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Archive for September, 2009

On running

And so it begins.

Tomorrow is the first run in my ten-week training program to prepare myself for the Seattle half-marathon on Thanksgiving weekend. Even though I did quite a bit of running on trails and roads over our recently concluded vacation, and despite having run several times a week on a treadmill for this whole calendar year, I’m a bit apprehensive.

It’s not the distance that concerns me. I wound up running that distance a couple of different times over vacation. Rather, it’s the hills and elevation that have me a bit wary. I was running very flat, comfortable trails on vacation, and my treadmill work hasn’t deviated from that zero elevation change either. The Seattle marathon course has about 160 feet in elevation change, which sounds daunting since the biggest hill I ran this summer was probably a modest twenty footer.

Maybe I’ll find I have a pretty quick learning curve for hills. Or maybe I’ll flee meekly for the flat trails I came to enjoy running this summer.

Of course, I did discover an ability to adapt to longer distances and faster speeds than I could’ve imagined this summer, which is the whole reason I’m even considering the half-marathon. When we started vacation this summer, I think the longer distance I had ever run was four miles around a grass track in the spring at about a nine-minute mile pace. I could run quite a bit faster on a treadmill, but only over shorter distances; trying to maintain a sub-eight-minute pace for more than fifteen minutes seemed trying.

But then vacation started and I started running not on a treadmill. I did a five-mile run in forty-five minutes, which was a respectable pace for me. A few days later, I went to the bayfront trail thinking I’d run down and back, doing four or five miles. However, a couple of miles into the run I was feeling pretty good and thought I might stretch it to six miles. And then I realized that if I just ran a couple of tenths of a mile farther, I’d complete the equivalent of a 10 K. And as I was on the return portion of my run I realized that if I pushed myself to 6.6 miles, I’d run the equivalent of a quarter-marathon, which isn’t a standard distance, but seemed substantial in my mind.

So I did that, managed to complete 6.6 miles in 1 hour, 1 minute, and felt quite pleased with myself. At least until my calf muscles ached something fierce and descending stairs became torturous for the next couple of days. But after a few days off, I ran again. And then I did it again. And I was feeling so good after a fast start, I began to wonder if I might make a complete loop of the peninsula, which was just beyond the half-marathon distance.

That seemed like a good idea at the time, especially when I was still running nine-minute miles. But by the second half I slowed considerably, and it became quite an effort just to keep pushing on, a battle of my will against my aching legs and feet. My will won, but my pace slowed to something not much faster than a brisk walk. Still, I felt a lot of accomplishment at running the equivalent of a half-marathon in the better part of two and a half hours. Also, more aching calf muscles.

Nonetheless, I kept running a few days a week, generally doing something between 6.2 and 7 miles. And my times steadily improved. I managed to get my 10 K time down to 50:10 (oh, it pained me to miss my goal of fifty minutes by so narrow a margin!). By the latter stages of vacation, I even managed to rattle off seven miles at a mile pace of about 8:10.

When you consider that until I started running on the treadmill regularly in January, the fastest mile I had even run in my life was something like 8:10 or 8:11, way back in eighth grade, the fact that I could average that pace over such a distance felt really good.

Yet when I went out for my final run of vacation last week, I was concerned I might not be able to get in many miles. I hadn’t really run in a whole week, since we had gone out of town for a wedding, and except for a thirty-five-minute stint on a treadmill in a hotel fitness center that proved much more challenging than I expected, most of my exercise had involved riding an stationary bicycle.

So, when I started my run, I was thinking I might only managed three or four miles. I plotted a loop of just under a mile around the neighborhood, figuring that I could run the laps until I had my fill. Feeling tentative, I started out at a slow pace, just under nine minutes a mile. But by about the third mile, I was feeling pretty good and decided to go farther. Initially I thought I’d stretch it to seven or eight miles, but, feeling strong (and correcting a slight flaw in my posture that allowed me to go quite a bit faster without any extra effort), I decided to shoot for the long distance again and wound up running fifteen miles in about 2 hours, 12 minutes. Even better, I didn’t feel too achy afterward, or the day after, just a little tired in my legs.

All of that is to say that I’m hoping I’ll find the hills to be less daunting than I fear. Even though I’m already capable of running that half-marathon distance, I’m following a ten-week training program that will slowly build up my distance so I can acclimate myself to the hill work.

