Saturday, September 30, 2006

9/8-9/2006 - Playing hard

With each of my kids, I felt an inexplicable responsibility to help them learn to play. As if my children may have gone out in life to be the only ones with no understanding of what "fun" is. I haven't been as diligent with the baby, but I have distinct memories of showing my eldest how one could make plastic animals talk to one another, in English or whatever animal tongue they chose.

Despite my fears, my eldest eventually learned to have fun. He has recently shown great aptitude for it, spending as much as 40 minutes making plastic animals talk to one another. The baby also shows signs of developing this critical skill.

I don't see the baby so much (especially during the week) so it all starts with the nightly bath. For the most part, the bath has been a period of exploration, during which the baby finds things he shouldn't and experiments with what happens when they get wet. On occasion when the boys bathe together, the Eldest has taken great delight in sticking foam bath toys to the baby. The first inkling of "fun" I saw in the baby was the moment he stuck a foam toy to himself and looked up at me with that drooly grin.

Of course, this was as much imitation as it was having fun. But this week, he has begun to have unambiguous fun in the bath. Somehow he discovered that the big splashes were [a] emanating from him and [b] fun. All of a sudden, we were all soaked as the baby repeatedly struck the water, shrieking with delight.

I am overjoyed to watch my boys having fun. I can really think of no greater fatherhood experience to date. I look forward to what lies in store.

34,500 enjoyable steps today. Cheers,

9/5-7/2006 - Viroqua, WI

Today, I talk about Viroqua, a mere 20 hour car-ride from my city of residence. Like many of you, I was curious as to where the name came from. A trip to the city's charming website revealed as little as may ever be revealed: There are quite a few legends suggesting possibilities, but many of them contain the daughter of a local native American chief (named Viroqua, of course).

Of additional note is the library, in this sleepy city of 4,500 or so. The library is one of the 2,500 or so libraries that Andrew Carnegie donated around the world. Although many may remember Carnegie more for the Homestead Strike or his industrial prowess, his lasting impression on the U.S. is definitely one of philanthropy.

In addition to Carnegie Hall, Carnegie Mellon University and Diplodocus Carnegiei (really) he saw it fit to help libraries spring up around the country. A strong sense of what book learning had done for him, combined with an urge to use his wealth to enrich society, led him to his little "library problem," by which the people of Viroqua, among others, still benefit.

40,000 beneficent steps over these 3 days. Cheers,

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

9/4/2006 - I'm back...

Forgive me readers, for I have sinned.  It's been about 9 days since my last post.  Or did I use that joke last time?
So much to blog about, so little time.  First a little politics and then some humor.
In this day and age of spin, it seems like you can count on certain media outlets to promote their candidate through thick and thin.  I remember seeing conservative media that proclaimed Bush to have won every debate he been in.  Well, sure.  If you get to define "winning" on the fly, there you go.  The same conservative media was at a loss following the first gubernatorial debate in Massachusetts this week.  At the end, the (conservative) host from WTKK agreed with the (conservative) host from Fox news that the (liberal) Democrat had won.
How could this possibly happen?  As long as she has been in the public eye, the Republican candidate (who is currently serving as Lieutenant Governor) has exuded incompetency.  She is famous for quoting Marie Antoinette in support of her political views.  She allows her opponents to define her positions.  She was caught promoting legislation that benefited her husband.  I am sure that she has many good attributes which helped get her to where she is today, but none of these were on display during the debate.
But that isn't wholly what did her in.  The Massachusetts debates has two facets with which I'm not so familiar.  First, the debate was 4-way, between the Dems and the Reps, but also including an independent who has a legitimate shot at second place, and another independent who has no legitimate shot of anything.  The second peculiarity was that the moderator showed no willingness to prevent the candidates from talking over one another.  So the Democratic candidate would answer a question with a serviceable sound byte and then the focus would move on.  By contrast, the Republican candidate would give a bizarre answer than then struggle to clarify while the two independents would launch into unfathomable filibusters of dubious germanity.
It's nice to know that there are still some performances that have to be acknowledged as "losing."
And now for some humor.  A friend was visiting the other day and offered to pour water for my eldest.  She reached over the entire length of the table and poured, some into the glass, but mostly onto my eldest's hand.  Then she turned to me.
"Would you like some water in your glass?"
"Sure.  Or, you know, wherever."

