Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Good Stuff 2007

This seemed like a watershed year for terribleness. Even my naturally cynical mind can't comprehend the idiocy perpetrated by our federal government, and from Sherri Shepard to Britney Spears to Don Imus it seemed like the whole world was trying to out-stupid each other. The presidential race makes me want to move to northern Europe, and the strident anti-intellectualism of the evangelicals makes me wish the Romans had been more diligent in feeding their lions. The only thing more depressing than being alive to witness the decline of our nation is that my children will have to deal with it.

Still, there were a few bright spots. There was some decent music produced this year, and some decent music that I learned to appreciate. My favorite albums:
  • The Shins - Wincing the Night Away
  • Midlake - Van Occupanther
  • Rogue Wave - Asleep At Heaven's Gate
  • Manic Street Preachers - Send Away The Tigers
  • Fair to Midland - Fables From a Mayfly: What I Tell You 3 Times is True
  • Thao Nguyen and the Get Down Stay Down - We Brave Bee Stings and All
  • Ari Hest - The Break-In
I also developed a taste for Bob Dylan this year, especially The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan and Highway 61 Revisited.

I didn't see a lot of movies again this year, but of those that i saw Eastern Promises was far and away my favorite. The new Bourne movie was good too.

I didn't read many books this year either. I got into the Thomas Covenant series of books as a way to tide me over until George Martin publishes the next book in his Song of Fire and Ice series. The most memorable of the books i read this year:
  • A Perfect Hell: The True Story of the Black Devils, the Forefathers of the Special Forces - John Nadler
  • World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War - Max Brooks
  • Warriors of the Steppe - A Military History of Central Asia - Erik Hildinger
All war-related, maybe that's significant.

Some random stuff that didn't suck:
  • Haile Gebrselassie set the world record in the marathon.
  • I got to see Ryan Hall win the US Olympic trials for the marathon in Central Park.
  • Chicago. I was there 3 times this year, and i just love the city.
  • Ron White - White might be the funniest comedian working. I was horrified when he was included in the Blue Collar Comedy tour along with mediocrities Jeff Foxworthy and Bill Engvall, and the egregious, mentally retarded Larry the Cable Guy.
  • Free software. I am continually amazed that stuff like R, Eclipse, Knime, and JFreeChart are available free of charge.
  • Reddit. Sure, it's got some problems, but it's my favorite Internet time killer.

Monday, December 17, 2007


My birthday came and went quietly this year. I did a short bike ride to keep alive my tradition of a birthday bike-ride, but it was hardly the epic adventure of some previous years. I seem to have finally reached the age where birthdays are more an uncomfortable reminder of what's behind me than a cause for celebration.

There's an idea that I came across years ago that people tend to think of themselves as being the age at which they were most happy. If that time happens to be in early adulthood as it is for many, then a person's self-image diverges further from reality the older one gets. I'm not sure about this concept, but recently i've had some flashes of self-consciousness upon realizing that other people probably view me in the same way that they view other 40-something guys. I admit that sometimes this is because i realize that some pretty girl in line at the Starbucks is young enough to be my daughter. But it extends beyond that to my peers and even elders. Recently, i was playing "ultimate" frisbee with some work friends and i intentionally pulled back from an attempted interception in order to avoid a collision. One of the other players, who is around my age, said something to the affect that "this was a good idea for people our age".

I'm not quite ready to be a person of my age. But i'm beginning to see that good physical health or musical taste that resembles that of a college student doesn't really exempt me from being a person of my age. I assumed when i was younger that the compensation for getting old was the attainment of wisdom, and that's true in a way, but the problem is that wisdom is frequently the insight that some things really do suck as much as you'd expect them to.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

I Need To Get Faster

This post is mostly an excuse to use Swivel, a web site that produces graphs of data sets. I uploaded my running log to it. Here's a graph of my pace over the last few years.


Other than a few anomalous outliers on the high side, the data is pretty closely clustered around an average value of 7:45/mile. There are sections, if you had the data at hand, where i've average quite a bit faster (like when i was training for Carlsbad), but the historical trend is pretty flat. This graph is a bit more encouraging:

Pace by Distance

This makes it clearer that a fair proportion of my runs have been considerably below the average if you factor in the distance of the run. Nonetheless, i need to get faster. My 2008 goals will include setting PRs at most of my race distances, especially on the shorter end. I'm gonna be ambitious and shoot for 17:30 at 5k and 36:00 at 10k. My training approach is going to be very complex and sophisticated: run faster. I'm going to focus on more speed training and trying to keep my regular runs closer to 7min/mile.

Monday, December 03, 2007


In a moment of weakness I volunteered to coach my 10 year-old son's basketball team this season. I love basketball, and I love my son; but teaching 5th graders to play basketball is kind of like teaching your cat to read the newspaper. That is, it's really hard and most likely they're not going to get that much out of it.

I've got a pretty good team, but chances are that even most of the boys on my team won't be playing in middle school. None of them really have any interest in playing basketball in the technical sense of following a particular offensive or defensive scheme. It's just basically another hour of recess for them. They want to play 5 games of simultaneous 1 on 1 in the best school-yard tradition. Which is cool. This is a rec league and its primary purpose is physical fitness. Still, i cling to the misguided hope that i might impart some real basketball knowledge to one or two of them.

My dad was a high-school coach in Indiana for 40 years, and pretty good at it too. I'm not quite sure what his secret was. Clearly he possessed greater rapport with fellow human beings than do I, and it probably didn't hurt that he was fairly large and somewhat intimidating. It might just be that his players could sense that he wanted to coach as much as they wanted to play.