Friday, June 29, 2007

Camp Pine Ridge

At the age of eight in 1968 I attended a Christian summer camp called Camp Pine Ridge in Rumney, New Hampshire. I happened to be thinking about it and found that they now have a Web site, and a place for alumni to send greetings and memories. Here's the friendly message I sent:

Let's take a walk down memory lane shall we? I was a camper at Camp Pine Ridge nearly forty years ago. Besides spending most of my time unsupervised and nearly drowning in the pool, my most vivid memories are of being physically abused by the counselors.

They called it "The Stairs". A minor infraction (name calling in my case) earned you some number of runs up and down the long set of log stairs outside, next to the chapel I think it was.

I was to run as fast as I could up and down the stairs thirty times (in my case). Assisting me were two brutes at the top and bottom with broom sticks and a few evenly spaced fellows along the stairs with ping pong paddles. I think you can guess what their task was - no, not just to yell encouragement for me to run faster – my bottom was black and blue for weeks. I was crying and exhausted. And terrified, I was pleading apologies for my sin; I was sure this was a precursor to an eternity in Hell. I was eight years old.

But I got off relatively easy. Another poor boy got fifty stairs and I witnessed him falling half way down the stairs. I clearly recall his bloody knees and elbows, and pine needles sticking into his lips. Drooling, coughing, and crying, his callow eyes begged for leniency. Yet he continued to receive enthusiastic encouragement from the merciless counselors.

It was this same hapless fellow, perhaps nine years old, who I saw being publicly berated in chapel by the minister for wearing shorts on Sunday - he'd apparently run out of clean clothes. The unfortunate boy must have been staying there for multiple weeks. I thankfully got out in one.

The day before going home the alpha counselor informed us that the parents of all those who had received punishment (The Stairs) were going to be told of our transgressions. I was panic stricken and prayed vigorously for forgiveness and protection.

Of course they didn't follow through. In retrospect this was obviously a transparent attempt at inciting fear and promoting silence to conceal their actions. It was successful; I was greatly relieved that my parents didn't know, and I never told them.

What a silly, sadistic, and hateful religion you practice. Like all religion, it is man made and morally bankrupt. You understand this better than you might admit – for you are an atheist relative to all the other religions of the world – I just go one religion further.

You should be ashamed of yourselves. Though you still support the indoctrination of religion into children, they who lack the cognitive abilities to rationally evaluate the ideas you preach (a revolting practice, indeed a form of child abuse), I trust these physical abuses wouldn't fly now. But I hope you do feel an obligation to contemplate this and to seek out more information on your disgraceful history and heritage.

Sunday, January 07, 2007


Thursday, 7.1 miles around the lake. Total: 7 @ 45:30, (6:30). Splits: 6:05, 6:19, 6:21, 6:32, 6:40, 7:08 (hill), 6:22. Not a record but close.

Rest, rest, extensor tendonitis I think is finally gone, even lingering pain on top right big toe. I'm close to 100%, no injuries/pain, some tightness behind left knee, but no big deal.

Today, 11.7 miles, in Brewster at Grammie's on the Cape. Ran the Brew Run course (5.2M) twice plus warm-up, cool-down. About 35 minutes each circuit. Garmin sez 10 @ 1:07:00 (6:42), 11 @ 1:13:47 (6:42). Splits: 6:37, 6:37, 6:44, 6:44, 6:56, 6:23, 6:40, 6:46, 6:46, 6:43, 6:45. Pretty tough after 10K. Beautiful clear sunny day though.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007


I ran the Ipswich YMCA New Years Day Resolution Race yesterday. I showed up expecting a 10K, but it was only 2 miles! Actually 2.007 miles - get it? They add 5.28 feet per year to the race - by the year 3000 it will be a 3 mile race. About 60-something runners total braved the 38 degree rainy morning. And ... I won! First place, first time (except for once in High School). And despite the fact that I took a wrong turn and ended up running an extra 371 feet (according to my Garmin anyway). I was out in front nearing the end of the first mile and I hear some yelling behind me, look back and see a pack of a dozen or so runners turning right, I missed the turn! Turned back and high tailed to catch up to them, and steadily began picking them off - I'd had such a wide lead that I was fairly confident I could get into the lead again. My niece and her boyfriend were in 3rd/4th, I hanged with them for a while and then went for the lead, securing it by a pretty wide margin by the end. Flying but not really overly so, it was cold and wet, and I wasn't quite all out - 6:02 overall average pace - same as the Thanksgiving 5 miler. My major award was a $25 gift certicate to a local restaurant, and another $25 to a local running store. My niece (18) won first female. Nice way to start the year.

Happy New Year.

Unhappy men would increase their happiness more by walking six miles every day than by any conceivable change in philosophy.

— Bertrand Russell

Thursday, December 28, 2006


Christmas Eve, 10.5 miles, around the lake twice. 10 @ 1:08:00 (6:48 average pace); splits - 6:22, 6:33, 6:46, 6:54, 6:51, 6:47, 7:01, 6:56, 7:25 (hill), 6:26.

Christmas Day, 4.1 miles, to the lake a back, 6:18 average pace, no Garmin, no splits.

Today, 7.7 miles, around the lake. 7 @ 45:12 (6:27 average pace); splits - 6:08, 6:16, 6:17, 6:35, 6:31, 7:01 (hill), 6:20. New record, by 18 seconds, for this route, yeah baby.

Friday, December 22, 2006


Last day of work before a week off, which I'm really looking forward to. Work has not been a great source of satisfaction lately, just uninspired, in a slump, need to recharge.

