pjm at 11:07 AM | Comments (0)

What time is it?

At some indeterminate time between yesterday and today, 19,000m over the North Atlantic, I (re)read these sentences in Pattern Recognition:

… “I’m so tired I’m not sure I know what it’s like not to be, jet lag seems like a luxury of those who don’t travel much, and I feel like I’ve been beaten with rubber hoses.”

And I thought, “Yeah, I can identify with that.”

Currently six hours ahead of whatever equilibrium I’d managed to reach in the past two or three weeks. Accreditation and press conferences don’t happen until tomorrow. I’m thinking of going for a run, then forcing myself to go downtown until dinnertime (assuming I can find “downtown”) and only then allowing myself more sleep.

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September 19, 2007

No, really, this is the Final

I’ve had several people ask what event I’m going to Stuttgart for. (Not “Why?” because the obvious answer is, “Because there’s paying work there.”) With the World Championships last week, and the Golden League $1 million won last Sunday, what’s left?

It’s a little-known feature of the World Athletics Tour (an umbrella name for all IAAF-standard professional track meets, what might more colloquially called “the circuit,”) that event placers win points in their event. The points on offer at each meet vary according to the meet’s standing in the Tour; the six Golden League events earn the most (and I’m not so young that I don’t remember when there was only the Golden Four,) and the point value of a win decreases through Super GP and GP meets, with the lowest being “permit meetings” like the Adidas Grand Prix in Carson, California.

The point of these points, so to speak, is to have a sort of season-ending “playoff” between the top point-getters: The World Athletics Final. The top X athletes in each event (seven or eleven depending on the event, with an eighth or twelfth spot filled by special IAAF invitation) face off in a straight final to end the season.

That’s the idea, at least; as Steve Cram points out, between the Golden League and the World Championships, it’s pretty easy to have “championship fatigue” by now, and the fields are seldom quite as miraculous as one would hope. There was an old system in which prize money was awarded for the places in the WAT point standings, and the winners simply had to show up at the WAF (or similarly-named event; sometimes the WAF was simply part of ISTAF-Berlin, the last Golden League meet) to claim the loot. (The Golden League jackpot winners have to compete at the WAF to collect, as well.)

Cram only hints at another aspect of the WAF, which is the real fatigue of the athletes. Nearly all the Americans I follow have already burned out and caught flights home, even though many are on the bubble for selection to the WAF and almost certainly could run if ready. Matt Tegenkamp, for example, is ranked 11th in the 3,000m, but he’s already called an end to his season.

That said, some athletes—Susanna Kallur comes to mind—are just beginning to approach a peak. There’s likely to be a few interesting races; they just might not be quite the titanic clashes this meet was conceived for.

Now Playing: Cannonball from Last Splash by The Breeders

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Posted by pjm at 9:13 AM | Comments (0)

September 18, 2007

Echoes of Osaka

Osaka World Championships Media RaceThere is a pile of laundry on the bed which is the same load of laundry I’ve been cycling endlessly since mid-August. With the possible addition of a pair of long pants or two and some long-sleeved shirts, I’m packing pretty much the same suitcase for Stuttgart that I did for Osaka.

And this morning I got two emails taking me back to Nagai Stadium for a few minutes. The first was from Ayako Oikawa, a Japanese journalist who speaks more languages than I do and travels to even more track meets; I met her two or three years ago at the New York meet. She had a few photos of me from the media 800m race, which had me thinking how it was worth the ribbing (“Are those spikes legal?”) to have had the chance to race hard in spikes on that track.

Another was from another track writer of my acquaintance, a curmudgeonly sort who has a streak of Olympics attendances going back to Helsinki and World Championships going back to… well, Helsinki the first time, but it’s easier to just say he’s been to all of them. He was going back through Osaka coverage and spotted this article, and wants me to submit that and some other clips as an entry for next year’s Jesse Abramson Award. Which is flattering to hear from him, but when I look at the (incomplete) list of past winners of the award, it’s pretty easy to see why I haven’t bothered to enter before, at least if you’ve been reading about running (and noticing the bylines) for a few years.

The TDK on my bib number in that photo also reminds me of a prize of the trip: these speakers aren’t, so far as I can find, available in the States yet, but thanks to being in the right place at the right time (i.e. when TDK announced that it was renewing its partnership with the IAAF) there’s a pair plugged in to my laptop. They’re USB powered, which means they’ll work with my MintyBoost as well as a USB port, and for their size (not much larger than the iPod, packed,) they’re pretty good.

