Friday, November 30, 2007

PVTC Cranberry Crawl 5k

I ran this race on a bit of a whim. My pal Jon and I were looking for a race to do near Thanksgiving and this fit the bill nicely. The location was in between our homes and the price was just right - $5. No t-shirt, no ChampionChip, no fancy after party. Just a good old-fashioned road race. I want a few goodies now and then, but the no frills races are nice too. Low key, smaller turnout, and a bit of a seasoned crowd. The runners aren't necessarily faster or better than you find in the bigger races, but they are much more old school for the most part and I can really appreciate that.

So, in the wee hours of a cold Saturday morning, I put on some ratty running gear and meet Jon over at Belle Haven Park for this thing. I did get some coffee before leaving the house, of course. I can't run a race without coffee. Well, I can't do anything in the morning without a big cup of coffee.

The race crowd was on the small side and we couldn't tell who was running the 5k or the 10k (both races started at the same time and you just turned around early if you were running the 5k). The race director, or at least the old guy announcing things, was hard to hear and really made no attempt to speak up. So, Jon and I gathered in the start area only because we saw everybody else doing it. And, we only started running because everybody else started running. The race went down a paved, two lane path, with just enough room for three people or so across. And, even though there was a race going on, they didn't close off access to the path to other people, so it was a bit of a challenge to stay on our side of the path and still make headway through the pack of runners ahead of me. I ran until I found my spot between a few runners and just kept going. I felt okay to the turnaround, but I could tell I didn't have much gas and I couldn't hold a sub 7:00 pace through the run back to the start. I didn't care too much, frankly, since I didn't expect much from this race and was just doing it for fun. And, as I closed in on the finish, I realized there just wasn't anyone around me. So, since I couldn't catch anyone and nobody was going to catch me, I didn't even bother to run hard. And for my mediocre effort, I still did alright.

I hung around waiting for Jon and then we proceeded to say fairly negative things about the racewalkers whenever they were out of earshot. Yes, we are jerks. But you have to admit that racewalking is pretty ridiculous.

Did I mention it was cold? My hands hurt because I had no damn gloves and my lungs were just burning at the end. As Jon put it, we could just taste the blood. When I run hard in cold weather, I often have to cough for a long time after. But, as the winter continues, I get acclimated to the cold and it doesn't bother me anymore. I just need to keep running outside.

In the end, it was a nice race and a good way to kickoff the holiday week that was coming up. Not a PR, but my first "win" of sorts. I placed second in my age group, 30-39, and walked away with a cranberry walnut bread from Bloom. The sticker on the bread said $4.99, so I almost made back my $5 registration fee. I'd call that a pretty fair deal. And you can now refer to me as the Cranberry Crawl 5k 30-39 Runner-up, if you please.

PVTC Cranberry Crawl 5k Bib #169
Alexandria, VA
November 17, 8:00 am

Time: 22:37
Overall Place: 13/57
Gender Place: 8/28
Pace: 7:17

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Small Note

I have many things to post, but I don't have the time for all of them right now. What I do want to record is what might be a big day for Noah, developmentally. Maybe this is nothing, but it seems pretty important to me.

Our little family was sitting around the kitchen table this morning. A little snacking and other stuff. Noah was drawing on a piece of paper. I figured he was just doing his usual doodling or practicing his letters or something like that. He likes to write out his name too. Well, in any case, I heard his say "M-O-M" and then he showed his paper to Audrey. Lo and behold, Noah has written "Mom". That is the first time, at least to my knowledge, that Noah was written any word other than his own name. He knows how to spell cat and dog, but I don't think he has written them on his own yet. Of course, Audrey and I were really excited and praised him a great deal. Since I was sitting next to him, he turned to me, held up his palm, and said "Give me a high five, Dad". And I did.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Master of Bullcrap Artistry

I think that it is might be absolutely true to say that MBAs are completely bullshit and that only chumps bother getting them. I mean, I don't really know this for sure and I'm never going to pursue one, but I have seen a lot of evidence to suggest that business schools and the folks that study in them are just well-scrubbed bringers of death. The absolutely soulless pursuits that MBA grads seem to so often pursue just seem so amoral as to be immoral. You know, the idea that valuing profit growth or increased productivity seems to be an amoral one on its face, but I think that is actually an immoral one when you consider the structural incompatibility of many corners of our economy with real morals, like social justice and freedom of speech and, oh, like equal rights and crazy stuff like that.

