March 3, 2009
A press release, or a taunt?
Somewhere along the line, I found myself on the press mailing list for the 2010 European Championships, which will be held in Barcelona. (I suspect there’s enough overlap between the Barcelona 10 organizers and the Valencia ‘08 committee that they simply grabbed the email addresses of all media from the World Indoor Championships last year.)
This would be eminently reasonable except that there’s no good reason for me to get any assignments to attend a European Championships. That and the Commonwealth Games are the two big meets I’m pretty much unlikely to see unless I go as a tourist someday.
(If I work a big meet in 2010, it’s likely to be the World Juniors, in Moncton, New Brunswick.)
There’s no way for the Barcelona team to know this, of course. After all, I came to Valencia, why not Barcelona, right?
January 29, 2009
It pays to be nimble
As I’ve mentioned before, my primary outlet as a freelancer is the IAAF website, iaaf.org. Their sane and fair assigning policy for event coverage is this: as long as you’re competent, you will always be first in line for the events you covered last year. This is great when you have an event (I’ve had the Boston Indoor Games for them for five or six years) but it can sometimes mean it’s hard to add new meets to your schedule.
This year I decided I would go to Millrose again (I’ve been away for a while) even though it’s not “my” meet. I put it on the schedule I sent around to various editors who sometimes send me assignments. And lo and behold, about 36 hours before they get underway, I get email from the iaaf.org editor: the Millrose guy can’t make it. You said you’d be there. Can you send a report?
I don’t know if this means Millrose will be “mine” next year. I’ve reported on another event when another reporter couldn’t make it, and willingly given it back when he returned. But it really underlines how for me, committing to being at the event is the biggest part of getting the assignment.
And then it turned out it would come in handy for me to be in New York to meet with a client for an hour or so, just as an extra bonus.
Maybe Kurt Vonnegut had a point?
November 18, 2008
Jesse Owens Award (and more)
I have something to say about the winners and how I voted, of course, but I’ve written it elsewhere, about which more later (perhaps when I’ve had a chance to doll up the appearance a bit more).
November 10, 2008
Having written here before about chip timing, it’s only fair that I point out a lengthy article on the topic in the current New England Runner. It’s not online, so if you have an interest in transponder timing, (or, as the cover line so sensationally puts it, “The Chip Wars,”) you’ll need to find a paper copy. Anywhere in New England with a decent magazine rack should have them; if you’re south of New York, things may be tougher.
There’s also a feature story about some Kenyan trip or another. I haven’t read the article yet, but the pictures were nice.
October 24, 2008
There's nothing like a grammar flame in the mid-afternoon
I got email through a college list today, attempting to recruit undergrads. Forgettable, except for this sentence:
We’re still welcoming more resume’s.
Apparently “ability to punctuate correctly” is not a job requirement.
Now Playing: We Are Jonah from A Rock In The Weary Land by The Waterboys
October 5, 2008
Smart-aleck column title
Apparently mlb.com has a naming convention for post-game “notebook” stories: they’re “Short Hops”.
Which meant that after the Milwaukee Brewers lost Game 4 today, I kept seeing the headline “Brewers Short Hops” in the Sox Gameday window. It wasn’t until I also saw “Phillies Short Hops” that I realized the headline wasn’t some editor’s clever comment on the end of Milwaukee’s season.
Now Playing: Weathervane from Songs for a Hurricane by Kris Delmhorst
September 26, 2008
My vote is not for sale
I used to see announcements for the Jesse Owens Award and sometimes wonder, “Who votes on these things?”
As of this year, the answer is apparently, “Me, for one.” But I’ve already sent my ballot back, so any lobbying you may wish to do will be ineffective. I may or may not remember to explain who I voted for, and why, when the awards are announced. Or sooner, if I have time.
I maintain that a shrinking population of full-time track writers (or, if I’m feeling cynical, “real” track writers) is the cause of this, but it may be that what little work I do has more to do with it. I suspect that the set of U.S. track writers present at all four of the USATF Indoor Championships, World Indoor Championships, U.S. Olympic Trials and Olympic Games is pretty small.
September 16, 2008
Writing for programming
Two years ago, TAing a software engineering course and attempting to explain to Computer Science majoring undergraduates that yes, you still had to know how to write well even if you were a programmer, I really wish I’d been armed with my current experience.
In the past twelve months, while supposedly employed as a programmer of some sort, I’ve written over a hundred pages of RFPs, proposals, and functional specifications. I’m willing to bet I’ve written more words of copy than of code.
Just in the last week I’ve done about fifteen pages of proposals (of which about one page could be easily copied from one to the next, and even that took some editing). Looking at the six-page proposal on my screen this afternoon (which isn’t even done yet; there’s probably two more pages in it) I said out loud, “I can’t believe I used to sweat blood over three-page papers in college.”
In the discussion following that, we agreed that the projects we’ve documented most thoroughly before we started coding were the ones which have been most successful. So take that, writing-avoidant undergraduates!
Now Playing: Chewing Gum Weekend from Between 10th And 11th by The Charlatans
September 10, 2008
Lose, as in losing games, losing your car keys, or losing your mind, is spelled with one “o”. Remember that the opposite of a win is a loss and you’ll have the “o”s right.
Loose, as in letting loose, on the loose, or loosening your tie, is spelled with a double “o”.
This is a public service announcement, not a chastisement; your spell-checker will not help you with this, and I’ve seen people who supposedly work with the English language professionally get it wrong. Don’t start me in on “rein”, “rain”, and “reign”, which are so frequently confused, I wonder if I might be getting them wrong myself.
Now Playing: This Is a Fire Door Never Leave Open from Left and Leaving by The Weakerthans
Technorati Tags: spelling
Answering the "W" questions up front
The purpose of newspaper sports coverage in the age of the Web has been an interesting question for years now.
However, this morning I received a newspaper (The Daily Hampshire Gazette) where the top story in the Sports section (picked up from the Hartford Courant) was all about the Tuesday evening Red Sox game… without once mentioning who won, or the score, or in fact anything at all that happened on the field. There’s a picture of on-field action, but two and a half of the story’s three columns are about David Ortiz, who didn’t even play.
A careful scan of the rest of the paper finally reveals a score in the agate page, but no box score. I’m guessing that the game went too late for the paper’s press time, though checking the official site shows that extra innings weren’t required (though it was close). I finally found an AP report on the Gazette’s website.
Maybe I’m unusual in that I do actually tend to get actual game reports from the newspaper. Undoubtedly the blame rests not with the Courant reporter who filed the story but with the local-paper editors who used an obvious sidebar or notebook type piece in place of an actual game report which may have been unavailable at press time. (The Courant has a perfectly clear game story by the same reporter on their website.) But even if all the box-score details are available to anyone online seconds after the game, whatever happened to providing “who, what, when and where” in the first paragraph (if not the first sentence) of the story?
Surely the Gazette editor could’ve spent two minutes to put together a lead on the article to say something like,
The Boston Red Sox were unable to wrest leadership of the American League East away from the Tampa Bay Rays on Tuesday evening at Fenway Park, losing 5-4 after a two-run homer by Jason Bay in the eighth inning put them up by one run going in to the ninth.
…and that covers the essentials for a casual reader. You don’t even need to go to journalism school to figure that out. (The lead of the AP story is better, but unlike myself, they’re pros.)
Now Playing: You And The Clouds Will Still Be Beautiful from Wasp Star (Apple Venus, Pt. 2) by XTC
August 28, 2008
(Yeah, I’ve been busy.)
In the event that anyone cares, I thought it might be interesting to gather up my full Beijing output, excluding what I posted here. Roughly speaking, that’s three things: The IAAF “Competition Blog,” the Daily Summaries on the IAAF site, and seven or eight event reports for the Running USA Wire. And then there’s the 50km walk report.
- Day 1 Morning | Afternoon | Summary
- Day 2 Morning | Afternoon | Summary
- Day 3 Morning | Afternoon | Summary
- Day 4 Morning | Afternoon | Summary
- Day 5 Morning | Afternoon | Summary
- Day 6 Afternoon | Summary
- Day 7 Morning | Afternoon | Summary
- Day 8 Morning | Afternoon | Summary
- Day 9 Afternoon | Summary
- Day 10 Morning
Running USA Wire:
Leaving out the blog, I filed 14,793 words. (Editing probably changed that number.) When you include the blog, that number goes up by about 50,000 words to 64,901, which is about the length of a shortish novel. Given that it was written over about ten days, though, it would probably make for a pretty ugly novel.
August 16, 2008
I can easily write the bullet points for a classified ad for this job:
- Track geek
- Able to write grammatical English sentences correctly employing athletics jargon
- Able to reliably spell Stuczynski, Isinbayeva, and Gebrselassie
What I can’t come up with is how to write the classified for people who feel how I do this morning. I couldn’t sleep last night—I got one hour between arriving back at the hotel at 1:30 AM and leaving for breakfast at 6:30 AM. Seeing the crowds (seriously, the Bird’s Nest is filling up with excited spectators to watch the marathon on the giant monitors) and the Games volunteers and staff is making me absolutely bubbly—no other word for it—with excitement despite my high level of fatigue.
I’m honestly excited about this race. I’m going to have fun watching it and writing about it. Dig in.
More so than ever before, the IAAF has attached my name and face to the “blog” I’m writing for them here. I wish I knew what that means.
I’m so excited about the marathon (or maybe about the 100m last night, the second WR in that event I’ve seen this year and both from the same amazing athlete) that I can’t sleep. It’s quarter to five in the morning here, and I was up past one writing last night, so that’s not a good sign for my Sunday. I think I’ll have fun writing about it, though.
August 13, 2008
24 hours in Beijing
I’m in a hotel room in Beijing, watching the Italy-Cameroon soccer game with the sound off (the commentary is in Chinese anyway) and trying to get caught up. The ethernet connection in the room is slow, but free.
I spent a lot of time in the air to get here, right over the Arctic. Might as well take the shortest path, I suppose. I went through the border control at the airport behind the Kenyan Olympic team and Brian Sell.
The sky was almost blue yesterday (before I collapsed and went to sleep) but it’s grey and brown today. Some of that’s increased overcast, but it’s also much smoggier. It hasn’t bothered my breathing much yet and everyone’s continuing to dismiss it (“It’s foggy,” says the IOC president) but yikes.
The Olympic park is crowded with people taking photos of themselves with the Bird’s Nest and the torch in the background, and the fences around the green (the secured area) are also lined with photo takers.
I seem to be doing OK with the time change so far, in the sense that my level of fatigue doesn’t seem to have a direct relationship to either local time or U.S. Eastern time.
The most interesting problem with the so-called “Great Firewall of China” is that Runner’s World has a lot of its coverage on sites hosted by Typepad, and Typepad’s IPs are largely blocked. So it’s easy for them to log in and post stories, but they can’t then check that the stories look right online. I can get their feeds but can’t click through.
August 10, 2008
Where to find my work
I’ve been asked a few times in the last week where my work during the Olympics can be found. Here’s the quick summary:
The IAAF Olympics site is the place to start. As in Osaka and Valencia, I’ll be writing the “Live Competition Blog” during every competition session. It’s not really a “blog” (it’s timestamped, but there are no comments or permalinks) and there’s no feed for it, but it will be updates on what’s happening in and around the stadium on a disturbingly frequent basis. I’m pretty sure there’s an XML file involved somewhere so I could potentially generate a feed using Pipes, but I don’t have the time to suss out the source URL right now.
I’ll also be writing daily summaries of competition which will appear on that page. Those will turn up in this feed; it’s not a full-text feed, so you’ll need to click through, and I don’t think I can filter my stories out with a pipe because the feed doesn’t carry author data.
And, of course, I’ll keep posting here now and then.
For a great visual look at the experience of being a journalist in Beijing, I recommend Seattle Times photographer Rod Mar’s blog, Best Seat in the House.
Now Playing: Hummingbird from Songs for a Hurricane by Kris Delmhorst
August 8, 2008
Still not quite right
The preview which got fouled up by a doping suspension is online now in its revised form. Of course, there may still be one glitch; I think the Russians may have substituted Kirdyapkin, the walker I say isn’t coming, as the alternate for Kanaykin, the one who was withdrawn. It’s hard to find a definitive list of the Russian team which includes alternates, and those alternates will be working hard in Beijing.
Now Playing: Tales of Ordinary Sadness by Electrocute
August 5, 2008
Another reason to hate writing previews
I spent part of Friday writing a 400-or-so-word preview of the Olympic men’s 50km racewalk. (Never mind why, it’s a long story.) There aren’t many well-known contenders in the walk; I only mentioned four by name. I sent it in yesterday; I think the article was due to go up soon.
This afternoon, I learned that one of them was busted for EPO and won’t be walking in Beijing. (The Russians, I must say, are looking pretty bad nowadays.) I know I’ll need to rewrite at least one paragraph; I may need to restructure half the story.
Now Playing: Splintering from Welcome Back Dear Children by Arizona
July 6, 2008
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.
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.
March 18, 2008
In Osaka, there were no running refrigerators in the stadium. Drinks were served from unplugged freezer cases stuffed with ice. The reason I heard for this was that a recent earthquake had required a nearby nuclear power plant to go offline (presumably for safety checks) and that the LOC was concerned about the power draw at the stadium and therefore cut wherever they could.
Perhaps the Valencia LOC should have taken the hint. On the third day of competition, shortly before the afternoon session started, the power went out in our section of the press tribune. I wouldn’t consider this a serious problem—I work with a laptop, and therefore switch to battery power without actually noticing the outages at first—but it brought our ethernet router down as well, so it knocked me offline. What’s more, the network’s return lagged the return of power by several minutes.
This went on to happen repeatedly through the course of the afternoon, including the critical juncture where the women’s high jump went from five jumpers to two. It was frustrating for me, to say the least, but at least I knew I wasn’t the only one; I could hear my editor, down the line, making some caustic remarks into his cell phone. (He also got his digs in the opening sentence of this article.)
I might have saved myself if I had multi-homed—that is, if I had made note of the password for the arena wifi network and had been able to switch from my wired connection to the wireless. But I hadn’t, and I’m not actually sure if that was working any better than the wired network.
With China talking about closing down pollution-generating facilities around Beijing during the Olympics, I have to wonder about the power supply in the Birdcage. Reporters are using more electricity every year; if you want an idea of how much power a wireless network uses, check the expected battery life on your laptop with the wireless switched off and switched on. I wonder if brown-outs will be an expected part of championship meets in coming years.
Now Playing: One Great City! from Reconstruction Site by The Weakerthans
March 9, 2008
It’s still unclear to me how I got to the end of this article without saying much, much more about the women’s high jump.
Another content-free post
One pleasant side-effect of jet lag is that I really won’t notice the daylight savings time shift. I just discovered this morning that I’m now only five hours ahead, instead of the six I’ve been for the last several days. Since I’m averaging about five hours of sleep a night, working until one or two and rising with the sun, my time zone has ceased to have much connection to my physical state.
Last night’s work: the wrap for Saturday and the preview for Sunday. I’m sort of proud of successfully working in the Morceli reference in the preview and making it work. They tell me I will only be doing the summaries, not the previews, in Beijing, which is a good thing. I think I’ve already mentioned several times how much I don’t love doing previews.
March 8, 2008
Another night's work
The schedule never lets up, now that the competition has begun. Last night I wrapped up Friday and previewed Saturday. Major gaffe in the preview—I specifically implied a medal contender wasn’t here, but she is—but I have the access to fix it myself, now, and I have.
I also had some illustrious visitors yesterday. (I’m not in the pictures, but my laptop is.) Only Greene is coming back today.
March 7, 2008
I'm typing as fast as I can
Aside from the stories I mentioned yesterday, the rest of my work here can be found on this page. Just don’t select the Spanish option—that’s clearly not me.
March 6, 2008
A few previews
Some of the work I was doing last weekend when I wasn’t writing here is online now. This is good, because I doubt I’m going to have much time for feature writing once the events start tomorrow. I’ll be working some long days all weekend!
Anyway, on Saturday and Sunday I was writing about sprinters and putters. It turns out that the verb you never use when describing the shot put is “throw”—you can’t throw the shot. It may be tossed, flung, heaved, or of course put, but not thrown. Of course, the challenge now is to find new and creative ways to sneak this verb by our editor. (Also, the reason IAAF prize money is still in dollars turns out to be much more prosaic than my theories.)
Update: And my Friday preview. I wanted to put “pole vault” in the headline, but it’s not a final yet. I’m doing the site’s competition previews and wrap-up summaries every day; hopefully it will be easier to preview finals when I’ve actually seen the preliminary rounds.
Now Playing: Political Scientist from Love Is Hell by Ryan Adams
March 2, 2008
Six hours ahead tomorrow night
By this time tomorrow, I’ll be on a plane for Spain (no word on rain in the plane.) I should be writing a story about my favorite non-running event which will come out, along with a story on a particular sprinter, in the next few days.
I will be spending most of my time, starting Friday, on the event “blog,” as I did in Osaka. (It’s not really a blog; my entries will be time-stamped, but they will also be very brief, and can’t be permalinked or commented on.) I will supposedly have a few “guest” bloggers, including Sanya Richards, Jeremy Wariner, and Janeth Jepkosgei; you’re now either impressed or mystified. I will also have a Spanish-language colleague working next to me, a first for the IAAF. I wonder if our readership will be compared.
I’m also writing the event previews each day, a prospect which fills me with some dread as I look back over my Osaka work and notice myself assuring the world (or, at least, the fraction which reads the back pages of Running Times) that “Alan Webb has beaten Bernard Lagat twice this season, and it’s reasonable to say he owns Lagat now.” That didn’t exactly pan out as I expected.
Now Playing: Cool James from Little by Little by Harvey Danger
February 27, 2008
Your spell-checker will not save you
By now, I hope, everyone has figured out that there are some cases where the spell check can’t help, and that’s where the misspelling you’ve found is the correct spelling of another word.
More accurately, though, the problem is homophones (words which are spelled differently but sound similar) being confused in situations where the author simply doesn’t know the original meaning of the figure of speech they’re using.
In track writing, the first problem comes when we have two contenders facing off. If it’s two individuals in one race, that’s a “duel”, a noun naming a kind of single combat. On the other hand, if it’s one team against another with no other teams present, that’s a “dual meet” with “dual” as an adjective modifying “meet”. The Stanford vs. Cal “Big Meet” is a dual meet. Khadevis Robinson vs. Nick Symmonds is a duel. I’ve seen the phrase “duel meet” used and I have to hope it’s an unconscious neologism rather than a misguided attempt to use colorful language by mixing metaphors.
Now let’s consider leashes and other forms of power over another. If you stop restraining your pace, or take over a job, you’re talking about “reins”, the lines used to guide horses. That’s the proper spelling for “giving free rein” to your inner grammar curmudgeon, or “taking the reins at USATF.” On the other hand, if you’re dominating an event and get defeated, your “reign” is over—the word for a ruler’s time in power. It’s actually possible to construct a figure of speech in which either of those might be correct (“free reign”), but the meaning will be slightly different depending on which one you select.
Don’t get me started on “bridle” paths being called “bridal” paths. A bridle is something you might attach reins to. Don’t try this at a wedding.
Most people who make these mistakes know this, and the problem comes from their fingers moving more from reflex than from conscious thought. I suppose it’s the triumph of spell-checking over careful editing.
February 24, 2008
And in good news...
…no stories about doping so far this year. And the reporter who was writing the “no doping stories this year” article a few years ago did a story about how the U.S. men are getting internationally competitive in distance running, i.e. a positive story. We’ll take ‘em where we get ‘em.
A bit more about newspapers and track writing
Having hinted that there’s more to say about the state of newspaper coverage of track, it may also be helpful to look back on this little grouch I wrote almost two years ago, because that covers a lot of what’s wrong. (Go ahead, I’ll still be here when you come back.)
The issue I faced, more specifically, last night was that newspapers in general don’t consider athletics worth column inches in most cases. This isn’t universal—the New York Times has Frank Litsky here—but Litsky came up on Amtrak from New York, he didn’t fly from Minneapolis. The other papers present are local.
Let’s leave aside, for the moment, the problem of how newspapers in general plan to stay relevant and, indeed, in business in the internet age. Certainly their available budget is a big motivator for the actions they’re taking, but for right now, we’ll consider the budget a black box and just think of them as geo-located producers of news which have a regional bias determined by their location.
They have decisions to make about which sports they cover and how they cover them. For the most part, they’re opting to hit the widest possible population in their market, which means covering local teams in the major pro sports (baseball, football, basketball, and sometimes hockey,) and local or regional high school sports, generally also focusing on those same team sports but sometimes adding, say, soccer.
There is no room left for Olympic sports unless there’s a doping scandal or an actual Olympics. (There was a discussion in the media tribune this morning about how many major papers now have “doping correspondents”.) In some cases this isn’t a major problem; many papers can run the USATF press release unchanged and do fine. What we’re losing isn’t one more general story about the meet; we’re losing the localized viewpoint those papers bring to the event. The Kansas City Star would devote more column inches to Maurice Greene than anyone else in the country, and in the Internet age, that meant you could go to the Star if you wanted to read more about Greene.
My strikeout with the Twin Cities papers highlights this: Jenelle Deatherage was a runner-up for a national title, and qualified for her first-ever international team, and barely anyone talked to her. Her story from this meet is pretty much unavailable, and that’s a real loss.
The Foot Locker national cross country championships used to do research the local papers for all the athletes who made Nationals, and after the meet they would have all the runners, regardless of place, come in to a media center in shifts. The Foot Locker media staff would call the sports desks of these papers, one by one, and say, “Here’s the athlete, here’s where they placed, want to talk to them?” And they used to get a phenomenal number of local-newspaper stories about their event and about the runners who competed. These athletes’ local areas learned who the local stars were and learned to follow their progress.
It’s not happening like that anymore, at any level. I don’t know if the problem is the sport not spoon-feeding the papers the way Foot Locker did, and making itself easy to cover, or if the problem is that the papers just keep saying “Thanks, but no thanks.” But either situation isn’t helping the sport.
February 23, 2008
Newspapers don't care about track
At the suggestion of a colleague, I tried to drum up a little extra work for myself tonight. Jenelle Deatherage, who is based in the Twin Cities area in Minnesota, took second in the 1,500m, punching her ticket for the World Indoor Championships. (Which are in Spain in two weeks; perhaps I’ve mentioned them.) “Nobody’s here from the Minnesota papers,” they told me. “Call the Star Tribune and see if they’ll take a story if you get it there before their Sunday deadline. If they don’t bite, try the St. Paul Pioneer Press.”
So I called the switchboard of the Star Tribune, got a voice-directed robot to transfer me to the sports desk, and made my pitch. “Interesting,” they said. “If you’ve got a press release, send it to…” I’m not offering a press release, I said. Well, they replied, we’ll probably just cut it down and run a paragraph in the “briefs” somewhere anyway. I said if that was all they needed, there was probably already a release at the USATF site. Thanks, they said.
So I called the Pioneer Press. One “press three for…” and I got the news desk, who sent me to sports, who sent me back to news, me making my pitch each time. “No,” they said, “we wouldn’t really give a freelance assignment on anything like that.” So I suggested the USATF press release again, and they thanked me for bringing it to their attention.
This, I suspect, is par for the course in newspaper sports desks. Area woman makes her first international team of any sort in years of trying, but area newspaper doesn’t care, even with no football or baseball to write about. (There is hockey there, of course, and probably loads of high school sports at this point.) And I, for once being a little proactive about marketing myself as a writer, instead wound up essentially doing volunteer publicity work for USATF. Not necessarily a bad thing for the sport, but not a terribly effective use of my time.
I have a lot more to say about this—it’s a telling little anecdote—but I have a sort-of press release to write, and this was really just the warm-up.
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 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 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
December 23, 2007
Writing the book on it
One way I know things have changed since my days as an undergraduate is that I’m no longer intimidated by writing. I used to sweat blood over five-page papers, but this past week I sat down and wrote an eleven-page project proposal draft in two afternoons. The difference, I suppose, is that now I tend to be writing because I know what I’m trying to say, rather than trying to articulate incoherence before I have it in order in my mind.
Last night, for example, I was stirring a pot of Christmas fudge and thinking about everything I’ve learned about that process since I started doing it at some Thanksgiving half my life ago. This morning I sat down and wrote 1,100 words on the subject, which is about enough text to fill a page of a magazine without much illustration.
Now Playing: Golden Age Of Radio from Golden Age of Radio by Josh Ritter
December 6, 2007
No more paper newsletters from the IAAF
While I confess some pleasure in the false romance of regular mail from Monaco, I’m pleased to read that the IAAF newsletter will no longer be printed and mailed, but only available online. What’s the point of using all that paper and postage (and packaging, given that the eight-page newsletter was frequently mailed sheathed in plastic, as some magazines are) when most of the enclosed news has been available on the website for weeks by the time the newsletter arrives?
There are places for magazines in this world—I happen to think that airplane seat-pockets are one of them—but a newsletter like this one is really much more useful as an online publication than as paper.
Now Playing: Dear Madam Barnum from Nonsuch by XTC
October 11, 2007
I can speak a bit more confidently now about the “pair of exciting assignments” I’ve been alluding to. I’ve been invited to be part of the IAAF.org team for the Beijing Olympics. According to the tentative plans I’ll be writing the “competition blog” again, and this time also writing more extensive previews and highlights stories for each day of competition. There are some complications and sacrifices to be made on this end, but I’ve never yet been to an Olympics (nor to China, for that matter) and it seemed like too good an offer to pass up—especially considering how notoriously difficult it is to obtain press credentials for the Olympics as a freelancer, or even in some cases as a magazine editor. I’ll be paid slightly less (though this is slippery: I’ve been paid in dollars before, but this offer was in euros) but I won’t need to make my own travel and housing arrangements, which is a big deal.
The icing on the proverbial cake is that the “dress rehearsal” with the systems and processes we’ll use for Beijing will be the “second-biggest event” of 2008, the World Indoor Championships, a biennial event coming up next March in Valencia, Spain and another major international I’ve never been to. (I suppose, when I think about it, that before 2006 the only major internationals I had been to were the 1999 and 2001 World Championships.) Leaving aside the inherent appeal of the event, the idea of going to the Mediterranean coast of Spain right about at the point where we in the Northeast U.S. are thinking winter has overstayed its welcome sounds tremendously appealing.
