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Wordless Wednesday: Critters October 15, 2014

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Not every race can be a good race October 14, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in Fargo, running.
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Earlier this year, I had this crazy idea that I should participate in a race every month during the second half of the year.  I came up with this idea before I realized that August and September are usually pretty bad months for me due to asthma.  Nevertheless, I’ve been sticking it out, and I ran a 10K this past weekend as part of that self-challenge.

It was a lovely morning, though rather cool.  The sun was shining, there was no wind.  I had my hat/balaclava thing to keep my face covered.  I feel like Sub Zero or Kitana from Mortal Combat when I’m wearing that.  There are other better masks out there…but those make the wearer look like Bane.  Either way, you can’t win, but at least I was prepared.

It was grueling.  The run took place along some of Fargo’s most lovely trails, but I was still having difficulty with my asthma.  The problem when you’re having a tough time breathing is that it’s awfully hard to concentrate on the scenery, but I did as well as I could.  I also was feeling sluggish, which I attribute to lack of pre-race banana.  Still, I made it through.  While I was hoping to cut about 4 min. from my previous 10k time, it was only about a third of that.  Still, I got done and actually felt really good the rest of the day and suffered none of the ‘racer mortis’ that plagues me after a 10+ mile run.  Despite the fact that it was a hard run, I did show signs of improvement and I didn’t feel awful the rest of the weekend.

The truly disappointing thing about this race, though, was that there was almost nothing I could eat at the end.  The available food included biscuits, cookie dough, chicken noodle soup, and chocolate milk.  Wheat and dairy.  No bananas!

I’d never been at a race before without bananas.  It broke my heart.  I looked like the purple guy here:

I also don’t handle milk very well but chanced it by taking a couple swallows before throwing out the remainder of the carton.  (And yes, it was the best chocolate milk I’ve ever had.  Anything you have after a race is always the best you’ve ever had.)

I was incredibly disappointed that I couldn’t eat the cookie dough.  I’ve never wanted cookie dough that badly.  I’ve decided for future races that I’m going to try to make my own and bring it along.  That way, if there are no bananas, I’ll have something to eat.  And if there’s no cookie dough, then everyone else will be purple with envy.

Extra-dimensional conversations October 13, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in physics, science, younger son.
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The younger son occasionally has band lessons after school.  Recently, I picked him up and he said that his band teacher hadn’t been in her office when he was supposed to have his lesson.  The next comment surprised me.

You know, in an alternative universe, I forgot my instrument but she was in her office.  And then there’s other universes where I had my instrument and she was in her office and others where I forgot my instrument AND she wasn’t in the office.

Apparently he has combinatorics licked.

I was somewhat surprised at this response, so I asked him what he knew about other universes.

Not much.  I just know you use wormholes to get between them.

I responded that wormholes are supposed to transport you across time and space, but wasn’t sure if the strict physics definition allowed for travel outside of our universe.

Mom, wormholes transport you across dimensions!

This made me wonder if he knew about M-theory.  When I asked him what he knew about higher dimensions, he said,

Well, they’re really similar.  But after a short time, you notice differences.

I was confused, but he continued.

And some dimensions have aliens and some don’t.

Ah!  His definition of higher dimensions was basically an alternate universe.  He was working with the ‘sci-fi definition.’  I needed to change terminology, as we obviously were discussing two different things with the same word, so I said the world we live in has three spatial dimensions and time as the fourth dimension.

Time is a dimension?!

He understood and explained the concept of two dimensional space and then three dimensional space, but he was perplexed about time as a dimension.  My explanation was that you can move through time, but only forward.  With the spatial dimensions, you can move forward and backward, left and right.

I think I blew his mind at that point, so I figured we’d drop it and move on to Calabi Yau spaces another time.  In the meantime, I’m trying to decide if I should introduce him to Abbot’s Flatland.

Science makes you a slob October 8, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in grad school, research.
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I’ve been trying to work through a problem, and it’s one of those things that’s taking up all my brain power.  Unfortunately, it’s turned me into a slob.

