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July 31, 2008

And the Olympic doping scandal...

starts now.

Some may remember this little bit of snark I posted two years ago when Russia hosted the World Indoor Championships. Apparently my suspicions (and those of others) were justified. Russia just lost all four of their 1,500m women and two out of three 800m women, plus a pair of throwers. The Russian Federation has time (just) to submit new names, but whether they’ll be allowed to is still unknown.

The fallout from Soboleva’s suspension will be significant, because it calls into question her two WR marks in the 1,500m during the recent indoor season. But more immediately, the outlook for the women’s 1,500m has changed dramatically, with probably two medals which would’ve gone to Russian women up for grabs. There’s an Ethiopian woman (Burika) likely to pick up one of them, but women like Shannon Rowbury are now legitimate medal contenders.

Interesting to see how this plays out.

Posted by pjm at 9:56 AM | Comments (0)

July 28, 2008

Let's just get the embedded RFID chips and be done with it

James Reynolds, the BBC correspondent in China, posted a blog entry today in which he discussed, along with the arrival of parts of the British Olympic team and the air in Beijing, the OIAC.

Officially accredited journalists are all given an official yellow-lined Olympic Games pass—which gets you past police checkpoints and into Olympic venues (this pass is so sacred and impossible to replace, that if you lose it, you might as well quietly emigrate, start a new life under a false name and hope that no-one ever tracks you down to tell you how stupid you were to lose your pass).

But this one official Olympic pass doesn’t get you everywhere. You also need a special pass for your car, and you need a special sticker for your video camera as well. If you’re going into the Olympic village, you’ll need another, completely different pass as well—which you have to apply for well in advance.

All in all, it might be easier—and quicker—to brand your forehead with your name, date of birth, passport number and DNA sequence.

I can’t say that I’m excited about the pollution numbers.

Posted by pjm at 9:27 AM | Comments (0)

July 26, 2008

Whale!

I have a lot of pictures from today, but these two may be my favorites. The original un-cropped shots are also on Flickr; these were taken with the “point the camera where the subject may turn up, mash down the shutter when you see it” method, so I’m surprised they came out this well. If I’d had A’s hardware setup, I’d be selling the photos to whale-watch outfits for promotions.

Whale!

Whale!

We got a closer look at a big old seal on the return journey, but he didn’t give us quite as many photo ops. The whale, we were guessing, was probably six feet across the beam.

Update 7/28: Consensus seems to be that it was a minke whale.

Posted by pjm at 9:06 PM | Comments (0)

July 24, 2008

Preparing for the conditions

I’m reading a lot now about how various marathoners are preparing for the Olympics. Deena Kastor and Blake Russell have both talked about how they’re training for the heat and humidity of Beijing by overdressing in their relatively cool and dry training locations (Mammoth Lakes and Monterey, CA, respectively), and A reports that Lornah Kiplagat has dragged a stationary bike into the sauna at her training camp in order to do heat-acclimation workouts. (Kiplagat won the 2007 World Cross-Country title in the sweltering conditions in Mombasa, so she must know something about preparing to race in the heat.)

The overdressed Americans reminded me of Buddy Edelen, the winner of the 1964 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials. Edelen, who was the World Record holder at the time (his American record stood for another decade) knew that the Trials, which would be held at the Yonkers marathon that year, were likely to be hot and muggy, but unlike nearly all the other contenders, he decided to prepare for it. He was based in England, where he was employed as a teacher and could travel on weekends and holidays to the competitive European racing circuit. To prepare for the Trials, he trained in double and triple layers of clothing, weighing himself like a wrestler after his runs to observe how much fluid he was losing. Bear in mind that in those days, drinking during a race was often seen as a sign of weakness.

Sure enough, Yonkers was hot and humid. Edelen ran 2:24, about ten minutes off his world record. He also won the race by nearly twenty minutes as his closest competitors wilted in the heat.

I’m not going to go so far as to say that heat conditioning assures a medal. (Edelen wound up 6th in Tokyo.) But I think it’s fair to guess that anyone who doesn’t do heat conditioning of some sort will not win a medal.

