Sunday, December 28, 2008

Good Stuff 2008

So, this wasn't a very good year personally, but other than the global financial meltdown, it wasn't really that bad. The election of Barack Obama was probably not the triumph of reason that i wish it to be, but at least i don't have to worry about President Palin for another four years. I think some decent music was made this year, i read several good books, and there were two good movies about superheroes. My kids both entered new phases of their education and have succeeded so far. I learned some stuff, both academically and wisdom-wise.

I listen to music almost entirely via some radio-like delivery mechanism these days, so it's tough to determine what's new and what's just new to me. There were a few times this year when i heard something that i thought was new and it turned out to be a band that broke up years ago (eg, The Promise Ring). Stranger still, several favorite artists put out albums this year that i never really got a chance to listen to thoroughly (Ben Folds, Drive By Truckers, R.E.M.). Still, there was stuff i really liked. Here's my list:
  • Fleet Foxes by Fleet Foxes
  • The Stand Ins by Okkervil River
  • April by Sun Kil Moon
  • When Life Gives You Lemons, Paint That Shit Gold by Atmosphere
  • And You Were A Crow by The Parlor Mob
  • Nortec Collective Presents Bostich & Fussible
Really though, most of the music that i enjoyed this year was done in previous years, and i just discovered it. I listened to a lot of Damien Rice, Richard Shindell, Grace Potter, A Fine Frenzy, and various ska bands that my son introduced me to.

Again this year i didn't see most of the "serious" movies that will be nominated for Oscars. However, i thought Iron Man and The Dark Knight were the two best comic-derived movies i've seen. I thought the first half of Wall-E was absolutely brilliant. I saw No Country For Old Men on video, but i thought it was an excellent rendition of McCarthy's book.

I read quite a few books this year, but not many that were published in 2008. The most memorable non-fiction i read was Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age by Maggie Jackson. I'm not sure that i read a single fiction book that was published this year. The most recently published novel i can remember was The Last Samurai by Helen Dewitt, which is brilliant. My favorite books this year were all by Cormac McCarthy. I read No Country For Old Men, The Road, and the first book of the border trilogy, All The Pretty Horses. Amazing.

My nomination for concept of the year: attention. I think the idea of an attention economy and the almost evolutionary change happening in our culture due to the incessant demand for our attention will be the meme of the decade.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Workin' For a Living

Nathan and his friend Won Ji have been busking to collect money for their high school music program. Here they are playing in front of one of the local Starbucks's.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Novel vs. Novel

Due to a unique set of circumstances i find myself reading two novels at the same time. It's not unusual for me to interleave the reading of multiple books, but i try not to overlap novels if only because it's easy to confuse plot lines and characters. The two books are Cormac McCarthy's All the Pretty Horses and Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections.

Both are contemporary American novels written by well-respected authors. Both won the National Book Award in their respective years of publication. Both are pretty damn good books. And there ends the similarities.

Franzen's novel is about the Midwest and East, and the (sub)-urban inhabits thereof. It focuses primarily on two generations of the same family, an elderly midwestern couple and their children. Much of the conflict in the novel comes from the difference between these two generations. The parents need to see their children as successful even if that means a certain degree of willful reinterpretion of reality. The children (all now adult) seem to practically define their lives in contrast to their parents, to the extent that merely being in their parents' presence has become a burden.

I identify easily with the characters in Franzen's novel, even occasionally being reminded of members of my own family. The book covers a good span of both time and space, and includes some esoteric material that i assume required research on the part of the author. Yet it all strikes me as very familiar, very real for lack of a better term.

McCarthy's novel is very western, both in terms of geography and content. It starts in Texas, and proceeds southward to Mexico. The characters are ranch dwellers, comfortable riding horses and shooting guns. Other than several years spent in the desert Southwest and a general appreciation of ruralness engendered by my own youth on a farm, i don't have much in common with the people in the novel.

Still, i enjoy McCarthy's novel more. Perhaps it is just escapist fantasy for a middle-aged, middle-class, suburb dweller. The brilliance of The Corrections for me is that sometimes it cuts so close to the bone that it's painful. On the other hand, All The Pretty Horses makes me want to live in its world.

However both of these are uniquely American novels. The Corrections could be more easily compared to a European novel (Buddenbrooks comes to mind for me), but there is the pervasive theme in both novels of individuals trying to transform themselves rather than being transformed by the exigencies of history.

My Butt Hurts

I managed to get my birthday bike ride done today, albeit belatedly. It was a modest ride, over to the coast on the 56 bike path, and then back to the Black Mountain area for the noon ultimate frisbee game. Since i haven't done a bike ride for months, i hurt in numerous special places. Besides the obvious aches and pains, i always forget how much stress it put on your hands to be leaning on the shifters all day. It was a beautiful day though, and i had no flats or other mechanical difficulties, so i'd call it a success.

Monday, December 15, 2008


Today is my 45th birthday. I was not able to do my annual birthday bike ride because it's raining heavily throughout southern California, but since i'm not otherwise occupied i'll probably get a ride in later this week. In the 17 years i've observed this tradition, this is my first rain-out, although i've had a few close calls. I remember one year biking up the road to Cabrillo National Monument in a thunderstorm. It was cool.

Not much to say about 45, except that i am now in a new age group running-wise. My Boston qualifying time goes all the way up to 3:30. Of course, i am also now closer to 50 than 40, which is mildly depressing. But the way i figure it the older i get the more bad-ass i will seem compared to my peers until someday i'll be the Gengis-freaking-Khan of my nursing home.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Laid Off

Yesterday i got laid off from Slacker, the first time in my career that i've been thrown off the ship rather than kept around to help it sink with dignity. It also marks the first time since college that both my wife and i are not employed.

I can't claim that i'll miss the job much-- i've been struggling for months to make something interesting out of what had basically become pointless data munging. But unlike all of my previous jobs, Slacker was the first place where i was interested in the product from a consumer standpoint. My G2 is really the first portable music device i've owned that makes any sense to me. Digital convergence might spell the end of Slacker as a hardware company, but i hope the service survives in some form, if only because it makes the long runs a bit less boring.

Whatever i do next, i hope it's more in the realm of building stuff. I never quite figured out how to turn measuring into creating. It's the same problem i've had with managing people i guess, in that no matter how hard i work i don't get any feeling of accomplishment. It's unlikely that i'll be working in music, and i'll miss that, though there were also times when i felt mildly soulless when attempting to make quantitative judgements about musical preferences. As i keep saying, so many of my own musical discoveries are made by accident that i'm skeptical of the entire business of automated recommendation. Or maybe i just want to believe that we're harder to figure out than some people think we are.

I'm supposed to be going through some sort of anger, denial, acceptance process after being laid off, but to be honest i'm pretty OK with it (or maybe i'm just in a prolonged denial phase). We are not in any sort of financial danger, and it's not proving to be the blow to my ego that i always feared it might be. It's not that i don't care, but rather that i don't really treat my job as an aspect of my self-worth anymore.

Monday, December 01, 2008


I was a huge fan of R.E.M. back in my college days, and the album Murmur holds a special place in my heart. For some reason, my wife and i played this CD constantly in our first apartment after we got married, and it still reminds of those simpler, happy days.

It's been 25 years since Murmur was released, and it's almost shocking to think that it's been around for more than half of my life. It still sounds pretty fresh, and i don't think it would be out of place among modern indie releases. In fact, it sounds like the album that i keep hoping My Morning Jacket will make.

There are so many songs on this album that i still love. Sitting Still is one of my favorite songs ever, and Perfect Circle bypasses all defenses and buries itself directly in whatever part of my brain is responsible for melancholy. Of course, Radio Free Europe has to be one of the best pop songs the band ever wrote, even if i feel like i've heard it a few too many times now.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Do You Want To Live Forever?

