January 31, 2008
Choose your disaster
I left the house at 6 AM yesterday, with plans to catch a train around 8 in New Haven, arriving in Grand Central around 10 for a 10:30 meeting. I stopped at a drive-through ATM on my way through town to pick up some cash, having all of $1 in folding money with me. Put my card in the slot, and with a hum the machine slurped it up…
…and did precisely nothing. Nothing on the screen, no responses to buttons, silence. I pushed buttons at random for a few minutes, then arrived at the conclusion that missing my meeting would have larger consequences than losing my ATM card. So I abandoned it.
I was upset about this for an hour or so, but I changed my mind as I approached Hartford. At the left ramp where people heading south on 91 exit for 84 East, someone in a white sedan appeared to have missed the turn completely. There wasn’t much visible damage to the car, but the crash-protection barrels were in disarray and the car’s airbags appeared to have been triggered. The driver looked like they were on their cell phone, hopefully calling 911.
I decided that, given the alternatives, I was happy with my own misfortune and didn’t want to trade.
(For the record, the bank canceled my card and is sending me a new one.)
Now Playing: When You’re Near Me I Have Difficulty from Drums And Wires by XTC
January 30, 2008
Nonspecific good news
We’ll make a more official (and specific) announcement in a few days on the company blog, but the victory of the day is that CMI has a big, new job. I’m once again working for someone I worked for (though not directly) in my first post-college job. And this job means paychecks will be reliable for a few months, maybe through the end of the year.
It’s a big job, and we’ll have to put in a lot of time and learn some new tricks. But oddly enough, I think we’re up to it. When people asked how I felt about starting the company, back in June, my stock answer was, “I’m excited and terrified.” It was almost my personal mantra. I’m a little less terrified, now, and a little more excited.
Now, about this job—that, I’m excited and terrified for.
January 27, 2008
Records, if not big ones
My thousand-word summary of last night’s activity is posted on iaaf.org. I was reluctant to mention the name of the previous world-best holder, given that she left the sport under a doping-related cloud, and so carefully avoided it in the article and noted that when filing the story. My editor agreed, so at least as far as this more-or-less official article goes, she is beneath notice.
Personal pique, maybe, but whatever. We’re all about the positives in this sport, and that episode was a negative.
January 25, 2008
Long team == short list
Bicycling doesn’t manage its Olympic team selection the way track and field does, so the announcement of a “long team” is a phenomena we don’t have. The “long team” is something like a relay pool: it’s the group of athletes that USA Cycling will eventually select its actual Olympians from. A short-list for the Olympic team, I suppose; I guess the comparable track level would be making the Olympic Trials final, but there will be more women in the 1,500m final in Eugene than are on the track cycling long team.
I mention this because one of my former co-workers made the long team. This is particularly exciting because Liz came to pro cycling through Masters competition—that is, she developed her talent in races for people considered too old for peak competition, then stepped back into open racing. This is unusual, to say the least.
Also somewhat ironic: If all the right breaks happen and Liz makes the final team, there will be more former RW employees in Beijing than current ones. If there’s any question that we had a whale of a team there in the late ’90s, this is a pretty strong argument.
Now Playing: The End from Everything Changed by Abra Moore
January 24, 2008
One for me, one against
My preview of Saturday’s Boston Indoor Games is posted on IAAF.org this morning. It was probably the easiest time I’ve ever had writing this meet preview (I hate previews but they force me to study a little) and while I did have one gaffe, I made up for it elsewhere.
See, I thought Carolina Klüft won the 2006 World Indoor Championship in the pentathlon; turns out she didn’t even compete in that event, but won back in ‘03 or ‘04. Fortunately my editor caught that one before it went up, and fixed it for me.
But when I was checking some other details with the meet’s media coordinator, I mentioned something about Klüft being the “fourth World Champion.” She responded that she didn’t know what I meant by that. Well, there’s four winners from Osaka competing: Reese Hoffa in the shot, Meseret Defar (the 5,000m champion) in the two-mile, Tirunesh Dibaba (10,000m) in the 3,000m, and Klüft (heptathlon) in the long jump. Apparently this point hadn’t even occurred to them at the press office.
