Archive for December, 2007

A less convenient truth.

December 20, 2007

A friend of mine was teasing me about climate change the other day. She knows I have very little faith in our ability to extricate ourselves from the current mess, but she pointed out that she’d heard Gore talking on the radio and he seemed to feel we could do it.

I did not hear what Gore had to say. I presume it was similar to what he says in the movie: Buy a Prius, use compact fluorescents, recycle.

I don’t think my friend is aware of the final UN report that came out a month ago. I don’t think the News SurPressed mentioned it.

For a long time the goal has been to insure that global temperatures do not rise more than 2°C. This is a somewhat arbitrary mark on the continuum of temperatures — the idea being that somewhere around this value there will be massive ecosystem (and economic) disruption.

In the final UN report from the IPCC the most optimistic scenario barely achieves this. It would require carbon emissions to peak NOW, and drop by 85% in 2050.

Consider that: Global carbon consumption must cease to grow RIGHT NOW. And over the next 40 years we must reduce our consumption so that we are burning 1/6th of the oil/coal/whatever that we currently burn. (not reduce by 1/6, but reduce to 1/6).

Buying a Prius (and driving the same amount) will mean maybe a 50% reduction in gasoline usage (except that it takes more energy to make a Prius than a normal car, and more energy to dispose of one afterward so the comparison isn’t quite that simple). If you want to reduce your consumption to 1/6, you would need something that was three times as fuel efficient as a Prius – 150mpg.

Buy a bike. Walk. Take the bus.

And we must do that in every aspect of our lives. Heat our houses 6 times as efficiently, transport goods, farm, etc.

So Gore is wrong in saying that buying a Prius will solve the problem. It might be a good start, and many people probably should, but it is nowhere near enough.

In 1997 the Kyoto treaty, was signed (but not by the US) requiring significant reductions in emissions among the developed nations (but not for the developing nations like China or India, a fact which has turned out to be a major flaw).

At the moment the UK and Sweden are the only countries in the EU that appear to be on track for reducing their emissions in line with the treaty. Emissions in the US have increased by 16%, in Canada 27%, in China 47% and in India 55%.

That is using the standards set out in the Kyoto treaty. However those standards exclude emissions in global shipping and air transport. If you include a pro-rated share of those emissions into each country’s share then instead of declining by -14% England’s emissions actually rise by 19%.

Kyoto has failed massively. We are in far worse shape globally than the worst case scenario put forth back in 1997. That was only 10 years ago. As each successive report has come out from the IPCC they have painted a bleaker and bleaker picture. And that reflects the change in less than a year.

We aren’t going to achieve it. There is no way we can reduce global emissions to 1/6 of their current value.

There might be an engineering solution, but there is no political will to reach it.

It’s the tragedy of the commons all over again. When I chid my friend after she bought a gas-guzzling Vanagon, she said that she would reduce her consumption if everyone else did. A safe statement — it’s clear other people won’t. They already haven’t.

She also asked me if she were the enemy now. As Walt Kelly pointed out 30 years ago: We have met the enemy and he is us.

The world population is rising. By 2050 there will be another 3~4 billion of us, so to achieve a global decline to 1/6th, we actually need to reduce our individual consumption to 1/9th.

Global economic output is up. This means consumption is higher, not lower. Consider India and China, their emissions have risen by roughly 50% in the last 10 years — and both are huge countries.

The price of oil is rising as oil reserves are depleted. This means that people will turn to cheaper alternatives (like coal, oil shale, etc.). Unfortunately, these cheap alternatives are almost universally dirtier and produce more carbon, not less.

Biodiesel is touted as a solution. A technology which combines rainforest destruction with rising food prices does not look like a solution to me. The price of flour has doubled at my grocery store in less than a year. There have been food riots all over the world as biodiesel raises the cost of maize directly, wheat and rice in consequence, and meat indirectly.