I was reading an article a couple of days ago that claimed "the first person to live 1000 years on Earth has probably already been born". I'm not sure how much credence i give to the science behind this claim, but it made me confront the question of whether or not i would want that. I'm not speaking about the general societal impact of having a bunch of superannuated resource drains who have long since outlived their 401k income. I mean would I, personally, want to live that long?

It seems like anyone would want to live as long as possible assuming decent health and a basic level of material comfort. But i'm not so sure. Human beings are really not designed to comprehend epic sweeps of time. We regard 100 years as a vast lifetime, and i suspect that we've evolved to feel certain ways at certain points of our development. Do we really want to live for 30 or 40 years in which we experience the intense emotions of intellectual discovery, love, sex, parenthood, marriage, etc. followed by centuries of relative sameness? As it is i have much to look forward to in terms of my kids' lives and possibly my grandchildren, but enthusiasm for one's descendants surely dims after a few generations.

The other concern i have about hyper-extended lifetimes is that the probability of ending up with the words "freak accident" in your obituary goes way up. I'd assume that to live 1000 years you'd have to be essentially immune from cancer, heart disease, and most of the other natural causes. So the only thing that can kill you is an accident. That probably makes you more cautious than you'd be given a normal lifespan if only because you don't want to be the guy who bites it only 18 years into your millenium.

The average lifespan has increased substantially over the last couple of centuries, but increasing that span by another order of magnitude would require an entirely new way of thinking about our lives. It would also depend a lot on the individual. My grandmother is 97, but she's been unhappy since roughly World War II, so she would probably not welcome another nine centuries. I have a hard time imagining what my goals in life would be if i were given a thousand years to accomplish them. Possibly, every century or so i'd have to start all over: go back to college, learn a new career, move to a new country. Sub-divide my life into several sections and take a different path each time.

Monday, November 03, 2008


I'm through 3 weeks of my training program for the LA Marathon-- 51, 55, and 51 miles respectively. It's been tougher than i'd hoped, mostly because my hip bursitis has been hurting worse than normal. It's going to be hard to get through another 15 weeks, especially as the mileage and pace ramp up. Fortunately, daylight savings time finally ended so it's not dark until 6:30 in the morning any more, at least until mid-December. It will start getting colder though.

This is the 3rd time in 4 years that i'll be training through the holidays. It's brutal, because well-meaning people inundate your home and workplace with high-calorie, low-nutrient food; and being hungry most of the time it's too convenient to grab a couple of cookies rather than something more healthful. It also means lots of cold mornings in my case; and my brain resists getting out from under the covers on those chilly dark mornings. I do however enjoy the feeling of running into the dawn. The light at dawn, in that brief transition between night and day, is almost mystical. I always try to get up for it when i'm camping, but it's even more satisfying when you're running because you feel more like part of that outdoor world.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Maynard Is Scary

Maynard James Keenan is a scary dude. It's not because he's physically imposing or even attempting to be scary, like say a Marilyn Manson or some black metal demon worshiper. In some of these Tool videos from the 90s it's possibly that he was, as Bill Hicks said, "reeeeeallll fucking high", but even taking that into account he's frightening, in the way that nocturnal animals and nightmares are frightening.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

...And These Are My Shoes

I was cleaning out my closet, and i discovered that i have more shoes than i thought.

Not exactly Imelda Marco territory, but still more than i would have guessed. Of course, 5 of these pairs are running shoes, 2 are biking, 1 basketball, and 1 hiking. Next up, my lovely collection of bags (seriously, i have a hiking backpack, 2 hydration packs, a couple of cargo bags, a Chrome bike messenger bag, an UnderArmor backpack, and one actual suitcase). It's amazing how much money you can spend over time and still end up in the same sartorial domain as a physics grad student.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Self Surveillance

I've been reading the book Distracted:The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age by Maggie Jackson (excellent read BTW). There's a section on surveillance that i can't adequately summarize here, but one of the key points is that surveillance is about control. Control, whether it's over your children, employees or citizens is antithetical to trust. Surveillance attempts to make people behave by reminding them that they are being watched, while trust requires the assumption that people will use their best judgement even when nobody is watching.

A meme that i've seen lately trying to escape the primordial ooze of the internet is the idea of self-surveillance. Just to be clear self-surveillance is the process of monitoring one's self, as opposed to surveillance directed outward on the rest of the world (which has been called sousveillance or inverse surveillance). Self-surveillance is basically just a software-assisted form of what calorie counters and budget minders have been doing for ages. However, the ubiquity of the internet, GPS, and other self-sensors make the process simpler and more comprehensive than previously. You can monitor calories and fitness, track your attention, track your sleep while you sleep, and if you're not sleeping you can keep score of, ahem, other things. [I got these examples from FlowingData, an awesome web site for data geeks]

No doubt self-surveillance is about control, and i think there's an element of self-mistrust also (keeping a diet log is often less about keeping precise calorie totals than being honest with yourself). As an avid runner, i've kept track of the distance and duration of my workouts for several years, ostensibly for improvement but i also have to admit that logging a run is as satisfying as checking something off your to-do list. It's very easy to buy into the idea that if you can measure it, you can improve it; and the more you can measure... you see where this is going.

Still there's something unsettling to me about self-surveillance. In part it's the same vague unease that i have with recommendation technology and my concern that trying to discern preferences from behavior limits the serendipitous discoveries. With self-surveillance i'm concerned that monitoring is a way to replace reflection, in the same way that our attempts to manage a flood of information have supplanted deep thought on any particular subject. It's true that keeping a budget can improve one's finances and logging your diet might improve your health. But human beings don't always improve incrementally. Mistakes, accidents, and the occasional delusion seem to be necessary elements in human growth, sort of like how mutations can lead to both harm and evolution.

Of course, another problem with self-surveillance is that it facilitates regular surveillance. Every signal you emanate, every database you update, every link that you establish between disparate sources is a potential channel for the watchers too. That might seem like a strange concern for those of us already exposing so much of our lives on blogs and social networks, but there's a big difference between what we actually do and what we "surface". It seems likely to me that there will be a reaction to self-surveillance that explores the precise technical nature of trust and privacy.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Imogen Heap - Hide and Seek

I'm not a huge Imogen Heap/Frou Frou fan, but this song is amazing (even if it was used in an episode of The OC). This live version is pretty good, but it doesn't have the strangeness of the full-on vocoder version on Speak For Yourself.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Encounter With An Alien

[Had to resort to purchasing a new PC to get back up and running. It's abso-freaking-lutely amazing what you can buy for $500 these days. ]

I came home from the store and found that a hummingbird had flown into my garage and was trying persistently to get to the bush behind the garage through the closed window. I tried to coax it toward the door and i actually got it to perch on the end of a broom handle a couple of times, but it was determined to find a way through the glass.

After a few minutes of furious effort it got tangled in some cobwebs and slid down to the sill. It sat there motionless, except for the flicking of its tounge. To my amazement it allowed me to wrap it in a cotton cloth and pick it up. They are so small and delicate that i wasn't sure that i could get a grip on it without injuring it, but i was able to move it outside and place it in the bush. It sat motionless for several minutes, and then we noticed that it seemed to be suspended by its wings, so we gave it a bit of a perch and it flew away.

I have an uneasy feeling that he or she probably did not fair well from the experience, but i guess i'm glad that it was at least able to fly. I have a strange affection for hummingbirds (for the record it was an Anna's hummingbird, but i'm not sure of the gender). I've had numerous close encounters with hummingbirds over the years-- they have often hovered directly in front of my face for several seconds. Clearly a creature that will bang into a pane of glass until exhaustion has no significant intellect, but there is something both alien and endearing about them.