So, the almost-for-real track-writing career will continue for at least another year. And I’ll need to renew my passport (which will expire after Valencia.)
Now Playing: Sunshine/Nowhere To Run from Tarantula by Ride
October 10, 2007
Writing professionally, for free
Since I started writing here, the site has been something of a notebook for me, parts log and mass e-mail and writing practice-space. I can claim, in a small way, to be a “professional writer,” because I get paid to write, even though it’s not my primary source of income. What I write here, in general, is not the sort of stuff I get paid for. And I’ve resisted the temptation to slap some AdSense ads on this page somewhere, because I’m personally a little annoyed at the pervasiveness of advertising and giving up one more ad-free zone doesn’t seem worth the small change I would probably collect.
But last week I had email from someone asking why I didn’t shop around certain posts here for publication, and I realized that the line between my writing for pay and writing for fun is not quite as bright and sharp as I thought it was.
I know there are some full-time writers who work in feature length most of the time, and keep weblogs because things cross their desks which aren’t big enough for full articles. Even columnists, I suspect, have paragraphs here and there to burn off. But these two posts were—almost unintentionally—pretty close to column length, which tends to be the scale I work in.
I also like to think of this space as practice; I think that writing here regularly, even if it’s not about running, even if it’s not good, keeps me considering the way sentences fit together, and keeps the rhythm of paragraphs and sentences and transitions sharp in my subconscious. This makes it easier for me to do work when I have it; I can’t write well if I’m thinking about writing well.
At some level it comes down to a bit of superstition. I don’t know why I should be able to sit down and write a competent magazine article any more than I understand why someone else couldn’t. I feel like I need to use it or lose it—keep writing stuff when it comes to mind, even if it means self-publishing an otherwise saleable article on the internet—because I’m afraid if I force it too much, I’ll lose it. And for all that it’s frequently hard work, every now and then it can be a whole lot of fun. So I suppose sometimes this site is a libation—a little work poured out on the ground in recognition of the work I have and hope to continue getting.
I was offered a pair of exciting assignments yesterday, but I haven’t confirmed them yet; I’ll post the details when I do.
Now Playing: Army from The Unauthorized Biography Of Reinhold Messner by Ben Folds Five
October 9, 2007
Details, as yet, unresolved
…but “renew passport” should probably be on my to-do list.
October 7, 2007
Putting prose on a diet
It’s always better to know what you’re writing going in, I think. New England Runner didn’t really give me any guidelines for an Osaka story, so I threw every story I hadn’t told already (and I few I had) into one big, sprawling narrative and sent it in, knowing it was too long but figuring cutting was better than stretching.
Some days later came the apologetic reply: great stuff, but it needs cutting all right. To about a quarter of its original size.
I have it at a bit more than a third, right now, but I still need to cut another third of what remains. I’m toying with the idea of removing every third word and seeing if it still makes sense.
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:
- Women’s 3,000m Steeplechase
- Women’s High Jump
- Women’s 1,500m
- Women’s 200m
- Women’s 5,000m
- Men’s Pole Vault
- Men’s 1,500m
- Men’s 5,000m
- Men’s 200m
- Men’s 110m hurdles
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
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.
September 18, 2007
Echoes of Osaka
There 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
September 10, 2007
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
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
August 29, 2007
Missing my nap time
If I’m not posting here very much, what am I doing?
I paused for a moment this afternoon to add up what I’ve done since arriving last Thursday, not quite a week ago. As near as I can tell, it adds up to 23,327 words (give or take 50 or so,) and that’s only the paying work. I’m averaging about 4,000 words per day (actually, more than that since competition started,) which means I can expect to top 40,000 by the time all is said and done, probably not more than 45,000.
A little web research suggests that this is about half the length of a short novel, and I’m writing it in less than two weeks. Pity it would be utterly unreadable (or at least incoherent) if it was all collected in one place.
August 17, 2007
What I'm doing in Osaka
For the first time in my career, a significant amount of my work at a major event is going to appear on line more or less unfiltered, as soon as I write it. As far as the internet is concerned, this may be the most thoroughly documented—and observable—“vacation” I’ve ever had.
So here’s how to follow it all:
- Obviously, subscribe to the feed for this blog. This is where I’ll carp about my lack of sleep, getting locked out of the hotel, and how hard it is to run in the middle of a major metropolitan area.
- Get the feed for my Flickr photo stream as well. Hopefully my camera will hold up better than it did in Fukuoka and if I get anything good, I’ll upload it to Flickr.
- My primary job, the IAAF competition blog, doesn’t have a feed, unfortunately. However, my next responsibility, the Runner’s World Osaka 2007 blog, does. The IAAF blog will read like a marathon mile-by-mile; it’s going to be something like the meet announcer, where I describe the races, the progress of the field events, the intricacies of decathlon scoring. I’m given some latitude for commentary and opinion, but this is the IAAF and this is their meet, so I’m on a pretty short leash there. Anything that’s outside that short leash goes into the RW blog, from long jumpers getting struck by stray javelins (I hope not) to my (hypothetical) fascination with Japanese mass transit and any encounters with local flavor. (Den-Den Town is on my list.) That’s my place to be an out-and-out track geek. Subscribe to the RW blog’s feed; check the IAAF daily.
- I’ll have five to eight reports in the Running USA Wire. Those will be straight run-downs of the distance events with a heavy emphasis on American performances, particularly those of Running USA athletes (e.g. Jen Rhines, Deena Kastor, and Katie McGregor, I think.) No feed for that, I guess.
Anyone talented enough with Yahoo! Pipes to put together a pjm in Osaka feed?
Now Playing: Plea From A Cat Named Virtue from Reconstruction Site by The Weakerthans
August 12, 2007
That would be me
On the IAAF Osaka page, there’s a little box in the lower right marked, “Today’s Focus.”
In the box is the following text:
Welcome to our Osaka 2007 blog!
Here during the championships you will be able to read our blogger’s daily personal picks of what action to look out for. Then just click on the banner below to read his LIVE competition blog…
I do believe that’s my assignment. No feed, alas…
July 4, 2007
And sometimes it's not the reporter
As a counterpoint to my new alias, I offer a not-so-stupid reporter story. (Or maybe it is a stupid reporter story.) It came to mind while I was retrieving quotes for a big (for me) story I sent to Running Times a few days ago.
After the women’s 10,000m last week, someone asked Deena Kastor when was the last time she had run a 10,000m on the track. On my recording, Kastor is quite clear, saying, the 2004 Olympic Trials, which she won. I dutifully reported this in my story.
The problem is, it’s not so. Kastor ran in 2005, placing fourth. (Her winning time in Indianapolis, incidentally, was slower than that 4th-place finish in Carson.) A reader noted this, and told my editor, who corrected the posted story.
Did Kastor misunderstand the question, asking when she’d last run? Did I misunderstand the question, and she answered it correctly? Did she forget the race? Or was she deliberately forgetting it? Who knows, but I should’ve checked. (And, silly me, I was at that meet.)
July 2, 2007
Want me to spell that for you again?
Sometimes I wonder if I’m over-selling myself when I say I’m “good at” track writing. And sometimes I think the standards for calling yourself a “reporter” are so ridiculously low I should be billing myself as “experienced” or “expert” or something like that.
Yesterday I ran the annual 4th-of-July-weekend road race. I improved over last year, running 30:45 for 4th overall, with the top three all being high school kids. (I figure “nobody older than me in front of me” is a valid goal for some of these races.) As I walked through the chute, catching my breath, a guy with a camera and a notebook asked my name.
I told him, and he said, “Mark?” No, I said, and repeated my first name, then spelled it. I should add that my name was clearly and correctly written on the bottom of the bib number I was wearing, and that label was then transferred to a results board which was posted for an hour or so after the race.
In the article in today’s paper, they used “Mark” as my first name, then my correct first name as my last name. I wonder what the real names of the other guys are?
The irony may be that the first two finishers were both wearing shirts with my last name on them.
June 29, 2007
I'm not this interesting by myself
Chasing this one took a lot of work, or at least I made it more work than it probably needed to be. The assignment came by email while I was on the plane to Indianapolis, and (by coincidence) ten minutes before the subject, Allyson Felix, had a press conference at the track there. When I read the email, I’d was sitting in the same tent, three or four hours later. Missed opportunity #1.
Missed opportunity #2 was that when we left the tent that day, Felix was standing outside it, but I didn’t recognize her. (New blond hair.)
I spent part of that weekend making a pest of myself to her agent, himself once a world-class hurdler. I spoke with him on the phone once, but then the competition schedule really picked up—Felix ran both the 100m and 200m, which meant she was racing every day, plus he represents two other athletes who made the Osaka team—and I was just sending emails with no replies and leaving voice mail.
Missed opportunity #3 was the mixed zone. I got some quotes from Felix about where she is now and what she’s up to this summer, but nothing about six years ago, unsurprisingly. I probably could have bothered her for ten minutes or so after a round, or maybe after the 100m, but there’s nothing like the coulda-woulda-shouldas here.
So then I’m back to calling her agent, once home from Indianapolis. You know how much I don’t love this. Enough time has passed that I have to re-explain the point of the story, but this time he decides to make it happen. He’ll call me Wednesday afternoon and put me on a conference call. That happens, I record the interview, write for an hour and a half or so, and send it in: done. The writing was the easiest part.
The conference call was an interesting strategy. I’ve never run in to it with distance runners, but I’ve seldom done phone interviews with distance runners of Felix’s profile. Part of her agent’s job, after all, is to make sure reporters (like me) aren’t pestering her at all hours, which means I don’t get her phone number. It’s also possible that the agent had someone on the call as well, though that might be too paranoid to be true. (I am good at thinking like I’m paranoid when I need to.)
Anyway, it’s done. Time I sent an invoice.
June 21, 2007
There’s a prediction contest here at the meet. It’s open to “credentialed media only,” and the entry process is such that anyone else probably couldn’t enter anyway. One event per day. Guess the winning mark in the designated event (today it was the javelin; I don’t even know the range these guys throw, so I didn’t enter,) and you win a $20 credit at the USATF-ware tent.
This being named the “swag sweepstakes,” I figure I should enter some SWAGs myself (“SWAG” == “Scientific Wild-Ass Guess”) but I’m open to any suggestions. The remaining events are the men’s 100m final (Friday), the women’s 100m hurdles final (Saturday) and the men’s 200m final (Sunday). Make a suggestion; if I like it better than mine (and I get it before entry) I’ll enter it as mine. In the unlikely event that I win, I’ll find a way to share.
The best part of the entry form is the final paragraph:
In addition, any writer using correct corporate entitlements [e.g. “AT&T Men’s 200m Final”—ed.] for all events on the track or in the field in their printed stories—and who gets their editors to retain the entitlements in the final copy—wins anything they want.*
The footnote: “* As long as we stay it’s OK.”
June 20, 2007
I didn’t have paying work coming in to this meet, though it would be worthwhile anyway as background material for Osaka. You might say I booked the trip and requested credentials “on spec”.
However, in the last 24 hours I’ve had two unexpected assignments (both on fairly short turnaround, as well,) which are going to make this actually profitable, neither tied directly to my attendance here but both improved by it. I’ll have a track-season roundup for RT and an athlete profile for the IAAF. The athlete profile is both lucky and unlucky: on the good side, she’s West Coast-based, and Indianapolis will probably be the only time we’ll be in the same city before Osaka. On the minus side, the assignment arrived this morning, ten minutes before she held a press conference here and while I was still on a plane.
(Internet access here is only at the track, so I expect to continue my quiet streak here for a while.)
June 4, 2007
Just start writing
It’s too easy for me to look at a chunk of work and let the anticipation paralyze me.
Saturday night I knew I didn’t have time to not be working, and for some reason I did all right. I sorted out a rough outline, then just dove in, and it worked. I had about 1,400 words on the page before I realized how much I’d written; I even missed an event.
For the most part, the interesting things happened in the sprints. Tariku “Kenenisa’s brother” Bekele was graceful and diplomatic in answering my question about whether he wished for interviews which didn’t mention his older world-record-holding brother (after I’d eavesdropped on the Ethiopian media grilling him about Kenenisa,) but that was about it for left-out news.
The sprinters, on the other hand… three winners came from a training group whose coach is in federal prison, and the L’Equipe reporter was a bit blunt about asking each of them how that affected their training (but they were each diplomatic and interesting in answering the question.) Liu Xiang told the Chinese media how North American meets were really difficult for him because of the time change, probably unaware that his translator, a Columbia grad student, was standing off to the side feeding me occasional quotes. (The Chinese media in general were… interesting.)
Now Playing: Say Say Something from Wah Wah by James
June 1, 2007
Track geek cred
Also known as, “beginning to have some self-confidence about my work.”
May 17, 2007
It’s probably less than that, actually, because of the time difference; Osaka observed 100 days to the World Championships yesterday, to us, but with today’s date. That seems simultaneously like a long time (when I consider everything else happening first) and not very long at all.
I’ve shifted my assignment a bit. I took an offer from the IAAF to “blog the championships.” This would come with a not-insignificant raise over my previous assignment (writing profiles of winning athletes,) so after considering whether it would impair my ability to do other freelance jobs I had arranged (including one which specifically mentioned writing a blog), it seemed like a good idea. I’m concerned that it may limit my outside-the-stadium time, but it’s likely that I’m over-thinking this a bit. There’s at least one day with no morning session, and on the last day the only morning event is the women’s marathon.
The work sounds a lot like the “mile by mile” marathon updates I’ve done several times for the NYCM and, before that, as part of my job at several marathons for RW. The difference is that I’ll be writing about everything at both morning and evening sessions for eight days; I’ll need to slow down the update pace significantly. I am allowed some latitude to express opinions or go off the main thread, with the caveat that, as at NYCM, I’ll be speaking with the implied voice of the event organizers, so I will need to step lightly. There’s a lot of undefined space here, which is a challenge and, as all challenges are, also an opportunity.
I’m trying to hunt up the analogous blog from Helsinki ‘05, but all I’ve found is a masthead-type credit that it was written by a member of the IAAF Media staff who held the IAAF job parallel to mine when I was at RW. I once told him he was one of the few people in the world I would trade jobs with, back when I thought I had the perfect job.
May 4, 2007
The missing story
Coach Squires told a story Wednesday night (ultimately inconsequential) which made me think about what’s missing from today’s coverage of the major marathons.
We tell the stories of the races now much the way they happen. That is, we start with a few days of press conferences and build up wherein nobody really knows what’s going to happen. Then we describe the races as they’re happening; then, on race day, we write a few wrap-up stories describing how the race went. There may also be some story-of-one-runner stories which go back and trace one athlete’s build-up and race; usually those cover someone who is otherwise out of the main story, such as the top Americans.
The story that’s missing is the one that’s written weeks after the race for a monthly deadline, the chapter in the long book of This Race which describes this installment of the annual showdown. That story has many of the same pieces, but with greater hindsight, the reporter is able to indulge their pseudo-omniscient viewpoint and change the focus. The pre-race build-up can ignore the runners who ultimately played only bit parts, and focus on the ones who turned out to be protagonists. The story of Coach Squires and Robert Cheruiyot is a curiosity before the race, when we would report it nowadays (if at all); after the race, it’s part of the great drama.
You could say this is false drama; after all, if Cheruiyot had lost, Coach Squires would not have behaved differently. (Maybe he wouldn’t have told us the story, I suppose.) Maybe it is. But it’s not inventing anything that wasn’t there; it’s simply selecting the most dramatic, most colorful way to tell the story of the race. And I can’t figure out why, if you’re reading a story about a marathon, you wouldn’t want to read the most entertaining one available, all other things being equal.
Consider, for another example, my colorful little tale about last week’s track meet. It’s probably the case that others at the meet—I can think of three, maybe four coaches, based on stories I heard later—who weren’t quite as swept up as I was, and would certainly tell the story of that last relay differently. I could tell it differently myself, but I deliberately chose the most dramatic possible framing for the story. Team scoring at a twenty-one event track meet is a bit more sophisticated than individual placing in a marathon, of course, but that’s what makes it a useful illustration of the same point. We can choose the way we look at things; we can choose the stories we find and remember.
But by a week after the marathon, the stories we’re telling have moved on to another event. By now, three weeks later, Boston is ancient history. Is anyone writing the history-book story?
Now Playing: Fortunate Son by Bruce Hornsby
April 14, 2007
Predicting the unpredictable
Previews are unwritable. I can only hope, after laboring for most of the afternoon with this one, that it isn’t unreadable; I’m so sick of it I could barely bear to sanity-check it (did I finish all my sentences?) before I sent it in. The men’s field for this year’s Boston is so hard to pick a favorite from that everyone is fleeing to the women’s race (which is legitimately exciting) rather than try to make guesses.
And speaking of making guesses, I’ve been amusing myself by comparing weather forecasts. As always, the best reading is the National Weather Service’s “Forecast Discussion,” which explains what mix of computer models they used to create the forecast they’re spreading. That’s usually where they’re brutally honest about what they do and don’t know about the upcoming weather. Today’s is almost schizophrenic as they try to figure out what’s going on with this “anomalous” storm which may drench the marathon. The part I liked the best, yesterday?
TEMPERATURES WILL BE CRITICAL FOR THIS FORECAST…WITH A LOT OF MOISTURE TO COME DOWN. PRESENTLY THINKING THIS WILL BE MAINLY IN THE FORM OF RAIN WITH TEMPERATURES ABOVE FREEZING…AT LEAST DURING THE DAYLIGHT HOURS…FOR THE LOWEST 2-3 KFT. AT THIS TIME THINKING MOSTLY RAIN…BUT THE TRACK MAY CHANGE THAT IN FUTURE FORECASTS.
If you read between the lines, that says they have at least considered the possibility that it may snow during the marathon.
April 11, 2007
The Marathon is getting out of hand
I can tell that I will spend the majority of my time from now until Monday either preparing for the marathon, working on something marathon-related, or actually at the marathon. I’ll probably spend as much time on the T between now and Tuesday as I do for the rest of the year.
- Many of my former RW co-workers, including my Pennsylvania roommate, are in town, or will be by the weekend.
- There are a few dozen media events, starting Friday (for my list, anyway,) and going through the weekend.
- I need to meet with the bicycle spotters at least once before the race, and that means color-printing the nifty uniforms PDF and making “marathon cards” so they can prepare for on-the-fly runner identification.
- I’ll have to do some studying. In addition to the media guide, there’s plenty of other details flowing into my inbox—a complete historic breakdown of all head-to-head matchups within the elite field, for example.
- And, as of today, I got email from the iaaf.org editor expressing some level of desperation: last year’s writer is unavailable, nobody else has responded, can I write a preview for Saturday and a quick report on Monday?
I suppose it’s not news to anyone to say, it’s nice to be wanted, but sometimes it’s exhausting.
April 1, 2007
You can't be serious
There’s a thin line to tread when you run a news site on April 1. A good joke is a good joke—at RW we once adopted a common jab aimed at the magazine and ran a (fake) press release announcing that we were changing our name to Walker’s World—but there’s inevitably a certain amount of heat from the people who either didn’t get the joke, or just didn’t think it was funny.
With that in mind, I applaud the courage of telegraph.co.uk, who today ran the headline, “Revealed: cash-strapped London ready to share Olympics with France”.
It almost reads as serious for a few paragraphs:
The Government is drawing up plans to “farm out” several events at the 2012 London Olympics—including the showpiece opening ceremony—to Paris.
Steeply rising costs and unexpected delays in developing the London site have forced the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to draw up the radical contingency proposals.
Tessa Jowell, the Culture Secretary, is understood to have set up a top level, inter-departmental working party to consider the options.
One idea is to stage some of the events in Paris, which was narrowly beaten by London to host the Games when the International Olympic Committee made its choice in 2005.
Part of the unspoken protocol, though, is that you have to give away the joke somewhere, and while the Telegraph drops a number of hints (check the URL, for example), they give the best one to the French:
No formal approach has yet been made to the French government about the “Games-share” plans, but it is thought that it is likely to expect some concessions in return for its co-operation. “We are very excitable,” said Avril Bouffonnerie, a spokesman for the original French bid. It is thought she meant “excited”.
Avril Bouffonnerie? Nice. We generally used April S. Loof to give our game away; this is so much better. I can’t wait to see how much of the hate mail they get for this is published.
March 23, 2007
Ask and ye shall work
For once, I queried a lot of potential employers early enough to get work. My Osaka queries got several responses of, “no firm plans yet, but you’re at the top of our list,” enough that I think I can stop asking for more. Probably two magazine articles, plus the possibility of blogging for pay, which in this context actually sounds fun—like expanding some of the fragments in my notebook and sending them out. There are a lot of stories that aren’t big enough for full stories.
So Wednesday night, I spent an absurd amount (to me) on a plane ticket for Japan. Flights, especially return flights, are beginning to fill already. Outbound, I am flying through Indianapolis (why?) and then Detroit direct to Osaka; inbound, I will have almost six hours on the ground in Honolulu before jumping to Minneapolis and thence home. (I wonder if it will be practical to leave the airport for a few of those hours?) I should get in late on Thursday before the meet starts on Saturday, giving me a little time to explore the city, and a bit more on Monday after the meet ends, since I don’t leave until evening.
I also wonder if I have enough miles on some airline to bump one or more of those segments up to business class. Fourteen hours in coach is difficult. I will require an industrial-strength supply of paperback books.
March 15, 2007
I’m glad I didn’t write too much about Osaka given that things got a lot more complicated yesterday. It turns out the work is managed by the Local Organizing Committee (LOC), and the IAAF was contacting me on their behalf, hence the Japanese tax. But then the LOC decided they didn’t have a vacancy after all.
My editor said a number of nice things about my work in Fukuoka, and made another offer: different work, directly for the IAAF, for which they would either pay as usual or pay my flights/hotels for the meet. (For the LOC, that would have been “and” instead of “or,” but it would also have been more work.) Beyond that, though, could I come to Stuttgart for the World Athletics Final later in September?
As I said the other day, I’d already been toying with the idea of going and trying to round up enough work to break even. This new offer gets me very close to break-even, closer than I had been before, and offers a greater amount of slack time to pick up more work; it only looks bad next to the offer that turned out not to exist. And I want to go; unlike a lot of domestic meets (Indianapolis!), I can get excited about the idea of a week-plus in Osaka even if the meet isn’t the best ever. (This would also have been true of Helsinki in ‘05.) So I’m not very far from taking this; it’s a good offer outside the context in which it arrived. But I’m concerned about taking the time away, and being close to break-even rather than well-over puts me in a gray area.
The Stuttgart offer, on the other hand, seems like a no-brainer. It’s only a (four- or five-day) weekend, it’s a place I’ve never visited and an event I’ve never seen. (Someday I’d like to do some kind of ten-day European trip that hits two or three of the Grand Prix one-day meets, but maybe that will be at a time in my life when I do that as a vacation, not a working trip.) I think that one’s a go.
I feel like I am making too many firm commitments without knowing what else I’ll be tied up in when those commitments come due. Or even where I’ll be living.
March 11, 2007
I fix on the strangest details
I have been asked to go back to Japan at the end of this summer to work for iaaf.org at the World Championships, to be held in Osaka. I am, needless to say, elated about this, and after checking with my business partner to make sure it won’t cause any major problems, I let them know I was definitely interested. I had been toying with the idea of going on my own dime and trying to scrape up enough work to keep the net cost low, but their offer covers most of the costs and makes the work mostly profit.
The detail which snagged in my mind? The way the offer was phrased implies that I will be paying income tax in Japan for 2007.
(Actually, it implies that the tax will be paid in my name, not that I will actually file.)
March 4, 2007
No wonder they didn't sell the first time
Our nearest Stop & Shop has a few tables where they’re selling their leftover “Valentimes” merchandise at 75% off.
I must have missed that holiday.
February 11, 2007
The one thing wrong
I’m not going to argue with the many newspaper articles pointing out what a great job the Boulder organizing committee did with this year’s cross country championships. I’m certainly not going to argue with the fact that there were more people out for the race than I’ve ever seen at a cross country meet which wasn’t the NCAAs; this made even World Cross look pretty paltry.
The thing they didn’t get right—perhaps the only thing—was that they didn’t make any provisions for having the athletes talk to the media after their races. The runners were whisked up on the stage for awards, and then they returned to a crush of fans where they could more or less evaporate if they wanted. There was no mixed zone and no media working area, nor any provision for post-race press conferences.
These are hard things to do at cross meets, of course, but the NCAA somehow manages to get it done every year, and brings in the top three finishers plus the winning coach as a matter of course, plus others by request. The NYRR did a fair job of getting everyone in to the tiny little press tent in Van Cortlandt last winter. Even the Portland crew had a post-race pen where the athletes and media could mix, and the crowd at Fort Vancouver was probably less than 10% what showed up in Boulder, so there wasn’t a big crush to contend with. What we had yesterday was a mob and a zoo. It was ugly and nearly impossible to deal with if you expected to talk to more than one or two athletes after each race. (After the junior races, nobody had figured this problem out yet, and as a result I haven’t seen (m)any quotes from any of the juniors, anywhere.)
This is whining, considering what a well-run meet this was, and it worked very well for the athletes, officials, and spectators. In essence, we reporters were the only ones with anything to complain about, and that’s a pretty good job. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have anything to complain about.
January 26, 2007
Who will write about track?
At yesterday’s press conference, I was about two enthusiastic sentences away from getting an assignment for Agence France Presse (aka AFP, aka “the other, other wire service.”) The press coordinator was running down her major-outlets list, making sure she had someone credentialed from each one, and AFP was the big absentee. I don’t think I was excited enough about the open doorway, or maybe someone else came up, but if she gave them my name they haven’t contacted me.
She used to cover this beat for the Globe back when I was at RW, and after the press conference ended we grumbled together about the lack of knowledge the assembled reporters have about the sport. There were essentially four people asking questions: the Globe reporter grilling Shalane Flanagan for this article, the press coordinator, the local USATF rep (I’m not sure why he was there,) and me. The Globe reporter is about par for the course: he’s not unintelligent, but he doesn’t know track and he only pays attention to running twice a year (the other time will be in April.)
