Our lives: our decisions plus circumstances

Of course, it would be ridiculous to discount the role that external circumstances play in how things go for us. After all, some get horrible diseases, die in accidents that they had no control over, and some people’s successes are made possible by the circumstances that they were born into (e. g. President G. W. Bush, Senator Ted Kennedy).

And no: unless you were born with extreme talent, you’ll never be an Olympic athlete, Nobel Laureate caliber physicist, etc.

But all too often, people discount the role that their own decisions played in where they ended up.


Though there are NEVER guarantees, you can significantly lower the probability of ended up in a bad way simply by not doing stupid stuff.

August 19, 2014 Posted by | social/political | , | Leave a comment

Thoughts on dreams and aspirations

I am drinking coffee getting ready to put a few minutes in the hotel gym, prior to hitting the road.

I don’t know how many middle age people have dreams and aspirations that exceed their grasp. I do; in my case I dream up some professional project but…when it comes time to doing the actual research:

1. It is ALWAYS more difficult than anticipated.
2. Some unanticipated administrative duty comes my way.
3. Life throws another curve (even minor curves).

This is hardly unique to me; it happens to all of us and pushing through these things is all part of it and something that the successful people do. No one is granted “optimal conditions” (or very few anyway).

Then there are athletic dreams. One of mine is to finish another 100 mile event (or 100 in 24 hours) but…I have to remember how hard I trained when I last did it and what background I had PRIOR to doing the training. I never went over 50K in 2003 but I had a lot of these and plenty of 60 mile plus training weeks. THAT was the base I built on in 2004.

Right now, my mileage base is about half of what it was in 2003 (maybe a bit more than half) and my body balks at doing more.

Another 100 isn’t going to happen anytime soon…realistically probably never again.

I am finding that when I get older, I have to seek sports that are more in tune with what my body is better suited for; in running that probably means shorter events (try to do them faster). I might be able to walk a marathon (or, gasp 50K) if I have a few months of solid preparation (I didn’t have this for the McNot-Again failure).

Off to the gym; lifting keeps my shoulders and back feeling good. 🙂

December 26, 2013 Posted by | ultra, walking | , | Leave a comment

Aging spouse: finding the correct balance

Workout notes: it was 8 F and there was snow on the roads, so I opted to run indoors.
First treadmill session: 6.72 miles in 1:05; 6.21 at 1 hour plus 5 minutes cool down. I started out slowly and then increased the pace to 6.6 mph, which I held for the final 25 minutes or so. Elevation: 0 for the first 5 minutes, .5 for the next 55, 0 for the final 5 minutes.

Then .3 miles at 10 mpm on another treadmill (0.5 elevation).

Then I got on a treadmill next to Tracy and did 3 miles in 31:45; 5.5 (10:54), 5.6, 5.7 then 6.0 mph (10 mpm) Total: 10 in 1:08:45.

This got me to thinking: my spring half marathons were much better than my fall ones; perhaps it is the “faster” 10-12 milers on the treadmills that did the trick?

Aging Spouse
She is recovering from a broken foot and has Jones fracture; no weight bearing for 8 weeks. And she lacks the upper body strength to use crutches.

And yes, we have stairs and our ramp down the “outside” stairs is too steep for ADA purposes; she can’t do it alone.

BUT: while going up the stairs by “sitting, using the arms and good leg” is helping her upper body strength and when she can walk, the stairs ARE good exercise for her.

So, at some point (5-10 years from now) we’ll probably have to move but for now, the stairs are helping to keep her healthy by getting her to do what she wouldn’t ordinarily do, so ….if we move too soon that might hasten her physical demise.

Where is the balance? It is hard to tell.

December 10, 2013 Posted by | family, running | , | Leave a comment

Self Talk during a workout and the Emeriti Dinner

Workout notes: best running/walking weather possible: 50’s, not much wind, some sun…trees, etc.

I ended up “running” 10.2 miles in 1:51:40 and then did leg weights afterward (3 sets of presses, leg curls, push backs, adduction, abduction; on the presses I did: 10 light and more range of motion, 10 heavier with less range and that counted as a set except for the first one). The run wasn’t much of an effort but wasn’t supposed to be.

10.2cornstalkcourse I was 44:13 at just past 4 and more or less kept it steady. I wore my new New Balance M870 v3 shoes which drew a remark from a man who seemed to want me to stop and talk. It is interesting at how some will expect you to just drop what you are doing to talk to them.