Friday, October 03, 2008

The Demeanors @ Epicentre, Tonight


The Gateway PC that serves as the communal computer at home has become brain damaged. After restoring it twice, i've decided that it probably has a more serious problem than i first thought and it needs to be replaced. I just need to get 11Gb of ITunes downloads transferred off of it first.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Nathan at SOMA Show

Nathan at SOMA Show
Originally uploaded by mikemull
I like this photo. The black and white gives it more drama, and the "spirit fingers" in the foreground are actually a bit ghostly.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Palin Comparison

This presidential campaign is the first in which people of my generation are a part of either ticket. As it happens we have Barack Obama, who is a couple of years older than i and Sarah Palin who is a couple of months younger. Similar age is about the only thing they have in common though, beyond the trivial coincidences of living in the same nation and being of the same species.

It's no surprise that i support Obama and disdain Palin. Obama is well educated, enlightened and informed. Palin is not, which is fine, but not really what i'm looking for in a potential president. I don't like the fake-folksy demeanor, the persistent reinterpretation of history, or the staunch pro-life stance (people compare Palin to Reagan, but she's much more like W). I am concerned that she is ignorant of foreign policy, and that she's embroiled in various small-time political scandals that indicate a tendency to seek and abuse power.

Worse though is the religious rhetoric, and the fundamentally (no pun intended) anti-intellectual views that she espouses. I don't think she's smart enough to be intentionally theocratic, but clearly she's the sort who cannot separate her fundamentalist beliefs from her political actions. Like all religious neo-conservatives she will rail against the "terrorists" (viz. Muslims), but the real enemies of her belief system are skeptics, freethinkers, scientists, seekers of truth. Her ideas would be loathsome to a John Adams or a Thomas Jefferson, as they are clearly loathsome to the woman with whom she is most frequently contrasted: Hillary Clinton.

I'm confounded how any fraction of the 70% of the population who disapproves of Bush can support Sarah Palin, who is essentially a female version of the same thing. I'm not exactly an Obama groupie. I have issues with his traditionally liberal view of government and i'm nervous about how his tax restructuring will affect people in California where so much of one's income goes to housing. But he's such a vastly superior human being in all respects that it's really no contest. I know that the dyed-in-the-wool conservatives will vote McCain/Palin regardless, but anybody who's undecided at this point must seriously consider the very real possibility of President Palin. I do not want the first President of my generation to be such a poor representative.

Monday, September 22, 2008

LA Marathon

I've been planning to run the LA Marathon in 2009, as my second attempt to break the 3 hour mark. It's not a super-fast course, but i figured it had the advantage of being a short road trip and a familiar place. Even though it's not on a par with the other major city marathons yet, i want to run it once just to check it off the list.

However, it's starting to be more of an adventure than i expected. The race has been operated for several years by an outfit called Devine Sports. They scheduled the 2009 race for Sunday, March 1st. However, Devine has had some financial trouble, and according to a recent LA Times article, Devine sold the event to an organization created by Frank McCourt, the owner of the LA Dodgers. That alone wouldn't be a big deal, but the new organization apparently plans to move the race to Monday, Feb. 19 (President's Day). True, it's still early enough that most people aren't too deep into their training cycle; but that's still gotta be a big ship to steer in another direction.

I'm undecided about what i'll do now. I like the idea of a Monday marathon (very Boston-like), but it means i have to start my training program two weeks early. That doesn't sound like much, but since i like to run in the mornings it means starting before the DST time change and even more dark, cold mornings. That week is also what we affectionately call "ski week" around here, meaning that my kids have the whole week off so we go snowboarding. My alternatives are the Napa Valley marathon on March 1, or maybe waiting all the way until summer and doing the Rock'n'Roll San Diego again.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

David Foster Wallace

I know it's peculiar to mourn a complete stranger, but i find myself very sad today at the news of David Foster Wallace's suicide. If you're not familiar with his writing, you should be. But it's not just that he was a significant writer. To me he was a symbol of success for a way of thinking that was intelligent, broadly curious, and never intellectually satisfied. He was funny and human but never simple. He was the sort of person i would like to be. To think that even he could not cope is profoundly depressing.

If you don't know his work, start with A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again. It's one of my favorite non-fiction books, and probably my favorite book title ever. This is a collection of essays, but the title essay is the real payoff.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Fender Mustang

My son Nathan has become something of a guitar nerd. He can identify guitars in videos and movies, and he's always on the lookout for deals on E-Bay and elsewhere for lefty guitars. He finally found one that met both his standards and his price. This is a Fender Mustang, which was the favorite guitar of famous lefty, Kurt Cobain. Clearly, i'm not crazy about Cobain being a role model, but it is a pretty cool guitar.

Monday, September 01, 2008

TransRockies Recap

The TransRockies run is hard, tough, grueling, exhausting; all adjectives that are necessary but not sufficient to describe the experience. It is difficult because of the altitude, the climbing, the distance, the daily wear and tear, the sleeping in tents, the carrying of gear on one's back, etc. On the other hand, it is six days where you don't have to worry about much else beyond running. In fact, it'd be a pretty good way of life-- get up, eat, run, eat, hang out, eat, sleep, repeat. Roughly speaking, the TransRockies is somewhere between traveling circus and military exercise.

Still, it's pretty hard, especially for us sea-level folk. Running a 100+ mile week is tough in any case but i was surprised at just how much of a toll the altitude could take. At 8 or 9000 feet it slows you down; at 11000 feet it makes you delirious.

Day 0 - Denver to Buena Vista

On Sunday, I arrived at the Denver airport along with hundreds of Democratic National Convention attendees. I had about 3 hours to kill before the shuttle would pick us up for the trip to Buena Vista. By 1pm four TR teams had assembled, including myself and Mr. P. We didn't chat much with the other teams on the way out, but later on it would come in handy to know these particular runners.

We got to Buena Vista in late afternoon, and checked in our team. Buena Vista is a cute little town, with a mixture of older buildings and modern stores and hotels. It's pretty easy to walk from end to end, which we did a couple of times in going from the Super 8 to check-in, and then back to the community center for the pre-race barbecue. On the way home from the latter we got rained on and jogged back to our motel, which was a disconcerting introduction to the difficulty of running at this altitude. A few hours after the barbecue we got hungry again and went to the local Mexican restaurant for a snack.

Day 1 - Buena Vista to Numbers - 13 miles

We went back to the community center for our first pre-race breakfast, which was good but seemed heavy at the time. We met a couple from Maine; the husband had been asked to come out and play music at the campfire for the Salomon runners and employees.

The first day was a "gentle" introduction to the altitude. We started at Buena Vista and ran primarily on a gravel road that ran along the Arkansas River. It was a relatively mild incline, and a total distance of just under 13 miles. At my normal altitude that'd be an easy 1:40 or so. We worked pretty hard to finish in 1:54, about 30 minutes behind the race leaders. Maybe this altitude thing was gonna be harder than i thought.

After the race we soaked in the river for a while, and then caught a shuttle to the nearby Arrowhead campground, which was the site of our first tent city. After settling in, we traveled into Buena Vista with some other runners, our purpose being to buy some gloves for Mr. P. We also got some Alleve and the other runners got beer-- a sort of combination carb source and sleep aid for runners.

Tent City at Arrowhead Campground

Day 2 - Vicksburg to Twin Lakes - 10 miles

The second day was the shortest mileage of the week, but we were still all a bit anxious about it because it would also be our highest altitude. The first half of the run, after a short flat section, was a climb up to 12,600 foot Hope Pass. It was an exhausting climb. The slopes were never too brutal, but at 12000 feet it's tough to keep moving. Coming up over the pass and seeing the Twin Lakes area in the distance is one of the highlights of the week. The single track descent on the other side is fun too, because it's both beautiful country and well-maintained trail. It eventually took us 2:24 to finish the run, both the hardest and slowest 10 miles i've ever run.