The Globe has been getting attention lately for cutting its international bureaus, and Boston Sports Media is speculating that all departments are probably under the squeeze. Figure skating was one beat noted as probably “foreign” and you can bet that track, like every other “Olympic” sport, falls in there too. This meet will be getting significantly more local attention than it might from the Globe simply because the Patriots lost, the Celtics (let’s face it) stink, and the only local sports competition will be the Bruins, away in Ottawa. But with x correspondents and y events on every weekend in the fall, particularly when the Sox are in full swing, the ones covering track meets are generally only there because they didn’t get the assignment they wanted (Fenway,) not because they wanted to be out at Franklin Park talking to the winners of the Mayor’s Cup. The upshot is that the only guy asking knowledgeable questions (“Steve Hooker, you changed pole vault coaches after winning the Commonwealth Games; what has that done for your training?”) is the fan with a notebook.
So let’s count out the newspapers. That leaves the web guys, and that means fans with notebooks. (Actually, fans with digital recorders and/or expensive A/V equipment, but some of us are still old school enough to have notebooks, too.) We’re increasingly the ones feeding the wire services, too, and the rest of the money is coming not from free-standing media organizations (like the newspapers or the wires) but from organizations closely connected to the sport: USATF, IAAF, Running USA, the meet organizers. (My nifty Boston Marathon gig is technically at the will of the TV folks, but I have it because I have a good relationship with the BAA.)
I’m saying this like it’s a bad thing, and in many ways it’s not. It means the people covering the sport are the people who care about it. In general, fans of the sport are more likely to write good stories in today’s media environment. We’re more likely to be pulling for particular athletes to run well, but we’re also more likely to know what it means to follow an athlete, what makes them compelling to readers, and what’s a good story.
The problem, the old school track writers will say (and they’ll be right) is that we may be less likely to face the sport and its athletes when they’re wrong. We’re less likely to harry a semi-corrupt NGB head until he resigns, the way Ollan Cassell was harried in the ’90s. (This may have been the U.S. running media’s last great hurrah, and even that was a long and tedious effort eventually completed from inside USATF.) Maybe we’re less likely to ask the questions athletes don’t want to hear: about drug rumors, about ducking other athletes, about other shady dealings—or if we do ask them, they’re less likely to get printed in reputable places where they’ll be believed. I had a photographer chiding me in Fukuoka because I was “working for the man,” suggesting that nothing I printed should be taken seriously for that reason. (Did I mention that my pieces from Fukuoka were eventually reprinted in a nice, glossy magazine, with a byline and everything?)
Also, you used to be able to aspire to a career in this field. You’d want to be the next Marc Bloom or Don Kardong or Kenny Moore, and I think at least Erik Heinonen is trying to do so, but there really isn’t enough money rolling around to follow that career path full-time. You’re more likely to wind up as Matt Taylor, which is cool but not a career (so far).
Sometimes I’ve chided myself for not taking this sideline of mine more seriously. But is it possible that this half-assed weekend-warrior freelancing is actually the most sensible way to be a track writer these days?
January 25, 2007
Freelancing and its ups and downs
I have a preview of this weekend’s Boston Indoor Games out. I am not a fan of writing previews; I spend far too much time fact-checking the credentials of the athletes, looking up rankings and performances, to really get much flow in the paragraphs. This year, I started thinking well in advance, and managed to boil things down to a pretty simple formula: Dibaba, Defar, shot putters, and Australians. Others might be interesting to me (e.g. Nick Symmonds) but it’s better to give several long paragraphs to the top stars than to try to cram in lots of names and times.
Of course, every year I miss someone I should’ve mentioned, for whatever reason. Two years ago it was Dibaba, who ran a world record and didn’t get a mention in my preview. Last year, it was the two-mile record which was, apparently, never in the cards to begin with. This year, I neglected to mention Sarah Jamieson, who is “only” a Commonwealth Games silver medalist (and fifth-ranked in the world in her event,) but would be the fourth in the “Australian invasion” I mentioned in the title. Oops.
Anyway, for the first few years I had this gig, I walked on eggshells with the editor, trying to produce the straightest, most professional reports I could. After all, I reasoned, there were plenty of others who wouldn’t mind this work, so if he didn’t like what I sent, he’d find someone else. Then I met him last spring in Fukuoka, and realized I might be able to get away with a bit more life in my stories. But my idea of “humor” sometimes just comes off as bizarre to others, so it was with some trepidation that I used this as my opening paragraph:
It should be enough to say that both Tirunesh Dibaba and Meseret Defar, Ethiopia’s “Dueling Ds,” will be racing at the Boston Indoor Games on Saturday, although not against each other. But such a brief meet preview would be a disservice to the other top-ranked athletes competing in the first major fixture of the North American indoor season, not to mention raising suspicions of laziness on the part of the reporter.
I thought about providing an “alternate opening,” but didn’t—and he ran this one unchanged.
November 20, 2006
I missed a chance
I didn’t use this Julia Lucas quote in my preview. I hope I can work it into my race report(s):
“It makes it more fun, you know, mud in our teeth at the end of the race. I’m looking forward to it.”
November 15, 2006
What did he say?
After this year’s NYCM, winner Marilson Gomes dos Santos came to the media center as the champions usually do, and answered questions through an interpreter. Dos Santos was a relative unknown to most of us, and this was reflected by a lot of questions centered on the self-confidence and courage needed to make a breakaway move in a pack of better-known athletes.
Dos Santos’ response, as it appears in the headline of this story, included the sentence, “In the marathon, there’s no joking around.” I think this quote appeared in a few other stories as well.
Meanwhile, I heard “In the marathon, you don’t look around,” and that’s what I included in my story.
In context, both make sense. “Joke” makes for a better sound bite; “look” works better in the context of everything else dos Santos (or at least his agent and translator, Luis Posso, whose English is excellent but not un-accented) said.
But doesn’t it make you wonder how many athlete quotes are actually what they meant to say? (Or maybe most sportswriters are less deaf than I am?)
October 9, 2006
The big story
I’ve mentioned before that I’m one of two authors for a blog about my College. (Not about my University; nearly anyone else could do a better job on that.) Neither of us live anywhere near the College anymore, so until we manage to recruit more writers we’re limited to what news we find online, which is mostly reports on the doings of our alumni.
In general, we divide the work simply by doing it; it’s not often that we’ve posted twice on the same topic.
Today, though, one of them won the Nobel Prize in Economics. Neither of us has taken it on yet. I can’t speak for my co-conspirator, but I am silently hoping he’s writing something, and I suspect he’s hoping I am. What do we say? Try to link all the news stories? Post whatever release the College comes up with and let it go? I feel like the story is too big for us.
September 18, 2006
Head to tail
Friday and Saturday was my fifth year in the vans for Reach the Beach. It’s entertaining to me to see fifteen or sixteen people clustered around the wreckage of post-race seafood asking how soon they can sign up for next year, considering that we are invariably scrambling for people to fill the roster in the weeks before race date. But there’s something euphoric about the race which I can’t put a finger on.
Some of it’s connected with this team, which includes runners from 10:00+ pace to 5:30 pace. Nobody worries about what others are capable of; we just run what we can to maximize what we’re collectively capable of. We don’t worry about our overall place; we just focus on that one runner in front of us, try to reel them in, and pass them.
This year, we were seeded higher than we usually are, and consequently started later. (The faster you are, the later you start, and vice versa. We wound up finishing 55th out of 300 teams.) As a result of that, we were at many exchange zones closer to their closing times than usual; when we arrived at T18 (also known as “VTA #3” because it’s the third van-to-van handoff,) they were about to close. We took advantage of this: we parked in a far corner of the lot, put in our earplugs, and slept in an empty parking lot with a minimum of slamming doors, engines, shouts, etc. etc. I put my ground pad and sleeping bag on the roof of the van and got two hours of uninterrupted sleep, a luxury.
Being so close to the back of the race reminded me of a New Year’s column I wrote after my third go-around, in 2004. Since it’s no longer on the web (unless you ever-so-carefully search the Wayback Machine) I’ll post it here, after the jump.Continue reading "Head to tail"
August 27, 2006
Worst possible vantage point
I had a pretty good seat for most of the race (though I admit, I didn’t bike up around the north end of the park: I cut directly from the four mile marker over to five.) But I had to watch the finish from behind.
The photographer on his motorcycle got a few shots of me cranking along, after laughing out loud when he recognized me. I halfway wish I’d had my own bike, rather than the dog of a rental hybrid I was riding…
August 24, 2006
Online coverage of major track meets
In my first post-college job, I was involved in one of the early efforts to provide timely Web coverage of major track meets. In the five years I was there, our approach varied quite a bit due to circumstances, and I’ve learned things since then that have changed the way I look at the problem.
I’ve had an email conversation recently that suggested to me that laying out my ideas on this might be worthwhile, particularly since I’m not likely to have much time to think about this until we’re far enough into 2007 that it’s too late.
I’d like to think that this is interesting to everyone, but it runs pretty long, so I’ve put the meat down in the extended entry.Continue reading "Online coverage of major track meets"
August 23, 2006
In the interests of documenting every single time I get paid to write something, yesterday I sat in on a teleconference.
This weekend, apparently, there is no room for me on the press truck (even though I’m writing the quasi-official account.) The current plan has me following the race on a bike. I can’t wait to see where that one goes next.
August 10, 2006
In light of Mario’s recent posts about his new girlfriend, I thought it might be worth dragging out a column I did about three years ago. This actually predates my PF problems; the column before it, about my ITBS issues, got a number of positive email responses (I’d forgotten about that,) but I can’t find the column in my own archive, nor in my outbound email… and part of the reason I feel free to re-post these columns here is that RW unapologetically “lost” their archive at some point not long before I stopped writing the column.
As usual, I’ve elided places where I used my real name in the original; pages on this site come up third in searches for my full name (different pages depending on where you search—go figure,) and I’d just as soon it not go higher. Also, despite the assertions I made three years ago, I currently have no intention of running any marathon, anywhere, in the foreseeable future. Nor do I live in Northampton.Continue reading "Marathoners Anonymous"
June 11, 2006
A few weeks ago I mentioned my almost-old-enough-to-drive 800m PR. It’s also worth noting that it was my first appearance, in print, in a national magazine—complete with a photo of me in the next year’s state 800m final, where I got a better place (4th) with a slower time (2:04).
I wrote the article twice. The first version was the way I would tell the story if I was out on a run, and was it ever long. It was suggested that I come up with a shorter version. Cutting the first one was out of the question, so I rewrote, and kept it as lean and laconic as possible. It actually weighed in just over 300 words, only about twice the length of this introduction.
The full story is in the extended entry, because unless you have an inordinately weighty collection of old Runner’s Worlds, this is its archive.Continue reading "Most memorable"
A few important bullets before we return to regularly scheduled banality and overwrought pseudo-thoughtfulness (and self-deprecation, don’t forget that.) (Damn, I can even be sarcastic about being sarcastic. My generation is messed up.)
I am inordinately obsessed with the story of Jack the tabby. Jack, if you haven’t already heard, is a fifteen-pound orange tabby in New Jersey who treed a black bear. Twice. I wonder what Iz could do if he had that yard to patrol! Of course, Jack has a pound or two on Iz, and we keep him indoors because there’s no cat alive who can face down a car. Still, what a story!
June 7, 2006
Tying one on
Anyone who has had a media credential at more than one NCAA event knows they can be counted on to hang the things on the flimsiest loop of slightly elastic string they can find: no custom lanyards here. This is not, on the face of it, a bad thing; after a while, the accumulation of credential lanyards begins to get out of hand, and this does not add to it.
However, while at the event, the silly string is a nuisance. It allows the credential to twist around until the string is trying to strangle the wearer, or blow up into one’s face. At an event like the outdoor championships, where a meet schedule is also hung on the string along with the credential itself, the string is barely capable of holding the mass.
So we improvise. Many people knot the string around a belt loop rather than hanging it from their neck. Others, like myself, anticipate the problem and bring another lanyard.
It needs to be a two-hook lanyard, since these are two-hole credentials. This is one of those situations where we size each other up, much like comparing the quality of race t-shirt on another runner. You bring the highest-powered event lanyard you own. (Or, as A wisely does, bring a plain solid-color one and dodge the comparison.) A major marathon lanyard is good, or an Olympic Trials. I recycle my IAAF lanyard from World Cross; it not only reflects my “sponsor” (though I’m not working for them here,) but also indicates that just because I’m not working for a print newspaper doesn’t mean I don’t know what I’m watching.
June 5, 2006
Not bad for a rush job
I forgot to point out my Reebok Grand Prix article. I think this one sets a new record for quality per hour; I hammered it out while the stadium staff waited impatiently to unplug my power and internet access. I whiffed on the shot (the editor added the closing paragraph for me,) because the winner went directly from the ring to the medical tent to get treated for (we’re told) muscle spasms in his back. Otherwise not bad, but nothing on Brian Cazeneuve’s article, of course. But he’s a pro; I’m a fan with a notebook.
A few things that didn’t make the article: As Brian points out, this was the first record in the track distances set in the USA since Henry Rono’s 1978 steeplechase clocking. (Rono set more than one WR that year; the steeple was merely the last one. Others have mentioned Bill Rodgers’ 1979 clockings for 15,000m, 20,000m, 25,000m, etc., to which I will only reply, when was the last time you saw a 25,000m race on a track?)
One thing which hasn’t been widely reported is that we probably saw the first-ever Chinese sub-4 mile on Saturday. Gu Ming, who is listed as their indoor record holder in 4:02, ran 3:59.75 for 10th. I mentioned it in my report, but on my suggestion my editor cut it, because neither of us had time to hunt down the Chinese NR. Further research today has left me none the wiser. Neither Gu nor the other Chinese runner in the race spoke any English, but I applied the time-honored language of gestures and speaking very slowly to get the idea that they had both previously had 4:0x PRs. Fifty-two years ago, Bannister said, “Apres moi, le déluge.” I wonder if the Chinese even care? They didn’t seem too excited in the mixed zone.
Also in unreported athletics news from Saturday, my nieces ran their first race, a Kids K at the local YMCA. Worries about their ability to cover the distance have been put to rest; what they need now is a finish line photographer with a faster camera.
June 3, 2006
Secret message to race PR coordinators
It is not necessary to send 1.2 MB of photos via email to your entire mailing list.
Simply including the sentence, “High resolution images available on request” should be sufficient.
June 2, 2006
- I spent today at my 10-year college reunion. I had more fun than I expected. I also think I talked too much and didn’t listen enough. But I remembered a bunch of great people I went to college with, and that made me happy.
- My editor at iaaf.org saved me the trouble of revising my New York preview by tagging on a “STOP PRESSES” line about the addition of Marion Jones and Lauryn Williams to the women’s 100m. I think Williams is more interesting than Jones at this point, but Marion does have a slew of Olympic medals which can’t be ignored.
- One of my classmates married one of my teammates from a few classes older, so I got to hear about all of them. That was pretty cool.
- After four years of being on campus and not expecting to recognize anyone, it was a little strange to see people I knew there.
May 26, 2006
If you write it, they will come
And to top it off, I’ve been approached by the Albany Times Union for some research work on their preview for Freihofer’s. They said they got my name from here, so I wonder if they’ve seen my reaction to last year’s race? (It would seem they intuitively guessed my opinion on pitching freelance work.)
Update: Turns out I was second string for the Times Union job, and the first string came through right after they asked me. Ah, well—that may improve my Comp 170 grade.
Now Playing: Within Your Reach from Hootenanny by The Replacements
April 23, 2006
Get 'em young
I was hunting up a link (to John Brant’s “A for Effort” article, as it happens,) and was reminded how so many of my “Bell Lap” columns are no longer available in the RW Online archives. One in particular is related to this, a 2003 column featuring my older niece and some other characters. I haven’t edited this extensively—Deena was still Drossin then, not Kastor—so some of the links are broken, and there are other anachronisms, but it’s in the extended entry. I don’t remember if RWOL ran the photo with it or not, but I will.Continue reading "Get 'em young"
April 21, 2006
The road not taken
I had a chance, briefly, to talk to John Brant in the press room on Monday. Improbably, we didn’t need an introduction; if I were in his position, I would have had a short conversation with this person whose face I remembered but name I didn’t. He asked what I was up to nowadays; I told him how much I liked Duel in the Sun. He seemed disappointed when I told him I was studying CS and not journalism. “We need young running writers,” he said, so I self-deprecatingly mentioned some others.
On Sunday, A found another of the track writers I have a lot of respect for signing another Rodale book at the expo: Kenny Moore and his new book, Bowerman and the Men of Oregon. I didn’t know the book, a biography of the coach who brought Moore himself to prominence (4th place in the 1972 Olympic marathon, and an American record in Fukuoka in 1970,) was even available due to some interesting permissions issues, but there it was.
She bought me a copy, and it wasn’t until Monday evening that I looked inside the cover and saw it signed.
To a colleague on the road, and sitting terrified before a blank page.
Damn. Of course, A reports that he was initially confusing me with another track writer with whom I have significant name overlap. (Needless to say, I have a signed copy of that book as well.)
I’ve put down the John McPhee I was reading, and I’m three or four chapters deep in Bowerman now. It’s everything I’d hoped for: a true biography, and an interesting one, not just a running book.
April 17, 2006
Boston Marathon buildup: Mark Plaatjes
I promised a few months ago that I would post the articles I wrote for the Boston Marathon program. I was pretty busy yesterday and didn’t get a chance to post this one, but I did finally see the finished product, and they didn’t really change much, which is a good sign.
I have no problems talking to a certain group of athletes. Dathan Ritzenhein, Tim Broe, Carrie Tollefson, the Culpeppers, no problem. But the older group, the ones who were active when I was in high school and college, that’s tougher; I got to form the hero complex around them. Todd Williams, Bob Kennedy, Haile Gebrselassie, I might as well just stand and stutter. (My former roommate from PA is now working fairly directly with Kennedy, apparently, through Kennedy’s new consulting gig with Puma.)
Mark Plaatjes, about whom more in the extended entry, is one of that class (though older than Williams and Kennedy.) He won the World Championships marathon in 1993, the summer I was working at a Nike store. But as I said in my comments after his interview, he turned out to be the easiest one to talk to of all. It helped, I suppose, that he was one of the first professional athletes I ran with, at a Runner’s World meeting in 1997. Even then, he took it easy on us.Continue reading "Boston Marathon buildup: Mark Plaatjes"
April 15, 2006
Boston Marathon buildup: American women
I promised a few months ago that I would post the articles I wrote for the Boston Marathon program. I still haven’t seen the finished product, though it’s undoubtedly out there somewhere now, but I’ll post one a day through Sunday. Monday, there will be plenty to read.
These are, of course, the rough versions; they’re a bit long, I think, for the space, and my writing tends to improve from being shortened. Also, what’s appearing in print has probably had the benefit of a professional copy-editor. And there will probably be photos.
The three women who were the top American finishers in 2005 are all back, and all hoping (justifiably, I think) to do better than last year. Justifiably because all three had, I think, sub-par days in the 2005 heat. On the other hand, we didn’t have long-range forecasts for Monday when I talked to them, and while the current forecast is OK, I think there’s still a pretty good chance that it will turn warm for the fourth year in a row.
In the extended entry: Emily LeVan, Caroline Annis, and Carly Graytock. LeVan and Graytock are now BAA members, which means (I think) that the BAA pretty much has a lock on the open women’s team race.Continue reading "Boston Marathon buildup: American women"
April 14, 2006
Boston Marathon buildup: Women's team
I promised a few months ago that I would post the articles I wrote for the Boston Marathon program. I still haven’t seen the finished product, though it’s undoubtedly out there somewhere now, but since there are four articles and four days to the marathon, I’ll post one a day from today through Sunday. Monday, there will be plenty to read.
These are, of course, the rough versions; they’re a bit long, I think, for the space, and my writing tends to improve from being shortened. Also, what’s appearing in print has probably had the benefit of a professional copy-editor. And there will probably be photos.
This was one of the toughest to research, because the women involved are busy, and often not in ways that let them check and respond to email so we can arrange interview times. The team-scoring aspect of Boston is under-reported in the media, probably because the athletes involved aren’t professionals, nor are they (usually) world-class. However, it does mean a lot to the athletes participating. The three women here will likely be the slower part of the B.A.A.’s team; two other women on the team will be in tomorrow’s post about the top American women.
I’m looking forward to picking up my credentials etc. tomorrow, so I can lay hands on hard-copy of all this stuff.
Anyway, in the extended entry: Mimi Fallon, Laura Smith, and Carrie Zografos.Continue reading "Boston Marathon buildup: Women's team"
April 13, 2006
Boston Marathon buildup: Men's masters team
I promised a few months ago that I would post the articles I wrote for the Boston Marathon program. I still haven’t seen the finished product, though it’s undoubtedly out there somewhere now, but since there are four articles and four days to the marathon, I’ll post one a day from today through Sunday. Monday, there will be plenty to read.
These are, of course, the rough versions; they’re a bit long, I think, for the space, and my writing tends to improve from being shortened. Also, what’s appearing in print has probably had the benefit of a professional copy-editor. And there will probably be photos.
That said, in the extended entry is an article about Paul Hammond and Chris Spinney, who run for the Whirlaway Track Club. A few things that didn’t make it to the article: Hammond and Spinney run for one of the many teams which trains on the University’s indoor track through the winter. The night after I did this interview, I walked over from my office (in a building which adjoins the fieldhouse) and watched part of their track workout. Hammond also won one of the first road races I ever ran, the Portland Boys Club race (a 5-miler on Patriots’ Day,) in 1989 if I remember correctly.Continue reading "Boston Marathon buildup: Men's masters team"
April 2, 2006
~5:30 AM, Monday, April 3, Fukuoka
For some reason, I’ve been unable to sleep much past 5 any morning I’ve been here.
I’ve done all six of my stories for the weekend, so there’s only the two magazine pieces to be written on the flight home. (Sunday’s pieces have all been posted now. I wish I’d been able to get a little more raw material for the features, but by the end of the day at the course, when my body was telling me it was around 4 AM, I was far from a sharp reporter.)
Hopefully I will be able to spend some time on the plane with the laptop out; if there’s one time when I feel smug about buying the 12” Powerbook, it’s when the person in front of you on a plane reclines their seat and I can still work. Of course, the problem may be lack of elbow room, not legroom.
What I need, though, is not space so much as a network connection to work on projects that live on servers at the University. The rest of this week is likely to be interesting, and new assignments have come in that make me suspect that I probably can’t afford to travel on a weekend again until May. Beyond that, though, I have had a positive and encouraging note from my IAAF editor (and others about this article in particular,) which makes me think this might not be my only meet on scholarship.
Now, I should get some packing done, so I can take the best advantage of my remaining time here. As little geocaching as I’ve done since I started graduate school, I’ll be kicking myself immensely when I get back to it if I miss my chance to make a find in Japan, particularly since one of only two caches in Fukuoka appears to be right next to my hotel.
Now Playing: Bang from Leisure by Blur
~7:45 PM, Sunday 2 April, Fukuoka
I hadn’t really given much thought to the idea that all of the male winners this weekend could have been named “Bekele” until after the junior press conference was over and Kenenisa’s younger brother Tariku had explained the tactical error which cost him the victory. I had almost finished the delicate task of comparing the two—Kenenisa won the junior race in 2001—when I realized that the elder Bekele’s suggestion, after matching Paul Tergat’s record by winning his fifth consecutive long course race (and becoming the most decorated athlete in World Cross history by winning his eleventh championship,) that he might not run the world cross anymore makes perfect sense. In fact, it matches the thought I had in a column I wrote in 2004.
Unfortunately, that column has been 404 for a while. (Webmasters: Links shouldn’t break!) Fortunately, I have my copy, which I’ve included in the extended entry.Continue reading "Early finish"
April 1, 2006
~6:40 AM, Sunday, 2 April, Fukuoka
My juniors story is posted, and one of my “wire” reports is also out. I’m in the process of presenting facts and figures to suggest that the short race was indirectly responsible for two of Hicham el Guerrouj’s 1500m World Championships victories. There’s nothing like constructing causation from coincidence…
Update: Here’s the story.
March 29, 2006
Fan with a notebook
(I’m writing this in O’Hare, too, but again, it probably won’t be posted until I’m in Japan.)
In The Perfect Distance, Pat Butcher mentions that the worst insult that can be delivered to a track writer is to call them a “fan with a notebook.” The implication is that the subject is not interested in writing an objective report on an event or an athlete, but is simply using a press credential to gain closer access to their heroes (or simply see a meet for free.) The issue is perceived professionalism.
There’s a recent Sports Illustrated article which implies that a greater fraction of sportswriting is being committed not by journalists per se, but by this kind of “fan with a notebook”: bloggers, generally, and message-board mavens on the ‘net. The SI article is at pains to point out how this new coverage, while often dependent on traditional media (DVR’ed video of game telecasts,) is not often tied to journalistic standards like fact-checking, sources, or even being present at the event. There are good sides and bad sides to this, of course; a tightly-focused sports blog can serve an audience and a message without needing to be ever-present. But the message boards and weblogs can start and spread rumors (about dope-testing results, for example,) which can border on libel. (If you’ve spent much time on running websites, you know exactly which board I’m talking about.)
Another aspect of the online-coverage explosion mentioned by the SI article is the increasing amount of coverage sponsored by (and, some might say, spun by,) the teams and leagues themselves. It’s probably fair to say that a lot of my work in the last two or three years has been in this area: I’ve been assigned event-coverage articles by the IAAF and NYRR, and I’ll be working directly for the BAA at next month’s marathon. The fact is, in this sport, that when the individual business units being athletes rather than teams, the event organizers and federations are in the best position to offer continuing, in-depth coverage of their events and sports. As I noted earlier, it’s not coming from the newspapers.
I’ve mentioned before the sort of sideways route I took into track writing. It would be very easy to brand me with the “fan with a notebook” label—I’ve been a fan of the sport much longer than I’ve been paid to write about it, and I will continue when I’m no longer getting assignments. What’s more, there’s precious little market for a full-time track writer, and as a result there will always be work for an interested part-timer like myself.
Could athletics, at least in the USA, benefit from a more professional corps of track writers? Probably, but there would have to be a market for them, and who knows where that’s going to come from.
Beyond that, it’s a bit of a mystery to me, personally, where I should be going with this. I’m reasonably good at it, at least such that I continue to get assignments; when I left RW, they wanted me to go to journalism school rather than CS grad school. Could I make a full-time living out of it? Probably not. So why do I keep getting more work? How long can I keep doing this?