Wednesday I ran 7.1 miles, first time since being sick, and it felt like it, pushing through though. Longfellow, Charles, Smoots double loop+. 7 miles @ 47:12 (6:45), splits: 6:30, 6:43, 6:37, 6:52, 7:17, 6:33, 6:39. Cold! Some tightness or tiredness in left hip, that's new. Right extensor tendonitis seems to be abating.

Meandered the local mall blankly at lunchtime today, vaguely trying to finish some Xmas shopping, feeling numb-ish, melancholy-ish, but not so very unpleasantly so really — mostly just the usual existential stupor through which I wander much of the time.

Existence just never seems to cease to amaze me, you'd think I'd just get used to it and take it for granted like everyone around me apparently does, but it just seems weirder all the time — the nuclear fireball we're falling around, the gas covered planet we're stuck to, humans — unimaginable gobs of protein and whatnot, constantly sucking in oxygen and nitrogen, swallowing carbon based gunk, and excreting all manner of waste. It's just not obvious, and I still can't entirely get my head around it.

And what's with every female of the species shopping at Victoria's Secret? I see all varieties of women, girls, ladies, old, young, fat, thin, pretty, ugly, carrying Victoria's Secret bags. I mean the thought of most of them wearing the garment's displayed so ubiquitously and brazenly by the famous models is, well ... nevermind, enjoy.

Oh, I came across a very funny and interesting interview with Stephen Colbert at Harvard University; as I inferred from his bit, he is actually a very intelligent, perceptive and thoughtful guy.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006


It is the tenth anniversary of the death of Carl Sagan. Humanist Joel is hosting a Carl Sagan Memorial Blog-a-Thon. I was introduced to Carl, along with millions (or BILLIONS and BILLIONS maybe I should say) in 1980 with his Cosmos television series.

I was 19 and just beginning college. I'd taken two years off after high school to work and travel — not because I was idealistic or adventurous, but because I had nothing better to do. A notorious "underachiever" as my father generously called me, I had no college ambitions, no ambitions at all, save just to be out of high school. A year working as a stockboy at Lechmere, following six months of travel in Europe and Israel, led me to consider the virtues of schooling.

After a lifetime of mediocrity in education, I began to excel in college, community college admittedly at first, but I put my whole heart and mind into it, and discovered perhaps for the first time since early elementary school, that I loved learning. In grade school I'd loved learning, on my own anyway. I've fond memories of perusing the many books in my home. I loved looking through the Golden Book Encyclopedia (Bertha Morris Parker) — I remember once being blown away reading that Neanderthal Man lived for some hundreds of thousands or even millions of year - I thought literally that individual Neanderthals human beings lived that long :-) Whoa!!! I was curious but was also occasionally an idiot! :-)

Anyway, I was so into college, 4.0 GPA easy. And I loved all of it, literature, philosophy, math, science. But two events, I think, turned me toward science above other endeavors. First, my father, rather randomly and curiously, gave me Douglas Hofstadter's Gödel, Escher, Bach for my 19th birthday which I totally clicked with — it turned me on to math, logic, computer science, and classical music — Bach's Musical Offering is still one of my favorite pieces.

Second, Cosmos, the television series which began in 1980, every Sunday, for some number of weeks. I so looked forward to it. The whole thing, Carl and his enthusiasm, the ideas, the images, and the music, which can still almost bring tears to my eyes. How corny, I know, but there it is. That opening music, to me, embodied Carl's pantheistic view of the Cosmos, that we, our existence, I, am the Universe's way of getting to know itself, we all are part of creation   all that every was or will be, star stuff, profound stuff! It touched me. I didn't know it then, but science was becoming my religion. I'd previously and hence held on precariously to an ancient and feeble Christian faith, which finally gave way to a relatively confident agnosticism, which finally crumbled under an acceptance of non-theism (someday I will say "atheism").

Anyway, I love and thank Carl for his enthusiasm and his ability to express his sense of wonder for the Cosmos, the Earth, Existence, and to pass this sense of appreciation on to me and many others.

My father and some of my other loved ones, watching Carl with me on those family Sunday's in the early 1980's did not share my appreciation. He was a simple "reductionist", a technocrat, an atheist, almost a joke ("billions and billions" they would ape in Carl's endearing Brooklyn accent) — how could I be so shallow as to be blinded by science, and not see the mystery of life explained by religion (not just any religion of course — Christianity). Science was just another religion they'd say (a curious criticism, obliquing insulting their own belief in religion).

That turned out to be for me, so much gobbledygook — muddled and wishful thinking. I've come to feel almost sorry for my less scientifically minded loved ones, with little appreciation of or interest in the wonders of existence around them, preferring the more abstract, elusive, and parochial wonder of God's unbounded love. I'm just not that deep.

I own Cosmos on DVD and still watch it occasionally, and have introduced it to my kids (9 and 11), and they actually seem to enjoy it. It has held up very very well over the years. My 8 year old boy especially likes the line animation of 3.5 billion years of evolution in 45 seconds, as well as the whole piece on The Elements, and of course the discussion of Googol and very large numbers.

Btw, one of my favorite albums is Murmurs of Earth, a recording of the music sent out on the Voyager spacecraft in 1977. It is the most distant human-made object in the Universe — nearly 10 billion miles from home now, and continuing on its journey at 38,000 mph. The sounds and music (and images) included on the recording, intended to a give an alien intelligence a glimpse of life on Earth, was compiled, I believe, mostly under the direction of Carl Sagan. Much of the music is also featured in Cosmos.

