Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Neglected Pianos

Sometimes I hear about neglected pianos, upon which I go on a bit of a rampage. As the owner of a Steinway model K, which I bought brand new from the dealer, an instrument I have always tuned and cared for myself, the idea of a piano sitting in a garage for longer than a couple of days, essentially outdoors and subject to the elements, eventually becoming a storage unit, rankles my sensibilities.

I long ago lost track of the number of times, upon being told by someone: "We have a piano! Of course it hasn't been tuned in ten years" (or maybe never), responding without hesitation: "You used to have a piano. You now have a Gesinch." For those who don't know, which is everyone, because I made the word up myself over thirty years ago, a Gesinch is a pseudo-German word meaning roughly: "A large, clutzy, useless item that gets in your way." The prototypical example was an enormous recliner I bought in about 1973 to put in our tiny apartment's living room in Riverdale Bronx, New York, where there was not enough room to fully recline it without dragging it out from the wall (it took two people to move it), upon which the foot end would stick out well past the middle of the room. Buying it was one of my Worst Ideas Ever.

A neglected piano is a Gesinch. It never ceases to amaze me the number of people who acquire pianos, often with the intent of learning how to use them (or for their children to do so), an enthusiasm that dies down in a few weeks as persons soon discover: "Say — this piano playing stuff is a Really Hard Thing!" Upon which the piano becomes an indoor storeage unit. A piano must be maintained whether it is played or not, or it quickly falls into a state of disrepair beyond which it can no longer be recovered to full functionality. It's not sufficient to strip and refinish the surface of an instrument that is old or has been neglected. If the soundboard is cracked (usually because of temperature and humidity changes), the instrument will be beyond restoration to its optimum condition and may be worthless. The odds that a piano stored in a garage for a full year will not have a cracked soundboard are infinitesimal. The piano action — the internal mechanism that starts with the surface of the keys the player presses and ends with the tip of the hammer that strikes the strings — is a complicated mechanical device, with between 80-120 pieces per key, depending on the maker. Think of it as being like an automobile with 88 carburetors. The entire 88-key mechanism slides out as a unit. (I've done it several times; it makes my heart go pit-a-pat when I do so.) This mechanism needs periodic maintenance, too, though most people simply neglect their pianos when they are new until entropy causes them to rot and no longer be worthy of anything more than finding some hapless friends or relatives to help load it into a truck so it can be hauled off to a dump. Imagine buying a new car and never once changing the oil or doing any of the standard maintenance tasks to keep it in running condition. It's an apt comparison, but that's what people do with pianos.

It's true that pianos can be "restored", but only to a certain degree. I've played on vintage Steinways at the local dealer's store and elsewhere — instruments said to be 100 years or more old. The cabinetry on these display instruments is invariably superb, but every one I've ever touched frankly feels and sounds crummy. These intruments make fine parlor pianos for those who have the space and want to display a piano in their home more than actually use it, and if continuously maintained, they're quite adequate instruments for most modestly skilled players, but for the expense involved, anyone who wants a good piano would be better off to get something newer and maybe a little plainer, and be resolved to take proper care of it.

For some persons an electric keyboard of some sort might be a preferable option. The sound is not as good, any more than a CD recording is as good as a live band, and neither is the feel. Their longevity is nowhere near that of a well-maintained good quality piano, but they never go out of tune, and they require little or no maintenance until they just flat out break. By comparison: My Steinway is now 22 years old, in near perfect condition, and should serve me the rest of my natural life. My Korg 76-key electric keyboard is 1988 vintage, does not conform to the most recent MIDI standard, has keys that stick, with their internal mechanism inaccessible by me, has a lousy sound, is close to useless, and needs to be replaced.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Places In My Life

Given an infinite universe, coincidences abound. From the Small World department ... Follow this link to a Google map of a block in the Chelsea neighborhood of New York City.

You will see a block long building between 8th and 9th Avenues to the east and west, and 15th and 16th Streets on the north and south.

When I moved to New York City my first apartment was at 320 West 15th Street, the second building west of 8th Avenue, on the south side of 15th Street.

