Thursday, June 28, 2007

An Excerpt from "Steve Allen's Advice to Marty"

I have been asked how an "indoor" runner can make the transition to outdoor running. It's not an invalid question. After all, outdoors can be a scary place - it's bright, it's noisy, and (perhaps most importantly) it's not at all climate-controlled. If you're used to the treadmill or the elliptical, it might be best to ease into things. Here, then, is my advice:
  • For your first outdoor foray, pick a day (or at least a time) with weather you like. I happen to like running in the rain (though not hard rain), but you might not. If the temperature is in the upper 90s with 70% humidity, consider waiting until evening. Not everyone has the time flexibility that I do, but there's no reason to let a case of heat exhaustion sour you permanently on running.
  • Also, pick a place conducive to running. It can be around your neighborhood, but if you live on a street with a 55 mph speed limit and no sidewalks (as I used to), find a park. If there's a local school with a track that's open to the public, that's ideal.
  • If you're running from your house, plan a shorter route than you've been running indoors. On a treadmill, if you get tired, or start cramping, or your ankle hurts, you can just stop. If you run two miles away from your house, that's two miles you have to go back, so play it safe. There's nothing wrong with having to stop and walk, but it feels better to know you've run the whole way.
  • On a treadmill or (especially) elliptical machine, your stride length is limited. Not so outdoors; try to lengthen your strides. Longer strides = done sooner!
  • Watch out for traffic. They probably see you, but you are moving faster than a normal pedestrian, and that sometimes throws people off.
  • Watch out for bicycles; they're looking for cars, too, and are much more likely than cars to assume traffic laws (like stop signs) don't apply to them.
  • At some point, tell yourself you will run outside at least twice a week, and hold yourself to it. You can run outside more often, but don't skip it - remember, the first time you let yourself quit makes the second time that much easier. Eventually, increase the number of times you run outside, until you're only running inside when the weather is bad.

Next time, I'll be giving advice on how to play the ponies, just as soon as I find my copy of Metro.

Two observations I made last night

1) If you happen to be dining at the Blue Heron restaurant in Clemson, and they have the strip steak special with the truffle-laced macaroni & cheese, get that. It's fantastic, although the "blackened" shrimp that came with it were not so much shrimp as salt patties molded into a shrimp shape. Skip those.

2) Running two miles an hour or so after consuming ten ounces of steak and a half-liter of wine is not a great idea.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Pounding Down The Pavement

Day Two: 2 miles, about sixteen minutes, felt great. Great, that is, except for the pain: the burning in my upper chest because my lungs aren't used to this effort, the stiffness in my quadriceps because my legs aren't used to this particular motion, the headache I've gotten both days in the middle of the run, and whatever it is I did to my knee when I stood up earlier. It will go away, but I sure don't miss this stuff. On the plus side, walking the dog immediately afterwards does loosen things up a bit.
I will not be deterred, however. Back in college, I developed severe patellar tendonitis in both knees, which made it hard to straighten my legs. It didn't actually hurt to run, but stopping was excruciating. The official treatment was two ibuprofen with every meal, plus ultrasound before practice and ice afterwards. The unofficial treatment was 6-8 more ibuprofen a few hours after dinner, washed down with two beers. These days, if I'm a little sore after exercising, my motivation to not stop is that this pain is nothing, comparatively. Sort of like banging one's head against a wall, because it feels good to stop, eh?
Lest this blog just turn into "my running journal," I'll be moving the updates to the sidebar. Ooh, content!