After the run, a shuttle took us into Leadville, which is a Mecca of sorts for trail athletes, both runners and mountain bikers. Leadville was my favorite stopping point in the race. It has decent restaurants and shops, but doesn't seem like a tourist trap. This was also our first experience of the "portable shower truck", basically a semi-trailer with shower stalls and a set of sinks outside. Without this innovation, the event would probably not be very popular.


Day 3 - Leadville to Nova Guides - 24 miles

The third day was the first long day, and the longest day of the week in terms of mileage. The profile didn't look too bad-- there was one climb and descent to about 7 miles, and then another climb to about 15 miles, after which the rest was downhill and flat. I felt OK on the first climb, but the second was hard. By the 15 mile control station i was tapped out, and i had to do a GU shot. That seemed to help a bit and we moved well through the downhill section. The last 3 miles was a flat section on a dirt road leading into Camp Hale. It was pretty hard but i vowed to continue running, no matter how slow. We finished in 4:24, which was at least within our limit of 4:30, so we felt good about it.

Our camp site for the night was a place informally called Nova Guides. Actually, there's a sort of lodge there operated by the Nova Guides, an outfit that does everything from jeep trips to rafting. They have a restaurant, and a grassy area where we could stretch out and rest. We also had a memorable dinner that night. Mr. P and i sat with a group of young women who are all in the military. I can't remember the last time i've laughed so much.

The campfire that night was a bit rowdy, in part because there wasn't anywhere else to go, and in part because several people got involved in the music making. It was fun, but i was more interested in the sky, which without much artificial light was deep and detailed.

The circus comes to Nova Guides

Day 4 - Nova Guides to Red Cliff - 14 miles

The fourth day was slightly shorter, but had another tough climb at the start. It wasn't obvious from the elevation profile, but it turned out to be very steep at the top part of the climb, and everyone slowed to a crawl over the last mile. At the top though we had a beautiful section of trail along a ridge with great views in every direction. For some reason, i was feeling relatively good this day and managed to keep up with Mr. P despite his much longer stride. We totally bombed the downhill and had our best finish of the race, albeit in a none-too-speedy 2:34. Still, it moved us up a couple of spots in the overall ranking.

Our stopping point for that night was the town of Red Cliff. There's not a lot to Red Cliff, but it does have this amazing bar/restaurant called Mango's. They have probably the best fish tacos i've ever had outside of San Diego. We sat near the race leaders that evening, Erik Skaggs and Max King, the latter of whom had been in the shuttle with us from Denver Airport. It was kind of cool to talk about running and other stuff with the elites of the race; something that would not likely happen in a typical race.

Red Cliff

Day 5 - Red Cliff to Vail - 23 miles

This was the day that had made me nervous all week. It was long, but the scary part was the elevation profile, which looked like a big "M". Ten miles up, followed by a jagged 5 miles at above 11000 feet, followed by about 9 miles of down.

As it turns out i was right to be concerned. I was feeling relatively good up the first climb, but during the stretch at altitude i began to feel very bad. This was my first real problem with the heights. I began to feel dizzy and a bit nauseous, and there were sections where it felt like i was blacking out between steps. I had to walk a lot on runnable sections, and by the final summit i was beginning to wonder if i would finish. For the first part of the downhill section, i still couldn't get into a rhythm, and had to walk occasionally. After the final control station with 5 miles to go i finally began to feel better, and we ran the last downhill section pretty fast. We had to push to come in under 5 hours, about 4:57. It was a disappointing time, but still one of the hardest physical efforts of my life. This was the only point in the race where i doubted my ability to finish, so the poor time was largely compensated for by the mere fact of finishing.

Our camp site that night was just outside Vail Village, so we were essentially back in civilization. We had cell-phone reception and were relatively close to a Starbucks, so it wasn't quite the hard life. We also had steak that night, for which i'm eternally grateful to the caterer, The Gourmet Cowboy.

Vail Village

Day 6 - Vail to Beaver Creek - 21 miles

The distance and profile looked pretty daunting for the last day, but it was easier to face since we knew we'd be done at the end. Unfortunately, Mr. P was struggling with a sore foot- an apparent case of bursitis at the point where his Achilles tendon connects to the foot. It made it very hard for him to run downhill, which we'd be doing plenty on this day. He still kicked my ass up the hills- even if i could match his cadence he'd pull away since each stride was so much longer.

The run started with a pretty long climb, but it topped out at only 10,500 feet so it seemed much easier than the previous day. We then had a long, steep, descent on a pretty but very narrow single track. It would have been a blast had Mr. P been feeling better.

As a cruel twist, the organizers added another climb with about 5 miles to go. To add insult to injury the very last section of this climb was straight up a ski slope. I felt like i needed a rope to climb it. It sucked. The very last part of the run was another steep downhill cutting across the face of another ski slope. It was an awesome finish, but again pretty hard on Mr. P's injured foot. It was extremely gratifying to run the last few paces into the finish chute, knowing that we'd just finished a damn hard event. There are too many platitudes about the value of finishing over winning, but in this case finishing did feel like a pretty amazing accomplishment.

That night we were comfortably bunked in a hotel in Beaver Creek, with warm showers and flush toilets and cable television. We had our finisher banquet at the Park Hyatt and i got to drink wine (mediocre, way over-priced wine, but still...). We sat with the Polish Gore Tex team and had a good time exchanging stories and jokes (please, no Polish joke comments). By then, i'd started to feel happy about surviving the week without any major injuries, extremes of weather, significant sickness, or encounters with aggro sheep dogs (inside joke, you had to be there). I even started entertaining thoughts of maybe, just maybe, doing it all again some day.

Saturday, August 23, 2008


I was leaving work early yesterday to pick up my younger son for a basketball game at 5pm and i had the radio tuned to local station 94.9. The DJ was doing a bit they do every afternoon called the "Dog Dare", which is basically a song request. The DJ was reading this particular request, which went something like this: "My son Brandon is playing his first professional gig tonight at SOMA with his band, The Demeanors". It was a request from Brandon's dad Rich (Brandon is the Demeanor's excellent drummer). It was pretty cool. The DJ mentioned the band and the show three times, i think.

The show itself was really, really good. I was so impressed. I've heard them play five shows now, but this was far and away the best. Part of it i'm sure was just the superior sound quality of the venue, but i also think that the larger crowd gave the whole thing a higher energy. Although the side stage at SOMA is not a huge space, there were at least 200 people in the crowd and most of them were in to the music.

It was a bit bittersweet for the band though, since this was probably the last show for their trumpet player Jacob. His parents, who are Mormon, decided that the rock-n-roll lifestyle is not in his best interest. I understand their concerns, but he obviously derives great joy from the music, and i can't imagine how hard it must be for them to take it away from him. I of course worry about what Nathan is exposed to, but since he's a straight-A student who keeps up with cello, piano, and cross country i figure i have to give him the benefit of the doubt. In fact, every kid in the band is a wonderful individual, and the type of music is energetic and joyful rather than nihilistic and negative.

Ironically, this was also my first show at SOMA. As an all-ages venue, there haven't been many shows over the years that have been enticing enough to overcome the essential creepiness of being as old as the parents of most fans. I did feel pretty creepy last night-- i figure most of the kids assumed i was a narc-- but there were enough lingering parents around that i wasn't the only creepy dude.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008


TransRockies starts in five days, so at this point there's not much that can be done training-wise. I'm trying to stay virus-free and injury-free, and i'm trying to eat as well (and as much) as possible. I still feel under-trained, but i'm relying on the past five years of regular running and the experience of several marathons and ultras. The altitude is still my biggest concern. I know what it's like to run long distances every day, and i know what to expect in terms of terrain and weather, but the altitude over an entire week is a huge unknown. I'm hoping that the scenery makes up for the suffering.