It was a spartan apartment in a tough and unattractive area, undoubtedly the lousiest hole in the wall I ever lived in my whole life, but I was 24 when I moved in, a semi-employed funky musician, and hadn't earned the right to live anywhere better.

I never knew what business that big building across the street was in, but it had an enormous truck dock that spanned most of the block, directly across the street from me. Gargantuan trucks would pull up to it 24 hours a day, squeaking their brakes, jamming their gears, racing their engines, and someimes blasting their foghorn tooters. The street was narrow, so drivers would often pull up onto the sidewalk to get enough swing room to back their trailers in. I lived on the second floor in the front of the building; when those trucks pulled up, if I had been standing out on the fire escape, I could have whacked their pollution spewing smokestacks with a stick. Sleeping in that apartment took some getting used to.

So ... guess what that big building is used for today?

Are you ready for this? I just learned this today:
"Step out of New York's 14th Street subway stop, turn up Eighth Avenue, and there, in the heart of Chelsea - amid the traffic, delis, pizzerias, and restaurants - is Google's largest software engineering center outside of Mountain View," reports Information Week. Google opened their new NY offices 5 months ago and already has around 500 employees who work on print ads, Google Finance, Google Spreadsheets, Checkout and more. ...
Yep, Google's biggest office outside headquarters is a rock throw from where I lived for exactly one year. The building's main entrance is on the 9th Avenue side.

When I left there I moved uptown to 52 W. 71st Street — which by another incredible coincidence happened to be right around the corner from the Dakota Apartments where John and Yoko Lennon settled, but not until a few months after I moved from that neighborhood. Lennon used to visit the coffee shop across the street from my former apartment to read the paper in the afternoon when he was in town because it was quiet and the owner would stick him in a booth at the back where he wouldn't be bothered. Had I continued to live there much longer I might have run into him, because he would do this frequently, and usually without bodyguards. Here's a map of that address.

The Dakota Apartments are that squarish building in the upper right, at the northwest corner of 72nd Street and Central Park West, one of the main entries to the park.

Today Google is my favorite high tech business; for several years, up until about when I moved out of my 71st Street apartment, my life pretty much revolved around the Beatles. Therefore I find the dual coincidence of proximities interesting. Which is not to say that it means anything.

It seems like greatness follows me around but never quite catches up.
There are places I remember
All my life, though some have changed
Some forever not for better
Some have gone and some remain
All these places had their moments
With lovers and friends
I still can recall
Some are dead and some are living
In my life I've loved them all
John Lennon / Paul McCartney

Monday, February 12, 2007

I've Seen the Future

Yesterday (February 10, 2007) I ran the Pemberton 50K at McDowell Mountain Park northeast of Fountain Hills Arizona, together with a total of five longtime fellow members of the Dead Runners Society, a highly social online running club that has been in existence since the early nineties: four from out of state, two local, plus a local lurker who served as a volunteer.

People who know me are aware that I work hard at ultrarunning despite having no discernible talent for it. Often my reports are about failures or DNFs.

At Pemberton 50K I ran my heart out, and had what must be described as a good race relative to my present condition — in the sense that I kept hammering from beginning to end without letup.

One benefit of low expectations is you don't have to rise very high to meet them. For all the effort I wound up with a finishing time of 7:25:50, a personal worst by 48 minutes over the previous time that I ran the race three years ago.

I was not Dead Last nor even Last Dead, but I had to haul serious butt to keep in front of the two people remaining on the course I knew to be barely a minute or so behind me.

I should start by pointing that I did not train for this race at all. My single longest run in 2007 has been 10.75 miles, run on the indoor track at Bally's gym.

Because it has become my passion for the last eight years to reserve my best effort each year for Across the Years, January is inevitably a month of recovery, as I take inventory, rest and recover, fix what is broken, and gradually get back to where I can run regularly and passably again, before ramping up for the next year's plans. Running an ultra in early February has become an unreasonable proposition for me, but I made an exception this year because of the other five Dead Runners who were planning on running, and I wanted to connect and enjoy the experience with them all.

Under the circumstances, I knew that covering the distance would not be an obstacle for me. I'd gone nearly 160 miles at ATY six weeks earlier. The question was whether I was ready to run again on trails and to push as hard for a respectable time as my body would allow.

