Friday, October 28, 2005

22:35 - Independence St to Italian Market - Alanis Morissette/Jagged Little Pill

This was a nice, fast little run. Surprisingly, these streets are not so crowded at lunchtime. I went pretty fast-- racing cars and such. Nice.

If my body were a car, there would be a rattle coming from my right knee. I blew 75% of my ACL and crushed the back half of my miniscus about 10 years ago practicing Tae Kwon Do (I muffed a landing after a flying side kick). It hasn't troubled me much, but now it's doing funny little things-- it hurts to kneel (I am daddy, therefore I kneel) and now I'm just noticing a little pop along the right side. Yipee.

Alanis Morisette is surprisingly good. Even more so for having been a little girl when she made this album (which makes it even cooler when she sings, "you're thinking of me when you fuck her", l'amour! l'amour!). There is a guitar bridge (2:29-3:05) on You oughta know that sounds a lot like the intro of Aeroplane by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. The beginning of You Learn sounds just like part of Sexuality from K.D. Lang's album "All You Can Eat. Both of these are surely just coincidences (if I'm not mistaken, Morissette's album pre-dates both of these), but the similarities were striking.

Anyway, a solid album. I'll be listening to this one again.

By the way, I just ran up against the censor in my blog software. To turn off censoring in Geeklog, edit the config.php file in the blog directory and set this line to "0", not "1":

$_CONF['censormode'] = 0;

Thursday, October 27, 2005

33:03 Ben Franklin Bridge - Nirvana/MTV Unplugged in New York

It was a beautiful, sunny, chilly day here in Philadelphia, and I couldn't help but go for my favorite run. It's straight, long, featureless (except for the jail you run right over on the New Jersey side)... wonderful. I mean, I like running on a forest trail as much as the next guy (maybe more-- I used to hash after all), but failing that, I want something that won't interfere much with my train of thought.

Nirvana performed the concert captured on the MTV Unplugged in New York album in November 1993, 12 years ago. I reckon I got to the age where I listened to popular music regularly when I was about 13 years old, in 1977. So kids these days are listening to Nirvana with the same time lag that I had then when I listened to The Beatles or The Hollies or The Beach Boys. It's pretty old school for them.

I have to say, I never really got much into Nirvana. I had a personal interest in Kurt Cobain because he (supposedly) blew out his brains just a half a year before 15 Jan 95... which is special.

After having listened to the album, I understand why I never really got into them. Really, I just don't like their music very much. If their songs sum up any kind of angst that I may be able to relate to, it's all a lot of angst I stopped thinking was cool on, well, 15 Jan 95.

I found myself breathing a sigh of relief when I turned off the MP3 player at the end of the run. Sorry, that one comes off to free up some space for something else.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

25:12 Ben Franklin Bridge into Camden - Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts ClubBand

What did people think about before the Beatles? Really, think about it-- one day, no one in the USA had ever heard of "Albert Hall" and the next day any kid on any street corner could tell you exactly how many holes there were in it (4000).

It rained today, which was actually just fine by me. Running in the rain makes me think, "yeah, I'm really a runner, I'm soaking wet". Thank god for thermoplush. Rain makes me go faster-- let's face it: run fast = shorter run.

I happened to have Sgt. Pepper's queued up on the MP3. The Beatles really were the limit. Sure, there was rock and roll prior to the Beatles. Sure, they ripped off Chuck Berry (hey, Picasso copied Miro and Dali, too). But Sgt Pepper's just hangs together so well... it's not a story, really, more of a continuous feeling. The Grateful Dead gets it, too, and some Dave Matthews. But The Beatles did it so well that it feels like they invented it.

I heard this album the first time when I was just five, two years after it came out. My brothers saved up and bought it, and we sat on the floor and listened. I really liked When I'm sixty-four and Good Morning, but got embarrassed at the heavy breathing at the end of Lovely Rita.

Thirty-six years later, my favorite tracks are Getting Better and She's leaving home. Also Within you without you whicj must have been a pretty different sound in 1967. I think what I really like about them is the instrumentation-- what is that high, repeating guitar note on Getting Better? And She's leaving home has no "Rock" instruments that I can hear.

