Thwackum & Square

Thursday, July 05, 2012

10,000 year clock stuff

I'm always pretty behind the times, so I assume that most of the people who read this already know about the 10,000 year clock project.  The basic idea is to build a clock, or a series of clocks, that tick once every year, and chime once every thousand years, and last 10,000 years.  Why would you do this, you ask?  Well, they say because it symbolizes long term thinking - thinking about, planning for, being aware of the future.  Nutty idea?  Who knows.  I kind of like the idea but you wonder about productive use of resources and all of that.  It strikes me as a uniquely, well, modern America way of doing good.  We'll do good by taking on a huge costly extravagant project that doesn't really benefit anyone really in need, but it's still pretty cool, right?  But in spite of that, I still think it's way cool, I'm just a cynic.  But what I'm mostly interested in right now is this cool video!  It shows how they drill a 12 foot diameter hole straight up through 500 feet of rock.  They need the clock to be in a dry, protected environment (or it wouldn't last 10,000 years) so they're carving out the inside of a mountain!  I can't think of who else would do this aside from governments making missile silos and stuff.  So anyway, it's pretty cool and if you're bored check it out! And of course, in 20 years when they finish this thing (if they finish it that fast), if I'm still mobile I'm gonna go see this sucker!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Greek gods

This is a totally random post (unlike all the other carefully orchestrated posts that build to a sublime whole, right?).  I was running today (went very well, thanks for asking) and was thinking about the Greek gods.  No, I have no reason for this, you do weird stuff when you run.  Anyway, what occurred to me is that I doubt the Greek pantheon (Zeus, Apollo, Athena, Artemis, Aphrodite, et al.) were all invented at the same time.  What I imagine happened is that there were different groups, tribes, towns, what have you, and each of those groups had one or a few gods.  As the groups came together, and started to communicate, they would naturally talk about their gods and as they did this, they would have to make some sense of the plurality of gods being brought together.  Unlike modern Christianity, which would just say "sorry, you're deluded, your gods don't exist and ours does" it seems plausible that any one group/town/tribe may have felt a need to account for the existence of their own local gods and the newer gods they were learning about.  Either as godly relations, allies, etc. (oh, your god is probably the brother of my god!) or enemies or whatever.  I'm just making all this up, of course, but as I am imagining it, assuming that there were "lore keepers" or priests or whatever caste claims ownership of divine knowledge, those individuals may have been the one with the task of reconciling or assimilating the different gods.

Taking  a step back, it would seem that as one group is confronted with a new version of the divine, it has several options.  Hostility (you don't believe in our god, we'll kill you now), benign disavowal (those silly heathens don't know the true gods, poor them), or perhaps some form of assimilation (fitting their gods into your system without changing it much) or accommodation (changing your system dramatically to fit with the new information, perhaps even to the point of resembling the new system).  This latter point is a bit tangential, but it does relate to how I am imagining the Greek pantheon would have been formed.  Based on my very spotty knowledge of Christian history, I believe that all of those approaches have been used over time.  The crusades to an extent exemplify the hostility angle, benign disavowal is the current "party line," and certainly if you look at the saints of the middle ages (I had "middle aged saints" there for a bit - think that lost something in the translation), the Christmas tree, Easter bunny, and so forth you'll find plenty of assimilation and perhaps a bit of accommodation (depending on which camp you're in about that last part).

So, getting back to the whole Greek pantheon thing, I suppose what struck me and motivated me to write this out was the realization that it is probably very unlikely that the pantheon was born whole cloth from one tribe/group/city.  It was probably a conglomeration that gradually developed but then was written down and enshrined through their art, literature, and so forth, and that I, as a relatively uneducated lay person, took initially to be a relatively constant, and always fully formed, set of ideas.

