On 5K Pace And Sympathy…

“In what was supposed to be kind of a long run, I had to crank it up to basically 5K race pace during the guitar solos on the YaYa’s version of Sympathy for the Devil.”

This sentence appeared in my post earlier today.

And I realize that for some readers, it might not have made much sense.

There is a certain subset of Shoulblog readers who will understand the concept of “cranking it up to basically 5K race pace.” And there’s another (probably regrettably small) subset who will know what I mean when I write of “the guitar solos on the YaYa’s version of Sympathy…” In the Venn Diagram of Shoulblog readers, the intersection of those two subsets is probably very tiny indeed.

But that’s the way it’s gonna be here. I will write about what interests me, hoping that you will get a kick out of some of it, but knowing that nobody will like all of it.

Regarding running in particular, I know it can get pretty tedious to read that stuff if you’re not a runner. I basically confine myself to, at most, one running post a month. On the other hand, if you want to read more about running, there are probably tons of blogs out there for that; may I suggest The Lola Papers, written by someone who both writes and runs a lot better than I do. I don’t know this person, but her blog is a lot of fun.

As for Shoulblog, my goal is to explore a wide variety of topics so that everyone can find something they can sink their teeth into, at least once in a while.

The Y In The Sky

The Post-Dispatch asks: Where were you when the Challenger exploded?

I was in a job interview with the editor of the Clayton/West Citizen Journals. (“Do you mind if I smoke?” the editor asked at the beginning of the interview. “It’s your office,” I replied somewhat awkwardly. Am I going to say “yes, I mind,” when I want her to hire me?) We were halfway into the interview when one of the paper’s ad salesmen came in and told us the space shuttle had blown up.

It was the flight with the “first teacher in space,” Christa McAuliffe. The editor said she knew McAuliffe, had met her at some point. More awkwardness: “I’m sorry,” I said. Of course I was sorry — the shuttle had exploded and our country had lost several astronauts — but the sorrow had to be turned into something personal for the editor, as she reached for another cigarette.

Anyway, I got the job, my first full-time job in journalism.

It’s interesting to think about the “Where were you when…” moments in our lives. There are probably only a handful of them that everybody can remember in any lifetime: JFK’s assassination, the Challenger explosion, 9/11 … what others am I missing?


Forecast: Snow, Ice, Slush, Snow, Slush…

Six inches of snow, followed by several days of temperatures in the teens or 20s.

Rinse. Repeat.

That’s January in St. Louis so far. Or at least the last couple of weeks. And although the driving portions of the roads have been cleared nicely, the edges of the roads and the sidewalks have been covered by a layer of snow and slush. And mostly, in the prime early morning running hours, ice.

I’m getting old. I have to worry about things like falling down and breaking my hip.

All right, maybe not THAT old. But I do hate the uncertain footing, that feeling of never knowing how solid the next step is going to be. So it’s to the treadmill I go.

Now, before a couple of days ago, I hadn’t been on a treadmill for nearly a year, and I was of course dreading it. If you’re used to running outside on the streets (or better yet, trails) in beautiful weather, there’s not much to like about grinding out the miles on a treadmill.

It hasn’t been a very good January for me for running. I took the last three weeks of December off after the Pere Marquette Trail Run (What a crazy race! Check out these two videos!) — a planned break to give my legs some rest after a busy 2010 — but then it took longer to get back into the groove than I’d expected. That’s OK, though; it’s just January. Still, through the first three weeks of the year, I was behind even my meager mileage total from January 2010, a month that had me recovering from some nagging injuries from late 2009.

Fortunately, last weekend brought some good news in terms of motivation: entries opened for the Quivering Quads Half-Marathon, to be held March 20. I ran this race last year (and wrote about it here), and it was both a fun race and a great kickoff to what turned out to be a good racing year for me. I wasn’t in shape last year, so I’ve been looking forward to this year so I can hopefully destroy my time from 2010. I’m now officially entered, and counting down the weeks ’til the race.

