Em oi! #405: Philosophy Ruins Films


Well hello. It has been a while since we had one of these little chats, hasn’t it? I’ve been reading a lot, but not blogging too much beyond book reviews. So you’re probably asking, “Hey Em, how’s it going?”

It has been all right. Not great, not amazing, but also it’s going much better than it was in January. I went through a rough patch between seasonal affective disorder and a leg injury. The first was solved with phototherapy, the second with PT, which is just about finished. PT has been a strange collection of triggerpoint dry needling (which is not super pleasant, and the alcohol wipes are giving me a rash) and various exercises and stretches designed to 1) make you feel inadequate when you realize how many of them you keep forgetting to do and 2) fix whatever imbalance exists in my hip that is hurting my ankle. In the meantime I spent a lot of time swimming in January when I was totally off running, and then running only on the dreadmill and elliptical in February—I’ve been doing about 24 miles on the dreadmill and close to that on the elliptical as well. I’ve also been lifting weights a lot; since early September, B and I have switched to a 5×5 program which is a lot more intense than our previous 3×10-type program. My lifts have gone up a lot, which is very satisfying, but I’ve also put on some pounds of muscle and so my bra no longer fits right.* The best news is that as of tomorrow I am encouraged to try running outside again; if everything goes well, I may be able to show up to race the 50-Furlong World Championship in Paoli on Saturday. I doubt I am in condition to defend my title as 8th fastest woman in the world at that distance, but it would be really nice to race again.

What else have I been doing? Learning to code. As in write computer programs. So far if you want a program that spits out a triangle (right or equilateral) in ASCII or that curses at you in a variable way based on your input, I am your programmer. Actually, I have to admit that this is my second attempt at learning to code. When I was an undergraduate, I took the introduction to programming course the UW offered (which is taught in Java). Now I am learning Caché ObjectScript, which is a much less well-known language, but it is easier in part because B is teaching me, and it turns out that he is a much better teacher than the grad student (who may have been a forestry major?) they had teaching the intro class when I took it. B is a good teacher; it’s also convenient to have my professor on site rather than inaccessible except by email sometimes. I may also be a better student now.

Well let’s not go overboard on that.

I’ve also been learning indexing. And Chinese. And editing a bunch of books (I did three full-length manuscripts, on ancient Athens, moral philosophy, and sociology, from the first week of February until last Friday the 7th of March). In other words I have been busy, not sleeping enough, unable to find time to do the things I enjoy or see my friends much, and basically acting like I’ve not developed any coping skills since college. But things will get better now.

A note on podcasts and the like. A bunch of people gave me recommendations, many of which have been very satisfying. The Hound Tall Podcast (formally The Hound Tall Discussion Series with Moshe Kasher) is very funny and a lot more Jew-y than Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me (I recommend the George Clinton interview if you haven’t heard it yet). Of course the Ultrarunner Podcast is a good way to keep up with a sport that no one follows but me; my new goal is to get interviewed on there, since I’ll probably never get on Fresh Air. Also, the Moth Radio Hour has some very good stories–also some gutting ones, so do be careful. Finally, John Harris’s excellent podcast/audiobook of The Epic of Gilgamesh was both exciting and intellectually stimulating. I may or may not have time to do a whole review, but in the meantime, it’s highly recommended.

I’m filing this comic under PN1995.9 S695 L86 2015, for Drama–Motion pictures–Other special topics, A-Z–Star Wars films.

*If you are reading this and saying, “Wait, you only own one?”, I will tell you: You obviously don’t know me. Ninety percent of the shirts I now own came from races. I am not an enthusiastic shopper.

Em oi! #404: Why They Don’t Do Reality TV Shows about Writers


Oh my G-d, that sofa. If I have to draw it again, I don’t know, I’ll go crazy.

We’ll file this under PN1992.8 R43 L86 2014, for Drama–Broadcasting–Television broadcasts–Special topics–Other special topics, A-Z–Reality programs.

I…had originally planned to do a chart of like all the races I did this year, and talk about how much I ran and all that kind of thing, but then I was struck by the thought that no one cares. Basically it’s something I’ve been dwelling on as I try to figure out what I want to sign up for next year. A lot of popular races tend to sell out early, and race directors of course like this and encourage people to register early by offering lower fees if you do so. One race that I do every year sold out in less than seven hours.

So I’ve been trying to figure out what might be a good goal for next year. As a runner, there are basically two ways to go: faster or farther.

I will say now that I suffer from some–let’s call it optimism about my running abilities. I don’t often fail at tasks I set myself, and even when I do, you know, cross the finish line in tears (Marine Corps in 2009) or limping/bleeding (Dances with Dirt 2013), I usually count it as a win because, you know, I finished! Even the triathlon in which I had a panic attack during the swim and took so long finishing the rest of the race that B actually thought I might have drowned and was going to look for me in the medical tent when I finally crossed the finish line counts, to some extent, as a win.

