Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Really Long Rehash of This Weekend's Triathlon... you've been warned.

Saturday was the Endurance Challenge sprint triathlon. I have posted some pictures along with running narrative here. View the slideshow to see the captions.

This was my first race in reasonably warm water and in a pool. And since the swim has cost me SO much time on other races, I had high hopes that the pool would make everything better. And to make it even better, I had a cheering SQUAD this time instead of a cheering GUY (but I really love my cheering guy-- SNG, you're the best cheerleader EVAH!). Our friend Marc showed up to watch the race (I think he was most interested in all the super-fit women in swimsuits, but he's way too polite to admit that to me). That was more motivating than I had expected it to be. SNG's boss was there, too. He's an Ironman triathlete, so that lent a little bit of gravity to the race. Um, I think he finished the race before I even got into the pool...

I made the mistake of seeding myself in a slower swim class than I should have, and spent most of the swim trying (unsuccussfully) to pass people. Funny, I didn't think anyone was a slower swimmer than me. Well, there was that one guy who died in the lake last time...he was pretty slow. Anyway, I lost a few minutes there. I'll know better next time. Finished the 500M swim in 13:49, 94th out of 110 overall. I know I could have done it in 11 minutes without the no-passing issues.
(apologies for the gallows humor, but if that kind of thing bothers you, then you probably found this blog by accident)

It was really fun and invigorating to be able to swim properly, since the last 2 races (in cold open water) I had to make do with either backstroke or a wierd hybrid dogpaddle-breaststroke thing in a miserably tight wetsuit. And since there was no wetsuit this time (and since my start time was around dinnertime), I was also able to warm up properly before the race. I am sure that it helped.

The only complaint I have about the bike was that they added the first transition time to the bike time. Grr. I am a slow transitioner. Nonetheless, my bike time was 11th overall and 3rd in my age group. It was a 16-mile route with continuous hills, averaged about 19.5mph, and the bike computer said 48 minutes (not including transition time). On the entire ride, only one person passed me. He was kitted out in full TT regalia, complete with $5000 racing bike and foil helmet. I passed a few dozen people on everything from racing bikes to mountain bikes, some in tennis shoes with toeclips and t-shirts. But I'll take my downward social comparison wherever I can get it, dabnabbit!

The 5K run course was gently hilly (nothing steep) and took two figure-8 loops around the sportsplex. My time was not as good as I'd hoped: 31 minutes, but my goal is 30 minutes so it was close. There's no way to finesse it: I run slowly. It's OK, the run is kind of a recovery from the bike. If a tiger were chasing me, I'd probably have run a little bit faster.

Since the bike is the only part of a triathlon that is at all ego-tied, I was really happy with the race. It was lots of fun, and sprint distance is definitely the way to go. It just feels like a fantastic workout. Any longer and it starts to feel like work...
With about 80% of New Orleans underwater, I'm sure that the homes of most of my friends and family, and even the house I grew up in, are under water right now. My brother's high school best friend and his mother are trapped in the 2nd floor of a neighbor's house with their own 1-story house flooded. Here's an aerial photo of my aunt/uncle/cousins' neighborhood from this morning. The orange thing on the top right corner? That's the local Home Depot.

As of now, people who evacuated have no idea what they're going to return to. And a lot of people couldn't evacuate. When this kind of disasters happens to a place with so much poverty, it seems somehow unfair.

Anyway, the red cross and other aid agencies have asked for cash donations so that they can give residents vouchers for repair and rebuilding efforts. Most of these people do not have insurance. If you can help, please do so.

A New Blogging Mode

OK, I’m trying something different this time… Blogger has a new thing where you can write and post your blog from MS Word, which is perfect for me since (as we’ve discussed in the past) I’m an HTML spaz, but I’m a Word whiz. I use a hybrid version of word-powerpoint for all the courses I write, so I even have a bunch of quickie keyboard shortcuts set up.

Don’t laugh at me. I know that all the cool geeks use anything but Word unless they’ve been forced to, especially for web publishing. It’s kind of like someone telling me that they use Excel for statistics (Bah! What a silly thing to do! Only a real loser would do that! Hahahahahahaha!) But seriously? I know how to use word. I can even write out really cool formulas in Word. Check it out:
(image placeholder)
That’s the observed-data likelihood of Y under the MAR assumption for missingness. See? Still perfectly cool geek, even if I use Word.

The best thing about it is that I can paste pictures really easily in Word, so the next post will be all about… LAST WEEK’S TRIATHLON!

