Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Doing Nothing As Training

Sometimes training is doing nothing. Most serious runners realize that deliberate rest and recovery is as much a part of training as is running itself.

Something that might not be quite as well understood is that the same applies to eating. Right now, three days before the Hotfoot Hamster 12-hour race, the very best training I can do is not to add miles and hills and speed, but simply to abstain from eating. So as I sit here at my desk at work, enduring not eating instead of heading for the break room and scooping up some pretzels or chips or going to the cafeteria to buy something, I am doing the best training I can do at this moment.

Thinking about it makes it harder, so I'd better get back to work.

Exercise As a Priority

Commendably, today (August 31, 2005), as the southern part of the Unites States is reeling from the devestation left by hurricane Katrina, the US President opted to cut short his vacation in order to tend to business. It's good to know that he views an emergency that has left hundreds of thousands of the people he serves homeless overnight of sufficient gravity to warrant leaving the ranch and get to work.

Not long ago, on a running list I subscribe to, someone pointed to a news article where the author was critical of the President for insisting on taking the time in his schedule to run and lift weights. The journalist expressed concern that as a head of government perhaps his priorities were misplaced. He asked hypothetically whether it would be appropriate for the President to be training for an Ironman?

In fact, the governor of New Mexico did that very thing while in office not too many years ago, and did well in it.

It seems many persons classify physical exercise with recreation, sports, and other leisure time activities, something that is fine if you have nothing but time to burn, but strictly optional for so-called busy people.

It is indeed a question of the value one attaches to the activities that get priority. The intrinsically lazy will use all manner of excuse to avoid physical exercise. Sometimes those excuses seem entirely reasonable. "The country is being invaded by Martians and it's MY PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY to do something about it." "My mother's funeral is today." "It's too hot out." "My dog is not feeling well." "There's a NASCAR race on TV." People draw the line at different levels, and they do what they have to do based on those rules, whether stated or implicit.

Tied in with the need to exercise are the need to sleep and eat properly. Sometimes it's necessary to lose sleep, or to eat less than ideally. In most cases we adjust over time, because we have a measure of built-in resiliency. It also must be admitted that resiliency is enhanced by a good state of baseline health and fitness. The ability of a few superathletes to run 300 miles in three days or across the country in 70 days bears testimony to that hypothesis.

But it's also true that a person who has gone for a long period without sleep or proper nutrition is not going to be in optimal condition to perform the task to which he or she assigns a higher priority. Would anyone want a political leader who has gone 48 hours without sleep to be the one to make a decision about whether to launch nuclear weapons while in that condition? (I've also heard recently that Mr. Bush insists on getting eight hours of sleep a night, but I don't know if it's true. If it is, I would not fault him for it.)

We are human beings with basic built-in needs. If we ignore them, eventually we suffer.

As for Mr. Bush, one message is clear: If a man that busy can make room for taking care of his physical health, then surely many people who do not do so while claiming that they're "too busy" should be able to do it.

Honest Mistakes

One day a few years ago, after finishing a twenty-mile run at the gym, I stepped into the shower to rinse off, and went out to the pool to do a few relaxing laps. There was no one out there except a young woman swimming in the closest lane, headed up the lane toward me.

I walked about twelve feet from the door to where there are some hooks on the wall to hang my towell, looked down and saw that I was holding my bathing suit in my hand.

It took about two frantic microseconds for me to charge back into the locker room. Fortunately, no one else was around, and I'm pretty sure even the lady swimming probably didn't notice, but I don't know that for a fact.

I could have put my suit on and gone back out, but I was too embarrassed, not only for myself, but for the possibility that if the girl had actually seen me, it might have paniced her into thinking some perverted nut case was on the loose, particularly with no one else in the pool area. So I just got dressed and left. I was otherwise done working out for the day.

Honest mistakes are sometimes very hard to explain. But how much attentiveness does it take to remember to put your pants on before stepping out in public?