All this comes to the fact that recently, I’ve been doing some speed work. Nothing too big–one week I did 5×400, then the next week 4×800, then this past Thursday 3×1200. My 800s were at an average pace of 3:22. According to one marathon time-predicting test, called the Yasso 800, if you want to run a marathon in x hours:y minutes, you should work up to a set of 10×800 where your time is x minutes:y seconds–in other words, 10×800 at 3:22 could predict a 3:22 :xx marathon. I thought about this and figured that even if I took a bunch of extra time on the second half, I could still run a 3:30:xx, which I think would be a Boston qualifier for me. I am of course ignoring a few key facts, like:

  1. I did 4×800, not ten, and my times were definitely dropping by the last one.
  2. This would require me to run an 8:01 min/mi for 26.2 miles. My single fastest race last year was 10 miles in 1:21:46, an 8:11 min/mi pace. There is, it turns out, a huge world of different between an 8:11 and an 8:01.
  3. I ran that race in April.
  4. Also, every time I have tried to do serious speed work, which is the only way to get faster, I have gotten hurt. In fact, even with the 3×1200, my foot was starting to act up.

I actually am so optimistic that I couldn’t convince myself that this was totally out of the question–I had to instead convince myself that Boston is bourgeois and I don’t really want to do it.[1]

So that leaves farther. You can’t have followed this blog for long without realizing that I really enjoy ultrarunning as a sport, and that I often think farther is better. I’ve run an average of 45 miles/week this year, despite being off several weeks with various injuries, and managed to somehow do 61 miles on a week that I was “cutting back” before a marathon. Because I felt a huge sense of accomplishment when I finished my last 50K, I thought: Why not do a 100K?

There are actually plenty of good answers to this pro or con, depending on how much you feel like running around in the woods for ten hours is a good time. But the major con is injury. Specifically, the problem is that I have recurring injuries, and the cause often seems to be running above 20 miles in one run. You can run a marathon off a long run of 18 miles, even a 50K, but I’m going to guess it will be hard to do a 100K on that kind of training.[2]

Bring it all back home, Lupton–what’s your plan? To be honest, I have decided that what I really need is a year of not getting hurt. So I’m going to take it pretty easy–I’m planning to do the Ice Age trail half marathon in May, and then the Powerman in Kenosha in June, and then see where I’m at. If things are feeling good in the first half of the year, I may try to jump into a marathon or 50K, like the Trailbreaker or the Mad City 50K, both of which are small enough that I should be able to make the decision last-minute. And then after June…I don’t know. I’m not going to plan that far ahead right now. I know lots of people who have super impressive plans for next year; I just have to admit that’s not going to be me this year.

Next time, hopefully I’ll have something to write that’s not about running, like more on Ulysses or something. Wouldn’t that be fun? ‘Cause seriously.

[1] Perhaps the most fantastically snobbish statement I’ve ever made. Hilarious too, because by many (economic) measures, I’m kind of bourgeois as well…

[2] For those who might be somehow curious: There’s actually very little research on what constitutes a good training plan for a 100K (because so few runners do them), and most plans that are available are kind of based on “this worked for me” strategies.

Em oi! #402: Why-fi


This made more sense about three weeks ago when I had a dream about Doctor Who and woke up wanting to draw Matt Smith’s face. He has such a weird face, don’t you think?

matt smith
I was going to write more about Doctor Who, but I don’t really have that much more to say. I used to watch it and talk about it with my dad. Now I can’t. Sometime I’ll go back to watching it though. I miss it. Also there is a lot more to say about the specters of British Imperialism and White Man’s Burden and the question of sexuality and modern life that the show raises, but I don’t really have time/energy to subject it to that kind of critique. Please feel free to click here to visit the Postmodernism Generator and come up with your own critique.

Anyway, I have still been really busy with work, which is why it took me three weeks to draw/ink this damn thing. I have a work cycle that goes like this:

  1. “I’m bored. I’m depressed. I need more work.”
  2. Get some work. Hey, this is exciting.
  3. Wow, this is a lot of work. I am tired and kind of burned out. I wish this project would finish.
  4. Gee, I’m bored. (Return to step 1).

Right now I’m in step 3, and have been pretty much since I sketched this comic on the 24th. That’s why I haven’t had much time to write about the Tyranena Beer Run half marathon, which I did on November 11th. So if you’ll sit back, I’ll give you a very brief sketch of what happened.

