July 29, 2007

A good type of wife

This discussion on Crooked Timber about the last known example of academics thanking their wives for typing their books is amusing. If you're amused by that kind of thing ...

Posted by eroberts at 12:33 AM

July 21, 2007

Be happy with what you have ...

Which is worse? Running in July in Wellington, or Minneapolis

Running in July in Minneapolis was for the most part not great. The heat, the humidity, the ozone days, the bugs. You make do, enjoy the chance to take it slowly 6 days out of 7, and run on a schedule dictated by the weather. Running in July in Wellington can have few charms too. I'm of the opinion that there's no good clothing for rain and 40°F/5°C. I just put on polypropelene on my top and hands, and go for it. If the southerly makes it too cold for the legs to warm up you don't run quickly and risk pulling a muscle, you just get out there and run, and wait for the weather to change, which it will do in a day. That's the good thing about a maritime climate. The cold and rain rarely stick around for more than a couple of days in a row. In short, my question when I left Minneapolis for Wellington, was which would be worse, cold and rain or hot and muggy.

In general and in respect of running I try—if not always successfully—to be happy with what I have. No point in raging against the weather. Those caveats aside, I think I'm now in a position to judge this slightly ridiculous question.

After 20 miles over Makara Peak and the Skyline Track in intermittent rain and hail below 40°F/5°C, the trails more than make up for the 30mph wind with 50mph gusts, and the rain. You have to pick your trails more carefully in the winter but 80% of the hundreds of miles of trails in the city are runnable even in the winter. You come round the corner and get glorious view of the Pacific Ocean or the city or the regenerating bush. I almost forgot that my legs were red with cold ...

Reading recommendation: Matthew Engel discusses month-by-month moves for the best weather in the world.

Posted by eroberts at 9:27 PM

July 16, 2007

And in other news ...

... starting a new job keeps you busy. Not that I'm complaining. Quite the contrary.

Amongst the thousands of minor linguistic differences between New Zealand and the United States I had not happened upon the word "scheme" having different connotations. With the introduction of KiwiSaver (like IRAs) there is much talk of "retirement savings schemes." Apparently, this makes Americans think of retirement savings conspiracies and plots. Scheme has more innocent connotations in New Zealand.

In the course of trying to learn more about this "scheme," I learned that you shouldn't go to personal finance seminars with academics. It was the worst example of specific ignorance on the topic at hand combined with general certitude of righteousness and knowledge I've seen in a long time ... I will say no more, and name no names, but you can probably guess what it was like. What made it odder was that I was by far the youngest person at this seminar. Most of the people there to learn about Kiwisaver were north of 40, probably most of them north of 50 years old, and were mostly concerned about the overlap with their existing retirement savings conspiracies (or schemes). This seemed to be missing the point of the KiwiSaver policy, which is mostly not to help people who are 62 top up their savings, but to change the mindset of younger people, and by offering blandishments from employers and the government get the relatively young saving a little bit early on.

I went from there to the first two hour seminar/tutorial I've ever done as the professor/lecturer/person who claims to know what they're talking about. Done it many times from the other side of the table. This was kinda exhausting, not because of the class who were great, but because facilitating discussion for two hours is tiring. Luckily I did not think "this is the first 2 hour seminar I'll ever do" beforehand. However, I think Tuesday might become a double-run day on account of the hour of general lassitude that a 2 hour seminar induces. Maybe that ratio will rise (seminar:lassitude) over time. Gradual adaptation to stress. Everything in life is like running ...

Posted by eroberts at 10:57 PM

July 11, 2007

You can't have a placebo effect of icebaths

Some new research questions the benefits of icebaths:

Ice-water immersion offers no benefit for pain, swelling, isometric strength and function, and in fact may make more athletes sore the next day

Then they find someone to question the new study, who says:
because it's subjective, there may even be a placebo effect on those who take the cold bath. Its part of their ritual, it finishes off the endurance test, and many clearly report that it makes them feel better

Now its true that you may get some benefits just from believing that the icebath works for you. But they aren't placebo effects. A placebo effect requires that you don't know what "treatment" you're getting.