Finally, some real motivation to get back into training!

But there’s still that treadmill business to deal with. Fortunately, ‘mill running does allow me to indulge in one thing that I normally shun: my iPod. I never run with an iPod on the streets, because I want to hear the cars coming up behind me. I have as much of an aversion to being run down by a car as I do to slipping on ice and breaking my hip.

But on the treadmill, if a car’s gonna hit me, it’s getting me whether I have the headphones on or not. So I’ve pulled out the trusty old iPod, and I can rock while I can roll. I can bump while I grind. I can … well, you get the picture. I honestly don’t have a whole lot of use for the iPod except for running, so it had been a while since I’d used it, and I’d forgotten what a joy it is to listen to music through the headphones. The first time I wore it, I listened to DMB’s Before These Crowded Streets straight through. The second time, a couple of Beatles Albums. Last night I had an exceptional run, with some vintage Rolling Stones blasting. (In what was supposed to be kind of a long run, I had to crank it up to basically 5K race pace during the guitar solos on the YaYa’s version of Sympathy for the Devil. Maybe not the smartest workout strategy, but you have to go where the music takes you.)

So anyway, I’m starting to feel like I’m getting back into shape. Even though last night’s 5.73 miles was my longest run since Pere Marquette in mid-December, I am confident I’ll get the mileage up to be able to do the half-marathon in March.

Longer-term, though, I’ve pretty much discarded the idea of running the New York City Marathon in 2011. I’m not saying I won’t do ANY marathon this fall, just that if I do crank it up for a second shot at 26.2, it will be in some less logistically challenging event closer to home. New York, Boston … they’re out there, but not for this year.

Meanwhile, I have a list of shorter races I’m aiming for this spring and summer, and with the iPod strapped on I’m ready to crank out the miles inside if necessary. Let it snow!

My Likes Are My Own, Thanks

I was cruising Facebook today, and there, over on the right side in the “ads” section, was something new: it was a picture of one of my FB “friends” (whose name I am editing out here, to protect the innocent), with the message, “XXX Likes Malaria No More.”

Now, there’s an awful lot wrong with that sentence, but  I’m just going to have to ignore the extremely awkward single-negative and get right to the point: what has happened here is that Facebook has stolen my friend’s innocent (and well-meaning, in fact) “like,” and turned it into an advertisement. Presumably Facebook is being paid a little extra by “Malaria No More” because my eyes saw the ad blaring that XXX had “liked” it.

(And OK, I’ll give Facebook the benefit of the doubt here: since Malaria No More is a not-for-profit organization, it’s possible that there was not cash involved in the deal. Forgive me for presuming that. But I will also presume that this “service” won’t be restricted to nonprofits.)

It’s part of Facebook’s new “Sponsored Stories” ad format, where I guess anything you do is subject to being sold out to Facebook’s advertisers. According to ReadWriteWeb, there’s no way to “opt out” of your activity being used in ads:

The funny thing about these “personalized recommendations,” as Facebook calls them, is that an ad could come from a restaurant check-in that led to the worst meal of your life or it could show up after you “liked” a retailer only because they were running an ad that said “like us on Facebook for 10% off.

For my part, it’s going to make me limit what I do on Facebook. Basically, I’m going to “like” things a lot less. Oh, I’ll still “like” my friends’ comments, if I, well, like them. But I’m going to remove any “likes” I’ve put on commercial goods or services, where possible. I do enjoy Facebook, and generally I don’t get as worked up about its privacy issues as some people do — it may not seem like it, but I AM careful about what I post there.

But this is frankly kind of creepy.  I don’t want to be packaged and put up for sale. And I don’t want to be responsible for spamming my friends.

So forgive me if I don’t “like” your “Like if you love Jesus” or if I ignore your call to get a million likes so your dad will quit smoking. I’m not playing, sorry.