Edited to add: Drat! It doesn’t support images and tables!! What’s this mess? So not only can I not post formulas, I can’t post pictures. Back to the drawing board. No more Word for Blogger.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Is it Wednesday already?!

And August is almost over. I tell you, I feel like I've dodged a bullet, having spent much of the the summer traveling. Summers in Canada, Detroit, San Francisco, San Diego, and the mountains of West Virginia are quite a bit cooler than in NC. Poor SNG and Goofch. I bet they didn't spend more than 10 minutes without air-conditioning.

I think I mentioned that we have finally got our housecleaning service started up again. HOORAY! As a result, SNG got me to help with some yardwork last weekend. That's right, folks. If you had driven past my house on Sunday, you would have seen me out there broiling away raking mulch. MULCH! I know, it's crazy. Luckily, there were plenty of shady areas that needed mulch. SNG, with his olive complexion and Greek heritage, is naturally well-suited to yardwork in direct sunlight. He doesn't burn, he just ripens. Everyone knows that light-eyed and fair-skinned people have much lower sunshine tolerance and should therefore stay in shade or, even better, air-conditioning.

There's no way I would have mulched if I could have found a dirty toilet to clean instead.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Yay! Released from government quarantine!

I spent the past week teaching statisticians at the headquarters of a federal agency that specializes in catching bad guys in rural West Virginia. Before I went, they had to do a full background check in order to give me permission to even drive onto the quarantined compound. Evidently, international meat smuggling is not a sufficiently heinous offense to prevent access to the neural center of crime intelligence for the federal, state, and local governments.

Even after my high-security clearance, I had to have an escort to go *anywhere*. Even the restroom. Luckily, they let me close the stall door (smirk). I wasn't allowed to open most of the doors we went through. That was kind of wierd. But the people were super-super nice, and I felt quite welcome, in spite of the deadly serious secruity guards with guns all over the place. BTW, don't try to joke with those people. They have no more sense of humor than the ones at the airport.

I haven't updated the blog in awhile because I couldn't plug my laptop into anything except the Epson. My hotel came with free high speed internet access, but "yeah, we used to have a cable for every room and then people starting taking them so we don't have them anymore." Uhhhhh-huh. So I finally found a radio shack and bought my own ethernet cable, but by then there were several hundred emails to wander through...

Anyway, so that's where I've been.

The last 2 pieces of news: dog, and a triathlon. Well, both are no-go. I skipped the tri weekend before last because I realized that it starts at 7am, which means having to be at the race site *before* 6am to register and get marked. And it was a 3 1/2 hour drive from home, and SNG & I didn't feel up to the drive on Friday night. But we did get to the Tori Amos concert that night, which was AWESOME. SO good. I had 2 little complaints. There were 2 opening bands, and they started late. "Concert starts at 7, doors at 6" shouldn't mean "the first opening band will wander unceremoniously onto the stage around 8:00." Also, in true Cary, NC style.... no one was allowed to stand up during the music. Now this was bizarre. Suppose you're sitting there, and your favorite Tori song comes on. You might want to stand up and dance, right? I mean, that's one of the traditional concert activities, along with puking on the way to the bathroom, sneaking photographs and smoking where you aren't supposed to smoke. Um, no. In fact, none of these customs were tolerated at the concert. Anytime someone tried, they were promptly ejected from the show. But Tori was fabulous, as was one of the opening bands, a 3-girl band (yes, they were girls, I can't rightly call them women, sorry) called The Like. When their CD comes out I will buy it.

What was maybe most interesting was the Tori Amos' parents were sitting across the aisle from us (they live in this area). Her dad went around before the show shaking everyone's hands and thanking them for coming out to see his girl play. He said he doesn't always understand her music, but if it makes her happy... etc. So when she sang The Beekeeper, and was looking right at them, let's just say there wasn't a dry eye in our section. And my college voice coach was right-- she is a freaking musical genius.

And the dog... yeah.... Maybe eventually. But right now, Goofch seems to be used to his "only dog" status and I like that. It's also a lot less work having one elderly dog than it is having 2 dogs, especially if one is a young dog. Goofch requires essentially no special consideration unless we leave town. You can leave him just about anywhere and he'll just sleep until you come back.

This week I'm in town, and Saturday is the next triathlon. I have no reason to chicken out of this one, so wish me luck!

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Who spiked my coffee?