Monday, June 25, 2007

"I run because, at any given moment, my life may depend on being faster than whoever is chasing me." - Henry Abshire

Four years ago, after finishing my first season as an assistant track coach at my former high school, I decided to get myself back into shape. When I was 22, I could run sub-five-minute miles, so at 29, I was still too young to have sixteen-year-old girls running circles around me. I bought some new running shoes, grabbed the stopwatch I had received as an end-of-season gift, and headed out of my driveway on what I knew from long experience to be a run of almost exactly two miles. My mistake was taking the watch; I glanced down at the mile mark, and was disheartened to learn that I had covered the first mile in just over nine minutes. I stopped running halfway through the second mile.
Recently, I found an excuse to begin running again, so this is the beginning of my running diary.
Day One - 1.5 miles. Maybe a little more. Didn't bring the stopwatch, but it felt like 8:30.
Tomorrow, I must remember to wear my actual running shoes, not the ones I use to walk the dog. Those shoes are worn out; I don't feel it when I walk, but it sure did hurt to run in them.
Speaking of Ginny, I had always suspected that she would be a bad running partner, because she is so easily distracted on our walks. It turns out that she has no problem following right along without stopping. The problem, however, is that she can't run the whole way. I had to let her off the leash a few hundred yards from home, so that I could finish running, and she could trot on in at her own pace. I'd hate to have tried this on a hot day. Maybe I can run first, and then use the walk as a cool-down.

Friday, June 22, 2007

This Post Property of Mike Jones

League play began last night, and it was not good for our team ("Gordon Shumway's Cat-sitting"). There was a round where we weren't sure of the first two questions, and the third category was "Detroit Lions suck," so we saved our five-pointer, assuming that the question would be about the Lions, or at least football. Nope, it was about Thanksgiving. So much for that. Still, if we had known the final question, we could have tied for first. I originally thought it was an overly specific question, but it turns out there are things that I just don't know. Plus, we probably got more points than we deserved (twice, the reader said "the answer is [correct answer], but we accepted [answer we gave]. It's not what you know, it's who you know).

1. What 20th-century gangster was nicknamed "Scarface?"
2. Besides French, what is the second national language of Belgium?
3. In what year was Thanksgiving officially declared a National holiday?
4. How many Secretaries General of the United Nations have there been?
5. Where does catgut come from (animal and organ)?
6. Who won the first Army/Navy football game, in 1890?
7. Who is the current Chief Justice of the Supreme Court?
8. What theme park has the 4th-largest navy in the world?
9. What is the name of the paragraph symbol (¶)?
10. How many time zones cover North America?
11. What is rapper Mike Jones's cell phone number?

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Technological Advances in Balancing Problems

This problem I got from a fellow named Johnny Card:
Our collector has three bags of silver ingots. Well, two bags of silver, and one bag of pyrite, which looks like silver, but isn't. A pyrite ingot weighs one-tenth (0.1) of a gram more than a silver ingot. Our collector has finally purchased a digital scale, one which can measure weight to the tenth of a gram, but it is barely working (thanks to a recent incident involving weighing a chili cheese dog). The scale will certainly work once, but after that it might short out, so the collector would like to determine the fake bag as quickly as possible. How can he determine the bag of pyrite in just one weighing?

Edited to Add: Oops! I should mention that a single ingot weighs a whole number of grams - say, 100 grams. Answer in the comments.

More Weight!

Let's try another balancing problem:
This time, the collector has twelve coins, the fake doesn't weigh the same as the others, but he can't remember if it's heavier or lighter. Now, how many weighings does it take to determine the fake coin?
A hint: The previous problem relied simply on reducing the number of coins which might be the counterfeit. In this problem, the coins you know are genuine are just as important.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Going Old School

If I'm going to do this puzzle thing, maybe I should start with the classics. You know, the puzzles that everyone has seen before, but maybe not everyone remembers how to solve. And then I can explain the solution. Heck, I can run off three or four of those this week, and maybe I'll be inspired to come up with better material.
So here goes: A coin collector has a case containing eight Spanish Doubloons, one of which is counterfeit. The coins look and feel identical, but the replica is slightly lighter than the other seven coins. The collector challenges you to find the fake coin, using only an old-fashioned balancing scale (the kind with two plates: you put something on one plate, you put something on the other, it tells you which is heavier), in as few weighings as possible. What is the minimum number of weighings needed to determine the fake?