These reports are available for anyone to read, they are on the web. I am not making this stuff up. They were not produced by raging loony environmentalists, they are the result of scientific debate using the best data currently available. The IPCC was set up by the UN and has taken input from every nation. If anything, I assume the actual situation is worse than painted in the reports because:

  • When the first report came out of the IPCC it was clear that both China and the US had watered down its conclusions.
  • Experience from the Kyoto protocol suggests that things are worse than people can guess. We just don’t know yet all the ways things can go wrong.

So I believe that Gore paints a far rosier picture that current evidence supports.

Perhaps he does this because if people realized how bad things were they would give up in despair. Every little bit helps. We will almost certainly not achieve the 2°C target, but maybe we can stay within 3°C or 4°C… Perhaps the lemurs will all die and all of Bangladesh be flooded, but maybe the raccoons will survive?

So maybe that’s what he’s thinking.

The American people certainly seem incapable of reading or understanding the data that are out there. You don’t have to look hard for it. It’s right there. Maybe he has to start out with comforting half truths before we are ready to look at the full and inconvenient truth.


December 15, 2007

The word Amphora is so obviously Greek, that I was surprised to find the plural is Amphoræ, which is obviously Latin. But the word entered English via Latin, and so we have the Latin plural. I checked with a Greek friend and the Greek words are Amphoreus for the singular and Amphoreis (amphoreis.png) for the plural.

I have spent the last two and a half years making 500+ bowls as part of a glaze demo. I was tired of bowls and wanted to do something different. So I decided to make amphorae instead.

Dianna’s 50th birthday arrived. Elaine suggested we give her things like a walker, or a pack of Depends ™ to remind her of her advanced age. I wanted to do something nicer, and an amphora seemed the obvious choice.

Since amphorae were originally jugs of wine, I thought I might throw in a loaf of bread (she already has a “thou”, who even sings). But my attempt to decorate with grape leaves was a total failure and I gave up on that idea.

In the original Greek Olympics, the winners were presented with amphorae, with designs indicative of the sport. No women ran in the original Olympics (though there were, I discovered, races for girls a few days later), and all the races seem to have been fairly short (about 200m-~4k). Still that seemed the way to go.

So I searched the internet for runners on amphorae, and found several images. The Greeks men ran naked, of course, so the designs needed to be modified a bit to be appropriate for Dianna.

I believe the Greeks constructed their amphorae by coiling long worms of clay into the correct shape, and then smoothing out the joins. They would then decorate with coloured slips (essentially mud), burnish the result and fire at terra-cota temperature.

I’m a wheel thrower working in groggy stoneware clay firing at a much higher temperature. Sadly I find I cannot burnish my pieces, the clay shrinks around the grog as it is fired and the wonderfully smooth burnished surface becomes all bumpy after firing.

At terra-cota temperatures red is an easy colour to develop in a kiln (rust is reddish). But at stoneware temperatures red is much more elusive. So I would be unable to match the colours.

I threw the body of the amphora in two pieces — the base, and the neck — and then pulled three handles (I generally make an extra, just in case something goes wrong.

amphoranohandles.jpegI set these aside to dry overnight. They didn’t dry as much as I had expected, so I put them out in the sun the next day to speed amphorahandles.jpegup the process. Then I joined the top (which was thrown up-side-down) to the base with slip. And added the initial banding using a black slip.

Finally I attached the handles. I always have trouble with this part — my handles are not symmetric and one has a sharp bend. Oh well. Again I set the pot aside to dry.

I couldn’t leave well enough alone though. I decided I wanted to scratch “I run Marathons” in Greek onto the bottom. So I asked a couple of Greek friends to translate it. irunmarathons.pngThen I decided, why stop at Greek? So I asked more friends, scattered across the world to translate “I run” into their respective languages:


amphorarunner.jpegA few days later I was back at work. I scratched my various versions of “I run” onto the neck (in two groups, one in front, one in back), then traced the outline of my runner onto the body of the piece, and finally coloured in the runner with black slip. Then I carefully removed the amphora from its bat and took it out to the kiln to be bisque fired.