I woke up this morning and made myself breakfast and tea.  I went and got dressed.  Then I sat down and forgot pretty much everything.  (I remembered to eat, so there’s that.)  When my reminder went off that I needed to pick the younger son up from school, I realized that the table was full of mail and dishes, I was still wearing the sweatpants I’d thrown on in a hurry, I still was wearing my glasses, and my hair hadn’t been brushed.

Unfortunately, I also still hadn’t solved my problem.  That bothered me far more than the other stuff, but not by much.

Confessions of a really slow and often achy runner October 2, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in running.
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This month marks three years since I started running.  In May of 2011, I walked a 10k with older son with very little training, and we had great fun doing it.  This was already a big step for me because when I had moved back from Minneapolis the previous year, I’d been having so many problems with asthma and my health in general that I was walking about 2 miles per hour.  That’s all the faster I could go.  After a year of training, I was up to 3 miles per hour.  While that’s a huge improvement, I wanted to be able to go faster, so I started looking on the internet for training plans.

There was a couch-to-5k app, so I figured I could be done with that by Christmas and then start on the 5k to 10k bridge app and be ready to go for next year.  Three weeks into the couch-to-5k app, I started having awful knee pain.  I went into the doctor, and it was basically tendonitis.  They suggested that I not run, just walk.  I was angry when I left.

I didn’t know what to do, so I sat around for a week.  Then I decided to try again and found my knees didn’t hurt.  So early on in this process, my body and I had a talk: we agreed that my body does pretty much what I want it to, and I don’t push it very hard and give lots of rest time.  So when I started having aches and pains after another two weeks in the couch-to-5k, I took another week off.  All told, it took me twelve weeks to do a 9 week program.  I later heard of people who do every week twice.

I realized very early on that most training plans are not going to work for me and that my body needs a lot more rest than most people.  Even when training to do half marathons, I do not run more than three times per week and very often I will only run twice per week.  I always give myself two days of rest after any run that is longer than six miles.  I also give myself two weeks between runs that are longer than eight miles.  In the winter, I don’t run outside if it’s below 20 degrees: I can’t warm myself up enough to make running comfortable, and my asthma acts up.  I use the treadmill for short runs and run at an indoor track for long runs.  (Fortunately, the local high schools have tracks that are open to the public during the winter.)  I’ve found that I don’t really progress well on the treadmill, but it at least keeps my cardio stable.

I know that a lot of people would look at that and scratch their heads, probably saying they’d never progress on a schedule like that.  Maybe not, but I guess I would amend that to say that they would not progress very quickly.  A year after I walked the 10k, I did it again and ran the whole thing.  My pace was 16.5 min/mile and I cut 20 minutes off my time.  I also developed tendonitis in my ankle and had to get custom orthotics.

Shortly after that, I found out about the Jeff Galloway run/walk method.  The following year, I used the run/walk method with a 1:1 ratio of running to walking.  I cut another 15 minutes off my time and dropped my pace to 14 min/mile.

After that, I decided to try doing a half marathon.  That was incredibly trying.  First, I made the mistake of using Jeff Galloway’s ‘magic mile’ in the middle of my training.  I discovered my pace had improved enough to go to a 2:1 running/walking split.  Between that and buying a completely different brand of shoe, I gave myself shin splints.  I have discovered that changing time splits, at least for me, should be done very gradually.  I also discovered that I was better off doing very different splits for my long runs versus my short runs.  When I did my first half marathon this summer, I walked 1:30 for every minute I ran.  I gradually shortened that up for the second half marathon so that I walked 1:15 for every minute run.  I am currently in the process of dropping that ratio by 5 seconds per month on the walking side.  By next spring, I will be at the same ratio for my short runs: walk 30 seconds for every minute run.