Although my thinking did not go this way at all this morning on my run, an obvious extension of this line of thinking is to wonder about how existing faiths, Christianity among them, will evolve over time.  There seem to be some very strong forces in place, have been for centuries, to try to prevent drift or evolution of ideas.  Christianity, which I am most familiar with, has its whole "canon" versus "apocrapha" thing, for example.  Depending on your sect, to be Christian means to believe very specific things, and to do otherwise gets you cast out from the group.  But even with that, there is undeniable change in even modern religions over time.  Very easy example (almost too easy, feels like cheating) - anyone been burned for not believing the teachings of Aristotle were 100% accurate lately?  Cheap shot, I know, but it illustrates the point.

Do I expect that any of this is revelatory to those who study this stuff and know about it.  Nah.  Just some random thoughts that I haven't taken the time, since I had them an hour or two ago, to look up and fact check. But there ya have it.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

And a new goal!

Long time readers of this blog (are there any other types?  Both of you are very faithful, bless you!) will know that my running goals change just a little over time.  The last goal was to do 10 marathons.  Before that there was the running a marathon under 4 hour goal.  And way back when there was Finishing a Marathon Without Dying (check, check, and check).  Currently I  have two or three other goals.  An ultimate goal is to run down the Grand Canyon, across it, back up the other side, and then turn around and do the same thing again.  It can take 8 to 12 hours for "middle of the pack runners" (which is me).  This is not a formal event, but it's something distance runners sometimes do and I think it would be the pinnacle of distance running.  It's called "Rim to Rim to Rim" or, as a coworker kindly phrased it, RimJob 2013.  Sorry bout that, but I'm not the one who came up with it *grin*.  This is a 42 mile run, so another obvious goal is to get to where I can run more than 26 miles at once.  Those are called ultra-marathons and are, as you know, kind of insane.

The new goal, however, comes directly from this most recent marathon.  The fact that I was able to hold onto a pace that was not that far off 9 minutes per mile for 18 miles kind of surprised and very much pleased me, so now my new goal is to do another 4 hour or less time in a normal marathon.  I say "normal" because I'm not going to try that on a trail marathon or other insane kind of event - just on a flat old marathon course.  A sub 4 marathon is typically about a 9 minute pace, or just a smidge over.  I've done this before, but it was a few years ago and I had thought my (for me) speedy days were over.  But now I have new hope and I may try for it this fall in California.  The challenge will be to work on this while simultaneously upping my miles to more ultra distances (i.e, 50+ mile weeks with lots of back to back effort).  That will be, uhm, fun?

In service of this new goal I did 13.1 miles today at a 9 minute pace on a treadmill.  Well, it was just slightly above that.  A 9 minute pace for 11 miles, then about 9:20 for the last 2.1 miles, but still pretty close.  I went with the treadmill because a) it's 90 freaking degrees out, and humid to boot, but also b) I wanted a way of really tracking and regulating my pace.  I wanted to see if I could stay at that 9 minute pace for a moderately long distance.  Turns out I can, so now I just need to incorporate tempo runs into this summer/fall so that I'm training to run my distance runs at that speed.

Now that I've shared this goal with the (very small) virtual world of our readers all I have to do is implement it. Wish me luck and above all, no damn injuries!

Sunday, June 03, 2012

Number 10 - Report!

The overview.

Well, marathon number 10 is finished!  It really wasn't a bad race.  I've run this particular event before and found it to be hot, and to have an insulting hill at mile 25, and this time only one of those things happened. The weather was beautiful up until about mile 18, and while there was a STEEP hill about mile 16, that was the only real challenge.  At the same time, I was not as well trained as I could have or should have been, and so I walked a lot of the last 6 miles (probably about 2.5 or so).  Here are just a few highlights of this wondrous and painful event.

The shoes.