I telegraphed this in the preview, but I’ll come right out and predict it here: Defar’s going to take down the world best in the two-mile. (N.B. the IAAF doesn’t maintain “World Records” for that event, so it’s only a “World Best”.) Her 3,000m time is nearly a minute faster, and the two-mile is only a lap and a few strides longer; she’ll “only” need 35s laps to beat the record, so she can run as much as a second per lap slower than her 3,000m best and still take it down.
And given that the “best” is still held by an athlete who left the sport disgraced under a drug cloud, nobody will be sorry to see the name rewritten.
Now Playing: Hollow by Fires Were Shot
January 23, 2008
Looks like you're doing very well
Mention of a mutual acquaintance prompted Coach to tell a story this evening.
Apparently he was invited to a reception at said mutual acquaintance’s house in New York, connected with some big running event. Upon arrival, Coach noticed only one woman in the room. I don’t recall his exact words in describing her, but I gathered that her physical appearance was striking. “Who is she?” he asked the bartender, and learned that apparently she worked for the JogBra company. (I don’t know if that was actually the company name, but I think there was once such a brand.)
Within a minute, of course, Coach wound up being introduced to this woman, and proceeded to do so by saying, “I’m Bill S——, running coach. How do you support yourself?”
He claims that this line wound up in the New York Times, but also told us how she got him back.
January 21, 2008
On my way over the Winnegance causeway last night, past 10 in the evening, I could’ve sworn I saw someone out on the ice. On my morning run, I saw that it was not a person, but someone’s Christmas tree, hauled out and “planted” in an ice-fishing hole.
The ice on the lake is so perfect you could almost fool yourself, from the house, into thinking it was still water. This afternoon I got out my skates and, with my camera in my pocket, went over to get a shot of the tree.
My skates are literally rusty and my skating skills somewhat more figuratively so, but most of the time I went sprawling on the ice it was because I caught a blade in a crack. In the sun, the ice flexes and burps, and the surface (which isn’t often visited by a zamboni) is seamed with the cracks of its flexing and with the tracks of the ATVs which cruised the lake while it had more snow on it. At night, the plates rub together at the cracks, and the ice pops and sings with an eerie howl. Once down on the surface, it shows a definite texture, both wind ripples and the slight hills and valleys that come from the cracking and crunching of its plates. I’m a little surprised that I managed to keep from smashing my camera on the ice.
Now Playing: Mothership by Drop Trio
January 19, 2008
The articles don’t appear to be online (yet?) but the IAAF 2007 Yearbook is out (the year-end issue of the IAAF Magazine) and my article on the World Athletics Final (from the Stuttgart trip) sprawls over six pages. I say “sprawls” because one of those pages is entirely photographs, and two more are the complete results. The entire magazine has a very photos-and-whitespace-heavy layout, which works well but means that when I say “six pages,” I’m not talking about quite the same amount of writing work as embodied in, say, six pages of the New Yorker.
Now Playing: Never Meant by American Football
I should stop shoveling that walk
Back on January 3, I got an email from an online retailer assuring me that my order had been sent. I told A to look out for its delivery, then promptly forgot about it.
Yesterday, she reminded me, pointing out that nothing had ever arrived. This morning, I logged on to the delivery company’s website, armed with the tracking number, to find out what was going on.
Acting on the data from that page, I got up and opened the back door (which we never use, due to the danger of a cat-break) to retrieve the package from inside the storm door, where it had been sitting for twelve days.
Now Playing: Don’t Wait That Long from Seven by James
January 17, 2008
Make your own treadmill
Though I have access to the treadmills at the College when I’m in Amherst, I’m less well situated in Somerville. I can wave my (expired) University ID at the guard and get in to the indoor track there, but I haven’t tested the attentiveness of the fitness center attendants, who actually take your ID when you check in to use the treadmills there.
Cold doesn’t bother me nearly as much as poor footing (ice and packed snow) so finding places to run when the sidewalks are bad is a matter of finding low-traffic areas, good sun exposure, and/or responsible sidewalk-shovelers. Cemeteries are often a good bet, but they usually involve multiple repetitions of the same loop.