Now Playing: The Scientist (Live) from Lost In Space by Aimee Mann

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Posted by pjm at 11:14 PM | Comments (0)

September 17, 2007

We're so proud

Iz brought us a little present this morning. When we got up to run, there was the mouse in the bedroom doorway, dead as the proverbial doornail. “Food nnnnnow?” Iz asked: the mouse was, aside from a puncture wound, undamaged. (Which is good, since I’ve heard that other cats tend to bring such presents in a headless condition.)

So I took pictures of the trophy, which I won’t include here (surprise! dead mouse in your blog feeds!) and then disposed of the body. This is, of course, far from Iz’s first catch, but it’s the first time he’s both caught and killed his prey entirely unaided.

I’m hoping this was in fact The Mouse and not just a mouse. The one we saw seemed smaller than the one Iz caught, but it was moving a lot faster, so maybe I’m a poor judge. But if there’s more than one, I guess Killer will have the situation under control eventually.

Now Playing: Black Gold from Grave Dancers Union by Soul Asylum

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September 16, 2007

My vote for "best team name"

“DON’T DRINK THAT IT’S NOT GATORADE”

Honorable mention, if I get a vote for that too: “Who sat on my sandwich?”

Posted by pjm at 3:16 PM | Comments (0)

September 14, 2007

Step, don't sit, on the barrier

I’m going to be busy for a little while. If you’re looking for reading, Amby’s going to run a steeplechase. If you don’t think this is at all notable, read about what happened after his last one.

Posted by pjm at 8:16 AM | Comments (0)

September 13, 2007

Talk to Strangers

Street writing in college towns has always been more iconoclastic than simple vandalism. (I recall the square of sidewalk near Davis Square which I once saw admonishing me, within a meter or so, both that “Santa is real” and “Doritos is people”.)

In Amherst, they like rising above simple traffic direction (a sign modified like this one) or simply being subversive within the traffic-direction medium. Consider this crosswalk, one of several so marked in town:

Talk to Strangers

Now Playing: Starlight Motel from Tarantula by Ride

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September 12, 2007

How do we use this stuff?

If you know much about Ethiopia beyond the names of its champion distance runners, you may have run across teff. Teff is the staple grain of Ethiopia and Eritrea, and companies growing and selling teff in the U.S. actually sponsored some Ethiopian distance runner(s) in the late ’90s or early ’00s. Lately, it has seen some interest as a gluten-free flour, a possible substitute for people with gluten allergies.

We have two bags of teff grain in our cabinets, and we’ve had them for… well, several years. The problem is that it’s easy to use teff flour (just substitute it for wheat flour) but not so easy to use teff grain. So what do I do with two pounds of teff grain?

Well, as it happens, I can ask that question on Common Kitchen. We added a feature—well, actually, Noah added it while I was in Japan—which lets you ask for recipe recommendations. So I can ask for suggestions: anyone have a good recipe using teff grain (but not teff flour, which I have none of)?

Actually, I may answer my own question: all the teff recipes on the web may already be on the Teff Company site. Now, can someone tell me how to explain to the cat that dinner isn’t for another twenty minutes?

Now Playing: Hard Road by The Shore

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September 11, 2007

Playing at work

On Friday I discovered that some time between when I left for Japan and, well, Friday afternoon, someone or some thing had pushed in the right front quarter panel of my car, right behind the front tire, in such a way that the passenger’s door would only open a few inches before catching on the panel in front of it.

This afternoon, out doing some other errands, I stopped at a body shop which had done some work on the car a few years ago. “I’m looking for advice,” I said. “Is it even worth calling this in to my insurance company, considering my deductible? Am I looking at a few hours or a few days?”

The guy from the office looked thoughtful for a minute, and said, “Do you want it good as new? Or do you want it to work?” I pointed at the softball ding behind the passenger’s door, and the dent over the rear window, and said, “It’s not going to be perfect; I want it to work and the car to go another 100,000 miles.”

He walked over to the open garage door and grabbed a rag of a towel and a thin tool that looked like a putty knife, and came back to my car. He wrapped the blade of the tool in the towel, inserted it in the gap between the door and the fender, and gently pried under the fender. POP! Most of the dent came out. He tested the door, then pried it a bit more. This time the door opened all the way, and it was pretty hard to tell there was a dent in the fender to begin with; the only sign is a sliver-moon shaped scuff in the paint.