(It’s time to start disregarding the time-stamps on these entries. I’m writing this in the terminal at O’Hare, so I’m already an hour off; it’s possible that I won’t be able to post it until I’m in Japan.)
When I mentioned the pathetic state of athletics journalism (“track writing”) in the U.S., I shouldn’t really be talking about journalism so much as the market for it. There are some excellent writers working in track: Kenny Moore, John Brant, Dick Patrick, John Crumpacker, etc. The problem is where their work appears. Moore and Brant are almost exclusively magazine and book writers; Patrick, though he writes for USA Today, is representative of many newspaper track writers in that he’s increasingly restricted in his available space and his travel budget. As a result, the bulk of the track and field stories in most newspapers are:
- Focused on a single local athlete, e.g. an Indy Star article on Bob Kennedy’s retirement.
- Wire stories written by stringers local to the event, who may or may not know the sport and definitely aren’t encouraged to use words on things like “color” or “vivid description.”
- Only run once a year in connection with some major event, such as one of the major marathons.
This is where the web is supposed to come in and save the day, right? It’s true that it’s now possible to tie together all the stories that fit in the first and third categories, above, and come up with something that looks like comprehensive coverage. But the fact is that you have to work for that; you have to be interested. What the IAAF (and USATF, and most fans of the sport,) would like to see is new fans—they’d like to see stars like Kenenisa Bekele get some regular face-time on ESPN, for example.
ESPN programming, I figure, is driven by two questions: “Will we sell advertising on it?” And, “Will it get good ratings?” The questions come in that order—that’s why highly-rated track programming (track telecasts actually get good ratings for sport events,) loses out to the likes of professional fishing, which apparently sells loads of advertising. (This also explains televised golf.)
It would also help to see a lot of regular track articles appearing in print outlets like the NY Times, Sports Illustrated, and so on. That’s not happening, because those pages and sports sections are filled with wall-to-wall coverage of American football, baseball, basketball. If you launched a Marca or Gazetto dello Sport in the U.S., it would be dominated by the big professional team sports.
The idea of bringing me to Fukuoka is to lower the cost barriers that would otherwise prevent some outlets from covering World Cross. I’m not sure I’m a terribly good investment; I didn’t get assignments from the NYT, Washington Post, or Sports Illustrated. I think most of the outlets I’m writing for would be covering the meet in some way, even if I wasn’t going. I’d like to think I’m improving the quality, but we’ll see.
March 27, 2006
By inference through various messages, I’m learning a bit about this funny sort-of “scholarship” I’m on for the World Cross. We’re an interesting group—a Kenyan, a Spaniard, an American-based Ethiopian (at least, I think she’s Ethiopian—she could be an American who’s fluent in Amharic, I’ve never asked,) and someone with a .uk address who could be from anywhere, plus myself and another Brit who will also be working on the “official” web coverage.
It’s interesting to try to extrapolate some purpose behind this selection of people. I suspect the unknown .uk address does not actually belong to a British journalist; UK newspaper coverage of the sport is among the best in the world. Kenyan and Ethiopian publications don’t really have the resources to give their world-beating athletes the kind of coverage they deserve when they’re as far away as Japan; the IAAF actually has a parallel and very public program to subsidize travel for some developing-nation teams who would not otherwise be able to compete.
The Spaniard is a puzzle; it may be that they are coming for the same reason I am. Spain has, in recent years, had some quite good teams, able to catch the odd third-place finish (behind the Kenyans and Ethiopians, who are a class apart team-wise,) and so has the USA. I don’t read Spanish enough to know what kind of coverage they get in their national media, but I remember from my long week in Seville that Spanish papers don’t skimp on the sports section, and like the French L’Equipe and Italian Gazetto dello Sport, they have a sports-only daily—Marca or something like that, if I remember correctly.
Does the Spanish media publish copy proportional to their teams’ international success? Maybe not—and maybe that’s why the IAAF is bringing a Spanish journalist to Fukuoka.
The pathetic state of U.S. track coverage should be self-evident to most track fans, but if I have time (maybe on the plane) I’ll do a rundown of why the IAAF might be trying to subsidize it. It’s worth noting the company we’re in, though: either we should be proud that we’re seen as having teams that rank close to the Kenyans, Ethiopians, Spanish, et al… or we should be embarrassed that we’re giving them third-world coverage.
March 26, 2006
Rivalries in print
(I wrote this in an airport yesterday…)
I plowed through two books on vacation which turned out to be more alike than I’d expected. Duel in the Sun, by John Brant, tells the story of the 1982 Boston Marathon, when Alberto Salazar and Dick Beardsley ran “in each others’ pockets” for the last nine miles of the race in a duel so hard-run that Salazar wound up in the hospital and neither ran as well again. The Perfect Distance, by Pat Butcher, is a British book about the early-80s rivalry between Steve Ovett and Sebastian Coe which led to numerous world records, three Olympic gold medals and more lesser medals than bear thinking about.
I first discovered Brant when I was working at RW and he was a senior writer there. He also writes fairly regularly for Outdoor Life and Men’s Health, but I remember him for writing the stark and striking articles about the California high school cross-country team built largely from migrant workers’ children, or the explanation of the crisis in public school P.E. and its connection with childhood obesity rates. Duel in the Sun grew out of an RW article, but it doesn’t read like a magazine piece. Brant interweaves narrations of the race day, the race weekend, along with both athletes’ histories and their lives after the marathon. Salazar, who came to Boston as the two-time defending NYCM champion, struggled for the next decade with health problems that curtailed his training; Beardsley, who suffered a career-ending injury within months, slid into an illicit addiction to prescription painkillers after a farm-machinery accident.
Both are still active in the sport, Salazar as a coach (I spoke to him briefly in New York in February about one of his athletes, Adam Goucher,) and Beardsley as a speaker and overwhelmingly nice guy. 2007 will be the 25th anniversary of the “Duel in the Sun,” and you can bet much noise will be made at the marathon; they make a point of bringing back the champions celebrating five-year anniversaries of their wins.
Brant never mentions the actual result, though he mentions the winning margin, two seconds, and quotes both athletes saying, “As far as I’m concerned, there were two winners.” You need to check the cover to see which one is wearing the laurel wreath (Salazar.)
Butcher follows this example in The Perfect Distance, emphasizing the rivalry itself over the results. Unlike the one-day clash between the favored Salazar and the outsider Beardsley, the Ovett/Coe rivalry spread over half a dozen years—though, as Butcher often laments, the pair only raced each other seven times in eight years, and four of those races were Olympic finals. Coe and Ovett ushered in the era of professionalism in track, of rabbited record attempts, and perfected the art of “ducking”—that is, avoiding showdown races which might change them from two Number Ones to a One and a Two.
They also, by Butcher’s account, by themselves managed to hold Western interest in the Moscow Olympics (where Ovett won Coe’s specialty, the 800m, and Coe won Ovett’s, the 1500m,) and launched a golden age of middle-distance running in England. The heyday of the rivalry, between the Moscow and Los Angeles Games, is where the book crackles—Coe’s nine-day tear of three world records, for example, or Ovett’s “backwater” races and week-on-week record trading. Butcher is the track correspondent for the Financial Times, among others, and he’s a resourceful and determined reporter. He includes interviews with significant rivals, and outlines past rivalries between milers, even to the point of interviewing the great Swedes, Arne Andersson and Gunder Hägg, who ran thirty-five match races during the Second World War (Sweden was neutral) and lowered the mile world record from 4:06.4 to 4:01.4.
What’s less easy to follow is Butcher’s bouncing back and forth between Coe and Ovett in the early parts of the story, comparing their development so closely that at times it’s difficult to tell which athlete he’s telling us about. Also unlike Brant, Butcher is unafraid to make himself a character in the story—and, as a correspondent at the time, he was—sometimes simply to disclose his own biases and potential agendas, but sometimes simply waving at us as if to say, “I was there!” Brant is so unobtrusive that when he mentions Salazar meeting a reporter for an interview on the Nike campus, we almost forget that the reporter must have been Brant himself. (Butcher also slips by naming Salazar as the Boston champion in the year of Rosie Ruiz, when that was actually a Bill Rodgers year.)
Duel in the Sun, I think, should be required reading for anyone who follows marathoning. The Perfect Distance (which we got, I think, by ordering it from amazon.co.uk, though it appears to be available through the mothership nowadays,) will make entertaining reading mainly for hardcore track geeks like myself.
March 8, 2006
Checking off the boxes
I finally talked to runner #9 this morning. It turns out that (a) she seldom checks her email, and (b) the phone number I was given was incorrect; there were two numbers transposed. So I left voice mail at the right number last night, she called back this morning, and I re-submitted the article with actual quotes from her. Even though it’s nearly a week late, I got complimented by the editor for my persistence. Will nobody just call me on the fact that I should’ve either started sooner, or just called for help sooner when things weren’t working? I’m not sure what to do about compliments for work I think I could’ve done better.
I have flight information for Fukuoka; there will be a missing day where I spend something like thirty-six clock hours on a plane (combining travel time and time-zone shift,) then a sort of “miracle” flight back where I’ll arrive shortly after departure, thanks to the International Date Line. I have three assignments from U.S. outlets, two magazines and one niche wire service, and I’ll probably be writing for iaaf.org as well, so I expect to dominate U.S. coverage of the event. (Heh.) I wonder if I should be ambitious and contact some local newspapers of U.S. runners—the Daily Camera leaps to mind, but the Gallup Independent might be worth a ping if I decide to go that route. (As long as I’m dreaming, maybe I should contact the NYT, USA Today et al?)
Meanwhile, I’m trying to make sense of this press-credential application form. What’s expected on the line labeled “Media”? (There’s a checkbox later for Print/Photo/Team and yet another for kind of media, Daily/Weekly/Monthly/Agency/Photo/Web, so this line perplexes me. Maybe that’s for my employment? Should I list the University, just to boggle ‘em?) Should I have a press card? Does my TAFWA membership count?
Now Playing: Cinematic from Grand by Erin McKeown
March 6, 2006
Easiest interview ever
“I have plenty of time,” says Plaatjes. “I have a good partner at the running store, and good employees. My work is fun, it’s not stressful to me. It’s easy when you enjoy what you do. I ask people who come for physical therapy about what they do, and you can tell from the first word if they like what they do. Some people aren’t happy, but they’re scared to move. I love talking to people who enjoy their work.”
I may still clear up some loose ends with my unreachable runner, but Mark was the last of my articles for the marathon program. I talked to eight runners for four articles, and I think I can honestly say I enjoyed talking with all eight of them. I should remind myself of that now and then, because I’m horrible about calling people and I was mentally resisting each call up until I dialed the last digit and heard the ring on the other end.
I’ll probably post the full text of the articles here next month, as we’re closer to the marathon. It will be the rough copy I sent in, not the tight, glossy articles my editor will undoubtedly make from them, but if I’ve done anything like a decent job, they’ll still hold a little spark of the enthusiasm they all had for the race.
It’s not quite “official” yet, but it’s more or less agreed. I’ll be covering the 2006 World Cross Country Championships in Fukuoka, Japan on April 1 and 2 for as many of my usual outlets as are interested.
One of my “usual outlets” is actually responsible for the trip; I got email early Saturday from my editor at iaaf.org explaining that they would pay for my flight and hotel if I would make the trip, and also for a few articles. Their explanation makes it sound like a sort of scholarship program: they want to be sure that their events are well-covered, and to that end they’re making sure the media (which is largely freelance, in this sport) can afford to be there. My end of the deal is to essentially sell as many stories about the event as I can reasonably write and file, and I’ve sent out a small fleet of queries (and picked up one assignment already.)
A says that many of the photographers she knows won’t be there, and when I priced out flights I can see why; these will easily be the most expensive (and, at ~22 hours including layovers, longest) flights I take any time soon. It’s distinctly possible that the IAAF is essentially subsidizing coverage of the event, because few outlets are willing to spend the money to send reporters, but even if that’s the case, I’m not going to complain at being the beneficiary; whatever the motivation, it’s a pleasant thought that they picked me out of the pool to do this.
I could probably write a few hundred more words about this, but I have a lot to do—both now, and in the course of the next month—so I’ll fill in some of the blanks later. For now, I just wanted to bubble a little bit.
March 5, 2006
Panic in translation
It appears I’m going to Japan. This will not come under the “boredom” heading—before, during, or after.
March 3, 2006
Now is about the time I figured that the Week from Hell would be over. Except it’s not, depriving me of any sense of satisfaction I might have gained from having survived.
I managed to complete and hand in three of four assignments due in this week’s classes. The fourth was handed in… but the second of the two programs segfaults on execution, which means I might as well not have bothered. (More on this later.)
I’ve been desperately contacting nine runners all week for four articles I was assigned for the Boston Marathon race program. I have made contact with seven. #8 has not responded to three e-mail messages; the phone number I have for her has been busy every time I call. I’m not sure what my next step is; it seems like I’m perilously close to the line between tenacity and harassment. #9 hasn’t responded to email; tonight I start cold-calling. Those two are blocking two different articles; all four were expected by today. One of the two remaining ones is 90% written and waiting for actual quotes from #8; if I can’t reach her tonight, I’m sending it in without. Then, of course, she’ll see it in the program and wonder why she wasn’t contacted, not remembering all those emails she ignored back in February/March.
I’ve spent all of this afternoon clearing up my grading backlog. However, I’m now left with one remaining day of the week and a lot of hours yet to work for MPOW. I would be alarmed by this, but this is the third consecutive week where this has been the case, so instead I’m simply dejected that it has become status quo.
Now Playing: Alfred Hitchcock from Abigail by The Nields
February 28, 2006
I am busy with a phone-interview-heavy (but quite lucrative) writing job which I put off for too long. (In this case, putting it off at all constituted putting it off too long.) And of course, the whirl of regular schoolwork. I’d like to write about it, but I can’t really afford the time at this moment. There will be leftovers for here when I’ve sent in all the work.
February 18, 2006
Irrelevant to the story
The last time Adam Goucher won the 4K at the USATF cross country championships, it was in Greensboro, NC, and I was in the race. Of course, this time, it was his birthday. (No byline on the second story, but they’re both me.)
February 13, 2006
I’m getting up-sold on a writing assignment. That is, the assigning editor needs some other bits surrounding this event, and wants to know if I’m interested.
Normally I’m interested in anything with a direct bearing on the bottom line of my invoice, but I’m being evasive about this one. I know a bit about how this outfit works; they have high standards, which I appreciate, but sometimes the methods by which they choose to maintain those standards is frustrating.
That is, it’s nice to feel like I continue to get assignments from them because they think I do good work, and I like working with demanding editors. But I like working with demanding editors who take what I give them and make it better. I don’t like trying to write to a vaguely-described assignment, because I don’t want to file what I consider good work and have it rewritten by someone who has a different concept of the work the words are supposed to be doing.
I suppose that the role I’ve come to fill as a writer is really that of write-to-order. I can hit word counts, inverted pyramids and who-what-when-where. My language… well, it doesn’t exactly take flight, but it hops around and flaps its wings sometimes, and generally it comes in under the acceptable number of spelling and grammar errors. But it does that within the defined bounds of the game; that’s the interest and the challenge for me.
February 12, 2006
I think I’m becoming a little audience-concious here. Not in the sense that I feel like I have one in any wide sense; a dozen or so people I know in some way, a dozen or so others I’ve never met, whatever. More that I’ve slipped into a feeling that I’m writing for you rather than for me, and I’m pre-editing stuff in my head.
It goes like this: no, writing about the snow is boring. (It’s not really snowing; it’s more like it’s blowing, with a lot of snow involved, and it’s not clear how much of the snow is new, and how much has been whipped up off the ground by the wind to re-circulate.)
I don’t write much about classes and work because I either feel like I’m not making progress, and consequently saying the same things over and over, or I feel like I’m boring. (Sure, I’m excited that I finally understand what XSL and XPath are all about, and it’s nifty to have AquaPath to work with, but what do you care?)
And I don’t actually post the long rambling thoughts (re-mastered Waterboys CDs with extra tracks: discuss,) because it would take some time to write them up, and that feels self-indulgent when I have work and classwork to do, which is nominally more important. Right?
Maybe I need to post some short, silly stuff again.
January 30, 2006
I need one of these for the Sun lab
I must draw some attention to this little ditty, composed by the author of, “Repent! The end is near! The time is now 9:30 and our store will close at 10 pm. Please prepare accordingly.”
Parting, Shakespeare wrote, is such sweet sorrow.
We open again at nine o’clock tomorrow.
January 29, 2006
Panopticon in Roxbury
I’ve spent a little time flipping through the stories from the Boston Indoor Games, which this year didn’t have a dramatic moment like a world record or Olympic champion upset. It’s interesting to see who leads with which race, and how they described the races. It looks like I did all right myself, since my editor made very few changes to my IAAF report, but the difference in the stories really highlights the range of knowledge in the press area and the time constraints under which the various reporters worked; the Reuters and AP reports are sharp, but have some errors in the details (i.e. Cragg’s history at the meet.)
The Globe’s reporters did well as they usually have lately. The Dibaba story is stellar, and does a good job catching the balance of celebration and disappointment in a very fast win which is only missing that “world record” label. I had a lot of sympathy for both Dibaba and Defar, who dominated their races but could too-easily be seen as failures because they didn’t set records; the Globe story avoided the word “fail” and captured the nearness and the disappointment of it.
Their two-mile report has extensive Mottram quotes, but doesn’t know that Ethiopia wasn’t part of the British Empire and therefore won’t be sending runners to the Commonwealth Games. (Apparently the Helsinki world champion, Benjamin Limo, would prefer not to be in Melbourne either, but you’d need to be reading Kenyan or Australian newspapers to know that.) That story does have my favorite new Mottram quote:
Asked about his anomalous appearance—a 6-foot-2-inch Australian in an event dominated by smaller East and North Africans—Mottram replied: “I’m not one to go with the trend. We’re trying to change it.”
There were some discussions at the meet about the strange case of two-mile pacemaker Geoffrey Rono, who took off at 1:55 800m pace to open a 17-second gap on the rest of the field—that is, the people he was supposed to be setting the pace for. He eventually dropped out after a 4:10 mile, having (a) done nobody any good, and (b) looking silly for dropping out of the race with a nearly half-lap lead. I was pulling for him to keep running and see how long he could stay in front, but sometimes rabbits have contracts that forbid such race-stealing.
January 28, 2006
It could actually be reassuring to me to see that other track writers can blow stories, too, but since the AP’s longtime track writer retired a few years ago, I’ve seldom felt like their guys knew more about the sport than I do. This story correctly observes that Daniel Lincoln, Alistair Cragg’s training partner, is probably a stronger contender than either of the Americans who showed up at yesterday’s press conference, but whiffs on Cragg’s record in Boston: his win over Ngeny came in 2003. Neither Cragg nor Ngeny ran in Boston in ‘04.
This may, on the other hand, be an improvement over the Boston Herald, which (under a fairly bizarre headline about Tirunesh Dibaba) refers to the Reggie Lewis Center track as “super-slick.” I’m not sure “slick” is considered a compliment when you’re talking about a banked indoor track; after all, if athletes wanted slick, why would they wear spikes?
January 25, 2006
Preview the magnificent
I just finished and sent off my preview of Saturday’s meet, (Update: it’s posted) an event which includes a typographically annoying sponsor (Reebok’s recent insistence on being “Rbk” is even more confounding than Adidas’ insistence on an initial lowercase letter.) I like having the work—my freelance income is a big reason I don’t need to complain about my paltry graduate-student income—but previews are just too intense. I stare at entry lists and press releases, trying to pick out the legitimate stars from the press-release hype intended to make the races look more competitive than they are. I comb through old results and rankings, looking for credentials. (This early in the season, nobody has an up-to-date Annual in print, though TAFWA’s Indoor book is useful.) I might as well put it all in an envelope I hold to my forehead.
Last year, I whiffed on this preview, failing to even mention the entry of a woman who proceeded to run an unexpected world record. I guess it’s possible for that to happen this time, but it’s not as apparent to me yet. Maybe tomorrow morning I’ll realize who I left out.
Anyway, world records and world champions aside, here’s a tip for Bostonians: the men’s 2-mile. Organizers are billing it (with capital letters) as “The greatest 2-mile field ever assembled in this country,” and it may be, once you get past the fact that 2-mile races are pretty rare. Anyway, first: Craig Mottram, winner of the Fifth Avenue Mile and the first non-African 5,000m world championships medalist since “Jaysus Christ, Eamonn” won it in 1983. Four Ethiopians, with a slew of silver medals in all the big internationals, most of which would’ve been gold if it wasn’t for Kenenisa Bekele.
And, before we make it just a five-way race, throw in many-times NCAA champion Alistair Cragg, European indoor champ at 5,000m last year, and an athlete who has made a reputation for beating gold medalists (Bekele, Noah Ngeny) in this very meet.
This may be more fun than any world records which may be run (and there’s at least one strong possibility for one of those.)
November 16, 2005
Resonance to dreams
As usual, I nearly forgot that I had a column running today. Go, read it: I’m not sure anyone else does.
I actually just emailed my resignation from this particular column rotation. My primary reason is my increasing lack of time, which affects not only my ability to write but the attention I pay to the sport and therefore my ability to come up with relevant and interesting topics.
Secondarily, I think we’ve reached the interesting situation where the meager honorarium I’m paid for these columns is a bad deal at both ends. I doubt many people read them, and I’m pretty sure the site won’t be the worse for not paying me for more columns. On the other hand, if I figured the per-hour or even per-word rate I was paid for those columns, they were going pretty cheaply, even for me.
So, I’m done. If I come up with a good idea or opinion, I’ll just post it here. Or maybe I’ll flog it around to other outlets; my range of “clients” has changed a bit in recent years. In fact, next weekend we’re going to a little cross-country meet, and I have two assignments, both for print publications, and no online work.
Now Playing: I See Monsters from Love Is Hell by Ryan Adams
November 5, 2005
Keeping up with the Kenyans
I don’t know how busy I’ll be tomorrow, so I’ll post this now. I’ll be working on this page.
November 3, 2005
If I’m such a geek, why are five out of six messages currently in my inbox related to upcoming races?
November 1, 2005
The Algorithms mid-term ended a bit more than an hour ago, and my head still hurts. I have to hand it to the professor, though, he knows how to time an exam: very few people finished early, and I suspect I was one of many who finished within two minutes of when he called “time.” This unlike the midterm I heard about in a class I’m not taking, which turned out to actually be a three-hour exam crammed into a seventy-five-minute class block.
I need to get back to book studying soon, though. Yesterday, FedEx delivered my textbook for Sunday’s exam. It’s a media guide for the NYCM, where I will once again be writing the “mile by mile” updates on the race website. This exam will take approximately three hours, and while others might finish early, I probably won’t.
Now Playing: Too Late from Songs for a Hurricane by Kris Delmhorst
October 18, 2005
I don’t always write about races I go to. (Most of the time, though, yes.)
Now Playing: I’m Running from Big Generator by Yes
September 25, 2005
That could make a new nickname
My spell-check insists that “Mottram” is my mis-spelling of “Motorman.”
Maybe it’s on to something? (And my editor didn’t change a thing.)
August 19, 2005
Oh yeah, that
I’ve been a bit distracted lately, as you can imagine. So I forgot that I had a column running last week.
Now Playing: Pendulums from All of Our Names by Sarah Harmer
July 28, 2005
One of my co-workers sent an all-staff email to update the mailing address of one of our authors. It’s a town near the one I grew up in, so I guessed the college in question. Looking at the directory of the department in question, I found not only our author, but one of my high school classmates (I think) working as a lab assistant. I also saw an assistant professor who I interviewed a few years ago; he was instrumental in starting a running club I profiled for New England Runner. Out of curiosity, I checked which classes he taught, and noticed that in one of them, he uses another one of our textbooks (not written by the author who started the whole chain.) Within five minutes, I’d started at my day job and hopped back to high school (three jumps,) my freelance work (four jumps,) and back to my day job (five jumps.)
It may not be a small world, but the interconnections are quite dense.
Now Playing: Trumpet from Inarticulate Nature Boy by Josh Clayton-Felt
July 22, 2005
After I sent it, I thought of another behavior described by the quote: checking email. Hmmm… nope, nothing new.
Now Playing: Seagull from Live Light (France, 11/1994) by Ride
July 19, 2005
Playing the lottery
I just sent in another column, which will probably run on Friday. I had it mostly written, but was dissatisfied with it. Finally I hit on a hook, and wound up rewriting the whole thing around the hook, which was a comparison based on my high-school pre-calc teacher having us figure the odds on the Megabucks and Cory Doctorow’s toss-off rant in Eastern Standard Tribe:
That’s the crack-cocaine part… If you put a rat in a cage with a lever that doesn’t give food pellets, he’ll push it once or twice and give up. Set the lever to always deliver food pellets and he’ll push it when he gets hungry. Set it to sometimes deliver food pellets and he’ll bang on it until he passes out!
Yeah, that’s me… bringing crack-addled lottery-playing lab rats to a fine running website near you.
Now Playing: Great Southern Land from Primitive Man by Icehouse
July 17, 2005
In which I am unprofessional, as usual
My biggest problem so far is my tendency to treat it like an extended blog post (or usenet posting) and insert smartass remarks, which aren’t really relevant to either my task or hers. For example, I inserted, then removed, a note about Blogger’s ability to “convert line breaks” in postings, using a double
<br /><br /> tag:
…which is so far from the intent of HTML as a markup language that browsers should reject it as invalid code. But they don’t, so we will tolerate it until the Revolution comes.
This helps no one.
Now Playing: Come And Find Me from Golden Age of Radio by Josh Ritter
July 14, 2005
It’s never clear to me when Ben Hammersley is telling the straight facts, or having fun with me. But if the third-to-last paragraph in this story is for real, I may consider a reduction in my own margin to get rid of my least favorite part of reporting.
Oh, here’s the link—he’s not kidding!
Now Playing: The Red Plains from The Way It Is by Bruce Hornsby and the Range
July 7, 2005
I hate to admit that I’m still finishing up transcribing all my stuff from the USATF meet (oh, yeah: new column today,) but I am on the last one.
June 29, 2005
Words to graduate by
I have to admit that my favorite niche of non-fiction reading is commencement addresses. I first got attached to them when I was writing my senior honors thesis on an essayist who had at least three published. Since then, I’ve always been tickled when I find one included in a collection. It’s a tough form to write for, with some accepted forms which must be at least acknowledged, even if they are then ignored. (The first, and most famous, rule, is “Be brief.”)