The traditional amphorae were not glazed, but were burnished. I decided to glaze the inside of the piece (stoneware does become vitrious, so it will hold water even if unglazed, but I feel happier knowing the glazes is there too), and leave the outside raw.



December 14, 2007

I am standing on a padded table. Attached to the corners of the table are metal pipes going up to a rectangle of pipes over my head. So, I’m in an open box, with the edges defined by pipes, the bottom by the table and the sides and top open.

Facing a narrow end of the table, holding on to the pipes above me, I walk my feet up the pipes in front of me. Now I kick my feet up, over my head. I spread them into a split (well as close to a split as I can come).

I can’t seem to stabilize myself and I oscillate back and forth like a pendulum. It is terrifying.

And suddenly the fear departs.

It is exhilarating.

And funny.

I start to laugh as I sway backwards and forwards up-side-down. I laugh and laugh until I can no longer support myself, and I come down.

Then I do it again, and this time it isn’t terrifying, and I manage to control the oscillations. And come out of it the proper way.

There is more to this piece, but that’s all for me today.

A Portrait of The Runner after A Marathon

December 6, 2007

I always forget just how bad I feel after a marathon. And of course I am convinced that each time feels worse than any previous recovery.

It’s almost impossible to walk. My legs hurt. Any attempt to dorsal flex my foot is painful and the calf is so tight the attempt is generally unsuccessful — giving me an odd hobbling gate. My quads hurt too, going down stairs is a challenge. Every now and then my hamstrings feel left out and they give me a twinge just so I’ll remember that they worked hard too.

This race had a mental depression to recover from too. Having been forced to reconcile myself to a 3 hour goal by injury, I was dismayed to find I could not even achieve that. By the end of the race I was telling myself “I’m never racing another marathon again”. Time to work on half-marathons. I might run a scenic marathon slowly and easily to enjoy its beauty, but I’m never racing again. Obviously I can’t do them.

A day later I was pretty much out of my funk. This one didn’t work, but I’ve done well in all previous ones. (And, I keep having to remind myself, by most people’s standards I did well in this one). There will be others.

Mental recovery came pretty easily ( 🙂 that is, assuming that counts as recovery, some would argue that running marathons is the disease and I’ve merely recovered the disease). Physical recovery comes more slowly.

Day 0: After the marathon walking was extremely difficult. Walking back to the hotel was almost as hard as the last mile of the race. But after some rest, a bath, food — I found I was going up and down stairs almost as if I were a normal person.

Day 1: The next day was much worse. I needed to hold onto something to come down. I went for a 16 mile bike ride (which took an hour and a half — slow!) and going up hills was unpleasant at first but I warmed up toward the end and felt better.

Day 2: My calves hurt. But I am struck by the fact that after I notice that I’m thinking, but they don’t hurt as much as they should. Four short bike rides today. Hills are less of a challenge. Stairs still require a handrail.

Day 3: I find I am walking down stairs side-ways, but without needing a handrail. Yay! Progress. During the course of the day the pain faded to an ache. I biked ~30 miles at a normal pace (though I found I tired more easily). I did a basic pilates class. I survived one of the most painful sports massages of my life.

Day 4: I no longer notice stairs. I did a harder pilates session, and biked about 40 miles. I still tire very easily. My calves are still sore.

Day 5: The pain seems basically gone now, but the calves are still very tight. 20 miles on the bike, didn’t feel the same tiredness as yesterday. First yoga class. I ran across the street. I’m getting a post-marathon cold.

Day 6: I thought I’d try a short run (up to the Wilcox and around a couple of times). My right calf tightened up again, so I stopped and tried to work on it. It still feels very dense. I couldn’t get it to loosen up. So I cut the run short (maybe 1.5 miles). I managed a half hour on the eliptical (though my heart rate was about 4% too high) and ~20miles on the bike.

Day 7: 6 mile run today. Calf got knotted up around 4 miles. More tired than I should be after an easy run.

