June 30, 2008
Unimportant finger update
Scrawling on a few postcards this evening, I realized that I am in fact using my sliced finger fairly regularly for typing.
However, my handwriting, never the neatest to begin with, has suffered grievously. I wonder if these postcards will be legible.
June 28, 2008
A brief word from our producer
I’m pretty busy here. I may find time to write a few graphs now and then, but I may not, so not all my good ideas for this space may make it. I regret the incompleteness, but I never promised comprehensiveness here.
The crime of the Trials
There’s been, rightly, a lot of attention focused on Amy Yoder Begley and her last-lap heroics to make the Olympic team in the 10,000m last night. Begley ran what may have been the race of her life.
But her story won’t appear in her home state’s newspaper. The reporter for the Indianapolis Star couldn’t convince his editors to send him to the meet, so he took vacation days and came anyway, on his own dime. Because he’s “on vacation,” the Star apparently can’t run anything he sends. (They are letting him blog, because “what you do with your vacation is your decision,” but no ink, apparently.)
I’ve seen a bunch of things here which I found frustrating or silly, but this one, so far, takes the cake. If Begley hadn’t run well, it wouldn’t have been a big loss, so to some degree the Star was making the “safe” decision. But she did, and now it’s glaringly obvious that they actually dropped the ball.
(I suppose if I was serious about this track writing thing, I would’ve asked about their policy on stringers and offered to file the story myself, but that probably wouldn’t have been fair to the folks who are paying me to work for them here.)
June 27, 2008
The town that cranks
I did notice pretty quickly that there appear to be more bikes about in Eugene than I’m used to seeing in Amherst. And, parenthetically, I’ve seen more bikes than what seems to me to be usual in Amherst this summer. I think it’s a gas-price thing, because many of the riders have backpacks or panniers (i.e. they’re commuting) and many of the bikes make the sibilant grinding sound that means the chain hasn’t been lubed in two or three years.
Eugene seems to have taken this to a new level, even though they’re not terribly good at wearing helmets. Aside from the Pedal Junkies we met last night, apparently tomorrow one of the features of the Eugene 2008 Festival is going to be the Track Town Power Station: “citizens cycling to create energy.” If I’m reading that right, there’s going to be a bunch of people generating electricity with stationary bikes.
Which is a kinda cool idea, I suppose, but I’m not sure that leg power is really our #1 untapped renewable energy source for electricity generation, you know?
I am three hours east of whatever time is reported for this, so it is still Thursday here. Although I’m reaching that state of fatigue where time zones are sort of irrelevant.
Anyway, on our way back from parking the car at a remote shuttle spot, we got picked up by Wayne (I’m guessing) from Pedal Junkies, two guys working on starting a pedal cab service in Eugene.
I don’t know how crowded the bike path between the parking lots at Autzen Stadium and Hayward Field is going to be for the Trials, but if you want to ride to the track in style, you could do worse than to give them a call.
June 24, 2008
Justin and Butch
In the breathless pause (or a breathy one: the moment when hundreds of pundits inhale before beginning to speak?) leading up to the clumsily-named U.S. Olympic Team Trials—Track and Field begin this Friday in Eugene, the “news” of the sport is being dominated by the worst sort of story: doping. Justin Gatlin, the disgraced former co-World-Record-holder and Athens 2004 gold medalist, is trying to litigate his way in to the Trials despite being under a doping ban. (As the gold medalist, Gatlin does not need a qualifying mark for the Trials, a commendable loophole in most cases.)
The story brings to mind 1992, when the 400m in New Orleans was shadowed by the eligibility (or not) of then World-Record Holder Butch Reynolds, who took the IAAF to the mat disputing an alleged positive test. (The case went to the U.S. Supreme Court, and because the IAAF was threatening to ban any athlete who competed against Reynolds, the 400m rounds were delayed four days.) Reynolds won his appeals, but failed to make the team.
Despite the surface similarities, Gatlin’s case is nowhere near as sympathetic at Reynolds’. Butch was fighting a doping positive convinced he was clean. Gatlin is no longer contesting the test which led to the ban he’s currently serving; in essence, he’s given up saying he didn’t do it.