Screen shot 2013-09-17 at 10.31.49 AM

The brain just chattered away though.

I wasn’t confident that I could make the distance, but it was no problem at this easy pace.

I saw three young women moving at what looked like a 6:30 pace; all wore spandex shorts (one wore black, one wore red, and the other purple, I think). They smiled and said “hi”.


(no, this wasn’t one of them; it is Brandi Underwood who was getting ready for a 3 mile training run. Here is another photo). I thought “Ollie, not for you on any level. You couldn’t stay up with them in more ways than one. Oh *&^%$!!!”

Later: a couple of young men running shirtless; these were meso-ectomorphs (skinny muscular) moving at about a 6 minute pace. They said “hi” too. I responded….and internally grumbled some more…they made it look so damned easy.

Later: “why is this a challenge??? Uh, because you are going up an 80 foot hill?”

Then came the downhills…and perspective.

I thought about the Emeriti dinner I went to last night; my wife was being inducted.

I saw the walkers. I remembered the canes. I remembered the wheelchairs. I remembered at how few of them (if any) took the stairs. I remembered a guy patiently wheeling his wife out of the building; her brain had deserted her and she was softly yelling “help” to….???

Bottom line: I have only a finite number of these runs left and I had better enjoy each one, even if these take 20 minutes longer than they used to 15 years ago..and 35 minutes longer than they did 30 years ago. I can still do them. That won’t always be the case.

Celebrate what I can do instead of lament what I can’t.

September 17, 2013 Posted by | running, weight training | , , | Leave a comment

Exercise pills, weight, large viruses and other topics

Fun: watch this video of a raccoon eating cat food, and watch the end when it scampers away on its hind legs.

Social Science and Human Behavior and Health

Have you mistakenly told the same story to a person multiple times? Have you ever repeated back a story to a person, who was the one who told you the story to begin with? The latter happens sometimes but the former acts more. Here is one reason why. In a nutshell: when you are telling a story, you are spending more mentally energy focusing on telling the story correctly and less on taking in the person you are talking to. When you are listening to a story, you are focusing not only on the story, but also on the story teller. Via: Mano Singham.

Monsters in our society It is helpful to remember that society’s worst criminals are often someone else’s loved ones and that the monster in question might appear to be normal, or even likable when you see them. Villains don’t always look like Dick Tracy caliber freaks. Randazza’s blog post talks about this.

Human health:
It is possible that some of the benefits of exercise might be obtained via a pill. But I wonder how this would pertain to a “training effect” (PT, weight lifting versus swimming versus running, sprinting versus marathon running, etc.). And there is no way this would compensate for not seeing the ladies in their spandex workout gear. 🙂

Obesity What about genetics and obesity?

The mice were eating their usual chow and exercising normally, but they were getting fat anyway. The reason: researchers had deleted a gene that acts in the brain and controls how quickly calories are burned. Even though they were consuming exactly the same number of calories as lean mice, they were gaining weight.

So far, only one person — a severely obese child — has been found to have a disabling mutation in the same gene. But the discovery of the same effect in mice and in the child — a finding published Wednesday in the journal Science — may help explain why some people put on weight easily while others eat all they want and seem never to gain an ounce. It may also offer clues to a puzzle in the field of obesity: Why do studies find that people gain different amounts of weight while overeating by the same amount?

Scientists have long thought explanations for why some people get fat might lie in their genes. They knew body weight was strongly inherited. Years ago, for example, they found that twins reared apart tended to have similar weights and adoptees tended to have weights like their biological parents, not the ones who reared them. As researchers developed tools to look for the actual genes, they found evidence that many — maybe even hundreds — of genes may be involved, stoking appetites, making people voraciously hungry.

This rare gene-disabling mutation, though, is intriguing because it seems to explain something different, a propensity to pile on pounds even while eating what should be a normal amount of food. Investigators are now searching for other mutations of the same gene in fat people that may have a similar, but less extreme effect. The hope is that in the long term, understanding how this gene affects weight gain might lead to treatments for obesity that alter the rate at which calories are burned.

There are genes that regulate hunger and others that regulate metabolism. Of course, nothing here means that people can’t be “trained” to eat the right amount of food FOR THEM; it doesn’t matter if someone else can/should eat more.

Spaceships will be taking a photo of Saturn with earth in the deep background. People are being invited to wave at Saturn and at the probes.

It should look something like this:


Evolution Why distinguishing scientific truth from religious myth and superstition matters. From Jerry Coyne’s website.