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Micro-Thoughts Redux

  • Before my life changed I was a composer. People sometimes ask me: "What kind of music did you write?" I wrote UN-popular music. Some titles:
    • Unpopular Music
    • Neglected Concerto
    • Unknown Symphony
    • Songs Without Words or Music
  • People who never read are ignorant, and they show it. It's easy to tell who doesn't read — except by people who don't read.
  • My daughter is a registered nurse. She doesn't read literature or mysteries or any of the usual self-help books. Instead she buys and pores over weird books with titles like The Professional Nurse's Illustrated Guide to Festering Guts and Rotting Internal Organs.
  • If the Unix vi editor is a world class CAT scanner, then GNU Emacs is an emergency room, and XEmacs is a whole hospital.
    Oh yeah — NotePad? A dirty band-aid.
  • Some people have buns of steel. Some people have buns of angel food cake.
  • Yesterday I went to the doctor and got a clean bill of health. Things are definitely improving. I'm dying much more slowly than I once was.
  • Sometimes I'm overwhelmed by what I don't know.
    Sometimes I'm overwhelmed by what I do know.
  • Using email to send WAV audio files is like trying to send someone a giraffe using the US postal service.
  • My friend's kid is so dumb he punctured his eardrum trying to floss his brain.
  • There's a new study called protocology — the science of protocols.
    Go back and read that word again. It doesn't say what you thought it did.
  • Whoa, what the ...?!! What was that!!?? I think my paradigm just shifted!
  • Long ago there was a Chinese philosopher named Wu Wi. Scholars called him W. W. for short. Later the pundits made that Dubyah Dubyah.
  • Last weekend we went to a club where we heard a new band consisting of three guys who play the guitar slightly better than not very well, and sing not quite as well as they play.
  • Las Vegas — they should put up a sign up where you enter town that says "Money Taken Here!"
  • It's time to start separating the W&W's from the M&M's in your bag.
  • If it was up to my wife, the value of pi would be changed.

Where's the Beef?

Some time ago I learned that Billy Joel has been busy composing "classical music." What this term means to composers of popular music is generally something quite different from what it means to modern, mainstream, "serious" composers. To most pop composers it means putting on a suit and a tie, at least figuratively or mentally, and behaving like stuffed shirts.

In Billy's case it means writing imitation Chopin — competently and agreeably, to be sure, as what I've heard is unquestionably pleasant listening, but is by no means innovative or challenging in any artistic sense. It also means that the millions of listeners who enjoy his superior and original songwriting are being deprived of new output in the genre in which Billy — a.k.a. "William" on the title pages of his classical works — excels in most.

Few composers of pop songs or rock and roll who have ventured into the so-called classical world have created anything of substance. The only composer I can think of who has been successful to any meaningful degree was Frank Zappa. I tend to believe, too, that if the superlative songwriter and movie composer Randy Newman were to take up writing concert music for orchestra or chamber ensembles the results would be interesting at the least and probably charming.

In contrast, in addition to Billy Joel, there has been Paul McCartney, arguably the best songwriter of the twentieth century, whose excursions into orchestral music with his Liverpool Oratorio and Standing Stone are unadventurous extended rambles, which for the most part he was able to compose only with the help of assistants with greater technical skill.

That many existing fans of these composers enjoy such work is no surprise. As one reviewer of McCartney's work illustrated, quoting from columnist Dave Barry, there are plenty of people who are happy to exchange valid U.S. currency for bottled water.

One must not criticize any artist for attempting to reach out in a new direction, for that spark of desire is at the core of the creative process. It is only disappointing to see some who have been successful in their primary calling travel instead down old, safe, and oft-trodden paths.

Sunday, August 28, 2005


Often I procrastinate over starting big or tedious projects, though once I start, I tend to stay on them relentlessly. One reason for this is that an undwindling list of to-do items that can sometimes grow to over 100 entries, many of them important. If I can quickly knock off ten of them I can reduce that list. If I start a big project then I reduce it by only one, and not for a long time, while other things continue to be added to it.

Having said that, it's time for me to tear apart my home office to install the UPS, two new printers, a keyboard and mouse on my file server, connect my scanner that has lain idle for over two years, and also attach some new speakers to my main workstation, a stack of stuff that has been accumulating since mid-April.

Sick Software

Software seems to be organic. It seems as though if something works perfectly well for years and is never touched that it will continue to work, but one day you do something you've done every day forever and it doesn't work. It's like it's caught a cold or something, and you have to interrupt whatever you're doing to find out why and fix it.

On Friday, as we were approaching the deadline for testing the hugely important new release of our flagship product, I discovered a bug in an important feature. Upon presenting it to the design engineer I heard the famous last words every test engineer has heard a million times: "I don't understand? "I swear it worked when I tested it!"