What Gatlin is fighting is his first positive test. Back when he was running in the NCAA, Gatlin got busted for an ADD medication he claims he’d been taking since he was a child, and simply neglected to declare on his doping control forms: a costly but understandable error, the doping equivalent of getting pulled over when your driver’s license was sitting at home. That first positive test came back to haunt Gatlin when he was busted again, in 2006, because it meant the anti-doping agencies came down on him like a ton of bricks. Repeat offenders get bigger sentences.
So Gatlin’s argument goes like this: if it wasn’t for the first positive, the (presumably two-year) ban for the second one would be over by now. So let’s make the first positive go away, end the ban, and let him run. He’s arguing (now, seven or so years after the fact) that the first ban was illegal under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and that the second ban should therefore be reduced to a first-offender two years.
If Gatlin is expecting to play a Butch Reynolds-like sympathetic character for the Eugene crowd, he needs to return to reality. Reynolds was, at least from one side of the story, fighting the good fight, and even those who disagreed with him had to admit that it wasn’t very hard to see his side of the story. The legal gymnastics needed to get Gatline to the line, however will leave an even more sour taste than the news, two years ago, that yet another star sprinter had been disgraced. If he makes the team (and, in doing so, displaces another top sprinter) because he exploited the ADA—a law which was not exactly intended to protect professional athletes from rapacious doping testers—Gatlin should expect to be a pariah.
And if his grandstand play delays the 100m, and thereby complicates the efforts of Tyson Gay to qualify in both 100m and 200m, he’ll be a bit more than a pariah.
June 22, 2008
Forking a college
This weekend was A’s sister’s wedding. The groom is a CS professor at my College’s biggest rival in nearly everything—an old, cherished rivalry as close and heated as only two nearly-identical institutions can manage.
Early in the weekend I overheard him (I think I was meant to overhear) remarking that the College was an “offshoot” of theirs. This is not far from the truth; the College’s founding was made possible by the defection of their president and many of their faculty, who considered their location too remote and advocated its wholesale relocation to Amherst.
Failing that relocation, they arranged, with many of the leading citizens of this town (including Noah Webster, he of the dictionary, and Emily Dickinson’s grandfather Samuel,) to launch a new college. I’ve taken a lot of words to explain this (and the Wikipedia links above use even more), but as usual, the hacker culture has boiled it down into a two-word phrase.
I think the founding of the College may have been one of the earliest code forks.
June 21, 2008
I wear dress clothes so infrequently that when I pull out a jacket, I dip in the pockets to discover when I last wore it. Generally I discover a place card from a wedding reception, but not always; yesterday, my suit’s jacket revealed only a large square of moleskin, suggesting that whichever occasion I had last worn it had included uncomfortable dress shoes. (I recently invested in respectable-looking shoes I can wear for a day without resorting to moleskin.)
The blue blazer has seen much more use in the last year, between my new career impersonating a businessman and my tendency to bring it to major meets to be prepared for official receptions and the like. It’s easier to wear a jacket like that than to pack it.
June 18, 2008
A big step to Firefox 3.0
Along with a few zillion other people, I downloaded Firefox 3.0 last night, and installed it this morning. Much as I like Firefox, however, I have to admit a little bit of buyer’s remorse about the upgrade.
The primary driver of this, of course, has nothing to do with the Mozilla Foundation themselves, or at least, not directly. The problem is that I’ve become quite fond of a certain constellation of extensions (or “Add-ons” as the Firefox crew are now calling them), and the jump up to 3.0 has made some of them non-functional and others… wonky.
The “Wonky” includes ForecastFox, which is working fine but has odd white gaps between the icons with Firefox’s new shiny Mac chrome. (Oh, hey, the Mac-native Firefox now uses Mac-type buttons, after about three years of whining.) The outright non-functional include Dust-Me Selectors, a surprisingly useful tool which checks a site’s CSS and provides a list of style rules which are never actually used on the site, and Firebug.