I found a route I call “the Arlington treadmill” which features slightly more variety and excitement than the indoor kind. After crossing the Alewife Brook Parkway into Arlington on either Massachusetts Avenue or Broadway, there’s a series of one-way streets between the two, starting with (yes) Marathon Street and going west to Palmer Street, nearly in the middle of Arlington. Excepting Bates Street, which is two-way, they alternate direction all the way.
By running against traffic, I can see all oncoming cars well in advance, which means I can choose between the roadway or either sidewalk depending on which offers the least traffic and the best footing. The homeowners on the side streets are pretty good about shoveling their short patches of sidewalk, with a few notable exceptions (mostly on Broadway) and by zig-zagging west, then back east again, I can get in an hour or more of pretty clear road without hitting the same sidewalks more than twice, encountering many cars, or even stopping for major road crossings. It’s not half bad. There’s even a distant view of the Pru on the return leg (heading east on Mass Ave.)
I sort of wonder why more people don’t do this.
Now Playing: Little Mascara from Tim by The Replacements
January 15, 2008
Accreditation application, by the numbers
- People who actually signed for the “courier” delivery: 0
- Pages of the application: 1
- Blanks on the application: 27 (not counting photo)
- Blanks I actually needed to fill out: 18 (not counting photo)
- Pages of the accompanying manual: 98 (plus ancillary CD-ROM)
- Pages of that manual which are in English: 43 (the French section is inexplicably longer)
- Pages dedicated to examples of acceptable and unacceptable photos for the OIAC (in the English section): 5
- Number of impenetrable abbreviations like OIAC (Olympic Identity and Accreditation Card): I lost count
(Update, the next day)
- Cost to send it back to Monaco, counting photo(s): ~$55
January 14, 2008
Don't challenge me, machine
In light of the blanket of snow which arrived last night and this morning, I did most of today’s run on a treadmill at the College. (Run to gym, swap to dry shoes, run on treadmill, swap shoes back, run home.) I had my HRM strap on, so just for kicks I told the treadmill to give me a heart-rate-based workout.
I probably should’ve figured out what the treadmill actually means by that first. I was clipping along slightly slower than 8:00 pace, with my heart rate hovering around 145, when it started demanding that I slow down.
This isn’t a good way of approaching someone as contrary as I am. My HR wasn’t going anywhere, so after a minute or two I started bumping the pace up whenever it asked me to slow down. Before I was halfway through the run, I was comfortably running 7:30s, HR now nicely set at 150 (and still in the green), and I found myself considering taking the pace all the way down to 6:00 and “showing this lump of silicon what ‘out of zone’ means.” Fortunately, sanity prevailed, but I was ready. Next time, you insolent chunk of plastic.
Now Playing: Snowman from Play by The Nields
5:18 and 10:49
Last year, when I did a little research on my history at 3000m, I discovered that my slowest collegiate time came when I did a 1,500m and an 800m earlier in the meet, and my second slowest when I’d done a mile/3000m double. I should’ve learned something.
Last night I did a mile/3,000m double at the Sugarloaf Mt. AC meet at Smith, and while the mile was OK (5:18, just three seconds off my banked-track time at BU last month,) the 3000 was horrible, a 10:49.
I ran a smart race in the mile, confirming that the first person to lead the race is almost always not the right one (too slow, as it happened) and once we dug in, I made relatively smart strategic and pacing choices. The only difference from last month was that neither I nor the track were as fast last night.
I felt pretty good about the 3000 about half an hour before it started. But everything went bad from there; I seriously mis-timed my warmup, then arrived at the line eight hours past my last meal (little fuel) and with raw feet from the previous spiked race. Entering the last thousand, I realized one foot was blistered and the other was… asleep. My rival from the mile, who stuck a second behind me from when I passed him just before halfway until the finish in that race, beat me by a straightaway in the second race.
Now I’m thinking about which race to do next week, if any. Doubling again is Right Out, but there’s a show at the Iron Horse I’d like to catch, and I could do it if I only ran the mile.
January 13, 2008
No wonder it felt so much warmer
I’ve been using the little weather Dashboard widgets supplied by Apple to keep an eye on the unseasonably warm temps, and for some reason in recent days the temperature in Boston has been showing as notably warmer (as in, twenty to thirty degrees warmer) than other locations I follow in the area, e.g. Amherst.