During this process, I found out that I have to pay attention to fueling.  If you run as slow as I do, it takes a LONG time to finish a half marathon, and I discovered what bonking was.  I also found out that I needed more rugged orthotics to handle the longer runs.  Finally, I found out that I need a month between races.  I considered doing another half marathon next weekend, but I realized this week that I’m not fully recovered from my previous half marathon.  When I run, I run at whatever pace is comfortable.  I find that when I’m feeling well, I run faster.  When I’m not, such as this week because I’m still recovering from the half marathon I ran a week and a half ago, my pace just naturally drops.  I actually ran a 5k at a slower pace yesterday than I ran a half-marathon a week and a half before, and that was after a week of just walking to help myself recover.

I promised not to push myself too hard, and pace and achiness are both really good ways to tell how I’m doing.

Admittedly, a lot of my progression is probably due to discovering that I have celiac disease and going on a gluten-free diet two years ago.  However, I went from a pace of 30 minutes per mile four years ago to under 13 minutes/mile now.  I also managed to drop by resting heart rate by nearly 20 bpm, which is a good indicator of how much better I’m doing.

It’s agonizingly slow…probably too slow for most people to do keep it up.  The running improvements are like a house remodel: they take a while and involve at least a little planning.  :)  The time improvements are just a benefit, though.  I found that I really enjoy running, particularly as a form of stress relief.  I used to try to convince myself to run because I wanted to be healthy.  After a couple weeks, though, I found that I didn’t have to convince myself because I really enjoyed having time to myself and, more importantly, I noticed how much calmer I felt when doing it.  I am not running to get faster: I’m running to feel better, and when you do something because it feels good, it’s easy to want to keep doing it.  That’s probably the only reason I’ve managed to keep it up over three years, even with a lot of achy, sore days.

I half done it again September 22, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in bismarck, bismarck marathon, running.
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The Missouri River, facing south from the Expressway Bridge.

The Missouri River, facing south from the Expressway Bridge.

I’m ashamed that the picture above didn’t come out better.  My focus was way too close (on the fence in front of me).

That picture really doesn’t do the scene justice, but that’s all I have.

I spent the weekend in Bismarck running my second half-marathon…despite the fact that I have been fighting asthma and allergy problems over the past couple weeks.  I’m so very glad I went, though, because it was a beautiful course.

If you want the low-down on the race, it’s a nice size.  Much smaller than Fargo but bigger than some of the local races.  There were about 500 people in the half.  There are also full-marathon, 10k, and 5k distances.  (The kids opted to do the 5k with a friend.)  The course is absolutely beautiful as it mostly consists of paved trails through parks.  Because it happens late in September, you get a lot of fall colors.  It also takes you across two of the three bridges that cross the Missouri River, and the views really are incredible.  There were volunteers everywhere, frequent water stops (and port-o-potties!), and it was really a great race.  I’m trying to decide if I should wait or just sign up for next year already.

Personally, I was a miserable puppy going into it.  I had a headache (lack of sleep and an overabundance of caffeine, likely) and seriously abused my inhaler just so I could breathe.  Despite my reluctance, I had to take some ibuprofen to keep going, but it was worth it.  I definitely felt better as the race went on.  It’s really amazing what a beautiful run can do for you, though, and as I felt better, I really enjoyed the course a lot more.  It was really nostalgic to run through parks where I’d spent a lot of time as a teenager.  I wished I’d had the kids with me so I could’ve pointed out some of my favorite places.

Even though my first half was just a couple months ago, I improved my time by quite a bit and now have affirmed that I enjoy running this distance.  Even though it may not be until next spring, I am already looking forward to my next half-marathon.  I just hope I can find more races as gorgeous as this one.

The amazing, oozing Macrocat September 18, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in pets, work.
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There is a definite disadvantage to working at home.  In some cases, it comes in the form of a four-legged furry creature.  One that wants you to pet it.  While you’re typing.