  • Weather: It was cold. At first it was sunny, and I unfortunately left my sunglasses in the car. Then it got cloudy again, because this is Wisconsin and we wouldn’t want you to have enough sunlight to feel happy or anything.
  • Traffic: I picked up my friend Kristi and we drove to Lake Mills together. The Beltline was bumper to bumper for several miles (and maybe 30 minutes) because…a crew was painting stripes on the road? On a Saturday morning? For real? But although we were slightly late and the pre-race email said packet pickup ends at 11, they still gave us our packets at 11:05 or something. Very nice.
  • Everyone lined up and we took off. The picture below shows a map, but basically we ran around the lake. The first half (mostly roads) had a few good hills; the second half (mostly trails in the limestone sense, not single-track) was flat and had the kind of scenery describable as scenic. Had the race been held two or three weeks earlier, the leaves would have been amazing.tyranena
  • After the race, there was much food. I had a root beer, which was reasonably good; I heard the beer-beer was great, but I had to drive back to Madison to finish making challah for a relative’s 50th birthday party.
  • I ran in all of my layers because it was cold, and so I froze and shivershivershivered after the race for 45 minutes while I chatted with folks. I also just got a new coffee maker and have consequently been hitting the sauce pretty hard during the week, and by the time I got home I had six kinds of caffeine withdrawal headache going on. Super not awesome.
  • Speaking of chatting, everyone goes to this race. I saw a ton of Madisonians, and also got to meet up with Sheila, aka Crackhead, whose excellent triathlon blog I have been following for lo these many years. Or a while, at least. She was super fun and exciting to talk to. It’s nice to not be the craziest person in the room. “Oh, you haven’t done a 50-miler yet?” is not a typical reaction to my running CV. Also, check it out, I made her race report!
  • Finally, the race. I took off at the gun, and later met up with Kristi a little after mile 2. We ran the rest together, clocking a lot of sub-9 miles. We kept saying, “We should slow down!” but then we didn’t. It was windy, but at least part of the time we got a tail wind (not at the end, though. Ugh.). I finished in 1:53:13, my fastest half this year. (My other half was a trail race, so it’s not that shocking. But still, my goal was to go under 2 hours, so 1:53 is great!)
Kristi and me, post-race.
Sheila and me.

My next race is the Berbee Derby, also known as the local turkey trot. And after that, I’m not racing again until 2015! Yikes. It’s starting to be time to think about what I would like to sign up for next year, and to be honest I’m not sure. I have a sort of half-serious goal of trying to figure out how to run a marathon without running over 18 miles in practice, but beyond that…don’t get injured is pretty much my only major rule at the moment.

Okay, wrap it up. Let’s file this comic under PN1992.8 S35 L86 2014, for Drama–Broadcasting–Television broadcasts–Special topics–Other special topics, A-Z–Science fiction. It may or may not surprise you to know that the LCC doesn’t have a subject heading for hipsters. Apparently they are insufficiently documented.

Returning My Books

Today I woke up and I knew it was the day: I was going to return my library books. This is important if you want to graduate, because if you don’t return stuff they hold up your diploma.

At first, I thought I was going to put them in my backpack and bike down to campus to return them. But when I stacked them up:

I hope I got them all.
I hope I got them all.

Scratch that idea. Oh well. I put them in a box, drove to the library after aikido class, parked illegally, and hustled them over to the book drop.

Such books. So box.
Such books. So box.

Then I silently bid them farewell.

Returning my library books means a lot of things. It means that I will be able to receive my diploma. Hopefully. If I got them all. It also means my academic career is basically over. Notice that I am not adding “for the time being,” as I have in conversation to myriad people. I have finished my MA and I am probably done.

I have mixed feelings about this.

It will be unsurprising to those who know me to hear me say that when I was in high school I wanted to get a PhD. There were probably a lot of reasons for this–I’m very ambitious but not especially interested in high power career paths; I knew that PhDs were associated with smart people and I’m smart; I went to a high school where that kind of academic achievement was relatively rare among alumni, so it would have proved how different I was (let’s face it–how superior) to my fellow students.[1]

Time wore on of course. I did an undergraduate degree and felt still interested in doing grad school, but first I went to Viet Nam for a year, came back, got a job, met a guy and fell in love, then left my job and moved in with him. At some point in there I did actually start grad school, but it wasn’t a PhD program–rather, it was an MLS[2], a professional degree designed to help me reinvent myself in a bad economy. Through a somewhat circuitous series of events, I wound up enrolled in another department, doing a second MA in Southeast Asian studies.

During this time period, I began to understand more clearly what was involved in a PhD. Unlike a BA, which you can basically get these days if you are capable of basic literacy-type tasks, a PhD requires an immense amount of reading and preparation, qualifying exams, and then basically writing a book. And the book has to be original work. It can’t be a collection of book reports or whatever. This isn’t a task where you can get someone to tell you if you have found the right answer. You are creating new knowledge; that is what people with PhDs do. In short, it’s a very stressful process.

In fact, I did some original research over the course of my MA, and that was hard.

The stress isn’t the only consideration, though when you are married it is certainly something you get to thinking about. I don’t even really need to prove how terrible the job market is for people with PhDs in the humanities–if you are curious, just go and look at any article the Chronicle of Higher Education has published in the last five years. In fact, if you have a desire to do things like: stay married, have kids, have spare time, be a novelist rather than a literary critic, have a stable income with health insurance, not be on food stamps, not have to move every few years, then you might find life as a professor quite trying.[3]

Ultimately, a combination of the above and other factors influenced me to decide that I wasn’t going to apply for a PhD. So there goes that.