I expect that tomorrow’s run will be quite challenging, and Wednesday’s and Thursday’s runs will also be physically taxing as well. But, if all goes well, in the next week or two my body will start to adjust to the hills and I begin to get comfortable with it.

Anyway, if I’m diligent, I’ll be providing updates here after every run about the distance, elevation, time and anything else interesting.

Here goes nothing.

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Loafing in the courtroom

This week has seen more hearings and days in court to try to resolve the status of the NHL’s Phoenix Coyotes, a team that owner Jerry Moyes put up for bankruptcy, leading Blackberry billionaire Jim Balsillie to offer an above-market bid for the ailing franchise in the hopes of relocating it to Hamilton, Ont., near the headquarters of his company, Research in Motion.

Balsillie has been angling to get his own NHL team and move it to Hamilton, having tried unsuccessfully in the recent past to buy and move both the Pittsburgh Penguins and Nashville Predators.

The NHL, for its part, hasn’t taken too kindly to Balsillie’s aggressive efforts to uproot one of its existing franchises, even though by most indications Balsillie would be one of the league’s better owners, since he’s fabulously wealthy and passionate about hockey. Speculation is that the NHL would hate to have an existing team move to Hamilton, since it would miss out on an opportunity to add an expansion franchise there and thus collect a hefty expansion team in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

Needless to say, there’s been a lot of public and legal posturing on both sides, which is why both parties have been back in court this week.

I haven’t been following the courtroom proceedings too closely, but there was evidently this hilarious moment yesterday in which the NHL tried to justify its efforts to block Balsillie from owning a franchise (even though the league’s Board of Governor’s actually approved Balsillie as an owner when he was bidding on the Penguins, before squashing his bid in order to prevent the team from leaving Pittsburgh) with what can only be termed the Meatloaf Defense.

From Bruce Arthur of the National Post:

“There are three things that it takes to be an owner of an NHL franchise,” argued NHL attorney Tony Clark, as passionate as he was condescending.

“One, you’ve got to be wealthy. … Two, you’ve got to love hockey. And Mr. Balsillie, he has got both of these in his favour in spades. Nobody’s denying that. But No. 3, your Honour, you’ve got to play by the rules that bind NHL owners. You know, there’s an old rock and roll song by Meat Loaf.”

“Meat Loaf ?” interrupted Judge Redfield T. Baum.

“Meat Loaf,” continued Mr. Clark. “He’s a big fat guy. He actually had a good voice. He may actually still be around. And I apologize to Meat Loaf, maybe he’s slimmed up. The name of the song was Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad. Well, that doesn’t cut it for the NHL.”

This was the kind of keen legal argument that defined this fateful day in Canadian sports history.

This makes me curious about where Tony Clark went to law school. Bat out of Hell U, perhaps?

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Not that most undergraduates are likely to get the memo, but Geoffrey Nunberg points out how Google’s book search isn’t going to replace the library catalog quite yet as the place for locating sources and information.

There’s the sticky issue of Google getting publication dates so very wrong.

To take Google’s word for it, 1899 was a literary annus mirabilis,which saw the publication of Raymond Chandler’s Killer in the Rain, The Portable Dorothy Parker, André Malraux’s La Condition Humaine, Stephen King’s Christine, The Complete Shorter Fiction of Virginia Woolf, Raymond Williams’s Culture and Society 1780-1950, and Robert Shelton’s biography of Bob Dylan, to name just a few. And while there may be particular reasons why 1899 comes up so often, such misdatings are spread out across the centuries. A book on Peter F. Drucker is dated 1905, four years before the management consultant was even born; a book of Virginia Woolf’s letters is dated 1900, when she would have been 8 years old. Tom Wolfe’sBonfire of the Vanities is dated 1888, and an edition of Henry James’s What Maisie Knew is dated 1848.

And pity someone trying to find books by subject.

Then there are the classification errors, which taken together can make for a kind of absurdist poetry. H.L. Mencken’s The American Language is classified as Family & Relationships. A French edition of Hamlet and a Japanese edition of Madame Bovary are both classified as Antiques and Collectibles (a 1930 English edition of Flaubert’s novel is classified under Physicians, which I suppose makes a bit more sense.) An edition of Moby Dick is labeled Computers; The Cat Lover’s Book of Fascinating Facts falls under Technology & Engineering. And a catalog of copyright entries from the Library of Congress is listed under Drama (for a moment I wondered if maybe that one was just Google’s little joke).