Living, now, in a college town, I’ve paid more attention to them, especially as I shift into another period of my own life. I loved the tale of this spring’s commencement at one northeastern university, where the speaker, with rain pouring down on the crowd, stood up and said something along these lines: “I really appreciate that you’ve asked me here. Despite my prepared remarks, I think the best speech I can possibly give right now is this one: Congratulations. Now let’s get in out of the rain.”
While keeping an eye on some more prominent alumni of my college for this blog, I was led to the “President’s Remarks” of Reed College president Colin Diver, which, as a body of work, are quite entertaining.
Most recently, Laurel shared a link to a transcription of David Foster Wallace’s comments at Kenyon, which is actually one of the best and most perceptive commencement speeches I’ve ever read. I have a love-hate relationship with Wallace’s writing; at first, it’s audacious, fresh, and funny, but once that wore off I found the substance underneath to be somewhat uneven. If you can hang on through the somewhat lengthy set-up, the conclusion is one of his good parts.
Anyone else have a favorite commencement address somewhere? I found some good ones just by Googling the phrase. (Notes: the legendary, and fictional, Vonnegut address at Harvard doesn’t count. And I will ridicule you if you choose Solzhenitsyn’s address at Harvard in 1978, which is legendary in a bad way.)
Now Playing: Run It from Hootenanny by The Replacements
June 23, 2005
So, it turns out I wasn’t on an illicit connection from a sandwich store down the block; I was actually connected to the hotel network. A is doing fine with it, but my Powerbook hates it and drops the connection on a regular basis. I limp from website to website. Right now I’m at the track, where the network is actually pretty decent; I remember mentioning how nifty wireless would be to the facility manager two years ago, when the NCAA meet was in Sacramento, and here I am using it. (Of course, I remember the discussion because he said, “Yeah, we’re already on that.”)
Of course, the evening sun is full in front of me, up here atop the bleachers, and I can barely see my screen. You can’t have everything.
I did get buttonholed by the editor of a third-rank (by circulation, not necessarily quality) national magazine. He had an article he thought I’d be good for, a couple thousand words on one of the more incendiary long-term issues the sport is facing. I get the idea that he wants a well-researched flaying. Wonder when I’ll have time to research it.
There have been no finals yet, and won’t be for a few hours. Consequently, I’ve yet to do any real work. Things will start to get interesting right about the time of my EST bedtime (have I mentioned that I’m in, or at least near, LA? I am sitting in the Dominguez Hills, which are barely worthy of the name, and looking over at what I assume is Palos Verdes, which may be Palos but don’t look very Verde from here) and continue well past EST midnight. Hopefully I can stay sharp.
June 22, 2005
Nearly every year for much of the last decade, I’ve gone to work at least one major, multi-day track meet. (I think 1998 was the last year I missed, but seriously, what happened in 1998?)
What I always forget, usually until the day before I leave for the next one, is how every year I promise myself not to do it again.
June 13, 2005
Styles and voices
Sliding back and forth between voices is actually easier than I thought.
The Reuters story, which was apparently on the front page of the China Daily sports section, was telegraphic, choppy, and very bare. Another writer I know who has done Reuters work before said, “Think one-sentence paragraphs,” and in many cases that’s what I did. The editor actually added more than he cut.
Then I wound up with a pretty lengthy piece for the IAAF, of which the editor said, “It’s obvious that you enjoyed watching the meet, and it’s good to see that coming through in the report.” Utterly different voice.
There’s no such thing as unaccented English, but by and large my speech lacks an obvious regional accent. If I talk to a person who has one for long enough, I will half-consciously mimic aspects of what I hear; for example, while in Pennsylvania I found myself using the inverted question structure that’s peculiar to parts of that state. And when I’m at home, I will flatten and stretch my vowels according to the accent of the person I’m speaking to, in the same way my father does, without noticing it.
I’ve found myself doing the same thing with reporting, zooming in on the style and cadences of an outlet and fitting myself into them.
Still, I got a secondhand compliment from another track writer earlier this month, suggesting that I had a distinct voice. And with all the other voices coming from my mouth and my keyboard, I don’t know where it came from.
Now Playing: Another Satellite from Skylarking by XTC
June 11, 2005
Three and done
Third one’s away. I can’t figure out if my editor is six hours ahead or five. Either way, it will probably go up while I’m sleeping, which I should be doing soon.
Somewhat more than 2,200 words, by my count.
Update: It was posted four or five hours after I sent it. Kind words and very few changes from the editor; I think I’m finally figuring out the right tone for that site.
June 10, 2005
I got it
This is not a particularly glamorous job. It’s a short article (300-350 words) and needs to be filed quickly, within an hour after the event. There’s no room for color or much creativity; it’s all about simple, declarative sentences. Main idea, supporting detail, supporting detail, supporting detail.
But the report (sans byline) will probably appear in twice as many outlets than I’ve been published in over my entire reporting “career,” buried deep in the sports sections of dozens of Sunday newspapers.
Now Playing: Falling Down from Whirlpool by Chapterhouse
June 9, 2005
I need to learn: small bites. Not big mouthfuls.
I am waiting to hear about the possibility of an assignment from a second outlet for Saturday’s meet. It’s not certain yet so I won’t name it, but it would be, for me, pretty huge.
And it would mean a Saturday schedule involving a road race, a track meet, and (at least) three stories probably totaling around two thousand words. (Not getting this assignment, which appears to depend on factors other than my qualifications or availability, would mean only two stories.)
So, yeah, I’ll be in New York this weekend… but I’ll have my mouth full.
June 8, 2005
I think I must be very tired to be so amused by the “correct” suggestions produced by spell-checking Ethiopian names.
June 2, 2005
How to succeed in track writing (without really trying)
For reasons I won’t get in to here, I thought it might be a good idea to trace the steps that got me to my current level of writer-hood.
(I will leave aside, for now, the many more-refined words to describe what I do, and their differences; let’s say that I provide words in an easily-readable order which describe an event, a person, or a group of people, based on notes and interviews gathered at the scene or over the phone. I also sometimes provide words, also in an easily-readable order, designed to present an argument or opinion surrounding an issue. The common shorthand for this is “track writer.”)
I started out running a website for a magazine. I wanted to write for the magazine, of course, but so do 75% of the other people who’ve ever read it and have constructed a complete English sentence in their lifetime. The stories look like so much fun (or, at least, they did when I used to read them. I don’t read (m)any magazines nowadays.) It turned out that the writers tended to be well-established wordsmiths with a history of previously-published articles behind them and, usually, a contract with the magazine to provide
X articles of
Y length in a given year. Not early-twenties web geeks with a feeble grip on the magazine’s audience.
Eventually I did have a short piece published in the magazine, alongside several other of my co-workers. It was a personal-experience bit about two hundred words long, not the usual “service journalism” we published. Still, I’m getting a bit ahead of myself.
I started out with one event. The Maine Distance Festival ran annually on the weekend of the 4th of July, from 1994 or so until 2003, at the Bowdoin College track. (They say someday it will happen again, but two years is quite a hiatus in the track world, especially when one of them is an Olympic year.) I was going to be there anyway, so I offered to file a report for the website. I got myself a media credential, borrowed a tape recorder, and followed the real reporters around until I got the drift of how it worked. I produced a meet report and an interview, now sadly lost when the site’s archives went offline a few years ago.
I did this annually for a few years, often enough that I stopped being excessively nervous when talking with the athletes. I also stopped being excessively nervous about my writing, once I realized that it was barely being edited. I even put two more personal-experience articles up, one about my first USATF cross-country meet and one about the Boston marathon (before I DNFed there; I still haven’t finished it. The race, not the article.) I started going to more events, with A, with the understanding that if I paid my own expenses and wrote an article, I wouldn’t be charged vacation days for my time out of the office.
When I left, it seemed pretty natural for me to keep freelancing with reporting for the site. Over the intervening years, they started paying less for articles, then eventually stopped almost entirely, but since then I’ve moved on. It certainly didn’t hurt that I was writing regularly for two other sites right away.
The thing was, the work I’d done on the site had made me an “established” writer. The pros were used to seeing me in the press box, the media coordinators knew who I was and where to look for my stories. They knew I wasn’t just a fanboy with a digital point-and-shoot and a voice recorder. And when they were contacted by editors looking for freelancers, they’d drop my name. I got a few more print publications in other magazines mostly on the strength of the reputation I’d built. It didn’t hurt to be able to supply links to my other articles, allowing editors to check out the quality of my work before hiring me.
I could probably work more than I do. Right now, it’s primarily an excuse for being at events and seeing them first-hand. I like doing a good job, and I like working with the others I see at the events, but over the course of a year I probably break even at best, with travel expenses eating up my paychecks. If I was determined, I could send out a few more query letters, do a few more interviews and non-event work, but I lack the motivation to do so.
Now, if you’ll notice, there are two very large strokes of luck here that make it unlikely that anyone else will follow this path into the field: First, I landed an editorial (if somewhat technical) job with a magazine and website which ran the kind of writing I wanted to do. Second, I had an event nearby which was both low-key enough that they had few other reporters there, yet important enough that we’d want a first-hand story.
Now Playing: Paint Your Picture from Josh Ritter by Josh Ritter
May 31, 2005
Speaking for myself alone
Have you ever seen an event go sour before it even happens?
The Freihofer’s Run for Women, an all-female 5K in Albany, has been the USA championship for that distance for several years, and consequently invited only American elite athletes. This year, the championship is elsewhere, and Freihofer’s started assembling an international field. I lined up some work for myself and made plans to be in attendance.
It started looking pretty hot, after several announcements, and last week we started seeing names of athletes like Lornah Kiplagat, who has covered the distance faster than any other woman alive. (For some inexplicable reason, she’s not credited with the world record, but that’s a discussion which will have your brain gnawing its way out, so I’ll leave it for another time.)
One hitch: one of the athletes prominently mentioned was former 10K world record holder Asmae Legzhaoui (say “Leg-ZOW-ie”; like fellow Moroccan Said Aouita, she scores big on the vowels-to-consonants scale, with extra points for using all five unambiguous vowels.)
Legzhaoui was busted for doping (with EPO, specifically) in 2002, and hit with a two-year ban, but now, on her return, that hasn’t been mentioned very much. In fact, the press materials from Albany haven’t mentioned it at all; her agent is calling it a “maternity break.” (While it’s true that Legzhaoui had a child during the period of the ban, she wouldn’t have been competing even if she hadn’t.)
This made me pretty uncomfortable. I write for outlets that cater to fans of the sport, and I do best when I can write something dramatic about an athlete who did something dramatic. I can’t be anything but tepid about an athlete who’s been busted for doping. I was hoping to myself that she wouldn’t win, and I could do my work pretending she wasn’t there.
Over the weekend, Kiplagat withdrew from the race, saying she would not participate in a race where Legzhaoui was an invited guest. (Presumably she would race Legzhaoui if the latter paid her own entry fee and travel expenses.) Another Kenyan woman also represented by Kiplagat’s agent/husband also withdrew, and word is that Benita Johnson, an Australian who won the 2004 World Cross Country championships, is out as well (though that hasn’t been officially confirmed.)
Here’s where I start saying things I can’t say when I’m speaking for anyone but myself. There was a very long and rambling article about the “scandal” on runnersworld.com today, “reported” by the sometimes-incoherent Toby Tanser. It’s very heavy reading, running very long and apparently unedited except for a quick pass through a spell-check. (If I was trying to project a professional atmosphere, I would’ve cut it by half, removing the sentences which don’t make sense, imposed some organization on the arguments, and attempted to feign impartiality.) Tanser is very close to Kiplagat’s camp, and the story is slanted heavily against Legzhaoui. He mentioned, disapprovingly, one Moroccan agent who said…
He has no problem with people like Asmae running races because they were suspended and can’t be punished the rest of their life. However, he said they should not treat them like heroes because they don’t deserve this.
I’m really, really worried about this now, because the athletes who are withdrawing are the ones who stood a good chance of beating Legzhaoui. There are others who still might, but as more withdraw, we may be left with the pariah as the favorite, much like the 2001 World Championships in Edmonton (my second, and last, Worlds) where the Russian Olga Yegorova was cleared for competition despite failing an EPO test earlier in the summer.
I tend to agree with the agent: once the athlete has served the ban, they should have the chance to compete again. But a lot of the image of drug-free athletics is built around trust, and once we’ve been burned by an athlete, it’s hard to trust them again. I continue to hope someone other than Legzhaoui wins on Saturday in Albany; I do not want to write about her as if she’s a hero; nor do I want to read others attempting to gloss over her ugly past.
Now Playing: Daniel Lee from by Sarah Borges
May 26, 2005
What next? or, when the liberal arts education isn't really working out
The alumni magazine from my college is making the rounds. (I’ve heard from others that it has arrived, but for some reason, even though I’m in the same town as the college, it always comes to me late.) Some people comment on the articles, but mostly it’s a ripple of rueful complaints as people read the class notes: “Will you people stop winning awards, earning degrees, getting married and having children?” (This is not unique to my college.)
That, combined with the awareness that the college just dumped a fair number of unemployed “young alumni” on the job market who may or may not have immediate plans or actionable ambitions, began to feel like a call to action. Some of us who graduated in a similar situation, without obviously marketable skills or experience, are sharing what we’ve learned on amerst.com. I led off with my story, which is actually quite reassuring (my best offer at graduation was an internship, but it became a “real job,” and I’ve not had trouble paying the rent,) and today I posted another contribution from a more recent graduate who has held (if I’m counting correctly) three different internships, but no salaried jobs, in two years. I have a third one waiting for me to have time to edit it.
While I suspect the majority wouldn’t ordinarily be interested in the contents of that site, I know there are more than a few who might identify with some of these stories. As I add more, they should all be reachable with this keyword search.
Now Playing: Cowards from Gotta Get Over Greta by The Nields
May 25, 2005
In case you missed it
Now Playing: Honest Joe from Wah Wah by James
May 19, 2005
There’s a story I can tell now.
After seeing Adam “Space for Rent” Nelson throwing at the Boston Indoor Games, I had a few questions to ask about his sponsorship situation, not for an assignment but for my own curiosity. Sometimes those lines of inquiry go nowhere; sometimes they go somewhere interesting.
It’s pretty improbable that nobody would be interested in sponsoring Nelson, who has won two Olympic silver medals in the shot put and is probably one of the most interesting, intelligent, and exciting athletes in that event right now. It’s more likely that when his contract with Nike came up for renewal, the terms weren’t to Nelson’s liking, and he hasn’t yet found anyone with Nike’s deep pockets.
“Have you thought about putting yourself on eBay?”
“Actually, yeah,” he said, “We have thought about that.”
Now Playing: Secret from Day Two by Endochine
May 6, 2005
Not done yet
I think freelance writing is an addiction. Every time I talk about quitting, I come crawling back.
I figured I was done for a while after NCAA Indoors, with very few events left on my schedule. I did a one-day job for a road race, and Boston, of course, but I started to wonder what I’d be able to do as a student. Will I be able to travel to as many events? I won’t be using my vacation days, but I will be more interested in covering my expenses on a tighter budget. How much time will I have? I might want to turn any free time into income, but I might not have any time to do the research and the writing, let alone pitching, though that turns out to be all too easy.
So, while I’m thinking about that, two small assignments with nice paychecks attached drop in my lap.
Next thing I know, I’m sending email to my favorite outlet, asking if they’d like me to send reports. I am so pathetic. Someday, they’ll find me sleeping under my desk, huddled up to my laptop with a blanket of magazines and a pillow of statistics books, fifteen press passes dangling from my neck as I compulsively send pitches and invoices, maybe transcribe an interview here or there in a desperate attempt to quit.
Update, 5/7: I got the assignment. Reports for both events, plus a preview of the new one, so three articles in total. Time to request press credentials.
Now Playing: Kid On The Train from Spirit Touches Ground by Josh Clayton-Felt
May 3, 2005
Confuse as many readers as possible
Now Playing: Bridge and Tunnel by The Honorary Title
April 14, 2005
No, I will not do your homework
I’ve been seeing a lot of Google searches finding this site looking for poetry analysis.
auden as i walked out analysis
auden o what is that sound poem analysis
as i walked out one evening analysis auden
look stranger at this island now auden
look stranger at this island now literary analysis
auden o what is that sound interpretation
I think the Googlebot is looking at this post, which is actually just a list of poems I memorized ten years ago. (Why is it all Auden? There’s pints and pints of Frost there.) The word “analysis” only comes up in the comment… which is a barely-grammatical plea for literary analysis of one of those poems.
Here’s some news for you. First, I don’t do poetry analysis. I did my share of lit-crit as an undergraduate, and I think I’m pretty much cured now. Besides, there are others who are much better at both the analysis and the writing. Second, I haven’t reread most of those poems since I memorized them ten years ago. Any analysis of them you got from me would be the Kiss of Poor Grades. (Per the Nobel laureate who assigned all those poems: “That’s better than I expected, but in an outlandish direction.”)
And third… hasn’t it occurred to you that your teacher can use an internet search, too? Suck it up and do your own homework. At least if you fail, it will be all your own. If you want my help, you’ll do a lot better by writing something first and asking me to do an editing pass. (Actual helpful comments are not guaranteed.)
Now Playing: Rainslicker from Hello Starling by Josh Ritter
March 22, 2005
I’m transcribing the last of my recordings from the NCAA meet, and listening to my questions I’m reminded of the idea I had wanted to write about. I’m fascinated, I suppose, by the way we create athletic heroes, and I was looking for my interviewee to do something spectacular. He was primed to, winning his first of two races, but then stepped off the track halfway through his second. I can hear in my questions an attempt to salvage my first idea, fishing for explanations of ambition, dreams, or both. Meanwhile, he’s oozing disappointment and frustration.
It’s another one of those moments where I hate listening to myself as I inflict this interview on a patient athlete at the worst possible time, but fortunately I am not utterly clueless throughout.
Now Playing: Turn off the stars from SXSW 2005 Showcasing Artist by Wayne Sutton
March 17, 2005
A different kind of star
I have a column up today about Nick Willis, who won the mile at the NCAAs last weekend, then dropped out of the 3,000m. I’ve got quite a bit more conversation with him in iTunes waiting to be transcribed.
Talking to Willis, who I like immensely, made me think about the intersection of religion and athletics. There are some athletes who won’t finish an interview without telling us how grateful they are to God for the victory, or simply the ability to run. Some of them are more graceful than others at slipping this in; others (I’m thinking of Olympic silver medalist Catherine Ndereba here) can’t complete a sentence without testifying, and have become nearly un-interviewable as a result. Even the single most famous movie about running, Chariots of Fire, is really a movie about religion.
I grew up in a New England tradition which regards one’s relationship with God as somewhat more private than that with one’s spouse. Dour Puritans that we are, we regard PDR and PDA in about the same way, but we’ve also learned to shrug and move on in reaction to both. But I have learned a new sort of respect for someone who prefers to make themselves an example rather than an advertisement.
I didn’t notice until after the 3,000m what was written on Willis’s hands. Athletes often have marks on the backs of their hands; it could be target splits, it could be the names of their teammates, or in the case of BYU’s women one year, it could be smiley faces. Anything to catch the runner’s attention and remind them of something during the race. Willis had a cross—it looked more like a big “X”—on one hand, and “For Him” on the other.
They were notes to himself, not to us. He talked about his teammates and team, his coach, and his country. He talked about where running fit in his life. He’d spent the evening in an emotional parabola, from pre-race jitters, to the race, to winning, to another set of jitters, to a DNF and all the disappointment and self-recrimination that comes with that. Never once did he talk about his faith. Or, perhaps that was all he talked about?
This was the quote I closed the column with, which I think sums up why I like him so much: “If I’m to keep on doing this for 15 years, which I would like to do, I’d better be a good person to be around.”
Now Playing: Capsized from You Were Here by Sarah Harmer
March 15, 2005
Though, I should add, only of the polite sort. I got a big packet today from the IAAF containing their latest “World Rankings Yearbook.” The accompanying letter, from the General Secretary of that organization, referred to me as “a reputable media representative of our sport.”
Heh. I’m “reputable.”
Now Playing: Best Imitation Of Myself from Ben Folds Live by Ben Folds
March 12, 2005
Notes from the underground
What a stereotype: I like my roller-ball pens, but I have a habit of forgetting the cap is off. By halfway through any session, I am usually ink-smeared in some way. I suppose this would be a reliable way of distinguishing reporters from other spectators, if it wasn’t for the media credentials.
Need a dolly for that? The NCAA is apparently trying to cut down on the size of football and basketball media guides, since they were supposedly becoming big, glossy recruiting catalogs. Track guides are sometimes spiral-bound and rarely run to as many pages as your average T&FN (though they use much heavier paper.) Still, I saw the director of one large east-coast relay carnival with a stack of media guides which was easily a foot and a half high.
Our little slice of the meet: The press box is stuffed, but the “independent” reporters like myself (writing either for the running media or various newspapers) are outnumbered by the various “SIDs” (Sports Information Directors) producing program-specific press releases for athletic-department websites. So while the meet media apparatus is kept quite busy, the number of reporters actually attempting to cover the whole meet is fairly small.
Multi-tasking: The availability of a press box and the occasional down-time between events lets me stream my interviews in to my computer right at the venue, which puts me ahead of the game. Sometimes I can start writing my stories before the day is even over.
Name-withholding: Sometimes I feel a bit fake acting familiar with the great athletes at a meet like this, but I did get a warm glow when I was greeted first by one of the coaches, a two-time Olympic marathoner. I won’t drop the name, but he recognizes me because I ran with him once or twice at my former job, where he writes a monthly column for the print magazine.
Fast: Since I had more than one affiliation on my credential request, they apparently just picked one. Therefore, my credentials (and the label on my seat in the press box) identified me with “fast-women.com.” (Only at a track meet would that raise no eyebrows.) At least one volunteer handing out results checked to see if I wanted results from the men, too.
February 28, 2005
The real drug problem
There was an article in the sports section of the Sunday Globe: “Healthy outlook has the sport up and running again”. Never mind the awful cliché in the headline. The whole premise of this article is flawed.
A year ago this weekend inside the Reggie Lewis Center, you would have been excused if you thought you’d wandered into a pharmacological convention. The questions were all about designer steroids then, about human growth hormones and Modafinil, about EPO and insulin and who was using them and who wasn’t.
Hogwash, sir. Were you actually there last year? I was and I don’t recall hearing a single question about designer steroids, HGH or Modafinil. Maybe that’s because I was talking to the distance runners? He’s got some decent quotes in here from seriously drug-impaired events, like the shot putters, where Saturday’s winner John Godina said, “In my event, it’s always been all about the drugs,” and third-placer Adam Nelson, whose shirt says “Space for rent” on the front, has his website, throwclean.com, on the back. (Look at those pictures. How can you not love this guy?)
But I stood next to this reporter on Saturday while he badgered Jen Toomey and Shayne Culpepper for quotes for this column. Toomey gave him a good one, which he used, and it’s true that the drug scandals did clear out an athlete who was one of the biggest figures in her event. But Culpepper didn’t really have anything to say; aside from that one individual, drugs have seldom been at the top of any distance runner’s agenda in this country.
As another track writer and I rolled our eyes at each other, this guy asked, “Is it nice that nobody’s asking about drugs this year?” And I thought, furiously, “Yeah, nobody except you…”
Now Playing: Supernatural Radio from She’s The One by Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers
February 24, 2005
Good graphics, lousy spell-check
Apparently, nobody is proof-reading the boxes at nVidia when they send out their video cards. On the box of the video card I picked up on eBay in a (failed) troubleshooting step for A.’s desktop machine, I counted nine different spelling and grammatical errors, some of which can’t possibly have escaped someone’s notice. Apparently this box contains, for example, a “Giaphice Acceleiatai” which is “The Definition of Perfpormance”. Its specifications, however, “is subject to chang without notice.”
It’s almost as though the text was retyped for the box by, oh, someone who doesn’t speak a language which uses the Latin alphabet? Maybe, hmm, someone who doesn’t actually work for nVidia? What are the odds that a legitimate technology company would let such a packaging disaster out the door?
Now Playing: The Wrong Child from Green by R.E.M.
Records and racing
Now Playing: Kerosene from Human Cannonball by School Of Fish
February 18, 2005
Note to RW Online: His name is Kenenisa Bekele. The “Kenny G./Kenny B.” joke might have been funny once, but now it’s getting annoying.
Now Playing: Harrisburg from Golden Age of Radio by Josh Ritter
February 16, 2005
I like to think of it as my spreading fame
I should mention that I have started posting entries on another weblog. It’s a group weblog (though so far I am the second of only two authors) focused on news and discussion relating to the local college (sometimes referred to here as “The College,”) which also happens to have been my college.
As such, I doubt it will be of interest to (m)any beyond the two or three of you here who also attended The College. (If you’re one of those, and aren’t linked on the left, I’d be interested in knowing that you’re here, incidentally.)
In a related note, on Monday I was sailing down a moving walkway in O’Hare Airport, heading for a plane that was already boarding, when the person going the other direction said my name. I was a bit startled, and looked around. Sure enough, a face I recognized. I must have looked puzzled, because while I recognized the face, I couldn’t place his name. Sharp-dressed young businessman, a class year behind me, took Russian with me, played soccer. He remembered my name, and my face, but going opposite directions all we got to share was the mutual recognition.
It’s been almost nine years since we could have seen each other. I’m impressed that he recognized and remembered me.
Now Playing: Lousiana from Hologram of Baal by The Church
February 13, 2005
I’ve commented before about how much I dislike transcribing. Of course, I’m coming away from this weekend with a healthy stack of voices in my ears, and not a lot of time in which to turn them into readable text with a thread of discussion.
I’m trying a different route this time. Right now I’m playing the interviews into no-effects tracks in GarageBand, then exporting those files into iTunes. This has two small benefits, allowing me to join together discussions broken into several segments on the recorder (or, in one case, on two different recorders,) and also taking the mono input from the recorder and playing it back in stereo, which I hope will help me focus on the transcription. So far I’ve got about 150MB of talking, and I’m not halfway done yet.
