Wednesday, April 30, 2014

This Is How They Suck You In

About 10 years ago, I started thinking more about long-term goals--setting them, working towards them, accomplishing them. Like lots of people in America over the past 20 years, I decided one fitness goal would be running a marathon. I think the explosive growth in the popularity of marathons has to do with the binary nature of the race. You either did it or you didn't. It's much easier to evaluate than something like "become physically fit." What does that mean? What weight, blood pressure, diet, sleep, and psychology satisfy the goal to become physically fit? Running a marathon is seen as a nice instrumental variable for physical fitness; it's reasoned that you can't complete a marathon unless you're physically fit.

It's not a very good instrument, though, because it's not only possible to complete a marathon without being physically fit, it happens quite a bit. Once you realize this, you have to include a time in your goal. Just completing the race marks a certain level of fitness, but what most people want when they set a personal goal to run a marathon is a higher level of fitness.

In 2005 I set a personal goal to run a marathon that year. I looked around and found a race in Houston in January 2006, and set that as my goal. But completing my associate's degree and moving to Kansas got in the way of training, and then our financial situation made traveling to Houston impossible. So I carried the goal over for a few years, until 2008, when I aimed for a marathon in Kansas City in October.

I trained well during the spring and summer, but when school started back up at the end of August, I no longer had time for training. The final six weeks, when I was supposed to be taking the final steps of preparation, I was actually regressing. On race day, I had vague hopes of finishing in about four hours. I was under two hours at the half-marathon mark. By about 16 miles, I was running out of steam. I ended up walking most of the way after 20 miles. I finished just under six hours.

I had completed a marathon, but in such horrible fashion that it barely even counted. I encountered plenty of people who said, "Oh, you ran a marathon? What was your time?" Then when I hesitated, they said, "I'll tell you mine first because there is no way you were as slow as me." Then they would tell me a time much faster than mine.

So I decided to run another marathon, and do better, and then check it off my list of goals and be done with it. I signed up for a marathon in Louisville, about two hours away from where we now live. It was eight months in the future, allowing for adequate preparation, and it was on a Saturday instead of a Sunday. I wanted to finish in 4.5 hours. Then I started running.

September was slow going. October and early November were great. I began to think 4.5 hours was very possible, and if I kept progressing as quickly, four hours would be possible for me. But on Thanksgiving I pulled my left hamstring playing football (one touchdown reception, one interception). I stretched a lot, tried to run a very slow four miles the next day (and only got through one), then ran 10 miles the next day. By the end of the run, I had very painful plantar fasciitis in my right foot.

I couldn't run for most of December. I wore a boot that stretched my foot. I rolled my foot on a rubber ball. I started running again right before Christmas, but could only go four miles before needing to stretch. I lowered my expectations back to 4.5 hours.

I expected some difficulty training over the winter, but I thought I could use a treadmill for the worst weeks of January and February, and then be back outside for the longer runs in March and April. But this winter was terrible, and I ended up having to do up to 20 miles on a treadmill a few times. That's a terrible way to spend a Saturday.

Anyway, going into the race, I thought 4.5 hours was a reasonable goal, and I had hopes that, if everything went right for me, I could be closer to four hours.

I started aiming for 10-minute miles, but I was coming in closer to 9:45. The weather was great and I felt good, so I wasn't trying too hard to slow down any more.

At 8.5 miles, I got a terrible cramp in my left calf. I limped to the side of the course and stretched as much as I could, then hobbled on, trying to get my leg to loosen up through use. By about 12 miles, I wasn't really limping anymore. When the 4.5-hour pace guy passed me at 14 miles, I was surprised because I didn't know I was in front of him. I started behind him, then lost track of him and thought he was ahead of me, even though I knew my pace was below 4.5 hours. When I passed my family at 20 miles, I was feeling good. I thought I had enough to finish well, and my calf was loose enough to keep running without much of a problem. It was between 22 and 23 miles that I began to slow down a lot. My calf tightened back up, the weather got warmer (the temperature was fine, but lots of bright sun and no shade for most of the final six miles). I picked it up at 25 miles, and finished under five hours, at 4:59:47.