Today I got suspicious, because everyone is buzzing about this incoming storm, and yet my Boston widget was showing clear weather both today and tomorrow. So I clicked through (the widget gets its data from Accuweather; I tend to use the National Weather Service myself) to figure out what was going on.
Turns out that a recent upgrade, either from Apple or from Accuweather, requires the widget to use both city and state. My widget, which was requesting simply “Boston”, was getting its forecast and conditions from Boston, Georgia, which I assume is alphabetically first on the list of Bostons, rather than, oh, most likely to be what people mean when they just ask for “Boston”?
January 12, 2008
Since some time Thursday, I’ve been watching a package-tracking page from another country.
The Olympic media credential form, apparently, includes a fifty-page instruction booklet. I’m told that the credential itself “acts as a visa,” so I won’t need to go through the process of applying for a Chinese visa, but the accreditation process is the most elaborate application I’ve encountered since applying to grad school, and I haven’t even laid eyes on the paper yet. Part of this is the unavoidable bureaucracy of the Olympics, but part of it is because through my IAAF.org work, I’m not going through the usual USOC channels.
Instead, the IAAF is sending me a form “by courier,” and I am sending it directly back to them. Along with several others, it gets endorsed by the IAAF’s General Secretary, and then sent to the IOC; in essence, the IAAF is acting like a country, and it has adopted me as a citizen for this event. The form is on its way to me now; I have to turn it around next week.
It’s not clear to me exactly what “by courier” means in a literal sense; the phrase brings to mind images of the Pony Express or airline passengers handcuffed to their briefcases. (Try taking that through the security screening!) It seems more likely that it’s almost synonymous with DHL or FedEx. It does, apparently, mean that someone has to sign for the package on arrival (and not just sign a slip that says “leave it on the porch.”)
The French-based service which is handling this credential was quite brisk about getting it from Monaco to trans-Atlantic departure from Roissy, but it looks like they’re at something of a loss when it comes to getting from New York to Boston; there has been no new tracking message for about thirty hours.
Now Playing: Night Time (Bonus Track) from Let’s Cut the Crap and Hook Up Later On Tonight by Marah
January 11, 2008
Died in a blogging accident
(As usual with XKCD, make sure you mouse over to read the “alt” text. And it appears that “I haven’t died in a knitting accident” has already become the hip shorthand for “sorry I haven’t written”.)
Now Playing: Wilderness from Angels of Destruction! by Marah
January 9, 2008
Talking about the weather
Let the record show that I did a workout on the University’s outdoor track in a light rain today, in spikes, with no ice on the track. Or snow, for that matter. And I was wearing shorts and short sleeves. And sweating. I’m pretty sure it’s still January, though.
Now Playing: See You from The Colour And The Shape by Foo Fighters
It’s been my experience that, at least where I’ve lived, drivers tend not to hassle a biker if they notice them in time (and if the biker isn’t doing anything egregiously stupid, of course). So aside from Not Being Stupid, the key is making sure they notice you, and of course, the biggest problem is getting noticed at night.
Given that Boston-area drivers sometimes fail to notice vehicles like ambulances and police cruisers which are actively trying to get their attention, I figure the sky’s the limit when it comes to lighting my bike. I work with these rules:
- Blinking is better than steady
- LEDs are better than incandescents (more efficient and usually brighter)
- Any light is better than a reflector
- A reflector is better than nothing
- More is better, period.
I’ve had a headlight and taillight since the town of Emmaus required them, lo these many years ago, but lately I’ve been upgrading. Last year I swapped the Cat-Eye incandescent headlight (no longer available, I think) for a bright, blinking white LED I can’t look at for long, from Planet Bike. I lost my forward-looking lighting, but it wasn’t really all that effective anyway, and at least once I had some local toughs convinced that the cops were on to them (for a few seconds).
I got a front-and-back LED set from Planet Bike for Christmas, so last week I put the new, much brighter headlight on the handlebars right next to the old one. I let that one blink, and leave the old one steady, hoping maybe to get some visibility out of it, but maybe if they strobed out of phase I could really mesmerize oncoming drivers. The new one is bright enough that I could probably go deer jacking with it, if I did such things.