It’s the busted Firebug which is really a deal-breaker for me. In the last year I’ve become so accustomed to figuring out and fixing layout and style issues on a page with Firebug that I’m actually a little disturbed to be going without it. Fortunately, I still have a 2.x Bon Echo build kicking around which I can run if a 3.x compatible Firebug isn’t released before I have need for it again. (They appear to be relatively close.)
Update: I’ve installed a beta of the next version of Firebug, which they had targeted for 3.x compatibility. Discussion on their end makes it sound like Firefox was a bit of a moving target for them.
June 17, 2008
Finding the right venue
A lot of modern technology, for me, seems to be about setting up the right venue. For example, “podcasting” struck me as a faddish buzzword until I discovered that it also means “time-shifting NPR” and that having a load of podcasts on my iPod meant actually keeping the part of my brain that gets bored engaged on long drives. (I might have discovered this sooner if I drove anywhere on a regular basis.)
Today I discovered that I can make necessary phone calls if I’m walking somewhere. I can’t do it while seated in the house, or anything like that, but if I’m walking, no problem.
I don’t know what this means; maybe I don’t want to.
Not a bad idea
I like it when testing web apps for work involves setting up some cool little surprises.
(It’s less fun when the tests don’t work, of course, but it’s a cool idea.)
June 16, 2008
Learning from everywhere
There’s something about the door to this house that eats deadbolts. Maybe it’s just our luck. The puzzle, though, is that there are two deadbolts, and it is the owner’s wish that they use the same key.
The deadbolt in the door when we first moved in reached End Of Life not long after we arrived; I found myself clamping two chunks of a hockey stick (used for propping windows on the porch) around my key to get enough leverage to move it. Rather than wait on the owner (long story) I just bought a (relatively cheap) deadbolt and replaced it. Then I realized we would need another one, keyed the same way, and I had to find another one. This failed and I ended up having another one re-keyed to match.
This worked fine for a while, but recently A locked the door on the way out and found she couldn’t remove her key. It turned out that the tailpiece of the new lock had snapped off, killing that lock.
If you’re keeping score, that’s two non-working locks and two working locks, with two sets of keys; each set of keys works on one working lock and a non-working lock.
The temporary measure was to bring the older working lock up from the basement and rearrange the locks so the doors weren’t keyed-alike, but at least had working locks. Last week I happened on a pair of keyed-alike deadbolts, the brand of the original locks, and snapped them up in a second. When I got them home, I realized that these locks were keyed both sides, not keyed on one side and latch on the other.
(I’m not sure when one would use a lock like this. When is it important for a door to be locked to people on both sides? Particularly if a person on the “inner” side with a screwdriver could remove the lock entirely?)
I looked to see if I could just swap the old latch plates with the inner cylinders, but the tailpieces didn’t match up. Fortunately for me, I had the internet in my toolbox. Two searches produced, first, the manufacturer’s manual for re-keying these locks, including an illustration describing how to remove the tailpieces with a special tool.
(That also taught me that those pieces are called “tailpieces”, and also how the locks themselves worked. I briefly considered re-keying the locks to work with the key to my parents’ house, but thought better of it. I actually took apart the cylinder mechanism of one of the old locks and put it together again so it worked; I’m tempted, now, to try to clean out the frozen one and bring it back into working order.)
Second, a lock-picking site (yes, there are lock-picking sites) describing how to remove tailpieces without the special tool, or at least confirming that it was possible, and I was in business. I put the tailpieces of the original locks on the outer cylinders of my newest locks, and then used otherwise original equipment all around. And I know about three times as much about deadbolts than I did this morning.
Recipe for disaster
On the bag of brown rice, I noticed a small block of text headed, “Microwave Directions.”
Hoping that might be slightly simpler than the stovetop directions (boil water, add rice, then oscillate between too much heat and no heat until bored or rice is cooked to bottom of pan), I skimmed through. It included the phrase, “Cook 35-45 minutes.”
I’m a little alarmed at the idea of leaving anything in the microwave for a half hour or more.