I finished the run just as A Day in the Life came on. I thought about when I played this for some friends when I was in Peace Corps (it is surprisingly hard to play on an acoustic guitar). I got a little sad thinking about John and George being gone now. The thought occurred to me that someone, somewhere, is thinking about the Beatles, always. Someone is listening to one of their songs, or reading about them, or wearing a shirt with their faces on it. Would that I were as alive in life as John and George are in death.

Friday, October 21, 2005


Yesterday I talked with a moving company about setting up our final move from New Orleans for the 2nd of November. I have to get plane tickets, etc. Then New Orleans will essentially be done for us.

We also got the good news that our car that is parked in the Louis Armstrong Airport in New Orleans is safe and we are only being charged for the days leading up to the hurricane.

Last night I stayed home with Daniel while Sonia went to her English class. He was sad because Bebe and Ricardo had gone back to Spain after a two week visit. Eventually he cheered up and we played with his cars a little. We took a bath and told fart jokes, and ate dinner together.

After Sonia got home we put Daniel to bed and chatted. It was a quiet moment. I was preparing my lunch for work and suddenly was just overwhelmed by a sense of exhaustion. Exhaustion from something always left undone, something always wrong, some last phone call to make before going on to the next task in an endless series of tasks. I just want all of that to be over, to get back to a life that is more or less okay.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

28:00 Through the city - Nick Drake/Bryter Later

This was about 28:00, because I forgot to turn off my dang stopwatch. Down Arch and Cherry towards the Ben Franklin Parkway and back. I don't know why I try to run in the city so much, because I have to stop all the time and dodge cars. Although dodging cars can be a little fun. And I guess it's always fun to blast off from a street corner at top speed and see the people say, "wow".

I was listening to Nick Drake's Pink Moon on my MP3. My buddy Bill from New Orleans turned me on to Nick Drake. It's some beautiful stuff, really weird, tortured, wistful. You listen to it knowing that the man who made this music was a genius but that something was very Wrong about his life. It's no surprise to find out that Nick Drake killed himself, albeit possibly accidentally, by overdosing on anti-depressants.

I think my favorite Nick Drake song is From the Morning from Pink Moon. It sounds like someone who has reached acceptance that maybe he won't be making it to the next morning, but that's okay, too.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

33:00 Ben Franklin Bridge to Camden, NJ (85 bpm cadence)

A nice day for a run, a little too hot for my running jacket-- on the other hand, I like to sweat some.

I ran with my Finis Tempo Trainer. It's a little metronome beeper that clips to your clothes and helps you maintain a cadence. I think it originally was designed for swimmers, but it's good for running, too. I got it off of the page.

The ChiRunning book suggests that you try to run with a cadence (i.e. step frequency) of between 85 and 90 bpm. That's faster than most runners do, although apparently 90 is what a lot of professional runners run at. The idea is to minimize the time your foot spends on the ground; this helps you avoid injuries. It also forces you to shorten up your stride, which is also good, because it keeps you from over-striding and actually pushing back against your calves and knees.

The one thing that is a little bit of a drag about the metronome is that you can't really listen to music while you're using it. I felt that today, because when I was heading home, I started tiring out a lot and was really having to concentrate to keep my cadence up and my form good. I started getting a little negative self-talk (that happens when I'm tired), which I usually can get out of by turning up my MP3 player.

So probably I won't run with the Finis Tempo Trainer every single run, but it seems good for reminding me to watch my form when I'm tired.

Monday, October 17, 2005

32:19 Ben Franklin Bridge - Miguel Bosé, Velvetina

A beautiful day in beautiful Philadelphia. Cranked up the headphones on my MP3 and listened to Miguel Bosé's Velvetina album.