The real triumph will be if I can use keyboard commands to flick between the text editor and iTunes, pausing and restarting the playback without moving my hands from the keyboard. I suspect that may be problematic—iTunes isn’t set up to handle hopping back five seconds or so—but maybe it will be a relief. And maybe there will be less stuff to deal with on the plane, so I can finish getting everything into text by the time we’re back in Amherst.
Of course, it could lead to some weird “Now Playing” notes.
Update, 15 February: Oh, that works really, really well. I did more transcription on the plane than I’ve ever done on a plane before.
February 10, 2005
In light of the (bizarre) snowstorm currently plastering Western Massachusetts (we got rain in lieu of the first ten forecast inches, and the initial coating came down in inch-wide clumps) the airline has preemptively cancelled our flight out tomorrow morning and rescheduled us two hours later.
This allows me to shift the planned swim tonight to tomorrow morning.
When updating our arrival time for the rental car reservation, my rate was somehow reduced, so we’re saving a few bucks.
In the bag for plane reading: Bryson’s Dictionary of Troublesome Words. I am betting on a raft of emails correcting this cheap hack’s usage after I finish.
I like these races. I guess you could say I love them, since I ran them three times. Running gave me an excuse to be there, though; this weekend I’m working “on spec,” speculating that I can get (and sell) enough material to cover my (relatively small) expenses. I’m ahead (on paper) for the year, thanks to a high profit margin in Boston, but this will likely knock me back to break-even.
Now Playing: Injustica from Building 55 by Kathleen Edwards
February 8, 2005
You would think that the marketing dross of the dot-com boom days would have washed away with the stock prices. But there’s one little buzzword which is working away on my head now like my ski boots on my feet.
“Powered by.” There’s a relatively rational, if bothersome, use of it on this front page, in the default text by which I admit that I’m using Movable Type to manage this site. It’s relatively accurate in the sense that the site relies on MT to function; however, if I want to be pedantic, I should point out that the real motive forces are myself and you, the readers; without us, MT just sits there and waits to be called. And, if we were really crediting software for driving the site, we should also nod to Apache and MySQL, which are equally as integral.
Anyway, you see that little tagline all over, even when it’s not strictly true. What’s really abrading me now is the weekend’s upcoming track meet, the Powered By Tyson Invitational.
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, a track meet with an adjectival phrase as the title sponsor.
I’ll admit that Tyson, factory-farm producers of more chicken, pork and beef than anyone else in the USA, might have a better claim on “powering” the meet than most software makers can claim. Forgive me if I don’t find that an excuse for such a clunky meet name. Any time you need to use an article (as above) the sentence structure goes beyond un-lovely and reaches silly. It also does nothing to correct anyone’s stereotypical image of Fayetteville, Arkansas.
The other day we were discussing how any internet business name should be able to become a verb (i.e. Google, Netflix.) Now I’m thinking it should also make an elegant title sponsorship. When my startup hits it big, I will sponsor this meet. It will be called the “Grammatically Correct Title Sponsor Invitational.”
Maybe it’s the cold medicine making me loopy. (Or, maybe I’m just using the medicine as an excuse?)
Now Playing: Black Boys On Mopeds from Bob On The Ceiling by The Nields
February 3, 2005
The reuse of articles subject (from yesterday) reminded me of another odd appearance in print. I was contacted by the local club about reuse of my “Keystone Species” column in their newsletter. I think they saw it as something of a memorial for Steve. I referred them on to RW, and I assume they got permission because RW regularly allows such things.
This, outside of my own involvement, is where the mayhem started. First, this note in the minutes of the club’s October board meeting:
There was discussion about an apology to be sent (but not published in the [newsletter]) to [name] of the [other general-athletics store], regarding a small piece about the demise of the [old running store]. It was a late, “fill entry” reprinted from Runenrsworld online write by [me]. All agreed that while we didn’t want to offend a generous supporter of the club, no offence was intended.
(All sic, of course, though I’ve removed proper names, including my own, to avoid Googleism.)
In other words, the board didn’t really get what the column was about, but the other store did, and was disappointed. (Face facts, though, folks: you don’t fill the gap, and the column explains why.)
The next twist came from New England Runner, which actually lists me as a contributing writer on their masthead. (I wrote a feature story for them once, yes.) NER has a monthly column, “Club Notes,” with a rundown of what’s going on in the many running clubs around New England. The writer works mostly from club newsletters. Can you guess where this is going?
Yep, after the board got finished apologizing for my article, NER led off the “Club Notes” column with it, and quoted it extensively (including citing me as the author.) Fortunately, the NER columnist actually understood what I was trying to say, and didn’t see it through the lens of local retail and sponsorship.
Just as a kicker, this last publication is probably the only place my father would have seen it.
Now Playing: You Don’t Know How It Feels from Wildflowers by Tom Petty
February 2, 2005
I neglected to post a link to my fourth article about the Boston Indoor Games, which I probably should have bylined “Alistair Cragg (as told to pjm).” Now it turns out that it’s getting picked up by other running sites which is either flattering or disturbing—did they get permission? As a site editor, I always asked people reusing our articles to include “used by permission” for just that reason. But it’s not really my problem, this time—it’s a “work for hire” and the assigning site is free to grant permission for reuse.
Now Playing: Secret Handshake from Green Eggs And Crack by Too Much Joy
February 1, 2005
Cut for length
This came out of the column I just sent in. I was considering when, if ever, I’d heard a crowd roar the way they did in Boston for Tirunesh Dibaba’s last kilometer.
The only thing I could think of was at the 1999 World Championships in Seville, when Abel Anton arrived in the stadium at the end of the marathon.
His victory party was three or four floors below my hotel room, and not only did I get smashed (not difficult, considering how fatigued I was by then) but I saw the best flamenco I’ve ever seen danced by a man who had run a marathon less than six hours before. And Anton was not young, even by marathon standards.
Now Playing: Already Yesterday from Heyday by The Church
January 31, 2005
Something about the pitch of effort that went in to covering the meet has me still burned out. I can’t make my mind stick to one idea or project for more than three or four minutes. There’s still another article in the publishing queue and one more left to write. And I have eBay sales to ship.
And it turns out that my PC here at work (as opposed to my Mac) is too old to boot from a USB device, so while I can do a Live CD, I can’t boot from my new 512 MB flash drive. I’m not sure if I should be disappointed by this or not. I may still make the drive bootable, just in case another subversive opportunity comes up.
Moral of the story: there are security advantages to obsolescence!
Now Playing: Mr. Right Now from If You Lived Here You’d Be Home Now by The Nields
January 30, 2005
I’m crashing big-time.
Yesterday was very intense. The meet, in particular, opened up with a world record and continued with nearly every twist and turn you can imagine when plotting races with very good competitors. After some waffling about where I would be able to work, I ended up staying at the venue and filing by dial-up as they broke down the press risers around me. (In this day and age, I can’t figure out why venues haven’t started providing wireless access points for the press.) My preview oversight turned out to be a big one: the athlete I hadn’t mentioned was the one who set the world record.
We only got lost once on our way to my cousin’s in Southie, though it took a while to find a parking spot. No problems this morning getting A. to her run and me to a Starbucks, where I discovered that I now actually have more work to do today; my editor in Monaco responding, “Yes, this is great, fantastic meet, send anything else you have.” (Hmm, how about me? I could do with some Monaco right now.)
Now I’m crashing. I’ve probably got two thousand words yet to write today, all in my head or on the recorder, which means I either need to transcribe, which I hate, or simply stare at a blank document on the screen until drops of blood form on my forehead. I’d rather stare at Bloglines until my eyes slip out of focus.
And I’m supposedly good at this?
January 28, 2005
My new focus
Aside from the stuff I’ve already mentioned, in a press conference today, thrower Reese Hoffa suggested that he’d like to throw in a bear suit someday (“…but only if I could throw the ball far.”) And then he went on:
… my ultimate goal, I want them to carry me out in a cage and release me. And just throw and have fun with it. It’s one of my dreams.
We can all identify with that, right?
Update, 30 January: What’s not to love?
Now Playing: How Soon Is Now? from Meat is Murder by The Smiths
January 27, 2005
Love that byline...
“[pjm] for the IAAF.”
(I admit, getting a check from Monaco is pretty cool, too. I pretend it’s prize money when I deposit it.)
It ran with only light edits, too. I was startled to realize that I was putting World Indoor champions in blow-off paragraphs at the end because there were so many Olympic medalists competing. And I completely whiffed on Tirunesh and Ejegayehu Dibaba in the women’s 5,000m; apparently Tirunesh is on a tear this season. I should pay closer attention to the European cross-country circuit.
Now Playing: Occupation H. Monster from Songs From The Other Side by The Charlatans
January 25, 2005
The mind reels
This bit was in a press release today:
…New York’s finest track and running scribes.
Do the purveyors of purple prose have a reflex which inserts the word “finest” after any use of the possessive “New York’s”?
If they’re really making a distinction (between the finest track and running scribes, and cheap hacks like myself, I assume,) who’s making it? And what makes one a “fine” track writer? Circulation numbers? Membership in TAFWA? The ability to tell colorful stories about how you got to the 1952 Helsinki Olympics?
This is the danger of cliché: it becomes textual noise that distracts from the actual message.
Now Playing: Caroline from Bloodletting by Concrete Blonde
January 11, 2005
Now Playing: Rainslicker from Hello Starling by Josh Ritter
January 6, 2005
Metaphors need to be shared
I’m explaining our FTP server to a freelancer. I finally came up with this:
“It’s like a back-road mailbox in wintertime: useful while it’s working, but expendable under attack.”
I’ve been meaning to mention this for a while now, but I’ve been busy crossing things off lists. I had a column at RW Online on Tuesday (apparently late on Tuesday, due to some editorial snafu.)
I liked it when I was writing it, but the more I read it now the more frustrated I am with it. I still haven’t figured out how to best use the short format of this space (around 500 words.) I reached nearly 700 words before I started cutting, and I’m still over. And even with all that, I stopped short of actually making a point. It’s so easy for me to get wrapped up in setting the scene, that I do that extensively, and then don’t deliver a solid thought to go with the images.
Bah. I’ve been trying to do this for, what, three years now? I’ve had a few good ones, but sometimes I wonder why I haven’t been un-invited yet.
Now Playing: All over But the Cryin’ from In the Land of Salvation and Sin by The Georgia Satellites
December 10, 2004
Radio Free Panic
Thanks to a post on Sea Fever, I can finally explain what I’m doing here. It’s a radio show that runs really, really slowly. And in text.
Seriously, it’s a really good metaphor. I click on the mike and broadcast short segments of what I’m thinking about, interspersed with music. (Not actual music, but I mention more music here than many DJs I’ve heard on today’s radio—have I mentioned the time I did an entire half-hour workout in the pool without the idiotic morning show on the radio station they had on playing more than one song?)
Meeting Seth last night and seeing his site really underlined the metaphor; he’s much closer to the radio show format than I am. Ms. Feverish also mentioned All Request, which I find fascinating but haven’t tried here for a variety of reasons. (For the most part, I don’t write the sort of entries that inspire a lot of comments, and anyway, I tend to answer posted questions at any time.)
So, thanks for tuning in. Listen for us again, same time, same channel.
Now Playing: Over Your Shoulder from Concrete Blonde by Concrete Blonde
December 9, 2004
My bad reputation
The media coordinator for the event is an acquaintance from my RW days, but I’m not sure what I did to earn the preface to the email:
Is this good enough for you?
Now Playing: Aurora from There Is Nothing Left To Lose by Foo Fighters
November 23, 2004
I know it’s a bit odd to have your weekend over on Tuesday night, but the last of the four stories I did this weekend was finished and posted tonight. I could probably transcribe some interviews, but… no. I’d rather be done, right now.
November 21, 2004
Scenes from a work trip
Everything that can possibly go wrong, will, unless it doesn’t.
In Hartford, we can’t confirm a seat for A. on the Chicago to Indianapolis leg. And the flight is showing as delayed by two hours, which is alarming because that would mean a 1:30 A.M. arrival in Indianapolis, followed by the seventy-odd mile drive to Terre Haute.
Upon arrival in Chicago, however, we are able to immediately get confirmation on the on-time flight. I’m not sure where Hartford was getting their data.
Upon arrival in Indianapolis, our luggage is not on the carousel. The attendant looks at our claim checks, and tells us that our luggage did not miss its connection in Chicago: it never got on the plane in Hartford. (Unbelievable.) However, it was routed through Washington and is due in… ten minutes.
While we wait, I go to fetch the rental car. No compacts left at ten minutes to midnight. How about a mini-van?
The truck stop on Route 70 midway between Indianapolis and Terre Haute has… well, everything, pretty much, including auto parts and the Pennsylvania Dutch red licorice I used to get on Route 15 south of Harrisburg.
I have had tea at the Java Haute and seen a sign for The Square Donut. I have had my picture taken at The Crossroads Of America.
Now, since the phone line in our hotel room won’t support even a tolerably usable dialup connection, we’re sitting in the ISU library, basking in the high-speed wireless waves. And I have work to do.
November 19, 2004
This little journalist
(Vague early-90s pop music reference in the title…)
The NCAA cross-country preview I mentioned earlier is in today’s RW Daily News. It’s OK, but this meet has the chronic problem that it’s really four races in two, and trying to do that in (roughly) 500 words means you really can’t do it justice. When I read it over at lunch, I was saying to myself, “Yeah, but you left out Matt Gonzales, you didn’t say anything about the Colorado men who could win with a miracle, you never used Dathan Ritzenhein’s full name, you short-changed Chris Solinsky…” On the other hand, last night when I was fact-checking, I pulled up my best two stories from that meet last year, and thought, hey, for me, these aren’t bad. It’s nice when something stands up well a year later.
My Lydiard-seminar column ran today as well. I’ve already had a nice e-mail from the tour organizer, who has offered to (eventually) send a printout the presentation he used in the seminar. (Apparently the presentation file is some absurd size, on the order of 20 MB, so it’s not easily hosted on the Web. You’d think someone could figure that out… but, I have more thoughts on that for a later post. Actually, I have at least five more posts mapped out on this topic.) It’s worth quoting my penultimate paragraph here:
If you’re a coach, or if you’ve ever found yourself following a training program without understanding how the pieces fit together, or if you’ve ever written off a training program because it looks like too much work, you owe it to yourself to go to the Five Circles website, click on “Upcoming Events,” and see if any of the remaining seminars is near you. I might add that “in the neighboring state” should count as “near you,” in this case.
- Earlier this week, in ecto, I put six titles in new post drafts, five of them, hopefully, wrapping up the Lydiard stuff. I hope I can get all the thoughts out in text. With luck, I’ll be able to write some of them up on the plane to Indiana. So I may have things to post, even if I can’t find the time (or connectivity) to actually post them. (Yes, this is relevant to the theme of the post… why do you think I’ll be in Indiana, after all?)
Now Playing: (You’re The Only One) Can Make Me Cry from Concrete Blonde by Concrete Blonde
November 18, 2004
Credit where it's due
Back in May, I delivered a lengthy rant about how my old site, runnersworld.com, “failed absolutely” in the Safari browser, and how they appeared uninterested in fixing it. And, I should note, other than my regular column, I haven’t done any freelance work for them since. (Yeah, that’ll show ‘em!)
Since then, I’ve switched to Camino as my primary browser where I do my RW reading, which worked around the problem. So I failed to notice until a few days ago that the site now works in Safari. I’m not sure if RW made the change, or if Apple fixed something in Safari, but it now works. Whoever fixed it, thanks.
And yes, I’ll be sending in the NCAA cross-country preview tonight.
Now Playing: Feel Flows from Up To Our Hips by The Charlatans
November 16, 2004
I feel like I am relatively quiet here, lately. I know, you don’t need to scroll down very far to hit the lengthy exploration of the Lydiard base phase, but even that seems pretty unfinished. There are a lot of unfinished ideas right now, which is not always bad; yesterday I started a post about configuration issues I’m having with
vsftpd which kept leading me back to the web for more research. I even opened up the source of a non-Perl open-source program for the first time. I think I’m going to end up writing the author with a feature request, because I’m definitely not ready to hack his C source, but I feel like I want to exhaust all options before becoming a nag. And that’s sparking some interesting questions about my place in the larger open source community. So, example of an unfinished thought.
I wanted to post pretty pictures of caching (and going to cross-country meets) in snow, but it turns out that I’ve lost the USB cable to hook my camera to my Mac, so you’d have to come here and look at the tiny LCD on the back of the camera to see them.
Response to my wish-list post being sufficiently deafening, I will concentrate on feature requests and bug fixes for the immediate family, unless it turns out that you all just tuned me out around the point where I discussed flow control operators and array assignment in PHP.
Sometimes I’m finding that I don’t write things like that because I don’t think anyone is interested in reading them, and I need to remind myself that the point of this exercise (at least for me) is not that it’s reader-relevant.
Now Playing: Philosophy from Ben Folds Live by Ben Folds
November 15, 2004
The cleaning service
After filling my water bottle with ice and water, I stayed in the kitchen trying to explain to one of my co-workers how to deal with the virus which has infected her home computer. She’s been a relatively receptive audience for home computer advice, since she has two teenagers who work the poor thing to the limit. She’s installed Firefox and AVG and listened to my canned speech about how commercial anti-virus companies have a disincentive to completely stop the spread of viruses. (If they did their job too well, nobody would pay for virus-signature subscriptions, would they?) I think I conveyed the message that she needs to boot into safe mode and then scan again with AVG.
As we were moving back towards work, she said, “You need to write a book about all this.” I replied, “Why should I do that? Even if there weren’t dozens already, why would anyone spend $15 on a book before they get a virus?”
“I’m in danger of having to pay someone hundreds of dollars to fix my computer. I’d rather buy a $15 book,” she said. “Yes,” I answered, “But who does that math in advance? Cost-benefit analysis is taught in security classes; you estimate the potential cost of a breach and compare it with the cost of mitigating the vulnerability. Who decides to spend $15 on a book because they see the potential of spending hundreds recovering from an infection?”
“I know a good publisher,” she said. “We only publish biology textbooks,” I reminded her.
Does anybody really do cost-benefit analysis on home computer security? Enough that anyone bothers to publish books?
Now Playing: Crawling Back To You from Wildflowers by Tom Petty
November 9, 2004
The multi-optic marathon
I started a thought, last Friday, about the lack of an omniscient viewpoint in sporting events, most particularly in marathons. I’ve sat in the press rooms, in the lead trucks, and on the sidewalks of several dozen marathons over the last ten years or so; this past weekend was my ninth NYCM, for example. My specific assignments have varied some, but generally they all fit under the general description, “tell the story of the race.”
There are as many overlapping stories in a marathon as there are entrants, of course, so the reporter narrows things down by concentrating on what’s going on at the front. The available perspectives are, in general, these:
- Two television cameras, one ahead of the pack and another on a motorcycle behind or beside the pack.
- Voice reports from an observer (for the television broadcast) who is sitting beside the “ahead” camera.
- Sometimes, voice reports from bicycle spotters around the pack. (I saw several cyclists on the course in New York, but I’m not aware who they were talking to; in Boston, recently, they talk to me. When they can.)
- Sporadic reports from spotters at fixed locations on the course. (Usually these are best for describing off-lead events: the gaps behind the lead pack, or athletes dropping out.)
- After the race, photographs.
We can discount the fifth immediately; photos are great for visualizing after the event, but are a non-starter for figuring out what’s going on as it happens. The third and fourth are useful for filling in gaps in what we don’t get from the first and second. But the television images feed the most consistent data, and in the press room we gaze at them obsessively, trying to glean an insight from the visions.
Also, for each of these, remember that there are (at least) two races in play simultaneously, the men and the women.
The limitations of the camera and the truck observers are huge, however. Even the double perspective of two cameras on each race can’t see inside a twenty-strong pack of Africans, a startlingly common sight in the first half of any major marathon. Those packs are islands of heavy traffic more treacherous than 290 in Worcester, and if they were cars they’d “swap paint” more often than NASCAR drivers. Annually someone goes down, and you don’t see it until they’re already bouncing back up and pursuing. Once the pack breaks up, the producer directing the cameras has to make the agonizing choice of whether to send the motorcycle camera back to the “chase pack;” if they make up the gap on a breakaway, it’s great drama to watch them reel in the leaders, but if the breakaway is solid, the moto camera is now stranded a few hundred yards adrift and will not be able to respond to changes in the lead pack.
By now you should begin to see where I’m headed: nobody really sees the whole story. Sometimes the lead camera is fortunate enough to capture an entire race; it’s fair to say, for example, that Paula Radcliffe was on camera for the entire women’s race in New York on Sunday. Sometimes a winner vanishes for huge chunks of time; my favorite example is Moses Tanui in the 1998 Boston Marathon. Tanui ran his race to plan, a steadily-paced race, and was almost never in the lead pack. Coming out of the Newton hills he was a distant blob flitting in and out of camera view. Coming through Brookline, the leaders were suffering and slowing down, and Tanui blasted past them like they were waiting for a Green Line train. It’s one of my favorite Boston images, actually, which we ran as a two page spread: the lead pack of five or six is zoning out, but Gert Thys is looking over his shoulder towards Tanui, who isn’t even in focus. I imagined the caption: “Uh, guys? Remember Moses?”
And after the race, reporters who had watched the entire race on television started the press conference with questions like, “So, Moses, what happened?”
Lest you think this is a problem principally of marathons, which perversely insist on covering twenty-six-plus miles of territory, consider how much you didn’t see of, say, the last football game you watched. (Assuming you watch football; I don’t.) Didn’t the quarterback cease to exist after he released the pass? And that’s in a constrained space with about three times as many cameras as your average marathon. The viewpoints are there, but you can’t watch them all; you’re limited to the decisions made by a (fallible) producer in a trailer (or basement) nearby, who is attempting to watch all those feeds. (I’ve noted before that the more I see of a marathon, the less I understand what has actually happened.)
It’s hard not to connect this to the idea of the panopticon… it’s not just that you may be watched, it’s that the person watching you may not really understand what they’re seeing.
Now Playing: Man On The Mountain from Still Burning by Mike Scott
November 8, 2004
It looks like, in the shuffle of notebooks in the media center, I left behind the one in which I took all my notes at the Lydiard seminar. Certainly not the most serious loss of the weekend, but nonetheless frustrating.
I’ll have to try to remember what I can.
Now Playing: Cortez The Killer from A Box Of Birds by The Church
November 7, 2004
After the race, Dan Browne was in the media center discussing his race. Browne ran the Athens Olympic marathon, and was coming back for a pretty tough double (though Meb Keflezighi had a similar challenge and finished second in both races.) Browne was actually reported as a DNF around midway through the race, but he kept plugging and ended up finishing twenty-second.
The first interesting part was that place. He was never a part of the massive, freewheeling blob of fifteen to twenty which tends to dominate the Brooklyn and Queens parts of New York; he must have been dropped fairly early in the race. But when the pack hits First Avenue and someone snaps the elastic band which is holding them all together, they scatter, and if you’re still in the back and feeling good, you can pick up a lot of roadkill. On television, you see the same faces being winnowed down to a winner, but when you look at the results it’s shocking to see how far back someone can fall after being dropped by that lead pack, and how well someone else can finish without ever having their face on the screen. Probably half the runners in the pack halfway through the race didn’t finish. They really go for broke.
The next interesting part was his explanation of how quitting was never an option in his mind. I was turning that over on the drive home, thinking about his morning and mine, and particularly different mindsets, considering that I have dropped out of two of the five marathons I’ve started. We both set out on a task, and we both completed it, but Browne completed his task by being stubborn, tenacious, or both. He stuck to his original approach and persevered.
I, on the other hand, refused to spend much time pursuing avenues which weren’t working. I abandoned probably four or five alternate courses of action before finding one that works. Frustration, for me, isn’t when something doesn’t work; it’s when I need to go far down my list of fall-back positions. Browne has no fall-back positions.
Busy morning. I’ve been, I suppose, “blogging” the ING New York City Marathon. I’m done now.
Minor crises littered the early part of the morning, among them my computer and the press-room wireless network not really wanting to play. I wound up dialing up rather than wrestling with the network; I know I could have solved the problem, but probably not until far too late in the day. Better to route around the damage. Now, of course, when I need it less, it’s working just fine.
Another morning glitch: I had planned to exchange files with my editor (yes, I was being edited) using a USB flash drive I’d borrowed from work. Which is all well and good, but he’s using one of the old berry-colored iBooks, and the curving case meant the jack itself was too far recessed for the drive to plug in effectively. There’s something we wouldn’t have anticipated. I figured, hey, if it has a USB jack, I should be fine, right?
Now I’m waiting here in the media center for the race NYRR’s executive director, who, I’m told, wants to “pick my brain.” I’m not sure what I will have to tell her that she doesn’t already know, but I suppose I’ll find out.
There’s an interesting image, asking an athlete about a race: “Did you know on foot one that this wasn’t going to be a good day?” Foot one. I like it.
November 6, 2004
A legend in winter
I will, I promise, come back to that thought about the lack of an omniscient viewpoint in sporting events, but I was at a seminar this afternoon which affected me pretty strongly, and I want to at least explore a bit of why before I lose it. I took a lot of notes, and hopefully they’ll still make sense to me when I have time to write them up.
The seminar almost didn’t happen. It was scheduled for Monday, the 8th, then abruptly cancelled not long before the event. Someone who had planned to attend asked why it was cancelled, and on hearing the reason (no venue) lined up the logistics and rescheduled it for today (Saturday the 6th.) Partly due to the last-minute preparations, the word did not get around, and I was one of maybe six or eight people in attendance.
This was a surprise because the speaker was Arthur Lydiard, a New Zealander who coached four athletes to six medals (four gold) at the Rome and Tokyo Olympics, and taught the coaches of more other gold medalists than I can easily count. One of his direct athletes was Peter Snell, who won the 800m in both Rome and Tokyo, and doubled back to win the 1500m in Tokyo. Lydiard’s methods don’t appear particularly revolutionary, but they’re so effective that nowadays nearly every track coach worth the title uses at least part of his approach. To name just one of his advances, he pioneered the idea of periodizing training to peak for a single goal race.
I’d seen Lydiard speak before. My coach in Pennsylvania was an enthusiastic disciple of his, and on his last American tour in 1999 he made sure Lydiard stopped in Emmaus, where he spoke to a packed room which included our entire training group. Somewhere I’ve got a blurry picture of all of us with him, and a signed copy of his book, Running to the Top. A few weeks later I ran a PR marathon in Columbus, qualified for Boston, and was sold on the program.