“You’re all set,” he said, returning the tools to the garage. “Just remember us if you need any more work done.”

As I drove home, I thought about how sometimes it’s gratifying to be able to do the easy parts of your work—for a chef to make a grilled-cheese sandwich, for an electrical engineer to wire up an indicator light, for a mechanic to change a tire. For a web programmer to wire up an un-complicated little page.

I remembered the passage in Once A Runner where a high jumper, half loaded, is jumping over standards made of a broomstick and coat-racks into a pile of mattresses, finding once again the play in his event.

And it must seem like play, too, when the simple parts of your job let you perform tasks which seem monumental to normal people. Like removing a dent.

Now Playing: Good + Bad Times from Listen Like Thieves by INXS

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September 10, 2007

In print

This morning I sent invoices for a terrifying amount of money (I did a little better than “break even” on Osaka, as it happens,) to a number of different publications. That and an unexpected compliment on Saturday about some previous work reminded me that I haven’t done terribly well about keeping up my notes-about-writing-elsewhere here.

  • In the October 2007 Running Times, my roundup of the U.S. track season (May and June, basically) sprawls over seven pages, despite only being about 1,500 words. Look in the “At the Races” section in the back.

  • I’ll have a similar roundup from Osaka in the December ‘07 RT, I believe as part of a larger package, assuming they don’t find what I sent on Friday to be completely unusable.

  • There will be a brief Q&A with Kara Goucher in an upcoming issue of Runner’s World (November? December? I did it in Osaka, on a tight deadline.)

  • I have something in the pipeline for New England Runner, but that will take a little while to surface.

It’s at times like this that I toy with the idea of doing the running-writing thing as a “real job,” but then I remind myself that I have a “real job.” How else would I be able to fax credential applications to Germany?

Update: And then my September/October NER arrives and I am reminded that A and I have the “Scenic Stridings” on page 14. Yes, both of us.

Now Playing: Lousiana from Hologram of Baal by The Church

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September 9, 2007

I guess I won't need that translation after all

Getting back to this month-old question, it looks like the point is moot anyway: while the original story implied that the race was on Sunday during the meet, it looks like the race was really last Tuesday. So, even if I hadn’t been traveling to an entirely different destination, it’s unlikely that I would’ve been around for the race.

I am a little disappointed, though I suppose I’ll have plenty to do that weekend anyway.

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Posted by pjm at 1:45 PM | Comments (0)

An old joke

I suppose now I would know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of schadenfreude, except that I was actually pretty pleased with my race.

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September 8, 2007

Communicating the objective

The Amherst house has a mouse. The hole or nest appears to be under the oven in the kitchen; A and I both saw it scoot out from under the oven and into the space under the bookshelves, and then back a minute or two later.

The Amherst house also has a mouser. He’s the only one in the house who has yet to spot the mouse. I’m hoping that the mouse has spotted him, and decided perhaps there are better places to nest, but if it hasn’t, I hope Iz gets some entertainment out of it.

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September 7, 2007

Still with a lot to say

I just finished a draft of an Osaka round-up for a magazine. They wanted “about 1,200 words.” My draft weighs in at over 1,900 words.

This is probably good news, since my writing invariably improves when I edit for length, but haven’t I written enough about this meet yet?

Now Playing: Kate from Whatever & Ever Amen by Ben Folds Five

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September 6, 2007

Recovery time

I’m back. Mostly. The first 24 hours went well, but yesterday afternoon I found myself in need of a nap around quarter of four, and proceeded to sleep (with some breaks) right through to 4 this morning.

The temporary apartment is a bit of a mess, as I try to unpack and figure out where everything goes. I do have broadband, though, so all is not lost.

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September 2, 2007

I've always tried to suppress my inner fanboy...

…but Steve Ovett just introduced himself in the elevator. Nice man.

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September 1, 2007

Psychosomatic

I’ve been so busy since competition started that even on the day with no morning session, I managed to forget to shave. Today, I found the annoying stubble that’s grown in that week so pathetic that I took some time out of my nap to shave it off.

It’s not too surprising that I now look less tired. It’s more surprising that I now feel less tired.

Before and after:

BeforeAfter

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