“Dislike” graphic from Dissociated Press

Countdown To Zero

So Keith Olberman and MSNBC have parted ways. No word yet on what he’ll do next, but he’s obviously an eloquent, talented and passionate guy, and he’ll undoubtedly wind up with a good gig somewhere. Heck, maybe even back at ESPN, though I doubt it.

The thing is, the three minutes and 12 seconds in that YouTube video is probably more than the total time I watched his show while it was on the air. And I’m someone who is more likely than not to be in agreement with the things he says.

I just can’t bring myself to watch — or listen to — one-sided political-opinion programming. Life, really, is too short to spend much of it soaking up someone else’s unchallenged opinions. What can you learn from that? Where is the suspense? What entertainment value is there in a show when you know what side the host is going to come down on?

For the same reason, it baffles me why anyone would give up their precious time to listen to Rush Limbaugh or any of his wannabes over at Fox News. Setting aside the fact that their tirades are built on hate (in the forefront) and motivated by profit (behind the curtain), those shows are just boring. If that’s the best thing you can find on the television or radio, wouldn’t you really be better served if you just turned it off?

And although I’ve always felt that the one-sidedness of these shows was the reason I didn’t watch, Conor Friersdorf makes the case in The Daily Dish today that the medium itself is a lousy one for politics:

Yes, I know, television is a very popular medium (mostly because it demands so little from its audience). But it is the worst way to engage politics in America. Compared to reading it is a wildly inefficient time suck. The format itself often strips the issue at hand of all nuance. It rewards demagoguery, and the host’s words disappear into the ether so fast that inaccuracies slip easily past and are seldom corrected for the people misled by them. Often as not, its producers and writers just take insights from the written medium and dumb them down.

Don’t get me wrong. Television is extremely hard to do well. Unfortunately, excelling in the medium and improving political discourse are often at odds.

I used to think that shows like Crossfire had some value, in pitting people of opposite viewpoints against each other and letting them make their points. Sadly, though, that show diminished over time into the back-and-forth shouting matches that seem to characterize political television today: bickering, not debating.

For me, if I want politics these days, I’m reading newspapers or magazines or blogs. If I’m watching television, there’s probably some sports event on.

Refreshing My Music

At the beginning of this week, I trashed my entire iTunes music library on my computer at work. It consisted of 4,077 songs, which, if played consecutively, would go on for 13 days, three minutes and 20 seconds, according to the application’s statistics.

Over the last couple of years I’ve imported a number of CDs into the library. I don’t think I’ve actually bought more than two or three songs from iTunes in my life; if I want music, I’ll generally just get the CD. I guess that makes me remarkably old-fashioned, but let’s remember that CDs didn’t exist before about 25 years ago. Even though they now appear to be going the way of the 8-track tape — judging by the shrinking bins at music stores (remember music stores?) — I have managed to compile a pretty good number of them over the years.

But I digress. Even though I have a comfortable collection of CDs, I hardly ever listen to CDs anymore. Generally I just fire up the iTunes on random play and let it run. That keeps the collection alive, because you never know what song, or even what style of music, will come next. Just yesterday, for example, iTunes gave me “Four Horsemen” by the Clash, followed closely — surprisingly closely, in fact, because by default iTunes uses a two-second crossfade between songs — by James Taylor’s “Sunny Skies.” Strangely enough, the transition worked.

If it ever doesn’t work, it’s easy enough to hit the “skip” button — the Macintosh keyboard even provides a key for this — to go on to the next song. It’s really a great way to listen to music, since I’m stuck at the computer anyway.

My problem was that, in addition to all those CDs I imported, I also got into the habit of downloading whatever free music was being offered up by various vendors. Amazon, in particular, sends out scads of free music each week through its MP3 store. I think you have to sign up for their newsletter or something, but each Tuesday they send out an e-mail with links to a bunch of giveaway songs and samplers, which, when downloaded, conveniently drop right into the iTunes library.

Some of them are great. Most aren’t. And usually I didn’t take the time to weed them out when I downloaded them, so over time my iTunes library got more and more polluted with songs that I had no interest in.