So here's what went well: I ran the entire race, aside from walking for a few seconds at each aid station when drinking. I had a bad injury less than a third of the way through the race, and I still finished. I was an hour faster than my last marathon; if I keep lowering my time one hour each race, I'll be among the world's elite runners in just three more marathons. Now here's what went poorly: I wanted to finish in 4.5 hours and I was off that time by 30 minutes. I trained more thoroughly than I did in 2008, but I still wasn't as exact as I should have been.

Now that I've improved some, I can see how I would improve even more. I don't really like running marathons, but now I want to do another. With better eating and fitness, I could get down under four hours. Then I'd retire forever from this terribly stupid event.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Virginia High Point

Because we're moving to China for two years, we're spending this spring and summer seeing the last few things we'd want to see in America before the Great Social Reset leaves them burned-out husks, uh, I mean, before we're gone for a little while. And on that list of places to go and people to see are my sister's family. Her kids' Spring Break (officially known as The Holidays) was the week before my marathon in Louisville, so we made a week-long circuit of it. The Screamapilar made sure to establish his dominance of the his row in the car.

I'm going to try this approach the next time I get assigned the middle seat on a flight.

First we went to Maryland to see my wife's pen pal of 25 years. They'd never before met in person. She and her husband and two daughters were very nice. She's not just a good letter writer, she's a good person, too.

Then we went to northern Virginia to see our friends who practice home-based chiropractory. Then we went to southern Virginia and spent three days visiting with my sister's family.

The day we left, we took these photos. The one of the adults looks especially lame. My sister should see this post and e-mail me the pictures from her camera (assuming they are better).

We drove to Knoxville, Tennessee and spent the night. Since the route took us past Mount Rogers, the highest point in Virginia, we decided to add it to our list of completed high points.

I wasn't sure how much slower is hiking than walking. So I did an Internet search for "hiking speed."

Does it seem to anyone else that the Internet of 2003-4 was much more helpful than the Internet of today? Back then, you found information. Now, you find ads and highly-rated responses on Yahoo Answers and other useless sites that give a patina of expertise to the crackpot opinions of those with so little to do that they actually answer questions on Yahoo Answers.

So everything said, "A person walks three miles per hour, and since hiking is walking, plan on three miles per hour." I knew this was an incorrect answer, but I couldn't tell how incorrect. Combine this with a seemingly-helpful high-point website that proved fairly incomplete and inaccurate, and our hike wasn't as successful as we'd hoped.

Nevertheless, we completed the 8.75-mile round trip, adding another high point to our list (DC, DE, WV, PA, OH, IN, MD, and now VA).

Useful information for anyone else contemplating a hike up Mount Rogers:

  • Round trip from Massie Gap is not eight miles, it's much closer to nine.
  • The ponies aren't wild. They aren't even really feral. They are managed by wildlife conservation officers. And they live within a fence. You know what you call wild ponies that are fenced and cared for? Ponies.
  • The "trail" is not really a trail for about half the trip. You will be rock-hopping over wind-swept moors. This is great for anyone wishing to pretend he's a character in Wuthering Heights, or in The Secret Garden, or in the "I've forgotten who I am" chapters of Jane Eyre (belated spoiler alert), but not to anyone else, really. The trail is poorly marked through this section, and the rock-hops are adult sized, so six-year-olds will slow you down tremendously.
  • There are four geodetic markers on the top. They are nearly identical. Three with arrows are pointing to one without arrows. Presumably the one without arrows is the summit. However, one with an arrow was visibly higher than the one without arrows.

We've recently started branching out from drive-ups (because our kids still aren't on-board with the idea of high points), so even though this looked like a good idea for one of the first hike-ups, it wasn't. We thought this would be easier than Hoye Crest, and it was not.