It was an utterly beautiful day for running, with a starting temperature in the low fifties, bright but cloudy skies, and an official high of 77, which did not become a factor for those inclined to be affected by such a mild warmth who were still out on the course until after noon, and only barely at that point.

An advantage I have over some others who were running is that I live locally, train frequently on Pemberton Trail, and have logged every one of the 52 loops that I have now run on it, plus several short (Tonto) loops and also extended loops including side trails. Therefore, I've developed a keen sense of strategy on how to approach this run.

Although the aid stations are placed close to equidistantly on the course, the nature of the terrain is such that when run in the clockwise direction (race direction for PT50K), the first third is by far the toughest and slowest, even on fresh legs, the second is not quite as hard, and the final third is quite easy, providing occasion for anyone who is inclined and able to run like the wind. Negative aid station splits are not only possible, but normal, as Cathy Morgan's race report, listing her aid station splits, demonstrated with empirical data. From this I calculated that she ran 35.88% of her total race time time from the start to the first aid station, 33.80% from the first to the second aid station, and only 29.86% of the time running the third section, even though most people slow down the further they get. The only reasonable explanation is that the three segments vary that much in difficulty.

Because I know what to do, the beginning of a race at Pemberton Trail reminds me of the alleged Big Bang, as those who don't know better go tearing off at an insane clip, while I deliberately lay back to get my legs warmed up, walking much of the first part, at least until I cross the base of the Tonto Tank intersection about twelve minutes out. By the time I climb up onto the high, rocky ridge and have a view, I see many runners fanned out before me, while I am already by this time close to last and running nearly or actually alone. I'm confident that if I don't overdo it, I will do relatively well on the jeep trail eight miles ahead.

For a while on the ridge I ran in close proximity to Dead Runners Jane Colman and Ironwoman Cathy Morgan. We jockeyed positions for a while. Eventually we separated. There was one other person, a man close to my age, back at our end of the race. I never got his name, but later learned he is from Sacramento, had run Jed Smith 50K last weekend, and is planning on running two east coast marathons next weekend.

My first goal of the day was to get the best time I was capable of for that day. A secondary but important goal was not to finish Dead Last. While I was running among friends, it was nonetheless a race, albeit one to avoid being in last place.

One thing I did quite well this race was to manage my turnovers at the aid stations in record time. I lived the entire race on water, Hammer Gel, and Clif Shot Blocks — my new favorite race food, which I carried in a baggie in my hand — plus some Coke at the aid stations on the second lap. I never took any significant time at the stations, even at the headquarters. I think I drank and took a sufficient number of electrolyte tabs on a more-or-less regular schedule, and did not use any Advil or caffeine tabs to get me through.

I wasn't inclined to look back often, particularly at the beginning, because I didn't want to get into an "Ohmigosh, I'd better pick it up!" panic mode. Whatever would happen would happen, as I concentrated on running what was the best possible outing for myself.

It took me longer than usual to feel thoroughly warmed up and in a mood to run, but was starting to feel normal by the first aid station. I replenished my water supply and headed off immediately, but spent some time juggling gear as I'd made the mistake of tucking my Succeed caps in an inaccessible place. I moved them to a front pocket where I could grab them readily, re-hitched my UD bottle belt, and was off again, now behind Cathy.

Less than five minutes out of the aid station, on a section that was not particularly tricky, I caught a toe and took a dive onto both knees and hands. It hurt a bunch, and broke the skin on my right hand and right knee, leaving scrapes elsewhere. The effects were pretty visible, as thereafter whenever I saw someone he or she would say "Did you take a fall?" Or from those who know me: "Did you fall down again?" But I had not fallen on that trail for over two years, as I've actually gotten much better about picking up my feet and don't shuffle nearly as much as I used to.

At first both of my palms felt like they were on fire, so I walked for a couple of minutes while the pain subsided. It was not a factor in the race, other than losing maybe a minute or two from the recovery walk.

After a while I passed Cathy when she headed off the trail, apparently to inspect a tree; I stayed ahead for the rest of the lap. I didn't know how far back Jane was.