I highly recommend it, though unfortunately, it no longer seems to be available and is difficult to find (the recording that is; the book is available). I see one on eBay at the moment — 14 bids, $100! Wow, maybe I should sell mine (no way). If anyone is interested I'll considering zipping up the bits of my recording and, risking copyright violation, making it available for free.

A couple other links — Celebrating Sagan and Nick Sagan's Memories Of My Dad.

In order to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first create the universe.

   — Carl Sagan , 1934-1996

Tuesday, December 19, 2006


Sick as a dog for about 48 hours last weekend, stomach violence, spread like, well, a virus, through the family. Over and done. What a relief. That kind of sickness reminds you that one day you will be ready to die, gladly; I'm sure I'll never run again. That was me anyway, don't think the kids felt that, too resilient, or naive, thankfully. Had planned a 10 miler on Sunday, no dice, comatose most of the day. Finally pretty much back to normal today, but drained-ish. Will attempt a decent lunchtime 7 miler at work tomorrow, we shall see if we can do it.

TED (Technology Entertainment Design) Luminaries decided for 2007 (March 7-10), including - Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Nathan Myhrvold, E.O.Wilson, Bill Clinton, Paul Simon, Steven Pinker, They Might Be Giants, Vilaynur Ramachandran, Carolyn Porco, and Thomas Dolby!

Thursday, December 14, 2006


Last Saturday, 7.2 miles, usual lake route, 7 @ 46:28 (6:35); splits: 6:25, 6:34, 6:28, 6:46, 6:41, 7:13 (hill), 6:19.

Today, with a splitting headache, 7.5 miles, usual lake route, 7 @ 45:40 (6:31); splits: 6:13, 6:24, 6:20, 6:24, 6:48, 7:10 (hill), 6:18. Record time for training run on the route, knocked the headache right out.

Four days off due to continued extensor tendonitis on top of right foot. On top of that, stupid accident, spilled scalding hot water on my bare right foot, so blisters on top of the tendonitis.

Anything that happens happens. Anything that in happening causes something else to happen, causes something else to happen. And anything that in happening causes itself to happen again, happens again.

  — Douglas Adams

Wednesday, December 06, 2006


Sprained ankle from a week ago Sunday turned out to not have been so bad. Just three days off and did a decent 6.4 on dreadmill, splits: 7:16, 6:59, 6:47, 6:40, 6:32, 6:34. Then 7.7 on Sunday around the lake, 7 @ 46:05 (6:35); splits: 6:17, 6:27, 6:24, 6:35, 6:44, 7:09 (hill), 6:28. And today, for some reason, a very tiring 5.2 on dread, splits: 7:05, 6:50, 6:48, 6:47, 6:32. I've a nasty little case of extensor tendonitis on my right foot, on the top, so lots of days off.

Carolyn Porco gave a very nice talk at Beyond Belief 2006 on If Not God, Then What, and presented some wonderful photos, like the one of Saturn, above. Ann Druyan, co-producer of Cosmos and wife of the late Carl Sagan, also gave a charming talk. Have a listen.

Also, Mahzarin Banaji, gave a really interesting presentation of the implicit bias of the human mind (session 7). Try taking a couple of these Implicit Association Tests. I of course, like most civilized/educated people abhor racism. My test results showed however that I have a pretty strong implicit unconscious bias toward light-skinned people over dark-skinned people, as well as a slight bias toward males over females in regard to career, and no bias at all for or against Jews. It's a strange sensation taking the time based tests — even though you know the point and methods of the test, and try to conciously overcome any possible bias, you can't. Give it a try, you might learn something about yourself.

I'm not too surprised about my implicit skin tone bias — I don't think I saw a non-white person in person until I was a teenager (I grew up in Hamilton, Massachusetts — a town which made the The Official Preppy Handbook as one of the preppiest towns in America). But what was really interesting was when Banaji pointed that blacks also have a bias against darker skin tones, though not in general as great as that of most whites.

The aim of science is not to open the door to infinite wisdom but to set some limit on infinite error.

  — Bertolt Brecht's Life of Galileo

Great doubt: great awakening.
Little doubt: little awakening.
No doubt: no awakening.

  — Zen Maxim

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Beyond Belief 2006

There was some great great discussion at Beyond Belief 2006 Conference; fifteen hours of video can be found here. I'm a little way into it. Steven Weinberg, Lawrence Krauss, Sam Harris, Michael Shermer were all great, a good interplay of ideas and approaches.

Just finished listening to Neil deGrasse Tyson — what a character. An astrophysicist and an entertaining and compelling speaker. One area really struck me. He briefly recounted the events of 9/11/2001 and pointed out a comment made by President Bush soon thereafter in which he said in a lame attempt to distinguish "we" from "they" — they who flew those into buildings — that "our God is the God who named the stars." An astoundingly idiotic statement regardless of the facts, but infinitely more stupid given the facts as Neil then pointed out. That of all the stars which do have names, two thirds of them have Arabic names! And he shows slide after slide of lists of Arabic named stars.

How does it happen, Neil asks, that the sky is filled with stars with Arabic names. It happens because of a particularly fertile period of Islamic culture from beginning around 800 A.D. and continuing to around 1100 A.D. in which Baghdad was the intellectual center of the world, open to all peoples, Jews, Christians, Muslims, and all ideas. A free and open exchange of information was permitted, contributing greatly to the corpus of mathematical and scientific knowledge the time. The legacy is still with us, not just in star names - we use arabic numerals, and the words algebra, algorithm, and logarithm are of Arab origin, for example. Their contributions gave them naming rights. All this is traceable to this specific 300 year period in the middle east.