Monday, April 28, 2014

ARS-Fest, 2014

Saturday was the 1st Annual ARS-Fest. It was also the last Saturday before Articulate Joe turned 10, so we spent ARS-Fest completing Cub Scout requirements for his Leave No Trace Awareness Award, Outdoor Activity Award, and World Conservation Award.

His final requirement was a water conservation project. So we picked up garbage along the bank of the Great Miami River and talked about pollution and mitigation. My not-yet-10-year-old understands the concepts of Environmental Economics better than the Environmental Studies majors to whom I taught the subject at university.

We saw a dead mouse. Articulate Joe didn't want to pick it up. We stopped at the low dam, which the county insists will kill anyone who looks at it, and this of course has made it that much more fascinating to my son.

On the way back, we stopped at the high school baseball game happening on the other side of the levee. The home team was down 1-0, and after two walks and two hit batters, a bases-clearing double made it 5-0.

Once we got back home, we finished Cub Scouts for the year by conducting a soil experiment, pouring water in cans containing different types of soils and timing how long it took for the water to run out the bottom.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Mail Bag: Chinese Counties Edition

Stephen asked:

Does China have counties (sorry, People's Jurisdictional Units)?
According to the helpful Wikipedia page on national administrative divisions, China has 33 first-level divisions (which can be thought of as provinces, akin to American states) and over 300 second-level divisions (which can be thought of as prefectures, akin to American counties). The third-level divisions are termed "counties," but are not equivalent to American counties, which are second-level divisions.

Now for the reality check: we're not going to track the Chinese prefectures we visit. We're not even going to aim for visiting all the provinces. Some of that is due to Chinese restrictions (foreigners need special permission to enter Tibet), but most of it is due to crazy-ass diseases (some of the backwoodsey provinces have malaria, yellow fever, and rabies).

Right now, we're thinking we'll visit Shanghai, Hong Kong, and some neighboring countries. Before we go, I hope to be done with 50% of America's 3,132 counties. That's going to have to be sufficient for a while.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

More New Counties in Appalachia

Last week we went to visit my sister in Richmond, Virginia. Then I ran a marathon in Louisville, Kentucky. The drive from Richmond to Louisville got me 15 new counties (Sevier TN, Knox TN, Blount TN, Union TN, Anderson TN, Campbell TN, Scott TN, Morgan TN, Fentress TN, Pickett TN, Wayne KY, McCreary KY, Clinton KY, Cumberland KY, and Monroe KY). Later I'll blog a little about the main aspects of the trip. But first, the thing nobody but me cares about: the map of the new counties.

Proudly Captured

The local judicial election is between two Republican women. One of them lives down the street, so our neighborhood is full of yard signs.

Driving into town today, I passed billboards for both candidates. One declares the candidate is the local bar association chapter's preferred candidate.

Why would we want a judge that the local lawyers want? Lawyers know the law, presumably, but judges aren't supposed to make lawyers happy. Assuming each case has one lawyer on each side, every judge makes as many lawyers winners as losers.

Capture theory says government doesn't serve the greater good because the highly-interested parties gain control of the relevant agencies. Here a judicial hopeful proudly declares she is already captured by the special interests. And she thinks this should make her more desirable to us.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Movie-Star Shoulders

My wife started watching Safe Haven on Netflix. It starts with a woman being chased by a man at night. She immediately stopped the movie and told me I had to watch it with her. So last night, we watched it.

There's a scene where Julianne Hough and Josh Duhamel are in bed together, with their bare shoulders visible, implying nudity beneath the sheets. And I said to my wife, "His shoulders are almost as exquisite as hers." They were both tan and completely hairless. Southport is a small town, but evidently not so small that it doesn't have male body-waxing services.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

"Monkey for Sale" / "How Much for the Monkey?" / "Oh, He's Not for Sale"

Cristin loves to hear the story of how my grandmother ordered a monkey from the Spiegel catalog in the 1950s. I don't think she can quite believe that you used to be able to mail-order monkeys. I don't see why that would be so weird; you used to be able to mail-order brides. Imagine the size of the crates they came in. (Although if the crate was too large, you'd just send it back before they even took it off the train, am I right? Right? [crickets])

Anyway, for some reason I decided to look up the Spiegel catalog online and see if someone had taken a picture of the "monkey for sale" ad. Maybe Cristin called me a liar. Maybe she just had a look in her eye that said, "I'd call you a liar, but since you're friends with my husband, I'll hold back." Actually, I'm unsure Cristin has an "I'll hold back" look. Nevertheless, just in case anyone out there thinks I'm lying when my family tells the story of the monkey that almost bit off my dad's finger so my grandpa shot it and buried it in the yard, here's proof (at least of some of it).