Like you need an excuse to keep vodka around

I have no fewer than six recipes for penne alla vodka in various parts of my kitchen. Each one has some technique or ingredient that sets it apart from the others, but all of them are somehow lacking; not enough vodka, too much vodka (I know, I'm as surprised as you are that it's possible), too sweet, wrong consistency. As this is one of my favorite dishes, I've had plenty of opportunity to experiment, and create my own version, an amalgam of the other recipes. This is, I believe, the first time I've written it down.

Penne alla vodka

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 large shallot, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 oz. prosciutto, diced (optional)
1/2 cup vodka (don't be afraid to use good stuff; maybe not your $60 bottle of Stoli Elit, but for pity's sake don't use the gasoline in the plastic bottles)
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 28-once can crushed tomatoes (or a 35-ounce can of whole tomatoes, with juice, run through a food mill)
1/4 teaspoon sugar
salt and pepper
1/2 cup half-and-half (heavy cream is better if you want to go all out)
4-6 basil leaves, torn into pieces (or 1 teaspoon dried basil)
1 pound penne or other tubular pasta
1/2 cup (or more) finely grated parmesan cheese

heat the oil over medium heat in a large heavy-bottomed pot (preferably large enough to hold the pasta and the sauce, but I guess it's not necessary). Add the shallot and cook until it begins to soften, about two minutes. Add the garlic and cook until the garlic and shallot become fragrant, about one minute more. Add the prosciutto, stir, and add the vodka and crushed red pepper. Allow the vodka to simmer for several minutes before stirring in the tomatoes, sugar, and salt and pepper to taste. Adjust the heat to maintain a bare simmer, and let the sauce cook for at least twenty minutes.
Meanwhile, cook the pasta in 4-6 quarts of boiling salted water. Drain the pasta, reserving 1/2 cup or so of the liquid.
Stir the half-and-half and basil into the sauce, and return to a simmer. Turn off the heat, and stir in the pasta and parmesan, plus cooking liquid if the pasta is dry. Serve with crusty bread, a nice romaine salad, and the rest of the vodka.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

An Algebra Problem

My second run at puzzling is a test of your ability to expand a polynomial. Sorry for being overly math-y; I'll keep working on ones that are more, well, puzzles.
How many terms are there in the polynomial

A question I thought of during breakfast

So, how do you like your hash browns?
Capped, chunked, diced, smothered? To the comments!

Friday, June 15, 2007

Someone should call those penguins, and tell them enough with the movies already

League play really, really starts next week, honest this time. Apparently, "trivia league" just means the status quo, but for a nominal fee, our scores for the next eight weeks will be totalled, plus bonus points for participation and purchases (they are in the restaurant business, after all), and the winners will receive an additional prize. It's worth it for those of us who go every single week, although I don't know what we'll do once the other half of my team moves.
Things looked bad this week when we blew our 5-pointer in the first round, and then missed the 3-pointer in the second round, but we recovered to nail the halftime category (which was not Six Degrees this week), only missed one question in the second half, and took home the victory when it turned out no one in the restaurant was all that religious. Our misses:

1. What is Wolverine's birth name (first and last)?
2. How long is the longest losing streak in NCAA football history? (hint: it belongs to Prairie View A&M)
3. What is the International Calling Code for Antarctica?
4. In what year was the first postage stamp introduced? (get within ten)
5. In what year was cigarette advertising on television officially banned?
6. Most people know the seven deadly sins, but what are the seven virtues?