I like Miguel Bosé. You have to hand it to him, he started out as the Spanish equivalent of David Cassidy and turned into the Real Thing somewhere along the way. He was relevent to la transición and la movida, appeared in a Pedro Almodóvar film as a transvestite judge, and just when you weren't sure that you could take him seriously, he started reinventing himself on every album and producing music that made you wonder about why you weren't thinking about such things.

To top it off, the guy come right out as a proud bisexual and went on to date Ana Torrojas to sweeten the deal. Is there such a thing as too cool?

It was encouraging and strangely validating as a father to see that my three year old son's favorite song was the first track on this album, Ójala Ojalá. He would not let us turn it off. He asked a lot of really uncomfortable questions about the video (is there a war, Daddy? Why does he have a cross but no one else does, Daddy?). Daniel can sing parts of the song, even the bits that drift through Italian, English, French, and back to Spanish.

Friday, October 14, 2005

20:00 Around Old City w/440 Hz tone on MP3

Warning: this is a bit geeky...

I've always had a good ear for tones-- I can go several years without hearing a song and sing it in pitch. If I would train my ear better, I guess I could say I have perfect pitch.

So I've always had this idea of listening to a 440Hz A tone on a regular basis to train my ear. I realize some people like to use a slightly different frequency for A-- no argument from me, this is just the tone I get off of my pitch fork. This actually works pretty well-- I can hit a 440Hz A pretty consistently.

I had this idea of generating a reasonably long 440Hz tune as a sound file, loading it into my MP3 player, and listening to it for long periods of time. A perfect time for this would be while I was running-- I'm a captive audience at that point, and running always puts me in a kind of meditative mood anyway.

So I needed to generate a 440Hz A sound file. I found a command to do that on a Linux machine:

sox -w -s -t .nul /dev/zero 440.wav synth 300 sine create 440

This creates a 51MB file, so I guess you could actually just make it a minute by replacing the 300 with a 60. It's just that there is an annoying skip every time the MP3 player loops back around to play again, and I wanted to minimize that.

I created the .wav file, then transferred it to my MP3. I was all set.

I took off running from my office in Center City in Philadelphia. I didn't take a particular route, because I did the bridge yesterday-- besides, I just like running around Philadelphia and learning the streets. I turned on the MP3 player and put it on a constant loop with my new 440Hz sound.

The first thing I noticed was that it put me into a very weird place, mentally. I normally have a lot of mental chatter (this must be what "hearing voices" means)-- I try to shut it off, usually unsuccessfully. The tone kind of blocked that out. The second thing I noticed was that my perception of this constant frequency, constant amplitude sound varied a lot. I can actually "perceive" it as higher or lower. The file is a simple sine signal.

Finally, one very unexpected effect was that, without the monkeys chattering up there, I ran faster! How very odd. I was able to concentrate on my form (I learned my running form out from a book called ChiRunning by Danny Dreyer), up my cadence, keep my posture erect, and strike mid-foot, not on my heel. Nothing hurt, and I had a sensation of running fairly effortlessly. Nice.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

33:35 Franklin Brige into Camden, NJ

33:35 - from my office at TRF at 718 Arch, past the Mint and Independance Hall, over the Ben Franklin into New Jersey.

I loaded up my MP3 with Joni Mitchell's For the Roses and ran in the rain-- fast. It's been ages since I listened to this album-- back when I was a Marine and drove around in an Orange Volkswagen and lived with Charlotte. I forgot what I was like back then. It's okay running music, not stuff that would normally make you want to run fast, but for some reason it works for me.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

7:41 minutes in the rain!

Very cold! I ran out the front door with a T-shirt and shorts, and within three minutes had decided something I had not decided for a long time: to cut it short.

I remembered how, when I was a 21 year old Marine, I would run with my platoon in 15 degree weather. How big of a difference after twenty years.

Guess I'm a wuss now. Anyway, I bought a running jacket (my other one is still in New Orleans).

Saturday, October 8, 2005

How we evacuated from Hurricane Katrina

I'm laying in bed, listening to the rain tapping the window of our house here on Rodman Street.

It's been six weeks to the day since we evacuated from Hurricane Katrina. I was sure we would return in a couple of days-- New Orleans had always been spared in the past. I grabbed an extra shirt, my guitar, and (thank my higher power) the laptop.