It’s a weird moment. On the one hand, I know that missing out on four years of earnings and 401k contributions is not great financially, even though I didn’t take on any debt to pay for my schooling.[4] I know also that there would be no job waiting for me when I finished, and that it conflicts with some of my other life goals. And, one might argue (when talking to someone like me), given the way writers use any stupid excuse to avoid writing, consider that graduate school is really one big excuse for why I don’t have time to sit down and write another chapter of my novel.

In other words, if I want to write a novel, I should stop fucking around and do it. Now is the time.

On the flip side, though, giving up on a dream is never easy, is it? And let’s face it, PhD-holders are actually creating new knowledge through their research, which is really exciting. Getting to think about the topics they work on (in my case, philosophy and post-colonial literature and that sort of thing) is a lot of fun. Who wants to sit in an office and do technical writing when they can be thinking about philosophy?

Eventually, you have to weigh your options and make a decision about the kind of life you want to lead. What’s important to you? Stability, financial security, an exciting career, a family, having time for outside pursuits, ambition, a less stressful life, a happy marriage? Regardless of what you wrote in your “What I Want to Be When I Grow Up” paper at age 17, there isn’t a wrong answer here. Priorities can change. In fact, they should change–anyone who has the same priorities at 31 that she had at 17 is probably stupid.

I still miss my books though. I miss the excitement of learning a new language. I miss the thrill of putting little pieces of theory together and coming up with something neat. I don’t miss: the stress, the stress eating, the stress picking-fights-with-my-loved-ones, the stress crying-because-a-professor-was-mean, the sense of life-or-death about what I was doing,[5] the way academia provoked my workaholism to new extremes, the not having time for what few friends I managed to hang onto, not having time for entertainment outside of classes…

I won’t go on because I think I have made my point. I’m certainly not spending my time crying into my oatmeal about this, but neither am I resolved enough about it to bring this blog post to a happy conclusion of some kind. I am enjoying my extra time to do things like aikido, writing, home improvement projects, and triathlon training. I am also reading a lot of philosophy[6] and other books on my own, things I would never have had time for if I weren’t graduating, and I’m starting to think about teaching myself a new language. But I still miss being in classes, working in the library, researching new topics, even (to some extent) writing papers.

Being in academia sucks. Not being in academia also sucks.

The end.


[1] If you have been to high school and not harbored this feeling, well, I commend you but I think you’re lying to yourself.

[2] Technically my alma mater awards an MA (in library and information studies) rather than an MLS (which itself stands for Masters in Library Science and please don’t ask me why this is different). I only refer to the MLS here to make it clear I did two different masters degrees.

[3] Obviously the job prospects are contingent on the field. I know some PhDs who found tenure-track professorships after graduating and some who didn’t.

[4] In fact, I think I paid almost nothing in tuition for the last four years, but I worked my ass off at 2-3 jobs at a time to do so.

[5] I suppose this is true for several fields, but it seems especially bad in academia because students don’t get sick days. If you are sick, you still go to class because…you have to go to class. As an undergrad, I missed class the time I had the puking flu so bad I couldn’t stand up and walk farther than from my room to the bathroom. (As a grad I didn’t get sick.) But no one should be forced into an atmosphere where that kind of behavior is the norm. If you’re sick, you should be able to stay home.

[6] Because let’s not pretend that leaving school should ever be the end of learning. Especially at the MA level, I have the skills to continue doing advanced research on my own, although I can probably not ever publish because no one really cares what I have to say.

Em oi! #386: She’s up all night to the sun

Working harder makes it better

I know I have used a Daft Punk song lyric as a title before but I can’t find it.

I was going to write about buying the house (we closed about a week and a half ago) and all the stuff that has gone on (and gone wrong, but also gone right) since then, but I am frigging tired. I have been getting up as early as possible (between 5-6am) to work on my thesis too, and that isn’t helping. Yesterday I ran twelve miles, then spent the rest of the day painting with my very kind and generous friends. Then I fell into bed by 22:00.

The paint looks good. I still have paint in my hair.

Today: Utterly unable to accomplish anything. Well, I got some work done and made some phone calls, but it wasn’t a productivity-fest.

Tomorrow: Hopefully better.

Until then, dear readers.

File this one under HB501.L86 2013 for Economic theory. Demography–Economic theory–Capital. Capitalism.

Em oi! #385: Terms of Reconciliation

It's cappuccino chip ice cream.

I don’t think I’m spoiling anything (the plot, anyone’s perceptions of graduate school/me) to say that my advisor and I have a somewhat rocky relationship. It consists of him mostly ignoring forgetting about me and me alternately making desperate bids for his affection and raging about his inattentiveness. Super healthy. One learns so much about relationships and professionalism in graduate school. But on the plus side, things are getting better. He finished reading my thesis and made comments on it that were quite helpful. And we did actually have a nice (i.e. productive) conversation about some of my translation’s idiosyncrasies. So things CAN get better.

