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December 31, 2005


Three years ago, I was training to run a marathon using Jeff Galloway's system -- taking walking breaks, increasing distance by one mile per week, and two weeks between long runs after passing 10 miles. I made it to 13.1 miles with a seriously stiff and sore leg at the end -- but I made it. Two weeks later, I ran 15.0 miles, but was stiff and sore the entire second half of the run. Two weeks after that, I had to stop midway through my long run due to serious pain, and my marathon training attempt was over.

It took visits to two different orthopedists, and finally buckling down and going to physical therapy, but this year my leg finally started to feel better. When I went to Paris last month, I decided to exercise by running instead of buying overpriced day passes to do cardio work in Parisian gyms. My runs were short, but enough to convince me that I might be able to take up running again on a regular basis. I did more running the following week in Orlando, felt great, and my decision was made.

I'm in Charleston for New Year's weekend, and while researching before my trip down, found a rail-to-trail conversion, the West Ashley Greenway -- 10.5 flat miles of packed dirt, unlike the jarring sidewalks on which I usually run. I went out for a 14.0 mile run this morning, and honestly, I was a bit nervous about it given my injury history -- 14.0 miles would be right up in the territory where I hurt myself before.

I shouldn't have been nervous. Though I had some ankle issues, they weren't severe, and my troublesome knee was no trouble at all. I finished my run without any major problems, and a full 54 seconds per mile faster than my 15.0 mile run three years ago. A marathon seems a distinct possibility in 2006.

What have I learned so far from this experience?

  1. Don't ignore pain. It's your body's way of telling you something's wrong, and it's not going to get better on its own.
  2. Don't underestimate the value of physical therapy. A good therapist can teach you exactly what to do to correct your problems.
  3. Don't give up! Life is full of second chances. I seriously thought I would never have another shot at running a marathon. I'm not there yet, but based on how good I felt after my run today, I'm closer than I've ever been.

December 30, 2005

Prairie Postmodernism

I had too short a visit to really appreciate it, but I did get to see the newest Smithsonian museum on my trip to Washington this week:

National Museum of the American Indian

The National Museum of the American Indian, Washington, DC.

It's hard to get a feel of it from this photograph, but in person, it struck me as something like a collaboration between Frank Lloyd Wright and Frank Gehry -- an architectural Prairie Postmodernism.

(More information about the design of the museum can be found here and here.)

Docks to Doors

As I wrote recently, I did most of my Christmas shopping this year via Amazon. I didn't visit stores to scout out ideas for gifts; I did all of my research and buying online. According to this article in The New York Times, consumer spending online in November and December is up 25-30 percent over the comparable period last year, which is fairly amazing growth given how high online sales are already. It seems I'm one of millions with the same idea: avoid the malls and shop online.

Last year, I blogged an interview on NPR with the author of an article on "wells to wheels" efficiency -- looking at energy efficiency in automobiles from a whole-system approach, including the energy costs of removing oil from the ground, refining it, transporting it to gas stations, and then ultimately using it in cars.

With the "wells to wheels" concept in mind, what is the whole-system efficiency of finding and purchasing something online versus finding and purchasing it at the mall? It's a difficult question to even frame properly due to all the variables involved. If buying online, how many items am I purchasing for the same shipment? How quickly are they being delivered? If buying at the mall, how many items am I buying on the same trip? How far away is the mall? What is the fuel efficiency of my car?

One way to set up the question would be to look at typical answers to these questions and use those answers as the values. In other words, how many items does the typical online purchaser buy for a single shipment, and how are they typically delivered? How many items does a typical mall shopper buy on a single trip, how far away is the typical mall, and what is the typical fuel efficiency of American cars?

With answers to these questions, we could then compare the whole-system energy efficiency of online shopping to mall shopping. In other words, we could ask not about "wheels to wells", which is known, but about "docks to doors", which isn't -- unless this has already been researched. Has it?

December 29, 2005


From a very brief trip to Washington, DC, Burt Rutan's SpaceShipOne, now hanging in the entryway of the National Air and Space Museum:


SpaceShipOne, the first privately developed, piloted vehicle to reach space.