Then, disaster. In the 12th century, this clown, Imam Hamid al-Ghazali (1058-1111 A.D.), a scholar of sorts decrees that mathematics is the work of the devil. He codifies an Islamic philosophy which completely rejects a rational worldview — that causal events are not the product of material conjunctions, but rather the immediate presence and will of God. He denounces the philosophy and methods of the great intellectual thinkers of Ancient Greece — Aristotle, Plato, Socrates — an intellectual tradition upon which many Islamic philosophers previously drew.

Revelation replaced investigation. Game over. Islamic culture has never recovered since. And 9/11 is just one sad legacy of this turnabout. Neil concludes his comments on Islam with the observation that something like one Muslim scientist, or maybe two, has ever won the Nobel Prize, as opposed to about one quarter of them being Jews. Doing the maths, with the about a billion Muslims on earth and only about 15 million Jews, statistically, almost all Nobel Prizes should be going to Muslims! Instead, we've got only one or two. All because of al-Ghazali. Fascinating.

Science is interesting, and if you don't agree, you can fuck off. — New Scientist Magazine

Reality provides us with facts so romantic that imagination itself could add nothing to them. — Jules Verne

Monday, November 27, 2006

Sprained Ankle

I went out for a 10 mile run on Sunday, only to have it cut short by a misstep at 3.5 miles (22:30). I don't know how it happened, I've run hundreds of miles around this lake. I was at the far end, taking a left turn, a couple other runners coming toward me, I guess that forced me into a tight squeeze. I'm cruising nicely at a 6:30 pace, then bam, it's like I hit a wall, I hear myself letting out a primitive unceremonious grunt.

I feel my left ankle disappear from existence and I buckle, falling, rolling, onto the grass writhing in pain. I'm flashing on my Thanksgiving 2003 Turkey Trot where I severely sprained the same left ankle, and like an idiot, ego, continued running, up on the toes, and ended up with a much worse injury and a full four month running hiatus. After a minute or so, the pain precipitously subsides, nice! And I almost feel like I can get up and run, and I try, and could, but alas, I am no longer a complete idiot, I have learned, stop, you're done. I got to a phone and called my wife for a ride home.

This sucks, but oh well, okay, it is, I think, not as bad as it could have been. Certainly not as bad as 2003, I'm RICE-ing like crazy. Actually I don't do the compression component - is that really useful, beyond the initial injury? I'm icing like a madman, ibuprofen, rest. I'm able to walk, stand, balance, hop even. It's the kind of mild sprain I experienced in September on the Thompson Island 4K in which I think I could actually run, if I were very very careful to land just right. I figure/hope I'm out for 1-2 weeks, then back carefully with an ACE bandage. This just makes me more thankful for any running ability, and increases my incentive to get well and to get back at it.

I am a strong advocate for free thought on all subjects, yet it appears to me (whether rightly or wrongly) that direct arguments against christianity & theism produce hardly any effect on the public; & freedom of thought is best promoted by the gradual illumination of men's minds, which follow[s] from the advance of science. It has, therefore, been always my object to avoid writing on religion, & I have confined myself to science. I may, however, have been unduly biassed by the pain which it would give some members of my family, if I aided in any way direct attacks on religion — Charles Darwin

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Feaster Five

Feaster Five, Andover, Massachusetts, 8:30 AM. The rain held back and it was a cloudy and brisk Thanksgiving Day, 40F or so. Hadn't run for four days, since 7.2 miles around the lake on Saturday; I've been nursing a new injury, extensor tendonitis on my right foot.

Very crowded, around 6000 runners for the 5K and 5M, both starting together, I'm going for the 5 miler, 5K is too intense for me. I didn't get a good starting position at all, even after I crossed the starting line it was at least a quarter mile before I could get into any kind of decent pace at all, dodging slower runners like a madman.

First mile mostly a gradual uphill climb toward the center of town, a relief when it flattened out, split off from the 5K runners. Recovering from uphill then slowly building up pace, relaxing pretty good but cruising. Worrying about keeping up the pace at 2 miles, but decided to risk it and not pull back; I want to feel deserving of my pending feast. At 3 miles I know I've got a shot at keeping it up.

Heading down one street I hear the Rocky theme blaring, it picks me up, I start shadow boxing even, getting strong now! Met up with the slower 5K runners, and that really picks me up because I'm flying past them at an alarming rate, it's great! I'm sub-6:00, I'm pushing but I'm still relaxed, I could slow but it wouldn't really be any less effort, I'm definitely on a roll, and with a small pack of 5 milers with me.

Pulled out ahead of them at 4 miles, I know I've got a shot at a PR if I don't blow it, starting to die, guts from here out, it's gonna hurt. Gentle downhills help keep my pace up though. Then the finish up ahead around the corner, another quarter, but uphill all the way there, pushing, Garmin shows I've got a chance at sub-30:30, driving hard to the finish. Then I get passed by a guy I thought I'd left behind in the pack; I couldn't run that fast on a fresh sprint, he's flying, you got it champ.

I'm rather surprised, pleasantly so, with my performance, a 5 mile PR - 30:10! And a 4 mile PR - last 4 at 23:57, last 5K at 18:25. Average pace of 6:02. And unusual for me, negative splits: 6:12, 6:09, 6:09, 5:51, 5:48. Came in 29th out of 2334. A tough race, but especially in retrospect, surprisingly strong, relaxed, and controlled. I think a sub-30:00 5 miler is definitely within my ability.