And I should add that my advisor is a really nice fellow. I’m also acquainted with his wife, who is wonderful, and I don’t wish either of them any ill.

I promise my next comic will not be a meta-mopey grad-school-is-hard feel-sorry-for-myself fest. Probably. We’ll file this one under LB2385 L86 2013b for Theory and practice of education–Higher education–Academic degrees-M.A.

What else can I blog about? I ran a 5k a few weeks ago. Despite my foot injury, I finished in 24:40, good enough for 4th place in my age group. Also, I had a lot of fun running with a family friend for whom it was her second 5k ever!

What else? Plantar fasciitis. It should I guess come as no surprise to anyone who has been on the internet that when you google something and you see five hundred potential cures, none of them work. That seems to be the case with PF. My foot is still about where it was when I posted the last comic several weeks ago.

I’m trying not to get too depressed about it. I have an appointment with a PT in a few weeks and in the meantime I’m still running three times per week. That’s okay. (Ok, it’s not something I’m okay with, but it’s something I have to do.)

I’m actually pretty frustrated and depressed. I’ve had to switch from doing the full marathon in Baltimore to doing the half. In the meantime, I’ve decided to pretend I’m training for a half IM, so I’ve been doing lots of bricks (or at least swim/bike days; it turns out that if you want to do a brick before work you have to get up at 5am).

So my past week looked like this:
Sunday: Swam 3550 yards/Biked 23 miles
Monday: Ran 7 miles (also lifted weights)
Tuesday: Swam 2500 yards/Biked 16 miles
Wednesday: Ran 9 miles, ellipticaled 2 miles (plus lifting and aikido)
Thursday: Swam 2550 yards/Biked 17 miles
Friday: Blerched.

Tomorrow is my long run (about 13 miles), then another brick on Sunday. I’m going to try to push the bike ride a bit longer, maybe to 25-30 miles.

I also bought new insoles and a Strassburg Sock in a desperate attempt to heal myself with placebos.

So that’s me. How have you been, internet?

Em oi! #384: Stages of Thesis


The past two weeks have been a bit stressful. At the beginning of the summer, when it became apparent that I was not going to finish in time to defend at the end of spring term, I set August 9th as my official personal deadline for completing the draft of my thesis. Around the same time, B accepted a role in a play (The Merchant of Venice) that was set to perform the weekend before my deadline, meaning that we had dinner with several relatives that weekend. I also went to the show twice. It was a great performance, but that’s still a loss of time.

We also passed an unhappy personal anniversary on August 3rd. And finally, for reasons that I swear seemed reasonable at the time, we decided to start looking for a house.

Anything else? Yes. I hurt my foot and had to take a week off running at the time I most needed to be able to run.

That’s actually the whole reason I drew this comic. I wanted to blog about my plantar fasciitis.

I’m not really sure what happened. My pet theory is that getting a huge bruise on my shin at Dances with Dirt made me roll in a weird way during aikido the next week. This probably put more strain on my plantar fascia and led to the injury.

After swimming seven miles per week for two weeks, I finally saw my sports medicine guy last Monday (the 5th) and got a diagnosis. The sheet the guy gave me said “limit running,” but not no running, so with the help of a pair of orthotics, I’ve been running about every other day since then, a total of maybe 30 miles last week. (That figure includes time on the elliptical, though.)

I can’t tell if my foot is doing better than it was last Sunday. I did just spend seven and a half hours over the past three days at an aikido seminar (my present to myself for finishing the thesis) and it didn’t fall off. Conversely though, it doesn’t feel amazing after all that. The weather changing a lot today was a confounding factor too.

I am trying to put into practice some of the zen techniques I learned at my seminar, but it’s hard. I have difficulty just relaxing and waiting until I get better. (Obviously, right? Because I am still running.) I think the problem is, you can’t just force yourself to be calm. You can’t force yourself to find enlightenment.

But, as they say, you can clean up your room. You can open the window and sit. And when the breeze comes through, you can notice it.

So I will clean up my room. Not just so I can sit, but because we have to sell the condo now.

This is wandering a bit. I hurt my foot but I finished my thesis. Yay.

I’ll file this one under LB2385 L86 2013 for Theory and practice of education–Higher education–Academic degrees-M.A..

Em oi! #377: Sene-can

Who's that man who isn't getting angry? Seneca!

So I came across Seneca (founder of the Stoics) the other day and immediately realized I was dealing with a kindred spirit. Seneca actually did advocate spending some time every day meditating on what could potentially go wrong in your life, because then if it did go wrong, you’d be psychologically prepared for it. Alain de Botton implies that this philosophy grew out of the fact that Seneca lived among the Roman elites, who were a fairly angry and unstable group from the emperor on down. And I actually do this quite a lot, though I refer to it as “reining in my expectations.” For example, if I had a job interview that went really well, I tell myself that they are not only not going to give me the job, but they will probably come and burn down my house for wasting their time. Then if they actually give me the job (please give me the job–you know who you are), I am surprised and happy, and if they reject me, I am less sad.