I did this so long ago that I can't remember if I've already blogged about it or not. Oh well. It's not like I'm running the trimmest blog on the high seas, you know.

Title paraphrased from The Simpsons episode "The Great Money Caper."

Monday, April 07, 2014

Raising a Hooligan

My daughter is a fan of Chelsea Football Club.

She's also a fan of Fernando Torres.

So when I sent her an article about Chelsea's manager, José Mourinho, and his plans to replace all four of the club's strikers, she was incensed. She wrote back:

This is why he is horrible. Even if he doesn't get rid of Torres, I am still mad at him for getting rid of Mata, he CAN'T get rid of all his strikers or I will sneak up on him and punch him in the face a billion + 1 times.
She included some pictures she doctored.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Farting in the Library

Sometimes our kids'soccer games have a dead hour between them. The games are 20 minutes away from home, so we have to find something to do around that town. Today we went to that town's library.

In the kid section, two kids were playing computer games (this is what passes for "spending time in the library" for kids these days; we were there to look at books like freaking dinosaurs or something). As we passed these kids, Screamapillar farted.

Farting in public is still considered gauche in America (but for some reason, wearing ear gauges at a fast-food job is not). However, comma, most people pay infants the courtesy of pretending to not notice.

Not these boys. It was the most entertaining thing that had happened to them all day (which is no great endorsement of the computer game they were playing). But when I returned to the section on my own, the boys started laughing again. Did these boys think I was the farter?

I told my family later, so we could all get a laugh at how ridiculous these boys were.

Tonight, I told Jerome some obvious lie and ended with, "True story." He replied, "True story: you were the one who tooted in the library today."

I'm not saying I'm above farting in a library (Fenwick Library, 2010--my Twitter feed will back my up on this), but I swear to you, at least today, it wasn't me.

Amateur Chiropractory

The Internet says "chiropractory" isn't a word. Well, it should be. Using "chiropractic" as a noun is just stupid.

Friends had us over once (really we have friends! or at least, we did at one time) and somewhere between dinner and dessert, the husband dislocated his shoulder. (I'd like to say we were arm wrestling at the time, but I think he actually was just sitting there--evidently, he's quite fragile.)

The table was quickly cleared and I felt like I was about to see some olde-timey kitchen table surgery. "Cut this tendon, Ma!" But after raising the table with books under each leg, there was no cutting. Not even any sawing. No, he just lay on the table and held a gallon of milk in his hand.

Talk about anti-climactic.

Friday, April 04, 2014

Stop the Presses: A Stupid Sign Exists in Suburbia!

When we lived in Bakersfield-Near-the-Potomac, there were 7-Elevens everywhere. In some instances, there were 7-Elevens on adjacent property. (Seriously. Those were the best Redboxes to visit, because it the one didn't have anything good, you could walk to the other on the way back to your car.)

In the time we lived there, two new 7-Elevens opened within a mile of our home. One ended up with this bizarre monument sign.

At first we thought the larger sign was replacing the smaller sign, but they co-existed for over a year. They even share a permanent base.

Even more bizarrely is the signage directing you to the entrance.

"Not so strange," you say. Until you see a site map.

The entrance sign directs you to turn in at Chipotle's driveway, then circle two properties before reaching 7-Eleven's front door (as shown on the map with a red arrow). Also shown on the map by an orange arrow is the route a sane person would take.