Now Playing: Polar Bear from Some Friendly by The Charlatans

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Posted by pjm at 10:42 AM | Comments (2)

July 23, 2008

Dorando Pietri, John Hayes, and the Olympic Marathon

The NY Times “Rings” blog has an entry today about the 100th anniversary of the 1908 London Olympic marathon, the one which started at Windsor Castle and established the 26.2-mile standard distance for the marathon. (And you thought it was 26.2 miles from Marathon to Athens.)

I won’t rehash the details of the whole thing, but I will point out that Wayne Baker, mentioned as the advocate for John Hayes at the Dorando Pietri celebrations, may be more familiar to readers of my comments (or of his blog as “Scooter.”)

Now Playing: Trip On Love by Abra Moore

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Posted by pjm at 3:26 PM | Comments (1)

Looking out different windows

Backyard deer

When I was hanging a load of laundry on the lines behind my parents house, I thought, “This isn’t how I usually spend my on-line time.”

About an hour before I went out to take the laundry in (it’s been sprinkling all afternoon, so far) we looked out the window to observe the local wildlife. In Amherst I’m used to watching squirrels, occasional bunnies, and the neighborhood cats in our yard; here, it was a deer picking through the back-yard salad bar. I got this photo out the window as the deer considered picking some fruit from the crab-apple tree at the corner of the yard where the brush comes closest to the house; shortly afterward, my movement behind the window spooked it enough that it bounded over to the farthest end of the yard, and finally vanished.

And I’ve been getting reports for months of the local “flight school.” The bald eagles who nested on the other side of the island had their nest blown down in a storm a few years ago, but they’ve returned and the new nest is much more visible to passers-by. “Junior,” the young eaglet, has recently been out on his first flights, and it won’t be long before his parents kick him out and force him to find his own territory to forage for food. This pair (if it’s the same pair) have been nesting on the island for several years, so the area apparently represents good eagle habitat despite the human population.

Posted by pjm at 3:05 PM | Comments (0)

July 22, 2008

1936 on the reading list

I don’t have any illusions about the level of scrutiny the Chinese government is likely to give my visit to Beijing (that is, very little). I’m unlikely to revisit the experience one of my colleagues had, in 1980, of returning to his hotel room to find the KGB searching his suitcase. (He was asked to sit and wait while they finished, if I recall correctly.)

That said, I am trying to figure out what level of care to apply to my laptop, since it seems possible that my hard drive could be scanned, and I’m definitely paying attention to the books I bring. I’ve had some real liberal-thought bombshells suggested to me, but the two paperbacks I know will be in my bag are slightly more subtle; they both deal with the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

The parallels between the two Games held by recently-reclusive powers using the Olympics as a coming-out party are not hard to see. (Though apparently the Germans made it more of a party than the Chinese are ready for.) Certainly there are plenty of differences between Germany 1936 and China 2008. But there are plenty of similarities. I’ve picked up Louis Zamperini’s biography (I mentioned him a few days ago) and in Portland the other week, in Powell’s, I picked up a copy of Jeremy Schaap’s book about Jesse Owens, Triumph.

They make a decent case against boycotts, standing together, but they also don’t paint the hosts in a rosy historic light. I’d love to see the PRC make their case for taking them away from me; they’re not directly critical or dangerous to them in any way, only in their oblique implications.

Any similar titles I should be picking up? Note that paperbacks are heavily favored for long plane rides.

Posted by pjm at 8:29 PM | Comments (1)

July 21, 2008

I do not think it means what you think it means

I’m in receipt of a Powerpoint document from an advertising network which will remain nameless. Leaving aside the question of whether Powerpoint is the appropriate medium for communicating the information it contains (I come down heavily on the side of “No”), let’s take a look at this question, apparently intended to find out something about our ability to handle a particular advertising campaign:

Does your web server have internet access? Can your web server view web pages?

If the web server doesn’t have internet access, our site will have serious difficulty reaching its audience. Whether or not the server software can be said to “view” pages is a complicated metaphysical question I’m not really prepared to consider at this point.