16,000 debatable steps today.  Cheers,

Monday, September 18, 2006

9/3/2006 - And yet, J.G. moves

Well, 24 hours on and I'm still alive. Actually, in certain ways I'm already on the mend. What hurt the most last night (feet, leg muscles) but a few oddities remain. My hip muscles (or whatever) are the most sore, causing me to actually limp as I hobble around. I didn't feel them at all yesterday, possibly because they were drowned out by the other pains.

My best guess is that I actually stretched the other muscles that were sore, causing them to heal faster. I don't even know how to stretch the hips.

Yesterday was an awesome experience. Hopefully I will forget the discomfort of today, enabling me to sign up for next year's walk. I made a number of mistakes (training too little, carrying too much) that I look forward to correcting.

And maybe I'll even recruit some folks to walk with me...

47,300 steps today (and that was just my training day -- 62,300 steps for the walk itself!).


Sunday, September 17, 2006

Mile 26.2

That's the walk and I am out of here.

60,800 steps so far today.


Mile 20

I'm bushed.

45,000 steps and counting.


Mile 17

38,500 steps!

Starting to feel it in my feet but the Eldest is hoping to walk with me at mile 23, so something to walk for!


On the road again

31,800 steps and we're off!


Mile 14!

So the "halfway" mark turned out to be at mile 14, so I am currently stretching at Wellesley High school, waiting to hook up with the rest of my team of walkers.

I feel good and it's great to be surrounded by all of this enthusiasm. Go Jimmy Fund!

30,000 steps so far.


Mile 9

1/3 of the way there! It's going to be a scorcher -- 7 to 10 degrees higher then originally predicted. Happily the Wife thought to freeze my sports drinks.

Blessed be the wife.


Mile 6

13,300 steps, 105 minutes.

My Mp3 player ran out of juice back at mile 4. I'd switch to the phone, but I have to make sure I can check in with the wife round about mile 23...

Mile 3

Coming up on 7300 steps. For those without sliderules, that's less then 2000 steps per mile. Awesome.

Sunrise was beautiful.


Mile 0

5:45, and I'm off.

1100 steps just getting here.


Saturday, September 16, 2006

9/2/2006 - Final Jimmy Fund Prep and a little Astronomy

Well, this is it. In about 6 hours, I hope to be following the path of the Boston Marathon. Wish me luck.

In case I didn't think that the International Astronomical Union was out to get me, they went and changed the name of Xena. To be honest, I'm not really sure why I liked the name Xena. I never watched the show. I'm a fan of the whole mythology-name convention. Xena (and its moon Gabrielle) just amused me.

Well, now Xena is Eris. Eris is the Greek Goddess of Trouble and Strife. The name alludes to the varying factions of astronomers arguing over Eris' status (planet vs. dwarf) and is not a commentary George Bush (as others have suggested).

However, the IAU threw me a bone. The moon formerly known as "Gabrielle" shall hence forth be known as Dynomia, which Greek for Lawlessness, or Lucy Lawless, for short.

17,100 anarchic steps today. Fight!

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

9/1/2006 - A yardstick - Jimmy Fund Prep

One of the problems I have encountered during my training is that I never really know the distance of my walks.  I just walk around the city, counting my steps (well, my pedometer does the counting).  I have generally assumed about 2100 steps to the mile, but when I have tried to measure that, I often get a larger number.  While walking around, that is pretty insignificant.  When doing a marathon, the difference is between 55,000 steps and 60,000.

Well, this past Sunday I had one of my better opportunities to measure the distance of my steps.  I was with the Eldest at a picnic and we came across a race track.  The Eldest dearly wanted to run around (and be lifted over the hurdles) so off we went.  I did a bit of jogging to keep up with him, but a fair amount of walking and a little back tracking.  It took me a little over 500 steps to do a quarter of a mile.