The largest virus yet has been discovered. This virus has many genes which have not been seen before. Is this virus of ancient origin?

“We believe that those new Pandoraviruses have emerged from a new ancestral cellular type that no longer exists,” he says. That life could have even come from another planet, like Mars. “At this point we cannot actually disprove or disregard this type of extreme scenario,” he says.

But how did this odd cellular form turn into a virus? Abergel says it may have evolved as a survival strategy as modern cells took over. “On Earth it was winners and it was losers, and the losers could have escaped death by going through parasitism and then infect the winner,” she says.

Eugene Koonin, who wasn’t involved in the research, isn’t buying this theory. “These viruses, unusual as they might be, are still related to other smaller viruses,” he says.

The virus’s size is probably part of its survival strategy. Amoebas and other simple creatures could mistake it for bacteria and try to eat it, opening them up to infection. “The internal environment of the amoeba cell provides a very good playground for acquiring various kinds of genes from different sources,” Koonin says. He thinks that the Pandoravirus’s unusual genome may be a mishmash of random genetic material it’s sucked up from its hosts.

Nevertheless, Koonin says, the new virus is fascinating. And he predicts this is only the beginning. “We are going to see many, many more giant viruses discovered around the world, some of which, probably will be bigger than Pandoraviruses.”

Follow a discussion among life scientists at Larry Moran’s blog.

July 19, 2013 Posted by | astronomy, biology, evolution, health, nature, obesity, social/political | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

When my wife is away, I will play!!!!

Ha ha ha ha, my wife doesn’t get back home until next Saturday and that means BIG changes in my day-to-day routine:

1. The clothes dryer becomes and acceptable place to store clean laundry.
2. I can sit on whatever side of the couch I please; no getting kicked off of one side or the other at her whim.
3. The bed doesn’t get made.
4. I never eat out; hence I usually lose a pound or so. Pull ups become easier and I improve a second or two at the 5K run.

And…well, that’s about it. 🙂

Workout notes
Hilly 6.4 mile course in 1:05:35. I took care to keep it an easy effort. It was cool and breezy. My stride feels slightly different.

July 2, 2013 Posted by | Personal Issues, running | , | Leave a comment

I’ve Changed My Mind about some stuff, etc.

Creationism and how I’ve changed my mind
In general, I think that science a religion (religion that makes specific claims of miracles) are incompatible. But sometimes accommodationists write good stuff, and here is an excellent post by Karl Giberson on why creationism is so difficult to root out:

The great power of the anti-evolutionary message embraced by so many Americans comes from the following, all of which are on display in the conversation:
1. Appealing to America’s democratic impulse: At a time when we constantly hear that lawmakers should heed the voice of the “90 percent of Americans who want more gun control,” on what basis do lawmakers ignore the “vast majority of Americans who reject evolution?” Does this constituency have no right to be heard? Must their children be forced to learn ideas in the public schools at odds with their family’s values and rejected by most of the voters?

2. Demanding fairness and tolerance: Isn’t America all about being fair? And what could be fairer than giving voice to other viewpoints with widespread support? At a time when most Americans are demanding gay marriage in the name of fairness, why are we being so unfair to the creationists, excluding their ideas about origins?

3.Promoting freedom for our students: Must education be coercive on the topic of origins? Why can’t teachers present “both sides” and let our “bright high school students” make up their own minds? Will this not encourage critical thinking in our science classes? What is this need to restrict science teaching to just one viewpoint when there are others in play?

4. Appealing to authority: A popular anti-evolutionary website contains the signatures of hundreds of credentialed academics who “Dissent from Darwin.” This is a lot of intellectual firepower. Surely such a large crowd of anti-evolutionary scholars can’t all be wrong.

5. Deflecting criticism: Much has been made of the failure of the creationists to publish in scientific journals. But their ideas are blocked from those journals by editorial and peer referees whose allegiance is to the scientific status quo. New paradigms, like Intelligent Design, are rejected out of hand.

6.Currying sympathy: Anti-evolutionists in secular universities or other scientific institutions are forced to hide their views from their colleagues. I was once in a gathering that including several such individuals and they insisted that nobody take any pictures, lest they be identified. If they “come out” they run the risk of losing their jobs, run off by intolerant peers who object to their ideas without considering them. Ben Stein exposed this abuse of Intelligent Design scholars in the documentary Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed.