I think the sender meant to ask if the server could programmatically access resources located elsewhere on the internet, and the answer to that question is (I think) “Yes,” with trimmings. (I suppose I can imagine a scenario in which an overly-paranoid firewall prevented a server from accessing outside resources.)

But how would you answer that question if you were not at my level of technical experience? Guess?

Now Playing: Maps And Legends from Fables Of The Reconstruction by R.E.M.

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Posted by pjm at 5:32 PM | Comments (0)

July 18, 2008

Skype indulges my geekery

Somewhere I picked up a habit, in IM conversations, of correcting myself using Perl syntax. (I think perl swiped this from awk or sed but I’m not that old; I learned it from Perl.) To clarify for less geeky people, that means that I would type something like

s/Oriten/Orient/

and expect it to be read as, “Oops, I fat-fingered the spelling of that word, here’s the correct version so you know what I meant.” The more literal interpretation of that syntax is “replace the first string with the second one.”

Imagine my surprise earlier this week when I did exactly this in a Skype IM conversation, and rather than having my little substitution shorthand turn up in the chat window, it actually edited my preceding message and added a little flag saying the message had been edited.

I’ve found myself wishing more than once that I could have shell access to life, instead of being completely limited to this visually-stimulating-but-inefficient audio/visual interface, and for one brief second Skype brought that dream a baby-step closer to reality.

Now Playing: Tellin’ Stories from Tellin’ Stories by The Charlatans

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Posted by pjm at 3:12 PM | Comments (1)

July 17, 2008

Getting priorities in line

How great is going for a run?

Well, I can leave thinking about proportional reactions to different degrees of crisis, and come back thinking about all the steps I would need to set up an SSH tunnel to an HTTP proxy; in other words, to bypass the Great Firewall of China, if it works.

(I’ll post the steps when I get back… if it works.)

Now Playing: Waiting from Inarticulate Nature Boy by Josh Clayton-Felt

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Posted by pjm at 9:40 AM | Comments (1)

July 16, 2008

Vote cat

Iz stakes me out

I put a few recent Iz photos on Flickr the other day. (Monday, Tuesday, whatever.)

This one turns out to have been picked up as a “top photo” on Pet Charts, “the definitive guide to the best pet stuff online.” (Note that this site has a subtle but unmistakable corporate backer.)

Anyway, it’s currently #4 of 5 in “Cats” for today. It’s ultimately meaningless, of course, but if you feel like voting it up, it might bolster the high opinion he already has of himself.

Now Playing: Minor Details by Wichita Stallions

Posted by pjm at 11:06 AM | Comments (1)

July 15, 2008

Trivia I never got to use

When it looked like Shalane Flanagan might have a shot at winning the 5,000m/10,000m double at the Olympic Trials (and you have to admit not many people would’ve picked Goucher to beat her until it happened—she is the AR holder, after all), I looked up previous winners of the “Woolworth Double” (five and dime—now there’s an obsolete figure of speech.) I never needed to use the research, so why not regurgitate it here?

Women have only been running the 5,000m since 1996, so there have only been four Trials including both distances. (I checked the 3,000m/10,000m doubles, just in case.) No women have done the double.

Only two men have done it: Don Lash in 1936 and Curt Stone in 1952. Lash, who was the world record holder at the time, actually tied in the 5,000m with Louis Zamperini.

Now Playing: Life On the Moon from We Will Become Like Birds by Erin McKeown

Posted by pjm at 3:22 PM | Comments (0)

July 13, 2008

How you use the storage space

At some point in Eugene, I was discussing with a colleague the differing approaches people take to popular culture. (One which came up, since I mentioned Mountains Beyond Mountains, was how Paul Farmer referred to People magazine as the “Journal of Popular Studies”, or JPS.)

At some point I asserted that since I have a head full of professional knowledge for my “real” job, my track-writing sideline occupied all the head space ordinary people filled with pop-culture trivia. I illustrated this by pointing out that I couldn’t name a single American Idol winner, but I could list the last 10 Olympic 10,000m gold medalists.