So, with the new year, I’m starting over. I dumped the library, and have been re-importing my music from my CDs. And what’s cool is that I started from the beginning — the first batch was artists from the 1960s and 1970s. (OK, it’s the beginning for me, anyway.) I’m mostly through those discs now, and working a little up into the 1980s. And frankly, it’s been great to hear the older stuff — and only the older stuff — come through the computer speakers. Eventually I’ll get back to the point where a Derek and the Dominoes song will be followed by a John Mayer song or something, and that won’t be bad, but for the next few days it’ll go from Derek and the Dominoes to Little Feat or the Beatles or Simon & Garfunkel or someone like that. Next week U2 will make its way into the collection. After that, it’ll be Dave Matthews and his ’90s brethren. After that, Amos Lee and the rest of the new generation (much smaller in number than these earlier artists) will join the party.

And yes, sure I could have just deleted the offending songs and gone on with my just my own music, and saved the trouble of having to reimport all my CDs. But I’m also a geek for statistics, and iTunes kindly compiles information about how often songs are played, when they were last played, etc. For example, in that old iTunes library, the song I ended up playing the most was “Night Train” by Amos Lee. Not my favorite of his songs, but random-play doesn’t play favorites. In fact a good number of the top songs were Amos Lee songs, because for a while there I was in a big-time Amos mood, just selecting his three CDs and letting them run. (As of January 25, by the way, he’ll have a fourth album out, which I’m definitely looking forward to.) Other times, I’d play the Who for a day. Or the Beatles, or, like last fall, the Rolling Stones. Still other times, I’d turn on my instrumental playlist, which contained all of the instrumental songs from various artists; sometimes it’s just easier to write or edit when there are no words in the background music. “The Rock,” Quadrophenia” and “Underture” were way up on that play count, benefiting from being both instrumentals and also Who songs.

But anyway, with the new year, everything’s reset to zero.

On Editing

From The Missouri Review today, this blog post on the importance of grammar. An excerpt:

Over the holidays, I received the page proofs of my forthcoming collection. It was my last chance to read the book and catch any errors before publication. By this point, the stories had been revised and revised again. Many had already been published in journals. They had been edited and copyedited. I’d read each of these stories, in other words, about a zillion times and had already caught, surely, every error there was to catch.

I ended up with a bulleted list four pages long.

The author, Michael Kardos, co-directs the creative writing program at Mississippi State University, and describes a “Grammar Boot Camp” he puts his students through each semester.

As an editor, I wish everyone would have to through such a boot camp; it would sure make my life easier. And I’m by no means exempting myself here. Just as Kardos found four pages of corrections to his manuscript, I often cringe at obvious mistakes I find when I go back to read our magazine after it’s been printed.

Our magazine is a weekly publication, and each December we publish an “Annual Review” edition that looks back at the events of the year. That naturally necessitates going back through each issue of the magazine, a process that’s both enlightening in that it reveals how much I’ve forgotten over the course of the year, and disheartening when I come upon the errors that I’ve let slip into print. Almost all of them are tiny and wouldn’t be noticed by most people, but all are notable since, theoretically, each word in the magazine is read — twice — by three pairs of eyes in addition to my own before being committed to print.

We’re all human. Unfortunately.


In other editing news today, The Daily Dish discussed the “one-space” rule.

I have my own growing pet peeve in this area: writers who want to put tabs — or worse, multiple spaces — at the beginnings of paragraphs. Folks, every word processing application since the dawn of computing time has had the ability to automatically, by default, indent paragraphs. Trust me, you don’t need to add a tab: you’ll just screw up everything down the line when your document is put into a page-layout program. And even though it’s a simple matter to do a search-and-replace to change double spaces between sentences into single spaces, multiple spaces at the beginnings of paragraphs necessitate multiple passes of replacing, and then you still end up with a pesky single space to deal with.

OK, rant over.