I was watching the women's Olympic marathon when Deena Kastor, one of my running heroes, had to drop out with a broken foot only 3 miles in. It's hard to imagine how frustrating it must be to train so hard and so long for a particular goal and then to not even have a chance of competing at the end. I've been thinking about what i would do if an injury prevented me from running at TransRockies. In principle, i can walk the whole bloody thing-- there are worse things than a week-long hike through the Rockies. I have to concede though that i'd be disappointed if i could not run the entire distance.

Mr. P and i have a tentative goal of finishing in under 20 hours total. That won't be competitive in our division, but it's respectable. That goal however must be secondary to finishing, surviving, not getting eaten by a bear, etc. I'm more excited for this race than i've been since my first marathon, but like any first-in-category race, it'll probably be more of a learning experience than a competition.

Friday, August 15, 2008

The Brothers, The Brothers

One of my favorite novels is Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment. It's one of the few books i've read multiple times, and back in my college days i read portions of it in the original Russian. I love Russian literature in general, and over the years I’ve read everything from Lermontov to Tolstoy to Bulgakov. But for some reason, I never read The Brothers Karamazov. I’m not sure why—maybe it’s because they made a movie out of it that had William Shatner playing one of the brothers.

Despite that I had high expectations for the book, and I really wanted to love it the way I love Crime and Punishment. When I started to read it a couple of months ago, I assumed that I’d eventually be drawn into it, even if the beginning was a bit slow. In theory, this is exactly the sort of book I like: deep, philosophical themes couched in a murder mystery/courtroom drama. But, Jesus, the most interesting thing that happens in the first 300 pages is the death of a monk ('cause he's really old -- no mystery here).

It's an incredibly complex novel. The structure, the characters, and the subject matter all serve to explore themes of faith vs. rationalism and what is morally permitted if there is no God. And of course, there are the Freudian overtones in the story of a son killing his father over a woman. The three (or four) brothers cover a spectrum of different personalities and represent the paths you can take in life and the dilemma in the fact that you can't choose all of the paths. But i just didn't feel it, like with Crime and Punishment.

Crime and Punishment is not a happy book. In fact, it's a bit oppressive at times. But what always struck me about the book is that you feel this oppressiveness in the writing, you feel Raskolnikov's fear and guilt. I never really felt sympathetic at all with the characters in The Brothers Karamazov. It may be that i read it too late in life-- all of the brothers are still young men and it's hard for me to relate to any of them. If there's a character in the book to whom i most closely correspond it would be the father, Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov, who is an ... um ... i forget the Russian word for "asshole".

Crime and Punishment also works better as a crime story. Even though you know the murderer from the outset, there's a fascination in the way the detective in the story hounds Raskolnikov (this is the basis for the television show Columbo). In The Brothers Karamazov you know that the accused is not the murderer, and furthermore the actual murderer is revealed before the trial starts. There is "drama" in the trial, but no real suspense. It must have been incredibly frustrating to the people reading it in the original serialization.

Like all Russian realism, everything in the book is supposed to be significant, but i'm still scratching my head over certain characters, like Ilyusha, a boy who is at first tormented by his peers and then becomes their friend just in time to die. I'm still not sure about the significance of the Elder Zosima (the aforementioned dead monk) either. His death involves one of the strangest episodes in the book. Although i suppose it's yet another illustration of the boundaries of faith, it's really surreal. The one thing that this book has over Crime and Punishment is a sense of humor. However, it's not the sort of humor that will have you laughing out loud. It comes out more in absurd contrasts or gentle pokes at a character's foibles.

I regret that i no longer have the ability to read the book in Russian. Although i read what seems to be regarded as the best current English translation, the language still didn't ring true. From what i understand Dostoevsky's prose in this book is a bit unorthodox to begin with, so a translation is bound to seem odd no matter how skillful.

Monday, August 11, 2008

The Demeanors @ SOMA, August 22

The kid's band is opening a show at SOMA on the 22nd. Ironically, he didn't know who that is on the poster.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

TransRockies Training

This was a tough week. I did several trail runs, and including last weekend i've done 90 miles in the last 9 days, including over 40 in the last 3. This morning was my first run over 3 hours since the New York marathon, but this was much harder given that a large portion of that time was climbing to the top of Mt. Woodson from the Lake Poway side. I'm a bit fried, but i'm still not sure i'm fit enough for TransRockies. We'll finish, but i'm dreading Day 4, when we'll be doing our second consecutive 20+ mile run. Day 6 is also over 20, but there we have the promise of relief at the end. I'd feel much better if i get could get in a couple of 70 mile weeks, but i think that i need to taper for these last 2 weeks.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Monday, August 04, 2008

San Jacinto

This weekend Mr. P (my friend and TransRockies teammate) came to San Diego to do some training. He flew in on Friday night, then on Saturday morning we ran down the Silver Strand-- the sliver of man-made land between Coronado Island and Imperial Beach. We did about 16 miles, but it was nice and flat. Afterward, i went to my weekly kung fu lesson and Mr. P drove up to Joshua Tree to do some bouldering.

Our real intent for the weekend was to run up Mt. San Jacinto from the Mountain Station at the top of the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. It's only an 11 mile round-trip, but it's single track trail and most importantly it's at a decent altitude (the peak of San Jacinto is a bit over 10000 feet). This was meant to be more psychological preparation for the Rockies since one run at altitude wouldn't affect our fitness much.

Turns out it was pretty hard. Although i'd backpacked the trail in the past, i'd forgotten how technical it is. Lots of rock-hopping and step-ups, not to mention tree roots that i tripped over about every 10 yards. The altitude did affect us, especially on the stair-step sections. I got the same dizzy sensation i get after getting choked in submission grappling. It took us a sobering 1:15 to do the 5.5 mile up to the top (about 13:40 pace). The downhill trip was a touch faster at 55 minutes, but not much easier on the legs. We did stop briefly at the top to drink some water and take some goofy cell-phone pics:

Mr P. pretending to be exhausted

Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated.

It was a revealing run, but i think it accomplished its purpose. Some of our days in the Rockies will be about twice this run, and we'll have to get up and do it again the next day. I think this gave us a good idea how hard we can afford to run and how easy we'll have to take it after each run to be ready for the next one. I think most of the trail that we run in the Rockies will be slightly less brutal, but i think i'll need to run some stairs or something over the next few weeks.

I managed about 52 miles this week, but i still feel horribly under-trained for TransRockies. I'm probably going to have to do one more hard week before tapering.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Running With My Son

I've got just over 4 weeks until the Trans-Rockies run, and i really need to be doing more mileage. I had planned to do about 15 today, but after doing 10 hilly miles on the trails near Black Mountain Ranch on Saturday, i just wasn't feeling it. So i decided to go run the 5-mile loop at Lake Miramar, and i asked my older son Nathan if he wanted to come along. He's training to run cross country when he starts high school this fall, so five miles is about right for him.

This is the first time that we've ever really run together. I know that he can run a relatively fast mile, but i didn't know what to expect for a longer run. I let him set the pace at the outset and he hit a pretty comfortable stride right away. We did the first mile in an easy 7:30 or so, and more or less stuck to that pace. He's got a nice, long stride and seems to be pretty fit (it doesn't hurt that he's skinny as a rail) . We did the full five miles in about 37 minutes-- not super fast but i was still pretty impressed. He was clearly not pressing to keep that pace and probably could have done under 7 minute pace in race circumstances. Maybe not fast enough for cross country yet, but much better than most adults can run.