She then named all the American Idol winners, and I recited:

  • Bekele (Athens)
  • Gebrselassie (Sydney)
  • Gebrselassie (Atlanta)
  • Skah (over Chelimo, disputed) (Barcelona)
  • Ngugi (Seoul)
  • Cova (L.A.)
  • Yifter (Moscow)
  • Viren (Montreal)
  • Viren (Munich)

…and blanked out on Mexico City. But Tokyo ‘64, of course, was Mills; I don’t have Rome or Melbourne, but Helsinki ‘52 and London ‘48, of course, were both Zatopek.

On doing some research, I blew Seoul, because that was Brahim Boutayeb. Ngugi won the 5,000m in Seoul. Mexico City was Naftali Temu of Kenya; Rome was Pyotr Bolotnikov and Melbourne Vladimir Kuts, both Soviets, which probably explains why their heroics were never imprinted on my brain.

(Yes, Now Playing is back—I have my offline editor speaking to my system once again.)

Now Playing: Bob Dylan’s 115th Nightmare by The Gay Blades

Posted by pjm at 10:34 PM | Comments (0)

July 12, 2008

Pre-valid OIAC

Normally, I show up at a big meet, go to the accreditation center (often “centre”), wave around some government-issued photo ID, and get handed a card to wear around my neck. Never before has the card arrived with me in advance of the meet.

But then, the Olympics is not a normal track meet.

Just as with the application, the degree of care used with the package dropped dramatically once it crossed the Atlantic. I’d given a slightly inaccurate address, and the package was delivered to my neighbor, who had it half open (not signing for it, I assume) before he realized it was for me. He left it on our side-door step, where I only noticed it because Iz was intently watching one of the neighborhood cats who was camped out next to it for a few minutes.

OIAC

Opening up the package reminded me of the phenomenon of “unboxing” which seems to have come with the fetishization of various technology products. Courier envelope, IAAF envelope, note. Then the BOCOG envelope, containing a slip of paper explaining “to whom it may concern” that “The OIAC will be accepted as a multiple entry visa to China (including Hong Kong SAR and Macao SAR) … along with a valid passport. … Please accept this OIAC as proof of the individual’s entry/exit visa to China.”

And then the OIAC (Olympic Identification and Accreditation Card), easily the most sophisticated credential I’ve ever been issued. It’s visually similar to most credentials, a laminated card about seven inches high by four wide, with an appalling picture of me (extra feature: there’s a copy on the back as well), a number of small squares describing where I’m allowed to go (media transportation, the Olympic Common Domain, whatever that is, the Main Press Centre (sic), and Athletics) along with a big letter code I don’t understand and a bar code. (The bar code is a new one, almost certainly a security feature: it’s more accurate to scan bar codes for access than to eyeball cards.) My passport number is on there somewhere. There may be an RFID wire in the card somewhere, but I can’t tell.

Unusually, there’s no indication of my citizenship. Normally at overseas meets I find the stars and stripes somewhere on my credential; this one simply has my name, the phrase “sport-specific journalist” (which means I can’t use it to get in to the Water Cube, more’s the pity) and the phrase “Pre-IAAF” which apparently means I’m a temporary citizen of the nation of the International Association of Athletics Federations.

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

Putting their money where my mouth is

Back in May, I posted an opinionated little bit about the so-called “economic stimulus checks” we’re being sent by the Federal Government in an effort to jump-start consumer spending and thereby re-start economic growth. Mine arrived in June, when I was busy getting ready to go to Eugene, so I deposited it and promised myself I’d figure out what to do with the money later.

In Eugene, I read Tracy Kidder’s Mountains Beyond Mountains, which is subtitled, “The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World”. It’s a remarkable book, in that Kidder, who is often nearly invisible in his books, is much more of a character in this one, and he plays us, everyone who reads of the fantastic efforts of Farmer and feels perhaps a little smaller in comparison.

Farmer’s motivation is, perhaps reductively, simply this: people are dying of curable diseases. Not only do they not need to die, but if they weren’t so poor, they might not be vulnerable to these diseases (AIDS, tuberculosis, etc.) in the first place. And finally, they are often poor as a direct result of this country’s foreign policies (e.g. Haiti).