When we hit the jeep road, I told Cathy, who was then right behind me, that this was the place I'd been telling everyone that a person could run hard if inclined. Sure enough, I ran all the way to the aid station, about 15 minutes from the turn onto the jeep road, where I first hit the portapotty, which I urgently needed by that time, losing about three minutes taking care of nature's business.

By the time I vacated the booth, Jimmy Wrublik had already grabbed my stuff, refilled my water bottle, and had it waiting for me. Cathy was waiting to use the portapotty. By getting there first, I actually got a couple minutes advantage, as she wound up losing a couple more minutes waiting for me.

Just as I turned to take off running again, Jane came into the aid station with the other man who was running with or near her. I managed to run pretty much the whole way back to the end of the loop from there, walking only three or four 50-foot uphill pieces on the single track section.

Just as I crossed the road, where there is a trail marker saying it is 1.5 miles to the trailhead, Paul DeWitt came blazing past me, as he had already lapped me, on his way to winning and setting a new course record of 3:11.NN. (That's an astonishing 6:12 pace, calculated as 3:11:00 and in knowledge that the course is actually about 0.3 miles short of a full 50K.) My stopwatch said 3:02 at the time.

My lap split, which I forgot to punch on my watch, but memorized when I saw the clock, was 3:21:50.

Ebullient DRS supporter Kevin Smith, crewing for his Dead Runner wife Sally, omnipresent at all DRS gatherings (and at one time a pretty good runner himself) was there to take pictures and offer enthusiastic encouragement and assistance, as I lumbered right through the stop, getting only a water refill, and dumping my now mostly empty Hammer Gel flask, which I never did recover. He ran ahead on the trail a piece to take more pictures.

I believed that by running hard the last third of the lap I put a significant gap between me and both Cathy and Jane. I was now running quite alone. Because I don't like looking over my shoulder, which takes energy, and accomplishes nothing, I continued to assume I would stay ahead of the three people I knew to be in back of me, and had locked in a final finishing position of fourth from last.

The road that goes up to the rocky ridge is a switchback. Upon getting on top of it, I was able to look down to the road below, and still saw no sign of anyone else, so figured I had a comfortable lead. Because I know both Cathy and Jane are tough as nails, I was positive neither one would have dropped after a single lap, so they were back there somewhere. I just didn't know how far.

I ran less on that ridge than the first time, having already fallen once, and because I had the same experience as Cathy wrote about in her own report: after catching a couple of toes I concluded that I didn't want to fall again on this day, so played it conservatively, but continued to walk hard hard more than run.

IMAGINE MY SURPRISE — when barely 20 yards from the aid station, Cathy pulled up beside me, took close to zero time refueling, and forged ahead! Whoa! I hadn't expected that.

As both an Ironwoman and a Clydesdale, Cathy is an incredibly strong woman. When I headed off to the second station, I watched her build a lead on me as she climbed inexorably up the still mostly uphill terrain, until eventually she was out of sight. There wasn't a thing I could do to catch up. I never saw her again until the end of the race. Her report says that she finished in 7:12, 13 minutes ahead of me.

Way to go Cathy! Excellent second lap.

So I still was not in last place, but by this time I had begun to experience some pain in my lower right back, and stopped every ten minutes or so to bend over and stretch it out for just a few seconds. I'm guessing that falling during the second lap probably helped to wrench my spine into a pretzel, and I was now suffering the consequences.

IMAGINE MY SURPRISE — when around two thirds of the way to the next aid station, two very cute and cheerful young women in their early twenties pulled up beside me wearing race numbers. Say what?? I asked: "Do you mean to say you've been behind me all this time?" "Wellll ... yeah." The chatty one said they walked all the way to the first aid station on the first lap because it looked real hard and dangerous, and they didn't want to trip on the rocks. Then they took a long break somewhere. So they were way back there, but then decided to get moving. And off they went. They remained in sight for another twenty minutes or so, alternately trotting and walking, visibly gabbing all the while, and eventually disappeared. They saw me and jumped up and down and waved to me from across the parking lot as I was headed to my car later on — telling me they thought I was awesome. Hmmm. What irony.

Ah, sweet youth.