Happy Thanksgiving!

This is a site is great, a nice array of interviews with interesting thinkers on life, the universe, and everything, e.g. Daniel Dennett, Steven Pinker, E.O. Wilson, Ursula Goodenough, Karen Armstrong, Monsignor Lorenzo Albaceta, —

Here's neat nice animation of the inside of a cell — The Inner Life of a Cell

Wednesday, November 15, 2006


Three days off after the Veterans Memorial 11K. Today, 7.1 miles, Longfellow-Charles-Smoots double loop+. 7 @ 46:40; splits: 6:30, 6:32, 6:34, 6:51, 6:46, 6:35, 6:52; average pace: 6:40.

Richard Dawkins interview. Good, evil, religion, and especially Dawkins' own personal experience with religious belief. Like myself, he became essentially a non-believer at around age 9, when confronted with the existence of other competing religions. He had an Anglican upbringing; myself, Baptist. — Part One, Part Two, Part Three.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

11K on 11/11 at 11:11

Veterans Memorial 11K (6.82 miles) in Stoneham, Massachusetts. Held every year on 11/11 at 11:11am, a veritable orgy of 11's. And with a cannon start. This year we were instructed to have a moment of silence just before the start, eveyone's silent with heads bowed ... BAM!!! The canon goes off signalling the start of the race, scared the b'jesus out of half the crowd, I nearly jumped out of my socks.

Fairly tough course, around Spot Pond, long gradual ups and downs, pushing fairly hard, hoping for sub-6:20 average pace, no dice, ended up with 43:35 (6:23 average pace. Actually hit the 10K mark at 39:15, 6:20 pace, beating my age 22 record from 1982, woohoo. But that last 0.6 was a long gradual uphill and I was dying. Splits: 6:04, 6:15, 6:24, 6:24, 6:39, 6:21, 5:26 (6:38). Placed 4th overall out of 257, placed 1st in age group and received a major award for my efforts.

God doesn’t just make the world, he does something much more wonderful. He makes the world make itself.

— Frederick Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury

Thursday, November 09, 2006

7 Miles

After 10.4 miles on Sunday, 10 @ 1:07:30, 6:45 average pace, splits: 6:35, 6:44, 6:37, 6:40, 6:42, 6:40, 6:48, 6:57, 7:12 (hill), 6:30. Today, Longfellow-Charles-Smoots double loop+, 7 miles, Garmin was messed up, but 46 minutes total, 6:34 average pace. Left adductor is getting better, no real issues. A course record actually, running fast mostly to get back to fix my issues with IntelliJ, turns out I just neglected to compile in debug mode! Argghhh.

When I was a child I used to pray to God for a bicycle. But then I realized that God doesn't work in that way — so I stole a bike and prayed for forgiveness. — Emo Philips

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Don't Panic

After four days off to give the left adductor a break, Friday, 7 miles, Longfellow-Charles-Smoots double loop+, average 6:42 pace or so. Sunday, 10 miles, 6:45 average pace, splits: 6:35, 6:44, 6:37, 6:40, 6:42, 6:40, 6:48, 6:57, 7:12 (hill), 6:30. I think the time off was well worth it, adductor seems mostly okay.

Finished The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, great stuff. And then went out and rented the DVD, released posthumously after Adams' untimely unexistence. This may be blasphony to die hard Adams fans, but I rather liked the movie, my kids did too, in fact I liked it quite a lot. And in some ways more than the book even. I didn't expect it to be this good.

It was fun, and funny, imaginative, delightful, and wonderous, and quite true to the spirit of the book, and adaptive to the medium. Much bad sentiment toward it from Adams fans, judging from Amazon feedback. But it smacked to me of, how do I put this, fan elitism, how so often hard core fans of famous musical artists pan their later stuff, after it becomes popular; the early stuff before it was popular is always the best, e.g. Bob Dylan, The Beatles, Elliot Smith. Maybe some truth, maybe not, but it usually smells of dogma to me.

The kids loved it, some favorite parts were, well, right off that bat, the "So long and thanks for all the fish" opening, they thought that was just a riot, and Marvin, the Paranoid Android (is this the origin of the title for the Radiohead song?), they just took an instant liking to the maniacally depressive robot, and the whale spontaneously incarnated into existence by the Infinite Improbability Drive, contemplating its own brief existence while hurling toward Magrathea - what's happening .. why am I here ... what is my purpose in life ... this is really exciting ... what's this thing suddenly coming toward me very fast ... ground! ... I wonder if it will be friends with me. Thud!

That pretty much sums out our lot, doesn't it. Deep. Reminds me of a scene from the movie 1985 Henry Jaglom film Always where Andre Gregory says something like (I wish I could find an exact quote), life is like a stone which you rub and rub and smooth and polish and mull over, and just about when you think you have the answer, BAM! you die! Hahaha.

Speaking of Radiohead, it seems like the phrase OK Computer was uttered more that once or twice in the book and the movie, is there a connection? Too tired to Google (God, I despise that verb.) Oh, and another possible Radiohead connection, the use of what I think is an obscure word — myxomatosis — in the book, the title of a song on Hail to the Thief.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

The Salmon of Doubt

A happy little surprise greeted at home this evening - a gift certificate to a sporting good store. My prize for my 2nd place age group placing in Sunday's 5K. I must have misread the results after the race. But alas, no running since then, the left adductor has felt brittle. Maybe tomorrow.