Farmer’s organization, Partners In Health, takes on these public health issues around the world, addressing them primarily because they are addressable—because they don’t view resignation in the face of overwhelming odds an appropriate response—but it also happens that addressing pandemics like multi-drug resistant tuberculosis and AIDS immediately, even in poor communities (or, in the case of MDR TB, in the prisons of Russia) is significantly less expensive than it will be to address them once they break free of those environments and simply start sweeping the world at large.

I can’t hope to find the dedication Farmer has to his cause, but it does make me angry that my government can find $600 to mail to hundreds of thousands of taxpayers to buy more gasoline, and billions upon billions of dollars to fund an unnecessary war in Iraq, but it can’t spare a few million to cure MDR TB in Haiti, or even attempt to address the health needs of its own poorest citizens.

So I’ve taken the $600 the government sent me and forwarded it on to Partners In Health. I think they’ll do better things with it than I would, and certainly they’ll do better than the government has.

Posted by pjm at 10:32 AM | Comments (2)

July 11, 2008

Time to share the road

There’s a new ghost bike in Washington, DC this week. Not somebody I knew, but somebody people I know knew, a recent graduate of the College. 22 years old, all ready to save the world, and for whatever reason that’s all ended now, with no explanations.

I’ve seen a lot of bicycles on the road recently. Obviously Eugene and Portland were swarming with them, but I feel like there have been more than usual in Amherst, as I’ve mentioned, many of them new commuters. I’d like to see more, I’d like to see more bikes replacing other fuel-burners and honestly I’d rather not see us placing any more ghost bikes. But there are so many cars on the road that even a noticeable increase in bikes doesn’t represent a noticeable decrease in cars.

So if you’re riding—or, for that matter, if you’re driving where there seem to be more riders than before—remember to read the Bicycle Safe page, which I’ve linked before. (And wear your helmet, too, because there are more ways to fall off a bike than just getting hit by a car.)

Posted by pjm at 5:37 PM | Comments (0)

Selective tone-deafness

I recently realized that there are some people I just can’t communicate easily with. They’re generally people I like (on reflection, the group probably includes people I’ve dated) and yet somehow I’m continually (unintentionally) stepping on their metaphorical toes.

If this was one or two people, I’d want to blame it on them (over-sensitive). If it was everyone (and it’s not) I could blame myself (socially inept). But it’s neither, so there must be a more sophisticated reason.

Posted by pjm at 5:14 PM | Comments (0)

July 10, 2008

It's all about the backstretch

There was a lot to like about how Eugene hosted the Olympic Trials last week.

Part of it, of course, was the Fan Fest, which was basically a holiday street fair without the carnival rides and with big video screens where people (even, or perhaps especially, people without actual tickets to the stadium) could sit and watch the video feed from the competition. There were plans to give the awards out there, rather than in the stadium, but somehow the logistics of that didn’t work out; the athletes frequently got out there pretty quickly, though. The meet was a sellout, over 20,000 people for each of eight days, but if you were somehow able to count everyone who came in to the Fan Fest, the numbers would be even higher.

What’s more, it gave the meet a different attitude. In Sacramento, when the meet was over, everyone piled into their cars, the lights shut out, and the meet just diffused into the night. In Eugene, when the meet was over, the party was getting started outside the stadium.

Also, I’ve never been to a meet (short of a World Championship) where so many fans stayed to watch every lap of the distance races. Or, for that matter, where the fans watched the discus (qualifying rounds!) and other throwing events so attentively. Eugene has a distance-running aura, and the great U of O teams of the past were built around distance runners, but the fans left no event unloved.

All of which makes the logo they chose more significant. The icon of Hayward Field is the East Stand, a big barnlike structure recognizable to anyone who has been to a meet there or seen one on T.V. But though it was originally Hayward’s main stand, the homestretch is now overlooked by the West Stand, a massive thing with a gigantic cantilevered roof held up by the biggest laminated wood beams I’ve ever seen. The east side was the homestretch once upon a time, but all the pictures you’ve seen of Pre finishing races have the West Stand, the house that Bowerman built, in the background.