Week 2: 0-3-5-10-0-11-8 That is 0 miles the first day (but a half hour on the elliptical), then gradually building to 10 miles. Another day off, and then a real work-out, running on a hilly grassy course, two miles at ~6:40, two more at 6:30, and a final one (I was tired) at 6:50. Still a little slow, but definitely much closer to normal.

Week 3: 0-10-5-11-5-10-10 Back to a reasonable weekly mileage. On the low side, but reasonable. No really long runs, nothing really fast. But the easy stuff feels normal.

Not “the Wall” but “the Parabola”

December 2, 2007

“Show up and blow up” as Ms. Toth said. Meltdown, might be more accurate in my case. After mile 20 my splits got progressively worse. Indeed the deceleration between splits got worse so “cubic” is more accurate than parabola I suppose.

Up to mile 20 I averaged a 6:50 pace (well, 6:48 to be precise), which was my intent. Mile 20 was 7:01, then 7:07, 7:24, 7:41, 8:11, 8:57 and 9:20 for the last mile. I wasn’t hungry, or cold. I had none of the traditional signs of hitting the wall, I just got slower and slower and slower with each mile. My legs hurt, but that wasn’t the problem.

I hunched in on myself. I was still passing people up to about mile 23, but that changed and hordes of people started passing me. I thought about resting, but I knew I’d never start up again if I did.

California International Marathon. I’d never been to Sacramento before. I rather liked the city. It looks much more like the kind of environment I grew up it. They were having a real fall. That was extremely nice. Maggie and Rusty and June (Rusty’s wife) and I all flew up on the same flight on Friday. Rusty and June were doing research into how a marathon was organized. Melissa G. and her husband drove over from Sacramento, and Tony (whom I hadn’t even realized was running CIM) came up on Saturday.

On Saturday we registered, and then Rusty drove us over the course so we could get a look at it (he and June were counting port-a-potties, aid stations and similar things). The course starts out in Folsom and wanders through moderately rural countryside for a while before entering the suburb of Fair Oaks, and then on into Sacramento itself. Coming in to Sacramento was quite lovely with tree lined streets still in (almost) full fall color.

The course loses 350ft or so over 26.2 miles so it is known as a fast course (indeed, all of us got PRs, but we all paid for it — the downhills trashed our quads). It isn’t a constant decline, of course, instead constant rolling hills with each decline a little longer than the incline that precedes it.

We were worried about the weather. No rain was forecast, but it was much colder than SB. The prediction was for 37 °F (~3°C) at 7 in the morning when we started rising to a high of 50 (10C) in the afternoon, with winds. The wind sounded worrying. The course runs basically west with a little bit of southing, but it meanders. The wind was from the southeast mostly cross, but sometimes we veered into it.

Because we were heading west, I decided against sunglasses. I had a pair of throw-away gloves, an ancient moth-eaten sweater, a garbage bag, an ear-band, a long-sleeve wicking shirt and shorts. I considered tights, but decided I didn’t need them.

(Maggie and I had done a short run the day before and I found my legs were warm enough without tights).

I set four alarms for 3:30am and woke up 2 minutes before any of them. A series of buses came and picked us up at our hotel a little after 5 and took us out to Folsom. We arrived around 6. We were allowed to stay on the buses as long as we wanted in order to keep warm, however I got out immediately and went to the port-a-potties — past experience has taught me that if I wait the lines become insane.

As I was waiting, I glanced over at the next line. Someone was staring at me. “George?” he said. “Mike?”. A guy I used to work with 15 years ago was there. He and his wife, Lori, do marathons from time to time, but it hadn’t occurred to me that he might be here too. He was hoping to run it in 4 hours or so, but was injured (and unsure he’d succeed). I was hoping to run in under 3, but had also been injured (and was unsure I’d succeed). Lori was going for a 4:30 or so.

I went back to the bus (now almost empty), took off the sweats I’d been wearing for warmth, smeared my legs with vaseline (as insulation, and then loaned my container to some others who were also redressing.