Today that creature was Macrocat.  The following is a series of pictures I took while I was attempting to work.

mc1

Apparently the keyboard looked like a great place to perch and keep an eye on me.

mc2

Pretty soon, though, he was trying to run things for me.

mc3

But when I switched over to something else, he got bored.

mc4

He started to ooze over the keyboard a bit.

mc5

I tried to move him away, but he just turned his head.

mc6

Then a paw creeped up beside the first one.

mc7

And he moved his head over again.  Actually, this is after I moved him off the table and he came back.

mc8

And that wasn’t quite doing it for him, so he stretched out again.

Finally, he put his paw on the trackpad and put pressure on a key. The computer started making a beeping sound to protest, but macrocat thought the computer was purring at him and merely laid down and purred more loudly in response.

And that was the point where I finally had to banish him.

Ms. Cherish Goes to the Atheist Meeting September 17, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in gifted, religion.
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I’ve contemplated writing on this topic for a while.  At the same time, I haven’t wanted to.  Probably because I’m not sure what the point of revisiting this is other than to gripe.  But then I came across this article about misogyny in atheism and decided I was just irritated enough to say something.

What’s a blog if not a soapbox for such issues?  That being said, if you feel the need to vent about the article, please take to the site where it is published.

Let’s start with some background: I am an agnostic Quaker.  Yeah, such things do exist.  What this means is that I am a fence sitter on the concept of a god.  I don’t think there’s really any way to disprove that a god does or does not exist (and I have a pretty good background in both physics and math, so I’m fairly certain I know what such a proof would entail).  I know that makes me a heathen in some people’s eyes and an idiot in others.  I could think that way of other people, but that’s where the whole Quaker thing comes in, so I try to refrain.  If nothing, it’s at least a minimal attempt at humility and recognition of the respect everyone deserves…even when I really don’t feel inclined to give it to them.  Or when they aren’t giving it to me.  It’s hard, but I do try.  (In the words of Howard Brinton, it is better to be inconsistently good than consistently bad.)

Because of my varied interests, I have a friends who fall along the whole spectrum of belief not to mention diverse religious preferences among those who are believers.  It’s not a suprise, therefore, that a friend invited me to go to an atheist meeting a while ago.  He said that I would probably fit in very well because of the whole agnostic thing, the fact that I’m a scientist, the fact that my husband and I regularly read Skeptical Inquirer.

Except I didn’t.  And I fully didn’t expect to.  Part of this is because I used to read a lot of skeptical and atheist blogs, mostly for their scientific content.  I started getting irritated a while ago because the tone of such conversations often devolved into religion bashing.  I stopped altogether after the Watson/Dawkins debacle on PZ Myers blog (mentioned in the article above).  Why in the world would I want to spend my time associating with people as obnoxious as Dawkins?  (And I love how Neil deGrasse Tyson makes this point in the video below.)

First, there was the whole Quaker thing.  While a couple people were familiar with it and felt that it was kind of cool, there were others who were just plain stupid about it.  I was grilled on why in the world would I belong to any sort of religiously affiliated group.  “Traditions are inherently bad,” I was told.  I should have replied that sweeping overgeneralizations are not on the top of my list of good things.

Later in the discussion, something came up about raising children.  In particular, one person voiced an opinion that parents don’t have the right to make decisions about their children’s education and that the state ought to have the right to keep parents from passing on religious beliefs to children.  (Not surprisingly, this person isn’t a parent.)  Now, let’s start with the fact that I think this is an extreme view and not representative of most people I know how are non-believers.  But this is also the basis for many (overly vocal) atheists’ opposition to things like the homeschooling.  It seriously pisses me off.

I know that most of the people who are opposed to homeschooling use the whole socialization argument, so being as irritated as I was, I started asking questions to move the topic to that point of discussion.  Then I nailed the person with the fact that research shows that homeschooling is in fact a superior method of socialization compared with a typical educational environment.  As it turns out, I’d spent some time researching the topic and wrote a post on it.  Obviously this person wasn’t going to take me at my word, so I got his email and later sent the link to the article about it.  Silence.