Anyway, despite all that, I couldn’t resist making fun of him a little. It could be worse, I guess–Schopenhauer advised his readers to swallow a toad every morning, so that would be the worst thing that happened to them all day…

We’ll file this under B618.L86 2013, for Philosophy (General)—Ancient (600 B.C.-430 A.D.)—Occident—Greco-Roman philosophy—Individual philosophers—Seneca, Lucius Annaeus, ca. 4 B.C.-65 A.D.—Biography and memoirs. Criticism and interpretation—General Works.

I should point out that in the time between when I drew this and when I inked it, my hair streak was dyed over (so I could look respectable for job interviews). You can check it out in the below photo, in which I failed to do it and maybe I didn’t even brush it this morning? And also I look a little cranky. (Hah. Take that, Cameron Russell?)

Dog photobombed me.
Dog photobombed me.

There have been so many good, philosophical articles in the news lately, from the issues of justice and punishment versus rehabilitation raised by the conviction and sentencing of Malik Richmond and Trent Mays, to the question of deciding when someone becomes a person raised by the North Dakota Personhood amendment to all sorts of interesting problems raised by SCOTUS hearing arguments on Proposition 8 and DOMA. But then Bryan posed me a fascinating problem about epistemology and free will, so I’m going to write about that. Actually, I’m going to write down the problem as posed to me now, and then next week I’m going to write about my thoughts on the issue.

Here we go: Bryan doesn’t believe in free will. His proof for this goes thusly:

  1. Bryan is a materialist, which means he believes that there is no mind/brain dichotomy–the mind is just our perception of the workings of the brain. The brain is controlled by various chemicals.
  2. Because the brain is made up of particles, if we really understood the brain (and quantum physics), we could build a computer that could predict what someone is thinking.
  3. So now that we know what someone is thinking, given a set of initial conditions, we can predict someone’s behavior.
  4. Since all choices can be accurately predicted, there is no free will. We are essentially controlled by chemicals. Free will is just an illusion we have because we ourselves don’t entirely understand the workings of our brains. But we might as well live with this illusion, because we can’t build a computer that can predict things like that.

(Bryan, you will have to let me know if I have misconstrued your argument.)

So I have been reading and thinking about quantum physics, Gödel’s incompleteness theorem, Newcomb’s problem and meta-Newcomb’s problem (even rereading my senior philosophy thesis), and  also looking into the works of a lot of theorists from about 1950-present. It has been quite a knotty problem, I will tell you. If you have any comments on it, please feel free to post them in the comments section here, on FB or G+, or email them to me at ehlupton(at)gmail(dot)com. I will try to address any worthwhile opinions I receive.

The Dairyland Dare

So I have been putting off writing this for various reasons. I guess the biggest one is my own idiocy though, so here we go.

Sorry, this is going to be long.

The Dairyland Dare or DD is an organized group ride, not a race. As you may or may not be able to tell from looking at the DD website, although there was chip timing, there doesn’t seem to be anywhere to actually retrieve my time from, so unlike every other event I’ve done, I have no idea how I did relative to other people. They didn’t post timing info until this morning (Saturday, 18 August). Full results can be found here. To find my results specifically, hit CTRL+F and type “815.”

It turns out I finished 6th in my age group (out of 7 women), or 258th out of 312 people who did the 150k. My watch time was 7:24:15.88, but my chip time was 8:31:11.

Yeah, I lost.

I originally started training for the DD back in late May/early June, right before I hurt my leg and had to stop running for a while, primarily because I wanted to do something bike-related without suffering drowning myself during another triathlon. I’d elected to prepare for the 150k, and then maybe “if things went really well” I’d do the 200k (distances go from 50k/31 miles to 300k/no one knows how many miles this is). After my injury, the PT gave me permission to do whatever I wanted for cross-training as long as it didn’t hurt, and since biking generally didn’t hurt, it seemed like a fine way to keep my cardiovascular fitness and prepare for an interesting challenge while waiting for my leg to heal so I could get to some damn marathon training.

RIGHT SO what actually happened was that I found that biking alone takes a lot longer than running (I can run 15 miles in under two and a half hours. To bike 50 miles takes at least four hours, and 50 miles isn’t even an exceptionally long training ride). Usually I do my longer runs with friends other people (haha, Noel) such as my running group, B, or even my dog. But I don’t know anyone who bikes. This makes things a bit boring. The best ride I had was where I met up with someone who needed directions and was forced to ride with me for a good ten miles.

The other thing I discovered is that I’m pretty slow. On one really good ride I hit 14 mph average, but although my goal was to average 15 mph, I was usually MAYBE around 13.x. This would always demoralize me, but also it extended the amount of time I had to spend out biking–if you’re only going 15 miles, an extra two miles (about nine to ten minutes) is no big deal. If you’re going, say, sixty miles, the difference in time becomes 4.6 hours at 13 mph versus 4 hours at 15 mph—a difference of about 40 minutes, a long time!