My plan was to run the first mile with the 3:10 pace group (7:15 min/mile), speed up a little on the next and then start running 6:50s and try to catch the 3 hour pace group (6:52 min/mile) around the half-way point, run with them until 19 or so and then try to speed up. I had my doubts about speeding out, but we would see.

Rusty told me to start out slowly to give myself a chance to warm up, I doubted my ability to do start slowly by myself which was why I was going to run with the pace group (I get so excited at the start of a race). I was supposed to do a mile or so before the race as additional warmup, but I couldn’t find anywhere to run. In one direction was huge mass of bodies lining up, in the other a constant stream of buses and cars dropping off runners.

So I placed myself where I thought 3:10 might be (the pace leader hadn’t shown up yet), A bit back from the 3:00 sign. When the 3:10 leader did show he was well in front of me, but by then it was so packed that I could not move up. I’d wait for the start. Anyway it would mean I’d run even more slowly, which was all to the good as a warm up.

I didn’t hear the start signal. But that didn’t matter, because no one around me could move for several seconds after it. We were still stationary when I’d worked out that the leaders had started. I guessed it too me 30~40 seconds just to reach the start line (thank goodness for chips!). We were sort of running then. I could see the 3:10 sign dancing some distance in front of me, but I still couldn’t get to it.

Amusingly enough the 3:15 sign was ahead of the 3:10 sign for the first half mile or so.

The first ¾ of a mile, or so, is a gentle downhill. Then we turned onto another road and slammed into our first hill. Only a short hill. Suddenly I heard someone calling splits, and realized I most have passed the first mile mark without noticing it. 7:28 by my watch. Nice and slow.

I started moving a little faster and eventually passed the pace group. I felt warm. I took off my ancient, mothy sweater and tossed it off the side of the road (the race expects this, they gather the dropped clothing after the run and donate it to charity — though I doubt anyone would want that sweater).

Somehow I completely missed the second mile marker. Mile 3 was a small sign on the right side of the road. At that point I tore off my garbage bag, wadded it up, and, just before the next aid station, I tossed it to the ground (they didn’t have a garbage can before the water, and I wanted water, which I could not snag with a wadded up bag in my hand).

Shortly after this my cap bounced off my head and onto the ground behind me. I had intended to keep it, but I wasn’t going to stop and turn back for it.

Mile 4 had a great huge flag attached to the mark, as did all subsequent mile marks. Easy to spot. My split for that mile was 6:39. A little too fast for this early in the run. I slowed. Mile 5 was 6:51. Perfect.

As were miles 6 and 7. Quite good pacing for me. I ate my first gel pack here. Then the next two miles were hillier and were both 6:55. Mile 10 was a long steady downhill: 6:34, and that got me moving a little faster: 6:46 and 6:36 for 11 and 12. And then I realized the large clump of people a minute or two in front must be the 3:00 pace group. I wondered if I’d catch them by the half. Didn’t seem likely.

Mile 13 was 6:37, and they were still well in front. I crossed under the half-marathon marker (which had a clock) and saw that I was right on target. Even a little fast. I crossed under at almost exactly 1:30:00, but that was gun time, and I’d been running for ~30 seconds less.

So I was right where I wanted to be, the pacer was just going too fast. (not much, I guess, but I was annoyed with him). I ate my second gel.

After the half marker we turned dead into the wind. I’d been feeling pretty good about going ~6:40, speculating that maybe I’d be able to continue at that pace. Nope. 6:57 for mile 15. I picked it up again to 6:40 for the next two, but it was hard.

Another gel. Then mile 18 was 7:01. Arg! can’t have that. So mile 19 was 6:45. Whew. That averages 6:53, that’s close enough to pace.

Up to now I’d averaged 6:48.

But mile 20 was 7:01 again, and when I tried to run faster I didn’t. 7:07. There was someone at this mile marker giving splits, and I was till a little ahead of 3:00 pace. I couldn’t do the exact math but figured if I could just hold a 7:00 pace for the next 5 miles I’d still have a chance of breaking 3 hours. Time for my last gel. Maybe that will perk me up?