My parents and brother evacuated to my our house in Lumberton, just outside of Beaumont, Texas. They urged us to evacuate with them, but we had some Spanish friends who wanted us to go with them. It was a hard decision, but in the end I thought it would be better for my family to go with Elena, Beau, and Luis. As it turns out, it was the right decision: Lumberton was directly in the path of Hurricane Rita, and my parents and brother had to evacuate a second time.

We drove to Lafayette to the house of one of Elena's friends, Antonio. We were all doing pretty well until Katrina went to category five and it looked like New Orleans would take a direct hit.

We had all been in an excellent mood, playing guitar and watching movies. But then someone turned on the Weather channel and we all started getting depressed as we watched the Hurricane inch towards our home. After about an hour of this, we were all ready to jump off of a bridge.

At that point, I made the smartest decision of the evacuation: I switched the TV back to Jack Black's "School of Rock". Immediately everyone snapped out of it. Pads of paper came out, and we started planning. Soon we had decided to evacuate further west, to Houston.

I'll get on my soapbox here: I hate the news. My parents are news junkies. During the Hurricane, they had Fox and the Weather Channel on 24/7. When I called them, everyone in the house was depressed. I, on the other hand, had to shush the people on my end and eventually take the call outside, as the Spaniards were laughing (albeit nervously) so loudly. The news is a good thing. We should all watch the news. Then we should turn the news off and go live our lives. Hearing that you are about to take it in the shorts is bad enough without listening to it over and over from a series of vacuous baritones in gimme caps. If you hear bad news enough, it stops shocking you. You come to expect it. You come to believe that you deserve it.

We didn't buy it. We got in our cars and went to Houston.

Elena is a woman from Extremadura in Spain. She's pretty and smart, and just enough sarcastic that you know she's an española. Her boyfriend, Beau, looks and sounds like a Louisiana good ol' boy, but he's got a degree in Physics and a really big heart. Luis is funny and tries to cheer you up even when he is frightened. He has a great smile and was really great with Daniel.

I miss the people I evacuated with.

We were kind of like the party from the Decameron.

When we got to Houston, it looked like New Orleans was really going to get hit. We went to dinner at Chili's and generally had a good time, but wondered what was going to happen to our city.

The next morning we found out. Devastation. When the levees broke, our world changed. We would have been okay to get back to New Orleans and go on with our lives with the damage from the storm (in fact, our house was not at all damaged), but with the flooding from the levee, New Orleans was suddenly a very dangerous place to be.

That Tuesday, I talked on the phone with my boss. He told me that I was officially on vacation, and that when my vacation days were over, I would not be paid anymore. That was sad, but understandable: Phoenix Health Systems just doesn't have the cash flow to float a month of paychecks for the 60 people in its New Orleans office. And it put me in a weird position: I could not take my family back to New Orleans; not with reports of Cholera and Typhoid. I am still not sure about these reports, but I wasn't going to risk it with a four year old boy. I've seen people with Cholera when I was in Bolivia, and it is horrible.

I also could not leave Sonia and Daniel anywhere by themselves. Sonia's English is good, but she is not confident enough about it. Besides, there was a disaster-- I wanted to be with them.

Sonia and I talked it over. By a very odd coincidence, we had tickets for the weekend to go to Philadelphia from the New Orleans airport. We were going to check it out as a place to live, because after Ivan, we had gotten tired of evacuating from hurricanes. We were going to check towns that had direct flights to Barcelona to see if any were livable. We had gone to Atlanta over the July 4th weekend, and I thought it was nice, but too big, hot, and trafficky. So we had tickets to fly to Philadelphia now.

Now we would not be able to make the trip from New Orleans. We decided to try to change the dates on the tickets and go see if Philadelphia would be a good place to live. I called that Tuesday, and they managed to get us out on Wednesday.