Maybe it will only take me 55,000 steps on Sunday.  That would still be 7.5 hours at a minimum and probably longer since I will be walking as part of a team...

14,000 relieved steps today.  Cheers,

Monday, September 11, 2006

8/31/2006 - All about the mustard

Since I have been having some difficulty tracking down some of my rest stops here in Wisconsin, I decided to take a look at some of the sites I have been missing. For example, had I managed to make my way to Mount Horeb, I would have been treated to an exposition on mustard.

At the Mustard Museum here I could have been introduced to over 2,300 varieties of the stuff. Happily they have a pretty good website (no tastes are downloadable yet) so I was able to learn a little something about the history of the condiment.

For example: Mustard seeds were found in ancient Egyptian tombs. Nobody knows for sure how long this has been a condiment used to spruce up meals. The earliest reference to mustard in the Dijon area of France was in the 14th century, but it is believed that the monks there were developing the stuff considerably earlier.

We Americans didn't catch the mustard wave until the early 20th century but in 2006, we harvested more than 40,000 acres of mustard seed.

I briefly flirted with mustard after one of my brothers-in-law showed me how good it was with salami. For a while I was eating it at work, with my pretzels. But then I got some on a shirt.

That was the end of that.

16,000 condimential steps today. Cheers,

8/29-30/2006 - Bosstown, WI

The Mighty, Mighty Bosstown!

Bosstown is an unincorporated splotch of land in Richland County (hmmm, maybe I was in Richland county afterall) and has little else to say for itself in the first few pages of a google search. It may be near a dairy college in Wisconsin. But maybe not.

Contrary to popular belief, it is not the fiefdom of Bruce Springstein. Or Dicky Barrett.

27,100 terse steps today. Cheers,

Saturday, September 09, 2006

8/28/2006 - Double disappointments

Some time ago, I was talking to my eldest about the Red Sox and he interrupted me:

"Daddy, I root for the White Sox."

Was he sure?

"You root for the Red Sox, but I root for the White Sox."

Eventually, I learned to accept this. I began letting him know when his team won and mentioning the players' names to him. As the Red Sox season went into a downward spiral, it occurred to me that I could take some pleasure in the post-season if my son's team made it in. Alas, the exciting Minnesota Twins look poised to upend the Defending World Champions so me and my son shall both be disappointed.

Although I shan't tell him.

18,500 heavy-hearted steps today.

8/26-7/2006 - Lone Rock, WI

From one mysterious name to the next, tonight I stroll into Lone Rock, WI. Actually, there are two Lone Rocks in Wisconsin (casting an unflattering light on the use of the word "lone"). One is in Richland County and the other is about 60 miles north, in Juneau County (whetting my appetite). I am passing through Juneau, of course.

Alas, all of the information I can find on line, even on Wikipedia, seems to be about Richland. And its 929 residents. I can only imagine how many residents live in my Lone Rock.

So I decided to look up real estate prices in Lone Rock (either). The most expensive house I could find for sale turned out to be 32 commercial lots along a highway ($800k). For $200k, I could get a 4 bedroom, 2000 square foot house sitting on an acre of land.

Now why did I do that to myself?

29,500 lonely steppes over these two days. Cheers,

Thursday, September 07, 2006

8/25/2006 - Inconceivable!

The media is reporting something that seemed inconceivable only 12 months ago.  Based on recent polls, it seems likely that the Democratic Party will picks up significant seats in the House, possibly even enough to flip control.  In the Senate, gains are also likely, but nobody is forecasting a flip.

To take a step back, flipping the House in 2006 is inconceivable enough that I ignore this report as much as one that forecasted that Democrats would win every seat in the House.  I generally regard the media, at least those elements that are openly sympathetic to the Democratic party (e.g. NYT) as being somewhat biased on these matters.  That being said, the polls have been surprising enough to merit the reporting, and that is significant.