It makes you wonder if Dumas’ The Three Musketeers is listed as “educational” the way the prisoners working in the library thought it should be in The Shawshank Redemption.

Nunberg speculates the inclusion of subject headings — which are hardly useful when dealing with millions of titles, as Google’s book project is — is being driven by Google’s need to sell advertising, as seen in some of the hilarious ads that book searches return:

The ad placement on Google’s book search right now is often comical, as when a search for Leaves of Grass brings up ads for plant and sod retailers—though that’s strictly Google’s problem, and one, you’d imagine, that they’re already on top of.

That example reminds me of the time many years ago when my dad saw me googling for Nine Inch Nails and wondered if it turned up results for hardware stores and the like.

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The main train station in Prague, once and again officially called Wilson Station in gratitude to the American president credited with championing the breakup of the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the end of the Great War, is getting a new sculpture of Woodrow Wilson.

Not without a fight, though.

Sculptor Michal Blažek won the competition and exhibited a scale model of his winning entry today in the area in front of the train station. Originally there was a statue of Wilson in that space, but it got removed during the Nazi occupation, and the bust of Wilson made its way into a storeroom of the National Museum down the street.

Now, the winning entry (in this case Blažek’s) is supposed to use a cast of the original bust in the final product. However, the National Museum couldn’t loan the bust to Blažek because previously it lent the bust to one of the sculptors who didn’t win the contest, Oldřich Hejtmánek, who made a cast of it for the ninetieth anniversary of the founding of Czechoslovakia last year.

That’s where today’s events got interesting.

For reasons that remain unclear to me, Hejtmánek was on hand at today’s festivities. Blažek called Hejtmánek a “thief who stole the head of the president” — that sounds like the title of a trashy paperback — then punched Hejtmánek before fleeing the scene.

Blažek (center, in red), tries to fend off two journalists after felling his rival, Hejtmánek, lying in the background after being felled with a punch

Blažek (center, in red), tries to fend off two journalists after felling his rival, Hejtmánek, lying in the background after being felled with a punch

This bizarre tale would get even more interesting if only somewhere in the train station or National Museum there was a statue of Wilson from the shoulders down, wearing a sad sign asking, “Have you seen my head?” a la the early Simpsons episode, “The Telltale Head,” where Bart cuts off the head of town founder Jebediah Springfield.

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The NYT has a feature today with professors offering short bits of advice to incoming college freshmen. I liked Carol Berkin’s advice for how not to alienate professors:

Do ask questions if you don’t understand the professor’s point. Do not, however, ask any of the following: “Will this be on the test?” “Does grammar count?” “Do we have to read the whole chapter?” “Can I turn in my paper late?”

I would add, “check your syllabus before asking your professor a question about course expectations and requirements.” There’s nothing like getting e-mails from students about something explicitly stated in the syllabus. It signals to the instructor that you don’t value her/his time.

Also along those lines I might add, if you get specific advice from a professor on a draft (say, a corrected misspelling), make a point of seeing the appropriate change makes its way into the final draft of your paper. Students who ask me to read drafts and then fail to incorporate my comments into their finished product make me want to grade punitively.

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Sme has an interesting story comparing Slovaks and Czechs in conjunction with tonight’s World Cup qualifier between Slovakia and the Czech Republic, a game that could see the Slovaks eliminate the Czechs while taking another big step forward toward their first World Cup.

Needless to say, the article is a lot more interesting than the NYT piece a couple of months back about how Slovaks purportedly live in the shadow of their Czech neighbors.

For instance, Slovak women living in the Czech Republic find their native language to be an advantage because Czech men evidently think Slovak sounds sexy. And other Slovaks report that when they go to Prague, Czechs ask them to speak Slovak because they miss getting to hear it. The converse isn’t necessarily true, since Slovaks have more exposure to Czech through popular culture, whereas Slovak is slowly becoming a more “exotic” language to Czech ears more than sixteen years after the breakup of Czechoslovakia.

The main takeaway, though, is that Slovaks and Czechs get along quite nicely, thank you. And any rivalry is pretty friendly.

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What’s the difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull?

Apparently a lot more than lipstick, if Sarah Palin is the “hockey mom,” or so says Levi Johnston in a Vanity Fair interview.

That’s just one of the insights Johnston provides in an interview that pretty much confirms the Palins aren’t the great parents they’d have us believe.

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