Swear all you like, kiddo. It's busted.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Driver Attitude

Drivers in Arizona wear their attitudes on the outside. The ones to fear most are those who drive trucks. Several secondary factors act as additive attitudinal properties. Among them are:
  • A hat. If it's on backwards or a cowboy hat, score double.
  • A cigarette, which of course is a drug delivery system. The bearers with their arms dangling out an open window so they don't have to breathe their own filth, but who don't hesitate to flick their butts on the street are the worst, because they openly manifest an underlying contemptuous me-first, me-only demeanor.
  • A visible tatoo. All persons who get tatoos should be required by law to have their first one etched on their forehead, which should say: "TRASH ALERT!"
  • A beard — which is nothing in itself when worn by a college professor or a physician driving an old Volvo, but on the driver of a truck it serves as a warning sign.
  • A bumper sticker. Double points if its content is sexual, mean, or profane.
  • A sleeveless t-shirt, which says: "Hey folks, I see nothing wrong with appearing in public in my underwear!"
  • A sound system that can be heard three blocks away.
The mere fact that someone is driving a pick-'em-up truck sends the message in traffic: "I've got a truck, so I'll go first. Get out of my way!" To which someone one-ups: "No! I've got a truck and a hat, so I'll go first!" Followed by: "No! I've got a truck and a hat and a cigarette, so I'll go first!" And "No! I've got a truck and a hat and a cigarette and a beard so I'll go first!"

Excluded from this categorization are trucks with gun racks. Their drivers fall into an altogether different category. These monkeys are the type whose progeny are also their sisters and nephews and nieces. People like that you don't mess with. Just keep to the right and give them their way.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

The Truth About Guys

So tell me — what are those girls underpants parties all about? I never have understood that. Guys don't do those. Guys don't say things like, "Say, Bubba's getting married — let's buy him some new Fruit of the Looms and jock straps and sit around swilling a few brewskis and giggling while he opens the packages."

Women think that when men are apart from them they talk about sports and beer and make ugly noises out of bodily orifices. The truth is, we engage in heated debates about particle physics, flower arranging, the madrigals of Don Carlo Gesulado, and the poetry of Wallace Stevens, but don't want women to know it.

Sometimes we also tell cute kitten jokes.

That's it. Now the secret is out. It had to happen eventually.

Double Dutch

Have you ever watched young girls playing double dutch? It's become an art form.

The white girls are always so square. They make me think of Peter Rabbit jumping rope, going hippety-hop, hippety-hop, while they chant: "Di-DAH, di-DAH, di-DAH, di-DAH; di-DAH, di-DAH, di-DAH, di-DAH", until one of them inevitably trips on the rope.

Then the black troupe from downtown comes on, the spinners wielding two or three ropes that fly in different directions, with a team of jumpers in the middle going: "Do-bop a-did-n-did-n, did-dle-y-op-a dip-a-did-n, be-DOP DOP DOP a-did-n did-dle-op-a DEE-bop BOP", as they dance, tumble, backflip and split, landing and springing off all fours, bouncing and percolating like Rube Goldbergs. It's a thing of beauty.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Regarding Political Neutrality

Most people who know me are aware that I maintain a stance of political neutrality. After the US presidential election in 2004, a curious ultrarunning friend inquired: "Are you apolitical as in not interested in the just-finished election?" Most will remember that the election was a controversial and emotion charged event.

My response: No, not "not interested." Neutral. There is an important difference. Being neutral is not at all the same as being uninterested, apathetic, or uninformed.

I have been one of Jehovah's Witnesses, actively studying and teaching other people the Bible, for nearly 34 years. The position of neutrality that we practice is carefully cultivated, and bears a strong resemblance to the attitude of an ambassador from a foreign government who is much interested in the goings-on of the nation to which he is sent, but must necessarily maintain a hands-off attitude toward direct involvement in order to avoid conflict of interest. Ambassadors tend to become embroiled up to their necks in things that have to do with politics. It takes great discipline for them to maintain detachment.

That detachment gives one an elevated sense of objective clarity regarding some of the issues that are hotly debated in this world, an ability to see both sides of an argument clearly, and often to perceive that there are other answers to the problems that the majority are blinded to by their own partiality.