This rhetorical strategy contains great synergistic power; polls show that Americans are not coming around to accept evolution, even as its scientific credibility has grown to point of certainty. The conservative Christians in the video above have heard and embraced all of these arguments. In their view, they have a strong case and every right to press it.

I know, I know: part of the problem might lie with the accommodationists themselves: after all, if you believe that science can accomodate one miracle, why not others? Via Natalie Angier:

Scientists think this is terrible—the public’s bizarre underappreciation of one of science’s great and unshakable discoveries, how we and all we see came to be—and they’re right. Yet I can’t help feeling tetchy about the limits most of them put on their complaints. You see, they want to augment this particular figure—the number of people who believe in evolution—without bothering to confront a few other salient statistics that pollsters have revealed about America’s religious cosmogony. Few scientists, for example, worry about the 77 percent of Americans who insist that Jesus was born to a virgin, an act of parthenogenesis that defies everything we know about mammalian genetics and reproduction. Nor do the researchers wring their hands over the 80 percent who believe in the resurrection of Jesus, the laws of thermodynamics be damned.

Hey, if you make accommodation for one miracle, why not others? In my opinion, religious liberals are part of the problem.

But here is where I changed my mind
Yes, creationism and intelligent design are dumb ideas that belong on the scrap heap. But so are many other ideas: homeopathy, anti-gmo hysteria, anti-vaccinnation hysteria, birtherism, 9-11 “trutherism”, “the moon landings were faked”, “ghosts haunt places”, “the rest of the country likes idea X if only the public were “educated””, not knowing the difference between a science Nobel Prize and a Nobel Peace Prize, etc.

The longer I live the more I have the opinion that MOST (possibly all) of us have wacky ideas of some sort, myself included. The internet gives us more connectivity for people to express such ideas. Hence, person X who has started a successful business (hard to do) might well believe that the President of the United States isn’t a US citizen and everyone else is lying. Person Y who has done fine charity work might seriously believe that the universe really is 6000 years old. Person Z who also has had some success in life might get vapors if they find that their crops have been genetically modified.

So while I believe that some people really are smarter than others, I also believe that, statistically speaking, the set of people who hold wacko belief X might not be dumber than the population as a whole. They might get some things right that others get wrong.

Personally, I don’t know what my wacky ideas are, and I hope that I someday identify them and lose them.
Yes, I am aware that I have a mild fetish for a certain part of a female’s anatomy but that isn’t a belief; that is just how I am “wired”; I can understand that I am a bit abnormal in that regard. Other hetero males either don’t have it, or have the good sense to keep their mouth shut.

Irrelevant point one:
I noticed that my blog had its hit counts go up from the summer to the late fall of 2008, and again in 2012. Why? Two big events: the Olympics and the Presidential elections. I also had a smaller bump in the fall of 2010 (midterm election time). This makes sense because I often blog about these topics.

Irrelevant point two Often math problems are “easy” until you look at them closely. Seriously. I had smugly thought that during the second half of my sabbatical project I’d look at extending the more modern polynomials to lines embedded in real 3 space. That is harder than I thought; my first obstacle is rather embarrassing: after getting my Ph.D. in topology in 1991, I STILL don’t understand the topology of multiple lines in 3 space…or even multiple lines in the plane…or even in an 2 dimensional band of finite width that extends from minus infinity to positive infinity. Dang.

One issue: given two parallel lines in the plane, is it more appropriate to consider them as disjoint objects, or should I see them having a point at infinity in common; sort of an analogue to:

The above would represent FIVE parallel lines; one for each circle.

I’d have to account for this with a new calculus of some sort. Oh well…if it were easy, someone else would have done it by now.

And…well, IF I can make this work, I’ll have something worthwhile. 🙂

Science and Physics
Does this multi-verse talk confuse you? Well, it might be because “many universes” can mean “many things”. Here are three of the most common uses of “multi-verse”: separate universes altogether (bubbles), different dimensions of the same high dimensional space (think parallel planes in 3-space): this is a proposed mathematical model, and a different model to explain quantum mechanics (one universe where this particle decays at time t and another in which it doesn’t.

Watch the video: it is informative and fun:

April 11, 2013 Posted by | creationism, mathematics, physics, religion, science, social/political, superstition | , , , , | Leave a comment



We are never that far away from potential trouble…just an untimely illness here, or a lay-off there can put almost any of us in tough circumstances.

January 31, 2013 Posted by | economy, nature, social/political | , | Leave a comment