I'm thrilled to have discovered Douglas Adams. And I'm appalled that I missed the boat on him in the early 80's when "Hitchhiker" was all the rage. I was in college and working at a bookstore at the time; copies of Hitchhiker were flying off the shelves. It was a TV series and I watched it occasionally, lightly amused, but having not read any of it, I never appreciated Adams. What a dolt I was! Though I should just be thankful I suppose, as I now get to appreciate him fresh, unlike his veteran fans.

Douglas Adams and Richard Dawkins, one of my favorite writers/thinkers, were actually mutual fans and, because of that, great friends (Dawkins wrote Adams a fan letter after reading Adams' Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, twice in a row.) Adams introduced Dawkins to the woman who would become his wife (Lalla Ward, an actress who appeared in Doctor Who). And Dawkins delivered a eulogy for Adams after his untimely death (heart attack) at 49 in 2001.

I've been listening to The Salmon of Doubt on audio. Absolutely delightful! Published posthumously, from the hard drive of Adams' Mac. The reader, Simon Jones, who played Bridey in Brideshead Revisited, is perfect. I adore that particular variety of English accent. I've always been slightly fascinated at the variety of British accents
— from John Lennon (agreeable) to the BBC (dreadful) — I wonder if anyone's cataloged them. Anyway, if you're not familiar with this book/CD, please check it out; you will want to thank me for bringing it to your attention.

This is what Adams said to me this morning on my drive to work (channeling through Simon Jones) about Pierre Menard, Author of The Quixote, a very short piece by Jorges Borges, who I'm really only familiar with because of a one page piece which has always tickled me called Borges and I. So I went to the bookstore straight away at lunch to check it out, it's only six pages. I'm not nearly erudite enough to appreciate the piece right way, but once I waded through the initial section, it was quite engaging. Basically a literary criticism of a fictitious author (re) writing Miguel de Cervantes' Don Quixote, from scratch, word for word, literally, but from a contemporary point of view rather than from a 1602 point of view. Very clever.

But in the process of browsing, I came across a Borges essay entitled The Nothingness of Personality. Jesus Christ, where the hell was this when I really needed it — when I was seven or eight years old! I've been contemplating and working out the details of nothingness, free will, determinism, god, consciousness, the self, and existence feverishly since then. This quote, actually attributed to Schopenhaur:

An infinite time has run its course before my birth; what was I throughout all that time? Metaphysically, the answer might perhaps be: I was always I; that is, all who during that time said I, were in fact I.

This quote made me very happy indeed. I've never heard this expressed quite this way, in exactly the way I've been feeling it for many many years. I will suppress my urge prattle on and on about. Either you get it or you don't.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

A Fool Awaits an Answer

By the sea, by the desolate nocturnal sea,
    Stands a youthful man,
His breast full of sadness, his head full of doubt,
And with bitter lips he questions the waves:

"Oh solve me the riddle of life!
    The cruel, world-old riddle,
Concerning which, already many a head hath been racked.
    Heads in hieroglyphic-hats,
    Heads in turbans and in black caps,
    Periwigged heads, and a thousand other
        Poor, sweating human heads.
Tell me, what signifies man?
Whence does he come? whither does he go?
Who dwells yonder above the golden stars?"

The waves murmur their eternal murmur,
The winds blow, the clouds flow past,
    Cold and indifferent twinkle the stars,
        And a fool awaits an answer.
— Heinrich Heine

Monday, October 30, 2006


... imagine a puddle waking up one morning and thinking, 'This is an interesting world I find myself in, an interesting hole I find myself in, fits me rather neatly, doesn't it? In fact it fits me staggeringly well, must have been made to have me in it!' This is such a powerful idea that as the sun rises in the sky and the air heats up and as, gradually, the puddle gets smaller and smaller, it's still frantically hanging on to the notion that everything's going to be alright, because this world was meant to have him in it, was built to have him in it; so the moment he disappears catches him rather by surprise ...
— Douglas Adams

Windy Race

Ran the Wakefield Run For All Ages 5K around Lake Quannapowitt, 18:48, 14th out of 359. Splits: 5:50, 6:05, 6:07. Same exact time as I ran last year at the same race. Not what I had hoped for time-wise, but, there were strong head winds for more than half the race, mostly the latter half (my best time around that lake is 18:20.) I'm sure I wasn't the only one with positive splits.

I heard someone say that times were probably two minutes slower due to the winds — an exaggeration to be sure, but possibly one minute. Winning time was 17:14, with no others below 17:00; last year's winning time was 15:47 with seven below 17:00. Felt like it could have been an 18:00 effort run for me. It was pretty good/strong but tough run overall. Left adductor had gotten more sore with three days off (what's with that?), but was fine for the race and feels fine now in the evening (and what's with that?)

We went to see a local production of Children of Eden this afternoon. Not bad, but not as good as the production my daughter was in last February. But very moving in any case. I love that musical — powerful, primitive themes. Despite my attitude toward religion in general (it's all bunk, sadly perhaps), the more I ponder it and read about it, the more I'm impressed with the power of religion; no wonder it caught on — it is, or was anyway, a Good Trick of evolution, like the eye, or flying, or the simulation engine (consciousness) — a Good Trick being an evolutionary development which has such excellent survival benefits that it evolved many times independently.

I'm back to reading Dennett's Breaking the Spell, which I'd started but put down to read The God Delusion and Letter to a Christian Nation. Fascinating stuff. There are other books on the subject, but this is the first I've read. Taking a systematic, scientific, critical look at the phenomenon of religion. Why it exists, how it evolved, how it might have benefited early human survival, why it continued to florish.