Thursday, June 14, 2007

You Will Find Love on Flag Day

In my wallet - well, my old wallet, which I still have, but don't carry around anymore, because it's red and blue nylon, and the size of a small cat. I keep all my "secondary cards" in it; the rewards cards for various airlines, hotel chains, stores, my old student IDs, a Red Cross donor card from back when I was allowed to donate blood... oops, I've gotten away from the story.
Anyway, for the last sixteen years, one of the picture holders in said wallet has had a fortune I got from a Chinese restaurant in Otsego, Michigan (it also has a newspaper clipping from the first time I made the local track & field "honor roll." But I digress again). The fortune says "Discontent is the first step in the progress of a man or nation." I thought it was clever, and I've often used it as inspiration over the years.
Two weeks ago, I was enjoying $4 pizza night at a local watering hole. Said watering hole has one of those electronic message boards, which they use to occasionally announce drink specials or upcoming bands, but mostly to display pithy comments and Michael Jackson jokes. Suddenly, I saw my fortune flash across the screen! I immediately called my friends' attention to the board, and told them the story of my fortune, in much the same rambling fashion that I'm telling it now. They were unimpressed, but thought it was a neat quote all the same.
Last weekend, I was having dinner at the gf's place, and she brought out fortune cookies for dessert. This was odd, because she hadn't been to a Chinese restaurant; someone had just given her fortune cookies. Anyway, I break open my cookie, and what do you suppose my fortune was? "Discontent is the first step in the progress of a man or nation." So I showed her the fortune, and told her the story. She said, "I think it's great you've held on to that fortune so long. But don't you know where that quote comes from?"
I do now. But I'll still carry that fortune in my wallet.
So, readers, what are you discontented about? Oh, and happy Flag Day!

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Can the Holodeck be far behind?

Speaking of Technology Review, they currently feature a story about wirelessly supplied power. Sure, it's old technology, and it's inefficient. But it can power a lightbulb from two meters away!
Soon, they'll be able to harness the power of the Sun to generate enough energy to run a pinwheel.

Ramping Up the Content!

The other day, I put up a puzzle in a discussion of pirate economics. The response was just tepid enough that I decided to make this a new feature here at the Preschool. The first problem will be a variation on the earlier "pirates' council" problem. The original problem (which appeared in Technology Review a few months ago) has a neat solution - if you assume the other players are perfectly logical. In reality, I can't help thinking that pirate #5 would vote no if he were offered only two coins, thinking that, if he can just kill all the other pirates, he'd get twenty. The fact that he'll get fewer coins from the next two proposals is irrelevant - his greed overrides his decision. After eight years or so of playing and watching poker, I feel confident in saying there is no shortage of people who will give up a certain small win to try for a near-impossible big payoff. Anyway, here is the modified problem:

Five pirates are dividing a treasure of 100 gold coins. The pirates first draw lots to determine an order. The first pirate then submits a proposal for dividing the coins, and all of the pirates vote on the proposal. If the proposal does not receive a majority vote (a tie is not good enough), then the first pirate is killed, and 20 coins are paid to the executioner (who is not one of the pirates). The second pirate then submits a proposal to divide the remaining 80 coins. The process is repeated until a proposal is accepted, or there is only one pirate left. If a proposal maximizes a particular pirate’s share, in the sense that he gets MORE from this proposal then he'll get from ANY future proposal, that pirate votes “yes;” otherwise, he votes “no.”
For example, pirate #5 will vote “no” on any proposal which gives him fewer than 20 coins, because he can get 20 if he's the last one left. In fact, he'll vote against a proposal which gives him exactly 20 coins, because he can already get 20, plus the added bonus of (at least) one less pirate next time there's booty to be divvied up.
How should the first pirate propose to divide the coins in order to maximize his share?

If you read the first link, you'll see the solution to the original problem, which should make this one kind of easy. But I don't want to strain your brain just yet. I'll post the answer on Sunday; more and better problems are on their way, just as soon as I think of them.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Tea Leoni Doesn't Have a Record Label?