One of the oddities of this report is that gerrymandered house is seen as being more vulnerable than the ungerrymandered senate.  I can think of at least two likely explanations.  The "Democratic" explanation is that House elections are referendums on National Policy while Senate elections are more about Senators.  I know my Senators and their characters quite well (and not just because one of them ran for President).  I know who my Representative is, but can't really tell you much about his policy.  Still, gerrymandering means that Representatives choose their voters, so you would think that Republican Representatives would tend to live in districts full of people who support National Policy right now.

The Republican take on these numbers is that they are wishful thinking.  One can argue that pollsters don't do a good job identifying "likely voters," or that voter opinions rarely stay stable from here to November.  And they may well be right.  The recent history of pollsters (dating back to Clinton v. Dole) shows that polls often overstate Democratic strength.  I think that a big part of this is that the party resonates well with younger voters, whereas voting doesn't.

Still, as an admitted Bush opposer, I find the reports heartening and can only hope that the Democratic party will find something other than the high price of gasoline on which to campaign...

14,500 capitol steps today.  Cheers,

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

8/24/2006 - Of photons and Plutons

Evolution isn't the only scientific theory out there.  And if it is ever successfully refuted (in the courts of science, not popular opinion) it won't have been the first theory to fall from grace.  Nowadays, scientific theories don't generally crash and burn, but that wasn't always so.  One of my favorite examples of a theory that completely died was the Greek "4 elements theory," which hypothesized that everything they could see was constructed of 4 elements and that like attracted like (e.g. drop a stone and it will be attracted to the Earth, which is composed of the same element, more or less). 

As my astrophysics professor said in class, this was a legitimate Scientific Theory.  It explained past observations and made testable hypotheses. 

Which generally proved false. 

Hence crashing and burning.

Flash forward and Theories generally get better treatment.  Instead of being discarded, they are given a handshake for their notable service to mankind and are allowed to retire to the green pastures of textbooks.  For example, when observational evidence demonstrated that Einstein's theories could explain phenomena that Newtonian Physics could not, the New York Times devoted its entire front page to trumpeting the news.  But every high school Junior studies Newton all the same.  After all, Newton can explain about 99.9% of what a typical High School Student can see (physics-wise).

In my totally uneducated opinion, the difference between the Greeks' 4-elements and Newtonian Physics was the incredible improvement in observations.  Newton had far more to explain and therefore his Theory came closer to what any successor was going to have to produce.  The Greeks had far less to explain, so wildly different theories could explain the same observations.  Evolution has a lot of observations to, by now.  So whatever theory eventually replaces it will look a lot like it.

Of course, there are exceptions.  For quite some time, our theory of light always involved this concept of the "photon," a little particle that carried light with it.  This was a useful model. 

You could imagine the sun pumping tons of these little balls of light. 
You could imagine them bouncing off of trees. 
You could imagine how the process of bouncing off of trees and into your eyes allowed you to see trees. 

It explained why you couldn't see the trees
when a blimp passed in front of them,
or when the sun set,
or when you closed your eyes. 

Then came the 2 slit experiment and suddenly light wasn't just another particle.  It was a wave.  After some discussion, we came to realize that light exhibits qualities of particles and waves.  It must have been like someone announced that dogs had roots and photosynthesized. 

(I am resisting the urge to mention that their bark was still worse than their bite.  Whew!  That was close.)

Pluto is not earth shattering on that scale.  As James Lilek points out ( Pluto is still Pluto, even as it was before we discovered it.  This isn't at all like coming to grips with phloem filled dogs.  It's more like deciding that it makes more sense to refer to dogs as aardvarks.  Whatever you want to call them, they're still what they were.

So why am I having so much trouble with this?

8,500 soul searching steps today.  Cheers,

8/22-23/2006 - Black Earth, WI

Able I was, 'ere I saw Black Earth, WI. I'll bet you'd like to know how this city got its name. I sure would. Unfortunately, I can't find that information on line. Not even in Wikipedia.

What I can determine is that Black Earth has about 2,200 people in it (700 in the smaller Black Earth Village). Many of them are married. Some of them wish you to read the notes from the last town meeting.