Eventually he's going to be kicking my ass, but i intend to delay that for as long as i can.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Danny Perez Defeats Danny Z

Went to see pro boxing at 4th & B in downtown San Diego last night. One of my wife's friends and former instructors, Danny Perez, started his middle weight comeback with a pretty decisive 6-round unanimous decision over Serbian Daniel Stanisavljevic.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Most Interesting Person In The World

Dos Equis has been running an ad campaign based around "the most interesting man in the world". I think it's a really cool idea, but they spoiled it for me by making the attributes of the most interesting man more supernatural than interesting. Still, it got me thinking. Most people know somebody who seems to live larger than everybody else. So, who really is the most interesting person in the world?

I know lots of people who've done interesting things, or have interesting qualities. I know people who travel to exotic places as casually as others go out to dinner. I have a friend who's Bulgarian by birth, Canadian by citizenship, speaks five languages and is an avid windsurfer; most of that also applies to his Russian wife who defected when she was a member of a traveling Soviet soccer team. I have a friend who has climbed all the 14000 foot peaks in the US, in between scuba diving and rock climbing. I have several friends who have started successful, interesting businesses; or have established lives in unusual out-of-the-way places. I used to have a Romanian friend whose father was a well-known opera singer. He had lived in Paris, and one time when we were in Cambridge our waitress at a French restaurant practically sat down to have dinner with us because she was so impressed by his French accent. So if i, with my relatively mundane existence, know such interesting people there must be someone out there who intrigues even other interesting people.

The characteristics of an interesting person are subjective i'm sure, but this is my take: an interesting person has several well-developed abilities; they are probably multi-lingual, probably athletic, individualistic, and a little bit eccentric. He or she would not be a major celebrity, but might be prominent within his or her field. An interesting person would be well traveled, but not like a tourist. Travel would either be an aspect of this person's profession, or just an outgrowth of wanderlust or some sort of personal journey of discovery. This person would have an easy familiarity in numerous cultures, but would still seem somewhat mysterious in any of them. He or she would have a history that couldn't be entirely revealed, like a brush with the law or a stint in some secretive branch of the military. It would be a person who's not fabulously wealthy, but who never seems to lack for means. An interesting person will have some scars.

I don't have many candidates, who aren't either fictional or dead (Indiana Jones, Sir Richard Francis Burton, Gertrude Bell, Rick Blaine). I suppose many journalists could be considered, like Christiane Amanpour or Robert Fisk. Certain authors could also-- i'd include Peter Matthiessen-- and i'm sure a list of MacArthur grant recipients would yield numerous candidates. Valerie Plame, especially before her cover was blown. Any of hundreds of explorers, inventors, athletes, entrepreneurs and performers could likely be identified. Still, i'm convinced that there's a person out there who is the most fascinating of the fascinating, though i suspect that he or she does not in fact prefer Dos Equis.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Spiders Are Such Assholes

Yeah, spiders look cool and they're useful and all, but they're real assholes too. If you don't find yourself outside early in the morning you might not know this, but they leave their webs strung around all over the place and there's nothing more irritating than having to get a spider web off of your face.

Actually, i really dig spiders. This is a Black Widow that i photographed behind my house last week. What an amazing creature.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Amy Smith

This is an amazing human being:

Wednesday, July 16, 2008


I took the Implicit Association Test at Harvard's Project Implicit to see if i have any automatic preference for thin people over fat people. It concluded that i don't. What led me to try this was an article on the "fattist" overtones of the Pixar movie Wall-E. If you haven't seen the movie, the humans on the spaceship that left earth 700 years earlier are all obese, supposedly because they do nothing but eat and float around playing video games. Probably a dozen generations of exposure to micro-gravity have not helped, but that's never mentioned. What has upset some people is the implication that these fat humans are literally responsible for the destruction of Earth's environment due to their out of control overconsumption.

Or something like that. I'm a bit conflicted over the issue of "fat pride", because my family history would suggest that weight and appetite control have a significant genetic component. I also deeply understand the use of food as an emotional balm. I don't think there's any simple equation that says attractiveness is directly proportional to thinness -- certainly those coat-hanger fashion models are about as scary as humans get. In my profession there is no correlation between size and professional success. But, yeah, i'd rather be thin than fat.

I don't mean skeletal, more like athletic. It's not so much about appearance as about quality of life. If, like me, you take pleasure in running, jumping, moving in general then fat is an impediment. There are some great athletes who are heavy and there are many people who look good despite having no athletic inclinations. But, jeesh, people of my generation have become so sedentary that they might as well be a brain in a bell jar. So maybe i'm not fattist, but i do have a prejudice against people who have decided, prematurely in my opinion, that being fat is not only inevitable but preferable to getting off the goddamn couch.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Of Fleecy Marmots and Other Fun Toys

I spent my afternoon at REI buying gear for the TransRockies run. I wanted to get a lighter-weight fleece, even though i have a pretty good one already. Got a pretty good deal on this Marmot model:

On the positive side it's really fun to say "fleecy marmot". Not sure why. On the down side, the older i get the more i look like Max Schreck from Nosferatu, so i should probably avoid black garments with high collars.

I also got a Camelbak hydration pack:

I think this might be a bit heavy though, so i might trade it in for something lighter.

And, some new North Face trail shoes:

I'm not a big fan of trail shoes-- they're bulky and hot-- but i figure the Rockies will be, well, rocky. The major benefits of trail shoes are the tread and the sturdier soles, which isolate you from sharp edges.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Michael Johnson 400m WR

This is amazing- Michael Johnson's 400 world record from 1999. Off the final turn Johnson looks like he's running a different race than his competitors.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Dark Leopards of the Moon

I've been reading a lot of poetry recently, which one of my college lit professors claimed was a symptom of clinical depression. Whatever. Personally i think it's because of that video game commercial that uses the We Happy Few speech from Henry V-- such a great pep talk.

My tastes do run toward the melancholy (William Cullen Bryant's Thanatopsis is probably my favorite poem), but i mostly like interesting language and cryptic imagery. At the moment, i'm mildly obsessed with William Butler Yeats. I think certain poets make more sense at certain times of one's life. In my college years, it was Leaves of Grass because Whitman seemed like he was always spurring you on to some journey. Yeats seems to be the poet of aging men. It might not be apparent in The Second Coming, probably his best known poem; but Sailing to Byzantium or Men Improve with the Years are poems that probably only make sense to someone who has reached a certain age. I love the second half of the third stanza of Byzantium:
Consume my heart away; sick with desire
And fastened to a dying animal
It knows not what it is; and gather me
Into the artifice of eternity
The phrase "fastened to a dying animal" is one of those amazing poetic tropes that could not be revised.

My introduction to Yeats (beyond The Second Coming -- everybody has heard the "What rough beast...slouches toward Bethlehem..." line) was from the Waterboys' song "The Stolen Child", which is basically Yeats' poem set to music. Much of Yeats' poetry based on Irish folk legend doesn't resonate with me like his other works, but this version is surprisingly effective because each stanza of the poem ends with the same lines, which the Waterboys sang as a chorus.
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand
My favorite thing about Yeats is the degree to which he sometimes takes his symbolism, which results in lots of strangely satisfying WTF? moments when reading his poems. My favorite image is from Lines Written in Dejection:
WHEN have I last looked on
The round green eyes and the long wavering bodies
Of the dark leopards of the moon?
All the wild witches, those most noble ladies,
For all their broom-sticks and their tears,
Their angry tears, are gone.