So the East Stand has a double resonance. First, of course, it’s what you see from the West Stand, with the Hendricks’ Park ridge in the background. (One of the best stadium backgrounds I’ve ever seen, personally.) Second, well, it’s where the serious fans sit. They can’t see the finish line as well, their seats may be a little cheaper, and the horizontal jump runways are clear across the field from them. But they’re the ones who carry the athletes around the rough part of each lap, the ones the athletes reach first on their victory laps. They’ll put up with the not-so-great seats so they can watch a great meet.

Posted by pjm at 8:15 PM | Comments (0)

July 6, 2008

Half-baked stories

Most of the ideas I’ve thought through while I’ve been here, I’ve tried to articulate on the Runner’s World site. (My favorite example, which I’m still convinced is a valid idea even if I seem to be the only one who gets it, is “Gabe Jennings and the ‘More Magic’ Switch”.) But I still have a bunch I haven’t been able to marinate long enough to write in a way that makes sense.

One is the retirees. On Friday, two different athletes (Ann Gaffigan in the women’s steeple and Kyle King in the men’s 1,500m) came through the mixed zone saying some variation of, “Well, that’s pretty much the end of the line for my career.” It’s jarring and saddening to read, particularly from Gaffigan who won this event in 2004, despite the fact that Nike has practically built a marketing campaign around the “top three or go home” idea. When the faces start getting put to the “go home” people, it stops being a philosophy and starts being people’s lives, sometimes people you feel an odd sort of kinship with, and it’s not quite as cute anymore. But I haven’t been able to spell that out in a readable column yet.

Another is another pass at Gabe Jennings. Why am I so fascinated with his reunion tour, this near-Quixotic quest? That’s exactly the question. In eight years, surely he’s changed, just like I have, just like we all do. He’s gone from being on the young side with the world in front of him to being on the old side of things, without many more chances. And yet he’s willing himself to recreate something from his relatively-distant past; to step in the same river twice, as Heraclitus might have it. That feels like the idea, but I haven’t been able to articulate it in more detail.

Posted by pjm at 3:58 PM | Comments (1)

July 2, 2008

In which I give unsolicited career advice

It may be time for Adam Goucher to become a house-husband.

There’s some curiosity about why Adam dropped out of the men’s 5,000m final with two laps to go on Monday night. The party line is that Goucher and his coach, Alberto Salazar, saw that the race was not going to be won in a time faster than the Olympic “A” standard, which meant that even if Goucher won—and it was clear by then that he wouldn’t—he wasn’t going to Beijing. So Salazar waved Goucher off the track to better save his energy for the 10,000m final on Friday evening.

Now, Goucher may actually have a better shot in the 10. I haven’t studied the start lists, but many of the athletes who should be able to beat him are banged up, already have marathon spots, or are otherwise showing their age. But he has two tasks in the 10, just like he did in the 5, and that’s both to make the top 3 (excluding the marathoners, who aren’t likely to go for the 10 the way Dan Browne did in ‘04) and to get the “A” standard. The second task is likely to be harder, no matter what the field, particularly if nobody else forces the pace and Goucher winds up being the mule for the field. (And I can’t imagine, given what Amby posted today, that anyone’s going to try to set up a Goucher-friendly race other than maybe Rupp or Rohatinsky, and they have priorities of their own.)

The fact is—and I hate to admit this, because he’s a few years younger than me—but Adam Goucher may be a bit old for the track. The dominant East Africans tend to be under 25. (Gebrselassie, a year or so older than me, is struggling to make the Ethiopian team in the 10,000m. Bekele is 23 or 24.) He may have a few years left in the marathon if that’s any good for him—conventional wisdom holds that elite marathoners peak around age 35—but the longer he hangs around, the harder it gets for him to find a race that plays to his strengths. He can’t keep entering the big races and hoping the door will open for him.

It may be time for him to admit that it’s his wife’s turn in the spotlight. (This has nothing to do with the fact that she’s better looking than he is.) There are loads of stories about Russian marathoners whose husbands give up competition and take over the support work, letting their wives train full-time; we inevitably hear the story after the wife has had a major breakthrough at a big international race. (Andrew Kastor might be a U.S. example, except that he was never national-class.)

It’s too bad Adam doesn’t do the cooking.

Posted by pjm at 7:09 PM | Comments (0)