My training was not awesome. I did most of my riding out on the Ironman WI bike course, which is a GREAT course, but about half the total climb of the actual DD course (by which I mean the DD course has 10k feet of climb over nearly 100 mi, so 50 mi should have 5k feet; the IM course had about 2.5k feet of climb over 50 mi). I peaked at a long ride of 70 miles or 238.33 miles for the week, then took a two week taper.

Then, only a week before the event, we went through a family crisis that I won’t rehash here, except to say that it was kind of difficult and traumatic. At the time, I told B I wasn’t sure I was still up for the DD. B said he thought I should not give up, that I would be unhappy in a few weeks when I looked back on all my training and realized it was all for naught. I thought this had some wisdom to it, so I agreed that I would persevere. Under the circumstances (lack of sleep, inability to eat a large quantity of food at once, anxiety), I gave myself permission to do the 100k if things went really badly.

Waiting to take off.

The first 50k

B drove us out to Dodgeville on Saturday morning and I started out in the 7:00 wave (a bit later than I’d wanted to, but not a big deal). The early part of the course was very fast—I did the first 5 miles in 17:29.41, about 17.2 mph. I was exhilarated through the early miles, and thought that if I could keep the pace up, I would be done in way less than my estimated seven hours.

After the first rest stop (mile 16-ish) I noticed the hills were changing in character a bit, getting steeper and longer. The maps distributed to us marked most of the really steep hills, but after a while it began to seem more like the markings were just to indicate a road that was incredibly hilly. Toward the end of this section, I noticed my knees were hurting on the hills. I finished the first 30 miles in 2:13:22 [watch time; I don’t have the exact time for the first 50k because 1. My watch records a reading every 5 miles and 2. It was actually like 33 miles instead of 31]. At the end of the first 50k, I stopped briefly to take off my long-sleeved shirt and raise my bike seat (a bike seat that is too low can cause knee pain). I was feeling pretty good at this point.

The second 50k

The second 50k started with a long flat stretch going down the road between Dodgeville and Governor Dodge State Park, and I made good time. Because of some detours, we got two loops of GDSP, about which let me just say—wow, what a beautiful park. I hope I get a chance to go back and run some trails in there. I know I’m not a hard-core park-going person, but I can kind of not believe that this place is within an hour’s drive of my house and I’ve never done a race there!

The main road around the park makes a loop of just over five miles; the first half is primarily downhill and very fast, the second half is mostly uphill and very steep. About two-thirds of the way through that uphill, we hit mile 38 and the next rest stop. When I got off the bike to use the latrines at the rest stop, I noticed I was feeling some pain under the ball of my right foot. This had happened once before on a training ride and a friend had suggested it meant my cleats were too far forward. However, although I actually had a pocket knife with me, I was worried that changing anything would make the situation worse, so I just grabbed a gel and a banana and got back on the bike.

In retrospect, this was stupid—any change would have potentially been an improvement, and if not, well, considering how things came out it would hardly have been worse. BUT I couldn’t have known that at the time, I guess.

On my second circle of the park, my knee (left knee) started acting up again, so I stopped and raised the seat again. This time it didn’t help, which should have been a clue for me…

I got to mile 50 at 3:44:11 and took this picture:

I was feeling good (the pain was going away when I got off the bike, so I assumed it was nothing serious) and even jauntily texted my mother to let her know I’d call her in another 47 miles. I did ask the medic on duty at the rest stop if he had anything to help me, but the best he could do was offer me an ice pack. Not too helpful.

At mile 57-ish (officially 58.4, but that’s not what my watch said), I came to the turn-off for the 150k. I still kind of wonder why I did this, because it was pretty clear that my knee was not going to get better, and my right foot was hurting every time I pushed down on the pedal on that side.

And, you know, I could have turned around, too, because it seemed like almost as soon as I got off the 100k route, things went directly to hell. Between miles 60-62, there was a hill—just a long, slow grinder that went on for the better part of two miles and left me in pain and exhausted with nearly forty miles to go.

I reached mile 65 in 4:25:08.

The third 50k

Looking at the map for the 150k, I noticed we were running out of hill markers—three remained before the first rest stop, then two more, then another two and we were done. At the point I stopped to look, I had already ground up that long hill I already mentioned (County Z), so I really had only six hills left! Huzzah. Unfortunately, it wasn’t as easy as all that.

Here, in case you are curious, is the elevation profile for miles 60-97.

Do you see how between miles 70-75 there’s a dip, then a really strong rise? That was one of those hills that sort of rises up in front of you like a wall. It was at least as steep as any of the really big hills out on the IM course (like the one on Old Sauk, or County highway Jj going into Mount Horeb, which I know is not on the official IM course but 92 was closed this summer), and quite long. I saw a number of people getting off to walk (including one tall man in a blue jersey [Mr. Blue] who I’d been trading places with over the hills for five miles), and the guy ahead of me in a red white and blue jersey that said “Brooklyn” on the back was progressing up it in a series of switchbacks. Of course, it didn’t look <i>too</i> bad compared to what I’d been training on, so I dropped to my smallest chainring and went right up it.