Monday, August 15, 2005

The Seven Twenty-First Century Dwarfs

If Disney were to remake Snow White, they would have to redo the dwarfs to make them more relevant to contemporary standards. Here's a suggested list.
  • Seedy
  • Sleazy
  • Greedy
  • Lazy
  • Grouchy
  • Raunchy
  • Disreputable
It's not much, but neither is much behavior considered normal and acceptable these days.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Pink Plastic Flamingos

HTML email is evil. It adds incredible amounts of bulk to mail and is potentially insecure. Some recipients resent it, and many email lists flat out forbid it, including one that I have helped to manage for over ten years.

An old friend, someone I've known for over forty years, is an AOL subscriber. No amount of searching has enabled him to send simple, straightforward, plain text mail, even after a couple of lengthy phone discussions with tech support. We've finally given up on it. One day I illustrated it for him.

To understand this, you must know that Tom has one of the most beautiful gardens you will ever see. I told him:

Say that you hired a company to come and help you regularly a couple of times a year with certain garden chores, such as the lawn work, or cutting back dead wood in the treed areas. Say that you were perfectly happy with the service, except for one thing, namely that the company insisted on leaving behind an array of pink plastic flamingos in various strategic and highly visible points your garden. No doubt you would tell them thank you very much for the thoughtful touch, but you really would prefer not to have the pink plastic flamingos. But then a customer service representative of your service said, "But everyone gets and likes the pink plastic flamingos. Why on earth would you not want the pink plastic flamingos? Sorry, that's not an option — we don't support service without pink plastic flamingos."

That would be an accurate description of AOL's garden service department, if they had a garden service department.

Life Is Dangerous

Life is getting to be too dangerous. My bathroom scale has a warning on it not to use if I've got a pacemaker. (I don't.) My toothbrush and razor came with instructions on how to avoid electrocution while using them. A person could die just getting up and ready for the day.

Was That a Zebra Or a Giraffe?

Speaking of basic education (was I doing that?) ...

Certain skills are fundamental to life. The obvious ones include ability to care for oneself and to perform basic chores, reading, writing, basic arithmetic, to which I would add secondary skills such as riding a bicycle, swimming, for most persons driving a car, reading a map, and skills such as that. For instance, even most persons who are not handymen know the difference between a hammer, a screwdriver, and a wrench, and how they are used. Almost everyone learns all of those things, but now and again we meet folks who drop through the cracks, persons who have missed one or more of the essentials. Last year I had an experience that demonstrated to me how much things have changed over the years in what so-called educated people know.

My wife and I went to a Phoenix Symphony Chamber Players concert at ASU. It was an invitational thing, i.e., certain alumni got free tickets and grub at a reception, and had only to listen to some blah-blah presented by the various deans of colleges beforehand. (Suzy got her bachelor's at ASU and and an MBA from ASU West.) At this reception was a woman I see daily at the gym, but had never known. Suzy knows her well, though, and introduced us. The lady is dean of the school of business at ASU West.

In my mind, someone who is the dean of a school within a respected university, is viewed as an academic who one would assume to be well-rounded in education, having breadth of scope, regardless of that that person's specialty — someone who probably knows art and history and music and science and is well-read, etc.

During the intermission I talked with her. Knowing of my background she had a musical question to ask: "What's the difference between a violin and a viola? And what are those bigger string instruments called?" I was happy to explain this to her in detail.

I'll admit that having been raised by a violist / violinist / conductor father and having been a musician myself, my own musical experience is enriched over most people's. However, I recall from when I grew up that being able to identify musical instruments was something that almost everyone learned to do where I came from, regardless of whether he or she played music. Certainly anyone regarded as well-educated could do so. Sure, maybe a few whose orientation was not toward music might have trouble identifying a bassoon or explaining the difference between an oboe and an english horn. But isn't knowing a violin from a viola like knowing the difference between a zebra and a giraffe? Or at least between a zebra and a horse?

English As a Second Language for Native Borns

There was a high school physics teacher who subscribed to a mail list I once belonged to. Everyone disliked him because he was an idiot and most of what he said was both ignorant and offensive.

He was nearly illiterate — a scary fact given that he was a teacher of our young people. When called to account for the poor quality of his posts he would excuse himself saying "I'm a physics major, not an English major." But how much do you have to know to be aware that you don't end a sentence with a space followed by a period followed by the first letter of the next sentence with no space before it? Or that sentences are begun with the first word capitalized, not the second? Has he never noticed that's how it's done in any book he's ever read?