June 15, 2008
Trivial sacrifice wasted
I’ve mentioned, I think, that I tend to pick up loose change when I see it lying around.
I have to remind myself not to do this at inappropriate times. During road races, for example. So this morning, I passed up a quarter (I think—it could’ve been a nickel, but I was moving quickly) and a penny in rapid succession.
In hindsight, I sort of wish I’d picked them up, because then I would have had at least some positive result from the race.
June 12, 2008
As of yesterday, I have now had to explain my
sudo make me a sandwich t-shirt twice, both times to non-computer people. (Yesterday, it was the ART therapist.) As the Times noted, it’s not an easy joke to explain to people who aren’t already familiar with
sudo (which may be best understood as a sort of “Simon Says” command for when the computer refuses to do something you asked it for.) The cartoonist brings up the old E.B. White saying about explaining jokes (“Analyzing humor is like dissecting a frog. Few people are interested and the frog dies of it.”) which is one of my favorites.
I’m a little disappointed that “/Everybody stand back/ I know regular expressions” hasn’t had anywhere near the same level of interest.
June 11, 2008
Chicken? Or egg?
Given this story in today’s New York Times, about racing shoes with rice husks in the outsoles, and reports of rice rationing earlier this year, I have to wonder about the current price of rice. Is the cost of rice driving the cost of racing flats? Or is the increased demand for rice for running shoes driving up the price of rice, a la ethanol and corn?
See, the global economy really does touch everything.
I was standing on the front step, clearing the timer on my wristwatch, when the guy walking on the opposite sidewalk called over, “You don’t need that! You’re too quick!”
Off-balance–he was right, there was no real need for me to time that run–I replied, “It’s more of a habit.”
He said, “I need to find a watch first,” and indicated his bare wrist.
“Most of the time,” I observed, “the kitchen clock will do.”
June 10, 2008
As everyone who may care is undoubtedly already aware, it’s been disgustingly hot in the U.S. northeast since about Sunday. “Disgustingly hot” means high 90s; apparently we cracked 100 today. This is not unheard of around here, but generally it happens in late July and August, not early June. We’re due for thunderstorms any minute now to break the heat (high 80s forecast for tomorrow, low 80s on Thursday, much more seasonable).
This house is good at holding on to its cool air during the day, providing it gets any; this is useful considering there’s no air conditioning. We keep the windows shut to keep the hot air out, then open them up and run my big box fan at night as soon as the outside temperature dips below inside. It’s still crawled up into the mid-80s yesterday and today, driving us to head for Puffer’s Pond (which is still cool but warmer than one would expect this early in the year.)
Today I caved and retreated to the basement, which is at least ten degrees cooler than upstairs, possibly much more. I have a little table (too low) and a chair, and a direct ethernet connection to the router, which is down here. I also have to put up with a musty smell, but I prefer that to having sweat drip off my nose and on to the keyboard.
June 8, 2008
One thing I’d forgotten about long rides away from the main roads, especially on steamy-humid weekends like this, was the way the combination of speed and exposure highlights the pools of warmer and cooler air, and greater or lesser humidity. You flit through pools of cool, dry air like passing through a shower.
Fixing it myself
I discovered, as I was getting ready for a little geocaching expedition yesterday, that I hadn’t used this particular GPSr since 2006—the Mt. Washington expedition, specifically. Unsurprisingly, the batteries had leaked, leaving a white film of corrosion around the battery compartment.
Four years ago I might have given up on the unit—sent it in for repair or just pitched it and bought a new one. Yesterday I brought up the small-size screwdrivers and got the back off. A few minutes with some fine-grit sandpaper and some canned air cleared most of the grunge out and allowed it to power up with a new set of batteries.
It took the better part of half an hour for it to find all its satellites and figure out where it was, but it was functioning fine… except for the buttons. Some of them worked, some didn’t, and those which did, didn’t work all the time. (The last time I turned it off, I had to do so by popping one of the batteries out; the power button had failed.) The most frustrating part was that without the “Menu” button, I was unable to load the waypoints I had carefully stored on the SD card, which meant I could only hunt caches where I had printouts showing the coordinates.