IMAGINE MY SURPRISE — when minutes after I met the young sweeties, yet another couple pulled up and said hello! Sigh. This was getting ridiculous. When I said that I certainly had not expected to be passed by anyone else at this point in the race, they explained they were not in the race; they were just out doing a loop for fun and wanted to say hello and wish me well. Whew! That was much different. What a relief.

Before long I hit the jeep road again, and as it turns out, I did have the legs to run it all the way to the aid station, which by virtue of taking an extra five or six minutes to get to this time, seemed to have been moved.

IMAGINE MY SURPRISE — when not long after turning down the jeep road, what should my wondering eyes behold?: "Hi Lynn." It was Jane. Whaaat? I thought she was at least two or three minutes behind me, probably more. Actually, I had stopped to irrigate a bush shortly before the turn, so gave up a bit of that gap on Jane and the man of unknown name who was still behind us both, but not by much.

From this point on it became in my mind a race between me and a woman my own age plus two months who didn't know a race was on. Being basically uncompetitive in my heart, I'm inclined to yield readily to someone putting forth an admirably superior effort. Perhaps I'm way too polite when it comes to racing.

But on this day I wanted to do my best, so after jockeying positions for a couple of minutes, I relaxed, worked on my running form (because it helped my back to concentrate on running upright), and breathing, told myself that walking was not an option right now despite my aching back, and pressed on.

Again I got through the final aid station swiftly, and as I shoved off, I saw Jane and Mr. Anonymous coming in. So I ran and ran and ran all the way past Cedar Tank by the 158th Street exit (a couple of steady miles), and onto the single track section that leads back to the finish. This time I had to walk a little more frequently over the lumps on the single track section, but I refused to give in and just walk it in. I really didn't need to, and was actually doing fine, so why stop now? I could rest at the end.

For the rest of the race I refused to turn around and look behind me. Every so often I imagined I heard footsteps behind me (but probably didn't), and pressed on.

Cathy reported being 0.1 miles from the finish. There really is a sign there with that distance marked on it, as it's an intersection to another trail called the Scenic Trail — which it is, but it's way tougher than anything on Pemberton, as it goes through a sandy wash, and then steeply up to the top of a mountain ridge on very single track trail — narrow enough to hide nearby snakes, which I have almost clobbered a couple of times when running it.

When you see that sign you can also see the edge of the ramada, and you know you're done. I put it into what was left of high gear, and went sailing in. The Dead Runners who had finished before me were all congregated at a table in the ramada, waiting for the remaining two of us to come rumbling in. When they spotted me, wild cheering ensued, so I picked up the speed a little more, stood up straight, and sucked in my gut for the sake of a good finish picture, as Kevin was there waiting with his camera. My final time was 7:25:50, as noted above.

The first thing I said over the line was that Jane had to be at most a minute behind me, and sure enough it was no more than that when she came flying across the finish, looking outstandingly strong. She won her age group award! (I'm told there was one other lady in the group, but she dropped.)

Way to go Jane!

Way to go Dead Runners!

The last one across was Mr. Anonymous, barely thirty seconds later, and that ended the race, as we were assured they knew there was no one left out on the course.

Following DRS group pictures, I headed over to the ramada to get some delicious chili, of which there was still a bit, hot enough to eat, but my body was in too much of a turmoil to eat more than half of what I took. It was 7:00pm before I could tolerate a meal.

After goodbyes were said, the other Dead Runners headed off for showers and to reconvene for dinner. I hung back for a little while to chat with Woofie (locally well known ultrarunner Anthony Humpage) and two-time ATY runner Erin Richards, who had succeeded in locking herself out of her car, and was waiting for a service truck.

Last night, rather than hanging out at home and resting, we went to Herberger theater to see a production of "Souvenir" — must-see theater, if you are interested in such things. Almost every Saturday of my life I do a long run of some description, and because my wife and I attend many music and theatrical performances, I'm usually galumphing by the time I get there. I'm sure at some time or other some wife has observed about me to her husband: "Oh look honey — there's that poor old man who limps!"