Yesterday Dianaverse sent me a link to the Wake county SPCA adoption center. She sent a link, specifically, to LIESL, page 4 (who's frankly a little freaky looking in the picture, but probably very cute in real life). So I went and started exploring and found JACKSON, page 1 (again, goofy picture, but probably smarter than Modean), and then SNG went and found CHLOE, page 3, and I was all, "You had me at hello."

So what is it? Maternal instincts? Here's what happened next:
I should have jogged home, but knowing that the shelter closes at 6pm, and fearing that they'd put to sleep all the cute doggies that I wanted to adopt, and a bit of threatening weather in the sky besides, I got a ride home from a friend. Then, in the middle of one of the year's roughest most horrendous rainstorms, I jumped in my car and sped down to the shelter. Along the way, I made a wrong turn because I couldn't see the streets through the deluge. I was so aggravated (it was 5:54 pm, btw) that I was screaming-- SCREAMING! -- at the steering wheel that it was the stupidest thing in the world that the animal shelter closes at 6PM! After all, don't they want the animals to be adopted by people with JOBS who can maybe afford the FOOD and VET BILLS?!! &*%$#^^*&!

I arrived at the shelter at 6:04pm. They had already locked up and left. I was so blue, imagining that all three of those poor innocent dogs had probably been put down, and all because I couldn't get there in time!

Yeah, I know. Weird. Oh, did I mention I'm PMSing right now? :-/

We're going to go look at the dogs hopefully Saturday sometime. We really don't need another dog.

Monday, August 8, 2005

What a weekend! It's cooling off a little after another warm wave swept over us late last week. Saturday's ride was 63 miles and hot. Saturday was 27 miles and cool.

Dianaverse came home from her vacation in Marquette and retreived her dog Daisy from our care. Goofch was sad to see her leave, but he has slept continuously since Saturday at 5:00 except to get up and move to different rooms and sleep some more. I have a feeling that the whole 2 weeks together in the canine bachelor pad were spent partying, telling stories, wrestling and yodeling.

We hadn't realized the extent to which Modean really was the brains of that little organization until last week. Between the two of them, Goofch and Daisy have 1/3 brain. Case in point: One afternoon they became fixated on a free-standing piece of fence that shields the wheelbarrow from view of the house. They were diligently trying to dig out the mysterious creature on the other side of the fence.

A diagram illustrates the interchange:

GOOFCH--> o. l .o <--DAISY

Then, they'd run around to the other side to try and sneak up on the critter from there:
DAISY-->o. l .o <--GOOFCH

They kept them occupied for about half an hour until SNG and I made them give up the chase and come in to eat.

OH-- in other news, SNG and I are going to ride the MS150 again this year. This time we're going to try the 200-mile route. We'll see how that goes... As always, we are raising money for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, and SNG is our team captain again this year. If you're so inclined, feel free to pledge a buck or two for us online. No pressure! I'll still love you if you don't pledge. It's a good cause, and it's tax-deductible.

This is our team page. Scroll down a little to find the name of the person(s) you want to sponsor.

Friday, August 5, 2005

Summertime and Produce Joys
This week has apparently been harvest week for everyone at my work. The break room has had baskets of freshly-picked goodies from everyone's gardens, and I've been showing my appreciation by partaking in (more than) my share of the bounty.

Monday: Figs. Now, get this: so far, every person I've spoken to at work (except the person who brought them in) has said that they've never eaten a fresh fig, don't know how to, and were wary of trying because they don't care for Fig Newtons. GAH! FIG NEWTONS? They are not even from the same planet as fresh figs. Newtons are not cookies, they're fruit and crap. And don't give me that "oh, I've had dried figs" -- Not even close. A fresh fig is like a silky, tender little bag full of honey. There's nothing else that comes close to fresh. And it has to be perfectly ripe. Dark color, heavy for its size, and if it's a brown fig, a red (not pink) "flower" end (not to be nasty, but I'm referring to the "butt" end of the fig). And yesterday, through careful experimentation, I determined another way to determine ripeness in a fig: drop it in a glass of water. If it floats, it needs more time to ripen. If it sinks but doesn't stink, it's perfect. An overripe fig has a distinctly musty/sour smell and tastes like a fig newton.

Tuesday: Tomatoes. Although everyone is hot on heirloom tomatoes these past couple of years, these were just romas. A little salt and some parmesan & fresh herbs and it's like a pizza for someone on a diet. If you squint really hard. OK, maybe it's not. But it tastes good anyway.