So this morning I opened up the unit again, and this time I went at the other side of the pressed circuit card. I took apart the button assembly and dusted all the pieces carefully, sometimes employing a damp paper towel, and dried them all in a sunny spot on the table. Back together, voila! It works!
Now I just need to make the two-hour one-way bike ride up to the Wendell State Forest again to go after this big blob of caches. Again.
June 5, 2008
It’s been more than five weeks since the stitches came out of my finger. As Chris suggested (and it was nice to have that outside information, I’d add) as the scab came off and left a section of scar on the fingertip (about a quarter of that finger’s fingerprint is just gone), the numbness has gone away as well. The scar is quite faint, and the absence of fingerprint texture is more notable than the scar is.
Full feeling hasn’t returned, though; that fingertip is both extra sensitive and somehow under-sensitive. Extra-sensitive in that insignificant things like rummaging in my pocket for keys can be quite painful; in that sense it’s as though the fingertip was blistered. On the other hand, the nerves there aren’t quite synched up enough to be useful for things like feeling texture.
I’ve also become so used to typing with nine fingers that I haven’t tried very hard to put it back in use for that task.
June 4, 2008
Why I think Usain Bolt is clean
What I’m warmed up about today, though, is how quickly the track world went from “Wow, World Record!” to “He can’t possibly be clean.” It’s hard not to be suspicious; after all, of the six men to run faster than 9.84 (Donovan Bailey’s World Record from the ‘96 Olympics), three of them (Ben Johnson, Tim Montgomery, and Justin Gatlin) were busted for doping, and a fourth (Maurice Greene) has been implicated, though so far without confirmation or process. Of the six men who received gold medals for the 4x400m relay in Sydney (two ran in the rounds), four have confessed to some level of doping, enough to lead Michael Johnson, who has not been implicated, to return his medal. Most disturbing is that many of these athletes never failed a doping test; they were caught by other investigations.
So why should anyone think Bolt is clean, aside from the fact that he has never tested positive for anything?
Two things come in to play here: profile and limits. The first is easiest to explain, and I mentioned it a few weeks ago. It’s that there are two kinds of athletes who dope: those who have had success as clean athletes, but go on the juice to extend their careers, as Marion Jones supposedly did. Sometimes this makes their performances spike over the baseline they had established from years running clean, as Tim Montgomery’s did. The other type is the nobody who rides the drugs from obscurity; Ben Johnson fit this profile, as did Kelli White, the former World Champion who confessed everything when the BALCO scandal broke. Usain Bolt is neither of these; he’s only 21, and should be reaching the peak of his speed with no need for juice to keep him going. And he’s not emerging from nowhere; he was a silver medalist in the 200m last year in Osaka, and was winning junior world titles at the age of 15. He’s had a steady progression over six years in the longer event; he’s only a newcomer at the 100m.
The second argument against Bolt being dirty is the idea of limits. Let’s assume for a second that Bailey at 9.84 was clean. (This also happens to be Tyson Gay’s PR, which he has run twice.) Assuming anyone who runs faster than that “must be” doping means assuming (a) that Bailey ran a perfect race in Atlanta (which Gay and Canada’s Bruny Surin managed to duplicate on three other, later occasions), and (b) that Bailey, Gay and Surin represent the optimal body type and running style for the 100m, which cannot be improved upon.
These two assertions are absurd on their face. There’s always room for small improvements; nobody has yet run the perfect race over 100m. I haven’t studied Bailey’s Atlanta race, but I’m guessing his start was slightly flawed, maybe he had a stride off early in the race, who knows. Maybe his competition could have pushed him just a bit more, mentally. Any one of those factors could have improved him a little bit. Add that to the startling physical differences between the compact, muscular Bailey and the towering, rangy Bolt, and I have no trouble imagining that physical differences, and the different mechanical approach to the race which those dictate, could account for a difference of twelve hundredths of a second.
Do you know how little twelve hundredths of a second is? Try starting a stopwatch and stopping it again that fast. It’s such a tiny difference, much less than one of Bolt’s long strides. I can’t look at Bailey ‘96 vs. Bolt ‘08 and insist that the only possible reason for that microscopic difference is pharmaceutical.