Maybe I don't want to know the answer to that question. It's likely he's never read a book since the last one required of him in his school days, or much of anything else for that matter. I'm impelled to wonder how much he knows about physics.

As for not being an English major — English is his only language. I'm not a domestic chores major, but I do know how to bathe myself, brush my teeth, get dressed, and tie my shoes. There is a certain minimum standard that even most mentally challenged persons are expected to achieve. And for a high school teacher, regardless of his subject, I would expect and insist on a standard of communication skill well above the norm for untrained society.

Thursday, August 11, 2005


  • Some people have things to say and some people have to say things.

  • There are c. 6.5 billion people in the world. If the average person lives 76 years, 27740 days, It means that throughout the world an average of 236880 people, a nearly a quarter of a million, die every single day.

  • An argument that people commonly make when trying to justify bad conduct is to compare what they've done to something irrelevant but worse. "Yes, I may be a bank robber, but at least I don't rape, murder, butcher and eat little girls, like some people." As if that makes bank robbery okay in comparison. Wrong actions are wrong regardless of how much wronger the actions of someone else may be.

  • Why do I feel like a man who's just been told: "This thing is called a parachute. When I give you a shove, count to ten and pull on this thing!"?

  • People sometimes say: "I'm self-taught." But aren't we all? And did you learn anything?

  • On NPR a while back I heard a learned scientist say: "Most if not the majority of stars in the Milky Way have planets."

    "Most if not the majority??" Exactly how many make a majority in this scientist's universe? Does a majority not qualify as "most"?

  • To some people the primary objective of any software company is to try and cheat customers out of as much money as possible while providing as little as necessary in return. Most of those people are used to using Microsoft software, so there is a basis for their feeling that way. Therefore, the knee jerk reaction is to get new software and to start complaining about it. I wish I could introduce them to the world of open source software, where things just work right most of the time.

Tatoos As Art?

Last year I read an article that began:

The double Olympic champion didn't know whether to laugh or cry after spotting Emma Fitch's mis-spelt work of art [a tatoo] during a walkabout in Kent.

I've seen tatoos justified as "art" before. ART?? Puhleeeze!

Perhaps persons moved to become collectors of such AHHHRRRT ought to start by sampling paintings of Leonardo's "Last Supper" on black velvet — maybe one of those where Elvis is seen pouring the wine. Then at least when the collector comes to his senses he can just take it off the wall and throw it in the trash where it belongs rather than chop his arm off.

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

P.S. For those who are unaware of it — Elvis was not one of the apostles.

Moon Travel As Recreation

Today's CNN Quick Vote survey question is
If you had $100 million, would you spend it on a trip to the moon?
  • Yes
  • No
  • Are you crazy?
So far, of the 143977 people who have answered, 12569 have said yes. That's 9%. Never mind that the vast majority voted otherwise. Seems to me that there's a vast marketplace to tap among hundredmillionaires. If nearly one in ten of them would be willing to cough up their dough for a joy ride, it would be worth it for some enterprising commercial space travel startup company to pursue that avenue of recreation. Heck, they might even get featured on "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous".

I can just see the travel brochures ...

No I can't.


As a long-time denizen of the Internet (for many years before I even knew it was called the Internet), this is nonetheless my first attempt to create a blog. We shall see how it goes. So far there is nothing done that cannot be undone.

Some fragmentary phrases I've been wanting to work into writing pieces:
  • My friend Richard's computer runs on fossil fuel.
  • I work in an office where the guys (no females here) sit around making witty remarks about preemption models and multi-threaded processes.
  • Somewhere there's a site devoted to something obscure like recipes for banana bread.
  • Somewhere else there's an engineer who likes banana bread who has made a link to the banana bread site, the place people go for new information about something arcanely technical, and the keeper of the banana bread site wonders why they get so many hits.
  • Somewhere there is a club for retired left-handed mail carriers who write haiku in Esperanto on Amigas. And they have a Web site and a newsletter, and probably international conferences as well.
  • His method of testing is like swatting a fly sitting on top of a wedding cake with a sledge hammer -- but missing the fly.
  • Read? Read?? She's so dumb she couldn't read a STOP sign.
Surely I can do better than that.