We flew out with our ridiculously few possessions. By afternoon Wednesday, we were in the Marriott in downtown Philadelphia. We were clean, safe, together, had some clothes, and a maid. We watched our neighbors waiting on rooftops, dying, on the television. Again, I switched the TV back to PBS kids and we watched Barney and Caillou.

I started sending out emails, searching for headhunters. The first day was a little disappointing-- Google found a lot of dead headhunter links. But I found one-- then another. I sent an email to the USNA alumni association. They sent my resume to a bunch of headhunters.

That Thursday, I went down to Starbucks to get coffee. I asked for a "Hurricane Discount"-- I felt stupid doing it, because obviously I was not starving to death standing in line at a Starbucks. I wondered why I had asked... then I found out. A woman behind me said, "I heard you say you were from New Orleans. My family and I were talking last night about how we could help out. Can I do anything for you?" Her name was Linda. She offered to let us stay in her house. I told her we were set on that, but that I needed to get my resume in front of people. She said she would do what we could.

On an aside, Sonia and Daniel and I had dinner at Linda's house last night. We've been friends since that day she stuck out her hand. Sonia and her really clicked. She's rallied the folks from her synagogue to collect toys and clothes, furniture, pots and pans... they've really helped us out. Her sons, Abraham and Noah, have played with Daniel tirelessly, even though they are both over ten years older than him. Her husband, Ira, has been a generally good guy, and also plays with Daniel patiently and treats him like the smart little guy he is. Linda really has been a true friend.

(To be continued...)

Friday, October 7, 2005

USAA Insurance comes through!

We left our home in New Orleans just before Katrina hit. USAA, after initially balking, looks like it's going to pay up for our evacuation expense!

Thank you USAA! I just got off the phone with a supervisor over at USAA, and it looks like our Renters insurance policy covers our evacuation.

When I called USAA initially, I told them there was no damage to our house. I figured honesty was the best policy here. When I was younger (and more foolish), that had not always been my policy, and all of the "truth management" I had engaged in only led to problems.

Initially, a claims person there told me that since our house had taken no damage, we could not get any evacuation expenses.

I could feel my blood pressure rising, so I asked the lady to have a supervisor call me, then politely got off the line. I actually was less interested in talking to a supervisor as I was in simply ending the conversation-- I never get anything good done when I'm mad.

I talked to a friend of mine who evacuated to Dallas, and he told me that first off, I had to remember I had done nothing wrong here. This was good advice, because some part of me always feels guilty about getting angry. Then he told me to call back and ask for a supervisor.

I did just that, and talked with a nice lady named Deanna. She listened patiently, then put me on hold for a moment. When she got back, she said, bewildered, that she had no idea why the previous person told me we would get nothing. We would receive what USAA calls "Additional Living Expenses", and quoted my policy:

PROHIBITED USE. If a civil authority prohibits you from use of the place where you reside as a result of direct damage to neighboring premises by a covered CAUSE OF LOSS we cover the ADDITIONAL LIVING EXPENSE or FAIR RENTAL VALUE loss as provided under 1. and 2. above, for no more than two weeks.

So we have to go back and collect up our receipts for those two weeks. But we're covered!

Moral of this story-- if you are a Katrina refugee, get a copy of your policy (you may have to download it from your insurance company's website), and if they tell you there will be less compensation than you think you deserve, nicely but firmly ask for a supervisor. The "we don't pay for that" phrase may just be a way for them to weed out the folks who will put up with paying for insurance that doesn't pay off when a disaster strikes. If you have USAA and you lived in Orleans parish, it seems that they will pay evacuation expenses.

Ben Franklin Bridge - 33:00

Not a bad run-- ran from the TRF office here on 7th and Arch, past the Mint, over the Bridge to Camden, New Jersey.

A little pain in the lower left calf. Style is good, I've really shortened up my stride and increased my cadence, and I'm striking mid-foot instead of on the heel.

Cloudy today. Listened to "Gilgamesh" on my MP3-- the ultimate running book-on-tape. There's a part where Inkidu is trying to convince Gilgamesh to go ahead and kill the monster Umbaba that makes you run faster.