Lydiard is nowhere near as spry now as he was then, when he joined us for a few beers after the lecture. (Yes, I’ve had a beer with Arthur Lydiard. Yes, I am a shameless name-dropper. I spent this evening with international magazine editors, a successful playwright and at least one rock star. I am not making this up, but I am presenting it in the most glamourous way possible. But I digress.) He’s had a stroke since he was here last, and is frighteningly wobbly when he walks (he knows this,) and remarkably non-linear when he talks (he doesn’t appear to be aware of this.) His tour manager (for lack of a better title) had a very good presentation set up, and essentially he walked through the presentation as a skeleton and let Lydiard interject stories, examples, and principles as they came up. He provided the structure, and Lydiard provided the rambling.
It worked well, but it seemed to me that this may be the last chance I had to see him. I think I absorbed a lot more of the core principles of his system than I had before, and I’ll try to describe them in a series of posts which are likely to bore you all to tears if you’re not endurance athletes or lunatics, like I am. (Both, thank you.) Unless I can find another good home for my fleshed-out notes, in which case I’ll link to them.
Anyway, the thing which struck me (and, in fact, got me pretty warmed up) was how startlingly simple it all is. Coaching an athlete, developing an athlete, with this system, is almost like baking bread. You add the right things in the right proportions, in the right order, give it enough time, and you get good results. He’s got his share of incongruous add-on results to work around isolated problems (for example, the advice I gave to the Scoplaw some months ago to take calcium and/or magnesium to prevent cramping muscles,) but the bulk of the system is really pretty easy to understand. (Maybe it just seemed that way to me, since I’ve been steeped in it for so long; I think the first real coach I ever had, in high school, worked mostly from Lydiard’s canon.)
But I feel like a lot of coaches who think they understand how to develop athletes—particularly at the high-school level, where there isn’t really a lot of qualification needed to coach—are adapting their own training to their athletes’. And in most cases they don’t really understand the principles behind the specifics, or their own coaches (if they had any) didn’t explain the reasoning behind the system. It looks like there’s an effort on to preserve Lydiard’s legacy; I hope they can contribute to making the sort of presentation I saw today easily accessible.
November 5, 2004
I think, on Sunday, the theme of my day will be: in any sporting event, there is nobody who understands everything that’s going on at any given time. And afterward, there is nobody who can explain everything that happened. There simply is no omniscient vantage point.
Particularly when you sprawl the event across all five boroughs of New York.
It may even be true that the harder you try, the less you understand.
Which is not to say I won’t try.
Now Playing: Take Me Anywhere from Human Cannonball by School Of Fish
October 27, 2004
Turtles all the way down
Now, not only do I have the first use of the word heuristics on runnersworld.com, I think I have the first Stephen Hawking citation.
They will vote me class geek, if they haven’t already.
Now Playing: Get Me from Where You Been by Dinosaur Jr
October 8, 2004
We are, around here, True Believers in the power of proofreaders. We proof everything, even if it has merely been breathed on between its last reading and press time. (Or, in my case, burn time.) So it’s still amusing to me to open my package for [Suitcase] 10 and see the band that reads:
Software CD Under Left Flap ↓ User Guide Under Gight Flap ↑
Now playing: Awake from Wholesale Meats And Fish by Letters To Cleo
September 29, 2004
I'm all about raising the level of discourse
Email about today’s column:
First successful use ever of “heuristics” at runnersworld.com… or probably at any running web site. Way to go!
(I should add that it was an August post by Dorothea that had me thinking “heuristics.”)
I wonder if anyone noticed the “biting the hand that claims to be feeding me” angle? Or, if anyone who doesn’t already live in a world of syndicated feeds and portable data understood the second half of the thought?
Now playing: Polar Bear from Some Friendly by The Charlatans
September 8, 2004
I had two articles on line last week: a column about Olympic distance races and what it took to get them there, and a book review of an obscure title, which I wrote in, uh, March. (I believe I am this site’s unofficial book review department.)
Just so nobody accuses me of hiding anything, you know.
Now playing: The Electric Co. from Boy by U2
September 7, 2004
Ben Hammersley continues to work on the real digital divide, pointing out how the discourse about computer security has shifted from “secure your machine to protect yourself” to “secure your machine to protect everyone else.”
We’ve done a decent job in reducing spyware scanning and anti-virus software to a relatively user-friendly level. The sticking point right now is firewalls, and there’s a lot of talk about them because of the starring role the firewall plays in XP SP2. Any system with a direct connection to the internet should be behind some sort of firewall, but millions are jacked directly in to cable modem or DSL connections by people who don’t know why a firewall is important.
The problem is that firewalls are complicated concepts, and in my mind, you really need to grasp a few non-trivial IP networking concepts (addressing, ports, and protocols) before you can get a good handle on what your firewall is doing. And knowing what the firewall is doing is (again, the way I see it) critical to configuring it well. You need to know what you want it to allow, and that’s not a one-size-fits-all answer; it varies slightly for every application and therefore for every host. You wouldn’t believe how long it took me to configure a working firewall on our gateway server.
Now, something about me wants to get across those core concepts first, so anything I wrote about firewalls would be about the length of a book chapter. But the average user doesn’t care. They just want it to work, and then forget about it; they don’t want all the warnings from ZoneAlarm when they fire up AIM. If they installed it to begin with, they disable it.
I wonder if a firewall can be created which can be used by someone who knows little or nothing about networks. Maybe it does a short interview at start-up time (“Do you use IM? How about file sharing?”) that is low jargon (one of the classic battles of the network admin is integrating a firewall with a VPN, which isn’t made any more clear if you know that VPN stands for Virtual Private Network.) Maybe this hypothetical firewall could secure your grandmother’s Windows box without either of you needing to know the difference between UDP and TCP. (Leaving us only with the question of why you would inflict Windows on your grandmother.) Maybe it would both protect her from port-scanning script-kiddies and protect the rest of us from the malware-spewing spyware she downloaded by accident. (Another catch: a firewall won’t protect you against something that comes in by “normal” channels, like a requested website, or an email message, and nothing will protect you from social engineering.)
There’s some literature and documentation out there; there’s even Firewalls for Dummies. I don’t know if it’s effective, since I went the hard way myself (man pages, and the like) but before even the Dummies titles can be useful, the user has to know they need a firewall and that they need to configure it well. They need to be convinced to spend some time on it. That’s a bit of evangelism I’m definitely not well equipped for.
I don’t know. I learned this stuff, now I know it, and I can’t un-know it in order to put myself in another’s shoes. Or at their keyboard.
Now playing: We Never Change from Parachutes by Coldplay
August 31, 2004
Life at These Speeds
The reason I wrote about re-reading last week was that on Thursday I picked up a book I hadn’t touched since I interviewed the author two years ago. Life at These Speeds by Jeremy Jackson was pretty startling the first time I read it, a running book that wasn’t about running, that wasn’t about what some runner wished their running had been like or what some non-runner thought running was like.
This reading, I am being reminded of something I noticed last time, which is how Jackson’s characters talk to each other. They all talk like intellectual college students, but it’s a front; they still act like high school kids, trying to be knowledgeable adults but hurting each other because they don’t really know what they’re doing. Kevin Schuler, the narrator, is like an uncomfortable dream, a spectator in his own body, watching himself as he does things that he knows, somewhere, are poor choices, fighting something in his own head that he doesn’t understand. Jackson absolutely nailed that aspect of adolescence; I didn’t like Kevin because I wanted to be him (though there were moments) but because I remember when I was him.
Minus the van crash that kills all my teammates, of course. And the state-record track times.
This time I focused more attention of Schuler’s “coach” (who seldom gives him much advice, or needs to,) Gregory Altrabashar. Despite his perpetually put-upon bearing, he appears to be the only one who understands just what’s going on from the start, as when he says to Kevin after nearly every race, “Kevin, did you do this for you?” Kevin seems to be deriving no joy from his racing, chasing something he can’t catch, yet when he is forced to stop racing for a year he becomes physically ill, insomniac and even more detached than he had been before.
A problem Jackson had to face was the primary difficulty of centering a novel around running. There must always be a climactic race, even in a biography, and there are really only two ways to conclude that race. It has to be well written to make it worthwhile. The closing race in Once a Runner is so real I once checked my pulse while reading it (120); Jackson found an entirely different way of handling the problem in Life at These Speeds which, unfortunately, I can’t share without ruining the story.
If nothing else, it’s worth skimming the book for the absolutely surreal names Jackson comes up with for his supporting characters, like Altrabashar (which I’m sure I’ve misspelled) or Kevin’s teammate, Boblink Crustacean (which sounds like a Googlewhack, but isn’t, partly due to the book.)
Now playing: Can’t Make a Sound from Figure 8 by Elliott Smith
August 27, 2004
I’m a compulsive reader. If you sit me with nothing to do for more than, say, a minute, I’m either going to start looking for something to read, or go to sleep. As an example, if I’m waiting in an examination room for a doctor’s appointment, I’m reading all the brochures in the rack (even if they don’t apply to me) and not a few medicine bottles.
Here’s the confession: I’m a re-reader. I’m not stuttering, I’m explaining: if I liked a book, and it’s been a year or three since I read it, I’m perfectly happy to pick it up and read it again. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve read some of my favorite books. This isn’t to say that I don’t read new stuff; I have an aunt who is the sort who returns from the library book sale with two (paper) grocery sacks full, and she enjoys digging up new stuff for me to read nearly as much as I enjoy reading it. But every now and then I can’t face anything on the “new” stack, or I’ve got nothing but hardcovers and want to travel with a paperback, so I go back and tear through something older.
One of the consequences of this is that my book stockpile now occupies almost an entire wall of the apartment, and it can be a tad inconvenient when I move (seven times since graduation.) So I try to exercise some population control; I’ve taken boxes of books to two different libraries now. I tried Bookcrossing for a while, but none of my drop-offs has ever been picked up. And I frequently pick up a book I’m about to get rid of, skim it, then find myself rereading it. Maybe it’s really trash and I’m not concerned about seeing it go, but it makes thinning the herd a bit slow.
Usually I get something out of rereading. After a few years I’ve forgotten plot points, but it’s rare that I don’t completely re-imagine some scene I’d left hazy before. Sometimes I reconsider characters completely. I’m a different person and I react to them differently. I’ve found as I get older that I’m less tolerant of poor writing.
Now playing: Custer’s Blues from Too Close To Heaven • The Unreleased Fisherman’s Blues Sessions by The Waterboys
August 23, 2004
Steve Nearman is off-base
From Sunday’s Washington Times, we get this column about Alan Webb:
What is particularly mind-boggling is how America’s Great Mile Hope ran such a genius of a race at the U.S. Olympic trials 33 days ago and then ran what he called “a stupid race” in the Olympic 1,500 heats Friday and failed to qualify.
…What he should have been doing all summer was getting in more tight races in Europe instead of basking in the glory of races like Home Depot and Prefontaine, where his biggest challenge was making sure the rabbit didn’t trip him.
Steve, where were you for these results?
3:50.73 mile 7/30 London (4th) 3:32.73 1500m 6/8 Ostrava (4th) 3:33.70 1500m 5/31 Hengelo (1st) 1:46.09 800m 8/2 Malmo (3rd)
Notice that only one of those was a win. Yet the mile and 1500m times are the fastest and two fastest, respectively, run by an American this year, and the 800m is twelfth-fastest (and ranks Webb 5th among Americans so far this year.) So I’d say those were fast races.
Should he be wasting all his energy trying to argue his way into the Golden League meets in Rome and Lausanne, where he can get immediately smoked by twelve Kenyans and run the rest of the race by himself—in the back? No. The only environment I can think of as rough as the Olympic heats is the World Championships heats—or perhaps something like the European championships, which he can’t run anyway.
Webb ran as best he could. Bernard Lagat, the defending bronze medalist, is giving him credit for that. Why can’t Nearman?
(Never mind, I know the answer: because sportswriters are as good at tearing down those short of godlike as political reporters are at tearing down those short of sainthood.)
Now playing: Everybody Knows from Laid by James
August 17, 2004
I don't think it means what you think it means
There are two terms which I’ve heard a lot since coming to a biology publishing company which use simple words for complex concepts.
A “fate map” is not what you might think it is.
And “life history” means something utterly different in biology. (Apparently they’re things that evolve.)
Now playing: Way Up There from Over Rising by The Charlatans
August 11, 2004
Why I'm not a pro writer
I’ve alluded before to my spot in a sixteen-writer rotation contributing “Bell Lap” columns to the Runner’s World Daily News. Some of the contributers are big wheels in the sport (race directors of the NYC Marathon and the 1996 Olympic marathon, the IAAF’s press secretary) and others are professional writers with newsletters, books, and senior writer contracts. And there’s Don Kardong, who is all those things.
Then there’s me.
Yesterday, one of the book authors, Chris Lear, delivered one of those passages that makes me wonder why I’m still in the rotation:
Like most of us, [Tim Broe’s mother had] become accustomed to the sappy profiles that dominate our Olympic coverage. You know, the ones that begin, “Ever since she recovered from the agony of teething, Suzy Q. has been in training for this moment. She burst forth from her altitude-bubble a week ago, and her spirulina-wheat grass diet has her mineral levels perfectly optimized for this very minute…”
And then she thought of Tim, whose idea of cross-training during his convalescence consisted of golf, fishing, bowling, and plenty of twelve-ounce curls, whose weight in January coincided with his bowling average (about two bills), and whose idea of altitude training consisted of sleeping on the top bunk.
Update: Oh, hey, I’ve got a picture of me with Tim. It’s in the extended entry.
Now playing: Almost Grown from The Fine Art Of Self Destruction by Jesse MalinContinue reading "Why I'm not a pro writer"
August 5, 2004
I’ve got a column by that title in today’s RW Daily. Unlike the last one, which was so mangled typographically by the time it ran that I didn’t want it associated with my name, this one came through clean. It’s not my worst writing, either.
There’s a link, also, to a story about Deena Kastor in the Boulder Daily Camera in which she nails down exactly why I don’t like marathons:
“It’s such a different event that you never feel like you’re aggressive in the race,” she says. “It seems like you’re always waiting and waiting and waiting and trying to run this pace, and then all of a sudden it hurts so badly, and you don’t understand where the hurt is coming from, because you never pushed to begin with.”
Now playing: Monday from Being There (Disc 1) by Wilco
July 22, 2004
It’s not that I don’t have anything to say. It’s that I don’t find any of it very interesting. I’ve spent the day wobbling back and forth between magnetic resonance imaging and a particularly exacting sampler disc, and pretty much everything else that has crossed my mind seems either too complicated to get a grip on, or too trivial to talk about. (I know, that’s never stopped me before.) Maybe the time to think about things and the opportunity to write about them will overlap in a few days.
Yesterday, swimming in Puffer’s, there were sections that were cold, but there were other large pools within the pond that were as warm as bath-water from the sun, and I could reach down through them and touch the cold layer underneath.
Now playing: Happiness by Elliott Smith
July 9, 2004
I found, amid the snowdrift of papers, cables and computer parts which is my desk, a second-pass page from one of our recent books with a footnote the editor thought I would find interesting.
Many individuals now consider posting data on the World Wide Web to be a means of permanently archiving data. This is illusory. First, it is simply a transfer of responsibility from you to the computer system manager (or other information technology professional.) By placing your electronic archival copy on the Web, you imply a belief that regular backups are made and maintained by the system manager. Every time a system is upgraded, the data have to be copied from the old server to the new one. Most laboratories or departments do not have their own systems managers, and the interests of college or university computing centers in archiving and maintaining Web pages and data files do not necessarily parallel those of individual investigators. Second, server hard disks fail regularly (and often spectacularly.) Last, the Web is neither permanent nor stable. GOPHER and LYNX have disappeared, FTP is being replaced by HTTP, and HTML, the current language of the web, is already being phased out in favor of (the not entirely compatible) XML. All of these changes to the functionality of the World Wide Web and the accessibility of files stored within it have occurred within 10 years. It often is easier to recover data from notebooks that were hand-written in the nineteenth century than it is to recover data from Web sites that were digitally “archived” in the 1990s!
Now playing: Speechless from School Of Fish by School Of Fish
June 13, 2004
Not fooling anyone
I’m still on Central Time, despite being in Amherst. (With the hours I’ve been keeping, I might as well be on Pacific Time.) Once again, this does not bode well for the morning.
I managed the expansion of this story on the planes. This one is a bit more of a bear, but I need to get it done because the farther I am from it, the hazier my memory of watching it is. I’m already relying on the results sheets more than I’d like. I need to plug in a bunch of quotes, right now it bristles with ATHLETE QUOTE TK. Two of which are the “blood from a turnip” type of interviews. I have wondered if it might help for coaches to delegate athletes’ training partners to go through the mixed zone with them, so they might feel a bit more comfortable talking, but maybe it would make them even more self-conscious. Still, one woman in particular was wooden and nervous last year and has, in the last year, become merely reticent and self-deprecating. It’s been quite impressive to watch.
I’d like transcribing much, much more if I could listen to music with the other ear.
June 12, 2004
I am sitting in a parked car next to Republic Square in Austin. I am online with the strongest wireless signal I’ve had all week (I’ve been wired in the hotel, and admittedly I probably could have had a stronger signal yesterday if I had actually gone in to Bookpeople instead of sitting outside in front of Whole Foods.)
It turns out that due to the late-in-the-game nature of our preparations for this trip, our hotel is in about the worst possible location for nearly everything—a sea of concrete highways and parking lots.
The last time I remember this feeling is Sacramento at the 2000 Trials. The feeling is of being behind and low on sleep, knowing only the hotel, the track, and a few places in between. Eating entirely at restaurants, and not always very good ones. (The best meal I’ve had so far was from the salad bar at Whole Foods.) No exercise and a backlog of Other Stuff to Do. I am easily frustrated right now, a side effect of being low on sleep.
That said, I should get back to work. I’ve got the women written up from Thursday, and now I need to finish the men. It’s tougher, because I missed about half of the only men’s final on Thursday while I was talking to the winner of the women’s final. I usually wind up missing a lot of the men’s events for that reason. The mixed zone is funky that way.
Still, I got to see Alistair Cragg’s last race for Arkansas, and that was pretty cool. It’s easy to see why he has fans. Harder to see why there were so many different reporters from the Arkansas papers talking to him… how many newspapers do they have around Fayetteville, anyway? And why did one of them have so many really, really bad questions?
June 11, 2004
Being on the road
In only two days, Austin reminded me of everything I hate about traveling to track meets. A new one is the lack of time to whine about them on my weblog.
At least tonight I was able to meet some “old friends I’ve never met” (from a listserve I’ve been on for, oh, about eleven years) and see the bats streaming out from under the Congress Avenue Bridge.
June 9, 2004
Ingredients for disaster
Prepare stadium and schedule days well in advance. Select athletes carefully and have ready at least four days in advance. Add a large portion of athletes, first day, and lightning storm to stadium. The resulting mixture should spread over remaining days.
Optional: At any point in the process, add hotel fire alarms to taste.
June 8, 2004
I work best under pressure
Now there’s a lie. But why else would I be writing this instead of packing?
We’re off before the sun tomorrow morning, for Austin. I’ll likely be writing a good deal while there, but not necessarily here. We’ll see. Allegedly the hotel has broadband in the rooms. I don’t know when I started thinking it was normal to bring a four-port switch and a few segments of cat-5 to a track meet, but I guess it’s a natural progression.
These folks have politely asked if I might have some material for their site, and I politely told them that they are not at the head of the queue.
June 2, 2004
Sometimes I notice people using characteristic words and phrases when they talk. Scheherazade posted about such a person this weekend (last paragraph, “agricultural”) and it reminded me of talking to Josh Cox at the men’s marathon trials back in February.
Josh’s phrase was “jacked up.” I’ve heard people use “jacked” to mean excited, and it makes some sense that way; one’s energy level is elevated. Josh was using it to mean, “messed up” or otherwise not in good condition. I liked that usage more; it brought up images of cars jacked up for tire replacement, or on a lift in the garage.
I’ve decided this is how I’ll describe my current condition from now on: “My foot is jacked up.”
I’ve probably got quite a few of these myself, but it’s harder to find them in your own speech. (What? Not everyone talks like I do?) One that leaps to mind is “wound.” Past perfective of “wind.” Think “wound up,” in the mechanical toy sense (and think about winding that toy too far.) Or “tightly wound.”
Now playing: The Day I Let Glory Steer from This Town Is Wrong by Nerissa & Katryna Nields
May 19, 2004
The sound of one browser clapping
I am, nearly constantly, stumbling across bits of writing on the web that I want to quote, or link, or something. Maybe in someone else’s weblog, like Kasia being sick of gas-price complaints; she’s a lot more direct than I was. (Of course, as near as I can tell, Kasia is more direct than I am.) Maybe a news article or opinion piece like a Bell Lap in Runner’s World (frustratingly, they’ve just redesigned and broken all my links back to my old articles, not to mention broken the entire site for Safari despite my complaints, and a whole bunch of little glitches—c’mon, guys, you’ve had over a week. Get on the stick.) Something someone says in one or another mailing list I’m on. Or even a bit of new software, like Camino 0.8, which is so slick it might even take me away from Safari.
I’m not sure what the point of it all would be, though. I think it’s an applause reflex: yes, I like that. It’s the same motivation I have for putting other weblogs in the link column; it’s not as though anyone’s looking to me for more reading. It’s more of a nod to the writer, polite clapping, encouragement. But, just as I learned to stifle the “me too” reflex on email lists, I’m trying to resist the urge to fill this space with applause.
Maybe it’s a downside to doing a lot of my weblog reading in NetNewsWire; when you read the feed, you have to make an effort to head over and read the comments (if any.) I forget that this isn’t the only place where I have a voice.
Now playing: Pearls from Mercurotones by The Buck Pets
May 14, 2004
What's the frequency?
When things are slow at work, I write more.
Things aren’t slow at work right now.
Now playing: Backwards World from Spirit Touches Ground by Josh Clayton-Felt
May 10, 2004
No, actually, I’ll be taking my Olympics tape-delayed, puréed, and advertising-saturated (which is to say, barely at all) like everyone else in the States. I won’t even be shifting my sleep-wake cycle to get the results from the web the way I did for Sydney.
The primary problem is my primary occupation. Since I’ll only be finishing my third year at my current job, I haven’t built up much (if any) vacation time, and much of that has been sifted away during the year at other events: a day for the NCAA cross-country meet, a day each for the Marathon Trials, a day for Boston, you get the idea. My big chunk of time off for this year will be five days in Austin next month for the NCAA track meet (three days off work.) (I have taken a “real” vacation, back in January, essentially making a three-day weekend into a four-day weekend.) With the number of vacation days I got after finishing two years at work, I would have had to skip every other event this year in order to take seven days (maybe eight) to go to a ten-day meet in Sacramento. Athens was just… not an option.
Beyond that, press credentials for Olympic Stadia in whatever year are very, very hard to come by for full-time, professional track writers, and doubly so for dilettante freelancers like myself. While I was at Runner’s World we never had more than two; only one in Sydney. We fudged things by trying to work our international editions together, feeding our website with copy written by reporters from our U.K. and Australian editions, but I was never high enough on the ladder to get even the second credential—maybe the fourth or fifth. I understand that my successor is going to Athens, but without a credential; he’ll be working in a hotel or some independent press room, not in the stadium.
As I understand it, the credential process is handled by the USOC, who has an allotment of credentials for all U.S. media. The USOC in its wisdom knows that it will reach many, many more people by making sure the New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today, et al., have a full staff at the Games. Specialty sport publications and websites (one of those descriptions fits any outlet I’ve ever written for) are low on the mass-audience priority scale. From that perspective, it makes sense, but if you’re trying to cover the biggest event in four years for your sport, it’s maddening.
I had an offer of work in Sacramento, but I had to turn it down. For Athens, I didn’t even get in line; there are far too many people in front of me.
Honestly, though, I think I will miss Sacramento far more than Athens. I’ve only been to two big international meets (the 1999 and 2001 World Championships, in Seville and Edmonton respectively) and after the second I honestly felt I’d seen them all. The level of sleep deprivation and work backlog gets distressing pretty quickly, particularly since you’re inevitably connecting on a balky dialup network and the smallest network task becomes monumental; it’s reminiscent of working at very high altitude. If I’m going to do that, I’d prefer to do it in the U.S., talking to athletes I’ve seen race, even some I know and care about. And I’d rather not do it in a stuffy, heavily polluted place like Athens. I heard the stories after the 1997 World Championships; essentially, they said then, “The IOC was right, Atlanta was a better choice.” Nothing I’ve heard about Athens gives any indication that this is going to be a fun Olympics. (I’m not holding my breath for Beijing, either, in all honesty.) I think the heat and pollution are going to put a lid on top performances; in fact, I think you’ll see the marathoners who have good races in Athens won’t race well again. I think I will be happier in Puffer’s Pond.
Now playing: Top of The World from James by James
A few weeks ago I wrote about Carol Goodrow’s Happy Feet, Healthy Food. Carol was in Sunday’s Hartford Courant (free registration, sorry,) which profiled the book—in the sports section, even. (Sunday’s Courant also had a really good column, albeit with a cryptic headline, about Gavin Coombs’ race.)
On the way to work this morning, I saw three runners. All female, all (relatively) young, the second part not terribly surprising in a college town. It did remind me of a feeling I’ve had at races in recent years, that I’m in a minority. Most of the male runners I see (and overall, males still have a marginal majority in running) are older, forty-plus or beyond. The women tend to be younger, mid-twenties to mid-thirties. I haven’t been able to find statistics to back me up (and I’ve tried), but seems like someone should be delivering a message to college-age males: if you’re wondering where the girls are, try putting the beer down and putting some miles on your shoes.
Now playing: Getting Away With It (All Messed Up) from Pleased to Meet You by James opinion: 5 (of 5)
May 5, 2004
Sherry has thought about “now playing” more than I have.
I’d better catch up. (Trust me, in my mind this is a relevant link.)
Sherry’s thinking (as I understand it) boils down to this: “What does it have to do with what you’re writing about? If there’s no clear connection, it can only detract from the point you’re making.” (When/if I make significant structural changes to these pages, I am going to use Sherry as my guinea pig, if I can figure out how to make it worth her time.)