The holy centaurs of the hills are vanished;
I have nothing but the embittered sun;
Banished heroic mother moon and vanished,
And now that I have come to fifty years
I must endure the timid sun.
Dark leopards of the moon? The hell you say? When i start my geriatric death metal band, that will be our name.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Western States 100 Canceled

Wow. This is such a bummer. The very first marathon i was supposed to run was canceled due to wildfires, but i was able to find another marathon the same weekend (albeit in Boise, Idaho). I can't imagine the disappointment these folks must feel.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

The Claw

Mirror 001
Originally uploaded by mikemull
I was goofing around with my Canon, taking flash pictures in the mirror in my living room. When i looked at this one it freaked me out, because there was this bizarre claw-like image centered almost directly on my shirt. Being a skeptical sort i did not immediately assume that i had capture some angry poltergeist, but i didn't really know what caused it.

Upon closer inspection it turned out that one of my kids (or one of his friends) had placed their hand against the mirror and had created this identical pattern on the surface. I'm not sure if the flash reflected the image back at me, or if it was partially absorbed, or whatever. I'm thinking about having this silk-screened on a shirt.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Guitar Lounge

Guitar Lounge 1
Originally uploaded by mikemull
I kind of like this photo. The interesting thing is that it's not posed-- this is just what the room looked like when i walked in. Nathan and his friend Won Ji were trying to record stuff, and they just happened to be using the furniture as guitar stands (that's Henry on the couch with the guitars, watching Spongebob).

Sunday, June 22, 2008

TransRockies Run

I and my friend and former kung fu instructor (who i'll just refer to as Mr. P) were hoping to make a trip to hike the Machu Picchu trail this year, but the timing just isn't working out. Instead, we're going to do the TransRockies run, a 6-day two-person team race through the Colorado Rockies. Under normal circumstances it would be a fairly hard event-- 125 miles in 6 days-- but the fact that it's all at 8000 to 12000 feet and i have to sleep in a tent makes it a true adventure. The altitude concerns me, especially Stage 2, which peaks at 12536 feet. Based on past experience, that's gonna be a wind-sucking slog.

This also means i've got to get my running mileage up quicker than i anticipated. The longest leg is only about 24 miles, but the hills and elevation changes are brutal. I also need to drop at least 5 pounds and work on my leg strength. All in all though i'm really psyched. It's been years since i've spent much time in the Rockies and Mr. P and i had a great time on our last adventure race.

We're also going to run under the name of my friend Cathy's business, Pristine Planet. It gave us a team name and, i hope, will get Pristine Planet some attention from the no-doubt environmentally conscious fellow competitors.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Late For The Sky

This is one of Jackson Browne's best songs in my opinion, but it's hard to listen to. It's a beautiful melody, but the lyrics are like a punch in the stomach.

The words had all been spoken
And somehow the feeling still wasnt right
And still we continued on through the night
Tracing our steps from the beginning
Until they vanished into the air
Trying to understand how our lives has led us there

Looking hard into your eyes
There was nobody Id ever known
Such an empty surprise to feel so alone

Now for me some words come easy
But I know that they dont mean that much
Compared with the things that are said when lovers touch
You never knew what I loved in you
I dont know what you loved in me
Maybe the picture of somebody you were hoping I might be

Awake again I cant pretend and I know Im alone
And close to the end of the feeling weve known

How long have I been sleeping
How long have I been drifting alone through the night
How long have I been dreaming I could make it right
If I closed my eyes and tried with all my might
To be the one you need

Awake again I cant pretend and I know Im alone
And close to the end of the feeling weve known

How long have I been sleeping
How long have I been drifting alone through the night
How long have I been running for that morning flight
Through the whispered promises and the changing light
Of the bed where we both lie
Late for the sky

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Ten-Lined June Beetle

Found one of these on the floor of the car:

Image from:

Back on the Run

A couple of weeks ago i did a leisurely run around Coronado Island with my former martial arts instructor. God, it felt so good. I took off a few months from running to try to fix the chronic bursitis in my left hip. It didn't help much, probably because i needed to stop all activity, which, as the world's oldest hyperkinetic, i couldn't do even if i wanted to. Although i've decided that i won't run a marathon this year, i'm going to start running consistently again. I can't really explain why i need to run, especially to the majority of people who regard it as a punishment of sorts, but at this stage of my life it's as much a psychological balm as it is exercise. It helps me sleep, it helps me structure my life, and it's comforting to know that what you get from running is directly proportional to what you commit to it.

This'll be the first year since 2002 that i haven't run a marathon (and the first since 2004 that i haven't run at least two marathons). In some ways it's tempting to call it a career and focus on other activities, but i still have that sub 3-hour goal hanging out there. The 3:02 i ran at last year's Carlsbad marathon convinced me that it was well within my reach, but i'm not quite ready to jump back into 70-mile weeks and 5am runs. I also have it in the back of my head to do Western States one of these days, but since i haven't even done a 50-miler yet, i've got a lot of work to do before i'm ready for 100 miles in the mountains.

I'd also like to run Boston again, i'd like to do LA, London, and maybe the Marine Corps marathon for good measure. So, yeah, i still have a lot of running to get out my system.

Friday, June 13, 2008

The Family Farm

[This is a poem i wrote many, many years ago about the place i grew up]

This place is something I know
something without abstraction that I can
comprehend with only
my eyes.

This thing, a low flat sheet of rough cement that
casts no shadow from the dull light of this sky,
an island of man-made rock amidst mud and thriving weeds.
Structures like these, places like this, leave behind
remnants not ruins.

This is the complete absence of mystery,
the complete knowledge of a place,
a rectangle, cement, and patches of rust,
followed by furrows, nearly straight,
plowed, dirt turned by the
same man.

Sunday, June 08, 2008


When i was a freshman in college i spent a couple of years studying the Hung Gar form of kung fu with a grad student named Aaron Chen. I really loved it, but when Sifu Chen returned to China i didn't seek opportunities to continue. I always wanted to pick it back up, but life intervened. Being primarily interested in Chinese martial arts, it was also harder to find a convenient school, at least compared to the ubiquitous karate and tae kwon do schools.

Flash forward almost twenty years to the start of my midlife crisis. Since i've always been slightly kinesthetic, i figured i needed some sort of skill sport to balance my obsession with endurance sports. As luck would have it, a Chinese martial arts school had opened not far from where i was working at the time. It was not Hung Gar, but it was another southern style called Choy Li Fut. It took me a while, but i finally took off a lunch hour and went over to check it out.

I had some skepticism of an established school like this at first. Sifu Chen had no ranking system. He didn't even have a school-- we just practiced on the school commons or in the gyms. Soon though i was won over, mostly by the skill of the new school's chief instructor, Sifu Ming Lau. There's an Arthur C. Clark quote that goes "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic". I would say the same about sufficiently advanced physical skill. Sifu Lau, like Sifu Chen, could do things that seemed superhuman. It would be years before i would see the breadth of his abilities, but the depth was quickly apparent.

Not quite six years later i've finally managed to advance through all of the basic ranks to achieve my black sash at that school, White Dragon of Mira Mesa. The significance of this black belt status is hard to explain to somebody on the outside of the system. The popular notion of the black belt, i think, is of reaching the pinnacle of a martial system. In our school the black belt conveys some of that and it is the goal of most students when they start. Most people who reach that level are also pretty fit and pretty capable of defending themselves. However, it also implies mastery of only the basics, and it signifies a sort of transition where you have to decide if you will incorporate the martial arts into your life permanently. Although there are advanced tests, it's not really about levels any more. What's left to a person at this point is only to get better-- in short what's left is kung fu.

Although i've got a long way to go to become truly adept, i have to admit that this is one of the more satisfying accomplishments of my adult life. It's not something that i'm naturally gifted at and i had to train pretty consistently for a fairly long time to get to this point. Unlike running marathons there is no age-group standard to measure myself against, so as the years passed i had to work harder to do things that would have been easy for my twenty-something self. The irony is that by the time you reach this point you come to realize that the levels and goals are less meaningful than the process. For me at least, i just love the motion and the contact and the sense of purpose that i get from the martial arts.