I've arrived at the point in life where I'm experiencing diminishing returns for the same amount of effort. I work at running just as hard as I always have, maybe harder, but seemingly every race I get slower, as at age 63 I'm beginning to fall inexorably off the bell curve that measures who even tries to participate in such events. The evidence has let me to this conclusion:
I've seen the future —
and everything I see is in SLOW MOTION!
But that doesn't mean that I'm planning on giving up. This year I'm already committed to attempting to complete Leanhorse 100, also Wendell and Sarah's San Francisco 24-hour, and if we can get it together, Across the Years for a ninth time.
You must never give up! — Richard Nixon

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Do I Have to Empty the Bit Buckets?

There was a maintenance man named Bill where I worked at Four Phase Systems in about 1985 who was a nice fellow, but one of the dumbest guys I've ever encountered. He was one of those guys for whom carrying a ladder was risky business, and whose crack hung out of his pants every time he bent over.

One time I was running a big test in our lab with at least twenty plain text terminals scrolling text endlessly up the screen. Bill came in to replace a light bulb, one of his more complicated assignments, and one that often sent people running for cover.

When finally he had completed the task, Bill stood in the middle of the lab watching the meaningless display of dancing text, absorbed in thought. Finally, he came over to me and asked: "I've always wondered — where do the words go when they roll off the top?"

I'm not making this up. I should have told him that they fall into the bit bucket in the back of the terminal. I'm sure if I had said that, he might have wondered if it would become his job to empty these periodically.

A Thought on Literary Precision

Compare the consequences of a lack of a single punctuation mark in English and in software. Imagine what would happen if high school students were not permitted to graduate for failing to insert a quotation mark in an essay.

I've heard the likely apocryphal story of how the lack of a semicolon in a controller program's source code has led to rocket ships and their passengers falling from the sky to flaming, screaming death.

The lack of a closing quotation mark in a program's source file recently caused the company I work for not to get money from clients who had signed up for things they are supposed to pay for, resulting in most of a day's work on the part of a couple of engineers to rectify everything.

They're not going to fire the programmer who made the mistake for the booboo. It was just one of those embarrassing little things that happen sometimes with software. But the experience illustrates that in software, precision is of the utmost importance.

While I don't wish either flaming death or failure to advance in school on persons who make silly writing mistakes, I do wish in this age of electronic communication that people would take greater care with their written correspondence.
I was working on the proof of one of my poems all the morning, and took out a comma. In the afternoon I put it back again. — Oscar Wilde

Mechanical Aids in Races

The use of mechanical aids to assist a runner in moving forward is against the rules in most ultramarathons. For instance, a runner will be disqualified for getting a lift in a car, riding a bicycle, or hopping along on a pogo stick.

Some fools classify trekking poles as mechanical aids. Remind me again -- exactly how many moving parts does a trekking pole have? Is it therefore also illegal to use the branch of a fallen tree as a walking stick? If so, is it illegal to grab rocks and branches with one's hands while climbing up a steep slope?

But it's not my purpose in this article to argue in favor of trekking poles. Rather, I would like to consider for a moment a new device that has entered the scene: the iPod (and similar devices).

Should the iPod be declared an illegal mechanical device? It has two buttons and a spinning disk drive, which makes it considerably more complex than a trekking pole, and could be classified as a drug delivery system, in that playing good music is known to stimulate the production of endorphins and adrenalin which propel a runner forward.

When I first started running with my 80GB iPod, after decades of running without any such assistance, I started by listening to the podcast of a talk show. While the content was fascinating, I definitely ran slower than usual. But when the show was over and I switched to some of my favorite music my pace picked up considerably.

Think of the possibilities: You could sabotage someone else's race by erasing all the good music on his iPod and substituting podcasts of Fox network news (a.k.a. McOpinion), bringing the listener way down. You'd be able to beat him walking on your hands. But some people would probably think that would be cheating.

Maybe the only solution is to ban iPods entirely.

The Paradox of Censorship

Censorship imposed on one sector of society by another is an act of the first group's taking away freedoms that belong to the second group, regardless of the first group's intent.

Censorship is perpetrated by persons, organizations, committees who have seen, heard, read information they don't like or approve of, and so set a standard for others. While anyone is free to share an opinion, including cautionary warnings, I resent anyone else making such a decision in my behalf, deciding what it is that they know about that I should not. I'm capable of making such decisions for myself, and I believe the standard I set for myself will likely be higher than the one being set for me by self-appointed watchdogs.