If you're testing the effect of, say, drugs this is relatively straightforward. You give the placebo group a plain pill that looks like medicine. But even then, some patients will work out they're in the placebo group because they don't have any side effects of a drug.

It's impossible to have a placebo group in a trial of tepid vs. ice water because [nearly everybody] will be able to tell the difference between tepid and ice water ...

Icebaths are great. Right now I'm living in a climate where I get the icebath throughout some of my runs ... That is one good thing about a cold southerly in Wellington! It probably keeps the riff raff out, as they say.

Posted by eroberts at 7:24 PM

July 4, 2007

You're not in Guatemala now, Dr. Ropata

Happy 4th of July! Outside America, and in winter, you don't miss it except as a memory.

Today's title will either be instantly recognizable, or totally meaningless.

If it's totally meaningless, this classic dialog is from the first episode of the New Zealand soap opera Shortland St. The dashing Dr. Ropata is upbraided for bringing his crazy foreign experiences and assumptions back to New Zealand.

There's a great deal of absurdity in moving back to your home town and complaining about the weather. Actually, it wasn't so much the weather as the weather forecast. I opined this morning that one of the great things about America was the relatively accurate hourly forecast that allows you to, for example, plan your run for the coolest, warmest or driest time of the day. My mother upbraided me for this comment by saying "you're not living in the middle of a large continent now, you're living on an island in the middle of an ocean where the weather is quite unpredictable." It's not the forecast, it's the weather itself.

If I was in America I would say that I "lucked out" this morning. If I was in New Zealand I wouldn't because the phrase means the opposite. The rain lifted 20 minutes in to the run, and I got the most glorious view of the city from Tinakori Hill (really, click the link, it's a beautiful city), a view that is relatively recent after a storm a couple of years ago necessitated the removal of many trees. That green house in the bottom right corner of the photo is the Prime Minister's house. What a quaint country. You can run up the hill behind the Prime Minister's house and look into her backyard.

It's both the truth and the politic thing to say that the unpredictable weather is all I can complain about after five days back in Wellington. The coffee is good. The trail running is excellent. I've almost adjusted to hearing New Zealand accents again. When I got off the plane in Auckland I thought "they speak funny here." I'm trying to keep the best parts of the Midwestern inflection on my New Zealand accent. The mid-Pacific accent is not nearly as common as the mid-Atlantic accent, but perhaps I'll make it famous in time.

One of the truisms of international moving is that moving home is never quite as easy as people naively imagine. Both place and person have changed. When I moved to Minneapolis I tried to tell myself that the inevitable minor frustrations of moving were not all about America, which is the easy way out for foreigners in America. Oh to be sure, there are some unique things about America including some things that are annoying, and others it's just fun to tease the locals about, but when you're moving you're not moving from country to country, you're moving from city to city, from neighborhood to neighborhood. You'd have the same frustrations moving in your home country, of not knowing the bus timetable or where the best stores or restaurants were, etc, etc ...

Moving home there is none little of that. Some things have changed, but mostly I know my way round—though I have forgotten the names of many streets I know where I am, I just couldn't describe it to the emergency services if I called them out of sight of a street sign—and I find myself more surprised that things have not changed. I have seen strangers on the bus that I saw on the same bus route when I was in high school.

The truism is that both place and person change. But both would have changed if I'd stayed here, the personal relationship to place evolving gradually over time. What they call the shock of re-entry is that all those changes appear to have taken place at once. So I ask when something occurred, and the locals look at me oddly, not remembering (for example) if that new building went up in 2002 or 2003. Not that it really matters. It's there now, and so am I.

Posted by eroberts at 6:27 AM

July 1, 2007

Do they?

This is a fortune, but in reality I think that's an open question ...

Posted by eroberts at 12:28 PM