This idiotic signage would upset me every time I drove past. (I know this reveals my terrible character. Another feature of my terrible character is not caring when it's revealed.) So much so that I once stopped by the site to take pictures of the signage so I could fume about it to people who hadn't seen it. (Asking, "You know that 7-Eleven sign on Sudley?" usually gets the response of, "No.") And now here we are, months later, and I need something to blog and I'm cleaning photos off my phone, and now you get the pleasure of asking yourself, again, "Why do I read this blog?"

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Winner Beware

Remember this contest? Of course you don't. Well, neither did I. Until I saw this blog post today.

Now that it's been two-and-a-half years, it's probably time for me to pay up. So here's the deal: I need Angela to find a grocery store in her area that has a bakery that can do one of those edible photos on top of a cake.

I've said too much!

Youngest Grandma - Remember That?

There was a while when I was fascinated with stories of super-young grandmas. Remember? You should, it has its own post label and everything. Anyway, I'd share a news story and usually add something thoughtful, like, "Whoa!" But then a lady left a comment about how distraught she was over being a grandma before she was 40, and then Google searches for "youngest grandma" brought back stories of incest and pedophilia, so I stopped.

Well, today I happened to see an article about a British man who, at 27, is about to become his nation's youngest grandpa. I got to thinking about how awesome a 27-year-old grandpa could be--young enough to be cool and active--but in this case, the grandpa's in prison for murder, so he probably won't be involved in very many trips to the water park. Of course, he could be out of prison just in time for his great-grandchild's birth, right before he turns 40. Here I am, pushing 40 myself, and I don't even have a grandkid yet, let alone a great-grandkid. Jeez, what a loser I am.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

"I Don't Mind Being Called a Liar When I'm Lying"

A few years ago, I read about an American businessman trying to come up with a legal way of producing chocolate eggs with toys inside. These products are produced and consumed elsewhere in the world, but the American government has determined they are unsafe.

I talk about this when I teach Industrial Organization as an example of government market interference. Are we to believe that foreign kids are dying from this product and their parents aren't stopping it? That other western governments allow the sale of unsafe products? That foreign kids can grasp the "don't eat the not-food part" concept while American kids can't?

A student of mine went to Italy for The Holidays a few years ago and brought back one of these eggs for me. This despite the fact that doing so can lead to large fines. ("Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God." - Ben Franklin)

So when my wife saw these products on sale at the store last week, she texted me a picture and demanded to know if I'd been lying to her this whole time.

No, I haven't been lying. There's been a breakthrough in American chocolate-egg-containing-a-toy manufacturing technology. Some styles are now legal. The news stories about this routinely claim that smuggling is now no longer necessary, but that is not true. All the styles that used to be illegal are still illegal. This is still a story of market interference, with massive resources committed to circumventing a problem that only exists because a bureaucrat created it. There will still be chocolate egg enforcement at the border, making criminals of ordinary citizens who know better than the Federales whether they will try to ingest a toy.

Although Americans are not more free than they used to be, at least I've demonstrated that I'm not a liar. Because, like Homer Simpson, "I don't mind being called a liar when I'm lying, or about to lie, or just finished lying, but NOT WHEN I AM TELLING THE TRUTH!"

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Looking Into "In To"

I went into the house. I went in to start dinner.

Sometimes the word "in" and the word "to" will appear next to each other without becoming the word "into." In the previous example, it's fairly obvious (although one thing I've learned about Americans and grammar is that, to a major portion of the populace, no bit of grammar is obvious).

But what about when speaking of "checking in"? Would you say, "I checked into our hotel" or "I checked in to our hotel"?

Here's my opinion: the verb is "to check in." The word "into" would turn part of the verb into part of the preposition. Here it would be appropriate to use two words: I checked in to our hotel.

In most cases, it seems, if you can replace "to" with "at" without grating on the listener's ears, it's appropriate to use two words (in to) instead of one (into). "I checked in at our hotel" sounds fine. "I drove in at the city" sounds strange, or else has a distinct meaning (Where did you enter the State of New York? I drove in at the city.).

This, of course, is of interest to no one. (Maybe I should have led with that.)