He admits up front that much of what he will hypothesis may probably be crap, but a primary point is that we should get started in this venture of systematically examining religion, formulate some hypothoses, and test, debate, and refine the ideas in the scientific tradition.

He makes many interesting points and relates many interesting facts, but one point that struck me in particular was the issue of death in early humans. The death of a loved one evokes great emotions of pain and suffering. For very good evolutionary reasons (The Selfish Gene — this explanation doesn't, of course, mean that these feeling aren't real). However, upon death, there is the problem — something must be done with the dead body.

Humans, for very good evolutionary reasons again, have a well developed sense of disgust, and we are rightly repelled by dead bodies as they quickly become a haven for all sorts of horrible contagious germs. It would be very surprising indeed if this dichotomy — the great emotional attachment to a loved one and their physical embodiment, and an anticipatory/developing sense of disgust over that same, now dead, body didn't evoke a great deal of psychological turmoil.

Dennett didn't mention this, but I can imagine ancient scenarios in which violence erupted (and premature death ensued) because a loved one of a deceased tried to prevent others in the community from taking appropriate actions in the disposing of the dead body.

Anyway, due to this great personal turmoil of these situations, which all individuals came to realize could be visited upon them (with the expansion of consciousness), there may well have developed careful and ritualized ways of disposing of the dead body, thereby satisfying the hygenic needs of the community, but also respecting the psychological needs of the surviving loved ones. He also talks about the persistent memory we have of deceased loved ones, how they are still present, almost viscerally, in our minds after they're gone physically, and how this phenomenon could easily lead to the notion of spirits/ghosts. Just a couple ways in which the kernels of religion may have developed.

Dennett discusses the sense we all have to alert us to dangers in the world out there, again evolutionarily developed. He calls it our hyperactive detection device (HADD). We hear a rustling in the woods, what is it? The wind? A tiger? An human from an enemy tribe? We all relate to this. Many people today, including myself, have a hair-trigger startle mechanism — I often nearly fall out of my chair in my cube at work if someone comes up behind and just says "hi".

This HADD, together with the intentional stance, the idea of attributing intentions to entities outside ourselves, could lead to notions of gods. Add to the list of possible causes for the rustling in the woods — maybe it's a walking tree, whoa, a walking tree! Hundreds of ideas/explanations fleet through the mind, some practical, some pedestrian, some fantastic, but only a few capture the imagination. A walking tree, or some god, an invisible human-like creature could be behind the events.

I'm not explaining it well, but reading Dennett, it's easy to imagine how early humans could attribute the happenings of their surroundings, the weather, earthquakes, sickness, death, etc. to invisible beings. I strongly recommend this book to anyone interested in religion, even/especially true believers. Though Dennett is honest in not hiding his atheism, the thrust of his book is not to disuade believers, he just is looking for a natural/scientific explanation for the origin of religion. It doesn't necessarily preclude the existence of (your) God.

I like what he says in defense of the scientific investigation of the origins of religion, especially as it relates to believers:

A good professor of music theory can take apart a Mozart symphony or a Bach cantanta and show you how the various design features work to achieve there "magic," but some people prefer not to delve into these matters, for the same reason that they don't want stage magic tricks explained: for them, explanations diminishes the "wonder." Maybe so, but compare the uncomprehending awe with which the musically uneducated confront a symphony to the equally superficial appreciation of someone at a soccer match who doesn't know the rules or the fine points of the game, and just sees lots of kicking the ball back and forth and vigorous running around. "Great action!" they may sincerely exclaim, but they're missing most of the excellence on offer. Mozart and Bach — and Manchester United — deserve better.

Friday, October 27, 2006


Cut short my planned 7 miler on Wednesday to 4.1 miles, 6:40 pace or so. Left adductor started aching, so I'll have a few days of rest I suppose. Always something, tired of complaining, over and out.

Charles: But, my dear Sebastian, you can't seriously believe it all.

Sebastian: Can't I?

Charles: I mean about Christmas and the star and the three kings and the ox and the ass.

Sebastian: Oh yes, I believe that. It's a lovely idea.

Charles: But you can't believe things because they're a lovely idea.

Sebastian: But I do. That's how I believe.
— From Brideshead Revisited

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Another Seven

Seven miles at lunch, Longfellow-Charles-Smoots double loop+. 7 @ 47:04 (6:43), 6.7 @ 44:45 (6:42), 6 @ 40:02 (6:40). Splits: 6:26, 6:41, 6:41, 6:41, 6:55, 6:35, 6:58. Chilly, pushing a little, mostly relaxed though, no issues, for once, just very slight occasional twinges in left adductor, and left rear plantar still a bit tight.

The fact the we live at the bottom of a deep gravity well, on the surface of a gas-covered planet going around a nuclear fireball ninety million miles away and think this to be normal is obviously some indication of how skewed our perspective tends to be. — Douglas Adams

Sunday, October 22, 2006


Five days off, after a seven mile thrashing of my left quad/adductor in the chilly October afternoon along the Charles last Tuesday. 7.7 miles this afternoon, a perfect October day in New England. All the worry over the quad was, fortunately, for naught. 7 miles at 46:30, 6:39 average pace, splits: 6:26, 6:32, 6:33, 6:35, 6:37, 7:10 (hill), 6:34. Probably take it easy for a bit, make sure it's really okay, it was nearly four weeks off for me last Spring when I messed up my right quad. Four tentative races planned between now and Thanksgiving.