What impressed me was how quickly SpaceShipOne made the trip to the Smithsonian. It was just October of last year that it won the Ansari X Prize, and already it's on display.

I'll never get tired of that moment when I first walk into the Air and Space Museum. In that first room, the Milestones of Flight gallery, are the Wright 1903 Flyer, the Spirit of St. Louis, the Bell X-1, Friendship 7, the Apollo 11 Command Module, the Breitling Orbiter 3 Gondola... it's always wondrous to me that so many world-famous aircraft and spacecraft are on display in a single room.

December 26, 2005

A Belated Merry Christmas

For Christmas 2003 and 2004, my blog entries (2003, 2004) were the same -- an excerpt of dialogue from A Charlie Brown Christmas on the commercialization of the holidays. I thought about posting it again last night, but it just didn't feel right. Is Christmas incredibly over-commercialized? Yes. But it didn't bother me this year because of the time I was able to spend with family and friends. (Probably the fact that I nearly completely avoided the crush of the malls by shopping online helped.)

I took my daughter to my company's holiday party just a few days before Christmas. The day before Christmas Eve, I had my kids with me for presents and Christmas dinner before their holiday trip to California. I spent Christmas Eve with a good friend, and in the evening we attended a traditional French Christmas dinner graciously hosted by friends of mine. After a long run the next morning, I spent Christmas Day with another good friend. So Christmas this year was, for me, about being with friends and family, sharing food and wine and conversation... and it was the best Christmas in a long time.

Not that Lucy wasn't right back in 1965:

Lucy: Look, Charlie, let's face it: we all know that Christmas is a big commercial racket. It's run by a big Eastern syndicate, you know.
But it just didn't seem to matter this year. Besides, we all know that now Christmas is run by Amazon, which means it's run by a big Pacific Northwest syndicate, and somehow that seems far less troubling to me.

Oh, and last year, my resolution was not a single gift card. I ended up buying two, but given that that was down from at least a dozen last year, I'm reasonably happy with my progress.

Anyway, to you all, a belated Merry Christmas. I hope your holidays have been as good as mine.

December 24, 2005

Hand Baskets vs. Push Carts

Heard in the checkout line yesterday at Harris Teeter. I had walked up with a hand basket full of groceries. The bagger and cashier were both women.

Me (to Bagger): I won't need a cart for those bags.

Bagger: Are you sure?

Me: Yes. I'll be fine. Thanks.

Bagger (to Cashier): He sure did fit a lot in that hand basket, didn't he?

Cashier: He sure did. But men are like that.

Me: What do you mean?

Cashier: It's all about how much they can fit in a hand basket. I've seen men walk out of here with 12 bags of groceries from one hand basket.

Me: I can relate to that.

Cashier: Women are the opposite. Me, I can have one bag of marshmallows, but I want that push cart.

December 23, 2005

Quote for the Day

Yet another great quote courtesy of What Would Buddha Do? 101 Answers to Life's Daily Dilemmas. This is from the Anguttara Nikaya 5.43:

It's not fitting for the disciple of the noble ones who desires happiness to pray for it... Instead, the disciple of the noble ones who desires happiness should follow the path of practice leading to happiness.

December 22, 2005

My Date at the Company Party

My company held its holiday party earlier this week. It was our third holiday party in a row at the same venue, and it was gratifying to see that we've gone from a room in the back in 2003 to taking over the entire place in 2005.

The highlight of the party for me was the opportunity to take my daughter Kelsey as my date. She looked so beautiful and carried herself so well that people were astounded to hear that she's 15 and not 18 or 19.

Kelsey and Frank 1

Kelsey and Frank 2

Kelsey and Frank 3

My entire set of pictures from the party can be found here.

December 21, 2005

The Onion on Exit Strategies

And this story, "U.S. Troops Draw Up Own Exit Strategy"... well, this is as inspired, as funny, and as achingly true as anything The Onion has done in a long time:

In a striking rebuke of the assertions of the Pentagon and the White House that a swift exit is neither practical nor possible, soldiers of varying rank have outlined a straightforward plan of immediate disengagement, dubbed "Operation Screw This."