We ran into Night of the Smart People at trivia tonight. Despite my extensive surfing of IMDB this week, we could not get full credit for the "six degrees" category, and we mis-interpreted another question. The end result: Despite missing a total of five questions, and not missing a single question after halftime, our team ("Katherine Heigl's Babydaddy") finished fifth. Our misses:

1. What European automaker offered car colors called Vapor and Reflex, for Internet buyers only?
2. Which Stooge was a cousin of brothers Moe and Curly Howard?
3. What bad boy started the Bad Boy record label?
4. What government outfit did Congressman James Traficant accuse of being "bankrolled by the mob," in 2000?
Connect Emilio Estevez (yes, again) to Sarah Michelle Gellar. Two degrees for full credit.

Answers this weekend. League play starts next week, for real this time.

Oh, Canada.

So in the past four years, Lord Stanley's Cup has resided in Tampa, Nashville, and now... Anaheim? If you knew anyone who actually watched hockey, they'd tell you that this just isn't right. What happened to the Original Six? Detroit still puts up playoff seasons, but when was the last time someone said, "Boy, the Blackhawks are sure looking strong this year?" When was the last time the Bruins were anything but a mess? And who watches these games when Anaheim and Ottawa are playing?
Something big needs to happen to the "fourth major sport." Soccer is catching up.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Coke: It's Not Just For Breakfast Anymore

I've been almost as lazy about cooking my own meals as I have been posting recipes of late, so a slow-cooker recipe seems appropriate. Northerners are always surprised by the secret ingredient; Southerners, on the other hand, usually guess it right away.

Coca-Cola Pot Roast

one 3-5 lb. beef roast (sirloin or london broil both work well)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
salt and pepper
1 onion, diced
1-2 medium carrots, diced
1-2 ribs celery, chopped
1 whole peeled garlic clove
2 boiling potatoes, quartered (optional; I often serve this with mashed potatoes, which make these kind of redundant)
1 28-oz. can whole peeled tomatoes
1 12-oz. can cola

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Rub the meat with salt and pepper, then brown it in the skillet for 3 - 5 minutes (remember, you only want to sear the outside). As an optional step, once the meat is browned, remove it from the skillet and cook the onions, carrots, and celery in the juices for 2-3 minutes (no longer). Place the meat and all vegetables in a slow cooker, cover with the cola, and cook on low for at least 4 hours (8 is better).
You can serve the roast with the juices from the cooker, or you can thicken the juices in a saucepan with 1 tablespoon of flour. Serves 6-10.

Friday, June 1, 2007

I Studied Kevin's Filmography For Nothing

It looks like the Preschool has become trivia and the Recipe Of Every Other Week. I'm gonna have to work on that. For the moment, though, it's still trivia.
Victory for our team ("Four Degrees from Bacon") this week, as I made a couple of educated-but-still-very-lucky guesses, and the gf was there to correct my worst gaffes (like, say, my insistence that the Secretary of State was third in succession for the Presidency - you'd think I had never watched The West Wing) before the answers were collected. We missed a five-pointer, but apparently it didn't cost us much. I had the final answer so quickly ("What's the Canadian Football League version of the Super Bowl?"), I had it handed in before she finished reading the question. Our misses:

1. What major cable network squeezed out a polka festival for its first try at "original" programming?
2. In which nineteenth-century decade was the importation of slaves to the United States made illegal?
3. What 2000 presidential hopeful was aided at his Florida estate by a manservant named Tony?
4. To what profession did infamous mobster Al Capone claim to belong?
We got full credit for the "six degrees" halftime, but I like it, so I'll probably post these every week. As it turns out, it isn't always going to be Kevin Bacon:
5. Connect Emilio Estevez to Alec Baldwin. Two degrees or fewer for full credit.
6. Which U.S. state celebrates Will Rogers Day every November, on his birthday?
7. How many children does George Foreman have named after himself?
8. What WB show plugged the first-ever romantic kiss between two males in a prime-time TV entertainment series, in 2000?

Answers later. Yes, we really are four degrees from Kevin Bacon.