A while back I read an excellent book called Born to Run which, in addition to other interesting ideas, claimed that shoes are just not that big a deal.  It noted that injuries tended to go up after people get new shoes and that despite millions of dollars in research and development on shoes, there have been no improvements in injury rates, performance, etc. overall over the years.  Taking that to heart, I decided new shoes were for wusses and didn't buy any shoes for over a year.  Which meant that all of the shoes I have, instead of having 300-500 miles or less on them, have about 750-1000 miles on them.  A few weeks ago I broke down and bought some new ones, not because of the miles on the shoes, but because they were literally falling apart.  So you'd think I'd be wearing my spanking new shoes in this event, right?  Wrong.  The shoes I got are a new model of the shoes I've been wearing the past 3 years (Saucony Progrid Triumph 9's).  The model forces you to land on your mid foot instead of your heal (i.e., not to "heal strike").  This innovation is probably due to the huge popularity of minimalist shoes and other innovations spurred on to no small extent by that very book, Born to Run.  However, as I have only had them a few weeks running in them hurts my calves and I was not about to wear them for 26 miles.  So I wore my backup pair, which were stained green with grass stains from mowing the lawn.  I think I was the only one there with lawn mower shoes on.  I felt quite the hick.

The pace.

Going into the marathon I decided that I wanted to try for a 4:20 finishing time, which is a 10 minute pace.  In order to achieve this I hooked up with the 4:15 finish time pace group, with the idea that in the last few miles I could drop back if I needed to.  This is generally a good strategy.  This time, however, two things happened that made it a bad strategy.  First, the pace group leader, a very nice lady, accidentally went out way too fast, so that by 13.1 miles we were on pace for a 4:05 marathon!  I was glad that I could keep up with that and actually felt quite comfortable for about 18 miles but then I bonked big time.  My final time?  4:35.  About the speed of my first marathon.  If I'd truly gone out at a 4:15 pace and stuck to it, I probably could have made at least the 4:20 because I wouldn't have bonked so bad.  I'd be mad at the pace leader except that she had just run a 30 mile race 2 weeks before and she ended up getting dehydrated and bonking hard herself.  We walked about a half mile together (both way behind the 4:15 target pace by then) and I felt bad enough about how she was feeling that I couldn't hold a grudge.  Pace runners tend to be highly experienced and competitive runners, and so I know it was really frustrating for her to be reduced to that pace.

The (lack of) a bus.
One of the things about this marathon is that although it is essentially a circle course, it ends up about 1.5 miles away from the start line.  I had parked at the start line, and when I finished up, hurting, limping, and tired, I realized I had to trudge all the way back to the start (uphill, in the sun, yadda yadda).  I was feeling quite bitter about this until I got to the parking ramp where I saw a shuttle bus leaving runners off.  Evidently the organizers had done the right thing and set up shuttle service and I had done the wrong thing and not realized that.  So then I just felt bitter and stupid.

The damn iPod.
When I got to the race I realized that although I had painstakingly made a Marathon Number 10 music mix for my iPod, and had charged the iPodt, I had forgotten to move the mix over the the damn machine.  I had to make do with some other music, which was ok.  But I needn't have worried.  I really have a love/hate/hate relationship with iPods.  They're amazing machines, and very well integrated with iTunes, and so convenient that I use them in spite of my philosophical differences with Apple.  See how pretty they are?  But they Cannot Handle Moisture.  About mile 9 my iPod Nano decided that its reduce volume button was being pushed, continuously, and so consequently showed the "reduce volume screen" and played no sound.  If I pushed the "increase volume" button it would have this little war, as it would increase a fraction, then decrease right afterwards.  I got disgusted and did a hard shut down.  I was tempted to do a very hard shut down by throwing it on the ground and stomping on it.  But as I was smart enough to get the replacement plan this time I will just exchange it and buy an even better waterproof case (like a steal safe tied to my belt or something).

The chaffing.

I typically use UnderArmor gear (shirt, boxer briefs, etc) because it wicks very well, is well made, and avoids chafing.  It is also, unfortunately, expensive so I only own a few items from them and I have been reluctant to buy replacements.  Today I found out that I need to buy some replacements.  I finished this race feeling like I had a bad case of diaper rash all over my damn body.  A quick bath in a tub full of A&D ointment has been only marginally helpful.  I've never had this happen with UA gear, and so conclude that my gear has gotten that "not so fresh" feeling and needs to be burned at once.  Ouch damnit.  Sometimes being cheap is just not worth it!