I am thinking about this because I had lunch with a former coworker today. She is really cool and a lot of fun. She's very intelligent and unique and one of those people who is easy to like and hard to forget. And yet, this really interesting person is now a milquetoast consultant at Accenture and will soon leave that job to go get her MBA. When I asked her why, she told me that she really enjoys strategic management consulting and so she feels like she needs to get an MBA from a top-flight business school in order to do the kind of work she enjoys. Her answer disappointed the hell out of me. It made me realize that her outward appearance and presentation is really just a sham. In the end, those brightly colored pants and funny stories are simply a way to cover up the fact that she is as bland and unoriginal as all the other yuppies that share her upper middle class Montgomery County roots.

Okay, I feel a little bad in saying that. I do like her, but I can't help the fact that her decision saddens me.

I Feel Old

Yeah, because I look old these days. I just had my 33rd birthday, which isn't all that old considering my likely lifespan. But, I seem to be getting much, much grayer these days. Enough so that people have noticed. I've let my hair grow a bit, so that has accentuated the gray. But still...I can't help but wonder where the 18 year old version of me went.

As an aside, my wife made me an amazing carrot cake. Hot damn. I celebrated my birthday by eating a full quarter of the cake, although I didn't do it in one shot. I had to go back to that cake later in the evening as I still had the taste in my mouth. I just couldn't resist nibbling at it until I had finished the quarter. I'm glad we gave some away or else I'd have eaten a lot more on the following night.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

What is Consciousness?

I don't have the answer, but I have had an idea that isn't entirely worked out. The basic concept is that consciousness is a physical property of matter, much like magnetism. It isn't a property like mass or hardness or anything like that, but it a measure of the effect of a field on the material. So, consciousness is a universal field that permeates space, just like gravity and electromagnetism. The reason that we are "conscious" is based on our ability to react to this field, so our sense of having consciousness is simply a measure of our ability to react more strongly to the field. Just like gravity has differing impacts or effects on us based on where we are, on Earth or in the middle of space as an example, so too does consciousness have differing effects or impacts on matter. And just like iron shavings are more magnetic than sawdust, we are more conscious than a sunflower. Of course, this could get weird since gravity is, at least based on current theory, not so much a field as it is the transmission of particles known as gravitons. So, the fields I mention are really called forces which are applied at varying strengths based on the effects of subatomic particles. I guess consciousness could operate in this fashion, but this is really the point at which my idea begins to break down.

I also have some ideas about what it is that makes us more conscious as opposed to other objects or things. I think that it could partly be related to our chemical composition. There are many different elements resident in the human body - in fact, there is no human body without them. We are largely carbon, but we also have copper and iron and oxygen and selenium and sodium and potassium...the list is endless...all running through us and essential for what we know as life. I think it is possible that the concentration of one of these elements or maybe the concentration of some compounds based on these elements may be the substance that resides within us that is largely sensitive to the conscious field of the universe. If I had to place a bet, I'd say the most important element for consciousness is carbon, but that seems like a pretty obvious choice. They don't say "carbon-based lifeform" for nothing, you know.

But there is some very interesting research that has been done that suggests that consciousness is the result of the brain's function as a quantum computer. This computing happens within the microtubules, which are protein structures within our cells. These structures are not made up of lots of carbon, so maybe I am totally wrong about the element idea above. The theory that focuses on microtubules, the Orch OR theory, makes some very interesting assertions that go beyond simply suggesting that consciousness arises at the level of synaptic activity. By claiming that consciousness is built on quantum computation, it opens the door to the brain being able to assess all probabilities of any possible outcome. At the quantum level, this has nothing to do with things like seeing the future or weird ESP-like behavior. However, there have been some odd results from experimentation that suggests that the brain does somehow pick up information about the future, even when it doesn't use that information to make a "better" decision.

Whew. I almost got all New Agey for a minute there.

I think about this a lot, partly because I am fascinated by physics and how much it relates to everyday existence. But also because of two things that I firmly believe: that there is no God of any kind, but that we are something more than simply matter moving through spacetime. So, if we are more than directionless matter or perceive ourselves to be more than that and there is no divine presence, what is it that makes us all feel like we are connected to something greater? What is it that gives us a mind in the first place?