The overriding point is that someone else has seen something and has decided that I (and others) should not.

The tradeoff for freedom of access is the risk of exposing oneself to that which may be overwhelmingly difficult to avoid influencing us negatively. If censors prevent (for instance) child pornography from appearing on the Internet, which they try but are unable to do, then I will never see it; this is fine in itself, because I hope never to have that horrible experience. If such material is present — and it is — there is always a chance one might stumble across some in complete innocence.

The world would be a much better place if people would behave themselves and not propagate information that is repugnant; but laws that limit free choice by individuals are untenable, repugnant in their own way. In contrast, if I apply sieves (literal or abstract) to my own environment, whether by leaving the TV off, not going to the movies, being discreetly selective about what I choose to read, avoiding likely trouble spots, enabling restrictive options in Google searches, adding powerful filters to my incoming email so that spam and messages from known jerks are blasted automatically to the iconoclastic infindebulum, all of which I actually do, it's my choice and right and even my moral obligation to do so. Just because badness exists does not mean that I must encounter and experience it first hand. But I cannot exercise my moral prerogative or righteous indignation toward what is bad if someone else has prevented me from doing so.

Failed Diets

Some diet plans, notably Weighwatchers, depend on logging everything that is eaten, playing on the theory that if you have to log it, you may eat less.

One reason some people fail miserably in all attempts to control weight is because they become obsessed with food, and in the process realize they're hungry, and wind up eating, often what they shouldn't.

People "get religion" about some new diet plan. In their newfound zeal to implement it, they plan virtually bite by bite all the things they will be eating for some prescribed period of time into the future -- exactly this for breakfast, that for lunch, whatever for dinner, swearing off this comfort food and that junk food, resolving to snack only on sand, etc. Then they head to the store to stock up on all that stuff, sometimes inhaling a package of Little Debbies or Cheetos, enjoying "one last fling" while running the cart up and down the aisle, the surest sign that their project is doomed already.

It doesn't take long for people who are thinking day and night about what and when they are going to eat to fall off the wagon.

My contrasting belief has long been that successful dieting is more about what we don't eat, rather than what we do.

Sure, the excuse that's used is: "You've gotta eat something!" which is true, but if once in a while a person can just skip it, just forget about eating entirely, when trying to lose weight, he'll probably be better off than if trying to make frustratingly small portions, weighing them and going to all the trouble of figuring out the calories and writing them on a chart.

We eat so impulsively and so thoughtlessly sometimes that it's hard to avoid popping something yummy into our mouths just because the idea to do so occurs to us. Maybe an effective part of a solution is, when we catch ourselves doing that, to say: "Whoa! Not this time."

Saturday, February 03, 2007


A friend once told me: "The more I repeat things the more good things happen." He spoke of living his life according to an orderly daily routine.

Most lives progress in cycles with controlled variations, from which emanate all that becomes one's productivity, that by means of which we will make our mark, and for which others will remember us.

For me it's early morning work, running before dinner, study, research or evening projects, and reading before bed during the week; taking care of business, chores, long runs, music, theater, movies or just relaxing at home on the weekends.

Saturday afternoons in February are good times. I've recovered from my annual year end extravaganza. There are no immediate races to train for. (2007 is an exception.) I'm just beginning to map out a training plan for the still new year. Saturday afternoons in February in recent years have become a time for intense, well-balanced workouts.

Usually I limit the run to a half marathon or fifteen miles at most at the gym, but with some extra exertion, and follow that with a half hour to an hour of strength training, stretching on a matt on the aerobics floor, and sometimes a bit of swimming and sitting in the hot tub. It's always relatively quiet at Bally's, with fewer people that I know and talk to regularly than during the week. The people who are there work hard. There are the sounds of clanking weights and whirring machines in a familiar ambience, one in which I have spent many, many contemplative hours while working out.

Afterward there is the feeling of overwhelming but pleasurable exhaustion, the satisfaction of time well spent. I lumber slowly to the car to drive the ten minutes home, possibly to a short nap before dinner and possibly going out to a theater or opera production, which happens about every other week between February and early May.

Then comes Sunday and a new cycle begins.