"We kicked around several withdrawal scenarios in our barracks, but ultimately settled on the idea of getting out of here as soon as possible," said Maj. Brian Garcia, who is on his third tour of duty in Iraq...

Pfc. Barbara Terland expressed the sentiment of many soldiers and Iraqis. "If the real reason we're here is to let the Iraqis run their own country, I have the perfect solution: my ass on a plane to St. Louis."

Inspired by the unilateral policies of the White House, Pfc. David Wareham has concocted a unilateral strategy of his own.

"My exit strategy is beautiful in its simplicity," Wareham said. "It involves me personally getting out of here the first chance I get. If I do that, I just might get back to my son, who is a year old and who I have never even met. If that doesn't work, I'll revert to Plan B, which is to retreat into complete insanity."

The Onion on Torture

From The Onion's latest issue, "CIA Chief Admits To Torture After Six-Hour Beating, Electrocution". Great stuff.

LANGLEY, VA -- An internal CIA investigation into the possible use of illegal and inhumane interrogation techniques produced a confession from CIA director Porter Goss Monday, with the aid of waterboarding, food and light deprivation, and the application of wire hangers hooked to a car battery to the testicles. "I did it. We did it. We all did it. The president knew. The president did it. Please, God, please stop," said a voice identified as Goss' on recordings produced by CIA auditors. "Stop, please stop. I'm sorry. I won't do it again. The president won't do it again. Please let me die." Critics of the methods used to obtain the information continue to claim that torture is an ineffective means of obtaining intelligence, pointing out that Goss did not sound sorry.

December 20, 2005

Quote for the Day

From What Would Buddha Do? 101 Answers to Life's Daily Dilemmas by Franz Metcalf. First the specific quote:

The real possession is life itself, and even that is only on loan.
Now the context:
What would Buddha do about material possessions?
See them floundering after their cherished possessions, like fish flopping in a river starved of water.

Sutta Nipata 777

Buddha compares us to these tragic fish, gasping in the brutal air, frantically looking for heaven-knows-what. Are we searching for deeper water? Are we struggling to snatch the last shred of food? Most pitiful of all, are we aggressively defending some useless possession in the very face of death?

We are some spectacle, I no less than the rest of us! I've told you about my computer -- wait until you hear about my house and car. Meanwhile I age, I slowly die, but I continue to vainly thrash around. We have got to remember, the real possession is life itself, and even that is only on loan. Buddha doesn't say we cannot enjoy the beautiful things we are lucky enough to have. He does say we should not let them distract us from our real job: awakening to our life and death.

December 19, 2005

Cognitive Dissonance

The car ahead of me at a stoplight this morning had this personalized license plate...

...and this bumper sticker...

December 15, 2005

Christmas Shopping Lessons

I've been staring at my list of Christmas gift recipients for days and days now, with no ideas for most of them, but determined not to resort to gift cards except in extraordinary cases. I finally buckled down tonight and decided that no matter what, I'd have all my Christmas gifts ordered before the evening was done. What did I learn?

  1. Amazon's gift lists are great -- not so much their editors' picks, but their lists of most wished-for gifts, and not always for the gifts on those lists themselves, but for the ideas they lead to.
  2. Amazon Prime -- unlimited two-day shipping for $79 per year -- is incredibly useful. It freed me from worrying about how to combine orders to reduce my shipping costs, and made it economical to ship even relatively inexpensive gifts.
  3. Sadly, Amazon doesn't have everything. Halfway through the process, I was spoiled enough to be irritated when I'd go to another site and realize that I'd have to pay for shipping, or that I'd have to pay sales tax.
So, 21 gifts later, I'm all done. I hope.