I also moved my existing taillight from the seat post, where it was sometimes obscured by my shoulder bag, to the back of the cargo rack, using some fittings from the new taillight. The new light clips on the shoulder bag sometimes, but optimally I’d like to figure out a better way of attaching both taillights, plus maybe the original red reflector if I can find a spot for it.
Combined with the Scotchlite band I use to hold my trouser cuff, and the standard-equipment pedal and spoke reflectors, I feel like I could compete with an ambulance if the siren wasn’t counted.
I completed my overhaul by adding a new rear fender which actually fits in under the cargo rack and should keep a few more drops of road gunk from flipping up on me. It came with a front fender which offers better coverage than my current one but doesn’t attach to my front fork properly. As with the second taillight, maybe more hardware would solve this problem.
Now Playing: Four Leaf Clover from Strangest Places by Abra Moore
January 8, 2008
The thirst for meaningless statistics
As of this writing, Common Running has 98 reviews distributed among some 400+ shoe models. If you’re like me, the very way I phrased that sentence led you to ask, “But how are they distributed?” They can’t possibly be random, right?
Noah borrows a phrase from Wired to describe the impulse to ask that question: Info Porn. We’re not immune, so I spent a few hours last night writing some code to rip the interesting data out of the CR database and slap it in to some Google Charts. The juicy stuff is here, but if you want the summary, Asics is the most-reviewed brand, and it has three of the top four most-reviewed shoe models, including #1, the GT-2120.
I also added some data to the pages which show details on the shoe models themselves. If you check that GT-2120 page, for example, you’ll see the average ratings for each of four areas, and the comments the reviewers made about the shoe.
You’ll also see a quirky little paragraph on some shoe pages which purports to give an average lifetime (in miles or kilometers) for a shoe model. It’s based on numbers reported by some of our reviewers, and I actually went a step beyond that to calculate a “price per mile/km” for such shoes. These numbers are not, at this stage, statistically significant, because there’s just not enough data, but if they were—a few dozen more reviews for each model might do it—they could be a real tool indicating “value” in a pair of running shoes. Imagine if you could compare the price-per-mile of several similar models!
Now Playing: One Kiss Goodnight by Lori McKenna
January 6, 2008
In 2007, I did something I’ve never done before: I contributed to a political campaign.
No, I haven’t contributed to the money machine of the American presidential campaign. I gave about $100 (total across two contributions) to the campaign of Edwin Mwangi Macharia, who was running for parliament in Kenya. Macharia, a graduate of the College, wound up finishing third of fourteen candidates in the running for the Kieni constituency, a primarily rural Kenyan constituency north of Nairobi. The incumbent was second.
The Kenyan election has made headlines since, of course, with rioting and charges of corruption sweeping the country. This is not uncommon around the world, of course, and the fact that this is happening in a relatively stable East African country (and one which many Americans have at least some familiarity with, of course, through their highly successful export of distance runners) is partly responsible for the attention being paid. That said, Macharia’s roundup of the election is eye-opening. I’ve added emphasis:
“Heavy negative propaganda by opponents as well as significant sums of monies being given to entice voters took their toll but we refused to respond in kind, remembering that principles are only sentiments until they are applied in the face of pressure. In the final tally we came in 3rd, behind the front runner who garnered a commanding lead, and [the incumbent] who despite spending an incredible amount of money the night before buying voters only managed just over 2000 votes more than we did.”
How on earth do you run a clean, principled campaign in a climate where a significant number of voters expect to be paid for their vote? In a relatively poor nation, how do you convince people to cast their vote for you rather than the guy who offered them money? And how do you expect people to have any faith at all in the results? If anything, I’m amazed that the cynicism that system must breed has left enough voters concerned about the results to round up a respectable riot.
And I’m amazed that half of the eligible American voters don’t bother to show up and vote… and to what degree we take for granted what is, despite two hundred years of more-or-less successful operation, an incredibly fragile system.
Now Playing: Half Life from Spirit Touches Ground by Josh Clayton-Felt
January 2, 2008
A few months ago I wrote about how I’d seen a dizzying rise in the Alexa ranking of this site (it’s now around 440,000th, putting me in the top half-million sites on the internet) simply by installing the Alexa plug-in for Firefox and thereby reporting my own daily web browsing for Alexa’s statistics.