The verdict.

This part is what makes people call runners insane.  I am really glad I did this race.  I had a lot of fun, got to talk to a lot of nice people, and remembered that it is much more fun to run 20 miles (or 26 miles) surrounded by supportive runners and spectators than doing it alone.  The fact that I was able to keep up at a 4:00 pace for so long tells me that if I really train, focusing on some speed, I can probably do another 4 hour marathon (if I so choose).  It was a good thing!

Saturday, June 02, 2012

Getting ready for Number 10

Five and a half years ago I crossed the finish line for my first marathon.

I think that means something different to everyone who has finished a marathon.  For me it was the achievement of the impossible.  Up until 2 and a half years before, I had been a professional couch potato.  Already in my 30s I had worked out only occasionally and run a mile perhaps 4 or 5 times in my life (and most of those in grade school).  I was one of the least athletic people that I know.  I had stumbled into running while walking around the indoor track at the Y after the birth of my second daughter.  One thing that I knew, with a sedentary job and two young kids, was that I absolutely needed some way to move around and burn off some frustration, anxiety, energy.  Walking was a nice start, and then it gradually turned into running for a few laps, and then it went all the way up to running a mile.  After a few months of that I gradually upped it until I could run maybe 2 miles at a time.  I was very proud of this!  I can remember distinctly being on the track and thinking "If I can get to doing 2 miles at at time, every day, that would be amazing!"  Having made this step I decided I should go buy some "running shoes."  When I told the guy at the store I was running maybe 10 miles a week he bluntly told me it didn't matter what kind of shoe I wore (because the distance was so short) and I ended up with a pair of Nike (and this is the real name, here) Extruders.  Yup, my first shoes were Extruders, and I never did find out what they extruded, other than failed marketing and bargain bin chic.

Eventually my older sister also got into running and, in typical older sister fashion, jumped way ahead of me by signing up not for a 10K, not for a half marathon, but for a full marathon!  I couldn't believe it.  I had no plans to do a marathon, the distance was ridiculous, but I did agree to come out and do a half marathon with her.  And that's pretty much all it took.  From that point on, I was hooked.  The first half marathon had a disappointing finish time, I knew I could do better, so I started to run longer and harder.  Once I knew I could do 13.1 miles, I knew I could probably do more, so I hooked up with a few people from work and trudged my way through the training for a fall marathon in 2006.  As I said, it was an incredible feeling, one of the most emotional in my life (not so intense as  the day I married my wife, or the birth of our kids, but right up there with the way I felt when I got my PhD).  I had done what I should never have been able to do!

Then I started to think.  I had done it, but so had literally 10,000 other people.  That day.  In that one race.  Hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of people were going to run a marathon that year.  Heck, Oprah has done it!  So while it was very cool, it wasn't exactly distinguished.  So I decided I wanted a new goal.  Lots of people have run a marathon - but how many have run two?  And how many have run three?  And how many have gone all the way up to 10 or more?  Turns out, lots more than you think, as I came to find.  But it was still a new goal, to finish 10 marathons. If I could do THAT, then I would have achieved something.

So for the past five and a half years I've been moving towards that goal.  Sometimes running towards it, other times jogging, other times barely walking, but always moving in that direction.  I've worn through a few pairs of shoes, run off a few extra pounds.  Got some new aches and pains.  As I said, I've since come to find that there are many, many people who have done things like this, and some who routinely do still more (any ultra runners reading this??).  But it's a goal and as of tomorrow, if all goes well, I will achieve it.  I'm not planning on a fast run, or even a good run.  I'm reasonably trained, but not for speed, and it's going to be a hot day.  One of the things I've learned over 9 other runs is that if you just slow down you can finish most anything, and that's going to be my strategy tomorrow.  I seriously doubt that this will be my last event - I've got some plans!  In many ways it'll be just another run, just another race.  But in that one important way, the "number 10" way, it will be more than that.

Wish me luck.