As an aside, I also often think about the idea of order in the universe and why it would exist. Order is often referenced to suggest intelligent design and a creator and all that stuff. But, I don't think any of that is needed for order to arise in a complex system. And, I think that is a different post.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Doing Something Else

When I think about work and what would make me happy, I am always clear in knowing that I do not forsee myself working in "tech" for the long term. The simplest way to put it is that I don't really like it all that much. It pays well and I seem to have a knack for it, but I get no real enjoyment out of it and find the majority of my effort and the greater efforts of the organizations I work for as meaningless in the long run. I might help the company make money and maybe the company helps others make money, but we don't really create value. We aren't helping to build anything that will stand the test of time, we don't help people in their daily lives, we don't make anyone's existence any more enjoyable or productive. Frankly, much of today's economy seems to be a glossed-over welfare state for the well-educated, slightly bored middle class and their progeny. We get jobs that we don't have to work too hard at and that ultimately don't produce anything tangible. We are moving bits around, bits in the binary sense, and we get paid - but our pay is just a bunch of bits transmitted over the wire to a bank account that is nothing more than a record in a database somewhere. Everything is virtual in this economy and I can't help but feel entirely disconnected and disinterested.

I yearn to do something else; something that has more meaning, something that I can touch and feel and experience. I have a number of ideas as to what it is, but none are fully formed. Okay, some are more well formed and thought out than others, but my detailed plans are rather precious to me and I'm not ready to share them with anyone other than my wife. However, speaking or writing about the looser stuff is satisfying and helps me to organize things as well.

Here is one - I've always loved the idea of doing radio. I have no background or experience whatsoever. But, I think I could do a pretty decent job of talking with people and of entertaining folks as they sit in traffic. Sure, I have a pretty dirty sense of humor, but I think I am wittier and more intelligent than simply a pack of fart jokes. Maybe this blog is my way of saying the things I want to say that I don't get to say since I don't have my own radio show. I don't think that the current state of radio really provides a venue for me to have the kind of show I'd want to have in the first place. A mix of music and talk with no strict boundaries on what subject matter needs to be covered or what demographic needs to be targeted. If I could get on air and just do what I think is interesting radio, I think I could build a decent audience. But, I'll have more luck doing pirate radio out of my basement than I will trying to get a job at a commercially run radio station here in the DC area.

Canary in the Coal Mine?

A coworker of mine came by this morning to personally deliver the news of his resignation. I knew about it yesterday, but it was nice that he wanted to come tell me himself and talk about his situation with me a bit. He has been here for over 5 years and he is someone I have a lot of respect for. I don't always agree with him or think he is doing the right thing in a given situation, but he is very intelligent and was always looking to create value here. I will miss having him around and talking about college football - he is a Michigan alum and a huge fan - but I will really miss his insight and his understanding of the company's culture. And, his departure makes me think about what the future might hold for this company and for me. When a former coworker of ours left, he told her that she was the "canary in the coal mine". My question is, what does that make him?

Thursday, November 01, 2007

3 Going On 30

Sometimes, Noah can really surprise me by what he says. I'm not talking about big vocabulary words, although it is funny and impressive to hear him say that he is frustrated about something (or someone). It is that he sometimes makes a connection or comments on something or takes a conversation in a direction that I'm not expecting. It is in those moments when I can almost see the new neurons connecting inside his head and I can tell that he is growing up and maturing.

I get Noah his breakfast every morning during the work week. And, if Naomi is up, I bring her into the kitchen to be with us. This morning, I told Noah that Naomi is my favorite baby in the whole world and I asked him if she was his favorite too. Listen, I'm a corny, loopy Dad who is absolutely in love with his kids. I can't help but say dumb, goofy stuff like this. If you think I'm a sap, I've got a shoe I'd love to shove up your ass.

Noah, who is also crazy about his little sister, says that she is his favorite baby too. Then he says "I have another favorite baby. We saw her picture at the ceremony". Then, quietly, he says "Eva". I agree and then he says "It was really nice to see her picture and to light all those candles for her".

Sometimes it seems as though Noah is doing a better job of remembering Eva than I am. And he never even had a chance to meet her.


I haven't run in over two weeks and I think it is making me depressed. I've gained a few pounds, which never makes anyone very happy. But, I am much more frustrated and dissatisfied at work and I feel like I've been cursing more often. I could have explained it as being due to lingering pain and discomfort, but I don't have any at this point. I just think I need to run again - to get outside and to burn off some of the gunk. One of the things I've found in running is that the rhythm of the act itself is a form of meditation. I often find myself in a bit of a trance while running, particularly if there isn't much distraction around me. If there is heavy traffic on the roads or lots of folks out running and biking, I can't let myself get too locked into my own head. But, if I'm running in the dark or it is just quiet out, I can get to a state where my mind is detached from my body and I don't really notice that I'm running at all. I lose track of the time and stop paying attention things like pace and distance and how far from home I still might be. It is a necessary respite for me from everything that has happened to us this year.