"I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it." — Mark Twain

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Dawkins Interview

Tuesday, October 17, 2006


Seven miles at lunch, Longfellow-Charles-Smoots double loop+. 47:12 (6:41), 6.7 @ 44:45 (6:41). Splits: 6:43, 6:23, 6:36, 6:55, 6:42, 6:45, 7:06. Not great but not horrible, a bit chilly, pushing too hard at points, not as relaxed as Friday on this route. Quads, both, now a bit sore.

Someone asked me about my marathon plans; over to the right there it still says I'm attempting marathon training. Yeah, about that. It was going great up until last March, building up for a go at the Vermont City Marathon, but got a quad injury (hypothesis is too much running on the flats, around the lake). Cut way back, missed the marathon, built up a bit, but no real distance, lotsa races though, 14 between May and September.

Now, I'm trying to start in on more miles, at least on the weekend, 10-13 for the past few weeks now. I'm thinking *possibly*, if things go well, a try at the Hyannis Marathon in February. And if I qualify for Boston (3:30:59 or less), then Boston less than two months later.

But it's all virtually still in the back of my mind at the moment, taking it as it comes, I'm not going to really force it, if it happens great, if not, it's okay, I'm still running. To be honest, I may not be passionate enough about doing a marathon, and this may be (just) cause for failure. It's sort of checkbox achievement, something to do before I die, just to say I did it.

Almost inevitably when someone finds out I run (e.g. at work, which happens a bit since I have my race bibs tacked up on my cube wall), they ask if I do marathons, like anything less is pedestrian, makes me feel I should do a marathon. And theoretically, on paper, I ought to be able to do it, and with a relatively respectable time. My attitude toward the marathon is opposed to my regular running/racing regimen, which I really enjoy, to keep healthy, fit, and to satisfy my competive streak. But that could change, we'll see.

Reading Letter to a Christian Nation, great stuff, please read it, but one goofy thing that never occurred to me before — why is it that religious people, when it comes to praying for the sick, generally omit amputees? Religious folk pray for the reversal of a cancer and other diseases but don't typically pray for the regrowth of a leg for a person who lost one in a land mine accident, for example. Why not? (Surely God could do it, salamanders routinely accomplish this feat.) It is because they know implicitly that such a thing is simply preposterous. There is a web site,, devoted to this very issue.

Sunday, October 15, 2006


Early and very cold soccer games for the kids. Then off and running from the soccer fields for a quick 10 miler, twice around the lake. Left back plantar fascia still sore, felt it for the first 2 miles, then either loosened up, or numbed up. 1:06:59 (6:42 average pace) for the 10, 0.4 cool down. Splits: 6:24, 6:41, 6:36, 6:46, 6:41, 6:40, 6:43, 7:14 (hill), 6:33, 6:37. Tough but mostly because of preoccupation with the foot. Otherwise, pretty strong, especially up the half mile hill. Weirdly/hopefully, the plantar soreness has subsided as the day's gone on, could be the wine though :-)

Friday, October 13, 2006


Plantar fascia still a little sore, but well enough to run, after four days off, was getting crazy. 7 miles, Longfellow-Charles-Smoots double loop+ at lunch. Record time for that loop, 7 @ 46:15 (6:36), 6.7 @ 43:50 (6:33), 6.2 @ 40:30 (6:33). Felt pretty dang good, pushing but not intensely so. 6:20 pace is *almost* relaxed, I can totally imagine it being so. I think the heat of summer affects me much more than I thought, thinking about running this route a number of times this summer, how tough it sometimes was, and now, 50F, beautiful running weather, I'm flying.

Useful link — test your download speed — and wicked pissa UI.

Thursday, October 12, 2006


No running since 13.2 on Sunday. The time off has given my left foot an opportunity to get injured, doing nothing. What the. No idea what happened, but the front of my left heel, following the plantar fascia back from the front right up to the fleshy front part of the heel, there, is very sore, getting better I think, maybe I'll run tomorrow. But what happened, it was fine after the 13 on Sunday, though in retrospect I do remember stretching it extra, there was some tightness there, but it gradually got more sore after the run. Maybe a heel spur, never had that, I figured that'd be back farther. No idea. I hoped I was done with injury for a while, running is moving from one injury to the next it seems sometimes. Only good thing is it reminds me that I like running. I just want this to get better, I just want to run.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Another Half

After last weekend's decent 13.1 miler, another today, same route, from the Z's soccer game/field to the lake, around three times and home, 34 seconds faster than last week - 1:29:40, 6:51 average pace. Splits: 6:33, 6:41, 6:45, 6:51, 6:44, 6:45, 6:48, 6:52, 6:50, 6:58, 7:36 (hill), 6:40, 6:54, 0:38 (6:20). Nicer day, almost hot near the end, but tougher than last week, especially the last mile and a half, just wanted to stop, but was determined to break 1:30:00.

What a beautiful weekend. Yesterday, rest; went to the Topsfield Fair with the family — been going there since I was a kid (40 years ago!), I love most the smells — autumn, cotton candy, fried dough, horse shit, italian sausage, awesome — lotsa white trash, cigarettes, scary ride attendants, fun stuff.

Strange is our situation here on Earth. Each of us comes for a short visit, not knowing why, yet sometimes seeming to divine a purpose. From the standpoint of daily life, however, there is one thing we do know: that man is here for the sake of other men — above all for those upon whose smiles and well-being our own happiness depends.
— Albert Einstein