No. 7:24. Well, at least I was till passing people. 7:41. Ug. 8:11. Now people were passing me. Every now and then there’d be someone in worse straits than I whom I could pass, but not many, and eventually none. People were cheering us on, telling us how well we were doing. Others were doing well. I was not. 8:57 for the penultimate mile I’m slowing by almost a minute per mile. That’s really bad. I feel awful. I keep thinking of stopping and walking. But I … just … can’t … give … up. All I can do is keep pushing to the best of my ability. All thoughts of breaking 3 hours have long past. Will I at least manage to break 3:04 (7 min pace)?

(Horrible thought: Will the 3:10 pace group pass me? Will Maggie pass me?)

My heart rate monitor has also failed me. I’ve been running at about 90% heart rate, but now it tells me 41%. It lies.

Maggie said later there was a bad wind in this stretch. I didn’t even notice. The wind was irrelevant, the problem was inside me.

Slowly, slowly onward. Suddenly I hear “Keep going Georgie.” I look up. It’s June, watching. That brings a smile. I think I say something. Sadly, even at my sluggish pace, I eventually pass her.

At mile 26, I hear Rusty. I can’t see find him.

Another .2 miles. Women to the left, men to the right (why? what would happen if I went through the wrong shoot? Would they disqualify me?). Plod. Plod. On. And there’s the finish line 3:08:??, chip time will probably be 3:07:?? (my watch reads 3:07:38)

Well. Ok. That is technically a PR. My best race before this was 3:13 at Big Sur. That is known as a hard course. This is known as an easy course. A ~6 minute improvement is pretty pathetic.

Well. Ok. Most people would be pleased. That would qualify anyone for Boston, it’s faster than the open men’s standard. It’s ~73% at my age. But I was expecting something closer to 2:52 just a few months ago. Then I was willing to accept 3 hours. This is a disappointment.

No one seems prepared to deal with me. I can’t find anyone to cut my chip off. Ah. There. Now I can’t find a mylar blanket. The woman who was passing them out has just turned away as I come up to her. Someone gives me a bottle of water. I can’t get the cap off. I have to take my gloves off. In doing so the mylar blanket comes off. A nice lady comes up and rewraps me and opens the water for me.

I can barely walk. My calves hurt. My quads hurt.

Where’s the food? I’m not hungry, but I know I need to eat.

Here’s a booth advertising cars. Why is that here? I think that’s … insulting to find at the end of a marathon. We’ve just been pushing our own bodies to the limit — and they want to demean that by selling cars? Feh!

Where is the food? I move further and further from the finish. (I should add, although I was in no position to appreciate this at the time, the finish is right at the state capital, down Capital Mall. A grand avenue with a grassed median leading from a beautiful bridge over to the capital building). The food is far too far away.

Finally I see someone serving soup. I take a cup. And a banana. There’s not really much here.

I grab my bag. (I realize I’ve lost one of my gloves)

Now where’s my hotel?

Oh. In exactly the opposite direction from the one I’ve been walking.

About 10 blocks from here.

Some of the slowest blocks I’ve ever walked.

I can barely hobble. The wind is bad. It blows my mylar blanket up around my neck so it’s more a scarf than a blanket. It’s cold. The sun has gone behind clouds. I have some warmer things in my bag, but that would mean: stopping, unwrapping the blanket (dealing with it somehow in the wind), bending over. It just seems impossible. Especially bending over.

Instead I keep walking.

Eventually the hotel.

The elevator.

I lean my head into the wall as the elevator goes up. It feels so nice to rest. But the elevator stops, and I have to walk some more. Then my door. The door key is in my bag. I have to bend over. I can’t find it. I dump the bag onto the floor. There it is. Open door. Go back and push the pile of clothes into the room. Close door. Draw bath. Gently, carefully, gratefully, ease myself into the water.


So what went wrong?

My guess is that I still had not gotten my endurance back after my earlier collapse. I need to rest.

Good night.