Wednesday: Nothing. Must have been an off day. But Wednesday is the day they deliver the M&Ms, so I guess that's got to count for something.

Thursday: Figs again!!! Since no one else knew what to do with them, I took more than 1/48th of the basket. I figure there must have been at least 11 other people who weren't planning on having any, right?

Today: Cucumbers! One of my FAVORITES! These are those funny little pickling cucumbers that are sometimes sticky to eat, but they're always crisp and have very few seeds, so I don't mind eating them raw. Friday is also doughnut day, so going into the breakroom is sketchy. Since I ate someone else's figs, they can have my doughnut.

Wednesday, August 3, 2005

More Fitness-Related Stuff Ahead (You've been warned)
This is one of those stream-of-consciousness, trying to get my thoughts out into words blogs and if you skip it, you wouldn't offend me. But if you have any insights, leave me a comment!

After work last night SNG and I went to a local lake/water park with about 60 yards of distance available for open swimming. I wanted to go so I could try to learn how to open-water swim. I learned two things: leopard-print bikinis always make a person look trashy and open water isn't the problem.

Being an (arguably) good scientist, I have varied several factors to try to figure out why I can't swim in open water triathlons.
Wetsuit vs No Wetsuit
Pool vs Open water
Water tempertature
Crowded water (feet and hands and tooshies everywhere)
Race-day nerves

After experimenting with the two factors I can control, I've determined that
I can swim in a pool and open water just fine
I can swim with or without my wetsuit just fine (and the wetsuit is faster)

So the triathlon problem has to be either water temperature, which I know affects breathing because cold water causes heart rate to spike, or race-day jitters, which also causes heart rate to spike, or the crowds.

Race-day jitters should wear off after a few minutes, so I don't think that's it. And as slowly as I've had to swim in these races, the crowd is eliminated as a possible factor pretty early on in the race. I think the problem is water temperature. As long as the water stays cold, heart rate (and therefore respiration) stays elevated. I need practice swimming in cold, open water.

On the non-scientific front, the lake/water park is almost empty on an evening after work and it's just about the most fun you can have on a hot summer evening. If they have wireless internet, I'm definitely going to try to telecommute from there a few days a week. :-)

Tuesday, August 2, 2005

I luv weekends.

Yeah, so it rained Saturday and we didn't do the cup&cone tour. But we went to a really fun party for a friend of mine that evening and ate up all the calories we would have burned on the bike, so I guess that makes it all even.

And now it's Tuesday, and it's a beautiful day outside. I took a longer route to work this morning on the bike and almost ran over a herd of high-school girls from runner's camp in the park. They run kind of like buffalo.

On my mind this morning is whether I will have the nerve to actually participate in the next triathlon I'm registered for. It's called Bandit's Challenge, and it's notorious for being really tough. It's olympic distance. It's in the mountains. It has 2 infamously steep hils on the bike and on the run, which you actually have to cross multiple times. But you know, I don't mind hills so much. That'll be slow, but do-able. What I'm concerned about is that it's an open-water swim. We learned this year that I don't actually know how to swim in open water, unless you count dogpaddle or backstroke. And a mile is a long way to dogpaddle or backstroke.

Before today, I had already decided not to do it. The last one was just so tough, and competing in a field of athletes who are that much more experienced and faster was discouraging. This one will be worse, as I'm sure that the only people who will show up will be people who seriously gluttons for pain. Present company included, it seems. So why the change of heart? Two things. First, even though I've gained a few pounds in the last couple of months (OK, more than a few-- about 8 pounds!) I think I'm starting to get it off again. It was mostly just vacation weight from all that cheese and maple sugar and poutine. Now, this doesn't so much matter in a flat race, but Heavy + Hills = PAIN. Light + Hills = FAST. If I do manage to drop a few lbs, then I could make some decent time on the bike. Second, I've been swimming almost every day lately and I'm actually getting faster! Yesterday I swam a mile in 34 minutes, which was either a miscalculation on my part or a new (non-wetsuit) record for me, breaking the previous record by over 3 minutes! If I can just learn to swim in open water, then I think I'd be able to finish in a respectable time. Nowhere near winning, and probably not even near the middle of my age group, but at least within the time limit of 4hr15min. And hopefully not dead-last. Or dead.

SNG send me the funniest link- It's a plea to recognize the great spaghetti monster theory of creation in science programs in Kansas schools. If you haven't already seen it, check it out.