It’s one of the tragedies of performance-enhancing drugs that it’s impossible to prove someone didn’t take them, only (sometimes) when someone did. For the time being, however, I prefer to assume Bolt didn’t.
June 2, 2008
I guess I should also add that while I expected Bolt vs. Gay to be a very fast race, I wouldn’t have predicted a world record—nor, for that matter, was I expecting Bolt to win, though in hindsight I should have.
I’m now hoping Gay’s defeat will make him less of a favorite to win in Beijing, opening my way to another 100m pool victory.
A few more words about Bolt et al
I was in no condition to be writing when I filed my meet report early on Sunday morning (and the 3+ hour drive home was still waiting for me,) so I’m not terribly pleased with its quality.
I’m a little happier with today’s analysis, written after a few hours of sleep and incorporating quotes from a Thursday pre-meet press conference as well as the post-race face-time. And yet I still didn’t get all the ideas that were raised into print.
One of them, mentioned a few times over the weekend, was Bolt’s height. He’s 6’5”, extraordinarily tall for a sprinter, a fact Jere Longman of the Times noted at the meet (when the field is down in the blocks, Bolt’s legs are so long his butt sticks up significantly higher than anyone else’s, making him easy to pick out from beyond the finish line.) Longman’s article said, “Where shorter runners seem to explode out of the blocks, he seems to unfold.”
This is generally considered a disadvantage among sprinters, but Tyson Gay displayed his own scholarship of his event by saying, “Times change. Back in the day, there were some tall sprinters: [Linford] Christie, Carl [Lewis], they were tall. Then there was the Maurice Greene era, Jon Drummond, they were shorter. Now Bolt’s a lot taller.” Just a cycle, according to Gay, and maybe it has just been a matter, as Bolt’s coach seems to think, of figuring out the best way to get those long legs out of the blocks efficiently.
June 1, 2008
In recent years, as world records have become harder to come by (and American records even harder) there’s been increased interest among the record-promoting community in all-comers records. In as much as I consider records an exciting part of the sport, I like the idea of all-comers records, but I have issues with the way they’re sometimes presented.
The concept is pretty simple, if hard to explain. A world record is the best mark in the world for a given event under a given set of rules. (This is why world records in the javelin had to be rewritten a decade or so ago when the weight of the spear was changed.) There’s a sort of implicit additional idea that the record must be set on Earth, that there might be some superset of interplanetary or universal records. In the other direction, there are continental (or area) records, and national records. (Look at the list of records Roger Bannister set in one race.)
These get complicated because they are tracked two ways, by citizenship or by venue. An American record is a national record; it could be set anywhere in the world, and the criteria is that it is set by a citizen of the USA. A U.S. all-comers record, however, may be set by anyone; the criteria is that it be run within the borders of the country. (There are Area records—Europe, Africa, Asia, Oceania, etc.—kept the same way.)
The problem I have is that announcers so often wax lyrical about the “fastest time on American soil!” Oh, come on. There’s no soil out there; it’s a few centimeters of synthetic fabric. A media rep I talked to last night agreed, but further noted that only track geeks understand the label, “all-comers record.”
“Why not just say, ‘Fastest time ever run in the US’?” she asked.
I happen to like the evocativeness of the phrase “all comers,” with its expansive implications beyond just the dry word “record,” but when it comes to using a definite phrase, why not?
Usain Bolt 9.72
I’m not generally one to get all fired up about sprinters, but in recent years I’ve forced myself to take a professional interest. Which is why I was actually paying attention to witness my first 100m world record.
I asked one longtime track writer (also a former Olympian, as it happens, not that he would tell you) who was in the mixed zone with me when the record had last been set in the U.S. I answered my own question: Donovan Bailey at the ‘96 Olympics in Atlanta. He observed that he’d actually seen the record broken twice previously on that very site: once by Leroy Burrell in 1991, and once (“that might have been 110 yards”) in 1962.