Well, dear readers, I am going to have to punt. Here is what I did find on line about "Black Earth:"

Formed in 1999 and based in The Midwest, Black Earth set out on a challenge: bring back the attitude of 70's and 80's hard rock/metal and add the aggression and grist of today’s nu metal – without sounding dated."Look at the differences in the bands that the tributes are for," says guitarist Travis Crider. "Pantera sounds nothing like Queensryche. Suicidal Tendencies sounds nothing like Dio, and so on. I think that being able to cover this vast spectrum of bands, and do it well, shows how diverse we can be with our original music."

What they produce is an unrelenting force of hard rocking sound that screams allegiance to the metal heroes of days gone by with the kind of crunch that is unmistakably contemporary. Their four-song demo provides a handful of examples. In each, the rhythms are the driving pulse ("Down") that carry an emotive and often demanding vocal intensity ("Together We Stay").

Along with Crider, Black Earth is and Dale Christie (vocals), Duane Conn (bass), Brian Tonne (drums) and Craig Savage (guitar). The band's versatility and diverse influences are clearly intertwined with each other. All of Black Earth's songs come from the heart. The lyrics usually come from the darker side of life experiences -- what they've felt at a certain time: loss, gain, decline of the western civilization -- you name it. The band doesn't sit down with the intention of writing a song that sounds one way or another. In the end, the songs are the feelings of five guys crafted into a single statement.That statement says metal didn’t start with the nu-metal band's of today – but with many bands before, through many other heydays. Black Earth keeps that in mind with every versatile step. "

Hey, it's not every town in Wisconsin that rates its own Heavy Metal band.

36,000 head-banging steps on these two days. Cheers,

8/21/2006 - "Putting the DUH in Canada"

From the Scientific American podcast:

    A professor in Canada applied for funding to study whether the U.S.'s Intelligent Design movement had had any impact on Canadians' beliefs about evolution.  The request was denied on the grounds that the professor had given insufficient evidence for Evolution.  Although he was not able to complete his research, the professor concluded that I.D. had had some impact.

As I've mentioned before, I'm slowly working my way through "Of People and Pandas," the dominant I.D. textbook out there today.  I've also started listening to Dr. Zachary Moore's Evolution Podcast (Evolution 101) dedicated to laying out evolutionary concept in relatively simple language.  The combination is jarring.

I am finding some positive things in "Of People and Pandas," and I'll try to say something less negative in a future post, but as Moore points out, the book engages in some deceptive language.  I'm aware of some of it, like saying 'Evolution is a theory and Intelligent Design is a theory.  These facts fit both theories, so we can't use these facts to determine which is right.'  Some is less obvious, like saying 'micro-evolution happens because of a, b and c, but no mechanism can explain how macro-evolution would happen.'

The first statement is "true," but only if you use "theory" in a loose, ambiguous sense.  In the scientific world, "theory" has a more tightly specified meaning, a model that explains all relevant observations and makes predictions.  I.D. does not meet that criteria, so it's technically more correct to say that "Evolution is a theory and Intelligent Design isn't a theory."

The second statement is true, I guess.  But it's even more sneaky than the first.  The point here is that I.D. has created an ambiguous distinction between two kinds of evolutions (technically, within kind and from kind to kind, although the definition of kind is hard to pin down).  Scientists don't make that distinction.  The reason that I.D. does is that evolution within "kind" is easy to demonstrate in an experiment -- it just takes a few generations of fruit flies, which is pretty quick.

From what I can tell, it's much harder to demonstrate evolution from kind to kind (e.g. Monkey to Man), so this distinction allows I.D. to accept what is clearly true while continuing to argue against the more important point.  My studies haven't led me far enough to defend the scientific view that the same mechanism which drives evolution within kind can drive evolution from kind to kind, so I'd better leave it at that.  It's just that one can see how carefully I.D. is defining the argument.  I am reminded of Bill Cosby's routine in which he imagines that George Washington wins the coin toss, and thus is able to specify that his troops will hide behind rocks while the British are required to remain in formation.