December 03, 2005

The Chickenman

I was at my town's holiday parade this evening, waiting for my daughter to march past, when The Chickenman drove by me. If I remember correctly, the words over the megaphone were, "The only ministry using trained chickens to spread the word of God." There's also this bit from the site:

Now the DVD "Chickens Gone Wild" (a fundraiser for Chicken Scratch Ministries) is available. You can enjoy watching the chickens doing their thing: flippin', go kartin', 4-wheelin', gettin' their hair cut, shopping for chicken shoes, and even being chased by the police. YOU WILL HAVE MORE FUN WITH CHICKENS THAN SHOULD BE ALLOWED TO HAVE!!
Honestly, is there anything more that can be said about this beyond simply reporting it and allowing it to speak for itself?

December 02, 2005

The Worst Bump Ever

I've spent too much of my life in airplanes, I think. I was an American Airlines Executive Platinum member for some years, which meant that I was flying at least 100,000 actual air miles per year, and I have plenty of miles on a variety of other frequent flier programs. But in all my years, I've never been involuntarily bumped from a flight. When volunteers were needed, they were always to be found -- including me once or twice when the deal looked good enough. So I've never witnessed someone being denied a seat for which they paid cold hard cash. It would seem that when it happens, it can be a very, very bad thing. This is from a column by Joe Brancatelli in USA Today:

Last Christmas Day, a business traveler and his 13-year-old daughter were involved in an overbooking situation with Continental Airlines on a flight between its Newark hub and Colorado. The traveler, Thatcher A. Stone, planned a one-week ski holiday, an especially important event because Stone is divorced, his daughter lives with her mother and his time with his daughter is limited.

According to Stone, he and his daughter checked in, checked their bags and proceeded to the boarding gate. At that point, Continental said there were no seats for them. The airline's only alternative was flights that would have gotten Stone and his daughter to Colorado just a day before they were scheduled to return. Stone refused.

Continental refunded Stone's $2,000 in tickets, but refused to retrieve the checked luggage, which was packed with winter clothes and skiing gear. In fact, it took three days for Stone to get the luggage back, essentially destroying any chance for a holiday skiing trip with his daughter.

Stone was furious with Continental's treatment. He also vowed to get compensation. But Stone is no average flyer. He's a lawyer. An aviation lawyer, in fact. An aviation lawyer who's also a lecturer at the University of Virginia. Stone's course this semester: Airline Industry and Aviation Law.

The small-claims case was a slam dunk, especially since Continental was represented by a customer-service manager. Manhattan Civil Court Judge Diane Lebedeff awarded Stone $3,110, including $1,360 for his non-refundable, prepaid expenses at the Colorado resort; $1,000 for "inconvenience damages;" and $750 for the loss of the use of the contents of the luggage.

The worst part of this story is where Continental refuses to take his bags off the aircraft. In Stone's position, I would have protested being bumped -- politely at first, then less so as time wore on. But at some point, were I convinced that I wasn't going to be allowed on the plane, I would have resigned myself and asked for my bags. I can only imagine my reaction if they refused. I would have demanded to speak with Continental's station manager. If this person, knowing my situation, flat out refused to take off my bags, therefore ruining my chance for any kind of skiing vacation with my daughter, I would have hit the roof. What kind of person would do that -- refuse to hold a plane just long enough to get bags off knowing that doing so was going to absolutely ruin the vacation of a parent and child who had already had their plans completely disrupted?

December 01, 2005

Portraiture in the Place du Tertre

On a very cold and intermittently rainy day last week, Kelsey and I made our way to Montmartre, taking the funicular up to the Sacré-Coeur. From there, we made the tourist trek a couple of blocks north and slightly down to the Place du Tertre, where artists compete to draw or paint one's portrait. We were cold, and wet, so decided just to walk around a bit and then go on our way -- and then Kelsey found an artist whose work she liked and decided she wanted to sit for a drawing after all. It took about 30 minutes, I think, and for the first 20 or so, I was quite skeptical -- until the drawing suddenly came together, like beating the ingredients for mayonnaise endlessly until it suddenly "takes". The artist was sweet, the portrait turned out beautifully, and Kelsey was delighted.

Portraiture in Montmartre 1

Kelsey having her portrait drawn in the Place du Tertre.

Portraiture in Montmartre 2

The portrait about 5 or 10 minutes from being completed.