Monday, June 02, 2008

The Demeanors at Epicentre, June 6

My kid's band plays at the Epicentre in Mira Mesa on June 6th.

Image by TikiThomas.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Another Country

Before i started working in on-line music i thought that i had fairly broad and eclectic musical interests. I grew up on Bach cantatas and jazz standards and i had explored numerous pop and art music categories. I listened to 12-tone music and Norwegian death metal and Ornette Coleman and music from Africa and Latin America. By the standards of some of the people who work in the music industry, my taste is still very shallow; but i stick to the idea that people who like music will always keep looking for new stuff.

But when i look at other people's professed musical interests, i see one very common theme. After listing a few bands, they will conclude with "i'll listen to anything, except country". It's the "except country" part that gets me. I see this so frequently that it seems like music sites should have two options: (A) country (B) everything but country. I know what people mean when they say this. Historically speaking there has been a lot of dreadful country music, and i've listened to a crapload of it. I grew up in the middle of nowhere and my dad's truck only had an AM radio. We had basically two radio choices: country and talk, by which i mean Less Nessman-style farm reports.

However, country music is a hugely important part of American music (even if it has roots in European folk music), so i'm depressed that so many people have dismissed it out of hand due to a bad experience with a Billy Ray Cyrus song. Also, with apologies to a lot of George Strait and Loretta Lynn fans, i think we're in something of a Golden Age in country music. There are several mainstream country performers that i like right now, and there's a both-way crossover happening between country and other pop categories. Music of course is always a matter of taste, but i'd be honestly surprised if a person couldn't find something on the fringes of the genre that they like.

My first case in point would be Neko Case. She's firmly in the alt. country realm, but her last album Fox Confessor Brings the Flood was indie-rock friendly (and she's also part of indie favorites The New Pornographers). There's something unique and ethereal about her voice that makes me fall a little bit in love with her every time i hear her sing. It's not too far from case to the more accessible songs of Alison Krauss like Restless and The Lucky One, but of course Krauss also has authentic bluegrass credibility (and some rock and roll cred after her recent collaboration with Robert Plant). Krauss has also did one of my favorite country duets ever, the somewhat painful Whiskey Lullaby, with country superstar Brad Paisley. Personally, i like Paisley a lot, although i can see why songs like Ticks would only appeal to someone who grew up in sight of a corn field.

My subversive attempt to get people to listen to country music is my Slacker custom station that i call Another Country, which i borrowed from the title of a Tift Merrit album (yes, she's on the station). I've mentioned my alt. country preferences in the past, and a lot of those bands appear on the station. I've got some of my favorite regular country performers (Paisley, Sugarland, Vince Gill), some more-or-less indie stuff like Okkervil River and The National, southern-ish bands like Drive-By Truckers and My Morning Jacket, old-school country like Hank Williams and Patsy Cline, and a little bit of folk (Richard Thompson, Richard Shindell). My only real criteria are that i like it and it has some tenuous roots-music connection. I've got the music discovery mode on so that related artists get pulled in, but not too much (i'm listening to White Lightning by George Jones as i type this).

I doubt that i'll gain many converts, but i sort of hope that some people will go to it and think "hey, this doesn't sound like country music" at least for a couple of tunes. Or maybe they'll be surprised to find that Buck Owens is pretty decent and not just a Hee Haw comedian. At the least they can verify more rigorously they they don't like country music.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Metal Taxonomy

Cool taxonomy of metal music from Paul Lamere, generated from tags. Not to be picky, but "brutal death metal" seems like a superfluous sub-genre. It implies that other death metal categories are too genteel. It seems like to make death metal more brutal, someone would actually have to die. That would probably be "snuff metal".

Tuesday, May 27, 2008


I have a fascination with crows and ravens (corvids), especially the Common Raven (Corvus Corax) that is so abundant in my part of the world. They don't have quite the grace or swiftness in flight that hawks do, but they have an eerie awareness that shows in their eyes. This TED video by Joshua Klein shows some examples of the surprising intelligence of these birds.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Twenty Years on The Internet

I had the good fortune of starting my life as a wage slave in a small government experiment called a supercomputer center. The original idea behind those federally funded facilities (there were five) was to make expensive computing resources available to a large community of researchers (or, as we called it, a "cycle shop"). Of course, to make a centralized computer available to a decentralized community, you had to string some wires. One of our sets of wires was another, even older, government experiment called the ARPAnet. Or as you might know it, the Internet.

Infrastructurally speaking the Internet then doesn't much resemble the Internet now. You could literally enumerate all of the sites on the network and only a handful were outside of government or educational facilities. We thought T3 was a bad-ass fat pipe, and our client interfaces were telnet and ftp. There wasn't that much interest in the Internet from private companies yet, and the idea of e-commerce was a mere twinkle in the eye of a few forward-thinking lunatics.

But we had TCP/IP so in that sense it was the same Internet that we have now. E-mail really hasn't changed much, except that there was not much spam. Pornography was already firmly established (no pun intended), but it usually amounted to cumbersome reassembling of pictures from Usenet groups so it was no threat to more traditional channels. My first year on the Net saw both the infamous Morris worm, and the first notable prediction of the net's imminent death.

That pre-WWW internet was so nerdy and obscure that years later when people started talking about getting on the Internet it was as if everybody had suddenly decided to learn Morse code and take up ham radio. Still, there was the sense that something unusual was happening, and many of my colleagues from that era ended up in some sort of Internet business. I can't really identify the inflection point, but even though the ARPAnet had already been around for quite some time before i experienced it i think that it was in the period during the late 80s and early 90s that the critical mass was achieved. The true possibilities of the Internet wouldn't really become obvious until the advent of the World Wide Web and the web browser (meaning Mosaic for most of us), but there was already the feeling that this was a new, and inevitable, sort of communication.

It would have been impossible to imagine the scope and influence of the Internet back when i was reading alt.kibology and trying to write code to do socket communication. At the time, futurologists were more fascinated by the prospects of virtual reality and extropianism. The net was envisioned in far more fantastic ways in the cyberpunk novels. Although i'm sure i'd find it if i looked hard enough, i don't recall any predictions at the time that foresaw the huge, but relatively quotidian, impact of the network on our lives. Nobody said "Twenty years from now travel agents will be obsolete and you'll replace television watching with updating encyclopedia articles". Nobody imagined that we'd devote substantial amounts of time to carefully crafted on-line personas or sending random thoughts via cell phone to casual acquaintances.

I hold to the belief that technologies are morally neutral, so i don't have an opinion on whether the Internet is a good thing or not. It has been used in some good ways, and in some very bad ways. But to this point in my life it has been far and away the most interesting technology to arise. Not because i can use Google to find Demetri Martin videos on YouTube in 15 seconds, but because it has been so unpredictable. Just take my former employer Yahoo! as an example. It was amazing that a company with a 40 billion dollar market cap grew out of a couple of guys with a directory of web sites. It was astonishing that a company so successful could be so rapidly supplanted by Google especially in the area of search. It's incredible that the Internet has evolved so rapidly that a company with ten thousand employees, many of whom are brilliant, is struggling to prove its relevance less than 15 years after it was founded. Its almost possible to imagine now that nothing is permanent. Google itself might be following the same arc. Once mighty companies that dominated our time with their television programming, or got us to pay $20 a pop to mediate the process between playing music and listening to music are now dinosaurs.

The most fascinating thing about the Internet is that i have almost no idea what it will look like 20 years from now. I think it might be remade four or five times in that stretch of time. Many more fortunes will be made and bubbles will pop. The next generation of applications built on cloud computing and network storage will probably transform the way we think about using our computers. Or more probably, we will stop thinking about computers as separate appliances at all. In 20 years, access to the Internet will be as casual and ubiquitous as picking up a magazine in a waiting room.