Of course, one could employ the “it’s my weblog and I’ll do what I want to” argument, but that’s just a way of evading the fact that you haven’t, actually, thought something through. Sherry’s right: despite my formatting tweaks, the way Ecto inserts the “now playing,” it’s a weird little postscript that doesn’t match the entry it goes with. It’s a U-Haul trailer on a sports car. Since iTunes is usually pulling random stuff out of the library (I have a complicated system to weight that randomness, but I won’t go into it here) the odds of a song and a post being related are, well, pretty small. For that reason, I’ve stopped tagging them on while I figure out a better way.
I have had people tell me they like it (OK, “person,”) and Tom pulls it off fairly well, even though his songs seldom relate to his posts either. Of course, Tom is (among other things) a professional musician. It’s fun to see what pops up there, and follow the links.
There is the question of, “Why do you think anyone would be interested in what you’re listening to?” I don’t think I can answer that satisfactorily, any more than I can answer the question, “Why do you think anyone would be interested in what you’re thinking about?” I can try, though.
One part: it’s there. Ecto has one button, and there it is. Of course, this puts “now playing” on a par with ugly tiled backgrounds on personal home pages (“…because I can!”) and I think I’m hoping to do better than that here.
More parts: I don’t understand the urge to share music, but it’s there. Why else mix tapes (mix CDs, now, I guess.) I made a few, but the best ones were the ones I got from Shawn in high school. I think there’s a bit of the mix tape in “now playing.” The problem with it, though, is that the urge falls apart when you think about it. Why should anyone else like what I like? I promise, your neurons aren’t hooked together exactly the same way mine are, and the electric charge I get from certain music probably won’t look quite the same on your MRI. I don’t think I’ve ever made a tape for anyone that they liked as much as I did. It must be hooked in to the weblog idea, though, and the misconception that what you listen to says something about who you are.
Maybe the solution is to tuck something over in the sidebar, the way Rachelle does with her links. Or Sam’s “Temple of Boom,” though in both cases I’d have to figure out how it’s done (and, in Sam’s case, how to have it not break on archive pages.) And I’d have to come up with a less smart-ass title.
Obligatory Good Will Hunting quote (not really obligatory, but it applies):
Will: Great, or maybe we could go somewhere and just eat a bunch of caramels.
Will: When you think about it, it’s just as arbitrary as drinking coffee.
(Now, I can get back to thinking about
fink and creating a pseudo-LAMP development environment on my Mac, which is what I do think about, when I think. Some of the time. Some of the time I think about
fink, that is, not some of the time I think. I’m going to cite the First Law of Holes and stop now.)
Blogging as a way of avoiding pitching
It might be a reach for me to call myself a “journalist,” but I did feel a lot of truth in Glenn Fleichman’s article in which he quotes Wonkette’s author (who I don’t generally read, being mostly apolitical) saying:
That’s why I started a blog, actually. Because I wanted to just write stuff without having to prove to an editor it was a good idea. If the only thing I get out of Wonkette is the ability to get editors to assign me stories without my having to sell the pitch, I will be happy.
all the really successful/popular blogs are run by people who were already writing for a living, if not actual journalists—either professors or journalists, basically.
One wonders—strictly out of curiosity, of course—if I would have more than four readers here if I had already been writing “for a living” (which I will probably never do, for reasons similar to Glenn’s points about pitching.) Of course, in the long run, the difference between four readers and forty is really not significant.
Anyway, that’s an aside. The point is that I probably would write more (assuming I had time to do so) if I pitched more. And I don’t pitch much because I hate doing it. So I don’t write as much.
Now playing: Best Black Dress from Gotta Get Over Greta by The Nields
May 3, 2004
Something to read
This started as a comment at Stay of Execution, but it got a little out of hand, so I’m posting it here instead.
When I was a student of Russian, memorization of poems was encouraged. It’s common in the study of Russian literature, both inside and outside Russia, apparently. As one of my professors put it, “When you memorize poetry you always have something to read on the train.” I spent at least one track meet (at Trinity, in the rain, otherwise memorable mostly because we got the van stuck) with Akhmatova’s “Lot’s Wife” cycling in my head. It’s not necessarily a bad thing to run twelve and a half laps thinking about “And the righteous one walked in the footsteps of the messenger of God,” but it might reduce one’s confidence in passing the pacemaker, and certainly raises some concerns about checking one’s heels for pursuers.
When I took 19th c. Russian Poetry with Brodsky, he insisted on us memorizing a poem (which he assigned) for each class. The first task for each class was writing the poem of the day and handing it in; he was draconian in his grading, knocking points off for missing or misplaced commas.
Here’s the catch: we weren’t all Russian language students in that class. And despite Brodsky’s own linguistic situation, he refused to assign Russian poems to be memorized in English translation. So we memorized poems in English. A lot of Frost. Some Auden. Some Houseman. Some Burns. Despite the obvious connections, not a whole lot of Dickinson, but a little.
Not much of it has stuck with me, though enough to drift to the surface when prompted. Perhaps I will find the list somewhere and post it.
Update: Into the archives. A quick curriculum of English poetry for memorizing, by a Russian (and English) poet, from my notes. I may be missing some.
- “Acquainted with the night”
- “Desert places”
- “Design” (“…and see if you can sleep well.”)
- “Provide, Provide”
- “Planting a wood”
- “Neither out far nor in deep”
- “The gift outright”
- “Stars, I have seen them fall”
- “Two look at two”
- “Fire and ice”
- “The middle of the road”
- “Darkling thrush”
- “As I walked out one evening”
- “O what is that sound which thrills the ear”
- “Look, stranger, at this island now”
- “Timor mortis”
- “Sir Patrick Spens” (Eek, I should know who this is. Browning?)
Now playing: My Son from Under The Big Top by Rosemary Caine
April 28, 2004
It’s tough following Don Kardong on the same topic, particularly when there’s a pretty good AP article also making the rounds. (Wah, wah, let’s all feel sorry for Parker now.) I try to remember Amby telling me, once, “Good writing is about good thinking,” and he’s right; the success of this column (if there is any) is that I think I managed to write well about relatively half-assed thinking. I guess I could try sarcasm.
Leading me to wonder how much longer this is going to constitute “fun” for me. (I have to do it for fun, because I’m certainly not doing it for the money.)
Now playing: Nowhere from the album Nowhere by Ride
April 27, 2004
Possession is nine tenths of the claw
Despite what I would consider significant evidence to the contrary, Izzy seems to have decided that I am “the fun one.” When I am around, no matter what part of his daily snooze cycle he might be in, it is time to play in his mind.
Sometimes he is satisfied (briefly) by a game I name “paddles.” (I’m not sure what he calls it.) He rolls on his back, and I attempt to pat him five, fingers to paw-pad. He attempts to catch my hand. If I succeed, I get to pat his little white paws. If he succeeds, he gets to chew on my hand. Motivation on both teams is high. I enjoy teasing him so he has to roll from side to side like a soccer goalie doing core-strength exercises.
When I have something else I’d rather be doing, though, I bring out the Door Birdie. This is a fairly ordinary fake bird, as cat toys go, but it attaches by elastic string to the top of a door frame, and hangs about a foot above his head. Iz will wear himself right out trying to subdue it. He gets so wrapped up in capturing the bouncing bird that he sometimes gets wrapped up in the string, which is why it can only come out when there’s a roommate nearby to disentangle him if needed.
Of all the cats in the world, I’m not sure how I wound up living with the high-maintenance one.
April 21, 2004
This is how it begins...
Can I ask if you are available for another assignment. I know it is on the other side of the US but will you by any chance go to the Portland IAAF GPII on 5 June?
The realistic, I want to de-stress and have a normal life for a few weeks answer should be, “No, I’m not flying to Oregon.” That’s probably what I’ll answer.
Still, that’s a heavy-duty siren song for me. Why?
It’s like Mission Impossible, I guess. Leave workaday job, get on jet, cross continent for a special mission. Watch impressive athletic performances. Talk to genetic freaks with astounding physical gifts about their upcoming, highly exclusive convention in Greece. Byline in internationally-read publication, albeit on the web and not in print. And visit the other Portland, which is a city I rather like, as cities go (and believe me, I don’t like cities.)
Not enough answer. Maybe I’m just worried that if I say, “No,” too often, they’ll stop asking, and I’m not sure if I want that. I’m such a sucker.
Still, I think the cost/benefit ratio on this one is far too large.
April 16, 2004
For various reasons, I went hunting through an archive of files from college last night, and found (among other things) this collection of quotes I saved from the Spring 1995 course I took with Joseph Brodsky at Mt. Holyoke College. I grabbed them because they struck me as odd at the time, but I’ve noticed that the collection is both “odd” in the “unexpected from a professor” way, and “odd” in the “that’s what made him a poet” way.
Anyway. The notes in italic are mine, mostly made at the time I copied them down.
Excerpts from MHC Russian 230, “19th Century Russian Poetry in Translation,” Joseph A. Brodsky.
“Should society be blamed for Pushkin?” I wasn’t aware there was blame to be placed…
“Society would be far better off.” …if we spent all of our time discussing the differences between Pushkin, Baratinsky, Ryazinsky, and Lermontov.
“Does this reflect reality?” Metaphysical contemplation of the clock.
“We are going to beat it to death, but still it will survive.” Plan of action for a poem.
“I’m just trying to sound as native as I can. False pretense…”
“[The 19th century] is such an idiotic notion.” Erasing whole centuries in a single bound.
“… the last moment in which people retained some degree of sanity.” The 19th century, which we just abolished.
“How does he dare to be surrealistic?”
“I believe in bad translations.”
“Poetry, boys and girls…” After all, we are at an all-women’s college.
“We’re fine on time. But we don’t have coffee. And we can’t smoke.” Accepting bits of reality. (This after elaborately suggesting in the previous class that perhaps we wouldn’t mind smoke…)
“Are you bored? I am.” Not what you want to hear from a professor.
“You can’t really do that in English, even for educational purposes.”
“That’s better than I expected, but in an outlandish direction.” Well, I thought it was reasonable… speaks for me, I suppose.
“I’m going to say something funny to you, so prepare to smile.”
“…pretty cheeky. But in poetry it’s OK, because it only takes two lines and doesn’t tax you much.” Talking about explanations of the world.
“What tense did I employ?” Not a rhetorical question. Neither class nor professor knows the answer.
“The law of probability is not suicidal.”
“Some days are born ugly. This is one of them.”
“You don’t know this gesture, do you?… Good. Stay that way.”
“What do you talk about when you’re drunk? Well, at least you, boys.” Women, of course.
“Our evening session has a slightly illegal feeling.”
“What does one pull? …legs?”
“One man’s Mede is another man’s Persian.”
“You were not born yesterday. Practically, but not exactly.”
“Unfortunately, we’re not in paradise, we’re in a classroom.”
“A little schizophrenia is the norm, I think. But that’s a good thing… it keeps you from going nuts.” A discussion about learning additional languages
“Commas do marvels in this world.”
“We are dealing in geology here, which is larger than history. Geology starts where history stops. History is grass.”
“I’m sorry, I’m just out of my mind.”
“By now you are well acquainted with the peculiarities of the Russian grammar.” I’ve been studying Russian for three years, and I’m still not well acquainted with the peculiarities of the grammar.
“We have fifteen minutes, do we? Let’s kill them.”
“I like the malevolence of this poem.”
“If you don’t answer my question, I’m going to go out in the hall and smoke a cigarette. Or perhaps outside.”
“Next time I bring pliers.”
“Don’t do it for my sake; I’m going to be bored with it anyway.” Our term papers appear to be a lost cause.
“‘B’ is for ‘Bearable’” My grade on that paper
“The future is possible. You may not think so, but it is.”
The following three courtesy of Susannah Buzard, who wrote them down for me the day I missed class due to glazed ice on the road.
“That’s beautiful… beautiful.” No, it’s a chair, and it’s just been tripped over.
“I’m going to tell you whatever you like. You don’t understand this, so I won’t ask any questions.”
“We have two minutes left, but I’m sick of this.”
“Today we’re going to resume our silly games.”
“Perhaps in some universe where parallel lines do meet…”
“I’m not responsible for anything. No, I’m responsible for everything.”
“This class needs a drill sergeant, not a professor.”
“Well, if you don’t see it, I will point it out to you.”
“The sum of the courses will be what the parents have paid for.”
“It would be nice to appoint some semi-divine entity supervising the arts.” …because various pagan pantheons have one up on Christianity, I think
“All these ‘-isms’ are ‘-wasms.’”
“Perhaps it is Morse code, and I am the reciever.”
“Eternity is a form of unemployment.”
“They’re God’s most successful models… they get a lube job and return to life. It just takes a thousand years. And what’s a thousand years in Elysium?” Discussion of souls in Elysium
“I’m sorry that I’m not very sequential, but you’re used to that.”
“I’m not exactly in charge of my own mind.”
“I’m not going to finish this sentence, either…”
“Buy farms: that’s what I’m trying to urge upon you.”
“For the next two minutes it will be spooky.”
“You may, now and then, freak out.”
“I need to paint… I mean, do it on the blackboard. I may fail, but let me try.”
“Sunlight and Russian poetry… what makes you think they have anything in common?”
“…and Moscow is a good thing to be.”
“Here we have a religious conversion—through surgury, but nonetheless a conversion.”
“Injected: that’s a gas-station verb.”
“Unwittingly or intentionally—both, let’s say, because it makes no bloody difference.”
“It’s lovely, it’s cute, but no.”
“Don’t fall asleep, Mr. Morse, or I will too.”
April 13, 2004
Scheherazade has me reminiscing again, this time about private jargon. If this is too much for one day, well, come back and read it later.
Once upon a time, I lived with this guy, which should be enough introduction for now. Every once in a while, we’d do something completely mundane, and he’d get this wild look in his eyes and say, “Boy, we live on the edge.” And I’d look back and say, “If you’re not living on the edge, you’re taking up too much space.”
Eventually, we’d gone through this call-and response enough times that I started prefacing my end with, “You know what I say: …” After several more repetitions, that became his cue to follow up with the clichè which started out as my response.
By the time we moved and split a house with a third guy, “You know what I say,” from either of us, encompassed the entire exchange.
Finally, he moved out and in with his girlfriend (now his wife) and those days passed on. The third guy and I developed a minimalist language centered on communicating as much as possible with varying inflections on the word, “Dude.”
To some degree, I miss that.
April 6, 2004
William Taubman won the Pulitzer Prize for Biography for his book Khrushchev: The Man and His Era.
I had two classes with “Professor Bill” (so called in my family, to distinguish him from “Professor Jane,” his wife, who was my advisor in my major) a fair spell ago: “Personality and political leadership,” a course on applying psychobiography to political science, which he team taught with a psychology professor, and “Russian and Soviet Politics” which is self-explanatory. The first class almost certainly sprung from his continuing work on this book (which was nearly twenty years in the writing, since new primary sources were continually becoming available) but I really lacked the psychology grounding to get much out of it. (This is the story of my academic life: take the interesting courses first, but miss out because I didn’t have the grounding.) The second was pretty fascinating, and I remember it as being one of the courses I actually looked forward to (as opposed to fearing because I had chosen sleep over getting the reading done.) The rapidly-shifting landscape of Russian politics has rendered most of the “current events” history in the intervening time, but that’s just an excuse to take it again, not that I’ll get the chance.
In a poli-sci department littered with (relatively) well-known names, Taubman was not a “celebrity professor” the way some of his colleagues were. It’s good to see his work recognized like this.
April 4, 2004
A good thing about interviewing...
There’s a subtle thrill to being the one in a press conference (or mixed zone scrum) who asks the question which draws the answer that everyone quotes the next day.
This weekend, the quote was Colleen De Reuck’s explanation of how her nine-year-old daughter Tasmin views her success: “I’m not famous, because I’m not Britney Spears or Hilary Duff.” Nope, not me.
April 3, 2004
I can carp and moan all I want (and I have) about the parts of interviewing that I don’t like, and for many reasons I’m not really a good interviewer in the way many of my peers and role models in this sub-profession are. But the part that really drives me nuts is not getting the raw material, but the very first step in refining it. Transcribing. Sitting down at the computer screen with a recorder (inevitably mono, so I have only one earpiece in) and distilling a low-quality voice recording into ASCII half-sentences at a time. Sometimes I get good at it. Most of the time it’s tedious, and I hate it.
Sometimes I fool myself into thinking that better equipment (a mic?) will help, but so far, it tends not to. I have found that even though A. and I have essentially the same digital recorder visually, mine (which was half the price) not only has significantly less memory, the quality is lower.
March 23, 2004
Revised expectations of an African morning
Yesterday I started a new book for review, and this evening I found this howler (well, in my eyes) at the start of the fifth chapter:
The saying goes that “every morning in Africa, an antelope wakes up. It knows it must outrun the fastest lion, or it will be killed. Every morning in Africa, a lion wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the fastest antelope, or it will starve. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a lion or an antelope—when the sun comes up, you’d better be running.”
That’s a very well-known saying in running circles (it was adapted to a Nike ad campaign a few years back,) and here it is stated nonsensically. See, the lion doesn’t have to outrun the fastest antelope; any antelope will do, and the slowest is all he really needs to keep from starving. It’s only logical: if you’re faster than the fastest lion, you aren’t dinner. If you’re slower than the slowest antelope, you can’t catch dinner. In the overlap, you’re fed—or dead.
This misstatement is common (especially considering that the phrase is usually parrotted on team t-shirts or whatnot, not seriously considered.) This book must have been read at least three times in the production process, though. Why didn’t the copyeditor put at least five big red flags on that one?
Envy, class wars and psych experiments
Another NYT article this weekend led me to the weblog of Clive Thompson, who is a writer on topics which interest me, and immeasurably more successful in that regard than I am.
There, I found a wonderfully interesting article about envy, framed in some issues I had thought about but not in the depth Thompson presents them: the schadenfreude surrounding the conviction of Martha Stewart, the apparent rapacious greed of corporate executives (apparently) everywhere, the growing concern about the gap between rich and poor in this country… even, as Halley Suitt mentioned today, the “class war” card being played in the presidential campaign. It’s worth a look, if you’ve got a few minutes. Check the Notes from the Virus Underground, as well.
March 21, 2004
I suspect that, due to the quote I’ve taken this weblog’s name from, I’m likely to wind up in the search results for people looking for winner of the 1987 Nobel Prize for Literature.
I wrote my senior honors thesis on Joseph Brodsky’s prose essays, eight years ago at this point. The previous spring I had the rare and, as it turned out, fortunate priviledge to attend Brodsky’s 19th Century Russian Poetry class at Mt. Holyoke College. That course counts, I think, among my most intellectually challenging (and, perhaps, interesting) among the thirty-one and two halves (never mind) I wound up taking.
I still pull out the thesis now and then, and I’m regularly surprised to find that it’s not utter crap, though I still suspect it is. A few months ago I backed it out of WordPerfect files into plain text with the intention of using it as a stage for learning XML, and perhaps I still will, someday, put it online, in the hopes that the acme of my relatively brief career as a Russian Literature scholar might be of use to someone else.
Brodsky, sadly, died at age 56 while I was midway through my writing. The class that I attended was his last. I never got my final paper back from him, nor do I know to this day what my grade was.
At any rate, those wishing to learn more about the poet and thinker who, according to this brief biography from the University of Michigan,
precisely articulated the point of view of the educated Homo sovieticus, whose savage irony was the last bastion against despair…
…might try a few of these links:
- The Joseph Brodsky museum in St. Petersburg
- Quotes and quotations (but not as good as the marginalia I wrote down during class…)
- Brodsky’s page at the Academy of American Poets
- The Nobel e-Museum’s page about the 1987 Prize for Literature (includes the acceptance speech, one of his greater essays)
- The quote from which this weblog gets its title can be found in the title essay of Brodsky’s first book of essays, Less Than One, which is almost undoubtedly available at your favorite bookstore, online or otherwise.
The complainant must have rights to the name, or to a name ”identical or confusingly similar.” The name doesn’t actually have to be a registered trademark, but it needs to have been used in commerce, like a brand. Actors, musicians, even authors get protection this way, while politicians, scientists and religious figures do not. …
Not that this is an issue for me, since I believe I’m the only one with a variant of my name registered as a DNS zone. When I first did it, it was lack of originality and immediate need (I was looking for a job, and that works best when your website is not flashesofpanic.com, I’m afraid.) But it’s good to know that since I’ve used my name in commerce, as a writer, I’ve got a pretty strong claim on the domain. In fact, I discovered through my site referrer statistics that the site is seen, at least from one perspective, as “site of the freelance writer.”
So, there you go. I’m back to the Brand of Me.
Update: Here’s another link to the story from the author, James Gleick’s, website.
March 15, 2004
I've written to this guy more than once about copyright violation, but I don't think he listens, and once I left the organization which holds the actual rights to the work in question, I gave up trying. But for Google's sake I think it's worth pointing out: Christoph F. Eick copied this article on his website without permission. Maybe he'll notice this page in his referrer logs, but I doubt it. Or perhaps he'll Google himself...
March 13, 2004
I guess it might look odd for me to abruptly go silent after a few days of four or five posts a day, but I did spend most of Friday as a guest of American Airlines (and doing some PHP coding on the plane which I hope to be able to troubleshoot online at some point. I'm so used to having the online manual available that I've yet to set up a self-sufficient development environment here on my Powerbook.) And after the meet, I did write two thousand words about what I'd seen... so it's not too shocking to find me gazing, unfocused, at the top row of the keyboard this afternoon before the second session. QWERTYUIOP.
Late this morning we headed up, in the rain, to an obscure dirt driveway west of the University of Arkansas campus, which dwindles to a trail and a chain-link pseudo-gate. Behind that, a loop of rocky trail about a mile and a half long which I think of as "Razorback Ranch." (That might actually be its name, but I don't have a source for that, so don't quote me.)
Running anywhere else in Fayetteville, even now when the local heroes are hosting (and contending for) the national championship, feels almost anti-social. There's a choice of concrete sidewalks alongside heavy-traffic arteries, or no-sidewalk winding, hilly side roads. At Razorback Ranch, we've run in to clumps of athletes and coaches from the teams here to compete: Stanford, BYU, Michigan, Texas A&M.
Two years ago, I was in better shape than I am now, and I went up to Razorback Ranch for a sixteen miler. I must have done eight or ten laps to make the miles, combined with getting there and heading back. It's a long enough loop that I don't feel like a gerbil on a wheel, like I would if I tried doing that on a track. I did two laps today, probably less than half the distance I did then, and I would gladly have done the entire run on that rocky hilltop instead of the roads of Fayetteville.
A. speculated today that the Arkansas runners share the "secret" of the Razorback Ranch with other runners to prove that there actually is decent running in the area. I speculated to the contrary: that they kept it obscure so people wouldn't find out that the best running in the area was a pathetic little not-even-two-mile trail loop.
March 10, 2004
It seems to be a day for being misinterpreted. A. and I were extensively quoted by the Daily Hampshire Gazette's running columnist on the USATF indoor meet, particularly Jen Toomey. He also mis-identified Shayne Culpepper as "Shane Cunningham." I am mostly amused. Partly that he essentially did his meet coverage by calling us, but also because he does understand running; he just doesn't have the time or inclination to keep up with the latest stars. At RW we talked about the difference between "the sport" of running and "the activity" of running; those who get one don't necessarily get the other.
Anyone in the Gazette's market who really cared about the big meets read about them online (or drove to Boston, as we did) instead of waiting for the newspaper, anyway. Coverage of sports is going to become either online or local; a local writer summarizing a meet in Boston or Budapest (confusingly, the World Cross-Country meet will be in Brussels in a few weeks) is a pointless exercise to begin with.
I would probably make my points better if I wasn't writing in between starting various wait-for-it type tasks on the servers. This might mean I'd write better if I wasn't doing it at work, but at home there's a similar pattern involving the cat.
March 8, 2004
I should warn you that I have a tendency to repeat myself. I discovered this when my running partners could finish my stories for me. It's not that I have a shortage of stories; it's that I keep refining my favorites, highlighting different parts in different contexts, and so on. Practicing, I suppose. The funny part is, practicing never made me enjoy anything more; in fact, with a certain amount of practice, I get bored and prefer to skip the performance. (This is why I never got very far beyond playing an instrument and into being a musician; I couldn't easily go beyond the mechanics of manipulating the instrument and into expression.)
So, if something comes up more than once... well, you've been warned. It may take a few pick-it-up-and-turn-it-over cycles to get it out of my system.
March 2, 2004
Explaining the mixed zone
The price of time
Every so often I promise myself that I'm going to get out of the freelance writing gig, but it never happens. I keep coming back for a byline hit. What keeps me going, probably in this order: seeing a chunk of text in a widely-read location with my name on it. The ego-boost that comes from being asked to write something by someone who, presumably, has some opinions about quality work. And, last but not insignificant, the checks cover any number of minor budgetary sins.
Oh, yes, the checks. I'm coming to realize a few things about the checks. One, work for websites tends to be more interesting than work for print. Two, work for websites pays in peanuts, work for print pays in whole bags of walnuts. So to speak. If I do two hundred words for a widely-read magazine, it pays ten times as well as six hundred for a relatively-widely-read website—but the magazine has ten times the advertising revenue of the website. And those two hundred words will have barely a spark of life in them, while I can (sometimes) develop and communicate a strong argument with six hundred. We won't even speak of the ridiculous next step up to television, which I have touched once or twice.
Do I ever feel like I'm doing my best work for those who would least appreciate it? Yes, but so what—nobody seems to care much about a standards-compliant website, either, but it gives me some satisfaction.
The problem is that the work is not just going to a track meet and talking with athletes, intelligent observers of the sport, and other reporters. It's also getting home late at night and transcribing the recordings (a mess of stuff with background noise that has me tearing my hair out) during the free time I should be using for better things like sweeping the kitchen, unpacking the last boxes, or relaxing with a book. And when I've finished off one set of recordings, it's time to take off for the next one. I'm not sure when I get to do my laundry. Then I need to track these bits, invoice for them, send proposals to editors for other pieces... if I had to do this to buy groceries, I'd starve, and I'm consistently impressed by people (like one of my former housemates from Pennsylvania) who are not only able to stay afloat writing for several years at a stretch, but to manage it in New York City.