If I hadn’t already been in pain, I actually don’t think it would have been too bad. It was definitely the steepest hill of the day, though, and I was more than a bit demoralized when I got to the top (another rest stop, around mile 74) and realized how long this was taking. I was not going fast, nowhere close to the 15 miles per hour I needed to hit 7 hours…and of course I actually completely blanked on how long I was spending at rest stops, because I was stopping my watch. At the mile 74 rest stop, I texted B an apology. He said he was fine, happy to wait, and he’d see me at the finish.

At this point, I figured—eleven miles to the next rest stop (about 40 minutes?) plus another twelve or so to the finish after that. Totally do-able. Only four more hills. So I took off.

The next rest stop was near mile 85 (at the time I texted B. that I was at 84.23, so that must be it). At the time, my average speed was 13.2 miles per hour. I hit mile 85 at 6:26:37, which is a long time to be on a bike. I was also pretty demoralized by this point, but there were only two more hills between me and a hot shower. I said as much to Mr. Blue, who happened to be returning to his bike at the same time as I was.

“Two more hills, that should be easy for you.”

I laughed.

The first hill (Farlook Road) was a grinder, nothing too terrible. Slow, but I managed it. But then we came back to County Z and County Z at ZZ. This was not so much a single hill as a series of hills similar to the one I’d ridden up on County Z during my first visit. It took me a while and several short but steep climbs to realize where I was. Finally I hit a section of downhill. I was flying and there were no more big hills between me and the finish line. I reached down to grab my water bottle.

Suddenly, a bee flew into the gap between my sun glasses and my eye. With one hand holding the handlebars and one holding my water bottle, there wasn’t much I could do. I screamed in an undignified manner and flailed uselessly. With my left hand, I managed to steer the bike to the side of the road and stop. Almost simultanously, I unclipped a foot so I wouldn’t fall over, return my water bottle to the water bottle cage, and grab my glasses off my face. By this point the bee, being fed up at being trapped, had stung me. On the eyelid.

Suddenly the bad mood, fatigue, and low blood sugar I’d been fending off for the last twenty miles came down around my shoulders. I stood at the side of the road and cried.

Another rider I’d passed earlier went past: “Are you okay?”

I couldn’t answer. As she rode off, I heard her say to her friend, “It must be some kind of insect bite.”

Yup. That was at mile 88. I reached 90 at an average speed of 12.1 miles per hour and finished (96.62 miles total) in the times mentioned above, average speed of 13.0 mph. Not awesome, but at least I crossed the finish line under my own power. B met me, by the way, and very kindly brought me my stuff so I could shower; then we went home and I crashed on the sofa for a while.

I look sad and chubby here. In reality I am neither most of the time.

And that’s everything that happened and nothing that didn’t.

Well, onward and upward.

Em oi! #364: I Have this Talk with Myself Every Day

Once in the Orlando Airport B looked in my bag for a pen. He was baffled by the array of writing instruments he found there.

“I have one that I use,” I told him, “But then I brought a backup.”

“And what are the other seven?”

“Backups for the backup? Also what if I needed a different color?”

Now when I sit down in class and pull out the pens I need (typically at least two felt-tip pens, a pencil, and two highlighters) I think of that conversation.

The word for pen (ปากกา) was, incidentally, the first word I learned in Thai.

I’ll file this under RC569.5.H63 L86 2012 for Internal medicine—Neurosciences. Biological psychiatry. Neuropsychiatry—Psychiatry—Psychiatric aspects of personality and behavior conditions—Other personality disorders, behavior problems, situations, etc., A-Z—Hoarding. Compulsive hoarding.

Yesterday I biked 65 miles, so today I was a bit stroppy and moody. This is somehow related to a number of factors, including how much I worked yesterday and how much I ate and slept. I’m not really sure how to avoid it, but I’m trying to figure it out. Anyway, I decided I was unfit for public company and, after class, took myself home. I made a quiche for dinner and napped, then went to the gym to swim. The Aqua Zumba people were at it, so I got shoved into the wall side of lane four (see diagram). The guy I was splitting the lane with (I’ll call him angry green shorts man) was swimming a lot faster than I was, and between his passing and the aquarobics going on, it was about as much fun as swimming in a washing machine. I kept getting whanged up against the concrete, and now I am all scraped up. Also Aqua Zumba finished at the same time that I had to go change to meet B for lifting, so they were all in the showers and I didn’t get a shower.

But then while I was waiting for B, I jumped on a dreadmill and managed half a mile (in 7 minutes, or a speed of about 4.5 miles per hour). The only special thing about this is that my leg didn’t hurt at all, and afterward my muscle didn’t start to cramp up like it did the last time I did a run of any significant length. So that’s something! It is not much but it is a starting point. Maybe I can stop freaking out and start building back slowly.

Anyway so that’s the news. Now I have a bunch of Thai homework to take care of, so I will take my leave of you, kind readers.