Finally, there came the sexist comments.  They came in the form of praising a female atheist, going on at length about how it was nice to have such a ‘lovely and beautiful woman atheist’ in the group.  It felt like she was being flirted with on a public platform.  Obviously ugly women atheists aren’t all that interesting. Hello?!  I thought freethinkers understood that praising a woman based on her looks rather than her skills and abilities is sexist.

My whole irritation with the freethinker/atheist/etc movement is that it strikes me as the flip side of religious fanaticism.  Instead of fire and brimstone preachers, there are the charismatic (and often assholish) ringleaders who are just as vitriolic as the Rush Limbaugh and Howard Stern types.  They are intentionally inflammatory and disrespectful.  Further, they’re an awful smart lot, and they can rationalize everything and they think they know everything.  This is a problem because that’s not what a skeptic or freethinker is.  It amazes me how many people will spew their opinions on topics as fact even though they haven’t done a lick of research.  The thinking from the most vocal atheists is just as black and white as a religious zealots and only sometimes better informed.

I actually think that a lot of this does go back to that whole socialization argument I had with the fellow at the meeting.  Almost everyone I know who is a non-believer is very highly educated.  Most of them went through some sort of formal schooling environment where they learned that they were smarter than everyone else.  In fact, a lot of them will be very forthcoming on that point given their identity is very wrapped up in their intelligence.  And there is a lot of research that shows gifted kids left in that environment have problems, even as adults, relating to others.  The resulting behavior a form of maladaption that can follow people for the rest of their lives.  If they’re never around people who are as smart as they are, they don’t learn much in the way of humility, discussion with others as peers deserving of respect, and continue to underestimate and challenge people (because it’s an ego boosting behavior) as adults.

That’s what really bothers me about this.  Some of these people are incredibly smart and they assume they can figure anything out because they’re rational.  They fail to see complexities and nuance in discussion about difficult topics, particularly if those complexities involve emotions.  They assume that they can solve any problem with their reasoning without actually researching topics to understand where their reasoning may have faults and failures.  They fail to see their opinions as exactly what they are: a dogmatic response to something not always grounded in research or respect for others.  Agreement is the litmus test for whether or not you’re really a ‘good’ atheist.

It’s not all of them, but it’s a lot of the most vocal ones. And it’s very off-putting for people (regardless of gender) who may otherwise be interested in what they have to say.

Wordless Wednesday: Two Step Falls September 9, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in geology.
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two_step_falls

Running with kids…or maybe from them September 7, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in family, older son, running, younger son.
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Even a couple years ago, it was hard to get a workout in once the younger son was home.  I was lucky in that the older son is a bit of a homebody and could watch his brother if Mike wasn’t around.

Now, however, I have a new dilemma.  The younger son has decided he’s over this “kid’s race” stuff and wants to start doing 5ks.  The older son likes doing 10ks.  I’m currently training for my second half marathon this summer.  How am I supposed to train with my kids??!  They’re not terribly motivated to train on their own, but they like going with me.  I suspect this is because I turn into a zombie when I run so the kids have my undivided attention and I don’t say much.  They can speak unimpeded for a long, LONG time.  On the other hand, they like doing races because of the freebees.  However, training with them on top of my own running is a bit too much, so I started to get creative.

This morning’s training run was 12 miles, so I decided to break it into a loop of three miles.  I did one loop by myself, ran the loop twice after that with the older son (who is starting to have a hard time keeping up with me), and did it one more time with the younger son (who apparently decided after a mile that we needed to walk…and my feet agreed with him).

This worked great because I also found out that this eliminated the need to find gas stations along my running route.  Unfortunately, gatorade bottles don’t sit nicely in my race belt.  Also, my husband wasn’t expecting me to try to give him a sweaty hug until the end (doesn’t everyone do this to their spouse?), and I was able to nab him mid-route.  He still went and got me some post-run celebratory ice cream, so I guess that was okay.

I just imagine that there were some people scratching their head as I walked past for the fourth time this morning…

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