In our various explorations of site promotion tools (have I mentioned that I work on this website?) we discovered another website ranking company, Compete, which uses both self-reported traffic from browser plug-ins (a la Alexa) along with ISP logs and other data closer to the backbone to arrive at another ranking number. Naturally, we want to be ranked there as well (many reports average the two rankings), so we want to report our daily traffic to them.
To do this, rather than install the Compete plug-in right next to the Alexa one, I replaced the Alexa plug-in with one from quirk.biz. This reports data to both Alexa and Compete, and also shows sites’ rankings on both services (plus their Google PageRank, an added extra.) Judging from what I read on Compete.com, it will take a while for them to accumulate enough data to rank some sites (this one, for example, is still unranked) but the more people who visit with this plug-in or Compete’s own, the sooner (and higher) it will be ranked.
January 1, 2008
Angle of repose
Speaking of mild Pennsylvania winters reminded me of the less-mild winter we had somewhat later in my time there. I was sharing a duplex with Z at the time, and naturally we were responsible for shoveling our back walk to the cars, the front steps, and the sidewalk in front of the house. We were not technically responsible for shoveling the alley between us and our neighbors to the east, but since they were both retirees—the wife worked for Rodale when its primary business was electrical switches—we shoveled the alley and their sidewalk as well, unless one of their adult children managed to beat us to it.
The back walks were not much of an issue, but the sidewalks posed a storage problem. We couldn’t shovel the snow into the street—the snowbanks there were a problem by themselves—so our yards were the only realistic snow repository. These “yards” could be mowed in less than three minutes with a reel mower, and ours had two enormous shrubs encroaching from the porch side. It was not long into the winter when the mountain of snow in our front yard, containing the snow from an area roughly twice its own (and yes, we shoveled the neighbors’ sidewalk onto their lawn, not ours) obscured the view from our front window.
The view not being much to cheer about, this wasn’t much of a problem, but we had other issues. The biggest one was that the snow pile was so large, about half of any shovelful thrown up on it would simply avalanche back down onto the sidewalk. We started pushing all the snow in the alley back into a similar mountain at the head of our back yard, which expanded to the point that it didn’t finish melting until well into April.
The heap immediately to the west of the end of our Amherst driveway is looking much like that now, even after last week’s melting spree. It’s as tall as I am, if not taller, and yet I must throw a significant fraction of the snow from the driveway up on it. I try to pitch the snow over the peak and in behind the pile, but some of that is starting to roll back out into the street. The problem is similar to the one we had in Emmaus: when the snow goes to a relatively small area, it doesn’t take a very big storm to lead to a big snow pile.
Yesterday and today, I also went across the street and shoveled out our neighbor’s sidewalk. She’s not home, I think, but when the big storms came through earlier this month she didn’t really shovel, and the sidewalk got pretty bad. I figured someone had to do it. I spotted a roving band of kids with shovels this afternoon, though, and I’m wondering if I can pre-pay them to shovel her out for the rest of the winter.
Now Playing: Columbus from Heyday by The Church
Loose at the heels
I remarked to A this morning on our run that I probably became more consistent in my winter training after college because I had better equipment. By that I mean running jackets which actually kept me warm, running pants which weren’t tights, and the discovery of shirts which weren’t cotton.
Thinking about it more, though, the first few winters after college were pathetically mild even for Pennsylvania; I think I lived in Pennsylvania two or three years before we got a snowfall I would even consider significant. I spent plenty of time in those years chasing Adam Bean and Mark Will-Weber around the hills that cradle Emmaus to the south and west.
Mark used to wear Sporthill pants with a stirrup, though I remember the strap almost always flapped loose around his Achilles tendon, soaking up slush. (Since I was almost always lagging behind Webbs, I had a lot of time to contemplate his heels.) I got a few pairs of the same pants, wearing them with the straps on. (Having cuffs snug around your socks keeps your ankles warm. You’d be surprised what a difference this makes.)
As I get in better condition and my stride moves up to my forefoot, I find that during the course of a run one or both of these stirrups will make its way back over my heel and pop out the back of my shoe, to dangle like Mark’s used to. I wonder if that’s what happened to him; his natural stride was much closer to his toes than mine is, so maybe he just couldn’t keep them on?
Now Playing: Sands Hotel from Dead Air by Heatmiser