11,000 ornery steps today.  Grump,

Monday, September 04, 2006

8/20/2006 - Rice and onions

It's been a while since I posted a recipe. Today I tried something that Savta fed us once -- rice and fried onions. Nothing special:

Rice: Make 3 cups, dropping salt and a tab of margarine in with the boiling water.

Onions: 1 small onion, cut rings in quarters and fry.


It didn't work, but you could see that it might. For starters, the mixing didn't go well. I didn't leave enough room in the bowl to mix thoroughly (without spilling). Also, the onions weren't very mushy, and didn't really mix in. I can imagine somehow saucing up the onions or boozhing them (as Spring might say).

Also, I used canola oil and the taste was not where I wanted it. Maybe this is the ideal time for olive oil -- I have to think about that.

I'm taking suggestions.

19,000 experimental steps today. Cheers,

Sunday, September 03, 2006

8/19/2006 - Testing my mettle (Jimmy Fund Prep)

On some days, you can either blog or you can walk.

Today (9/3/2006, actually) was my "come-to-Moses" day. The stars were aligned perfectly for walking, so I was going to see just how likely a 26.2 mile hike was for me.

The good news. I put in a lot of footage without having to slow down. Over the course of 24 hours, I put up close to 48,000 steps (20.5-22.5 miles). Most of that was between 7:30AM and 4:30PM and most of that was either 7:30-11:00 or 3-4:30. In between 11 and 3 I met my family (and Silver) for lunch and light walking around Copley.

I'm guessing that the Jimmy Fund walk will be between 57,000 and 60,000 steps, so it's not a big leap from 48k to, say, 58k.

The bad news. Things went far more slowly than I had hoped. My plan is to start out from Hopkinton at 5:30am and meet up with my teammates (at mile 13) around 9am. It seems very unlikely that I can do 13 miles in 3.5 hours. Time for plan B.

The day was also a useful test of my MP3 plan. As you probably don't know, I usually use my cell phone as an MP3 player, but it can only handle about 3 hours of playing time. If I use it, I will lose the ability to call the wife and say "my feet hurt." We can't have that. So I dusted off my old Arcos MP3 player to see if it still worked.

The good news. It works! I was able to install the software on our new computer and move several podcasts to it. I was worried that it wouldn't handle big files so well, but one of the files was more than 50Mb, no problem. I also tried using my non-noise cancelling headphones. I often couldn't understand what I has listening to, but it was good enough. And no ear-pain, which is the goal.

The bad news. I now remember that my old MP3's rechargable battery was going south when I originally switched to the phone. Instead of the 6 hours it claims to provide, I get more like 2.5. Well, that's probably good enough. It will get me most of the way to my teammates, and I can always supplement from the phone.

13,000 so-so steps today. Cheers,

Friday, September 01, 2006

8/17-18/2006 - Madison, WI

With due apologies to the great city of Madison, no mapquest link to show my route today as I am away from my usual bag of tricks.  But I do have a more personal account of the city thanks to ace reporter Actu-Pella, who used to live in the area.  A.P. recommends that I stop by the capital, one of the more beautiful capital buildings across the country.  As always, Wikipedia is there for the assist (,_Wisconsin) this time including a photo of the aforementioned capital.

So what shall I do in Madison?  Were I passing through this labor day weekend, I would doubtless be stopping in at the "Taste of Madison" festival, during which area restaurants set up booths to display their best foods around the capital square.  In reality I tend to eat very little dairy or red meat (always watching that cholesterol) but my virtual counterpart just doesn't have self-restraint, so he'll probably nibble at this and that.

After brunch, lunch and a little linner, I'll wander over to Lake Mendota.  Want to see what I'm seeing?  Try the following webcam:

Finally, no visit to Madison is complete without a visit to the Babcock Dairy.  What flavors of ice cream do they boast?  How about

  • Peach Melba
  • Mudslide
  • Caramel Creek
  • Badger Blast
  • Blue Moon
  • Coffee Truffle

Badger flavored ice cream?  I'll go with strawberry.

29,500 carnivorous steps today.  Cheers,